Mar. 16th, 2013

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sansa

Winterfell was quiet again. Stannis Baratheon had concluded that his best course of action was to return to Storm’s End to see how their gamble with the Targaryens would turn out. With his troops and the Northern lords gone, calm descended over the ancient fortress once again.

The new Northern guard and several sons of minor houses remained, the only other women in the keep being the servants. At times Sansa missed having a close female friend, but Randa Royce had remained in the Vale and Jeyne Poole had gone to the Iron Isles with Theon Greyjoy. Sansa had heard of their suffering at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, and the tale had given her nightmares for a long time afterwards. Her heart, although bleeding for Jeyne, was nonetheless hard and unforgiving when it came to Theon. Smiling Theon, who had been like a brother to her…how he could have turned against her family, she did not understand.

Sansa threw herself into work, all her waking hours filled with the aim of restoring Winterfell to its former glory. She knew it to be a long and onerous task, but simply starting it gave her a purpose and an anchor she had lacked for such a long time.

To her immense relief she had found the Stark treasure intact, providing her with the coin needed to pay for everything. Soon after returning home she had descended into the crypts alone, and with shaky fingers dug under the sepulchre of Rickard Stark at the place her father had shown her on her twelfth nameday. She had been afraid that Robb, similarly entrusted with the secret of family treasure at the same age, would have let it slip to Theon. Her heart had almost skipped a beat when at first she had found nothing, but when she eventually touched the cold metal of a strong iron-bound chest, she closed her eyes and thanked the gods.  When she opened the casket the coins within gleamed in the firelight; gold dragons, silver stags and copper stars, gathered by many generations of House Stark. They had not been intended to be thoughtlessly squandered, but to be used only at times of dire need. If that time was not now, Sansa concluded, nothing was.

One of her first decisions was to put together a group of skilled advisors to help her. Only a handful of her people had been in Winterfell in her father’s time, most having migrated there either with the Boltons, Stannis or of their own accord. Sansa didn’t care about their previous loyalties but judged everyone on their own merits. She knew enough of the world to accept that the quarrels of the big houses often meant nothing and less for their retainers.  Soon she had established a team that could address all the important activities; building, gardening, food and clothing, animal care, defence and all the other invisible undertakings that kept a noble household humming.

Despite all this, she felt time going by slowly. It would be a long while before they could expect any news from King’s Landing. However, during the weeks of waiting Sansa found comfort in the company of her sworn shield. She had commanded a room near her chambers to be furnished for Sandor, reasoning that her defender needed to stay close in order to best protect her. He had moved into his new lodgings without protest, and whenever Sansa wanted to venture outside the keep, he put his other duties aside to accompany her.

They examined the building works, visited Winter Town or simply went about the countless tasks Sansa had to attend to. The people of the keep soon grew accustomed to seeing their lady hurrying across and outside the keep, from one errand to another, with her guard by her side.

Sansa enjoyed the conversations they had at these times, exchanging views and opinions about topics ranging from the best way to maintain a fish pond to the history of the first men. She found him to be intelligent and thoughtful and possessing a skill of observation and a dry wit not so different from Jaime’s. She started to look forward to their time together, especially after having learned to recognise his boundaries and how to respect them. The last thing she wanted was to go back to those times on the road when he had retreated behind his wall and shut her out.

Sansa learned that the issue Sandor was most reserved about was physical contact. If she kept her distance, everything went well and he responded to her earnestly. Bluntly, at times, but she found his honesty and candour uplifting, knowing him to always tell her the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be. Sometimes she wondered how he had lived his life before, possessing a character that was so much at odds with his previous life amongst the politics and deviousness of the court. No wonder he had withdrawn to the only place he knew he would be safe, deep within himself.

Yet if Sansa touched him; let her hand linger on his arm, brushed against his side as she passed or even leaned too close to him when speaking, something in him changed. His eyes took on a faraway look, he stiffened and awkwardness descended between them. Sansa didn’t know how to resolve the tension nor the reason for it. Was human touch really so abhorrent to him? How much he must have suffered on their journey, when necessity had dictated that they reside so close to each other! When she looked back at their travels, she nonetheless recognised he had not always reacted thus.

