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Runn ing

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Hunting kimber lite8

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Hound


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kimber lite8

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. Published February 2014

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ummary “Inside her br ain, a sleeping wolf spr ang awake, its yellow eyes open ing in the dar k.�

S

ansa Stark has a coming-of-age dream about an encounter between her adult self and Sandor Clegane. A series of vignettes about the sexual and moral fruition of Sansa Stark and a character study about the duality of Sandor Clegane. Rating: Explicit, only suitable for adults

Warnings: Underage Kink Sexually Threatening Language/Situations

What kind of sex: Male/female, vaginal, oral, anilingus Multiple partners (Sansa/Sandor/The Hound) Consensual/Dubious Consent Alayne is 14, Sansa is 18, Sandor is 29 I invite you to contact me should you have need of specific warnings before reading kimberlite8.tumblr.com


raise For The first draft of

Running with the Har e and Hunting with the Hound

“Your writing is so powerful. The smut was beautiful and hot, but the emotion in the last chapter broke my heart. I cannot put into words how wonderful and moving this ended up being.” - Cover edinCleganeDNA

“This is not a story one can rip themselves away from! It is just beautifully composed and so thoughtful and in-depth towards the characters.. This really transcends mere smuttiness in my opinion. This was some passionate, profound, cerebral smut.” - Lochka

“Proprietor of intellectually stimulating as well as physically stimulating porn. I especially love this work.” - The_moonmoth

“Truly beautiful smut. The sex is fantastically done. I can't tell you the number of times I've read and re-read the chapters and every time I find something new to delight in. Not only is your prose beautiful and varied, but it has deeper meaning.” - Loquitur

“Your ability to tie in philosophy and myth is astounding and brings you story up to the highest level of fanfiction.” - Voodooqueen126 kimberlite8.livejournal.com


ontr ibutors Kimber lite8 Writer, Art Conceptualization, Book Design, Layout & Typography

R edgoddemandsit Editor

Alicia De Andr es

DuBuGomdor i

Illustrator 18, 38, 72, 80, 114, 116, 132, 136

Illustrator 23, 58, 92, 154, 162, 179

JDarnell

Br eathing2004

Illustrator Cover, 10, 128, 130, 184, 187

Illustrator 12, 109, 188

ShiroNinja

Evelmiina

Illustrator 52

Illustrator 134 kimberlite8.tumblr.com


cknowledgments R edgoddemandsit for generously volunteering her time to beta this fanwork. Your editorial eye and critical reading elevated the writing to the best work I could have produced. Ali for being the first artist to work on this fanwork and for her dedication and friendship from the beginning. Cover edinCleganeDNA whose enthusiasm for the original draft fed my ambitions to improve upon it.

ShiroNinja & Clockwor kLepus for all the reasons. Thanks to the wonderful Sansa and Sandor livejournal communities where my writing was nurtured by a group of thoughtful and friendly fans who live up to Sansa’s personal motto “Courtesy is a lady’s armor.” This is where I first plunged headlong into fandom (and creative writing) and it remains the place where the best people come to play. Come and join us at sansaxsandor.livejournal.com sansa-sandor.livejournal.com

kimberlite8.livejournal.com


able of Contents —Part I—

—Part II—

Chapter 1

Chapter 7

Yellow Eyes Opening … 13

Skinchanger 90 Chapter 8

Chapter 2

Flint And Steel

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106

Chapter 3

Chapter 9

The Wilderness Within

Har e And Hound Games 21

Chapter 4

The Long Game 34

Chapter 5

Dog With Two Tails 50

Chapter 6

Honey-Sweet 63

Maiden, Mother , Crone 119 Chapter 10

First Song 139 Chapter 11

Hour of the Wolf 180

—Author’s Note— 193


art I

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind, child of Zeus, who twists lures, I beg you do not break with hard pains, O lady, my heart but come here if ever before you caught my voice far off and listening left your father’s golden house and came, yoking your car. And fine birds brought you, quick sparrows over the black earth whipping their wings down the sky through midair— Sappho, Fragment 1 (“Hymn to Aphrodite”)


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Chapter 1

ellow Eyes Opening . . .

Evening you gather back all that dazzling dawn has put asunder: you gather a lamb gather a kid gather a child to its mother Sappho, Fragment 104A

A

layne’s eyes lit upon the image reflected in the pool of water. She leaned forward, peering closer, the image so startlingly new she was able to look upon it as she would a stranger. A narrow waist curving upward to ample breasts, auburn hair styled in the Northern fashion, haloing a face as perfect as a porcelain doll’s. She parted a plait of hair between her fingertips. In the dappled sunlight of the forest, the strands seemed to prism, separations of saturated color—copper, garnet, rosewood and vermilion—as glossy as lute string silk. The stranger would have been ornamentally pretty, save for one contradicting feature: her eyes. Set against her doll’s face, those large blue eyes seemed to burn with the intensity of a dying consumptive, giving her visage—whether she deserved it or not— the look of character and depth. 13


She took a deep breath, inhaling the impossible scent of hawthorn and ash and soldier pines. A dream, nothing but a pleasant dream for as long as it lasts. Turning her face up to the sky, she made her appeal to the trees, “I'm the Princess of Winterfell.” As if in answer, summer snow began to earthward drift, crystalline bits of nothing as soft as goose down. Her palms grew warm as her memory rolled over the impression of smooth granite walls, heated by the spring waters that rushed through them as blood rushes through a man’s body. Other memories intruded, sharp, unstoppable: the smell of the peat cooking fires, the taste of honey-sweetened hippocras, the comfort of another body alongside hers under a mountain of down blankets. The other body had only ever been Arya but it was as if her senses possessed the luxury of their own fantasies. They fed her memories of things that had never happened. A man’s body, his thick arms holding her tightly. His raspy laughter pooling into the narrow space between her nape and the collar of her bedgown as he pressed his bulk to hers in secret paths and curves. She kicked up a mound of snow that lay at her feet and began to laugh in a wholehearted way that she had not laughed for years. Her summer wool skirts became a white churn as pretty patched-together fantasies fluttered in the dark recesses of her brain. Let me dream of a gentle, brave champion to come rescue me. He'll slay my enemies and win my love. He'll take me back to Winterfell and we'll be ever so happy for ever and ever … A hulking black shape cast its long shadow across the pool.

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All the blood in her veins lit. Her body stilled, suspended in the posed position of a Lysene dancer, arms raised as if the music had stopped for a count of three. She felt grey eyes on her, feeding off her form, leaching the density from her bones until they felt as light and as airy as a — “Little bird.”

She turned just in time to see the last word cut through the cold air, condensing into a warm puff before his mouth. She was so dumbstruck that she couldn’t seem to even begin to form words—I don’t know what to say—for a few moments. She watched the snowflakes fall, their delicate sixfold symmetry latching onto his heavy brows, giving the black hairs a spiky appearance. Marked how the cold wind was turning his large hooked nose pink. His very breath fascinated her: the movement of his broad chest underneath a soft woolen tunic, the rise, the hitch, the letting-go of air in little clouds from his chapped lips. Oh, that face. The right side gaunt, angular planes as sharp-edged as a longsword. The left side—a maiden's fantasy—she strangled a hysterical laugh, balling a hand into a fist. It trembled with the ghost-sensations of twisted flesh as hard as leather. She batted away the snow that gathered on her eyelashes, feeling like a blinking deer staring into a deep pool of something unknown and unthinkable—herself—the stranger of whom she felt she was just beginning to make acquaintance. “Lady Sansa … look at you. Aren’t you every inch the woman?” 15


He smacked his lips— “Damn. Blood red rose with each petal bent back,”—and he smirked at her. But she had caught the quiet and humble gruffness in his voice when he mouthed the word woman. As if she was the eternal woman—spun sugar femininity—boiled down to every aspect of that word’s ineffable charm. “My lord.” Sansa had meant it to be a greeting though it came out sounding like an interjection: of surprise, of pleasure, of dismay. She had not seen him for two whole years. He had come to her in the darkness, stinking of wine and blood as green fire filled the sky. He took a song and a kiss and left me nothing but a bloody cloak. He had seen more blood since—it dawned on her that his left ear, once a stub, was now completely missing. “I was injured in a dogfight. They’re dead but I’m not as pretty as I used to be…” he muttered, while combing his hair with his fingers over the left side of his head. How baffling it was that she should imagine herself as beautiful as a lady in a song while imagining him an even uglier monstrosity. He stopped his fussing suddenly, his voice taking on a menacing edge as he shifted forward an inch. “Do I still frighten you, girl? That ice-rimmed arse leaking from the sight of my ugly face?” There was a time when his face could make her cry, his words make her feel stupid and baited. There were no tears now. They were all alone in the wilderness of her imagination. Inside her brain, a sleeping wolf sprang awake, its yellow eyes opening in the dark. 16


Chapter 2

he Wilder ness Within

Eros shook my mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees Sappho, Fragment 47

S

andor Clegane barked with laughter as if he could understand her, the passions she suppressed, the drifting half-thoughts of which she was not yet wholly aware. The blood rose in her face. She was too precariously close to him. She took one, two, three premeditated steps back. “Stay,” he ordered. It was in vain—he was her Hound but she was not his lapdog. As quick as a hare, she turned and ran. She moved swiftly but the trees grew thick and tall around her, their branches whipping her skin, the wind hissing through them like a thousand vipers. She glanced back and saw him giving chase, now bewilderingly dressed in full plate. Oh, he was so unbelievably fast! Yet that should have been no surprise to her. She had seen him fight his monstrous brother in the Hand's Tourney and he had been quicker and more agile than any man his size had a right to be. Despite the weight of his armor, he was outpacing her. “Little bird, little bird …” his shouts echoing louder and louder.

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They sounded strangely plaintive to her ears: long and raspy, full of a terrible sweetness, like the growls of her direwolf grown gruff with year ning whenever she had found San sa’s bedchamber door barred. She was becoming winded, her breath hitching painfully in her chest. Gauntlets brushed against her waist … Then the land began to roll. She found herself on horseback. She was riding a white mare, riding harder and with greater skill than she had ever shown in the waking world. Before her, as far as the eye could see in any direction, was yellow grass and the blue of the sky in brilliant contrast. The Dothraki sea, Sansa gasped, while at the same moment the sound of the thunder of hooves came ever closer …

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She glanced again behind her shoulder and saw him in pursuit, mounted on his giant black courser and wearing that fearsome snarling dog's head helm. The helm shielded his eyes but she could feel their predatory gaze.

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It filled her with dangerous excitement, a sexual thrill that she felt but could hardly name. The very wind seemed to bow before her in obeisance, a breeze combing the fields in waves, parting it into deeper shades that caught the sunlight and shone like gold. She rode into it, a daring exhilaration blossoming inside of her. As if from the roof of the sky to the roots of the grass, the black earth was traveling through her, instead than her through it. As if she was not running away from the black rider but rather in pursuit of him. Sansa dug her heels into her mare's sides. “Faster, faster,” she cried but the mare was at her limits. Suddenly, the man and his horse were right beside her. She shrieked like a rabbit caught in a snare as he snatched her from her horse with one mailed hand. A chill shot through her spine even as her blood felt too hot for her veins. “You're mine, girl,” the Hound snarled then burst into laughter, the bark of a pack of wild dogs unleashed upon her. Her body went slack, compliant as a concubine.

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Chapter 3

ar e and Hound Games

up with the roof! Hymenaios— lift it, carpenters! Hymenaios— the bridegroom is coming up equal to Ares, Hymenaios— much bigger than a big man! Hymenaios! Sappho, Fragment 111

S

andor Clegane carried her, slung over his shoulder, into a tent and dumped her onto a featherbed. It was soft and warm and deep, piled high with furs that breathed out puffs of comfort. She resisted the urge to sink down into it, scrambling up, supporting her weight on her elbows. “Lion pelts … you bloodthirsty wolf-bitch,” he rasped, rubbing the fur against her cheek. Fur to skin, the pelts were divine. Sansa ran her tongue against the back of her front teeth as she caressed the fur with her fingers: golden and soft, the thickest, most extravagant material she had ever felt.

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With his free hand, he brushed a strand of hair that had drifted onto her cheek. Her eyes widened while her caresses, so shockingly bold, began to move between the fur and the splayed fingers of the mailed hand that held it to her. He moved to shape the contours of the bones of her face, his palm so large he could touch both corners of her jaw with the tips of his thumb and forefinger. Sansa grew perfectly still, her tummy lifting, her cheeks on fire. He still wore his dog’s head helm but it was if she had the power to pierce steel. She could read the play of emotions on his face. Saw the boy crouching in the shadows, fascinated by the brightness of an intolerably alluring toy yet terrified to touch it indelicately. Her lips parted, forming a little ‘oh’ of anticipation. He lifted his thumb and ran it across her bottom lip, brushing back and forth. Her heart pounded violently against the wall of her chest, mouth dry from merely breathing. Involuntarily, her tongue darted out to lick her chapped lips, coming into contact ever so briefly with his thumb. She tasted the bitter saltiness of the metal and swallowed hard. With the weight of his thumb, he rolled her lip down, exposing the deep pink of the inner lining. She ran her tongue along the edge of his thumb, eyes shutting violently tight. How appalling that he should make her taste it, make it slippery and wet. “Little bird,” he sputtered. “Little bird …” He pushed her back onto the bed. She felt the press of a cold knife against her throat, its bite no sharper than a pinch. 22


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It should have made her panic but instead a languid limpness flowed everywhere, pooling most especially at the base of her tummy. The knife moved downwards into the opening of her gown. He was undressing her, peeling back the remnants of her clothing as if he was skinning a hare. She felt the coolness of the air and made a move to cover her breasts but he swatted her hands aside. Her right palm flew to shield her face instead, the last storehouse of her modesty. His cold mailed hands began to sweep across her upper body, her neck, her collarbone, before resting anxiously against the place where her breasts met her underarms. His hands trembled to cup first one breast, then the other—a gentle fondling as if he was petting a dove. His hands felt … pleasing. Strong, more than strong, more than healthy to be sure. Her nipples contracted under his touch. He grunted, pushing her breasts tightly together, bouncing them as if he was trying to judge their weight. Then his hands smoothed down her sides, one hand going between her legs … “Take these off. Let me look at you.” He pushed the scrap of cotton to the side before she had time to comply. The lacy edge pressed between her slit, half revealing, half concealing her. His forefinger traced along the material, stroking up and down the crevice, the band of fabric narrowing and narrowing as she squirmed. She began to shake her head from side to side, unable to gather up the words to make him stop. But either he didn’t notice or he didn’t care. His fingers hooked into the strings of her smallclothes, untying the knot and pulling them down.

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She pictured that day. The howling mob had hemmed her in and thrown filth at her and tried to pull her off her horse and would have done worse if the Hound had not cut his way to her side. How hard she had clung to his back as they rode her horse into the Red Keep. Her left fist bunched hard in the furs that lined the bed, her nerves on fire at the memory of the scratchy white wool of his Kingsguard cloak, finer than any velvet. I could keep you safe. No one would hurt you again, or I'd kill them. “Oh Gods!” she made a sound like a breathless sob. It was abominable and it was wonderful to be covered by him. She hardly knew what to do … He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her up so that she sat astride him, twisting her right arm until it lay tucked behind her back. Sansa was forced to look, staring directly into his dog’s head helm. The sight made her light-headed. His palms then slid down her back before curling under her buttocks, massaging them for long moments. His closeness was suffocating. Her breathing became audible, hard pants as if she was still winded from the chase. Too fast. Everything is moving too fast, she thought. She made a furtive glance down and watched where the cloth bulged. She hadn’t been bold enough to look before but suspected his erection had been there from their first encounter in the wilderness. Sandor Clegane missed nothing: she had the complete attention of those grey eyes behind the helm. He brusquely shoved his hips towards her with a dirty chuckle.

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“Oh,” she cried out, at a loss for words to describe the commotion inside of her. She squirmed, her body moving in confusion, tottering between invitation and denial. That only seemed to excite him further. He let out a low animal groan, gripping her buttocks fiercely in both his hands, spreading the cheeks wide so that she could feel a pulling tension at the little hole in her bottom. He ground himself against her as low, gravelly grunts escaped from his throat, like the crooning of a bullfrog in heat. She would have giggled had she not understood their source— what a delirious experience, funny and incredible and strange. She wanted to close her legs. She wanted to spread them wide open. A knuckle brushed against the crease of her buttocks before a finger unfurled to move inwards, parting the folds, caressing the slit, entering her in a slow slide— —in a part of her never felt by anyone. Sensation shifted. A frightening breach of privacy. Sansa closed her eyes as the taste of mint overwhelmed her for a moment, huge fears that rolled up out of nowhere. “Easy, easy,” he said as she writhed violently against him, pushing with her hands and knees. He clutched at her arms to control her which made her flail, swing and thrash harder. Panic gnawed her, a prey animal caught in a trap. Her waking hours were spent as a bagged rabbit, scrambling to get free, barely enduring her own hopeless captivity. Oh, if he insisted … she'd chew off her own leg.

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“Sansa, open your eyes, open your eyes.” When she complied, she saw that he had his hands up, palms facing her as if in surrender. “Just a game, girl … hare and hound games of your own devising. My power is just a pretense. Look, look at me.” She looked at him, really looked. He wasn't the bad man with the minty kisses, the mockingbird who cast a giant’s shadow. He was her Hound. What was this between them? Sansa didn't quite understand her tangled feelings for him. Was it love? No. She loved her parents, her brothers, Arya, Lady. She knew what love was. This fancy was closer to love than any infatuation that had formerly possessed her. She had kept his blood-stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest, separating it from her clean summer silks with a sheet of linen spread with strawberry leaves and rose petals. There had been some private emotion between them, a confiding intimacy that was too tender for her to abandon. She had conjured him up because … “You want to be with a man and you're looking at the one you want.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Aren't you the perverse one, little bird? So dark,” he rasped. “Who would have imagined it? Not me. Not in a thousand years.” He then actually laughed, a sudden loud chortle, bahahaha, that the helm turned into a hollow rumble. The laugh was mean, making her feel as if he was pinching her all over her body. She narrowed her eyes at him. This was her dream. He was a butcher but she was nobody’s meat.

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Then she too burst into laughter, gleeful giggles, slightly breathy, entertained by her own bewildering imagination. Her body shivered, a fearsome jolt of excitation just from looking at him. There was some mysterious force of personality inside of him, a hidden key that loosened the locks inside of her. Sansa laid back on the bed and parted her legs slightly. She wanted him to take care of her there, in that way. He stared intently at the place between her legs for a long time. “Just as I imagined: young and delicate, as pink as the inside of a seashell. The last, best piece of cunt in the world. Sopping wet and all for me.” His rasp was barely above a whisper, as if he was speaking to himself rather than to her. He cupped her between her legs, fingers digging into the soft hair, rubbing her with slow, deliberate pressure. A finger reached inside of her then slid out again, in and out, a delicate invasion, the drive and retreat easier each time. She sighed, her will lax, her muscles coiling. He started rubbing some other secret part of her: that startlingly sensitive bundle of nerves that made her arch her body, made the liquid abundant until a tiny drop trickled down into the curve of her buttocks, as ticklish as a tongue along her skin. He did it until feminine, faint grunts that she would have never thought to utter in another’s company tumbled from her throat. “Bloody hell, I’m going to spurt,” he cursed in a shaky voice. He nudged her knees farther apart and fell on top of her. A hard erection covered in worsted wool rubbed against the rise of her pubis and she felt his knuckles brush against her folds as he 28


fumbled with his belt. An image came to her, unbidden, of seeing Hodor emerge naked from the godswood after bathing in one of the hot pools. He had been massive, his manhood swinging long and heavy. Sansa swallowed, blinked, breathed. The Hound was near as tall …

“Oh, you can take it, girl. Your cunt was made to drop squalling brats, it can handle my cock.” She wrinkled her face at him. He could try to be more gallant. What was wrong with him? He was always saying the wrong things. She felt him rub her tummy, a ridiculous gesture—she was a nervous maid, not a child with a bellyache. Yet it calmed her, it was so oddly protective. Then his hand was gone and he was rubbing something else against her: a very naked, warm and hard male erection. He dropped it lower between her folds, rubbing against the slit, up and down, up and down. She felt herself swollen, so slick and wet. Empty. In that place where she certainly never felt empty before.

Yes, no, yes, no. Do I want to? “Just a dream,” the Hound said with a trace of bitterness. “A secret, private game that doesn't count. You'll have your do-over in real life.” He used the vee of his fingers to spread her apart and with a sure movement of his hips, he began to push into her slowly,

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rocking himself back and forth. Her eyes grew large. Oh it was huge! Smoother, rounder than his finger but so long and thick that no part of his body could have matched it. Except for his entire arm, she thought. “Oh Gods … I can't …” Her voice was strained and she felt the emotion of distress but there was only a little pain to accompany it. Just a faint burning and an enormous pressure, a stretching of herself as if she was a too-small glove. Then with one last push, he was inside her to the hilt. He let out a great groaning burst of air as if she had hurt him, rather than the other way around. The Hound sat up, holding her legs against his shoulders, driving into her. The wetness where they were joined became lavish, making slick, messy noises. The faint burn continued, the smarting ache and the wetness telling her that he was sliding in both her blood and her excitement. She watched him possess her, wearing his fearsome snarling dog's head helm, fully clothed except for the flashes of his manhood she could see as it moved in and out of her. He grabbed at one of her breasts, squeezing it as he began to grunt, animal sounds in time to the advance and withdrawal. She pictured it, the thick head of his manhood moving inside of her, impaling her like a lance. Why, she should receive some sort of reward: the crowd's applause and a champion's purse for swallowing it whole. Sansa felt her victory soon enough. He lifted her buttocks, grinding himself in small tight circles before he let out a long, slow, satisfied moan and she felt a warm burst of wetness. He 30


shoved his hips fiercely two or three more times before he slowly withdrew, her swollen tissues releasing him with slippery, wet sounds. He leaned on her, rubbing his seed onto her wincing nerves, his weight like a ton of water, so heavy the nervous movements of her hands and squirming body stilled completely. She laid under him, rattle-brained, her body stiffening with each minute as if trying to find a comfortable position on a bed of nails. All those songs and all those poems about something that had not lasted long. Nor was it particularly sweet. At least not for her. That ill feeling—that she should be exiled from the pleasure in which he seemed to be drowning—grew stronger and stronger until it erupted in a small reprimanding snort.

