- "Good'? I spit on 'good'! I desire only power, and you watch, for I shall have it!"
- —The dreaded Red Duke.
The Red Duke, also known as the Scourge of Aquitaine, the Northern Sword and El Syf by the Arabyans, was a former Bretonnian Duke of Aquitaine during his mortal life, who was later transformed into a mighty Blood Knight.
A mighty warrior and peerless swordsman, the Duke of Aquitaine was a renowned hero of Bretonnia, famed across the land as the slayer of the Dragon, Nerluc. His skills were such that he made it a practice that any man of any station, noble or peasant, might cross swords with him at any hour. If they could but scratch him, a purse of gold would belong to the challenger. Many came to test the Duke, but the purse of gold was never claimed.
However, the Duke was not just a mighty warrior, but an honourable and selfless leader of men. He would often set out on perilous quests, coming to the aid of lands and Dukedoms that were not his own. He had campaigned alongside Duke Chararic against the Orcs that had raided his lands along the River Grismerie, and joined Duke Arnulf to hunt down the great Dragon Gundovald. He had even spent an entire month within the Lyonen court of Duke Ballomer, lending them his wisdom.
- "He gazed out across the band of warriors, knights from royal Couronne and fey-haunted Quenelles, from the mountain reaches of Montfort and the wind-swept coast of Lyonesse, from the dark forests of Artois and the verdant plains of his own Aquitaine. Foreign knights from every corner of the Empire looked upon the Bretonnian duke with the same expectant, longing expression as the men of his own land. Even the dusky Tilean mercenaries, sell-sword adventurers who joined the crusade not to free Estalia and Araby from a wicked tyrant but from the promise of plunder; even these honourless soldiers looked to the duke for hope and guidance."
- —El Syf, the Northern Sword.
By the year 1419 IC, the Duke had become known as El Syf ash-Shml, for the Arabyans had named him in the crude dialect of their nomadic tribes, the “Northern Sword”, often shorted simply to “El Syf”, the sword. It was a title he had earned through a year of bloody fighting to liberate the kingdoms of Estalia from the Sultan Jaffar. It was a name the Arabyans had come to whisper in terror after the Bretonnian armies came to the deserts of Araby to take the Crusade into the Sultan’s own lands.
Fighting alongside his King in the scorching deserts of Araby, the Duke gained further renown as the Hero of the Siege of Lashiek, and proved instrumental in the destruction of Jaffar's heathen empire. Alas, while returning from this great victory, the Duke was assailed by a horde of Arabyan assassins. They were led by a traitorous knight, one of several who hoped to usurp his dukedom.
El Syf made for a grim sight in his final moments, surrounded as he was by the barren sand dunes the raiders had chosen to hide their ambush. He was encased in full battledress, every inch of him sheathed in steel armour, which had been made bare after an Arabyan’s blade slashed his surcoat. The platemail was rendered in the finest Bretonnian fashion, each piece of armour richly engraved, the edges gilded. Indeed, El Syf had always maintained that death should be grandly appointed when it came for a man, and he ensured that those who fell in battle against him would know their slayer was no simple Yeoman or Knight of the Realm.
Alas, though he slew each and every Arabyan who stood before him, the Duke fell to a poison-laced wound. But he did not truly perish, for a lone figure had been watching the Duke's desperate battle, and was greatly impressed by the Bretonnian's skill and valour. Revealing himself as Abhorash, ancestor of the Blood Dragons, he granted the dying knight the Blood Kiss...
- "The warrior spirit inside you will fight to survive, even if your mind begs for death. Even for one who has lived since the days of Alcadizaar and Lahmizzash, I have seldom seen a warrior with a greater affinity for the sword. You were destined to ascend from the frailty of mortal flesh and become something greater. To become the get of Abhorash..."
- —Abhorash, upon granting the Duke of Aquitaine the Blood Kiss.
Falling mortally ill, El Syf was taken back to his realm by his loyal knights, there to die in bed after three nights. Mourning the loss of their beloved Duke, the people buried him in a tomb fit for a king. However, this was not the end for the Northern Sword. Three nights later, the door of the tomb opened and out stepped the Duke - reborn as a dread vampire. Transformed completely in both mind and body, the monster immediately set about attacking and killing those he had protected, starting with those who had betrayed him and usurped his Dukedom, drawing to him Knights from all across his realm who sought to emulate his warcraft as he raised deathless legions with his newfound powers.[1a]
As the reputation of the fell warrior spread, King Louis, his brother, immediately raised an army to stop him. In a great battle at Ceren Field, the Red Duke encountered his younger sibling. Seeing the King fighting alone against enemies on all sides, the Vampire commanded his minions to cease their efforts against Louis, parting into a clear path between him and his prey. The Duke announced to Louis that he had betrayed him, that he could not be content as King, but had to become Duke of Aquitaine as well. With that, the final chapter of what would become known as the Battle of Ceren Field began. The Red Duke charged the Grail Knight, borne atop a spectral steed of bone and witch-fire, its corruption swathed in a black caparison, and lowered his lance, a barbed thorn of steel soaked in the blood of Bretonnian knights.[1a]
The Scourge of Aquitaine was one of the mightiest Blood Knights since Abhorash himself, but even he could not stand against the Lady's wrath. Blinded by the holy light surrounding Louis, his heart was pierced by blessed lance, skewering his body and lifting him from his saddle. The Duke looked down from atop the lance towards his brother, his skin blackened and withered and blood filled his eyes as he let out a final, horrific moan.
