Well, it's not as bad as I initially feared. Matthew glanced over at the cannonball Trinity had dug out of her body. He'd attempted to stop her, but she refused to listen, no matter how much blood spurted out of her body. Once he managed a closer examination of the wound, it was clear the cannonball had not fully penetrated. It had gone in over a foot, but not to where Trinity was in any danger of dying.
Her wing had been pierced but the skin and scales had not torn, the way Matthew feared might happen, given the weight of the two scorpions. Once they returned to King's Landing, Trinity proceeded to eat nearly a quarter of her own body weight, consuming horse after horse. Thanks to the food, her injuries had partially healed, the cannonball wound scabbed over.
"You going to be able to get a little payback on the Golden Company?" Matthew didn't want to face them on even terms, learning the Golden Company deserved their reputation. Trinity gave a noncommittal response, chewing a sheep. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to, either, but you know the stakes as well. Hell, I'm convinced dragons are smarter than people." Trinity grinned at that.
From the latest reports, Aegon would be on the city's outskirts within a day, two if he was lucky. Matthew turned away from his dragon, formulating plans. His soldiers were formidable, but Aegon himself had no experience in battle.
What remained of his advisors waited in the Small Council chambers. "My Lords, we have a choice to make: do we fight him inside the city walls or meet him outside? This pretender calling himself a Targaryen possess numerous cannons, but I do not have the exact number."
"He's gambling everything on the designs he stole from you," Stannis commented. "With no fleet, Aegon cannot starve us out, nor can he launch an amphibious assault. His plan is to storm the city quickly, before we muster up a defense."
"Do you have an accurate count as to his forces?" Matthew wasn't sure how many he'd killed during his raid, but doubted it was enough to make a serious difference.
"There are ten thousand members of the Golden Company, Your Grace," Master of Whisperers Jova spoke up. "My spies report numerous Dornish houses and parts of the Stormlands have joined him as well, so the best number is around 15,000."
Okay, so our forces are roughly equal in number. Matthew dismissed the Gold Cloaks. Few of them were competent fighters. Fewer still were trustworthy. "So behind city walls, we'd have a massive advantage. Or would, if not for stealing my weapons." His new ideas wouldn't be ready for some time.
"I wouldn't count on the walls withstanding them," Stannis reminded. "He took Storm's End within a day, with defenses much stronger than King's Landing. Once the gates are breached, few are willing to fight on, and those who do are disorganized and demoralized."
"You would recommend I fight in the field?" Matthew didn't like the idea of giving Aegon what he wanted.
"Hit him there first, then retreat if you find it necessary. There's a reason opposing forces fight outside walls when possible, despite the defensive advantage: morale. If your men are convinced the battle can't be won, you've lost before any blows have been struck."
"And what of Trinity?" Margaery questioned. "Will she be ready to assist us?"
"Seems these weapons are more effective than I first realized," Garlan commented. "I knew they could destroy walls, but to cripple a creature that size. . ."
"I have some unpleasant news to share with you, My Lords," Matthew lowered his head, staring at the table. "Trinity has been crippled. Her wing has been nearly torn off and she's suffering from severe blood loss. Melisandre assured me my dragon will live. . . probably."
None of his advisors were able to hide their shock. "How can a single blow do so much damage?" Jova inquired. "Your men aren't going to be pleased about this. It could even lead to them throwing down their spears before the battle even begins."
"All the more reason this has to be kept secret!" Matthew slammed his fist against the table, raising his voice. "Trinity is out of the fight and will be for some time, even assuming she survives. All of us know what will happen if this is made public."
"Rest assured, husband, I will say nothing," Margaery promised.
"You think this will be so easily concealed?" Stannis warned. "Secrets have a way of getting out, often at the worst possible time."
I'm counting on it. "Well, if it does, it's going to be all our heads. Aegon no doubt has spies all over the city. True, he probably knows Trinity is wounded, but I did everything in my power to conceal the extent."
"He will discover this when there is no dragon on the battlefield," Stannis reminded. "She is a massive creature, so how do you propose to conceal this?"
"We will have to fight without her, but so long as they think Trinity may be coming for them, we have a chance." Matthew had drilled his men constantly in pike-and-shot techniques, but this would be the first occasion it was used in combat. Few possessed more than a gambeson, so archers would protect the rear.
