Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
The Man of Blood
The Horka (war chief) known as Bulscu emerged in the years after the Battle of Pressburg in the Year of Our Lord 907. A talented captain and a master of intrigue, he became known an indispensable aide to his kinsman, the Grand Prince Zoltan, the son and heir to the great warrior known as Árpad. It is thought that by this time, Bulscu was already the ghoul of Dominic, whom he must have met in the earlier Magyar dealings with the Byzantine Empire. The great Carthaginian warlord used his mastery of Auspex to direct Bulscu in battle, and together they led the Hungarian Federation to stunning victory after victory against the arrayed forces of Europe. For the 40 years of Zoltan’s rule and on into that of Taksony, Bulscu was a willing thrall to the will of Dominic, hoping for the Embrace that the Carthaginian dangled before his eyes. The Brujah warlord’s great enemy, the Ventrue Lord known as Heinrich von Volstag, had waged a long and skilled fight against Dominic, but he was losing. However, he had one final gambit to play. Somehow the crafty methuselah managed to break Bulscu’s blood bond and turn the Horka with promises of the Embrace into the Clan of Kings.
On the eve of the Battle of Lechfeld in AD 955, Bulscu staked Dominic before he could rise . Believing him slain, the ghoul and his retinue then entered the castle to swear fealty to Heinrich. Without the leadership of the Horka and the genius of the Brujah, the Hungarian Confederation was defeated and forced to turn from their ambition of conquest. And when Bulscu emerged, he did so a Ventrue and a vassal of Heinrich von Volstag.
A New Realm
Bulscu spent less than a year learning at the feet of his sire, before travelling back to Pannonia, where his people had elected to settle and build a homeland. He was accompanied by Gregor von Naumberg, his brother-in-blood, a fellow neonate and advisor on all matters Holy Roman, as well as a coterie of Heinrich von Volstag’s loyal vassals. Together they swiftly established Bulscu’s claim over Esztergom and Gregor’s over Pressburg, while many of Heinrich’s other vassals established demesnes further east and south.
During this time, Bulscu also Embraced his son, Zombar, who had replaced him as Horka after Lechfeld. Zombar was fearless, intelligent and possessed of a similar flair for intrigue as his father. He swiftly established Domain over the settlements of Buda and Pest. The next forty years saw constant conflict with the Tzimisce voivodes of the region, and Zombar sired freely among their kin to bolster the ranks against the constant attrition. Through skill, ingenuity, the backing of Heinrich von Volstag and more than a little luck, Bulscu and his allies succeeded. Indeed, not a few Tzimisce voivodes farther east took the opportunity to weaken the holdings of their western brethren while they were indisposed with the new Árpád threat, thus critically weakening the Transylvanian Basin in the conflicts to come.
While Bulscu had been hesitant to Embrace others at first, he watched the career of the Grand Prince Geza closely, and was deeply impressed with the moral flexibility and creativity of the would-be king. He considered Geza to be a fine and worthy prospective childe and Embraced the dying ruler on his deathbed in AD 992. Unfortunately, in this case Bulscu had underestimated the apparently cavalier manner in which Geza had adopted Christianity. The newly created fledgeling had, in fact, expected to find his rewards in heaven, and though he was horrified at his new “life” he elected to settle sullenly into his new existence rather than condemn himself to certain hell by committing suicide. Bulscu allowed Geza to continue openly as Grand Prince for a number of years, and eventually rewarded him with Esztergom when he decided to concentrate once more upon conquest.
He found a more able and suitable childe in Vencel Rikard, a young Bavarian knight that had served in Geza’s royal bodyguard. The honourable and skilled soldier intrigued the Man of Blood, and he elected to Embrace Vencel despite Geza’s protests that he wasn’t family. The rivalry between Geza and Vencel quickly descended into acrimony, but both Ventrue followed the lead of their older brother-in-blood, Zombar, and busied themselves with the birth of the Hungarian nation.
Expansion, Consolidation and Setbacks
In the years to come, the now-powerful Árpád faction would push their mortal dynastic pawns to step up their campaigns of conquest into Slavonia, Croatia and the Transylvanian Basin. This put them into further conflict with the scattered, feuding factions of the Tzimisce Voivodate, as well as the Narsene Lasombra of Venice and other elements of the fractured provincial Scion Families of the Byzantine Empire.
