Prologue: A Confused Hound.
Sandor "the hound" Clegane had the shittiest job in Kings Landing if you asked him. Watching the arrogant little shit tormenting his little brothers, acting like he was already the godsdamned king already and mewling back to his mother at the first sign of trouble. Not that he really minded, it was more of an annoyance for him. After all, his prospects serving the Lannisters were good, the killing was good, and one day the little shit would be King.
And, it wasn't as if this job didn't have its benefits. As Prince Joffrey's Sworn Shield, it was his duty to follow him everywhere, which had let him enjoy the sight of the little shit being chastised and punished for acting like an idiot. It had been yesterday, 3 days after Jon Arryn's death. Joffrey had refused to go to the North, shouting something about "Not wanting to even touch the northern savages", and things had only degenerated from there. Robert had been ready to strike the Prince, but a warning glare from Cercei had stopped him, instead throwing his cup of wine angrily to the floor and ordering Sandor to take Joffrey back to his room without supper. He had grabbed the little shit and dragged him back to his room, kicking and screaming at the "Injustice".
Maybe the prospect of him being King one day was not a good idea after all…
Sandor was about to continue with his internal ramblings, basking in the morning sunlight from the nearby window when a sudden, muffled scream reached him through the door… from prince Joffreys room. He was probably screaming in rage at someone or something yet again… though it was rare for him to do it in the morning… Sandor didn't even doubted for a moment his course of action, he was no Knight, no Lord, but he did still take his duty seriously.
He busted into the room, drawing his sword and looking for assassins when he spotted Joffrey on the floor, breathing heavily, clutching his throat while he vomited bile over the floor.
Mustbepoison, thought the hound, though it was strange, the prince had not eaten anything last night, and he had seen no servants going through the door. He quickly sheathed his sword as he helped Joffrey up, ready to take him to a Maester.
In retrospect, it was then when things really stopped making sense to the Hound.
"I'm okay Sandor, I'm okay" he said as he sat on his bed, taking deep breaths. The prince's face was filled with despair, anger, sadness, loss and self-loathing all in quick succession. He grabbed his head, and took one last deep breath. "You'd think I would get used to this by now… but it never gets any better" He snorted. "Not that I don't deserve it…"
The Hound's stared at him, confused. He never calls me Sandor, he thought. Whatever indigestion had the Prince in this state, he didn't want to touch it with a ten foot pole. Joffrey finally snapped out of his trance, letting his hands fall to his lap. "Clegane" He said as he nodded to him, "We've got work to do."
With that said, he quickly stepped to his wardrobe, impatiently searching between all the fine robes and princely attires, finally getting out what he wanted. It was a set of riding leathers, hardy and confortable, but without any of the jewels and lions the Prince always favored. Without even calling for his servants as was his want, he quickly dressed himself, and quickly strolled outside, only barely pausing by his bed chest and taking his dagger. He doesn't even know how to use the godsdamned thing, thought the hound. Oblivious of his thoughts, Joffrey strapped the leather belt and sheath to his waist, quick as lightning and with no conscious thought, like a veteran.
"Come on Hound" he said, with none of the usual viscous pettiness he so constantly used when referring to lesser people (which in his mind was all of them but his mother) as he walked out into the hallway.
Suddenly left alone in the little shits room, Sandor quickly snapped out of his befuddlement and raced out, taking his place to Joffreys South-East. Watching the Prince was like watching another boy… no, another man. He walked erect, with a confident stride that spoke of victory, but also of the struggle and loss that accompanied it… It was no longer the arrogant strutting. Sandor didn't know how to put it exactly, but, in a word, the Prince had overnight, somehow become a man.
He strode briskly, like a man with a mission, briefly acknowledging the servants as he passed by them, full of trays of food or bundles of fresh clothes. Trays of food and bundles of clothes that barely managed not to hit the floor in a scandalous manner when the prince actually addressed the servants.
"Arrel, Darrik" Said Joffrey, giving the befuddled servants carrying a large bucket of water a nod and a small smile, he didn't even notice their confusion as he strode on, mind driven by some bizarre and obscure objective.
Strange Joffrey, as Sandor was calling him in his head, had a plan. That much the Hound knew. He briefly stopped at intersections of hallways in the Red Keep, looking at each hallway, thinking as if trying to remember something, then continuing on. "Darrin" He muttered distantly as he acknowledged the queens chamber boy, deep in thought at yet another intersection. The Hound quickly reached out and prevented the chamber boy from falling over from the shock and more than a little fear. Usually, when the prince acknowledged your existence it was not a good omen. That, the smallfolk servants of the red keep had agreed unanimously years ago.
Yet again, Joffrey didn't even seem to notice that anything regarding his actions was supremely uncommon, and Sandor didn't think this was all part of a deliberate cruel joke… the little shit didn't have the patience.
After a minute standing in the hallway, way longer than at the other intersections, Joffrey finally decided and headed West. "This one, I think" he muttered. What he found however, was clearly not part of "The Plan" (It had acquired Capital Letters in Sandors head after the fourth hallway.)
In front of Joffrey, was Princess Myrcella, eying him with a deep wariness and suspicion arising from years of torment. Joffrey didn't seem to notice though; he seemed to be shaking slightly. "Myrcella" he whispered, a strangled, sad sound that Sandor didn't think she heard. What happened next shocked the Hound again, even more so than all the other strange things happening today. Joffrey stepped forward and actually hugged Myrcella, clinging to her like a drowning sailor hugs some flotsam. Now, Sandor was no expert in family relations, he admitted that much to himself, but Joffrey seemed genuinely shaken and happy, maybe even joyful to see her. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…" He said, his mumbling muffled by his sisters hair.
Myrcella however, didn't have Sandor's iron proof façade. She was pale and shacken, white as pigeon drops and stiff as a board. She was probably expecting the other shoe to drop now, so to speak. Joffrey at last seemed to realize what was going on, and haltingly, almost against his will, separated from her. He looked at her face, then looked back towards Sandor, and slowly shook his head, as if to clear it. "My pardon Sister, I confused you with someone else" he said, trying and failing to sound cruel and disdainful, pulling a sad facsimile of his usual cruel and arrogant smirk.
