Jaime was returning from the smithy when he heard the familiar sound of horses and men and turned to see a group on horseback approaching in the distance. He recognised the formation of the crannogmen on their small mounts. Then he saw a figure he had thought he would never lay eyes on again; a large rider on a huge black horse. For a moment he stilled, blinked his eyes and forced himself to look again, carefully in case he was only getting his hopes up just to be unbearably crushed again.
The riders approached and the closer they got, the more his eyes drank in the sight of him. Jaime’s heart started to thump loudly and his hand, holding a piece of chain mail, started to shake. He was frozen on the spot and couldn’t move, all the while the riders got closer and closer and he finally recognised the rider beyond all doubt.
Sandor had noticed him and as the group entered the yard, stopped Stranger in front of Jaime. He threw his head back in a laugh that revealed his strong white teeth and highlighted the asymmetry of his features.
“Kingslayer! You thought you got rid of me, didn’t you!” He didn’t seem to notice Jaime’s stunned appearance as he slid off the horse and reached him in few long strides. Still dazed, Jaime didn’t have time to react before he was engulfed in Sandor’s arms. He closed his eyes and felt his embrace, his arms, his smell, his presence. Then he responded, whacking Sandor on the back, cursing and spluttering.
“Bloody Hound! So you did have to come back, you couldn’t leave us alone, could you?!” Both of them were now laughing, Sandor openly, Jaime slightly madly. They kept thumping each other’s shoulders and back, throwing fists and cursing, using a language which to the uninitiated could have sounded like the two of them were the greatest of enemies.
The crannogmen dismounted and their leader approached Howland Reed, who had appeared out of nowhere. “Lord Reed, we found the companion of Lady Stark on his way here. He assured us that there were no survivors among the soldiers who had followed them, so we turned back to escort him here. Just in case,” he glanced towards Sandor, looking nervous, “we sent two scouts to explore the scene and ensure that no further parties cross the bridge without our knowledge.”
Howland nodded and sent them to unpack. Then he turned towards Jaime and Sandor, who were still holding each other, grinning stupidly.
“Welcome to Greywater Watch, Sandor Clegane. It appears you have survived your ordeal well, but should you have a need for a maester just let me know and I will arrange one.”
Sandor turned to him and transformed into his stern self, saying gruffly: “Thank you but I am fine. Could use a meal and a bath though.”
Glancing at Jaime he continued, “The men told me Lady Stark arrived safely as well.” Jaime tried not to flinch. Of course he had known that Sandor’s first thoughts would be about Sansa. It didn’t matter though, he was happy to assure him of her safety. His head was still spinning and he felt as if he was floating through the air. Seldom had he experienced such a moment of pure unadulterated joy and he let it wash over him, enjoying the feeling.
“Yes, Lady Stark is here and will be happy to see you again, that’s for sure.” Before Jaime could continue, he heard a high-pitched yelp and saw a flash of red flying past him. Sansa ran towards Sandor and without caring about the people still lingering in the courtyard jumped into his arms, hugging him intensely, tears streaming down her face.
Sandor was taken aback and hardly kept his balance, so unexpected and forceful had been her approach. He held her in his arms so her feet didn’t touch the ground, patting her back gently and grinning awkwardly over her shoulder. Jaime stepped closer and reached for Sansa while murmuring, “Sansa, you can step down now, he will not go anywhere, he is safe now. Please Sansa, step down.” To Sandor he whispered, “Let her down, this is neither the time nor the place.”
Sandor placed Sansa on the ground and released her gently. He then knelt in front of her in a belated attempt to maintain some kind of dignity and growled, “Lady Sansa, the soldiers of the Vale who were after you are no more. I wish I could say I did it all by myself but I did have some help. I will gladly explain everything but for now I would be grateful for a meal and a bath.”
Sansa, who was still sniffling but also smiling through her tears likewise attempted a dignified stand and responded, “Rise, Sandor Clegane. I thank you kindly for the service you have done for me. I implore my gracious host to grant you the same courtesy he has extended to me and Ser Jaime and provide you with what you requested.”
At Howland’s nod Sandor was soon escorted away by the servants, but only after he had seen Stranger safely into the stables.
