An Oncomming Storm
House Cowden of Stagscrown
As the Arrow Flies
Lands, Industries and Holdings:
The land ruled from Stagscrown by house Cowden is, and has always been, large but largely unsettled, covering much of the craggy hill-country which forms the northern slope of the Cocklesvale and cuts it off from the greater Reach. In modern times the houses’ holdings stretches from the southern foothills of the Wythern highland in the north all the way south to Meadow’s Pond near Merden, covering roughly the uppermost reaches of the river Rush and surrounding highlands. The vast swath of this land, especially the areas to the north and west, is a hilly country dominated by many rolling hillocks, small streams at the bottom of smaller valleys and rising rocky outcrops, making for poor soil and a hard living for the impoverished smallfolk which inhabits it. The area is for this reason sparsely populated, home to few but the odd family of herders who grasses sheep and goats across the highlands. Indeed, Maester Eldwyn who served house Cowden in the days of king Aegon V estimated that no more than six communities could be found in this windblown highland. It is however said that in ancient times the First Men populated these hills after the Andals drove them from the valley below and a few scattered ruins of their holdfasts can still be seen atop windblown ridges. Further south and east however the high hills fall down into the lowlands of the Rush valley, itself a branch of the greater Cocklesvale, were the soil is rich and the pleasant Reacher climate provides fertile ground for small farming communities. The river Rush, but a side branch of the river Cockleswent, is fairly unremarkable, being far too shallow for anything larger than a raft and can easily be forded the whole stretch north of the little pond called Wenden. The region surrounding it, called Rushen by the local population, is dotted with small yet verdant farming communities along the river’s banks, interspaced by small clusters of woodland and the occasional offshoot of hills. It is the northern part of this valley which is in truth the heartland of house Cowden’s domain, though their reach previously stretched further south, with the hamlet of Merden as its natural centre.
The Wythern Highlands
It is also this area which forms the core of house Cowden’s economic base, limited though it might be, and the villages of the upper Rush provide all the bounty that can be expected from well cultivated land, both crops and vegetables as well as animal products. The later is also produced in the Wythern highlands though the surplus is not nearly sufficient to be of any note. While the land around Merden is not nearly as bountiful as the rich soil along the Cockleswent proper the surrounding slopes provide ideal conditions for wine cultivation and Merden has, since the time of the good King Viserys I, been renown for its richly spiced wine and excellent grapes. Though naturally not comparable with producers such as the Arbor, “Merden spiced” is still widely enjoyed across the breath of Westeros, with a taste distinctly different from the commonly sweeter Reacher wines. The slopes surrounding Meadow’s Pond is thus covered with grape-stands, and homesteads both large and small producing their own grapes which are then sold to the two wineries situated near Merden. Wines aside Merden has few commodities and consequently house Cowden has for generations put a great emphasis on protecting both the wine industry and the trade it brings.
The hamlet of Merden itself is the only holding of note within the domain of house Cowden, though it truth it is barely even worthy of being called a village. It is made up of a huddle of simple houses, none beyond two storeys, centred on a cramped muddy square before a small, unremarkable sept. It lies a league upriver from the little lake known as Maedow’s Pond, along the shallow Rush, on a small hill at the centre of its narrow valley. The slopes of the hill aside the hamlet has no defences to speak of, though its secluded nature has for the most part seen it safe from the fires of war. Merden is governed by three local elders together with an appointed Bailiff and a Septon, though their responsibilities in truth extends to the entirety of the upper Rushreach. The majority of Merden’s population, in total less than a hundred souls within the settlement itself, is engaged in the local wine production. House Cowden also holds nominal stewardship over two stretches of road, the Rush Road running along the river and the Acklam road running north from near Cockleton. These were originally cobbled, though has in the past hundred years fallen into disuse and ill-repair, several stretches now barely more than tracks of beaten clay and mud.
Defence, Laws and Military:
Stagscrown approached from the west.
House Cowden rules their land from the tower Stagscrown which sits alone atop the long, windblow Acklam ridge in the north-western part of their domain. It is small and in no way particularly impressive, for Stagscrown was once but a simple watchtower guarding the northern part of the Cockleswent valley against bandits and the first men of the mountains. Though it has been expanded several times since house Cowden came to rule it the structure remains simple, a main tower with a small circular bailey surrounded by a high wall. Several bartizan’s project from the main structure, some forming part of rooms while others being used for storage or protective purposes. The little settlement of Acklam, which huddles up to the wall on the tower’s east side is the only settlement of note in the area, and exclusively inhabited by servants of the Cowden family, making Stagscrown’s location amongst the poorest of all fortified households in the Cocklesreach. It’s location has however afforded Stagscrown with some natural defences, mainly the steep slopes of the ridge which is straddles and a rocky cliff-face to the north which cannot be accessed. This, together with its out of the way location, has seen the tower endure through the many wars of the Cockleswent valley still intact, though with little influence and less power.
