This two-shot is born of writer's block and rugby fanaticism. Writer's block, because I have another fic on the go and two essays due, but none of them seems to be flowing right now. Rugby, because the Ireland game's at 6 and the England game at 8, and after South Park it seemed pointless going to bed for three hours...
Sansa Stark was a liability.
One wouldn't know it, to look at her: a bright beauty just gone five-and-ten, pleasant and polite - though he detected a deep reserve in the girl, as icy and impregnable as Winterfell itself. Not that she'd caused any trouble. From the day Brienne brought her to court, she'd given every illusion of passivity, even docility. Yet those delicate hands had the power to tear apart the fragile peace he'd built against the odds.
"My lord Regent," said Ser Balon. "The Queen will see you now."
He nodded and stepped through; Hoster Blackwood followed in his wake, bearing the fatal parchment.
The chambers were decorated as exotically as the rest of the royal apartments, all sprays of flowers and tables topped with intricate mosaics. Her time in hotter climes had accustomed the young queen to doing business out of doors; though winter still gripped the realm, she broke her fast on the veranda whenever the weather permitted. He saw her in profile, framed by the blue sky and a budding bower, her hair shining like beaten gold in the morning sunlight: the very image of Cersei at twelve. There the comparisons ended, and for that Jaime thanked the gods every day.
She turned at his approach, revealing the dreadful scar that marred her pretty face. "Ser Jaime," smiled Queen Myrcella.
Trystane echoed her. A king consort, not a king regnant; the Dornish were more comfortable with the concept than the rest of the realm, but it had not caused a problem yet. He was a gentle boy, this Trystane Martell; not like to stir to rebellion. The danger lay with his retinue: his bastard cousins, Lady Nym and Lady Tyene, who attended him always. They were known as Sand Snakes in Sunspear, and Jaime was ever mindful of the sort of poison they could pour in a boy's ear.
"Your Grace," he addressed his daughter, "I bring news from the North."
"Oh." Her brow furrowed and she set down her bread and jam. "The lords have made demands, at last?"
"Yes, your grace." He beckoned, and Hos lurched forward awkwardly. "Would you like to see it yourself?"
"If you think it wise," said Myrcella gracefully, dabbing at her hands with a linen napkin. "Tallhart, Glover, Karstark, Ryswell, Cerwyn, Dustin ... and a little drawing of a bear attacking a giant," she said, perplexed. "Are those meant to be marks?"
"Houses Mormont and Umber, I should think," said Jaime. Northmen could be tiresome.
"What of White Harbor, and the mountain clans?"
Jaime was privately pleased that she'd noted their absence. She didn't have the instinct for intrigue he might have hoped for, but she was learning.
"I don't know, your grace. This is a bold demand, and they have no prospect of improving their position."
"It's almost treason," said Myrcella lightly. She pushed the paper toward Trystane, who was craning his neck to read upside-down. She nibbled at her bread once again. "We cannot give them Lady Sansa. If they withhold their fealty now, who's to say they won't do so with a Stark in Winterfell? They might try to make her Queen in the North, and wed her to someone who can give them swords, now she's widowed. I like Lady Sansa; I'd rather not have to execute her."
Jaime heard the pain in her voice. She'd liked Aegon, too. Jaime thought she'd conceived a certain regard for him, and she'd opted to watch his beheading from a high balcony, so far above the courtyard that her eyes might as easily have been shut as directed downwards. A noble boy, but Jaime could not suffer any pretenders to threaten his daughter's throne - nor her marriage to the Dornish prince. He'd known it was hard on her though, new-come to the throne and still grieving for Tommen, and she'd made him proud.
"Did you see the rune and the twin Hs? They have the Vale on their side."
Trystane looked at him imploringly. "Do you think they'd really rise up again?"
Jaime hesitated. "What do you think, your grace?"
Myrcella answered for him. "The men of the Vale are hungry for glory, but the men of the North have already tasted battle. They do not want war, but they do not want another cruel overlord. Lord Bolton is a valuable hostage, but not a fair trade for Lady Sansa. We must refuse these terms, but beyond that..."
"It's a difficult situation, your grace," said Jaime approvingly. "I will leave you to your breakfast; think on this, and we can discuss it later."
"Thank you, Ser Jaime," said Myrcella softly, and Jaime took his leave. It made no matter what she decided, in truth: as in all things, she deferred to his judgement. That was something he would have to wean her away from, but for now it had its uses.
The key was to attenuate Sansa's utility to the northmen: if she could be brought to heel, made loyal to the crown, then she would make a perfect liege lady for the North. Northmen's knees turned to rubber when faced with a Stark, and despite her tender years Jaime had some confidence in her capacity to rule: he'd caught himself wishing Myrcella had a little of her insight and decision.