Lord Bulscu himself led cadres of his kin, as well as those German Ventrue that had not elected to return to Heinrich’s lands, on scores of raids against Tzimisce, Gangrel, Lasombra and Brujah interests in the south and east. He first contrived to have the armies of King Salomon and his brothers, Duke’s Ladislaus, Bela and Geza, push into Transylvaniain in AD 1068, which was over-run by Pecheneg hordes that were now threatening Hungary’s eastern borders. His grand-childe Jelek, then Dux Bellorum of Hungary, cleverly used the Hungarian armies to scour, pillage and plunder these lands, thus rooting out or weakening dozens of Tzimisce knezates. When the Pecheneg’s were soundly beaten back the Hungarians decided to stay, over the objections of the weakened Vlach nobles.
This strategy caused massive internal disruption among Clan Tzimisce, as weakened Voivodes and their subordinate knezi were displaced or destroyed not just by the Ventrue, but by their own opportunistic clan-mates. The policy was a success, and the region was completely subdued and incorporated into a Greater Hungary by AD 1070. The sudden death of his treasured son, childe and second, Zombar, reached Lord Bulscu while he was encamped in Oradea in the winter of AD 1071. Witnesses claimed that the Yuletide festivities had sent the ancilla into a brooding melancholy, and he was overheard to whisper numerous times “Eternity in front, Eternity behind”, “Is there nothing else?” and “Slave; nothing but a pathetic slave!”. As the new year passed, Zombar erupted into a terrifying frenzy, slaughtered his entire court and retinue, and then met his Final Death at sunrise in the public square of Buda. This disruption of the Silence of the Blood and the Árpád hierarchy could not have been worse-timed, and they required Lord Bulscu’s personal attention. He and his loyal bodyguard, Vencel Rikard, rushed back to Buda to halt any fracturing of the Árpáds in the wake of this disaster. The cost was heavy, for while the East had been beaten, it was far from broken.
As a delaying tactic, Bulscu soon had (now) King Ladislaus invite the Szeklers that formed the vanguard of the armies to stay in the east of the region, not just to form a bulwark against the Cumans and the Byzantine Empire but to keep the rebellious Vlach Conte’s and communes in check. The Szeklers served as able pawns to keep the Tzimisce Voivodate off-balance, but even then, Lord Bulscu knew that this strategy could only delay a counter-attack from the Clan of the Dragon. The Arpads were too few, and too young, to face the entirety of a massed and united Voivodate. They needed the armies of the King of Hungary to give them mastery of the daylight war on the Fiends, but the Kingdom had grown too quickly, and had become unstable.
Dynastic intrigues (with more than a little urging by Bulscu) caused King Ladislaus to declare the union of the Kingdom’s of Hungary and Croatia in AD 1091. In the wake of the Arpad armies, Dux Bellorum Jelek Arpad was sent to pacify the Cainites of Slavonia and Croatia. His campaign was successful, and many more Tzimisce Knezi as well as Brujah and Lasombra princes fell to he and his skilled coterie. Jelek would continue with the armies all the way to the Dalmatian Coast, and finally declared his mission a success with the capitulation of the Prince of Zara in AD 1096. A significant asset to his coterie was the neonate Karol Borbás, a talented soldier and captain who had been Embraced by one of Jelek’s coterie-mates, Rachel Eisenberg. He returned to Hungary a hero, every bit the redeemer of his failed father and sire, the tragic Zombar.
By the turn of the 12th century, Bulscu was one of the wealthiest and most promising Cainite Lords in Europe, and he had begun testing the leash of Heinrich von Volstag, who had taken to spending considerable time in torpor. As the power of the Arpads waxed, the power of the Lord of the Eastern Marches (only recently redubbed Brandenburg) was clearly on the wane. Wolves were circling the methuselah’s holdings in the west, and Lord Bulscu was heard to say that it was only a matter of time before the minions of Hardestadt struck. Should the Arpads not stand alone? Bulscu had already outstripped the power of his ancient sire, having already made himself Lord of Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia and Transylvania. Why not make his ascendancy official? The Man of Blood was soon ready, and in AD 1118, he publicly broke with his sire and led a bloody purge of his own ranks, thus ensuring that their loyalty was to him alone. Even his brother-in-blood, Gregor von Naumberg, readily bent his knee to keep his head. Bulscu crowned himself King of his lands, signalling a shift in Cainite political dynamics that is beginning to trend across Europe.
For his part, the venerable Heinrich von Volstag rebuked and disowned both Bulscu and Gregor, though he was too weak to do anything about it. His power continued to dwindle over the course of the next few decades, until he surrendered his title and lands to Lord Jürgen von Verden of Saxony in AD 1162 before retiring from Cainite affairs, purportedly to enter the Sleep of Ages.
