Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Russel da Casale
A captain in the service of the Fourth Cainite Crusade, renowned for his love of bringing death to all and sundry as much as his prodigious martial skills. He survived the Great Sack, and remains active in the Cainite Crusading movement.
A tall, deathly pale, powerful monster of a knight, clad in fine armour and bearing a masterfully crafted sword and dagger. Several jagged scars disfigure his countenance; one along his left cheek and the other bisecting his right brow. A third is barely visible across his throat, almost hidden by his rough beard and shoulder length brown hair. His dark eyes are profoundly unsettling- bearing sentience, yet strangely no life. His cloak is of midnight blue, and bears his symbol- a white cross bearing a skull in each quarter.
The Coat of Arms of Russel, Cavaliere da Cassel; each skull signifies his devotion to Clan, Lineage, the Road of Bones and his liege while the Cross represents his dedication to the Crusades.
Blazon: Sable, a cross argent between four skulls argent
Sir Russel of Casale hails from a small fortified town in Lombardy, on the banks of the Po river. It is a very old settlement, and once held an important Roman castle that weathered countless sieges and was bathed in the blood of thousands of men. In one of his rare moments of loquaciousness, the Cappadocian knight has mentioned that he was always fascinated by death, and doubly fascinated by the bloody tales of the ruined castle on the hill. He has hinted that he knew of Cainites long before he became one, and often sought rumours of them during his long career as a soldier, hoping to prove his mettle in battle against one of them. Alas, even with the blood of scores of men on his hands, and having scoured the cities and battlefields of Italy, Sicily, and southern France, he never found a strega.
Instead, one found him. The soldier, long since knighted for his service by the Margrave Boniface III of Tuscany, had grown tired of seeking ephemeral glory. All the great battles had been fought; the Kingdom of Italy belonged to the Holy Roman Emperor now, and painfully polite peace was the order of the day. He returned home to ruminate on his bland future, and whether he should abandon his holdings, wealth, his bland wife, and his bawling children to seek a few more years of war as a base mercenary before disease or age caught up with him. One night, while wandering the ruins of the old castle of Casalemaggioro, he chanced to interrupt the nocturnal musings of another man.
The man was of a strong, square build but possessed of a deathly ill pallour, and moved with unnatural ease and comfort with the night. The veteran knight immediately understood what the stranger was, and after a short chat concerning the history of the broken castle and the nature of “a good death”, politely challenged him to a duel to the death. The stranger, who had introduced himself as “Marcus of Rome”, was amused enough to agree. The vampire soon found the mortal more than a match for his own formidable martial skill, and was forced to resort to the use of the preternatural strength and speed of the Disciplines to overcome the knight. When he finally drove his sword through Russel’s lung, and the Lombard lay dying, the Cappadocian told him that he would have a long time indeed to discover the meaning of “good death”.
Sir Russel and his sire travelled together for almost sixty years, meeting other Cappadocians of his sire’s ancient vintage, and engaging in Marcus’ pet project. The Roman elder had a fascination for observing the entropy that infects aged civilisations, a study that instilled a deep fatalism in his childe. Sir Russel eventually conceived of an interest in the via Ossium, having seen his sire’s dwindling grasp on his own humanitas as a warning. He took his leave of Marcus in AD 1117 and journeyed to the East to seek a mentor in the obscure philosophy of death.
Little is known of his movements in the coming decades, but it is likely that the warrior spent a good deal of time in the underground cities and obscure religious retreats of his clan’s heartland. He emerged from the Cappadocian wilderness and joined the Second Crusade before the Battle of Dorylaeum, offering his sword to Duke Henry Jasomirgott of Bavaria, a prominent member of the House of Babenberg and a loyal friend of King Conrad III of Germany. Although the battle was lost and the crusade was ultimately a failure, Sir Russel’s apparent fearlessness, ruthlessness, and great skill in battle cemented his reputation with the Crusader factions of Ventrue, Toreador, and Lasombra that lay behind the pilgrimage. He came to be called Il Cavaliere della Morte (the Death Knight) by those Cainite Crusaders familiar with his story.
Sir Guy of Provence was particularly impressed by the Cappadocian, and he remained in intermittent correspondence with the death knight over the coming decades. When the Third Crusade was called, he answered once more. This time he fought directly under the command of Sir Guy, who served as a prominent captain in the army of Marquis Conrad of Montferrat (who would briefly go on to be de facto King of Jerusalem before his murder by the Ḥashīshiyyīn). Sir Guy’s coterie earned especial renown for their participation in the defence of the city of Tyre during the Third Crusade, and Sir Russel’s implacable calmness in the face of steep odds and his extraordinary skill were key to the victory. He survived an assassination attempt by a powerful Assamite during the siege, taking the villain’s Heart’s Blood as surely the enemy would have supped on his own.
He was again invited to join the Fourth Cainite Crusade by Sir Guy, this time as a captain in his own right. However, unlike his fellows he did not influence the command of hundreds of mortal soldiers and scores of knights, nor did he have any real influence among the leadership of the pilgrimage. Rather Sir Russel was given the rank of captain so that he might outrank all save a handful of his fellows, and thus retain enough authority to audit and punish them for transgressions against the Traditions as the crusade made its long way to the Holy Land. In effect, his duties were similar to those of the scourge and the warden (sheriff) conflated into one. In pursuit of the agenda of the Small Council of the Cainite Crusade, he could detain, interrogate, or even (in extreme situations) destroy Cainites of lesser rank attached to the pilgrimage. In practice, however, the death knight was mindful of the status of those whom he dealt with, and he exercised considerable discretion throughout the course of his duties.
