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The Autumn Wind

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1.

She was frightened at the feast, having to sit next to Joffrey in a new purple gown. She had to drink wine and smile sweetly at his cruel words. She hated the colour, chosen by the queen to humiliate her further, only a shade more violet than the Lannister crimson.

She was a widow. Tyrion went to the Free Cities in search of a woman. "A whore", said Lord Tywin and proclaimed him dead. Greyscale took him, or so they had to repeat, not knowing any better.

And Margaery died for real, of a new chest sickness brought to King's Landing by the first autumn wind.

So Sansa was to marry Joffrey again and she had to enjoy his courtesies. Bugger Joffrey, she thought and she did not. How could she think anything like that? The feast went on, endless, the new royal betrothal celebrated with the appropriate number of courses, too much wine, and a mute pain of helplessness in Sansa's tummy. She started yearning to visit a winesink and get a red-headed whore.

Sansa concluded she drank too much Arbor gold and started thinking about the only welcome moment in her new living arrangement, and that was her withdrawal for the night. It was Joffrey's dog again who would accompany her to her rooms after the feast, as she was once again to be Joffrey's queen.

The dog who ran and came back carrying Stannis' head. The head he brought made him keep his own, marked for beheading for treason and desertion after he disappeared. They also let him keep the white armour of the Kingsguard, which he never wore, still using the black one he had on the night when the sky burned green.

She yawned and nearly smiled when Joffrey gestured to his sworn shield murmuring under his voice, and Sansa could not hear him. Yet she heard how he ordered Sandor Clegane to take the buggering insipid girl away. Idiot boy has no clue what's good for him. The girl's too good for any of them liars here, she deserves a buggering lord, not a little shit wearing a man's armour.

Her face even, Sansa followed two steps behind a huge armoured figure, disappearing in the corridors of the Red Keep.

2.

Sandor stepped in the cold corridor, painfully aware of the sea of purple silk rustling as she walked behind him.

The back of the gown had been cut open in a manner that would shame a Pentoshi whore, almost to her waist, and there was plenty of glowing fabric all around Sansa, sweeping the floors, where it had no use to clothe anything at all.

If the gown was not so because a widow could and should dress as a woman who had known a man, Sandor suspected that Cersei hoped for the same sickness that took Margaery to come for Sansa in her silks.

What was it to him, the stupid little bird who would not take him on his offer to leave the capital?

It is not cold at all, he thought, victorious, and he didn't. Not even close to the end of summer in the north. He laughed inwardly at the stupid ladies starting to wear woolen dresses in the capital and he felt compelled to pull the laces on the gown loose to get some more air.

But he had never worn a bloody dress in his life to think of such a thing.

"Want to go to a colder place?" he asked.

"His Grace would expect of his betrothed to return to her rooms," she replied, polite as ever.

Sandor decided to change the course just to see if she would dare say anything against it, anything at all other than her bloody chirping. They have barely spoken since the Blackwater. He avoided her and returned to his duties, too proud to crawl back to her after she had refused him.

They walked in silence down the stairways, into the endless cellars, passing next to the dungeons of the royal castle, all the way down to the hall where the ruling Baratheons stored the skulls of the dragons, so that they wouldn't remind them of different times.

And different kings.

All the dragons have died, just like all the wolves, he thought with sadness devoid of anger, turning to face her, wondering what witchcraft she possessed to make all his thoughts go so wrong.

"Colder than your rooms, is it, now?" he asked her.

"Not cold enough", she said, a nameless sorrow in her blue eyes, staring immobile at the skull of Balerion the Black Dread.

Sandor's stomach fluttered and his mouth went dry when the blue gaze met his eyes, calm as a river resigned to always run through the same fields, each day. There was no wildfire, yet he was mortally afraid. He suppressed the desire to whimper just on time.

I really am a harmless old dog who has lost his teeth, he thought, humiliated, and that at least felt like a thought of his own. His chest swelled with rage until finally, finally the very familiar feeling of wanting to ruin everything took over, drowning everything else.

"And not dark enough," she said evenly, observing his face in its entirety, as if she hadn't seen it in a very long time.

