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The Day is Dark and Full of Questions

Chapter Text

It was raining. But it wasn't fire that was pouring from the heavens. No. It was bloody green fire! The whole Blackwater was aflame, the ships on it like some toy torches. It looked as if the Seven Hells were puking on the miserable men who were down there with him at the Mudgate. He had been fighting. Like the Demon Hound he was supposed to be. But now, his bloodlust was dissipating rapidly.
Around him horses were screaming like men and men like horses – before they crinkled, crumpled and crackled because of the Wildfire that was consuming them with the ferocity of an otherworldly beast. It stank of pyromaniac piss. And of human piss and vomit and shit, of oil and scorched metal and blood and mud and saltwater.... Horse carcasses, severed limbs, broken bodies and scraps of armour were lying around where the fire had not yet feasted on them. There was no end to it.

A shadow was running at the Hound with a drawn sword. A man. He wasn't burning. Just like himself. Not yet.
An enemy. The other man was an enemy. Like the others. Like ALL of them.
Panting, The Hound raised his own sword and parried. And hacked. And snarled. Then, his blade met flesh and cut deep into the body. One enemy less. He had to kill them all. But he couldn't... couldn't... go on any more.
All thoughts were fleeting his head in battle, giving in to his fighting and surviving instincts. Even so, he realised he was at an end. His allegedly infinite forces were leaving him. He had been out thrice, had faced Stannis's thrice-damned men – yet, it wasn't enough. Not enough. They were on the losing side, despite the fucking Wildfire, and the Hound knew it well enough.

Something within him broke apart. He was dying. Whether the battle would see to it at once he did not know, but... he was so drained. So tired. Fuck, what was he fighting for? And for whom?? For that little bloody shitstain of a king? The bugger, who had shown the Little Bird her Father's head and had made her look at it?? Fuck, no. Not any more. He'd leave. Leave and die like the cur he was and meet most of his family in the Seven Hells of the afterlife. And there, he'd wait for his monster of a brother, oh yes, he would.
But before... perhaps he could see the Little Bird one last time. Aye! He wanted to see something sweet before his final breath. He'd take a song from the Little Bird, and then, he'd be ready to die, and fuck the world, if anybody tried to come in his way!!
The Hound turned around.
And he never knew who or what exactly hit him from behind before his world went dark.

Chapter Text

Sandor woke up in the middle of the night. It was pitch black around him. Not even a single torch was burning. For a moment, he was befuddled, and his head was booming like a battle drum. Fuck, how many skins of Dornish Red had he downed?
After a minute, he realized he was in a bed. A soft bed. Softer than the one he was used to. Strange. Had he passed out in a whore house? Had he gone to Chataya's? He'd never slept there before, but...
He moaned, because the headache was killing him.

“Back amongst the living?”
Sandor wrinkled his nose in surprise and distaste. He knew that bloody, old voice. It belonged to Maester Pycelle. What the fuck was he doing here in the middle of the night, and without a light?
“What bloody quackery is going on here? Did I fall off a staircase in my booze? And why don't you have a torch with you?” he snarled.
There was a moment's heavy silence.
Then, he felt a light whiff, as if something was moving in front of his face.
“Fuck, what are you doing?” Sandor barked irritatedly.
Another heavy silence.
Then, Pycelle answered: “Clegane. It's not night time. It's about lunchtime.”
Sandor didn't quite understand and growled back: “Seven Hells, and why on earth am I in a dark, windowless room then? Have I been imprisoned for some kind of slight? But why a soft bed then? Which kind of shit is this?”
A cough from the old healer's throat.
“Clegane. You're in the healing quarters. You've been wounded. Don't you remember the battle? And it looks as if... as if you're blind.”

After a moment of utter shock a dark roar emanated from the healing quarters that was loud and fierce enough to shake the Red Keep in its foundations...

***

Chapter Text

People had gathered in the Throne Room, and there was a real throng of spectators. Sansa was one of them, nervous and excited – like always when the court met. She only hoped that there were no strippings and beatings for her today. Cersei was clad in a breathtaking robe and looked as contented as a cat that had fallen into a bowl of cream. Mace Tyrell, the fat patriarch from Highgarden, was present, too, and he had a seat of honour. His sons Loras and Garlan, the Gallant, were with him. The Game of Thrones was unfolding for them: the Tyrell family was clearly ascending, grasping for the real power now.
The doors opened, and a horse entered. A rather portly man in shining armour was sitting on the destrier, wearing a cloak in Lannister colours with the Lion sigil on it. The horse stopped in front of the Iron Throne, and the man dismounted.
“Uncle Kevan”, King Joffrey said loudly, “how very good to see you safe and sound. You and grandfather have saved this city.”
There were hoorays from the courtiers.
When the cheers had ebbed away Joffrey asked: “Dearest uncle, how is Our Lord Grandfather?”
Kevan Lannister's voice resounded in the hall: “He is recovering from the blow he received while defending this city with his life. He is inconsolable that he cannot be here today to celebrate the great victory of the one, true king.”
More cheering and “Joffrey! Joffrey!” shouts.
The king raised his voice again: “And We are inconsolable he cannot be here with us. However, for what he has done, he will be honoured adequately.”
King Joffrey took the Chain of the Hand and placed it into Kevan's hands, declaring: “Henceforth, my Lord Grandfather will be Hand of the King and legal guardian, until We have come of age. Take this chain and give it to him as the greatest symbol of trust a king can give to a most loyal subject.”
The pandemonium of the claqueurs started again. Sansa tried to stay invisible amongst the jubilating crowd. The horse was lead away. It had left some droppings; those were removed as well.
When Joffrey and his great-uncle had exchanged their pleasantries the king called: “And now – lead in the next hero of the Battle of the Blackwater!”
The great doors opened once more, but this time, no rider came in. A tall, broad man, who was lead by a page, entered with slow, small steps towards the Iron Throne where he bowed.
“Your Grace.”
The steel-on-stone voice was flat, void of any emotions. The man's eyes were wild as always... but they didn't focus on anybody or anything. The crowd had fallen so silent that a falling pin could have been heard.
Sansa caught her breath.
Oh Gods! She had heard of Sandor Clegane's poor fate, but now, it was the first time after the battle that she saw him again. Even if he had always been hateful and vulgar in general and also rough with her she was full of pity now. After all, he had never struck her, unlike others. He had been one of the greatest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms – but what was a fighter who couldn't see his opponent any longer? Sansa already feared he might replace Ser Dontos as the Royal Jester.
The king, however, seemed to have other plans for his Hound.
“Sandor Clegane. You have served your king in the most impressive and loyal way, and while carrying out your duty you lost your eyesight. – Pycelle, how bad is it?”
“He received a blow on his head, and ever since he cannot see a single thing. He might suffer from some kind of blood clot in his brain that makes it impossible for him to see.”
“Will he recover?”
“It is not completely impossible, but unlikely. And if the blood clot moved from one place to another he might see again, but be killed instead, because another part of the head or a different organ might be damaged. The brain is a most sensitive area. I am convinced that he will never be able to fight again.”
On hearing this Sansa could only think: “Holy Mother – that must be worse than a death sentence for him!”
She remembered very clearly how The Hound had told her that for him killing was the sweetest thing.
In the meantime, Joffrey weighed his head.
“These are sad news.”
“Aye, Your Grace”, The Hound rasped.
“In this case, We will see to it that you are duly rewarded so that you will be able to live as comfortably as possible with this affliction. First of all, We release you from the King's Guard with all due honours. Now about your future. Harrenhal has recently been secured for the Lannisters. We now bestow it upon you and your descendants, and We declare you Lord Paramount of the Trident. The fief's incomes and the tributes of your bannermen will allow you to go on living without any financial sorrows and your rank will be higher than you could have ever dreamed of.”
A few paces in front of Sansa Petyr Baelish sucked in the air sharply, and his fists were clenching in his apricot and plum-coloured doublet.
“He's not happy about the news”, Sansa wondered. She couldn't quite understand the Master of the Coin, because the fortress in question was huge and impressive, but basically only a ruin ever since it had been attacked by dragons in the distant past. Apart from that the other lords from the Riverlands would never accept Sandor Clegane as Lord Paramount, be it because of the Hound's low birth rank, his looks, his character or his affiliation with the Lannisters.
After a moment, Sansa heard The Hound growl: “Thank you, Your Grace.”
Joffrey had only waited for that reaction, smirked and declared: “A big, burned kennel for a big, burned Dog!”
The people started to sneer and to laugh, and Sandor Clegane's dark expression got even darker. He didn't say a thing, though, and was led to the side.

Next, King Joffrey dealt with the Tyrells. Ser Loras was appointed to the King's Guard. The good-looking knight then said he had a sister named Margaery, and that she was beautiful and virtuous, that she had allegedly fallen in love with Joffrey from afar and that she wished to marry him.
Sansa's heart started to hobble.
“Please let Joffrey say “yes”! Oh please, please, please!” she thought helplessly.
Joffrey pretended as if he had to think twice and mentioned he was betrothed already, but the High Septon himself recanted the marriage contract with Sansa – and then it was over. Although she couldn't show it openly she rejoiced. She wouldn't have to marry Joffrey! She wouldn't, wouldn't, wouldn't! Oh, this was the best day she had had for ages!

But then, the king remembered her, and a sardonic sheen crept into his eyes.
“Lady Sansa, please, come closer.”
What!? What now!?
Queen Cersei was confused as well. This had not been planned by her – just like Eddard Stark's decapitation.
Sansa's heart beat madly while she stepped forward and towards the Iron Throne.
“Lady Sansa, life sometimes takes the strangest directions. We feel obliged to take care of you, even though our betrothal has ended. We feel the need to offer you a decent replacement, no royal status, of course, but a fine, loyal man, who will be good to you – and who can also handle a traitor's daughter, if necessary. And you'll even get a choice to pick somebody from.”
Sansa swallowed hard, while Joffrey went on: “There are several noble bachelors here in this hall. I have already thought about it. Here are your choices. First of all: Ser Ilyn Payne. Ser Ilyn, please step up!”
Sansa nearly fainted when she heard the name of the mute man who had beheaded her father.
“Second: Lord Varys, member of the Small Council.”
There were snickering sounds from the crowd, because everybody knew that the man was a eunuch.
“Third: you have just heard of his valour – Lord Sandor Clegane.”
If the other two men had already been surprised they were included in the choice for a possible match for Lady Sansa The Hound was absolutely thunderstruck, no matter how hard he tried to control his features.
Joffrey went on: “Fourth, we've got a man you have already declared your... interest for. By saving his life. Ser Dontos, step up, too.”
The poor man, who served as the king's jester now, was completely confused – and even more so, because he was more than half drunk. As always.
Sansa was really sick by now.
Through a wall of fog she heard the king's last offer: “And finally, there is a fine man, who serves the realm most loyally by managing the financial affairs and who is known to be an old friend of your mother: Lord Petyr Baelish.”
The small man in his apricot and plum-coloured doublet came closer, stroked his goatee and bowed lightly, a hint of a smile on his lips and in his eyes.
Sansa felt incredibly dizzy and was close to vomiting in front of the Iron Throne. How she managed to swallow the bile that was rising in her throat she did not know.
“Lady Sansa – you aren't saying a single word! Should I choose a husband for you from these good men?”
Joffrey was obviously having the fun of his life.
Sansa managed to chirp feebly: “Your Grace – I'm just so impressed by your... merciful kindness. I... well... no... – I know my father was a traitor and... he deserved his punishment, but still... I cannot marry the man who killed him... however well-justified.”
Joffrey inclined his head with a smirk, and Ser Ilyn stepped back.
Sansa's eyes flickered back and forth desperately.
“Lord Varys, I know your value for the realm, but I fear... a marriage between the two of us would not... fulfil the... requirements for a wedded life...”
Sneers from the crowd.
Joffrey inclined his head again, and Lord Varys smiled sadly and answered: “My dear child, it is my profound conviction that our mutual... appreciation is genuine, but indeed not quite... sufficient for a marriage.”
With those words, he stepped back and hid his hands in the big sleeves of his robe.
Sansa was close to panic now. How could she exclude someone else? And whom? And who would be left over?
“Oh Holy Mother, please guide me!” she prayed silently.
“Ser Dontos, you are a good man, I know it. A very good man...” – the knight hiccuped – “... but no.”
Ser Dontos looked a little sad, when he retreated, but Sansa guessed he'd drown himself in wine and forget her soon.
Now, only two men were left: Sandor Clegane and Petyr Baelish.
Seven help! Sansa was at a loss. She prayed for a sign.
“Lady Sansa, we don't have time all day long. Reach a decision and be contented”, Joffrey spat.
Lord Baelish smiled encouragingly.

***

Chapter Text

Duties

 

Sandor was in a state of internal uproar. This was fucking unbelievable! He had known that this bugger, who called himself “king”, was an arsehole of the worst kind, not unlike his own flaming brother Gregor – but this spectaculum was outrageous. And the court only watched on, snickering maliciously behind upheld hands, fascinated as if it were a mere bloody mummer's show. Well, in fact, for them that was what it was. They didn't care that the Little Bird was humbled and humiliated beyond measure. The fast, shallow breathing where Sansa was standing told him how upset she was, and he could imagine her shocked, dilated, blue eyes all too well.

On another note, he realised that Lady Sansa's impending marriage was a compensation for the thrice-damned Mockingbird since he, the Hound, had got Harrenhal. Earlier plans had meant it to be different and said that the fief should be bestowed on the Master of the Coin. So the small man with the goatee was certainly fuming that he had not been able to secure the burned fortress for himself. At least Sandor didn't have to see the man's face.

But it was clear that sodding Littlefinger would be chosen as husband now. He was a little old, but elegant and comparably good-looking, intelligent as well, and he could be charming, even if it was a false charm. Baelish was probably not the Little Bird's fucking dream knight, but he came closest to what she deemed important. And birds flocked together, even if one was a bloody Mockingbird.

In contrast to that he wasn't only a big, bad, ugly brute of a Dog any longer, but also a cripple. Blind and useless. Fuck. If only he had died right on the battlefield!

And sure enough, Sansa spoke up with a trembling voice to rule him out. Sandor didn't even listen intently.

“Lord Clegane. You are indeed a valiant warrior, I have seen it myself”, the Little Bird chirped, and he wanted to growl: “Bugger that!” But, of course, he couldn't swear in the Throne Room like that.

In the meantime, Sansa went on: “You even saved my life once – on the day of the Bread Riots. You didn't fear for yourself for a moment. And now, you helped save King's Landing; in a manner of speaking you saved me indirectly again. So I choose you.”

Only after a moment of absolute silence did it dawn on Sandor that Sansa must have said something surprising, but understanding didn't set in until Joffrey cleared his throat and he heard him make a step in his direction – but even then, his brain refused to accept what the outcome was. A whiff of the youngster's loud smell, a mix of sour-cheezy sweat and a heavy perfume nearly caused him to retch, and suddenly, Sandor's heart started to hobble in the most unruly way.

Meanwhile, the king spoke into the booming silence: “Lady Sansa, so this is your choice? Is this your last word?”

He sounded as if he had just found out his grandfather really couldn't shit gold and had accidentally stepped into the heap of dung.

The Little Bird's voice was shaking from fear, but she still answered: “Yes.”

King Joffrey seemed to be irritated for a moment when he spat: “Clegane, today is really your lucky day.”

Sandor's brain had gone to auto-pilot and caused him to answer: “I think so, Your Grace.”

A moment later, he heard a vicious sneer from the little shitstain of a king.

“Well, well. That makes things easier for me. You don't worship the Seven, so we don't need a septon here. I'll just sign a decree here and now, declaring you husband and wife. That's the easiest way. Uncle Kevan, I have already prepared the document, I only have to fill in the Hound's name. Hand it to me. And a quill. Right. Fine.”

There was a scratching sound. Quill on parchment.

“Now the seal. – Yes. Done. – Hound, Lady Sansa, I declare you husband and wife. Here is the document.”

A piece of paper was pressed into Sandor's hands.

Joffrey's malicious, lewd voice droned on: “Now that this is done other men will get their rewards for their loyalty and success as well. So take your wife now, Dog, leave and SEE TO YOUR NEW DUTIES!”

The king laughed obscenely, leaving no doubt about what his order meant, and Sandor wanted to throttle the lad with his bare hands.

“My Lord”, Sansa whispered at him and took his arm.

Sandor turned around stiffly, his head swimming, and was lead out of the throne room by the Little Bird.

Wife.

No.

This had to be a bad jape. The worst ever.

 

***

 

Sansa was so very much afraid of what would happen now. Holy Seven, why had she chosen HIM? Well, for the reasons she had given. She had also remembered two other scenes: when he had dabbed at her bloody lip with a handkerchief after she had been shown her father's head, and the moment when he had given her his cloak after the others had beaten and stripped her in court. In contrast, Petyr Baelish had never actually done a thing for her. At the same time, she knew what Sandor Clegane was capable of. She recalled how he had ridden down Arya's friend Mycah on Cersei's orders, how he had gutted the men who had threatened her on the day of the Bread Riots, how aggressive he was when was drunk.

Would he be aggressive now? He was blind and dependent of late, but he was still an extremely strong man. And what would happen in marriage bed? Joffrey had loved to tell her in detail what he would do to her himself once they were married, and his fantasies had been as vivid as cruel and bloody and disgusting. The mere thought of these duties left her trembling.

Suddenly, Sansa stopped dead.

“What, Little Bird?”

“I... I don't even know where your room is.”

“Take me to the fucking Godswood.”

Sansa winced. Did he want to... consummate the marriage in the open??

 

When they had arrived Sandor Clegane puffed angrily: “Right, no bleeding listeners here. Is there any servant or gardener who could spy on us?”

“No! We're completely alone!”

They were standing on a narrow path nearly overgrown with elderberry. She could feel the sharp edges of the pebbles on the way poke into the soles of her dainty slippers, and somewhere nearby a bluebird sounded as if it was gibing at them.

Then, the Hound turned towards her, took her chin with an iron grip and looked down at her, like he had done before – only this time he couldn't focus on her. His eyes were still a stormy grey.

“Fuck, what did that mean? Why me?”

Sansa felt tiny under his unseeing gaze.

“The king... he does what he wants to do. And... I told you in the Throne Room why it was you.”

Her... involuntary bridegroom ran his other hand through his dark, lank hair.

“Seven Hells, Little Bird, I'm no man to marry.”

Sansa chirped with an even smaller voice: “That was the reason why you were picked for me to choose. Like the others.”

Sandor Clegane let go of her chin and uttered a harsh curse that made her ears go red.

So Sansa stuttered: “I'm... I'm so sorry...”
“Aye, of course you're sorry for your choice. Baelish would have been better, wouldn't he? And now, you're already regretting your decision”, Sandor cut in sharply.

“NO!” Sansa retorted, panicking. “I didn't intend to say anything like that!”

“No, because you're always a bloody fine lady, but it's what you're thinking. Or what you'll be thinking within days. Or hours, more likely.”

Seven help, The Hound... no... San... Sandor was so very bitter – if possible, it was even worse than before... before the battle. And now, he could do everything to her he wanted. And that was also exactly what the king was expecting. Unbidden tears were streaming down her face.

“Fuck, are you whining again? Stop ululating like a boiling kettle on the hearth fire!”

Sansa's heart felt raw.

She attempted to swallow her muffled cries.

Sandor hissed. Snarled. He sounded at least as frustrated as she was.

“Seven Hells, do you know what the king wants us to do now?”

“To... to... bed me?”

The Hound nodded and didn't look intrigued at all.

“If I don't fuck you he'll say I disobeyed the king's order and have our heads on spikes. Thrice-damned Seven Hells of shit!!”

Sansa thought she'd crumple at his feet in distress any moment.

“I... I don't want you to pay for all of this with your head. I'll... comply.”

The Hound barked his grating, mirthless laughter, and a shiver ran down Sansa's spine.

“Aye, you'll comply – and you know what? It's easier for you to get fucked, because you only have to lie back and endure. I'm the one who needs a bloody stiff cock in the first place, and I still don't have a clue how I should lust after a frightened Little Bird who might puke in my face from fear and disgust at any moment. And I'm the one who will be on a level with his flaming brother when it comes to rape afterwards.”

“You... you're not like your brother.”

“How do you know? Do you know Gregor so well?”

“No, but even the little I know about the both of you is already enough to see that clearly.”

The next moment, Sansa pressed her hand on her mouth. Had she really said such a thing??

Sandor Clegane was taking hold of her chin again, but not quite as rudely as before.

“What a surprise”, he growled. “The Little Bird is opening her beak to utter an opinion of her own.”

Sansa was paralysed, and after a moment, he sighed and released her.

He said darkly: “I fear there is no way around you losing your maidenhead.”

“I... know.”

Another low growl.

“We'll try to do it differently, Little Bird. I'll use my hand and we'll hope it'll be enough, in case anyone decides to assess your state.”

Sansa didn't know what to answer.

After a moment, her... husband ordered: “Lead us behind a bush so we can't be seen. I'll try to keep it short.”

Sansa's legs were like jelly, but she obeyed. Behind a bush she was asked to lie down, which she did. The Hound did the same. Soft moss was covering the ground here, for which she was grateful.

“You're not having your moon blood, Little Bird, have you?”

Sansa shook her head wildly, but then, she noticed that he couldn't see her and said: “No.”

“That makes things easier now. Pull up your skirts and remove your smallclothes.”

The blunt command made her shiver – but at the same time, his matter-of-factness helped her believe he wouldn't like it to torture her. Unlike Joffrey. Yes, at least, she didn't have to do this with Joffrey.

She blushed fiercely when she put off her underwear and exposed her womanhood. But she wasn't stripped brutally and gaped at like she had been in court. Sandor had actually even averted his face, even though he couldn't see her anyway. The wind was cool on her sensitive skin, and it felt so... unusual there.

“Finished?” The Hound asked.

“Y...yes.”

“Guide my hand to your legs.”

Sansa felt panic surge again – but then, her... husband didn't look any happier than her. Gingerly, she took a calloused hand, blushed even more and put it on her thigh. His hand was warm and dry. And she could feel his tension. Gods, why did they have to do this, if they both didn't want it?

His hand crept upwards, to her private parts.

“You need to part your legs a little”, he rasped.

Hesitantly, she obliged. Sansa felt his big, long finger probe her entrance, and her muscles contracted.

Sandor's mouth twitched, and he swore under his breath.

“I know it's difficult – but at least TRY to relax.”

Sansa did her best, though it was near impossible. Her... husband drew some circles down there with his thumb, which caused her nervous heart to flutter even more. His index finger entered a little and found some kind of resistance. Was that her maidenhead? He probed her there again and seemed to find a little opening, for her body started to give way. There was a short sting, as if she had cut herself on a piece of paper – but not much more. It surprised her no end. After Ser Meryn's and Ser Balon's fists this was almost harmless. She did feel ashamed of the intimate touch, yes, but in comparison to the humiliating things Joffrey had done to her this was something... something she could manage.

Her new husband moved his hand a little. Sansa uttered a tiny mewl at the sensation.

“Your body is reacting on instinct. You're getting a little wet, even if it's not much. Still. Good for you,” Sandor commented flatly, and Sansa was embarrassed, though at the same time she wasn't as afraid any more as she had been minutes before. In fact, she was even surprised that her body seemed to be doing something right of its own accord.

Sandor added a second finger and widened her further. It felt uncomfortable, but it didn't hurt much. And a moment later, the fingers were gone. After having been stretched so much Sansa felt strangely empty, though only for a little instant – then, a wave of relief washed over her.

The Hound sniffed at the hand he had used, and caused Sansa to flush another shade of red.

“Copper smell. There is a little blood on my fingers, isn't it?” Sandor Clegane inquired.

“A... a drop or so”, Sansa admitted.

Sandor nodded gravely to himself and told her to put on her clothes again and to lead him to a small nearby pond so he could wash his hands.

Sansa felt a little raw between her legs, but to be honest, her moon blood was worse than that. She was confused. That had been it? She wasn't a maid any longer? How strange. Plus she didn't feel any different, neither any wiser nor more experienced or anything the like.

 

***

 

Sandor had always known he was a disgusting monster, but never before had he hated himself so much. He'd wanted to kill himself with the next dagger he came across, if he had not feared fucking Joffrey would marry the Little Bird off to another brute the next instant.

Fuck, he had taken something from Sansa that had never been meant for him. And she had been a maiden just flowered and not yet ripe for picking, whatever else other men would say about her having had the first moon blood.

She was so delicate and tender, and apart from her maiden's blood he had also smelled her sweet female scent, and her body had been warm where he had touched her. It all felt so damned wrong!

 

While he was kneeling in the grass and washing his hand in the cold water of the pond he suddenly heard his unhappy bride say: “I've got... a question.”

“Then bloody go ahead with it!”

A moment's pause.

Then: “King Joffrey said: 'Take your wife now, leave and see to your new duties!' – Now, Harrenhal is one of your duties, too, isn't it?”

“If I ever chose to care about the ruin – aye.”

“Doesn't it mean you have to look after it? Probably live there? Could you interpret Joffrey's words literally and take me to the Riverlands?”

Sandor stopped dead for a moment. Then, he threw his head back and laughed madly.

“Little Bird, you're in your castles in the skies again! As if any guard would let us leave! And just in case you've forgotten: I'm blind now. I'm useless. Couldn't even cut down a straw puppet right in front of me any longer, much less a buggering knave on the road. And how the fuck should we travel? Would the lady need an entourage? A nice, gilded cart that reminds her of her cage?”

He knew he was being cruel again, but he was long beyond caring.

“Seven Hells, Little Bird, we could rather expect our king to annul our marriage and to marry you off to somebody else, just to make you a real whore.”

As soon as the words had left his mouth Sandor was suddenly sure: that was what the king intended! It would be the greatest fun for the little crowned shitstain to hand Sansa from one man to another to another... and a worldly marriage decree of the king was so much easier to disband than a match sealed in the Sept of Baelor... SHITSHITSHIT! A second later, the Hound remembered how Joffrey had once inveighed against the Imp that his uncle's taste for whores was so insatiable that there were not enough women of their profession in the Seven Kingdoms.

Had Sandor been sick already – he now wanted to puke.

Fuck, he would not leave the Little Bird to the blasted Halfman!

“Little Bird?”
“Yes?”

“Find me someone, who can lead me to my room. A servant. Then, you go to your own chamber. Put on a normal dress, something unspectacular, if possible. Wear a pair of boots, or firm shoes – whatever you've got. Then, you take a bag. Put in a second dress and some smallclothes. A comb, if you absolutely need it, and all the jewellery you've got. Don't wear any necklace or the like openly. Fasten a cloak around your shoulders. Nothing in bright colours – your hair is more than bright enough. Actually, it would be good, if you could hide it under a hood or veil, or something like that. Then, you come down to the yard. Meet me there. There shouldn't be many people around, because the gathering of the court and the distribution of rewards will take all day.”

 

***

 

Sansa was so intimidated that she didn't dare to make a peep. She was confused; one moment, the Hound declared her mad that she wanted to leave the Red Keep – and the next, his scarred face contorted from fury, and he was suddenly giving her orders for packing. Holy Mother, what did it all mean??

She did as she was asked, though. When they arrived at the entrance to the Godswood, they came across a sentry on his round; his armour rattled when he came to a sudden halt.

“What are YOU doing here??” the man asked, clearly thunderstruck. “Shouldn't you be in the Throne Room?”

Then, the Hound snarled: “I've just fucked my bride, as the king expected me to do. If you don't believe me, ask King Joffrey. He's in one of his GENEROUS moods today.” Next, he grabbed into his tunic, where he had stuffed their wedding papers and waved it under the man's nose.

The sentry seemingly couldn't read, Sansa noticed, but he knew the royal seal. His eyes flicked in disbelief from the document to Sansa to the Hound, so she turned as red as a beetroot and looked away in shame. Gods, did he have to be so vulgar and talk like that about the intimacies they'd shared? But obviously Sandor Clegane knew which words to use for a mean soldier: the sentry stood aside with a scowl and let them pass.

When they entered the fortress again, the Hound... no, her husband, she had to learn that, rasped darkly: “Right. If anybody asks the little bugger he'll confirm I'm just obeying the king's orders.”

A moment later, they passed a servant in a corridor, and Sandor Clegane was on him with a snarl and started to give the skinny, elder man – who was paralysed from fear of Joffrey's burned sworn shield – his orders.

Sansa rushed off to her own room, the echoes of her light steps bouncing off the stony walls, and made haste, just like her... her husband had told her to do. She barely met a single person on her way, since everybody wanted to see the big spectaculum down in the Throne Room, and many servants were confined to the kitchens or the royal wing, because there should be a feast after all the heroes of the Blackwater Battle had been rewarded, and people wanted to celebrate their victory over Stannis.

In front of her chamber, there was no guard for once, and neither was anyone inside. Good. With swift fingers she rummaged through her few possessions. She didn't own much. A golden necklace Joffrey had given her in their early days, and a pendant with some garnets from Cersei. She'd make good use of the jewellery and sell it soon, if Sandor Clegane allowed it. Her dresses were all horribly tight; she had hoped for some new robes in the near future, because she had grown so much, but now, it would have to wait. So her bundle turned out very small.

Faster than she would have believed possible she was ready and dashed down to the yard.

The Hound's black, harnessed courser was just being led out of the stables, but it wasn't saddled yet. Stranger, the fierce steed's name was Stranger, Sansa remembered and shook her head at that blasphemous name.

Her... bridegroom hadn't arrived yet. But a little later, she heard his heavy, measured steps. She turned around and saw him approach, being lead by a servant again. In addition to his normal clothes, he was wearing his mail shirt and a short sword on his hip. His own, small bundle was stripped to his back.

Ever since Joffrey had called her forward to the Iron Throne today her heart had been pumping madly, but now, she was so nervous she thought her legs would give way under her! Would they really manage to leave King's Landing? Or would they be caught and die?

 

***

 

Sandor's body was full of adrenaline. What he was doing was nothing short of suicide. They were mad even to try this foolishness. He could hear his horse neigh.

“Little Bird?”
“Yes?”

“Already there. A swift Little Bird you are. Now mount Stranger here.”

“He... he hasn't been saddled.”

“Of course not, stupid Bird! The knob of the saddle would be too high for you, and we have to ride double. Blind as I am, you have to sit in front of me and take the reins.”

He heard a little gasp.

“But... but how shall I mount? I'm such a bad and inexperienced rider! And your Stranger is so... lively.”

Sandor grunted irritatedly: “A vicious beast – that's what you want to say, right? Well, come over here to the stairs, you'll have to try to mount from an elevated position then.”

In the end, they both landed in the mud of the yard once. Mounting a horse without a saddle, but with another rider already sitting on horseback when you were blind was bloody more difficult than he had expected. Finally, they were dirty, but seated, Sansa's body pressed against his for need of support – and Stranger was very annoyed and excited after their clumsiness. He showed it clearly by shaking his mane and snorting and whinnying until Sandor put his hands on Sansa's for a moment and reined him in.

Slowly, they started to trot off, and it was certainly a bloody sorry sight for any possible onlooker – in a different context, Joffrey would have shat himself with glee.

Then, they were facing the first guard.

He stopped them.

“Where are you going?” he demanded to know.

“Leaving on King Joffrey's orders. Lady Sansa is my wife now, here is the king's wedding decree. See? And the king told me to take my wife, to leave and to see to my new duties. Since His Grace has just bestowed Harrenhal upon me, my duty is to take care of it – so this is where we're heading.”

“I'm pretty sure King Joffrey was just referring to bedding your... bride.”

“So you claim to know what the king meant with his words? I guess His Grace will be most interested to hear that. And react accordingly. Apart from that – fucking my wife is ONE duty. And we have already fulfilled it, I can bloody tell you. And I'll do it again at any time, if necessary on horseback, if it suits His Grace. But King Joffrey was talking of dutIES. Even your fucking wizened brain should realize that that's more than ONE duty. So, he was clearly talking of my wife AND Harrenhal. And since it's a bloody haunted place, as everyone knows, I've got to go and see to things myself. Well, 'see' is not the right word, replace it with 'smell' then, since I'm a Dog. I don't need my eyes. I can still kill a man, don't you ever doubt that, because I can smell his fear and know where he is.”

Sandor sniffed, and tipped his finger right on the guard's nose. It was a lucky strike, but the man didn't have to know that. Then, The Hound moved the hand away with a fluent motion, and his dagger glided from his sleeve into his hand in an instant.

“See?”

Sandor heard the man gulp noisily, and Sansa uttered a tiny squeal, too. That wasn't helpful at all, but he knew the guard, some Eddy Tollbritt, and the man's mouth was bigger than either his cock, his brain or – most important – his courage. And true enough, the man coughed: “Well, with two people on one horse – a delicate lady and a blind man – you won't be fast, I guess, and if you... misinterpreted the king's orders he'll be fast enough to catch you again.”

The next moment, they were through the first gate. Somehow, the clopping of Stranger's hooves on the cobbled street was too loud in Sandor's ears, perhaps because he knew that they would have to face more guards.

However, it turned out to be easier than they had thought. Though blind, the Hound – known for his loyalty to the Lannisters – still inspired so much fear that the sentries shrank back from him and let them pass. Even at the city gate it was the same. And then, they were out of King's Landing.

Sandor thought that the air was suddenly fresh and sweet, now that they had left the stench of the capital behind... and the fact that he had Sansa's lovely hair right under his nose added to the impression. Still, he was sure they'd be stopped soon. Stopped and killed. The only question was whether it would be a swift death on the road, or a slow, torture-induced demise. He could only hope for the former variant.

 

***

Chapter Text

FUCK! This big scarred brute of a Dog had shattered all his dreams. First, he had taken Harrenhal away from him. The fortress had been meant for him, not for this blind cur of a crippled warrior.
And as if that wasn't enough Sansa Stark, who should have chosen him, HIM... she had just decided to marry Clegane. Why on earth had she done that? She was Cat's daughter, she was his! And not only had she preferred that scorched block of meat, no – for all the other disgusting candidates she had found some polite (if false) words. For him, however, she had not even had a reaction! That was simply outrageous! A scandal! It had been easy to talk the spoiled king into this pick-yourself-a-husband-affair since he had always liked this kind of games with his betrothed. How on earth could the outcome go so utterly wrong??
Oh, yes, he had been given another fief in the Crown Lands as compensation, but that was only a small, unimportant, rather bare stretch of land, and a keep that wasn't even worth to be dubbed such.
Instead of some glorious prospects he'd have to labour again to earn himself a good position.

Petyr was sitting at his desk and looking into the hearth fire, stroking his beard.
Hmmm... the informant, who had stood sentry at the Godswood had told him that Sansa Stark and the Hound had been there and... had obviously fucked in the walled park. Strange spot to consummate a marriage for a high-born lady. Clegane had probably done it, because the Stark girl liked the Godswood for prayer, it was well-known, and he had intended to put her off that place, heathen Dog that he was. The guard had also noticed that the young bride had moved a little awkwardly, but had still been able to walk properly. After having been bedded by the Lannister Dog that had to be an accomplishment. Petyr remembered Nilla, who had served the Hound in one of his brothels once, and she had recounted that everything about the man was in proportion, including his private parts. She had also told him that the scarred man wasn't an elaborate lover – a short, rough tumble from behind, and he had come and been gone sooner than you could say “Flea Bottom”.
The Mockingbird unlaced his trousers and got his own cock out. Probably, Clegane had meant to break Sansa Stark in well, which would serve himself just fine enough, once he would be able to lay his hands on her delicate body. The blind cur could be disposed of soon – without his eyesight he wasn't much of an adversary any longer.
Petyr started to pump into is fist and imagined it was Sansa Stark's sweet cunt. Aaaah, he would punish her adequately for choosing the wrong man. He could already see her, bound, blindfolded, helpless and with red scores on her cream-white arse. Yes. Oh yes. That was good. He remembered how the girl had been stripped and beaten in court, how her little teats had been heaving from pain before that damned Clegane had covered her with his cloak.
Fuck, that blasted man again! Well, he wouldn't have Sansa Stark's maiden's blood, but he would make her lick up the Hound's life blood. HA!
At that moment, Petyr snarled and shot his load. Aaaah, yes, that was good! He'd treasure that fantasy well. And it wouldn't be long until it would become reality.

The next morning, however, made things only worse. One of his spies told him that Sandor Clegane and his young wife weren't in the Red Keep any longer. This was a shock for him. He just wanted to inform the king when he was summoned for a meeting of the Small Council. Seemingly the disappearance of the couple had not gone unnoticed by others either.
So he prepared hastily and made for the council room. To his surprise King Joffrey was present as well – and he was in a foul mood. He had a guard on his knees in front of him. The man was sweating from fear.
“When did the two leave yesterday?” That was Cersei Lannister. She was purring like a lioness lying in wait for the lethal pounce after having spotted a victim.
“It must have been a little more than an hour after the king had started dealing out his rewards in the Throne Room, I think.
“Did he give any reasons for why he was... leaving?” Joffrey asked in a sour voice.
“Yes, Your Grace, he said you had ordered him to leave, to take his wife and to see to his new duties, so he was thinking you meant consummating his marriage and taking care of Harrenhal as well. He stated he was obeying your very words.”
Joffrey hissed and spat, and Cersei commented venomously: “The insolence of it!!”
Petyr's heart leapt in sheer joy. The Hound was making things easy for him.
So he spoke up: “Your Grace, you should catch and execute that man at once! He's abducted your ward Lady Stark!”
Suddenly, the soft voice of Lord Varys could be heard: “Lord Baelish, I presume you're making a mistake here. The Stark girl isn't His Grace's ward any longer, strictly speaking, because she's Lord Clegane's wife now, and he can take her wherever he wants. And he is a more intelligent man than we might take him for, in spite of his extremely rough manners; in fact, it was a very sagacious and helpful choice that he made, because – loyal as we all know him to be – he's got the perfect means to secure His Grace's power.”
Grrrrr. The eunuch knew all too well how to handle the king – and sure enough, Joffrey wanted to know: “What do you mean, Lord Varys?”
“The Lady Sansa is half a Tully by heritage and the very image of her Tully mother. Now, you have declared Sandor Clegane Lord Paramount of the Trident, but we all know that the lords from the Riverlands would never accept him as their overlord. But with Lady Sansa at his side he might win them over to our cause.”
“The traitors should all be executed”, Joffrey pouted, but Lord Varys answered: “Those are indeed very understandable feelings – yet, some of them are very competent and we could make extremely good use of them, if they stayed alive and switched to our side. It might help to overthrow the traitorous Young Wolf completely.”
Petyr was fuming inwardly, and he started: “Your Grace, but...”
Joffrey, however, had made up his perverted mind and cut in: “Hush, Baelish! I want to hear no more. The Stark bitch may rot in the Dog's kennel, as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to lay my eyes on her again. If The Hound secures my power – fine! If I find a sign of treason from his side, which I doubt very much, I can still send a raven and a killer to clear up the situation.”
Cersei had tried to pour honey into her son's ears, too, to persuade him of a more ruthless and direct way of action, but she had been reprimanded by him, and that was the end of the discussion.
It was a pity that Lord Tywin was still recovering from the wound he had received during the Battle of the Blackwater. Had the Old Lion been present he would have reined in his grandson. But it couldn't be helped.
The Imp, who had been injured as well, might have been a help, too. Or not. You never knew with the Halfman. It was futile to think about it.
At the end of the meeting, Joffrey had only called for Ser Ilyn Payne and told the mute man to deal adequately with the incompetent guard, who had let The Hound and Lady Sansa slip out of the castle.

Petyr wanted to scream. But that wouldn't have helped at all. So he had to do something different. Via his brothels it was always possible to find a man who was willing to do a dirty job for enough coin. Oh yes, he'd see to it that Sandor Clegane would be dead soon.

***

Chapter Text

Seven Heavens! Holy Mother! Was the Hound dying??
The evening before he had misjudged the distance they had covered, because they were so slow with their horse and he couldn't see the landscape. So they hadn't reached the inn where he had planned to sleep. Instead, they had stopped at a barn full of hay.
For Sansa, it had been horrible that she had to unharness Stranger, because she didn't know well how to deal with the tack. That had always been the task of the stable-boys. Plus the courser was as wild as his master. Getting off the horse in the first place was difficult enough – her legs cramped and her bottom hurt horribly, so she could barely stand. Next, the steed had bitten her.
Sandor Clegane had exploded then: “Fuck, Little Bird, you really know nothing about the useful things in life. The septas and your parents pumped you up with songs and politeness and needlework, but I bet you don't even know how to kindle a fire. You could freeze off your arse easily in the north then. Am I right?”
What should she say to that? Tears started to well up in her eyes again, the Hound swore in his typical vulgar way, and then fumbled the tack clumsily until it came off the horse after what seemed to be an eternity. Stranger neighed happily and started to feed on the hay at once while his master started to groom him with a little brush he had brought along. The movements were a bit awkward, but given the fact that the eyes that should coordinate the hand were blind, it was impressive how well the job was performed, and it told of the experience of a warrior's life in the saddle.
There would be no fire that night, just as Sandor Clegane had predicted, and they had neither bedrolls nor food – only their cloaks.
“At least we've got enough straw around, so we don't have to sleep on the hard ground, and I've got two wine skins in my knapsack”, her... husband announced grumpily.
Sansa had rummaged through his bag and furrowed her brow.
“There are only two empty skins here – but there is no wine in them.”
“WHAT!?!? WHAT THE FUCK!?!? I TOLD THAT THRICE-DAMNED SERVANT!!!”
She had handed him the skins to prove her point and added that there was a little stream close by, so they didn't need to go thirsty.
“Bugger the water – I want wine!” The Hound had bellowed, and Sansa was so afraid because of his fury then that she had run out of the hay barn with the empty skins. She had drunk her fill from the rivulet. When she had returned with the water-filled vessels Sandor Clegane had still been rampant, had tried to harness Stranger again, but the angry horse had kicked him.
The blind, scarred man had given up then, holding himself where he had been hurt. Sansa had tried to soothe him, but he had only yelled at her and caused her to retreat into the furthest corner of the barn and to curl herself up into a tight ball. The dry straw had needled her all night, and she had not understood how some people could call it romantic when lovers ended up in a hay barn. At the hour of the wolf she had had to make water.
When she had passed her husband she had seen that the dark shadow that was his body was writhing and twitching and moaning. Swiftly, she had come closer and tried to see what was wrong, but her involuntary husband had just growled and snarled at her in the most vicious way.
“What does a useless Little Bird want to do, hm? LEAVE. ME. BE!”
While Sansa had been making water outside then she had been sobbing like mad. Finally, she was free from the Red Keep, but at which prize? And this was her wedding night. As a girl she had always dreamed of a wonderful feast and a gentle, good, loving man. Nothing in her life had turned out the way she had wished for. Even the royal mercy for her father. She thought of how she had betrayed her father, as thoroughly as if she had led him to the block herself. And then, Sansa thought that she deserved her sad lot. That she deserved even worse.
The gods seemed to support her attitude, for when she returned to the barn, her sick bridegroom had started to vomit uncontrollably. At first daylight, he had lost control over his bladder and his bowels as well. He was dirty and stinking and half unconscious and still a mass of twitching muscles. But whenever she came close he snapped and barked at her. A few times she managed to make him drink some water, but that was basically all she could do.
Once, she offered to go to the next village and to get a healer, but the Hound had only snarled between rattling teeth: “PAH! Stupid Bird! The poxy villagers would steal our money, rape you and murder us both. They'd be predators and we their prey.”
Luckily, Sansa had found some wild berries and even lots of nuts, because there was a huge walnut tree nearby. Otherwise, they would have both starved, and even so, she found she was hungry often enough. At least Stranger had enough hay.

Chapter Text

***

Seven bloody, buggering hells!! Never in his life had he felt so very bad. But no, that was wrong. Nothing could be worse than being burned alive by your own brother. This here, however, was not so very far off: his intestines were broiling, his skin aflame and cold like the Wall itself at the same time.
Sometimes, he heard the Little Bird chirp some useless shit. She gave him some water, but otherwise, she was a flaming drag for him. A few times she tried to feed him some nuts. As if he wanted to eat! He needed some wine!
Oh, even in his feverish state he knew what it meant: he had become more like that sodding Ser Dontos than it was good for him. Fuck, it was no bloody wonder. And normally, he would not have cared, if he'd drunk himself to an early death. Especially not now that he was blind and always woke up to black night in front of his eyes.
But no. Now, he had the Little Bird at his heels. So he had at least to get her as far as Harrenhal and to take care of her for a little while. Fuck the Seven! Oh, of course, it wouldn't be for long. The Hound guessed that the Young Wolf, Sansa's brother, who had been too damned busy to care about saving his sister from the Lions' den in King's Landing, would sneak her away from him soon and most likely kill him in the process. After all, Robb was a king now and needed the Little Bird as a pawn for a profitable marriage – even more so since the sod of a young man had fucked up his betrothal with the weasel-like Freys and married a woman more to his taste. Sandor was convinced that Sansa would be made to pay for her brother's foolishness – he knew what high lords and kings were like well enough.
Bleeding Stranger, he was sure he was taking Sansa from one hell to another; and being blind he couldn't do a thing about it. But ah, for crying out loud, he had not been much of a help when he could still see. He'd been a bloody craven, to be honest, had let the little shitstain of a king hurt and humiliate her over and over again – and it wasn't the first time he had been incapable of helping. When Robb would take the Hound's life that would make things at least a little less deplorable for the Little Bird.
Sandor glided in and out of consciousness, his thoughts were frayed at the rims... but when he tumbled out of the hay barn after an unknown period of time and threw himself into the nearby crook with Sansa's help, peeled off his bedraggled clothes and soaked his soiled, scarred body he knew that he had one last task in his forsaken, buggering life: he'd make sure that Sansa could return to her family. After all, her brother might have got his flaws – but not all brothers were like his own monstrous sibling Gregor. No. The Little Bird belonged into its nest. And to make it possible he wouldn't even drink the tiniest drop of ale or Dornish Red.

***

They had been in the barn for two days and nights – and finally, Sandor Clegane seemed to recover. Oh, he was still weak on his legs and trembling, but his spirits were slowly coming back. And then, he managed to get up and leave the building to clean himself in the stream. Sansa was relieved without end that he was finally getting better.
In his feverish dreams he had snarled at her, had repeated the name “Syrella” several times and had muttered he wouldn't leave her, and she couldn't leave him. It had sounded painful. That had come to Sansa as a shock. So the fearsome Hound had had a sweetheart in King's Landing! And she had been so naïve, so ignorant and had chosen him for marriage and torn him away from the woman he loved! It added even more to her permanent bad conscience. Gods, how he must despise her for what she had done to him!
And now, The Hound was rolling himself in the shallow water like real dog, long, dark, lank hair dripping – and he was as naked as his nameday!
Sansa blushed fiercely though she knew that it was meant to be normal to see a spouse naked. Only... they had been joined under such strange circumstances and without preparation, and it was the first time that she saw a man completely without any clothes.
Sandor Clegane didn't seem to care if she was watching or not. At first, she looked away, but she couldn't help it... she was also curious to know what a huge, strong, powerful man like him looked like. And... it was indeed quite a sight. Especially when he had cleaned himself adequately. Water was trickling down his body and through the dark, curly hair that covered parts of him. The skin was criss-crossed by many more scars, but they were not even a quarter as bad as the ones that disfigured his face. Where Stranger had hit him there was a big bruise – but at least, nothing was broken. The Hound's massive muscles were bulging and flexing – and still trembling a little. Sansa could also see his manhood for some moments. It teetered slightly from his movements. Joffrey had once told her how the member would swell and grow so a man could “impale a woman properly”. So... if or when the Hound chose to bed her... this... thing would become even bigger?? She couldn't for the life of her imagine how it should be possible to... she blushed even more. Inwardly, Sansa thanked the heavens that he had used his fingers on her in the Godswood.
At once, she suppressed that memory. Instead, she focused on the fact that her... husband – it was still so strange to think of him in that term – was getting rather gaunt. Which was no wonder, after these days of illness when he had not been able to eat.
Sandor got out of the little stream, knelt down on the bank and fulled his dirty clothes. Oh holy Seven! Now that he was clean Sansa had a good view at his broad back, the mighty shoulders, the soles of his huge feet... and his buttocks. The way his muscles were playing there caused her heart to beat even faster – so she turned around, walked back to the barn and got a tunic and clean breeches out of his bundle.
When she approached him and handed him the clothes he growled under his breath: “Right. I can't ride again yet, but we need to get to that bloody inn I was talking about. So we'll have to walk and to lead Stranger by the bridle. And you have to lead me so I won't fall. Understood?”
“Yes.”
What else should she have said?
“No more bloody chirping? Good. Then let's be off!”

 

***
Fuck, this was bloody cumbersome! And he felt weak. The Hound – weak! What a sorry jape. He was stumbling and feeling his way. Stranger was impatient and wanted to gallop, but it was simply impossible.
Sansa could tell him when there was a root or a stone or a furrow in the way, but otherwise she was useless. He wanted to know how far they had got, but she couldn't give him any useful characteristics about the landscape.
“There are some trees here.”
“And which kind of trees?”
As it turned out Sansa might probably recognize a Weirwood tree, if it had a face and grew in a Godswood, but out here she couldn't even tell a birch from an oak. At best, she could differentiate between needles and leaves.
“Fuck! Just HOW stupid did your family keep you? And why did you never ask and want to find out any more? I'm bloody convinced that the rough little hellion that is your sister would know more!”
Probably, she'd start to cry again now, but he couldn't help it; her ignorance was simply too frustrating. At least, she didn't complain endlessly like other high-born lasses. But even if she didn't lament her situation he could hear her self-pity in the way she was silent. Seven hells, what could he do? Life wasn't a song! Had she still not learned her lesson?

They came across a few travellers heading for King's Landing, and they told them that it was a walk of one more hour until they'd reach the inn. Finally, they arrived. Stranger was handed over to an impressed stable-boy. Normally, Sandor would have insisted on tending to the courser himself, but blind as he was the lad could take care of the horse better.
They entered the inn, and the Hound could tell from the publican's quavering voice that he was recognized as the fearsome warrior everyone knew him for. His frightening reputation guaranteed them good food, a warm bath and a clean bed without any bugs. Plus he could give his befouled and only scantily cleaned clothes to a washerwoman.
They started with a good plate of warm, hearty food. There were quails in brown almond sauce to be had, alongside with pumpkin mush and big, yellow peas. It was still very difficult for him to eat without being able to see the food. The fact that he decided to drink milk instead of ale or wine – although he yearned to down a tankard – didn't improve his mood one whit.
But he was cheered up a little when the water for the bath was brought up to their room.
“You go first”, he told Sansa when they entered the chamber. Since he was blind he didn't think it necessary to wait downstairs until she was done. Besides, she was his wife, no matter, if he wanted it or not, and he didn't want to evoke the impression he was distancing himself from the Little Bird. Who knew after all which spy was here and could tell King Joffrey?
It was strange enough that they hadn't been caught by anyone yet. Probably, the goldcloaks who should arrest them had ridden ahead, not believing that the fugitives would be so slow.
Krschlsschlfs...
Sansa's clothes were rustling. Unbidden pictures of Sansa being stripped in front of the whole court crept into Sandor's mind. Fuck.
He threw himself onto the bed. The mattress smelled clean, even sweet. Some herbs had been put into it. It was only too short for such a tall man like him – as usual in inns. On his military campaigns he had had an especially big bedroll that had been made extra for him, and in King's Landing the bed in his room was longer than for normal men. Come to think of it – the bed had been longer, but not wider. The Little Bird wouldn't have fit in. This bed was different. It was made for couples. Strange feeling.
He had had an occasional whore, but he had never really slept in a bed with a woman. Well, with one exception, but that didn't really count: after he had been burned he had been allowed to sleep in his sister's bed a few times. Until he had recovered. Or rather – until she had died. But he had never slept in a bed with someone, who was a potential partner for fucking.
Sandor heard the light splashing of water. Seven Hells. The Little Bird was naked in the bathtub now. He could do what he wanted: his thoughts returned to her sweet female scent and his normally notoriously unimaginative brain popped up bloody explicit pictures. Bleeding Stranger, his cock was getting hard!
The Hound rolled from his back onto his front side so Sansa wouldn't see. It was highly unnerving: He hadn't had a woman for ages, and normally, he could use his hands freely. But now his... wife was always around him, and he couldn't help it, but she was alluring. How the fuck was he supposed to let off steam? He wasn't as mobile as he used to be and could leave her side in an unknown place without his eyesight, could not sneak behind the stable for a quick hand job. SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!
The slight noises from the water and Sansa's deep breathing were gnawing at his nerves. He needed a good, Dornish Red. But bleeding crap, no, that was out of the question!
When the Hound heard Sansa finally rise from the water, he snarled: “At long last! I thought you wanted to wait until your skin came off. I'll never understand how high-born women can bathe for so long!”
Before Sansa could say anything to that he growled: “And now – into your dress and down with you! Whether you take a good, long piss on the privy or want to eat a dessert or pray in front of the blasted Sevens' house altar – I don't care. But leave me alone for the next fifteen minutes. Oh, and tell the maid we need a second blanket. This one is too small for both of us.”
There was a tiny sob: “Why are you always so hateful?”
“WHAT, Little Bird!? You knew what I'm like when you chose to marry me.”
Sandor heard the rustling of clothes, and then, there was Sansa's tiny, shaking voice again: “I didn't know enough, and I'm so sorry. But now, I know.”
And with those words she dashed to the door and swept out of the room, weeping again.
The Hound felt as if someone had turned a dagger in his guts. He had always known she didn't really want him, but now, she'd said it aloud.
Within an instant, his cock had gone limp again. Seven Hells, how much she despised him! Fuck, from now on, he'd at least TRY to make haste to hand his involuntary wife over to her brother some time soon!
Sandor got out of his clothes as fast as possible and soaked himself in the now lukewarm water. After a little groping he found the soap. As soon as he was sure he had scrubbed off all the dirt he rose again. On the rim of the bathtub he found a towel and put it around his hips. Then, he put a stool for his feet at the end of the bedside where he'd be sleeping and threw himself onto the bed. Fuck, he was so tired after the forced withdrawal from alcohol! So... tired...

It was dark when he woke up again – but it was always dark for him now, so it unnerved him, but it didn't mean a thing. Still, it had to be night... for to his utter shock the towel around his hips had come loose – and the Little Bird was sleeping peacefully directly ON him, her arms around his neck, her face nuzzling the crook of his neck, her warm, slow, deep breathing on his skin. And she was only wearing a short, thin shift.
Seven. Hells.

***

Chapter Text

Hmmm. Warm. Safe. Shelter. That was what Sansa was feeling first.
Hmmm. She hadn't slept so well, had not been so relaxed for ages.
She snuggled closer into the warmth. Oh. This was so good.
There was a wonderful scent.
Home.
But then, she was slowly coming awake, gliding into consciousness.
Body? The warmth she was feeling emanated from a body under her. A big body. Muscles. There were strong arms around her waist.
And the scent – it belonged to that body. It was a mixture of musk and pine. Male.
Oh Seven help! She had been sleeping on Sandor Clegane!
Within an instant Sansa's heartbeat quickened.
The Hound was sleeping. His breathing was slow and even. But further down... he wasn't quite so... relaxed. To Sansa's shock she realized that her... husband's manhood... it was hard! Big. Holy Mother! And one of her legs had sunk between his... and was draped right over and against his aroused member. Her face was buried against the crook of his neck. Her breasts were pressing against his broad, muscled chest.
Now, Sansa's heart was really pounding. She didn't know what to do. Sandor Clegane was sleeping so peacefully – and since his arms ware around her middle she couldn't move away without waking him up. But he would surely be angry, if she disturbed his slumber.
Only she felt so uncomfortable... ashamed of the sudden closeness. Although – if she was honest with herself the shame originated more in the foreign sensations, and not in the fact that the Hound felt really bad. Sansa was undecided. For a moment she just lay there and took in the new experience.
Yet, another point was nagging at her mind. How could his... manhood be like this, while he was asleep? And then it hit her like a bolt from the blue: he had to be dreaming! Likely of this Syrella he had been fantasising about in his fever. The way he was holding her – it was nothing else but tender! Gods, he was dreaming of his truelove! And he was accidentally embracing the very person who had broken his heart! Oh no, she couldn't do that to him! She couldn't be so cruel.
Carefully, Sansa said to the sleeping man: “Excuse me..., Sandor! I need to go to the privy. Can you let go of me, please?”
Sandor stirred and withdrew his arms.
“What the fuck? – Hey! What are you doing on my chest? Does the Little Bird want to build a nest there?”
Sansa shrank back.
“I'm... sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. You're so heavy and sink so much deeper into the mattress that I must have rolled onto you.”
“Seven Hells. Still afraid of touching me. Anyway. Now, you've got your freedom, see? Go, take a piss or a shit or both – whatever you feel like.”
Sansa's ears were burning because of the rude language; it simply couldn't be helped. Oh my, how should they only go on? Like this, it was torture. She shook her head and sneaked out of the room.

***

A king's vow

Robb had often felt sick in the recent past when he had heard of the many Lannister atrocities high and low in the realm. Personally, his father's decapitation had been the worst piece of news, of course. But this here... this was as close to a low point as you could get. He crinkled the message that had come with a raven in his spasmodic hand.
That horrible boy king on the Iron Throne had ended his betrothal to Sansa about a week ago – only to marry her off to one of the worst human beasts that walked the Seven Kingdoms! Oh, he remembered the horrible Hound with his repugnant scars. The man had been proclaimed Lord Paramount of the Riverlands by Joffrey – what a bad jape! Clegane, the horrible big brute – and he had been entitled to have his ways with sweet, delicate, innocent Sansa!
Now that he was alone, Robb allowed himself a tear to run down his cheek. As soon as he had got the letter, he'd run off to the imprisoned, caged Jaime Lannister and had snarled: “Kingslayer! What do you know about The Hound?”
The grubby prisoner had been quite surprised.
“The Hound? Why do you ask?”
“That's none of your bloody business!”
“Oh, but it must be kind of my business, if you're asking me about him, don't you think?”
“Is he... is he sexually perverse? A... rapist?”
Jaime had been really confused then: “Perverse? Rapist? Why are you interested in Sandor Clegane's sexual preferences all of a sudden?”
“Just tell me, or I'll slit your throat here and now!!”
“Whoooops, now that must be an urgent matter then!”
“Just. Tell. Me. NOW!!!”
Jaime Lannister had been about to utter another nasty comment – but obviously, he had spotted something in Robb's eyes that had stopped him from doing so.
Grumpily, he'd answered: “I know more about the Hound's fighting and drinking competences, to put it mildly. I mean, with his face the women aren't exactly lining up to get into bed with him. As far as I know he used to have an occasional whore in the better establishments in Kings Landing. I never went there myself, so I don't know any details. During our joint military campaigns I witnessed more than one rape – but he never participated in any of the scenes I came across. He rather quenched his bloodlust from the battle with wine. I don't picture him as capable of much... tenderness, but he's not like his brother either, who enjoys to rape somebody to inflict pain and humiliation. In my opinion, he's rough and quick and straight to the point – with either kind of sword, if you get my meaning.”
Robb had hissed on hearing this, and the Kingslayer had asked: “Will you tell me now why you wanted to know these things?”
Robb had only spat: “Our families won't be connected by marriage in the future. The only good aspect about it.”
And than he had stormed off, kicking a nearby bucket with fesces with his boot so that the muck dirtied the ground, and leaving a puzzled prisoner behind. Ah, what did he care about the golden-haired sister-fucker? The only thing was: what could he gain from the man's statements? Not really much. He had sounded as honest as any damned Lannister could possibly ever be. Still, the Hound no rapist? But things would surely be different now with a wife. That blasted Clegane had the RIGHT to take poor Sansa now, and the Kingslayer had admitted that the Hound wasn't a caring one. Well, he himself had seen as much. Combine that with his outrageous general demeanour and his taste for getting drunk...
Gods, if only he could do something to help her! To get her out of the city! He had always hoped he could win the war before his sister could be married off to a southron monster like Joffrey. Now that Sansa was married she couldn't come back to her family just like that – actually, they could only exchange the Kingslayer for Arya any longer. Grrrrrr!!! It was sososo frustrating!
Robb's Lady Mother, Catelyn, had been even more devastated than him. She had had a real breakdown. That was no wonder, as she had already lost her two baby boys, Rickon and Bran, to a man Robb once had nearly called “brother”.
The Young Wolf vowed to himself that he'd kill Theon, that he'd defeat the Lannisters and their spawn soon and wipe them out for all the atrocities they had committed. And he'd kill the big, scarred brute, who had wedded Sansa, if he should ever fall into his hands. Oh yes, he'd grant that Clegane no mercy. That monster would die a slow, painful death. He'd heard that the followers of the R'hllor God sacrificed people to the fire. Well, the Hound was already half burned – hopefully Robb was meant to finish the task.

***

Chapter Text

They had been on the street for several days now. Sansa asked herself, if her legs and her bottom would ever stop hurting again. She hated riding, she detested the aggressive black courser she was sitting on – and she didn't know what to think of its master.
Their pace had been slow, of course, and riding double was still extremely difficult for them. Sansa had the reins, and Stranger often shook his head impatiently, which made her even more nervous. That she had to manage without any stirrups didn't make things one whit easier for her to conduct the horse.
Since Sandor couldn't do much without his eyesight, he just held onto her. His huge, calloused hands used to rest on her tummy and were warm and somehow soothing – as long as he didn't open his mouth to rasp and snarl at her again. Sandor's behaviour frightened her still; at the same time it drove her crazy.
Nevertheless, they were a little better off now, because they had some food with them. The Hound had also gained a bit of his vitality back after his strange illness. They had stayed at the inn for a second night – but ever since, they had slept in the open, or once in another hay-barn. Luckily, the weather had held, and the nights had been mild. Only they had had to sleep on the hard ground. After a day's ride, that was nothing to look forward to for Sansa. They didn't have a bedroll, just their cloaks. So at least she tried to find resting places with soft moss.
Actually, most of the time, the two of them were silent. It gave Sansa the chance to reflect about the recent developments.
Sandor Clegane.
Her husband.
But only by Joffrey's decree, not by either their own accordance or in front of the Gods. The Hound had taken her maidenhood, true enough, but he had not really bedded her in the classical sense, as far as she knew. Just how married were they actually?? Could the wedding still be annulled easily? And even if it could – did she want this union to come to an end?
She didn't know the answer to even a single one of these questions. On the one hand, she felt miserable in so many ways, and for Sandor's sake she wanted to release him from this unwanted marriage, so he could return to this Syrella, whoever she was. On the other hand, there were... strangely good moments – in spite of everything.
The Hound hadn't drunk any alcohol ever since their wedding. This left him more... awake now. And even though his blindness and dependence nearly ate him up (she could feel that clearly) Sansa also noticed a purposeful determination in him she had never seen before. She wondered, if it was his new position as Lord Paramount of the Riverlands and as master of Harrenhal that had caused this development.
The best thing naturally was that Sansa wasn't in King's Landing any longer, the air was fresh, not foul, there was no Joffrey around, no malevolent Cersei, no brutal King's Guard, no vicious courtiers. For those facts alone she had to be infinitely grateful, and she didn't complain about the difficulties of their voyage.
The probably strangest thing while riding was that Sandor's hands on her belly didn't repel her, although she could clearly remember the unpleasant sensation of his fingers inside her womanhood. Instead of shying away, however, she often looked at them in detail. They were really as big as shovels and various little scars could be spotted on them. There was a bit of black hair on the back of his hands and even on some parts of the fingers. One fingernail was partly blackened from a recent bruise. Had it happened during the Battle of the Blackwater? She didn't dare to ask. The horny skin of the palm was a little cracky. Those were hands that had worked a lot in life. And fought. Killed, too, of course, there was absolutely no denying. Then why on earth could they still... feel good?
And ever since she had woken up in bed on top of her husband she kept noticing his scent. When they hadn't bathed for a while it turned into an acid stench, very much like her own sweat. But in general, his natural scent was nice. Very nice, in fact. There were even moments when Sansa inhaled deeply, and then her heart started to beat faster.
She didn't understand it. Did she start to... feel something for the Hound? And if so – what exactly? Lust? More often than she would have liked her memories returned to his impressive naked body... and then all of a sudden she wanted to touch him. Was she getting wanton? Sansa blushed and felt ashamed and confused.

“No songs today, Little Bird?” Sandor Clegane asked suddenly, and she winced.
“What? – Oh, sorry, I was deep in thought.”
“And what was the Little Bird thinking?”
“Well, about many things. How do you feel about Harrenhal, for example?”
“That bloody shadow of a fortress? I tell you – if there's any advantage of being blind now, then it's that I don't have to see that bleak ruin again.”
Like so many statements from the Hound this one surprised Sansa no end, but she still tried to keep up their little talk: “You must have seen much of the Seven Kingdoms – which fortress did you like best?”
The Hound seemed to be puzzled.
“Seven hells, I guess I liked those fortresses best that provided a good bed, food and wine, and were run effectively. That's everything that counts.”
“Hmmm...”
“What, Little Bird?”
“I mean: should it not be easy to turn your new seat into a comfortable fortress for you then?”
Suddenly, Sandor threw his head back and roared his bitter laughter.
“You've got absolutely no clue, Little Bird! My brother has been there until recently, if I've been told correctly. Some of his men or folks as 'amiable' as him will still be lurking around there. Comfortable fortress – I'm laughing my hairy arse off!”
Sansa flushed a deep red again and was immediately reminded of the sight of his buttocks. She fell silent, didn't know what to answer to his vulgarity, and her taciturn husband didn't intend to go on with their conversation.

