A hot day, as days tend to be during the Dornish summer, with the red wastes extending away beyond the river to either side. And waiting there in the heat is a host flying the colorful pennons of a Free Cities sellsword company: the Bright Banners. They stand athwart the track that leads west and south, and uphill, towards Vaith, and have deployed themselves in defensive fashion. With the steep river bank guarding their left flank, there are a motley crew of archers with short bows and Myrish and Braavosi crossbowmen behind a series of stakes that have been placed to thwart attack by horses. The right wing is all horse, on the other hand, a mixture of Free Cities lancers and the dregs and sweepings of the east: there’s even a pair of Dothraki, with their wicked curving arakhs in hand.
The center is the largest part, and all afoot: Jhogos Nhai spearmen, a few Norvoshi axe men, bravos, and even some men of Westeros with swords and polaxes and maces. And behind, on the rising incline, to give them a better view, a last troop, half heavy horse and half veteran foot. Beslon Smallwood, Beslon the Bad, sits a horse there, looking up the track for the approaching enemy. About him are officers of the Bright Banners, men tasked to lead the various battles, or the squadrons and companies of the reserve. All told, perhaps some 400 sellswords, much of the garrison of Vaith, have been gathered.
From the ranks of the mercenaries rides a tall thin man atop a striped zorse, the ornate horned helmet on his head marking him as one claiming Ghiscari descent. The face is adorned by a huge beak, which must be how this ex pit fighter came to his Name. Krazdan Bif Nose rides his zorse to the front, and asks Smallwood. “Any side of the Dornish?”
Sunlight glints on helm and spear, gilding Beslon the Bad’s motley company, lending it a respectability beyond what it actually possesses. And it is answered in the east where another company—a larger one and more well-appointed, flying the Martell sun and spear and two others beside it—approaches.
The Dornish have come, cavalry in front and to the flanks. The knights make a brave sight, in the chain or scale mail that they prefer, shortbows and javelins to hand to add to spear or longaxe. The infantry marches behind in good order, cloaked in plumes of dust. Then, there are commands shouted out in the van and yelled back along the length of the host; gradually, it grinds to a halt.
“Well, now,” says one of the handful of men who ride in front; his mail is burnished and the helm propped on his pommel in the shape of a snarling hound. He squints at the enemy arrayed ahead of them: “He is an awkward whoreson, Beslon is.”
Trellio is on foot, lithe and athletic the Bravoosi stands near the command staff, his infantry company arrayed out behind him. He gets a little smirk on his face as he looks over the Donish knights and their weapons horses and armor. A light blade is at his side, and he is likely the only one on the field that does not wear any visible armor, leather clothes his only defense.
Smallwood takes a bit of a peach that he has in his hand when Krazdan rides up, showing the insouciance that has made him infamous; he has bollocks of cast iron, some say, and heart much the same. He chews on it for a bit, looking at the horizon, and then ... “There they are,” he says, spotting the shine of sunlight off steel and copper, and the dust the little Dornish army raises as it crests some hill that makes them clear. He considers their approach in silence for a bit, looking rather bored.
“Krazdan, Trellio,” he says, naming two of the officers. “We’ll keep to our plan, I think. Either of you recognize any of the banners there?”
Message riders move along the Dornish flanks, some mounted and some running. One lithe boy does both: he rides to a particular point, then slides down from his sandsteed and presses the reins into another’s hands to slither into the company like an eel through rocks.
Blue-black hair flashes in the sun as he pulls his leather and copper helm off to address a commander still a horse, eyes shaded with his hand. A conversation happens there behind and to the side of the snapping banners of Dalt and Santagar and Martell. Then the boy salutes and moves into the foot where he is directed by a wave of the commander’s hand.
Two men ride out a little distance from the Dornish host to study the enemy and confer; the one with the hound helm and another with a spear propped upright on his stirrup. Quickly enough, they wheel around and ride back.
“Do we parley?” asks one of the knights awaiting them.
“Hells, no.” The Sand Dog—for who else could it be with that helm?—looks equal parts amused and surprised at the thought. “What would we do that for? I doubt very much Beslon Smallwood is going to turn around and slink off because we asked nicely. Might as well get right to the killing.”