A single torch gave life to the dead dragons, and Sandor's pride started melting in its shadow, leaving only blunt anger in its wake.

He wanted to squash her like a helpless liar, false like anyone else. He wanted to carry her away and protect her just as she was.

Please, he thought, finish it, finish me. I cannot go on any longer.

Horrified at what his sick brain suggested, he stumbled backwards and led her back to her cage.

On the way up, he admitted it, not wanting to lie to himself.

He wanted to adore her, as no one ever would.

3.

"It will never get any better," Sansa heard the Hound advising Ser Loras who was standing guard in front of her door. "So just get over it!"

"What would a dog like you know about it?" answered Ser Loras, his voice different than Sansa had ever heard it, devoid of any kindness.

"I lost a sister too," the Hound said.

"I lost another thing, a thing you never had," Ser Loras answered with hatred.

"Maybe. I came to take Lady Sansa to your grandmother so at least get out of my way."

"I can see to that myself," said Ser Loras and Sansa's heart soared."

"Ask His Grace about it. He is of the opinion that the proper company for the king's betrothed is the king's dog."

Displeased for not going with Ser Loras, Sansa followed the Hound, trying to forget her shame of the other night with the dead dragons, when she had wished he would kill her so that she wouldn't have to marry Joffrey. He seemed to have understood her plea, but he wouldn't do it. No one was going to help her.

Bugger me, she thought and blushed at the rudeness of it. The Queen of Thorns is the second most dangerous person here after Varys. What does she want with the little bird?

Autumn wind ran wild through the Keep, ruining Sansa's hair painfully arranged in a southern style after a morning of hard work. She tried to collect it but to no avail.

Lady Olenna was waiting for her at the door.

"My dear" she said. "I will not take much of your time. You have so much to prepare for the new wedding. I only wished to give you a small gift, a hairnet with amethysts. It will look lovely in the sept."

"Thank you," Sansa said feeling compassion for old woman, who had just lost her granddaughter to the autumn sickness.

"This weather will be the end of us all, my dear. Let me know if my nieces can help you with your hair," the old woman said with unhidden pity in her voice.

The hair she mentioned flew up in another gust of wind pouring madness in Sansa's head.

Stupid summer bird, she thought and bit her tongue to keep her face together. For all she knows the old witch gave her poison to kill Joff at the feast. Then Sansa will lose her head, Tommen will be king and Olenna will marry one of her nieces to him. That's the way of it.

Sansa felt disgust when she took her leave of Lady Olenna in front of her solar, too afraid to enter it all of a sudden in case that there was poison and it was meant for her. She held the net as far away as she could from her body, half expecting it would burst into flames.

That's better, someone else thought for her while she fought to remove hair from her mouth, unable to contain it in the chilly draft, as they walked back to her chambers. Don't trust her, Sansa. Don't trust anyone, it's only good that you didn't trust me when I came to get you that night. Too bad that was the only clever thing you did since you came here.

A terrible thought occurred to Sansa, and she ran forward to overtake the Hound and peek in his ruined face, seeing only a pair of grey eyes empty as her father's when Joffrey made her look at his severed head.

4.

"Only one drop will dull the pain," said Grand Maester Pycelle to Sansa, handing her a small bottle of transparent liquid, and Sandor's stomach clenched.

Joffrey had his crossbow sent to his bedchamber for the wedding night.

More so, the little shit said in front of Lord Tywin that he would cut out the cub from the wolf bitch belly just before she would whelp, and then he would let her bleed to death. The observation made Lord Tywin think and that was never a good thing, Sandor knew since he was a boy.

So the Hound was called upon again, and sent to accompany Sansa, first to Maester Qyburn, Cersei's new pet, more beloved by her than Aerys loved his pyromancers of old. The man who had forsaken his chain, to perform the Seven knew what kind of monstrosity, examined Sansa, and told that he could see to whatever Tywin and Cersei wanted him to see to when Sansa was concerned, straight after the wedding night.

And then the Hound took her to Pycelle who was giving Sansa a false fatherly look.

"What would two drops do, or more?" Sansa asked.

