“Shae!” Sansa would have ran if not for her crutch and still healing ankle. The foreign beauty waiting for her in the yard was a most welcome sight. Sansa limped over to her and hugged her the first chance she got. “Robb didn’t say he was sending you!”
“He didn’t know he was. Not until I hopped on at the last second.” Shae pulled back and gripped her shoulders. “I’m so mad at you! Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?”
Sansa was berated for the next few minutes, but she took it all in stride. She was just happy to see her friend again. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She finally said, leaving Shae to roll her eyes before taking the bag Sansa had brought with her. She watched as Shae brought it inside the wheelhouse. Sandor’s dagger and cloak were coming home, just like he was.
It took quite a long time, and he had to stop a few times along the way with his crutches, but Sandor eventually made it down to the yard on his own. She turned and saw him there, saying his goodbye and thanks to the Glovers. He looked like he was going to collapse once he got there, but remained standing for as long as it took to say his peace.
Sansa didn’t want to interrupt; Gawen’s parents and Erena nodding along as he spoke. In the end, Erena had leapt forward, wrapping her slender arms around his middle in a quick hug that nearly knocked Sandor off of his feet. Sansa didn’t know what he might have said to them to make the girl react so, but she didn’t feel like she had to know either.
Before she ran down to be surprised by Shae, Erena had brought her to Gawen’s grave. She felt nauseas the entire time, seeing his name carved into stone. It was just so wrong, that he should be buried while she live on a happy life. Erena had left her for a moment alone. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to the stone. “I’m so sorry for everything.” She didn’t know what she was expecting, to have felt better for visiting his grave maybe, but she didn’t. Not even in the slightest.
As she walked with Erena toward the yard to finally leave, they were quiet until the girl asked her, “Were you hoping to feel better?”
Sansa looked at her somewhat shamefully and nodded.
“It’s alright, you know. I know it’s going to take time to accept it myself.” Sansa still shuffled along, not knowing what to say, until Erena stopped her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Sansa, I had hoped I made this clear earlier, but maybe I hadn’t. You shouldn’t blame yourself for anything. What happened to Gawen was not your fault, nor was it Sandor’s.”
Sansa shook her head. “But-“
“You can’t blame yourself for loving someone else more than you could love my brother. That is not your fault. You did nothing inherently wrong. You understand that…don’t you?”
Etna’s words reverberated through Sansa’s mind in the few minutes since she had said them, but she didn’t know if she could ever possibly believe them herself.
Sandor turned and limped past her then, heading to the wheelhouse to settle in for the bumpy journey. Sansa and Rickon used the time they had left to thank the Glovers again. She saved Erena for last, and realized, probably too late, that she didn’t want to say goodbye.
“Thank you, for everything.” Sansa told her as they hugged.
She felt Erena nod against her shoulder. “Remember what I told you, alright?”
Sansa made herself nod before pulling away. Erena smiled warmly and kissed her on the cheek. “Write to me.”
Sansa promised she would before hobbling over to the wheelhouse. She waved to all of them through the window in the wheelhouse as they disappeared in the distance, Rickon, Shaggy and Darol at the head of the pack. Shae helped her to her seat, the cushioned bench across from where Sandor lay.
“Seems familiar, doesn’t it?” He grated out to her.
Sansa could picture it, and it seemed like so long ago. When she rescued him from the fire, that she now knew was caused by the bastard Ramsay, they had laid in the same spots as the traveled to Winterfell together. Now here they were, even more worse for the wear, going back to do the same. Sandor’s lone walk down the stairs and out to the yard had clearly taken a lot out of him. He was pale again, and he looked like he was going to pass out from exhaustion at any moment. She wanted him to rest, but wanted to talk to him too. She opened her mouth to speak, but Shae was faster.
“I have so much to catch you up on, Sansa…”
Sansa closed her mouth and listened intently to her friend tell her all about her wedding plans, set in a few months when Conall finally had the time. When she chanced a look at Sandor only a moment later, she saw that he was already fast asleep.
It was night now. She was resting against a few pillows, her foot elevated as Maester Cedric had suggested. Sandor was in the same spot as well, and suddenly eager to speak to her about something under the cover of darkness. “I think now that we are on our way back, you may want to tell me what it was that made your brother so angry the night we left.”
Their small group had stopped to rest. Shae had only just left them a moment ago to get in her tent.
She and Sandor had talked about nearly everything by then, even how Ramsay admitted to being the one that lit his tent on fire. It didn’t make any sense to Sansa at first, but then it just seemed so obvious the more she thought about it, which is something she was honestly trying to avoid.