"We have few men in the city, but everyone I have is at your disposal," Garlan declared. "What we have to do is convince our men this battle can be won. The Golden Company has beaten the Unsullied and Dothraki without new weapons, let alone with them."
They're powerful, but slow to load. I'll have to be careful, but archers will be able to counter them, combined with my own musketeers. "Would be a lot easier if I had a dragon," Matthew ran a hand down his face.
"We have little time to prepare, so we need to start immediately," Stannis crossed his arms.
"I'm also transferring Jaime out of King's Landing and to Casterly Rock," Matthew ordered. "What is his current condition?"
"He has lucid moments, Your Grace, but I do not think it advisable to move him so soon," Pycelle's replacement Maester Percival worried. He was a vibrant man in his 40s that unlike his predecessor, took his vows seriously.
"We're getting him out of here while it's still possible," Matthew allowed no argument. "If things go badly here, I want a fallback position. They possess no navy large enough to face our fleet, else it would already be visible. I'll soon return from the battlefield, My Lords." They argued for a little while longer before departing the Small Council chamber, most convinced they would not see it again.
The moment Matthew left, Sansa rushed to greet him. "Your Grace, I've heard the Golden Company is headed our way!" Her face flushed red.
"If only I could claim them to be rumors," Matthew admitted. "Worse, they've managed to cripple Trinity, so I've got to fight without her."
"Your Grace. . . there are many stating Aegon would be a better king," Sansa kept her voice low. "I fear they intend to move against you when the battle starts."
"How many names do you have?" Matthew expected half the Red Keep wanted him dead and would welcome anyone who killed him. Some he already knew of, but without proof of treason, he couldn't move against them.
"More than I can keep track of. Some want to be on the winning side, others fear you'll forcibly convert everyone to the lord of light, still others consider you a bastard of incest."
Never ends, does it? Matthew cursed under his breath. "I move without solid proof, I'll create many enemies than I stop. As we're going to fight another battle soon, your job will be to keep everyone's spirits up. However difficult the task, do try to get along with Margaery."
"Of course, Your Grace. If you can win a battle outnumbered eight to one, I have complete confidence in you." Sansa hugged him, pressing her lips against his ear. "I've got a few names of traitors. Once they make a move, you can arrest them."
None of the names Sansa gave were of any surprise to me. "How did you get involved in this?"
"I played the jealous woman, acted like I wanted to replace Margaery, and they offered to help. Wasn't as difficult as I thought."
"This conversation never happened." Matthew walked away, hoping Sansa wasn't going to get herself killed. He soon pushed the thought away, however, having more immediate concerns.
He ordered cannons loaded with chain shot off the ships and onto the battlefield. While Matthew had prepared them to cripple enemy vessels, they would work as an anti-personnel device as well. He didn't know how well Aegon and the Golden Company knew how to use cannons, but planned to give them a crash course.
Matthew expected stories of Trinity's injuries and possible death would reach Aegon's ears within hours. After all, all warfare is deception.
"We've crippled his beast before the battle's even begun!" Aegon laughed, riding in the front of the procession. Jon Connington hoped he would not insist on leading from the front during the actual battle. However much he tried to teach Rheagar's son, men so young often considered themselves to be invincible.
"Let us not forget the price it took to do so," Jon bowed his head in respect to their courage. A hundred men had died outright and dozens more were horribly burned, some of whom had to be put out of their misery.
The Golden Company marched, mere hours away from King's Landing. Following them were 2,000 sellswords from the Stormlands and 4,000 Dornishmen, intent on revenge for Joffrey's tricks. Doran Martell would not openly support them, at least until Oberyn and Arianne were freed from captivity.
What the King hadn't known was that Varys had been copying his new weapons almost from the beginning, giving them time to construct their own versions. Volantis had offered assistance as well, as Braavos had been using them to force its fellow Free Cities to free their slaves.
They're not an ally I would prefer, but we have to accept what friends we have. Most of the Golden Company had few problems with slaves, having been in Essos for generations. The only thing they hadn't thrown aside was the Faith of the Seven.
"I don't anticipate much of a fight," Harry Strickland cheered, sun glinting off his bald spot. "I've faced Unsullied in battle and won. Joffrey has nothing but a few smallfolk." Jon thought little of his combat abilities. He knew how to keep the Golden Company organized, but the actual fighting was left to more competent men.
