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MARCHING SONG The War Letters of Sandor Clegane

KIMBERLITE8 Illuminated by

BUBUG


MARCHING SONG The War Letters of Sandor Clegane

KIMBERLITE8 Illuminated by

BUBUG

an Illustrated Fanfiction for the Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane Pairing George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Disclaimer: All characters and settings are the property of George R.R. Martin. This is solely a not-for -profit fan activity and does not intend to infringe on the copyrights held by Mr. Martin. Illustrations and text of this story are the property of the author of the fanwork, kimberlite8, who retains all moral and distribution rights. Commercial use is never allowed.


SUMMARY “It feels so sweet to fall asleep with your words in my head, your letters underneath my hand. Like I could actually believe that with all the world has to offer, you chose to sit in this muddy tent only because I was here." Sandor Clegane’s war letters to Sansa Stark while he is on campaign. An epistolary novella. Content Warnings: graphic descriptions of sex and violence. Sansa is age 17, Sandor is age 32. If you require any further information before reading, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

KIMBERLITE8 Writer Art Conceptualization Layout & Typography

BUBUG Illustrator Art Conceptualization

REDGODDEMANDSIT Editor

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PRAISE “There is something so magical about this fic. It's incredibly endearing and while I look forward to some smutty goodness, I am enjoying hearing Sandor's "voice" as he slowly reveals himself. It sounds like him, a post-Quiet Isle Sandor. Still rough edges and blunt words, but tamed ever-so-slightly by believing in possibilities.” — KRIS “The manner of speaking you’ve given to Sandor fits perfectly with the character; rude though somehow well-mannered. I read the whole fic with a half smile on my face the whole time; sometimes because it was a melancholic passage, others because of the way he describes how homesick and longing of her he is and mostly because Sandor’s naughty thoughts just made me laugh (in the best possible way).” — CHAOUEN “Sandor's loneliness in the first letter sort of crept in and sunk heavily on my heart—I only wish I could have heard him read it— you've written his love for Sansa so purely that the reader can feel the weight of his longing, his desire, his pride and it is beautiful. He has been a favourite character of mine for some time now, and I hadn't though I could love him more but the way you write him with such measured honesty—yours might be my favourite version of him” — RUEBELLAB “You've managed to do something that's a rarity in the Sansan fandom: write a fic that's swoon-worthingly romantic but without a hint of fluff.” — ZSRA187 “I think it's the mark of a truly extraordinary author that you are able to make this character, about whom so much has already been written, and in one letter make him seem more alive and real than most people I've actually met. He has doubts, fears, passions, yearnings, pride, aspirations—and he expresses these things in a wholly believable way. You have given him life and breath in these pages. Your Sandor IS Sandor for me. I think now that he always will be.” — KITAMERE “When an author has such a clear, distinct characterization for their subjects, the fic can take on an almost meta quality. Your vision of these characters adheres to canon so well and is also so internally cohesive that you've blended this fic and meta together.” — TOXOPLASMAFABULOUSA

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 1 - page 10 Chapter 2 - page 20 Chapter 3 - page 26 Chapter 4 - page 40 Chapter 5 - page 46

Chapter 6 - page 60

Chapter 7 - page 78

Chapter 8 - page 84

Chapter 9 - page 90 Chapter 10 - page 106

“I’m not used to writing letters to a lady” “the Father’s eye is always on the sparrow” “a bloody sad scrap of foolery” “when the drum beats in the morning” “In dreams, you can have your eggs cooked perfect but you cannot eat them” “My sweet girl, my pretty little bird, my tender little cuntie” “My little bird, you're not only beautiful, but also very clever” “What is it about you, Sansa, that pries a man open?” “Always there is one constant—war” “Sansa, whatever you wanted to get out of me, I want you to have it”


WARCRY And it warms my heart to see strong castles besieged, the palisades smashed and broken down, and to see the army on the river-bank protected from all sides by ditches and strong, tight-made palisades. And I am well pleased by a lord when he is first to attack, on horseback, armored, fearless: thus does he inspire his men with boldness and worthy courage. And when the battle is joined each man must be ready to follow him with joy: for no man is held worthy until he has taken and given many blows. Maces and swords, colorful helms, shields riven and cast aside: these we shall see at the start of the battle, and also many vassals struck down, the horses of the dead and wounded running wild. And when he enters the combat let every man of good lineage think of nothing but splitting heads and hacking arms; for it is better to die than to live in defeat. I tell you, I find no such savor in eating or drinking or sleeping as when I hear the cries of “attack!” from both sides, and the noise of riderless horses in the shadows; and I hear screams of “Help! Help!” and I see great and small alike falling into the grassy ditches and the dead with splintered lances, bedecked with pennons through their sides. Love wants a chivalrous lover skilled at arms and generous in serving who speaks well and gives greatly, who knows what he should do and say, in or out of his hall, as befits his power. He should be full of hospitality, courtesy, and good cheer. A lady who lies with such a lover as that is clean of all her sins. — BARON BERTRAN DE BORN 12TH CENTURY SOLDIER & TROUBADOUR


Chapter 1

“I’m not used to writing letters to a lady” 20th Day of the 11th Month, 303 Sansa, Maester Samwell promised me that he would carry this baggage to you when he departs for Winterfell in the morning. The ground is full of mud and slosh and that’ll make the journey harder than it should be. I hope he reaches you before the fourth day of the twelfth month. I found it necessary to convince him but you need not fear I used my usual methods of persuasion. Your fat friend was easy to bribe: some men never find the right woman, I’d say Maester Samwell has never found the wrong honeycake. It was the last one from the food parcel you sent me. As you know by now, we have been campaigning rough for a month ever since the wildlings ambushed and broke the supply line. Half of them we killed, but the other half tucked their tails and rode off on our own bloody horses with three months' provision of grain and wine. And the buggering filthy savages stole the pig fat, Others take them. The timing could not have been worse. We had slaughtered all the livestock not two days before. Ramsay had driven out some of his own animals from the castle’s gate, they mixed with ours and within a week, the cows couldn’t stand proper. Some of the


carcasses we launched back at the whoresons. The rest we burned for fear of pestilence. Of the corn we have left, I’ve ordered the lot to be saved to feed the warhorses. They’re eating better than their masters who are down to foul wine and firecakes—not made from flour, but dried, ground up turnips. Disgusting stuff that the serving wenches plop on your plate like cow pat. Leaves a man staining his breeches brown too but at least it fills the belly enough for him to sleep. Old turnips were the only foodstuff we could buy at Pink Lady, the sole town within ten leagues that still had a heart beating inside its crippled bones. Buggering smallfolk. In this starving country they know too well the value of corn and mutton to offer them up for coin. I’ve received word from White Harbor that the new supply train should be here within the week. I don’t know about that. The roads from White Harbor to here are made of pure clay and all this rain will turn them into a sunken mire from which a wagon could no more pass through than a channel of the Trident. If Manderly can’t haul supplies soon, I’m not sure who will be more hungry, the besiegers or the besieged. Already disorder is rampant. Ask any man who has experience with troops in truth rather than in theory and they’ll tell you that soldiers are like children: they eat and eat all day and are subject to every kind of childish illnesses—loose bowels and the bloody flux, whooping cough and sour throat, measles and mumps and the chicken pox. At times I feel like I’m playing nursemaid more than commander. Bloody hell, I can’t go away or lie down without a score of men moving after me. Still, the worst thing is the want of

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discipline. Damn me, if green boys aren’t easy to drive but hard to lead. Last week, I sentenced a dozen men chained into the stocks for foraging from the smallfolk. Bloody robber knight fooleries, starting one rebellion as we try to subjugate another. These Dreadfort peasants live so close to the ground. All those plowing fields south of the Sheepshead Hills—cast your eyes and you’ll see the desolation sown by the marching armies of Boltons and Baratheons and Freys that came before us. Seizing the farmer’s cattle condemns him to death as sure as if I were to put him to the sword after the sack. Now, I’d be lying if I said I give a rat’s arse about the starving poor any more than they shed tears when they see the rotten rich kill each other. But I’m trying very hard here not to the sow the seeds for next year’s smallfolk insurrection. Receiving a horde of bedraggled Pates screaming for bread while armed with their wooden pikes at the gates of Winterfell won’t win me your kingly brother’s favor, I'll warrant. Speaking of your brother, you may tell him that his siege engines are too bloody marvelous. No pulling ropes like the machines of our fathers’ time, but counterweights. Daily we bombard the Dreadfort and smash its doomed walls to rubble, though a great many of our stones bury into the earth and do little harm. I go out every morning and direct the firing of the engines. I swear that’s the best part of my day unless I get a letter from you. The Bastard’s bowmen have come very near hitting me a few times but so far I have escaped unhurt. Not so fortunate was the Little Liddle—he took an arrow to the eye and was sent back to the high mountains. Such is life and luck.

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Don’t laugh, but I named one of the engines. Ladywolf. Yes, it’s a ‘she’ because ‘she’ is beautiful. My lady can cast a rock weighing eighty stones. Or speckle the sky with a traitor’s head—yesterday I was treated to the pretty sight of Hosteen Frey's face flying a thousand feet high into the air, in an arc that surely must have landed him way beyond the Dreadfort's killing grounds. Haven’t told you about how we captured the Frey whoreson yet, have I? Well, we bagged the hot-spurred fool after a sortie he led from the gates went to shit. If the gods are good, his rotting head plunged straight down into the castle well where it will poison their water. Ha, I can see your face wrinkling, girl. Don't. I thought it through. Hosteen Frey was no good for ransom and someone had to pay for us succumbing to hunger. Everyone was so cheerful over it. I know I laughed myself sick.

As to the mine gallery—I give it another three months before we penetrate the heart of the castle. Won’t that be sweet? I am keen looking forward to painting the wooden timbers supporting the tunnel with buckets of pig fat, setting them to the torch and laying waste to this shithole. Right now the gallery runs sixteen feet past those ugly triangular merlons that look like teeth. I tell you, that was sweat dripping, body battering labor, sapping stone buttresses eight feet thick. But beyond the merlons, the ground is pure alluvium, soft and yielding. Makes me feel like a man with his maiden bride—once you break the virginity, slack and sweet. Before the supply line ambush, we dug three feet a day. Could do twice that but the men have to work silent which means they can’t work swift. The only way to combat mining is countermining and I dread the fight being brought down in the earth where a man

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fears the darkness and the tight spaces and the restricted air as much as the foe’s sword. I’d wager that swaddling infant Ramsay Snow knows precious little about how to defend a castle. A captain of experience would have littered the battlements with bowls of water, so that any disturbance caused by the digging would create ripples indicating where we are underground. Still, I sleep a little less easy at the thought of being proven wrong. What the Bastard lacks in seasoning he compensates with a kind of low animal cunning. Have I bored you to tears yet? An eloquent man would have written something worth your time to read. Why did I write about so much about siegecraft? As if ladies would be interested in such dull matters. Truth be told, I spend a lot of time narrating my day to you in my head. Imagining you accompanying me as I’m going about my labors, your pretty openhearted face rapt with attention when I point out all the work we’ve done and all the work we still need to do. Funny isn’t that? Anyhow. Enough talk about the war. How are you, girl? Near everyone here has fallen prey to some kind of gut illness except for me. I’m keeping to myself, pretending to be sick for the sake of decency. It gives me some quiet and the time to finally write back to you. Now, don’t be angry that I haven’t replied as often as you’ve written. I don’t how to make the stuff in my head sound good, light and free from the dark stuff here and still be interesting to a lady who reads as many books as you do. Should I write about the weather? You northerners never cease running your mouths about it.

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Well, it’s bloody wet. The constant rains have surrounded our encampment with hundreds of little lakes, some six inches deep. Except for the mess it makes of the roads, I don’t mind it so much. Saves us the trouble of drawing water from the river, we just leave the buckets out. And the mud is ever courteous, slides right off so I don’t have to clean my boots. Might be I have lost the habit of regarding the weather: if it rains, we get wet, and if it doesn’t, we don’t, and if the sun shines, good. It’s not so bad lying on my stomach on my straw pellet reading one of your letters again with the sound of rain pattering against my tent. Drowns out the noise the packs of men make out there—yelling, cussing, fighting, laughing and singing. Ceaseless clatter day and night. That it should bother me at all. I never use to loathe war, I loved it nine tenths of the time and hated the thought of it being ended too soon. I told you once that killing was the sweetest thing there is…when I was younger, I savored the first cries of “attack” coming from both sides and dodging the blow that would have hacked off my arm could produce a sort of joy only bested by the screams of “help” coming from men great and small alike as they lay in the grassy ditch with their broken lances and split heads, the shadow of the Hound the last thing they see before he sends them off to meet their gods.


Yet here I am today, misery fitting this dog like an old damp cloak cause he hates being away from home. I know now why all the good ones were unmarried: it’s not the craven’s fear of death that cuts deep to the bone but the fear that by death a soldier is prevented from returning to the woman that waits for him. Seven hells. Ignore me. I think the hunger is making me stupid. Am I ever hungry. Usually, I go to bed dreaming of you but Last night I dreamt of roast duck with pomegranate sauce with an intensity that was bloody frightening. The crispy skin, the tender flesh, duck fat dripping off my lips; eel soup with mace and cream, carrots roasted with butter and mint, brown bread still warm from the oven so the sweet butter melts the moment you spread it. Those jugs of that nutty dark ale you know like I so well with my meat. Damn, smacking my lips now as I write this down. It was the last meal we had before I departed Winterfell if you recall. Or can you recall? After we finished the pudding, you had drunk so much icewine that you were nodding off while trying to raise the glass to your lips. Your maids had to come to usher your disgraceful arse to bed. I fight back a smile every time I revisit that evening in my head. Little bird, little bird, I miss you so bad. Now, if only today had brought one of your letters! I know ravens get lost sometimes and the distance between Winterfell and the Dreadfort is far. But I’m longing to hear from you so much tonight, like never before. Just when I think I’ve reached the peak of my impatience, I am punished and have to wait some more. Not much to do to fight off boredom and loneliness save brawl or whore. I’m keeping myself straight but am I so bloody tired of

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being in this kennel. A man needs good meat, good wine, and good cunt to keep from going fucking insane. I’m at my wits’ end. I read and read again your letters so often, I don’t even need to see the parchment any more to recall the words. I like to touch them anyway. Imagining your hand on the quill, pressing firm on the parchment—did you moisten the quill tip with your spit? No, you do not “twaddle on too much”—what bloody nonsense. I have never thought that and never would. Please continue to write to me, girl. Don’t wait upon my answers. I want you to tell me about everything I’m missing out on, being away. I want you to tell me about you. I suppose that’s enough writing for now. I have about an inch of candle left for my light. And my hand is cramping. I’m not used to writing letters to a lady. I’m not used to writing letters. I like it, though. Happy seventeenth name-day, little bird. Your servant, Sandor Clegane

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Chapter 2

“the Father’s eye is always on the sparrow” 4th Day of the 12th Month, 303 Sansa, Lord Manderly arrived four days ago by way of the Weeping Water. His supply ship carried hay for the horses and wheat and flour, wine and ale, beef and mutton, fat lambs and poultry for the men. Combined with the restored supply train from Winterfell, we’ll have enough to feed a three battalions of men for another three months or nearabouts. Laughing as I write this—do I sound like an old squirrel admiring his winter store of nuts to you? I bloody feel like one. Manderly made good just before it was going to get real bad. Two days before he turned up, a duck wandered from out of nowhere into our encampment and was fought over by five of the strongest men who ate it beak, bones, feet, feathers and all. That pretty bit of business is now forgotten as if it had never happened and the change in situation is raising the spirits of even the grimmest man here. Despite the rain dripping from our tents and the puddles at our feet, the mood is so high you could almost believe we were at Winterfell. It’s sumptuous eating all the way and after each evening’s feast, the men all lay about underneath makeshift canopies, drinking ale by the warmth of the camp fire as Manderly holds court with a tree stump for a throne. The old man has a strong laugh and excellent taste in wine, so is well liked. I told him one of the japes you told me in one of your letters—the one

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that ends with “Surely, you wouldn't send a knight out on a dog like this?” He slapped his knees and laughed until he could not draw breath. He’s been begging the girl Turnip to leave with him when he departs our camp for Winterfell. Was that at your command? I’ve tried for your sake Sansa, well you know that. I threatened that I was going to truss her up like a sow for the slaughter and throw her in the back of the caravan if she didn’t leave willing along the rest of the Winterfell captives that we freed with the hostage exchange. But the stubborn fool looked up at me—straight in the face—and said “I’d like to see you try.” Her voice—damn. Cold is cold as ice is ice. Anyone who hears or sees her but must feel the intensity of her hate. I’m not going to get into what she went through in the Dreadfort’s dungeons and might be you already know from Old Nan, but if she wants to stay here to help string Ramsay’s guts along the castle walls: fine by me. The thirst for vengeance runs as strong as any other human emotion and her feelings are powerful and natural. I understand this truth better than most and I’d wager you do too. I’m not going to deny her personal satisfaction the way I was robbed of mine just because she’s a woman and is supposed to have a woman’s heart or some such shit.

