Sandor Clegane hesitantly shared the details of his childhood with his wife in stilted, short descriptions over the course of their two year marriage. For Sansa, it made a frightening picture of what it was to grow up Clegane, and it did not take long before she understood why her husband had been so bitterly angry in King's Landing.
Being burned at the hands of his brother was the culmination of a lifetime of suffering for Sandor; he had grown up a lonely, miserable, isolated boy whose only steady companion was the ever present fear of Gregor. Dilligently the young wife attempted to undo years of neglect with plenty of love, tender touches, and reassurances, hoping that her affections would be enough to heal him.
When Maester Tarly announced she was with child, Sansa's joy was quickly overshadowed by fear. What sort of father would Sandor be? He had been prone to drinking, violent tempers and harsh speech in King's Landing but time spent on the Quiet Isle seemed to have tempered the worst of these qualities. Sansa prayed to the Mother to help her husband curb any bad tendencies that may resurface under the stress of being an expectant father.
After she told Sandor of her pregnancy, his ensuing behavior seemed to reaffirm her worst fears. Initially he seemed pleased and yet also he became somewhat wary of her in their daily interactions. Before long Sandor rarely stayed near her during the day, the man instead engaging in lengthy sparring sessions the training yard. When his opponents tired, Sandor would hack away at the straw dummies, shouting and cursing at the top of his voice until the maesters and captains of the guard alike worriedly reported his behavior to her.
As time went on, apprehension painted a dark swath over Sansa, the expectant mother fearing that the unique stresses and demands of parenthood had brought the worst of Sandor's personality boiling to the surface once more. The worst of it, however, was to come. Sandor began making frequent trips to Wintertown, coming home after she went to bed with the smell of Dornish sour fouling his breath. After nine months of worry, Sansa had enough. Determined to clear the air before their child arrived, she found him at the far end of the stables, ferociously pounding nails into Stranger's new shoes.
"You ought not to stand out in this cold, little bird," she heard his familiar rasp from the shadows. Tearing his cloak from his shoulders, Sandor hurried toward her and wrapped her up tight in the heavy garment.
Giving him a small smile, her gaze fell to the dark circles rimming his eyes, giving his face a tired, worn appearance. Sansa took his large calloused hand into her own and held it to her cheek, his skin cold and chapped in the frosty air. "Will you not tell me what troubles you, husband?"
Scoffing, Sandor waved his hand away. "What would make you brave the bloody snows just to come out here and ask such a thing? Tell me truly."
"The fact that you do not come to bed into the wee hours of the morning, the Dornish sour I smell on your breath when you kiss me goodnight," Sansa gravely stared into his eyes, and watched his normally keen expression soften. "The pounding you routinely give the men in the training yard. Please, tell me. Whatever it is, I can bear it far better than watching you punish yourself in such a way."
Sandor glared at her but said nothing, the man merely growling under his breath as he turned away.
Fear clawed at her throat. "Are you unhappy with married life?" Sansa tearfully asked.
"Bloody hells!" Sandor cursed, kicking a nearby trough. "Think you have it all figured out, do you, girl?"
"No, I-oh!" A sharp pain sent Sansa to her knees.
Instantly Sandor was at her side. "Easy lass." Though heavy with child, he lifted her into his arms as though she weighed no more than a dry leaf. "What is it? Is it the pup?"
"Oh, yes, I believe so," Sansa gasped out. "I had pains all last night but Sam said they could be false labor…"
"The lot he knows, the buggering bastard!" Sandor muttered, the man fairly running back into the castle with her tucked in his arms.
Though Sandor grudgingly allowed Samwell and Elder brother attend Sansa, he refused to entrust anyone with the task of delivering the babe. When one of the septas dared protest, Sandor ferociously chased her and the rest of the servants out of the birthing room. Finally, in the early hours before dawn, Catya Clegane was brought forth into her anxious father's waiting arms. Glancing between father and daughter, Elder brother motioned for Sam to follow him, and the two men discreetly left the family alone.
From the moment he laid eyes on her, Sansa could see that Sandor was completely taken with Catya, and she with him. When she first looked into her father's face, the babe reached out her tiny hand and grabbed his nose, holding on for dear life.
Choked with emotion, Sandor drew her into his arms and began sobbing, clinging to her as though she were the most precious thing in the world to him, and indeed she was. Relieved to see her fierce husband thus with his daughter, Sansa kissed them both and then left him alone with his thoughts. She must have fallen asleep then; but a few hours later Catya's fussing roused her.
Nervously Sandor carried her into the bedroom. "What is wrong with her? Did I-did I hurt her somehow? She was sleeping and then suddenly let out a shriek fit to wake the dead." Still he held onto her tightly.
"No dearest," Sansa kissed his cheek and then patted him reassuringly. "Let me see her." The baby unfocusedly followed the sound of their voices, turning her head as each of her parents spoke. Hesitantly Sandor gave her to Sansa.
"She wants to break her fast, my love; nothing more." Wearily Sansa sat up and began unwrapping her sleeping gown, allowing it to slip from her shoulders.
Eagerly Sandor sat on the edge of the bed and took his daughter into his arms once more, the man seemingly stunned to see her suddenly bared to the waist. Sansa could not help but laugh at his expression. "Here, give the babe to me."
"Poor lass, your father cannot help you with mealtimes, not yet at least," Sandor muttered with a frown, reluctantly handing Catya over to Sansa.
"That is not true, Sandor," Sansa gently beckoned to him. "She needs us both equally in all things."
Puzzled, he leaned in closer. "Unlikely, that. Tell me what you mean. Speak plainly now."
"Come here, Sandor," Sansa moved over. "Sit behind me."
