Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Karl Dressler von Lüneburg
An aged edler, quite influential in the political affairs of Kronstadt. He was once the ward of Bernhard von Billung, and they long maintained their relationship through the auspices of the Sixth Tradition. He is the Lord of Lünedorf and Sankt Wolfgang.
An old, pudgy, well-attired Saxon gentleman with long hair, more silver than grey, and a wispy circle beard. He has intelligent blue eyes, a cheerful smile, and a pleasant, open manner of carrying himself. He carries a cane in his sausage-like fingers, and leans on it rather more heavily than yesteryear.
Karl Dressler von Lüneburg was born in the Year of Our Lord 1153, the only child of a modest landowner of edler stock, Ordulf Dressler the Younger, and his equally modest wife, Anne. He remembers them but little, for he lost them both to a house-fire when he was just two years of age. After the tragedy, he was made a ward of the Church, and spent a year-and-a-half in an orphanage run by the Dominican Order. His earliest memories are of the kindly Father Axel, who taught him his first numbers and letters, but his life truly began when his distant cousin, a valiant knight of the Second Crusade, Sir Gunthar of Wolfgang, came to collect him and see to his upbringing.
The knight was a distant sire, kindly enough but gripped by some hidden sadness, perhaps a lost love or some fallen comrade from the Crusade, but Sir Gunthar and his best friend and business-partner, Lucius treated Karl very well. After he was old enough to take in new experiences, they took him on an extended tour of the West, in company with a governess servant of “Uncle Lucius” named Agnes. The aging governess saw to his daily needs while they treated with various lords, ladies and wealthy merchants on their own business, further enriching Karl’s life with the tales and common wisdom of his homeland. In the days of his formative years, Karl saw many fine cities: Frankfurt aum Main, Cologne, Hamburg, Paris, Florence, and Bologna. At night, his pale cousin quizzed him on his growing knowledge of the seven liberal arts, and Lucius schooled him with profoundly gripping tales of Roman history, almost as if he had seen them firsthand.
Sir Gunthar spoke often his desire to see a son of his own inherit his name and legacy. Karl prayed often with him for his hopes, and implored the Lord nightly that He would see fit to gift the good knight with a worthy son. As the years wore on it struck him as somewhat strange that both his cousin and “Uncle Lucius” seemed curiously immune to the vicissitudes of Chronos, but they both certainly worked hard at keeping it at bay with their strenuous nightly exercises of hand, sword, dagger, and spear fighting. Karl too was taught the basics of self-defence, but his inclination and talents clearly lay elsewhere.
Eventually, the time came for Karl to continue his education in an institution of higher learning, and he even fancied that he might take holy orders. At the age of 14, he was admitted as a postulant to the University of Paris, where he remained for 4 years to study the law and theology. His dearest friend at university was a fellow postulant, Klaus von Osterholt, a wealthy Westphalian who was a year younger than himself. They were both deeply devout young men with a strong academic interest in the more esoteric roads that Christian mysticism had travelled, and they ventured into the closed section of the library on many occasions to expand the breadth of their knowledge. Klaus would go on to holy orders, taking the name Péter upon his ordination, but Karl eventually decided that God’s plans for him lay among the laity. He returned to Saxony in AD 1172.
Sir Gunthar wrote often from his travels in the Crusader Kingdoms in the East, and how he was struggling with a lengthy and debilitating illness. With the money his parents had left him and the patronage of his cousin, Karl settled in to his life as an edler of Lüneburg, though he was unhappy with the arch looks that he often received from older and more illustrious lineages. Happily his cousin wrote that he had found a wife, Jana, at last, and he announced to his former ward that a son, his namesake, had been born to them in the spring of AD 1176. Karl was overjoyed at the news. Another letter in AD 1184 carried the news that Sir Gunthar had passed away. Eventually the letters of the son replaced those of the father, and Karl was pleased to find that their opinions were one and the same on nearly all matters. He was very glad that his dear friend had found a measure of worldly peace in his final years, and that the apple had fallen very close indeed to the tree.
For his own part, he was graced by God with a goodly and beautiful wife, Eadith Dressler von Bleckede, and the fortune of having 4 children: Bernerd, Ingrid, Wanda and Axel. The first three took after their mother, with her tall frame, honey blonde hair and lively blue eyes, while the last, Axel, displayed more of his father’s look.
As Karl grew into his middle-age, he began to feel that the Dressler’s would never truly be given their due in Lüneburg. Due to his skill at estate management and a fine, sly eye for lending capital to speculative ventures, Karl and his family had wealth and success, but socially their status as ‘new nobility’ (despite their illegitimate links to the great Billung line) would not soon be forgotten. He investigated the possibility of heading east to the newly established Siebenburgen, and his enquiries yielded positive results in the growing town of Kronstadt. He soon made his decision. They would maintain some estates in Lüneburg, but Karl knew that their future lay elsewhere. In AD 1190, the Dressler’s made the perilous journey to Transylvania.
Their years in Kronstadt have been good ones. While the Dressler’s are still not quite entirely accepted yet on account of the lateness of their arrival in the parochial town, great advances have been made. Karl soon made a name for himself with his wise and godly political counsel to the burgrave and his noble faction. After years of lobbying and hard work, he was accepted onto the city council himself, where he worked for the prosperity of the city and his liege. His good eye for land served him well, and he assarted excellent and fertile land to grow his crops and rear his livestock, and by 1205 he had branched out into owning property in the city itself. In time, he drew a small number of like-minded men about him as well, and together they now form the strength of the noble faction, as Burgrave Albert has gradually declined into melancholy and alcoholism. His old friend, Karl von Osterholt, rose to the rank of Bishop of the Siebenburgen, serving in that capacity from 1203 to 1207, and while he seldom left his base in Weissenburg, the two resumed a lively correspondence. Due to ill health, Péter would eventually retire to a monastery in Rome, but they remain in touch.