Truth be told, she’s been pretty useful. Says her father Gage was the cook at Winterfell. The man was a strange one to call his only daughter after the vegetable people eat when they have no other options but I can’t deny that he trained her well. Give her a hundred pounds of flour and she’ll turn it into a hundred and thirty pounds of bread. Better returns than any camp cook I’ve ever known. She’s almost too bloody resourceful and I’m extra

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careful with my silver around her. Gambling on louse races is what passes for refined entertainment around these parts. We’d line up our empty dinner plates, each pluck a louse from our heads, and the first louse to crawl off the plate is declared the champion. Turnip’s would always run quicker than anybody else, night after night. It was bloody baffling until one time, I had the mind to reach over and feel her plate. Wouldn’t you know, that cunning little bitch had been heating it beforehand! Speaking of little bitches, Maester Samwell said you keep my name-day present with you at night instead of banishing her to the kennels. Jonquil, hmm? I just knew you’d call her that. As to her history—I found her nine months ago wandering the banks of the Weeping River. She wore a pink collar with all the gems plucked out, so I'm guessing she must have been one of Ramsay’s hounds though you would scarce believe it. The bitch was as ragged and rawboned as any Flea Bottom mongrel. I made the mistake of giving her a piece of bread and was rewarded with her trying to sink her teeth into my arm. Didn’t hold her piss poor manners against her, though, as animals are at their most dangerous when they have the fewest defenses. Might be she read me for a softheart because the creature would not leave me alone after that. Followed me all the way back to my tent. With a little time and care, I taught her to earn her keep like the rest of us with soldier’s work. Turnip’s not the only one here whose blood runs true—my grandfather would have been pleased. She jumped on the back of Ser Stupid’s horse and tried to throw him off of it during his ill-fated sortie. Gods’ rot him, he injured her bad. My girl paid him back though—I saw that the fine studded chain mail near his thigh was shredded by what could only

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be dog’s teeth. But that buggering Frey scum managed to cut off part of her left ear. I mended it with my rough soldier’s stitches but you’ll notice it’s half ragged, so now she’s ugly like her master. It seemed only proper that her injuries should earn her a pretty pension so I asked Maester Samwell to commend her to your care. He tells me she’s made no friends at Winterfell, barks all day and night long, and snarls at anyone who comes near. Some men have a hard time settling down after war. Might be some dogs too. So whenever she tries to snap at you, feed her a treat and leave her be. Eventually, she’ll growl less as she comes to anticipate food and safety with your approach. Poor little bitch is fearful, thinking if she acts this way, no one will harm her. She’s never bitten me hard enough to break the skin since the first day we met. I know you’ll excuse her for her missteps and find her worth saving. You’re good at that. Maester Samwell also said you did not look so well and that you sleep a lot even in the daylight hours. What’s wrong with you girl? I admit, I’m surprised to hear such revelations as your letters are always so lighthearted that somber things don’t even seem to exist at Winterfell. I know I said to you before that I don’t like fruitless complaints and them that wallow in feeling sorry for themselves. I suppose I could have said that wrong and maybe you misunderstood me. Sansa, I want us to always speak plain to one another and face facts, rather than run away from them. Might be you think you can’t share your darker moods with me and if that’s the truth, then I regret whatever I said or did to make you think that way. Sometimes I forget that a man’s feelings, though perhaps rougher, can never be as sharp as a woman’s. Write to me about how you feel exactly without any pretend gaiety. Inflict your sorrows on me, little bird—I will thank

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you for it and not bawl you out over it ever. The sun is setting just about now. In honor of your name-day, I’m gulping a big swig of that Dornish sour you sent with Maester Samwell. Spent today doing my “knitting”— boiling all my clothes and linens in salt water to kill off nits, followed by a scouring bath in one of the nearby hot springs. It’s apparent I had been harboring some nasty fat fellows. I plucked one from my scalp and threw the bugger into a melee. There he was, surrounded ten to one by ants, and wouldn’t you believe it, he fought them off! Ha! Must have been the all the Clegane blood he’s been imbibing. Writing to you now with fresh and dry clothes on my back, a shaved face and short, combed hair, while eating the first of your sausage rolls. It feels good to look like a man you could oblige at your supper table on your name-day, rather than some vermin crusted wildling whose company wouldn’t be fit to grace a sheep sty. Do you know this is the first of your name-days we have been apart since you were fourteen? How about we make a pact, little bird? I want you to drink a glass of wine every day at dusk and I’ll do the same. This way, once a day, we can be together. Those sausage rolls you sent sure are good—lots of black pepper and garlic and fennel, the same way they make them in the Westerlands. This is Alyce’s handiwork? I’d reckon no, they were much spicier than hers. Give the kitchen maid who made them my thanks and tell her I’ll get her back when I return. It was welcome indeed getting one of your parcels. But why must you keep writing about whether I’m going to find them good enough? I know very well that you send the best you can and they are always marvelous. So don’t you start worrying whether I’m going to be disappointed or not. This last one had everything I asked for and plenty that I

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didn’t think to ask for but should’ve. I laughed at the bloody shedload of soap you sent me. Suppose those of us who have a hard time with godliness must settle for cleanliness. Sandor I just opened up the jam jar and found the miniature. Did you mean to send this? Your hair is dark and your face looks bloody young. I’m guessing the miniature was originally a betrothal gift for the Arryn heir? It’s too costly and too old to have been made for me. I ought to thank you, I suppose. As for that queer little note scribbled inside the jam jar… if it was meant for me and not some old scrap written for that upjumped squire moldering in his grave, all I can say is this: I’m not done with living yet. I didn’t fight through the siege of Pyke, the battle of Blackwater and the retaking of Winterfell to become worm meat at the “Drearfort.” This will be but a summer skirmish when the maesters write their histories. I’ve lived under the Stranger’s hand and served his rule for too long and too well for him to summon me at the ripe old age of thirty-two. Well, what did you want me to do with this thing? Ah, I got it—there is a spot on my trestle table that my eye catches the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. I’m going to place your sweet portrait there. Never doubt that I’ll be returning home, little bird. The septons say that the Father’s eye is always on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you.

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Chapter 3

“a bloody sad scrap of foolery” 8th Day of the 12th Month, 303 Sansa, I promised myself I’d write to you every chance I had, so here I am again. Buried one of my men today. His name was Rickard, he one of the Mollens. Did you know him well? Good fighter, sound instincts and strong as oak. During the wildling raid on the supply line, his nose was cut off by one of those buggering savages and then he was trampled by a horse that broke three of his ribs. The ribs healed but the nose wound became infected and he went out, snuffed like candlelight two days ago. We wrapped him up in a grey wool blanket and buried him far from the Dreadfort. Found a bit of dirt that was as good a resting place as any common soldier could expect. The ground was blanketed with jonquil and daisies and some whitish weed that looked like cow parsley or baby’s breath but wasn’t. I’ve lost a tenth of my men since the siege started from one thing or another. I can see them now, standing at attention before my bloodshot eyes. Bugger death. Bugger grief. Bugger it all. Maester Theomore asked me to write something to Mollen’s woman—he left her and two children, one born, one on the way. Well, I just don’t feel like it and I think it would be better if I didn’t. When I think about them, I feel so queerly angry, I don’t know what to do. Seven bloody hells, that the gods can fell a man with little worse than a scratched face.


Other things happened here besides that but I don’t want to talk about the siege or any of that bloody business tonight. You know what I’m eating right now? Honey fungus mushrooms fried with salt pork, so you can envy me for once, brat. On the way back to camp from the burial, I found a place that was would have made your mouth water. Damp fields abound with those mushrooms—I never saw so many packed so tight. And at the center of the field, a great oak tree carved with the face of an old bearded man. Some forest god of long-dead men, I suppose. He didn't look like the kind of god that would have begrudged me what he had in plenty and I was able to pick a couple of pounds in just a few minutes.


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Do you remember that time I made you breakfast? Fry bread and eggs and sausages and heaps of mushrooms, as my lady commanded. Bloody stupid that when you’re worn out from campaigning without rest, dirty and unshaven, the smallest things can cause a lump in your throat. Little bird, do you want to know many times I’ve written this letter? Four. I can’t seem to control my quill, or might be I don’t want to. I’ve begun four times and have torn it up three times and now I’m resolved to continue no matter. Sansa, why do I keep seeing you as you were that day I left Winterfell? The image is so clear to me in memory: your boots muddy and your expression blank as the wind and the rain lashed your cheeks. You said nothing then. Not with your lips and not with your eyes, though I searched them hard for meaning.

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I wondered at your mysterious silence then and I wonder at it now. Don’t mistake me, this is not another surly complaint about the oftenest of your letters. You always write promptly. And prettily—all those little stories, polished as fine as silver plate, flowing from your quill to touch my senses. They make me laugh, I’ll give you that. How do you manage that trick of sounding both intimate and aloof at the same time? Is either one wholly true? I ask myself why do you keep writing, the same elusive letter, day after day. Or did you write different letters in your head? Meanwhile, I write and write and hardly know what I've written, save that I've already told you things on paper that I would never have said as free and as plain as if I had spoken them aloud. I said in my prior letter that you ought to be honest when writing to me, that you should face facts and not run away from them. So I’m going to just write down whatever needs to come out. Might be writing to you is the only time I can get these things out of me. It’s tough as hell here and the clank and clatter of steel and wood and barking dogs and whinnying horses and the laughter and curses of drunken oafs all seem to crowd into my tent and crush against me. I try to remind myself that my moods will darken your hours when my letters reach you, days after the I have slain whatever miserable beast that is currently squatting inside my head. Yet there’s a choking in my chest and I can’t cover up that I feel things, things a man shouldn’t admit to: being lonely or frustrated or fearful or just bloody aching for a woman’s comfort beyond the use of her cunt. Might be I’ll embarrass you. If it pleases you, politely use this

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paper to wipe that arse of yours that never shits. BUT DON’T LET ANYONE READ MY LETTERS. EVER. Where the bloody hell was I? Breakfast. Mushrooms. Please respect my right to certain stupidities, foremost of which is the desire to dwell in the past. Mayhap the lack of sleep has softened my brain, I can’t think of the bloody future anymore, and the present just exists as the next breath puffing out from my nostrils. Sansa, do you remember that day you had gone hawking with Willas Tyrell? You didn't come back until three hours past the time you were supposed to return. The cripple stammered some excuse about a horse losing a shoe, while you stared at him with a shy half smile playing across your mouth. Old Nan kissed and fussed over you, while I, as is my nature, backhanded you with insults out of fear for your lostness that had been eating at my guts the entire time. You weren’t at supper that evening and I knew by the tiny touch of daggers your maids’ eyes threw at my back that my sharp words were the cause. I tell you now, though it does me no honor: I was sorry but mostly glad. I ate my food picturing you in your maiden’s bedchamber whose threshold I’ve never crossed, staining those little flower-patterned pillows I imagine all noble girls have with your tears. I threw back my head and laughed, thinking of your face buried in them so your sobs couldn't be heard. Then snarled at the fool next to me who had the bloody impertinence as to inquire what was so funny. You see, I am so very jealous of you. And sometimes I want to punish you a little for making me half-crazed and wretched. I’m

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jealous of everyone you spare a smile for, even Maester Colemon who has too little hair and too much neck and wears every conceivable stripe of blatant buggery. Girls, old nurses, even brothers, because your love for them is bloody paramount. There is no jealousy, though, as vengeful as … Sansa, Sansa… damn you, you spoiled creature, that I have to say what you should already know full well. I can only be friends with you as long you weren't anybody else’s. Believe that. Because I love you, little bird. And I don’t know if I've ever loved anyone, save maybe my dead father who I didn't much respect or my deader sister who I find it hard to recall what she even looked like beyond a pair of sad cow eyes. Might be that’s why I’m so bloody needy and why it would torture me with the fires of the damned to see you belong someone else. A man’s heart is a not nice thing: it’s aggressive and demanding and a greedy bottomless pit. I’d be friends, just for the chance to be near you. But the very moment you get into something with some other man, I’m out. Oh, I’m not going to kill him. I’d just disappear. No violent outbursts. Just gone. Those were my thoughts when I saw you making sheep’s eyes at that smugly, pompous, crippled little bore and nothing about how I feel has changed since. Or ever will. As for that miserable supper—whatever spiteful triumph I felt disappeared after the soup course and afterwards I felt so low I wanted to die. I forced three skins of wine between my clenched teeth that night so I could sleep but kept waking up with the kind of fitful alertness of a man afraid of his heart stopping while he slumbered. I finally gave up on getting any rest and got up to fetch another skin of wine and there you were. In the kitchens. Nibbling

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on some bread and looking fine in your fur bedrobe with the smocking of your white nightgown peeking out and your pretty hair flying loose naked. Seeing you like that—so extremely cuddly and so extraordinarily beautiful—bloody hell, I almost laughed out loud. Many a night I would lie awake imagining that I was in your bedchamber, undressing you for bed like I was one your bedmaids. Have I shocked you? Might be you think my love is a filthy thing. It is, at some moments. I’ve dreamt of you in filthy poses. Do you ever want me like that? You always do in my dreams… all hapless giggles and squirming, scooting arse as my fingers scheme through the mysteries of velvet and silk and lace to reach the sweetest body that ever set a man’s blood on fire. You’d stretch your arms high above your head as I shed you of your undershift, moan like a dreaming puppy as I searched out the pins in your hair to pull them free. I’d hook my arms underneath your legs and you’d clutch at my shoulders, holding onto me as if I had cut through fire and steel just to save you. Then I’d lay you down your bed and fan your hair out across your pillows. I think you can guess what would happen after that. I’d be gentle, though. Nothing nasty. Nothing rough. What did I say to you then? I can’t recall a bloody thing—too concerned with trying to hide the tent of my breeches as you now understand. I remember you pouring two cups of wine. I remember, probably under the benevolent influence of that wine, calming down a bit. Your belly rumbled and I offered to make you breakfast because you said it would have been unkind to wake up a kitchen slattern an hour before dawn. I wanted to be alone with

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you so bad that I was glad to be put to service. We ate from the same bowl like two pups. I gave you most of my mushrooms. You said some things and I grinned, but I’m not sure what you said, save that every word seemed to come out of your mouth rolled in spices before honey, so they were sweet and provocative at once. Did I ask you to sing for me? I can’t recall it but I must have. Because suddenly you were humming and then your voice, sweet and pure and unaffected, drifted on the air like an invisible mist. Can you remember? It was that song, the one you promised me all those years ago. About a fool and his cunt. About a hero and the lady he had a bounden duty to protect above all others. I stopped eating and I stopped drinking only to listen. And somehow the years fell away and the past and present all became jumbled together in some unseen tumbleweed of baby’s breath. Gods, what a bloody sad scrap of foolery I just wrote. Don’t scoff, I know you felt it too. Didn’t you? It was one of those moments, so painfully sweet, that you want to repeat even while you’re still living inside of them. After your voice died away, you leaned towards me, lips parted, your eyes—Gods, your eyes, those fucking eyes, fresh firecoal—as you lowered your dark lashes. I’d have killed then and there just to know how your lips tasted and I damn well know you wanted me to do it. A little dip of my face to yours, such a tiny movement— but then the morning bells chimed and we could already hear footsteps and whatever spell we were under was broken. That crippled bugger left shortly thereafter with no contract signed and my heart swelled so much I thought it would spread my

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ribs wide. Yet you never came again to the kitchens, though I spent many a pre-dawn morning waiting there. And I never said anything to you about it. I didn't know if you gave me the right, though in the loneliness of the moment, I’d often pretend in my letters that you had. Soggy-brained idiocies. Only young girls and children and fools think that those of great estate marry as they will and not as they ought to. I shouldn’t need you to tell me different. I was there when you arranged your seven year old brother’s betrothal to restore Winterfell’s exhausted coffers. And I was also there to see Tyrell’s lavish gifts of birds of prey and gems the size of fists arriving at Winterfell as regular as the swing of the tides. Yet where am I today? Sitting in this muddy tent, that's where. Seeking favor. Can one traitor’s head be worth eighty thousand bannermen or however many you counted in your ledger books for Highgarden? Who’s the bloody fool with the head full of songs now? Sometimes I want to smash my skull against a wall for relief. Little bird, I don’t know quite what happened to us. We’ve never truly touched and yet I feel the weight of our past as if you had once been mine—intensely, intimately—and now you’re not. You sobbed the very moment I showed up at the Gates of the Moon. You kissed my hands like I was your lord after I used them to strangle that monstrous whoreson. I could have had you then, I’d wager. All those nights we slept together on the ground during the journey North. You’d lie beside me, back to back and touching, and I’d feel your body heat and I tell you, it would ignite me like a coal hidden beneath ashes. Ofttimes I’d find myself mouthing the words after I heard your breath come in slow and heavy and knew you were asleep. Not because I meant them then, I didn’t know

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you all that well. Not then. I just knew that “love” was what girls like you needed to hear before they let a man spread their thighs apart. But I never said them or asked you for anything, though you were so bloody grateful that you would have obliged me anything, I’d wager. Don’t mistake me, girl, it wasn’t because I was a good man: it was because I was a guilty one. The Quiet Isle fucked with my head a little. I needed to be there for as long as I was but I tell you, it was another kind of kennel. Seven bloody buggering hells, I’ve been crowded into one kennel after another since the day I left my father’s house. Some nicer than others but a cage is a cage and in cages, all animals begin to fester. I’m indebted to the Elder Brother but damn him if he didn’t infect me with his own peculiar breed of madness. He made me believe that I was worse than other men of my kind. Believe that the desire to kill my brother was a sin so terrible that it made the gods shudder, rather than a natural response to a hurt so grievous that only blood could atone. Yes, I’ve done some real bad things but I’m better than they raised me to be and that’s got to be rare. With you, with you … I'm thumbing your miniature now and laughing. That buggering artist could have used his cunning to paint you as beguiling as the Black Pearl of Braavos. It would have been better bait for the Arryn heir from what I know about that coddled cuntstruck fool boy. Instead, he painted you like that—a barely nubile girl in a delicate white gown wearing the Seven Pointed Star around her neck and an expression of innocence that

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wrung the heart. It’s your gift, I suppose, some trick of the bonework, that your beauty can be so changeable in a way no painter could ever capture the truth of. Did you mean to send it to me as a jape? I know you didn’t, but it feels like it, a reminder of my former folly. All those silent dusks I spent on the Quiet Isle, lying flat on my back in the autumn grass looking up at the sky with my hands clasped beneath my head, thinking about you. Always, you’d be on your knees, praying for my soul in some cold quiet sept, blue eyes and auburn hair and a face too lovely for any woman on this earth. Sansa, that first year we were together…forgive me for how I contributed to your unhappiness. When you weren’t perfect and sweet and didn’t fit into the mold of a proper lady, I’d get cross and said things that made you cry. I just couldn’t see you clearly, not as a real person. Instead you were this immaculate white handkerchief that I could use to wipe away the badness from myself. And I didn’t want to dirty you with a man’s needs because you were as pure as the Maiden, you had to be, in order to fix all my sins. It took me some time to get over those gnarled, twisted ways of thinking. Somehow as I began to throw them away, you picked them up. Might be I infected you in turn. Oh, I’m not saying I don’t have things to answer for. It causes me many regrets and much sorrow when I remember that you met me in a such a shitty place, full of mostly shitty people, and I made all those stupid violent mistakes with you. I wish I could go back and not make those mistakes, could have protected you when you were hurting bad. I hope that my conduct since then will make you

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realize that—notwithstanding my shortcomings—I’m not the man I was back then. Sansa—when I say this, don’t think that I ever forgot one kind word or gesture from you—but I’m sure I’ve paid you back by now. And I want to spend my life paying you back, filling in those gaps, fighting all those battles that you can’t. But I’m not simply your sword, I’m a man. One who wants to feel needed by someone who deserves—and doesn't take for granted—what he has to offer. When you were fourteen, I was your hero, and that was the best feeling in the world and its hard not to grow attached to someone, to love someone, when they can make you feel that good. Now who am I? The stray dog you adopted out of the kindness of your young tender dumb heart. Well, the sun’s almost rising. I’ve been moaning all night and must catch an hour’s sleep for tomorrow’s labor. I suppose you are accustomed to men making bloody fools of themselves over you and writing this letter full of nothing but my complaints probably isn’t going to make you love me any better. You only have yourself to blame, for sending me your miniature and planting expectations in my head. There's something between us, isn't there? I know it. And I’m going to do what it’s asking of me. As for you, my pretty bird, it will always be there whether you like it or not.