It didn't fool Sandor, and it seemed neither did Myrcella. For Sandor that weak acting only served to permanently seal the idea in his head that SOMETHING was definitely WRONG. He had to fight the urge to draw his sword, his danger sense screaming at him at the sheer uncanniness of it all.
The thing that stopped him for now was the Prince's eyes, full of loss and self-loathing. He quickly continued on down the hallway, frequently wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Sandor could see they were wet.
"We took a wrong turn Clegane, it was to the right" He said, more to himself than to the Hound as they reached another intersection and turned right this time. Sandor just followed him, mute and with his sword hand in the pommel. The finally stopped right besides the next intersection. Here, Joffrey peeked down the hallway, only to quickly retract his head and take a deep breath. It looked like he was psyching himself up for something. Finally, after about 4 minutes of this, he finally looked at the hound and looked at him in the eyes, "Clegane, whatever I say, don't do or say anything, understood?" He said it with such a force of will, as if he expected no other answer, that dumbly nodding was the only thing the Hound could do. "This is a terrifying glimpse of the king he could be" The hound thought to himself.
Then, Joffrey let out a long sight, and breathed for a final time. He then took off to the hallway, arrogantly strutting through the hallway. Sandor followed him as he desperately tried to remember where they were on the Red Keep after all the turns. Almost as they reached the corner, Joffrey bumped with Lord Baelish. "Watch where you're going!" he screeched, and then stopped when he saw who he was talking to. "Ah! Lord Baelish, I was looking for my uncle Renly but maybe I can trust you too" Joffrey said as he looked up at Baelish.
Baelish looked at Joffrey, a benevolent and curious smile adorning his face. "Trust me with what, my Prince?" he asked. "Arresting Varys of course! I want the traitorous bastard in the black cells now, he poisoned Lord Arryn!" he told him with his distinctly annoying twang, or at least tried too. It was a decent performance at non strange Joffrey, but he could see his heart was not in it. He gave the acting 6 out of 10.
Lord Baelish looked frozen for a brief moment, then he recovered and unleashed his signature smile. "Ah, an interesting theory my Prince, but we can't move against the Master of Whispers without evidence to back up your claim."
Joffrey looked between annoyed and doubtful, and he seemed to think for a bit before he said "I will trust you with this Baelish, but don't you dare betray me with this or I will have you executed." He said it not as a threat, but as a fact. He had started with the bluster but had naturally, towards the end become a simple statement of intent, something that apparently Joffrey didn't want as Baelish was suddenly looking a bit doubtful with this whole endeavor, inspecting Joffrey more seriously this time.
Strange Joffrey seemed to sense that Baelish was doubting his act with this faux pass, and quickly added "I have the evidence, and if you help me my Grandfather will shower you with gold" he said, reinforcing it with his nasal twang. It had looked a little forced, he didn't know if Baelish would buy it.
The naïve statement didn't seem to affect Lord Balish's chain of thought, though it did serve to relax him somewhat to the boy. "He's acting you idiot, he's planning something" The hound thought to himself, but didn't say anything. Baelish seemed to be struggling with himself, thinking about the possibilities and the outcomes and looking shrewdly at the Prince. Joffrey on the other hand looked totally like his usual self, looking back at the Mockingbird with a disdainful expression and a mounting incredulity that he wouldn't be obeyed.
Finally, it seemed the chance was too good for whatever schemes Baelish had planning, and finally nodded. "Can you show me the evidence? If its good we can get rid of Varys… permanently" Said Baelish, struggling to contain a predatory grin at the sudden opportunity.
Joffrey only seemed to think about it for a second before he nodded. "Where?" he simply asked. "I have a place where even Vary's Birds won't see us… there's a passage below the Royal library that gives way to the red keep's southern cliff, we can meet there."
"Then do so" The Prince mewed more than commanded as he turned around and continued strutting down the hallway, Sandor in tow. He was liking this less and less…
It was a brief journey to the Library, where Joffrey seemed to take a random, blank scroll from Grand Maester Pycell unoccupied study. He rolled it up and proceeded all the way down towards a hidden passage below the library, just as Baelish had predicted. Strange Joffrey hadn't uttered a word to Clegane as he walked down the humid cave, towards the sound of the sea. He could already see the distant waves crashing downwards in a swirling vortex of fury. It was a long way down.
There, finally, he turned around to face Sandor. "Clegane, stay in the shadows and watch that Baelish doesn't bring any men. Unless he does, do nothing." He commanded. He mutely nodded again, despite his gut telling him to just get out of this.
So, as Sandor settled himself on the side of the cave, beneath its great shadows, Joffrey stood at the cliffs edge, watching the waves. When he heard footseps down the path, Joffrey turned around and sneered. "Baelish, what took you so long!" he mewled.
Lord Baelish smoothly reached him, offering his all-knowing smirk again. "I came as fast as I could after verifying the Eunuch's whereabaouts, my prince. It seems he has not fled the Red Keep yet" he told him. "Good" Said Joffrey as he gave him the blank scroll "Here's your evidence".
Baelish took another step forward so that he could read it with the light of the day that filtered through the cave's opening. He quickly lowered it however. "Whats -UGH" he grunted, as… Joffrey extracted the dagger he had stabbed in Lord Baelish's stomach. He barely had time to grunt again as a second after it had gone out, it came back in as Joffrey stabbed him again and again, each time with more fury and relish. "Fifty-fity Littlefucker, its always fifty fifty with you. Luckily, this time Fate has smiled upon me." He told him as he kept stabbing him in the gut again and again. Baelish seemed transfixed at what was happening. He opened his mouth to say something but found he couldn't. Hell, Sandor knew something shady was going to happen, but he hadn't been prepared for this. "You just can't seem to resist the temptation of your greatest rival in the game gone" Joffrey said as he cleaned his knife on Lord Baelish's thigh, who was now on his knees. "Goodby Petyr" Said Joffrey as he kicked him and sent him over the edge of the cliff, down towards the turbulent Narrow Sea.
