Most of our recent stories have been set in the present day (give or take a decade). But our stories started in the Dark Ages setting, and I still have to admit I have a lot of fondness for that setting. It would be fun to go back to the 13th century, when Marius (and Gabriel) were a pair of smart-ass neonates, foreigners in a German court. Even the Victorian era could be cool (though I would have to do more Research).
Or we could return to the Milan, a few decades after the founding of the Camarilla, where the surviving anarch leaders, and the elders and representatives of the great Houses and factions of the Tzimisce and Lasombra, are trying to forge their own organization—a Warsaw Pact in response to the Camarilla’s NATO.
Milan 1526: An Alliance of Shadows
“I can now see why the Founders of the Camarilla only called their Convention of Thorns when all results were a foregone conclusion — it is the only way they were able to get anything done in only a fortnight.”
– Vincenzo Della Torre, Clan Ventrue
Milan. One of the greatest and wealthiest duchies in Italy, ruled for generations first by the seigniorial Visconti dukes, and then the upstart Sforza, whose rule was finally legitimized in 1495, and all but collapsed when the Camarilla, and their mortal French allies, invaded in 1499.
Milan, chief among rebels and holdouts, whose proud Ventrue Prince put personal honor and Caine’s ancient Tradition of the sovereignty of Domain over the authority of a distant Camarilla council and their roving Justicars. For that, Ercole de Hauteville’s fate was to become an example of what befell all those who rebelled against the new order – he and most of his house were destroyed, and many of the city’s Cainites were driven from their homes or forced to surrender.
Thus started a conflict that raged for a quarter century – between the Camarilla regents, mostly younger childer itching to carve out a domain for themselves, and the native Milanese, who soon learned to put concerns of clan and old grudges aside, at least long enough to spill some foreign Camarilla blood. Back and forth the war went, even as the French soldiers overran disorganized Italian defenses, and were overwhelmed in turn by the Spanish, Swiss and German troops of Charles V, King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor. The duchy became a battleground on which skirmishes were fought between mortal and immortal forces all determined to shape the destiny not only of Milan, but all Italy.
None were so determined as Marius dell’ Aquila, the firebrand Lasombra heir to an ancient legacy, grandchilde of the notorious Gaius Aquilaeus, Milan’s most powerful and devious prince ever. Aided by his Sire, her Tzimisce consort, the Lasombra kinsmen of his Spanish wife, and a variety of anarch allies, Marius won his throne with devastating effect after the Battle of Pavia in 1525. At last he sat on his grandsire’s throne – and faced the greatest challenge yet of his unlife. For as his grandsire’s own demise over a century before so clearly demonstrated, it is one thing to win a battle, or gain a throne. It is quite another thing to keep it.
Realizing from his own bitter experience that no single prince, no matter how old or powerful, can stand up to the combined might and resources of the Camarilla, Marius took steps to insure not only his own reign’s survival, but that of dozens of other princes and voivodes caught in a similar position – particularly among the Lasombra of Italy and Spain, and the Tzimisce houses of the East. For while one prince is vulnerable, an alliance of princes sworn to aid each other in times of trouble might be enough to stem the tide of the Camarilla’s military superiority. To form a counter-alliance against the Camarilla seemed to be the only practical solution. An alliance not unlike the Camarilla in some ways, but totally different in others – one that respected the sovereign independence of its members, and forced no prince to bow to the will of others outside his Domain. In theory, it seemed an idea worth pursuing – and to that end, a number of unaligned princes sent their representatives to Milan, to hammer out the terms of their alliance, and prepare for the Camarilla assault that is sure to come.
In theory, the need for such a Cainite alliance is not in dispute, nor is the desire for both trustworthy allies and local prerogative of princes to interpret the Traditions as they see fit.
In practice, of course, it will not be anywhere near so easy as that.