Sandor

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Chapter 4

“when the drum beats in the morning” 14th Day of the 12th Month, 303 Little bird, I wasn’t expecting to actually have said anything that would sway you, so forgive me if my feelings are a little difficult to convey. I received your letter two days ago and haven’t parted with it since. I keep your pages always with me, in my pouch. If truth be told, every time I look at it I feel a fretful pounding in my chest—suppose I’m worried that the words would somehow be different every time I look at them. I have to read your sweet words over and over, so I can tell myself that I’m not imagining things. I’ve done a lot of that—imagining things—in these past long months with this miserable siege dragging on. What would you think of my bloody arrogance that I thought it would take me four months to seize the Dreadfort when it took Harlon Stark two years to achieve the same glory? I suppose I just needed some private foolery to retreat to after the day’s labor is done. Now, I’m not stupid and I never thought you were mine. When I wrote to you, it was more like I was telling myself bedtime stories, pretending that you had made promises. Though you never wrote anything to discourage me. Not like you ever would, would you? You’re the sort of girl who’d hate to hurt a man’s feelings. That last letter was the most shameful soft thing I’ve ever written. In my defense, I wasn’t myself. Rickard Mollen’s death left me feeling raw and bruised in a way that whatever mental armor I

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wear wouldn’t fasten proper that day. Telling you those things, things I’ve kept inside of myself for three long years…have you ever been so ill as to require a bloodletting, little bird? First cut hurts like hell but with it done, a man can feel all the poisons escaping, making room for relief. And now I’ve gotten your reply—offering the things that had consumed me for as long as I could remember—beautiful. Bloody beautiful. Imagine having a window burst wide open after years and years in a dank dungeon without any sunlight or fresh air and you can begin to understand how good I feel. My sweet Sansa, your parchment is not a fortnight old but it’s already damp and dirty and falling apart. I can’t stop staring at it. Or touching it, over and over, as if it were a pretty sword or a puppy dog. You write so sweet and tender, each beautiful word conjuring up the shape of your thoughts for me like magic. Bloody hell, I wish my mind was like a steel trap, your words never escaping my head. Damn girl, the things you wrote. So sweet, so bloody sweet. Yes, I know I keep repeating same things over and over. I just can’t believe you are mine. I half expect to wake up in a puddle of my own vomit, with a hunk of strange mushrooms in my hand, and discover I dreamt everything you said up. I’m going to write something you said down, so you can read your words again and correct me if what I repeated back was somehow mistaken. “Yesterday I picked the last of the strawberries that we planted together in the Glass Gardens before you left. I had foolishly hoped you would have returned before they had ripened. The roses are blooming as never before, not those frail things of yesteryear, but huge congregations of dark blue petals that choke

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the air with their perfume. I cut off a few and placed them in your bedchamber and wondered if you’d prefer strawberry tarts or apple tarts after this evening’s supper. Then I draped myself with one of your old cloaks and laid down on your empty bed and curled up with Jonquil by my side. I pressed my face into her sweet, coarse fur and squeezed my eyes shut and imagined how it might be if you were my lord husband. Then I had a good long howl. It made me feel better, yet worse too. My lady mother was my age when my father rode to war; how did she ever bear this restless agony and insatiable longing? I don’t think men can have the time to feel the awful heartache that women feel. You are always in the middle of your labors, which is why you write so rarely and your thoughts are so much more jumbled than mine. There is nothing for me to do but to sit and wait in vain day after day. When I was a child, I longed to give my soul to ‘Love’ … oh, it is so much harder than I ever fancied. Have the Gods uprooted my heart just to see how it was growing?” “The Gods uprooted my heart just to see how it was growing”—how you pretty up what I can only feel as some dumb animal pain. I miss you, my sweet girl. I miss you even more than I could have ever have believed possible and I was already prepared to miss you a bloody great deal. Do you want me to say I love you? I love you. However much you need to read those three words, you can pretend I’ve written them here thrice as many times. Do you know what I saw yesterday? A little blue bird, prettiest I’ve ever seen. I caught her peeking out of a wild rose briar, at the very hour during the day in which I was wont to see your face

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peeking out of that window in the covered bridge that overlooked the practice yard. What were you thinking all those times, little spy? Were you admiring me? Sansa, I want you so bad right now, with the kind of hunger I’ve never known. You were attractive to me before but appealing in the way of flowers arranged in a porcelain vase: petals so lovely and fragile but inviting no touch, only polite appreciation. Now that I know you want me like the way I want you. Seven hells. It’s all I can think about. I imagine your eyes on me, your hands on me, your mouth on me with an intensity that’s so primal and crazy-making, it leaves a dog howling. Listen, I’m sorry this letter can’t be longer but I’m running out of parchment. Send more with the next supply train. Don’t laugh but send me one of those blue roses too. I want to smell it and think of its scent on your skin. I’ve got such a craving for soft girlish things because that’s what I don’t have anymore—everything here is a chaos of mud and horseshit and shouting men. I want to retreat to somewhere clean and sweet-smelling and quiet—an airy bower with fresh down pillows and sheets of worn silk and a featherbed with you, my night-blooming beauty, lying in it. Just the two of us and nothing louder than the murmur of a maiden’s sighs. Damn me, if I don’t sound like a madman that can only babble nonsense. Write soon, girl. Write sweet and dirty about how much you love and miss me. At least four pages long. Sprinkle the paper with your perfume—the one that smells like a field of flowers with a hint of lemon. Forgive me, I don’t want to be difficult, I’m just bloody desperate. Each night I dream of returning home, of holding you in my arms, but when the drum beats in the morning I wake up and find I’m still here and you’re not. Sandor

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Chapter 5

“In dreams, you can have your eggs cooked perfect but you cannot eat them” and Rickon was terrified of the needle, which it seemed to me, Maester Colemon took a good long time to apply. He cried a little but was mostly interested in the actual burning of the wart. Afterwards, I helped him with his bath myself. He asked after you. He found the louse races very funny (though Sandor, that was utterly disgusting!) and insisted that he be sent to the Dreadfort to serve as your new squire. Of course, not one hour after his bath, I saw him in the courtyard with mud stuck in his hair looking as if he had just crawled through the godswood on his hands and knees. Every time I look at him, I see you. Not a physical resemblance as that’s impossible but rather how emotions play on his face, his gestures, the way he expects others to tremble at his little bursts of anger (I tease, lovers can do that with one another, can they not?) Even his speech reminds me of you. He told me recently that he loved the word ‘bugger’. “I just love it,” he said, pleased as pie. Now it’s ‘bugger’ this and ‘bugger’ that. I do wag a portentous finger at him but to no avail. My threats mean little and Bran’s none at all; we are little better than larger size children to him. I do believe you are the only person since Osha passed away who inspires in him a respect equal to, if not overcoming, natural affection. How I wish you were here! Nine, ten,

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eleven—these are the ages where children are vulnerable to any powerful influence, don’t you think? They change so quickly. Insignificant differences day by day, week by week, month by month, hardly noticeable until suddenly there is a different person altogether. That came out all wrong! I don’t mean to say ‘Return to Winterfell now’ to master a nine year old. I never forget that I live in great comfort and luxury while you live in a tent in the mud and suffer all the griefs and deprivation of war. How I wish I could be there with you…I want to be at your side always. I miss you terribly Sandor. I miss our conversations, even when (especially when) you’re in one of your moods and everything that comes out of your mouth is mean and funny and true. Shall I tell you a secret? Do you want to know who made those sausage rolls you loved so well? Alyce says I have a natural gift for pastry because my hands are colder than most and one needs cold hands so as to not melt the fat in the dough. I imagine that sometimes, being a kitchenmaid, as light and as carefree as one of those brazen common wenches whose loves make no difference to the world beyond their own bed. You’d see me in the kitchens on one of your afternoons off and you’d pull up a chair and spend your hours lazing about, watching me ready the meals and talking to me, oh about everything and anything, in that molten-metal voice of yours. Have you noticed I become drowsy looking when you talk to me? Oh I hope my face doesn’t look too bovine and stupid. I am a good listener, it’s only because I feel so warm and nice inside when I hear your voice. There’s a quality to it—your rasp so rough and gentle at the same time that all

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my troubles, all my worries, just melt away. Twenty minutes have passed now as I sat gazing out the window daydreaming of you. Time skips like that for me. I try to be a serious, composed, quiet lady but I don’t think I shall ever outgrow daydreaming, much to yours and my lady mother’s despair. She used to bring me back to attention with an affectionate snap of her fingers, same as you do. Don’t chastise me too harshly, Sandor. I endured King’s Landing and Littlefinger by marshaling my imagination and through outright denial at times. When I thought of Winterfell, which was always, I thought of it as it existed before I had left, even though I knew it could not be so. The dream of returning has been the crutch to my survival, the only thing that saved my sanity and probably my life. But now that I am here, the reality is so much more painful than I could have prepared for. It’s been three years and I still find myself sweeping broken shards from scorched rooms, weeping for all those, great and common, who were once nurtured by these walls during my untroubled childhood. You’re right about my brothers—my love for them is paramount. I would do anything for them. How could it be any different? When they were returned to me, I was happy, so deeply happy, that it felt like a form of hysteria. If only I wasn’t so inadequate at everything. I see Rickon look up at you as if you were some tower of adulthood and I feel envious, at you and at him. At you because I marvel at the resourcefulness you possess, the kind that I feel should be mine because I am seventeen and a woman grown. At him because I long to be that light again, I want to have the whole problem

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of living lifted from me and to be carried at the hip like a child. I certainly do tend to make a mess of things that should be simple. This promises to be our worst financial year yet. Our losses—financial, political, military—could be reversed at the stroke of a quill. Well, let me get away from all that. I don’t feel like talking about it anymore. I shall be yours, I must: anything else is unthinkable as that other thought that I never entertain anymore. “The Father’s eye is on the sparrow…” I recite that line to myself when I feel heartsick and weary and the only thing I can see is you, wrapped up in a grey blanket as they lay you to rest in the cold ground far away from me. Forgive me for being morbid. I know you will come back to me and then we can resume as we were meant to. I think a lot about those months we spent traveling to Winterfell. I know they were miserable—sleeping on bedrolls our backs facing each other to avoid the cold ground, dandelion weeds for breakfast, wet flints and unlightable fires and us puffing into our blue-cupped hands for warmth. But it was the only time I’ve ever been alone with you for long. How reserved you initially were towards me! You’d portion out your contact as incrementally as you’d portion out our food. A hand on my shoulder, a hand on my back (oh, are your hands ever so big!), each touch slightly more certain than the last. Do you know when I cut up that old brown dress for rags I found a spot on the sleeve that you had rubbed so often the wool frayed? Was that because you needed to distract your thumbs from going to the places they usually like to go with women? If so, I understand. After so many

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cruel and lonely years, I both craved and feared affection. I could hardly look at your hands at times without fighting the absurd urge to either suck on your fingers or to bite them off, so great was my thrill and dread at the thought of what was to come next. The fear would even invade my dreams with my sleeping-self conjuring the most terrifying images. Of you, pushing and pushing, rasping four letter words against my ear, your body all big and solid and far far too much. Even your fingers looked absolutely immense, Gods only know what other parts would do. Split me in two, mayhaps, though the thought never seemed half as bad as it should. Oftentimes when I think of your face, I feel a horrible emptiness below my tummy and the desire to be touched consumes my every thought until it seems like its stronger than I am. I go and huddle in my room then and bite at my pillows for hours and hours. Can a body actually burn with passion? I get so inflamed that it seems like I’ve grown nerves in about ten thousand new places and all of them are on fire. I dare say someday you’ll actually kiss me and I’ll be blown into nothingness, all my thoughts dispersed like dandelion fluff drifting off on the wind. Oh, I can’t believe I dared to write all that! My face feels so hot, I think its going to melt off. Is dying of embarrassment a possibility? If I never send this letter, then you’ll never know. But I suspect you want me to make a mortifying mess of myself— “Sometimes I want to punish you a little”—you said. Therefore I do send it and aren’t you pleased? Sandor, I drink a cup of wine every day at dusk, just as you instructed.


Shall we make another pact? Will you sleep with my letters underneath your pillow? That way it’s as if we shared a physical bed together. I’ve been doing this for the past fortnight and it gives me the sweetest dreams of being your lady and you my lord. I know they must come from some place very old to be so potent, though I don’t know how much longer I can feed off such dreams and stay sane. In dreams, you can have your eggs perfectly cooked but you cannot eat them. Therein lies my downfall. It’s almost dawn here. Rickon and I fell asleep in my bed while we were reading together and I didn’t feel like getting into bed again after I returned him to his. I started writing to you because my thoughts always come back to you when I am alone. It promises to be a lovely day and the red sun is just peeping up over the East Gate. New snowfall has covered the trees—they look like ancient queens, the grandmothers of the Kings of Winter, stooping from the weight of their ermine robes. It reminds me of the summer snows of my girlhood when I felt cosseted and loved and protected. I’ve just opened my window and stuck my tongue outside. Now, I’m kissing you with the snow on my lips. Just seven little kisses, one for your brow, two for your eyes, one for the top of your nose, one for your mouth, and as it is quite early and you’re still in bed and may be not entirely dressed, two for your chest, right at your bare nipples. Love, Your (red-faced) little bird


15th Day of the 12th Month, 303 Sansa, Writing this to you as I break my fast. I’ve just finished eating a couple of eggs fried in tallow and one of your sausage rolls, which I ravaged as if they were you. I wrote to you not twelve hours before I received your latest letter. Little bird, I cannot express how great my pleasure was at receiving your words. Only show my sense of it by an immediate response. I have no parchment and can get none from the maester, Gods’ rot that fat fuck. Your other letters are too old and worn to survive the trip, so I must write this on the back of the last page I received, though I am as loathe to part with it as I would be with one of my nipples. Bloody hell— now all I’m thinking about is that part of my body trapped between your little white teeth. That’s good, that’s real clever like. What else do you want to do to me? Hmm? Tell me, my greedy, greedy girl. Of course I’ll be sleeping with your letters underneath my pillow. I fall asleep reading them already. Or doing other things with them, truth be told. You know what gets my blood hot? The way you rule your paper. Who the hell does that anymore? Dozens of letters from you, each page carefully ruled, your neat girlish handwriting never deviating from the lines and every sentence punctuated with a perfect little dot. I picture you at your writing table with your ruler and your leadpoint, laying out your guide lines with mathematical precision just as your septa taught you. Good girl—there’s something about the very lines that brings your sweet bodily presence to me. Fills a want so bad that I become thick enough to unlaced my breeches. Do you like to imagine me like that? On my back, reading one of your letters, big and stiff and boring a hole through my clothes?

