Since the retinue had arrived from Highgarden, there had been many changes in the Red Keep. The larders were full of grain and fruit from the Reach, the wine cellars fit to bursting with Arbor Gold and sweet plum wine. The court itself was suddenly abuzz with flower-plated knights and ladies in seafoam silks. Even the King himself seemed somewhat calmer. Rumour had it that Joffrey was enamoured with his new bride-to-be. The Lady Margaery was considered to be one of the greatest beauties of the Seven Kingdoms; the whisperers couldn’t blame his partiality.
Sansa Stark knew better than to hope for much change where Joffrey was concerned. When his Highgarden rose was out of sight and earshot, he still sent for his former betrothed to be beaten in public for her brother’s victories in the Riverlands. She managed to grit her teeth through it all as best she could. No longer the monster’s betrothed, she could at least enjoy the reduction in scrutiny her sudden fall in position allowed her. She was not free, not by any sense; but she was pleased to find that no one seemed to care much where she went or what she did, so long as she was present for the occasional beating in one of Joff’s fits of rage.
It left Sansa with more time to observe the Tyrells. The girls seemed sweet enough, if a little naïve. They talked of their home with an easiness that Sansa envied.
The more she was invited to take tea with Margaery and her cousins in the castle gardens, the more Sansa began to notice how Highgarden was placing its roots in King’s Landing’s soils. An increasing number of noble ladies had begun to flit about the Keep in the same silks that Margaery wore so well, the backs of their dresses cut down to near nothingness. Sansa still wore the dresses she had arrived in the capital with, all those years before. They still had their backs, but the hems floated several inches off the floor wherever she walked, her chest straining against the stitching.
It wasn’t only court fashions that had begun to change, Sansa noted, but its customs. Noblemen had taken to kissing a lady’s hand when greeting her, something that she hadn’t noticed before. They never kissed Sansa’s hand, however, lest they incur Joffrey’s wrath. Perhaps they think treachery is contagious. The thought brought her no amusement.
Then there were the flowers. The Tyrell rose was everywhere; sewed into dresses, printed onto damask and embossed onto swords in the training yard. Highgarden’s horticultural experts had also introduced new types of flowers around the Keep that Sansa had never seen before. Some, she was told, were imports from Essos and the Summer Isles. Others were remarkable hybrids the gardeners had produced themselves after years of work.
With so many blooms everywhere, it came as little surprise when the giving of flowers began to spread like wildfire throughout the court. Sansa could not walk to the godswood, or to join Margaery and her ladies, or even to the dining hall without seeing some blushing lady or other with a bouquet in arm.
“It’s a Highgarden tradition,” Elinor explained to her one morning over lemoncakes and peppermint tea. “If a man wishes to court a lady, he sends her a bouquet of flowers to convey his intentions. Each flower has a different meaning, you know.”
“They do?” Sansa had never heard of such a custom. It sounded like something from one of her songs, too good to be true. She’d learned that years ago. Yet she still couldn’t help the little thrill that shook through her at the idea. It was so romantic, after all. Glancing about the gardens, casting her eye to where Loras Tyrell sat polishing his sword with easy grace, Sansa wondered whether she would get a bouquet of her own soon enough.
Months passed, however, and Sansa soon had to accept that this was yet another joy forbidden to her. While the Highgarden women were inundated with flowers to an almost comical degree, Sansa’s rooms remained stubbornly free of a single weed. It was silly, she supposed, to wish for something as trivial as flowers when her situation remained so precarious. She hadn’t seen her home for years; her sister was missing, presumed dead, and her brother waged war with the Lannisters as each day passed.
She remained Joffrey’s plaything, despite the end of their engagement. Thankfully, appeasing the Tyrells seemed to be keeping him busy enough for the moment. She hadn’t been called to the throne room in several weeks.
It didn’t stop her from flinching when a heavy knock sounded at her door. She had learned to differentiate the different knocks of the Kingsguard; she let out a small, premature sigh of relief before calling out.
“You may enter.”
