Sandor always loved the ocean as a boy and the life of a fisherman was his destiny. From the time he could walk, he looked forward to the day he could join his father and brother in the family business.
The Cleganes were sworn to House Lannister of Casterly Rock, the large castle of the noble family than dominated the coastline of their sleepy little village. After Grandsire Clegane saved Lord Tytos, the Cleganes were then gifted the honor being one of a few select families entrusted with providing the Lannister family with seafood.
His brother Gregor, already nearly seven feet tall, wanted no part of it. He longed to be a knight and spent all of his spare time with the squires of Casterly Rock. The young man was gifted with brute strength and cruelty in equal measure and seemed destined for a life of service to the noble house. Their father insisted he work with the family until his seventeenth nameday, and since Lord Tywin agreed, Gregor grudgingly continued to fish alongside his father.
Sandor knew from an early age that he would gladly follow in the footsteps of his father and grandsire. The solitude and sea air seemed to be in his blood, calling to him each and every day. In fact, days spent on his family's fishing boat on the salty sea were among Sandor's first happy memories of childhood. The way he often sniffed the air led his family to teasingly nickname him 'the hound.' Sandor did not mind, and often barked in response, enjoying the peels of laughter it brought from his sister.
When he was six, he begged his brother to teach him to swim. Gregor could swim like a fish but he wouldn't lower himself to the menial task; instead preferring to spar with the young squires. However, his sister Sarah was most happy to teach Sandor and the two spent many a pleasant day swimming in the water as their father and brother fished nearby.
Occasionally a seal pup with the most unusual reddish brown pelt would swim alongside them, splashing playfully before disappearing in the watery deep below. "The seal pup likes you, Sandy pup," Sarah laughed, gathering Sandor into her arms. "It knows you are a pup too and wants to be friends." Sandor giggled in her arms as she tread water. "Kick your feet now or you'll go under."
He obeyed as Sarah went on. "It's most unusual for seals are most wary creatures by nature. It's very good luck to have a seal take to you, little brother."
"Why?" Sandor asked as he brushed Sarah's wet hair away from deep gray eyes so like his own.
"It means you will always be safe at sea. The seals will guard you and guide you if you let them. Trust them, little brother, and your days at sea will go well with you when you become a fisherman like Papa. Who knows, that pup might be a selkie."
Sandor had never heard that word. "Sis, what's a selkie?"
"A wonderful, magical creature that is a seal at sea and a human on dry land. They are beautiful, loving and very special."
"Bloody nonsense! Don't fill his head with that stupid shit, you buggering witch." Gregor growled from the starboard side of the boat. "I chase those ugly fuckers off the deck every chance I get. Made a nice sealskin coat from one, aye."
"You killed a seal?" Sandor's eyes widened, and his legs, now treading water on their own, wavered at his brother's cruel words. Quickly his head dipped below the waterline until Sarah lifted him into her arms once more.
"Bugger you, Gregor," Sarah hissed back. "You are wicked cruel and frightening the wee laddie. For shame!" Sandor gasped and choked as she heartily slapped him on the back.
Gregor laughed at his sputtering. "I should hold you under the water and make a coat from your pelt, little brother."
Sarah whispered soft words of comfort into his ear and smoothed his hair, all the while glaring at Gregor. "Or maybe Sandor will give me yours." She fumed angrily, protectively clutching him to her chest.
"Sarah! Gregor! Watch your tongues around the pup. A shame it is, the way you two speak. Your mother will smite you both for it one day from the Seven heavens, mark my words."
"Forgive us, Papa," Sarah finally called as she swam Sandor further away from the boat. Quickly she then turned and whispered into his ear with a smile. "It's best to be nice to seals and not chase them off as Gregor does, just in case they are selkies. You must never kill one either, or you will have bad luck. Do you believe me?"
Sandor wasn't sure whether she was telling him the truth or if this was another one of her fairy tales. He wanted to believe her, and Sarah often used such stories to comfort him when Gregor was in one of his cruel moods.
He thought it over as he kicked his legs back and forth. Sarah is older than Gregor by a year, Sandor reasoned as he looked into her eyes, might be that she would know of such things. Long after that day, Sandor wonder about Sarah's tale of the seal that turned into a human, and the young man held her words close to his heart the rest of his life.