Sansa didn’t realize until now, how much she had been avoiding this particular topic. There were moments, in their rare time alone without Rickon over the past few days that she could tell he was about to ask, but she always managed to change the subject somehow, or had counted on Rickon’s constant interruptions. But with Rickon tucked safely in the pallet in his tent, she had no escape.
“Oh.” Sandor mimicked her. Even in the darkness she could see him raising his eyebrow. “How does he know?”
Sansa’s nails dug into her palms. “How do you know he knows?”
Sandor sighed. “How does he know, Sansa?”
She could barely hear her voice with her own ears, but he could. “I told him.”
Sandor fidgeted until he was sitting up a little straighter. “You told him.”
“Because I thought you left me and I temporarily lost my mind.” Sansa gasped and covered her mouth. “I’m sorry. Did I say that out loud?”
Sandor didn’t take his eyes off hers as he breathed in deeply. “You did.”
“I’m sorry. I-“
“Stop apologizing, girl. I’m the one who should be groveling at your feet. Would be too, if I bloody well could.” Sandor nearly snapped. He was angry, but Sansa could see it in his eyes; he was angry with himself. Angry for putting her in that situation. For hurting her. But he wouldn’t have said the last thing if he was truly angry with her. She had to hide a smile before he finished, imagining him on his knees in front of her. “Just tell me what happened.” He said. “Everything.”
So she did. She told him what happened that night after he had left her. She explained how Rickon came for her, how he wanted her to explain their relationship to Robb. He was convinced he would understand.
“I tried to get Rickon to realize that it didn’t matter, because… well. I thought you had left.” Sandor closed his eyes, but beckoned her to continue. “And then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I…I shouted it at Robb. He was furious, but I didn’t think he would do what he did, because…” She looked down at her hands, before she repeated. “I thought you had left.”
He was quiet for a moment and Sansa couldn’t bear to look at him. He sighed before he spoke. “I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to you.”
Sansa looked up. “Don’t. You apologized enough already.” And he had. He had told her how Ramsay had gotten in his head, how he couldn’t stand the pressure anymore. She didn’t blame him and she forgave him instantly. She only wished he would do himself the same courtesy. Sansa inhaled slowly and got to her feet. She shuffled herself over toward him as he watched her before she knelt down close to him, taking his hand in hers. “You need to get over it. I have.”
Sandor rolled his eyes before he continued. “Well. I’m glad you came to resurrect me from my deathbed. Because your brother is going to put me right back, you can be sure of it.”
“No he won’t.” Sansa knew he wouldn’t, but she didn’t sound all together convincing, whispering it against his hand, she had to admit.
“Oh no?” He pulled his hand away. “You tell me what a king might want to do upon finding out his sister is being fucked by someone like me.”
She knew he was trying to shock her, scare her even, but it wasn’t going to work. She raised herself higher on her knees so that she was eye level with him. “Oh please. He could have done it any moment when you were on the road alone, without me to stop him. And he didn’t.” Sandor rolled his eyes again but offered no other argument. Sansa had more to say, she realized. “I talked to him before I left. Tried to get him to let me come to you. He wouldn’t.”
“And rightly so.” He barked, looking back at her. “Look what happened to you on the way!”
“Besides that.” Sansa gritted her teeth and stood, crossing her arms over her chest. “He told me you saved his life.” Sandor clenched his jaw and looked away from her. She had already thanked him for this action, but he clearly still didn’t want to hear any of it, so she moved on. “He looked so…lost. So confused. Torn even. Like he didn’t know what to think, let alone do with this information, this betrayal with the Boltons.” Sansa sighed, knowing she wasn’t getting through to him. “With all that happened, I know he won’t kill you. But I am also confident that he won’t send you away.”
He still wouldn’t look at her. What a baby. She bent down over him, resting her hands on the pillow on either side of his head. He finally looked at her, taken aback it seemed, by her sudden movement. “I love you and I’m never going to leave your side again. So you had better get used to the idea.”
He had no response to that. He just stared at her with an intensity in his grey eyes that made her stomach flutter. The only sound she could hear was his deep breaths, the wind howling from outside the wheelhouse in the night. She hummed when she realized it.
“What is it?” He rasped from under her.
Sansa was quiet for a moment before she whispered. “We’re alone.”
He squinted his eyes at her. “What?”
“Rickon is asleep in his tent. Shae too. We are really and truly alone.”
Sandor raised his eyebrow at her, “Sansa…” but she was too fast for him.