And as simply as that, it begins. A pennant is raised and a large part of the infantry—the front ranks, all with bows—trot forward between the cavalry ranks, reforming as they emerge on the other side. Steadily, they begin advancing to within bowshot range.
“It’s the Sand Dog! That one ought to have been in a company.” Krazdan spits on the ground, his long spear held vertically, with a pennant blown by the wind from it. “They’re not that crazy as to attack us here, are they?” He spits again, laughing at people who would charge such a position.
Trellio snorts, “Looks like a bunch of desert rats in tin cans. If we just hold them here in the sun for a few hours, they should bake in the armor and we can have a roast.”
“Hmm,” says Smallwood, as the Dornishmen begin their advance. “It seems they don’t mean to wait. They must think two to one odds favor them, eh?” A flash of a wicked smile, and then its orders. “Trellio, make sure the center’s left stays put no matter what. Can’t let a gap form so they can have at our crossbows. And put some fire in the bastards, make every bolt count.”
He examines the left, secure beside the river and behind their stakes, with the block of mixed infantry to their right. And then to the other sellsword captain he says, “Big Nose, have our mounted archers trade arrows with theirs, but hold the horse until the moment’s ripe.”
Mordred Sand is caught there among the ranks of foot soldiers, behind the bow-wielders but near enough to the front to make the slender lad—clearly some Captain’s pet rather than a true soldier—raise the round buckler serving him as a shield and draw the long knife at his hip. For they WILL attack, these men of the desert who sup the sun like mother’s milk and are the sturdier for it.
Mordred stands with his buckler half-raised in anticipation of arrows, the Blackmont vulture and baby sigil new painted on its face, the colors backwards for a bastard but proudly bright all the same. Now and again he rises onto his toes in an attempt to see what passes ahead, at least until the man next to him cuffs him on the ear. “Do that again and I’ll spit you myself,” the man grumbles.
But attack they will, for they are the Dornish and they do not fight like northerners. The cavalry wheels and splits, streaming back along both flanks of the infantry. Dust hangs in a thick cloud over everything; when it settles, the order has changed. One group of knights and infantry, plainly the reserve, waits to the back commanded by the man with the spear; he rides under the Santagar banner.
But the majority of the cavalry is off to the left flank now, and riding forward at a steady trot, looping wide to stay out of bow shot range.
Meanwhile, the archers have continued to advance. Bolts begin to fall among them, a thin scattering at first, then a heavier rain. The first men fall and others follow. Thin screams ring out in the stifling heat. The infantry pick up their pace, at a run now. And then, they slam to a halt, order maintained, and nock arrows to bows. The first Dornish arrows rise into the sky.
It has begun.
Krazdan raises his spear in the air, making a gesture, and his mounted achers gallop forth, hailing a rain of arrows, only a few of which actually land among the Dornishmen, but which could be a warning. the rest of his horsement carry long spears, ready to charge down on the enemy. As the Dornish archers move forward, he grins, showing his missing teeth. “Want me to run those down?”
Free Cities crossbows can be slow—except for the hanful of repeating crossbows, curious inventions that they are—but the bolts they throw are heavy, and deadly for it, punching through scale and brigandine and mail. The sellsword archers are steady under fire, and the occasional scream or cut-off shout doesn’t phase them much. Their officers exhort them, aiming at their Dornish counterparts, the twang of the bowstrings letting bolt after bolt fly. The infantry hides behind their shields and armor, on the other hand.
To Krazdan’s question, Beslon ponders. He takes another bite of that peach, considering, eyes following the movements of the Dornishmen. “Hmm. No, not yet,” he tells the former pit fighter. “But refuse your line of horse, and keep an eye on that company looping wide. They mean to flank us, I expect. Might even try to find cover among that grove. Olive trees should burn better…” A sad shake of his head at that, as the skirmishing continues.
Trellio returns to his men, he gives uot orders and the infantry prepare to accept the charge. Pike men move to the front, with the lighter infantry supporting them, and the cross bows in the rear begin volleys toward the Dornish. The Bravossi moves to his prepared command post, the area around him cleared slightly, and runners moving to carry his orders.
