Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The self-styled King of of the Árpád Ventrue and the Cainites of Hungary, this master manipulator has receded into the shadows in recent decades. Many wonder at what secret scheme he is hatching, and where his covetous eye will fall next...
None of the coterie have met “King” Bulscu, but some have seen a portrait of him hanging in the throne room of Prince Vencel Rikard of Buda-Pest.
The man in the portrait has a strong nose, sharp features, a thin beard and a very long, proud moustache. He is shown wearing the antique Magyar helm of the Pannonian conquest.
The Man of Blood has always used a black wolf as his personal symbol, and with the rise of the traditions of heraldry in the latter half of the 12th century, his progeny Vencel Rikard saw fit to create this device for his master. It combines the famous Árpád stripes with that of his own symbol.
Little is known of the early mortal life of the self-styled “King” Bulscu, as he is known in the west, or Bulcsú as he is known in his own dominions. Some have speculated that he may have been a son of Nagyfejedelem (Grand Prince) Árpád, who ruled the Magyar Tribal Confederation from AD 895 until his death in 907. It is possible that he was the noted Prince Liüntika, who aided his father in maintaining his power not just with his skill at warcraft but also his talent for playing Árpád’s rival chieftains off against each other.
Liüntika, sometimes called the Black Wolf, was known to have been a great and lusty sybarite, fond of wine, women, song, and war. Such was his lust for battle that he led many raids into Bulgarian territory while his father began the conquest of Pannonia. It is likely that Liüntika and Bulcsú are one and the same, for their temperaments are a clear match. It is possible that he may have met the great Carthaginian Brujah elder, Dominic, on an expedition near the Byzantine frontier. Finally, Bulcsú has always used the black wolf as his personal device. In any case he certainly isn’t telling, and Liüntika is thought to have been killed in the Battle of Pressburg, where the Magyar horde (under the direction of Dominic) destroyed the Bavarian host.
The horka (war chief) known as Bulcsú emerged some years after, where he became known as an indispensable aide to Liüntika’s younger brother, the Grand Prince Zoltán, in much the same manner as the late prince was to Árpád. He became known as the “Man of Blood”, for his great love of war, and casual use of bloodshed as a means of stamping his authority, but also because his blood was hot — he loved women, wine, song, and brawling — just like the late Liüntika. By this time, Bulscu was clearly the ghoul of Dominic, who led the Magyar Tribal Confederation to stunning victory after victory against the arrayed forces of Europe. For the 40 years of Zoltán’s rule and on into that of Taksony, Bulcsú was a willing thrall to the will of Dominic, hoping for the Embrace that the Carthaginian dangled before his eyes. The Brujah warlord’s great enemy, the Ventrue lord known as Heinrich von Volstag, had waged a long and skilled fight against Dominic, but by the middle of the 10th century he was on the verge of losing. However, he had one final gambit to play. Somehow the crafty methuselah managed to break Bulcsú’s blood bond and turn the horka with promises of the Embrace into the Clan of Kings.
On the eve of the Battle of Lechfeld in AD 955, Bulcsú staked Dominic before the ancient vampire could stir for the night. Believing him slain, the ghoul and his retinue then entered the castle to swear fealty to Heinrich. Without the leadership of the horka and the genius of the old Brujah, the Magyar Confederation was defeated and forced to turn from their ambitions of total conquest. Several nights later Bulcsú emerged from the castle; a Ventrue and a vassal of Heinrich von Volstag.
Bulcsú spent less than a year learning at the feet of his sire, before travelling back to Pannonia, where his people had elected to settle and build a homeland. He was accompanied by his brother-in-blood, Gregor von Naumberg, a fellow neonate and advisor on all matters Holy Roman, as well as a coterie of Heinrich von Volstag’s loyal vassals. Together they swiftly established Bulcsú’s claim over Esztergom and Gregor’s over Pressburg, while many of Heinrich’s other vassals established demesnes further east and south.
