SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
The only thing that mattered for now was to make sure they reached their destination safely and once there, would not be parted but would stay together, one way or another.
Sansa looked at the powerful warrior and saw how tightly his fists were closed by his sides. He would do that…for me?
There was only one answer she could give.
“If you truly would do that, I would forever be in your debt.” She looked at him feeling such warmth and tenderness as she had never felt before. Then she realised something and furrowed her forehead.
“But how could you? The Lannister’s would never let you go – and you owe everything to them. If you do this, you will forfeit everything you have gained in your life; your place as the king’s sworn shield, respected position in the court, your life at court and in Casterly Rock.”
She felt flattened. Of course no man, especially a second son of poor landed gentry would give up his life for…what? Gratitude of a traitor’s family? She hardly realised Sandor had moved closer until he sat down heavily on the chair next to the bed. He looked stern and sombre as he spoke, staring straight into her eyes.
“I might have though the same earlier. But the truth is, little bird, that I never had anything truly worthwhile here. I have merely been with the Lannisters as they were the ones who gave me a home when I needed one, and needed my services when I grew strong enough to be of use. But they never gave me anything to believe in.”
Sansa stared at him breathlessly; she had never seen him quite as serious.
“I am tired of being their dog, fetching at their command. I am ready to be my own man now. And ready to commit to a cause that I truly believe in.”
“The cause of the North? The revenge for the Warden of the North who was so cruelly murdered by the false king?” Sansa muttered under her breath, feeling the heat he radiated even through the distance between them.
“No little bird, not that cause.”
She continued staring at him. What is the cause he believes in? She wanted to understand what motivated this strange man. It was true that she didn’t have much knowledge of men and what drove them, but what little she did know did not fit with what she saw in him. He didn’t want to be a knight – he hated knights. He didn’t seem to want power or influence for himself – for that men needed allies and he didn’t seem to have friends. He wasn’t after money or favours – he had accepted the tourney winnings but there were many ways how he could have used his position of influence with the King to advance his cause, but seemingly didn’t. He didn’t chase women – despite his face, his position should have assured some attention, even a marriage with a daughter of a small house. But she had never seen him with women, except the evening when that woman had tried to come to his room.
What do you believe in? Sansa wanted to ask him that, but instead herself saying out loud, “What cause will you commit yourself?”
He hadn’t removed his gaze from her before but now he did, shifting on his chair, looking at his hands.
“Mayhap one day I will tell you, mayhap not. For now isn’t it enough for you just to know that I am ready to leave this place and take you to Winterfell, to be with your family?” He looked at her now almost challengingly, something hard in his eyes. Sansa swallowed and hurried to assure him.
“That is your right for sure. I will not seek to uncover your reasons if you rather not share them. I only hope that your cause and mine are aligned and we will both find contentment in our chosen path.”
He looked at her with an expression she had learned to indicate quiet amusement. “Aye little bird, I hope so too.”
They spent a long time that evening discussing how to go about their plan. Sandor wanted to leave as soon as possible and Sansa wasn’t willing to wait either. They concluded that in two days they would leave, and that Sandor would use the time to buy her a horse, get the supplies they needed and find out as much as possible about the movements of the crown forces in the areas they would have to travel through.
Sansa felt frustrated at how little there was that she could do. Her irritation only intensified her resolution to do her share when they were on the road. I will not be a spoiled lady, I will do whatever I can to aid our travel. He will have no reason to regret his decision.
She was afraid to think of what would happen once they got to Winterfell, but was determined to do anything in her power to make sure that he would be rewarded. She could imagine how shocked her family would be to see her arriving with him, the Lannister dog. She would explain them how good he had been to her, how he had forsaken his previous life to help her - for whatever reason it might be. Maybe he could stay as their man-at-arms? With his experience he could surely be a commander of some sort. Or…maybe he could become her sworn shield? Would he agree?
The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. It would mean that they wouldn’t have to be separated. She knew that relationships with lords and their most trusted men could be as close as those between family members. Like her father’s relationship with Martyn Cassel, who had died at the fighting at the Tower of Joy, and later with his son Jory. The strongest relationships were often forged in wars, where a man’s life depended on his fellow man. Whether that man was of high or low birth had nothing to do to with the strength of the bond formed. What has this been if not a war? He saved my life, I saved his. Sansa thought of the long way ahead of them from King’s Landing to Winterfell and shivered. It would not be easy and their bond would be even more tested.
She knew there was a bond between them; one formed slowly, gradually but surely. She had stopped being afraid of him a long time ago. She still didn’t want to raise his ire, but she was certain he would never harm her. As for the times when he had touched her, she was not frightened of that either. Sandor hadn’t gone further although he easily could have, had he wanted. The only time he had put his lips on hers had been when she had leaned towards him first. Sansa blushed when she remembered the feeling and the heat the moment had elicited in her. For a moment she idly wondered if he would kiss her again, while they were travelling. They would have to continue to live in close quarters, spend all their time in each other’s company and sleep next to each other to keep warm…
As Sansa started to pack her meagre belongings she started quietly hum to herself. She felt strong, she felt confident – she could hardly wait to be on the road with the hard and strong man, who nonetheless represented only kindness to her. When they would be at their destination, she would make sure they would not be parted, but would stay together, one way or another.
I will make sure of that.
