”You are not a patient man, Brother.”
”I’m not your brother, and you sure as all seven hells aren’t mine.”
”Yes, yes, if I were, you’d kill me, was it?”
The Elder Brother shakes his head in silent amusement. Sandor does not see the joke, but then, the Elder Brother has spent many years on the Quiet Isle. Most things are more amusing than hymns. Tossing his makeshift fishing rod to the side, Sandor stands up.
”I’m going to check on my horse.”
Sandor walks away as briskly as his bad leg will allow. Stranger - Driftwood - is fidgety and restless, much like Sandor feels. He only uses the courser for pulling carts these days, and he’d thought it a kindness at first, to spare Stranger from the violent life of a warhorse. But do you feel spared, dog? Or do you feel disused and withered?
It is a fine afternoon. The sun shines on the west side of the Quiet Isle, and soft winds ripple through the lingering late summer warmth. Brothers Norbert and Syl have laid out nets in the fishing ponds, but of course the Elder Brother would think it necessary to actually fish as well. It was no doubt meant as a lesson of some sort, in the virtues of patience or some similar crap. Sandor combs fallen leaves from Stranger’s mane with his fingers. The large horse is tied to a sapling tree no thicker than Sandor’s thumb, but it offers some resistance when he raises his black head. For the trained courser, it is enough. Sandor did not purchase Stranger for his intelligence. No, you bought him to kick and bite and run, run, run, but here he is, pulling a cart of fish.
It’s been weeks since he had a grave to dig. For most, this would seem a blessing. But Sandor’s body is crawling with restlessness so bad that he imagines he can feel his muscles waste away. Some days, he even walks down the eastern shore, telling himself he’s not looking for a washed-up corpse to bury.
Brother Syl throws another filled net onto the cart and signs Sandor to bring the cart back up to the septry. Hearing the cart turn to leave, the Elder Brother speaks without turning around.
”You’ll gut and clean the fish for drying, Brother Sandor. Then you’ll meet me in the scribe chamber. I need your help sorting through letters.”
”You want the entire library to stink of fish? Or can I have a bath first?”
”You may have a bath first, Brother Sandor.”
Sandor can hear the bloody smile on the old man’s lips. Nevertheless, he obediently does as he is told. Just as Stranger has been trained to accept his tether, Sandor Clegane leans comfortably into following orders.
Hours later, as he crosses the cloisters with damp hair, he imagines he can still smell the fish gut on his fingers. Better that than human gut. He finds the Elder Brother in the scribe chamber, not looking particularly absorbed with sorting letters. There is one letter, though, that he holds loosely in his hands while looking out the leaded glass window. Sandor thinks he can see a blue broken seal.
”News?” Sandor asks. Elder Brother does not look at him.
”Do you remember when I told you what became of your brother?”
He does, but would prefer not to. He offers a grunt in reply.
Finally, the Elder Bother looks at him. There’s a sad glint in his eyes that Sandor knows all too well. Pity.
”You handled that…” Elder Brother trails off. ”Well, you didn’t, did you?”
”Out with it, whatever your trying to say,” Sandor barks, harsher than he intended to. Ice cold dread pools in his stomach, but he’s not certain why. There is nothing left for him to lose.
Elder brother takes a deep breath. Sandor swallows.
”Sansa Stark has been found.”
For several moments, the words do not register. His lungs seem to painfully contract as they finally sink in. A sudden pain shoots up his left arm, and he looks down to see his hand all white from its grip on the table next to him. He seems to be leaning on it. He turns back to Elder Brother.
His voice is hoarse, urgent, desperate, but he is used to that shame by now.
”She’s at the Gates of the Moon in the Vale, under the protection of Petyr Baelish…”
Littlefinger! A numb understanding dawns on him, along with an old rage he thought lost.
But the Elder Brother is not finished. He looks deceptively calm as he continues,
”…and her husband, Ser Harrold Hardyng.”