Chapter 1: The Hound Spies the Little bird
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.
Chapter 2: Resignation
Sansa's mind went back to her father; if he sought to annul her marriage by capture, he risked offending his bannermen. At such a critical time as this, he can ill afford to risk such a thing, Sansa knew; however, if she submitted to the marriage by capture, it would eliminate the threat to her father's support altogether.
"What do you call your horse?" Sansa asked timidly as he wrapped the fur around her shoulders, trying not to stare at her breasts as he did so. "What?" he replied. Why the hell does she want to know that now?
"What is your horses' name...in case I need to keep him from following you." Well at least she knows a little something about horses, he thought before answering, "Stranger." Startled, she gasped in shock. Was he teasing? He grinned at her wickedly before disappearing into the brush, leaving Sansa alone to wonder what kind of person gives an animal such a blasphemous name.
Sansa so far managed to hold in her tears as long as she was with Sandor; she feared him despite his words but did not want to risk displeasing or angering him. He was so large she was sure if he struck her he might kill her. And what if he didn't keep his word about her honor? She had felt his hardness on her low back the entire ride and she knew enough to know that was a man's arousal. It was possible he might change his mind after all.
She had prayed the whole time but so far no one had found her. As she prayed to the old gods she remembered her mother's new gods...the Maiden could protect her honor! From then on she prayed exclusively to her that Sandor would not rape her.
Now she began to cry almost as soon as Sandor was out of sight, her frustration and despair overtaking her. How long would it be before her family discovered she was missing? How would her poor mother react? And Father...she knew he would come for her, but how would he find her?
Arya won't say anything for a while yet; she won't even realize I'm gone until she's finished all the lemoncakes, and by then it'll be too late! Sansa thought woefully. A mountain range had starting to come into view on the horizon, and the sun was slowly descending in the sky. We can already see the foothills of the Frostfangs and nightfall will be here soon, she lamented as her sobs continued unabated. Her whole body ached from riding and her crying combined with the cold air stung her lungs and nose. Overwrought and cold, she leaned over the horse and vomitted in fear.
Stranger began snorting and pawing the earth with his mighty hooves, forcing Sansa to grip the reigns tightly. "Shhh, Stranger, it's alright. What do you smell, boy?" She said soothingly as she patted the horse on the neck and glanced around.
The mighty courser shifted his stance until he faced the opposite direction and there stood three filthy looking men wearing greasy animal skins. Stranger neighed loudly and snorted, then continued to stomp his feet aggressively before mock-charging the men, sending them scurrying in every direction.
"Well, well, well boys...look at what we have we here!" a large man with a long black beard drawled as he leered at her. Sansa gasped audibly and quickly glanced around her, wondering where Sandor was.
"That's an awfully mean beast for such a pretty little thing like you." Stranger trumpeted louding, stomping fiercely into the soft dirt.
Sansa panicked as the men walked closer to her. Can Sandor not hear Stranger? Did they already kill him before finding me here? She wondered as a man with a long dirty brown ponytail reached for his reigns. Stranger reared and struck the man, quickly biting a deep hunk of flesh from his arm before stomping him under his hooves. The man screamed out in agony before the loud crack of Stranger's hooves crashing down on his skull echoed through the still air.
"Don't you buggering bastards know any better than to approach a warhorse. You're lucky I came back before he killed all of you!" Sandor barked as he appeared out of the bushes, sword in hand. The men stepped back as they took in Sandor's imposing appearance. Walking over to the man's body, Sandor nudged him with the toe of his boot. "This poor bastard sure learned the hard way," he said with a chuckle as he examined the body.
"Look mister, we wasn't expecting to find no little lady out here sitting on some mean son of a bitch warhorse in the middle of the damn forest," the black bearded man began angrily.
Sandor interrupted the man. "Watch your damn mouth...that 'little lady', as you called her, is my wife and you best remember it from now on if you know what's good for you," he growled low and mean.
"Now wait just a damn minute! We're Free folk, same as you. We came over here all friendly like to see if your wife needed help!" The third man shouted.
"Humph, friendly like huh? Stranger didn't seem to think so," Sandor patted Stranger's flank as he turned to Sansa. "Is that true, Little bird? Were they friendly to you?" He asked, adjusting the stirrups as he looked up at her. Sansa slowly shook her head, her eyes widening with fear.
Sandor smiled at her and nodded, then he patted her leg before turning to the men once more."You men have iron balls I'll give you that. First you disrespect my wife in my presence, then you lie about your motives towards her right to my face. That's two strikes against you buggering bastards. Anyone feel like contradicting her word and go for the third?" Sandor rasped as he stepped forward. Stranger snorted at the men as Sandor took the reigns and pulled them close to his body.
The men remained silent, exchanging worried frowns. "Here's what I think men...I think you saw two kinds of meat here unattended, just ripe for the taking," Sandor suggestively glanced at Sansa then over at the venison on the packhorse before continuing, "So you decided to help yourself when you thought no one was watching. Wrong choice, fellows...deadly wrong," Sandor snarled, his deep voice raising in anger as he spoke.
"Get him, Bors!" Shouted the man with the black beard, swinging his ax at Sandor who deftly moved away from the blow and cut the man down with one stroke of his greatsword.
The other man scrambled toward Sansa, yanking her off Stranger as he drew his sword. Sansa cried out and Sandor raced towards them like a charging bull. The man turned loose of her and swung his sword wildly at Sandor, his blade making contact with his side. Howling in pain, Sandor struck him down, cutting his body in half with such force Sansa could only stare with her mouth agape at what transpired.
Scrambling over to Sandor, she cried, "Oh gods...are you alright?" Sansa stopped just short of him, staring at the blood coming from his side.
Sandor nodded and Sansa began to shake uncontrollably. "You're alright now, Little bird..you're alright," Sandor said soothingly as he put his arm around her and led her back to Stranger. "You have tears frozen to your cheeks," Sandor said, brushing her face lightly with his fingertips. He knew she was shocked that he had taken her, unaccustomed as she was to the ways of the Free folk. On top of that she was almost taken by three other men before watching him kill two of them and Stranger stomp the third one to death.
Sansa's pale pallor and nervous trembling had Sandor worried nonetheless and she obviously had been ill as well. He looked her over, "Have you been sick?" Handing her a canteen, he took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her lip.
"Oh, yes, forgive me-I cried too hard, I think."
This is not how I meant for this day to go, Sandor sighed heavily to himself. "It's alright, Little bird, just drink slowly, alright? We've had a rough day. Let's stop and make camp for the night, what say you?"
"Oh...yes of course. Let us rest for the evening," Sansa said, her voice trembling. Sandor stared at her a moment and then dismounted and examined the cave carefully.
"This will suit us nicely," he nodded with satisfaction. Lifting Sansa carefully from the saddle, he gently set her on the ground beside him. Her feet buckled beneath her and Sandor caught her and held her steady.
"Are you feeling alright?" He asked softly.
"Oh yes...I am only homesick, that's all...and I am concerned for my family. My mother must be worried sick at the moment," she looked up nervously at Sandor and wrung her hands. Sansa had not intended for that much information to come out. "Courtesy is a lady's armor" her septa's voice reproved in her ears. Finding it hard to keep her tongue in check under duress, Sansa's manners began to falter: first the kidnapping, then the long ride as well as having watched Stranger stomp a man to death, then Sandor kill two men right in front of her...it was all too much for her to take in.
Sandor watched her face closely then sighed deeply. "Come here, girl," he said as he sat her down on a rock beside him. Placing his arms around her gently, soon she cautiously moved next to him on her own.
"Please don't call me Girl...we are wed now so it would please me if you would call me Sansa or Little bird from now on, if you like," she grumbled irritably.
Sandor grinned at her, glad finally to see a hint of the Stark wolf in her. He placed his finger on her chin and tilted her face up to meet his gaze. "You need not fear me. I will not hurt you, I swear it on my life. I will keep you safe. If anyone tries to hurt you, I'll kill them. And, as I told you before, I'm no rapist. We won't be wed in truth until you are willing and ready to do so, alright? Do you believe me?" He asked, searching her eyes.
Sansa mustered her courage and gazed deep into his eyes in return. The young woman was surprised to find no maliciousness or evil there, only loneliness and longing filled his eyes as he returned her look. Sansa noticed his dark gray eyes softened as he continued looking at her and she was so moved by the change that she moved closer to him. "You won't hurt me," Sansa said, her voice barely above a whisper and she instinctively reached up to the burnt side of his face and stroked his cheek lightly with her hand.
Sandor was completely taken by surprise at her touch and even more so by the deep feelings she was eliciting from his mind and heart. She stroked his cheek with such tenderness that he found himself completely unnerved by the sudden onset of emotions her touch brought to him-and he wasn't ready to be so taken with her just yet. "No Little bird, I won't hurt you," he said with a touch of sarcasm, turning his back as as he quickly stepped away from her. "I'll find us some water and firewood. Then you can wash those frozen tears off your face."
"Where could she be?" Catelyn asked for what felt like the hundredth time to Ned. He had no answer for her now, just as he had no answer the first time she asked. Initially Ned thought she was just being her usual overprotective self.
He questioned Arya and Rickon repeatedly but to no avail. "She was right behind me. This is Sansa we're talking about-she's never been in any decent trouble in her life." Ned couldn't help but smile at this. It was true: Arya was more like his sister Lyanna, always finding mischief, much to the chagrin of the family. But Sansa took after her mother and had always been a respectful and obedient child and that fact alone now made Ned worry more than ever.
"She's probably out wandering in the godswood singing one of her fairy songs. Maybe she fell asleep under the Heart tree," shrugged Arya when asked a second time a few hours later.
Rickon could not remember where he had last seen her. By late afternoon Ned had his men search everywhere-inside and outside the castle-and they had found nothing, not so much as a trace of her anywhere. As day turned to night Ned began to worry in earnest, though he carefully hid it from his wife. Ned and Catelyn watched as Lady paced in front of the door."It's not like Sansa to just disappear-Arya or Rickon yes, but not Sansa!" Catelyn fretted as she walked over and willed her daughter to appear as she stared out into the blackness.
Jory, Robb and Theron came into the kitchen. "We checked the stables again-no sign of her." The boys exchanged looks.
"What? What was that look? Answer me, son." Ned cast a worried glance at Jory, the captain of the Stark guardsmen before turning his eyes to Robb.
"Some of the settler's boys had come across a patch in the snow stained with blood. They took us to see it and it looked like something...had been laying there but had been moved." Robb answered haltingly.
"The blood was bright red so we figured it was fresh...maybe a half a day old at most," Theon chimed in. "We lost the light before we could look any further."
Catelyn gasped and began to sob while Ned closed his eyes and sighed as he held the bridge of his nose in between his fingertips. "Jory, prepare the guard and make ready to leave at first light. Robb, Theon, you will be ready to take us to the exact spot."
When dawn broke, Ned, Robb and Theon mounted their horses and joined the guardsmen regimen. Robb insisted on bringing along Greywind and Lady. Many of the men balked at the direwolves' presence but Ned knew they would track Sansa faster than any man was capable.
Theon had given each of them one of Sansa's gloves to sniff as Robb held onto their leashes. Lady mournfully howled repeatedly and violently yanked on her leash at the scent of her mistress. After giving each of them time to catch her scent Robb turned them loose. They immediately headed toward the spot where he and Theon had seen the blood in the snow. Everyone followed the direwolves. Lady and Greywind barked and jumped up frantically at a stump some distance away, stopping when they reached the blood trail.
"Looks like someone killed a couple of whitetail stags here, then packed them out," Jory said as he knelt to check the area closer. Ned spied a fuzzy material clinging to a branch and walked over and stood on his toes to pluck the material with his gloved hands. He held up the mystery fur to the light and upon closer inspection Ned realized it was fox fur.
"No fox would be this high up on a tree. This came from someone's cloak-a rather large individual I would wager, judging by the height of the branch this fur came from." He glanced at Jory and saw they had both simultaneously came to the same conclusion. "Wildings."
A week passed quickly in hard travel, each day spent much as the first: riding hard until dark, followed by a simple meal and a dreamless sleep at night. Much of Sansa's fear dissapated as the days went by. Sandor was mostly quiet but when he did speak he was kind and respectful. He watched her closely and made sure she was warm and well fed. They were nearing the foothills and soon they would be north of the Wall.
Sansa thought of home and her family during most of their travels. Surely she would be back in time to welcome the king. The Stark family knew he was due to arrive later in the season. At first, she was excited by the prospect of meeting the king and his family. Her septa had told her his likely intentions for joining houses and increased her lessons in preparation for the visit. She heard the prince was handsome but thought it odd no one said much about his personality. When she asked for more details the servants always avoided answering, and this was began filling her with inexplicable dread.
Soon Sansa found she no longer looked forward to it as much and when she was reminded of it, she shivered involuntarily. She knew she should be happy-didn't every girl want to marry a prince? But as time when on she found the very thought of meeting the prince brought on a sinking feeling in her stomach. Instead of being thrilled at meeting the royal family, the king had become yet another man who wanted her to marry someone she didn't know and move her far away from her family. She tried not to think of what the future would hold after that.
Sansa had gone from possibly marrying a prince to marriage by capture in a sennight-she could hardly believe this had happened to her. Her older brothers used to tease her some wilding would steal her to keep her from wandering away from them as they played in the woods-and it had actually happened. Even if her father recovered her, Sansa knew she was considered rightfully married to Sandor in the eyes of anyone who kept to the old gods-north or south of the Wall. What would happen to her?
As much as she hated to admit it, Sandor was beginning to grow on her-wilding or not. She would not have thought it possible but being so close to him even for just a week already caused tender feelings to start developing for him in her heart. He had promised not to force her into giving him her maidenhead and he had kept his word, lying close for warmth at night but never touching her. Just as he promised he would keep me safe, and after only a few hours of speaking those words he did just that by killing those men that threatened me, she thought to herself.
Sansa wondered if she had made a mistake by reaching out to Sandor that first night. In the moment, she had felt irresistibly drawn to him and was surprised to find she was hurt when he was sarcastic and pulled away from her so suddenly. Why do I even care how he talks or behaves? I don't even know him! He kidnapped me and made me his wife! Sansa fumed as she made their bedrolls ready on the floor of the cave that evening.
Oddly enough, Sansa found she didn't mind his company so much after a while. When she watched him build the fire at night, she noticed that aside from his burns he was a nice enough looking man. So far he had been kind to her and even made funny remarks from time to time, trying to make her laugh-she found she was even beginning to enjoy being with him. I must be crazy to think such things-he's a stranger! We just met a week ago-how can I feel this way about him so soon? What is happening to me? She wondered in amazement.
As a highborn maiden, marrying a stranger was not a foreign idea to her. She was brought up knowing only smallfolk had the luxury of marrying for love. Such had been the case with her own mother and father: their marriage had been arranged and they had found a way to be happy together. Everyone knew it was the way of highborn marriages and accepted this marriage custom as normal.
Any man her parents chose would be a stranger to her and the marriage would take place not long after they met, no different than what had taken place with Sandor. As a dutiful wife, she was expected to work hard to make the match a success and please her husband. An arranged marriage would differ from her marriage to Sandor in only one but very important aspect: her parents would select Sansa's betrothed based on his house. Sansa began to find herself wondering: We both have the blood of the First Men; our ancestors had married in this fashion: why should it be different for us?
Sansa's mind went back to her father. If he sought to annul her marriage by capture, he risked offending his bannermen. She and Arya had overheard Robb and Theon talk of the wildings raiding south of the Wall. If the situtation became critical, the Starks would need the support of all of their bannermen to protect Castle Black. At such a crucial time as this, he can ill afford to risk such a thing, Sansa knew. Would her parents disregard these important considerations and seek to annul their union? She didn't see why they would do such a thing; however if she submitted to the marriage by capture, it would eliminate the threat to her father's support altogether.
She rememberd her father telling them the story of his grandfather and grandmother. After he had seen her in the forest, he had taken her as wife by kidnapping her in the same manner Sandor had taken her. They were happy together until her great grandmother passed away-over 40 years. Her father had taught them to respect the beliefs and cultures of others, no matter how different they might be. It wasn't so long ago her family held the same beliefs as the wildings; they still shared religious traditions and even though she may not like it, she had no right to judge Sandor's ways as wrong.
It was not impossible she and Sandor might end up like her great grandparents-if it had been good enough for them, then Sansa was willing to try to make it work with Sandor as well and spare her father any undo discord between him and his bannermen in the process. She hoped he would not react badly in light of his own sister's kidnapping.
As she watched Sandor roasting the rabbits he had caught for their evening meal over the campfire, he looked over at her and she smiled at him. He paused and stared at her for a moment and then returned her smile before going back to his cooking.
He was no worse than any other man; he may make a fine husband for me after all, she thought as she looked him over. She found him attractive despite his scars and noticed his beautiful stormy gray eyes and muscular physique earlier. Just being near him was beginning to make her feel flustered. Sansa blushed deeply as these thoughts filled her mind while she worked.
She regretted the anguish her absence no doubt was causing her family, and Sansa took a moment and prayed the old gods would give her parents comfort in their time of distress and that in time they would overlook Sandor's low birth. She asked them to help her parents come to see that no matter the circumstances now, this marriage would be best for all concerned and that in time they would come to accept it.
Sansa made up her mind: she would resign herself to being Sandor's wife and would do her best to make him happy, just as she would have done if her parents had arranged their marriage for them. Due to sudden blizzard they had made camp in the late afternoon, and as Sansa finished laying out the bedrolls, she was recalled to the present from her thoughts by the sound of Sandor's voice calling her over to eat. Slowly the young woman walked over to him, determined she would make the best of her situation from then on.
Chapter 3: Willing to Try
Sandor figured a highborn girl would never choose to go along with him willingly. Was it possible she truly meant her words? He stared directly into her face and yet Sansa showed no traces of fear or deceit as she spoke. In fact, her sparkling blue eyes only darkened with deep sadness as she spoke of arranged marriages and her family's suffering from her disappearance.
"My father will end up alienating his bannermen if he seperates us, and I don't want him to have any more troubles...this marriage by capture may benefit both of us." Sansa slowly raised her hand to his face once more, tenderly stroking his cheek with her fingertips.
An uncomfortable awkwardness weighed heavily on Sansa and Sandor as the evening wore on. They ate their meal in silence, each of them deep in their own thoughts. Sansa turned in early to break the tension between them while Sandor whittled away at a piece of wood to still his mind.
When he first caught sight of her, he knew she was not of the Free folk and would need time to adjust to the idea of marriage by capture. She appeared so delicate compared to the Free folk women. Sansa did not fight back or try to escape, and as time went on he grew concerned about the effect her capture was having on her. She spoke very little to him and, aside from their conversation on the first night, she had been very distant with him as they camped each evening. He also noticed deep sadness in her eyes, filling the man with worry for his lovely new wife.
Sandor had not expected her to take it so hard, with her father being Warden of the North. His mother had not been of the Free folk, either and his father kidnapped her near Castle Black when she was very young. Being with Sansa reminded him of how she spoke of her difficult adjustment to life north of the Wall, and it took a long time before she fell in love his father. He was a giant of a man and ferocious in battle and yet gentle and very openly affectionate towards his mother, bringing much amusement to the clan.
His father had been awarded many valuables uncommon to Free folk for his bravery, and he always used them to trade for items he thought would make his mother happy. Over the years he acquired lavender plants, wash basins, a bathtub and a water pump for the kitchen. He situated their family home near hot springs so she would have hot water for bathing and planted the lavender in a warm enclosure for her homemade soaps.
No matter how large or small the gesture, his mother was always excited to receive items that reminded her of her childhood home. She would throw her arms around his waist excitedly and in return he would scoop her up as she kissed his face in front of everyone; Sandor smiled at the memory. Despite their difficult beginnings, it was very evident that she came to love him all the more for the efforts he made toward her happiness. Despite Gregor and everything else that transpired, they loved each other very much and when she died his father never recovered from the grief that tormented his heart.
Sandor wanted to have the same happiness with Sansa and no matter how unusual it may seem to the Clan, he was determined he likewise would seek out ways to make her life with him happy. I'll start right away. I've left her to her own devices long enough.
Not long after midnight, a strong snowstorm from the Frostfangs swept down over their camp. Sandor placed hot stones from the campfire inside the cave to provide more warmth for Sansa, who lay huddled under a pile of furs as she watched him place large branches cuttings of evergreen trees at the entrance.
"W-what are you doing Sandor?" She stuttered out.
"I'm making a sort of lean-to, trying to block out the wind so you will be warmer," he answered.
"W-will the animals be alright?"
"Yes, Little bird. They're used to this kind of weather. I have them sheltered under a crag and covered in blankets." When Sandor finished, he lay down on his side next to her, using his body to block the wind from Sansa. After several minutes, he carefully put his arm around her and pulled her a bit closer to him.
"What are you doing?" She asked nervously.
"Relax, Sansa, I'm not going to hurt you. Laying closer together will provide more warmth for us."
She and Arya often snuggled under the covers together when blizzards howled outside, telling each other scary stories and giggling until her mother came in to quiet them. I miss Arya. The tears that began falling down Sansa's cheeks instantly froze to her skin.
Sandor watched her for a moment. "I'm surprised you're from the North; the way the cold affects you I would say Dorne would have been a better guess," he said as he took a metal canteen of water and held it over the fire.
"Winterfell sits on hot springs that flow throughout the castle walls. We were always very warm indoors and we always had as much hot water available as we needed."
Sandor brought the canteen and knelt down beside her. Carefully he took a handkerchief out of his coat and poured the warm water over it, then dabbed Sansa' frozen tears from her cheeks with surprising gentleness. Sansa's eyes widened at his touch but she stayed still and let him wash her face, and afterward shyly smiled as she thanked him. Grinning at her, Sandor then tucked her into the furs.