The Hound pushed the panel open with surprising quiet. It no longer took her aback at how silent he could be when he wanted; how many times had he caught her off guard in the Keep?
Today, thankfully, he was sober. He watched her for a moment, mouth twitching with what she could only guess was frustration, before clearing his throat.
“The Lady Margaery asks you to break your fast with her.” From Clegane’s rough tone, Sansa could tell he was unimpressed at having to relay such a tedious message. “I’m to escort you.”
Sansa stared at him. Since when had he been taking orders from Margaery?
Since she became Joffrey’s betrothed, and the future Queen, her brain reminded her sharply. She pushed away the strange feeling of jealousy that had fanned at Clegane’s words (after all, what did it matter who he took orders from?) and rose to her feet.
Since the night of the Blackwater, he had been avoiding her. Sansa knew why. She had not breathed a word of that night to anyone; he hadn’t even needed to threaten her. The Hound had come to her rooms, and offered to take her away.
It had only been her words, her song, that had convinced him to return to the battle with renewed ferocity and keep his position as the King’s sworn shield (and, in turn, his head).
It felt a little awkward, then, when she curled her arm around Clegane’s large forearm and allowed him to lead her out of her chambers. They spoke not two words to each other until they reached the lower corridors of Maegor’s, where she knew the Highgarden ladies were being housed.
One of the girls, Megga if she remembered correctly, rushed out of one of the doorways with her face pressed into a fresh bouquet. They were roses, Sansa realised, of the most beautiful coral pink.
Megga’s eyes widened at the sight of them. With a sudden sneeze, and a ridiculous giggle, she hurried past Clegane and down the hallway they had just walked along.
“What in the Seven Hells was that?” The Hound asked, his voice cracking through the silence like falling rocks.
Sansa glanced up at him. “Have you not noticed all the flowers around the Keep?”
He snorted at that. “Do I look like I notice things like flowers, little bird?”
No, she thought silently, but she refused to dignify his patronising. “It’s a custom from Highgarden that’s become quite popular among the courtiers. Men give ladies a bouquet of flowers, to convey some sort of romantic message. Each flower has a different meaning.”
She could feel the weight of Clegane’s eyes on the top of her head, but Sansa kept her eyes fixed on the far wall. Though his ruin of face no longer frightened her, the intensity of his eyes was still alarming. It reminded her of the night of the Blackwater, and that was something she’d sooner forget while in such close quarters with the Hound.
“That’s the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard,” Clegane told her bluntly, after a long silence. Sansa fought the urge to ask him to moderate his language for the sake of the ladies nearby; she knew he wouldn’t care. “But I bet the little bird thinks it romantic.”
He was sneering now. Sansa forced herself to meet his gaze. There was a cold amusement in the grey depths of his eyes, yes, but also something else she wasn’t sure how to name.
“I do,” she told him. There was little point in lying. A dog can smell a lie.
“And I’ll bet some pretty puffed-up lord or other has been sending you daisies in the hope of getting into your bed.” The Hound’s teeth were gritted, almost as though he were bearing them like a dog for true. He’s angry , she realised, once again unsure of what she did to cause it. All Sansa knew was that she had little patience for it today.
She pulled her arm out of his grasp, surprised to find he made no resistance.
“Actually, Ser, I have received no flowers at all. Now good day to you; I can find my own way from here.”
Without giving him the opportunity to tell her he wasn’t a ser, or even to answer her, she turned her back on the Hound and made her way to Margaery’s solar, eager to forget that wasted conversation as quickly as possible.
A week later, Sansa awoke to a maid bustling about with something on top of her dresser.
“Flowers, my lady,” the maid told her, with a knowing smile. She stepped back to reveal a vase full of blooms. Sansa was determined not to show much of a reaction at first; the maids were all Cersei’s spies, and she felt suddenly afraid of the idea that they would accuse her of some sort of treachery with one lord or another.
“Who are they from?” Sansa asked. She could feel her face paling as she tried to discern what type of flower it was; they were purple, with a bright orange-red stigma. They were beautiful, if rather small, but she didn’t recognise the species.
