The blazing sun rarely has any surcrease here in the Boneway, the mountain pass that does not so much cut as slither its way through the red mountains of Dorne. For miles behind, bodies of the king’s forces march forward, winning a few more miles towards Yronwood. Outriders move in patrols before, behind, and to such sides as they can, for the Dornish rebels have taken to attacking from the heights with arrow and spear, and sometimes darting in to kill stragglers who fall behind, or men who for whatever reason wander away from the main body. They are small losses, but they are losses, and the Dornish are relentless.
Riding near the head of the column, awaiting the return of the latest group of riders sent out to see what lies ahead, King Daeron is in company with several lords and knights of note, including the Dragonknight. A maester is busy on his mule, scribbling away with some difficulty as the king dictates some letter or orders. “... have taken all the watchtowers back, after the Dornish have abandoned them,” the king says and then, shading his eyes, looks forward.
The Dornish sun has burnt away the excess of the King’s troops. Those not strong enough, quick enough, or lucky enough have already fallen to a Dornish arrow. The sun beats on them mercilessly, driving away any excess fat, excess comfort, excess emotion. One knight in particular has been victim of his fat being burnt. In more than one way. The Dornish sun has driven away the Courtly manners in which he was forced to behave for a small period of time, the chivalry which he displayed to his fellow knights, it’s all but gone now. Respect remains for those who deserve it, of course. But Andry’s politics have withered away into a nothingness. His smart humor has developed into a snarkiness that has made him generally unpleasant to be around save for a select few.
He has adapted to the heat, to the harsh climate. The people the land, are cruel and harsh, Andry has made himself the same way. Andry rides at the head at the small group of outriders, made even smaller by their last encounter. Blood smattered across his chest, he may not even realize that there is a fresh cut on his forehead, dried blood making a stream down the side of his face. His features are dry and emotionless as he leads his group in, glancing back at the men to make sure all are still with him.
The Lannister contingent is a bit off, but their leader, a big man with a Crakehall surcoat but a flowing heavy Lannister cloak, is listening, a heavy sword in his battered scabbard. The bearded knight is smiling, to no one in particular, his big roan gelding fretting a little, but he makes it dance effortlessly. There was no fat to be burnt on him, and the presence of the King means he’s not even drinking.
Not far on the heals of Ser Andry is the Baratheon contingent of outriders, minus seven knights, bring their number from from the sixty or so that stormed the beaches of Dorne from the King’s flagship to just under forty. The good news if there is any to be taken from this campaign so far, is that Ser Tancred is not one of the men draped and tied to his horse. His helm is missing a stags antler missing, and a deep dent on the helm, a deflected crossbow blot mayhap? There is blood on his armor, but judging by how the heir to Storm’s End dismounts and removes his helm, the blood is not his. His deep blue eyes scan the soldiers about, looking for one of th King’s officers to report to.
A knight all in white rides forward, visor lifted to reveal him as Ser Reynard Caron, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, at the direction of the king. “Sers!” he calls out, and motions. “Here, sers. Give your report to his grace.” And the company parts to make way for the leaders of the outriders to approach Daeron, who sits tall and most king like in the saddle of the sandsteed he rides.
Looking back at his men, Andry holds up his fist in a ‘hold’ gesture. Giving a slow nod to Ser Reynard, the Chester knight maneuvers his steed through the troops towards Daeron’s own horse. Bowing deeply in his saddle to the King, the big man brings his fist to his chest before dropping it to his reigns. “Your Grace.” Andry says stonily, slowly wheeling his horse around to fall in line with the Young Dragon.
Tancred nods, rubbing his head where the helm dent would be. By the gods the man looks bone weary. He tosses the reigns to a squire then turns to his men. “See to the dead, then the horses, then get a hot meal. After that is done, rest. I am sure we ride before first light again.” Tancred strides down the clearing made for him, and goes to one knee when he reaches a respectful distance to the King. “Your grace, I am yours to command.” Tancred adds, waiting for the King to speak.
The Young Dragon looks upon the signs of fighting, and the results, and his purple eyes seem dark as his brow lowers. Then his eyes shift to the Baratheon heir, and Ser Andry. “Sers. An ambush?” he asks obliquely, his tone questioning and less than happy. Then, while an answer comes, he looks to one side and then another, and looking to Elmer Crakehall he gestures the man nearer with an imperious motion.
Elmer watches the other people asembled, and as the young Dragin beckons to him he moves closer. “Your Highness. Will you want my men to set this ambush? We could offer a nice inviting target if you so wish?” He grins, his white teeth with a grin. He looks around at his Lannister cavalry.
