The request gave the chambermaid a long, uncertain pause. It would be harmless trifle to ask for if it weren’t for the fact that she plainly avoided speaking to the Queen’s creatures any more than necessary. More often than not she just let them bring her whatever they may without showing preference. A prayer book, some embroidery threads, and a useless game of tiles for there was no one she cared to play against. They chose her dresses, styled her hair, and she would only repay them with a polite nod. She’d give them nothing. Not one thing to report to the Queen. Given enough time in a cage though, her resistance was wearing thin and Sansa had to admit the boredom was weighing on her.
A fortnight ago she broke down and requested some exercise and sunshine. Later that day they brought her down to the bailey and stood by watching quietly as she rode her pony around in confined circles. While that turned out to be an utter disappointment, in retrospect the day wasn’t wholly wasted. Walking back through the columned halls of the Red Keep, they chanced upon the oncoming escort surrounding Prince Tommen and Princess Myrcella. Quickly they cleared the way and curtsied low as their graces passed by, whooping and bounding ahead like fawns. As Sansa raised her eyes slightly, she caught sight of a fistful of colored chalk and charcoal in the prince’s hand and a drawing of his cat flapping about in the other.
Tonight she finally tossed her embroidery down in its basket when she could stand it no longer. The maid was puzzling out behind those narrowed eyes what asking for some charcoal and paper could mean. To a ward or honored guest, they would be nothing. In the hands of a hostage, writing tools could breed trouble and there were none present in her chambers. “I would like to do a bit of sketching,” she said with just the right touch of childlike hope. “Some chalks would be nice too for some color if you can manage it. Please? ” She was no fool. Anything she put to paper would be sussed out for treachery or solicitations for aid. And what secret friend did they think she would pull from thin air? Would that were true! No, it really was as simple as a new distraction to bridge the painfully dull stretches of time between Joffrey’s amusements.
With the delivery of her breakfast the next morning, they brought her not only everything she had asked for but sketch board to rest in her lap. She thanked them kindly, but she was singing inside, giddy as a kid. I’m not even sure why I’m so happy. I haven’t drawn for pleasure since I put down my dolls. Her fingers glided over the array of chalks in their box. It’s a victory, no matter how small. Suddenly, there was a knock upon the door. The Hound had come to fetch her for the King. That day she would learn her of her brother’s victory at Oxcross with a shredded gown and dozens of welts on her thighs.
Since then, she was very careful to tread lightly with her drawings. Nothing that spoke of her family, escape, or vengeance. Not even a tree. Nothing that would draw eyes to her godswood visits where she met regularly with Ser Dontos. The sotting fool was her only hope, though his plan was agonizingly drawn out. Until then, it was safest to appear pious and stupid. Images of the Seven were beautiful, inspirational, and most importantly unimpeachable and wholesome. Her sketches were far from good, but they weren’t that bad either. She got a little better with every go at it. The Maiden was easiest as she could look herself in mirror for a reference. She gave the Mother high cheekbones and blue eyes, though Her hair was concealed under heavily layered veils. The Crone she modeled after Old Nan, bird-boned and holding Her lantern aloft. Masculine figures were much more of a challenge, one that she would continue to work at for the next few weeks.
The day the royal procession saw Princess Myrcella off to Dorne, Sansa took the opportunity to observe the smallfolk in the city. From atop her chestnut courser she saw a beggaring septon in roughspun rags that were caked in filth. He was preaching to a small crowd the perils that led to the Seven Hells. She saw an armorer in a leather apron, soaking in sweat and beating the curve into a breastplate while his apprentice worked the bellows. Bakers, cloth merchants, chandlers, cobblers, tanners, peddlers of trinkets from the east, bands of skinny children hopping about like fleas, and dozens of women of ill-repute. One brazenly exposed and jiggled her ample breasts from her second floor window as they passed. Sansa gasped and abruptly averted her gaze. Clearly she had never worn a corset in her life. She chafed as she heard a laughter as rough as a saw blade erupting behind her. Looking back over her shoulder, she met the Hound’s mocking eyes. Apparently he found her good upbringing a rightfully funny joke. Well he was rightfully awful, she huffed.