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I stroke myself, tight and slow, with a palmful of spit and think about you, pretty bird. Your soft eyes, your soft soft hands. You touch yourself thinking of me? Is that what ‘it’ means? Tell me how you like to play in the dark and be specific about it. Anyhow, if you don't, you ought. Have you been warned not to? Bloody scowling septas with their cunts dry as dust, corrupting the minds of the young and stupid with their idiocies. They have a lot to answer for if you ask me. There is no reason to feel ashamed. All boys do it. When I was Rickon’s age and packed with fifteen other boys in sleeping quarters at Casterly Rock no bigger than a privy shed, half of them would be fisting themselves with the blankets kicked off while the other half would be crying for their mothers. How I ever got a wink of beauty sleep with all that awful mewling, I don’t know. I’m not sure about girls, never having been one, but it’s natural and don’t ever let anybody tell you different. If you're feeling lonely and unwanted, it can solace you. Rickon’s a good boy. He has two of the greatest virtues a man can possess: bravery and honesty. Not entirely convinced he isn’t a simpleton yet like his father and brother Robb though I mean to cure him of any blood born stupidity. I wish you’d listen to me when I say he’s old enough to start practicing with an edge. Too long with a wooden sword and boys pick up bad habits. Steel sticks to warm flesh and you can’t learn how to properly withdraw a blade without using a real one. Send him off to help with the butchering. He’s old enough to learn how to kill a pig with the least amount of pain and stress for the animal. When I was his age, I was already working in the slaughterhouse at Casterly Rock and could break any hold or grip, even knew how to stomp a man to death. Yes, I hear what you say about our looks. I went riding out with the boy a year ago and we met some old farmer who mistook


him for my son. Thought old man was blind, Rickon looks nothing like me. Still you ought to have seen my face—beaming as bright as the bloody lighthouse at Oldtown. I missed Shireen’s name-day too, you say? Well, give her my belated greetings and tell her what a girl does on her name-day she reaps throughout the year. Winking an eye at you. Shireen’s a fine girl, shy as a doe, but I reckon she’s the sort that once you win over her confidence, you’ll have her complete devotion. Any fool can see that. She’ll make Rickon a fine wife if he looks beyond the misfortune of her face. “Griefs of war” – true its a hard life here but that doesn’t affect me so much not having you with me. This morning I found myself singing a song while shaving. It was ‘Autumn of My Day’. The stupid words seemed to flow out of me and when I had finished I fought back a smile. Not a smile because I was happy, mind you, but a smile that said my heart was missing someone dear. Bloody pathetic and I wasn’t drunk either so I can’t blame my gushing on the wine. There—I told you about it and now you got something over me too. So don’t go off and die of embarrassment about having girly wet dreams about me. “In dreams, you can have your eggs cooked perfect but you cannot eat them.” I know all about that kind of hunger, having felt nothing but my own hand for so long. Going on five years, maybe. Not saying this to make you think better of me. I didn’t even know you wanted me like I wanted you, so how could I make those kinds of promises? Its only when a man’s been starving, all he thinks about is food. But not just any kind of food, the best, most perfect thing.—the juiciest steak, the sweetest pear, wine so lush it sings in the bloodstream sweeter than mother’s milk. Pretty bird, I don’t want to fuck anybody else; anymore than I would want to eat a turnip ever again.

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Do you want to hear something funny? So what do you think I like to do in the evenings to calm down? I take your miniature and put a magnifying glass in front of it. If I move the glass slightly back and forth against the candlelight, it looks like your mouth is opening to kiss me. Bloody indecent that mouth of yours. I do it for as long as an hour sometimes, playing with your miniature and the magnifying glass, imagining your mouth and about kissing you. I’d hold your face between my hands, stroke your hair. Just in case you’re going to ‘blow away like dandelion fluff.’ My sweet girl, you sure have a way with words and with me. There’s other ways I think about your mouth and about holding your face and hair too. I think you can guess what I mean. I would never ask for that though because you’re a lady. Well, except maybe on my name-day. I’d tell you more but I want to see how you write first. I’ve never even seen you laugh at a bawdy jape, in fact the opposite so bloody adorable when you wrinkle your face. Just man to lead you astray. I have to finish this letter now because the leave their coop. Sansa, I want you to know thinking about you and long to be back with hasten the end of this siege and shorten our da My sweet girl, write again soon, won’t you? Sandor


Chapter 6

“My sweet girl, my pretty little bird, my tender little cuntie” 28th Day of the 12th Month, 303 Sansa, Just kissed your miniature ‘good night’ and despite my kisses, your face doesn’t look too happy with me. Why is that? Couldn’t be because my letters have never been as sparse as they are right now, could it? Beg your pardon, my lady and if it makes you feel any better, you can be sure that I got a real guilty conscience about it. It’s getting to be a nasty habit of mine to be neglectful in writing but I’ve been so busy losing this war that I haven’t found much time to do anything else. For the past month, we’ve been preparing the grounds around the Dreadfort to support the siege engines. Dismantling palisades, filling in ditches full of water and sharp spikes, smoothing slopes for the towers’ wheels. The kind of work that is so punishing and near thankless that I sleep like a dead man each and every night. Maester Theomore said we would be done today, his face tightening into that smirky, sneaky, smugly smile of his. I ought to have wiped the bastard’s smile off with the back of my hand. Damn him and damn me for whatever trust I put in him before. My own pike pierced the soil and the dirt was loose enough to send a siege tower four stories high and packed with assault troops toppling sideways.

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It has been one round of setbacks after another and nothing’s done to my satisfaction ever. I’m feeling too weary tonight to even be angry. Or might be I spent all my anger on Theomore when I mashed his face into the loose soil. We started exchanging words while I was inspecting the grounds until he wore out my patience with all the noise he was making. I pulled that fat fuck from off his horse and roughed him up a little. Foremost, for his arrogant ignorant foolishness. But also because I hate having to look up at a man while arguing with him, especially those who were born to be looked down upon. Bloody quarrelsome fool, thinks he’s Lann the Clever and you can’t be at his turkey-necked age without showing it before. And I don’t give a shit that the Citadel granted him an iron link either. I had a mind to consign him to White Harbor or the Citadel or to the buggering Seven Hells but Maester Samwell protested that we need as many healers as we can get. Ha, I’d have to be at death’s door before I’d ever call for that condescending bastard. The only pain I'd like Theomore to remove is the pain in the arse he gives me. I tell you Sansa, we give these whoresons too much regard when the machines they build are often little better than coffins for the assault soldiers who ought to be granted the true credit for victory. Who else does all the pretty work of swimming moats and scaling high walls and fighting in close quarters against desperate men who have every advantage, knowing their own grounds perfect? Seven bloody buggering hells, I’ll never forget the storming of the castle of Pyke. I was the same age as you are now, armed and armored with little better than a dagger and boiled leather, when the soil caved in from the weight of the siege tower.

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The maester who built it named it “Checkmate.” Gods’ rot that murderous swine—it wasn’t ‘checkmate’ for the Greyjoys but for the company of green boys inside the thing. Those that weren’t killed by the collapse were left to burn when the buggering ironborn poured down buckets of boiling grease and then raked the wooden contraption with showers of flaming arrows. Frontal fire and cross fire and diagonal fire and my sole retreat blocked by more fucking fire. The heat got so bad I could feel it stabbing against my back, sharp as any spear. And the bloody noise! Did you know fire has a sound, little bird? One that you even can’t begin to fathom when you’re warming your hands over a crackling campfire. But when you’re surrounded by it, inside of it, the sound is deafening: a roaring, devouring beast that muffles even the loudest of screams. Some men jumped to their death, not that I blame them. If I hadn’t torn off those animal hides covering the framework—well, I wouldn’t be here now asking you not to angry at me so I sleep in peace at night, would I? No man can truly understand a terror far beyond dying unless he’s personally been trapped and felt the fire’s flames. As you can expect, the rot set in after that and for the rest of the day, I was snarling at everyone and everything and every idea and ended the evening by screaming “fuck” outside my tent because it was only possible response to meet the injustice of the day. The curse was delivered with such violent promise that Theomore tripped over his own feet and fell down. You’d think that would have at least made me crack a smile but my sense of humor disappeared along with the dregs of the last wineskin. Yes, wine rations are low and I have more or less stopped drinking,

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which under these conditions is like deliberately inciting a nightmare. Gods, what I wouldn’t give to for some hair of the dog— Dornish sour—straight up my lips and straight down my gullet, smoothing over my brain for hour of sweet melancholy bliss. Granted, it’s not entirely dry here. Turnip has taken to brewing this sour soupy ale that smells like the contents of my chamber pot and which I have to force down like medicine. Vile stuff only succeeds in making me feel cold and nasty. Ever notice that when you’ve been drinkless for a long time, the stench of liquor is revolting, while milk and water begin to taste good? Queer, that. Well, I suppose you don’t know, good girl that you are. I’ve only seen you tipsy that one time, the evening before I left Winterfell. If you did know, you’d appreciate my feelings. Believe me, I hate weak-minded sots that live by, for, and through, liquor. How bloody pathetic is it to go through life in a drunken haze, never sure of what you said or did the day before? But it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Because I tell you, walking this murderous world as sober as a stone is bloody frightful. I’d forgotten how afraid men are. And how desperate. And how fucking dumb and dull. More grievous than that, I miss my own quiet. I have too many thoughts crowding my brain all the time. Not brilliant thoughts like you have, pretty bird. Just this ugly, loud noise that hollers right in my ear and that wine helps to mute. Anyhow, I shall continue with these confessions of a drunkard at another date. I’m boring even myself and whether I curse or complain, it changes nothing. I still share a tankard with you at dusk every day, except it’s with water now instead of wine, so don’t

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you stop that. Sansa, believe me, I wouldn’t put this load on anyone save you. You’re the only one to whom I can moan. I’m moaning and groaning on your very soft and very naked perfumed shoulders. Be kind to me, won’t you? It all seems so futile sometimes. But it must end soon because I have just got to see you and be with you again before long.

Now to your letters. I received four since I wrote to you last. The latest arrived just this morning and I read the whole fucking thing dear right before breakfast. Afterwards, I had to shut my eyes so I could give myself over to how good you make me feel. The scent of your perfume on the paper—seven hells—it messes me up bad but in the nicest possible way. Sweet Sansa, my little bird—do you know why I’m always calling you ‘little’ this and ‘little’ that? I got what, thirteen inches on you? Less than what I have on most women, so I suppose you’re not so small, but 'little' has such a pleasing sound to it. When a man says it, he thinks of someone sweet-tempered and loving and lovely, someone he wants to hold in his arms and pet and cuddle and kiss. The kind of girl who has that thing about her, the thing that makes you want to walk beside somebody for as long as it lasts. I suppose that has been my life’s ambition since I met you – finding ways to run into you by working out when you’d be there and then being there too. I don’t think you have any idea what it means to me when you write me these letters. It feels so sweet to fall asleep with your words in my head, your letters underneath my hand. Like I could actually believe that with all the world has to offer, you chose to sit in this muddy tent only because I was here.

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“I shall be yours, I must; anything else is unthinkable” – that line cracked me right open, knowing what you feel for me goes that deep, that you’re weighing passion against reason and saying fuck you to the latter. I have to share something with you that was a bit embarrassing. My squire came into the tent and caught me in the act, hunched over your letter like I was a starving animal guarding my last morsel of food. I wonder if he could tell what was in them? I’m too stupid to know how to read without my lips moving. Even if I could read as well as you do, I’d still like to mouth the words because when I read your letters, I want to hear them in my mind, in your lovely little voice. You’re as bland as butter, girl but damn me, I don’t how you do it. I imagine it's some spell you got me under. One that makes reading about kisses feel almost as good as the real thing and your words about licking my nipples can burn a hole right through my body. There doesn’t even seem to be any kind of build to it either. One moment I’m real calm and still inside, then I see you write about how much you want to “please me” and “hope no other girl has ever done it better” and at the sight of your neat, ladylike handwriting with two of the sweetest words in the Common Tongue underlined and I can feel my pulse just about ready to leap out of my body. And Sansa, you sure can make me laugh too. When you admitted to being tormented by your thoughts of the imaginary hordes of women you fear I’ve been fucking under your nose at Winterfell and outside your sight at this pisspot: “don’t go off with her, I’ve got something to offer too.” Gods, that was good! I’m dying; I’m dead. You are ridiculous, girl. But I’m grateful for a little ridiculousness right now. I’ve never been a maiden’s

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fantasy before, just some whore’s regret. My sweet girl, my pretty little bird, my little cuntie. Does it bother you if I call you that? I don’t know how lovers’ talk, so it’s possible I'm butchering it. Might be you’d rather I call you my lady love but that doesn’t sound half so endearing to me as little cuntie. “Sandor, if it was your name-day, what should I do to treat you? I want to spoil you rotten.” Ha, when I read that question, I felt my face tingling and my lips moving into a crooked smile. Don’t you know that my favorite pastime and simultaneously my worst torture is imagining five hundred new ways to fuck you? All those many nights I’ve lain awake, the incessant noise of the camp giving away to the sweet press of my mental images of you. What do girls think about when they think about laying with a man? Hmm? Four letters later and still you insist on playing coy. Well, whatever girls think about, I’d wager it’s a good deal nicer than what men think about. Men are a dirty disgusting lot. I don’t think I’ve ever had a beautiful thought about you that wasn’t chased by some filthy thought about you. If I haven’t been so blunt about them, well, it’s only because I’ve been cautious, the way a man gets when he’s trying to give a good girl what he assumes she wants. I’m not going to do that anymore, not that I ever did a marvelous job of it in the first place. All I got is the truth. I hope maybe you’ll like it. Might be I’m peculiarly engrossed by lewd thoughts because outside my tent right now are two dogs deep in rut. They’ve been going at each other for a week. You should see their faces— somber enough that it makes me want to laugh. You grim

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northerners, even your dogs are mirthless—as if mating four times a day was their duty, rather than their passion. Afterwards they remain tied, cock locked in cunt, for up to half an hour. Fucking is ridiculous and disgusting, isn’t it? But damn if the need for it isn’t as resistless as death. The male’s cockey looks worse for wear but I’m loathe to separate them since bitch a heat is such a sad suffering sight. My little cuntie, do you love satisfying lust as much as you love inspiring it? Because you sure know how to turn me into a beast. When I get back, I’m going to make you sore in muscles you never knew you had. Remember how you said that you daydreamed about “being a kitchenmaid, as light and as carefree as one of those brazen common wenches whose loves make no difference to the world beyond their own bed?” I liked that. I go there in my head a lot now since you wrote about it. To the kitchens of Winterfell in the pre-dawn dark and that’s where I find you. My shy innocent beauty, dressed in drab peasant clothes. Because you’re not you, you’re not the Lady of Winterfell, and nobody gives a rat’s arse in whose bed you lay. And I’m not me either, I’m just a common soldier. One who has pried you open with wine and words and kisses. Until you're melting like a snowflake under my touch and I find in your sweet young body the desires your lips won't ever admit to. Sansa, Sansa, damn it, why is it that you never ask for the pleasure you want? Just like with all your cryptic letters, you make me give to you. Is that what you like? I don’t mind, being baited, if that’s what you like. I want to be all kinds of ways with you.

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Helpless sometimes. But cruel too. The way a man gets when he wants a woman so bad that all reason and courtesy abandon him. Do you remember the first time I embraced you? It was the day before the Battle of Blackwater. I saw you stumble on the turnpike stairs and I reached out to grab you, terrified that you meant to do yourself some kind of foolish harm. You kept crying “let go of me” and fought me. You were so squirmy in my arms, the way a girl gets when she wants to come. Sometimes our feet touch at the supper table, do you ever notice that? When that happens, my heart feels like its going to pound a hole through my chest, just from feeling your feet touch mine through our shoes. So you can imagine what I felt that day, holding you like that, the way animals do it. I could only pull you closer, harder up against me. It was so sweet to hold you, it had to be enough just to hold you, on that dreadful day, with Stannis’ men preparing to seize the city and I felt my death was nearer than ever before. Might be that’s why my head goes to dark places sometimes with you. Or might be it’s because I just like dark things. After all, dismantling stakes, sapping foundations, storming a castle under siege, is so much merrier than strolling invited through open gates. Have I made you run for the hills screaming yet? Or do you want to hear more? I want you so bloody bad right now. How lonely the body becomes after dusk. Is it the same with you? I miss you so much more in the evenings, in an intense, violent way that I don’t feel during the heat of the day. Like I’m walking around with a knife in my side that I just don’t know about until the night falls and that awful loneliness descends. It’s too much to


suffer sometimes. I’m aching to be with you, play with you, pet and fondle and stroke and kiss you everywhere my mouth and hands can reach. I can see you now, my sweet Sansa. Your eyes are as big as fists when I grab your arse in the palms of my hands and lift you off your feet. I rub my cock against the rise of your sweet cunt, so there’s no mistaking what you do to me. You start squirming and I can feel your hands push against my chest but their force is pleading this time, not fighting. They beg me to stop, but in a voice so quiet I know it’s not meant to be heard. You struggle as I unlace you, but meek like, with nothing save sighs to mark your protest. Finally, I have you down to just your linen undershift. My hands pull the linen taut around the roundness of your teats and the fabric is so thin that I can see two little stiff points poking right out, all rosy and rude and insistent for my attentions. Gods’ bless, your breasts must be a beautiful sight. They tilt up a little, don’t they? That time we actually met in the kitchens, the sweetest torture I tell you: I saw how they strained against your bedgown. Did you notice how I kept kneading my thighs whenever you leaned in? I had to do it to keep my fingers from going where they wanted to go—to that little blue ribbon at your neckline. Imagine me pulling on it now, unwrapping you like I was unwrapping my name-day present. Your skin’s so pretty, as luminescent as a pearl in the firelight’s glow. And pale, as pale as winter, so that the blue of the ribbon accents the blue of your veins, giving you this ethereal look, like you some magical creature I captured, with her very heartbeat is painted across her skin.


