After Clegane went away, Sansa tried to patch up the relationship with her husband. In 317 AL she had a daughter, Joanne, and all historians agree that the girl had been fathered by Tyrion Lannister. But the intimacy of the spouses was but a brief thing. Tyrion genuinely cared about his wife, but was just as genuinely bored by her. Queen Daenerys once told him that Sansa was the sweetest woman at court. Tyrion replied: “Much too sweet for my taste. I prefer less honey and more pepper in my dishes”.
Sansa wasn’t overly dejected when her husband returned to the Sailors’ Wife, who had just enough pepper for his taste. In that marriage Tyrion earned his wife’s respect, but never her love. But the position of a grass widow had too much disadvantages in it. At court Sansa was considered a libertine, and, with Clegane gone, many men aspired to his place. She had enough tact and courtesy to parry those attacks, but her forces were ebbing. She used the news of the upcoming wedding of Rickard Stark and Elena Glover as a pretext for asking the Queen’s leave to go to Winterfell.
A journey by land would have taken several months, so Sansa went to the Storm’s End whence she, her sister and her sister’s husband sailed to the White Harbor. The road to the Stormlands went by Hayford and Sansa was asked if she was going to visit Lord and Lady Clegane. She refused.
Soon after returning from the North she went into another journey, this time skirting Westeros from the other side. Her son Florian had expressed a wish to study at the Citadel, and Sansa went to Oldtown with him. On her way back she visited Highgarden, the site of the famous Margaery Tyrell, thrice queen of Westeros.
Between the lords of the Reach and Sansa Lannister’s court there existed a polite but persistent rivalry. Through the century Highgarden had been defining the taste of the Seven Kingdoms in music, literature, painting and fashion, but in those last ten years the palms were partly lost to Casterly Rock. Both parties made a great show of treating their adversary with the utmost respect and love, while doing everything to outshine each other. The sad experience of the War of the Five Kings had instilled in Sansa an aversion to politics, but she happily indulged in intrigues against the southron court: she enticed the craftsmen, outbid Margaery for jewelry and tapestries (that is the way the “Ashford Tapestry” found itself in Casterly Rock) and wrote her a charming letter consoling her in her nephew’s loss at the tourney. From her part, Margaery dressed her handmaidens in gowns similar to those Lady Lannister wore, and once sent her a bejeweled dog-collar “so you could embellish your staunch servant”. Sansa put the collar on her hound, told Garreth of Ashford to paint the dog in this adornment and sent the painting to Highgarden. In her own words, she loved all games “in which the loss wasn’t one’s head”.
Willas Tyrrel, Lord of the Reach at the time, made two weeks of festivities to honor Lady Lannister, including a tourney, a ball, a feast where “roses of bacon and swans of marchpane” were put on the table, and the first theater play in the history of Westeros. Walking the rose gardens of Highgarden by his side, Sansa asked him once if he knew about the long past plan of their marriage. Willas responded gallantly that he indeed knew of that plan and bitterly bemoaned its failure, but Sansa herself surely was glad to escape such a tedious union. “No, - she said, - I’m not glad, but neither am I sorry. I spend too much time regretting my own mistakes to grieve about the things other people did”. After she returned to the capital, when the Queen asked her about the impression lord Tyrell had made Sansa replied: “If I were thirteen, I would have fallen in love with him”.
Her thirteenth year was long time gone, and the man she loved resembled Willas Tyrell in nothing except lameness.
Why she loved Sandor Clegane is a question without an answer. Not for his looks, anyway. Artists usually painted him half-face to hide the burns on the left side of his face, but on those portraits and miniatures he is still far from handsome. His only full-face portrait, the fresco “Warrior” in Casterly Rock sept, was obviously heavily prettified. Clegane himself dubbed the painting “a pretty boy who fought a cat”.