Her eyes narrowed at the blood beginning to seep through his coat. "Please, let me look at that for you," she pleaded, and getting up from her bedroll she knelt beside him to take a closer look.
"It's just a scratch Little bird," he said, not wanting to worry her.
"Please, it's the least I can do for you. You saved my life," she smiled, leaning down next to him. "It shouldn't still open and bleed after a week. I learned a little about tending wounds from our maester. My lady mother always fainted so I was always helping him fix up my brothers and sister."
"I suppose you won't let me sleep in peace until you get a look at it," Sandor sighed with exasperation, removing his outer furs and coat.
Sansa suddenly felt bashful watching him remove his clothing and lowered her eyes as he continued undressing. Grimacing in pain, he gingerly lifted off his woolen tunic, growling and cursing as it pulled on the dried blood.
A deep blush spread across Sansa's face at the sight of his bare chest, noticing the hair from his neck below his beard went all the way down to his stomach. She saw goosebumps raise on his skin as the cold air touched his flesh. Moving closer, Sansa touched his side and frowned as she focused on his injury.
Sandor was soon distracted by the lavender scent of her hair and the feel of her warm hands on his skin to pay much attention to the pain. She's probably never touched a grown man's bare skin before, he thought, and Sandor found the knowledge that he was the first man she touched this way paired with her shy innocence powerfully aroused him.
"The blood dries and makes the material stick to your wound. When you pull it bleeds anew. We'll need the warm water to loosen it," Sansa held the canteen over the hot stones to reheat the water and then gently poured it over his side, allowing it to trickle over the wound while she simultaneously pulled the material from Sandor's skin. Shouting and cursing, the fearsome man barely managed to remain still as she worked.
Sansa gasped when she saw the size of the wound. The gash was six inches long though the cut wasn't too deep and the edges were pink and appeared to be healing. "The blade must have just grazed you, thank the old gods," Sansa sighed in relief.
"I told you it was nothing, woman," he grumbled, brushing a stray strand of her hair from his face.
She carefully washed the wound out with wine, causing Sandor to jump away from her cursing in pain.
"You're wasting good wine-ouch! Seven hells, woman! Are you trying to kill me? " The man continued swearing up a storm while Sansa patted the area dry gently.
Hmm-he calls me 'woman' now, Sansa smirked to herself. "Sandor I am sorry; I did not mean to hurt you. The cut is clean. Let me stitch it up so it heals properly and won't become infected. Do you have a needle?"
"Fuck me, you want to do what? Sew me up like your fancy embroidery?"
Sansa couldn't prevent a giggle from escaping her lips. "No, actually it's more like cross stitching," she grinned at him.
"Just get it over with," he growled, handing her a needle from his bag.
As an adult, he never had a woman tend his wounds before and found it both annoying as well as somewhat pleasant having Sansa take care of him. He eyed her closely as she took thread from the hem of her dress, then rinsed in in wine and ran it through the needle. Sandor took several large swigs from his wineskin, swearing and barely managing to stay still as Sansa sewed his wound closed.
Noticing his distress, Sansa stopped sewing for a moment and placed her other hand on his chest. "I know it's painful and I am so sorry. I'll be done in a moment." Her tenderness towards him stopped his fidgeting and swearing cold.
Slowly she ran her fingertips above his wound, biting her lower lip as she examined her handiwork. "This should do the job nicely. Now we need not worry about infection."
Sandor sharply drew in a deep breath from the pleasure of her touch and Sansa immediately apologized again as she placed one hand over his heart while she stroked his side to comfort him. She thinks I'm still in pain. In reality he was in heaven, relishing the feeling of her soft fingers on his skin. Gods be damned, being so close to her is almost worth the stitches, he smiled to himself when she turned back to the wound.
"Forgive me, I do not wish to cause you any pain," Sansa whispered and the young woman found she could not help staring at him. Sandor was so big and powerful, and she had never seen a grown man naked from the waist up before. Blushing, she tentatively ran her fingers along his chest, admiring his chiseled muscles and strong defined stomach, and a soft sigh escaped her lips as she touched him.
Sandor placed his hand over hers, the desire in his eyes unmistakable. Her blush deepened and she shyly smiled at him in return. "I'll help you keep it clean and in a week or two I'll be able to remove them," she whispered, slowly moving her hand away from him.
Sandor grabbed her wrist and pulled her closer. Sansa could feel his warm breath on her face as he spoke. "You're not playing some game with me, are you, Sansa?" He snarled as he searched her face for deception.
"No...oh no, I'm so sorry, it was wrong of me to touch you in that manner...I-I shouldn't have taken liberties. I was just admiring you...you're so strong and muscular. I thought that now we are wed you would not mind it," she stammered in fear, remembering to look him straight in the eyes as she spoke.
Sandor's deep gray eyes glittered with anger as he pulled her closer still. What the hell was that supposed to mean-she was admiring me? What is she up to? He wondered angrily.
"Don't play any games with me trying to escape. It won't work," he hissed menacingly, still visibly surprised at her words. No woman had ever admired his appearance, let alone admitted it as far as he remembered. Sandor was taken aback and loosened his grip on her arm somewhat.
"No...oh, no Sandor, I would not do that, I swear it. I've thought it over, and..." she anxiously wrung her hands.
"You thought what over?" He asked, pulling her still closer as he stared into her eyes.
"Well, even though the way our marriage took place is foreign to my people now... it is exactly the way my great grandparents were wed."
Sandor was startled by her words. Where is she going with this? He leaned closer and looked into her eyes.
"I..I myself would have never been able to chose my husband anyway. I would have ended up in an arranged marriage to a stranger my parents chose for me. My father's childhood friend hopes I might marry his eldest son to unite our houses. I know nothing about him, I have never even met him," Sansa sighed sadly, looking at her hands.
"Go on," Sandor said in a softer tone.
"See I've started to...to like you, Sandor. We could get to know each other better and this way at least I would be able to choose to stay with you rather than be forced off into a marriage with some stranger I know nothing about," her voice lowered as she continued, shyly daring to look at him through lowered lashes.
Sandor suddenly felt pity for her in spite of himself, saddened by the realization that this beautiful highborn maiden found staying with him to be a less frightening prospect than being given in marriage to some unknown lord. Oviously she was nervous that this man already had designs on her. She was afraid-afraid to be used as a pawn by her own family to join another prominent house. The simple clansman was astonished to realize that she felt she would have more control over her life with him, despite the fact the he kidnapped her. It was an utterly unbelievable revelation to the man. Sansa's voice stirred him from his thoughts.
"Sandor, you have treated me with respect and honor, well, at least as much as can be expected in such a situation as this. You've been more, well more...understanding than many men," her cheeks flushed bright red with embarrassment as she spoke.
Sandor smiled in spite of himself at her innocence and found her maidenly blushes and close proximity maddeningly arousing. Clearing his throat, Sandor tried to ignore his body's reaction to her so he could discern her intentions.
"If there was only one thing I could change, it would be the suffering my disappearance has caused my family. It hurts to know they are so worried about me, I wish there was a way I could let them know I am safe."
Sandor looked away from her when she said this; hearing her words almost made him feel guilty...almost, but not quite. She was so close to him and never looked more beautiful to Sandor than she did now, her cheeks blushing as she looked at him with those lovely blue eyes. Focus, damn you, he cleared his throat again as she continued.
"I...I would like to try to make this work-our marriage, I mean to say. I know it will take time for us to get to know one another and all but maybe one day, I could..." Sansa hesitated.
"One day, you could...what?" Sandor said in a low tone, releasing her and tentatively placing his arms around her waist. Sansa blushed and placed her hand on his cheek. Holding her in his arms, feeling her soft small hand caressing his face filled Sandor's heart with happiness and his body with desire.
"Maybe I could learn to love you and be a good wife to you and maybe you would someday...be happy you chose to take me," she dropped her eyes, her voice barely above a whisper at her last words.
Sandor was just about to let his guard down when the thought came to him: She said that her grandparents married this way?
"Wait a minute, I thought your family resided at Winterfell for over a thousand years." Sandor growled at her, jerking away, the man filled with suspicion and angry with himself for being drawn in to her so easily.
Sansa immediately felt the loss of his touch in her heart as well as her body. "You speak rightly. My family raised our home in Winterfell over a thousand years ago but our family held to the old gods and kept the marriage traditions of our ancestors even as they resided at Winterfell. We keep the old gods still and have a lovely godswood with a Heart tree. It...well, it has only been relatively recent that we needed to change our customs."
He pulled her close to him once more and stared into her eyes, his face mere inches from hers."Why is that, pray tell?"
"Because we lost much of our hold on the lands of the north and had to seek alliances from other houses to strengthen support for our claim. The easiest way to accomplish that is to join with other prominent houses through marriage." He knew that part must be true, at least; Sansa gained no advantage by lying to him about such details.
Sandor figured a highborn girl would never choose to go along with him willingly. Was it possible she truly meant her words? He stared directly into her face and yet Sansa showed no traces of fear or deceit as she spoke. In fact, her sparkling blue eyes only darkened with deep sadness as she spoke of arranged marriages and her family's suffering from her disappearance.
It was true; she was no typical highborn maiden and the ways of the Free folk were not entirely foreign to her. Her family had practiced this form of marriage in the past...did he dare to actually believe her? Sandor's emotions were in turmoil at the thought she may actually be sincere in her words to him.
"My father will end up alienating his bannermen if he separates us and I don't want him to have any more troubles. Maybe it is the will of the gods that this marriage by capture will benefit both of us." Sansa slowly raised her hand to his face once more, tenderly stroking his cheek with her fingertips.
He lowered his head and gave in to her touch, still averting his eyes from hers as he thought over their situation. He knew her father needed his men's support and he didn't fault her for wanting to help him. Sandor wanted to trust she meant her words, but it was all so unbelievable he could hardly allow his mind to accept it.
"Sandor, I'm willing to give us a chance, you must believe that," she whispered as she she leaned in and pressed her cheek against his.
Would such a beautiful highborn woman sincerely grow to love him? He hardly dared allow himself to entertain the possibility. Sandor had been lonely and longed for a wife and children but most of the Free folk women were intimidated by his size and too frightened to look upon his scarred face even to talk to him. He had been alone for so long and no woman had even shown him affection since his sister and mother had died. Now it seemed everything he had longed for was about to come within his reach and with a woman as beautiful and kind as Sansa, no less.
After Gregor had deliberately burned him, the Clan Council had given Sandor time to heal, then had driven his monster of a brother out of the Woodsmen Clan for his barbarism. He left home some 20 years ago and the last Sandor heard he was in King's Landing where his cruelty had been rewarded in the form of knighthood only a few months past his seventeenth nameday.
His father had been a giant of a man, even bigger than Gregor at over eight feet tall. As a child, his father seemed invincible to Sandor but he too had died in a fierce battle some ten years hence, leaving Sandor the last surviving Clegane north of the Wall before his eighteenth nameday. As such he inherited all of the rights and responsibilities his family name entitled to him and enjoyed a distinguished place among the Woodsmen Clan. He father's bravery had been handsomely rewarded over the years and Sandor was very well off by the standards of his Clan and yet he still missed having a family of his own. With Sansa it seemed he would have that, too, at last.
She blushed so prettily as she spoke to him and her words deeply touched his heart and filled him with the hope he had thought had long died inside of him many years ago. He pulled Sansa's lush body close to him, holding her tightly against his chest and buried his face in her hair to hide the tears falling from his eyes.
Sansa squeezed him close to her, warming his heart with the soft sound of her laughing happily in his embrace. When she gently pulled away, she took his hands into hers, blushing as she stared down at their entwined fingers.
She is shy and nervous with me still, Sandor recognized. The feel of her body so close to his had him as hard as stone but he would not pressure her. They would have plenty of time for that later. He would not risk her new found trust in him for the sake of satisfying his own fleshly desires. Bringing her hands up to his lips, Sandor kissed each of them several times as he smiled down at her. "I do, lass. I believe you."
Smiling, she helped him get his shirt back on so as not to tear the stitches. As they lay down side by side, Sandor pulled the furs over them and wrapped her close in his arms. This time he felt her body stiffen for a moment, then reassured he wasn't going to push further, she relaxed and placed her hands over his arms. Exhausted, the couple quickly fell into a deep sleep, laying in the same position until dawn.
Chapter 4: The Search
"Little Bird, it is not our custom to contact the southerners. When you are part of a village you must think of what is best for everyone, not just for you and I. Alerting your parents to our whereabouts could have serious ramifications for all of my people...we do not want them aware of our exact location."
The sound of Lady's mournful howling filled the forest as Robb struggled to physically restrain her while Theon wrangled to get her leash tied around her neck. The distressed animal thrashed and twisted away from Robb's efforts in her determination to follow Sansa's scent. When the other men tried to assist him, Greywind snarled and defended her aggressively; so frightening was his display of protectiveness that even Theon stepped away.
Nymeria and Shaggydog crashed through the brush past Eddard and the guardsmen racing toward Robb. Each of them sniffed Lady and Robb in concern before taking a position to protect her from anyone that tried to approach. The three direwolves' behavior frightened the rest of the men and eventually they left Robb to finish the job alone.
Arya and Rickon raced up the path following their direwolves. Seeing her father with the guardsmen, she said, "Forgive us, Father; Nymeria and Shaggydog broke through the kitchen window and we were only following them." Arya said as she glanced at the scene around her.
"We could hear Lady howling clear in the godswood. Did you find Sansa?" She asked nervously.
"No Arya, we think a wilding may have taken her." Ned answered gravely.
"They must have heard Lady too and came to help her," said Rickon, too little to understand what his father meant. Running up to Shaggydog, the direwolf immediately stopped snarling and wagged his tail like a puppy at the boy. Ned knew that only his children could handle the direwolves and so he motioned for Jory to lead the men back home.
Arya frowned, "I'll go grab needle!"
Ned patted the children on the head and smiled wearily. "Arya's so much like Lyanna," he smiled in spite of himself.
"Of course I could use your help but that won't be necessary. Right now I need you to go help your brother," he said.
Once they were behind the walls of Winterfell, he called his bannermen to arms and enlisted them in the search for Sansa. Ned sent a raven to Jon informing him of Sansa's disappearance and their plans to follow her trail beyond the Wall. Ned commanded Robb to ready his horse and Theon would stay behind with Catelyn and the children.
Ned became restless as time wore on; he couldn't bear the thought Sansa may have been taken. Just like Lyanna, he worried, remembering the disastrous outcome for his sister. If Sansa is alive, she very well could be married to some wilding man by now. My sweet innocent Sansa...he shuddered and pushed the thought out of his mind.
Under such extreme circumstances it was his duty to take his bannermen into consideration but Ned had heard enough talk: it was already near noon and time he was out there searching for his little girl. Jumping up from his chair, Ned banged his fist on the weirwood desk shouting "Enough!"
Silenced by his outburst, the men all turned to look at him in surprise. Ned had never been a man to lose his temper and it moved the men to action and within a few hours all where assembled at the gates ready to get the search underway.
Robb came up on horseback with Lady and Greywind running along side him. "Father, forgive me. I know they make the men and horses nervous but Lady is inconsolable. We need her and Greywind to track Sansa and the wildings would be fools to attack us in their company."
Ned had to agree with him and nodding at Robb he waved at the men to follow them.
As they continued their travel north on the winding trail, a heavy blizzard descended upon them, frustrating Ned as he and the men struggled against the howling wind and snow. He spurred his horse and demanded the men persevere with him in going further but soon white out conditions made travel impossible. Ned knew they had no choice: for their own safety they had to find shelter and wait out the weather.
At first light Sandor awakened with a start and was surprised to find Sansa had not moved away from him during the night but instead snuggled closer. Enjoying the closeness of her, he burrowed his face into her hair and inhaled her scent. When she still did not stir, he tenderly stroked her face with his finger as he watched her sleep. She was even more beautiful than he originally thought, lost in her peaceful dreams with her face relaxed in slumber. Her full red lips parted with each drawn breath while her full breasts pressed enticingly against his forearm, only increasing Sandor's strong desire for her.
She is so soft and warm...Sandor's body reacted powerfully to the feel of her lying beside him, holding her close in his arms. But as much as he enjoyed the feel of her, he knew they had to move quickly before the next storm came along. Sneakily he placed a small kiss on her forehead before he gently roused her from sleep.
Outside, the snow was falling in flurries and quickly adding another layer to the already deep blanket of fresh powder covering the camp. After eating a quick meal of bread and jerky, they readied the animals for the trip and within a half hour they were making their way up the steep trail into the jagged foothills of the Frostfangs.
Fresh snow from the overnight storm made staying on the trail difficult but Sandor's experience enabled them to make good time in spite of the weather. The sun became more visible as they ascended, lending a sparkling appearance to the snow covered pine needles. "I'm so surprised you can stay on the trail..I can't even make it out anymore!" Sansa marveled.
Sandor chuckled, "My people call me the Hound, Little bird, I can track anything through any kind of weather."
"I hope you will teach me how to read trails too," she smiled at him. Surprised, Sandor nodded, pleased she was willing to learn.
"How far is your home from here?" Sansa asked and Sandor's harsh laugh filled the still air at her words.
"Do you mean, 'How much longer will it take us to get to our home?' What's the matter, are you already tired of spending so much time on horseback, Little bird?" He smiled at her. Sansa blushed and nodded in agreement, "Yes, that is it. I was trying not to complain. I am not used to so much riding."
"Well, for Free folk this trip would be a week, maybe less if the weather holds since we know shortcuts and ways of backtracking through the forest. For southerners like you staying on the main trails, it would be a matter of at least a week, if not more."
Sansa realized she may be at home with Sandor for a two weeks or more before her family would know she was alright. Despairing at the thought of her parents spending such a long period of time agonizing over her, she sighed sadly as she brushed the tears from her eyes.
Sansa also dearly missed her beloved Lady and she had a strange, vivid dream the night before that she was Lady. It was so real...she could feel the snow on her feet and smell the pine needles and dirt on the ground. As she wove through the trees, she felt the cold air on her face and saw Greywind running beside her. Robb had been riding his horse along side of them and she heard him shouting commands to Greywind...it felt so real she was sorry when she had awakened.
Her brother Bran often had this type of dream but this was a first for Sansa. Their father's friend Howland Reed had the gift of greensight and had come to Winterfell to help Bran understand the dreams he had since his accident. She wished she could ask him what her dream meant.
I wonder if my parents would let me take Lady to live with us...maybe they would be willing to bring her when they visited one day. Sandor might be afraid of her at first but once he saw how loyal and sweet she was, Sansa was certain he would allow her to keep Lady with them.
"Sandor, forgive me but is there nothing we could do to contact my family, just so they will know that I am alive and safe?" She asked, her voice filled with concern.
Sighing deeply, he lowered his head and closed his eyes momentarily before turning to her. "Little bird, it is not our custom to contact the southerners. When you are part of a village you must think of what is best for everyone, not just for yourself. Alerting your parents to our whereabouts could have serious ramifications for all of my people. We do not want them aware of our exact location. Sometimes it causes serious trouble with the Night's Watch. Vows or not, not all of them are as they appear to be, you know."
"My half brother is a Night's Watchman! He just recently took his oath. I hope you will meet him one day," Sansa exclaimed. "They even let him keep his direwolf Ghost with him. He's pure white and quiet as a cat. I have a direwolf too-she's beautiful and so sweet! Her name is Lady."
Sandor groaned inwardly. Could this get any worse...she keeps a fucking direwolf as a pet? First I find out she's the warden of the North's daughter; now her brother is a member of the Nights Watch?! Fuck me, what's next-is her sister the Dragon Queen?.
It was only natural for her to be concerned for her relatives and he did not want to cause any undo distress for his new inlaws. Sandor knew it was dangerous but he decided he would try to contact her family, for his deepening affection was beginning to make it difficult for the man to deny her anything. Sandor rested his chin on top of her head. "I don't want you to suffer with worry Sansa. Once we arrive home, I will approach the Clan council. If I get their approval, I'll send ravens to your brother on the Wall and your family in Winterfell to put their minds at ease."
Sansa excitedly turned in the saddle and reached up to him. Gently she drew his face down to hers and startled Sandor by tenderly kissing his cheek. Blinking several times in surprise, a huge smile spread across his face as he felt the moisture her lips left on his face.
"Oh thank you Sandor...thank you so much! You can't imagine what this means to me!" Sansa cried before kissing his cheek once more and stroking his face, all the while smiling brilliantly at him.
Sandor was speechless; he was thrilled by the feel of her lips on his skin and even more excited to find she felt so free to show affection towards him.
He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him."I know how important it is to make your loved ones happy," he said softly before taking her hand from his face and kissing it in return.
The blizzard blew in hard from the north, sending Ned and his men running for cover. Jory and a few men rode ahead to scout the area. After several hours they came back reporting a series of caves with rock outcroppings to the east that would provide suitable shelter for the men and horses alike.
The howling winds and driving snow held them for four days. The men whiled the hours away drinking and telling horror stories of the fabled creatures above the Wall. Robb stayed close to his father, watching him with concern. Ned hadn't spoken a word in hours and stared out at the white wall of snow with a grim expression while Lady and Greywind positioned themselves at their feet, napping peacefully.
"If the wildings took Sansa, what will happen to her?"
Ned sniffed then said, "Well, that depends on whether it's a band of renegades or a few settlers. If she was kidnapped for ransom by one of the renegade factions, we would have heard from them by last night-they would've made sure of it. A more likely scenario is that she caught the eye of a settler, who decided to marry her and take her with him."
Robb was indignant. Who dared kidnap my sister? "How dare they-they cannot do that, Father! We cannot allow it!" Robb fumed. Greywind looked up and growled low.
