The next morning Arya joined her at the breakfast table, late as usual. "Who did you draw for Secret Septon?"
"It's a secret, Arya," she answered gloomily.
"I want to trade."
"Arya! You can't do that!"
"Why not? No one knows whose trinket I pulled."
"You can't trade with me."
Really, her sister could be so stubborn. Suddenly an idea took hold of Sansa. "Who do you have?"
"The stupid old Hound. I'm not buying him anything, not after what he did to Micah."
Sansa knew her sister really would show up empty-handed. That embarrassment had to be avoided, but still. "We can't trade. I pulled your rock."
Arya's face lit up. "That's perfect! You take the Hound and I'll trade my stone for whatever Father pulled."
Another idea came to Sansa. "If Father's pulled Joffrey's Dragon, you have to give it to me. Have to." She held her sister's eye intently to show she really meant it.
Arya rolled her eyes and huffed. "Fine. If there's anyone I'd rather exchange with less than the Hound, it's Joffrey."
Hope swelled in Sansa's heart. There was still a chance! A chance she and Joffrey might exchange with each other, and no one would ever have to know that she'd chosen something so ordinary as a stone over something so valuable as a Dragon.
Later that day she passed Arya in the bailey. "Father didn't have Joffrey," she said, handing over Clegane's broach before running off. Disappointment fell heavily over Sansa. A new beginning with Joffrey had been so close! Tears threatened but Sansa took a deep breath and got a hold of herself. She murmured a quick prayer to the Seven and concentrated on the matter at hand.
Five days, she thought. Five days to come up with a suitable gift for Sandor Clegane. Her enthusiasm was low but she chided herself for being ungenerous. He hadn't wanted to participate at all. She would make it up to him. He was Joffrey's sworn shield, chosen by the queen herself, and he'd always been . . . well, not unkind to her. She felt under his care already and she wasn't even wedded to Joffrey yet. With a sense of determination, she made her way back to the Tower of the Hand. She'd go to the market this very afternoon, as soon as she could find an escort.
With Jory in tow, Sansa made her way down one of the better market streets, people stepping aside for her as the prince's betrothed and the Hand's daughter. She'd been to the market but rarely. Whatever she needed was brought to her, and her father didn't think she was safe enough in the streets. She was safe with Jory, though, and the Seven had answered her prayer with an idea: she'd get Joffrey a gift anyway. She didn't like breaking the Secret Septon rules, didn't like it at all, but winning back his regard was too important. She'd stopped at the tanner's and made a very specific request. It cost her but if it made her future marriage happier, it was a small price to pay. That done, she tried to consider what Sandor might like.
Thinking of him as "Sandor" was still new. She'd accidentally called him by his first name once when she'd floundered over avoiding "ser", and, though he'd raised an eyebrow, he hadn't corrected her. She still called him "my lord" in public but he'd gradually become "Sandor" in her mind and occasionally when they were absolutely alone. It was almost like having a friend, now that Jeyne Poole's lower status mattered more than it did at Winterfell. On the days when Joffrey felt like being particularly unpleasant, she'd found herself somehow comforted by Sandor's solid presence.
Looking at the stalls of goods, of cloth and leather, perfumes and colognes from across the Narrow Sea, of various fruits, nuts, tinkers' wares, armorers' goods, and countless other things, it suddenly occurred to Sansa that she had never thought of Sandor apart from his interactions with her. What did he do when he wasn't on duty? He'd told her he liked killing but she couldn't very well line up victims for him. The thought made her shudder despite the fact that she'd dismissed his bold words as mere bluster. Suddenly she felt at a loss. She simply had no idea what he might like. She very much doubted a jar of fig preserves was the key to his happiness. A few stalls down a wine-seller was loudly hawking his wares. Wine! Her hopes soared. No! Her hopes plummeted. The Hound was a temperamental drunk and, frankly, she thought he drank a shade too much as it was. Perhaps she could have his armor polished. . . ? No, his squire took care of his armor and, if Sandor wanted it to be shinier, it would be shinier. She frowned.
"Jory, maybe the next street will have-" A shadow fell across Jory's face.
