The Concord of Ashes
This withered, wizened and seemingly frail elder is the Prince of Venice, Lord of her scattered territories and Archbishop of Nod. He is one of most the influential and powerful Cainites in the world.
A short, wasted, withered, ancient man in his late late nineties. He has a sharp beak of a nose, and what little hair remains to him clings to scalp in a coarse ring. And yet, despite of his seeming decrepitude, he seems to have a lordly and authoritative aspect- his posture is erect and energetic, and his eyes gleam with shrewdness, intelligence and wisdom. He wears the finest velvet and silk, and veritably drips with gold and jewels. He is unarmed.
In his mortal years, Narses Kamsarakan was a palace eunuch in the service of Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium. Little is known of his early years, including how he became eunuch, but it is known that he was born late in the seventh decade of the 5th century, and that his family is known to have been a great one, descended from the Arsacid kings that ruled Armenia for some four centuries. Narses was known for his great piety, and found a particular devotion to Saint Mary, whom he felt guided his actions in battle. He variously served as steward, a high treasurer, commander of the Emperor’s eunuch bodyguard and eventually rose to become the Grand Chamberlain and the Master of Soldiery, a rank equivalent to a Praetorian Prefect. It was in this last role that he rose to true prominence as a gifted general, and he is often accounted by historians as being second among Byzantine commanders only to Flavius Belisarius.
The rivalry between Narses and Belisarius dominated much of their lives, and sometimes changed the course of Byzantine history. The stages of their struggle were the reconquest of the fallen Western Empire (specifically the Italian peninsula) and the fickle favour of Emperor Justinian himself. While Belisarius was forthright and inspiring, Narses was often accounted as the cleverer and more driven of the two men, and the eunuch often got the better of the general through his intrigues. Their games had attracted the attention of the ancient Ventrue, Antonius, who openly ‘advised’ Emperor Justinian at the time. Impressed by the talents of both mortals, Antonius the Gaul decided to Embrace which ever of the two that managed to ruin the other, and he informed them of his intention to gift the victor with immortality.
The stakes pushed the game ever onward, and for decades the fortunes of Narses and Belisarius both rose and fell furiously at the instigation of the other. As they approached their dotage with no victor decided, the eunuch began to grow desperate as Beliarius’ military victories mounted. Finally, Narses succeeded in whispering poison into the ear of the emperor after the Battle of Ravenna, and the jealous Justinian had the popular Belisarius recalled to Constantinople and obscurity. Narses was sent to replace his rival, and clearly demonstrated his own military brilliance against the Ostrogoths at Taginae in AD 552, retook Rome for the empire, and finally destroyed the power of Ostrogoths in Italy at Mons Lactarius in 553. He then succeeded in turning back a combined Frankish and Alemanni invasion the following year, at the Battle of Capua. Grand Chamberlain Narses, now awarded the title of Exarch of Italy, forced the Goths in Naples to capitulate in AD 555, and finally vanquished the remaining Goths and Alemanni out at Verona and Brixia in AD 562, thus completing the reclamation of Italy for Byzantium.
Exarch Narses spent the next few years consolidating Byzantine rule and rebuilding the shattered west. He finally returned to Constantinople late in AD 565 to attend Justninian’s funeral and claim his great reward, but upon his arrival at the Great Palace he discovered that Antonius the Gaul had already made his decision. None other than Belisarius stood at the ancient’s side, in a clear place of favour. Antonius informed Narses that the eunuch had served he, Justinian, and the empire well, but that Belisarius’ great dignity and loyalty made him a worthier candidate for the Embrace. The Exarch was forced to watch as Antonius Embraced his great rival several weeks later, and was then compelled to return to Italy to languish in retirement, miserable and embittered.
There it should have ended.
Instead, despite his advancing years and forced retirement, Narses continued in his intrigues. The gains of Justinian’s rule quickly began to reverse due to his machinations, and alone in his chambers in Naples, Narses smiled at having been able to do a small injury to those who had done him the great wrong of consigning his genius to perish. Other Cainites began to note that he was now free of the interest of Antonius the Gaul, and the Roman Lasombra known as Galerius quickly made contact. Galerius was jealous of Byzantine power, and informed Narses that if he could ensure the reversal of Byzantine fortune in the West, he may still earn immortality. For the better part of a decade, Narses and Galerius worked together to undermine Byzantine authority and promote that of the Lombards, even going so far as to offer military advice to King Alboin on how best to invade Italy.
The old man welcomed the Embrace on his deathbed in AD 576, at the age of 98. He now had the opportunity to continue his rivalry with Belisarius, and in any case, he also realised that his methods were that of the Lasombra, not the Ventrue. Galerius needed support in his designs upon the throne of Ravenna, and he soon set up Narses’ as a vassal Prince of the small port of Venice, which was one of the few remaining regions of Italy that was still under the control of Byzantium. The settlement was governed by the Exarch of Ravenna, and Venice was a vital lifeline to the greater empire. Galerius pushed to make the new Exarch his pawn, and following the advice of Narses he began to undermine the allied influence of a coterie consisting of Aristophokles the Ventrue, Lucius Cornelius Scipio the Brujah, Penelope the Cappadocian, and Ngalo the Nubian Lasombra.