"Nothing, child," said the Grand Maester as if he had been instructing a lackwit to eat from the plate. "It would only put you to deep sleep and leave you entirely at the mercy... I wanted to say in the merciful hands of His Grace, although he could be... displeased."

"I suppose I should be grateful," the Hound heard Sansa speak without opening her mouth. "that they're giving me something to better endure Joffrey's attention, but not a way out of here into easy death."

Sandor was puzzled, but Pycelle did not react, and Sansa just thanked him and left.

Instead to her chambers, she rushed to the godswood, and this time it was Sandor following behind.

Her lips were closed and her body was trembling when she kneeled under the heart tree to say her prayers.

Sandor wondered why he avoided her for almost a year. It was not as if she could bite him, and she was growing more beautiful by the day. A dog could look, he thought, nothing wrong with that.

Sansa's soft voice rang cruel over the endless murmurs of the red leaves in the autumn wind.

"The Hound cannot help me," she said, and she didn't, "he is as much a prisoner as I am. But Ser Dontos will. He is my Florian and he has a ship."

Her words sounded as if she was trying to convince herself of a thing she didn't quite believe in.

"Are you daft?" the Hound asked and Sansa stood up in a shock. "I am not your Florian and I am a drunk fool just like Dontos. But I swear to you, if Dontos has a ship, it is not his!"

"My lord," Sansa stuttered offending him deeply with her courtesies. "I never spoke of Ser Dontos... or the ship!"

"Of course you didn't" he said. "I had too much wine already in the morning, is all. Come! I'd better take you back to your maids. I heard them saying that your wedding dress is almost ready."

They walked back to the Keep in silence, and the Hound was surprised when instead of walking as far away from him as she possibly could, she sneaked her arm around his, looking for support on the serpentine stairs.

The walk was long, and Sandor believed for a fleeting moment that Sansa was his betrothed, before his thoughts returned to the real world, a place which mercilessly crushed both the monsters and the maidens.

5.

The wedding gown was bright red, colour of fresh blood, and her widow's cloak weaved of Lannister red and gold. His Grace would take it away and replace it with a bastard cloak, where the stag joined the lion in an intertwined dance.

Sansa looked at herself in a mirror and saw a stranger. Her cheeks were painted red, and only her blue eyes betrayed the horror she didn't dare to feel, drowned in a pool of colours that were not her own.

It was fitting, she concluded, and hopefully she would be what Joffrey wanted, a beautiful vessel for his seed, to be disposed of when she whelped. She felt Maester Pycelle's tiny bottle, stuck between her breasts, caught by the laces of her wedding gown.

The Hound came to take her to the Sept. They made him wear the White Armour of the Kingsguard and he didn't seem happier for it. Sansa found it made him strangely handsome, in the light of the torches playing games on his ruined face.

Sansa looked at the Hound, eager to have another rude thought, as she was recently capable to have in his proximity, but none came.

The Queen had the Keep closed tight against the wind. Servants worked for days putting wax and fabric in the crevices, and anything else they could find. "Horseshit too," the courtiers whispered, but no effort was too big to make certain that none of the guests at the wedding would catch a deadly sickness conquering the capital.

Lady Olenna waited with the other nobles in front of the Sept.

Seeing Sansa, she said: "You decided against the amethysts, my dear. It is such a loss."

"Not a loss at all, Lady Olenna," Sansa replied, "The red of my widow's cloak would not allow them to shine properly. But I have sent them to one of your great nieces, Elinor, they will go lovely with her eyes. Such a shame she turned ill so she cannot wear them for the wedding."

Lady Olenna was at loss for words, and Sansa knew it was time. The ceremony passed in a blur and she didn't even remember Joffrey's wormy lips pressed against her own. The number of courses was diminished from seventy-seven to thirty-three because Sansa was not Margaery, but a daughter of a traitor, only partially redeemed by her marriage to Tyrion. She counted the courses until the fifteenth course when she was to go out to the privy saying she was not feeling well.

And descend a sharp flight of steps down the walls of the Keep that Ser Dontos told her about in another note he had left for her in the godswood. A ship would be waiting for her and she would leave King's Landing for good before Joffrey would make her his.

