Disclaimer: This chapter includes scenes of explicit sexual contact. You have been warned.
"Gods," Sansa breathed and it wasn't a curse, but an exclamation. Before them stood a forest of weirwoods. Those were the only trees that grew here, and they were larger and more magnificent then any she had ever seen before. They reached up to the heavens, their red leaves a stark contrast to a sky of white. Faces had been carved into every single one. Some smiled, some screamed, some looked angry or sad, but all had the same distinctive blood red eyes. The faces here made the one back in Winterfell look like a newborn babe. These carvings had been done ages before the one in Winterfell had. She found it oddly beautiful.
Sandor dismounted, then helped her down. She hardly noticed the frown on his face. Her eyes were drawn into the forest of heart trees, and they didn't want to let her go. Sansa stepped forward into the shade of the nearest tree, and she couldn't help but feel powerless and small as she was watched by the eyes of a hundred and more of the old gods. Sandor followed behind her, saying nothing.
How could I ever have worshiped the southern gods, when this exists? She wondered as she passed beneath the thick boughs, weaving her way between the trees. It didn't take her long to realize how quiet it was. The wind had stopped blowing, and the snow had stopped as well. It was as if some force was keeping the ill weather from touching this sacred place. Their steps were hushed upon the ground that was covered in red leaves. Red above, and red below with a myriad of red and white in between.
"Even I could start to believe in the gods in a place like this," Sansa heard Sandor mutter from behind. He had never been a pious man, laughing in the face of all faiths equally, but even he could feel that this place was different. She had never felt the way she did now while entering other godswoods or the septs of the south.
As they passed deeper into the forest Sansa noticed the lack of snow beneath their feet. Just red leaves and the grass beneath it. Even the air had warmed and she was forced to take off her gloves and unfasten her cloak. Sandor did the same a moment later.
"They will not find us here," Sansa assured him after a time. The feeling of security and peace was almost overwhelming. She hadn't felt so at ease since she lived in Winterfell. Even traveling with Sandor hadn't offered such overwhelming tranquility.
"I wouldn't be so certain of that little bird," he remarked in skepticism. She didn't start arguing with him, but she knew she was right. How she knew it, however, was beyond her reasoning.
The forest seemed to go on for miles, and the deeper they went, the older the carvings on the weirwoods looked. Faces of the elderly, wrinkled, gnarled and lined passed them on both sides, forward and behind. Sansa had a feeling that no spot in this forest didn't have at least one pair of eyes upon it. As they progressed through the forest, the weirwoods also seemed to get thicker in girth, and taller in height. She had never seen a weirwood grow so tall or fat before, and occasionally a glimpse at one will still take her breath away.
"It's so beautiful," she murmured, passing beneath one of the huge boughs and gazing up through the branches at the white sky above.
"You're not wrong. I wonder how many septs would lose their seven fearing septons and septas if they were brought here? The old gods might have more of a following if more people saw this." Sandor mused. Sansa smiled at the thought. She could make a good guess.
"Oh! Look!" she exclaimed suddenly as they came to a clearing in the forest. Before them stood the most magnificent weirwood yet. The face carved in this was massive. If Sandor had stood at the nose, the top of his head might have just reached to the bottom edge of the eyes. As for the mouth, it was wide open, gaping and pressed down into the earth. The hole bore straight into the heart of the tree and she knew that if they stepped through it, neither of them would have to duck.
It's bigger than the crannogs we stayed in in the marshlands!
Sansa crept closer and poked her head into the mouth to get a better look at what lay inside. Even inside the weirwood the floor was covered in the splayed, five fingered leaves. In the dark of the tree the ground was turned to crimson. Sansa gazed up and felt the breath rush from her lungs again.
"Sandor, look at this!" she whispered and pointed to the top of the tree. Sandor joined her as she stepped into the middle of the tree. He gazed up and gave a small grunt that meant he was impressed, or didn't like what he saw.
"How does it still live if it's hollow?" he asked, and she knew then that he didn't much like what he saw. She had no answer for him. From the ground up, the tree was hollow, as if someone had come in with a giant knife and had whittled the tree from the inside out, leaving just a white shell behind.
