On 4th May, the fleet arrived at Corcyra.
Corcyra is a beautiful crescent shaped city on an island. Thucydides spoke at length of its strategic virtues and, as he stated in the preface to his work regarding the cyclical nature of history, it remains an important port. The crusader fleet lay in anchor in the bay. Perhaps unsurprisingly there were no sign of the Genoese privateers that had previously made this port their home.
Other than an old citadel at the southern end of the port on the bay, there are no fortifications on all of Corcyra, or Corfu as the Italians name it. The port is a town of perhaps 2000 people, spread broadly along the bay and the small hills around it. It would appear that the island has gotten used to relying on strategic alliances and naval power to protect itself, so it had little chance of resisting the Fourth Crusade’s intent of ousting the friendly Genoese pirates that had been harrying Venetian shipping in the southern Adriatic. The crusaders, numbering some 8000 soldiers and camp followers, are encamped on the hills overlooking the town – a symbolic gesture in itself. I noted with interests the comments by the coterie that there were less Crusaders than they had seen at Zara originally. Apparently some had left, moving on to offer their services (as mercenaries) to other Crusader kingdoms (the King of Jerusalem at Acre) where they had been told politely to go away lest they disturb the fragile peace relied upon by the Crusader states to exist in an Islamic world. These ‘former’ Crusaders are now located in Syria and are an army-without-a-purpose. Lest they turn their idle hands to mischief, I suggest they be given a task and pointed in the direction of the enemies of the empire as swiftly as possible!
Corcyra has put on a happy face for the crusaders. Loaded with money looted from Zara, for now the soldiers-of-Christ as content to spend their coin on food, wine and women in the city, and the city is happy to let them knowing that were they to object they would be destroyed.
The prior prince of the city, Aglaia, a Brujah, has fled into the hills and sworn vengeance on Sir Guy. She is a descendant of Periander, the prince of Corinth, an ancilla, and is strong in the blood. (More on her later.)
An ancient of the Clan of Death also resides in the hills. This ancient came here in search of a Salubri, and is an ally of the prince. The coterie was to suspect later that the two of them were working against the Fourth Crusade.
As per their well-mannered habits, the coterie presented themselves to Sir Guy, the nominal Cainite leader of the crusaders, upon arrival. We were all escorted in to Sir Guy by his childe Sir Martin de Toulon, an upright knight, and another Cainite called Sir Arnaud le Brave. Sir Guy’s court, held in the former residence of Aglaia, consists of the following Cainites:
- Sir Guy de Provence, leader of the Crusade and a friend of the coterie
- Sir Thierry d’Amiens, knight of the Sable Rose, master of Picardy & chief envoy of Angel Andrew
- Sir Godrey de Caen, knight of the Sable Rose, master of Flanders
- Sir Roderick de Rouen, knight of the Sable Rose, master of Normandy
- Lanzo von Sachen, a Saxon power-player
- Salvatore di Varagine, envoy of Narses
- Petrus the Troubadour, right hand of Sir Guy
The above are members of the Small Council, those who are invited to speak at Sir Guy’s nightly meetings.
The others are his captains, those who serve him as commanders of his groups of soldiers.
- Sir Vitalis de Asti, of the Clan of Kings; representative of Micheallis, an ally of Guy’s sire.
- Sir Rusel di Casale, of the Clan of Death; a master swordsman.
- Sir Felix de Vaucluse, of the Clan of Kings; very wealthy. He represents someone called Dieter von Karlach.
- Sister Farancina de Montferrat, of the Clan of Death; she has much influence over the crusader clergy.
Added to this mix are other Cainites, not least among which is the Ventrue Sir Aimery de Versey, the ally of the coterie whose life they saved back in Venice, and whom had been watching over their flock of mortals in their absence. This flock consisted of Sherazhina (retainer/ally of Veceslav), Godwine (retainer of Maude), [[:bernard dressler | Bernard Dressler]] and Gabriel (squires of Gunthar, aka Bernhard).