The Vengeful Dragons
However, no sooner had Bulscu crowned himself King than a familiar enemy in the east roared a new challenge. A new Voivode had arisen in the wilds between Arad and Oradea. This Voivode, Vladimir Rustovitch, was every bit as ruthless and treacherous as Bulscu himself. He managed to unite more than a dozen knezi behind his banner before launching a horrific “Trial by War” against Joachim Ritter von Bayern, the Prince of Arad and one of Bulscu and Gregor’s original brothers-in-arms. After a protracted conflict, Rustovitch took Arad in AD 1128, claiming Joachim’s demesne for his own and making a grisly example of the Ventrue. The Arpad’s, even King Bulscu himself, were shocked by this outcome, though not enough to bring the full force of their power to bear. Bulscu instead began mobilising his mortal pawns as he had done in the past, and sent Jelek to the east to deal with the matter.
Jelek based himself out of Oradea, in the demesne of Prince Guntbert ritter von Saschen, another companion-at-arms of old. Unfortunately, the expected mortal aid did not arrive in sufficient numbers to provide a telling advantage, and the skirmishing only prompted Voivode Ruustovitch to declare a new Trial by War on Prince Guntbert and Oradea. This time, several other Voivodes entered the fray, but as Rustovitch’s sworn vassals, not to take advantage of his preoccupation with the Ventrue. Even more disastrously, Hungarian knights and soldiers that should have been loyal to Bulscu’s pawns rose up on the Tzimisce’s side as well! Oradea fell in the summer of AD 1131, and this time, every Arpad paid attention. While Dux Bellorum Jelek managed to flee to safety, Prince Guntbert fell while defending his Domain.
A package was soon sent to each of the Arpad courts of Esztergom, Pressburg, Veszprém and Székesfehérvár, each holding a magically preserved and still twitching extremity of the fallen Prince of Oradea. A final delivery arrived in the court of (now) Prince Vencel Rikard in Buda-Pest, where King Bulscu was holding court. The delivery was an urn holding the animated head of Guntbert, which recited the following: “The Hungarian occupation of Pannonia and Transylvania will end immediately; All Ventrue must immediately quit Pannonia and Transylvania after removing their armies; Renewed acknowledgement of the sole rights of the Tzimisce to these lands must be given immediately; if any of these conditions for your surrender are ignored, you will suffer an even worse fate than that of this worm.” With the end of the recitation, the eyes of the severed head of Guntbert took on the awful recognition of his surroundings and his condition before the remains swiftly crumbled to dust.
The gauntlet had been thrown. The war in the east was back on, and would not end while Voivode Rustovitch continued to exist. King Bulscu’s deepest fears had also been realised. Not only had someone apparently managed to unite the fractious Clan of the Dragon, but if the events of Oradea were to be believed, they had also bested him at his own game of manipulating the mortal nobles and chiefs. A message went out to the Arpad princes, offering rich rewards and the Domains of Oradea and Arad to those who accepted the call and brought the humbled Rustovitch (or his remains) before the King. Many ambitious neonates, and not a few ancillae, answered.
The War of Griffons and Dragons
Dux Bellorum Jelek led a new Cainite army to the borders of Transylvania and a terrible war for rulership of the night raged for nearly eight years. The conflict was one of bloody attrition and deadly ambuscade, betrayal and intrigue amongst the mortal nobility, and willful slaughter of the peasantry that provided the sustenance to both sides. Finally, the Arpads were thrown back, unable to contend with the strange magics of the Fiends’ Koldunic sorcerers. Brave Jelek, Dux Bellorum of the Arpads, was slain in personal combat with Vladimir Rustovitch. However, while the Ventrue lost the war their sacrifice was not in vain, for they managed to mentally exhaust and disastrously winnow the ranks of Rustovitch’s army. It would take many years for the newly-proclaimed Voivode of Voivodes to recover.
Jelek and his army had bought the Arpads time. Now, they needed a plan to use it…
The Council of Ashes
Nova Arpad, the brilliant childe of Gregor von Naumberg, was the first to find advantage with the situation. Her pawns in the Hungarian court discovered that the Arpad King, Geza II, was dissatisfied with the tenuous balance of power in the Transylvanian basin and was considering his options. Among them was the possibility of inviting eager Franconian, Saxon, Bavarian and Thuringian settlers into the region to bolster the borders against the Cumans in the south-east and the remnants of the Pecheneg clans in the north. Nova eagerly made her plans for placing pawns amongst those Germans that arrived in Hungary to petition for King Geza’s favour.
