Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Jürgen von Verden
Known of late as the Swordbearer, this ancilla is one of the preeminent Ventrue nobles of the Holy Roman Empire. Extremely ambitious, the warlord has cast his eyes eastward to the lands of the Tzimisce.
A bull-necked, square jawed German with an aquiline nose, long yellow hair, a moustache and hard grey eyes. He is a nobleman and a knight, judging by his haughty looks and fine clothing, which bear the symbol of a red eagle on a black field. The man exudes authority and has a formidable personal presence about him. His arms and his armour are of extraordinarily fine quality, especially his sword, which is decorated with motifs of sceptres and roses.
NOTE: Jürgen was brought across with long hair and a full beard. He typically wears a moustache when holding court in Magdeburg, but occasionally, as the mood takes him, he will elect to show off his full beard. When in the field, Lord von Verden usually comports himself as a Teutonic Knight. He eschews his regal finery and heraldry, wearing instead the simple white tabard and black cross of his Order. He also keeps his hair shorn close to his scalp and shaves his moustache, the better to keep it out of his face and properly wear his helmet.
The coat-of-arms of Jürgen von Verden, Overlord von Sachsen und Thüringen, Landgraf von Brandenburg, Beschützer der Burzenland, Hochmeister des Schwarzen Kreuz, Prinz von Magdeburg.
In the style of the Grandmasters of the Teutonic Order, he has quartered his own symbol, a crimson eagle displayed on a golden field, bordered with crimson, with that of the black Latin Cross on a white field. He displays this heraldry only to other Cainites, and then only when acting in his capacity of Hochmeister. At other times, he uses the eagle device on its own.
(Expanded from the character as presented in Under the Black Cross, the Dark Ages Clan Novels Ventrue, Gangrel, Tzimisce, Toreador, and Tremere, and the Unofficial White Wolf Wiki).
Jürgen von Verden was born into the small nobility of Lower Saxony, but he dreamed of becoming a king in the style of Charlemagne. Possessed of a striking presence and a cunning intellect to match his looks, his ambition surpassed that of all his peers. He dreamed of conquests, and these portentous visions only grew with age. Unable to make much of his humble fief, he followed the tides of war to more fertile battlefields, reaping riches, land and glory amid the Swabian dynastic strife of the latter 10th century. The more Jürgen saw and learned, the more he hungered. In his quest to acquire titles, he campaigned against neighbouring lords and to the surprise of many observers, the young warlord was more than a match for his opponents. Skilled at court and daring on the battlefield, he was the perfect blend of brutality and honour. After each success, Jürgen only sought greater challenges. Rapidly, the young noble came to the attention of a very different kind of lord – one named Hardestadt.
In Jürgen’s eyes, the Ventrue magnate saw the flames of ambition – stronger in this kine than in many of his loyal Cainite subjects. As a test, Hardestadt introduced the young man to the world of the endless dark, and power beyond his mortal imaginings. Despite what what he had just learned, Jürgen was not shaken. Rather he was fearless, aroused by the prospects of eternal life and limitless power. Finally, the young warlord had an opportunity to spar with equals. Indeed, Hardestadt was so impressed by Jürgen’s cavalier demeanour that he chose to Embrace him. Rapidly, Jürgen became the old Ventrue’s prodigy. The neonate’s wit and ambition was an asset to Hardestadt, allowing him to broaden his already considerable empire.
Although it was secondary to his ambition to rule, Jürgen was also noted early on as a dedicated Christian, at least in so far as it was in the mould of the Germanic militant faith. He considered himself a crusader, even before such pious warmongering became fashionable among the Cainite and kine elite of Europe. However, rather than the Muslim infidel of Outremer, his sanctimonious wrath fell instead on the pagan Slavs. That these tribes stood in the way of German expansion, and along the path of his insatiable desire for dominion, just happened to dovetail serendipitously for the undead warlord. His interest in militant Christianity was probably inspired by his early association with the Lasombra elder known as Gotzon, an Ashen Priest of the via Caeli who is much renowned and feared in the Holy Roman Empire. Gotzon is still welcome in the court of Lord Jürgen, and occasionally serves as a confessor to the Ventrue despite their different roads and clans.