He withdrew his hand and rolled off her, crouching on the side of the bed. She watched him take off his helm. Sweat beaded his skin, his breath came in sporadic rushes of recalled respiration, as if he had forgotten how to inhale and exhale. Is there any more to the act of sexual love? I thought it would be different … more magical, less messy. Already his seed was leaking out of her, a milk-like flood that made her itchy. She hadn’t known about that, nobody had told her. Sansa touched him lightly on the back of his shoulder. Say something, please. He made no movement to gather her up into his arms and whisper sweet tender words. Instead, with his mailed hand, he brushed at her face as if he was brushing dirt off a child. “Summer’s blood, little bird.” The left side of his mouth twitched. 31


She felt a wet stickiness on her cheek, wiping it away with her thumb. It was a light reddish-colored mixture—her blood, his seed. “You are so bizarre,” she sniffed at him. Yet the self-deception was not invisible to her. She was the strange one, the outlaw. He turned away after she spoke to him. The transitional silence stretched into an ugly little quiet. Sansa rose from the bed and walked towards a side table in the tent where sat an upright mirror, washcloths and a basin filled with flower-scented water. She washed her face and between her legs, all the while staring at the mirror in which she could see his reflection behind her. He still sat, holding his head in his hands as if a melee of thoughts and feelings were raging inside of him. He is ugly, so ugly and hateful and crude. That I should dream of laying with him … what is wrong with me?

Sandor Clegane met her stare in his reflection. There was some inept, unspoken speech brooding behind his eyes. “I've never hunted before,” he said in a low voice. She turned to face him with a confused look. A blush so deep it seemed to have come from her bones rose up. His breeches still hung off his hips. He was increasing. Again. His manhood betraying its pleading need by an imploring kick. “It's not hunting if you pay for it. I haven't ever fucked a woman sober either. Did you like it?” he asked, frowning at her. Sansa blinked, trying to think of a courteous response. “It wasn't that bad. What was it, a minute, sixty seconds? Second for second the closest to the Seven Heavens as I'll ever get.” He laughed—then tried to cover his laugh with a cough when 32


he saw the look on her face—sucking in air at precisely the wrong moment, so that the coughing became real. She returned to his side, patting his back until the fit ended. “Are you alright, girl?” The question made the admission that it had been some kind of ordeal. She nodded, though she did feel unsettled and confused, as if she had survived a disaster. One greater than laying with the Hound. A shipwreck, perhaps, from the look of him. His hair clung in damp wisps to his face. She pulled a piece from his mouth and then cupped his scarred left cheek. He bent his head to the back of her palm and pressed a soft kiss on her skin. “The greatest disaster would be to fuck once and once poorly.” No, she did not fancy Sandor Clegane. Not one bit. Then she heard herself say, “Yes, I liked it. I’ll do it again if it would please you.” His shoulders, face, eyes all rose a fraction together, suggesting surprise. His mouth pulled into a wide smirk, parting to show large slightly yellow teeth, a top one chipped. The smile made him look like a bear, one that would devour her in a single bite and then pick his teeth clean. With a twist, he turned her around so that her back faced him. Deftly, he entwined her hands together, binding them tight with hempen rope. Protests came to her lips but died there. Why ponder and fret? He isn’t real, she thought. These were only hare and hound games: secret, private, with no substance and no consequences. The Hound picked her up, cradling her in his arms as he carried her out of the tent. 33


Chapter 4

he Long Game

as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot— no, not forgot: were unable to reach Sappho, Fragment 105A

T

hey entered the common room of an inn, like any of those that she had stayed in as she traveled south along the Kingsroad with her father. Arched stones, wooden beams, roasting meat on a spit and a smoke from the roaring fire so heavy she knew it would flavor the ale. The blazing red of the hearth vied in intensity with the deep blush that was on her cheeks. For the inn was not empty: it was filled with the voices and laughter of the men drinking there. Sansa recognized them—Ser Waymar Royce and Ser Loras Tyrell and Lord Beric Dondarrion and a dozen others more dimly remembered. They were men or boys that at some point in her life she had fancied and could look back on those fancies without recrimination or rancor. The Hound carried her to the stool where Lord Beric was sitting. “My lady,” he greeted her with gentle reverence as if she was a vision of the Maiden, innocent and chaste.

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The Lord of Blackhaven had come to King's Landing to fight in the Hand's Tourney. He was no great warrior and no great tourney combatant but by chance, her father had appointed him to lead an expedition to put down Gregor Clegane, a giant notorious for his cruelty and battle prowess. No one could withstand The Mountain but Beric Dondarrion had tried, over and over. Seeing him in this smoky rustic inn wearing the golden halo of his heroism near blinded her. All she could do was smile shamefacedly before she quickly turned to hide her countenance in the muscled arms of the man who held her. That same man unceremoniously kicked the stool out from under Lord Beric, the marcher lord falling to the ground with a hard thud. The Hound then picked up the stool and brought it over to one of the inn's pillars. He placed her on the stool and bound her hands to the pillar. Her knees he pushed wide apart, taking each leg and tying it to a stool leg. She squirmed and struggled, a fish caught on a hook, until he took out a wide ribbon. If there was a draft in the inn, she could not feel it, yet the striking anomaly fluttered in the firelight, a red as dark as arterial blood. The Hound covered her eyes with it. “Stay,� he said, while roughly kneading her breasts. He stopped his fondling and she heard him walk away, his mean, mocking laughter trailing him, the sound like the snarling of dogs in a pit. Sansa began to tremble as she tested the snugness of her bonds and found there was no give. She wanted to call for him but was at a loss for the words. She never knew quite how to greet

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him: he had rebuked her for calling him lord and for calling him Ser. Her stoppered throat opened at last with “Sandor?” How easy the name was to say, now that she had actually voiced it at last. Like a song to which everyone knew the words. From the corner of the inn, she heard the run of a woodharp and the night seemed to fall abruptly into a swell of music, the bars of a smallfolk song. At first, it was slightly disturbing before becoming out and out terrible as the music grew louder, a riot of laughter and deep male voices singing in ever deafening heights, building to some unknown climax. Was Butterbumps here too? The horrifying thought gripped her, throwing her into hysteria. She struggled harder, twisting, a wild feminine force possessing her as she strained to close her thighs. But she felt huge male hands holding them apart. A moment later, there was a kiss from a warm mouth against her, a large tongue painting a long broad stroke against her slit before delving inside of her. With a little mew, a kittenish whimper, she began to cry, a sob threatening to break from her chest. Then she felt the nuzzle of a face against her inner thigh. On her right thigh, the skin was like hard leather, like scar tissue. The face then turned and nuzzled her left thigh and she felt the rough scraping of a man's stubble. “My hands are falling asleep,” Sansa whimpered, though it was the least of her objections. “Arch your lower spine, like a bow,” he rasped. “Believe me, you’re in the most comfortable position possible.”

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And how many women have you tied up? She would have said the words if her tongue hadn’t grown fat in her mouth. She wasn't sure if she wanted this and only the knowledge that it was a silly dream kept her governable. She swallowed, took a breath, then another. Breathing seemed to be something she had to will herself to do. He took her silence for encouragement. Behind her blindfold, she pinched her eyes closed, her head dropping to her chin, her muscles coiling around the Hound’s head, her mind shrinking from the exposure of her position even as her body responded. It felt wrong. An ethereal, otherworldly sensation from a foreign place where people made a religion out of sexual pleasure. Myranda Royce had told her of this act—it was a ritual practice between supplicants and the high priestess in the temple of the Lysene goddess of love. Lady Myranda had once shown Alayne a small painting of the goddess, depicted as a beautiful naked young woman with auburn colored hair, rising from the waves on a seashell. The older girl had laughed uproariously at her mortification as the painting, save for the hair color, bore an uncanny resemblance to the shy and prim Alayne. The naked goddess was also stamped on Lysene coins and visitors from beyond the Narrow Sea coming to see Lord Petyr would sometimes raise their eyebrows waggishly upon taking note of his baseborn daughter. It was all very embarrassing. And secretly tantalizing. Sansa did not know if the Hound was aware of the cult of the Lysene goddess but he was certainly an enthusiastic practitioner of its rituals.

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Hands slid beneath her buttocks, pulling her closer, raising her higher as if she were a wineskin that would slake his thirst. He buried his face in her curls, breathing deeply through the dark auburn hair. Then he began to lap at her with his tongue, licking slowly upwards from the mouth of her womb to where the skin was folded. He sucked at that hard little button of flesh, over and over, making Sansa gasp at the sensation. He stimulated her so persistently it was mildly unpleasant, while also being overpoweringly irresistible. She pressed herself harder against his mouth. His tongue stabbed into her, dipping in deep, warm, wet, before he replaced his tongue with his fingers, cool and mailed, first one and then two. He moved them inside of her in a deliberate mockery of the sexual act, while his tongue flicked her in firm quick motions. Her whole body lit up, a prickling heat that had its source between her legs but whose coiled intensity was felt everywhere ‌ from her toes, up her spine, out to the clenching of her bound hands. Even her eyes felt hot. Sansa imagined what this depraved tableau would look like to an observer. She was naked, squatting on a stool, her thighs spread wide open, her buttocks imprisoned within a pair of strong hands. She was a blind captive, her feet and her hands tethered, her auburn hair falling about her, eyes bound with red silk while a hideous hulking man crouched below her, laving at her womanhood. All around them a rowdy crowd of drunken men watched her; watched her moan in paroxysms of longing that sounded pathetically grateful to her own ears as the Hound's devouring mouth supped at her. 39


“Oh, oh—I’m going to pass out.” The feeling of physical strain was enormous, like holding back a heavy wagon on the steep incline of a mountain. “That’s not what it’s called, little bird,” he chuckled. How was he even able to speak as his mouth was doing that? Her skin prickled; she had a baffling sense of nothing being where she had put it. Her confusion was forgotten as the crowd rose to full burst with the raucous singing of the song’s chorus. The maid so fair, but he licked the honey, from her hair! Her hair! Her hair! The song seemed to whip the Hound into a frenzy, his mouth clamping down on her, his lips wrapped around just that vulnerable, vincible button. An orgy of sucking that made her muscles contract and contract, tighter and tighter. She gasped as the good feeling rolled over her, sending quivers of contractions radiated outwards from between her legs. It made her nipples pucker into hard pebbles, her skin break out into gooseprickles. Behind the blindfold, her eyelids fluttered uncontrollably like the wings of a butterfly. The crowd cheered the Hound as loudly as the day he won the Hand's Tourney. And off they went, the bear! The bear! And the maiden fair! The chorus came to rousing conclusion, the noises of the crowd rose and fell, wine jugs smashed together and broken in drunken exultation. She cried out when a stranger touched her, brushing her legs with what felt like a flagon. The Hound grabbed at it as it passed

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her knees and she heard him gulping it down. She could almost picture it. Thickened wine, stored in a dark bottle. Dornish sour. She heard him laugh, a long raspy laugh that echoed through the inn as he smacked his lips with the sound of quenched thirst before he emptied the contents of the flagon below her tummy. He licked her one last time, lapping up the wine, making a playful noise against her mound like a dog with its bone, grrrr. She heard him rise from his crouched position with a grunt of achievement, victorious. She was left sitting on her stool testing her bonds, her face so hot she knew she must be as deeply flushed as if she was heavily intoxicated. It was if the strongwine he had doused her with had somehow worked itself into her bloodstream. Her pelvic muscles continued to quiver and convulse, nerve endings twitching like mad. A warmth suffused her entire body but was most concentrated below her tummy, between her legs, a wonderful liquidy languor that smelled of Dornish sour. As the good feeling dimmed, the noise of the inn became harder for Sansa to ignore. There were broken fragments of conversation that she strained to listen to but could not understand, voices speaking in sounds that mimicked the cadence of the Common Tongue but used no words of which she knew the meaning. Tavern songs like Bessa the Barmaid and The Dornishman's Wife would rise and fall like the ebb and flow of the tide along with peals of boisterous male laughter. A harsh, low

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laugh floated out with these, a laugh she would have known anywhere. Her ears perked up when she caught it, moving her head to decipher the direction from whence it came. It sounded distant but genuine for once, though she definitely did not care for his sense of humor should this be an example of it. Her lower lip trembled. The fear of being abandoned eclipsed even her shame. She could hear the scraping of many pairs of boots on the rushes near her. Dark bodies gathered closely so that their smell encroached, an odor of horses and rawhide and ale. She felt their eyes upon her, their heat finding an answering heat in the blush that covered her body. She knew where they looked the hardest: at the apex of her thighs so obscenely open, the hair covered in droplets of wine, her opening slick from her excitement. The stares, her supreme immodesty, his absence … the apprehension became as palpable as the smoke from the firepit. “Sandor … Sandor?” she cried quietly, then louder and more angrily. “Ser Sandor!” She heard the sound of a stool scraping on the floor, pulling up close to her. Large hands dug into the flesh at the base of her head, massaging with gentle fingertips, arranging then re-arranging her hair until it fell like a curtain in front of her, her nakedness concealed like a bride on her wedding night. The hands moved underneath the curtain of her hair, encircling her neck, feeling the gooseprickles on her upper arms, fondling her breasts.

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“I love your teats. Makes a man wish he had never been weaned.” He started bouncing her breasts as if they were balls he was trying to juggle, up and down, with the smooth worn pads of his fingertips. What a silly boy, she thought. A boy of four and ten. No… she recanted, thinking of the maturity of her brothers Robb and Jon. Those were the boys of four and ten she had known. This one was like a boy of eight, like Sweetrobin. There were yells for meat and drink from across the room, making Sansa realize she was hungry and thirsty too. She blew a tuft of hair from her cheek in exasperation as the hands continued to fondle her breasts, clutching at them greedily before kneading them. “You have no shame, Lady Sansa. Only imagination.”

She felt his thumb move to trace the bottom ridge of her lower lip, rolling it down. He held it still for a moment before releasing it with a wet pop. “I like to play too.” A light male chuckle. “Open your mouth …” Sansa made an odd frown, half of her lips moving up, half moving down. “No dirty tricks,” he chortled, slapping his hands on his knees. She opened her mouth and Arbor Gold, cool and tart, was squirted from a wineskin into it. She drank it down then felt a piece of the roasting meat, a herbed lamb, touch her tongue. One after the other she ate, the pieces of meat always tender and juicy,

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the best of morsels. They continued to eat together in tandem as she heard Sandor chewing and gulping down wine between his feedings of her. It was a bizarre mockery of courtly table manners where the lord would feed his lady from his own plate. Where the lovers would drink from the same cup and kiss between their bites and sips. She heard him bite into a crisp apple before it was pressed against her lips. He gave her the side that he had just bitten into and she took a crunch out of the half-eaten apple, wet from his mouth. A shudder of excitement ran through her. How strange this act seemed to be, so dark and forbidden. It was all too close to her real life where sharing an apple with a man held both erotic allure and the threat of her own downfall.

The feverish, fleeting encounter came fluttering up, like a winged beetle escaping from the closed cage of memory. A hedge knight who had visited the Gates of the Moon, honest and kind-looking with the face of a Northman. Take this and know that I've shared a sweet with a kind and gracious lady, he had said as he brushed the golden smooth skin of an apple against her hot cheeks. She knew his particular variety by taste, by name. White Winter Pearmain; the name spilled out of her at once, the way when upon seeing a childhood friend—unmet for years— one pulls out a name along with a gangling thread of forgotten history. Alayne had helped Maester Colemon torture apple trees to grow, grafting the Southron varieties—the Costard, the

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Nonpareil, the White Joaneting, the Royal Russet—she could recite those names off like heraldry. But the knight’s apple had been different. The taste of windfall from the orchards of Winterfell. Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet only by the virtue of Northern honey bees. Sansa had felt a foolish desire to fold, to tell the knight all and beg for his aid but Lord Petyr had called him away. She looked for him later that evening but the hedge knight was nowhere to be found, another would-be savior disappearing into the mist. Alayne had eaten the apple, alone, in her bedchamber. As if it was a secret and forbidden thing. The girl’s body bending over the apple, savoring the sight, the smell, the taste, all the while exhorting herself to go slowly, to hold on to the moment that once consumed would be gone forever. That girl moved now in a different sort of motion. She straightened, throwing herself at Sandor Clegane. Kissing him. His lips were a little rough, chapped but sticky with flavor. Wholly marvelous. The enchanted taste of White Winter Pearmain, the best wine and memories as sweet and as sad as music. Their teeth bumped gently together, making them both smile. He sucked on her lower lip briefly, wiping with his thumb at the wetness he’d left. His kisses were so light, the kisses of a boy, gentle and sincere. Sansa hadn't expected that—his first kiss,

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that night of the battle, had been angry and brutal. Sometimes, she had lain awake at night indulging in that dirty habit of biting her lips until they bruised, trying to recall the cruel press of his mouth against hers. The left side burned away, the right side plump and sensual as if it were sensitive enough to tell the differences between grains of salt … “Kiss me. Like you did the first time,” she said. How funny was the lilt of her voice, she thought. Coy. Doeish. As if she wanted to invite more roughness, more dominion. Nothing happened for the length of several heartbeats. She could feel the weight of his stare; he could look at her in a way that would make her go suddenly cold. Then she heard him snort, “As you wish, my lady.” One hand slid up to the back of her neck under her hair. He tipped her head. When he kissed her, he held her cheek, stroking it with his thumb even as he planted his tongue deep. They kissed for what seemed like hours, greedy, wallowing kisses, until the noise of the inn died down, leaving them lost in their own world. Sansa squirmed like mad, she couldn't keep still. It was as if he was touching her all over, even though they were just kissing. Her nipples tightened, the sensation challenging her to ask him to lower his mouth, to kiss them with those peculiar lips. Her muscles clenched, swelled, folds growing thickly together, welcoming, wishing that whatever he did to her before, he should please do so again. Images of taking him down on top of her, his massive thick manhood moving inside of her, flickered through

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her brain. She wanted to lay down with him so very badly. Yet how she also wanted the luscious kisses to go on and on, that they would drink from each other trapped in eternal time. What a doomed tragic rivalry. Her mind acknowledging that what she really wanted were more kisses. Sweet kisses from a tender boy because kisses were anchored to her reality, to what she was ready for in the waking world. While her body beguiled her to rush headlong, the heat between her legs hissed, whispered, oh how painfully she yearned for this hulking brute to bring her to her knees. On the ground. In the dirt … “Ah, ah …” she planted little hard pants into his mouth when she felt his calloused fingerpads drift along her knees then up her thighs. He quickly dropped his hands away in response. The retreat made her audibly groan and she pressed her lips against his neck where she felt his pulse, felt it beating fast and hard. “You're shaking,” she said. He seemed to understand the tension inside of her, to feel it in kind. “An excess of enjoyment,” he replied, his voice quiet and rough. “This feels good. Too good.” That he wasn't pressing her for more surprised her. “Do you want to … ?” “The word is come, you're asking me if I want to come. No. Not yet.” He then spoke with a great breath of relief as if he was unburdening thoughts chewed over for hours. “Look, you're

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pretending now that this is real, not a game anymore. You're a girl of four and ten who is titillated by sharing an apple with a man. If it was real, I'd wait … well, I'd try to wait. Until you were ready for it, until you were older.” “Why?” she said, astonishment making her speech blunt. She found it hard to fathom that he had any morals to restrain himself. He had always disabused her of her faith in his goodness, in his honor. Sandor Clegane, in his own opinion, was no true knight. “Because if I took you, fucked you like I want to, you might come to regret it almost immediately, even if your body likes it at first. You'd look at me, despise me as a lowly brute. But if I gave you time to think it over, to come into your desire slowly and on your own, the weight of the blame would rest squarely on your shoulders. Once you bore that weight, you might never want to throw it off. Anything could happen that way. I wouldn't get to fuck you once, I'd get to fuck you for my lifetime. You want to play games, so do I. I want to play the long game with you.” Sansa had to snort, even if it was unladylike. Yet she understood the source of his restraint, a mixture of great want and great terror, combined with the newborn wisdom of an untried seducer. The man had demonstrated a keen understanding of her before: when he had knelt between her and the long plunge, eighty feet to the bailey, that she had wanted to take with Joffrey the day Wormlips had made her look at her father’s tarred head.

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“I'm older here,” Sansa whispered in his good ear. “Older than my years, and you, you're younger than yours. There's no inequality between us in dreams.” He kissed her, feasting dreamily on her mouth, then fed her more Arbor Gold. She wanted it, swallowed the wine eagerly, giggling and stroking his tongue with hers. Alayne never permitted herself to drink with a greater purpose than to quench thirst in real life where the world was eager to teach sharp lessons to girls, especially baseborn girls, who lost control. There was no fear of that here. She did not believe Sandor Clegane would let any harm come to her or make her do anything she would regret—his little speech had assured her of that. “More wine, sweet plumwine,” she murmured. She heard him squirt wine into his mouth and then felt him do the same into hers. They kissed with the very sweet and very strong flavor of plumwine on their lips. She wanted the golden warm, tingly freedom of intoxication, the slackening of her inhibitions. Why, anything could happen that way.

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Chapter 5

og With Two Tails

guard her bridegrooms kings of cities Sappho, Fragment 161

S

ansa arched her back as he moved to her breasts, his mouth wide open on one as he bounced and caressed the other. Oh, the pleasure of it made her hum. Her fingers twitched with the maddening desire to touch his face, to feel the leathery skin of his left cheek sucking in as he drew on her nipple. Behind the pillar, she felt his fingers entwining with hers. Sansa caressed his short fingernails, the wrinkles on his knuckles, the creases in his palms. She felt a sudden giddy thrill when she discovered the exact area on his wrists where the skin was no longer smooth but hairy, the hairs thick and wiry—so very different, so very masculine compared to the faint downy softness that covered her own arms. She concentrated hard, trying to memorize the features of his hands, failing to notice that another pair of hands were cutting the cords of her bonds. There was no time to enjoy her freedom

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as her wrists were quickly ensnared, pulled to her front and once more tied together. “Now,” he said aggressively, his voice urgent and low, as if born from a distance. “My cock’s so fucking hard I could use it as a battering ram.” She heard the sound of a stool being kicked away. She felt Sandor’s arms digging into her sides, pushing her up against the pillar, while other arms, hardly felt at all, gripped her legs, guiding them so that they encircled his waist. A hand reached down between them and worsted wool crumpled, caught only by his spread-legged stance. “You want this,” he rasped in a low, faraway voice. It wasn’t a question, yet it demanded her answer. “You want this?” he asked softly, pressing his lips, plump on one side, burned away on the other, against her throat. That spot where the pulse was beating, beating, skipping: yes, yes, please … “Yes.” And then he was guiding himself inside of her. She sucked in her breath—would she ever grow accustomed to it? He felt as massive as before, her nerves down there spiking at the burning, wincing thrill. He rocked himself in, once, twice and on the third time, it seemed as if her body all but pulled him in, swallowing him up. She let out a startled moan, the back of her head smacking hard against the pillar.