In AD 582, with Galerius’ smug blessing, Narses journeyed in person to pledge his loyalty to the Dream in service to the Antonian Ventrue. Venice was, after all, a vassal state of the Empire, and the neonate reasoned (correctly) that offering his loyalty freely (no matter how falsely) would strip Antonius of the pretext to interfere with his rule. From that point on, the Narsene Lasombra were admitted to the Trinity system, and Narses privately exulted at the sour expressions on the faces of Belisarius and the others who had spurned him just a few years earlier.
Back in his new home of Venice, Narses chose to cultivate an interest in the Cainite Heresy rather than focus on political power. Conversely, by the turn of the 7th century, Galerius, who chose to centralise his drive at power in the position of the Exarch of Ravenna, was standing upon very shaky ground. The high turnover of aging Exarchs made his influence equally transitory, and his unsubtle power games had made enemies out of the Ventrue and Lasombra of Lombardy and his fellow Cainites of Ravenna. Other enemies were also closing in.
Only Prince Constantius of Rome, Galerius’ own sire, stood by him. Narses understood that Galerius’ failures and weakness could not be tolerated; they reflected not just upon his own bloodline, but the Lasombra of Italy in general. He soon saw his opening, lured Galerius into a trap in AD 606 and committed the Amaranth upon him. He then declared himself Prince in his own right, and ceded any control that Galerius had of Ravenna to Ngalo in exchange for neutrality with regards to his own demesnes in Venice. Constantius and his other progeny, especially Claudius Euginio, despise Narses to this very night for his treachery, though they did not interfere to stop the act.
The following years saw a brief interregnum in Venice, as numerous local and Lombardic Cainite contenders for the throne tried to oust Narses from his power base. They misguidedly sought to use successive Magister Militi to do so for like Galerius, they misunderstood the vital rule of Italian power: the man on the throne is the servant of his people, not their master. Diffuse, not centralised, influence was the key to power in Venice. By AD 609, none could gainsay his praxis.
The centuries since have been good ones for Narses. With the complete evaporation of Byzantine power in Italy around AD 660, he sent his ‘regretful apologies’ to Antonius the Gaul that “until such time as the Antonians could extend their protective grasp to the West once more, the Narsene Lasombra would be forced to forge their own destiny”. Narses has been the Archbishop of Nod for centuries, making the Cainite Heresy his tool wherever the Crimson Curia can be found. The power of Venice has grown through out the ports of the Mediterranean, and numerous of Narses’ progeny and dozens of agents now do his bidding in Venetian merchant quarters from Alexandria, Limasol, Jerusalem, Acre, Tyre, Beirut, Antioch, Athens, Corinth, Crete, Ancona, Durazzo, Naples, Marseilles, Thessalonica and, of course, Constantinople herself.
Such has the mercantile and naval power of Venice grown that La Serenissima is now the pre-eminent and wealthiest city in the Mediterranean. Constantinople’s power, on the other hand, has reached a dangerous nadir. The Seventh Byzantine Council of AD 1081 brought with it an invitation from Basileus Caius, Antonius’ murderer and successor, for the re-entry of the Narsene Lasombra back into the fold of the Dream not just as an obscure provincial family, but as a full partner in the system. Prince Narses’ delight with the offer was, for once, ill-disguised, and he accepted. Over the following century, the mercantile power of the Narsene Lasombra grew in Constantinople, often at the expense of that of the Antonian Ventrue.
With the murder of his childe, Bishop Elizio, as well as a number of other Latin Cainites and several thousand Venetian kine in the Latin Riots of AD 1185, Narses demanded justice and compensation. With massive debts to Venice still waiting to be repaid, Caius acquiesced to Narses’ demands. Investigations bore out the culpability of Tribonius, Autokrator of the Lexor Brujah, and Epirus, Domestic Prefect of the Antonian Ventrue. Both were executed for their roles in fostering and directing the violence, and a wedge was driven between the Antonian and Lexor families. Furthermore, the Latin Quarter was now to be autonomous, and the Narsene Lasombra were given strict control of it. It would be a city within a city, outside of the purview of the Codex of Legacies.
Narses sent another of his capable progeny, Bishop Alfonzo, to take control and the elder has performed remarkably well. The Amalfitan, Geonese and Pisan Cainites all bow to his authority, which means that they now bow to Narses as well. Bishop Alfonzo has thrown the gates of the Latin Quarter open to any and all comers, and as a result the Queen of Cities Cainite population has swelled to dangerous levels. Tales of assassination and murder have reached Narses’ ears, but he cares little. The silver flows into his cffers, and his Byzantine enemies were long ago humbled. Even stories of Belisarius’ failure to rebuild the empire through the Comneni dynasty seem to give Narses little pause or pleasure.
“In truth,” Narses says, “I seem to have won. I would rather keep my attention on my own great work, La Serrenisima, rather than dwell on past hatreds, faded glories, and pathetic enemies. Venice has eclipsed Constantinople in every way…”
Lineage: Childe of Galerius (d), Childe of Constantius, Childe of Deinomemes (d), Childe of Lasombra
- Note that Narses is a self-admitted diablerist, having committed the Amaranth upon Galerius in AD 606.