The year is 1526. Henry VIII is King of England, and still married to Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow. In Germany, Martin Luther has broken with the Catholic Church, and his ‘heresy’ is beginning to spread through central Europe. Spain dominates the seas, the New World, and, since the selection of Carlos V as Holy Roman Emperor (beating out Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France), has become one of the most powerful – and ambitious – kingdoms of Europe. In particular, since the resounding defeat of the French at Pavia just a year before, Spain now controls most of Italy, including the city of Milan.
In Milan, representatives of Lasombra elders and princes, anarch leaders and rabblerousers, Tzimisce voivodes, and the disenfranchised or vengeful members of a number of clans from all over Europe and the East, gather under the safe-conduct of Marius dell’ Aquila, a safe-conduct enforced by his Tzimisce koldun warlord, Jovan Ruthven. Their ideas and agendas will form the underlying structure of an alliance that is fated to succeed far beyond its founders’ initial conceptions…but not at all in the way that they expect. These nights will also see the forging of the Code of Milan, the foundation document of its authors’ bold endeavor – a treaty that will be put to its most bitter test less than a decade after it is signed, and fail miserably. Yet from that failure, out of the hollow ashes of disappointment and defeat – and the dreams that cannot be destroyed nearly so easily as a single Lasombra Prince – shall rise a shadowy nemesis that will prove a thorn in the Camarilla’s side (and sometimes a stake in its heart) for the next five hundred years…
What? Huh? That’s not what the books say…. that’s not CANON!
I know. I’ve always found the official canon accounts of historical events surrounding the formation of the Camarilla (and shortly afterwards, the Sabbat) to be overly pat and simplistic. It’s certainly plausible that what the sourcebooks describe is how the Camarilla teaches that period of history, because that narrative reinforces everything else, from the Masquerade to the authority of elders to the hierarchy of the Camarilla itself, that the sect wants its younger members to accept and believe—preferably without question. The Sabbat side of the story also always sounded a bit too pat as well – implying that the entire sect, with its own church-titled hierarchy, rituals, and nations-spanning organization, came into being soon after the Camarilla, more or less exactly as it exists in the modern era (three civil wars since then notwithstanding). I can see Sabbat bishops and prisci telling it that way, because they’ve got a lot of arrogant little whelps to beat into line, and they have to keep it simple.
When it’s just references to a historical, almost mythical past, it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s propaganda, and it could be true or a total fairy tale. But when the story is about those very same events… there has to be more to the story than that, or you don’t really have a story. It’s part of the story to ask the big question: Did it really happen that way?
Of course not. That’s not how history works (even if it is how most history books portray it). That’s not how people work, whether breathing or not. History is written by the winners, those with the power to ensure their side of the story is recorded. Their victims might tell a very different story indeed.
And so the primary goal behind this chronicle (besides giving Etienne an excuse to return to Milan again) was to explore that question – what were the real issues at stake? Who were the primary movers and shakers, and what were they after? How did all those different factions and clans and bloodlines manage to get along (or did they?). And how did the Sabbat really get its genesis, and how did it manage to survive all these centuries?
There were at least a dozen or more factions. Not even the Lasombra or Tzimisce clans were at all united, and the anarchs came from almost every clan and nation. There were representatives from the Assamites, the Unbound. There were even a few Camarilla spies—some coming openly as diplomats, and others not so openly. There were factions who found common ground, and some that were all but ready to wage a blood feud with one another.
And yet out of this chaotic gathering, probably over a period of some years, something was started—an idea, the loose terms of an association, a pact that failed as a political and military alliance, but survived instead as a loosely-allied underground network of blood-families, packs and coteries. If there had been a central organization, the Camarilla’s greater numbers and military strength would have been able to wipe it out, targeting its leadership. But there wasn’t. There was instead a loose web of independent cells—the packs. The packs looked to no centralized authority or leader, but shared a common mythology and oral tradition, and one common ritus that both kept them independent and connected them to one another—the Vaulderie.
That’s the setting that fascinates me. How it All Began. What Really Happened. Someday maybe we’ll get back to it….
“My dear Messer de Vaillant, my own Clan was the reason I left Hungary in the first place. You will understand once you have spent more time in their company.”
– Jovan Ruthven, Clan Tzimisce