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It hurt: his size, the odd angle, her bruised head but the pinch of pain did nothing to diminish her pleasure. She squeezed him, muscles clenching, holding him inside, tightening around him. They stayed like that, perfectly frozen, for a few moments. Oh it was right, so blessedly right, that he should be where he was. She leaned forward, finding his mouth and kissing him wetly. He ended the kiss with a sharp thrust up into her, pushing her against the pillar, his head falling into the crook of her neck. His fingers drifted low, sliding to the place where they were joined, witnesses to the slick entrance and exit of each stroke as if he needed to be convinced of her acquiescence. Perhaps due to her blindness, it seemed as if all her other senses were heightened. She felt the smooth silk of her blindfold, the tease of his pubic hair, the worn wood of the pillar


behind her. His tongue licked her jawline just as his hips pulled back, then pushed—Oh Gods be good. She ground her hips hard against his to get closer to the sensation. With her legs still about his waist, he carried her away, one hand supporting her hips, one hand cradling her head. They kissed as he continued to thrust, working her back and forth. Sansa heard the brief sound of fabric flapping and then felt herself being laid down on a bed, luxuriantly covered in what could only be lion pelts. He kissed her more deeply and she groaned, kissing him back in response. She pulled him closer with her feet, toes digging into his muscled buttocks, heels and calves sliding against his skin with each thrust. “Move her to the edge. I want to kiss her now.� Sandor pulled out of her suddenly. A whimper of disappointment formed but had no time to escape from her mouth as he lifted her whole body forward, so her head lolled off the edge of the bed. She felt her hair brushing the floor for a moment before her head was cradled by a hand, gauntleted and cool. A mailed thumb landed at the edge of her lip, rolling it down and she felt the press of a mouth against hers in a deep kiss. As if in tandem, she felt another thumb, one of bare skin, touch her between her legs. The press of the two thumbs sent a shocking physical rush of blood to her brain, making her go rigid with fright.


“Calm down,” he said. “The Dothraki Kings share with their Kingsguard, there's no shame in it for the girl. You've already enjoyed servicing us both.” Behind her blindfold, her eyes grew wide with fear. She had heard of this awful practice, that a horselord, a khal, shared even wives with the men sworn to protect him, his bloodriders.

“Who are you sharing me with?” she asked, her brow furrowing deeper into a horrified frown. As far as she knew, there was no man Sandor Clegane would call friend, let alone a bloodrider. She heard him laugh his deep, dirty chuckle, “The Hound.” From the opposite direction, “You're so dirty-minded, Sansa. I like it!” An ocean of relief flooded her veins and she let out a long airy breath. A flurry of conflicting emotions ran across her face before settling on a look of maidenly indignation. “I am not. It's you!” she cried, kicking out at him, trying to put the weight of the blame on him, even though this was her dream. He dodged, then gripped the leg that would have struck him if possible. He was still licking her toes when a sheepish, befuddled smile crept onto her face. The Hound kissed her forehead as Sandor slid his hands beneath her buttocks, rolling his hips and planting himself deep, until his pubic bone thumped against her.

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Sansa felt so warm and knew she must be blushing furiously, the blood of her body throbbing just below the surface of her skin. Her face was red with shame but her heart leapt into a happy rhythm. As happy as a dog with two tails. The Hound kissed her, his tongue moving inside of her mouth in unhurried exploration while his thumb remained on her lower lip. The thumb then journeyed inside of her mouth, so that both his tongue and his thumb were penetrating her. Sandor began to gently rub her and she could feel the tremors running through his body, hear his short deep grunts coming ever faster. A knot built somewhere below her tummy, still faintly painful, yet it made her squirm in pleasure. Her body caught, ice and fire, frozen and burning at the same time. Abruptly, the Hound ended his kisses. Sansa's head hung upside down off the bed for a moment before he again cradled it with one hand, while with the other she could hear the sound of him opening his breeches. “Do you want to taste me, little bird?”

Sansa pictured licking his thumb … and she knew what service he was requiring of her. Lady Myranda had whispered of it, so dark and dirty, during their pillow talks. But the girl shrank back from the duty no gently bred lady would ever be expected to perform. She wet her lips to say no.

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No was the answer but her tongue had grown fat and it wouldn’t move in her mouth. Instead she pressed her lips inward, though she didn’t know if she truly meant to protest. Sandor sniggered, while the Hound gave an indignant grunt. “It is only courteous! After all my services for you. A lady must never forget her courtesies,” he rasped. In that deep grumblygrowly voice, a voice that made her idiotically malleable to anything he wanted. Anything at all. Decisions, decisions, they hung in the air, demanding her attention and before her brain could decide, her mouth was opening. First just a little, then as wide as she could when she felt Sandor's massive member grow even thicker inside of her. “You look like a fledgling ready for supper,” the Hound said, letting out a deep, slow chuckle as he gently tipped her head back. “I won’t keep my little bird waiting.” Sansa tensed, waiting, breathless … And then it hit her … a ball of spit, landing on her tongue before rolling down her throat. She heard them both burst into raucous raspy laughter, deep guffaws from the belly that lasted for far too long. She wanted to slap him but he had her at his mercy, legs held, hands bound, blind and helpless. “Oh, aren't you funny! Just full of japes,” she cried. “I'm awful. Now pull your knees to your chin, girl. He don’t want to feel anything except cunt.”

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Sansa whimpered and groaned and complied. Sandor renewed his thrusting, the bed shaking from both his laughter and his movements. A vein in her neck began to beat. His spit. It had been utterly tasteless, horrible and … a tiny terror blossomed, a dangerous thought was born in her brain, enough to tie her insides in knots:

Men were delicious. Well, at least Sandor Clegane was delicious. It was her last moment of coherence. The knot below her tummy became tight. His spit had doused her, pleasure-soaking her nerves with a substance more intoxicating than plumwine. She gasped. “Oh, oh, ohhh.” For a second, it seemed as if she could fly, the featherbed rising with her, lifting her back until it arched—that good feeling becoming hideously strong. So strong it hurt, so good she broke apart into more little feminine cries of oh, oh, oh that the Hound's mouth, positioned upside down from hers, caught from her lips while his mailed hands held both her cheeks firmly in place. Sandor drove into her once, twice, three times, then bucked violently, filling the air with a succession of stuttering grunts, low and guttural, as if wrenched from his chest. She had no time to struggle with her own feelings before the Hound’s hands hooked into her underarms. “My turn to get my cock wet,” he rasped. Sandor shoved him, hard enough that Sansa could hear the Hound stumbling backward a step. 57


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“Savage cunny … as tight as fists wringing out a sodden rag,” he muttered incoherently. He held her possessively, thrusting into her as long as his erection endured, before releasing her into the waiting arms of the Hound. The Hound lifted her up, twisting her around, as easily as if she was a rag doll. Before she knew it, she was sitting on his lap astride him, her bound hands encircling his neck, his thick member sliding into her. She was so wet that his penetration was a velvet-smooth ripple. “Like a horse, ride him, ride me, like a horse,” Sandor muttered from behind her, grabbing her buttocks and motioning her to move her hips up and down. She set a leisurely slow pace: the good feeling, that perfect satisfaction had peaked inside of her and she wanted to bask in the lingering warmth of its sun. The Hound leaned back and she could hear the creak of the bed as his hand splayed palm down on it. He braced himself so he could lever his hips, touching her innermost spot with the tip. Sansa could feel the strength of the Hound’s eyes upon her, hear his steady breathing—an animal calm. A mailed finger traced her cheekbone. “I’m going to fuck you until you can’t draw breath to beg or squeal,” he said after a long pause. The Hound punctuated this with a change in pace, hard and fast strokes, his hands moving to her waist and back to pin her in place. In and out, in and out, as her breasts bounced in rhythm.

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A pair of hands reached from behind to massage her nipples. Around and around as if he was slowly polishing her. “You have to rub her between the legs while you fuck her. That button is like a little cock. Pay attention to her pleasure, dog. That way she'll keep coming back to you for more.” There was something funny here: it made her giggle to hear Sandor's thoughts spoken aloud to the Hound. Who would imagine such a thing? She stopped laughing when a cold, mailed hand slid between her legs, the thumb suddenly cocked to press against that hard bundle of flesh every time she slid down. From behind her, the upper curve of her spine was grazed with a very warm and very hard, perfectly beautiful—cock—whispered her deranged brain. “Sandor,” she breathed shakily. “Come on, come on, come on,” the Hound muttered rapidly like a madman. “Sing for me, little bird.” Confusion swirled inside of her. It was a very distracting request, her thoughts so muddled, a woman possessed in every sense. She was out of her mind; why, she could barely remember her own name. “Lady Sansa,” the Hound’s laugh was like a loud, irritating bark. She felt his fingers slipping and sliding against her as she tried gracelessly to keep up with the pace he liked. “Feels good, huh, girl?” Sansa couldn’t see yet she felt the Hound’s stupid grin. She didn’t bother to say anything. It was good and she felt herself grinning back at him, itchy with mindless excitement. She

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had the absurd desire to shout out his name—Sandor! Oh Sandor! —the inelegance of lovers’ talk at last making sense to her. She was surprised by the responsiveness of her own body. A touch of his mailed hand, a hot caress against her back, was sending her off, lighting her up as if she was a dim room he had barged into to set all the candles aflame. Sandor took the palm that was curved on her ribcage and held it in front of her lips. “Spit,” he said. She did as he demanded, both aroused and repelled at the thought of his hands upon himself, slick with the wetness from her mouth. He knelt beside her, his teeth scoring her shoulder, while the Hound continued to thrust his hips against hers with rough, frantic motions. She was surrounded, a man in front, a man behind, strong arms holding her tightly as two mouths left wet marks on her skin. The good feeling had peaked but now it was mounting again. Oh, she couldn't stand it, her head tossing as her body began to quiver. There was such a surge inside of her, an old, animal memory racing in her blood … In Winterfell, she had owned a mare, a gentle bay. Sansa had taken the mare hawking one day and while following her hawk, they had come across a ravine not seen until it was too late. The mare was a good jumper, leaping over the ditch instinctively. The thrill of that unexpected leap—for one weightless, precarious moment—then the dark and dizzying collapse as hooves thudded against the hard-packed earth. It made her gasp, a breathless shock of pleasure, a sudden hard twist of her hips. She was no

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longer riding her bay mare but a giant black courser. At the nudge of her heels, the stallion broke into a full gallop across a vast landscape of plains and steppes as a sea of grass blurred against the shifting clouds of the bright blue sky. She rode him hard now, thrilled at the feel of his muscles rippling underneath her, all around her, only her power holding him in rein. The sinews along his great bull neck trembled. She moaned as she traced them with her tongue, the veins there as thick as on a swollen horse’s c— “Fuck! Fuck!”—she had clamped down so tightly on him that he seized in a stunned but instant halt. She could feel Sandor’s seed, ropes of warm liquid, trickle down her spine. The Hound’s hips arching up and up. An agonized rasp ruptured from out his chest—between her legs, the delicate, fibrillating pulse of his manhood. “Bloody hell, just one more minute,” the Hound cursed—for the beginning of the end of what he wanted to last for another minute or for another Age. She sucked hard on the skin of his neck. Even his sweat tastes sweet, Sansa thought as the good feeling came again. Not as strong as the first time but still delicious, tightening, loosening, sending fluttery kisses that made him clutch onto her like a dying man; his grunts smothered in her hair. Her spasms repeated. Sustained. Then it was only an echo in their throbs.

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Chapter 6

oney-Sweet

what country girl seduces your wits wearing a country dress not knowing how to pull the cloth to her ankles Sappho, Fragment 57

hen Sansa came back into being, she found herself immersed in a tub. Water strewn with petals lapped against her breasts, dampness pulling down her hair, heat making her cheeks warm. And the glow of the light, a gentle amber, telling her that there must be a countless number of candles all around her. She was still blindfolded, her hands bound.

W

It was a relief. She needed the dash of pretense. To make believe that she was virtue compromised when in truth, she was a bizarre girl who had taken normal desires and twisted them in disgusting ways. A girl who liked perversities in the breathless dark with him. “Sandor,� the girl giggled. She shook her hair back from her shoulders so he could look at her, see the loveliness of her naked candlelit beauty. No one answered and the only sound she heard was the shuh, shuh, shuh of the water as she moved about in the immense tub. She stretched out, floating in the dim warmth, her disappointment sharp. 63


The thick fragrant vapors rose until they filled her nostrils and without seeing the petals, Sansa knew their color. Their crimson residue swirled sweetly in the air, making her think of the very first rose a man had bestowed upon her. A red rose, while all the other ladies had been handed a white one. She had been so certain then that the color of the rose had meant something, that it had meant everything to the pure, beautiful, gallant Ser Loras. In her fantasies, he would give her a red rose as he crowned her Queen of Love and Beauty, saying over and over … “Sweet lady, no victory is half so beautiful as you.” Her head swung towards the voice and she heard the fuss of clothing being kicked violently aside. Splosh, the reverberations of water being displaced as he waded in, one foot at a time. Splosh, splosh, splosh. A man scooped her up, resting her buttocks on top of his firm thighs. He wrapped his arms around her, digging the fingers of his left hand into her waist. She heard the fingers of his right hand run through the water. “Red roses … are those your favorite flowers?” he said after a long pause. Sansa nodded, Ser Loras’ red rose splendidly colorful in her mind. “Common as dirt. You and every witless peasant girl,” the Hound snorted as he rubbed a petal against her cheekbone, hard enough that the scent insinuated itself into the beads of moisture on her skin. The comment rankled her. They were common. Commonplace flowers meant to express commonplace emotions: beauty, desire, courtship, love. 64


“If you could but see that boy now. Loras Tyrell would make you soak your smallclothes”—the Hound’s left arm dived between her legs, molding and cupping her— “with piss.” He cackled at his own feeble wit. She wrinkled her face at him. “He’s even uglier than I am. Boiled in oil at the siege of Dragonstone.” His thumb slipped inside of her, pressing against the tail end of her spine. “Fed the goat while thinking of that bugger, did you?” the Hound whispered in the crook of her neck. His touch smarted; it did not seem to be meant to excite her, rather to affirm that he had been there. She had never imagined anything as grown-up as laying with Ser Loras. The satisfaction of her physical desires were no more than her fingers should have the good fortune and sweet fate to caress the warm skin of his smooth chest underneath his tunic as she stood on her toes to kiss his smiling lips. She would drift into a reverie in her bed at night thinking about the Knight of Flowers, her brain feeding her memories piece by piece: the sweetness of his laugh, the dimples at the corner of his mouth, his wonderful eyes—golden, warm, so luminous in her mind that she could seemingly read just by their light. In a way, those feelings, the little girl’s castles-in-the-air, were as vivid and as intense as that other thing. “You are too”—she hesitated—“advanced in age to understand.” The Hound must be twenty-nine, she thought, counting back from the year of Robert’s Rebellion.

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“Oh, that’s bloody sweet. She thinks you’re some balding, toothless mongrel, pitiable yet still formidable enough to be feared,” the Hound growled. “Stop your whining, dog. She let you fuck her. You win.” “Sandor!” She squirmed away from the Hound’s vulgar invasion and collided with the man.

Sandor took her face in his hands. “Little bird, your skin is so charming in this heat. Wholesome and pretty and bright on the eyes.” “Peaches-and-cream begging to be drowned in my seed,” the Hound laughed. He continued to chatter but Sansa’s smile did not fade; she hardly heard him anymore, his coarse words given half an ear’s attention. “Complexion of a babe …” Sandor’s voice was low, luxuriously deep. He licked her, following the same path along her cheekbones the Hound had drawn with the petal. Her smile broadened, became uninhibited, sweetly thrilled. She liked being looked at, admired, flattered, especially by this man. I wonder if I shall ever understand this about myself, she thought. I am so needy, like a bastard beggar-girl on the street, willing to be thrown anything. “A Rose ugly enough to scare the shit out of a privy. The Tyrells are just Lannisters with flowers …” the Hound’s rasp intruded. “I know.” Her expression went blank completely. Alayne still had the hair net with all its murderous black amethysts in place, save the one that Lady Olenna had plucked. The girl had it hidden 66


away underneath the same chest where she kept her books of chivalry. Alayne’s father had never inquired about its whereabouts. Perhaps he didn’t think there was a need. “Complexion of a babe … and a babe’s longing to trust,” Sandor said gruffly. A stillness descended upon them and there was a hushed, tingly feeling in the air; even the undulating water made no sound as if the entire world was holding its breath. Sansa kissed Sandor’s eyelids closed and thought of the first faces, the familiar faces she had seen since infancy: her parents, her brothers, Arya. Then she thought of the first loves, those foreign enchantments, invading her inner life until they gave full form to it. Ser Waymar and Ser Loras and … and the monstrous golden Joffrey. The girl had fashioned herself by choosing them.

Her lips moved to the heavy brow, the gaunt cheek of the right side. “The pain must have been terrible. If I burn my finger, I weep like a child.” She wanted to throw her arms around his boyhood self and hug him to her breast and blow cool air on his wounds. “Does it still hurt here?” She kissed the craters and fissures of the left jawbone. “I can’t feel a thing,” Sandor said flatly. “I feel it. Bloody hell. I feel it,” the Hound. Sansa leaned over, circling her tongue at that very spot, wet under the dripping fall of his hair. Her face reddened as she felt the Hound grow thick and rigid against the inside of her thigh. She rubbed herself gently against his shaft before angling her buttocks, bending forward over her knees so that he could enter 67


her if he pleased. But they pulled her to her feet instead, the motion so quick that it made her graceless, her feet slipping along the bottom of the tub. Sandor gripped her legs to support her, then buried his head against her tummy, appealingly shy all of a sudden. “You’re … you’re very skilled at kissing,” she giggled. She could feel the heat of Sandor’s mouth moving low on her tummy. He was skilled. Too skilled. She pictured a multitude of girls, all resembling her: their tousled auburn hair, their dissolute blue eyes, their fleshy mouths with full, wide, open, crimson lips. The thought of them made her a little despondent. “I’ve never kissed anyone,” Sandor grumbled. “I wouldn’t want to anyway! Why would I?” the Hound rasped. She could hear the anger in the tightness of his voice. “Some slut in whose mouth and cunt a hundred other men have spent themselves? Piss on that.” Sansa was quiet, not quite sure what to say to gentle the fury he was devoted to sustaining. A deep chortle burst from Sandor’s lips, as sudden as quail flushed from the undergrowth. The Hound bent her spine forward ever so slightly. Her buttocks were spread open and a kiss was laid there, in that place. “Don't … I don't like it, I'm dirty.” She tried to lunge away but thick arms held her. “You're not dirty. Where do you think we are? We’re in a bath, girl.” The mouth continued to lick her. “What does her arsehole taste like, dog?” 68


“Clean skin,” the Hound said, his mouth smirking against her buttocks. He sniffed at her, like an animal. “I've never been with a girl so clean. I want to kiss you all over. Tear you apart, lick your liver, lick your lungs. Knead your entrails.” He grabbed her buttocks suddenly with his big hands and she felt him make the symbol of a heart. “Fuck, I'm in love! This arse is so pretty, hard to believe it shits.” He smacked her bottom playfully. “Open your legs wider, girl.” “You musn’t do this,” she said, even as she widened her stance. His kisses were tingly but strangely relaxing. “I'm your dog. I'm Sansa's dog,” the Hound crooned between his licks. “I didn't think girls like you existed. You're from another world. A better place than this one … you're from the Moonmaid,” said Sandor. Maester Luwin had taught her the stars as a girl in Winterfell. She could find all the seven wanderers sacred to the Faith. On the twilight of Alayne’s nameday, she and Lady Myranda had climbed to the highest parapet of the Gates of the Moon. The stars she had seen as a child she still saw, only fewer, dimmer. She pointed out the Ice Dragon, the Shadowcat, the King's Crown and the shy Moonmaid, only visible during the western twilight or the eastern pre-dawn. The Faith said the Moonmaid was sacred to the Maiden, the aspect of the SevenFaced God representing chastity and innocence. But Myranda Royce said the same wanderer was sacred to the Lysene goddess.

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A goddess of love but not of marriage, the older girl had laughed, those brown eyes sparkling like a malevolent child’s, up to pure mischief. Do you feel it, innocent one? The bright queen of the sky is strong tonight. Myranda voice lowered to a hush, as ardent in her devotion as a young septa in the first hour of her calling. My Lady wears a single white garment like the nameless poor, she recited, her moist palm reaching out and taking hold of Alayne’s hand. The pearls of a prostitute are placed around Her neck. She prowls the streets, snatching men from taverns for sexual adventure. She can interchange the beast with the man. The brutal and the strong are transformed into the gentle and the tame. Alayne had fingered Randa’s nameday gift of dangling pearls, her eyes fixed on the Moonmaid. She was hiding low in the western sky behind scudding, wispy clouds. Yet the wanderer had exerted a strange brutal pull that walked the hair on the girl’s arms. Each of the two feminine deities, so far apart in their aspects, claimed the same wanderer. What were the girls there like, what were their true natures? Alayne was unable to decide whether they should be good or should be bad or should be either … “Yes, the little bird is from the Moonmaid. Where all the girls are pretty and kind. So sweet, even their arseholes taste like honey.” Sansa laughed a little nervously. She felt giddy, like someone turned upside down. His bizarre gallantries charmed her thoroughly. To think she had once thought he was incapable of them. Men had praised her hair, her eyes, her face but who but him would praise that place?

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“Kiss me,” she said, blushing furiously. Her legs were unsteady in the water. She wanted to run away, aghast that she even dared to ask for such a thing “Lady Sansa’s embarrassed herself,” the Hound laughed. Sandor teased her with distracting kisses around her mound and pelvic bone, while he held her thighs in place. She smiled sheepishly, like a naughty child, then grunted softly when his tongue finally lavished her with what she wanted to cry out for. It was so very nice. A nice sensation. Kisses there and there. He was her dog and performing a dog's service. “Ah—ah—ah—” her throat releasing its soft vocal breaths, the sound rising in intensity as their tongues serviced her. “Slower,” she breathed, struck by a flash of insight. “Lick me slowly.” Make me come hard, dog. She laughed again and the laugh actually brought the good feeling, her voice straining to a crescendo of “Sandor—Sandor. O-o-o-o-ooooh.” How joyful she felt, melting into a puddle of bliss, muscled arms carrying her giggling, jelly-legged body back into the water’s embrace. She leaned back and felt the hairy wall of the Hound’s chest. Sandor’s face was alongside hers and she could hear his intake of breath. He dragged his nose against the softness of her cheek. What strange sensations, what puzzling duality. A gryphon, with his muscled chest as furred as any beast of the forest behind her. A dragon with his black, leathery skin to her front.

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She was wooing bygone creatures from the songs, when heroes walked the earth and magic was strong in the world. Sansa held out her hands, wrists up. Had they always been free? A blur of pleasure spread, the room melting into soft golden focus. “Your slave, my lord,” she said gravely.