It had been done a long time ago, she knew. No sap flowed down the walls, although the inside of the tree was still stained red. When she reached out to touch the side of the tree, she was startled to find how warm it was to the touch.
"This place...it's not natural," Sandor rasped, but he didn't look uncomfortable this time. Even he seemed more at ease here, despite his words.
"No, it certainly isn't," she looked up at him and smiled. "Maester Luwin taught us about the old gods, and he taught us about a place called the Isle of Faces, that was located in the middle of a lake called the God's Eye. A pact was signed here, from the Children of the Forest and the First Men. It was for peace...and to symbolize that peace, the Children carved faces into all the trees on the island."
"Well, we did cross water, and there are faces on every tree. I suppose we've found your isle," Sandor exclaimed as he continued to stare up into the hollow trunk of the tree.
"This place was supposed to be protected by the Green Men...but I haven't seen anyone. Do you think they're out there?" Sansa wondered. She hoped that if they were, that they would be friendly.
"I haven't seen any signs of life but us and the trees."
Sansa wasn't wrong about the majesty of the Isle of Faces. Something about so many trees carved with such detail and all in the name of peace was illuminating.
So few would make such an arrangement these days. No one makes pacts of peace, but everyone will start a war without a second thought. No wonder the little bird can't stop smiling. This is probably one of the few places in Westeros that hasn't been ravaged and spoiled by war. Sandor couldn't help but watch Sansa as she walked beneath the white trees. She seemed at ease here, and he didn't blame her. Here there were no sides. No lions, eagles, stags, flayed men, or even wolves. No wars had been fought here, and no widows had been made. It was a neutral place, and apparently the only ones here were a dog and a little bird.
Ariadne would have liked it here, despite her devotion to the seven. His brow creased at the thought and he pushed his mind towards safer thoughts. Thinking of his sister usually made him mad, or sad, and he had had enough of those two emotions to last two lifetimes.
The only thing that bothered him about the place was the mysterious rise in temperature. They didn't even need gloves or their heavy cloaks, though the air was still crisp. It was as if late autumn, or very early spring had come to this place and simply frozen that way in time. It may be that the trees themselves gave off the heat. When Sansa had gone into the biggest tree and touched the walls, she had told him of the warmth. Hadn't he felt it for himself?
There's nothing normal about a tree that gives off heat. Tree's should remain cold, and still. Nothing without a beating heart should be that warm. The thought was enough to break through the calm that had settled on him since their arrival. Even so, it was only a faint discord and it faded almost as quickly as it had come upon him.
Sansa seemed taken with the hollow tree. She walked inside it, around the outside, and if it had been ladylike, he was certain she may even have tried to climb it. He was not as swayed by wonder as she was. He was more interested in watching her. The weariness seemed to have drained from her, as if the forest was breathing life back into her body. Her hair seemed more lustrous, and her skin didn't look as ashy as it had when she was sick. Even her eyes were brighter and more alert.
"Can we stay? Just for a little while?" Sansa asked suddenly, whirling on him with wide, hopeful eyes. Her hands were clasped together beneath her chin, as if praying. Could he really deny her? He didn't want to stay, it would be better if they moved on. No, they needed to keep moving.
"Yes, we can stay," he surprised himself by agreeing with her. The delight on her face was reward enough, and a warm sensation spread through his chest at her smile. I hope I made the right choice. I have a feeling if we brought violence here, this would not be such a friendly place.
Sandor set up camp inside the hollow tree. It would keep them from view, and it didn't seem as if they would need a fire tonight. As it was, she wouldn't have felt right burning anything from this forest, and Sandor seemed to sense the same thing. They would eat stale bread and hard cheese, but she didn't mind. At least they would have shelter and safety beneath the old tree.
After they ate a meager meal she lay on the forest floor with her hands behind her head, gazing up at the hollowed out shell of the tree. Sandor sit beside her, staring off into nothingness. Neither of them spoke, but it was a comfortable silence. She didn't mind at all. Something about this place brought a stillness to her thoughts.