Later that day he stood between her and a swollen mass of human suffering and roiling anger. She pitied them and begged their pity in return, but to them she was just another spoiled, well-fed brat with her boot on their necks. The Hound cut down anyone that dared reach for her. He was the Warrior for true, staring down the horde. Gods, he struck such fear in them with his presence. They were surely done for if anyone decided to throw rocks or swarm them, but none did. Everything had happened so fast. Suddenly she had found herself with her cheek pressed against his back, clinging to him like a barnacle. The next thing she knew they were back within the castle walls. More shouting, something about a cut, and then she was whisked away by her maids to see the maesters.
Since the riot and the subsequent nightmares that plagued her, she often lay awake at night sketching in bed by candlelight until her eyes and fingers grew sore. She drew variations on the Smith from the smallfolk she saw going about their labors in peace. Weeks passed. There was talk of Stannis bringing his host to King’s Landing. One way or another, she would be someone’s hostage… or if the city falls and the lions decide all is lost, Ilyn Payne might be sent for one last time. She shuddered to think on it. As the hour grew closer to the battle, her drawings took a turn. The Father watched over all and knew truth from falsehood. It was in His hands now. The Warrior looked steadfast with His sword at the ready and His gaze turned toward the horizon. He gave courage to men’s hearts and strength to their arms.
The Maiden had a courage akin to the Warrior, one of guarding the young and their innocence. As a child, Sansa had always favored her. Yet, she found herself focusing more on the Mother as of late. The Mother had more of a serene wisdom to Her eyes, which Sansa detailed with some subtle creases from smiling. She imagined Her on high with Her merciful gaze falling over both sides of the bay.
And the Stranger… well, the Stranger was troublesome. She had avoided drawing the Stranger until now. All men were hounded by His specter at some point, but not all had the courage to look upon Him directly. She didn’t particularly want to draw Him as a faceless void as He often was. Sometimes He was shown as being half-man, half-animal, which felt something closer to the truth. Sansa felt an urge to know Him if she may meet Him soon, preferably as a familiar friend. It made her think of Lady’s sweet face and her rough, warm tongue licking her cheek. She’d never be afraid with her wolf, but… No. No one could ever suspect she was drawing a direwolf and think it some sort of missive. A strange beast he must be. Every time she tried to draw Him so, the teeth always ended up too sharp and menacing. The curl of the lips always seemed to look like more of a pitiless snarl. A halfhearted, crooked smile at best. Eventually it dawned on her the secret was in the eyes. Soften the eyes and relax the brow. Yes, that changed everything, she thought as she leaned back and examined her work. Would that my poor father met these gentler eyes when he died. She hoped with all her heart his suffering spirit found peace . That was impossible, of course. They murdered him. How could Lord Eddard’s soul ever rest knowing the Lannisters held his daughter?
The night of the arrival of Stannis’s vanguard, she found herself walking the parapets on the roof. The Kingswood was ablaze across the Blackwater Rush. So much fire… The scent of smoke was clinging to everything lately. She had just returned from meeting Ser Dontos in the godswood. While she waited for him to stagger forth from the hedgerows, Sansa sat under the heart tree with her board in her lap and started a portrait sketch in the lower corner. She softly crooned a few broken lines to a song as the Stranger gazed up from beneath His heavy cowl. Only one side of His face was illuminated and the rest hid in shadow. Just a man this time and very much like the honest, stern faces of Northmen. Strong and plain like iron. She clicked her tongue in disapproval. No, He looks almost too Northern with that prominent bridge of the nose and lantern-like jaw. I mustn't give myself away like this. If anyone looked too closely at this, they would see her heart’s desire. Home. Family. It spoke treason. Still, it was too good to scrap. A cloying scent of Dornish red and sweat announced Ser Dontos before she looked up and saw his pudgy frame swaying before her. Again he bid her to be patient and wait, wait, wait. My slovenly, wine-soaked Florian , she thought wearily.
Up here on the roof of Maegor’s Holdfast, it was all quiet but for the whistle of wind and the snapping of Baratheon banners. She clutched her parchments and charcoal close to her chest lest they be blown away. Lord Tyrion had sent most of the gold cloaks to the city walls allowing her to wander about more freely than ever before. Perhaps I am forgotten? The idea could almost cheer her if it weren’t for this dull discomfort in her lower belly. A moment later, the pain sharpened suddenly and doubled her over. She reached out one-handed for a merlon to grab onto, but a larger, stronger hand caught her by the wrist and pulled her away from the edge. “Let me go!” she cried out, wriggling against the stranger’s hold on her.
