The Red, Red Mountains
House Dorne provided nearly a third of the Targaryen forces at the Battle of the Trident. Among these forces was a knight by the name of Solan Burnale, a Stone Dornishman who had, as a sword sword, married a lesser cousin of House Dayne and been raised to knighthood as a result. As the Royalist forces retreated following the death of Rhaegar, Ser Solan was assigned to guard the injured Prince Oberyn during the ominously long retreat back to the Red Mountains. The knight’s vigilance, seeming immunity to sleep, and perfect discretion (Oberyn’s injuries did not prevent him from cuckolding two of his banner lords) impressed the Red Viper. As they crossed the Dornish Marches into the Prince’s Pass, a force of mercenaries, little better than bandits, attempted to outflank the weary Dornish army. With Oberyn still injured, Ser Solan found himself in the vanguard of the battle and, after a battery of arrows killed three minor lords, he was forced to rally the infantry himself and led them through the think spear line of the mercenaries and butchered the archers in revenge. The Dornish army reached the Prince’s Pass no worse for wear than they had been at the Trident. Ser Solan’s grant of land was an agreement between the princes of House Martell, who gave him command of Speartip, the watchtower that commanded views of the Huntsman’s Pass and the Torentine River Valley. The location was strategically important, but fairly impoverished, with little arable land for the handful of mountain folk who lived in the heights. But opportunity was around the corner.
During the Greyjoy rebellion, the Ironmen sent raiders up the Torentine to attempt to strike the interior of the Reach without having to take the well-fortified coasts at Oldtown or around the Arbor. Now Lord Solan Burnale had not been idle, developing a competent scouting force that kept him well-informed throughout the mountains. When he received word of the incoming Ironmen, Lord Burnale led his forces into the river valley and met the Greyjoy forces before they could even reach shore. Pushing further inland, the Greyjoys encountered House Tarly, who had come through the Huntsman’s Pass, put them to flight. While Lord Burnale earned little acclaim for his part in driving off the Greyjoys, the expedition revealed evidence of rich iron veins down the side of the mountain that supported Speartip. The introduction of a rich iron mine brought wealth and influence to the Lord of the Tower. It would take the foolishness of Solan’s firstborn son, Grelin, to bring it all to near ruin.
Grelin, who had been a child of two at the time of the Battle at the Trident, had been livid when he learned that Randyll Tarly has been awarded honors for driving off the Ironmen from the River Valley. At first, Solan counseled patience to the boy, well aware of House Tarly’s military reputation. Grelin, however, was relentless in needling his father’s pride. Lord Burnale gave his son leave, and much of the Burnale army, to cross the river and engage in a punitive raid on House Tarly’s lands. In sending his son, he maintained the thinnest margin of plausible deniability for the action. “He likes hunting so much, let him try and hunt me for a while,” were the last words Grelin Burnale ever spoke to his father.
The story only appears in one book: A Comprehensive History of Battles since the Rise of King Robert. There it is referred to as “The River Valley Massacre,” although the Stone Dornishmen have taken to calling it “Grelin’s Folly.” The Spring melting from the mountains had turned the Barrow Heath into muck and Grelin spent nearly a fortnight trying to find a useful crossing. By the time he did, outriders had already alerted Lord Tarly, who sent to Highgarden for support, even as he mustered his own forces. It could hardly even be called a battle. The Burnale army was nearly enveloped as they came out of the pass into Tarly lands and the House Guard and most of the infantry were slaughtered. Grelin, the House Master-at-Arms, and the Infantry commander were all killed in the first hour. By the time command had dropped to the fourth-in-command, he ordered the only whole unit of knights remaining to try and break out in retreat. They succeeded, albeit barely, and crossed the Huntsman’s Pass to return home.
The Tyrells protested in court and the Martells, already pariahs in Kings’ Landing, were forced to pay reparations to House Tarly. House Tarly also began driving every bandit in the southern Reach into the Red Mountains, creating a terrible bandit problem. Lord Burnale, his morale shattered by the loss of his son, began to lose his grip on his territory. House Dayne, acting at the behest of Prince Doran, foisted a new Master-at-Arms on House Burnale, in the person of Lucian Sand. Having their household security directed by a former mercenary and a bastard was a horrific black mark, even among the more sanguine Dornish. At the same time, Lord Burnale, always more of an Andalman than a Rhoyne, was desperately seeking a new heir, wholly uncomfortable the notion of his daughter, Ranera Burnale, ascending to Speartip’s seat upon his death. Lady Burnale is really too old to produce another child, but the Lord seeks options, to include cousins from House Dayne. The House teeters on the edge of ruin, the lawlessness only encouraged by the leadership crisis.