The coterie was ushered inside and praise heaped upon it for the work done in preventing the attacks that had plagued the Crusade in Zara. Of interest is two topics were prevalent in the discussions that followed:
a) The coterie had done great service and was highly regarded as a result, and
b) The group-wide mourning of the loss of Prince Bernhard.
Sir Guy de Provence went on at length of the services rendered by Prince Bernhard during a previous Crusade (2nd) and how much he had come to rely upon his advice, how his skills at the siege of Damascus saved scores of soldiers-of-Christ from the blades and dark powers of the Assamites, and so on. His voice cracked as he spoke of the loss of one whom he considered a friend. Veceslav responded with an equally moving recitation of the Gangrel’s service, loyalty and spirit-of-action. The impression given was that, had he lived, he would have surely been a figure of power, influence and a good friend to those whom he loved.
I mention this not only for the interest I have in him, stepping into so much of his shoes as I am, but because of a follow up conversation I had with one of the retainers the Saxon Gangrel left behind.
He left two: his ward, a young squire named [[:bernard dressler | Bernard Dressler]], a descendant of his line; and Gabriel, a Greek from Constantinople whom he was grooming for greater things.
Prince Bernhard had a guise as ‘Gunthar ritter von Wolfgang’, a Saxon knight. This was how he was known, publically, while here on Crusade. This persona had died, slain in battle apparently, just after the coterie left Zara. Bernhard’s mortal allies had been told this. They mourned, the young [[:bernard dressler | Bernard Dressler]] had done so with tears, rage, women and grog. The younger Gabriel had taken the news in his stride, upset but not grief-stricken. I spoke with the boy about it and he told me that Gunthar had already told the boy goodbye! Why is this relevant? I had expressed my questions previously as to the Gangrel’s seemingly suicidal lone attack on the Cuman warmaster. Had it been a part of a larger plan to draw in the support of his aloof sire? And now there is this, the Gangrel’s prior warning to a soul whom he was grooming for later intimate work. I wonder again, how much of what happened in that Pass was ad hoc and how much was planned? The Saxon Gangrel is spoken of with so much passion by those close to him, such praise as being cunning, yet his fall seems so idiotic in light of this…
Why does this weigh on my mind so? Because I strongly suspect that while Kronstadt may lay open now, in a generation or so – once Lucien rescues his childe and destroys Koban – this Bernhard will return and claim ‘his’ throne. Whatever plans I lay in for that city had best figure that future as a likelihood, for given what we know of Lucien and this coterie – both of which seem determined to rescue the Gangrel and destroy Koban – odds are the Gangrel will one night return to claim ‘his’ throne.
But let us move on to more important matters; matters of empires and thrones!
Like all such matters, they begin at the intimate level.
Sir Aimery de Versey had been the coterie’s “man in camp” while they were away. They had spoken of him; a knight who became a rogue who realised he needed to become a knight again. He has the same familiarity with the demi-monde as I do, and had been using this to the coterie’s advantage while they were gone.
Aimery noted that some in the Crusader’s numbers no longer wished to be a part of the Crusade as it currently was. He spoke of Richard de Dampiere, Jacque Vence, and Peter d’Amiens all mortal leaders of factions within the Crusader’s numbers. They are pious Crusaders, here to do God’s work. They have contacts in Brindisi (the seneschal of Walter III de Brienne, King of Sicily, Duke of Apulia, and Count of Brienne and Lecce) and seek to use these to obtain ships that will take them to Sicily. From there, via Richard’s brother who is in Sicily, they will go to the Holy Land.
If they go, up to 3000 of the Crusaders will go with them!
This will leave 5000, a number which even though it contains knights, is enough to challenge but not overwhelm the defences of Constantinople, especially in the face of the Varangian Guard.
The dissenters are camped in a valley away from the main Crusader camp. Over the coming weeks, I am sure they will be visited by the coterie. If nothing else, I am sure that Maude can be prevailed upon to visit them and seek to appease the slaughter of thousands by prevailing upon the dissenters to make good their intentions to leave.
