Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
A noble Paladin of a prominent French Ventrue lineage, this knight served as one of the captains of the Fourth Cainite Crusade. In the wake of the Great Sack, he has become a noted political player within the Cainite circles of the Latin Empire.
A good-looking knight in his prime, clad in fine mail and bearing a weapons that glitter with gold inlay and jewels. His honey blonde hair is worn shoulder length, his beard immaculately and stylishly trimmed, and his dark green eyes match his velvet surcoat. His primary symbol, that of a white griffon with a golden sceptre, is worn proudly about his person- sewn on his coat and his cloak and worn as a pendant and a signet ring. This knight is clearly a lord of great wealth.
The coat-of-arms of Vitalis d’Asti, Seigneur de Selybria, changed after he gave up his lands in France in Italy in 1209. He is no longer a vassal of the bishop of Turin, having given the castle to an oldest son that he managed to “arrange” for his wife Sophia, the lady of Castello di Annone, also known as the Castle of Nine Miles. The fellow, Vitalis the Younger, is also lord of the settlements of Saint-Lyé and Épernay. Yet another domain, that of Recy, was given to a second son, Hugh, in order to preserve the Silence of the Blood and the feudal integrity of his Domain, which is otherwise watched over by his sire. Both “sons” have been raised to see him as their actual living father, and carefully Dominated for their loyalty.
The golden pillars and sceptre indicate that he is of the line of Michaellis, Ventrue Lord of Champagne, and the crescent indicates that he stands second, behind his sire, as his grand-sire’s heir in the rolls of the Grand Court of France. The argent griffon on a field of green has been his device since his breathing years.
Sir Vitalis of Asti, Lord of the Castle of Nine Miles and the demesnes of Saint-Lyé, Recy, and Épernay, is a wealthy Ventrue in the service of his grand-sire, the Cainite lord of Champagne. Michaellis himself was Embraced many centuries ago by the ancient known as Alexander of Paris, Monarch of the Grand Court of France and Prince of Paris. It has been centuries since Michaellis directly served Alexander, but the two elders are still joined by feudal bonds through the ailing Grand Court. As the prince of Paris withdrew into melancholy throughout the 12th century, the lord of Champagne has concentrated his efforts on securing the borders of the Grand Court against encroachments from the Holy Roman Imperial Ventrue. Robert of Pont-Adhemer, Vitalis’ sire, is the prince of Reims and Michaellis’ strongest and most loyal vassal. He and Vitalis are instrumental to their lord’s plans for keeping the Cainite courts of Champagne free of not just the Holy Roman Imperial Ventrue but the increasing influence of the Toreador Courts of Love. In his mortal years, he was a noted knight who possessed lands under vassalage to the count of Champagne, and while was he born in the city of Asti, by the time of his Becoming he had spent most of his life in France. Even after he entered the ranks of the undead, he maintained his facade as a mortal knight, even going so far as to marry an Italian heiress and thus also becoming a vassal of the bishop of Turin.
Like his sire, Vitalis is something of a natural with the use of Domination, and his talents were quite useful to the Fourth Cainite Crusade after Duke Guy lifted the injunction against its use on the mortal leadership. Vitalis concentrated his efforts on the formidable knights of Champagne, particularly those surrounding their canny marshal, Lord Geoffrey of Villehardouin. Vitalis brought some eighty veteran Champagnois and Torinese warriors and knights to the pilgrimage, and could additionally expend his influence to mobilise as many as three hundred more. Through the connections granted him by his marriage, he also enjoyed a little influence with some of the small Lombardic contingents of the pilgrimage.
Vitalis is known to have taken the Third Crusade, where he served as a prominent bodyguard to Henry II, Count of Champagne and later King of Jerusalem. He met Guy of Provence at the Siege of Acre, and he impressed the older Ventrue with his devotion to his duty, loyalty to his superiors and natural leadership talents. When the Fourth Crusade was called, Sir Vitalis was one of the first Cainites to step forward. The Paladin quickly swore loyalty to Guy, and as the pilgrimage progressed, he increasingly found himself pushed into the role of able subordinate as other Cainite lords polarised along ideological lines.
