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A Premeditated Reunion

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THE FIRST LETTER WRITTEN BY YOUNG ALDREC OF HOUSE FLINT OF FLINT'S FINGER TO HIS SISTER, MAID ALYSEE

Dearest Alysee,

What a poor excuse for a brother have I been, shamefully neglecting the solemn promise I made to you before I left! My only defence is that I have been very busy here in Winterfell for the whole last month; practising my weapons training with the men-at-arms and other sons of noble houses, meeting with all the friends of our house that Uncle Kennet wants me to get to know, and making little trips around the countryside. That, and trying to court Lady Sansa - but as you know, that was the least successful of my ventures.

But here it finally is, my very first letter - you can wave it in front of Maester Torren who probably never believed I could produce one! To be perfectly honest this is not my first try, but only a cramped hand and blotchy sheets of parchment remain as a testament to my earliest attempts.

This time I have decided that I will finish this even if it takes me all night and kills my sword arm for the next day. I made you a promise and I have to deliver.

Where do I start? Winterfell is truly the outstanding keep people say it is and Wintertown is a bustling hive of activity with all the visitors crowding it. But of course you are not truly interested in such details when all you really want to hear about are stories of knights and fair maidens? That was the only reason why you wanted me to write to you, to tell you more about the famous Lady Sansa Stark and her many suitors…

By now, you have heard the main news from our uncle’s missive to our lord father, as he undoubtedly shares them with you and our lady mother, so I won’t bore you by stating the bare facts again.

As you were all giddy about just the thought of you possibly becoming Lady Sansa’s goodsister, it must have been a disappointment that I did not succeed in my proposal. I personally knew all along that it was not to be, but I had to do our lord father’s bidding just the same. I was glad to pursue her, of course, but I was convinced that a lady of her standing would not look favourably on the second son of a minor house. Yet how wrong I was in that respect, at least!

You have, I’m sure, heard of Lady Sansa’s pilgrimage? There is a song called “Lonely Wolf’s Lament” already being sung in taverns and halls all across the North. Have you perchance happened to hear that? And my dear sister, I was there when it happened! I was lucky enough to see it almost from the start as I chanced to be in the main yard when she started her journey, and I also took turns sweeping the path in front of her to do away with stones and pebbles. I will remember that day for the rest of my life and will tell stories about it to my children and my grandchildren (if I ever manage to find a wife, that is). Let me tell you; she was magnificent! I don’t know how she was able to maintain her dignity even while crawling through the muck, but she did it. I have never seen a maid so graceful and proud and so worthy of respect and admiration as she was that day. If you grow up to be even tenth of the fine lady that she is, I will be a proud brother indeed.

Nobody knows why she undertook that mission and she keeps it close to her chest. I personally believe that it was a promise fulfilled rather than a plea to the old gods. If you wonder why, I think so because she was so happy after that. I had noticed that she looked a bit forlorn in the days preceding her mission, but after having recovered from her ordeal she returned amongst us manifestly radiant, all smiles and happy faces. I suspect a person wouldn’t do that after just having appealed for something in such an extraordinary manner – one would be more likely to behave warily and cautiously while expecting to see the outcome of one’s request. Whereas if a person has fulfilled a promise, one would be accompanied with a sense of deep satisfaction and contentment, don’t you think so? Just as I expect I will be after I have finished this letter and given it to the maester, no matter how much my wrist hurts. At least this is how I reckon it.

In case you are wondering how good a judge I can be about her moods and expressions, I did have the privilege of meeting her several times during my stay here. She granted me a private audience soon after our arrival – well, as private as could be with that big man of hers skulking in the background. She was very kind and courteous and remembered our house and its services to House Stark in times past. She was just as beautiful as people say, and when she smiled at me…Well, I think I fell a bit in love with her at that moment and suddenly the duty I was undertaking for the advancement of our house suddenly acquired a new purpose altogether! Although the presence of that man - the Hound as he used to be called, or Clegane as he is known now - made me quite nervous, the way he was looking daggers at me. As we all know by now, his behaviour makes sense in retrospect, but at the time it was rather disquieting.

After that she has remained kind and genteel with me, greeting me amiably every time when we meet. However, she was like that with all her suitors so none of us could really make anything out of it; whether she favoured any one of us above the others.

