Disclaimer: Everything belongs to George R. R. Martin.
A huge 'thank you' to my beta reader, Underthenorthernlights. Nothing of this would exist without your help, dear!
Author's note: Basically, this is the same story you can find on this site, on the page dedicated to 'A Song of Ice and Fire', BUT in the original fic, there were three main characters: Sandor Clegane, Jon Connington and Eddard Stark. I thought some of you might enjoy a fiction entirely focused on Sandor, so I reworked some details, gave titles to every chapter and... I hope you'll like it.
Chapter 1: The Orphan
Footsteps echoed in the spiral staircase and as they seemed to come closer, he did his best to lie there on the pallet, perfectly still under the rough blanket someone had tossed on his curled up form. The wet cloth on his forehead, supposed to reduce his fever, had slipped and blinded him. His heart skipped a beat when the door creaked open.
"The orphan is here," a harsh voice said.
There was nothing pleasant or kind in this masculine voice. It only described his situation: a boy who had lost his father and ended up in this strange and big castle where nobody waited for him. He was a fool if he ever expected to find compassion in this voice.
"And what do you want me to do with him?" a second man asked.
This voice was different; softer, yet determined and straightforward. A commander's voice exuding impatience. This one had forgotten a long time ago what it was to have his orders questioned. Could it be him? Please don't send me back to Gregor...
"Why do you ask?" the first man replied. "If I speak my mind, you won't listen to me. You never listen to my advice..."
"I have no time for this, Gerion. I asked you what you wanted to show me in the maester's tower and said you'd better not waste my time."
No matter who he was, he didn't need to raise his voice to make everyone feel his anger.
"Is he dead?" he added, without the slightest hint of concern or curiosity. His tone revealed all this bored him: the never-ending staircase, the grim room, the form laying on the pallet.
"No, he's not, though he collapsed at the gates. How far is Clegane's Keep? Thirty, maybe forty miles, as the raven flies. I guess the boy didn't eat for some days," Gerion said.
The man's suppositions were not wrong, but he was wide of the mark. Sandor heard slow footsteps coming closer and someone stopping in front of the pallet.
"Let's have a look at him," the smooth voice commanded.
A hand grabbed the woolen blanket, exposing his disheveled figure and the cloth fell, leaving a wet trail on his face. His limbs were shaking, but he clenched his jaw and tried not to move. When he opened his eyes, he saw Tywin Lannister leaning over him. Long-legged and fair-haired, The Warden of the West, former Hand of the King, looked like a bird of prey with his aquiline nose. Until that day, he had only seen his father's liege lord twice, and only caught sight of him: he wasn't supposed to meet such an important man, he was only his father's youngest son. And Father didn't want me to take away Lord Tywin's appetite if he ever looked at my face. On the left, a younger version of Tywin waited for his orders. Tywin Lannister was staring at him but his green eyes didn't really see him, they focused on his scars. He didn't seem like he was ready to vomit his dinner, though.
"So, it was true," Tywin stated. "Burnt from hairline to chin on one side. And that? Is this his bone I see on his jaw?"
The Lord of Casterly Rock had spoken about him as if he was not here, ignoring his pleading eyes. Worse still, under this unsettling gaze, he felt like an animal or an object Tywin Lannister had come upon. The man had not decided yet what he would do with him. His heart beat wildly as he realized this was perhaps his only chance to stay alive. Forgetting his fever and his weak limbs, he tried to sit up on the pallet but hardly managed to lean on his forearms.
"Send him back to his brother. We shouldn't even discuss about it. We should mind our own business."
He didn't know this voice, didn't even know there was someone else; this one must have stayed in some corner by the door because he couldn't see him behind the two other men. What the man suggested startled him and he sat up abruptly, clenching his teeth.
"Seven Hells, Kevan!" Gerion exclaimed. "You know who did that to him. You know who killed Clegane."
"We don't know anything," the third man retorted, coming closer. As soon as he stopped beside Gerion, Sandor saw another version of Tywin Lannister, with rounded shoulders and a massive jaw. "If we take for granted every gossip peasants spread about Gregor Clegane..."
"Why do you think this boy ran away?" Gerion insisted. "And you want to send him back to his brother? Is it a joke or something?"
"Gregor is now my Bannerman," Tywin pointed out. There was no emotion nor stance in his words, only facts.
"I'm sorry," Gerion said, losing his temper, "but as his liege lord, you have to protect your Bannermen and you have to judge them. And by the laws of gods and men, your precious Gregor is a kinslayer. What kind of message do you send to your other Bannermen? 'Kill your father if you feel like it, as long as you're loyal to me'?"
Anger and disgust made Gerion's face ugly and twisted his mouth. After all, when the youngest son of Tytos Lannister stood for him as he did, he was fighting two men at a time. An unfair fight: he should help Gerion. However, he felt so weak he struggled to stay still and tried to ignore the growing pain in his sore arms. He had to do something quickly.
"I can be useful, my lord," he said, locking eyes with Tywin. "I know how to fight. My father told me."
Kevan burst out laughing.
"Do you hear that?" he asked. "The brat's voice didn't even break!"
Sandor was aware his voice was still high-pitched but he was more than that; he was tall and well-built for a boy of his age. And I learnt how to fight: there's not a squire in Westeros who has as many reasons as I have to learn swordplay. Fever had made his eyes glisten and his cheeks red a while ago, but weakness had vanished as soon as Kevan Lannister expressed his disregard and there was only anger growing in him, tensing his muscles and distorting his features.
