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The success imprisonment of several bandits allowed the expeditionary force in the Kingswood the opportunity to put them to the question. Few of the men resisted long, and soon enough they revealed more precisely the location of the Starveling’s main encampment, and even the signal they used when approached by the guards that Starion Flowers kept posted. Later that evening, everyone was surprised when Ser Endros Buckler, the missing knight and officer of the Kingswood, appeared out of the forest like some wild man of the woods. The reunion with his father, Ser Lormon, whose efforts proved instrumental in identifying the Starveling’s hand in the mysteries of the past months, was cut short by questions about his whereabouts all these long months. He shared a harrowing tale of capture and escape, of having believed that a message had been sent to King’s Landing while he awaited aid, of fighting the bandits on his own and taking severe injury that an old woman of the forest tended to. And more, he confirmed all that the bandits had admitted under questioning about the Starveling’s movements and encampment, having kept an eye on them from a distance.
The next day, the expedition moved near to the dale cleaved by a ridge of rock where the bandit encampment lay. Ser Sarmion Baratheon sent scouts to look at it before the dawn as close as they could, and returned with information; they did not please him with their failure to add much more information to his store of knowledge. A plan was conceived to break the force into several parts, assuming that Starion Flowers had learned of the warden’s force from the one man that escaped three days earlier. Ser Raynard Locke and the Bucklers, with a dozen men, would charge north at the ridge to attract the enemy and trigger any trap, before wheeling eastwards where Ser Sarmion would lay in wait with his forces. Once they engaged the enemy, Ser Dagur Saltcliffe, the Commander of the City Watch, would lead a force of Reavers and gold cloaks to engage the enemy in the west. Behind him would come the Dornish hostages and their guards, tasked with skirting the battle and climbing up the ridge to take the enemy in the rear once fully engaged (crude remarks followed that command, and tensions between the Dornishmen and the rest of the force—already high—did not improve). A reserve would be kept with Ser Ardon Tyrell at the dale’s southern boundary, to intercept any bandits who fled the battle.
The plan seemed to go well enough, with dozens of bandits scurrying down the ridge, aiming their arrows at the charging cavalry, and then reeling in confusion when Baratheon’s force sent crossbow bolts towards them and charged up the ridge with the intention of overthrowing the encampment. Ser Dagur and his Reavers moved with deadly effeciency, threatening to pin the enemy between the themselves and Baratheon’s forces. The Starveling himself stood in the midst of battle, his bow sending arrows to injure and kill as he rallied his men. The Dornishmen and their guards scrambled up the ridge, and the Starveling dispatched men to oppose them. Ser Madyn Santagar and Ser Galwell Dalt held them at bay with four watchmen, while the rest began to reach the ridge top.
Having overthrown the encampment, Ser Sarmion saw the Starveling and acquired a horse—some claiming he snatched one of Buckler’s men-at-arms from his saddle to take his stead—and charged full at him. Flowers had begun to race up the hill as the Iron Serpent and his men began to split apart the bandits desperately resisting them, sounding a horn as he did so. But it was not retreat that he signalled. Arrows from the north face of the cliff, and shouts, suddenly revealed that the Starveling had been canny: a second force of bandits had lain in wait, in caverns and behind outcroppings, to ambush the enemy. The Dornishmen at the top of the ridge were the first to realize, and raised the alarm. Gold cloaks died, but the Dornishmen under Prince Cadan managed to form a line and ward themselves with their shi elds. Soon bandits were struggling up the ridge by the dozens, throwing themselves at the thin line, but they held. Prince Cadan’s slender blade drew blood again and again, slithering out as he moved among the line, and the rest of the company worked with firey determination. When Ser Anders Dondarrion and others joined them on the ridge to fight, some of the bandits went around their line, and began to use their bows to drop arrows on the expeditionary force.
But it was the Starveling who nearly died. Ser Sarmion rode him and his captains down, but his horse collapsed at the final moment and in the chaos of bodies flung to left and right one bandit took the errant blow the Stormbreaker sent with his warhammer. Rising up from the ground, he found the Starveling with sword and dirk, but the bandit barely fought him—he preferred to retreat, back and back, until some of his own men flung themselves at the giant knight. While they died, he fled, outpacing the knight in his heavy armor. At one point he paused, sending a well-aimed arrow, giving Sarmion another wound. The knight kept on, but then Ser Raynard Locke—who had killed one known bandit, Black Dirk, earlier in battle—outpaced him, trying to come to grips with Flowers only to be delayed and injured in the process.
The battle drew to a close as Ser Sarmion’s forces crushed resistance on the lower slopes of the plain, the Tyrell men-at-arms under Ser Ardon killing and capturing those who chanced to flee south, and Ser Dagur and the Reavers reached the top of the ridge to throw back the last push of the enemy. With the Starveling calling the retreat, many of the outlaws began to run. One, however, sent an arrow into the air ... which plunged into the side of Prince Cadan Martell, causing great concern among the Dornishmen; he was later sent by cart to the nearest maester, to remove the arrow that had found its way past his ribs. While some of the prisoners were hanged immediately, others were to be taken to King’s Landing for public execution, to show the king’s justice.
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