“I have no idea, my lady,” the maid informed her brusquely as she filled the vase with water. “They were left outside your door. I found them as I was coming in ten minutes ago.”
Frowning, Sansa stepped out of bed and over to the dresser. She peered down at the bouquet. Hadn’t she seen flowers like these before now? They did look familiar…
Struck with a sudden idea, she whirled around to face the maid. “I wish to get dressed,” she told the woman, not bothering with courtesies. They were Cersei’s creatures, and would hate her regardless. “I must see Lady Margaery.”
“Oh my,” Margaery said, while Alla let out a gasp. Elinor giggled as her cousin held up the vase of flowers to the light, examining it from angles as though she were a master diagnosing a particularly difficult patient. “I know these. But who on earth would send you these, my dear girl?”
Her tone, somewhere between amusement and eager interest, put Sansa immediately on her guard. “I’m afraid I don’t know,” she admitted. She could feel the heat rising into her cheeks as the Tyrell girls exchanged scandalised looks. “My maid found them outside my room this morning. What… what are they? What do they mean?”
Margaery patted her hand where it lay on the table. “There, there. No need to look so frightened. These are very pretty flowers, aren’t they?” Her warm smile suddenly turned fey. “They’re not normally given as a bouquet, but… Well, they’re known as Naked Ladies.”
Sansa listened intently. Then her stomach gave a swoop of shock.
Elinor and Alla had descended into fits of laughter at the look on her face. Margaery, meanwhile, seemed sympathetic.
“How shocking,” she agreed, putting the vase back onto the table. “Do you have any clue as to who might have sent you such a… suggestive bouquet?”
Sansa shook her head mutely. Margaery had said that these flowers- pretty and innocuous as they seemed- weren’t used in the Highgarden flower language. The name itself, however, told Sansa all she needed to know. The mysterious sender, whoever he was, wanted her.
Her mind raced through all the men in the Keep that she knew. True, she’d seen Boros and Meryn leering at her once or twice, but she doubted that they would be the sort to send flowers. They enjoy beating me too much for that.
There was, of course, Lord Baelish. While he claimed to be concerned for her on her mother’s behalf, Sansa had always felt… strange when the Master of Coin had spoken to her. His eyes always seemed to move over her as though they were trying to see through her clothes. She’d heard it mentioned, as well, that he owned several brothels in the city. He would seem to know a lot about… naked ladies, Sansa thought. The idea that he was the sender made her suddenly nauseous.
“Well, then,” Margaery said, her tone rallying, “I wouldn’t pay it too much mind. Perhaps it’s only a jape by one of the younger lords.”
Sansa nodded weakly at that. Yes, that would make sense. After seeing how Joffrey had treated her, it made sense that other courtiers treated her with equal derision. Embarrassing her with such a gift would likely make some simpleton laugh.
“No need to look so sad, Sansa,” Elinor said, “look at you! You’ll have a hundred other bouquets by the end of the week, I bet.”
It was fortunate for Elinor that Sansa hadn’t held her to that bet, for by the following week, she had received no other flowers. It made her feel frustrated. On the one hand, if the sender was truly only doing it in jest (or worse, was someone like Lord Baelish), then the lack of bouquets left at her door was a good thing.
On the other hand, if it was a genuine admirer- someone clumsy in their execution, but sincere in their intentions- then why had they stopped? Had she done something wrong? Perhaps I should have left a note of thanks, Sansa fretted, gazing out of her window.
The day had dawned bright and sunny. There was no sense, she decided, on spending it indoors stewing over a bunch of flowers. Said bouquet was currently wilting in her vase. She hadn’t had the heart to throw them away, even after she’d learned their name. It would be unfair if her admirer actually existed.
With a nod to no one in particular, Sansa left her room to head to the godswood. While she enjoyed Margaery’s company, it had been a while since she had taken time to pray. Perhaps the old gods would help to clear her mind from this southron nonsense.
As though they didn’t want to make her reprieve too easily gained, however, the gods (or, more accurately, Joffrey) had seen fit to place the Hound on guard outside the door of Maegor’s. When he saw her approach, he stepped into her path.