"Don't they have. . . guns of their own?" Aegon momentarily forgot what the weapons were called. "Seems we should keep those in mind." Out of 10,000 members of the Golden Company, less than one-tenth possessed firearms, still reliant on bows and crossbows.
The Dornish stayed near the flanks, supporting the Golden Company's cavalry. Their cannons were protected on all sides, keeping the largest ones behind the lines. While they were able to shatter any wall and gate in Westeros, there were only three of them, and it took two hours to load each one, rendering them useless in a field battle.
"We've got to win this quickly," Jon reminded Strickland. "This is the only siege equipment we were able to bring." I promise, Rheagar, I won't fail your son the way I failed you. Rheagar never returned his feelings, which he understood, but they had been dear friends nonetheless. Had he been at the trident, Robert Baratheon would never have gotten near him so long as he drew breath.
"First, we'll have to defeat him on the field," Tristan Rivers proclaimed, the unofficial leader of the Golden Company. "If I was him, I'd face us outside the city walls, then conduct a fighting retreat if things went badly. Our goal will be to make sure he isn't able to retreat that far. King's Landing will surrender if they are beaten and I've given strict orders for everyone to behave themselves."
"Good," Jon knew the rules of warfare, but didn't like harming noncombatants if it could be avoided. Many stated his mercy cost Rheagar the war, where Tywin Lannister would have butchered everyone regardless. I won't make such a mistake again but we need to keep damage to a minimum. Starting a war during winter is risky enough.
Farms and villages were already deserted, with little food to subsist on. However, Joffrey had not ordered it burned, contrary to what most of the Golden Company anticipated.
"King Aegon, sixth of his name, demands you bend the knee immediately," the Golden Company's messenger looked over Matthew's forces with a disdainful eye. "Your dragon is crippled and we are the strongest army in the known world. We have never been beaten in a direct battle."
"There's always a first time," Matthew quipped. "I won't need a dragon to win this fight. I've listened to enough boasting to know when it's hollow." Based on his accent, he was not an Essos native, likely one of the Stormlanders who flocked to Aegon because he appeared to be on the winning side.
"If you bend the knee, King Aegon will agree to spare you," the messenger continued. "You will be sent to the Wall instead of a proper punishment for your treason." Barristan, Balon, Bywater, and the Kettleblack brothers kept the messenger from getting to close. Matthew had no intention of being killed at a parley.
"I have instructions for your false Targaryen, and I want you to say this, word for word. Tell Aegon to place his head between his knees and kiss his ass good-bye. The era of the Targaryens is over." With a frightened glance, the messenger withdrew on his horse.
Expect he thought I might kill him. However, Matthew had no intention of shooting the messenger. He looked over the battlefield, wanting to make sure there was nothing he neglected. Three rectangles of 1,000 men each waited in the front lines, along with scattered squares of 250 men each. Behind them were three identical formations, ready to cover the retreat should any of his frontline formations break.
On both flanks, the Lannister cavalry waited, Gregor Clegane towering above all of them. Much as Matthew loathed the giant, he did strike terror into the hearts of anyone who faced him. The Golden Company stayed in larger formations, archers at the rear, with muskets and crossbowmen in the middle.
"Your Grace, do you think it wise to leave so much room for the enemy to get between us?" Barristan worried, pointing to the gaps in his lines. "Should they hit our flanks, our men will be slaughtered."
"I'd like to see him try," Matthew made sure to stay in the rear. Fighting in the front would accomplish nothing but getting him killed. Stannis gave an approving nod, Melisandre at his side, before galloping to command the right flank.
Cannonballs roared out from Aegon's lines, all seventeen devices sending a fifteen pound iron ball their way. None of Matthew's soldiers moved an inch. Five of the cannonballs hit, going several ranks deep, killing or crippling dozens of people. His own artillery outnumbered Aegon's two to one, so Matthew saw little need for concern.
Aegon's larger formations proved to be little more than a target when they returned fire. The Golden Company's cavalry assaulted both flanks at once, intent on slaughtering what they saw as helpless infantry. Clegane killed two with a single blow, the survivors reluctant to get anywhere near him.
