Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Martin de Toulon
This Paladin is the childe of Sir Guy, an influential Scion and late Duke of the Fourth Cainite Crusade. A rare vampire, Sir Martin exists on the point of his honour, and has no tolerance for injustice or dishonesty.
A handsome young knight of Provence, muscular and fit for battle at a moment’s notice. His complexion is pale, his hair is cropped short in a soldier’s cut, and he is perpetually in need of a shave. His arms and armour are in excellent repair, though they look to have seen plenty of action. His blue surcoat bears the arms of the County of Provence- four red vertical lines on a golden field, quartered with a sunburst, a sceptre and a laurel wreath on a white field.
The coat-of-arms of Martin de Toulon, Chevalier de Mont Faron. His arms denote his loyal vassalage to the mortal Count of Provence, as well as the Sun in splendour (the symbol of both he and his sire), the sceptre of Clan Ventrue and the golden laurel wreath of his great-sire, Dominius.
Blazon: Per fess argent and or; in chief a wreath or, a sun in his splendour or and a scepter or, in base four pallets gules.
In life, Martin was a cousin and vassal of the influential Hughes, Lord of Aix, a prominent and valued vassal of the Count Alfonso II of Provence. Even as a squire, he could best many trained knights, and he was marked as one to watch in the court of Toulon, as he displayed a commitment to the doctrines of chivalry, courage on the field, and maturity beyond his years. Alas, he stood to be little more than a pig farmer with a title, and two years after being knighted, he took the cross and joined the Third Crusade in the army of Philip II of France.
Sir Martin proved himself many times during the crusade, being recognised for his bravery and leadership at the Siege of Acre. While deeply troubled by the actions of his crusader compatriots many times throughout the war with the Saracens, he fought on diligently, even once it was clear that the enemy were not nearly so monstrous as the troubadours tales held them to be. Nevertheless, he held true to his vows and his belief that he was acting for the greater good of Christendom and men everywhere. It was this unflinching adherence to duty that earned him the attention and regard of Guy of Provence, who Embraced him in the winter of AD 1192. His friend and compatriot on the Third Crusade, Sir Arnaud of Moncalvo, called “the Brave”, was brought across on the very same night by Guy’s friend and chief aide-de-camp, the Phaedymite Petrus the Troubadour.
Sir Martin has been busy ever since, learning the subtleties of Cainite politics and the leadership skills necessary to make him a commander of both Cainites and mortals. He was heavily involved in the planning of the Cainite contingent of the Fourth Crusade, and once it was underway he served as his sire’s lieutenant when Petrus was indisposed on other matters. Sir Martin and Sir Arnaud were still inseparable, and their strong adherence to the tenets of the via equitum marked them as a moral standard to which others might aspire. Other neonates involved in the crusade began to form up around them, and often looked to their example.
When their investigations into the sabotage of the crusade at Zara began to bear fruit, the Concord attempted to report their findings to Guy of Provence so that they might receive instructions and support in concluding the matter. However, they were rebuffed by Petrus, at first gently but then with some anger when Sir Gunthar insisted. Some harsh words were shared between he and Petrus, who insisted that Guy was indisposed. Sir Martin and Sir Arnaud, as well as several score of men-at-arms, were assigned to the Concord by Petrus so that they could establish a cordon around the haven of the suspected saboteur, Erzebet Toth.
Both Sir Gunthar and Veceslav resented the interference, but Maude was pleased for the assistance. Both knights acquitted themselves quite well in the resulting fight, although Sir Martin and the Gangrel almost came to blows over the Saxon knight’s dishonourable treatment of a surrendered foe, the ghoul known as Emeric of Toth.
Gunthar soon tricked Sir Martin into accepting his own ward and squire, Bernerd Dressler, on a provisional basis. This involved a wager that Gunthar, with his Saxon common sense, could make a better knight of the prisoner Emeric than Sir Martin could of Bernerd Dressler, who was already a squire. Naturally, the Gangrel cared little if he lost the wager, reasoning that if he did so, his ward could benefit from the kind and valiant example of Sir Martin whereas in his own company, he could well face only madness and death. Just to be sure that the young man would gain a measure of common sense to go along with all of this chivalry, Sir Gunthar also asked the Ventrue Aimery of Versey to watch over him as well.