“And where is the little bird flying off to?” He asked in his rasping voice. His mouth, for once, wasn’t twitching. “Off to meet a lover in the godswood? The one who sent you flowers, perhaps?”
Sansa halted her steps. “How did you know about that?”
Clegane snorted. “Those Tyrell girls couldn’t keep a secret if their pretty little heads depended on it. Half the Keep knows you’ve got yourself an admirer.”
It took a moment for Sansa to regain her composure. Inwardly, she cursed Margaery and her cousins for their lack of discretion.
“If you must know,” she told him, as calmly as she could manage, “I am going to the godswood, but to pray, not to meet with anyone.” The Hound cocked his one good eyebrow at her, looking as though he might interrupt. Sansa refused to let him. “And as for the flowers, they’re as likely from a jokester as an admirer.”
The Hound folded his mailed arms. Not for the first time, Sansa was aware of the difference in their size. He truly was enormous, muscled like a bull. If it weren’t for his unfortunate face, he might be mistaken for a statue of the Warrior.
“What makes you say that?”
Sansa blinked. She’d expected him to laugh at her, but the question seemed genuine.
“Because the flowers had… um…” She trailed off, hoping the Hound wouldn’t press the question and save her discomfort. She’d thought incorrectly, however, for the narrowing of his eyes was her cue to continue. “They had an inappropriate name.”
She inhaled to steady her voice. Gods, why did he have to choose today to be so curious?
Grey eyes met hers for a heartbeat. Then the Hound began to shake with silent laughter, the motion making his enormous shoulders tremble.
“It isn’t funny,” Sansa protested, “it’s uncouth. Why would anyone pick a flower named like that?”
Clegane was laughing outright now, a horrible rough noise that sounded more like a dog’s bark than human mirth. Still, Sansa couldn’t help but feel a little more at ease. While he was laughing at her misfortune, the strange tension that had existed between them since the Blackwater seemed to dim a little.
“Off you go then, little bird,” he finally told her, giving her a slight push between her shoulder blades. “Go and ask your tree gods’ forgiveness for inspiring such lewd attentions.”
Sansa obeyed swiftly, before the Hound could start laughing again, or before she could pay too much attention to the warmth of his hand.
The second bouquet arrived nearly twelve days after the first. This time, she was the one to discover them. They had been left before dawn, and Sansa brought them into the room just as the sun was rising.
They were, in Sansa’s good opinion, the strangest looking flowers she’d ever seen. Not ugly; they had a lovely coral-red hue and bright green stems. The petals were think and frond-like, each one topped with a tiny glass-like bead. When the sun hit them, each one seemed to sparkle. It was as though the morning dew had been caught on them forever.
They were already planted in a shallow pot, and so Sansa set it on her windowsill as she weighed the options before her. It seemed, with the introduction of a second gift, that a one-time jape was out of the question. It could all be part of some larger joke, but she wondered who would put that much time aside just to mildly embarrass her. Joffrey liked to shame her, but he could do so much more obviously and cruelly than this.
No. It seemed much more likely that the gift was a genuine, if confusing, one. When Sansa had envisioned herself receiving bouquets from an admirer, she had anticipated roses in all colours of the rainbow, sunflowers from the Reach, perhaps even Dornish orchids. She hadn’t expected… this.
“What are you?” She asked the little plant on the windowsill, wondering what it all meant. Perhaps there was some sort of book on botany in the library she could read on the subject. That decided her task for the day, and so Sansa dressed herself (her gowns being far too small for her to care much about how well they were tied at the back) and descended into the dusty archives.
They were mercifully empty. There was no one to hear her, therefore, when she snapped Maester Marlon’s Flowers of the Seven Kingdoms shut two hours after opening it. She had similar bad luck with Botanical Specimens of Essos, and A Horticultural Guide to Naath.
Itching her eyes from the dust, head aching from the dull writings of the maesters, Sansa finally gave up trying to find the name of the plant from books. Returning reluctantly to her rooms, she collected the offending specimen and carried it to her last port-of-call (and last resort); Maester Pycelle’s rooms.
