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The First Day of Spring

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In her dream she was walking beside a black stream. The snow beneath her boots was heavy with melt water, and her footprints left a trail of grey pools behind her. All about her were birches, naked in hibernation but alive with a constant drip, drip, drip, singing a promise of spring, glittering in the morning light. Now the water veered sharply to the left, and as she raised her eyes she could see that it soon bent back, encircling her, leaving her on one bank of the stream, unable to go on. It was narrow, no more than a few feet across, but dark, dark, dark, and so deep it seemed bottomless. She wanted to go on, but could not, so instead she stood there, catching the rising sun on her face, letting it kiss her warm for the first time in years.

When she woke, it was to the sound of hounds baying in the yard, horses whickering and men laughing. The room was bright, and she turned towards the window with a smile, still snug and warm under her covers, unwilling to rise. After a while, the noise died down as the hunting party rode off, and in the sudden silence she could hear snow melting, collapsing and tumbling off the roof and onto the ledge outside her window. For a long time, she simply lay there, listening to the soft splashes, relishing the golden rays of the first day of spring. This time it was not a false one, she told herself. No, sunshine like this she had not seen for many moons. 

Her handmaid came, stoked the fire and helped her dress. 

"Have they left yet?" She did not want to admit to lingering awake in bed.

"Yes, m'lady, they left earlier this morning. Did you not hear? There was an awful racket."

"I slept, dreaming of spring."

"And here it is, m'lady. A good omen for the hunt."

Perhaps it was. In any case, it was good to have the men out of the castle. After breaking her fast on fresh bread and honey and a small cup of kafa, she ordered for the Great Hall to be cleaned out, for the floors to be swept and scrubbed, and for new rushes to be brought in. The hangings were brought down, taken out and beaten, and the tables were scraped clean of candle wax and grease, then rubbed with oil. By afternoon the hall was sweet-smelling and spotless, so she allowed herself a walk in the Godswood. Her feet were soon soaked, and the hem of her dress heavy with damp.

She was sitting by the pools when she heard the sounds of the hunting party returning. Immediately, a cold sensation spread through her belly and coiled frosty fingers about her heart. Something was amiss. Such a fine day, and they had expected to be away for at least seven nights… She gathered her skirts up and hastily made her way back to the keep.

Rickon was the first she spotted, his wild, red-and-brown hair catching the slanting rays of the early evening sun. Shaggydog at his side was strangely subdued, tail hanging limp and eyes fixed on his pack leader, the young Lord of Winterfell. Her brother approached with no sign of his usual mischievous smile. She looked past him, trying to see something that would hint at why they had cut the hunt short.

"Sansa," said Rickon. "Grave news. Ask the Maestress to prepare a bed. There has been an accident and one of our winter guests has been grievously injured."

"What happened?"

"A landslide," he said, waving his hand to indicate that he would explain more later. "Ser Addam Marbrand's horse was swept along. He broke his leg in the fall."

She nodded. "Was anyone else hurt?"

"Sandor Clegane was caught as well. I'm afraid he was not as lucky as Ser Addam. A strange fate for one so strong."

The cold hand that had been caressing her fluttering heart suddenly squeezed hard. A small gasp escaped her lips. "Is he…?"

Rickon glanced back over his shoulder. She followed his gaze, and there it was; the covered stretcher concealing a figure so large it could only be him. 

A hailstorm of memories assaulted her. Ever since his arrival with Ser Jaime and his entourage in late autumn she had done her best to avoid him, but now she realised that she had been watching him more often than she had cared to admit. There was his scarred face as their eyes met across the table in the Great Hall. There was his strong, broad back as she watched him spar with Rickon, lazily brushing aside the onslaught of frenzied slashes. There was the wry, twisting smirk that might have passed for a smile if it had ever reached his eyes as he watched young Ser Rollam Westerling ask for her hand, furiously blushing and stammering. There was the relief on his face as she politely turned the offer down. Until now, she had been unaware that she had looked for him, to see his reaction. 

"Will you see about the bed?"

The sound of Rickon's voice brought her back to the here and now. "Of course."

While she waited for the Maestress, she threw back the covers of the bed and asked a servant to bring hot water and clean linen. When Ser Addam was brought she had to turn away when she saw the leg, bloody and unnaturally twisted, but not before she had glimpsed the white of the shinbone where it jutted out through the torn riding breeches. Among those carrying the litter was Ser Jaime himself, and he threw her a glance as she bit back the bile rising in her throat.

"Best be on your way, Lady Sansa," he said with a dark leer. "I have promised him a golden leg if they have to take it off, and Addam was always too greedy for his own good. Watching a man saw his own limbs off is not something that a woman should have to endure."

Ser Addam barked a hoarse laugh and then swore loudly as two strong men lifted him swiftly off the litter and onto the bed. Sansa fled.

There was supper to see about, prepared in all haste as the kitchens had been expecting half as many at the tables. More wine and ale had to be brought up, and she ordered the baths to be refilled for those treating Ser Addam. Later, she sat beside Rickon at the lord's table, chewing a piece of dark bread, but it seemed to grow in her mouth, and she was barely able to swallow it down. The Lord of Winterfell spoke a few words about the warrior who had thrice refused a knighthood, his voice breaking a little more frequently than usual. The pork chops on her plate made her stomach churn, and she fed two pieces to Shaggydog under the table, then excused herself and went outside to breathe the biting night air.

The body of Sandor Clegane had been left in the yard, underneath the covered walkway between the keep and the armoury. It was the reasonable thing to do, since the cold preserved the corpse and kept it from rotting. Still, it seemed so cruel that he should lie there, frozen and alone, while the castle was drinking to his memory. She approached the stretcher, held up off the ground on two large bales of hay. She would have looked upon his face once more, but couldn't bring herself to turn aside the blanket. Instead, she sang a quiet hymn before retreating to her chambers. Her handmaid undressed her and brushed her hair. Maestress Olyve called, her apron stained dark with blood, and told her that Ser Addam's leg had been beyond redemption. Rickon came by just as she was preparing to go to bed, and she sat with him for some time while he spoke of the day, and how the hunt had been cut short, and how he knew he must go ahead with it again, preferably on the morrow, even though he would rather just run away again. So she held him close, and thanked him for being honest, and told him to go if he had to, but begged him to return soon.

Finally, her rooms were quiet and empty, so she sat on her bed, blew out the candle, and let the tears come.