She scrambled on top of him, clumsier than she thought possible, but he gripped onto her all the same. She kissed him hard, and he showed her no hesitation, even with his nose still healing. Her arms wrapped underneath and around his neck. His arms snaked around her waist, crushing her to him from head to toe. Sansa didn’t realize how she could possible hurt him until he grunted in pain underneath her.
She pulled away in an instant. “I’m sorry!” She rolled onto her left side, away from his wound. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you! Are you alri-“
“Quiet girl.” He rasped, pulling her against him again. “I won’t have you waking anyone up and ruining this for me.”
Sansa sighed. “But how are we going to-“
“Slowly.” He rumbled from his chest, his lips vibrating against hers. “Very slowly.”
It took more than a moment, and Sansa found it easier to get up to disrobe, but soon she was out of any trace of clothing. They worked together to take his many layers off, but thought better of trying to get the breeches all the way down his legs.
She had a fleeting thought, remembering their nightly meetings on the way back from Deepwood. How hurried they were. How they barely kissed or touched. How he had pulled out of her. But this was nothing like that. Not even in the slightest. His fingers traced the little bumps left by the cold air on her skin. As she moved against him, trailing her mouth down his neck, she felt him wrap a fur around her shoulders, shrouding them in the heat they created together.
Neither of them said a word; they didn’t need to. There wasn’t much room at all, there on the wide bench in the wheelhouse, but it made no matter. They knew each other now. They moved expertly with one another, even when Sansa slipped her legs over either side of him. She couldn’t help the sigh that escaped her lips when she lowered herself onto him, hardened as he was. Even with how slowly, how carefully they moved, it didn’t take either of them long to get where they needed to be. Sansa came first, silencing herself against his shoulder. He soon followed her, not even trying to lift her off of himself as he had before. They laid there together, warm, sated and happy in the darkness.
Sansa knew she couldn’t stop Sandor from worrying about what awaited them, but she knew she wouldn’t waste their time together by doing such a thing.
Two more days passed in the same manner. They spent the days with Shae and sometimes Rickon in the wheelhouse; the nights on their own. Sansa knew she could have ridden Stranger, her ankle feeling almost completely back to normal. But she decided against it, preferring to stay by Sandor’s side all the while. He was able to get up two or three times a day as he needed, but still had to say seated or laying down for the most part. The bruising around his eyes and nose were near completely gone by the time they saw Winterfell in the distance.
When they finally did arrive, it was her mother and her mother alone who greeted her.
She pulled her close when she exited the wheelhouse and whispered in her ear. “Robb told me everything.” Sansa felt frozen to the spot. She didn’t move, she didn’t blink or breathe as her mother pulled away from her. Her face was unreadable as she took Sansa’s hand. “Come.”
Sansa didn’t know what to think. She had been so worried about Robb that she didn’t even give a second thought about her mother. Her feet moved without her telling them to, even with her slight limp. Her heart was in her throat the whole way to her mother’s solar. She didn’t have the stomach to turn back and find Sandor when her mother pulled her away, but now she was wishing she had never left his side.
Catelyn ushered her into her solar, closing the door behind them both. She gestured toward the couch. “Here. Have a seat.”
Sansa couldn’t move. She just stared at her mother, waiting for the attack. When none came, she decided to speak up. “Are you going to lock me up for the rest of my life?”
Her mother sighed. She looked tired. “Of course not.”
“And Sandor. Are you going to send him away?”
Catelyn took a deep breath. “It’s not my decision, Sansa.”
“Then what would you have Robb do?” Catelyn stared back at her and said nothing. “Mother.”
Catelyn seemed to snap to attention, but her voice still remained calm. “I would have him sent to the Night’s Watch.”
Sansa took a step away from her. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am. But like I said, it is not my decision.”
“But… he saved Robb’s life. He’s saved mine countless times.” Catelyn turned her head away. “Mother. I love him.” When she said the words, her voice broke and her mother flinched. “Does that matter for nothing?”
What happened next was so far from anything Sansa had been expecting. Catelyn moved to her armchair in the room and sat down with a huff. She wrung her hands together and looked at the ground. She was so quiet when she finally spoke, that Sansa had to move closer to hear her. “Sansa, you need to understand just how guilty I feel…for all of this.”
“Guilty?” Sansa couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her mouth. It was just so ridiculous. “What in the world could you possibly feel guilty for?”
Her mother was quiet for a moment before she finally looked up at her. She had tears in her eyes. “For not trusting my instincts. For leaving you with him for all this time. Letting him be alone with you, to intimidate you, to manipulate you into believing that you could ever possibly love a man such as him.”