***

Chapter Text

 

 

Jack Bling congratulated himself. This job turned out to be far easier than he had thought! He had expected to ride much further and to track his victims much more intensively. But the two had been slow and hadn't gone into hiding, surely because of the man's blindness and the lady's delicateness. This way, Jack Bling's expenses were smaller, and he'd earn more.

He had discovered the two in an inn where they had stopped to rest for the night some two or three hours earlier than him. The description of the black, mean, impressive horse in the stable had been exact, and the stable-boy had told him readily about the two strange travellers.

 

In the common room, he had eaten and drunk and had found out from the grubby publican for some extra coin in which room the couple resided. Jack Bling fingered the well-filled purse on his belt. He hadn't got his nickname for nothing, and the nobleman's advance payment was incredibly generous. Well, the final payment would be even more so.

 

The owner of the “Pearl Slot” had addressed him personally, because Jack was known to be as effective as unscrupulous with regard to certain tasks. The man, who was called “Littlefinger” in his absence, had been quite a fop, even for a courtier, but in the man's eyes there had been a gleam that told Jack that he better didn't come for the rest of the money alone, after he would have done his job.

 

One good thing was that the male he was supposed to kill would have more than a little money with him, too, and then there was the fine horse. Perhaps Jack wouldn't return to his employer at all, take what he could here and just send this Baelish a note and the woman, telling the man he had been successful. Much as Jack liked money – he liked his life even more, and he meant to keep it.

 

Anyway, all that was left to do was to bring everything to a good end now. He scratched his crotch and looked forward to the sweet lady. This Littlefinger had allowed him explicitly to have his ways with the woman, had even encouraged him to “teach her some lessons that would put her in her place” – under one premise: she should be forced to lick her husband's life blood. Well, that order was kind of kink – but Jack had experienced so many abnormalities with and grudges of his employers that this was little more than a mildly interesting triviality.

 

With a contented sigh he drank his last swig, rose and made silently for the dark corridor where the different bedrooms branched off.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

Sansa glided back into consciousness after having eaten, bathed and fallen asleep, exhausted as she had been. She didn't have a clue what had awoken her, and she was still drowsy and was feeling so very good again – until she realised she had rolled onto her heavy husband once more. This time, her cheek was resting on his broad chest, her arms had sunk down on either side of his body and...

Oh holy Seven! Their fingers were entwined! She was innocently holding hands with the fearsome Hound!

Sansa's heartbeat started to rattle, and suddenly, she was over-sensitive and focused on what she was feeling...where she was feeling him... his bare skin. His scent was strong and close and warm now. Gods! She didn't know why, but suddenly, she thought she wanted to... to taste his skin. Sansa blushed fiercely at the mere thought of it.

The Hound had been snoring lightly, but when her body tensed involuntarily because of her surprise he fell silent.

 

***

 

When Sandor had clumsily groped his way from the bathtub to his bed the Little Bird had fallen asleep already. This time he should put on his breeches... but he didn't do it, for some weird reason he didn't allow himself to think about.

No sooner had he sunk deep into the mattress than Sansa started to obey gravitation rules and to glide towards him while still being asleep. After some minutes she was sprawled across his body, her cheek on his torso. With a little sigh, she even nuzzled his chest hair with her nose contentedly... and sometimes when they were breathing her gloriously lush lips even touched his skin lightly.

The Hound got an erection that soon started to hurt. He was a lewd bugger who should be flayed alive, he told himself, but it was just impossible to move her away from him. He wasn't accustomed to being touched like that, had only known fellow men-at-arms huddle together in cold nights during a military campaign; and Sansa felt so incredibly sweet and good, her hair so silky on his rough skin, her female scent that was a little like vanilla from the Summer Islands... Fuck, he'd rather go through some more days of the worst withdrawal symptoms than to let go of her!

And then the unbelievable thing happened: her hands had initially been lying limply next to his... but suddenly, her fingers crept slowly between his own!

Ohsevenhellsfuck... - - - !!!

He had had a tumble with a whore here and there from time to time. What he had never done, however, was to hold hands with a woman. Strangely enough, doing this with the Little Bird still felt somehow more intimate than anything he had ever experienced with another woman. He didn't understand.

Sansa muttered something unintelligible. Was she waking up?

Hastily, he pretended to be asleep and uttered some snoring noises.

Yes, his... wife was waking up. The moment she twitched he knew she had realized the position they were in. Fuck, it was always the same! Of course, she was still afraid of him and would always be. Or at least as long as they'd be together.

 

He was just about to snarl at her when his instincts told him that something wasn't in order. So he didn't move one millimetre and stayed completely silent. And then, he knew.

There was somebody outside in the corridor. If the person had been walking normally, or even trampling heavily from drunkenness he wouldn't have given a shit. But the one outside was SNEAKING. Stealthily like a shadow cat. But Sandor possessed senses sharpened in a lifelong battle: against his monstrous brother, nasty lads his age at Casterly Rock when he had been an adolescent, all the enemies in battle... mankind in general.

Silently, he breathed “Careful!” into Sansa's ear, freed his hands, shoved her to the side slowly, groped for the knife under his pillow with the right hand and the dagger in his boots next to the bed's headboard with the left. Not one moment too soon.

 

***

 

At first, Sansa was utterly confused, but then, she understood that there was some kind of danger. She stiffened while Sandor was fumbling about him and stayed as quiet as a mouse.

And then the door to their bedroom was opened extremely cautiously. The door hinges were well-oiled, so that there wasn't the slightest creaking sound. If they hadn't been awake they would have never noticed. A shadow that was even darker than the night crept into the room noiselessly.

Sandor struck out and flung his knife at the intruder. How he managed to aim at the man without seeing him was a mystery to Sansa.

There was a dark, painful grunt that told her the Hound had been successful to some extent. But the man wasn't stopped completely and barged forward with an aggressive growl in his throat.

Sansa was shocked for a split second... but then, she realised the attacker wanted to kill them with a dagger. He was moving towards Sandor's side of the bed!

Panicking, she grabbed a long, pointed hairpin from a beside table, struggled to her knees and stabbed at the dark shadow's neck. A mixture of a squeal and gurgling erupted. Luckily, it wasn't very loud.

After another blink of an eye, Sandor had a dagger in his hand and stuck it into the man's chest.

The man – he had the shape of a big rogue – moaned a little, sank to his knees... and was still.

“Seven help! He's dead!” Sansa thought. “I... I helped kill a man! OH GODS!!”

“Since when does the Little Bird have sharp claws? Anyway. Well done”, The Hound muttered under his breath. “Now. Go to the blasted bugger and see, if he's got anything valuable on him. Documents, jewellery, a sigil, money...”

“WHAT!?” Sansa bleeped. “You want me to loot the man!??”

With badly suppressed anger Sandor rasped back: “Seven hells, he wanted to bloody kill us and rape you before, most likely. We must find out, if he was working on somebody's order. And then, we'll leave.”

“Now?”

“Where there's one like him there can always be more. We'll leave through the window. Pack your fucking things, put your clothes on and check on the body like I've told you. If I could see I'd do it myself, but I couldn't read a document, if I came across it, for example. Neither could I see a bloody sigil. Oh, and before I forget it: retrieve the weapons from the body. We may need them again before we reach Harrenhal. Or even after.”

Sansa was trembling madly now. She had seen her father's severed, half-rotten, tarred head from close up... still... fingering a carcass and sifting through the man's pockets was a new, abominable kind of horror.

There was no apparent sign that the man belonged to a noble house, and his clothes were modest and in dull colours. He had been carrying his own dagger, so she took it, after she had found the sheath. Dutifully, she removed the knife from his side, the hairpin from the neck and pulled Sandor's dagger out of the chest. There was a pouch with lots of money on the assassin's belt. Even naïve Sansa could guess that this was a sign that he had been working by order of somebody else. Her mind was strangely paralysed and overly active at the same time. She worked like a puppet on some strings, moving awkwardly, but doing what she had been told.

Sandor was putting on his clothes and boots, which wasn't so easy for him, blind as he was. When he stumbled over the empty chamber pot he swore in his vulgar way, but was still containing his volume.

Finally, everything was prepared. Sansa opened the window. They were lucky that their room was on the ground floor, and everything had already been paid so that the innkeeper wouldn't care much when and how they left. Carefully, they clambered through the opening and made for the stable as quietly as they could.

The stable-boy was nowhere to be seen. When Stranger noticed them he uttered a little snort, but kept quiet otherwise. Now, it proved good that Sandor had practised how to harness his steed without being able to see anything, because it was really dark in the stable and Sansa even less of a help than usual. To her surprise, the Hound produced some pieces of cloth, which he must have torn loose from the dead man's clothes, or probably it was the linen from their bed; Sansa hadn't noticed in her panic. Sandor wrapped the texture around the hooves and fastened everything with some threads, so as to extenuate the clopping sounds of the horseshoes.

Stranger was led to the entrance gate, where the moon and stars provided at least a little light for Sansa. There, she climbed onto some boxes, and further onto the horse's back. Sandor followed with their bundles, which he had tied onto his own back. In the end, they trotted off slowly. The muffled noises luckily went unnoticed.

They rode and rode and rode. A short break to make water after some hours, and on they went. No word was spoken by either of them. It wasn't until after lunchtime that they stopped. Sansa was dead tired, but she didn't care. They all – including Stranger – ate an apple each, which they had had in The Hound's knapsack.

An hour later, they passed a hostel. The music of a fiddle was emanating from the common room. They didn't stop, inviting as it all was. Only long after nightfall did they halt at another inn.

 

***

Chapter Text

Sansa had been extremely quiet and stiff all day. Like a doll. Sandor wondered which expression her Tully blue eyes had. Well, one thing was clear: she was experiencing the aftermath of a shock. And he didn't have a fucking clue how to handle the situation. In an army, you could slap a fellow fighter to wake him up again, or pour a pail of could water over his head. But whenever he had come across traumatized women or children, he had left the job of consoling them to somebody else, knowing bloody well that his fearsome appearance would only have added to the damage already done. Plus he wasn't a man of emphatic words.

In the common room, Sandor ordered two platters of food. The innkeeper was a man with a squeaky voice, and judging by how it came from rather far below he had to be a rather short manikin. But seven hells, the only things that counted were a hearty meal, a refreshing drink, clean beds and an honest, decent service in general.

 

“We've got a warm stew on the fire, jus' the right thing to revive yer spirits after a long day. An' we've got a sweet chestnut cake, it's famous for miles around.”

 

“We'll have both. And what do you have to drink?”

 

“We've got our own ale; we brew it ourselves. The same is true for the mead; my goodson is a beekeeper, he sells honey an' produces candles as well. – Anyway, for the fine lady we'd have milk, a herbal infusion an' mint water for the thirst. There's a clear spring near the house, y' see.”

 

“AleAleAleAle”, The Hound's brain demanded greedily.

 

“Stop waffling. A jug of milk and mint water each. Little Bird, do you want some tea as well?”

 

“That is not necessary, thank you.”

 

Always keeping her bloody courtesies.

 

Sansa sounded still strangely mechanic – a bit like in King's Landing where she had chirped her niceties left and right, but with even less articulation and not even a hint of false friendliness now.

 

“Right, you've heard her, innkeeper. Now: we need a room with a big, clean bed and a bath.”

 

“That's no problem, Ser.”

 

“I'm. No. Ser.”

 

“My excuses, s... – Jus' mentioning, there aren't many people these days who can pay for a room properly, so most rooms are free.”

 

“I can pay.”

 

“Oh yes, oh yes, I didn't want to say nothin' else! Would ya please stay in the common room an' eat here while the tub is being brought up an' the water heated?”

 

“Lead us to a quiet, dark corner then. We don't want to be disturbed.”

 

“Oh yes, oh please follow me then!”

 

Servile little bugger of a publican. Ah, fuck, what did it matter as long as they were left in peace otherwise. While they were waiting for their meal Sandor pondered their present situation. To be honest he was surprised that until now they hadn't encountered any goldcloaks, who were intent on seizing them and taking them captive. An assassin didn't sound like an official policy of the king. No, that had to be somebody else's handwriting. Varys? Cersei? Littlefucker? Who knew.

 

But why hadn't they been prosecuted properly so far? Had Joffrey accepted their disappearance? Sandor had some difficulties believing that. Strange. Very strange.

 

Bonk! Bonk! Two heavy bowls with stew were put in front of them. Ah, that smelled good! A moment later, he could notice a sweet fragrance fill his nostrils. So that had to be the chestnut cake. Good! Like the half-starved Dog he was and as fast as his lack of eyesight allowed, he wolfed down the food. It was delicious! What a positive surprise!

 

Next to him, there were no munching sounds, however.

 

“Little Bird, you must eat to keep your strength”, he insisted.

 

“Yes, my Lord Husband”, Sansa answered distractedly.

 

“Fuck, keep that title out of our conversations, and use my given first name!”

 

“Yes... Sandor.”

 

Seven hells, this kind of behaviour was even more maddening than her naïve chirping!

 

As soon as they had eaten – The Hound had made sure that his... wife had at least nibbled on her cake – they rose, paid for food and sleepover, frequented the privy and were lead to their room on the first floor.

 

The bath had been prepared and was smelling of camomile and marigold. Sandor couldn't see the candles, but from the honey scent in the air he judged that quite a few had been lit. The publican obviously had a quirk for herbs and spices and smells.

 

“You go first again”, Sandor told the Little Bird and groped for the bed. Like before, he heard the rustling of her clothes as they were being peeled off. But Sansa was still taciturn. Slowly, The Hound started to worry. There was the splashing of water that told him Sansa had entered the tub and was cleaning herself.

 

Slowly, Sandor started to undress as well for his own bath. Now that he was blind, everything took so much longer – if he could do whatever he wanted to at all in the first place! Sandor swore inwardly, cursing his affliction a thousandth time.

 

Suddenly, he heard a well-known sound: it was a sob. So finally Sansa's shell had cracked.

 

“What is it, Little Bird?”

 

“I... I... helped... kill...”

 

A snotty, heaving sob.

 

“Little Bird, it was him or us. Concentrate on that. You did the right thing.”

 

“He'd... have... killed... you!”

 

Sandor shrugged.

 

“He wasn't the first, and I guess he won't be the last.”

 

Sansa now lost control completely and cried, snivelled and hiccuped so wildly that it sounded as if she could barely breathe.

 

“Fuck, Little Bird, get your shit together! You did what had to be done! End of story.”

 

But Sansa wouldn't hear and wailed miserably.

 

The Hound had had enough. Even if he had already stripped bare he walked over to the tub carefully and meant to take her shoulders and to shake some sense back into her. Shit, if only he could see!

 

And then, the unspeakable happened: when he was next to the tub, there was suddenly the splashing of water, and the next thing he noticed was a wet, naked Little Bird clinging to his chest, arms going round him, and a lush mouth and tearful eyes sobbing against his skin.

 

Within the blink of an eye, his brain switched to “overload”.

 

What. The. Fuck. Was. That?

 

Paralysed, he looked down at where the crown of her head had to be, even if he couldn't see her.

 

Shitshitshit! That was her naked body against his own. Seven Hells!! So... tender... so... incredibly tender!

 

Then, he suddenly realized that if the Little Bird actually sought his closeness, all high-born maiden sense of shame gone, instead of flinching from him as it would have been normal, she was really on the edge of breaking completely.

 

Fuck! What should he do? What??

 

After another moment, he remembered how Lord Stark had once consoled Sansa after her direwolf's death on the road to the south by embracing her and hugging her close. Well, if the Little Bird didn't mind his touch in her present fit... perhaps...

 

Gingerly, he put his arms around her – and she reacted by snuggling even closer, as if she wanted to creep into him! Sandor hoisted her out of the tub next and laid her onto the bed, dripping as she was. Since she was still clinging to him so very desperately, he couldn't get up again and kept his arms around her. Sansa was so wild now that she pressed herself against him forcefully, in a strange mix of rocking and rubbing movements.

 

Sandor tried not to react with arousal, but it was simply impossible. Yet, even when it was clear that Sansa must feel what was going on with his cock she didn't seem to care. At least, he thought so at first. Suddenly, however, her grip on him relaxed a little and the delicate hands started to roam over his body.

 

Sandor gasped, goosebumps rising on his skin, and remembered how after a battle often men suddenly needed to fuck like horny rabbits to celebrate their survival. He had always doused that fire with alcohol. Which he didn't have now. Shit. And he'd have never thought that someone like Sansa might react with a similar kind of primal lust.

 

As if under some spell, his hands started to stroke her body in the same way she was touching him. To his utter amazement, the Little Bird gasped, too... and arched into him! Suddenly, a fever seemed to seize him. Seven hells, she felt and smelled so feminine! So sweet!

 

An instinct awoke he didn't know he possessed, and he didn't even realize what he was doing... until his twitching, partly burned lips were sucking on one of her nipples. Sansa moaned – and tried to get even more of her body into his mouth, judging by her movements.

 

Bleeding Stranger, Sandor had teased the Little Bird about having a song from her back in King's Landing – but he'd never believed she might actually really sing for him one day. Oh, and how very lovely her song was!

 

Spellbound, the Hound moved from one breast to the next. The nipple was already a tight little bud, and he licked it hungrily.

 

“SANDOR!”

 

Oh fuck! She was... she was even moaning his name!

 

That was more than he could take!

 

Seven hells, she was feeling raw lust – and he, the ugly, scarred, blind Dog, was causing it!

 

He needed to smell more of her. Taste her even more thoroughly.

 

Again, he wouldn't have known which instinct drove him, he had never done it with a whore, but his head moved downwards, and he spread her legs wide.

 

“Sandor?”

 

That was the last thing he heard before his mouth made contact with her most sensitive parts.

 

“What... AHHH!”

 

How the Little Bird was singing!

 

Oh. Oh all seven hells and heavens, this was divine!

 

Her scent and taste were strongest here. Dizzying. Not in his wildest dreams could he have expected that anything as good as this existed! It was like some nectar.

 

What he didn't know about techniques to please a woman the Hound made good with eagerness, and he kissed and licked and sucked on the tender flesh with abandon. He could feel Sansa's hands in his hair, she was moaning frantically, and his cock started to leak from sheer arousal.

 

Suddenly, she cried: “Sandor!”

 

Then, she bucked into his mouth and started to tremble violently and whined helplessly. When he felt the spasms with his lips and tongue it sent him over the edge as well, and with a wild growl the seed streamed out of his cock and onto the linen of the bed. Fuck! She had come! He had caused her to peak! That was incredible!! It was a moment of extreme, unblemished joy.

 

 

 

Sandor's heartbeat started to calm down slowly, and so did his breathing. Overwhelmed, he moved up his head and knelt.

 

Suddenly, he heard it: Sansa was weeping once more. It was as if an ice-cold knife was drilled into his guts mercilessly. His brain started to work again. Oh fuck! He had overcharged the more than half-innocent Little Bird! Where he should have controlled himself and just consoled her like a man of honour would have done he had taken advantage of her without second thought! Seven hells, where was the hole in the ground where he could sink in and disappear!?

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Gooods! Oh Goooods!!! This was the sweetest thing she had ever experienced! Nobody had ever told her that a woman could be caressed like that! Nobody had ever told her that a man's mouth could feel so good! HIS mouth! This was pure glory! Bliss!

 

Sansa started to weep from sheer joy. With bleary eyes she saw Sandor sit back, his scarred face flushed, his eyes full of wonder, and her heart blossomed.

 

The next moment, however, his features closed up; some kind of frustration or hatred or disappointment crept in.

 

“What's going on with him??” Sansa asked herself, confused and anguished.

 

“Thrice-damned fuck! This should have never happened. What a bloody capital mistake”, he rasped with a dark growl.

 

It was as if he had tossed her head over heel into a bucket of ice water.

 

No! No! Noooo! This couldn't be true!

 

And then, an idea popped up in her mind: by throwing herself at him so wantonly she had lured him into something he had not really wanted! He was a man with strong feelings, passions, so he had given in, but his heart was closed for her – and now, he was angry with her, because she had driven him so far.

 

More tears spilled down her cheeks, and she felt deeply ashamed for hurting him. In spite of her still damp skin and her wet hair she grabbed her smallclothes, her dress and slipped into both. Next came her shoes.

 

“Little Bird?”

 

Sansa couldn't answer. She was trembling like mad.

 

“Take your bath. Please. We shouldn't waste the water. I... I need to be alone for a while. I'll... I'll come back later.”

 

With those words she stood up and hastened towards the door.

 

“Little Bird!” The Hound called after her, but she didn't stop and ran downstairs. Outside.

 

It was already dark, so she didn't run far and cowered behind a bush close by the inn. There, she cried until she had no tears left. Then, the extreme exhaustion after the last two days washed over her, and she returned to their room, hoping with a fluttering heart that Sandor wouldn't be angry because she had run away.

 

When she reached the chamber it was quiet in there. Sansa pressed the doorhandle. Her eyes widened. The Hound's knapsack was still there... but her husband was gone.

 

“What!? Where is he?? In his state! I must go ask the innkeeper, if he has seen Sandor.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Tywin Lannister was pacing up and down his solar, and he was as ill-tempered as one could possibly think. First of all, the wound he had received during the Battle of the Blackwater still hurt horribly, but he just couldn't stay in bed any moment longer. From what he had heard his grandson was blasting the Seven Kingdoms to pieces, and he had to counteract.

 

Tywin had never shrunk back from any kind of cruelty – given that he deemed it necessary for military or family reasons or power. Joffrey was perilously different: he ENJOYED to hassle, to humiliate, to mutilate and even to kill people, and he didn't refrain from any kind of gruesomeness, no matter the political danger.

 

Little as he had liked Eddard Stark the execution had sparked off an unnecessary war. Sending a confessing traitor to the Wall would have been helpful, because it would have made many people clam up: the Young Wolf couldn't have rebelled and Stannis's basis for any royal ambitions would have been weakened. But no, the head had to be chopped off, just because it was so entertaining.

 

And now, his grandson was even more stupid! Jaime was still imprisoned, and if there was nobody left to trade him back for it was likely that Robb Stark would just kill him. And there WAS no hostage left!

 

It was kept a secret, but Arya Stark had disappeared... and Sansa Stark had been married off to The Hound (how could you possibly throw a pawn like her away like that!?), and the couple had slipped away and left for the Riverlands – exactly where the Young Wolf was lurking! What made it worse: Joffrey had not even tried to catch them and to bring them back! Just how incredibly stupid was the lad!?

 

Tywin's thoughts wandered further to Sandor Clegane. What a tragedy that such a good fighter for the Lannister purpose was a useless cripple now! The Hound had served his family well and had always been a shining example of loyalty. Yet – in spite of what everybody else thought – the man had a brain and was capable of forming an opinion of his own. Even so, bestowing Harrenhal onto him had been absolutely ridiculous! Sandor Clegane was the younger spawn of a landed knight, the grandson of a kennelmaster. He was neither in the position nor had he been raised to own and run the biggest fortress in Westeros, whether it was a cursed white elephant or not.

 

Another aspect struck the Old Lion as relevant: was The Hound still loyal? Nobody else seemed to question the point, but Tywin trusted nobody. Especially not someone who had a beautiful young woman in his clutches and was likely thinking with his engorged nether parts now.

 

Tywin hissed in frustration. Joffrey had made it clear that Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark (no, he wouldn't think of her as a lowly Clegane) should not be persecuted. As the Hand he had to obey – but he had to find out what was going on in the Riverlands. So he decided to send some men after the Hound, who should have an eye on him – and do more if necessary.

 

Now, it was a very valid question to ask who should be sent. Not many men were dispensable in times of war, even less so after the bloody and costly Battle of the Blackwater. There were almost no human resources left for the task.

 

Finally, he opted for a troop called the “Holy Hundred” under the lead of Ser Bonifer Hasty. The men had fought for King Stannis in the recent battle, but now, they had changed sides. They were a bunch of bigot (and at the same time not overly successful) fighters, who had sworn themselves to the Faith of the Seven – but when it came to the Hound, their religious orientation was their greatest asset. Sandor Clegane, who was well-known to despise the Gods and the Faith, and Ser Bonifer would certainly not fraternise under those conditions; the reports from the “Holy Hundred” would thus be probably as credible as one could expect.

 

Tywin rubbed the root of his nose with his thumb and index finger.

 

So that was that.

 

And now, he had to decide what he should do with his good for nothing grandson on the Iron Throne.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

“Excuse me, good man – have you seen my husband?” Sansa asked the innkeeper.

“Yes m'lady, he came through the common room some time ago an' asked to be lead to the stable. Wasn't in no good mood”, the publican answered and scratched his chin.

 

“He's left??”

 

“Nah. Jus' went in to check on his horse. Must still be there.”

 

Phew. That was a relief. At least, he had not tried to abandon her, blind as he was.

 

Sansa thanked the innkeeper and went to the stable as well. When she came closer to Stranger's box the horse turned its ears backwards, but kept calm and quiet. The animal knew her well enough by now.

 

There were other noises, however. Snores. And sure enough: When Sansa looked into the box she found The Hound huddled in a corner and fast asleep.

 

“He must be as exhausted as me”, she thought.

 

She only wished he had not left her alone and decided to sleep separated from her. It was always difficult at best to talk to Sandor Clegane, but with him out here they didn't have the faintest chance to sort things out before the morning. Of course, she could wake him and ask him to come back, but Sansa was sure he wouldn't do that anyway.

 

So she sighed inwardly, turned around and went back to their room. She laid down. At first, she thought she would be too upset to find any sleep... but soon her thoughts blurred and blended into incoherent dreams.

 

 

 

The next morning, Sansa rushed down to the common room early. Sandor, however, was already there, sitting in the recess of a window with outstretched legs, seemingly being done with the breakfast already. One could see that he was in a morose mood, but that was to be expected.

 

Sansa walked over.

 

“Good morning.”

 

“Morning. Eat and drink and use the privy – and then let's be gone.”

 

Sansa hastened to oblige. She sensed that the Hound was in no temper to start any interaction about what had transpired the evening before. It made her sad.

 

 

 

Later, when they were riding on Stranger again (her husband smelling even more of horse than after the usual day's ride...) and pondering in silence, Sansa decided that she wanted to talk about another topic.

 

Even though the memory sickened her she asked: “Sandor, how could you hurl your knife at that man and hit him, although you couldn't see him?”

 

“I could hear his bloody breathing. Many people know how to sneak with their feet, but they don't check on their breathing. It's not the first time I stopped a bugger like that. In the past, I survived more than one ambush in the dark. Guess why. As a child I learned to anticipate when Gregor would tiptoe into my room at night to beat me to a pulp. Fucking horrible as it was at the time – it was a useful lesson for life.”

 

Sansa was deeply touched by that open and painful answer.

 

“Then even with your blindness you're not quite as defenceless as one might believe.”

 

Sandor growled deep in his throat.

 

“Seven hells, I'm not even a bloody tenth of what I used to be. If there is an attack by a gang of robbers there is no way to save you or me. To be honest, it's a small wonder we haven't run into any bandits so far. Especially at this wartime.”

 

“I've noticed three or four burned farms at a distance – is that because of the war?”

 

“Fuck, aye, Little Bird. So far, all the inns were operating normally, but we can expect that to change. I bloody swear that – irreligious Dog that I am – I'll make the sign of the Seven, if we get as far as the God's Eye Lake unmolested!”

 

Well. If Sandor Clegane knew one thing besides killing... it was how to depict worst-case-scenarios in the darkest possible colours.

 

“In King's Landing I didn't want to hear your warnings – but you were right so often. It's unsettling.”

 

“I'm The Hound. I can smell shit through a wall.”

 

Sansa winced. Why did he always have to use that coarse language? She reflected on that for a moment. Probably he talked like that to express his frustration, but also because it was the only way to obtain a hearing for the second son of a lowly landed knight. Before her father had been arrested she'd have never understood what it meant to be on one's own and to be disrespected – but now, she did, and she'd learned it the hard way.

 

Sansa turned lightly back towards her husband and wanted to know: “Have you been told what the situation is like in Harrenhal at the moment?”

 

“Aye, though it may have changed in the meantime. The last status was that Lord Tywin had been there with my thrice-damned brother and his minions. There was also a band of sellswords, “The Bloody Mummers”, fuck, I can tell you: those men are really the scum of the earth. Anyway, the Old Lion has left, and so has Gregor. Better for him – otherwise I'd have killed him, blind or not!!”

 

“But how can you say that!? Without your eyesight you don't stand a chance!”

 

Sandor grinned sardonically behind her, so that the burned corner of his mouth started to twitch.

 

“Little Bird, you should know one thing: there may be this kind of bloody knightly propaganda, but let me tell you: in a real battle there is no fair play, and there is no honour. Forget that blasted shit of a concept. All that counts is that you're alive at the end of the day.”

 

In moments like these it was difficult to remember the more than half-buried good sides of The Hound. That he could have his honourable moments. Or his tender ones.

 

Sansa flushed a deep red and rambled on: “These “Bloody Mummers”, are they still at Harrenhal?”

 

Another dark growl behind her: “If it was as easy as that! Lord Tywin left some of his own men and the sellswords at the fortress. They didn't get along. Fucking jealousy and petty arrogance. One day, the “Bloody Mummers” returned with some northern prisoners. Someone tried to free them and to cook the guards with boiling soup alive, but it didn't work. Though I must say the idea is a bloody entertaining one. I mean, it's creative, so it deserves some respect. Well, back to what happened. Next, Tywin's men and the sellswords got so nervous that they were at each other's throats. The sodding Lannister castellan, Ser Armory Lorch, managed to win against the “Bloody Mummers”. Amongst others he killed their leader, Vargo Hoat, by putting him into a bear pit. With a hungry bear inside, of course. But some twenty sellswords or so managed to escape, and now, they roam the Riverlands. Better not come across them.”

 

“Do you know that castellan, Ser Armory Lorch?”

 

Sandor snorted.

 

“Imagine Joffrey as an adult, bloated, swinish, lowly knight. Then, you've got him.”

 

Sansa shivered and The Hound commented with his steel-on-stone voice: “I see you understand.”

 

“What will you do with him when we arrive?”

 

“Not when. If. Well. That remains to be seen. Or rather to be heard and smelled in my case. Would be nice to hang him with his own entrails, but probably we don't want to upset the bloody buggers in King's Landing by killing their man right away.”

 

Sansa shivered again and fell silent. She'd never understand how one could talk about such gruesomeness so carelessly.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Sandor was surprised that the Little Bird had... recovered enough from his... mouth job to talk to him. Even more surprising was that she actually didn't chirp any niceties, but seemed to be genuinely interested in his knowledge, perspective, opinions. Oh, aye, her ladylike sensitiveness was shining through again and again, he could clearly sense it in her reactions... but still.

 

When had he last had such an open conversation? He bloody couldn't remember. When they fell silent again he felt strangely good. In spite of the fucking disaster the evening before.

 

But after some minutes... Sansa blew it all to pieces.

 

“Sandor – do you think we'll have children in the future?”

 

Shit, what she was truly asking him was whether he intended to fuck her properly. What should he say to that!?

 

“Seven Hells, a woman like you should have some pups. A man like me shouldn't.”

 

Luckily, the Little Bird didn't ask what that actually meant. Even so, The Hound's temper had deteriorated within the blink of an eye. Unbidden pictures of him playing with some red-haired, blue-eyed, laughing children bubbled up in his mind. It was as if a mailed fist hit him square in the stomach, and his own hands clenched. Thrice-damned seven hells, he had to stop that dream! It wasn't meant for him.

 

Some time later, it started to rain, and within minutes they were soaked. Grrrrr. Of course, this had to happen – and right now, of all things!

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The girl that was called “Weasel” was sitting in her pitch black solitary cell under the Widow's Tower. Her mind meandered back to the last scene she had seen in broad daylight: how Jaqen H'gar, Rorge, Biter and some others had dangled down the gallows' ropes in the yard. By now, their bodies had been used to feed the bear.

Ser Armory Lorch had told her in detail what he had planned: first, he meant the remaining Bloody Mummers to be sent to the Bear Pit. One man every second day. Not every day. After all, the beast had to be hungry. There were still some sellswords left, and some more had been caught a day or two ago. She could hear them wail and beg for mercy like helpless children when they were led away to their death. Those men, who had been ruthless killers themselves until recently. Until the weasel soup.

 

But after the mummers... it would be time for the surviving northerners to meet their fate. She had failed them! Had failed them so thoroughly. “Weasel” wished she had her little sword “Needle” back. Then, she would show the castellan her worth!

 

But she didn't have her beloved weapon.

 

“Fear cuts deeper than swords!” she admonished herself.

 

 

 

Ser Armory Lorch had told her with a nasty grin that she'd have to wait for her own death until the day the new Master of Harrenhal arrived.

 

“There is only one God, and his name is Death. And what do we say to the God of Death? - Not today!” the girl whispered with cracked lips.

 

The castellan had also enjoyed himself while telling her with a cruel smirk: “And do you know who the new Master of Harrenhal is? No? It's The Hound, the infamous Sandor Clegane. He's a bastard of an upstart, but he does know how to kill. And he'll relish to deal with you himself. You're my little welcome present for him, you know?”

 

The girl's head sagged against the wall, and she remembered the dead butcher boy, Mycah, who had been her friend a lifetime ago. Mycah had been a better friend than Hot Pie and Gendry. He wouldn't have tucked his tail between his legs in fear like them, wouldn't have let her rot in this cell, no.

 

There were the shrill squeaking and the scurrying feet of rats to be heard in the dark. Dripdripdrip, the dampness on the stones announced.

 

With a defiant sob the girl called “Weasel” spat: “Ser Gregor, Dunsen, Polliver, Chiswyck, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei, valar morghulis. VALAR MORGHULIS!! ”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Because of the rain they had stopped early and taken up residence in an abandoned house in a little village. It was neither burned nor plundered, which could neither be said of the local inn nor the other houses. Fresh graves could be seen around the street altar of the Seven. A few refugees from further ahead of the road were resting some other rooms of the empty house. Sansa and Sandor introduced themselves as Lana and Grenn Rivers.

“You're travelling in the wrong direction!” a middle-aged, portly man named Oscar told them. He didn't seem to be overly afraid of Sandor. Most likely because The Hound was blind. And because he didn't recognize him, however this was possible with his unique burned face and size.

 

Sansa asked, referring to the man's statement: “Why is that so, good man?”

 

She had become guarded in King's Landing, but she thought that this Oscar was as trustworthy as one could expect in these dire times. After all, he had a complete family with little children at his heels, and he looked clean and trim.

 

“There are skirmishes between fighting groups of soldiers, m'lady. Someone like you, who looks like a red-haired Tully, better shouldn't bump into them. And there's a group of bandits in the northern direction as well. Only one out of ten travelling parties gets through unmolested. My wife, my children, my sister, her husband, her children and me have been incredibly lucky. But had we stayed in our place I'm sure we'd be dead already.”

 

“Is it safe here at the moment?” Sandor wanted to know.

 

“I hope so”, the man said. “And we have discovered a field with salsifies and carrots and turnips. In the backyard, there's also some parsley, thyme and sage. The children are already cutting some herbs. If you help us with harvesting a bit of the crop on the field we could all have a good, warm dinner together.”

 

At first, Sansa was a little reserved – she had never worked in a field to obtain a meal! Then, however, she thought that this was neither the time nor the place for arrogance, and she said: “If you show me what I must to – of course.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

“Fuck me sideways! The Little Bird doesn't feel it's below her to be a field worker??” Sandor thought as he was trudging after her. Who would have thought that of the fine lady, who had only dreamed of knights and songs and needlework?

 

When they arrived where the plants were Sandor had to fumble on the earth, blind as he was, and half of the time he pulled out weeds instead of the plant he had aimed for. But if the oldest daughter of Eddard Stark wasn't too fine for this task, bugger him twice, if The Lannister Hound was!

 

After a while, Oscar stated: “M'lady, it's clear as daylight that you have never done this before. Judging by your looks – ARE you of House Tully?”

 

The Little Bird laughed nervously.

 

“Yes... yes... you're actually right. A... a natural daughter of Ser Brynden Tully.”

 

Oscar erupted with hoarse laughter.

 

“HAHAHAHA, so that's why the Blackfish never wanted to marry! Had a sweetheart amongst the commoners! How very romantic!”

 

Sandor wrinkled his hooked nose. Fuck, Sansa was such a bloody bad liar! They could be grateful that her nervousness could be ascribed to her being a bastard of the Blackfish! Well, at least the Little Bird had had enough sense not to give herself away.

 

 

 

In the evening, they were all sitting around a nice fire in the kitchen and enjoying their meal. Oscar's wife had really worked magic: the vegetable stew, simple as it was, tasted bloody delicious! While they were all munching their food they exchanged information about the status on the road. Afterwards, Sansa started to sing. “Jonquil and Florian” and such rubbish. Her voice, however, was so very sweet that it caused the children to fall asleep, and even Sandor noticed how he was getting tired.

 

“Right, Little Bird, time for bed!” he finally growled.

 

Luckily, there were enough rooms for everyone: the children, the parental couples, and Sansa and himself. Even some cots had been left behind by the former owners. So they retired. No warm bath tonight like in that inn. Couldn't be helped. The Hound stretched himself. Sansa lay down, and he scrambled behind her. The blasted cot, happy as they could be to have one – was fucking narrow for the two of them, so that they'd have to sleep like two spoons. How bloody fantastic. Sandor growled inwardly.

 

Sansa seemed to have gotten accustomed enough to him to be pressed against his oversized body without panicking. And Sandor tried not to think of her sweet female scent and taste and actually attempted to sleep. At least until his efforts were blasted to all seven hells.

 

 

 

It started with a female sigh next door.

 

“Oh shit, please no!” he thought.

 

A giggle. Followed by a moan. Followed by a darker, male moan.

 

Bleeding Stranger, did Oscar's goodbrother have to fuck his wife here?

 

Sansa tensed a little against him. Shit, so she had noticed, too. Noticed and understood.

 

In the other room regular movements and gasps and moans could be heard. And the speed and the volume increased.

 

“Oh yes, please, deeper, harder!”

 

Seven hells, the idea of becoming harder was bloody contagious! His own cock was swelling against Sansa's little arse. And his wife surely had to notice by now. It accounted for her deeper, faster breathing. That did nothing to help him relax. The memory of her wonderful cunt and her lustful songs were too fresh in his memory.

 

“Ahhh, you feel so good! Put your legs around me!”

 

Fuck, couldn't they get to an end? How long did the man want to pump into his wife?

 

To The Hound's distress the sodding bugger seemed to be a very capable and... enduring lover. Sandor's own cock was already leaking, just by listening and fantasizing of the Little Bird's body that was pressed so flush against him. What on earth was that other man doing? The woman was freaking out now. The Hound hoped it would be over ... but no. The damned twerp wasn't contented with one female orgasm.

 

Sandor was close to getting up and beating the man's face to mush.

 

Instead, he growled into Sansa's ear: “We'll both roll around now.”

 

“But you...”

 

“We'll. Both. Roll. Around. Now!” he snarled through gritted teeth and moved his body accordingly. In this way, his cock wasn't pressing against the Little Bird's bum any longer. He was still so hard that it hurt, but it was better this way. No, he wouldn't give in to his primal instincts as he had done before. If he could handle his need for alcohol and withstand, so could he with regard to Sansa! He wouldn't overstress her again!

 

“Aaaaaah! Yesssssssoooooohhhyessss! Gaaaaaaaaads!!”

 

A simultaneous, deep, long groan.

 

At last the couple in the other room had had enough. Even so, it took Sandor two more hours until he had relaxed – and softened – enough so he could fall asleep. By then, Sansa was already snoring slightly against his broad, muscled back. A seemingly perfect little lady. Snoring. Who'd ever fucking believe that? Those were the last coherent things Sandor managed to think before slumber took him.

 

The next morning, Sandor felt immediately that something was wrong with the Little Bird.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

Sansa curled into a tight ball, although she half fell off the cot. Gods! The pain!

“Little Bird!? What is it?”

Within a second Sandor had wrapped his arm around her, but another cramp bloomed in her tummy, so she needed a moment until she could speak.

“Moon... Blood”, she gasped.

“What!? Your moon blood causes this fucking pain?”

Sansa nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“The same pain. Only... much worse this time.”

“Can I help you somehow?”

Sandor sounded really worried.

“Warmth. I need warmth. On my tummy. To relax. And perhaps... the women... can prepare me a herbal infusion. Camomile. And I need some... rags.”

“Yes. Right, little bird. I'll go ask them.”

Clumsily, Sandor got out of bed and groped his way down towards the kitchen. Some twenty minutes later he came back with Oscar's wife in tow. She handed Sansa some tea.

When she was gone Sandor rummaged in his knapsack.

“Here they are! Can't be used for Stranger's hooves again, they're quite worn through, but they're clean. They were washed in that other inn. Good that I didn't throw them away. Here are the rags you wanted.”

Sansa took them and placed them in her smallclothes. Since Sandor was blind she didn't feel too ashamed to do that in his presence.

Then, the Hound spoke up again, his voice a little hesitant: “The women downstairs... about the warmth... they said I should put my hands on your tummy and massage you there...”

At once, Sansa's heartbeat accelerated and she cut in: “Oh yes, that's a good idea! Could you do that for me?”

“Do you really want me to...?”

“Oh yes, please!”

“Right... then... lie down!”

So they both crept back onto the cot, Sansa snuggled against her husband's back, and he grabbed around her middle.

“I've never done that”, he admitted grumpily, but Sansa only answered by putting her hands on his as they rested on her tummy.

Sandor was indeed a bit undecided and clumsy at first, not knowing what she liked. So she told him when he was making small, slow circles that this felt good. After some minutes, she could sit up enough to drink her tea. Then, she lay back again and enjoyed the gentle ministrations of those big hands. At some point they stilled on her tummy; they were just there, warm and soothing.

To her surprise she felt Sandor's breathing deepen and become slower – he had actually fallen asleep again! It made Sansa smile. Her pain lessened to some extent, and now, she was able to enjoy his closeness. And how very good he felt against her! It was strange – somehow their bodies seemed to fit.

Sansa thought back to the throne room when she had had to pick a husband, and it actually made her sick to think of any other man. She suddenly thought that no-one else – except Varys, for obvious reasons – would have been so considerate with regard to the bedding. She thought of Ser Ilyn Payne's and Ser Dontos's touches and shuddered in disgust. And Baelish? He wasn't hard to look upon, but now that she had made a first experience with Sandor's mouth on her womanhood and her own passion she couldn't for the life of her imagine the man with the goatee do that to her and her anywhere close to liking it. No. It was so strange, and their start had been rough and it would probably always be difficult with this big, scarred man behind her, but... strange as it was Sansa was happy now that she had chosen him. In spite of everything.

 

***

 

There had been no travellers from the north, which was a fucking bad sign. It meant that the road was still infested with scoundrels.

Oscar and his family had intended to leave again to travel to King's Landing where they had a relative. Or perhaps they'd even try to reach the Free Cities, if they couldn't stay there. Their departure was delayed, however, since one of the five children, a girl, fell ill with a fever, so they decided to stay two or three more days.

The Little Bird was happy enough that they'd have company for a little while longer. Her pain had become better as well, and that was a good thing. Sandor only hoped that next month she wouldn't suffer so much. He could still remember Cersei to be in an especially foul mood for a few days each moon. Having seen Sansa suffer so much, he could understand things a little better – and it had also shown him the Little Bird's worth, since even in her pain she hadn't snapped at him or been difficult.

Fuck, the way she had gratefully allowed him to massage her tummy was a little wonder for him. She didn't resent his touch any longer! At least not his “decent” touches. And it was so lovely to have her tucked away in his arms at night! He had only known grown men huddled against him during their campaigns to keep warm. He could still remember that one man had tried to... touch him in search of a shieldmate. Since the only one allowed to take his cock in hand was Sandor himself the man had been in search of a few teeth in spite of a shieldmate soon enough.

Well, with regard to rubbing his cock he'd gladly make an exception for the Little Bird, to be honest. Seven hells, she was pecking more and more holes into his armour. When the lovebirds next door repeated their prolonged, intensive lovemaking every single sodding night it drew him mad with need, and he was remembered constantly of how divine Sansa tasted and of how wonderful her song was.

She seemed to have accepted his regular hardening and didn't flinch from him. At the same time, she didn't react noticeably at all and neither did she address the topic, so he was insecure about her attitude here, and he didn't want to press her. He was not worthy of her, true, but at the same time he was not his buggering brother who wouldn't give a damn about what she might be feeling or thinking. Well, her lack of... active enthusiasm with regard to getting bedded was still better than some bloody air-headed chirping.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

 

Sansa was standing in the kitchen and cutting vegetables together with Lya, Oscar's sister. The woman was quite a few years younger than him and rather small and wiry, with comparatively short, dark hair. The hairstyle reminded Sansa suddenly of Arya, and she hoped and wished the unruly little Stark sister was somewhere in safety.

After some time, Lya wanted to know: “How long have you been married to Grenn, Lana?”

 

It felt still strange to be addressed with a false name.

 

“A short while.”

 

Better not be too precise here.

 

“You like him very much, don't you?”

 

Sansa wasn't sure what to say to that.

 

“He's a rough man and grumpy – but he's good. I could have chosen somebody else, but I didn't want to.”

 

Lya laughed throatily: “Oh, I can totally understand that! He's so impressive! The scars are extremely ugly, and his blindness doesn't make it easy, I guess, but I could imagine that the rest of his body makes up for that.”

 

Sansa blushed fiercely and mumbled: “You're right... he's impressive.”

 

“Down THERE, too?”

 

Sansa choked. What!? Had she understood correctly? Had that woman really asked her about the Hound's... the Hound's manhood?

 

Lya giggled: “Oh my, this is still quite new to you, I guess?”

 

“Y...yes.”

 

“No need to be ashamed, though! We women have to exchange information. If we don't do that the men only thrust themselves in a few times and deposit their seed, which isn't so very exciting for the woman. If you get to know some details it'll be better for you both.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Sansa's voice sounded very small, because she didn't know what to say to that.

 

Lya looked at her sharply.

 

“You aren't still a maid, are you? He doesn't only have an affliction with his eyes, but also with his member?”

 

“No! No. It's just... I was always told that this is private.”

 

“Stupid septas, I guess? Pah, they're deaf themselves but still think themselves apt to lecture you about music. They don't have a clue! Tell me now, does your Grenn do something to make you happy?”

 

Sansa's ears were purple now.

 

“He... strokes me. And he... kisses me.”

 

“Down there, too?”

 

Sansa couldn't even answer, only nod.

 

“Ah, that's very good! So many men don't do that, and then, it may hurt, especially in the beginning. Right, so he'll know about your nub, too.”

 

“The what?”

 

Lya started to explain patiently, and Sansa's eyes went wide.

 

But what came next shocked her even more: “Have you ever done the same to him?”

 

“The same what?”

 

“No? That's strange, men usually like it to be touched like that.”

 

Lya went on and described some more. She also talked about different positions and rhythms and places.

 

Sansa's head was swimming and she gasped in disbelief. In a pond? Against a wall? In a chair? On a table? At once, she had a good look at the table where she was cutting the vegetables. Then, she suddenly remembered Sandor's crude comment to the guard back in King's Landing about consummating their marriage on horseback, if necessary. Gooooods!

 

And still, Lya had not finished.

 

“Judging by your reactions you may not be a maid, but you don't know much about lovemaking so far.”

 

Holy Seven, Sansa felt so ashamed!

 

“You... you see”, she stammered and had to remind herself of Sandor's false name, “Grenn is very... reserved... sort of...”

 

Lya nodded at that.

 

“Oh, I see, you're still so young, and he doesn't want to get you with child too soon, so that the risk of a miscarriage is smaller. But he doesn't have to pull out in time to spill the seed on the earth. Yes, that is one way of how to do it, but it ruins the fun, if he has to pay attention all the time. Using hands and mouths is an alternative, and a really pleasuring one, but you could also try your back opening. You won't get pregnant there.”

 

“The what?”

 

It took a moment for Sansa, because the concept was so alien to her that she didn't grasp it at once. But then, her eyes widened in shock once more.

 

“THERE?”

 

“Yes, it's possible. Quite a few people like that. Others don't. You simply have to find out for yourselves. And finally, there's still the Moon Tea that can prevent pregnancy. It's not completely safe, but it's better than a turtle's armour.”

 

“And... what is this kind of tea?”

 

Lya grinned: “Usually, it's only the maesters and the wise women, who provide it, but where we used to live there was an old herbalist, a very kind lady, and she told me all the details when she realised that the residents would be scattered in the course of the War of the Five Kings. So let me tell you about the herbs and their application now, too...”

 

 

 

Some minutes later, Lya had to laugh at Sansa's rather... discomposed face.

 

“Oh my, I guess it was all a little much for you, right?”

 

“Erm... yes. Possibly.”

 

“I know, but we want to leave tomorrow. Little Kessla is much better, you see, so we likely won't get another chance to talk in private. And your Grenn will be grateful for the theoretical lessons – once he experiences the outcome.”

 

Sansa swallowed hard.

 

“Oh... I'm... not really sure.”

 

“Don't you worry, Lana, he's so besotted with you – he'll absolutely like it! One only has to see the way he looks at you, even if he can't see you. His pupils widen whenever he hears you talk. Sweet, that.”

 

Sansa couldn't believe what she was hearing: “Are you sure? He has never said a thing about it.”

 

That caused Lya to stop.

 

“Really? Oh, well, I guess it must have something to do with his... ailments. Has he been blind and burned for a long time?”

 

“Blind – no. He only lost his eyesight in a fight recently. But he got his scars when he was still a very little boy.”

 

“Ah, that explains a lot. He really does look quite the fighter. And if he was burned so badly as a child I'd wager he's had lots of negative experiences, and he's afraid of showing any deeper feelings. In that case, you've got to be careful with him. Imagine you had to tame an animal. Have you ever tamed an animal?”

 

“Yes!”

 

Sansa thought of poor Lady, and her heart went out to the big man that was her husband now.

 

“That's fine! You have to show him that you like him and that he can trust you without pressing him. I had to do the same with my sweetheart, because his heart had been broken by someone else before – and now, he's the most faithful person you could think of!”

 

That gave Sansa pause. So far, she had never thought Sandor might actually have positive feelings for her – in spite of the way how he had kissed and licked her to the Seven Heavens that one night. Was he really in the process of overcoming his lost love? Could she have a better relationship with him?

 

She thought of the intimate things they had experienced, of how he had enjoyed them so very much before he had shut himself off from her. And there were the nights when she could feel him harden against her so regularly. He WAS in need for sure, even if he never really bedded her. Was Lya right then? That she had to show him he could trust her, even with regard to... the marriage bed?

 

There was a strange pulsating feeling between her thighs now, and she felt strangely slippery there. Before, she wouldn't have known what it meant, but thanks to Lya Sansa knew those sensations for what they were: signs of arousal. She was still ashamed to some extent because of that – her comparative innocence and her education were too deeply ingrained; but at the same time she didn't try to suppress these things any longer. Still... how could she approach Sandor with all of this?

 

 

 

Somehow, Sansa was sure that the Hound wouldn't take it well, if she just spoke about undying love and the like. That would have been exaggerated, too much like one of those romantic songs he detested – even more so, since she herself wasn't sure what she felt for him. He would only become angry about something like that and flinch from her. No. Sansa knew she had to be more subtle.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 “Why are you fo fad?”

 

Sandor stopped digging out parsnips and froze.

 

“What!?”

 

“Why are you fo fad?”

 

A child's voice. It sounded female, but the Hound wasn't sure. Anyway. One of Oscar's brats. Or a niece.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“I'm Beffie. Can't you fee?”

 

Ah, yes. Now, he remembered. The one with the bloody speech defect. Only he hadn't paid her any attention so far.

 

“No, I can't see. I'm blind.”

 

“Blind?”

 

“Aye. I'm ill. I can't see a thing.”

 

“Ill? Like my fifter Keffla?”

 

Sandor growled.

 

“Well. Yes, sort of. Only your sister is getting better. I'm not.”

 

“Oh. Vat'f why you're fad ven, right?”

 

Sandor sighed inwardly, but at the same time, he was confused. Children never addressed him, because they were afraid of him – so he didn't really know how to react to this girl. She must be simply too small to understand any complex problems, but he didn't know how to put an answer into words that were simple enough to be understood by her. Another aspect was that the Hound usually didn't think or talk about his feelings, which made a reaction even more difficult.

 

His mouth started to twitch.

 

Suddenly, he heard the girl giggle.

 

“What now!?” he demanded to know.

 

“Hihihihi, can you do vat again wif your mouf? When it twitfes it lookf like ve nuvvle of a bunny!”

 

Seven. Bleeding. Hells.

 

Perhaps the girl wasn't blind, but surely she had as much of a fucking visual defect as she had a speech defect.

 

“I'm the hound! You will not compare me to a sodding bunny, understood!?” he snarled, giving accidentally his identity away, and thought: “Now, I've scared the shit it of her. Good. I only hope the others haven't heard me.”

 

“Mommy fayv I mufn't fout like vat. Fo you muvn't do vat eiver. It'f not good for ve blood, and it'f not nife. But you can really bellow like a dog. Bow-wow! Bow-wow! I like puppiev, too, fee?”

 

Sandor was nothing short of flabbergasted while the girl in front of him was producing some more happy barking sounds.

 

Fuck, the girl had to be kind of balmy! Grown men shrank back from him in fear, and for good reason! Aye, he had killed children before – criminal boys who had ambushed him and his troops with a horde of fellow rogues and bandits, or he had done it on royal orders; but however irritated he was now, he couldn't slay a girl whose only mistake it was to be wrong in the garret.

 

“Bessie?”

 

“Yef?”

 

“I've got to work. Be quiet and leave me alone.”

 

“Pleave.”

 

“What?”

 

“You muft fay “pleave”. Havn't your mommy told you?”

 

Sandor was close to despair now.

 

Since he had no intention to talk about his mother whatsoever he hissed and spat: “PLEASE then. And now: off with you!!”

 

“Fee you later ven!”

 

The Hound heard some hopping sounds and childish humming that told him the girl was kind of jigging away. At long last! Sandor's nerves felt strangely frayed at the ends now. It took him a few minutes until he had composed himself and could focus on harvesting parsnips again. The other adults had seemingly retreated to the house with their crop, because no-one could be heard, and no-one addressed him and asked him about being the Hound.

 

A little later, when he had just come to the conclusion that he had done enough, there were treacherous hopping sounds again.

 

“Look!”

 

Fuck. That girl Bessie again.

 

“I've told you I can't see!” he snarled.

 

“Oh, yef, I forgot. Wait!”

 

All of a sudden, a pudgy little hand grabbed his huge, calloused paw and pressed something into it before he could even flinch.

 

“Here!”

 

“What's that, girl?”

 

“Flowerv! I picked fome for you, becauve you were fo fad! Hm, you can't fee vem now, vat'f a pity – but you can fmell vem!”

 

Sandor was spellbound. He had been picked flowers?

 

That was so far beyond his scope that he didn't know how to react. Why, he couldn't even snarl at the girl! Fuck, she had caught him with his pants down, metaphorically speaking.

 

Lacking any other idea he finally opted for decency: “Thank you, Bessie.”

 

The words felt awkward on his tongue, because he wasn't used to them.

 

“Fine! It'f fo nife vat you like ve flowerv! And you are nife, too! You're my friend now!”

 

Suddenly, he felt little arms around his leg. Bessie, who was still so very short in comparison to himself, was embracing him the only way she could!

 

It was a major shock for Sandor. Being gifted with a present and being hugged and called “friend” simply didn't belong to his range of experiences. He just stood there, twitching mouth slightly agape and tried to... bear the girl's incomprehensible signs of affection. In the end, he tried to come up with a gesture that matched hers somehow and he ruffled Bessie's downy locks awkwardly.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Oscar and his goodbrother were coming into the kitchen, chatting animatedly about the next day when they wanted to leave the house. Sansa looked up and waited for Sandor, but he didn't follow the two men.

 

Confused, she asked: “Where's Grenn?”

 

Oscar looked up.

 

“Oh. Not behind us. I thought he was following. Looks as if he hasn't noticed we wanted to return. Or he wanted to harvest some more. Shall I go and fetch him?”

 

Sansa shook her head.

 

“No, that's not necessary. I'll do that. But thanks.”

 

With some swift steps she left the house and made for the field where the men had been working.

 

Suddenly, she stopped in mid-stride, eyes widening, and her hand flew to her mouth in surprise. She saw little Bessie right in front of Sandor and she was handing him some flowers with a broad smile. The expression on the Hound's face was absolutely priceless, and Sansa had to suppress a giggle. Next, Sansa watched Bessie hug Sandor's leg, and a completely confused big man patted the girl's hair.

 

Suddenly, Sansa's heart started to beat faster, and she thought she was melting into a puddle. Bessie had Lya's dark hair colour. Or Sandor's, if you squinted a little. For the first time, Sansa envisaged the huge, coarse warrior as a possible future father. He had told her that a man like him shouldn't have any children – but was that true? No, she couldn't believe that any more.

 

Sansa felt the strangest tug in her stomach. She started to realise that since everybody had told her it was the female role model she had always expected to have children one day and had told herself she wanted to have some – but right now, she felt the deep longing to really have a child for the first time. She looked from Bessie to Sandor again, and then, she started to notice a weird kind of gentle warmth deep within her core, and she had the strangest insight: she wanted Sandor Clegane to be the father of her children, unbelievable as it was! If anyone had asked her why she thought the Hound could make a good father after all she wouldn't have known what to say.

 

 

 

From where she was standing she called: “Bessie! There you are! Shouldn't you go home back to your mommy? And can you bring my husband along?”

 

The girl let go of the Hound's leg, turned around, beamed and laughed: “Hello Lana! Yef, coming!”

 

At that, Bessie snatched Sandor's hand and pulled him towards the house. Sandor was still so disintegrated that he didn't even show the slightest sign of opposition and accepted being led by a little girl.

 

Now, Sansa was actually biting her lips so as not to let the slightest giggle escape her mouth. The scene was simply too hilarious! At the same time it became clear how little the Hound knew about positive human interaction. Sansa resolved to be kind towards him and to help improve their forced marriage. Silently, she thanked Lya for her good advice.

 

When the girl and the warrior arrived where she was standing Sansa said: “Hurry up now, Bessie and run home to your mommy so that she doesn't get worried! I'll take my husband's arm and lead him.”

 

With a squeal of laughter Bessie rushed ahead and darted towards the entrance door. Sansa clasped Sandor's arm.

 

After a moment, he growled: “Fuck me sideways – that brat was giving me the pip. Here, take those bloody flowers she has picked for me. If we get back without them she'll only ask about them and continue to go on my nerves.”

 

A short while ago the Hound's coarse words would have upset Sansa, but now, she couldn't be bothered any more. She even smiled instead. Sandor couldn't see her, but she saw that he noticed her reaction was different – that she didn't flinch from his snarl.

 

“Fuck, Little Bird, what's up? No chirping?”

 

“The Little Bird is thinking about our future nest.”

 

Sandor stopped for a moment, surprised, then growled something unintelligible. Next, he resumed walking, but didn't ask any more questions.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

Had all the females around him wacked out? This wanton Lya going to fucking extremes at night, her daughter Bessie not being afraid of him – and now the Little Bird pondering a joint future. Bloody seven hells! What would happen next? Would his shit smell of roses? Well, at least this thrice-damned Oscar and his clan would leave the other day.

During supper Sandor was even more morose and taciturn than usual and as soon as he had wolfed down his food at an enormous speed he asked Sansa to take him to their room. He could already imagine Bessie approach him again and ask him to play with a bloody doll or something like that. Better to take no fucking risks.

When he and Sansa arrived in their room he sat down on the cot and grumbled: “You can go back to the others. I know you haven't finished eating and you want to spend the evening with them, because they're leaving tomorrow. I'll get along just fine.”

Actually, he meant to use the time alone for a good hand-job to let off some steam.

“Oh, how mindful of you! And you've got everything you need? Good!”

Sandor expected to hear her retreating steps at once, so her next action caught him completely off hand. Suddenly, she must have bent forward, because a delicate hand was laid on his neck, which sneaked up into his hair; her divine scent became stronger... and then there was an incredibly warm and sweet little explosion on his mouth. It was over within a heartbeat, but it left Sandor with his mouth agape and his heart thundering in his chest.

Fuck!

What!?

She...

Had she just...?

Holy shit!

She had kissed him!

Square on his burned mouth!

And then, he did finally hear her retreating steps and a merry call from the corridor: “Good night then! Sleep well!”

Utterly puzzled, Sandor lifted a hand to his lips. His brain was still dumbfounded, but it finally told him that he had been given a good-night kiss. The only one who had ever touched him like that had been Syrella, his long dead sister. But he couldn't think of her now. He could only think of the Little Bird.

Why had she done that? Why had she kissed him? He simply didn't get it. Kisses were signs of affection. Even much more than hugs. They were a sign of... intimacy. Even a hard, coarse man like him knew that. Then why in all seven hells should the Little Bird kiss him? It made no sense. Was it some... sense of duty, some streak of her Tully heritage, and she thought that she owed her husband a kiss? Until today that would have been the most likely explanation for him, but the carefree voice with which she had wished him a good night and her hand in his hair spoke a different language.

So... which other reason could she have had?

Like a bolt from the blue, Sandor had an idea: Sansa was seemingly discovering the first signs of her evolving womanhood. And since they were married – however awkwardly their sodding match had been made – she automatically turned towards him. Simply for the reasons that there were no real male alternatives around and that her conscience unknowingly told her that he was the one and only she could possibly address without her bloody morals interfering.

Only... how should he react to that? Their marriage wasn't meant to last long. Soon, Sansa would return to her family and be free of him. Free to really fall in love with a better man than him. Or... free to be put into another cage. Who knew. It was clear as daylight that others would want to have her for her claim and her social position. And probably they wanted a nice vessel to fuck. And that would be it.

The Hound knew that his and Sansa's forced relationship would be the only marriage, the only togetherness, the only bond he'd ever experience. An ugly brute like him wasn't meant for this. So he resolved to accept any morsel of friendliness she'd be willing to feed him, and he'd try to be as careful as it was possible for a rough man like him for as long is their wedded life lasted. At least once in his life she should be cherished for the person she was – and not for what she represented. He didn't have a clue how to do it, how to contain his ever burning anger and how to be patient with her. Yet, he swore to himself he'd try his very best. Life was neither fair nor a song, so he didn't have to give much, but Sansa deserved no less than his most sincere attempt, even more so after what she had experienced on the hands of bloody inbred Joffrey.

Then, the Hound's thoughts swayed from these general meditations to more recent occurrences. Sandor didn't want to profane the heavenly moment, but memories of him kissing and licking Sansa between her legs, of her writhing under him and of her crying out her release flooded him. He couldn't do anything against it. Shit, his hard cock needed some relief now. It had started to hurt.

Desperately he started to tug on his codpiece...



Of brooding, memories, resolve and vine

 

After he had released and could concentrate again Sandor started to think about things again, and he soon got the imression he was running in circles. He felt strangely fragmented. In the past, life had been simple and there had only been few relevant columns that had upheld and marked his life: He had to obey. He had to fight. He was a killer. He was feared. He was successful and knew how to survive. Knights were bastards. Gregor was the worst bastard of all.

And all of a sudden, a Little Bird had fluttered into his life, had unnerved him with her naivety, had touched him with her gentleness, had impressed him with her ability to endure – and finally, she had even chosen him for marriage.

One part of Sandor's brain claimed he WAS Sansa's husband now; since she had flowered she was old enough to be bedded, and his body demanded to consummate their marriage. No other man would hesitate a second to take her, and Sandor's lust was undeniable.

But life wasn't easy to understand any more, and not only because of his blasted blindness. Far from it.

Sandor had started to feel the need to do what was best for Sansa, inexplicable as it might be for a rough, remorseless warrior like him. Only... what WAS best? He didn't know a thing about women and about relationships.

 

A memory from Casterly Rock came back to his mind. A very young soldier named Terry had entered the soldier's barracks one evening and started to get himself pissed with a bottle of strongwine. An elder soldier named Toby, who had been so incompetent with his sword that he was only ever allowed to fight at the rear, but who had had no less then four consecutive wives, three lovers and seven daughters (and more sons and bastards as well...), had asked Terry what had been wrong with him.

The youngster had answered that his sweetheart had broken up with him as a direct consequence of him taking her maidenhood. Terry had not understood, because they had been together for three months and had been so very much in love and had pleasured each other in many different ways before; the girl had even told him she wanted to do it with him – and when he had obliged, she had suddenly started to screech and to wail and had sent him to all seven hells.

Toby had just laughed his raucous laughter, and Sandor would never forget the man's next words: “Young women are like vine – you cannot harvest sweet grapes during the first season. They need one year to flirt, one year to fondle and only in the third year are they ripe to be fucked. The problem is: in all their innocence they don't even know this and think themselves to be ready before they actually are.”

Sandor's memories returned to Sansa, to how she had smiled at Joffrey and later at Ser Loras.

“ One year to flirt...”

Sansa had matured a lot in many ways, if he was honest with himself – but even so, it wasn't enough.

“ One year to fondle...”