After the fourth course, Joffrey said to his dog: "You will guard me tonight. I don't want anyone to disturb me while I bed my lady wife, no matter what."

"Aye, Your Grace," answered the Hound.

His face muscles did not move, but he clutched the pommel of his sword. Sansa longed to sense the wind, to tell her what he thought of it, if anything at all.

But the Queen's servants did their job well. The air was stiff and sweet, and the decision entirely her own.

The thirteenth course came, and the fourteenth. Rivers of wine flowed among the guests and when Sansa went to the privy, no one followed.

A ship, she thought. Who knows, I may yet get sea sick, and never reach Winterfell. She wouldn't admit her other thoughts among the walls of the Red Keep, not even to herself.

Sansa returned to the feast, forgetting about Ser Dontos and the stairs, ever a lady, and a dutiful servant to the Iron Throne.

6.

Joffrey was drunk before the bedding.

Lord Tywin cheered on his guests to undress Sansa. Sandor wondered how much of it was due to the fact that he recently stole a bed warmer from his son, the Imp, dead or disappeared, it mattered little.

The bawdy men lifted the bride on her ruined dress, arranged as a litter, and carried her away.

Sandor found himself dragging Joffrey, half undressed, because the women hadn't enough strength to fully strip and carry a barely conscious boy. It was not a new thing, to take care of Joffrey was his buggering duty for years.

The King's bedchamber door was wide open and his little bird lay on the king's bed, all in red, black, and gold, facing Joffrey's crossbow on a small table.

"Your Grace," she told her new husband. "You have had too much too drink."

"Shut up, idiot," His Grace slurred. "I can drink all I want!"

Sandor closed the door, but not fully, and remained standing in the corridor, sober as a septon, wondering what he could do if things got out of hand.

There was a muted thump, then another, softer one, and a cry, and then nothing.

He pondered if he should go in or not, his mind frantically searching for what he could do to help her and still keep his head on the morrow, when a white hand opened the door from within.

"Please, my lord, enter," Sansa told him, holding a piece of her bright red dress pressed on her forehead, wearing a simple pale sleeping gown, which looked as if the maids have left it to cover all the wounds she was expected to have after bedding Joffrey.

He realized her forehead was slightly bleeding, and he searched under his stupid armour for a clean handkerchief. His sister had taught him to always wear one for a proper knight never knew when he was going to need it, and he did it only to honour her memory.

"I need you to use this," she told him, pointing at the crossbow. "As if His Grace shot it at me, please."

Joffrey was nowhere to be seen.

"Please, His Grace had a glass of wine and passed out," Sansa pleaded. "Just before he told me he was going to pin me to the bed with his crossbow and take me as a bitch that I was. Please, make it look as if it had happened the way he wanted."

Sandor ignored the crossbow and handed her the handkerchief.

"Oh," she stuttered, "I did this myself. I hope that everyone will believe that I have lain with him now."

No one will, the Hound thought, you didn't hurt yourself nearly enough.

The Hound looked around and noticed Joffrey sprawled on the floor, one arm hanging on the other side of the bed.

"My lady," he suggested pointing at the little shit. "If I may? There is a small chamber next to this one."

"Yes, please, thank you!" her gratitude seemed more genuine than ever, with as little chirping as possible where Sansa was concerned.

When he returned to the king's bechamber, Sansa managed to break the window open using the scabbard of Joffrey's shiny sword as a leverage, letting in the wind.

Two drops of Maester Pycelle's drink certainly worked a miracle for Joffrey, he thought and he did not, reclined at the window sill, enjoying the freshness and the smell, where all had been suffocating and dead only moments ago.

Except that he stood in front of her grinning like an idiot.

"I wish you would remove your armour," she said, quietly.

"What?" the Hound asked in utter disbelief.

"Excuse me, my lord," she gave him a worried look. "I haven't said a thing."

"Of course you didn't" he replied and started peeling off his armour. He was used to it, never having a squire, for no one could stand his sweet nature for very long, so he was done pretty fast.

"Maybe you should get some sleep as well," he suggested, pointing at the bed.

