A/N: Disclaimers
- I don't gain anything by this. The characters & story are the brilliant work of GRRM. And the title of the fic is taken from Loreena McKennitt's, Dante's Prayer which is a huge inspiration for this story ;)

*Because whenever I find that the muse wants to take a day off and leave me alone, my lovely betas are supportive and patient and very helpful, I stand up and applaud you in thanks!: onborrowedwings, nysandra & swiftsnowmane :D

- The story though mainly book canon, can still apply for the HBO show (I don't anything from the tv show either).
- The story will contain dialogue from both the books and the show.

24. The Trial

Of all the things Sansa could have remembered on the long ride home to The Three Bells Inn from Arman's manse, it struck her as odd that it was Cersei Lannister's words that kept running through her mind again and again. Why was she remembering them now? Sandor was in prison, and Arman had said that if she married him he would free him unharmed. But, as Magister Nervere's guards escorted her against her will, supposedly for protection even after she refused the palanquin that had been offered to her, down to the Low City as she rode Stranger, the conversation she'd had with Queen Cersei–whose beautiful proud face she could oddly remember at long last with vivid clarity–on the morning of her first moonblood was currently invading her mind.

"Do you want to be loved, Sansa?" The queen had asked her as she sat in front of her in her solar.

"Everyone wants to be loved," she had replied.

"I see flowering hasn't made you any brighter. Sansa, permit me to share a bit of womanly wisdom with you on this very special day. Love is poison. A sweet poison, but it will kill you all the same. The more people you love, the weaker you are. You'll do things for them that you know you shouldn't do. You'll act the fool to make them happy, to keep them safe. Love no one but your children. On that front, a mother has no choice."

Sandor had been the strong one ever since she'd met him long ago. He had been the one who she had always trusted knew what to do whenever there was trouble.And thus, she'd thought as she left Arman to his twisted plans, that if in the end the only way to save Sandor's life was by marrying Arman, she would do so though it killed her inwardly.

She gathered that there was truth and wisdom in Queen Cersei's words, but not all of it could be true. She would do things for Sandor that she knew she shouldn't do, and would even act the fool to make her big man happy, and most of all to keep him safe, just as he had done with her for so long. But how can I marry Arman when I would regret it till the end of my days? She had felt no stirrings at all when he had kissed her–and that had been when she thought of him as good and honorable. So why would things be any different now that I know his true self? That the High Magister would not mind marrying her against her will whatever the cost, knowing that she despised him, proved just what sort of a man he was.

Shaking her head as she passed under the bright light of a lantern illuminating the street, Sansa closed her eyes and remembered the night she and Sandor had left Pentos–the day they had had their pillow fight–when they had been ready to rest after walking away from the coastal city all day long, and Sansa had ended up asking him why he had always been so hateful to her back in the Red Keep.

"You would have been glad of the hateful things I did one day, when you were the queen, and I was all that stood between you and your beloved king," he had rasped in answer.

Did Sandor have some sort of feelings for me since then? He did try to spare me from Joff's wrath more than once, and saved me from the riot, and said enough when no one else would speak for me as Ser Boros and Ser Meryn had me beaten and stripped in front of the whole court–well, no one but Ser Dontos and Lord Tyrionand we were not even true friends back then, I suppose. If things had changed between us, what would he have done? What would he have risked?

She tried to picture how, in some way or another, she and Sandor would have warmed up to each other as the years went by. I would have been his queen and we may have ended up pining after each other, just like Queen Naerys and the Dragonknight.

But Sansa's life could be different. She had to believe that the possibility existed. She was no longer meant to be ruled by the Lannisters, nor was she foolish enough to believe life was a song anymore. The future was not promising if she betrayed her heart and became Lady Nervere, and Sandor wouldn't even be around her then. No, she couldn't do that to herself or to Sandor. We've come such a long way from one possible tragic fate that I won't end up stepping into another without a fight.

She just had to think on what she could do that would allow the tide of fate to turn against that conceited worm that had weaseled his way into her life, as well as trying to convince the magisters to let Sandor be pardoned and released. It made her shiver in fury that Arman thought he had a claim on her, as if she was his property. As if I was one of his fabled animals or expensive house decorations!

The High Magister had underestimated her the way Cersei, Joffrey and everyone else in King's Landing had done but Sandor. She was a Stark of Winterfell and had the blood of Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn in her veins. She may have felt lost and desperate and alone all day long, and Arman had known this, but by now the cold night air was clearing her thoughts, and she was starting to consider that there was another slightly hopeful route to take.

Gods, how she prayed to the old and the new gods that this plan she was forming on the back of her mind would work tomorrow at the trial. Sandor didn't believe in the might of the Seven or in the power of the heart trees of the godswoods, but she did, and it was inconceivable to believe that they had saved her from the lions only to have her marry the High Magister of this accursed city. I have to behave tomorrow as if the magisters of Norvos are not our true enemies. Arman is. If she could just turn the other magisters against him, there was hope.

By the time she arrived at The Three Bells, she was relieved to see that despite the very late hour there were still lights inside Vintos and Frema's house. After asking Arman's guards if they would please finally leave her alone and seeing them heading back to the High City, she dismounted from Stranger and led him into his stall in the stable. She was too tired to unsaddle him, so instead she pressed her forehead to his, whispering assurances to Sandor's warhorse that they would save his master. In truth Sansa wasn't fooled and knew she was really trying to reassure herself more than the destrier, but it didn't matter.

"You miss him, don't you?" she asked the black horse. He neighed and she closed her eyes, sighing deeply. When Sandor is safe and we are far away from here, he is going to have to listen to me, and he better be sorry for his actions. For no matter how much she yearned for him to be with her now and always, Sansa was not going to ignore and forgive so easily what he had done. She was angry at him for threatening Arman of all things he could have done when that fateful first kiss had happened, and then for getting drunk and leaving her alone after they'd kissed for the first time. It had been such a mad and excitingly wonderful moment, she had felt too stunned to even think properly or even understand what he was talking about at first. I was so happy back then that I felt sure we would be able to brave the world together. Sandor apparently had thought otherwise and gone away. I gather that I can wait a little longer before telling him off for being so, so, so very careless. The important thing right now is to get him back.