Sansa felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. It sounded like it too, when she spoke. “How could you say such a thing? Do you not know me at all? How naïve do you honestly think me to be?” Catelyn turned away, demurely wiping a tear that had fallen onto her cheek. Sansa took a few steps closer. “Look at me.” When she did, her mother looked horribly distraught, as if she really did hold all the blame for something so absurd. Sansa had to put an end to it. “Mother I assure you, Sandor did nothing to persuade me into this relationship. In fact, if you must know, I’m the one that practically forced him.” She could feel her cheeks warm with the wider Catelyn’s eyes became, but if this was the only way to convince her… “I’ve never wanted anything half as much as I want to be with him. Aside from our family being whole again, Sandor is the only thing I’ve ever wanted.” She didn’t realize how true the words were until she said them aloud.
Her mother blinked at her and her voice was grave when she answered. “You once told me that marrying Joffrey was the only thing you ever wanted.” As soon as she said the words, Catelyn looked like she regretted it.
“Don’t you say that.” Sansa started, trying to contain the anger that sprung up out of nowhere from her mother’s uncouth words. “Don’t throw the words of that stupid girl in my face. I’m not her anymore. And even you can see that there is no comparison when it comes to Joffrey and Sandor. Sandor would never hurt me. He would never-” Sansa bit her tongue. Telling her mother more of what Joffrey had done and tried to do to her would not help this situation. Neither would getting angry. She took a deep breath to calm herself. “Please. Understand that what has happened between Sandor and I was every bit my decision.”
Catelyn was quiet for another moment before a sad smile came to her face. “I remember when you were three years old, the first time you mastered a curtsey. You were so…so happy. And I was so proud of you. The perfect little lady, at so young an age.”
Sansa swallowed before she spoke. “Is that why you are upset? Because you don’t think I am a lady anymore?”
“No Sansa. That’s not why I am upset.”
“Then what is it?” Sansa didn’t know why, but she needed to hear her mother say the words.
And she did. “You’ve been having an illicit affair with a man. Not only was this man in the service of our enemy, but the former personal guard of the man who had your father killed, had you beaten, tormented for years!”
Sansa spoke through a clenched jaw. “Sandor had nothing to do with any of that and you know it.”
Catelyn huffed impatiently. “Sansa, that’s not what I meant.”
“Then what do you mean?” She asked, louder than she had meant to.
Catelyn gritted her teeth, looking torn. “It’s not right. I shouldn’t even have to say it.”
Sansa shook her head, suddenly free of any care in the world. “I’m sorry Mother, but I do not care.” Her mother gasped lightly, looking more accosted than Sansa felt she had any right to. And she continued. “I don’t care that he used to keep Joffrey safe. I don’t care that he once fought against Robb. I don’t care that he is the second son of a small house. I don’t care that he can be rude, foul-mouthed and short-tempered. I don’t care that he is scarred!”
Catelyn sat there, her mouth agape, in complete shock. Sansa thought over her words and then thought better of them. She took another breath and straightened her shoulders.
“In fact, I am happy for it. For all of it. For it is because of these things that he has become the man that I love. The man who can make me feel better, stronger, just by standing next to me. The man who loves Rickon as if he were his own brother. The man that saved the life of your eldest son without a second thought.” Catelyn closed her eyes, but Sansa went on. “The man that has cared for me, who has kept me safe, long before he had any allegiance to me. Gods, Mother. You don’t even know the half of it!”
“My gods. Sansa.” Catelyn’s eyes widened. “What else has he done?”
Sansa froze. Would telling her mother the details of everything Joffrey had done to her - how he had tried to rape her - would that even help the situation? After a moment, she decided against it again and shook her head. “I don’t feel the need to say. And I hope that you love me and trust me enough to accept that the specific things I speak of hardly matter anymore. Telling you will bring you nothing but grief and unnecessary guilt. Sandor knows because he was there. Because he helped me and went through it all too.” Sansa trailed off, trying to think of the right words. “The things that we have been through, Sandor and I, both together and apart, they are in the past. We’ve helped each other…heal. It all mattered once, but now that we have each other…not nearly as much. The only thing that does matter is that we both came out of our experiences. Alive. And together. With Robb’s help, and yours of course.”
Sansa didn’t know when she became so prolific, but she hoped that her mother’s silence was proof that she was at least listening to what she had to say.
It was another moment before Catelyn spoke again. “Do you regret it?” “Regret it? No.” Sansa laughed. “Not in the slightest.” The look of disappointment still hadn’t left her mother’s face, thought it had softened somewhat. So Sansa had to continue. “I do wish, however, that we could have gone about this in a more traditional way. That I didn’t have to lie. That Gawen didn’t have to get involved…But all of that would have been impossible. You would have never let me entertain the thought of getting to know Sandor in such a way.”