Come on, get it together! Matthew waited impatiently for his troops to get the chain shot ready. Three of the smaller formations split apart while the larger groups covered their flanks. At two hundred meters, few muskets or arrows were capable of inflicting casualties on either side. Even Matthew's best handguns could not penetrate armor so far away.
He rode across the lines, giving words of encouragement to those who wore terrified faces. Some of his troops had combat experience, but for many in his personal army, this was their first battle. Worse, they had to fight someone capable of taking out a dragon, or so they believed.
Smoke covered both lines, impacting their accuracy further. Matthew again looked over the progress his men were making with chain shot. "They were supposed to fire the damn things the moment this battle started!" First rule of battle: not everything goes your way.
The Golden Company's cavalry forced their Lannister counterparts back, the left flank on the brink of collapse. Matthew cursed upon realizing the right flank was incapable of assisting them, with all their strength tied up with an assault of their own.
Their archers approached to one hundred meters, in front of the main formation. With little armor, Matthew's men stood little chance, nor could to cavalry do anything to intercept them. The main formation of the Golden Company slowly advanced, and while he could see them, he anticipated their confidence.
Goddamn it, what is keeping them? The battle would be won, provided his cavalry didn't break. More and more Lannister horsemen fell, wounded or dead. Clegane alone cut down ten enemies in five minutes, rallying those who remained. Golden Company horsemen grew bold enough to assault his flanks, though the pikes prevented them from doing much.
When at close range, even the finest plate armor the Golden Company possessed proved useless. Despite terror flooding through their hearts, Matthew's men held, reassured by the enemy's retreat. He kept a close eye on each of the rectangles, ready to pull them back if necessary. Stannis remained at the rear of the middle front rectangle, Melisandre visible even in the smoke.
Then the chain cannonballs rang out, his new idea bearing fruit at last.
"By the Gods. . ." Jon trembled, the entire Golden Company too stunned to move. Half a dozen shots from the dual cannonballs killed more than a hundred people in a single wave.
Only Aegon was able to come to their senses. "Advance!" he ordered. "Wipe out every formation that has their weapon! Their forces are spread out, which will make them easy targets. We get in close, our guns can slaughter them!"
That's going to lead to massive losses. However, Jon saw no way to avoid that now. Ordinary cannonballs were bad enough, their deep formations providing an easy target. Whatever Joffrey had come up with, it was more effective than he'd anticipated, hopes of exploiting shallow formations disappearing by the moment.
A second wave of chained cannonballs swept through parts of their formation untouched by the first wave. The Golden Company's archers behind them focused all their arrow fire on the operators, even risking certain death by cavalry to do so. At one hundred meters, few arrows were lethal, but Joffrey's men had no chance to retreat.
Two of the rectangles marched forward to cover them, arrows landing in their shoulders and chest. The Golden Company approached to effective firing range of their new weapons, dozens on both sides falling to each volley. No one bothered to aim, focusing only on how fast each could fire them.
Neither Jon nor Aegon could see through the smoke how the battle was progressing. All they could do was pray. Horsemen continued their battle, and only here did the Golden Company have an advantage.
I never imagined this. . . Jon trembled at seeing so many men fall. Even the Unsullied never inflicted such losses on them. He stared over the battlefield, struggling to formulate a plan. If we could wipe out their horsemen, make it so we have the only cavalry on the battlefield, this will still be winnable. Even better, Joffrey's men would be cut to pieces when they attempted to flee.
He galloped to the rear formation, where few appeared eager to fight, in contrast to their mood before the battle. "You and you, march forward, and cover our right flank!" Jon pointed to two seasoned commanders he hoped would be able to hold long enough. It was a daring strategy, perhaps a desperate one, but they still had a chance to win the battle.
Many of the cavalry lay on the battlefield, crushed by their horses. Jon counted those who remained on the right flank: less than half were still unscathed. Others were forced to run back on foot, with no horses to replace what they lost.
"Okay, on the next attack, I need all of you to assault the left flank, destroy the enemy cavalry, and hit them in the rear," Jon galloped across to make sure everyone heard his orders. Skeptical faces met his, but no one questioned his instructions. "King's Landing won't be able to withstand us, so long as they're driven from the battlefield." Once Lannister cavalry were beaten, Joffrey's superior numbers of cannon would do him no good, their users vulnerable without protection.
