(The original characters are the property of the author, GRR Martin. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended . All rights reserved.)

When he was not on duty and he could not sleep Sandor would find his way to the stables. The stable lads were used to this behaviour, knowing to make themselves scarce when they saw his bulk looming in the wooden doorway. In a way, it was a relief that the Hound liked to groom Stranger himself because the beast was as miserable and vicious as his master. The boys would melt into the dark corners of the stables and wait until he had finished. If they tried to stay to watch him he would growl and curse at them until they fled but if they did spy on him they saw there nothing different to their own grooming techniques, nothing except tenderness. The boys would laugh and say: the Hound only feels happy with other animals.

Sandor knew what they whispered about him. He knew what people thought of him. None of this mattered in the warm gloom of the stable. Sandor would lift each hoof and pick the stones from Stranger's shoes, rub his large hands down each fetlock feeling for any injuries. He would groom the horse's black hide until it shone like dragon glass and all the time he would mumble endearments, too low for anyone to overhear what he said but the horse would relax its angry stance, lower its head and nuzzle into the big man's shoulder, rub his velvet face into Sandor's palm.

The horse knew the man kept apples in his pockets for him and the man knew the horse loved him. The stable boys knew the Hound had a gentle side but they were wise enough not to breathe a word of it around Kings Landing. The Hound would not think twice about throwing them from the parapets or using their skin for a bag; at least that is what they whispered to each other. Then they shuddered and dared each other to go near him.

The Hound's temper and ferocity had a life of its own and it caused people to react when they saw him. Flinch. Shudder. Draw back in fear. Disgust would flash across faces. He was unsure if it was disgust about his ugly, scarred face or disgust about the trail of dead he left in his wake. Either way, he was one of the most infamous and feared men in the Seven Kingdoms, which was an odd predicament for a man who craved solitude and peace.

He craved silence and peace the same way he craved the feeling he got when he ran a man through with his sword and the look of surprise that flooded their eyes. It was always the same. Shock when they realised that this life was over followed by something that Sandor couldn't express. Was it resignation? Enlightenment? He was unsure. There had been times when he had grabbed a dying person and demanded an answer. What do you see? Tell me? But their life blood had gushed onto his tunic and the light would die in their eyes. Sometimes they smiled at him, whether in spite at denying him an answer or knowledge of some great secret, he did not know. Did he kill people for that look? Perhaps.

What else was there in his life, he was a man made out of hatred, forged in the steel of vengeance. That hatred was focused on his own blood: Gregor. How he despised him. And feared him. That much he admitted to himself as he stared into the bottom of a wine cup or the blank eyes of a whore he had paid to fuck him.

Sandor was a man who was aware of his own weaknesses and he despised himself, more than the courtiers who laughed at him, more than the commoners who wept and cursed when they saw him, more than the whore who stared at him with fear. He, Sandor Clegane, hated his own face, his own life and all the vile things he did but he felt utterly and bleakly trapped. This was his destiny, the only thing an ugly, rough dog could do. Kill, obey, kill, obey, kill…

The blond teenager lay on his velvet couch whilst his mother paced the room. Incense coiled around the ceiling making shapes like forgotten dragons. He watched Cersei idly and wondered what it would be like to kill her. He thought about this often. He would like her to suffer but he wouldn't like any mess. Having her executed or murdered by one of his King's Guard would be bloody and she would scream. It would all be entirely wearisome and disgusting.

Not that he didn't enjoy hearing someone scream in pain or bleed in front of him, just the thought of ordering his soldiers to kill the peasants excited him, but his mother was different. She was his flesh and she was beautiful. He still remembered the feeling of lying on her lap when he was a little boy, stroking her face whilst he sucked his thumb. She would smile and laugh, tell him stories and kiss his face. He had been happy.

When his jolly father had been alive. There had always been the hope of pleasing him. Before he found out his mother was a whore who had slept with his Uncle Jamie. Uncle Jamie who was his fa…No, suffice to say he would like her to suffer and to know that it was he that had ordered her death. He was the King. King Joffrey. Poison would be the best thing. A slow, painful, agonising poison. He smiled as he daydreamed about twitching limbs, blank eyes…his mother's voice was like a fly buzzing in the room. It was intolerable.

Joffrey sat up suddenly, knocking his tray of glazed nuts and fruits to the floor. Some dumb and terrified maid ran to clean it up, trying to avoid his gaze. Joffrey smoothed the lace on his blue velvet tunic and spoke in commanding voice. The kind he thought a kIng should use.

'Mother, I am bored of your constant moaning about the war. Just shut up.'

Cersei stopped pacing and looked uncertainly towards him. Her long fingers tensed and un-tensed like a spider flexing its legs. She had been ranting, she knew that. But she thought he understood; that it was only because they had to get Jamie back safe.

Cersei tilted her golden head slightly, looking at her son. Before she would have slapped Joffrey. Told him what to do, ordered him to obey but now she sensed his madness, even as she refused to acknowledge it. She glared at Sandor Clegane, who stood a few paces from the King. He stared at the wall behind her. He may as well be a statue, she thought. A dangerous and deadly statue.

She knew what Joffrey was capable of, it was only what she herself was capable of, so she curtseyed, said false sweetly, 'Of course your Grace, let me leave you in peace,' and backed gracefully from the room. Inside she cursed her luck to have been born a woman who must be at the will and caprice of the men in her life.

Joffrey waited for her handmaidens to follow her like a trail of useless butterflies flitting after a poisonous flower, and then he turned to face his servant. Clegane gazed back at him, dispassionate, bored even. Joffrey thrilled at the size of him. With the Hound at his side everyone must fear him. They must obey him. No one could hurt a golden hair on his head.

Joffrey considered the view behind his Hound. The window framed an expanse of water, gulls hung in the thick, tepid air. What could one do to amuse oneself? The blond boy thought of all his favourite pastimes, all the smaller, weaker creatures he could torment and settled on his favourite receptacle for his cruelty: Sansa Stark. Pale skinned, red haired, his to do with as he pleased and, he thought smugly, it would annoy his mother. It was the perfect afternoon amusement.

'Come dog!' he said and clicked his fingers towards Clegane's face. Joffrey brayed with laughter. The Hound did not ask what he found amusing; he just followed as Joffrey trotted from the room, silently noting how the little King's face was twisted with malevolent glee.