“The little bird thinks she has wings, does she?” a familiar rasp asked.
The pages in her hands fluttered and flapped haphazardly. Her eyes widened as the Maiden got swept up and away on a rogue gust, soaring and twirling as she cleared the top of a stone gatehouse far below. The last glimpse of her innocent expression had her looking quite baffled by this unexpected twist.
“Ah, lost your little portrait, have you?” he snickered. It was him come out from the shadows. Splendid , she thought as her mouth pursed. Why must he always haunt about like that? His fingers released her one by one as she found her feet. “Too much meat on those bones to fall as pretty. Want to wind up like that crippled brother of yours?”
“I did not require assistance and you… you should have made yourself known, ser!” she snapped while she fiddled with straightening her drawings. He bristled at that. Oh… she had forgotten again. A more courteous lady would remember how he preferred to be addressed. Funny, it just occurred to her that she only knew what he did not want to be called, leaving her at a loss. “I thought I was alone and you startled me,” she quickly said to close the awkward gap. Under his withering stare, she cut her eyes away.
“I scared you, you mean. Still do, else you could look me straight in the face. You were glad enough to see me when the mob was on you, remember? Is that where I rank in your estimation? Somewhere above getting done for like the Stokeworth girl?” he asked pointedly. I’ve wounded him , she realized, though his pride would never allow him to say so.
How could she not remember? The horrors of that day were never far behind the moment she closed her eyes. She thought she would die there in the gutter, torn apart like a rag doll. Forgotten whilst the kingsguard ushered the royal family back to the Red Keep. Their pure white cloaks billowing out behind them as they fled. Only the Hound came for her and that was two full moon turns ago…
A prickling heat bloomed over her head and chest. The least she could do was look at him. Really look. Sansa pivoted to face him and took a step toward. The terrible ruin of his face was illuminated by the mounted torches lining the parapets. It almost looked wet with red, glassy fissures running down from his scalp into his tunic. The flesh in between was pulled so taut that his mouth was drawn into a permanent sneer. “I should have come to you sooner. To thank you properly. You were so brave when --”
“When I what? Ran off a bunch of rats? Don’t need courage for the likes of them,” he said. “Had me thirty to one, but none dared try me.” He was standing to his full height now, thumbs hooked on his sword belt. Sansa had to crane her neck to look up at him. His black hair fell forward over his scars like cowl as she felt those flinty eyes pressing down on her. Her clenching palms had grown moist with sweat and she felt the charcoal smut soiling her hand. Keener than the nagging ache in her belly was a pull, something like a thin wire running between them. A wire that almost begged someone to test its tension with a pluck. Somehow the very thought gave her the urge to flee and bury her face in pillow. What nonsense! He’s just an uncouth cur is all and noble ladies are not rattled by such beasts. He would laugh to the high heavens if she ran away like a child. Well, he’ll get no such wicked delight from seeing the backside of me, I vow!
“Yes. Well, be that as it may,” she started again, but a windblown lock of hair flew into her mouth. Oh, bother it all! She blew and swatted it away then rubbed at where it had ticked her face. Before she could resume and leave him here with their remaining business formally concluded, she froze as her chin was suddenly trapped in his fingers.
“Careless girl,” he said, his voice a low, gravelly sigh. “You’ve a dark streak. Plain as day on your face.” With firm deliberation, his calloused thumb swiped from her parted lips to her cheek. Rough as sand and dragging a line of moisture behind it. As he slowly withdrew his touch, he showed her the telltale charcoal smudge on the pad of his thumb. Sansa’s throat tightened as she cast her eyes down to the blackened hand that marked her. Of its own accord her tongue followed the edge of her lip which now tasted faintly of copper and salt. Something hung in the air for a seemingly endless moment. Then just like that, he retreated back into his accustomed posture. “Nose in your drawings for weeks now,” he scoffed. “What notions roll around behind that vacant sheep’s stare you put on? Probably dreaming of someone to rescue you, I’ll wager.”
She could turn grist to flour between her teeth at that moment. He struck a little too close to the truth for her liking, but she’d never let him know that. Best end this now. Curtly, so he’d know who was mistress here. “As I was saying, I am not without gratitude for your service; however, I am not in position to award you a befitting commendation, but --”
“Spare me.” The Hound looked as if he got a whiff of turned milk. “Might be your pretty golden knights all done up in ribbons would happily sup on that shit. You’d do better to send me a cask of sour red to thank me proper. Thick as blood and just as warming to my soul when it’s flowing.” A dark chuckle rumbled from him, but then he pressed into her again, deadly serious. “Little birds would know that if they bothered to look down from their perches.”