The Maester had no patients in that moment, and so he allowed her inside. Pycelle made her feel even more uncomfortable than Baelish, and it took all of her courage to stand still and quiet while the old man fussed around the plant, prodding and poking it periodically.
After what felt like hours (a substantial amount of which was taken up by the Maester’s wandering eyes) he finally gave a wheeze of a sigh.
“Yes, I have seen such a specimen before. It grows mostly in waterlogged areas; in Westeros they’re largely found across the Neck, but warmer-weather specimens can also be found-“
“What’s it called?” Sansa asked, suddenly impatient. It was unlike her to interrupt, but between her anticipation to learn more about her ‘admirer’ and her wish to leave Pycelle’s vicinity made patience seem null and void.
The man fixed her with his rheumy eyes. “Its common name is Sundew.”
Sansa let out a small sigh of relief. That was a perfectly acceptable name; in fact, it was rather lovely. She could see why it was called sundew, with the beads scattered across its flowers. Perhaps she had been right to think her admirer merely clumsy with the names of his gifts. It seemed as though he had realised his error, and aimed to correct it.
“Would you like to see something interesting about sundew?” Pycelle was asking her, as he shuffled over to a shelf. Before she could answer, he had already pulled something out of a drawer in its depths, and returned to the plant.
He held up the item in his fingers to show her. Sansa nearly recoiled; between a yellowing fore-and-thumbnail, he held a wriggling insect. Then, with a toothless grin, he dropped the creature onto the sundew.
Sansa watched mutely as the insect tried to prise itself off the flower. The dewy drops, however, held it fast. She watched as it struggled feebly, vainly, to be free. With a shudder, she turned her face away.
“Eventually the fronds will fold over and pull the beetle inside the plant, where it is digested,” Pycelle was saying from somewhere far away. Sansa barely heard him. She felt nothing but cold horror in her chest.
Why would my admirer give me something as monstrous as this? Sansa thought desperately. It didn’t make sense to her; she shook her head slightly, trying to understand. She couldn’t believe that it was another act of clumsiness. What, then?
Was it some sort of threat? A warning? Was she in danger, like that beetle caught in the plant’s trap, slowly but surely heading to a horrible death?
Pycelle must have noticed her paleness, and the shortness of her breath, for he stopped.
“Are you unwell, my lady?”
Sansa forced herself to give him a wan smile. She didn’t want to give the old lecher a reason to give her one of his inspections. ‘“No, I… pardons, Maester. I’ve just remembered that I have somewhere to be. Thank you for your help, but I must leave.”
The Maester tried to protest, but Sansa had already found the door before she could hear his reply. She was only vaguely aware of him calling behind her, as she wiped bitter tears from her eyes, that she had forgotten her plant.
For all of their silliness, the Tyrell ladies were useful in keeping Sansa’s spirits afloat.
“It’s likely that he didn’t realise,” Megga assured her around her fourth fruit tart. “To be fair, it looks like a merely unusual flower.”
Margaery had a different hypothesis. “Perhaps it’s meant as some sort of obscure metaphor?” She asked no one in particular, curling a lock of hair round her finger. “Hmm… a carnivorous plant… Perhaps it means that his love for you is all-consuming?”
“His feelings are devouring him,” Elinor suggested.
“Maybe he wants to eat you,” Alla quipped, “and not necessarily as food. After all, remember the naked ladies.”
Sansa ignored the tittering that Alla’s comment caused, instead flipping idly through the book in her hands. Between the five of them, they had found no possible meaning for the strange insect-eating sundew. Margaery had a small tome on all of the meanings of conventional courting flowers; it was just Sansa’s poor luck to have gotten something beyond dahlias and daisies.
Despite the others’ opinions, Sansa couldn’t help the tight knot of worry that twisted her belly. What if she had been right to assume it was some sort of warning? While she was no longer Joffrey’s betrothed, she was still a hostage of the crown- a hostage with links to the largest of the Seven Kingdoms. Surely no one would be planning to kill her?