She found his aversion to touch even stranger after what had transpired that night in the kitchens. Had he thought her to be a kitchen wench? Was it only with Sansa that he was on his guard? Did he have a woman in the keep, a wildling perhaps, whom he sneaked away to visit when his blood was up? Or - once again Sansa found herself pondering – had Jaime broken through his barriers, had his touch been welcomed?

Sansa knew she shouldn’t be thinking of such things. Yet… she carried the memory of that night in her heart and unwrapped it as she was lying in her bed, examined it, lived it, basked in its glow, only to wrap it securely again when the morning dawned. She remembered his hands sliding across her belly and her hips, and how his knuckles had brushed the undersides of her breasts. Sometimes she allowed her thoughts to travel further, imagining his fingers trailing deeper into her body in a way that made her blush. She marvelled how caresses that had filled her with revulsion before suddenly seemed desirable. The hand on her thigh had disgusted her when it had been Petyr’s, but when she imagined it to be Sandor’s, it made her heart and body flutter.

----------

“You look deep in thought today, anything special on your mind, little bird?” Sansa startled from her meditations and blushed. If he only knew.

They were walking in the Godswood, ostensibly for Sansa to pray for her father. It was the truth, of course, as Sansa found his presence in the old grove much more powerful than in the cold crypt. Besides that, they had also taken up a habit of going there just to talk and to enjoy moments stolen from their never-ending duties.

“I was just thinking how life is different now that Stannis and Jaime have left. It is so quiet.”

“Aye, no more buggering lords or righteous followers of R’hllor. Better that way.” Sandor pushed the branches of an overhanging tree aside so Sansa could duck underneath. They were approaching her favourite place, the pools warmed by the hot springs of Winterfell.

The smallest of them had been much-loved when she was a child, and she had spent many pleasurable afternoons swimming and playing in it with Arya or Jeyne. Now that she was older, she still liked to sit next to it and see the small ripples lapping against the shore as the wind played on its surface, a subtle mist forming above the water. Although there was a light cover of snow on the ground elsewhere, near the pools the earth was bare and covered with green moss.

“It was still nice when the keep was full of life. It used to be so busy before, packed with smallfolk and tradesmen, soldiers and lords on their business to see my father, traveling merchants… Now it is only our small troop of guards, the household members and the odd visitor,” Sansa sighed.

“Haven’t you had enough excitement for one lifetime? Wouldn’t you want to rest now and enjoy the peace?” Sandor looked at her with barely hidden amusement on his face.

“I do enjoy the peace! Just that…it is as if I am waiting for something, as if all this is only temporary. What it is that I am waiting for, I’m not sure, but still…” Sansa skipped and hopped over some scattered twigs on the path taking her to the water’s edge.

“News from King’s Landing, that’s what we are all waiting for. To see whether we will be left in peace or if the Targaryens decide they want to crush the North as they have crushed the Crownlands.”

Sansa liked the way he said ‘we’. It sounded as if he had accepted that he was one of them now, a Northerner. His looks had always been of the North; maybe he had more blood of the first men in him than he thought.

Sansa sank to the ground and lifted her knees, hugging them and staring wistfully at the water. Her mind returned to its previous trails. If Sandor didn’t like to be touched, why had he put his hands upon her that night? It was clear he didn’t have any recollection of it and Sansa wasn’t sure if she wished him to remember it or not.

Nobody else would have dreamt of taking liberties with the Lady of Winterfell, although many young men had demonstrated their keenness. They showered her with compliments and tried to entice her to flirtatious exchanges, all in vain. One of the younger Umbers, Hetwyl, had started to follow her wherever she went, and only Sandor’s angry glances kept him from pouring his heart out to her at every opportunity. He was a strapping young lad, too young to have gone to war with Robb, but impulsive and eager to prove his worthiness to the Lady of the North. She knew him to be only one of many suitors circling her, waiting for the official annulment of her marriage to pounce upon her with their declarations of undying love and justifications as to why marrying them would be the wisest move for her.

The thought made her smile. If they expected her to accept the leash again just after she had freed herself of it, they had another thing coming. Brightening, she jumped to her feet, dropped her cloak on the ground and started to remove her shoes.