Sandor felt the frustration of the last few days giving way to a newly invigorated feeling of purpose. The next day he went to the city to buy a sturdy but good natured mare for Sansa. He also visited shops and warehouses for supplies they would need in weeks to come; another bedroll, warm blankets and water-proof covers, fur-lined cloaks, dried food to maintain them until they could buy more, and snares and traps for trapping small pray. He thoughtfully weighed up wine skins trying to determine how much they would need, and with a small sigh decided that food and clothing was more important than wine, and settled for four small skins.
He left the horse and supplies at an inn in the Flea Bottom to wait for their departure. His next task was to find out about troop movements. That was achieved surprisingly easily by talking to veteran men-at-arms, squires and stable boys. The news was good and it appeared that at least their initial route until as far as the Trident was relatively safe riding if they just avoided the Kingsroad.
His next task was harder. Sandor wanted to buy them as much time as possible, and the only way to get that was through the King. He approached Joffrey that same afternoon after judging him to be in one of his good moods. He had made up a story about some trouble in Clegane’s Keep, asking permission to visit it on important estate matters.
Joffrey looked at him surprised. “Why would you care about the matters of Clegane’s Keep – aren’t they Ser Gregor’s worries? It is not your land, after all.”
Sandor made a face of indifference. “That is so, Your Grace, but if I am lucky, someone will kill him soon enough. There is a long list of people who would like to see him dead and I might just be fortunate enough to see it happening sooner rather than later. If that happens, I would want my lands to have been properly looked after.”
Joffrey examined him with narrowed eyes. “The present company included, I suppose?” It was well known that the Clegane brothers hated each other, so Sandor only shrugged his shoulders without commenting.
“You plan ahead, dog. I like it!” Joffrey declared, rising from his chair and starting to walk towards the throne room. If you only knew, Sandor thought while following, trying to suppress a sardonic smile tugging in the corner of his mouth.
“Well, if you must, go then. But be back as soon as possible. The realm is restless because I was bold enough to punish the Stark traitor as he needed to. You get one week and that is all. Ride there and back as fast as you can with that beast of yours. If he is as good as you say, you should be able to do that easily.”
“Very well, Your Grace.” Sandor bowed stiffly. One week! That was better than he had expected. They could get far before his desertion would be noticed.
Desertion. He didn’t like the sound of it. But that’s what it was, whichever way it was viewed. If he was lucky, he would be thought deserting on his own – but if Ser Meryn’s suspicions were further raised or if anyone had seen or heard anything... If he was found to have escaped with the Stark girl, he would be a hunted man for the rest of his life in any territory where the Lannisters held sway.
He considered for a moment killing Ser Meryn, but in the end concluded it would raise even more suspicions. Also, he knew he was never going to come back to serve the Lannisters again. He was done with them, no matter what followed.
As Sandor was readying himself for their journey he did the one last sweep in his room, packing only his most valuable possessions to take with him. Among them was the little doll that had belonged to her sister. IT had been the only thing he had taken with him from Clegane’s Keep all those years ago when leaving for Casterly Rock. He had been only a young boy then, keen to get away from the house under Gregor’s tyrannical rule. Tywin Lannister had welcomed him and he had been grateful to him, returning his favour by dedicating himself to his cause, however skewed or twisted.
He stared at the doll. The little bird was already sleeping, the steady rhythm of her breathing in his ears. I took you from Clegane’s Keep. Is there anything I want to take from the Red Keep? Were th ere any good memories of the life he had lived there, and now inevitably leaving behind forever. Is there anything I will miss?
In his heart he knew that the only thing he wanted to take away with him was sleeping there, ready to depart with him. When the little bird had asked him to what cause he was ready to commit himself, he couldn’t have given her a truthful answer. That the only cause that had ever roused him from his indifference was the girl himself, and the bond he felt slowly forming between them.
‘I only hope that your cause and mine are aligned,’ she had said. So would I, Iittle bird – if that only could be. He was determined all the same to make sure that she reached her home safe, secure from the Lannisters, protected from anyone who may want to harm her – even from himself. Sandor winced thinking ahead the long journey ahead. They would have to stay close, if possible even closer than before when sharing the room. There would be temptations...
Sandor was grateful that Sansa didn’t seem to be afraid of him anymore. He still couldn’t decide what to make of the kiss. He was sure she had leaned towards him, but why? She was grateful for him, he knew – was that it? She wanted to reward her faithful knight with a kiss of faith? She was so young and naive that she might think something like that. The kiss itself hadn’t certainly been a chaste kiss of reward but something much more...
He cursed, swearing to keep himself in better check in the future. No matter how tempted he would be, he would control himself. Not only did he want to protect her, but he decided that if he was given an opportunity to stay at her family’s service, he would. Whether the young Lord Stark could trust a man who had abandoned his previous liege lord and master, was another story.
Sandor couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her there and riding away, alone. Maybe he could offer himself as her sworn shield – would she accept him? It would mean that they wouldn’t have to part. It would also ensure that when her family inevitably married her to some high lord, he would have to follow her to her new home. He would see her growing heavy with his children, her bestowing her favours to her lordly husband. He grimaced, feeling his hatred for that nameless foe already heating his blood.
Still it would be better than not to be with her at all. There was still much that could happen until then. The only thing that mattered for now was to make sure they reached their destination safely and once there, would not be parted but would stay together, one way or another.
