Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Bernerd Dressler von Sankt Wolfgang
A callow, irresponsible but essentially well-meaning young man, this kinsman of Bernhard von Billung joined the 4th Crusade in hopes of earning his spurs. He succeeded, but the trials he endured during the pilgrimage stipped him of his sanity.
As a squire attached to the retinue of his kinsman, Sir Gunthar, Bernerd Dressler turned heads wherever he went. He was a handsome, healthy young Saxon with honey blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes gleaming with cockiness. After his trials he has come to look older than his years. At the time of his disappearance, Sir Bernerd was still handsome in a driven, dangerous sort of way but his features had become leaner, and the over-confidence in his eyes had been replaced by an intense, some would say mad, gleam. He dressed himself well, in the garb of a Saxon knight; bearing the device of a red wolf on a sky blue field, he customarily wore a light mail shirt, and kept an arming sword and dagger for protection.
the Coat of Arms of Bernerd Dressler Ritter von Sankt Wolfgang
He has took the Red Wolf as his own device, in honour of his lost kinsman. However, Sir Bernerd wore it on a field of azure, which his father has always used as their family’s colours. As Sir Gunthar’s legal heir, he also inherited the estate (Sankt Wolfgang) outside of Kronstadt as part of his name.
The eldest son and heir of Karl and , young Bernerd was long a source of both great pride and great frustration to his parents. Born in the city of Lüneburg in the Year of Our Lord 1179, he was 11 years old when his family moved from the bustling market city to the wild frontier of the Siebenburgen. In the new environs, his father went from being just one of scores of noble-born landowners to one of perhaps 20 edlers in a city where cleverness and political nous could make him so much more. As such, Bernerd enjoyed the fruits of Karl’s success, and he became somewhat spoiled.
Bernerd never lacked for anything other than humility. He spent much of his life seeking mischief and popularity in equal measure, neglecting his chores and education whenever he was able. Ambition and hard work were completely alien to him, except in the pursuit of the young women of the Burgraviate. The arrival in Kronstadt of a distant cousin, Sir Gunthar, changed everything.
From the time the pale knight who bore the device of the Red Wolf entered his life in AD 1195 until the time Sir Gunthar perished on the Fourth Crusade in the first days of 1203, young Bernerd worshipped him. With the permission of the Burgrave, Sir Gunthar assarted some land adjoining the estate of the Dresslers, and named the village that quickly took shape there Sankt Wolfgang. The Red Wolf was handsome, intelligent, noble and devil-may-care; everything that Bernerd wanted to present to the world himself. Accompanying the knight on a journey to Constantinople in AD 1196 only reinforced his desire to follow in Sir Gunthar’s footsteps. His idol picked up a fellow ward during his sojourn to the capital, a boy called Gabriel, and the knight treated the mysterious boy like his natural son. Indeed, young Bernerd assumed that Gabriel was in fact Cousin Gunthar’s natural-born son, the product of a youthful indiscretion when the knight was a mere squire. After all, his cousin’s tales belonged to an older man, and Bernerd never could pin down his kinsman’s age despite his youthful good looks.
Young Bernerd Dressler in happier, care-free days accompanying his kinsman, Sir Gunthar, on his tour through the Byzantine Empire in 1195-1196.
The best way to emulate his hero, young Bernerd decided, was to become a knight too. Despite his lack of training as a page, the young edler convinced his father to lend his support to squiring the boy out. Sir Gunthar was often absent from his lands, serving as a pious escort on one pilgrimage or another, so he could not be approached to squire Bernerd. However, a knight in the service of the Burgrave, Sir Gerhard, was willing to take the boy on. Unfortunately, the dream of becoming a knight and the reality of actually earning his spurs left a sour taste in Bernerd’s mouth. The next few years were disappointing ones for both the knight and his charge, as the young knappe (squire) continually shirked his duties and resumed his irresponsible lifestyle, bringing disrepute on his family, his master and himself. The response of Sir Gerhard, never counted one of the best nor most imaginative of Corona’s knights, was to publicly discipline the impudent lad, beating him on several occasions.
Eventually Sir Gunthar asked his colleague if he could take on the training of Bernerd himself, and the frustrated Sir Gerherd readily dismissed the boy. Now under the tutelage of his hero, the young squire swiftly learned his duties and worked much harder to execute them. He enjoyed the company of his fellow squire, Gabriel, and came to see him as a cousin (albeit a bastard one). The two lads trained hard, with Bernerd’s strength and skill at arms complementing Gabriel’s speed and quick mind. Both of them had a youthful crush on Sherazhina, a Romanian noble lady of mysterious origins who was quite friendly with their master. For her part, Sherazhina reserved her own demure regard for the gallant Sir Gunthar, and kept the two lads at a purely platonic distance.
When the Fourth Crusade was called and Sir Gunthar chose to take up his arms and make the pilgrimage, young Bernerd was excited. He was already old for a squire, and he saw this as his time. Finally, here was a war! He could adorn himself in glory, prove his bravery and prowess, and earn his spurs! Gabriel was less impressed, but Bernerd dismissed his reluctance as the faint-heartedness of a fellow who lacked the mettle to be a true knight.