The leaves of parchment crinkled as she held them tight to her breast. “I believe you mean ‘from my cage.’ And why must you always say such awful things? There’s nothing pleasurable about bloodshed. There’s nothing beautiful about hurting or killing people.” she insisted. When called upon to do justice, her father treated it as a solemn duty. He never enjoyed it. Afterward he would cleanse himself in the godswood.
“With so little beauty in the world, would you deny a man finding it where he can?” His mouth was twitching again through what looked like crooked grin.
“There’s to be a battle on the morrow, the likes of which haven’t been seen before they say. And you act as if that swagger will protect you. It is a dangerous courtship you are playing at. Stannis is no coward and means to have his crown, whatever the cost. Well, I’m sure you’ll see more red than than a Flea Bottom winesink -- enough to make you eat your words, Sandor of House Clegane!” She annunciated his full given name like her lady mother would when she was cross. It always promptly brought her and her siblings to heel, else they’d surely feel the strap on their bottoms next.
He erupted a laugh as dark and deep as a tar pit and clapped a hand on her shoulder. For a moment, her heart nearly stopped as she thought he might’ve taken a mind to toss her over the wall for her sharp tongue; however, it was merely a boisterous sort of play with a disconcerting familiarity. What was wrong with him? It was not a jape, but a caution against tempting the God of Death with such talk. “I had no idea the little bird kept such rough company to know the goings on of Flea Bottom. I best watch myself around such an unsavory wench.” He paused and swept his eyes over her in a way that made her feel as if he knew the cut of her smallclothes. “Still… there’s worse ways to die than a knife to the heart. You should instruct me on how you find it so surely like you were threading that little needle of yours. Just how many men have you killed, I wonder?” The tip of his tongue ran along the edge of his teeth as if he were contemplating the idea in all seriousness. It lingered there on the unburnt side where his lips were much, much fuller...
Gods be true, she shouldn’t spare another moment for such a wicked man! She started to speak, but her retort withered before it could form. She was sure the deeper meaning was crude and offensive, yet something about the way he named her for a killer made her feel absurdly… whetted? Well, best not dignify that with a reply, which was good since she hadn’t thought of one anyway.
With all this talk of killing and killers, the idea of not seeing the Hound again became more palpable. Not in this life or the next, which distressed her in spite of herself. He just didn’t understand what awaited his soul if he were to die. He was undoubtedly strong and skilled, but there were always arrows and deadly fevers stemming from even minor wounds. Bad luck could befall anyone. “If you fall in the battle tomorrow, are you not afraid the Gods may send you to some unfathomable hell for men like you?” she asked.
The Hound’s gaze turned to the burning Kingswood in the distance as all his weight slumped against a merlon. His other hand went the hilt of his sword, running his thumb up and down the old, worn leather. “What Gods? If They exist at all, what should I fear there that They haven’t visited upon me already? What new tricks could They teach a demon like me, I ask you? Aye, it’ll be a bit of bloody business out there. And the buggering cowards will have their fire to fight with. Might be I’ll die,” he said, his voice dwindling down. Like the sea receding from shore before a heaving wave, he started again. “But the whoreson who gets me won’t get to so much as to brag to his children that he slew the Hound. He’ll be short his balls before I’m done breathing. Believe that.” His corner of his scarred mouth twitched once, twice, then slackened and stilled. Though he heavily sauced his words, somehow his bite seemed a bit toothless now. Flakes of ash danced on the wind around them, as white as snowflakes in the torchlight.
“That’s a frightful shame, I think,” she said calmly after a lengthy silence. His face turned back to her looking at her curiously through narrowed eyes. “To be best remembered in the waking nightmare of a eunuch who curses you. A terrible beast none too soon forgotten by everyone else. I doubt the king will spare handful of dirt to bury you let alone a kind thought.” With him there was no cruelty in saying so, she knew. He usually took no offence as long as she spoke plainly and true.
He grunted impassively. “Maybe so,” he said. “Those that serve should expect no higher commendation in the end.” He spat her own word out as if it tasted of lye. “Down there in the city, the wise are spending their last hours and coppers down in the brothels, getting their fill of the only heaven they’ll know. Not weeping and pleading for mercy in the septs at the Mother’s teat.”