That was likely her recent level. Fuck, and he did want to fondle her again, like he had done in that inn. But he wouldn't be able to stand it, if he – the bloody ruffian – did something too early, or the wrong way, so Sansa couldn't stand his touch any more. He had only ever wanted her to look at him; now, he realised that what he had wanted was her respect. He couldn't do without it. He had never given a shit about what other people thought about him, but Sansa... she was so good, so lovely... Seven hells, he needed some Dornish Red!

The next moment, he admonished himself he wouldn't drown himself in alcohol. Sansa should never see him so miserable again.

 

Another unbidden memory bubbled up in his mind. His only intimate encounters with women had been with whores. A few daring kitchen wenches had approached him at the Red Keep, and Sandor had known them to spy for either the queen, the Master of the Whispers, or the damned Mockingbird, so he had never reacted to any of their offers. Or rather barked at them in such a way that it had caused piss to trickle down their legs....

Over the last years, he had only met two harlots at Alayayas', Khameena and Zinya, two exotic beauties – they had accepted his coin without too much revulsion at the ruin that was his face, and they had been clean, healthy and discreet. Of course, both had been drinking moon tea by the gallons, but in spite of that, Khameena had become pregnant by one of her customers.

When Sandor had returned from his voyage to the north he had spent his first night off duty at the brothel and had bathed with Zinya. Usually, he had only paid for a quick tumble, but that night, he had felt the urgent need to clean and to relieve himself. He had also brought along a little fox fur from Winterfell, which could serve as a blanket for the little one, a kind of a welcome present, so to speak. At some point, at the first light of dawn, Sandor had asked his bedfellow how Khameena was, and Zinya had told him that she had died during the birthing process – and the baby along with her.

It had been the last time Sandor had laid a hand on a woman.

Now, he was thinking of how big an unborn Clegane baby might be, and of Sansa's increasingly female, but still slender, delicate body. He also considered how Lady Lannister's death on giving birth to the Imp had embittered Lord Tywin, and suddenly, he felt something like... compassion for the Old Lion. Bah, he had to stop that at once; the man was the least one to deserve such feelings!

The point, however, was that Sandor felt that Sansa was really still too young for a child, especially his child, and moon tea and the like were no safe solution when it came to preventing a pregnancy. The Hound had committed many atrocities over the years – but killing a wife by putting a child in her belly would be the one thing he'd never be able to forget or to ignore. Losing Sansa in this way would break him to pieces, he suddenly realised. Fuck, his feelings for her were deeper than he'd ever have believed!

And then, there was one last thing he wasn't to forget: when the Little Bird returned to her family they would take a child away from her to sell Sansa off more easily to some other man. The Young Wolf would never accept a Clegane baby – and a possible future husband even less.

 

The greatest responsibility Sandor had ever taken was to lead a unit of soldiers into battle. Now, his responsibility was Sansa. He himself was doomed, there was no doubt about that – but the Little Bird's life was not necessarily forfeit; and whereas other people had only ever clipped her wings he wanted her to spread them and to rise into a sunny sky. Even if it meant he had to keep his cock under control.

***

 

Chapter Text

 

Closeness and farewell

 

Sansa was smiling all evening as if she'd swallowed the sun. She had given Sandor a kiss! And he had not been angry! And it had felt and tasted good! So very good indeed – even short as the kiss had been.

She was sitting there together with Oscar and his families. The portly man's children were already abed, recovered Kessla was dozing on Lya's lap, and Bessie had clambered onto her own one and had asked to be sung a good night song. Sansa obliged happily. After a while, the girls had fallen asleep, and she and Lya took them to bed.

The wiry woman shot Sansa a knowing glance and whispered: “I feel you've made some progress with a certain big man.”

Sansa giggled and nodded.

“Good for you! I really wish the two of you all the best!”

“Thank you, the same to you!”

They went back to the kitchen where the others were sitting and Oscar told her about the relative in King's Landing that they wanted to reach. Sansa only hoped they'd all find their measure of happiness. At the same time, she was a little sad that she'd have to part with the people she had made friends with.

When it was getting late they finally called it a day and retreated to their respective beds.

Sansa entered hers and Sandor's bedroom. The Hound was snoring on the cot, obviously very relaxed and sound asleep.

Sansa peeled off her dress noiselessly, until only her shift and her smallclothes were left. She was relieved that she had front laces so that she didn't have to disturb her husband's slumber for help.

Finally, she slipped under the blanket and behind Sandor's massive body. He was only wearing his smallclothes, which meant that she could snuggle against his broad back and feel his skin there.

Hmmm... she liked his musky scent and nuzzled his hair slightly with her nose. And his skin was wonderfully warm. Yes, he was hard and muscled, neither soft nor sweet. But still, it was so very, very lovely to touch him.

Strange. Back in the throne room in King's Landing she'd have never believed it could possibly be so nice to be close to the man people called 'the Hound'. Yet, he was obviously much more than a reflection of the animal on his sigil.

Sansa laid her cheek against Sandor's back and allowed her lips to rest against his flesh. It wasn't a kiss as such, but it meant much to her. Deep down, she hoped there would be many and more gentle touches in the future. She wondered if it could all work out between them – in spite of them being so very different.

Apart from that... what did Sandor Clegane mean to her? What did she feel for him?

Sansa remembered their meeting on the road, down from Winterfell to King's Landing. She hadn't seen him and mistaken his big, warm hand for her father's for a moment. Over the last months, the Hound had been the weirdest kind of guardian for her. He had always been close, either in the open or in the shadows. Even before Joffrey had glued them together in marriage they had touched surprisingly often, come to think of it, and he had spoken more honestly to her than any other.

Yes, he had snarled and been incredibly rude more often than not, and it had hurt her repeatedly. When he had been drunk it had been worse. But now, Sansa thought back on Lya's words, that Sandor must have been hurt in many ways that went beyond the act of burning the face. Had he really endured so much that he was so very scarred on the inside?

Then again, Sansa knew she had her own scars by now. On her back, but also on her soul – and the latter ones were actually worse, if she was honest. Sandor knew what had been done to her. Had seen it himself. He was the only more or less well-meaning person who could really understand. Sansa realised that her brother Robb and her mother wouldn't be able to understand her the way her husband could. Their joint time in King's Landing had formed a bond between them. Its nature wasn't quite clear yet, but Sansa felt that it was already deeper and stronger than she would have expected... and that it was still growing. And if Lya was right it was mutual.

It didn't mean that their relationship was an easy one. But in an awkward way the basis felt just right. It could be neither explained nor explained away. And it felt good. Peaceful somehow.

Sansa inhaled her husband's scent again. In his sleep, Sandor utterd a tiny, dark, contented growl, deep down in his throat. It caused Sansa to smile warmly against his back before her thoughts grew dizzy and she fell asleep.

 

***

 

It was a pressing bladder that woke Sandor. He couldn't say if it was already morning, but judging by the fresh air mingled with a streak of warmth across his feet, which could be a sunbeam coming in through the window, and the choir of birds chirping like mad it felt like a definite possibility.

He yawned lazily, for once not quite as depressed as usual that he was only surrounded by darkness, and realised that Sansa had rolled onto him once more and lay sprawled half across him. Her thigh was pressing directly on his bladder. Seven hells, no wonder he was thinking he'd explode any moment! He wiggled a little so that her leg was a bit more to the side, and he could allow himself to enjoy the closeness with his wife for at least a few more minutes.

Down in the kitchen the Hound could hear some sounds from the adults and the five children. He could even detect little Bessie's happy voice. No doubt: the others were preparing their departure.

Ah, well, it wasn't his Little Bird's departure. Not yet. So he didn't care overly.

Hmmmm! Sansa's silky tresses were caressing his skin since he was only wearing his smallclothes, and her sweet face was resting on his chest. Sandor remembered her gentle kiss and thought that he'd give his eyesight a second time if only he could live with Sansa as wife and husband as normally as other couples did. Yet, he also thought of her bloody family, of the other noble families, of the fucking war... they all wouldn't allow him to be happy with the Little Bird. Never.

It pained him to think of the future, so he was glad when Sansa distracted him by uttering a tiny sigh.

Immediately, Sandor asked himself how he should treat her in everyday life... and especially right now, if he meant to be good to her. Well... He only had his experiences with animals as a reference point for patience and gentleness. Right... how would he treat a puppy that had shown him some initial acceptance? Erm. He'd pat the head, fondle the animal behind its ears and say some soothing words. Could the same work with regard to Sansa?

Hesitantly, he moved a hand, trailed her hair upwards to her head and sneaked into the silky curls until he had found an ear. Then, he trailed the outer rim of an auricle. Sansa twitched with a little giggle. Sandor was insecure. Was he doing it wrong?

Then, Sansa moved her head lightly and rested her chin on his chest.

“Gummoargn, Sandor”, she murmured, not unkindly. His heartbeat started to accelerate. At least she didn't flinch! Again his hand probed a little and he found her earlobe. Tentatively, he stroked it with his index finger. Bleeding stranger, his former fellow soldiers would be pissing themselves from laughter, if they ever knew how clueless he was around women!

Still, Sansa didn't avoid his touch and uttered something akin to a relaxed purr. Holy shit!

It was only good that he wasn't aroused for once. The evening before he had pleasured himself thrice and judging by the stickiness in his smallclothes he seemed to have had a... productive morning erection, which had left him so spent that his cock seemed to have gone into hibernation. Fuck, that was even better at present, otherwise patience would have been impossible!

“Is the Little Bird not yet ready for the morning song?” he asked in a low rumble.

“The Little Bird is too satisfied with the nest to lift a wing”, Sansa answered languidly.

Whoa, she was so relaxed! And she didn't reject him!

His finger moved away from her ear and trailed down her jawline ever so slowly.

Suddenly, Sansa moved her face towards his hands and kissed his fingers. Fuck, what...?

Sandor couldn't believe it.

He could only freeze in wonder.

“Have you slept well?” Sansa asked.

“I was as dead as a doornail.”

Another little giggle.

“You didn't even wake up when I sneaked into bed.”

He uttered a low growl and found himself wanting to get another kiss. Sansa, however, was getting more awake now.

“Oh my, Sandor, I think I need to go to the privy. And I can hear the others downstairs. They're packing. We need to go and bid them farewell.”

“I need a piss, too.”

Just at that moment, there were jigging steps in the corridor and a heartbeat later, there was a knock on their door. Next, it flew open and Bessie stormed in.

“Good mooooorning, groundhogv! You're fleeping fo long! My mommy fayv I muft wake you, or we won't fee you before we leave.”

Grumbling, Sandor answered: “Has your bloody mommy allowed you to open doors to other people's bedrooms?”

But Bessie didn't care.

“Oooh, you're ftill in bed? Wait a moment!”

The Hound didn't have a clue what would come next. And then, the unbelievable happened: narrow as the cot was, Bessie pressed herself into the middle between them and crowed merrily: “Cuddling if nife!”

Sandor was paralysed. What was wrong with that girl, for fuck's sake?

Sansa was having a major fit of laughter.

All of a sudden, pudgy arms went round his neck, and he got a wet, hearty kiss on his good cheek. Then, Bessie stopped dead, as if she had seen him for the first time.

“Grenn, why doev your fafe look fo ftrange?”

Well, that explained a lot. Bessie had to be short-sighted indeed.

“I burned myself with fire, girl. And now – up with you, I need to have a bloody piss.”

He got up and groped for his clothes.

“Lana, why doev Grenn alwayv uve vove bad wordv? Didn't his mommy tell him...”

Sandor hissed.

“Bessie, it's really better if you go down now. Come, be a good girl, and I'll talk to my husband about his language”, Sansa helped out.

“All right, and you muft hurry up now, becauve we want to leave!”

The same instant Bessie dashed out of the door again.

 

***

 

Sansa sighed. That girl was really a little whirlwind!

“Well, I guess she's right; we really need to hurry up. Come, here's your tunic.”

It was very visible that her husband's mood had deteriorated rapidly, and he growled darkly. Oh my, what a pity! It had all started so nicely.

 

Some minutes later, they were both downstairs and helping Oscar and his family. A mule that they had had in a barn with Stranger had been put in front of a cart with their belongings. The five children were all running around as excitedly as if they had stirred a hornets' nest. Oscar's older boys and daughter would be able to walk beside the cart like their parents, but Lya would sit on the vehicle to drive it, and Bessie and Kessla would sit next to her on the box.

Sandor was – if possible – even grumpier, because due to his blindness he couldn't help much. In contrast to that Sansa's heart grew heavy, because the time to say goodbye was there. She only hoped she'd find some friends like Oscar and Lya and the rest in Harrenhal... and she knew all too well that chances weren't good in that respect if you considered what Sandor had told her about the building and its present situation. Sansa sighed.

Then, they said their farewells and she hugged them all. Sandor seemed to be surprised and a little self-conscious when Oscar and his brother-in-law clapped him on the back. Obviously, he wasn't accustomed to those gestures.

Finally, the little trek left the yard and moved southwards. Sansa and the children waved at each other until they had shrunk to the size of ants.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“They're gone”, Sansa stated and went on: “What do we do now?”

 

“We can let Stranger trot off into that grove now”, Sandor rumbled.

 

There was a little wood close by, with lush grass and a little stream. The days before they had already set the courser free to enjoy his time there. The big animal simply couldn't be kept in the barn all the time, even less so since Sansa didn't like to remove his droppings – and Sandor couldn't really do it. In the evenings, either the horse came back on his own, or the Hound only had to whistle sharply. Sansa thought it strange that such a stubborn, irritable stallion was so loyal to his master. Somehow, animal and man really matched.

 

When the barn was opened for Stranger he had already been waiting impatiently, stamping his hooves, and without further ado he stormed off. Sansa could only jump aside in order to not be kicked.

 

She looked up and around and said: “Oh, there are clouds piling up in the sky in the east. Let's hope that Oscar and his family won't get drenched soon, now that Kessla has just recovered.”

 

Sandor reacted with a low rumble and said: “Well – I for my part have to get wet anyway. I need some washing. Can you handle the water pump?”

 

Sansa flushed red. Before, the men and the women had helped each other with the water pump separately.

 

“Yes, of course I can help you. Come.”

 

When they had arrived Sandor undressed. Oh my! She had seen him naked before, but never from so close up!

 

Sansa started to breathe faster, and her pulse quickened.

 

“Hey, Little Bird, where's the water? Or do you want to go on staring bloody holes into the air?” her husband called.

 

Woken from her reverie, Sansa got even redder. Gods, how had he known?

 

Hurriedly, she answered: “One moment! Water is coming!”

 

Wildly, she started to work the handle of the pump.

 

A moment later, Sandor could splash the water all over his body.

 

Which didn't make things one whit easier for Sansa. Holy Seven, when his wet, magnificent muscles were sparkling in the light she wanted to touch him everywhere! She remembered what Lya had told her about arousing a man and about caressing him respectively. The colour of her face and neck darkened even more. Moreover, she remembered all too clearly how Sandor had kissed her breasts, and now that she was seeing his male chest with its nipples... her mind started to wander.

 

Suddenly, she noticed some water dripping off the tip of his... Gooods! A pulsating feeling started to bloom within her womanhood once more.

 

Her husband, however, seemed to be oblivious of her feelings – and turned around to give her an enticing view of his backside.

 

“That's good, Little Bird, the water is so fresh!” he stated, his mood seemingly on the rise again.

 

By then, Sansa was – though heavily ashamed of that thought – close to rushing at him and licking up and down his spine. Gods, Lya had given her all those ideas, and now, she simply couldn't contain them any more! Well, what could she do if Sandor's chiselled body was an epitome of temptation!?

 

Suddenly, she heard herself say: “Fine, I'd like to have a wash, too! Can you just take over?”

 

“Errr... yes, of course, if you want to.”

 

 

 

Sansa's fingers were trembling when she let go of the handle and started to undress. Her husband was still wet and naked as his nameday. And taking over the water pump now. How could he be so relaxed when she herself was almost freaking out? When everything she wanted to do was to be close to him, skin on skin, and to kiss him?

 

Then, the cold jet of water exploded on her skin and she squealed.

 

And what did Sandor do? Bark his dark laughter at her!

 

“Cold, Little Bird?”

 

There was a definite undertone of mischief in his raspy voice!

 

“Ha! I'll give you cold!” she pouted... and went at him.

 

 

 

It all happened so fast then. The next thing she knew was that they were both rolling on the wet earth, scrambling merrily and laughing and getting muddy and dirty all over again. But when consciousness and the realisation that they were both naked set in they stopped dead. Sandor was lying on his back, and Sansa was sitting on his chest and holding his powerful arms over his head, although it would be easy for him to hold her at bay.

 

And then, Sandor lifted his head, and his mouth met the underside of one of her swelling breasts, where he kissed her. Once again. A whimper escaped her lips. Immediately, she moved her body to give him better access.

 

Moments later, she had forgotten everything she'd ever known – and for her husband, it was obviously the same. He was just as fervent as he had been back in that inn!

 

Her breasts started to hurt in pure need, and he seemed to sense it and graced her with wild kisses that were far better than good. The intensity of her lust should have shocked her, but she was simply beyond all limitations.

 

At some point, she cupped Sandor's head with her own hands, and he stopped dead.

 

“Little Bird?”

 

But Sansa was already slipping further down, craned her neck... and kissed him on his mouth with all the passion she could muster. She had never kissed a man like that, and she wasn't quite sure if she was doing it right... but when Sandor moaned in sheer desperation, pulled her closer and nearly crushed her she knew that at least for him it was just the way he wanted to have it.

 

What came then was so glorious that Sansa knew at once she'd never forget it in all her life. They kissed and kissed and kissed and both couldn't stop. Breathing was getting laborious soon. Where they had just been clumsy and wild at first they soon started to tune in.

 

Sansa felt the corner where her husband's lips were burned and tentatively flicked her tongue over that spot. Sandor flinched as if he had felt a whip – only to invade her mouth with his own tongue. Oh! Oh! It felt so good! And tasted so divine!

 

Sansa whimpered and pressed her naked body against his.

 

“That good, Little Bird?”

 

“Yes! Oh please... can you kiss me?”

 

“But I AM kissing you. See?”

 

And he proved his point.

 

Gods, he was learning fast how to make her even whine in sheer bliss. Still... it wasn't enough!

 

Shyly, she took one big, calloused hand and though she was deep scarlet now and finally, her relative innocence kicked in she still placed his fingers between her legs.

 

Sandor stiffened.

 

“Little Bird?”

 

“Can you KISS me... please?”

 

Her voice sounded tiny, breathy, pleading, and she felt ashamed. A lady shouldn't behave like that.

 

“You're bloody asking me to lick your cunt? Again?”

 

Sansa winced and started: “I'm sorry... I know I shouldn't – oh!”

 

She didn't get any further. Sandor flipped her on her back, growled: “The fuck you'll be sorry for!”, parted her legs and put them over his broad shoulders. A heartbeat later, his mouth made contact.

 

Sansa's world became a whirl of bright colours. She moaned again and again. This time, Sandor tried different kinds of caresses: licking, nibbling, sucking... only she liked them all and couldn't decide which one was best. Her hands were in his dark hair and she bucked into his mouth like she had done the time before.

 

“You like it?” he murmured once and looked completely enthralled himself.

 

Sansa could only answer: “O please! Don't stop!”

 

So Sandor went on, but now, he was more controlled, slower, drawing out the pleasure. Gods, that was pure torture! Sansa thought she was dying from sheer joy. And when she couldn't take it any more her body heaved and she screamed her husband's name. Tears shot into her eyes.

 

Then, her memory set in and she feared Sandor might withdraw again, so she wriggled herself free, moved down his body, which was already tensing, threw her arms around his neck and whispered desperately: “Don't you dare run away now!”

 

The huge warrior's body relaxed on hearing this and his voice was thick with emotions when he answered: “As if I could run away, mole that I am!”

 

Sansa pressed her cheek against the good side of his face, and suddenly, there was more salty wetness. Sandor was weeping, too! Who could have ever believed that!

 

Sansa jested: “Mole and hound and bunny. My, you've got multiple identities these days as it seems.”

 

That caused her husband to chuckle: “Ah, I see! So you did eavesdrop on Bessie and me!”

 

“Let's say I overheard you.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

And then, Sandor kissed her once more. She could taste herself, which made her feel ashamed again, but also happy, and though she didn't say it aloud she thought for the first time: “I love you!”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Ser Bonifer was irritated. It had been raining for an hour now and he and his men had been riding for days and days, obeying an order Ser Bonifer didn't like. Lord Tywin had been exceedingly clear about what they had to do, and he didn't like it one bit. If he and his men hadn't just been pardoned by the king he wouldn't have accepted.

“Leave at once. Find Lord Sandor Clegane and his wife, the Lady Sansa. The king wants them to reside at Harrenhal. So you will escort them there. You will be his castellan, Ser Bonifer – on royal orders. And you will report to me. As soon as you detect a sign of treason you are entitled to execute Lord Sandor and to bring his wife back to the capital.”

As he saw it this order was a charter for murder, and nothing less. The Lord Hand couldn't act against the king's orders, but he could make sure that the Hound would cause no further problems. Ser Bonifer wasn't stupid. He had been picked as castellan, because he despised Sandor Clegane. The Hound was a ruthless killer, and a heretic besides, because he didn't believe in the gods. And one only had to think of the multiple ways he must have dishonoured and mistreated his poor, young wife by now. It would take very little for Ser Bonifer to decide that the man's behaviour was treasonous. And he hoped he'd find this Clegane and the Lady Sansa soon.

 

“Dead people ahead!” he heard his scout, Ser Will Leysten, shout. At once, he focused and looked ahead. There were trees along the road, and in the distance he could just make out that one of them looked a little different. The men sped up on their horses. Soon, they were getting a clearer picture: two naked men and two women had been mutilated and hung, not so very long ago. There were no signs of rotting yet, and neither seemed wild animals to have gnawed on the bodies. The men had been dismembered, the women seemingly been raped.

Ser Bonifer looked to the ground. Hoof prints, signs of heavy boots and lighter feet, as far as he could tell in all the mud. A cart must have been there, too. It had seemingly been used for the hanging. Bah. Disgusting. But it was what war was like. He and his men had come across two similar findings before. He made the sign of the seven-pointed star.

“Ser Cody and Ser Gilroy, cut those poor souls off, dismount, bury them and say a prayer.”

“Yes, ser.”

The men got out their daggers and set to work. Ser Bonifer was just about to trot slowly on when there was suddenly a whimper from somewhere. Various horses snorted.

All the men drew their swords. After a moment, however, it became clear that there was no imminent danger. So they started to look for the source of the sound. Again, it was Ser Will whose sharp eyes spied first where the whimper had came from. He dismounted and disappeared behind a bush. What followed was a heart-wrenching squeal.

“Look, who we've got here!” he called.

Will appeared again – and he had nabbed a little, dark-haired child. It was a girl, wearing a dirtied, torn dress, and snot was running down her nose. Her eyes were wide with unspeakable horror. At once, Ser Bonifer shooed several men to ride in front of the dead bodies and to bar them from sight.

Next, he got off his horse, too, and approached the girl slowly. The little one was so frightened that she tried to wriggle free and to run away from him, so he said: “Don't be afraid! We won't do you any wrong. We want to help you! Now tell me: who are you?”

The girl was so traumatised that she didn't even hear him.

“Right”, Ser Bonifer said with a sigh. “See if you can find any other children. Looks as if she has witnessed the murder of her family. We'll take her to the next village. They'll know her there and take care of her. At least I hope so.”

A few minutes later, it was apparent that there were no other people around – neither dead nor alive, neither children nor adults. Ser Bonifer had taken hold of the girl, who was squealing ceaselessly as if he wanted to gut her any second. Given what she must have experienced it was no surprise. Ser Bonifer kept a good grip on her.

He and the majority of his men rode on, leaving only those behind who would bury the dead. Poor child. She had survived, but her soul had obviously been broken. These were moments when Ser Bonifer asked himself how the gods could be so cruel.

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Sandor still couldn't believe what was going on between Sansa and him. Seven hells, what the fuck had he done to deserve so much goodness? So much loveliness?

After he had sent her to the seven heavens with his mouth she hadn't rejected him although he had been rather wild again. Quite the contrary: she had kept on kissing him, had embraced him... and after a while, she had become curious. Ever so shyly she had started to stroke his body. After some minutes, she had even been brave enough to take his cock into her hands. He had been limp for a long while, but a little before Sansa's peak he had come alive again – and when she started to caress his member it only took a short while until his seed spurted out. Her ministrations had been so different from everything he himself or a whore had ever done. She was timid and tender, but also curious and even charmed. Never before had his ugly body felt so fucking good!

Not even his climax had shocked her, and all of a sudden, he had turned into a blabbering oaf. They had kissed again and again.

Then, they had decided to clean themselves and each other again under the water pump. Their stomachs had told them that they hadn't had a breakfast yet. Not that there was much to be had, but still. The fire had gone out, but Oscar and his family had left them a little food. So they had wolfed down their breakfast, Sansa sitting naked on his likewise bare lap, and they had fed and also nibbled playfully at each other. Fuck, from one moment to the next he had started to act like a lovesick fool!

 

Yet, they knew they couldn't stay like that all the time and had donned some clothes. They needed to go back to the fields where he had left the parsnips he had harvested the other day. Hopefully, they were still good. It had started to rain outside.

Moreover, they put all their moveable things into their bundles and deposited them in the kitchen. They wanted to leave as soon as any travellers from the north got through again.

 

It was then that Sansa suddenly came up with a question, and it was like a bolt from the blue: “Sandor, can you tell me something about Syrella?”

Sandor flinched as if Gregor had punched him in the stomach.

“WHAT!? Syrella? Why are you talking about her?”

“You mentioned her name when you were feverish in that barn. You sounded as if... as if you were anguished. And as if you... loved her.”

Sandor snorted: “She was the only one of my family who I loved till the end. The only truly good soul in the Clegane family I've ever known.”

He felt a little twitch on Sansa's side: “Family? Who was she?”

Irritably, Sandor answered: “Why, my long-dead sister, of course! Who do you think she'd be?”

“I... I didn't know. Perhaps... a lost love.”

Sandor was incredulous, and then, he threw his head back and laughed bitterly: “A lost love!? That would have meant to have a sweetheart in the first place. No, no. Most CERTAINLY not.”

Unfortunately, the Little Bird was getting curious now: “You say she's been dead for years – how did she die?”

Sandor froze and rasped: “Seven bleeding hells of shit! You don't want to know that. You really don't want to!”

Yet, Sansa objected: “I've seen my father being humiliated, slandered and murdered. What could be worse than that? And besides, I'm your wife now, and I want to share your grief.”

Though it had no effect whatsoever, Sandor pressed his eyes together and was silent for a long time.

Then, he started with a whisper: “It's an even greater secret than the one of how my face was burned. Syrella... she was the only one who really helped me, held me, comforted me when I was crying because of all the pain. Slowly, my face healed into the ruin you can see now, though the fresh scars were likely even worse to behold. She was about your age at that time. Father... I think he was ashamed of his lie, that the bedding had allegedly caught fire, but he was too weak. He wasn't as steadfast and relentless as my dead grandfather had been. Didn't have it in him to stop Gregor. One evening, while Gregor was on a holiday from his squiring duties and on a visit at the keep, he beat me up and father saw it and threatened him to spill the beans about my burns so he'd never become a knight. At the hour of the wolf...”

Sandor paused, his throat working wildly and his mouth twitching like mad from all the pain that had been bottled up in his soul. Sansa kissed his brow, leaned a soft cheek against his own good one and trailed with her finger through his hair to soothe him.

So Sandor tried to get a grip on himself and started again: “At the hour of the wolf I suddenly had an unbidden visitor in my bedroom. Guess who it was. Gregor gagged and bound me and dragged me along to the stable. He tied me to a wooden beam. I couldn't free myself, and I can tell you – I really tried. A few minutes later, Gregor returned with Syrella. She was gagged, too. And then... he... he... did the unspeakable. I pressed my eyes shut, but I couldn't close my ears to her muffled screams. He hurt her so much, she was already very badly injured and unconscious when he finished. And at the very end... he made sure she'd catch an infection. So she did, Syrella got a fever, and she must have had inner bleedings as well. After some days, she died. Father was so broken... he never threatened or oven criticised Gregor again.”

Tears were streaming down Sandor's cheeks by now. He had never talked to anyone about this chapter in his life. He realised that Sansa had pressed a hand on her mouth in shock – and then, she hugged him tightly and rocked him as if he were still the little, helpless boy who had already experienced the worst things one could possibly fathom. He didn't know for how long they were there like that. After a seemingly endless period of time he felt empty – but also strangely relieved. And unbelievably grateful for the Little Bird's reaction. No chirping. No condemnation of his incapability to help Syrella. Just... warmth. He'd never forget that. Never ever.

 

Suddenly, Sandor's sharpened senses noticed some sounds outside. Approaching hooves! And the horses seemed to be galloping! At once, his hair stood on end, and he pushed the sad stories of the past to the back of his mind at once.

“Little Bird! Riders! I've got a bad feeling. Is there a good hiding-place somewhere?”

“What!? Why... wait a moment! Yes, there's this trapdoor. It's hidden in a corner, behind a protrusion. If you don't know it's there you don't see it.”

“Right, Little Bird. Lead me there!”

Together, they opened the door, threw their used wooden kitchenware in, as well as their bundles, and at last, they climbed down the ladder that led into the cellar and closed the trapdoor. Not one moment to soon.

 

A mere minute or so later, heavily booted feet entered the room.

Then, a metallic voice sounded: “Well, let's see if anybody is still here.”

“We've just looked. The barn is empty. No horse”, someone else bleated.

“Hm, the fire is out too, and it has been at least for a while. Look upstairs, just to be sure.”

 

Sandor could feel his wife trembling in his arms, and her heart was beating madly. He himself was as tense as a bowstring, dagger ready in hand. They were both holding their breath.

Chapter Text

 

Boots were trampling up the stairs.

“Nobody here, boss. Fuck, I didn't get my share with those sluts, and my cock wants some entertainment.”

“Your purse should be interested in entertainment first and foremost! Then, you can have as many whores as you want! And you know that the woman is for me first.”

“Sweet redhead – they're the most passionate ones.”

“We still don't have her. The man neither. So nobody upstairs?”

“Nah. The birds have already flown out.”

“Shit. Let's hope they've followed the street. Better we make haste, then we'll catch up easily.”

“Right, boss.”

 

The men left the house. A moment later, horses could be heard galloping away.

Still, Sandor and Sansa didn't make a peep. Then, the Hound noticed a suppressed sob.

Sansa whispered agonizedly: “They knew about us! They've got Oscar and his family! Did you hear them? Do you think they...?”

Sandor couldn't lie at his Little Bird: “Seven hells, from what we've heard we can only assume that they must be on the lucky side if they've died a swift, clean death. Those scoundrels are no people to fool with.”

Sansa stifled another sob and pressed herself against him in sheer agony. After what she had witnessed around her father's execution she knew all too well what death meant.

So he tried to distract her: “Well, Little Bird, it doesn't help – let's get out of this hole, find Stranger and hide in a better place, not so close to the road.”

Sansa nodded against his chest, although she was still weeping. Sandor didn't want to think of him and her experiencing those blissful moments while the others were being robbed, raped and slain. So he fought those mental pictures back with all his might, like he had done with the ones about his sister.

“Right, let's climb that bloody ladder. Up you go!”

Sansa moved upwards, every inch the dutiful wife. But then, she had to stop.

“Sandor, the door is stuck somehow, or it's simply too heavy for me.”

“Then come down again and let me do it.”

The Little Bird did as she was asked and Sandor heaved his large body upwards. He had made six or seven steps and was already starting to push against the trapdoor when there was suddenly a creaking sound, and the next second, the ladder splintered apart under his weight.

Bomp! He landed on his feet and knees and hissed because a jolt of searing pain shot through his body.

“Fuck! Fuck! Thrice-damned seven hells of shit!”

“Sandor! What is it!?”

“I must have sprained my ankle.”

“Oh no!”

Sansa sounded close to panicking now. And for good reason! The trapdoor was too heavy for her, the ladder was gone beyond repair and he was hurt. Fucking great! Either they'd be found and killed by the outlaws in case they came back and found them, or they could rot in this hole. Sandor had always thought he'd die in battle. He'd never thought the Stranger would play a trick on him and let him shrivel like a mole stuck in a molehill! What made it worse was that Sansa would share his fate! Sansa, who had been the only one to show him some gentleness in his adult life. Fuck, this couldn't be the end! At least not for her! Shit, he'd dig into the earth with his bare hands for her!

Suddenly, he stopped dead.

Wait a minute!

“Sansa, we need to get out of here. Tell me, what is in this cellar, and what are the walls like?”

“There are some empty shelves, but they cannot be used for climbing up. The walls are nothing but packed dirt.”

“Hmhm...”

“Do you have an idea?”

“Let me think.”

The Hound's thoughts rotated. In his younger years he had been in Lord Tywin's gold mines several times. Not as a worker, but to deliver delinquents who had been sentenced to forced labour. On those occasions he had lingered for a while to listen to the foremen. The gaffers had always liked to talk about their trade and in the near darkness his horrible facial scars had mattered less. So he had learned at least some basics about mining.

Perhaps they could dig themselves out of this house! There was the very real danger that the tunnel might crash and then, they'd suffocate. Still, if they did nothing they were as good as dead anyway!

At once, his sense of direction – which had always been good and was even sharper now after having lost his eyesight – told him where they had to dig. Luckily, they were right next to the outer walls; if they weren't hindered by any poles deep in the earth they could probably make it. From their work in the fields Sandor knew the soil wasn't sandy, but rather heavy, a bit like clay, if not exactly. They had just had their breakfast and were still strong. Hopefully, the greensward and the roots of the lowly plants growing next to the house provided some kind of fixing which would help the earth not to sag.

Determined, he weighed the dagger in his hand.

“Little Bird, there is only one way: we must dig ourselves free. I'm not a mole now for nothing as it seems. Do you still have the little knife that I gave you, and do you know where the wooden bowls have fallen? We'll need them for our task.”

“The knife is here. And the bowls... wait... Ouch!”

There were some clattering sounds that showed Sansa had obviously tumbled over the kitchenware.

“Everything all right, Little Bird?”

“Yes! I've got all the items we need now.”

“Fine! Come here then! We must scratch the packed earth with knife and dagger now before we can use the bowls as makeshift shovels.”

So they started. They were both quiet and concentrated. Now that Sansa had something to do she had also got a grip on herself and wasn't close to panicking any longer. It all proved to be cumbersome, but Sandor had expected no less. After an hour or so they were drenched in sweat and as dirty as if they had not used the water pump earlier on.

Suddenly, there were sounds from above to be heard again. Horses. Many horses. Men's voices.

Fuck, the bandits had come back with some reinforcement!

Suddenly, there was the squealing sound of a little child.

Before Sandor could react Sansa cried out in shock: “That's Bessie!”

Shit! Oh seven hells of shit!

“What was that?” a male voice asked above.

It bore the accent of the Stormlands, as far as he could make out from those few words, and he had not heard that man amongst the previous rogues. But what did it matter after all which cut-throat had detected them due to Sansa's bloody foolishness? He cursed their bad luck inwardly.

And then, the trapdoor swung open. Sandor could hear a man wearing chainmail and braced himself stoically for the inevitable – though his heart bled when he thought of Sansa and what would happen to her.

“Oi! Who's that!? I can't believe it! Is that you, Clegane? And the Lady Sansa?”

At that, Sandor pricked up his ears. No outlaws then. Well, he could die on the hands of a soldier just as fine.

“It's bloody difficult to mistake my size and my face I'd say. Who are you?”

“I'm Ser Bonifer Hasty. My men and me have been sent by the Crown.”

“Have you now?”

“Yes. If I may ask – what are you doing down there, being all dirty?”

“We were hiding from some bloody knaves and got stuck in this fucking cellar. So we tried to dig a tunnel.”

“Oh. Well, this isn't necessary any longer. We'll get you a ladder from outside. Lady Sansa, are you all right?”

“I'm fine, good ser, but my husband has sprained his ankle. And do you have a girl with you?”

“Yes. Found her on the street. Do you know her?”

“I think I know her voice.”

“Well, we'll find out in a moment. Here comes the ladder from outside.”

Sandor could hear the scratching of wood on earth and he sent Sansa up first. He himself was thoughtful. Ser Bonifer Hasty. And his bloody Holy Hundred. Oh yes, he remembered them indeed. They had been pardoned by the king after that accursed battle, and now, they seemingly wanted to please the monarch by hunting him down. Fuck, what else could he have expected!?

Just at that moment Sansa cried: “Bessie!” Her call was followed by a wailing cry and some running.

So the little girl was really there.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Sandor got up the steps to the ground floor, all the while trying not to put any weight on his bad ankle. When he had finished he tried to knock off the dirt to some degree.

Suddenly, there was another cry, more running and the next moment, a little body bounced into him like a ball and sent him reeling so that he fell almost back into the earth hole.

“Bessie!” he called, grabbed and held her and finally found his balance again.

The same instant, little arms went round his neck, the girl burrowed her face in his long, lank hair, and she started to sob uncontrollably.

At once, Sandor's instincts switched to “horrified-puppy-mode”, and he started to growl: “Hey, hey, little one, what's happened? Something bad?”

Bessie could only nod.

“Hmmmm. Now, you're safe. See? Good girl, you don't need to be afraid any more. Hush. Hush.”

Suddenly, he noticed that everybody around him was absolutely quiet.

“What!?” he asked irritably.

“Erm. Nothing”, Ser Bonifer retorted. “Could we... could we just talk about the imminent situation?”

Ah. Right. The man was said to be fucking religious and honourable. Perhaps he didn't want to have the girl around for the Hound's execution.

Sandor snorted: “Aye. Let's get ahead then. – Bessie, can you let go of me? Please? See, I've learned my lesson.”

But the girl only clung to him even more in her terrified state and wouldn't let go of him.

Then, Ser Bonifer spoke up: “Anybody bring Lord Clegane a chair or a stool! – Well, hold the girl then if it must be.”

A moment later, Sandor felt his wife's delicate hands on his arm and smelled her scent, and she guided him to a seat. There he sat, with Bessie standing on his thigh, still hugging him tightly and trembling, which caused him to support her with his hands.

Finally, the Hound growled: “Now. Let's speak in plain language.”

Ser Bonifer cleared his throat: “Yes. Well. I've been sent to Harrenhal by the Lord Hand in the name of the king. I'm supposed to be the new castellan.”

“I see.”

“So it's good we have found you. There are so many outlaws here these days that we doubted we'd find you alive. Especially after we... had found the girl's family.”

The way Ser Bonifer said it Sandor didn't have to ask for any details – especially not in front of Sansa and the child, who had likely witnessed everything. Apart from that, his wife had understood already bloody well enough herself, because she started to weep.

“There were indeed some buggering bandits in this house. If we hadn't hidden in the cellar we'd be dead now, too. The men thought we were gone and rode northwards.”

“Good for you then. Now, you'll be safe with us as your escort to Harrenhal.”

Sandor nearly choked on his own spit then.

Escort? They were allowed to travel on? Wasn't he to be punished for leaving King's Landing? Fuck the Seven, he couldn't believe what he was hearing!

Sansa cut in then: “Oh, Ser Bonifer, we're so very grateful for your help! Honestly, I can't stay in this house one more minute and without you it would be so very dangerous!”

“Yes, my lady. But what about the child?”

Sandor snorted again: “What do you think we'll do? We'll have to take her with us! We'll find her a place in Harrenhal. – Hmmmm, little Bessie, what do you think: shall we find you a safe place where you'll get some cakes and a soft bed?”

There was a tiny nod of the girl against his good cheek.

Another awkward silence. Seven bleeding hells, what did they all think of him!? That he'd suggest to roast and eat her? Well, yes, of course. He was the Mountain's brother. And he himself was a killer of the worst sort, too. What else should they think of him!? Fuck!

Ser Bonifer coughed and uttered: “Well. Right. That's settled then. Do you still have any belongings? And where's your horse?”

 

***

 

Chapter Text

Ser Bonifer had expected a lot – though nothing good, to be precise. Reality, however, was so very different from what he had thought! He had anticipated he'd meet a traumatised woman and a blind man who was nothing less than a monster whose wings had been clipped due to his ailment. But the Lady Sansa only turned out to be sad about the death of the travelling acquaintances. Otherwise, she actually seemed to be far more stable than she had in those short moments when he had seen her in King's Landing.

Incredible as it was she didn't appear to be overly afraid of her husband. Over the years, Ser Bonifer had seen many and more women who had been being mistreated by their husbands, be it sexually or otherwise. The young Lady Clegane showed none of the respective characteristics when she was around Lord Sandor.

Quite the contrary, they even seemed to be rather close. Lady Sansa's eyes started to smile whenever she laid eyes on the huge, ugly, burned man. The same was true for the Hound when he heard his wife's voice. Moreover, it was usual for them to talk amongst each other, to confer as if they really cared about each other's opinions. That was something Ser Bonifer had rarely ever seen between arranged matches.

True, Sandor Clegane didn't believe in the gods, even showed some disdain, which was a shame, but he didn't forbid his wife to pray with the Holy Hundred. So much tolerance from his side came as a real surprise.

Where was the horrified woman who had barely known which husband to pick in the throne room?

And where was the man who allegedly only cared about fighting and Dornish red? Not only did Lord Clegane avoid any kind of alcoholic drink and show some affection for his young wife – he was even the most important point of reference for the little girl his men had found near her slain family!

Traumatised as she was Bessie trusted Lord Sandor of all like no-one else. Even Lady Sansa, who she liked very much as well, only came in second place. Ever since she had been discovered next to that unholy tree the girl was mute. At night, she had the worst nightmares. She slept in the lord's tent, because Bessie couldn't accept any other arrangement, but even so, her piercing shrieks could be heard everywhere in the camp – as could the soothing sounds of both spouses.

Before they all had met the lord had ridden double with his wife, on that black demon horse with the heretic name Stranger. Now, the arrangement had to be changed since the couple couldn't ride together with the child as well. So the best horse-whisperer amongst his men, Ser Gilroy Springstorm, rode next to Lord Clegane and Bessie and directed the blind man and the horse as best he could while Ser Bonifer himself had to ride double with lovely Lady Sansa since they had no spare horse.

Progress was slow in this way. There were also various showers, but nothing they couldn't handle. Well, it couldn't be helped anyway.

But since the lord and lady had managed a part of their voyage on their own it wasn't far to the eastern shores of the Gods Eye. They crossed a wood – and then, they were there.

On seeing the green, warm waters for the first time Lady Sansa's eyes widened and she jubilated: “Oh, how beautiful! That colour! Magical! It's so different from the open sea! Can you swim in it?”

“Yes, my lady – but I'd advise not to do it here in the wood where surely those outlaws must have one of their retreats. It will be safer when we reach open ground.”

“I see, good ser. Hm, what's that island over there in the distance? I know my maester told me once, but I have forgotten.”

“It's called the “Isle of Faces”. Mythology has it that the Children of the Forest negotiated a treaty with the First Men there.”

“Ah, yes, now I remember, too. Sandor, have you been here before?”

Lord Clegane, who was riding directly in front of them, turned around slightly and answered matter-of-factly: “There's barely a region in western and central Westeros I haven't seen, Little Bird.”

There it was again: the relaxed air when they addressed each other. There was even this strange pet name. Why on earth “Little Bird”? Ser Bonifer guessed it was her beautiful singing voice that played a part in it.

In King's Landing, Sansa had barely made a peep, and her voice had been unintelligible for those who hadn't stood close to her in the huge throne room when she had had to choose a husband. Now, she had discarded her shyness, and in the evenings, her songs rang loud and clear in the camp and sometimes moved Ser Bonifer's men to tears. It was as if the Maiden herself had descended from the Seven Heavens. Though Lady Sansa wasn't a maid any more she had retained part of her innocence – which was nothing short of a wonder, given that she was married to the Hound.

Another thing that struck Ser Bonifer as odd was that Lord Sandor probably didn't like him very much, but he had already accepted him as his castellan!

While they had been sitting around a camp fire on their first evening the Hound had stated: “It's good I won't have to fall back on fucking Ser Armory Lorch once we arrive in Harrenhal. Where are you from?”

“The Stormlands, my lord.”

Sandor Clegane had nodded then: “I guessed as much from your dialect. It was a reasonable decision to send you here. But then again, Lord Tywin knows exactly what he does. And when and how. You've got no old connections here in the Riverlands and you haven't been involved in the bloody atrocities that have been committed in Harrenhal in the past – and that are likely still being committed there, for all I know Ser Armory and the Bloody Mummers.”

Ser Bonifer had been dumbfounded after that statement. He hadn't foreseen the Hound wouldn't put any spoke in his wheel, nor had had the man done anything less than acknowledged the Lord Hand's abilities and declared himself against tyrannising the commoners. So far, there wasn't even the slightest shade of any treasonous behaviour to be detected.

Over time, Ser Bonifer had to scratch his head again and again. His assignment seemed to turn out differently from the set-up. To be honest, though, he liked the current development much better.

 

***

Chapter Text

They were one day away from Harrenhal now – and only one day, because they were so slow. Sansa was getting nervous. What would they find in the castle? The stony shell of the fortress could already be spotted and small as it still was one could yet detect that the famous – or rather infamous – five towers were not quite erect, not quite straight.

Sansa couldn't imagine how a building that was so far away could already be seen. Oh my, how unbelievably big Harrenhal had to be! Joffrey had talked of a “big, burned kennel”. He could have never seen the castle, or he wouldn't have dubbed it in such a pejorative way!

Right now, the travelling party were camping close to the banks of the Gods Eye lake. The scenery was simply picturesque. It was a pity that Bessie had no eyes for the beauty around her. Sansa reprimanded herself of being egoistic: as much as she liked the poor girl it disturbed her that the little one had to sleep in her tent. Sansa knew she had to understand, what with all the horrors Bessie had experienced and that cost her her family. Still, Sansa wanted to spend some private time with Sandor; she simply couldn't help it.

Now, that they had shared some intimacies and caresses she wanted, no, needed more. At daytime, it was impossible to be alone with her husband, because they had to travel with Ser Bonifer and his men, useful as the escort was. At night, Bessie needed to sleep in their tent and was afflicted by the worst possible nightmares so that relaxing sleep was practically impossible – and lust completely out of the question.

She and Sandor could only exchange friendly words and gestures. True, that was a great improvement in comparison to everything before. Granted, Sandor preserved his overall rough demeanour and always spoke candidly, but in many ways he was gentler with her nowadays.

They had also talked about the murder of Oscar and the others. After Ser Gilroy's latest pieces of information it had turned out that the fate of the other four children was unknown. Sandor pointed out that it was impossible to look for them, painful as the thought was. It was also unclear how Bessie could have escaped the outlaws. Since the girl didn't speak any more many details of the horrible incident stayed a mystery.

And though Sandor didn't discuss once whether Bessie should sleep in their tent or not Sansa detected many signs that he wanted more closeness with his wife, too. They had to stay decent at night, but they allowed themselves some short kisses, or stroked each other's hands and the like. Only... it wasn't enough. Simple as that.

Right now, the sun was about to set, but there would be some light for a while longer. The men had said their evening prayer and looked after the horses; at present, they were lighting some fires and setting up the few tents for the people with the higher ranks. Around them, there was no wood any longer.

So Sansa addressed the leader of the Holy Hundred: “Ser Bonifer, do you think it would be possible to go swimming this evening? Bessie needs a bath, too.”

The man, who always reminded her a little of a stork, looked up, let his eyes scan the surroundings and conceded: “It should be possible here. But make sure that the water is shallow where you bathe. No sports. No swimming. Just a short wash. I'll make sure my men will avert their eyes to give you some privacy.”

Sansa smiled and thanked the man and sought out Bessie who was sitting on Sandor's knee, her face serious as ever since she had witnessed the murder of her family, while the big man was telling her stories about Harrenhal's history.

“Bessie! Good girl! Come here to me! What do you think about the lake? Let's have a bath!”

The child stood up, though without any sign of enthusiasm.

“Could need a bloody bath, too”, Sandor rumbled and got up as well.

Sansa couldn't exchange any meaningful glances with the Hound, but his tiny, telltale smirk showed that he had to be thinking of their sweet moments next to the water pump. Hmmm... if you squared the problem correctly, perhaps they'd be able to bill a little without Bessie interfering.

 

When they arrived at the bank of the lake Bessie was bathed first. The girl accepted everything like a puppet on a string. Sansa's heart bled and she asked herself how they could possibly get access to her.

After Bessie had been cleaned she led the child to Ser Gilroy, who was preparing the evening meal. The horse-whisperer of the Holy Hundred also had a good hand with children as it seemed and Bessie could at least be around him without becoming afraid.

“Right, my sweet girl, you're a clean, rosy little piglet now, aren't you? Please stay with Ser Gilroy now so that I can have a bath with my husband. We'll fetch you later. It won't take long. And Ser Gilroy will tell you some lovely animal stories in the meantime.”

Bessie said neither yes nor no, and her eyes were empty. In contrast to that, the knight in question beamed at the child as if he had swallowed a sun and started to talk about a colt he had known when he had been her age.

With a sad sigh Sansa turned around and walked back to the lake. She had a terribly bad conscience, but at the same time, she couldn't give up herself completely. Herself and her love. When she arrived her breathing hitched in her throat. Luckily, there were some bushes that would shield her and her husband from any accidental onlookers.

Sandor was already stark naked and up to his knees in the water. He was still limping after the infraction in the cellar, but it couldn't be seen now. What could be seen instead was the red-golden, gleaming light of the setting sun on his scarred skin with the mighty muscles underneath – and since he had already splashed himself the beams were reflected by countless little drops. Gods! What a man! And he was hers!

Sansa smiled and suppressed an abashed giggle. Judging by the state of his manhood she was also his. That specific part of his body was still a bit of a riddle for her, even if Lya – oh my, poor Lya! – had said that male bodies were so much easier to handle than female ones when it came to lust. Ah, well, this was not the place for pondering.

In no time, Sansa was out of her dress, shoes, shift and smallclothes. Her cheeks flushed a deep red, because she knew she was wanton, but after all those days... somehow, the need for closeness was superior.

And then, she was on him. Their kisses were nothing short of greedy, and they rubbed their bodies against each other in a frenzy. Sandor cupped her buttocks with his big, calloused hands. Sansa tried hesitantly to reciprocate that gesture then, but the scales were quite different now, and she couldn't grasp everything of his muscled backside. Even so, Sandor gasped.

“Har! What a bloody eager Little Bird we've got here. Do you want to stroke the mole's fur?”

Now, Sansa really had to giggle and trailed with her hand through his dense, coarse, dark chest hair and elicited an excited growl.

Then, her hand stilled on his tummy, on a little bump, and she teased him: “Uh-oh! What's that? Are we getting into the pudding club?”

From one instant to the next, Sandor got very serious.

“Fuck! I don't have enough exercise these days, blind, useless cripple that I have become. Shit, I'm getting soft and weak!”

Those words shocked Sansa no end, and she wanted to bite her tongue for her stupid, insensitive remark. The light, joyful mood was gone.

“No, Sandor! You're not useless! You're wonderful! And I'm sure the men can organise a training programme for you in Harrenhal where you can stay fit, also without your eyesight.”

Sandor snorted frustratedly and answered: “Fitness doesn't help if you can't use it, Little Bird.”

Sansa was desperate now. Their whole meeting here in the lake was going to pieces! But she didn't want to give up yet.

With something akin to anger she huffed: “You could use your fitness now, for example, just in case you remember we're supposed to be having a tête-à-tête. For example, you could lift me, or whatever it takes to bed a woman properly.”

Sandor started to snarl then, his hands turned into fists and pumped.

Within a heartbeat, Sansa landed on her back, the little waves lapping at her... and it wouldn't stay the only lapping thing. Gods! Sandor really loved to do that! Sansa had to bite her lips hard so as to not scream and to alert the knights in the camp. After a while, her husband knelt between her legs and started to rub his manhood against her sensitive folds.

Sansa gasped, but then a partly-burned mouth landed on her lips to stifle her lustful sounds. She wiggled a little with her lower body... and then, the angle was just right to touch the spot Sandor had caressed with his mouth. Desperately, she moaned while kissing him.

Suddenly, just when it was getting really good, her husband hissed and peaked.

“Fuck! Seven bloody hells! I'm simply too sensitive and impatient around you. Wait!”

And then, his calloused thumb replaced his softening manhood while he kept on kissing her. At first, he was rather clumsy, but then, he found a good rhythm, and finally, Sansa went over the edge as well. Still, she was a little disappointed. She would have liked it so much to take the last step with Sandor!

Ah, well, that would come in due time she comforted herself. In Harrenhal, they'd even have a real bed with a good mattress. Sansa looked over to the distant shape of the castle and asked herself just how big a lord's bed in such a building had to be.

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It was the afternoon of the following day when they finally arrived. For Ser Gilroy Springstorm it was a strange feeling. His comrades perceived the fortress as a dark, looming, foreign threat. For him it was different. The area around Harrenhal was his home. Or rather: the region where he had been born and where he had passed his first years. He still remembered Lady Whent, whose family had held Harrenhal for a while until the War of the Five Kings. One of his early memories was the famous tournament that had been held at the fortress. Seeing all the fine destriers and coursers, it had been then that he had realised just how much he loved horses – and how much they loved him.

But then, his father had died and as soon as propriety allowed his mother had married another man in the Stormlands. So they had moved away. His stepfather had loathed him at once and had sent him away for squiring.

Finally, after so many years, he could see the biggest fortress in Westeros again. Of course, the five gigantic towers were still as bent and blackened as he remembered them – and now that they were close to the cliff-like walls you couldn't see all of them if you craned your neck, because the battlements were so extremely high above you. Still, it looked as if the fortress had gone more into decay than he remembered.

Ser Gilroy wasn't quite sure about what he was feeling. Was this home? This gloomy, scorched, creepy complex of buildings? He had heard what must have happened here over the last months, and it didn't cause him any warm, fuzzy feelings.

“What will Lady Clegane be thinking now?” he asked himself.

He looked ahead to where the young woman, who had barely left childhood, was riding double with Ser Bonifer. He had come to appreciate and to like Lord Clegane's young wife. She was beautiful and kind and gentle – she even found something good in her infamous husband, surprising as it was. It looked as if the Seven had meant a very special fate for her and had equipped her abundantly with all the virtues a lady could possibly wish for.

Ser Gilroy smiled sadly. What a coincidence! He thought of his own beloved Sansa. His deceased wife had had the same first name – and her outward appearance had been the complete opposite of young Lady Clegane: small, dark, curvy, with a tan and freckles. When she and their firstborn had died during the birthing process his heart had broken; he had turned to the Seven and become a member of the Holy Hundred, knowing he'd never bed another woman again.

Now, he looked further ahead – to where the man people called “the Hound” was riding with little Bessie in front of him. His heart went out to the poor, traumatised girl. He himself was a father without a child and she was a child without a family. Over the last days, he had resolved to leave his company and to stay where Bessie was. If only Lord Clegane allowed it, he'd even adopt her and stay in Harrenhal; at least assuming the fortress was a place where anybody could stay for more than a couple of hours.

He also remembered the stables, which could house a thousand animals. And there were rich, fertile grounds around the fortress. Wonderful horses could be bred here, something he'd love. Ser Gilroy flicked his eyes to the lord's courser, Stranger. What a stallion! A strong – though difficult – character as well as a magnificent, powerful body. He resembled his master in a way. And that master, who was said to be so aggressive and brutal and heartless, had a good hand with his horse. That and the fact that Lady Sansa and Bessie obviously cared for the burned giant of a man told him that the new Lord Paramount of the Riverlands had to have a core that wasn't as blackened as the towers of Harrenhal.

The most important questions, however, were now what awaited them inside the huge castle – and if blind Lord Clegane would survive the next 48 hours. Only then would he stand a chance to become a leader in his own right.

 

They reached the Water Gate with the Gate House, which in itself was as big as the main building of a small castle. Luckily, the drawbridge had been lowered. On the battlements, three flags could be seen: the Lorch manticor, the Lannister lion and the three Clegane dogs. But those pieces of cloth fluttering in the wind were not the only “embellishments”. Lots of tarred heads on spikes could be seen on either side of them. Luckily, they were up high enough so that you didn't see any ugly details.

Suddenly, Lord Clegane stopped and rode back to where he himself was.

“Ser Springstorm”, the blind man rasped.

“My Lord?”

“Bessie has fallen asleep. Bloody good for her. She doesn't need to see the shit that we'll find inside. Take her, wait in the Gate House and keep her safe.”

Ser Gilroy complied with the order and was handed Bessie's limp, relaxed form. She uttered a little sound, but didn't wake up. When they had passed the various Murder Holes of the gate and traversed the dark, tunnel-like outer wall he held himself to the right where an entrance to the Gate House was, dismounted with Bessie still in his arms and sought out the relative safety of the building.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Cold shudders were running up and down her spine. The heads on the battlements reminded her of how Joffrey had shown her her own father's severed head back in King's Landing to torture her. For a split second, she envied Sandor, because he couldn't see that gruesome spectacle, but at once she scolded herself. Only why did she always have to be so sensitive? She had helped kill a man – shouldn't she be beyond that kind of squeamishness?

They passed through the gate and entered the outer yard. To her relief Ser Gilroy retreated with Bessie to keep an eye on her in the Gate House.

From behind her Ser Bonifer murmured: “The Seven will keep an eye on her.”

Sansa didn't smile, but she was grateful for the gentle words.

So far, the grounds were deserted. It wasn't a surprise, but creepy nevertheless. After Lord Tywin had left Harrenhal only a few men had stayed behind, and the internal fights between Ser Armory Lorch's men and the Brave Companions – or rather the Bloody Mummers, as Sandor called them – had certainly reduced the numbers even more.

On they rode to the middle yard and then to the centre. Suddenly, before the men could shield her eyes from the horrible scene, Sansa spotted something on her left, which was incredibly shocking: there were various wooden makeshift pillories with naked women. A fat, middle-aged, grubby soldier was just in the process of taking a poor servant from behind. Her face was so swollen with purple bruises that her features were beyond recognition. Only her eyes could be seen clearly, but they were empty, like Bessie's, and the woman didn't put up the slightest resistance to the man who was pumping into her.

Sansa pressed her hand onto her mouth. Bile rose in her throat.

The rapist hadn't detected her amongst the Holy Hundred and laughed between gasps without stopping what he was doing: “Welcome! Want to have some fun, too? Female flesh for free!”

Now, Ser Bonifer noticed as well what was going on and immediately put his hands in front of Sansa's eyes, but she had already seen enough.

“Ser Will?” she heard him order curtly.

Sansa heard a sword being drawn, the clop-clop-clop of hooves, then, then soldier called frantically: “Hey, what in the seven h...” – next, there were a telltale gurgling sound and screams from the women... and then silence.

Sandor, who was being told of what had been going on, bellowed: “Away with the women! At once! And remove the swine's fucking carcass!”

The sounds and the major commotion finally attracted more inhabitants of the fortress.

After a while, Ser Bonifer removed his hands from Sansa's eyes and apologized.

Sansa blinked. The women were gone and so was the soldier's body – only a puddle of blood that reflected what had transpired moments ago remained.

“Where is the thrice-damned castellan?” Sandor roared.

A man emerged from the biggest tower and hastened to excuse Ser Armory Lorch: “He'll be here in an instant, my lord! He's gone to the bear pit.”

“The what?”

“The bear pit, my lord. We've got a fine specimen of a bear, all black fur, and it needs to be fed once in a while.”

“Fuck, get Ser Armory Lorch here at once, or you'll share the fate of that flaming bugger who we've just dumped. Understood?”

“Yes, yes, my lord! Just a second, my lord! I'm getting him!”

The man was dashing away as if he had been stung be a hornet.

Now, the Holy Hundred started to dismount. Sansa, who still felt nauseated, wanted to get down to the earth as well.

Sandor, however, addressed her with a stony face: “Stay where you are, Little Bird! Seven hells, I wish you hadn't witnessed that scene. If anything goes astray you ride out of this flaming fortress as if a fire demon were after you. Understood!?”

“Yes. Yes, Sandor.”

Sansa could tell her voice sounded small. Like a bird that had fallen out of its nest. Gods! She had expected a dark scenery, but this was a nightmare!

Finally, Ser Armory Lorch turned up. He was easy to identify. Middle-aged, portly, little eyes like an angry swine. But also servile, in the manner of a lickspittle. Someone who arched his back for his superiors, but kept kicking those below him. Like so many people in King's Landing. Sansa felt as if someone had walked over her grave and immediately activated the cold, polite lady's shell that she had worn in the capital in order to survive.

Ser Armory bowed and scraped: “My lord! I apologise for my delay. We didn't notice you approach the fortress.”

Sandor's steel-on-stone voice was as cold as the Wall now: “Fuck, you didn't? Now, that is even worse than anything else! The drawbridge was lowered. Any enemy could have walked in! Just how bloody stupid is this!?”

There was a cold sweat on the castellan's brow now: “My lord, there are just not enough men left for even the simplest tasks, I regret to say. We've fought successfully against the Bloody Mummers and we managed to reject an attack on the castle led by Roose Bolton. However, this has taken its toll.”

“You managed to win against the Leech Lord?”

The disgusting man was becoming more self-confident again, and Sansa couldn't believe that he didn't recognize the ire in Sandor's eyes for what it was.

“Yes, my lord, we won. And we've even made some prisoners. First amongst the Brave Companions and then amongst the Northerners.”

“I see.”

Sandor's voice was so cold that the temperature around started to drop.

“What has happened to those prisoners?”

Sansa was curious now, too.

Ser Armory Lorch straightened himself and looked positively proud.

“We don't have a bear pit for nothing, my lord. We've fed the beast a sellsword every second day. And now that the Bloody Mummers have been extinguished – including the bloody goat Vargo Hoat – we have fed the bear two insidious Northerners so far. Oh, and we have an extra-special prisoner for you: one of the fomenters who tried to free the prisoners and who stirred up the revolt of the sellswords.”

Sandor, who was still sitting atop Stranger, looked down with unfocused, but fuming eyes at where he supposed the castellan to be. Meanwhile, Sansa was feeling even sicker than she had already done and kept as quiet as a mouse.

Her husband, however, spoke up clearly while fishing for something in his pockets: “Let us summarise. You won against the Bloody Mummers and killed the fucking goat? Right. Take this Golden Dragon as a reward.”

Ser Armory's eyes looked greedy. He smirked and answered: “Thank you, my lord.”

“You drove Roose Bolton and his men back? Bloody fine. Take this second Golden Dragon as a reward, too.”

The castellan's grin broadened: “Thank you again, my lord.”

Sandor went on: “Right. What next? Oh, yes. You put four women into the pillories?”

“That's true. They had to be punished, because they spread their legs for the Bloody Mummers.”

“Aha. In that case I'll be lenient for the way you tortured them. Ten strokes with the whip for each. Forty altogether, that is.”

“What!? But they're bloody sluts!” Ser Armory shrieked, and Sansa was relieved that Sandor had stopped rewarding the horrible man. In the meantime, the Holy Hundred had encircled the castellan so that he couldn't escape.

Sandor was unmoved and went on: “My wife had to witness how one of your men raped a woman – an injured woman at that. You are responsible for your men. So you are also responsible for this as well. Ser Bonifer, make sure he's put into a pillory and that his dirty arse is buggered with a sword to give him an impression of what the women were feeling.”

Ser Bonifer didn't look quite comfortable, but answered: “It shall be done, my lord. Which type of sword shall be used? A longsword or a short sword?”

“What!? But this is... this is...”

Ser Armory started to blabber and to stammer in panic.

“A short sword. Up to the hilt. And leave it stuck until he's released from the pillory. Only turn it around every hour or so. His men will learn their part from this.”

And still Sansa's husband wasn't finished: “Ser Armory. You killed Northerners, who could have served as hostages. For an exchange, for example. The Kingslayer is still in the Young Wolf's hands – just in case you have forgotten. How can anybody be so incredibly daft? Our first priority must be not to endanger Ser Jaime Lannister's life. And you didn't fucking care. This is nothing short of treason. For your stupidity you're removed from your position as castellan. With regard to the treason... Ser Bonifer: as soon as the bear is hungry again dispose of Ser Armory by making him the final meal for the beast. When he's dead – kill the bear as well. It has developed a taste for human flesh, which cannot be tolerated.”

Ser Armory was squealing and wailing and raging now. Sansa could see that Harrenhal's contemporary inhabitants were watching from windows, doors, niches... but nobody lifted so much as a finger. After all, the Holy Hundred (who were actually 86 after the Battle of the Blackwater) looked very impressive with their fine horses and armour.

While Ser Armory was being dragged away Sansa was addressed by her husband once more: “Little Bird, you don't have to see that. Ser Will, lead her away to a safe place.”

Now, Sansa objected: “Why should I avert my eyes? I've watched my father's execution. This can hardly be worse.”

“Little Bird, I'll have none of that! Ser Will, I've given you an order!”

“Yes, my lord!” the man answered.

Sansa ground her teeth while she was being led to what turned out to be the kitchen wing. It was as oversized as everything in Harrenhal. Behind her back she could hear a whip bite into human flesh for the first time, followed by a scream. The process was repeated. And again. By then, Sansa saw the wisdom of her husband's order to send her away.