Yet it was some time after her pilgrimage that things started to change. Clegane, who had often followed her on her daily walks and chores around the keep, started to do that more often, but not like before. Previously he had always stayed a few paces behind her, yet now he was walking by her side, neck and neck, and talking with her instead of staying silent as men-at-arms on duty are wont to do. Soon they were seen everywhere together, often deep in discussion. People looked askance at first but soon everyone just shrugged their shoulders and concluded that if Lady Sansa wanted to converse with him, that was her right. We all had heard the story of him escorting her through the Vale and the Neck to reach Winterfell, and that kind of deed may allow a man some concessions, we thought.

But then he started to join her at evening meals as well. At first it was nothing unusual, as Lady Sansa had taken the habit of her father, Lord Eddard, to sit a guest or an important member of the household next to her. She rotated that privilege and I too had an honour to sit next to her once. Yet the man Clegane was invited to sit at the high table more often than anyone else, and soon he was seated next to her almost every second evening. I have to admit that I too raised my eyebrows at that; since when have soldiers, even as skilful as he but without a proper position in the keep, been afforded such favours? Nonetheless there he sat, bold as brass, among the good folk of the North.

You know as well as I all the stories about him when he was still the Hound, the Lannister dog. You may recall how none of us could believe our ears when we heard that it was he who brought our lady back to us, although it was already widely known that he had left the lions at the Battle of the Blackwater. The other stories…well, they were later proven wrong but I guess the fact that so many people believed them without batting an eye tells you something about the man and his reputation, doesn’t it?

All us lads were wary of him at first. Promise not to tell anyone but I almost pissed in my breeches when he first came at me in a practice yard! Nonetheless, he was actually quite civil and didn’t drop me on my arse quite as quickly as he could have, had he wanted. He was foul-mouthed and harsh, but also fair and didn’t gloat over a fallen opponent. The second time we sparred I learned quite a few good tricks from him. I asked around a bit among the Winterfell men to learn more about what kind of a fellow he is, and all said the same thing; that he is a hard man but even-handed and pragmatic and had fought well and bravely in the skirmishes for Winterfell.

But things got even more scandalous after that (you love that, I know!). The evenings in the Great Hall were usually quiet and uneventful despite the presence of so many visitors; men sitting in groups talking and drinking (moderately, I may add, only watered wine and ale were served after the main meal), some doing different sorts of crafts or mending their personal belongings and so forth. Lady Sansa used to sit either with her lords or council members, or with other ladies and maids, most of them sewing or doing some other kind of needlework. Yet gradually she started to spend some evenings as well with Clegane, and not in a company but just the two of them sitting in one of the deep window recesses. She could be embroidering and he sharpening his dagger or perhaps a sword. Even I, half-wildling as our Lady Mother is wont to call me, thought it an odd thing to do in the lady’s presence, but she didn’t seem to mind. And so they just sat and conversed, that again being the most unusual thing.

Don’t get me wrong, they were in the view of everyone in the hall at all times, and at the end of the evening she went to her rooms with her maids and he either stayed in the hall for a bit longer or went to his own lodgings that were situated on a completely different floor to hers. So I am not suggesting that there was anything improper in it – it was just odd, that’s all.

And then came the day of the announcement.

I noticed that something was amiss already in the morning when after breaking her fast, Lady Sansa asked two of her stalwart lords, Lords Umber and Ryswell, to join her in one of the small solars outside the Great Hall. I was curious and followed them, lingering outside the door wondering what that was about. I knew Lady Sansa sat in the council meetings in a place of honour and took active part in them, but mostly when she conversed with her council members outside the meetings it took place in the Great Hall. They stayed in the room for a while, but when they re-emerged she looked triumphant and was smiling but her lords looked stunned with eyes as wide as saucers. They were actually quite amusing to look at; two of the most powerful lords in the North shocked and also somehow subdued, which I thought strange at the time.

