Sansa stayed in the wheel house all day long. Even when they stopped midday to rest the horses she did not move. Words could not express the sheer embarrassment Sansa felt. As far as she was concerned, she was never leaving the wheelhouse. Much to her disappointment, they had come across an inn just before nightfall. That means she would have to go inside. And Sandor would be escorting her inside. She moaned when she heard the knock on the door. Shae looked out the little window.
“Its Ser Darol.”
“Oh.” That is not what Sansa was expecting. She smoothed her skirts and walked to the door. Darol stood at the foot of the step. He looked up at her, his face even more handsome when he smiled.
“I’ll see you to the inn, Princess.”
Sansa smiled. An honest one. “Thank you Ser Darol.” She stepped down and took his arm as he offered it. As they walked with Shae behind them, Sansa heard a sound she hadn’t heard in a very long time. Wolves. Howling. In the distance. She stopped. They howled again, louder, closer.
“Don’t you worry Princess. You’ll be quite safe inside tonight.”
Sansa didn’t say anything. She wasn’t afraid. But she didn’t want to tell Darol what she really thought. For a brief second, Sansa had the urge to go find them. To run into the woods and howl back. But she realized how foolish that was as soon as she thought of it. Sansa hadn’t heard wolves howl like that since the day Lady was killed. She pictured her brothers’ wolves to be the ones in the woods. Nymeria too. At the thought of Nymeria, Sansa felt a pang of guilt. She hated thinking about that day. They day she and her sister both lost their wolves. Sansa shook her head and stopped thinking about it. The wolves in the wood were wild. They would tear her to shreds if she got close. Still, hearing them howl, it was almost like a sign. Like they were getting closer to the North. A welcome, almost.
When they got inside the inn, Darol led Sansa and Shae up the stairs and to a room. He opened the door for them. “Clegane came in first to reserve the room for you two.”
It took Sansa a second to figure out that ‘you two’ meant her and Shae, not Sandor.
“Great. Thank you Darol.”
He bent his head toward her and left.
Shae looked at Sansa. “Shall I order you a bath Sansa, or was this morning enough?”
Sansa closed her eyes. “I would like one please, Shae. Thank you very much.”
When the innkeeper filled the bath with hot water, Sansa got right in. It was a big difference from her experience in the water earlier. Even if it was a wooden tub, it was nice to sit in the warmth. Shae grabbed the soap, but Sansa stopped her.
“Don’t worry about me Shae. Go get something to eat.”
“Not if you try to drown yourself again!”
Sansa rolled her eyes. “I won’t. Go! I heard your stomach rumbling before!”
Shae sighed and stood up. On her way out the door she said, “I will be back soon. Don’t do anything stupid!”
Sansa laughed and took the soap in her hand. She closed her eyes and started to wash herself. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep her mind off of what she saw this morning. It didn’t help that soon she was rubbing her skin so hard that the entire surface of the water was covered in suds and bubbles. That just made her think of how the remnance of his washing had touched her legs as it flowed down stream.
“Ugh.” She dropped the soap and sunk down under the water. How could she ever face him again? He had to have heard Shae yell her name. The fact that he had brought back her shoes only solidified that fact in her mind. Sansa wanted to cry out of frustration. She just didn’t know what to do. Maybe Shae could bring her a meal up to the room. Maybe she could ask to have Ser Darol escort her instead.
He’s your sworn shield, she told herself. You can’t avoid him forever.
Well that didn’t mean she couldn’t try.
At that, she heard knocking on the door. She didn’t know why Shae would be knocking. She ignored her. She was getting so good at holding her breath underwater, she didn’t want to stop until she couldn’t take anymore. The knocking got louder. If it was anyone else, she figured they would just go away. Then she heard the door squeak open and figured it must have been Shae. She peaked her head out from under the water, her new record spoiled.