"We'll have him back with us," she promised Stranger; her eyes fell on Nan and she noticed that her mare was wearing her saddle and reins as well. After tickling her behind the ears and sliding her hand down her forehead and muzzle, Sansa stepped out of the stable and headed for Vintos and Frema's, not even bothering to knock this time.

She saw that the couple was sitting at their dining room table; they stood up the moment they saw her and headed towards her before she had even closed the door.

"Alys darling, what happened? What did the High Magister say?" Frema asked her.

"Is he going to free Edric?" her husband asked Sansa.

Sansa gave a desperate laugh that sounded like a sob and went to sit on a chair by the table; the couple followed her with apprehensive expressions. Vintos took the seat beside her, and Frema began to pour Sansa a cup of some cheap wine. Sansa drank the cup in one gulp, to see if that would make her feel strong. She felt a hundred years old.

"Please, Alys, tell us what happened. Is the trial still going to be tomorrow?" Vintos said, as she put the empty goblet on the wooden table.

"Yes, the trial is taking place tomorrow," she finally confirmed slowly. "Arman said he knew and understood why Edric had threatened him, but he told me he can't afford to go against the magisters, for they took it as an insult that Edric was allowed to draw Arman's blood and walk away unharmed."

"So it was the magisters and not Nervere who ordered the arrest?" Vintos asked her, his eyes momentarily meeting with those of his wife.

"Yes, the magisters were the ones to order the arrest, yet Arman spoke of a way to stop the trial," she said in a firm voice. "He promised me that if I marry him, he will forgive Edric. He said that the magisters wouldn't be upset about that, and I guess they would probably allow Sandor to be exiled from Norvos as a wedding gift to me or something. Arman made it quite clear that if I do not accept his offer, he will do everything in his power to condemn Edric to death, only to end up marrying me anyways."

Frema gasped and Vintos blinked, uncomprehending.

"Oh, my," at long last Frema whispered. "So he dared threaten you like that? What kind of a man is he?"

"Unfortunately not the sort we thought he was," Vintos commented grimly, running his hand through his hair.

Frema was looking with so much concern at her that Sansa ended up lowering her gaze to her hands, unable to bear that look. Frema's hand squeezed hers after a moment in understanding; she said, "Darling, if that were to happen, you–you wouldn't agree to the High Magister's–"

Sansa didn't let Frema finish. She could feel her tears coming, so she stood up and went to the window, turning her back to the people in the room so they would not see her cry, and she hugged herself. I'll do anything for him, but not until I've tried what I've got planned under my sleeve, whatever the outcome, whatever the risk.

After silence had reigned over their little party for quite some time, Vintos coughed and said, "Alys, I think you should know that while you were up at Nervere's place, I went to make some inquiries."

Sansa turned around after she had dried silent tears from her face, frowning. "What sort of inquires?"

"Well, you see, I was thinking about what would happen when Edric was a free man again, because it is possible, I guess; and it's better that we are prepared. I gather that since he is in prison and you were meeting with Arman, neither of you would have thought about it, so I took the liberty to plan ahead and–and I know that we talked about all of us going to the village where Frema and I were born, but then I realized that Nervere will probably suspect that you would seek shelter either there or head back to Pentos, and then to Westeros. Even if Edric is pardoned and Arman would be expected to respect that, I'm confident it would be best that we surprised the High Magister."

"And what place did you come up with?" Sansa asked her friend, walking over to him. She could see that it could indeed be a good thing to go where everyone would least expect.

The couple exchanged quick looks before Frema said, "Mind you, it will only work if Edric is declared innocent at the trial, so we can all leave this city tomorrow night. Maybe the morning after that could work too, but not any later."

Sansa looked at her friends, urging them to go on.

"I went to visit Edric's friend, Burnek the blacksmith, some hours ago. When I arrived at his forge, he was selling one of his swords to some merchant who prattled on and on about why he was buying the sword. He said that it was a gift for his young brother, who was leaving home tomorrow night, and the merchant wanted him to be well protected on his journey. I then asked him where was his brother going, and he answered that there is a caravan heading north and his brother will be in it. Maybe you and Edric could join it, and disappear forever from Norvos the moment the trial is done."

Sansa blinked. "But where in the north? How much would they charge?"

A caravan? She had heard of them, but had never set eyes on one. I suppose that traveling across the Hills of Norvos with other people would be a good cover, but it all depends on where in the north this one is heading to–and also whether Sandor is acquitted of guilt, she reminded herself, with a shiver.

"I don't know its final destination, but they won't be charging much," Vintos was saying. "It's no fancy folk the ones you'd be traveling with. Bakers, singers, poor tradesmen, woodcarvers, men who take their families away in search of a better life somewhere north; men who are not likely to pose a threat to someone as frightening as Edric. And I gather that if you don't like where it's going, then you can just stop following it whenever and wherever you like. True, there isn't really much up there, but at least you would be safe because Arman wouldn't expect you both to go there."

Frema was frowning and shaking her head, and apparently she could not contain herself any longer, for she said. "I was very proud of Vintos when he told me the plan he'd come up with. It's really good, but I don't like it because it would mean that tomorrow night is going to be the last time we all see each other."

I had not even thought of that! Sansa realized. She turned, eyes full of sadness of her friend, walking over to her so she could squeeze her shoulder. She knew by the desperate tone in which Frema had spoken, that coming with them to the north of Essos was not a possibility to them.

"I understand, darling," Sansa told her friend. "I really do. You've done so much for me and Edric already, I simply could not ask you or Vintos to leave your families and start all your lives over again just so you can journey to the unknown. If Edric and I do, it's because we have to."

Sansa did not say the other reason she gathered her friends weren't mentioning for not wishing her and Edric go to their village. What if Arman decided in his anger at being foiled, that he wants to punish Vintos and Frema's families for sheltering me and Sandor?

As Frema stood up to hug her, Sansa bit her lip. Vintos would probably be abandoning his work to go live at the village his parents had wished so much he'd leave behind, and it was all due to him and Frema not being able to stay in Norvos anymore, not without the fear of being punished for befriending her and Sandor.

