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It was all so heartbreakingly sensible, and there was no other possible choice. I had been warned, after all, Master Niketas, that the Demiurge had done things only halfway.

Umberto Eco, «Baudolino».

 

At the beginning of 303 AL a magnificent cortege consisting of fifty knights and fifty ladies, to say nothing of innumerable squires, pages, servants, cooks, hostlers and bards left Winterfell and headed for King’s Landing.  The civil war which had been tearing the Seven Kingdoms to pieces for several years was over but recently and the journey turned out to be not very fast and not merry at all: the roads were often unsafe, inns and taverns mostly robbed or burned to the ground, in some places you could not get food for love or money, and there were corpses hanging from trees here and there. Still, it was not all sorrow: northerners took part in four tourneys on their way, three of which were given in their honour. And at last, several months past, Sansa Stark, known to us as Sansa Lannister, saw the walls of the royal capital yet again.

 

Fate wasn’t too kind to Lady Stark. Her father had been beheaded at the threshold of Baelor’s Sept, her mother and elder brother had been treacherously slaughtered on the feast ominously known as “the Red Wedding”, and she herself had spent several years as a hostage in the Red Keep and she had managed to escape only to find herself accused of regicide. But now everything changed. Her cousin was sitting on the Iron Throne, her maternal uncle, Edmure Tally, had regained control over Riverlands, her younger brother Rickard ruled the North as had a hundred generations of Starks before him, her sister Arya was married to the lord of Stormlands and Sansa, as the wife to the Hand of the King and Warden of the West, was to shine at the court, second only to the queen. The cortege, cheered from all sides, went by the same streets in which Sansa Stark had been almost torn to pieces by the maddened crowd, Lady Stark – Lady Lannister – was smiling and throwing silver dragons at the people and it seemed that there wasn’t a happier woman in all Seven Kingdoms.

 

Few people knew how relentlessly Sansa Stark had tried to avoid her happiness. Her marriage with Tyrion Lannister was made at the time when she was his family’s hostage and had never been consummated: not only because Sansa had just been thirteen at the time but for the reason of her too palpable disgust of her husband. All if this, and much more, Sansa wrote to the High Septon begging to deliver her from this loathsome union. It was all in vain. The restored Targaryen dynasty needed peace between the Starks and the Lannisters, and the surest way of making peace at that time was marriage. 

 

The whole year after the Faith had denied her the annulment Sansa had been refusing to return to her husband explaining it with the fact that her brother, not out of age yet, needed her care and advice. At last Jon I appointed Lord Wyman Manderly to act as Lord Rickard Stark’s guardian and ordered Sansa to come to the capital. She had to obey. From the day she had received the king’s order she had not complained a single time, and anyone who saw her on her way south could have sworn that she was as happy as one can be. Only once said she, smiling, to one of her ladies: “I believe that no criminal had ever been led to the scaffold with so many honors”.

 

She was seventeen years old.

 

Her position at court was indeed brilliant. Daenerys Targaryen often called herself “more king than queen” and with a lot of relief gave her court duties to Lady Lannister. Sansa took care of feasts, balls, tourneys, she received ambassadors, resolved court squabbles and chose cloth for the queen’s new dresses. Some of Sansa’s letters to the jeweler in which she discussed the presents the queen was supposed to give away on New Year’s day are still preserved. Daenerys used to say that she was blessed twice as much as any other ruler of Westeros. They all had a Hand, but she alone could boast two – right and left. She would sometimes givу her rings and bracelets to Sansa Lannister saying she meant to wear them on her left hand.

 

But even without those presents Sansa was literally showered with jewelry. Her husband gave her Queen Cercei’s jewels which he inherited and just the list of them was two sheets of paper long.  However, Sansa immediately locked the jewels in a “beautifully carved blackwood case” and twenty years later, not having worn them even once, gave them to her elder daughter as a wedding present, followed by the same list. Still, she agreed to occasionally wear “the set of seventy emerald, five of those the size of a large nut” which she had inherited from her mother-in-law. She was adorned by those magnificent stones when she posed for the “Portrait in the court dress” (presently at the Royal Gallery). Her younger brother had sent her “a large case full of river pearls”. The case must have been really large: Sansa regularly wore pearl-stitched dresses, gave pearl hairnets to her ladies, presented the Baelor’s Sept with a big Book of the Maid the cover of which was adorned with “fifty oblong pearls, each the size of a thumbnail” and, as her son was to recall, she always had a bowl of pearls on her dressing table.