Dornishmen were the first to break away and flee, the already battered Golden Company forced to protect them. Stuck in one massive formation, the reserves could not quickly move to replenish the ranks. The Storm Lords fared no better, both lacking similar weapons, foot soldiers tripping over themselves attempting to run.
Archers moved to the flanks of the pikemen, taking advantage of their superior rate of fire. In contrast to the Golden Company, few of Joffrey's soldiers had more than a gambeson, which provided no protection at the current range of battle. Even at fifty meters, the vast majority of shots missed, with less than one in ten inflicting a casualty.
Aegon could no longer witness the battle and fled to the back, Tristan Rivers taking the King's banner. Jon prayed no one observed his actions, but even though he would have to rebuke him later, he could not blame the boy. War was too often romanticized and this new form was more brutal than anything Westeros was accustomed to, at least after the dragons.
The rear formations marched into the fray, allowing their battered comrades to escape. Joffrey's troops did likewise, two of their rectangular formations no longer capable of fighting. Bloodied, exhausted, and out of gunpowder, it took all their remaining strength to retreat to relative safety. Rivers ordered their cannons to focus on the broken units, intent on sparking a rout.
Every man still possessing a horse rushed to assault Joffrey's left flank, Jon trusting fresh troops to protect their own. Rear units possessed no muskets, opting for crossbowmen instead. Each of them used the pike wall for protection, bolts aimed for the enemy horses. The men were armored; the horses weren't.
Now would be a good time for you to show up, Matthew looked at the sky. Medics did what they could for the wounded, screaming in agony. He couldn't bear to look at them, not with so many memories of his own time in their situation.
However much he tried to give orders, little could be seen, and even he could hardly hear a thing. Matthew expected those on the firing line were all but deaf at this point. Bodies and horses decorated the landscape, friend and foe alike. Two of the rectangle formations were already broken and three others were battered.
Aegon's cavalry all charged his right flank, leaving their left unprotected. His own on the left flank failed to notice the changing situation, instead seeing it as an opportunity. Damn you! Matthew shouted as loud as he could, though he knew it was futile. On horseback hundreds of meters from the battle line, his voice could not carry so far.
Those on the right flank were quickly overwhelmed, with no quarter given on either side. Gregor Clegane killed anyone who came near him, but even he could not stand against an army alone. Matthew watched the Golden Company's prowess, praying what remained of his own cavalry could break the enemy flank.
Among the infantry, Matthew struggled to make out how many died through the black smoke. Two squares had thus far retreated, with fresh squares taking their place. The frequency of cannon fire faded on the enemy lines while his troops used the last of their chain shot, sending it dead center into the enemy formations.
Matthew galloped to what remained of his horsemen, dejected faces surrounding him. "This battle isn't over yet!" He screamed at them. "You know what is at stake, so do not falter now!"
"If they could take down a dragon, what hope do we have?" One of them shook, barely able to keep the reins. Out of eight hundred horsemen, only three hundred remained, with most of the remainder dead.
Now would be a really good time, Matthew continued glancing at the sky. "We faced Renly when he had eight times our numbers! The Golden Company are just a bunch of upstart foreigners! My infantry, commoners all, are standing their ground! You cannot do the same?" That shamed them well enough. Nobody wants to look weaker than a peasant.
"The Lord of Light will guide us through these times," Melisandre spoke behind him. Her voice was a whisper, yet everyone could hear it. Matthew looked over at his unprotected flank, where two battered squares of pikemen held with all their height, those wielding muskets retreating to take cover behind them.
"I'll lead the attack," Matthew decided. "They think we're beaten, but we're going to prove them wrong! This is where we hold them by the nose and kick them in the ass!" Cannons at the rear had yet to be touched, indicating to him Aegon didn't yet understand how to fight in the age of gunpowder.
"We've got a job to do, My Lords," Loras narrowed his eyes. However much he disliked the King, they possessed a common enemy. "Nor are they invincible. Four have fallen to my lance."
"Follow me!" Matthew raised a hammer and galloped toward them, gambling the Golden Company would be caught off-guard. Melisandre moved in front of him while the Kingsguard stayed near him. Balon carried the King's banner, raising morale for all who could see it.