In the kitchen, she noticed a big pig on a spit, smelled the scent of roasted meat... and was so sick that she needed a bucket at once. A frightened, overweight youngster handed her an empty bowl, and Sansa retched. Afterwards, he handed her a wet cloth with a trembling hand.

“Thank you”, Sansa said and asked: “What's your name?”

The boy's teeth were rattling and it took him a moment until he could answer: “I... I'm called Hot Pie, my lady.”

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

 

Fuck, what had he expected!? He had known that the situation in Harrenhal would be dire. He should have left the Little Bird at the Gate House with Bessie and Ser Gilroy! The only reason why he hadn't done so was that he had intended to present her as the strong, respected woman at his side so that no bloody rogue would dare touch her. But Seven Hells, he had been so wrong! The first thing she had noticed was a man raping a woman. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

 

As soon as Sansa had turned her back and bloody Ser Armory Lorch had been stripped and bound he had swung the whip himself with all the force he could muster. The people around him were surprised, even shocked that their blind lord knew exactly how to strike home in spite of his ailment. Bleeding Stranger, what did they think? It was an easy task, what with all the fucking noise the former castellan was producing! Still, the eyewitnesses of this spectacle served him well. They'd think twice, even thrice before they called him a cripple, or weak! That, in its turn, would help keep Sansa safe. And right now, the Hound was still so incredibly angry that he had to bite the one who was responsible for all the crap they had encountered so far. Plus Ser Armory had always been disgusting. After all, which man stabbed a toddler fifty times of his own accord like he had done? Not even his bloody brother Gregor usually did, because dead was dead, unless a special message had to be conveyed for the survivors.

 

The doomed man had no stamina and was unconscious soon.

 

“A bucket of cold water! Over his head! At once!” Sandor boomed, panting slightly.

 

When he heard splashing sounds and the moans of Ser Armory he resumed whipping him until he had counted forty strikes.

 

Then, he growled: “Ser Cody? You take over now. Poke the bloody bugger with his own sword. I trust you to extend the procedure until the last one in this thrice-damned fortress has heard him scream. I'll leave and look after my wife. Ser Bonifer? You'll accompany me. You're the new castellan from now on, and I want to have you around me.”

 

To be honest, Sandor needed someone to guide him and to tell him about their surroundings in detail. He cursed himself for the hundredth time for being blind. Even under better circumstances the owners of Harrenhal had always met a tragic ending, and soon. So it was only a question of how long he could hold out. Hopefully long enough to see to it that the Little Bird was gone and safe.

 

 

 

Later, he, his wife and Ser Bonifer were sitting in the solar and dined together. The room could have served as a great hall in a small castle. Sansa had had a bath in the bathhouse and recovered a little, though Sandor still sensed an air of preoccupation from her side. He didn't hear many noises from where her cutlery met the plate with roasted pork, barley and little fancy cakes with cream cheese, nuts and fruit – obviously she had no appetite after what she had seen.

 

He and Ser Bonifer had had a quick tour of the fortress. Now, they needed to discuss matters.

 

The bloody pious knight spoke up: “What a pity that the sept is in ruins – the substitute cannot match the original by half.”

 

“I don't care about the bloody sept. But in the years to come you may restore the building if that is what you want – and if you can find the time. However, there are more pressing problems we have to deal with. First, we must gather provisions for the winter. The fields are either burned or lying fallow although these are the last mild days and we're on the brink of autumn. We cannot grow any corn or the like any more, it's simply too late for that. We can only give a few fast-growing crops a try. Wild fruit and mushrooms have to be collected. Fish has to be caught in the Gods Eye and to be dried or smoked. Whatever cattle we can find we have to let graze on the meadows close to the castle so that it cannot be stolen so easily. Deer and wild boars have to be hunted and preserved. The same is true for fowl.”

 

“The problem is that there isn't much left and too few people live here to carry out these tasks.”

 

“Drum up the few remaining people in Harrentown and make sure they move inside the castle walls. We need to pool our forces. The same is true for the nearby villages. They have been plundered and not much has been left anyway. As soon as the first snow falls they'd have to look for shelter anyway. Make sure that only those families who are still cultivating any crops are left where they are – the others have to come here. Tell the people that after the winter they can use the stones of the two most decayed towers to build new homes in Harrentown, or to renovate their old homes if anything is left of them. This castle is too big and too expensive to maintain. That's one of the reasons why no owner can hold Harrenhal for long. So two towers have to be pulled down in the long run. I hope that that will also reduce the problem with the bat-infested rooftops. I hate bats' shit!”

 

“What do you intend to do with the extra space?” Ser Bonifer asked.

 

It was Sansa who came up with a good idea: “In Winterfell we've got greenhouses to grow vegetables for which the climate would usually be too rough. Thanks to the lake we'd also have enough water.”

 

Sandor clicked his tongue: “Sounds bloody good, Little Bird. A pity that this project cannot be realised before the winter.”

 

Ser Bonifer nodded and added: “Ser Gilroy has also talked about the possibility of horse breeding in the future.”

 

The Hound snorted: “First, we have to survive the next days, and then the upcoming winter. Only then can we talk about such plans.”

 

“Yes, my lord. Coming back to the most imminent tasks: What do you intend to do with the prisoners?”

 

“First, somebody has to count them and to find out their names. If there are any noteworthy men amongst them, I need to be told at once. Tomorrow or the day after, I'll talk to their leader. Make sure they get fresh straw, empty buckets for the excrements, acceptable food and clean, fresh water. As I said before, I want to use them as hostages to get the Kingslayer back. And we don't have to put fuel into the fire, so they must be treated at least halfway decently. Ser Armory has already done enough to breed more ill blood by killing two of them.”

 

It was then that Ser Gilroy entered and approached them.

 

“My Lord, Bessie has been put into the servant's room close to your bedroom, just as you have ordered. She woke up and it took a while to put her to sleep again though she was dog tired if I may say so. Ser Will is keeping an eye on her now. The Lord's bedroom is being prepared for you. I have also inspected the kitchen, the forge, the barracks and the armoury.”

 

Sansa peeped up: “There is a boy in the kitchen; his name is Hot Pie. He was attentive and kind when I was sick.”

 

So Sandor snipped his fingers and cut in: “Ser Gilroy, give that lad a little reward as you see fit. What else can you tell us?”

 

“There are enough weapons left in the armoury for our modest numbers. Our men have been accommodated in the barracks. The wing has been rather run down by the... previous inhabitants, so the men have started to clean everything. They have also started to dig new latrine ditches, because the faeces were already oozing out of the old ones.”

 

“I had already guessed as much from the stench on my tour round the castle. Good point. What next?”

 

“There are three smiths left in the forge that are worthy of being called such. One of them is an old fellow named Ben Blackthumb. I know him from my childhood. His soul is as gentle as his arm is strong. There is nothing to be feared from him. The master smith named Lucan was killed recently. Oh, and one apprentice is left. All in all, still enough men for our purposes for the time present.”

 

“Hmhm”, Sandor rumbled. “What about Lorch's men?”

 

“They've got their tails between their legs, my lord. You were very... impressive down there in the main yard. They have already taken in the manticor flag.”

 

“Bloody better for them to do that. By the way, that makes me think. I want people to differentiate between my brother and me and to found a new family branch.”

 

At that, Sansa uttered: “You mean – like Starks and Karstarks?”

 

“Exactly, Little Bird. What do you think of the name “Harrenclegane”?”

 

All of a sudden, there was a smile in Sansa's voice to be heard: “A bit long, perhaps, but a logical choice. It makes sense, and it tells everyone where you're located now. But then, you'll also need your own flag.”

 

“Oh, that's easy”, Sandor mocked. “The green of the Gods Eye waters in the background. Or the green of the fertile meadows. Whatever. And in the forefront one dog, a molehill and a bird perched on top.”

 

Sansa giggled, which caused Sandor to grin, too, and she asked him to be allowed to sew the new flag. After a moment of general exhilaration, the Hound became serious and sad. What had he been thinking!? Founding his own family branch. As if that was possible! He'd be the only Harrenclegane ever. Fuck, he was being stupid! But oh, the Little Bird sounded so enthusiastic, and if she could sew some flags she'd have a task that was relatively safe.

 

Sandor put a hand on his chest furtively. Why did his heart suddenly hurt so much? Ah, he couldn't belie himself. He knew it all too well...

 

 

 

***

 

Finally, finally, this horrible day was over. Sansa felt completely exhausted. Now, she was leading Sandor to their bedroom. As could be expected of the lord's lodging the rooms above the solar were very spacious. When they entered Sansa looked at the bed that had been prepared for them.

 

“I think this bed will be big enough for you. One thing less to worry about.”

 

Sandor growled in response: “Lord Lannister has slept in it recently. I don't like that. We'll have to see if we can get hold of another bed.”

 

Sansa sighed. Ever since they had outlined the design of the new family flag Sandor was in an extremely morose mood. Not just angry, that would have been more or less normal. No, he was... kind of depressed and she simply didn't know why. And the sadness had infected her, too, somehow.

 

She helped her husband out of his clothes since they had forgone a personal servant for the moment. They had to find out first whom they could trust here – if anybody at all.

 

Sansa undressed herself now, too, and slipped between the cool sheets of linen. Sandor followed suit and hugged her close with his strong arms. Sansa turned around in his embrace and leaned her cheek against his broad chest, inhaling his scent deeply. They were both naked now, and it was wonderful to feel her husband skin on skin everywhere. Only... there was no arousal between them. They absolutely enjoyed the closeness, Sansa trailed his scars with her fingertip and they kissed, but his... his manhood was limp, and she had no pulsating feeling between her legs. They stroked each other a bit, and Sansa was surprised how gentle Sandor's touches could be. No words were necessary here. They kissed languidly – and there was peace between them.

 

“As if our souls were touching, too”, she thought.

 

For such a long time, she had been blind and dumb, a stupid, spoiled girl, all the way down from Winterfell to King's Landing and later in the capital, too. But now that Sandor was blind in a much more literal sense and had become her husband she herself had really opened her eyes and been able to see. Her father had promised her a better man than Joffrey before he had died. Well. Sandor was that better man. He had been made for her by the gods. Of that she was convinced.

 

“Sandor?” she whispered.

 

“Yes, Little Bird?”

 

“You are my life.”

 

There was a long silence then. Just when Sansa thought she'd get no reaction from her big man, there was a low rumble in her ear: “And you are mine.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

Weasel heard the jailer arrive. It was a different man this time. This bloke was clean and looked like a knight. If she saw it correctly in the semi-darkness he had a seven-pointed star stitched on his tabard. What did that mean? Did he consider himself to be some kind of holy man? But there had also been some kind of septon amongst the Bloody Mummers – and he had liked little boys. Not the one ounce of holiness to be found in him. And this one here might look cleaner, but Lord Tywin was cleaner than the ordinary soldiers, too, and still he was a bloody bastard.

“Food”, the man said. “And water. Hand me your bucket. Here is a new one.”

For a moment, Weasel considered to spill the contents of the old pail over the man's feet, but then, she decided against it. She'd probably still need her strength, so she had to eat and couldn't use any beating or other kind of punishment. Weasel had heard hours before that a second Northerner had been taken away to the bear pit – and judging by the sounds she had heard he had been raped before by Ser Armory's men.

“You're a girl, aren't you?” the foreign man suddenly asked.

Weasel scowled.

“How come you don't know?”

“I only arrived yesterday with the new lord.”

Shit. Weasel's heart sank to the floor.

Sandor Clegane. The Hound.

Ser Armory's words rang in her ear. She could say her last prayer. This here was supposed to be her last meal!

She whispered to herself: “There is only one God, and his name is Death. And what do we say to the God of Death? Not today. Not. Today!”

“What are you murmuring, girl?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“What's your name, girl?”

“Weasel.”

“Funny name.”

Weasel tried to brave herself. She would not wail. She would not beg for mercy. She would not shame her pack. She was a wolf.

“I'm not hungry. Will you take me to the Hound first, or to the torture chamber, or will you take me straight to the bear pit?”

The man shot her a confused glance: “Why should I do that? And apart from that – the bear pit has been closed down for good. The black beast was killed this morning after it had feasted in Ser Armory Lorch.”

Weasel's head snapped up.

“He's dead?”

“Dead as a doornail. The Lord had him executed.”

Weasel scowled again. She was delighted that Ser Armory was dead, but she didn't like it that it was the Hound of all who had reduced the character list of her prayer. After all, the Hound was on that list, too.

“Here, take the water and the food. I haven't got time all day.”

Weasel was confused now. So she wouldn't be killed right away?

BAM.

The cell door swung shut.

Weasel breathed in and out deeply.

Not. Today!

 

***

 

Sandor heard the door of his solar open and shut again. He was conferring was Ser Bonifer again while Sansa was sitting close by and sewing. His new castellan was unnerving him more than a little with frequent comments like: “With the help of the Seven...” However, if you ignored the pious blabbering, most of his statements were more or less acceptable.

There was a cough.

“My lord, may I speak?”

“Is that you, Ser Cody?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Seven hells, how he hated to be called “my lord” all the time... but that was what he was now, so he couldn't snarl at the people who addressed him like that.

“Well, speak up then!” he growled.

“I'm coming back from the prison cells. I talked to the inmates. The most prominent Northerner has turned out to be Robett Glover. Another important man, some Aenys Frey, was the last man who was killed by Ser Armory Lorch yesterday. Ser Robett is relieved that there will be no more executions under normal circumstances, and he would like to discuss the chances of being traded back against the Kingslayer.”

“I'll talk to him later, after dinner.”

“Right, my lord. Oh, and I met the one who tried to free the Northerners and who triggered off the open fights between the Brave Companions and Ser Armory Lorch's men. You'd never believe she could be dangerous; she's inconspicious, looks like eight, because she's short and skinny, but perhaps she's ten years old. And she's spirited. Fascinating. She thought I'd lead her to her execution, and she didn't even cry. She has more guts than many men I've seen.”

“Hmmm...”, Sandor rumbled after Ser Cody's assessment. “In that case I'll have to go and meet her, too, to decide what we'll do with her. Hopfully, we can find an alternative for her detainment. Perhaps we can win her over so she can be with Bessie as some sort of companion or the like. I'll seek her out before the encounter with Robett Glover.”

With those words Ser Cody was released, and Sandor returned to his talk with Ser Bonifer.

The castellan started again: “Now, there is another problem I've heard people talk about. The war and the bands of outlaws are one big problem, but there is another one. A huge pack of wolves is prowling the Riverlands of late, and they're led by a giant wolf-bitch, who is so aggressive and cunning that no cattle is safe from her. Sometimes the guards on the battlements can hear them howl at night.”

Sansa looked up on hearing that.

“A giant wolf-bitch? Why... that could be Nymeria! My sister's direwolf! Sandor, can we do anything?”

The Hound growled: “Oh, we could do lots of things. Hunt her down, for example.”

“Sandor! You don't mean that seriously!”

He sighed: “What do you want? I mean – honestly? Your sister drove her away with stones. The most likely thing is that the animal started to hate humans then. Or she has forgotten you. Besides, she was never YOUR bloody wolf, but your sister's. And Arya and you weren't exactly best friends if I remember correctly. So what could you fucking do? Walk into the wood and wait for her and cluck her with words like: “Ooooh, good direwolf! Sweet Nymeria! My, you've grown! Goodiegoodiegoodie!” Fuck, no. And even if she could still recognise you or even dreamed of rejoining her human pack – the most likely thing is that you won't encounter her first, but some other wolf who has no friendly intentions.”

The ensuing silence told Sandor that the Little Bird had to be disappointed, probably even hurt. Yet, at least she didn't raise any objections. So Sandor and Ser Bonifer decided to put any possible cattle left within eyesight of humans and onto meadows where there were barns or stables that could be closed at night. And each wolf that was clearly no direwolf should be killed, Stark sigil or not.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

All day long, the Hound moved here and there with somebody's help, found out this and that and made one decision after the other. He had barely time to think, nor did he really know where to start, because there were just so many pressing problems.

However, he resolved to get to know each soldier and servant in Harrenhal, the Holy Hundred and even the lowest kitchen boy included. Since he couldn't recognize people by their faces he went down to the kitchens, the smithy, the stable, the brewery and the soldier's barracks and had one person after the other taken in front of him for a personal interview. In this way, at least he could hear their voices and the way the people moved and breathed. That told him a lot.

Soon, it became clear that many of those people who had been here before his arrival were depressed, traumatised, aggressive, introverted, frightened, or a mix of various of these aspects. While Ser Bonifer was supervising that the lord's orders were carried out and therefore rotating about the castle grounds Ser Will was sitting next to Sandor with a long list where he entered peoples' names and some notes about their personal background. Whenever a person was released after an interview Sandor made a little sign that reflected how he judged the character of the respective person, and Ser Will jotted down an according icon. In this way, they could keep track of who might cause problems and who was worth a better position.

Sandor was surprised how easy this part was for him. Since he was blind he didn't see the people flinch from his face and though he could hear fear in their voices he could always assume that his looks weren't the only reason for it. Moreover, their voices and word choices told him so much that in many cases he didn't feel the need to know anything about their outward appearances.

Soon, he found out that the servant who had been being raped on their arrival was named Pia. The poor thing was still so badly injured that she could barely speak – his godsforsaken brother had beaten her with a mailed fist so that her nose and zygoma had been broken, and she had lost some teeth. Pia was in such a state of shock that she didn't care if he knew who had done that to her; she was beyond fear, beyond feeling much of anything. The other women who had been bound to the pillories were in a slightly better state with regard to their faces, but they had all been raped as well. Bah, this was so ugly. He had seen much of this kind during the military campaigns he had participated in, but he had never taken a fancy to raping.

His talk with the brewer was kept extremely short. He didn't want to have anything to do with somebody who produced an alcoholic beverage. Already his head had started to pound and to demand a beer, but he kept an iron grip on himself.

The smiths were much more interesting, because he could talk shop with them about weapons. Old Ben Blackthumb was as harmless as Ser Gilroy had presented him. The most interesting person, however, was the apprentice.

“What's your name?”

“Gendry Waters, m'lord.”

Sandor pricked up his ears, although he didn't know why.

“Where are you from, Gendry?”

“King's Landing, m'lord.”

“What did you do there?”

“I was an apprentice in a smithy, m'lord.”

“In whose?”

“In Tobho Mott's, if it please m'lord.”

Sandor was surprised. The name “Waters” indicated that he was a bastard – and he had been able to pay the fee for an apprenticeship in one of the best smithies in the capital? That sounded fishy, to say the least.

“Do your relatives have the same profession?”

“I don't have any. My mother worked in a tavern, but she is dead. Has been for a long time.”

“What about your father?”

“I've never known him.”

“Then Tobho Mott was more than an instructor for you?”

“Yes, m'lord.”

“So why did you leave him?”

“I was sent away.”

Slowly, but surely the shortspokenness of the young man was going on Sandor's nerves. And the voice with its young, but rich timbre still reminded him of somebody, and he simply didn't know of whom. It was like a flea bite he wanted to scratch. He tried to remember all the low dives he had frequented in King's Landing and the innkeepers he had known there, but at the same time all instincts told him that that was the wrong direction for his thoughts.

“Why were you sent away, Gendry?”

“I don't know, m'lord. I was a good apprentice.”

“Hm. Now tell me what you look like since I can't see you.”

“Right, m'lord. I've got... a smith's physique if you get my meaning. A few little scars from minor burnings. I've got no beard, dark hair, blue eyes.”

“Ah. Well. That was it for the moment, Gendry. You may go back to your work. You'll do your very best for this castle, will you?”

“I'd never do anything less than my best, m'lord.”

A moment later, the smith was gone. The pride in the lad's voice about his profession and his capability was still echoing in Sandor's mind and he signalled Ser Will that the youngster was promising and should be watched more closely. And then suddenly something snapped shut within the Hound and everything fell into place. Now he knew who else had had such a rich timbre, only in an older version, more jovial and with a noble accent instead of the slang of a low-born. The physical description fit as well, and so did the background story of the boy. Whoa. Now this was interesting. Bloody interesting indeed...

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Towards the evening Sandor was suffering from a severe headache. Ever since the Battle of the Blackwater he had felt some pain now and then, but this evening, it was worse than usual. Fuck, no wonder! He had started to feel he didn't know himself any more. The blindness and the dependence that went along with it. His new social position. The unwanted location. All the new tasks until his head was buzzing. The withdrawal effects with regard to drinking.

And then... the Little Bird...

Seven Hells! The way she had opened up for him since their marriage! He still couldn't believe it. He couldn't even fathom how it was possible, but she relished touching him! The evening before she had treated him as if she actually adored the scorched, scarred ruin that was his body. She had touched him so gently... he hadn't even known that such tender caresses existed, much less expected that he could ever become the object of such wonderful ministrations. In so many ways he was more experienced than the Little Bird, but there and then he had been nothing more than a pupil. Oh, but how he had enjoyed it to learn!

Before he had married Sansa he had only ever used his mouth for eating, drinking and swearing, or perhaps biting as well when he had been a child surrounded by bullies at the rock. But otherwise...

And now, he was addicted to using his mouth in completely different ways. He simply couldn't keep his lips off his wife. Her body was so divine, her scent and taste so delicious and she welcomed him with so much enthusiasm – he simply had to kiss and lick and suck and nibble everywhere! Her mouth was like the first and her womanhood the last one of those bloody heavens.

Causing her lust with his mouth, his tongue and sending her to the stars until she sang her sweetest songs for him held so much fascination that it was way better than any fuck he had ever had with a whore. Oh, and how her trilling voice told him she wanted more! If he was honest his mouth was even more in need than his cock. And Sansa's arousal was so natural and it felt so right to do these things with her! Fuck, it was completely different from the artificial spectacle the harlots simulated.

But this wasn't all. Since the evening before things had reached a new level. Had the Little Bird only chirped something about love he could have snarled at her, raged about knights and courtly songs. But no. She hadn't used the word “love”. No.

She had said: “You are my life.”

Seven hells. There was no defence for that.

He had swallowed her confession – hook, line and sinker. That single sentence had gone right under his skin and seeped into his heart.

What on earth had happened? How had she come to develop such feelings for him? And when and where had it started? He didn't know.

It made the fact that she would have to leave him soon even more painful. But there was no other way. Blind as he was he couldn't keep her safe, even less in these dire times and surroundings. That they had survived so far was more than a little wonder. And she deserved to be reunited with the people from the north and her family.

Sandor sighed inwardly while he was walking down to the prison cells. Sansa would be sad to leave him, she might even be lovesick for a while. But she was young and so much stronger than one might expect at first sight. She was a survivor, that much he had seen clearly ever since King's Landing. She'd finally adapt and get over him. After all, there was a bit of Tully blood in her – and with it went the family motto: “Family, Duty, Honour”.

Sandor snorted. What was honour? A brittle mock camouflage for real life.

“What is it, Lord Clegane?” Ser Cody, who was leading him down the staircase, asked.

“That's none of your bloody business. How many more steps?”

“Erm – wait, eight, my lord.”

Under his breath, Sandor growled into his non-existent beard.

Then, he announced: “I'll meet the prisoners in the guard's room. Lead in the girl first, but keep her bound. If she's capable of burning you with hot soup she might do other things as well. Never underestimate an possible adversary.”

“Yes, my lord.”

When they reached the chamber where the sentries stayed, Sandor threw himself onto a chair and sprawled out his long legs.

“Any weapons in this room left, Ser Cody?”

“No, none, my lord.”

“Good. Now let's meet the girl – what's her name again?”

“Weasel, my lord.”

“That's no name. At most, that's a description of the bloody Freys. Ah, fuck, whatever, let's go ahead.”

With that Sandor heard Ser Cody walk away and open and close some heavy doors within the entrails of the castle. While he was waiting the Hound stretched himself, yawned and massaged his throbbing temples. Bleeding shit, he'd keep the two planned meetings as short as possible; he could barely await to be at the Little Bird's side again.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Aha. So it was time to meet the Hound. Weasel squared her slender shoulders while the soldier with the seven-pointed star on the tabard was tying her hands on her back. Damn it. This way it would be more difficult to wrench herself free, or to stick a sword into the huge, scarred man. However, she schooled her face so that her inner turmoil couldn't be detected.

Then, they walked off. To her surprise Weasel noticed that her legs had become weak during her confinement, and it made her even more morose.

Finally, a last heavy door was opened. It lead to a guards' room.

And true enough, there was the Hound, very much like she remembered him, sitting on a chair. The fact that he had become a lord had not prompted him to change the practical, old, dark garb he had always been wearing. However, something was strange about him.

Weasel cocked her head, but she didn't get a chance to inspect the Hound any further, because the soldier pressed her down and ordered her to kneel. Grudgingly, Weasel obliged.

Seemingly, the Hound had not recognised her at once, for he spoke up with a vacant stare that went right through her (at least as far as she could see from her kneeling position): “So you're the girl who knows how to cook a good, hot soup?”

“Yes, m'lord. Though it wasn't as good as it could have been.”

Damn it, what was she doing? She couldn't speak to him like that!

The Hound snorted: “You're an outspoken one. Your name is Weasel I've been told. Is that right?”

“Yes, m'lord.”

“And what is your real name?”

“I don't know any other.”

“A dog like me can smell a lie, best believe that – and right now, it's stinking in here like the flaming Stranger's fart. I ask you again: what's your real name?”

Shit! But at least he didn't recognise her.

“I may have had another name once, m'lord, but it died together with my father.”

“Do you have any family left?”

“Perhaps, far away. Perhaps not. I haven't been able to keep track lately.”

“Such a young girl and already so bitter. Well. Wasn't any different at that age. Tell me – have you already killed someone?”

“Yes.”

The Hound whistled and seemed to be surprised, but it was also clear he believed her. Strange when nobody else would do that easily with regard to this specific point.

Then, the scarred man suddenly changed the topic in the strangest possible way: “Could you keep a little child safe? Could you be a friend to her?”

Weasel was confused: “A child? No idea. Why do you want to know, m'lord?”

Sandor Clegane cleared his throat: “I wonder how someone like you can have become so insolent, and at that age. You don't sound like a servant. But I could need someone spirited. There's a little girl in this fortress, and like so many children she has seen bad things in this war and lost her family. Could you take care of her?”

“Do I look like a wetnurse?”

Oh shit, what on earth was going on with her that she couldn't keep her sharp tongue inside her mouth?

The Hound roared his ugly laughter for a moment, then he turned deadly serious again and rasped: “Weasel, I don't KNOW what you look like, and honestly, I don't care. The only thing I want to know is the following: Are you willing to take care of the little girl or do you prefer to rot in a cell?”

Weasel was even more confused now: why didn't he know what she looked like? It wasn't broad daylight, but there were enough torches in the sconces.

“Well, that isn't much of a choice, is it?” she asked, but didn't even sound half as defiant as she had done moments before.

“I take it as a “yes” then,” the Hound stated.

“Hmhm,” she murmured darkly.

“Then swear on your dead father that you will look after and shield Bessie and that you won't pose a threat to Harrenhal and to me and my people again.”

Damn. Now she couldn't lie. Not if she made an oath on her father. And... Bessie!? Why did the Hound talk about a child as if he cared?

A few silent moments passed by.

Finally, she gave in and ground out: “I swear.”

“Good. I had hoped you'd see the wisdom in it. – Ser Cody, take her to the bathhouse now. After the time in the dungeons she stinks like the arse of a bloody giant. Give order that she's cleaned thoroughly and that she gets a new dress.”

Again, Weasel couldn't keep quiet: “No dress, please, m'lord. I don't like dresses.”

The Hound knit his eyebrows, and he looked deep in thought.

There was a heavy moment's silence.

Then a final rasp: “Get her some squire's clothes then, Ser Cody. And when you've got her in the bath bring me the other northern prisoner I wanted to meet. – – Oh, and if you hear any news about the direwolf bitch, tell me at once.”

Weasel gasped quietly. Direwolf bitch!? Could it be? But what...?

Behind her Ser Cody answered: “Yes, my lord, understood. – Come, Weasel!”

And without further ado the soldier grabbed her by the shoulder, cut her manacle, steered her out of the room and shoved her up the stairs, into the evening light.

Weasel felt as if a thousand worms were crawling in her belly, and her heart was beating rapidly.

 

***

 

One little gasp. In the crucial moment. That had been enough. Then, he had been sure. Incredible as it was.

As soon as the girl had started to talk, Sandor had been sure he had heard that voice before. Only without the servant's jargon. And though she had hidden it well there had been a slightly northern accent. Plus the defiant attitude and the cleverness.

Weasel was no humble peasant girl. Never ever. When she had refused the dress his musings had taken a decisive turn, and as an afterthought he had brought up the topic with the direwolf.

And now he knew.

He was in high spirits.

The later the evening, the sweeter the surprises – and this evening promised to become an especially sweet one.

 

Chapter Text

 

Weasel was sullen. Baths had never been her favourite pastime, but after the dungeons of Harrenhal it had been a necessary course of action to get herself cleaned – and that the Hound had granted her a squire's clothes didn't make things better. This way she couldn't nurse her burning grudge against him. Well, she resolved, her hatred for Mycah's killer didn't need much nourishment.

Notwithstanding, her belly had demanded some food and she had been given a simple, but tasty meal. For a moment she had wondered if Hot Pie had baked the bread she had been served and that had still been warm from the oven. Then, however, she had just dug her teeth into the crust and wolfed her portion down. She needed to be strong.

 

 

After the bath, she had met another soldier, Ser Gilroy. He was tall and broad, but not really thick. For a Lannister minion he treated her in a surprisingly gentle way, and under his shock of light brown hair that was growing long and behind his bushy sideburns his smile in the clean-shaven face was friendly enough. But Weasel wasn't fooled. When the man had started to talk about horses she had understood his strategy: he was acting the good man to win her trust, to lure her into something or to make her talk about what she knew. Pah, he had to get up earlier if he wanted to fool her!

In spite of that, she had itched to ask him about the direwolf the Hound had mentioned. After a moment, she had decided against doing so. There would be other opportunities to find out more.

 

 

Now, Weasel was being led into the gigantic lord's solar. Even Sandor Clegane looked rather small in it. The tall warrior and new Lord of Harrenhal was sitting in a chair with a high backrest, his hands propped on his knees, fingers loosely entwined. For once, he looked rather relaxed and didn't gaze her way, but rather faced the hearth fire whose flickering light cast ghastly shadows across his ugly scars.

Weasel got nervous. Was this some sort of trap?

Next, the Hound spoke up, though not in her direction, as if he wasn't paying her much attention: “Weasel, are you clean and have you filled your belly?”

“Yes, m'lord.”

“Good. – Ser Gilroy, is Bessie still awake?”

“Yes, my lord, but she won't be for long.”

“Lead her in for a moment then, so that she can get to know Weasel a little. And when she's here, please fetch the lady.”

“As you wish, my lord.”

The lady? Weasel was confused. There was no lady in Harrenhal. Had the Hound brought a visitor along? Very strange. No proper lady would travel here in these times of war. Well, she'd find out soon enough.

After Ser Gilroy had left, Lord Clegane addressed her again: “You're from the north.”

Weasel's eyes widened a little, but then, she nodded.

“Won't you speak to me, girl?”

She pouted. Why didn't he just look at her? Where was that piercing, measuring gaze she remembered?

“M'lord, it doesn't matter where I'm from. It matters where I'm now.”

“I see. Well, one should live in the present, true enough – but you mustn't forget your past, whether it's horrible or not, or you'll never learn from any mistakes. And sometimes your past stalks you from behind and bites you in the ass.”

Weasel pouted again, but she had no time to stay sullen.

A moment later, the door opened and Ser Gilroy entered with a little, dark-haired girl on his hand.

As soon as the child saw the Hound she did the unspeakable: she tore free from the soldier's hands, ran up to the big, ugly warrior, hopped onto his lap and threw her pudgy arms around his neck! And Sandor Clegane? He was laughing and hugging her!

Weasel gaped open-mouthed and thought she was having hallucinations.

“Bessie!” he rumbled with a gentleness she had never heard in his voice. “Look around! We've got a visitor here. This is Weasel. Weasel wants to be your friend now.”

But the little girl only buried her cheek against the curve of his neck.

“Now it's happening. I'm going crazy. Too many bats in the belfry. Like Harrenhal,” Weasel thought.

What she didn't know yet: she wouldn't get a minute to recover.

Behind her, the door of the solar creaked again.

A sweet voice started to speak. A ghost from the past. It was like a blow directly into Weasel's stomach.

“Sandor, Bessie is still awake?”

It couldn't be. It was impossible.

Weasel spun around and gasped: “SANSA!?”

 

 

***

 

 

“ARYA!?” Sansa called.

When she had entered she had only seen a little squire boy, and her eyes had been focused on Sandor and Bessie anyway.

And now... she was looking into her younger sister's face! She was thin and pale, yes, but there was no mistaking her! She'd always recognise those dark, clever, rebellious eyes.

Sansa's hand flew to her mouth. For a moment, they both stood rooted to the spot, but then, they started to move, hesitant at first and finally running.

They crashed into each other, hugged each other fiercely and sobbed, even unruly Arya.

“Sansa! Sansa!” she called repeatedly.

Gods! Oh gods! How was this possible? Tears of joy were streaming down their faces. Moments later, they were even rolling on the floor in sheer elation.

After some minutes, Arya sniffled: “Oh, I'm sorry, Sansa, your dress! I'm ruining your dress.”

But Sansa only laughed: “As if that mattered. I've got my little sister back!”

They were both giggling then.

Arya teased her: “Who would have thought that? The fine lady not caring about her dress any more.”

More sounds of levity. Oh my, this was a wonder! An absolute wonder!

It took them both quite a while until Sansa came back to her senses, and she looked up at Sandor. He was sitting there with Bessie on his lap (in the face of the sisters' reunion she had put a finger into her mouth in confusion). Sandor, however, didn't look surprised at all. No, he was even grinning his widest houndish grin, which caused the burned corner of his mouth to twitch as usual.

It caused Sansa to ask: “Sandor, did you know about her?”

Arya stiffened then and reprimanded her: “Sansa! You can't call him by his first name! He's the Hound!”

Meanwhile, Sandor answered: “Well, let's say that after meeting her down in the prison cells I had an inkling. And judging by your sister's reactions she's been locked away for quite a while and hasn't been told about anything.”

Arya furrowed her brow, and her eyes flitted back and forth: “What have I not been told?”

Sansa got an uneasy feeling then, but she started to report nevertheless: “You see, Arya, after Sandor was blinded in the Battle of the Blackwater in King's Landing...”

“He's blind!?” Arya cut in.

“You didn't notice?” Sansa asked, surprised.

After a moment, her sister nodded and stated: “Now it makes sense he didn't look at me. Whoa!”

So Sansa went on: “Right... well, after the battle Joffrey ended his betrothal to me. He wants to marry Margaery Tyrell now.”

Arya beamed.

“How good for you! That m...”

Her sister fell silent again, seemingly thinking she shouldn't say anything treasonous now in front of the Lannister dog.

Sansa cleared her throat and came up with the most delicate piece of information: “Arya, Joffrey bestowed Harrenhal on Sandor – and then, he forced us to marry.

“WHAT!? You are married to the Hound!?” Arya yelled.

Next, she fell silent again and could only gape in shock.

Sansa nodded.

 

 

Sandor used the moment to call for Ser Gilroy and to have Bessie taken to bed. The upcoming storm was nothing for the little girl. And Sansa could feel it in her bones that her sister was about to turn into a hurricane.

Sure enough, the younger Stark daughter started to hyperventilate. Her next reaction, however, came as a surprise: she embraced Sansa in a compassionate way.

What was far more shocking was what she whispered into her ear next: “I'm so sorry for you! Nobody deserves HIM! Damn, if I hadn't sworn on father's grave to not attack him I'd kill him now.”

Sansa gasped and whispered back: “Kill? No! Oh no! You mustn't do that! He's saved my life so many times ever since father was executed.”

On instinct, she didn't tell her sister she had fallen in love with Sandor Clegane. She had the strange feeling that this would likely backfire. And her apprehension was confirmed. Disbelief was written all over Arya's face.

“He did what!?”

Now, Arya was talking in a loud voice again so that Sandor could listen as well.

“I did what had to be done,” he stated in a matter-of-fact countenance.

The younger Stark daughter was panting now and asked in a shrill voice: “You mean this is your husband? This killer? He'd make father turn in his grave! And he's bedding you? By the Old Gods, this is disgusting!”

Sansa wanted to answer, but no words would come to her.

Her husband, however, rasped: “You call me a killer? Very well! Then let's talk about you. If I'm a killer – what are you?”

Sansa was confused. Had she missed something now?

A heartbeat later, Arya yelled back: “I only killed for self-defence! I didn't slaughter someone innocent by riding him down like Mycah!”

What!? Arya had killed someone!?

At the same time, Sandor snorted and growled: “And the wolf-bitch thinks that her butcher friend would have survived if I had let him live? Bugger that! I got an order that day and I carried it out. Do you know what Joffrey and Cersei looked like on that day? As if they wanted to skin someone alive like a Bolton. If I had not killed the boy at once they would have ordered Ilyn Payne to torture him to death slowly. Do you remember what happened to Sansa's wolf? You had scared your own bitch away, but Sansa didn't do that with hers. Her wolf had to pay with its life – and it was as innocent as your dead friend. The Lions wanted to see blood on that day and if I had not given them what they wanted they would also have taken mine on top of your friend's. Have you still not learned that life isn't fair and neither of us can do anything about it? If you try you can as well piss against the wind! Just don't be surprised if you have yellow breeches afterwards.”

Arya lost it completely now; all the frustration that had been bottled up within her exploded, and Sansa covered her ears and writhed in agony – only she could still hear each word, because her sister was so loud: “Ha! Funny that the Cleganes have got yellow as one of their sigil colours. Only that hasn't anything to do with the wind, but with moral incombi... grrr... incontinence! And someone as disgusting as you is allowed to rape my sister now, because you're her husband. Oh yes, I've seen what men do to women! If you had a spark of honour in you you'd kill yourself to give Sansa her freedom back. THEN, and only then would you have really saved her life! But of course you won't do that, no. I hate you!”

Tears were streaming down Sansa's face again, but this time, they had nothing to do with joy. She could only whine.

And Sandor? He shot back: “Aye. It has become bloody clear indeed that you hate me. And you have proven that you judge people without knowing what is actually going on. How very honourable. If I was my brother I'd kill you on the spot. You're lucky I'm not – though I'm in no mood to bear your face one more instant this evening. – SER GILROY! Come and take the girl to her chamber.”

Arya hissed something hateful, but Sansa couldn't understand any longer. She had sunk to her knees and her body was heaving from her sobs. How could it all have gone so very wrong?

Sandor was fumbling his way to her now and took her in his arms. She let it happen, snuggled closer and was grateful for the embrace. But the silent look Arya gave her while her sister was being dragged away was so full of shock and disgust that she could have yelled “turncloak” as well. It hurt more than Ser Boros Blount's mailed fist.

Sansa had been so extremely happy to see Arya again – but now, it turned out that one thing was still the same: they were as different as night and day and couldn't get along. Only now it was much, much worse.

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

He had heard more than he wanted. Even outside in the corridor the angry voices had reverberated. Well, who would have thought that? The upset, loath girl he was pulling along with him was late Lord Eddard Stark's younger daughter! Ser Gilroy would have smiled if the situation had not been so serious.

Lady Arya – for that was her name now again – was shaking from anger and grief. The knight knew that right now she was inconsolable, but he wanted to give her something to think about.

“Lady Arya, I was as surprised as you when I learned about the new situation. One should assume that someone like Lord Clegane would make your sister unhappy, and their beginning must have been horrible indeed – for both of them, by the way. The marriage was a shock for the lord as well.”

The girl snarled then: “What do I care what HE felt? He's a bastard! And Sansa? Did you see that? She has accepted him! She's a traitor! Ha, but for you it doesn't matter, you're a Lannister man like the others. I hate you, too!”

Ser Gilroy was only momentarily astounded by Lady Arya's wild emotions; then, he thought that it was quite understandable that she reacted like this after everything she'd been through.

So he ignored her insulting behaviour and went on: “Lady Sansa was given a choice by the king, you know? She could have married Ser Ilyn Payne as well.”

Lady Arya winced then, but didn't say anything to that.

So Ser Gilroy went on: “By the way, I thought Lord Clegane to be a monster in human disguise, too, until shortly ago. I used to fight for Stannis Baratheon in the past.”

“Then you're a turncloak! Like my sister!”

“Lady Sansa has fallen in love with Lord Sandor, but she has no love for the Lannisters and the king, I can see that.”

“Sansa? Love? What does she know about love!? She started drooling when she saw Ser Loras ride in a tournament and thought herself in love!”

“Now, it's different. For the two of them. And they have changed both. Didn't you see Lord Clegane with Bessie? He took care of her personally when we found her family butchered near the road. Whoever the lord used to be, he's different now. I wonder...”

Arya gave him a snide look and spat: “As if a monster and a brute like him could really change! And what do you wonder?”

Ser Gilroy gave her a sad smile: “I wonder if it was my doing that triggered all of this off.”

The young lady furrowed her brow and commented: “What could an average knight like you have possibly done to change the course of history?”

Ser Gilroy coughed into his hand and explained: “During the Battle of the Blackwater I and a friend from the Holy Hundred got separated from our comrades. We were still on Stannnis's side at the time, but we had lost our swords. My friend caught fire somehow, I don't know exactly what happened. It was green wildfire. Really mean stuff that cannot be extinguished. The Lannisters had been using it to set the Blackwater aflame to save King's Landing from our troops. Anyway. To make bad things worse my friend stumbled into Lord Clegane and he was cut down by him. I went berserk when I watched it happen and didn't fear death any more. I grabbed a wooden log that was lying in the mud, attacked Lord Clegane from behind and crashed it onto his head with all the force I could muster. He fell like an ox that had been slaughtered and I thought him dead. Only later, when King Joffrey celebrated his victory, did I see him again and learned what had happened to him.”

Lady Arya stared at Ser Gilroy now, thunderstruck.

“What!? You blinded the Hound and he still lets you be around him?”

“He doesn't know. But he will soon, I guess – now that I've told you. You hate all the people so much that you'll fling any bad word you can come by into everyone's face. By some miracle your body has survived all the horrible things that have befallen you, but your soul is dead. As dead as little Bessie's soul, I must add. She has watched her father's death, too. And not only his. Her mother's, her uncle's, her aunt's – and her siblings are gone. I guess you've got an idea what that must be like, only she's even younger than you. Well, and she has chosen Sandor Clegane as some kind of guardian. He's the only one she really trusts. That says a lot, doesn't it? Don't take that away from her.”

Lady Arya was very quiet now and didn't resist him any longer.

A few moments later, they had arrived at a heavy, wooden door. They both entered a bedroom. Ser Gilroy made sure everything was all right.

Then, he stated: “No fire tonight, and I have to lock you in. I'm sorry. Security matters.”

The girl in front of him shrugged and mumbled back: “Can't be colder than in the dungeons.”

Ser Gilroy nodded: “Yes. And you've got a real bed. Good night.”

Then, he left Lady Arya and made sure the door was well locked.

Afterwards, he breathed deeply. He hoped that his words might germinate and grow into the right plant, but only time would tell. Now, he'd make a tour of the castle like he always wanted to do late in the evening nowadays.

 

The sun had set, and in the dark the castle looked even emptier and quieter and bleaker than usually. Ser Gilroy made sure that the bathhouse was deserted now and barred it. In the kitchen, he came across the meaty boy who had comforted Lady Sansa on her arrival. The lad – Hot Pie, he remembered – was willing to hand him a toad-in-the-hole, which he had just prepared, and the little delicacy turned out to be very tasty.

In better spirits Ser Gilroy moved on and finally, he reached the gatehouse. He clambered up to the battlements, because he wanted to have a relaxing look at the waters of the Gods Eye in the moonlight. The drawbridge had been closed ever since Lord Clegane's impressive tirade about the safety of the castle.

A man he didn't know well, some Dillon, was on duty there as nocturnal vigil. They chatted a little about this and that, about the war and the possible outcome, and the man looked grateful he wasn't alone for a while. Ser Gilroy felt even better now. He wondered if there was hope for the huge fortress at long last.

 

Suddenly, there was a movement down at the foot of the castle walls. At once, the knight prodded the arm of the guard silently.

“What's that down there?” he whispered.

Dillon murmured back: “Whatever it is – it's not human.”

A moment later, the moon, which had been covered by a cloud for a moment, was shining again brightly and revealed a huge, furred creature, something like a pony – only it wasn't a pony. And then, the animal threw it's head back and howled so loudly that the dead could surely be woken by the ghastly sound.

Dillon uttered a little squeal.

“A wolf! That's a wolf! And a big one at that! Ser Gilroy, can you hand me the crossbow? I had just put it down for a moment when you arrived.”

But the knight shook his head.

“You won't shoot this one. This is a direwolf. And judging by its behaviour it wants to enter the castle.”

“WHAT!? But why?”

“I guess that this is the infamous wolf bitch you must have heard of. And I've got the feeling she's in search of her pack.”

Chapter Text

The lord arrived some fifteen minutes later on the battlements with his excited lady wife. Because of his blindness he wasn't as fast as he usually would have been. Ser Gilroy had watched on while Dillon had fetched him.

The wolf howled again.

Sandor Clegane bellowed down then: “Nymeria?”

An angry bark from the foot of the wall was the tell-tale answer.

“Right. Sounds like her mistress”, the blind man stated.

“Nymeria, I'm here, too!” Lady Sansa called.

What followed was a heart-wrenching whine. So the wolf obviously remembered her human pack.

At once, Lady Sansa ordered them: “When I'm down at the gate so that I can welcome Nymeria lower the drawbridge for her. And fetch Arya.”

Lord Clegane rasped back then: “Seven hells, what are you thinking? She's a direwolf! She'll rip us all apart!”

But the lady only answered: “No, she won't. And now, I ask you to trust me.”

Her husband erupted in a fit of swearing. Even a brave warrior would have flinched from his aggressive outburst, but it didn't perturb the lady at all, and she called down the castle wall as if it was an everyday matter to converse with a direwolf: “Nymeria, I'm coming down to meet you, and Arya will be here in a few moments.”

Another whine. If the big animal understood what was said, or if she only recognised the voice was difficult to tell. Ser Gilroy prayed to the Seven that Lady Sansa was right with her prediction about the wolf's behaviour while he was watching the young woman descend the steps to the gate.

Finally, the drawbridge was lowered slowly and with major rattling and creaking sounds.

 

 

***

 

“SANSA!” Sandor bellowed, but the Little Bird couldn't be stopped.

Fuck! If only he could see! Then he'd be able to follow her and to keep her safe with his sword – or to hinder her from descending these damned stairs to meet the wild beast yonder on the other side of this wall in the first place. As it was, he was as good as helpless. A toothless dog. Damn it!

He heard the dark, rattling sound of the drawbridge and gripped an iron bar that was running down the battlements harder. Never since his face had been burned had he been so close to praying.

And then, there were wild, ecstatic whining sounds to be heard – from two throats to be precise. Sansa was obviously proving she was a real northern wolf by heritage. The whining blended into wild yapping on one side and carefree, chiming female laughter on the other.

Next to him Ser Gilroy uttered: “My lord... if I didn't see what I'm seeing now I wouldn't believe it.”

“WHAT do you see?” Sandor asked sharply.

“Well, this pony-sized direwolf... and your lady wife... they're... they're scrimmaging on the earth and frolicking and rolling around. Like... like children.”

Sandor relaxed, snorted, remembered the intimate interlude back at the abandoned house and commented inwardly that seemingly his wife had a soft spot for mud games (in spite of her alleged ladylikeness). He didn't get any further with his thoughts though, because the same instant a hollering girl's voice could be heard from the yard. Which meant that Arya was joining the fun.

The sentry called Dillon stated then: “Haven't heard so much happy laughter inside these castle walls ever before – not even if I count every instance together.”

Sandor couldn't see it, but he heard a smile in the man's voice and – unrealistic as it was – it felt like a spark of hope.

 

Later, he gingerly scrambled down the stairs and met his wife. Even from afar he could smell the wolf, and he could only hope that the huge animal would accept him... and that the little hellion that was Sansa's sister would keep her word and not shout: “Get him!”

Down at the bottom Sansa came running at him and called merrily: “Sandor! Sandor! She's here! Nymeria is here! Come here and greet her!”

And without further ado she snatched his hand and pulled him on.

The Hound could hear a confused little “whoof?” when he arrived.

“Bugger that, I'm sceptical too, Nymeria, but now I'm kind of a master-in-law. How do you like that?” Sandor growled.

Another “whoof?”, and Arya harrumphed: “Pah! As if Nymeria had a master! She's a leader in her own right now!”

There was quite a bite of pride in the girl's voice – until a moment later she squealed in delight, probably because the furred beast was licking her or something like that.

A moment later, Ser Gilroy, who had descended the stairs as well to help his lord, could be heard with his most humorous and amiable tone: “Hello Mrs Direwolf – Ser Gilroy, at your service. I'm kind of Lady Sansa's pack. Pleased to meet you.”

Sandor heard the Little Bird gasp, and then, she whispered to him: “You won't believe it! Wild Nymeria is giving paw! Ser Gilroy is really an animal whisperer!”

The Lord of Harrenhal chortled then and mumbled back: “A night of neverending surprises. But if a wild direwolf is capable of some basic politeness it probably means that not all is lost for your 'charming' little sister.”

Sansa giggled and retorted under her breath: “And what about you? Is there any hope for a certain Lord Mole?”

“YOU!”

Without thinking about any possible onlookers, Sandor reacted and took hold of a squealing Little Bird, crushed her to his chest and kissed her.

“Shit, Nymeria, don't watch! Don't watch, I tell you! – Bah, shit, I think I'm running the risk of getting blind as well.”

That was Arya, and she was lamenting like a washerwoman, but somehow Sandor got the notion that earlier that evening she had sounded far more vicious. If only he was right! He wanted Sansa to be happy, and not to be alienated from her family.

 

Chapter Text

 

Much, much later, the Little Bird was finally in bed with him. She was still totally over-excited and twittering like mad, a clockwork that wouldn't stop. He couldn't deny her her happiness. The tiniest smile played around the good corner of his mouth.

 

“... and the way Nymeria tore the mutton leg out of Hot Pie's hand! Gods, that was sososo funny!”

Sandor chortled then: “I'm bloody convinced Hot Pie wouldn't agree with you. The poor lad nearly pissed himself, by the way he squeaked and from what I've been told.”

“Oh, I didn't think of that! Should Arya have fed the meat to Nymeria herself then?”
“I don't think her wolf would have waited until she'd have been handed the meat to pass on.”

Sansa giggled and laid her warm cheek on his chest and nuzzled his hair there.

“They've become even wilder over time. Nymeria and Arya both.”

“Aye, I think so, too.”

With his hand Sandor stroked the silken, auburn tresses he couldn't see but remembered so well. Only weeks before such gentle touches wouldn't have been possible. She had been Joffrey's betrothed, and he himself had been an angry drunkard without an aim in his life (if you didn't count a quick death on the battlefield). How different things were now. He suddenly knew that at least in some ways his life had become better. If only he weren't blind... But he'd always choose the Little Bird over his eyesight, he wouldn't even think twice.

“So thoughtful, all of a sudden?” Sansa asked.

“Aye. I'm thinking about the future.”

“What about our future?”

Sandor breathed in deeply. 'OUR' future. How natural and good that sounded from her lips!

“Don't you remember? We're still at war, and the Riverlands have been torn apart and scorched. I'm still on a different side than your family. So what do we do?”

“Can't you change sides? You know that Joffrey is no worthy king.”

Sandor sighed and answered: “No, I cannot change sides. Especially not with my handicap. For once, your family would never accept me. I've been made Lord of Harrenhal, but they wouldn't leave me in that position, even less since I've been made Lord Paramount. How could your uncle, Edmure Tully, ever tolerate it? Bugger that! What's more, they hate me – and rightly so – for the atrocities I have committed on the battlefield. I'm not a good man, Sansa, and my reputation is even worse. I'm Gregor's brother after all, and they'll never forget it. Oh, and then, there's one last thing.”

“What, Sandor?”

“Ser Bonifer.”

“What about him?”

“He has been sent by Lord Tywin.”

“What do you want to say?”

“I've known the Old Lion long enough, and I know his policy. Family first. I think he was pretty pissed off when he heard we were married. You could have been sold to a better, a more important man to get a claim on the north, in case your brother dies. So I'm convinced that Ser Bonifer is entitled and supposed to blame me for high treason and to kill me. I can only count myself lucky that he's not a born killer and swallowed the bait I prepared for him. I've accepted his hypocritical religious waffling as well as his position as my castellan. So there's hope my head won't be chopped off, if I don't step out of line.”

Sansa's head shot up a little in surprise, though her hair was still trailing over his torso.

“No! You don't say so! I can't believe it! Ser Bonifer is such a nice man!”

“Little Bird, he may not be as bad as others, but he has fought at the Battle of the Blackwater and he has killed people – just like me. And he's not brave enough to willingly risk to call Lord Tywin's wrath upon himself.”

Sansa's cheek returned to his chest. She was mulling things over.

“If this is true – which plans do you have for the future?”

Sandor put a calloused finger gently onto the tip of nose and answered: “It's too early to call them “plans”, but there are a few things I've got to consider. This evening – before all the hubbub with Arya and her wolf – I met and talked to Ser Robett Glover down in the prison cells. We discussed options, and I think he's understood that I'm willing to be more reasonable than bloody Armory Lorch. Perhaps it would be possible to carry out an exchange, and I could get the Kingslayer back. Lord Tywin would barely call it high treason, if I got him his son, even if the cost was considerable.”

“You would release the prisoners for Ser Jaime?”

Sandor snorted at that: “The prisoners, precious as they are, would hardly be enough.”

The Little Bird stiffened then.

“You'd send Arya back as well?”

“Aye.”

Sansa's response sounded very sad: “It's a very reasonable thought. I only wished I'd have more time with her after having found her alive only today. There are still so many things that need to be sorted out between us.”

It was then that Sandor shoved the metaphorical dagger into his heart and rasped: “Little Bird, I've thought about that, too. We may be married, but it doesn't mean you're in fetters here. You're a free person. Do you want to go on a trip and to visit your mother and brother for a while?”

“What!?” Sansa exclaimed. “A visit!? I could see... Mother and Robb?”

“Aye, Little Bird.”

A second later, Sansa threw herself at him in sheer joy, and she hugged and kissed him wildly on his mouth – and drove the metaphorical dagger deeper into his heart.

Suddenly, however, she paused.

“But Sandor – you said that we're at war, that Lord Tywin is breathing down your neck and that Mother and Robb don't like you. How could I go and see them? And how long should the visit take? Won't it be difficult to cross the lines?”

So his young wife was rather clever if she came up with these worries so soon.

“Aye, it won't be easy. I'll make Robb swear on his honour that you'll be able to come back after two months – and I'll tell Lord Tywin that you're loyal to me and that I've sent you to spy on your brother's plans.”

“Robb is honourable, but Lord Tywin won't believe you!”

“Oh, he will, or at least as much as he will ever believe anything. Ser Bonifer will report to him how fond you've grown of me and that you'd do anything for me. – At the same time, your brother might come to the conclusion that I'm not such a mean bastard after all.”

Inwardly, Sandor knew that Robb was a king now first and foremost. Noblesse oblige. And honour was just a concept to soothe the trustworthy. He didn't know if he should be happy that Sansa had retained some of her innocence, even after all the shit she had experienced at the hand of Joffrey and his buggering knightly cronies back in King's Landing.

He didn't get any further with his musings, however.

All of sudden, the Little Bird landed a blow he'd never have expected from her, and she'd have blasted him out of his boots if he had been wearing any: “Sandor, please... before leaving... please bed me and make me your wife in truth. And... perhaps... I could be with child then. Our child.”

Sandor started to pant and his inner demons were yelling and whining in the face of this enormous temptation. Their future. Their child. He had never even dreamed of such a thing, because it had been so far away from his own reality. And now she was offering him what he had never imagined!

He had a lump in his throat.

“Little Bird, you can't fathom what your wish means to me. There is nothing I want more than to live with you properly, as wife and husband. And if we could... a baby would... I mean I'd be the happiest man on earth. Only... if I knew you might be with child I couldn't let you travel, even less in these times. You know, I don't want you to miscarry. A journey – it would be too risky for the both of you – and then, you couldn't visit neither your Mother. Nor Robb. And doesn't he have a direwolf, too?”

“Yes, Greywind. But Sandor...”

“When you come back to me... then we can make a child. I promise. I'll take you into bed, hold you all night and enter your body – and I won't let you go until you've forgotten your name from sheer ecstasy, until I've got your sweetest song, Little Bird. That's what I want to do. And I want a family with you.”

Shit, why was he saying these things? His statements were as useless as the Harrenclegane flag, he knew it all too well.

 

Oblivious of his brooding Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck again.

“I hope the little one will have your grey eyes, Sandor.”

Seven Hells, he was touched beyond measure and damned close to weeping!

Yet, his sweet wife still wasn't done: “But Sandor, I want to be close to you, body and soul! What can we possibly do? I need you so!”

Right, now he really needed some bloody diversion lest he not start to sob, so he rasped shakily: “Ah, Little Bird, you know well enough what we can do with our mouths, don't you?”

He didn't give her time for a lengthy answer, slipped down her body in one fluid motion and started to feast on her body like a starving man. It didn't take long until Sansa quivered and moaned blissfully – and afterwards, she paid him back measure for measure. Bloody Seven, this wasn't the shy maid from King's Landing any more! Nor did she wear her porcelain armour here, no. She was so warm, so alive, breathing and so very breathtaking at the same time... And she was also hungry.

They stayed awake until the hour of the wolf and pleasured each other in ways Sandor would have never deemed possible. He hadn't known much beyond in-and-out-movements, and he could only try to remember what he had heard from other men. And he could experiment with Sansa. To his surprise she was responsive to each kind of touch, each flick of his tongue or rub against her skin. If she blushed or not he couldn't say, but she was eager to enjoy his caresses. Only when they were both completely exhausted did they drift off into a peaceful, well-deserved slumber; even then, the Little Bird was snug in his arms as if she belonged there, and Sandor committed this Elysian sensation to his memory.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

 

“This is a trick Mother, isn't it? Some kind of trap.”

 

“I only wish I knew. Oh Robb – if there is the slightest chance to get the girls back – and our men – we must consider this offer very well.”

 

“I know. I want to have them back, too.”

 

“What about Sansa? She's married to this horrible Clegane, and he asks you to swear on your honour that she will be allowed to return to him after two months.”

 

“Well, it doesn't really matter what I allow or don't allow if Sansa simply doesn't want to return to the Hound. Besides – they're only married by the decree of a usurper. And since Joffrey is no rightful king it means that their marriage isn't valid anyway.”

 

“But Robb, you can't interpret the situation like that! It would peg her as a whore!”

 

“No, no. There would be an official annulment. The situation is a difficult one for her anyway, but she isn't the first woman in history whose marriage would be undone. And she is so lovely that we'll certainly be able to find her another match.”

 

Lady Catelyn sighed: “I only hope that she's still the sweet girl she used to be – I mean... after having been bedded by this horrible brute... Gods, it makes me feel sick all the time!”

 

Robb embraced his mother and rumbled: “Yes, I feel exactly the same. And things don't get better here. I wish I hadn't conceded that Arya should marry Ramsay Bolton – as a bastard, he's even more below Arya than Sandor Clegane is below Sansa. And Sansa... once she's free of the Hound the Freys will claim her and blackmail us – and there isn't much I can do about it. Tell me – which sort of king am I if I can't even make sure that my own beloved sisters marry really worthy men? I'm a wolf without teeth!”

 

Lady Catelyn hugged her son back then and answered: “You've shown your teeth in recent fights; they're shar p. But we have already lost the Karstarks as our allies and have been weakened until we'll have the Freys on our side again – at least as much as you can ever have a Frey on your side. Anyway, Roose Bolton knew he could demand anything from you under these circumstances. The bastard's legitimisation, the marriage... And wit h regard to the weddings – perhaps we can delay them. Arya is still too young to marry, and we can always say that Sansa has to recover after her ordeal in King's Landing. Many a betrothal has already been ended because the fiancé died in a war.”

 

Robb snorted and answered: “Well, that might be a possibility for the Boltons, but it doesn't work with the Freys. There are simply too many of them for an impromptu replacement. Still, I'll do what I can to prolong the betrothal. And uncle Edmure's marriage will take place first anyway – that may soothe some not quite so old grudges about mine and Jeyne's marriage.”

 

“Let's hope so. And let's also hope that Lord Walder's contemporary wife is strong and healthy so that he can't claim Sansa for himself.”

 

“Whatever the price Mother – I could NEVER allow that to happen. – – And now, I need to speak to the Kingslayer again. I have to find out what he thinks about the Hound's credibility. After all, we can speculate as much as we want about Arya and Sansa, and it won't help us one whit if Clegane's offer isn't worth the paper it was written on.”

 

 

 

When Robb arrived where Jaime Lannister was imprisoned he could see that the Lion was only a shadow of his old self. His eyes had a haunted look, the colour of his normally fair hair could barely be recognised under all the grime and he was gaunt, smelly and in rags. And he had befouled himself. Having been in fetters for so long had clearly had a weakening effect on the man's constitution. Yet, even so the man had retained his acid tongue and welcomed him with some sarcastic insults.

 

Robb, however, was in no mood to fool around and came straight to the point: “Kingslayer, let's make it short and talk about an old friend of yours again.”

 

“Friend? Who? I've got no friends.”

 

“I'm speaking about Sandor Clegane.”

 

Jaime Lannister snorted.

 

“He's no friend, he's a dog. That's as much a difference as there is between a king and a wolf.”

 

CLANK!

 

The iron chain at the man's neck was taut within a moment when Robb pulled on it forcefully, and the Lion started to choke and gasp for air.

 

Robb hissed: “Still big words from your mouth. But if I were you I'd tread very carefully now. The next things you say may decide over life or death. Your life or death.”

 

When the iron chain was released from Robb's grip the prisoner coughed and gasped some more.

 

At length, he managed to utter: “Life and death don't mean much for me any longer.”

 

“What about freedom then?”

 

That finally caused the Kingslayer to prick up his ears and to answer grumpily: “Well, what do you want to know then?”

 

Ha, so Robb had the man by his balls now!

 

“Is the Hound a man who plays foul?”

 

“Pah! In battle you do what you have to do to stay alive. If you had more experience you'd know that.”

 

“I'm not talking about battle. I'm talking about the man in general.”

 

Jaime shrugged his shoulders and said: “The Hound is cleverer than many men take him for. He wasn't made Cersei's and later Joffrey's sworn shield for no reason. Of course, he knows how to win a fight if necessary, and he's into tactical thinking as well. But I don't know him for a trickster. Actually, he's cleverer than me in at least one way: he doesn't swear any oaths so he can't break them. When he does make a statement you can usually believe it's a sound one, rude language or not. He doesn't lead people up the garden path, and I think one can say he dislikes all the scheming that's going on in the Game of Thrones. A straight kill is more to his liking.”

 

Robb arched his brow and retorted coldly: “Let's hope you're speaking the truth, Kingslayer. Otherwise, you might soon find out whether there are indeed seven hells and whether they're worse than your current situation.”

 

The kingslayer only harrumphed and spat back at him: “And what about you, Wolf? Would you find out about your Old Gods in that case?”

 

Robb turned on his heels silently and heard the Lion croak something after him that sounded like embittered laughter.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Lord Tywin banged the message onto the table. What on earth was this Bonifer Hasty thinking!? The old Lion hissed. He should have known it. A representative of the Faith, even if it was a knight capable enough of fighting, was useless at best.

What had the man focused on? Ha! Since when was the Lion known to be a spectator of romantic mummers' shows!?

 

“To King Joffrey, First of His Name, and his Hand, Lord Lannister of Casterly Rock –

Report from Harrenhal –

Lord and Lady Clegane have fallen in love, surprising as it may sound. Until now, there has not been the slightest trace that Lord Clegane's loyalty could be doubted. Quite the contrary, he and his wife have started to take innumerable measures to improve the situation in Harrenhal and to rule over the people justly; apart from that, they show their mutual affection openly. Even though Lord Clegane unfortunately does not support the Faith he tolerates it and allows his wife and all of us to worship the Seven properly. Lord Clegane's blindness is certainly most unfortunate, and to some extent, it is an obstacle, but the lord holds himself in a way that can only be termed as admirable. Lady Sansa plays an important part in this. She supports him in a way no-one who was present at their wedding in the throne room would have deemed possible. Her strength is admirable. From my point of view things at Harrenhal could not develop in a better way.

I remain the Realm's humble servant, Ser Bonifer Hasty, Castellan of Harrenhal.”

 

Lord Tywin hissed. The damned knight had not written about the truly important things, only waffled about religion and romantic mush. No words about forces and movements in the region, no information about the soldiers he had left in the fortress, Ser Armory Lorch, for example, no word about the northern prisoners he had heard of, nor about the situation with the Bloody Mummers.

Just nondescript blabbering instead. What did he care about whether the Hound tolerated the Seven; it was nothing more than a halfway interesting detail!

And love? Between the burned ruffian named Sandor Clegane and the delicate, noble Lady Sansa Stark? Pah!

Lord Tywin had lived through enough wars and upheavals to know that sometimes hostages formed a bond with their warders, and that was nothing more than a survival technique.

The Old Lion tapped his fingers in his desk.

