Lord Eddard Stark leaned over the giant weirwood desk, deep in concentration, surveying his maps as he prepared for an emergency meeting with his war council. His finger closely followed the path along the Wall as he determined the section that most needed his protection. In the course of the past few weeks, his solar was filled with reports of sighting various factions of Wildings south of the Wall. First raiders from the Frozen Shore were spotted near Castle Black; next it was the Hornwood men. One report even claimed to have seen a Wilding wearing a mask and breastplate consisting of human bones. The Lord of Bones this far south of the Wall? Impossible-an absurd notion if I ever heard one, Ned chuckled to himself.
Even if these reports had no merit, the beleaguered garrison had their hands already filled. Mance Rayder had united the various factions of Wildings by portraying the Night's Watch as a common enemy; all his efforts were directed to exact punishment on the so-called intruders on the Wall. The Night's Watch did not have nearly enough men to fend off an invasion should the Wildings made a concerted effort to move south of the Wall.
Jon sent a raven to him less than a month ago giving a detailed account of the man. Less than three weeks ago, he had an encounter with the Lord of Bones himself on the ice bound fields of a great glacial lake far north of the Wall. He could not possibly have traveled so far in such a short period of time, Ned realized as he reread Jon's letter, confident he must have received false information about the Lord of Bones.
It was common knowledge that the Lord of Bones (or Rattleshirt as he was derisively called by Jon) and his band were preoccupied fighting the Night's Watch. He worked with Mance Rayder, a former member of the Nights Watch who had betrayed the brotherhood and was considered King Beyond the Wall. Vengeance against the members of the Night's Watch was his goal and as far as anyone knew he had no interest in the southern territories.
Though he was never reliably reported south of Wall, the Lord of Bones was a favorite monster of sorts among the overactive imaginations of the smallfolk settlers. As Warden of the North, Ned knew this all too well. It was said his armor was made from the bones of a giant that had loyally and courageously fought along side him. Must be the overactive imagination of some poor settler, Ned decided.
Most of the citizens of the Seven Kingdoms considered all Wildings to be vicious barbarians and the Lord of Bones' armor was a favorite cited example of proof of their savagery; however Ned knew better. The Starks carried the blood of the First Men the same as the so-called Wildings. Growing up, his father had passed them on to him, as his father had before him, and Ned was well versed in their traditions. Depending on the clan, many Free folk were not that different from himself.
The Lord of Bones' fear inspiring armor was most certainly a sign of respect to a fallen warrior. The armor itself symbolized the protection the fallen offered from the grave, and was worn to invoke fear; and in this way the fallen warrior would continue to protect his fellow soldier long after he was buried in the earth.
Ned thought it a very meaningful tradition indeed, though his wife most certainly did not agree. Sighing heavily, he signaled his page to lead the rest of his bannerman into his solar. They needed all to be in agreement as to the extent of the threat and what action should be taken to stem the invading Wildings and Ned wanted to leave nothing to chance.
They longed for the freedom of the forest that lay beyond Winterfell's godswood. The morning was crisp and bright and the children could barely be kept indoors long enough to break their fast. Sansa, Arya and Rickon eagerly raced outside as soon as the finished putting on their coats.They weren't really supposed to go beyond the protection of Winterfell's gates; but after listening to their pleas throughout the meal Eddard had found it hard to deny them, so he finally admitted defeat and left it up to Catelyn.
She decided an exception would be made just this once; an unusually fierce blizzard had kept her children housebound for an entire week, though Catelyn decided she would keep Bran indoors. The young boy was still weak from his fall and needed more time to heal, Maester Luwin said, and so she promised him she would tell him stories of his greatfather while the others played. She smiled as they waved to her and Bran, all of them eagerly running and laughing as they played along the path leading outside the castle. They most certainly have plenty of energy to burn, she thought, relieved to have them outside rather than indoors alleviating their cabin fever by tearing up Winterfell.
A brief chill came over Catelyn followed by an inexplicable feeling of dread. She looked at Bran, who paused his drawing for a moment, but just as quickly resumed his artwork and said nothing. I wonder if I should have made them take Nymeria or Shaggydog to guard over them, Catelyn wondered briefly, then quickly dismissed the thought. Lady began whining and scratching at the door.
She tried to allow logic overcome her sudden unexpected feelings of concern for their safety. Her children had always been perfectly safe in the forest-she had no reason to doubt that now. Ned frequently accused her of being an overprotective mother during Robb and Jon's adolescence. Lady was most likely as tired of being indoors as the children, no doubt. Satisfied, she quickly dismissed her feelings and returned to her needlepoint.
