Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Raiszko cel Neîmblânzit
The much-feared Voivode of Buzău, Raiszko the Indomitable holds one of the strongest castles in Muntenia. He and his servants withstood almost six years of siege by the Devil Kordönül and his armies.
A giant of a man, a good deal over seven feet tall, his might undaunted by his middle years. His pale face is lined with age and his shoulder length hair and broad moustache are both iron grey, but there the vicissitudes of time have left him behind. Every inch of him seems built for war; his arms are thicker than most people’s torsos and his legs are like tree trunks. He wears leathers for armour, reinforced by massive greaves and bracers at shin and forearms, and he is armed with a sword, a long knife, and a Dane Axe at least as tall as most men. The giant casually hefts the huge weapon as if it were a twig.
The coat of arms of Raiszko the Indomitable, Voivode of Buzău, adopted in the early decades of the 13th century as heraldic tradition made its way to his demesnes. Previously, his banner was simply a massive bear pelt still attached to the remnants of its skull, its eyes replaced by cabochon cut rubies and its long teeth fashioned from gold.
Raiszko the Indomitable, Voivode of Buzău, is an elder of the Tzimisce who holds the foothills of the Outer Carpathians where the southern Muntenian plain sweeps around to the north, heading for the flood plains where the last northern curve of the Danube bend before making its way to the Black Sea delta. The heartland of his dominion is the opening of the Buzău plain where it leaves the rugged Carpathians and makes its way to that mighty river, and the valley to the north has long been dreaded for its unnatural cold and the tales of strange and godless creatures that dwell there. Raiszko has a reputation within the Clan of the Dragon for his unbreakable will, but also for taking the duties of guardianship of the land very seriously indeed, and those who would despoil it or fail to pay respect to its guardian spirits swiftly earn his enmity. Indeed, the feared horde of the Devil Kordönül would find to their regret that failing to provide sufficient tribute and respect to such beings nets the transgressor nothing but pain.
It is said that in life he was a Varangian, one of many such who adventured, raided, and traded the rivers and lands between the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas. It was on one such expedition that he met his doom at the fangs of the notorious Shaper Priest and sorcerer known as Velya the Flayer, and he saw the Becoming as nothing less than a rebirth into the ranks of the Einherjar. His name certainly wasn’t Raiszko back then, nor is much else known of his mortal history, and he has been known to shrug dismissively on those occasions when others ask for his tale. Instead he is fond of saying that like all men he was nothing more than clay until the Dead Water was used to shape and birth him into his truth. Indeed, Raiszko thinks very little of those who pay excessive regard to their mortal lives, or allow those lives to bleed into their immortality.
The Voivode of Buzău has held his own ground against all belligerents, both mundane and supernatural, since the mid 9th century, but he did not truly become a power until the early years of the 12th. He has made many worthy enemies along the way. Koban of the Vranca is an old enemy of his, and prior to the rise of Kordönül Khan and his packs of Cuman Gangrel the two potentates had honed their strength against each in more than a dozen wars. In the past he also warred intermittently with formidable voivodes based out of Bucharest, Ploiești, and Târgoviște. He has nothing but derision for the “soft” Obertus of Byzantium, particularly now that they have “fled to Carpathia like whipped dogs.” Never one to be dismissive of the Omen War, his own lands began to feel the sting of the raids of the Tremere after the 1150s, and he renewed his commitment the cause with added vigour. Many of those who his sire inducts into the Koldunic Ways often journey to Buzău to test their mettle against the Usurpers, for they know that if they can survive and make their reputation in such a test, their future in service to a great Tzimisce lord is assured.
Raiszko himself has little interest in sorcery, but he is reputed to be a master of Animalism in addition to the flesh-crafting arts. He is a monstrously powerful warrior (standing over seven feet tall even before he takes the zulo shape), possessed of a quick and innovative mind, known among his rivals for the speed with which he adopts new and unorthodox ideas that swiftly bring disadvantage to his enemies. He is a master of playing to the strengths of the local Vlach, Bulgarian, and Cuman warriors, and very good indeed at blending the advantages of the Gangrel and Nosferatu with his own progeny. Among the courts of the southern Tzimisce, much respect is given to the war-making skill of Kordönül that he was able to outfox the experience of Raiszko the Indomitable.
All who serve the voivode directly endure the Blood Oath for his mercy and his beneficence, and he is known for his penchant for “collecting” potent Gangrel warriors. He has challenged many such in the past; first defeateing them and then giving them the opportunity to bend the knee and take the oath, or else face an honourable Final Death. Never has he been defeated in single combat, and no fewer than six Gangrel are bound to him. Moreover, he had faced down the best servants of Voivode Koban in the past, and more Tzimisce than he can count have fallen beneath his axe. However, the Devil Kordönül represented a challenge unlike any that Raiszko had encountered before. Wisely, the old Tzimisce recognised the threat that the highly mobile and disciplined army of the Gangrel warlord posed, and he called upon his loose alliance with Vladislav Bucurescu, the voivode of the settlement of Bucherest. Together they mobilised the armies of their mortal thralls and they marched forth to join their forces to meet the northern Cumans together.
