Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Once the Military Prefect of the Antonians, this elder is an unliving legend among the Damned. He reportedly survived the Great Sack, and it is said that he has taken to wandering.
This weathered old man retains an impressive frame in spite of his age. His deep brown eyes are proud and he holds himself with regal dignity. A few wisps of grey hair still cling to his head. In his mortal youth he was known for bearing a full head of fine black hair and an impressive beard, but by the time of his embrace he was all but bald, and his whiskers were so scraggly and patchy that he had taken to shaving them. He prefers to dress in simple robes, and usually carries a matched, antique spathion sword and a dagger. When expecting trouble, the old man wears full klivannion and a light helmet, and he also arms himself with composite bow and a quiver of arrows.
(expanded from Constantinople By Night, pp. 113-114)
Flavius Belisarius is the greatest general that the Byzantine Empire has ever seen. Throughout the many years of his service to Emperor Justinian I, he was directly responsible for reconquering many of the Mediterranean provinces of the former Western Empire that had been lost in the previous century. Belisarius’ reforms to the Byzantine heavy cavalry, known as the bucellarii, were modelled upon the tactics of the Hun horse archers and the Gothic shock cavalry. The result was a heavily armed and armoured cavalry unit that was capable of matching the barbarians in tactical mobility while exceeding them in technology. The bucellarii formed the nucleus of the new Byzantine military, and earned General Belisarius great victories against the Sasanian Empire in the east and the Vandals, Visigoths and Ostrogoths in the west. His actions in putting down the bloody Nika revolt with the assistance of Narses also earned them the attention, and favour, of the ancient vampire known as Antonius the Gaul. His subsequent rivalry with the eunuch would define many of Belisarius’ struggles later in life.
His victories returned the territories of Italy, North Africa, Sicily, Syria and Dalmatia to the empire, as well as parts of Iberia and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. In addition, he reconquered the important cities of Carthage, Ravenna, Mediolanum, Naples and most importantly, Rome. He was the last Roman general to ever receive a ceremonial triumph, and one of the last to ever be named consul. Many of these victories are even more impressive given the fact that his emperor was jealous of Belisarius’ skill and popularity, and frequently gave the general little or no support in his campaigns. Moreover, his own wife Antonina proved to be manipulative, disloyal, and debauched, carrying on many affairs at court. According to his former secretary and long-standing enemy, the historian Procopius, Antonina even bedded Belisarius’ own godson, Theodosius. Her actions at court constantly undermined and weakened Belisarius, even as a her steadiness and advice assisted him when she accompanied him on campaign.
His greatest enemy, however, was the palace eunuch Narses. Sly where Belisarius was forthright, the eunuch understood the levers of power and frequently connived much of the intrigue that befell the general. Narses even proved to be a capable general himself, putting down resurgent Gothic armies after Belisarius had been recalled to the East. The eunuch often got the better of the general, both in mortal politics and for the attentions of Antonius but eventually, the quality of Belisarius prevailed and he was offered immortality while Narses was abandoned. The eunuch never forgave Belisarius, nor the Antonians, for the slight.
The neonate Belisarius was just one of many that thought they would never see the eunuch again. And yet, Narses could not be discounted so easily, and he eventually earned the Embrace from the Roman Lasombra Galerius. In due course, he became prince of Venice and the Archbishop of Nod, as well as the master of the Narsene Lasombra who would one night return to dominate the Latin Quarter of Constantinople. He would become one of the most influential and wealthy Cainites in the world. And he would never, never forget his hatred of Flavius Belisarius.
For his part, once he came into his power Belisarius requested the Praetorian Prefecture of North Africa for his demesne, and Antonius was pleased to grant it. For the next century the potent young Ventrue based himself in Carthage, and he developed a love for the region. He ruled well, and frequently conferred with his brother-in-blood Antonius the Younger, who grew to be equally powerful in the land of Egypt. When the Arab conquest shattered Byzantine power in the region at the end of the 7th century, the ancilla disappeared. Little is known of him in the centuries after, save that he travelled widely throughout Africa and the Near East.