Even stranger it became when I heard the servants being called to get the whole council together with such short notice. I stayed in the ante hall and saw all the lords and the maester making their way into the big council room. This time Clegane was among them and there was something different in him that I couldn’t place at first – but then I realised it was his attire. He was dressed in all new clothes, good quality black cloth made into breeches and tunic, the front of the tunic quartered into black and grey, with a yellow lining at the hem. I wouldn’t have really paid attention to it if you hadn’t specifically begged me to tell you what people wear, hence I took note. I recall the colours of his house were black and yellow so I guess that was why there was the yellow reference, combined with black and grey.

Lady Sansa had changed as well and wore a blue dress with some kind of frilly grey ribbon decorations in the front. Sorry sis, I am not familiar with these details so that is all I can say! Again they locked themselves inside the council room and I so wished to be able to hear them but alas I couldn’t. I just lingered on and cleaned my sword belt on a bench closest to the door, cocking my ear for anything at all. Yet all I heard were some muffled shouts and then banging as if someone pounded the floor with a staff or something. I got a bit worried at this point as who knew what was going on? Mayhap it was talk of war that was taking place, and with our keep so close to the Neck I think I was justified being curious and worried.

After quite a while longer they finally walked out, Lady Sansa leading the procession with Clegane by her side. If the two lords had looked flabbergasted earlier, the faces of the rest of the council were even longer! By this time I was curious as a cat and knew I simply had to find out what was going on. I thought to approach one of the maids of Lord Ryswell as I am quite friendly with her Oh well, never mind, forget about the last part, let’s just say that I was planning to follow this thing to find out what was really going on. Suffice to say I wouldn’t have stayed away from the dinner table that evening had Lord Tywin himself woken from the dead and offered me half the gold in Casterly Rock!

Luckily though, my curiosity got sated that very same evening, when at the end of the meal Lady Sansa got up and gave a long and eloquent speech to all and sundry. She started saying how she had studied her conscience for a long time and had realised that for the good of her house and people in the North it was imperative that she married again sooner rather than later. She also stated that her marriage to Tyrion Lannister was never something she had wished for, but as they had been joined together in front of the Seven, if he was alive he was her husband still. She acknowledged the revoking of the marriage was possible, but should her first lord husband ever return to claim her, any man she would have married in the meantime would have to step aside and any children born of the union would be technically bastards. Of course everyone knew that already, the prospect of a marriage being the very reason why so many of us were there seeking her hand. Yet I probably speak on behalf of all the other suitors when I say that that didn’t deter me in the least.

At that point it started to look like her speech had something to do with her marriage, and we who had presented our proposal to her started to look at each other wondering who was to be the lucky fellow her choice fell upon. I, of course, knew that I had no hope in that contest, as she had never given me any indication to the contrary, but I had thought that young Cerwyn or maybe Lord Glover could be the one winning her hand. However they both looked as surprised as anyone else when I glanced at them.

Then she turned to Clegane and said – and I remember these words quite clearly: “As my future lord husband and consort, I choose my faithful companion, Sandor of House Clegane. He has proven his loyalty to me with his many deeds and actions and he has earned my respect and affections more than any other. I know he will always be loyal to House Stark and House Stark alone.”

And what an impact those few sentences had! The whole room fell silent as a grave – one could have heard a needle drop, so quiet it was. People were looking at her, at him, at each other and then again at her. I saw some cocking their heads as if they didn’t believe their ears. The council members looked uncomfortable but didn’t say anything, and indeed this must have been what they had been discussing earlier.  

In the end it was Lord Umber who stood up and congratulated Lady Sansa, and after that the spell was broken and people started talking, And talk they did! The way people whispered and nattered with each other, it was like a swarm of bees had descended upon the hall with all the buzz and hum! More and more congratulations were uttered to Lady Sansa and I suppose to Clegane as well, although nobody addressed him directly. I was as stunned as everyone else and it took me a good while to believe that she had said what she just had. I heard some of the bolder ones ask her to specify what she actually meant, but instead of being offended she only smiled and repeated that yes, she had made her choice of future husband and had decided to accept Sandor Clegane’s proposal.

All this time the man himself had been sitting like a stone, not saying anything nor smiling. His face was cold and threatening when he gazed across the hall, and if anyone entertained any notions of challenging Lady Sansa’s decision, just one look at him and the words would have died on the lips of even the bravest man. Mayhap that was one reason why nobody did, or mayhap it was the way Lady Sansa smiled so sweetly when she looked at him. I observed them both closely and as things started to loosen up a bit he also threw a few glances at his (I still find this word hard to spell when thinking back at that moment) betrothed. Although I had never seen him actually smiling, there was a peculiar twist in the corner of his mouth that I suppose was as close to a smile as he can muster.

