A/N: The first chapter starts immediately after Arya leaves Sandor at the Trident. Of course, these characters belong to George R. R. Martin.
Chapter 1: The Elder Brother
Light was filtering through the thin cattails scattered at the river base. The sun flashed in his eyes, and the Elder Brother broke through the reeds and stared restlessly at the flowing Trident. No bodies today. The gravediggers would receive a few hours reprieve, but inevitably bodies would wash ashore, and it was his duty to the gods to see they were properly buried. It was only fair; the river provided the brothers with food, water, driftwood, swords and silver, and even the occasional ruby, perhaps from Rhaegar's downfall. They least they could do was to bury the dead that washed up along with the more useful provisions.
His mind drifted, as always, to his own small role in the Battle of the Trident, so long ago. He was once a nameless, useless knight on the wrong side of a battle. A listless drunk with no direction other than what his liege lord commanded. Now he was a nameless brother, but at least he was at peace in the Monastery on the Quiet Isle. His muscular body shuddered in relief at having been rescued by the brothers. What would his life have been like had he been left to wake naked in the river, with no boots or coin to his name? His piety, genuine, derived from being rescued from the bottom dregs of humanity and accepted, without question, into a brotherhood that silently worked to aid man.
The Elder Brother rode noiselessly along the riverbank, restlessly scanning for driftwood or other items that could be of use to his brotherhood. A slight nickering caught his ear. He slowed his palfrey and listened. He raised his arm, and the four silent brothers behind him stopped as well. Second Chance twitched her ears and swished her tail nervously. She sensed something she didn't like.
A horse, black as the night, was drinking from the river a quarter league upstream. It was momentarily frozen, like a startled deer, but this horse was no prey. With a loud scream the horse jumped over a large piece of driftwood and melted away from the riverbank.
A strong horse would be a boon to the Quiet Isle. It was autumn; time to reinforce housing, increase their food supplies, and attempt one last crop. The black horse screamed and kicked as it moved away, but the Elder Brother and his four companions followed the high-stepping stallion and attempted to surround it.
As the brothers broke into a gallop, relishing the race, the Elder Brother thought mayhaps he heard a cry. He chance glanced back at the base of a tree and reigned in Second Change as his brothers rode past him. He quietly dismounted and stared at the slumped bundle of clothing, mail, and bandages at the base of the tree. The figure was sobbing and gasping in pain, with one eye crusted shut by blood. The other eye stared at the Elder Brother, hopeful that his arrival could hasten his dismal death.
He was a man near dead, by the Elder Brother's reckoning. He smelled of illness, and upon closer inspection, his leg emitted a foul odor and a white puss oozed from a poorly bandaged wound. The Elder Brother sighed. The gravediggers wouldn't have a break, after all.
"Mercy, please," the man cried, his voice drawn, but with a spark of hopefulness. The man simply hoped to die faster and more painlessly, nothing more.
The Elder Brother was strong and muscular, certainly capable to end this man's suffering, but he had sworn, when he entered the brotherhood, to never kill again. His mind drifted to his own fate by the same river, and he was soon overcome with curiosity as to the identity of the poor man whose fate was poorer than his own. He gently dropped to the ground and knelt by the man's side. His identity should be known, so someone could mourn him and cherish a life extinguished too short.
The odor was overwhelming and the Elder Brother held his breath as he carefully turned the stranger's head. He touched a patch of bare skin; it was warm. He was feverous. Infected. He probably deserved the mercy of a quick death.
A quick death. Yet, if a strange brother had once saved the Elder Brother, shouldn't he return the deed? The Elder Brother felt a kinship with this man. Here he was, a lost man along the Trident just has he had been. The Warrior must have sent him. It was the Gods speaking, and the Elder Brother's job to save him.
Gently, the Elder Brother turned the man's head. His face was disfigured; one eye obscured by burn scars, an ear missing. Dried blood dripped from a dirty rag wrapped upon his head. The man's eyes slowly, painfully fluttered as he attempted to open them when he felt pressure from the Elder Brother's fingertips. Groaning, the man quit the attempt to open his eyes and instead moaned. It was a hopeless sound, the moan of a man begging to die, waiting to die. The Elder Brother's heart broke, and he learned forward, ignoring the stench, trying to catch the mumbled words that came from the man's mouth. They sounded like "mercy", "song", and "bird". Queer words to come from the mouth of a hardened soldier. But he was feverous, and probably delirious.
Nonetheless, the Elder Brother was intrigued. Though the Quiet Isle was isolated and not yet touched directly by the war, he still believed he knew the identity of the man near death. He picked up a helm that had been negligently tossed beside the slumped figure. It featured a snarling, fearful dog. "You are the Hound," he whispered, incredulous, peeking under the dirty bandages. Burns covered his face, and the man winced from the tiny movement. The Elder Brother knew the Hound was feared, an excellent swordsman, and had been sworn to King Joffrey.
A neigh and scream caused the Elder Brother to turn his head. Somehow his brothers had successfully corralled the black horse back towards the river. Perhaps, with the help of another strong horse, the brotherhood would have an additional autumn crop, after all.
He turned his attention back to the grievously injured man as his brothers attempted to subdue the black horse. He had stopped mumbling and slumped back into unconsciousness.
The Elder Brother stood, found his wine, and forced it into the man's mouth. He moaned, but accepted it gratefully, and whispered a hoarse thanks for a taste of his favorite drink. The Elder Brother whispered gently, "Are you tired of fighting? I was once like you. A brother found me, accepted me, and I am happy. Shed your sword and knighthood and join us. Find a purpose." He wrapped his arms around the man, ignoring the foul odors. The man sank back into his arms, warmed by the gentle touch, which is rarely given to an ugly, hardened man.
The man muttered insolently, "I'm no knight," before dropping back into unconsciousness. The Elder Brother took that as consent. He slowly lowered the man to the ground, and walked to his horse for supplies to create a poultice. He cleaned him the best he could with river water, and gently wiped his brow. He was determined to help this man find inner peace and purpose, as he had. He quickly gathered a few rocks and deposited them atop the now unneeded sword of the Hound. He firmly stuck the snarling helm on top to mark the grave. He was determined a new man would be born in his place. The Elder Brother silently prayed to the Crone to lead the Hound safely on his way to the Stranger, and to the Mother and Smith to give the new man love and purpose.