(Of an interesting note was that while the coterie was praised for their work by Sir Guy’s Crusader Court, I was assumed to be a part of the coterie! None seemed to notice I was an outsider! Whatever star or angel blessed me with such an ability I am certainly grateful!)
Once the coterie was on the ground, an interesting rumour surfaced.
Alexius, son of the deposed Isaac Angelus, has promised (as well as the coin to repay debts) that the Church will be reunified under the banner of the Roman Patriarch once he is installed as Emperor!!!!
Please pause for a moment and reflect upon the enormous threat that means for all of us.
The Crusaders will install Alexius as emperor not only for the coin, but for the promise of delivery of their souls.
Why are the crusaders on crusade?
a) Money / land / dominion / etc.
b) To do God’s work.
By pointing them at Constantinople, and having the church on their side, Alexius will help every single one of them achieve both ends.
Every. Single. One.
All of the Crusade will fall upon Constantinople unless they are redirected away from the city.
They will seek to install Alexius as the new emperor.
And then they won’t get paid.
And the wrath of thousands of crusaders, and among them a number of angry treasure-seeking of knights, will fall upon our holy city like a thunderbolt!
For Christ’s sake, for Michael’s sake, expend your influence NOW to see this does not come to pass, for if it does, the city we have loved and known in the fibre of our souls will be destroyed under the fire and hate of these Frankish and Venetian swords!
I will be here, with the crusade, to the end. I believe I will do better here as our spy than with you as a soldier. We both know I am not made for such violent pursuits.
Sir Guy and Yulia discussed “matters of mutual concern” at length behind closed doors. It emerges that Sir Guy stated he does not wish to linger at Constantinople but wishes to make with all speed for the Holy Land. He claims his status rests on getting the crusade to Egypt.
Personally, I think he is pushing stones uphill.
Sir Guy claims he wishes none to influence the mortal crusaders. Can he honestly not see that this is not only going on, but has been going on since Day One? You do not need mental powers to influence people! I am honestly having my doubts as to whether or not Sir Guy is aware of the subtleties. Surely no-one can be so blind as to not see the influence of unseen hands.
(For example, the coterie claimed two Assamites were working at harming the crusade, yet only one was caught and slain. What happened to the other Assamite? And why has Sir Guy, nor anyone else, not looked into this?)
Sir Guy’s Small Councils are run every night, usually about three hours after sundown. Their purpose is to relay news and to ensure all members of the council are both aware of relevant events and are ‘singing the same song’. These councils are not a democracy, Sir Guy is the leader and sole arbiter of debate.
At least in theory.
Would you believe it, but Veceslav the slothful diplomat, ingratiated himself so deeply into the inner circle that he seems to have discovered almost all of their secrets – secrets that he shared with the coterie, secrets which I share with you now.
Yet behind closed doors it is the Knights of the Sable Rose that really direct the show. Sir’s Thierry, Roderick and Godfroi are the Order’s representatives here. As a sub-order of the Knights Hospitaller they hold a considerable sway in mortal politics; some 2000 of the Crusaders – including many of the knights – are in their retinues. Their sway is considerable.
And wait, there’s more.
They answer to Angel Andrew of Normandy. This is not uncommon knowledge. What Veceslav was able to find out is that … Angel Andrew is a ‘Bishop of Nod’ within the Cainite Heresy! He has bishopric over Scotland, Normandy and the Holy Land.
Do the research, he has been involved in every single Crusade!
Which means, if you need me to spell it out, that the most powerful of Cainite influences over the crusade is at the beck and call of the Cainite Heresy, which is under the control of … Narses of Venice!!!
Take a moment to soak this in.
Narses is the ancient rival and spurned protocol son of Constantinople. They rejected him once. He then spent years wrecking as much of their plans and influence as he could. Then, apparently, everything was “alright”, and Narses now says there is no bad blood between them. (Pardon the pun, they are becoming a bad habit of mine.)
