Sack of Saltpans

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The Sack of Saltpans happened toward the end of the War of the Five Kings, in 300AC. It was conducted by marauders, who had earlier belonged to the Brave Companions, in the town of Saltpans, located on the northern shore of the mouth of the Trident, in the Riverlands. The assault was led by Rorge, whom many people falsely identified as Sandor Clegane. The Sack of Saltpans soon became notorious throughout the region and in other parts of the Seven Kingdoms as a particularly savage event that highlighted the complete breakdown of law and order in large parts of the Riverlands.

Contents

Prelude

The Brave Companions were an unsavory band of sellswords that comprised criminals and outcasts from many nations. Led by Vargo Hoat, it participated in the campaign of terror that was conducted in the Riverlands on the command of Lord Tywin Lannister following the crashing defeat of the Lannister forces in the Battle of the Whispering Wood and the Battle of the Camps against the armies led by Robb Stark. Using Harrenhal as their basis, the Brave Companions raided the Riverlands, foraged for the Lannister armies and brought prisoners in, many of whom were forced to work as servants. After changing their allegiance mid-conflict, the Brave Companions were used in similar functions by Lord Roose Bolton in the name of the northern cause. Even at the time when they were employed by Lord Tywin and Lord Roose, the band was known for extreme brutality.

As part of a deal Vargo Hoat had struck with Lord Bolton before the band turned cloak, the Brave Companions were left in control of Harrenhal after Lord Bolton moved his force north again, with Vargo assuming the self-chosen title as Lord of Harrenhal. However, Vargo was soon incapacitated by a festering wound, the result of Brienne of Tarth biting his left ear when he tried to rape her, leaving him in increasing pain and eventually half mad. He began losing control of the Brave Companions when some of his lieutenants, in particular Urswyck and Rorge, began arguing for abandoning the castle and moving to regions that had not been wiped clean by the war yet. Vargo called upon his men to defend "his" castle, but in the end he was abandoned by almost all of them. After leaving Harrenhal, the Brave Companions dispersed. One band was led by Rorge who had his constant companion Biter at his side. They were heading towards Saltpans in the hope of finding ship passage out of Westeros there.

Some time before the Brave Companions left Harrenhal, Sandor Clegane, holding Arya Stark captive at the time, had also headed towards Saltpans. He intended to find a ship there that would bring them to the Vale of Arryn, where he hoped he could ransom Arya to her aunt, Lysa Arryn. However, a fight with some of his brother's men at the Crossroads Inn, in which the Tickler, Polliver and a squire from House Sarsfield were killed, left the Hound gravely wounded. Arya soon abandoned the dying man on the bank of the Trident and moved on to Saltpans on her own, where she managed to secure passage on a ship to Braavos.[1] Sandor was found by the Elder Brother who tended to him till he reportedly died and buried him under a stone heap. He put Sandor's distinctive helm on top of the grave. There the helm was later found and taken by Rorge, when his band came along the same way as they also moved towards Saltpans.[2]

The Sack

When Rorge and his band arrived at Saltpans, they first tried to find a galley or a cog that could bring them across the Narrow Sea. However, Saltpans was never an important port and no ship was available at the time. The outlaws turned their outrage about this against the townfolk and began raiding Saltpans, burning all buildings and slaughtering the people they came across.

The helpless smallfolk sought refuge in the town's holdfast, but Ser Quincy Cox, the elderly Knight of Saltpans, who was apparently afraid for his own family's safety, refused to let them in and left them to their fate. Many rapes did occur, as did mutilations. The violence was targeted against people from all age groups: The outlaws murdered old septon Bennet of the town just as they slaughtered children in the arms of their mothers.

Witnesses described Rorge wearing the Hound's helmet and roaring savagely as he led the monstrosities. Biter crushed his victims with his weight and – as he often did – tore flesh out of them with his sharpened teeth. When they had finished their work, the outlaws left the town heading west again, with Rorge reportedly laughing loud about his men's deeds.[3][4][2]

The atrocities were watched by a few helpless fishermen from the town, who were on their boats at the time. After the outlaws had left and the fires had burned down, they went ashore, but all that was left for them to do was to bury family members and neighbors. They gathered the few survivors and brought them to the Quiet Isle, where the Elder Brother took care of them. These survivors left most of the more detailed accounts of the Sack of Saltpans. One of them was a woman who had been raped a dozen times, before she was given to Biter, who ripped her breasts apart with his teeth. Still, her curses while she lay dying on the Quiet Isle were reserved for Ser Quincy for keeping the gates to his holdfast closed.