"See anything you like?" rasped a voice from over her shoulder.
She spun around to find Sandor and his huge black horse, Stranger, close behind her. They were like a boulder in a small stream, the way the smallfolk flowed around them.
"I'm not sure, my lord. Are you looking for your Sevenmas gifts as well?"
"No, I'm getting Joffrey's gifts."
"He told you whose Secret Septon he is?"
"No, he told me what to buy."
"Are you expected back at the castle right away? Maybe you could help me, since you know the market and sellers better than I do."
"You mean I know the brothels and winesinks better than you do. Spare me your empty courtesies, girl."
Sansa was taken aback by his words. Was he angry with her from the night before? She thought they'd parted on good terms. He'd been laughing . . .
"Lady Sansa knows nothing about winesinks and brothels, Clegane," said Jory with an edge on his voice.
"You let her come to market with only yourself as guard, Cassel. I'd say you know nothing about King's Landing."
"She's safe with me."
"I'm safer with you both. May we continue to the next street, please?" interjected Sansa. If the two of them wouldn't stop bickering, she'd never get a chance to figure out what kinds of things Sandor liked.
Sansa, flanked by the captain of her father's guard and one of the most feared fighters in all of Westeros, to say nothing of his horse, made her way to the next street, at the head of which was the stall of a leather-worker. "The tooling on those greaves is very well done," she commented.
"Aye, it is," said Jory with a hint of wistfulness.
"You can admire them for months waiting for your shins to mend," said Sandor sourly. "They won't stop a sword, no matter how pretty they are."
No greaves, Sansa thought. It had been a foolish notion, she realized. Sandor's armor was of the best quality. Suddenly she remembered that he'd won the tourney held in her father's honor nearly a year before. Sandor would have enough gold to buy nearly anything he wanted, yet he continued to dress plainly. Why was it so hard to find a present for a man who had almost nothing to call his own apart from his armor and his horse? Because he doesn't like anything. No, that's unkind. Everyone has something they take pleasure in. You only have to find out what that is. The earlier exchange with Jory came to mind. Brothels and winesinks. Sansa pulled in the corner of her mouth. Surely there's something else.
At a baker's stall, the wonderful scent of fresh bread wafted on the air. "Oh, look!" Sansa cried, pointing at some buns studded with raisins and nuts and crowned with a seven-pointed star of white icing.
"For the Seven Days, my lady," said the baker. "Allow me to offer you one."
"I'll be happy to pay you for it."
Jory immediately offered to treat her but she declined, offering to buy him one instead, which he refused.
"Of course there would be no charge for my lady's friends."
Sansa shook her head. She knew well which way generosity was supposed to flow between those who had plenty and those who did not.
"My lord," she said to Sandor, "would you like to try one?"
Sandor dug into his pocket and reached to hand two pennies to the baker. Maybe he likes sweets! Sansa thought, immediately cataloging all of the delicious things to be had from the castle kitchens.
"No, my lord, I'll treat you and Jory for spending your time in the market with me today when you must have more interesting things to do."
Both Sandor and Jory immediately contradicted her. In the end, they each handed over a penny and ate the buns while watching the throngs of smallfolk pass by, some staring at them openly, others stealing only glances. People gaped at the Hound most of all, until he turned his back to the street. His lank black hair hung over his scars. A thought came to Sansa's mind so abruptly that she was astounded it had never occurred to her before. He does not wish to be seen. The hair, the plain clothing. He only draws attention to himself though his helm, and then because his face is covered. Sansa wondered that she hadn't thought it before. She, who was used to being admired for her beauty, felt that it must be a terrible burden to be unable to escape your skin.
After that, nothing in the market appealed to her at all. She was troubled by her new insight. Claiming weariness, she asked to return to the castle. Sandor immediately swept her up into Stranger's saddle and led them through the streets, Jory walking on Stranger's other side. Being so high made her visible to the smallfolk, who called out to her and wished her a blessed Seven Days. She returned their greetings but craved solitude to consider what she thought she now knew about Sandor Clegane.