She moved slowly, using guile and initiative to outwit the other Arpads over nearly ten years of court and foreign intrigue. She enlisted the aid of Karol Borbás, who was still spoiling for vengeance for the loss of his sword-brother Jelek, and defeat at the hands of Rustovitch. It was he who suggested that plans be made to encircle the territory of the arrogant so-called “Voivode of Voivodes”. Heinricus von Ballen, a Franconian Toreador related to several of the German lobbyists, also proved receptive to her overtures of alliance. Numerous merchants, landless but ambitious Holy Roman knights and edlers as well as more than a few Hungarian nobles, greedy for the abundant resources and land of Transylvania, were gradually brought under their sway.
Even so, the disappearance of the powerful Tzimisce methuselah known as Ionache in the Year of Our Lord 1149 forced the hand of the nascent alliance before they were strictly ready. It would only be a matter of time before the dangerous calmness that settled over Central Transylvania would be shattered by the internecine power struggles of the Clan of the Dragon, as younger knezi gathered the courage to make a play for the territory of the absentee retired Voivode of Voivodes. Time was of the essence, and Nova presented ‘her’ plan for outflanking the Tzimisce to King Bulscu. The Man of Blood was impressed and quickly granted the ancilla a charter.
King Geza II soon made an offer to the Germans, who quickly fell under the misleading term of ‘Saxon". The only obvious weakness in the plan was the allies of convenience that Nova, Karol and Heinricus were forced to adopt in order to move into the region with the alacrity that was required. Very few of the Arpads were prepared to risk their reputation and Unlives on such a risky undertaking, so the newly formed Council of Ashes was forced to take outsiders for allies. The Tzimisce Radu proved to be a surprising asset, and Lady Rowena D’Alexandre of Clan Cappadocian lent an air of legitimacy to the enterprise, based on her status as an elder. The Nosferatu Marusca was far from ideal, in spite of the contributions of her sire, Zelios, and her extensive information network. The venal, petty Charles ritter von Allstedt merely made up the numbers.
In spite of its hasty implementation, the plan was a success. The Council of Ashes performed admirably, and the Seven Fortress cities quickly eclipsed any attempts at regional order, civilisation and trade that had come before. The Tzimisce were on the back foot, the coffers of the Arpads (both living and Unliving) swelled with silver, and the reputation of Bulscu and his kin was unparalleled. The Man of Blood, perhaps bored with his success or simply reverting to type, began to delegate more and more duties to Vencel, Gregor, Nova and even Geza while he began to retire into the shadows to enjoy the fruits of his labours. His intrigues henceforth would be conducted through proxies, most notably his beloved childe and sword-brother, Vencel Rikard. His appearances in the courts of his lords and princes became fewer and fewer and by AD 1170, the speculation of his whereabouts became a common past-time in the courts of Greater Hungary.
Factionalisation and Failure
Alas, by the Year of Our Lord 1190, the failure of the Council of Ashes was strikingly apparent. Karol Borbás had fallen, and failed to contain the threat of Vlad Ionescu, Rustovitch’s lieutenant. Allstedt, von Ballen and a number of their replacements had fallen to infighting and petty ambition. The expected materialisation of the Man of Blood to deal with the matter did not, however, take place, and the advantage against the Clan of the Dragon was lost. The Arpads have largely reverted to type, given the lax hand of their master. Embraced from a family renowned for their treachery and greed, the majority of the Arpads have embraced their own pettiness and waste their time engaged in factional politics.
The Arpads have become loosely divided into three camps. Geza Arpad sits in the capital, preoccupied with his designs on the Archdiocese of Esztergom while his descendants vie for supremacy with the supporters of Vencel Rikard, who advocate the unity of the bloodline behind Bulscu’s favourite. Buda-Pest is strong economically, and Rikard’s reputation for honour and wisdom is unrivalled, and yet, he is an outsider: a Bavarian, not a Magyar, and certainly not a true Arpad. Gregor von Naumberg, the Prince of Pressburg, is King Bulscu’s powerful older brother-in-blood, and some look to him for leadership in these troubled times. However, Gregor seems content to stay focused on management of his own city, and he readily courts the favour and friendship of the Holy Roman Ventrue (especially Lord Jürgen’s Eastern Lords).