"Oh no," she protested, perched on the window sill. "Not on that bed. I couldn't possibly!"

She's so beautiful, he thought, regretting he was but a piece of shit himself. Larger than Joffrey, but shit nevertheless. He could not protect her.

"Come closer so that I can... hear you better, my lord...!"

"I haven't said a thing," he reacted.

"In a case that you would," she said, flushing red, turning her cheeks to better face the wind.

"Like this?" he asked coming so close to her that he could push her out and into the moat surrounding the Red Keep in an blink of an eye, helpless in front of her beauty, thinking how incredibly lovely she was all the while.

She leaned into him then and whispered: "You find me appealing, my lord?"

"Not a lord," he stuttered without any conviction, faced with how sweetly rounded she was in all the right places, his hands daring to explore the perfection of her skin, to prove how wonderful and precious she was. And how he would give anything to call her his, in another lifetime where he would not be a miserable dog, and she his Queen.

The autumn wind blew strong, carrying sickness to some and a precious gift of understanding to others, perhaps deserving of a kinder destiny.

Sandor discovered that her legs became wrapped around his waist, the excess of fabric gone. They must have done it together but it still felt as in a dream.

Unconsciously, fiercely, freely, he lifted her behind from the window sill, and did the unimaginable, the irrevocable, the irreversible.

He made her his, if only for the night, and she clung to him as if he was the only man in the world.

7.

Sansa could never explain why she had opened the door to the Hound.

Except that she was afraid when Joffrey passed out. It was one thing to put Maester Pycelle's drops into his wine, and suggest that he should not drink it, hoping he would do exactly that. It was another thing entirely to witness the success of something she thought of in a whim and humiliation of being unburdened of her dress for the bedding.

And then there were Sandor Clegane's insistent and intoxicating thoughts which she had heard before when the wind roamed freely through the Keep, about how precious she was and many other things that only made her blush.

She let him come to her at the window sill, unsure what to expect. More of his thoughts invaded her mind, of disrobed bodies and warm skin. She knew she should flee but they only made her welcome him all the more.

If anyone had ever told her how maddening it could feel to lie with a man, she would curse them for liars and think of her duty.

Sandor Clegane never kissed her, as a knight would his lady, and yet she took him in her body, impervious to the first pain, and stunned with the fierce closeness that followed. She swam in it, tense, taken back, responding to him, belonging to him beyond measure.

She knew that she would not be able to forget it.

So when his mind wondered to how it would be to do it in the King's bed, Sansa found no reason to object. The flashy silks of the Houses Baratheon and Lannister on which they lay together couldn't speak. And if they could, they would tell a tale of endless caresses and promises whispered, of never to let go.

"You have to do it now," she told him in the morning, nesting quietly in a seated position, extending a piece of her too thin sleeping gown as far away from her body as possible.

He mutely nodded, taking Joffrey's crossbow, and Sansa saw how his hands shivered. The arms she has never seen trembling when holding a sword or killing a man, nor when they made her see the seven heavens only moments ago, shook violently.

"I can't," he said. "What if I miss and…" He couldn't even finish.

"Look at me," she said. "I know that you can. Believe it."

xxxxxx

And so it was that the two Lannister men Lord Tywin sent found Sansa sleeping next to Joffrey in his bed, her pale gown nailed to the bed frame with a giant arrow. They shook Joffrey awake, and he seemed pleased with the submission of his Queen. A blue flower blossomed on her forehead.

Like a winter rose, Sansa thought, standing up to admire her work in a mirror next to the bed.

And it was plain to the men watching that she could barely walk.

Joffrey caressed her cheek, promising her with a malicious smile that he would keep treating her as she deserved.

The men paid no regard to Joffrey. They told the Hound he was relieved of his duties and made Queen Sansa walk to Maester Qyburn, barely dressed as she was.

"It is as Lord Tywin wanted it," Qyburn proclaimed after he made her drink an awful concoction, bringing all the contents of the tummy to her throat. Sansa fought hard to remain a lady and not to embarrass herself in front of them.