Catelyn scoffed. “You are absolutely correct in that.”
Sansa sighed. After all she said, she was still getting nowhere. She had to try harder. I have to make her see what I do. “It’s not just what he’s done for me. He’s changed so much. He’s not the man he used to be. The man he was forced to be, by his family, by the Lannisters. He used to be so angry. He used to frighten me. But he’s not that man anymore and he hasn’t been for the longest time. And I think… I think it’s because of me. Of his love for me.”
“Oh please, Sansa. You can’t honestly believe that this man has any true love for you. He’s not even capable of it.”
Sansa took a breath to calm herself. “Mother. If only you could know how very wrong you are.” She took a step closer to Catelyn where she sat, and her voice became softer. “If you knew even half of what this man had been through, you… you would know that I speak the truth.”
A wrinkle appeared in Catelyn’s brow. “Sansa, do you mean to tell me how he was scarred?” Her mother leaned forward and took Sansa’s hand in hers. “Help me understand. What exactly happened to him?”
Sansa stalled. Is this really what it would take for her to understand? Would it truly benefit her to comprehend why I love him, how he loves me, or would it merely satisfy her own curiosity?
Sansa thought back to the first time they kissed, covered in snow and laughter in the godswood. She had looked down at his scars after they had fallen, realizing for the first time how dreadfully attractive he was to her. She had told him then that she never told anyone his secret. He said that he knew. If he believed her then, before they had even kissed, then how could she ever go back on her word, especially now? Sansa was shaking her head before she even finished the thought.
“I can’t betray his trust. Even if it were to help you understand. He told me years ago. I think he always regretted it, until recently.” Sansa knelt down in front of her, still clutching onto her hand. “You need to understand, I am the only one who knows. I’m the only one he ever told. Can’t you have respect for that fact? The fact that I’m the single person in the world that he’s ever trusted enough to tell? That I have kept that trust, since I was just a girl?” Sansa’s vision became blurry when she realized she was pleading with her mother. “Can you just believe me when I tell you that we do love each other? With a love like I know you and father grew to have for one another. I’m young yes, I know, but I am not stupid. Not anymore. I am not naïve and I have not been coerced. Please, tell me you at least believe me. That I chose this man. That I love him. That I want to be with him for the rest of my life.”
Sansa blinked the tears away and as they fell down her face, she saw that her mother was crying too. But it wasn’t a look of understanding on her face, nor was it acceptance, but rather - love. Love a mother has for her daughter. That and overwhelming pity.
Catelyn reached down to Sansa and took her face in both of her hands and wiped her tears away with her thumbs. “I cannot condone what you have done, Sansa. I doubt I will ever understand. But yes. I do believe you.”
As soon as she left her mother’s solar, Sansa didn’t know what to think. She didn’t know what to expect when she went in there, but she never thought she would end up on her knees, crying to her mother.
She felt foolish as soon as her mother helped her stand and brought her into a hug, but at least she had been honest. It felt almost refreshing to be able to talk to her about Sandor so freely for the first time. Her mother offered her no words in comfort as to what Robb had planned for Sandor, but she felt that it was because she truly didn’t know. And she didn’t say so, but Sansa was sure that after everything she had said, that her mother wouldn’t still want Sandor to be sent off to the Night’s Watch if it was up to her.
“Princess.” Sansa had been so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t even notice the man standing in the hall until she nearly walked into him. It was one of Robb’s guards and he was waiting for her. “The King has requested an audience with you.”
Sansa couldn’t help but laugh. An audience. How formal for a brother and sister. She just nodded, ignoring the look on the man’s face, before he turned around and beckoned her to follow him to Robb’s solar.
He wouldn’t kill Sandor, she knew that for certain. But could he be as harsh as her mother originally wanted? Would he dare send Sandor to the Night’s Watch? Would he send him away, back to his home in the west? A place he hated more than anywhere in the world?
Sansa felt like it was an ending, even more so with every step she took in the direction of her brother. Did he already send Sandor away? Gods, could he really be so cruel, not to permit me to say goodbye? Sansa knew there would be no goodbye anyway, no matter what Robb had planned. She would never leave Sandor again. She had promised him.
That fact didn’t make her feel any better as she came up to Robb’s door. Is it too late? Can we turn and run? Can we flee and leave all of this mess behind us? Sansa’s escort knocked on the thick wooden door separating her and her judgement and any hope she might have had crumbled beneath her feet.
