Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Thomas of Winchester
An English knight with an entrepreneurial spirit, Sir Thomas sailed East to find his fortune, only to find himself caught up in the ill winds of the Fourth Crusade. He resides in Constantinople still, working to make a place for himself in the new order.
A tall, strong English knight in his mid-thirties, sporting dark, shoulder length hair and a finely groomed beard. His nearly black eyes and a single streak of grey in his beard lend him a certain dangerous, rakish allure. He is clad in crimson and blue woolens that are of fine quality, but they have seen better days. The knight’s weapons look to have seen much use.
The coat of arms of Sir Thomas of Winchester.
(Expanded from the character mentioned in Liege, Lord, and Lackey)
Sir Thomas has been a fixture in the city of Constantinople since AD 1197, having journeyed east to change his fortunes. Ever the congenial and interested adventurer, he settled in the Latin Quarter and prospered there until the Great Fire of August, 1203. His property and trading investments ruined, he struggled to regain a solid footing and recover some of the brief glory, wealth and status that he tasted before the Fourth Crusade arrived. Regretfully, he decided to participate in the Great Sack, and he now stands among the new Latin Order.
In life the Englishman was the third son of a wealthy grocer with pretensions towards elevating the family to the gentry. Since he lacked daughters, and Thomas was the only one of his sons with the talent to advance the family, the grocer called in some favours to see the lad well settled. He was first a page to a household knight and then, by dint of his intelligence and audacity, a squire in the service of none other than Roger FitzCairn, the sheriff of Wiltshire. In this capacity he was present at the side of his lord often enough to see much of the final years of the Anarchy, thus gaining a fine understanding of the practical use of power and treachery within the bounds of the feudal structure. He earned his spurs in AD 1153, during a skirmish between King Stephen and Henry Plantagenet (soon to be known as King Henry II), who was campaigning in the south of England to force a closure to the troubles.
After the death of Lord Roger in AD 1156, the opportunistic and handsome young knight found himself in the service to the sheriff’s unloved widow, Lady Cecil. The daughter of a “new man” herself, Cecily had few airs and appreciated Sir Thomas’ charm, wit, and loyalty, and so it was that he served her as a bodyguard, advisor, and occasional lover for nearly sixteen years. His success brought the interest of a bloodline of Saxon Ventrue who had long guided the destiny of the Kingdom of Wessex and then the Counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Somerset. In time, Sir Thomas came to serve them as well as his lady. Although he was never made a ghoul, he came to learn much of these Cainites, as well as their plans to offer him the Embrace should he prove worthy. The “Ventrue” even claimed to be descended from the brilliant Saxon King Caedwalla, a glorious figure of legend from Thomas’ boyhood tales.
They convinced Sir Thomas that they were a great and noble line of immortals, self-appointed guardians of the legacy of Wessex. However, their enemies were many, and they had suffered serious setbacks in the last century. While they succeeded, at some cost, in routing the Tremere from the region in the early years of the 12th century, the effort of doing so broke an ancient treaty that Caedwalla had long maintained with the Fae, the Lupines, and Magi. The resulting conflicts meant that the ranks of the bloodline had become dangerously winnowed and as such, they were ill-prepared to withstand the “Foedarati” Cainites loyal to the Norman Triumvirate of Geoffrey de Calais, Liseult de Taine, and Roald Snake Eyes. Worse yet, after the rise of Mithras and the destruction of the Triumvirs, Caedwalla’s brood lost still more power as the vicious Baroness Seren of Gloucester moved against them from the north. Fearful for their survival, they grew needy to find talented recruits to help break the momentum of their enemies.
And so they needed a “new man”, one who could navigate the new corridors of feudal power. All he need do was prove himself, and advance the cause of his masters. This he did over the years with considerable talent and skill, plying the affections of the Lady Cecily and manipulating the direction of Wiltshire, aligning it more closely with the Saxon Ventrue pawns in Hampshire and Somerset. As the years rolled on and her power grew stronger, Cecily came to love power more than Thomas, but she still listened to his advice and treated him as a loyal friend even after she remarried. For a time at least, the tide turned against the interlopers of the Wesseaxna Ventrue, as their northern borders were strengthened by the efforts of Thomas and his fellow dupes.
Sir Thomas was rewarded with the Embrace in AD 1171, unaware that the fortunes of the bloodline were reaching their nadir. His grandsire Eadmund, the strongest warrior of the bloodline, was destroyed in a Lupine ambush that same year. Other ancillae of the bloodline had already perished in the troubles with the Triumvirate, so none stood forth with enough ability to replace Eadmund. Thomas’ own sire, Herewald, tried to serve Caedwalla as an agent provocateur but twelve years later he ran afoul of one of Mithras’ satraps, James Mannerly, and was executed for his treachery.
Caedwalla himself, who had reigned as Prince of Glastonbury since the late 8th century, disappeared without a trace one night in AD 1191, and the fief quickly descended into anarchy as each of the senior remnants of the bloodline, notable only in their lack of loyalty, sought to claim praxis over the ashes of their consanguineous relatives. The major cities controlled by the bloodline failed to maintain cohesion, and the Fief of Glastonbury ceased to exist in all but name. Sir Thomas, aware of his conspicuous lack of power in the internecine conflict, elected to take to wandering rather than be destroyed over table scraps.