No arrows reach the infantry waiting in reserve behind the archers, but many of these men flinch under their shields nonetheless. Those screams seem to affect Mordred Sand profoundly; the older man beside him laughs gruffly. “First time, eh? Takes us all this way. Stopper your ears if you don’t like it. Best not to, though. And rub some dirt on your face.” Without waiting for Mordred’s reaction, the man scoops up a handful of dust—for all the world as if arrows are not singing through the air just ahead of them—and scrubs Mordred’s face for him. “You look like a girl. Damned captains and their fucking catamites.”
The Mereneese sellsword laughs and makes another sign with his spear. This time his spearmen level his lances and charge screaming towards the archers, in a mass of spearpoints. But as they’re at fifty paces away, they suddenly swirl around and turn up the pass to keep the Dornish cavalry under scrutiny. Just a taste to see how the archers would hold up.
As the sellsword spearmen charge, orders are yelled out among the Dornish archers. They stand their ground—but now, they lower their aim. They no longer shoot up to let the arrows curve down among Beslon’s archers, but pour a flat, murderous fire straight into the charging sellswords. Behind them, the supporting infantry quicken their pace to close with them at the rear.
Now that the archers have engaged their Dornish counterparts—and are substantially more in number, for most of the Dornish carry bows—the remaining advance to close the distance between them. This is heavier infantry, carrying tall shields and with pikes and poleaxes.
Meanwhile, the cavalry that is to the left flank continues to ride forward—and now begins to curve gently in towards the sellswords’ right flank. Javelins are hefted and arrows nocked. The Sand Dog is at the forefront, helmed now.
As the sellsword spearmen charge, orders are yelled out among the Dornish archers. They stand their ground—but now, they lower their aim. They no longer shoot up to let the arrows curve down among Beslon’s archers, but pour a flat, murderous fire straight into the charging sellswords. One volley, two, then three. And then, at another command, turn and run back, slamming into and between the ranks of the supporting infantry that that has quickened its pace to close with them at the rear.
A frown from Beslon—just a frown—at Big Nose’s false charge, and the result of it as the Dornishmen pour their arrows into them. Yet it gives him a sense of things, despite the loss; a costly lesson, but still, a lesson. He turns in his saddle, and gives a command. Half his reserve of horse—some 25 men, sweating beneath their heavy armor—move to shore up Krazdan’s troop, and brings them one more command: “Go pull the dog’s teeth.”
With that, the cavalry sets off to meet the Dornishmen. Another command, and the banner signals; his whole reserve of foot moves down to fill the empty place on the right wing. Led by a short, stock Norvoshi with thick mustachios and a shaven head, these are all Norvoshi axemen in mail reinforced by pieces of plate, carrying great longaxes or pikes. Stout and fiercesome, they dress their line, and wait for contact.
And on the left? The crossbowmen now start sending their bolts towards the approaching Dornish foot, the heavy bolts doing their damage. For some reason, the fire seems practically concentrated on the left side of the approaching mass, with each crossbowman taking an extra moment or two to make sure of his aim.
Krazdan laughs, as some of his men fall, but not too many, and they wheel around, shouting barbaric taunts. This time he moves down, his zorse making him as well as his helmet, and his mounted archers flank his lancers, raining down arrows in front of the Dornish cavalry.
The Dornish heavy infantry hold their line, taking cover behind their shields as crossbow bolts slam into them. Even so, they take losses; bolts tear through mail and flesh. And on occasion, even shield, for they carry lighter ones than the northerners. Behind them, their archers have reformed and resumed firing over their heads. But the flight of arrows slowly grows thinner, and then comes to a halt. The Dornishmen have emptied their quivers, it seems. Discarding their bows, the archers draw swords and axes; well-armoured in chain and heavy leather, they will make effective infantry as well. And then, the entire mass of Dornish infantry advances.
And off to the sellswords’ right flank, the cavalry is blooded. The Dornish riders seem to flow over the ground, more lightly armoured and on sandsteeds. And as they curve in, arrows and javelins start bridging the gap between them and Krazdan’s men who ride out to meet them.
As the Baravossi Sellswords Spearrmen move forward into a hail of arrows, his swordsmen hold the line, letting the Cross Bow Bolts fire over their heads, they take a knee, to both rest, preparing for the charge coming their way, and to give the archers a clearer field of fire. The water dancer, watches and waits, ready to give his men the command to rise as one.
