Session Forty-Eight

Observations regarding out travels to Zara and along the Dalmatian Coast
 
Having decided to rejoin the Crusade, the coterie’s route to that end took it through Mediasch, Weissenburg, and Belgrade. At each settlement, princes and support staff were met and courted. The coterie played their roles in what seemed to be almost a pattern.
- Veceslav smoothed the way, doing nothing of consequence other than ensuring everyone was pleasant. I do note again the proficiency that he has acquired with the cosmetic and medical applications of his flesh-crafting abilities. He mentioned having employed these to some use to the benefit of some allies of his, to make a marriageable daughter more attractive. He has previously mentioned having done this to Yulia. The disguise rendering applications of this ability are not lost on me. (I believe the previous prince of Kronstadt, Bernhard childe of Lucien, had made use of his comrade’s ability in this.)
- Yulia plotted and schemed, but did so mostly in her own head, as if she preferred nothing to providing unwanted stimulus.
- Maude harangued those she encountered regarding the correct and morally just treatment of people dwelling their domain, and argued for the establishment of proper medical care. But even her harangues were half-hearted, as if she had delivered them before to little effect and now pursued this line of engagement out of habit. (Please excuse the pun.)
- And as for me, I did what I always do, I observed. My reports to you on each of the courts have been sent en route. They contained little of great substance but may contribute to the greater whole.
 
Arriving close to Zara the coterie began to encounter refugees, those former inhabitants forced to flee and now living in the hills and wilds around the town. We learned that Zara had been sacked again, by the Venetians. The Crusaders had, for the most part, moved on, and a riot by locals had resulted in the remaining Venetian forces sacking the town and imposing martial law on the remaining thousand inhabitants. It sounded like the perfect cover to overthrow a prince.
 
The coterie arrived in Zara on April 23rd. Guards kept out all comers, but Veceslav was recognised and the coterie escorted into the city and taken to the prince.
 
The former prince had indeed been destroyed. Rumour had it that he was discovered at large by some knights of the crusade, chased back to his slaughterhouse, and incinerated along with everything else when the knights fired the building. Could these knights be the same cadre of fanatics that the Concord had encountered before leaving for their ill-fated mission to Transylvania? Now a Narsene Lasombra ancilla held the position, supported by troops bearing the deep, dark crimson robes and gold crosses of the Cainite Heresy. The prince, Bartolemeo Giordani, childe of Mario Tiepolo, is a middle-aged Venetian merchant with a background in the lumber trade. He is a grand-childe of Narses. And an Cainite of perhaps 100 years; he is there to impose the political and mercantile will of his sire. His childe, Pietro Morsini, who looks to be 18 years old and relatively new under the Blood, serves as the majordomo or seneschal. The court was the former home of Veceslav’s clan-mate, Lando Di Durazzo. The court was staffed by a willing herd, all in the accoutrements of the Heresy.

Narses’ support of his pawn is evident. Prince Bartolemeo acknowledged that the coterie had done a service, but had done so for the previous prince and as such this was of no business to him. The coterie did not push the point. Prince Bartolemeo mentioned that Zara is in a bad way financially and needs to redevelop. His role is to do so in an ancillary, conforming manner to the needs of Venice, and such is his mandate and concern. If the coterie could contribute to this in future, then there would be connections made, favours exchanged and domain recognised. If not, they could kindly make use of his hospitality for several nights, and they would be expected to move on thereafter.

Prince Bartolemeo did mention at length the goals of the Narsene Lasombra to squeeze a trade control hold over the Adriatic region and use this to then dominate the Mediterranean. The primary obstacles to this were the ports of Ancona,  *Brindisi*, Aquilea, Durazzo, Corfu, and (formerly) Zara. He spoke of how Zara, as a competitor to Venice, is bad, but Zara as an adjunct is a good thing and beneficial to both, under the lead/rule of Venice. Trade flow across the area is seen by Venice as the key to this. To my mind this represents a considerable opportunity that should be exploited. Absent orders to the contrary I plan on doing so.
 
