Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
A hard, pragmatic woman of the Clan of Shadow; a scholar, occultist, and a keeper of secrets with friends in dark places...
A pretty, full-figured Romanian woman of perhaps 20 years. She keeps her hair in a simple pony tail and wears little jewellery, other than a pair of gold earrings studded with carnelians and an ornate wedding band of Byzantine make. Her dress is sombre, and her expression is grave. Judging by the ink stains on her fingers, she would appear to be a scholar.
Note: Iulia once looked more matronly, rather plumper and perhaps fifteen years older but has submitted to the flesh-crafted arts of Veceslav in order to appear younger and more beddable. She has done this in preparation for her schemes on the nobility of Alba Iulia/Karlsburg.
Role-playing Hints: The grand-daughter of a wise woman, you have always felt in touch with the unseen world. It came as little surprise to you when George came back to you, four years after his death from pneumonia. Your sire chose you for your intuitive grasp of the mysteries of the occult, and after your initial shock you have decided to rise to the challenge of your new state. You have adopted the Road of Kings as your sire wished, but secretly wonder if you have made a mistake. If you lose your humanity, might your beloved George lose his connection to you?
You come from good stock but your family was forced off your land by the conquering Magyars and Szeklers, and you are determined to bring a measure of prosperity back to your people. You are also deeply loyal to your children and hope to see them eventually rise to the nobility as they deserve.
Iulia was born into serfdom near Alba Iulia (called Karlsburg by the Saxons) in the Year of Our Lord, 1146. Several generations earlier her family had been of noble blood, related to the Conte, but they were disinherited after refusing to convert to the Latin Church. For having the courage of their convictons to the Orthodox faith they, like many of their counterparts throughout Transylvania, found themselves bound to working the same land that had been theirs for tens of generations. Iulia was named as such so that every time she heard her name she would remember whom she really was, the great niece of the Conte de Alba Iulia. Her father Anton bore the indignity of his reduced station with a mixture of resignation and pride while her mother, Daria, died young, the victim of a wasting disease. Before doing so, she instilled her daughter with a deep love of the “women’s wisdom” of the Old Country, as well as a sense of the unknown. Her brother, Calin, had a rebellious streak and struck out on his own as a youth, earning his freedom by surviving in the Siebenburgen for a year and a day. Between back-breaking work in the fields, mucking out the stables and feeding the pigs, Iulia’s father strove to give her the education that his own had, in his turn, struggled to give him. By the age of fifteen she had grown to be a pretty girl, and it was a miracle as much as the constant filth on her face that she managed to reach her majority without suffering the lecherous attentions of Velek, the Magyar “lord” that squatted within the castle of her ancestors.
Her apparent lot changed when George Davras arrived. A wealthy Byzantine noble in his middle years who had served as a Vardariotai catepan (captain) in Emperor Manuel’s Cilician and Anatolian campaigns during the 2nd Crusade, he was a distinguished visitor indeed. As a youth he also had the distinction of being a protege of John II Comenus, one of the most famous men and canniest generals of the age. George claimed to be touring the region to “get a feel” for the land and people beyond the Transylvanian Alps but what he was actually doing there (as he would reveal to his new wife months later) was making maps for a possible military expansion into the area. While briefly enjoying the hospitality of Velek, the normally unflappable George happened to see the proud young woman working in the stables and instantly fell in love with her. Although twenty years her elder, he felt no reservations about pursuing her avidly in the coming weeks, even extending his stay to do so. His promise to Anton that he would secure her freedom and give her a good life as a lady was enough to earn him her father’s approval, and a suitable gift of silver was enough to buy Iulia’s freedom from the unwitting Velek. Anton’s parting words to his last surviving daughter were “do not look back, but come back one day and take back what is rightfully ours”.
As soon as they were out of sight of Velek’s lands, George released her and asked for her hand in marriage. And true to Anton’s hopes, his proud daughter never looked back. They were soon married and the years after were good ones for Iulia and George. She was delighted to discover that her people were free in Bulgaria, and become something of a minor celebrity from Tirgoviste to Sophia. She even encountered her elder brother Calin, now a rogue and a horsedealer, in Tarnovo, and renewed her acquaintance (if not a close one) with him. George was soon promoted to Strategos of the Bulgarian Vardariotai and moved his new wife to Preslav. He taught her to ride, shoot a bow both on foot and in the saddle, how to speak and dance at court and how to run an estate. However, the three most important gifts that he gave her were freedom, a proper education and a family. Although she had originally thought of him as a means to an end, George had won her heart completely. They had two children, George and Daphne, and Iulia settled into her life as a noble lady of Adrianople, though she never forgot Anton’s words. One day she would return. Some day, some how.
The years rolled on, and the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire waned as those of the Bulgarians steadily waxed. The frontiers of the empire continued to shrink, and Iulia’s dream become ever more distant. She and George had sixteen glorious years together, although this was interrupted at times by his military duties viciously putting down this uprising or that. Indeed, Strategos George Davros came to be known, among other less poetic epithets, as the “Sorrow of the Bulgars”.
