“My King, I now see wolves and dogs…and weirwoods in the fires. Before, I only saw snow at the Wall, and dead things walking towards it. It is right that we head north. We must meet with Lord Robb Stark and turn him north, for the night is dark and full of terrors. We will find the answers we need at the Wall.”
“I sent the so-called King in the North a response to his message. My new ships and men were already preparing to head north to East Watch from Essos. We will send the rest of our standing army North on our big ships, and we shall take a few smaller ships up river to Riverrun. We should be there in just over a sennight. What else do you see?
“A marriage. A joining of forces that may bring on the new dawn.”
“I cannot see this clearly. Since you are the prince who was promised, it may be you. I need more blood, my King.”
“I already have a wife, but take what you need from me.”
“But you do not have an heir. A true king must have an heir, and she cannot give you one.” Stannis pulls out his dagger to prick his finger, and the red woman stops him. “I have taken all the secrets you can give me. The fires tell me the same things, fire and ice. I need the blood of ice to see through the flames.”
“Lord Stark says he has my brother’s bastard, a smith’s apprentice, Gendry Waters. Cersei tried to have him killed, along with the other royal bastards."
"His blood may do us well enough. Maybe we can even get to the King in the North.”
“We are not taking enough men on our detour. I do not want to fight a war on three fronts. Two is risky enough.”
“Had you brought me to King’s Landing, my king, we would have the Iron Throne. Now however, only the Great War to come truly matters.” He just looks at her, torn between shutting her up and conceding the mistake.
The day after Gendry's arrival, King Robb Stark had sent out a missive by raven to King Stannis Baratheon at Dragonstone. He let Stannis know a bastard son of dead King Robert Baratheon is under Robb’s protection. It is not Robb’s preferred method of communicating critical news, but the time is short, and the distance is great. He is seeking a meeting with King Stannis, and exploring the possibility of legitimizing Gendry Waters, to stab at the heart of the inbred, double Lannister, bastard king. Let the Baratheons fight for the Iron Throne. King Robb only wants an independent North and revenge on the bastard for his lord father's death.
Robb got a response that not only will Stannis meet with him and Gendry, but also he was already preparing to travel North by sea. Somehow he has secured a new fleet, since the battle for King's Landing. The majority of the new fleet was headed North to Eastwatch by the Sea, Stark lands, while also neutral territory. Stannis is diverting some of his smaller ships around Crackclaw Point, through the Bay of Crabs, to the Red Fork, directly to Riverrun to meet. He also estimated that he would be well in route, before the letter arrived; and would send a raven when they were two days away.
Robb immediately sends out raven to Riverland and Northern houses on the water’s edge to send scouts along the expected routes, to follow King Stannis' and his ships’ progress north to the Wall and west to Riverrun. This will ensure they pose no threat. He also sends a raven to his dear brother at the Wall, to advise him of Baratheon men headed his way.
As he prepares for their arrival, he consults with his small council. He also privately meets with Lord Clegane, since he is not on his small council. The Hound is the only one in his camp that has had extensive experience with Stannis. The young king also has hard news for Clegane about his upcoming marriage to Sansa.
Once Sandor is situated, Robb starts, "Lord Clegane, I have already briefed the other lords, King Stannis is headed here, and is due in less than a sennight, based on my scouts. The bulk of his men are traveling to the Wall via Eastwatch. I have need to send men there with his men, which will prevent Stannis from an overreach in Stark lands."
"Sounds like a job for the Greatjon, and the Bears."
"It is, but we agreed that it is not enough.”
Sandor's head drops and his hands form fists, knowing where this is going. They want the Hound to run north with the stags, wolves, bears and giants. He turns cold eyes back to the King in the North. "Where ever my lands are, North is the opposite direction."
"There's another thing. A scroll arrived earlier today. I will not lie to you, I have read it," Robb looks down at the scroll on his desk, more to get away from those deadly eyes, than anything else.
"If you don't trust me, why send me North."
Robb schools his face to look his good brother in the eye. "I trust you to tell me true. Otherwise, Sansa would become an Umber or Glover, not a Clegane. It's the Lannisters and Baratheons I don't trust. This is the deed to your lands, Lord Clegane." Robb picks it up and offers it to Sandor. He slowly reaches for it, for fear it will vanish before his eyes. He looks at the large scroll wrapped in Lannister red pig skin, but after several heartbeats, does not open it. "Will you not open it?"
"I need to open it with my wife. Otherwise, she may peck my eyes out."
"Understood. You smartly fear your wife. I have to admit, thinking of my little sister as a wife to anyone does my head in."
"I had a sister. I do understand that.”
"I didn't know you have a sister."
"Seven hells, sorry." Sandor just looks at Robb and gives a single nod of acceptance. He does not trust his voice. The little bird's fresh grief at her lost little brothers made tender his old wounds. The two men share a solemn moment, to let their separate losses wash over them. Robb quickly wants to changes the subject. He clears his throat, but the first words fail him, and come out as a small squeak. He coughs to regain his voice and takes a solid breath. "The group will head out shortly after the wedding."