Joffrey looked downward, making sure Baelish was dead, then, slowly, the fury and relish that had taken him as he stabbed Baelish time and again seemed to seep out of him. He looked at his hands, which weren't even trembling. He seemed to be eying them with a resigned disgust, and, Sandor suspected, a burst of self-loathing so hard he was surprised the Prince wasn't vomiting again.
He approached Sandor from the spot of the murder, sheathing his now clean dagger. "Its okay Clegane, he was the one who really poisoned Lord Arryn, or so involved in the plot it makes no difference. He was wild dog-" he paused for a second "—no offence intended. And a danger to the Realm. We shall all be better for it" he said as he stepped ever closer to him.
Sandor kept his grip on the pommel. He couldn't care less about the "Littlefucker" as Strange Joffrey had called him. He was wary not because of his murder, but because it was now apparent that Joffrey was not the same person that had gone to sleep last night. And now, looking at his eyes, he thought the boy had aged a thousand years on his sleep.
If he was going to do anything about it, it would have to be now. He had just been witness to the murder of a Lord, and there was no telling what Strange Joffrey would do now. Sandor thought for a few moments, and Joffrey seemed content to let him.
Finally, he grunted. "You try any shite like that again without telling me first and I'll go straight to Robert, and screw all the gold in the Westerlands."
Joffrey seemed satisfied with that answer, and nodded as if he was expecting it. "Good, thank you Sandor." He said while he walked away, back towards the Red Keep.
The hound just shook his head. "Something tells me this is only the beginning".
Strange Joffrey had helped his servants stowing his stuff on board the chests and then on top the carriages. In truth Joffrey had done more to pack his stuff than the rest of the servants combined. They had been too shocked at the changed entity that was Joffrey, and had ended up packing less than a third themselves, which had of course made them even more scared in fear of retribution by the until last night cruel prince. Sandor wasn't surprised though, not after the shit he had seen inside that cave. Sandor had resigned himself from it all, and had decided to watch everything as if it was all an incredibly interesting and insane mummers show.
Strange Joffrey's reaction to the King and Queen were interesting. With the Queen there was no sight of his usual mewlings, and he seemed unresponsive to her spoiling him. He did smile at her and the affection behind his hug had been both simple and real, which had left Cercei slightly disconcerted. His reaction to the King however, was even more different from the usual. Before today, and for the last years, King Robert and his Son had barely spoken to each other, considering they were family. Now though, he found them idly chatting about different types of warhammers and how to use them, a subject Strange Joffrey seemed to know about a lot, to his Father's surprise. There was a distance however. Joffrey's smile didn't seem to reach his eyes, and he always looked a bit sad and disappointed after a small chat with Robert, which anyway were not quite so frequent.
The preparations took three more days before the whole caravan was finally ready to depart Kings Landing, and 3 more because of the search for Lord Baelish. In that time, Strange Joffrey acted (for his now changed personality) relatively normal. However, on the eve of the third day, Sandor had accompanied him to the Royal Armory.
The guards on duty had been surprised to see him there, as Joffrey generally didn't bother them besides coming in here once a year to mess with a crossbow. They were even more surprised when Joffrey saluted them like old friends, names and all. They quickly unlocked the door and one of them accompanied the prince toward the weapon racks. Sandor thought he would have stopped by the crossbows… he should have known better. He made a beeline for an arming sword that seemed to suit his height perfectly, and then took a well-crafted one handed axe, which he put on his belt. "You know how to use that thing?" Sandor asked, against his better judgment. Joffrey seemed to take it in good humour. "Want to test them out in the yard later?" he asked him with a knowing smile. Sandor could only nod and curse his big mouth.
Finally, Joffrey led him and the guard towards a door in the back of the room, were several odd knickknacks that didn't fit in the other categories were stowed. "I wouldn't worry with this one's m'prince, these haven't been catalogued by the Master-at-Arms since the Mad King." Said the guard, eying the rusted morning stars and a couple of weird, broken, curbed swords.
"Exactly, Theo. Imagine the treasures that could be buried in here!" Said Joffrey, amused as he dove right into the huge pile of junk. Sandor had the sinking suspicion the Prince knew exactly what was in that pile. After more than 10 minutes of searching, in which Joffrey repeatedly denied the guards offer to summon some servants to help with the task, he finally found what he was looking for.
It was 2 sets each of 6… throwing blades? Joffrey seemed happy, but not surprised to have found them, strapping the 2 sets to his riding leathers, on on his left side, and one on his right. "Did you know a Qohorik Merchant gifted this set to the Mad King, only for him to toss the poor sod into the black cells? Kings can be very fickle…" he said the last part mostly to himself, rubbing his face again before diving again in the pile of junk. Sandor would have asked him if he knew how to use the throwing knives, but then again had no intention in being a target for a "demonstration".
Then, to everyone's surprise, after 2 more minutes of searching, took out a Valyrian steel dagger. He promptly took its sheath and placed it on his belt, below his left throwing set and opposite to his axe. The arming sword he strapped it across his back.
Sandor would have expected the sight of Prince Joffrey armed to the teeth and spoiling for battle an amusing one. It was not. Joffrey walked back and forth, tensing his muscles, accommodating the whole set as if he knew what he was doing. Finally, he nodded to himself. "I'm good, let's go Clegane. Thank you Theo". He said, handing the guard a silver stag and promptly exiting the room.
The guard stared at Sandor, incredulous. "Don't ask me" he huffed, hurrying after his prince.
Joffrey made good on his promise. They squared off in the training yard the next morning, clegane using a tourney sword instead of a training one to Joffreys insistence. He was armed with tourney arming sword.