Sansa knew that leaving her friends was the right decision, but she still felt angry at Arman and at Sandor for putting her in this position. If Arman hadn't kissed me or turned nasty, and if Sandor hadn't lost his mind and threatened Arman only to end up in jail, we could have spent some more time with Frema and Vintos. It hurt her to recall that her friends would never know who Sandor and she really were.

She could not even tell the magisters tomorrow at the trial who she was and demand that they let Sandor go, because who knew what sort of advantage they would try to get from her connection to the King in the North. They could even sell me to the Lannisters. And it could also endanger Sandor's life. Arman was Mellario of Dorne's nephew, and if the magisters learned she was Sansa Stark, sooner or later they would somehow find out that Edric Goodbrook was in fact Sandor Clegane, the brother of the man who had murdered Mellario's goodsister and her children.

No, the magisters and Arman could not learn who they were. What pained Sansa were her friends. I could tell Frema and Vintos, but it's better for them if they never know. I wish I could ask them to dare take the risk of coming along with us, so that one day we could all live in Westeros, but if anything happened to either of them, I would never forgive myself. No, however much Sansa loved her friends, her place was where Sandor went, and if it was better for him to go to the wild and unknown north, then she would follow whatever the cost.

I just hope it is the right decision joining this caravan. She had never felt so much responsibility on her shoulders. Her decision to go or decline this way out could cost them their lives. But this is our only hope.

"There is just one thing," Sansa said, disentangling herself from Frema's arms. "If the council decides to punish Edric, and I agree to marry Arman so he stops them, and Edric is free, could you please make him understand that I'd want him to join this caravan no matter what?"

Frema was looking at her shoes, but she nodded. Vintos met Sansa's eyes and told her, "Edric will behave like a madman, but even if he hits me, I will make him leave Norvos before the dawn of the day after tomorrow. I don't know how I'll do it, but I'll do it."

Maybe Sandor could go back to Westeros and tell Robb to come for me, she thought absentmindedly as she smiled at her friend in thanks. Gods, he will be so angry at me for saving him by marrying Arman, and I just hope he can still be sensible enough to get away from here as soon as he can. Arman may have promised her that if she married him Sandor would not be harmed, but Sansa suspected that once she was bound to Arman, he could probably nonetheless try to have Sandor killed and she would never even know about it.

Later, Vintos and Frema helped Sansa pack her and Sandor's belongings for tomorrow night. Vintos carried Sandor's heavy armor to his house, while Frema packed two bedrolls; the maps of the East that Sandor had bought in Pentos, as well as some provisions into Nan and Stranger's saddlebags. Sansa meanwhile folded carefully into a parcel the beautiful fur-trimmed coat Sandor had given her for her nameday. I hope that tomorrow we can ride away together, Sansa thought, as she sat on her lonely bed, tears sliding down her cheeks. In the privacy of her bedroom, she allowed her fears and heartache to fall and show themselves freely. If the only one to leave is Sandor, then I hope he forgives me for keeping the coat he gave me. I just need something to remember him by. He can take my wooden figure of the Maiden, I suppose.

Sansa then went on to pack her little wooden figures of the Maiden and the Warrior, as well as two gowns, a pair of tunics and breeches for Sandor, their smallclothes (particularly the ones in which she had sewn her remaining jewelry) and four blankets to keep them warm. It wasn't enough, but at least it was a little more than what they'd had when they were traveling in the darkness of the Kingswood. It wasn't very pleasant back then, but we managed to survive. We'll be all right with this. And she gathered that traveling in a caravan would mean that there would not be a need to hunt for food at least. If we want something, we can just buy it or trade it with the other travelers.

Neither Sansa nor her friends slept on that endless night. Sansa knew that she should probably try to get some rest to gain back her strength, in case they did indeed need to flee the following night, but the thought of resting while Sandor was in jail was so inconceivable that she burst out laughing when her friends suggested it to her. Frema and Vintos talked most of the time in whispers, while Sansa knelt and prayed till she could bear it no more and her knees rubbed raw. When dawn broke, she could not face the thought of food. By evenfall, the outcome of the trial would be known, and Sandor would be either a free man or one condemned. Her belly was twisting so painfully into tight knots that it was very hard for her to endure without giving a hint of her resolution breaking.

There was nothing to do, so it was pointless to keep on brooding on the matter. With a stony face, she took a quick bath and dressed in a clean woolen gown before arranging her hair in the most elaborated braid she could manage. I must look pretty for them. It'll be easier to get their attention this way. She felt so strange. Like on the day when she had gone to Joffrey to plead for her father's life in front of the court. I depended on Joffrey's mercy then, today I will take matters into my own hands.

And so when midday was nearly upon them, Sansa stepped outside the house into the courtyard, with Frema and Vintos behind her, remarking that the day would be grey and windy. They headed for the Hall of Punishment through the streets of this city which Sansa had come to think of as vile; she registered that today the streets were practically deserted. They'd been crowded a day ago. That unsettled her. Where have all the people gone to? She wished to look composed on the outside, but in reality she was feeling a thousand times worse than the day before, when she had been searching for Sandor through these same streets.

She found her answer in the Hall of Punishment, which was even more crowded than the day before. Vintos told a passing official who they were and why they had come, and the young man stared at them all and asked who Lady Mallister was. When Sansa nodded, the man shook his head dubiously, and said hesitantly, "I do not think your friends can accompany you to the dais, Lady Mallister."

Sansa would not be able to stand being inside that place without at least one of her friends beside her; with a bright smile that took all her self-will to maintain, she pouted and replied, "Please, do not let me go alone into that room with all those magisters. They frighten me."

Frema followed her lead. "Yes, we promise not to be in anybody's way. We just want to accompany our friend in the difficult moments ahead into the courtroom."

"The courtroom?" the official said, looking puzzled. "The trial is not happening in a courtroom."

"W–what do you mean?" Sansa asked him. "Where is it going to take place, then?"

"Well, since the man accused attacked the High Magister, it has been decided that he is to be judged before the eyes of the people of Norvos. The trial will be public, and is about to start behind the Hall of Punishment, over at the Plaza of the Just."

