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A Chance Encounter

Chapter Text

 

 

Sandor

Sandor’s chains clanked as he changed his position, heavy iron manacles pressing hard against his wrists. He cursed darkly and wished he could have done something to alleviate the suffocating feeling of being trapped, but it didn’t matter which way he tried to position himself, the drag of weighty shackles couldn’t be shifted.

The opening of the tent was pushed aside and two people stepped in. Sandor stayed sitting on a lumpy pallet, eyeing the newcomers suspiciously. Had his jailor changed his mind and decided to interrogate him already this evening?

“Here he is. He is chained to the pole so as long as you stay out of his reach, you’ll be fine. You wanting me to stay here just the same to keep an eye on him?”

It was one of the men who had brought him into this confinement.

“Thank you, that is not necessary, I’ll be careful. You can go.”

Bloody hells! The voice was familiar, and when the guard left and the other figure turned towards him and lifted her hood, even before seeing her face he knew who she was. The dark hair confused him at first but there was no mistake; it was her. The Northern girl. Sansa Stark.

She looked older, of course. Not a girl anymore but a young woman. Her face had lost some of the roundness of youth and her eyes…they were not frightened or shrouded in sadness, but gave him a hard look, straight in the face.

“Little bird. So this is where you have been hiding, when the whole bloody kingdom thought you turned into a wolf and ran away to the woods of Winterfell?” he rasped, trying to hide his surprise. “The Imp here too? Mayhap you should invite him here as well so we can sit down and recall the good old days in King’s Landing!”

The girl looked at him, slightly taken aback, then shook her head. “No, Tyrion is not here. And there were no good old days in King’s Landing.”

She moved closer, glancing at the bindings meant to keep him secured. Her cloak opened at the front and he saw the womanly curves of her body, covered by a simple woollen dress. All of a sudden he became aware of how it had been a long time since he last had a woman. There were none at the Quiet Isle, and even before that his travels hadn’t often taken him past a whorehouse. He had gotten used to it, of course, but every now and then he had been disturbed by unsettling dreams, full of images of naked women and him pinning them down, boring into their wetness. Waking up he had taken himself in hand and the groans of his release had echoed around his lonely cell. 

When Sandor thought about it, he realised he hadn’t even been in the presence of a woman for a long time. Not this close.

He must have stared at her too openly as the girl pulled the cloak tighter around her and sat on one of the other pallets, too far for him to reach should he attempt to do so.

“And here you are. Not a wolf but a woman grown.”

“And you are not dead, as they say.”

They stared at each other, then Sandor spat on the earthen floor.

“The seven devils are not in a hurry with me, they are certain they will get me one day. Mayhap tomorrow.” He eyed her from the top of her head to her small feet, trying to assess whether she was still a bloody lady or had become a member of one of the mountain clans. “This where you have hidden, all this time?”

“No, I was in the Vale. I was intercepted on my way to the Quiet Isle only a week ago.”

At that Sandor couldn’t help himself. He threw his head back and roared with laughter, the irony of the situation not escaping him. The girl looked at him as if he had suddenly sprouted horns.

“What is so funny about that?” There was a hint of indignation in her voice.

“Gods, woman! You were on your way from the Vale to the Quiet Isle, and I was on my way from the Quiet Isle to the Vale. Yet we both find ourselves here.” Obviously she didn’t share his amusement as she only pursed her lips tighter and stared at him.

“What were you doing at the Quiet Isle?”

“What were you doing in the Vale? Keeping Littlefinger’s bed warm? Good for him; after pining after your mother all those years he finally got the second best thing, didn’t he now?”

Her anger rose rapidly, red spots burning on her cheeks. “I asked you first. Besides, you are not in a position to ask me anything. What I have done or not done is not your business!”

“Why should I tell you anything? Will you let me go if I tell, is that the way?”

The girl blushed – Sansa, her name is Sansa. “I don’t have that kind of authority. I would still like to ask you some questions, if I may. Please, do you know what is happening in King’s Landing? Or Winterfell? Petyr didn’t tell me everything, I am sure, and I need to know.”

Sandor snorted. So she still stubbornly held on to her good manners, chirping ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’. Much good they had done for her, whisked from being Joffrey’s punching bag to becoming Littlefinger’s whore. Of course she had been Tyrion’s wife first, learning to please men with that little fucker. As for Littlefinger, he had always been discreet and hadn’t openly fooled around with his girls, but a cautious man like him surely tested his wares. For a moment Sandor wondered what kind of twisted tastes a man like that would have, and if anything would be left of the innocent girl he had first seen at Winterfell all those years ago.

“Petyr, is it? Just as I suspected. Still, why should I be the one to tell you the news if your lover saw fit not to?” For some reason it irritated him to be interrogated by her, of all people. Indeed, if she couldn’t release him from this quandary, she could go and fuck herself. Or that one-eyed monster.

Suddenly Sandor had a thought. His stomach was already grumbling, he not having eaten the whole day. From what his jailors had said it didn’t look likely that any food would be wasted on a dog.

“Mayhap I have some news that could interest you. Whose arse sits on the Iron Throne, who circles around it trying to heave said arse out of there. Your sister, that little wolf-bitch, I might know something about her too.” He saw Sansa swallowing his bait, hook line and sinker. Her face flushed and she leaned towards him, keenly.

“Arya? You know something about Arya? Please tell me!”

Sandor took his time, enjoying her eagerness.

“If I do, what shall I get in return? You are sure you can’t charm them into releasing me? A woman who has gone through what you have must know how to turn a man’s head.” Again a hurt expression crossed her face, but she straightened herself and answered rigidly.

“I already told you that I have no such powers.”

“What about food, can you get me that? Also wine – the stronger the better. In exchange, I’ll tell you all you want to know.”

Sansa nodded and hopped onto her feet, leaving the tent in a hurry. Sandor heard a muted discussion between her and the guard and soon she returned, sitting on the same pallet as before.

“They will bring some food soon. In the meantime, what can you tell me?”

“Food and wine first, then I shall sing to you. I am not stupid, I know how these bargains work. Mayhap you could sing for me while we wait? I never got my song, you know.”

She watched him with a strange expression but didn’t reply. Sandor shrugged his shoulders. It was clearly not as easy to intimidate her as it used to be. Hells, she was still staring straight at him and it started to bother him.

They sat in silence until the guard returned, carrying a cloth-wrapped bundle and two skins of wine. Sansa took the food and one of the skins, and from the way the guard held on to the other skin it was obvious that he planned to keep it. Sansa had none of it and reached for it and reluctantly the guard handed it to her. Clever girl!

Soon Sandor was eating bread, cheese and cold meat, greedily pouring wine down his throat. It was strong and burned like hell, especially since he hadn’t drunk anything but watered wine and ale since arriving at the Quiet Isle. Sansa observed him from across the tent, seemingly resigned to wait until he had had his fill. On impulse Sandor offered the wineskin to her.

“Care for a drink? Keeps you warm.” He didn’t truly expect her to accept his offer, but to his surprise she nodded, got up and took the skin from his hand. She took a few mouthfuls and the way her face twisted revealed that she was not a seasoned drinker.

“As soon as you are ready, maybe it is time for you to fulfil your side of our bargain,” she said, sitting next to him on the pallet, showing no signs of fear.

----------

Earlier that day

Sandor was thrown roughly to the ground, landing on his knees. Hands tied behind his back, he couldn’t balance himself and fell on his face in the mud. The laugh it elicited from the onlookers did nothing to improve his mood but doggedly he shuffled onto his haunches, spitting silt from between his teeth. The dirt tasted like failure, like humiliation.

Fucking hells!

He threw a murderous look around him and saw an assorted group of mountain men in a little square among low wooden buildings and animal-skin covered tents. More rushed to the site, attracted by the laughter, and among them he saw women and children, youths and old men. This was clearly not just a temporary camp but a bigger settlement, mayhap even the main village of whatever godsforsaken clan had captured him. 

He cursed again, loud and clear; at his current predicament, at his own stupidity for letting his guard down, at whoresons who had come to rob him of his new life before it had even begun. Bitterness engulfed him and he felt bile rising in this throat.

The group that had captured him pointed at him proudly, the boldest of them coming close enough to kick him in the ribs. Sandor tensed the muscles in his stomach and as the man’s foot connected he threw his whole body towards him. This caught the man off guard and knocked him down, Sandor landing heavily on top. Unable to use his hands he butted the man in the face with his head and heard his shrieks of agony and a crunch as his nose broke. That sound and the sight of blood exhilarated him and he wanted to hit the man again and again, until he was nothing but a bloody pulp. However, three others jumped in and quickly subdued him, bound and trussed as he was. Yet Sandor was satisfied; he had shown them that he was not going down without a fight.

The two ropes attached to his neck and wrists were pulled and again he stumbled forward, but maintained his balance and stayed upright on his knees.

“What do we have here – a bear? Isn’t it too early for starved and raging bears to come out of their hibernation?” Everyone in the square, Sandor included, turned to look at the tall man who had spoken. He had emerged from the big building in front of which they had stopped, and walked towards them.

The man looked fierce with long, shaggy hair and an impressive frame – yet it was the dark hole where his eye should have been that revealed his identity. Sandor cursed again, realising that his chances of getting out of this situation alive – however weak they already were – had just taken a nosedive.

“Timett son of Timett! What the fuck are you doing here?!” he growled, determined not to show any weakness in front of him.

“Do I know you?” The man frowned, took a closer look and seeing Sandor’s unmistakable scars he shook his head and laughed. “The Hound! Welcome amongst the Burned Men – you should feel right at home here!”

The others took their cue from their leader and chuckled and sniggered, pointing their fingers at Sandor’s face. Some looked at him with widened eyes and in some faces he could see something he had rarely before seen; respect. He spat on the ground and turned his attention back to their leader. Nobody had called him by his old name for a long time, and hearing it reminded him of who he really was.

He remembered Timett from King’s Landing; one of the Imp’s enforcers. They had loathed each other on sight - if nothing else, for their competing affiliations. Sandor had still been Joffrey’s dog and Tyrion and Joffrey had not exactly seen eye to eye at the time. Besides, he was galled that someone could deliberately burn themselves for the sake of – why the fuck did they even do it? Seeing their scars grated on him, and he hated their burns almost as much as he hated his own.

His captors told Timett how they had come up with their catch, and he nodded.

“Well done, men. Who knows what this dog has in mind, wandering this far away from King’s Landing. Mayhap spying, mayhap planning some mischief. I’ll find out about that – on the morrow.” He threw a look at the still-kneeling Sandor and shouted to the men standing nearby. “Take him away and put him in chains. Make sure he can’t escape.”

At that he turned around and started to walk away, yet shouted across his shoulder, “He needs no feeding, the dog can go hungry tonight.”

The spectators started to withdraw, having concluded that the excitement was over for the time being. As Sandor was being yanked up to his feet he saw from the corner of his eye a slender figure some twenty paces away and something about her caught his eye. She was a woman, that much was clear from her slender form and the long, dark hair tumbling from under the hood covering her head.

He couldn’t see her face but something in the way she moved, turning around and walking back to one of the tents, looked familiar. It didn’t make any sense; how could he have ever met some girl from the mountain clans?