"Two, maybe three days. I can only hold Stannis here so long."
"Fuck me sideways. Sansa will not be happy with either of us. This is one reason why I never thought I would marry; long campaigns from home."
"I can tell you from personal experience, the welcome home almost makes up for the loss." Sandor remembers he was saved from a round trip to return the Kingslayer. His deed in hand is proof of the completion of his Lannister duties. Except for his trip to retrieve the wolf girl, he and Sansa have been near each other since King Robert's retinue descended on Winterfell like a swarm of locusts.
Sansa did sneak into his room to welcome him back upon his return with her sister. It was the sweetest gift he has ever received. That welcome home was from the seventh heaven. However, he is not sure which of them will suffer more at the impending loss of the other.
Sandor finally gets out of his head and contributed to their conversation. "Why is Stannis going to the Wall?"
"He didn't say, but we will keep an eye on him. We are gathering the provisions together. Get me a list of your specific needs." Sandor just nods. "I will leave it to you to tell Sansa."
"Mayhaps your mother would be best to tell her. She would never stab her own mother."
"True, but you will have to ask our mother yourself." Sandor just nods and stands to leave. He turns on his heels and makes a solemn exit. As he is closing the door he wonders at the phrase 'our mother'. The king must have meant 'our', as in Robb's and Sansa's mother, not Sandor's. He heads to Lady Stark's solar, since the ladies are always there working on wedding preparations.
He is allowed into the bastion of women and finds a number of women and fabrics everywhere, but no Sansa. His good mother suggests the kitchen, because that is where she spends most of her waking hours due to 'the stress of planning a wedding'. Sandor takes the servants' hallway into the kitchen and the back door into the larder. He is rewarded with his lovely maiden wife, licking her fingers, and he loves her all the more in this unguarded moment. He sneaks up on her, as she is completely distracted with her pickled vegetable brine.
"Little bird, let me help you with that." He takes first her index finger, and then her thumb, and sucks them clean. She looks on in awe, not quite sure how to process the sensation. He takes a linen napkin from the stack and dips the corner in a bowl of water. He cleans off her hand properly and dries it with another corner, before discarding the linen.
"I have a surprise for you." That announcement brings her out of stupefaction. A glorious smile replaces her former shocked expression. Sandor continues to hold onto her hand with his left hand, while removing his right hand to reach into his tunic. He pulls out the red leather covered scroll, and lays it in her hand.
"What is this?"
"A deed to my lands...our lands, Lady Clegane. I fucking love the sound that, little bird."
"I love being Lady Clegane, and soon everyone must call me that."
"You don't mind giving up your princess title." She is preoccupied with the rolled up scroll in her hand. He grabs a lock of hair, and runs his fingers down the length of it. He is completely transfixed by the color and softness. He wants a daughter with her hair. Actually, he wants all his children to have her everything.
She looks up at him at him. "I prefer the title of lady wife to princess. I learned a fancy title cannot make me happy. Where are your lands, my lord?" The irony of her using his title in this conversation is not lost on him.
"You tell me little bird. I have not looked yet. I wanted to read it with you."
"Then how did you know what it was?"
"Your brother read it first." Her face turns red and her eyes narrow."
"How dare he? This is our business."
"Not a battle worth fighting, little bird. He didn't know what it was. He just knew it came from the Lannisters. There are bigger wars to come." She gives him a look, as she is weighting his words. The balance falls on the side of finding their lands and planning their lives.
"Fine, but if this continues, I will have words with our lady mother." She unrolls the scroll and looks at it. Sandor again realizes the 'our' and 'mother' used together. He wonders if it means something. Sansa begins reading, "On behalf of the Realm, I, Lord Hand Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, hereby bestows upon Sandor of House Clegane, the lands, assets and incomes of..- I fail to understand this. There are a lot of letters, numbers and symbols. I don't know what this means."
He places his hands on her shoulders, and examines the scroll over her shoulder for a name. It lacks the holdfast’s name. He informs her, "Map coordinates, longitude, latitude, total area, a plat of survey. It might not have a formal name. We can name it whatever we want, little bird."
"Let us see the maester, my lord. He can tell us what this means and where it is." Sansa returns the cover to the jar she had raided, and Sandor takes it from her and places it back on the shelf. They leave the larder via the kitchen access door. They were so involved in deciphering the deed, that they didn't realize that Lady Stark had been watching them interact through the slightly ajar door to their backs, in the service hallway. Lady Stark saw how he lovingly stoked Sansa’s hair, and the ease of their interactions. Thank all the gods, old and new, she missed him cleaning her fingers. A mother wolf will cuff a bad Hound, not matter his reputation as a warrior.