With the staged mortal and later apparent Final Death of Sir Gunthar over the coming months, Bernerd the Younger was left in the dual care of the two Ventrue. Between them they at first appeared to make great strides towards making the lad the knight that his Gangrel ancestor hoped that he would be. Sir Martin genuinely appeared to like Bernerd, although he found the young man’s propensity for gambling, strong drink, and loose women to be an embarrassing and potentially ruinous character flaw. Unfortunately, as the problems of the pilgrimage mounted, Martin’s attention was consumed by pressing matters facing his sire, and so he was forced to give the young Kronstadter squire over to Aimery for the majority of his instruction. He would come to bitterly regret this decision, given the fate of the boy as well as his friends Gabriel and Sherazhina.
On the island of Corfu, Sir Aimery was investigated by the returned Concord, revealed to be a Settite spy, and brought to justice. Martin once more involved himself in the instruction of Bernerd, whom he found to be much changed from the ordeals inflicted upon him by the Decadent puppet-master. Out of a sense of guilt, he helped Iulia of Weißenburg in her efforts to selectively remove Bernerd’s memories of his degrading experiences at the hands of Aimery, and he made sure to devote far more time than he had available to instruct the lad.
Also on the island of Corfu, he and Arnaud participated in the capture of Aglaia, the rogue Brujah prince of Corcyra. This was a perilous escapade that brought disaster to their immortal friendship. Standing at the prow of a small boat near the island of Hagios Dimitrios in the Bay of Corcyra, Arnaud and Sir Martin spoke of their devotion to each other as they often did before going into battle. Moments later, the submerged Brujah attacked the Cainites in the boat. Sir’s Arnaud and Martin, the Tzimisce Veceslav, and the Toreador Lotario plunged into the water to subdue her. Striking with their daggers, the two knights struggled to fend off the furious assault of Aglaia. To this night, however, Sir Martin curses his ineptitude for what followed, for his dagger did not strike true during the desperate struggle.
The former prince tore Arnaud’s throat with her fangs, grievously wounding the Phaedymite. As he slipped down into the murk the knight of Moncalvo knew that his fellows would struggle to hold her off; he then marshalled his will and, living up to his name, bravely steeled himself and reentered the fray. He paid for his courage with his unlife, as Aglaia then ripped his heart from his chest. However, his sacrifice managed to buy precious seconds for Sister Maude to freeze the Brujah with her dark arts, allowing Lotario Acuto to stake the frenzied woman. By the time Martin was able to drag Arnaud onto the boat, his friend was already gone, and the young Ventrue wept bitter, bloody tears over the already rotting corpse.
Sir Martin’s grief at the loss of his dear friend was palpable to the rest of the Cainites of the Fourth Cainite Crusade. He worked to manage the duties of his departed friend as well as his own, but it was clear to all that the two Cainites formed part of a great whole that had become irrevocably diminished. Shortly, the mortal magnates of the crusade managed to convince the majority of the discontent soldiery to follow them to Constantinople in order to place their ally Prince Alexius on his rightful throne, and the Cainite Crusade was compelled by their oaths to follow. Over the course of the months to come numerous other Cainites of little status and few prospects drifted to the pilgrimage, hoping to win land, wealth, and reputation under the leadership of Guy, who had been declared duke of the Cainite Crusade by his sire Dominius. Many of these vampires of lesser worth and years found their way into the orbit of Sir Martin, who was marked as a future leader of the movement.
Soon enough, the Fourth Crusade was victorious in the mission of their detour. With the flight of its emperor at the beginning of August of 1203, the weakness of the capital was revealed and Alexius was placed on the imperial throne alongside his blind father, Isaac II. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the callow prince’s promises were hollow, and the financial situation of the pilgrimage continued to worsen.