Come to think of it – even if these relationships were not normal, at times they could be surprisingly intense and lasting. Perhaps Lady Sansa could be exploited in a way that wouldn't have been possible in King's Landing. After all, one always had to see the positive aspects that might even be found in a misguided policy. Though what Joffrey was doing didn't even deserve the term 'policy'. And for his incapable grandson he had prepared according measures. Joffrey was on his best way to ruin his family and kingship, the last weeks had shown that more and more clearly; so extraordinary solutions were necessary. But that was another chapter altogether.

Still, it was indeed surprising that the younger Clegane and the girl had found together, for whatever reasons. Lord Tywin couldn't picture the Hound with a woman, even less with such a young, beautiful, innocent, rather stupid one as Lady Sansa was reported to be. The Old Lion knew her mother Lady Catelyn, and if the girl had inherited only ten per cent from her the combination of her and Sandor Clegane was nothing less than inconceivable.

 

Lord Tywin rubbed his face with his hand in an annoyed way. Bah! He was getting weak and sentimental himself! He hadn't had a woman for too long. It was a good thing that he had ordered a whore for the night. He didn't allow himself this foible often, but when he had been in King's Landing over the last years from time to time he had had a woman brought from Alayaya's through a secret tunnel.

It was unnerving – someone his age shouldn't be so virile, but he couldn't help it. He had always been someone with a fierce temper and with a vitality even younger men lacked. So from time to time he needed a woman to let off some steam, unwelcome as it was.

Ah, anyway, he had had enough for today, Lord Tywin thought – and it was the truth. He had been working for no less than twelve hours already. So he bundled his papers on the desk and made for his bedroom.

 

When he woke the next morning the whore was still there with him, snoring softly. They had simply fallen asleep. In his bed. Around any other woman he would have thought that she had done it on purpose to get a nice tip, or some other kind of favour. But he had booked this woman occasionally over a longer period of time, and she had never asked him anything; it wasn't any different now.

Swiftly, he put on a tunic and some simple breeches and walked over to the adjoining room where his breakfast was already waiting for him. When the harlot appeared in the doorframe he felt obliged to offer her a snack, which she declined, called for his squire next and sent her away.

The Lion's thoughts returned to the message he had received from Harrenhal, and strangely enough, he was more understanding than the evening before. Even so, these specific news from the Riverlands wouldn't change his plans for the future.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Petyr Baelish was stomping around the solar in one of his brothels angrily. In public, he'd never allow himself to show his emotions, but here, in private, he didn't hold back.

Shit! His assassin had failed him! And now, his spy at Harrenhal had sent him a raven and told him about the recent situation in the huge fortress that should have been his, Petyr's. As it looked, Sandor Clegane was actually trying to behave like a true lord, and to rule competently – in spite of his blindness. It was unnerving that the huge cripple was being respected now instead of pitied, as one should have expected. After all, why should any man serve a blind freak willingly!?

To make things worse, the Hound was getting along with the little Tully bitch well! There suddenly seemed to be... mutual affection. Bah, there mere concept tasted like ash in his mouth! How on earth was that possible!? The girl had been meant for him, like the blasted fortress!

In his frustration, Petyr opened the door and told a servant – the son of one of the whores, a probably nine-year-old boy – to get Cessie for him. She was his latest acquisition, a young, fair-skinned redhead. Of course, she was neither as young as Sansa Stark nor really first class, but she was acceptable enough, her face was a little plain, but kind of sweet, and she had been a maid until very recently. Normally, he would have auctioned her maidenhead like he did with all the other innocent whores in his brothels – but for once, one kind of greed had won over another one, and he had broken her in himself.

A poor substitution, actually, but at least she was already learning sedulously how to serve a dominant man. Well, he'd take what he got – and always fight and plot for more.

 

When he had finished his interlude with Cessie he focused on Sansa Stark again. For the moment, it was difficult to get her. He had to be realistic about that, frustrating as it might be. Sadly, his spy at Harrenhal was no murderer, and it would be difficult, risky and time-consuming to get an assassin into the damned burned building. As far as he knew, Lord Tywin disliked the overall situation, too, so the cleverest mode of action would be to support and to fuel the Lion's aversion.

In the meantime, he'd woo Lysa Arryn. He had already managed to evict some people from the land bordering on the one he had been bestowed upon by King Joffrey, and he had bought and blackmailed the others, so that now the tenure was at least a little more acceptable than it had been.

Besides, the king had awarded him another – though landless and therefore rather meaningless – title. Still, it was better than nothing, and Petyr hoped Lysa Arryn would accept him now as a suitable husband. Once he'd have a safe grip on the Vale he could dispose of the old hag and her sickly brat as he deemed adequate.

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Things were going well in Harrenhal. Too good to be true, actually. Sandor enjoyed his days and nights with Sansa as best he could without risking a pregnancy, and his sweet wife was reconciling slowly with her sister and also getting along better with her than in the past. Nymeria had stayed for two days, but then, she had left to lead her big wolf pack to a different place where there was new game. Arya was a little sad about her direwolf's departure, but she understood the necessity of taking care of her animal family. Moreover, it was a consolation to know that Nymeria still liked her mistress, and she wouldn't be too far away.

Sandor was also very surprised when he found out that Arya was friends with Gendry and Hot Pie. Of course, the girl didn't tell him any details, because she still disliked him, and the smith was too taciturn a fellow, but the kitchen boy proved to be rather talkative, especially when around the master of the fortress; Sandor didn't even need to utter the faintest growl. The story that Hot Pie told him was a grim one, just like Sandor had already expected – still, it helped to understand the little wolf-bitch's behaviour better.

 

Things in the huge castle were developing surprisingly well, too, given that it was supposed to be a white elephant. The people from Harrentown had been installed on the castle grounds, and the building didn't look as deserted as before. They had also brought along their working utensils as best they could, everything from loom to last, so one could say that now they had a town within the castle walls.

Moreover, plans were developed about the harvest and the storage for the upcoming winter, which would surely be very hard and long. Luckily, the God's Eye provided lots of fish, which could be dried and smoked. Most of the cattle had been slaughtered or stolen in the course of the war, which was a pity. Ser Bonifer tried to calculate all the assets and had a good look at the area around to find out which fields had not been destroyed and where they could expect some crops.

Nymeria's wolf pack had decimated the game in the woods, but there was still some left. Men were sent to the “Isle of Faces” where they caught more animals. It looked as if there would be quite a bit of rabbit on the bill of fare in the future, judging by the furred population on the island. Some specimen were also caught alive to build up to breed them in big cages, so that a basic amount of meat was always at hand. In addition, mushrooms were collected and pickled, and luckily, the range of edible sorts was big. Even some (though not all) battles over the forest nuts were won against the local squirrels.

Ser Cody started a self-defence training program for the new castle inhabitants. Old and handicapped people, who couldn't do much else, were detailed for the sentry posts, the stable, the kitchen or the toddler's nursery. Bessie stayed in the latter place at daytime as well, and the mothers were grateful that their children were being cared for – they even got a little food there – and thus, the adults could work on other tasks without worrying about the little ones.

Even the northern prisoners around Ser Robett Glover were integrated in the work, rather than just being kept in the dungeons. Naturally, they were heavily chained and only lead up in pairs consecutively in order to keep them under control easily, but the men were so very relieved to see the daylight again for a while that even noble Ser Robett accepted to clean and to pare salsifies. It was still better than late Ser Armory Lorch's bear pit.

 

Sandor was grateful by now that he had Ser Bonifer as his castellan. The man was still a sodding hypocrite when it came to religion, and he was certainly not the world's best warrior, but he was a nobleman through and through and knew how to organise a castle and to give out orders. Since Sandor had not been raised for this kind of task, being only the second son of a landed knight, he could congratulate himself he was supported in this way.

 

The good news that Harrenhal was ruled more effectively now and that there were no fights there at the moment, caused refugees to approach the castle walls from everywhere in the region. They were all redistributed according to their abilities, and there was certainly enough space in this giant of a fortress. Sooner than Sandor would have expected people started to reconquer the long-abandoned, bent towers, and the bats were expelled from the rooftops.

One day, a few people approached him with a really incredible piece of news: “We've found Lord Harren's original bed!”

“How do you know?” the Hound rasped in disbelief.

Well, he needn't have asked. When they lead him into the room where it was he could trace the carving of Lord Harren's sigil on the headboard with his fingers – yet, this was even the weaker argument to prove the bed's origin. The decisive point was the sheer size of the bed: it was as colossal as the rest of the castle. Sandor walked around it, and his mouth started to sag. This was by far the biggest construction for sleeping he had ever seen! The length and width was four times his own size in each direction!

When he returned to his solar and told Arya and Sansa, who were talking about the latest production from the brewery, his wife smiled: “Finally a bed that is big enough for us!”... whereas Arya commented: “Boah, is that true? Fat King Robert must be biting his ass in the afterworld now that he didn't have such a thing for all his whores.”

“Arya!” Sansa exclaimed in ladylike shock about her sister's rude words – while Sandor threw back his head and laughed so heartily that after a while his midriff started to hurt.

 

And this was not all. The same day, a wiry elderly man arrived at the castle with his family. His name was Brent, and he was blind like Sandor, only he had been born like that. The men took to each other at once. When Brent was lead in front of the master of the castle they talked about their ailment and exchanged impressions and opinions. How good it was to talk to someone who could understand! Brent had two things around him that raised Sandor's interest: a big staff and a big dog named Salmon (however the animal had earned himself that name).

“Very helpful,” the elderly man stated, “they can both lead the way, only a dog must be intelligent and needs some training. Plus the staff can be used as a weapon and the dog is your friend and guardian.”

“Would you like to be kennelmaster and dog trainer then?”

Brent only laughed back: “Sure! And I guess you know how to swing a sword, but I'd wager I could teach you a few things about fighting with a staff while being blind.”

Sandor's enthusiasm knew no limits then. Finally, he was able to train again!

And the man had spoken truly – during the first days, he received many bruises, but that had never been a deterrent for him. Sandor had always believed his senses to be sharp, and they were certainly better than the ones of most others... but in comparison to Brent's he sometimes felt like a helpless toddler. However, he hadn't been called 'the Hound' for nothing in the past: once he had dedicated himself to a task he wouldn't give up, like a good hunting dog who wouldn't let go of his prey.

 

With his senses sharpening even more he sometimes also overheard talk amongst the servants and normal folk that wasn't meant for his ears. In this way, Sandor found out something so surprising he didn't believe his own judgement when he first picked it up: the people had all started to call him “Lord Mole” – and when they said it, it had an affectionate ring.

 

 

***

Chapter Text

 

 

 

During her time in King's Landing, after her father had been killed, Sansa had thought she'd never be truly happy again. And now, she was. In fact, she was even happier than she had ever been able to imagine. She thought that perhaps you had to see the ugliness of life before you could truly appreciate and welcome the good things.

She had never pictured she'd be the mistress of a ramshackle, huge monster of a castle, married to an equally huge man all scarred and blind besides, and reunited with her bratty, unnerving little sister after having been separated for a long time. Had anyone foretold her so she wouldn't have believed a word, would have giggled about it immaturely with her childhood friend Jane and would have never figured out that this could, in fact, be an arrangement that would make her soul bloom like a winter rose.

 

Most of all, she loved every single minute she had with Sandor. Ever since this other blind man, Brent, had arrived her husband was so spirited and so eager to learn to live with his handicap! Sandor was beaten black and blue with a wooden staff every day in the training yard – and he could only laugh about his bruises and patted the dog Salmon when he and Brent left the training ground at the end of a fighting unit!

Arya had been fascinated by this kind of fighting with a staff at once, too, and had started to participate in the training. The men had not chased her away, which had caused Arya to slowly accept Sandor as well. Their relationship would likely never be an untroubled one, but Sansa could see a beginning of mutual respect. And if her little sister couldn't kill 'the Hound' for riding down her friend it helped that she could at least 'lambast the giant sod on a daily basis', as Arya put it herself.

At first, Sansa had been put off by the rude training, but when she saw the overall positive effect she soon started to watch on and to bring her work along to the training pit, rather than to stay in the solar.

And there was an awful lot to do. Sandor trusted her and let her decide many things when it came to organising the fortress, knowing she would come to him with anything that had to do with the soldiers, the fortifications or the prisoners – and even then, he conferred with her though he was the true expert there. In this way, she learned a lot and became more and more self-confident. That the men around her, Ser Bonifer Hasty included, acknowledged her was like a balm for her soul after all the humiliations she had endured in the capital.

 

Oh, and the sweet, intimate moments she had with Sandor! She had tried to make her peace with the fact that her husband wouldn't penetrate her with his manhood until it was either clear she couldn't go and see Robb and her Lady Mother, or until she had come back from her family visit and they could finally start their own family. In every other way, however, they got every ounce of pleasure from their relationship they could.

Sansa adored every inch of her husband, and she showed him what she felt. After all, he was a man who liked actions over words anyway. She kissed him from head to toe, and there was really a lot to kiss, so it took a while and it left Sandor incredulous and panting from arousal again and again. His scars had long ceased having a deterrent effect, and she caressed them as devotedly as the rest of his body. Sansa had also taken her time to inspect his private parts in detail, and she found them unbelievably enticing, despite her her septa's rigid education about moral affairs. Sansa now rather adhered to poor late Lya's last advice. It was wonderful to see how sensitive Sandor was when it came to intimate touches. Sometimes, he looked as if he had not known it himself, so Sansa had been proactive and started to pleasure him with her mouth the way he did with her.

When she saw Sandor in the throes of his lust, or when he was so deeply satiated that his eyes were hazy, her heart sang. Plus his manly scent and taste made her dizzy on a regular basis. True, he couldn't focus his gaze on her, which was a pity, but in the slate depths there was so much warmth that was meant for her that Sansa knew she'd never find as much love elsewhere.

 

To her surprise Sandor appeared younger now than he had done before their marriage. He allowed himself some carefree moments when they were amongst themselves, and a few times, he behaved as if HE was the youngster, the one who still had to grow up, not her.

One day, for example, they were alone in the stable. Sandor had wanted to be led to Stranger, because he had had too little time for his stallion of late. Sansa was happy to guide her husband, and Sandor groomed his horse and gave him an apple, promising he'd ride him again soon.

Suddenly, however, Sandor turned to Sansa and stated, a mischievous smile on his lips that caused his mouth to twitch: “The last stable-boy has just left the building. I can hear his steps retreat.”

“So?”

Sandor answered her by pressing her against the wall of the box, front side first. Next, he positioned himself behind her, rubbed his hardened member against her backside, hoisted up her skirts, and mere moments afterwards, his big, calloused fingers sneaked into her smallclothes, and further, into her body.

Sansa gasped and breathed: “Sandor! But.. what about Stranger?”

“Ser Gilroy is always blabbering about establishing horse breeding – won't harm Stranger to give him some impressions of the task ahead of him.”

Sansa was shocked, but at the same time, she giggled like mad, her husband's fingers already working their sweet magic on her. With his second hand, Sandor pulled down her smallclothes to her thighs, so he had better access, and then, he unlaced himself and freed his hard manhood. An instant later, he rubbed himself between her buttocks and her female folds, and they both moaned happily.

Stranger seemed to be confused and snorted a bit, not knowing exactly what he should do in the face of such outrageous behaviour.

After some ecstatic minutes, Sansa came with a high-pitched mewl.

“Yesssss, Little Bird, that's the song I like!” Sandor rasped, enthused... and then, he drew back a little and spilled himself with a deep groan. Seemingly, he had already been holding back himself.

While they were rearranging their clothes Sansa blushed deeply, looked at the nonplussed horse and chuckled: “I think I start to understand why Lya and her husband were so loud during their nights in the abandoned house. It's... special to have some kind of... witness.”

Sandor threw back his head and barked his laugther.

“So it is, Little Bird, so it is. Seven hells, I think I'm liking your new wanton attitudes.”

And Sansa blushed even more.

She thought to herself that she didn't want this time of relative carelessness to end – but deep down she knew the truth of her family words: “Winter is Coming.”

 

To distract herself from her worries she came up with an idea.

“Sandor, we still need a motto for the Harrencleganes.”

“Do we? And you sound as if you already had an idea.”

“Perhaps. It sounds a bit orthodox, but what about 'candour, devotion and true strength'?”

Sandor bethought himself for a moment, and then he growled contentedly: “Those words are damned good ones for a Dog. And even better ones for you.”

There was pride in Sandor's raspy voice, and suddenly, Sansa thought: “'Candour, devotion and true strength' – these words mean we could live through anything.”

It was this idea that gave her strength for the future.

 

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

 

Two days later, the raven arrived, the raven that they had all been waiting for. In his message, Robb Stark declared his consent to carry out an exchange of Arya, Sansa and the northern prisoners on the one side, and Jaime Lannister on the other. At once, the tension in Harrenhal rose.

 

Sandor felt a constant leaden clump in his stomach. The decision had been made, his light-heartedness was gone, and he could only try not to appear like an empty shell, so as not to make things too difficult for his Little Bird.

 

Sansa was very excited, torn between the wish to stay with him, and the joy to be finally able to see her family again. She flitted here and there like an over-active hummingbird, so nervous was she. Soon, she had to pack her belongings. After they had arrived in Harrenhal Sandor had seen to it that she had got some fitting dresses, not the tight fabric she had been forced to wear in the capital, and now his wife had enough things to at least fill a chest.

 

Arya was in a fidget as well.

 

“What a pity that Jon won't be with Robb and Mother, and that Father and Bran and Rickon are gone forever, but oh, we others must be strong together now. We're pack,” the girl declared determinedly.

 

For her sake Sandor hoped she'd get what she wanted – and the way she wanted it. That was what his head told him – but his heart felt as if it was being tortured and stretched on the rack. There were moments when he suddenly grabbed the Little Bird when she was nearby, crushed her to his chest, breathed in her wonderful scent, tasted her mouth and listened to her little gasps and rugged breathing, just because it was impossible to behave differently.

 

Nevertheless, he ordered a cart to be prepared for Sansa and Arya. This time, his wife would travel more comfortably than she had done from the blasted capital to Harrenhal. The prisoners would walk, of course. He himself had to stay behind in the castle, loath as he was to it. Yet, he had to expect a trap or an ambush and blind as he was he'd pose too easy a victim. Not that he cared overly for himself, but if the Young Wolf managed to kill him Sansa would hate her brother forever and that was something Sandor wanted to avoid. After all, he knew all too well what it was like to feel a deadly hatred for a brother, and it was nothing he could possibly wish for his wife.

 

Come to think of it, his feelings for Gregor had retreated a little over the previous weeks, because Sandor had been so very occupied, and Sansa's love had soothed his anger. Yet, it wasn't gone. But Sandor had understood that good feelings were so much sweeter a motivation in his life. Without Sansa he feared he might lapse into his old desolate state – or a worse one, actually. In the past, he had not known what he was missing in life – soon, however, it would be different. Would it kill him?

 

 

 

The evening before their farewell, they crept into bed – Harren's huge bed, which had been repaired and transported to their room –, and Sandor was so desperate, so full of need, that he wanted to take his Little Bird properly, to plant his seed into her so in the end, she wouldn't be able to leave... but no, he chastised himself; he wouldn't ruin everything. Sansa wanted to see her family, she deserved to see her brother and mother, and if he spoiled everything he might well lose her trust. That would be something he couldn't bear.

 

So Sandor got a grip on himself, at least as well as possible, and made love to her in those ways they had already explored together. Around the hour of the wolf, they were both sweaty and totally exhausted.

 

Panting, Sansa asked: “Sandor?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Am I wrong, or are we having a better... intimate life than most spouses in Westeros? I mean... in spite of... not doing everything.”

 

Sandor smiled wistfully against her collarbone.

 

“What we're having is unique, Little Bird.”

 

 

 

A moment later, he felt Sansa's delicate hand stroke his hair.

 

“Sandor, you've turned out to be such a wonderful husband. I'll be missing you and counting the days until we'll be reunited. And then, you won't get a chance to bed me properly, because I'll be the one who'll be bedding you first.”

 

The Hound uttered a little moan on hearing her daring words. Next, he kissed a swelling breast, the collarbone, wandered up her neck, to her earlobe, to her cheek, to her mouth. Their tongues played, like they had already done again and again all night long. Sansa wasn't holding back one whit, not any more. She had grown, not only on the outside, and was mature beyond her age. When it came to the two of them all that counted was their mutual love – not propriety.

 

Finally, Sandor drew back a little.

 

He burst out: “And you are a wonderful wife, Sansa. Seven hells, I don't want to let you go! I want you to stay with me, and I want to have a family with you. I've never known what a loving family is like. I hope that everything will go well, you must promise me to take care of yourself, please promise me! If anything bad happened to you it would fucking kill me.”

 

He had sounded alarmingly pained.

 

Sansa sighed and pressed his head to her chest: “Oh Sandor, please don't fear anything! I've learned so much, I'll look after myself – and in case anything goes wrong, Arya will save me with either Needle or her staff. You've trained her well. And once we're with Robb, he'll protect us. He and Greywind. Perhaps even Nymeria. Oh, I promise that I'll count the days until my return. – – And now, there's something I'd like to ask you, my love.”

 

Sandor's heart cramped.

 

“What is it?” he whispered in his raspy voice.

 

“Sandor, please, you have to be strong! I mean – you are already the strongest man I know, yes, only... please don't start drinking again. Keep your wits about you. There are so many dangers on every side, from King's Landing, from Stannis, from the upcoming winter... the people here – they need you. You are responsible for them. Please be strong for them as well. You are such a good man, and with Ser Bonifer's and the other people's help you can do so much good. Father wasn't prepared to become a lord either, you know, and it wasn't a position he had wanted, but in spite of that, he did everything for his people. I know you're as worthy as him. And Bessie. Please take special care of Bessie! I love her as much as you do. Help her to overcome her horror and pain as best you can. Oh, and Gendry. Make sure he's safe, or Arya will want to skin you alive...”

 

Sandor pressed a finger on her lush mouth and rumbled: “Hush! My chirping Little Bird. Your song is getting jumbled.”

 

“Only promise me!”

 

With a very grave voice, Sandor answered: “You know how I hate vows – but now I bloody swear I'll do everything I can to make you proud and happy.”

 

Sansa breathed back: “'Candour, devotion and true strength', my love.”

 

And from one moment to the next, they were both weeping and kissing each other's tears away.

 

Sandor had never grasped what lovers had to be feeling when the man went to war and had to leave the woman behind. Now, he started to understand. Only their roles were reversed.

 

They clung to each other as if they were in the midst of a horrible storm and fighting for dear life.

 

In all honesty, Sandor didn't know how he should survive without Sansa. She was his spark of life. How could he possibly go on without her? He, the blind, useless bugger dubbed “Lord Mole”?

 

Without finding an answer, they uttered endless words of love. Neither of them thought of sleeping that night; they didn't want to waste their time and Sansa could sleep on the cart the next day. They mapped each other's body one last time with their hands, kissed and kissed...

 

… and finally, it was dawn.

 

Chapter Text

 

They got up, dressed, and both of them felt wooden, like puppets. Breakfast was impossible, but the travellers would have enough provisions for later.

Down in the yard, everyone was already busy. Sandor could hear the two mules in front of the cart; the tack was jingling. Men were running around, and Salmon was barking excitedly from out of another tower.

The Hound could also hear some regular stomping movements: the northern prisoners were being led up from their cells to join the little trek. Ser Cody's voice was booming in the yard. He was supposed to lead the travellers with some of his knights, and to receive the Kingslayer from Robb Stark's side. Sandor felt like shit that he couldn't do these things himself. It was all wrong.

From behind he heard lighter steps, though they were not as lively as usual.

“Arya, is everything all right?” he asked without turning around.

The little hellion murmured sullenly that she hadn't slept well. Sandor pricked up his ears. There was something in her voice... no, she wasn't lying, but something was weird about her tone. Yet, if she didn't want to talk it wasn't his role to find out more. Besides, he wasn't in the mood for talking anyway. His heart was an open wound.

Sansa was at his side, and they were holding hands silently. He was still feeling his Little Bird's wing. Seven hells, how could he let go of her? He noticed he was trembling, and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Lord Clegane?”

Sandor recognised the voice.

“Ser Robett?”

“You didn't continue Ser Armory Lorch's killing policy. This is also what I'll tell King Robb. I wonder how long this war will go on. Perhaps one day this here can be a first connecting point for a future time of peace.”

Sandor's scarred face was stony.

“Perhaps,” was everything he managed to grind out.

 

Finally, it was time for the departure.

Sansa tried to be like a lady, to be strong, she tried to reactivate the shell she had worn in King's Landing to save herself some pain – Sandor could feel it clearly. Yet, it was all futile... and he himself wasn't faring much better. So he dragged the Little Bird behind the cart. With a sob, she embraced him, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, not caring one whit any more whether anybody saw their open display of love.

Sandor didn't want to let go, his breathing was rugged, and the pain in his heart increased to a level that could easily compare to that distant moment in his childhood when half his face had been seared away.

“Little Bird! Oh.. my... Little Bird!”

 

At long last, their bodies parted, and the immediate sensation of emptiness was acute.

Sandor heard Ser Cody take Sansa's arm, to help her onto the cart, and Sandor rasped at the knight: “If anything happens to my wife you'll wish you had never been born.”

“My lord, I'll guard her with my life!”

Ser Cody sounded offended, and Sandor thought: “I'm already starting to behave like the Hound again!”

It sent a chill to his bone. He breathed in and out deeply.

“I know, Ser Cody. I'm just concerned for my Lady Wife.”

“My lord.”

The knight appeared already to be slightly mollified, though Sandor didn't truly care. He couldn't care. He couldn't feel Sansa any more; that was the only relevant point, and it was eating him up. The withdrawal effects he had suffered from back in the barn after their escape from the capital were nothing against this. NOTHING.

 

Sandor bellowed some last words, though he didn't know exactly himself what they were. The world was spinning around him. He could hear Sansa address him one last time with their new house motto, and her sweet voice was so full of pain and love – but also strength. It made him feel proud of her.

Sansa was a survivor. She was alive where everyone else in her place would have died in the capital. She'd be able to find and pick her way now. His Little Bird would be able to rise into the sky. And he could tell himself he had helped her. So he had at least done one thing in his wretched life that was right. In spite of everything, he managed to show her a short, sad last smile.

And then, the trek started to move. He could hear the turn of the cart's wheels, the clop-clop-clop of the mules' and the horses' hooves, the steps of the many men, the clanking sounds of the knights' armour...

 

Suddenly, there was a little form at his side and a pudgy little hand tugging on his tunic.

“Where'v mommy going?”

Sandor's grief-stricken heart rattled.

“Bessie!?”

The girl had not talked since the day she had been found next to her dead family. But what was she saying now?

“Where'v mommy going?” Bessie repeated, her voice rising.

The implications of her words hit Sandor with the force of a ram.

Before he could react the little girl let go of his clothes, and he could hear her run after the people who were leaving the castle.

“BESSIE!” he called. Seven hells, she'd get under the cart, or under the horse's hooves!

The same instant, however, he could hear Ser Gilroy move and grab her. The girl was shrieking and obviously fighting him, and not even the knight's gentle voice that told Bessie that Lady Sansa was only visiting her family and would come back soon helped the child to calm her down. No, she was wailing like a banshee.

Sandor's headaches, which were always lurking at the background of his skull, emerged with full force. Where was the sound of the cart? Where was Sansa? He couldn't hear her any more! NOOooo!

White, hot needles stabbed him in the head, and suddenly, he was so sick that he vomited with heaving spasms into the yard. A moment later, everything turned dark.

 

 

***

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

 

Sansa had been weeping a lot. She should have been looking forward to seeing her family again, but her grief about parting from Sandor had outweighed any other feeling. The nights without his huge, warm frame at her side had been the worst.

 

Arya hadn't been of much help and had been gloomy herself. That was a bit of a surprise for Sansa. True, her little sister had left two friends in Harrenhal, but even so, she should have been happier about the imminent meeting with Robb and her mother.

 

They had travelled for a few days and now, early in the morning, with a sparkling sun rising above a misty sky, they were nearing the meeting point. It was a bridge across a little river Sansa didn't know. On the other side, there was a grove close by. Were Robb and her mother already waiting for them, hidden by the trees?

 

“Ser Cody?” Sansa addressed the knight who was riding at her side.

 

“Yes, my lady?”

 

“Are we in time?”

 

“Even a little early, my lady. Luckily, we didn't have any problems with the cart wheels, so we didn't lose any time.”

 

“I see. Thank you, good ser.”

 

 

 

Finally, Sansa's heart started to flutter. Yes, she was looking forward to seeing her brother and mother again, but she was also nervous about how they would treat her and think of her, now that she was a married woman. Married to the Hound. She sighed, and slowly, but surely she started to fidget.

 

They all got off their horses and the cart and made a makeshift camp where they could eat and drink something, and Ser Robett and his men could relax their sore feet. Sansa and Arya had exchanged some friendly words with the northern prisoners over the last few days, and while they got along well enough together and the men were nothing but respectful, there was also some polite distance as well.

 

“Ser Robett doesn't know exactly what to think of me. Or perhaps he only sees little more than a child in me, or just a woman who has married an enemy, not much better than a collaborator,” Sansa concluded gravely. Well, she could only hope that visiting her family would restore her good reputation in the north. She didn't only wish so for herself, but also for Sandor. If she was received in good graces, so might he one day.

 

 

 

After having waited for approximately six endless hours, there was some movement under the canopies of the trees.

 

A rider emerged.

 

Now, it was Ser Cody who spoke up: “Ah, someone is checking on the situation to report whether we have already arrived. Please stand on the cart and wave your hand, my lady – you are tall enough and your hair can be seen even at a distance.”

 

At once, Sansa obeyed and waved her arms. Arya jumped onto the cart as well and jumped and hopped and thrashed her arms around wildly at her side.

 

The rider had obviously noticed them: after a moment, he turned on his horse and galloped back into the forest.

 

Some minutes later, there was some more movement amongst the trees: a unit of soldiers emerged – and amongst them was a man with the same hair colour like Sansa. For a moment, she thought the man had to be uncle Edmure... until she saw a big direwolf next to the horse.

 

Robb!? Oh! How he had grown! He was a man in armour now! A real warrior! Sansa squealed in delight, and an increasingly excited Arya next to her yelled at the top of her lungs: “ROOOOOooobb!”

 

The soldiers advanced, swiftly, but also purposefully and orderly.

 

So did Ser Cody and his men.

 

When they came closer to the bridge Sansa could also detect a very weird-looking figure on a bony crock. Seemingly, it was a man, but dirty and grimy, in tatters, and only skin and bones. After a moment of inner puzzlement it dawned on Sansa that this had to be Ser Jaime Lannister, who was to be exchanged against the northern prisoners, Arya and her.

 

What a shock his sight was! She had seen an impressive, radiant, handsome man in Winterfell... and now she didn't even recognise the wretched person an that old horse! Sansa wasn't sure, if her feelings were adequate, but her heart went out to the poor man, who had obviously not been treated well. She told herself that Sandor's men would take good care of him from now on, and she saw another reason for why it was good that she had come to meet her family again.

 

Her heart was beating wildly.

 

And then they were at the opposite ends of the bridge. Arya looked as if she'd start to run towards Robb any moment, so wild was she. From here, Sansa could see that Robb was excited, too, but he controlled himself and looked grave.

 

“So you have come indeed and brought us what is ours,” he called and went on: “Where's the Hound?”

 

Ser Cody shouted back: “I am in command here. Due to his ailment, Lord Harrenclegane had to stay behind in Harrenhal, but as you can see he is true to his word. Here are our northern prisoners with Ser Robett in the lead, and here are Lady Arya and Lady Harrenclegane.”

 

“Harrenclegane? Ailment? What is this rubbish?” answered Robb, clearly annoyed.

 

So Sansa spoke up: “Robb! Let's talk about these things later! There is no trap here. Let's just come to your side, and send Ser Jaime Lannister over here!”

 

At once, Robb's eyes turned brighter when he heard her, and he ordered the dirty figure on the old mare: “Right, Kingslayer. Ride ahead. And don't do anything stupid. My arrows are pointed at you.”

 

Sansa couldn't believe what she was hearing. The man even still seemed to be in chains, was about to get his freedom back, was visibly weakened – and yet, he was being threatened with arrows?

 

Sharply, she called to Ser Cody, so that everyone could hear it: “You won't point any arrows at anyone. I forbid it.”

 

The knight didn't look happy, but inclined his head dutifully.

 

“My lady.”

 

In a much smaller voice Sansa said to him: “Thank you for everything you've done so far. See to it that Ser Jaime is well-cared for from now on. And tell my husband that I love him and that I'm looking forward to the day I'll be coming back.”

 

“Can we go now?” Arya cut in, unnerved.

 

Ser Cody just answered: “I will, my lady. The Seven be with you.”

 

Now, it was Sansa, who inclined her head, smiled... then turned around, let Arya pick up the reins (when had her sister learned how to navigate a cart with mules?) and off they trotted, towards her waiting brother.

 

 

 

When they reached the middle of the bridge they passed Ser Jaime, who had started to move as well.

 

Sansa looked at the man, smiled and said politely: “Ser Jaime, I wish we had met again under different circumstances. Under better ones.”

 

The ragged man answered sardonically: “Spare me your lies – I'll hear enough of those again once I'm back in King's Landing. And now – have fun with your “lovely” family. By the way, I don't intend to enjoy their “hospitality” again any time soon. The nest of vipers, which King's Landing clearly is, is still quaint in contrast to the whereabouts of wolves and trouts.”

 

And with those words Ser Jaime averted his face and rode on.

 

Sansa's gaze followed him for a moment. How bitter the man was! Well, given that this proud Lion looked like the lowliest sod from Flea Bottom it was hardly a surprise.

 

Arya only shook her head about Ser Jaime's words, wrinkled her nose, flicked the reins, and on they rolled with their cart.

 

And then they were there. At long last!

 

 

 

“Robb! Robb! Robb!” Sansa and Arya shouted. Tears of joy were already streaming down Sansa's cheeks, they jumped up from their cart, and the next moment, her younger sister was pinned to the earth by a whining Greywind, while Robb was clutching Sansa to his mailed chest.
Gods! Oh gods! How he had grown! He was a man now! And he looked so proud, so fierce, so regal!

 

His voice was thick with emotions when he stammered: “Sansa! By the Old Gods! Let me look at you! Oh, how relieved I am! You look so good! So very good! You've become a woman! And so beautiful! Mother will be overjoyed to see you safe and sound!”

 

Sansa was laughing freely now and threw herself at her brother again.

 

“Where is she?”

 

“Mother is in a camp about a mile away. She's already waiting impatiently, as you can imagine. In the meantime – look who has come to meet you as well!”

 

While Robb was turning to a merrily crowing Arya now, Sansa faced an elderly man with an armour that showed a sigil with a dark trout. It was the Blackfish! Her mother's brother!

 

“Uncle Brynden?” she called, and the man grinned widely.

 

Sansa noticed at once the spark of friendliness, but also of intelligence and cunning in his eyes. Yes, this was a man right after her heart!

 

“Surely, Sandor would come to like him, too,” she thought.

 

The next moment, it was Sansa's turn to be thrown to the ground by Greywind's huge, furred paws, and the direwolf licked her face wildly. She could only squeal and wriggle and laugh.

 

What a merry reunion it was!

 

 

 

When they had calmed down after a few minutes, Sansa noticed that on the other side of the river Ser Cody and his men had already left after they had obviously sent the northern prisoners across the bridge as well. She sighed inwardly for a moment, but then smiled again brightly when Robb offered her to lead her to a palfrey he had brought along.

 

“Or do you want to travel on the cart again?” Robb asked, obviously remembering that she had used to dislike riding.

 

This had changed, however. Ha, she had ridden Stranger! After they had arrived in Harrenhal she had even sometimes taken it upon herself to move him a little since Sandor couldn't do this, due to his blindness. She had been afraid of the wild, black courser for quite a while, but over the last two to three weeks she had gotten more or less accustomed to the horse, also thanks to Ser Gilroy's good advice. To ride a gentle palfrey now was harmless in comparison!

 

With an animated motion she wanted to mount the horse, but then, she noticed two things: unlike Stranger this animal was wearing a saddle for women... whereas she wasn't wearing her riding clothes! Since her husband's steed only accepted saddles for males she had simply parted her widest skirts and had sewn the new edges together, so that she had had a mixture between skirts and trousers, so that she still looked female and didn't show her legs either. The more relaxed riding position had also helped her to learn riding better.

 

Here, however, this was all out of the question. She sighed again and mounted – without needing anyone's help, much to her brother's obvious surprise.

 

For Arya, things were easier: she was still wearing trousers and simply rode double with Uncle Brynden. Together with the accompanying soldiers they cantered back to the camp Robb had talked of.

 

 

 

“Sansa! Sansa! Oh, my sweet little girl! And Arya! Oh, the Seven be blessed that they have given you back to us!”

 

Sansa laughed and weeped and laughed and couldn't stop, threw her arms around her mother's neck, and they both clung to each other like mad. Arya's embrace was fierce, too; true, she had had some conflicts with her mother in the past, but after all the hardships they had been through it all didn't count at the moment.

 

After the first blissful minutes, Lady Catelyn stepped back a little, dabbed at her eyes and looked at her daughters, her Tully blue eyes big and round with wonder.

 

“Sansa! Arya! How much you have grown! And how good and healthy and strong you both look!”

 

Sansa cast a side glance at her little sister and thought that her mother was right with regard to Arya, too. After her imprisonment, her little hellion of her sister had put on some weight in Harrenhal, thanks also to Hot Pie who had kept imposing delicacies on her each time she had been lurking in the kitchens again; it had been Ser Gilroy, who had told Sansa that little detail, and she had been happy to know of it.

 

At that moment, a grinning Rob cut in and teased them: “If I wasn't a married man now and the brother of these two young women besides I would be very intrigued.”

 

Arya thumped him as if she wasn't dealing with the King of the North, and Sansa giggled and asked: “Where's your wife? Will we get to know her soon?”

 

“Jeyne is in Riverrun at the moment. The same is true for uncle Edmure, by the way. Anyway, Jeyne is already looking forward to getting to know you. You'll like her; she's lovely.”

 

Sansa clapped her hands together happily and exclaimed: “Sure! Oh, I can't wait to meet them both!”

 

Robb laughed back: “Everything in due time. And now, tell me: do you need a break, or shall we start to travel back to Riverrun?”

 

Arya retorted: “We had been sitting on our behinds and waiting for six hours before you arrived. No, no, let's ride on now.”

 

Their brother chortled: “Now, if this isn't the unruly little sister I remember! Well, I certainly don't mind to use the rest of the day and to travel some more. Sansa, do you agree?”

 

“Yes, absolutely!”

 

In no time, her mother's tent and some utensils from the camp were packed and stored on the cart. Lady Catelyn intended to travel in another, smaller cart.

 

In the past, Sansa would have sat with her without thinking twice, but now, she said to Robb: “I am still so very excited from the trip, I simply can't sit still. May I ride on the palfrey again? We could talk so much better then. And I think there is a lot we have to talk about.”

 

Her brother could only gape at her for a moment, but then he uttered: “Well, dearest sister, you surprise me! I didn't expect you to have developed such a liking for horses, but yes, of course you can come along with me. I had intended to converse with Ser Robett, but I guess that it can wait until later. Arya, you'll travel with mother then.”

 

“Can I have a horse, too? I'd ride next to mother, of course.”

 

Robb was a little embarrassed now.

 

“Arya, we don't have a horse left, if Sansa is going to ride.”

 

Her little sister wrinkled her nose in distaste then.

 

“Oh.”

 

However, the reunion with her family was still having a gentling effect on Arya, and at least for once, she didn't start to argue, which was a relief.

 

Robb called out some orders to his men, and once again Sansa thought that he looked like a king. A true king. Unlike Joffrey back in King's Landing.

 

 

 

***

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

Robb was deeply impressed. Even during their first hour after having been reunited he had already noticed how much his two sisters had changed. It was still rather easy to recognise Arya. She had grown, and she seemed to have an air of seriousness about her, but her skittish core could still be detected easily.

With Sansa, things were different. She had grown, too, of course, and looked more like a woman now. But where he had expected her to be frightened, humble, even traumatised, she was healthy, composed, thoughtful, but also self-confident. Robb had imagined she would be a broken creature after the Hound had had his ways with her – but this was as far away from the reality he was confronted with as one could possibly imagine.

Sansa had started to like riding a horse, and on the other side of the bridge she had ordered the Hound's men not to point their arrows in the prisoners' direction... and the men had obeyed her! And now, she had even voiced her wish to talk to him while riding to Riverrun. The girl he had known would have never done that, would only have hidden herself behind her mother's skirts and asked for an embrace and a lemon cake, a soft bed and a bath. The new Sansa, however, wanted to know more about the recent situation in Riverrun and the course of the war, since she claimed to have missed the latest events because of her voyage to Harrenhal. Sansa – talking about politics! It was unbelievable.

“What has happened?” Robb asked himself in wonder.

So he gave her a very brief account of the latest fights, which he had all won, and then asked his sister: “And what about you? You have married, Sansa.”

His sister only smiled and answered: “So have you, and well before me. Shouldn't you start to tell me something about your Jeyne?”

Robb was amazed, smiled and answered: “Well, that's true, but I'm very curious about your situation. After all, it was seemingly this new arrangement that made our reunion possible. And you said something about “Harrenclegane” and an “ailment” to excuse the Hound's absence during the exchange. What does it all mean?”

Now, it was Sansa's turn to look surprised.

“You haven't heard of Sandor's blindness?”

 

Robb nearly fell off his horse... though he couldn't say what shocked him more: the news that the Hound was a cripple, or Sansa's natural usage of the disgusting man's first name.

“What!?”

“So you really haven't heard? Oh my. Let me tell you then. Sandor was wounded during the Battle of the Blackwater, and ever since he's been blind.”

Robb gaped like a carp, while Sansa went on: “And “Harrenclegane” is the new name for our family, because Sandor wanted to distance himself from his brother.”

Robb's brain really had some difficulties to process these pieces of information now.

Finally, he stammered: “What does it mean... family? Are you... with child?”

Sansa blushed and answered in a low voice: “Not yet.”

The King of the North was really having a hard time then. Sansa was speaking of the Hound in a nearly... affectionate way. It didn't make any sense. He had assumed his little sister would be incredibly relieved to be freed from that horrible man, but, in fact, she was implying she might have children with him in the future – as if she thought she'd go back! And on top of that, the Hound was blind! What a weird situation!

“But... is it true, Sansa, that Joffrey forced you to marry the Hound?”

His little sister wrinkled her nose in distaste then: “Joffrey forced me to choose a man from a selection of various bachelors.”

“And you chose Clegane, of all men?” Robb burst out.

Sansa snorted: “Would you have preferred me to marry Ser Ilyn Payne, our father's executioner?”

Robb paled on hearing that and muttered: “By the Old Gods!”

Sansa reached over next and patted Robb's hand.

“Don't fret, brother. I made the right choice in the Throne Room. Sandor has proven to be a good husband for me.”

It was then that Robb stopped his horse in sheer shock – which caused everyone else to stop, too.

“He what!?”

Suddenly, Arya's laughter was rising from the cart, which had been a little behind.

“Look at his owlish face, Sansa! I don't know what you've just been telling our dear brother, but from the look on his face I can guess that it must have something to do with you cuddling...”
“Arya, stop it!” Sansa cut in with quite a bit of steel in her voice.

Robb was so flabbergasted he couldn't even talk. Cuddling!? Surely Arya was referring to Sansa and horses now... not to Sansa and... no, the Hound didn't even know how to spell that word!

“Robb, what is it? What's wrong?” he heard her mother call in a clearly alarmed tone.

The King of the North cleared his throat.

“Erm, nothing important, mother. I was just surprised by some news, but it's nothing bad. At least I think so. We can find out more later. And now, let's go on!”

The trek started to move again.

Robb wasn't sure, if he wanted to know any more details of his sister's marriage with the Hound, so he cleared his throat again and went on awkwardly: “Well, Sansa, you wanted to know about Jeyne. Shall I tell you how I got to know her?”

“Oh yes, please!” Sansa chimed in, clearly just as eager to change the topic as him.

His own marriage was not an easy matter either, since he had ignored and broken his betrothal to the Frey family, but at least he already knew everything about the story and didn't have to fear any shocking news.

The next surprise was thus not anything he said... but his sister's reaction. Sansa listened intently – but she didn't start to rhapsodise about the fact that he had married for honour and love. Instead, she stayed deeply serious and thoughtful.

Hence, he asked incredulously: “Do you condemn me for treating Jeyne honourably after what I had done?”

Sansa shook her head then and answered: “No. I can understand that you had to follow your heart, and if you've come to love your Jeyne she must be a wonderful woman. Only... the question of honour is not an easy one here since you humiliated the Freys, so you could only choose between one kind of dishonour and another. What worries me is that father tried to act honourably, too, he did what his conscience told him, even though he knew it was dangerous. And it cost him his head, because the world around wasn't honourable towards him. I've seen it myself, I was forced to watch, was forced to look at... father's head. Please, please don't let the same happen to you! We have been separated for so long, and we have already lost two brothers. I don't want to have to mourn my last brother as well.”

At first, Robb had been almost angry about the fact that romantic Sansa wasn't enthusiastic about his marriage – but when he had heard her next words, his heart started to hurt, and he reached out and took Sansa's hand. By the Old Gods, the horrors she had experienced! How could she still be so calm and strong – and wise beyond her years? No, this young woman at his side wasn't a lovely, but a little vain girl any more. Suddenly, Robb got the notion that perhaps his sister would have to say more prudent things, if he cared to listen.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

When Jaime arrived at the huge ruin he was surprised to find it bustling with activity, like an oversized beehive. He had never seen the giant castle so alive with everyday business – not that he had been here often, but still. He'd stay for a few days to recover a little, and to regain a more human appearance. He had already shaven his beard and washed and cut his dirty, matted hair; Clegane's men had also provided him with clean breeches and a tunic, but he was still underfed and weaker than he could possibly like. Thus, Jaime was looking forward to a clean bed, regular, healthy food and a bit of sparring to become fit again. It was a pity that the Hound was blind now and couldn't train with him any more, but hopefully, there was someone else around in the training yard, who'd prove to be something akin to a match for him.

 

Granted, this escort of a huge, ugly woman named Brienne of Tarth, who had been sent along with him by Lady Catelyn to accompany him to King's Landing, posed as a warrior woman, but Jaime was certainly not interested to put her stupid pretensions to the test.

 

The wench had followed him as soon as Lady Sansa had reached the end of the bridge, but in the hullabaloo of the Stark reunion and Clegane's men awaiting him her leaving one side and reaching the other had gone nearly unnoticed. On their way to Harrenhal she had kept to herself and remained sullen. Well, she was Lady Catelyn's minion, so he didn't mind her hermit's behaviour. Jaime only wanted to get back to Cersei.

 

 

 

In front of the stables, he was greeted by Ser Bonifer Hasty, the recent castellan.

 

“Ser Jaime, it is a pleasure to have you back safe and sound. I am sorry to tell you that Lord Harrenclegane is unwell and cannot receive you at the moment, but everybody is at your service, and you will miss nothing with regard to your personal wants. How long do you intend to stay, if I may ask?”

 

“Harrenclegane? What's that rubbish?” Jaime asked, astounded.

 

Ser Bonifer – or rather Ser Stork, Jaime commented inwardly – explained: “The lord has adopted a new name for his family branch.”

 

On hearing this, Jaime nearly collapsed from laughter. Family branch! Now this was a fine joke, if he had ever heard one from the scarred Hound. The man had fucked the red-haired Stark girl Jaime had come across on that bridge, and had sent her away for good, back to her family. There would be no Harrenclegane family. Unless he had put a child into the girl's belly without knowing or caring. And even in that case and assuming that the babe survived there would be no family, as such a child would never grow up with its father's name.

 

“Excuse me, Ser Jaime, but what is so funny?”

 

Ser Stork was wrinkling his brow.

 

“Haha, oh, it's just the concept of a family with reference to Clegane.”

 

The castellan, however, shot back, deadly serious now: “Ser Jaime, you should be more grateful, and it is most inconsiderate of you to laugh about his Lordship. He is deeply in love with his wife, yet because of his loyalty to House Lannister, he broke his own heart and sent Lady Sansa away to get YOU back for your family. Ever since his wife has left he has been so shattered that he has barely noticed his surroundings any more. If he didn't have the orphan girl around him, who he has saved and more or less adopted, he would have already gone mad from sorrow and grief; I'm convinced if that.”

 

Jaime usually prided himself to be a witty man, but now, he could only gape at Ser Bonifer. His brain was having a hard time to process what he had just heard.

 

Unable to react to these news, he just coughed, cleared his throat and declared: “Well... if that is so... Ahhh, you wanted to know how long I intend to stay. I guess I'll need a week to recover from the imprisonment before travelling back to King's Landing.”

 

“I see,” Ser Bonifer answered curtly – but suddenly, he stared at a spot behind Jaime's back, his eyes going wide.

 

“Is that a woman? Who is she?” that man stammered in confusion.

 

Jaime looked around to where the warrior wench in her armour was tending to her mare.

 

“Oh, that's Lady Brienne of Tarth. Lady Stark's escort for me. She'll accompany me to King's Landing, little as I may like it. Since I'm no expert with regard to respect you might want to treat her honourably to make up for my shortcoming. And if you don't mind – I'd like to sleep in a bed now, to have some food, some alcohol – Arbor gold, if possible, but I'd also take fermented horse piss, as long as it can serve to make me drunk – and a nice, hot bath in the end. In that exact order.”

 

The castellan glowered at him, but inclined his head and answered: “Of course, Ser Jaime. Please follow me to your guest room.”

 

Chapter Text

 

They had arrived in the late morning, and it was arrogant to intend to sleep at daytime, but Jaime didn't care. He was known to be supercilious anyway. So he followed Ser Bonifer to the tower that housed the lord's rooms, as well as some chambers for guests. Behind them, the big wench was following them after having handed her horse over to a stable-boy. At the entrance gate of the tower they came across a little dark-haired girl.

“Bessie, aren't you with Madam Tilda and the other children?” Ser Bonifer asked, mildly intersted. The wee lass looked up at Ser Storkleg with strangely serious eyes for such a small child and answered: “Oh, Uncle Bonny, I waf wif Daddy Fandor, becauve he'f fo fad again. Uncle Gilboy fayv he muvn't be alone, but he had vefe headachev again, and he took vif pofion to fleep, and now, I'm off to Madam Tilda. – Erm, hello, who are you?”

Jaime was having a hard time not to gape like a codfish.

Daddy Sandor!? The girl had not really called the Hound her father, had she!?

The Kingslayer coughed and replied: “What, haven't you heard of me? I'm Jaime, the Lion of Lannister. Do you know what a lion is? A very big and dangerous cat, really big, you know, as big as a donkey, and it doesn't meow, it roars and eats little children. ROARRR!”

He had intended to frighten the girl with his story and his sounds, but somehow, he triggered off the opposite reaction: the girl started to smile and to giggle.

“Way-me, vat'f a funny name! And a big cat? Like Arya'v direwolf? Vat wolf if wild, too, but nife. You only have to know it better. Fo you're nife, too? Vat'f good! And I can roar as well. ROAAAR! Fee?”

Ser Bonifer was shooting Jaime a surprised look... and Jaime was so nonplussed that he didn't even know what to answer. Cersei had always kept him away from their sons and daughter, so he wasn't really experienced around children. Still, he had the distinct feeling that this Bessie reacted differently from others her age.

And the girl was addressing Brienne now: “Oh, hello! Wow, you're almoft av tall av Daddy Fandor! You muft be really ftrong ven. Who are you? Way-me'v wife?”

The Kingslayer nearly exploded with laughter again. The ugly wench as his wife – now, if he had ever heard an absurd idea this was one. And how the Maid of Tarth blushed! It was too funny to be true.

The warrior woman went to one knee to be more of one height with the little one and tried to explain: “My name is Brienne, Bessie. And no. That man over there is not my husband. I've been told to travel with him, nothing else.”

The girl looked from Brienne to him and back and commented: “Vat'f a pity. You've bof fair hair, and you're bof tall knightf. You look good togever. – Uncle Bonny, don't you fink fo, too?”

Ser Bonifer proved to be astonishingly capable of blushing, Jaime had to discover.

“Bessie,” the man chided her gently, “this is not for us to decide. And you should really go to Madam Tilda and the other children now.”

The girl nodded sensibly then, hugged first Ser Bonifer's and next Jaime's leg, gave the still kneeling Brienne a kiss on her cheek and darted off on swift little feet, leaving three thunderstruck adults behind.

The castellan was the first one to recover and stammered: “Well. This is the lord's little girl. And... she's often having this effect on grown-ups, just so you know. Only until the lady's departure she hadn't talked for weeks, after she had watched the slaughter of her family. She was found near the dead bodies, and she was in a state of shock, as you can imagine. But she took to Lord Sandor and the Lady Sansa, and now, we're relieved she has found her voice again.”

Jaime didn't feel the need to say anything to that. He knew the horrors and effects of war. Yet, he realised he wished Bessie well for the future. And since he couldn't imagine the Hound with a child he was suddenly curious to see the two together.

Without further delay, the trio entered the tower, and a few minutes later, The Kingslayer rejoiced in the softness of the first soft bed after ages. True, he was a battle-hardened man who could live without comfort in times of war, but he was also a Lannister who welcomed the luxury of his rank when it was accessible – and this mattress was the epitome of his needs after his dire imprisonment. Only Cersei was missing now.

Suddenly, Bessie's voice echoed in his mind: “You've bof fair hair, and you're bof tall knightf. You look good togever.”

Jaime closed his eyes and grinned into the cushion sarcastically. The mere idea was so absurd – and therefore entertaining – that he'd actually have been half intrigued, had he ever desired another woman next to his twin. The Kingslayer was still smirking when he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

In the evening, during dinner, Jaime was feeling like shit, his befuddled mind was a bedlam – and this in spite of him usually not feeling any remorse about anything. He wanted to blame the innocent little girl that was sleeping on his knees for what had transpired, but he was man enough to know that he had to ascribe the latest events to his own weakness, not to some harmless earlier comments from her side. Shit.

Jaime looked over at Sandor Clegane who was pecking as listlessly as clumsily at his plate, grey eyes staring into nothingness. For his own reasons, the Hound seemed to be in no better mood than himself, Jaime thought. What a sorry sight! If he had ever seen a broken man it was the scarred warrior. Clegane looked like a wraith. Frail, in spite of his size. It was downright shocking.

And everything because of his blindness and his loyalty towards a liege lord who had only ever seen a fighting automaton in him. The Kingslayer had not had a clue what Ser Bonifer had meant when he had stated that the Hound had broken his own heart by sending Sansa Stark away to get him, Jaime, back for his family. Now, Jaime could see it first-hand, and though he certainly didn't want to go back to Robb Stark and the Young Wolf's cages and cells the Kingslayer felt pity for Sandor Clegane.

 

The wench was sitting next to Jaime, silent and brooding. He wondered what she was probably thinking. He couldn't even guess, and his mind wasn't in a state of being able to think much anyway. He took a deep swig of Arbor gold from his goblet and ruffled little Bessie's downy locks. The girl uttered a contented sound and snuggled even closer.

Damn, what had he done to deserve the girl's affection? And what was worse: Jaime started to realise what he had been missing all those years when Cersei had forbidden any close contact between him and his children. Gods, he had been denied so much! He had never felt anything like that before, but all of a sudden he wanted a child he could truly be a father for, and his yearning was increasing by the minute.

His memories returned to the late afternoon, and he asked himself, if the gods would grant him his unexpected wish. Not that it would make anything any better. He sighed inwardly.

 

After his extended nap, Jaime had felt refreshed, eaten a snack and started to drink. He had been without proper food and good wine for so long that he had felt like a child on his nameday that was given a special treat. The problem was that because of his abstinence he had been tipsy – and thus careless – all too soon.

He had been in high spirits when he had entered the baths of Harrenhal. Nobody had been there. With one exception. The big wench had been bathing in a big basin. On noticing this, Jaime had started to grin sardonically, had approached the basin, had stripped himself and had slid into the warm water, much to the tall maid's dismay.

He had found it damned fascinating to see her so embarrassed, and even if she didn't have any supple, full, female curves, her more sportive, fit body had had an effect on him as well, much to his surprise. He had ascribed it to having been without a woman for too long, had tried not to pay it much attention and had teased the woman with some naughty comments.

In order to defend herself and to outplay her embarrassment, Brienne had shot condescending, dogmatic replies back at him. Somehow, the whole conversation had slipped through his fingers, and he had related how it had come to it that he had killed mad King Aerys in spite of his vow to protect the monarch, and how he had saved King's Landing from being burned on the king's orders.

After he had ended with his account, the wench had been deeply upset and had looked at him with her sapphire blue eyes as if she were feeling with him. That had been worse than any other possible reaction.

Jaime hated pity, so he had tried to make her despise him again and had japed: “Ah, yes, I'm a tragic hero, am I not? And the tragic hero has even got a very tragic boner, because the maid related to that boner would certainly feel too decent for the implied task.”

Brienne had flushed scarlet and stammered: “WHAT!? No. Not again. Not another joke. Not another wager.”

Jaime had been confused, had turned serious and had pressed the wench with questions until he had learned how some men had wagered in Renly's camp about who would take her maidenhood. It had been the Kingslayer's turn then to be upset.

He had rumbled: “Wench, just in case you haven't noticed: there's no-one around who I could gamble with, and I'm from the richest family in Westeros, so I don't feel the need to get Tarth into my clutches. If I've got a boner it's because I can't control my body, and because my cock feels the need to inspect the fair bush there between your thighs.”

Brienne had looked at him sceptically and had been as red as a cooked lobster, but next, something had seemed to snap shut inside of her, and she had uttered darkly: “I guess that maidenhood is overrated anyway, and it's not as if other men would line up for my charms. Perhaps we she should get it over and done with so that we can concentrate on more important things again.”

 

The Kingslayer had first been thunderstruck... and then, he had lost control and had taken Brienne then and there. No thought of Cersei. Not one single thought. He had only been focused on the body who was with him in the warm waters in the basin. Even worse: after the painful first moment, the wench had started to respond. The involuntary lust in her eyes had driven him mad with need... and after the first time, they had started it all over again, moving more lazily and more deliberately this time. Brienne had become so enthusiastic, so downright eager that Jaime had thought he was hearing some divine singing from the seven heavens while thrusting into her again and again. And afterwards, she had kissed him so tenderly that he had thought it to be a deathblow for his soul.

From one moment to the next, he had remembered Cersei and had realised that he had betrayed his sister; consequently, he had broken away from a confused and obviously hurt Brienne, and he had fled the baths like a haunted hare.

 

What a formidable bastard he was, Jaime was musing now and gulped down more wine.

“You're quiet tonight, Kingslayer. Has the Young Wolf taken your tongue?” Sandor Clegane suddenly rasped.

“I'd say it's rather the overall mood here in Harrenhal, Hound. I didn't expect you to be a jovial host, but you're even glum in comparison to your normal self.”

In the past, Clegane would have barked back something coarse. Instead, the scarred warrior didn't even answer and simply sipped on his drink. To Jaime's surprise it was no Dornish red, just... water.

“Interested to share some Arbor gold with me then, to cheer you up?”

As a response, the Hound hissed and growled: “Do you remember Ser Dontos? I was becoming like him. I needed wine. Every day. Sansa helped me to live without it. I won't throw her gift away. No more wine for me.”

Jaime was deeply impressed by the man's words. Touched. And he could see that Brienne was feeling the same, even if she kept quiet. The wench's face was like an open book.

The Kingslayer coughed and replied: “I see. Now... we have to talk about official matters. I'll stay here in Harrenhal, maybe for a week, and then I'll return to King's Landing. Lady Brienne will accompany me, because it was Lady Stark's wish. Since I'm free now, perhaps there will be a chance to negotiate a truce between the north and the south, which in its turn might allow your wife to return to your side.”

Clegane uttered a bitter scoff: “And tomorrow you'll believe your fart smells like roses. I mean – we both know your father. What he wants is a clear-cut success for his family and the south. And I've seen what your … nephew, the king, has turned into lately. He had Lord Stark's head hacked off when he could have sent him to the Wall and kept the peace. He had the King's Guard beat Sansa bloody regularly. He made her pick a husband, and if she had not chosen me she could have opted for the man who dishonoured her aunt, the man who nicked off her father's head, the eunuch and the greatest drunkard at court. I ask you – can you know these things and still believe in a truce!?”

The following silence in the room was answer enough.

Jaime was frustrated and drank more Arbor gold. He decided he'd return to King's Landing as soon as possible. It was necessary to see personally how things stood. And even if chances weren't good, but he would try to influence his father nevertheless. It was the least that he could do for Sandor Clegane.

 

Chapter Text

 

When Sansa reached Arya in her room after the girl had run away from Robb's – or rather Uncle Edmure's – solar her little sister was already weeping angry tears.

“I won't do it! I won't! I won't!” Arya hissed and yelled and spat.

And for once, Sansa supported her wholeheartedly. Little as she would have ever believed it before they were suddenly on the same side in this matter. If only things weren't so complicated!

“I'll try to talk to Robb again, and I'll try to make him see that he can't do this to you.”

But Arya only hollered: “You've heard him! He's a blockhead, I tell you! He plays king, does what he wants to do – for example marry the woman he's slobbered all over – and is otherwise only good at bossing the weaker ones around. Father would have never let that happen! Never!”

 

Suddenly, Sansa got angry and answered what Sandor would have retorted in that situation: “Father let himself be beheaded; he let me get betrothed to Joffrey, in spite of not liking the Lannisters. And he only had the best intentions. He's not so far off from Robb now, if you ask me.”

Arya looked at her with huge, shocked eyes then – but only moments later, she went at her elder sister, screeching: “How DARE you talk of father like that!”

Sansa fended her off as best she could and upbraided Arya: “Father was a good man, yes, I'd never say otherwise, I'm only saying he wasn't perfect or omniscient – and neither is Robb. And you've heard him: he's upset about having been forced to betroth you Ramsay Bolton.”

“Pah! He! Upset! Blahblahblah! I'M THE ONE who's supposed to marry this scoundrel. Have you heard the rumours about the Dreadfort? About the fact that the Boltons' sigil of a flayed man is seemingly more than just an icon? And when I was at Harrenhal I heard someone whisper: “Like father, like son.” And do you know what the man was referring to? Rape! I'm not going to marry a rapist! You may have been lucky with your forced match, Sansa, but believe me – you took a pot-shot, nothing more. I've seen what men do to women. I won't let this Ramsay marry me and do this to me, no. I'll stick him with the pointy end, if necessary, that's what I'll do!”

Sansa sighed: “Arya, Arya, please! I can understand you, believe me or not, but we have to be clever now. Usually you're the smart one of us – you should know that open rebellion will only backfire at the moment. What you need is a plan; wailing like a banshee will get you nowhere.”

 

Her little sister's shoulders slumped, and defeated she admitted, sniffling: “I know – only it's so damned unfair.”

“Do you know what Sandor would say now? Life isn't a song. He kept telling me that sentence in King's Landing, and I never wanted to listen to him, but he was right about that bit. Him getting his face burned as a child wasn't fair either. Bessie's parents getting murdered wasn't fair. Father being executed wasn't fair.”

Arya's anger burned out itself like old wildfire. She was still weeping, however, and Sansa took her and embraced her.

“Little sister, we'll stick together now,” she whispered soothingly. “And thank you for what you did for me earlier on.”

Arya snorted: “I can't believe I did it for you, but here we are. And the strangest thing is that it felt right. I hope Mycah will forgive me in the afterlife.”

Sansa hugged her sister even more and pondered what had transpired in the solar, knowing that things would never be the same again with her family. Too much had changed since the day they had set off from Winterfell. Sansa could only hope that what little was left of the Stark family wouldn't get fragmented beyond repair.

Chapter Text

 

Robb had summoned her earlier, and he, Greywind at his feet, her mother, Uncle Brynden and Uncle Edmure had already been waiting in the solar with serious faces. Heavy vibes had been in the air.

After their arrival at Riverrun she had already given her mother and brother a very brief account of how she had been fotced to choose a husband, how she had opted for blind Sandor, how he had made it possible for her to leave King's Landing, that they had fallen in love on their way to Harrenhal, and that his love for her had allowed her to come to Riverrun for a visit.

Robb and her mother had both been so shocked by her admission that she loved “this brutal, scarred monster”, as they dubbed her husband, that they had been well besides themselves, and her mother had been weeping in disappointment. Robb had not even introduced her to his new wife afterwards and had not met her again.

Sansa had been really hurt. She had always been the one who had been praised by her family for her qualities; she was accustomed to being rejected by Joffrey, by the court back in the capital – but not by her family! She had come to understand then how Arya must have felt all those years when she had been considered a failure.

These days, however, her sister had been the one who hadn't ostracised her any more for her loving relationship with Sandor. It was also Arya who had maintained some contact with their great-uncle, the Blackfish, and who had got to know Queen Jeyne.

“Kind of nice,” she had commented noncommittally on Robb's wife and had shrugged.

Otherwise, Arya had often been in the stables with Sansa, because she wasn't allowed in the training yard, other than in Harrenhal. And Sansa, who had not used to like horses, was always around the animals these days. Or rather one animal. The one she had arrived on. It reminded her of Sandor, of what she had come to think of as “home”.

