They all stood in the yard waiting. Arya was missing as usual but the rest were all dressed and sombre. The king was arriving after all. Him and all the knights and ladies, all the way from the capital.
Sansa could hardly contain her excitement. She was trying to stifle a smile when Robb nudged her and jutted his chin out in the other direction.
"Where's you sister?" Her mother whispered urgently. Sansa shrugged. This day won't be spoiled why anyone, not even Arya, she had decided.
The first of the king's bannermen were through the portcullis when Arya ran to take her place beside Sansa.
The king and queen where greeted first. Her father was the king's best friend she'd heard. They had embraced and the king spoke to the Stark children before going away to the crypts. The queen had protested but all sansa could think about was how beautiful she was.
The Prince was behind them. Golden haired and handsome, he rode a white horse. He smiled at her and Sansa's heart quickened. She smiled back shyly. Beside her Robb stood with a questioning look of his face.
That's when sansa saw him. He rode a black stallion, towering over everyone around him. He wore a dark grey armour with a black cloak and his helm- a snarling hound with teeth bared. He looked frightful to her like midnight sky walking among daylight dreams.
The visor was down yet sansa peered to look at his face. Robb was muttering something which sounded like appreciation but she wasn't paying attention. She scarce looked at anyone else, the black rider fascinated her so.
A beautiful man with golden hair like the prince's said something to the man in the dog helm and he began to remove it.
Sansa's felt her breath catch in her throat so excited was she to see who he was.
He removed his helm as she stole glances at him. His hair was black too. It came down to his shoulders and the wind was blowing it onto his forehead. His brow was heavy and his nose was hooked. The lines from his cheekbones cut sharp towards the corners of his mouth. She couldn't see his eyes, but she imagined they'd be black too.
His gaze swept across the yard and he pulled up beside the prince.
He was so close now, just a few feet in front of him,
Sansa felt a blush creeping up. She felt hot all over suddenly.
It was around dinner time when Robb and Arya and Jon had told sansa that the prince was asking about her.
Their guests form king's landing were shown to their rooms. Sansa wondered where the black knight was.
She couldn't stop thinking about him even though he looked awfully older.
But his hair and his cloak, the way they flowed about him. She felt herself flush at the thought. He was so tall too, Sansa had seen him walking behind the prince.
"Do you think he's taller than Hodor?" Sansa asked Jeyne Poole once they sat away from the rest, in their corner by the window.
"No.. but he is awfully tall. Did you see the Queen's brother? He was so handsome.." Jeyne went on about Jamie Lannister while Sansa was still preoccupied.
".. They say he's the best swordfighter in the seven kingdoms," Sansa heard Jeyne say as she looked outside the window. That seemed to catch the other's attention.
"He's not. He's been unhorsed in too many tourneys," Robb said.
"Ser Barristan Selmy is the best swordfighter," Jon added. "Barristan the Bold they call him."
"Aren't there any girl knights?" Arya asked.
"No, little sister," Jon said messing up Aryas already messed up hair.
They had to go to dinner soon, Sansa got up to fetch a hairbrush before they were called for dinner. She wouldn't have her mother embarrassed.
"Then I'll be the first one. All great fighters are knights." Arya said.
"Not all.' Jon said. "The prince's sworn shield isn't a knight and the queen trusts only him to keep her son safe."
Sansa was beside Arya brushing out the tangles as delicately as she could.
"Leave me be."
"We've to go to the feast soon and I wont have you take this rats nest to dinner. Now hold still."
Arya muttered something then said to Jon, "Was he the one wearing the dog helmet?"
Sansa's hand stopped mid brush. She looked up then down again trying to cover up the flush in her cheeks.
"Yes. He's Lord Gregor Clegane. Bannerman to Lord Tywin, the Queen's father," Robb said.
Sansa's ears were perked up, "Lord? Nor Ser?"
"He's not a knight. They say he hates knights so he won't say the vows even though they've been wanting to make him one for years," came the reply from Jon who was stroking his chin like a wizened maester.
"Oh," Sansa had hoped he'd be a knight.
"I heard he tried to kill his brother," Robb said.
Sansa's eyes shot up, "He wouldn't," she insisted.
"And you know this because?"
"Well because.." because he's too handsome to be so wicked, and so... mysterious "-- cause the queen wanted to knight him, so he must be good."
That seemed the funniest thing to them and Robb and Jon burst into laughter. Arya joined in though Sansa didn't know if she understood what they were laughing at.
Gregor is such an ugly name, she thought. He doesn't look like a Gregor.
"Who told you all this?" Sansa asked once they were don't laughing.