Not long after that day, Sarah went into the nearby alcove searching for abalone with Gregor; and Sandor never saw his beloved sister again. Gregor told the grief-stricken family that she slipped on the rocks in the tide pools, hitting her head . He said the ocean carried her unconscious body out to sea, but Sandor never believed him. Sarah was the most surefooted of the three siblings and the best swimmer, too. Sandor was certain Gregor killed her, and from that day forward his hatred for his elder brother hardened his heart, the young boy seething quietly and planning his revenge as he spent his days by the sea.
After the accident, as the family referred to Sarah's death, his father and mother would no longer allow him to go out onto the boat. Sandor's heart ached for his sister, his grief nearly consuming him body and soul as he silently raged against Gregor. To make matters worse, Sandor was bitterly disappointed at being left out of the family fishing trips. Alone with his thoughts, Sandor would sit on the shore, mend the nets and watch the family boat in the distance, longing to join them as he wept for his beloved Sarah.
Bleary eyed from crying and the intricate weaving work mending the nets, Sandor took a break and scanned the waterline. To his surprise he spied the seal pup, with its reddish coat gleaming in the sun, sitting on the nearby rocks and watching him curiously. When their eyes met, the animal woofed softly and flapped its fins in the water.
After that day, Sandor began calling to the animal but it never would get very close, always warily observing the boy from a safe distance. Determined to get closer to the young seal, Sandor began bringing the smaller fish deemed too small for the family's use to the shoreline and placed them on the rocks so he could watch it eat.
Some days it would not appear but most days the seal would be there waiting for him. When Sandor retired to his usual spot on the rocks, the animal would eagerly eat his offerings; afterward the seal would jump and dance in the water, delighting him with its antics. It seemed the animal's little exhibitions were only for him, and though Sandor could no longer go out on the water, being able to watch the seal enjoying itself at sea made life a bit more bearable for the grief stricken young man. He felt a kinship with the animal and slowly Sandor began to recover from the loss of his sister.
On Sandor's tenth nameday, his father finally agreed to take him out with Gregor. It was to be his first fishing outing, and Sandor was very excited. As he carefully helped his brother set the nets, Sandor noticed the young seal pup sat not far away on the rocks, observing them closely. The mother seal swam nearby; before long she nudged the pup into the water and they were gone.
"'Tis lucky to see them out, son, for it means the fish will be biting, aye."
When they indeed had filled their hull, Sandor silently thanked the gods of the Seven as the pink dusk settled over the horizon. His mother taught him to pray to the so-called new gods, and he made sure he did just as she instructed. She was now gone, his dear sweet mother, following Sarah into the afterlife not long after the accident. His father told him she died of grief, but one look at Gregor's smug face told Sandor all he needed to know. He was already growing big and strong, and one day he would have his revenge on his brother, knight or no.
After making the seven pointed star sign over his heart, Sandor raised his eyes to the water. The seal pup was back, only this time it was alone, sitting on a sharp outcropping of the bay. The animal daringly swam near the vessel and dipped its head over the bow of the boat cautiously. "Go now! Gregor will hurt you!" Sandor growled at the animal. It merely flapped a fin at him and woofed. Suddenly the animal's eyes turned a deep blue color. Thinking he must be imagining things, Sandor blinked several times and shook his head. "Go now! Shoo!"
"Most unusual in a seal, those eyes." His father's voice resounded behind him. "Might be Sarah was right after all."
No, that can't be; he's only humoring me. "Father, is he blind?"
"No lad, and not a male, either. That pup is a girl."
"How can you tell?" Sandor asked, genuinely curious.
His father laughed heartily. "A fisherman knows where to look, lad."
As Sandor pondered his father's words, Gregor said, "I like that red pelt. Might have to clobber it, skin it whole. Won't make much of a coat, though, not big enough."
"Stay away from her!" Sandor shoved Gregor using all of his body weight. His giant of a brother didn't budge and merely swatted him away.
"Nice try, runt. You can't just push around a squire of Casterly Rock without consequences." Gregor's voice was low and menacing, sending a shiver through Sandor's body. The older brother laughed at him and unsheathed his knife.
"Leave your brother alone, Gregor. What would you know of it? You were meant to be a fisherman, not a knight."
"And spend my days knee deep in fish guts? Bugger that. I'm a man now, and far too big for you to give orders, old man. This is the last time I go out."
Sandor ignored them, instead focusing on the seal who was taking in the conversation as though she understood every word. He was mesmerized by her eyes. "We should give her a fish." The words tumbled out of his mouth.