Sandor suddenly flipped her over until she was on her back. Her legs swiftly entwined around the Hound’s waist as he lifted her buttocks in the palms of his hands, keeping her afloat. She floated in silence, wisps of her hair drifting over her face and body like the slow motion undulations of seaweed. She was enervated to the point where she could not move, her spirit sinking into the warmth of the water— a hare who had found a cozy nook in the earth, safe and at rest after a long chase. I love you, the binding enchantment on the very tip of her tongue. She wanted to say it. Just to hear how it would sound.

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She mouthed the I but the golden luminosity penetrated through her blindfold until it was behind her eyelids, filling her head, revealing its bright, angry, sun-god self.

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Sansa awakened with a cry, gulping air like a fish trying to break the surface of water. Her body was damp, covered in a fine sweat. Voices broke in, full of nervous worry, their murky dour faces floating above her. The cold metal links of a chain brushed against her collarbone. The words sopping wet, drenched, fluid entered her conscious mind. “Little bird …” Sandor said fiercely. He held her pinned, with arms thick across her breasts as if she might leave the moment he let go. “Stay,” the Hound rasped. “Oh!” she gave a loud gasp as a sudden rush of warm water was poured on her head. Fingers began to work her wet, stringy hair. They’re bathing me, as if they were my maids. All this endless bathing, I must be very dirty, she thought, then giggled at her unintended jest. She could hear the low pitch of Sandor and the Hound, muttering words she couldn’t understand: secretive plots, quiet chuckling, the dirty edge barely holding on. Other times, there was a hostility so subtle that she wondered if she was merely imagining it. Voices as dry as husks joined in song, rasping out loud lyrics. They soothed her, allowing her to catch her breath, the thumping of her heartbeat slowing to a warm thud of blood as her brain found a firm footing in consciousness. One song ended and another one began. She sat curled on Sandor’s lap, both arms tight around his neck. He kissed his way up her throat while the Hound croaked, 74


My featherbed is deep and soft, and there I’ll lay you down, I’ll dress you all in yellow silk, and on your head a crown. For you shall be my lady love, and I shall be your lord. I’ll always keep you warm and safe, and guard you with my sword. His singing was terrible, like the bawling of dogs, a rough quavering of notes that could curdle milk. Shamelessly, he was lala-la-ing the rest of the song. A sudden compulsion took hold of her. Sansa began to sing along. The Hound’s voice grew quieter, less imposing: he followed her words, picking up her key until they sang in perfect unison, an octave apart. When the song was done, she laughed in pleasure. Sandor covered her mouth with his hand—perhaps he did not know her so well that he would think she was mocking him. “That’s quite a trick you have,” the Hound said. She bit Sandor’s hand. “What trick?” she said in breathy giggles. “Dredging up joy. I wonder how you do it. Even from the Red Keep. From the bottommost shithole in the Seven Kingdoms. Here,”—the Hound’s finger jabbed her in the chest— “a hidden spring of happiness. Is the supply unending? I hope so, I had dreamt of bathing in it until I drowned.”

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“It’s been a bloody long time since a naked girl sang with me,” Sandor said. “In truth, never,” the Hound snorted. “Never is indeed a very long time,” Sansa agreed, nodding solemnly. She began another song to lure him back to good cheer: Milady's Supper. The Hound knew this song too but the tune was slightly different, down a fifth from the note, where hers was singing up a third. Their two songs harmonized and how it felt like magic. Only now the words became dissonant—his song detailing a supper her lady mother would have never approved of—dirty, so dirty, the thought intruded; the song’s words spiking something inside of her. By the end of it, she was rubescent, embarrassing herself by the possibilities to which her mind ran. She knelt in the darkness, reaching out to find one of them, to kiss him in the manner he craved. But she was clumsy and his erection ended up poking her in the eye, instead of sliding down her throat. They all burst into laughter after that, the water shaking with their fits. She tried to make up for it a few more times but they eluded her— not a difficult task as she was blindfolded and bound, with sound her only guide. They sang Sansa Was a Merry Maid, a Merry Maid Was She, as she tottered in the tub chasing after them. Their laughter became bubbly, needing no starter, feeding on itself. It was against the logic of nature, yet here they were. Silly children enjoying themselves when they shouldn't as they were such opposites. 76


Suddenly, she was caught from behind, her upper arms held in a powerful grip by two huge hands, directing her into place. “A prize is always sweeter for having to work for it, Lady Sansa,” the Hound said. His fingernail tapped against her teeth, telling her to open them. He slipped his finger between her parted lips. She sucked at it with dirty welcome. “Just like that, no teeth, up and down with a little more at the tip. Like you're sucking on an icicle. You Northern girls have plenty of those, don't you?” That very morning she had been possessed by a dangerous tormenting spirit, some creature stirring awake inside of her, demanding her duty. But Alayne was at a loss on how to satisfy the creature's appetites. She had a heard a story about Sansa Stark: the singers said that Winterfell's daughter was a witch, that she had used magic to murder King Joffrey and then transformed herself into a wolf with great big bat wings to fly out of her tower in the Red Keep. Oh, how she wished that was true, that Sansa had magic. But it was no good and the Gods—both Old and New—hadn't seen fit to give her any advantages, despite her fervent prayers. She had no wolf to protect her, no experience of battles, no talent for arms, no allies she could trust. The creature would not leave her in peace—it tore at her guts, drove her outdoors to wander the wintry gardens in an intolerable state between anger and terror. On a mad impulse, she had broken off an icicle and sucked on it. She imagined the icicle was the greatsword Ice, sucking at it greedily until it melted into nothing. All day she had felt the

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coldness of it in her tummy, as if the icicle was lodged there, as if Ice was lodged inside of her. How she wished that she could undergo an alchemy, no longer soft copper but Valyrian steel. Alayne had retired early. She brushed that brown hair without the need for candle light, her face reflected in the mirror as pale as if she was freshly powdered with twice-boulted flour. Color flashed only when she blinked and there was a giant, a fear, lurking behind the window of her eyes. Instructing her on what to say to the Vale lords about her aunt’s death, how frequently she should lace Sweetrobin’s milk with sweetsleep. The girl had tried banish the fear with a little bow of a smile and what should have appeared sweet and vulnerable instead made her skin prickle. The smile that emerged was hardedged, full of elemental duplicity, the way the street children she had seen in King’s Landing appeared canny. Rather than climbing into her bed, the girl laid down on the floor, the cold stones cooling her hot cheeks. She imagined prostrating herself, grinding dirt into her hair, beseeching the Gods with shrieks and great weepings, becoming one of those mad sparrows that wandered the Kingsroad bawling out the wickedness of the world. Instead the girl cried without a sound, her vacant eyes flooding with tears as if she grieved for something far off, far removed from herself and her present situation. Tears for a lady in a song. Alayne cried until there was nothing left in her, until her body was as hollow as a beetle shell, empty of anything but the desire for the exhausted, black sleep of night. 78


The flopping plait of Sansa’s hair slapped against Sandor’s thigh. He brushed it aside then put his hand on her head, stroking her either from affection or to keep her from running away. She turned her face up and smiled at him shyly, slyly, blushing and brazen at the same time. “Put my cock in your mouth,” the Hound rasped.

She kissed Sandor’s thigh, nuzzling the hair. It was softer on the inside than the rest. She laid a kiss at the weight of his testicles, her tongue discovering that curious little seam that ran in the middle. Men were delicious, the thought came to her again. Sandor Clegane was delicious. A faint smile crept into her lips as her tongue ascended until she was sucking delicately on the dome of the head. She was performing a whore's service but he made her like it, thrilling in its own right. He was a strong man but he was relinquishing his strength to her. If she could be a man, she would be him, so brave and ferocious, one of the best fighters in the Seven Kingdoms. “Pretty. You are so pretty.” Sandor lowered his gravelly voice into something near a whisper, hardly more than a rasp underneath his breath: “My lady love.” The gentleness in his voice acknowledged how delicately and substantially their bodies were connected. Even as she could hear the rough excitement in the Hound’s scraggy breathing.

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He likes this—she thought, as she licked that groove on the underside of the crown— the obeisance of a woman at his feet. Sansa licked it over and over, until the tip exuded a salty drop. “Take it. Take it, little bird,” the Hound growled, his hands around her throat. If only she could take it, take a portion of his ferocity, of his strength, to possess his courage through their communion. With the salty, slippery taste of his seed on her tongue, she slipped her lips around the head and descended inch by inch. Very slowly, the massive column slid down her throat and she paused when she could go no further.

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The warm release of each exhalation from her nostrils stirred the thicket of hair at his base. She sniffed deeply, like an animal—between her legs, the inescapable spasm. The Hound cupped her, the heel of his hand pressing against that button but she wriggled away from his touch, not wanting to be distracted: Sandor’s grunts were the reward. She drew out again to the edge of the throbbing crown, pausing there to offer a more sucking kiss then back down, concentrating on every ridge and vein along his length. The rhythmical plunge, steady and slow. “Clever girl,” Sandor said hoarsely. “Go on! Go on!” the Hound breathed. Sandor began to push his hips forward, making short thrusts inside her mouth. She opened her mouth wider and stayed perfectly still. He took away the responsibility and she shivered with delicious, shameful joy. “That’s marvelous, little bird,” the Hound rasped, pinching her nipple between his thumb and forefinger as he would a child’s cheek. The thrusts went deeper, Sandor’s breathing coming fast, the trembling muscles of his thighs stirring the water. She heard his deep low moan: “Mercy.” The Hound tugged at her throat but she waited, her nose laying in the ditch of Sandor’s groin, inhaling his sweat.

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He grew huge as his pleasure mounted along his cock until he was filling her mouth with his seed. She didn’t know what was the proper thing to do so she swallowed it quickly—it was saltybitter and metallic. She waited a few more moments until his spasms subsided and then pulled away from him, her last gentle sucking kiss making him flinch. Sansa sank back into the Hound's embrace. He wiped at her lips with his thumb then thrust his tongue inside her mouth. When he finally broke away, she smiled shyly at him. It wasn’t so dirty, she thought. Not dirty, so much as messy, earthy, unconcerned about neatness and fuss. She heard Sandor sit down beside her. She leaned to her side so that her head would rest on his shoulder. “Did you like it?” she asked, afraid that he found her lacking both in skill and enthusiasm. She had a premonition that this service was one he received frequently. It was easy and convenient for the girl, avoiding his ugliest feature: his drunk and sullen eyes. “First, you slobbered all over him like a puppy,” the Hound laughed. “Then … well, he’s bloody chafed enough to fall asleep with his legs apart.” Sansa looked downwards, feeling like a frisky dog who had just had received a rap on the nose. “That’s unkind,” she sniffled, then wiped her nose with the back of her hand as if she was some country girl who didn’t know better. You look almost a woman … face, teats and you're taller too, almost … She suspected that she had been the focus of his lewd 82


thoughts for a long time. She remembered how he held his head in his hands in the tent and pictured him in that same position as the years rolled by. The unexploded weight of his fantasies suffocating his brain, if not other parts. He had built her up into someone she wasn't, as seductive as the Black Pearl of Braavos, when in truth she was shy and inexpert and life had taught her to be afraid of men. Men who wanted to do more than admire her beauty, who wanted to feed off it to satiate their own hungers. “Bugger you, dog. You should be muzzled,” Sandor threw back. He turned her face towards him and kissed her. “Don't think I would ever take any of it for granted. I'm inexpert too.” “Inexpert,” the Hound snorted. “No truer word. Ser ThreePump-Lump.” The Hound drew her to him, trying for a kiss. “They weren’t all lewd, girl. Some … some were too sharp for the body to contain.” She felt the press of his lips on her forehead, the burnt side twitching. “Never had a woman who wasn’t crying or demanding gold up front.” He hesitantly laid his hand on her bare belly and held it there before his fingers dipped to gently probe her still wet folds. “There’s been none better than you. Believe that,” the Hound said, his voice gruffer than usual. “Have you been with a lot of women?” she asked, part maddening curiosity, part pinching anxiety, horrible and rising. She thought of King Robert, bored unless he was fighting or drinking or whoring. It was baffling that her father would be so loyal to such a deeply flawed man. Love could be so inexplicable; sometimes it demanded more than simple commitment.

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“Too many,” said Sandor. “Not nearly enough,” answered the Hound. The response was contradictory yet made complete sense to her. He was a contradiction, the tension between his words, his bearing, his actions bewildering her. “I was twelve. The day after I killed my first man. I thought it would prime me. Pup to Hound. But that first passage… an old man with shit-stained breeches. He cursed me as he bled to death. Said I would be consumed by demons. What a fucking jape, I was already a demon. Gregor made me into one when I was seven in a fucking baptism of fire. It’s Sandor who's consuming me. I built him a coffin in my brain, brick by brick but he’s still there, always breathing in my soul. The second passage, she was—” “Shut. Your. Fucking mouth. Dog,” Sandor snarled. He turned to her and huffed, “Sack of King’s Landing. Bloody Hell.” There was something more in his voice, an emotion Sansa couldn't identify, harshly restrained. Her wits deserted her, she hardly knew what to do, what to say. “Bloody hell… what a year that was. I grew up unbelievably fast. Gregor was knighted that year. The taste of my first battle—I wanted to be attacked so I could fight, so I could kill. And my cock, once it was a water spout then it became a pillar of fire …” The Hound spat, “Cock and cunt, what the fuck is it anyway? Another cork in a bottle. The winesinks were faster in curing my ailments.” “And far cheaper,” Sandor snorted. 84


“There was this girl. I saw her in the window of a brothel behind Rhaenys's Hill. She was born in King’s Landing but the blood of summer was in her skin. I tell you, she had your eyes. Not the color. The look. So sweet and so grave. Boiled sugar innocence, no spoil or taint. I saw you when I saw her. Saw you lolling about in bed like a bride, those lovely eyes widening when I entered you. Your lashes fluttering as I fucked you, thick as the wings of a bird from the Summer Isles.” “Stupid slut. She tried to charge me double. Sang the same bloody song I heard in every whorehouse from Lannisport to King’s Landing. All my pretty poetry to no avail. I would have been gentle.” The rising timbre of the Hound’s voice frightened her as if he was fighting the infantile urge to cry, coupled with the monstrous urge to murder. “Don’t you want to say something?” he barked. Her agitation was spinning on itself. Being with him was like walking the parapets, perpetually eighty feet off the ground while looking down endlessly, fretting over the loss of purchase. She tried to focus on what to say to calm him but was at the mercy of the most dithery, birdbrained aspects of her nature.

“You compose poems?” The second she said it, she knew that his words would be of the kind no woman wanted to hear. “Yes,” he laughed, slapping his forehead. “Though those buggering singers lie when they claim poetry makes the girls wet for you. Here's one I wrote for my little bird: roses are red, violets are blue. We're going to fuck because I'm stronger than you.”

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Sansa laughed, though it took a moment to realize this was what she was doing. It was a fitting poem to describe his behavior towards her. Cruelty and chivalry, all jumbled up together. Her brain leapt to a single moment: that odd, terrifying threat he made to the simple naïve mind of the young girl he had caught alone on the serpentine steps. One day I’ll have a song from you, whether you will it or no. The night of the battle, his offer of protection, his hard kiss… and then the press of the dagger against her throat. What would have happened if she hadn't appealed to his drunken sentimentality? “Would you have raped me?” she asked shakily. “I wanted to, I wanted to … I was hard,” the Hound said intensely.

“Never. Never. I don't want to hurt you. Why the fuck are you asking me this?” Sandor said explosively. He gripped her forearms. His clamp was full of strength and as cold as ice. The agitation in his voice mounted, “How could you even think that? I want only to protect her.” “Don’t lie. I hate liars. Go bugger yourself. Gutless fraud. You didn't protect her. There she was, living like that, hurting so bad and you did shit.” He was no longer talking to her at all but to himself. “You didn't help. You stood there in your white cloak and let them beat her. Bloody buggering coward. Men call you the Hound, but you're the King of Hares. I don't see why you should be allowed

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to live after that. Go on, cry, cry, rabbit. I'd like to skin you alive and watch you cry into the next century.” Sansa shivered in the warm water, struggling to make sense of it all. She felt Sandor’s fingertips follow the edge of her blindfold and then he was lifting it up. She tried to discern his expression but couldn’t see beyond the blur of hateful potential tears. “Leave me alone,” she growled. With the knuckle of his forefinger, he wiped her eyes. He had told her in the tavern that loving him would be a burden, that she would feel the weight of it on her shoulders. She had a better understanding of his meaning now. He was more than just angry and wine-sick. She saw through him, saw the depths of his pain and his violence, saw a self-loathing that she couldn't even begin to imagine. Why she should dream of him like this, a man tormented, a man in shambles rather than some white-knight fantasy, confounded her. The Hound drew her backward into him, up against him. “I'm your dog, I'm your dog,” he rasped, tightening himself around her, iron fingers on her waist as he bent low and kissed the top of her head. The ache in his voice made her throat close. Oh, he was in such desperate need. He needed a mother and he needed a whore. But what were her needs? She was more than either of these roles. She was not a sweet piece of honey for his consumption, all heart, no brain. Born to serve. 87


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art II

For if she flees, soon she will pursue. If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them. If she does not love, soon she will love even unwilling. Come to me now: loose me from hard care and all my heart longs to accomplish, accomplish. You be my ally.

Sappho, Fragment 1 (“Hymn to Aphrodite�)


Chapter 7

kinchanger

Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me-

sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in Sappho, Fragment 130

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he felt Sandor’s mouth just under her ear where the skin was soft and tender. They had her trapped between them, the Hound’s lips on her shoulders, Sandor’s on her neck. She tensed for a moment, anticipating the feel of the sharpness of his teeth. He had a peculiar delight for abusing that area of flesh. He had once held a longsword against it, not hard enough to break the skin but with just enough pressure so she could feel the sharpness of the steel. And during the act, he had used his teeth to score the skin around her neck and around her shoulders. Yet he made no gesture that he wanted to frighten or dominate her—nothing but the soft press of his burned lips, a quiet possession. Sansa scowled, renewing her resistance, twisting her body, her nails digging into Sandor’s chest. He needed to be taught a lesson, a lesson on inviolability. Guilt gave her a moment’s fight but she brushed it aside. She ought to demonstrate how wrong it was to trespass into places, uninvited.

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What the fuck are you doing? he roared inwardly when he felt her slip inside his skin. She could feel his pure, blind panic. Tasted the fear at the back of his mouth. At the edges of her mind, she felt the opportunity and she reached for it. The Hound thought he was so dangerous. This was her dream. The natural shift of power moved to her. It’s not as if he was fragile … I wouldn’t do it if he was. He could take it. He had said he was her dog, so she had slipped him a collar. Whatever it was, she knew it was something akin to sex, the whole experience so foreign and bizarre. She was inside of him, seeing through the Hound’s eyes, wearing his skin like it was a cloak. She saw herself, perfectly still, blindfolded and bound. She lifted her body up, cradling it in the Hound’s arms. Peeking through the windows of his eyes, the girl’s vulnerability appeared enormous. She touched the girl, stroking her like a little dove, until the girl’s cunt began to open, aching to be filled. She had never known what the flesh felt like on the inside. Alayne safeguarded that veil of skin fiercely—her life depended on its preservation. It was as good as an iron bar on her bedchamber door. The surety that she was not Lady Lannister. An inquisitive finger, large and and calloused, slipped inside. One finger became two, sliding in and out as the movement became frictionless. The strange walls inside were so very soft but corrugated. Rather like the roof of my mouth, she thought wryly. One hand remained inside the cunt while the other moved to cradle the girl’s face. 91


Slender. Delicate. Stupid. Weak. The life of a small bird, its fragile pulse beating against the Hound’s hand. Pretty little talking girl, you’re as empty-headed as a bird for true. If the girl should die in a dream … Someone was whimpering loudly like a dog who had been viciously kicked. Enough, Sansa. She loosened the Hound’s grip, setting the girl aside. She turned to look at Sandor. His eyes were half-dilated but retained an odd expression. He had the look of an orphaned animal, a slinking stray, left to scrounge for itself in the wilderness with no one to care for it. A surge of protectiveness came but the feeling was mingled with a ferocious sense of possession and power. She blinked hard as if blinking away mental tears and suddenly found that she was seeing through those same grey eyes. Eyelids that fluttered rapidly. Back and forth, back and forth, she slipped into him as easily as slipping into an old leather shoe.


Sansa lay Sandor’s flat palm against the Hound’s jaw and she knew that he couldn’t have moved even if he’d tried. She toured the Hound’s body with Sandor’s fingers, avoiding the horrifyingly raw looking burned skin of his left arm. The man was muscular to the point of being massive but lean with no fat; his bulk was sinewy, spare and hard. Her fingers ran along his back, with the spine deeply indented between thick layers of muscle. With the balls of the Sandor’s knuckles, she caressed the Hound’s spine. He was so strong, as if each sturdy disk was encased in Valyrian steel. She pinched his nipple before her fingers followed a path all the way down, through the spur of black hairs that ran from the neat navel to a grove of hair where his member lay inert. Fingers drifted … swerved, retreated then advanced as they approached his cock, as nervous as a poacher. Carefully, she touched the hair and then the warm flesh. At first it was wrinkly, relaxed, then with a sudden jerk it began to expand by great leaps, rushing to its full size. It was certainly nicer looking than Tyrion's, perhaps even nicer looking than the common variety. It was healthy and vital and she could admit there was a certain grandeur to its size.

She bunched Sandor’s fingers around the crown and squeezed it, stroking the length from top to bottom. The skin there was so soft and thin, moving up and down with the strokes. She forced Sandor to lick his palms and then she forced him to stroke the Hound faster. The spit-slicked palms increased his agitation. She felt the blood pumping through his body, his legs widening their stance. 94


She tightened her grip. Am I too rough? I wouldn’t want to break it. Excitement possessed her, sharp as black polished dragonglass, driving off all reason. She had never in her life wanted to hurt any creature but she looked at him and felt her blood run in a tangle. She pinched the foreskin between her fingers then drew it down and scored the tender crown with nails. It hurt, hurt and burned and she did not stop. His body, her mind, jerked in a bright pain that drew every nerve as taut as a bowstring. The Hound made a brutal sound but he thrust into Sandor’s palm, muscles arching towards the pain. Hurt me if it pleases you, little bird. His eyes looked off in the distance at the girl, as delicate and vulnerable in her passivity as a porcelain doll with a hairline crack. The emotion rippled through him, through her. He wanted to fling the girl onto the floor and ram himself in. He wanted to crawl to her and kiss her toes as if he was the lowest of curs.

Nails scored fire across his testicles. She felt the pain humming through his veins. Behind it was some fierce emotion she couldn’t unsnarl—his desire to fight and overpower, inexplicably twisting and twining in his mind with the way he wanted to submit to her rule. I’m your dog, I’m Sansa’s dog.