Not all of the Crusader army had moved on. Some, of considerable note, had stayed. In the harbour were the ships upon which the remaining Crusaders stayed. Their flags held assorted flags – Montferrat, Toulouse, Provence, Normandy and, most disturbingly, the Angeli of Constantinople.
- Marquis Boniface of Montferrat was still in Zara!
- Alexius of the Angeli, the Royal House of Constantinople, was there with him. (as you know, Alexius is the son of the dethroned Isaac II, cast down by the current Emperor of Byzantium, Alexius III Angelos)
 
Noting the names above, you may rightly suspect my interest was piqued. The mortal leadership of the Fourth Crusade was meeting with the alternative rulers of Constantinople? Boniface had told that he was to winter with relatives in the Holy Roman Empire? Which ones? He is related to the entire bloody-handed mob, including to the Angeli!

It is obvious to me that as the notes of the Saxon Gangrel Prince described it – the Crusade is being directed against Constantinople. Good God, does this mean the rest of his ramblings about ancient Romans and Methuselahs are also true? I betrayed nothing beyond mild ignorance. Prince Bartolemeo did ask why a Michaelite would be so disinterested in news that the son of the exiled emperor of Constantinople was meeting with the Crusader leadership. I simply replied that such was not my concern.

It very much bloody is in my, and our, concern!

Word at court and in the street was that the [[:enrico dandolo | Doge of Venice]] and the Marquis of Montferrat were in the midst of negotiations with the young would-be emperor. Sir Guy, the Cainite leader of the Crusade, had left his second back with the remaining ships. He claims innocence, and that no Cainite should be involved with the dealings of the mortal leadership of the Crusade, yet I suspect this is just obfuscatory persiflage! Why leave a second? To observe? To influence?

Why, on the street I heard Angelus the Younger referred to as “the emperor in waiting”, an attempt by those who had made the deals to install this man back in Constantinople to legitimise the position in the minds of those who would soon be fighting and dying to make the politics a reality!
 
Before leaving harbour, Maude spied on the ship of Boniface of Montferrat. Maude has the ability to assume a ghostly form that allows her to drift as a spirit and, undetected, spy on the world around her. She overheard the following:

Angelus the Younger: What are the chances the other Crusaders will go for it?
Boniface: It’s a gamble.

The Doge, Angelus, and the Marquis all made a deal: the Crusade would be diverted to Constantinople where it would install Angelus’s exiled father (blinded and crippled) to the throne of emperor and confirm Alexius as co-emperor. In return, Angelus would see to it that the debts of the Crusaders were paid, and that trade concessions to Venice were made to the n.

I find this an interesting bargain for several reasons:

First, so far is know Constantinople can barely pay its current soldiers. Their standing army, outside of the mighty Varangians, is almost a volunteer one, made up of city guards due to the lack of funds. Short of sacking and melting down the wealth of the city itself, how can the Crusaders’ debts be paid? Do you, O wise Vashtai, know something that I do not? Or is this just another fool’s errand that this Fool’s Crusade is intent upon undertaking?

Although he is a callow youth at best, surely this Angelus the Younger must know this, and so would be making a promise that involves, in the end, betraying either the Crusaders or his city.

Neither the Doge nor the Marquis are idiots. They cannot but be aware of the financial state of the Byzantine Empire? Or has the old diplomatic modus operandi finally brought the potential for ruin to our land? Buying off the threat only works so long as silver sits in the treasury, yes? What happens when the illusion of limitless wealth is taken for real? Disaster! They must know that the promise of wealth can only be delivered through the sacking of Constantinople. But do they believe Angelus will hand over his city’s wealth?

I do not know.

Maude did mention a very uneasy feeling when she was around the Doge, as if he or someone close to him, was using magic to protect him, or watch over him. (She was infuriatingly a little vague on the details.)

I recall the stories of the Second Crusade, of how magical influences from cabals of wizards kept the Cainite influences from the mortal leaders. Perhaps such is being done again? And perhaps a clever Cainite, knowing this, is making use of a protected-but-still-influenced mortal pawn? Perhaps I conjecture too much, and should keep these reports to the facts! There are too many variables here, O Mistress of Spies, and I cannot help but calculate their ends!
 
Prince Bartolemeo also mentioned something else of interest; a mild curiosity at the time, but something that on reflection may be of key importance.