It took quite a while before the hall calmed down and people returned to what was left of their meal and drinks. As everyone rose and the servants started to put away the trestle tables, I saw Clegane leaving. I was intrigued about where he was going after such a momentous announcement – I mean, it is not every day a man gets proclaimed as the chosen one for the most sought-after beauty of the realm? So I slipped away as well and followed him at a respectable distance. You can imagine my astonishment as his stride took him into the stables of all places. I didn’t dare follow him inside but I peeked through the narrow window and lo and behold, saw him with his monster of a horse, the black beast called Stranger. He was stroking his mane and seemed to be talking to him. I could hear only the tone of his voice that was low and assuring, and a few scattered words here and there, ‘bird’ for one, and ‘yield’ for another, but they didn’t make much sense to me.

I know, dear sister, that he is hardly a man to feel sorry for, especially after what had just transpired, but somehow the idea of a man talking to his horse about his betrothal as if he didn’t have any friends felt a bit out of sorts to me. Nobody had even acknowledged him directly, only Lady Sansa! So once he walked out of the stables I pretended to be on my way there and when he approached, I did offer him my congratulations. “Congratulations, Lord Clegane,” I said to him, “for your betrothal to the beautiful Lady Sansa. She is a fine lady indeed and I hope your marriage will be a success.” I was nervous and probably not quite as confident as I tried to give an impression of, but he stopped and looked at me. For a moment I shrank internally and cursed what on earth made me do it - maybe he didn’t like that kind of attention? “I am no lord, boy,” he grumbled but not unkindly, and then he nodded his head and added “Thanks to you,” and walked away.

It was the most unusual culmination to the most unusual courtship, but also a memorable day and one that will likewise stay in the annals of the North for a long time. I am proud that I was lucky enough to witness all these momentous events, no matter that they spelt the end of my own aspirations.

After the announcement, things moved along rapidly, the wedding being celebrated only a sennight later in the Godswood. That was yesterday and the whole keep and most of the people in Wintertown were there to witness the union. This time, just for your benefit, I asked the maid, my friend, to describe what Lady Sansa was wearing on her wedding day in a language only women speak. To me is was just grey and white and billowy, but this is what she told me; ‘the bride wore a gown of light grey silk with long full sleeves and a high waist with a ruffle of white, almost translucent, silk reinforcing the neckline. Her bodice was embroidered with silvery thread with the motifs of her house, wolves, as well as various leaves and flowers. A figurine of a little bird was sewn on each of her shoulders with wings spread. The skirt was wide and long and was followed by a long train of a darker grey shade.’

Clegane wore the same attire as on the day of announcement, but now with the addition of a cloak. Lady Sansa’s cloak was of course decorated with the Stark direwolf, but Clegane’s was not his true house sigil, said those who had seen it. It carried three dogs, but they almost looked like wolves, and again the black and yellow were interspaced with grey. I suppose that since technically he doesn’t have a house anymore, the Lannisters having annexed his father’s lands, he had a good reason to have an altered sigil now that he is to be a consort to Lady Stark. Again, that was what people said – I wouldn’t know much about these matters.

Many were still in shock at the news, but most had accepted it graciously enough. After all, it was Lady Sansa’s decision, and although nobody can still fully comprehend why she chose him of all men, it was done and they are married now and that is all there is.

The feast afterwards was a jolly event and I had a merry time, eating and drinking and exchanging japes with my fellow jilted suitors. We were all green with envy about that sly dog Clegane and wondered what he had that we didn’t, especially with that face, lack of house and his less than savoury history with the Starks. Well, suffice to say the quality of the talk soon degenerated and most of what was said after that is not suitable for the ears of a maiden, so I will say no more about it. We all waited for the bedding ceremony and although I know many women had qualms about attending to Clegane, who was allowed to retire with most of his dignity maintained, we lads had no such misgivings and Lady Sansa got a good ol’ Northern escort to the bridal chamber!