Both men snapped their heads toward him in unison. "And why would we be giving away our hard earned catch to a beggarly seal pup, laddie?"
"The-the gods sent them to show us where the fish would be. Sarah told me," Sandor twisted his handkerchief. "And Mother, too. Besides, it is my nameday. I wish to gift her with a fish."
Gregor laughed. "You are a dumbshit through and through, little brother. You're supposed to get the gifts on your nameday, not the other way around. I'll squash you proper once you're big enough to waste my time on."
Their father frowned. "Sandor is right. There hasn't been a good catch around here in a dog's age. Barely enough for the seals to survive and yet here she is, pretty as you please. Your mother always prayed it would be thus, and we did indeed succeed with our fishing this day. She blessed us from the afterlife, gods rest her soul. Go on, boy, give her a fish."
Carefully Sandor selected the best, biggest fish of the bunch, hoping that his choice would please his mother and Sarah in the afterlife. Gingerly he then held out his hand and offered it to the seal pup. Warily she lifted herself on to the back of the boat, eying them closely. Quickly she took the fish from his hand and disappeared over the side.
"That's gratitude for you, little brother," Gregor laughed.
Just then the head of the fish came over the side of the boat, landing at Sandor's feet. "Why look at that, will you? She gave you the best part, son."
"Aye, seals always save the head for last, it being the tastiest to 'em, but she gave it to you."
Confused, Sandor glanced at his father. "What should I do?"
"Act like you're taking a bite, let her see you do it. Then she'll know you appreciate it."
"For fuck's sake, you are a fool, old man," Gregor snarled.
Sandor ignored him and carefully perched on the side of the boat. After spotting the seal, he gingerly acted as though he was taking a bite of the fish head, and the seal barked eagerly before swimming in circles.
Gregor stood with his harpoon at the ready. "Come closer and I'll have your hide, sea bitch."
"No!" Sandor pushed the weapon out of his elder brother's hand just as he was about to release the arrow. "Don't hurt her or I'll kill you myself!"
"You little shit," Gregor bared his teeth at Sandor. "I'll get you for this."
"Growl all you want, you aren't going to hurt her. She's my friend."
"Friend?" Gregor snorted. "She'll be your only one when I'm through with you." Grabbing Sandor by the collar, he shook Sandor hard until the boy's teeth rattled and a small wooden knight fell out of his pocket.
"You little cowardly bastard! You would steal from me?" Gregor roared angrily. "Now I'm gonna send you to Sarah and Mother."
"No! Don't hurt me, Gregor, please! You don't play with it and I-" Sandor's words soon dissolved into screams as Gregor shoved his face into the small brazier their father had built on the deck.
"Gregor, no!" Their father cried, grasping in vain at Gregor's shoulders as Sandor screamed, his efforts at restraint failing miserably against the enraged young man's stranglehold. "For gods sake, he is your brother!"
The brazier tipped over in the struggle, lighting the small wooden boat on fire. The dry wooden planks were quickly engulfed in flames, exploding as it met the varnish coating the deck. The concussion threw Sandor into the watery deep.
Floating on his back, the young boy heard the muffled screams of his father and brother over the roar of the flames licking at the boat. Feebly Sandor tried to swim away, but the intense pain gripped his entire body and the boy found he had no strength to move. Despite his efforts, again and again Sandor's head sunk beneath the surface of the water as the waves lapped at his face, the salty brine stinging his burns.
Sandor drew a breath to scream but only a hissing rasp escaped his throat. Suddenly the seal was beside him, plunging her body beneath his own and encircling him. Gently she moved him away from the burning vessel. Weakly Sandor struggled against her. "My father, my brother-please-"
Sandor could not think, could barely see from the searing pain radiating from his face but what happened next stunned Sandor into alertness. Before his very eyes, the seal's kind face transformed into that of a beautiful young maiden. Her deep blue eyes kindly met his gaze and she smiled softly at him. The rust colored pelt turned into a halo of fiery red hair that surrounded them as she took him into her arms. "San-dor, San-dor, you are hurt, my friend. Rest in my arms. You saved me. I will help you."
"What-what is your name?"
"My family calls me Sansa," she whispered, kissing his cheek tenderly. "I will take you to them." Weakly the young man succumbed to her attentions, closing his eyes and drifting off as she carried him beneath the waves.