"The squires and the stable boys," Jon said.
"Though most were new in their service, not everyone came from King's Landing," mused Robb.
"So you don't know for sure then," Sansa said happily. She finished putting Aryas hair in braids and the little girl flitted off to get her practice sword as soon as it was done.
"I suppose we could ask him ourselves tonight," Robb said.
"No!" Sansa squealed. It would be most unseemly to inquire Lords about their plans to murder their own brother.
Robb and Jon exchanged a look and laughed again.
Singers had come today. They were singing a northern song the wisps on lips, an old song about a spirit who lived in the forest who fell in love with a prince. Sansa loved the song.
She sat with her siblings, except for Jon who was seated among the household guard.
She looked around for Lord Gregor but couldn't find him. Few things had made her so disappointed.
Her parents sat with the king and the queen on the top dias. She looked and the pPrinc Joffrey wasn't there either.
Jeyne sat next to her, whispering the whereabouts of comely knights in the hall.
Sansa nodded and looked but only for Jeynes sake.
Sansa was looking at the queen when she felt a light hand in her shoulder, "My lady, may I join you?" The Prince asked, his emerald eyes twinkling.
Sansa got up hurriedly, "I'd be honoured, your grace," she said.
That meant he's here too, he is the prince's sworn shield, she thought. The thought made her blush again.
The Prince was gallant, He told her of the dishes in kings landing and the jokes of their party.
They shared some food and Sansa had a little wine.
When the queen called her, she could scarce keep drom skipping all the way up.
"How are you little dove?" The Queen's voice was silky and kind. "Why you are but a beauty."
Sansa couldn't have kept her smile demure for the life of her. She felt herself grin from ear to ear.
"Thank you, your grace."
"How old are you?"
"Thirteen your grace."
"She is lovely as the winter flowers we saw," the Prince was beside her.
Sansa turned to curtsy for the prince when she backed into something hard.
He stood behind her, a hand on the hilt of his sword, on the cramped dias.
He was so close but she hasn't heard him come up. How can someone so large be so quiet?
"I'm sorry My Lord," she said immediately flushing scarlet.
"He's not a lord, he's the Hound," the prince laughed.
Sansa didn't understand, She looked at her mother, who gave her the smallest shrug of confusion.
"Clegane has been Joffrey's shield for years, his loyalty is unquestionable," the Queen said.
Lord Clegane only made a gruff sound, like a grunt.
His loyalty is unquestionable, surely he's a true knight, Sansa thought as she drifted off to sleep that night.
The next morning, after Sansa got dressed, she went to find Jeyne and her siblings. She saw them standing at the balcony watching something in the yard.
"What are you watching?" She asked sitting down between Arya and Jeyne.
"They're having sword fights, look." Robb replied.
Tommen and Bran fought with wooden swords in the corner but the main attraction was the knights.
They hadn't any armour on but they fought just the same.
The ones fighting were two men she hasn't seen while coming, one wore a white cloak, the other a blue one.
Their swords crossed and made a clinking noise Sansa didn't care for. Her eyes searched the audience down below, they all were strangers. Lannister men, she realised.
She searched in the audience for a while.(How can someone so big be so hard to find?) Every black object caught her attention.
"The Prince isn't here, Sansa," Jeyne said.
Before Sansa could answer, Arya said, "she isn't looking for the Prince. She's looking for Lord Clegane," loud enough for half the yard to hear. They all looked up to where the voice came form and reflexly Sansa pushed back in her chair falling over with a thud.
There was some laughter but she didn't think anyone in the yard saw her fall.
Robb helped her up, all of them silently laughing.
Tears stung in her eyes and she hurried off.
It wasn't until a few hours later that she calmed down.
She took Lady for a walk, trying to forget the embarrassment of the morning.
"Sansa," her father called.
"Did you hurt your head little one?" Lord Eddard rubbed the back of her head.
"No. It doesn't hurt now," she picked at the leash in her hand. "What did Arya tell you?"
Her father's smile betrayed the truth, he knew! She was aghast.
She felt another hand, large and heavy rest on her shoulder. Her heart skipped a beat.
It was the King, she saw and curtsied immediately.
"Clegane," the King bellowed, his hand rubbing Sansa's shoulder.
She looked up at her father desperately asking for help but he was doing his best not to laugh.
Sansa felt herself blush harder and harder as the clink clink of touching steel to steel grew louder.
"Yes, your grace," came the voice behind her, rasping and deep, it reminded her, vaguely, of the way Shaggydog growled.
Sansa wouldn't forget her manners. She curtsied to him too though he'd have paid more attention to a flea on his horse.