“What the hells are you up to now?” Sandor growled. He had been leaning against the tree trunk, arms across his chest, as was his habit when waiting for Sansa to finish whatever it was that she was doing.

“I am going to wade in the pool, that’s what I am doing,” Sansa responded while struggling with one of her stockings. It was tied up above her knee with a ribbon that had tangled itself into a tight knot she was now pulling with increasing excitement. It had been such a long time since she had done it, and suddenly the idea of warm water sloshing around her bare feet sounded more tempting than anything she had done lately. She didn’t pay attention to having to hitch her skirts up above her knees to get rid of the annoying garments, nor to the disbelieving stare Sandor directed at her. Finally she yanked the ribbon free and peeled the stockings away. Then she gathered her skirts around her and stepped into the pool.

It was as she remembered, warm and inviting and the sensation of water against her bare legs took her back years. She grinned and waded deeper, where the water reached her knees. She lifted her skirts even higher in order to not get the hem wet and closed her eyes. She felt elated and happy and young and carefree…

She twirled around and called to Sandor, “Maybe I am waiting for the news from King’s Landing, telling me that I am a free woman again!”

He was looking at her with an exasperated expression on his face. “Free, aye, but for how long? Do you think I haven’t seen all the lords just biding their time before they descend on you after that happens? A young unmarried woman as the lady of the strongest fortification in the North – they will not accept that, little bird, and you know it!”

Sansa laughed at him, “Who cares what they accept or want! Or do you think I should marry one of them just to keep them happy? Maybe young Hetwyl? Or one of the Cerwyns?”

She closed her eyes again and twirled on the spot, around and around, feeling the warm water embrace her, the rippled rays of the sun on her face and the lightness in her heart when she thought about how it would feel to be free, almost a maiden again…

Then she was jerked aside, Sandor’s firm grip on her arm, pulling her away from the pool. She almost fell, dropping her skirts and scrambling for purchase for her feet. In a flash she found herself back on firm land, still being dragged by Sandor until he finally stopped near where she had dropped her shoes.

“What…why on earth did you do that!” she snapped, annoyed at the way her happy moment had been interrupted. Sandor was still holding her wrist, but then released it, looking at her crossly.

“That is no way for a lady to behave, splashing in the water like a foolish girl, skirts lifted! If you don’t recognise it, maybe somebody else has to,” he snarled.

“Who are you to lecture me on how a lady should or should not behave? I can’t remember you always being on your best behaviour!” Sansa shouted back, her annoyance turning into anger. Oh why did he have to be so difficult? She had so started to enjoy their interactions, the stupid thing about being careful not to touch him aside. And now even that was not enough, he became irritated just by looking at her. It was not fair!

Sansa fumed and decided that it was too much. If he started to control her behaviour and be nasty to her, she might be better off being alone instead. She jostled for her shoes, pulling them to her feet while turning her face away from Sandor in order to hide the tears of anger and frustration welling in her eyes. She picked up her cloak and pulled it across her shoulders and started to walk back towards the keep.

As Sandor made a move to follow her, she turned and spat at him, “Don’t you even think about following me! I am quite capable of finding my own way back, thank you very much. Maybe I will be better off walking alone from now on, or finding a true knight to escort me, as is fitting for a noble lady, rather than being trailed by a big ugly brute like you!”

She saw his expression change as if she had slapped him on the face. She didn’t care, but was seething at the unfairness of the situation. She had tried to be his friend, had tried to raise him up in her household and had imagined him becoming closer to her over time…Yet there he was, rebutting her dreams of freedom, lecturing her on how she should act – when he was the only one in whose presence she could relax and be herself, instead of the Lady of Winterfell. She hardly saw the path from the tears that blurred her vision, but she walked on as briskly as she could.

After having gotten halfway to the keep she felt the cold hem of her dress clinging to her bare legs and realised she had forgotten her stockings. Seven Flames! She slowed down, contemplating what she should do. She couldn’t just leave them there – the Godswood and the pools were sometimes visited by other folk, and she was the only woman who wore such fine ribbons in her clothes. Should her clothing be found abandoned in a remote location, who knew what kind of tales people would conjure of it? She blushed, recognising immediately the most likely explanation gossipers would come up with.