"Bet I can reach that weirwood tree before you, Sissy!" Arya yelled at Sansa as she raced past her. Sansa thought briefly of her septa's words reminding her that highborn ladies don't run, but after days spent cooped up doing needlepoint, she couldn't resist the fun and followed Arya in hot pursuit. Rickon laughed and shouted encouragement to Sansa to win; he and Bran were always happy when Arya lost at something.
Dressed in her older brothers' old trousers and shoes, Arya certainly had the advantage and she also had the head start on her sister. Over the past three moons, Sansa had developed a woman's body and grown tall as well; and with her newfound height came a long stride. She quickly overtook her little sister and the young woman soon reached out to tag the tree, leaving Arya frowning in defeat. Sansa grabbed hold of the tree to stop herself, laughing and smiling as she brushed her bright red hair out of her eyes.
She swept Rickon up in her arms, wrapping him in a victory hug and he giggled and screamed in delight as she spun him around. Hot on her heels, Arya reached the tree, wll the while protesting her loss was unfair and demanding a rematch. Her sisters' words fell into the background however; for Sansa was suddenly overwhelmed by the uneasy feeling that someone was watching them.
She found herself unable to ignore the premonition and quickly stopped her play. She carefully set Rickon down, her eyes darting around the dense greenery around them. Is someone watching us? If so, who?
"What's the matter scardy cat? You look like you've seen a monster. You're afraid of everything!" Arya crowed, shaking Sansa out of her thoughts. After a few moments of scanning the area, though, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. Arya called to her again but still she held back; only after being hit squarely in the chest with a large snowball did she resume her play.
Sansa's anxious feelings continued to grow stronger, frequently interrupting their play-much to the annoyance of Arya and Rickon. Casting nervous glances around the forest, she strained her ears for unusual noises but was still unable to shake the feeling that someone was watching them. She heard the snap of a small branch in the brush above their play area and immediately she walked over to follow the direction the sound came from.
The woodsman did not like being so far from his comfortable home in the Haunted Forest in the middle of winter. He was well aware of the dangerous position he was in-his village, long had been held in winter's iron grip, depended on him to find meat. As the weather worsened, game was becoming increasingly scarce, leading the Woodsman Clan council to debate endlessly over the best means to find food. Finally, Elder Clansman Georg decided that as the best hunter among them it was his duty to hunt south of the Wall, and so Sandor headed south.
Fuck me, I have never been this far south of the Wall before; nothing looks familiar anymore, thought Sandor Clegane as he tied his large black courser to a tree. His people needed meat or they would surely starve, and so it was that Sandor found himself in an unfamiliar wood far from home in the middle of winter, the fate of his village hanging on his hunting abilities.
Creeping cautiously in silence, he slowly made his way through the dense evergreen brush on foot, his bow and arrow at the ready. He followed the trail of two large white tail deer for several miles. Spying the animals in the distance he smiled in satisfaction as he let two arrows fly in quick succession, both easily hitting his marks with deadly accuracy. A successful hunt at last! The man smiled to himself, for such success meant meat for his village, possibly for two weeks or more and that he would return home sooner than he had expected.
As he carefully pulled his arrows from the animals, a sweet sound filled the air in the distance; a girl was laughing. Cocking his head slightly, he focused on the direction of the sound. I must be hearing things-a girl laughing out here in the forest? Sandor wondered as he followed the laughter to a stand of trees nearby. Peering over the ridge, Sandor saw a beautiful young woman grasping hold of one of the trees, laughing as she brushed her hair out of her eyes.
The sight of her took his breath away. She was no Free Folk woman to be sure; her glossy hair hung loose to her waist and was the most beautiful color Sandor had ever seen. The color is deep red, like the leaves of a weirwood tree, he thought in amazement as he stared at her. Her bright deep blue eyes sparkled as she laughed and her skin was as pale as the snow at her feet.
She's tall for a woman, Sandor noted, and she moved so gracefully that her lovely figure was visible underneath her warm layers of clothing. He couldn't tear his eyes from her; she was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. So delicate, like a pretty little snow bird-just like the red and white snow robins from home, he thought to himself. Sandor was completely enthralled with the woman before him.
Suddenly she stopped laughing and looked in his direction. Does she see me? He wondered as he crouched down lower and waited. No, she was still looking in his direction but she hadn't focused on his position yet. He heard the voice of a young boy calling. "Sansa, Sansa...I'm cold, let's go back...I want lemoncakes," whined Rickon.
So, the beautiful girl's name is Sansa, he thought to himself. A beautiful name for a beautiful maiden..fuck me I sound like one of those buggering knights! He laughed to himself. Sansa, Sandor repeated silently to himself, enjoying the feel of her name on his lips.
