Sansa heaved a sigh of relief. She finally had a precious few hours of solitude. Septa Mordane had retired to her chamber with a headache, Arya was with her dancing master and Jeyne was indisposed due to a summer cold.
All morning she had been distracted, on edge. Several times Septa Mordane had chided her, having caught her gazing out the window towards the tourney grounds instead of concentrating on her stitches. When she did manage to tear her gaze away, she had absently jabbed at the kerchief, the fine silk thread becoming more and more knotted. Just like her insides. All taught and twisted, waiting for the tension to snap.
Her distraction showed. Her embroidery was far below her usual standard, the Direwolf looking more like a scruffy dog than the fierce sigil of her house.
In addition to her lamentable efforts she had barely been able to keep control of her tongue. She had found herself having to bite back sarcastic observations to the banal chatter of the court ladies, and several times curt retorts to their polite enquiries had been on the tip of her tongue.
It was so unlike herself she though with chagrin.
In the end she had sought permission to be excused to visit the Sept, hoping that prayer and reflection would help calm her troubled mind.
“I’m simply overtired,” she apologised to Septa Mordane when questioned about being 'out of sorts’. She pushed down the stab of conscience at the lie. Septa Mordane gave Sansa a shrewd look but nodded her assent nonetheless.
It is partly true thought Sansa. She had slept poorly, having spent the night restlessly tossing and turning.
She just ignored the reason.
He had preoccupied her thoughts ever since the eve of the tourney, when he had told her of his past.
What little sleep she did manage, was pervaded by a choking, smothering darkness, broken by vivid bursts of golden flame, each bringing with it a swirling mix of disturbing imagery.
Giant, hulking figures, whispering unintelligibly from the shadows, looming ever larger as they stalked closer.
Charging horses twisted into snarling beasts with wild eyes and frothing mouths.
Red roses blossomed into gushing pools of blood.
She was a little bird mutely opening and closing her beak. Calling out in vain but she couldn't sing! Frantically she beat her wings against the cage door until they were bloodied ruins.
Cheering mutated into the splintering of wood and clashing of steel. Sunlight shining on armour became dancing, golden flames.
Clapping hands with slender fingers transformed into bloody, gnarled stumps, desperately clawing at the remains of a shredded throat. Hands that became monstrously large, reaching right for her...
A swirling mass of vivid orange, yellow and red, all twisting and dancing forth in abstract bursts… and screams.
Hideous, tortured screams.
She had jolted awake to her find pulse racing, her brow damp with sweat and hot tears scalding her cheeks.
Never before had she experienced such night terrors, not without a fever.
Afraid to fall back asleep she had laid there for the remainder of the night staring into the blackness of the canopy.
Sansa made her way through the corridors of the Red Keep heading towards the gardens. She needed to clear the cobwebs from her head before she visited the Sept. It wouldn’t do to come before the Seven distracted.
It was unsurprising her dreams had been so tormented, given all that had happened at the tourney. The exhilaration of watching her first joust, pride at being selected to receive Ser Loras’ rose, horror of what happened to Ser Hugh of the Vale, fear at the ferocity of the confrontation between The Hound and The Mountain.
Her emotions had been in turmoil even before the feast. Plus there were the effects of the summer wine that Joffrey had encouraged her to drink.
Then there had also been the events of last night.
Joy at receiving the attentions of Joffrey at the feast had quickly given way to the bitter sting of disappointment, when he chose not to accompany her back but instead passed her off to the Hound. As if she were a piece of laundry discarded to a washer woman.
Her apprehension at the deafening silence engulfing them as the Hound strode along and she stumbled over the uneven ground in his wake.
Annoyance as he growled at her and mocked her courtesies and refused to follow the rules of polite conversation. He certainly was uncouth and rough. He certainly wasn't a Lord or Ser, he had that right. Not even the small folk or servants had ever spoken to her thus. Little Bird! How dare he?
Shock at his lack of faith. His cynicism and nihilistic outlook.
Fear at his drunken growling and snarling and when he roared “ look at me” forcing her to witness the terribleness of his scars. Fear at the sudden darkness as he snuffed out the torch.
Fear that quickly morphed into horror and then compassion as he transported her to the horrific past of an innocent little boy.
As she walked she pondered the enigma of a man that was Sandor Clegane. Uncouth, crude but a man. Despite naming himself Hound, or Dog, and growling and barking at people thus, she was no longer so easily fooled, not now that she knew of the horrors he had suffered as a child.
He had been playing with a Knight. A knight. Perhaps he once believed in songs and had dreams and hopes for the future. Perhaps not so dissimilar to me she realised with a heartbreaking clarity of thought.
Knowing the horrors and injustice he had suffered, she felt she perhaps understood a little how the The Hound had been born. Was that arrogant of her to think so?
She was still deep in thought as she passed a gaggle of washerwomen gathered around the well, but hearing his name snapped her out of her musings and into the present.
“The Hound’s?” a high pitched squeak drew her attention.
“Yes. Ser Arys’ is all very well and good… but have you seen the Hounds sword?” asked one of the women with a smirk. “I have, and that is something to boast about.”
“Aye. You’ve not seen a proper sword until you’ve seen his,” said another.
She was intrigued. Why would washerwomen be interested in the Hound’s sword? Hiding behind a stone column to the side of the entry into the courtyard, Sansa decided to eavesdrop. It was unlike her but that was nothing new for today she thought.
“I’ve seen it,” another girl said quietly. She was a young maid with brown eyes, rosy cheeks and brown curls. She was quite pretty Sansa thought.
“Oh please! Getting a glance on the sly is nothing compared to asking to see it outright,” said another.
