Keep Mistrash is a fortified
castle, positioned low on the western slopes of the
Mithral Mountains in the
Santharian province of
Manthria. It is the seat of the Markgravens of the Mithral Marches and
houses nearly one hundred people in the winter months. The Keep itself is an
imposing ten stories high at its tallest tower, and from a distance looks as if
it is carved out of the rock of the mountain.
Image description. Mistrash Keep in early summer, flying the red
and black pennant which indicates that the Graven is out on a tour of his or
her soldiers' postings. Image from the game
Empire™, used with friendly permission.
Drawn by Quellion.
Keep is reached by a winding mountain road which leads up from what was once a
major thoroughfare to the Mithral Coast. Ten stories tall at its highest point
and an imposing four at its lowest, the keep looms above the road, solemnly
imposing. Its foundations are carved from the living rock of the mountain
itself, giving the impression of dwarven
workmanship. In fact, as can be seen as one climbs closer to the walls, the
rest of the Keep is worked in blocks of a mid-grey basalt rock. Four tall,
sturdy walls topped with bluish slate tiles support four towers at each corner
and surround the inner courtyard. A fifth tower, the part of the Keep which
reaches ten stories, is attached to the northern wall of the fort and is called
the watchtower. A portcullis gate guards the short tunnel under the thick walls
to the inner gates, which normally stand open.
The inner courtyard of the Keep is usually tidy and welcoming - at least, as
welcoming as high stone walls with windows built to be defended rather than to
let in light can be. The eastern and southern internal walls, those which are
straight ahead from the gates and to the right, are plain like this. Built into
the western wall, behind one who enters, can be found the stables and craft
rooms. The main entrance into the Keep is a tall, arched, plainly carved stone
doorway holding dark red double doors above a broad but low set of stairs, in
the north side of the yard, to the left. The watchtower looms above the
northern wall, inspecting all who pass below it.
Entering the Keep, the walls are stone blocks hung with traditional
Santharian furnishings: the crest of the Mistrash
line and various important scenes woven in to insulating wall-hangings. The
rooms and halls are illuminated with gnome-designed
smokeless torches, at least in the most frequented areas. Back corridors and
private apartments are often heated and illumined with
fire, whether in a torch, brazier, or
fireplace. The effect is one of austere but not uncomfortable modesty. Only in
the servant’s quarters and stables is this air
dispelled; the homely touches of the people and the paraphernalia of industry
in both areas turn them into perhaps the most truly welcoming parts of the
Outside the walls, the foothills of the
slope up and away in green folds toward those towering peaks. The land
immediately around the Keep has been planted in formal gardens in some places,
or kept clear in lushly grassed meadows for riding. Deciduous trees have been
arranged in attractive groves in some areas where many a noble of the Keep has
walked. The terrain becomes suddenly steep in many places, but it is fertile
and covered in grasses and trees – pines on the higher slopes, but many
deciduous trees grow below the level of the castle.
Also below the Keep can be found a small collection of houses. Too few to be a
village, these homely, well-constructed but small huts are home to the families
of servants or soldiers, who are not directly involved in serving the castle.
The fields around are farmed by these people for fruit, vegetables and small
herds of stock. A portion goes to the Keep as tithes – a courtesy which is
repaid plentifully when winters are harsh.
Keep Mistrash was originally built as a base from which new settlements in what
was then the Avennorian kingdom
could be overseen and protected. In the current times it is the seat of the
Mistrashes: the Gravens of the Mithral March fief, under the auspices of the
Duke or Duchess of Marcogg. The Mistrash family
themselves live there for most of the year, except when visiting other nobles
in their estates, attending the court of a higher ranked noble, or touring the
bases of the soldiery around the fief. Court is held relatively seldom – just
once a month when the Graven is in residence. This is counterbalanced by the
fact that it is not usually difficult, with this family, for private audiences
with the Graven to be obtained.
