Sandor sat in the corner of the cart with his cowl drawn down as low as it could go over his face and his arms were crossed tightly across his chest. He knew he was pouting, but he didn’t care. He shouldn’t be here, it was stupid; it was dangerous. A seven day festival for Sevenmas? Fuck the bloody Seven. The Elder Brother knew damn well he didn’t take any vows and that he was merely a novice to the others on the Quiet Isle - why in the seven bloody hells did he have to participate in this farce? He recalled what he was told when he was summoned to the Hermit’s Hole. The Lord Protector of the Vale opened the Eyrie to the Brothers of the Quiet Isle just before Winter as an act of benevolence to celebrate Sevenmas. For seven days each of the Seven is honored with feasts, prayers, games, and even gift-giving. There was even a practice of “anonymous courtship” wherein small gifts are left for the men and on the last day the gifter reveals herself. Elder Brother joked that he loses at least one Brother each Sevenmas, but since it is the “Will of the Seven”, he sends them off with his blessing. Sandor snorted to himself remembering that, he barked a laugh when he first heard it and struggled not to laugh again. Why would he care about that ritual? He was a crippled dog, one that couldn’t even ride Stranger to this Gods forsaken debacle. He glanced over his shoulder to his steed struggling against the harness of the cart. Driftwood they tried calling him, an insult to a warhorse. He closed his eyes and leaned against the cart, I’ll ride you again and we’ll leave this place. At that thought, he heard the struggling stop. As they bumped along the road, he heard his cart mates discussing the days of Sevenmas. The first day was for the Stranger, welcoming the outcasts and travelers that wandered in from afar. It was marked with a simple meal and relaxing after long days of travel. The second day was for the Crone, a day for wisdom. Passages from books are read, games are played, and lamps are fashioned from a variety of materials to light their way into Winter. The third day was for the Smith, this was the busiest day for the Brothers for they weld their hammers and do repairs for the residents of the Vale. In turn, they get new wagons and their supplies are refreshed. The fourth day is for the Maiden. The Brothers looked forward to this day for that is when the gifts start to appear and ladies dance for the men well into the night. The fifth day is for the Warrior. This is the day for the men to play games of physical skill. Though not as dangerous as a tournament, Sandor was interested in seeing where this day led the most. The sixth day was for the Mother, a day of thankfulness. The feast was the largest for this day, any formal gift-giving was done on this day. The final day was for the Father, those that participated in the previous six days were “judged as worthy” and will enjoy a prosperous winter. The feast is celebratory in nature and anonymous gift-givers reveal themselves either publicly or privately. The next day the Brothers will prepare to leave and journey back to the Quiet Isle. It seemed to be a huge bother just to get provisions and new carts, but he figured many Brothers do look forward to a week of celebrations and the ability to talk. With a sigh, Sandor decided that he would just let what happens, happen. He was tired of fighting against everything, and if anything maybe he could allow himself a respite from digging graves.
The carts were unloaded and Sandor was shocked to be shown to his own room. It was small but comfortable. He took off his robe and wool wrap and beat the dust from them. He washed at the basin and sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the wall. It was these moments of quiet that he struggled with his thoughts. They drifted to thoughts of Arya and of Sansa. His feelings of hurt and abandonment faded into understanding when thinking of Arya and he hoped that she was at least alive. His guilt and self-loathing bubbled up when he thought of Sansa. Though he honored her wishes, he left her. It ate at him still, even though his long talks with Elder Brother reduced the large bites to nibbles. If he was a praying man, he prayed she was alive and safe. He sighed and got up to dress for dinner, wrapping the wool around his face until only his eyes showed, he pulled the cowl over his head and left his room.
As he sat in the back of the hall and tucked into his food, he glanced up when the little Lord Arryn entered and welcomed his guests. Sandor noted how frail he looked and determined that he was not long for this world. The Lord Protector of the Vale was announced and Sandor paid no mind until he heard his voice. Littlefucker! Sandor’s blood ran cold as his mind raced. Suddenly it all made sense, the whispers and rumors in King’s Landing - Petyr Baelish played them all. Sandor swallowed his anger and reminded himself that it would be beyond dangerous to be discovered here. He lowered his head just before he heard Baelish introduce his daughter Alayne Stone. Littlefucker has no daughter, what is his playing at? He couldn’t see her through the crowd and assumed she was a whore that was spirited away from King’s Landing.
