Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Roland du Rochere
This murdered Ventrue Crusader was a master of Socratic debate. He was a strong proponent of Egypt as the focus for the Fourth Crusade, and a great asset for the Crusader Ventrue at the Council of Venice. After his murder, he was outed as a Settite spy.
Sir Roland was a handsome, dignified Frankish knight with a strong jaw, thick brown hair,and cornflower blue eyes. He wore cotton and wool garments of fine cut, but of fairly subdued colours. The device of a white cross pattee on an azure field with a bend sinister of white and gules was displayed on his white tunic, and a he bore a red cross pinned to his cloak, signifying his dedication to the crusade. He was typically armed only with a curved Saracen knife.
The coat of arms of Roland, Chevalier du Rochere.
(Expanded from the character as presented in the events of Bitter Crusade: Venetian Nights).
Crusades have always dominated the existence of Roland du Rochere. He has always striven to find God’s favour, or even evidence of interest, in his work. Such was his admission in conversation with the Concord of Ashes before his untimely murder. He was a gregarious and loquacious fellow, and the following tale that he readily told can be relied upon, even if he did also have a talent for equivocation.
As a humble squire, Roland took the Cross in AD 1146 along with his master, Sir Umberto of Montmélian, a prominent vassal of Amadeus III, Count of Savoy. At first, as Amadeus’ army marched the length of Italy to Brindisi, and then set sail for Durazzo, the Second Crusade was a grand adventure- a chance to see the world and do God’s work. As they continued along the ancient via Egnatia through the Balkans, and then the lands of the Greeks, he and his fellow squires worked hard at their chores: practicing at warcraft and horsemanship, polishing and oiling weapons and armour, and praying fervently for courage in the battles to come so that they might win their spurs.
He did his best to ignore the tales of pillage, theft, murder, and rape that accompanied the crusaders. Roland believed his master when Sir Umberto said no Army of God could be responsible for such sin, and tried to forget that he had seen sinful incidents with his own eyes. After all, everything would be forgiven when the crusade was victorious. At Constantinople, Amadeus III and his vassals joined the larger army of his nephew King Louis VII and his famed queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and from there the crossing into Asia Minor was made. The time for glory was nigh.
Roland’s first battle, not far from Laodicea, was not at all like he’d been told to expect. Confusion reigned, and the smell of piss, shit, blood, and fear overwhelmed the senses. The tumult of galloping horses stirred the dust of the plain into a haze of grit that insinuated itself everywhere- choking the lungs and rubbing his flesh raw under the weight of his mail and gambeson. The sun baked him inside his mail, and sapped the water from his body. He struggled to make out where all the arrows- so many damned arrows- were coming from. Indeed, Roland never even saw the one that took Sir Umberto in the armpit. He didn’t slay a single Turk, nor indeed did he land even a single blow. The enemy never even closed to melee until the crusader vanguard was already in flight.
The squire managed to guide his master back to the King’s forces, and nursed him through Sir Umberto’s agonised final days. The knight first ignored the pain, drank wine, and toasted his count and the king, both of whom survived the battle. He then good-naturedly abused the chirurgeons who did their best to save his life. Then, as the pain of the infection mounted, Sir Umberto prayed to God for deliverance and then soon begged for the priest who came to give Last Rites to intercede on his behalf as well. Could the priest not take away his pain, at least? Finally, in a delirium of agony and milk of the poppy, with blood and pus oozing from the bandages girdling his chest, he cursed with his dying breath the count, the king, God and any man who was fool enough to fight for any of them.
The experience affected the young squire deeply.
Roland continued on to the Holy Land, a lord-less squire still intent on earning his spurs and atoning both for his sins and those of his late master. His charisma had made him a leader of sorts, and he was often put in charge of sergeants and other squires. The marching army, now combined with the German Crusade of King Conrad III, suffered ambuscade after ambuscade, and they were harried constantly with flights of arrows. The journey was nightmarish, not at all like the pleasant march along the via Egnatia, but in the end they made it, much reduced in numbers and plagued by sickness, injury and poor morale.
The crusade eventually culminated in the Siege of Damascus. While standing guard one night, Roland and his fellow guards were attacked by creatures out of legend and nightmare- the dreaded Ḥashīshiyyīn. The monsters melted out of the blackest night, and all sound fled as they came at the guards, swords bared and fangs glistening in the moonlight. Many died before they even knew they were under attack. Roland stood his ground and fought while one of his friends fled to find an officer. He was sure that he was dead, but hoped that he could save a few of his friends first.
And then, crusaders charged back at the Hashashiyyin, and these knights too bore fangs and fought with unnatural speed and skill. The deadly Assassins were driven off, and many years later, at the Crusader Council of Venice in AD 1202, Roland recounted having seen a red wolf on a green field among the heraldry of his rescuers.
A truce was called the next day. Word had reached them that the dread Nur al-Din and his great army were on the way, which spelled disaster for the crusaders. A decision to lift the siege was made, and everyone went home. Roland, however, could not. France was no place for him any longer.
Roland’s bravery, and his knowledge of the supernatural forces at work at Damascus, were not overlooked. One of the crusaders, a Ventrue by the name of Udo of Kerak, was impressed by the young man and, after Dominating him to keep him silent, arranged for him to be knighted as he deserved. The spurs meant little to Roland now though. What was in store for him? A useless death like Umberto’s? The Second Crusade had failed. Without the favour of God, all the works of men were for naught. They could be snatched away by fickle fortune, or by the hand of the righteous whom God did favour. Sir Udo was doubly impressed. The lad had a brain! He elected to keep an eye on the young knight, and see if he was worthy of the Blood of Caine.
