Dictated by Sören Dukovni
in the Copenhagen Chantry Library, 1843
The Tremere have asked that I transcribe my History for the Chantry records. I suppose that they do not trust my Oath of Fealty. I presume that they intend to conduct some sort of tests on this text to confirm its veracity. Whatever. I have lived too long on my Path to practice duplicity.
How long have I lived? Yes, that could be relevant, I suppose. I was born in 1192 and given The Kiss in 1238. In that era, a forty-six year life was considered to be a full one. I had been a successful merchant on the Baltic and North Seas, shipping wool and timber to the Normans, Scottish, and Dutch. I had seen the birth of human rights in the great Magna Carta and I had witnessed their disparagement in territorial wars. I had worked and lived hard and forsaken family for finance. I was ready to retire in the new village of Copenhagen, founded by the Danish soldier Absallon, Archbishop of Lund, and watch the calm Baltic flow away to the Latvian shore.
Events of the year of 1238 conspired to arrest my retirement and force me into retreat, fear, and uncertainty. Norse raiders lay siege to Copenhagen’s ports in the spring of that bleak year and many of the residents of the village were driven south across the Baltic to the German shore. Though most of us spoke the old High German dialect, as well as Slavic and Norman tongues, there was confusion upon our landing and we were taken prisoner as spies or illegal immigrants or soldiers, depending upon our age or sex. I was herded with the younger men to be sent to Novgorad and traded into slavery to the Mongols ruling Poland at the time.
The thought of being worked to death, rather than drunk to death, so angered me that I attempted to escape from the slavers escorting us along the Baltic coast. I made a break for freedom in the middle of chilly night, intending to find the Wisla River and follow it into the Carpathians, where I was certain I could lose what little pursuit I thought would be sent.
How naïve I was, to think that the slavers would even follow! Those dark mountains, with their windy passes and year-round snow, were the death of many a well-prepared and -rationed traveller. There was little hope of me making it the whole way to the relative safety of the Christian Magyar Kingdom without provisions or adequate clothing. And the longer I stayed in occupied Poland, the more likely I would again be captured and back on the road to Novgorad.
Reaching the Carpathians in just under twelve days, I endeavored to steal supplies and a horse to carry me over the mountains. I was in Kraków and made my way to the paddocks of the Ducal Livery one afternoon. I sized up the sentries and waited for an opening which would allow me to lead away one of the fine Arabians that the Mongols favored. The paddock was not fenced and was only staffed with guards near the tackhouse on the northern end of the field. I was certain that, if patient, a chance to trim a mount from the edge of the herd would present itself.
Evening faded and died into night and still I hid near the paddock. Two hundred years of occupation had, apparently, not made the Mongols lax in their guard duties; I waited until long after midnight for my chance. I listened to the guards tell each other stories in their fluid, yet guttural, tongue, only making out the odd word or place name.
Eventually, the sentries’ fire died down, the early dawn chill descended, and I could see that no one had an eye on a thin mare near the periphery of the paddock. I sneaked around the camp and untied the horse. She started a bit, but certainly no more than any Arabian will when strange hands grip their reins. I cared not for a saddle, but I thought that I would be well-served by one of the horse blankets in the livery. So, carefully stepping over the now sleeping guards, I entered the tackhouse and snatched up the first blanket upon which my hand fell in the darkness.
Perhaps this moment was just a continuation of the terrible fortune that befell me over that whole year. Perhaps some sort of Karma, of which the Hindi speak, was searing its brand on my life. Whatever the circumstances that conspired against me were, at that moment they placed a rack of what I later was told were “spurs” on top of that blanket.
I heard the metallic clash and clatter at the same time that the sentries did, and before I could even step out of the tackhouse, they had risen and rushed me, bearing me down to the rocky ground and binding me fast with thongs and a bridle. They bombarded me with what must have been questions but, realizing that I could not follow their meaning, they broke off speaking to me and instead launched into a heated debate. A lot of gesturing ensued, most of the fingers being pointed at the Duke’s palace but many of them rising to the snow-capped peaks to the south. I was not consulted again, virtually ignored, and began to fear for my future at the hands of these alien men.
Little did I know that they debated the means of my doom.
Little did I know that they were weighing the strength of my back against the worth of soul.
After nearly ten minutes of arguing leading to shouting leading to occasional slaps and pushes, the apparent leader of this band of guards reached a decision. Before I could protest or attempt a defense, I was hoisted onto the very mare I had thought to steal, bound hand-to-foot under her belly, and lead away from the village, towards the mountains. Even then, I hoped that my plight was not as dire as it seemed: I was not being handed over to the true authorities of the province, nor was I being killed out of hand, as these Mongols were wont to do for nearly any transgression of their holy law. I was even bound to an obviously valuable horse, so they surely could not intend to just strand me in the mountain snow to freeze to death.
Rather, they had a very specific plan for my disposition. Had I spent more time learning about the countries and peoples outside of my trade routes, I might have know sheer terror as they lead my horse down the southern road to a fork in the road that wound easterly up a steep ridgeline and around its crest. Instead, I thought I was getting an odd sort of ironic justice when the leader slapped the mare’s rump, sending her scrabbling and clopping up the rough path. I thought that I was to die from exposure while the horse made it rounds of the high pastures, before she headed back to her masters.