Jaime went to his chamber, sank down on the pallet and buried his face in his hand. There was a storm dwelling inside him and he didn’t know how to weather it.
They met in the solar again, the three of them and Howland Reed. Sansa had insisted that the maester examine Sandor. She couldn’t bear the thought of him being hurt but in his gruff way refusing to acknowledge it. She could still hardly believe that he was here, that he was alive.
To Sansa’s relief the maester found nothing more serious than a few shallow cuts and bruises. Sandor was given clean clothes, although no tunics or breeches that would have fitted him had been found. The women of the household had hastily put together several different pieces of clothing to cover his modesty while his own clothes were being washed and mended.
While relishing the taste of sour ale, Sandor gave a detailed account of the events that had transpired since they had separated. His story was quickly told; while waiting by the bridge he had been accosted by a small band of desperate men of the woods. If they had thought him to be an easy target – one man against seven – he had soon convinced them otherwise. The men had all been damaged one way or another; wounded, old or just broken from the inside by the war, and had neither proper weapons nor a horse between them. Sandor had informed them about a group of ten well-equipped soldiers approaching and promised they could keep all the horses, weapons, clothes and coin they could find in exchange for assisting him to overcome them. After a quick conversation the outlaws agreed and even suggested a ruse to entrap them in the boggy terrain nearby.
Once the troops had crossed the bridge, Sandor had lured them to the place and he and the outlaws had descended on them ruthlessly. The fight had been quick and brutal. Sandor didn’t go into details, glancing at Sansa, but told them he had kept one soldier alive long enough to squeeze information out of him.
It turned out Littlefinger had not been aware of Sandor’s involvement when the group had left, and had sent six other search teams in all directions from the Vale in an attempt to find Sansa. He had not revealed her true identity but had played the part of a worried father, who was much too attached to his natural daughter to allow her abductors to get away with her.
While Sandor was talking Sansa couldn’t keep her eyes away from him. She studied his face, his eyes, his shoulders and the arms that were barely covered by the haphazardly sewn clothing, and the whole of him. The face which used to scare and repulse her had mysteriously transformed into a face that radiated trustworthiness, reliability and…something else. Every now and then Sandor returned her gaze and something flashed in his grey eyes.
Sansa realised her earlier behaviour had been unwise. She knew she had nothing to hide or be ashamed of, but she also knew the world would not understand the ties that bound them together. Just as they wouldn’t understand why she had stolen into Jaime’s bed the previous night.
She sighed. The well-behaved young lady following her lady mother and septa’s advice had metamorphosed into a woman who followed only her own counsel. The change had happened somewhere along the way, starting in King’s Landing and leading to the here and now. She may still have to follow the rules of propriety when it was necessary, but she would never again be made to believe in them.
After the news had been exchanged, food and drink consumed and the decision made about postponing their travel by one more day in order to supply Sandor adequately, it was time to retire. They exchanged cordial goodnight wishes in the solar and Sansa returned to her chamber. The servants had carried another pallet to Jaime’s room to accommodate Sandor, she noticed on her way.
Sansa undressed and climbed into her bed. Sleep didn’t come; the day had been too eventful and draining, lifting her from the deepest misery to the highest exhilaration. Her thoughts drifted again to the previous night and the comfort she had found with Jaime. Sandor’s return was now casting it in a different light and changing it. She had a sensation of having been on the brink of something and then being pulled back, feeling confused.
Thinking back to her earlier uncertainty about Jaime’s intentions, he perhaps only guarding his expressions better than Sandor, she realised something she had missed before. With a sudden clarity Sansa recognised that although Jaime had never directed The Look at her, he had fixed it at Sandor.
She gasped, comprehension hitting her. That very evening as she had rested her eyes on Sandor and secretly taken him in, she had caught Jaime doing exactly the same. She had not made the connection then, only thinking him to be glad of his return, but now she understood it had been more than that. Jaime’s gaze had been appreciative, keen and hungry. The Look, which she knew so well.