Belisarius reappeared in Constantinople after the Battle of Manzikert caused the loss of Anatolia to the Turks. He called for a Sixth Council, where he railed against the corruption and incompetency of the Military Prefect, Lyseros, and the Eastern Praetorian Prefect, Peter the Hermit. He petitioned for their destruction and to take on both of their roles in order to help reclaim the lost territory. His request was granted, and Belisarius chose to throw his support behind the talented young general Alexius Comnenus, assisting his rise to the imperial throne. So capable was his mortal ward, and so able his descendants, that for three mortal generations Belisarius had influence and momentum enough to circumvent almost the entirety of the internecine complots that had paralysed the Antonians for many decades. As a result, the Comnenian Restoration was able to restore much of the territory lost to the empire since Manzikert. The elder general was a constant presence in the lives of the Comneni and cared for them as if they were his own family, but his presence in the imperial demesne would lead to considerable tension and intrigue between he and Ducas, the Palace Prefect.
Their connivances were the backdrop for the strife between Alexius’ children John II and Anna, causing considerable dynastic strife that resulted in her eventual exile to a convent. Indeed, their intrigues came to an end only with the assassination of John in Cilicia, his life taken by a poisoned arrow loosed by an assassin’s (or an Assamite’s) bow. Grief-stricken at the loss of a man he regarded not just as his protege but as a son, Belisarius became distracted from the politics of the Antonians. He continued to support John’s son, Manuel, but his heart was not quite in it, and the Comneni gradually faltered after the Balkan campaigns of the 1160’s. Things just seemed to go wrong with Belisarius’ plans, and too late he realised that Caius had decided to retake the initiative, and moved the Antonians to send resources to other avenues. The Embrace of Anna and her admiration for him made her an ally in time, but not even her talents could keep the throne from slipping into the hands of the incompetent Angelos dynasty.
After 1183, Belisarius reduced his profile, keeping to himself in his spartan quarters within the Great Palace. He entertained visitors and attended Trinity events, but any attempts to enjoin him to a faction or participate in a scheme met with blunt refusal. In due course, his only regular visitors were his progeny, Helena, and the Assamite ambassador, Shabah. Through them he kept abreast of tidbits of news and politics, but his interest was slight. The odd blood feast, such as the one in honour of the formative Concord in AD 1196, drew his interest and attention but otherwise he preferred to keep to himself, or to keep company only with Shabah. At the blood feast, the diplomat demonstrated considerable familiarity with the Ventrue prefect, apparently having travelled with him at some point in the distant past, and it was obvious that Belisarius enjoyed her company very much even if he did resent her clan’s involvement in John’s death.
After the arrival of the Fourth Crusade at the walls of the Queen of Cities, the ancient soldier finally roused himself from his lassitude. The initial conflict in June of 1203 should have demonstrated the futility of besieging the Byzantine capital, but instead the incompetence of Alexios III Angelus and his court-appointed commanders led to a humiliating defeat and the installation of Alexius IV alongside his broken, blinded father, Isaac II. In the wake of this debacle, Belisarius burst into activity, finally accepting an alliance with Anna Comnena and sending messages to old friends and allies across the empire. At his behest, those contacts moved the levers of power in Nicomedia, Nicaea, Phillipopolis, Thessalonica, and Trebizond. Mortal soldiers, some patriots and others mercenaries, gradually began trickling into the city, preparing for the almost inevitable resumption of hostilities. With them came vampires who had served Belisarius among the Varangian Guard over the 12th century, and wished to do so once more out of loyalty, or a desire for coin or prestation.
Over the autumn and winter of 1203 into 1204, the Military Prefect used his newly assembled coterie to launch the odd secret sortie against the crusade, concentrating on means to increase the rate of attrition that was already plaguing the Latins. By the new year, many of those mortals who could still afford to abandon the crusade had done so, but unfortunately their numbers were bolstered by Latins who had been forced from the city by the fire and subsequent riots of November.
Meanwhile, Sister Maude Khlesl made good on her offer to Belisarius that she would use her arts in the death magic of her clan to recover the old Ventrue’s beloved childe, Helena the Armenian, from the cold embrace of torpor. The brief touching of minds that occurred revealed that Helena had known that it was indeed an Assamite assassin who had shot and fatally wounded Emperor John Comnenus with a poisoned arrow all those years ago. Moreover, Maude discovered that the assassin was none other than Shabah, Belisarius’ lover now and also of centuries earlier. And finally, that Helena had blackmailed the Assamite for years with that knowledge, forcing her to assassinate the Ventrue ancilla’s enemies as well as random Latins that she felt were a threat. Indeed, Shabah was also the source of the injury that had forced Helena into torpor in 1199, a fact that the younger Ventrue now maliciously shared with her sire. The Assamite fled, shamed and distraught, with Belisarius setting off in hot and angry pursuit.