"The old gods give us northmen every right to do it, son. Your great grandfather married your great grandmother the same way, don't you remember me telling you that story?"
"Yes, well..." Robb muttered, his mind inadvertently going to Jeyne. She was one of Sansa's friends and he had seen her only a handful of times and yet he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The old way certainly seems easier. I can barely get up the nerve to speak to Jeyne, let alone ask for her hand. Maybe if I was in Great Grandfather Stark's position I would do the same with her. Still, Sansa was his sister and he wasn't about to allow some man do her that way.
Ned smiled at the look on Robb's face. He understood his son's turmoil very well, having felt the same when Lyanna was taken by Rhaegar Targaryen. Even though he knew there was a possibility she had gone willingly, the whole situation was still intolerable to him.
"Sansa may well be rightfully married in the eyes of the old gods, but that doesn't mean kidnapping her will come without consequences. Do you understand me, son?"
Robb felt a chill of fear and recognition race through his body. The young man was well aware of the lengths his father and his childhood friend Robert Baratheon had gone to rescue his Aunt Lyanna. All of the Five Kingdoms were all familiar with it as well; the war that followed was known as Robert's Rebellion and made Robert Baratheon King on the Iron Throne. As a reward for his service, Robert had given his father the lordship and eventually it led to his father receiving his mother's hand as well, thus joining House Stark with House Tully.
"Yes, Father, of course." Robb replied, trying not to think of what the outcome had been for his Aunt Lyanna. He needed to focus on finding Sansa for now.
The storm blew itself out by midnight and at the break of dawn the men where on the trail once more. Lady and Greywind ran well ahead of the men, sniffing and barking as they picked up Sansa's scent on various landmarks. Robb and Jory searched the areas thoroughly but still the men found nothing.
Ned's anxiety mounted at their apparent failure. Several hours down the trail, Lady howled wildly and ran for one of the caves off the main trail with Greywind following closely at her heels. She ran inside one of the caves sniffing the ground frantically, letting out a long howl when she reached a spot close to the back wall of the cave. Greywind snarled as he sniffed a spot closest to Lady.
Robb and Jory knelt down to inspect the area. "Looks like heated rocks had been placed on the floor here for warmth," said Jory pointing to a scorch mark on the ground.
Ned knelt beside him, then walked over to the mouth of the cave and picked up pine bows that lay nearby. "He made a lean-to to keep the wind out, whoever he is. He most certainly would only take this much trouble for a woman he cares for. The man most certainly has Sansa. At least we can be greatful he is taking care of her well."
Ned glanced over at Lady, who had laid down on the spot she found Sansa's scent and refused to budge when Robb pulled on her leash. Her howls echoed throughout the cave, casting an uneasiness over the men. "Let's push onward," Ned commanded the men.
"Someone STOLE my sister Sansa? She's missing?" Jon shouted as he read the message Samwell Tarley pulled from the raven. Jon sat down and placed his head in his hands in disbelief while Ghost began pacing at the sound of Jon's distressed voice, finally laying at his master's feet.
"Who does your father think took her?" Sam asked.
"Wildings...he thinks a wilding man kidnapped her to take to wife and is bringing her north of the Wall!" Jon answered incredulously, jumping up and pounding his fist on the door several times as an outlet for his anger.
Sansa was beautiful, no doubt she could have caught any man's eye. But she was so delicate she would never make it north of the Wall. Arya, maybe...but not Sansa. "This can't be happening..." Jon shook his head once again.
Lord Commander Mormont entered the room to investigate the noise and Sam quickly explained what happened to Sansa. "If one of the wildings kidnapped your sister, they will never tell us anything," he shook his head."Such a coup as taking a highborn maiden will not go unnoticed by Mance Rayder and the Lord of Bones. Jon, they will know where she is. The Free folk in general won't offer up that kind of information without their leave."
Panic settled into the pit of Jon's stomach as he realized the truth of his words.
"There is only one person that can lead us to her...the Lord of Bones."
Jon and Sam both turned and stared at him in shock-how exactly where they supposed to find them?
Jon said, "Wait...there was a girl, a redheaded girl named Ygritte that was with him when I was taken a few weeks ago. I had spared her life in the past, so she returned the favor and convinced him to have mercy on me."
"If you find her, maybe she will tell you what the Lord of Bones knows of your sister's whereabouts. I give you leave to look for her, we can spare you for a few days." Lord Mormont replied, much to Jon's relief.
Jon and Sam wasted no time readying their mounts and by nightfall they set out for the ice fields where they had last seen the girl.
Chapter 5: The Scouts Meet the Hound and His Bride
Sandor expected the chief would send out faster scouts to take the pack horse back to the people as quickly as possible, allowing them to come in at a more leisurely pace so as to not run the risk of ruining his horse. But these scouts were not from his Clan, and their approach was wrong for the direction of his village. With Sansa in the saddle in front of him, he was in no position to confront them. Turning around, he backtracked behind them and to his amusement they barely seemed to notice.
Ygritte sat high from her vantage point on the ice field slopes of the Frostfangs staring out at the foothills below. She was proud of being the only woman among the Lord of Bones' band of fighters and her excellent vision and sword skills distinguished her among the men of the group.
Far in the distance, she spotted a large contingency of men on horseback with their banners flying. "Am I seeing things?" she wondered aloud. Never had she seen so many men coming from south of the Wall.
After several hours of scouting she questioned her vision, as looking at the snow fields for long periods of time was known to cause mirages and blindness. She blinked the snowflakes out of her eyes several times, trying to adjust her eyes to focus on the scene before her.
Squinting closely, she was barely able make out the unmistable Stark sigil on their banners-a direwolf on a field of gray. A large group of Stark bannermen headed into the foothills with two large beasts running along side a young red haired man seemingly leading the way.
"What is that running alongside the horses? Are those direwolves with them?" She turned to the scout at her left.
"Aye, it appears so. The Starks are known for taming them. Some say they even have a magical bond with the beasts."
"I didn't know dirwolves could be tamed!" Ygritte said in amazement.
"They can't. Only Starks are able to tame them. They have kept them like pets for generations. It is said some of them can even share thoughts with the beasts."
"Oh Rafe, you're joshing me now!" She laughed.
"No, for certain...I was with Rafe and the Lord of Bones a few weeks past when came across one of Lord Eddard's sons. Jon-the bastard child they say, who serves the Night's Watch-was out alone when we caught him," the second scout called Erik answered.
"His direwolf is huge intimidating beast of pure white and almost the size of a bear. We saw him from a distance as he went back to the Wall with the other men. That mean son of a bitch wolf killed three of our men the past few weeks. He's as quiet as a shadow cat. Damnedest thing I've ever seen." Rafe continued.
"Humph, this I would like to see for myself," Ygritte said, shaking her head in amazement. She knew Jon Snow and his direwolf Ghost but she kept that fact hidden from the other two men. A girl is entitled to her secrets.
"We'd best get back and report those men to the Lord himself."
Memories of the past few weeks flooded her mind as Ygritte hiked back to the camp with the other two scouts. The men were chattering on about the White Walkers and the men they knew that fought them but she paid them little mind. Her thoughts kept going back to Jon Snow, who along with two other soldiers of the Night's Watch had captured her a month ago.
ord Mormont ordered him to kill her and took his direwolf back to their camp with them. The beast was huge; he was near as tall as her on four legs. He's loyal, that direwolf...he refused to leave Jon, but after he spoke a few words to the animal it obediently loped back to the other men. It was a remarkable thing to witness, she had to admit.
She had kicked, screamed, swore, and taunted him when he dragged her over to a rock for beheading, determined he would not see the fear of death in her eyes. Jon had raised his sword but at the last minute he struck the rock next to her head instead and turned her loose.
Immediately she fled back to camp and reported what had happened and within the hour the Lord of Bones, Rafe and Bors had captured him in return. The Lord of Bones had dismissed the other men, then called her out of her position and gave her first opportunity to castrate him.
After he had spared her, Ygritte couldn't help but feel a certain obligation to him. She also thought he was rather handsome with his dark curly hair, so instead of castrating him she convinced the others to force him to walk alone back to the Wall at nightfall. Being caught out at night this far north of the Wall meant almost certain death for him but it was the most she dared do under the circumstances.
They trudged into camp and requested one of his lieutenants to see them. Ygritte and the men where surprised to see Mance Rayder come out of the ice cave with the Lord of Bones following him. Immediately Ygritte and the men bowed toward him and he motioned for them to rise. "What have you found?" the Lord of Bones asked.
"We saw a large group of Stark bannermen with their colors flying heading into the foothills north of the Wall," Ygritte began. Mance and the Lord of Bones exchanged looks, so she paused before continuing. "They are traveling in the company of two direwolves, m'lord."
"We need to find out what they want here." Mance said and the Lord of Bones nodded in agreement. "Ygritte, take two fresh scouts and find out what is so important that they would risk their lives to come into our land with their colors flying."
Ygritte nodded, "Yes m'lord, we'll make haste," she bowed once more before leaving to collect the scouts and horses necessary for travel.
The following day Ygritte and the two new scouts backtracked the trail she had spotted the Stark bannermen following. From a distance the men spotted a large fierce looking man on a huge black courser with a small redhaired young woman riding in front of him on the saddle. The unlikely pair had a packhorse loaded with meat following along beside them.
"No doubt some settlers returning from the hunt," the first scout called Osgar said.
"Aye, we should see if they're ready to share some of that meat," Maon replied, turning his horse their way.
"Not so fast," Ygritte warned. "That man has the look of the fierce Woodsman Clan and clearly is no stranger to battle. Look at his greatsword. That girl is southern, I'd wager; she has the look of the Riverlands...something isn't right with that pair."
Within an hour of first spotting them, the couple dropped out of sight. Scanning the lower trails, Ygritte couldn't believe they had just disappeared so suddenly. Who is that Woodsman, anyway?
"Are you lost or looking for someone?" A voice from behind them asked.
Ygritte groaned as she faced two Woodsman scouts. "We're scouts serving Mance Rayder under the Lord of Bones. I'm Ygritte; who are you?" She asked.
"Edgar and Alrik are our name. We are scouts from the Woodsman Clan. That's our best hunter, Sandor Clegane and his kill your men had designs on. Be glad you didn't cross his path. There should be plenty for all from the looks of it. Come along with us now."
"We came down here tracking a group of Stark bannermen headed this way. They have their colors flying and are in the company of two direwolves. Mance wants to know why they risked coming here. Any ideas, men?"
"We're about to collect the packhorse from Sandor now. Let's go down and see if it has anything to do with that pretty red-haired girl with him," Alrik said with a wink. Ygritte rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement, then motioned her men to follow Alrik and Edgar down the trail.
Sandor kept up a quick pace during the following three days of travel. He managed to stay one step ahead of the storms that regularly blew down from the north. The days came and went much as the first had traveling all day on horseback until nightfall then made camp and fell into a dreamless sleep.
At night, Sandor held her close under the furs as he listened to her talk about her father and brothers, Arya and Lady, her septa and Maester Luwin; making lemoncakes with her mother, the Heart tree in the godswood. But to her disappointment he shared very little about his family with her; in face he remained silent throughout most of the morning despite the fact the were nearing his village.
Anxiously she began to worry he was afraid his people wouldn't like her. Sansa made her mind up that she would try to find out more about his family and his people when they stopped to rest for the evening.
Sansa could certainly see why her Uncle Benjen had said the Night's Watch had trouble finding the wildings. Sandor had them on hidden trails winding through the foothills until Sansa lost all sense of direction. Looking around, she could barely make out the trail they were on but since Sandor seemed comfortable enough, she did not worry. When the young woman looked over her shoulder at the trail behind them, she noticed Stranger's tracks were nearly invisible.
Sandor occasionally scanned the slopes around him, his dark gray eyes narrowing as he searched-for what Sansa did not know. Looked around her once more she watched him closely, then went back to her thoughts. As each day passed she grew increasingly impressed with the amount of knowledge her husband possessed of survival and travel in the north. Her husband. Sansa knew she had to get accustomed to thinking of Sandor that way before she reached his home. Still, she giggled to herself whenever the word came to her mind.
Sansa was determined she would do whatever was necessary to be a credit to him and desperately wanted his village to like her. She was still mulling this over when Sandor quickly dismounted and took Stranger by the reigns, leading him on foot off into the brush. "What is it?" she whispered to him. He raised his finger to his lips showing he meant for her to be quiet.
Sandor had spotted them as they gained altitude at the treeline. The scouts had been tracking them on a trail high above the treeline for half the morning. They must be young and inexperienced...a more seasoned group would never risk being caught out in open country.
He expected the chief would send out faster scouts to take the pack horse back to the people as quickly as possible, allowing Sandor to come in at a more leisurely pace so as to not run the risk of ruining his horse. But these scouts were not from his Clan, and their approach was wrong for the direction of his village.
With Sansa in the saddle in front of him, Sandor was in no position to confront them. Turning around, he backtracked behind them and to his amusement they barely seemed to notice. Soon he heard the faint sound of hooves up the trail. Sandor jumped off Stranger and led him and the packhorse into a tall tree stand up slope and then motioned for Sansa to be quiet. Cupping his hands in front of his mouth, he made a loud cawing sound three times.
He paused for a moment then he heard it: somewhere up ahead on the trail scouts from his village returned the same three caws. That's Alrik's call all right. Edgar is probably with him...but who are the other three?
He smiled at Sansa reassuringly as they waited for the group to reach their position. Up the trail came the two Woodsman scouts along with three others Sandor did not recognize.
Sandor cawed twice to make sure all was well. "Alrik replied with two caws. Everything must be alright," he whispered to Sansa. Alrik loped up to Sandor, who had stepped out of the brush to meet him.
"We saw the venison on the packhorse. The village will be very pleased." Sandor eyed the red haired girl and the two men with her suspiciously.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "Don't even think of trying to steal our meat or I'll cut the three of you in half."
"We come at the orders of Mance Rayder. There has been a large group of Stark bannermen on the trail behind you some miles back and we're here to find out why they're here in our forest." Ygritte no more than finished when an audible gasp came from the trees.
Sandor led Stranger and the packhorse onto the trail and then handed the reigns of the packhorse to Alrik. Edgar and Alrik smiled, their eyes twinkling at the sight of such a beautiful maiden sitting atop Stranger.
"You men have the pleasure of being the first of the Clan to meet my wife. I present Lady Sansa Clegane, formerly Stark of House Stark of Winterfell."
"It's our pleasure, m'lady, welcome home," the two men bowed to her.
"Congratulations Clegane," Alrik said with a wink at Sandor.
"Stark...is your father Eddard, as in Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North?" Edgar asked politely.
"Yes, sir, one in the same. Do you know my father?"
"No ma'am we've not met," Edgar cleared his throat when Sandor frowned at him. "I've only heard of his reputation. A fair man he's said to be and well respected."
"Thank you for your kind words, sir." Sansa beamed.
"Bloody hells...you brought a Stark here?" Ygritte was incredulous. "I should have known it would have something to do with this pretty little thing."
"A Free folk man taken with some highborn maiden, when there are plenty of good women to take to wife around home! And you brought her whole damn family up here in search of her...now I've seen everything. They'll slaughter us all to get her back! Thinking with the wrong head, I see...typical man. If you could have controlled yourself we wouldn't be in this mess, now would we?" Ygritte sneered at Sandor, shaking her head.
Sandor's eyes darkened as he approached Ygritte, causing her men to move away from her. Osgar shook his head and gestured across his throat for her to be quiet.
"Shut the fuck up woman. Another word out of your mouth I'll cut out that damn sharp tongue of yours. I'd like to see the day I let some little girl playing soldier along with two greenboy runts come into my home territory telling me how to manage my family's affairs." Sandor growled.
"We're only following orders," began Osgar.
"Following orders, eh? Sounds more like a damned suicide mission to me. You coming way out of your own territory to tell us Woodsman who we can take to wife? You three got a pair on you-even her!" Sandor scoffed as Alrik and Edgar chuckled.
"We're not here to make friends and I've got better things to do than jaw away time with some lovesick Woodsman," Ygritte retorted. "We found out what we came here for-let's go home men. Good luck with Lord Eddard, Woodsman-you're gonna need it." Ygritte called as they rode out of sight.
Sansa was growing increasingly nervous. That mean redhaired girl is more right than she knows. Her first thought was of her Aunt Lyanna. Sandor had no idea what her father was capable of when it came to his family.
"Sandor, with your permisson, we'll alert the village you have brought a wife," Alrik offered with a smile.
"Yes, do that," Sandor smiled and nodded.
"M'lady, everyone will be eager to meet you." Edgar looked at the two of them and nodded in return, then set the packhorse to a gallop as they headed for the village.
Sandor and Sansa watched them ride off. "Sandor, let me down a moment, please." He lifted her from the saddle and set her down next to him. "My father has called his bannermen to arms!" Sansa wrung her hands and began pacing. "Do you understand how serious this is?"
"I'm sure he only did so because he knows traveling up here is safer in groups. Few free folk would attack him with his banners flying." Sandor answered casually, trying to assuage her fears. Inside he knew the truth of the matter. Most southern men viewed their daughters as a liabilty, or worse still, as a pawn to be married off as soon as possible. But Lord Eddard was a man of the north and he would follow his daughter to the ends of the earth and the old gods save anyone who tried to stand in his way.
Sandor knew if Sansa had been his daughter he would have done the same and he had to respect a man that would go to such lengths for his family. Sandor felt a measure of kinship with Lord Eddard and felt he had a better understanding of his goodfather now.
"There is no way they will ever find our village. No one will tell them anything and I'll fight before I let them take you." He turned her to face him and jerked her face up to his in anger at the prospect.
Holding her jaw firmly so she wouldn't look away, Sandor stared into her eyes. "You are mine Sansa. Anyone who thinks they can take you from me will learn slow and painfully how very wrong they are!" Sandor hissed, his voice dripping with suppressed rage.
Sansa rested her hand on his cheek as she slowly shook her head. "Oh my love, you don't understand, this may only be the beginning of our troubles."
Sandor was taken aback at hearing Sansa use this term of endearment for him; it was the first time she had ever called him that. His heart lept at the sound of her sweet words, momentarily distracting him from the business at hand.
"My father lost his beloved sister Lyanna when she was only a year older than me," Sansa continued, stirring Sandor from his reverie. "She was taken by Rhaegar Targaryen. His friend Robert Baratheon..."
Sandor interrupted her. "King Robert on the Iron Throne?"
"Yes, the very same. He was very deeply in love with my Aunt Lyanna and he was so enraged at her abduction that he started a war to get her back."
"What happened to your aunt? Did he and your father get her back?" Sandor asked.
"No...my father found her dying alone and he's never forgiven himself for not reaching her sooner. King Robert still loves her in spite of having taken a wife. He's due to arrive at Winterfell with his family to pay his respects at our family burial site some time later in the season. If we don't confront this situation with him and I remain missing, he may well involve Robert and then it would be the Starks and Baratheon bannermen together!" Sansa sobbed.
"Shhh, Little bird, we'll find a way through this, I promise. I won't give you up now...I can't give you up. I'm falling in love with you." Sandor said softly as he took her in his arms and caressed his thumb slowly across her lower lip.
"As I am with you, Sandor. I know it's all so very soon but you have my heart. I just...I just can't bear to be parted from you now." Blushing, Sansa pulled him closer to her still and turned her face up to him, all the while stroking his face with her fingertips.
Sandor bent his head and tenderly covered her mouth with his own in a long deep kiss while wrapping his arms around her and pressing her body close to his, kissing Sansa with so much intensity she was left breathless with desire for him.
She moaned into his mouth as Sandor swept his tongue along hers for a moment, savoring the taste of her. Sandor delicately pulled away from her, struggling to control his body. "As much as I am enjoying where this is going Little bird, we have to move now," he grinned at her. Sansa nodded, still too dazed to speak.
He placed his hands around her waist and squeezed her body close to his one last time before lifting her into the saddle. "If we travel hard we will make it to the village by morning. When we get there I'll speak to the Clan elders. Together we'll find a way to speak to your father peacefully before this gets out of hand."
"Promise me you won't give up on us. I couldn't bear it if you abandoned me now Sandor," Sansa turned pale as she spoke.
"I swear it on my life Little bird...I 'll die before I allow anything or anyone to separate us." He climbed into the saddle behind her and turned her face up to his and gave her another long kiss before spurring Stranger's flank and heading down the trail at a full gallop for the village.
Chapter 6: Jon Finds Ygritte
When they came upon them Ghost had Ygritte pinned to the ice and two scouts treed nearby. Jon laughed out loud when he saw them. Ygritte was indignant the direwolf had managed to stalk them unnoticed and take them by surprise with such ease.
Jon had given Ghost the gloves he was wearing the day he held Ygritte captive. After several whiffs, the massive direwolf set out with a strong start across the ice fields following her scent. After a day and a half of hard travel , though, Ghost lost the trail on the lower ice fields at the base of the Frostfangs.
"We've been all over the areas she usually scouts-where could she be? The wildings of her band aren't known for going any further than this." Jon kicked the snow in frustration.
"Maybe she's watching us," offered Sam.
Far ahead of them, Ghost could faintly be heard howling at the top of his voice. "He picked up her scent!" Jon exclaimed as he and Sam spurred their horses toward the sound.
After an half hour of travel Jon and Sam found Ghost had done better than track her. When the came upon them, they saw Ghost had Ygritte pinned to the ice and two scouts treed nearby. Jon laughed out loud when he saw them.
Ygritte was indignant the direwolf had managed to stalk them unnoticed and take them by surprise with such ease. "Get this bloody beast off of me! This damn wolf of yours is too smart for his own good! If you don't get him off of me this minute I'll turn him into a rug the next time I spot him out here!" Ygritte shouted as she squirmed beneath Ghost.
"I doubt that," Jon said with smug satisfaction.