 

Presents from numerous tradesmen were less expensive but no less lavish. Sansa Lannister was one of the most beautiful and richest women of her time, and her every move was instantly imitated. A bard whose singing she had praised spent the next year in the best houses of King’s Landing “never putting his lute down”. Her brother had sent her polar fox skins and she ordered a fur cape made; a furrier near the Old Gate made not fewer than twenty such capes, all marked in the books as “like the one Lady Lannister has”. A tradesman who could talk her into accepting some foreign oddity could easily double the price for it afterwards; if the buyers complained they were told that “Lady Lannister wears the same things”.  A vagabond preacher pleaded that she should never eat brown bread “because the price of it would rise and poor people would starve”. The reason for this outburst lay in Sansa’s city stroll: her sledge had stopped near a bakery at the corner, she asked Ser Robert Brax to treat her with a pie and he, proud of such attention, bought the whole assortment.

 

“Master of Rosby”, the famous miniaturist of IV AL, had depicted her during one of such strolls: wearing her white fur cape, her auburn braids entwined with pearls, she is sitting in a large carved sledge drawn by four white horses. A huge black dogs lies at her feet. 

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During those strolls a man was invariably riding at Sansa’s left hand; a huge man, whose face made passers-by startle and evoke the gods. His name was Sandor Clegane.

 

Lady Lannister would have had to comb the Seven Kingdoms in search of another follower of such ill repute – and that at the time when an unconvincingly acquitted kinslayer was the Warden of the West, and a brother of Night’s Watch unconvincingly relieved from his oath sat on the Iron Throne. During Robert’s Rebellion Clegane’s elder brother, Gregor, killed Aegon Targarien, the queen’s nephew and the king’s half-brother, with his own hands. Clegane himself used to be a Kingsguard, but he deserted during the Blackwater Battle, became a robber in the Riverlands where he “put to sword and fire” the Saltpans, but after a heavy wound which had left him lame he repented of his sins and even spent some time in a septry on the Quiet Isle. He didn’t stay there for long though, for in 302 AL he led the siege of Dreadfort.

 

Clegane received King’s pardon by petition of Lord Stark (that is to say of Sansa, who ran her brothers’ affairs at the time). It was even assumed for some time that he would be made a Kingsquard again but when he returned to the capital with Sansa Starks’ cortege, Grandmaester Alwin, member of the small council, advised Jon I to think better of that idea, because “if the merciful gods bless the queen with a child, it would be good to have at least two Kingsguards whose looks would not make a pregnant woman miscarry”. Many Kingsguards were marked by scars and burns received during the civil war, but Sandor Clegane, with his terribly burned face, stood apart even beside them.

 

Formally, Cleganes were the bannermen of the Lannisters: Clegane’s grandfather, Lord Tytos Lannister’s kennelmaster, had saved his master’s life and got a coat of arms and some lands for that. But in 302 AL Sandor Clegane had refused to inherit from his late brother, and the lands went back to the Lannisters. He wasn’t the Starks’ bannerman either: after the conquest of the North he was passed over at the giving of lands, rather demonstratively. He was not even a knight, which was unthinkable for a man of his age, birth and experience. So, apparently, he had no right to a place beside Lady Lannister. But still he kept following her on her strolls. He sat beside her at lunch (Sansa broke her fast with her husband and had dinner with the royal couple). On her name’s day he gave her a black pup from which Sansa never parted even when it grew up to be a huge and rather vicious hound. (There were three black dogs of Clegane’s coat of arms, and he himself was known as “the Hound”). In return for this present he got “three birds from Summer Isles in a golden cage”.

 

By the end of 303 AL the only thing that kept Sansa’s reputation barely intact was Clegane’s ugliness. That still didn’t save her from numerous reproaches: few people believed Clegane to be her lover, but many of them were indignant at her patronage of him. Ser Robert Brax wrote home wrathfully that Lady Lannister keeps close a man who “would not have a shirt on his body, if it weren’t for her graces”. It wasn’t a metaphor: in Sansa Lannister’s household books there really is an entry: “Dozen shirts for Sandor Clegane”.

 

When, after a hunt, Clegane had helped Sansa to dismount, Brax was heard to say that it was foul to let a dog have the honor for which twenty lords were ready to fight. Sansa had heard him and replied that she wasn’t a queen to have a lord at her stirrup and a lady at her ewer, and was frigid to Brax from that day. Probably the famous buying of pies was meant to restore him in her good graces.