With the Undead army destroyed and their leader defeated, Bretonnia rejoiced in its victory. However, the grief-stricken Louis refused to believe that his brother could rise again, and did not want to destroy his body out of respect for the man he had once been. Despite the pleas of the priestesses of the Lady and even his own Lords, the King’s will was law. The body of the Red Duke was not consigned to the flames, as had first been ordered, but was instead borne from the field of battle. A great tower of marble was erected upon the hill overlooking Ceren Field and into this pillar the vampire’s body was placed. A bronze statue depicting the Duke of Aquitaine at the height of his heroic glory was set atop the pillar and rich engravings chronicled the life of the noble warrior before he had descended into darkness. A Prophetess, Isabeau, had warned against honouring a thing that had turned to evil and visited such wickedness upon the land, but her words fell upon unheeding ears. The King’s grief was great; only by paying tribute to his dead enemy could he ease the burden of his heart.
The Prophetess did prevail upon the King to allow her to place enchantments upon the monument, spells that would protect the tomb and hold it inviolate against all manner of evil. Her spells would safeguard the tomb from the ravages of wind and rain, but they would also protect the land from that which lay within the tomb. In the darkness of the first night after the tomb was magically sealed, something stirred within the marble pillar. Something engorged by the darkest of magic. Something that ripped the broken lance from its heart. Something that sneered at the foolish compassion that had prevented King Louis from destroying its body. The King would suffer for his mistake. All Bretonnia would suffer...
Then the vampire attempted to leave his tomb. An unseen power drove him back. He found it impossible to even approach the walls of his crypt, repulsed by the enchantments that saturated the marble column. The Red Duke could only turn within the small interior of his prison and curse at the walls that confined him, the walls he couldn’t even touch. Alone in the eternal darkness of his own tomb, the Red Duke passed the long years, tormented by the bloodlust that consumed his corrupt body. Hour by hour, his ravenous hunger swelled, torturing him with pangs of longing he was powerless to satisfy. Vainly he cast his thoughts upon the past, trying to forget his hunger by reflecting upon his deeds, losing himself in moments heroic and infamous with equal abandon...
Almost five centuries later, on a fateful night, a cabal of witches and corrupt nobles wished to evoke the warrior-spirit of the Red Duke, hoping to channel his martial prowess into a chosen vassal for their own dark purposes. They broke the seals surrounding the tomb and unintentionally released the Red Duke back into the world once more. However, his time entombed without any blood to nourish him had driven the already viciously eccentric vampire completely insane.[1a]
In his madness the Red Duke fought a bizarre campaign, recreating the war that led to his defeat at Ceren Field and the crusade in Araby. Though King Louis had long since passed away the Red Duke ignored the words of his saner associates and led his forces across the land. The mad Vampire slaughtered his enemies, even if he did not recognise them for who they were, but imagined them as opponents from ages past, both at home and abroad.
The Red Duke led his army once again to Ceren Field, to defile the tomb of the Grail Knight, Galand, who had become legendary during the Duke's imprisonment. Here he battled against the incumbent Duke of Aquitaine, Gilon, who he saw as the usurper of his dukedom.[1a]
Though he killed the ageing noble in a fierce duel, the Red Duke was badly injured in turn. When he finally entered the Grail Knight's tomb, the Duke was confronted with the maddening truth of his legacy. Not only was Gilon one of his descendants, but Galand was his own son. This drove the Vampire Lord screaming from the battlefield, leaving his army in ruins.[1a]
Riding into the wilderness, the Red Duke was pursued by many brave knights, but never discovered. Many different tales are still told of his whereabouts, stories that he continues to haunt the Forest of Châlons, lurking hidden in the shadows, awaiting his chance for revenge against the people of Aquitaine...[1a]
The End Times
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Rumours of the Duke's continued existence persisted, but the last confirmed sighting was towards the closing days of the End Times. When Duke Jerrod, leader of the Bretonnian contingent at the Council of Incarnates was exposed to the truth of the Lady of the Lake, he was determined to take his troops and march back into Bretonnia to see out the end of the world there. The vampire count Vlad von Carstein told Jerrod that a small group of warriors, led by Gilles le Breton and an immortal warrior implied to be Abhorash, still fought in Bretonnia. He summoned the Red Duke to act as a guide and escort Jerrod's knights to an ancient abbey, where the forces of Bretonnia were making their last stand...
Wargear and Abilities
The Red Duke was one of the mightiest Blood Knights in existence, one of Abhorash's own brood. The only other Blood Knight to have come closer to destroying Bretonnia was Duke Merovech himself.
- The "Blade of Leaping Gold" was a sword taken from an Emir of Araby the Red Duke had defeated in single combat. It carried a powerful enchantment that allowed it to attack with the power of three furious strikes instead of one.
- The "Armour of Blood" was a crimson suit of jagged, strong armour imbued with mystical properties.
- "El Morzillo" was the loyal steed that carried the Duke into battle during the Arabyan Crusades, having been gifted to him by the King of Magritta. The Estalian warhorse had died in Araby, his bones left bleaching in the desert sun. However, it would eventually be conjured from the shadow world beyond death to serve the vampiric Red Duke. It was a grisly nightmare of its former self, bone and sinew, balefire burning in the depths of its skull, smoke flaring from its jaws.
- 1 Warhammer: The Knights of the Grail (Fantasy Roleplay)
- 1a p. 47
- 2 The Red Duke (Novel) by C. L. Werner
- 3: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Night's Dark Masters
- 3a: pg. 10
- 4: Warhammer: The End Times Collection
- 5: Total War: Warhammer