“Come in.” Her brother sounded grave from inside and if she was on her own, Sansa knew she would have turned away at that moment. The door was opened for her and she was shuffled inside before she could even react, and the door shut again behind her.
Robb was seated at his desk, hunched over a parchment, writing so furiously with his quill that she thought he was going to snap it in two. She knew she should address him, but she seemed to have lost her words. Instead she just cleared her throat.
Robb looked up right away. “Sansa.” He breathed as he dropped his quill, pushed back his chair and bounded over to her. For a fleeting second, she thought her meant to strike. She flinched, tensing when he got to her, and she remained unmoved as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a fierce embrace.
“Lame? A cripple? Is that what you’re telling me I am now?”
Maester Luwin sighed with his practiced patience. “I’ve said nothing of the sort. I said you will have a slight limp. You will be able to walk, perhaps even run. But no, your leg will likely never heal back to the way it was.”
So it was true. He would have a limp, Maester Luwin was convinced. He had suffered damage of the nerves with the deep cut from the bastard. The old man seemed pleased with the work Maester Cedric had done, but he came to the grave conclusion all the same. Of all the ways this damned leg had been injured…
Ugly, scarred and lame. Now she’ll truly realize the mistake she made in choosing me. She’ll be glad when he ships me off to fuck knows where.
He hadn’t seen Sansa, not since her mother had taken her away as soon as they had arrived. Rickon had helped him to Maester Luwin, and he couldn’t wait to get out of there. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was afraid. He didn’t know what sentence he would receive from the Northern King, but he knew it would be nothing that he or Sansa would ever had wanted. He tried to enjoy the past few days alone with her, knowing they would likely be the last.
He still couldn’t believe the way he reacted when Sansa finally came to him at Deepwood. Crying like a fucking baby. The last time he had cried was the night the Blackwater burned. When he was with her, when she sang for him. He knew she could tell what was happening, even though she didn’t say anything. But if she didn’t judge him for the way he acted that night in King’s Landing, then he knew she wouldn’t judge him now.None of it was to matter though, as he was waiting to face the king. He didn’t know if he was pissed or pleased that the old maester decided to tell him nothing of Robb’s thoughts, one way or the other. Maester Luwin helped him to his crutches and to the door, all ready and bandaged fresh for his departure, he was sure.
Rickon and Shaggy were at the door when it opened. The boy looked grim as he looked up at Sandor. “Robb wants to see you.”
Sandor groaned under his breath. “Of course he does.”
Rickon turned and held out his arm, becoming Sandor’s own personal walking stick. He handed the one crutch to Rickon, as the boy knew he preferred to take the pressure off of from under his arm when he could. Sandor patted Rickon’s shoulder before leaning heavily on it as they limped down the hall. “It was nice knowing you, little wolf.” Rickon elbowed him in the side, but otherwise remained quiet all the way to Robb’s solar.
When the door came into view, Sandor couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling of absolute hopelessness that came over him. “Make sure I get to see your sister. At least for a moment, before he sends me away”
He felt Rickon tense under his hand, heard him gulp in his throat, as he handed him back his crutch. “I will.”
Even the boy knows I’m doomed. The guards permitted him entry without even knocking. King Robb was standing behind his desk, looking down at some parchment until he heard him come in.When Robb looked up at him, he didn’t say anything. He just stared.
So Sandor spoke. “Your Grace.”
Robb blinked, his face unreadable, and he held his hand out to the chair opposite his desk. “Sit.”
Sandor moved away from Rickon and limped forward into the room alone on his crutches. He heard the door close behind him, sounding like the lock slipping closed on his death sentence.
The king was quiet for a moment, assessing him it seemed, before he finally spoke. “How are you healing?”
Sandor tried to keep his face blank as he sat heavily - tried not to show the skepticism that radiated throughout him. “Well enough.”
Robb nodded, glancing down at his papers again as he sat down across from him. “Good…Good…” He sniffed, and looked back up at Sandor. Just spit it out, man. Let’s get this over with. Robb sighed, and leaned forward in his chair. “First, I wanted to thank you. For saving my life during the battle.”
Sandor was quiet for a moment before he answered. “Boltons had it coming.”
“Well, you have my thanks - and the queen’s - all the same.”
Sandor nodded once. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the thanks, but he couldn’t comprehend why the king was choosing now to say this. He was quiet for another second before he finally said - “Better get right down to it then.”
About fucking time.
Robb looked pensive. “I trusted the Boltons.” He wasn’t even looking at Sandor, but past him, lost in his own thoughts. “My father didn’t trust them, but I did. My mother was wary at the beginning, but I ignored her. Sansa didn’t feel comfortable near them, but I did.” Robb looked up at him then, his eyes set on Sandor’s. “You told me not to trust them…and I still did.”