Upon returning to the Red Keep, Sansa gave Jory leave to return to his duties. Sandor guided Stranger to the stables and, not ungently, pulled Sansa down from the saddle, setting her on her feet in front of him. "Wait here and I'll take you to your rooms." Sansa waited as he gave instructions for his horse's care and then they walked into the sunlight together.
"Thank you for escorting me through the market. I hope I didn't keep you from your other duties."
"I'm off-duty this morning."
"But then why were you getting Joffrey's gift?"
"The prince ordered me to."
Joffrey's selfishness did not surprise her but his lack of consideration for his most faithful servant did. At Winterfell, retainers were completely free of obligations on their days off. Sansa had always assumed the servants liked their work but the unfairness of Joffrey's order cooled something inside her. When I am queen, I shall make the people love me. Her kindness would offset Joffrey's insensitivity. Another thought struck her. I won't be queen until Joffrey is king, and not even the queen can gainsay the king. The thought saddened her. Despite her best efforts, she had not been able to recover Joffrey's affections. They would not rule together. Joffrey would rule and she would spend most of her time trying to appease him and limit the damage he inflicted on his people. The alliance was desired by both of their fathers but Sansa could not deny that her former enthusiasm for the match had been slowly deflating the better she got to know her intended. She'd been foolish to think a Sevenmas gift would change who Joffrey was at heart.
She could not overcome her depression of spirits for the rest of the day. She sought out Jeyne, who was happy to see her. They watched the knights in the training yard and Sansa laughed with her friend over cake and tea but her heart was not truly in it. Jeyne's concerns ("Willard looks best in his blue doublet, don't you think? Or the red? But maybe not, with his hair . . .") were no longer the same as hers. Sansa spent the evening trying to sew but, after pricking her finger for the third time, gave up. She grabbed her cloak and a lantern and left for the godswood. She was on the Serpentine when she heard his voice.
"Where are you flying off to, little bird?"
She spun, surprised, and lost her balance. Sandor reached out and grabbed her arm with a firm grip. "You shouldn't be out without an escort, not at night."
"Will you escort me?" she heard herself say, unaware of any intention of speaking those words.
"Where are you going?"
"The godswood. At night. Alone. When will you learn, girl? If you want to pray now, go to the sept."
"I wasn't going to pray. I just . . ."
"You just what?"
"I just wanted to be alone."
"Then why did you ask for an escort?"
Sansa found it difficult to explain. "Haven't you ever wanted to be alone, but with someone? To have someone to talk to, but to be quiet with, too?" She frowned. She wasn't making sense and she was certain he would scorn her.
"Come with me."
"Where are we going? Please, not to my father . . ." He was already displeased with her for venturing into the market with only one guard, and he'd certainly not been impressed when she suggested Sandor Clegane had been a suitable addition to their party.
"Your father? Gods, girl, do you take me for a wet nurse?"
"No, I -"
"I'm on duty, little bird. I can't listen to you chirp all night." He started down the Serpentine. "Do yourself a favor and stay out of the godswood at night."
Sansa skipped down the steps and fell in beside him. "Did you mean it when you said I could come with you?"
"I told you before a hound will never lie to you."
"What do you have to do?"
"Tonight? Not much, with any luck. Check the gates, make sure the sentries are awake, call on Joffrey and the queen."
"Will I be in your way?"
"You'll be safe, but if anyone asks, I'm escorting you back to your rooms.
"If I tell you to do something, you do it, or I will be escorting you back to your rooms."
Sansa nodded again and they continued on their way. Sandor seemed to know every doorway and passage in the Red Keep, and took her along several paths she hadn't known existed. When they came to one sentry point, he said, "Stay here," and walked toward the sound of the sentries' laughter. Curious, Sansa crept along the deserted stone corridor toward the doorway leading outside. As soon as the men became aware of Sandor's presence, the laughter stopped. The men reported what they'd seen and who was on the next shift and answered a few other questions before Sandor's footfall indicated his return. Sansa hurried back a few paces down the corridor and looked like the soul of patience when he reappeared. Without a word, Sandor led them to the next sentry point with a similar result. When they came to one of the gates, Sandor said, "Put your hood up," which she did before she accompanied him to the guards' small shack.
