Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Karsten von Hornburg
The prince of Kronstadt is a true rarity among Cainites, for he is a Brujah more interested in creating a city of plenty, where both mortal and undead can prosper, than pursuing vain dreams of personal power.
A burly Saxon in his middle years, sporting shoulder length brown hair, a neatly trimmed moustache and very intense dark blue eyes. He is not handsome, but the power of his personality radiates from him in such a manner that he instantly catches the eye. He is dressed in simple but well-made clothes, much as any other bürger, and the knife of a craftsman sits at his belt.
The coat of arms of Karstern Edler von Hornburg, Prinz von Kronstadt, adopted shortly after the ratification of his station by his new lord, Jürgen von Verden. The green field symbolises the land of Transylvania, verdant and full of promise, while the tree represents his belief that all things, both literal and figurative, can be crafted of such promise. Finally, the golden crown is a veiled reference to the local slang term for Kronstadt — “Corona”. Privately, Karsten finds the notion of heraldry for its own sake rather pretentious, but he has made the effort expected of him by his liege.
Karsten von Hornburg is young for one of his station and reputation, having been brought across in AD 1149. Even more rare among the Children of Caine, the Brujah appears to be an idealist and a genuinely good man. Far from perfect, he and his lover openly enjoy the gifts of Caine, taking a decidedly sybaritic approach to their hunting. And yet, he has never displayed cruelty nor indifference to the kine, and he is scrupulously honest in his business and political dealings. Indeed, while Karsten walks the via humanitatis rather than the via regalis, followers of the Road of Kings seem to almost instinctively take him as one of their own…
He was not encountered by the Concord, nor any of their associates, until late in 1205, when the ancient vampire known as Lucien the Roman returned to the city of Kronstadt to watch over the mortal descendants of his his fallen progeny, Bernhard Billung. The old Gangrel, weary from the defeat and loss suffered during the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade, was nonplussed to discover that the Brujah and his Malkavian lover, Greta, had set up shop in the Saxon city, apparently having taken full advantage of the Concord’s recent absence from Corona.
Lucien largely ignored the overtures of friendship and assertions of domain by Karsten and Greta, save to say that he would feed where he pleased and that he would destroy any Cainite that dared hunt or even interfere with the Dressler family or any of the residents of Lünedorf the nearby village of Sankt Wolfgang. Having established that Bernhard Billung would not, or could not, return any time soon, Karsten took this as tacit acceptance of his praxis on those terms, and began calling himself Prince of Kronstadt shortly thereafter. When Lucien’s grandchilde, Svenin the Tall, also relocated to the city in 1209, the Brujah worked hard to gain the younger Gangrel’s confidence, further assuring his rule. On the advice of Greta, Karsten also made overtures to Pedrag Harsányi, the envoy of Nova Árpád of Mediasch, and as a result he also enjoys the tacit favour of the Árpád Ventrue.
Greta Bassum, his lover, whom he often refers to as his wife.
In discussion with Svenin and his allies, Karsten has said that he originally hails from a long line of castellans that rule the village and castle of Hornburg on behalf of the Bishop of Halberstadt. As the fifth son of a minor lord, he had few prospects of inheritance or pursuance of an aristocratic future, and so his prospects were limited to the Church or an honest trade. Repelled by the notion of giving up women, and possessed of a natural affinity for working wood, Karsten chose the latter. His noble manners and forthright, inspiring demeanour made him stand out even as a mortal, and as a young journeyman carpenter he caught the attention of Ulric I, Duke of Carinthia. His services were retained by the duke, and Karsten became an enthusiastic member of the emerging guild structure in Krainburg.
His charisma and skill at organising his fellows eventually attracted Ladislav, the Brujah prince of Krainburg. A noted elder of a bloodline that boasted princes in such notable cities as Padua and Rijeka, Ladislav followed the career of the genial carpenter with great interest and humour. Ladislav enjoyed watching Karsten’s natural leadership skills develop, and he marvelled at the young carpenter’s almost Toreador-like fascination for beautifully worked wood (a trait that the Brujah still displays). Prince Ladislav eventually Embraced Karsten so that his qualities would not be lost or eroded by the vicissitudes of fate and fortune, and he was often heard to remark that his prized progeny was his finest accomplishment. Sire and childe were very close, and Karsten still mourns the mysterious destruction of Ladislav in AD 1177. Indeed, he sought the murderers without success for many years before turning his mind to more productive pursuits at the close of the 12th century.
Throughout the span of his comparatively short years for a vampire, Karsten has proven an apt pupil to the ways of the Clan Brujah in particular and to the Children of Caine in general. Over the decades prior to his arrival in Transylvania, he dwelt for the most part in the city of Trieste, but Karsten also had occasion to travel the cities of Veneto, Croatia, Carinthia and Bohemia, following this lead or that on the murder of his sire. He has met many noted elders and ancillae of his clan. Most notable among these worthies were the infamous warlord Dominic in Timișoara and the noted scholar, Ecaterina the Wise, in Prague, who convinced Karsten to put the murder of his sire behind him. These journeys earned him an enviable reputation as a diplomat for his clan, and his discussions with the great minds of the Brujah impressed upon Karsten the idea of social justice. He sees the growth of cities and the waxing importance of the merchant class as a natural way to further drive those ideas into the sensibilities of others. To his mind, the mortal saying that “town air makes one free” has manifold meanings, and he has taken it upon himself to inculcate all of them upon his fellow Cainites.