I will make sure of that.
----- The End ------
Thank you for everyone who made it this far, for your perseverance! As I said in the beginning, this started as a Comm Fic Meme entry and was only the second story I ever wrote; just a little playful tale… Since I first posted this in Sept/Oct 2012, I have reviewed it and corrected the most horrible grammar in March 2013, not changing the story as such.
Comments are love…
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
I am a wolf. I can’t give up now. I must survive this. My father would expect that of me. The realisation gave her new strength.
Sansa’s life returned back to the routine it had had before the fateful events of that horrible day when her father had been executed. Sandor kept her updated about the events at court with his curt reports at the end of each day. The execution had caused great upset throughout the realm. The North had been attacked again – the last time it had happened was when the Mad King Aerys had murdered Lord Rickard and his heir Brandon. The new Lord Eddard had rallied the North into rebellion with Robert Baratheon, which had ultimately led to downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. What would happen this time? The life in court was subdued and the small council was worried, according to Sandor.
Despite the depths of despair she had been thrown into, over the next several days Sansa gradually started to stir out of it. She had no choice but to; she needed to focus on what would happen to her next. What could she do, where could she go? She thought of her brother Robb, still a young boy in so many regards. What would he do? What would her mother do? Sansa’s heart went out to her– she knew her parents had had a loving marriage, which was not all that common among the nobles. She had thought herself possibly finding the same. In her stupidity she had thought that Joffrey could offer her that. After what had transpired, she could see the cruelness that was in him and was relieved to have escaped the fate of such horrid marriage.
Yet she wasn’t ready to give up a dream of loving marriage with someone who was kind and caring and looked after her. Someone who would comfort her when she was hurt, treat her with respect and share things with her… and at the same time would excite her with his touch. Someone who would make butterflies flutter in her stomach and cause a burning warmth race through her veins in a way she had only recently discovered. Someone like… at that Sansa caught herself with a gasp. Someone like him!
Quickly rousing herself from the unwieldy thoughts she tried to think again what she should do next. She had no members of her household nor any other friends in court. She had no servants to follow her orders and no coin. She was but a young girl and didn’t know how to look after herself, not even a simple thing as how to go about organising her travel to the North, should she be able to escape – or should Sandor choose to let her go.
The more she thought about her next steps during those long days when all she really wanted to do was to cry and bury herself under the blankets to mourn her father, the more something else started to grow inside her. I am a wolf. I can’t give up now. I must survive this. My father would expect that of me. The realisation gave her new strength. It might be that she was alone, but she still had her health, still had her wit. All she needed was determination and some of that resolve Arya had always seemed to possess in abundance.
Sansa became increasingly convinced that if she truly wanted to leave and asked Sandor, he would let her go. Wasn’t it what he had been planning himself? Yet even she was free to go, how would she get back to the North? She admonished herself in her mind. If I only had paid more attention to the visitors in my father solar when he was the Hand! I am sure he had some allies; not everyone must have forsaken and denied him so utterly!
No matter how hard she thought, she couldn’t remember any names or faces. There was the plump bald man - Varys? – but she remembered her father being suspicious of him, so he wouldn’t do. Then it hit her – Lord Petyr Baelish! He had fostered with her mother’s family and had assured her earlier to be a true and loyal friend of hers and her family. He would surely help her, being now in an influential position at court as a Master of Coin! She started to feel better already.
That evening Sandor had hardly entered the room when Sansa asked him eagerly, “Pray tell me, is Lord Petyr Baelish still in court?”
He continued removing his swordbelt, lifting the heavy contraption into the hook as easily as she might lift a piece of ribbon.
“He is still in court. Busily arranging the finances for possible hostilities should they arrive. Why do you ask?” He was wondering what the little bird was about.
“I…know he was a good friend of my mother and aunt, having grown up with them at my grandfather’s keep. I thought he may possibly be willing to help me now.” She looked nervous but there was also something new in her expression. He studied it long and hard and decided it could only be called as determination. She still looked sad, but there was a new grim line set on her jaw as she faced him.
“And what is it you would like him to help you with?” Sandor said in order to gain some time.
“I appreciate the care you have shown me here, but eventually I need to leave the Keep - “Care? She sees me as having cared for her? The thought seemed absurd to him at first, but after a brief consideration he saw how she could have arrived to that conclusion. “ – and hence I need some trustworthy person to organise my travel to the North. I thought maybe Lord Baelish would be willing to help me, for my mother’s sake. Naturally my mother and brother would compensate him well for any trouble it would cause,” she finished.
Bloody hells, she has planned this for a while. “Lord Littlefinger may be willing to help you, but I suspect no further than his own bedroom. I would not trust that man any farther than I can throw him,” he snorted.
Sansa looked at him shocked and Sandor had to remind himself again how young and innocent she truly was. He tried to soften his response, but at the same time knew he had to make her see the world for how it truly was.
“Lord Petyr has been spreading stories about how he took the maidenhoods of both Tully girls while still in your grandfather household. And I have seen how he looks at you. You resemble your mother a lot, you know. He looks at you like a hungry beast, as if he wanted to relive his…fantasy.” He corrected himself at the last minute. Who knew what the truth was, not that he cared. What he did care about was not to let the little bird to get into clutches of that arrogant bastard.