"More likely he'll turn you three into a tasty snack!" Sam added.
"You...you buggering bastards! Let me up right now!" Ygritte swore.
"First things first. What do you know about a wilding man kidnapping a highborn girl near Winterfell and supposedly is bringing north of the Wall?" Jon demanded.
Ygritte paused for a moment; Ghost snarled close to her face."Bloody hells-is that what this is about?" Ygritte laughed ruefully. "Aye, her name's Stark...she a member of your kin?"
"Yes, she's my sister-what do you know of her whereabouts?"
"Ha! That little girl is more trouble than she's worth! If she's your sister why don't you share a family name?"
Jon looked away for a moment then said, "We are half siblings; we share our father, Lord Eddard Stark."
"Seems like a lot of trouble for only half a sibling and a highborn at that. That minx is going to get a lot of people hurt, you know," Ygritte hissed sarcastically.
"Ghost, let her up." Ghost backed away from her and turned his attention to keeping the scouts treed. "What do you mean by that?"
"There's a large group of Stark bannermen a two days hard ride behind us, all to get that little princess away from some lovesick Woodsman. It won't do any good now, you know, he's already taken her to wife."
"You saw her? You saw Sansa?" Jon demanded.
"Aye, I saw her, she's a sweet little thing that sister of yours...she'll never make it up here with the likes of us. That Woodsman should have stayed with his own kind." Ygritte sneered.
Jon grabbed her by the coat and roughly pulled her to her feet. "She's with the Woodsman Clan?"
"She'll be with them soon enough, by tomorrow morning at the latest. I'll tell you another thing-you'd best bring that damned direwolf if you're planning on confronting that husband of hers."
"I think we'll be just fine, don't you worry." said Sam.
Ygritte laughed sharply. "Ha! Think so, huh? Well he's about as fierce as they come and way more than the likes of you can handle, I'd wager!" The scouts in the tree chuckled, causing Ghost to snarl and nip at their feet with renewed vigor.
Jon turned loose of her and went to his saddle. "For your trouble, milady," he said as he handed her a sack of jerky with a mock bow of the head.
"Like I had a choice, m'lord, with you asking so polite and all," she said, smiling in spite of herself.
"Ghost, come!" Jon called as he watched Ygritte disappear into the snow covered landscape. "Sam, we make for the Woodsman village. I have to meet with Father."
The two stout guardsmen Ned sent ahead returned to the rest of the party three days after they set out. "We came across two Woodsman scouts with a pack horse full of venison riding hard towards a clearing a days ride ahead of us."
"It's most likely their village," Jory said to Ned. "As we were heading back we also ran across Lord Commander Mormont of the Night's Watch. He was en route to us to personally deliver a message to you, having received another raven from Winterfell since your son Jon left two days ago," Jory handed Ned the message.
What else has happened? Ned groaned inwardly as he unrolled the message.
"What is it, Father? Has Sansa been returned home?" Robb asked as he watched Ned's face turn into a frown as he read the message.
Ned shook his head and sighed wearily. "Everyone gather round," he called loudly to get their attention and waited for them to quiet down before continuing. "King Robert Baratheon and his family will arrive in a fortnight to visit Winterfell. We must make haste if we are to get to Sansa and arrive home in time to welcome him."
A murmur came up from among bannermen. "Under no circumstances will we keep the His Grace waiting for us. We can make it to the village in two, maybe three days if we push hard. Let's ride!"
Storm clouds billowed overhead threatening more snow. Far into the distance, the ascending smoke from the chimneys of the village came into view as Sandor and Sansa stopped to make camp late that evening.
Sandor made a campfire while Sansa unpacked a small piece of venison for their dinner and placed it on a spit. "I have talked your ear off about my whole life the entire way, Sandor. Please, tell me something of your family." Sansa asked as she sat down to watch him rotate the meat over the fire.
"Well, there's not much left to tell, I'm sorry to say. Both my mother and my sister died around the time of my twelfth nameday. When I was old enough I left home and joined Father in the fighting." Sansa moved to sit beside him as he spoke.
He swallowed hard, then continued. "Before Mance Rayder became King Beyond the Wall, my father joined him and a group of men protecting the villages from marauding bands of Free folk. Some of the men who had been driven out of the forest surrounding Castle Black by the Night's Watch had turned to outlawing as a means of survival."
"They stole from their own people; they even raped the woman and girls. They had to be stopped. I joined my Fathers' group on my seventeenth nameday." Sandor gritted his teeth, his eyes glittering with rage.
Sansa swallowed hard. "Is that...is that what happened to your sister and your mother?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Sandor took a deep breath. "Yes," he said very low voice. "My brother had left for Kings Landing after he...after he burned me."
Sansa gasped and clutched his arm in shock. Surely it was an accident. The only other possibility was too horrific to even imagine.
"The Clan eventually drove him out for his brutality and he didn't even wait for us to return before he left. My sister and mother were left unprotected in the house while I was hunting with Father."
"Oh, my love," Sansa whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks; Sandor pulled her closer to him and held her tightly against his chest. "No wonder you went to join your Father at such a young age. You are so brave. I'm sure your Father was very brave as well. Were you with your father when he died?" Sansa asked gently.
Sandor coughed a few times. "Yes, I was there. We had been tracking a band of rapists across a glacial lake in the far north. When we came to their camp they were all dead. We looked all over to see what had happened but we couldn't determine the cause." He shivered involuntarily. "Then out of the snow came...came a group of White Walkers."
"Oh gods...you mean they are real?" Sansa put her hand up to her mouth in shock. She thought White Walkers were mythical monsters from the tails Old Nan would use scare them so they would go to bed.
He nodded. "No matter what the men did, they kept coming...no matter how many times I slashed them they wouldn't die. Finally one of the men with us threw a oil lamp at one of them in a last ditch effort to save himself and the creature caught fire and burned to death. From that we learned their only weakness." Sansa held her breath as he went on.
"There were too many of them so Father and Edmure held them off while Mance and the other men dragged me away. One of the White Walkers held Edmure and was about to kill him when Father poured oil over the six foot blade of his greatsword and set it aflame, slashing his way through them to reach Edmure. He saved his life and held off eight of them while we escaped. "One of the them cut him across his back and he knew then what he had to do... he grabbed as many oil canisters as he could carry from the camp and doused the rest, setting them all on fire. He died with them in that fire. It was his wish, he would not have risked becoming a wight. When we went back for him, his body was cremated...only his bones remained."
"And you have been alone ever since," she whispered as she stroked his back. "Well, not any longer my love...I am your family now." Sansa said as she ran her fingers through his long black hair. "Soon I'll give you children...we'll have a house full of them and our family will know nothing but happiness the rest of our days," Sansa smiled and kissed him long and slowly. He held her close and buried his face in her hair to hide the tears that fell down his cheeks.
After they ate, Sansa held Sandor close in her arms and stroked his hair as they lay beneath the furs. He turned his face to hers and began tenderly kissing her mouth, slowly exploring her tongue with his. Cradling her body beneath him, slowly he reached under her coat and began caressing her body. Sansa felt a rush of wetness to her woman's place at feeling Sandor's hands against her skin while pressing his hardened manhood into her thigh.
"Remember how you said you would wait until I was ready?" Sansa asked softly, breaking their kiss.
Sandor nuzzled her neck."Yes, Little bird," he muttered as he kissed along her jawline.
"Sandor, I...I am ready now." Sansa blushed deeply and looked away from him.
"Are you certain?" Sandor asked, snapping his head up and tilting her face to his so he could see into her eyes.
"Yes, my love. I...I am ready to be your wife in truth," she replied arching her hips toward his manhood.
Sandor drew her closer and pressed her tightly against his body. "Let's wait until tomorrow, Little bird. Tomorrow you will have a soft feather bed covered in warm furs to lay in and a fireplace to warm you; then I will truly make you my wife," he whispered as he stroked her cheek.
"Tomorrow then," she shyly smiled up at him.
They spent the rest of the night exploring each other's bodies, caressing and kissing and learning each other. When she was ready, Sansa shyly unlaced him and began tentatively stroking Sandor's length while he ran his tongue over her fluttering pulse. "Sandor, I want this with you, please...I need more," she gasped under his touch as he caressed her breast.
Slowly he moved his hand under her smallcloths, massaging her thighs before running his fingers over her folds. Slowly he circled her clit, causing her to gasp and writhe beneath his touch. "I know what you need," he growled huskily into her ear, gently inserting two fingers and moving them in and out of her wet center with one hand while circling her clit with the other. Moaning, Sansa began moving her hips in the same rythm of his fingers until suddenly she found her release. "Oh, gods, Sandor!" She cried out, breathless from his ministrations.
When her breathing returned to normal, she noticed him watching her with a hungry gleam in his eyes. "That was...I didn't know that could happen." Sandor nodded, still tense and panting heavily and she realized had not found his own release. "What about you?" Sansa whispered in his ear, tenderly kissing his neck.
"Touch me again," he grunted, placing her hand around his cock and showing her how to grip his length. He was so aroused by then that it didn't take but four strokes until Sandor cried out her name as he found his own release. Blushing heatedly, Sansa stared at Sandor, amazed to see the effect she had upon him. "I didn't know that could happen, either."
Barking out a laugh, Sandor pulled her close. Nuzzling into the nape of her neck, he whispered, "I love you, my innocent Little bird."
Ygritte, Osgar and Maon left Jon and Sam an hour prior when they were surprised to see Mance Rayder and the Lord of Bones riding up to meet them, accompanied by another former member of the Night's Watch. The first time the young woman saw him, he made it clear he wasn't one for talk. The man just recently joined them and yet he served Mance in a distinguished position as Hand of the King Beyond the Wall.
Upon seeing them, she dismounted and bowed slightly with her scouts following suit.
"What did you find out?" Mance asked as he and the other men dismounted.
'M'lord, we found a Woodsman by the name of Sandor Clegane bringing a highborn maiden with him to his village. He has taken her to wife." Ygritte responded.
"The young maiden's name is Stark as was. No doubt this explains Lord Eddard's presence here." Osgar continued.
The three men exchanged looks. "Sandor Clegane is the Woodsman's name-you're certain?" The Lord of Bones asked her.
"Yes, m'lord. His scout introduced him to us." Ygritte answered cautiously as she watched the men; the expression on their faces was beginning to make her feel very uncomfortable.
"The girl's family name is Stark, you say?"
"Yes, m'lord Hand, Sandor Clegane introduced her as his wife to us, Sansa Clegane, Stark as was." Oscar replied.
"What did the young lady look like?"
"Well, she has dark red hair and blue eyes, and..." the men began to chuckle, much to Ygritte's alarm.
The Hand's eyes narrowed. "Go on, men."
"Answer him you fools!" She hissed at them when the men exchanged wicked grins.
"Well she's had her fifteenth nameday I'd wager and a woman grown with a lovely pair of full breasts and a sweet backside-that Woodsman's one lucky fellow!" Maon said licking his lips. The two scouts erupted in laughter once again.
Ygritte gasped as the Hand grabbed Maon and slashed his throat from his ear to halfway past his Adam's apple with frightening speed. He turned Maon to face him as he dragged the blade the rest of the way across his throat slowly, causing the young man to choke, spitting blood everwhere.
The Hand gripped him firmly and looked the young man straight in the eyes. "That Woodsman's young wife also happens to be my niece, you vulgar bastard. Now you'll die for your insolence!" He growled, ripping the knife through the rest of his neck. Maon fell face first into the ground, his blood pouring out of his neck and staining the snow beneath him. Ygritte and Osgar stared in shock but did not move to help him, fearful of the consequences.
Good gods...the Hand's niece? Ygritte trembled in fear, thinking back to her own harsh words toward the young maiden.
"He described Sansa, all right. She's my brother's elder girl," The Hand remarked to Mance.
"That ought to teach you two to think before you speak," Mance chuckled.
"So, Sandor Clegane has taken a Stark to wife," the Lord of Bones commented darkly.
"What sort of man is he?" The Hand asked.
"The very best sort," said Mance."He's no southern lord to be sure, but he'll give her a comfortable life and take care of her well. Your brother couldn't have done any better by her in that regard."
The Lord of Bones nodded in agreement. "You did well not to challenge him Ygritte. I know how hot tempered you can be. Few men would dare confront him in battle; he and his father are by far the fiercest men I ever fought along side."
"You...you know him too, m'lord?" She asked.
"Yes, many years ago...Mance and I both know them well. His father died in battle protecting us from the White Walkers." The Lord of Bones answered her.
"Edmure here died that day and returned to us as the Lord of Bones." Mance commented.
"Even in death, Baylor Clegane has protected me," the Lord of Bones said, fingering his bony breastplate. "I have worn his bones as armor ever since that day with honor for a mighty warrior and friend who gave his life so others may live. You both should be so lucky as to serve with such a man."
"Yes, m'lord," Ygritte could barely contain her shock.
"Head back to camp, the two of you. Keep your mouth's shut about this situation, or I'll cut your tongues out. Benjen, you and I better ride out to meet your brother," the Lord of Bones said.
Benjen Stark? Ygritte thought to herself; she had heard Jon Snow had an uncle that served the Night's Watch that went missing some time ago. "Yes m'lord," she and Osgar bowed, then quickly mounted their horses and rode back to camp.
Chapter 7: Home at Last
"Little bird, I'm willing to wait if that's what you wish."
"No, I do not wish it. Last night was a beautiful glimpse as to what might be between us," she whispered, kissing his face. "Believe me when I say I wish to be joined to you in body as well as heart. Make me your wife in truth, my love," she murmurred against his lips.
"We came across two Woodsman scouts with a pack horse full of venison riding hard towards a clearing a day's ride ahead of us. It is most likely their village," Jory said to Ned. "As we were heading back we also ran across Lord Commander Mormont of the Night's Watch. He was en route to personally deliver a message to you, having received another raven from Winterfell since your son Jon left the Wall several days ago," Jory handed Ned the message.
Frowning, Ned unrolled the message and read it over several times while the men waited anxiously. Without a word, he walked away from the camp and stared at the approaching storm clouds. Robb looked at Jory puzzled and started for his father but Jory shook his head and quietly led him back inside.
As they neared the Woodsman Clan village, Sansa grew increasingly nervous. Spotting a pond off the trail she asked Sandor to stop. Pulling up rein on Stranger, he asked, "You need to relieve yourself?"
"No, I just want to fix myself before we head into camp." Sandor raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"It's the first time they'll see me, I don't want to make a bad impression." Sansa explained as she took Sandor's bar of soap and washcloth out of the saddlebags.
She is wholly unspoiled by her upbringing- the most beautiful woman I have ever seen actually worries about what the Clan will think of her appearance, Sandor laughed to himself as she hurried over to the pond and looked at her reflection.
Sansa frowned and pinched her cheeks several times: she was a bit gaunt and her hair was in disarray but otherwise she looked about the same. Gingerly breaking through the ice, she scrubbed her face and rinsed her mouth several times before braiding her hair. "Do I look presentable?" she asked nervously.
Sandor chuckled, "Sansa, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and more importantly, you are the most kindhearted as well. Everyone will come to love you as I do." Beaming up at him, she climbed up in front of him on the horse and placed a small kiss on his lips before snuggling close to him.
The village was built in a small valley surrounded by trees providing a natural windbreak for the homes. Small log dwellings came into view, dotting the forest landscape on either side of the trail. Sansa took in all the sights and sounds of her new home: a warm creek fed by hot springs ran through the center of the village while pine forests covered in snow surrounded the area. The fragrance of smoked venison filled the air and animal pelts hung on spikes for later use as clothing and bedding.
Men and women smiled and waved at the couple as they approached the center of the village. Children and dogs ran alongside Stranger shouting their greetings, eager to welcome Sandor and his new bride home.
Elder Clansman Georg stepped off the porch of his cabin and watched as Sandor made his way toward him. Smiling warmly, the man carefully helped Sansa out of the saddle. "Welcome m'lady. I am Georg, Elder Clansman of the Woodsman Clan of Free Folk."
Sansa's eyes twinkled with happiness as she looked around her. "Thank you, Elder Georg. I am Sansa Clegane, formerly Stark of House Stark. My father is Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell."
Taking her hands in his, he smiled at the enthusiastic young woman. "Glad to meet you, my dear. Let my home become yours. My word, Clegane, you have managed to marry the most beautiful creature I have ever seen." Georg turned to Sandor, slapping him on the back as he chuckled. Sandor grinned, somewhat embarrassed but pleased with Georg's welcome for Sansa. "The Clan has been eagerly preparing a feast for your wedded eve."
"Thank you Georg that is very generous," Sandor said, clearing his throat. "I will take my wife home for now. My bride and I would like to rest and clean up a bit. We shall return shortly." Turning to leave, Sandor heard Georg call to them.
"Forgive me, Sansa but I need a word first with Sandor, if you don't mind. Please, Sandor, see to your wife and then return to me. I promise it won't be long." Georg said, still smiling at Sansa. Sandor raised an eyebrow and nodded curtly, helping her back into the saddle.
As they headed up slope, a lush grove of evergreens leading toward Sandor's home came into view and the man grew increasingly nervous as they neared the cabin. How will she react to such a drastic change? The Clegane's standard of living was always considered very comfortable by the standards of his clan but Sandor knew she was accustomed to castle life in Winterfell. Sandor hoped she wouldn't be disappointed in her more modest new surroundings.
When they rounded the bend Sansa smiled as she saw the log home come into view. Save for the home belonging to Georg, it was bigger than the other dwellings she had seen. Sitting atop a sloping hill the cabin was surrounded by evergreen trees and a small rocky creek flowed along the side of it. Steam billowed from hot springs farther up the hill behind the house and a modest barn sat toward the back.
"Is this home?" Sansa asked, her face lighting up as she turned to Sandor and squeezed his arm.
"This is home, Little bird. It's no castle like Winterfell but it's warm and comfortable."
Sansa jumped off of Stranger and ran to the door. "Oh, it's so pretty! I have never seen a home made out of logs before."
She seems happy so far, thought Sandor, proud and pleased by her reaction to his home. Scooping her up in his arm, Sandor carried her over the threshold and she laughed and kissed him several times before he set her down.
Noticing his worried expression, she took his hands in hers while gazing deeply into his eyes. "Sandor, I know I'm not acquainted with all that being a Woodsman's wife entails but please believe I am very eager to learn all I can. I want to be a good wife to you." Casting her eyes downward she paused a moment, searching for her words. "My upbringing taught me very little of how to be a wife at all, actually. You must think me spoiled and that I could never be happy without servants and such, but you are much mistaken. I am happy with you and I would not wish this to be Winterfell for then it would not be our home, my husband," she said softly before kissing him once more.
Smiling in relief, he took her by the hand and led her inside. Gasping, she excitedly took in the cabin's interior: the inside was divided into five rooms with vaulted ceilings. It makes sense, judging by how tall Sandor is, Sansa thought to herself. Though modestly decorated, Sansa found the entire cabin very cozy and warm-just what she had always wished for in a home. Going from room to room, she admired the knotty pine walls and bear skin rugs lining the limestone floors. In the kitchen area she noticed a pump for bringing in water from outside that stood in the kitchen corner. "Oh, I am so happy to see we have means to have water brought indoors!"
Smiling, she barely contained her excitement at her new home as she roamed around discovering new things to admire in each room: homemade furniture, candles and a huge stone fireplace, furs, wood carvings and woven blankets completed the living space. Sandor's heart filled with love and pride watching her admire his family home.
Leading her by the hand, he opened the door to their bedroom and Sansa laughed delightedly at the beauty she found there. A large river rock fireplace stood in the corner of the room next to a copper wash basin and large tub for bathing. In the center of the room was the largest bed she had ever seen with a real feather mattress and weirwood frame with an intricate detailed forest scene carved into the headboard.
Sansa ran her fingers over the elaborate work. "Did you make this?" She asked, plumping the goose feather pillows before running her hands over the lovely orange and white fox fur blankets covering the bed.
"Yes, Little bird, do you like it?" Sandor asked, his mouth twitching into a smile.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," she said as tears of happiness filled her eyes. "The whole home is just lovely, Sandor...I just know we will be very happy here!"
Sitting her down on his lap, Sandor stressed to her, "Not everyone enjoys a home such as this in the Woodsman Clan, Sansa. My father was rewarded very well over the years for his loyal service."
Her mind recalled the great sacrifice Sandor's father had made and turning to him, she took both of his large hands in her own. "Then be assured I will treasure it all the more."
Several young man carrying buckets of hot water came inside and filled the tub. "Is this the welcome newlyweds usually receive?" Sansa asked as Sandor began unlacing her gown.
"Yes, the young girls and boys of the village leave necessities on the porch of the couple for the first week they are wed."
Smiling, she blushed and looked up at him as he eased her gown off her shoulders. "Oh, that is such a kind tradition!"
Sandor finished undoing her lacings and lifted her out of her gown. Standing before him in her silk smallclothes, she blushed deeply as Sandor eagerly drank in her beauty. Kissing her heatedly, he could not resist gently pulling her smallclothes past her hips as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Remembering Georg's words, he begrudgingly tore himself away from her. "Damn it, I've got to go speak with Georg, Sansa. I'll return soon, enjoy your bath." Flushed, she tenderly kissed him goodbye and unbraided her hair.
As soon as Sandor left, Sansa heard a knock on the door. Wrapping herself with a blanket, she opened to find a basket with handmade soaps and a dark blue heavy woolen dress, wool knitted small clothes and fur lined knitted stockings. She did not see a single soul around the property, though tittering could be heard in the brush. "Thank you my new friends!" She called out the door and the sound of girl's giggling nearby grew into embarrassed laughter. Sansa sank down in the tub and savored the feeling of hot water on her skin and soon she was fast sleep.