The Sicilian Normans, pirates one and all you must agree, and their alliance with Genoese privateers ranging out of Corcyra, has been of considerable annoyance to the Venetian gambit to control the Adriatic. Their activity has disrupted trade and denied the stranglehold so desired by the brood of Narses and their mortal catspaws.

Of some interest is the fact that the Crusade ended up staying in Corcyra as one of its lay-over points. The result of which meant that the incumbent prince, a particularly antagonistic Brujah by the name of Aglaia, was removed, banished to the hills. Her allies, the Genoeese privateers backed by some Ravnos reprobates, were forced to move on too.

One should note well, as I found out later, that there are elements of the Crusade allied to their Norman-Sicilian brethren from the Kingdom of Naples– allied by blood and by politics (as usual, as I have come to understand). And these elements wish to leave the Crusade already! I wonder if it would not take too much pressure to convince a sizable portion of the mortal and Cainite elements of the Crusade to depart it as it currently stands?
 
I have so far avoided stepping in to play politics with this Crusade, figuring my task is to gather information only, but while I mention this out-of-sequence now in this report, I note the possible vulnerability here. Ipso facto, this Crusade is being directed against the mercantile and political enemies of Venice. It is plain and simple to those who are not too blind to see.

It is also obvious that this Crusade will, at least in some part, have its might directed against our beloved Constantinople. Unless ameliorated, this Frankish horde – directed by Venetian cunning – will smash itself against the walls and the blood of Constantinople!

I believe my duty to our beloved home is clear.
 
Before leaving Zara I made my usual investigation and notes on the city and its political terrain – such as it is. As Prince Bartolemeo says, it will be some time before the city returns to anything like productivity, but the chaos of the moment certainly provides opportunities for the bold to establish a presence. I will likely be elsewhere, but I recommend agents be placed here for the future.
 
The coterie was recommended to a ship sailing from the Zarayan harbour to follow along the stores train. A Cainite, of the Clan of the Rose, claimed the ship as his own, Anson of Normandy. Anson was a veteran of the First Crusade. He went into Jerusalem mortal and came out as a Cainite. He claims to know little of his clan’s ways other than that he does not fit in, and so he seeks to make himself useful to others, trading favours against the hope of finding his way in the world. I warmed to this ancilla of apparently weak blood. His story struck a chord with me, and I can only assume it is as full of horse-shit as my own published background.

A signet ring on his hand indicated a blood tie with one of the Norman ruling families of the Avalon Isles. I could not identify the symbol nor examine the ring. I suspect that an examination of bloodlines both mortal and Cainite would reveal links of interest, with the Knights of the Sable Rose as top of the list of usual suspects.

I offered to instruct him in some of the ways of our clan. He agreed, but showed only half-hearted aptitude. This seemed to me a study in falsehood, a deliberate down-playing of his abilities. I suspect that action-in-earnest would reveal a more accurate picture.

Of some interest is that the captain of the ship, a ghoul in Anson’s service named Ricard Eglise, on learning we were “cousins of Anson ”, asked directly “do you have it?”. I replied in the negative and never learned what it was we were supposed to have, but I find it of some interest that they had been told to expect ‘something’ from one of us.

Regardless, he transported the coterie from Zara, along the Adriatic all the way through to Corcyra. His price? The promise of a favour. That such a favour to us would be given for something so light in return again leads me to suspect his motives. Preferably, Anson’s wish is that he be introduced to certain powers that be in Constantinople, the better to expand his web of contacts.
 
Yulia’s horses, to which she has a great deal of affection, were stabled with Prince Bartolemeo. Her coterie made its usual preparations involving the storage of blood prepared by Maude – she can store blood for alter consumption through preserving rituals and by embedding it in ritually prepared teeth. It is an amazingly handy thing, and I believe has had much to do with this coterie’s success and ability to project strength.
 
The voyage to Corcyra was uneventful.
 