As a walker on the via equitum, Sir Vitalis is a strong adherent of duty, honour and the concept of chivalrous conduct. He did not appear to enjoy taking part in the intrigues of the Small Council of the Cainite Crusade, eschewing discussion of politics outside of session and avoiding ethical conflicts by concentrating on the security of the camp. Indeed, he often chose to absent himself immediately after the council adjourned, finding more comfort and unambiguity in the simple conversation of the mortal soldiery. Throughout the early stages of the pilgrimage, he was a staunch supporter of Guy of Provence, if for no other reason than Sir Felix’s obvious villainy and the connections of the Knights of the Sable Rose to the Courts of Love, an organisation that he found of suspect loyalty to the Grand Court. For his part, Guy appreciated Vitalis’ support and treated him with obvious and genuine respect, for he must have realised that as a representative of Michaellis and Robert, Sir Vitalis represented a powerful faction among the Crusader Ventrue. As such, if his support vanished that would surely mean that the Compact of Clermont had deserted the Provençal commander as well. Guy recognised Vitalis as one of his captains in Venice, and even when the eventual pressures of his position caused the commander to abuse some of his underlings, the captain of Champagne and Turin was never among those who suffered ill treatment at his hands.
Perhaps owing to his forthright manner and impeccable conduct, Sir Vitalis has been the subject of many lewd rumours. The more decadent Cainites of the crusade whisper behind his back that the Paladin feeds exclusively on young, vulnerable nuns and lay sisters, and that he has a special ritual for deflowering them when they enter his service. Certainly, Vitalis appears to find the company of nuns to his liking, and when found at rest in his quarters he almost always has a holy sister in attendance upon him. He has always been careful to hide this tendency in mortal society, lest any lascivious rumours damage his reputation.
After the First siege of Constantinople ended in qualified victory for the Fourth Crusade, Vitalis was frequently absent from the city. He saw his best use to be the security of the funds necessary to see the pilgrimage moved on to Egypt, and so he was one of a number of vampires that made their way around the near provinces with the small army of Alexius IV on his imperial processional. When he returned to Constantinople in November, he arrived to find the city restive and the command of Duke Guy failing in favour of that of Sir Felix, who had used his extraordinary wealth to buy the loyalty of many new arrivals. Furthermore, his lord was growing more erratic and ruthless in his decisions, and Vitalis was forced to come to grips with the fact that Guy was losing his way. Nonetheless he was pleased to discover that his consanguineous cousin, Hugh of Clairvaux, had arrived with his detachments. Of a similar age and temperament, Vitalis had known and respected the Templar from their shared experiences on the Third Crusade, and the two young Ventrue spoke often over the coming months, strategising ways that the militi Christi might be restored to its true, holy purpose.
Unfortunately, the straits of the pilgrimage only continued to grow more desperate, and by the new year, skirmishes had broken out. With war threatening, Sir Vitalis ceased his attempts to politick and instead gave his attention to what he does best — stoking morale and readying the men for battle.
And war did come. Following a palace coup and the subsequent murder of Alexios IV in February, the Crusaders decided on the outright conquest of the city both as a financial matter and also to secure revenge for their “ally.” Sir Vitalis fought in several serious night skirmishes that took place across the Golden Horn throughout February and March before he participated in the failed assault on the Sea Walls in the pre-dawn of April 9th, 1204. The Paladin, his coterie, and their ghouls cut a swathe through the defenders at their section, and even managed to take one of the towers for a minute, before they had the misfortune of drawing the personal attention of the Antonian elder Belisarius and his elite cadre of Varangian guards. As skilled as Vitalis and his fellow crusaders were, they were sorely outmatched and they suffered defeat with startling ease. The Paladin himself lost both an arm and a leg to the wrath of the Military Prefect, surviving only because he fell from the walls and into torpor from his wounds. He would be collected by his loyal retainers before the sun rose and secreted away.