Sansa flushed deep red and studied the floor looking embarrassed. Just in case if his story was not enough to persuade her away from her foolish plan, Sandor continued.
“And it was Littlefinger’s dagger on your father’s throat when he was arrested. Doesn’t sound like a good friend of a family to me.”
At that Sansa was completely deflated and Sandor couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. She sank on the bed and lifted her knees against her chest, a peculiar childlike gesture which however when combined with the curve of her hips it exposed, had completely opposite effect on him.
“I genuinely thought he could be one person here I could trust! But I know no-one, nobody who would be willing to help me!” Her big blue eyes looked at him sadly. Then her expression changed and she continued with a softer voice.
“Except you – you are the only person here I can trust, utterly and completely. You don’t know how much that means to me… Sandor.”
He felt like rolling his eyes – but didn’t. Suddenly he heard himself saying: “I could take you to the North. I could keep you safe, they’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you or I’d kill them.”
He had certainly planned nothing of a sort, but once he had said it, it seemed as if it was the only option, the most logical and certainly the best solution for her. He realised to his surprise that it was also an option that he suddenly wanted himself as well.
After his words were out there, he felt nervous. What if she says no? What if it is good enough for me to keep her safe here, but not to take her across the kingdom? He felt cold sweat trickling down his forehead and he clinched his fists helplessly while waiting for what seemed like an eternity.
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
She collapsed to the ground and gasped, trying to breathe, but felt as if a tight strap was bound around her chest. She lifted her arm towards the man in front of her in a helpless gesture and saw him reach for her.
Sansa had realised why Sandor had asked her to come to him – she had known and she had gone to him anyway. Would he have demanded her had she not obeyed his request? She wasn’t sure and in any case preferred to maintain the illusion that she had a choice. Since he had touched her the previous time, she had often thought about it and the sensations it raised in her. She had been afraid…but also strangely stirred.
The second time was no different. When he had squeezed her head between his large hands, she had been acutely aware of how vulnerable she was, and he so utterly powerful. But she also trusted that he wouldn’t harm her. Almost without being conscious of it she had leaned towards him, not sure of what she expected to happen – but the kiss that ensued was so much more and so much better than she could have imagined.
Sansa sat on the bed, still breathing heavily and trying to ascertain what she should do next. Why did he push me away?
Sandor hadn’t said anything, but had left, coming back only much, much later. She expected him to be drunk as he often was when returning from his outings, but to her surprise he wasn’t. He had been brusque and curt, telling her once more to prepare herself for possible departure the next day, had rolled out his bedroll and gone to sleep. Sansa stayed awake for a long time before falling asleep, thinking about her time in the care of the strange and unpredictable man.
The next day she was nervous and agitated. She didn’t have much to pack, but prepared a bundle from warm clothes he had brought her, wrapped some bread and hard cheese in a cloth and sew the coins he had given her into the lining of her dress. As most days, she passed time away sitting by the little window with a view to the central courtyard. The room was so high up and the window so well protected by an overhang that Sandor had deemed it safe.
Around midday she saw a gradual trickle of people departing the keep, and sometime later heard bells of the Great Sept of Baelor. The trial has started. Sansa tried to imagine her father standing on the platform, looking dignified and solemn. She prayed for him; the Father to grant him fair judging, the Warrior to give him strength and the Crone to give him wisdom to endure his humiliation.
Time dragged on and eventually she saw the crowd returning. Its mood appeared restless, the groups of men talking to each other agitatedly and gesturing. Gold cloaks arrived shortly and dispersed the crowds and remained standing guard on the yard and at the all gates. She wondered what this meant. Sandor would know – if he just got back!
Sansa paced the room back and forth, back and forth, waiting for him, jumping from every little noise. Finally she heard his heavy footsteps approaching and saw him emerging from the door. Something is not right. He looks…dejected. Suddenly she didn’t want to hear what he might have to say.
Sandor sat down heavily on the bed and stared at her for a long time. The silence that extended between them frayed her nerves until she couldn’t take it any longer.
“What happened? Is my father on his way to the Wall by now?”
He breathed heavily and sighed, “No, little bird. That son of a bitch useless little shit executed him. Just like that. Ser Ilyn Payne chopped his head off with his own sword.”
Sansa’s world came crumbling down. “Father…dead? Can’t be, must not be! She felt all strength leaving her body; as if her arms and legs had been drained of power to hold her up, and her lungs punctured of air. She collapsed to the ground and gasped, trying to breathe, but felt as if a tight strap was bound around her chest. She lifted her arm towards the man in front of her in a helpless gesture and saw him reach for her.
The next sensation she had was being completely wrapped in his embrace, and she allowed herself to drown into her sorrow.
Sandor still couldn’t believe what had happened. He concluded that it had been Joffrey’s idea, planned likely with commander Janos Slynt and Ilyn Payne. The members of the small council, including Queen Cersei, had looked shocked as the events unfolded. Sandor himself had been standing back and not been able to do anything – not that there would have been anything he could have done.
He sat on the floor holding the little bird who trembled in his arms and sobbed her little heart out. He cursed, as he had cursed the whole way back to the keep. It had been a long time since Sandor had been in a position to comfort a woman. He patted her awkwardly and just held her, his touch containing none of the intensity or hunger it had had before. He only wanted to hold her to make sure she wouldn’t fall into pieces, shattered by her grief.