He would be active throughout the remainder of the Bitter Crusade, doing his best to walk the difficult line between his moral code and the increasingly erratic, vengeful, and tyrannical orders of his sire. The suspected flouting of Guy’s authority from a number of quarters vexed the commander, and his growing paranoia caused him to make questionable decisions. Frequently, Martin was given orders that troubled his conscience, and he came to seek the advice of Sister Maude so that he might “interpret” his sire’s directives in such a way as to do the least harm. However, it was the murder of Guy’s best friend and chief aide-de-camp Petrus the Troubadour that would irrevocably send Martin’s sire and mentor down a path of destruction and vengeance. In the wake of the Final Death of the troubadour on the 29th of January, Duke Guy made a declaration of total war against the Cainites of the Trinity Families and their Scions.
As preparations mounted throughout March and April of 1204, Martin tried to dissuade the duke from his course several times, but he was unable to appeal to the better angels of his sire’s nature. Soon, the Ventrue warlord grew impatient with the hesitation of his new chief aide-de-camp and after a public dressing down, Sir Martin buckled under the pressure and ceased his vacillating. Secretly, however, he continued to make overtures to Maude as well as other agents of the Concord and the Families whom he knew to be working for peace and mediation.
It availed them all nothing, for the Fourth Crusade broke through the sea walls on the 12th of April, 1204. The vampires of both the pilgrimage and the city awoke to rampaging armsmen who were looting, raping, and murdering their way through the streets of the Queen of Cities. Duke Guy seemed hell-bent on breaking the back of the Cainites of the Families, convinced as he was that they had been behind much of the misfortune that had bedevilled his command and sure that their manipulations had caused undue and untold harm to the previous Cainite Crusades of the 12th century. Despite Sir Martin’s wish for peace, the die had been cast and as expected, he and the coterie of his fellow neonates participated that night in attack and sack of the Draconian stronghold at the Monastery of Christ Pantokrator. They also took part in the successful assault on the Baron’s Gangrel at their stronghold at the Citadel of Petrion the following evening. In that second battle, Martin was forced to come to terms with the fact that his sire had utterly departed from all sense of justice and sanity, for his lack of mercy shown to the noble, vanquished enemy and the lack of concern for the lives of his own mortal underlings shocked the Paladin to the core of his values.
On the 14th of April, the final night of the worst of the Great Sack, Duke Guy drove on to the Lexor Brujah Senate House and also the Great Palace, long held to be the heart of the power of the Antonian family. However, the palace complex was deserted of the Byzantine Ventrue, and evidence of a great slaughter was found in the throne room of Caius. Evidence was found, however, that the enemy was to be found attempting to flee the city from the imperial docks at the nearby Palace of Mangana. Sir Martin and his followers were directed to search the remnants of the Great Palace, and then hurry on to Mangana to join his sire and the core of his more experienced followers.
Sir Martin did his duty quickly and followed his sire expeditiously. However, by the time he arrived at Mangana the vengeance of Belisarius was already complete, and the corpses of Duke Guy and many of his closest supporters decayed in the courtyard before the palace. Stoically and regretfully, the young Paladin gathered the remains of his sire and returned to the camp to make his plans for the future. As small comfort, that same night the news that Felix of Vaucluse had also perished reached the victorious Cainite Crusade.
In the wake of the Great Sack, with Vitalis of Asti and Russel of Casale both lying torpid from their injuries taken in the field, Martin was suddenly thrust into prominence as the heir of Guy of Provence. At only twelve years undead, however, no one other than his own coterie truly considered him to be a successor to his sire. Instead, they looked to the obvious choice of Hugh of Clairvaux, who rose to the challenge of drawing together the disparate, floundering elements of the Cainite Crusade and the Constantinopolitan refugees. Unfortunately, that noble Ventrue would find the Final Death on the edge of Assamite blade in August of 1204. The young Paladin too had believed in the Templar, discovering in him a potential mentor to replace his sire, who had fallen in more ways than one. He had invested much of his treasure, his growing reputation, and all of his hope in Brother Hugh, and when he was murdered Sir Martin was among those who frenzied in their paranoid hunt for the accomplices of the assassin.