The Keep is the base for law and order in the Marches, administering guard
stations around the fief. The most important of these are on either side of
Crazy Woman Pass, in the foothills of the
mountains themselves. It is to here that bandit attacks in the Pass are
reported; it is the Mistrashes’ soldiery who are responsible for capturing the
brigands and delivering them to the judgment of the Graven of Mistrash Keep.
The Mistrash family also historically has a good relationship with the
dwarven clan of the
entertaining Gornegrons (clan chieftains), Gorkavons (subleader), members of
the Trutharoons (dwarven council) and other
dignitaries with a regularity flattering to the Mistrashes.
Location. Keep Mistrash
sits low on the western slopes of the
by the terminus of a dead end road. It is the seat of the Markgravens of the
Mithral Marches fief in the Duchy of Marcogg, in
Santharian province of Manthria.
The Keep is quite isolated; it takes three days to drive a full supply wagon
from Kachran, the nearest village, due to the uphill nature of the road. The
trip can be done in a long two days in the reverse direction. To reach Chrondra
takes four days if a ferry is taken from Myrth, although it is much longer if a
traveller must cross the river at Grensa Post’s dual bridges.
Marcogg is twelve days away for all but fast
couriers, who can, when necessary, make the trip from the capital of the
province in three days.
People. The Markgravens
of Mistrash Keep have tended to be quiet, solemn people. They are usually strong
in constitution and heavyset in build, their bulk tending to muscle rather than
excess flesh. Occasionally, but more regularly than with other noble families,
children of this house will be born sickly and either die at infancy, or, more
rarely but still notably commonly, live sickly but only somewhat shorter lives.
The family has ruled the small amount of fertile land in the Mithral Marches and
patrolled the passes since the fief was first granted to their ancestor, Hebard,
who took the name Mistrash. The Markgravens also oversee the lesser nobility of
their fief, who in turn rule the common people. The family these days tend to
extremes in their health, being either strong or sickly, but are usually
uniformly quiet people. As devotees of
Armeros they are fair and rule peacefully and easily, although this was not
always the case in history. The Mistrash dynasty have long revered the
God of War and Justice, and although
different members of the family have at times had different patrons among the
Avaria, this tradition has been kept up by the family as a whole. The servants
and people who live outside the walls tend to revere His softer sisters,
A staff of approximately forty people maintains the Keep. A large phalanx of
soldiers bring the number of inhabitants in the castle to nearly one hundred,
although most of these are usually stationed elsewhere in the jurisdiction of
the Gravens, except at the coldest time of the year. Visiting nobles or
dignitaries, including Thergerim from the
Mitharim clan, often swell this
number. The families who live below the castle tend to be friendlier than many
small isolated villages. They can afford to be with the physical and financial
protection of the Mistrashes at their backs.
Coat of Arms/Sign.
The Mistrash coat of arms is a
barsa-dusk silver shield with two whenstone mountains in the background. The
left mountain is shorter and rounded, while the right one is taller and pointed.
These represent Grey Hood and Cloudtop Peak, the mountains which stand to either
side of the Keep. In the foreground is a
toran eagle with ruby-red eyes, its
head turned to the left, wings wide. This device symbolises protection and the
soldierly background of the family.
Climate. From the
middle of Molten Ice to the end
of Awakening Earth a soft misty
rain is the prevalent weather, accompanied by the threat of avalanche as
winter’s white cloak has green holes poked in it by the damp thaw.
Changing Winds brings
sunny days, still cool at this altitude,
although more pleasantly so. Singing
Bird brings true warmth to the days, and by
Burning Heavens the nights are
warm enough to sleep outside, as long as one is not drenched by one of the
spectacular thunderstorms which rattle the bare peaks at this time of year.
Autumn is clear and warm, although the nights begin to cool and snow quickly
returns to Grey Hood and Cloudtop. In
Frozen Rivers the passes close
due to vicious storms of snow, and most of the soldiers return home at least for
a short time during this month, sheltering in the strong walls of the Keep from
the bitter cold snow and drizzling rain the winter season brings.