After three score years of loyal service, it was only natural that Jürgen would grow to tire of rank subservience. Thus, with some limitations and a guarantee of fealty, Hardestadt allowed Jürgen to found a dark empire of his own. Rather than pushing into an established city, the ancilla chose to carve his domain out of the wilderness of the Northern March, building castles at strategic points on the Slavic frontier and conquering others along key trade routes in Saxony and Thuringia. Using his newfound wealth and ready manpower, he then offered his might to other ancillae that were eager to oust complacent elders. The price for such assistance would be an oath of fealty to Jürgen himself, and it was a toll that many eager young Ventrue would prove happy to pay. By the turn of the 12th century, Jürgen had cemented his position as Lord of Saxony, although it was at the cost of failing to pledge his sword to the forthcoming glory of the First Crusade.
It was in his capacity of Lord of Saxony that Jürgen first encountered Bernhard Billung. In the summer of AD 1127, Bernhard came to blows with Guy d’Arles, the childe of Prince Kuritz of Lüneburg, over the disposition of a mortal girl. Unwilling to risk the ire of Bernhard’s elder (and secretly absent) sire, Lucien, Kuritz instead called upon his feudal ties to have his more powerful lord intervene. Jürgen arrived soon after with his new aide-de-camp, Lucretia von Hartz (coincidentally also the childe of Kuritz) and an overwhelming number of retainers. The Lord of Saxony seemed impressed by the young Gangrel’s bearing and intelligence, remarking that it was a shame that for all his talents, Bernhard had been Embraced into the wrong clan as well as misled onto the wrong road, for only Scions had the right to rule their fellow Cainites. He then gave the ancilla three choices: swear fealty to Prince Kuritz and himself, leave Lüneburg, or prepare himself to fight to the Final Death to hold his place in the city. Sensing that he was outmatched, Bernhard wisely chose to leave his home and make his way to Braunschweig, where he would dwell for many years afterwards.
Jürgen’s own path for much of the 12th century would be dominated by the political games of his fellow Ventrue, many of whom often sought to block his progress. Most of the western demesnes of the Holy Roman Empire were already claimed by those sworn to Hardestadt or, more rarely, another Ventrue elder of his sire’s vintage. Only in the savage, freezing expanses of the Slavic East would Lord Jürgen have the opportunity to hone his skill as a warrior and a captain. Yet even here, there was no vacuum for him to fill, for a hard, provincial breed of his clan-mates had long tested themselves against the pagan lords of the Tzimisce Voivodate. Most prominent among these was Ilse Reinegger, the brilliant prince of Spandau, who for decades stymied Jürgen’s attempts to add the failing power base of her own sire, Erik Eigermann, to his own. His preoccupation with securing this Northern March as it slowly coalesced into the Margraviate of Brandenburg would preclude his involvement with the Second Crusade. Indeed, the intrigues between Jürgen and Ilse are still discussed among Ventrue many decades later as a model of infra-clan political cut and thrust. However, the rivalry would eventually resolve in his favour, and Jürgen would add the Lordship of Brandenburg to his titles in AD 1162.
Following that would be his eventual claim on the Princedom of Magdeburg in AD 1188 and, finally, a measure of glory (if not lasting domain) on the Third Crusade. Having learned firsthand of the power and organisation of the Military Orders, it was here that he and his subordinates, Lucretia von Hartz and Christof von Plauen, conceived of a purely German military order of monastic knighthood to tackle the Slavic East. Together with a number of others, such as Baron Heinrich von Achern and Rudiger von Goslar, they have secretly guided the destiny of the Teutonic Knights since its formation in AD 1198, although in truth they merely took advantage of the founding rather than actually engineered it themselves. Using their secret sub-order, the Knights of the Black Cross, they have recruited many mortals and a number of like-minded Cainites who are possessed of the crusading spirit and a healthy dislike of the pagans on the empire’s eastern frontiers.
Many years later, having firmly established his secret influence within the order, and planted strong allies in the court of the Hungarian King, András II, Lord Jürgen judged himself ready to make use of his new army. The weakness of the Árpád Ventrue of Hungary granted him the opportunity to sweep in and “assist” them in repulsing the increasingly organised and belligerent Tzimisce Voivodate. Due to the manipulations of his agents, King András II invited the Teutonic Order to fortify the Burzenland border against the Cuman raiders that plagued the Transylvanian frontier. Jürgen had heard of the mighty reputation of the Tzimisce Voivode of Voivodes, this Rustovitch, and he was eager to test the Fiend’s mettle. All was prepared; he was ready to take the fight to Transylvania, and beard the Clan of the Dragon in their own heartland.