If he believed that so, then why did he come up here alone, away from either place? All this thundering and swinging his sword about was growing more tiresome by the minute, for both of them she suspected. His little provocative game was losing its shine as she stood there unmoved, only feeling a quiet sadness for him now. Sighing, her arms relaxed at her sides. “If you are right that there are no Gods -- you are not, but for the sake of the argument we’ll say that you are -- then all we have are our deeds and our loves to mark us having lived,” she said. “I may be no skin of sour red to mourn the man who loved me so well and you may not be Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, but you saved me all the same. You said it yourself. And there were the other times too when you lied for me when you didn’t have to. So there, it can’t be helped. You’ve someone who will remember you well and kindly now.” Feeling her resolve, she raised her chin up to him and added “but I don’t want you to die either. I hope you live and learn to make peace with whatever you are at war with.”
She almost expected him to laugh at her and call her a blathering fool, but he didn’t. He just stood there still, the apple of his throat the only part of him that moved. Perhaps there was nothing else left to say now. Quietly, she side-stepped past him and made to walk back to her chambers, the soft kidskin of her shoes scraping on the stone. She only cleared a few paces when he called out. “You’re a bad liar, Little Bird. Always have been, always will be.”
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, spinning around to face him. The scarred side of his face was now eclipsed in shadow as the warm glow of the torches fell on the hard hewn lines of his cheek and jaw. For a brief moment she was ensnared by a sense of uncanny resemblance she couldn’t quite place, but he was already barreling over her.
“You heard me. You might flatter yourself believing you’ve that sweet, maidenly heart that flutters everytime you can spare a charitable nook for a mongrel like me. Well, you forgot who saved you easily enough before. Piss on that! You can keep all your hopes and pretty words,” he rasped with his arms crossed defiantly over his chest. “Now fly away back to your feather bed. I’m sick of your damning eyes. Go recite your little prayers and dream of your true knights . I’m sure one will be here any day now.”
A better lady might walk away from him now, the lost cause he was determined to be. She shouldn’t give a fig for what he thought of her. She didn’t owe him anything beyond what he already threw back in her face. Yet something about the way he stood there was an echo of an angry little boy, pounding his fists and silently screaming. Somehow she knew that turning her back on him now would be all the proof he needed that he was right all along. That for all his relentless testing, he finally found the inevitable chink. He didn’t want any more of her words, he’d said and she feared angering him further. But what could she offer that he could believe, even just a little bit? Sansa searched her heart for that answer to come to her, preferably with all haste before the moment was irrevocably lost.
It was then that she caught sight of how his shadow played upon the high wall. A perfect twin of his massive form in profile. From the top of his head to the sharp angles of his nose, the bulk of his torso to the hilt and pommel of his sword. Once as a small child visiting Wintertown, she’d seen a charming little play performed entirely by paper cutouts of the characters that cast their shadows on a backlit canvas. She didn’t think anything could be as wonderful as a handsome singer with a harp, but she found herself enraptured with the emotions conveyed in the moving silhouettes. Unable to tear her eyes away, Robb had to pick her up and carry her when gentle nudges went unnoticed. How her heart lurched with longing to stay and find out how their story ended! She couldn’t recall any details about it now, but it was a strange tale she had never heard before or since, which made it all the more precious and sad that it would never be revisited again.
As if she were being pulled along by that same wire, her feet began to carry her forward. Not towards him exactly, but his shadow, stopping short of overlapping hers with his. The proud shape of him with his hair blowing in the wind and his sword at his hip could make him look almost a knight except in truth he was glowering down at her. The shadow revealed him as simply a man, unscarred and without the rage and misery in his eyes, watching over her. He shifted uncomfortably on his feet a bit. Instinctively his hand touched the hilt of his sword as if reassuring himself it was there. “Please, don’t… don’t move,” she whispered and he didn’t. Raising her charcoal up and standing on her toes, Sansa began to trace his outline on the stone starting at the top. At first the tip of the charcoal stuttered and crumbled a bit under her nervous handling; however, the line quickly began to flow dark and true as her hand glided over his face, down his neck and chest. When she finished capturing him thus, she stepped back to survey her work. The Hound took that as his cue to break the pose and looked over himself with all the unease of encountering a stranger.