The blood rises beneath the snow of your cheeks and I slide my fingers through your hair to calm you down. Sansa, don’t you know that the heroes of the songs never slayed the magical beasts but only touched them with their bare hands and did them no harm? A little bird told me that once upon a time. Your chest heaves with anxious breath as I run my hands along your rib cage and belly. The skin’s soft there too, softer than the threadbare shift that sought to hide it. I cup a single breast, taking pleasure in the way your flesh warms against my palms. Hmm, those breasts are a sight—full and heavy, with just that little tilt, and at the end, those sweet rosy puffy tips. So beautiful that the thought of them makes my eyes water, so luscious I can taste them now from three hundred leagues away. Would you like that? My kisses there and there? I think you would. You’ve got the kind of teats made for suckling a babe. Or a man. Bloody hell, I’m hard now, writing this. I’ve been as hard as an iron bar since that part about grabbing your arse. Everything feels swollen down there and I’m kneading my thigh with my left hand to keep it from going inside my breeches. I never imagined I’d get hard from writing a letter. Is it the same with you, reading one? It drives me mad, the thought of you touching yourself while thinking of me.

Will you do that for me, Sansa? Go on, girl, lick your fingers and rub the wetness over your nipples until they tighten into two hard shriveled bits. Imagine my hands there, my mouth there, squeezing and suckling you softly, then a bit meaner.

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Do it girl until your nipples look kiss-bruised and slick from all the licking I gave them. I want to kiss you there for a long time, for as long as I needed, until everything cold and miserable inside of me turns hot. Burning hot. So hot it’s a relief when I feel your cool hands on my skin. Greedy, greedy girl, you’ve had your fill with my hunger and now want to touch me back. You’re touching me all over, fiddling with my tunic, your ticklish fingers making my stomach muscles all jumpy and tense as they circle lower and lower until I feel your thumb right there, rubbing that special spot I like—the sensitive groove on the underside of my cock. And all the while your mouth is on mine, kissing me back, thirsty, wallowing kisses, like I was a wine you wanted to get wrecked on. I’d do anything to feel that. To feel you kissing me while you tease my cock with your long cool fingers until my balls are bluer than a bruise. You wanted to know how big I am, little bird? "Even your fingers looked absolutely immense, Gods only know what other parts would do. Split me in two, perhaps, though the thought never seemed half as bad as it should.” My cock jerked a little when I read that passage. It slavers like a rabid hound whenever your sweet arse is around—I have to yank the beast back with a choke chain. I didn’t think girls cared about how cocks looked, only about feelings. Well, go on, have your way then. Turn this page over, I traced it for you on the back. See how hard and thick I got for you? Thick as your wrists, girl. As for my length, this parchment is not room enough to show you. I’ll give you this though—your dog’s got a bone in his breeches that’s as long as a Northern summer’s day. You’ll have to measure me when

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I get back to find out precisely how long that is. Sansa, look at what you made me do—I’m touching myself now. I sat on my left hand until it went numb so I could pretend better that the fingers stroking my body were yours. No tricks could give me my lovely tender girl but it still feels good. Especially knowing you're reading this and maybe touching yourself too. Is your little girlish cockey stiff and poking out of its hood? What I wouldn’t give to have you at my mercy right here, right now. I’d kiss you so tender, scraping my tongue through those swollen pink lips and roll over that little stiff bit like it was a grape, then suckle it like it was sweetmeat. I’d kiss and lick you in all manner of ways until you’re pushing my face hard up against your thighs from wanting me. Fuck, you got your dog so ravenous tonight. Should I describe what I'm feeling? Well, I got my legs slightly apart and the cool night air feels nice against my skin. The band of my smallclothes is binding my balls in a tight, uncomfortable way that’s strangely perfect. You think you could circle me with your forefinger and thumb? I’d wager no. You’d have to clasp me palm to palm. Like you were in the middle of prayer. I’m imagining you like that, on your knees, piously beseeching my cock to please slide through your slippery palms and fill your hot hungry mouth and fuck your tight untested cunt and then bugger that sweet arse that never shits. Ha, that image is making me laugh—I just laid back in my chair and roared. My innocent beauty wouldn’t have the first notion of what to do with my cock if she had the chance. That’s fine by me. More than fine. I’d get to show you what I like with my hands on yours. Slow and tight to start, then faster. Harder. That’s how I’d like to

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fuck you too. Now, I’m going to have to be on top the first few times, Sansa. Your cunt’s too sweet and tight and wet that I’d die if I couldn’t move the way I wanted to. But you want that too, don’t you? You’re the kind of girl that wants to be taken, I reckon. You’d need to yield before you can feel ready to take for yourself. I’d try not to be rough though. Promise, little bird. I’d move sweet and slow to start. Not just for you but for me too. I’ve been so bloody patient, waiting and hoping until its almost more than any man can bear. It’s been five long years since I felt anything other than my own hairy palms. I just want to revel in that feeling of being pulled in, of being sucked on, almost, by your breathing, beating, hairlined cunt of heaven. If I could, I’d make that moment last a hundred years. But I probably couldn’t last five minutes, not with my little cuntie clenching around me every time I move a muscle. By the end of it, you’d have me so roused up I can’t promise I’d be gentle anymore. I want to show that to you, though. Show you the sweet side of a man’s aggression for once. Flip you over until you’re on all fours and fuck you like the dog I am. Would you like that? I think you would—“when I have an itch, I want to scratch it hard”—you said those guileless words to me once after a bee sting and damn if I didn’t feel my ballsack thump like a butter churn in response. I can picture you now, your hair dangling down, your arms braced forward, your knees sinking into the bed. That sweet cunt, spilling all over my fingers and blushing pink from the fucking I already gave it. I’d rest my cock against the cleft of your arse cheeks just to admire the view, before grabbing your hips and sinking myself inside of you. You’d be so fucking tight in that position, make me

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feel like I had the biggest cock in the Seven Kingdoms. “When I have an itch”—fuck yes! I’d withdraw real slow all the way to the tip then slide in deep; then faster and faster, my thrusts growing mean until your sweet arse is clapping against my balls. You’d want to look at my face though too, wouldn’t you? Good girl, you’d turn to face me, gazing at me with those quiet, dark blue eyes, your pink mouth slightly parted so I can see your tongue tenderly coiled when you moan those desperate little girlish moans. Bloody hell, I’d fuck that mouth at the same time too if I could—have you tasting your own juices from off my cock even as it’s owning your cunt. Little bird, I want to be your entire fucking world. My sweet girl wants to come on her dog’s big cock, doesn't she? I could do that, if it please you—wrap my arm around you and roll that little rosebud as gentle as a butterfly kissing a flower. And when you start moaning my name and your cunny’s kissing the length of my cock, that’s when I’d really learn the meaning of patience. Not some bullshit seven second pause but really holding it off, until frustration isn’t frustration anymore but another level of desire. And I’m curling right over your body because its too bloody much. And I can feel everything, every beat, every breath, every tiny ridge of your sweet pulsing cunt as it milks my cock of every last drop of come. I’d like to die like that way, locked deep inside of you and without a single bloody useless thought in my head. Brain as blank as a cloudless sky. Fucking heaven. Ah shit, I’m absolutely dripping over that fine Myrish carpet you thought to lard my tent with. I’ve never come from writing a letter, so I hope you’re proud of yourself, young lady. My sweet Sansa, my little cuntie, my little fuck bird, I can’t write any more.

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You've left me so calm and cleaned out feeling that all I can do now is drop off to sleep. I’m going to go and lie down but I’ll continue this letter tomorrow. I hope you sleep well and maybe even dream of me. Sansa, tonight is the twenty-ninth of the month. I’m not going to bother reading what I wrote above but I hope I didn’t say anything that would offend you. It’s all nonsense anyhow, whatever I wrote. Especially the part about buggering you. I just like saying the word ‘bugger’ and I don’t know why. Enough of my foolery. Now for your questions: Twenty thousand quarrels and a hundred sheaves of arrows. Above all, make sure we get wine—half a dozen carts at least. Morale’s bad without wine and even worse, I fear the spread of water-borne illnesses. “Famine and foul water alone vanquishes the invincible and by itself can take cities” – I read that from the book you sent me, History of the Rhoynish Wars. Some of Beldecar’s advice is not bad but he’s one of those assertive bastards which makes me long to argue back. I did get Rickon’s letters but haven’t found the time to respond. The boy’s writing needs some work. It’s no surprise, given he lived with unlettered wildings all those years. Have I impressed you with my enormous command of the Common Tongue? You have my father to thank for that. He cracked the bullwhip about my lessons. He was mighty proud that an upjumped House such as ours was able to retain a maester so that his own children could have the smattering of scholarship that he never received. You’d be astounded by how many high lords’ gets are lazy little buggers who can’t read or write worth shit. Joffrey’s own script looked like

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chicken scratches. I’ve gotten much better at writing, maybe you can tell. I can write for more than an hour now as long as my parchment is patient and my inkwell doesn’t run dry. No more hand cramps either and your sly dog can do it all with only one paw on the table. I didn’t eat the lemoncakes. They were moldy by the time they arrived. Save them for yourself as lemons are too dear to be wasted like that. Truth be told, I was never a lover of cake to begin with. Potted meat to improve my lunch would be nice instead and crocks of butter are always welcome. Sansa, listen, I’ve been reluctant to broach this subject with you because you might take it the wrong way and I’d hate to hurt my girl’s feelings. But it has to be said: you must stop worrying about me. I told you before: I'm not through with living yet and I just know that I will return to you, safe and sound. So if I’m not worried about me, then you shouldn’t worry about me either. It’s getting pretty old, to be honest. It’s not so much I mind hearing about it but you’re making yourself sick with all your pointless worrying. So wipe away those tears that seem to be for ever starting from your eyes, my brave girl. those pretty eyes should never be spoiled by tears. And please, stop worrying and stay well and dress warm and watch out for rats or spiders or anything else that might cause you harm. I'd lay down and die if anything should happen to you, don't you know that? My little bird, I'm kissing you on your forehead now with every confidence that I’ll be seeing you just as soon as fate allows. Until then, I am yours as you are mine, on these pages. Sandor

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Chapter 7

“My little bird, you're not only beautiful, but also very clever�

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31st Day of the 12th Month, 303 My Little Flower! Excuse the brevity of this letter. I have a lot to say but very tired and very very dirty. Foremost, I want to thank you for that sweet sketch of the two girls I love best in all the world. It arrived with the supply train and I was happier to receive it than the cartloads of wine. The sketch is perfect. Poor simple words but I don’t know what else to call it except perfect. My little bird, you're not only beautiful, but also very clever. And that little blue corset ribbon that you tucked in—bloody hell! Caressing the silk was like a steel hook in my gut, sweet painful tugs that drew all my insides out. I buried my face in it, then fought off the urge to do something mad, like sew it into my skin. I don’t think any whore in the Seven Kingdoms can torment me as sweet as you do. I drew something for you to, on the very same evening. How about that? Maybe there was some magic that night after all. Did you get it yet? I’m a little embarrassed over it now. Are you poring over it to know me with the “accuracy of a map?” Ha, that makes me chuckle. Sansa, your sweet sketch sure will make my bed warm and soft. Damn girl, your arse looks so delectable in the drawing. I can hardly get enough of it. In real life, when you bend over, it’s all I can do to stop myself from crawling over to you to bite it. Just bite that round firm arse, like it was the fucking sweetest pear I ever tasted.

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Don’t mind my foolery. I’m writing to you on New Year’s Eve and the stars are twinkling and I’m a little tipsy and all the men are moaning carols outside my tent. You might like to know, they lifted a toast in your honor: “To the Lady Sansa who has a voice so pure, its like she’s a got a bell in every tooth.” I can't recall the name of the man who said that. His face was just like all the rest— bushy brown beard, begrimed with dirt, my army is a ragged one—but I clashed my cups with him. Seven hells, these songs are driving me melancholy mad. That’s why I had to leave the feast and return to my tent. There’s something about the night that makes me want to weep when I’m not laughing. I suppose it’s this bloody occasion and the remoteness of home and the homesickness you can hear in the chorus of rough male voices even when they’re singing something bawdy like “Her Little Flower.” They’ve sang that ten times already. Might be every man’s remembering the little flower they’re not with. Don’t scoff at our childishness, we got so little, so little else but stupid fantasies. Well, enough said—my sweet girl, I wish I was welcoming in the New Year with you. Apologies for my shaky handwriting in this letter—the hair of the dog was the whole dog this time. Strong wine is a brawler and the sod inside of me has decided to give in—a toast: “To my pretty little bird, who plucks at my heartstrings.” Sandor

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Chapter 8

“What is it about you, girl, that pries a man open?” 10th Day of the 1st Month, 304 Sansa, The most recent letter I got from you was dated the twentyeighth of the prior month. It sure was good to hear from you— whenever one of your long fat letter arrives, it’s like the sun coming out on a cloudy day. Right now, I’m eating supper by myself and waiting to see if this day will close with a little note from my little bird, though to be honest, I don't expect one. Might be the ravens are getting mislaid more often: the day before yesterday I received one of your letters dated more than two months ago. Or might be you’re running out of things to write about. You should write, every day, even if you don’t have anything to say. When I don’t know what to say, I let my thoughts go back to the moment when I put my quill down at the end of my previous letter, then try to remember what happened in the meantime. Me, I’m busy as hell. So up to my ears with some labor or another that I kept that stray letter of yours in my pouch unopened from dawn til dawn. How about that for patience? Still I would rather wait so then I can savor every word. We now got three sows to the eastern wall and they’re working in. You know why they’re called sows? It’s because the siege engines are dressed

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with hides and bore the walls in the manner of a sow rooting the earth. Get it? I think they look more like mice than sows but no stopped to ask me when they were naming the damn things. My leg is a bit achy again—that old injury acting up—but you have not to let things like that trouble you here. Also I've had a bad sore throat for the last three days and a blister on my tongue but this morning both are better. That’s a blessed relief as I’ve been in one of those unstoppable foul moods and nobody took any notice except Stranger because I can’t bark insults above a whisper. Pity. A good shouting match is sometimes good for the soul but I can't be bothered to shout back when I sound like a soft little nothing. That’s not a bad quality in a woman though. Your voice is real sweet and gentle and quiet and that’s so naughty. It’s like a scent, a man has to lean in closer in order to preserve its prick. I wonder if you do that on purpose? Sansa, what are you doing with your hours? Who are you spending them with? Are you well? Are you ill? My little bird, all I think about is you. Well, when I’m not thinking about shedding blood. I think part of my foul mood is because I’m so bloody wretched from being this restless. My mind feels like its never caged enough. My thoughts pacing daily, hourly, back and forth, back and forth, over the same bloody plans I’ve been nurturing for a year. We’re almost there, just a few more preparations and waiting for the rain to let up a little. It's going to be such sweet satisfaction. But seven hells, this long awful wait is dreadful. I’m showing it too. Cut myself shaving this morning because the muscles around

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my mouth started to twitched uncontrollably. It's an enormous strain being so close to combat and not being in it. The nights are so boring here that my soul is staggering with the tedium of it all. I suppose that’s not the worst thing— boredom hones a man’s fighting edge. Everyone is teetering on the edge of murderous rage. I tell you, the Boltons and the Freys better watch their backs. Because when the big cocks come out, we’re going to fuck everything in sight. Ha, lechery hones it too— yesterday, the after-supper conversation ended up with exchanges about each man’s adventures with the fairer sex. That's how it always ends up these days—might be prolonged danger makes men become over-occupied with cunt? Not that I believe half of what I hear in these evening bull sessions. Otherwise, I’d be believing that Queen Daenerys drained the nuts of every stray northman she’s come across. The stories lonely soldiers can come up with! Most were bloody ridiculous and some were just downright dumb. Every time someone would tell a supposed true story, someone else had to go and trump it. Me, I haven't had much experience with that kind of thing, so I didn't have too much to add. I laughed a little though and escaped to my tent after an hour where I immediately advanced on your sketch with a leer in my eye. My proud beauty, soon you will not escape! Sansa, you look so luscious in the sketch, I must’ve raped you a hundred times already with my eyes. Why did I just said that? It doesn’t even sound like me. I don't feel like I've changed any in the year I've been here but might be this place has gotten to me at last. All those stories got me brooding about myself. You know, the kind of things that keeps a

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man awake in the dead of the fucking night? What is it about you, girl, that pries a man open? Something about your eyes, even in memory—it’s like a crowbar right between my ribs and all my disgusting mess comes gushing out. To put it in a nutshell, I was never good with women. Or to women. I don’t mean I beat them or something like that. I’d never hurt you, even if you asked me to. I just want make that clear. You told me that Littlefinger never interfered with you, not in the kind of nasty ways people fear. But I saw how your face paled when Willas Tyrell called you his 'sweetling' and could guess at its cause. The whoreson’s pet name? If I could, I'd strangle him every night fresh for you. I look at the girl Turnip and I know there's ways a man can hurt a woman, ways that don't leave scars, ways that make a face to the fire of a brazier look honest.

