Sansa giggled as she skipped through the godswood, her red hair bouncing with each step and her blue eyes sparkling. Today would be a great day. Her friend Sandor Clegane was visiting Winterfell, as he often did with his father, and would join the Stark children’s play. No doubt he, Robb, Theon, and Jon were already crashing through the trees, crossing stick swords and fighting dragons. Arya had run ahead as soon as the septa let go of her hand and baby Bran was toddling along behind them, still with the septa. When they arrived, he squealed and went straight for the great weirwood heart tree, patting its red face like an old friend.
Sansa slowed to a walk as she came closer. She was a lady after all. Sansa had just had her sixth nameday. She was the third of her father’s five children, counting Jon. Robb was the oldest at ten, Jon her half-brother was nine, Arya was four, and baby Bran was two. Theon lived with them too. Father called him a ward. He was ten. Sandor, the son of one of her father’s bannermen was of an age with Jon. Sandor was always courteous to Jon, who was not a true Stark, and Theon, who for some reason was always the last to be given treats and smiles by the servants. Sansa didn’t understand it, but Sandor did not treat Theon or Jon any differently than Robb or her. She could tell that Robb liked that about Sandor. Sandor had an older brother himself, but he was far too big to play with them. In truth, Robb, Jon, and Theon rarely played in the godswood anymore either. Sansa knew they only came today because their friend was here.
As Sansa neared the weirwood she saw Robb standing proudly with Sandor on one knee before him. Robb touched each of the boy’s shoulders with his stick before proclaiming, “Rise, Ser Sandor.” Sandor stood up grinning and looked around. Jumping into the game Sansa quickly plucked a little wild daisy and headed over to the other children.
“Oh, Ser Sandor. I would be ever so pleased if you would wear my favor in the tournament,” Sansa held the flower out shyly.
Sandor looked down at it, but didn’t move.
Sansa sighed and whispered loudly. “You are supposed to carry a lady’s favor with you when you ride in the lists.” She thrust the drooping bloom forward again. When the boy still didn’t react she stomped her foot. “Take it!” Sandor reached out quickly and grasped the daisy. Sansa smoothed her skirt and tried to be a lady again.
Sandor continued with the game enthusiastically now, tucking the flower into the laces of his tunic. “Thank you, my lady. With your favor I know I will win the day.” Ser Sandor gave an exaggerated bow, grinning once again. Sandor was often quiet, but also kind and quick to smile.
Sansa curtsied happily. “I will watch you ride. If you win, perhaps you will crown me the Queen of Love and Beauty.” Sansa loved to daydream about being crowned by a knight someday. A handsome knight who would dance with her at the feast and kiss her hand.
“He’ll not win, not against the Black Knight!” Jon broke in. “I will defeat Ser Sandor and all will cheer for Ser Jon!” With that the boys were back to hacking at one another, little Arya trying to keep up with her own small “sword”.
Sansa decided to make a crown of flowers while she waited. As she wandered picking daisies, she noticed Bran had fallen asleep beneath the heart tree. Septa Mordane noticed too, and she carried Bran back to the castle for his nap.
Just as Sansa settled in the grass with her flowers the tournament began. Arya plopped down beside her in front of the tree. Arya’s hands and face were dirty and her stockings were torn. “Why can’t I play?” her sister whined. “I want to be in the joust!”
“You are playing,” Sansa soothed. “We are going to cheer for our champions.”
“That’s stupid,” Arya said. She sat quietly for a moment, watching the boys finish laying out a line of stones to be the jousting ground. “My champion is Jon. He can beat your stupid old Clegane any time.”
“Arya! He’s not stupid. That is no way to talk about a guest.”
Arya only smiled mischievously at her sister’s reaction. “He likes to play being a knight.” She leaned toward her sister. “I bet he keeps your favor.” Sansa blushed and continued to lace the flower stems together.
Just then, Robb the King stood and began the tournament.
Jon and Theon went first. They charged across the field whooping. Their lances quickly became swords, and in short order they were rolling on the ground. In less time than it took Sansa to thread her last daisy, the joust had become a melee, with Robb and Sandor happily charging in. This went on for a minute or two until it ended with Robb and Theon falling with a splash into the hot spring and Sandor sprawled across Jon. “I yield!” Jon laughed. “Get off me you oaf!” Sandor got up and offered Jon a hand. Robb yelled as regally as he could from the pool. “I King Robb declare Sandor of House Clegane the champion!”
Sansa jumped up cheering and Arya frowned.
After a moment it was quiet. As Robb started to turn away Sansa cleared her throat and looked pointedly at the crown on the ground.
“Oh, yes. As champion, name your Queen of Love and Beauty Ser Sandor.” Arya gagged and Theon rolled his eyes.
Sandor picked up the daisy chain and walked over to Sansa and Arya. “I name Lady Sansa my queen.” He awkwardly draped the ring on her head.
“Thank you, Ser Sandor, ever so much. Will you please accept one more favor as my champion?” Sansa asked, not wanting the best part of the game to end so soon. Without waiting for a reply Sansa rose up on her toes and kissed Sandor on the cheek. It seemed just what a lady in a song would do, and she knew Sandor would never kiss her hand like he ought.
Sandor’s mouth gaped open and his cheeks became an alarming shade of red.
Just as Theon opened his mouth to say something that Sansa was sure she wouldn’t like, Septa Mordane appeared. She tsked at the wet boys and gathered her charges in to dress for dinner. As Sansa walked beside the septa with her daisy crown on her head, she glanced back to see Sandor still standing by the heart tree, his grey eyes on her, and a little white flower still tucked into his tunic.