An Oncomming Storm
Preston Castle is one of the Seven Brothers of the Cockleswent, seven ancient castles dating from the time of the Andal invasion of the Reach, and as such its foundations can be traced back into prehistory. The location chosen for the so called “Little Brother”, a lonely rise on the great ridge which runs from the Blacktines across the Ryewood valley, a sidebranch of the Cocklesvale, was from early times one of great strategic importance. Upon its rock Preston castle controlled the passes west and south to the Dornish Marches, a contested area since the formation of the first kingdoms. Who actually raised the original castle is not entirely known but legends claims it was the youngest of the Seven Brothers of Cocklesvale legends, a certain Gawen commonly known as “the young”. He is thought to have founded the minor family Ryewood which ruled the castle for the first centuries after the Andal Invasion.
Preston Castle doesn’t figure prominently in Cockleswent history or lore until Dorne was united as a single kingdom, though certainly it must have been an important defensive position during the many wars between the Reach, the Stormlands and the petty kings of the Boneway. It changed hands several times in this period between various minor vassals under the Kingdom of the Reach, the last of which were the Nottons. This all changed when the newly united Kingdom of Dorne advanced north into the Marches, the fighting soon spilling over into the Cocklesvale. The last Lord Notton died with both his sons near the Prince’s Pass in an early skirmish, leaving the castle leaderless as the host of Lord Yornwood advanced through the Rye-River Pass. The Dornish advance was quick, and could perhaps have spilled into the Cocklesvale itself had it not been for the heroic ser Robyn Preston, hedge knight and castellan of the castle, or so the tales claim. The stories says that while the Cocklesvale lay defenceless, it’s armies fighting in the Marches, ser Robyn rallied the few men remaining at Castle Preston and held it against Lord Yornwood, resisting two storms and twenty-four days of gruelling siege. On the twenty-fifth day an army of the Reach, led by Wylham Dannet, returned from the Marchs and fell on the Dornish from behind, crushing them in what became known as Battle of the Little Brother. For his actions ser Robyn Preston was given the title of Lord and Defender of the Rye with Preston castle and nearby Notton as his fief.
The Preston family made it through the Wars of Conquest with their lands intact, indeed expanded, as Lord Robert Preston, Robyn’s grandson, bent knee before the Dragon and swore fealty to house Bywater. Lord Robert marched with Aeron Bywater on Queensburry and the lower Cocklesreach, winning a place as one of the most prominent retainers of the Bywater’s with his second son as the second captain of the Griffons. In the ensuing centuries Preston castle knew mostly peace save for the recurring Marcher Wars. It was however besieged no less than five times during the century long Preston-Dannett feud, fought over several more or less imagined slights and timber rights in the Cockleswood, but fell only once.
Castle Preston’s most famous victory to date however came during the Dornish incursion of 175 and 176AC. The folly of Aegon IV “The Unworthy” and the fleet sent against Dorne in 174AC sparked a series of minor wars and invasions along the Dornish Marches and in early 175AC a large Dornish host invaded the Cocklesvale. While Bywater burned, Queensburry stormed and castle Cocklesgrove taken down stone by stone Preston endured a near continuous siege lasting just shy of two full years. The initial storming attempts at the castle were repulsed with great losses to the attackers, Ser Terryn Preston slaying Mor Yornwood as he led the second storm, and the Dornish settled for a siege. It would likely have starved the castle into submission after seven-eight months however had it not been for several daring raids by led by Terryn Preston which secured the castle supplies towards the end of the first year and more importantly the actions of Helena Bywater. Helena Bywater, always an unruly girl, took up the bow and mantle of the Black Griff, against the will of her father, and together with a small band of loyal men managed to smuggle supplies to the hard pressed siege. The siege was finally broken by Helena’s father, the “Old Lord” Maelys Bywater, and every Dornish caught hung from the walls of Preston Castle. Helena and Terryn, hailed as heroes by all the Cocklesvale, later went on to marry, solidifying bonds between the two families.
It is perhaps ironic then that the last Preston of Preston Castle, Robert Preston, died at the walls of Storms End during the War of the Usurper. With only an infant son to inherit him the castle was passed to the newly raised Terrance Hargrove now named Lord Hargrove of Preston and Notton.
Preston Castle is easily seen from any approach, standing as it does rather alone at the back of a massive ridge which runs out from the Blacktines. Known in the Cockelsreach commonly as “Little Brother” it is far from the most impressive of the seven brothers but is still a mighty fortress, and after the recent wars the strongest fortification in the Cockelsvale except castle Stormspite. The castle rises at the western edge of the ridge on a natural cliff outcrop under which the Marcher road winds down its pass. This cliff, popularly called the Last Marcher’s Rock, forms a natural tower on the ridge with clear views across the narrowing Ryewood valley and the Griffon’s rise further south-east. Forming a rough square with a tower in every corner as well as an additional main tower facing north it is a formidable bastion, the walls tall and smooth, topped with an overhanging parapet. Especially the wall facing the ridge and chasm has been raised almost as high as the towers. The thick reinforced walls are proof against most light siege equipment and the hard rock upon the castle sits makes it resistant to sappers. The castles only entrance is through the gatehouse tower, called Gawen’s Gatehouse, the tallest and thickest of the castle, accessible across a solid drawbridge across an artificially created chasm separating the rock from the ridge. Gawen’s Gatehouse, in addition to the guard barrack, is used for guest accommodation on the upper levels with several grand rooms for prominent guests.
Once past the massive oak gate one enters into the central courtyard, a modest affair with several buildings for the various craftsmen and storages a castle requires. A deep well sits at its centre, though it is not supplied naturally and this is probably the castle’s greatest weakness. The Lord’s residence is in the Windward Tower whose main entrance faces the gatehouse with a pair of carved doors. The weathered carvings represent scenes from the Long Siege with the Father and Mother enthroned at the very top, watching it all. The Windward Tower holds both the residence and the great hall, the latter large enough for nearly a hundred people to gather inside, lined with banners and trophies.
The next tower, behind the Windward Tower, is Sevenshold in which the castle’s small sept is situated. It also has rooms furnished for guests, though far less grand than Gawen’s Gatehouse and mostly reserved for wandering knights or retainers of visiting lords. All the tower’s arrow slits have seven corners, being flat at the top. The tall Southman Watch, which lies in the south-eastern corner, rises an additional level above the main structure and act as the main lookout. It is mainly used for storage, barrack and guard post with a commanding views in all four directions. The final tower in the south-west is Harvesthold Tower, named after the true land of Arlan Selmy who spent seven years in exile there according to the legend. Harvesthold is mainly occupied by the servant’s quarters and kitchens. It has burned to the ground nine times in recorded history.
Locations of Note:
Great Hall: The lord’s great hall is big enough for a good hundred people crowded together, three solid long-tables in total, two on a line facing the Lord ’s table. The walls behind the high seat is hung with banners and the head of a great stag hangs above the lord’s chair.
The Seven: One of the seven trees of the brother’s grow on a little hill less than a stone throw for the castle. Throughout all the castle’s sieges and wars it has been left unmolested and, though by far the smallest of the trees, it still serve as the pride of the locals.