I don't think I was a monster like him but I wasn't ever a nice man. When it came to fucking, I was only concerned about what a girl could offer my cock. I never wanted to make a whore come. What I wanted was proof that I was too much for her. Pounding a cunt hard enough so she’s moaning “Oh Gods” not out of pleasure but out of worry for what the hell she’d gotten herself into. That’s the pretty thing that got my blood racing—not being a woman’s fantasy, but her mistake. Because fucking and fighting, they were two sides of the same coin for me. And just like fighting, a man can’t feel like he’s won, unless someone else has lost. That’s a shit thing, isn’t it? So you may be the snowiest virgin but perhaps you could teach

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me. I don't want to be that man anymore. Coupling should be happy and light, not dirty and dark. And even if we play games, I want the games to come from nothing but sweet desire, rather than the thousand different things that weigh us down. Ah bloody hell. Bloody hell. I'm mucking this up. Just know that I’d treat you so good before I’d ever ask anything for myself. Because I care about you. Because I love you. And I’ve waited too long for this to ever let it go. Sansa, Sansa, I’d slit the throat of the High Septon himself if my cock would be the only cock you’d ever know and ever want. My squire just came in. No mail. No nothing. Bugger it then. I didn’t expect one anyway, so why should I be disappointed? Stupid dog. You want to hear something silly? I saw one of the maesters reading a letter to a soldier today—from the soldier’s woman most like by the way he got all shy when the maester said ‘ten thousand kisses.’ I had to turn full away—it felt like a punch in the teeth, almost licked my lips to see if I could taste blood. Looks like every damned fool in this place is getting mail except me. I felt myself boiling over into fury because some common unlettered soldier’s slut sending him ten thousand kisses while you, my lady, could only afford seven.

Yes, I’m sulking and vomiting utter nonsense. It’s not fair to mentally belt you for offenses I’m guilty of—Gods’ know I’ve kept you waiting for weeks without a word. But time just feels different here and not hearing from you for seven days feels like several months. It’s a strange thing that somehow you’ve become more

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real to me, three hundred leagues away, than you ever were before. I suppose in normal life, there was no natural way for us to talk about the past or feelings, not when everyday cares are right in front you demanding your attention. Well, I’m done with supper and must close now. I find my subjects to be uninteresting and inexhaustible anyhow. My poor girl, why am I always boring your brains out with the same old shit? Take good care of yourself. And when you get this letter, I will have been thinking of you for more than three days. Maybe I will have something more interesting to report by then. Sleep well and know that I am giving you all my goodnight kisses. Sandor

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Chapter 9

“Always there is one constant—war” 20th Day of the First Month, 304 Sansa, I woke up early this morning and decided I ought to write to you, so I'm writing this by candlelight as the sky is still dark. Not, however, as dark as my spirits. Damned and doomed and dissolute and desperate and dying. Wager you didn't think I knew so many despairing words that began with the letter 'd', did you? I may be a second son of an upjumped house but I had a maester too, same as you, princess. Here’s something else I know, though the lesson never seems to stick: don't ever drink Myrish fire wine. I upended three skins of the stuff last night but couldn't seem to get bloody drunk. That green bile does nothing but bring out a man’s worst thoughts. It’s a buggering kicker over of rocks in gloomy damp caves with all manner of evil terrors scurrying out. Sansa, I wonder what are you doing right now? How have you passed your days? Who have you shared your smiles with? Are you well? Are you ill? Eighteen days have gone by since I've heard from you last. I have been counting the time and that’s what it must be but seven hells, girl, it feels like fucking eternity. The uncertainty is mounting, despite all the attempts I make to explain away this long silence of yours. You still love me, don't you? I hope you do or you had better do. Well, my hours are as dull as drinkwater and I have nothing

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interesting to report. Stranger fell into a hole today and I got a real dunking, almost completely submerged under water. Yes, another day that has turned out to be a bastard as all siege work stops dead due to the rains. Rain, rain, it's been pounding for the past four days after two weeks of light drizzle and even the odd hour of sunshine. That’s Northern weather for you, as changeable as a young girl’s heart. I've never seen so much rain—a godsawful deluge every evening that threatens to end the world before breakfast. I don't even have haul my indifferent arse down to bathe in the Weeping Water anymore, I just step outside my tent and let the rain wash me clean. That soap you sent doesn't lather in the brackish waters of the river anyhow. Some of the men have taken to doing the same thing. It’s a funny sight, scores of men washing themselves, naked as on their name-day. You've never seen such a display. At least I hope not. This bloody prolonged idleness—I have almost gone mad. A man's happiness requires that he do things proper to be a man. I feel myself getting stupider here and fear the passage of time finds me growing too witless as well as too old for you. I suppose that’s why I’ve picked up my quill. I got to have some kind of labor to occupy my mind. Also I presume to believe— despite you not answering my last two letters—that you still wish to hear from me. Do I have that right? You’ve got me wondering. Where’s the girl that wrote with such wistful tenderness: "I am so lonely for you, Sandor. I find solace in writing to you, in loving you, my thoughts are always with you. I belong only to you." Bloody hell, she’s got me clinging to her letters like a man drowning. There’s no life without her, I’m afraid. And I am afraid. If you find my lost little

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bird, tell her that whatever troubles her, she’d be alright if she loved me back. Do you remember when you wrote about knitting those socks for me? I got that letter right here. I have to be careful about reading it again because it’s almost a year old and the edges are dark and thin from all the folding and refolding. Is it strange that I should be so fond of that one? There was something about your voice when you wrote it—you sounded breathless, excited, happy. Sansa, I don’t think I say this often enough—might be I’ve never said it at all—but I see and appreciate all the things you do for me. I notice every little thing about you. Do you find that vexing? I'd wager it can be—I got a dismissive mind and the gift for damaging with the tongue. Believe me, most of the time I'm not finding fault with you at all but just looking at you and being thankful for the way you look at me and the extra care you put into doing things just to make me happy. Ah hell, my toes are getting wet now. This bloody tent was built a foot from the ground yet at present the rainwater is lapping at the boards. Maybe I'll drift away on one enormous wave this evening and the waters will carry me to Winterfell. I'll wake in the night and find myself beside you, holding hands in our sleep. Ha, are you snorting, girl? You know when we were travelling up North, I’d get up at the hour that I’m writing this letter, so I could look at you asleep in the first light of the grey dawn. What a pretty sight you were lying next to me. Impossibly pretty. Your bare head on full display with the strands of copper shimmering in the early rays, your perfect little dew-dropped face with skin as flawless as the surface of a plateful of cream. You got this tiny

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mole just below the pulse of your throat, have you noticed that? I’d adjust your blanket to hide it as for some reason I could not bear that it be touched by even a cold wind. My sweet Sansa, I don’t think any woman alive sleeps with the kind of trusting childish beauty you possess. If I was lying there beside you right now, you know what’d I do? Well, I'd turn you over and untie the strings of your smallclothes. What color are they? Hmm? Oyster silk, I decree. Watch me get rid of them so I could rest my cheek on your bare arse, at the lovely place where I could smell the warmth of your cunt mingling with the secret fragrance of sweet sleepy girl to my heart’s content. Little bird, you sure can concentrate all my senses and it’s such a potent painful joy. I’d start to nuzzle you and kiss you, planting big burning lustful kisses along that soft supple skin. You’d start to stir and I’d know when you’re awake because I would hear your little girlish giggles laughing so soundly sweet. Your cunny would grow wetter and wetter with each kiss and the moment that friendly arse started to tease my tongue to play would be the moment I’d cradle it in my palm and spank you until that baby bottom is sore. Neglectful little bitch, why haven't you written? Silence can wound a man as sharp any as steel. Bloody hell. My bloody temper keeps on breaking through. I’ve spent an hour writing this stupid pathetic letter—what a fucking jape that my life revolves around my mail. Bugger it. My feet are soaked and cold so I'm going to get up before I give myself waterbite. I'll continue later. Sansa, it’s the morning of the seventeenth day. I have a few moments to spare, so am going to resume my chat with you.

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You’ve claimed to love me and “cannot cease to love me” and in order to remind you of it and because I cannot be in your presence, I'm sending you a little something. I’m including a sketch of myself with this letter and asking the supply train captain to deliver both to you on his way back to Winterfell. The sketch was drawn by my squire. Did you know he could draw? I didn’t know the boy had any skills other than keeping a horse and caring for a man’s armor and steel until I caught him sketching his camp bride to while away our rain drenched hours. The sketch of her was good, if not entirely honest—the girl’s a bit pockmarked in person though not unpretty—still looks like an innocent country dumpling despite her trade. She’s been around, that's for sure; I remember seeing her in the old days. Must have been following one army or another for a good many years and a good many leagues as she's very brown and not from the sun. I made an attempt to acquaint my squire with some wisdom about whoring only to see my well-meaning overtures rebuffed. Boy’s eyes actually blazed at me with genuine contempt and his puppy dog face became ugly with hatred at the very insinuation that any man could get what he’s getting if he had the gold. Pathetic cuntstruck fool, clutching desperately at the first girl whose face and demeanor pleased him. I didn’t belabor my point though or curse him out, despite his evil insubordinate looks. Might be I’ve grown softer or might be I’ve grown wiser. This world is a cesspit of cold cruelty and a man can only do so much killing and cause so much wanton death and destruction before the part of him that is still gentle cries out for something to direct itself towards. A bit of beauty and peace—all men scheme to lay

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hold of it. Might as well have cursed out iron for chasing lodestones. You want to hear something funny? I saw this man yesterday and he was, without a doubt, the ugliest son of a bitch in the Seven Kingdoms. A giant in size, with a face that gives reason to why the Gods invented right hands and whores, and a mean, halfcrazed expression in his eye. Nasty brute had just stumbled away from a brawl that he started and I couldn’t tell whether he was still blood-drunk or plain drunk-drunk so I tried distancing myself from him. But the more I lurched away from him, the more he lurched towards me. Bloody mirrors, don’t you hate them? Ha! And you say that I can’t laugh at myself. What would you say now if I told you that I felt my face warm a little when I saw my squire’s sketch? Stupid dog, pleased as a pup with two tails because somebody captured that improbable moment when an ugly man looked almost handsome. I shouldn’t resent looking like I do, an ugly man’s better in a fight as he knows he’s got nothing to lose. It’s only I get all queer about it around you and submit myself to follies that fool nobody, least of all myself. Pitiful insecure ape, combing his hair to the left to cover up the scars, making sure his good side is facing you when we walk beside each other. Bloody ridiculous.

Well, my pretty bird, do what you want with the sketch. Are you still sleeping with my letters underneath your pillow? Or you have burnt them all and are now sitting in sackcloth, rubbing the ashes on your face and weeping and repenting that you had once loved so low? That’s another jape. You laughing? I have it—you’ll keep it at the bottom of a cedar chest. Isn’t that where you wrote

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you kept that bloody white cloak? Is that where you keep all your secret memories? Yes, here’s the letter where you wrote about it. “I hid it at the bottom of a cedar chest, separating it from my clean summer silks by a sheet of linen spread with strawberry leaves and rose petals. If you asked me why then, I couldn’t say. Looking back I think it was because I needed to keep you present, keep you with me, summon your strength by claiming something that belonged to you. How I wish I still had it. A cherished token of the man who rescued me from a nightmare and never left my bed.” If you could have been within hearing distance when I read that passage, you would have heard a bark of laughter loud enough to make this old tent ring. Fanciful little fool! It’s you who rescued me—that one time anyhow. You know what? I’m glad that you don’t have that foul thing anymore. Overjoyed, truth be told. Me being close to it would be like being close to a giant kettle full of sputtering boiling oil. I’m one big flinch. I hate recalling the man I was that night and I daresay, I almost never do. Not since I left my hairshirt behind at the Quiet Isle. I reckon my brain’s too selfish and defensive to dwell on things it considers shameful encumbrances. Not an admirable quality, but there you have it. My sweet Sansa, when you are old and those dry bones desire to summon up my memory, please don’t think of that white cloaked craven. Think of me the way I look in this sketch: a hopeful breed of stupid, fighting to make a good enough claim to be the kind of man that deserves to never leave your bed. Pretty bird, that’s a figure of speech that I’d do anything to make real. Never leaving your bed is the beginning and the end to all my temporal ambitions.

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Look at that—the rain has now turned to snow. I should go, new snow is treacherous and makes a mess of siegeworks. But you’re right, the snow does make the trees look like ancient queens draped in ermine. How about that? Bloody hell, what happened to the bitter, biting cold, the hunger of yesteryears? I am really alive and enjoying this? It’s pretty, real pretty. Glitters in the morning light like a storybook scene. Makes a man think of heroes on horseback and wayward princesses waiting to be won and happyever-afters and all that bloody nonsense. My little bird, I wish I felt your head on my shoulder right now. Sansa, if only you would write me. I confess I am worried. Might be you are mindless of me. I am not of you. Sandor 23rd Day of the 1st Month, 304 Rickon, I was very glad to have received those nice letters from you as well as that sweet card. It did, indeed, make my day. I like how you drew me and Stranger looking mean and merciless and I like how you drew the Bastard of Bolton looking dead. The way you can make the card look like blood is spurting from Ramsay’s severed head by sliding the tab at the bottom is marvelous. A clever bit of business that—attaching red paper behind the card with a tab between them so you can manipulate the scene. You got brains on you, boy, as well as brawn, don’t you? I passed it around the camp on New Year’s Eve and by the time I got it back, the tab had been broken so you can be sure a lot of Bolton blood had been merrily shed.

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How’s Stranger doing you ask? Well, it pains me to say this but I was pretty ashamed of him in the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s as strong and as swift as horses half his age but too many apples, his pick of the best mares and a life of general indolence at Winterfell had changed him and not for the better. He was particular about the quality of his hay, refused to drink out of mud holes, moved in the early mornings only with the constant aid of spurs, was always nosing through my squire’s pouches in search of treats and neighed contemptuously at the rough company of other warhorses. In short, he was acting more like a carpet knight’s palfrey than a war commander’s battle horse. We had a talk three months in after I had just about enough of his evident determination to drive me mad with his indiscipline. I told him he had enlisted in a war, not engaged in a bloody tourney and his days of fat living were over so he’d better be on the mend or else. He was duly chastened and since then has conducted himself in a manner I can respect. What’s it like in the heat of battle and how does it feel to kill a man? I’ll spare you the false sentiment. The Gods have fashioned no entertainments quite as satisfying as battle. True before facing the enemy, I’m full of doubt and confusion and fear and if any man ever tells you he feels any different, then he’s a bloody liar. But once I hear the cries of ‘attack’ and see my foeman before me, determination takes over—the song of steel men call it—and under its trance the coward becomes heedless of danger, the weak man is instilled with a giant’s strength, the stupid are imbued with animal cunning. It’s a strange, calm, ghostlike state where there’s no fear or disgust or reason even. Better than reason, a man’s

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muscles move faster than even his mind can command, steel song making the air quiver and hiss until it meets flesh and bone. I have never been so full of life as when there’s a sword my hand, a foe before me and one of us must die. Now, a thirst for battle is a useful trait in a foot soldier but dangerous in those that must rule them. I confess once the battle’s over, even I become kind of despondent over the expense of so much blood, the stench of so many black and swollen corpses, the collapse of law providing an excuse for armed and violent men to rape and reave the countryside. These peasants live close to the ground, like their animals, and their lives are hard enough without adding to their misery the need to defend their lives and their sheep and their daughters against ill disciplined soldiers turned band of robbers who want to brutally deprive them of all three. There’s no denying that war breeds monsters like standing water breeds pestilence. Throw a man enough miseries and provoke him with the lack of food and spoils and he’ll quickly fashion himself to mad and cruel ways of behavior. These broken men then go rambling at will and create more of their ilk with cycles after cycles of atrocities. Drown the realm in enough of them and the fabric of civilization can’t mend. Was there ever a scourge more cursed and contagious than the mischief that war looses in the hearts of men? When your father was the Stark in Winterfell, it was said that a maiden could walk the kingsroad naked as on her name-day without being molested. I tell you, it will be a long time before we see those days of peace and plenty come again. You’re a little champion of the yard and the way you like fighting, look forward to fighting and revel in fighting

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reminds me of myself. But we are not the same—I was born to serve while you must never forget you will one day govern. I’ve seen how you run away from your books and that kind of gutlessness makes me grit my teeth. Nothing on this earth is given without labor and though it may surprise you, I’m proudest of you most when sharpen your wits rather than your sword arm. So study hard and take heed of wise counsel, especially your sister’s. I was trained only for the battlefield and know nothing about the council chamber, save this: the only just purpose of war is the creation of a more perfect peace. Let me see, what else? No, you can’t come here and visit me, Rickon. The middle of a siege is no place for little princelings. You ask for a description of “camp life.” What can I say? Camp life never easy and dirt and discomfort and danger are a soldier’s constant companions. But rough living has a way of blunting desires, so a man can reasonably abide many physical hardships without bitterness and the constant state of peril makes him grateful for what he has rather than dismayed at what he doesn’t. Needless to say, I’ve gone for days without eating with little complaint and I’ve drank water with everything in it and liked it. What I pine for most, if you really care to know, isn’t luxuries but home and those who are nestling there. So many other questions! But I have written so much already. I don’t want to put you off until another letter so here are my answers in brief. My favorite food is roast duck. I can swim and hold my breath underwater for about a minute. I’d rather fight ten ice spiders than even one dragon. The name of my Valyrian sword would be Black Dog, ha. I have won five tourneys to date and like