"All quiet?" he asked the gold cloaks.
They eyed Sansa but didn't recognize her or pay her the courtesy of a greeting.
"All quiet?" Sandor repeated.
"Eh, just some peasants earlier, crying about food. We got rid of them."
"I'll tell the queen."
The guards remained silent after Sansa and Sandor left them. "Why would the peasants need food?"
Sandor cut his eyes to her. "Because they're hungry."
"There's plenty of food."
"Only if you have money to buy it or land to grow it."
"But you'll tell the queen. She'll make sure they have food."
Sandor snorted. "She'll make sure they don't disturb the peace."
Sansa knew Queen Cersei could be short-tempered but to let her own subjects go hungry? An uneasy feeling uncoiled itself in Sansa's stomach and she shivered.
Sandor looked at her directly. "You're cold."
Sandor snorted again and led her through a door that took them deeper inside the castle and away from the night air.
"Where are we going now?"
"You have to patrol the kitchens, too?" That didn't make sense.
"No, little bird, we're going to get some wine. It'll make us both warmer."
Sansa was going to protest but something stopped her. She suddenly realized she was enjoying herself. It felt daring and excitingto be doing something out of the ordinary. It felt good. The castle was a different place by night.
They entered the kitchen through the servants' entrance, scaring a couple who, a moment before, had been entwined in the dark, quiet laughter and the rustle of fabric accompanying slurpy kissing noises. Sansa was shocked and couldn't help but stare. Sandor took hold of her elbow and steered her forward. She turned to ask him what the couple was doing in the kitchens but saw he was smirking and so said nothing.
"I'll get the wine. You wait here." He disappeared through another doorway.
Sansa looked around and realized they were in a hallway behind the main dining room. She'd never seen the dining hall from here, behind the royal dais. She wandered into the empty hall and looked around with new eyes. Usually the room was crowded with people she knew and servants she'd come to recognize but now the empty tables and benches seemed lonely. There were murals on the walls she'd never had an opportunity to inspect. One farther along caught her eye and she moved closer to it, lowering her hood. As she marveled at the detail of the painting, she heard footsteps behind her. She turned and was surprised to see a man who wasn't Sandor. He seemed surprised to see her, too, but then grinned and sauntered closer to her, weaving a little as he approached. Sansa smelled the wine on him. He was a knight but she didn't know his name and he wasn't wearing a house sigil or colors.
"You're a pretty one."
"Thank you, ser." She hoped he would pass by but he seemed inclined to stay.
"No, ser." Where was Sandor?
He looked up and down the hall and grinned again. Sansa was trapped between two tables with the wall behind her and this man in front of her.
"What's your name?"
Was it better to tell him her real name or to make one up? Her brain felt fluttery. Which answer would save her? Would either? "Sansa Stark," she said, just as she heard Sandor rasp, "What's your name?"
The man's eyes bulged out of his skull and he couldn't seem to decide whether he wanted to figure out if she really was Sansa Stark or whether he should run from Sandor who was advancing up the aisle with long strides, his hair blowing behind him, his mouth twitching. "Your name," he said when he was upon them.
"I didn't touch her, I swear it."
"I didn't touch her, I swear it," Sandor repeated, slow and flat as he rested three flagons of wine on a table without taking his murderous gaze from the man's face. "Not much of a name." Faster than Sansa would have thought possible, his hand was around the man's throat.
"William!" the man squeaked. "William Dench."
"Your house?" Sandor tightened his grip and dragged the man a few steps down the aisle, giving Sansa room to step from between the tables. She passed behind Sandor as he wrung an answer from the man and moved back towards the servants' door, frightened and aghast.
Sandor flung William Dench to the floor, where he crab-walked backwards away from Sandor, horror-struck, before he turned and sprinted out the main door. Sandor rounded on Sansa and was in front of her in an instant. He grabbed her arm roughly and shook her, "Are you hurt?"
Sansa could only gape at him, eyes round, voice caught in her throat.