He couldn't risk the possiblity of never seeing her again and had no intention of letting such a lovely woman get away now. Sandor was certain he would never find anyone like her again. Though he knew it was dangerous, he couldn't resist her-he absolutely had to have her for his own, of this much he was certain. Obviously she wasn't Free Folk, maybe even a highborn based on her appearance, but he was determined to take her to wife, no matter the consequences.
Laying low, Sandor patiently waited for his chance. Sansa was still looking around her, squinting as she stared into the deep green underbrush covered with snow. You'll see me soon enough Little bird. Suddenly he heard another girl's voice shouting in the forest. "Quit fooling around Sansa and come on! I'll race you home-last one to the kitchen gives up their lemoncakes!" Arya yelled as she took off like a shot once again with Rickon close behind her. In no time she and Rickon disappeared far down the trail toward the castle walls.
Sandor was aware that he was a fearsome sight to behold: he had been burned as a child by his brother which had left his face terribly scarred on one side. Being large and heavily muscled, he knew the sight of his scarred face and six foot six inch frame draped in animal furs was liable to scare the poor girl to death if he snatched her up. No, I'll draw her closer first before I approach her. He had been whittling a small direwolf figure out of leftover firewood to occupy his time at night; he would leave it on the stump in front of him and draw her over by mimicking the caw of a crow. Moving quietly, he placed the wooden direwolf on the stump and began cawing loudly.
Instantly Sansa followed the sound of the crow and headed over in his direction. As she knelt over examining the wooden direwolf figurine on the stump, a wide smile slowly spread across her face. "A direwolf figure of our house sigil...how beautiful!" she cried out in her excitement.
Moving slowly from his hiding place, Sandor stood before her, a small smile playing on his lips. Sansa gasped loudly and stepped back staring fearfully at the large man before her.
He was huge, with very broad shoulders and a muscular chest visible even under his furs. His long hair was as black as night and combed so it fell to the side, partially obscuring the terrible scars on one side of his face. The man's beard was neatly trimmed and he carried a large greatsword, smiling as he looked at her. "I beg pardon ser, I didn't mean to intrude-is this yours?" She said, holding up the wolf in question, trying not to stare at his face.
His deep gray eyes stared into her own. "No my lady; it's yours now," Sandor said as he stepped forward and allowed his gaze to sweep over her figure. "I'm no ser, girl. I am Sandor Clegane of the Woodsman Clan north of the Wall."
Sansa's eyes widened in surprise-she had never met a Wilding before and found it exciting and a bit scary at the same time. "Oh, thank you ever so much; it's my house sigil, you know," she said. "I am Sansa of House Stark, daughter of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell." Sansa smiled, bowed slightly and offered her small hand to him.
Did I hear her right? She's the Lord of Winterfell's daughter? Sandor was taken aback at learning her surname; taking a highborn maiden like her would cause far more problems than he had anticipated. As he took her small soft hand, she smiled at him shyly while her bright blue eyes looked straight into his. Sandor was astonished by her apparent fearlessness; she was looking into his face and smiling, something precious few had ever done. A warm feeling spread to his heart and the man felt genuinely happy for the first time in recent memory.
Sandor made his mind up then and there that such a beautiful and fearless woman was well worth having, whatever the risk. "Glad to meet you. I noticed you earlier with your family as I hunted deer. I want you to come with me, Little bird," he said as he took by the arm and led her to his horse.
Fear gripped Sansa, her chest tightening which made her breathing difficult; she tried to scream for help but no noise would come from her throat in her panic. Frantically, she looked around her; Where had Arya and Rickon disappeared to? "I beg pardon, my Lord Clegane? Where are you taking me? Are you taking me home?" Sansa was confused.
Panic clouded her mind, refusing to allow her to draw the obvious conclusion. Where would he take me? She wondered, then gasped with sudden understanding of her situation: marriage by capture. Her father had told her of the wilding marriage customs; they kidnapped any woman they were attracted to and took them as wife. That must be what he's about, Sansa worried to herself, wriggling to free herself from his grasp.
"Are...are you a wild-forgive me.." she stammered, "I mean are you a member of the Free folk, Lord Clegane?" Sansa asked timidly even as she wrenched her arm away from him.
"You can quit with the 'my lord' bit, girl. Call me Sandor-and stop squirming!"
Sansa looked away in fear, wondering if she would ever see her family again.
"Now Sansa, did you really mean to ask me: 'Are you a Wilding? Look at me!'" Sandor sneered at her, jerking her face by the chin to meet his eyes. "Yes, I am. Does that bother you?"
Shaking her head, Sansa answered softly, "No, not at all. I have the blood of the First Men in me as well-no doubt we share ancestors. Please, let me go. I don't wish to leave my family!" Twisting and jerking her arms, Sansa only suceeded in tightening Sandor's iron grip on her.