At the Master-At-Arms signal they charged. Sandor initially went at it slow, not wanting to leave the prince a cripple and his head on a pike above Maegor's holdfast.
That had been a mistake. In two moves Joffrey had him at his feet. "Come on Clegane, I promise not to maim myself." He said, reading his thoughts. With a grunt and a huff, the hound was back up, and he was not going to hold off now. At the signal, they clashed again, and to Sandor's mounting disbelief, Joffrey was holding his own against him. He appeared to weave back and forth, attacking the joints in his armor with his arming sword, leaving painful bruises, attacking like lighting, not leaving room for Sandor to think. After withstanding the hurricane for hours, or it could have been minutes, the attacks started to come in slower as the prince's body simply wasn't used to this kind of punishment. Sandor was winning 5 bouts to 4, until the prince locked his blade with his in closed combat, jamming it with his own blade while he stomped hard on Cleganes feet. The entire maneuver took him by surprise, and his sword was snatched away from him, giving Strange Joffrey his victory. In the end it was a draw, 5 to 5.
Prince Joffrey was a mess of sweat, ample bruises and hard breathing, but had an uncharacteristic smile on his face. "Ah Sandor, you're always the best for getting back in shape" he gasped beteween breaths. One of his eyes was slowly growing smaller, pressed by the bruises around him, and he was bleeding from his sheen. Sandor cursed himself at the sight of blood.
Joffrey however could have cared less, in fact it seemed he hadn't even noticed it. He took a big gulp of water from his waterskin, "AAAAhhhh, A good fight Clegane, I really needed that." He told him. "I didn't know you were so good" Sandor huffed, himself tired after the intense beating. It was strange, there were several moments that Joffrey should have pressed his advantage to win several of the bouts he had eventually lost. That could easily be attributed to lack of skill to detect them, but Sandor had seen Joffreys eyes. They had been looking straight at the spot that would have guaranteed him a victory, but he hadn't taken it. Had he thrown some of the bouts? Why?
The mystery that was Strange Joffrey seemed to intensify by the day, and the next events only made it grew.
"JOFFREY!" Screamed a female voice as a red figure dashed through the courtyard, and started calling for a Maester. It was Cercei.
Shit. I'm dead. Was the only thought that crossed through Sandors head when the Queen looked at him with infinite rage. "Arrest him now!" she screamed as she pointed at him. Several of the redclokes that had been entranced watching the fight suddenly snapped out of it and moved towards Clegane, following their Queens orders.
"Absolutely not! GUARDS, HOLD!" Shouted Joffrey. His voice carried across the courtyard like thunder, absolutely devoid of the old nasal twang and mewliness that had been so natural from the little shit. It was a command issued as if in the battlefield, the tone perfect for carrying itself through the song of steel and death.
The guards stopped in their tracks. Technically the Queen outranked the Prince, but all their instincts were telling them to OBEY. That gave Joffrey the time he needed. "Mother" he said as he turned to face her. "I'm completely fine, I was just having a friendly bout with the Hound."
"Friendly Bout?! You're bleeding!" She said as she looked at his sheen. "Oh" Said Joffrey as he looked downwards, "Its just a scratch" He said. Cercei seemed dumbfounded, and Joffrey took the opportunity to lean closely and whisper something into her ear. It couldn't have been more than two sentences, but the Queens expression went from enraged to considering, then a slowly building pride. "Well said my son" she said as she stood up. "But this is enough for today, and I still want Grand Maester Pycell to check that wound" she said as she, with one final glare towards the hound, left. "As you were" she ordered from the red keeps main gate, almost as an afterthought. The redcloakes visibly relaxed and backed off, eager not to tangle with the Hound and for a bad reason too… besides, they had been having just too much fun with the bouts.
When the search for Lord Baelish was called off, the caravan finally set out of Kings Landing, heading North. The rescue parties had started looking more like hunting parties, fueled by recent rumors about Lord Baelish's involvement in the death of John Arryn. Rumors that coincidentally started amongst the Prince's serving staff, Sandor noted wrily.
The Prince had been busy those days. He had asked permission from his Mother to gather an official retinue for his to command. He didn't know what he had said to her, but it had worked. The prince barely had permission when he stormed through the red keep, searching for a few servants by name, about 3 or so. He then did the same in the barracks and got a hold of 6 red cloaks. None of them had known the Prince, but you wouldn't have known that from him. He greeted them as old friends and made it clear that he just expected all of them to do their duties as to the best of their abilities.
The caravan settled into a steady routine as they journeyed north. The Prince and him would train in the morning, though never as hard as the first time, mainly focusing on fitness training as Strange Joffrey's technique was excellent and somewhat unpredictable. It appeared to rely more on speed, agility and endurance than raw power, and it seemed to combine elements from regular knightly combat, water dancing, street brawling, and other influences he could not really pin point… excluding one: His own. That particular revelation was like a brick to Sandors head. Joffreys footing seemed somewhat grounded in the Hounds own style, and his fighting was liberally peppered with dirty moves that Clegane had thought up himself.
He had taken more wine than usual that night…
The subject of the Prince's change in demenour had basically dominated the rumor mills amongst the soldiers and servants, especially, and to the Queens amusing disapproval, the imp. After training they would help his retinue packing everything and ride out. The Prince seemed to dislike the carriage, though somedays he would ride there with the Queen and his brother and sister. He rarely came out of it very happy. Sandor supposed it was because of the weariness with which his brother and sister regarded him, though that started to decrease by the time they crossed the neck. 3 weeks into the journey Joffrey would often ride his horse alongside the carriage, jesting and teasing Myrcella and often Tommen too, but with not a hint of cruelness, and even sometimes playing games with them on the stops.
But that was later. The first week of travel Joffrey mainly rode with Tyrion, debating ideas and concepts that were admittedly beyond the Hounds understanding. He still remembered the imp's first interaction with Strange Joffrey.
"Uncle! Good to see you haven't started your drinking binge without me!" he said as he just strolled into the imps tent the first day of the trip.