"ARE. YOU. HURT?" he barked at her with another shake.
"No. No, I'm not."
"Do you still want to go to the godswood alone?"
That wasn't fair. "I'm not in the godswood." She held his eye. "Or alone." Did he just flinch?
"If it was known you went there alone, what's to stop him or someone like him from following you?"
She had no answer. Sansa knew he was right, though she resented having it thrown in her face. Her last comment had been unkind. He'd just ridded her of Ser William's attentions. To suggest Sandor bore some responsibility was unworthy.
He released her arm and walked back to the table holding the flagons. He uncorked one and took a long swig from it, eyeing her the entire time. He uncorked a second and brought it to her. "Drink. You'll feel better."
Sansa took the flagon in trembling hands and sipped the wine. It was sour and dry and caught at the back of her throat. She sputtered and coughed.
"Never had Dornish Red before?"
"You don't drink much wine, do you?"
"My father lets us have a cup at feasts."
Sandor gave a mirthless laugh. "I guess I can spare that much." He picked up the remaining flagon and handed it to her before resting his heavy hand on her shoulder and guiding her back into the servants' hallway.
"Where are we going now?"
"To Joffrey's quarters."
"Will you tell him about that man?"
"Do you think he'd care if I did?"
It hurt her to admit it but she had to say no. "What about the queen?"
"What about your father?"
She knew her father would take her part in anything that mattered to her but something inside her resisted.
"Listen, girl, in all likelihood he'll be gone by morning."
"Why should he be?"
"He offended the prince's betrothed, in front of the prince's dog. Whose side do you think the king would take?"
That made sense but it still didn't seem right. The man had scared her, nothing more, but she wasn't sure that's all he would have done had Sandor not returned when he did.
They zigzagged along another corridor before they started moving through a part of the castle with which Sansa was not familiar. Here there were no Sevenmas decorations, the hallways narrower and more poorly lit. A dog was sleeping in a doorway but it perked up at the sound of their approach. Sandor gave two low quick whistles and the dog bounded over to him. Sandor stooped, setting aside the lantern and a flagon, and ruffled the dog's ears, crooning, "There, boy," rubbing the dog with playful vigor. "I got it, you ungrateful mutt." Sandor stood and pulled a paper-wrapped bundle from his pocket. He stooped again and unwrapped the bone the packet contained, earning a cheerful, "Woof!" from the dog.
"Is he yours?" Sansa asked, surprised that Sandor might have a pet.
"No, but he knows I'll bring him food, the shameless beggar."
Sansa watched the dog hunker down with his bone, holding it with his paws and gnawing on it with a contentedness that suggested he could want for nothing more from the world. She stole a glance at Sandor. He'd told her before he liked dogs better than people but she was still surprised to see the soft expression on his face. After a moment she became aware of voices drawing near. Sandor turned toward the sound when it struck Sansa that she recognized one of the voices.
"Father!" she said.
Sandor pushed open the door the dog had been lying against and pulled her into the room. Her heart was pounding. Father would not be pleased to find her out so late at night, alone with Sandor Clegane. Sansa pressed her ear to the door and could hear her father's voice getting closer. What if he found her here? She spun around. What if someone was already in this room? Her reputation might be damaged. Joffrey would have reason to despise her then and her father's alliance with King Robert might be irreparable. Sansa's throat constricted. She tried so hard to be good but this one moment could do away with her every effort, forever, and shame her family as well. Panic rose in her chest like flood water.
"What if they come in here? Where are we?" she despaired, looking around wildly but not seeing anything.
"They won't come in here, little bird."
"How do you know?"
"This is my room."
Sansa's jaw fell open and her eyes took in what she was seeing.
"Why . . . why are we here?"
"I can't very well go on my rounds carrying three flagons of wine, can I?" He sounded amused.
"Shh!" Ned Stark's voice and that of another man were just outside the door now. They seemed to have stopped. Had he heard her? Was he even now drawing his sword to come to her rescue?