"Someone was looking for Lord Clegane this morning," the King said. Sansa was horrified, but she was determined to not let it show. She stared at his large boots, black. Black black and so much black.
Suddenly she was wondering again if his eyes were black too. She only had to look up and see. Just look up, but she couldn't.
"Send them to my father's grave then," he said crassly. Now Sansa's eyes shot up unwittingly.
She must have looked terrified because he caught a glimpse at her and started laughing, another deep rumble. Like someone tamed thunder.
The king laughed too, at her or his answer, she could not say.
"Take the Lady Sansa to see sword fighting," the king commanded.
"There are no sword fights. Ended this morning," he said.
"Well find an opponent then," the king waved him off. He gave a curt nod as the king walked dragging her father with him.
"Come, quick now," he said, turned and started walking, She had to almost jog to keep pace with him, Lady too.
He seemed to notice and slow down.
They'd taken the long way around but her heart was in her throat, and all her life blood was in her face.
At least he hasn't noticed she thought, half relieved half sad.
She peered up to see his eyes but the sun was too bright and him too tall.
"I'm sorry," she said after what felt like extremities of silence.
"For what?" He sounded angry.
He hates me for embarrassing him.
"For your father," she said truly.
He stopped suddenly and looked down at her.
"You said he passed on," she ventured, desperately wanting to but not daring to put her hand on his.
"Was a long time ago. No matter all that," he said, walking fast again.
She tried her best to keep up with him but her dress got caught in a loose nail and the fabric tore a little.
She bent down to free it but it just tore more and more.
He was walking away, too fast, "my Lord," she called to him but around three men turned yet he did not, "my Lord.. Ser!"
She tugged at her skirt, "Ser Gregor," she called out desperately. He stopped stiff in his tracks.
Good. He heard.
He started walking back to her and she fumbled about the nail again.
A gloved hand yanked her up, he was there quicker than she expected. "What did you call me?" He snarled.
"I'm sorry, I meant no offense ser," she began, clawing at his fingers. "Please it hurts," she said.
He loosened his grip and squatted next to her, his face inches from hers.
"Don't you call me that," it sounded like a threat.
"I called you 'my Lord' but you didn't hear, so I used your first name," she started saying by way of explanation.
The corner of his mouth twitched and he threw his head back laughing bitterly, "and who told you my name?" He asked amused more than anything else now.
"Robb," she said, "He said you were bannermen to Lord Tywin, the Queen's father. And your sigil is -"
"I know what my sigil is," he cut her off letting go of her arm. "And who told Robb my name is Gregor?"
"I.. I don't know my Lord, must be one if the stable boys or.. or the squires.."
He looked into her eyes now.
Grey. Not black. Her heart gave a little flutter.
"What did you say?" He raised his brow.
"The the squires must have told him, my Lord."
"No, after that. You said grey?"
Sansa's eyes widened for a second and a hand went up to clamp her mouth shut. She'd said that out loud.
"What's grey?" He hissed, angry again.
"Nothing.. nothing my Lord," she said wanting to be anywhere else other than under his searching eyes.
"Don't lie," he growled.
"Y.. your eyes, m.. my Lord," she stammered out.
He blinked as if he didn't register for a second, then an icy chill spread over those grey eyes of his.
"You don't worry yourself about my father-" he tugged at the nail," and my name," he pulled her towards him stretching the skirt, " and my eyes," finally he pulled it out and she stood up smoothing down her skirts.
It all felt so cold now that he was walking beside her again, not kneeling in front of her.
She tried to say something but all words were lost.
"Santagaar," he said to a tall man but not nearly as tall as the Hound, with reddish brown hair. "Bring your sword, little lady wants to see a sword fight." He walked off without waiting for an answer, she half jogged to keep up with him.
In the yard, Ser Rodrick, Jon, Robb and the Imp stood talking. Sansa peered at the Queen's other brother. Why he's shorter than Bran.
"Not babysitting today Clegane?" The Imp called out, his mismatched eyes twinkling.
"I wasn't but looks like I am again now that you're here," Clegane shot back.
"Lady Sansa," the Imp called, "you look lovely as a rose. And as red too might I say. Is our good dog giving you grief?"
"Did they kick you out of the brothels here Imp? Can't imagine you outside one willingly," Sansa looked up to see Clegane's mouth twist in a mocking half smile.
Tyrion Lannister ignored him, his gaze still on Sansa. "I.. no my Lord, I missed the sword fights this morning so Lord Gregor is kind as to have another one.." immediately she kicked herself for saying Gregor instead of Clegane. "I'm sorry my Lord, I forgot," she said quickly.