Sansa gulped and grabbed Vintos and Frema's arms for support. It's just like what happened with Father, she realized, mouth hanging open. Gods, why are you doing this to us?

"Alys!" Frema exclaimed, grabbing Sansa with both hands. "Darling, you're about to faint."

Vintos looked angry. "But when was it decided that the trial would be public? Who said that–"

"We received the order from the High City shortly before dawn," the young official said, concern on his face. "Lady Mallister, would you like to seat for a moment? I can get you wine or water…"

Sansa shook her head. It doesn't matter that it's a public affair. If I just follow the plan I came up with last night, we still stand a chance. "No, just–just, please–if you would be so kind, take us to the Plaza of the Just."

"Very well," the official replied, and offered her his arm. She had no choice but to thank him for it and let him lead her to where Sandor was going to be judged. She tried to will her heart to beat a little slower, certain that the young man could hear it, but if he did notice the way she was trying to avoid trembling like a leaf, he was tactful enough not to mention it.

They crossed a door at the back of the entrance hall that led to a wide chamber, where at least half a hundred officials were either singing and reading papers in the corners, or rushing from one direction to the other with tired or worried expressions. Vintos and Frema spared them curious glances that the officials returned, but Sansa looked ahead of her, paying them little mind. When they finally left the Hall, they stepped outside to a small path of trees on both sides that led up to the back of a tall circular dais with a dome made of gold for a ceiling. Looking up at the sky, Sansa saw that the sun of Norvos was still struggling to break through the clouds despite it being almost midday.

After they walked down the path, the official climbed some marble steps and Sansa's party followed. The sight that met Sansa's eyes when she was on the dais took her breath away. Tall silver columns and arches surrounded the wide space where the marble dais and the town square stood, and tall statues of heroes and gods reflected the wealth of the Norvoshi. The large crowd had gathered in the open space before the raised dais, while some of the nobles of the High City sat in galleries nearby.

Sansa saw that they were probably the latest newcomers on the dais, for all the magisters were already seated and accommodated into four different rows. Sansa had met them all at Arman's ball, and she saw that they recognized her as well, for a loud murmur began when the young official conducted her and her friends to their seats on the other side of the dais, and all the magisters looked at them with a stern face. It's a good thing I can remember most of their names. When I have to act, it will serve me to let them know I remember them.

After thanking the official for his troubles, Sansa took her seat between Frema and Vintos. I hope they don't tell them they have to leave the dais. If they did, Sansa would have to stay up here alone, and it would be easier for her to do what she was about to do if she had them with her.

Feeling someone's gaze upon her, Sansa lifted her face and saw that Magister Arman was looking at her intently with those sapphire blue eyes as his horrible friend Quallo whispered something in his ear. Arman acknowledged her with a wide smile and a nod of his head, while Sansa shot him a murderous look, ignoring Quallo's penetrating gaze and nod as well. Oh, gods, I cannot marry him. To see his face every day when all I wish it to claw his blue eyes out will be unbearable.

Her friends had seen Magister Nervere, too. "Who is that man beside Arman with those horrible flames covering his face?"

Sansa tore her eyes away from the other magisters and answered, "He is a red priest. He used to be a slave in Volantis and he is the man who turned Arman into a believer of the red god."

"Oh," Frema replied, shuddering. "I don't like him."

"Neither do I," Vintos and Sansa said at the same time.

Frema and Vintos began to whisper to each other that being up here while the whole city looked up at them was the strangest thing they had ever lived; Sansa on theother hand, started to recall Quallo's advice to her. A new flame is kindled for every flame that gutters out. Remember those words and treasure them to your heart, for the time is approaching when you shall find yourself in need of comfort, and will be blinded to the opportunity before you. I have seen you in my fires, as well as the man who guards you.

The man had mentioned a time when she would need to be comforted, and she certainly needed that now, but not as much as having Sandor beside her again. Quallo mentioned he saw me and Sandor in his flames. What does that mean? Sansa had no time to wonder about the answer, for in that moment she saw that Arman Nervere was walking in their direction. Oh, no!

He stopped before Sansa and her friends, smiling warmly down at them, looking confident and happy. "Good morning, Alys. I trust you had time enough to consider my offer last night?"

When Sansa refused to answer him, Arman sighed deeply, but didn't stop smiling. "Ah, Vintos and Frema! My friends, I see that you've decided to accompany Alys in these tiring moments. I thank you for being such good and honest friends to her."

Following her lead, neither Frema nor Vintos responded to Arman's addresses. Instead, Frema looked over at the crowd before them, while Vintos thought it wise to begin staring at his shoes.

"I understand," Arman said, caressing his cleft chin before he leaned down close to whisper something in Sansa's ear. "I trust you don't mind my decision to move the trial of your friend to this place, my darling. I just thought it would be better if you accepted my proposal before the people we will rule with R'hllor's guidance, so that they can start warming up to you."

Sansa shuddered as she felt Arman's warmth breath caressing her neck and ear, at long last realizing why Sandor was going to be judged before the city. It isn't the gods who are doing this to me. It's this horrible little worm. Well, if she could turn the magisters against him, his humiliation would be all the bigger.

When he straightened up, she snorted and said, "So that they can start warming up to me, and see what a merciful man and loving suitor you are by pardoning the man who threatened your life because I asked you to, I believe would be more truthful."

Arman laughed. "Clever Alys. Yes, I must always remember my position and try to gain in every way the esteem of my people. So, I take it that it was not in vain that I sent word to my aunt Mellario to come back to the city, so she can start to teach you in the traditions of noble Norvoshi wives?"

Sansa just stared up at Arman, with an incredulous look, wishing she could slap that smile from his face and make the dimples on his cheeks go away with the blow. Vintos and Frema could no longer pretend they were not hearing the conversation, and they also looked at Arman with dislike and disbelief plain on their faces. To hear that Mellario of Dorne was probably already heading for this city, only made Sansa feel more confident that she'd do whatever it took to have Sandor leave Norvos by nightfall. At least Arman is so confident I will marry him without a fight that he does not suspect I will expose him. She took as much comfort as she could from that.