Several engagements followed over the September and October of 1208. Through ambuscade and chevauchee, Kordönül’s forces first winnowed the ranks of both armies as they marched, then soundly defeated them after they met. Neither Raiszko nor Vladislav were utterly broken after these engagements, but their ability to project their forces beyond their immediate strongholds was destroyed. The Gangrel warlord elected to harry Raiszko more than Vladislav, correctly surmising that the older Tzimisce would be easier to pin down in his isolated castle while the southern warlord was too rich in Bulgarian allies to easily subdue.
Situated on a bluff overlooking the Buzău River, and designed by none other than Zelios, Castelul Buzău is without a doubt the strongest fortification in all of Muntenia north of the Danube. While the soldiers of Raiszko were defeated in open battle, they managed to retreat to the castle before Kordönül Khan could cut them off, so he was instead forced to accept the difficulty of laying siege to the fortress. instead, the Gangrel and his horde split their strength to simply blockade egress from the bluff, then the Devil Khan went about the business of swelling his armies by coopting the vast numbers of Cumans who would ordinarily bend the knee to Raiszko. For his part, the defeated voivode was wise enough to realise that he was unable to contend with the greater numbers manoeuvrability of his enemies, so Raiszko settled down to endure a long siege.
And a lengthy siege it was, for the defenders of Buzău would spend nearly six years holed up behind the high walls of their castle.
As the months of the siege drifted into years, Kordönül Khan attempted many gambits to lure them back out, and even launched a number of surprise forays onto the battlements with his most skilled Gangrel, but the wily ceribası knew better than to waste his warriors in a general assault on the high walls of Castelul Buzău. Instead, he was forced to assign a large number of his men and a pack of his strongest Cainites to keep the voivode under siege, and these worthies set themselves to the task of simply starving the defenders out. This was not to be easily accomplished however, for over the centuries Raiszko had painstakingly carved a monstrously large labyrinth into the granite under his castle and filled it with untold stores of grain, wine, and water. Now in possession of a large number of vessels who had fled into his castle for protection, Raiszko stood atop his battlements each night, secure in his bastion and challenging Kordönül Kan and his best to come meet him.
The Devil Khan would not be roused, however, and instead he took to ignoring the problem of Buzău, for if he yet lacked the strength to take the castle, so too did the vovode lack the strength to break the siege. Raiszko was therefore neutralised, if not vanquished. For well over five years, the castle at Buzău was surrounded while, in due course, Kordönül’s numbers swelled and they rode from victory to victory. After his horde was enriched by the sack and ruination of the settlements of Ploiești, Târgoviște, and Câmpulung, Kordönül would move on across the mountains to give his attention to the Burgraviate of Kronstadt and the Székelyföld. One of the passes into Transylvania that they scouted was that of the Buzău River, which runs through the unnaturally cold valley of the same name before terminating in the southernmost reaches of the land of the Székely. Many men were lost to the strange, wild spirits known as the Mosi d’Iarna (the Winter Ancestors) there, and Kordönül’s “mother” Matoska Klavdiya also vanished while plumbing the secrets of an unusual mountain that seemed shaped like a pyramid. The pass was adjudged too dangerous for either friend or foe, so the Devil Khan posted a guard to warn of danger and otherwise trusted to the strong besieging force at Castelul Buzău to keep his flank safe.
The Devil Khan would ravage the lands north of the mountains for years, which ultimately drew the attention of András II, King of Hungary. He in turn gifted much of that territory to the Teutonic Order to see the problem of the Cumans solved and by 1212, Jürgen von Verden himself had taken residence in the Burzenland, as the burgraviate and the surrounding lands of the Bârsa (Burzen in German) River came to be known. The Sword-bearer knew that the conflict against the Cumans needed to be resolved quickly, for the insult he had given the Voivodate was dire, and Vladimir Rustovich would come for him before too long.
The first act of the Teutons would be the construction of a series of fortifications to deny local mobility to the Cuman raiders and, by 1214, they had succeeded in pushing the enemy back across the passes into Muntenia. Then, with aid from the Székely and the neighbouring cities of Schäßburg and Hermannstadt, the Teutons and the men of Kronstadt took the fight to the Cumans themselves. What followed was four months of hard marching and fighting during the daylit hours and bloody raids and feints by the armies’ Cainite allies at night. Inexorably, Lord Jürgen’s strategy of fortifying the roads and fords bore fruit, forcing the horse warriors and their Gangrel masters ever further eastward. As in the Burzenland, the strategy allowed a web of earth and wood castles to spring up, denying ground to Kordönül’s horde and giving hope to the brutalised and cowed southern and western Cuman tribes, some of whom then allied with the Teutons.