And this man has pawns –his thrice damned pawns – in charge of an army of thousands of broke and angry disenfranchised “warriors of God” now pointed directly at the one place on God’s Earth that he wants revenge against.
Comfort me Vashtai, that this will work out “alright”, that this is not the death-knell of our city.
But wait, this gets better.
Because the hopeful deluded among you might think that Sir Guy de Provence is still holding some sway over this mess, let me disabuse you of that notion.
Sir Guy has had for years, an ongoing rivalry / partnership with Sir Hugh de Clairvaux.
(Now pay attention, because this is where it gets really complicated!)
Sir Alaric di Taranto is a Lasombra Templar ally of the coterie. His sire is unknown.
(In parallel to Anson, he was a veteran of the First Crusade also, Embraced during the madness of the sack of Jerusalem. He has no idea who is sire is.)
But Sir Alaric has a mentor, one Santiago de Girona.
If I understand the lineages correctly, this mentor is the childe of Montrovant, the Cainite founder of the Templar Knights.
Montrovant has gone ‘crazy’ in a hunt for the Holy Grail.
As a result, another Cainite, a Ventrue called ‘Geoffroi du Temple’, has been eroding his influence and taking over the Order.
Geoffroi is the sire of Hugh de Clairvaux.
Geoffroi is also the childe of Prince Alexander of Paris.
Hugh de Clairvaux is currently harboured up in Cyprus with some 2000 men, including 20 Cainite knights. That is, he is an actual force to be reckoned with regarding what happens next.
Here’s how I see this becoming very relevant.
The Fourth Crusade will go to Constantinople; that much is nearly a certainty.
Sir Guy cannot lay siege to the great city. He must assault it and move on to Jerusalem to maintain his sense of self, his honour and standing.
Without knights, the crusade cannot force the city of Constantinople.
The Templars will also act as a counter to the influence of the Hospitallers, aka the Knights of the Sable Rose. (I would be stunned is Sir Guy is not already contemplating such a move.)
The arrival of the Templars will mean the Hospitallers stay as well.
Which places more than enough military might before the walls to force Constantinople, for they will – due to the influence of the Venetians – have secured the seas, enabling them to conduct an amphibious assault at any point over the city.
And let us not forget that the Latin Quarter is run by a childe of Narses.
The political thrust of the assault will be to place Alexius on the throne, and to amalgamate the churches.
But this will not pay the debts of the crusaders.
And what happens from here is largely up to how far Narses is prepared to go.
And just to add to the madness, more Lasombra Venetians and their retinues are arriving in the camp, creating further tensions between the Lasombra and the Ventrue.
So, all of those politics provide the background to where the coterie is at the moment.
They are a possible rudder with which to steer all of this madness.
But let us leave metaphysics and get on with practicalities!
I took a walk around the camp and the town, determined to find out the mood of the peoples and soldiers.
Rumours flood over the crusade, saying it is cursed, that unseen agents move against it.
This has led to paranoia among the mortal leadership, as agents seek to uncover the unseen hands.
In one inn, ‘The Safe Harbour Inn’, I saw and heard a troubadour play. He sang eloquently of the brave Boniface de Montferrat, of that knight’s virtues and courage, his tales and adventures battling tyrants and rescuing damsels. The troubadour sang of the Angeloi and the Marquis, of how theirs was an alliance made in Heaven itself, and destined by God to bring peace. And he sung of the terrors and cruelties of the current emperor of Byzantium, or how such evil should be struck down and righteousness restored.
The crowd roared their approval at his songs, sung with heart and fervour as well as skill and grace. The troubadour was Sir Raimbaut, the long-time companion and best friend of Marquis Boniface of Montferrat. His job done in that tavern, Raimbaut moved on to the next tavern and repeated his task. He did this all night, moving from place to place, singing his half-dozen songs to inspire the common people.