Three hundred meters. . . the Golden Company had yet to notice them, assailing one of the squares from behind, pinning them from both sides. Matthew sped up, desperate to relieve them before it collapsed.
At one hundred and fifty meters, Matthew could make out that his men were not breaking. Musketeers took cover behind the pikemen when necessary, catching the Golden Company in a crossfire. While many were killed or wounded, their gamble had failed.
Let's make sure they don't try it again! Lannister and Tyrell horsemen assailed the Golden Company, several killed by friendly fire from the musketeers. Matthew cursed when two bullets whistled above his head, one of Aegon's men smashing a mace into his chest. He bashed his horse's head in, trapping the man beneath it.
Three of the Golden Company charged their lances toward him, Barristan moving to intercept. Gregor killed two from behind, knocking down the third with a single fist. "Great, I owe my life to him," Matthew muttered but there was no time to think.
No one else got near him, though a pair of arrows brought Balon's horse down. Gunfire made little distinction between friend and foe, Matthew struggling to make out who was whom. He trampled a fallen Golden Company men without stopping, each of his Kingsguard repelling multiple foes.
The battle fever rushed through him. Matthew cut through his foes without mercy or pause, his hammer aimed directly for their head. Numerous blows clunked against his armor, but he felt nothing, nothing but determination to end Aegon's threat for good.
"They are fools," Tristan laughed while watching the enemy horsemen try to break the flanks. Lances and swords cut many of the Golden Company down, but none could break, earning their place as the most formidable fighters in Essos. "They're not even trying to destroy our artillery."
"This battle isn't over yet," Jon did the best he could to discover how the fighting on the other side of the battlefield was going. It required traveling on his horse well away from the front lines to make anything out. Even groups of cavalry could hardly be made out, Jon raising an arm to keep the sun out of his eyes. He gave Joffrey reluctant respect for attempting such a bold move.
Even with all their cavalry focused on a single flank, the rectangular formations did not flee, using a crossfire to prevent being overwhelmed. Jon had previously questioned why Joffrey would use such a seemingly open formation, but now saw the wisdom. They weren't as vulnerable as most believed.
Little by little, Joffrey's men were driven from the battlefield, forced to use their last remaining rectangles to hold the line. Jon shuddered at the losses the Golden Company had taken, deep formations providing an easy target for the chained cannonballs. Best to use the shallower formation next time. He was willing to learn, even from the enemy.
The sound of explosions panicked Jon's horse, sending him to the ground. Aegon was likewise unable to control his mount, the animal fleeing the battlefield at top speed, heedless of his master's commands. Only two of his fellows were able to keep their horses under control.
"What was that?" Jon's leg refused to support his weight. With great effort, he turned around to see half their cannons destroyed in a massive explosion. What. . . how. . . thoughts failed him.
A roar from the sky made him bury his face into the dirt. Joffrey's dragon was alive and well, making another pass on their artillery. All but four of the cannons were destroyed, those who used them covered in fire, agonized shrieks preceding their charred corpses falling on the ground.
"What do we do?" Jon could not make out who was speaking to him. "What the fuck do we do?"
"We. . . help me out," he ordered. Jon suppressed his screams, certain his right leg was broken. The infantry had yet to notice Trinity's presence. What do we do now? He'd been certain their trap crippled Joffrey's dragon, their artillery far more powerful than the old scorpions.
In two passes, the dragon wiped out all but four of their cannons, not counting the multi-ton monsters designed for bringing down large walls. Two groups of operators mustered enough courage to fight back, though neither cannonball came anywhere close to hitting her.
Jon weighed his options, knowing he had mere seconds to decide. "Sound the retreat," he decided. "Have the rear formations cover us, fall back by groups, and make sure we keep our army intact. So long as we do that, we can fight another day." He hoped his subordinates would argue that victory was still possible. No one did.
The dragon flew down again, this time targeting Golden Company infantry at the rear, hundreds dead or injured from a single pass. Packed together, they stood no chance of getting away. What Jon hoped would be an organized retreat turned into a route. The finest soldiers, those who stood before Dothraki without fear, threw their weapons down, fleeing in panic.
At least they will not get their hands on Aegon. Jon galloped to the rear, heat from the flames making his eyes water, desperate to keep an orderly retreat. The dragon was no longer visible, but with no cannons, they had nothing to prevent her from strafing them again.
