Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The so-called Voivode of Voivodes, Vladimir Rustovich, is the most temporally powerful Tzimisce in the clan. Provided he can back it with force and success, his power is akin to a Cainite monarch. Many Ventrue would give a king's ransome for his head...
This lord is the epitome of Eastern nobility. His face is saturnine and sardonic; a slight smile forever graces his countenance, even when anger gleams in his dark eyes. He is tall and well built, bedecked in finery that conveys nobility without foppishness, and armed with a sword and dagger that look to have seen much use. Embraced with long flowing hair the colour of chestnut and a full, finely groomed beard, he often has his retainers shave his whiskers and cut his hair shorter as the mood takes him.
The symbol of Voivode of Voivodes Vladimir Rustovitch. The bat on a field of gules, bordered with sable, has always been his, but the coronet was added as a symbol of his authority when western heraldic traditions began penetrating the Kingdom of Hungary.
(The following is an expansion of the excellent background provided in the supplement Under the Black Cross , pp. 95-96)
Voivode Vladimir Rustovich epitomises every Tzimisce strength. A brilliant strategist and masterful ruler, he is able to command armies to do his bidding while simultaneously overseeing his holdings. Vladimir is a true leader, as comfortable wielding a sword as he is using the levers of political power and alhough he prefers overt signs of authority, the Voivode of Voivodes true talent lies in being an able manipulator when the situation calls for subtlety.
Rustovich emerged from the contestant tribes of the emerging Hungarian state in the late 10th century, an ancilla hungry to expand the wilting demesnes of his late sire, Kosczecsyku. Some say that Vladimir deposed and destroyed his sire, who was a particularly strange koldun given to long periods of isolated esoteric study in addition to seeking rulership of the land. Others claim that Kosczecsyku over-extended himself in quarrels with the black furred Lupines known as the Umbra Domnii that infest the Carpathian and Apuseni mountains and that he was torn to pieces for attempting to make their hunting grounds his own. Whatever the truth, Rustovich was ready to move on the demise of his sire in AD 983. He immediately destroyed those of his consanguineous siblings who might stand in his way and established himself as heir to his failed sire’s legacy. Only two of brothers-in-blood are known to have survived his purge. Both Csiskos and Mischa have taken refuge with a number of Vladimir’s rivals and enemies over the centuries, acting out their petty revenge by using their firsthand knowledge of his motives and methods to arm others against him.
As a voivode in the fluctuating and contested eastern borderlands between the Alföld of the Kingdom of Hungary and the lands of Transylvania, Rustovich had ample opportunity to indulge his appetites for blood, battle, and intrigue. In time, he would carve out a territory running between the Apuseni Mountains and the plains and hills of the emerging regional capitals of Arad, Várad, and Debrezun. His reach extends as far north beyond the base of the Carpathians, taking in the dry steppes and woods of the Hortobágy, the rough, birch forested low hills of Nyírség, and parts of southern Małopolska. Within his immediate purview are folk who speak the tongues of the Magyars, the Vlachs, the Poles, the Rusyns, and (lately) the Transylvanian Saxons.
His gains have often been made at the expense of older and more individually powerful voivodes such as the koldun Visya, who was forced to shamefully flee his demesnes for the Transylvanian interior. While he does not hesitate to engage in warfare, careful strategy and instructive demonstrations of brutality are the tools for which Rustovich is most known. Although he is hardly the oldest Fiend in the land, his dramatic success against the Árpád Ventrue in the War of Griffons and Dragons in the 1130s allowed him to claim the lauded title of Voivode of Voivodes. In addition to his large fief and his own feudal dependents, this allows him to act as overall military strategist for the clan as a whole, though in truth the divided nature of the Tzimisce makes this authority conditional on Rustovich’s feared reputation for continued and brilliant success. Many elders and ancillae have been displaced by his ambitions, and a few have even done the unthinkable and thrown in their lot with the Árpáds in an attempt to bring him down. Few, even among the Tzimisce, can claim such passionate enemies.
In his august role, he has come to see himself as the secular and temporal counterpart to none other than Yorak, hierophant of the Cathedral of Flesh and Paragon to the via Mutandis. In addition to dozens of knezi and more than a hundred lesser Fiends, no less than twelve other voivodes look directly to Rustovich as their immediate liege, and perhaps ten more offer their nominal support. All claim knezi with lackeys of their own, although they are spread throughout the length and breadth of Transylvania, the eastern Alföld of Hungary, southern Poland and Ruthenia and the bans of the northern Balkans. However tenuous his title, he is undeniably a powerful force equal to Cainite Monarchs in other lands. Certainly his prowess has humbled the Árpád Ventrue known as Bulcsú, who has long styled himself as the Vampire Monarch of Hungary.
If his rise to power was a testament to his strategic genius, the fact that he has remained there for decades is a testament to his understanding of the finer points of intrigue. Beyond his armies, Rustovich has spies and agents scattered across Europe. It is said that his people have even infiltrated the court of the King of Hungary, and in these troubled nights it is certain that many mortal lords of the Alföld owe him their allegiance. Even the Obertus family, until lately of Byzantium (including Lord Symeon and Myca Vykos), have done homage to the Voivode among Voivodes. In return for their recognition of his power and the knowledge they have made available to he and his, Rutovich has demonstrated a willingness to put the ancient Obertus- Voivodate feud behind the clan.