On day two, Sandor made himself scarce nearly all day. He stole down to the stables with a book about brewing mead and read it to Stranger in his stall. He wasn’t cheating, he was sharing wisdom with his horse. He used straw and manure to fashion a crude lantern and left it on the floor before he left. Try to light that shite he laughed to himself. He returned to his room and was surprised to find a bath waiting for him along with clean robes. He bathed and after reflecting on how horrid he was, he dressed and went to join the others for the second feast. As he ate, Elder Brother sat next to him, “I’m glad you bathed, can’t have you smelling like a stable in mixed company.” Of course, he knew where Sandor was all day, he always knew.
Baelish and his bastard daughter entered the hall and Sandor looked up. She was taller than he had suspected, thin also - with dark hair. He certainly didn’t recognize her from what he saw. When she turned to sit down, a gasp caught in his throat and he made a choking sound. A hand went to his wrist and he heard Elder Brother ask if he was alright. Sandor nodded, scared to open his mouth. He didn’t know if the other man was still talking, all he heard was the blood rushing through his ears. What is she doing here? Dread twisted in his stomach as guilt washed through him. Baelish didn’t do anything for himself, the Little Bird was a pawn. Sandor pushed his plate away as he fought to control his breathing. The hand returned to his arm, silently asking if he was alright. Sandor tilted his head toward the man to his right, “I need to pray.”
He stood and strode out of the room, forgive my mocking earlier, Crone. I need your wisdom.
She sat at the head table silently after being introduced. The hall was a sea of villagers and brown robes of the Quiet Isle as she swept her eyes across the crowd. Movement caught her attention when a massive form suddenly stood and walked out the door. He is built like the Warrior, even under those robes . Even with the hitched gait, she could tell he was a fighter. A slight ripple went through her, a tug at a memory from what seemed so long ago. She shook the thought away, he’s dead foolish girl.
He was in anguish. He didn’t sleep while trying to figure out what to do. He could not publicly reveal himself. And if he did privately? Would she refuse to go with him? Would if she joined Littlefucker on this mad quest for the Iron Throne? He shook his head at that, that would be absurd. He needed to see her alone, he needed to talk to her. He couldn’t save Arya, he could save Sansa. Today the Brothers were given free rein throughout the Eyrie to do repairs and to help where needed. Sandor was working his way down a hallway repairing hinges and bolts of the doors. Elder Brother specifically assigned him to this task and he was thankful for he worked alone and away from too many prying eyes. The hallways were dimly lit and he worked diligently in the shadows. He finished the hallway and was about to turn the corner when he heard it, her voice. He held his breath and pressed himself against the wall, listening.
“Mya, it’s him. I know it is, I could not stop thinking about him all night.”
“Are you going to leave him gifts? I have several to leave Lother, this is my last chance I fear.”
“It’s more than that, Father will never let me leave. I have to run away. I have to run away with him.”
The voice dropped to a whisper, “I have his cloak, it’s always been him.”
Sandor started, his chest tightening. She has her knight, Dog. She doesn’t need you. You shouldn't have been listening. Shoulders slumping, he turned and walked away from the voices.
Mya stared at her dumbfounded, “a cloak? Alayne!”
“It’s not like that Mya. I made a mistake and I can right it,” she grasped Mya’s hands, “you must not breathe a word of this. Even to Randa.”
“If you promise the same regarding Lother, we can both be rid of this place.” The girls nodded to each other and slipped into Mya’s chambers to discuss what they should do next.
