VAMPIRE COUNTS OF SUDENMARK
Ever since the time of Gorbad Ironclaw the northern foothills of the Black Mountains have been a dangerous place. Bandits roam the countryside, war bands of greenskins and beastmen raid the few remaining settlements and now the vampiric von Krolok counts have risen to power.
In the south of Wissenland, on the bleak foothills of the Black Mountains, lies Sudenmark, one of the most desolate regions in the Empire. It is a land of windswept hills, boggy ravines and gloomy coniferous forests plagued by countless evils. No sane man travels this land unless he is pressed by haste or unless accompanied by numerous guards. The few people that inhabit this unpleasant land eek their existence by herding small flocks of sheep and goats for farming has been made impossible by constant raiding.
Yet it has not always been so. Once this land belonged to the Imperial province of Solland and was famed for its fine wines. But all that was destroyed more than eight centuries ago when the barbaric hordes of Orcs under command of Gorbad Ironclaw killed the Elector Count of Solland and sundered the entire province. Less than one in ten inhabitants survived and those that did would forever curse the gods for their ill fortunes. With the fall of Solland the land was inherited by Wissenland and following the Great War against Chaos it was incorporated into the newly formed province of Sudenland.
The Plight of Herman von Mecklenburg
When the province Sudenland was formed a number of minor nobles from throughout the Empire came to claim the foothills of the Black Mountains as their own, but as the new province inherited the land so it inherited the problems that went with it. In less than two decades all the nobles that settled in the foothills were either slain or abandoned their domains. The high point was the establishment of a bandit kingdom that launched devastating raids into other parts of Sudenland and into Wissenland and Averland.
When in year 2367 Herman became count he was determined to put an end to the troubles coming from the southern reaches of his realm. In what seamed as a good plan Herman declared all the lands of Sudenland beyond his control part of a new fief named Sudenmark. The count then proceeded to name the Marshal of the Mark from one of the nobles of the court confident that a strong military solution was the way to go. What followed was a decade of war in which many armies were raised by the Count and more than he ever admitted lost. Over a dozen marshals tried to tame the land but none lasted more than a year before he was killed or fled the province to escape this horrible duty.
The situation deteriorated to such an extent that no one would take upon themselves the task and the count was forced to make an Empire wide proclamation that he would give the mark as hereditary land to anyone who would bring order to the region. Weeks passed and no one came. As if humiliation of not being able to secure his domain was not enough count Herman was presented with the letter from arch lector of Nuln, saying that should no one apply to the position of the Marshal by the next week the Church of Sigmar would appoint a Marshal and take the mark under their jurisdiction and control. Bewildered the count retreated into the throne room. All the courtiers did their best to evade the count fearful that he might force them into accepting marshalhod. Late on the night the arch lector arrived with his entourage to be present at dawn of next day to take Sudenmark as the responsibility of the Church.
The Arrival of Drago
As the Elector count despaired in the early hours before down, with the stern gaze of arch lector upon him, a wind began to pick up and stormy clouds swirled above Pfeildorf, lightning arced the sky and ominous voices were carried on the winds. Throughout the town hounds began to howl and the sky filled with swarms of bats. It was only minutes before sunrise when heavy knocking was heard at the gates of the court and to amazement of all gathered a warrior in full plate armour strode into the throne room and knelt before the count. In a heavy foreign accent he proclaimed that he was Drago von Krolok and that he has come to claim the honour of Marshal of Sudenmark if it was still available. Overjoyed count Herman appointed him and asked the arch lector to bless the new marshal which he surprisingly refused, spitting at the feet of the arch lector and calling him hypocrite and land grabber which rather amused the Elector Count. Insulted and furious the arch lector stormed out of the throne room and left for Nuln. He would never complete his journey. Days later he and his companions will be found dead, barely two days ride from Pfeildorf. The official cause of death was “Torn apart by wolves”.
Drago spent a few short minutes with the count after being appointed to the duty before he rode of to take command of his new domain. Dragos rule of Sudenmark began, brutally. In the first week he met the army of the bandit “king” and crushed it, staking the heads of the slain along the main road. In the second week Drago faced a mighty manticore that was terrorising the country side and defeated it in single combat before the awestruck army. The monsters head was sent as a present to the count. In the third week his army abandoned him when facing a huge force of Orcs and fled back to the count with the word that the marshal was dead. When the captain who brought the news opened the door to leave the throne room there was a flash of steel followed with the rolling of the said captain’s head along the floor. Before anyone could react a sack overflowing with Orcish teeth slammed into the centre of the room. When the elector count lifted his gaze, standing at the door was Drago covered with gore from head to toe with a grim grin on his face. From that day forth no soldier ever fled from an army led by von Krolok.