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the melee and the joust just about the same. I have never traveled beyond the Seven Kingdoms and have no desire to; Winterfell is my home now and truth be told I hope never to stray south of the Neck again. My favorite color is dark blue—like the color of the blue stars or kind of like your sister’s eyes. I am sad and scared sometimes. I was twelve when I killed my first man. I’ve killed a lot of people since then but only found joy it in when they deserved killing. As to my fondest wishes, well, one of them is that you be nicer to your sister. When you are rude and disobedient to her, it makes me unhappy. I had an older sister too, did I ever tell you? Her name was Elinor. She died when I was six and she fourteen. I don’t have many memories of her. A hug when I fell down. Songs and stories at bedtime. Our hands touching one another as we petted the fur of my first dog. Sometimes I wish I could relive those moments; I would appreciate her more. Most times though I’m glad I can’t, it would grieve me too much if what I felt for her was deeper than it is. You are very fortunate to have Sansa, you know that, don’t you? Your sister would do anything for you and your brother and though you may see me yell at her a lot because I’m a bad tempered oaf, I am immensely proud of her. Proud for her. This world is a cesspit of cold cruelty and it takes from us relentlessly— first our mothers and our fathers then our safety then our faith and honor and honesty and dignity—until a man’s got so little left he hardly feels like he’s even human anymore. Most losers take the hurt that’s been done to them and swallow it and hold it in their guts where its distilled into a kind of venomous rage that they

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throw back at the world. Might be that makes them monsters, though who can blame an animal if pain is all it has to offer because pain was all it was fed. And then there’s the other ones, the sweet sacred losers like your bloody sister. Sansa. Lady She Who Weeps at the Misery of Others and feel all the tragedies save her own. Like I told you before, nothing is given without labor. That your sister wakes up each day and devotes herself to the quiet struggle of being decent, to the neverending task of being kind— even to those who are undeserving—is an arduous and obstinate kind of work. One whose merits will never yield her worldly glory or gold. For certain, I’ll never be amongst her kind but that I’m walking slowly away from the other camp is due to her and her alone. So do me a favor, will you? After you finish reading this letter, go to her and give her a hug and a kiss and tell her how much you love her. Rickon, in those stories and songs you love so well, there was always the fair maiden that the hero had a bounden duty to protect. Can I entrust you with this most solemn and hollowed charge? I believe so. Be strong and brave, prince. And remember, above all: take care of Sansa. She’s the only sister you have left. Sandor 25th Day of the First Month, 304 Sansa, I got your letters today. Four sweet and long missives, tied with a little bow. Never have I been so well compensated after such a lengthy wait. But the contents—my little bird, what a poor time

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you had with the chicken pox. When I read that you had been ill, the coldest chill went up my spine. You say you are completely recovered and are strong and healthy but it’s a struggle for me to remain here when the blood in my veins command my feet to rush to your side. If it wasn’t for how close we are to the fight, I’d have saddled Stranger now and left this shithole and bugger any fool’s reproaches. Instead, I only marched myself to the humble makeshift sept and there among the dark and the dust, I lit a candle for you. Bloody stupid how worry can make you feel like a child again. You are well, aren’t you? Truly? All the men from the supply train say so, yet its utter torture not seeing the evidence of it for myself. When my squeeze my eyes shut, I keep seeing a little grave, ornately carved with blue roses and direwolves and your name inscribed therein. I am prepared for anyone else’s demise save yours. This sounds queer, I know, but its been a secret source of consolation to me that I am fifteen years older than you so expect to be dead that much sooner. I’m glad to hear Rickon and Bran are well too, the boys are lucky to catch it at their ages. Shireen’s a good girl to have taken charge of everyone’s care. As to Lord Manderly—what can I say? He has been your brother’s Hand—though no northman would use such a southron term—for all these years and through all those relentless hardships. For him to die now of a child’s disease is bloody stupid. What a thoughtless, unpredictable, cruel pig-fucker the Stranger is. Bastard’s done a lot of mindless damage. There’s a feeling of great loss in the camp. You know, the men, even his own that hailed from White Harbor, would make japes about him, call him Lord

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Lamprey and Lord Lard and Lord Too Fat to Sit a Horse behind his back. It took the sudden blow of his death to bring to the surface the fierce affection for him that many didn't even know they had. You had to see it to believe it—battle-hardened men who thought they were incapable of any such feeling wept in the open when they heard the news.

Yet a man’s tears dry fast when he’s moving towards combat. I’m sorry you’re grief-stricken too. I know you held him close to your heart for all that he did for you and your family. If it helps you any better, put your grief away at the bottom of that cedar chest. When I get back, we’ll air it out together. For now, though, you’ve got to be brave and quick witted because every soldier understands that in a battle, you have to leave the dead behind where they fall. Your kingly brother’s going to need your counsel as he ascends the throne to rule in his own right. Brandon’s a serious and sensible lad but I won’t deny that there’s a simmering panic that he may turn out to be another foolish boy king. I hold no such private fears; he’ll rise to his command with you behind him. That’s just the way of it—time marches forward whether we will it or no. Boys become men, captains become commanders, little princelings become kings. Always there is one constant—war. Sansa, this may be the last letter I write to you in a while. Look after yourself and keep on smiling, will you? I promise to do the same. Though I’m not worried about me—only the good go young and I’m a long way from being good, as you know. I close for now. Remember that I love you more than tongue or quill can ever tell. Sandor

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Chapter 10

“Sansa, whatever you wanted to get out of me, I want you to have it” 6th Day of the 2nd Month, 304 Sansa, It happens tonight, in just a few hours. A good commander must organize victory from the start and I am full of confidence that I have satisfied my duty. Nothing left except to wait for the end of daylight as storming a castle is a deed best done under the cloak of darkness and there’s always the chance that we might catch the enemy stupid with sleep. Right now, I’m sitting here alone in near silence, listening to the echo of the septon’s prayers that manage to pierce my tent. His congregation is pretty light, being made up of chiefly just the men from White Harbor but by the sound of it, they are most intent upon their devotions. The septon appealed to me to take part—ever since he caught me lighting that candle for you, he thinks we are sworn friends—but my answer was No! I don’t feel like it and don’t think I would get anything out of it. Why should a man adhere to forms if the substance has long since disappeared? For certain, I feel no twinge to beseech the Warrior for courage, nor to look towards the Seven Heavens for solace. What swallows my attention might be you can tell and its to her that I devote the final hours left to me. You’ll be pleased to hear the news is all good. The weather is and has been all we could ask. As to the men, well, I have returned

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from my last inspection of the war host not an hour ago. I am so bloody proud of an army such as ours, more than simple words can convey. Are you surprised to hear me say such a thing? I admit the sentiment is new. When I was given supreme command of this campaign, the honor cheered me crazily. After all, what makes a man feel more like a man than that he should be relied on for something important? Also I was getting so bloody tired of that sad tame life. The days were near all alike—tasting the dregs of my discouraged hopes regarding you and then slinking dismally back to my bedchamber to fall asleep alone. So of course I leapt quick at the chance to play the part of the man and conquer the Dreadfort manfully and by that success claim an even greater bounty. There you have it—my fears and hopes for the future with the future part polished up and painted pretty. Your influence at work, little bird? Or might I’ve always been partial to such wishful thinking, loathe as I am to admit it. What would you say if I told you that I once hoped to find high favor with your brother Robb? That in repayment for your sister’s return, he would make me a lordling and task me with killing my brother. Ha, it’s a wonder I never asked aloud if he would give me you if I were bold and brave enough to rescue you from the lions’ den. Such is the strength of the life of dreams over actual existence. Now, I’m not a such a silly dreaming fool that I thought this campaign would be easy. I have known enough about the real character of war to know that sieges are the worst—for every day of glorious day of battle, months of hectic toil, monotonous and hard. It’s no surprise that even besiegers lose health and heart in their camps and ditches. I tell you, they go against my grain. Give

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me open country and open combat: that’s the part of war that animates a man, puts the marcher ballads in his heart. Truth be told, I also harbored some doubts about my abilities. I never found much pleasure in commanding before nor have done it with so many lives in my hand. True, I've been soldiering for more than twenty years and whether it be grand tactics or drilling green boys or ensuring the line of supply, I’ve done every proper labor. And with pride to be sure but it was the mirthless pride of a man who carried a heavy burden and did not mislay it. I warrant those who I commanded didn’t find much pleasure in it either. I’m your man for battles but when it comes to the rest, I suppose in the past I didn’t lead men so much as angrily oversaw them. A captain amasses many small resentments with those kind of manners and might be I was never precisely hated but neither was I esteemed and when I came around, everybody wanted to get the hell out of my way. That was fine by me. I liked keeping myself aloof and nobody—whether they be ditch diggers or high lords, chivalrous warriors drunk on dreams of glory or the fucking reckless knights who saw war as nothing but series of unruly jousts—could escape my sour malignity. Unless there was a lot of drinking or gambling or other low entertainments around to sweeten me. I reckon this is why I never kept the same squire in service for too long. You know the current one has stuck around the longest yet? You were right, as usual, to commend him to me. Boy moves at my side like one of those preserving terrier dogs— and knows me well enough to have a costrel of wine always ready. Might be he deserves a medallion after all this is said and done.

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You should see him now, you might not recognize him. Strong, swarthy and brave, such a contrast to that pale, weak and fearful fellow that came to me two years ago. I suppose he’s not the only one that’s different. I’ve changed a lot since this siege started, grown maybe, and it’s possible others can look at me in ways they couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. Picture this in your head, my lady: long lines of men, made of the best bone and muscle in the Seven Kingdoms, standing straight underneath your fluttering grey direwolf banners. As I walked through the ranks, the faces of some of the troops actually lit up with pensive but pleasant smirks. When I smiled back, instead of my smile making the moment more tense, it gave it a certain lightness. How about that? Sansa, I wish you could have seen what I saw today – the admiration would have spurted from your arteries, girl. I swear when the drummer boys started rolling the drums, I felt the blood in my legs tingle. I wager every last man felt that too. As if although standing, we were already marching, muscles anticipating future maneuvers. Your soldiers, Lady Stark, are in excellent heart, ready to take the Dreadfort or indeed any other field of combat and trample everything down under our feet. As for the plan of attack—we pored over that last night in my tent until the candles burned low. Every last detail has been worked out and my captains are confident that all conceivable measures have been taken to ensure success. You know what’s funny though? All the preparation in the world and still it ends with the same air of maidenish nervousness that clouds every

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other council I’ve ever been in. Men go to the battlefield like girls go to their bridal bed, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, reciting the same prayers – “Mother have mercy.” Well, my lady, this isn’t the worst predicament we’ve been in, is it? A summer skirmish compared to those brutal death struggles of yesteryears. Still from the beginning, everyone understood this campaign’s not going to be some child’s scuffle that can be called off with ransoms and cries aloud for mercy. Nothing else has ever been in contemplation save the extermination of most of them that live in that pest house. Well, we've besieged the Dreadfort for more than a year. Might be we have its occupants bayed and they’ll fall underneath our blades, soft and sweet as an exhausted stag. Or might be they have still have bountiful storehouses of courage, if not food, and every last whoreson will fight with the desperate strength of the doomed. Who knows what’s to come? War is war and no man can control it. What are you doing right now, hmm? Poring over your ledgers, I wager. Another hour and you’ll leave your solar to supervise the preparation of the evening’s meal. If I close my eyes I can almost follow you in my mind and estimate your movements. Little bird, when am I going to get to see you again? No, I must not dwell so much on that. It's hard enough waiting. Look at me—my palms are sweating and my left thigh keeps fidgeting as sunset draws near. Bloody embarrassing. A commander should not lack for composure, I think, or failing that, where’s the cynical indifference I could summon so swift as a younger man? Hard to believe that the moment that we have been so long waiting seems really to have come. I know this sounds like shit but right

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now I feel like I’m a dancer, beating time in my head while waiting for the music to start to which I’ll try a new step. The song of steel: once I regarded it as the sweetest music under the stars. Bang, boom, go the battering rams and mining timber supports and I must to the front go where honest commanders belong. Where the combat is, there I’ll be, my grinning and snarling face peering through the smoke. You’ve told me before that you admire my ferocity, do you remember that? Rest assured that I’m not wanting for any of that. Nor in sharp steel and strong arms, both of which this army is well supplied. But I must confess there is one important thing I cannot secure and that is luck. No man can. Listen, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lord Manderly. Now, I have seen death in such vast quantities and in such gruesome forms that it no longer shakes me much. Yet the Lord of White Harbour’s passing hangs like a bloody millstone around my neck. I haven’t talked about this much—I can’t remember if I talked about it at all—but I sat with him, that second to last evening before he left. Just him and me, in the shadows of the red campfires, nursing some of that fine strongwine he brought. As the night wore on, he began to talk at length about his sons, whose deaths he laid at the door of the Boltons. I longed to be back alone in my tent when he started getting into it, yet there I stayed and listened. To the father who bowed his head and wept unselfconsciously in front of another man, to the commander whose warrior’s pulse never quieted despite his years and infirmities. It rattled me deep to see him like that as in his fury and grief he resembled nothing so much the world’s saddest fiercest mastiff, long gone to fat yet still powerful

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enough to rip out a man’s throat. I couldn’t find any words of comfort for him and it’s not in me to be generous like that anyhow. Like a dumb mute, I could only stare up at the moonlit heavens and wish he had some of the peace that I saw there. I would have liked to have given him that peace – seize the Bastard and give him a bloodletting; I wager that would have drained the dark shadows from the old dog’s mind. But the gods indulged his hopes only to rob him of their realization. Just as they did to me with Gregor. Ever are they spiteful in their malice. The old man must be furious wherever he is. He hated and feared the thought of dying in an unmanly fashion on a sickbed, or worse, on his privy. Yet my sympathies lie not so much with poor Manderly in his grave so much as those he left behind. Did he die, far away from home, without letting his girls know such things that could have been some comfort to them? The thought of his little granddaughters weeping in that mad way he had. Seven hells. How could he have foreseen being seized by the Stranger so unexpectedly and by such a nothing? And then I must ask myself, how can I foresee my own safety? My sweet Sansa, war is war and no man can control it. Every soldier has to face the possibility that he may get unlucky and wake up dead some morning. Ah hell, don’t I feel silly writing these words to you now? All this time I’ve been telling you that nothing’s going to happen to me. I wasn’t lying before but I confess I never wanted you to occupy your hours fretting over my situation. War asks for a lot, not just for the men who must fight them, but for the homes that must endure the sacrifice of their sons and fathers, brothers and husbands and lovers. Now, of these distinctions only the last one

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can be fitted to me and it gives me much pleasure mingled with no small amount of pain to know how far and how short the epithet stretches in describing my relation to you. You know what I've been in the habit of doing as of late? Fingering that little scrap of foolery you tucked in with those socks you knitted for me. “For Sandor, who is off fighting our foes, may these soft woolen socks warm your chilled toes, and when from war and danger you depart, may a pretty knitter warm your soldier's heart.” Bloody hell girl, that was a pretty bit of Northern witchery, wasn't it? You sure can bind a man with nothing more than yarn and gossamer. I'll have you know that piece of fluff reached the bottom of my heart and made a fucking hole in it. After that, I started to write to you not as a sworn sword to his liege lady but as a man to his maid. Your replies were fickle in the extreme, varying from shallow childlike adulations to the cold garb of formality and always dead silent on the things I longed most to hear from you. My mind could only lapse into that state of blind confusion you put me in regular. Sansa, you enchanting slut, you can’t ever understand what you do to me. You source your contentment from your brothers and the grey walls of Winterfell and even your ancient quavering nurse – while you are my little all. Fuck me, that so sharp a happiness should come to me only in my thirty-second year. And fuck the gods if they mean to school me yet again on their best-loved subject of ‘life is sweet and you can’t have it.’ Sansa, there’s so much I wanted to get out of you. I never even got to kiss you on the lips, or anywhere else that’s nice. Bussing

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your knuckles is the most I've ever secured. How bloody pitiful is that? I got the same thing from the High Septon when that bugger came to decree that you were so immaculate a virgin that would not taint the purest heaven and no damned devious dwarf ’s wife. All those months we spent alone travelling up North with nothing to between us save my crazy monk man restraint. All because I had felt I was unworthy of you and must do penance or some such horseshit. When should a man mind having what is too good for him? Never, that’s when. I should have had my joy of you then and there. Sure, it might have given me trouble but what’s the point of a man dying with no troubles if he has no joys either? The thought that I should get my quietus with the question of what you might taste like unanswered – seven hells, I’m angry. Bitterly angry. Have a care when they hand you my bones, there’d be enough hoarded rage in them to melt the frost from the perpetually frozen lichyard. Little bird, my apologies for the interruption. Two of the rudest buggers I ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on came into my tent and wasted a long moment of my time. I offended them with my manners but with whatever time I have left, I only want to spend them conversing with you, not anybody else. So let’s see, where was I?

