Sansa awoke to the sound of clinking utensils. Even before she opened her eyes, she could smell the aroma of food cooking and could hear the crackle of the fire. Sansa blinked to adjust to the bright light streaming through the windows. From her position on the bed across the room, she could see her mysterious benefactor sitting on a small wooden stool in front of the hearth. His back was turned to her. In the bright daylight, she could see just how large and imposing he was. Either that was a very tiny stool he was sitting on, or he was much more massive than she had initially assessed.
Sansa wasn't sure what to say, so she waited a moment before finally clearing her throat. The man froze for a moment turning his head slightly to the left. Sansa wasn't sure if he was looking at her through his peripheral vision. He turned his head back toward the fireplace.
"Well. It's about time you woke up," he grumbled. He continued working at whatever he was doing, perhaps stirring something in the cauldron that hung over the fire.
"Good morning," she offered hesitantly not knowing what else to say.
"What's your name, girl?" he asked without turning.
"Sansa." She hesitated wondering if she should hand out her last name to a stranger. He would have seen it anyway if he'd gone through her bag. Besides, what difference would it make? "Sansa Stark."
"I'm Sandor Clegane," he said. His words were curt and abrupt as though he had no use for conversation.
After a long, uncomfortable pause, Sansa timidly asked, "Where am I?"
"You're in my cabin."
Sansa waited expecting him to say more than the obvious. When he didn't, she decided that he was either shy, bothered by her intrusion into his peaceful and solitary life, just plain ornery, or maybe even all three.
"I kind of figured that. This doesn't exactly look like the Ramada Inn." She tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, but there had been so much of that in her upbringing that it had become part of her very nature. She regretted her words almost immediately. Sandor Clegane made a sound that reminded her of a snorting bull. This wasn't a very good start.
"I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail," she explained, "but I think I got lost. I'm not even sure if I'm in Oregon or Northern California." The big man's shoulders hitched as he tried to contain his amusement. Sansa felt a slow burn creep up her neck and into her cheeks. She suddenly felt like a toddler under the scrutiny this seasoned outdoorsman. He probably thought she was completely daft.
"You're on the wrong side of Klamath Falls, for sure," he retorted. "By about 90 miles." Sandor turned his head slightly to peer at her out of the corner of his eye. "You've almost made it into Leeston."
"Leeston? Where's Leeston?" she asked.
"East," Sandor stated. He appeared to stop what he was doing for a moment, his shoulders dropping. He angled his face toward her again and said, "A little girl like you has no business traipsing around the mountains by yourself. You're lucky you're not dead."
Maybe she'd gotten lost, maybe she'd wandered off the trail, but Sansa was not a little girl. She was a fairly seasoned hiker. Perhaps taking this trip on her own hadn't been such a good idea, but Sandor Clegane didn't know that and he had no right to call her a little girl. The burn in her cheeks intensified as it turned to anger.
"I'm not a little girl. I'm 27 and I've been hiking for years," she stated indignantly.
Sandor Clegane twisted his head a little further to the left over his shoulder. He stared right at her. "You're lucky you're not dead," he told her in a loud clear voice. He made sure to enunciate each word with emphasis. Sansa was too self-absorbed at that moment to hear the warning in his voice. Sandor watched as Sansa crossed her arms and pouted. This one is used to getting her way, he thought sourly.
"I would have found my way eventually," she moped.
"Yeah, you might have come across a road that led somewhere," he growled. "But not for another 90 miles."
"I would have been fine."
Suddenly Sandor Clegane, mountain man in all respects, bolted to his feet and whirled on her. In two long strides, he was across the floor and leaning over her. "You almost died!" he yelled. He threw a long-handled wooden spoon at the table behind him. It splattered some sort of brown sauce as it bounced across the table and landed on the floor on the other side of the room.
Sansa cowered in the corner of the bed clutching the edge of a ragged patchwork quilt up to her chin. Slowly her attention drifted from the spoon on the floor, to the man who towered over her. She barely breathed as her eyes drifted up muscular legs in worn Wranglers. Thick meaty fists were clenched at his sides. The sleeves of his blue plaid flannel shirt were rolled up above wrists that were probably larger around than her upper arm. He was broad in the chest and shoulders - built like a defensive lineman. As Sansa was finally ready to look him in the eye, she gasped reflexively. The right side of his face was a mass of scar tissue, smooth and waxy looking. Rivulets of pink-white flesh twisted and knotted from the bottom of his jaw bone well onto his scalp where there should have been hair. His right eyebrow drooped slightly giving him a permanent look of deep melancholy.
What Sansa saw in his face at this particular moment was not melancholy. He breathed heavily through clenched teeth, his nostrils flaring. What Sandor saw in Sansa's face was not what he had expected. The girl had gasped when she'd first seen his face. That was no different than any other person who had ever laid eyes on him. But after a moment, the shock on her face quickly disappeared and became a look of curiosity. She tilted her head to look at him more closely. It wasn't the sort of reaction he was used to and made him mildly uncomfortable.
Sandor took a step back as he wiped his sweaty palms on the thighs of his jeans. "I saved your life, little girl." He turned back toward the fireplace stooping to pick up the spoon on his way. As he wiped the spoon with a dishrag, Sandor turned back and looked at Sansa. When she didn't say anything, he shook his head in frustration. "Your welcome!" he growled.