So here I am now, my head a bit sore but otherwise in good spirits. With my business here concluded, I am joining young Umber to visit Last Hearth and possibly even travel as far as the Wall. We plan to leave tomorrow so this is my last chance to write this letter and hence the need to get this all down on parchment tonight. Umber has spoken to me highly of his younger sister and I am quite curious to see her with my own eyes, so who knows, maybe this courting trip will not be completely wasted after all. Uncle Kennet thinks it could be a good match and he has written about the prospect of it to our lord father as well, so we’ll see how this goes.

Pheeew, what a marathon effort this was! This has taken half the day and most of the evening and my hand is hurting like hells a lot, so I hope you appreciate the efforts of your favourite brother and be nice to me when I am back, little pumpkin!

On that note, I bid you farewell and muss your hair from across the land. Be a good girl and one day you might become a true lady like Lady Sansa.

Your affectionate brother,

Aldrec

Post Script: I promise I will try to write again, but it might be a while and possibly only when I return to Winterfell from my travels. So be patient!

 

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THE SECOND LETTER WRITTEN BY YOUNG ALDREC OF HOUSE FLINT OF FLINT'S FINGER TO HIS SISTER, MAID ALYSEE

 

Dearest Alysee,

It has been a long time since my last (and only) letter, but I beseech your forgiveness. It was not as if there were ample opportunities to write or send ravens from the wilderness where I spent most of this time.

Yet now I am back at Winterfell, only staying here for a few days before continuing my journey home. Four months since I left; four eventful months for me! I travelled to Last Hearth as planned, and also got to the Wall to see the end of the civilised world as we know it. It was magnificent and majestic and the Night’s Watch was very impressive indeed – but knowing you, those matters probably don’t interest you that much so I will save my poor hand and tell you more about them myself once I am back. I also met with lovely lady Ellina of House Umber and I dare to think that she liked the look of me as much as I liked the look of her. More importantly, I think that her father likes me as well, so now it will be up to our fathers to take the matter up between themselves. You will get on with her well, I am sure, if it comes to that. She is very practical and sensible but she is also a woman and as likely as you to be swayed by songs and poems and love stories.

Speaking of love stories, I was curious to see how things had transpired between Lady Sansa and her lord husband since the wedding. Some of the most cynical thought that it had been some kind of ruse that saw her attaching herself to such a man and that eventually it would wear thin and our dear lady would find herself stuck with a second unworthy husband.

Well, I am glad to report that it seems that nothing of the sort is the case. They both received me and my small party in their solar when we arrived yesterday, keen to hear firsthand news from the far North. Lady Sansa was as beautiful as ever, or more so if that is even possible – she had such a glow of happiness all around her that it almost took my breath away. Later I heard that she has a good reason – she is with child and everyone is so excited about it you’d be tempted to think that it is going to be the first babe ever born in the North!

Clegane was not much more forthcoming than previously, but some of the harshness seemed to have worn away. He was silent most of the time, letting his lady wife to do the talking, but he asked a few questions about the condition of Castle Black, the general feelings of the smallfolk and the state of food supplies in the far North. Say whatever you will about him, but he is far from being a mindless brute as some people like to paint him, but rather is quite an astute and knowledgeable man.  

After our meeting the rest of my group left the solar but I hung back a bit, pretending to admire the wall hangings near the door. I think they thought that I too had left as when I glanced at them on the other side of the room, partially obstructed by the high-backed chairs, I saw him leaning over to her and she wrapping her arms around his neck. She smiled at him and kissed his cheek and he whispered something into her ear and placed his hand on her stomach.  Now, I am not a sentimental man and love is something for the bards to sing about – but I confess that what I saw was something quite extraordinary, something I have never before witnessed between a man and a woman. Clegane’s face was transformed into almost affable and she…well, let’s just say that she was the very image of the Maiden and the Mother. I am thinking now that all the speculation about the reasons why she chose him from among all the men in the North may be thoroughly futile and the reason much simpler than most suspect; I believe that they genuinely love each other. Who would have guessed?

As I am on my homeward journey already, I close this letter without further ado – I can always tell you all about my adventures when I see you face to face.

As always, stay a good girl and obey our lord father and mother. Mussing your hair,

Your affectionate brother,

Aldrec