"Nephew!" The imp smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes. "I've got plenty of arbor gold here if you want to join in." he said, hefting a gold-yellow bottle. The imp eyed Joffrey warily but disguised it much better than Myrcella had a week ago. Joffrey didn't know or didn't care, as usual. He sat on a nearby stool as the imp served him some arbor gold in a cup. "Thank you Uncle. Robert won't let me drink more than one cup, more than a little hypocritical if you ask me" He said, not gulping but slowly savoring the fine vintage "Clegane, don't just stand there, grab a stool and get some wine" the prince ordered him.
"I'm glad you like it. So, what can I do for you Nephew" Said the Imp as he handed a cup to Sandor. Joffrey gave an uncanny self-depreciating smile, and snorted a short laugh. "Everyone reacts the same…" He said as he downed the cup with one gulp. As Tyrion refilled it, he continued. "What if I don't want anything… What if I just want some conversation with the smartest man in Westeros?". There was silence as Tyrions surprise manifested itself on the jug, spilling some of the wine in the prince's boot. He didn't seem to mind though. "Ah, where are my manners. Tyrion, for being a little shit towards you, I gift you this." He simply said, handing him a boxy looking bundle after he downed the refill in one go again.
Tyrion was mute as he opened the package, not that Sandor blamed him. It was very amusing to see different people's reactions to Strange Joffrey. "Into the Dragonpit: My experiences tending the Targeryen Dragons, by Grand Maester Mellos." The imp read out loud. "I believe you have been searching for that tome for quite some time uncle." Said Joffrey, sipping from his cup.
"I… I did nephew. You have my thanks for this. It must be the first time in a hundred years this book's been read" he said as he stowed it away in his travel trunk. Joffrey snorted, "More like two days". The imp looked up in sheer disbelief "You've red it?"
"Aye, my favorite part is when he talks about cleaning the scales themselves. Did you know they used specially made copper implements for it?" Joffrey said, extending his cup for a refill. "No, no I didn't" Said Tyrion, more to himself than his audience as he absentmindedly poured some more wine into the Princes cup.
Sandor looked down into his cup, it was already empty.
"Ah, fuck it. Might as well" He thought as he motioned the imp with his cup.
So, after training the caravan moved on, stopped for lunch where the prince dined with his family, then it was on the road again. In the evening the prince would talk with the imp about all manner of things, from books and tactics to rumors and politics. The prince seemed to genuinely enjoy the conversation, mostly letting Tyrion talk but adding insightful comments from time to time. The imp started enjoying it too, after the ice had been broken.
It was by the fifth day of the first week however, that something that was definitely part of "The Plan" occurred. They had passed the Ivy Inn a day before, and the caravan was still somewhat settling itself on its rhythm. Joffrey had not started with training that morning, however.
"Wake up Clegane, we've got a long day before us" he said as he shook the hound awake. Sandor didn't know what hour it was, but the sun wasn't even peeking through the horizon. He rubbed his eyes and almost batted away the Prince when something hot touched his hand. "Calm down Clegane, its just hot tea. He said as he went out of the tent. Clegane just shook his head and gulped the entire burning liquid in one swoop. He was instantly awake.
He followed Joffrey out, were he had already saddled up both their horses. "Mount up and follow me" he said he passed the camp sentries and rode into the night. Cursing, Clegane mounted his horse and bolted after him.
They rode through a small dirt path for a couple of hours before arriving at a sleepy village next to the God's eye lake. Joffrey effortless navigated between the alleyways and stopped at the dock, securing his horse and jumping on a nearby row boat. "Come on Clegane! We haven't got all day!... or night… whatever." He said. Sandor just got in as fast as he could, curse the kid.
As soon as he was in they set out, Joffrey manning both paddles. He offered a switch but would have none of it. "Clegane, my endurance is so bad that if we had a battle tomorrow I would probably die. So I'll take whatever exercise I can get!" he said with a snort of dark humor.
Against his better wishes, the hound found himself talking "Probably" he said. Joffrey harrumphed "Not probably, definitively". They spent some time like that, rowing in a somewhat companionable silence. "I guess we are not going fishing. So were exactly are you taking us… Joffrey" (He insisted he called him like that.) "I'm awful at fishing" Joffrey said, shaking his head. "No, we are going to the isle of faces." At that, Clegane remained silent. Why here? As with all questions regarding Strange Joffrey, the questions only led to more questions.
When they made landfall, Joffrey tied the boat to a conveniently placed tree, and set out, Clegane following him.
They found a small dirt trail that let them deeper into the island. With each step Sandor took, the moonlight was harder to see. The foliage seemed to grow from all around them and weirwood trunks the size of horses dotted the pathway, each of them with its own face. Angry, sad, joyful, prideful, scared, happy. All possible human emotions had been painstakingly carved into them, tree after tree, the faces watched them. Sandor suddenly stopped. "Joffrey, we are being followed." He said, his hand slowly finding his way to his swords pommel. Joffrey seemed unconcerned however. "I know" he said as he set out again.
They walked like that for another 10 minutes before they were finally stopped. A group of men was barring the way. They had log staffs and wore ragged cloaks made of leaves. "What do you seek, stranger." Said the one in front. Sandor had been ready to draw his sword by now, but Joffrey put a hand on it and gave him a warning glance. He then took a step forward and nodded towards the speaker. "I am Prince Joffrey of houses Baratheon and Lannister. I come to speak with the keeper." He said.
The men seemed to confer between themselves before they all nodded in unison, and made a tunnel between themselves. "Then go, Prince Joffrey of houses Baratheon and Lannister". The prince didn't wait, with a curt nod a whispered thank you, he was through, Clegane in toe. He almost expected to have to say some bullshit like Sandor of house clegane or something, but without a word he was through.
When they passed the men, they reached a clearing where a monstrous weirwood stood, its face simply indescribable. In front of its face stood a small man, maybe even a boy or a girl. When her face turned to them and caught a stray ray of moonlight, Clegane froze.
