"Go away!" The thirteen year old princess spat at him. "Just leave already, like you want to!"
Sandor Clegane had spent the better part of an hour searching for Princess Sansa, and her sobs finally gave her away. Well, the sobs and her pet wolf. Lady sat at the base of a tree, circling it occasionally, as if there was some prey above. What Sandor discovered was not an animal of prey, but rather the wolf's mistress. The little bird was high in a tree in the godswood, nestled into its branches, its red leaves mirroring her hair. The sworn shield never would have spotted her if not for the sound of her sniffles, disturbing the otherwise tranquil wood.
"Little bird, you're going to hurt yourself!" He called back, watching her movements warily, trying to foresee where she would land if she fell. "Stop being so foolish, and come down already!"
"What do you care?" She wailed dramatically. "You're so glad to be rid of me, I bet you'll laugh when I fall from this tree to my end."
"Sansa please," Sandor called, rubbing his face as he craned his neck to see up the tree. His training in the yard had certainly not prepared him to deal with the drawn out emotions of a teenage girl. "You know as well as I do that I did not choose this path. King Eddard needs to call his banners, and I need to do my part. When the master calls, the dog obeys, girl."
The princess pressed her face against the trunk and her reply was quieter than her previous shout. "You swore to protect me until I married, you are breaking your vows, Sandor Clegane!"
"His Grace relieved me of them. I am not deserting," he answered calmly, though the depression of their impending parting was weighing heavily on Sandor as well. In one weeks time the Hound would be leaving his young mistress and riding with the King's men to the Westerlands in hopes of crushing a Lannister-Tyrell Rebellion. Once, Sandor would have found great pleasure in being thrust onto the field of battle, the direwolf sigil flying above his head.
Now though, the sworn shield was no longer sure if the glory of battle would be anything like the glory of her company. Or if the honor of victory was anything even near the honor of being her favorite companion. Or if the men he would serve with would have the nerve to look him in the face as she did. Sandor was uncertain.
Princess Sansa was silent for a few moments, and the only music to be heard in the godswood was the gurgling of the pool, the dancing of the leaves in the wind and the guilt pounding in Sandor's chest. Then she asked, "How could you? How could you say yes?"
"I did not have a-"
"You did!" She shrieked, and wobbled on her tree limb. Sandor moved to grab her if she fell, but Sansa regained her balance and jabbed a finger at him, down below her. "You could have refused! You are happy for the chance to leave, I can tell."
"You know that is not the truth," he said in return.
In response, she shifted so that the leaves hid her face, though he could still hear her sniffling.
He continued trying to coax her from the tree. "Your wolf will still be here to look after you. You don't need a dog when you have a direwolf, Princess. Besides, I'm sure King Eddard will have a new guard for you." The thought of someone else in his place left a sickening feeling in Sandor's stomach. He did not like the notion of some other man receiving the little bird's confidence and kind words. But it was true enough that he was leaving, and he supposed he had to make peace with the fact that soon she would have a new hound to follow her heels.
"I do not want anyone else! Are you daft as well as a traitor?"
"The little bird is bold when I cannot reach her," he growled, glaring at the grief-stricken girl. "You wouldn't be calling me names if you were down here, where I could set you right!"
"Oh bother! Your threats are as useless as your promises," she hissed. To prove her point, Sansa eased her way down from the branches, wincing slightly as the twigs caught in her hair, but overall avoiding injury. Sandor watched her descent slowly, and met her eyes when she stood in front of him. True to her word, Sandor did not grab her in anger once she was in reach.
She had grown, this freshly flowered woman-child that stood in front of him. Princess Sansa did not have to crane her neck so far to look up at him now; instead of being a height with his hip, she was now at his chest, and was sure to grow further. The new little lordlings fluttering about her were testament enough to her growth, as they now sought her hand rather than just a giggly kiss.
But she was not a woman, not to Sandor. Not when her long hair was rustled and knotted from the tree and dirt was smeared on her white cheekbone and she still stuck her lip out like she had when she was six years old. No, to Sandor she was still his little bird. And I thought I could keep her for a few years more...thought I could see her off at her wedding, even though I would want to wring the groom's neck the whole time.
Fate had not been so kind to allow him that.
Slowly, Sansa poked a finger into his chest and looked at him with as much steel in her eyes as a thirteen year old could muster. "You won't hurt me, Sandor Clegane, so don't bother with idle threats."
"Then don't call me what I'm not. Leaving your side by order, yes. A traitor to you...never."
Then she was crying again, and threw herself into his arms. After a moment of surprise, Sandor returned her embrace gently, tucking her head against his chest.
"It's not fair," she whined. "Arya gets to keep Syrio."
"Life isn't fair, girl."
"I don't want you to go."
Her words sent a spike of pain into his torso, and he closed his eyes against the onset of regret that came with it. The only person that has ever loved you...and you're leaving her. Stupid fucking dog. It wasn't as though he had a choice though, at least that's what he told himself to ease the guilt he felt at her tears.
"I know, little bird." Releasing her, he did the only comforting thing he could think to do. Sandor removed the Stark-gray cloak from his own shoulders and draped it around hers instead. He wasn't sure what use she would find from the fabric, but at least he could give her something. "Here. You can keep it."
Sansa clutched the cloak tight around her slender shoulders. "Thank you. You'll come back, won't you?"
Truly, Sandor did not know if he would. He wasn't betting on dying, but by the time the rebellion was settled she would most likely be married and toted away to one of the great Houses across Westeros. Would he seek her there? It would not at all be proper. No, given thought, he probably would never see his precious bird again. That caused an ache all over, of which Sandor had not been anticipating. An ache and a fierce worry to match it. Who could possibly look after her properly when he was not there? She was too sweet, too trusting to be on her own. Damn the Lannisters. They were the reason he was being sent away.
But her deep blue eyes were too pleading to disappoint. "Aye, little bird. I'll come back, don't you worry."
She nodded then, and tried to smile though it was a bit shaky. "Then...I will see you when you return, non-Ser. I love you, you know."
Sandor exhaled heavily and pressed a hard kiss to her forehead. "I'll see you again, Sansa Stark."
When the day came for the men to leave King's Landing, they were seen off with cheers and flowers thrown into the street. The day was a cool autumn breeze, and Sandor knew winter was not far off for the realm. For him, as he looked back to the Keep and saw the small red haired princess waving from the balcony, winter had already come.
Okay, so two more after this! The next one is going to be much longer I think!
Thank you once again for all the king comments! :)