He held her until late that night, as she cried until it appeared she simply didn’t have any more tears left, eventually falling into a restless sleep.
The next day he had no choice but to go on duty as before. The court was still buzzing about the unexpected turn of events the previous day. While escorting the King, Ser Meryn Trant approached Sandor.
“One Stark dealt with, two more still at loose.” Sandor only grunted – he loathed the sly man and didn’t care about his thoughts about Starks or anything.
“It is strange how two young girls have been able to evade the best knights of the kingdom for such a long time. Especially the older one - lady Sansa - she appeared such a fine lady, that she probably wouldn’t survive long out there on her own.”
Sandor didn’t like what he was saying and tried to ignore him. The man kept talking, paying no attention to his indifference.
“I thought the same on the day we were sent to capture them, so I went back to the Tower of the Hand to see if we had maybe missed something. And mayhap we did, as I found signs of a struggle in the solar; soot from the fireplace everywhere, a piece of torn fabric. The trail of struggle led to the staircase and I could have sworn someone or something had been thrown down the stairs. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that?”
The man looked at him now directly, expecting an answer. Maintaining a blank expression Sandor retorted tersely, “How the seven hells would I know. I was sweeping outside the keep trying to find them.”
“Yes, yes, quite right, of course you wouldn’t know as you were not there,” Ser Meryn admitted but Sandor didn’t like the way how his eyes narrowed as he watched him. Cursing loudly he pushed the man out of his way and rushed after the king.
Later he wondered what the incidence had meant. Did Ser Meryn suspect anything? Had he seen something? Had others started to notice how Sandor had started to spend more and more time in his rooms, instead of in the hall or in the city taverns. Did anyone know about the little bird? He reminded himself that if anyone knew, they would have already come to get him. Maybe it was indeed that Ser Meryn was genuinely wondering about what he had seen, and simply tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together by making enquiries.
Whatever it was, it made the hair on his back rise and he wasn’t comfortable about it. He was confused about the way his life had recently turned so complicated. It used to be so simple and straightforward; he followed the orders, did what he was told by the Lannisters and Joffrey, and when he didn’t have to do that, he had drunk himself senseless. And then repeated the same cycle again. He hadn’t had these conflicting feelings, these thoughts that tormented him, nor the responsibility of the girl who sometimes still angered him with her stupid courtesy even in her current dire circumstances. And what was he supposed to do with her now, when his plan to send her away had failed? And why did he feel disappointed but also relieved at that in equal amounts?
Sandor sighed to himself. I have to do something. And soon.
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
Quietly cursing he felt his restraint leaving him as he leaned towards her, pressing his lips hungrily on hers.
Sandor didn’t like it at all. Something was not right – Eddard Stark’s trial was to be the next day and he still hadn’t heard about the supposed escort taking him to the Wall. Sandor had tried his usual contacts among the squires, who were commonly the first to know about comings and goings of the keep, but none of them had heard a thing. He even asked some of the knights, who looked at him as if he was stupid – who cared about such procession? He didn’t want to ask anyone from the small council; he was not supposed to even know about the plan, really. He knew many things he was not supposed to, standing as he did behind Joffrey in most events. Everyone had grown so used to his presence that they paid him as little attention as they would to a piece of furniture. Yet if he started asking too many questions, it would only raise suspicions. No, better just wait and keep his ears open.
The day before the trial dragged on with no further updates. Sandor started to think he may have to come up with another plan. Maybe they wanted to keep Lord Stark imprisoned for a while longer? Maybe the King had some additional punishment planned for him – some grandiose act of penitence in public perhaps? Or maybe Lord Eddard would be sent away immediately, but in secrecy lest the unruly mob got a whiff of it and caused trouble. Lord of Winterfell was a popular figure amongst the smallfolk, who had grown up hearing stories of his heroic part in the Robert’s rebellion.
Sandor didn’t like the whole thing with Eddard Stark. He didn’t really care about the lord himself, but he didn’t like the way how his attempts of telling the truth had been squashed, and he had been dragged down. Even a blind cow could see that none of Cersei’s wimps had an ounce of resemblance to Robert Baratheon – that is, everyone but Robert himself. Or maybe he did, but didn’t want to face it. Everyone in Casterly Rock had known that things were not quite as they were supposed to be between the two golden heirs. That much had been obvious for years.
Whatever was going to happen, something had to happen – and soon. Sandor mostly liked returning to his room in the evenings knowing that the little bird was there, waiting for him. Waiting for me, ha! Like she has a choice, being in truth my prisoner. Yet some evenings he dreaded to go back to her presence when all he could do was to stare at her, imagine those soft limbs in his grip, that delicate skin under his touch... Especially after the evening he had made her come to him and had touched her, he wasn’t sure if he could hold himself back much longer.
Sandor was aware that had he been like some other men – like that fucking Ser Boros – he might have raped her the first night, and the second, and the third... night after night. Just thinking of it made his manhood stir, and he hated himself for it. Nevertheless, he had seen enough mute suffering in women’s eyes back at his childhood home - first in his mother’s, then in his sister’s – that he didn’t want to be the cause of it for any woman if he could help himself. So he stayed away on those evenings when his head was filled with thwarted lust and his loins ached just for the thought of her. He stayed at the hall, only hurriedly dropping some food for her before returning to drink himself slowly to a stupor that only a strong wine could provide. He had gone to a whorehouse to see Ranna one evening. She had received him coolly but soon relented – after all, she was not in a position to be choosy about the customers. Their coupling had been intense, at least on his part, but had brought him only a temporary bitter relief.
