DISCLAIMER: Sebastian LaCroix appears in Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines PC game, and is the property of Troika. (But don't tell him that.) I do not make any monetary profit off this work.
Author's Note: This fic is a side-project dedicated to developing Prince LaCroix's personal history, with a focus on his life pre-Embrace and eventual transition into Kindred existence. I've wanted to do this for a while… principally because Troika was a tease for landing one of the best vampire villains – ever? Hm. ever – in our lap, but giving few details about him. This first chapter will start out a bit slow and short as I lay the foundations, but things should speed up relatively quickly.
While For Honour is not dependent upon any of my other Bloodlines works, it is designed to peacefully coexist with Sebastian's characterization in Byzantine Black (to the tune of several references). Judging from the events I have planned, it will likely graduate into the 'M' category eventually, so you may want to flag it if you don't like messing with your rating filters.
On Canon: While I will try to remain true to what little canon information we have on LaCroix, I will be expanding a great deal. You may notice an alternate spelling of his name, but this is not meant to override the canonical spelling – it's merely part of the back-story I'm creating.
Also: I'll try to write this so one doesn't need an extensive knowledge of the French Revolutionary Wars to get the gist. But if I goofed historical factoids, I'd really appreciate your corrections (any Belgian/Austrian military history buffs out there?). LaCroix does not tolerate inaccuracies.
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
- Eugene Field
Little Boy Blue
Sébastien de LaCroix was born into a poor, pitiful house.
It is the fragile first week of May that he moves from womb to world, a bloody step into a sparse existence. Dogwood trees are flowering along the Pas de Calais, and the wakes from the riverboats melt late rime away to spring silt. Seawater washes pebbles clean, black stones cast on cold sand; smoke puffs through bread oven chimneys, plumes rising against a sky of the palest blue. Westward winds smell of grain, bream fin, paper from the mills; there are sounds of morning bells, hooves upon cobble, rippling beach grass, merchants who bicker in English – all underscored by the percussion of a harbor surf. Bleached cliffs stand along this narrow straight. It is the promise of warmer months.
The year is 1779. A storm burbles across the Atlantic, and its whitecaps run French shores red with a new world's discontent.
These are times where a name means everything.
Sébastien Aldéric de LaCroix: Latin, of venerable Sebaste; old power, Germanic; of The Cross.
The de LaCroix family of south Calais traces promising origins – forgotten, flaunting roots – that belie their trade. In truth, there is nothing so special that hides within crumbling records or crests that have never genuinely existed. They are a modest remnant of bygone eras, an artisan clan with a name that tastes of noblesse but means nothing beyond some long-forgotten grandsire's cottage on an abbey hill. Étienne de LaCroix paints toiles from a small workshop east of the lace district, a man with machinery hands; flinty Nathalie mixes dyes and keeps a modest vegetable garden. They are not wealthy. They sup on shellfish and barley broth and plum tomatoes. They sit on creaking furniture around tables speckled with candle wax. They are above very little; and so when tragedy arrives, punitive and blind to the middle-class, it does not dally at their doorstep.
When there are taxes, business lurches slow and uncertain. When there is banditry, their windfalls are lost. When there is fever, most of their children die. In the thick of a measles outbreak one cloudless summer night, their mother does. She leaves behind two sons chasing stray carriages in Bordeaux; one daughter married away to some carpenter in Lyon; and a small blond boy – eyes blue, coat sleeves torn – sharpening spears from aspen sticks on the narrow cape of La Manche.
LaCroix. There are mortal times when a name means nothing; there are futures where a title becomes the key to immortal life.