For the spring of AD 1211, Lord Jürgen planned a great celebration as a declaration of war. He invited a number of his peers among the Cainite lords of the Holy Roman Empire and France, a great many of his vassal princes, and indeed anyone else with credentials who might care to take part. The subsequent humiliation of Morrow’s intrusion and the theft of the Sword of Sceptres and Roses (a series of events also known as the Magdeburg Affair) left his status on shaky ground, despite its speedy resolution and the public grace with which he handled the disaster. Jürgen needed a decisive victory in the Burzenland to recover his secure position in Cainite society. The Swordbearer (his latest moniker, owing to the extraordinary gift of the Courts of Love) travelled to Kronstadt personally to oversee the effort, and some of his most potent servants followed him.
The war between the Eastern Lords and the Voivodate had begun. It started with promise, for Prince Karsten of Kronstadt had willingly bent the knee, knowing that he lacked the manpower and expertise to hold at bay the Cuman Gangrel warlord known as Kordönül. This brought the most important settlement of the Burzenland immediately into his camp, saving precious time and trouble. Furthermore, the Árpáds readily acknowledged that with the loss of the guidance of Bulscu and the setbacks of the late 12th century, Transylvania was lost to the Tzimisce. A number of their more influential lords expressed interest in folding their own demesnes into the purview of the Eastern Lords, provided the momentum were regained against the Voivodate. He pressed the war against Kordönül, knowing that it must be resolved quickly so he could prepare for the movements of Rustovich.
And yet, the agents who were initially at the behest of the Lord Jürgen were far from reliable. After several promising advances in the war against the Cumans, he chose to put his faith in the mixed coterie of neonates known as the Ashen Band. This faith was misplaced, for Ulrich the Bull, childe of Jürgen’s blood-brother and rival, Hardestadt the Younger, was all to adept at manipulating his naïve coterie-mates to benefit himself. Jürgen and Heinrich had appointed the baron’s prized progeny, Berengar, to keep an eye on Ulrich, but the Teutonic Brother proved himself unequal to the task. To successfully counter Kordönül, it was necessary to negotiate safe passage through Oltenia with Rustovich’s rival, Tabak Ruthven. However, in doing so the Ashen Band foolishly allowed Ulrich to promise a king’s ransom on the Swordbearer’s behalf as a “gift” to buy that passage. In doing so, they not only promised a sum that would impoverish Jürgen for a good while, but it would allow Tabak to bolster his own armies with enough equipment and mercenaries to replace Rustovich as a viable voivode of voivodes, thus quite likely plunging Oltenia, Muntenia, and Transyvania into many years more of war and uncertainty.
Disgraced, the Ashen Band were removed as his proxies, and would likely have faced further censure but for the intercession of Prince Karsten, who put himself forward as the Swordbearer’s envoy in return for clemency for their part. His knowledge of Slavonia, the Banate, and Oltenia was extensive given his former association with Dominic, and he set off to speak further with Lord Ruthven in the stead of the band of neonates. Whatever his good intentions, they appeared to have been in vain, for he was returned months later, mutated into a horrid parody of a box by the gruesome arts of Vicissitude. It would take months for allies to restore his form, and years for his psyche to recover.
Ever the pragmatist, Lord Jürgen took comfort in the fact that his envoy had been attacked while in the lands of Lord Ruthven, thus nullifying the promises made by the Ashen Band in his name. As such, he was now free of the ridiculous debt negotiated on his behalf, able to default on it without breaking his word and endangering his standing on the via Regalis. Furthermore, he had already moved his troops through the Oltenian lands necessary to sieze an advantage against Kordönül.
He now moved to press that advantage, perilously galloping to and fro with his bodyguard in order to secure alliances with Cuman clans to the south and west that lived in fear of the CeribasI. In doing so, he added several thousand men to his web of allies that then marched on the eastern and northern clans. He was aided in this by several of the Nosferatu Brood of Hermannstadt, who had allied with him in order to throw off the oppression of Marelle, the Sculptor of Wolves, just as the people of their city had come to the aid of Kronstadt. The Lepers shadowed his bodyguard, using their Animalism Discipline to nullify the ability of their Gangrel enemies to track his movements. Meanwhile, as he moved to establish these alliances, his army marched more slowly, erecting forts at strong points on river crossings and hilltops, giving his army the bases to deny ground to the enemy.