Some people are always optimistic. I learned to forget such illusions the next night in those mountains.
Over the next day, the mare plodded further east and up, winding out of sight of the valley in which Kraków lay. The cold winds off the higher snow blasted me through my thin tunic and leggings, chaffing my skin as if the sun in summer. Though I warmed somewhat during the afternoon, by nightfall of that day I was shivering, and by the time the moon rose, I could not move at all and was hearing things that could not be real. I heard a screaming through the rocks. I heard singing in the thinning forests. I prayed for release to the Old Gods, and then to the New God.
Finally, the horse seemed to tire of its course and wandered off the trail into a cluster of boulders. By this time, I was at Death’s Door and only paid any heed to events because I wanted to see Its face when It finally took me.
Suddenly, the mare cleared the boulders and stepped over the ridgeline. A vale lay spread out below. Near the snowline stood a large keep or tor; not so much a castle as a fort, built out of roughcut slate and packed earth. By outward appearances, it was unoccupied. But the sounds of singing and wailing again swelled, and they clearly originated within the tor.
The mare walked down the slope of the vale, only slipping a small bit on the blown snow and ice, heading for the tor and the unearthly, unholy songs. I watch our approach as best I could from my position on the horse, expecting at each moment to see a bean sidhe or some other noisy horror. But my caretaker, my host, was very silent in his approach.
Rounding a small stand of scrub pines, I hear the rattle of stones and suddenly felt an icy hand on my cheek. My eyes flashing right, I saw the most beautiful creature I had ever witnessed; within an instant, it appeared to melt and shift and then was easily the most foul apparition I had ever seen. Curious, I strained at my bindings, trying to get a closer look at the amazing creature coming to deliver my death. I never had known of nor had heard of Kindred at that time; I thought I was witnessing the Reaper himself, come to sow an old merchant, an old cheat, a worn-out fugitive from peace.
Even as I watched its arm shift and melt into the traditional sickle, I watched Death’s face for a sign of intelligence, of reason. Not so much to try to argue for a stay of execution, but to ask it about its existence and how it felt having to be the one to cut each mortal skein. As its glinting white sickle blade/arm rose over me, I finally made eye contact with the beast. “Tough job,” I managed to mumble to it, before the edge fell.
No strike came. As I looked at the being, its arm resumed its normal shape; its face untwisted and settled into rather typical, dark Slovenian features. It was a man about two meters tall, with thin arms and chest and long, rippling black hair. In his eyes burned an intelligence of ferocious intensity. “You may explain yourself at the donjon,” he said, then turned and lead the Arabian up the slope of the vale to the craggy pile. I took me a moment to notice that he neither took the reins nor clucked to prod the mare to follow; she came to him like a pet.
Going into too much detail at this point would be not only very personal, but also disrespectful of that now-gone and burned Kindred. Suffice it to tell that he was called Koronov and that he was of the Old Clan Tzimisce, which your Clan Tremere now seems to so hate, if my capture and incarceration here in your Chantry is to be any indication. He nursed and warmed me in his simple keep, sheltered under eight feet of dirt and two feet of stonework, for that entire night and the next, only leaving me when I slept at dawn, and returning from further below in the earth each dusk.
The reason I was spared, it turned out, was because I had shown no fear in the face of death and had sought knowledge with even my final sight. Koronov explained to me that he was on something called The Path of Cogent Wisdom and that its ways were those of reason, courage, and knowledge. He explained to me about the Kindred’s damnation and the Beast within and how he hoped to ascend from this plane by adhering to the Path and its truths.
He then offered to bring me across, to give me the Dark Kiss that ends life but begins eternity. He warned me of the risks, of the loss of the soul, of the Beast; but he also explained the power, the magic; he showed me the abilities he had by virtue of the Blood. And he offered to share, should I swear fealty to him for 99 years and help him along the Path. Considering that my alternative was to be a sacrifice to him by my Mongol captors, I thought the option quite generous. I swore to the Path, drank deeply, and began my new unlife.
Being the Childe of Koronov proved to be both taxing and inspiring. Each night we spent in contemplation of The Three Pillars of Strength, by Belorinus, a Tzimisce elder and founder of the Path of Cogent Wisdom. We drove ourselves to states of calm lucidity, struggling with our individual Beasts and their carnal demands. Or we worked on the Arts of Seeing and Not Being Seen. And we fed, of course; more often upon the animals of the highlands than Humans or other Kindred.
Eh? Why yes, there were times that weaker Children of Caine stumbled upon our keep, seeking aide or wisdom or a free lunch. They usually failed to prove their mettle, either cowering before Koronov in supplication (which he despised) or blustering about in pride and anger. Since the Path only brooks reason and courage in the face of opposition, Koronov would slay these weak Childer to spare them a descent into the Beast’s depravity.