Another tug of the rope demanded his attention and after another string of well-chosen profanities he had no other choice than to follow the men pulling it.  Sandor was dragged to a tent set a small distance away from the other lodgings and unceremoniously shoved in. Inside it was sparse, only a fire pit in the middle, two rough pallets with animal skins and tattered woven covers and pillows thrown on them – and a pole.

It was a high wooden post stuck deep into the earth, cut in half lengthwise and the halves combined again with three wide iron rings. Thick, partially-rusted iron chains had been looped through the halves, one chain below each ring. The purpose of the three chains became soon obvious when his jailors lifted heavy manacles attached to both ends of the lowest chain from the floor and clasped them on his wrists. They were locked with a large key and the ropes still attached to him removed.

Once again he was pushed to the floor before his escorts left, laughing as they exited the tent. “Good night, Hound. You can rattle your chains as much as you want now, they’ll hold you.”

Finally alone, Sandor grunted and shifted into a better position. He evaluated his situation and saw that they had spoken true; the pole and the shackles were unbreakable. His chains were just long enough to allow him to move a few paces around the pole, reach one of the pallets to lie on it, and be close enough to the fire pit to benefit from the heat it radiated. It was spring, after a winter that to everyone’s relief had been short and mild, but the nights were still cold and to his surprise the fire in the pit had been lit.

Then he heard rustling outside the tent and the flap was pushed aside.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Sansa

 

All Sansa could think of was the Hound and the way he had brutally attacked one of his captors. What is he doing here? Where has he been?

Even the needlework she forced herself to do couldn’t pacify her and she got up, moving around the tent, lifting things, dropping them again, trying to make some sense of what she had just seen.

She took a deep breath. Should I reveal myself to him? Or should I hide?

He looked the same as the last time she had seen him, except for the absence of drunkenness. The rage was still in him, the violence exuding from every pore of his body. It was almost a slap across her face to see him like that, so raw.

Sansa sat down on a wooden trunk and buried her face in her hands. She tried to calm her breathing and still the rapid pace of her heart. After a while she felt better. Why am I being such a fool? He is just an angry man and a deserter.

Yet deep in her heart she knew exactly why she was so affected.

Over time she had thought of him often. In her captivity – as that’s what it was, despite Petyr calling it ‘protection’ – she had often escaped into her own little world, one that she had made up in her head. There were not many things she could change about what had happened in the past, but recalling how the Hound had been the one person in King’s Landing who had been kind to her in his own crude way had made it possible for her to build him anew in her mind. Instead of a coarse warrior who loved killing, he became a brave knight protecting an innocent maiden.

Oh yes, she knew very well how foolish her dreams of knights and maidens were; she had seen enough to realise their falseness. Regardless, whenever she had wanted to flee into a world where she could feel protected, and not reminded of how everything that she had held dear in her life had been taken away from her, she had thought of the Hound. He had saved her that day on the battlements when she had wanted to kill Joffrey. He had rescued her from the riots. He had tried to save her from the humiliation of being stripped in front of the whole court. He had offered to take her with him to the North and kill everyone who tried to hurt her.

She deliberately refused to think about the rage in his eyes, his rude words and the dagger he had held against her throat, as none of it fit into her fantasy world. Of course she knew that the Hound of her dreams was not real, but especially after the news of his death had reached the Vale, she didn’t care anymore. He became the epitome of everything knightly, and if that was nothing but a stupid fantasy, what of it?

Sansa took up her sewing again and sat down on her pallet. It was just a rough homespun tunic, but she was glad that she had something to while the time away with. Without the repair work the women of the village gave her she would have gone mad for sure. She sewed the tear in the cloth with neat little stitches and the monotony of the work allowed her thoughts to wander back to the Hound of her dreams.

----------

Sometime later Timett came to see her. Sansa had been relieved to notice that he didn’t seem to want her as so many other men had. She had learned to recognise well enough the hungry gaze they directed at her, but she couldn’t detect that in Timett. He had a woman of his own and it seemed that Sansa was not his type anyway as his woman was dark, strong and voluptuous. Besides, even mountain men had honour.

She welcomed her host warmly, not forgetting her manners.

“The man they caught today, you know him?” Timett asked, settling himself on the best seat in the tent. Sansa couldn’t describe him exactly as a warm and jovial host, but he still had lots of respect for Tyrion, the man who had given him and his clan so much, and he had treated his wife well – so far.

“I knew him a bit. He was Joffrey’s sworn shield and a member of the Kingsguard,” Sansa replied warily. “What do you plan to do with him?”

“Kill him. First I find out if he knows anything about the Lannisters or Littlefinger’s plans, or anything that may affect the clans. After that I can’t just let him go. You saw him, the rabid dog would turn and bite us in the arse.”

“Could you take him into your service? He is a strong warrior.” Sansa didn’t know what made her say that. What was it to her what they did with the Hound? She would still have the imaginary version of him in her head, and it was much safer that way.

“Join us? No, men like him don’t care about us, they go to those who pay the highest wages. Besides, he has already deserted one master. What good would such a man be to me?”

Sansa had to admit it made sense. Out of the blue she heard herself saying, “Maybe I should talk to him first, tonight?”

Timett looked at her and pondered her words for a while, then shrugged his broad shoulders.

“If you want. Might be he will tell you something he may not tell us. Even if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Just be careful, the Halfman will not thank me if I let his woman get savaged by a dog.”

Sansa promised and Timett left, telling her that he was going to let the guards know to expect her.

After she was alone Sansa felt a calm come over her. She hadn’t wished for this, but now that the opportunity had presented itself, she should take it. She knew that whatever was ahead of her, whether it was to be caught and taken back to Petyr and his bed, staying with the mountain clan or a perilous journey across the North in an attempt to reach Winterfell, she had to be strong. She could allow no softness in her, no more stupid little girl’s dreams.

She sighed and squared her shoulders. Her last foolish dream was about a warrior, a killer made soft when he was anything but. It was time for her to crush that last silly bastion of weakness in her and face the world as it was.

Yes, it was time to meet the real Hound.

-----------

Gaining access to him was easy. Once in front of him she saw him to be as astonished as she had been about their meeting.

The Hound snarled, he growled, he was a brute as she had expected. The good old times, indeed! His laugh took her off-guard, and she hated his insinuations about Petyr. When he talked she took a good look at him. He looked older and the lines in his face had become deeper. The scars were as hideous as they had always been, but she found that she didn’t need to turn her head away from them anymore. She had seen so much worse, ugly acts covered by smooth appearance. At least the Hound was honest about what he was.

There was still anger in his eyes but now that his captors were not near, it didn’t burn as hot as it had done earlier – or in King’s Landing. Up close his presence was almost suffocating; he was so tall and strong, his legs as tree trunks and arms and neck muscled like a bull. He had rolled the sleeves of his tunic up and loosened the laces in the front and she could see how his dark beard gradually merged with the thick hair on his chest. He was like an animal, an eye-catching and dangerous beast. Nothing chivalrous or gentle in him. Good. It is better this way.

However, when he mentioned Arya Sansa’s heart stopped for a moment. She had to know more.

When the guard came back with the food she saw the two wine skins and decided that she might need them both. When the Hound offered one of them to her, she surprised herself by taking it and gulping down the strong, bitter liquid. She knew she was close enough for him to attack her if he so wished, but she felt no fear. His very presence overwhelmed her physically although he didn’t even touch her, but she welcomed it. She had to be strong, she had to face life as it was. She was ready to face the Hound.

“As soon as you are ready, maybe it is time for you to fulfil your side of our bargain,” she said, sitting down next to him. 

----------

Earlier that day

Sansa was doing the same thing she had done for the whole week; pacing restlessly in the lodgings they had appointed for her. Back and forth, back and forth, her steps took her around the small tent.

She was treated well, she couldn’t fault that. Horror stories she had heard about what happened to those taken by the mountain men had chilled her to the bone when she had first realised the identity of their attackers. Their small group had been woefully unable to resist the horde of wild warriors when they streamed out of the woods shrieking like seven devils. Men of the Vale were brave, but there were not enough of them and the attackers were too many. In a few short moments the men defending her were dead or dying and Sansa’s horse had been captured by a short, bow-legged man. As he had turned his head towards her and grinned a smile made grotesque by the fact that half his teeth were missing, a dread like no other had squeezed Sansa’s heart.

Yet she had been taken swiftly to their leader, and they had recognised each other easily. How could Sansa have forgotten the scary one-eyed man who used to follow Tyrion wherever he went? Likewise, Timett had acknowledged that by some strange stroke of fate he had captured the wife of the man who had been good to him and his tribe. They owed Tyrion for their sharp new weapons, bags of gold and the many other trophies Timett and his men had brought with them from the capital.

So he had treated Sansa with civility, asked about Tyrion and assured her that no harm would come to her. Sansa had muttered something vague about her husband’s whereabouts, he having escaped across the Narrow Sea for the time being, to return from there when the time was right. So far Timett had been true to his word, but Sansa knew that her position was untenable in the long run. What could she do? Where could she go?

She sank onto her pallet and for the hundredth time tried to evaluate her position dispassionately. She was sure that by now Petyr would have sent search parties to find her; he was not a man who admitted defeat that easily. Besides, Sansa was important to him, in more ways than one.

She shuddered when she thought of him and his carefully wrought schemes. Since being whisked away Sansa had known that he hadn’t done it out of the goodness of his heart, no matter how many times he tried to convince her of that. No, Petyr had plans and Sansa was central to them.

It hadn’t taken long for her to realise that Petyr having lost his only true love, her mother, he had turned to the second best option - and that was Sansa. Sometimes it made her sad to think how enduring Petyr’s feelings were, how pitiful it must have been to go through his life longing for a woman who didn’t reciprocate his feelings. Had circumstances been different she could have felt compassion, could have even tried to console the man…yet he had destroyed all that by trying to use Sansa as a replacement.

He didn’t touch her, at least in the beginning. Sansa knew that her maidenhood was safe until it served its purpose by allowing the annulment of her marriage and a new marriage with a man of Petyr’s choosing. Herein was the other reason why Petyr had stolen her. He wanted power above all things; not for himself directly, but he wanted to be the puppet master behind those who wielded it, the one who truly decided the fates of the realms.

Hence Sansa had been sent to the Quiet Isle to secure the documentation releasing her from Tyrion. Then a wedding…and Petyr’s bed.

Again Sansa felt cold chills traveling down her spine. Under the guise of a loving father Petyr had taken up a habit of patting her back and behind, giving her kisses, pulling her onto his knee and generally touching her in ways that were anything but fatherly. She had no illusions about what would await her – she only wondered whether Petyr had made a deal with her new husband, in which a noble wife and Winterfell were all he was going to get and Petyr would take the husband’s rights?

Sansa took the needlework she had been doing and tried to concentrate on that for a while. The coarse fabric felt reassuring under her fingers, and soon her sharp eyes detected a tear at the front of the tunic. She took a needle and some thread from a small basket and steadied her hand.  

Suddenly loud noises from outside startled her. She cocked her head and tried to make sense of what they were about; life in the village was normally subdued and peaceful, the wild ways of the clans seemingly being mostly limited to their interactions with outsiders.

She had stayed mostly in her tent on Timett’s advice; although she had the freedom to come and go as she pleased, a young woman on her own among the men of the village would be an invitation to trouble. Timett had told everyone to leave her alone, but Sansa knew that she had to do her own part as well and she couldn’t just walk around bringing the attention of hot-blooded young men on herself.