As he moved, two other nobles moved with him, shadowing the troubadour. They were Sir Geoffrey de Vilhardouin, Marshal of Champagne and adviser to the previous leader of the Crusade, Theobold the Count of Champagne, and Sir Mathew de Montmorency, a young noble of Île de France . They were his bodyguard protectors, for the crusader nobility feared they would be attacked by agents with their hearts set on disrupting the crusade. (I avoided their gaze easily enough, though their eyes were alert). And the crusaders were right, for towards the end of their round they were set upon by six armed men. The fight was short and sharp, and the three knights easily over-powered or slew their assailants. One fled, running with supernatural swiftness into the hills.
I gave chase, determined to discover (or rather, to confirm) the assailant’s identity and mission.
The assailant, surely a ghoul, was fast and strong, but I eventually found my way to him, coming across him alone in the hills, far from anything and anyone. He was subdued easily at first through the gifts of a trained mind, disarmed, pantsed, and slung over a shoulder. He raged, a berserk rage that further served to confirm his identity to me. We struggled for a while, but unarmed as he was the result was inevitable. Subdued again, this time more harshly, the ghoul agreed to answer my questions, to speak plainly as I would to him.
He confirmed that he was the ghoul of the former prince, Aglaia.
He confirmed he had been sent to kill the crusader troubadour.
Why he said he had not been told, but confirmed he suspected this was to disrupt the crusaders that stole his mistress’ city.
I advised him that care should be taken, for that by attacking one crusader knight, all of the other knights would rally to protect their own, whereas if they were left to argue among themselves they would fall out and the crusade break up. The ghoul saw the theoretical wisdom of this, but was unsure of whether or not to believe me. He would take the point to his mistress.
Knowing the coterie would like to speak with his mistress, I asked him to pass on a message; that I could be found with message delivered during the day to the tent of Sir Aimery de Versey, that my coterie would want to speak with his mistress about how to disrupt the Crusade. The ghoul understood and repeated the message.
I gave him my cloak for he was naked and it would serve as another means to get his mistress to find me, if not by herself then by her ally, the elder of the Death Clan with her.
I returned to the camp and town.
En route I came across my companions.
We discussed the merits of visiting the ex-prince, and I convinced them to wait for the following night, so that warning of our coming could be sent.
Maude, on hearing of the struggles and the capture of the two surviving assailants, determined to end their suffering, fearing most assuredly that the two assailants would be tortured to death.
Maude assumed her ghostly form, disappearing into the night and lands of death.
She penetrated the castle easily, coming across the prisoners and the crusader leadership.
She learned that the attackers were Norman knights from Durazzo, paid mercenaries who cared little for who they fought so long as there was pay.
Maude saw a nun in a red habit, referred to as ‘*Sister Josephine*’, whose fear-inducing aura Maude interpreted as having True Faith, a supernatural Godly power over Cainites.
Maude also saw a novice, a young boy called ‘*Séverin*’ who seemed to be able to sense Maude’s presence, even though he could not see her.
Maude overheard the crusaders (Lord Boniface, Sir Geoffrey, Sir Mathew and Sir Raimbaut) speaking of how they were in no doubt as to the ungodly speed shown by the assailant that ran away as fast as a horse. Disliking torture, they stated that measures must still be taken so they know for sure what the demonic influence is over the crusade.
(Curse that foolish Aglaia! Her idiocy threatens the Silence! For that alone, she should be reprimanded, or removed from her office!)
Maude also overheard Sir Raimbert mention off-handedly how his tutor at swordplay boasted of having over 100 years of practice! It seems another fool is threatening the Silence!
Having heard that torture and death awaited the prisoners, Maude went and ended their suffering. She described the method, bleeding them through some magical pin-prick, and assures me there would be no trace of supernatural involvement. I can only hope she is correct as I have not had a chance to examine her mercy killing, nor would I wish to perform one just so I could investigate and ease my mind!
Maude seemed strangely troubled upon her return, as if her role as executioner bothered her in way she had not realised.
With dawn approaching, and our news exchanged, we sought the shelter of our havens for another day of rest.
Attendance: Lotario (Greg, 3 xp), Veceslav (Ben, 2 xp), Maude (Dave, 3 xp)