 

And then, Sansa had been standing in the solar as if a tribunal had convened to judge her.

“Sansa, have a seat. We have to talk about a few things,” Robb had started gravely.

Silently, she had obeyed and waited. No childish, gentle chirping, not any more.

Her mother had spoken next: “We need to talk about your future, my dear.”

The way she said it a cold shiver was running down Sansa's back.

Politely, but also in a very clear voice she had answered: “As far as my future is concerned my husband should be included in such a talk, shouldn't he?”

The people in front of her had exchanged meaningful glances, and Brynden had smirked about a joke only he seemed to know, or to understand.

Robb had cleared his throat and continued: “Now, this is the actual problem. From a legal point of view, Sandor Clegane isn't your husband.”

“WHAT!?”

Sansa had been truly bewildered, and Rob had started to explain: “You see – you were married by Joffrey Baratheon, who isn't the legitimate king. And a marriage sealed by an illegitimate king can only be illegitimate, too. Now – under different circumstances I would be willing to accept this marriage in spite of everything, but it's part of a bigger framework, you see. I've lost the Karstarks, our allies, so if I want to win this war I'm dependent on those allies that are still left. The Freys, for example. I've insulted them by marrying Jeyne, and now Lord Walder and his family want some sort of compensation. Thus, Uncle Edmure has to marry one of their daughters...,”

Sansa's uncle looked as if he had bitten into a lemon, “... and they claim you for a second match.”

These words caused Sansa to gasp in shock.

Her mother cut in to soothe her: “We've already tried to postpone the wedding, saying that you'll have to... recover from your time with... Clegane. But your obviously splendid health will cause them to put us under pressure again very soon.”

At that moment, Sansa's thoughts had run rampant, and somehow, she had come up with the statement: “But I can't marry anyone else! Sandor and me, we're truly wedded. You're right, Joffrey forced this upon us, but this isn't all. In Harrenhal, we spoke our vows in front of the heart tree as well. Sandor... he doesn't like religion, but he did it for me, and in the proper northern fashion.”

Sansa had blushed and had looked at her feet. Damn, she was still such a bad liar!

Her mother had shrieked on hearing her story, Robb and Uncle Edmure had gaped at her, mouths hanging open – while her Uncle Brynden had just arched an eyebrow. For a moment, she had feared he'd call her a liar, but he had kept quiet.

“Is this true? Are there any witnesses you can present?” Robb had spluttered.

Lacking a better choice Sansa had simply shrugged and retorted: “Ask Arya.”

Robb had paused for a moment; then, he had sent for their sister.

 

When Arya arrived their brother had ambushed her: “Tell me, did Sansa marry the Hound in front of the Heart Tree in Harrenhal?”

Arya's head had snapped around; she had looked at her sister with wide eyes.

“You...,” she had begun, had stopped, had shaken her head like a wet wolf and had started again: “Sansa, how could you tell Robb such a thing?”

Sansa's heart sank.

Angrily, Arya went on: “I can't believe it! I simply can't believe it! Why on earth did you tell them? You could have been free of the Hound! I didn't understand it why you thought you had to do it then, and I don't understand it now. The Hound is such a monster! He killed my friend! I was so sick when Clegane gave you his cloak. I wish you had come to your senses – at least now. Honestly, I'll never understand you.”

Sansa was breathing faster, and she wanted to jubilate and to embrace her sister. Arya was backing up her story! Robb and her mother looked truly crestfallen now.

 

A moment later, their brother had sighed, had started again and had looked bent down like an old man: “Well, that's that. Sansa, the way I see it the Freys will try to murder your husband now to get access to you, but it is the way it is. And Arya, there's something I've got to tell you as well. I fear you won't like it...”

Minutes later, Arya had fled the solar, running and screaming and swearing. Sansa had been about to run after her when a heavy hand had landed on her shoulder outside the door. She had lifted her head and had looked into the Blackfish's eyes.

“Your little sister is a better mummer than you. Be grateful for that,” he had murmured into her ear – and had winked.

Sansa's heart had hammered away, and she had stuttered: “I... I don't know what you mean! Excuse me, I've got to find and to pacify Arya now.”

Ser Brynden had smiled knowingly and had let her go.

 

It was while she was embracing Arya that Sansa came to understand that she had not found one accomplice. She had found two.

Chapter Text

The Kingslayer had left, together with Brienne of Tarth. Sandor had heard how the people had commented on her size and her unattractive looks, her rather taciturn, but kind demeanour, her prowess with the sword. He had also noticed how they had compared her to “Lord Mole”, to himself, that was.

The castle inhabitants seemed to like her. And not only the castle inhabitants. Sandor couldn't say, if Lady Brienne was really ugly; what he knew, however, was that Jaime Lannister, the arrogant man who had only ever adored his sister, was falling for this woman: line, hook and sinker. Of course, the Lion hadn't wanted to see it yet, but it was happening nevertheless.

Sandor didn't know Brienne as he did the Kingslayer, and moreover, he wasn't experienced with regard to women, but even the Hound could tell that the feelings were mutual. There had seemed to be a momentary conflict, so he had tried to conciliate between the two... without them noticing. Brienne wasn't a Lion, but they were both proud little lovebirds.

Sandor had never adopted the role of a matchmaker, and he hadn't wanted to force them together, so he had effaced himself. What he had been able to do had been to ask questions, and to point out positive traits of character, or to analyse and to explain attitudes and behaviour. What he had not done had been to give open recommendations. Their quarrel had not been completely settled during their stay – after all, Queen Cersei was still a factor that was on the Kingslayer's mind, but at least certain positive developments had taken place.

 

And this hadn't been all.

Ser Jaime had always been the cocky, aloof, battle-hardened fighter, and he had never been close to... Cersei's children. Consequently, Sandor had never believed the man to be capable of assuming a fatherly role – and likely the Kingslayer had thought the same. Now, however, Bessie taught them they had been utterly wrong about this point.

The Hound would never understand the girl and her strange soft spot for difficult warriors; he could only affirm that Bessie knew how to smart men. Her victory over Jaime Lannister was as instantaneous as it was complete. During his stay he had loved to have her at his side, on his lap, or to whirl her around in circles until she had been screeching happily and excitedly. Sandor hadn't been able to see how much or in which way the Kingslayer's looks had changed during his imprisonment; what WAS apparent to him was that his laughter sounded different.

Ser Jaime had been famous for his quick smirk and sarcastic chuckle. The Hound could still hear these things in his voice, especially when he was teasing his “wench”, as he called Lady Brienne... and yet. The man's laughter had gained depth, and when he had heard her around Bessie there had been a carefree, warm naturalness in it that had never been there before. The little girl was truly luring out the best sides of the worst men and changed them for the better.

 

Besides, Sandor and he had talked about many things – and surprisingly often. Shared memories of Casterly Rock, or their military campaigns, but also about the future. Sometimes, they had laughed, but there had also been quite a bit of bitterness.

At some point, Sandor had given him an account of Joffrey's tyrannical, sadistic behaviour. Jaime had fallen very quiet then, and the man's silence had told the Hound more – and more sincerely – what the Kingslayer had been feeling than any other reaction could have done. Once more, Sandor had realised that he didn't need to actually see the man to understand.

 

When the two visitors had left early in the morning after six days Sandor had felt the first rays of sunshine on his skin. Bessie had been weeping, because she had understood what was about to happen: another goodbye.

Jaime had knelt in front of her then and had explained: “We're sorry we have to leave, too. But you see, there is this war, and I want to go to the capital, to the king, and I want to help to end this war, you know? It will be easier for Lady Sansa to come back here. And you want to see her again, too, don't you?”

Bessie had nodded, had embraced Jaime and Brienne and had sniffled: “Pleave be careful! Pleave be careful! Vere are fo many bad men out vere.”

Sandor had understood well enough what Bessie had meant – after all, she was still scrambling into his bed each night because of the horrible memories that kept flaring up in her dreams. The girl didn't talk about it, but even though she referred to him as “Daddy Fandor” these days, it was clear that she had not forgotten what had had happened to her real family.

“Yes, Bessie, we'll be careful,” Lady Brienne had promised, and finally, they had trotted out of Harrenhal on their horses. Sandor had heard their receding clop-clop-clop and had sighed.

 

He didn't want to foster vain hopes with regard to Jaime being able to convince Joffrey of a truce with the Young Wolf, and of Sansa being able to return to him. His heart was still bleeding and raw from their separation, and he was pretty sure that Bessie didn't only keep seeking him out at night for cuddling because of her bad dreams, but also because she sensed his grief and because she wanted to solace him.

Sandor smiled sadly. There was no realistic chance that his Sansa would be allowed to come back to him... and yet, the Kingslayer's words were like a little ray at sunrise, still cold and weak, but nevertheless a promise of a brighter day.

Chapter Text

 

“Sansa, love, may I talk to you?”

 

“Mother? Yes, of course. Come in!”

 

Lady Stark entered her daughter's chamber. She looked tired and years older with those new lines around her eyes.

 

“What can I do for you, mother?” Sansa inquired politely. Like a true lady.

 

Lady Catelyn asked back: “Can we sit down and talk a little?”

 

Sansa smiled guardedly and replied: “Yes, of course.”

 

She made an inviting gesture towards two armchairs where women could usually sit to do their needlework.

 

 

 

When they had lowered themselves her mother started hesitantly: “You see... there are so many things I don't understand about the time when we were separated – but I would like to understand you better.”

 

“What would you like to know?”

 

Sansa was still careful. As a child she would have run at her mother and hugged her and done everything to please her. These days things were difficult. She couldn't be as open and carefree any more as she had been in the past.

 

“You see, love,” Lady Stark began, “your maid came to me an hour ago, after she had left you. She told me that you've got... a criss-cross pattern of horrible scars on your back. What happened?”

 

Sansa bristled at the thought that her maid had simply passed on such an intimate detail about her. She made a mental note that she'd dismiss the maid.

 

To her mother she said: “Joffrey was angry when father didn't want to accept him as the true heir to the throne, and he was even angrier when Robb rose against him. Those scars are a testimony of Robb's won battles.”

 

Her mother winced.

 

“How horrible! Oh dear, Robb and me, we both wished we could have freed you. You and Arya.”

 

Sanse uttered a little scornful snort.

 

“Oh yes, right. That may even be true. But my dear brother wants to win his war, first and foremost.”

 

Lady Catelyn looked at her.

 

“Is that so wrong?”

 

Sansa was getting annoyed now.

 

“Why, of course it is! And not only because he intends to sell Arya and me to disgusting houses like cattle. No, he's sacrificing thousands of lives where things could have been done differently.”

 

“What do you mean, Sansa?”

 

“I mean that it only needed a single blind man to take me out of King's Landing. This shows that a single person could have dealt with the tyrant on the Iron Throne as well. It wouldn't have needed a complete war for this.”

 

Lady Stark was horrified.

 

“You're not talking of murder, are you, Sansa? Don't tell me you've changed so much! Have you forgotten honour? Have you become Clegane's mouthpiece?”

 

Sansa stopped for a moment, bethought herself and answered with determination in her voice: “Indeed, I have become my husband's mouthpiece – because I've come to understand his reasoning. You see, it is true that Sandor is a killer, but at the same time he's effective and not a sadist. He simply does what he thinks that needs to be done to stay alive, and not more. Tell me, what is more effective: one killing that extirpates the evil – in this case tyrannical Joffrey –, or a war that costs thousands of lives and that leaves even more people raped and maimed and traumatised? I've seen the results of war along the road while I was travelling with Sandor to Harrenhal. Don't tell me that war is honourable. Just don't. And don't tell me knights or kings are honourable per definition, for that matter. My scars sing a different song, and so do my memories.”

 

Lady Catelyn looked at her, grief-stricken, and choked out: “Oh Sansa, how much you have changed! How bitter you've become, and at your young age! Sweet Maiden. We always tried to keep you from harm, but now...”

 

Sansa sighed: “Indeed. You tried to keep me from harm – and then, I wasn't prepared for it and had to learn my lesson the hard way. If Sandor hadn't been there and hadn't given me good advice I wouldn't have survived.”

 

At that, her mother murmured: “You really love that man, don't you?”

 

“Yes, I do, mother. He's more than meets the eye. And he's better than his reputation. It took me a while to find it out, because I was prejudiced, but it's true.”

 

Lady Catelyn was still distressed, looked at a tapestry on the wall and uttered: “You see... I guess I'll never understand it. I can't even envision you and him together. I only remember him as the big, coarse, ugly, brutal Hound. To be honest, it is a mystery to me how you could endure him – as a wife, if you get my meaning.”

 

Before she had met Bessie's mother Lya Sansa would have already blushed on hearing an indirect reference to wedded intimacies, but she had become much more self-confident in that respect, and she answered: “You mean the marriage bed? I can say nothing bad about it. Quite the contrary, I assure you that Sandor loves me as much as I love him, and he respects me. He makes me happy, and I couldn't wish for a better husband. Like you and father did in the past we have become friends, consorts, and even if his ancestry isn't as noble as mine I'm proud to carry his name – because of him and the way he is.”

 

Her mother's eyes were still sad, but there was a small smile on her lips when she answered: “As I said – I'll never understand it, but I'm relieved to hear you found a measure of happiness in spite of everything. I wish Robb's love would bring him more happiness in the future. He's so torn about everything. You must believe me when I tell you that he doesn't want to marry either of you – both Arya and you – to the families he mentioned in our previous meeting. The problem is that those families are basically blackmailing him. I can tell you – if the Freys and the Boltons are your allies you don't need any enemies. Robb is desperate. The problem in these circumstances is that sometimes you can't see clearly any more when you're engulfed by problems and moral dilemmas.”

 

Sansa looked at her mother and stated lowly: “Whatever it takes – Arya shouldn't pay for Robb's decisions by having to marry Ramsay Bolton.”

 

“We're still hoping it won't come to that. Robb plans to play for time. First, however, we'll have to go through your uncle's marriage at the Twins. THAT's a thing we can't avoid any more.”

 

Sansa cocked her head and commented: “I won't travel to the Twins, that much I can tell you. And Arya won't either. Leave Uncle Brynden with us here in Riverrun. I fear that otherwise someone might try to abduct me or my sister to blackmail Robb even more.”

 

There was a sudden, tiny spark of amusement in Lady Stark's eyes.

 

“Sansa, I can't shake off the feeling that your husband has also taught you a fair bit about tactics.”

 

“I don't consider this a bad thing, mother.”

 

“Certainly not in these times of war. I'll talk to Robb, love. You're right – you should stay behind at Riverrun.”

 

As an afterthought Sansa came up with another idea: “When you're talking to him: suggest a truce with Lord Tywin. Not with Joffrey, he cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Well, Lord Lannister can't really be trusted either, but in contrast to his grandson he's more reasonable and not mad. If Lord Tywin thinks he'll get enough out of a peace treaty he'll accept it. Perhaps it will mean that Robb has to resign and that Arya will become Lady of Winterfell under the southron king's rule again. That would be hard for Robb personally, but it could bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms, and then, the Freys and the Boltons couldn't blackmail him any more. Besides, winter is coming, and soon, keep that in mind. The north needs peace to prepare for the upcoming winter. Sandor would be willing to help and to act as an agent, I promise. My brother should know that.”

 

Lady Catelyn nodded and replied: “I'll tell him that, love, I'll tell him.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

“Gendry has met someone near the lake. The man looks quite run down, my lord, but he claims to know you and to have important issues with you,” Ser Cody reported.

“Did the man give you a name?” Sandor wanted to know, his suspicion rising.

“No he didn't,” the knight answered, “but he seems to be some sort of priest.”

“A bloody priest of all people? I'd care more about a wet fart than about a priest. Let Ser Bonifer confer with him. He's the pious one amongst the two of us. If the man is still around, or if it turns out that he's really somehow important you can admit him to my solar tomorrow evening. Not before.”

“Understood, my lord.”

Ser Cody clicked his heels together and left.

 

Sandor sat back in his chair, continued with his dinner and snorted inwardly. A priest pretending to have dealings with him – now this was a bad joke, if he ever heard one! What made things worse was that his head had started to pound again. Angrily his teeth tore into a large chunk of warm, crisp bread. Hmmm, at least the food was good. This Hot Pie, who had cheered Sansa up on their first day at Harrenhal, really knew his trade, so Sandor had promoted him.

Behind the Hound the door opened again. This time it was Ser Gilroy, who announced: “My lord, here comes Bessie to accompany you over dinner.”

At the same time, little feet came running at Sandor.

“Daddy Fandor! Daddy Fandor! You won't believe it! Tatya haf got a little foal! I could watf everyfing! It waf fo fweet! And ve baby horve if healfy! And it'f got a white dot on ve nove!”

Despite his headaches Sandor smiled and opened is arms.

“Is that so, Bessie?” he commented while the girl clambered onto his knees and threw herself at him with a happy laugh.

“Yef! Yef! Afk Fer Gilroy!”

The knight, who was still in the door, chuckled, too, and explained: “Bessie is right. It's a healthy foal, and Tatya as a fine, reliable mare. A good sign, this birth.”

“I hope you're right.”

“My lord, is there anything else you need at the moment?” Ser Gilroy inquired.

“No, no, I've got Bessie here now, so everything is fine. Go, have your own dinner. I assume that there's more fresh bread to be had where this one is coming from.”

The knight assented and took his leave.

Next, Sandor fumbled for another crispy crust, because Bessie liked this part most, handed it to her and said: “So you seem to have had a really good day.”

The child was munching on her crust happily and Sandor could feel her nod wildly in his embrace.

“Yef! It waf fooooo fweeeet! Can I name ve baby horve?”

“Yes, why not? Do you have an idea?”

Another fervent nod.

“Yef! I want to call it Topple, becauve it waf toppling over when it firft wanted to ftand up.”

Sandor chortled: “That's perfect reasoning, girl. So it looks as if we've got a Topple in the stables now.”

Bessie squealed in delight and hugged him.

“Come, eat up your dinner now.”

The girl obeyed eagerly, and for two or three minutes there were only little smacking sounds to be heard from them.

 

Suddenly, Bessie spoke up again: “Daddy Fandor?”

“Yes?”

“I've been finking about fomefing,” the child started with all the seriousness she could muster at her young age.

“Must be mighty important, if you start like this,” Sandor rasped. “What is it?”

“You fee – I like Fer Gilroy a lot. I mean REALLY a lot.”

“I can imagine that. He's a nice man – for a knight. And good with animals,” Sandor agreed and took a deep sip from his tankard with milk.

“Daddy, can I marry Fer Gilroy?”

The Hound choked on his milk and coughed. Bessie tried to clap him on the back.

When he had recovered a little he grinned and chortled: “Well, I must say I didn't expect such a question from you so soon. Bessie, you're still too young for marrying.”

The girl seemed to be disappointed and asked: “Why am I too young? And can I marry him when I'm older?”

Sandor thought: “Uh-oh – now things are getting tough. How can I explain this to a child?”

Aloud, he said: “Well... you see... between a husband and a wife there's some special kind of cuddling that you can only do when you're much older; old enough to have a baby. And don't you think that Ser Gilroy is a little too old for you?”

“You're mutf older van Mommy Fanfa. And fpefial cuddling? Do you mean vif fing when people ftart making ftrange noivef?”

Sandor coughed again. She was having a point about him and the Little Bird – and she was a curious little one, if she had already found out so much about the ways of men and women.

“Yes. Yes indeed, Bessie. I mean – you're really good at cuddling in general, but you can't do this special form yet. I'd say that you'll have to wait about ten years, more or less – and if you both want to marry then... I'd say you can do so.”

There was a definite pout in Bessie's voice to be heard when she retorted: “Vat'f long! Vat'f unfair to have to wait fo long.”

“I know, girl. Sadly, life isn't a song. And by the way: Ser Gilroy would still have to agree to that marriage, too. It's not all about whether you want him or not. He has to want you, too.”

“Oh. Oh, I fee. Yef, you're right. I muft go to him at onfe and afk him.”

Before Sandor could react Bessie had hopped off his knees and was darting towards the door.

Click – squeak – bonk!, he heard the heavy door slam shut. The Hound couldn't help himself and had to grin until his mouth twitched. Bessie seemed to be quite strong for her age, if she could open and close such a heavy door so easily. And Ser Gilroy would be exposed to the most unique and dedicated kind of wooing now. It was simply hilarious!

The next moment, however, Sandor became deadly serious again, and his heart started to ache. He was thinking of Sansa and of how he couldn't have this kind of “special cuddling” with her any more. The momentarily forgotten headache returned and became worse.

Seven bleeding hells! This was about to become another long, long night...

 

***

 

Dillon was yawning. It had been a boring shift and the night had been rather chilly on the battlements of Harrenhal. But now, there was the first red of dawn to be seen on the horizon. In about half an hour his replacement would arrive and he'd be able to go to sleep. Dillon smiled.

Of late, he had befriended Pia, who kept him and his bed warm when he was not on duty at night. True, Pia had lost her beauty in the attack before the new lord had arrived, but she was a sweet girl nevertheless, because she had a good heart, and she was grateful for his gentle care.

Contentedly, he dreamed away the minutes atop the wall. Slowly, the sun was rising and hailing a new day.

 

Dillon expected his colleague any moment... when suddenly he noticed a movement from the corner of his eyes. He looked down – and froze in shock.

There was this direwolf again! And it was dragging a limp body after it!

Frantically, Dillon rummaged in his memory and finally came up with the wolf's name again: “Nymeria? Nymeria! Is that you? What are you doing there?”

The wolf looked up and whined. It sounded very urgent. Unceremoniously, Nymeria dropped the body at the closed main gate and headed off again, seemingly not interested in meeting the humans in the castle again.

Dillon was completely thunderstruck. He shielded off his eyes from the morning sun and looked at the body. From this high up it looked as if the carcass was a man. If he was dead. But if the direwolf had dragged him here all the way...

 

Behind him there were heavy steps now. The other guard he had been waiting for.

“Dillon! Everything all right? Man, you look as if you've seen a ghost!” his comrade-in-arms called.

“Well, reality comes close to it,” Dillon commented and pointed downwards. “Look!”

 

 

***

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Lord Tywin breathed deeply. Things had taken unexpected turns again. He had toyed with the thought of declaring the Hound a traitor, because he had decided such important things as the exchange of his son against the Stark girls high-handedly. The Clegane Dog – or rather “Lord Mole”, as rumours from the Riverlands had informed him lately – was getting conscious of his power, and this wasn't good.

Moreover, Jaime could still be whole, if the exchange hadn't happened at this time. Robbers had ambushed his son on his way back to King's Landing, and the unsettling point was that it had happened close to the capital. The streets were really not safe any more, not even within the direct royal sphere. To make things worse Jaime had lost a hand. His sword hand.

Lord Lannister gnashed his teeth.

“His greatest asset has been taken away from him,” he thought angrily.

At least, his son would live, according to Maester Pycelle. And thus, Clegane would be allowed to live as well. More than that, it looked as if something good could still come out of this calamity for his family.

The woman who had accompanied his son had been injured as well, too, though not as badly. She'd likely retain some scars on her face, but there was no real harm done, ugly as she was anyway. One interesting point about this female warrior abomination was that she was the heiress of Tarth, and thus a high-born woman. The second – and rather disconcerting – aspect was that she was pregnant. And both of them, Jaime and Brienne of Tarth, had admitted right in front of the maester that Jaime had sired the babe.

Lord Tywin didn't get it. Yes, true, his son was considered an oathbreaker, so nobody would be overly shocked, if it became public that he couldn't keep his cock in his breeches, despite being an allegedly celibate member of the King's Guard. The weird thing was that – as far as Tywin knew – Jaime, in contrast to knights like Ser Osmund, had never shown any interest in the women at court, not even in the most beautiful ones. With one abhorrent exception, if late Eddard Stark's accusations contained a single grain of truth. Anyway, on his way back to the capital Jaime had obviously lost control and stuck his member into the unprepossessing Maid of Tarth. The imprisonment had clearly had a negative impact on his Jaime, this was the only conclusion one could draw from this most surreal affair.

Well, be that as it may: the woman's pregnancy and his son's mutilation gave him all the reason Lord Tywin needed to remove Jaime from the King's Guard (as he wasn't capable of keeping a king safe without a sword hand) and to force him into a marriage with a socially acceptable woman, who was already in the process of breeding a Lannister heir. Yes, from this point of view things were not quite so bad. Jaime would finally inherit Casterly Rock; this was all Lord Tywin had ever wanted.

 

The Old Lion's thoughts travelled to the next item on his list: Cersei's marriage. His daughter had proven to be unacceptable for the family. If the rumours about her and Jaime... and some more anonymous lovers... were true she had to be removed from court to limit the considerable damage she had already done. The way alone she had spoiled her children! Joffrey was a walking and breathing shame for the family. Not because he was cruel, no. A political leader needed to be cruel at times. But Joffrey was a weak, whining, sadistic oaf. THAT was the big problem.

Well, first of all, Cersei had to go. She had been given the chance to be queen – and she had failed the family. Consequently, Lord Tywin was already arranging things in private. A high-born nobleman from Braavos, who was also involved in the Iron Bank, should do the trick. In this way, two or three birds could be killed with one stone: Cersei would leave the Seven Kingdoms and couldn't do much further mischief here, and she could establish better overseas connections; the Iron Bank could be appeased and would remit some debentures as a sign of goodwill; as a result, the Crown's debts would become mostly a Westerosi matter.

 

With regard to Joffrey, Lord Tywin mused, action had to be taken. His grandson wouldn't see to live old age, that much could be grasped even by a blind, old rooster. He had already managed to stir up too much hatred, and if the lad wasn't removed from the Iron Throne he'd only manage to make his family share the Targaryen's fate.

Luckily, there was still Tommen. The boy apparently wasn't the brightest card in the deck, but the basis was better than Joffrey's, and the boy was still malleable. Yet, the question remained what exactly should be done with Joffrey. Lord Tywin, who had no intentions of becoming an evident kinslayer, as it would only bring his family an even worse reputation, wondered who could do the dirty job for him.

Hm...

The Roses from Highgarden came to his mind. If the whole thing was done deftly the Fat Flower might be lured into the deed, and Lord Tywin only needed some substantive proof that he could produce afterwards to blackmail Lord Mace Tyrell. The old Lion tapped his cheek with his index finger and came to the conclusion that the idea itself wasn't a bad one.

 

What he still had to keep in mind was the little disgusting aberration that was his younger son. Lord Lannister took a measured sip from a crystal goblet filled with Arbor gold, furrowed his brow and pondered further.

There were basically two alternatives, depending on how things would develop in the near future. Tyrion would make a good scapegoat, in case Joffrey was murdered and there was no immediate culprit at hand. Yet, as much as he detested his deformed son, he just might have some tactical value for the family after all. He could still obtain access to Winterfell by marriage. Sure, Tywin had already promised the castle to someone else, but that had been before the little she-wolf of the Starks had reappeared. The elder daughter had been bound to the Hound in marriage – why not repeat the procedure? Or if the girl didn't survive, some other northern lord might be willing to sacrifice a daughter to gain more political power at Winterfell. And Tyrion would be far, far away, basically out of sight and could even rule his own castle.

 

Yes. Yes, this was a feasible policy. Still, Lord Tywin had to steer events into the right direction and swiftly so.

Content, he nodded to himself, took a piece of parchment that would be bound to a raven's leg later on; next, he grabbed quill and ink, sand and seal wax.

With energetic moves, he started to write to his sister, a Frey by marriage:

“Dear Genna,

please deliver the following information to Lord Walder: in the upcoming events he shall make sure that the Flayed Man gets a taste of his own knife.”

 

Finally, Lord Tywin stood up and stretched his legs. He had been sitting all day, first on the Small Council and now in his solar. His body was calling for some movement now. He decided to take the message to the rookery himself, just to be sure, and then to have a training session down in the yard.

 

With powerful strides, the Lord of Lannister was next seen to sweep through the corridors of the Red Keep like a lissom predator who had detected some kind of prey, and just by looking at him the accidental witnesses knew they better shouldn't get into the Old Lion's way.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

 

“Dead as a doornail,” Ser Bonifer concluded unnecessarily after having had a look at the body. He felt tense. The victim had been bitten to death, and by very big jaws. The missing throat wasn't a nice sight, and after having been dragged over the earth for a while the rest of the body didn't look much better.

Ser Cody mused: “Why would the direwolf bitch kill that man and carry him here afterwards? I mean – it would be more convenient to feed her pack with the prey she's hunted down.”

His comrade-in-arms, Ser Gilroy, replied: “This direwolf is a very intelligent animal. I can't help the feeling that she was getting the impression that this man was an enemy, and this was her way of telling us. Hmm... This man isn't recognisable any more, but we should organise a search party and look for further details. Perhaps he wasn't alone, or he left some traces behind.”

“Do you think he might be one of those robbers, who murdered Bessie's family?” Ser Cody asked back.

“Who knows,” Ser Gilroy shrugged. “Did he have any weapons with him?”

“As a matter of fact,” Ser Bonifer explained, “in the one remaining boot there was a dagger. A good-quality dagger. Not a rusty knife like the one that would by used by an ordinary criminal. No. The hilt is made of precious Weirwood. So if the dagger wasn't stolen from a nobleman, or given to this person by a nobleman for some very good reason – this person was a nobleman himself. The remaining boot was remarkable, too: fine leather and no holes in the sole. So I'm convinced that this man wasn't a lowly peasant, if you get my meaning. Very mysterious, all of this. Dillon, what do you say – from which direction did the wolf come?”

The guard pointed and stated: “Over there.”

“Right,” Ser Bonifer sighed. “Let's form a search party then. Ser Gilroy, take five men and scour the area for some more hints. And be careful. Let's hope that this Nymeria doesn't develop an appetite for our men as well.”

 

 

Only three hours later, his knights were back, and with more alarming news. Lord Clegane had already been informed of the incident in the morning, so the latest news were exchanged in the spacious lord's solar.

Ser Gilroy pointed at a spot on a map that showed the region around Harrenhal, the God's Eye Lake and the wood.

The knight reported: “This is where we found the rests of the camp. Not far away, as you can see. There must have been a group of six or seven men on horses, but we only found... a few remains, if you get my meaning. By the look of it, Nymeria's pack must have effaced the men as well as their steeds. We found rests of three tents, bloodied tack, armour and weapons, and we believe that at least some of the travellers must have been warriors. Moreover, we discovered a bedraggled banner – with two towers on it.”

“Freys!?” Lord Clegane erupted and banged his fist on the table. “What do they want here, so close to Harrenhal? I'm glad Nymeria made short work of those ferret-faced bastards. Intelligent animal indeed. I may be ugly as the seven hells, but in contrast to them my face at least doesn't look like my behind. Disgusting sods, all of them.”

“What if they were here on purpose? For a truce between the north and the south? What if they were sent here to establish a contact to the Young Wolf?” Ser Bonifer asked.

“Pffft!” Lord Clegane blew up his gaunt cheeks and rasped at him: “And tomorrow you'll tell me your fart smells of roses! No. The Freys might use a truce as an official pretext, but they've got their own policy, I tell you. Robb Stark should have married one of their mares, remember? Only he shat on the folk from the Twins and bedded and married someone more to his taste. Don't you tell me that the Freys would ever be reliable on a diplomatic errand. If Sansa's brother ever believed such a nonsense he wouldn't see another day before waking up with a knife in his back. Speaking of “knife” – this detail about the dagger is interesting. I can't shake off the feeling that Nymeria wanted to tell me she's just save my arse. Like her mistress, I'd say. Arya would also love to rub a vitcory in on me.”

Silently, Ser Bonifer tended to agree to his lord's coarse, but sharp-witted evaluation. The people had come to call Sandor Clegane “Lord Mole”, but often Ser Bonifer got the idea that the scarred, blind warrior actually saw more than all the people around him. If only he could see the glory of the Faith as well! The castellan of Harrenhal sighed.

 

 

***

 

It had been a long, busy day – and the news Sandor had learned were all shitty. The dead body on his threshold, the extinction of a complete Frey travelling party (Lord Walder from the Twins would want to feather him now with arrows until he looked like a giant hedgehog) – and then the priest. BAH. The priest was probably the worst of all. Sandor remembered the man from King's Landing. Disgusting red bugger.

Thoros of Myr had told Ser Bonifer he needed to see him. It confused Sandor no end. The man was worshipping the God of Fire – what in the seven hells should Sandor, whose face had been partly eaten away by fire, have to do with such a weirdo? He could only hope the man didn't intend to hire him as a mascot for his religion. In that case, he'd be able to get a taste of his own belief and would get the hair on his arse set on fire.

 

Sandor snorted while he was waiting for dinner and for Bessie in his solar. The girl was still his only ray of happiness ever since Sansa had left. Each day she came up with new, crazy ideas.

Her latest victims were Gendry and Hot Pie. She kept stealing the cook's rough dough for pies and cakes and breads until she had an aching tummy and felt sick. When it came to the smith she always tried to work the bellow when Gendry was standing in front of it and was bowing down over the his metal work; Bessie's sole intention was to ruffle the lad's black hair with the wind she was causing. She was still too small to really have much of an effect, but she was already strong (and especially headstrong) enough to try her very best.

When Sandor heard her little feet and her laughter, he managed to smile, and moments later Bessie had hopped onto his knees and started to cuddle him shamelessly, and she gave him a wet, hearty kiss on his good cheek.

“You're not hungry, Bessie,” Sandor observed. “You've been stealing food in the kitchen again. Don't deny it. And you know you mustn't steal!”

The girl giggled and replied: “I'm forry, but I'm not forry. I mean – Hot Pie if fooooo flow! It'f no wonder you want to fnatf fomefing away from under hif nove. If you could fee, you'd do ve fame!”

Sandor had a hard time now not to grin – he could suddenly remember a scene from before his face had been burned, and he had stolen a cookie in his father's kitchen as well.

“Bessie, I couldn't steal anything, because the dough would be mine anyway.”

“Fee? You weren't vere, fo it waf meant for me! I waf faft enough, fo it waf mine.”

Here children's logics were compelling, Sandor had to admit, but he knew he still had to chide her for her behaviour. The problem was – how did you chide a child while the child in question was standing on your thigh so she could hug you around the neck properly?

“If Joffrey ever saw me like this with the girl he'd choke on his dinner in shock,” it occurred to Sandor.

Damn, that was too alluring a vision. He had to think of something else.

“Who'v vat man in hiv pink clovev?” Bessie suddenly asked.

“Pink clothes?” Sandor asked, puzzled, and he felt Bessie nod against his neck.

“Yef. Ve man who talked to Fer Bonifer.”

It started to dawn on Sandor who the girl was talking about. But pink clothes, instead of red? Hm, perhaps the red garb had been reduced to old shreds, and the colour had washed out. Yes, that was a possible explanation.

“Did you hear the man's name?”

“Forof, I fink.”

“I see. The man is a priest, but he doesn't belong to the Faith of the Seven. Why do you ask me about him?”

Bessie was very serious now: “He'v giving me ve creepf! Vere'v fomefing about him I don't like.”

Sandor chortled in response: “That's my girl! Keep up that spirit. Don't put your trust into priests.”

 

Later, Ser Bonifer picked up the girl, who was becoming tired, and handed her to Ser Gilroy, who would take her to her chamber. Sandor sighed. There were too many men around Bessie these days. Oh yes, she had charmed them all, but she also needed more motherly guidance. Well, at least she could stay with the women and the other children at daytime – only Bessie was very shy there, and while she loved to play with animals and wasn't afraid of him or the other battle-hardened knights, she always withdrew from other children and didn't dare to play with them. Sandor wondered, if this still had something to do with the loss of her family. It was certainly possible.

 

But for now, he had to concentrate on something else. He was about to receive the red priest, who was still determined to meet him. Some minutes after Bessie had left Ser Bonifer admitted Thoros of Myr to the solar.

“Lord Clegane? Or rather Harrenclegane, as I've been told?”

Sandor recognised the voice, and he didn't like it any more than he had done in King's Landing.

“Red priest – what do you want from me? I don't feel the need to meet the likes of you. I spit on religion and I loathe fire, as you knew so very well in those melees where you used that goddamn fiery sword of yours against me. Remember? So I don't know what we should talk about.”

“It's a pity you're so unwilling to recognise R'hllor's glory, but I didn't expect you to be willing to convert, from all I know about you from King's Landing. May I probably still come a little closer? It's not very comfortable to raise my voice so you can hear me across this big room.”

Sandor could be sure that Ser Bonifer had searched the man, so that Thoros was as good as naked and couldn't carry any dangerous items with him. So he waved the priest closer with an indignant grunt.

He heard steps coming closer, and somehow, he had expected them to sound heavier, because the man had been rather portly in the capital. But if the clothing wasn't much more than rags any longer, according to Bessie, Thoros of Myr might have lost some weight as well, or gained some stealth. Likely both.

“You've come a long way, Lord Sandor Harrenclegane,” the priest began anew. “But be that as it may. Normally, I wouldn't assume I could or should have any dealings with you.”

“Now that's a bloody surprise that we should agree on anything, point you're right about this point. And now stop blathering and get to the point.”

“All right. You should know that I've been in the Riverlands for a while now, and I've seen and experienced much and more, like anyone in times of war. There is something, however, that has been bothering and upsetting me a lot ever since the Battle of the Blackwater. I've been dreaming of you every single night.”

Sandor was thunderstruck, and all he managed to say was: “What do you mean? Are you like Loras Tyrell, all of a sudden? Well, I can tell you: I AM NOT.”

“You are blind.”

“Tell me something new,” Sandor snapped.

Thoros of Myr sighed and went on: “I didn't mean I had any romantic dreams. They didn't even feel like normal dreams. I'm not sure, but I think I'm having visions.”

On hearing this, Sandor barked his laughter.

“So you really want to sell me that your God of Fire is speaking to you at night!? Seven hells, you must have had too much Dornish red in those times when you were in your cups with late King Robert.”

The red priest stated: “My lord, you're a heathen at heart, which is a real pity with your... fiery mark – but I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I could convince you of R'hllor by just talking about a few dreams. Actually, I'm just seeking relief for myself, and if you allow I'd like to carry out a tiny experiment that doesn't require your belief.”

Sandor furrowed his brow.

“What do you mean, priest?”

Thoros of Myr started to explain: “Well – my dream about you is always the same. You're in this room. I recognise it now as your solar here in Herrenhal. Anyway, you're here in my dreams, and I put my hands onto your head and start to recite R'hllor's Creed. If you don't mind... I'd like to try this out. I don't know what R'hllor wants to tell me, but I'm convinced I won't find my inner peace again until I've done this procedure. I'd be grateful, if you allowed me to touch you in the way I described. As I said: you don't have to believe anything, you only have to sit there for two or three minutes.”

Sandor wanted to laugh about the priest's madness, but at the same time, he was irked.

“Ser Bonifer!” he bellowed.

His castellan appeared a moment later with his clinking chainmail.

“Yes, my lord?” he asked.

“You've searched this man for any weapons?”

“Indeed, my lord, and thoroughly. What about it?”

With a derisive snort Sandor told Ser Bonifer: “The red bugger here wants to put his hands on my head for some kind of a religious ritual. So you say he doesn't pose a threat?”

“I can see none.”

Knowing how bloody insistent religious people could be, in case they were denied their wishes, Sandor snarled at Thoros of Myr: “Priest, if you promise to leave Harrenhal at once after you have carried out this procedure... go ahead, for fuck's sake. I'm in a generous mood today, but don't you overdo it! I'm not famous for my patience. – And Ser Bonifer: you stay here, right next to me, just in case. I don't trust pious fanatics.”

“Thank you, Lord Harrenclegane, thank you so much!”

Thoros of Myr's voice actually sounded relieved, which was creepy enough.

 

The priest stepped up to Sandor without further ado and put his hands onto his lank hair. The fingers felt repugnant and nothing like Sansa's sweet touches. Sandor could also smell the priest now, and obviously, the man hadn't made use of the baths in Harrenhal since his arrival. A chill crept down his spine. Disgusting man. The Hound tried to breathe through his nose.

After a moment, the red priest started his incantation in old Valyrian. Sandor wanted to yawn, because the process felt rather boring.

SSSSSsssssssssssssssss.

Suddenly, there was a searing pain in Sandor's head, and he howled like a real dog that was about to be torn apart. His hands shot up blindly to where the priest had to be standing, judging by the man's breathing. SEVENBLEEDINGHELLSTHEPAIN!

This had to stop! At once! It was too much – even for a man who had known fire and so many wounds in battle.

Sandor got hold of the Thoros's neck, put his hands around it before anyone else could so much as blink... and with a dry krsk! the priest's backbone snapped like a dry twig.

With a thump the body sagged to the ground, and Ser Bonifer gasped in shock: “My lord!”

At once, the horrible pain receded, but Sandor was panting and weeping now nevertheless. A heartbeat later, he started to feel dizzy and sick. Losing control, he puked onto the floor – and finally, his tortured mind was slowly enveloped by soothing darkness. In that moment, it didn't matter to him, if he'd live to experience another sunrise. All he wanted was peace. All he wanted was Sansa.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

Things were definitely turning from bad to worse. Lord Bolton and his minions had arrived from a field campaign in Riverrun and intended to accompany Robb to the Twins. At the same time, Sansa knew, the man was putting her brother under pressure with regard to the looming marriage between Arya and his bastard son.

Sansa didn't like Lord Bolton's pale eyes. They reminded them of Old Nan's stories and of how the wights' eyes were supposed to be creepy. Well, the lord from the Dreadfort was certainly alive, but somehow he radiated something inherently evil just the same.

During the welcome dinner Arya was forced to sit next to him, and she was as taut as bowstring, so that Sansa wasn't quite sure whether she spilled her red wine over the man's doublet on purpose or not. Lord Bolton uttered a curse, rubbed uselessly at the stained fabric, then controlled himself again and spoke softly: “Well, girl, you seem to have strayed a good deal from the path of a lady; but this won't be a problem at the Dreadfort.”

The words themselves seemed to be harmless enough, but Sansa had the feeling that they had an omoinous ring.

Arya was much more outspoken and defiant in this context: “I'm no lady, that's true. And I'll never be one. I DON'T WANT to be one. And I won't go to the Dreadfort.”

She jumped up as if she had been stung by a bee and rushed out of the hall with angry tears in her eyes.

Lord Bolton looked from where Arya slammed the door shut to where Robb was sitting, raised his eyebrows, and his accusing, cold gaze said clearly: “You promised her to me, Young Wolf. You won't betray another lord with regard to a betrothal, will you?”

Robb was unnerved, apologised to his vassal for his sister's rude behaviour and assured him that he'd talk to Arya later to make her more compliant.

Sansa felt sick and could barely eat.

Suddenly, she thought: “Why should I actually not show what I'm feeling?”

So she clutched her belly, whimpered, started to retch and to slide off the chair.

At once, her mother jumped up and called: “Sansa! What is it?”

A moment later, she was at her side.

Meanwhile, Robb tried to explain her behaviour to Lord Bolton: “I'm sorry to say that my gentle sister Sansa has been in a very delicate state of late. She can barely keep any food inside and is always exhausted after only a few steps.”

The lord from the Dreadfort eyed her up and down and inquired: “Has the Hound planted a whelp into her belly?”

The cold man's voice, combined with the coarse comment, caused Sansa to really puke.

“Gods!” her mother shrieked and started to fuss around her.

Servants came running with water and a cloth.

Sansa's face was wiped clean, and she was supported when she tried to stand up again.

Lord Bolton looked mildly disgusted, and Robb answered: “This is what she's like even without being with child. Sansa is so broken by her time in King's Landing and by her marriage that a babe wasn't necessary to put her in this deplorable condition. As you can see she isn't strong enough to travel anywhere. So I've decided to leave the girls here at Riverrun while we're on our way to the Twins.”

“This is NOT a good idea,” Lord Bolton retorted. “Put the girl onto a cart. Lord Walder feels already insulted enough. Do you want to risk his support by leaving the girls here? Apart from that, they should see their uncle's marriage. There will be a splendid feast, and girls like splendid feasts.”

At that moment, the Blackfish spoke up: “We've already consulted our maeaster, because we were thinking along the same lines, but unfortunately, my dear grandniece is really too sick.”

By now, her uncle Edmure had arrived at her side, gave her a little kiss, and murmured gently: “Come here, girl.”

Next, he hoisted her onto his arms, carried her out of the hall and all the way up to hers and Arya's room. Panting, he put her down there, knocked and opened the door.

Arya, who was still sniffling, yelped and rushed towards her sister.

“Sansa, what is it? You look like a ghost!”

Edmure cut in: “I'm sorry for intruding like this, but your sister suffered from a sudden feeling of faintness. Come here, Sansa, come over to the bed.”

“And I'll open the back laces of your dress. These corsets are rubbish!” Arya announced.

 

When Sansa was starting to feel a little more comfortable their uncle spoke up again: “It's actually good that all of this happened. I must tell you about some news, and with Lord Bolton around there was no opportunity to do it any time sooner. You see, there is something worrying with regard to... Sansa's husband.”

“Sandor? Sandor? What is it! Speak up!” Sansa cried out, at once upset.

Edmure tried to calm her down – to now avail.

So he started: “Well, a group of Freys was seen in the Riverlands, heading for Harrenhal, by the look of it. It could mean that Lord Walder and his men are planning to betray us, and that they try to get into contact with King's Landing – via your... husband.”

“NO!” Sansa hissed. “No, that's impossible. Sandor is famous for his loyalty. He'd never negotiate with traitors.”

Her uncle sighed: “In that case... I fear they intended to assassinate the H... your husband under some pretext in order to get a grip on you.”

Sansa pressed her hands in front of her mouth and whined in shock.

“Please, Sansa, don't cry! There has been a raven from Harrenhal an hour ago. Since the H... Lord Sandor is blind I believe the text was written by the castellan. Here. Have a look at it.”

Sansa tore the message from her uncle's hands, and she was shaking like a leaf.

When she unrolled the parchment the first thing she saw was the date, and she breathed: “That raven was extremely fast! Faster than any rider! It must have been written after a possible murder attempt.”

Full of panic she sifted through the letters, which seemed to be dancing across the page. After a first try she needed to read the message all over again.

When she had finished she recounted the content of the letter in a trembling voice: “Your observations were correct, uncle. Some Freys made it close to Harrenhal, but they were killed by Nymeria and her pack.”

“Ha! That's Nymeria!” Arya beamed at once. “Why are you still so upset then, Sansa?”

“It's not all. Gods! Ser Bonifer, he's imploring... Arya, something else has happened to Sandor. I don't know what it is, but I need to go back and to see him. I must go home. I MUST! Uncle Edmure, pleasepleaseplease talk to Robb. He has to let me return to my husband.”

The lord of Riverrun cleared his throat and said: “First, we have to talk about something else. As you can see Robb has already started to explain and to excuse yours and Arya's future absence with regard to my wedding.”

“I'm so sorry that I won't be able to be with you, uncle,” Sansa sobbed.

“Shshsh, don't get agitated about this. I'd rather stay behind with you, if I had a choice, but here we are. Yet, there is another problem. Lord Bolton arrived with some of his men, as you will have noticed, and Robb and Cat and me, we've got the strong feeling that he'll leave someone behind as well now. Somebody, who could try to abduct you once we're gone.”

“What!?” Arya shouted then.

And Edmure explained: “It's the easiest way to force you into a marriage with Ramsay Bolton.”

Arya balled her fists and Sansa gulped.

“We can't let that happen, uncle. We must do something about it!”

Edmure uttered a tiny chuckle and went on: “This is exactly what we've been planning in your brother's solar. There's only one question now: Arya, what do you prefer – going back to Harrenhal, or being sent to the Dreadfort? What do you want?”

The fervent answer didn't even need a heartbeat's time of consideration: “Harrenhal!”

“Good, in that case we'll arrange your “flight” from Riverrun – but you'll have to travel on your own. I'm deeply sorry for that, but a missing man would cause more suspicion, and we didn't have the time to find a secret guide. It'll be dangerous, so the question is: can you do it on your own?”

Sansa's voice was thick with steely resolution when she answered: “Sandor and me – we managed to flee from King's Landing, though we had only one horse and Sandor was blind. We'll manage.”

“Yes, we'll get along,” Arya intoned.

Inwardly, Sansa thanked Robb and her mother and the others that they had come to their senses. Her heart was beating, and in a weird way she felt disembodied – as if she were watching her own body, her uncle and her sister from above. Yet, it didn't really matter or scare her. There was only one thought left in her mind: she'd go home to find out what had happened to her beloved.

 

Chapter Text

 

***

 

“The gods must have a very shitty kind of ironic humor,” Jaime commented darkly and looked into the goblet filled with Arbour gold in front of him.

They – he and his brother – were sitting in one of the better wine sinks of King's Landing and had already downed two wineskins. A musician was weeping on a fiddle in the background, but the sound mingled with the overall chatter of the many other customers. The air was rich with smoke and sweat and the smell of beer.

 

“I know,” Tyrion agreed, “but what exactly are you referring to now?”

Jaime snorted: “Two things, actually. First: there was one thing I was really good at. Fighting with a sword. And now look at this!”

He held up his stump.

“Let me assure you that you've been very competent in more than one way,” Tyrion corrected him. “You're also good at smirking, at being arrogant and at making a fool of yourself – though these qualities may not be exactly fulfilling, I must give you that.”

Jaime hissed back: “Yes, do it, rub more salt into my wounds, just go ahead.”

He took a deep swig from his goblet and felt even more miserable than he had during his confinement under Robb Stark – a thing that he'd never have deemed possible previously.

Tyrion grinned wrily and retorted: “Rubbing salt into wounds is certainly one of my qualities. But tell me: what's the second reason for you to believe in the crookedness of the gods' humour?”

 

Jaime uttered a short, bitter laugh and explained: “Well, you see – when I was sworn to be a bachelor I sinned all over the Seven Kingdoms. And now that I've been released from the King's Guard and my dearest father has forced me to marry the wench my bed is suddenly cold and empty.”

“Ah, I see,” Tyrion uttered and murmured: “though I must say that I'm surprised that you're talking of your bed. Did you ever do it there?”

Jaime rose and towered over his brother like a predator on the jump. His blood was boiling in his veins from sudden anger.

“If you weren't my brother I'd kill you now!”

Tyrion looked up, unimpressed.

“You've lost your sweet sister. Do you want to lose your ugly, but at least entertaining brother now, too?”

Defeated, Jaime slumped back on his chair.

“Why did Cersei have to go to Brienne right after the wedding and to reveal all the... private details to her, little brother? Tell me!”

Tyrion shrugged.

“Misguided Lannister pride.”

Jaime threw his hand and his stump into the air in despair.

“But I don't get it! Really, I don't! I mean – you told me she's been having many lovers for years. Why should she be angry with me then, because I was with Brienne? She even found me physically disgusting, crippled as I am now. You should have seen the look she threw me when she discovered my injury!”

“See, that's the differende between pride and misguided Lannister pride.”

Jaime grumbled something unintelligible and took another swig.

After a silent minute or so, he stated: “Well, she's gone now, our sister. Father must be congratulating himself. Putting sweetsleep into her drink and shipping her off to Braavos was indeed a clever move. I'm just wondering what will happen when she arrives – Cersei will surely be breathing fire and brimstone from sheer anger.”

Tyrion nodded: “Sure she will – but her only chance will be to marry the Braavosi from the Iron Bank. I mean – she was sent away without her precious dresses, jewellery, without a penny and, most of all, without father's support. On her arrival she won't have any options.”

Jaime commented on that: “I wonder if father's wedding deal won't backfire in the future.”

Tyrion shrugged.

“Who knows.”

They drank deep; Jaime's little brother patted a serving maid's plump bottom, and gave her a stag for some more booze.

 

When they had another skin of wine Tyrion asked: “How's your wife, by the way? Still sick in the morning?”

Jaime sighed: “Yes, she is. Otherwise – I don't really know. She doesn't talk to me. And I can't be cross with her, not after my behaviour. I must have hurt her so much and broken her heart. That she's such a wonderful woman makes me – if possible – even more of a monster. You should have seen how she defended me out there on the road in front of King's Landing. The wench risked her life for me although I didn't deserve it. It still breaks my heart when I think of the moment when I saw that arrow stick out of her leg, and another one out of her left arm. You can't believe how relieved I was when I learned from Maester Pycelle that they were no serious injuries, and that they were healing well. Anyway – it was in that moment when we were beset by robbers that I realised that if Cersei had been allowed to learn how to wield a sword... she wouldn't have tried to save me with the same ferocity.”

 

Tyrion yawned and asked: “So you you love her? Brienne, I mean?”

Suddenly, Jaime's eyes burned.

“Yes. Oh yes. With all my heart. You know – in the past I used to think that I'd die the same moment like Cersei. She always told me it would and it should be like that, and I believed her. She also told me we were one soul in two bodies, and I believed that, too. What an oaf I was. When I came together with Brienne I was an individual for the first time. And the wench would deserve so much better. As it is, she can't love me any more, now that she knows of all my sins, but I'll try to care for her and the child as best I can. I want to be a real father. A good father – at least once.”

On hearing those words, Tyrion teased him: “Don't you think Brienne's too ugly and too big for you?”

Now, Jaime could show that probably he wasn't as deft with his left hand as he was with the one he had lost – but he wasn't weak either: he started a second time, and this time, he grabbed his brother, lifted him up and pressed him against the wall. All around, people started to stare... and then to quickly look away. No-one interfered with Lannister problems.

The Kingslayer didn't care one whit for their reactions and roared like a true lion: “How DARE you? You, most of all! You take that back! Understood?”

Tyrion could only groan: “Yes. Sure. Understood.”

So Jaime let go of his little brother, but he was still angry. To cool down, he emptied his wineskin with big gulps and noticed the alcohol go to his head. He welcomed the feeling. Welcomed the increasing numbness.

 

Tyrion rubbed his throat, panted... and when he had finally caught his breath he spoke up casually: “You can come out now!”

Drunk as he was, Jaime needed a second to realise his brother wasn't addressing him; and he needed another moment to look up and to understand who had been waiting for his brother's words, hidden in an alcove, and who had surely heard every single word.

“You!” Jaime called. And then: “Tyrion, you treacherous bastard!”

The Kingslayer was so far beyond himself that he only wanted to leave. He made for the door. The only problem was that befuddlement hit him like a ram now; he tripped, toppled over, banged his stump, yelled in pain and found it impossible to get up again. He moaned.

Far above him, Brienne complained: “I'm not sure, if this a good for a pregnant woman, Tyrion, but I fear I've got to carry my husband back to the Red Keep.”

And further down, closer to Jaime's ear, his Little Brother answered: “I fear the same, especially since I'm not in the physical position to carry out this task myself. Let's see, if we can hire anyone for help. Shouldn't be too difficult in this case, and a Lannister always pays his debts.”

Jaime thought he could see his brother hold up a golden stag, but his thoughts were becoming hazy, and he couldn't see clearly any more. Mere moments later, the Kingslayer passed out.

Chapter Text

The headache was even more horrible than usual. Sandor groaned and hid himself under the blanket. He had a hard time trying to figure out who he was and where. Desperately, he rubbed with his palms over his scarred face. Even under the blanket the morning light was simply to harsh.
Once he realised what he was thinking he stilled.
Morning light!?
Seven bleed...
He opened his eyes.
It was as if daggers were being thrust directly into his brain.
Sandor yowled helplessly in pain.
The door to his bedroom opened, and he heard Ser Cody's voice, which reflected a mix of worry and relief: “My Lord! You're awake! What is it?”
The Hound could only growl: “Put some shutters in front of the window! The light. I can see the brightness of the morning light! And it's killing me.”

Within minutes, his bedroom had exploded into a frenzy of activity: someone covered the window – Sandor had never been more grateful for a thing in his life –, Ser Bonifer came in to to tell him he had been unconscious for three and a half days, the boy named Hot Pie arrived with food and a jug of mint water...
… and all the busy work around him was too much for Sandor, who had covered his head with a dark piece of cloth; so he bellowed and cursed at the top of his voice, causing everyone to flee.
With one exception, of course: a joyful little Bessie darted into the room.
“Daddy Fandor! Daddy Fandor! You're awake!”
Like a bolt of lightening she slipped into bed, under the blanket, and threw herself at him.
With another groan, Sandor embraced her, buried her face in the folds of her little dress and allowed her to stroke his hair.
“Are you having vif pain in your head again?” she asked and sounded like a worried nurse.
“Yes, Bessie. But you're here now, and I'm already feeling better.”

Sandor needed all day to recover from this shock in the morning and to realise how things actually stood with regard to his eyesight: he could distinguish between light and dark again (and due to the many weeks in complete darkness he was overly sensitive when it came to the former), and he could see some blurred colourful blotches, which could turn out to be either people or objects. It really wasn't much, and yet, Sandor wanted to weep... for two reasons even, to be precise: on the one hand, he was absolutely thankful for the little he could see again, but on the other hand, it was eating up his heart that one certain auburn shape was missing.
It was at least a small consolation that he could see a bit of Bessie for the first time, and he thought to himself that she was indeed a beautiful little girl. It was weird; he had never thought of children as beautiful, but even though he could barely make out any more than her dark locks he was already feeling that he had never seen a lovelier lass.
“Already getting as bloody biased as a real proud father,” he admonished himself.
In spite of feeling mostly wistful there was, in fact, also one real source of entertainment for the Hound in the evening when his headache had lessened somewhat; though his vision was so limited he was able to understand one very specific point: why the Kingslayer had often referred to Ser Bonifer as a stork.

Around midnight, Sandor went to bed again after having been filed in on the latest developments in Harrenhal: the dead Frey bodies had been laid to rest, and the red priest had been burned. The Hound nodded his approval.
“Oh, and there was a raven from King's Landing,” Ser Bonifer added.
“Dark wings, dark words?” Sandor wanted to know.
The knight weighed his head and replied: “Depends on the point of view, I presume. Ser Jaime Lannister and Lady Brienne of Tarth have been married.”
So at the very end of the day, Sandor finally DID weep – but what he was shedding were tears of laughter.

Chapter Text

***

It was difficult to say goodbye again. The last time they had parted it had meant a farewell for good for half the Stark family. Sansa could only hope that the rest of them would be able to meet again in the future – under better circumstances. Perhaps Jane would have given birth to an heir by then – who knew?
Sansa sighed. She was sad.
Arrangements had been made. Robb, their mother and Edmure would leave with their troops in the morning, leaving the Blackfish, Jane, Arya and herself behind. The Freys and Roose Bolton had protested repeatedly, but Robb had made it absolutely clear that it would be sufficient, if his mother represented the female Starks at the Frey wedding, and that he wouldn't force a weakened sibling to travel all the way to the Twins.
After their brother's departure, Arya and Sansa were supposed to stay with their great-uncle and his men all day, so that nobody could abduct them... and at night, they'd leave Riverrun. Two mares had already been chosen and hidden with all the necessary equipment: food and drink, a bedroll, a dress for changing and a map of the Riverlands. They had also been given a dagger and a knife each, even if only Arya had a clue of how to handle these items.

When their mother came into the room in the evening for a quiet goodbye, her eyes were dark with sorrow.
“I wish our reunion hadn't been so troubled and we had had time to sort something out. Had the conditions been different it all wouldn't have been so strained. I know it's late, or even too late to make amends, but there is something...”
She faltered and handed Sansa a metal buckle. It wasn't ornate or anything.
Lady Catelyn explained: “It belonged to your father. The belt was cut during the Rebellion, and your father never fastened the clasp to a new one. Perhaps... your husband will be willing to wear it. Otherwise... just give it to your first-born son. And Arya, I've got something for you, too. These silver buttons belonged to your father, too. You can't wear his tunic, being a woman and too small, but I thought you'd like these things nevertheless.”
Suddenly, the girls were weeping and hugged their mother. At least their last meeting had turned out conciliatory.

Later, there was a scratching sound to be heard on the door, followed by a whine. Greywind!
Arya opened the door and let the huge animal in. One look into the wolf's eyes revealed that Robb was there as well, and they embraced Greywind and sobbed, and he licked their faces tenderly. Another way of saying sorry and goodbye.

In the morning, the farewell weighed heavy on their hearts. Jane was crying most of all.
When Robb rode out of the castle Sansa could only think: “He's too young to be king, especially in times of war. Back in Winterfell he was only growing his first fuzz of a beard, and now, he's already king. Yes, he was raised to be a lord, but he wasn't prepared for THIS. It must all be so difficult for him. No wonder he sometimes doesn't know which decision is right or wrong. But he's not indifferent like Robert, nor cruel like Joffrey, nor too stubborn to realise he's made a mistake and to learn from it. The new and the old gods give him all the wisdom he needs from now on.”
A single tear was making its way down her cheek. For a moment, Sansa remembered the day when she had been forced to see her father's head on the battlements of the Red Keep, and she was grateful that Robb had been spared this sight.

The rest of the day seemed to be endless. Sansa was incredibly nervous and hoped everything would go well. While she had been on the road with Sandor she still knew she wasn't really prepared for surviving in the wilderness. Likely, Arya would have an easier time than her.
In the late afternoon, Ser Brynden, who had left them for a short moment, came back into the armoury where he had been training with Arya. His face looked stony.
“What is it?” Sansa whispered.
“We had been thinking of sending a guide along with you. A private person. A trader. We're lucky we decided to keep these plans a secret until the very last minute, and he doesn't know he was taken into consideration for the task. It has turned out that the man lived at the Dreadfort before he came to Riverrun. It's not clear whether the man still works for the Boltons in secret or not, but he can't become your guide now, of course. You'll have to travel alone, little as I may like it. Well, Arya is good with her metal toothpick, and I've taught her well enough how to throw a knife. There is no other way, by the looks of it. I wish I could come with you.”
“Quick like a squirrel, deadly like a snake,” Arya murmured, looked up and declared: “I can do it. I've learned how to survive, and Sansa is a survivor in her very own way. She can take a lot.”
Suddenly, Sansa's heart was beating faster, because her sister was talking so positively about her.
“I don't know, Arya, but be that as it may – out there, you'll be my big sister for a change.”
Arya looked taken aback for a moment, but she quickly switched to a fierce and proud appearance.
Their uncle Brynden clapped them on the back, grinned and chuckled: “That's the spirit of the Tullys. The family coming first.”
Sansa had to smile now, too, but the next moment, she turned serious again and said: “Hm, now that you're talking about the Tullys – my telltale red hair is a bit of a risk, wouldn't you say? I think I'll shorten it by half and dye it with walnut extract so that it looks brown afterwards.”
Their uncle nodded appreciatively and lauded her: “It's good you're so practical, Sansa. Let's go to your room then. I won't let you alone until you're sitting on your mares and trotting into the night.”

Chapter Text

Brienne had thought that she'd react more strongly, but actually, she didn't feel very much when she glanced down at the shock of golden hair. The waxy, formerly handsome Lannister features looked nondescript now.
Brienne breathed in the scent from the incense cones. The death vigil had just begun – and she knew well enough that outside the sept there was even less grief about this demise than on the inside.
As Brienne didn't want to stress the unborn life that she was carrying under her heart any more than necessary she tried to empty her mind.

 

However, this proved to be too difficult a task. Her thoughts kept drifting back to the voyage to King's Landing. To the bath in Harrenhal. To the days and nights that followed. When she and Jaime had been on the road.
It had been seven days until they had made love again. It had been a difficult week. Tense. Full of bickering. And one particular argument at a camp fire had suddenly tilted into another direction and ended in a wild, passionate tussle. They had been busy all night and had forgotten to hold vigil. They'd have been easy prey, but luckily, nothing had befallen them.

 

After that, Jaime had seemed to be strangely conflicted, and Brienne had not understood. Of course she had not. There had been moments when Jaime had been so hungry for her love that it would have frightened her, if she hadn't been so smitten herself. She had been new into the field of lust, and she had drank in everything that had been offered to her. Yet, there had been moments when Jaime had suddenly been mysteriously detached, and when he had kept himself aloof.
At first, Brienne had thought that it had something to do with her ugliness; in fact, she had hated herself for both her looks and for feeling so strongly for the infamous Kingslayer. But then, she had seen the joy in Jaime's eyes whenever they were together, how he had relaxed and had opened up to her. She had also realised that he was obviously feeling some sort of pain or shame in those other moments, and that he was using sneering comments to outplay his feelings. Stupid as she had been, she had thought it had something to do with him falling for her while being a sworn bachelor as a member of the King's Guard.

 

Things had become even more complicated when she had found out that she was with child. At first, she had kept it a secret and had thought of sneaking away from Jaime once she had delivered him at his target point. Things had turned out differently. After some days, Jaime had noticed that something had been amiss and had pestered her with questions until she had spilled the truth.
Brienne had thought that Jaime would react negatively, that he would become angry or that he would ridicule her. None of that. He had stilled and had been incredulous for a moment.
And just when she had wiped off a tear angrily and had choked out: “I know I should have taken moon tea, but as I wasn't prepared for all of this I had none. But I'll see to it that I won't be a burden for you...” Jaime had just embraced her, had called her his “stupid wench”, and his green eyes had been so radiant, so completely over the moon, that her heart had hammered away, and she had suddenly found herself in a state of utter bliss.

 

Had she still had any doubt about his feelings she would have felt even more confirmed when they had been ambushed near the capital. She could still recall all too vividly how he had ordered her to stay behind and how he had tried to shield her off from the scoundrels. It had cost him his hand. Never would she forget the moment when it had been hacked off. Jaime's screams. She often had nightmares and dreamed of that scene.