“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” she said. “Truthfully, I am frightened and sick with the uncertainty. The city could be sacked and there will be chaos. I could be taken for Stannis’s hostage or remain one here as the king’s plaything. Or his grace might finally decide to kill me as he so often told me he would. He could even order you to do it.” He flinched at that, but let her continue. “I will be expected to remain by the queen’s side and I will pretend that I pray for my beloved’s victory.” She laughed bitterly. Gods, after guarding her tongue and heart for so long, it felt like a blissful sort of madness to just let everything pour out. To the Lannister’s own man of all people! “That petty and cruel manchild that cut off my father’s head and made me look at it. I hope every man deserts him and the same fear and pain he took pleasure in inflicting is visited upon him tenfold. May his reign end with whimpering and soiled breeches for all to see. That is what my maidenly heart flutters for, I confess it. But I’d gladly trade that justice and more to see my family again. To go home. So you’ll just have to forgive my indulgent little diversions. My drawings, my prayers, my songs…” She thought woefully of Ser Dontos and cringed at having to wager her life on such a savior. Bless him and curse him, he was her only hope. “They’re the only thing keeping me from tearing my hair out as I wait and wait and wait to learn what’s to become of me,” her voice quavered a bit near the end, but she composed herself.
“They’ll never let you go, Little Bird. You know that,” he said plaintively. His hand started to reach for hers, but halted abruptly and fell back at his side.
She nodded. “I do. So do me this favor and remember me as I am now. Not the traitor’s simpleton daughter that must bow and scrape, but a Stark of Winterfell. Loyal and loving sister to the only true and worthy king. Should the worst happen, I fear the stories told of me will not be kind.” Sansa then began to finger through her drawings until she found the one she was looking for. The sweet, placid portrait of the Mother. “If I can ask one more favor, please take this one thing of me with you into battle,” she said as she gave it to him. His face was unreadable as he examined it, but he did not seem to disapprove. That was something. “I know you hold no stock in such superstitious charms, but surely it would be no bother to keep it folded up somewhere close. You won’t even remember it’s there, so it wouldn’t be any effort on your part at all really. But it would make me feel a little better all the same knowing She was with you.”
He grunted and brusquely set to folding it. “As you say, it’s no skin off my arse,” he said tucking it into the inside of his jerkin. She had not said it like that exactly, but a little flame of satisfaction glowed inside her. “So what of that?” he asked, gesturing toward the wall.
“Oh that, well... it was too fine a figure to let pass,” she admitted shyly. He wouldn’t thank her if she said it looked quite knightly to her or that she would rather hold him in time and memory as such. She would have to make it sound as if it were a studious exercise. “The masculine form isn’t something I am practiced in and I have no master of arts to instruct me. So I learn as I go with experimentation. I suppose I would call it the basis of a character study. Something I can reference later tonight while I have the time alone to focus on it. I find I sleep better after wearing myself out with the distraction.” She smiled sweetly at him, assured she had successfully bridged past his darker moods. It was true. Pouring herself into her art did help dampen her frightful memories and worries. But, oh dear, she must have offended him again somehow, because his eyes went wide and he quickly turned away from her to press his brow to the cold stone merlon.
“It is far too late for you be up here. Go to bed, little girl,” he growled, keeping his back to her and refusing to look at her directly. The moment was ruined somehow, after he finally seemed to be coming around; however, he hardly had the right to order her to bed. She was a woman grown, not a child.
“Forgive me. I didn’t mean to offend you, but I --"
“TO BED WITH YOU!!!” he shouted so fiercely that she gathered her skirts and scurried back to her chambers, careening her way through the blackened halls and corridors. Her hammering heart threatening to burst through her chest.
A Moon Turn Hence…
Willas, Willas, Willas. She repeated the name on her tongue until she became accustomed to its sound. It was as good a name as Loras, she supposed. It would have to be as Lady Margaery had asked her most fervently to agree to marry her elder brother. Then they would be sisters for true. And Lady Olenna promised to take her back to Highgarden with her. Sansa’s heart sang at the thought of sending her mother a letter from Highgarden to tell her she was finally safe and among friends. Highgarden . What bride wouldn’t desire such a home and husband? Willas would come to love her after she gave him children, she told herself. All would be well. It must.