To send her north, and yet keep her bound to King's Landing.
"I have no wish to marry again, ser," said Sansa firmly.
"Not even for Winterfell?"
The little intake of breath was subtle, but it was all the answer Jaime needed. All the same, he hesitated to give her a chance to speak, and when no answer was forthcoming he continued.
"Your reluctance is understandable, Sansa; my brother can't have been an easy spouse to live with. But let me be clear with you. It is the health of the realm that concerns me, not your happiness. If none of my choices are acceptable to you, I won't marry you off against your will - I'm not a monster, but nor am I a fool. Unwed, I will not allow you to leave King's Landing, or indeed this tower. You are a ward of the Crown and you remain here at the Queen's pleasure."
Sansa nodded slowly. A prisoner in truth; they both knew it. She'd trod this road before.
"You want to see Winterfell again, don't you?" said Jaime, more gently.
"Yes," she said, "More than anything, even ruined."
"It would be yours to rebuild. Along with the North," he added.
Sansa fixed him with her gaze. There was an inscrutable look in those blue eyes. "You would make me the Stark in Winterfell," she said softly.
"The North needs new lords," sniffed Jaime. "Who better than the old?"
"And I must have a loyal husband, not a rebel northerner, so you will not send me unwed. Do you think Greatjon Umber and the rest will accept a southron lord in Winterfell?"
"Not any southron lord, but they will accept the right man, provided he isn't a Lannister. Someone who commands their respect, if not their love. But then, isn't that why we're sending you?"
Jaime's phantom fingers tingled and burned as he watched the men training in the yard. Addam Marbrand spun and slashed, knocking Sebaston Foote to the ground. Jaime inwardly cursed the day he'd raised them to the Queensguard. Both were fine knights and good commanders, and either would have made a fine husband for Sansa Stark. Leaders of men, and true knights. They'd given up their lands and titles to serve Myrcella, and with them their right to wed.
He'd decided that a Westerman would be best, loyal to House Lannister as well as the crown. Those few he deemed reliable were either married or sworn to the Queensguard. They've all taken vows of some sort, thought Jaime bitterly. Except...
Sandor Clegane preferred his olive-green cloak and battered armour to the white finery of the Queensguard. He'd never taken the oath, any more than he'd taken one for Joffrey, but he'd been every bit as devoted and diligent as the other six. Perhaps moreso, for the man apparently claimed any extra shifts when the other men requested leave. He seemed to have nothing in his life beyond the job.
It was hardly surprising. Most of the realm believed the Hound to be responsible for the massacre at Saltpans two years ago, though Jaime knew the truth. Brienne had found him too, not far from Saltpans itself. Jaime was hazy on the details, but he was dimly aware that Clegane had displayed some valour on Sansa's part while they travelled from Saltpans to King's Landing, on the strength of which Brienne had urged him to take Clegane back into his service. And with Jaime acting as regent, the Queensguard had been a man short.
I couldn't inflict that on the poor girl, he thought, watching as the Hound hacked furiously at one of the Fossoways. The man gave ground under a flurry of blows, until Clegane lurched suddenly; the momentary loss of composure was opportunity enough for the smaller knight to swing at the gap in Clegane's pauldrons. Jaime was relieved to see him bring his sword up just in time and continue the fight with renewed anger and vigour, battering Fossoway into a quick submission.
It was sad to see, in a way. Before the war, Jaime would have ranked the Hound second only to himself in terms of general ability, and while he wasn't nearly as broken as Jaime, he would never be quite the same. He was still formidable, but to an eye as practiced and familiar as Jaime's, the difference was obvious. Jaime had offered him his family's lands before the white cloak, but Clegane hadn't been interested. Much of the rage had gone out of him during the war, leaving a sad, damaged man who spent his hours off trying to drink himself to death. It hadn't dented his competence. Jaime had seen him in his cups a few times, haunting the ruins of the Tower of the Hand, lurking by the Serpentine and the godswood, waiting in vain for some sign that never seemed to come. A pathetic sight.
His gaze flicked to Marbrand and Foote again. On second thought, maybe neither of them was such an ideal choice. Jaime had grown up with Ser Addam and trusted him enough to appoint him Acting Lord Commander until Myrcella came of age, yet he and Foote had both seen their family's lands fall to the Young Wolf. How would they take to a life in the North, living among the men who'd burned their towns and captured their castles?
Clegane, though. He had no cause to hate the North, no lingering loyalties. Nowhere else to go. And Jaime wouldn't need to beseech the High Septon to release him from sacred vows. He'd deserted Joff and House Lannister during the war, but he'd come crawling back in the end, hadn't he? Maybe he'd even like the North, with its blunt speech and grim Old Gods. No knights north of the Neck, thought Jaime.