She closed her eyes for a time, just enjoying the feeling of not having to hide or worry that they might be found out. The warmth of the hollow tree radiated around her and was invigorating after the long journey through the cold. It almost felt like spring, and that was a comforting thought. Spring meant life, and after all the death that winter wrought, it would be a wonder to dwell in the newness of life again.
She felt eyes on her and turned her head to look at Sandor. He was watching her, but she didn't mind. Instead of speaking, she simply looked at him, allowing herself to truly take in his features. It had been a long time since she had done so. Probably back when he was still recovering from the arrow wound.
His face would never be handsome and his scars would always be ugly, but they were no longer frightening. The grey eyes that once held unyielding rage had quieted, though she knew they were still capable of the emotion. His brow was heavy, and his jaw square. It was a masculine face, strong and hard.
A small smile came to her lips unbidden. One of his thick eyebrows rose as he saw her grin.
"What are you smiling at, little bird?"
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Because I'm in love with you," the words spilled from her mouth before she even realized she was going to say them. Her stomach seemed to drop clear out of her body, and her heart started to pound as heat rose to her cheeks, but she did not look away from him. She hadn't meant to say it. It had been years since she had even considered being in love, and she thought she was beyond such a girlish thing...but here she was, the words hanging in the air before them, without her consent.
She watched a range of emotions flicker through his eyes, though she had no idea what any of them were. Sandor kept his grey eyes locked with hers, and his gaze was so intense she was afraid if she blinked, or looked away that she'd lose him forever.
Instead of words he reached out and pulled her on top of him, rolling so his back was in the weirwood leaves. She kept looking into his eyes as he brought his face to hers, and only closed them when she felt his kiss. It was not a demanding kiss, nor was it hard or hot with need. He didn't try to deepen the kiss either. All he did was kiss her, and run one of his large hands through her hair. When he pulled back from the kiss, letting his head rest on the floor all he did was shake his head. Sansa put her head on his wide chest and listened to the heavy thump of his heart.
"You're a stupid little bird. You could have any man in the Seven Kingdoms, and probably most of them across the Narrow Sea, and you have the audacity to fall for a dog like me?" he chuckled deep in the back of his throat. She gazed up at him, feeling sad.
"You're not a dog, and I'm no bird...you're just a man, and I'm just a woman," she replied heavily. It was too much to ask him to feel the same as her, regardless of all they had been through and the tenderness he occasionally showed. Sansa clenched her teeth, determined not to cry or to be upset.
"You're upset," he stroked her hair again. She wished he couldn't read her so well.
"You expected me not to be? When a lady professes her love, and gets no reply..." she trailed off. Why bother finishing, the result would be the same. He put a hand under her chin and lightly brought her gaze back up to his.
"I take it my kiss wasn't proof enough?" he asked, all traces of his earlier amusement gone. Her heart skipped a beat, but she still shook her head. She needed to hear him say it, although she didn't know why.
"Little bird...Sansa. I have loved you from the moment you first met my gaze, horrible as it is. I have fought it, cursed it, and denied it...all for naught. The feeling remains my constant tormenter, and the only thing that kept me warm during the long winter nights in your absence. I don't deserve you, I shouldn't be with you, and I sure as hell should never have told you any of this...but I told you once that I wouldn't lie to you, and I'm not lying now. I love you, and may the Others take me for it," he confessed.
Sansa saw the conflict in him, and didn't care. It didn't matter to her if he was lowborn, or that he wasn't what others would consider worthy. It didn't matter that he himself didn't think he was worthy. She knew he was worthy of her, and when the words past his lips she couldn't help the smile on her face or the sudden tears in her eyes. For once, they were not tears of sadness, but of joy.
He kissed the tears away as they fell, and when she brought her mouth down on his again she felt his smile against her lips. He didn't smile often, only when making some lewd remark, or a harsh joke, but she knew this was was out of happiness. It warmed her suddenly and fiercely. The fluttering in her tummy increased and she wondered if one could die of happiness.
When she pulled back to look at him, he gave another one of those sighs that wasn't really a sigh. It was a sound that she heard often, and had come to understand even though they hardly ever acted on it. It was a sigh of longing, a sigh of desire.