During this time, Bulcsú also gave the Embrace to his elderly son, Zombar, who had replaced him as horka after Lechfeld. Zombar was fearless, intelligent and possessed of a similar flair for intrigue as his father. He swiftly established dominion over the small settlement of Pest, and the castle of Buda on the opposite bank of the Danube. The next forty years saw constant conflict with the Tzimisce voivodes of the region, and Zombar sired freely among their kin to bolster the ranks against the constant attrition. Through skill, ingenuity, the backing of Heinrich von Volstag and more than a little luck, Bulcsú and his allies succeeded. Indeed, not a few Tzimisce voivodes farther east took the opportunity to weaken the holdings of their western brethren while they were indisposed with the new Árpád threat, thus critically weakening the Transylvanian Basin in the conflicts to come.
While Bulcsú had been hesitant to Embrace others at first, he watched the career of the Grand Prince Géza closely, and was deeply impressed with the moral flexibility and creativity of the would-be king. He considered Géza to be a fine and worthy prospective childe and Embraced the ailing ruler in AD 992. Unfortunately, in this case Bulcsú had underestimated the apparently cavalier manner in which Géza had adopted Christianity. The newly created fledgeling had, in fact, expected to find his rewards in heaven, and though he was horrified at his new “life” he elected to settle sullenly into his new existence rather than condemn himself to certain Hell by committing suicide. Bulcsú allowed Géza to continue openly as Grand Prince for a number of years, and eventually rewarded him with Esztergom when he decided to concentrate once more upon conquest.
He found a more able and suitable childe in Vencel Rikard, a young Bavarian knight that had served in Géza’s royal bodyguard. The honourable and skilled soldier intrigued the Man of Blood, and he elected to Embrace Vencel despite Geza’s protests that he wasn’t family. In the years to come, the now-powerful Árpád faction stepped up their campaigns of conquest into Slavonia, Croatia and the Transylvanian Basin.
Throughout the 11th century, Bulcsú was very busy indeed, appearing every bit the loyal vassal to Volstag. He made sure to secure his princedoms from the inevitable probes by his sire’s rivals in the Holy Roman Empire, and mobilised his mortal catspaws to stablise the borders with Croatia, Poland, Moravia and the Holy Roman Empire. Towns and cities were walled and strategic points were castled. With the west secure, Lord Bulcsú then elected to deal with the fractious east. From the reign of King Stephen I he planned and led dozens of sorties against the Tzimisce of the Transylvanian Voivodate, destroying several noted elders and smashing the centuries old sense of Shaper complacency. As the mortal armies of Hungary scoured the raiding Pechenegs from the basin and annexed the lands of the weak local nobility, Lord Bulcsú and his Dux Bellorum Jelek (childe of Zombar) attempted to do likewise with the Tzimisce. Until this night, few voivodes or knezi on the western border of the Voivodate can boast of being true elders, for the ashes of their forebears would give the lie to their claims. Not a few of those ashes are in the possession of their Tzimisce rivals, who swiftly capitalised on the vulnerability their peers suffered from Bulcsú’s raids.
Throughout these wars, Bulcsú’s mastery of intrigue and mortal manipulation served him well. By AD 1003, the last powerful semi-independent mortal ruler (his uncle by marriage, a count named Gyula) in Transylvania had been humbled at his castle near the settlement that is now known as Weissenburg. By 1100, the basin was thoroughly cowed, with most opposition destroyed by the more combative and brutal chieftains among the Hungarians, and the remainder driven into remote and isolated valleys where they maintained ineffectual resistance. Dozens of Pecheneg, Vlach, and Slavic potentates had bent the knee and betrayed their religion (both pagan and Orthodox), converting to the Latin Rite in order to be confirmed in their rule. However, while the basin was soon flooded with his mortal pawns (whose authority was kept non-hereditary to keep the Tzimisce off-balance), Bulcsú had to content himself with merely humbling the The Voivodate , for while they were fractious, the Shapers were too entrenched to make any true headway beyond the eastern Apuseni foothills.
For more than 70 years, the Shapers failed to unite cohesively enough or manage their mortal pawns effectively to stop him from fracturing their borders. In truth, their attention was divided. Between the separate threats of the Árpád invasion and their own secret war against the usurping bloodline now known as the Tremere, the disunited Tzimisce simply failed to direct their assets.