The Reigns of von Kroloks
True to his word Herman kept his promise and when Drago pacified Sudenmark he gave him the title of baron and Sudenmark as his possession. From that day forward the problem known as Sudenmark would be in the hands of the von Krolok and his descendants. With the same skill with which he conquered his realm Drago administered it and within a few years he was able to meet up with counts taxing quotas. To repopulate the desolate land he went to Border Princes offering serfs of those lands to become free peasants on his land. That provoked some of the petty princes to take up arms against Drago but they were quickly defeated and soon after Dragos departure their realms would be ravaged by packs of ravenous wolves and bloodthirsty bats. In the nearby mountains baron’s scouts found seams of silver which he used to build a mighty castle high on the slopes of the Black Mountains. As the region lacked conditions to grow sufficient amounts of crops baron directed his people in creating various secondary products which he traded with neighbouring realms for food. It wasn’t long before Sudenmark was exporting more than it was importing and baron’s coffers were overflowing gold.
After more than five decades of rule Drago was apparently succeeded by his son Ruthgar though none ever saw his wife. The new baron was every bit as competent as his predecessor. When the Empire was gripped with War of Succession, Ruthgar, against the counts of Sudenland wish to remain neutral, marched to war at the side of the new Emperor Wilhelm II. This action created a strong bond between the von Kroloks and Holswig-Schliesteins for decades to come. As a reward for supporting him Emperor granted Ruthgar the title of count and made him one of the honorary masters of the Reiksguard. When years later a band of beastmen descended from the Grey Mountains and devastated parts of Wissenland and Sudenland it was Ruthgar that stopped them, in the process annexing two bordering domains whose owners and population have been slain. His four decade long reign was considered as one the finest in the entire history of the southern Empire. Some years following his disappearance from the political scene there was a call to proclaim him as one of the saints of Sigmar.
Next von Krolok to take the throne of Sudenmark was Rafael. His reign wasn't as spectacular as of his predecessors as he primarily concerned himself with internal matters of Sudenmark. During his forty five year long rule numerous settlements were built and flourished. Sudenmark became the third most powerful fief of Sudenland and many outside the province believed that the rising star of the von Kroloks would soon eclipse all other noble families of Sudenland and that it would not be long into the future when they would ascent to the rank of Elector counts. That didn’t go unnoticed by von Mecklenburg counts. It has also been years since the Elector counts in Pfeildorf began to fear the von Kroloks for their power and close relations with the ruling family of the Empire. The stories of people disappearing in the night only later to be found drained of blood, giant wolves prowling the woods and strange lights in the night sky, coming out of Sudenmark did help with impression that von Mecklenburgs had of the von Kroloks. No one knows why but close to the end of Rafael reign last of the von Mecklenburg counts, Johann abdicated in favour of his cousin Grand Baroness Etelka Toppenheimer. Some whispered that it had something to do with the mysterious disappearance of Johann’s youngest daughter Maria.
After some months that no one saw Rafael, Vurdlak von Krolok appeared as the new count of Sudenmark. Shortly after his accession civil war griped the Empire and once more von Kroloks supported the Emperor, this it was Karl Franz. Several Sudenland nobles accused Vurdlak of harbouring a vampire within his borders and asked that he should surrender Sudenmark under the control of the Knights of Morr and the Church of Sigmar until the situation was solved. Vurdlak went directly with his case to the Emperor saying the jealous nobles are try to use this period of instability to undermine him and also politely reminded the Emperor that weaker von Kroloks mean weaker imperial influence in the very south of the Empire. Karl Franz had no reason not to trust the old ally of his house and granted Vurdlak full imperial authority in dealing with the said nobles. With outmost prejudice Vurdlak marched upon his opponents and slew all that stood against him cutting the noses of those slain in battle and the right hand of those captured before he let them go. In these persecutions he was joined by Baron Olaf Sektliebe, Toppenheimer’s heir and adopted son. Olaf was not a very bright man and when the Grand Baroness found out that he swore allegiance to Vurdlak she decide like her cousin before to abandon the province but ensure that it does not fall into the hand of the von Kroloks. In the year 2515 she surrendered her electoral status and in spite Vurdlak’s and Olaf’s strong campaign that the von Krolok count be elevated to the status of the elector the province was reunited with Wissenland. The gossip on the imperial court of that time was that Emperor chose Grand Countess Emmanuelle von Liebewitz of Nuln over his loyal vassal because he fancied her as his potential spouse. Three days after reunification between Sudenland and Wissenland Olaf was found dead. The most interesting part was that the priest of Morr concluded that he had been dead for months.