Sandor entered Georg's home to find the Clan council already assembled around the large fireplace in the center of the room. Georg sat in the middle flanked by the other two elders, Padrick and Roan. "We deeply appreciate your sacrifice to bring meat to our village," Georg began. "Your willingness to serve your people honors the Clan and the memory of your father and mother."
"The village is eager to meet your bride and offer wedded gifts before the feast this afternoon," Roan smiled.
Nodding politely to the men, Sandor wished they would get to the point. Why are they interrupting my honeymoon? He was eager to return to Sansa and his patience was wearing thin. As a rule, he reserved his manners for Georg and the other elders as well as Sansa as of late; he couldn't care less what others thought of him and generally adapted his behavior according to the way others treated him. For Sansa's sake, thought, he knew he must restrain his tongue and behave more respectfully to the other members of the clan. "Thank you. Sansa and I are honored by your generosity."
"There is the matter of concern for the clan concerning your bride, I am sorry to say. Word has come to us from northern scouts that her father is headed this way with his banners flying. He is Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, Warden of the North-is that right?" Padrick began cautiously.
Sandor nodded in assent. "Indeed he is. Her mother is Lady Catelyn Stark, formerly Tully. She has four brothers and a sister as well."
"She is a lovely girl-and a highborn maiden, at that. How is it she comes to us?"
Sandor bristled at the implication of his words. "Yes, you speak truly. As the daughter of Lord Stark she is a highborn maiden, however she comes to us willingly as a woman grown. Lord Eddard is a man of the north and has an understanding of our traditions; his family has worshipped the old gods for generations. It is my intention to meet with him along with the village elders in an effort to reach a conclusion that pleases everyone concerned."
Georg eyed him for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, that is most wise, Sandor. I have met the lass and she clearly comes to us willingly, I am certain of that. Sandor, her affection for you is very genuine and despite out reservations, we are all happy to welcome her here, you must believe that, son. I am happy to say she may stay among us and will be treated as a member of the clan until such a meeting can be arranged with her father. "
"But after the time of your meeting Lord Stark we will have to decide what is best for everyone in the clan. Really, Clegane, you put us all at risk bringing such a woman here. There no doubt will be dire consequences to your marrying so far above your station as well; have you given that any consideration?" Padrick quickly added, stressing his words. "I am sure Sandor appreciates the precarious position his marriage may have put us in..."
Georg frowned and interrupted. "Members of the Clegane family have always been valued, respected members of our Clan, excepting Gregor. I know you've waited a long time to take a wife and I am happy you have chosen such a fine woman. I respect your decision, Sandor, and will do my best to make sure an understanding is reached between you men. But should her father choose a more aggressive stand, we must decide what is in the best interests of the Clan. I'm sorry, Sandor, I only wish there is more we could do for your family," Georg finished.
"I understand, Georg and it was not without trepidation that I brought Sansa here among our people. However, I must put you all on notice: I love my bride and I refuse to give her up under any circumstances. Would any of you men give up your wives or children? No, it would be unthinkable. If Sansa is not welcome among the Clan after we speak to her father, we will leave. Thank you."
A loud murmur went up amongst those assembled and the Clan elders were unable to hide their disbelief hearing his words. "No one would ask such a thing of you Sandor-to give up your wife and family home..." Georg stammered, glaring at Padrick.
Rage filled his mind and Sandor gritted his teeth, barely maintaining civility. "If you will excuse me, men, my wife needs me."
Sandor bitterly replayed the conversation the entire way home. Refusing to burden her with unnecessarily worry, Sandor instead chose to keep the elder's words to himself as he wanted nothing to stand in the way of Sansa's enjoyiment of their wedded feast.
When he entered the house, he called out to Sansa. Upon hearing no response, he paused before knocking on the bedroom door. Wanting to respect her modesty as a maiden, he slowly peeked around the door.
A large fire crackled in the fireplace and Sansa lay fast asleep in the tub, surrounded by the warm lavender scented water. Poor little thing, she's exhausted, he thought as he grabbed a towel and gently lifted her out of the tub. She barely stirred so he laid her down on the furs and pulled them over her and then sat back in the chair to admire her. Lying as naked as her nameday among the furs, Sansa looked like a goddess offering herself to him and he stood in awe of her beauty while she peacefully slept.
She was even more exquisite than he had imagined as he held her in his arms during their travel. Her long red hair was damp and spread around her like a silken curtain. He noticed Sansa's body was creamy and flawless with full breasts tipped in pink and a flat stomach sloping into even darker red curls concealing her woman's place.
While she slept, Sandor quickly bathed and then put on his smallclothes before laying down beside her. He propped himself up on one elbow and gently ran his fingertips over her smooth skin, taking his time and admiring every curve of her body.
Sansa murmured softly as his touch stirred her from slumber. "My love, I'm so sorry, I must have fallen asleep," she said as her eyes focused on her surroundings.
Pulling the furs closer in an effort to cover herself more, Sansa blushed furiously under his heated gaze. She smiled shyly as she watched his eyes slowly took in every inch of her and suddenly she was very aware she was lying naked next to him.
Grinning wickedly, he watched her with a mixture of desire and amusement. "You don't need to hide yourself from me, Little bird. You are very beautiful and I enjoying looking at you but I won't force you to do something you're not ready for," he said as he ran his hand over her cheek and down the curve of her neck.
She smiled at him and relaxed as she reached up and pulled him closer to her. "But Sandor, I am ready. I know I am still shy with you, that it is very soon. Perhaps you feel we should wait."
"Little bird, I'm willing to wait if that's what you wish."
"No, I do not wish it. Last night was a beautiful glimpse as to what might be between us," she whispered, kissing his face. "Believe me when I say I wish to be joined to you in body as well as heart. Make me your wife in truth," she murmurred against his lips.
Needing no further encouragement, he gently pulled the furs away from her and rolled her onto her back, kissing his way down her neck before cupping her breasts. Leisurely, he licked and suckled each of her perfect pink nipples, tracing every detail with his tongue and leaving Sansa gasping in pleasure.
Sandor chuckled, "You like that, Little bird?"
"Oh, yes, very much," Sansa moaned, blushing with a mixture of desire and embarrassment.
Slowly he trailed kisses down the slope of her stomach and caressed her hips, taking his time so Sansa would relax enough to enjoy their lovemaking. Making his way to the apex of her thighs, he paused to take in the sight of her lying before him. She's too beautiful, I won't last like this. Calm down, dog, or you'll finish before you start.
Running his fingers over her mound, he carefully massaged her woman's place before gently opening her folds. She's already so wet for me...so pink and delicious, he groaned inwardly at the sight. Sansa giggled nervously, and suddenly Sandor was filled with a desperate hunger. Never before had he wanted to give a woman what the men called a lord's kiss but with Sansa it was very different; he craved the taste of her. Sandor dipped his head and began running his tongue over her folds, circling her hardened nub in slow even strokes as he leisurely explored her woman's place. Gods, she is even more delicious than she looks, he thought as he tasted her, his aching cock throbbing with desire.
Overwhelmed with pleasure, Sansa felt her whole body teetering on the edge and she began arching her hips toward him with abandon, her body desperately crying out for more of him. She's already so close, Sandor thought as he moved his tongue inside her tender folds, thrusting into her slit. Sobbing out his name like a prayer, all of her inhibitions were forgotten and Sansa gave herself completely over to her passion for him. "Sandor...oh, Sandor!" She cried, grasping his head in her hands.
Hearing her crying out his name spurred him on and he continued tasting her, plunging his tongue in and out of her until she screamed out his name and arched her back into him, finding her release as intensely exquisite pleasure washed over her.
Trembling uncontrollably, with her skin flushed and glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, Sansa tensed all over and threw her head back, crying out her release. Watching her climax was the most beautiful thing Sandor had ever seen. He slowed his movements, allowing her to ride out her peak as he savored the wetness from her folds.
Sansa's heated response made it difficult for Sandor to restrain himself and his entire body trembled with need as he positioned himself between her legs. Finding her soaked for him, Sandor rubbed his painfully hard manhood against her slit, causing her to moan deeply and arch into him once more. Teasing his cock at her entrance several times, Sandor slowly entered her and experienced such an intense rush of pleasure when her tightness sheathed his throbbing member that he could not resist thrusting deep inside of her, tearing away her maidenhead.
Pausing, Sandor looked down at his bride. "Did I hurt you, Sansa?"
"Oh, Sandor," she moaned his name while adjusting her hips to accommodate his large manhood inside her. "You are so...big...it hurts a bit but it feels good, too. Don't hold back, I beg you." Sobbing in a mixture of pleasure and pain, Sansa tightened her legs around his hips and gripped his shoulders tightly as she eagerly rocked against his manhood.
Hearing her moans of pleasure unleashed a wave of lust in Sandor. Unable to hold back, he began pumping his full length deep inside her in a hard and fast rhythm. Giving in to his desire, he quickened the pace of his thrusts, his passion building to unbelievable new heights as the inner walls of her body tightly squeezed his cock. She is so perfect, so tight; I won't be able to last much longer, he thought, gripping her hips tightly as he continued driving his manhood into her at a frantic pace.
Arching her back to take him in even deeper, Sansa instinctively tightened her muscles each time he withdrew from her, squeezing his pulsing manhood with her body. "Sandor, oh yes more," she cried out, grinding frantically to match his pace. Suddenly, her inner walls gripped his manhood so tightly it took his breath way, forcing his peak from his body. They reached completion together, their cries of passion filling the room.
They lay trembling afterward, tenderly caressing each other as their breathing slowly returned to normal. Sandor's heart overflowed with joy, his mind and body finding absolute fulfillment with her. "I love you, my little snow bird," Sandor whispered into her hair.
"As I love you, my husband," she whispered as she clung to him, completely overcome with emotion.
Tears of joy streamed down her cheeks as Sandor tenderly stroked her hair. Despite the dull ache of losing her maidenhead, Sansa was happy and satisfied knowing she had given Sandor the love he longed for in his heart. Now they were truly one in all respects. Sansa's heart sang with love for him as she nestled against his chest and drowsiness soon overtook the weary couple. After a peaceful few hours of slumber, Sandor was suddenly awakened by the sound of knocking on the door.
Chapter 8: Family Planning
"You will be introduced to everyone and each family will be given the chance to present us with gifts."
"Oh what an exciting tradition!" Sansa exclaimed, suddenly wide awake at the mention of gifts. Just as quickly her face suddenly clouded over. "But the people are going without food because of winter and we are well off by village standards. I don't want anyone to suffer deprivation...should we accept the gifts?" Looking up at him, her face was full of genuine concern that touched Sandor deeply.
"Yes, Little bird, it would be an affront to deny them the opportunity to welcome my new bride. No matter how modest the gift, be assured it is given willingly." Sandor pulled her close, pleased beyond words with Sansa's concern.
Ghost darted away and swiftly clamored up a nearby rock, lying his ears back and flattening out his body, the massive direwolf ready to pounce. Jon strained his eyes as he stared into the distance, trying to distinguish anything unusual in the snowy landscape behind them. "What is it boy?" Jon whispered low.
Three men appeared, and Ghost snarled and lept from the rock in front of them, positioning himself between the strangers and Jon in an aggressive stance.
"Uncle Benjen-is that you?" asked Jon incredulously as he lowered his sword.
"Jon?! Yes, Jon, it is I!" he laughed, reaching out to embrace Jon. "We thought you dead, Uncle! I cannot believe it-thank the old gods you are safe! Father will be overjoyed," Jon returned his embrace.
"Uh, Jon..." Sam said low; Jon looked up at his words then jerked back suddenly as he spotted the Lord of Bones. Ghost growled loudly, placing himself in front of Jon. "What are you doing with him? Did he take you hostage, Uncle?" Jon asked, raising his sword once more.
"No, no, Jon. I left the Night's Watch of my own free will. It is not the honored position of service it once was. They have taken to kidnapping their recruits-even allowing murderers and rapists work off their sentences serving at the Wall."
Jon stepped back in shock, "You left willingly?"
"Yes. I fell in love with a Free folk woman and we have a son. She is the Lord of Bones' daughter. I could not stay on the Nights Watch and take her as my wife. After what you have been through Jon, you would not have me leave my son a bastard, would you?"
"No of course not, forgive me Uncle...I'm just... in shock."
"I had no choice but leave to take care of my family Jon, you must understand."
"I am so relieved to have found you safe...you have a wife and son? Forgive me, allow me to offer my congratulations Uncle..I am happy for you." Jon said, struggling for words. "But I do not understand-why would you fight against the Night's Watch with this man?" Jon asked.
"I am not fighting against them, Jon. I'm fighting so that the Night's Watch will respect the Free folk and their rights to the land."
Jon nodded slowly. He was not ignorant of the regrettable truth of his uncles' words. The Free folk suffered at the hands of some of the men he served with, some even going so far as to kill anyone who rebelled at their presence.
Jon stayed on because as much as he disliked some of the men, he knew they were a necessary evil. Eventually the battle would be against the White Walkers and the Night's Watch would need every man they could get their hands on, which was why they were taking criminals and kidnapping recruits. Jon would fight to the death to prevent the White Walkers from advancing south of the Wall to Winterfell. "What are you doing out here?" Jon asked.
"Your sister Sansa has been kidnapped and taken as wife..." began Benjen.
The Lord of Bones interrupted. "By an honorable Woodsman. The man served alongside me with his father and Mance Rayder some ten years hence. We were protecting our people from marauders chased out of the forests of Castle Black. His father sacrificed himself to stop the White Walkers and died saving his own son as well as the lives of myself and Mance Rayder."
Jon was stunned by what he had just heard...it was almost too much to accept at once. His uncle was alive, married with a son and serving with the Lord of Bones and the man that took Sansa was an honorable man whose father was a hero? No, her being taken was totally unacceptable, no matter who the man was or what he did in the past. "Honorable men do not kidnap young maidens and force them to wed!" Jon barked defiantly.
Benjen said, "I know it is hard to accept but that is the way of the Free folk. Are you aware my grandfather did the same? He kidnapped our grandmother to take to wife. We are not in a position to judge their customs."
Jon silently shook his head as he recognized the truth of his uncle's words.
"I fear your father will react as you are now. We must stop your father from behaving rashly."
The Lord of Bones nodded. "If handled carefully, this is a chance for our peoples to develop an understanding, Jon. Your sisters' marriage may very well be the will of the old gods, giving our people have an opportunity to unite before winter comes upon us all."
As difficult as it was, Jon could not deny the logic in their words. "Alright, we will accompany you to Father. Sansa is reported to be in the Woodsman village now," Jon said.
"Good man, Jon. Thank you for hearing me out." Benjen slapped him on the back. Together the four men made their way down the slope a bit further before making camp for the night.
Sandor groaned at the sound of someone on the door. Rubbing his eyes, he looked down at Sansa still sleeping peacefully with her head on his stomach and her hair spread out over his body. "The fucking White Walkers had better be invading the village," he growled to himself. The knock came a second time; Sansa stirred and smiled shyly at him."Just wait a minute," he called as he pulled her up to him and kissed her soundly.
"Don't you think you should see what they want?" she yawned sleepily. Grousing, he begrudgingly turned her loose and quickly threw on his shirt and pants.
"What is it? My wife is asleep and she needs rest after such a long journey," Sandor scowled as he stepped onto the porch, closing the door behind him.
Alrik glanced at Osgar hesitantly; both men knew interrupting the Hound's honeymoon was dangerous business. "The Lord of Bones has been spotted by scouts with three other men headed toward the village. Two of them look to be a members of the Night's Watch."
"It's probably Sansa's older brother who serves on the Night's Watch. Maybe he heard she married and is on his way to see her. So what?" Sandor barked gruffly.
"Why would he and another Night's Watch soldier be in the company of the Lord of Bones?" Alrik asked, treading lightly into what he knew was dangerous territory.
"I've known the Lord of Bones for many years and he's welcome in my home if he wishes to visit our village. I'll be happy to introduce Sansa to him and glad for the chance to meet her brother as well. As for the other two men, rest assured the Lord isn't going to bring anyone here he doesn't trust. Have you told Georg?"
Osgar shook his head. "No, we came to you first to see what you wanted to do. He's busy with your wedded feast preparations." Sandor nodded and went inside and returning with two wineskins, he handed one to each of the men.
"Thanks for the heads up, fellows. And no one else better come knocking on my fucking door, understand?"
Alrik and Osgar chuckled as they walked back to the horses.
With that Sandor closed the door and hurried back to Sansa. They had two more hours before the feast and he didn't plan on wasting them.
Ned went over Robert's message in his mind as they headed deeper into the foothills toward the Woodsman village. He only shared part of it with the men and the rest of the contents weighed heavily on his mind. Robb sensed there was something amiss and travelled alongside his father in silence, waiting for him to confide in him.
Ned watched Robb along the journey. His heart swelled with pride at the man his oldest son had become. He was a natural leader among the men and carried himself with a dignity that far surpassed his years. Ned sighed, realizing it would do no good to hide the truth from him any longer. "Robb, do you know why King Robert and his family are coming to Winterfell?"
"Of course, Father. He sent a raven several months ago stating he intends to pay his respects to Aunt Lyanna's tomb as part of his royal tour of the kingdom." Robb answered.
"Yes, that is true. But, there is a bit more to the matter we did not want to burden the family with, son. You know your Uncle Jon, Aunt Lysa's husband served as Hand of the King, right?"
Frowning, Robb nodded. "Yes but what do you mean, 'served' Father? Has something happened?"
Sighing heavily, Ned continued. "Regrettably, yes...your Uncle Jon died under mysterious circumstances several months ago. Robert has a suspicion he was murdered."
Visibly shaken, Robb leaned forward and spoke quietly."Good gods...how is Aunt Lyanna and Robin?"
"They have since returned to the Vale to grieve. They are not even at liberty to tell the rest of the family, as Robert refuses to reveal this information to anyone until he investigates the matter thoroughly. I was only given leave to confide in your mother. There is more, Robb. Robert has offered me the position of Hand of the King. I am the only man he trusts and he comes to Winterfell expecting an answer. I think you must realize 'no' is not really an option, son."
Robb nodded gravely. "Father, forgive me but King's Landing is known to be full of vipers. How does Mother feel about the family moving there?"
"I would wish for you and Theon to remain at Winterfell but she is certainly not pleased with it. There's more still..."
Robb was incredulous; the king already asked his family to give up their ancestral home and travel hundreds of miles to King's Landing. "Father, hasn't King Robert asked quite enough of the Starks?"
Ned laughed; he had thought the exact same thing as he had read Robert's message. "King Robert brings his family to seek Sansa as wife for his eldest son Joffrey. He wishes to join houses through a marriage alliance. His Queen and his son insist on seeing her first before agreeing to anything."
"How dare they? Are we supposed to feel honored by this...interview they want with her? They want to see if she's pretty enough for their son, is that it?!" Robb fumed. Is there no end to the degradation heaped upon my younger sister? First she's kidnapped and now she is expected to subject herself to scrutiny by Queen Cersei and Joffrey? If she married King Robert's son, she would have to live in King's Landing...the wilding man may be the lesser of two evils after all, thought Robb.
"Robb, I don't like it any better than you do. Sansa's a bit young for marriage; I had hoped to make her a good match once she was older."
"I suppose 'no' is not an option for Sansa, either."
"We are in no position to refuse, son. Our family needs this alliance with House Baratheon. We will need his bannermen to assist us and the Night's Watch in stemming the tide of wildings breaching the Wall. Sansa is a rare beauty to be sure and once Robert's son sees her he will most assuredly take a fancy to her..." Ned trailed off in thought.
"Yes, that may well be but she is married, Father. Even in the unlikely even that she is still a...a maiden, Joffrey will not want her once he finds out she's been wed to a wilding, of all people. Forgive me, Father, I do not wish to speak ill of your dear friend's family but Her Grace is not known for her kindness and we can only hope her son does not follow her suit."
"I know that very well, Robb. Her son reportedly is cruel and takes after her, not Robert. And once Robert finds out the manner in which Sansa married, it will no doubt rehash his anguish over Lyanna as well. I doubt he will honor our marriage customs."
"We must help Sansa. Would it be wrong to omit a few of the details of our marriage customs that are unique to the north?" Robb raised his eyebrows at Ned.
"You no doubt will be a diplomat one day, Robb. You speak well, though I don't know if the Stark bannermen will agree." Ned laughed listening to his son.
"Oh, I think they will Father, once they realize King Robert's actions could very well affect them. If he chooses to invalidate Sansa's marriage based on the fact it took place according to the old traditions, three quarters of Stark bannermen will find themselves bastards with no holdings of their own. Many of their own wedded unions will be invalidated as well."
"Yes, you are right. We must discuss this with the men at once. Robb, I would like to by my side when I speak to the men." Patting him on the shoulder, Ned smiled reassuring at his son.
Overjoyed by his Father's acknowledgment, Robb answered, "It will be my honor, Father."
"What is it? Is something the matter?" Sansa asked, carefully covering herself as she sat up in bed. After the pleasureable way they had spent the afternoon, her modesty amused Sandor to no end and he grinned devilishly as he watched her fidget with the blankets.
"Nothing to worry about, Sansa. A friend of mine may come for a visit in a day or two." Sandor hurriedly undressed and climbed back into bed beside her. She blushed crimson at the sight of his nakedness as he snuggled close to her.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she smiled shyly. "I look forward to it. I would very much like to meet your friends."
"I am glad to hear it. How do you feel, Little bird?" He asked softly as he stroked her hair. Sandor knew he had been carried away in his passion for her and was concerned she might be sore.
"I am a little tender but that is to be expected, my septa told me," she whispered shyly.
"I'm sorry if I was a little excited, Sansa. I couldn't help myself...you are so beautiful, I got carried away," he grinned at her.