A few groups stood their ground, ignoring Joffrey's dragon, but not enough to stem the time. Those from the Stormlands and Dorne fled quickest of all, unable to withstand more punishment. Jon moved from one side of the line to the other, demanding an organized retreat, screaming, even threatening them. It didn't take long to realize it would do no good.
Their cavalry, or what remained of it, kept the enemy horsemen from pursuing, staying close to the enemy to prevent Trinity from wiping them out as well. Jon searched for Tristan Rivers, but lost sight of him in the chaos. The battle was lost and nothing could be done to salvage it.
This isn't over yet. Aegon is safe, and we won't be caught unprepared a second time. Jon prayed he could live up to the promise, riding into the forest.
"See, there was nothing to worry about," Matthew panted as Trinity landed on the ground with a satisfied grin. To the outsider, she appeared powerful, invincible, blue scales on her sides and back untouched. Only Matthew could see what condition she was in.
Those not busy tending to the wounded cheered. Matthew counted the bodies, numbering at least one-tenth of his personal force, along with a third of the cavalry. Twice as many were wounded, and he expected more would die of their injuries. Even with his knowledge of germ warfare and orders, not everyone could be saved.
Ignoring the pain in his chest, he turned his horse to the wounded and dead. Horrific screams emanated from their lips as legs and arms were removed, bullets having shattered the main bone. Matthew made a mental promise to compensate the fallen's widows, though he doubted it would be of much comfort to them.
It'll take some time before I have enough gunpowder to fight another battle like this. By his estimations, it would be two months before their stocks were fully replenished. Where Aegon got his supplies, Matthew intended to find out. He had his suspicions, but no hard evidence.
Nevertheless, it sent a message to any who would throw their support behind Aegon. He didn't need a dragon to win battles, which was more than Daenerys could say. For miles around, wounded were tended to while his technicians looked over the cannons to ensure they stayed in working order.
"You grow stronger every day, Your Grace," Loras praised. "Perhaps this alliance was a good move after all."
"I'm glad it made a good impression," Matthew laughed, though with an undercurrent of warning. The Tyrells would abandon him if he looked weak. Should they do so, he promised to enact brutal retribution, as it was the only method in Westeros that worked.
Two thousand prisoners were rounded up, stripped of their weapons and armor, which Matthew hoped would be useful in future battles. Those who belonged to the Golden Company stood defiant, their leader crossing his arms. Those from Dorne, however, trembled at his presence, knowing what being caught meant.
"The battle is yours, Your Grace," the commander went to one knee and handed over a dagger.
"Your name, now!"
"I am Tristan Rivers, Your Grace, commander of one-third of the Golden Company." He looked Matthew directly in the eye. "My only request is that you treat my men with hospitality. Some are wounded and require aid."
Matthew gestured for Rivers to follow him. The Golden Company commanders stood straight, revealing no fear despite their situation. He gave them reluctant credit for courage. Shame I couldn't convince them to fight for me. It would have been easy for any other band of sellswords.
Only upon seeing Trinity did their courage falter. "You thought you took down a dragon. Seems that belief was a mite premature. Did you think she was going to die so easily?" Trinity bared her teeth, still hiding the wound in her chest. No need for him to know how wounded she is. Matthew listened to the pounding of their hearts.
"You stand before the Lord's chosen, witnessing his power for yourselves," Melisandre galloped around them. "Everyone who has attempted to oppose him has fallen. The Golden Company is no different." None of them dared to respond.
Each of the commanders were surrounded by eight of his personal guard. "Take them to the city, find out what they know about Aegon," Matthew ordered. "Reserve questioning for the commanders. I doubt the foot soldiers know anything important." He ignored the old twinges of his conscience. They looked at each other, but none of the Golden Company said a word.
"What are your plans now, Your Grace?" Barristan questioned.
"I think it's time to have a long chat with the Red Viper." Dorne had been warned what would happen if they rose up and they ignored him. Now they would pay the price.
While many things are different, I based this battle in part on the Battle of Breitenfeld in the Thirty Years' War. Matthew's thinner formations are analogous to Gustavus Adolphus' reforms to Pike-and-Shot warfare, allowing more flexibility and greater numbers of cannons.
Aegon's not finished yet, but his hopes for a decisive victory have been shattered.