The sound stirred something in her and she thought back to the night he had taken her with his mouth. She hadn't known any sensation that felt like that before, and they hadn't done it since. The last time they might have, she had ruined it after finding the scar on his leg...and the time after that she had lied to him and ruined it again.
The thought of all that blood pooled beneath her should have made her cautious. It should have made her frightened, and hesitant as it had before...but she felt none of that now. All she felt beneath the hollow tree was warmth, safety and love.
Sandor gazed at her, but made no motion to touch her, save the hand in her hair. It stroked lightly and felt better than any brush. She could tell that he wanted to touch her, but he remembered the night before...gods, was it only the night before?
She brought her hand to the one he had tangled in her hair, and moved it down to one breast. It was a bold move, one she probably never would have done before tonight...and it made the fluttering in her tummy increase. Sandor, however, frowned.
"Sansa," he began, in a tone that meant that she should stop. He hadn't forgotten the night before, and the fear she had shown.
"I'm not afraid anymore," she whispered, and although her voice was soft, he could see no lie in her eyes. The fear from the night before had vanished, although she did not know what had chased it away. Regardless she was grateful.
"I shouldn't...we shouldn't..." he started but the look on her face made the words die on his lips. Instead of resuming where he left off, he brought her head down and kissed her again, hard. The hand still on her breast gave a squeeze and she couldn't help the gasp that escaped from her throat.
He fumbled with the laces of her tunic as she opened her mouth to his kiss. He tasted like nothing she had ever had before. It was a distinct taste, a Sandor taste, and thick with desire that made her breathless. Her nipple hardened beneath his touch and she pushed herself into him, longing for the pressure she knew he was holding back. He rewarded her with a pinch that sent a jolt from breast to groin.
Before she knew it her tunic was discarded to one side and he resumed squeezing and lightly pinching her breasts. The feeling of his bare, calloused hands on her own bare breasts was incredible...but she wanted more. She moved to start undressing him as well, but he was too big and she couldn't manage while still on top of him.
He rolled her onto her back so suddenly she forgot to breathe. With one deft motion he removed his shirt, then pulled her into him in a sitting position. Her legs could barely wrap around his large waist, and the way he was positioned had it so she was sitting directly on the hardness between his legs. His strong arms held her up, against his bare chest as he let out a low grumble of pleasure as she pressed down into the hardness that rose up to meet her.
She only had the small-clothes on for her lower body, but he still had his breeches on. Sansa wanted to remove them, but the feeling of him grinding into that sweet spot between her legs kept her from going anywhere. It didn't feel as amazing as his tongue had, but it still had her gasping and wanting more.
"Please," he soon had her begging, "please, I..." she didn't even know how to phrase what she wanted him to do. Luckily he seemed to know what she wanted by instinct. He tumbled her down onto the soft bed of leaves and quickly did away with her remaining clothes. A small part of her was still embarrassed to be laid bare before him...but the bigger part of her just wanted more of him, in whatever manner he was willing to give to her.
He started with his hand, rubbing the hood over that spot she ached for him to touch with one, rough thumb. Her hips bucked occasionally, which seemed to please him as much as it embarrassed her. She felt a wetness between her legs, a heat that she couldn't explain and didn't have time to. He removed his hands and went to work with his mouth again.
Her legs twitched with a will of their own as he silently worked her. She cried out several times when the pleasure threatened to drive her crazy, but every time she got close he'd pull back. Sansa knew he was teasing her, and she didn't know why but she couldn't complain. Everything he did to her felt amazing. She never wanted him to stop.
He slid one finger across he slit and she gasped at the sudden pressure there. When he brought it back, glistening with wetness she felt heat rise to her cheeks again. Sandor seemed pleased by what he saw however, for he brought his face down again and started with renewed vigor. He pinned her hips down as he had done so long ago, to keep her from squirming away. This time he allowed the orgasm to take her, and she cried out loud and long as it tore through her, arching her back as much as his arms would allow. When it finally subsided she collapsed onto the ground, panting and shuddering.