He spent most of the day with Stranger. He brushed his coat until it shone. He asked the beast for guidance and only managed to get a head bump in response. He was dreading tonight. He didn't want to celebrate the Maiden, especially knowing that Sansa had her own knight with whom she would willingly escape. He reluctantly returned to his room to prepare for the feast. He was shocked to see a bundle in front of his door. He looked behind him and down the hallway. No one was there, so he grabbed it off the floor and let himself into his room, barring the door behind him. He sat on his bed and unwrapped the package. He lifted the woolen wrap from his lap and stared at it dumbfounded. It was far from roughspun and soft to the touch. The length was perfect for a man his size and the gray color was just a shade darker than his eyes. He put it down and went through the paper packaging. There was not a name anywhere to be found. Was somebody playing a joke on him? Is he truly to believe that somebody was courting him anonymously with gifts? He lifted the scarf again, this is much too nice to be a joke. Someone must have put it in front of the wrong door. He decided to wear it anyway, it was too soft to ignore. He was sure the gifter would notice her mistake and make sure it was corrected by the end of the night.
He was a bundle of nerves that night, he couldn't even enjoy the fact that Lord Baelish was nowhere to be found as he seemingly took ill and was unable to attend. No one approached him about wearing another man's gift and he retired for the night even more confused than he was that afternoon.
Her heart leapt when she saw Sandor enter the hall with the scarf wrapped around his face. The dark gray made his eyes sharper beneath the cowl. She noticed that Lother Brune wore a new cloak pin and that Mya could barely keep her smile to herself. Randa mentioned in passing it was a shame that Lord Baelish was missing the dance of the maidens. She hid a smile as she wiped the crumbs of her lemon cake from her lips, too bad the tea I served him this afternoon didn't seem to agree with him. Before retiring for the night, she quietly left another package at Sandor’s door.
He woke up in a much better mood today. The day of the Warrior is the day he could flex his muscles a little bit, although he couldn't truly be himself. No Brother can throw a man 15 feet, you would have to restrain yourself a little bit during the games today, he smirked to himself. He opened the door and was surprised to see a small package at his feet. Quickly looking around himself again, he snatched it up and retreated into his room after barring the door. After unwrapping it he stared down at his hand in awe. It was a favor, he was sure of it. A favor for the day of the Warrior, like he was a bloody knight. Sandor wanted to be angry but he couldn't muster the feeling. He lifted the braided ribbon and inspected it, it consisted of a dark gray ribbon much like his scarf, twisted with one of dark yellow. Tied into the end was a small cluster of downy feathers. Feathers? Was my anonymous gifter a part of House Arryn? And surely the yellow was a coincidence because if nobody knows my identity. For all anyone knew, Sandor Clegane was either dead or terrorizing the Saltpans. He lifted the sleeve of his robe and tied the favor just above his elbow, he marveled at the perfect length as if the gifter knew it had to be hidden. He still wondered if it was a joke or a mistake to be getting these gifts. He even wondered if the Elder Brother himself was leaving him so as not to make him feel like he was being left out of the festivities. But for now, he'll go with it and wear the gifts, there was no harm in it. As he wrapped the scarf around his face he was thankful he had it because it hid the hint of a smile he had.
She tried to watch Sandor as discreetly as possible but she realized that she didn't need to hide because all eyes were on him during the day. He won a number of competitions from throwing axes at a wooden form to grappling with the partner to push them out of a circle. She could tell he was holding back, but it was apparent that he was the strongest and most skilled resident of The Quiet Isle. she wondered if he was wearing the favor she braided for him and her heart quickened a bit at the thought of it being tied to his arm under those robes. The feast was festive and it dawned on Alayne that no one really seemed to care that Littlefinger was ill for a second day.
He woke up a bit sore but for the first time in a long time, he was content. He realized yesterday that the rest and the care that he received on the Quiet Isle paid off. He was much stronger than he realized, and even though he walked with a limp he could hold his own amongst soldiers.
He laughed at the irony of these thoughts today, he was thankful. He opened his door and was only half surprised to see a package. Again he retreated into his room and barred the door. Smiling he opened the package and soon the smile dropped from his face. A cloak pin? Any fool knew Brothers did not have cloaks. He held it closer and realized that it was carved wood in the shape of a tree in a circle. Seven hells is that weirwood? He was amazed at the craftsmanship and the quality of the materials, this was worth more than a simple scarf or favor. Instinct also told him to hide it, he used it to fasten the ends of his scarf and tucked it under his robe. He was confused, why a cloak pin? Did the person gifting it to him run out of ideas? Did she think he was a knight? Did she want him to be a knight? He snorted at that last thought, he would never be a knight, vows were shite. The woman he would recite vows for didn’t even know he existed.