These sounds were intriguing, however; something big was happening. She heard shouts, something that sounded like cursing and lots of laughter. Her curiosity eventually got the best of her and she quickly draped her cloak around her, raised the hood over her head and slipped outside.

She soon deduced where the sounds came from and sneaking closer she saw a man; a huge man, tall and muscular and emanating the strength of a captured wild beast despite being tied and forced down on the ground. She witnessed his attack on one of his tormenters and she had to turn her head away from the brutality of it.

Hearing Timett’s words shocked her profoundly. The Hound! Her heart lurched and for a moment she felt almost physically ill. Joffrey’s dog. The Butcher of Saltpans.

Sansa had thought him dead – everyone had. After the atrocities of Saltpans the brute in a hound’s helmet had disappeared never to be heard from again. Only whispers among the smallfolk told of his demise, how he would have been defeated in a struggle with some other outlaws.

Sansa wasn’t ready to meet him - they didn’t have anything to say to each other. Quietly she retreated to her tent, but as she did so, the Hound was pulled onto his feet and turned around, his gaze sweeping across the crowd. It went past her, Sansa knew, but she was already turning and trusted her disguise and her hooded cloak to shield her from him. Hurriedly she swept the tent flap aside and rushed into the relative safety of the interior.

Her heart was still thumping hard against her ribcage and for a while she had something else to think about than her current precarious position.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Sandor

 

Sandor wolfed down the food, his strong teeth biting hard bread and tearing meat off the bone. Every now and then he glanced at the girl, took a swig from the wineskin and offered it to her. It amused him to see her drink in dainty little sips.

He rubbed his wrists to ease the pain resulting from them having been tethered for the best part of the day. He had been caught unawares sleeping in his camp, and almost before he had fully woken he had been tied and trussed like a pig bound for a slaughter. Stranger had kicked and bitten the men who had tried to take him and only their threat of killing him on the spot had made Sandor calm the horse down so he could be made to follow them. He wondered where his horse was and what they planned to do with him.

His thoughts and gaze flickered to the girl. She seemed to have enough patience to wait until he had had his fill. The Northern girl. The little bird. He hadn’t thought of her for a long time, as buried in his past as the Lannisters, King’s Landing and the whole bloody court.

Aye, she had been a pretty little thing and was even more pleasing to look at now. At first Sandor had thought her to be stupid, but soon he had realised that she was much smarter than she appeared. One proof of it was that she had allowed Cersei and Joffrey to keep on believing that she was only a foolish simpering girl. Sandor had however seen through it and had recognised that her cleverness was as subtle as it was sound.

He had tried to help the girl as much as he could. Why, he couldn’t say. Mayhap only to spite Joffrey and Cersei, who didn’t fight fairly. The way they had done away with her father didn’t sit well with Sandor. Lies, more lies and deceptions, he hated all that.

When the girl had started to become a woman, he had noticed that too. The way her dresses had tightly hugged her new figure, the strained necklines that drew men’s eyes naturally towards her teats. Aye, he had paid attention to her and had wanted her, like any sane man had. Sandor had also been realistic enough to recognise that she was way out of his reach, being such a noble lady, prisoner or not.  

That night of the battle when he had stolen into her room and made his hare-brained proposal to whisk her away – what the fuck had he been thinking? Probably that, Sandor snorted, remembering her small body under his weight when he had pinned her to the bed. He had been mad from the hellish green fire, drunk as a dog, hadn’t thought clearly. Just as well that the girl had declined; if she hadn’t, gods know what would have happened. He would have probably had her, gotten tired of her whinging and left her in a village somewhere to defend herself as best as she could. Hells, the life of a fugitive was not for a highborn woman.

So she had stayed, married the Imp and if the rumours carried any truth, murdered Joffrey with her husband and left with Littlefinger. After all that, here she was now, sitting next to him brazen as anything. Aye, not such a little bird anymore.

“So, what do you want to know?” Sandor finally growled, wiping his hand across his mouth after finishing the last remaining crumbs of his meal.

“Where is Arya?” Her face was full of concentration and once again she leaned closer, her hands demurely crossed in her lap.

“Don’t know. Don’t care. The last thing I saw of your bloody sister was when she rode away, leaving me to die on the roadside like a bloody mongrel.” At Sansa’s surprised expression he told her everything from the time the Brotherhood Without Banners captured him, how he in turn kidnapped Arya, and how they had almost stumbled into the Red Wedding. He didn’t leave out anything, not even parts where Arya had attempted to smash his head in with a stone, or he had wrapped and tied Arya in a blanket to prevent her running away. He didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings; when he had known Sansa before, her head had still been filled with stupid stories of knights and fair maidens. Bloody hells, he wasn’t going to give her an opportunity to cast him into one of those tales as the gallant protector of her runt of a sister.

Sandor told Sansa about the fight at the inn and how he had been wounded. Sansa stared at him unblinking the whole time, not interrupting or asking questions, or bursting into tears as he had feared.

“After that, I have no bloody idea where she might have gone. Mayhap across the sea? That seemed to make sense at the time,” he concluded, knocking back yet another mouthful of strongwine.

 “And you?”

“I was found by someone who was equally gutless to give me the gift of mercy. The brother from the Quiet Isle took me in, patched me up and looked after me. I stayed with him afterwards as his loyal dog.”

“You are a dog, aren’t you?”

Her words surprised Sandor. “The little bird has learned a new tune, has she? Where are your polite words now; did you lose them in Littlefinger’s bed?” he mocked, offering the skin to her. She shook her head.

“Where do you think? Somewhere along the road from Winterfell to the Vale. Courteous words are a luxury one can live without.” Something about the way she said it, so matter-of-factly, made him clench his teeth. Aye, the little bird’s feathers had been truly ruffled and plucked.

“Not that it matters, but I am no dog anymore. The Hound is dead and buried, but some whoreson took my helmet and spread destruction that was all blamed on me,” he said bitterly. Not that his reputation could be smirched much more than it already was, but still it irked him.

“Oh, it wasn’t you then? I sometimes wondered.” She looked away. “Not that it matters, but I was on my way to the Quiet Isle to be examined by septas to prove that my marriage with Tyrion was not consummated. That proven, Petyr planned to get it annulled.”

Sandor was left speechless. Tyrion didn’t fuck her? Littlefinger didn’t fuck her? Seven bloody hells, a juicy little treat like her!

He didn’t know how to respond so he asked something else instead.

“Do you know what they plan to do with me?”

Sansa looked at him and he thought he saw a flicker of pity in her eyes. “They are going to kill you, after you tell them all you know about any plans regarding the Vale made by the Lannisters or by Littlefinger.”

Sandor spat on the ground. It was one thing to guess it was going to happen, another to hear it. The way the girl had said it was disconcerting; no sugar-coating, no bashful attempts to hide the truth. He had to bow his head to her - the girl had grown indeed.

“How the fuck would I know anything, having hidden behind the skirts of brothers of faith for so long? I just left them, got tired of their gods and prayers. The Elder Brother tried to make me one of them but that didn’t work out.” He snorted, remembering the many hours he had sat with his mentor, who had tried to turn his mind away from his old life.  At the Quiet Isle his restraints had not been literal - no chains and manacles - but his life had been restricted just the same. The continuous silence, the monotony of physical work, seclusion and his feelings of not belonging there had made his life there untenable.

He didn’t mind hard work. He enjoyed straining his muscles, and digging graves had been good for him. He had also learned to respect the man who had saved his life, which made his frustration at not fitting even worse. Seeing the dedication of the others to their thrice-damned gods and knowing that he could never share it had finally convinced him that it was time to leave.

Fully healed, Sandor knew he could find work as a fighter. Rumours going around about Littlefinger reinforcing the Vale had made it seem as good a place as any other. He had no love for Lord Baelish, the sly schemer, but he knew that the man would pay well and would have no scruples about hiring him despite his desertion of the Lannisters.

Gods, it had felt good, the first few days on the road. Just he and Stranger, his well-worn armour and his weapons that the Elder Brother had kept for him – as if knowing that one day he would need them again. They had been the first things his captors had taken away, and despite having worn a sword on his back only a short while, already he missed its weight. Suddenly Sandor was even gladder about the wine. At least his last moments would be dulled by its familiar effect.

Strangely the thought of dying didn’t faze him. He had always known that he was not meant to make old bones, cold steel ending his life long before that. It only annoyed him that he hadn’t even had a chance to get back to real fighting. He sighed and lifted his gaze back at the girl.

“What about you? Plan to stay here and start popping out little mountain brats?”

Sansa shifted her position and he could feel her arm brushing against his. She was so close he could smell her, and he inhaled deeply, absorbing the evoking combination of clean hair, woollen cloth and the unmistakable scent of a woman.

“I don’t know. I am sure Petyr has sent men looking for me, but I doubt they can get to me as long as I stay here. I also know that I can’t remain here forever, or I will indeed find myself in the predicament you so eloquently described.” She extended her hand towards him and he handed the skin to her. She drank, a good deep mouthful this time, and didn’t flinch at the taste.

“Timett tells me that he could send me to the North with a group of traders going that way. Mountain clans are not traders themselves, but every now and then some brave merchants come here to do business with items the clans need in exchange for furs and valuable stones. Some of their warriors protect them when they are here, and if I get a ride with them I could go at least to the Neck and from there find my way to Winterfell.”

“For what? The last I heard the whole North was in chaos, Winterfell’s ownership unclear and nothing but scavengers there fighting over it. King Tommen sits on the Iron Throne but in truth it is bloody Cersei and Mace Tyrell calling the shots, and they are not in a hurry to get the North pacified.” The girls was talking rubbish – and Sandor had almost believed her to have grown up! Sansa looked at him as if he wouldn’t know what he was talking about and it raised his anger.

“Besides, none of those options are any good for a lady and bloody maiden to boot. If Littlefinger gets you, he may keep his breeches on until you get that bloody annulment, but take my word, then he is going to marry you to one of his puppets or to himself, and he is going to fuck you and fuck you hard. If you stay here – well, you already know what will happen. Some hairy beast drags you to his tent and takes you as his woman and then it is nothing but one kid after another until you are an old, shrivelled hag. If you go with the traders and their brave protectors… you may be a Stark, but the Starks are nothing in the new North.”

“There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. If I get there, I can find my father’s bannermen and they will help me.” She pouted her lips and a stubborn expression spread over her face. Sandor cursed.

If you get that far. You’d better choose the meanest and biggest bastard in the group and twirl him around your finger, as then you may be saved from being passed around as a plaything for all and be fucked only by him. I have seen what happens to women who have no protector and who travel with a group of men – and it isn’t pretty.” He enjoyed seeing the look of horror on her face. She wasn’t quite so tough after all.

The strongwine had warmed Sandor’s blood nicely, and the knowledge of his impending fate had rendered him at a stage where nothing mattered anymore. Aye, if he was going to die on the morrow, he might as well enjoy his last moments on earth. The girl had been foolish enough to come near him despite specific warnings not to. She had only herself to blame, really.