Another survivor was Brother Clement, a member of the order, who had gone from the Quiet Isle to Saltpans on the day of the raid to sell the renowned mead brewed on the island. Rorge had his tongue ripped out when he refused to break his vow of silence, declaring that Brother Clement had apparently no need of it anyway. Brother Clement also eventually died of the wounds he had received. Some other brothers from the Quiet Isle were wounded or otherwise traumatized as well.[2] Rorge had raped a twelve-year-old girl promised to the Faith (probably with a stick, as he always threatened, because he had actually been castrated long ago[5]), crushing the girls flesh with his armor as he lay on her, then had given her to his men who cut her nose and nipples off.[6] The girl survived to tell her story, as did some boys who had managed to hide in time.[4]

The fishermen and others who escaped the assault eventually abandoned the town, with most of them going to Maidenpool, leaving nothing behind in Saltpans than the holdfast.[2]

Aftermath

False Perceptions of the Culprits

The reports by survivors were passed on from the Quiet Isle to King's Landing and soon became widely distributed. Right from the start, the references to a brutal man wearing the Hound's distinctive helm led people to the misperception that Sandor Clegane had led the raid.[7][3] Lord Randyll Tarly, trying to restore order in the eastern Riverlands from nearby Maidenpool at the time, spread rumors that blamed the Sack on the Brotherhood Without Banners in an attempt to turn the smallfolk against them. However, it is uncertain to what degree commoners believed this, as the Brotherhood itself left word that they were intent on finding and punishing the Hound for the Sack of Saltpans. The term "Mad Dog of Saltpans" circulated[8], and as the tales spread, the number of murders that Sandor Clegane was personally accused of rose from 12 to 20.[7][4]

The Freys were already desperately searching for the Brotherhood, because the band had killed several members of their family following the Red Wedding. The suggestion that the band of Beric Dondarrion had been responsible for the Sack led Ser Arwood Frey to gather a force of 50 soldiers and archers, including Ser Harys and Ser Donnel Haigh, and ride from the Twins to Saltpans to find the trail of the outlaws. When they arrived, they found the whole town reduced to bones and ashes. Ser Quincy Cox wouldn't open his holdfast even to them, but he shouted down from the battlements, telling them what he had seen. The Frey men found a survivor trapped beneath a beam and the woman gave an account of the Sack as well. However, all references were to the Hound leading the Sack and no trace of the Brotherhood was found, making even Ser Arwood skeptical that Dondarrion's band had been involved.[4]

Reaction of the Lannisters

The news about the Sack of Saltpans reached Queen Cersei through a report from the Quiet Isle. The following day, Ser Kevan Lannister, questioned her whether the reports that the Hound had joined Dondarrion's band were true. Cersei, already weary of her uncle, was surprised to find him so well informed. She suggested that Kevan's son, now Lord Lancel Lannister, would want to go after Beric Dondarrion and Sandor Clegane to restore order around the Darry lands, but Kevan told her that his son was not the man to deal with someone like the Hound. Cersei then proposed that Kevan himself could hunt down Sandor Clegane, but her uncle turned her down brusquely, suggesting that the Hound was Cersei's creature and that it was her responsibility what had become of him.[7]

During the honor procession for Lord Tywin Lannister before his casket was transported to Casterly Rock, Ser Kevan raised the issue of Sandor Clegane raiding the Riverlands in a conversation with his nephew Jaime. Jaime perceived this as his uncle suggesting that he intended to hunt down the Hound for the Sack of Saltpans and said that he'd rather have Lord Randyll Tarly deal with reestablishing order in the region while Ser Kevan should participate in the Second Siege of Riverrun. However, Kevan was as cool with him as he was with Cersei and turned Jaime down. As Kevan was headed towards Castle Darry for the wedding of Lancel and Amerei Frey, Jaime tried to caution him that he should always keep his knights around himself, thinking of how dangerous the Hound was. However, Kevan misperceived this as an implied threat by his nephew, which completely surprised Jaime.[3]

The Sack of Saltpans was also dicussed in a meeting between Queen Cersei and the new High Septon, known as High Sparrow, at the Great Sept of Baelor. The High Septon referred to the death of Septon Bennet of Saltpans and the rape of the twelve-year-old girl promised to the Faith as examples for the Iron Throne not being able to protect the faithful any longer. Just as Ser Kevan had done, he indirectly held Queen Cersei responsible for letting her Hound run wild. Cersei countered the allegation with the claim that Sandor Clegane had joined the band of Beric Dondarrion and she insisted that King Tommen could not be blamed for all crimes that were committed by people once employed by House Lannister. The conversation ultimately led to Cersei agreeing to the restoration of the Faith Militant in exchange for the High Septon acknowledging Tommen as king and forgiving the Crown's debt to the Faith.[6]