Sansa had to sit up and think it through carefully. It was not possible - surely she was just imagining things, being ignorant in the ways of the world? Yet the more she contemplated it, the more she remembered little incidents, sideways glances, the way they had both stared at Sandor when he had removed his tunic. Sansa knew Jaime had never loved another woman but Cersei. The only woman he had cared about had been a warrior; strong, muscular, broad-shouldered Brienne of Tarth.
Sansa frowned. What did it mean? And what did it matter? She herself had slowly learned how strong bonds could form between the unlikeliest people. But Jaime and Sandor… She tried to remember if she had ever seen Sandor returning Jaime’s gaze, but couldn’t.
She tossed and turned, admitting to herself how little she knew about the human condition and relationships. She had been too highborn and protected to learn about the realities of life, her only education on the topic having been the nights in Randa’s company. She had heard things that had made her blush and squirm in a delightful half-scandalized, half-thrilled sort of way. She knew there were men who cared about other men that way but Randa had passed them over with a shrug of her round shoulders as they had held no interest for her.
Sansa forced those thoughts out of her head and tried to sleep, forcing her eyes to close. Eventually she had enough and stood up. Jaime had told her not to come into his bed again, but Sandor hadn’t said anything to that effect.
Just as before, it was easy for Sansa to slip into the other room, the light of a candle showing the way. She saw the new pallet and the sleeping form in it. She threw an anxious glance towards Jaime’s bed, but the knowledge of his presence was not enough to stop her. She lifted the blankets and slid under them, positioning herself carefully next to Sandor. He was resting on his back with his arms raised above his head, one hand tucked under his neck, the other resting on the pillow. Sansa pressed cautiously against his side and placed her head in the crook of his arm.
For a moment nothing happened. Then Sandor’s breathing, which had been deep and steady, became irregular and he started to lift his head.
“Shhhh…” Sansa put her finger on his lips to press his head gently down. Sandor resisted, his eyes flickering open. For a moment he didn’t seem to realise where he was, then he turned and Sansa saw his eyes widening at the sight of her.
“What…” he started to say, but again Sansa shushed him with her finger, pointing at Jaime. Sandor glanced at him, seemed to realise her meaning and stopped talking. He blinked his eyes a few times as if to clear his head and shifted, lifting himself into a half-seated position.
“Sandor, please let me stay here. I thought… we thought you were dead. It was horrible.” Sansa’s voice was low but urgent. She was beyond caring whether she sounded pleading
Sandor studied her. He was now fully awake and the intensity of his eyes was almost scary. It was The Look, Sansa realised, but instead of being repulsed or offended, she felt it transforming her. Rather than turning away from it she turned towards it, she welcomed The Look. The thought made her dizzy.
“What are you doing, little bird? You can’t be here. They will arrest me for sure, and you will be shamed. Nobody will take up your cause if you are seen in my bed!” Sandor grunted under his breath. His gaze had changed and he appeared angry.
“They will not see me here! I will not stay long. I only needed to come to make sure that you are still here, that you are still alive.” Sansa had crawled up to sit next to him, leaning against his side. Sandor had also taken advantage of sleeping in a warm room and wore only ill-fitting smallclothes. His chest was bare and covered with dense dark hair just as she remembered.
“I am alive, rest assured of that. I am also back in your service, my lady.” Sandor uttered the last words with clearly intended emphasis.
“Is that all I am to you… your lady?” Sansa was not stupid; she knew Sandor could be nothing more than her sworn shield. So why was she asking him questions she knew had no answers. She realised then that staying any longer would only be cruel to them both
Sandor was still looking at her, his body stiff and unyielding. Then they heard light rustling in Jaime’s direction as he turned in his pallet, having just woken up.
“Sansa?” Jaime’s voice broke the darkness. Before he continued Sansa whispered, “I am leaving, Jaime. I only came to ensure he is well.” She brushed her hand lightly across Sandor’s cheek before slipping away, out of his bed, back to her own chamber, leaving her candle behind.
Sansa threw herself into her bed and burrowed deep inside the blankets. Her heart was racing as she thought about her two companions, so different yet so similar, lying so very close. The Lion and the Hound, both strong and dangerous, yet so loyal. The thought of their continuing journey made her stomach knot, but with excitement or nervousness, she couldn’t decide.