Throughout the course of 1202, Bernerd learned that a military campaign is far from glorious. The pilgrimage was delayed many months at Venice, and the camp on the Lido was plagued by camp fever and discomforted by the stinging gnats and mosquitoes common to the climate. Nonetheless, he proved his kinsmen proud when he defended a family at risk of robbery and worse during the Sack of Zara, but otherwise he dealt with interminable periods of boredom, interspersed with bouts of dysentery and other illnesses. In December of AD 1202, he was very pleased to hear that Sir Gunthar had accepted a secret mission to travel into Hungary on the crusade’s business, and then bitterly disappointed to be told that he would remain behind. While his master would be off winning glory, Bernerd would be left in the retinue of a French knight from Provence, one Sir Martin of Nice.
The young knight was unusually influential given his relatively low station, and he was a commanding and charming fellow at that, but Bernerd performed his duties without enthusiasm. The fact that Gabriel too had been abandoned was cold comfort. Sir Aimery de Versey, a roguish and worldly compatriot of their master, quickly offered his friendship and both lads soon drifted into his orbit as well. It helped that the beautiful Sherazhina had been left under Sir Aimery’s protection also, for in the spirit of youthful competition, both squires were thoroughly smitten by the lady.
Word reached the camp some weeks later that Sir Gunthar had perished in a skirmish with rebels on a treacherous mountain road not thirty miles from Zara. Louis of Blois himself offered a stirring eulogy for Bernerd’s kinsman. The valiant Sir Gunthar fell to his death from the mountain road, his horse speared through the heart as he made a gallant charge in defense of his fellow crusaders. Bernerd was inconsolable; first Sherazhina then Sir Aimery de Versey comforted him, and in the months to come he grew to trust and idolise the charming knight almost as much as he did Sir Gunthar.
Sir Aimery de Versey disappeared without a trace on the island of Corfu in May of 1203. For the life of him, Bernerd could not think why the Frenchman abandoned the crusade without so much as a word, and his warm memories of Aimery seemed strangely hollow. Indeed, his memories of the entire duration of his association with him were obviously hazy. A godly pilgrim, Lady Iulia, who was a friend of his late cousin, often visited with Bernerd. She said that in the course of one’s duties as a squire, one can become desensitised to much, and the routine can inveigle memories of unimportant matters. Iulia further counselled that he really shouldn’t worry over much about the past, and should instead focus his energies on the future. Her words comforted him, and they seem to make great sense.
In truth, as the Concord discovered throughout the course of a mission on the island of Corfu, Sir Aimery de Versey was revealed to be a Decadent Settite spy masquerading as a Ventrue in hopes of ensuring that the Fourth Crusade would be directed against the Assamites of Egypt. Despite owing a life boon to the coterie, he abused his charges terribly, Dominating Bernerd, Gabriel and Sherazhina into performing horrid acts of sexual brutality, degradation and perversion on themselves, each other, and many other crusaders that had fallen under his sway. When his crimes came to light, he was incarcerated, interrogated and then executed. Veceslav Basarab enjoyed the Right of Destruction. In the months afterward, Iulia strove to repair Bernerd’s fractured psyche by selectively using her own Dominate to erase his memories of the acts that he committed, and laying hypnotic imperatives to encourage him to commit redemptive acts to ease his way. She had only limited success, as the young man’s trauma was so great that sub-conscious feelings of guilt and self-hatred continually bubbled to the fore.
Throughout the remainder of the pilgrimage, Bernerd woke often from violent nightmares that he could never remember. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had done something very wrong, though he could not think what. The company of Gabriel sickened him, and he knew that his one-time friend and companion was repulsed by him too. Inexplicable feelings of intense guilt and self-hatred frequently overwhelmed the young Saxon, and he fell into long bouts of depression. Indeed, his very sense of self-preservation appeared to be in question…
Bernerd finally earned his spurs on the 7th July, 1203. He was part of an armed sortie to gather supplies north of Chrysopolis when a small battle took place between the forces of the Fourth Crusade and those of the Latinkon mercenaries that served the Grand Duke of Constantinople. Heedless of danger, young Bernerd threw himself into the fray against a number of Latinkons who had surrounded the famous knight William of Champlitte. He unhorsed two of the Latinkons and killed a third before sustaining a mace blow to the head. Keeping his own saddle despite his grievous wound, he was in the forefront of the pursuing French as the Latinkons fled. In his moment of addled triumph, he then caught an arrow in the neck and finally fell. He was barely conscious when Viscount Odo the Champion knighted him on the field, and it was thought that he would not survive his wounds.
Sir Bernerd was delirious with a brain fever and approaching death from blood loss and infection when brought before Iulia and her allies in the Crusade infirmary. Out of compassion for him, and to honour the memory of her departed coterie-mate, Iulia fed the young Saxon some of her blood to heal his wounds. His body made a full recovery in the months afterwards, but unfortunately Sir Bernerd’s mental state continued to deteriorate. He became a driven loner among his fellow Crusaders, many of whom took to whispering about madness behind his back. Several of Sir Martin’s retainers continued to look out for Sir Bernerd, but it appeared that the young Saxon was in terminal decline.
The Concord lost track of him in the chaotic events surrounding the Great Sack of Constantinople in 1204, and efforts to track him down in the confused aftermath met with no success. However, after considerable and exhaustive efforts on the part of a number of the coterie, a second-hand account of a man matching his description was found. According to a reputable merchant captain, perhaps a week after the sack concluded a young knight wearing the ragged, dirty tabbard of a red wolf on a blue field was seen selling his armour, sword, and shield for passage to Egypt.
In the many years since, no further news has reached either the Concord or the Dressler family concerning Bernerd. A number of the former feel some measure of guilt for their failure to protect him, and all of the latter hold on to vain, if diminishing, hopes that he might yet return home. His fate remains a mystery.