The screams are around Mordred now, and not ahead or to the side. His doughty benefactor goes down with a bolt in his eye, his drying cry no more than a startled gurgle. Another takes the edge of Mordred’s own shield, the sturdy wood keeping it from doing any more than creasing the lad’s brow for him. But the boy is first startled, then suddenly grim as a death. He follows the actions of his fellows and jerks the bolt from his buckler before tightening his grip on his long knife and starting forward again.
Krazdan holds his cavalry at a trot, as he raises his spear and yells. “Form Wedge!” And his shabby looking but disciplined sellswords form in a tight wedge, their long glinting spears lowered and they continue to amass speed without blowing their horses, only emerging at a gallop a few tens of paces from the Dornish cavalry, to hit them at full speed, while his archers group behind, still firing.
Screams and cries, as the last exchange of arrows and bolts takes place. Trellio’s infantry tighten their formation as they advance, and prepare to receive the enemy. The Myrish and Braavosi crossbowmen save their last few bolts, waving off frightened-looking serving men—Dornish men impressed into service, with fierce-looking, hair Ibbenese axeman keeping an eye on them—who carry a wooden crate with the last of them. Instead, they take up slender swords, or maces, or spears. They keep their place behind the stakes, however, and do not budge so as to keep the flank against the steep river bank.
On the right, the Norvoshi sellsword leads his troop forward alongside Trellio’s, preventing gaps in the line.
Beslon watches impassively, scratching at his stubbled cheek as he considers the lay of the battlefield. Then he says something to one of his attendants. A trumpet now sounds, two short notes followed by a long, and then the bright banner above him is dipped and waved in a similar pattern.
As his Spears hit the Dornish Line, like a wide wave they attempt to break up the Dornish charge, creating gaps that the following swordsmen can then exploit, the swordsmen in a more tight formation put pressure on any weak spots, moving behind the cover of the front lines.
The Dornish cavalry peppers the sellsword riders with javelins as they approach. And when they are charged, many of them wheel away, swift and dangerously nimble, and then back to shoot at their enemies’ flanks.
But some are caught in the charge, slammed back by the heavier horsemen. And now the fighting has begin in earnest. Screams ring out and the clashing of steel. Men and horses go down in the cavalry battle while many of the Dornish riders keep their distance, mauling Krazdan’s flanks as skirmishers.
Meanwhile, the two lines of infantry meet as well; theirs is a far more grinding struggle, pushing back and forth for every blood-soaked foot.
And to the Dornish rear, Baduin the Red Spear advances his reserve, bringing them close enough that they can be thrown in wherever needed without delay.
Krazdan rides his men through the dornish, the long spears impaling the foes, and raising their short hairy shields to defend against javeling, but even thus a great number of the sellswords fall. Krazdan keeps discipline though, and his ranks keep the wedge tight, taking the place of dead men, as his horsemen ride through the Dornish line, and ride on to a small thicket of trees behind to regroup.
Perched on his horse, Smallwood has cause to frown a second time, squinting against the sunlight as he sees the results of Big Nose’s charge, and then the motion of the Red Spear’s reserves in response to his signal; there’s no evidence it’s anything more than a ruse to keep the Dornish on their toes, however. He waits a moment, and then he gets a helmet from his squire—a broad-bowed kettle-helm—and then looks to the remaining reserve of cavalry.
“We’ll swing ‘round Brello’s infantry,” he says to them, “and shove our lances up their backsides before they can blink. _Don’t_ get stuck in, though, however tight their arses are. Just roll them enough to get them to break.” There’s a general laugh there—with a trace of uneasiness, perhaps, as eyes look towards the Dornish reserve looming in the distance. But then they follow their captain, Beslon the Bad, who seems to be out riding on a pleasure holiday.
A swift trot across a hundred yards or so, to pass the engaging lines of infantry, a wheel .... and then a swift, short charge into the Dornish flank, where the Norvoshi are busy with their wicked, double-bladed longaxes, showing fearsome discipline.
