"Where's your blasted sister?" Sandor Clegane stomped over to his wife.
"Sandor, really, this is highly inappropriate even for you," Sansa said turning in her seat.
"Your sister's cat-pups are hungry and driving the cook insane with all their mewling and she won't go near them for fear of her 'poor eyes and throat' and the little wolf-bitch is nowhere to be found," he stood over her and crossed his arms.
"That's unfortunate, truly. But what would you have me do about it?" Sansa looked up at her husband and clasped her hands in her lap.
"You have to feed them," he replied as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.
She tried to hold back a laugh and failed, "No."
"No? What do you mean no? They have to be fed. Cook won't shut up about it and I'm likely to skewer her on a stick and serve her for supper just so she ceases her whining," Sandor shifted his weight onto his right leg but didn't drop his arms. They remained resolutely crossed in front of his large chest.
"No, as in, I have far more important things to do. You're just going to have to feed them yourself," Sansa could not keep the smirk off her face and turned away from him.
Sandor scowled and opened his mouth to protest when Sansa interrupted him, "That will be all." She waved a hand at him as if to shoo him away. He snapped his mouth shut and stormed off.
"And they're called kittens, dear!" she called after him, her laughter following. Sansa straightened herself in her seat, dropped her face to a regal expression, and cleared her throat.
"Continue," she said to the man standing at the bottom of the stairs in front of her. He looked around, confused at the rest of the people muttering and shrugging around him in the Great Hall.
"A-as I was saying, your Grace, about the murder-"
Sandor slammed open the door to the part of the kitchens one of Arya's cat's, the grey tabby, had birthed her kittens. They were old enough that the mother's milk had stopped, but not old enough to let wander. Cook made sure they were penned back in an area she rarely had to go for even being near them was enough to send her sneezing and coughing and set her eyes watering. There was so few on staff at Winterfell that all scullery maids doubled as housemaids in between meal preparations, thus the feeding of the kittens was usually up to Arya.
Sandor could hear the kittens before he could see them. There were seven of the little critters in all. Cook peeked her head around the corner when she heard the door.
"Food is in the bucket on the table," she said before going back to her work.
Sandor grumbled and snatched the bucket and peered inside at the ground meat and bones. The mother cat jumped up on the table with a trill. She sat down and cocked her head at him.
"I wouldn't be in this mess if your teats hadn't dried up," Sandor complained. She blinked, uncaring.
Sandor turned and walked with a slight limp over to the kittens that were all climbing excitedly over each other at the barrier that kept them from the rest of the room. He looked down at them and sneered.
"You want this?" he shook the bucket and they seemed to mew louder. He knelt down with a groan and nudged a kitten out of the wide, shallow bowl only to have it be filled with three more.
"If you don't move I'll throw you in the stew. It smells like it could use more meat," Sandor pushed them away and quickly dumped the food into the empty dish.
The kittens swarmed clumsily. Sandor stood and intended to leave, job done, but a little black kitten stepped on the head of a grey tabby with a half white face pushing the white side into the meat, making it pink. He chuckled and stopped to watch the chaos. The calico tried to jump over a black and white one but tripped and flopped over before getting up shakily and staggering over like a drunk. The black one managed to walk into the middle of the bowl and was eating off of the top of the mound. Soon enough, however, they all stilled and concentrated on eating. The soft, wet sounds of their chewing were punctuated only by occasional mewls and squeaks.
"Eat it all up now, but don't get used to it," he rasped, watching them eat, "Do you think someone will always be there to feed you?"
The grey, and now pink, tabby looked up at the sound of his voice but went back to eating when Sandor didn't offer anything more interesting.
"Soon you'll have to find your own food. Make yourselves useful or get trampled in the dust," he explained the harsh ways of the world to them, "Winterfell's got no use for house pets. Hunt your own rodents or die and get out of the way of those who can."
The mother cat made an odd sound behind him and he turned, "This bitch…what do you call girl cats? Anyways, your mother's a good mouser, I'll give her that."
"Did you feed them yet?" Cook shouted from the other room.
"Seven hells, woman, yes," he shouted back, "Now quit your yowling or I'll grind you into the next meal!"
"Yeah, yeah," she'd heard it all before.
Sandor checked to see if they needed any more food before taking a step towards the door. Suddenly he stopped, looked around, bent down, and quickly pat the nearest kitten. It squeaked and he immediately straightened and exited from the kitchen as if someone had yelled fire.
His task complete, Sandor went to the yard for morning training. He saw Arya exit the stables and he was about to call her over and yell at her for making him do her work, but he saw the odd look she gave him while she hurried away. He furrowed his brow but let her go. Sansa was sure to say something to her. His display in the Great Hall earlier would make sure to that. He smirked and struck at a dummy with his sword.
Later that evening, a raven from King's Landing called Sansa away from supper and threatened to keep her up most of the night. Sandor sighed as she left with members of her counsel and noticed that Arya was not among them nor was she at table. Strange. Perhaps she was tending to her pack...flock...batch. Whatever you call a bunch of kittens.
Sandor finished his meal and went to look for her, again. He was already inside and not too terribly far from the kitchens. Might as well check there first. It was a logical place to start searching. He peered inside and no one was in sight. Though the mother cat was laying on the table. She looked at Sandor when he entered.
Walking quietly down the stretch to where Cook usually camped out he noticed there weren't the usual clangs, bangs, and thuds and guessed, correctly, that she wasn't there. Neither was Arya. But on his way back out the door, he saw the kittens were gathered on the far side of their makeshift pen. On a shelf, on the back wall, sat their bucket.