Her patience had worn down completely with Ser Dontos. She had met him in the godswood to tell him she would always think kindly of him and his efforts, but she would be accepting the Tyrell’s offer. By the way he had seized her wrist and earnestly warned her to mistrust the roses as much as the lions, one could almost mistake him for sober. He insisted that the Tyrells loved her not, only her claim to Winterfell. It was something she never considered before, as Robb would surely have a son of his own even if her sweet little brothers were dead now. What would Willas do with Winterfell anyway if he already had Highgarden? Still, if she were being honest with herself, she had felt a trepidation upon receiving Lady Margaery’s invitation to meet. It was hard to know what people wanted from her or for her. How she had wished the Hound were still here. Harsh as he was, she found his council to be rather on the nose.
But Sandor Clegane was long gone. He had come to her late into the battle, offering to take her home; however, she’d never seen him so drunk and frightful as he was that night and she had refused him. Now she wondered if she should have chosen differently. The wildfire had broken him, she knew, and she silently reprimanded any that would name him for a coward. She could scarcely imagine what it must have been like outside the gates with men dying left and right and that unnatural fire raining down on them. He gave all he could. No one could have asked more of him.
So much of that night was etched deep in her mind. She still remembered how it felt when he pulled her flush against his body and kissed her, hard and searing like a brand. No lady would ever desire such a kiss from a man stinking of wine and vomit. Yet it didn’t seem half as awful as it should. Into the fevered kiss he poured out all the contents of his bent and broken heart, the beautiful and grotesque alike. Like everything else he did, it was uncompromisingly raw in its honesty. Sansa suspected that was a rare sort of kiss for a woman of her station.
But things took an even greater turn when he held that knife to her throat and stole a song as well. That damnable fire let loose the mad dog inside him, fueled on fear and clawing at the walls of his mind to escape. She would have sang for him gladly in another time and place, only he was too far gone to see it. A part of her thought she ought to be more angry with him for frightening her, but all Sansa could dredge up now was a sadness that they had parted so regrettably. In the end, he had wept and slunk away in shame, back into the shadows. The stained white cloak he had torn from its clasps and discarded now lay folded in her cedar chest beneath her summer silks. A little nook for a poor mongrel.
With Lady Margaery’s arrival and betrothal to the king, Sansa was still largely ignored by everyone. Even Joffrey refrained from toying with her as that would not sit well with his prospective in-laws. That suited her just fine as she took the liberty of not going straight back to her chambers after meeting Ser Dontos. She needed the clarity of a walk. Surely Dontos had been wrong about the Tyrells and the Lannisters were singular in their cruel ambitions. There is goodness and charity for its own sake to be found in the world. There had to be. She had insisted as much to the Hound. And she’d much rather hedge her bets on good-hearted Willas than a drunken fool any day, now that she had another option.
But those nagging doubts persisted no matter how much she fought them back. They snaked through her mind like winding stairways and corridors she wandered through. Eventually she emerged upon the roof of Maegor’s Holdfast. The cool wind from the sea buffeted her face and a silver sickle of a moon slung low on the dark belly of the night sky. If she were to feign a stumble now, would that be enough to make a hand reach out from the darkness to catch her? She sighed heavily and looked out beyond the city as far as her eyes would allow. What had become of him, she wondered? How far away had he managed go all alone like that? Did he think of her at all?
Sansa hadn’t been up here since they had chanced upon each other. She didn’t even have the heart to draw much anymore either. As she walked along the parapets searching, she wasn’t hopeful it would still be here as it had rained a few times. The torches burned bright enough though that she when she came to the high walled portion, she could make out the faint gray silhouette of a knight keeping his post. Only this time the space that filled in the line wasn’t shaded over with shadow, but the strong, steadfast stone behind it instead. Hardly noticeable to anyone else’s eyes, but its presence was felt more sharply now than the day she traced it. Her own shadow stood under the looming angle of his face, surrounded in the quivering, orange glow. As if she were one of those paper cut outs moved by that fine, thin wire, Sansa raised herself up on the balls of her feet and tilted her head back. Looking out through the corner of her eye so she could find the mark properly, her shadow self melded its lips to his. Another fanciful diversion, perhaps. Her own lips and tongue touched and tasted nothing but the salty sea air, but she closed her eyes anyway and held the pose until she could make it come to life. Until the memory of a familiar friend could be refashioned with a tenderness that surpassed his rough edges and she could feel the warmth in her bones again. When the moment had finally passed, she didn’t have to wonder anymore. She decided. This was how the play ended.