From Godsgrace to the fords of the River Vaith to Salt Shore—the Reachlords and Riverlords led by Ser Ardin Tyrell, Lord-Protector of Highgarden, had reached the end of a long, brutal march, shadowed every step of the way by Lord Andrey Blackmont with a larger host. But Lord Blackmont’s refusal to engage them—save in constant skirmishing and the battle at the fords—and the fact that none of the scouts they had sent ahead to Salt Shore had returned meant that the captains of the Westerosi host suspected yet another Dornish trick at the end.
And what a trick it was. For when they crested the steep rise guarding the approach to Salt Shore, they found another Dornish army waiting for them. Ser Manfryd Qorgyle, known as the Merciful, had laid siege to the city which was held by a Westerosi garrison. And he had somehow received word of the Reachlords’ approach for he had formed defensive works and turned his men to face the approaching host. Caught between the hammer and the anvil, facing twice their number, it seemed that the Westerosi would fall with their prize in sight.
But before the captains could decide what was to be done, Ser Walder Frey, one of the famed Twins of the Crossing, made the decision for them. Perhaps he was addled by the sun, or just overcome with madness at seeing this last obstacle. For he charged the siege lines alone, sword in one hand, longaxe in the other! His twin brother, Ser Halder, rode after him to bring him back. And like pebbles can start an avalanche, first dozens, then hundreds of Riverlords rode after them. Left with no choice, Ser Ardon led the Reachlords to join the charge too. But his good-brother, Ser DagurSaltcliffe, the Iron Serpent, chose to stay behind, leading a desperate rearguard—500 men against Lord Blackmont’s 2,300—hoping to use the advantageous terrain to buy the rest of the Westerosi host enough time to break through the siege lines.
It was a bloody battle under the harsh desert sun; new heroes were made and old champions cut down. The weight of Ser Walder’s mad charge had created a breach in the Dornish spear line, even though he paid with his life, hacked to pieces. As his twin brother stood over his body, the Reachlords poured into the breach, hacking their way towards the city walls. But after breaking through the first line of defences, the charge faltered on the second and then the third. A ring of steel closed about them, held at bay only by the sword-arms of men like Ser Ardon himself, ever in the van, and bold Ser Corren Meadows at his right hand. Ser Almer Connington, meanwhile, showed why he was feared by the Dornish, taking on one of their captains, the notorious robber-knight Ser Lharys Sand. Although he was dismounted by the Dornishman, he had his revenge, finding another mount and battering Ser Lharys off his horse before going on to cut down Ser Galayne.
On the hill, meanwhile, the rearguard fought a doomed battle. Men like Ser Luthor Rivers and Ser Edrick were bold and cunning, working together to bring down Ser Henrik and then Ser Kay, Dornishmen who had carved a bloody reputation for themselves, both. And Iron Serpent fought like the Warrior himself; first he cut down the famed Ser Gascon the Grey before dispatching Ser Daven Wyl, known as Dread Daven, with a vicious wound.
But despite all their brave deeds, it seemed inevitable that both forces would be overrun by the Dornish—until the gates were thrown open as a Westerosi army sallied forth; first two hundred, then five, then a thousand. Ser Aloran Celtigar’s banner flew in the van; Oakenfist’s lieutenant, known as Crackclaw, had come at last. Taken in the rear, Ser Manfryd’s army did not stand long, routing within minutes with their commander barely escaping himself. And when the combined Westerosi forces rode back to the hill to rescue the Iron Serent’s men, Lord Blackmont too—now finding himself outnumbered—chose to withdraw, leaving behind a rearguard that was battered and much reduced, but unbroken.
And so the Reachlords and Riverlods have reached the end of this cursed campaign, for they wasted no time in boarding Crackclaw’s ships and setting sail for the green lands they left so long ago. But Salt Shore remains in Westerosi hands, for at Ser Ardon’s command, 500 of Crackclaw’s men stayed behind to double the garrison’s strength. It is the last bargaining chip left to the Iron Throne—but given the hostages the Dornish hold, it could well prove to be a useful one.
And before they sailed, a mystery was solved as well. Ser Ethos Mertyns and his squire Halyn Grimm had disappeared after the murder of King Daeron at Godsgrace. But the Iron Serpent found them both in chains in Ser Manfryd’s camp, erstwhile prisoners of the Dornish. Ser Ethos demanded to be freed and taken to the keep which was his by marriage, but the ironman merely told the Stormlands knight he did not even a pisspot to call his own in Dorne. At the ironman’s command, the two prisoners were freed, but taken straight to the ships. For Ser Ethos might be no longer be a Dornish captive, but he is still being held under guard as a deserter. His squire was given more freedom, innocent that he was of his master’s alleged crimes, and it was said he was seen travelling to the castle of the Gargalens to seek an audience with the Lady of Salt Shore, Ser Ethos’s good-mother. What came of the meeting is unknown, but the boy carried a parchment when he returned.