Sandor regarded the situation, confusion etched on the part of his face that could still display emotion. Checking to see if any kittens were in the way, he stepped easily over the barrier and made his way carefully to the shelves. Their dish was empty and the bucket was not. He grabbed it and looked down to see seven pairs of eyes follow the bucket's path to rest on him. There was silence for a moment before all hell broke loose at his feet. Suddenly he was surrounded on all sides by wobbly, hungry kittens. The black one from earlier climbed up on his boot before he could move and began clawing its way up his leg, the lacing making a convenient ladder. A different grey tabby from earlier tried to follow up but slid off his boot. Two black and white kittens blocked the path before him and the half-white faced tabby (it was truly white again) and the calico stumbled forward, threatening to follow their black sibling. Only the grey one was smart enough to go to the bowl.
Sandor shook his foot to get the ones by his feet to back off and began to take a big step over them when the black kitten reached the top of his boot. Its tiny, sharp claws pricked through his breeches and dug into his skin. Sandor grimaced and let out a grunt.
"Seven buggering hells!" he swore and stepped over to the bowl. Walking merely jiggled the kitten on his leg around, and by extension, the claws in his skin. Dumping the food into the bowl he dropped the bucket in a corner and swiftly, but gently pulled the black kitten off of his breeches.
"Don't do that," he warned, pointing at the black ball of fur in his hand. The kitten lightly bit his finger without seeming the least bit fazed. The mother cat was standing on the table, green eyes watching him intently around her litter.
Sandor growled, but set the kitten down to join its brothers and sisters happily eating. He went to retrieve the bucket and nearly tripped over a slower kitten who had wandered away from the food. He avoided stomping on the troublesome creature, but his left leg gave out a little and he barely managed to catch himself before falling. He lowered himself to the floor so he was sitting and grabbed the bucket handle before scooting back to sit against the barrier. He held it in his hands, thinking. The straggling kitten mewled loudly, thinking Sandor still had the food and started climbing up on his lap, on his left side. He winced and plucked it up. It made a startled noise and struggled in his hand.
"Stupid little thing. I've not got your dinner anymore. Cease your wriggling," he set the kitten down by the dish and had to turn it around when it tried walking back to him. He kept an eye on it to make sure it finally found its food and then went back to his contemplation.
It was odd to find the bucket inside the pen. Why leave it there instead of emptying it into the dish. Perhaps it had been made too far ahead of time. Perhaps the one who left it was interrupted. Which brought up the question of who left it? Certainly not Cook.
His thoughts were interrupted by the calico sniffing his hand. The cold nose poked at him and the tiny whiskers tickled.
"What are you doing?" Sandor glanced at the dish and saw it still contained food and a few eating kittens, but others were making their way towards him.
"Go back to your meal," he nudged one and it mewed in protest.
The black and white ones walked under the bridge his legs made and he pushed a hand between his legs to protect certain bits from kitten claws. He could feel their noses tapping against his knuckles and he wriggled his fingers to get them away. They thought this was great fun and began to play with the moving appendages. At the same time, the calico managed to make a jump and clung to the top of his hip.
Sandor looked down incredulously at the fuzzy thing, " Don't you know who I am?" It didn't.
"I'm not your gods damned play thing. I'm a killer. I've ridden over dozens of cats that darted out in front of me. I've fought in countless battles and my sword has cut down more men than you will ever know. You should fear me," he explained. It didn't.
He continued to fend off the attack from below and was about to remove the calico when he heard a frightened squeak and saw the black kitten playing a bit too roughly with the white-faced tabby. He quickly scooped them both up with his large hand and dropped the tabby in his lap next to its sibling.
"Don't do that to your brother," he rasped, perhaps a bit louder than he had intended. Each kitten fell still and looked at him. The black and white ones stopped biting his fingers and he removed his hand.
The black kitten blinked at him a few times, uncomprehending.
Sandor signed and put it down before leaning his head back and giving in to the furry assault. Laying his other hand in his lap he felt the tabby there nuzzle against his thumb and he opened his hand to let it climb under. Absently he began to stroke it and closed his eyes. A thump on the floor behind him reminded him of the mother cat's presence. She jumped on the barrier and meowed, checking on her children. They answered and she dropped down. Grabbing the first one she found in her jaws, she carried it a little distance away before setting it down and cleaning it.
Sandor closed his eyes again and before he knew it, started to doze off.
He heard the footsteps, but didn't register what they were until they were at the door. His head snapped up and he looked around for an escape route, but sleeping kittens littered his lap and the floor around him like little fuzzy traps. The door opened and he decided the best idea would be to stay as still as possible and hope that whoever had just come in didn't notice him in the dim light and passed him none the wiser.
The footsteps stopped behind him and he prepared himself for Arya's mocking and readied an insult.
What came instead was so much worse.
"Oh!" Sansa cried out in delight seeing her massive husband nestled among the kittens.
Sandor turned around and peered over the barrier at her, "Oh, bugger me. This isn't what it looks like."
"Oh, I'm sure you're terrifying them. Are you taking a little pre-battle nap with your war-kittens?" she giggled and knelt down behind him.
"They wouldn't leave me alone," Sandor tried to explain but realized too late that he should have just kept his mouth shut.
"Poor Sandor," she reached over and scratched the tummy of a kitten on his lap, "were the mean kittens ganging up on you? Do you need me to hire a sellsword to defend you?"
"Oh hush," she laughed and kissed his temple, "You've lost all your intimidating credentials with me. I've seen you sleeping with baby animals."
"Weren't you supposed to be with your counsel? Some big news from King's Landing that needed your attention?" he sulked.
"We took a break," she yawned.
"How did you even find me?" Sandor said finally removing the sleeping furballs from his lap.
"Arya said she saw you slink off this way," Sansa scrunched up her face in bemusement, "Oh, and for some reason she told me to tell you that girl cats are called Queens."