Sandor passes the wineskin back to Beric and stands. Arya’s words still ring in his ears.
“You’re here now. Why? When was the last time you fought for anyone but yourself?”
His answer had been swift but not complete.
“I fought for you,” he had said. “I fought for your sister,” his mind had continued.
Sandor shakes his head at the memory of the past few days: When they arrived in Winterfell, he made straight for the stables. He was no longer a king’s dog. He had no need to be in the courtyard for the nobles to receive each other. Several hours had passed before he caught a glimpse of red hair and nearly felt his knees give out.
She was here. She was alive.
Sandor grips the battlement in front of him. He tries to ignore Beric’s stare and peers out into the darkness beyond Winterfell.
After that glimpse of her, he had kept his nose down and stayed out of sight. In a previous life, he would have been in the yard, barking at the green boys about their terrible form and the joys of battle. He would have bent his fair share of training swords and kept his blood racing. But not now.
Instead, he passed the few days they had in the dark forge. The warmth of the fires set him on edge, but the oppressive heat of the flaming metal was less painful than the memories he was now forced to face. Covering her with his cloak in front of the entire court. Her shaking form as he carried her through the rioting streets of King’s Landing. Dismissing her courtesies at every turn. Leaving her behind. Leaving her.
His fingers tighten on the hard stone, and Beric chuckles.
“The dead will tear down that wall just fine without your help,” he says. Sandor glares at him but removes his hands from the battlement anyway.
“We missed you at the war council,” Beric says.
“Just point me in the direction of those fuckers and that’ll be enough. No need to talk about it for three bloody hours.”
“I thought you were no longer a man who swings his sword wildly and without purpose.”
“Piss off,” Sandor mutters. Beric smiles as he takes another swig from the wineskin.
In the oppressive silence that follows, Arya’s words pass through Sandor’s mind again: What are you doing up here?
In King’s Landing, he had no reason to serve. No purpose to chain him to the king. He ran as soon as he was able. He tried to take her with him. She was the only spark of good in his miserable life, but he wouldn’t force her. Seven hells, after hearing her gentle voice during that night of terror, he could not bring himself to act against her wishes.
She made it home all the same. And she didn’t need his help to do it.
In the murmurs he hears of her, there’s respect. In the glimpses he steals of her, she stands tall and without fear. The world that he so harshly and desperately warned her about appears to have hardened her. He wonders if the little bird he had come to know is still in her.
He glances down at the courtyard below and resists the urge to duck out of sight when he sees her. She’s sharing a meal with the Greyjoy boy. On what could very well be the last night alive for her and everyone she knows, she sits among her people, supping at a simple stew. The spoiled girl he met on the Kingsroad would have scoffed at such a meal. The scared girl he knew in King’s Landing would have trembled at the promise of such danger. But the woman he sees in the courtyard is at ease. She holds her head high around her countrymen and reassures them with her presence. She does this with a serene expression, as if the edge of a battle is exactly where she has always wanted to be.
He has never been one for oaths, but as he stares down at her, he makes one to himself.
This moment, and every moment after, he fights for that look. The fierce determination in her eyes. The ghost of a smile on her lips. His sword will cut down her enemies. His shield will protect her home.
That is the answer to Arya’s question. That is what he’s doing up here.