Flora. Pines are the
tree most identified with the
and they are found in abundance, particularly above the level of the Keep. In
these higher areas, carpets of needles keep down much of the undergrowth and in
the warmer months these are truly pleasant places to wander through. At the
level of the Keep and below, deciduous trees - eur'oak,
meldarapple and others - mix in
with the pines and in the areas which are not cultivated, many small shrubs and
grasses provide a mixed and colourful carpet, from which the Keep’s cooks can
source mushrooms, berries, nuts and seeds which all grow wild within range of
Fauna. Goats and
sheep are kept by the families who live
below the Keep, but also run wild in the areas around. The wild ones, however,
usually stay far away from human habitation.
The occasional baneg is also kept by
staff or those below the walls, along with fowl of many varieties.
Deer and wild pig are favourite game for
hunters at the castle, and native tarep,
while less of a challenge, are often sought after for the cook’s pot.
kuatu and wolves are some of the other more common beasts to be found near
The majestic toran eagle, emblem of
the Mistrash family, is often seen among the peaks or diving silently to catch a
small furry meal from the lands near the castle. Ravens and crows also flock
near the castle, particularly around the waste piles in the rocky area behind
are limited to sustenance drawn from the surrounding area. Flora and fauna
supply the Keep with some fresh food, although much of their sustenance comes
from tithings from vassals. This ensures a greater variety of food than would
otherwise be possible in such an isolated position. A spring-fed well supplies
the Keep with fresh water.
Myth/Lore. A strange
but persistent rumour is told by people who live in the Duchy of
Marcogg – particularly in the village of Kachran –
about Keep Mistrash. Whispers say that the Keep was built long before its
history says it was, and at that time the evil family who built it kept
Thergerim slaves, who were compelled to help
design and build the Keep. When it was finished, so the story says, the proud
dwarves escaped and killed the original
masters, cursing the Keep for all time. In support of this story, people point
out the “curse” which takes the health or life of so many of the Mistrash family
and the quiet, solemn feel of the castle which can be unnerving to those raised
in bustling Marcogg and its environs, or minds which
expect to experience something indicative of the truth of these stories. No
proof of these rumours exists; in fact there is plentiful evidence to the
contrary but the rumours endure, making them worthwhile recording here.
In part because of these rumours, but mostly due to the location of the Keep –
its inclement weather and distance from major roads and cities – it has been
suggested by many people, most notably various Dukes and Duchesses of
Marcogg, that the seat of the Markgravens be moved to
somewhere more hospitable: to a warmer altitude with better access. The
Mistrashes have always successfully opposed this, however. The Keep has
historical significance and it is not greatly affected by its isolation,
although many a bride or groom from another family who has had to move there has
To alleviate the problems of climate and isolation, and the ensuing morale
issues, the Gravens hold a celebration every year at the winter solstice which
has, over time, come to be called "Markmas". When the soldiers return from their
posts for the winter the weather is generally uniformly horrible. They are
usually content for the first few weeks, but by the time they’ve been there a
month the excited flush of being home is over and they become irritable from a
combination of the climate, the enclosed spaces and the lack of activity. The
Gravens decided many years ago to hold a week-long celebratory festival in
honour of Armeros and their soldiers at
that time of the year, in order to give the inhabitants of the castle something
The soldiers are mobilised as a workforce to decorate the castle. Evergreen
trees and berries are brought in from the slopes to relieve the greyness of the
walls and different sections of soldiers compete to decorate the trees with the
most beautiful brightly coloured ornaments, manufactured in slow times over the
preceding year or saved from years before. Most ornaments are in the red and
gold of the God of War and Justice whom
the festival celebrates. While the soldiers are kept busy decorating the halls,
the servants compete to catch and prepare the best food for the feast on the
final day of the week-long celebrations.
19th Turning Star
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