Sandor is waging a battle. It is a battle unlike all the others he was dragged into; Robert’s Rebellion, Battle of Blackwater Bay, the escape from the Red Wedding, Battle for the Dawn. This is Cleganebowl. He feels ill prepared, and his chance to lose is higher than his chance to win.
He is putting his oldest child to bed. Sansa stands by in the background nursing their youngest babe, even as she carries yet another life within her delicate form. Every night they put the young Clegane in her very lovely, very frilly bed. It is fit for the princess that she is. Every night she fights sleep, fights being in her own room, fights them leaving her alone in her big, little girl’s room. Her claws are sharp, her weapons are many. She pokes out her lower lip. She forms fat tears that cling to her long eyelashes, as she clings to her dada’s tunic sleeve. She pleads when her mother is not present to give her that disapproving look the little one hates. Even Sandor knows the intimidating power of the little bird's one raised eyebrow.
Sansa is the strong one. Sandor knows that. He folded like a newborn foal when Sansa labored with this little girl. He wants to just wave the white flag and surrender to this tiny tyrant; give over the land she fights for, the lord’s suite and its over-sized bed. Will he ever again have a bed that doesn’t smell like pissy swaddling clothes? Only the gods know.
He looks back at Sansa for reinforcement. She shakes her head at his poor execution of their battle plans. She throws the poor old dog a bone, “Tell her a story Hound.”
“You know I don’t tell pretty stories of fair maidens and shiny knights on white ponies, little bird.”
“Fine. Tell her the brutal truth. Tell her a war story.” He grunts with approval at that. “Once upon a time there was a little bird with the sweetest voice you ever heard. All the other animals of the forest were jealous of this beautiful little bird, with her red hair-I mean feathers. The overly proud lions and the falsely brave stags lured her into a gilded cage, to hide her beauty from the world. After she was captured, her gilded cage was stowed away in the tallest tower, of the biggest castle the world has ever known.
“The little bird’s cage was guarded by the most loyal dog in the kingdom. The lions thought he was only loyal to them, but he was more loyal to the truth, and a code of justice all his own. He turned away their shiny armor, fancy titles and vows. He stayed true to himself, in his soot gray armor.”
“Dada, can our dogs have sogray armor too?”
“Well, pup, your lady mother will check on that for you.” He sheepishly looks back at Sansa. Luckily she was switching the babe to her other teat, and paying Sandor no mind at the moment. Until…
“Mum. Mum. Mummy. MUMMY!!!”
“Dada said you can get the dogs sogray armor.”
“Did he now?” She gives him the raised eyebrow. “What exactly is sogray armor?”
“Soot gray little bird; ash gray.”
“Oh, yes. I think we can get one of our smithies to make sogray armor for one of our hounds.”
“Not sogray mummy, sogray.”
“Yes Dearest. As you say." Sansa had already gone through this when her daughter refused to eat fiss versus fish. Confirm with she means, not what she says. "Let dada finish his story, so you can go to sleep, like a good little bunny. Go on Hound.”
“Where was I? Hum, the loyal dog guarded the little bird for her lion gaolers, but he also guarded her from her lion gaolers. The dog even stripped his white cloak from his own back to cover his little bird when the lions plucked her prime feathers. Without these feathers, she became flightless and her beautiful songs stopped.
“Little did any of them know that the simple act of placing his cloak on her back was a silent vow to all the gods. It meant that they were married in the eyes of the old gods and the new, from that day forward.
“When the war came to the city, a green fire, born of dark magic, set the water and air afire. Its evil force threatened to separate the dog and his little bird. Despite her fears the little bird found her voice again, and sang her sweetest song to see her dog off on his journey to freedom.”
“No dada. He must find the little bird.” She starts to whimper.
“Don’t fret little bunny. Dogs are very good at sniffing out lies, and it turns out they are even better at sniffing out little birds. He had tried to take the little bird with him when he left. The little bird was scared of the fire, and the war outside, and the bark of the dog. So he had to leave the city without her.
“A mockingbird is a false bird. One stole the little bird from her cage in the high tower, and moved her to an even higher tower in the sky.” Sandor looks over at his wife. She is wiping a single tear from her eye as she looks at him with unbridled love. He nods to her and gives her a bittersweet smile.
“The dog was very lonely without his little bird, and the little bird was very scared without her dog. So the gods caused a raven to be sent to the magical healing island were the dog had found his freedom. The false bird requested a healer be sent for the young hawk lord that lived in the sky tower. The dog arrived with the healer, and he immediately recognized his little bird and the false bird holding her captive, from his past life.
“The dog again offered to take her away to safety, wherever that was. She accepted this time, and said that she would never be parted from him again. To seal that promise she found the healer, who was also a septon. The septon married them good and proper in the sky sept and followed by exchanging vows in the godswoods. The dog then stole away with his little bird under cover of darkness.
“The dog took his little bird north for the winter, and they lived happily ever after.”
“Then what dada?”
Sandor sighs, “You’re not sleepy yet, little bunny?”
“More sleepy, if I sleep with you and mummy. PLEASE!!!” He turns to his wife with pleading hands for help.
“Sandor, finish her story properly.”
“What more is there to say? They lived everyday as a challenge, and every day as a gift. They had a beautiful daughter and a strong infant son, who sometimes smelled like a little skunk.”
“Stop calling him that.” Sansa removes the now sleeping babe from her breast and positions him over her shoulder to burp him. She is immediately rewarded by a burp that sounds like it ought to have come from a drunken Ironborn sailor.
“Fine, but it fits. Last night, I had to open all the windows in the nursery to keep the nursemaid from passing out.”
“It must be something I am eating. I shall talk to the maester tomorrow.”
“Dada, finish story.”
He releases a deep sigh to buy a moment to think. He turns his head to look at his wife, and gets a wicked smile on his face. “…and every night that their beautiful princess daughter stayed in her bed, the little bird sang a beautiful song to her. Your turn little bird. I’ll take the little skunk to the nursery, and open the windows.”
Sandor kisses his daughter on the forehead. He gets up and takes his soundly sleeping ten moon old son from his wife. Sansa sits down on his abandoned spot on the bed, and tucks in the wee girl. The little bird sings her little bunny not only one, but two songs. The first one is Florian and Jonquil, the second one is the Hound and His Little Bird. Her Hound commissioned it once he found out she had quickened with their first child, their daughter.
Mission done, Sansa returns to their rooms. Sandor helps her undress, since he always sends her ladies maids at night.
“Sandor, we had a plan. You abandoned it.”
“I have led many a sortie as a soldier. You have to know when to retreat, and who can better get the job done. Little bird you were better suited for this job.” She just shakes her head at him and gives him a chaste kiss on the lips. “Now sing for me little bird.” He rolls toward her and begins to kiss down her neck wantonly. His left hand slides down to a stop at the slight swell of her belly. Sansa stokes through his hair and begins to sing, Mother’s Mercy. Without fail, he falls into a peaceful sleep by the time she finishes his song.
“Yes, Hound, I am better suited to soothe my savage beasts.” She soon joins him in slumber with her hand still tangled in his hair and her cheek resting on the crown of his head.