“I wasn’t drowning myself, gods Shae!” She rubbed her eyes free of soap and water and opened them. She only saw the door as it closed. She looked around. No one was in the room. Sansa figured Shae was probably just making sure she was alright. She sighed and poured the last of the clean water over her head before standing up and stepping out. She dried herself off, but Shae still did not return. She found a simple dress and tied it as best she could. She waited a moment for Shae to come back, not wanting to go downstairs looking like a complete mess. But her stomach gurgled. She was hungry. She brushed through her hair and braided it at the end. It was still wet, but she couldn’t wait anymore. She opened the door.
Bugger. He stood at the door. His body took up the entire space of the frame. She couldn’t get by him. And he wasn’t moving. She put a smile on her face before she spoke.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in days.”
Sansa felt her eyes widen, just for a brief second. Oh gods. He knows. And now he knows I know that he knows! He was staring at her, not releasing her from his gaze. He had a smirk on his face that she had never seen on him before. Is he making fun of me? She regained her composure before she spoke again, pretending he said nothing.
“I would like to go down now, get some food.”
He didn’t say anything. His face didn’t change. But he turned half of his body to let her pass. He only left half of the doorway open for her so she had to squeeze through. She turned her left side forward to do so, and immediately regretted that decision. Once she was in the doorway, she realized that she was going to be facing him with only mere inches in between their bodies. But there was no going back. She had to squeeze by slowly. He wasn’t moving at all. She kept her eyes ahead and could feel him staring down at her. She could smell ale on his breath. Her eyes were at his chest, massive as it was. Her eyes were wide and her face was hot as she remembered him in the water. Without his clothes. It was just a second. But it felt like an hour as she passed him. Once she was through the doorway, she turned and almost ran down the stairs. She could have sworn she heard him laugh under his breath as she descended the stairs.
Sansa saw Shae right away and walked up to her. She was finishing up her meal.
“Shae, why didn’t you help me when you came back?”
“I didn’t come back yet Sansa. I was just about to when you came down.”
If it wasn’t Shae who knocked or opened the door, then who?The answer came to her and it felt like a smack in the face. Sandor. Had he seen her? In the tub? She thought back to that moment. She remembered that the water was covered in soap bubbles and hoped that was enough. She turned around and Sandor. He was talking to one of the other men, laughing with him, holding a horn of ale in his hand. Sansa sat down with Shae, wanting to hide away forever. Suddenly she wasn’t very hungry anymore. She picked on a heel of bread and sipped from her cup of water. Whenever she looked up, she noticed Shae looking at her. She ignored it, until Shae had a look on her face like Sandor did before.
“What?” She snapped at her.
Shae just smiled. “Nothing.” She was never going to let this go, Sansa knew that for sure now.
“Princess.” She looked up. Ser Darol stood at her side. “May I sit?”
She scooted over on the bench. “Of course.”
He sat down and sighed. “We should make it to the crossing the day after tomorrow.”
“Really?” Sansa’s eyes lit up. Finally, something to look forward to. Other people to see. It would make it easier to avoid Sandor.
“Really.” Darol smiled widely. He seemed just as excited as her. She noticed that he must have bathed. He smelled like soap. Clean. With the way they looked at each other, Sansa felt a little fluttering in her stomach. Not like before in the stream. Small, but it made her think. She felt like she could trust Darol. She knew that Robb certainly did, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent him with her. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sansa wondered if Hornwoods were a high enough house to make a match with Starks. She realized they probably weren’t, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t talk to him, couldn’t spend her time with him. Sansa wondered if Sandor would stay away if she decided to ride by Ser Darol on tomorrow’s ride.
“Have I told you about the time Grey Wind mistookmy legfor a nice juicy mutton chop?”
Sansa nearly spit out the water she sipped on, but she caught herself. “No, I’m afraid you haven’t.”
Darol went on to tell his story. He had Sansa and Shae in fits of laughter for the rest of the night. It felt good. It had been a long time since Sansa felt that she could laugh out loud like that. At one point, she caught Sandor’s eye from across the room. His mouth was a straight line, his eyes hard. She quickly looked away and continued to listen to Darol and his hilarious stories.
That night, Sansa fell asleep,content, to the sound of howling wolves.