The sun’s like a hammer, the Boneway an anvil, and the king’s army like the pigiron between. It’s a crushing weight, that blazing sun, even if some claim that the maesters were sure to have sent the white raven marking the turn of a season. The army trudges along, from before dawn and on through much of the day. When a small party of horsemen race up towards the head of the army, where King Daeron and some of his captains ride, it’s a notable event. Some look back the way it came, and mutter, “Bloody Dornishmen,” as they speculate on what could cause a message be hurried to the king.
“Your grace,” Ser Reynard Caron says, attention turned in that direction. “Someone approaches, and at speed.”
Dalton rides up at close on a full gallop. “Your Grace, just as you expected, the Dornish hit our left flank on the march. They hit us harder than expected. The Braavosi got one volley off, but were forced to retreat due to their longer reloading time. The Marchers got two shots off before the Dornish could close.” Dalton stops to take a longer breath.
Approaching the King’s party as Ser Dalton makes his report, the Stormbreaker looms over all, sitting tall in the tall saddle of his massive destrier. He rises like the shadow of a tidal wave over the Boneway amongst the company of these slighter men.
“You changed shots with them? Fool!” the Baratheon knight bellows, “Charge them when the fire. They cannot throw more than a few of those pointy sticks at you before you skewer them.”
Sarmion shakes his head, but says no more, wrenching back on the reins of his mount to keep the spirited warhorse in line.
“We drew our swords and engaged. Hardly had we drawn when they turned back to a distance and launched a volley of their own. We gave chase, and they fled. We cut down several of the stragglers before our horses began to tire. Given the dryness of the climate, I gave the order for us to turn back, so as not to be caught with parched horses away from the main line.”
Ser Sorin of Sevenstreams kicks his warhorse along at a plodding pace, in the hot sun the creature is short-tempered and uncooperative. Unfortunately, he had to make due with a substitution for his own warhorse which was more seasoned to the hot Dornish weather since there was not enough space left on the King’s ships. His ears perk up with interest at the report of Dornish attacks on the left flank. He is riding as part of a forward advance of mounted knights and men-at-arms to the front left of the marching columns and he will be one of the first to enter combat should the outriders be overcome. He performs a cursory check of his equipment, hefting his heavy hammer in the loop at his belt and loosening his sword slightly in its scabbard.
“With all due respect, Sarmion, we killed more of them in the initial interchange than in close combat.” Dalton rides up to the Stormbreaker, with more than a bit of disdain in his voice. “They know the land better, and their horses are better suited to the terrain. They’d like nothing more than for us to pursue them, riding our horses to death. Thirsty horses increase the chances that we will be defeated by the land. If you want to pursue them, right into an ambush, be my guest.”
The Stormbreaker’s rage is something to see, and there are men who flinch back from it. Not the king, however. “You should let our captains finish their reports, Stormbreaker, before chastizing,” Daeron says with a certain mildness. The purple eyes are dark beneath the fair brows. He considers Florent and his men and then says, “You did as I asked, Ser Dalton. But leave the charge to some troop of horsemen, the next time this happens. Were none attached to you?” He makes a noise in his throat, an unhappy sound, and starts to turn to a maester who’s been acting as his scribe when he spots the nearby troop of horse.
“You, ser!” the king calls to Ser Sorin. “Come here.”
With a hint of chagrin, Ser Dalton answers, “There were indeed horsemen attached. The Dornish struck when I was rotating who was mounted. During the last campaign, I instituted a rotation in which only half the horsemen are mounted at any one time so as to preserve the horses. It seems that the Dornish had been watching and took advantage of the weakness during the switch. The fault is mine.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, boy!” Sarmion snaps, scowling, “I have fought in these marches since before you learned what your cock was used for!”
He falls silent at the King’s retort, bowing his head in answer to the reproach, “My King, you may remind this knight to keep greater store of water for his mounts, should he wish to pursue these maggots in these hills with the mounts they’ve bred to live on the carrion the live in.”
Lowering his head, the Stormbreaker shakes his head, adding, “Forgive me, my King. I am… disappointed in this news!” The massive destrier he sits upon wheels about before being wrenched back into place by the heavy hand of the Baratheon knight.
Half listening to the conversation between the King and his Captains, Ser Sorin continues kicking his mount along and carefully watching the terrain ahead. Hearing his title mentioned, the hedge knight glances over and is surprised to see the King addressing him in his commanding tone. Quickly, he kicks his horse to a gallop and reins in beside the King’s troop. Snapping a sharp salute he says, “At your command, My King,” and quietly awaits his orders.
Slightly amused, Dalton retorts “So Ser Sarmion, you have been fighting in the lands guarded by the Defenders of the Marches, the Tyrells?” Dalton shakes his head in a reproving manner “And you were fighting down here back when the king was nine and I got married? I was unaware that we were at war with Dorne at that time. I’m sure Lord Garvys wold have mentioned if he invited the Baratheons to join him in his Warding of the South. Or were the Carons unable to handle their portion of the Marches alone?”
“As are we all, Ser Sarmion,” Daeron says, turning his attention back to the giant knight. “But if we raged at every attack, we’d be dead of apoplexy before we marched a day more. These Dornish bites at us like gnats. We must swat them when we can, and ignore them otherwise.” Shifting his weight in the saddle, his magnificent destrier looking less than enthusiastic beneath this sun, he considers Florent’s continuing report. “No great fault, ser. What else could one do, without more men? We shall have to remedy this.”
“Ser ... Sorin is it?” the king asks the man. “I’ll have you take a small company of outriders—a dozen, no more—back to the eastern flank of the march when Ser Dalton returns. Have you any reservations to this?” But Dalton speaks after that, and suddenly his attention returns to the heir to Brightwater.