“Yes your grace. A moderate sized party if it could even be considered that. I.. I don’t think they were regulars. Perhaps it was a group of fresh-recruits, it is a possibility, but they lacked the speed and vicious ferocity of most Dornish I have faced. I would like to humbly suggest they could have been a militia. Trained civillians. It is very possible I am wrong but…” He lowers his head for a moment. “Possibly a sign, that Dorne /really/ doesn’t want to be taken again.” Andry murmurs quietly. Glancing up to Daeron. “I tried to keep a few alive for interrogation but..” Glances are sent over to his own men, and then Tancred’s men. “Some were a little eager.”
There’s a curse and an oath, from some of the knights riding in the king’s company, and muttered words. The Dornish are not well-loved. King Daeron, on the other hand, takes it stoically. “So. Manwoody has more men than we expected. Or Dalt and Santagar do. Smallfolk from Godsgrace? Mayhaps,” he says, answering his own question. “We’ll have to take care. They may be little more than farmers with spears, but enough of them…” He does not finish the thought. Instead, after the words trail into silence, he turns back to Elmer. “Ser, send some of your men down the line to the rear, to inform Ser Conrad. I suspect our outriders at the end of the march will meet similar resistance. Manwoody’s shown a willingness to harrass along the whole line of march.”
Tancred is still kneeling, but looks up to the King. “They may not be regulars, but a crossbow bolt still kills even if fired by unfamiliar hands. I lost five knights to crossbows, your grace, and if the Dornish are hard to take alive, it is because they do not wish to be. I lost other two men trying to capture just one of these irregulars. They don’t care if they loose ten men as long as they kill one of our knights. It has bene liek this for the last two days of marching, and I do not see it easing up.”
“Crossbows?” Daeron asks, when Tancred adds his report. He frowns at that and then wonders aloud, “Did they manage to make off with the bows from the Braavosi they killed?” He refers to the Sealord of Braavos’s three companies of crossbowmen that he sent, who fought at the landing near Wyl and have flanked the forward part of the march to help ward off Dornish raiders.
Ser Reynard replies, “They may have, your grace. But they cannot have trained them that quickly.” The Young Dragon nods at that, and says, “Then a change in tactics… It makes sense, damn their eyes. A single bolt is all they have before they’re running back into whatever hole they crawled out of…”
“Maybe they’re sellswords?” a knight among the crowd asks. “Myrish, mayhaps?” There’s questioning looks aimed at Andry and Tancred.
“Possibly.” Andry speaks up, thoughtfully. Canting his head to the side, he gives a light frown of thought. “As I said, it is my opinion that they were not professional. We may as well have been fighting a well armed rabble of children for all their knowledge of strategy and morale. Yet that is not to say they wer without success. Children are very good at hiding.” Andry glances back to the Knight giving a shrug. “I do not doubt sell swords are out there, and I believe we have faced them. But I think today’s attacks, were they sellswords, should promptly give back their payment. They did not deserve it. They should give it back.. well. If they were alive.”
Elmer nods and he raises his hand to summon his lieutenant. “Go down and reinfice ser Conrad. Also watch out for those bedamned crossbows.” He looks at Andry and nods. “Sellswords won’t stand against knights, but enough of them might be a nuisance.”
“If they are out there, then they are hiding in the crags and the mountains and sending the untrained to die first. Not that the untrained seem to mind as they are beyond fanatic when trying to kill us. I suggest knights go with shields, split formation with foot soldiers carrying tower shields in between. That will at least stop the easy kills and save a few knight’s lives.”
Others speak up, offering their advice. The king, however, raises a hand for silence as he considers. A long moment passes before Daeron says, “I believe Ser Andry is right. Perhaps they have some sellswords training these levies to use the crossbow—easier to learn than the bow. A costly way to test our defenses… but perhaps there’s some method to it.” Regarding the two knights, and then Elmer, he adds, “We will adjust the line of march on the morrow, to present less tempting targets to their crossbow. It will slow us, doubtless as Manwoody desires, but I’ll not waste men needlessly.”
Andry tilts his head, “A wise decision, You Grace.” Regardless of how he feels if it is wise or not. The Chester knight straightens up in his saddle. Glancing sidelong at the King.
Elmer runs a hand through his beard and seems to be thinking. “A good plan your grace. might I suggest some light cavalry patroling to flush out any hidden archers of crossbowmen?” He says, his dark eyes glinting, as if he’s a bit restless from not drinking.