He cursed quietly as the court proceedings drew to a close and he was free to go. Should he go to the practice yard to exhaust himself against a string of opponents, so he would be too tired to think of anything but rest when he was back in his room? Should he go to the city to find solace in one of the many winesinks? Should he spend this possibly last evening she was still in his clutches with her?
Sandor sighed and sag his shoulders feeling the inevitability of his decision. If it was indeed to be the last night with her, he had to be close to her. Without being conscious of it, his steps had already taken him to his door.
The little bird appeared calmer than usual, clearly also aware of the significance of the next day. He would have thought her more excited – but in reality there was still much in between her and a happy homecoming, which probably troubled her mind.
“Any news…about tomorrow? Or the procession to the North?” she asked quietly as they were sitting on the table. He leaned back and looked at her thoughtfully.
“Nay, not a word. The trial is still taking place, but no news about the convoy. Mayhap they are not in a hurry after all, and will start arranging it only after the trial.”
“Oh.” She looked down, not having eaten a thing of the modest meal in front of them..
“It is not necessarily a bad thing. It takes effort to plan a party to go all the way to the Wall. Hells, when Robert took upon his head to go Winterfell it took whole two moons to get everything organised!” Sandor didn’t know why he was trying to reassure her. All he was sure of was that there was no need for her to be as worried as he was.
“Besides, it can still all happen tomorrow – they are just not telling all and sundry about it. If that is the case, I will have to do some quick arranging and you better be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. In the worst case, the main party can leave first, then I can steal away with you in the evening and ride hard to reach them for a change-over.” That was the plan he had devised in his mind for such a case.
Sansa looked at him and tried a small smile in return. The trust she seemed to put on him pierced his guts as a dagger of cold steel.
The rest of the meal was a silent affair, both brooding in their thoughts. Afterwards he sat down on the bed while she was cleaning the table. Well, this may well be it. After tonight she may fly away and I will never see her again.
He coughed and growled, “You want to come here, girl?” Why he had chosen to ask rather than command her, he could not have said. He knew that this was not a matter of her choosing whether to come or not, he would want her in any case.
Sansa looked up, placed the water jar from her hands on the table and came to him – hesitantly, yes, but came nevertheless.
As before, he pulled her to his lap, and as before, she didn’t struggle but settled there stiffly. She was now fully dressed, but he could still trace his hand around the neckline of her dress and along the length of her arm covered by the fabric. Sandor lifted both of his hand to her face, leaning her head back and wrapping them around her head. His thumbs were under her chin, his fingers splayed across the back of her head, squeezing tight. It occurred to him that if he wanted, he could crush her pretty little head between her hands just by squeezing, tighter and tighter…
If she had any such thoughts she didn’t show them. She looked at him with lids half closed, saying nothing. Sandor felt himself drowning in those big blue eyes, but didn’t move. He had no expectations, he had no intentions beyond just holding her a little while longer, looking at her a little while longer.
Suddenly he thought he noticed an almost imperceptible movement, as if she leaned towards him. He didn’t move, thinking it was just a trick of the eye caused by the intensity of their gaze. Then he noticed – and felt – it again; she was inclining towards him. She was still looking into his eyes, her lips parted and the rhythm of her breathing had changed.
Quietly cursing he felt his restraint leaving him as he leaned towards her, pressing his lips hungrily on hers. Still she didn’t struggle but moved even closer to him, her lips parting in a quiet acquiescence. He could tell she hadn’t kissed much before, so awkward was her response, but at that moment he couldn’t have cared less. He felt his lust soar in him, felt his hardness against her – but struggled against it. She could be going home tomorrow. Would I make her hate me now?
In his heart he knew he knew he didn’t want that, no matter what short-lived pleasure forcing himself upon her would provide. Eventually he pushed her away, maybe a bit more forcefully than he had intended. Sansa almost fell on the floor but regained her balance, standing up and looking at him solemnly for a moment before retreating to the bed and curling against the wall.
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
The more she observed Sandor, the more profoundly she felt that he was like no other men were or could be.
Sansa couldn’t make up her mind on what she thought of the Hound - Sandor. Was she afraid of him or grateful to him? Was he her saviour or her jailor? Most of all, she didn’t know why he was doing these things to her; keeping her in his room and not allowing King’s men to arrest her, looking after her by bringing her food and clothes, planning to send her back to the North. And why had he that day touched her so intensely and kissed her...but without going further than that?
She had been too scared to resist when Sandor had dragged her in his lap. She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but her septa’s warnings how she should never be alone with a man who was not a close family member, came to her mind. She had asked then why, but Septa Mordane had only replied that noble well-brought ladies simply didn’t do that. Well, she had been alone with Sandor for a long time now – even spending nights in his company – and hadn’t so far seen any justification for those warnings. Was that about to change?
As he started to touch her, more thoughts raced inside her head. She remembered the muffled conversations among the servants talking about the kitchen maid who had been accosted by a soldier when she had been working alone in the Winterfell kitchens late one evening. Something terrible had happened to her - something dirty, based on how the talk had skirted around what had really taken place.