He wasn't entirely unknown to Sansa either, though Jaime couldn't imagine she had much liking for him. Clegane swore he'd never beaten her for Joff, but he'd still been part of that corrupt Kingsguard. Even now, he was often assigned to escort her from place to place and Jaime had seen him looming over Myrcella's tea parties and sewing circles, at which Sansa was always present. Brienne made no complaints about how they'd got along on the road; she described the Hound as a silent, brooding man, very much the outsider in their party. He'd terrified Brienne's squire, and he wouldn't be trifled with lightly by the northmen either. Jaime hadn't known him to be stirred by the sort of fervency that might stir another man to the North's cause at the expense of Myrcella's.
But he was lower-born than Jaime would have liked; Clegane's father had been a knight, not a lord. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd ever stood a vigil himself, but he was as like to do that as he was to become a septon. Still, he thought with some regret, maybe it would taint the Stark girl a little in the eyes of her bannermen. Not enough to make them raise the Boltons again, but enough to dull some of that reverence of House Stark.
He'd expected to be able to wring Myrcella's reluctant acceptance for the scheme, for all that the Sand Snakes fumed in the background. She'd even consented to the suggestion of Sandor Clegane, provided Lady Sansa was willing. 'Willing' was a relative term, of course. Jaime didn't think for a moment that the Hound was the sort of man Sansa Stark would choose for herself, but there was a chance she would tolerate him in exchange for her inheritance.
He hadn't expected Sansa's reaction. He expressed the Queen's approval for his plans in rather more effusive terms than Myrcella might have, and he named his first candidate. She looked dumbfounded.
"The Hound?" she asked, incredulous. "You want me to marry the Hound? Does he know about this?"
"If it is not to your liking, my lady, there are other names I might suggest." When I've thought of them, that is. "Take as much time as you need to consider."
Sansa nodded. Her face was blank as she stared into her lap. Jaime rose to go. "No need, ser," said Sansa, touching his golden hand. There was no feeling in those fingers, but the vibration rang through to his stump. "I accept."
Stoic hope brought an extra radiance to her fair features. She's a brave girl, thought Jaime; it seems a waste to wed her to the likes of Sandor Clegane. He supposed worse matches had been made for smaller prizes than Winterfell, but the image of the Hound next to the beautiful Lady Stark was so queer it gave him pause.
"You wed her to the Imp first time. Was I the only one ugly enough to come next?"
"I have my reasons," said Jaime. "Your looks aren't one of them."
The Hound's lip curled, but he said nothing. Jaime kept his eyes on him. He was breathing hard, that ruined face marred further by a snarl. He'd leapt from his chair with such force that a leg had cracked, and the broken remnants lay on the floor behind him, spoiling the timeless serenity of the White Room. Others take me, what am I doing?
"Shall I take this to mean that you refuse? Lady Sansa has already accepted. Straight away, in fact." The Hound froze. Ah. "Believe me, I was as shocked as you."
"By what right, Kingslayer?" Clegane barked, but there was uncertainty there now. He was speaking at random: a man buying himself time to think. "She's a ward of the Crown, true enough, but I'm a man of the Queensguard. I'm not some hostage at your disposal."
Jaime let the 'Kingslayer' slide. "Queensguard you may be, but you haven't sworn not to marry and you are still a subject of the Iron Throne. As regent I have a right to arrange matches among the Queen's subjects, and luckily for you, I'm offering you a choice. I could command this, but I want someone who is willing." Jaime settled in his chair and turned his attention to the White Book. He glanced up at Clegane. "It makes no matter. I will send word of your refusal to Lady Sansa. You may return to your duties."
Sandor Clegane made a strangled noise in his throat. "You said I would have to leave the Queensguard in time," he said. "I'll have to go when Queen Myrcella comes into her majority."
"You are not a knight, Clegane," said Jaime absently, dipping his pen into a bottle of maester's ink. He used his golden hand to drag a piece of parchment nearer. "By right, you should never have been allowed that white cloak, but you seemed the best man for the job for now. Your appointment is temporary."
He swallowed, but kept his obvious anxiety out of his voice. "How soon would want us to marry?"
Jaime looked up. Men could be so predictable sometimes. It bored him immensely. "I wouldn't wait four years, if that's what you're asking," he said. "The Lady Sansa must be wed as soon as possible. You would be released from the Queensguard, if you accept." He returned to the parchment. "You need not decide now. Sleep on it, if you must, but I will need an answer."
The Hound took a deep breath. "I'll do it."
Jaime had already written as much in his note to Sansa, along with a promise to see to all necessary arrangements. He thought it would be cruel to ask Clegane to deliver it, but he did so anyway.