Sandor stayed quiet. Just what is he getting at?
“Walda Bolton - Roose’s wife, Roslin’s relative - is not pregnant. Roslin made certain.” Walda Bol - Why the fuck is he telling me about that prick’s widow? “She’s going back to live at the Twins.” He continued. “That leaves the Dreadfort without an heir. Without a lord. It’s up to me, as king, to see that someone capable takes charge of the hold and the lands underneath it.” Robb sighed and leaned back into his chair. “I realized it too late, that I shouldn’t put trust in people that I do not know well enough. Better to be surrounded by family, whenever possible, I’ve decided.”
He was getting to the point, Sandor could feel it. And then he said it staring Sandor right in the eye.
“I’m giving Sansa the Dreadfort.”
“You heard me.”
“As I said. I need to be surrounded by those I trust. By family.” When Sandor didn’t say anything, Robb continued. “She will be Sansa Stark, Princess of Winterfell and Lady of the Dreadfort.”
Sandor felt his head moving from side to side before the king even stopped speaking. “She’ll never agree to it. She hated being in charge when she was here on her own.”
“I think that’s just because she was on her own, stressed, pressured, alone. Ruling the Dreadfort won’t be nearly as arduous. Besides she will have my support, my mother’s, Rickon’s. She’ll be close to her family this time. Closer than she would have been at Deepwood.”
Sandor scoffed at that. “A woman ruling a house in the North. Your Northern lords won’t be happy with that, you can be damn sure.”
He heard Robb gnash his teeth as his eyes darkened with anger. “Don’t you forget that one of those Northern lords betrayed me. Planned a rebellion against me. A woman is ruling the rest of the six bloody kingdoms in Westeros. They’ll learn to deal with the idea.”
Sandor hadn’t stopped shaking his head. “She’ll never agree to it.” He repeated.
Robb tilted his head to the side and scratched at the hair on his jaw. “You’re mistaken. She already has.” He looked as shocked as Sandor felt.
“She’s agreed? Today? You told her today?” Sandor never felt like such a bumbling fool.
“Yes. Yes she agreed. On one condition.” Robb shook his head as he said it, before leaning forward again and pointing his finger at Sandor. “One that I was already prepared to make, mind you.” Robb was quiet for a moment, seemingly chewing over his words. Sandor’s mind was completely alert, his hairs standing on end, just waiting for what Robb was going to say. The king looked him straight in the eye. “You’re going to marry her.”
“Have you lost your fucking mind?” Sandor roared, but the king did not flinch.
“Probably.” Robb leaned back in his chair again. “But I’ve made my decision all the same.” He reached forward and tapped the parchment on his desk, as if it were some kind of document solidifying this fact that made no bloody sense.
Sandor couldn’t move from his spot to look, so he said the first thing that came to mind. “Why?”
“Because it’s what she wants. She’s made it bloody clear that she won’t marry anyone else. And I made it clear that I want her at the Dreadfort, starting a family of her own - a new branch of House Stark. She brought up that fact that no Northern man is going to want to forgo his family name.” The king shrugged. “In addition to all of that, you already know her in ways that only a husband should know his wife. Not much is going to have to change. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?” He finished with just a touch of sarcasm at the edge of his words and Sandor didn’t know what to think.
He’s lost it. He truly has. He’s lost his buggering mind. His own voice sounded far away. “I don’t know anything about ruling.”
Robb sighed again. “She tells me you do. Says you are more clever than you let on. I chose to believe her. You having lived in King’s Landing for half your life, you might have learned something.”
Sandor squinted at him. “From who? The prick Joffrey or his crazy bitch of a mother?”
“I was thinking, Jon Arryn. My father. Even Tywin Lannister for fuck’s sake.” He shrugged once more, trying not to get frustrated, it was obvious. “Besides, you won’t even be in charge. You’ll stand by her side as her Lord Consort. Nothing more, unless she wants it.”
Thank the gods for that, Sandor wanted to say, but he had never been more lost for words than he was at that moment.
“As I said, she’s already agreed.” Robb tapped the parchment again, gesturing Sandor to move forward and look, so he did. There it was, plain as day, right in his face. Sansa’s pretty curling letters, signing her name, accepting the lands and responsibilities that come with the title - Lady of the Dreadfort.
His mind was in a whirl. They’d only just arrived. Not five minutes ago, he thought he was going to be killed or sent to the wall. And here he was, about to agree to marry Sansa fucking Stark - to be her Lord Consort.