The fleet put in briefly at the town of Spalato, or Split as we Italians have come to call it. This is ruled over by a bothersome Lasombra prince, Ignatio Jacabo. His controlling ways make infiltration difficult. I accompanied Yulia on a social call, but found the prince to be thoroughly unpleasant and the town so locked down – his five childer, and all servants and guards, reduced to slavery by the prince’s mental powers – that a return visit in any form other than hello-goodbye is not recommended. Yes, I will see to using third hand agents to gather information, but I strongly recommend avoiding any agent placement at this stage. Even Yulia, whose niche in the Concord appears to be an ability to deal with the monstrousness of the Tzimisce potentates of Transylvania with bland acceptance, found the man to be ghastly. The town, for what it’s worth, is prosperous. Its Duke ruler is a pawn of the prince, and the town is independent of kingdoms – at least for now. Given the isolationist attitude of the prince, I am sure it will fall to a greater hand in time.
 
The fleet stopped at Durazzo, called Dyrrhachium by the Greeks, for a few nights. I enjoyed this city of some 8000 souls and its people. As you know, I have people placed there and it was good to link up again with old friends and families whom I have helped in the past – they do tend to forget me so when I fail to drop in! The 700 year old ex-Vandal Brujah prince is called Geseric. He came with the Normans under Robert Guiscard and stayed. His rule is backed by his devoted childe Herleva, a Norman warrior-woman. Geseric has few interests outside of his city, and seems to lack the drive to deal with the fluid political situation in which his Domain has found itself. He has the look of an old one ready to take the Sleep of Ages, I think. Herleva, on the other hand, should be watched. She seems to love pageantry and is a slave to wealth, but she has drive and ambition. We should watch her.

Geseric runs a cosmopolitan court, and there is a mix of many clans and bloodlines in his domain.
- Asander, a Greek Lasombra with whom Yulia plotted at length, no doubt about common interests given their geographically similar backgrounds as Licinian Lasombra.
- Sybil, an Egyptian “Toreador” (possibly one of those scum Settites; she remained aloof during our visit).
- Two Gangrel scouts who were absent; they are the childer of Valentinian, the 700 year old ally of Geseric. Valentinian is known to despise those who would despoil the lands around Durazzo, especially armies. He has hindered such in the past, and might make a valuable contact for those purposes.
- Four other Brujah of varying lineage: Alexandra, Origines, Philipos and Roxana. They seemed unremarkable to my eye, and appear to be largely drawn to Geseric by virtue of the rarity of a Brujah prince. Whatever their concerns are, they are clearly local and require further study,. They should be cultivated as such.
 
The city of Durazzo welcomed Alexius as the emperor. He was hailed in the streets! True, he came with at least the nominal support of a Crusader army (the majority already camping at Corcyra), but nevertheless, the display speaks to no small amount of support.

(If I can criticise my elders for a moment, the Dream is a broken wreckage of what it once was if this sort of nonsense is even possible! Centuries of complacency, indulgence and inaction have led us to precisely this point, and while there have always been wolves waiting at the borders of the empire for the Dream to fall, the only reason these wolves are now able to act AS THEY ARE DOING is because of the decrepitude and lack-of-action of our leaders. I know I criticise my beloved Petronius in this, but that the hour of our destruction is at hand is a fact, and I would rather blame this on his lack-of-action-through-love-of-the-Patriarch than ascribe to him a lack of ability. I know now that he reacts as a she-bear protecting her cubs, but I feel it may be too late and that those who should serve him are hindrance through their own inability or inaction, or are actively our enemies like those bastard Snakes! Tear them out root and branch before their undermining activities destroy the Dream from within by allowing its enemies without to strike at will!)
 
I sent a report from Durazzo regarding the nature of what I had discovered regarding Alexius and the Crusaders, and I can only hope that this has gotten through. Action needs to be taken, if only to prepare against the Frankish storm that will hit our beloved city.
 
I made use of the time in Durazzo as best as possible; reminding old friends who I am and of how we have worked together in the past. I am certain that my network in Durazzo remains fresh and ready to be activated upon any length of stay.
 
On 4th May, the fleet arrived at Corcyra.


Attendance: Lotario (Greg, 3 xp), Veceslav (Ben, 2 xp)
Absent: Maude (Dave, 0 xp)

Session Forty-Eight

The Concord of Ashes Haligaunt