Rise of the Vampire Count
The relations between the Emperor and the von Kroloks froze over night. They went so far as to refuse the new countess as their liege lord and banned her tax collectors from entering Sudenmark. Very quickly the region was shunned by outsiders and the people of Sudenmark turned inwards. Stories of vampires and other undead creatures inhabiting the domains of von Kroloks began to reach Nuln and Altdorf. The Countess was uninterested while the Emperor though it was another ploy by the counts enemies. The situation worsened as people began to disappear beyond the borders of Sudenmark, packs of giant wolves slaughtered travellers on the road and flights of oversized bats attacked flocks of sheep. Worried by the stories and with recent similar rumours coming from Sylvania, Grand Teogonist Volkmar sent a group of priest of Sigmar to open a chapel dedicated to their god in Sudenmark, which hadn’t had a sigmarite priest for over six decades. Only one returned with a grisly story that the cursed creatures that once threatened the Empire now ruled in Sudenmark.
Even that was not enough to convince Karl Franz that von Kroloks were vampires and when word reached him that an Orcish army was marching upon Blackfire pass he decided to call Vurdlak so that he may prove his loyalty. Because the count didn’t show the battle was nearly lost and many brave men died including the Elector count of Averland. For the Emperor that was the last straw, not only that count Vurdlak refused to pay the taxes but he refused to fight for the emperor and that was equal to open rebellion. The very next they Karl Franz issued an Imperial Proclamation, in which count Vurdlak von Krolok and all of his kin are considered enemies of the state and are to be captured and brought before the Emperor to be trailed for sedition, in addition all their titles, lands and rights are revoked and Sudenmark is given under the jurisdiction of the Church of Sigmar until the rumours of undead checked and it will the Grand Teogonist that will appoint the new Marshal of the Mark whose duty will be to bring the rebellious von Kroloks to justice.
A considerable army was gathered from throughout Wissenland and Averland along with great many flagellants. To add to the might of the force Knights of Morr as well as the Reiksguard sent a strong contingent each. Altogether twenty six thousand men, that marched into Sudenmark. What transpired there can only be guessed for none of them returned. On the fourteenth day since they crossed the border men that were left behind woke to gruesome sight. All along the bank of the river that made the border stood a forest of stakes each having a head of an imperial soldier on top. Between this terrifying “trees” a road passed and upon that road stood the army of Sudenmark, dead and the living standing shoulder to shoulder flying the colours of the von Kroloks. At the head of the army stood a warrior clad in full plate armour drenched in blood with a purple cape flowing behind him in the light breeze. With a booming voice that sounded like thunder he addressed the frightened soldiers.
“I am Count Drago von Krolok, lord of Sudenmark. By my mercy alone you now breathe for there is a purpose you must serve. Go to your weakling Teogonist, and his pet Emperor, and tell him this land belongs to me a none other. Trespass on it again and I will consider it an act of war and will march upon your lands and cast them into ruin. No be gone from my sight before I change my mind!”
He didn’t have to repeat it twice as men began running as far and as hard as they could considered only in saving their skins. Though the thought of an undead monster ruling over Imperial land was considered unacceptable, pressed by the matter of a potential large scale war on the Isle of Albion, Karl Franz decided that von Krolok currently didn’t present a serious threat to the Empire and that he would be dealt accordingly at a later date. The war of Albion and the subsequent chaos invasion threw the problem of Sudenmark out of the focus. Also a far more dangerous threat resurfaced during the chaos invasion in the form of Mannfred, vampire count of Sylvania. Also a rumour reached the imperial court that Mannfred sent an envoy to Drago in order to secure his assistance and loyalty, but the envoy was returned to Mannfred with his canines torn out and placed where his eyes once were with a message carved onto his back “I do not deal with traitors and murderers”.
As years go on Sudenmark has been left largely alone, forgotten by the world around. Its people live as they have always lived and know that the Count watches over them and for his protection he deserves an occasional sacrifice on their part. From time to time a marauding band of greenskins or beastmen may penetrate the border but they are always dealt quickly and mercilessly. The Count knows that the day of reckoning with the Empire will come sooner or later and each night he sends his winged spies to see if the enemy is arriving, but also he keeps his gaze firmly fixed to the north and the lands of Sylvania for Mannfred is a vain individual and it will not be long before Drago would have his chance at vengeance.