After the war, the king had rewarded the Clegane family’s loyal service with two hundred acres of land in need of cultivation, as well as an estate in the Westerlands.
Sandor, as the youngest brother, held no hopes of inheriting the lands. Then ten years back, his brother Gregor was killed. His sister Eleanor died after a short battle with cancer and his father and mother followed her to the grave not long after. Life had been lonely from then on and Clegane Manor had transformed into a ghost of its former self.
Before, Eleanor filled the house with laughter and talk endlessly about things she loved, and Sandor missed her loving ways and kindness. His mother had been a great source of comfort to him in the face of Gregor’s abuse and his father’s indifference. They were the only women in Sandor’s life who touched him with affection and looked him straight in the face. When he was younger, he had hoped to find that in a wife but as time passed, Sandor’s heart hardened to the idea and he grudgingly accepted that at 30 years old, marriage and family may not in the cards for him.
While he missed his mother and sister dearly, Sandor couldn’t say the same for the rest of his kin. His sadistic fuck of a brother burned his face against a fire pit, and as a result, Sandor’s father mortgaged most of the land to pay for his skin reconstruction - a debt he never let Sandor forget.
Despite his father’s alcoholism, Sandor left home and joined the elite Lannister army, eventually moving up into Special Forces. After he was injured, he toiled long hours in the fields of Clegane Manor and managed to pay off the loans.
Bronn and Tormund, his neighbors, brothers in arms, and closest friends, weren’t deterred by Sandor’s scarred appearance, large size, or foul temper. Together, they had managed to create a sort of family in the absences of their own.
Such demanding work had left little time for socializing, not that many women were lined up to be his friends or girlfriends. And yet still Sandor longed for the companionship of a woman – an actual, honest to gods relationship, not the hasty couplings of the one night stands that made up his experiences with the opposite sex.
Both Bronn and Tormund had found nice northern women on Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite and encouraged Sandor to join. He had plenty of money for a family and room besides, so one day he decided to give Missandei a call.
Reluctantly Sandor filled out the endless questionnaires and submitted to personality tests, all the while doubting any woman, no matter how financially desperate, would overlook his scarred face. Missandei had assured him that northern women weren’t as shallow as those in the south and that scars held a cultural significance for many there. It all sounded like a load of horse shit to him but after much needling from his friends, he posted his profile.
Sansa Stark was the first profile Missandei showed him, the young woman coming with high praises that were unusual from the marriage broker. Her waist length, thick wavy auburn hair immediately caught his attention: it reminded him of autumn leaves, and Sandor had never seen such a color before. Her fair skin was a rare feature in the sun-soaked south and looked smooth and soft to the touch. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her and hadn’t wanted to look any further even though Missandei had insisted that he browse the site.
Indeed, no matter how many profiles Sandor looked at, time and again his mind wandered back to her. Sansa was breathtakingly beautiful, but it was her eyes that kept him returning to her profile – as sad and blue as they were lovely, the dark emotions contained within them belying the happy smile she gave the camera. The need to protect oneself behind a mask was something Sandor was deeply familiar with, and he wanted to discover what else lay hidden beneath her poised veneer.
Unlike the other women Missandei recommended, whose bodies were displayed for all to admire, Sansa’s profile was filled with pictures of her with family and pets, her skills and education, and the charity work she was involved in. She didn’t ask for jewelry or clothes; only that half the recovery fee be placed in a trust for her brother Brandon.
Sandor spent hours online, pouring over the pictures of her brothers and sister and their dogs, as well as the clothing she designed. Sandor recognized that she was a talented, smart and deeply caring woman – if not a bit naïve for her age –and it was refreshing change from the women Sandor had encountered in the Lannisport bar scene.
He wondered about her siblings, and what had led her to join such a site. Surely there were many northern men who wanted her; why had she resorted to offering herself as an online bride? Hesitatingly Sandor had made an offer for her and it turned out that he was the first Sansa had received. He was surprised she admitted it, and also that she told him the reason: Sansa wasn’t a virgin, a highly valued commodity in the marriage broker business.
Sandor couldn’t have cared less about that: he had long ago lost his virginity - but he appreciated Sansa’s honesty in telling him, knowing it likely cost her a great deal of money in doing so. What bothered him was how ashamed she seemed to be about it, and Sandor gathered that her previous partners were at least partly to blame for the forlorn expression in her eyes. Her honesty and straightforwardness meant far more to him than a ridiculous piece of skin between her legs, and so Sandor counteroffered the highest price for Sansa.
The young woman had actually cried out of relief, Missandei had said, and afterward agreed to become his wife; it turned out her mother had led her to believe no man would want her. Sandor hoped he could give her a reason to never cry again.
After they began texting regularly, Sandor discovered that they had more in common than he would have initially believed. Sansa seemed comfortable enough with his appearance, in fact she didn’t even seem to notice it. It wasn’t long before Sandor suggested they wed as soon as possible.
The Faith of the Seven clergyman married them over the Missandei’s Marriage Brokerage Suite website – not very romantic, but it was only way Missandei could guarantee a marriage would take place.