Sandor and Sansa arrive in the maester's suite at the top of a high tower of Riverrun. They encounter Maester Vyman, who they have not seen since Sansa lost consciousness at finding out of the loss of her little brothers. The man's ability to handle the many stairs belies his age; the wrinkles on his hands do not. He greets the lord and lady formerly and offers his services.
"Maester Vyman, I- we, most urgently need your assistance; provided you are not otherwise predisposed, of course." Sandor listens to his little bird chirp her courtesies, and rolls his eye. At least in his mind he rolls his eyes. He will not openly show dissent now that his little bird is his little wife.
“Certainly, my lady. How may I serve you?”
“We have a deed to my lord’s lands, and are wonder where they are on a map.” She hands over the red pig skin scroll. The maester rolls it out on a table to read it. He then goes to retrieve a map and unrolls that next to the scroll. He grabs a bundled tool from a high shelf, and then unwraps it. He deftly bends segments into angles and slides moveable notched segments to change the lengths. Sansa looks to Sandor for understanding. He simply shrugs his muscular shoulders and looks back to the working hands of the maester.
The maester passes his index fingers over the numbers on the deed and checks the setting on his instrument. Then he sets the odd shape down on the map and hands Sandor back the deed. “Here are your lands Lord Clegane. They are quite substantial. The Lannister’s definitely have rewarded you well. If you give me a few days, I can draw out a map for you and have my assistant paint it.
“Thank you ever so much Maester Vyman,” Sansa answers for Sandor. She knows Sandor is not a man of many words for anyone, save her. “Do the lands have a name and a pedigree?”
“Well, yes.” He moves to a wooden box and removes a form from it. “It is has been called many things over the centuries,” he places the form down on the edge of their lands. “It is currently known as Harrenhal.” The melted model replica Vyman has placed is now unmistakable.
Vyman continues, “There are small crofts and out building scattered, throughout the large estate. Also, quite a few large farm houses, many now vacant with the war, but I am afraid... the castle itself is quite a shambles, as I am sure you are aware.”
Sansa chin starts to quiver. Their boon has turned into a curse, and fears of a barren womb now crowd her mind. “As Princess Sansa said, thank you. I would appreciate the map?” Sandor tries to stem the flow of tear by ushering Sansa out of the room where they may talk in private, to calm her mind, talk over plans and dream of their future, after the wars to come.
Sandor finds a small alcove that leads to another service hallway. He pulls Sansa within, not ungently. “Don’t cry little bird. All will be well, if I have to rebuild that burnt mess with mine own hands. We don’t even have to live in that wreck of a place. We can live in one of the large farm houses.”
Sansa looks to her husband with watery eyes, “I quite like the idea of a farm house.”
“I do also, but as a princess, you deserve a castle.”
“I just escaped a castle, and found my life in a farm house. It suits me just fine. It will suit us.”
“As you say little bird.”
“But what about the curse?”
“You know I don’t hold any gods. I certainly won’t hold to a curse.” Sansa bites her bottom lip. Sandor takes advantage of no chaperone, and little light in their hiding place, and takes her bottom lip with his own hungry mouth. He kisses her long and deep. He pulls away, before his blood gets too heated, then lowers his forehead to hers. “I can promise you on your gods, old and new, you will be with child on our wedding night.” He knows he should tall her all, but what he did tell her it a truth.
He pulls away and leads her out of their hiding place. Sandor grabs Sansa’s hand and places it in the crook of his arm, like the knight he refused to be, and escorts his lady wife back to her mother to work on the wedding preparations.
Two days before the wedding every task going on in the castle comes to a screeching halt with the blowing of a horn. All of the lords and ladies of Houses Tully, Stark, Clegane, Umber, Glover, Mormont and lesser houses empty out of the castle, from wherever they were and form a receiving line.
As Stannis and his men arrive from the docks by foot, the various lords and ladies are lined up in rank and Sandor tries to move to the back, but his little lady has a death grip on him that he will not shake. So he stands by her side, feeling out of place in this royal family, despite a lifetime and standing amongst a queen and kings. Now he stands as his own man, with his own lady wife.
As the approaching hoard nears, Sandor sees Stannis scan the gathered rows, and then he locks eyes with Sandor. Stannis’s head tilts to the side, as he tries to understand this enigma. Sandor knows he is trying to understand why there is a southron rabid dog among the dignified northorn wolves.
Stannis and his wife first approach their equals, King Robb, and the rarely seen Queen Jeyne. Sandor has scarcely seen Robb’s wife since his arrival. It must be her bad stomach that keeps her indisposed. There is an odd woman trailing behind them, dressed all in red, but not properly dressed for the cool wet winds off the river today.
She moves directly to Sansa and looks her over from head to toe, and back again, but stalls at her belly during her visual return trek. Then she looks at Sandor and moves toward him.
The red woman speaks to him. “You…you are the one I have been seeking.” Stannis’ attention turns to where the red woman stands, and all the yard now focuses on The Hound.