It was a girl alright. It was fucking children of the forest. Her features were very rounded, and her eyes were comparatively big and expressive, they stood further apart than a humans.
As Clegane froze, Joffrey kept walking like he was just getting some extra bred from the kitchens. Eventually he stopped at about 7 meters from it. She said something in a raspy language he couldn't understand. He knew it definitely wasn't valyrian or its descendant branches, that he knew for sure.
He knew he had to stop being surprised, but he coudnt avoid his jaw falling off when Joffrey knelt and said something in the very language the Children had spoken. He said it very slow, it was almost solemn. The Children seemed vaguely surprised when he was done, and she nodded towards the men behind them, who quickly took off in three different directions.
Joffrey and the Children spoke for about half an hour, and then she was gone, calmly walking through the shrubbery and underbrush as it if was nothing. Joffrey then spent some time alone, touching the great heart tree with his bare hand. He seemed to be breathing very slowly, and when he opened his eyes he looked like he had shed a hundred years. He had a relaxed smile as he sat on one of the branches and motioned Clegane to sit with him.
"Did you know that the Greenseers could talk with each other through the heart trees of weirwood forests?" He asked him. Clegane just shook his head "Where you talking with someone right now?" he asked him, willing to believe anything by now. The question seemed to take Joffrey by surprised as he suppressed a snort and a laugh "Unfortunately I'm no Greenseer, Clegane. It would make things much easier though." He said as he looked up towards the first rays of sunlight. "No, I just like the sound of the trees and leaves scuttling about with the wind. The small warmth of the weirwood trunks, the way even the animals of the forest somehow stay quiet around them… I find they help… center me." he closed his eyes then. "The Northmen say you can hear the voices of the old gods near the heart trees. Do you feel them Clegane?" he asked him without looking. Sandor closed his eyes, trying to listen to what the prince had said. The silence was kind of eerie, the way a slow, barely perceptible wind flowed through the clearing, the slow beating of the branches swaying. The weirwood tree branch he sat upon was oddly warm too. The wind sometimes took up speed, sometimes slowed down… it was almost like… someone was…-
A loud thunk snapped him out of his pseudo-trance as he jumped up in alarm, only to find the men from before in three groups, each lowering an old, worn looking chest to the ground. Joffrey only opened his eyes once all three chests were on the ground. "Thank you" he told them as they nodded in return and went back to the forest.
Sandor had just had enough. "Joffrey, what the hell did you tell the… Children?!" he asked him with a glare. Joffrey seemed to think for a second or two before he nodded.
He spoke as he stood up and went to the closest chest. "Keeper, I am Joffrey of Clan Lannister. The ancient enemy awakens once more. Keeper, in the name of the realms of men, I ask you to honor the pact."
He stood in front of one of the chests as Sandor cleared his now dry throat. "What enemy?" he managed to get out.
"The White Walkers" he said as he opened the chest. It was full of dragonglass weaponry, carved with the runes of the first men.
After three trips, the hound and Joffrey had managed to carry all three chests towards their carriage. Just in time too, the caravan had been ready to go when they arrived with the third chest. When they had just finished loading, Tyrion had come around from behind the carriage, looking at the chests curiously. "Just what did you find in the forest, nephew?" he asked Joffrey. "Dragonglass weaponry capable of killing White Walkers, uncle." He told him as a matter of fact, not missing a beat and not even looking from the ropes he was tying around them. "Ha! I'm sure they'll work on grumpkins and snarks too" Said Tyrion, though the jest sounded a bit shaken to Sandor's ears.
"Not that I could judge" Thought Sandor despairingly as he took a big gulp from his wineskin.
The rest of the Journey North had been quite ordinary compared to that. At one point past Darry Robert had heard rumors of bandits and had taken a full 3 days to "hunt" them down. To his surprise Joffrey had accompanied him the full 3 days, but instead of talking with the king, he constantly looked at his uncle the Kingslayer, as if deciding whether to speak to him or not. In the end there were no bandits, only scared peasants, and the only conversation between the kingslayer and Joffrey was when both of them had been trying to fix the queens carriage, which broke down often.
About three weeks later, they had reached Winterfell .
As soon as Winterfell was within sight, the King and his party broke into a gallop, leaving the Queens wheel house and the rest of the convoy behind. Joffrey took after him in his own horse, Sandor hard behind him. When they reached Winterfells gate King Robert, who was already greeting Lord Stark's household, turned back in surprise. "Ah, and this is my son Joffrey, Ned. Come on boy! This is the man who helped me win the rebellion, show him respect!" Robert bellowed. If Joffrey had offered some of his usual pettiness in that moment Sandor though Robert would have smashed him. He shouldn't had to worry. Clegane had been living more than a month in the constant presence of Strange Joffrey, and he prided in the fact he could discern his expression better than anyone here. What happened next was definitely interesting.
Joffrey got off his horse and greeted Stark, grabbing his forearm and nodding with a deeper respect and admiration he had ever shown his father, or in fact anyone Sandor knew. "Lord Eddard" he said, his voice strange.
Lord Stark had looked a bit nonplussed at this, but greeted him back all the same. Joffrey saluted Lady Stark and then moved down the line of assembled Stark children, greeting each one of them in a different way, noted Clegane. Lord Starks first born, Rob, he shook his hand with respect, briefly exchanging a word or two Sandor couldn't hear from where he was. At the sight of the beautiful redhead however, Joffrey's features lightened up considerably, his smile reaching the relaxed state he had only otherwise seen in the weirwood grove. Lady Sansa was already turning a shade of red that complemented her hair, and it only deepened when Joffrey took her hand and gently kissed it. Lady Sansa seemed ready to faint at this, and fortunately the prince moved on to the next in line. Silly bird. Thought Sandor, though Joffrey's expression had been too genuine to be faked, he was sure of that.
The next one was quite curious indeed. Joffrey seemed to eye the smaller girl with a mix of deep wariness and respect, before quickly taking her hand, kissing it, muttering "Lady Arya" before quickly moving to the next in line. Quite curious.