Least you think us diabolic or demented, allow me to remind you that this was in the middle of the 13th century. There was not yet any Inquisition, of which your Clan has told me much; there was not Sabbat or Camarilla. Only Kindred and Faerie and Garou and a limited source of sustenance. We could not allow our privacy to be breached, and never met another Kindred with the strength of spirit to entrust with the knowledge of our Haven. It was just those sorts of days, that kind of era. One did what one must or died with dawn. Though I know it rankles your now-refined sensibilities, even your old clan was known to take liberties with thin-blooded Beasts, the better to purify and rarify Caine’s Gift.
Over the decades, we came to love each other, Koronov and I, even as we both wrestled to snuff out our emotions, as per the Path. When my servitude was up, in 1339, I stayed on at the keep, helping guard our myth, protect the Haven, and expand our understanding of the Road to Golconda and Ascension. Perhaps our connections to the world became to thin and febrile, perhaps the pace of Science and Faith outside of the high Carpathians was too quick for our measured analyses and studies. Whatever the cause, our peace and isolation was shattered by stomping boots, smelly Humans, and the creak of wagon wheels.
Romania and the present Ukraine was under invasion by Germanic Poles. Kievan Rus was falling before aggressive expansion and even the high mountains were being purged of Slavs. A large mounted troop, apparently an advance party, came to our vale to camp late one afternoon in the summer of 1340. As we lay sleeping, we could hear them scrabbling and scratching around the tor, seeking its entrance. When we woke, we discussed our options even as the party found the heavy stone which sealed our Haven. A group of them managed to harness their horses to the stone and grind it from its bed.
In an instant, Koronov and I set upon them, wincing with the pain of the evening light still bleeding from the west. We assaulted them with an almost transcendent ferocity; I felt divorced from my actions, like an impassive observer to my slaying, not its actor. The Path of Cogent Wisdom, while rational and calm, does not resent violence or fail to use it when it is appropriate. And if we were to keep our Haven, none of the troop could survive the night to tell of it. Though the Poles were at least five score strong, we waded into their midst, using our Arts to confuse them and beguile them and then slip away into shadow to attack again from a new direction. It was a horrid slaughter, but it could only be called self-defense.
Nevertheless, the Poles overwhelmed us. Apparently, they at least knew of Koronov from the Mongols they captured in Kraków; knew of the sacrifices made to appease him, the very sacrifice that I was meant to be a hundred years past. I can only surmise that the Human mythology of Kindred had finally gleaned some truth from the legends, because after regrouping from our initial onslaught, the Poles armed themselves with pole arms, spears, and nearby branches. In other words, they prepared to stake us upon our next press. But we could not stop at that point; our Haven was about to be lost forever. We marshaled our wills, suppressed frenzy over the pools of blood we had already spilt, and charged again into their midst.
Unlikely as it might seem, Koronov, a millenium old Vampire from the ancient line of Tzimisce, was staked through by a 14 year old squire with the broken shaft of a halberd. As Koronov fell, I tried to reach him and whisk him away into the snowy peaks to heal and rebuild our Haven. But then I too was overwhelmed, by three of the men, and placed into torpor unceremoniously with a pine branch. Even now, I can remember the small cone still attached to the bough, bouncing over my face as I shuddered and writhed in what would be the last actions I took for the next 500 years.
Since that night, I have slept. The torpor closed down my keen senses, so I do not know what befell me, or even how I came to be free of torpor and in a marsh of the Odra River on the Prussian border. I, further, have no knowledge of the fate of Koronov. I know only that I was healed, regaining my strength, and lost somewhere south of my home country and long-missed Copenhagen. I made my way with utmost hast to Denmark and the now-capital. That is pretty much where you picked me up, I presume. You imprisoned me with guile and weirding words and now you interrogate me about things that mean nothing to me: a Sabbat, some Camarilla, Traditions, the Inquisition. None of these things mean anything to me; all of which I am certain is that I am very alone in a much smaller world and no closer to Golconda for being held in your clutches. Now tell me what I must do to be rid of you Tremere and your whole, dark world….
The subject, Sören Dukovni, is certainly of unique origin and clan, if only because of his Old Tzimisce lineage.
The admixture of Arts in which he is trained is unusual to find in a non-Malkavian, but is a useful combination.
He seems to be willing to abide by the Traditions, if not swear by them, and he is certainly NOT a Sabbat puppet. His Aura is marked by the Kindred blood he has drunk, but given his essentially ‘backwards’ education and upbringing, it is hard to press the issue in good conscience.
I intend to subject his words to the usual tests for veracity. Then, if he is not lieing through his pointy teeth, I will extend an offer of clemency to him from the Tremere of Copenhagen.
In conclusion, his age and unfamiliarity with this world make him a risk to the Masquerade should he be just set loose without proper coaching and guidance. Conversely, we can not Destroy him out-of-hand unless we are willing to take an innocent’s unlife. Our only route is forbearance of aggression, forgivness for his ignorance, and education for his future conduct once we release him. I believe he will be more than willing to follow our laws, if he is, in turn, allowed to pursue this Path of Cogent Wisdom which is his driving goal.
Finally, I am sure we should investigate further this Koronov personage, hopefully determining his current whereabouts, if only to be sure he will not attempt a claim on Sören.
Magus verMagnusson, May, 1843