"No, I am not hurt; in fact I enjoyed it very much, my love. Did...did I please you?" Her voice was barely above a whisper as she spoke.
"Do you even have to ask, woman?" He laughed long and hard at her words before pulling her on top of him, kissing her deep and slow. "The wedded feast for us is in two hours. Would you like to rest some more?"
"Don't think me...wanton," Sansa started off shyly. Wanton, huh? This will be interesting, he thought, struggling to keep a straight face as he waited for her to continue.
"I was hoping we could...play some more. Do you think we could...maybe do it again?" Sansa looked down and her face flushed bright red by her suggestion. Her eagerness both surprised and thrilled Sandor.
"Yes, my wanton Little bird, as often as you wish," he whispered as he kissed her again. Turning her on her side, he pulled her back close to his chest and curled his legs under her bottom. While running his tongue along her neck, he gently rolled her nipples in between his fingertips, tugging them as she moaned with desire.
Sansa arched her back and threw her head over his shoulder when Sandor began to rub his manhood up and down against her backside, the wetness seeping from his member creating an slick, arousing friction. Groaning at the feeling of her soft warm skin sliding against him, Sandor let his teeth graze her neck and gently bit down before reaching around her front. Finding her already wet for him, he rubbed her swollen clit in tight circles. Sansa couldn't suppress the moan that escaped her lips; even though she had been taught not to behave wantonly, Sandor's touch revealed such incredible pleasure in her body she found herself unable to stay quiet.
Encouraged by her moans, he quickened his movements while reaching his other hand around her, slowly thrusting two long fingers inside of her. Sansa panted heavily and whined, thrusting her hips against him several more times before he felt her muscles tighten around his fingers and she came perfectly into his hands. Rolling her over, he thrust his manhood into her slowly, his body shaking as he restrained the overwhelming urge to once more take her hard and fast. Tightening her legs around his waist, she drew him deeper inside of her. "More Sandor, oh, that feels so good," she panted, tightening her muscles around his throbbing cock.
He kept his movements slow and steady until her inner walls contracting so tightly that Sandor was blinded with pleasure. Gradually he increased the depth of his thrusts and Sansa cried out, rocking her hips against him passionately. Gripping his buttocks, Sansa pulled him even deeper into her body, allowing his large manhood to rub a sensitive area deep inside, the intense sensation soon culminating in a powerful release. Feeling her inner muscles powerfully gripping his member, Sandor quickened his thrusts and soon after he found his own intense peak, his manhood pulsating in ecstacy.
Panting, she smiled up at him, "That was beautiful, husband." Sansa felt so complete and loved, tears of happiness filled her eyes once more.
"Yes, it was, my love," he smiled in return. Both completely sated, they quickly fell back to sleep.
When he awakened, Sandor could tell it was late afternoon by the light so he gently stroked Sansa's face until she stirred from sleep. She looks so peaceful and beautiful...he knew it would take all of his willpower to get out of bed.
"My love...it's so nice and warm, can't we just stay here?" She groaned sleepily.
"There is nothing I want more Little bird, but the village has our wedded feast waiting for us. You will be introduced to everyone and each family will be given the chance to present us with gifts."
"Oh what an exciting tradition!" Sansa exclaimed, suddenly wide awake at the mention of gifts. Just as quickly her face suddenly clouded over. "But the people are going without food because of winter and we are well off by village standards. I don't want anyone to suffer deprivation. Should we accept the gifts?" Looking up at him, her face was full of genuine concern that touched Sandor deeply.
"Yes, Little bird, it would be an affront to deny them the opportunity to welcome my new bride. No matter how modest the gift, be assured it is given willingly." Sandor pulled her close, pleased beyond words with Sansa's concern. "I will offer the first gift of the day now," he smiled and pulled out a silk drawstring bag. "It was my mother's wedded ring; now it is yours," he said as he placed the dragonglass band on her ring finger. Looking closely, Sansa noticed it was engraved with three hounds on a field. "It is the symbol of the Clegane family," he explained.
Gasping, she quickly sat up, her covers forgotten as she admired the intricate detail."It's so very beautiful!" Sansa exclaimed, examing the ring closely in the light, deeply moved he had given her such a precious family heirloom. "I have never had such a beautiful and meaningful gift. I am honored to wear it. Thank you, Sandor, from the bottom of my heart." Her eyes filled with tears as she kissed him tenderly, drawing him back onto the bed with her. "I should thank you properly," she whispers shyly, blushing at her brazenness.
"Mmm, I look forward to it Little bird, but now we must get up," he growled against her lips.
Pulling the furs with her to stay covered up, Sansa gingerly got out of bed. Scooping her up in his arms, Sandor laughed at her as she squeaked out a protest. "Why are you still trying to hide from me, my beautiful little snow bird?" He growled as he pulled the furs from her and nuzzled her neck.
"I'm just...embarrassed, I don't want to flaunt myself. I'm trying to be a lady," she blushed and lowered her eyes.
"You have nothing to be embarrassed about Sansa. You are even more beautiful without clothes," Sandor rasped, unable to resist caressing the swell of her hip.
"But I would not want you to think me wanton," she whispered, twisting the covers in her hands.
"You may be as wanton as you wish here with me. Hold nothing back, my beautiful wife," he kissed her softly and Sansa smiled into the kiss.
Sandor gently pushed her over to the wash basin and growled, "Now get away from me, woman, or we'll never get out of this house!" Sansa brushed out her hair as Sandor got up and brought in warm water to filled the basin. After they both cleaned up, Sansa took out the new clothing the girls had left for her. She dressed in the undergarments first, then held up the dress in confusion.
She had never seen a garment made like it. The dress crossed in front and was secured with two sashes, on one the inside and one outside. Standing in the mirror before her, she frowned as she tried to determine how to put it on. Amused, Sandor watched as she struggled, knowing she most likely had servants dress her at home. "Could you help me?" she asked weakly.
"Of course, Little bird, even though as a rule I am against you putting on clothes," he smiled devilishly, causing a deep blush to spread from her cheeks down her neck. Standing behind her in the mirror, Sandor demonstrated how to wrap it. "Lucky when I was a pup I wanted to learn too when my mother taught my sister to tie her gown."
Sansa laughed and then frowned as she watched him deftly lace the sides. "Oh...I just can't believe my own foolishness; I can't even dress myself without help!" Sansa grumbled.
"It's a new style for you. You'll learn, Sansa. The whole Clan will gladly help you adjust to life here-it is our tradition." Stepping back, Sandor took in her figure in the new dress, noting how the dark blue set off her eyes and strikingly contrasted with her hair.
"Is something wrong?" Sansa asked with a worried frown.
"No," he swallowed hard. "I could not have asked for a more beautiful wife, my love," he whispered in her ear as he finished tying the sash. Sansa smiled up at him and kissed his cheek in thanks before she helped him lace his tunic. Wrapping her in a lovely fox fur cloak, he lifted her onto Stranger and turned him toward the village.
Chapter 9: Love and Healing
Sandor was so strong, confident, even intimidating...she never imagined he might have insecurities. Sansa at first was taken aback by his scars too but she hardly noticed them now. After he told her about Gregor, she viewed them as a visible reminder of his strength and determination, of bravery and heroism. It never occured to her they might also be a source of shame to him, or worse, even make him question her ability to love him.
As they rode into the village center, Sansa whispered to Sandor while blushing, "Will everyone know what...what we've been doing?"
Laughing, he pulled her close to him, charmed by her modesty. "Don't worry Little bird, everyone expects newly wedded people to spend a lot of time indoors," he whispered the words lasciviously in her ear followed with a kiss.
"Oh yes, I suppose they do," her entire face flushed at her words, turning even her ears bright red as she bashfully lowered her eyes and nodded, much to Sandor's amusement.
The whole village was assembled and ready to offer their gifts. Delicious aromas filled the chilly air and people smiled and waved as the rode toward the Elders. Long tables were set up for the meal soon came into their view. The entire scene enchanted Sansa and she clapped her hands together in delight.
Georg watched their approach with trepidation. Like Sandor, he was initially concerned that as a highborn she would not adapt well to her new surroundings. However, the older man's doubts faded upon hearing his son Alrik's account of meeting her and completely diminished upon seeing her smiling happily at everyone. The Elder clansman watched Sansa point out the table and meal to Sandor excitedly, well pleased by her obvious excitement.
"Everything looks delicious, Elder Georg," Sansa returned his smile and grasped both his hands in hers as she drew near.
Roan warmly shook hands with Sandor and kissed Sansa's hand. Padrick only nodded to the couple coolly while his son Draco leered at Sansa long and hard before tearing his eyes away as he shook Sandor's hand. Sandor didn't like the way they were looking at his wife. Scowling, he faced each of the men and stared them down before placing his hand on Sansa's shoulder, steering her toward the head table where Georg stood.
"First we have the offering of gifts Sansa and then the meal will follow," he explained to her.
"Oh, how generous!" Sansa cried as she beamed up at Sandor.
The couple took their position at the head table as the families lined up for introduction. One by one each family came forward and Georg would introduce them to Sansa as they offered their gifts. The newly wedded young woman found herself overwhelmed by the generosity shown to them: gifts of wooden spoons and bowls, fur lined socks for both of them, knives, metal pots and cups all stacked the table before them as the introductions continued.
Curious as to how she would respond to the simplicity of the gifts, Sandor eyed his new bride closely as each gift was presented. The more comfortable families offered animal pelts, dresses, tunics and gloves while the less fortunate offered bags of roasted acorns, loaves of bread, homemade soaps and winter vegetables. He noticed with pride that Sansa was sincerely happy to receive everything offered.
She thanked each family with handshakes and warm hugs, much to the delight of her new neighbors and Sandor alike. Sansa was overjoyed with everything offered; somehow the care and thought evident in each gift touched her in a way the expensive baubles she had received in the past never had.
Finally the last family approached: Alik and Oona together with their daughters and sons offered a single winter rose, causing her to gasp at its beauty. "Oh my, it is so beautiful! Sandor look-a real live winter rose! I have only heard of winter roses but I have never actually seen one. Thank you all very much, I will press it so our family will have it forever," Sansa murmurred in wonder. Alik and Oona seemed relieved and with their faces full of smiles they one and all warmly returned her hugs and handshakes while their little ones clung to Sansa's skirts.
"We could not have asked for a more wonderful reception my love," she said, looking up at Sandor with sheer joy. Sandor was both amazed and extremely pleased Sansa responded so well to his people. His concern she would be disappointed in the simple welcoming of his clan was completely unfounded, he was happy to see, and instead she had been delighted. Bowing, he thanked everyone for their generosity and warm welcome for his bride, signaling the beginning of the feast.
The meal was made up of acorn bread, venison stew filled with winter vegetables, walnut cakes and honeyed ale. Sansa ate heartily and thoroughly enjoying every minute, even sampling the strong ale with a smile. Sandor's heart filled with pride as he watched Sansa eagerly making new friends with Oona and the other women of the village and she generously praised their cooking skills.
"Congratulations Sandor, you have found a most beautiful and sweet natured bride," remarked Edgar as he toasted Sandor. Alrik nodded in agreement, "If this is the way of southern women, next time we'll need to draw staws to decide who will hunt south of the Wall!" Loud laughter rose up among the men.
Padrick could no longer hold his tongue; the man had swallowed down his envy when he saw Sandor had taken such a beautiful, highborn bride. Clearing his throat, the man affected a tone of condescension as he spoke. "This is what I was afraid of, men. It has set a bad example, Sandor...you know what I mean, of course. Now our men will think it appropriate to marry women from the south and that all of them will be as...accepting as Sansa." The men all turned to look at him as Sandor narrowed his eyes angrily and stepped forward. "And what is wrong with marrying a southern woman?"
Padrick's son Draco tried to explain as Sandor rose to his feet, "Sansa is the exception to most southern women both in beauty and temperment, you have to agree, Sandor. She even seems...unaware of your scars, somehow, as unbelievable as that may seem," He chucked, finishing his ale.
Outraged, Alrik stepped forward beside Sandor. "How dare you! You do not presume to speak for Sandor's wife. I demand an explanation-you owe her husband that!" Sansa glanced over and noticed Sandor's expression and immediately made her way over to him.
"I only point out the obvious, men. Sandor, you cannot deny you two are mismatched to say the least. She's so lovely and you're well...not." Draco smirked.
Clenching his fists in fury, Sandor was ready to fight before Sansa dissuaded him by taking his arm in hers. "Forgive my interruption, gentlemen. Husband, a light snow is falling; let us not detain our guests any longer. If it pleases you, I am ready to go home now. I am quite...tired, my love," she said suggestively before she brought his lips to hers in a long kiss.
Alrik and Edgar laughed openly as they watched Padrick and Draco's faces fall in disbelief. Startled, Sandor cleared his throat when she gently pulled away. "Of course, wife, I'll collect the gifts and saddle Stranger at once," he said, glancing around him before smirking at the two men.
"Please excuse us," Sansa smiled sweetly. "I must say our goodbyes."
Alrik kissed her hand and Edgar followed suit, both men still chuckling in amusement at her display. "We'll give you a hand," Edgar called out to Sandor as they followed him.
Sansa turned back to the rest of the women, who giggled and smiled at her affectionate behavior. "Oh, tread careful m'lady, that one's a bad seed," Edgar's wife Aeron whispered to her. "He should have been expelled from us long ago. He seems to fancy you, best keep your distance. Tell your husband, please m'lady. Sandor will take your words into account, no need to fret that."
Sansa felt her stomach sink as she quickly glanced over at Draco once more. "Thank you, Aeron; you are most kind to warn me. I will be careful and I'll mention it to Sandor later," she whispered before turning her attention back to the women once more.
Jon, Sam, Benjen dug out a deep depression in the snow for shelter earlier while the Lord of Bones searched for a place for their horses. The men worked fast, eager to get out of the howling wind. The inside of the snow cave was surprisingly comfortable as the men huddled together for warmth, whiling away the hours between whittling and swapping battle stories.
Jon was uncharacteristically quiet, filled with dread at the thought of father's reaction when confronting Sansa's husband...an event sure to take place in the next day or so. Adding to his vexation was the thought of having to explain Uncle Benjen's disappearance and traveling in company of the Lord of Bones.
"How much further to the Woodsman village?" He repeatedly asked.
The Lord of Bones offered the other men some jerky. "Late tomorrow at most. What's the matter, boy? Miss your family?" he chuckled.
Benjen shook his head, "He knows his father; that is what troubles him."
"I am eager to make sure Sansa is safe and see this situation resolved. I have an obligation to return to the Wall." Jon snapped irritably.
Benjen exchanged looks with Sam and the Lord of Bones. "Why don't we try and get some sleep?" He suggested.
Agitation rendered sleep impossible for Jon, who continued staring out at the falling snow and willing morning to come as quickly as possible.
The Stark bannermen spotted smoke from the village before the howling snowstorm descended upon them. Ned focused on the message he needed to convey and ignored the chattering and laughter of the men. Alone at the cave's entrance, he spent the hours staring out at the weather and gathering his thoughts. He signaled Robb to call the men to attention and Robb interrupted the men's card games and storytelling and soon the men were quietly waiting for him to begin.
The men listened attentively as Ned related the details of Robert's visit and initially their search efforts were invigorated by the knowledge that Sansa could well be the future queen. Robb explained in detail how Robert's rash decisions could drastically impact their families and it wasn't long before the young man's voice was drowned out by the angry shouts of indignation amongst the men.
Ned raised to his feet, causing a hush to fall over the men. Jory stepped forward and bowed low before Ned, indicating his desire to speak. Ned acknowledged him and then indicated they would listen to Robb.
"King though he may be, he wouldn't dare presume to invalidate our land rights and marriages based on the fact they come from the old ways. Surely he recognizes that Sansa is rightfully bound to this man in marriage," Jory commented in disbelief.
"Indeed he would, if it meant the return of a potential wife for his son. He favors joining our houses through marriage and has waited for this time for many years."
Jory and the rest of the bannermen watched Ned as Robb spoke. "Be assured men, he can and will. Remember what he did for my sister Lyanna. Sansa's marriage may set a dangerous precedent for us all. Robert keeps to the Seven now and has ever since he married into the Lannisters."
"It is not to be borne, Lord Stark..." the men's clamoring drowning out the words of the speaker as their outrage peaked.
"Men, men, please. Father and I have a plan that will help us all," Robb interrupted. "We cannot expect a man who keeps the Seven to honor our religious and wedded traditions, though they go back to the First Men. What does that mean to a man of King's Landing?"
The men grumbled in agreement. "However, if we refrain from revealing the details pertaining to our customs and worship of the old gods, specifically our marriage rituals-Robert will have no choice but to honor my dear sister's marriage and in turn protect you men, your claims and your families as well. What say you?"
The men spoke among themselves for a time before allowing Jory to speak for them. "Lord Eddard Stark, we will not speak of Sansa's kidnapping or the manner in which she wed the wilding to King Robert. So says one, so says us all. We swear to it by the old gods."
Relieved, Robb nodded as his father rose to his feet. "Alright men, I will honor your decision as well. We make for the village tomorrow."
During the ride home, Sandor was quiet. Padrick and Draco's words angered and humiliated him and he was even more angry that Sansa had overheard it all. Draco had inadvertently put Sandor's fears into words, that one day Sansa would finally recognize they were very different-so different, in fact, that she would regret accepting him as her husband. He knew she sensed his discomfort by the way she handled the awkward situation.
Sansa snuggled down in his embrace in front of him and had been very quiet, gently stroking his forearms. Maybe she's already forgotten their words; she hasn't mentioned it, after all. When they reached the cabin, Sandor started a fire in the bedroom hearth before helping Alrik and Edgar unload the gifts.
Furious, Sansa silently fumed the entire ride home at Padrick and Draco's words. How dare they insult my husband! What hurt her even more, though, was the look in his eyes as they spoke. Underneath his anger, his expression betrayed that deep in his heart, he feared their words were true: he was not fit to be her husband.
Sandor was so strong, confident, even intimidating...she never imagined he might have insecurities. How dare they humiliate him! Sansa at first was taken aback by his scars, too, but she hardly noticed them now. After he told her about Gregor, she viewed them as a visible reminder of his strength and determination, of bravery and heroism. It never occured to her they might also be a source of shame to him or worse, even make him question her ability to love him.
He can't possibly feel this way...could he? He must know I love him, I went with him willingly...my whole life has changed for him. He knows I found him desirable from the start...how could their words make him doubt that? Immediately she regretted her hesitance with him earlier and determined she must overcome her mother and septa's teachings of ladylike behavior in the marriage bed.
The teachings of her childhood seemed empy to her; none of those things seemed important now that she was a woman grown and married. Sandor needed to feel in his heart the depth of her love and passion for him. He had given her so much of himself and filled her body and heart with love earlier. She desperately wanted him to feel the same from her. Sansa resolved to overcome her shyness and make her husband feel her love for him, in body as well as heart.
After saying their goodbyes and thanks, she quietly led him into the bedroom by the hand. He removed his boots and then helped her remove her dress. Noticing her silence Sandor decided to broach the subject. "About what Padrick and Draco said earlier..." he began.
Placing her fingertips on his lips to silenced him, she looked into his eyes and shook her head. "They are nothing, my love...they don't even deserve to have their names spoken on your lips. There is no place for them here...it is only you and I now." She blushed shyly but continued holding his gaze as she slowly began removing her smallclothes and stood before him.
Where did my shy Little bird go? Sandor wondered as he allowed his eyes to slowly take in her beauty. Delighted by her boldness, he stared with his mouth agape when she removed his tunic and began rubbing his chest. Tugging on his breeches, she pressed him down onto the bed, the blush on her cheeks belying her newfound bravery with him.
Sandor watched her gaze sweep slowly over his body in amazement. "I believe I am against you wearing clothes too, my husband...I've admired your muscular body ever since I tended your wound," she smiled at him shyly, kissing her way down his stomach and stopping at his waistband. In the back of her mind Sansa could hear her septa's scolding her wanton behavior. Pushing those thoughts from her mind, she focused instead on the way her body felt and how Sandor was responding to her.
Her face flushed once again with unbidden embarrassment as she tenderly licked his stomach, tracing the hair dipping below his waistband with her tongue. Feeling his hardness pressing against her cheek, she blushed once more but didn't allow that to stop her from reaching for his laces. While undoing his pants, she continued kissing down his stomach as her knuckles brushed his already hardened manhood. "I ached for you all afternoon my love. Just the sight of your face at the feast made me want you again," she whispered against his mouth, slowly sliding his pants down past his hips.
The feel of her hands on his body paired with hearing her sweet words filled Sandor's heart with love and passion. "Oh, Sansa...yes," he whispered huskily as she took him into her hands, slowly exploring his manhood. Tenderly rubbing her fingertips across the head in slow circles, Sansa spread the wetness of his arousal over him. She hadn't really looked at him before and was surprised at how large his member was.
I want him be sure of my desire for him, and I want him feel my desire for him just as I feel his for me. I hope he will enjoy this as much as I did earlier. "My love, you are perfect in every way," she cooed as she dipped her head and slowly ran her tongue across the length of him, curling her tongue along the underside of his member and tracing back up to the head. Moaning loudly, Sandor could hardly believe what she was doing to him. Being so desired by her coupled with the feeling of her wet tongue languidly exploring his manhood caused Sandor to pant with anticipation.
Wrapping her hand around the base of him, she hesitated for a moment before slowly taking him into her mouth, careful to draw in as much of his member as possible. His thigh muscles flexed suddenly and he moaned out her name. "Sansa...oh gods, woman that feels good."