His story will join a hundred other magnates, a thousand vanquishers: modest beginnings ground men who are fated to rise. Excellence shall have its time to peak and whistle in maturity. For now, no signs of greatness glister in that long and directionless train of youthhood. Perhaps that is unsurprising, even for him. It was not a complicated existence, this one – rocky, unfortunate, but cut from plain patterns. The boy did not mind. When church bells rang at evening time, young Sébastien would walk home from the clamorous, cerulean shore with wood chips stuck in his breeches; he would watch skiffs cross to pristine Dover, kill green crabs with the javelins he made. He played at marbles with colored rocks; occasionally, the lad caught fish in makeshift nets, and would carry carp strings home for Father's new wife to cook. It was a lonesome existence. That was all right. He was not terribly fond of what few other children darted about these city quarters with their gasping, impatient hands – his complexion wan, speech curt and demeanor strangely, dreadfully serious for a fragile age. One evening, Father brought him home a sable spaniel pup whose nursing bitch had been brained by a flour cart; Sébastien took the whimpering creature and taught it tricks, fed milk from saucer cups. An animal familiar seemed to suffice – he never complained, preferred solitary hikes to picking fistfights in gutter mud. This was only his way. Nathalie's lastborn was a standoffish but content child. You would find him pacing the pier on a fair-weather day, expression thoughtful and severe – the taciturn boy followed closely by the pretty blue dog. At such a tender period of life, he knew too little to imagine more.
Four Coalitions; monarchies toppled; an empire unrivaled. More is the hallmark of fearsome, learnéd kings.
In 1788, when Sébastien Aldéric is nine years old, a man with a belly full of ire, rum and a hatred for particles pitches a burning torch into Monsieur Étienne's atelier window. The building burns dry and brittle. A year of textile commissions is blistered into charcoal and all their cloth stores are rent down to fodder for the papermaker's press. Father is anxious they will not eat; Father's Wife, swollen with babe, is affright the next fire will eat their bedroom curtains, instead. The LaCroixs move from their city home to a cramped cottage on the creek outskirts, weave by hand, pawn what few fine things they own away. They grow thin with dim eyes. When the child is born – grey, shrunken, still sister with tiny hands and salved eyes – her mother falls ill. War murmurs in Versailles. Father grows thinner. And then, one ill-omened dusk, Étienne finds upon their doorstep a penknife stuck in the throat of his son's pretty blue dog; young Sébastien is sent to live with family in Mouscron.
Their highborn fallacies have caused more sorrow than enduring a pauper truth; when you lie, you sign a fleeting contract.
Tristan and Tante Lottie – he never calls them anything else – are kind because they have the comfort to be. Their concern, welcome and bourgeoisie tutelage fit the spirit of this northern land across the French rim. Flanders is ripe, thick-soil inland country where seeds take. It is open and verdant. It is proper. Pastorals, ranchland and thickets are a not unpleasant contrast from brine, crowded crossroads and rusted lobster cages. The sounds here are lowing steers and swifts nipping ants from juniper bark. The smells are faint, damper, and different. Dirt paths, stone belfries; he wades through tall weeds to find dew beading on his trousers and vests. There is no marina here. There are few distractions from whatever remains of a childhood that never sparked.
There is much, however, to learn. Uncle Tristan is Mother's brother – and though he cannot remember her beyond the aroma of parsley and bony hands – the surviving sibling must see some of their blood in this intensive fair-haired boy. The graying publican has a short temper, patchy goatee and a birch switch; but what he also wields is fairness and a musician's ear. Monsieur Jolis had studied under a conservatory prefect before losing two fingers to the gangrene; he and Tante now keep a boarding house within the wheat fields below mighty Château des Comtes. They are warm people; perhaps because they have no children of their own. Under rigorous guidance, he learns culture lessons: figures, etiquette, and where to place strokes along a wood violin. Tristan smacks lazy elbows when the child's form slackens and he praises the strict set of his nephew's chin. Knuckles grow sore from hours spent refining techniques; knees ache from maintaining perfect posture. But this is the blooding of fine patronage. Tristan will make a player out of him. Whether or not the lad is sure if he likes playing is a separate, trivial matter for both parties; he has the dedication and natural ability, and it is – all things considered – a decent profession for one of his limited social prospects. Sébastien performs at the drinking room for livres, thalers and groschen. New people – curious people, who speak in hushed voices of battle and trade – are often wandering through, appreciate a troubadour, and are adequate practice. He is always a bit too formulaic, young de LaCroix; a bit too aggressive in the way he would prop one trekker on a bench and lance. But the lad learns quickly in this constantly changing environment… more quickly than he grows. He is straight-faced, somber, quiet, unsettlingly intelligent. He is taller and whiplike in motion, military in his firm stance. Education is vital for any loose chord between the classes. Yet perhaps it is in these fire-lit tavern corners that his mind soaks the most of all.