The smaller kid he mushed his head and told him some kind of jape, which made the little one laugh, Rickon, if Sandor was not mistaken, something about a fleeing animal that just couldn't get it in his head to run in a zig zag pattern.
The other brother, Bran, he greeted amicably enough, with only a flash of …guilt? Lingering in his features before he smoothed his face once again.
The rest of the party was just now reaching the gates. It was going to be a long day, thought Sandor.
The next week in Winterfell was an interesting environment for the study of Strange Joffreyness.
With Lord Stark he frequently discussed about the old gods, sometimes inviting the Imp with him. Though often times Joffrey would walk alone with Lord Stark into the godswood of winterfell, pointing at the branches and speaking solemn words. With Bran and Rickon he didn't interact too much beyond always scolding the first if he saw him climbing, and one time convincing him to let him teach the kid how to use throwing knives instead of continuing on one of his climbs.
These spars in the training yard would often be against Rob or even Lord Starks bastard Jon Snow, who Joffrey frequently insisted accompanied them whenever they did anything. At feast of the first night Joffrey had remarked aloud that it was strange he couldn't spot his second son Jon. In the subsequent awkward silence Lady Catelyn had explained he was actually outside, preferring the fresh air. To that Joffrey had exclaimed that Jon must be a fool for missing such a great feast, and proceeded to go outside and somehow manhandle the Stark bastard inside, seating him beside him and continue eating and speaking as if nothing had been wrong, mostly talking to Jon about swords. Everyone else had been silent for about ten seconds, after which King Robert had exploded with laughter and shouted "MORE WINE!" after which things continued on as normal and angry Cercei found a kindred soul within angry Catelyn. Sometimes Joffrey collected Tyrion so that Jon and him could both speak to the imp between bouts in the yard. "The Broken Knights" Joffrey called the trio, to his great amusment.
Rob he treated pretty much as Jon but without the closer familiarity. The most interesting ones were the sisters however. Whenever Strange Joffrey started to get too tense, he would walk Sansa through the castle and the forest. Whenever he was with her the relaxed smile from the isle of Faces would return, he would hold her hand like a lifeline and let her do most of the talking, with him gently interrupting from time to time, but mostly just going with the flow. In this happy and unworried state Arya would sometimes startle Joffrey from behind. The sheer change in Strange Joffrey's expressions were so epic Sandor would often stay quiet while she stalked him from behind. Joffrey would turn around, his face full of sheer terror, followed by relief, then annoyance, then into studied indifference. Arya wasn't falling for it however. Somehow the prince that could fight the hound to a standstill, beat Robb and Jon easily, the prince that carried 12 throwing knives, one arming sword, dual wielded a valyrian dagger and hand axe, and also carried a secret obsidian dagger in his boot, somehow the prince who was apparently preparing himself for war against the White Walker (not that anyone knew that) was afraid of a small 10 year old girl.
More questions, par for the course with Strange Joffrey.
Joffrey had made a bold announcement a couple of nights before the caravan was due back south. He had marched up to Lord Stark in the middle of a feast, me and the rest of his retinue carrying the three chests behind us.
"Lord Stark, If I could? This will be short." He said. Lord Stark looked bewildered by the sudden appearance of the chests, but gave the go ahead all the same. The dining hall was quiet as Joffrey projected his voice to carry.
"The men of the Nights Watch and the entire North has for millennia have defended the northern frontiers of our 7 kingdoms. It has been a long watch, spanning thousands of years, yet with little gratitude from us Southrons."
He stepped down from the dais and opened one of the chests. "It is because of this, and as a token of my appreciation, and really the appreciation of the whole South, that I'd like to give each Lord and Lady of the North, their sons and daughters, and the men from the Nights watch, a ceremonial dragonglass weapon." There where quiet, if somewhat approving murmurs at this. He continued as he shrewdly took a dragonglass dagger and let it shine beneath the light of the torches. His voice acquired a hard edge, a distinctive force, as he said his last piece. "Legends and Myths tells us these where one of the few weapons that could even hurt the dreaded white walkers, and that means the Watchers and Northmen of the Age of Heroes carried this hallowed blades with them. It would be an honor for all our Kingdoms if they were to return to such ancient tradition."
"Lord Stark, would you accept this gift in the name of the North?" He asked him as sudden silence fell before the great feast.
Lord Stark seemed to have a hard time repressing an approving smile as he stood up and proclaimed in a booming voice "I Lord Eddard Stark, Warden and Lord Paramount of the North, accept this beautiful gift in the name of all Northmen" He solemnly proclaimed.
The crowd in the feasting hall barely waited a second after Lord Eddard accepted before breaking in wild cheers and applaus, mostly from the Northern hosts. All their starks and, really all the inhabitants of Winterfell were applauding madly, most of all little Arya, which seemed would now technically own her own dragonglass dagger.
On the southern side, however, the reception was more contested. It was a mix of befuddlement and indifference, with exceptions like King Robert clapping wildly and proudly looking at his son, and Cercei's demure clapping that didn't hide a vaguely disapproving frown.
Sandor just smiled, not even shaking his head, and clapped like any Northman. Being around Strange Joffrey guaranteed you something. You were never bored.
And best of all, Joffrey had one of his walks with Lord Stark tomorrow morning, so he wouldn't be needed. He thought about that for a while before downing his ale and shouting for another one.
He shouldn't have bothered, the Northman beside him practically chugged his own ale at Sandor, while heartily palming his back.
Strange Joffrey, never go away.
It happened when I least expected it, of course. So many things run like clockwork, time and again, both in Westeros and Essos.
Wildlings were not one of them.
"RAIDERS!" Shouted one of the Stark guards before he took an arrow to the throat.