Several battles were fought, and while the Cumans had early successes in ambush and logistical sabotage, the horde of Kordönül ultimately could not contend with the growing numbers of the Swordbearer’s army, which had also been bolstered by men from the County of Făgăraș. While the khan’s warriors outclassed any western Cumans in the Burzenlander army, the longer range of Lord Jürgen’s mercenary archers proved to be telling, as did the extraordinary discipline of the knights at the core of his army. All knew, however, that the Cumans simply had to hang on until winter, for by September of 1214, word reached Muntenia that Vladimir Rustovich was on the march. Using the pretext of local border wars in defiance of weak royal authority, he marched his northern army from their base at Várad (Oradea), and entered Transylvania proper. First the cities of Klausenburg and then Regen were forced to open their gates, and then Bistritz too was threatened.
If that city were to fall, Rustovitch would be free to march on Mediasch and Schäßburg with the spring. If Kordönül Khan too was still pressuring the southern flank, the Burzenland would surely fall in the new year. As the winter winds and snows drew nigh, the race to bring the elusive ceribasI to a conclusive battle grew ever more desperate.
And then, Kordönül vanished.
Some claim that Lord Jürgen must have hired an assassin to dispense with the formidable Cuman warlord, but those close to the Swordbearer know better, for his delight and surprise was palpable when the enemy started making predictable errors in their movements. Within a fortnight, even showing due caution for a trap the Burzenland-Hermannstadt-Cuman alliance had drawn the forces of the absent ceribasI into battle and vanquished them utterly. Kronstadt was saved, and Cumania was open for the taking. Quickly, the Teutons were able to partition their army enough to both leave garrisons in the south and make it across the Törz (Bran) Pass to give threat to the heretofore unchecked movements of Voivode Rustovich.
The years since have seen a more measured game of move and check between the two ambitious warlords. In the mortal sphere, matters in the kingdom remain unstable, as many castle servants and noble families are in passive rebellion against András II, whose generosity to foreigners has alienated them. This has given Lord Rustovitch plenty of fuel to maintain tensions between Hungarian, Vlach, and Saxon political entities within Transylvania. Although little has changed as far as the kine are concerned, Prince Radu of Bistritz, unable to hold his throne in opposition to his obviously overwhelming enemies, regretfully broke with Visya and the dysfunctional Council of Ashes after his sire fled, abandoning Regen to Rustovich’s advancing forces. Likewise, the voivode of voivode’s agents infest Klausenburg, although the assassination of any vampires he sends to that city appears to have convinced Rustovich that Mitru and his large brood need to be destroyed before he can properly coopt the settlement.
Lord Jürgen was busy indeed over the years after the conclusion of the Cuman War. He urged his ghoul, Commander Theoderich to step up efforts to coordinate the forces of the Burzenland with those of Mediasch, Schäßburg, and Hermannstadt, improving chances that the 4 cities can withstand Rustovich’s next move. The Cainite princes of those settlements seem willing to support the Swordbearer, although Nova does so with great reluctance on account of his alliance with Marusca. He makes embassies to Iulia in Weißenburg and Octavus in Mühlbach also, but thus far both princes have been reluctant to endanger their neutrality.for his ambitions. The embattled coterie of Árpád princes who watch over the Székelyföld have proven more accommodating, as have the scattered remnants of the Cainite powers of Muntenia, who see their mortal herds converting to the Latin Rite en mass under the proselytising of Teutonic Order missionaries.
Preparations made, the Swordbearer continues to drill his men and strengthen his fortifications, ready for Rustovich’s next move.
Embrace: AD 989.
Lineage: Childe of Hardestadt, the High Lord of the Holy Roman Empire, also known as the Fiefs of the Black Cross. Hardestadt’s own lineage is obscure, but Ventrue historians have noted his sire as Erik Eigermann (d?), one of the last progeny of the Ventrue Antediluvian. In the mid-12th century, Lord Jurgen claimed Eigermann as his grandsire to give his claims over the demesnes of Ilse Reinegger greater weight.