Father will write upon occasion, his characters badly formed but pressed out with overpowering, arthritic care. "Leonore and I are well and fine," he writes. It is for the better you are not here," he writes. The shadow of a textile factory has fallen into disrepair and they have finally accepted the monotony their meager lineage entails. But this is, Étienne tells his cool, impatient, dauntingly bright son, as it must now be. Revolution swells the country. "Better that you are at your schooling. Twice better that you are away from all the fighting." Sébastien knows his sire is not wrong – and indeed, he is happy enough living in the wayside log-wall inn – but this stern-faced boy is a creature of doubt. Townsfolk say it is safe beneath the wing of the Hapsburgs. He remembers blood and dark fur slicking both hands and feels less sure. The border between France and these Low Countries is thin; the anger of a restless Third Estate is felt in Germany, Belgium, Prussia – to the tips of Austrian bayonets and poms of Hessian boots. And as the letters from home grow infrequent, hostel business weak, this mid-nation child begins to wonder. It is a snare drum at the distance. De LaCroix is a student of art and casual philosophy, not politics – yet he hears it rumble. If you are a student of history, you will know that conquest clings to the coattails of revolution.
In 1793, the soldiers come.
He is fourteen years of age when Francis II's first trumpeters arrive, turnbacks soaked with Netherland rain. Mouscron is shaken from its sleep to become a barricade camp for the hodgepodge army. Firepits, tassels, brass buttons and spit-shined leather shoes. Horses, rifles, wagons clattering with weaponry. No more are the lilting melodies or elegant baroque. Suddenly it is pomp, pomp, pomp! Clerfayt sends his militia to push the churning line down upon Commandant Pichegru at Lille. In the town, lieutenants slaughter swine, chase Belgian girls, quarter themselves into private buildings. The Jolis property is spacious and serves a medley of liquor, hot food, leisure. It must. In Tante Lottie's house, idle troops rattle their sabers at the word "republic," spill their ale; fingers snap, jeer, demand hospitality from expatriate Frenchmen. To refuse is to be thrown onto the street or worse. So hungry gunners shout for his Aunt's stew, scarf their pantries bare. Drunken officers gesture for her sharp, silent boy to strike up foreign marches played with staccato bow. They are disrespectful to Tristan and cruel to Sébastien. They barely notice doughy, harried Lottie at all.
Between three border-dwellers, it is the worst for this Calais-child, whose caste hangs below nobles and is decried by peasants resentful of richer men. Uncle knows how to act the mild subservient; Tante may stay out of sight with spices and lard paste gumming her nails. But the name LaCroix is a mark. The soldiers hear it, note his accent, think he is wicked sport. They grab his face, slap him – trip the waif, the refugee, the petit Français with his stony look and stiff back – over muskets to the shin. "Such a big name, such a small child," they say. "Play us your nursery rhymes, révolution child. Let us hear Frére Jacques! Let us hear Little Boy Blue! Do play strong; perhaps your brothers will fancy a lullaby while we gut them as the lowborn cows they are," they say. "Carnot is calling you. Why aren't you off dying in the Armée, mon Capitaine?" A grenadier once snatched him by the scruff of a short ponytail and threatened to snap Tristan's inherited violin as punishment for ignoring a request. He cannot argue. He must calm his shaking hands, realign the instrument, tuck metal against his throat and stroke. Fluid motions revert into curt, dangerous drives. The notes fall faster and faster until they begin to snap, pop, bang.
Gunpowder still chokes the air in Versailles.
The Last king's head rolls beneath one drop of steel.
There is no other option but to bear it. He hates in silence behind shut eyes. He hears blood roaring like waves against those pearl-white Dover bluffs of home instead of music. He sharpens bow against string, the boy whittling spear from tree bough, the man cutting merit from a titleless life, a little captain oiling his rifle clean. He bites his teeth together and plays.
There comes a time in every history when a name will matter beyond the rotting dead.
His is LaCroix. One day the fanfare will come.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Special shoutout to morgan145 for waiting a super long time for this and never losing faith. :)
The "Prince?": I got in one little fight and my mom got scared…