 

After they had been found and taken to the Red Keep just in time Jaime had received all the medical need one could wish for. Once he had recovered enough to be more or less sure he'd survive his injury his father had visited him. Brienne hadn't been present during the meeting and had been confused when the Lord of Lannister had called her to his solar a bit later.
The man's words were something else that she'd always remember: “Lady Brienne, since my son is a cripple now and thus useless for the King's Guard he has been released from his post. I've just told him the news. To my positive surprise he has voiced the wish to marry, and he has mentioned your name. While I don't understand why he didn't opt for a more presentable noblewoman I appreciate that he chose at least a high-born heiress – and he's apparently fond of you. I guess that after all the problems he's given me by entering the King's Guard I can't be picky about his decision. Casterly Rock needs a proper heir, not my gnarled younger son. With Jaime's feelings for you I can also expect that he'll put a cub into your belly soon enough, if he hasn't already done that, emotional fool that he is.”
For a moment, Brienne had been so thunderstruck that she hadn't been able to utter a syllable, but when Lord Tywin had wanted to wave her away like an insect, she had finally managed to say: “I think you've forgotten something, Lord Hand.”
The Old Lion had simply looked at her with a fixed stare and waited for her explanation.
So she had coughed and ventured forth: “Shouldn't the bridegroom in question ask the possible bride, if she's willing to marry him? Perhaps she's got some different plans.”
The Lord of Lannister had simply snorted in response and had dropped casually: “We can also play the “Reines of Castamere” at your funeral, Lady Brienne.”

 

Well... married they had – quickly, right at the sickbed. No opulent wedding in the sept. No feast. No bedding ceremony. Jaime had still been too weak for any celebrations, but his kiss after the seven vows had been sweet.
Not even half an hour later, when she had been on her way to transfer her few belongings to Jaime's private room, Queen Cersei had suddenly grabbed hold of her, had pulled her over into a niche (for such a comparatively short woman she had been strong and even more determined). It had taken her less than five minutes to break Brienne's heart into tiny little shards.
“We've been lovers since before our birth. Do you think a big, ugly cow like you could ever mean anything more than an interim diversion for him? Sure, you may give him an heir for Casterly Rock – but the first-born that I've given him is already KING. And just so you know: if you ever breathe a single word of this to anyone else you'll share late Eddard Stark's fate.”
Those had been Queen Cersei's words – and they had left Brienne a hollow shell.
She hadn't been able to deal with the truth, and she hadn't moved to Jaime's side, as she had intended to do. And when she had told Lord Lannister that she was with child he didn't force her to move into his son's chambers. It had also been the spark of new life within her that had caused her to prevail. She had told herself she had to be strong for the baby, no matter which position it would have in society in the future. The only thing she knew was that it would be far away from the cesspool of courtly life.

 

Jaime's love declaration in the wine sink had improved their situation again... though some troubles had remained. It wasn't easy for her to accept that Jaime had entertained an incestuous relationship – and with such a vicious person at that. Another problem was that she couldn't look at the king and Prince Tommen the same way she had done before. All she ever saw were Jaime's features.
True – with little Tommen it had become easier. After his mother had been shipped away he had been desperate and had looked for a substitute mother. Strangely enough, he had believed to find it in the most unlikely person: herself. From then on, the boy had been following her everywhere and had pestered her with his questions and his cats and his signs of affection... Finally, she had warmed up to him and had started to spar with him in the training yard. The Seven knew he needed some training. But he was a good lad, and persistent at that, which was promising for his future development.
With regard to King Joffrey, things had been all the more difficult. Brienne wouldn't have believed it to be possible, but he was much worse than even his mother. Within his short reign he had turned into a real tyrant, and only cold-hearted Lord Tywin had been able to keep him under control to some extent... but even this had turned out to be an increasingly fragile state.
At the same time, public opinion about the king had deteriorated and had reached one low point after the other.

Brienne's thoughts returned to the present, and she looked at the body again. No wonder it had come to this. She had heard of the Bread Riots. That they had started with some kind of cow pat that had been flung at the king and that had struck home. This time, it had been the arrows of an assassin.
The killer had been feathered with crossbow gibs in defence, but it had already been too late for the king – and for Margaery Tyrell as well. Shortly afterwards, Lord Varys had been arrested and had been charged with having pulled the strings of this murder. The execution had taken place the same day.
Now, Prince Tommen would be proclaimed king. Poor child.
Brienne looked at him, at how he was suppressing his tears. Of course, he had not wanted to participate in the death vigil, but Lord Lannister had forced him to do so and had ordered him to stay strong.

 

But what was Jaime thinking and feeling? Brienne looked at her husband, who was standing a little before her. His face was stony and betrayed nothing of what was going on behind his brow.
When the vigil was over, Tommen was finally allowed to retreat.
Brienne was feeling queasy – and not only because of her pregnancy. So she made for the suite that she inhabited with Jaime now.
Suddenly, in a corridor outside the sept, her husband embraced her, pulled her silently into a dark alcove and started to kiss her like mad. Brienne couldn't believe what was going on when she realised Jaime's intimate intentions. Apart from that, the scene when Cersei had pulled her into another niche was still too new and raw in her mind.
So she pushed Jaime aside forcefully and hissed between clenched teeth: “What do you think you're doing?”
Her husband's face fell, and Brienne came to understand that he didn't know how to deal with Joffrey's death. So she took Jaime's good hand and murmured: “We'll go into our room now, and there you'll have a good cry. My shoulders will be strong enough for that endeavour. And you may be a proud Lannister, but I won't allow you to mourn in the way your father does – by ignoring your grief and by becoming cold-hearted.”

 

Jaime laughed and scoffed at her in equal measures... but no sooner had they reached their bedroom when he broke down.
In the hours that followed, they talked about his past relationship for the first time. How he had never been allowed to get close with Joffrey. Nor with Tommen, for that matter.
Brienne felt hurt several times and wept, too, but at the same time, it was a cleansing experience. Some details about the affair would likely stay a secret forever, but she didn't really want to know all of them anyway. She and Jaime talked about those things that mattered.

 

Much later, her husband fell asleep, completely exhausted after the vigil and all the sorrow. Brienne found she needed some fresh air and left their suite. In the corridor, she met Lord Tyrion, who had seemingly been on the way to visit them.
“How's my brother?” he wanted to know.
“He's very sad and still weakened after the loss of his hand, as you know. He's asleep now. I'll go to bed soon, too, but I need a short stroll in the garden first.”
“Would it be possible for you to make short steps, Lady Brienne? I could accompany you then.”
“Sure. You're welcome to escort me. I could need a friend now, to be honest.”
Lord Tyrion started to waddle along at her side, and he looked uncharacteristically serious. They both didn't say a word, but it was an easy silence.

 

Finally, Jaime's younger brother remarked: “You're the best that could happen to him. After... everything.”
Brienne blushed and tried to change the topic: “I don't know. But there is one thing that I'm convinced of.”
That earned her an arched eyebrow.
“And that is?”
“When he's awake again he'll have need of his brother.”
Tyrion put his hand on his heart in an exaggerated movement and commented, his sarcasm igniting again: “Impossible! It'll only end with me paying another gold dragon for transporting drunk Jaime.”
Brienne grinned and answered: “Why, isn't that a trifle for a Lion of Lannister?”
Tyrion chortled, patted her leg and retorted: “You're not only honing your sword, but also your tongue these days, my lady. Which means you're truly a part of the family now.”
It was Brienne's turn to chuckle then. Her thoughts kept meandering. Sure, there would always be some conflicts or problems to be solved... but in spite of this, she started to see a joint future for Jaime and herself. Their love and their wedded life weren't castles in the air any more. They had become reality.

Chapter Text

These thrice-damned wooden toys had made things even worse than they already were. And they were an absolute catastrophe to begin with.

Sandor cursed. Nothing good had ever come from toys! And he should have known what would happen once Bessie got them.

Yes, sure, Ser Cody and Ser Gilroy had only had the best intentions, but now, Bessie was having the worst nightmares again, and she could barely sleep alone. All the horrible things she had started to process were bubbling up again. Seven Hells!

 

And there the horse-whispering knight was standing like a drowned rat, trying to make excuses.

“Who would have ever thought of that? I mean, we know that Bessie is a clever girl at times, but THIS... I've never seen a child her age do that on such a level.”

Sandor made a dismissive gesture and sent the man away. Perhaps Ser Gilroy was right, and what had happened could not be undone anyway – and on so many levels. Shit, when the girl had been given the wooden letters Ser Cody had carved for her after Ser Gilroy's instructions, Bessie had been overjoyed. She had felt very grown up, because she had been allowed to handle letters, which she remembered from her late uncle Oscar's bookkeeping. Quickly, she had learned to trace the wooden letters with her fingers and to recognise them – and in no time, she had been able to lay her name... and “Cody” and “daddy” and “Fandor”. After she had been corrected, she had even been able to lay “Sandor”, even if she still couldn't pronounce the word correctly. It had been incredibly sweet – up to that point.

 

And then, the first raven had arrived. From Riverrun. From the bloody Blackfish himself. Dark wings, dark words. Two days later, a raven with the same basic message had arrived from the capital. Those had been the two first letters he had read after having recovered a little from his blindness – though it had still been horribly difficult.

Sandor couldn't see much, his field of vision was restricted, everything was rather blurred, and his eyes grew tired soon, but it was an improvement to his previous state nevertheless. So he had got his shit together and read those damned messages. The Hound had been a sodding bundle of nerves ever since.

 

“The Red Wedding”, they called it. That Roose Bolton, the traitor, had met an untimely death in the slaughter was just a cold comfort.

The Hound had known that the Freys were nothing more than of bunch of demented dung beetles... but this, THIS! At once, it was clear that King Joffrey's position was more or less unchallenged now, and the war with the Riverlands and the North was more or less over – now that Robb Stark, King of the North was dead. Sure, there were some rebellious lords left, but it was only a matter of time until their belligerence would crumble. Winter was coming, and that would settle all the conflicts, because a different kind of foe was lurking in the chilly autumn air now.

On a different note, Sandor was willing to bet on his arse that the Old Lion from the Rock had initiated the bloodbath at the Twins, under the Freys' roof. Bleeding shit!

Brynden Tully had understood the new situation, despite the shock he must have got, and had contacted Sandor. The Blackfish had concluded that Sansa's husband was the best negotiator for a surrender and a peace treaty. Maybe, he assumed that his nephew Edmure, who had survived, would be spared, if Sandor was publicly acknowledged by the defeated House Tully as the new overlord of the Riverlands.

 

Two days later, another raven had arrived, informing Sandor that King Joffrey was history and that Tommen was king now. It didn't matter much, as the leading figure and the king in all but name would remain Tywin Lannister.

 

And yet... remarkable and upsetting as these things were – they were all eclipsed by one single question: WHERE WAS SANSA?

In Brynden Tully's letter, it had been mentioned that the Little Bird and Arya hadn't attended the Red Wedding – and that they were neither in Riverrun. But where on earth were they now? Where? Fuck, Sandor could imagine that the Freys were after them now, too. Perhaps, some surviving Northerners would want to catch them as well to use them as pawns for their own purposes – not to mention the many cutthroats, criminals and the average war-stricken scum of the earth that roamed the Riverlands. And what about the wolves? What if Nymeria didn't find them before some other members of her pack did?

Sandor had panicked and sent out as many men as he could spare: most of the remaining Holy Hundred and even some private volunteers, Gendry amongst them. They were all searching for the lost sisters. He himself had ridden out, too, and had stayed on horseback until he had nearly fallen off Stranger from sheer exhaustion.

Ser Bonifer had had him dragged back to Harrenhal then and had stated in a steely voice: “My lord, you're needed at the castle. What if your wife and Lady Arya arrive home while we're away? Moreover, someone has to co-ordinate the search parties, and you're the most competent one. You're the lord.”

 

Sandor had cursed like mad, but he had had to see the wisdom of his castellan. With his restricted eyesight he was more of a burden for his men than anything else.

And he had just arrived back home in time to discover a completely devastated Bessie. She had thrown herself at him and sobbed and sobbed as if she had wanted to cry her soul out – until she was so tired that she had fallen asleep in Sandor's arms. It had taken a complete day after that to reconstruct what had crushed her so.

 

Apparently, she hadn't been content with her wooden letters any more and had wanted to find a new challenge. On her way, she had entered Sandor's solar, had climbed on his chair... and had found the messages from Riverrun and King's Landing. While the political aspects had naturally escaped her understanding somehow she had been able to puzzle out a few very descriptive parts: “Red Wedding”, “king”, “stabbed”, “many men”, “mass killing”, “blood”, “head chopped off”, “wolf's head sewn onto the body”.

No wonder Bessie had reacted so strongly – all the memories of her family's tragic, violent death had come back to her.

 

“Where'v mommy Fanfa?” she kept asking Sandor, full of fear...

… and all he could answer was a croaked: “I don't know. I don't know...”

And when they were hugging each other then, it was difficult to say who was trying more to console whom while seeking consolation at the same time.

Chapter Text

***
Lord Tywin allowed himself to massage his temples for a moment. The gods knew he was an energetic man, and even more so with regard to his age, but it had been a long day.

First Tommen's coronation. Of course, he had participated in it for a long time and had established new and maintained old contacts.

 

Late in the evening, he had retired to the Hand's solar with some urgent documents he had to read. His deceased grandson had lead the realm into even more decay than stupid Robert, so it was his, Tywin's, task now to correct as many mistakes as soon as possible. Which was a giant task.

That Tommen had been pampered rather than educated by Cersei didn't make things easier. At least the boy wasn't yet beyond betterment, unlike Joffrey. Tywin had watched the child in the training yard with Jaime and his wife. Of course, the huge woman, whose pregnancy was slowly becoming visible, was forbidden to fight because of her state, but she had advised the lad in a constructive way. Perhaps, the heiress of Tarth would prove to be a good match after all.

Apart from that, people were gossiping that Jaime had started secret fighting lessons. Tywin snorted. Futile humbug! Jaime had been his sword hand, and without it he was like an old stallion of excellent breed: only good for reproduction. Well, at least his son had accepted his new position and task. If only he had not taken Joffrey's death so badly. Given that he had never been more than a distant uncle for him this reaction was the height of absurdity, and Tywin had carpeted him accordingly.

 

And now... these news. Damn. Yes, there had been rumours before, but this battered piece of parchment in his hands, this report from so far away beyond the seas – it was far more concise than anything he had heard before.

True. The danger wasn't acute. Not yet. Nevertheless, the threat was substantial enough to take certain measures. After all, Tywin wasn't as blind as Robert, or as short-sighted as Cersei.

Dragons.

The Targaryen girl.

No, this wasn't good. At least not, if those fiery beasts belonged to an enemy. In the right hands, however, they might prove useful. Lord Lannister wasn't oafish Robert, who had only sought revenge and to kill this Daenaerys. Other things could be tried out first.

 

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in!” Tywin called.

His gargoyle of a son entered.

“Father. I'm as surprised as elated that you are wishing to see me. So I left the coronation feast at once, as you can see.”

“What I can see is that you're drunk and a shame for the family. As usual,” he scoffed. “Take a seat. We need to talk. For once, you might contribute something to the greater good.”

“Might I?” Tyrion wondered, looked up at him with his mismatched eyes and clambered onto a chair.

He hiccuped.

“You've got me thrilled now, dearest father. What is it that your crippled son can do for you?”

Tywin hissed and handed him silently the report he had received.

Tyrion read.

His eyebrows moved upwards.

Finally, he whistled.

“No wonder you wanted the assessment of a dragon expert like me. Finally, it pays off that I've read everything about Balerion the Black Dread and all the others since infancy.”

Tywin fixed his son with his green eyes and stated: “You always wanted to do some voyages and to leave Westeros. You've got your chance now. From here in King's Landing your assessment wouldn't be nearly accurate enough.”

Tyrion gaped at him.

After a moment, he stuttered: “You... you want me to travel to Daenaerys Targaryen and her dragons? Well..., it's flattering that you're willing to give me the status of a diplomat; and the opportunity to see some dragons would certainly be enticing under different circumstances, but if I assume correctly the Targaryen girl won't be overly... well-disposed towards the Lannister name.”

“If you don't succeed you'll make a fine torch,” Tywin retorted. “So better don't fail the family and the Seven Kingdoms again. This Daenaerys will pose a serious threat to the fragile peace that has just been reached.”

“Reached by slaughtering the Young Wolf and his whole entourage, you mean.”

Tywin didn't even feel the necessity to react to that sneer and went on: “By the way, Tyrion – you haven't grasped your task completely yet. Yes, you're supposed to travel to that young woman and to appease her. But you still haven't come to the conclusion what the royal policy comprises to reach this aim.”

Tyrion furrowed his brow and didn't know in his stupor what Tywin was aiming at. So much as to the alleged cleverness of his younger son.

Lord Lannister rolled his eyes, then fixed his gaze on Tyrion again and spoke slowly and very clearly: “You will travel to Daenaerys Targaryen. And you will marry her.”

Chapter Text

***
Sandor had just been talking to blind Brent after a staff training fight. Even if Sandor could see again – at least a little – he was still intent on sparring with the commoner. It helped to keep his senses sharp, and moreover, Brent was a friendly fellow. So was his dog Salmon.


Bessie often tried to ride on the big dog, and the animal was so good-natured that it endured all of her cuddles and playful pranks.


“Like me,” Sandor often thought.

 

 

He was ruffling the dog's fur and discussing a series of movements he thought he still had to improve – when suddenly Ser Bonifer approached him.


His castellan looked excited.


“What is it?” Sandor inquired.


“We've got one!” Ser Bonifer called.


“What do you mean – we've got one? Sansa? Arya?”


At once, Sandor's skin was tingling and his heart was beating faster.


To his dismay, Ser Bonifer's face fell at once, and he answered: “No, I'm sorry. But we've caught one of the bandits in the woods.”


True enough, Sandor was disappointed that there were no news about the Little Bird and her bratty sister, but this was thrilling nevertheless. He had never forgotten the men who had murdered Bessie's family.

 

 

With long strides he made for the main yard and ordered Ser Bonifer to speak: “What happened? Tell me more!”


The man was only too willing to comply: “Some of our men were ambushed in the woods by some of these criminal bastards. Cellion, the new lad from the stables, was killed, but we others managed to beat them back. Three of them died. Unfortunately, the others escaped – apart from one thug. Got an arrow in his leg and couldn't escape.”

 

 

The words of his castellan unleashed the beast within Sandor that had been dormant ever since he had flogged Ser Armory Lorch after his arrival in Harrenhal.


Interestingly enough, the bandit had been bound to a pole by his men, and they seemed to assume that their Lord wanted to repeat this mode of action. Sandor looked the man up and down.


He was tall – though not as tall as himself – and haggard. He had matted, red-brown hair, a spiky nose and vaulted eyebrows. When the Hound saw his watery eyes, they reminded him at once of his brother Gregor: they were cruel, void of any human emotion, eyes that had seen murders and rapes by the dozens from a first-person point of view... and had not cared one whit, but rather enjoyed inflicting pain.

 

 

Suddenly, Sandor was a little boy again, a child who had taken his brother's toy to play with it, and who had been punished by being held to a fiery iron grate, until his face had melted.


Sandor shook his head like a wet dog to suppress these evil memories.


He rasped: “You! Scum of the earth! Do you belong to the men who infest the Kingsroad?”


No answer. At least no verbal one. The man tried to turn around and to spit at Sandor.


In response, the Hound drove his fist into the man's side, and he pitied it that he hadn't thought of putting on a gauntlet.


The scoundrel grunted.


Sandor tried it again: “Some time ago, a family was murdered on the Kingsroad. The adults, who were hanged, had some children with them. What happened to the children?”


The man croaked a vicious laughter and showed his bad teeth.


“We fucked them all to death.”


Sandor didn't believe one moment that this was the truth – the man was just playing with him.


“Ser Bonifer? Your gauntlet.”


A moment later, there was the crunching sound of breaking ribs to be heard, and the criminal hissed in pain.


Sandor made another attempt: “Did you or your men come across a beautiful, young redhead of a woman and her boyish sister in the woods?”


“Fucked them to death,” the knave ground out between clenched teeth.


Sandor's next punch broke the man's spiky nose.

 

 

“I don't think that this beating will work,” Ser Bonifer mused at Sandor's side.


“You're right,” the Hound growled. “And the children don't need to see what will happen next. Take him to the dungeons and prepare a pail for me. It might happen I'll puke while I'm making him talk.”


His castellan looked at him and asked hesitantly: “What are you going to do, my lord?”


Sandor felt utter turmoil in his intestines when he answered: “I'm going to make his skin burn.”

 

 

***
Sansa was cursing inwardly, and for once, she used some of her husband's most vivid phrases. Of course, their moon blood was pestering them on their journey – just when they really had no use for this kind of affliction... and just as naturally, it was even worse than normally. At first, it had started with Arya. Her severe cramps had slowed down their progress, and they had had to pause against their will several times.
And now that Arya was just getting better – the same ailment had befallen Sansa. At one point, she had wept in anger and despair: “I can't imagine how the labour of giving birth can be any worse. Gods! I'm dying! And I thought I had known pain from the beatings in King's Landing!”


To make things worse, the nights were chilly and wet, and she and Arya had to huddle together as best they could. Luckily, Arya managed to kindle a fire most of the time, and Sansa learned from her how to do it.


She was also relieved that she had cut her hair and dyed it a dark brown directly before leaving Riverrun. Much as she missed her tresses this was far more practical. Sandor wouldn't care, once they were back. He'd understand. After all, he was a practical man, too, even far more than herself.

 

 

“Arya, I'm sorry. I feel I need to arrange myself again, and I've spotted a little rivulet over there.”


Her sister sighed.


“All right. Let's make camp. Actually, it's a good idea. It's late anyway. I'll go get some wood while you're in the bushes.”

 

 

No sooner said than done.


They tethered the horses to a tree, and Sansa aimed for the rivulet to clean her dirty bandages as best she could here in the wild.

 

She was just coming back back to their makeshift camp when she heard a nearby scream.


At once, her heartbeat accelerated.


Arya!


She reacted quickly and got out her dagger and her throwing knife. She was still a beginner when it came to fighting, but the Blackfish had taught them both as much as he could during their time in Riverrun – and against the others' misgivings.


Swiftly, she darted into the direction where the sound had come from.


Arya screamed again – and this was followed by some kind of creepy gurgling.


Sansa was practically flying now and broke into a little clearing.


There was her sister!


She was lying on the ground... and a wild-looking man was directly above her! Arya had seemingly stabbed his thigh, but it wasn't enough, and now, her opposition looked strangely weak.

 

 

“ARYAAAAA!” Sansa yelled, not being able to contain her fear.


On hearing her, the man got up and turned around. He was grey-haired and half bald besides, an ear was missing, and he had a big wart under his left eye. His clothes were ragged, and he was holding a knife with a red blade.


At seeing the blood on the weapon Sansa completely lost it. Without even thinking she flung her own throwing knife... and with all her beginner's luck she struck home. The next moment, the knife was protruding from the attacker's neck.

 

 

The man's eyes widened in confusion – and then, they broke. He made a gurgling sound, too, and fell to the ground.


“Aryaaa!” Sansa whined again and took a few trembling steps towards her sister.


Arya was twitching madly and making strange sputtering, painful sounds... and there was blood all over her face. The next moment, she went limb and lost her consciousness.


“NOOOoooo, nononononono!” Sansa screamed, sank onto her knees and crawled forward on all fours.


Birds were fluttering into the sky. Sansa was back at Baelor's Sept. Blood! Blood! Gods, no!


Clumsily, she cradled Arya in her lap. Strangely enough, her sister's head was still attached to her torso, and that caused Sansa's mind to return to the present.


She looked more closely.


Realised what had happened.


Wept.


And dragged her sister back to the camp with a strength she had not known she possessed.

 

 

***

The fire was burning brightly. Sandor felt already sick, but his mind was set. Ser Cody, Ser Gilroy, Ser Bonifer and Gendry were at his side. The young smith was green in the face as well.


They were in the dungeons of Harrenhal.


The bandit was hanging down from some metal rings on the wall. For the first time, Sandor noticed a glint of fear in his eyes.


“I'm asking you again. Do you know anything about the missing children from the Kingsroad? Do you know anything about the two young women in the woods?”


“Fucked them to death,” he repeated stubbornly.

 

 

Sandor sighed.


“Gendry, hand me the branding iron,” he finally ordered.


The metal was glowing red hot in the semidarkness.


The man's eyes bulged, and he pissed himself in fear. But he didn't say a word.


Sandor uttered a curse... and pressed the iron on the bandit's naked chest.

 

 

Howling.


The smell of burned hair and flesh and piss.


Sandor grabbed the pail that had been prepared for him and retched.


This wasn't him. He didn't mind killing, but he was no devotee when it came to torturing people. Least of all in this way. Then, he thought of Bessie's parents. Of Sansa and Arya.


He wiped his mouth and put the branding iron back into the fire.

 

 

“Let's try it again. Can you tell us anything about the children or the young women?”


“...f-f-f-fucked...,” was all the man produced.


Sandor took the branding iron again and held it up. This time, the knave lost control over his bowels and added more to the stink in the dungeon chamber.


But that was it. No information.


Sandor gritted his teeth. The Seven fuck him sideways, why didn't the scoundrel make an end to it and spilled the beans?


After another second, the Hound pressed the iron onto the flesh a second time.

 

 

Half an hour later, the man was dead. But they had been at least partly successful. It had been Ser Gilroy who had coaxed some fragments of information from the dying man's lips: the bandit had known nothing about Sansa and Arya, but about the lost children: they had been sold to slave traders and had likely already left Westeros for the Free Cities.

 

 

Sandor's movements were wooden when he re-emerged to the surface. Like a sleepwalker he made it to the baths and cleaned himself.


Afterwards, he addressed Ser Bonifer in a hollow voice: “I... can't meet Bessie today. And I need something now. My body is demanding some bloody wine, but I can't drink. I mustn't. I need... something else.”


His castellan, who was also rather shaken after what they had experienced, cleared his throat and replied: “We've got some milk of the poppy, my lord.”


“I hate that stuff – but it'll have to do now. I'll retire at once.”

 

 

With leaden steps he aimed for his bedroom.


He remembered that once he had said to Sansa that killing was the sweetest thing, but he had been wrong. It was the victory that was sweet – not the killing.


Today, he had ended a life. He had even been successful. But it had been no victory. Today, death had only tasted like vomit.

Chapter Text

***

Ser Kevan looked ahead, at the charred towers of Harrenhal that were emerging on the horizon. It was raining lightly, so he couldn't wait to get some dry clothes and to feel the warmth of a hearth fire on his skin.
He thought of Tywin's instructions, and he was as curious as his brother about what he'd find in the big castle that had only ever been a white elephant for any other lord who had held it.

Ser Bonifer's messages, however, had sounded surprisingly different. According to the man, Harrenhal had started to turn into a busy beehive, in spite of Sandor Clegane's blindness. With the last raven Kevan had learned of in the capital news had reached them that the Hound's affliction had even improved a little bit.

Sansa Stark's influence had allegedly crept into the sooty, cracked walls as well, if the pious castellan was right: everywhere else in the Riverlands there was nothing else but scorched earth from all the war that had been waged in the region, but here, people seemed to be preparing for the impending winter.

Sansa Stark. Sandor Clegane. There mere thought of them being married (and supposedly even happy, if the rumours were correct) had never ceased to astonish Ser Kevan; he was asking himself just how loyal the Hound still was to King's Landing and the Iron Throne. True, thanks to Clegane Jaime had come back, but at the same time, Lady Sansa – and Arya Stark as well – had been allowed to leave the royal sphere and had been sent back to their traitorous family.

And the Hound had made that crucial decision himself, not the king or his Hand, which was the vital point here. Clegane had always behaved sectionally – the good question was now whether he had come to like the power of a lord, and whether he was turning into an incalculable risk. Kevan had discussed these things with Tywin in depth, and he had been given the permission to eliminate any possible danger in any way Kevan deemed necessary.

 

Slowly, his thoughts turned to recent events and the reason why they were now in the position to talk about peace. Robb Stark's death had opened up completely new possibilities.

Harsh as the episode with the Red Wedding had been – it had been a logical, even necessary move from Tywin's side, and for the realm it was better that the Stark family had been nearly wiped out. The war had to be ended, and this had been the swiftest option. The Seven Kingdoms had to recover. It had been a horrible cut, but the worst was hopefully over now.

Ser Kevan thought of his deceased son, who had fallen victim to the war as well. Yes, the fighting had taken a bloody toll from the people, noblemen and commoners alike, he thought bitterly. Now, he'd be able to travel to Riverrun for the peace negotiations – to where his son had died. It was painful, but he hoped it would also help him, that it would be some kind of last farewell.

 

There had been so many farewells lately. Tyrion had left and would surely end up as a dragon snack... if he ever managed to reach these beasts in the first place.

Kevan shook his head; the way Tywin had always treated his younger son was wrong, perhaps his brother's greatest mistake, but it had been futile to try to sway Ty's attitude. Genna had burned her fingers once by trying to do so.

Bringing up children the wrong way seemed to run in the family, if he was honest. One only needed to think of Cersei and the way she had spoiled her sons. In a way, Joffrey had been the Lannister answer to mad King Aerys. Kevan was sorry to have lost a grand-nephew, but given the way the lad had developed perhaps it would be easier for the future peace that the one who had ordered Eddard Stark's death was gone now, too.

And Tommen? Kevan snorted. Cersei had stuffed the boy with food and toys in the form of kittens, instead of educating him and of furthering his strength and intelligence. As a mother she had failed.

 

Well, perhaps Tommen would have a chance to develop better now; he seemed to have a good core. It was what gave Kevan hope.

When Jaime had returned home without his sword hand things had still looked bleak, but now...

His nephew's unalluring, huge warrior wife had seemed to be a curio at first, but the woman had truly started to prove her worth.

 

Kevan smiled. Lady Brienne was becoming rounder and heavier with child by the day, even radiant somehow. The love between her and Jaime was obviously mutual – and still growing. What was more, she had taken to Tommen, and had become something akin to a female tutor and a trainer. Tommen was already clinging to her like a duckling to his mother, and the initially reluctant woman had opened up. It was a heart-warming sight.

Kevan had heard the gossip about the boy's pedigree, and the rumours were obviously well-founded. After Cersei had been shipped off to Braavos he had encountered his completely drunk and hysterical son Lancel in his room. At first, Kevan had been confused of why the lad had been so shaken... until the boy's sobs about Cersei's departure had started to sound ambiguous, and finally, it had turned out that he had lain with the queen.

 

Kevan shuddered. If Cersei could bed one relative it was indeed likely that she had been with Jaime as well. Bah. Another parallel to the Targaryens. At least, Jaime seemed to have freed himself from the clutches of the past. He was slowly becoming, well, perhaps not a glorious, but a decent swordsman with his left hand, and he and Brienne were taking care of Tommen's development. So was Tywin, in his own, intellectual, tactical way. Perhaps things were really improving for the Seven Kingdoms now.

If the gods were generous, perhaps Kevan could soon return to Casterly Rock. To Dorna and his infant daughter Janei.

The day's travelling had exhausted him, but the thought of returning to his family gave Kevan new strength, and he urged his courser and his men into a faster trot.

 

It was nearly sunset when they finally arrived at the castle bridge, which had already been lowered for them.

While they were heading for the stables Kevan's eyes became big and round.

No, Ser Bonifer had not exaggerated. Not even during the tournament of Harrenhal had the castle been thriving with so much positive energy. People were hustling and bustling around, and they looked healthier and more content than the commoners he had seen on his way here.

 

Finally, they all arrived at the stables, and Kevan was relieved that the voyage was over for the time being. People were already gathering to welcome them.

And there was Ser Bonifer emerging from one tower. To Kevan's surprise the stork-legged castellan was carrying a dark-haired little girl in his arms.

In spite of his burden, Ser Bonifer greeted him with a deep bow while Kevan was dismounting. The combination of the man's reverent behaviour and the child clinging to him looked a bit absurd, but unlike Tywin Kevan didn't take offence in such a weird display.

The girl seemed to be torn between tiredness and interest in the arrivals.

Then, she pointed at him and opened her mouth: “Fer Bonifer – who've vat fick man?”

All around him, his men were suddenly having a hard time to stifle their laughter, and Kevan, who normally couldn't be shaken so easily, actually blushed.

At least the castellan had the decency to react in the same way, and he hissed: “Bessie, you can't say that...”

“What'f fo funny?”

The girl hadn't even listened, and her face said clearly: “I don't know why they're all laughing, but I must have said something good.”

And she smiled smugly, thus eliciting even more sounds of levity.

The girl started to struggle, left Ser Bonifer's arms and came over to him, her index finger in her little mouth.

With all the grace of a Lion of Lannister Kevan could muster he went to one knee and asked in a strict voice that barely covered the grin that threatened to spread on his face in spite of everything and purred: “Won't you tell me your name first, little lady?”

The girl giggled and answered, alongside with a clumsy child's version of a curtsy: “My name'v Beffie.”

“I see. My name is Ser Kevan Lannister.”

“Oh! Fer Wayme'v uncle! Daddy hav talked about you! Nife to meet you.”

And then, she grabbed his hand unceremoniously and shook it like a comrade-in-arms.

Ser Kevan was dumbfounded, and Ser Bonifer looked so embarrassed now that he seemed to want to sink into ground.

 

Suddenly, there was a dark, raspy, but also rather exhilarated voice behind them: “Ah, as I can see you're already getting to know Harrenhal's sweetest and most effective weapon, Ser Kevan. Be careful. Little Bessie can see into the future. She knew Ser Jaime would end up as Lady Brienne's partner before anyone else.”

With a puffing sound Ser Kevan rose again and turned around.

 

What happened next was something his brain refused to grasp.

At once, the girl let go of his hand and squealed in delight: “Daddy Fandor!”

Then, she threw herself into the huge, ugly, scarred man's arms. And the Hound, who Ser Kevan had only ever known as an aggressive, gloomy man... he was laughing freely.

 

Even after their greeting, while they were walking up the steps to the lord's solar where they were supposed to have dinner together Kevan still couldn't get it.

This man – he still looked like Sandor Clegane. The Hound. Just gaunter.

Yet... even within these short moments it had become clear that he wasn't the same any more. This man wasn't a beast, a ruffian who tried to embody the animal that appeared in his sigil. The puzzle that still had to be solved was: who was Sandor Clegane now?

Chapter Text

***

Sansa still had crying fits since she felt so helpless in the face of the calamity that had befallen Arya. At first, it had looked as if her little sister would bleed to death. Sansa had also seen the tongue that had been cut out of Arya's mouth and that had been lying on the ground. That and her second kill had caused Sansa to vomit violently into the next bush, and she was still seized by heaving spasms now and again.

At the same time, Sansa had developed a physical strength she hadn't thought herself capable of. She hadn't wanted her sister to die where she had been struck down and had pulled her over to where their horses were still tethered.

 

Next, she had walked over to the body of the scoundrel, who had assaulted them. Sansa was still appalled by death and didn't act on the impulse, but for the first time in her life she had the feeling she needed to stab at this monster like a madwoman – much like her husband would have done in a similar situation, if Sansa had been wounded.

Instead, she sifted through the man's clothes the way she had learned to do it from Sandor after she had killed the assassin back in that forsaken inn. This time, her findings were interesting. No, the man wasn't carrying a heavy purse like the other one had, but he was wearing the tattered ruins of a tunic with the flayed man of the Dreadfort. And he had already been wounded even before he had met his well-deserved end. There had been a cut that had started to fester and some dried blood.

Had Sansa not been so upset she would have thought more about the mysterious situation, but as it was she could only think of Arya, and she returned to her sister's side. To her surprise, the bleeding was slowly starting to stop, but Arya was twitching weakly and whimpering.

Sansa started to weep again, cradled her gently and sobbed: “Shshshsh, the bad man is dead. He can't do anything to us any more. Now, you have to be strong. Do you hear me, Arya? Show me you're the stubborn, strong direwolf you have always been. You're a Stark. You're strong. Do you hear me? You'll survive!”

There was a faint whimper. And also the tiniest of nods. It caused Sansa's heart to swell with pride for her sister.

 

However, she had to think things through now. What would Sandor do and say in such a situation? What would he say...?

“Think! Think! Don't be a frightened little bird again!” Sansa chided herself.

Suddenly, it was as if she could hear the grating steel-on-stone voice of her beloved right next to her: “That bloody bugger is dead, yes, but the danger isn't over. Where there's one of his kind there might be another. And think of the wild animals. They'll be here soon to feast on the flesh of the carcass. Better get away from this place.”

 

Yes.

Sansa nodded.

Yes, this was true.

They had to get away from here, and quickly so.

The big problem was now that they had two horses, but there was no way Arya could mount her steed on her own. Sansa couldn't heave her onto the beast's back either. And of course, there were no rocks or overhanging hills or fallen trees nearby that might have helped them.

Again, there was Sandor's voice in her ear, swearing all the ungodly curses he had at his command.

 

Well.

Sansa squared her shoulders.

There was only one way.

“Arya, do you hear me?”

“Hnnng...”

Sweet Mother, he voice sounded so week! Another tear spilled down Sansa's cheek.

“Arya, you must help me. I know you can't walk, so I'll carry you to a safe place. But you must hold the horses' reins for us. Can you do that?”

Another tiny nod.

“Good. You're wonderful, Arya. A true wolf from Winterfell. Let's go!”

 

By nightfall, Sansa didn't only weep from sorrow about her sister's mutilation, but also from sheer exhaustion. It was good that she had started to train with her great-uncle Brynden while she had still been in Riverrun, but the time had been short and she wasn't physically strong. There had certainly been nothing elegant in the way she had torn at her sister's body, but she had had no alternative. Sandor would have known how to make a stretcher that could have been dragged by a horse, but she didn't.

The process of dragging Arya further and further away from the dead attacker had cost her all her strength. Sansa wasn't sure, if they had gotten far enough, and she was sure they had left an obvious track for any possible enemy.

Yet, Sansa couldn't help it. She wouldn't abandon her sister, and she had done everything she could.

 

Finally, Sansa had discovered a number of huge rocks that looked as if some giants had tried to build a chart house. It wasn't a deep cave, but there was enough of an opening at the base that it would serve as some kind of shelter for the night for the two humans.

At once, Sansa started to prepare everything, no matter how tired she was: she arranged the bedrolls for Arya and herself and collected some wood next. They needed a good fire against the wild animals. Of course, they would be easily visible for any human who might chance upon them, but it was either one risk or the other, and Sansa needed some warm food and didn't want Arya to catch a cold on top of everything else; they'd both still need their strength.

 

Fortunately, Sansa had learned some elemental survival techniques by now, for example how to build and to kindle a fire. They were lucky that there was a spring nearby, and they head clear, fresh water. Yet, Sansa cooked it in a little pot first and let it cool off before she tried to feed it to her sister.

Maester Luwin had once told her that wounds had to be kept clean, and that hot water and hot iron were the cleanest things for some strange reason, and that this was also the reason why red-hot iron was used, for example, to cauterize some injuries. Sansa yearned for the old maester to be with them, but that was only wishful thinking, of course.

 

Yet, another thing became obvious that Sansa had never thought of before: Arya was having problems to drink, which was no wonder without a tongue. Once, she nearly chocked on a sip, and Sansa suddenly remembered Ser Ilyn Payne.

The mere thought of the mute man made who had beheaded her father made her feel nauseous, but she forced herself once more to think in practical terms.

Was Ser Ilyn's handicap exactly the same as Arya's? Did he have some special eating and drinking techniques? She had never paid any attention to this detail, and now, she berated herself for it. Well, at least Arya could read and write. It wouldn't help her much around servants, but she could still communicate in detail with educated people.

 

But why was she thinking ahead?

Sansa shook her head. They had to survive the night. And the day after. They could only start to think about the future once they had arrived at Harrenhal. Once she was back in Sandor's arms. Sandor...
It was the last thing that crossed Sansa's mind before she dozed off in her bedroll.

 

Fortunately, there were neither any wild animals nor any humans that threatened them at night. However, there was another kind of enemy that attacked them in a far stealthier way. When Sansa awoke the next morning, she had to realise with a shock that in spite of her best efforts Arya was glowing with a fever.

Chapter Text

***

Kevan had thought that this feeling of disorientation that he was suffering from since his arrival in Harrenhal would abate after an hour or two. Instead, it had intensified.

It had a lot to do with Sandor Clegane sitting at their dinner table in front of him – with this girl on his knees. Kevan had watched the Hound hand her pieces of bread or his own, heavy tankard... only the tankard had been filled with neither beer nor wine, but with milk. Milk! And now, this little Bessie had fallen asleep right where she was, with her face buried against Clegane's chest and his huge paws combing gently through her locks.

To Kevan the possibility that the Hound could hold a child without crushing it was a small wonder. But then, he remembered how the man had been Joffrey's shield, how he had been around Cersei's children for so many years. Kevan tried to remember a moment when any of the three children had complained about the Hound actually hurting them... but come to think of it, there had been no such incident. Perhaps Sandor Clegane was better with children than anyone had expected.

 

In a slightly subdued voice, so as not to wake the child, the Hound ended their previous small talk and began: “I hope you don't mind our lack of formality, Ser Kevan. We've been in a very tight situation here, what with the castle and the war around. We've got no time for bowing and scraping. Honest respect is supposed to be enough here.”

Ser Kevan bethought himself for a moment and answered: “If this is your way of handling things... and I must say that you have already achieved a lot. I've seen the rest of the Riverlands. You seem to be very effective here.”

“Thanks to Ser Bonifer and his men. Lord Tywin chose wisely when he sent them here for my aid.”

Kevan nodded in Bessie's direction.

“What about her? Is she really yours?”

“Now she is.”

“I didn't know you had any bastards, Clegane.”

“As a matter of fact, I don't know, if I have any, but Bessie isn't one of them. She was an orphan. Now, she's everybody's darling.”

“Obviously, obviously.”

 

If Kevan was honest he was starting to envy the Hound. It wasn't common for a lord to be so extremely close to his children. They probably spent some time together, yes, but feeding a child or cradling it was the mother's duty at best; more often, it was the wetnurse who did these things. Kevan had never held his sons like that. No man did such an allegedly effeminate thing.

Yet, there was Sandor Clegane, one of the most fearsome killers in Westeros, and not caring one whit about decorum – and suddenly, all Kevan could think of was his little Janei and that he wanted to hold her like that, too. Did his daughter still remember him after such a long time? Probably not. Damn, he had to do something about that. But there was one last big task that had to come first.

 

So he continued their conversation: “How's your eyesight, Clegane?”

“I'm not completely blind any more, but my vision is blurred, and it's as if I were a horse with blinkers. I've got considerable blind angles. Still, I'm relieved about the improvement, small as it is.”

“Ah. So I guess we won't see you on the battlefield again any time soon.”

“Likely not.”

That was a pity in Kevan's eyes, because the Hound's fighting prowess was invaluable – thus, it was even better that the war was over and that they didn't have to count on the man as a warrior any more.

With a nod he replied: “Well, but I hope you're willing to serve your king in other ways.”

“Haven't I already done so by arranging the liberation of your nephew?”

Kevan scratched his beard thoughtfully.

 

“One might see it like that, but I'm still not quite sure of what to make of Lady Sansa's and Lady Arya's absence.”

Suddenly, there was an expression of incredible pain on the Hound's scarred features.

“Tywin looked like that when he had lost Joanna,” Kevan couldn't help but think, and it became clear that whatever the Hound had done – he had not acted, because he considered himself to be a lord striving for more power in the Game of Thrones.

 

“I sent her away, because I was hoping she'd be able to initiate some conciliatory tendencies between the north and the south. But that's not important any more, now that the Young Wolf is dead.”

“Indeed. I've heard that the Blackfish has contacted you for some negotiations.”

“It's true. I guess that my wife has influenced him, so that he is more willing to bring this to a decent ending.”

“How very fortunate. But let me ask you – where is Lady Sansa now?”

Again this facial expression of utter pain.

 

“I... I don't know,” Clegane whispered.

“What do you mean, Hound?”

“Sansa... and Arya... they left Riverrun under cover of darkness right after Robb Stark's departure. And now they have... disappeared.”

 

Well, that was an alarming detail.

So Kevan asked: “You mean – the Blackfish's offer is just a charade, some kind of trap, and the girls are withdrawing to regroup the northern forces?”

In answer to that the Hound looked first completely shocked, then furious.

“Sansa would never betray me!” he hissed.

He sounded so vicious all of a sudden that Kevan was sure he would have hollered like a madman, had the girl not been sleeping in his arms.

 

Well, if he had needed any proof that the Hound might be in love with the Stark girl he only had to look into the man's face now.

“What else could the disappearance of your wife and her sister mean then, Clegane?”

 

The Hound looked as if he was being drawn and quartered, so intense was his grief.

“Something must have happened to them,” the Hound finally uttered in a breaking voice.

Kevan had never felt much for his niece's Dog. Gods, the man's grandfather had been a simple kennelmaster, and Gregor, the Hound's brother had only added to the sense of revulsion whenever he had heard the name “Clegane” – and yet, Kevan suddenly felt the urge to console this haunted man. But there was nothing he could do.

“Let's hope for the best. Who knows, perhaps they'll turn up all of sudden, and with a wondrous explanation for their delay.”

That was all Kevan could offer.

Sandor Clegane snorted and looked away.

 

After a moment, he said in a low, strange voice: “Who would have ever thought that a lion might try to cheer up a dog one day. Or rather a mole. “Lord Mole” – that's what people call me now, did you know that?”

“No, I didn't. But judging by the way you're looking I won't be able to take you along with me to Riverrun like I had planned. Well, I guess I've got to do my best to negotiate with this sly Brynden Blackfish on my own.
By the way, there will be an escort from the twins in a few days. The Lord Hand ordered Edmure Tully to be brought here... until he might be sent back to Riverrun in a coffin... or alive to the capital. I guess it's most likely that he'll become a hostage in King's Landing. The Lord Hand and I would prefer the latter option for various reasons.”

Clegane seemed to be getting a grip on himself again, though slowly, and he rasped: “I'd prefer the latter option for my own reasons. He's kind of family now, whether I bloody like it or not.”

“I understand.”

 

Kevan paused for a moment. Then, he went on: “By the way – I wanted to tell you something more. Amongst the people who have arrived here is a maester from Oldtown. His name is Dystan. He's still rather young, and this is his first appointment after having earned his chain segments. He'll accompany me to the negotiations to Riverun, but when these things have been settled he's supposed to stay in Harrenhal. At your disposal.”

 

Clegane was surprised.

“Now that's a piece of good news I'm very willing to hear. There are so many people who are ill when they arrive here. Sometimes, there are also accidents. Small wonder, given all the work that is being done here at the moment. My thanks, Ser Kevan.”

“Now who would have ever thought that: the Hound is turning into a lord – and even into one who is thinking of his subordinates. That doesn't sound like the warrior who was swearing about the “poxy commoners” any more after a whore had declined him because of his looks.”

 

Suddenly, the sleeping girl stirred in the Hound's embrace.

“Daddy,” she mumbled and yawned and even gave Clegane a kiss.

“Yes, love. I'm here. You're tired, aren't you? Wait, let me call Ser Cody. He's just outside on his post and will take you to bed.”

 

Two minutes later, the girl was gone.

Ser Kevan tried a little jape: “A male nanny in armour. What on earth shall I tell the Lord Hand!?”

“Tell him that some things are done here in Harrenhal style.”

Kevan chuckled: “Well, that sounds like an adequate answer. What do you think now, Clegane, won't you invite me for a flask of Dornish sour or two?”

 

To his surprise, the handicapped warrior suddenly became very serious once more. The painful expression returned, but this time, it was accompanied by some kind of... solemnness.

“Ser Kevan, you may have your wine, of course, but I'd rather leave you alone then. You see, when I left King's Landing I couldn't live without Dornish red, and it would have surely been my ruin; but with my wife's help I could overcome this weakness. I see it as some kind of gift from her side. I won't give that up.”

 

Kevan's newly-developed respect for Sandor Clegane increased some more on hearing these words.

He clapped the man on his broad shoulder's and replied: “In that case I'll join you on your milk binge as well. What do you say – is this vintage recommendable?”

Finally, he managed to elicit a short, sharp laughter from the Hound.

“Indeed, Ser Kevan. I can offer you cow flavour, smooth like Arbor gold, and goat flavour, very strong and heavy. The milk version of Dornish red.”

Both men laughed, and Ser Kevan thought that probably the Seven Kingdoms had lost a good fighter, but they had won a good man.

 

***

Brienne was looking out of the window of her bedroom. Surely, she was watching the last men finish their sword training down in the pit. The wench was still refusing to wear dresses, even though she was round and heavy from her pregnancy now.

 

Jaime stepped behind her, kissed the freckled nape of her neck and looked out as well.

“Ser Lynden is slowly improving his step sequences,” Brienne stated.

“Sure,” Jaime agreed, “he already looks a bit less like a blind walrus.”

“Says a lion short a paw,” Brienne retorted.

Jaime laughed. Finally, he WAS able to laugh about these things, even if his handicap was still nasty in many situations.

 

Suddenly, he felt Brienne rub her backside against him.

“Whohoo, here we go again,” he thought.

The shy Brienne he had come to know at Riverrun, who had been an insecure, blushing maid, had disappeared. Perhaps it was her pregnancy, but with the swell of her belly her need for getting fucked properly had increased in equal measures. She had also become more sensitive, for example with regard to her teats. Her breasts were small, but they had started to grow a little. Still, she didn't need the support of any supportive camisoles or corsets, which meant that he continued to have free access to her body – and that was something he enjoyed greatly.

 

They had already fucked twice in the morning, but obviously her appetite was on the rise again. Ever the dutiful husband, he dipped his good hand into her breeches, and his index finger further into her centre. The window sill was high enough so that his caresses couldn't be seen from below, even if their upper body parts were visible.

“Jaime!” Brienne whispered. “You're impossible.”

“And you're a very wet wench and in great need,” he murmured into her ear.

 

It was weird – when he had been Cersei's lover he had always considered himself passionate and their couplings outrageous. The truth was, however, that what had happened then paled in comparison to what he had with Brienne now. He had never fucked so often in his life. And he had never been so incredibly... obvious about it. With Cersei there had only ever been stolen moments. In contrast to that it was his right to bed Brienne as often as he – or rather: as they – wanted. And nobody gave a wet fart about whether they did it and how often and in which way. Holy seven, was that great!

 

Jaime grinned. Brienne was literally dancing on his finger by now, and he served her as best he could with his left hand so that their movements could stay inconspicuous, just in case someone cared to look up at their window.

“Good, wench?” he murmured and crooked his finger.

Brienne gasped, and her response was everything Jaime wanted to hear: “More!”

She was already loosening the laces of her breeches, and her eagerness caused him to chuckle. Had anyone ever told him in the baths of Harrenhal that this woman could become so confident in this respect he'd have recommended the royal jester's post to that person.

 

Meanwhile, both their breeches fell down on the floor, and Brienne leaned a bit forward, onto the window sill. With a contented little grunt Jaime slid into her, and his wench uttered the tiniest moan. Oh, this was good! So good!

They had tested this position before, and it had its advantages: Brienne's belly wasn't in the way, and she felt comfortable; at the same time, Jaime didn't have to prop up his body, which was always a bit difficult due to his missing hand, and he could still reach around her with both arms. He could even caress her with his remaining fingers, something his wife enjoyed increasingly since his fingers had become nimbler with practice.

 

Exposed as they were they barely moved, but that didn't matter much. After their joyful jousts in the morning Jaime found it easy enough to control himself now. Apart from that, it helped to prolong the sweet procedure. By now, he knew exactly where Brienne was most sensitive, and with the subdued thrusts he allowed themselves he teased her mercilessly.

His wife's cheeks were bright red now, and the colour kept creeping down her neck. It looked so good that he simply had to nibble at her freckled skin again.

 

“Was this what you were aiming for?” he asked and smirked.

“Gods, Jaime, if anyone looks up!”

“If anyone looks up he or she will only see that I'm cherishing and adoring my wife. As it is my goddamned right.”

 

For a while, they simply looked down at the training pit in silence and pretended to watch what was going on there... while they were, in fact, totally immersed in their very own, much sweeter kind of sparring.

And then, Brienne closed her bright blue – and now rather hazy – eyes and opened her mouth slightly. She didn't moan or scream, but her contractions were telltale evidence of her release. His wench felt so incredibly good that only his lifelong training of keeping quiet while fucking prevented him from voicing his enthusiasm about her lust.

And the best thing was that he was able to hold back so that he wasn't done with her yet.

 

When Brienne had recovered a little he slid out of her for a moment and helped his wife to the bed, all the while discarding the remaining clothes.

“Lie down on your back for a moment,” he told her and Brienne obliged willingly. He then knelt and nibbled at and licked and sucked on her breasts while she was stroking him. Mhhh, that was good. Only he wanted an even better taste of her, and he didn't restrict himself in any way; Jaime simply dipped his head even further down and worked her with his mouth with abandon.

 

At last, Brienne was allowing herself to moan his name.

That was when he stopped and turned her around. Kneeling was another good pregnancy position, they had found out for themselves. Jaime entered her again, and now he didn't hold back any more and didn't stop either until he was seeing stars because of his own, wild release. Guessing by Brienne's loud moans the wench was having a wonderful time again as well.

Seven hells, Jaime had never been so happy in his life!

 

Exhausted, they flopped down onto the mattress.

“Damn, woman, you know how to make a perfect day even better, do you know that?”

Brienne laughed, and he kissed her.

“And what a wonderful day it has been indeed. It's so wonderful to know that father will be arriving here so soon!”

Jaime nodded: “He should be here in about a week. It will be good to meet him.”

 

The Evenstar had announced via raven that he intended to visit his daughter in the capital, and that he'd stay until after she would have given birth. Ever since they had received the message Brienne had been treading on clouds from sheer happiness.

It helped Jaime to forget that he had initially wanted to travel to Casterly Rock with his wife. His new fatherly duties with regard to Tommen also played a big part in his decision to stay.

He had never been more than an uncle for his son, but now, he was allowed to spend some time with him. To be there for him. Cersei had always forbidden this kind of contact, but in the long run her policy had brought them no advantage.

Everyone knew the truth now – and nobody cared. At least not openly. The Lannisters had won the war, and Lord Tywin was the actual king now in everything but name. And if Jaime's father knew anything, then it was how to rule and how to quell any kind of opposition. So maybe Jaime couldn't legalise Tommen officially, but otherwise, he didn't have to lurk in the shadows any more.

It was a strange feeling to be allowed to act and to feel like a father all of a sudden. It was even daunting. And he was missing the opportunity to have some time with Myrcella as well, but it was nevertheless better than anything he had had before.

 

His daughter was still in Dorne, and it was clear that she would remain there. She seemed to have settled in with her future husband. The Martells had not ended that betrothal. Perhaps it was best this way. Jaime told himself that he had a good reason now to train his writing with the left hand. He had always hated writing, but now he was grateful that his father had drilled in the letters he had abhorred as a child, because these days it meant he could send Myrcella some messages, along with those from Tommen.

 

There were no first-hand news from Cersei. His sister was blocking off any contact. It wasn't a surprise. Whether she was happy or not Jaime couldn't tell, but his father's spies had told him that after her second marriage she was with child again. Hopefully, she'd be a better mother this time, that was all Jaime could wish for her. Otherwise, his feelings to his sister had cooled down the same way they had deepened for Brienne. For his wonderful wife.

 

Yes, in spite of losing a hand life had actually improved for Jaime. He had paid dearly, but by now he could tell himself that the price had been adequate.

Chapter Text

Sansa was desperate. She did what she could, she truly did. There had been garlic in her bags, because it was antiseptic, so she had mashed it to a paste and tried to apply it to Arya's wound. The fever got worse nevertheless. Perhaps it had nothing to do with her sister's mouth.

Sansa wrapped cool strips of cloth around Arya's skinny legs and put a wet, cold handkerchief on her forehead. To no avail.

Arya was too weak to mount a horse as well. She had tried to do so, but she hadn't even been able to stand upright, let alone lift a leg.

It was all so horribly frustrating. Had Sandor been there, his size and strength would have secured their progress, but the way it was...

 

Sansa became seriously frightened. Their food provisions were slowly coming to an end. The creepiest thing was that wild, independent Arya was suddenly shockingly gentle.

There was a sad depth and softness in her grey eyes, and she sometimes stroked Sansa's hands in a way so that at some point, Sansa simply exploded: “ARYA. Don't behave as if you were on your deathbed. You will survive. Understood!?”

Her sister looked at her and suddenly... chuckled.

Sansa realised what was going through Arya's head: Sansa had suddenly become the loud and impatient one of them both. Reversed roles.

Sansa simply threw her hands into the air like her mother would have done, and she stated: “There will come the day when you'll be the livelier one of us again, I swear.”

Arya patted her hands with her own, clammy ones... and drifted off into sleep.

Sansa looked at the lithe, sweaty form in the bedroll and decided: “I'll make a stretcher. Somehow, I'll have to do it.”

With those thoughts she disappeared in the brushwood to look for a few proper sticks for some kind of frame.

 

Three hours later, she wanted to howl in frustration. Neither did she manage to come up with an acceptable construction, nor did she find a way of how the horse could be harnessed to it.

Then, there was her sister's weak, hollow voice, and it sounded strangely amused again: “Koo gichiculk.”

At once, Sansa was at her side: “What is it, Arya?”

Her sister nodded at the sticks Sansa had gathered, smiled and repeated: “Koo gichiculk.”

Sansa needed another moment to come around with a guess: “Do you mean “too difficult”?”

Arya nodded... and in spite of the bleak situation Sansa started to laugh: “Gods, when we arrive back at Harrenhal Sandor will go berserk, do you know that?”

Arya looked at her interrogatively.

“Ah, but you know what I mean: from now on, he'll have to decipher yours and Bessie's garbled language.”

And then, Arya was laughing, too; the mere idea of getting on the Hound's nerves seemed to cause her an impish delight.

A few moments later, though, the bout of merriment came to an end, Arya dozed off again, and they hadn't made a single step.

It was then that a tear spilled down Sansa's cheek, and lacking any alternatives, she started to pray to the old gods and the new.

 

Two hours later, Sansa had helped Arya pass water, but otherwise, the situation had remained pretty much the same.

Suddenly, however, the little hairs on Sansa's nape of her neck rose, and her intuition – which had been underdeveloped before she and Sandor had left King's Landing – sprang into action. The tethered horses were becoming nervous and started to snort, to swish their tails nervously and to move their ears into the same direction.

Something or somebody was approaching.

Sansa grabbed her dagger and her throwing knife. It was all she could do, but she was determined to sell her life dearly, if necessary. She repeated to herself that she wasn't a caged little bird any more.

 

The brushwood parted.

A tall, grey creature appeared.

Sansa's blue eyes widened in recognition.

The next moment, she was weeping and laughing at the same time and clinging to Nymeria's fur – and the direwolf was whining from joy.

 

“Ngyheria! Ngyheria!” Arya suddenly called in her throaty voice from her bedstead and tried to rise.

At once, the wolf darted towards her human little partner and licked the girl's face as if she wanted to heal her, or to at least end her pain.

Sansa sprinted after the animal and called: “Nymeria! Nymeria! Listen to me. Arya is ill. She can't ride a horse. But you've grown. You can carry her. Will you carry her to safety?”

The direwolf turned around and looked at her with those wonderful, intelligent eyes.

 

Nymeria whined. She had understood.

For a moment, Sansa's heart clenched when she remembered that Lady would never be able to look at her like that again, but she quickly pushed those thoughts away. She had to focus on the present now.

 

Nymeria was already lying down, and weak as she was, Arya managed to scramble onto her back with Sansa's help.

Sansa packed their belongings at top speed, stored them on Arya's horse, grasped the reins, mounted her own steed and forced it to follow the direwolf, who was already slowly trotting away, and who had taken over the lead.

 

Sansa had thought that Nymeria would head straight for Harrenhal, but she had to find out that she had been mistaken. At nightfall, the wolf reached a little – mainly wooden – cabin that was apparently inhabited, judging by the smoke that was rising from a crooked little chimney.

 

Surprised as Sansa was she still decided to follow Nymeria's judgement and didn't expect to meet an enemy in the hut. She tethered the horses to a crossbeam near the building, approached the entrance door and knocked.
“Hello!” she called. “Please, can you help us? We're two women, and one of us is ill.”

 

There was the shuffling of feet to be heard on the inside – and from more than one person.

At once, Sansa felt a little more insecure then she was already doing anyway, but with Nymeria in her back at least she didn't feel the need to break into a cold sweat.

 

The door opened and a young man appeared in the door frame. He was neither tall nor impressive in any other way. He had a short beard, a wart under his eyebrow and teeth like a rabbit. On the inside, Sansa caught a glimpse of a corpulent, young woman with jig ears and a baby suckling at her breast.

No, these people didn't look dangerous.

Sansa remembered her husband's simple statement: “Sheep.”

Well, in her situation this was as good as it could get.

The man looked her up and down and asked in a voice that sounded like a rusty door hinge: “The hair colour isn't right. But the rest looks fitting. Are you the Tully women?”

 

Sansa's heart sank into her boots.

Was it so easy to recognise them? And why had they already been expected? From the way it looked pretending they were someone else made no sense any more.

“Our grandfather was Lord Hoster Tully.”

The man nodded.

“That was a fine lord, especially in comparison to what you can hear about so many others. Gave me a copper for brushing his horse once when I was a child and I saw him while he was crossing my home village. A pity the Stranger took him, but at least he lived to see old age. Come in, come in. You must be the ladies Sansa and Arya, I gather?”

“Umm, yes, these are our names.”

 

The man smiled and nodded again while Sansa was crossing the threshold.

“My name's Dan, and these are my wife Lera and my daughter Asha.”

Suddenly, the man exclaimed: “Aww, Wolfy, who are you bringing us? Good girl, you've grown!”

 

Wolfy??

Confused, Sansa turned around and saw Dan fussing over Nymeria as if she were a little lap dog pup – and the direwolf was whining and wagging her tail merrily.

 

Inside the cabin, Lera spoke up for the first time: “Found her quite a while ago. She was hurt, so we nursed her back to health.”

Sansa could only think: “No wonder Nymeria came here with Arya.”

She simply answered: “I see.”

 

At the same time, Nymeria was entering the room as well with Arya on her back.

“Oh!” Lera chittered excitedly and put her daughter into a simple wooden cradle. “Dan, look at the poor girl! Wolfy, come here, bring her here! See, we've got some furs here. Lie down. And let's have a look at you.”

 

Sansa explained: “Her tongue has been cut out, and now she's feverish.”

“Aha,” Lera uttered and asked, “little lady, would you open your mouth?”

Arya did as she was asked and Lera inspected her while Dan disappeared into the darkness to take care of the horses.

“Hmmm...,” the portly woman murmured. “Well, that's nasty, but it could have been even worse. The tongue has been cut off, yes, but it hasn't been torn out at the root. There's still enough tongue left to form at least some sounds. She'll always sound as if she's got some hot gruel in her mouth, and she won't taste much any more. Oh, and she'll have to adapt her kissing methods. But as I said: it could be far worse. Once the tongue has healed properly swallowing may still cause some problems, but not half as much as if she had nothing of her tongue left.”

“What about the fever?” Sansa inquired.

Lera cocked her head.

“Hmmm... that's a bit tricky, I must confess. Fevers can be dangerous. But there are different kinds of treatments that I could try out. I'm sure we'll find something suitable.”

On hearing this, Sansa was so relieved she started to weep.

Lera patted her shoulder and murmured: “There, there. Don't you fear a thing my lady.”

Arya was already relaxing in the warmth of the hut and dozing off again.

 

After a few minutes, Dan came back in.

“One of the horses has stepped onto a stone and is a little bit lame now. Removed the stone and put a compress around the ankle. And both animals were sore from the harness and the saddles. They should rest for two days.”

“Poor animals! I'm such an oaf. Ser Gilroy at Harrenhal would scold me, and I'd deserve it. Still, I wish we could be back on our way sooner, but I guess we've got to be reasonable,” Sansa sighed.

Next, she asked: “By the way: how come you knew who we were when we arrived?”

 

Dan pulled in his head like a turtle.

“There were men here. Half a dozen. Bad men. They were asking, if I'd seen you.”

Sansa's eyes widened.

“Did you see any any sigils?”

“Yes, I did. They had two towers on their tunics and shields.”

Sansa gasped and pressed her hands onto her mouth.

“That's they Freys! But why are they here and asking for me? What about my brother? This shouldn't have happened!”

 

Dan and Lera were exchanging meaningful looks.

“What is it?” Sansa demanded to know.

“My lady, your sister is ill. I think it's too soon to talk about this.”

All of a sudden, Sansa went cold to the bone and felt like the day she had seen her father's head on the battlements. Only on that day Sandor had been there and had handed her his handkerchief to wipe away the blood after she had been beaten on Joffrey's orders.

 

She grabbed Dan's arm and pulled him over to the other side of the cabin.

“Now you can talk. My sister won't hear your words here.”

Dan's eyes flitted back and forth as if he were a trapped animal.

“SPEAK!” Sansa ordered and sounded like her mother when she gave an order.

Dan surrendered and started his account.

 

Some four or five minutes later, Sansa stormed out of the cabin, not knowing where she was heading, and tears streaming down her face. Nymeria was following her, she noticed. The direwolf was the only one who she could accept around at the moment.