She couldn’t rely on Sandor returning them to her either. He was a warrior and above mundane things such as women’s clothing. By now he was probably mad at her, entering into one of his angry moods and only scoffing at everyone and everything.

Her steps slowed further, then stopped. There was no way around it, she had to go back. She resolved to go there quickly and if she met Sandor on her way, she would just ignore him.

Sansa turned around and started to retrace her steps. As she walked, she began to calm down. She was still annoyed, but also realised that she might have overreacted. Sandor was only thinking of what was best for her, and if he didn’t recognise that she behaved differently with him than with other people, maybe she should just tell him.

His face after she had shouted at him rose to her mind – it had been shocked, hurt and…vulnerable in a way she had not seen it before. She also remembered his expression from earlier, when he had watched her removing her stockings. Only then did she become conscious of the wanton way she had behaved, revealing her bare legs in front of a man, flaunting herself while wading in the water. Was that why he became so angry?

She had almost reached the pool when she saw Sandor. Instead of leaving as she had expected, he had crouched down and was sitting on the ground with his long legs extended, his back against a weirwood trunk. He was holding something in his hands, and as Sansa moved closer, she recognised the items to be her stockings.

She stopped in her tracks and dropped down. It was not the fact that he was holding them, but the way he did it… He had coiled one around his large palm, holding the other loosely against his face. His eyes were closed and it appeared that he was breathing in the scent of them.

Sansa gasped. What was the meaning of that? As she watched, Sandor moved his hands, pressing the soft fabric against his face, moving it tenderly from the good side to the burned side, then back. All the while he inhaled deeply, his powerful shoulders trembling slightly.

Witnessing his private moment as an outsider, Sansa felt deeply embarrassed. Then she scoffed at herself. They are my stockings! So she stayed still, gazing in wonderment at how he, the massive warrior, showed tenderness she had never seen him show towards anything or anyone, to a few pieces of clothing.

After a while she saw him gathering both garments into one hand while the other descended to his waist, where he fumbled with the laces of his breeches. He pulled them open and reached for his groin. Suddenly mortified, Sansa realised his intentions. She should have averted her gaze, but she couldn’t, feeling frozen on the spot.

She was too far away to see the details, but could detect his engorged member standing out, pale against his dark homespun breeches. Still pressing his face against the hand holding Sansa’s stockings he started to rhythmically stroke himself, first slower, then increasing the pace. After a while he lowered his other hand and twirled one of the long socks around the base of his manhood, his whole body shuddering as he did so. Sansa could see his face now, eyes still closed, head pulled back and his features contorted as if in agony. His lips had peeled back revealing strong white teeth and Sansa could faintly hear his heavy breathing and muffled groans.

Sansa became aware of powerful sensations engulfing her, heat pooling in her belly and between her legs, together with a surge of wetness she had experienced before only in her own bed, caused by her own thoughts. She realised that those thoughts had concentrated on Sandor, on the night in the kitchens foremost. Even before, when she had ridden with him on Stranger, she had enjoyed a strange and enchanting awareness of his body, and her own had responded to it without her conscious participation.

Her cheeks were burning and she started to breathe quicker. The rational part of her mind told her she should leave, turn away from the intoxicating sight and sneak away quietly, but the irrational part urged her to stay and relish this most unusual and most exciting experience.

She saw Sandor’s body arching as he finally let go of his control and roared his release. Dazed, Sansa didn’t know what to expect next. She saw him lying motionless for a long time, his eyes still closed. Even now he was holding onto her stockings, but he had been careful to pull them aside as he had approached his peak. He was now looping them between his fingers, finally opening his eyes and watching them intently. His face looked serene and calm, but also sad.

Sansa became conscious that she would have to make sure she could get away without being noticed. Should he see her now…she was not sure what might happen, but didn’t want to risk finding out. She retreated slowly, avoiding making any noise until she judged herself to be at a safe distance. Then she started to run, hurrying towards the keep as fast as she could, her mind racing all the way.

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