For instance, when hunting the Brujah Aglaia and those of her (perceived) allies that were arrayed against the militi christi, Sir Russel openly threatened Lotario Acuto with the Final Death when he was discovered near the lair of the Cappadocian elder known as Drenis. A Cainite of weak blood (by his own admission), little status, and questionable loyalties to the pilgrimage, Lotario was deemed expendable by the death knight. Conversely, he would not be so cavalier with the likes of Justis Giovanni, whose family had helped bankroll the Venetian fleet, nor even of their quarry Drenis, who was of an unknown disposition but her status as an elder was widely established.
As an experienced soldier of many years, Sir Russel also carried the unenviable duty of being responsible for the management and discipline of those Cainites attached to the Cainite Crusade who had joined purely for remuneration or out of adventurous opportunism. While a number of arriving vampires swore their swords to magnates such as Vitalis of Asti, Thibauld of Bayeux, and Felix of Vaucluse, others merely wished to collect pay or otherwise keep to themselves. Ultimately, these worthies fell under the purview of the death knight. After the first Siege of Constantinople concluded in August of 1203, this number grew substantially as Cainites of Low Clan, weak blood, or poor status flocked to the banners of Duke Guy and his rivals. Chief in importance in this number were several vampire mercenary captains hoping to make a name for themselves through offering the services of their companies. Sir Russel stoically performed this duty for his liege, although he was known to find men who fight for silver over personal loyalty, honour, or love of combat to be odious at best. He enjoyed the company of fellow soldiers, most particularly those who revelled in bringing death to their foes, and word grew of his extraordinary mastery of the sword. Indeed, rumour had it that of all the knights of the crusade, none could match the skill of Russel of Casale.
He was widely feared by the vampires of the Fourth Cainite Crusade, not just for the power he held over them but because the death knight appeared to see killing as his most sacred duty. Russel finds the act of ending life to be spiritually fulfilling in a way that even most other Cainites find repulsive; he is known to pray nightly for the battle where his own Final Death will result and he will finally find an honourable passage to the after-life. Even so, he is known to be fiercely loyal to those who earn his respect, and he also has a deep reverence for the elders of his own clan. Indeed, when the Cappadocian elder Drenis was brought before the Small Council (by Sir Russel), the knight actually spoke up for the great status and virtue of his elder as he conducted her into their hands.
On the second night of the Great Sack, Sir Russel was among the supporters of Duke Guy who attacked the Citadel of Petrion, the stronghold of the Baron’s Gangrel. In the desperate melee that followed, the puissant death knight finally met his match in Baron Thomas himself. They met in the earliest moments of the assault, and tales have been told of the remarkable exchange that followed as the wild fighting flowed around them. Ultimately, however, the baron found an opening first, using his blade to trap that of the Cappadocian, and then drove the Wolf Claws of his other hand through the visor and into the eyes of his foe. Blinded, Sir Russel fell away from Baron Thomas as other vampires and ghouls rushed to take his place. In short order, the lord of the Byzantine Gangrel was surrounded and the wounds that the death knight and his fellows had dealt him, plus the use of torches, caused the baron to Rötschreck. His flight caused a rout, and the night was carried by the forces of Duke Guy.
Incapacitated by his aggravated injury, the blind Cappadocian warrior was out of the fight for the remainder of the sack of Constantinople. As such, he did not accompany Duke Guy on his foray into the Great Palace, nor the ambush of the Palace of Magnana which ultimately led to the Final Death of the Ventrue lord and most of his followers. Russel would not recover his sight until well after the spoils were divided and the Cainites of the city had settled into an uneasy truce, waiting to see who might emerge as the new leader (or leaders) of Constantinople. He would wait himself, watching hopefully as Hugh of Clairvaux worked to regather the strings of the crusade, but after the Ventrue Templar was assassinated and his campaign dissolved, the death knight realised there would be no grand holy war in the East any time soon. He lent his sword to Vitalis of Asti, Martin of Toulon, and Thibauld of Bayeux long enough to see Thessalonica taken, then made his preparations to return to his own lands in Lombardy.
Over the years that followed, his notoriety continued as his name was connected with the Cathar Crusade. He is known to have taken part in the Massacre at Béziers in 1209, although on which side is unclear for he simply appeared to be enjoying himself killing as many people as possible. It is known that he alternated in the employ of both Demetrius of Marseille and Dominius of Nice, engaged either in fighting off opportunistic Cainite vassals of Alexander of Paris or at other times assisting them. Always though, Sir Russel’s eye was on the East, and he was a prime agitator for the Fifth Cainite Crusade.
Indeed, so grand has his example grown among his few martial clan-mates that a number of other Cappadocians have gravitated towards his banner. He would ally himself with the mortal Count of Rodez, Henry of Millau, and together they sought to disentangle themselves from the Albigensian Crusade in order to direct their energies towards the Levant. As the winters storms of late 1217 closed in, they had yet to set sail, but it is almost certain that with the spring, the death knight of Casale will be active in the war against the Saracens.
Embrace: AD 1055.
Lineage: Childe of Marcus of Rome (d?), childe of Theophilus (d?), childe of Andromeda (d), childe of Caias Koine (d), childe of Cappadocius. Russel was Embraced among the 8th generation, but his diablerie of the Assamite who came for his blood may have lowered his effective potency to that of the 6th.
(d?)= Probably Deceased.