Tancred nods his head in agreement. “I will pass the word along to Baratheon men your Grace. I do have another suggestions. We form our won band of irregulars, men used to the mountains, like the folks form the Vale, and send with with large pots of smoking pitch, and have them start to smoke every cave along the trail. If it is hiding raiders, they will be forced to leave the cave, and mayhap into a battle field of our choosing. If we wait two the three days for that to happen, it may save us days on the march.”
“There’s dangers to that,” Ser Reynard says, glowering.
“When isn’t there?” the king asks the grey-haired knight, and Daeron says, “I’ll consider it, Ser Tancred. Some of your uncle’s men from the Marches may be suited to it, as well.” The Young Dragon wipes the back of his arm against his brow—even a Targaryen would sweat in this heat—and goes on to say, “Go and speak to him, as well as Ser Conrad, about this idea. See what useful men they have, and let them know I may have need of them.”
His horse frisks then, and the king pats at its neck distractedly, before he says to Elmer, “As to your notion, ser ... That may be something to discuss with the captains of the outriders. Seek out Ser Dagur or Ser Almer, and gather their opinion. They’ve met more of these Dornish rebels than most, and will have a better notion of what to do.” A pause then, and he asks Ser Andry, “Do you have any suggestions to add, Ser Andry?”
Holding his words for a moment, when the King finally asks for his opinion, Andry gives it. “Not to speak out of my place, Your Grace.” He bows with the last word. “And with all due, respect, Ser Tancred I think smoking out small bands in caves will be a fruitless endeavor. This place is filled with caverns, it would be unwise hunting down every rat.” Andry repositions himself on his saddle. “We do not want to use our resources on something that we are not certain will even prove fruitful. Besides. Ser Tancred, remember why this war started. I say, my King, we use the sword and save our spit.”
“Your Grace, I agree with you that we should not needlessly waste our lives. Though perhaps consideration could be given to a swifter pass. The delay we will take is certainly not desirable.” Having said his piece, he bows his head deeply.
Tancred doesn’t stand down from his suggestion. “Dorne will not be conquered in a hour, a day, or a week Sire. IF we push the march, we leave a supply chain long, and vulnerable. An army marches on his stomach your Majesty, and with out supply chain cut off, and we still on the bone way, it will be a difficult march indeed. We lose nothing by spending a few days smoking out their raiders, and send a message to them with the change of tactics. If we can neutralize their raiders, we force them to adept to use, and not use to them.”
Elmer nods as he agrees with the young Baratheon. “Indeed, Your Grace. Better that we teahc them that their filthy Dornish tactics won’t work against seasoned Westerosi armies.” He grins and nods towards Andry too.
There’s murmurs of agreement here and there, first for Ser Andry’s remarks, and then others for Tancred’s. Clearly, there are differences of opinions among the lords and knights in the king’s company. Yet in the end, eyes turn to the king for a decision. Daeron frowns, looking at nothing in particular in the distance, his mind turning the options before him. “I trust Ser Conrad and the rearguard,” he says at last, “will keep the line of supply to the Marches open, Ser Tancred. Yet at our present rate of march, we do threaten to outstrip it; that’s a true danger. If we slow, the supplies can keep up with us, but water…”
He pauses. Others shift uneasily in their saddles at that. Water has been the great trial, one of the first things Stormbreaker warned the king about when their forces joined. “We live by each well and mountain stream we’re able to reach within a day of march—two at most. The Dornish know it. A swifter pass is a fine notion, if it would need to have the water our force requires. Does such a thing exist?” The question sounds rhetorical, at first, but then he looks to his men, and to the captains of the outriders. “Well, sers?”
“I offer my men, Your Grace. And I know of a few others, that would gladly ride by my side.” He hopes. “Ser Janden and I, could take our forces. Our men in particular devoted the most hours of training for the struggles we might face here. I know a layout of this land, Your Grace. Ser Janden and I could ride ahead to try and find a faster path. Find water.” Andry offers, straightening up in his saddle.
Tancred bows his head. “As your says Sire. I am but yours to command.” He listens to the others. If his suggestion being shot down bothers him, he does not show it.
Daeron nods at that. “Very well, Ser Andry. Choose your men, consult with Ser Dagur about the route ahead—the other outriders may have some notions—and then proceed. Do not travel too far from the main body, but explore such paths as you might think fruitful,” the king commands. “And take no longer than a day, ser, to return and make your report. We may learn something useful, even if no pass is found, the location of a rebel fastness, or a body of Manwoody’s forces.”
And with that, the king seems to have had enough of these reports. “My thanks, sers, my lords. Resume your tasks. We’ll meet at evening, when camp is made, and consider the next day’s march.”