Meanwhile. the Tzimisce Voivodes close in on the borders of Hungary proper and the divided Arpads lack the strength to hold the line. Retreat and consolidation is the order of the night, and the reputation of the Arpads of Hungary is suffering among the prince’s of Europe and especially amongst the Cainites of Clan Ventrue. Speculation abounds in the west regarding just how long it will take the Arpads to find their backbones, or how long they can survive the ambitions of the Tzimisce (or, indeed, the Eastern Lords) if they fail to do so…
In general, the Arpads are known for their wealth, opportunism and treachery both against each other and to those whom they choose to ally with. Their nearest neighbours, the Eastern Lord Ventrue of the Holy Roman border lands, treat with them readily enough but tend to look askance at them for being “New Men of a New Kingdom” rather than inheritors of the glories of Imperial Rome. However a few, particularly those belonging to Vencel Rikard’s lineage, have gained some recognition in the west for their valour. Most of the Arpads are actually related to the Royal family in some manner, although a few are descended from German and Italian knights that assisted the Hungarians in their wars of expansion.
Most of the Arpads still follow the Road of Humanity as they are relatively young to the blood, and largely unschooled in the wider world of Cainite ethics. However, Prince Rikard walks the Path of Chivalry on the Road of Kings and some Arpads have grown to emulate him. Also, some of those who are descended from the knightly vassals of Heinrich von Volstag that accompanied Bulscu on his initial forays into the east have been schooled in the Road of Kings. Perhaps one or two that have been exposed to the decadent courts of the west have stepped onto the Road of Sin, or at least appear to emulate it.
The Arpads are of Clan Ventrue, but any Cainite that is sworn to one of them is nominally considered to be of the faction as well. Toreador are common, particularly in the larger cities of Esztergom, Pressburg and Buda-Pest. A number of Cappadocian’s serve in the same cities, often in competition with the Artisans for the station of Seneschal, Keeper of the Lore or Keeper of Elysium. Several Nosferatu have offered their services to Arpad princes, and it is currently quite fashionable to have Gangrel serve as Scourges or Sheriffs. Finally, the hated Tremere have embassy’s in a number of Arpad settlements, and their is talk of alliance in the near future.
A List of Prominent Arpads
Bulscu, Monarch of Hungary, Transylvania, Slavonia, Dalmatia and Croatia (6th gen, Childe of Heinrich von Volstag)
Geza Arpad, Prince of Esztergom (7th gen., Childe of Bulscu)
Vencel-Rikard, Prince of Buda-Pest & Dux Bellorum of Hungary (7th gen., Childe of Bulscu)
Gregor von Naumberg, Prince of Pressburg (6th gen., Childe of Heinrich von Volstag)
Nova Arpad, Prince of Mediasch, Lord of the Siebenburgen* (7th gen., Childe of Gregor von Naumberg)
Ladislaus Arpad, Prince of Veszprém (8th gen., Childe of Zombar Arpad [d])
Jutas Arpad, Prince of Székesfehérvár (8th gen., Childe of Geza Arpad)
Bela Arpad, Prince of Visegrád (9th gen., Childe of Jutas Arpad)
Stephen Arpad, Prince of Arad* (8th gen., Childe of Geza Arpad)
Markus Arpad, Prince of Sopron (8th gen., Childe of Zombar Arpad [d])
Joszef Erdei, Prince of Panacevo and Belgrade* (8th gen., Childe of Vencel Rikard)
Gisella von Merseberg, Prince of Erlau (7th gen., Childe of Gregor von Naumburg)
Elek Szalay, Prince of Pécs (8th gen., Childe of Guntbert ritter von Saschen [d])
Lajos Vagner, Prince of Győr (9th gen., Childe of Jelek Arpad [d])
Note: Titles marked with * indicate that they are contested in some way.
Roving Agents of Bulscu
Miklos Arpad, envoy to the Eastern Lords (8th gen., Childe of Zombar Arpad [d])
Roland Gravois, The Royal Procurer (10th gen., Childe of Otto von Karburg)
Prominent Fallen Arpads
Zombar Arpad, Prince of Buda and Pest (975-1071); suicide.
Priska Frau von Zeitz, Prince of Székesfehérvár (972-1082); slain by Bulscu for disloyalty.
Jelek Arpad, Dux Bellorum of the Arpads (991-1139); slain by Voivode Rustovitch.
Joachim ritter von Bayern, Prince of Arad (982-1128); slain by Voivode Rustovitch.
Guntbert ritter von Saschen, Prince of Oradea (984-1131); slain by Voivode Rustovitch.
Karol Borbás, Prince of Schaasburg (1150-1175); torpor in Pressburg.
Vincenzo Orseolo, Prince of Klausenburg (1170-1189); Missing, presumed destroyed.
Matthius Haas ritter von Nitra, Prince of Schaasburg (1175-1177); slain by Voivode Ionescu.