The High Magister seemed to decide to take her silence for approval of his actions, for he bowed and walked over to take his seat with his fellow magisters and his red priest. Sansa looked defiantly at her friends, daring them to show her pity. Vintos was biting his lip; Frema took Sansa's hand in hers and squeezed it. "Alys, you cannot marry him! He is awful."

Sansa said nothing. When Narrah rang across the city announcing midday some moments later, Magister Intak–the man whom Sansa remembered was the third most powerful in the council, and whose position was only below Arman's and old Magister Umeren's– stood up and coughed as loudly as he could to signal the start of the trial. The guards around the dais thumped their axes on the marble floor and silence fell upon them all. More than a hundred faces were looking up expectantly at those who sat on the raised dais.

Intak regarded his fellow magisters and Sansa's little party before addressing the crowd, "People of Great Norvos, it is a sad affair that brings us all here today. The Hall of Punishment and the Plaza of the Just have both seen their fair share of unnamable crimes and dark deeds, but never before has the most noble and ancient order of the Council of Magisters been offended in the way it was two days ago. The world looks up to the High Magister of Great Norvos as someone who is worthy of respect, so what happens when a foreigner attacks the man we chose to look over all of us? Please, my friends and fellow magisters, consider that as the trial progresses. Guards, bring in the prisoner."

Sansa was biting her lip and frowning at Magister Intak. She did not like one bit the meaning behind those words. Her heart was beating madly inside her chest, and this time she could not help herself. She grabbed both of Frema's hands, and began to silently pray to the gods to help her today as Sandor was suddenly brought up to the dais by an entrance beneath the marble ground of the dais. Ten guards escorted and surrounded him from all sides.

A little whimper escaped her the moment she saw him again. He strode across the dais, looking tall and strong and menacing even if he hadn't any weapons, only his breeches, his boots, a tunic and his mail. It was the Hound who was the man before her. He looks so dangerous, she could not help but think. She quickly regarded him from head to toe, searching for any signs that showed he'd been hurt, but besides the flakes of dry blood falling from his bound wrists as he pulled at them, he looked to be all right from this distance, so she sighed in deep relief.

His burned face was twisted into an angry scowl as he regarded the assembled crowd and then the magisters, whom he looked at with mockery and contempt. When his grey eyes finally met her blue ones, his mouth began to twitch and his features softened just a little bit in relief at seeing her again. The change was barely noticeable, but Sansa had spent a thousand mornings waking up in his arms and had learned the way his face would soften in those vulnerable moments. She could distinguish some of those traces now.

Sansa blushed as she recalled the kiss they'd shared. She could now remember clearly every detail of it with vivid clarity. The way his tongue had felt against her, and the manner in which he had caressed her body while she pressed herself against his need had been overwhelming. Her audacity at that had startled her; it also evoked dangerous and exciting feelings inside her. The thought of never being able to have him hold her again was unbearable; she bit her lip so hard she tasted blood.

Sandor must have noticed her struggles, for he winked at her in a way that Sansa knew was trying to assure her that everything would be all right. It was so hard to try and tell him things just by looking at him when she longed to never let him go. I should have tried to see him yesterday at all costs. I should have insisted till they agreed.

She wanted to run to him and hug and kiss him, and draw the promise from him that they would never ever be apart and it made her go mad to remember that she couldn't do so. And then, it finally struck her why the sight of him was affecting her so. I love you, Sandor.

Sansa had never dared admit those words to herself. Not until this moment had the veil of fear been lifted from her eyes, and she was overcome by how much she felt for him. And thus, taking strength from this new and beautiful realization, and despite the threat of death and danger that hang over their heads, she smiled at him in encouragement, knowing that her smile looked a little tremulous. Sandor grinned back at her in a way that reminded her once more of the Hound. Gods, please, please, watch over him, she kept repeating under her breath again and again and again. And give me strength to turn the magisters to my favor.

"Alys, stop looking doe-eyed at him," Frema whispered at her urgently. "Magister Nervere is watching you. I don't think that could bode well."

Sansa was sick of that name and everything related to that man. She looked over at Arman with disdain, only to see that he was regarding her with an amused frown, a challenging gaze and an eyebrow that was arched in a questioning manner. I don't care. He can look all he wants, but my heart belongs to Sandor. I am not Arman's wife yet. I can do as I very well please.

Sandor meanwhile was being conducted by the guards to the middle of an empty dais. The guards left a bounded Sandor alone and went to take their place on the walls of the raised dais. Sansa saw that he had now caught sight of Arman Nervere as well, and now Sandor was not hiding what he felt. He looked angry and was mockingly smirking at the magister and his red priest. Sansa groaned and kept on looking between the Magister and her big man, fearing that some new trouble would surface from this, but Arman and Quallo looked composed as they returned Sandor's gaze. The last time they were together was what caused all of this mess. How would all of this end?

Sansa squeezed Frema's hands, and remarked in a desperate whisper that she wished Sandor would not anger the proud magisters with his behavior, just as Magister Intak regarded him with a stern look and said, "We must and shall begin. Edric Goodbrook, you stand accused before us today because all the magisters witnessed the way you insulted and manhandled Arman Nervere, the High Magister of Great Norvos, to the point of almost killing him two days ago, at his house. It is quite a serious charge which you cannot deny. What have you to say in your favor?"

Sandor rasped without a moment of hesitation, "Why am I being judged alone? Why isn't Nervere here beside me answering for what he did? I am accused of offending a magister who is guilty of insulting the honor of the woman I am bound to serve."

It was evident that the magisters did not know that Arman had kissed her, because they all looked confused and started talking to each other, clearly at a loss. People could be heard laughing in the crowd. A tall skinny magister with oiled black hair parted in the shape of bird wings that Sansa remembered was called Haguritz, stood up after a moment and exclaimed loudly in a puzzled tone, "What do you mean by a guilty magister? What has Magister Nervere done to deserve that accusation?"