The Imp's eyebrows shot up at the name and he looked over at the hound.
"Didn't tell me you've changed your name Lord Gregor," the Imp said to Clegane.
She saw Robbs eyes widen in alarm and she knew she'd messed something up.
Before Clegane could respond, the man with brown hair arrived.
"Go sit there," the Hound said to her, pushing her gently in the direction of the chairs.
She obliged, Robb, Jon and the imp joined her. Ser Rodrick handed the hound a long sword that looked so heavy Sansa wondered if she could lift it with both hands.
He grabbed it and bounced the hilt in his hand as if trying to weigh it.
"He's testing the balance," Jon said.
"Lady Sansa," the Imp said tentatively, "What did the Hound say when you called him Gregor?"
"He was angry my Lord," her eyes flitted to Robb. "And he asked me who told me his name."
The Imp nodded. "He didn't.. He didn't threaten you or anything?" He ventured.
Sansa shook her head no.
"Well he must like you a great deal then to let you get away with it twice," his eyes twinkled and Sansa's heart fluttered at the words.
She felt herself flush again and looked at her feet beside Lady's paws. She suppressed a smile biting her lip.
"If you wanted to count your toes why'd you drag me all this way here?" Clegane rasped..
She looked up wordlessly, paying full attention.
Santagaar had taken his position too.
Once they began it was mostly the clink clink sansa disliked but she started anyway. Stared at his form and grace.
There were several cross cuts, then a large swing from the Hound and Santagaar's sword lay on the ground.
"Join in Arys," the hound called to someone behind her. A small group had formed behind her and from them a handsome knight all in white stepped onto the field.
The other knight was leaving when the Hound said, "pick up your sword Aron. Come on my grandmother's faster than you."
The Hound stood on one side and the other two knights on the opposite, two against one they fought.
The cuts were coming from both sides now, and he twisted and lunged twirling his sword in hand like it was a wooden stick.
"You know he is showing off for you," Lord Tyrion said leaning in, as the Hound swatted the sword high from Ser Arys's hands and caught it mid air.
Sansa flushed again. She could believe he was one of the best fighters in the realm.
A strange feeling if pride bubbled up inside her.
The day had been wonderful, Sansa decided.
He's showing off for you.. He must like you a great deal.. She sang in her head, again and agian.
Then during dinner the queen had praised her stitching. They were talking fine till the prince came and started calling him dog again.
Sansa didn't like that but she kept her mouth shut lest it get her in trouble.
Then he'd come up to the dias again, so close to her that she was certain he could hear her heart pounding.
After the prince and his guard had left the queen said, "my goodness little dove you positively red," then she looked after the receding form of the Hound. "Well I suppose he does have a deadly sort of charm," she mused.
That was about as much as Sansa could take on the matter. She excused herself at dinner and went to get Lady so they'd go on a walk.
When she reached the kennels, someone was already there, she peeped inside but it was too dark to make out the face.
"Lady," she called, untying her wolf and hugging her neck. "It was such a wonderful day," she told her.
"And why is that?" A voice came from inside the kennels. A deep voice, like winter winds.
He emerged from the kennel with a large dog at his heels - old Bruno.
"I.. I didn't know you were here my Lord," Sansa said.
He scruffed old Bruno underneath his floppy ears.
The dog whimpered agreement.
He looked at her as if waiting an answer still.
"It was a lovely day, and they had lemon cakes and.. And I taught Lady to shake hands.." Her voice trailed off. "I also liked the sword fights, you were very good my Lord."
"Can I touch her?" He asked nodding at Lady. Her answer hung in the air unacknowledged.
She nodded consent and he got on one knee, holding a hand up for lady to sniff it.
He went on the pet her, gently at first then like he'd known her for years, he used both hands, ruffled up her fur and took her paws in his hands. Even when she put her forepaws on his shoulders, he didn't send to mind.
"It's like shes known you all her life," Sansa said admiring him.
"My grandfather was a kennelmaster. It's in my blood I suppose," he said.
"Kennelmaster?" Sansa said, incredulous.
"Aye, used to work for Lord Tytos Lannister."
"No wonder," now that she had him in a good mood she'd wanted to get some answers.
"My Lord may I ask you something?"
"Why.. Why won't you let people call you by your first name?"
"You haven't called me by my first name."
Then it dawned on her.
"My Lord another question," she said softly.
"Yes," he said as if he was expecting this.
"What is your name?"
Her heart fluttered again.
Sandor is much better than Gregor.
A smile bloomed and she in her head she sang: Sandor - Sansa - Sansa - Sandor.