Sir Vitalis awoke weeks after the Great Sack to find Duke Guy dead, Sir Martin’s confidence dashed, and Sir Russel recovering his sight from wounds taken in battle with Baron Thomas Feroux. Brother Hugh of Clairvaux appeared to be rising to the fore, while Sir Thibauld of Bayeux also sought to set himself up in the absence of strong leaders arising from other directions. Further, the mortals of the Bitter Crusade had run away with the city and the empire, quite at liberty from the hopeful yet ineffectual machinations of the undead. As his limbs gradually regrew, like many others Vitalis was drawn into Hugh’s camp, but in truth he felt that there was more opportunity to be had making the best of the new Latin Empire than trying to push the disintegrating crusade onto the Levant or Egypt. On the advice of Farancina of Montferrat he made made alliance with Martin and Thibauld, hoping to establish a strong French coterie that could make a place in the city. He prepared his men for Egypt as part of Hugh’s army, but he also tried to persuade the Templar of the wisdom of remaining in the city.
After Brother Hugh was tragically murdered by an Assamite assassin, Vitalis and his allies began to bring their plans to fruition. Their masters could not agree on which one of them, or indeed anyone else, should be put forward as prince of Constantinople, but Michaellis and Dominius had no such directives regarding Thessalonica. The coterie of young Ventrue enlisted Sir Russel, followed Boniface of Montferrat to his new kingdom, and that same month they placed Thibaud on the throne at the expense of the Tzimisce Lars Sveengard and his Varangian vampires. A month after that, Vitalis had declared his praxis over the prosperous port of Mosynopolis, which had been given to the prominent knight and marshal Geoffrey of Villehardouin. By 1205, Sir Martin built his power in the capital, Thibauld in the second city, and Vitalis between them, though he ranged constantly in support of the others.
Unfortunately, the belligerence of the resurgent Bulgarians then put an end to any momentum from either the mortals or the undead of the new Latin Empire. The following years brought defeat and misfortune, the first of which was the disaster at the Battle of Adrianople which resulted in a resounding defeat of the Latins, the capture of Emperor Baldwin, and the death of Louis of Blois. The string of defeats led to the ravaging of Thrace, and not even two years after he had declared himself, Prince Vitalis had to flee his stronghold when Mosynopolis was one of several cities that were ruined and depopulated by Tsar Kaloyan. The death of King Boniface on that campaign embittered him, as did the humiliating defeats that he suffered at the hands of the Bulgarian Tzimisce who backed their mortal tsar.
Over the years that followed, the tripartite alliance between Vitalis, Martin, and Thibauld floundered. The prince of Thessalonica showed himself to be capricious, unwilling to mobilise his assets come to the assistance of Vitalis and his city in their hour of need. The pointless vacillations of their masters also ensured that Vitalis and Martin could only watch as Alfonzo of Venice made himself prince of the Queen of Cities in the place of a good and honourable Ventrue of their choosing. In the wake of that misstep, the Paladin has doubled down on his support of the empire, and he uses his growing and creative command of Dominate to strengthen the morale of the Latin armies for their wars to hold the western provinces against the Bulgarians. He bases himself in Constantinople once more, serving as an advisor in the court of the Latin Emperor. He and Martin use their youth, ingenuity, and understanding of the feudal system to grow their influence and insinuate themselves into the circles of mortal power both at the Blachernae Palace and the regional estates. Vitalis travels far more than his brother-in-arms, trusting the younger Ventrue to play the diplomatic game while he exercises his own prerogative to exercise their will throughout the region.
He is more skilled than most vampires at appearing human. In times past he has managed to place himself quite close to the throne, a dangerous gambit that few other Cainites of the new Constantinople have had the courage (or foolhardiness) to undertake. His loyalty and good advice to the late emperor, Henry of Flanders, brought him the lordship of the small port of Selymbria, after which he relinquished his French and Italian dominions to his “children” by his wife (and ghoul) Sophia. After the death of Emperor Henry and the Epirote capture of his successor, Peter of Courtenay, Vitalis exercised his charms over the regent, Yolanda of Flanders. His handsome looks and force of personality won her friendship (and rumour had it, her heart), but not even he was able to change her mind regarding seeking an alliance with the hated Bulgarians against the Epirotes and the Nicaeans. In recent years, he grew concerned about his agelessness, and he has begun to step into the shadows in order to preserve the Silence of the Blood.
Embrace: AD 1166.
Lineage: Childe of Prince Robert of Pont-Adhemer, childe of Lord Michaellis of Champagne, childe of Prince Alexander of Paris, childe of Ventrue. The lineage of Vitalis of Asti is noble indeed, and it has smoothed his way through many courtly intrigues in the past. He is of the 7th generation.