Sandor snorted. "I'll tell you for all the good it'll do me. It would be better that I saved my fucking breath. The morning after the ball, I went for a piss while Nervere and Lady Mallister were talking. When I returned, I overheard Lady Alysanne rejecting Nervere's offer of marriage. By what I heard, it was clear that she had no bloody intention of accepting him and had even rejected him twice, but the bugger didn't mind her and forced a kiss on her. I saw that Nervere did not give a shit that Lady Alysanne was struggling against his kiss, and so I stepped in to help her. It was my duty as Lady Alysanne's sworn shield, so I pulled them apart. That is when the lot of you stepped in and saw me putting a dagger on that bastard's throat. Come now, you fucking bastard. Deny it."

At the tale of how she had rejected Arman's proposition, many of the magisters began looking amused as they regarded Arman, some smirking, others nodding in disbelief, and others chuckling discreetly. Despite the loud noise the commoners before the dais were creating, Sansa still managed to overhear an old magister near her exclaiming to another, "It appears Nervere finally came upon something he cannot have. My, my, I wonder how he took it."

His fellow magister laughed and said, "I hope it teaches him a lesson."

Sansa knew the time for her to intervene was drawing closer. Her hopes were soaring as she heard the opinion in which the magisters of Norvos regarded Arman, but then Arman stood up, his penetrating gaze never flickering away from Sandor, and he said loud and clear, "I take it, then, that you are admitting and confessing you were about to kill me, back at my own house under my own roof, Edric?"

Sandor stared at Arman with an amusing look and snorted in disbelief. "That is not what I said, you little buggering shit. Clean the wax from your ears before you speak of matters you think you understand, or else you'll go on behaving like a fucking bloody fool. You are already one, and while it's fun to watch you prancing about thinking that you aren't, I don't want you to behave like that when I'm involved. Anyways, did you not hear the part where I said that you forced Lady Mallister against her will to kiss you? You compromised her honor. So I ask again why aren't you being accused of that?"

"Whatever happened before you put your blade on my neck and tried to kill me," Arman replied, "I am afraid is not of consequence today, Edric. I remind you that you stand accused of attacking me, and that is the matter that will be resolved before long."

Sandor regarded Arman with a stony face, and then suddenly, without any warning, his burned face twisted into a mocking grin, and he began to laugh long and hard at the High Magister's face. Some people in the crowd, Sansa noticed, were either laughing along with Sandor or looking as confused as she felt.

Sansa groaned as her friends shook their heads in disapproval and all the magisters made angry noises.When Sandor finally stopped laughing and told Arman to go bugger himself with a hot poker, the trial continued.

"Yes, indeed, the High Magister behaved wrongly to be sure," Magister Intak said at last in an irritated tone. "But we must be reasonable, Goodbrook. The matter at hand here is how you drew the blood of one of our ancient order. I do not comprehend why you had to do that to the High Magister over a kiss. We all saw you then. You even declared that you told the High Magister that you were going to kill him, and had wished to do so for quite some time. It was obvious you wanted to kill him on the spot, and only after your mistress pleaded with you to stop your murderous behavior did you finally come to your senses. I trust you know how serious what you did is."

"What about the kiss Nervere stole from the lady?" someone suddenly shouted in the crowd, making Arman lower his gaze to the marble floor. Another man shouted, "I want to steal a kiss from her, too!"

"I am not calling you a liar," Magister Intak hastily went on, turning to look at Sansa and bowing respectfully. "Please, kind lady, do not believe that I mean that the honor of such a high and respected woman as yourself is of no consequence, because it is, and I am sure that if we questioned the High Magister and you, your story would prove to be true. But, in the end, it was just a kiss. What Magister Arman here did was not as drastic as what your sworn shield did. If you like, when this matter is settled, we shall look with more depth into the disrespectful gesture the High Magister committed against your person."

Sansa could take it no more. To think that all of these silly men were choosing to forgive Arman's behavior was unbearable. She would not contain herself any longer. I must be as strong as my lady mother, she thought, before taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes and then stood up, clearing her throat loudly, drawing the attention of more than a hundred people to her. No one had expected her to speak. Her eyes locked with Sandor's and she saw that he was not expecting this, either. His smirk suddenly abandoned his face and he looked wary. Sansa caught a quick sight of the way his whole body tensed, and tried to let him know with her eyes that she knew what she was doing. I want to go to you, but I can't. It's not allowed and if I go to you, I'll ruin my chance of having them hear me.

"Magister Intak, may I speak?" she said, in a clear and loud voice she hoped sounded confident, wrenching her gaze away from Sandor's burned face.

Intak blinked at her in confusion, but when Arman stood up and said with an encouraging smile, "Yes. I beg you, my friends, let Lady Mallister speak," Magister Intak nodded in agreement. Sansa gulped, ignoring the look on her friends' faces and the sea of eyes all around her. She turned her face to where the magisters of Norvos were, and bowed to them in respect before she addressed them.

"People of Norvos, I would first like to thank the good magisters for the kind way in which you received foreigners into your midst. Your warm welcome draws in me the necessity to be honest with you now. I certainly understand the position that you are in today. You feel insulted because my sworn shield threatened one of yours. But you must remember that his duty is to protect me. He is bound to keep me safe. I know that a kiss may not seem too much to you all, but what would you have to say if I told you that the man you have placed as High Magister is a conceited cruel man who reeks of corruption?"

Magister Intak blinked again. Silence reigned on the Plaza of the Just as the meaning of what she had just said sunk in. Everyone was watching her. Sansa could almost hear Sandor asking her what she was doing, but didn't pay that any mind, because she was now taking a pleasurable delight in seeing that she had surprised Arman.

There was a flicker of uncertainty in his startling blue eyes that assured her that he had not expected this, and nor had Quallo seen this in his fires, it seemed. Did you think I was about to succumb to your wish? That I was about to declare I agreed to marry you in defeat? If so, this was further proof that this man would never understand her. Oh, no, I am about to expose you, dear Arman, for what you are. Sansa knew that the magisters would probably not care about what she thought of Arman's wish to force her into marrying him due to the way everyone in King's Landing had ignored her feelings, but they would care to learn the twisted ways of the man who led them.

A magister with a big belly stood up and asked what everyone was surely thinking. "Please, Lady Mallister, tell us what you mean by this. Of what are you accusing High Magister Nervere?"