Sansa was not completely clueless about what went on between couples. When married, it was to be expected and ladies had to tolerate those things in order to give children to their lordly husbands. She had also overheard giggling confessions of her newly married friends, and had gathered that sometimes those activities were not only tolerable, but even highly desirable. She had been confused about whether all the different glimpses were actually referring to completely different things. Maybe there was more than one way how men and women could be together?
Yet here they were, not married, and Sansa embraced herself in preparation of something unpleasant. She was so completely and utterly under his power that whatever he wanted to do to her, she couldn’t do anything to prevent it. She only hoped it wouldn’t be too bad...wouldn’t hurt too much. In her heart however she couldn’t believe that this strange man would truly make her suffer. His hands had been so gentle before, only seeking to make sure she was not hurt.
So Sansa had held her breath, hoping that whatever happened, it would be over quickly. What she hadn’t expected was the sensation of Sandor’s hands probing her body, so gently and softly. When he had pressed his mouth on her neck, it had sent her heart racing – not from fright but from something else, something she had never felt before. She had felt as light-hearted as when leaning across the highest turret of Winterfell against the abyss below, and having the dizzy sensation in her head making her wonder how it would feel to let go and just fly, fly through the air as a bird...
After he had let her go she had felt almost disappointed, which made her blush when she realised it. A noble maiden should be horrified and repulsed by the touch of such a rough, common man – but that touch had been so gentle, and his kisses light as butterflies fluttering their wings on her skin.
Over the next few days Sansa found herself observing Sandor closely whenever he was around. She tried to hide it from him, thinking he would be annoyed. Slowly she started to see the man behind the Hound.
She had always seen him as only a hard, silent figure looming around Joffrey as his sworn shield. She knew of course of his reputation as a remorseless killer, but she couldn’t help wondering if it was in larger part due to his face than his actions. Other soldiers and knights killed as mercilessly, but didn’t get the same reputation. Or was it his rough manners and brusque responses to everyone, regardless of their position whether high or low? Was it his size and skill with sword that made everyone afraid of him?
At first Sansa had been afraid of him just like everyone else, but after the Hand’s Tourney that fear had somewhat diminished – but only as long as he had kept his distance. Her first days in his room she had been more frightened than ever, but as the days passed hear fears abated. Sandor still presented a horrific sight with his puckered and burned skin, but over time she started to see past the disfiguration. The incongruity of features so radically transformed made it difficult to read him, but gradually she started to see the man behind the facade and recognise his expressions and emotions from the good side of his face.
She noticed that besides his habitual scowl – and when she thought about it, it was the only expression she had ever seen him wear before – there were other emotions. There was the sardonic rise of the eyebrow when she had said something apparently stupid, and a slight pull of the unburned side of his lips indicating he was smiling – not that it happened often. Sometimes he had a noticeable twitch in the burned corner of his mouth indicating his anger or frustration. The expression she liked the most was when he was sharpening his sword and his face had the quiet, serene look on it. That reminded Sansa of her father, who used to do his best thinking while working on his sword in the Winterfell godswood.
Living with him in those close quarters also allowed her to see and observe more of the man than she had ever done. Oh yes, she had many brothers, but they had ever been just boys to her; all skinny arms and childlike behaviour, even Robb with his status as the heir of Winterfell. If they had grown up to be men, at least she hadn’t noticed. The knights and retainers in their household had been far removed from the noble maid like her, and Joffrey, the only boy she had been close enough to pay proper attention to, was indeed only a boy compared to the Hound.
Sandor was so big and strong – he had to bow his head when he walked through the door and when he sat down, the chair under him creaked alarmingly. On their way down the Kings Road Sansa had seen him lift a chest to the wagon, which later required two soldiers to lift it off.
One evening as they sat down for a meal and he was gulping his wine, Sansa observed with fascination how the prominent bulge in his throat moved up and down as he swallowed. Instinctively she touched her own throat, although she knew already that she didn’t have one. Only men had, but she hadn’t really paid any attention to other men before to notice.
His arms were thick and muscular and covered with a coarse black hair traversing all the way to his knuckles. The hairs were not however enough to cover prominent veins, that made their way down his arms and forearms to his hands. She looked down at her own hands but all she could see were faint blue lines indicating the presence of those veins – so why were his so pronounced?
His voice was low and raspy. It might have been affected by his accident, but when he spoke she felt that reverberating right through her.
The more she observed Sandor, the more profoundly she felt that he was like no other men were or could be.
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER:
His chest heaved up and down – he was not snoring but only breathing heavily, in and out, in and out… The sound and the feeling was quite soothing, his presence warm and secure and before she knew, Sansa had fallen asleep.
The first time Sandor came back roaring drunk Sansa didn’t know what to do. He stumbled through the door, landed on her – no, his – bed and fell down heavily, pinning her between his broad shoulder and the wall. And started snoring almost immediately.
After Sansa’s quickened heart steadied itself she wondered what to do - she was well and truly trapped. He must have forgotten her existence altogether, she reasoned. She tried to wriggle herself free and eventually got her hands loose. Then it was only a matter of climbing across his wide chest, which was heaving up and down in tune of his snoring. She had never been so close to a man before and found it strangely perturbing. He is even bigger lying down as standing up!