Presumably, Shabah was forgiven and Helena was cast out of her sire’s confidence, for less than a week later the two elders were seen in Elysium closer than ever. For her part, Helena was left to her own devices, with few friends or recourse to her former place in the coming months.
In due course, Alexius IV and Isaac II were ousted from power, and the new emperor, Alexius V, took the throne on the pretext of removing the crusader threat. The subsequent death of his predecessors in his custody goaded the leadership of the crusade to abandon any pretense or hope of negotiation and launch a second assault over Easter of 1204. The attack of the 9th was repulsed, with Belisarius taking a personal hand in the defence. He slew a number of enemy Cainites, and Vitalis d’Asti suffered the dismemberment of his sword arm and a lengthy period of torpor for his decision to meet the old soldier head on. Alas, the the attack on the 12th succeeded in breaching the walls during the daylit hours, and like every other Cainite of the Families, Belisarius awoke to a city of fire, blood, rapine, pillage, and death.
Unlike most of the others, however, he had planned for that outcome. On the first night of the Great Sack, key figures among his Varangian catspaws did their best to carry out his plans for the defence of certain military and administrative assets so that the momentum might be turned. He and his coterie sought to assist them, but they found that the quality of the auxiliaries backing up the elite Varangians was inadequate to the task. Too many regions of the city were lost, and the spread of men simply too thin. Moreover, it was discovered that Alexius V had already fled, once his own men broke against the crusaders in the afternoon.
On the second night of the sack, with fires raging out of control and all hope of an honourable peaceable conquest dashed, the focus of Belisarius and his allies changed to exacting justice for the cruelty of the Cainite Crusade’s influence over the direction of the Latin victory.
For many years tales have been told of the revenge exacted by he and his allies. The sanguine gossip is perhaps larger than life; names change, but the meat of the tale appears to be fairly constant.
By this point, many of the Varangians had fled, or else declared for whichever imperial candidate was offering them the most silver, but the core of loyal ghouls and armsmen still stood ready to do as they were bidden. Belisarius used them to lure Duke Guy, his coterie, his closest Cainite supporters, and their vast array of mortal catspaws into an ambush near the Palace of Mangana, which they falsely indicated was a redoubt haven, treasury, and secret point of escape for the Antonians. Upon the arrival of the Latins, a detachment of Varangians led by his old followers Edmund Godwinson and Oleg Vladimirovich engaged the Latins at the front gate, beating a slow retreat before the onslaught of Duke Guy and his larger forces. Once Oleg, Edmund, and their warriors had been pushed into the yard before the palace, Belisarius sprung his trap.
A formidable coterie of heretofore unrevealed allies attacked Duke Guy and his allies from all sides, attacking brutally and without mercy. In addition to Belisarius himself, among the many gathered were Shabah, Anna Comnena, Theodorus Kolettis, the Assamite jurist known as Tegyrius, the Malkavian called the Nameless and his two equally enigmatic elder progeny, five other Cainites who had once served as Varangians, and a particularly furious ancient Greek Brujah who answered to the name Phaedrus. The fight was short, bloody, and very decisive. At the end of it, the old soldier unceremoniously stalked up to the defeated and subdued Guy of Provence and, despite the younger vampire’s insults and challenges, struck the head from the duke of the Cainite Crusade.
Solemnly, Belisarius looked beyond the walls of the palace to the pillaged and raped Queen of Cities and shook his head sadly. He then thanked all present for assisting him in exacting a small measure of justice for it all. Then, with Shabah’s hand in his, the vanquished Military Prefect took his leave of the city that had forever defined his purpose.
Throughout the years, rumour has placed the two lovers as wanderers; having been spotted in Anatolia, Cilicia, Syria, and Egypt, but most recently in the city of Beirut. They never stay in one city long, however, and look to keep themselves out of entanglements. Indeed, it would seem that Belisarius and Shabah appear to have forsaken all loyalties and loves owed to anyone save each other.
Embrace: AD 566.
Lineage: Childe of Antonius (d), Childe of Ventrue