"Well, Magister Telet," Sansa began, conducting herself as best she could, "Though it pains me to have to disillusion you and the people of this city about the man you thought Arman Nervere was, I feel it is my duty to inform you what he told me last night. Out of a desperate necessity to free my sworn shield, I went to the High Magister's house to ask him to be merciful and pardon and free my protector. I thought, just as you do now, that I knew him well and could count on him being a good and honorable man who could forget a slight, but he showed me how wrong I was. The High Magister did not offer to help me. Instead, he made his intentions quite clear to me. He said that if I agreed to marry him, he would influence the council into sparing my sworn shield's life, gaining the approval of the city by seemingly doing a kind deed. When I refused to submit in such a fashion, he confidently boasted to me that whatever the outcome of this trial, he was going to force me into marrying him one way or the other."

"Seven bloody buggering hells, he did what?" Sandor rasped beside her, just as a loud murmur was heard once again in the gallery before her and loud noises started in the crowd. Sansa spared Arman a quick look to see how he was taking this humiliation, and was vexed to see that he was looking at her with admiration, even when the crowd started to shout insults of "coward!" and "Don't know why that woman is making such a fuss. I'll give away my wife to Nervere if he wants her!"

Magister Haguritz, a tall man with black hair shaped like bird wings, ran a hand through his oily hair and said, "Lady Mallister, if the Magister indeed did as you say, despite it being an–an act that lacks tact and honor, we can deal with it another day when we will be able to pay it proper care and consideration. We ask you to remember that the matter at hand today is that your sworn shield–"

Sandor apparently could not restrain himself any longer, for he angrily shouted at Arman, "You little sick fuck! Are you so bloody desperate to–"

Sansa, afraid, shouted before Sandor could finish, "Edric, please, please, stop! Don't!"

Sandor stopped in mid-sentence and looked at her sullenly; people whistled rudely in the crowd when he did as she said. His eyes were looking at her in such a way that made Sansa's knees go weak, but then he turned to face Arman and spat in his direction. The crowd laughed, but the magisters all looked as if they were starting to change their minds about the public trial. Some of them were regarding Arman with disapproving shakes of their heads, and Sansa could barely contain her smile at that.

"I understand, Magister Haguritz," Sansa continued after a moment, "but I feel differently from you. You can't expect me to let you condemn my protector because he saved me from a false man. I hold you all in a high esteem and cannot believe that Arman Nervere is the sort of man you wish to rule your city. I trust you can see that selfish actions and disregard of the consequences that forcing me to marry him against my will, could not bode well for the welfare of this city. Your great city is in danger from the highest threat–"

Arman interrupted her at long last. "My dearest Alysanne, what danger could possibly come to Norvos from us marrying?" He asked her with an edge to his voice, standing up again. "I always have the welfare of my city as the most important priority in my life. No wrong would come to the Norvoshi by our union."

Sansa was ready. "You seem to be ignorant, Magister Nervere, that my House, the Mallisters of Seagard, have served Robb Stark, the King in the North, loyally since the beginning of his war against the throne. When word reaches them of what you were allowed to do to me, sooner or later they would come to seek justice and revenge, and their liege lord and king would come with them."

Arman frowned and looked over at the magisters, with a little smirk that implied he did not believe what she had just said was possible. His confidence suddenly made her realize that her case was maybe not as strong as she had fooled herself into believing. Catching Sandor's gaze, Sansa gave a little shrug which he returned with a shake of the head, an arched eyebrow, and an understanding expression on his burned features. It was the only thing I could do, she was thinking, before the commoners of Norvos started shouting at the magisters that they didn't want some foreign king and his army invading them over her. The magisters meanwhile started conversing amongst themselves about what to do next, and after several heartbeats that felt like an eternity to Sansa (an eternity which she spend looking at Sandor, as they both let their souls bare to the other), Magister Intak nodded and turned to face the mass of people before him. He raised his arms asking for silence, and coughed once more before he said, "People of Norvos, we promise you that it will not come to that. Westeros is far away and we are protected inside the Hills of Norvos, and for what Lady Mallister just said to occur, King Robb of the North would first have to win his war against the Iron Throne. Still, to prove our good faith, we have all opposed the High Magister's wish of marrying her, and hope that when he tries to marry again, Arman Nervere will be wiser in his choice of bride and method of asking."

Sansa's face broke into a smile as she looked at Arman with a mocking grin. She was not surprised to see that he looked very angry and humiliated. Never before had she seen him like that, and his handsome features did not look attractive anymore, twisted in the hard way they were now. He won't be able to go against the magisters' decision now and marry me–not when Great Norvos has heard. Sansa, feeling triumphant, tore her eyes away from him to Frema and Vintos, who had this whole time simply looked on in silence at the events unfolding before them, and were now smiling or nodding approvingly at her behavior.

"I thank you from the bottom of my hearts, good magisters," she told them truthfully, smiling at every one of them in turn.

"However," Magister Intak continued in a foreboding tone. "We cannot forget or forgive the disrespect that your sworn shield did to our order. Magister Nervere has been proved to have behaved badly, but he is still a member of our council, and we simply cannot let Edric Goodbrook to go unpunished for trying to murder the High Magister."

"Magisters!" she heard herself shout desperately. No, no, this isn't happening! I must stop it. "Please, as a kindness, believe me when I say–when I promise you upon my honor that Edric was not intending to kill Magister Nervere!"

"Lady Mallister, please," Magister Intak interrupted as Sansa felt the floor shake beneath her feet and the crowd before her stirred again, "we have listened to your defense and agreed to protect you when you are left alone in the city. We shall commission guards from the Bearded Priests to escort you back to the Seven Kingdoms in a matter of days. But we ask you in return to hear and respect what follows. Whenever a matter is brought to the attention of the council, each magister must give his opinion about the question at hand. Let us begin from the lowest ranking magister. Magister Vennun, if you could please stand up and begin…"

Sansa opened her mouth to protest again, not allowing herself to believe that this was happening, but when she caught sight of Sandor she could simply not bear it anymore. She was about to faint. Her mouth hanged open in a wide O as she realized that her strategy had not succeeded in saving Sandor. They are going to condemn Sandor no matter what I do or say, she realized, feeling ready to faint. I'm free of Arman, but I have lost Sandor. It was all for nothing. Sansa had counted on the magisters forgiving Sandor after they learned that he had harmed a corrupt man, but they didn't seem to care about what Arman had done, only that he didn't do anything in the future to compromise them. She'd rather they had not forbid Arman to marry her now, for the chance of saving Sandor by succumbing to Arman was lost. Gods be good, what have I done? I failed Sandor. She could not believe what was happening. Why did I ever speak? I ruined it! He is about to be condemned to death because of me. I've lost him. Gods, did I ever really have him?