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It was a strange and sweet confusion, hardly bearable. Sansa reached even farther, not waiting for his permission. Instead of gaining greater control of his body, she found herself further sinking inside his head. Oh, he's real, as real as I am. The belated realization struck her like a hard slap. There was too much here for him to merely be a part of her own imagination. He was a pathless wilderness, the horizon of his mind stretching out for thousands of leagues. She wanted to burst into foolish tears. How terrifyingly sweet was her discovery. He would be the answer to a thousand prayers. Help me, send me a friend, a true knight, she had prayed to whatever gods should deign to listen. He wanted to protect her: a devotion that was almost physical, a tangible wound in his mind. It would be so easy to bind him to her service, to transform him into the sword that she would wield. She relished the united power she had over him— herself and his own hidden dreams to protect her, a combined force greater than one mere girl of four and ten. It was her last distinct thought. What's happening to me? Where am I going? she cried. She felt as if she was falling, tumbling unbelievably fast down a long drop to nowhere. Memories and inchoate thoughts overwhelmed her and she wanted to shout and cry and babble fears. She heard herself and another voice, deep and raspy, make sounds of distress as she spun down the murky and terrifying

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well. Suddenly, her fall ended and she was painfully jerked upright like a wooden toy knight pulled by strings. Her mind couldn't comprehend the change. Her head hurt; she was wine-sick, she was always wine-sick, she had a chronic need for oblivion that only wine remedied. She despised herself, she had lost everything, she struggled to put the disintegrating pieces of her person together but failed every time, wailing at her endless defeats. She wanted to cry and she wanted to kill. She wanted someone to attack her, so she could fight them. She would feel better if she could hurt someone. Maybe they would kill her. That would be better ‌ that would be good. Murder me, take my life, be done with it. The Red Priest intoned the catechism, the night is dark and full of terrors. That bloody truth was all around her, plain to behold: the knight is dark and full of terrors. Knights were dark, knights were for killing. Were they children or half-wits that she must school them? A knight's a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady's favors, they're silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword's prettier with ribbons hanging off it but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons and shove your swords up your arses. I'm the same as you. The only difference is, I don't lie about what I am. So kill me but don't call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don't stink. You hear me?

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Why she gave a rat's arse of their opinion, why she bothered to defend herself at such length she could not fathom. Knights were sworn to defend the weak, protect women and fight for the right but none of them did a fucking thing. That it should needle her so, that she should care ‌ stupid, so fucking stupid. That was the sordid truth: she had cared, did care. If she hated herself for any one single fatal flaw in her character, it was that. She sucked in her breath as Dondarrion removed his breastplate. His ribs were starkly outlined beneath his pale skin; an ugly puckered crater scarred his breast and when he turned, she saw that he wore a matching scar upon his back. The lance should have killed him. Blood magic, her eyes whitened, widened: there was no other explanation.

She should have been scared. There was nothing as disturbing as the Lightning Lord, a creature who looked human but was not human at all. Instead, she felt only that familiar ghostly calm settling inside of her. No fear, no disgust, no reason, only the cold flame of destruction; a burning darkness that filled her with excitement. Killing was the sweetest thing there is. Her mouth curved, almost a smile. The knight is dark and full of terrors. The cave was dark too but she was the terror there. Her smile died when Dondarrion set fire to his sword, using his own blood to ignite it. Burn in seven hells, she cursed. Dondarrion became every knight she had ever known, butchers like Boros Blount and Meryn Trant, hapless fools like Dontos

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Hollard, cowards like the Redwyne twins who couldn't even look at her and, looming above them all, the malevolent shadow of Gregor, gigantic in proportion. She hammered at her opponent while the twisted jape of the knighting ceremony pounded in her brain. In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave, Hard and fast her cuts came— In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just, — from low and high In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the young and innocent. —from right and left In the name of the Maid, I charge you to protect all women. —and each one the knight blocked. The flames swirled around the knight's sword and he fanned them, made them burn brighter, so it seemed as if he stood within in a cage of fire. She edged back, frightened and furious. Bugger him, only cowards fought with fire. The sight of the flames momentarily paralyzed her. The fear of fire and the fear of Gregor were intertwined, the darkest terror that lived in the deepest layer of her being. Two decades later and a mountain of muscle could not dislodge them. The knight attacked, filling the air with ropes of fire, driving her back on her heels like a chastened mongrel. She caught one

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blow high on her shield and a painted dog lost its head. She parried another cut, grunting and cursing and reeling away but the knight would her give no respite. Bloody bastard, she screamed as the knight forced her closer to the firepit, the flames licking the back of her thighs. She fought on, recklessly counterattacking. She charged, swinging her sword harder and harder, trying to smash the knight down with brute force. Her shield caught fire and the panic clutched her. She hacked off her shield but it only fanned the flames even more. The fire caught and her left arm was ablaze. She smelled burning flesh; the ghastly sweet scent filled her brain and nostrils with black fear. Finish him, she heard. Other voices picked up the chant. For some reason that made perfect sense, Arya was there too, a judge without mercy. Guilty, guilty, kill her, guilty. Her anger moved like a living thing inside of her. The creature inside of her refused to let her die, kept her panic from blossoming into terror. The Hound gave a rasping scream and she raised her sword in both hands. Brought it crashing down with all her strength. The knight blocked the cut easily but his burning sword snapped in two. Her cold steel plowed into his flesh and clove him clean down to the breastbone. Blood rushed out in a hot black gush. She jerked backwards, her arm still burning. Pain on top of pain, layers of it, so excruciating that she couldn't think or

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breathe or see. Someone whimpered, the sound of a child crying as Gregor loomed over it, his mouth filled with darkness and black blood. Please. Help me. Someone. Help me. Please, she rasped. The one word was an ache in the cave. An echo of torment, of petition, its roots reaching far back in time. A boy knelt in the sept of a modest keep, reciting devotions to the Mother with only anger and desolation in his heart, knowing from the start that none of his pleas would be heard. A girl whispering prayers to the rustling leaves in the forlorn godswood of the Eyrie, the sound of her voice like a drum in her mind: please and please and please ‌ She was crying hard now, crying like a baby. The sobs didn't help, they didn't relieve the tension, they only made it worse. The sobs tore at her throat, bruising her, making her voice raspy as if thorns were lodged there. That was fitting, that was her life. All briars. No roses. Through the blur of her tears, she saw two eyes stare back at her. They were the yellow eyes of death. It was Nymeria, it was Arya. You want me dead that bad? Then do it, wolf girl. She was dead already, living and dying blending into each other. Why she fought so hard to live was beyond her. You killed Mycah, Arya said, daring her to deny it. Tell them. You did. You did.

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Arya’s words, sharp as any knife, ruthlessly wounding her with the truth. I did. Her whole face twisted. You go to hell, Arya's curse echoed in her brain. Hurt gripped her, tearing and twisting her. Her world splintered and for the barest second, she lingered on the knife's edge between two realms. The veil between the dream world and the waking world was parted and all was revealed. “Oh, you'll break my heart,” she sobbed. She tried to hold on the knowledge but it slipped through her fingers like rain. Don’t you know that dreams are written on memory’s walls with water, innocent one? She plunged back down, her misery burning like an inferno, until she collapsed into one white-hot point of agony. The hurt held for an interminable period. Someone was humming off-key, a quiet hymn that was unmistakable. She was being swayed softly, a forehead pressed against hers. Her chin was gently lifted, the last hushed hum of the song dying away as a kiss, soft and frail and tentative, was laid against her lips. She slumbered, suspended from consciousness for an indefinite amount of time. It seemed like a hundred years. When she awoke, it was all at once. She sat up abruptly, all her nerves atingle. Where am I?

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It was the richest chamber she had ever seen. The ceilings were not blackened by decades of smoke but adorned with bright frescoes and carvings that were fit for a queen. At first, they seemed like pastoral scenes of gentle parties of ladies. A second glance revealed that the strange small animals lolling at the ladies’ feet were not lapdogs but magical creatures. Direwolves, she recognized, and unicorns and dragons and things she could not name that resembled nothing so much as spiders made out of snowflakes. The tall bed frame in which she lay was weirwood, swathed in bed hangings of grey velvet embroidered with the sigil of House Stark. Scrolls and books lay piled on a velvet-draped table. Sansa could read the title on the spine of one, covered in beautiful blue calf-hide: A History of the War of the Five Kings. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied a pillow that had once sat on her father's chair in his solar. It was shabby and almost worn through, with an imperfect embroidery of a direwolf. It was one of her very earliest efforts and though she produced pillows with more ornate, elegant needlework in later years, this first one remained dearly cherished by him. Her vision blurred as all of the pieces suddenly came together. “I am stronger in the walls of Winterfell,” she said aloud, choking back tears. The chamber’s architecture was the same as her mother’s bedchamber in Winterfell, though this room seemed not as vast and the ceiling beams were not so high. I was so much smaller then, she thought, holding the embroidered coverlet close

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about her shoulders. She sniffed at it and it carried to her the scent of strawberry leaves and rose petals. The front was unadorned grey damask silk but the interior design—unseen unless one was beneath it—was not so plain. The interior silk was exquisitely embroidered with an emblem of a black dog and a small bird in silver and indigo thread. She ran her fingers across the neat stitches and knew with absolute certainty that this was her own handiwork. “Sandor?” she called out. She felt strangely exposed, her surroundings now discomforting her. She climbed from her bed and walked around the chamber. Her toes sunk into soft eastern rugs. Pentoshi, she suspected. She warmed her frigid fingers against the familiar silken tapestries that hung near her wardrobe. The tapestries were of the Kings of Winter and the Lords of Winterfell that once decorated her parent's chambers. Overwhelmed, she pressed her cheek against their coolness. “Sandor?” she cried again, her voice sounding uncharacteristically infantile and petulant, as if her peace had been pulled away from her as one pulls away a blanket from a sleeping child. She wished she could have him here with her. She longed to lie beside him, to be held by him, to touch him whenever she wanted. Sansa walked around the room again. The room was darkening but there were no candlesticks or torches. Instead, she illuminated the chamber by lighting marvelous enameled oil

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lamps that burned without smoke. The last lamp to be lit was near her mirror … She was dressed in a thin white bedgown, a string of pearls around her neck, her auburn hair loose. She touched her lips— they were shell-pink and soft, a little reddened and swollen as if from violent kisses. Other than that, she could not easily pinpoint what was different about herself. The longer Sansa stared at her own reflection, the more oddly threatened she felt. Her face. Foreign. Perplexingly enigmatic. She looked upon it as she would an exquisite work of art. There was mystery in it of the kind she had seen in the goddesses carved above the altarpieces of Valyrian relics. She recalled one that had awed her with the immensity of its cunning: The Goddess of Carnal Desire. The Lady who dwelt in rivers and freshwater springs and whose kiss was the doom of men. At the pit of her tummy, there was a blossoming tension. There was nothing as disturbing than the sight of someone who looked human but was not human at all. “Who are you?” she whispered to her other self. She kept her face perfectly still. Her mirrored reflection smiled back at her. It was a smile straight from the canvases of old Valyrian paintings. Innocent one, the embrace of a god is never fruitless, a voice not her own answered in return.

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Chapter 8

lint and Steel

sweet mother I cannot work the loom I am broken with longing for a boy by slender Aphrodite Sappho, Fragment 102

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ansa squeezed her eyes shut tight. She knew instinctively that she could no more stare long at the Lady than she could stare long at the sun. To do so would mean more than temporary blindness: she would have completely forgotten that she had ever possessed, or even known, what sight was. In the darkness, a calming magic worked itself upon her as two acts occurred in tandem. Her human brain wiped away what it could never comprehend, while at the same time she felt a man’s hand around her arms. Her knees bent and his arms hooked behind them, scooping her up. Sansa’s eyes flung open the moment her back felt the softness of her featherbed. Sandor laid beside her, his face stony. She leaned towards him, kissing his lips. He did not reject her embraces but neither did he return them. His coolness made her stomach jump nervously. She turned away from him and curled into a ball, putting her forehead in her hands. She had often slept in this manner since

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the death of her mother. It was oddly comforting, reminding her of what it must have been like cradled in the womb. A man’s hand moved down, a gentle pass from her shoulders to her arms, to the slope of her hips and thighs, then back up again. “That feels nice. Thank you,� she said softly. It was soothing but she sighed from relief more than anything else. Sandor further pressed his bulk up against her, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. He was a foot taller yet his body fit perfectly with hers, as if they had been cut from wax and meant to mold together in this manner. A long silence spread itself over them. He asked for nothing, seemingly content to lie in the simple stillness of her bedchamber in Winterfell, that inviolably private place inside of her imagination. Eventually, his massaging hands stilled and he turned around. She followed after him, nestling close, pressing her lips to find that place on his body that he so loved on hers. The area between her shoulder blades that he would score with his teeth. She giggled as she bit him playfully. His square, strong face remained grave in the lamplight. She lifted her head and followed his line of sight. He must have seen this before, she realized. Perhaps he had even owned it. She knew the tapestry he was entranced by intimately. It hung in Alayne's bedchamber.

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The tapestry depicted the tale of the legendary member of the Kingsguard, Ser Serwyn of the Mirror Shield. He was wellloved by the smallfolk and this tapestry of his heroic deeds was widely fabricated by the weavers of Oldtown. She had seen it often in the modest keeps of minor houses, upjumped nobles who had no illustrious ancestors to valorize in warp and woof. The tales of Ser Serwyn had sweetly thrilled Sansa, even as her mind would often turn over and over the contradictions of his origins. He had rescued Princess Daeryssa from giants. He had slayed the terrible dragon Urrax. He had killed many men but he never relished killing, ending his days haunted by the ghosts of all the knights he had honorably slain. That such a man had walked the earth—how she desperately wanted to believe that he had been real. The tapestries would always depict him as blonde, lithe; a handsome man with even features that bore a faint resemblance to Loras Tyrell. That was all wrong. Ser Serwyn could have never looked like that nor could he have been a knight. He was of the time of the Age of Heroes, a period that began in the mists of the past, as old as the lakes and mountains. It was long before the Kingsguard, long before the Andals came to Westeros bringing with them their Gods and their mounted men in steel armament. The real Ser Serwyn would have been dark haired, the blood of the First Men carved on his honest face. Alayne had half entertained the notion of sending a raven to the guildhalls in Oldtown to tell them of all the ways in which they were mistaken.

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Alayne loved to look at the tapestry while alone in her bath… and sometimes her thoughts would turn in a less than scholarly direction. Ser Serwyn was one of them. The old old stories, the kind of lore Sansa drank as a child from Old Nan’s lips. The unknown man who waited on his black horse on a darkened hill, his hand outstretched. I could keep you safe, no one would hurt you again. In the stories, if a girl believed him, if she went to him, she would not have returned. Yet how that girl wanted to go … How she wanted … The button of flesh would strain from its hood, her folds growing thickly together. The sweet tension would curl in her tummy until it was hardly bearable. Hands drifted before sliding between her legs. They caressed the princess' body … the girl's legs were so shy but they always opened wide for him. Yet the good feeling never came to her in these daydreams. Her nerves would flutter then go out, Ser Serwyn's gentle strokestroke not quite the right key to open the hidden locks inside of her. She would emerge from her bath light-headed, her teethchattering from the now cold water, pressing her face into her towel to stifle the loneliness that welled up inside of her. “You should have come with me when I gave you the chance,” the Hound's voice rumbled from a distance, pulling her to sharp attention, like a dog pulled on a chain. “Bugger that, I should have taken you, kept you for myself.” She propped herself up on her elbows and saw him sitting on the chair with her father’s worn pillow pressed against his

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back. He was dressed as Sandor was, ready for bed, wearing nothing but a thin pair of linen breeches, his clean bare feet peeking out from the hems. Are you angry at me? she thought. “Are you angry at me?” she asked fretfully. He had every right to be angry with her; she had reached too far, she had trespassed against him. For those moments, they had bridged the gulf between two separate beings, personally attached in thought and sympathy. She had lived his life as his memories had run through his head. The Hound bared his teeth. “I've told you already … Fuck!” he cursed viciously. “I wanted to keep you safe. I protected Arya, didn’t I? Who did you think I did that for, stupid bitch? How could you even think that I would want to hurt you?”

“I … I didn't think it. I only wanted to know if you're angry at me. You can be angry at someone without wanting to hurt and kill them. They're not the same thing,” she stammered. Then her voice took on a firmer edge. “Don’t call me ugly names like that.” She looked into his blood-darkened face. Whether it was harder to wear masks in dreams or whether the dreamers had no desire to summon them, she did not know. He did want to hurt her, in the same manner that he had hurt himself. He wanted to compress himself inside of her, squeezing into her flesh, feeding her all of his anger until she was as hateful as he was. He would broaden her education by bashing her head in with all of his scorn so that she no longer saw any beauty in the world, so that every noble sentiment was distrusted 111


and debased. Heroes and villains, good and evil, interchangeable with no inequalities between them: the Brotherhood without Banners and the Brave Companions, Starks and Lannisters, sheep and their butchers. He said he saw the world as it was, an awful place, where the strong ruled the weak, where failure was the end of life and all effort was dust. What were the rewards of his wisdom? Sandor Clegane was the most miserable person she had ever met. She had lived his life as flashes of frenzied futile struggles in which anger and conflict and the will to fight were all that meant anything; the only solace to be found at the bottom of a wine jug. She had been him, as pathetic as the village drunk, in a stupor beside the trunk of a willow tree where his captors' dogs had sniffed him out. And she had been him again, a wounded animal in agony beside the trunk of a different willow tree where Arya abandoned him to die. He had said he would keep her safe but had taken few protective measures to save himself, all of his roads leading to the bleak parapet of death. Sandor pulled at her shoulder, causing her to fall back onto the bed. He twisted himself so that he loomed large above her, shaking his head vigorously. “It wouldn’t have gone down that way, I tell you. I would have kept myself safe if I had you to keep safe. You would have been glad to have a dog.� He squeezed her hand hard, the extra pressure meant to make an impression on her. Not if he forced me to bed, she thought.

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The Hound began to laugh. It had a crazy, frantic sound, half-chuckle, half-sob. It was a queer, unsettling noise. The room picked up the sound and echoed with his smothered mirth. “The little bird would have been glad to have a dog,� he repeated again and again. As if he was trying to convince himself as much as her. Sandor hung over her, his eyes brimming with the absence of unkindness, even as the Hound's eyes had been full of cruelty. One was the master and one was the servant but both were from the same source, indivisible, and to love one meant to live close to the other. She sighed wearily as she slid her palms over his chest. He bent to kiss her. He kissed her eyelids and her cheeks, open wet kisses retreating to shy pecks and little nibbles before surging again to the long and deep union of mouths. They kissed many kisses, his long-simmering sexual fantasies so clearly revealing themselves to her. Sandor wanted to linger in kisses, shy and joyful kisses that no one had ever bestowed on him, as their bodies burned together with an anticipation that they would refuse to outrun. As they kissed, she kept her eyes open, sometimes concentrating on Sandor, sometimes peeping surreptitiously at the Hound. She could hear the sound of the roughness of the fabric of his breeches as it brushed against the motion of his stroking hands. He was touching himself while watching her kiss Sandor, with no more shame than a dog has when it licks its own genitals.

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She could not look away. His harsh sun-browned face. That body muscled like a bull—his belly segmented by tendons inscribed so distinctly that he could have served as an anatomy model for one of Maester Colemon’s lessons. How she wanted to lick him all over, her mind picturing the path her tongue would trace along those ridges and grooves. The curved lines that ran along his sides—linea semilunaris— the three lines that that ran across the abdomen—linea transversae—the line that ran down the middle, dividing the grooves into six regions—linea alba—and all along the hundreds of silvery scars that ran through his body like thin streams of water.

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She turned away when the Hound caught her peeping at him. Sandor laughed against her mouth and she blushed. She stroked his tongue with hers before again daring to take a sidelong glance at the Hound. His mouth had settled into a predatory smile so wicked that her throat shrank.

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It was a smile that cornered, that hissed come here, come eat and be eaten. The Hound placed both of his hands on himself. Twisting his wrists, pumping, but the foreskin was lightly stuck in one spot. The sight of it made her shake from the strain it took to keep still. She wanted was to go to him, to free the stuck spot with her lips. “Ah—ah,” she moaned—desperately hungry—like a baby who had been crying for hours for milk. Sandor pushed her back onto the bed. His weight on her, crushing her sweetly, as he curled his fists in the fabric of her bedgown. She opened her legs, cradling him against her body, her hands reaching around and feeling the warm skin of his back then dipping into the rumpled cloth of his breeches to caress his buttocks. He held her face in the palms of his hands. She didn't flinch or look away from him, her dark deeply open eyes taking him in. His hair had fallen over his forehead. His face was somber. But his eyes were lit: I love you. Then his begging dog eyes asked a question, one that he didn't have the courage to voice. Her legs began to firm, her breath no longer a catch in her throat. Her heartbeat slowed until it seemed to her she became blessed with detached reason. As if she were two people, two hearts, one who burned and one who was ice.

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One heart was lodged in the body of a girl who was caressing her lover's cheek, her hungry face insane with happiness. The other heart was lodged in the body of a woman, who peered at this tableau as if from a great height, in melancholy resignation. She would not be deceived about him. As sure as there were troubles and plagues in the world, Sandor Clegane was no true knight. He was the smudged reflection of a masculine ideal that was powerful and ennobling. He was far from perfect but her body thought his body was perfect. Their bodies were like two dolls, female and male, that the gods would bang together at the hips, as if trying to strike a spark off flint and steel.

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Chapter 9

aiden Mother Crone

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through apple branches and with roses the whole place is shadowed and down from the radiant-shaking leaves sleep comes dropping. And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom with spring flowers and breezes like honey are blowing

In this place you Kypris taking up in gold cups delicately Nectar mingled with festivities: pour Sappho, Fragment 2

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andor's body grew distant and tense against hers. Finally, he took a deep breath and rolled away. He turned his back to her, curling slightly into a ball, his face pressed into one open palm. She moved closer, sliding her arm around him. He grunted but did not turn to look at her, his eyes choosing to remain fixed on the tapestry.

