Sandor sways to avoid grasping hands of the wizened old woman, but her gnarly fingers wind around his arm as roots of a tree. Had it been a man, the attacker would be sprawling on the floor, but for a shrivelled crone Sandor stays his hand.
“A Northerner! A strong one, with a strong spirit…and clear, the purest I have seen for a long, long time,” she drones with a raspy voice. “Come, my son, and let me have a look at you.”
Irritated, Sandor shakes himself loose, but follows her just the same. Slightly drunk, his soul black and brooding, he doesn’t really care where he goes. His whole being protests about being back in Casterly Rock. It is the first time since he left it for the capital with his mistress, and it is one time too many.
The canvas flap of the tent opens into a simply furnished chamber filled with strange wall hangings, carvings and a wooden table littered with small bones – birds, from the look of them. A pitch-black raven sits next to them, craning its neck towards Sandor as he enters.
“Fate? Fate?” it crows, its voice sounding disturbingly as that of a man.
“Shush, Stranger. The man bears a great destiny within him, I can feel it in my bones. Behave yourself with this one.” Tilt of her speech speaks of the North, its croakiness of the many summers and winters she has seen, and yet the tone is surprisingly spirited for such an old hag.
Stranger? Sandor finds it oddly fascinating. He cares not for gods or their servants; even Warrior leaves him cold. But Stranger, the most terrifying deity of the Seven, feels to him sometimes like an old friend.
He takes a long swig from his wineskin, strong liquid flowing down his throat bringing the familiar relief with it. Just a few more days and he can leave this cursed place with Cersei and her mewling babe Prince Joffrey. The ancient stronghold of Lannisters means nothing to him but a place where he grew strong and found his place in the world. What Gregor started, was completed here; an idealistic young boy turned to a weapon to be wielded by his masters.
He loathes the place and the memories it brings back, too bitter to endure, opening festering sores of the past. In King’s Landing he is a new man with the fierce reputation of the Hound, but here many still remember the ugly young boy whose tormenting was a pastime for some – until the day he grew bigger than them and broke their bones and kicked their teeth out of their mouths. Yet it never brought him pleasure, and to avoid old tormentors and new quarrels he stumbles into this tent when he sees them coming.
Sandor has no intentions to allow some market charlatan to tell him his destiny, but as he now has entered and is in no hurry to go anywhere, he resolves that this might be as good as any place to drink his fill and while some time away.
So he slams himself down on a small stool and throws the wineskin on the table. The old woman sits next to him, and only then Sandor notices the rheumy eyes covered by a white film. Blind as a bat, she is.
The old hag extends her bony fingers towards him and grabs his arm again. He allows her.
“Strong one, indeed. And loyal, I see, with a heart of a faithful hound.”
Sandor sneers. A hound? She must not be quite as blind as she appears, to recognise him and his sigil. His suspicions seem to be confirmed as the crone lifts a frail hand on her throat and shrieks.
“Fire?! I see that in you, my son. The fire has hurt you…but the fire will also heal you.”
How stupid she thinks I am - who in the bloody hells wouldn’t see it? Taking a closer look at her eyes he hesitates. The pupils are cloudy and she can’t follow him with her eyes. Mayhap she has heard of him and was warned about his approach? Yet why would she have babbled about him being a Northerner?
“I was born and bred in the Westerlands, not in the North. As for the fire, what the hells are you talking about, you old witch? There is no fire in this world that will get near me.” Again.
“Aye, your mortal body may have grown here, but your soul is of the North. I can tell; I am from beyond the Wall myself. I know these things, have since I was but a babe and taken across to the southern lands…“ the old woman mutters. “The fire is no ordinary blaze, though I see some of that too. Nay, it is the fire in your soul, and in the soul of the one who will heal you, and…” she squeezes her eyes close and continues with a surprised tone “…and the fire in her hair.”
Fucking hells, that’s what I need; a woman with her hair on fire! Sandor removes his arm from her reach and looks around, bored. He might as well find his way back to the guest rooms and leave this crazy talk.
“You will find a great love; a love so strong it will change the fate of the realm. Yet your journey will not be easy; you have to fight for your love, as your love will fight for you. Three times you step up and rescue her, and she steps up three times to save you.” The woman has lapsed into a trance-like state and doesn’t seem to care that Sandor pulls his stool back.