It was perhaps with this mission in mind that Karsten eagerly accepted the “invitation” of Lord Jürgen von Verden in the spring of AD1211. Through his many contacts abroad, the Brujah had heard the rumours of Jürgen’s designs upon the Siebenburgen, and he knew that unless he could reach an accord with the Ventrue lord, his ambitions and the welfare of the good bürgers of Kronstadt would be in jeopardy. Furthermore, the burgraviate was losing the war against the Cumans led by the vile warlord, Kordönül, and the warriors of the Black Cross were sorely needed to turn the tide.In order to secure these things, Karsten appeared to be quite willing to sacrifice his own autonomy, and even accept a draught of Lord Jürgen’s blood. He told Svenin the Tall and Brother Adalbert openly that he would bend the knee and swear the Blood Oath to Jürgen, providing that he was convinced of the Ventrue’s honour and good will.
The theft of the Sword of Sceptres and Roses provided Karsten and his allies among the Concord the opportunity to place Lord Jürgen in their debt, and by recovering the weapon (a potent symbol of the alliance between the Courts of Love and the Fiefs of the Black Cross), he secured favourable terms from the Ventrue. With the help of the Concord, Karsten has managed to preserve his praxis and, more importantly, the prosperity and safety of the people of Kronstadt. To his mind, such a debt is a happy investment, and he looks forward to repaying it over the many years to come.
And yet, the now affirmed Prince of Corona brooded as he looked out over his city. The storm clouds of war with the Tzimisce Voivodate seethed on the horizon, and the years to come would prove to beharrowing. In his heart of hearts, Karsten knew that he followed the best determination available to him, but he agonised with worry for the people of his adopted home. Did he make the right choice? And if it was the wrong choice, would any of them survive, let alone to prosper, to rue it?
The first test of his lord’s power and his own fidelity was the Cuman war. The militarily brilliant and viciously cruel Kordönül sorely tested the Sword-bearer and his vassals between 1212 and 1214, and most particularly in the final months of the campaign leading into the early winter of the last year. At his urging, a coterie of talented neonates that included Karsten’s adopted progeny Helena Korosi was entrusted with negotiating passage through the lands of Voivode Tabak Ruthven in order to gain Jürgen a strategic advantage. They dubbed themselves the Ashen Band in homage to their patrons, the Concord of Ashes, and set to work. Unfortunately, they botched their duty, and the Sword-bearer and people of Kronstadt were left with a nearly ruinous debt due to the intrigues of Ulrich von Wettin.
Wrathfully, Lord Jürgen retired them from their obligations and, owing to his part in putting them forward (especially Helena, who was still his fledgeling) Karsten also suffered a severe blow to his status. Indeed, the Sword-bearer very nearly relieved him of his own position for the incompetence of his agents. The situation was salvaged when Prince Karsten put himself forward as Jürgen’s diplomat in their stead. He imparted some words of wisdom to Helena and Greta regarding their precarious situation, secured the latter as prince pro tem, and put his affairs in order. Then, never one to rely on ghouls, he packed a few meagre belongings on his horse, took a sheaf of letters of introduction and an ivory sceptre of truce, and departed Kronstadt for Oltenia.
Months later, a mockery of the prince would be returned to his city. Flesh-crafted into a box and flayed of much of his skin, the torpid face of Karsten could be seen on the lid, his features contorted in a silent scream. Within the box was the ivory sceptre of truce and a scroll made of his own flayed back skin, carefully carved with a message declaring that no amount of tribute, nor any honeyed words, would save the Sword-bearer from the wrath of the Voivodate. Evidently, although no one claimed credit for the horrid act, Lord Tabak had changed his mind and an example had been made of the Prince of Kronstadt as an insult to his liege.
Luckily, Lord Jürgen had already moved his armies through the fringes of Ruthven’s Oltenian lands and the abuse of his envoy had also meant that the enormous debt owed to the voivode could be safely defaulted without risking the Ventrue’s honour, and thus his standing on his road.
For his part, word of Karsten’s condition was sent to Veceslav Basarab, who had recently taken leave of his lands to visit his ally Iulia of Weißenburg. The prince remained indisposed for some months before the genial Tzimisce ally could come to Kronstadt and work his own arts of Vicissitude on the fallen Brujah. Within a matter of weeks, there was no physical sign of the horrific torture that had laid him low, but it would be half a year before he emerged from torpor with scars of a different sort. Although his psyche had blocked out the worst of his memories of what he endured, the aura of lordly confidence that he once seemed to wear like a cloak had been shredded; his self-possession was broken and he became prone to hesitation and dreadful reverie.
It took years for Karsten to recover much of his former verve, and he would not fully resume his position as prince until the middle of autumn in 1216. Although she had performed exceptionally well as prince during his long convalescence, Greta showed herself not just happy to return his throne, but grateful to do so. His resumption of familiar duties has slowly brought him back to a measure of his old self, and he has thrown himself into the project of more fully subsuming the craft guilds and city watch into his power base. Kartsen still stubbornly refuses to create any ghouls to see his work done more easily, so his movements in Kronstadt’s society take a considerable amount of his time. Due to the harm that he suffered in 1214, however, he has finally relented and made a ghoul to act as his daytime bodyguard and sparring partner, and Karsten looks forward to taking out some of his frustrations on any Tzimisce who happen to cross his path in anger.
Embrace: AD 1149.
Lineage: Karsten places himself amongst the 9th generation. He is the childe of Ladislav, the late prince of Krainburg (d), who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in AD 1177. His killers have never been identified. Ladislav was the childe of Prince Teofilo Camposampiero of Padua, an elder noted for his just rule but vengeful nature. Teofilo is the childe of Prince Maximarius of Rijeka, who has ruled that city since Carolingian times but was resident there since before the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Maximarius is the childe of the mysterious elder Antonius Caracas, who is thought to make his lair somewhere in or around Naples.