Sir Roland’s ruminations made him unpopular, but his analytical mind and clever turn of phrase meant that he could rarely be defeated in debate. He soon earned a reputation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his incisive wit, and he was warned by the clergy several times about his near blasphemies. His courage on the battlefield was undoubted as well, as Sir Roland freely admitted that he fought so hard because he hoped that God would take notice of him, and favour his cause. In AD 1151, just two years after the end of the Crusade, Sir Udo finally secured permission from his own masters and Embraced the young knight. He then took the fledgeling to Egypt, where Sir Roland was presented to his ancestor the Prince of Cairo, Sultan Antonius.
Udo and Roland visited Cairo on and off for nearly twenty years, enjoying Antonius’ hospitality and performing as he directed. Of course, Sir Udo often returned to Antonius’ court to relax, finding it more conducive to his own irreverent nature than Jerusalem, but it was his progeny who truly prospered in Egypt. In this bastion of Islam, Sir Roland finally had the opportunity to immerse himself in intellectual pursuits, including the study of history, rhetoric, and theology. He made the acquaintance of many Ashirra, learning much of the people that he still quietly considered his enemies. He also met other Europeans that shared his growing love of the Egypt of antiquity. Sir Aimery of Versey, a Ventrue Embraced after the First Crusade, became his best friend and the two of them raided a number of tombs in the Valley of the Kings in order to “liberate the priceless treasures within from the low designs of thieves”.
Sir Udo was assassinated by an unknown Cainite in AD 1169 and Sir Roland, not at all eager to be a lowly neonate and a Christian one at that, in a Muslim city, elected to move on. He returned to Jerusalem, where he presented his credentials and entered the service of the Crusader Ventrue. Lucius Trebius Rufus lacked a skilled orator in his entourage, and proved to be a good master in spite of his frequently expressed misgivings about “untrustworthy Greek bloodlines”. Sir Aimery relocated to Venice, and their partnership became a cornerstone of the Crusader Ventrue efforts to launch further campaigns in the Holy Land. Sir Roland achieved considerable glory fighting in the Third Crusade alongside Rufus, Lefreuy, and Vicelin de Marseille, and he also earned allies among the followers of Geoffrey du Temple.
It was this prestige that led to Lanzo von Sachsen’s invitation to attend the Council of the Fourth Crusade in Venice in AD 1202. He and Sir Aimery worked in tandem, with Roland’s oratory finding its compliment in his friend’s smooth arguments in more intimate company. The Lasombra envoy, Tommaso Brexiano, was soon outmaneuvered by the team of skilled Ventrue. The Cainites of the Fourth Council were all but convinced that Egypt was the only sensible destination for the Crusade (as Richard the Lionheart had professed), and that their mortal catspaws should be directed as such.
Then, with victory in their grasp, Roland of Rochere was found murdered in a Greek warehouse. Investigations bore out that he was assassinated by an Assamite, using a rare and highly toxic poison. Not only that, but that he had links to the Children of Judas. What hold could the Settites of Constantinople have over this warrior of Christ? And how far did the conspiracy go?
As it turned out, the conspiracy went far indeed, although the truth of it would not be discerned until six months after the Final Death of Sir Roland. After Aimery de Versey was revealed to be a Follower of Set, he was apprehended by the Concord and “put to the question” by the order of Guy of Provence. Soon enough, his will was broken under the ministrations of Veceslav, and Aimery confessed that he had masqueraded as a Ventrue for decades. Further, unknown to the Hierophants of his own clan he was also a Typhonist heretic who had diverged from the pure faith of Set. In addition to contacts to other Typhonists throughout Italy, Friuli, and Dalmatia, he had links to the Children of Judas of Constantinople, though not so many as his murdered friend, Roland of Rochere. He claimed that Roland had been turned by the Settites while he dwelt in the court of his ancestor, Antonius of Cairo, and that he was inducted into the worship of Set once he realised that here was a god who had actually existed beyond any doubt, for his descendants held his very blood in their veins. The Followers of Set had no doubts whatsoever about their god, and their surety was a balm to his soul.
Furthermore, once he met the Decadents of Constantinople, Roland discovered that Set was also Typhon and both were aspects of Satan, who was both adversary and ally to the Almighty, testing man so that they might have opportunity to prove themselves. And so, if Satan had actually existed, then surely so too must God, who approved of Satan’s mission. Sir Roland’s faith was thus restored, and after his own fashion he became a firm follower of the Decadent heresy of Khay’tall. He was thus able to “betray” his clan without qualm, for Roland knew that he was actually serving them by testing them! Aimery spoke of this philosophy as if it were obviously true and correct, but like his own convictions, they went to the grave with both diplomats.
Embrace: AD 1151.
Final Death: September 22nd, AD 1202.
Lineage: Childe of Sir Udo von Kerak (d), childe of Eustachios (d), childe of Prince Antonius of Cairo; During the investigation into Sir Roland’s murder, the Concord discovered that Antonius of Cairo, also known as Antonius the Younger, is in fact the childe of the late Antonius the Gaul (reputedly the last childe of the Ventrue Antediluvian). In some circles, Antonius the Gaul was known as Antonius the Elder. Apparently the monikers were used in ancient times to differentiate between the two, although the link has fallen into obscurity with the centuries.