The children thrived, more or less. Axel displayed a gift for learning, and Wanda was bright as well. For her part, Ingrid became known as one of the great beauties of the city, and suitors travelled to the Dressler family’s door from all over the Burgraviate. His son and heir, Bernerd, was another matter entirely. The boy proved to be willful and irresponsible; not at all suited to taking up his father’s mantle. He was a handsome lad, and rumours circulated that he had a shameless talent for wooing the ladies. Still, Karl hoped that he would come good, after he had “sewn his wild oats and his blood had thickened with age.”
Best of all, in 1197 his young cousin Sir Gunthar the Younger relocated to Kronstadt, pleading loneliness, a desire to reconnect with his father’s family, and perhaps even the possibility of starting one of his own. The knight was the very image of his father, and though he appeared more sanguine and less godly than his predecessor, he hearkened closely to the words and deeds of his late father. Sir Gunthar assarted some good land of his own not far from Lünedorf, naming it Sankt Wolfgang in honour of his ruined ancestral home in Saxony. Sir Gunthar the Younger soon became a welcome addition to the family despite his long and frequent absences on pilgrimage. Young Bernerd looked up to him and conceived (albeit some few years later than he should have) of the notion of becoming a knight. After an abortive and troubled start with a local knight, Gerhard, cousin Gunthar took Bernerd on himself.
For a number of years, the strange and precocious boy, Gabriel, also made his home in the house of the Dresslers. A ward of their cousin’s, he was placed among the family to learn his numbers and letters, and he displayed an uncommon aptitude for both. He had a Mediterranean tone to his skin, and there was no physical resemblance, but the family believe the boy to be the natural son of Sir Gunthar the Younger, conceived in some youthful indiscretion. Gabriel became another member of the family, and Wanda in particular took a shine to him.
Cousin Gunthar took Gabriel, too, as his squire. The knight decided to take the 4th Crusade, and the three of them journeyed to Venice in AD 1202 to join the pilgrimage. For many months, Karl and his family eagerly await news of them. A number of letters arrived from all three of them throughout the course of the year. The Crusade suffered lengthy delays in Venice, and both young men complained of the boredom, the stinging swamp insects, and outbreaks of camp fever in the crusader camp on the Lido. However, both Bernerd and Gabriel spoke of their adoration of one Sherazhina, a dispossessed Vlach lady who had also drifted into the orbit of Cousin Gunthar.
Then came news of the conquest of Zara and, soon after, the sad news that Cousin Gunthar had been slain in a skirmish north of the city. Both Bernerd and Gabriel were taken in by a comrade-in-arms and friend of their late master, one Aimery, Chevalier de Versey. The French knight had promised Sir Gunthar to see to the education of the lads, and he was apparently determined to see it through.
The family waited anxiously as more months crawled on. Letters grew even more infrequent, and their tone more uncertain and distant. Finally, not long after the pilgrimage left the island of Corfu, they ceased altogether. More than a year passed before a letter, penned by one Luke of Frankfurt, brought news that Gabriel had met his end, bravely defending the helpless folk of Constantinople from marauding Franks during the Great Sack of 1204. Unfortunately, there was nothing the merchant could offer concerning Bernerd, other than his belief that the young man, now a knight, yet lived. But as to his whereabouts? Nothing. The family mourned for the boy who had become part of the family, and hoped in vain for the safe return of the one who was their pride and joy. Years passed, and Bernerd did not return. Such is the great sadness of this gentle man’s life.
In the many years since his son and heir vanished, Karl’s former good cheer has gradually declined along with his health. His smile lines, once earned with the many joys of his life, have transformed into those wrought by grief and worry. He saw his other children well-married; Ingrid and Wanda to prominent nobles of the Siebenburgen, and young Axel to the Burgrave Albert’s own daughter. Likewise, his investments have made him among the wealthiest landowners in the Burzenland. In addition to growth of Lünedorf, which is now held as a model for tolerance and stability in the area, he inherited the stewardship of Cousin Gunthar’s village, Sankt Wolfgang, which had been willed to absentee son, Bernerd. Contentment eludes Karl. The merchant who wrote of Gabriel’s demise, Luke of Frankfurt, eventually visited Sankt Wolfgang , and while Karl was delighted to discover that he was the son of the long lost “Uncle Lucius”, it was not enough to shake his encroaching melancholy altogether. Fortunately, Luke never really got around to moving on, and he has been adopted by the family after a fashion, all of whom are just as spellbound by his tales as the youthful Karl had once been of the stories of Lucius.
Karl continues his good works on the city council of Kronstadt, and he maintains his properties with enviable proficiency, but at over 60 years of age, his heart is no longer truly in it. His superb mentorship of Axel has assured that the family will continue to rise in prosperity and importance, however, and the young edler now manages both of the family villages and manors with a skill almost equal to his own. Likewise, his youngest has made the kind of connections that will all but insure that he will take his father’s place on the city council when Karl finally retires, or passes away. Indeed, while no one would ever do the kindly old edler the disservice of pointing it out, it would seem that Axel is every bit equal to the hopes and ambitions that Karl once placed in the callow and irresponsible Bernerd.