Sandor moved quick as a lightning, grabbing Sansa’s wrists with both of his hands and pulling her closer. His chains rattled but followed his moves, not slowing him down enough to matter. She went rigid under his touch but there was nothing she could do to resist him, and soon he had moved both her hands into one of his and pushed against her shoulders with another so that she fell back on the pallet. He followed her movement and collapsed on top of her, placing his calloused palm on top of her mouth to prevent her from screaming.

“What do I have to lose? What do you have to lose, little bird? I’ll be doing you a favour, really, if I take you now. One man only, instead of many. They say the first time hurts, and losing one’s maidenhood to many must hurt even more. You know that is what is going to happen if you plan to go to the North with these savages.”

Her eyes were big as saucers as she stared at him, her mouth and nose completely covered by his large hand. He expected her to flinch, waited for those big blue eyes to turn away from him in fright. Disturbingly he saw no fear in them, only astonishment. Sandor pressed his body harder against hers and felt how it yielded under him. I could fuck her. Take what I didn’t take when I had the chance.

”After I am done with you, not even a blind septa could find you a maid anymore and the marriage Petyr plans for you will not come to pass. You will become Lady Lannister in truth. Wouldn’t that be pretty? If Tyrion never shows up, you’d be his little widow and could get his money to rebuild Winterfell – if you ever get there.”

His eyes fell on her throat and down her bodice, revealed as her cloak had fallen away from her shoulders. The simple woollen cloth did nothing to hide the smoothness of her skin or the red flush spreading across her collarbones. He pressed his lips on her, hard, and took his time licking and biting her throat and shoulder, sliding down all the way to the hollow place between her breasts, whispering as he went. “I’ll be truly doing you a favour. Would you like that, little wolf?”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sansa

 

She watched him eat, fascinated by his lack of manners and the utilitarian way he consumed what was brought to him. She accepted the offered wine, knowing she needed the false courage it gave. She had imbibed with Myranda enough to get drunk a few times, and longed for the feeling of invincibility it gave – even if it was only fleeting.

His story painted a picture of her sister in her mind; a brave girl, a survivor amongst the wreck of the realm. Arya wouldn’t have meekly accepted her fate in King’s Landing, she wouldn’t have tolerated Petyr’s attentions and accepted his plans as docilely as she had. Anger welled inside Sansa. I am such a weak little idiot. I should have fought harder. It is time I let go of the foolish dreams of a foolish girl and stand on my own two feet.

She had come to his tent with the intention of facing the reality that was him. To let go of a false dream. Hearing him, instead of it crushing something inside her as she had expected, it made her feel stronger. To her surprise she could face the Hound now; his face, his anger, his rage. He was just a man.

Watching him in such close quarters she paid attention to things she had been too young to notice in King’s Landing. The flex of his muscles when he moved his arm to hand her the wineskin. The broadness of his shoulders, and how his upper body narrowed towards his hips. The veins in his arms and the dark hair covering them, continuing all the way to his knuckles and fingers.

Later in her confinement in the Vale, when she had learned about the ways of men and women, her dreams of the Hound had acquired a new exciting element. Being a bastard daughter meant that she was not protected from bawdy talk as noble maidens were, and from her friend Myranda Royce she had heard everything there was to know about what took place between the sheets. Myranda was completely uninhibited and happily shared with Sansa her latest adventures with a man who had caught her fancy. Blushing furiously, Sansa had heard all about cocks and cunts, seed and teats, how to pleasure a man with her mouth and hands and how to guide a man to do the same for her.

Her friend had not believed that Sansa was still innocent and so Sansa had invented a man from her past. It was not a coincidence that this imaginary man was tall and muscular, had long black hair, grey eyes, a hooked nose and a fierce temper. She hadn’t said anything about the scars or other specifics that might reveal who he was. As Myranda had interrogated her about what exactly had happened between her and this mystery man she had gotten tongue-tied and eventually had to admit that they hadn’t actually lain together. Myranda had consoled her and assured her that she would soon find somebody else, although the man Sansa described sounded altogether delicious and it was a shame she hadn’t done it with him.

More illuminating than words was the time that Myranda had taken her to the barn, up to the hayloft, and giggling told her that it was a good place to observe couples in action. Soon enough a stable boy and one of the kitchen maids had sneaked into the barn and made passionate love right before their peering eyes. Sansa had been both mesmerized and horrified by what she saw, how vulgar it had seemed, but couldn’t help peeping through the gaps between the planks nonetheless.

After that her memory of the night of the battle took on a new meaning as she evoked his weight on top of her and his face so close to her own. Again she refused to acknowledge the dagger at her throat or the drunken slur of his speech, preferring to think only of the press of his hips against her thighs. Had he been hard for her? Had his manhood been as thick and heavy as what she had glimpsed of the stable boy’s? She couldn’t remember, wasn’t sure if she would have even recognised it at the time.

Myranda had told her enough about how a woman’s body worked, so immersed in such thoughts she had slipped her hand between her legs and felt her own wetness; had slid her fingers across her folds and explored what felt good. That it felt better when she closed her eyes and conjured the Hound of her imagination on top of her had only encouraged her.

Sometimes Sansa thought that for a maiden she knew all there was to know about carnal affairs, but it still didn’t make the prospect of her future under Petyr’s care any more bearable. On the contrary, imagining his sweaty hands on her body and his manhood in her folds made her feel sick. The only safety was to be found in her imagination and especially in the Hound of her dreams…

She had been comforted by her firm belief that the man she was dreaming about was long gone, dead, and she would never have to face him again. Yet here he was, very much alive. Worse than that, she knew that he spoke true, as he had always done. Yes, her chances were slim. Whatever happened there was always going to be somebody taking advantage of her. Petyr, a mountain man, unknown traders.

As the wine went to her head she felt a new wave of desperation; there was no home, there was no safe haven for her. Suddenly she looked at the Hound and a strange calm came over her. He didn’t lie to her but told her exactly how it was. Nobody had ever done that, not even her beloved parents. They had wanted to save her from the harsh realities of life, and how well had it served her?

When he grabbed her she didn’t fight back. It was scary, his body on top of hers, his muscles tensing against her and his fingers pressing into her wrists forcefully. At the same time she was reminded of the nights in her featherbed in the Vale when precisely this scenario had played out in her head.

His lips were hard and unyielding, his kisses rough. Cold rusty metal brushed her cheek when he moved his hands and the clank of chains sounded loud to her ears. Sansa closed her eyes and tried to breathe through her nose, hard pinched under his grip. She opened her mouth to better catch some air.

Her movement alerted Sandor and he rose to his elbows and looked at her. She stared at him, trying to communicate through her eyes that he could loosen his grip, she wouldn’t scream.

“If I lift my hand, will you scream bloody murder or stay quiet? If you scream, you will regret it, I swear.” His voice was low, hardly audible. Sansa blinked her eyes and nodded her head.

He did as he promised and slowly removed his hand. She did as she promised and stayed quiet. They stared at each other wordlessly. Then he did something strange.

Sansa was still lying on an angle on the pallet, her hips resting at the ledge. The position was anything but comfortable, but whether it was because of this or for some other reason Sandor moved his body and lifted her higher so that she could rest more comfortably. He also grabbed a thin pillow from behind her, scrunched it and pushed it under her head, not ungently. Then he swiped her hair, spread in disarray, away from her face in a few smooth strokes.

His touch was oddly tender, like it had been when he had touched her in King’s Landing. Remarkably soft for such a big man.

That touch unmade her. She closed her eyes and slackened in his arms. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sandor

Seven hells! It had been such a long time; Sandor could hardly remember how it felt to hold a woman. Such an animalistic notion to inhale the extraordinary feminine smell of her, to feel the urge to press, to squeeze, to discover the secret hidden recesses only a woman’s body contained. Something made him lift her into a better position and he took a moment to run his fingers through her soft tresses. His hands were calloused from hard work, his fingertips rough, but still he felt the silkiness of her hair.

Gods, he wanted to fuck her hard and fast. His cock was twitching and he felt the softness of her body through the layers of clothes. She couldn’t escape now; he had her in his grip. He could do anything he wanted with her; even if she screamed now, he could at least touch her before the guards ran in. In haste he skimmed his hand down her side and lifted her skirts, revealing pale thighs, and plunged his hand between her legs.

She didn’t scream. She didn’t struggle but only laid there, passively accepting what he did to her. Instead of pleasing him, it started to trouble Sandor. Hells, if she was a maiden as she claimed, shouldn’t she struggle, shouldn’t she be horrified by his assault? Sandor had never had a maiden but it was general knowledge that they were difficult and skittish. Or had her spirit been broken already?

His lust subsiding, he stilled the hand that had just reached the soft spot between her legs, still covered with smallclothes but feeling warm and so bloody tempting under his fingers. He lifted his head and stared at her.

“You claim to be a maiden but you don’t behave like one. Is it so that the precious scrap of flesh in your cunt is preserved, but otherwise you have been well-practiced in bedsports? Did the Imp or Littlefinger play with you, did they do things to you? Did they make you to do things to them? Tell me, did they?”

Her body was taut but at his words it grew tenser still. Sandor swore. Being fucked was one thing, being played with was another.

A thought crossed his mind; there were other holes in a woman that could be used, the same as men had for those who preferred their own kind. It wasn’t any hair off his arse – he had seen and heard all sorts of things in his many years of campaigning. Hells, some whores took it that way as well, but they usually charged a higher rate.  Without realising it, his hands grabbed her shoulders and he shook her hard.

“Did they? Tell me, girl!” She stared at him and from her wide-eyed expression he reckoned that she didn’t know the line of his thoughts.

“No, Tyrion never touched me.” Her voice was thin and her expression strained. Sandor huffed, finding it hard to believe. The Imp was known for his whore-mongering – yet maybe the innocent little girl in his bed had been too much even for him.

“What about Littlefinger? He knows everything there is to know about fornicating, that being one of his trades.”

At that she winced. Just as Sandor’s fists clenched, having let go of her, she whispered, “He liked to touch me and kiss me on the cheek, make me sit on his knee.” She raised her eyes and challenged him with her gaze. “I know what he wanted. But he never went further than that.”

Oddly Sandor felt first relieved, then ashamed. He had just been about to take the girl, whether she wanted it or not, and here he was worrying about if she had been touched before. Even he realised the falseness of it. Yet the girl’s behaviour bothered him.

“Maidens don’t act like this, I’d wager. Not that I’ve had one before. Just wondering.” He pushed his hand under her skirt once more, let his fingers travel up her thigh all the way to the sweet spot, brushing her cunt through the cloth. She startled and opened her mouth slightly while an involuntary gasp of breath racked her. Another notion came to him.

“Have you touched yourself –there?”

Her eyes fluttered close and a deep blush crossed her cheeks.

Fucking hells!

Sandor had never bothered to think about women’s pleasures, but he had heard that some women enjoyed the act, even played with themselves like men did. Had the little bird…? Gods, this was too precious, the demure daughter of the honourable Lord Stark pleasuring herself like a wanton woman!

The thought excited him. He pressed his fingers briefly against her softness, then tugged hard at the strings of her smallclothes until the thin laces gave in and he could push the loosened fabric aside, letting his hand roam freely over her lower belly and between her legs. Her hips jerked but he had already slid one finger down to her folds and felt their wetness. Sandor closed his eyes for a moment, his whole being concentrating on the silken feel of her cunt. Being already this wet and ready, did it mean that she actually liked it?