Ned and him had been "scouting" the wolfswood, talking about the old gods how they spoke to one in the heart trees if one just strained to listen. This time Ned had taken him for "the walk" way earlier than usual. Usually, getting Ned to defrost around him was the Others own task, sometimes literally, but in this life, Ned had quickly gotten used to his idea of walking about the wolfswood, trading ideas about ruler ship and duty, stories about the war, tips about raising children. Anything and everything. Mostly though, the walked in silence, playing the game of listening for the sounds of the wildlife, though not their presence, rather, their absence. When the forest was quiet, it usually meant there was a weirwood heart tree nearby. When that happened, they would find it, and try to listen to the old gods. Ned, as always, had found it a good idea and a profound spiritual journey.
They had been alone, save for 3 winterfell men-at-arms and 2 of his redcloak retinue, Barret and Orland. The possibility of a wilding raid this far south had been negligle…
They had stopped, noting the lack of sound. "Must be one nearby" said Ned, quietly as was his want. "I'm not so sure" I said, walking my staggering memories searching for this location in the wolfswood. They were about 40 minutes walking distance to the north west… past the great tree to the south… then…
He was sure.
There wasn't supposed to be any Heart trees around here.
"RAIDERS!" Shouted one of the Stark guards before he took an arrow to the throat.
A chorus of wilding screams erupted all around them as more than a dozen wildings rose from the floor and charged right at them. There was barely time to get their weapons out before they were upon them, and barely any time to think.
"FOR WINTERFELL!" Roared Ned, taking out his longsword as he cut down one of the widlings.
"FOR THE LIVING!" Roared Joffrey as he took his hand axe and Whitebane, the perfect combination for a wight and White Walker attack. They would serve just fine against unarmored wildlings. He quickly gave himself to the frenzy as he parried blows with the long, beautiful valyrian steel dagger that was Whitebane, sometimes even cutting the wildling weapons in half. They never saw the steel axe that cleaved their skulls, so concerned and greedy they were over whitebane's glossy white shine.
For the Living, thought Joffrey, amused. He had been fighting the godsdamned white walkers too much time for his sanity. The wild melee quickly sorted itself out, with everyone, including their retinues, dead.
"I think that was the last of them" Said Ned as he took deep breaths, looking shaken. He had been about to respond when he saw an archer behind Ned. "LORD EDDARD WATCH OUT!" I shouted tossing him to the ground at the same time a loud THUNG broke the silence of the forest.
"Ow" I said, dumbly staring at the shaft protruding from my chest. I quickjly snapped out of it as the archer took another arrow from the quiver. "No" I said as I grabbed a throwing knife from the only set I was carrying.
The second arrow pinned my hand to my chest, only millimeters away from the throwing knive. "You've got to be kidding me" I muttered. It had to be a lucky shot. I looked back to the archer, he was staring dumbly at me before snapping out of it and going for another arrow. I grunted as I grabbed a throwing knive with my other hand and threw it towards the bastard. He barely managed to fire a shirt arrow before the knife flew true and took him in the eye.
The third arrow got to me a millisecond after he went down. It impacted with a loud thud, though it curiously didn't hurt as much as the others. Hmm, how about that.
I fell on my knees, my blood pooling around me. I was about to fall chest first on top of the ground when Ned grabbed me. My head felt numb and wobbly, and some strange sort of buzz surrounded my extremities. "Hold on your grace!" said Ned as he slowly reclined him on the ground.
The buzz was now quite loud, though not annoying, more like soothing. "Hold on Prince Joffrey" Ned seemed desperate, the wounds were surely fatal.
"Oh.. Ned… Must you… always… be so.. for..mal.." I struggled to say. I had to spit the blood that had been blocking my airways to speak well.
I needed to say something to Ned, something very important… what was it..?
"Ned… Ned… you've been.. like a Father to me" I coughed more blood. The purple would be coming for me soon. I had to be quick, I didn't know why it was so important, but I had to say it. "I.. would have gone insane… if after all this time… you hadn't been there…" the buzz was so loud I couldn't hear his voice anymore. He seemed confused… why? It was all so obvious… "What I'm trying… what … I …loved you like the father that.. was never..there… for me…
Old gods please... old gods please let me die…
There was only darkness, but I could already feel the sour, pungent smell of the Strangler coming for me.
I've paid for my sins a thousand times over… I cant beat them… please just let me die… I cant beat them… please… let me rest….please…..
I started to choke. It was always the same, always the same. He could remember his second life, gods, how stupid and naive he had been…..
Gasping for air in the darkness, he remembered… he remembered his second life.
He gasped, trying to claw his throat, purple filling his entire vision, as his throat crunched and collapsed upon itself. He needed air. He needed air. He NEEDED AIIIIRRR!.HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP.
I slid down the floor and vomited into the floor, the stench of disgusting vile clogging my airways. Taking deep breaths I tried to stand up as someone steadied me…
I had died.
My traitorous uncle had poisoned me in my own wedding! THE FUCKING TRAITOR.
As my mysterius helper took me up, I looked at who he really was. The fucking Hound! Another fucking traitor that had abandoned me in my hour of need. They were specters, coming to torment me in the afterIife! I shoveled him as I run and run and run. I didn't see were I was going until I bursted into the courtyard, were my Father-
My Father was out in the courtyard, mounting his horse, ready to go on one of his stupid hunts.
Beside him were people.. people that should be dead…
There was a small patch of water on the courtyard, probably remnants from some rain. I took steps towards it, hesitantly, until I saw my face in the reflection. I was younger… I …had somehow come back in time…
The reality of the situation was overwhelming.
Then, he started laughing. And laughing. And laughing. He cackled like a maniac in front of the entire courtyard.
He knew what was to come, and the TRAITOURS would fucking PAY!
Author's Note: Published this in FF partly to stop the trolls from plagiarizing it. I often post updates at SB and AH, and I was planning on posting it here (as well as rewrite the prologue and maybe a few of the earlier chapters entirely because my writing has improved tremendously since 2 years ago) anyway but plans had to be accelerated. In the end, its better to have this here for now as a pseudo placeholder to deter the trolls. I'll update further chapters in time.