 

When lord and lady Lannister were guests at Crakehall, their host demanded before the feast that Clegane was put “below the salt”, with hedge knights and servants. Sansa tried to object, lord Roland replied, rather rudely, that “at her own house she could sit her dogs at her table if she pleased but he would not tolerate it under his own roof”. To this Sansa said that her father had never hindered her from feeding dogs at dinner and ordered Clegane to sit on the floor at her feet, where he stayed through all the feast while she was feeding him from her plate with her own hands. The gesture was even more risqué then it may seem to a modern reader, because at that time people who ate from the same plate were usually newlyweds.

 

To make scandal complete, Sansa used to call Clegane by his given name, which was an inadmissible familiarity in those formal days. When the king found out about it, he asked her to choose a more decent form of address. Sansa replied, very modestly, that she could think of none, because Clegane was neither a knight nor a lord. Jon I probably desired to advise her against keeping at her court a man who was neither a knight nor a lord, but he contained himself. He proposed instead to knight Clegane, so Sansa could call him the appropriate “ser”. Her response struck everyone dumb with amazement. She said that “if it depended on her wish, she would give Sandor Clegane all the honors in the Seven Kingdoms, because she knew no one as loyal; but that he did not wish to be knighted, and had told her that many times, and she was loath to cause him any unpleasantness”. On seeing the look on the king’s face she added that it was possible to knight Clegane only by force or after winning a single combat with him, but she was afraid “that Your Grace would lose ten knights before you gained that one”.

 

Tyrion Lannister, whose wife had just confessed in public her love for another man, tried to pooh-pooh the whole matter and suggested marrying Clegane to “some lady”, which would make him a lord. Obviously Sansa didn’t think very high of the idea, bur made no objection. She probably doubted finding “some lady” willing to marry Clegane.

 

However, such a lady was found rather quickly, and just several days past Sansa announced Sandor Clegane’s marriage to Lady Ermesande Hayford. That was a staggering announcement in more ways than one. Lady Ermesande Hayford, the only member of a rich and noble house Hayford (one of her ancestors had been the Hand of the king Daeron) was the widow of Tyrek Lannister, who had perished during a mutiny in King’s Landing four years ago. Her marriage with Tyrek was made when she was less then a year old. Her wedding with Clegane was scheduled to happen after her sixth name’s day.

 

Daenerys was enraged. She grew up across the Narrow sea and even though many customs of Westeros seemed strange to her she would acquiesce for the sake of the peace in the realm. But a marriage of a girl of five to a man of thirty, made by the man’s mistress to help him get the lands of his infant bride – that was too much. Deanerys showered Sansa with reproofs and said very angrily that if that dishonorable wedding were to happen, she would immediately demand from the High Septon to dissolve the union which was against all divine and human laws.

 

She was hardly ready for the consequence of her angry speech. Sansa demanded a divorce from Tyrion Lannister. After all, her marriage had also been made so that Lannister could seize her lands, her life was endangered at that time and she had as much control over her actions as a child of five and, the last but not the least, she was “no more her husband’s wife than lady Ermesande will be to her lord”.

 

Obviously, that was true. Many years past Sansa wrote to her sister that although Tyrion Lannister had many faults he also had two unquestionable virtues: he paid his debts and kept his word whatever the cost. While she had still hoped to wring the annulment from the High Septon, she wrote to him that after the wedding Tyrion had promised her not to demand the consummation of the marriage until she wanted it. In that way their marriage was destined to remain unconcluded because “knowing myself and my heart I can safely say that I desire this thing the least in the world and never shall do”. Of course, giving such promise to a scared girl of thirteen didn’t equal keeping that promise to a beautiful maid of seventeen, but it appears that Tyrion Lannister really kept his word whatever the cost.

 

The subsequent conversation between Daenerys and Sansa had no witnesses and one can guess its content by the events that followed only. There is a well-known diplomatic saying that a true compromise is equally unpleasant to both sides. In that case one can safely assume that the queen and Lady Lannister had reached a compromise.

 

A month later Sandor Clegane married Lady Ermesande Hayford at a big public event. During the blessing he knelt in front of his diminutive wife to put his cloak around her. The next day, by lady Lannister’s wish, he left for the North, to her brother. When, a year after, he came back to the capital, Sansa was seven months pregnant.

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All historians agree that Gerion Lannister was Sansa’s true-born son. The origin of her younger children – Florian, Elinor and Brynden – is much more dubious.

Of course, no one had any direct proof. All three were born at the time when Sansa was openly Clegane’s mistress but she had never, neither by word nor by writing, admitted that her children were bastards. Tyrion Lannister also desisted from disproving his parenthood.