Their mortal pawns beaten and their formerly secure castles and manses no longer safe, it seemed that Bulcsú had driven the Voivodate to the brink of collapse. Eventually, however, the Black Wolf was forced to return his attention to the west, for his heir, Zombar, had suicided in a spectacular, public display that shattered the Sixth Tradition. In the wake of his Final Death, Bulcsú saw the sudden dissolution of his own empire in the offing, and rushed home with his trusted bodyguard, Vencel Rikard, to restore order among his treacherous bloodline. Jelek was left to press the attack in the East, but he lacked his grand-sire’s genius for total war and momentum was soon lost.
As a delaying tactic the Árpád king was instructed to move the formidable Székelys into a strategic position in the south-west of the basin, where they managed to remain as a potent reminder to Pecheneg chieftains and the Vlach judges and counts (as well as the Voivodate who ruled them) of how true power is projected. While the Tzimisce might have, with a brief show of unity, dealt with the Székelys in a decade or two at most, that opportunity was dealt a second blow from another quarter. The Tremere, having spent decades on the defensive, were now starting to push back.
In any case, it was soon apparent to Lord Bulcsú that Hungary had grown too quickly and the nobility was unstable in their loyalties. A quick visit to the west soon ground into years as the Man of Blood fought to return his nation to a solid footing. By AD 1080, it was clear that the opportunity to destroy the Tzimisce was lost. Jelek was recalled, and Bulcsú turned his personal attention elsewhere while using his mortal pawns to keep Transylvania disunited and off-balance.
Using the same tactics that had so devastated the Voivodate, Bulcsú looked south for new conquests. He soon masterminded the union of the kingdoms of Hungary and Croatia, and planned a campaign against the Brujah, Lasombra and Tzimisce potentates that ruled the night there. This time however, his Dux Bellorum would lead the attacks, while Bulscu kept his lands stable from his courts at Buda-Pest and Esztergom. Many of these princes were of provincial Byzantine Scion families, which incurred the enmity of the Cainites of the Dream. By the turn of the 12th century, Bulcsú was one of the wealthiest Cainite lords in Europe, while his mortal influence and resources were at least the equal to elders 1000 years his senior. He also began testing the leash of Heinrich von Volstag, who had taken to spending much of his time in torpor.
As the self-appointed Lord of Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia and Transylvania, Bulscu knew that his sire could not hope to prevail if he moved directly against him. In the Spring of AD 1118, he actively broke with the Lord of Brandenburg, leading a bloody purge of his own ranks to remove those agents still loyal to Volstag. Even his brother-in-blood, Gregor, saw the writing on the wall and broke with their sire rather than lose his head. The gamble paid off. Bulcsú declared himself king of his territories in the Autumn of 1118. For his part, Volstag repudiated Bulcsú and Gregor for their treachery, publicly disowning them. Both felt the Summons of their wrathful sire many times, growing weaker and more easily resisted over the years until finally even Heinrich von Volstag saw the futility of it. He would pass on his mantle to the ancilla Jürgen von Verden in AD 1168, and he soon retired from public affairs altogether.
In AD 1121 the Voivodate would arise once more, under the nominal leadership of Vladimir Rustovitch, who initiated his first “Trial by War” against the Árpáds in spectacular fashion. Jelek once more went east to do battle, as Bulcsú mobilised his resources once more from afar. However, within 10 years, the upstart had taken the cities of Arad and Oradea, as well as a broad swathe of border territory between them. Two strong Árpád princes were destroyed, and Jelek was sent packing. Furthermore, this Voivode Rustovitch had the support of his neighbouring voivodes and had beaten Bulcsú at his own game. This time, more of the mortal knights and lords that fought in the conflict fought for the Tzimisce rather than the Ventrue!
The preserved head of the late Guntbert, Prince of Oradea, was sent to King Bulscu’s court in Esztergom. When Bulcsú laid eyes upon it, the head animated, and said:
The Hungarian occupation of Pannonia and Transylvania will end immediately; All Ventrue must immediately quit Pannonia and Transylvania after removing their armies; Renewed acknowledgement of the sole rights of the Tzimisce to these lands must be given immediately; if any of these conditions for your surrender are ignored, you will suffer an even worse fate than that of this worm.