The major chink in Rustovich’s armour, however, is the Tremere. Before he assumed his role as Voivode among Voivodes, he was one of the more successful of the Tzimisce warlords at pushing back the Usurpers and punishing their transgressions against the clan. However, in the latter half of the 12th century, the effort seems to have stalled. Ceoris still stands, and the Tremere grow in power each year while the strength of the Tzimisce fractures under the weight of infra-clan conflicts and the pressure being brought to bear on the western flanks of their domains. Indeed, if it were not for his need to put down the Ventrue of the Árpáds and the Eastern Lords, he would happily return his full attention to Usurpers’ destruction, for it is said that his own progeny, Roland, was the Fiend from whom the Tremere originally stole the Dead Water. And while he struggles with the Ventrue and the Tremere, Vladimir must watch his “friends” carefully, for he knows that any number of other voivodes are willing to challenge him at any opportune moment.
Rustovich takes the presence of the Ventrue in Transylvania, be they Árpád or Eastern Lord, as a personal insult. The Land Beyond the Forest has always belonged to the Tzimisce, and they have belonged to it. The Gangrel and the Nosferatu belong also, but they have long accepted the position of the Tzimisce as the rightful wardens of the land and are thus worthy of respect. The Ventrue and the Tremere ignore and challenge that authority, rather than show due deference, and any suggestion to the contrary is enough to put someone on the wrong side of the Voivode among Voivodes.
Knez Veceslav of Tihuta has indicated that in his mortal years, he served Voivode Rustovich as envoy for some time. Indeed, he has hinted that he and the voivode were on excellent terms, that he was often consulted both for his knowledge of Byzantine culture and custom and also for his understanding of the Vlach and Bulgarian politics south of the Transylvanian Alps. His allies among the Concord know that Rustovich intended to grant Veceslav the Dead Water and make him his diplomat, and that he was not at all pleased that pre-existing feudal obligations demanded that the young courtier return to his kin in Muntenia. Despite the objections of Rustovich, who had not yet risen to such lofty heights in the clan, Veceslav was eventually further compelled to return to his masters among the Obertus Order, who later granted the right of his Embrace to Gabor, an ousted voivode of negligible status. To rub further salt in the wounds, Gabor then eventually made the deplorable choice of allying with the Árpád Ventrue, which also nominally aligned his once-protege with Rustovitch’s hated rival, Visya.
As a result of these machinations, the relationship between Vladimir and Veceslav appears to be far from cordial.
In 1211, Jürgen von Verden made his claim on the Burzenland of Transylvania. In addition to being an effective declaration of war, the stake of his new dominion over their heartland was a deadly insult to the pride and the honour of the Clan of the Dragon. Through his proxy, Lady Kara Lupescu, Rustovich answered the challenge by declaring a Trial by War of his own in the traditional Tzimisce manner: written in blood on the flayed skin of a Teutonic Knight freshly abducted, it simply read, “Let it be known that we are at war. Bring your forces if you wish. Victory will be ours.”
Even so, it would be years before the Voivode among Voivodes even entered Transylvania himself. Instead he was compelled to put down the ambitions of as many as six other Tzimisce warlords who sought to use the distraction of the Sword-bearer to press their own ambitions on his vassals in Małopolska and Halych. It was useful to Rustovich that the Gangrel warlord known as Kordönül also tied up the skilled troops of his enemy in the Burzenland, the Székelyföld, and Muntenia throughout these years, for his defensive war meant that the Sword-bearer was unable to expand further into Transylvania as well. As the Cuman War was finally resolving in the favour of Lord Jürgen at the end of 1214, Rustovich too was ready, and he marched his armies hard into northern Transylvania. As the winter snows began to fall, so too did the Cainite princes of Klausenburg, Bistritz, and Regun either capitulate or abandon their demesnes and flee before his might. His old rival Visya was among those who shamefully fled, further obliviating his already diminished status among the Tzimisce. The fugitive voivode’s accomplished progeny Radu of Bistritz and Sergiu of Aserculu saw the writing on the wall too, and abandoned their sire to bend the knee to Rustovich and keep their domains.
The intervening years have seen the Voivode among Voivodes once again dealing with lesser Tzimisce seeking to take advantage of his preoccupation with the Sword-Bearer, and his advance on the southern towns of the Siebenburgen has faltered in the face of determined resistance from the strongly allied Árpád princes of Mediasch and Schäßburg together with the Szekler coterie known as the Brotherhood of the Black Stallion. The most grievous attacks, however, have been suffered at the hands of the Tremere. Using small armies of mercenaries, experienced battle coteries, and flocks of their deadly gargoyles, the Usurpers have pressed their ambitions on the prosperous city of Bistritz with great force, and the Voivode among Voivodes once more finds himself bogged down with distractions in the north while Lord Jürgen fortifies his lands, trains his men, and seeks out new allies in the south.
Every year the Eastern Lords remain in Transylvania diminishes the status of Vladimir Rustovich, and rivals such as Koban of Vranca, Tabak of Oltenia, Ioan the Butcher, and Noriz, the Corruptor of Legions, must surely wait for the scent of his blood on the wind. To remain unassailable as the Voivode among Voivodes, Rustovich must bring the war to a successful conclusion, and soon.
Embrace: AD 876.
Lineage: Childe of Kosczecsyku (d); further lineage is unknown, but he is suspected of being the grandchilde of either Yorak of the Cathedral of Flesh or Shaagra, the Vukodlak of Prague.