“I did ask one time,” replied the blushing maid “I was intrigued after what Hettie told us, about how magnificent it is.”
“As if you asked!”
“I did. I swear it on the Maiden.”
At this the women fell about laughing at her confession. Raucous hoots and howls filling the small yard.
“What’s so funny?” asked a buxom woman joining them, plonking herself down on the wooden bench and leaning over to sort her laundry.
Sansa didn’t understand either. There was absolutely nothing funny about swearing truths against the Seven.
“Oh Hettie…” wheezed a woman, red faced from laughing “Daisy 'ere reckons she asked to see The Hounds sword.”
“Oh ho! Did she now?” said Hettie.
“I did,” insisted the flustered looking Daisy “but he just growled at me and told me to scurry away if I knew what was good for me.”
“Aye! Need to know what you’re doing with a fine instrument like that,” Hettie said humming loudly in appreciation.
This was met with further hums and nods of agreement from the other women.
‘What’s the big deal?’ wondered Sansa, ‘it's just a sword. Same as all the others I’ve seen. Just bigger.’
“So you’ve seen it… but have you held it?”
“Aye,” nodded Hettie “that’s the real treat. To hold such a magnificent tool in your hands” she said as she was haunched over the tub, scrubbing vigorously at the laundry, causing her generous bosom to jiggle and bounce, almost spilling out from her ill fitting bodice.
The women fawned over Hettie, giggling and catcalling, pressing her for “Details”.
“Massive. Long, smooth, hard as steel,” she said with a flourish.
‘Well of course it’s hard as steel’ scoffed Sansa to herself 'it's made of steel. What drivel these women talk. It's just a sword.’
“As if Hettie! You're having us on. You think we believe The Hound let you hold his sword.”
“He did. And I won’t be swearing on the Maiden,” she retorted to whistles.
“Poppycock! From what I saw, even you wouldn't even be able to grasp it in your hands.”
“Aye! Such a big, heavy tool.”
“No wonder he had muscles like an ox carrying that around.”
“I wouldn’t mind holding it for him... relieve his burden.”
“Such a heavy load.”
“Needs an ample sheath.”
The women continued to spar back and forth getting louder and more animated all the time, before dissolving into a round of raucous giggles.
Sansa didn’t understand their excitement. She had the feeling she was misunderstanding the conversation. Surely a sword is just a sword? Perhaps she should ask Clegane to see his sword herself? See what all the fuss is about.
Pulling herself away from stone pillar she had been leaning against, she dusted her skirts and brushed invisible wrinkles from the heavy damask fabric, before she changed direction and headed not towards the Sept but the sparring yard.
As chance would have it, when Sansa arrived at the sparring yard the Hound was just leaving, heading towards the armoury. His path would intersect hers, so Sansa waited where she was and watched him come closer. She couldn’t help but admire how strong and formidable he looked, she saw how sweat dampened his brow and matted his hair.
‘He needs a bath,’ she thought blushing at the impropriety.
“Ser Clegane,” Sansa greeted bobbing a courtesy, but he didn’t stop, he just strode purposefully right past her and into the armoury as if she hadn’t spoken a word.
Determined Sansa straightened her spine and followed him into the armoury.
“I beg pardon Ser,” she began, before noticing that as well as his armour he had also removed his tunic revealing an obscene amount of muscle. Sansa blushed and averted her eyes quickly.
“Ser, I was wondering if you might be so kind,” Sansa began, unsure how to phrase her request, wishing she had thought this through more thoroughly.
“Not a Ser,” he mumbled as he began wiping down his chest with his dirty tunic, causing his muscles to ripple and flex.
Sansa fidgeted nervously, all thoughts emptying from her mind at the sight.
“So?! What does a little bird want with an old dog?” he growled into the silence.
“Oh yes. I errrr…. I… I want to see your sword,” she blurted. “The washerwomen at the well were very complimentary and I must admit to being envious of their having seen such a magnificent tool when I haven’t,” she continued feeling proud of herself for remembering the appropriate terms the washerwomen had used. “I’m not sure I understand what all the fuss is about. To me one sword is much the same as another… but still I would be most obliged if you would show it to me.”
The Hound stared at her in silence. His face impassive as stone but his eyes were a blazing grey fire.
“Or maybe, you would like me to hold it a while, to relieve your burden?” she said placing the same emphasis as the washerwomen. “I’ve not held that many swords before. Just Theon’s and Jory’s mostly. Oh and Joffrey’s one time, but I wasn’t all that impressed with his if I’m honest. It wasn’t as big or impressive as Jory’s. Jory’s is definitely my favourite….. Oh, I mean,” she dropped off suddenly registering the shock and anger blazing across his face.
‘Oh no! She suddenly realised she had insulted the Crown Prince, her betrothed, by belittling his sword. Sansa swallowed, suddenly nervous and now quite certain that she had indeed, misunderstood the conversation of the washerwomen, but still none the wiser as to how.
But she didn’t get chance to finish because Clegane abruptly turned on his heel and stormed out of the armoury.
“Seven fucking hells, I’ll gut those little shits,” echoed back to her.
Sansa had a bad feeling about this. Quickly she hurried after him calling out to him as she did so.
Abruptly he stopped and swung to face her, fury etched in the lines of his face.
“What?” he snarled.
“Please Se… I mean Clegane,” she stuttered. “Please forgive me. I was being unforgivably rude. To compare one man's sword to another, it must be a prideful matter. Please forget that I asked. Anyhow, it surely can’t be as magnificent as my father's sword,” she finished contritely.
To her surprise he burst into loud, rasping peels of laughter.
“Little Bird…” he said shaking his head as amusement glinted in his eyes, “You and your fucking chripring. You’ll be someone’s death one day.”