She made her way to the floor, opened his bedroll and laid herself down, wrapping herself to a blanket. Just before falling asleep, she wondered idly why she wasn’t scared of the big man, who had seemingly barely avoided crushing her to death.
In the morning Sandor slept late and by the time he roused himself, paler than usual, Sansa was already up and by the table. He looked around, noticed the bedroll and the blanket on the floor, winced, but said nothing.
The following few nights he came back early and didn’t drink more than few goblets of wine during the evening.
The second time Sandor came back drunk he stopped in front of the bed, swaying slightly on his feet, staring down at Sansa who had been woken up by his entrance. He didn’t fall on the bed though but laid the bedroll down with unsteady hands, seemingly concentrating hard to lay it just right before falling on it. He was still fully dressed, and even had his huge broadsword strapped on his back. He must have been in King’s Landing, prepared to defend himself should need arise.
As Sandor lay back, seemingly full asleep the moment his head hit the floor, Sansa looked at him uncertainly. That sword must be hurting him – if not now, later, when he starts to wake up. It would be like sleeping on a pile of rocks.
Unsure what to do she rose and crossed the room to examine the situation. She kneeled next to him, studied the fastening and figured that she might be able to open the belt of the back scabbard from a buckle across his chest, and slide the belt and the sword away from under him. Encouraged by that plan of action she grasped the buckle and opened it with great difficulty. Then she pushed the other end of it across his shoulder and started to pull the other end next to his waist. It was a slow progress, especially when she had to push him on his side to free the sword under him. She pulled him with all her strength and was eventually able to turn him enough to drag the scabbard with a sword and the belt away.
During the whole operation Sandor had not shown any signs of wakefulness, but as he rolled on his back again, he grabbed her with his left hand and dragged her next to him before she could react. Sansa found herself trapped much as before, except this time it was not his shoulder and the wall pinning her down but his huge arm pressing her against his side. As she tried to wriggle free as she had done the previous time, she felt his grip tightening and herself pulled even closer, ending up with her head on his chest and his arm firmly folded across her body. She tried to free herself for a little while longer with no noticeable success. In the end Sansa sighed, resigned to her fate and concentrated on trying to find as comfortable position as possible in the circumstances.
His chest heaved up and down – he was not snoring but only breathing heavily, in and out, in and out… The sound and the feeling was quite soothing, his presence warm and secure and before she knew, Sansa had fallen asleep.
Sandor dreamt of something soft, smooth and silky. As he started to regain his conscience he realised it was not a dream – it was the little bird snuggled against his side. What the hells?
With alarm he rose so rapidly that she tumbled away from him to the floor yelping as she went. They stared at each other with wide eyes; Sandor due to his surprise, she because of...her fright? Her sudden awakening?
“Bloody hells! What are you doing here on the floor?” Sandor had recovered quickly enough and was now fully sitting, long legs stretched. Sansa was also sitting on the floor, clenching her knees against her chest.
“I...only came to remove your sword from under you, and then you grabbed me and didn’t let go.” She was looking straight at him and he couldn’t decide whether it was defiance, anger or something else in her eyes.
“Hrmmph! Did I...did I do something else?” He stole a quick glance to check that his breeches were still laced. He remembered coming back last night, watching her sleeping on the bed looking so beautiful, but after that he couldn’t remember anything. Have I touched her?!
“No, you didn’t do anything but pin me against you, and although I tried to free myself you just pressed me tighter and tighter. Eventually I had to give up and I guess I just fell asleep.” She got up and walked to the table, starting to arrange cups and plates. Since the time he had made her sit in his lap, she had taken to wear her dress all the time, even during the night. It was now fitted to her size, revealing the curve of her hip and breast. She had added the extra fabric removed from the sides to the neckline, so it was not quite as exposing as before. Despite her efforts, the outfit still bared more than was fit for a young unmarried maiden.
Sandor winced, feeling the aftermath of too much drink catching up with him. One of these days I might actually do something I might regret...
Later that day as he was standing guard for Joffrey in the throne room, he tried to analyse what he was doing – and why. His initial purpose to keep her for just for a little while had utterly been turned on its head now that he was forced to hide her existence from everyone. He could have killed her and hidden the body, and none would have been wiser about it. The rumours of the Stark girls turning into wolves and disappearing into the woods would have lived on as a legend.
Yet he knew he couldn’t have done that. Yes, he was a killer and had killed women and children before – but always in the heat of the battle or its aftermath. The mere thought of slicing that slender throat with a dagger or piercing that frantically beating heart with it made him nauseous.
He could have let her go; might have smuggled her outside the keep and let her find her own way. No blood in his hands. He knew however what would have awaited her, a young defenceless girl in a big city full of bad men. She would have been be lucky to survive a day without being raped or worse, most likely ending up in one of the whorehouses as a special delicacy to those who could afford the high price.
In truth there had been only one course of action for him; to smuggle her into the procession going to the North. Sandor would find some old woman whose daughter she could pretend to be, or a crafty trader whose servant wouldn’t be scrutinised too hard. He was going to make sure to choose the right person, who was greedy enough not to ask too many questions against Sandor’s golden dragons from his tourney winnings, and wise enough to know that nobody would double-deal or betray a man like him.
Yes, that was the only option. If they just would finally hold the trial of Eddark Stark and send him on his way.