Anyway, the taint of being Clegane’s children followed them from the moment they were born. When the idea of marriage between Elinor Lannister and Prince Raegar was being discussed, Grandmaester Alwyn carefully tried to imply that Lady Elinor probably was not true-born. Jon I replied that “anyone who wishes to accuse my sister of dishonor should speak now and may gods judge us then”. The implication was clear, no one wished to meet the king at the trial by combat, and Elinor became the princess and then, thirty years later, the queen.

Once, during the small council, lord Redwyne, Master-of-the-Ships, in the heat of the argument called Grandmaester Florian “son of a dog and a she-wolf”, but Florian didn’t deign to understand the slight and suggested taking the moniker of “wolf-dog”, it being shorter.

At the time of 351 uprisings, a vagabond preacher “spoke in an impertinent way” about the queen mother being “not a lord’s child, but a kennelmaster’s daughter”, but the gossip didn’t go any farther, because at that point the accusation of being related to Lannisters was actually more grievous.

One could see it as an indirect proof that both Clegane’s alleged sons were excluded from the line of inheritance when they were in their teens: Florian put on a maester’s chain, Brynden became a septon. But they both had reasonable explanations which put no slur on their mother’s reputation. Florian had a propensity to learning from a very tender age, the study in the Citadel was his own personal choice and he became a maester by his own wish postponing that decision only by his mother’s insistence till his brother had his first male heir. As for Brynden, he had been promised to the Faith before he was born: it was a vow of gratitude Sansa had made after her brother Rickard was healed from a dangerous disease. Anyway, neither Florian nor Brynden had any reason to complain: the former became the Grandmaester and a member of the small council, the latter was eventually elected the High Septon.

There is a portrait of the Lannister brothers made by Master of Pentos (in private collection). Looking at the three men on it – green-eyed blond Gerion, auburn-haired giant Florian, hook-nosed and dark Brynden – it is in fact hard to believe them to be sons of one father. But Tyrion Lannister’s features were so strange that hardly anyone could specify how his children were supposed to look. Still, one could always glance at his own bastards.

From his voyage across the Narrow Sea Tyrion had brought, among other things, a braavosi prostitute known as Sailors’ Wife and her daughter Lanna. Tyrion called Lanna his dead uncle Gerion’s daughter, everyone at court believed her to be his own child. Tyrion had no reasons to hide his parenthood except maybe for propriety’s sake: it is rather awkward to present your bastard daughter to your young wife, especially if they are both of the same age. Anyway, Lanna Hill soon married Lord Clifton, got a sumptuous dowry, left for the Fair Isle and was quickly forgotten.

Sailors’ Wife remained in King’s Landing living in a house that Tyrion had bought for her. No portraits of her were preserved, and the opinions of her contemporaries about her looks were rather biased. She must have been beautiful once, but time and hard living had made some ravages on her face, and she tried to repair the damage with cosmetics with dubious success. She had a melancholy temper but was prone to sudden rages and was better avoided at that time. Tyrion would often attend the small council with a black eye or a broken lip. 

It is unknown when exactly they became lovers. The latest possible date is 306 AL, which is the year their first son, Oberyn Waters, was born. In the next ten years they had another son, Bronn, and a daughter, Penny. Tyrion had acknowledged all three as his own.

This quadruple alliance interested the contemporaries vividly and made them highly indignant. The court jester once told queen Daenerys that these days her right hand didn’t know what the left one was doing; the next day this joke was on everyone’s lips. Tyrion Lannister made a collection of caricatures portraying his personal life. Grandmaester Alwyn wrote bitterly: “A woman is married to one of the cleverest men in Seven Kingdoms and prefers a rough soldier. A man is wed to the greatest beauty of Westeros and leaves her for a painted old whore. Whoever forbade marriage to our order was wise indeed, for in nothing else is human folly so markedly revealed”.

Sansa Lannister took a great risk by leading such a life. Not very long ago a queen, naked and shorn, had walked the streets of the capital expiating the sin of fornication. Sansa’s husband needed to say one word to send her on the same pass. But Tyrion kept silent. That was probably his way of paying his debts. 

What was Sansa doing during those ten years? They say that happy nations have no history, the same is probably true about happy women. Her life at that time had surprisingly few events, one could easily believe that her only occupations was posing for portraits between childbirths.

The so-called western school largely owns its birth and flowering to Sansa Lannister. “Master from Lannisport” had travelled around Westeros following her orders: Sansa missed her sister and sent her court painter to Storm’s End to make Arya Baratheon’s portrait. Later he pursued the similar goal in Riverran and Winterfell. On his way he decorated eighteen septs, five of which are still preserved, this number including the masterpiece of the IV century, the Saltpans Sept.