She left the meeting with Maester Colemon grim-faced and only after she turned the corner did she allow herself to smile. Lord Baelish was not feeling better, in fact, his condition was worsening, and he was confined to his chambers with only a few visitors for fear that his ailment was contagious. She expressed thanks that she was able to visit, even briefly, to make sure he was comfortable. Such a pity she chuckled darkly. She entered the hall with her head held high.
Sandor awoke in a peaceful mood. He was relieved today was the last day. Last night at the feast he noticed Sansa chatting with Nestor Royce during nearly the whole feast, he was old enough to be her father. The only highlight was the word spreading through the Eyrie that Littlefinger was very ill and a Maester was on his way from the Citadel because the current Maester, Colemon was a worthless cunt. Sandor was surprised that Elder Brother didn’t offer his services. He explained to Sandor that today the Father passes the judgment and tonight the sign will be shown as to whether he would stay to help Lord Baelish or not. Sandor was anxious to leave. Even though he was curious about his gift giver, he also did not want to see Sansa with her “knight”. Sandor grumbled as he packed his bag, tucking the favor into a safe place. He wound the scarf around his face and again fastened the pin and hid it. He opened the door and a flash of sadness skittered across his heart, no package. Scared her away already. He went about his day grooming Stranger and readying his tack. After the Warrior’s day, Elder Brother agreed that Sandor could ride back to the Quiet Isle once they passed the gate. The rest of the day was packing carts and checking supplies with the rest of the Brothers. Everyone was in a jovial mood and many were excited for the feast because many of them have received gifts throughout the week. Sandor didn’t reveal that he too received gifts, he knew it wasn’t the same for him.
Sansa was nervous as she packed her bags with essentials, she picked up the wrapped bundle and placed it on top. Her hands shook, she knew everything she did today was a risk and that she was assuming so much. Her only comfort was knowing that Mya was in her chambers, also packing. She too was taking a risk, would Lother accept her gifts? Sansa stopped and prayed to the Father that she be judged well. She had to be in order to survive. She was relieved that Nestor Royce agreed to be Lord Protector of the Vale while Petyr was indisposed, she was also relieved that Sweetrobin was receiving proper care now that there was no interference. The Vale was in good hands. She took one last look in her mirror and left her chambers to attend the final feast.
Halfway through the opening prayers to the Father asking for just and swift judgment, word came to the hall that Petyr Baelish, Lord Protector of the Vale had died after falling ill a few days prior. Lord Arryn, not looking as frail as the first day, announced that Lord Royce would assume the duties as Lord Protector effective immediately. Elder Brother nodded toward Sandor, “I told you the Father would judge on this day.” Sandor looked up at the head table and was surprised when he didn’t see Sansa sitting at the head table. When did she leave? She returned just as the meal was starting and after the food was cleared some time later - she was gone again. Music began to play and the guests mingled and joked, Sandor noticed some woman move through the crowd toward some of the men. None approached him, just as he thought. He took everyone’s distraction as the perfect time to leave. He slipped out of the hall and made his way back to his room. As he walked down the hall, he pushed the cowl off of his head. He reached up and undid the clasp of his pin, drawing the scarf through his fingers and letting it lay over his shoulders. He was glad he came, in a way. He felt a pang of yearning for Sansa, but at the same time was confident she would be safe. Baelish was dead, and she had her knight - whoever the cunt was. As he approached his door, he saw a large bundle in front of it. One last gift, he looked around before picking it up and going into his room, barring the door. Looks like my gifter will stay anonymous he mused. The light was low as he crossed the room and sat on his bed. He tore the wrapping away and gasped at the large wool cloak in his hands. It’s gray like his scarf, but Sandor recognized it instantly as his Kingsguard cloak. All of the breath suddenly left his lungs as though he had been punched, I have not seen this since Blackwater…
He can barely speak her name, now that she is there, “Sansa?” He stands, throwing the cloak around his shoulders and taking the pin from the scarf to fasten it at his neck, “do you want to go home?”
She steps up to him curling her hand by the burnt remnant of his ear to draw him down to her level, he feels her breath on his lips as she answers, “yes”.