Sandor and his men rode hard to get back home, winter was slowly finding its way down and they were all eager to get out of the cold. It had been a week now that Sandor had been away from the keep, rent was due- and for as long as he had been Lord, Sandor made sure to show his face when collecting the moneys.
Not to scare the villagers, as the people here had seen his ugly mug for decades now- since he was a child. Since Gregor had done the awful thing, the villagers knew that Gregor was the one to be scared of- not Sandor.
No, Sandor made sure to collect the rents personally to show his people that he was not above them- that they were all the same. People.
He would not sit in his castle- if you could call Clegane Keep a castle- and set out decrees for his people to obey. If Sandor was to ask something of them, he would do it personally.
It was not a large party, only himself and three other fighting men, his solicitor, and a man to drive the wagon. Not everyone could pay with coins, so a lot of his payment was livestock or grain. It was something the people appreciated, that they didn’t have someone like Tywin Lannister as their Lord.
Sandor wasn’t the richest Lord out there, but he had enough- and for at least the moment he had peace across his lands.
Unbeknownst to him all that was about to change, and it all started when he heard the cry of a young child. At first Sandor thought he was hearing things, maybe a noise from one of the goats- but then he heard it again.
Clearly a child.
And he wasn’t the only one, Bronn stopped his horse along side Stranger, and they both strained their ears for a listen. In the woods.
“Bronn, Hamish- come with me. Pod, guard the wagon- if it’s bandits let out a yell. Spread out.” The three of them dismounted, and walked into the woods- ready to pull out their sword if need be.
The woods in the area were a confusing lot, with sounds bouncing around making it hard to find someone with ears alone. But Sandor has always been an experienced tracker, so it wasn’t a surprise when it was him who found the child.
He was a young little boy, with unruly curls- a dark Auburn in color, his little eyes were screwed shut with tears running down his face. Why was he out here on his own? He couldn’t have been more than two or three years old, but what really made his blood boil were the clear bruises on his neck and face.
A twig snapped underfoot and the kids eyes snapped open, his breaths came faster, and Sandor knew this look- the look of a child who was beaten, as Sandor was sure this was how he, himself had looked often in his young years.
He squatted down, trying his best to make his height less intimidating, “C’mere wee one. It won’t be me hurtin ya. Yer safe now.” His lowland accent coming out in full force, yet he tried to keep his voice soft for the lad.
Sandor motioned the boy forward, hoping the kid wouldn’t try to run- as he would be forced to give chase and catch him. There was now way he was leaving a little kid out here alone.
After a few minutes of the two of them just staring at each other, his little legs slowly shuffled forward, the little boys tears seemed to be slowing down, until finally he stood right in front of Sandor. Staring him right in the eyes, it would have made him uncomfortable if the little boy had been staring at his scars this close up- but the kids eyes never moved from his own. As if he was staring right into Sandor’s soul, so he did what he thought best- and opened his arms.
After a beat the boy fell into his arms, shoving his little face into Sandor’s neck- all he could feel were tears and all he could hear were sobs.
Sandor wouldn’t have been able to explain the feeling in his chest, the emotion that seemed to clog his throat- only knowing that he must protect this child. So he stood and walked back to his party, it was strange- the child was dirty and beaten, which suggested he could be a poor orphan- but what confused him more were the boys clothes. They felt fine, and though they were dirty and covered in mud, the clothes were of quality- which suggested something different.
But he did not know this child. Sandor knew all the families in the area, wealthy and poor alike- he had just been collecting all the rents, he should know who this boy was. Sandor could only conclude he wasn’t from around here, another mystery surrounding this child.
Finally arriving at the wagon, Arron- the wagon driver, called out for Pod.
“The Lords back, Pod. And he’s got a little lad with him.” Both came towards him with confusion on their faces- again neither of them recognizing the boy.
Sandor placed the child on the wagon, his eyes taking in the new men around him- not liking it, the boy reached for him yet again.
The small smile was something wouldn’t or couldn’t explain, but he shoved it aside, “Old man, get him some bread and a skin of water... or milk?”
Tears were starting to form yet again, so Sandor placed his hand on the boys back, hoping it would comfort him in some way.
“So where’s he from? He’s all dirty, and those are some wicked bruises, boss.” Pod leaned in closer to get a better look, and when the boy shifted further in towards Sandor, he felt this surge of protectiveness.
“I don’t know, Podrick. He’s not been talkin.” Sandor couldn’t explain his feelings, he knew Podrick wouldn’t hurt a fly- so why was he acting this way towards a child he scarcely knew?
“Okay.. okay, well laddy you got a name? When do kids start talkin? Is he old enough?” Finally Arron came around with the piece of bread and handed it to the boy, with the water in his other hand.
Sandor held the water while the boy ate- more like scarfed the food down, obviously hungry. Probably hadn’t eaten in a long while by the looks of it, “Where’s yer Ma?”
The child looked up at him when Sandor asked the question, with crumbs all over his face, “Ma?”
“Yes! Your mother? Do you-“ As he was about to continue speaking, he heard a shout from Hamish.
“Milord, we’ve found a woman!” From the tone of his voice he knew it wasn’t good, so Sandor shoved the skin of water at Pod with a scowl.
“Watch him. I’ll be back.” Sandor looked back at the little boy, before running towards the direction of this mystery woman.