Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Sir Roland du Rochere
This murdered Ventrue Crusader was a master of Socratic debate. He was a strong proponent of Egypt as the focus for the 4th Crusade, and a powerful asset to the Ventrue cause at the Venetian council.
A handsome, dignified Frankish knight with a strong jaw, thick brown hair and cornflower blue eyes. He wears cotton and wool garments of fine cut, but in subdued colours. The device of a mountain topped with a sceptre is blazoned on his surcoat. He is armed only with a curved Saracen knife.
Crusades have always dominated the existence of Roland du Rochere. He has always striven to find God’s favour, or even evidence of interest, in his work. Such was his admission in conversation with the Concord of Ashes before his untimely murder.
As a humble squire, Roland took the Cross in AD 1146 along with his master, Chevalier Umberto de Montmélian, a prominent vassal of Amadeus III, the Count of Savoy. At first, as Amadeus’ army marched the length of Italy to Brindisi, and then set sail for Durazzo, the Second Crusade was a grand adventure- a chance to see the world and do God’s work. As they continued along the ancient via Egnatia through the Balkans, and then the lands of the Greeks, he and his fellow squires worked hard at their chores: practicing at warcraft and horsemanship, polishing and oiling weapons and armour, and praying fervently for courage in the battles to come so that they might win their spurs.
He did his best to ignore the tales of pillage, theft, murder and rape that accompanied the Crusaders. Roland believed his master when Sir Umberto said no Army of God could be responsible for such sin, and tried to forget that he had seen sinful incidents with his own eyes. After all,all would be forgiven when the Crusade was victorious. At Constantinople, Amadeus III and his vassals joined the larger army of his nephew, King Louis VII, and his famed Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and from there the crossing into Asia Minor was made. The time for glory was nigh.
Roland’s first battle, not far from Laodicea, was not at all like he’d been told to expect. Confusion reigned, and the smell of piss, shit, blood and fear overwhelmed the senses. The tumult of galloping horses stirred the dust of the plain into a haze of grit that insinuated itself everywhere- choking the lungs and rubbing his flesh raw under the weight of his mail. The sun baked him inside his mail, and sapped the water from his body. He struggled to make out where all the arrows- so many damned arrows- were coming from. Indeed, Roland never even saw the one that took Sir Umberto in the belly. He didn’t slay a single Turk, nor indeed did he land even a single blow. The enemy never even closed to melee until the Crusader vanguard was already in flight.
The squire managed to guide his master back to the King’s forces, and nursed him through Sir Umberto’s agonised final days. The knight first ignored the pain, drank wine and toasted his Count and the King, both of whom survived the battle. He then good-naturedly abused the chirurgeons who did their best to save his life. Then, as the pain of the infection mounted, Sir Umberto prayed to God for deliverance and then soon begged for the priest who came to give Last Rites to intercede on his behalf as well. Could the priest not take away his pain, at least? Finally, in a delirium of agony and milk of the poppy, with blood and pus oozing from the bandages girdling his belly, he cursed with his dying breath the Count, the King, God and any man who was fool enough to fight for any of them.
The experience affected the young squire deeply.
Roland continued on to the Holy Land, a lord-less squire still intent on earning his spurs and atoning for his sins, and those of his late master. His charisma had made him a leader of sorts, and he was often put in charge of sergeants and other squires.
The marching army, now combined with the German Crusade of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III, suffered ambuscade after ambuscade, and they were harried constantly with flights of arrows. The journey was nightmarish, not at all like the pleasant march along the via Egnatia, but in the end they made it, much reduced in numbers and plagued by sickness, injury and poor morale.
The Crusade eventually culminated in the Siege of Damascus. While standing guard one night, Roland and his fellow guards were attacked by creatures out of legend and nightmare- the dreaded Hashashiyyin. The monsters melted out of the blackest night, and all sound fled as they came at the guards, swords bared and fangs glistening in the moonlight. Many died before they even knew they were under attack. Roland stood his ground and fought while one of his friends fled to find an officer. He was sure that he was dead, but hoped that he could save a few of his friends first.
And then, Crusaders charged back at the Hashashiyyin, and these knights too bore fangs and fought with unnatural speed and skill. The deadly Assassins were driven off, and many years later, at the Crusader Council of Venice in AD 1202, Roland recounted having seen a red wolf on a green field among his rescuers.
A truce was called the next day. Word had reached them that the dread Nur ad-Din and his great army were on the way, which spelled disaster for the Crusaders. A decision to lift the siege was made, and everyone went home. Roland, however, could not. France was no place for him any longer.