“I take your silence to mean that you are shocked.” Robb went on. Sandor looked up at him. He couldn’t imagine what his face might be like at that second. “Rightly so, I should think. Look, Clegane…” Robb started, his eyes softening somewhat. “I explained all this to her, but I guess you’ll need to hear it from me too, if I expect you to believe it.” He was quiet for a moment, and all Sandor could hear was the pounding in his own head. “These past few months have been a bloody mess, trying to settle the kingdom again. I know how well she took care of things when I was in King’s Landing. If I had to start all over with the Dreadfort…” He turned his head. “It’s easier this way, really.”
A coward’s excuse, Sandor thought. There was more to it, and Sandor remained silent until Robb finally turned back to look him in the eye, completely reluctantly. “Seeing that she was willing to leave on her own to be with you…that’s what change my mind. At first I thought she was mad. What could make this girl leave in the middle of winter, all on her own?” He paused, thinking. “Then I thought, would I do any different if it were Roslin?”
He looked away from Sandor again, back down at the parchment on his desk. “Not only that, I felt incredibly selfish. Horrible. There you were, lying half-dead, after just saving my life, after you owed me nothing…and I wouldn’t even let her go say goodbye? Why? Because she was too afraid to tell me, her own brother, her true feelings? How happy she was in the relationship she found herself in with you? I realized that if she were willing to risk that much, for a man who risked his life to save hers countless times, for a man who had only just saved mine…” Robb looked back at him again. “This betrayal made me realize who I really trust.”
Sandor squinted at him again. “You trust me?”
“I trust my sister.” Robb clenched his jaw. “You aren’t the best choice for her. I’m sure you know that. But you are far and away from being the worst.”
Sandor nodded slowly, taking in his words. “It’s not the worst compliment I’ve ever had…I just don’t understand.”
Robb rolled his eyes, his voice raising in volume with his impatience. “Do you love Sansa?”
“Do you want to marry her?”
Sandor hesitated. Never in his life did he ever expect to be asked such a ridiculously absurd question. But the answer was obvious. “Yes.”
“Then what is there to understand? You’re getting what you wanted.” Robb shook his head. “I would threaten you, should you ever hurt her, but I know there is no need. Already know you’d gut anyone who touches a hair on her head.” Robb sighed for the hundredth time and eyed him again. “By all the gods, I’ll never understand it myself, but…I do trust you…with her. To keep her safe. To love her. Father her children.” Sandor held his eye for a moment and he knew, for some reason, that he truly meant what he said. The look of irritation was back on Robb’s face in an instant. “Out with it, then. Do you accept my offer? Yes or no?”
Sandor found himself nodding somewhat gravely. “Aye. I do.”
Robb clapped his hand on the desk. “Good. Better go see to Sansa then. She’s beside herself, saying there’s something she has to get done before the wedding.”
“Yours!” Robb narrowed his eyes at him. “It’s in two weeks. Did I not say that?” He waved his hand at him. “Nothing extravagant. Small ceremony and feast with the family. Sansa made it clear that’s all she wanted.”
Sandor nodded, still frozen to the spot, staring at her name written on the deed for the Dreadfort.
“Clegane…” Sandor looked up at him slowly, feeling his brow contorted and tensed in his confusion.
Robb’s eyes were wide now as he observed him. “Go.” He made a dismissive move with his hand and Sandor knew it was time to leave.
He raised himself from the chair and found his crutches. He moved slowly, feeling like he was going to be stopped. Like Robb was going to say, actually, that was all a jape – come back so I can kill you. He was ready for the rug to be ripped out from underneath him. For the guards to take him and send him on his way. Something. But the closer he got to the door, the further that possibility became.
He knocked on it and it opened up for him immediately. He chanced a look back to the king, who was already busy shuffling through the mess of parchment on his desk.
“What is it?” Rickon was still there, outside the door. Sandor turned back to him and shuffled forward so the heavy door could close behind him. Rickon tugged on his arm and he finally looked down. The boy’s eyes were wide, fearful, probably mimicking the look Sandor felt on his face. “What happened? Is he going to send you away?”
All Sandor could do was shake his head. As the boy battered him with question after question, something caught the corner of his eye; a flash of copper, whipping down the other end of the hall. When he looked up, she stopped and turned around to face him. Rickon’s frantic, excited questions faded away in a second.
All Sandor was aware of was her. The brilliant smile that appeared on her face when she saw him in the distance, her blue eyes glittering with happiness, the sound of her warm laughter ringing in his ear.
Sansa. My Sansa. My wife. My little bird.