“I’m surprised you can even remember to breath,” the Stormbreaker says with a dismissive glance at the Florent knight. Hearing Daeron’s words, the massive knight laughs, “Not me, my King! Choler suits me! Or so my wife has said!”
He laughs the more at his own jest.
And then there’s a combined sigh of relief.
The king says, sternly, “You know well that Ser Sarmion has fought against Dornish raiders in the Marches since before I was born, my lord of Florent.” He shakes his head, now scowling, perhaps now wondering at giving this knight a command ... but the maester leans over, and whispers something in his ear. His expression softens a trifle. “Mayhaps the sun has left you a little addled, ser; a weakness of the flesh that affects many on this march.”
“Your Grace, I could certainly make use of the outriders and Ser Sorin.”
The hedge knight keeps quiet while the high-ranking Captains exchange words. When the King addresses him, he tries to suppress a grin. “Yes My King, Ser Sorin of Sevenstreams… No reservations My King, it would be my honor. I shall assemble a small company and return at once.” He snaps a sharp salute against his aventailed helmet and also turns to salute Ser Dalton before easily wheeling his mount to gather a small mounted company.
Dalton offers a small half-hearted smile “I have been know to have difficulty with the Dornish sun in the past.”
Raising a brow at the King’s word, Sarmion shakes his head. Leveling his deep blue eyes on the Florent knight, the giant knight offers, “Double your water ration, ser. Whatever mules or pack horses you have bearing water are not enough if you fear your mounts dying after a short charge. Make sure whomever commands your baggage train knows how to choose good barrels.”
Squinting against the bright sun, the Stormbreaker adds, “Thirst is a greater danger here than hunger… And you need your mounts.”
Scowling as he lowers his gaze to the South, he offers, “Theirs are better than ours, the Stranger damn them to the worst of Hells.”
Though the company is still uneasy, and the king remains stern, he nods his head sharply. “Very well, Ser Dalton, Ser Sorin.” He waits in silence, for the hedge knight to return with his troop. “Ser Sorin shall lead you to join Ser Dalton’s archers. Follow his plan of march—half should be afoot, and half ahorse at all times. When there’s a change, you’ll all mount and ride further east. Any lurking Dornish are like to flee if they think you’ve exposed them. It shall give Florent’s own men-at-arms time to change mounts.”
Once that’s done—and Sarmion’s offered his advice—he turns a look between the giant, famed Baratheon knight and the Florent heir. His lips thin into an expression of distaste, but he says aloud, “Since the sun’s to blame, an apology could be given with honor, could it not?” He looks at Dalton with a certain expectation.
Dalton says, “Certainly, Your Grace. My lord of Baraethon, forgive me my harsh words. I fear the sun and the youth of the Warden of the South have caused me to be over-sensitive to the duties of the Reach with respect to the Marches.”
Glancing at Daeron suddenly, the Stormbreaker declares, “No apology is needed, my King!”
He waves a heavy hand at the Florent knight and adds, “He is a young knight and has survived his first sortie! If he has learned from it, he will live another year or more!”
Shaking his head as the Florent knight speaks, the massive Baratheon knight answers, “We’ve all lost men. Men die through their own smallness or through some small mistake of ours. The only apology you can make is to those men you keep from death.”
Returning quickly with a small company of several hedge knights and mostly mounted men-at-arms, Ser Sorin reins in beside the King’s escort again, offering another sharp salute. He listens carefully as the King explains the standing orders to his small company. When the King finishes, he snaps another sharp salute to the King, “It will be done My King.” Motioning to his small company, he grins at the men and kicks his mount, “Let’s go give those sand snakes something to worry about.” The company follows Sorin off at a trot to conserve their mounts’ energy.
“Train your men well,” Sarmion says, leveling his dark blue eyes on Dalton, “And give them what they need to fight and live.”
He raises a hand to the south where Dorne awaits, “They will keep you alive in turn.”
With a small smile, “My first sortie of this campaign, Ser Sarmion, not my first sortie in Dorne. My over-cautiousness derives from the men I lost while serving under Lord Garvys.” Dalton casts a cautious glance at his king. “But the sun and this war make us all forget history. Let us focus on the present.
“Hear, hear!” says Daeron at Baratheon’s words. “Well said, ser. I shall have to remember that…” No doubt for a second volume to his _Conquest of Dorne_. It’s no coincidence that the maester, hearing those words, hurriedly dips quill into the inkpot at his belt and starts scribbling on the back of the parchment he’s holding. And with that, he sees that the hedge knight has the men the king commanded. “Go with them, Ser Dalton, and take your place in the flank. Have what squires you have make sure your horses are well-watered, as Ser Sarmion suggests, and some trustworthy followers make sure of your supply. And do as I said—change horses only when the outriders are flushing out any nearby Dornishmen.”
Dalton gives the small half-bow of a man on horseback. “I shall do as you recommend, Your Grace. Ser Sarmion, I thank you for your advice. No matter how old we get, we can always learn more.” And with that, Dalton wheels his horse and rides back down the line.
“Garvys is dead,” Sarmion says dismissively, “And later than many thought he would survive.”
Raising his hand to ward off the Florent’s words, the Baratheon says, “Do not mistake the Boneway for the Prince’s Pass. They were aptly named.” Hearing the King’s praise, the Stormbreaker bows his head and offers, “Thank you, my King!”
Bowing his head at the departing Florent knight, the massive knight says, “Ride well.” To the King he adds, “A fool he may be, but I hope the Stranger sees some use for him yet.”