I have finally started it- the story that I have been waiting for, the one that means something to me. I feel like the rest of my writing has been an exercise, a trip along the learning curve-so to speak. I've been dreaming of writing this kind of story since I fell in love with the Sansa/ Sandor ship. And now it is starting. I have to thank Lilfeather1994 for being a wonderful beta, and for pushing me into the right direction. I have to remind you to please comment. Hearing from my readers means more than what you could ever know. Take a moment to talk to me. It is never unnoticed. Without any further adieu-

Love,

Moa


Prologue

Cannibal's Hymn

Stalactites of candle wax dripped from the small table; brittle white tendrils that had grown thick over time. He'd managed to keep a constant flame going, altered his schedule so that when one was burning down he could transfer the light to another. He'd kept the light going for over a year now. A constant light burning, a constant prayer—the only thing that he felt like he could do.

When had the last raven darkened his window? It seemed that it had been forever—an eternity of waiting for the sound of wings rustling, the bird's constant cawing—the last link to her seemed to severed. The Elder Brother had promised to send word of the speculation that surrounded her life, inform Sandor of any talk that they'd heard from penitents passing through the monastery. Now there was nothing- she could be tucked away God's know where—living a life that only the God's could imagine. The silence was ever present—save for the daily keening of bells in the distance, and the low moan of the near-winter wind over fields that would soon be plowed over with ice. The nearest township was a two-day walk away, hours by horse.

There was nothing to do but wait as the last leaves that hung onto autumn trees wait to be released from their weary sentence.

Sandor transferred the light from one candle to another. The wick hissed as it was consumed by flame, billowing a small cloud of black smoke, carbon turning to darkness. Darkness and despair, lethargy and the winter, bad rumors come down from the Wall and townships disappearing, that was something to light a candle for. To the Father, to the Mother, to the Warrior, mayhaps even the Stranger. But not the Maiden.

His candles were reserved for the Maiden only. He'd tried to take the Faith in the only way that he knew how to—for her sake. It was for her that he tried to still his breath before he spoke, that he'd given up drink and the whores and killing. It was for her that he'd reticulated to an uninhabited corner of Westeros and waited for word— a sign of her life that he was certain would never come. She was the image that he spoke to during silent hours, making himself kneel to pray, folding his devotion into itself, a fitful display of cosmic origami. When he prayed, he couldn't bring himself to say the words out loud—they made him feel a fool, could feel the words rattling in his teeth, sounding hollow and too pious- so he offered them with his thoughts alone. They'd gone from being a daily ritual to a mantra constantly intoned. The word had changed from Maiden to Sansa over time, though it didn't make much difference. She was the goddess of his ablution—his constant renewal.

He could have left long ago—disappeared when he took leave of the monastery—gone to the free cities, started over. He'd have made no real sacrifice that way. He could have held onto his old ways: the after burn of his constant rage, the sweet blindness of killing. He could have drank his way through Essos, slept in taverns, chanced the spawning of whelps in the bellies of nameless whores, could have died young-as was intended for him. Instead he was sitting on the edge of a growing abyss, burying and re-burying his dead nightly—all the while living with a dry throat, an empty bed. All the while living with the voices of his dead speaking to him, reminding him of his crimes. All the while living with his own voice, and the crimes against her that he'd committed when he'd spoken five awful words.

There are no true Knights.

There are no true Knights.

There are no true Knights.

He was haunted by what he'd failed to do. He'd not been granted a night of sleep without seeing her—not the Little Bird in her radiance, the object of his affection, the focal point of his desires, but the beaten child—the little girl with cuts and gashes meant only for men, the prisoner, the captive. He saw the boy King that he'd partially fathered through time and influence methodically ruining her, tearing at her constantly—had to wonder how much of his cruelty had been passed on to the little shit from me? He saw Meryn in his mind's eye time and time again—beating her, stripping her before the court- he felt in his blood and his bones every action that he didn't take against them. He saw Ilyn, Boros, the Kingsguard. Every night Sandor had to witness his complacence in the face of forces that he could have curtailed and ended at any moment. The most feared man in Westeros was unable to defend a girl—he had been too obedient a Dog to be a champion for her. Too much a Dog to do much more than dream of fucking her, saving her only for a go at her cunt, for a fucking song. He was haunted by all of the moments that he'd wasted, failed to communicate his wishes for her safety, his dedication to preserving her life. He'd been mute to the lonely Little Bird who needed a friend more than anything else—and had worsened her situation by boasting of the sweetness of killing, the virtues of cynicism when all he'd wanted to do was forge a world for her where her storybook dreams weren't anything but the routine of reality. He'd estimated himself to be a hero by teaching her how to lie, to subvert the King's attention, to give up the notion of true redemption. He had to face every day knowing that he could have saved her at any moment, and that he'd ruined his only opportunity to do so, and in doing so ruined her. He had to live with the memory of his last stand, his half-cocked attempt at springing her from her cage.

His moment of brilliance.

Pressing his blade to her throat, demanding a song—frightening her—that was his answer to her problems? His heart sick with her, his body flooded with drink and adrenaline, his senses overwhelmed by love and anger rolled into one-

He'd stood beside the boy King during every terror and stared out into the void, doing nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

It would have been far too easy to have lobbed the child King's head off—ended his reign of terror immediately—but he had refused. Was he afraid of being called Kingslayer? He'd been called worse. Had he been afraid that if he'd do so he'd be overpowered, killed—that he'd lose his chance at winning her favor—of fucking her? That question haunted him always.

-He knew he could have saved her. He didn't have to wait for Blackwater to make his move. He could have killed Ilyn before he'd killed her father and ended it all then and there. He could have given her an entire life to live and sacrificed his shit one for a worthy cause, taken out enough men to have given Ned a fighting chance, for someone to step in—to change the tides just enough. He could have—would have- been killed then, but he'd have been her True Knight in his death and existed that way in her memory. A much better memorial than who we was. Is. Still is. He was still awaiting redemption.

And now he was stuck with his prayers, lighting his candles and begging the Maiden to watch over her. Swearing that if ever given the chance again he would stop at nothing to right his sins against her—he'd burn for a century if it would keep a cold wind from visiting her face. There was nothing that he wouldn't do.

He'd given the Maiden his vow. His sword would be in her eternal service if ever needed. If ever called.

He was nearly certain that she was dead. That by his inaction he'd killed her. Either way, he'd live for her and only for her—her life, her chances, her memory—only her. If she ever had need he'd save her-as he should have a thousand times before.

During his contemplations he'd have to remind himself to pray that she would have a happy life without him, that there would never be a need for him to give of himself—and how often he hated himself for wanting reason to save her.