"She wouldn't be sick of this if she was not with child," Qyburn told them, and the men led her away, to the chambers she had never seen, stern and spacious.

Lord Tywin's, she realized, when Shae came in with two more maids, bringing her bread with raisins and milk with honey, to break her fast.

When Sansa was done, they dressed her in thick winter clothes: a dark green travelling gown and warm boots. Shae brought her a cloak of black and gold, fitting for a Queen, and bid her wear it.

"Where am I going?" she asked, but Shae just smiled and wouldn't answer.

"Should I not go and bid good morning to His Grace as my lord husband? Perhaps his sworn shield could accompany me?" Sansa tried again.

"The Hound left the keep," Shae let her know. "To sleep or to a wine sink I'd say, as any man would when off duty. And Lord Tywin has His Grace engaged in important kingly duties"

Sansa felt cold beyond measure. Her face must have turned so grey that Shae took her head between her hands and whispered, pretending to do her hair. "You are to leave King's Landing and stay in another castle until your child is born. Lord Tywin doesn't want His Grace to hurt you until you birth an heir."

"Thank you, Shae," Sansa said and her heart did not flutter, "for helping me… with my hair."

When they came to take her away, she was ready.

Ser Ilyn Payne led them, and Sansa wondered if what Shae said had been the truth or if she was about to walk to her own execution. At least, she'd go out, and walk free in the wind, for a short while, or for a lifetime, there was no way to tell.

Sansa accepted the arm of her father's executioner as a great lady. She stepped out of Lord Tywin's solar, a trueborn daughter of Lord Eddard Stark, stern as the ice that the Wall was made of.

Only her heart wept, hidden too deeply in her stony chest.

They may have allowed her to leave King's Landing, and the only thing she wanted, was to stay.

8.

Sandor went to his rooms and waited, dreaming with his eyes open, until the night would come again, and he would reassume his duty to guard Joffrey. Never in his life was he so impatient to protect the Little Shit. And to see his Queen.

She will regret it, he thought. She will figure it was a mistake, and never look at you again.

But a nagging doubt persisted that she might want to see him. If she didn't want him, he could hate her, that was easy, a known thing. But if by some miracle she did, he had not clue what he should do.

The thing was that for once the naked truth surpassed even Sandor's expectations of the world's brutality. His Grace was trashing and yelling during supper:

"The bitch is gone! My grandfather took her away until she whelps and he will not tell me where she is! To me, his ruler! I should have his head!"

"Aye, Your Grace," Sandor agreed and waited to be alone, wanting and fearing to know if what Joffrey said was true, and if Sansa was with child.

He spent the next two days asking where she had gone, but no one knew a thing, not even Queen Cersei, or anyone from the Lannister household. He offered all his tourney winnings to Lord Varys for information. Varys turned him down, and said with feigned compassion that Ser Ilyn Payne accompanied Sansa, because Lord Tywin was certain that Ser Ilyn would not talk to anyone about his sending, as he had no tongue.

So Sandor went to all the wine sinks of King's Landing, and lost himself in barrels of Dornish Sour. But not even at the bottom of his drunken haze could he get off his mind the rustle of the silks and a firm body joining with his own, whispering sweet little lies to his missing ear.

After a week of drowning in his cups, he went back to his miserable room in the Red Keep, and opened its window wide to the autumn wind, lucky to be left alone because the entire buggering Court was mortally afraid of all who may have gotten the sickness.

He lay in it for days, hoping that the disease would take him too, and relieve him of his misery.

It was not to be.

After five days he had a thought. I know that you can do it, he heard a ghost of Sansa's voice in his wind crazed mind.

Full of purpose, he put on his armour and walked to Lord Tywin's chambers.

"Tell me where they took her," he told Shae, "and I will let you live and fuck Lord Tywin all you want."

Before she could scream he pinned her to the wall, covering her mouth with one giant hand. But in a glint of her dark eye he could see determination, and unexpected bravery.

Madness took him, so he carried Shae to the window, shattering the glass with his armoured free hand in thousands of pieces. He forced her on the window sill, into the merciless wind, and lay his ruined face to her ear until he thought he heard an echo of what she would never tell him, even if he killed her.