“Is this where you put your delicate little fingers? Is this where you rub yourself to get rid of the itch? Tell me girl, do you dream of some handsome knight or a comely squire when you do it? Do you imagine one of them on top of you, do you?” he hissed into her ear, his voice breaking from the vivid image of her slender fingers pleasuring herself.

Despite every fibre of his body telling him to release his cock from his straining breeches and plunge it into her, Sandor allowed a few more moments for just touching her, sliding his fingers up and down between her lower lips, then pressing one finger against her opening. Slowly he slid it in, feeling how her flesh yielded under his onslaught and how her muscles tensed around him. He thought he felt a bit of resistance just at her entrance but hells, that could be the tightness of her virgin cunt. Bugger if he knew anything about what maidenhood was supposed to feel like.

Still she didn’t struggle, and despite being awash with a primal desire to fulfil one last time the most powerful urge driving humankind, something made Sandor stop. His heated blood coursed through his veins and his head was spinning, but he stopped. He panted, resting his jaw against the top of the girl’s head.

“Do it.”

Her whisper was hardly audible but not for that reason, but because he simply didn’t trust his ears, Sandor pulled himself away and stared at her. “What the fuck did you just say?”

She returned his gaze, lips tightly pursed and eyes flashing. “Do it.”

Sandor shook his head in bewilderment. Do what? Did the girl mean what he assumed she meant – that she wouldn’t resist if he fucked her? He growled, a deep rumble from within his throat, but the girl didn’t wince or turn away.

Fucking bloody seven hells!

He resumed his movements, rougher than he had intended. If the girl wanted to be fucked, hells, he was going to grant her wish! She responded to his movements, first subtly, but as he moved his finger in and out a few times, then added another, her hips bucked powerfully against his hand. Sandor towered above her, their bodies flush against each other and his beard scratching her forehead. Oddly, he thought he felt her lips on his throat but that must have been accidental, resulting from her wriggling under him. He pressed her down harder.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! He was already too close to coming, he could feel his balls tightening, and he hadn’t even entered her! With shaking fingers he tugged the laces of his breeches, pulled them down just enough to release his cock from its confinement. He shifted his position and parted her legs with his knees so that he was fully in between them.

His first thrust was achingly tight – he wasn’t sure he could go all the way in even if he wanted to. He wanted to, he wanted it more than anything, but something held him back. Maybe it was the way she had pulled back when his cockhead had first slipped through her folds, maybe it was the strained expression on her face. Whatever it was, he found himself by some superhuman effort holding back, avoiding the temptation to plunge in fully.

Sandor groaned. He needed more than this! He gripped his shaft and started to stroke it, the familiar pattern of his lonely years, except this time the tip of his cock entered her sweet softness with every stroke. He felt Sansa relaxing slightly under him; her hips were not so rigid anymore. After a short while, during which Sandor was sure that he would release any minute, he felt her pushing hesitantly against him, taking more of him inside her. He pushed, inch by inch, slowly, gradually, stopping every time Sansa froze under him and her cunt contracted, until he was fully sheathed within her.

Sandor couldn’t understand himself. What was it to him if the girl hurt? It was supposed to hurt the first time. What he needed was a good, hard fuck on the last night of his life. That it happened to be with a maiden, and with the girl who had caught his eye many years ago and now had miraculously come within his reach once more – that was just bloody good luck, eh? Nevertheless, he recognised that he didn’t want to deliberately make her suffer. He was not his brother.

He fucked her in gradually deepening thrusts, and the feel of her tightness soon had its inevitable consequences. He felt the surge, he felt the need to let go, to spurt his seed deep, deep into her. At the very last minute, however, he pulled out and after a few jerky strokes with his hand released against her stomach. She held on to his shoulders, her grip so tight that her nails bit though his tunic. Vaguely Sandor sensed that she had lifted her knees and dug her heels against the mattress for more support. Strangely, even after he pulled himself away, she moved her hips as if to follow him.

His climax lasted a long time, every last wave of it, every drop and every spasm being felt throughout his whole body. Only his mind was totally blank. Eventually Sandor pulled back and collapsed on top of her but was mindful enough to support most of his weight on his arms positioned on either side of her head. He breathed in and out; deep, exhausted lungfuls, resting his head against her shoulder. Gradually they both stilled, Sansa’s movements ceasing as well.

Then he felt it.

Her hand ghosted across the back of his head, hardly touching but still there. Sandor froze, sensing her fingers against his hair. He wasn’t sure if he was only imagining it, but no, the feeling was true enough. He didn’t move, didn’t say anything, and soon it was gone.

Sandor exhaled, only then becoming aware that he had held his breath. So. He had fucked the little bird, taken her maidenhood. Lady Lannister, she was now in truth.

After a while, during which neither of them moved, he gathered his strength and raised his upper body, glancing down at hers. Her skirts were still lifted and her legs pale and fragile against the dark, homespun fabric. His iron chains had pressed against her flesh where his hand had been, and he saw the depressions clearly, as well as the welts that had already started to form on that unblemished skin. He saw smears of blood on her thighs, and glancing at his cock saw that it, too, had traces of blood on it. Seeing it made him flinch, but he steeled himself. There was blood during the first time, that was normal.

“So, little bird. You are a woman now. Mayhap it hurt but you will have time to recover and the next time will be easier,” he grumbled, rising fully to sit at the edge of the pallet. She stayed down, her face strained and her eyes flittering around as if looking for an escape. Surely she knew that she was free of his grip and could rise and leave at any time?

Sandor reached for the hem of her skirt and wiped his cock with it, then lifted his breeches and tied the laces. As the girl was still just lying there, he clumsily used the hem to wipe the blood away from her thighs and she let him. There was not much he could do about her smallclothes, their laces torn, but he lowered her skirts to cover her nakedness, smoothing the fabric by patting it awkwardly. He wished the girl would do something, say something, move, anything – and not just lie there.

He took the wineskin, swallowed deeply, then offered it to her. She looked at it, shook her head and finally shifted. She got to her feet slowly, pushed her hand through her hair and tightened the laces on her front which had loosened when Sandor had nuzzled against her chest. He realised that he hadn’t even seen her breasts and for a moment he regretted that he hadn’t pulled her bodice open. He was sure they were as beautiful as everything else about her. Sandor almost raised his hand to pull her back and take a look, but didn’t. He had had enough. He had had too much of her already, more than he was ever supposed to.

“Go on then, run to your quarters. I have nothing else to tell you, nor to that one-eyed savage when he comes asking. He’ll kill me come tomorrow, but you still have a chance. Go to the North, Stark bannermen are stubborn if nothing else and they may yet regroup. Follow my advice, choose the nastiest bastard to take up your cause and you’ll be fine.” Sandor didn’t look at her but spoke to the dying fire.

“Or mayhap it would be better for you to go back to Littlefinger; he will be disappointed, of course, at not having been your first, but he’ll recover. He’ll do everything you want him to do if you handle him right.” He turned to look at her now, smirking. “Just tell him that the dog got to have you first. I’m sure he’d like that.”

Sansa looked at him, long and hard, her expression inscrutable. Then she turned, took her cloak from the pallet and left.

“What, not even a goodbye, no thank you for the good deed I did you?” he shouted after her retreating back but she didn’t look back. The tent flap fell back into place and Sandor stared at it for a long time.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sansa

 

I wanted to face the real Hound. Well, this is it, Sansa thought as she lay on her back and felt his hard lips on her skin. She wondered what would happen if she screamed; would the guards hear her and come running? She didn’t want to think about what the Hound would do then; would he take his revenge on her before the men got to him? He was chained and eventually he was going to be subdued - he was only one man after all, no matter how big and strong. Then what? Would they kill him straight away or only after Timett had been called in to interrogate him?

Feeling his weight on her and the way his lips and teeth grazed her skin, Sansa thought how odd it was that this man, so strong and overwhelmingly in control, was going to be dead soon. Life would leave his powerful limbs and the light in his eyes would fade away. The Hound of her memories would be truly dead then, never coming back to haunt her.

Except this was not him. Not her Hound. Or maybe he was, she couldn’t be sure anymore. A chivalrous knight – certainly not. A man who always told the truth – yes.

Sansa felt her skirts being lifted and a hand sliding up her thigh. She took a deep breath; it was like in her feverish dreams and yet so different. She knew she should do something; resist, scream, push him away. Yet she did none of those things. She lay still, feeling strangely detached from the whole situation.

Then he shook her, so hard that her teeth rattled. She stared at him uncomprehendingly.

“Did they? Tell me, girl!”

Did they what? Then she realised; he wanted to know if she had been subjected to…carnal desires. He looked concerned, his eyes narrowing in the same way her father’s used to, when he had worried that something bad had happened to his precious daughter. Fatherly concerns…the thought was so ridiculous that she almost laughed a nervous little laugh, but at the last moment she swallowed it and answered his questions. He seemed to settle at that – but then he asked her about that.

Sansa wanted to deny it, hating the idea of the Hound knowing that she could do such an unladylike thing – but her face gave her away. Instead of what she expected - him laughing at her scornfully - his behaviour changed and his touches became more intense. He ripped her smallclothes and hissed into her ear things that no man should say to a woman.

For a while she felt as if she was observing them both from above; a pale girl resting motionless under a beast of a man. Just then his fingers touched her secret spot and she was brought back to her own body faster than a heartbeat. She couldn’t help it: she responded, her hips jerking involuntarily and she knew that it hadn’t gone unnoticed. Shame coloured her cheeks but she dismissed it quickly enough. What they were doing – all of it – was not of this world. It was not real. It was just a chance encounter between two people who had known each other in one lifetime, and who would never see each other again after this. This time tomorrow he is going to be dead.

Then the beast withdrew his hand and Sansa heard his breath coming out in loud gasps as he rested his bearded jaw against her head. She felt him curling his hand into a fist and clenching it forcefully, still between her legs. Without him saying so, Sansa realised that he would not go through with his threats – just as he hadn’t on the night of the Blackwater.  Instead of consoling her as it should have, it left her frustrated. 

Suddenly Sansa felt exasperated at her own actions. Why was she just lying there, subject to his whims? I never make my own choices. Never have and never will. The thought struck her hard. Whatever happened next, whether she continued to the North or returned to the Vale, there would be others making her choices for her. Her maiden’s gift was not hers to give away as she wanted, instead being coaxed from her under the guise of an enforced marriage or a bodily threat, taken from her by brute force or becoming a commodity in a business transaction.  No! I will not yield to that! She felt she had to do something, anything. This was her chance to make a decision all by herself and see it through.

Sansa didn’t realise that she had said the words out loud until the Hound stared at her in disbelief and challenged her. She didn’t have to stop and consider, staring him in the eye and repeating, “Do it.” I command. This is my choice. I have lost my maidenhood to you many times before in my dreams. Sansa felt it was finally time to do it for real and crush those foolish maidenly fantasies. Rather him than a nameless man who meant nothing to her.

She could see suspicion in his eyes, warring with his lust. In the end the lust won and he descended on her with renewed vigour. His touch was heated and rough, but as his fingers invaded her womanhood Sansa couldn’t help responding. That he did it at her insistence gave her a fleeting sensation of power, a feeling that she was not the one subjected to…this thing, but that she was the one in control. Having gained that control, she now wanted to return it to him and yield to his touch.