During his travels Master from Lannisport had made scores of sketches of edifices, people and landscapes. A part of those drawings was later used for the famous Giant Atlas (now in Royal Gallery) which was the result of five-year work of ten miniaturists. It wasn’t the only illuminated manuscript ordered by Sansa: she had been giving her husband a sumptuously illustrated book for his every name day. Tyrion used to say that Sansa liked pretty pictures more than words but this jest hardly reflected the real state of affair. It is unknown whether Sansa herself chose the books for copying or she was well advised but it is a fact that many ancient manuscripts, such as “The loves of queen Nymeria” or “Lives of four kings” were preserved only by being included in her library. She also had the only complete “The Fires of the Freehold” now, unfortunately, lost.

The life of Sansa Lannister, depicted in a thousand of miniatures, seems a never-ending holiday. The book pages portray tourneys, feasts, sea-sails, picnics in the shadow of blossoming apple-trees, poetical contests, snowball battles and innumerable bards – Sansa loved music and was a marvelous singer herself. And everywhere, on the capitals, running titles, between the paragraphs, in hundreds of variations, the same drawing is repeated – a huge black hound and a bright little bird, the emblem of her love.

This charmed life ended in 315 AL, when news came from Winterfell about lord Stark’s dangerous decease. Sansa was terrified. At the War of Five Kings she had lost both her parents and two of her brothers, the idea of her little brother dying was intolerable. What’s more, Rickard Stark was unmarried and had no direct male heir. His death could very probably mean a civil war at the North.

Sansa was on her knees in Baelor’s Sept for days, she gave a thousand dragons to the Faith, put a pearl necklace on the statue of Mother and promised that the child she was pregnant with would become a septon. After Rickard Stark grew well, Sansa wrote to him that gods had kept him alive due to her vows. The words “vows” was in plural, though only one, to give her son to the Faith, was known. There had to be another one, and not too hard to guess which. The High Septon had told Sansa that gods would never heed her prayers as long as she kept living in sin.

Soon after Brynden Lannister was born, the huge black hound given to Sansa by Clegane died. Ser Robert Brax wrote an indignant letter home saying that “few women cry for their children the way she weeps about that dog”, but it is doubtful that she was grieving about the hound only. Sansa, as most of her contemporaries, was superstitious as well as religious and in the death of her dog she saw the sign of her previous life ending. 

Still, we don’t know if she would have found it in her to break up with Clegane if it wasn’t for lady Ermesande.

Ermesande Heyford was sixteen years old. She was at Sansa Lannister’s court through all those years. During her childhood she was very proud of her tall, strong and grown-up husband. Clegane used to break horseshoes in half and fold golden dragons to amuse her and once had twisted a rod into a knot. She had stitched a handkerchief for him and he wore it on his sleeve, as was the courteous custom of that time, even though the stitching was rather crooked. That idyll ended when Ermesande grew up and realized the kind of relationship between her husband and Sansa.

Clegane still was treating her as a child but other knights didn’t fail to notice that she grew up to be a very comely maid and began pursuing her with advances she didn’t know how to respond to. Her position was rather undesirable: she was both an unwitting cover to her husband’s love affair and the married virgin, the latter making her the center of very dubious attention. What’s more, Clegane himself was not universally loved. Several squires, whose names were not preserved by history, agreed to “give horns to the dog” and made a bet on getting Lady Clegane’s virginity. The most ingenious (or the most stupid) of them tried to rape her but was caught and spilled the beans. After that the sobbing Lady Ermesande declared her wish to return to her own castle and asked Sansa to find out if Clegane would go with her.

It’s hard to say whether this request was mostly naïve of devious. It was generally known that Sansa and Clegane are not as they were. After her son was born, she ordered one of her ladies to sleep in her bedroom every night. When several years later she told her sister about it, Lady Arya asked why Sansa didn’t simply lock her door. ‘Because I could always rise in the middle of the night and open the latch,’ she replied.

A week later Lady Ermesande left for Hayford. Clegane went with her.

Sansa didn’t see him off. She woke up feverish, stayed in bed and asked to draw the curtains and take away all the candles except one small candle-end, because she was worried by the light. By the end of the day she felt better and asked a maid to comb her hair. The maid found a grey hair and asked whether she should take it out. ‘No,’ said Sansa smiling, ‘Leave it. I guess it is time for me to grow old. ’

She was twenty-nine.

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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. 

THE END