Sandor seemed to be almost smiling as he set about taking a flask from the inside of his tunic and refilling it from one of the flagons. Then he came toward Sansa and took the flagons she'd forgotten she was holding. He leaned past her to listen at the door and Sansa breathed in the scent of him. Night air, wine, smoke, and something else, something earthy and musky and male. Something in his smell beckoned to her and she was unnerved by the pull of it. Her body was responding even as her mind swirled with fear of detection, embarrassment at her reaction, and a desire to somehow get closer to him. He leaned away. "We'll give them a minute," he said, looking down at her and seeming to notice her changed demeanor. His eyes narrowed. "Have another drink," he said, handing her one of the flagons before retreating to the other side of the small room and sitting on a wooden chair, one of a pair at a round table on which sat two more flagons, apparently empty, and her lantern.
Sansa took a sip of the wine and then clutched the flagon to her chest. Sandor watched her as she gazed at his belongings. The room was rectangular, with the door behind her in the middle of one of the long sides. A bed with somewhat rumpled bedding was pushed up against the wall in the far left corner. Next to it was a nightstand which held another flagon, a book, and the sash from her dress that she'd given him the previous evening. Past the bed, almost directly across from her, was a window that seemed to overlook the courtyard. Next was the table at which Sandor sat. On the short wall was the fireplace, a charred log on the hearth. On the mantle was a framed drawing of a girl and a tinder-strike, both of which were in front of a shield with the three black dogs on a yellow field that was the sigil of House Clegane. Against the wall to her right were a chest, and then a rack holding a few swords and some spare pieces of armor. To her left was a wardrobe, a small table holding a basin, and then the bed again. She looked back at Sandor who continued to watch her in silence. Sansa held his gaze, her mind awash.
He stood and took up the lantern. "Your father should be gone now. I have to see Joffrey and the queen and then I can take you back to your rooms."
Sansa nodded and moved to put the flagon on the table.
"Had your one cup?" he asked with a slight smirk.
"You kept my sash."
Sandor's face darkened. He walked to the other side of the room and took her sash from the nightstand. He all but thrust it at her and then held open the door. She hadn't meant to imply he couldn't keep it. In truth, she hadn't meant for him to keep it but he was taking her statement as a request for its return when, really, it was just an observation. She felt clumsy again and followed after him in silence as they made their way to the royal apartments.
"You'll be known in this part of the castle. There's a storage room at the end of the hall. You'll stay there until I've spoken to both of them."
"Yes, my lord." Sandor gave her a look at the 'my lord' but then turned and continued to stalk down the hall.
The storage room was lit only by the weak light of the moon. Sandor had made sure it was empty before leaving her with instructions to lock the door behind him and the signal for his return. Sansa looked out the window and saw torches and men on the walls. Someone was walking a horse through the bailey below. She wound the sash around her hand and then unwound it, slowly, over and over. She spent a fair amount of time with Sandor Clegane. She'd known him for a year now. He was trusted by the king, queen, and prince. He was trusted by her father not at all. He was feared by everyone else. It felt like all of this should mean something, should lead her to some conclusion about him, but it didn't. Perhaps she was too tired to think clearly. She'd done a lot of walking today. The minutes crept by and she stared out the window, wrapping and unwrapping the sash around her hand. Her eyelids were growing heavy when she heard a soft rapping at the door.
She rapped back twice, and he answered with a single knock. He looked angry.
"Is something wrong?"
"Bloody prince," he muttered but said nothing more.
They made their way back to the outer wall. Sandor saw her stifle a yawn.
"Tired, little bird? I'll take you back to your rooms now."
"No," Sansa heard herself say. She was tired, it was true, but she wasn't ready to be by herself just yet.
"I'd like to walk with you a little longer, if that's alright."
He looked at her for a long moment before agreeing. "There are two more sentry posts between here and the Tower of the Hand. I'll look in on them and then you'll go to your rooms. Put your hood back up."
"Thank you, my lord."
They walked in silence for a minute. "Sandor?"
He looked down at her.
"If you're Joffrey's sworn shield, why do you have to do this?" She waved a hand in front of them, indicating the patrol circuit they were taking. "Shouldn't your only task be to guard him?"