Their little gathering was interrupted by a knock at the door. Sansa opened it to reveal a servant, not her own, who bowed low at the sight of her.
“Milady,” the chambermaid said, “I found these outside of your rooms and thought it best to give them to you. They’re so lovely, would be a shame if they got stepped on.”
In her soot-smeared hands was a small posy of flowers. They were star-like in shape, with indigo petals that faded to white at their centres. They were held together with a silvery ribbon, clumsily tied into a knot.
Gingerly, Sansa took them from the girl. “Thank you,” she said, not quite hearing the words as she stepped back into her chambers. The Tyrell girls looked over at her with renewed interest. Elinor nearly fell over her skirts in her rush to see what Sansa held in her hands.
“Oh, they’re lovely,” Elinor breathed. “Margaery, come and see. We grow these in Highgarden, along the borders. They grow up in spring, right after the snows melt.”
“We haven’t had snow in Highgarden for years, Elinor, so I’m not sure how you know that,” Margaery interrupted, moving her cousin aside. “Hmm, but they are familiar. Your admirer grows bolder, Sansa. We might have heard him leaving these for you, passing right outside the door.”
Sansa felt uneasy at that, but the thought intrigued her nevertheless. These flowers seemed harmless enough, though she would wait until she knew exactly what they were before she let herself relax.
“I saw no one outside save the maid who gave them to me,” Sansa answered. Taking the empty vase from her dresser, she placed the posy gently inside. For a moment, she only stared at them.
Then she remembered, many years ago, some miller’s daughters in the Winter Town plaiting their hair with flowers such as those after the summer snow had thawed. Sansa had wanted some too, but she was a lady, and ladies didn’t muddy their dresses by pulling up flowers from the roadside.
“Glory-of-the-snow,” she recalled, touching one of the little flowers. “They grow near Winterfell. My mother sometimes kept them in a vase by her bedside once the snows were melted.”
Margaery laughed heartily. Sansa was taken aback, glancing up at the Tyrell girl with growing puzzlement.
“Not a very subtle metaphor, but we’ll give credit where it’s due.” Margaery grinned, plucking one of the flowers from the posy and tucking it behind Sansa’s ear. “I suppose you’re meant to be the glory of the snow- the Northern beauty plucked so far from home.”
It took a few moments for the words to sink in. Sansa lifted a hand to the stem of the flower, feeling its slightly fuzzy edge against her finger. In a heartbeat, all of her fears about the gifts being malicious faded to nothingness. What was left in its place was a strange sort of warmth; a tug in her chest, below her ribcage, that made her heart ache.
“And you still have no idea who would send you flowers?” Margaery asked her again.
“No,” Sansa murmured, wracking her brain. The men of the court didn’t like to show her any courtesies, let alone shower her with gifts, to avoid angering Joffrey. Lord Baelish had an interest in her, she could tell, but he seemed just as eager as everyone else to preserve his own good relations with the King to have gotten her flowers.
“Like I said,” Elinor interjected, elbowing Margaery lightly, “they’re the first to bloom after cold weather. Maybe it’s some sort of message… I don’t know, I’m not as good as Margaery with these things… That he wants to start something over? A new beginning, perhaps?”
Sansa made no reply, gazing down at the vase. Margaery, on the other hand, had no such reservations.
“Unless Sansa’s already had some sort of dalliance she’s not told us about, I doubt it’s someone wanting to ‘begin again’. Perhaps we should find Clegane; he was standing guard at the far end of the hall when we came in. He will have seen whoever it was that left them.”
Something prickled uncomfortably in the back of Sansa’s mind. Clegane. Clegane, who always snarled and snapped at her; Clegane, who saved her from the riots and offered to take her home.
She wheeled around to face her friends. “I have a theory to test,” she told them suddenly, stepping past their shocked faces. “I shan’t be long.”
She found Sandor Clegane at the bottom of the Serpentine. Night was closing in around the Keep, and he was leaning heavily against the stone wall. As she got nearer to him, Sansa saw him straighten his spine, pulling himself to his full height.