He was semi-literate at best. According to the custom of his day his letters to Elinor Lannister were dictated to a maester, who, it seems, edited them at will – Elinor used to complain about his writing to her “in other man’s words”. He seldom read and wrote no poetry, which was unheard of in Sansa’s milieu. His way of expressing himself was, to say the least, rude: in letters and memoirs his words were often transcribed as “and Sandor Clegane said something no man of courtesy would dare to repeat”. It is hard to imagine how this sullen and straightforward man felt at Sansa’s court, where poetic tourneys and disputes about the origin of love were a common occurrence. Still, he spent ten years there sometimes breaking the dainty talks with obscene comments, and after he went away Sansa visibly lost a great part of her interest in refined amusements. In accord with her husband she probably liked some pepper in her dishes too.
Clegane loved Sansa sincerely and, to all appearances, selflessly. Lord Forrester wrote home from King’s Landing that he had met Clegane “in the same cloak he had left the North in”, that is to say, a seven-years-old garment. Many blamed him for his marriage to lady Ermesande but even the most evil tongues had to admit that he never used his wife’s riches. Furthermore, in the first year of his marriage, when Sansa gave him a gold clasp, he asked her to “leave such trinkets for his lady wife”. Henceforth when Sansa wanted to make a gift for him, she used to give Ermesande a pair of earrings, a ring or a gold-embroidered belt. He seemed to be quite satisfied with such state of affairs.
He allowed himself to spend Lady Ermesande’s money only once, to build the Saltpans Sept. This harsh and sullen man was, to all appearances, deeply religious. Before he had left for Hayford Sansa gave him an illuminated prayer-book (now in private collection). At her request the miniaturists had left one clean leaf in the book, and she wrote the Hymn of Mother on it with her own hand.
But still, in spite of his ugly looks, ugly temper and fearsome reputation, he could not only provoke dislike. The northerners who had fought by his side at the siege of Dreadfort respected him deeply. His wife, twenty-five years his junior, loved him dearly. Elinor Lannister wrote him touching letters and later insisted on his coming to live at the Dragonstone. And, to top it all, Sansa, after ten years of liaison in which three children were born, was still afraid that she’d lack the strength to lock him from her bedroom.
Nevertheless, she had enough determination to avoid seeing him for the next ten years.
In 325 AL Garreth of Ashford painted his famous “Morning dawn, evening glow” (National Gallery of Dorne). It was his first attempt in the genre of so-called “allegoric portrait”. Both Elinor and Sansa Lannister are depicted with loose auburn hair, dressed in identical gowns, cerulean for Elinor, dark-blue for Sansa. The background is a seascape: the sun rises above the “morning dawn”, behind the “evening glow” it sets into the sea.
Several months after that Elinor married Prince Raegar. It was the first royal wedding in twenty-five years. Roasted suckling-pigs were turned on skewers and two fountains were spouting wine and beer on the palace square. The day after the wedding there was a two-day tourney during which Gerion Lannister and Prince Aegon the Seafarer were knighted. In the three days of festivities princess Elinor wore seven different gowns. The newlywed got so many presents that there was a storeroom on Dragonstone cleared especially for keeping them. Also they got two ships and a dragon egg.
Amongst the numerous wedding guests there were Lord and Lady Clegane.
On the third evening of the celebrations, after the newlywed had left the feast and went to their chambers, Sansa asked the Queen’s leave to go saying that she had a headache. Her ladies were going to accompany her, but she allowed them to stay saying: “My northerners will suffice”. She meant Lady Karstark and Lady Manderly. Having returned to her chambers, Sansa, to the great surprise of her ladies, refused to undress and go to bed. Instead, she asked Lady Karstark to read something. The lady took “The loves of queen Nymeria” and started reading aloud. When she reached the tenth page, the door was opened and Sandor Clegane entered the room.
The ladies tried to withdraw tactfully but Sansa ordered them to stay. Sandor took her in his arms and wanted to kiss her but she stopped him wordlessly. Then they sat together in a great armchair by the fireplace and remained there till morning. At first they were talking, but so softly that Lady Karstark could not make out a single word. Then they lapsed into silence. The fire burned down, the room grew dark. After several hours Lady Manderly decided that Sansa had fallen asleep and went to the armchair on tiptoe. She saw that her lady wasn’t sleeping, but was staring at Clegane’s face.
At the break of the day Sansa whispered something to Sandor, he nodded, kissed her (she didn’t resist) and left the room.
They never saw each other again.