It was as if the past was repeating itself, coming back to haunt her. The same desperate and helpless emotions, and the awareness that she could do nothing to stop the world from wrenching away those whom she loved from her. It's just like what happened with Father. This time there were no guards to stop her from running to Sandor the way there had been when Ned Stark had died, but Sansa could not move. She was rooted to the spot. Frema and Vintos stood up beside her, patting her arm or shoulder, whispering her to be strong.

And so the long ordeal began. Every magister stood up and gave a speech about what they believed should happen to Sandor, but Sansa knew that the outcome had already been decided long before the trial began. I knew since I left Arman last night at his house. It was still so painful to endure. Sansa stopped hearing what they had to say after the fifth magister stood up and spoke. They will kill Sandor no matter what.

While the magisters declared his fate, Sandor had meanwhile chosen to remain silent for the most part, yet he would still at times smirk or snort at his executioners, and his eyes never flickered from the men before him–his hard gaze so intense upon them that it almost seemed as if he was committing all their faces to memory. Her crumbling hopes were starting to be etched by tears one by one, because the prideful magisters said there was no other way to till the sorrows of life and love.

After Magister Intak declared that Sandor should suffer the penalty of death, he turned to look at the oldest member of the council, who was the magister closer to Sansa and her friends. He smiled at her as he stood up, but Sansa could not return his smile. This old man was Magister Umeren, the man Sandor had insulted at Arman's ball after Umeren had called him a knight. He is sure to remember the slight just as Arman did. All old men remember.

"Magister Umeren, since Arman Nervere cannot cast his vote in this matter because he is closely connected to it, you are therefore the last magister to speak. You are the eldest of us all, a grand wise leader of men, and only the High Magister is above you in power. Thus, it is clear that your vote in this matter is of paramount importance."

Magister Umeren smiled at the council and bowed his head respectfully at the crowd, waving at them all. "You honor me more than I deserve with that kind praise, my dear Intak. But it is true. As the eldest of you all, I am a leader of the council and stand only behind the High Magister. Forgive me, but before I cast my vote, I think that my position entitles me to say something to the accused offender if I please, does it not?"

Everyone looked curiously at the old fragile man as he walked slowly over to where Sandor stood, while Magister Intak stepped aside respectfully. The old man's eyes regarded Sandor quietly for a long time before he said, "I remember you."

Sandor's eyes narrowed. "And I you."

"Yes, if I recall correctly, didn't you insult me at the ball that was being held on my honor?"

"What of it?" Sandor snarled, yet he was sneering at the old fragile man.

"Oh, nothing," the old magister replied, shrugging, as his eyes twinkled brightly. "I just wished to remark upon it. I am not afraid to admit that it made quite an impression on me. No one has dared say anything so disrespectful to me in years besides my loving wife, you know, who, by the way, has still not forgiven you for the way you treated me when we met. She called you a rude, nasty, horrible fellow, but I had to remind her that sadly in the times that we live in, young men–or even young ladies on some occasions–do not tend to treat their elders with respect the way my friends and I did when we were young."

Sansa blinked at Magister Umeren, wondering what he was getting at. Her cheeks were wet from the tears she was shedding, and her head hurt appallingly. She began to pray to the old gods and the new that they would allow her to wake up at last from this nightmare as she took out her handkerchief to brush away the tears of sorrow that were threatening to blind her vision.

Silence reigned in the dais for many heartbeats, and at last the old man went on. "Yes, when I was young everything was different. From the way children behaved with their fathers to the way magisters acted on the council. I can still remember all the trials I've been to since I was a lad. But no one recalls anymore the old laws that our ancestors created when Valyria was a strong empire, and which still rule us today. Forgive me, but for the life of me I do not remember, is Westeros familiar with the way Valyria ruled? In any case, you see, before, honor was a code that children became familiar with before they ever started learning their letters, and when a trial took place in this city, the men entrusted to rule Great Norvos were not so easily blinded by the benefits gold or power can bestow upon them, even when they are used in the most infamous of manners. Yes, these are quite shocking times. Are your Seven Kingdoms different?"

Sandor's eyes never left the old man's face as he went on and on, and Sansa could not discern Sandor's expression, for everyone was looking with incredulity at Magister Umeren, and some of the magisters were even rolling their eyes at him. Magister Intak coughed politely and said, "Magister, we–we hold in great esteem the years of service you have dedicated to the Council. We all know the grand deeds you have accomplished, and certainly envy you your knowledge of the past, but if you could, please, only address the matter at hand, we would appreciate it very much."

Magister Umeren looked ashamed. "The matter at hand? What was the–? Oh, yes, yes, Edric Goodbrook's sentence! Forgive me, my friends, but the mind of a man who has lived for as long as I have tends to wander from the present and stray into the tangled web of memories he carries within him. But now I really must go on. Very well. Edric Goodbrook, before I cast my vote, I would like you to be aware that, since we are civilized men, your death will be a clean one. You were defending the honor of the lady you are bound to serve, and in the end you did not kill Magister Nervere, whatever your initial intentions must have been. So beheading, I think, would be a nice way to go–a smooth, clean quick death. What do you think of that? Oh, but I almost forgot! How foolish of me. Before I proclaim my sentence for the grievous fault you committed, I would like to ask you if you had anything to say. Because, as you may know, the sentence is final and there will be no going back now, and certainly no appeal. So, any last words?"

Sansa looked up at her dearest Sandor with wide eyes.

"Yes," he rasped, "there is something I would bloody well like to say. I demand my right to an ordeal by combat!"

A/N: Deeply thankful to be receiving such encouragement from your reviews! It's all done for you, and I hope you enjoyed this chapter 3