Ser Jaime learned more about the Sack of Saltpans when he made stop at Castle Darry on his way to ending the Second Siege of Riverrun. A feast in his honor was also attended by Ser Arwood Frey, who told him about his futile attempt to find traces of the Brotherhood Without Banners at Saltpans. The atrocities Ser Arwood mentioned made Jaime skeptical that this was the Hound's doing, as, despite all the man's brutality, he didn't consider him quite the monster his brother had been. However, Ser Arwood assured Jaime that the identification of Sandor Clegane as leader of the Sack was unmistakable according to all accounts. Jaime refused the appeal by his cousin's new wife Amerei to hunt down the Hound for her, citing his obligations at Riverrun. However, Ser Lyle Crakehall, part of Jaime's force, promised her to return and kill the Hound for her once the task at Riverrun was completed, making Jaime muse that the Strongboar was not strong enough to defeat Sandor Clegane. Although Jaime had been informed about the Brave Companions dispersing when he had visited Harrenhal earlier, he was not able to make the connection to the Sack of Saltpans.[9][4]

Brienne and the Crossroads Inn

In her search for Sansa Stark, information that she misinterpreted led Brienne of Tarth to the Whispers, where she came across three former Brave Companions who had not participated in the Sack of Saltpans, namely Shagwell, Timeon and Pyg. Before killing the three, she learned from Timeon that "the Stark girl" was actually in the Hound's hands and that the Brotherhood was searching for the two along the Trident.[10] Believing this to refer to Sansa rather than to Arya Stark, Brienne decided to look for the Hound herself. Upon her return to Maidenpool, she learned from Ser Hyle Hunt about Sandor Clegane's alleged responsibility for the Sack of Saltpans and the attempts to blame it on the Brotherhood. Joined by Ser Hyle against her will, Brienne headed towards Saltpans.[8]

They were led by Septon Meribald to the Quiet Isle, where the Elder Brother shared his detailed knowledge of the Sack of Saltpans, including the cowardice exhibited by Ser Quincy Cox. He also informed Brienne that the Hound could not have been responsible, as he had buried the man himself, and that the "Stark girl" who had accompanied Sandor Clegane earlier had actually not been Sansa but Arya. The Elder Brother knew nothing of the girl's whereabouts, but suspected she might have been among those killed at Saltpans.[2] Brienne kept on with her search for Sansa, but was unsure where to go next. Her small band found nothing but death and destruction in Saltpans and they were refused entry to the holdfast. They now headed west towards the Crossroads Inn.[5]

Meanwhile, the influence of the vengeful Lady Stoneheart had changed the Brotherhood into a band that killed people in large numbers. Many of them were broken men, who had sought shelter at the Crossroads Inn, now mainly used as an orphanage associated with the Brotherhood and governed by Jeyne Heddle, a niece of its former owner, Masha Heddle. While only children lived at the inn (except for Gendry who worked at its forge), it was actually watched by Brotherhood men hidden nearby. When smoke signaled the arrival of guests, they would come forward, capture assumed offenders and hang them along the roads leading to the inn, often shoving pieces of salt into their mouths as reference to the Sack of Saltpans. However, it is unclear whether those hanged were accused of concrete crimes or had just fought for the Lannisters and their allies in the war.[5][11]

The true perpetrators of the Sack of Saltpans had escaped the Brotherhood, despite ongoing searches for them. Thus when Lem, in charge of guarding the inn for the Brotherhood at the time, received news one day that the "Mad Dog of Saltpans" had been seen heading north along the Green Fork, he and his men abandoned their post and followed the trail of the marauders, although they had the order to not leave the inn unwatched. They had actually fallen for a trick by Rorge's band who wanted to lure them away from the Crossroads Inn, as Lem realized after half a day. By that time, Rorge and his men were well on their way towards the inn, probably with the intention of murdering everyone there. Lem's men tried to return to the inn in time, but were further detained by a column of Frey knights that they had to circle around of.[5][11]

However, Brienne and her small band arrived at the Crossroads Inn before Rorge's men did. Starting a mile before the inn, they had come across the many corpses along the road and falsely assumed that these men had been hanged for the Sack of Saltpans. They managed to secure rooms at the inn, ignorant that they had run into a trap and that their arrival had been signaled to Lem's men, who, however, were not on their post at the time. While Brienne was talking with Gendry at the forge, men arrived. Gendry assumed it would be Lem's men and thus was unconcerned. However, Brienne' apprehension proved to be on the spot, when it turned out that the seven riders that approached the inn were those who had raided Saltpans, led by Rorge who was still wearing the Hound's helm. In an attempt to protect the children at the inn, Brienne provoked Rorge to a fight and managed to kill him, only to be attacked in turn by Biter who savaged her face. Before he could eat her alive, Biter himself was killed by Gendry. When Lem's men arrived, they took the severely injured Brienne as well as her companions Podrick Payne and Ser Lyle Hunt captive for assumed crimes, although Brienne's heroic deed against the Mad Dog of Saltpans probably saved them from being hanged on the spot. Lem's men let Brother Meribald go his way while Brienne, Podrick and Ser Lyle were taken away to be judged by Lady Stoneheart.[5][11]

References and Notes

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