"Humph...well, good then, you're familiar with the ways of my people. A woman doesn't get much of a say when she weds, girl, you ought to know that much if your kin to the Free folk," said Sandor as he scanned her eyes, ignoring her puny strugglings. Eagerly he searched her face for deception, and when satisfied he had found none, he continued. "I won't hurt you. You need not fear me. I'll keep your honor intact. I'm no bloody rapist but I am taking you as my wife." He paused a moment to guage her reaction.
Rapist, he said? In the moment it was the only word she could focus on; Sansa swallowed and tried to slow her breathing. The realization her maidenhead could be taken by force twisted her stomach in sickening fear. Averted her eyes, she wondered if she should believe his words about her honor. Then and there she determined she would put up a fight should he try to force her, no matter how futile her efforts proved to be.
His wife?! Oh, gods...what should I do? I wish I had played more with Arya-she would know how to get away! She always managed to get away from the boys, even after they grew up! She fretted, wringing her hands. Sansa took a moment and sized him up; Sandor was heavily muscled and broad chested and very tall-he was at least as tall as the Greatjohn. He towered over her and one hand took up her entire upper back as he led her toward his horse. Should I fight him? He's so big...it doesn't seem wise-he may hurt me seriously if I anger him, despite his promises. Father will come for me, I know it.
Sandor smirked at her; he could see her running ideas through her head.
"Please, don't hurt me," she finally whispered, tears streaking her cheeks.
The desperation and fear in Sansa's eyes and voice struck his conscience like a sharp blow. "I promise, Little bird, I won't hurt you or force you. Don't cry." He spoke more gently, running his fingers through her hair softly. Sansa began trembling violently beside him. "Now don't try to run and I'll make this as easy as possible for you. Run from me and I'm not above binding you in the saddle. We ride for the Haunted Forest by nightfall, understand?"
Wrapping his arm around her tiny waist, he swung her up in front of him on the saddle of his great black war stallion; all the while Sansa shivered, praying to the old gods and the new to deliver her from the terrible fate that surely awaited her.
Sandor and Sansa rode in silence through the dense forest. The man noticed her lips quivered, though he heard no words from them, and she had kept her eyes closed. She's probably in prayer, he thought solemnly, asking the gods to save her from the scarred monster that snatched her up. He wanted her desperately enough to steal her from the warden of the North but he still felt terrible he inspired such fear in her.
Sandor cantered the large black horse through the wood and with each stride Sansa became increasing uncomfortable. As a highborn lady, Sansa was unaccustomed to traveling for long periods of time on horseback and her legs and thighs ached painfully after only a few hours. Fidgeting in the saddle, she tried to adjust her body as they rode onward.
With every movement Sansa made, Sandor became increasingly uncomfortable as well. He was fast becoming all too aware of her body's movements and between her fidgeting and the rocking motion of the horses' gait, he felt her firm backside rubbing against his manhood in a constant motion, while over her shoulder he had a perfect view of her full breasts bouncing enticingly with each step. Sandor found it both extremely pleasurable as well as disconcerting; if he was to continue traveling this way he knew he had to distract his mind. Futilely Sandor tried to think of something else but it wasn't long before his body strongly responded to her.
As the day wore on, he wondered if she was aware it was his painfully hard manhood that was rubbing against her backside. She must've noticed it by now. Damn me, I'll never last the trip like this. Sandor quietly rode along, wondering if there was some way to alleviate the pleasurable torture his body was experiencing. There is no way in Seven hells I'm moving her behind me-then it will be her perfect breasts rubbing against my back; that isn't going to help me any. It had been a long time since he had been with a woman and Sandor knew any other man would have taken her twice already right on the forest floor.
Even though she was now his wife in the sight of the old gods, Sandor was determined he would not demand his rights to her as her husband. Sansa was obviously afraid and he needed to gain her trust. Such a young maiden needed time and consideration, and in spite of his throbbing manhood, Sandor made up his mind he would not take her until she was ready. The image in his mind of having her naked in his arms, in their bed, combined with the feeling of her body rubbing against his groin made him hard as stone and aching with need.
Unable to endure it any longer, Sandor decided it was time to dismount under the guise of needing to relieve himself. Seven hells, she doesn't need to know it isn't my bladder that needs relieving, he grinned sheepishly to himself as he pulled reign on the horse. It was considerable colder under the heavy canopy of trees and Sandor noticed Sansa shivered from time to time as the temperature dropped.
He went to his pack horse and pulled off several furs, trying to decide which would best fit her; finally he settled on a beautiful white and gray fox fur and handed it up to her. "Here girl, put this on if you're cold. I'll be back in a moment," he said handing, her the fur.
"Thank you," she whispered. He walked off the trail aways and disappeared into the brush.