“Good evening,” she greeted, careful not to add any ‘sers’ or ‘lords’.
The Hound said nothing, merely grunted before taking a long pull from his wineskin. He wasn’t drunk yet; in the dim light, Sansa could see that his gaze was steady, unclouded by the anger that descended when he was too far into his cups.
“Lady Margaery tells me that you were standing guard in my hallway in Maegor’s earlier this evening,” she continued sweetly, holding his gaze. It wouldn’t do to anger him, she realised; it would only leave her questions unanswered.
“Not a crime, little bird, unless you want to take it up with Joff.” Clegane took another sip of wine, his eyes never leaving hers but narrowing suspiciously. “Lots of noble ladies roosting on that floor; he wanted his dog to guard the cage.”
Sansa nodded. “I see.” She took a deep breath, knowing how stupid she would sound for asking. “Some flowers were left outside my door while the Tyrell ladies were visiting, and I was wondering-“
“Which pretty lord left them there for you?” Clegane finished with a bitter laugh. “Which golden knight? How can you be sure it wasn’t a manservant, or Moon Boy for all it matters?”
Feigning calm (how much better she had gotten at it!), Sansa took a step forward. Tall though she was, she still had to crane her neck to look Clegane in the face. In the half-light cast by the torches, his burns looked redder, glistening crimson and black as he sneered down at her.
“No,” she finished patiently, though her heart was hammering. “I was wondering why you chose them.”
He stared at her quite blankly. “What are you talking about, girl?”
“The flowers,” she repeated. “The glory-of-the-snow. They’re very lovely- all of the flowers you’ve given have been- but none of them are conventional choices in the language of flowers. I couldn’t derive their meaning at all.”
Somehow, the Hound’s face turned even more frightful. His glare narrowed, and his frown made the muscles of the burned side twitch madly.
“What buggering nonsense-“
“You said you’d never lie to me,” Sansa interrupted, before he could continue to snarl. “So I’d thank you not to do it now. You’re even worse at it than me.”
She wanted to clap her hand over her mouth for those words- it wasn’t like her to speak so flippantly!- but Sansa made herself stand her ground. Clegane made a small movement (a flinch, almost), before gritting his teeth.
After what felt like hours, but must have been only minutes, the Hound spoke.
“I thought you’d like them.”
It was the simplest explanation she could have expected, and yet the implication of it utterly threw her. He got them because he thought I’d like them.
How long had it been since someone had done such a thing for her?
“And… and the ‘naked ladies’?” Her voice had lost some of its strength, and the Hound noticed.
“An unfortunate coincidence,” he rumbled through clenched teeth. He was angry, Sansa realised, but not at her. It was a strange experience. “Unless you’re offering, of course.”
Sansa gasped at that, but his attempt at humour steadied her nerves a little.
“After you’d told me what a terrible job I’d done with the last one, I wanted to check the name was nice too. Got it from some Ibbenese merchant in Flea Bottom.”
Unsure whether she wanted to know why he had been in Flea Bottom, or why an Ibbenese merchant had at that, Sansa pressed on. “Did you know it was carnivorous?”
For the first time that night, the Hound seemed completely thrown off guard. “Carnivorous.”
Sansa had to repress her smile. Clumsy but sincere. Perhaps she should listen to herself more; she wasn’t as stupid as everyone wished her to be.
“Yes. It likes beetles especially.”
Clegane passed an enormous, hairy-backed hand across his face. “Of fucking course,” he muttered, more to himself than her. Then, he looked at her from between his fingers. “How did you know?”
“That it was you?” She asked, scuffing the toe of her boot against the cobbles. “I didn’t. A lucky guess, I suppose.”
Clegane’s eyes narrowed again at that, but before he could lower the arm from his face she grasped it in her hands. She made deft work of tying the silver ribbon around his wrist (his bicep was much too large), taking deliberate care with the bow to show him how it was meant to be done.
“I’m no knight, girl,” he told her, too softly to be in anger. She gave him a long look, before leaning on her toes to kiss his cheek.
“And I’m no little bird,” she answered, “but you may think of me as one all the same.”