Alas, George fell ill while touring border forts in the spring of the Year of Our Lord, 1178 and succumbed to pneumonia before he could return home to his family. His loss devastated Iulia and she spent many months unable to rise from her bed, her spirit guttering and her body failing. Finally some inspiration came to her in the middle of the night, as if George had come to her and stroked her hair the way he used to when her dreams were troubled. She awoke the next day reinvigorated and with a new purpose: to see her children delivered to the lives that George wanted for them, and to look to her own people as Anton had wanted. But for herself… nothing. From this moment forward, Iulia lived only for others.
Young George proved to have a flair for managing the family estates near Adrianople and Daphne was betrothed to a good man with extensive lands near Silistra. Iulia’s tireless efforts to raise the station of the vlachs to the equal of the bulgars were not appreciated by the rising powers that be, and she found herself “encouraged” to spend more time in Adrianople than Preslav. A few close scares instigated by a pair of local Bulgarian warlords by the name of Ivan and Peter Asen convinced her of the wisdom of doing so and she soon relocated altogether.
Iulia made the acquaintance of Lady Katerina, a refined noblewoman of Russian extraction, in the court of the Doux of Adrianople. Lady Katerina was instantly drawn to the mortal by virtue of Iulia’s apparent erudition, sense of the unknown and calm pragmatism. The fact that Iulia appeared to recognise something of the vampire’s nature impressed her even more. After a long courtship the Lasombra elder convinced Iulia that nothing would serve her frustrated aims better than having an eternity to bring them about and the tools of the Children of Caine to aid her machinations. After a suitable period to consider the ramifications to her immortal soul, Iulia agreed, pragmatically reasoning that if she had eternity to bring her goals to fruition, then she would also have eternity to do penance afterwards.
Iulia then said goodbye to the light and to her children (now grown with children of their own), and faded into the shadows. She was formally Embraced into the Licinian Lasombra in the Year of Our Lord, 1182. Lady Katerina proved to be indulgent of Iulia’s future ambitions, but a merciless teacher in the gifts and philosophy of Caine. There was no room for vain affectations of humanity among the children of the night and especially among the Clan of Shadows, so Lady Katerina instead instructed Iulia in the tenets of the Road of Kings. For her part, Iulia has never been entirely comfortable with abandoning her humanity and sometimes still acts contrary to her chosen Road. She has however, taken to the gifts readily and is already an adept with regards to Domination and Obtenebration, earning the praise of her own sire as well as her master, the ancient Prince Marcus Licinius of Adrianople.
Lady Katerina serves Prince Marcus Licinius and her Family, the Licinian Lasombra, as Adrianople’s ambassador to Constantinople. As such, she and Iulia have spent much of their time since her Embrace shuttling between the two cities on behalf of Prince Marcus Licinius. Although no longer a fledgeling, as a neonate she recognises that doing the bidding of her sire will get her a lot further than if she tries to establish any Domain on her own. Lady Katerina has friends both amongst the Greek Families and the Narsene Lasombra of Venice, and it is in this capacity that Iulia met Gunther ritter von Wolfgang, Sir Conrad de Monreal (aka Sir Conrad de Molay) and Veceslav Basarab. They succeeded in gaining some renown in late 1196 and now Iulia finally had her chance.
The sire’s of the Iulia, Gunthar ritter von Wolfgang, Sir Conrad de Monreal and Veceslav Basarab had found the short-lived alliance in Constantinople to their liking. Over the coming year they conspired with Prince Vencel Rikard and a fifth party, the Cappadocian Dietrich von Steyer, to raise their own fortunes and that of their progeny further. Rikard offered his patronage to the coterie of convenience in return for a task that he needed tending to. All they needed to do was build the first floor of a tower in the wilds of Transylvania, and Lady Katerina and the Prince of Buda-Pest would endorse her attempt to claim the Princedom of Alba Iulia, or Weissenburg as the Saxons had renamed it. She would finally go home, or near enough to what remained of it, and take back what belonged to her.
Dietrich’s childe, a cantankerous lay nun by the name of Maude Khlesl, was brought into the coterie. The journey to the pass through the harsh winter was arduous, and Sir Conrad was soon lost to the coterie due to a case of demonic possession. Attacks from bandits, werewolves and mad cultists of the demon Kupala winnowed their herd, and cost precious resources. Iulia’s secret guardian, her dear George, was also revealed to the coterie, and Maude made overtures of friendship to the ghost. Finally they reached the site and began construction, though not without ceding prestation to the Obertus Tzimisce in the form of Myca Vykos, for his donation of silver and materials to the effort. A Lasombra Knight Templar, Sir Alaric di Taranto, joined the coterie on Sir Conrad’s behalf, in repayment of a boon owed to Procet by his own master, Santhiago de Girona. The project to build the tower was also perilous, requiring as it did the successful Trial by War against the forces of Mircea Dzardescu.