And yet, both the Sword-bearer and the Devil Khan knew that the Ventrue advantage would fail at the onset of winter, for Lord Jürgen could not afford to take the chance of leaving his flank exposed to Rustovich and the multitude of Transylvanian voivodes and knezi. He would have to withdraw with the winter snows, leaving his new allies once more at the mercy of Kordönül, who would relish the opportunity to seize many of the forts the Teutons had built.
Realising the predicament of the Burzenland, a coterie of neonates known as the Ashen Band stepped forward with a risky plan to break the siege of Castelul Buzău. Disgraced by failures earlier in the campaign, the young vampires had little to lose so they decided on their own initiative to organise an expedition, negotiate a temporary alliance with Raiszko, find a way through the deadly Buzău Pass, and fall upon the unsuspecting force surrounding the castle. The plan, dangerous though it was, met with the support of Brother Christof, the most senior knight of the Order of the Black Cross remaining in Kronstadt, and the first part of the plan fell into place. The crafty Gangrel messenger Tiberiu was secured for the scouting effort and also for carrying their terms to the Voivode of Buzău. The cost was great, for Tiberiu knew and greatly feared Raiszko’s reputation for “collecting” Gangrel, but he returned with news of alliance and also that the Cuman garrison camps at the southern end of the pass were peopled with lazy and unfavoured warriors who ought to be easy to dispatch. This left the most dangerous part of the plan, negotiating with the pagan Nosferatu and the Winter Ancestors of the pass, to the Ashen Band themselves.
Ultimately the risky mission to break the siege of Castelul Buzău was successful. In the midst of the raid, the more observant tacticians among their allies of convenience noted that Raiszko’s archers displayed an uncanny and noteworthy ability to keep their flaming arrows both consistently alight and flying farther than they should. The rain of hell unleashed from the castle battlements did much to heighten the already surging panic of the off-guard Cuman camp. Also noteworthy was the voivode’s ability to call dozens of fleeing enemy horses at a time to his side and, with but a few words, subborn their will to the use of he and his people. With much of the enemy army dead or put to flight, the Ashen Band found Raiszko in good cheer despite the privation of the nearly six year-long siege.
With grim humour, he thanked the Ashen Band and recognised his debt to them, promising to repay it in the coin of the skulls of the Devil Khan’s warriors. They noted that his Cainite followers shared his hunger for revenge, and that there were at least as many Gangrel as Tzimisce among them. Further, his warriors seemed hale and hearty, even if most of the regular folk that also issued forth from the keep looked almost cadaverous with hunger. Soon after it was revealed that the besieged castle had eaten the horses years earlier, soon after they had run out of cows, pigs, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, and rats. Indeed, rumour eventually spread throughout the allied camp that even the human dead had found their way into the cooking pot over the course of the arduous siege…
Over the month that followed, Voivode Raszko and his followers joyfully prosecuted their vendetta against any of the enemy that they found. Heads were collected by the score, slaves by the hundred, and horses and loot in the thousands. They would also work with the Sword-bearer, the Order of the Black Cross, and their allies among the courts of Kronstadt, Hermannstadt, and Schäßburg to push the elusive enemy army to give formal battle. Still, however, time was against them as the Devil Khan displayed an uncanny knack for using terrain and weather to hide his shrinking forces or lead them out of the traps that were laid.
The first snows of winter began to fall. Hope began to wither…
Then Kordönül vanished.
Rumour has it that the Gangrel warlord was assassinated. Some say the paymaster was Jürgen the Sword-bearer, others that it was Vladislav Bucurescu. And some claim that it was Raszko. Whatever the case, without the Devil Khan’s brilliant leadership, his mortal pawns were brought to battle a little over a week later. In a furious clash near the forest and lake known as Snagov, they were finally vanquished in no uncertain terms. The Cuman threat was over.
The lands of the warlord of Buzău were much depopulated by the war and the difficult years afterwards, and it will be some years to come before he even comes close to his former glory. In the eastern hills of Oltenia, the western plains of Muntenia, and more and more frequently throughout all of Cumania, he is doubtless also troubled by the growing influence of missionaries of the Latin rite. Raiszko the Indomitable’s cheer remains high, however, for he knows that the failed wars of the Devil Khan also weakened his erstwhile master, Voivode Koban, who is now without security on his southern flank and much pressed in the north by renewed onslaughts from Noriz, the Corruptor of Legions. In the meanwhile, Raiszko has sent some of his more capable progeny to restore and renew villages that were lost to the marauding Cumans, with instructions that enterprising and innovative German colonists should be made most welcome. If the people of the Latin rite are to come to his lands, they will be his people on his land. After all, Raiszko’s moniker is well earned, and he is sure to rise to power once again.
Embrace: Late in the 8th century.
Lineage: Raiszko counts himself among the 6th generation, and acknowledges Velya the Flayer as his sire. Beyond that his lineage is unknown to all save the most erudite of Tzimisce clan scholars. Those who are descended from the Flayer cease their lineage at his name, and that is assumed to be enough.