Sansa watched him as he removed his pants, and stood naked before her. He was hard, and standing straight out. She had little to compare him to, but didn't have any doubt that just like the rest of him, the cock before her was larger than most.
He sat next to her, watching as she recovered from his ministrations. Sandor did not idle long, however, and he pulled her into his arms, and rolled her so she was on top of him. His hardness pressed lightly against her entrance, and he met her gaze.
"I need you, but if you are not ready...I will not force myself on you," his voice was deep, rough and full of longing that sent another stirring through her. She wasn't sure that she could take any more pleasure after what he had done, but at his words, she knew that she could, and would. This time she would not balk.
"I want you to...but...be gentle, if you can," she asked, hating the small waver in her voice. Sansa knew this was an important event, but she also knew that there was no one else she'd rather be doing it with. She was frightened, and she wouldn't try to hide it, but neither would she let fear stop her this time.
I will not be a slave to my dreams.
He didn't let her change her mind. Sandor pushed forward with his hips and claimed Sansa's maidenhood. She cried out in pain, and he had sense enough to stop moving. Her breath came in ragged gasps, her eyes were closed tight, and her fingernails would leave bloody marks behind on his arms, but she did not cry. It took every ounce of will power to stay still within her. He had never felt someone so tight, or wet before. No whore even came close. She felt better than all the dreams he had ever had of this moment.
Even with all of his will power, his cock had a mind of its own. It would twitch inside of her and she'd whimper. It would take a little time to get her used to his girth, but if she didn't get used to it soon he was going to loose his control, and that would be bad for both of them.
He reached between them and lightly stroked between her legs. She gasped at the touch, but he knew that it was a good gasp, not a pained one. He found himself wishing that it didn't hurt her, and hoping that it wouldn't hurt much longer.
Finally, when she eased her death grip on his arm, and relaxed a little against the ground he spoke.
"Do you want me to stop?" he didn't want to, and he didn't know if he even could, now that they had gotten this far, but she shook her head and spared him the thought.
"No, please don't," she managed, her large blue eyes meeting his for the first time since he entered her. He could not remain still any longer and he pulled out slowly. She winced a little, but rewarded him with a light moan as he pushed back into her.
He continued to work her with his hand as he did the same with his cock. Her moans came more rapidly and although he wanted to make it last a lot longer, he knew that it wasn't going to take much to send him over the edge. Wanting something for so long, and going without for almost as long had taken its toll.
Sandor picked up his pace, driving into her as hard as he dared...which wasn't nearly as hard as he wanted to. Her cries echoed throughout the hollow tree, and grew more insistent as he brought her close to her peak again. When she came, she tightened around him so suddenly that it brought him over the edge as well. He groaned deep in the back of his throat as he spilled inside of her, and there was no other sensation in the world but his little bird wrapped around him, crying out his name.
She lay naked in his arms as they both basked in the afterglow. The lingering sensation of her orgasm left her feeling wonderfully lightheaded. She was still aware of the sharp ache between her legs, however, and when she moved it would give an awful twinge. Still, it hadn't been as bad as she had been expecting it to be, and there hadn't been much blood at all.
The dream was wrong. I never laid in blood. She thought with a small frown as she looked over at the spot where she had lost her maidenhead. There was nothing but leaves. Leaves.
Sansa started to laugh. It came out as a giggle at first, but then took hold of her and she was soon gasping for air as she laughed, her voice traveling up through the tree and echoing out into the night.
"And what, pray tell, is so funny?" Sandor asked after a moment. One eyebrow was raised, the other was furrowed.
"I thought...I thought it was a pool of blood I was laying in. It was just...just leaves! Red, weirwood leaves!" she managed to let him in on it, then dissolved into giggles again at the expression on his face. He gave a small chuckle, and rolled his eyes as he kissed the top of her head.
She regained her composure and snuggled into his chest. Her gaze fell to the world outside the hollow tree. The red leaves on both the ground and in the sky. She then closed her eyes, a smile on her face and content spreading through every bone in her body.
"The only winter they have here is a red one," she murmured against his chest, feeling drowsy.
"I'll take a red winter, as long as we can share it."