Sandor climbed into bed, positioned Sansa in his lap and rested with his back on the headboard. Snuggling down in front of him, Sansa leaned against his bare chest with a soft giggle, the coarse hairs tickling her back. "Yes, that's the way."
"What?" Sandor barked somewhat irritably. Catya's eyes grew huge and her lower lip quivered at the sound.
"Shh, you must learn to speak softly, love," Sansa whispered, resting her index finger on his lips. "That way Catya will always be comforted by the sound of your voice. Reach around me now and take her into your arms."
Sandor puzzled a moment and then glowered at her, and so Sansa explained, "You will hold her in your arms while I nurse her. Babies enjoy such, you'll see. I once peeked into Mother and Father's bedchamber and saw them feeding Rickon in such a manner."
Grinning, Sandor nodded, positioned his heavily muscled arms around Sansa's waist and held Catya to Sansa's breast. After guiding the babe to her nipple, Sansa rested her hands on his forearms, squeezing gently to reassure him once more. Cooing softly, Catya eagerly nursed, all the while the infant never took her eyes off of them.
Chuckling quietly, Sandor rested his chin on Sansa's shoulder and stared in wonder at the tiny infant. "My sweet Catya babe," he rasped, "What a beautiful little birdling you are, with your red curls and gray eyes." Tenderly he kissed Sansa on the neck and shoulders. "You could not have given me a more perfect daughter, lass."
With a contented smile, Sansa kissed him in return. "Catya is the living embodiment of our love, Sandor; that is why she is so beautiful."
She expected him to mock her sentimentality, but to her surprise Sandor only nodded. "Aye, that she is."
"All of our children will be such, husband."
A dark frown clouded his face. "Earlier you asked me what troubled me," Sandor began haltingly. "I feared that our children might inherit…that one day they may become like…and that I would not be able to protect them…"
Sansa reached up and caressed his stubbled cheek. "Cruelty is not inherited, Sandor; it is learned. I cannot speak to how your brother became the way he was but my time spent with the Lannisters taught me many things about why Joffrey turned out the way he did."
"And?" Sandor eyed her curiously. "What did you learn?"
"Well, King Robert had no affection for him, that was obvious to me from the start, and Joffrey suffered for it. I neither excuse nor condone his behavior, Sandor, but Joffrey was not born evil. He was spoiled to excess by his mother, deprived of the knowledge of his true parentage, and cruelly berated as a weakling by his father. Even Cersei herself said he was a sweet, jolly infant but as he grew, he cultivated cruel ways in an effort to gain Robert's acceptance. Once Joff became king, his newfound power and taste for cruelty transformed him into a monster."
Sandor rubbed his hand over his face. "Truer words never spoken. A smart little bird you are."
"You must not worry. Gods willing, you and I will give Catya and the rest of our children a peaceful, happy childhood. You have always had the makings of a wonderful father, Sandor, and our family cannot help but thrive as a result."
"You believe that?" He smirked. "After I scared you in King's Landing? Barked at you?"
"You were a sick man there, miserable and unhappy; you are no longer that person. That is why you're drinking and disappearing every evening worried me so."
Brushing the hair out of her eyes, Sandor stared at Sansa solemnly. "You need not fear either, wife. Do you want to know what I was doing in Wintertown?"
Sansa held her breath. "Yes."
"Elder brother told me of a skilled wood smith there. I went to see him and the man agreed to carve a cradle made from driftwood for our new babe."
Tears filled her eyes. "Truly? How wonderful, Sandor!"
"Aye, I've turned into a fool for true," Sandor shook his head, the burned side of his mouth curling into a smile. "I sent for it to be brought up here after you fell asleep."
Having finished her first meal, Catya nuzzled into her mother's breast contentedly, her eyes drowsily drifting closed while Sansa rhythmically caressed her head.
"Here, come and see," Sandor lifted the babe around her mother.
"Oh, Sandor, I cannot walk just yet."
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Take Catya, lass," Sandor ordered. Once his hands where freed, he then lifted his wife gently in his arms. Carrying her over to the cradle, Sandor settled her on his knee.
Gasping, Sansa fingered the intricate woodwork, polished smooth to a high shine. In the sideboard there was carved a scene featuring a direwolf and a dog running side by side ; above them a little bird flitted through weirwood trees. The inside was padded with down pillowing and lined with luxuriant orange fox fur blankets.
"It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen," Sansa whispered. Smiling, she kissed him tenderly and then laid Catya inside. "Look Sandor-she fits perfectly in it."
Grinning, Sandor nodded. "Aye she does. I'll reward the old man with another pouch of coin the next time I head into Wintertown."
Sansa's smile fell. "Will you go back to drinking wine in the taverns?"
"No, wife, bloody hells," Sandor frowned at her. "Each time I went to town, I would go see your sister in the tavern she frequents with Gendry."
"That sounds like her," Sansa shook her head. "What exactly does she do there?"
He shrugged. "Talks shit, throws darts and asks what news from the realm. Whenever the smallfolk saw me talking to her, one and all they eagerly drank to our health. I couldn't walk in the place without hearing: "The wolves are coming again! The North remembers! Blessed be the old gods! The old gods blessings be on you, Cleganes! Buggering smallfolk," Sandor cursed, trying to hide the well pleased expression lighting up his face as he spoke.
Relieved, Sansa let out a deep breath and smiled up at him. Staring into her eyes, Sandor's face grew serious. After taking her hand in his and kissing each of her fingers, he kissed her deeply on the mouth. "The Warrior himself couldn't take me from you now, wife, or our babe. You need never worry on that score. I swear it on every one of your fucking gods, old and new."