Disclaimer: I do no own any part or parcel of The Song of Ice and Fire series. That right belongs to the talented George R.R. Martin. I am just using his skills as a muse for my own entertainment.
A/N: So everyone, this is the last chapter. I know a lot of people were anticipating more but this was a story about 'lessons' and their lessons have come to an end. I am pondering with the idea of writing a series of one-shots to go along with this epilogue but we will have to see if time is on my side. I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has read my story. I have gotten more of a response from it than I had anticipated so I just wanted to thank all the readers. I am ecstatic that you have enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy the end.
On a really fun note, I went to the Game of Thrones exhibition in Toronto earlier this week. It was AWESOME. I loved it. I got my picture taken on the Iron Throne but it apparently got lost in the world of email and I sadly never received it. :( That just means I will have to go again if it comes around next year. Oh darn! :P Anyways, without further ado...
They had initially planned on riding north to Riverrun. Their plans were quickly deviated when they caught the news at a small village of the Lannister army having all roads blocked and putting anyone who refused to aid them to the sword. Where the way wasn't blocked by the Lannisters, it was blocked by Northmen or the Riverfolk, all of which new the Hound. Those who were pledged to Riverrun would not recognise Sansa unless they had met her mother or her aunt and the Northmen this far south would be from houses too small to have been guests at Winterfell. It was not a risk they could take.
Their miraculous escape from Kings Landing was only successful because of all the confusion that evening. They knew they couldn't go south, they would be caught for sure. The Free Cities were also off limits, Varys had his spies everywhere at both the docks in Westeros and Braavos. Sandor decided they would head west. No one would anticipate them escaping to the Westerlands. There was a valley he knew off not far from his family's homestead. Since no one knew they had left the capital together, he was sure that was the last place they would look for Sansa Stark. Tywin Lannister was the Warden of the West and it would make no logical sense for her to walk right into the lion's den.
It was quite a long ride and they had to pace themselves. Stranger was a strong horse with more endurance than most horses but with the extra weight of Sansa and their extra provisions, they couldn't ride him at anything more than a steady trot for long and Shae's mount hadn't had enough endurance training for such a feat. They would gallop if Stranger chose to but that was rare and short-lived. As the days went on, the heavy trees tapered into shrubs and eventually into vast grasslands. They skirted the lands that actually did belong to the Cleganes, it would not do for any of the peasants to see him. Word would make it back to Gregor or Kings Landing and they would never be safe.
Finally, Sandor stopped the great horse at a rocky ledge and led him down a rough stony slope that would not have been easily visible had one not known to look for it. To the unknowing eye, the gradient looked much too steep for safe passage. They couldn't risk either horse slipping a shoe or breaking a leg. They would still have much more need of them before long and had no means of having them healed or getting another horse at the moment. The scree from the surrounding crags littered the trail creating neck-breaking hazards every step. They did eventually make it to the bottom and it was just as Sandor recalled from his childhood. There was a cave on the western-facing slope that was just as empty now as it had been almost twenty years ago. A stream fed from an underground reservoir ran through the middle of the valley and there was plenty of grass for the horses to graze on. The cave was tidy enough for them to live comfortable for a short while but would not allow much room for storage and living come the winter.
Sansa was in awe of the beauty of the place. Everything from the grey rocky slopes, the lush green grass and the thick, old trees was rapturous to her. It was the closest she had felt to being home since leaving her true home so long ago. Sandor taught her many things about living off the land, about what berries, seeds and nuts were edible, and which were poisonous. She gradually became a proficient cook with what she was provided and learned how to care for and maintain a household. It wasn't anything like the ways she had been taught by Septa Mordane but this was not the life she had been intended for either. As for Shae, this was also a life she was not accustomed to and eventually left them for a nearby hamlet where she took up her original profession at the tavern there.
As the time went by, Sandor worked hard cutting down the mature trees, stripping them of their branches and eventually managed to make them a rather comfortable cottage. It would be easier for them to keep warm should they still be there when winter came. It was no Winterfell but they were content with it. They used the cave to store dried vegetables, herbs and spices that they managed to grow in the fertile soil and eventually, dried salted meat. They didn't leave their valley very often, only when they needed provisions that they could not grow themselves. The nearby hamlet was able to sell them a few animals, bolts of cloth and decent steel now and then and the villagers never turned down the good gold that offered them for their services. Since it would not do for either of them to be seen or followed, most of these transactions were done through Shae. She would venture back to the gorge every week or two and ensure all was well.
Gradually there was less and less they had to do for their survival and only needed to maintain all they had worked so hard for. The warmer evenings were spend outside, making love on the lush grasses while the sun set. As the nights became cool, their evenings would be spent in their little cottage, snuggled by the fire. Sandor was free to love Sansa without inhibition or fear of retribution. He never thought he would feel such strong, positive emotions towards another as he did for Sansa. The closest he could compare was the intensity of his hatred of his brother. As for Sansa, she loved being able to be with Sandor without the prying, judgmental eyes of the nobility. There was a Septon that passed through the village every few month and Sandor would have married Sansa in her Gods eyes in half a heartbeat but as with everything else, they couldn't risk it and they would not be able to use their birth names. On top of that, Sansa would have liked to be married in front of a wierwood heart tree as well.
The war carried on with increasing brutality beyond their valley and they carried on in quiet solitude. The news of the Red Wedding brought on a shadow of despair over their valley for some time. Sansa felt alone. Bran and Rickon were dead, now Robb and her mother, her father was long gone and no one knew what had happened to Arya. As far as anyone knew, she was the last Stark of Winterfell. She knew that if she went home, duty would force her to be separated from him. Family, Duty, Honour.Those were her mothers' words. Sandor was her family and she would fight for him if she had to. They had also learned of Ser Gregor Cleganes death at the spear of the Dornishman. Sandor was less upset than he had anticipated, but he still ruined a good sword after hacking at a tree.
The shadows that seemed to stay over them were dissolved when Sansa noticed her moon blood had been absent for some months. That suspicion, followed by a sudden dislike of favourite foods and unaccountable illness confirmed them. She hadn't missed a single day of her moon tea but they both knew that was not infallible. The months passed and she bore a son, an heir for both Winterfell and Clegane Keep. Sandor could not have been a more proud father.
The years passed quickly for them. They received word about the most recent siege at Kings Landing, the Dragon Queen had put down the Lions once and for all. Sansa had never felt such joy; her family was finally vindicated. After talking it over, they knew they needed to go back to Kings Landing and back to the life they were intended for. Sansa had her responsibilities at Winterfell to contend with and now, Sandor was the rightful heir to Clegane Keep. They had some serious considerations to work out but Sandor had no great affections for Clegane Keep and Sansa knew that there must always be a Stark at Winterfell. Her name was the last and only one that had any hope of reuniting the North.
It was with heavy hearts that they left their valley, now unsure about their lives and their futures. Sansa didn't know that they would be able to live happily ever after like the knights and ladies in her beloved stories but she didn't care about that because after all they had gone through, both together and alone, in the end, they lived.