Wandering the counties of southern England, he quickly found a frosty welcome wherever he presented himself among the Fiefs of Avalon. The Ventrue have little respect for failed bloodlines, and even less for those who choose to endure the indignity of surviving them. Even so, he eked out a living as a mercenary for any number of princes and barons as he sought a niche. For several years he managed to reside in the city of London, where he served a number of elders and ancillae as little more than a glorified retainer. Finally, after six years with no headway in the intolerant feudal climate, Sir Thomas put together his amassed silver and turned his eyes to the East. Surely there, far from home, he could make a fresh start, free from the nauseating reputation that he had done nothing to earn.
Some two months later, after an arduous and parlous voyage, he gazed in wonder at the Queen of Cities. There, standing on the deck of a ship off the Golden Horn, with the gleam of the moon illuminating her domes, her palaces and villas, the ruins of the acropolis and the glory of the Hagia Sophia, Sir Thomas fell in love. Not just with the grandeur of Constantinople, but with her possibilities…
By virtue of his strong arm, considerable charm, and a talented head for business, he established himself in the Genoese Quarter by earning the favour of Bishop Gabriella. For almost a year before her apparent destruction, Thomas served the Lasombra on her brute squad along with her childe Vincenzo, the Gangrel known as Gradin and the Toreador, Raphael. In the climate of uncertainty that followed, the wayward knight formed a coterie based around the linked needs for neutral feeding grounds and quiet introductions for strangers entering the cut-throat atmosphere of the quarter. Together with his business partners Domenico Vincenzo of Clan Toreador, Roberto da Pavia of Clan Ventrue, and the Caitiff known as Marta, the Englishman managed to carve out a strong niche consisting of several inns, taverns, alehouses, and a warehouse near the docks. He met Lotario at one of these taverns, soon after the First Siege of Constantinople concluded in August of 1203.
Unfortunately, Sir Thomas lost almost everything in the Great Fire, including half of his coterie. Both Roberto and Marta were trapped in their burning havens, and neither has been seen since. He and Domenico escaped only with what wealth they could snatch and their weapons before running for the safety of the Golden Horn. They tried to make themselves useful to whatever Cainite Crusader faction would have them in the months afterwards, holding out for a good deal while making temporary havens among the refugees north of the walls. His one remaining asset was a trader captain by the name of Roland, who originally transported the Ventrue from England before forming a trading partnership with the knight. Captain Roland and his ship left the city in the month before the crusade arrived, but Sir Thomas indicated that he could send word to his retainer to return at any time, with cargo for whatever faction was willing to pay.
It would appear Felix of Vaucluse finally made Sir Thomas a good offer, for he took part in the ill-fated attack on the faux-treasure boat over the new year. The Englishman fought well, and with uncommon regard for the mortals that fought alongside him, as he chose to call for their retreat rather than risk their lives pointlessly, and imperiled himself while covering their orderly escape. Sir Thomas then fled the wrath of the disguised Baron’s Gangrel only when the mortals had reached the relative safety of their own boat. Having survived to fight another night, the Ventrue then returned to the refugee camp to ponder his next move carefully.
It became apparent that Felix’ star had fallen, so Sir Thomas then made overtures to Duke Guy and Sir Thibauld. The Norman would offer the coin and favours necessary to secure the services of he and Domenico, and so they assisted Thibaud in the struggles to come. They offered their intimate understanding of the weaknesses of the Sea Walls leading up to the successful Second Siege of Constantinople in 1204, and their area knowledge also helped the Norman maximise his looting efforts during the Great Sack that followed. Their own share of the treasure helped to reestablish them in the new Latin order, and wary of spending their new silver on futile wars they wisely chose to ignore the overtures of Hugh of Clairvaux and his Templar cronies when they attempted to reinvigorate the dispersing crusade. They did, however, sign on with Thibauld, Sir Martin, and Sir Vitalis for their assault on the Cainite powers of Thessalonica shortly thereafter.
Throughout the years since the establishment of the Latin Empire, Sir Thomas has prospered. Domenico chose to remain in Thessalonica as an advisor to Prince Thibauld, and the Italian Toreador and the English Ventrue have established a trade network between the two cities. Martin and Vitalis showed themselves to be hungry for Thomas’ knowledge of the city and its native culture, and he has finally found a measure of acceptance among their coteries, not only because they seem to share his spirit of innovation but because the Bitter Crusaders do not feel like they can return to France and Italy with honour. For the first time in his existence, the outcast knight exists in good company, and he plans to make the most of it.
Embrace: AD 1171.
Lineage: Childe of Herewald Eadmundson (d), childe of Eadmund of Southampton (d), childe of Caedwalla of Wessex (d?); further lineage is unknown, but Caedwalla was known to speak of the feared ancient Tiamat as the founder of the bloodline. Sir Thomas is known to be of the 10th generation.