Smiling, she sucked long and hard before teasing up his cock to the tip and running her tongue over the head. Repeating this movement, she continued her ministrations until he groaned and gripped her hair in his hands, his whole body tense with passion as she mimicked the way he had caressed her woman's place earlier. Teasing and tasting his manhood, Sansa wetly suckled his throbbing cock until Sandor began shaking with desire: he had never known a passion like he was now experiencing and the sensations Sansa was eliciting in his body and heart completely overpowered him.
"Gods, I need you now, Sansa," he gasped, pulling her up to his face he kissed her deeply, exploring the inside of her mouth with his tongue.
Moving him into a sitting position against the headboard and straddling his lap, Sansa was unable to resist blushing deeply at her brazen behavior. "My husband, I want you...I need you, oh you feel so good my love," she moaned against his lips before caressing his tongue with her own. Her blushing aroused Sandor all the more as she looked deep into his eyes while grasping his manhood and sheathing his entire length inside of her in one strong thrust.
Without breaking eye contact with him she gripped his broad shoulders and began laguidly moving up and down his length in a slow rhythm. Rolling her hips in time with his thrusts, her shyness quickly evaporated as the intense pleasure of being completely filled by him swept over her.
Panting and moaning, Sandor found himself unable to form words in his ecstasy, gripping the sheets with each of her movements. Rocking against him, Sansa quickened the pace and began riding his length hard and fast, soaking him with her desire. Suddenly he gripped her thighs and shouted her name in his release, spilling hot seed deep inside her in three powerful waves.
Grinding deep into her hot wet cunt, Sandor held her low back with one arm and reached down and rubbed her clit with his thumb, slowly spreading their wetness over her. Moaning, Sandor took her breast into his mouth and sucked hard on her nipple while he continued circling her nub. The delicious sensation sent Sansa over the edge, finding her peak so strongly she cried out his name before collapsing on top of him, trembling with pleasure.
Sandor held her close to his chest, savoring the feeling of her lush body against his own. Sansa reached up and caressed his face, feeling the wetness of his tears. "I love you so very much, Sandor. The gods led you to me and I could not have asked for a more wonderful husband than you, my beloved," she murmurred against his lips. "We are meant to be together."
"I love you," he whispered, still overcome with emotion.
Completely spent, she snuggled down between his thighs and fell fast asleep on his chest in exhaustion.
Long after she fell asleep Sandor held her tight, unwilling to withdraw from her. Replaying her words in his mind, Sandor stroked her back while his tears fell. After his burns had healed, the scars the trauma had left on Sandor's heart remained and each time people stared or refused to look at him, the wounds opened anew. Sandor believed he successfully hardened himself to such things until hearing Padrick and Draco's words brought back to the surface the feelings he had tried so hard to bury.
He marveled that he didn't need to explain it to his little wife. Somehow Sansa had instinctively sensed his unspoken feelings the moment she met his eyes. She is so beautiful and she desires me...he sighed with satisfaction. As modest as Sansa was it must have been very difficult but she had let go of her inhibition and expressed her love and passion for him verbally and physically. She loves me so much she was willing to put aside her own shyness in her desire to please me...the very realization astounded him.
In the sheer ecstasy he experienced from her lovemaking, Sandor found the healing he longed for, his heart made whole again by her love and affection. From that moment Sandor felt the truth of her words in his heart-they were meant for each other.
"By the old gods, no matter what the following days may bring, I swear I will never give you up, Sansa...I swear it on my life," he whispered.
Chapter 10: The Family is Introduced
Before Sandor could respond Lady lunged at him, clamping her huge jaws down on his throat and reducing his words to agonizing screams as she dragged his body toward Sandor.
Leaving him lying in a heap at Sandor's feet, Lady then sat down, waiting for Sandor to act. "Maybe I should leave it to Lady to dispose of you," Sandor knelt down and growled into his ear.
The next day was clear and the sun sparkled brightly in the fresh snow settled in the windowsill. Sandor knew Lord Eddard must be near the village and that he should speak to the elders before he arrived. As she snuggled closer to him, he couldn't resist holding Sansa in his arms a bit longer, pondering what the coming day might mean for them.
He watched the sun cast its golden beams into their bedroom as he mulled over his plan until finally he slowly moved away from her. After dressing, he brought in warm water and filled her bath. Sansa slowly roused herself from sleep, smiling as she caught sight of him watching her.
"Come, my love," she rose and taking him by the hand, she led him into the steaming bath with her.
Sandor told her all about his plans for their future as Sansa lathered and rinsed his body. When she dipped his head back to wash his long black hair, Sandor lowered his eyes, unable to hide his self consciousness as the burnt side of his face was exposed to the bright sunlight streaming in the windows. Sansa only smiled and listened attentively, making sure he felt comfortable revealing this part of himself as she bathed him.
Sandor gently lathered and rinsed her body and sat her on his lap as he washed her hair. She smiled and caressed his face while he ran his fingers through the long strands, carefully rinsing the soap from her hair. When he finished, she kissed him tenderly and held his face in her hands. "I know you have to go soon, my love. I'll eagerly await your return," she whispered and he moaned into the kiss.
After they bathed and dressed, giggling from the porch was heard followed by a loud knock on the door. "Ah, time for breakfast," Sandor smiled and opened the door. Out on the porch he was met by Padrick and Draco glaring at him on horseback.
"You must speak to the elders at once, Sandor," Padrick commanded briskly before the men turned and rode off.
Picking up their breakfast basket, he said, "I need to speak to Georg at once, Little bird."
"Oh, must you go now? Can it not wait until we break our fast? I should like to join you."
Sandor sighed and shook his head. "The Council is very concerned about your father's reaction to our marriage."
Sansa frowned and nodded, "I'll get my cloak and furs."
"No, please Sansa, rest here. I won't be long," Sandor rose to leave, taking a piece of bread with him. Bending down to kiss her, he whispered his love for her and then headed outside.
Sansa fell deep in thought as the sound of Stranger's hooves faded into the distance. She knew her father was rightfully upset and her mother being as she was from the Riverlands was undoubtedly indignant. However, she was confident he would soften to the idea of her marriage once he saw how happy she was and how well Sandor took care of her. Suddenly a loud noise outside interrupted her train of thought.
She slipped on her shoes and peeked around the porch toward the back of the house. Must be the young ones playing tricks on me, she thought as she walked out to the yard. A cold feeling came over her: It's the same way I felt when Sandor was watching me.
"Lady Clegane, watch out!" She heard a girl's voice scream from the brush.
Ned and his men waited on horseback for Sandor to arrive in the village. Robb looked around him at the large Woodsman clansmen that welcomed them earlier, the young man both impressed and intimidated by their gruff appearance and leather clothing. Georg and Roan together with Alrik and Edgar sat astride their massive drafthorses eagerly looking for Sandor in the distance.
Making his way down the ridge, a huge fierce looking man drew near on a equally large black warhorse. As he came closer inot view, Ned and Robb could see he brushed his long black hair to conceal terrible scarring on one side of his face. He wore a long black bearskin cloak over a leather jerkin and black riding pants. Over his shoulder he carried a greatsword and his keen gray eyes softened as his gaze fell on Robb and Ned. Recognizing them as Sansa's relatives, Sandor nodded respectfully and dismounted.
Ned and Robb followed suit and dismounted as well. Jory drew his sword and began to follow them but Ned turned to him and shook his head, "That isn't necessary. The men of the Woodsman Clan are men of honor." Jory wasn't so sure but he obeyed Ned and returned to the company.
Lady raced toward Sandor and sniffed him thoroughly, howling as she picked up Sansa's scent. He froze at the huge direwolf's attentions as Lady danced around him excitedly while Greywind licked Robb's hand and stood passively at his side. Ned smiled as he and Robb noted the direwolve's behavior; both men reassured greatly by Lady's treatment of the man before them. "I am Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell," Ned called out as Sandor approached them on foot. "I believe you have taken someone very precious to me. This is my eldest son, Robb."
Robb spoke up, "I must say, not every man takes to the attentions of a direwolf so well as you, She is Sansa's pet, Lady." Smiling, Sandor held out his hand for Lady to sniff. "She told me about you," he rasped softly. The direwolf licked him several times before sitting at his feet.
"I am honored to meet you both. I am Sandor Clegane, of the Woodsman Clan of Free folk. Your daughter Sansa is safe with me, my lord. I saw her not far from your home and according to the tradition of the old gods, I took her as wife. Please be assured I have treated her with respect and care, and I regret any distress my actions have caused your family."
Ned nodded and accepted the hand Sandor extended to him. "I do not deny your claim to her. My family and I worship the old gods as well. I only wish to see her safe and ensure her happiness with the match. My son and I would also like the opportunity to learn more about you as her new husband."
Grinning, Robb shook hands with Sandor as well and Greywind sniffed him thoroughly, whining as he caught Sansa's scent. "This is my direwolf, Greywind."
"Let me assure you that I love your daughter very much and want only the best for her. I would be happy to take you to her; she is presently at our home..." Sandor was interrupted by Lady howling loudly and then snarling as she raced uphill into the brush with Greywind on her heels.
A little girl appeared from the forest and called out to Sandor in distress. "Clegane! Clegane! You wife is in danger m'lord!" Edgar ran over to her, kneeling down and softly talking to the child.
"Where is Draco? He was with you earlier-where is your son?" Sandor demanded before grabbing Stranger's reigns and following the direwolves without waiting for him to finish. Robb and Ned mounted their horses and followed Sandor's lead into the brush.
"Uh, he should have followed me back to the village..." Padrick said as Georg glared at him.
"If that fool son of yours hurts her, it will mean the death of us all!" He hissed as Alrik and Edgar stepped forward and took Padrick into custody.
Jon heard the familiar howl of a direwolf far in the distance and cocked his head to the side as he listened.
"Is that a direwolf?" Benjen asked.
Jon nodded and then watched as Ghost raised his head before darting toward the village, startling the men. "It must be Lady or Greywind! Maybe they have found Sansa!" Jon shouted as he followed Ghost.
Benjen took off after him, and Sam and the Lord of Bones followed behind.
Sansa felt the blow before she realized who delivered it. Staggering backward, she spit blood and held her jaw until her vision refocused on the man before her. "You!" she hissed. She had been so caught up in Sandor that she had entirely forgotten about Aeron's words until she spotted Draco. "You are not welcome here! How dare you strike me! Just wait until my husband returns!" She shouted angrily, the quiver in her voice betraying her fear.
Sandor was far away by now and she knew he would not return anytime soon. Glancing around her, she saw a little girl running through the brush and sprint down the trail toward the village. The little girl...she's Alik and Oona's daughter, came into Sansa mind as she tried to clear her head.
"You uppity highborn bitch," he spat at her. "You're too good for a man like Clegane. I am the son of an Elder;don't you know you'd be better off with a man like me." Draco leered at her, licking his lips as he advanced toward her.
"You're not fit to wipe his boots!" She shouted as he struck her again, sending her sprawling to the ground. Draco kicked her in the ribs repeatedly, causing Sansa to cry out in pain. The sound of howling echoed in the distance drew closer until the noise surrounded them.
Is that a direwolf? Sansa wondered. Both she and Draco stopped in the middle of their struggle to listen; the sound was coming from more than one animal and was growing louder. Lady...
"Lady! Help me, Lady!" Sansa shouted at the top of her voice. Draco looked confused and began grabbing at her skirts.
Without warning, sharp fangs sunk deep into his flesh before the man was violently thrown to the ground. Draco looked up to see a huge white direwolf standing between him and Sansa. "Ghost!" Sansa shouted. He turned and sniffed her, licking her face before snarling and resuming his protective stance.
"You think that animal can stop me?" Draco scoffed. Lady raced toward Sansa from the opposite direction, covering her face with kisses and sniffing her thoroughly.
Jon arrived almost at the same moment, drawing his sword as he eyed Draco. "Jon! Oh, Jon thank the old gods you're here!" Sansa cried in relief.
Greywind burst through the brush on the opposite side and joined Ghost in circling Draco. The direwolves lowered their ears and snarled fiercely as they eyed the man on the ground. Ned and Robb raced up and dismounted, drawing their swords as they spotted Jon training his sword on the man. Ned's eyes darted to Sansa splayed out on the ground with her skirts torn, bleeding from the mouth.
"Jon! Sansa - are you alright?" Sansa nodded and began crying in relief at the sight of her father and brothers. "Hold him, son!"
"Father, is this the man who took Sansa?" Jon asked as he advanced toward him, eying Sansa's torn dress and bleeding lip. Ghost snarled in response to his master's voice.
"No Jon, I don't know him," Ned replied, then stared at the man behind him. "Benjen! Brother, we heard you missing and presumed dead!"
Benjen embraced Ned before both men turned toward Sandor as he dismounted Stranger. "I am Sansa's husband!" Sandor growled as he ran past Jon toward his wife. Lady danced around his feet as he gently lifted Sansa in his arms and spoke softly to her.
Ned was pleased Sandor went to Sansa first. Carefully he looked Sansa over before handing her to Jon, quietly asking him to take her inside before he turned his attention back to Draco.
Ghost and Greywind backed away from the man, leaving him to their sister. Each of the direwolves returned to their respective master's side and assumed a defensive stance as Lady slowly advanced toward Sansa's attacker. The direwolf's ears laid flat against her head and her fur stood on end from head to tail, her fierce snarling growing louder as she began circling Draco.
Robb grabbed supplies from his bag and followed Jon as he carried Sansa away from Sandor. Greywind and Ghost danced at their feet as her brothers took her into the cabin. Sansa looked up as Lady's snarls echoed loudly through the forest.
Robb knelt down and began tending her wounds. "Quite a husband you have there, Sis!" He and Jon laughed nervously.
"Is Sandor alright?" She asked, still dazed from the blows. "Please don't let him get hurt!"
Jon chuckled, "Hurt? It would take every man out there and the direwolves to stop him from killing your attacker. Who is that man? Do you know him?"
Robb gently felt Sansa's ribs, causing her to yelp in pain. "He is one of the Elder's sons. The wife of one of Sandor's friends warned me he was dangerous but I didn’t listen."
"You did nothing wrong, Sansa. Your husband will make sure he never does another woman that way ever again," Robb said as he held a rag full of snow to her bruised cheek. "You have a couple of bruised ribs, Sis, but I can't ascertain any broken bones. You're going to be in pain for a while and you need to rest now."
Jon gingerly lifted and carried her into the bedroom, setting her down on the feather bed with care. Pulling the covers over her, he and Robb then stepped outside to watch Sandor's next move.
Once he saw she was inside, Sandor unsheathed his greatsword. Gregor, Alrik and Edgar arrived on the scene as the Lord of Bones and Sam rode up; none of the men interfered as Sandor advanced towards Draco. Enraged, Sandor drove his boot into Draco's ribs shouting, "You insolent fuck! You dared to raise your hand against my wife? I should carve you up and feed you to the ravens!" Lady snarled loudly in response to Sandor's voice as she continued circling him.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw another man ride up. Surprised, Sandor looked up and saw the Lord of Bones. "I heard you were coming for a visit, Edmure. Welcome to our village. I'll introduce you to my wife after I take care of him," Sandor growled as he kicked Draco repeatedly, causing the Lord of Bones to bark out a harsh laugh.
"Sandor, always a pleasure. I heard you had taken a wife."
Ned watched the exchange with curiosity. "Lord Eddard, with your permission I will execute this man for daring to lay his hand against your daughter," Sandor paused and awaited his reply.
"Sansa is your wife now. I trust you will handle him appropriately. Do to him whatever you see fit." Benjen nodded at Ned in agreement.
"You've abused your last girl. Say your prayers, boy," the Lord of Bones laughed menacingly.
"She tempted me! She tried to seduce me..." Draco shouted. Before Sandor could respond Lady lunged at him, clamping her huge jaws down on his throat and reducing his words to agonizing screams as she dragged his body toward Sandor.
Leaving him lying in a heap at Sandor's feet, Lady then sat down and waited for Sandor to act. "Maybe I should leave it to Lady to dispose of you," Sandor knelt down and growled into his ear. Sandor lifted Draco by the collar and positioned his body over a nearby rock. "Being killed by my wife's direwolf is too good for you. You will die the cowardly death of a criminal at my hands."
"I sentence you, Draco, to death according to our laws for the crimes of striking and attempting to rape my wife." Sandor declared before bringing his greatsword down across Draco's neck, severing his head from his body in one clean strike. Ned and Benjen nodded their approval at Sandor.
Lady howled and licked Sandor as he wiped his sword clean before racing up the path to the cabin. "I have seen justice for your daughter and your house, Lord Stark," he bowed his head and folded the bloodied cloth before handing it to Ned.
Ned bowed his head in return as he accepted. "I am glad to see my daughter has married a most honorable man." From the porch Jon and Robb nodded their approval and turned to go inside.
"Who allowed this man to remain in the village? I doubt this is a first attempt," the Lord of Bones demanded.
Edgar stepped forward. "My wife Aeron had difficulties in the past with him, my lord and before we were wed he harassed her. I spoke to the Elders myself and demanded satisfaction for her honor, as we were betrothed at the time."
Georg stepped forward. "According to our laws, the Elders of the Clan must unanimously agree to an expulsion. We were unable to reach an agreement as his father is an Elder of the Clan as well. I take responsibility, Lord of Bones."
"My son didn't deserve to die just because some southern highborn tempted him and got what was coming to her," spat Padrick. Georg unsheathed his sword and struck him hard against the thighs, bringing Padrick to his knees before the Lord of Bones brought his ax down across his neck.
"Get this trash off of Clegane's land; his wife has been through enough today." Georg commanded and Alrik and Edgar rushed to take the bodies of the two men away. Satisfied, the Lord of Bones nodded to Georg.
"Sandor, I bestow to your wife Sansa the land and properties of Padrick and Draco. It is a meager but necessary compensation considering your wife's suffering this day," Georg decreed. Sandor nodded his acceptance while the Lord of Bones looked on approvingly.
"Justice has been satisfied, men. Let us leave Sandor to his family; his wife needs her husband now." The men rode away, carrying the remains of the executed with them.
Sandor raced into the house and went to his wife in the bedroom. Ned and Benjen stayed in the living room with Robb and Jon, giving Sandor his privacy with Sansa.
"Well, Father, I like Sansa's husband-what say you?" Jon asked as he sat down.
Robb agreed, "Despite the manner he took her as wife, no one can deny he has treated her with honor."
Benjen watched Ned closely as he paused for a moment. "I cannot deny he is a man of action and honor. But marriage is far more than that, my sons, and I must be assured of Sansa's happiness with him before I give my consent."
Robb was glad his father would consider Sansa's feelings. At hearing his father's words, Robb thought of his own arranged betrothal to an unknown Frey girl, and of his growing attraction to Jeyne as well.
"Father, she cares deeply for him, of that I'm certain. All she would speak of was her concern for his safety," he replied.
"As though there was ever any question of that," Jon chuckled.
Benjen spoke up. "Ned, he is the most honorable of men. He and his Father dedicated their lives to ridding the Free folk of the criminals that pillaged their lands after the area around Castle Black was cleared. His father died protecting his men from the White Walkers and it is with this tribute to him that the Lord of Bones protects himself."
"Those are the bones of Sandor's father?" Ned asked in disbelief.
Benjen nodded, "Brother, you and I have much to talk about." Leading Ned to the porch, he related all that had transpired since he left the Night's Watch. Ned in turn shared the full details of Robert's message with Benjen and Jon and explained his plans for handling the matter.
Jon and Robb fed the direwolves' hunks of deer meat as a treat for protecting Sansa while straining to hear the details.
Sandor tended to Sansa while Lady slept peacefully on the bed at her feet. "Are you alright, husband?" she asked as she frantically looked him over for injury.
"Yes Little bird, I am fine-now keep still," he said as he pressed a rag full of snow against her bruised side. "You never have to fear that intruder or his father ever again."
She nodded and kissed him. "You promised to protect me and you have, my love."
"We'll keep Lady with us for extra protection when I am out. Your father and brothers and I will get along fine after this, I expect." Sandor said, kissing her forehead.
Ned knocked on the door softly and Sandor stepped outside while he spoke to Sansa. "My little Lemoncake is a married woman now," Ned said softly as she hugged him.
"Father, please don't be angry with him. He only kept to the old customs..."
"Shh, Sansa my love, you don't have to sell me on him; he is a fine man of bravery and honor. Has he been treating you well?" Ned stared at her intently.
"Yes, Father, he is very gentle with me," Sansa answered. Why is he asking me this?
"Was he rough when he took you? When you fought back, did he strike you?"
"No, oh no, nothing like that! I wrestled a bit as he pulled me to his horse but it was futile...you can see how much bigger than me he is so I didn't really fight him. I didn't want to get hurt and thought it best to just try and survive since I knew you and the boys would come for me. Was that...wrong?"
Ned shook his head and smiled. "No, Sansa, it was smart. Depending on the Clan, some wilding men gauge a woman's value based on how hard she struggles so they might cuff her a bit just to see how much of a fight she'll put up; it's their culture. You might have been hurt by another man."
Sansa was stunned by her father's words. "Oh, no, Father he has never raised his hand to me. He has protected me from the start."
Ned cleared his throat and looked down at his hands. "Is he forceful or demanding when he...receives his husbandly due?"
Sansa flushed deep red. "No, Father...he never pressured me and insisted we wait til I was...comfortable with the idea. He is gentle in...every way with me," she whispered and averted her eyes.
Ned patted her leg and smiled. "Good, that eases my mind greatly. I am proud you have such an honorable husband. He clearly loves you very deeply already, no one can deny that."
"I'm so happy you see it, Father! I know he is not...well, Mother wouldn't approve but I believe we are meant for each other. I...I love him so very much."
Ned smiled at her simple yet honest declaration. "I am glad to hear it. I am satisfied, then, my dear. You have much to learn both about Sandor and being a wife, but it will come in time. It was not so different for me and your mother. Our marriage was arranged, you know...we knew very little of each other when we wed. Love came later for us." Sansa squeezed his hand.