King Bulcsú’s response was to declare war on the Voivode Rustovitch. He offered rich reward not just to his own descendants, but any Holy Roman Cainites that chose to involve themselves in the conflict. The resulting War of Griffons and Dragons lasted 9 years, masked behind a peasant rebellion that plagued the border. It was a dirty and attritious war; dozens of Ventrue and Tzimisce met their ends, including Bulscu’s Dux Bellorum Jelek. Finally, the Árpáds were thrown back, and Rustovitch and his allies had created a shield of Domains that stretched from Oradea in the north through Arad to Timișoara in the south. However, the enemy were physically depleted and mentally exhausted enough that they would take many years to reach their former strength as well.
Before either of them could recover, an old foe returned. Bulcsú’s Árpád subordinates in the Balkans sent reports of coordinated attacks on their assets by mortal bands of warriors led by uncharacteristically disciplined Brujah. Within months, the reports stopped altogether, but not before they indicated that the same attacks were occurring on Tzimisce dominions. Dominic was back, and looking for satisfaction over his ghoul’s betrayal of centuries before. Without the manpower to meet him head on, both Bulcsú and Rustovitch were forced to cede ground, and by 1141 the ancient Brujah had soon crafted a powerful Domain out of the city of Timișoara. Dozens of Brujah and malcontents from other clans flocked to his banner, and his praxis was quickly secured.
Stunned by his failure and uncertain of himself for the first time in his existence, Bulcsú passed Buda-Pest on to Rikard, who had proven himself many times over. He then retreated into the shadows for several years, alternatively indulging in a carnal malaise of debauchery and hatching new plots that amounted to little. Finally, he was approached by the formidable Nova Árpád, who presented him with a new and innovative plan of attack. West Franconian settlers had approached King Géza II, looking for rights to settle areas both unpopulated and depopulated in the Transylvanian basin, and in return the king was inclined to agree so long as they protected the borders from the incipient Cuman threat. These Franconians, lumped in together with the Saxons that already worked mines throughout Transylvania and other areas of the kingdom, represented an opportunity to place new peoples with which the Tzimisce were unfamiliar in the very heartland of the Voivodate.
Nova, however, was quite familiar with them, and she proposed the plan of beginning their subsumation immediately, and forming a coterie of allied princes to reign over the settlements that would soon be established before the Fiends had the opportunity to sink in their own hooks. Bolstered by the revolving mortal voivodes and ispáns that were appointed by the royal court in Esztergom, the Tzimisce would be kept off-balance for decades, allowing the Ventrue to insinutate themselves into Transylvania by guile rather than force. His imagination seized by the brilliant plan, he gave Nova leave to enact it. The sudden, fortuitous disappearance of the ancient Fiend, Ionache, in AD 1149 gave them all the momentum they needed, and the Council of Ashes established the Siebenburgen within the year. Rustovitch was out-flanked, and busy besides with the Tremere threat and challenges from rivals within his own clan.
For perhaps 20 winters, the Council held off the Voivodate at bay but eventually they were brought undone by internecine rivalries, attacks from Lupines, or the machinations of local Tzimisce, Nosferatu, and Gangrel vampires. For his part, King Bulcsú offered the support of his increasingly fractious subordinates, and expended considerable energies manipulating Geza II’s son and successor, the formidable Bela III, from behind the scenes but It was clear by 1190 that the gambit had failed.
It would appear that King Bulcsú shifted his attentions elsewhere after this. He receded further into the shadows, leaving his courts at Esztergom and Buda-Pest and retreating into the shadows elsewhere. Some believe him to be in torpor, others to be laying the careful groundwork for a masterful stroke against the troublesome Voivodate, and still more claim that he has merely given up his ambitions and given in to his sybaritic nature.
Time will tell.
During his brief tenure in the court of Buda-Pest as the ward of Vencel Rikard, Ulrich von Wettin discovered evidence that Bulcsú still resides in that city, but he keeps this secret in honour of his friendship with the prince.
Embrace: AD 955. It is known that Bulcsú was a ghoul before he was brought across, and that his first thrall was no later than AD 895.
Lineage: Childe of Heinrich of Volstag, Childe of Erik Eigermann (d?), Childe of Veddartha
(d?)= probably destroyed