Deeply chagrined, Sir Martin fell into something of a crisis. He knew he was too young to make a serious play for significant Domain, even with the assistance of his loyal fellows and the considerable wealth in silver and men that they still held. Lacking the confidence to make a move, he sought the advice of Sister Farancina, and she encouraged him to seek out the reawoken Vitalis, who was in the process of backing their Norman clan-mate, Thibauld of Bayeux, in his conquest of Thessalonica. At the portentious meeting, the nun caused the two young knights to make an alliance predicated on using the strength of arms of their two coteries to force a power bloc upon the rapacious and immortal vampires that were vying to replace the fallen Toreador Patriarch, Michael.
An older Ventrue who had joined the crusade late, Sir Thibauld seemd to share their ideals, and he was possessed of considerable elan and franchise. He and Vitalis had a strong war coterie at their disposal, and with the addition of Martin and his fellows, they suddenly had nearly a score of skilled Cainite fighters to call upon. Using their new-found potency, they placed Thibauld on the throne of Thessalonica in just a few short weeks, displacing the Tzimisce and Gangrel coterie that had brutally ruled the vampires of the port city. Lanzo von Sachsen hoped to use them to force his own suit on Constantinople, but both neonates had little interest in seeing the servant of Hardestadt the Elder on the throne — it flew in the face of the desires of their own ancestors, who had anxieties of their own over the German elder’s growing power. They settled into the long game instead, using their pawns among the new Latin Imperial nobility to tighten their influence at the Blachernae Palace and among the barons in service to Emperor Baldwin, King Boniface, and the other magnates, while they waited for their masters to negotiate a compromise candidate that they could put forward.
Unfortunately, despite several years of negotiations neither Lord Michaellis nor Lord Dominius saw fit to reach an equitable accommodation, and the Ventrue lost their chance to declare praxis before Alfonzo of Venice was able to succeed to the throne in the dying nights of 1206. Worse, their influence atrophied with the loss of Baldwin, Boniface, and Louis in a series of failed campaigns against the resurgent Empire of Bulgaria in 1205 and 1207.
Now Martin and his allies were playing a very long game; far longer indeed than they had ever intended. They rely on the advice of Sister Farancina to chart their course through the treacherous vampire intrigues of Byzantium but even so, they are routinely outmanoeuvred by the much older and more savvy vampires with which they contend. At least in part, however, this is by design, for the young Ventrue know that they are underestimated, seen as a callow and blunt tool for their betters to manipulate. Vitalis concentrates on the military adventures of the Latin Emperors and their marshals, while Martin makes a point of being a diplomat and spokesperson for the new Cainite powers of Byzantium. Meanwhile, slowly and carefully they make use of their excellent understanding of the feudal system to place their pawns in ways that Prince Alfonzo, Bishop Gabriella, Nicepherus, and their Italian and Greek followers have failed to appreciate. By the advent of the sole reign of Yolanda of Flanders in 1217, none could match their influence over the imperial household and, more importantly, no one could discern just how deep their sway actually went.
Martin has learned the lessons of his elders well, for he has discovered ambition, learned subtlety, and he looks to the future. He does his level best to see the Latin Empire recover from its rocky beginnings, and he is a firm supporter of the rule of Prince Alfonzo. Beyond that, he quietly strengthens his image as a noble and honourable Paladin, an even-handed and competent member of the Court of Porphyry Shadows, and a reliable and temperate politician. Prince Alfonzo will inevitably fall, for he is an erratic megalomaniac who is gradually losing his grip through his tyrannical methods. Time is Martin’s ally. Decades from now (not too soon!), he will falter and be eaten by the sharks that already begin to circle his ailing praxis. Furthermore, the young Ventrue knows that everyone in their private moments recognises this, and he also knows that they are anxious that the inevitable spill between the prince and Bishop Gabriella might be more than the Silence of the Blood can suffer. Between now and then, Martin’s game is to be seen as the natural choice for the one who ought to sit on his throne when Alfonzo’s time is over.
Embrace: AD 1192.
Lineage: Childe of Guy of Provence (d), childe of Dominius, childe of Tinia (d?), Childe of Ventrue. Martin de Toulon is of the 7th generation, and his bloodline is judged to be noble in Europe but most definitely ignoble in the Byzantine East.
(d?)= Probably destroyed