“The lord of vast lands you shall be, the lands so great that it takes a rider three days to travel from one end to another.”
Sandor has just about had enough and is about to open his mouth and tell her so. Love and lordship – what next? Those stories might entertain idiots who have their heads full of dreams, but he knows better. No woman as much as looks at him unless he pays them, and even then they prefer to open their legs rather than their eyes. And lordship – bah! Gregor is the eldest, and should he by some miracle be struck down before Sandor, Clegane lands are still small and unimportant.
Before he gets to voice his displeasure, the old woman continues with a high-pitched voice. She has opened her eyes and stares straight ahead, unseeing. Just a shrivelled old thing she is, with skin like dry parchment and bones frail as twigs, and yet in this moment she commands with her presence and even the formidable warrior towering above her is silenced by her authority.
“Two sons and two daughters will come from your seed. One son the new lord to your people, the other an explorer of faraway lands, He will discover new and mysterious worlds and his sigil is that of a wolfhound. One daughter the queen of many kingdoms, loved by her subjects, another a fierce warrior and a wise-woman. Her sigil is a pretty bird.”
The raven jumps on the table and stares at Sandor with its dark, beady eyes. It unnerves him; it is almost as if the old hag stares at him through the eyes of the bird. What he hears isn’t a surprise; all fortune-tellers give honeyed words to their unsuspecting victims, telling them about loves and fame and riches. Nobody pays good coin to hear that they are going to die in a ditch or taken by fever, or that their scrawny wives will be raped by invaders and the skulls of their snotty-nosed children will be bashed in. Yet that is the reality and the way of the world; Sandor has seen it enough times to know it to be true.
For him, a poxy whore and eventually a sword in his belly are what he can expect. A better class whore, perhaps, if Cersei’s plans come into fruition and he becomes the shield of the future king. Yet great loves or lands will never be within his reach. And that suits Sandor just fine - only fools want more and let their desires eat away their soul.
“What about gold?” he grumbles just the same, to goad the old woman further. “You forgot to tell about my riches and treasures.”
She wrinkles her nose, a sharp beak in a long face. Her hair might have once been as black as raven’s wings, but now it is grey, almost white.
“I see no gold, not much. You will amass riches of the land; crops from fields, furs from forests, fish from rivers – you and your family will not go wanting.”
Sandor snorts. He has almost started to enjoy the fortune-teller’s tale and seeing how far she will take it. Oh well, no gold then. What a shame, could have used some. He chuckles and stands up, trying to ignore the ravens gawking while reaching for his purse. No matter that the words are rubbish, the old woman looks like she could use some copper. She has deserved it with her prophecy of all the things he will get; love, lands, family. Why not as well tell him that he will soon sprout wings and fly into the sun, as longs as she is at it? The sound of coins alerts the crone and she raises her head, her movements again echoing those of the raven.
“Oh, waste not your coin on me, my lord. I didn’t tell this for gain but because I had to. I can see it all in front of me, the story that will be told for thousands of years to come. The hound that came to the North...” She opens her mouth wide and for a moment Sandor is taken aback by her toothless grin before he realises that she is smiling. Although he knows that the woman is barking mad, he feels a cold shiver down his spine at her words.
“Only promise me one thing, my lord; be kind to folk beyond the Wall. My father’s people they are, and if you are true to them, they will be true to you.”
“Aye, sure. I will give them lands and honours, feed them with mead and sweets.” His tone is mocking.
“You don’t have faith in me, I see that. Yet you shall live through it all, indeed you shall. Remember then the old woman who told you this.”
Sandor shrugs his shoulders. The old wildling is crazier than he thought, not accepting good coin. It is nothing to him though. He takes the wineskin and drains the few remaining drops into his mouth before crunching it in his fists and throwing it into the corner of the tent. Grunting he takes his leave, glancing at the raven.
“Fate!” the bird squawks as he walks away. “Fate!”
“Watch out for the woman kissed by fire!” shouts the fortune-teller, her last words almost drowning in the noise of the crowd that hits him when he leaves the tent.
Sandor doesn’t waste time in locating more wine; the famous Hound is served swiftly, if not willingly. By the time he falls on his pallet and starts snoring, he has forgotten all about the crazy old woman and her mad ramblings.