The Dornish cavalry continues to harass Krazdan’s men as they retreat to the thicket. The Sand Dog, one last javelin in hand, draws his arm back, pauses for a moment to judge, then casts. It grazes a horse’s flank, enough to make it rear, but no one falls. He curses, then calls: “If they want to tie us down, they are doing a fair job. Willem, keep them busy.”
The riders split, enough remaining under another knight to keep Krazdan’s troop busy, while the remainder fall in with Laurent as he rides forward to the Dornish right. Just in time to see his counterpart have the same idea. But he does not engage them, swinging wider to stay a safe distance away.
“Give Red Spear my love!” he calls to one of Beslon’s men who ventures too close. And then, they are past and wheeling to charge into the sellswords’ right flank.
The sellswords may have longaxes, but the Dornish are lithe and fast, with swift blades that are drawn hissing once the javelins are exhausted. A howl goes up among the foot then, their blades flashing in the sun and their eyes wild and desert-feral as they surge forward. The whole lot of them crash through a weak spot in Trellio’s spear line and battle is met!
Mordred fights with blood streaking the side of his face, his eyes like black sapphires in the mask of blood and dirt that mars his ‘pretty’ face. He meets a foe and they fight, blades clashing and ringing in the mass of clashing and ringing and he is but one among many, made savage in the face of mortality.
But all is not going well with the Dornish infantry. They have greater numbers and it is beginning to tell—when Beslon’s charge takes them in the rear. The battlefield’s din becomes even greater and the Dornish left wavers, the rear ranks—light infantry, unfortunately—turning to try and keep the riders at bay, a hopeless endeavour. And in front, the heavy infantry is locked in a brutal struggle with the axemen.
But Baduin Santagar, the Red Spear, is not blind, and he is far from a fool. Barely has Beslon’s cavalry struck than he himself leads the Dornish cavalry reserve in a charge to take Beslon’s rear and flank.
Krazdan leans to avoid a flying javelin and he signals his men to hold, getting ready to turn to teh Dornish cavalry, either to take them in the rear or to cause them to turn their flank to the main assault. Yet as the Santagar engages his forces, he grins. “Any moment now!”
Trellio Surges forward with his Bravos moving to cut off the heavy infantry led by Mordred. The water dancer draws his long lither blade and steps into the fray, his movement poetry in motion he strikes for soft spots in the armor, where joins meet, is thinner blade slipping between rings of mail, his men fight to hold back the surge of the sand people while he heads in search of their leader.
On the left, where the infantry held for so long, there’s a command as an officer there sees the mess forming on the right. Half the men, still unengaged, stand and race—first to grab a last few quarrels from that crate, and to get their bows cranked, before they jog to reinforce the right. The rest of the troop stretches its line to fill the gap. Some have blooded their axes and swords, but the stakes have kept the enemy at bay, and the fight has focused elsewhere to now.
And the right? As the center brawls, the right does so even more fiercely. First Smallwood and his heavy horse plunge into the Dornish left, rattling it, giving the Norvoshi more room to play with their axes, more room in which to push and take more ground. The Dornish line bends backward under the weight of the assault, backward and inward, when the Sand Dog and his company do much the same against the Norvoshi right, and Santagar moves forward. Beslon can be seen, throwing aside a long, broken lance, sweeping out his sword to take off a man’s hand and then his head. The rest of the horsemen are tight about him, beautifully disciplined, and already are beginning to extricate themselves when the Red Spear joins the melee.
And in the distance, at the very northern edge of the olive grove, a mass of horsemen appear, two or three score strong, and they’re streaming across the sun-beaten open ground beyond the Dornish reserve ... and the supply wagons, so very vital for a siege.
So. That’s what the signal was for.
With an inarticulate sound that is neither groan nor triumph, Mordred Sand makes his first kill. His knife slides very neatly into his foe’s belly and the man screams and bleeds and slides off the wicked knife onto the ground with spilling guts in his hands.
But time, there is no time for shock or celebration. As Mordred reels around, there is Trellio.
