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The Saltwater Maid

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When the Hound ran from the battle of Blackwater, he never thought he’d end up on the ocean afterwards. But he was a deserter. He had no place in the world, and he still had a pair of strong arms to work with. He’d been on a ship before, although he knew little of what to do, so when he was offered a place on a cargo ship he took it. He quickly learned what was expected of him.

Life out at sea was different, though. He was surrounded by men he did not like, and worked for a man he did not like, but that was something he was used to. No, he found the sea was a lonelier place than the Red Keep at night. It lacked the comforts that he did not know were comforts.

Sandor found himself missing the hum of conversation behind the walls. He missed the absent barks of dogs, whinnying of horses, chirping of birds. He missed things he felt terrible for missing. He missed having hot meals at night and fresh bread in the morning. Living as a sailor made him realize that he had never lived as a peasant. He had been a favorite of the richest bastards in Westeros, and so long as he swung his sword where they pointed he did not need for anything.

Still, their coin could not restore his face or his soul. Their coin could not make him trust again, nor could it stop even the most well trained whores from curling their lips in disgust at him. Their coin kept good steel at his side, good armor at his back, and good wine in his belly.

He got used to sleeping on a straw bed. He got used to drinking piss-flavored ale. He got used to stale and undercooked bread and he got used to eating cold dry fish for every meal.

It was better than death. It was better than fire.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been at sea. It had been a long time. He stank of saltwater and felt sand on his skin all of the time. He found himself yearning for fresh fruit like he had once yearned for a cup of good wine.

He was below deck when he first heard it. It sounded like giggling. Like a woman giggling. But the Captain did not allow women on the ship, said it was ill luck. It had been a long time since Sandor had seen a woman, and even longer since he had touched one, so he figured that was finally getting to his head. He turned over on his filthy straw mattress. It was too small for him. It was always damp and he did not know why, but after spending so many nights sleeping on it, the thing no longer bothered him.

He heard the giggling again. He stood and searched belowdecks for any stowaways, but found none. He kept hearing it, but the sound was coming from the far wall of the ship. There was nothing behind that but open ocean. He entertained the thought that it might be some wench who died on the ship, come back to haunt him and the rest of the crew with the sound of her laughter. He shook his head and laid back down, ignoring the noise until he fell asleep.

 

He found himself on the deck the next day. He found he liked the smell of the salt in the air, and the gentle lapping of the waves against the sides of the boat was comforting. He was enjoying the time while he could, for soon he would have more work to do, when he heard a loud splash. Fearing someone, or worse, something, he had fallen overboard he quickly looked over the side to see. 

Something glimmered in the water, and disappeared. Confused, he kept looking. There was another flash of it, some silver-blue, followed by a dark red. Sandor shook his head. It must’ve been some fish eating some other fish. He decided not to tell the others, they would only fear for sea monsters or other ridiculous fairytale creatures.

 

 

That night, he woke out of a dead sleep to the smell of smoke. For one horrible second, he thought that he had woken on the Blackwater again as it burned. The ship was on fire.

The crew was chaos. Men were screaming and trying desperately to put the fire out, but soon it was raging out of control. Sandor seized his chance and lowered one of the dinghies for himself. He didn’t give a shit about anyone else on the ship; he wasn’t going to burn with them. He was rowing away when the mast went up and fell. He managed to jump into the water just as it hit, but it destroyed the small boat, and his chance at getting away.

He clung to what was left and managed to stay afloat. Soon, the ship went completely under, and what little light the fire had provided was gone. He could not hear any of his fellow crewmates, and he could not see anything. The moon and stars were hidden behind thick clouds. He was drifting into the open ocean and he couldn’t see a thing.

The sky was black and the sea was black and his future was black.

He didn’t know how long he had been floating for. His legs felt numb from being under the water for so long. He was cold, and the water was so still. He found that he was very afraid. To float forever like this, in the cold and still blackness of the ocean, seemed like something out of one of the Seven Hells.

“What are you doing?” A voice whispered to him out of nowhere, and he jumped so violently that he nearly lost grip on what was keeping him afloat.

“Who is there?” He shouted out into the blackness. He gripped the bits of wood tighter. If one of his fellow crew had survived, why had it taken so long for them to say something?

“It’s only me.” The voice replied. “You’re bleeding, you know. I’ll keep the sharks away for you.” And then there was a splash and the voice disappeared.

“Wait! Who are you?” He shouted out, but the voice did not return. He stared out into the darkness, willing his eyes to adjust, but they didn’t. He wondered if, after only a few hours adrift, he had managed to conjure the voice in his mind.

Soon, he was tired. He tried to crawl on what was left of the dinghy, but it would not support his weight. He only managed to get half of his body unto it, and as uncomfortable as he was, his exhaustion won and he fell into sleep.

The sun was up when he woke. His eyes stung from the brightness of it. He was still tired, and his head hurt, and he felt filthy. But his body was supported by solid land. His head shot up and he found himself on some little spit of an island. It was so small that if he stood he could see the other shore with almost no effort. There were trees, though, and some vegetation. There was a chance for life on this island, and maybe escape if he was lucky.

He turned to face the ocean he had washed up from and found himself staring into the face of a girl.  She was the prettiest he’d ever seen. Her hair was red like a rusted blade, and her eyes were as blue as clear skies. She was prettier than the Maiden herself. Her nakedness was covered only by some odd scraps of cloth and seaweed, and there were no legs below her hips, only a fin. Her bottom half was like that of a fish. It glinted silvery-blue and scaly in the sunlight.

He knew what she was. She was beautiful, but something to be feared. She was more deadly than Cersei Lannister had ever dreamed of being.

“Are you going to sing to me before or after you kill me?” He asked her, and she smiled at him. Her teeth were straight and white, and he wondered how many men she had skinned alive. He wondered if she ate the men after she skinned them, or simply threw their corpses into the ocean. She’s a Bolton’s wet dream, he thought with an ugly twitch of his burned cheek.

She only smiled and laughed, and he found it was the same laugh he had heard below deck a few days before. She rested her head on her arms and gazed at him. “I’ll sing for you gladly, but I won’t kill you.” She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, one around his middle and the other behind his neck. No woman had held him so intimately before, and it unnerved him.

Her skin was warm and moist, and did not feel like the skin of a human woman. It had a smooth, slippery quality to it; like an eel’s flesh, but warmer. His skin crawled when her flesh rubbed against his. Gooseflesh rose on his arms and he had to resist the urge to shudder with horror.

She tucked her slick face under his chin and looked up at him in some sort of strange admiration. “I plan on keeping you.”