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From the chair came a loud snort. She turned over to face the Hound. “Not in the mood for my sentimental bleating? Well, I'll spare you. Never mind about all that …” he rasped. “Not worth a dog's damn. Not good enough. Not good enough for you.” “Sandor,” she said softly. Nothing else. She would have said the words if she had them but her body could not escape the leash of her mind. His jaw tightened and he cut his gaze away. Steely. It lasted for less than a minute before he laughed to himself and looked up at her. There was a twitch at the corner of his mouth and then he puckered his lips up for a kiss. An odd, shuddery finger of emotion touched her heart. When she was a little girl, she and Jeyne Poole had found a toad one day in the lichyard in Winterfell. Jeyne picked up the thing, cradling it in the open palms of her hands. Kiss him, Jeyne commanded, he's secretly a handsome prince. Only a princess' kiss can break the spell. As Jeyne brought the toad slowly to Sansa's lips, it seemed as if the creature itself yearned to be kissed, mouth widening as if as it was trying to smile, body shaking as if in eager anticipation. The toad was even more hideous up close, its skin as rough and as dry as leather, the color of the lichen that covered gravestones. Disgusted, she had slapped the toad away from Jeyne's hands. It landed with a splat on the ground and lay there unmoving, twisted like one of her broken dolls. Afterwards, she had felt terribly guilty. The memory would gnaw at her belly,

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filling her with a dreaded fear of cosmic retribution. For the little girl had only a dim sense of the complexities of life, raised with the assurance of its personal goodness to her as long as she was benevolent, merciful, impossibly kind. “You've got a vicious streak, Sansa. A part of the filthy human race, are you? To think I claimed that you were from the Moonmaid.” She turned away from the Hound to find Sandor glaring at her, the wide-eyed, tight-mouthed look of a reprimanding elder. It was just the kind of look her mother was a master of— designed to make Sansa feel ashamed. It pained her to think of all the times she had been mean to Arya, cold to Jon. How she had tattled to Queen Cersei … That memory cut like a blade and her brain performed a strange sort of mental flinch—only it ran towards the bad thing and not away from it. His face softened. “You weren’t responsible for his death, girl. He would have died regardless of whether you ran your mouth off to Cersei or no. Bloody lackwit should have taken Joffrey hostage before threatening her.” “What am I responsible for? My cage.” she answered, in a voice thick with shame and self-loathing. She and Arya would have left King’s Landing by ship if it hadn’t been for her betrayal. And from there a multitude of what-ifs spawned, some not so terrible, some so dreadful she could not bear to dwell on them for long. The gods were cruel to Eddard Stark’s children. It seemed 121


to her that she had been fated to be a hare, forever seeking sheltered places but finding only slaughterhouses. Dark, anxious thoughts of Alayne's father came to her mind, unbidden and unwanted. How tangled and knotty he was, as if he were two people. Lord Petyr, her protector, warm and funny and gentle. And Littlefinger, with his sly smile and minty kisses and endless games in which she was moved around like a cyvasse piece to his advantage. How much easier it had been to be virtuous when was she was little, when being good was a matter of not being bad. A woman flowered, a grown-up, could not get away with such docile passivity. She had to judge, she had to know the difference between good and evil, not mistake it for the difference between nice and nasty. The call to action, a wolf baying for slaughter, raged inside of her like a madness in her mind. It was a wonder her reason held. “I wish this dream would go on forever. I wish I never had to live in the world again,� she said explosively, her heart pounding until her ears were full of the sound. Even to her own ears, her breath sounded angry and agitated, like the noise animals make when they smelled fire. She wanted to escape the burden of her own brain. She wanted to fuck, though she could never make her tongue say that dirty word, the most impossible sound in the universe. She wanted to take his member down her throat while his other member filled her vagina, his hands stroking her body all over.

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She wanted to be consumed by him, his fingers, his tongues, his cocks. Sandor cupped her cheek, gentling her unsteady breath. He leaned his forehead against hers, his face rocking against her skin like a child entreating. “I'm sorry for being one of your tormentors. For every cruel thing I said, every shit thing I did to you.” She took his right hand and held it over her womb, her whole body stilling, waiting. “This is the dream that lasts a thousand years. Let's spend every second of it learning how to please each other.” His right hand reached up to caress a breast, while his left hand slid down to cup her buttocks and pull her closer. Sansa kissed his neck, feeling the beat of his pulse, licking the masculine lump at his throat. She could hear the Hound getting up from his chair, the groan of the featherbed as he sat down on the edge of it. He kissed the back of her shoulder. “Little bird. You slay me. I love you too well,” he said, his voice unduly solemn. She turned around to face him. He helped her undress and then he bent his head to take a nipple in his mouth. So did Sandor. They both suckled gently. She put her palms on the back of each black-haired head, intoxicated by the pleasure. They flipped her onto her tummy. Sandor left the bed, standing beside it. The lovely thickness of his penis bobbed in front of her face, demanding her attention. Delaying the moment, she closed her eyes and kissed his hip bones, running her fingers 123


down the back of his knees, nuzzling his thigh around the area where he had been wounded. “Open your eyes, Sansa,” he said in a low voice. When she complied, she saw that once where there was one, two now stood. The amazing sight made the heat creep up her face to paint her cheeks. The Hound and Sandor, like the stone statues that occupied the crypts, her Kings of Winter. She looked at them. Naked, six feet and eight inches, her eyes following the line of his legs: up, up, up. Oh, every inch a warrior. Sansa leaned up to kiss Sandor but the Hound brusquely turned her chin towards him. His erection brushed against her hair and then he held it, so delicate yet blunt, in long caresses against her hot cheeks. He dragged it along her lips until she parted them. It ran sideways against her moistened mouth and then he pushed it into her left cheek. She reached around him, her palms on each buttock, grasping the hard band of muscles. The Hound moaned as she guided him down her throat. She thought that she was getting better at these perverse kisses; she seemed to understand what his body wanted her to do. The sound of his breath came out like stones skipping on water. Sandor sat down on the edge of the bed, his fingers twisting her hair away from her face into the crook of her ear. His mouth nuzzled beneath that ear and she tilted her head to the side to allow him access to her neck. “Use your hands too, little bird,” he hissed.

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She stroked the Hound with her hands as well as with her lips. One hand moving up and down at the base of his penis, the other cradling his testicles, her thumb stroking the seam. The Hound laughed, his cock jerking a little in her mouth. What a strange joy, she giggled to herself. She discovered she liked the sound of his laugh when his cock was in her mouth. She kissed him over and over until his testicles hardened into a tight knot. She felt her body being pulled back, her palms positioned so that she supported her weight on her hands and knees like an animal. Sandor palmed her breasts until her muscles tensed with waiting. A cock then slid along the cleft of her buttocks before it pushed itself between her thighs. His penis dipped down, then up, widening the distended lips. “Little bird … you ready for me?” he rasped, pinching that button between her legs before he used his hands to sink himself inside of her. Sansa strangled a cry when he lodged himself all the way; it felt so much fuller. Oh gods, it was just—good! The fullness of his thick penis, the small, low grunts he made, the power and size of her happiness at the sensation of his big body pumping into her With a low groan, the Hound pushed his hips and put himself down the back of her throat. He could have choked her if she had not gripped the base with her hand. “Sorry,” he muttered. They both paused for a ragged moment. She opened her mouth wider. Sandor began to thrust again, gently, slowly, his hands anchored at her hips to keep her from moving.

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“You good?” the Hound asked. When she nodded, the rhythm quickened, Sandor’s thrusts jamming her against the Hound. It became so very intense and her eyes watered. The stretch inside of her burned. Her lips burned. Even her hips burned from where Sandor’s hands clutched her. The thought that he was using her— mouth, sex, her entire body—as a tool for his satisfaction made as much of an effect as the sensation itself. “Little bird … stop! Oh … shit! I'm going to come,” the Hound rasped. Sandor's hand coiled around her neck, pulling her back. She looked up at the Hound as her tongue scraped that tender indentation on the underside of his cock. He had his head thrown back and she could see the line of his beautiful neck, stretched and corded, the muscles there as taut as a bowstring. His whole body seemed owned, as if his hands were bound in invisible rope. Then he looked down at her. How funny, she thought, that eyes could really seem to burn with passion. Just as the poets had claimed in those songs that had made her childish self clasp her hand over her heart. Who had said that eyes are windows to the soul? Sansa could not remember but at that moment, she believed it.

The moment broke with her surprised yelp. Sandor fell back on the bed, lifting her with him until she lay prone on top of him. He braced himself so that her shoulder blades lay set against his chest, his hands around her breasts and waist, locking her to him. She bent her head away from his face as he began to place ticklish kisses along the line of her jaw, making her squeal. Her legs found

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his legs and she spread them so that they laid directly on top. He is so wonderfully tall, Sansa thought as she caressed his hairy legs with the tips of her toes—even with her toes pointed, her feet reached only halfway down his calves. Sandor turned her face aside, strong fingers on her cheek. “Do you want to come, little bird?” Sandor said, brushing away the wetness he found there. “Yes …” she said, the word sighing out of her parted mouth. He began to move. His thrusts were excruciatingly slow. In and out. Sansa moved with him, the lift of their hips matching the intake of their breaths. His fingers drifted to cupped her, feeling that pulse between her legs before he used the vee of his fingers to spread her folds apart. “Kiss her, dog.” She looked down and saw the black-haired head of the Hound. He began to nuzzle her thighs as he had done so in the inn, left and right. She could hear his almost laughter bubbling in his chest, feel his invisible smile. His tongue darted out to suck on that spot. A tongue like water, neither harsh or impatient, with no will other than to ease her into climax and hold her there for as long as possible. “I could do this for all eternity,” he growled as Sandor’s embrace tightened, holding her snugly from behind. The kisses and the fullness of him inside of her was terrifying in its promise of how much better it could get.

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The hours seemed to jump off a cliff. Her body was twisted and moved about, in a manner that made sense only in dream logic. One moment his broad chest flattened her breasts, another moment it pressed against her shoulder blades. His cock brushed her lips, she bent to kiss it and met his tongue; there was a taste on it like nothing she had tasted before—sweet like almond milk and salty like copper pennies. It was her excitement, she realized without a trace of diffidence. She was on her back, cradling him in the vee of her thighs. She was bent over, her spine folded like an open book, her face crushed into her pillow. Her body hummed with constant unending pleasure, that hard button between her legs fluttering, each spasm separate and distinct. It was as if her body was the string of pearls and he was pulling the good feeling from her. One. By. One. “I'd like to die for you,” he rasped. She opened her eyes to little slits and found the Hound’s penetrating gaze right there, above the hollow of her sex, even as she could feel his mouth on her womb, licking, licking, while his cock moved inside of her and his hands left no inch of skin untouched. She knew exactly what he meant. Oh, she was so grateful; if she had loved him, being this close to him would have killed her. An unnameable emotion passed between them, something beyond the body. Sansa’s head became light, faintness blurring the edge of her vision. It was heavenly. Sublime. Her soft moans filled the bedchamber, bouncing off every surface as she fell into a deep well of pleasure. So clean and pure that she was lost in the sensation. 129


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Her limbs grew lax, her body as sleek and clean and shimmering as a fish. She lost track of how many times she came. She halffeared she would never stop. Their coupling seemingly danced outside of time itself. The featherbed crested underneath his weight, its weirwood frame spilling forth lovely, strange visions that filled her every nerve ‌

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She was a maiden lying underneath him. The soft strawberry stain of their spring wedding night. The sound of his startled cry as he entered her. He bent his forehead against hers, his hot breath gusting a strand of her hair loose. He held his eyes closed for a moment before he opened them. “Look at me,� he whispered and she did. She did.

Without taking his gaze from hers, he began to move. Her body lifted, rising with each shallow breath. She put her hands on his biceps and felt him trembling. She was nowhere near the realm of female satisfaction when she caught the sweet of his seed between her legs. Yet her nerves felt as if he had set them alight. She was stunned, euphoric, completely undone. In the dark, his fierce eyes glistened like wet rocks as she held him tightly with her arms, with her sex.

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And then he was kissing her, until her lips were reddened and swollen from kisses as passionate as they were possessive ‌

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She was a mother lying underneath him. She touched herself and felt a crown of thorns, little stitches where her baby's head had torn her like a piece of parchment. His lips pursed around a single nipple, kisses meant to draw delinquent drops from tender, throbbing breasts. She could feel his penis, big and dry, certainly his teeth. “I hate you,” she growled, a wounded she-wolf panting in fear and blood and milk. She closed her eyes against the abrupt sting of tears. Tears for the failure of her milk to flow, for her fragile body still leaking its nine-month’s blood. He buried his face in her hair, his thumbs wiping away the wetness that seeped through her closed eyelids. With a whimper of relief, she turned towards him. And then he was kissing her cheek; his jaw was rough with new beard but his kisses were soft and tender, offering only solace, making no demands …

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She was a crone lying underneath him. Long weaned from her children. He was rubbing his beard on the soft sag of her belly, his tongue tracing the scars he found there, so feminine and soft at the edges, battle wounds from no battle he had ever endured. The flesh of his face was hard, creases cut from the years spent facing down others until they fell back, the years of being himself faced down and falling back. Into those unpredictable black rages that would scour his brain, if not his heart. “Little bird,� he rasped, his eyes peering up at her.

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His voice was soothing, his arms still big and strong beneath the rolled up cuffs of a soft woolen tunic.

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His fingers hooked into the strings of her smallclothes, untying the knot and pulling them down. He stared at her for a long moment, as if seeing the glimpse of pink for the very first time. She smiled, both embarrassed and not embarrassed. “The last, best piece of cunt in the world,� he said under his breath, so low she almost didn’t hear it. Then he bent his head and kissed her, licking deep into that place that held the mysteries of life and blood, not just pleasure. His kisses continued, no longer passionate, but frighteningly efficient. She came with a low, small cry, her eyes open and watching him as his lips spread wide in a crooked smile. In the half-darkness they kissed, their teeth bumping gently together as if they had never kissed before. Their gazes locked as they walked hand in hand into a place beyond other places. Beyond the body. Where fucking was the beginning of closeness and not the culmination. Where she was young and he was young. Where they were young together.

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Chapter 10

irst Song

] among mortal woman, know this ] from every care

] you could release me ] ] dewy riverbanks ] to last all night long Sappho, Fragment 23

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ansa’s eyes lit upon the image reflected in the pool of water. She was lying on her tummy on the forest floor, sniffing at the earth and peering at her reflection like a young puppy. The dappled sunlight of the forest wavered over her likeness, casting itself like a net over the girl. Her reflection struggled, shifted, girlishness flipping inexplicably to womanhood and back again. One moment she appeared a woman whose graces circumvented her youth; her long thick lashes rimming her eyes like kohl, her breasts advancing and straining the stretch of her gauzy white bedgown. The next she was a child, cute in the way little girls were cute, with rounded cheeks as pink as apples and a little chin with the hint of a second one underneath it. So this is what fourteen looks like, she thought as she idly twisted the necklace of Myranda’s dangling pearls between her fingers. 139


Sansa lifted up her chin, trying to make her face more severe, regal, strong. I'm bastard-brave, I am not weak, Alayne threw back. The girl’s pouty lower lip came out, calling attention to her vague resemblance to her cousin Sweetrobin. But Alayne’s strength wasn't the kind of strength Sansa admired the most, the strength that would protect those who could not protect themselves. She strummed her fingers in the pool, scratching at the image of Alayne, until the girl’s face could no longer be seen in the vibrations of the water. “Why is your hair brown?” a familiar voice rasped. Sansa turned around. He was seated near her on a moss covered stone, clad in the brown-and-dun robes of a male penitent. The Quiet Isle, she thought. His tantalizing physical proximity in the real world made her chuckle softly—that the twisting and coiling pathways of their lives had brought them but a few leagues from each other. “My Aunt Lysa thought my hair made me resemble my lady mother too much and made me darken it. Littlefinger brought me to her. I live in the Vale, under the guise of his natural daughter. I’m only a few leagues from the Quiet Isle, from you.” Her eyes grew wide, both their attentions focused on the sword that lay across his lap. “It’s beautiful,” she said, watching Sandor unsheathe it. The scabbard was made from black lacquer with the lower length banded by golden openwork of blades of grass, inlaid with

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three dogs made out of dragonglass. The blade was breathtaking, resplendent—Valyrian—the steel rippled with red and black streaks, so dark that it put Sansa in mind of Ice, her father’s greatsword. The sight evoked her intensely, her childhood clinging to the motion of Sandor’s hands wiping the blade as her father had once done. “My father’s sword—” she was about to describe it but then remembered that the Hound would have seen it up close. He was there the day Ser Ilyn had unsheathed Ice from the scabbard on his back … the sword falling at the sound of her prince’s words… her father’s legs, jerking … From the corner of her eye, she saw Sandor’s smirk go slack. With a wriggle, she drew up her knees and pulled herself into a sitting position. She pulled on the hem of her bedgown so that her legs were bare. Her father’s sword was lost, broken in two—the steel reforged to be put into the service of the Lannisters. The same fate that had befallen his daughter. I will not be sad, she commanded as her toes curled in sensuous contact with the earth. It was her nature, bent on its own survival, not to allow her brain to dwell on loss. She wet her lips, quietly dousing her fury, and looked up, smiling at him brightly. Behind him, she saw the grove of ancient oaks. The great heart tree, its bark as white as cream, its leaves like red rose petals, the merciless beauty of its carved face. The air was spicy with the scent of flowers and the sound of insects humming in the heat

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above their heads. The water of the pool where her father once sat cleaning his sword was so dazzling in the radiance of the sunlight that it made her mind ache. “We’re in the godswood at Winterfell. The place where you long to be most,” he rasped. Sandor tilted his head and closed his eyes. The gentle warmth of the sun kissed his face. He held his eyes closed for a moment before he opened them and resumed his polishing. “I’ve been away for so long. How unreal it seems…” she said at last. In her fancy, she began to imagine that she heard music. It seemed as if the wind carried a melody to a song that she knew or thought she knew. Sweet and sad and beguiling. Sansa strained to catch it but it seemed to be always receding from her recognition, never nearer yet ever farther. “Do you hear that tune, Sandor?” Even he seemed a part of the song, cleaning his sword in time to the rhythm. Sandor raised one eyebrow and to her dismay idly began to whistle the melody of Florian and Jonquil. That made her mouth purse. She picked up a plait of her hair. With sudden vehemence she unbraided, then smoothed the wayward brown locks with her fingers. “I hate it. My father always loved the color of my hair,” she said, though whether by father she meant Eddard Stark or Petyr Baelish was muddled in her mind. Sandor snorted. “You’re as distracting as ever, Sansa. Pretty as a prayer book, no matter your hair color.” 142


“It’s not even ugly. Color of roasted nuts.” “Or … tortoiseshell,” he routed at the sight of her face. Or the fur of a bagged rabbit. Or a bastard beggar-girl. The brief memory of Aunt Lysa's words flitted through her mind. You are well born and the Starks of Winterfell were always proud but Winterfell has fallen and you are really just a beggar now. “Lady Lysa was unkind to you?” he barked suddenly. “Fat stinking cow,” he rasped without waiting for her response. “She said I was wanton,” Sansa replied tonelessly. I shouldn't feel sad for her at all. She was a monster, like the envious, murderous stepmother from the stories. His face narrowed and his silence seemed to be one of pure incredulity. “Right … You were a bruisable, fatherless child. Her sister’s daughter. She ought to have protected you. Damn crazy cunt,” he spat. “There’s a special place in the Seventh Hell reserved for betrayers of kin. She ought to be there, lodged head up in blocks of ice with frost freezing her eyes so that she can’t cry.” Sansa’s stomach rolled at thought of it. Aunt Lysa’s tears. Tears, tears, tears. No need for tears but that’s not what you said in King’s Landing. You told me to put the tears in Jon’s wine and I did. I wrote to Cateyln and told her the Lannisters had killed my lord husband, just as you said. “She dragged me to the Moon Door while her singer drowned out my screams by playing ‘The False and The Fair.’ I

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didn’t want to kiss her husband. She wouldn’t believe me. She would have murdered me if it hadn’t been for Petyr. He saved me and then that singer—then Petyr—” Sansa forced a sob back down into her chest. She refused to let it come out and the effort made her throat convulse as if she was drowning. And so she was—Alayne’s father was the sea, smiling surface and treacherous depths and the smoothly savage creatures dwelling beneath that haunted her dreams. “It was Petyr. He murdered them all. Aunt Lysa, Jon Arryn, my father. He tainted the very air of the Seven Kingdoms with bloodshed.” Her vision blurred. Something in her, a part of her spirit, bayed and howled over the truth of Alayne’s situation, over the horror of it. In it. As dark as any of Old Nan’s tales. The giant’s song from the tale of Princess Daeryssa began to play in Sansa’s head. Be she alive or be she dead, I’ll grind her bones to make my bread. The Hound’s face became blood-darkened, his expression, his whole posture taking on a ferocious edge. “What has he done to you? Made you his whore?” “No. A septon must find Alayne Stone to be satisfyingly virgin or else all of Littlefinger’s plans will be for nothing. And…” Every man had one blindness. Petyr had taught her this himself, no matter how clever the man might be. “He wants me to love him. He imagines himself the huntsman coming along to cut the maiden free from the belly of the beast. Trusting she's too

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stupid to notice that it was him who fed her to the creature in the first place.” Sandor waited for her to continue but she only shook her head. It was difficult to explain, even to herself. She was bored with Alayne’s situation on one level and incapacitated by it on another.