The Hound’s form hovered on top of her, his head above hers so that her eyes were level with his throat.  She could hear him hissing quietly, but whether they were curses or something else she couldn’t say. His dark beard, dense on his good cheek and hardly existent on the burned one, grew thick on both sides of his neck. Giving in to a sudden impulse, Sansa lifted her head and pressed her mouth into short curls, just where the beard met with the hair of his chest. It was the same spot she had eyed only a short time ago, thinking how much he looked like a wild beast, caged and dangerous.

He tasted salty, his bristles felt wiry and coarse, and she opened her mouth wider. It was not a kiss, but not a bite either. Her tongue slid against his skin and knotted strands of hair. Then he moved, changed his position and fumbled with his breeches.

Sansa knew what was coming and she tried to prepare herself, tensing her whole body. The first thrust hurt, feeling nothing like his fingers had. Gods! Sansa felt like she was being cleaved in half, her flesh torn – and then he withdrew and she felt whole again. Then he entered her anew and she couldn’t help retracting involuntarily. She hadn’t known what to do with her hands and had ended up holding onto him, her fingers splayed across his forearms. They were too thick to wrap fully around, but she could feel how he too was taut as a bowstring, the muscles in his arms trembling from his efforts.

She fully expected him to push deeper and harder, like she had seen the stable boy doing. From what she had gathered from the proceedings below her and Myranda, the boy had shoved into the girl in one hard motion, none of this cautious advancing…

Then she felt his hand between them, but instead of it assaulting her already torn flesh, he seemed to grab his manhood with it. At first Sansa didn’t realise what he was doing, but as his movements became rhythmic, in tune with the motions of his hips, she understood.

By then her flesh had stretched and started to better accommodate the strange intrusion and she could relax, adjust to his tempo and accept more of him. It felt strange; so different to what she had imagined. Her nub received friction both from his moving manhood and his thumb, and although it wasn’t as steady and intense as when she did it, its unpredictability kept her on her toes. Every now and then she felt a jolt that seemed to traverse all through her body, up her spine to finally burst behind her eyes.

Then he let out a low growl, almost a whine, and after one more push that went deeper than the others Sansa felt him pulling away completely, his hips yanking against her and then warm wetness spreading on her belly. That is…his seed? Is this it, then?

Her legs hurt, the press of his heavy hipbones against her thighs and the scrape of cold, hard chains made her realise how sore she was. Her core was throbbing, still stinging from the invasion. Yet it hadn’t all been completely unpleasant; there had been times when she had been aware of how close to pleasure the pain had been; when it had felt almost good

The Hound was still breathing hard, completely exhausted and listless against her. Sansa thought it odd. How was it possible that such a strong man, who could wrestle with an aurochs and have a good chance of winning, could be so undone by her? The keening noises he had let out during their coupling, his strained face and tightly shut eyes had all been signs of someone losing a battle, giving in to something that was bigger than them.  At that moment Sansa thought of him for the first time as a fellow human being, someone as vulnerable as she was.

The Hound’s head rested on her shoulder, his forehead in the curve between her collarbone and shoulder. By instinct she lifted her hand and let it hover above his head. Something drew her to touch him, but how could she? He would only shake his head, make her drop her hand, snarl something nasty at her and look at her with those hard grey eyes… He had taken what he wanted and he had no use for her anymore.

Yet her fingers moved without her instruction to do so and brushed his hair, the back of his head, past his good ear. Then she controlled herself and forced her arm to fall down.

Eventually he got up. His harsh words chased away the moment of clarity and stillness she had just experienced, and when he wiped her legs with her skirt she knew it was time for her to leave.  He was done with her. And I am done with you.

Sansa hardly listened to what the Hound said, but instead she looked at the way his lips moved, at his sneer, at the corners of his eyes and how they wrinkled and how his nostrils flared when he reminded her that he had, in fact, just raped her. She wanted to memorise his face now that she had finally had the courage to look at it openly and without fear. Despite recognising that this was the last time she would see him – knowing that she couldn’t go to his execution – she chose not to say words of farewell. What had just transpired between them had been an accidental meeting. In truth their paths had diverged already long time ago.

She turned and left the tent and didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

 

Sandor

Sandor sat on the pallet for a long time examining his hands. They were calloused and uncommonly large, and webs of thick veins were clearly discernable at their backs despite dark hair covering them in one continuous line traversing from his arms up to his first knuckles. They were strong and sure; killer’s hands, capable of holding a deadly weapon and squashing an opponent’s face with one blow. Simply thinking of where they had just been made him shudder; the incongruity of the girl’s soft flesh having been defiled by his ruthless touch…

Tentatively he lifted his fingers and sniffed them, smelling the traces of the little bird’s musky scent. Hesitantly he licked one finger, suddenly regretting that he hadn’t put his mouth on her. Normally he didn’t care about such things, not wanting to dwell where hundreds of men had unloaded their seed, but with her and her virgin cunt it would have been different. She had smelled good, she had felt good, she sure as hells would have tasted good.

Cursing, he shook his hand as if to dispel any regrets. Too late, dog, too late. Everything was too late for him now.

He stood up and started walking restlessly within the confinements of the little area his chains allowed. Sandor hadn’t really had time to digest the news the girl had brought about his intended execution the next day – not that it had required much imagination to guess what was going to happen. During what little time he had, he had already decided that he was not going to go down meekly but fight with all his strength until he was overwhelmed. The dog’s last stand, he sneered. And what good will it do?

In frustration he kicked the sturdy pole once more. He had examined it thoroughly when first left alone and had concluded that his jailors hadn’t exaggerated when they had snickered that any attempts to break free would be futile. That kind of confidence was gained only from experience, from tens or hundreds of prisoners languishing in this same predicament, not being able to break free. Hells, he had heard the guards leaving their post next to the entrance for the comfort of the fire pits further away, so confident they were about the security of his confinement.

From the looks of it the wooden post had been standing there for a long time, embedded deep in the ground. The iron rings were as thick as two of his fingers put together, and the chain and the manacles were of simple and heavy construction with no weak points. Once again he kicked the shaft as hard as he could, cursing his powerlessness. To his surprise he felt a tiny movement; just a subtle shift that was almost unnoticeable – but the pole had moved a little.

Sandor fell to the ground and attacked it with renewed vigour. He set his broad back against it and braced his feet on the hard ground and pushed and pushed until he felt as if a vein would pop in his head from the exertion. But again it shifted. Almost imperceptibly, but nonetheless…

He stopped to catch his breath and swept his gaze around the tent. Was there anything he could use? He noticed the crude earthen platter forgotten by the guards, who had come earlier to collect the remains of his meal. He reached for it and smashed it to pieces and started digging up the ground around the pole with the biggest shard. Slowly and meticulously he scraped the pressed earth away, every moment expecting to see yet another iron fastening – yet none came to view.

Frantically he shoved the dirt away, a vague hope rising in his mind. What if there were no other bindings securing the two halves of the post together, locking his chain irrefutably between the upper and the yet-unseen lower ring? If he could lift the stake from the ground, mayhap he could slide the chain free from underneath it? His hands would still be shackled but he would be free to leave. He could always worry about the chains later.

A new, stern resolution took over Sandor. He didn’t want to die - especially after the experience he had just had; the ecstasy of living found between the legs of the Northern girl. It had been about more than just a crude satisfaction of the basest of urges; he had experienced a vague sensation that there was more to life than the meagre everyday existence of eating, sleeping, shitting and fighting. The girl had reminded him about something he had thought he had long forgotten. 

All the time at the Quiet Isle, he had snuffed out the memory of her like everything else from his former life; the cruel masters, the senseless intrigues and buggering mockery of knightly values.  And all it had taken for her to invade his mind was to show up. What had followed after…Sandor shook his head, still in awe of what had transpired. Had he really fucked her? Had he really plunged his cock into Sansa Stark?

He had nothing but time to think of her and the strange experience they had just shared as he toiled relentlessly at scraping the dirt around the pole, then kicking and pushing it to make it move in a gradually widening arc. Scrape… scrape… scrape… thump… thump… scrape… scrape… scrape… Slowly the hole got deeper but still the post refused to loosen enough for him to lift it out.

Sandor continued in that vein for hours, doggedly determined to give it his best shot. His fingers were bleeding, his back was aching and his shoulders and arms protested against the monotonous task, but he didn’t stop. His newly awakened urge to live - the same desire driving all living things when trapped - coursed through his veins and nourished his tiring muscles when in any other circumstances he would have admitted defeat a long time ago. And all the time he was thinking about the girl. If he got himself free, what of her? She was caught between two worlds, two fates as much as he was, truly having place in either. Would she go to the North to chase her foolish dream of resurrecting House Stark, or would she choose the easier option and go back to Littlefinger and place her fate in his hands?

Earlier Sandor would have assumed her to be tempted by safety and protection after all she had gone through – and he couldn’t have faulted her for that. Exotic little birds were not meant to fly in the cold and take on the eagles, crows and other beasts of the forest. Yet her behaviour that night had shaken his assumptions about her. The girl – nay, the woman – who had hissed into his ear the command to take her, the woman who had not flinched or cried, the woman who had not tried to justify their actions afterwards with empty babble – she was not one to depend on faulty comfort supplied by false friends.

Still, how could he help her, even if he wanted to? From what little Sandor had seen of the village, the hut the girl had slipped into was right in the middle of it. Besides, who knew who shared her abode? He was going to be hard pressed to escape with his own hide intact, especially if he couldn’t release Stranger from their captor’s grip. Silently Sandor offered a fleeting plea to whichever buggering god might be listening that he would find his stallion – on foot he would be disadvantaged and easy prey to anyone sent after him.

The first signs of dawn were clearly visible through the tent fabric by the time Sandor felt the pole loosening enough for him to rotate it fully. Despite his exhaustion he resumed his feverish attempts and gripped it fully in his embrace. He straightened his back, dug his feet firmly onto the ground and yanked the stake upward. Every fibre of his body protested against this new demand on his fast-dwindling reserves of strength, and his legs trembled with the effort, but he didn’t give up. Slowly, agonisingly slowly the hard wood started to rise, reluctantly giving up its resting place. He wasn’t able to remove it in one pull, but he inched it upward little by little, taking a deep breath between each exertion. When the full length of the pole was finally up, he let it fall on the ground and collapsed beside it, panting.

After collecting his breath and with his heart thumping loudly in his ears, Sandor crawled alongside its full span, almost the same as his own height, tugging his chain between the halves. He held his breath, afraid that his hopes would be slashed at the last minute by some infernal construction at the base of them. Yet there were none and after slowly and tediously pulling his shackles through the dredges of dirt and soil accumulated over the years, the irons finally slid out and he was free. Free.

Sandor stared at the manacles and shook his hands cautiously. Luckily the span of them was wide enough for him to move his arms, and the weight he could carry despite the tiredness of his heavy arms. He would have liked nothing more than to rest a while to gather his strength but he was racing against time; a break was a luxury he couldn’t afford.

----------

The rest of Sandor’s escape was relatively straightforward; he slipped under the canvas at the back of the tent, relieved that it was not heavily guarded and was situated at the edge of the village. An even better stroke of luck was when, after crawling a while in the direction where he had seen the horses being taken the previous day, he found Stranger alone in a small paddock. His temper made him no more tolerant towards other horses than to men, other than his owner, and that had worked to Sandor’s advantage.