"How old are you, boy?" Kevan asked, repressing a smile.
"I'm two-and-ten, my lords. But I'm strong. And my father taught me everything about swordplay."
He didn't mean it, but his voice, high-pitched as ever, sounded like he was pleading. I swear I'll never beg someone again. Not in my entire life. He clenched his jaw when he understood that he could burst into tears. Crying is for girls. I'm done with crying.
"He survived," Gerion stated, talking about him as if he was not here. "He's a tough one."
Tywin nodded; at least, his head moved slightly and made him feel suddenly more confident. The lord of Casterly Rock stood there, perfectly still for a while, his brothers waiting for his decision in an attitude revealing they were used to his silences.
"I have to think about it," Tywin finally said. "Give the boy some food. He will have a bath, too: he stinks. For now, I have more important matters to decide than the future of a boy."
Tywin Lannister turned around and walked away, his brother Kevan on his heels. The door creaked, there were footsteps in the spiral staircase and he was alone with Gerion.
After a bath, the fever was gone, he felt terribly hungry. When Gerion said the word 'kitchens', he couldn't help salivating and he gratefully followed the young man out of the grim room. Gerion ran down the stairs and only looked back once outside. They crossed the yard and Gerion waved at some men, pinched a squire's ear and seemed to forget him until they reached the pointed arch that lead to the kitchens. Long before they passed the threshold, when they were still walking in the dusty yard, Sandor could smell grease and onions, teasing him like Gerion had pinched the squire. He was starving and wouldn't be able to eat cleanly. He took a sharp intake of breath, tried to swallow the smell of roasting meat and came in.
He had never seen something like this; in a room whose dimensions equaled those of his father's hall, an army of cooks and servants ran from the hearth to the wide oak table, poured water, cut turnips, shelled peas, but only one, a big woman with grey hair tasted the dishes and gave orders. Smoke crept over one side of the big room, but nobody seemed to notice it, as the big woman wiped her hands on her apron, then waddled to the hearth, scrutinized the pork roasting on the spit and yelled at the other ones. The boys and girls around her hurried to the hearth, fearful and docile. Finally, the big woman turned around.
"What is it you brought me, m'lord?" the fierce woman said to Gerion, a cheeky look on her face. Sandor noticed her pale eyes and her straight hair escaping her head kerchief, as she stood a few yards from them, her hands on her massive hips. Gerion didn't react despite her cheeky attitude; with a deft flourish, he showed Sandor, told her to give him some food and walked away.
"Do you have a name, boy?" she asked. Her voice sounded as soft as the smoke that made him cough.
"Sandor, of House Clegane."
He stepped forward. When they heard his name, some of the servants froze and stared at him. The big woman cursed in an undertone and squinted her eyes to see his features in the dim light. She wanted to catch a glimpse at his scars, but she seemed disappointed by what she saw; after bathing, he had flattened his long dark hair on the burnt side of his face. A valueless measure.
"He's burnt!" a scrawny girl exclaimed, sucking in deeply.
"Aye, he's burnt," the big woman said. "And I'm fat, for all I care."
She waddled toward him and gestured to the long table dividing the room in two.
"Have a sit, then. Fat Jeyne, they call me. Guess why." She turned around and pointed at the scrawny girl. "Maria, you stupid little wench, bring some stew!" When she gave orders, she seemed to caw like the ravens his father kept to send messages.
The scrawny girl didn't dare to look at him when she brought back a steamy bowl of stew; she put it on the table quickly, then almost ran away and he heard her giggling with her companions crowded near the hearth. Fat Jeyne gave him some brown bread and stood next to the table. Sandor shifted on the bench, ill-at-ease, but he was starving and the rich smell of pork stew was too tempting.
He began to gobble down his food, forgetting Fat Jeyne and the boys and girls working in the kitchens, squeaking like mice. Once his bowl was empty, Fat Jeyne filled it with more stew and he went on. If the big woman took his gluttony as a tribute to her cooking, she was wrong: he only wanted to build up his strength, just in case. As long as someone offered him some food, he couldn't refuse. He finally granted Fat Jeyne with a sheepish look.
Two years ago, his little sister had found a rawboned cat nearby Clegane Keep and she had given him scraps. The damn cat had eaten greedily, finishing a surprising amount of food. He remembered his sister's fascinated look in front of the young animal, who used to eat when he could and starve when there was nothing for him. The cat's green eyes revealed he didn't know what to expect from his sister and himself. Were they able to keep him as a pet or did they like to hurt animals? The cat looked at them suspiciously, scratching his ruined ear.
After a while, when his little sister confessed him how she loved the cat and how happy he would be with them in Clegane's Keep, he understood what he had to do. He caught the skinny animal, put it in some bag and rode as far as he could before dropping the beast in the woods. If his sister had something she loved, Gregor would destroy it, and the thought of his sister's reaction was unbearable. Pretend the cat ran away was easier. It was two years ago, when Gregor only killed animals.
Sandor felt like the cat right now, nauseous because he had eaten too much and too fast and unable to read Tywin Lannister's intentions. He didn't know either what to think about Fat Jeyne who was now smiling; was she trying to be nice with him or was she just stupid?