“Scheming, poxy whoreson. I'm going to cut out his bloody lying tongue after I shove a sword up his delicate arse. Bugger him to the seven hells.” He stood up and began to swing his sword. Sansa’s heart drummed wildly, a feeling of pleasant awe washing over her. The sword was alive in his hands, the gestures so adept that her brothers would have given up their eyeteeth in a sack for a quarter of his skill. “A great sword—ah—” her chin pointed in the direction of the longsword, “a great sword must have a great name.” “Marvelous, isn't she? Do you see the way she glints in the sun? I imagine Just Maid might have looked like this.” Just Maid was an enchanted sword that belonged to the legendary knight Ser Galladon. His valor was so great that it was said that the Maiden fell in love with him and gave him Just Maid as a lover’s token. “I squired for Gerion Lannister. He said that there was a dark charm about Valyrian steel that makes it unspeakably desirable. Soggy-brained fool set sail in search of the Lannister ancestral sword Brightroar. He never returned. They say he

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traveled into the Smoking Sea itself. He was fond of Dornish Sour. Sometimes when I’m drinking, I think of him and lost causes, hopeless dreams.” Sandor’s look hardened at her, focused in a way that made no sense. “I was one and twenty the last time I saw him. In a brothel in Lannisport. All I knew of the sweetness of desire then was that it meant fucking or could be discharged that way.” He laughed. “Only in my dreams did I think to possess a Valyrian steel sword. I suppose that's what this is: my wildest fantasy. I have my little bird and I have Black Dog, everything I want, right at my feet.” “A black dog is a portent of death in the North. Is it the same in the Westerlands?” Sansa thought of his huge warhorse. Whom he had so ominously named Stranger. “Your obsession with being dark is adorable,” she said, covering her giggling mouth with the palm of her hand. The Hound gave her a forbearing look, a roll of his eyes and she became afraid that he had taken her teasing too seriously. But then a grin appeared, “The name suits him. Other men have said that horse was whelped in hell. Bit off the ear of a monk who tried to geld him.” The grin broadened, a sudden odd boyishness on his hard features. How staggeringly young he looks, she thought. For a brief moment, he felt more like her son than a man fifteen years her senior. Out of context and out of the grave, her mind turned to Bran. He was her favorite sibling—quick to smile, easy to love, as 146


enamored with the stories and songs as she was once upon a time. She would lie beside him on his bed, holding his hand and watching the dust motes dance in the sunlight of his chamber as they spun together tales of the knight's quests he would go on once he was a man grown. What daring deeds he would perform: monsters slain, imperiled maidens rescued. “What were you like as a boy?” She realized she wanted him to have a hidden idealistic side. “Half as ugly, twice as stupid. Head full of high-flown claptrap about knights and their buggering tales.” “What was your favorite tale?” She leaned towards him, whispering loudly, “Ser Serwyn's my favorite.” Oh how she ardently longed to have more things in common with him, rather than less. He bent his heavy eyebrows at her. Embarrassment invaded her expression. She thought of Alayne in her bath, staring at that tapestry. The girl biting her lip, fruitlessly stroking, dimly aware that there was a cryptic incantation for pleasure that she could never quite dare name. The Hound broke into an abrupt bark of laughter, “What happened to that fool and his cunt?” Sansa wrinkled her face. “Why that was a thousand years ago. When I was still a little girl.” That wasn't quite the whole of it. There was something else too. “Ser Dontos, he … he would call me his sweet Jonquil.” The

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words came out haltingly, she mumbled them, consciously lowering her gaze. “And now I always think of him whenever I hear that song. Petyr said Ser Dontos would have betrayed me. I believed it once; now I’m not so sure. I think Ser Dontos wanted to be my true knight. He insisted on wearing his surcoat with the arms of House Hollard instead of his fool's motley when we fled the Red Keep after Joffrey's murder. How he wept when I called him my savior.” The sniffle that she had held back caught her by surprise. Ser Dontos had been the first to help her that day Joffrey had his knights beat and strip her in the lower bailey. He had tried to transform Joffrey’s violent fury into laughter by hitting her on the head with a melon. She had not thought of Ser Dontos in years and her pity for her poor drunken Florian was like the rediscovery of a sensation in a numb limb. Sansa risked a sideways glance at Sandor. He stared back at her, his face blank. Not a clue as to why she should feel sorrow for someone like Ser Dontos, his life worth less than the toad's. I wonder if he’s ever felt something for someone besides me, she thought. She did not think so. The sadness, the sorrow had been for her and her alone. “Yes, my favorite tale was of Ser Serwyn of the Mirror Shield. After I was burned, my father bought a tapestry of his exploits. It hung in my chamber as a consolation. I would spend hours in my sickbed daydreaming that I was Ser Serwyn and Gregor was the evil dragon Urrax.”

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“Did you also dream of rescuing Princess Daeryssa from the giants?” she asked with a tiny quiver in her voice. Sandor laughed miserably. “Now that was a fantasy as old as memory. I was cunt-struck since I could walk, sniffing round the skirts of every pretty girl who looked at me …” “I'd wander through the dark forests on my black horse Stranger, with my Valyrian steel sword Black Dog at my side. It was a perilous quest. Lost princesses are never planted in comfortable inns alongside the Kingsroad. I'd climb unscalable cliffs, fight off monsters—dragons in the sky, krakens from the depths of the sea, firewyrms in the bowels of the earth. I knew that she was out there somewhere but she was not to be seen.” “What did you do when you found her?” she said breathlessly. The wish she made in the lonely wilderness came back to her. He'll slay my enemies and win my love. He'll take me back to Winterfell and we'll be ever so happy for ever and ever … She wanted to hear him say the words, to end the story as they all ended. The gallant knight on horseback coming to release the princess with a kiss.

“The standard dogshit. Big, swooping heroics,” Sandor said, with a wry pull of his mouth. “I'd kill the giants that held her captive. Gather her up in my arms, feel the beat of her little ivory heart, and lean down to press a gentle kiss to those rosebud lips.” “Then I'd lead her back to the safety of her kingdom where I would end my days receiving her bottomless gratitude,” the

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Hound sniggered, making a perplexing gesture using his tongue in his cheek and the fist of his right hand. “After I was burned, I put that fantasy aside. The only game girls wanted to play with me was monsters-and-maidens.” His voice took on a dangerous edge, “It would make any man furious—no wife, no sons, no daughters, no lands, no claim on anything but a steel sword.” He looked at her accusingly, with that sullen, hateful stare that he could command. “Princess Daeryssa would have forsaken me. Spurned my sword. Shunned my kisses. Closed her eyes because—” “She wouldn't have forsaken you—” Sansa’s face went brutally still. The commotion rose up inside her, fury, outrage, “if only you—” Like a tantrum she couldn't control, would not control, the words welled up, overflowed, “if you had been gallant, if you had been gentle. Instead of a rotten man who made nasty, mean threats to a 'bruisable, fatherless child'. The girls in the songs and stories were always merciful, good, impossibly kind.” As quickly as his anger came, it vanished in the face of her righteous indignation. “As you say, little bird. My apologies, my lady,” he muttered, his face downcast. “Don’t look here for absolution, my lord.” She ruined the gravity of the moment by laughing—his grey eyes had peeked up at her with the look of a wretched dog, starved for a kind word.

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Sandor smirked a little then his mouth twisted into a grimace. “Sansa … you're too old for this shit. It’s nothing but a bunch of consolatory nonsense. We tell them to children and idiots to obscure the real conditions of life. I threw all that shit away when I was twelve, when I became a man. You should have too. Put them aside when you put aside dolls and skipping.” He had been rough-tongued with her before, yet these words, gently delivered, wounded her in a sharper and deeper manner than he could have intended. Everyone mocked her for her love of songs and stories. She knew they were silly, she wasn't childish about them. Not anymore. They were powerful, of the same substance and logic as dreams, a private realm where all her anxieties played out. Where things happened for no reason, great trials, accidental gifts, sudden twists of fortunes. She took comfort in them, their innocent and honorable heroines whispering to her of the secret of spinning straw into gold, fear into courage, misery into joy. She gazed at him moist-eyed but in perfect control. Softly she said, “If I threw all them away, I'd be throwing away more than songs and stories. I'd be throwing away myself.” In a barely perceptible tone, she added, “As you had.” Sandor held her look for a long time, his expression strange and indecipherable. Then his gaze drifted away. “Do you remember when I came to your bedchamber after your father's death?”

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Sansa nodded and frowned. She had lain in her bed for days in the deep lethargy of first grief. Desperately tired of being alive, yet terrified at the prospect of death. She imagined every footstep near her chamber door belonged to Ser Ilyn but the mute headsman never appeared. Instead, it was Joffrey and his dog. Her odious prince had commanded the Hound to get her out of bed. How terrified she had been at the sight of him, his burned face even more hideous in the unkind morning light. Sandor had scooped her up, his arms hooking underneath her knees, lifting her off the featherbed. As she struggled feebly under his iron hold, her blanket had fallen to the floor so that only a thin white bedgown covered her nakedness. “All those stupid boyhood daydreams came rushing back to me as I held you. A pristine bundle of child-woman in her little white dress. Barefoot with the scent of lemons in her hair. It was as if you had been called forth from out my mother’s prayer book—The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools— to rejuvenate me with a vengeance.” The Hound took a deep breath and let it out in a heave of frustration. “Extremely beautiful and extremely young and so fucking helpless. Like every birdbrained cunt from the stories. Princess Daeryssa. Lady Shella. Jenny of Oldstones. Jonquil. Those nameless ladies too, the maiden in the tower, the sleeping beauty, the cinder-smudged orphan. Your bare arms prickling with gooseflesh, your little ivory heart beating so hard I could see it pulsing in your throat.”

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“That twice-damned bright early light shone through the threadbare fabric. I saw you, underneath your fluttering white bedgown, the ripening teats with their rosy tips, the dark flame of your …” The Hound's eyes grew flat, vacant, like a man possessed. “I would have slit the throat of the High Septon himself to see but a half-glimpse of the pink. Seven bloody hells, every inch of my skin felt twitchy. What dog could resist?” His pupils dilated as they did when he was entering her. “Morning milk, fresh, wholesome, still warm in the pail.” He laughed suddenly, his tongue darting out to lick the edge of his front teeth. “The cream at the top so thick and rich you want to eat it up with your the tip of your tongue.” “I went to a winesink that night and got so blindingly drunk that I fell asleep in a wet ditch. Where I dreamt I kissed your eyes and cheeks and mouth and neck and—” with the point of his longsword, he hooked the hem of her bedgown and lifted it until it pooled just below the area where her thighs started “—hair.” “Until you laid down with me. Weren’t you just the gentlest creature? Sweet as spun sugar. No sharp edges. And I kept you against me all night while I licked you like a—” “Dirty dog …” she saw Sandor's hands clenching tighter around the hilt of sword, white-knuckled. “A filthy man near thirty sniffing around the flounce of a young girl's skirts, looking for the missed opportunities of boyhood. Bloody pathetic.”

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He made a sound of disgust but his eyes remained transfixed at the area between her thighs, his nostrils flaring. “What a monstrous lust,” he released in an agonized breath. “I hadn't known I had been so empty until you filled me. To bursting.” She could smell it, the scent of the loneliness that dogged him in King's Landing, as if it was a perfume that could be distilled. The acrid odor of broken jugs of wine, the faint sourness of soiled clothing, the withered pride of a greasy oilcloth lying next to the immaculate gleam of sharpened steel, all compounded with the sawtooth edge of semen and the honey sweet fragrance of the beeswax candles lit at the Maiden's altar. She thought of Alayne eating the mystery knight’s apple in the privacy of her dark bedchamber. The girl was so crushingly alone and friendless that the burden and the incapacity to communicate its heavy weight to anyone made her quietly shake as her teeth pierced the skin of the apple. How lonesome the body became after sunset. How often the mind would turn to the thought of the act. A boy like Harrold Hardyng could not steal her sleep or break her reserve. She hungered to flirt, to kiss, to know a man who was brave, gentle, strong. “Maybe I am a lady from the songs and stories. I'm the bespelled princess who slept for a thousand years. How else to explain how I found you in my sleep?” She smiled, her nerves set alight. She lifted her bedgown higher and higher until it bunched around her waist, astonished by her own explicitness.

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Time to smile and smell sweet and be his lady love. Sandor approached her. “Little bird,” he murmured. His hands petted her tummy, the coarse wool of the sleeve of his brown and dun robes scratching her skin. His hands moved lower. She lay there softly panting. “Brother Sandor, give me something to repent,” she said with a nervous giggle.

She felt him curl his hand tightly around the hem of her bedgown before smoothing it down so that it fell well past her knees. Sansa inwardly cringed, her tongue testing to find the right courtesies but her throat choked back every clumsy one. He rolled on top of her, kissing away her mortification, then settled himself against her back. They held each other for a long time like two children, uncovering their friendship, conceding their closeness. He had a way of leaving long, interested silences that made her want to fill them with honest, meaningful words. It was so very nice, as nice—no, even nicer—as laying with him. What an impossible luxury to be able to put aside her armor of courtesy. Sansa always wore it, slept and lived in it, as a soldier on the march. Time swayed to a slow lulling rhythm. Finally, she stretched and sat up, her knees tucked to her chin, gazing down at her feet as they peeked out from the hem of her gown. Sandor sat up beside her, putting one arm around her shoulder, patting her arm. It was a special gesture, affection between equals, between men, reserved for brothers-in-arms who

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had fought battles side by side. How sweetly thrilling. It filled her with the sense that she was his equal in courage. She swung her arm around him. They sat like that, arms around each other’s shoulders, each admiring the other’s reflection in the bright pool. She leaned down and caressed his big toe with the tip of her finger. He had hairy toes, like an animal, like a dog. She thought of the First Men who had bred dogs from wolves to keep them safe as they slept by their fires. Get her a dog, she'll be happier for it, King Robert had told her father. She chortled, thinking that perhaps southron King Robert possessed a mustard seed of greensight. Her eyes widened and she let out a small chagrined breath. “Did you … did you follow me? At night, around the Red Keep?” she asked. Sandor Clegane had always seemed to be skulking around in some dark corner whenever she found herself alone. “I liked your company. I liked the way we talked,” he confessed. She turned to face him, her mouth hanging open. She shook her head. “How could I have felt anything different?” he challenged. He started to say something else before sucking in his breath then looked down. “You have the prettiest toes” — his fingers caressed the skin — “as pink and as soft as a babe's. I'd like to clean between my teeth with one of your dirty silken stockings.”

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She wrinkled her face. “You're nasty.” Her laugh bubbled up from surprise, pleasure, a silly giggle she tried to contain then gave up. “You have a way with words. You could have been a poet.” She wondered if she could inspire him to do such a thing. Not those mean-tempered verses about being stronger than her, of course. The kind of songs that Bael the Bard must have sung to win the love of a daughter of Winterfell. “You have a head as full of pigeons as an empty turret, girl,” Sandor replied with a roll of his eyes. Sansa laughed and sighed both. “I used to do that—compose poems and songs—as a girl in Winterfell. I would play them for my family after supper. I even had a little lute to accompany me.” I thought I could summon a prince with my songs, she thought with great pity and no small affection for her younger self. “Perhaps I’ll compose a poem about you. You’re one to make the maidens faint,” she said quietly, placing her hand on his muscled thigh. Why, any true lady of discernment could see that he bordered on the magnificent, the way his massive black courser was magnificent. From the wide jaw to the broad back, wellmuscled loins, long legs with their dense, heavy bones. Perfectly made. A beast bred from foalhood for the needs of war. In peacetime … a perverse image flooded her brain. The Hound harnessed like a draft horse, his face blood-red from the strain of pulling a heavy wagon, its wheels moaning and creaking, from a deep muddy ditch. Sandor snorted, withheld a laugh, then became serious. “I’d like to see you try, little bird.” 158


She gave him a sidelong look, holding his gaze for a longish pause. Then she mimicked strumming her fingers as if she was playing the lute to the melody of ‘Let Me Drink Your Beauty.’ As the poets have mournfully sung, Death takes the innocent young, The high lords with old names, Knights puffed up on their fame, And those who are very well hung … Sansa ended the song with a slide up his thigh. Sandor let his head fall back, laughing, his laughter rattling itself out from somewhere deep inside his chest, so violent that it dislodged her fumbling hands. She smiled with pleasurable embarrassment and then laughed too, noisily. The knuckle of one hand went to her mouth, while the other wrapped around her ribcage, containing the tremors of her breasts. His eyes immediately gave full attention to that region and his laugh became dirty, irresistible, moving across empty space to insinuate itself around her. Sansa pushed him on his back suddenly, all of her weight falling against his chest. He cocked an eyebrow and grinned at her. But instead of kissing him, she shoved his brown and dun robes aside and put her ear to his bare belly. She tickled his sides lightly with her fingertips. His laughter came out in raspy burbles, bellydeep, as free as a child’s uninhibited laughter. Her cheek pressed even harder against his warm abdomen, so that her face should fall

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and rise with the vibrating swells. She wanted this, to perform for him, sing songs, tell jokes, tease. Anything to exert this power she had discovered she had over him: to make him laugh, to make him happy for a moment. She sighed deeply, feeling the profound shift of her spirit, like the calving of a glacier. The sound of it stirred ever so slightly the hairs on his bare belly. “What.” It wasn't a question, just a blunt expression of disbelief. “What,” he repeated. “I love you, Sandor.” Her muscles went lax and the very blood in her veins seemed to be coursing in a freer way. She lifted her head from his stomach and saw him giving her one of his attentive stares. The moment he met her eyes, he started cackling uncontrollably. It sounded dreadful, the laughter of a villain from a mummer's farce, the man who possessed what he did not deserve. “Bloody confounding. I can't believe I caught you. You're too beautiful. Too clean. Too soft. Too willing.” She blinked, “It’s not confounding. Young girls are not so very different from dogs. We're both such biddable creatures. The one who respects our intrinsic nature and makes no threats gets what they want out of us soon enough.” He looked at her, his eyes growing solemn, his mouth twisting into a strange smile, sweetness tinged with melancholy. She closed her eyelids as she laid her head back down on his

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abdomen. Her love for him did not deny harsh truths—rather it transcended them. The palms of his hands began stroking her hair, broad strokes, as if she was a soft, small creature sniffing and mousing around him. “Girls and dogs … that’s the meat of it isn’t it? Couldn’t have bloody well felt anything different, could I? No girl ever expended that level of intensity of awareness on me as you did. I wanted to be close to you so badly. Hold you tenderly and overpower you at the time.” He drew a heaving breath. “Seven Hells …” A breath again. “There aren't words. Just the memory of so much—frustration—I felt as though it would cleave me in two,” he laughed, that crazy, frantic sound of his, half-chuckle, half-sob. She growled at him playfully, rubbing her face in his chest as Lady used to do with her. Even as she was performing her silly antics, his words worked away in her brain: to cleave was the only word she knew that meant both one thing and its opposite. To tear apart and to join together. Sandor yanked her up by her waist until her face was directly in front of his. “I love you, Sandor,” she said. He kissed her ferociously. Lips, tongue, teeth, gums, the inside of her cheeks, the tip of her throat, entering her mouth more thoroughly than she would ever have imagined a man might want to.

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She placed her hand on his chest and felt the tha-tha-thump of his heartbeat, so startlingly violent that it surely could break ribs. Happiness, she recognized it intuitively. It only lasted in its purest, richest form for the length of heartbeats. I want to live in this moment forever, Sansa thought. Impossibly, his kiss deepened. He stole her breath, as if he would live off the air in her lungs. Gasping for air, the weight of her hand had not yet began to push back with any degree of firmness when Sandor abruptly ended the kiss, flipping her over onto her back. Then he stood up, walking towards the pool. “Sandor,” she panted after him. He didn’t turn around, lapping up the water held in the cup of his hands. “Oh, shit,” she heard him mutter. His fingers rippled the still water of the pool. The music had stopped for a count of three. Sansa’s eyes whitened, widened. Her reflection emerged from the pool. Arms raised as if she was a Lysene dancer. A beam of sunlight was directly shining on the creature. She was lovely beyond imagining: elegant, lean haunches, delicately boned, her body covered in wolfish hairs so fine they were invisible. When the creature glided across the water, the sunlight followed. In her wake, Sansa could see dust motes, swirling ecstatically around her like a retinue of millions of tiny little sparrows, hopelessly attracted to her, wanting only to follow her.

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Sansa watched as her reflection approached Sandor's reflection. How odd it was for them to witness their reflections move of their own free will, yet Sandor did not appear much surprised by it, the extent of his consternation no more than knitted brows. The creature came face to face with Sandor’s reflection. The sight of those brown and dun robes made her irritable—they seemed like a costume—and the creature angrily tore them away. After she had done so, she turned that perfect face and looked directly at Sansa. She smiled. A smile so magnificent and devastating that it both warmed and hurt. It was a smile straight from the canvases of old Valyrian paintings. Straight from a prayer book. The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools … Old Nan had told Sansa tales of wargs and skinchangers, humans that could wear the skins of animals. Was there an inverse? She could feel the creature inside of her, walking the hairs on her arms, sending the shiver that travelled down her spine to inhabit all of her tightening muscles. The melty feeling possessed her. Sansa licked the edge of her front teeth just as she spied the creature's tongue coming out, long and deep-rose pink, to suck him swollen. Sandor's voice drifted low, “You said you never wanted to live in the world again. You meant it?”

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She looked at him as if the question itself incomprehensible. “Why do you ask?”

was

Sandor didn't bother to respond. He closed his eyes, his head rolling back, his teeth bared like a man wounded. Maester Luwin said there is nothing in dreams I need fear, Sansa told herself. She turned to examine the heart tree, its carved face smiling when it should have been melancholy. The air was fragrant, spicy with the scent of flowers when it should have smelled of mushroom-moist soil and sweet rot. And that heretical noise. A song playing in a sacred place where there should be no sound at all, lest it disturb the brooding ghosts of her oath-bound forefathers. Oh, how long would she lie to herself ? “Do you know what that noise is, Sandor?” He seemed a part of this place, adding his own tremendous force to the pull of its mysterious life and will. “Insects humming.” He huffed a low breath. “What of it?” “They're singing. The song of summer cicadas,” she replied with unshakable certainty, though she had never heard the sound before. Lord Petyr had insisted that Alayne's education include the masculine subjects her parents and her Septa had neglected: law and accounting, warfare, politics and religion, commerce and agriculture. “They don't live in the Seven Kingdoms. Only in the lands across the Narrow Sea. I ate one once on a dare. It had been

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rolled in honey and spices. Petyr said they were a delicacy from Meereen.” Her alarm became tangible, a declension of voice, an acceleration of breathing. “In Lys, the people consider them sacred. Their coins are stamped with their love goddess on one side and the cicada on the obverse.” That old book of Valyrian tales she kept by her bedside appeared so vividly in her mind that it seemed as if she could smell the sweet mustiness of the antique paper, see that specific page: the one whose edge was thinned by her licked thumb moving over it a hundred times. “There's a story about these insects that dates back to Old Valyria. Once upon a time, before the birth of song, cicadas were ordinary humans. When song entered the world, some men and women were so struck by the pleasure of it that they sang continuously, forgetting to eat and drink until they perished. From these men and women, the race of cicadas arose. From birth they require no nourishment, singing, always singing, in a perpetual state of intoxicated ecstasy until they wither and die.” Sansa couldn't see the cicadas but she could feel their eyes. They were staring down at her and Sandor from their great height, singing in chorus. “They were deformed by their desire until they became ignobly bound to it. Men and women who declined humanity and were cursed for it.” “Cursed?” the Hound's mouth held a derisive curl. His burned mouth twitched; it exposed her worst suspicions.

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“They were smart buggers.” His jaw set moodily. “The world's a little dark cage and outside of it is this. Where the true sun shines, where one’s lady love—” He brushed her lips with his thumb, still wet from the water. She paused, then let it slide into her mouth. The wetness trickled down her throat. The flavor was clean, biting, as bracing to her taste buds as meltwater. Wildly, extravagantly delicious. Like his spit but more potent, infinitely more potent. She felt the heat of it behind her eyes. It was otherworldly. A lifetime of sweetness, the waters of their out-of-time marriage bed, thousands upon thousands of fevered beads of sweat, distilled and collected into the pure and clean pool before her. Sansa tensed her fists. Gods be good. She was going to cry. The intensity of it was daunting and she pinched her eyes shut to stop the welling of tears. Her body hummed to the point of near severance—reaching towards a pleasure so far outside her knowledge and experience, it threatened a break. “All I wanted to do after I left King’s Landing was drink until I was dead to the world. Those wine-soaked dreams—such damnable sweetness. Your wet cunny. Your thankful tongue.” An edge crept into his voice. “What the fuck are you looking for? What has your life been, girl? What else is in store for you, pretty little bird?” Sandor's hands seized her neck as if she was an intransigent child he had caught by the scruff. “Look,” he ordered.