I have just read over what I wrote and in a fresh light what it says is “in the event of my death I must write to you that my biggest regret is never having fucked you when I had the chance.” Bloody stupid, dog. I’m doing a fine job at offering you comfort, aren’t I? I

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suppose my ramblings have shown me up for the dirty uncouth brute that I have always been. Ever rage and recrimination come prompt at my bidding but like rude guests, they keep on warming a chair long after I’ve begged them to leave. Please don’t be offended at my rubbish, girl. I regret that there are so many doors between us still left unopened is what I’m trying to say. Believe me, I have felt for you all kinds of love at once. Always you concentrate all my senses, intensify all colors, deepen all delight so the world around me seems brighter, clearer, more beautiful and brimming with possibilities, marvelous and new. Like I was a man brimming with possibilities; someone new and shinier, wiped off of the old defects that sullied me. I confess to you now that’s why I wrote seldom at times. I wanted to talk to you when I could be that man, generous and courteous and full of good cheer. Not the same bloody rotten bastard that made you feel sick and small with his dark sayings and darker moods. Believe me, I see it and I feel it—the full load of fear and apprehension you bear, about me and this war, about how to feed and govern a people on the ruins of the North. How could I add even a feather’s weight to my sweet girl’s troubles? Knowing as I do that beneath her calm exterior she carries a heart of lead. Yes, I live in a tent in a war camp yet whenever my mind wanders back to Winterfell, I am filled with guilt for I know I am not the one to be most pitied. Sansa, the gods know that I always wished you safe and happy. Would I were always there to chase away your tears and fight off your sobs and carry those loads you can’t. Little bird, are there deeper things I’ve left unsaid that I should

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have said otherwise? I’ve always been a chatterer with you, haven’t I? If I’ve ever talked your ear off, you only have yourself to blame, being so easy to talk to. Yet why have I seldom said the things you most wanted to hear? Strange that. I cannot full explain myself. True, maids have a way of knowing or feeling what their men feel but I suppose they like to hear it also. Bloody hell, I feel bad in every respect. This is suppose to be my ‘goodbye for the present’ letter yet I have written mostly a military accounting and have not once said

I LOVE YOU There—I wrote that extra big across the page by way of emphasis. What else can I say beyond that? Perhaps nothing and all that exists before and after those words is just me making noise. Still, you have said before that a reading a letter from me is too like the lightning, over before you can say it’s lightning, so I will continue on until called away. You know when I first wrote those words to you, they made me break out in a fine sheen of sweat. Not because I lacked conviction but because I felt shy. You think that’s funny? It is somewhat: I’m a grown man, not a boy to be stricken with stumble tongue and sweaty brow. It’s only I was afraid you might find the words silly coming from me, as “silly as an ox beetle having feelings for a butterfly.” Yes, I did overhear your kingly brother say that to you when I interrupted him in your solar that one time. I had to stifle a snort of laughter – for all his premature agedness, what can he know about real true honest feelings between a man and a woman? It sure is funny in an infuriating way how people get

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these notions about you that have little to do with the real you at all. Now that I think about it, I don’t suppose I’ve made a real first impression on a single soul in over fifteen years. Everywhere I go people, great and small, presume they know all about me because they heard some stories about the Hound. The terrible thing is that the stories other people tell about you, you begin to believe yourself. Sansa, when you wrote about feeling inadequate—“if only I wasn’t so inadequate at everything” —and then went on about how you make a mess of things that should be simple, I felt real sad when I read that. Guilty too. You got sharp wits and sound instincts, trouble is you don’t trust them. Whose bloody fault is that? I’ve called you stupid from almost the very start and gods know how many times I’ve said it since then. If anyone else had said the things to you that I’ve said to you, I would have cut their tongue out with a blunt razor. It’s usual for me to savage and maul a victim but they had it coming in some way. With you, I suppose I wanted you to see the world as it is and not as it should be. Your father’s death thrust you into the lions’ den bare-handed, so to speak, and the education he gave you left you dangerously weak-minded to start with. For a man like me, who never imagined mankind as anything other than a cruel marriage between the violent and their victims, to be defenseless and weak was the worst fate of all. My sweet girl, I held you in my heart from the moment you laid your soft hand and soft soft eyes on me and said “He was no true knight” as if it was the gravest insult in the world. After that I tried to look out for you, instruct you, because I never wanted any harm to befall

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you. “I could keep you safe” – ha, one fucking blunder from beginning to end. It near kills me when I think about it. Still time marches in only one direction and you can’t change the past. Only learn from it. Grow. Do you remember showing me where on that sentinel tree your father had marked your growth in little knifed notches? I’d pass by that tree and on occasion run my forefinger across those notches and think to myself: so this is how tall the little bird was when she learned to count to ten and this is how tall she was when she learned to write her own name and this is how tall she when she threaded her first needle and this is how tall she when she began to play the high harp and this is how tall she was when saw a boy and batted her eyelashes at him and this is how tall she was when she put away her dolls. That last little notch? That would have been the height of you when you left Winterfell with your father and your sister and your wolf, none of whom returned alive except you. Right there was your entrance into and departure from girlhood, laid out with the accuracy of a map. Sansa, if only you could see and examine your growth on the inside in the past three years just as easy. I can, having watched you so close. You're everything fair and wise and good in this foul world otherwise full of shit. I don't mean those virtues are yours because you are stupid or lack the courage to see what is evident. Not anymore. The Lannisters and Littlefinger—may they all burn in hell—made good work of rubbing your nose in their own shittiness, didn’t they? Still I don’t know how you do that thing you do—find the spaces between the big steaming shit piles of

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this world and make your peace there while the rest of us are flinging filth at each other while shouting our own hands don’t stink. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? I should have digested it more and said it pretty and used ‘shit’ less. Get rid of the idea that you are inadequate is what I’m trying to say. You’re pretty remarkable from where I’m standing. As brave as any woman should be. Most of us, you see, are hobbled by the bad things that are done to us but you have been fortified by it. Your tragedies have released in you strength and courage and wisdom. Made you kinder too. Do you know how rare that is? I’ve met enough examples of the millions of human beings who labor and toil their quick years upon the earth and then die all over the place to know it’s fucking rare. I swear, watching you in action sometimes is like witnessing a herd of unicorn. You leave me kind of awestruck. Fearful too. I confess it has been my greatest worry that you’ll outgrow me like you outgrew your dolls. That those canny eyes of yours will finally see me as I am and not as I should be. Little bird, should I die, I die knowing you love me. At least that's what you said and better yet, that's how you acted. No one can deprive me of that honor. You know I spoke to Willas Tyrell before he departed Winterfell? Or rather he spoke to me or to the night air and I just happened to be around, worthy of as much regard as a dead dog lying in a fighting pit. Anyhow, Tyrell said: “Lady Sansa knows how to love. A man would find great pleasure in being loved by her.” Ha. Ha. I have called him many names under the sun—a cripple and a whoreson and a Lannister with thorns—but I never did say he was a fool. That you chose to love

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me and wanted no part of anyone else: believe me, I am all gratitude and just pride. The sky’s turning inky-blue now. I must write faster. Sansa, listen, Tyrell was right—you were made to love a man and be loved by him in return. Should anything happen to me, don't allow it to bow your head forever, girl. You hear me? Life is for the living, a worn out saying if there ever was one, but no truer truth. As for me, well, if there's anyplace else, I'll be there waiting for you. Though I am almost sure there isn't. Seven Heavens or the Seven Hells, they mean spit to me and I cannot long for or dread what I do not believe in. You’ve asked me about this before and so now I must satisfy your curiosity. You need never worry that I will ever surrender in premature haste, whether it be in battle or under other circumstances. Yes, I confess, like you, there have been times when I’ve felt robbed of all the things that make life bearable and in those woeful states the Stranger's whispers have bent my mind and made me think of the darkness. When your sister left me to die slow by the side of a tree, it solaced me to picture returning back there. To the life of dumb roots and the grace of the swaying autumn grass from whence sprung my proud forefathers and to know at last the peace of simple things. Yet I’m pondering that ending now and I tell you, it no longer pleases me in the slightest. Ever you draw me from the dirt, little bird. You remember how you wrote about being a kitchenmaid? “You’d see me in the kitchens on one of your afternoons off and you’d pull up a chair and spend your hours lazing about, watching me ready the meals and talking to me, oh about everything and

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anything, in that molten-metal voice of yours.” I liked that, I liked it a lot. I remembered every word, you see. My sweet girl, I have only found peace here on this earth with you, I am only wholly in place here with you. And if I am to live in the hereafter, let it be with you. But let me speak blunt: you are too wonderful a woman to go to waste and grow cold and ugly from lack of use. Sansa, whatever you wanted to get out of me, I want you to have it. So go out and get it with someone worthy, if I can't be him. Only, little bird, please, please, maintain a little place, some quiet sweetsmelling snuggery for me in your heart. As long as you guard my memory and love it well, I won’t be really dead is my way of thinking. So go find me a comfortable chair and always keep a warm hearthfire glowing and the flowers fresh and let me laze about there for an uninterrupted age with just you talking to me. If I ever get back to you, you can be sure I’m setting up something like that for real. That’s my haven and my heaven—dug in deep and sumptuously supplied with everything I need, in you. Ah hell, old Time is summoning me and there’s not much else left for me to say. I’m leaving this letter in the care of Maester Samwell to send to you later, after the battle is well under way. He has a quick perception of things and I reckon he must know. I reckon everyone who has ever seen me speak of you must know. They can read it in my eyes—they light up like candles in my head whenever the Lady Sansa’s name is on my lips. Little bird, I hope very soon to write to you again. To boast to you of victory, and assure you of my health and welfare, and to make you laugh over the japes and fun of war at a more fitting time for japery. Now it has turned too serious.

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If you don’t hear from me, well, whatever possessions I have, I leave to you to dispose of as you will. Except for the dirk made of Valyrian steel: tell Rickon I give that to him as a kind remembrance of me. As for my gold, divide it among those who come home from this campaign and give an extra something to the camp cook Turnip and my squire. Take care of my dog, my horse should the gods preserve him, and my little all—she whom I would love and cherish and protect even more than I do, if I knew how. Sansa, I write no more. I embrace you tenderly my sweet girl. Kiss me now. And love me, love me always. Sandor


EPILOGUE Love wants a chivalrous lover skilled at arms and generous in serving who speaks well and gives greatly, who knows what he should do and say, in or out of his hall, as befits his power. He should be full of hospitality, courtesy, and good cheer. A lady who lies with such a lover as that is clean of all her sins. — BARON BERTRAN DE BORN 12TH CENTURY SOLDIER & TROUBADOUR

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Afterward In transcribing the war letters of Sandor Clegane, my focus has been on making the text as understandable as possible. This task has not been an easy one as anyone who has seen the original documents is well aware of the challenges Clegane’s orthography present. Notably, the difficulties of deciphering his war letters betray the conditions in which he wrote them: in haste and in his tent during the late hours of the night, illuminated by the light of smoky tallow candles. His script is cramped, pushing to the edge of the page as if he was trying to cram as many thoughts and feelings to his “little bird” as the parchment would allow. When he became angry or depressed—which was often for his nature ran to extremes, oscillating between pride and bitterness, joy and anger—his handwriting revealed as much: the lines of his sentences sliding down to the right, the parchment punctured by the force of his quill, his style of lettering deteriorating to the point of being cryptic. Nonetheless, the substance of the letters are a delight, illuminating the intimate human qualities of a man to which much has already been written, yet never in his own words.

Marching Song opens in the eleventh month of the year 303 with Sandor Clegane’s ruminations on his campaign to lay siege to the Dreadfort, the seat of House Bolton. Of the correspondence during this year long campaign, only eleven of Clegane’s letters have survived, all composed during the last four months. The exact number that he actually wrote and sent are believed to be nineteen. We can know this because it was his habit to number all his letters on the back and the last letter written after the fall of


the Dreadfort was marked with the number nineteen. Unfortunately, in addition to the loss of Clegane’s eight letters, history has retained only one of Sansa Stark’s replies. But Clegane often quoted from her letters (and in one case wrote his response on the back of hers) when he wrote his own, providing tantalizing glimpses into her side of their epistolary love affair.

All of the letters in Marching Song have never been published before and were previously available only to the most dedicated researcher. I’ve spent a year editing this work and it is my hope that this edition will provide an exciting, animating knowledge of the man’s personality and psyche. For the sake of clarity, I have intervened with the text, removing such encumbrances that may frustrate the reader. My transcription guidelines were as follows: 1. Clegane’s spelling and capitalization have been standardized with respect to modern conventions. 2. Punctuation and paragraph indentation have been added as appropriate to the context. 3. Original dating has been retained and follow the Old Calendar. 4. Much research has gone into revealing the substance of Clegane’s canceled texts. These passage, which generally would not have been visible to the naked eye, occur frequently throughout his war letters. I have omitted canceled text if the text is a minor change in phrasing or a correction of misspellings or dates. Otherwise, I have retained the canceled text, and marked it thus using strikethrough. Their almost


confessional nature illuminates Clegane’s unfiltered state of mind and it is interesting to note how frequently they appear in his early letters, when his paper courtship of his lady was on less sure footing. While popular culture frequently sees Sandor Clegane as a taciturn or inarticulate brute, such a conception is contradicted by the historical evidence. Recall that this was the man who called a wooden toy knight “marvelous,” who disparaged Boros Blount with the verbal punch “paint stripes on a toad, he does not become a tiger,” and who told the story of his grandfather’s dogs whose death was the making of House Clegane with the evocative phrase “the three that died in the autumn grass.” That Clegane carried a hidden streak of the poetic should be of no surprise to those who have studied him in depth. Certainly, his letters display a natural gift for writing for the ear. And for the heart, evidently, given the events that unfolded at the end of the Dreadfort campaign. Sandor Clegane owed much to that campaign and to the cycle of wars of the violent and motley age he lived in, which enabled him and competent men like him to emerge from obscurity and rise to stations far above their birth. He was born in either 270 AC or 271 AC, in the Westerlands region of the Seven Kingdoms. He was the second son of a minor aristocratic house only two generations removed from the peasantry. He lived in a culture that was still largely oral and where illiteracy—even in aristocratic households—may have been more near the norm than the exception. Yet by his own accounts, we know that his house had been important enough to retain the services of a maester (let us

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not forget that his mistrust of maesters was rooted in his childhood dislike of the unnamed House Clegane maester who treated his horrific childhood burns with the use of ‘ointments’). As his letters attest, Sandor Clegane had been educated to the extent that he could both read and write the Common Tongue fluently, though the inconsistencies of his spelling and grammar and his lack of punctuation suggest an education that was haphazard at best. Most Clegane scholars believe his formal instruction all but ceased by the time his elder brother, the psychopathic Gregor Clegane, became the head of House Clegane, forcing his younger brother to leave his home, never to return. Sandor could not have more than ten years of age. On further biographical information, I will remain silent as I believe such a summary of my subject, would be both unnecessary and inadequate. I direct interested parties to consult with the usual resources, foremost of which is the foundational text that is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Secondary works are found under the Sansa Stark/Sandor Clegane pairing on www.archiveofourown.org, where this work too is catalogued.

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Acknowledgments Foremost on my list of thank yous is Bubug. This work was an almost year long collaboration between us and if its looks like it was a tremendous time sink that asked of its creators copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears, I can only confirm, it was. I am grateful for her thousands of tiny penstrokes, her artistic vision, her love of Sandor as I have conceived him, and her dedication to endless pursuit of perfection in all of the illustrations included herein. When I made the title page for Marching Song, I wrote “Illuminated by Bubug” to describe how she lit my work from within and indeed set my imaginative life on fire. Special thanks also to my beta, Redgoddemandsit, for her fine and thorough work in correcting my spelling and grammar, pushing my commas into place and constructive feedback. Also for her patience with my impatience, an invaluable trait in an editor. Many others have helped sustain me on this endeavor. In particular, I’d like to thank those dear friends who have supported MS with their thoughtful and enthusiastic comments on each chapter: Maroucia, Kitamere, Weshallflyaway, Chaouenmadrid, ADKSansan and Ruebellab. You ladies are the very best!

Lastly, thank you to she whose name day falls on the fourth day of the twelfth month—Coveredincleganedna. I had been thinking of writing an epistolary SanSan story for about two years before receiving her prompt requesting war letters for the SansaxSandor Livejournal community's Raven Mail Exchange. The idea of an

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epistolary story has long captivated me as I thought it would be a good vehicle to explore the voice of Sandor Clegane, especially as I saw him—a man that ran to extremes: poetic and profane, dominating and tender, idealistic in thought, yet opportunistic in action. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write a post Quiet Isle Sandor that wasn’t weighed down by too much angst and selfrecrimination and who hailed himself as the conquering hero of his own story rather than the sidekick to Sansa’s. Still it took Coveredinclegane’s prompt to finally give me the much needed motivation to actually start writing. It also provided a structure to craft a narrative that could support a love story, a war story, and rectify something that fills me with terror and rage in canon—the imprisonment of Old Nan in the Dreadfort dungeons.

To her and to all those mentioned above, this work is dedicated.

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About the Author I first read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire about six years ago and it slowly but surely took over my imaginative life as well as fashioned me into someone I never was before—a fangirl. After exhausting various fannish avenues, I started reading fanfiction. Before the HBO TV show, Sansa/Sandor was overwhelmingly the most popular pairing and in a way I fell into this fandom almost by osmosis, through the copious consumption of fanfiction. Redcandle17 and Egleriel have a lot to answer for in this regard. I’ve never been quite the same after accepting SanSan into my life and into my heart. The writing came after I failed to find the exact fanfiction I wanted to read. My endgame wish for Sansa and Sandor is for them to become lovers (for me, Sansa and Sandor is the great romance of the entire series) and for all of the wolves to finally come home to Winterfell. All of my stories dance around that theme as well as are character studies that explore the psyches of Sansa and Sandor. They are also unabashedly erotic to which I offer no apologies. To date, I’ve written four stories. Marching Song is my forth story and second illustrated novella. You can read my other stories, including my first illustrated novella, Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hound on http:// archiveofourown.org/users/kimberlite8/works. I also have a tumblr and love hearing from those who enjoy my fanworks. Find me at kimberlite8.tumblr.com


“It feels so sweet to fall asleep with your words in my head, your letters underneath my hand. Like I could actually believe that with all the world has to offer, you chose to sit in this muddy tent only because I was here."

Sandor Clegane’s war letters to Sansa Stark while he is on campaign


MARCHING SONG The War Letters of Sandor Clegane

KIMBERLITE8 Illuminated by

BUBUG

Marching Song  
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