Ruling a large domain of mainly uninhabited highland and windswept hillocks the domains of house Cowden has oft been plagued by bandits and other miscreants. They were drawn there by the difficult terrain, hiding from the powerful lords in the south and raiding the rich roads towards Market Town and Bywater. Though the Lords Cowden has, with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm, been tasked with hunting down these criminal elements since the house’s founding none were as successful as the late Lord Erich Cowden. Under his lordship the “Stag’s Yeomen” were drafted from amongst local huntsmen and youths and supervised by the houses Magister given patrol routes throughout the Wythern. They have proven efficient at hunting down bandits, robbers and more common criminals alike, providing Lord Cowden with a tool to enforce his law and keep his domain safe. During the recent wars these “Yeomen” were also tasked with warning the Lord Cowden of any advances on his territory, delaying enemy forces as best they could until defences were prepared. These men, together with the small garrison of Stagscrown, makes up the entire compliment of men sworn to house Cowden, though when needed the smallfolk of Merden can also be formed into an irregular militia.
Standing and Influence:
House Cowden is a minor house, even within the Cockleswent region, in truth little more than landed knights though lords by name. Their prosperity and standing has, throughout their history, largely depended upon their close relationship with house Bywater, whom they have long served as trusted vassals. This has never garnered them much fame nor note, though in the heydays of house Bywater they could always expect a place at the high table. At present however house Cowden finds themselves a minor house of little to no note within the Cocklesvale, their long-time allies severely diminished and with no outside connections worth noting. To make matters worse young Lord Gwayne Cowden yet lacks the age and gravitas to earn the respect of the other lords, something that has made the Cowden’s position even more precarious in the years since the War of the Usurper.
This perceived weakness, coupled with the Cowden’s meagre military forces, has seen their quarrelsome southern and western neighbours gradually encroach upon their land. In particular house Goldleaf has proven aggressive and relentless, with several instances of violent clashes, though still brief in nature.
House Cowden does not stand entirely alone however, for they still nurture a close relationship with house Bywater of Waterdeep where the lord’s younger brother Steffon Cowden serves as a squire. House Morr too can be expected to support the young Lord Gwayne as the current Lady of Stagscrown, the lord’s mother, Myriah Cowden is the daughter of Lord Andron Morr. The young lordship is also known to be popular with his people, poor though they may be, and the lands of house Cowden are fairly productive, largely peaceful and free from the many miscreants of old.
Leon of Cowden, as painted after he gained his lordship.
House Cowden is a fairly young house by the standards of the Reach, were lineage and legacy runs as deep and twisted as the roots of a mighty oak-tree. Raised to nobility from simple smallfolk stock by a mild king a stigma of common blood has always clung to the Cowdens, despite their illustrious founder. Leon of Cowden, whose year of birth remains unknown though likely around 2 AC, was a man of the common folk hailing from the southern Reach who had come to the Cocklesvale in search for a better life. He found employ in the service of house Bywater as a Master of Hunt, for it is said he was skilled with the boar-spear and good with animals of all kinds. He served the young Lord Vermillion Bywater, and the stories tell that Leon of Cowden was respected in the household as both Vermillion and his brother Aurion loved well the hunt. During Leon also married, and raised three strong sons to inherit his position, had not the Seven willed it otherwise.
It happened that King Aenys, the First of his Name, was travelling his troubled and in parts rebellious realm in the wake of his father’s death in 38 AC, hoping to gather support for his crown and prevent further dissent. During this tour he stopped for a fortnight in the Cocklesvale, guest his loyal vassals at Bywater and at the same time urging them to send men southwards to hunt the so called “Vulture King”. As hospitality dictated the men set off on a grand hunt in the Stag’s Moor north of Bywater, accompanied by the king’s many knights and companions. The hunt, led by Leon of Cowden, proved highly successful, though would have ended badly had it not been for the Master of the Hunt. The King, perhaps unused to riding a simple horse as his steed, lost control of his mount and fell just as his party came to face a mighty stag. And Aenys, the First of his Name, would likely have been gored to death had not Leon and his youngest son Steffon stepped in the way and speared the charging animal. Leon’s left leg broke that day, and never recovered, but for his bravery and dedication the King named him lord and his son Steffon was knighted by ser Aurion Bywater. The Bywaters also granted their loyal servant lands in the northern part of their realm, centred on the little settlement of Acklam.
Leon Cowden, now Lord of Cowden, settled at Acklam ridge with his family and with time the little watchtower upon it was rebuilt in stone and Lord Leon renamed his new home “Stagscrown Tower” in memory of how he won his lordship. For his sigil he chose the stag who had won him his name, and an arrow for each of his three sons to remind them of their humble past, green on silvered white. Leon lived out his days in peace, succeeded by his eldest son Sam, while the youngest brother was taken as squire by ser Brynden Bywater. The young Steffon proved an excellent warrior and soon won renown as a skilled knight after he was knighted in age twenty. After serving the Bywaters and the bloody King Maegor during the first four years of the Faith Rebellion ser Steffon struck out on his own and ended up in the embattled town of Fawnton by the Blue Byrn. For the next year he led the smallfolk and some hedge knights there in the defence of the town, defeating both the bloodthirsty henchmen of the cruel king and the zealots of the Warrior’s Sons. When Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen, at the time raising his forces at Storm’s End, heard of these feats he called the young knight to him and offered him a place amongst his sworn knights, something with ser Steffon is said to have accepted at once. When Maegor died less than three months later the new king raised ser Steffon Cowden to his kingsguard, were he would continue to serve for twenty-two years. No other member of house Cowden have ever attained such an honoured position since.