He sighed, "We'll miss you at Winterfell, Sansa. I will convince your mother this is for the best. I hope you and Sandor will visit...perhaps in a fortnight? King Robert and his family will be visiting then and I know he will want to meet your husband."
"Forgive me Father, but..." Sansa began hesitantly, wringing her hands.
Ned placed his finger against her lips to still her words. "Robert will never know all the circumstances in which your marriage has taken place, I have seen to that."
"Oh, thank you, Father!"
Ned took her into his arms. "I will tell him the truth, that you were already married when I received his raven. I gave my blessing and though he is a wilding, Sandor protected you and defended your honor more loyally than any knight in King's Landing."
Sansa cried tears of joy at his words as she clung to her father and Ned smiled and brushed her hair out of her eyes as he did when she was a little girl. "Thank you so much for giving Sandor a chance, Father...I'm certain in time you and Mother will come to care for him as I have."
Chapter 11: Ned's Blessing
Sandor went outside to speak to his inlaws while Sansa slept. Ned rose and shook his hand heartily. "Thank you for respecting and protecting my daughter's honor. You are an honorable and brave man, Sandor Clegane and anyone can see my daughter is deeply in love with you. So, set your mind at ease, I will not seek to annul your marriage. I am proud to have you as my goodson."
"Thank you, my lord, that certainly puts my mind at ease." Sandor smiled as he clasped both of Ned's hands and shook them proudly. "I will make sure your daughter is very happy. You and the family are welcome to visit as often as you wish."
"Thank you Sandor, you will always have a place in my home and at my table, I swear it on the old gods," Ned replied as he patted him on the back.
"Glad to have you as part of the family, Sandor. I could use your expertise on the fighting at the Wall," said Jon.
Robb slapped him on the back in congratulations, "We look forward to getting to know you better at Winterfell, Sandor. Wait until you meet your goodsister Arya...you'll wonder that she and Sansa are related!"
Jon and Robb laughed long at this, leaving Sandor a bit confused. "Father if you write home before I leave, once I reach the Wall I will send the raven to Winterfell."
Ned smiled and thanked him. "I will let the family know all about Sansa's new husband." Robb and Jon laughed heartily once more.
Later that day Georg, the Lord of Bones returned to Sandor's cabin along with Alrik, who brought a prepared meal from Aeron for the family. Sansa came out to greet them, smiling warmly despite her bruised ribs and cheek. Robb and Jon took the food inside and left their father and Sandor to speak to the clansmen.
Georg shook Ned and Sandor's hand before turning to Sansa, frowning at her battered appearance. "My son Alrik is now an Elder of the Woodsman Clan. Together with Roan we have bestowed Padrick and Draco's lands and properties to you as compensation for your injuries and suffering this day. Have you any idea what you would like to do with them?"
"Yes...thank you Elder Georg. Sandor told me of your plans earlier. My husband and I would very much like to give the properties to the last family I met yesterday; Alik and Oona are their names. Their daughter was very brave earlier, she helped save me-she even ran past Draco and risked getting caught herself to run to Sandor. She and her family have offered us loyal friendship which Sandor and I value far more than any material possessions. It is the very least we can do for them."
Ned smiled proudly at Sansa as did Sandor who nodded his assent. "A most excellent idea, family Clegane. I would be proud to inform them of your wishes." Georg turned to Alrik and motioned for them to leave.
"Excuse me, Georg. If it pleases you Lord Eddard and I would like the honor. I owe them my personal thanks," Sandor said with a small bow to Georg.
"As do I," added Ned.
"Very well, as you wish," Georg smiled.
"I am proud of you Sansa, you have grown into a generous woman," smiled Ned, looping his arm around her waist to steady her.
The Lord of Bones then rode up and after dismounting he bowed to Sansa. "Sansa Clegane, wife of Sandor, I am the Lord of Bones. I am honored to meet the fair and kindhearted new wife of my friend, Sandor." He then presented the couple with a huge greatbear skin rug of pure snow white finished in detailed leather stitching along the edges.
"Oh thank you, I am very glad to meet you. You must be the friend Sandor mentioned would be coming to visit! Won't you stay with us?" She said, taking his hand.
He was visibly taken by surprise at her apparent lack of fear of his armor and equally surprised by her friendly gesture, causing Sandor to chuckle. "Forgive me but I must take my leave right away. There are matters to the north that need addressing."
He turned to Sandor and took his hand. "Your treatment of this matter honors your father, Sandor. I cannot terry any longer; much is changing in the north and I have business that needs attention. I will try to come again soon." Sandor frowned at this, wondering what he meant about changes but decided to let it wait until another time "Mance sends his regards. Enjoy your happiness Sandor, you deserve it." The Lord of Bones said, mounting his horse and turning to go.
"Thank you for the visit Edmure. Give my regards to Mance."
Benjen hugged Sansa goodbye and turned to leave as well. "Please bring your wife and son Uncle, I would so like to meet them," Sansa said.
"I'm not sure it will be possible, Sansa. Maybe one day, when things improve." Sansa smiled sadly as Jon put his arm around her and nodded knowingly.
After a hearty dinner, Jon stood up to leave as well. "I don't dare stay away from the Night's Watch much longer, Father. I will return soon Sansa, Sandor," he said as he held his hand to her. Instead Sansa embraced him, holding Jon close as she whispered, "Thank you, dear brother, for everything."
Jon was taken aback at her words and his face lit up with a huge smile as he gently returned her embrace; it was the first time in their lives that she didn't refer to him as her half brother.
"I haven't always treated you with the love you deserve from me as your sister. I hope you can forgive me and let this be a new beginning for us." Jon smiled and nodded, pulling her close once more before hugging Ned and Robb.
He and Benjen mounted their horses and headed north while Lady and Greywind howled as Ghost disappeared with Jon and Benjen. The sound of Ghost yipping in reply soon echoed throughout the dense forest.
"Father, won't you and Robb stay with us here?" asked Sansa.
"Yes, it would be an honor, please do," Sandor agreed.
Robb nodded eagerly but Ned smiled at the couple and winked, "No, it isn't fitting for a newly married couple to spend their honeymoon with the bride's family-we will stay in the village with the men. Let us take our leave, Robb. Greywind, come boy!"
Sansa blushed and hugged them both before they rode away. Aeron had brought over essential oils and salts for Sansa's injury and took her dress to mend as well. That evening, Sandor brought in water from the hot springs for Sansa's bath to ease the pain of her injuries, adding the salts and oils before carefully setting her in the tub with him.
As Sandor bathed her, Sansa turned to look at him and asked, "What made you decide to take me?"
He looked surprised, then paused a minute. "When I heard you laugh...it was so full of happiness. And then I saw you and you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen," he paused again. "But what really made up my mind, was the way you looked at me. You looked me right in the eyes and smiled, without fear or disgust...no woman had ever done that before. I...I felt like you saw me. For once someone saw me, and not just my scars," he said quietly, averting his eyes from her.
"Oh Sandor, that's lovely," she beamed at him.
"Seven hells, woman, don't look at me like that. I'm no buggering fairy tale knight in shining armor! What makes you ask me such a thing?" He barked and splashed her several times, causing peals of laughter from Sansa.
"Well, Father told me earlier that good wilding women put up a fight and I got to thinking that I went without any struggle at all. You are so big, I thought it best not to. What...what made you think I would be a good wife?" She whispered uncertainly, twisting the wash rag in her hands.
Sandor put his hand over hers, took the rag from her and began lathering it with lavender soap. "Why would I expect you to do that? When I saw you I knew you weren't Free folk. Besides, if my only criteria for a good wife was that she is Free folk, I would have taken one to wife long ago," he said as he lathered her back. Sansa turned to face him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Little bird, I wanted someone who would take me, scars and all. A Free folk woman might have put up a good struggle, true enough but then she wouldn't even look at me." Sansa held him close to her as he spoke, running her fingers through his long black hair.
"I knew you were Lord Eddard's daughter and that there could be terrible consequences for taking you. But once you looked into my eyes and smiled, I saw you were a brave and kind young woman. The risk no longer mattered. I...I didn't care about the danger or the many differences between us. I only knew I wanted you...I needed you, to be my wife." Sandor averted his eyes as his rinsed her off.
Satisfied, Sansa smiled as she caressed the scarred side of his face. "Why did you go along with me?" he spoke low, afraid of the answer.
She tilted his chin up so she could look in his eyes. "My husband, initially I was afraid when I saw you, I had never seen anyone before in the wolfswood and I was surprised. But when I looked into your eyes that day I saw loneliness and longing. More importantly, I saw a good and caring man, not a fearsome wilding. And when I saw your scars, I saw the brave strong man who wore them; a man of courage and will to survive, just as I do now, my love. I knew I would never meet another man such as you and as I got to know you better, I longed to stay with you...to make a life with you and to have you as my husband in truth," she said slowly, struggling for words to express her feelings.
Afterward he massaged her body with healing essential oils, kneading out all of the soreness from Draco's blows. As he rubbed the oils into her skin, she thought over his words as they bathed and ombined with the feeling of his loving touch on her skin, Sansa became powerfully aroused. Despite her soreness, she could not suppress her moans as he touched her. Sandor responded by cradling her in his arms and tenderly making love to her. Sandor's caresses and gentle lovemaking comforted Sansa in both mind and body, securing his reassuring words in her heart.
Ned and Robb stayed four days in the village, allowing the men and horses to rest as they became better acquainted with Sandor. Sandor proudly showed Ned and his bannermen his land and home as he told them all about how his family acquired a favored place amongst the Clan. Later he shared with Ned and Robb the details of his service with Mance Rayder and the Lord of Bones.
When Sandor heard Ned and the family would be headed for King's Landing, he warned them to avoid his brother Gregor at all costs. Hearing a warning from a man such as Sandor gave Ned and Robb pause and they readily agreed.
The time passed quickly for the family and Sansa was deeply sorry when it was time for them to leave. "Must you leave so soon, Father?" she cried as they turned to leave.
"Your place is here, now, Lemoncake," Ned smiled and winked at her.
"I will return Sansa to Winterfell in a fortnight Lord Eddard," Sandor said as Sansa hugged her father and brother. "I will take good care of her."
"I know you will, goodson. We'll see you then," Ned replied as he and Robb waved goodbye. Lady yipped at Greywind as he followed behind Robb before laying at Sansa's feet once more.
Chapter 12: Epilogue
After experiencing such rudeness Sandor understood why she had been so relieved to be rid of Joffrey as a potential suitor and found being kidnapped by him a more acceptable alternative to becoming a member of the Baratheon family.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The couple happily honeymooned for the three weeks following Ned and Robb's departure before setting out on the long journey back to Winterfell. With Lady by their side, they traveled leisurely and Sandor showed her all of the sights and landmarks of interest and beauty along the way, much to Sansa's delight.
At Winterfell, Ned and Robb eagerly welcomed Sandor, slapping him on the back and even began referring to him and 'son' and 'brother' in conversation. Sandor joined Robb, Ned and Theon in the practice yard every morning, bringing him even closer to the Stark men.
Ned had invited them to return partly to see King Robert but primarily to observe how Sandor would relate to the rest of the Stark family. Overall he was very pleased with Sandor's behavior, and as he spent more time with him, he felt a kinship with Sandor a fellow man of the north.
Ned considered him a natural addition to their family and later he presented his goodson with a fine Valyrian steel greatsword engraved with the Stark and Clegane symbols on the hilt. Once Bran observed the engraving on Sansa's wedded ring, he was able to draw Mikken a close replica of the three hounds on a field before the greatsword was forged. Sandor was deeply honored by the gift and more importantly what it represented: Ned and the boys' acceptance of him into the family.
Catelyn was angrier than Ned had ever seen her upon hearing of his decision and consequently spoke very little to him since they returned home but as Ned saw Sansa's obvious happiness and Sandor's gentle behavior with his daughter, he felt confident his decision was best for her in spite on her mother's reaction.
He was disappointed in Catelyn, and her behavior towards Sandor only drove home his nagging suspicion that she would have had nothing to do with him if it wasn't for his lordship. Lady Catelyn was unwilling to accept a wilding man as the husband of her daughter, incredulous when Ned had told her he accepted the marriage, and in utter disbelief when Robb and Ned told her of Sansa's happiness.
Catelyn seethed inwardly when she was introduced to Sandor. It is unthinkable she would rather have this scarred wilding man, with his long hair and bearskin cloak, rather than become the betrothed of the Crown prince of the Iron throne! She spent the entire visit fuming in cold silence, staring at them in derision at every opportunity. Catelyn always fancied Sansa to be more refined, like her; more Tully than Stark and she found it heartbreaking that Sansa would waste her beauty and lower herself to such an extent.
But Sansa's radiant happiness and unmistakable joy with wedded life was undeniable even to Catelyn. As a wife her daughter blossomed into a woman and had grown even more beautiful in spite of her plain clothes. Despite his fearsome appearance, Ned and Catelyn both noticed Sansa's face lit up whenever Sandor entered the room as though he were a knight from one of her fairy stories and her behavior led Catelyn to question whether she had ever really known her daughter to begin with.
Sandor had presented them with a beautiful gray fox fur blanket but despite his generosity and Sansa's apparent happiness with him, Catelyn still held back. The disappointed mother could not forgive Sandor for introducing Sansa to his barbaric ways and treated him with the barest civility, alienating her gentle, kind hearted daughter with her behavior.
They were always the last ones to arrive at the table in the morning and the first to retire at night and Catelyn was mortified when Sandor came into the breakfast room with his arm around Sansa's waist, her daughter flushed and full of smiles as she sat down at the table. Even worse, Catelyn observed Ned wasn't bothered by their behavior at all; he only smiled or pretended not to notice, infuriating her all the more. Catelyn doubted she would ever treat Sandor with the warmth Ned and Robb bestowed upon him.
"Where has my ladylike girl disappeared to? Where is her training?" She despaired to Sansa's former septa, who could only shake her head in confusion as one afternoon they watched Sansa feed Sandor bits of her lemoncake while sitting on his lap in the greenhouse.
Ned insisted on giving them wedded gifts so Catelyn presented Sansa with woolen dresses, cloaks and socks but that was the extent to which Catelyn was willing to concede to Sansa's marriage to a low born wilding, however honorable he may be.
Sansa was happy to be at home with her family again but her mother's behavior put a serious strain on her. Everything Sansa did to honor her new position as the wife of a Free folk man was met with stiff opposition and she was saddened by her mother's obvious disappointment in her as well as her new husband. Sandor encouraged Sansa to be patient and try to see things from her mother's perspective. Sandor reassured her every time Sansa came to him with a new complaint that he would continue his efforts to win her over.
"No, my love, you have done enough. It is Mother's turn now," she smiled at him and kissed his hand.
On the other hand, Arya, Bran and Rickon were thrilled with Sansa's new husband. Everything that upset Catelyn about him endeared Sandor to the children; they were fascinated with his stories of the north, bearskin cloak and woodworking and were overjoyed when he presented each of them with their very own furs as well.
Sandor could certainly see what Jon and Robb meant when he was introduced to Arya. The girl bore no resemblance to Sansa both in appearance or personality, much to his amusement. She excitedly followed Sandor everywhere, constantly asking him questions about the White Walkers and life north of the Wall. Every morning she watched him in the practice yard and begged him for sword lessons which he hesitantly promised later on.
Sandor was careful to include Bran and carried him on his back as he led Arya and Rickon into the woods each day, direwolves in tow. He spent the afternoons teaching them how the Free folk read animal tracks, gauged changes in the weather and dug out snow caves for shelter. When he taught them how to carve bows and arrows out of pinewood, Sandor forever secured his place as a favorite among them. Not wanting to disappoint her, after a while Sandor finally gave in to Arya and daily gave her lessons on using a bow and a sword, much to her delight and greatly adding to Catelyn's mounting disapproval of him.
When the time came for Sansa and Sandor to be presented to King Robert and his family, Catelyn insisted on her wearing one of her southern gowns rather than her woolen northern dress. Despite her mother's pleading, Sansa respectfully declined and greatly pleased Sandor by donning the gown she received as a wedded present.
The morning the royal caravan arrived, the couple was overwhelmed by the King's boisterous greeting. Robert pinched Sansa's cheek and opened praised her beauty to anyone who would listen and shook Sandor's hand vigorously as they were introduced, all the while admiring Sandor's bearskin cloak and greatsword. However, Queen Cersei and Joffrey treated them coldly upon their introduction to the couple.
Staring at Sandor and Sansa's furs, woolen and leather clothing with exaggerated derision, the Queen and her son's rudeness caused Robert to frequently rephrase their words while glaring at them. The younger daughter Myrcella repeatedly tried to blunt their rudeness by praising the couple while the younger brother Tommen happily asked about Sandor's horse whenever there was a lull in the conversation. Prince Joffrey glowered at them contemptuously while he and his mother never missed an opportunity to draw attention to their drastic differences in station.
Later at dinner Robert demanded Sandor recount the capture and execution of the man that attacked Sansa, growling and shouting swears or patting Sandor's shoulder approvingly as the story dictated. Sandor overall bore it well, though Sansa was convinced the thrashing he gave the Baratheon bannermen every morning in the practice yard was an outlet for his suppressed anger. After experiencing such rudeness Sandor understood why she had been so relieved to be rid of Joffrey as a suitor and found being kidnapped by him a more acceptable alternative to becoming a member of the Baratheon family.
Being with Cersei and her mother made her miss the easy friendships she had developed amongst the women of the Clan. Sansa was sensitive to their contempt only to the extent of how their behavior affected Sandor and she took special care in reassuring him of her love and devotion despite the ill behavior of her mother and the queen. The false politeness the King and Queen dictated from her family made her and Robb both very uncomfortable and she was grateful that her life had taken a different course. Sansa grew to view anything related to royalty and the game of thrones with disdain and as each day passed she longed to return their life of simplicity and comfort in the Haunted Forest.
Robert called for a tourney celebrating Ned's appointment as Hand of the King and the large purse offered brought Sandor's brother Gregor Clegane to Winterfell. Sandor insisted Sansa remain hidden as much as possible and would not allow her out of their room without him. Jory offered himself as a guard for her, but Sandor would entrust her safety to no one but himself where his brother was concerned.
Sandor insisted he and Sansa take their meals in their quarters and his drastic measures concerned Ned enough to take extra precautions for the for the rest of the family's safety. Gregor ignored him on the whole and Sandor flatly refused to associate with him at any event prior to the tourney. Sandor never left Sansa's side the entire time Gregor stayed at Winterfell, only agreeing to be in his company while accompanying the family at the tourney.
He stood by Sansa's side with his greatsword at the ready for the duration of the tournament, causing a stir among those assembled. Sandor's reason for his protectiveness became evident soon enough. Enraged by his loss during the joust, Gregor beheaded his horse and attacked a young knight Loras Tyrell. Sandor intervened, saving his life. Sansa was horrified, feeling she had caught a glimpse of what Sandor had endured in childhood. Robert sent Gregor back to King's Landing immediately following the outburst, much to the relief of everyone.
That night at the feast, Cersei and Joffrey haughtily laughed at Sandor and Sansa's expense in front of everyone for the duration of the meal. Robert had finally reached his limit and roared his disapproval, slapping his wife and his heir in front of all assembled in the dining hall. The King sincerely offered his apologies to the couple as well as Ned, his words shocking everyone present at least as much as his striking his wife and son. Apologetic behavior was not something Robert Baratheon was known for but the gesture pleased Ned and Sandor all the same.
Sandor and Sansa stayed at Winterfell for a fortnight after the King's arrival. Having received a raven from Jon announcing he would arrive for a visit at their cabin in a fortnight, the couple decided it was time to go home. Sansa had enjoyed visiting her family but the simple life north of the Wall beckoned to her and she was glad for the excuse to leave Winterfell.
As they readied their belongings for travel King Robert presented them with a chest filled with a large sum of money as a wedded gift. Among the family, Sansa determined it should be used to help their village, delighting Sandor and Ned with her generosity while equally horrifying her mother with her decision. They returned home to the Haunted Forest with full hearts and plenty of food and supplies for the village in a fortnight, allowing the couple plenty of time to prepare for Jon's visit.
As the cabin came into view, Sansa beamed at Sandor and laughed happily, overjoyed to finally be home. That evening Lady lay snoring on the floor in front of the crackling fireplace as Sansa climbed into bed next to Sandor. "It is so good to be home at last, my love!"
Sandor pulled her close to him and snuggled with her under the furs. "It certainly is, my beloved wife," he agreed as he gently lifted her on top of his chest and began kissing her tenderly.
In life north of the Wall, Sansa found contentment in the simple life full of love she led with her husband, while Sandor found the happiness and love he longed for in his kindhearted highborn wife.
I hope you enjoyed this story and for those of you rereading I hope you found it much improved. Thanks to everyone for reading!
Chapter 13: Thank you to all my readers-this is awesome!!!
I just wanted to share this with my readers!
CONGRATULATIONS! The Fanatic Fanfics Multifandom Awards would like to inform you that you have been nominated in the following categories:
All-Time Favorite Game of Thrones Fanfic for The Long Journey Home
All-Time Favorite Game of Thrones Fanfic for Wild At Heart
Voting page will open to voters on March 31st, 2014. We will take votes for two weeks before closing the page on April 14th, 2014.
Feel free to let your readers know about this event and may the odds be ever in your favor.
-Fanatic Fanfics Multifandom Awards
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I'm truly grateful to everyone who has read and enjoyed this fic. This is the first longish story I ever finished and I wrote it during a very difficult time in my life. It was such a hot mess that I had to rewrite it. I never dreamed it would be nominated for anything! Thank you so much for this, it made my day! *group hugs*
I will be releasing a sequel to this very shortly, so stay tuned!