"I'm Joffrey's shield because that's what Cersei wants. She doesn't trust all her men so she gives me other tasks."
"She trusts you?"
Sansa mulled that over. "I believe my father trusts all of his men."
Sandor looked doubtful. "Your father is a trusting man," he rumbled.
"His men trust him, too."
That seemed to interest Sandor, who asked about the rule of Winterfell, which they discussed for the rest of their walk along the outer wall. As was the case with the first two posts they'd visited, Sandor's presence put a halt to any levity as the sentries reported the night's happenings to him. They passed a few guards who nodded to Sandor but none stopped to talk. As Sansa always had a few words ready for anyone she might encounter, this struck her as strange, and somewhat sad. Soon, though, they were approaching the top of the Serpentine.
The heaviness of her eyelids and flickering light of the lantern made the steps seem to shift and, gathering up her skirts, Sansa hoped she wouldn't fall down the stairs. By instinct, she reached for Sandor's arm, curling her fingers around his lower bicep.
"Here." He turned his hand palm up and moved his arm back so she could grip his hand and rest her forearm on his. With his solid arm supporting her, she felt there was no way she could stumble. They descended the stairs slowly and, at the bottom, Sansa released Sandor's hand and tucked her own into the crook of his elbow, struck anew by the sheer size of him.
Before they came within the light of the torches outside the Tower, Sansa stopped and turned to face Sandor. "I'll tell them I was with the queen, if asked." She looked into his eyes to see if he would object but he merely gave a small nod. He made to drop his arm as they entered the Tower but Sansa held firm to it. They were nearly to her room when they came across Jory.
"Lady Sansa! Are you unwell? What are you doing out of your rooms so late? Clegane, what is the meaning of this?" He cast an unfriendly eye toward Sansa's arm in Sandor's.
"The meaning of what?" Sandor growled.
"I was with the queen," said Sansa calmly. "I didn't realize the hour and became fatigued. She offered me the services of Joffrey's sworn shield as an escort back to my rooms. I'm quite well and safe, just tired. Thank you, Jory."
"As you say, my lady." He dipped his head and the two parties continued in their opposite directions.
When they reached her rooms, Sandor stood to the side of the door, as usual.
"Thank you for letting me come with you."
The corner of his mouth twitched. "I'll make sure that William Dench is gone."
Sansa had forgotten about him. "Thank you."
A pause began to stretch between them. "When does your shift end?" Sansa asked. She was sincerely interested. She'd never before given much thought to how the people around her spent their time.
"In another hour."
"It will be quite late then."
Sandor rolled a massive shoulder in a half shrug.
Sansa remembered her sash then. She pulled it from her pocket and offered it to him. "You can keep this. If you want it." She thought he might, if only because of how he reacted when she mentioned it in his room.
"No, little bird. It's yours." The fact that he didn't need it to secure his cape was evident.
"Then please keep the lantern to light your way back."
"That's yours as well."
"You can return it to me tomorrow."
Sandor nodded and they looked at each other for a moment.
"Good night, little bird."
"Good night, Sandor," she said quietly. She entered her room and shut the door behind her. It was a second or two before she heard him move back down the hall toward the stairs. An odd feeling of gloom settled over Sansa. She moved through her nighttime preparations lethargically. Once she got in bed, her mind wandered over the evening's events. She'd only spent two hours with Sandor Clegane but she felt changed for it. She'd spent time in his presence while he was on-duty before, of course, but tonight she'd stepped into a part of his world from which she was usually absent. She reflected again that the castle was a different place at night. Where were all the women? The only one they'd encountered was in the shadowy hallway by the kitchens. Sandor's world was a world of men. No, that wasn't quite right, either. Lady Sansa knows nothing about winesinks and brothels, Jory had asserted. That was true enough but something else niggled at the corner of her mind. Sansa yawned and turned to press her cheek into her pillow. The sentries and their laughter. The men they'd passed on the wall. Sandor's half-hidden face and plain clothing. Apart. He's holding himself apart. And he's alone. The thought swam lazily through her mind and then sleep closed in on her.