Cracks eventually formed in the early concord of the coterie. Iulia and Maude clashed over the necessity and extent of the use of force on recalcitrant mortals. Gunthar ritter’s dramatic, dangerous and prideful antics, including consideration of diablerie upon a fallen Ventrue Knight of Blood, placed him at odds with the entire coterie and also earned the Gangrel the disgust and disregard of George. This last also drove a wedge between Iulia and Bernhard, whom he had chosen to restyle himself- destroying her respect and comradeship for him. And yet, there were triumphs too. The talented but penniless Vlach nobleman Marius de Simand offered his allegiance, and become her thrall. She learned the rudiments of Animalism, Auspex, Fortitude and most importantly, Mortis too. With the last, she finally became able to see and speak with her beloved at leisure for the first time in decades. Her heart took flight with his ready company.
When the task was successfully completed before the first snows of the winter of AD 1198, and Rikard’s support was secured, Iulia and Lady Katerina soon departed Tihuta Pass and made their way back to Adrianople. There, Katerina formally released her from her tutelage and Prince Marcus Licinius gave his leave and blessings for Iulia’s tilt at the Domain of Weissenburg.
Prince of Weissenburg
Iulia left for Transylvania immediately, along with Agmundir (who still remains ‘on loan’ to her for now), Marius and George. She sent first to Tihuta, where she had Veceslav complete his flesh-crafting experiments on her countenance, turning her into a picture of bed-able youth. found Weissenburg to be easy pickings for one of her abilities, and over the next six months she carefully used her proficiency with Dominate to discover weak links in the city’s power structure. She then suborned a number of pawns in the church, the guilds and the landed nobility through further exercise of her powers along with a subtle campaign of anonymous blackmail.
Her primary tool in this campaign was Father Rudolf, the parish priest of Weissenburg, who readily gave away the secrets of the confessional to her ministrations. Iulia opted for the development of steady influence over outright control, as Lady Katerina had always instructed her. She also mesmerised the third son of the Burgrave both physically and supernaturally, and swiftly engineered an engagement that allowed the squire to observe social conventions while carrying on his secret love affair with a lowborn Vlach girl (who is also now Iulia’s servant). Finally, she used her fiance’s influence to fund a clinic run by Fye Chriegler, Maude’s very skilled assistant.
George also flushed out the only other Cainite resident. The Nosferatu called Manfred proved himself to be accommodating to her hopes, claiming that his own ambitions had little hope of recognition from the Arpads. He and Iulia quickly reached a quid pro quo relationship of information sharing in return for influence peddling. By midsummer of AD 1199, Iulia was confident enough to send a missive to each of the other princes of the Siebenburgen that stated her claim of Domain over Weissenburg.
The letter neither asked for not expected their acquiescence to her claim, but she received a tentative offer of encouragement from Radu of Bistritz and more energetic support from her coterie-mates, Bernhard and Veceslav. Nova Arpad sent her a strongly worded letter to the effect that her support was expected in the Blood Hunt against Marusca, Mitru and Ruxandra. She had responded with a carefully diffident stance of her own that ‘should they set foot in her demesnes she would do her utmost to perform her duty to the Siebenburgen’, while privately acknowledging to Manfred (and through him, his grand-sire Marusca) that ‘her duty’ had nothing to do with enforcing the vain retribution of a prince who lacked the power to do so herself and everything to do with seeing Transylvania prosper. Marusca was mollified by the overture, but has offered no gratitude or alliance in return thus far. The newly declared Prince Janos of Schaasburg sent a terse note of acknowledgement too, and Mitru sent no reply at all.
Finally, Iulia and Manfred conducted an investigation into the fate of the former prince, Rowena d’Alexandre. After an exhaustive effort, the former havens of the missing prince were searched and narrowed down until a last manor house near the ruins of the Dacian fortress-city of Apulon were identified as her resting place. Prince Iulia summoned her coterie and together they found Rowena still ‘alive’ at the manor, quite mad from a long-ago attack by a Malkavian enemy, and extremely dangerous. They subdued the maddened elder, who was eventually cured of the worst of her ills, and Rowena has become an informal (and very secretive) advisor and teacher to Iulia since AD 1201.The Cappadocian grants only sparing access to her massive library of the occult, and wants only to finish her research into the necropolis of Apulon.
Maude and Dietrich have been infrequent visitors since Rowena was secretly recovered, the former to instruct Maude Iulia in nigrimancy and Fye in medicine, and the latter to check up on his old friend and mentor. Maude also works with George, looking for ways to aid ghosts settle their ‘unfinished business’ and find ways to augment their involvement in the physical world.
Sherazhina has been a frequent visitor too, advising Iulia regarding the unique difficulties of being surrounded by no less than 5 belligerent Voivodes, most of whom will not tolerate involvement in Weissenburg from the others. This vexing problem requires continual maintenance and attention, and is currently Iulia’s greatest concern.
If she must rule from the shadows then so be it. And if it takes 1000 years then so be it, but her people will be restored to their land.