The waterdancer is cocky as his sword takes one, then another then a third man, death at the end of his blade, red spray seems to hang on the air behind him, as he spins from his victim. Somehow his leather and silks don’t seem to have been stained by the deaths he has brought, his eyes pick out Mordred, but the child is below his notice, he moves to take another man in full armor, his tip slipping between the rings of his mail in his armpit as his arm comes up to strike the water dancer down, and then he becomes rigid and collapses, sliding off the thin narrow blade.
Krazdan watches the fight, letting his men rest for a second, and then as the thunderous impact between the main body of the Bright Banners and the Dornish erupts, he raises his spear. “It’s make or break time lads!” He yells, his voice carrying. “Let’s show these Dornish dogs what we can do!” A chorus of screams is returned and he leads the charge that enforces Beslon’s attack.
Waterdancer, meet street rat. Mordred does not fail to see how this new opponent took out the last one, and his eyes are a picture of his mind as he scrambles for a strategy. So he does what he was born to do—he ducks to one side under Trellio’s vicious blade and attempts to thrust his knife up under the man’s arm as Trellio has just done to one of Mordred’s countrymen.
The Sand Dog’s men are crashing through the sellswords’ right now, carving a bloody swathe through the light infantry at the back and into the axemen themselves. And in the thick of it is Laurent Dalt himself, longaxe spraying a mist of blood as it cleaves skulls and takes off heads, howling like a wild desert dog in an ecstasy of slaughter.
Then, they cut their way out and wheel to charge the infantry from the left flank who are crossing to reinforce the right. Let loose at the enemies’ rear with no cavalry to oppose them, they are like ravening wolves.
To the rear of the Dornish left, the Red Spear’s cavalry has clashed with Beslon’s. And even further to the rear—there, now, is an unexpected development. The infantry left to guard the supply wagons—not a great number by any account—can be seen racing to take up long spears and form a line of defence. Whoever commands them seems to have made a swift gamble, for some of the wagons are abandoned to form a more formidable defence around the remaining. And the reserve cavalry can be seen jogging back as well to add to the defence.
So now, a matter of who breaks first. Will the Sand Dog’s men break the Dornish infantry swiftly enough? Will the men at the supply wagons hold their attackers at bay long enough? Will the reserve reach them in time?
Trellio pulls back from the sharp pain in his side, as his ribs catch Mordred’s knife, twisiting away from him, pulling it from his hands, his own light blade falls at the street rats feet, as the sell sword, gasps blood coating his side, and he is seperated from the kid by the tide of battle, either to fall somewhere, or maybe to retreat to the back lines, either way the Bravossi commander takes no more place in the fight, as his men are overwhelmed.
Mordred stumbles over the blade and looks shocked that Trellio is gone. Without hesitation, he plucks up the fallen sword and shoves it into his belt, still laying about him with the long knife and with more blood on his hands, on his armor and drying on his face. A cut here, a slash there, and the grim work continues amid the screams of the dying.
Numbers will tell, in the end. So will discipline. The Bright Banners waver in the center, as the right is pushed up against them, but the remaining Norvoshi fight on bitterly, killing men and horses with the strokes of their double-bladed axes. The Norvoshi commanding them has died somewhere along the way, while Beslon and his cavalry form a tighter knot, chopping away at the roiling Dornish left, opening a gap in which to move, to make a wedge and try to deal with the Red Spear for awhile. But Smallwood’s not committed: the engagement is short and sharp, men falling on both sides, and then Smallwood works his way out just as Krazdan Big Nose’s horse swarms in.
Bolts fly from the score and more of crossbowmen who came to reinforce the right, punching through scale and mail like it was parchment at this range. But then they’re cut up, and the remaining men flee towards the center, spears and narrow blades stabbing, trying to provide protection for the back as the center reforms to be able to fight both sides. The men remaining on the left move forward now, past their stakes, piling in on the right flank of the Dornish infantry, so that both sides are now squeezed with no reserves left as Santagar sends them back north.
And the supply wagons? The horsemen form a wedge, heavy lancers in the front, and break through a narrow gap. Lighter horsemen break out into the mass of wagons, and suddenly pitch pots: one, two ... five ... six. Where a pot breaks against a wagon, green flames start to lick against the sky. Wildfire.
Big Nose waves his spear towards Smallwood as the wildfire erupts. “Time to get out of here!” He makes the retreat sign towards his troops, and his zorse steps over the body of dead men as they cut their way to the back, their long spears keeping the Dornish infantry at bay as they retreat slowly but still orderly.