After some minutes, she was far enough away from the hut – and then, she raised her face to the nightly sky and uttered a primal scream that drove all the ravens in the nearby trees away from their branches.

Chapter Text

It turned out that the sisters had to stay with their friendly hosts for a week. Arya's wound was healing; the fever, however, was more persistent – but finally Lera managed to break it with her skilled medical treatment.

 

What was far worse was their grief over the loss of their brother and mother, Grey Wind and all the good people who had been slaughtered so heinously. Sansa wept a lot while Arya often curled up into a ball, silent and brooding, her fists clenching and unclenching. Nymeria didn't leave them, clearly understanding what had happened – she was indeed an incredibly intelligent wolf and upset as well.

 

On the sixth evening, when it was already late, and the embers of the fire were only glowing mildly any more, Arya swore in her throaty voice from under her blanket: “I kchi che Freych.”

Sansa only had to look at the hatred visible in her sister's eyes to understand who she was talking about and what she wanted to do to them. She herself could easily remember when she had felt the same kind of hatred, back in King's Landing, on that day when she had wanted to push Joffrey to his death. Sandor had been there and had hindered her to do just that.

 

Sandor. Her husband was surely extremely worried by now, if he had been informed by her great-uncle Brynden. The Blackfish, Uncle Edmure, Sandor, Arya and Nymeria were basically what remained of her family now. And perhaps Jon at the Wall, and Bessie in Harrenhal, too, if you wanted to count the orphan as well and if nobody else had adopted her while they had been away. There was also their aunt in the Vale of Arryn, but they didn't know her like they did the others.

 

Sansa sighed.

“I can understand you, but we need to get home first, Arya. By the way – what do you want to do first when we arrive back in Harrenhal?”

Interestingly enough, Sansa's little sister didn't have to think twice before she answered: “Meek Gengry! Keache Hok Pie!”

Sansa had to smile then, despite her sadness. Arya was quickly getting more agile and more talkative with the little stump of her tongue. And if she hadn't given up on wanting to tease the cook in the castle kitchens, or of meeting the smith she had befriended in the past, she was still as stubborn and spirited as she had always been, sorrow notwithstanding.

 

Suddenly, there was the faraway howl of a wolf to be heard outside.

At once, Nymeria pricked up her ears.

“Someone from your pack?” Sansa asked her.

The direwolf whined and got very excited, ran to the door and started to scratch on the door latch like mad.

It was even more surprising, however, that Arya was getting jittery as well.

“Changcha! Changcha! Gon'k you hear? I ngow chat voiche! Oh, by che oud Gogch!”

Sansa's heart suddenly started to hobble like mad. She still didn't know what was going on, but if Arya started to refer to the Gods whatever they were about to find out had to be a kind of miracle.

 

There was another howl. Arya was at the door now, too, unbolting it and darting out into the night alongside with Nymeria.

“What's up?” a sleepy Dan was asking from his and Lera's bedstead.

Sansa's mouth was getting dry from one second to the next when it dawned on her what the howl meant.

“There's another direwolf in the area!” she gasped.

 

Her mind started to race. Grey Wind was said to have died at the Red Wedding. Lady was dead as well. Ghost? Was it Ghost from the Wall? But the white wolf had never made a sound. Then what about... Shaggydog? Summer? Rickon and Bran were dead... but had one or even both of their direwolves survived?

Sansa had never considered this possibility before, and now she called herself stupid. Yes, yes! Why should this not be possible!?

 

Without further ado, she jumped up as well and followed Arya and Nymeria into the darkness.

It was easy enough for her to find the way – for somewhere ahead she was already hearing whining and yipping and Arya's laughter. It caused Sansa to weep from joy before she even knew which one of the lost direwolves she was about to meet again.

 

***

The Blackfish was looking down from the battlements, into the churning waters of the river; then he looked up again, at the horizon, which was overcast with rain clouds.

He felt so tired. Guilty of not having been able to protect the lost girls better. They hadn't known each other for a long time, but it had been enough to feel a bond of affection beyond what mere kinship required.

 

And now, his niece Cat, the Young Wolf and his men wouldn't return any more. Neither would Edmure, who was still alive, but who'd likely become a hostage in the south from now on. Instead, Brynden was waiting for Kevan Lannister, even if it was still too early for the Lion to arrive at Riverrun. He was waiting for peace negotiations.

 

The Blackfish had a bitter taste in his mouth. If his niece Sansa had not spoken so well of the Hound and the way he was ruling in Harrenhal Brynden wouldn't have thought of giving in, even if it would have cost his life. But now, he had to save Edmure and to think of Robb's widow, even if she wasn't with child. Moreover, he had to consider the good of the Riverlands. If Sandor Clegane was able to restore the scorched ruin the region had turned into before the winter came... it didn't matter any more what Brynden personally thought of the man.

Ravens with messages were already being sent back and forth to arrange the terms of the meeting, and so far, the Hound's castellan had not written anything outrageous. Hopefully, it would stay that way.

 

The Blackfish spat into the river water. Ser Kevan was said to be a comparatively acceptable Lannister man. He'd have to wait and see what time would bring.

 

After another minute or two, he descended from the battlements. There was a castle to rule and a broken-hearted young widow to solace – and Brynden knew he very much preferred the former task. He didn't know much about mourning women, and he had never been one to show his softer sides to console someone – perhaps with the sole exception of his dead niece.

“I hope Jeyne has finally eaten a bite. It won't do for her to starve herself to death,” he mused while he was desending the stony stairs.

 

***

Tywin was pinching the ridge of his nose and rose from his desk. It had been a long day, like usual. He had received a letter from his brother, who was supporting Ser Bonifer's previous reports. Allegedly, the former Hound had regained his eyesight to some extent, but was still too handicapped to fight in battle. But Kevan had pointed out that he ruled the castle well. Who would have thought that Sandor Clegane would ever make an acceptable lord? The man was of low birth , a second son, and thus didn't deserve the Harrenhal – but since the scarred warrior was doing such a good job where so many others had failed Tywin was willing to be pragmatic. There were more pressing matters at the forefront of his mind.

 

Since his departure, there had been no news from Tyrion. Well, that was hardly a surprise. Perhaps “no news” meant “good news”.

Tywin shrugged.

 

His thoughts wandered further, to his son and wife. Lady Brienne couldn't enjoy her pregnancy: she had water in her legs and her back was aching all the time. The woman, who was ugly to begin with, slowly looked as if she had swallowed a ball and was slowly developing a waddling gait.

Maester Tywin was already speculating loudly about twins – and so were the others at court. Well, as long as there was a healthy heir in the litter and as long as the children wouldn't give them as much sorrow as Cersei and Jaime had done with their unhealthy relationship the big woman could have as many cubs as her belly was able to hold.

 

What surprised Tywin was that – given Brienne's physical – state Jaime and his wife were still behaving like horny rabbits around each other. They clearly didn't care much about the rules of court life and were always touching and groping and fondling each other in one way or another. At night, there were often scandalous sounds to be heard in their bedroom. Servants had also been heard whispering of certain gadgets that were used by the spouses to enhance the lust. Well, those servants wouldn't contribute to the gossip any more.

Tywin scratched his head and tried to remember what intimacy had been like when his Joanna had been looking like a barrel before giving birth to his own twins. Damn, his recollections were blurred in that respect! It had been so long ago. Yet, Tywin was pretty sure their interactions had not involved... objects for lovemaking.

 

He hissed. It was time to have his personal servant bring him one of Chataya's women through the Hand's secret bedroom passage. It had been ages since he had taken care of his own needs.

 

When a dark-haired harlot arrived an hour later, Tywin recognized her as one who had already served him once. Good. He didn't need to lecture her about his terms of interaction: no mummer's show with loud moans, no wanton behaviour, no coloured cheeks or lips or nipples. Tywin always wanted to get straight to the core of what had to be done.

He pointed with his chin and said to the harlot: “The fur in front of the fire place. Kneel.”

The whore nodded and obeyed.

 

Some twenty or thirty minutes later, the woman had received her coin and was gone. Tywin felt partially relieved and something half-way close to contentment as he was sinking down into a late bath. Or an early one, rather.

 

His thoughts returned to the Riverlands.

He had given Kevan some instructions. Lord Edmure's life could be spared, either by sending him to the Wall or by making him a hostage in the capital or at Casterly Rock for life. Brynden Tully would be forced to take the Black for his role in the rebellion. The new castellan was supposed to be Lancel Lannister. Jeyne Westerling had to remarry, and soon. He had already given Ser Addam Marbrand order to do his duty in that respect.

 

The Freys were another problem. They had betrayed their “king”, so they couldn't be treated as allies. But Tywin had already thought about this and had contacted a man named Qyburn, a former maester who had been expelled from Oldtown because of his dubious experiments. These experiments, however, proved to be very handy now: the man had distilled the pathogen for an aggressive Greyscales variant that could kill off a castle population within a week. According to Qyburn, an outbreak at the Twins could be easily arranged, so he had sent the man on his way and had paid him decently.

The only thing left to do was to advise Genna and her offspring to leave the area in time.

 

When Tywin finally went to bed he felt that though there was always so much more to do a lot had been achieved over the last weeks and months.

 

***

“You may camp in front of Harrenhal, and you'll get some provisions. Lord Edmure and his wife can enter the castle ground.”

Sandor sounded bored – though he certainly wasn't.

“WHAT!? You won't give us lodgings after our voyage and after delivering the hostage? This is outrageous!”

The ferret-faced Frey man was turning red from anger, even Sandor could see as much.

The scarred Lord of Harrenhal smiled. He knew that his mouth was twitching and that his scars looked ghastly, and for once, he didn't mind.

“What do you expect, Frey? Guest right? Guessed wrong. I don't want to end like Robb Stark. Oh, and don't think of complaining or doing anything stupid while I'm here on the drawbridge: some twenty bows on the battlements are at the ready. You can camp outside and eat our food – and no, it's not poisoned, though it would make me pretty happy; or you buggers can turn on your mares and leave right away. ”

 

The party of Frey men cursed and swore, but since they were within reach for said arrows that were pointed at them they had to comply. Of course, there were some threats about the future, but Sandor didn't give a rat's arse.

 

When the drawbridge went up behind a very pallid Edmure Tully the lord of Riverrun addressed him and spoke: “I'd have never thought I'd say that, but thank you for giving me my first joyful moment since my wedding night, Clegane... Lord Clegane.”

At his side, his young wife Roslin blushed. As far as Sandor could tell with his bad eyesight she was an uncharacteristically pretty specimen of the Frey family. The lord himself had the typical auburn Tully hair colour, and Sandor's heart clenched in pain.

Thus, he could only rasp: “Harrenclegane it is now. And you'll have to excuse me. Ser Bonifer here will show you your room. There will always be a guard at your door or with you in the castle to keep up appearances. After all, you've got the status of a hostage.”

“I have understood...”

Lord Edmure didn't get any further, because Sandor had already turned and was stomping off to the stables. He needed to pass some time with Stranger.

Sansa – and Arya – had not returned, and Sandor's heart felt raw. His foul-spirited courser was the only companion he could abide now.

 

***

“The scarred bastard! Didn't let us into the castle!” Cerwyn Frey was raging.

Wellym eyed the group leader from the side. Obviously, Sandor Clegane really had got some brains. Only how this huge, ugly man... and elegant, delicate Sansa... it was impossible to picture them as spouses.

 

“We're going back in a moment's time. No need to endure those snobs' food. Soft Will, water the horses at the lake. Everybody take a piss and a shit against the castle walls, and then we'll return home.”

Wellym growled something unintelligible under his breath. The people had taken to calling him “Soft Will” ever since he had passed out from wine before the killing at the Red Wedding had started, and he knew well enough which other crucial order he had refused to carry out when he had come back to his senses and most of the fighting had already been over.

What nobody knew was that it had been his knife that had ended Roose Bolton's miserable life. Of THAT Wellym was proud in a grim way.

 

After a while, Cerwyn bellowed: “Everybody done pissing and shitting? Right, let's go then. And keep your eyes open. We didn't come across the Stark girls on the way here, perhaps we'll do so on the way back. And the rule is still: first come, first serve.”

The other men laughed in a lewd way.

Wellym only smiled, and it looked rancorous. Nobody noticed.

He commented inwardly: “I'll only let you rape the girls over my dead body.”

And he understood the exact meaning of his thoughts.

Chapter Text

At first, it was difficult in the dark to discern which direwolf it was, that was scrambling with Nymeria and Arya on the ground in absolute merriment. It didn't matter.

Sansa simply stormed ahead and called out: “You're here!”

A joyful whine was to be heard, and a mere second later, a huge, furred body crashed into her, knocked her over, and a rough tongue started to lick her face wildly. Sansa screeched in happiness.

Then, she noticed that the wolf was neither white like Ghost, nor dark like Shaggydog.

“Summer?” she uttered...

… but the wolf only snorted in confusion... or perhaps contempt.

Arya didn't sound any better when she said: “Chummer!? Yo're chkupik! Chak'ch Gchey Wink!”

 

Sansa looked up, baffled – and found it was true!

A moment later, she was really sobbing.

“Grey Wind! You're alive! But how's that possible? The Freys have been relating everywhere you're dead!”

“Che Freych are bachkarkch!” Arya swore.

Given what she had been through her comments were already pretty venomous again, but in this case, Sansa didn't want to chide her sister about her verdict.

 

Suddenly, Sansa came up with another idea, and there was a kind of mad hope in her voice when she asked the wolf: “Grey Wind, what about Robb and mother? Have they survived as well?”

The big animal stiffened then and uttered another whine; this time, it sounded partly painful, partly frightened and partly confused.

“He coug echcape chomehow. He'ch chkill hochifieg. Ik wach koo mukch foh hing.”

Sansa, saddened and disappointed, nodded and replied: “I can only imagine it would have been too much for me, too – and I can't fathom how horrified I'd be. – Come here, Grey Wind! You're with the rest of the pack again.”

The big wolf was very willing to obey, and humans and animals cuddled some more before they returned to Dan's and Lera's cabin.

 

There, their friendly hosts were already waiting with a lamp, curious to find out what had happened.

“Wolfy! Oh, and who's that? A Wolfric?” Dan asked Nymeria, who yipped proudly.

“That's Grey Wind, a sibling,” Sansa explained and couldn't suppress a smile.

Lera cocked her head and answered: “How sweet! A real family reunion! But we've got a problem now: the animals are far too big and too hungry. They can't come into the cabin both, and we don't have much meat to begin with. So the wolves will have to go hunting for themselves.”

Arya understood at once, made some waving movements with her arms in the wolves' direction and ordered: “Off you go! Go hunking! Chee you ing che mornging!”

There was some more yipping and sniffing and merry running around until the horses were completely panicky, but then the big predators trotted off to get themselves some juicy rabbits and the like.

 

When the humans had entered the cabin, Lera started to nurse her baby, who had woken up, and they all sat down to talk.

Sansa started: “Your hospitality has been invaluable, but Arya is getting much better, and Grey Wind's arrival has shown us that we really need to travel on. Tomorrow, we'll leave in the morning. Harrenhal is waiting. My husband is waiting, and he must already be so very worried.”

Dan and Lera could understand that.

“We'll miss you,” the young father said, “but I'm pretty sure that your wolves will come and visit us from time to time – and perhaps you, too, once the Riverlands have been pacified.”

“Yech! Chure!” Arya emphasised, and Sansa added: “Should you ever need our help – there will always be a place for you in Harrenhal, and we'll always do for you what we can.”

 

They were all silent for a moment.

Lera finally put the baby back into the cradle, patted Sansa's arm gently and stated with conviction: “You'll be the greatest lady in the Riverlands ever.”

She grinned, before she went on: “And Lady Arya will be the most fiery one, even if her hair hasn't been kissed by fire.”

Sansa chuckled then, and Arya pointed out: “Che mocht fiechy ong ing che norch! Afker che winker!”

Lera smiled: “Until then, a lot of water will run through the Riverlands. Summer is coming to an end, and autumn is nearly there.”

“Winker ich coming,” Arya said gravely and Sansa repeated: “Yes. Winter is coming.”

Chapter Text

In the morning, they saddled the horses and packed their provisions. The direwolves had not returned yet, but that didn't really matter – they'd always be able to follow their tracks.

 

All in all, Arya was in a comparatively good mood: the little stump of her tongue hurt a little less, even if it was still very sensitive.

True, it was still difficult to swallow food and drink, and she couldn't handle anything warm yet; it was also frustrating when people didn't understand her right away and she had to repeat herself. For that, she'd have liked to revive the scoundrel, who had done this to her: she'd be able to torture him to a much slower death then.

Nevertheless, Grey Wind had reappeared, alive and kicking. If it could have kept her brother and her mother alive Arya would even have sacrificed the little piece of flesh she still had in her mouth.

 

Well, it was useless to entertain futile dreams.

She rather preferred to think ahead.

Of Harrenhal. Her home for as long as the upcoming winter would last.

 

If she was honest she was looking forward to seeing the old ruin of a castle, something she'd never have believed possible in the past.

However, there were some people there that would make the stay acceptable: first of all, there was Sansa, of course. Their relationship had improved so much, but then again, they were hardly the two girls who had left Winterfell any more.

 

And who else was there in the castle she wanted to see again? Hot Pie, of course. She was also looking forward to eating his delicious food again. Arya was sure that one day, he'd be the chef of the castle kitchens.

 

It would also be nice to meet some of the knights, and especially Bessie. The sweet little orphan girl had gained a special place in Arya's heart – and even more so, now that she was an orphan herself, too.

 

What about the Hound?

In the past, she had wanted to kill him, and their relationship would forever be dimmed by him having killed Mycah; yet, Arya had also come to respect the tall, scarred man in a crude way. He made Sansa happy, he had become a father figure for Bessie, and he had undergone a general positive development. Those things couldn't compensate his evil deeds of the past, but his personal betterment still had to account for something.

 

And finally, there was Gendry. Arya could still remember their last night in Harrenhal before her departure. They had talked a lot, discussed, even argued.

At some point, they had suddenly kissed. It had been an angry kiss that had led to even more confusion. Arya had never wanted to kiss a boy or a man like that, and from one instant to the next, her world view had been upside-down.

The thing was that she had never been like Sansa, neither well-behaved nor naïve nor innocent. She had seen naked Hodor in the Godswood, had known what the servant Pia was doing with her lovers... and she had wanted to know a bit more about Gendry then. Arya hadn't allowed him to touch her, but she had discovered that the young smith's apprentice was nearly a grown man – and that his body looked and reacted the part.

 

Arya smiled. Their separation had only made her more curious. And even if she didn't know, if she was really ready to be bedded she knew that she didn't want to be married off to a spiteful bastard or an arrogant noble fop, and that she didn't want to wait for any of them to try their luck and to whisk her away.

The episode with the knave in the wood had made this only clearer. Arya had felt the man's stiff shaft against her leg, and it had been incredibly disgusting. The turd had wanted her, but not for any romantic reasons at all. Thus, Arya had resolved to give her maidenhood rather sooner than later to Gendry. At least, he was a friend. Hopefully, he'd want to have her.

 

At length, Arya was shaken from her musings to say goodbye to Dan and Lera. She hugged them both passionately.

Sansa was shedding a tear. It was so like her to react like this. In the past, Arya would have scorned her for it; now, she saw things differently. They had simply different ways of handling things, but Sansa had proven that she wasn't weak.

Arya had seen the scars on her sister's back. She hadn't needed to know any details then to assess the pain Sansa had been through.

 

When she and her sister were trotting away from the cabin Arya turned around on her horse and waved at the couple that had probably saved her life. Sansa had left two gold dragons in a tankard on a board, because the two hadn't wanted any money for their hospitality.

Arya nodded to herself. Dan and Lera absolutely deserved the money – even though no coin could ever truly repay their kindness.

“There should be more people like them. The world would be a better one,” she thought.

 

The two rode in companionable silence for a few hours. Then, they both needed to make water, and they decided to have an extended break. After all, Arya was better, but not quite fit yet, and it wouldn't do for her to fall ill again.

When they found a clearing, they tethered the horses to a bush and disappeared in the surrounding underbrush to see to their needs.

 

Clop-clop-clop.

 

“Shit, that's the sound of horses!” Arya thought when she was just in the middle of making water.

She finished her errand as quickly as she could and stormed back to their own horses. Sansa was doing the same. They both wanted to hide the animals as galloping away was already out of the question.

 

Too late.

 

A group of men appeared in the clearing. It only took Arya one look to see the two towers of the Twins on their sigil.

“OH DAMN! That's the Freys!” she swore inwardly and froze.

“Look! The Stark girls!” one man exclaimed triumphantly. “Let's get them! I'll have the redhead first.”

Sansa shrieked – and produced her throwing knife. Unfortunately, it sailed past the man.

 

“Careful! The little minxes have got some claws as it seems.”

Arya hurled her knife at an elderly man, and she managed to hit him, but it was no fatal wound.

“Seven hells, that little beast! Reserve her for me!” the man swore and grunted in anguish.

 

Arya ground her teeth in frustration. These were too many men.

 

The first Frey had dismounted and was coming at them. The other ones were getting off their horses now as well.

Sansa dodged the grabbing hands as best she could, and so did Arya, but it was useless. The men were faster, stronger, better equipped and more numerous.

 

Bonk! – and Arya landed on her back once again. She uttered a painful sound. Sansa landed next to her. They were both writhing and fighting, but the men were already grabbing their legs and tearing at their clothes. Ribald jokes were being exchanged.

 

Arya looked up into a disgusting man's pockmarked face, and his foul stink was already causing her to retch. She wouldn't mind to vomit right into his ugly face, even if that would naturally entail some sort of punishment.

Suddenly, the face of another Frey man loomed up behind the first one; this time, it was a lank, young man with a crooked nose, long, strawy hair and hatred in his dark eyes.

“Ugly chap, but beautiful eyelashes,” Arya thought, and she didn't have a clue why she could possibly think of something so absurd in this dire situation.

 

An instant later, the pockmarked man right above her started to gurgle, his eyes grew wide, and he started to cough up blood. Next, he crashed on top of Arya, lifeless. Another two seconds, and the same happened to the man who had been kneeling between Sansa's legs.

 

“WELLYM!? Wellym, fuck, what are you doing?”

 

The young Frey man Arya had seen was unsheathing his sword now, and the metal hissed menacingly when it was being drawn. Meanwhile, Arya was as confused as busy to get free from under the dead scoundrel. The same was true for Sansa, who was sobbing and retching loudly.

 

“You will not rape these ladies, you bastards!” their unexpected Frey ally spat with a high, scratchy voice.

 

“Ladies!? Bugger that, Soft Will! They're meant for us!”

 

“Over my dead body!”

 

Arya would have applauded the heroic young man under different circumstances, but this was suicidal, because there were still too many enemies.

 

But then, the horses became nervous. Did this mean...?

 

Yes!

 

Two huge, furred, snarling animals broke into the clearing.

Nothing less than slaughter ensued.

Arya and Sansa could only stand and watch in awe while throats were being torn out, legs and arms were mangled, and men screamed and sputtered as they lay dying.

 

Then, Nymeria wanted to attack the last Frey who was still standing: the one who had come to their aid.

Arya wanted to shout: “No!”

… but before she could do that Grey Wind crashed into his sister's side to prevent her from hurting the man.

Now, the mystery was complete.

 

The three human survivors and the two animals were looking at each other, panting.

Of course, it was Sansa, the lady, who approached this Wellym Frey, went to her knees, took his hand, pressed it against her cheek and wept: “Thank you, ser! Thank you so much!”

At that, something very warm flickered up in the man's eyes. He drew his hand back slowly and patted Sansa's hair shortly in an affectionate way.

 

He shook his head and answered: “No, please don't thank me. It was the only thing I could do. I hope you're... unhurt?”

Sansa nodded and wept and sniffled.

Next, this Wellym looked up at Arya and asked: “Are you all right as well?”

Arya simply nodded.

 

The direwolves circled the man – and then, Grey Wind licked his hand and uttered a little whine. Wellym smiled brightly and ruffled the wolf's fur. One moment later, Nymeria started to whine as well, rolled onto her back and showed the man her belly.

Now, that was something really baffling!

“Chey ngow chou!”

“Pardon?”

Sansa helped out and repeated: “They know you.”

 

The Frey blushed, looked at Grey Wind and answered: “They wanted me to kill him. They ordered me to do that. Gods!”

He started to weep. To sob. He knelt and was shaken by heaving spasms.

Arya managed to piece together that it had obviously been him who had made sure the wolf could escape certain death.

 

Yet, the man was also weird.

The next moment only proved this: Sansa, though still upset herself, had held out a hand to console him... and then, he grabbed her and hugged her close. Of course, Arya's sister was shocked, even more so after the attempted rape, and she flinched violently; when he noticed it, Wellym let go of her again at once. He even apologised.

At the same time, he looked so desperate. So... loving. There was no other word for it.

 

Something was really foul here. Something...

A word from Old Nan's stories bubbled up in Arya's mind: warg.

Fragments snapped into place in her mind to form a picture.

Arya gasped, incredulous.

Then, she whimpered: “Chobb?”

Chapter Text

***

He winced. There was utter pandemonium inside of him, and he didn't know what to do or say, or how to react. Of course, Arya had to be, oh, so clever...

 

“CHOBB!”

 

The next moment, Arya was flinging her arms around his neck, and she was sobbing and weeping like him.

 

“What do you mean – Robb!?”

Sansa obviously still didn't have a clue.

 

“Chobb ich a wachk! A chkingchanger! He'ch ahive!”

 

He looked up in confusion. Arya had sounded strangely throaty since the beginning of this encounter and was barely understandable. What was wrong with her?

However, he didn't get the time to ponder this.

Sansa was slowly grasping the concept and asked in a trembling voice: “Is that true? Is it you, Robb?”

 

He drew a shaky breath and answered: “It's... complicated. I'm... also Robb.”

 

At once, Arya let go of him and exclaimed: “Whak!?”

In her place, Sansa was taking his hand again, and she asked him with big, Tully blue eyes: “What do you mean?”

He ran his free hand through his strawy hair and began: “I... I don't even know what to make of all of this. I've got... two memories inside of me. And I feel... so torn. As if I were two people at the same time. Let me try to explain.

There was the Red Wedding. It was in full swing, and the bedding ceremony had just occurred. Wellym had passed out from drinking on a side bench quite close to Robb. He had known what was supposed to happen, but he didn't want to take part in the upcoming slaughter. He had seen Robb shortly, and his first impression had been that he had... quite liked him. When the killing started, it was horrible, like nothing you could possibly imagine. Then, Roose Bolton – the bloody traitor – dealt the final blow to Robb's body. Gods! The pain! The life force was draining away, there was a moment of unconsciousness, I don't know what happened and I had certainly no intentions of... whatever...

… and then, I was shaken awake from my stupor and dragged in front of Lord Walder. I saw... all the dead bodies... all of them...

Then, Lord Walder told me that since I had done nothing else I should at least finish off Grey Wind. As you can see I didn't do it. So they took an old wolf's trophy from the wall and an old fur and sewed it...”

 

He turned away from Sansa and Arya and vomited. Whenever the identity confusion and the memory of what had happened to Robb's as well as to Catelyn's body struck him he couldn't react any differently.

Both girls were staring at him in shock now and they were both weeping, even tough Arya, he realised, and surely they'd despise him now for the monstrosity he was.

 

To his surprise, Sansa produced a handkerchief and wiped his mouth when he had finished retching.

“Gods! So you mean that you're Robb, but Wellym Frey's soul is there as well? And what happened next?”

He was deeply touched by Sansa's open-mindedness and could only think that back in Winterfell she would have rejected him even more than she had rejected Jon. What an exceptional woman she had turned into!

 

“As I'm saying – it's complicated. This man here in front of you... I'm some kind of amalgam. I've got two distinct memories, so my head feels very crowded. My personality... I think that Robb and Wellym have merged to some extent. I don't know how to explain it. The part of me that is Wellym is incredibly happy about this situation, about the fact that a part of Robb could be saved and that he's part of him now. You see... he didn't have a good life with the Freys. He's completely unimportant, and he has always felt so lonely. Besides... I don't know how to put it, but... he feels attracted to men, not to women. So he was scorned by the others even more. I think that was also part of why Wellym's mind was open to welcome Robb.

Gods, I'm so embarrassed and confused! I'm not really Robb Stark any more, but I'm not Wellym Frey either. I have to find out yet who I am. The part of me who used to be Robb feels so weird in this different body. I don't know, if I can be grateful for this second chance, but I guess I should since I could save you. I also managed to kill Roose Bolton, and nobody noticed it was me. They only flogged me for setting Grey Wind free. I wish I could have murdered Lord Walder as well, but then, I heard that Lord Edmure should be sent to Harrenhal, so I decided to become a member of the unit that would guard him on his way. Him and his wife Roslin. He didn't recognize me for who I am.”

 

Arya was having a hard time to process all the news. One could see the gears turning in her head, and she kept her distance.

For Sansa, it certainly wasn't any easier, but her instinctive reaction was a different one: she embraced him with all her might and declared: “You've got Robb's memory, and you've tried to help. So even if many things have changed – you're still our brother. We all change in our lives. I only have to think of myself. You've just... changed a bit more.”

Sansa's gentleness caused him to weep again, and to accept her embrace. Was she right? Was it so simple to see it like this? He didn't know, but he was grateful that his sister tried to make it easier for him.

 

From one moment to the next, Sansa came up with something else: “And you took Edmure really to Harrenhal? And did you see Sandor?”

“Yes, Edmure is there. I also saw your husband for a short moment. However, he didn't want to let us enter the castle. I have to applaud his cleverness. If only I had been so intelligent...”

“Was Sandor all right?”

He smiled.

“As far as I can say: yes. Well, he was tall, scarred and nasty.”

“Chak'ch him!” Arya cut in, smirked and nodded frenziedly.

“Pardon? Arya, can't you speak more clearly? Do you have a cold?”

 

It was then that Sansa took over and told him of his little sister's personal calamity. His eyes widened in shock.

“Gods, no! Oh Arya, I'm so sorry!”

His sister made a dismissive gesture.

“Pff! Ing congchachk ko you I chkill have my owng bogy!”

It took him a long moment to understand – but then he had to laugh. Oh, it was so like Arya to say that! She had never lamented much over her frequent sore knees as a child, and even now, she was still as defiant and spirited as ever.

And how good the bout of merriment felt! It was his first laughter since the Red Wedding; and even before neither Robb nor Wellym had laughed much.

 

Soon enough, Sansa came back to the topic they had been talking about before: “I'm relieved Sandor seems to be fine enough. We must make haste now to travel back to Harrrenhal. And since you're coming from that direction you can be our guide. Well, and Nymeria, of course. Only – what do you want to do now, Robb?”

He sighed: “I don't know what I want. Had Arya not found out... perhaps I would have even kept my identity a secret from you. To be honest – I don't even know what my name is any more. Robb, Wellym... both names sound wrong in my ears. I'll need some time to come to terms with my new self.”

“Hm...,” Sansa made. “What about a combination of the names then? What about Rollym? And you could come with us to Herrenhal. I'd talk to Sandor in private, and I'm sure he'd handle your situation discretely and would give you some time to recover from this shock.”

 

On hearing this offer, he lit up with hope.

“Rollym! That sounds good! Rollym Newlife, perhaps. Everybody else will think I'm referring to giving up the Frey name, and they'll even be partly correct. Oh Sansa, I should have listened to you right away when you arrived in Riverrun. You're wise beyond your years. Come! Arya, Grey Wind, Nymeria! Let's go! Don't you think we've stayed long enough next to these dead bastards?”

 

Arya and Sansa both needn't to be asked twice. They grabbed what coins and knifes and swords the Freys had on their bodies, stuffed them into the saddlebags, took the reins of the dead mens' valuable horses and had the animals trot along next to their own ones. Nymeria and Grey Wind were supposed to run ahead as scouts.

 

***

 

Sansa was still upset after the attempted rape and all the killing and still needed some time to calm down. Moreover, she couldn't believe that the foreign-looking man at her side was Robb. Or rather a part of Robb. He wasn't tall, he wasn't impressive, and he even smelled different; and yet, some of his movements, his gestures, the way he looked at them – it was familiar, recognizable. You only had to know what to look for.

 

“It's no wonder that people are afraid of skinchangers, if something like this can happen. I wonder what Wellym was like before the Red Wedding. You've got to be really desperate to welcome a warg in your body and in your mind.”

 

Late in the afternoon, they decided to make camp. It wasn't so very far to Harrenhal any more, and Sansa would have preferred to ride all night, but she and Robb... Rollym... both noticed that Arya was getting really tired. Thus, they felt the necessity to stop.

 

After a while, they had made a nice fire, and there was plenty of food in the saddlebags of the Freys. Hungrily, they sank their teeth into the provisions, and Sansa was starting to feel much calmer now.

After their dinner, they laid out the bedrolls.

Suddenly, Nymeria appeared in the camp. She yipped merrily and seemed to be very excited.

“Whak ich ik?” Arya asked and smiled.

The direwolf ran to and fro, even hopped a little and whined.

“I think she wants us to follow h...”

 

Clop-clop-clop.

 

Horses!

However, given Nymeria's reaction these were friends.

Sansa's heartbeat sped up at once.

Sandor...?

 

She had already been sitting on her bedroll, but now, she jumped up and screamed at the top of her lungs: “Here! Over here! We're here!”

 

A moment later, Grey Wind appeared as well – followed by several riders.

Sansa recognized the first one at once.

“Ser Gilroy!”

She beamed like the sun, but her eyes were already scanning the others.

“Lady Sansa! Praise the seven, finally we've found you! The wolves discovered us when we were just about to return to Harrenhal from our daily patrol, and they led the way to you.”

 

By now, Sansa was feeling a slight pang of disappointment, because Sandor had not accompanied the group.

Still, she answered jovially: “How very good! I must admit I can barely wait to see my Lord Husband again. Please tell me: is he all right?”

Ser Gilroy dismounted, nodded and replied: “He was very depressed during all these weeks without you, my lady, but he'll be an extremely happy man again very soon, now that you're back. And there is something you might not have heard of: he has regained a part of his vision.”

“WHAT!?” Sansa exclaimed in sheer joy – and the next moment, she had forgotten she was supposed to be a lady: she was hugging Ser Gilroy so wildly that the knight blushed fiercely.

 

Then, Sansa turned around and pleaded: “Please, Arya, please Ro... Rollym, I can't wait to see Sandor again! Wouldn't it be possible for you to follow me tomorrow with the wolves, and I travel ahead with my bannermen?”

Arya was laughing: “Chure! Go aheag!”

Her brother agreed as well.

Moments later, Sansa was saddling her horse again, forgetting her personal belongings in the camp, jumped onto her steed's back with gleaming eyes and darted off.

 

After some minutes, she was able to recognise a few of the Harrenhal guards who were accompanying Ser Gilroy and taking the Frey horses with them, and she greeted the men warmly. All their faces were smiling in relief.

Next, she addressed the knight at her side and wanted to know more about the current situation at the castle.

Ser Gilroy explained: “Your uncle is there with his wife. He's as fine as he could possibly be after the Red Wedding and with the prospect of becoming a hostage in the south. Oh, some to think of it... have you... heard of the Red Wedding?”

Sansa's mouth became a grim line.

“Yes.”

“My condolences.”

“Thank you, Ser Gilroy. Please, just go ahead and tell me some more of home.”

The man breathed in deeply and went on: “Of course, my lady. Ser Kevan Lannister was in Harrenhal, too, but he's in Riverrun now, and he's leading peace negotiations with your great-uncle Brynden.”

“Peace negotiations? Oh, finally! If only they had happened sooner! And what about Bessie? Ser Gilroy, is the little girl all right?”

The knight started to grin.

“If only you knew, my lady! She has made a very serious offer of marriage to me.”

Sansa nearly fell off her horse in surprise, but then, she started to laugh loudly: “Gods! And the way she is, she'll be stubborn enough to go through with it in ten, twelve years!”

Ser Gilroy blushed heavily.

“My lady, please don't tease me! Anyway, she has also taught herself to read and to write, wouldn't you believe it!? You should have also seen her with Ser Kevan. The girl had him at “hello”. And when he left, he enlightened her about the concept of tongue twisters to improve her speech defect, and now, she's going on everybody's nerves with “three short sword sheaths” and “seven slick slimey snakes slowly sliding southward”. If you come too close to her you get covered in spittle.”

Sansa didn't remember when she had last laughed so much. She certainly hadn't after her departure from Harrenhal.

 

When she had recovered a little she asked about the other castle inhabitants, including the dog Salmon, and she was delighted to hear that everything was going so well.

Yet, Ser Gilroy also became serious again and inquired: “My lady, there's something I'd like to know: how come you've got some Frey horses with you, and what about this young Frey man we met in the clearing alongside with you and Lady Arya?”

“The Freys crossed our way and tried to kidnap and to rape us – but Rollym risked his own life to save us.”

“So he's turned a kinslayer to save you?”

“Never call him that again! Understood!?”

“Erm. Yes, my lady. And I'm sure Lord Sandor won't like these news.”

“No. He won't.”

 

At some point, Sansa asked: “Ser Gilroy, what do you think – would it be possible to surprise my Lord Husband with my arrival? I'd love to do that!”

At once the knight grinned conspirationally.

“Oh, my lady! Now you're giving my conscience a hard time, because as Lord Sandor's man I can't possibly say “yes” to this.”

“Then I order you to get me into Harrenhal on the quiet.”

“Now, that's something completely different, of course, since I must obey my lady's direct order.”

Around them, the men chortled, and Sansa was starting to positively fidget on her horse from pleasant anticipation.”

 

Around the hour of the wolf, she was finally tiptoeing up the stony steps to their bedroom. By now, she was so incredibly nervous now that she thanked the old gods and the new for her healthy heart. As stealthily as a thief she opened the door and locked it quietly behind her.

The dying embers in the hearth didn't cast much light, but she could detect the familiar, huge form of her sleeping husband in bed.

Inwardly, she screamed from exuberant happiness, but her mouth didn't utter a single sound – it only smiled... and first tears were already pooling in the corners of her eyes.

With trembling hands, she tore at her clothes and cast them off as quickly as she had never done before. Then, she edged closer to the bed.

 

Suddenly, a dark, drowsy voice rumbled at her from under the coverlet: “Having another nightmare, Bessie?”

With the widest grin possible she whispered back: “No – and actually, I'd say that there's a wonderfully sweet dream ahead.”

Chapter Text

***

Sandor stiffened. Why...? His ears were playing tricks on him. He was still hearing echoes from his last intoxicating dream about his Little Bird.

 

The blanket moved, the mattress sagged lightly... and a naked, warm, female body slid under the covers and at his side.

“Uuh, so you wear smallclothes in bed, Sandor? Is that because of Bessie? Oh, we'll have to change that at once!” Sansa's voice went on, and it was a mixture of a sob and laughter.

The next moment, she threw herself at him, her arms around him, and she kissed him like mad. Her scent... her taste...

 

Sansa? Sansa was back!?

Sandor was so overwhelmed that his brain couldn't really process the truth.

His instincts, however, came awake with a jolt, and so did the lower parts of his body. Without thinking, he grabbed his wife and crushed her even closer than she already was. He didn't understand what was happening, or how it was possible that Sansa had appeared and sneaked into his bed unnoticed.

He wanted to pinch himself. This glory, this bliss – it couldn't be true.

 

But instead of pinching him, his little wife came up with a far better idea: her hand sneaked into his smallclothes and stroked him.

Sandor moaned. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, the good and the scarred one alike. And Sansa was weeping as well.

This... couldn't...

 

“You promised me...,” she murmured into his good ear, laid him bare, straddled him, positioned herself – and slid down on him with determination.

Sandor saw stars in his mind. What...? But...

 

“Ouch!” Sansa whimpered.

That woke him from his reverie.

“Little Bird, what is it? Did I hurt you?”

“No. Oh my love. It's just... after everything we've done already... I didn't think I'd still have to adjust to this body part.”

She giggled and added: “That's definitely different from your fingers and your tongue. Deeper. Mhhhm.”

Sansa tried a tentative movement... and shivered and sighed.

Sandor was close to being driven insane. The warmth and wetness and tightness down there... So welcoming. The Little Bird's chirping. The way she started to gently rock back and forth above him...

Hungrily, his hands started to roam her exposed skin, still unable to believe that they were finally really doing it – and that, instead of him taking the initiative, it was Sansa who was riding him. Fuck.

These were the seven heavens.

 

He cupped her breasts and realized that they had grown over the moons while she had been away. She had really lush, well-developed curves now, and Sandor moaned in sheer enthusiasm. His fingers started to play with her nipples, just the way she had always liked it. Slowly, Sansa was picking up speed, gliding up and down his shaft rhapsodically and leaning back to press down on him even more.

 

This way, Sandor could finally get I glimpse of her in the weak, flickering shadows caused by the dying fire. His bad vision couldn't discern very much, true... but then, he froze, his hands grabbed her waist and brought her body to a full halt.

“Love, what is it?” Sansa gasped, confused.

“What have you done with your hair?” Sandor growled, suddenly sounding like the Hound again.

“Oh that – I needed to dye and to cut it off. To attract less attention on the way, you know.”

 

Sandor sat up and ran his fingers through her short strands.

“Ah well. The colour will wash out and it'll grow back.”

“Yes, it will. The only thing that counts is that I'm back. Finally.”

“Yes. Finally.”

 

They kissed: tenderly at first, then with increasing need once more, and after some additional moments, they resumed their wanton movements.

“Damn, you feel so good, Sansa,” he uttered, his voice brittle.

“And what shall I say about you? – Aaaah.”

His Little Bird's moan caused Sandor to lose control: he flipped her around, onto her back and started to thrust into her wildly. Sansa arched into him, and her fingernails scratched his back. Sandor bared his teeth. Nothing could stop him now to end what his wife had begun so daringly.

 

Suddenly, Sansa made a strangled noise, like the whine of a wolf, deep down in her throat... and then, her muscles started to tremble and her womanhood pulsated and contracted wildly. Sandor swore and thrust and thrust, and Sansa quickly peaked against him a second time.

Now this was really too good to be true, Sandor's body stretched taut, and he came with a dark roar.

 

Helplessly and completely pumped out, he collapsed onto Sansa, but he quickly realised he was knocking the air out of her lungs, heavy as he was, and he rolled onto the side. They were both panting loudly and needed a moment to recover.

It was Sansa who snuggled up against him and murmured: “This was even better than I could have dreamed it. And I've been dreaming about it ever since I left Harrenhal. But I'm back. And nobody will separate us again.”

 

By now, Sandor's mind was clearing enough to ask: “What took you so long, Little Bird? I got a raven from Riverrun, from your great-uncle. You can't believe how worried I've been.”

Sansa kissed his chest, licked up his collarbone, his neck, his cheek and finally claimed lips.

Next, she explained: “We were attacked, first by a Bolton man, and later by some Freys.”

“Fuck, what!? And you're only telling me now? Are you all right, Sansa?”

“Yes, calm down, love, yes, I'm fine. Unfortunately, Arya was injured. She lost a part of her tongue and was feverish afterwards, so she needed to recover, and it took her a while to do so. But we also got some help, that was good.”

Sandor breathed out deeply.

“The Frey and Bolton bastards. I'll turn them into horse hash, all of them – one by one. How's Arya?”

“Better now. Already becoming a little chatterbox again, even if it's difficult to understand her at times. She's so strong, and nothing can subdue her for long. I'm so proud of her, you know. But please, Sandor, there's a Frey man who arrived with us. He saved us from the other Freys when they tried to abduct and to rape us, and he risked his own life to do so, so please don't harm him.”

 

That surprised the Hound. One man against his own kin? And helping women – such behaviour from a Frey? Something was foul here, and he could also hear it in Sansa's voice.

“Little Bird, what are you trying to keep from me?” he asked sternly.

 

Sansa flinched and mumbled: “Ah, you know me too well, don't you? All right, what you'll hear now will sound very, very strange. Unbelievable, actually, but it's true. You know... my brother Robb – he was a warg, a skinchanger. You may remember all the weird rumours about him and his wolf that we heard back in King's Landing.”

“Hmhm. But... a skinchanger? Isn't that something from a horror story for children? And what are you aiming at?”

Sansa was evidently feeling uncomfortable now.

“You see... during the Red Wedding there was some kind of... accident, just when Robb was dying. He warged into a Frey man, unintentionally. So Robb's soul... kind of survived, but it fused with the second soul. He remembers everything, from both his lives, though. That's why he helped us. And Grey Wind survived as well and found us and Nymeria.”

 

That left Sandor speechless for a moment.

Nervously, Sansa wanted to know: “Are you angry I've brought him here?”

With difficulty, Sandor managed to say: “No. I mean... there are things between the heavens and earth one cannot explain, but... are you sure, the man has told you the truth?”

Sansa nodded.

“Absolutely so. There's no mistaking the personality traits that belonged to my brother. And one can also see that the situation is very difficult for him, because he doesn't know who he is any more. He needs to recover. Can he live with us here in Harrenhal? In secret, I mean? His new name would by Rollym.”

Sandor scratched his head and bethought himself.

“Little Bird, this is such a bizarre story that I've got a hard time to believe it. If it didn't come from you... But no, I guess I don't mind, if he stays here.”

“Thank you, love!” Sansa breathed and kissed him with renewed passion.

 

This lead to more hungry caresses, playful nipping and giggling and chortling and laughter. Oh, how incredibly good it was to have Sansa back! Sandor had never felt so good in his life. Especially when he took his Little Bird a second time. And a third time at dawn.

 

“Sandor, I'll be sore all day!” Sansa gasped.

“Do you care?”

“No. Not one whit. Aaah. I'll never get enough of you.”

“But you can be bloody sure I'll try my best to satiate you.”

“Oh yessss...”

“And what about this?”

“Ahhh... please... please don't stop. Don't ever stop!”

 

Sandor grunted in sheer lust and felt triumphant. That was his Little Bird, writhing under him, and her sweet songs were only reserved for him, for him alone! Who would have ever believed such a divine woman could ever accept him, let alone return his love with the same ferocity?

 

Finally, they were so exhausted from their prolonged, wild lovemaking that they fell asleep in each other's arms and with peace in their hearts.

Morning reality came to them in the form of a loud rattle on the door handle. Luckily, the door was locked.

Sandor and Sansa gave a start between the sheets and sat up, yawning and rubbing their eyes.

 

“Daddy, daddy! Why if ve door cloved?” a very excited Bessie called outside.

Sandor chuckled, grinned and whispered to Sansa: “Here comes the last log for my personal pyre in the seven hells. Put on some clothes now, quick!”

 

Aloud, he barked: “The door is closed because I've got a big surprise for you.”

 

“She calls you “daddy”?” Sansa murmured, her blue eyes wide in wonder.

 

“A furprive, daddy? Can I fee it?”

 

“Daddy Sandor and Mommy Sansa, be prepared for it, Little Bird,” he answered under his breath while putting on his breeches and a tunic.

Next, he spoke up again: “Yes, Bessie, you can see the surprise in a moment. Just a minute. And do you remember how to speak properly? Do you remember your tongue twisters?”

“Yef! Er... yes! And I've got two new ones. Number one is from Cassel, the brewer: Old Mr. Hunt had a puddy c... a cuddy punt. Not a cuddy punt but a hunt punt cuddy. – And vif... this... is number two: Birdie, birdie in the sky laid a turdie in my eye. If cows could fly I'd have a cow pie in my eye.”

 

Sandor roared his laughter, and Sansa desperately grabbed a pillow and pressed it in front of her face so as not to give herself away with some sounds of levity.

 

“Bessie, I think I'll have a serious word with that brewer about proper tongue twisters for little girls. But that birdie sentence is a very good one, and very fitting,” Sandor called back.

“I think I can open the door now, Bessie. Be prepared for your surprise. It's a big one and a very good one.”

“Fine, daddy!”

Sandor winked at Sansa, and his wife winked back. Could life become any better? Sandor couldn't imagine how that should be possible.

He walked over to the door. Turned the key in its lock with a scraping, metallic sound.

 

A moment later, an overjoyed girl's scream erupted from their tower, so loud that it could still be heard down in the yard where people turned up their faces with – already knowing – smiles.

“MOMMY!!!”

Chapter Text

***

The next weeks were marked by the most interesting developments, and many of them were good, Sansa found.

Rollym settled in slowly, even if he received many critical looks. He was calmer and more sensitive and thoughtful than Robb had been. As much as Sansa missed her brother as he had used to be she came to like her “new brother”. Of course, he also fell victim to Bessie's charms, and her positive energy helped him a lot. He also tried to help in the castle wherever he could, and Sandor started to appreciate him a lot – not as a fighter, because he was lousy in the training yard with his much weaker body, but as an advisor. After all, Rollym had the memories and experiences of two men at his disposal now.

One day, her brother approached Sansa with a problem: he admitted that he was drawn to Ser Cody. Obviously, the sexual orientation of former Wellym was still very much awake. Sansa didn't know exactly which advice to give him, apart from telling him he should give himself some time to become more secure about his feelings and more stable in general, and he should try to accept his new personality, no matter what other people thought and said – and that she'd always accept him the way he was.

After that, Rollym started to his see his new life as a second chance, instead of an unfortunate accident or a punishment from the gods.

 

Sansa was very happy of seeing her uncle Edmure again, safe and sound, even if he was a ward now and not free to go back to Riverrun. She was more reserved towards his wife Roslin, because of her family background. However, the young woman was shy and friendly, and Rollym knew only positive things about her; he also informed Sansa of how Lord Walder had put her under pressure before the Red Wedding, so Sansa let go of her initial grudge.

In that respect, she was much more forgiving than Arya, who couldn't forget that maybe Robb had survived in an altered form, but many other people – first and foremost their mother – had been slaughtered.

Soon, it was discovered that Lady Roslin was pregnant, and it was also clear that Lord Edmure was growing more fond of his wife by the day.

Sandor simply said to this: “Their beginning may have been horrible, but they'll make their way in the world. We know what that means, don't we?”

And he smiled.

 

With regard to the Riverlands – and the Seven Kingdoms in general – the good news were that Brynden Tully and Kevan Lannister managed to sign a truce. Of course, the remaining northern Lords were still rebellious, but with winter looming ahead and the Riverlands at peace they knew their cause was lost – for the time being, that was, and they retired to their castles and fortresses and strongholds to lick their wounds and to prepare for the cold season.

Edmure was allowed to lead his life at Casterly Rock, instead of in the capital, and Sansa's uncle liked this much better, knowing well he wasn't made for the cesspool King's Landing was, and knowing as well that with Kevan Lannister, who intended to return home, he'd have a reasonable gaoler. It would probably also be easier to maintain a correspondence with his uncle Brynden, the castellan of Riverrun. So when Edmure took his leave from Harrenhal with his wife and riding at Ser Kevan's side he waved back at his nieces in the yard and didn't look too depressed.

 

Someone else was accompanying that party as well: Jeyne Westerling, Robb Stark's widow. She had arrived with Ser Kevan after the Blackfish had surrendered. A clause of the peace treaty was that she had to marry Ser Addam Marbrand, just like Lord Tywin had ordered it.

For Sansa, this had been a bit of a problem, and for Rollym as well. Should they tell Jeyne of his existence or not?

In the end, they had opted for candour, because it had been clearly visible how intensively Jeyne had been mourning her “deceased” husband.

Sansa had established the contact and had told her goodsister about what had happened. The woman's shock had naturally been immense. Eagerly, she had dashed to Rollym, who had been waiting next door – but the disappointment had also been substantial: no, Rollym wasn't Robb any more, neither with respect to the body nor to the personality. Jeyne couldn't love him any more the way she had done before, and for Rollym it was the same. It wasn't as if they didn't like each other, but the mutual attraction was gone.

“I can still see parts of him,” Jeyne conceded in Sansa's presence, “but all in all, he's not the man I married. In a way, I am a widow nevertheless. And the peace treaty – I have to do my duty, I guess. The Riverlands have endured enough. Ro... Rollym has also agreed to this. Besides... I know Ser Addam from the Westerlands. He's a decent man, as far as I can tell. It will be better for all of us this way.”

Sansa had been sad, but she had also understood.

 

There were also some wonderful news from King's Landing: Lady Brienne had given birth to two healthy girls. Though never a good writer and horribly clumsy with his left hand Jaime Lannister had taken it upon himself to write the messages.

“Proud bugger,” was Sandor's clipped comment.

Sandor with his bad eyes couldn't make head or tail of the blotchy scribbling, and even Sansa had a hard time to decipher the words.

Ser Jaime reported that the girls, Bayenna and Brilla, were as charming as their mother, and Sandor thought at first that the man was being ironic... until Sansa read about sapphire blue eyes and big, smiling mouths.

“Fuck me sideways, the Kingslayer is a lovesick fool. We can shake hands now. Well, one hand.”

Sansa grinned and thumped her husband in the side. They both laughed and kissed and drank some milk in honour of the newborn babes. In that way, Sansa also thought she had managed to make her peace about the Lannister family – well, parts of the family, to be precise.

 

Soon after, alarming news reached them from another place in the Riverlands: the Twins. There had been a massive outbreak of greyscales in the stronghold, and all those Freys who had been there at the time, including Lord Walder, had been killed by the illness within the week.

Sansa was certainly not sorry for the family who had murdered her mother and so many others and who had committed such a horrible kind of treachery – the problem was that the illness was contagious and spread everywhere in the region around the Twins, so that the smallfolk fell victim to the epidemic as well in great numbers.

Only at the end of autumn was it clear that the pestilence had died down and wouldn't pose a threat to Riverrun and Harrenhal any more, and Sansa thanked the gods.

In King's Landing, the king's Hand, Lord Tywin, appointed Emmon Frey – his brother-in-law – the new Lord of the Crossing, though the man was basically a lord without subjects and lacking a stronghold now, because the Twins were still uninhabitable after the outbreak of the illness.

People tattled behind upheld hands what a convenient coincidence it all had been for the Old Lion, but nobody dared to go any further with the suppositions.

 

Another one of Lord Lannister's decisions turned out to have far-reaching personal consequences for him: rumours said that Cersei had died while giving birth to a child in Braavos that had turned out to be like Tyrion. A while later, this was proven true, namely when the Braavosi father of the baby shipped the boy named Ezro to King's Landing and dumped him into Lord Tywin's arms, saying: “That deformity is part of your blood line, not mine, and you're experienced in raising such a child. You take care of him.”

Well, and frustrated Lord Tywin had nothing better to do than to dump the baby at Casterly Rock, even though Jaime had offered he'd raise the child together with his daughters.

The Old Lion had simply said the baby could grow up with Lord Edmure's child just as well, that he didn't want to have the brat around him, and he voiced the question why it hadn't been killed back over in Braavos, because that would have been easiest for all of them.

Sansa couldn't believe how anyone could be as cold-hearted as Tywin Lannister, and she was even more relieved she didn't live in the Red Keep any more to witness this meanness.

At the end of autumn, things started to become really precarious for the Seven Kingdoms: a young man popped up seemingly out of nowhere and claimed he was a Targaryen, that he was Aegon VI. Sandor believed that the youngster was simply a pretender who resembled a Dragon on the outside. Whether this was true or not – this Aegon managed to gather followers around him and even conquered a few castles at the coast.

Fortunately, the danger was ended by a completely unexpected turn of events, and without Lord Tywin needing to sacrifice many of his soldiers: a certain Euron Greyjoy reappeared at the Iron Islands – and the Krakens and the Aegon followers got involved in frequent skirmishes. In the end, they extinguished each other conveniently. For the moment, Westeros and King Tommen were safe again.

 

Then, winter fell upon them, and it was long and harsh, and Sansa was relieved she wasn't farther in the north: even in Harrenhal it was icy cold, and the snow was piling up high.

It paid off now that Sandor had appeared just in time to take over the castle and to prepare the people for the winter. Food had to be rationed nevertheless, but the situation wasn't as hopeless as it would have been otherwise.

On a positive note, Sansa found out that the long, dark, cold nights did have some interesting effects: suddenly, every fertile woman seemed to be pregnant. It brought many a smile to her face... and the sweetest thing was when she found out she was with child as well.

 

However, she soon didn't smile often any more. She had always believed she'd love it to be pregnant – but now, she had to find out that reality was completely different. Her sickness was so frequent and so intense that she was on the brink of becoming weak and really ill. Next came murderous pain in her back, water in her legs and extreme thirst whenever she ate grain products.

It was no wonder that from some point onwards she wasn't able to behave like a lady any more and became quite impatient. Even vicious. Sandor's reactions were according and they had some bad arguments – luckily always followed by quick reconciliations.

When the birth came it took Sansa almost three days, and she nearly died. The baby, a boy, was Clegane-sized, which explained the many complications. Sandor named him Costyan, because a male Stark name would have been met with suspicion in the capital. Sansa, who had always wanted babies, was too weak for a long time to take care of the boy, and in the beginning, she didn't even feel any motherly instincts, so Sandor tried to even out this shortcoming with excessive fatherly care.

Only after three to four moons had gone by did she finally start to love her son in a normal way, and then, she was deeply ashamed of herself. Sandor consoled her and told her of his own mother, who had reportedly reacted like her after having given birth to her three children.

“It sometimes happens after giving birth. Look at animals, cats, dogs, what have you. Don't be too harsh, after all, you love our child now. That's one of the countless points that makes you better than Lord Tywin, you know?”

 

Sansa, however, wasn't the only Stark with a baby: Arya married Gendry, who had been her lover for a while now, with Sandor's consent – and at that time Sansa's little sister was already heavy and round with child. Her birthing process two weeks was over after five hours, and she had a daughter, Lyanna, who had inherited her father's thick, black hair.

While Sansa had been envious of Arya's easy delivery those feelings evaporated soon when little Lyanna turned out to be weak and sickly – and wailing all the time, so that the parents didn't find a minute of peace. In contrast to that, Costyan was a happy child: he looked much like his father, grey eyes included – only he smiled easily and had obviously inherited Sansa's gentle nature.

 

Nymeria had her first pups as well, a sweet littler of three little ones. The animals' father was Salmon, and the dog always came over to sniffle at the pups with pride in his eyes. Considering that the female dog bitches in Harrenhal all started to have very big pups Grey Wind was obviously very productive, too.

 

Ser Cody seemed to have finally understood Rollym's longing looks. To her surprise, word reached Sansa's ear that the knight had had several male shieldmates before he had become a member of the Holy Hundred, and he was unproblematic about accepting Rollym's feelings... even reciprocating them to some extent.

 

In the course of winter, there were also more and more frightening news from the Wall. People whispered of wights and Others and the weirdest beasts, which had managed to enter the region around Winterfell. Sansa was worried for her half-brother Jon and hoped he was amongst the survivors.

 

And then came the big bang, politically speaking: Tyrion arrived back in King's Landing. Riding a dragon. Followed by two other dragons. Followed by Daenaerys Targaryen with her army. And the most baffling thing was: Tyrion and Daenaerys were married.

It was reported that Lord Tywin got the shock of his life, and Sandor said he'd have loved to see the Old Lion's face.

The dragon woman's terms had been very clear: Tommen had to abdicate at once. Jaime, the Kingslayer, and his father would be spared, if they gave up their residence and positions in the capital. Moreover, Ser Jaime was ordered to fight against the wigths and the Others in the north – alongside with Daenaerys, Tyrion, the dragons and many more.

Lord Tywin wasn't one to give up, but even he knew that with a sword – or rather dragons' breath – at his throat he didn't stand a chance and had to retire.

 

“Do you know what's most interesting?” Sandor asked Sansa one evening in bed.

“What is it, love?”

“The Vale, the Tyrells and the Dornish – they're all holding their feet still and biding their time to creep out of their holes and to thrive again once they feel they can gauge the new queen.”

“You're right, Sandor. And I hate this Game of Thrones. I'll just bend the knee and be done with it.”

Suddenly, Sandor chuckled: “We're Harrencleganes. Too blind to take aim. But we don't bend the knee – we lift the leg.”

That night, many castle inhabitants were surely wondering what on earth the lord was doing with his wife to make her laugh as loud as she did... but Sansa was unperturbed. She'd never be ashamed of her laughter, especially, if it was her husband who had caused it.

 

Another few months passed by, and Sansa became pregnant a second time, although she hadn't wanted to have another baby so soon. When she heard that Lady Brienne was with child at Casterly Rock as well she started a correspondence with the woman, especially because Bessie hadn't forgotten the tall female knight and her companion, and she always wrote a line or two herself as well.

Lady Brienne proved to be charming, and her supportive letters helped Sansa to get through her second pregnancy.

The delivery after nine months was difficult again, but not quite as dangerous, and it took Sansa a day less to give birth. In the end, she was able to hold another Clegane-sized baby in her arms, this time a girl with red hair named Jeyne – but with Sandor's big, hooked beak, instead of a snub nose. Yet, for Sansa and Sandor, she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and Sandor murmured: “I wonder if she'll be able to become Lady Brienne's squire one day.”

“If you train her I bet she will!”

 

Meanwhile, Queen Daenaerys and Tyrion had not been idle with their army: they were driving the wights and the Others back with fiery dragon breath. Lord Tywin lost his life in the process... and came back as an undead creature, though not as a normal wight. He had horrible gashes on his body and hands that were black of congealed blood – but he had retained his green eyes and a mind of his own. Some kind of mysterious northern magic had preserved his soul.

“I don't know what would be creepier: the Old Lion as a normal wight, or the Old Lion as an intelligent undead monster,” Sandor commented, and a shiver ran down Sansa's spine.

 

Shortly afterwards, fantastic news reached them from White Harbour: Rickon Stark had been found alive and well, together with his direwolf Shaggydog. Apparently, the Manderly's had hidden the boy from the realm's disputes and fights – and now, he was ready to become the next Lord of Winterfell, once the damaged castle would be renovated. He was also engaged to a girl from the Manderly family, which was a low price, if one considered that the Mermen had saved an orphaned – and alleged traitor's – child, even with his claim.

Sansa, Arya and Rollym were overjoyed, of course, and they decided to visit Winterfell in spring to help rebuild the castle.

“We're experts when it comes to renovating castles, aren't we?” Sansa jested, and Sandor boomed his laughter.

 

In Casterly Rock, Lady Brienne had given birth to a boy who they had named Selwyn, after the lady's father from Tarth. She, her son and Ser Jaime were still stationed in Winterfell after all the fighting in the north, and they'd still stay there for a while, so Sansa was looking forward to making the warrior woman's personal acquaintance in spring.

 

What dimmed Sansa's mood considerably was that she soon lost a third child. It was at the beginning of her pregnancy, yet it affected her a lot. Sandor was very sad, too, of course, and they both mourned for the life that had not meant to be.

At least, Costyan and Jeyne developed nicely, and even Arya's Lyanna was getting a bit more stable.

 

During the winter, Sansa's aunt Lysa had given birth to a son, but she had died in childbed a few days later. Sandor wondered loudly whether the Mockingbird, the baby's father, had had a hand in it, and he predicted: “The next generation of human shit is growing up in the Vale now, mark my words.”

Sansa hoped her husband was wrong this time for once.

 

When spring finally arrived in Harrenhal, there was a feast to welcome the warm season – and then, Sansa and her family packed their things. Sansa's heart was pounding like mad in her chest, because she was so looking forward to see her old home again, and she knew it was the same for her siblings. Arya was pregnant with her second child, but stubborn as she was she still wanted to travel, declaring in her throaty voice that she was fit for the voyage. There was a bit of a discussion with Gendry, but the man could finally make sure that his wife at least didn't ride and travelled in a cart instead, together with Sansa and the children, who were still too small for riding.

Sansa also noticed that Stranger as well as the wolves would be happy to be on the road again; Nymeria and Grey Wind seemed to have an inkling that they'd meet their long-lost brothers Shaggydog and Ghost again and were incredibly excited.

Bessie, however, was in tears for days when she realized that Ser Gilroy was supposed to stay behind to help maintain the order in the castle with Ser Bonifer while the lord was away. Sansa had not seen the girl so depressed since she had been brought to Harrenhal. Finally, both Sansa and Sandor were not able to watch the misery any longer, and when Ser Cody offered to stay behind instead, so that Ser Gilroy would be free to travel to the north Bessie clung to the necks of both nights, this time weeping tears of relief.

“I wonder whether an innocent child's love can turn into a woman's love when the time comes,” Sandor mused. “It's certainly nothing common, but I wouldn't stand in their way.”

He turned around and looked at Arya, who had been rummaging in a knapsack, asking: “What do say?”

Arya shrugged and answered: “I gonk ngow. Buk I ngow oang ching: Che pack churvivech.”

Sansa smiled and nodded: “Yes, you're right, Arya. The pack survives.”

Sandor grinned and asked: “Moles included?”

They all laughed, and Sansa answered, her eyes sparkling: “Yes, moles included.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Morning song

 

The day is dark and full of questions;
the night is bright and full of hope;
a smile - it stirs amongst the shadows;
a tear - it stains a joke.

So few have lived to see the end
of a beginning full of doubt
when options were but nightmares,
not worth to dream about.

The day - an echo of the past;
the night - a kiss for what's ahead;
a song unsung for future lovers;
a tree's leaf coloured red.

So few find peace amongst the shadows
and grow a plant in barren soil;
so few set out with tears of wrath
to end with tears of joy.

But we, my dear, we persevered
though, yes, the way was dark;
you made me see a path - and me?
I was your morning lark.