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Dusk has been falling steadily, and the western sun has been obscured by the shoulders of the red mountains of Dorne that rise to the west. The marching army has come to a halt for a night, tents raised and perimeters formed, encompassing a narrow, cold stream of water from which men will spend much of the night refilling the army’s water supply. Dornishmen have been known to raid these watering sources at night, and for this, the king has dispatched many men to guard those who carry out the task.
And that king stands, surveying it, a few knights and lords in attendance. The matter at hand had been some issue with the order of march, since the latest change the king commanded. Ser Dalton’s question leads the the Young Dragon to remark, “Commanding twenty thousand men is not greatly different from having a kennel of hounds, my lord of Florent; they’ll snap at one another on occasion. But for all that, I think matters go well. Our chief concern is the water supply.”
Dalton says, “How much longer do you estimate till we’re off this cursed Boneway, your highness?”“
“Not a moon’s turn,” says Daeron, with a flash of a grin. “But more than a fortnight, Ser Dalton.” One of the attendants, a captain of outriders, nods his head at that and murmurs his agreement. The Young Dragon—a beautiful young man, with his Targaryen silver-gold hair and purple eyes—turns to the others present for a moment and then asks, “Why do you ask, ser? Some pressing engagement?” There’s a few chuckles among the knights and lords, and the king smiles.
Dalton says, “Nothing too imminent. I merely begin to grow weary of this war. Too many friends and relatives have died here. Not least my good-brother Ser Jon Tarbeck.”
Dalton laughs ruefully. “My sister Elissa still has not remarried. But enough of the concerns of home. There is no way this war will end while Rhodry Martell or Wild Wil Gargalen draws breath.
There’s a rustle at those words. Looks are exchanged. And the king? His smile fades. “Many good men have died,” he says after a pause, his eyes weighing the Florent before him. All around, the army sprawls in their camps, and as the sky darkens campfires are being lit to dot the pass called the Boneway. “But they died well, in a just cause.” Dalton’s interjection wins another look from the king, but what tension there was eases a little.
“Martell? The mad prince is still in Sunspear, kept on a short leash by his brother,” says King Daeron. “But the rest, Gargalen and Santagar and Dalt, they’re not like to give up. And Manwoody, him most of all.”
Dalton says, “Indeed. And The Seven know I am more comfortable on the battlefield than in a tourney.”“
Daeron chuckles, and the tension’s all gone; this is more comfortable territory. “All the better for us, is it not?” the king asks, and others note their agreement with the sentiment. “Battle’s what the gods have made knights for,” one man piously states, and Daeron gives him a wry look.
“Well said, ser,” the king replies. “Make sure there are septons about, the next time you say it, however. Or my dear brother.” Another laugh, as these noble, anointed knights aren’t quite so pious as the stories would tell, and the king not least among them.
Dalton says, “What ever happened to those sell swords? The Bright Banners was it?” Dalton spits the ground. “I know the town we left them in fell. Have they returned to our banner, or have they dispersed like the curs they are?”“
“I’d like to see those scum try to rejoin us,” says Daeron, and though he smiles as he says it, those lilac eyes flash with a moment’s anger. “Smallwood’s gone to seven hells, but there are his officers to see punished—fled back across the narrow sea, or dead, I expect. I’d thank these rebels, the Sand Dog and the Red Spear, if they were not my enemies.” And again, others murmur agreement. After a pause, one man ask’s about the next day’s march—a difficult stretch.
“We shall need good outriders, of course,” replies Daeron to that. “And a strong force of light horse on hand, as Crakehall suggested. I suspect Manwoody will try to bring us to a halt, and he may do so if we’re not careful.” He looks to Dalton then, a companion of the Iron Serpent in past battles. “Ser Dagur’s outriders are ready, are they not, Ser Dalton?”
Dalton says, “But of course, my king. While I’ve never been fond of horse, I did him the service of confirming their preparations.” Dalton smiles. “If Manwoody tries anything, we’ll be ready for him and send him to a long-anticipated grave.”“
The royal eyes rest on Florent for a moment, and then Daeron says, “I shall hold you to it, ser.” The tone is equivocal—it might be a figure of speech, no more, but it may well be an honest statement. Which, from a king, has the weight of law. Behind the king, glances are exchanged, and one or two of the knights seem a little too pleased. And then the king asks, “You’ll be riding with one of the outrider companies, Ser Dalton?”
“Ser Dagur had not yet determined where he thought it best to situate me within his portion of the order of march. If my king deems it best for me to lead an outrider company, I shall lead an outrider company.” Dalton forces a small smile and bows. “Although I can’t guarantee that Lord Manwoody will feel it befits his age to welcome us personally.”
Daeron chuckles at that. “The old villain prefers to command from the rear, they say. The aged must have their allowances,” the Young Dragon says, who’s always led from the front—even at the tender age of 14, when he set out to conqueor Dorne and succeeded. His gaze sweeps the growing camp, the campfires now numbering in the hundreds, and stretching away into the northern distance. This is one of the broadest and flatest parts of the Boneway, well suited to encampments; some of the earlier ones were precariously perched, or strung out over a league thanks to the narrowing of the pass.
“Well,” he says, “we could use men close to hand as well. Particularly upon our left. Our last report from the outriders were of some signs of rebels in that area ahead. If there’s to be an attack on our march, it’s like enough from that side.”
“I think that may suit me better, Your Grace. My bow may not cover me with glory, but it will kill a Dornish criminal as effectively as any lance, and my sword I can use just as well from the ground as from a horse.” Dalton smiles “Besides, the Dornish cowards have never been fond of closing to battle. When Dagur and I came off the boats this time, they made that very clear. I can shoot a Dornish man as he rides away without leaving a gap in our lines. I can’t ride him down without exposing my men.”
“But if you want me to ride to Sunspear backwards whistling, I’ll do my best.” Dalton cracks a grin “Although I hope you won’t ask me to.”
“Aye,” Daeron responds. “That’ll be best. We’ll have the Braavosi flanking the march. Their crossbows have already proved useful, in fending the rebels off. With luck, they’ll do so again.” The king shifts his weight from one foot to another, and his fair brow furrows in brief thought before he says, “In fact, Ser Dalton, mayhaps I’ll have a company of these Braavosi under you. With some Marcher bowmen, of course. And I suppose they’ll need a sergeant of their own, who can speak our tongue and communicate your commands… Unless you’ve Valyrian enough?”
“I’m afraid not, my king. If that is your will, then I should take my leave to inform the bowmen and restring my own bow.” Dalton covers a small yawn. “I don’t suppose any of the lords here know whom my cousin Lory is squiring for? I haven’t talked to him in a wile, and I am curious how his training is going.” Dalton smiles “I confess I’m a little concerned about him. He’s almost as old as Ser Dagur and still hasn’t earned his spurs. Well, I’m sure he’ll get his chance in the days to come.
The king gives a glance to the men, and there’s shakes of heads and noises that sound helpful but aren’t. The king shrugs. “Twenty thousand men, and a mayhaps a thousand squires, or two. You’ll have to ask elsewhere, ser.” The sky darkens further—night has fallen. The king turns to everyone and says, “My thanks for your company, my lords. We shall ride before first light tomorrow, so have your banners and levies informed.” And with that—and a final nod to Dalton—the king takes his leave. Two of the Kingsguard knights shadow him, and a pair of liveried attendants besides. The rest of the company is left to disperse, or stand and talk quietly with one another about the details of the king’s discussion with them all.
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