Orders are shouted in the center and the Dornishmen press the advantage. They fight like demons, borne on the wave of righteous fury that carried them this far, determined to eliminate the presence of this pestilence on Dornish soil. They fight when the blood has stained redder the red sands, and Mordred is among them. His face is set in a grim rictus that defies reading, just cutting and slashing and fighting until someone should tell him to stop.
The supply wagons are a roiling mass now. Men scream and die, either under their attackers’ hooves or, far more horribly, wreathed in wildfire. But the gamble seems to be working so far. The wagons that have been abandoned begin to go up in flames but those that are being defended remain relatively intact. One of them goes up in flames as well, then two; a number of Dornish desperately push them away from the others; most of them pay dearly for it, speared in the back or burnt to a charred mess. Meanwhile, the reserve infantry closes at a dead run; it will not be long before they can reinforce their fellows now.
Meanwhile, Red Spear’s cavalry follows Beslon and Karzai’s men, never giving them a moment’s peace to engage the Dornish infantry. He is joined now by the men Laurent Dalt had left under Willem to keep Krazdan from causing trouble; they stream back to put the sellsword cavalry under even more pressure.
And at the sellsword rear, the Sand Dog wheels his riders out of the melee again, galloping back to gain some space. It takes them no more than a handful of moments to reform. And then, it is a full charge with the entire weight of that mass of horses and mailed men crashing into the rear of the Dornish right and center.
There’s a moment when the battle hangs in the balance, and it could go either way. That moment is past.
Beslon the Bad surveys the scene, blood leaking from beneath his vambrace from where a sword found a gap near his elbow, while his men fight on. He witnesses the buckling of the right, and the full-on breaking of the rightmost part of the center under the hammer-blow of the Dornish horse. Big Nose has already seen it—might as well follow him.
With that, his surviving banner bearer sounds a trumpet, calling a partial withdrawal—leaving the center and right to think it merely a redressing of the lines, the appearance of much needed reinforcements. They fight on, for a little, sure that there’ll be help. Smallwood and the rest of the horse ride ‘round where the Dornish are now crushing the right from all sides, and he waves for the unengaged members of the left and center to withdraw in order. In the distance, a last few attempts are made at the wagons—one more goes up, this time to a normal torch, and another begins to burn fitfully before a brave Dornish squire manages to kick away a bag of oats and smother the last of the flames. Then the horsemen withdraw, twenty injured or dead, and instead of moving southwest along the river track to join the battle or join the retreat, they ride south and east again for the cover of the grove.
So it ends. The Dornish cavalry links up now, the Sand Dog and the Red Spear meeting in the middle of the carnage. The decision is made quickly; Baduin Santagar leads a troop to follow those who retreat in good order under Beslon, harassing them and picking off as many as he can, making sure that they do not turn again.
And the rest tighten the noose around the sellswords’ betrayed right and part of the centre who realise—too late—that they have been abandoned. Desperation visibly settles upon them like a miasma.
A rider beside the Sand Dog asks: “Do we take their surrender?” The snarling hound turns to look at him. And then, voice hollow within the helm, Laurent Dalt says: “Surrender? Kill the whoresons.”
And the slaughter begins in earnest.
Krazdan’s horse archers cover the retreat, making those who want to pick at them wary, and the sellsword laughs, not too daunted by the defeat. “Not the best of days, eh?” he asks his superior.
And slaughter it is. Mordred works his way out to the fringes where he is present to see Beslon’s retreat, and free of the worst fighting now to catch his breath and wipe the blood from his eyes with the back of a gauntleted. He looks at the blood in detachment then, at a shout from a comrade, turns to tend to the fallen sellswords. They receive no quarter from Mordred Sand. Not one reaching hand but he does not sever it, no throat bared in agony that he does not pierce. Slaughter.
“No,” says Beslon, not glancing back to the battlefield, now an abattoir as the screams of dying sellswords fill the sky. “Not the best of days.” He picks up his pace, separating from Krazdan Big Nose, and rides nearer the front as the bloodied survivors limp west and south to the town of Vaith in the distance.