Sandor gave no fucks about weddings. To his surprise, Sansa also didn’t seem to mind. She followed the old gods of the north. Sandor wasn’t religious, and he couldn’t care less about the airs and formality of holy men; he preferred a no-nonsense ceremony to seal their union. And so after a blood test, a few clicks and an e-signature, Sansa Stark became Sansa Clegane, his wife.
Sansa had asked that he come to her right away, and Sandor was more than happy to oblige her. In two days, he would finally meet his wife in person.
“So, let’s see the little missus.” Tormund nudged him.
Sighing, Sandor clicked onto the profile picture and held up his phone.
“Is this her?” Bronn whistled low when the striking redhead appeared onscreen. “By the gods she’s a beauty.”
“Aye she is, gingers are beautiful, kissed by fire. Just like you, Hound.” Tormund pointed to Sandor’s scars.
“Fuck off, the lot of you.” Sandor growled while batting his hand away.
The men burst out laughing but then quickly settled as Sandor glared at them.
“I mean it, you bloody wankers. You better behave when I bring her back here. Don’t want to scare her off any more than she’s already like to be with this mug.”
Bronn sobered up. “We will, Clegane. You’ve been good to Margie-“
“-and Brienne, too,” Tormund interjected. “The lass has nothing to fear with us.”
“The girls can’t wait to meet her.”
Sandor figured as much; there weren’t too many women in the area for them to socialize with out in the country.
“She’s got beautiful eyes,” Bronn leaned in for a closer look. “and her skin is like snow. Nice long legs, too.”
Sandor nodded. “A proper lady. Her name is Sansa, Sansa Stark.”
“Pretty name for a pretty girl. Young, too. She looks kind of sad, though.” Tormund tilted his head. “Don’t you think?”
“Aye, it was one of the first things I noticed about her.” Sandor gritted his teeth, deciding to let the comment about her age pass.
“Poor lassie. You know what that’s about?”
“Her father died a few years ago, and her younger brother had a terrible accident that left him a paraplegic. Money’s been tight ever since. She signed up with Missandei on an ultimatum from her mother.”
“Just like Margie.” Bronn clicked his teeth. “Well, I wish better days for her. I think she’ll like it here.”
Tormund nodded. “Of course she will. When are you going up there?”
“Saturday.” Sandor let out a nervous breath.
“Why isn’t she flying here? She scared to fly by herself?”
“I didn’t ask,” Sandor shrugged. “I don’t want her traveling by herself with the weather being so bad up there, so I offered to come to get her. Plus I want to meet her family.”
“That’s right gallant of you, Hound.”
“Fuck off, you wanker.”
Bronn laughed. “I’ll have Margie come over and get the place ready for you and Sansa while you’re away.”
“Ready how ?” Sandor glanced around. “The domestic workers keep everything clean.”
“No, lad,” Tormund slapped his back, “women like roses, champagne, and cake after they meet their husbands. Didn’t Missandei tell you?”
Sandor thought back: he vaguely remembered the sound of her lilting accent droning on about such things as he stared at Sansa.
“She might’ve, I don’t know for certain. For fuck’s sake, that woman can talk. I think I tuned most of it out.”
“Well listening is important to women, so you’d better get in the habit of it.”
“Get her a robe and some nice soaps and lotions in the bathroom,” Bronn suggested.
“For fuck’s sake-“ Sandor barked out.
“Do it, lad. Marg loves all of that stuff, and I bet Sansa will too. Don’t worry, we’ll have everything ready for her,” Bronn interrupted, “and you’d better get used to this kind of thing with a wife around.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Sandor nodded: there was much he didn’t know about being a husband; he just hoped he didn’t fuck up too badly and that Sansa would at least learn to like him enough to want to stay.
“Thanks, but I should probably be the one to pick that out for her. She likes lemons and winter roses. I know fuck all about the bath stuff.”
“Margie loves doing this shit,” Bronn grinned, “She’s been bugging me for a week to mention it to you. Tell you what, I’ll have her come by with some options for the cake and flowers.”
“Thanks, man.” Sandor took out his wallet and peeled off several bills. “And ask her to get the other things, too.”
Snatching it from his hand, Bronn grinned. “Will do, Hound.”
The flight north was pleasant enough, and Sandor passed the time by staring at Sansa’s picture on his phone. However, no sooner had they disembarked than a fierce whiteout swept down from the Frostfangs and buried everything in heavy snow. Sandor and Sansa’s return flight was canceled.
There was no fucking way he was going to spend his wedding night with Sansa in a shitty airport waiting area. Holing up next to a data port, Sandor booked the honeymoon cabin at The Karstark & Thenn Mountain Resort and then rented an SUV for the trip to Winterfell.
When the storm abated, Sandor followed the map on his phone to the resort, dropped off his luggage and then headed over to Winterfell to meet Sansa. The first thing Sandor noticed as he approached the building was that the place was far smaller and shabbier than Sansa had led him to believe. He wondered what else she hadn’t told him. Swallowing hard, Sandor patted the jewelry box in his coat pocket and knocked on the door.