He whistled softly and Stranger lifted his head and turned first his ears, then his eyes towards him. True to his thorough training as a war horse he trotted softly to Sandor, who scratched his forehead and spoke soothing words to his best friend.

Getting astride was a clumsy pursuit with his shackles, but he managed. He had no halter nor reins, not to mention a saddle, but he guided Stranger with his knees and his weight and they started a slow walk down the sloping paddock. After he judged them to be far enough to be hidden from the casual gaze of an onlooker, Sandor stopped and turned to look over his shoulder.

The little bird. He felt torn; part of him wanted to go back and find her and offer her again what he had so many years ago; to take her with him, take her to the North. Another cool and calculating part told him how dangerous and stupid that would be. They both could be caught and then he was sure as hells going to be killed, then and there.

Yet there was another notion at the back of his mind that refused to go away. Would she come with me if I asked? She hadn’t, the last time. And she had changed, she was not a helpless maiden anymore. Adding to the equation what he had just done to her… Although ultimately it had been at her behest, Sandor didn’t fool himself into thinking that it had been completely voluntary. What woman in her right senses chose to lie with him?

Sandor stared towards the village for a long time, deep in thought, when finally Stranger snorted softly and he noticed movement at the outskirts of the settlement. People were starting to stir to meet a new day.

Sighing deeply, Sandor turned his head and nudged his horse ahead. The little bird would have to take care of herself the best she could. He had nothing to offer her. Nothing.

----------

Two days later Sandor was well out of the mountain ranges. He had sneaked into a small village further down the slope and stolen a halter and a saddle, and a day’s ride further he arrived in a busy trading post where he found a smithy. The smith unshackled him with no questions asked in return for a few of the coins Sandor had secured in the lining of his tunic and which had luckily not been found by his captors. The smith was also happy to receive a quantity of good iron, selling him a sword and dagger into the bargain.

Once again Sandor had to make a decision. Would he continue with his original plan and seek service with Littlefinger? He now had something worthwhile to bargain with – should he make it known that he knew the hiding place of Sansa Stark, he was sure that Littlefinger would reward him handsomely.

Or should he abandon Westeros altogether and ride to Maidenpool, there to take a ship across the Narrow Sea and seek his fortune in the new lands?

There was a third option, one he didn’t really want to consider, shaking his head angrily and pushing it away every time it entered his mind. I could go back for the girl. With better preparation and the time that has passed since my escape, I could catch her and that one-eyed monster unawares. I could take her to the North if that is where she wants to go.

Every time it came to him he sneered and berated his own stupidity. By now she would have moved on with her plans, mayhap already joined a group of merchants. Somehow Sandor doubted she would choose to return to the Vale. Yet… if he hadn’t taken her, if he hadn’t been so enraged by the unfairness of the situation he had found himself in… If he had offered her his protection when she first came to him, he could perhaps go back – but not now. Not after what had happened.

The ghost of the young girl he had tried to reject had well and truly vanished, only to be replaced by the image of a warm-blooded woman; seductive with the alluring combination of innocence and world-weariness - and all too real. Sandor relived the brief moments they had shared over and over again – if ‘sharing’ was an appropriate description of him threatening her and forcing himself upon her until her resistance had been whittled away.

Three days Sandor stayed at the trading post, drinking in the cheap tavern in the evenings, relishing the taste of strong wine after being without for so long. He slept in the barn with Stranger and every morning he swore he would leave, in one direction or another, and every evening he found himself still there, unable to make the decision about which way. Towards the Eyrie, to Maidenpool – or back where he came from? Every evening he fell asleep on his bed of straw and was assailed by visions of red hair, long limbs and soft skin.

On the morning of the fourth day he got up once again, thoroughly annoyed with his dithering. Bloody hells! It was high time for him to go forward. Stranger seemed to feel his mood as he, too, whinnied and pawed the ground with his hoof.

“I know, boy, I know. Time we move on,” Sandor murmured to his restless mount as he saddled him. He was all set to go, had been for days, having bought food and supplies to last him a while.

At the intersection of the three roads leading west to the mountains, north to the Eyrie and south towards Maidenpool, he stopped once again and stared at the paths. Whether his decision was correct or not, he had made it and now he had to go through with it. Any chance of him being able to help the little bird he had crushed with his own actions. He had hurt her, he had raped her, he had sneered at her predicament and because of all that there was no way for him to return to her now.

Sandor turned Stranger to the south and urged him into a trot.

----------

His progress was good but gradually the clarity of mind with which he had woken up started to get muddled as the morning progressed. It was as if Stranger sensed it, as he slowed his steady trot to a brisk walk and Sandor didn’t even notice.

The path was wide and clear, the air fresh and suffused with scents of forest and the sun was peeking through the wispy clouds. Maidenpool was only a few days ride away and he had evidently succeeded in his escape. Why didn’t he rejoice?

Mid-morning Sandor suddenly halted, cursing angrily. Bloody buggering seven hells! Stranger snorted agitatedly but followed his lead when he turned him around and started to gallop back in the direction they came from.

He passed the same intersection as earlier but this time he didn’t stop. All Sandor could think was to hope that he wouldn’t be too late. If the girl had left…he would follow the trail and it might be even better to snatch her on the road. He would sneak into their camp after nightfall, hoping like hells that she would still be sleeping alone and had not yet followed his advice on the best way to secure her safety.

The thought of finding her in the arms of some burly mountain man disturbed Sandor, he couldn’t deny that. Yet he couldn’t fault her for that either. Life was too short and hard to be concerned about things such as propriety. All men – and women – had to use the tools in their possession the best way they could. Sandor had always been pragmatic in his views – buggering knights and songs of their valour meant nothing to him when he knew that in truth they were all cold-blooded killers. A maiden’s virtue was worth scrap if it meant that the maiden herself would be kept against her will, unable to ease her own plight.

Yet the further he rode, the more doubts started to assail him – again. If she had progressed in her plans, who was he to come and spoil them? What could he provide, besides temporary protection? He couldn’t change what had happened, no pretending he could. And once they reached the North he would become a liability to her; the hated retainer of hated enemies. And the biggest misgiving of all; does she want me there? Would she direct at him the same hard gaze she had given just before she had left, not saying a word?

Sandor’s thoughts started to go around the same well-trodden ground as the last several days, and he slowed his pace. Never in his life had he been so indecisive and hesitant in the face of action. He missed the lucidity of purpose he had enjoyed earlier that morning and started to regret his impulsive decision to turn back.

As the midday sun burned hotly right above his head he finally stopped and let his horse graze while he walked back and forth along the short strip of the path. He knelt, lowered his head into his hands, took a deep breath and jumped up again, roaring his frustration. Stranger stopped and eyed him curiously for a moment before going back to his interrupted foraging, obviously not too disconcerted by what was bothering his master.

“BUGGERING HELLS!”

That was it, he couldn’t go on like this, Sandor cursed. The modicum of peace he had acquired at the Quiet Isle was fast dwindling. Once and for all, he needed to stop his vacillation and go on with his life. His life.

Once more he turned his horse around, rode towards the south and didn’t look back. Across the Narrow Sea it is.

----------

Two days later Sandor stopped in yet another small, nameless village. He topped up his supplies in the local inn and on the spur of the moment took a room for a night. While eating his meal in the corner of the guest hall he eyed the buxom serving wench who went about the room in her tasks. A short, plump, dark-haired girl, not pockmarked or toothless, so overall not a bad looking offering.

Sandor was not really in the mood for wenching but he decided that it was time for him to try to move on with the rest of his life and forget the surreal and unexpected incident in the mountains. A chance encounter that was not going to happen again, so he had better wipe his memory of any notions of high-born women and little northern birds with auburn hair and supple limbs.

He started to bargain with the woman. She pretended to be horrified by his suggestion, he pretended to believe that she was not that kind of woman, but in the end the coins he offered did the trick and the wench agreed. Why he had bothered with the charade he didn’t know – in his previous life he would have hated the pretence of the interaction. Still, if the wench wanted to feel better about herself by not declaring openly that she was, in fact, a woman to be bought, who was he to argue otherwise? Sighing, Sandor concluded that he must be getting old.

The woman slipped into his room at the end of the evening as agreed and without waiting for his command laid down on his bed. She unlaced and opened her blouse, revealing heavy breasts that spilled on both sides of her body, and lifted her skirt up to her waist. She wore no smallclothes and Sandor regarded her bosom, her belly, her wide hips and the curly bush between her legs. From the faint webs imprinted on the skin of her lower belly he could see that she had given birth. As he didn’t move, the woman lifted her head and glanced at him expectantly. Her eyes were big and brown and only slightly hesitant.

With grim determination, Sandor set to his task. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

  

Sansa

Sounds of mayhem penetrated the fog clouding Sansa’s mind and reluctantly she stirred. It had taken until the early hours of the morning before she had been able to finally calm her racing heart and fall asleep. That torpor had nonetheless been only a crude mockery of sleep and had not granted her proper rest.

She came to slowly, sensing novel pains and aches all over her body. The feeling of being deeply invaded still prevailed, although it didn’t hurt any more. When she examined her thighs she could see a string of bruises that were starting to change colour from sharp red to vibrant blues and purples. She traced her fingers across one visible line, knowing it to signify where the Hound’s hard hipbones had pressed against her soft flesh. The imprint of heavy chains was also clearly visible where he had rested his hand. Somehow seeing the physical proof of the previous night’s deeds made it all the more tangible and Sansa blushed at the vulgarity of it.

Yet strangely she had no regrets. The whole incident had felt almost like it was as it was supposed to be - ever since she had first noticed his gaze on her a long time ago and heard his sharp words about wanting a song from her someday, whether she willed it or not. Ever since she had started to dream about a man with the Hound’s countenance, his behaviour softened by her imagination.

Sansa lay on her bed a while longer, listening to noises that abated and intensified as morning went by. Suddenly she felt ashamed of her selfish thoughts; here she was focussing on herself when the man who was larger than life, an unstoppable force on his own, was about to die at any moment. Was that what the voices were for?

She didn’t want to go outside and see his end. Still, as time dragged on and the girl who usually came around in the mornings to see to her hadn’t arrived, she started to get anxious. What is going on?

Sansa opened the door and warily peeked outside. To her relief the girl was just approaching and she gestured at her to hurry up.

“What is happening? What are the noises? Has the Hound…” she found no words to finish the sentence.

“Oh, you haven’t heard, m’lady? He has escaped! Pulled out the prisoner’s pole and disappeared into the night, just like that!” The girl was nervous and spoke breathlessly, her eyes darting outside as if expecting the escapee to emerge any moment to take his revenge on those who had dared to detain him.

Sansa’s heart lurched and all blood escaped from her face. “Escaped? But…how could that be? I was told nobody has ever broken free from those shackles; that nobody can.”

“That has never before happened, not even when there have been three or four men fettered by that pole. Nobody knows how he did it. It would have taken an aurochs to pull it out of the ground, the men say.” The girl was babbling on, exposing her nervousness. Despite her worried tone Sansa could see that she was also excited; this was a tale to tell for a long time still, and she had been right in the middle of it and seen with her own eyes the man who had achieved the impossible. 