In the years since the reign of King Jaehaerys few events of note disturbed the relative isolation and, for the most part, peace of the Cowden’s domain. Various lords struggled against the many bandits hiding in the Wythern, when called they rode south to aid their liege and on occasion their scions made a name for themselves in the Cockleswent valley. Remembered still is ser Hamfred Cowden who served house Ashford as castellan for near on fifty years and three lords, “Brave” Benjen Cowden who lead the Griffons during the “Conquest of Dorne” from which he never returned, and the infamous brigand Steffon “Stagson” Flower who near ruled Meril. The original line of Cowdens lasted by two generations after Lord Sam Cowden and after four sons died by blight and one by the sword “Lucky” Landam Cowden, a poor hedge knight with but an old stot to his name, became lord, much to the disgust of his neighbours.
The Blackfyre Rebellion proved as disastrous to house Cowden as to the rest of the Cockleswent region, with smallfolk put to the sword and the Cowden forced to flee into the Wythern to avoid capture by Lord Rushen’s men. During the “Long Siege” of Waterdeep and Queensburry all Cowden land from Wenden to Ingrow’s Fields was sacked so thoroughly hardly a grape remained, damage it took decades to rebuild. As Lord Cowden received nothing but control over the Rush Road after the eventual peace it proved a hallow victory indeed. Things did improve however, despite Merden being completely depopulated during the Great Spring Sickness, and during the rule of the late Lord Leon Cowden, fourth to bear that name, the house prospered briefly alongside their allied in Bywater. Lord Leon was a skilled knight and an able administrator who brought peace to his domain, hunted down the bandits who plagued the Wythern, negotiated a reduced toll on wine with the late Lord Goldleaf and secured a good marriage alliance with house Morr of the Lower Cocklesvale. It was thus a great blow to the family when he died in 282, in the early days of Roberts Rebellion. After the Bywater host marched to Ashford hostilities erupted with the new Lord Goldleaf, whose father died two years before, after he sent men to raid up the Rush Road. The circumstances of Lord Leon’s death remains a mystery, but the men with him on that day claims he died of a sudden illness. Darker tongues however whisper that he was in fact poisoned, possibly by a man paid in golden leafs. Little else came of these hostilities, as the Bywaters returned to restore order, yet tension still shimmers high between the young Lord Gwayne Cowden and the “Mad” Lord Goldleaf. After the Loyalists defeat the Cowdens were treated lightly and house Bywater was forced to renounce its nominal overlordship over their lands, a fact that has left them more vulnerable however.
This tension long resulted in little more than the occasional border clash, but after a confusing set of events at Market Town were Lord Goldleaf’s two bastard brothers were taken captive he declared a feud and sent his men north towards Merden. The invading Goldleaves were only beaten back by the timely arrival of the Griffons of Bywater, led by Braedon Bywater, whose massed charge decided the Battle of Rushside. The young Lord Cowden seems to have been encouraged by this, and it might be only a matter of time before the forces of Stagscrown marches south towards Rushock Hall.
Notable Household and Relatives:
Lord Gwayne Cowden, age 16, Lord of the House
Lady-Mother Myriah Cowden (Morr), age 34, Mother to the Lord
Steffon Cowden, age 15, Squire to Maelys Bywater at Waterdeep
Ser Edmure Cowden, age 72, Castellan of Stagscrown and grand-uncle to Lord Cowden. Though once a passable knight he is now a very old man who rarely leaves his chair, much less the tower he protects.
Ser Herryn Vales, age 34, Master of Arms at Stagscrown and the Lord’s Guardsman. Having originally served Lord Leon, Herryn stayed when other of their sworn knights left house Cowden and now serves as both tutor, bodyguard and advisor to the young Lord Gwayne.
Magister Colmar Horner, age 38, Magister of house Cowden and leader of the “Stag’s Yeomen”. Originally hired by Lord Leon to lead his Yeomen in their law-enforcement Magister Colmar still serve house Cowden, making sure their laws are upheld and advising the lord in matters of law.
The relationship between house Cowden and house Bywater is warm and close, though one more like the relationship between a vassal and his lord rather than between equals. With Lord Cowden’s younger brother in Bywater service the Cowdens can be considered one of house Bywater’s most steadfast allies.
Beyond house Bywater however house Cowden has few friends, though tied by blood to house Morr of the Lower Cocklesvale. There is also shimmering tension between house Cowden and house Goldleaf, and an uneasy settlement between house Cowden and house Logane to the west.