And if I am crazy, he thought, at least there's a good chance I'll die on the way. It will be good either way.

The ravens of Joffrey's death found him already in Moat Cailin. The autumn illness fell upon His Grace after he shared a supper with the Queen dowager and Lady Elinor Tyrell, and it took him as so many before him. Tommen was proclaimed King.

xxxxx

They caught him sleeping in the woods of Winterfell. Men at arms, a dozen strong, wearing a roaring giant on their chest, standing for one of them northern houses he never bothered to learn about.

"I need to see the Qu… Lady Sansa," he told hem. "King Joffrey is dead."

"We've heard of that," their leader told him, an elderly man almost of Sandor's height. "But why would Lord Tywin send us his dog to bring such tidings?"

At least they didn't deny that Sansa was there, and Sandor Clegane pressed on. "Behead me later if you have to. But the message I bring is only for Lady Sansa."

They tossed him at her feet in the Great Hall of Winterfell as a bag of dirt.

She wouldn't look at him, stern and proud, a great lady in her rightful home.

"You left the Court that morning so that you wouldn't have to see me," she stood up from the lord's chair and accused him, not caring about who was listening, and when she did that, he could see that she truly was with child.

"It so appears that some of Lord Tywin's plans for the north went awry" she said in a tone Cersei could use, and Sandor felt hollow at the change.

He never wanted for her to learn the way of the world and speak as she did when she continued: "The Boltons failed to secure it for him, so he sent me here for safe keeping, thinking the Umbers and the other northerners too honourable not to return me to the capital when I birthed Joffrey's son. Do tell our guest, Lord Umber, are you that honourable?"

"It would appear that Lord Tywin was wrong," replied the old man who captured Sandor, pointing up at the wall of the Hall where Ser Ilyn's head was mounted as a hunting trophy. "Everyone's honour has its limits. Tywin's are just a bit different than mine."

"Bugger Lord Tywin," Sandor Clegane snarled at Sansa, "I didn't come all the way up here to get you back to him."

"Than why did you come?" she asked and he thought that under the mask of the lady he may have glimpsed his little bird.

Sandor went down on one knee, not caring about who was looking, and said: "I was wondering… since you are again a widow now… I was wondering if you would want to marry... Marry me…"

A rumour of enraged whispers soared high in Winterfell, but he went on, not listening: "I don't have much of a name, or lands, but you have all that in abundance. They say that I am one of the best fighters in Westeros and might be that counts for something in this frozen land of yours. Or not. Have me killed if you must, but before you do I would have your answer."

Sansa turned her back on him, motioning nervously to Lord Umber and the other guards, who hurried to obey an unspoken command of their lady the best way they knew how.

A flat of a sword hit the back of Sandor Clegane's head and in an instant, all was black.

xxxx

He woke up in a cold room with an open window. He didn't know how long he slept but it must have been at least the entire night because the tiredness of the long journey was gone from his bones. Buggering northerners, he thought, too honourable to throw a man in a proper dungeon before his beheading.

The back of his head hurt but he was otherwise unharmed.

Lord Umber showed up shortly and asked for the honour of his company. It sounded like a bit much to ask from a man sentenced to die, but the Hound accompanied him nevertheless.

They didn't even tie his hands, or take his sword, and he could fight and kill a few of them, but he did not. You deserve to lose your head for being a fool and think she could want you, he told himself in explanation.

They walked out of the castle, towards a dark grove harbouring a white tree with leaves rustling red, and the air smelling of snow. Or at least that was what Sandor thought how the snow should smell.

Sansa stood under the trees with her ladies, and Sandor cherished a sick hope that she would watch him die and regret it.

"You might want this," Lord Umber gave him something and punched him hard in the back to set him in motion, alone, towards Sansa.

The little bird was beaming, red hair spilling freely on her cloak of grey. He looked at his hands and his breathing stopped, for Lord Umber has given him a yellow cloak, with three black dogs hastily embroidered on it by a pair of hurried hands.

She must have done it in the night, he realized.

Sandor Clegane finally understood, and walked forward, grinning, to say his marriage vows.