Sansa remembered her fleeting thoughts about the strength the Hound had radiated when he had covered her body with his. And despite all the force he possessed, he had contained himself when he had touched her. Why? He hadn’t had anything to fear or expect from her. She didn’t fool herself; it might have gone much worse for her, being a maiden taken by a man of his size – everything in the Hound had been so big … She felt a deep flush suffusing her cheeks. Sandor. I have lain with the man, surely I can think of him by his name.

She was glad, she was relieved. He lives. He had crept away in the dead of night, once more gone out of her life as if he had never re-entered it. Fleetingly she wondered why he hadn’t come to take her with him. He had offered it once. And I turned him down. Why would he make the same mistake again?

Later that day Timett came to see her. He was agitated and still bristling from the affront, although in reality the Hound’s escape didn’t really matter for him. Except…

“What did you two talk of last night? What did he tell you?” His question was direct but not accusing or unkind.

“Nothing much. He said he was coming from the Quiet Isle and was on his way to find employment. He had had no contact with the Lannisters or anyone from the South for a long time, I understand.” Sansa had nothing to hide about their discussion – if she left the part about Arya out that was neither here nor there; Timett wouldn’t care about that. Then she remembered something and could feel blood draining from her face.

“He said he was going to offer his services to Lord Baelish at the Vale.”

Timett looked at her sharply. “Littlefinger? That is bad news. He will of course tell about your presence here and the soldiers of the Vale will be sent to pluck you out.” He started walking, stroking his beard deep in thought.

“Not necessarily…I mean, he may not tell him that he saw me,” Sansa muttered. Although she knew it made perfect sense for Sandor to strike a bargain with the information, a small part of her couldn’t believe he would do that. He knew she didn’t want to be found, surely he did?

It was obvious Timett harboured no such doubts. “He would be a fool not to. He may be a brute and a beast but he’s no dullard.” His mouth pressed into thin line. ”You have to leave, as soon as possible. He has no supplies and may be slow in his travels, so we’ll have some days to prepare. I will send for the merchants and organise the escort and they can take you away from here.”

“What about you and the people in the village?” Sansa hated the idea of innocents having to suffer for her sake. Timett turned to her, a grim smile on his face.

“Vale soldiers don’t care to die for a prize that is not to be found. We’ll kill a few of them, tell the others that their bird has flown the nest and send the rest packing where they came from. Baelish is no fool either, he will not waste his efforts on us.”

Sansa’s head spun; it was all happening too fast. Yet she knew she had no choice, no matter how much she wanted to trust the Hound. Sandor.

----------

It took several days to organise everything but finally the small team hastily assembled was ready to leave. Sansa looked around the little hut that had been her home for these past few weeks. This episode, too, would eventually shrink into just one of many in her life, from one woe to another. Except here, high in the Mountains of the Moon, she had lost her maidenhead. A woman could never forget that experience, her first. She knew she wouldn’t.

The more she pondered her position the better she felt. Yes, she was now Tyrion Lannister’s wife in the eyes of the men and the gods – but nobody knew her lord husband’s whereabouts. Maybe he was dead already? Sansa winced. She had never had anything against Tyrion’s person, only his house, and if he was truly dead she felt sorry for him. Nonetheless, it would make her a widow and a member of not one but two of the most powerful houses in Westeros. Maybe it meant nothing, maybe it did – in the game of thrones one never knew what the next turn of events brought. Lord Tywin was dead, Jaime Lannister had disappeared and was a member of the Kingsguard in any case. She chuckled quietly. Maybe instead of the Lannisters gaining Winterfell through her as they had intended, one day she might gain Casterly Rock? How ironic.

Yet even if no word came about Tyrion’s fate, she would be a married woman and not a maiden to be bent to the will of others. The enmity between their houses was widely known and nobody would expect her to yield to the wishes of her lord husband’s kin. Wives and widows held eminently much more power than unmarried girls and best of all, she couldn’t be wedded against her will. Maybe she could finally start living her life as a woman of substance instead of a pawn for others to squabble over?

Maybe Sandor had been right all along – maybe he had done her a favour?

Feeling stronger and better already, Sansa headed towards the caravan ready to embark. Its leader was a young man from Timett’s village, Toki was his name, and he was a man Sansa had personally selected. Not that anybody knew about it.

She had seen him watching her as she moved about. Not disrespectfully but carrying in his eyes a message she had learned long ago to decipher; that of a man who desired a woman. She had discreetly assessed him and concluded that he would do; he was young and strong with the typical appearance of the clansmen with his long, dark hair, broad face, brown eyes and shaggy beard. From her observations she concluded that he was not prone to cruelty or anger and considered his actions carefully rather than succumbing to spur of the moment decisions.

Sansa wasn’t proud of herself for resorting to cool calculation about which man might best serve her purposes, but she had no desire to be left behind at the Neck to make her way with the merchants alone for the rest of the journey.

There were three traders, each with their own wagon and selling different types of wares, who had banded together for strength. She didn’t like the look of any of them; none of them were the jolly, fat storekeepers she was used to seeing in Winterfell or King’s Landing. No, these men were a breed of their own, all wiry creatures with hard faces and narrow eyes, shrewdly assessing everything and everyone around them. They behaved well enough when Timett or his men were around, but Sansa didn’t like her chances if she was left on her own in their company. Sandor’s words came back to her ‘You’d better choose the meanest and biggest bastard in the group and twirl him around your finger’, and to her horror she actually appraised the traders with that in mind. To her disappointment these men didn’t seem the sort who could be easily lured by feminine charms. No, she needed a different type of escort to see her all the way to Winterfell. If she could ask someone like Toki to take her there, he just might acquiesce to her wishes…

Sansa knew that even considering these things would have horrified her mother and septa, but she pushed that out of her mind. She had learned by now that everyone needed to use the weapons they had at their disposal. Had she been a strapping soldier with skill in battle or strength in her arms, she would resort to them. Had she carried lots of gold with her, she would purchase her safe passage. She had neither and so she had to get by with what she had; her beauty and her wit.

Timett had intended to appoint one of his seasoned warriors to lead the group but Sansa knew that her attempts to appeal to that uncouth, hard man would have been wasted. She didn’t say anything to Timett though, but as she knew Toki’s mother, who happened to be Timett’s great-aunt, and often saw her around the cooking fires, she figured her best chances to influence him were to be found in that direction. Women among the Burned Men were known to have much to say about the way things were run, despite seemingly adhering to their traditional roles as daughters, wives and mothers like elsewhere in Westeros.

“Your son is rather old for not having led a raid or a party of men, isn’t he? He looks strong and capable though, so I wonder why it is so?” she innocently asked the older woman. She looked at her sharply.

“My son is as capable as he looks, and ready for any task.” Motherly pride was clear in the older woman’s voice.

“Oh, then I am surprised that he is not even being considered for leading the merchants across the mountains. It is a good task, sure to lead to hefty rewards, offering an opportunity to see what else there is and it would make him ready for bigger responsibilities.” Sansa stirred the pot of vegetables and grain, pretending that was all that she was interested in. Toki’s mother snorted and didn’t continue the discussion but Sansa knew that the seed had been planted.

And lo and behold, later that evening Timett announced his decision to give the leadership to Toki as a chance to prove himself. Everyone agreed and Sansa pretended to be surprised.

Despite what had taken place between her and Sandor; that odd dance of dominance, acquiescence, demanding and giving on both sides and the finality of their departing, Sansa half-expected to see him back in those early days after his escape. Every sound or a broken twig on the ground outside her hut or wind whistling in trees saw her alert, straining her ears and eyes for signs of his presence. Why it should be so when it made no sense, she couldn’t say. He owed her nothing and he could gain nothing from helping her. He was not welcome in the North, Sansa knew, and she had no money or power to grant him favours. All she had was her body and that he had had already.

He didn’t come back.

----------

As their small procession trekked along the mountain paths, over the craggy hills and through lush valleys, stern determination took over Sansa and surety of purpose filled her. For the first time in a long while she felt good about herself and about her future. She looked to the North, glimpsing the vast lands ahead of them every now and then when they reached a high peak, and breathed the crisp mountain air into her lungs. She felt alive, she felt strong. Initially she didn’t dwell too much on what had made the difference; what had changed her from an indecisive young woman vacillating between her desire for the safety in the Vale, as hollow as it was, and her wish to return home to Winterfell. Then one day it hit her. This is all because of him.

Sansa’s initial intention when visiting Sandor had been to free herself of the image of the kinder Hound she had made up in her mind and quash the last bastion of girlish dreams she could poorly afford. That image had dissolved exactly as she had intended when she had seen him as he truly was; a man of flesh and blood, crude, hard and cynical. Yet she hadn’t been afraid of him and faced him with a boldness that had surprised her.  

She realised then that his image was now replaced by something much more vivid, something she couldn’t shake out of her head. Behind the storm of his grey eyes she had seen glimpses of a human being with fears, hopes and disappointments just like her own. The hardness of his body against hers had overwhelmed her but had also felt solid and real, and their embrace had been the closest she had been to another person for longer than she cared to remember. That her own body had responded to him the way it had disconcerted her but also made her strangely proud. Not a frightened little bird any more. He had shown her that.

He had also given her advice, harsh, crude but pragmatic. Nobody else would have told her those things so honestly and openly. No, any other man could have asked her to put her faith in him – not that she had believed him at the time, although his subsequent escape had proven her wrong. Any other man could have advised her to ask for help, to plead for another man to provide her with his protection – only Sandor had told her to use her own skills and make men to do her bidding. He had been the only person who had believed that she could do it on her own.

More so, he had made her Lady Lannister, irreversibly. Of Littlefinger’s many schemes, annulment of her marriage had been the only one Sansa had actively desired, simply wanting to erase the taint of association with the hated people who had killed her kin. Now that the deed was done she however understood the benefits it afforded for her and her position. Never a helpless maiden again, a pawn for others.

And gods forbid, if she had to use more than her beauty and her charms to get a man to do as she desired – a fate she wanted to avoid as far as possible, but the pragmatic side of her mind told her that it might not be achievable – she preferred that her first experience had been with the man who had loomed large in her life for a long time already. Rather him than some stranger, a means to a purpose.

Suddenly Sansa was assailed by the memory of how gentle he had been when he had swept her hair away from her face, and the clumsy way he had tried to make her position more comfortable. She remembered his restraint in taking her when he could have cared naught for how she felt. The softness of his touch as he wiped blood from her thighs and awkwardly pulled her skirts to cover her modesty. No, it hadn’t been as she sometimes might have imagined losing her maidenhead, in the arms of her noble and knightly lordly husband. Yet with a clarity of mind she understood that Sandor was more noble and knightly in his own way than any of the husbandly candidates she had been linked with.

So it was that Sansa accepted the realisation that she was alone, and it was up to her to make her own luck. No knight in shining armour would come to rescue her. She was the one who had to make sure that she got to Winterfell safely. She had to convince her father’s bannermen to lend her their forces. She had to choose who to trust and who not, and listen to the advice from the former and ignore the latter.

Sansa shivered and wrapped her cloak around her, following their small procession with her gaze as it trundled forward: three wagons drawn by sturdy wagon horses, with three drivers and three servants, six men of the mountains on their horses and three pack-ponies carrying their provisions. And the last remaining hope of House Stark, the blood of the line of Kings and Wardens in the North extending back 8,000 years running hot in her veins.

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. I am ready.