Roland’s bravery, and his knowledge of the supernatural forces at work at Damascus, were not overlooked. One of the Crusaders, a Ventrue by the name of Udo of Kerak, was impressed by the young man and, after Dominating him to keep him silent, arranged for him to be knighted as he deserved. The spurs meant little to Roland now though. What was in store for him? A useless death like Umberto’s? The Crusade had failed. Without the favour of God, all the works of men were for naught. They could be snatched away by fickle fortune, or by the hand of the righteous whom God did favour. Sir Udo was doubly impressed. The lad had a brain! He elected to keep an eye on the young knight, and see if he was worthy of the Blood of Caine.
Sir Roland’s ruminations made him unpopular, but his analytical mind and clever turn of phrase meant that he could rarely be defeated in debate. He soon earned a reputation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his incisive wit, and he was warned by the clergy several times about his near blasphemies. His courage on the battlefield was undoubted as well, as Sir Roland freely admitted that he fought so hard because he hoped that God would take notice of him, and favour his cause. He earned his name, ‘the Rock’ because it was thought they he would never break in battle, choosing instead to fall with God’s name on his lips. In AD 1151, just two years after the end of the Crusade, Sir Udo finally secured permission from his own masters and Embraced the young knight. He then took the fledgeling to Egypt, where Sir Roland was presented to his ancestor the Prince of Cairo, Sultan Antonius.
Udo and Roland dwelt in Cairo for nearly twenty years, enjoying “Sultan” Antonius’ hospitality and performing as he directed. Sir Udo often returned to Antonius’ court, finding it more conducive to his own irreverent nature than that of Jerusalem. In this bastion of Islam, Sir Roland finally had the opportunity to immerse himself in intellectual pursuits, including the study of history, rhetoric and theology. He made the acquaintance of many Ashirra, learning much of the people that he still quietly considered his enemies. He also met other Europeans that shared his growing love of the Egypt of antiquity. Sir Aimery de Versey, a Ventrue Embraced after the First Crusade who shared many of his doubts, became his best friend, and the two of them raided a number of tombs in the Valley of the Kings in order to “liberate the priceless treasures within from the low designs of thieves”.
Sir Udo was assassinated by an unknown Cainite in AD 1169 and Sir Roland, not at all eager to be a lowly neonate, and a Christian one at that, in a Muslim city, elected to move on. He returned to Jerusalem, where he presented his credentials and entered the service of the Crusader Ventrue. Lucius Trebius Rufus lacked a skilled orator in his entourage, and proved to be a good master in spite of his frequently expressed misgivings about “untrustworthy Greek bloodlines”. Sir Aimery relocated to Venice, and their partnership became a cornerstone of the Crusader Ventrue efforts to launch further Crusades in the Holy Land. Sir Roland achieved considerable glory fighting in the Third Crusade along side Rufus, LeFreuy and Vicelin de Marseilles, and he also earned allies amongst the followers of Sir Geoffrey du Temple.
It was this prestige that led to Lanzo von Sachsen’s invitation to attend the Fourth Crusader Council in Venice in AD 1202. He and Sir Aimery worked in tandem, with Roland’s oratory finding its compliment in his friend’s smooth arguments in more intimate company. The Lasombra envoy, Tomasso Brexiano, was soon outmaneuvered by the team of skilled Ventrue. The Cainites of the Fourth Council were all but convinced that Egypt was the only sensible destination for the Crusade (as Richard the Lionheart had professed), and that their mortal catspaws should be directed as such.
Then, with victory in their grasp, Sir Roland du Rochere was found murdered in a Greek warehouse. Investigations bore out that he was assassinated by an Assamite, using a rare and highly toxic poison. Not only that, but that he had links to the Children of Judas. What hold could the Settites of Constantinople have over this warrior of Christ? And how far did the conspiracy go?
Lineage: Childe of Sir Udo ritter von Kerak (d), Childe of Eustachios (d), Childe of Prince Antonius of Cairo; During the investigation into Sir Roland’s murder, the Concord discovered that Antonius of Cairo, also known as Antonius the Younger, is in fact the Childe of the late Antonius the Gaul (reputedly the last childe of the Ventrue Antediluvian). In some circles, Antonius the Gaul was known as Antonius the Elder. Apparently the monikers were used in ancient times to differentiate between the two, although the link has fallen into obscurity with the centuries.