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She opened her eyes to slits. Sandor's reflection had his mouth buried between her reflection's legs, kissing the creature so that she was —“Wet enough to fuck?” he supplied. The Hound's reflection had the creature pinned on all fours, his hands gripping her waist in an iron grasp. He pulled her onto his cock, a thick, burning pain. Fuck, it was a fitting word to describe what he was doing. Sansa silently mouthed the word, the roughness of the sound of c in her throat matching the slam of his cock. He pulled out slowly, the tendons in his arms straining, his face an ugly snarl. “I want to be inside of you so bad,” the Hound rasped as his reflection spread the creature's buttocks wide with his fingers, bringing her even closer to him. Sandor's eyes darkened until they were all pupil. “I want to wear the fur of your cunt like a wolf-lined coat, sleep curled up in the marrow of your bones, our blood indistinguishable, two dark rivers mingling together. One flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever, and cursed be the one who comes between them.” He had recited a passage from The Seven-Pointed Star, the last lines the septon would say when sanctifying a marriage. Another thrust. Like the one before. The slow withdraw then the deep plunge, his pelvis thudding against her reflection's buttocks. Another thrust, then another and another, faster, faster, faster, all attempts to be gentle abandoned. He fucked her reflection as if he had no volition, driving into her as if he could not get deep enough with brutal paroxysms of muscles. The 168


creature trembled like a half-broken horse. Blunt pain but a brilliant pleasure hiding behind it. She stole a climax from him, the good feeling coming like a sudden slap, hard enough that it left Sansa's nerves twitching in raw discomfort. Immediately the creature went lax, her cheek and belly brushing the floor, relieved to let him do with her as he pleased. The Hound's reflection used her roughly, as a common soldier would use his slut. Sansa watched them. She found the tableau both abominable and mindlessly pleasurable at the same time. The sight of his cock moving in and out of her. Delicate and shining wet, partially seen, partially concealed by a light tuft of copper curls. Impossible to believe that I could contain something like that, someone like him, within so small a space, she thought.

“Little bird, little bird …” Sandor keened, the roar of a poor dumb beast howling in rage and pain. She turned to look at him. He had his hands locked over his head and his terrible burnt face tilted to the sky. The sun cast shadows over it, painting him with stripes of light and darkness. “Do you know what it's like?” the Hound spat, his voice turning purely mean for a moment. He looked down again—oh, his eyes, his eyes, that was the worst part. Their expression reminded her of the mother who had thrown her dead baby at Joffrey the day of the riots. There was a likeness, a shared sense of abject impoverishment. He hungered for her as the poor hungered for bread.

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“Water after a fucking eternity in the desert—” He sucked in a harsh breath of air between his teeth and then he began anew. “I'm happy. I feel happy. You make me happy. You have to hold on to that feeling. Lose it and it leaves a killing wound for having existed in the first place.” Grey eyes locked on every part of her face, waiting for a tic of emotion. The fixed stare of a serpent, Sansa thought, her nails digging into her hand. One day I'll have a song from you, whether you will it or no. He wasn’t her friend any longer but rather her enemy, a monster from whom she must run. The Hound threw back his head and roared. His laughter sounded like it always did. It’s my perception that changes, not him, she realized, profoundly disillusioned. Now it sounded like a rusty iron gate that refused to open all the way. The kind that would catch her silks and tear them if she tried to squeeze through it. “Go on, run, you won’t get very far,” he said. As quick as a wild hare, she scrambled from the ground, putting several paces between them. She hid behind the weirwood tree as if it she could claim sanctuary from it.

He stood up, swaying slightly like a battle-dazed knight behind his visor. He seemed to grow even taller, grotesquely tall, looming over her like a basilisk, ready to strike. Sansa stumbled backward with a little cry. Her chest hurt, the very blood in her heart felt like it was turning to lead. This dream, one exquisite pleasure after another, was taking on the proportion of a nightmare. 170


Her brain mapped the quickest path from the godswood to the crypts where she could lose him in the twisting passageways that no stranger to Winterfell would be able to decipher. “Stay,” the Hound ordered. He shifted forward an inch. That predatory smile began to pull harder at his mouth, though he tried to keep it back, out of sight.

In her agitation, she glared at him with real savagery. Black Dog’s hilt was agleam in the faint sunlight. “Easy, easy, I won't take another step,” Sandor said. His eyes told her she could not get to it even if she wished. She understood that he knew to a fine degree just how far she was away from it, foresaw every possibility of her movements. She gave a faint dry sob. She wanted to weep and she wanted to wound him at the same time. Sansa clamped her hand over her mouth to stop the wailing. “Gentle Mother,” Sandor breathed. “Pick up the blade, girl, and I'll let you kill me with it.” He turned his eyes downwards, gouging the soil with his feet. Underneath the upturned earth, bugs wriggled on their back, twitching, their pale, segmented bellies up. He spoke to the ground, his rasp rougher than usual. “Here's a story for you, little bird. Two children sleeping in their lonely beds far apart from one another. They share the same dream night after night, their fantasies bridging the distance that the day imposes. But come dawn, a fire moves along the rope of memory

171


that binds them together. When they awake, they remember nothing. They know nothing. Changing back from the people they wish they were, into the people they used to be.” As he spoke, a memory that had been previously too indistinct to catch suddenly stood out clearly. An invisible red skein that billowed between them. The skein became solid in the dream realm, so solid that their dreaming selves could see it, move their hands along its length until they found each other in the heart of the wilderness within. “Are the gods so cruel? Will I never see you again?” Sansa squeezed her eyes shut but no tears came to relieve the awful tension. The wound ran too deep and all her tears were internal, like blood. As if by witchy magic, a sudden gust of wind was born. The lithe arms of the heart tree swayed, autumn leaves spiraling on the breeze, the very air itself transforming into song. The First Song. Music to set a thousand hearts abloom. The singsong of the cicadas grew ever louder, a delirious, enthralling crooning that she could somehow understand.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was the princess of a savage country where it snowed even in the middle of summer and the winters were so cold a child's laughter would freeze in her throat and choke her to death. The children of this land grew up unimaginably fast for their lives were grim and they lived close to the hard-packed earth. But the girl was very pretty, honey sweet, and sheltered by her father and mother as a rare rose is sheltered from the frost by being kept in a glass house. 172


As was the way of these stories, the girl found herself alone, a babe lost in the woods. A path led her to a crossroads and it was here where she stood as still as a post buried in the ground. She was to be given the choice between reality and dreams. One path was a bridge of knives, their handles human bones, their pommels the skulls of wolves whose bleeding eye sockets cried out for justice. The other path was a bower of roses where her lover’s song would build a bed for her to slumber in the twilight life-in-death of an animal form. “This is our true life upon this earth,” the girl's beloved rasped. The world grew low-lit, a golden pleasure garden where beautiful music played endlessly. The girl was both dancing light and sinking into the receptive earth, licking, sucking … midnight, summer, collapsing into the immensity of time … no self, only the prickling heat that began in her sex and vibrated until her entire body was the organ— “I'm the Princess of Winterfell, I'm the Princess of Winterfell, I'm the Princess of Winterfell …” the girl plaintively cried the chaining repetition of her name. The heart tree dropped its bright leaves to make a crimson carpet at her feet. They were all horribly wrong: they should have been dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. The hands of her family. Lady, her father, Bran, Rickon, Robb, her mother, Arya, murdered or lost to the wind. Until Jon Snow, the last drop of blood in her heart and a thousand leagues from her, was all that she could claim.

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A leaf brushed her cheek, as light as the scratch of an insect's legs. Yet the weight of it shot through her with such emotional force that she felt dizzy and light-headed; the very earth seemed to move, pulling her back in time to a luminescent moment, as unblurred to her as if it had happened only yesterday. Aren't you just a little afraid of the terrible evil beasts, Bran?

Father says that the only time a man can be brave is when he's afraid. So I will be the bravest of all. I've been shaking in my boots since I could walk. You have courage, Sansa. Mother’s courage. The courage of the ladies in the songs. What is courage?

The wise endurance of the soul. You didn't make that up. An ancient dragonlord famous for his wisdom. Maester Luwin is making me read his writings. The wise endurance of the soul … what does that even mean? “I'm going to kill Littlefinger,” she said, her heart pounding frantically. “Do you think dragons get smaller up close, girl? They don't.” Sandor lifted his face from the ground. “They get fucking bigger!” The roar of his voice was loud enough to reverberate the waters of the pool.

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Afterwards, he stood still, the muscles in his shoulders and neck stiffening. “Why?” he asked sharply, his hands flexing with a motion that showed all throughout his body, as if he was pressing against a great weight. “Gods’ pity, why?” The girl had been given a choice and the act of choosing was the transformation. Her thump of her heartbeat slowed. “Family. Duty. Honor.” There was none of the disgust or rage she had expected. Only a mystified look. As if she had spoken in riddles that made no sense. “Eddard Stark was my sire, the Young Wolf my brother. I am the blood and seed of Winterfell.” The Hound laughed as if she was a backward child who had just said something very stupid. “Spare me,” he laughed again. Even to her own ears it sounded like a silly boast. How could she make him understand? The clear waters she drank as a thirsty child still ran in her veins and no other waters could make her forget. “Your brother didn't have the wits the gods gave a toad,” he heaved, having laughed himself to tears. “The mighty Eddard Stark, fuck his bloody heroics! What a feeble legacy. No wonder Starks are so scarce on the ground. Harebrained fools, you lot.” Sandor's eyes glistened and he wiped his face, then wiped it again, and again, before he gave up. “What’s going to happen to you?”

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The tears rose, filling his mouth and he swallowed them. His mouth moved but no sound came out. Speaking was beyond him. For a long dreadful moment, the silence between them was filled with the giant's song, twisting and permuting in their aching minds. Be she alive or be she dead, I'll grind her bones to make my bread. Meaningless words learned as a child, repeated mindlessly now as a portent of her epitaph. “Stay,” he begged, his voice a guttural hoarseness while she stared at him dry-eyed. He lifted his hand toward her, palm open. Sandor held his hand out until it began to shake. She made a small step towards him and he covered their distance in a couple of strides. She took his hand but before he could move to embrace her, she knelt on the ground. Sansa bussed his knuckles as if he was her liege lord. “I'm sorry, Sandor. I'm sorry. I cannot. I know you can't understand.” She turned his wrists and kissed his hard-closed fingers. When she looked up at him, his mouth was set in a grimace. With each breath he took, the muscle in his cheeks drew taut—whether in pain or fury, she couldn't tell.

“I love you,” she whispered. He swallowed, staring at the empty space before him. The fingers of his hand grew lax, opening to let her kiss them. He turned to face her again and his expression was mournful: the sort of look reserved for lost causes, hopeless dreams, last chances used up and gone.

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Then he moved his hand and held her chin between his iron fingertips, rubbing the skin there. He surveyed her for a long moment. “Look at you. Bloody green,” he rasped. “The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow … That’s what you are—a branch snapped off a willow tree. Flexible, full of buds. As likely to break as to season and harden.” His words did not unsettle her. The moment in which she had become intelligible to herself had passed, leaving her in a strange state of ghostly calm that no one could revoke. It did not seem impossible. She had courage. Like a lady in a song, she would use her wits and her nerve to find the opportunities that would come at the edge of the moment. Littlefinger had shown her his besetting weakness. It was herself. She was the sword that he had tempered and the instrument of his destruction. An inhuman intensity lit her from within. Beyond this place, the true world was calling her. To answer it would absolve all. Her fingers caught the neck of her bedgown, pulling until it fell off her shoulders, baring her breasts. “Do you know where the heart is?” she whispered as she caressed his sword hand. He gave a faint sob, almost a laugh, his face twisting into an ugly sneer. “Bugger that. I hate that fucking stupid story. Azor Ahai should have never killed Nissa Nissa. Heroes were meant to die for beauty, not the other way around.”

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With the careful slowness of a wounded animal sinking down to rest, he knelt on the ground. “I'm going to crush the cage, reach across the distance and find you.” Sandor’s hands cupped her elbows and he drew her forward with a groan. The Hound's fingers dug deep into her arms, holding her tight as he breathed against her ear. “Make you feel my flesh and blood on you. Inside of you.” His head fell deeply back, baring his throat to her in submission. “My lonely wolf,” he gulped a sobbing breath. Sansa leaned towards him, consuming the scent of him, his very essence in a deep breath. Her teeth gently closed over the curve of his great bull neck. He made a low growl. He put his right palm at her throat, his thumb pressing into her vein. The sound of her own pulse throbbed in her ear as she pressed


her sharp kisses to his neck. Her lips were warm, wet, sucking, strong, so strong that she would leave marks. “Born to serve,” he laughed. She could feel the tremor inside of him, bonedeep. Snowflakes melted on her eyelids, like a curtain descending. A drop of sweat trailed from behind Sandor’s ear to salt her lips. She felt a sharp tug on the back of her neck. The blood drained out of her f a c e . Pe a r l s p o p p i n g , bouncing on the ground, taptap-tap.

Then she was vanishing, a mist that rose to the dark trees, to the dissolving woods, leaving behind the winged insects that kept on singing each day of the shortening summer.


Chapter 11

our of the Wolf

Moon has set

and Pleiades: middle night, the hour goes by, alone I lie. Sappho, Fragment 168B

A

layne opened her eyes to slits. What was the hour? It was still night time by all appearances, yet she felt bed sore, as if she had slept for a thousand years. She pulled at her blankets, her body damp from sweat, her throat tight from a heavy catch in it. A wet compress fell off her forehead as she sat up abruptly into the dark. The room smelled of soured milk. She leapt out of bed to open the curtains. The light of the full moon threw the disorderliness of her chamber in sharp relief. An unfamiliar basket of needlework lay beside a chair situated to face her. A thin broken branch of a weirwood tree stood in a small vase near her left bedside table, its blood red leaves old and dry. Her eye sought and found a maester’s trestle table in the far corner, full of scores of vials and healing books. She walked towards it and picked up the piece of parchment she found there.

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In Maester Colemon's jagged script it said: Alayne continues to worsen each day. Rapid heartbeat, agitation, delirium, burning fever … I fear death will take her. Well, death had not taken her but her brush with it had left her not quite herself, feeling strange and emotionless. She returned to her window, opening it. The small night wind cooled her fevered brow, played with her disheveled hair. “It’s the hour of the wolf,” she said aloud; the full moon hung in the darkness, halfway between its zenith and the western horizon. Sunrise would come in a few hours. What had Old Nan told her about this time? The hour of the wolf was when most old people die and when most infants are born. When ghosts and small gods were at their strongest. A strange brutal pull compelled her to look eastwards and there it was, between two snow-blanketed trees. The Moonmaid. Small and yet oh so very haunting, raising the hairs on Alayne’s arms. Suddenly, a swoop of sparrows whipped their wings down the sky, through midair; they came so close that the girl screeched, covering her face with her palms. But instead of little scratches, she only felt the flap of their little wings, scooping air, sifting snowflakes that hit her cheeks as softly as kisses. She turned away from her window feeling tense and hot and churning over some forgotten, forgotten—What have I forgotten? Her thoughts flickered through her—dreams of running, keys to lost names— no more seizable than the smoldering breath of a blown out candle …

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She climbed back into bed. Dawn was approaching and it would bring others with it. There was nothing to do but wait. Her eyes rested upon that tapestry that hung in her chamber. Scudding clouds drifted over the moon, staggering its light. Her vision wobbled and shifted. Either she was growing much smaller or it was growing much bigger, until she could focus on nothing else save the weft-faced weaving. In one panel, the white knight fought the dragon. Ser Serwyn in his Kingsguard armor on his black horse. The evil dragon Urrax, a nightmare vision with its glittering scales and wings crested with gold, teeth like black daggers, breath plumes of green fire. In the next panel, the Princess Daeryssa, bound and in service to cruel giants that lived in the high mountain that lay at the heart of the forest. Oh, that face. Full of ferocious yearning to reach through the dark and eternal forest boughs, through time and space, to pull the white knight to her. The emotion sighed through Alayne with surprising intensity and she felt the beginnings of a quiver in her breastbone. Lovers fixed in time in a work of art. Their ardor would be forever green and forever unfulfilled. They lived right next to each other, loving everlastingly and yet never kissing. Her hand went to her mouth, covering her lips, her eyes wide and watery. That the old stories could play in her head and continue to move her in spite of her learning. She rolled over, face down, into her pillow. Her nose against the linen, moving it all over, searching for some mysterious scent like a hound. There was nothing. She bolted up, every nerve atingle. She strained for control but the trembling intensified. 183


A few moments later, for no reason she understood and despite every effort to prevent it, she burst into tears. They spilled down her cheeks, filling her mouth. Their taste not merely salty but bitter: the tears of bereavement.

184


Her whole body shook. Her nose ran with snot. She sobbed for an hour at least, maybe more. Such sorrow unleashed. Taut with heartbreak, with the unspeakable desolation over something not just lost but simply forgotten. “Gods be good, Gods be good…” Still hiccupping sobs, she picked up the leaf from the weirwood branch and ate it. She didn't understand what she was doing, only understanding that the weirwood leaf had the strong scent of things that were, and that taking this into her body was better than crying and moaning for all eternity. Where the danger is, deliverance also grows. Who had told her that? Septon Chayle? Yet her mind conjured up a face, the face of her brother Bran, but old, older than any human had a right to be. So old he looked as if he had walked a thousand years upon the earth. The Old One spoke to her, if only in whispers, of something inside of her that longed to be named. It seemed forever before Sansa lifted her head. Footsteps. The warble and whine of mockingbirds announcing the dawn. Be she alive or be she dead, I'll grind her bones to make my bread. Sansa let out a ragged breath but did not shiver. There was a feeling in her blood, something marching through her, someone new and courageous and wonderful waiting to be born. “Now is when the point of the story changes,” she said, her voice a hush.


I

nside her brain, a sleeping wolf sprang awake, its yellow eyes opening in the dark.


uthor's note

blest bridegroom, your marriage just as you prayed has been accomplished and you have the bride for whom you prayed gracious your form and your eyes as honey: desire is poured upon your lovely face Aphrodite has honored you exceedingly Sappho, Fragment 112

T

his is the end of my story. As in canon at the time I’m writing this tale (with A Dance with Dragons being the last published novel), the lovers are fixed in time in a work of art. Will Sandor crush the cage, see Sansa's mark and come to Sansa's rescue? Or will their love be forever green and forever unfilled? We're all small gods, playing with Sansa and Sandor like dolls that we bang together at the hips. In my universe they will meet again: the red skein that billows between Sansa and Sandor refers to the red thread of fate, an East Asian belief that the matchmaker god, Yuè Xià Lǎo, ties an invisible red string to two people destined to be lovers regardless of circumstances. Running has a sequel of sorts with my fanfiction The Northman's Daughter (though I wrote TND first). Some of the lines in TND, like Sansa's “I've dreamed of your kisses for a thousand years” or when Sandor reunites with Sansa


and she looks at him as if she knew his every movement since leaving King's Landing, are an intuitive, but entirely subconscious, remnant of this dream. In that story, Sandor gets his happy ending: his little bird, Black Dog, puppies, the goddess has honored him exceedingly … The narrative agent who brings Sansa and Sandor together despite time and place is the Lysene love goddess. George R.R. Martin wrote that her naked image is stamped on Lysene coins and Ellaria Sand is one of her adherents. I’ve expanded on her characterization by partially modelling her after the Sumerian love goddess, Inanna. The prayer Myranda Royce recites is taken from the ancient Hymn to Inanna. She is also modeled on Aphrodite/ Venus, the Greco-Roman goddess of love, who rose from the ocean foam on a seashell. In my universe, some version of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus exists and Sansa is said to resemble her. The poetry of Sappho is from If Not Winter, Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. Of the nine books of lyrics the ancient Greek poet Sappho is said to have composed, only one poem (Fragment 1—“Hymn to Aphrodite”) has survived complete. The rest are written on papyrus riddled with holes or in bits the size of postage stamps. I read this collection at the same time I was writing this story and the poems lit me up with their delicate lyrical power. As Carson notes, the word Sappho uses for sleep—κῶμα (“coma”)—was not originally a medical term, but a poetic one. It was used to describe otherworldly sleep such as the profound, weird, sexual sleep that enwraps Zeus after love with Hera (Homer Iliad 14.359).


Both the definition of courage and the origin story of the cicadas are parables from Socrates. Here I'm claiming cicadas are the locusts that Strong Belwas ate in Meereen in order to tie it the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. The giant’s song is from the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk which has been around for ages and which Shakespeare himself referred to in King Lear. Old Nan’s description of the “hour of the wolf ” is taken from the Ingmar Bergman movie of the same name. The songs referenced in the story are song titles from canon. However, the lyrics of “Let Me Drink Your Beauty” are my own, partially inspired by a limerick written by W.H. Auden. Thank you for reading this story. It started out as a fill to several prompts (ahem: threesome, blindfold, anilingus) on the sansaxsandor.livejournal.com community’s comment fic meme. My canon inspiration was this passage from Sansa VII, A Storm of Swords: And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into the bed his face was scarred only on one side. "I’ll have a song from you," he rasped, and Sansa woke and found the old blind dog beside her once again. I finished writing the first draft around August 2012 and decided to reboot it by rewriting it and turning it into an illustrated fanwork. More than a year later—this is the end result!


I am forever grateful to my remarkable and ever patient beta, Redgoddemandsit. The amount of work involved in being my editor was considerable as this story has undergone countless rewrites since August 2012. I am also grateful to all contributing artists. Click on their names in the ‘Contributors’ section to be directed to their Deviant Art account. In particular, I would like to praise the dedication of Alicia de Andres. She did the bulk of the illustrations and the harmony of our working relationship was critical to the fanwork’s successful completion. I’d also like to thank DubuGomdori whose artwork leaves me breathless with its beauty and minute attention to detail. As to what sparked my imagination to even do such a thing? The inspiration was a comment left by reader voodooqueen126 regarding what became ‘The Long Game’ chapter: Many centuries later, when the porn industry is established in Westeros, this scene is featured in the movie ‘Hound and Bird.’ So what you see here are the results of me running wild with her comment! Should you like to a leave comment, I would be exceedingly honored. Click on the links on the following page to be directed to my fan spaces. sansaxsandor.livejournal.com sansa-sandor.livejournal.com archiveofourown.org fanfiction.net kimberlite8.tumblr.com

kimberlite8.livejournal.com


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“Inside her br ain, a sleeping wolf spr ang awake its yellow eyes, open ing in the dar k.�

S

ansa Stark has a coming-of-age dream about an encounter between her adult self and Sandor Clegane. A series of vignettes about the sexual and moral fruition of Sansa Stark and a character study about the duality of Sandor Clegane.


Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hound