Isle of sinners
By the black hairy balls of Stanger himself, why did the ground have to be so bloody stony? It didn’t matter how hard he trust the shovel into the dirt, the stupid hole just didn’t seem to get any deeper. And why should he have to bury gnats he hadn’t known or cared about?
Leave them for the crows to peck at or let them float out to sea for all he cared. He was sure the stinking corpses were beyond caring anyway. The Elder Brother cared however, so there wasn’t really much he could do about it. At least not for a while. Not as long as he wanted to stay. Which meant not until his leg had had a chance to get itself working properly again.
He saw them out on the path of faith long before they actually reached the isle. Six men clad like nobility, riding horses of fine breeding. As they walked their horses closer to the main building Sandor could see that one rider was in fact not a man, but a girl in riding dress sitting astride her palfrey like a boy, not with her legs to one side as was common for a lady of high nobility.
Standing out in the middle of a field and of to one side of the road it was hard to make out the men’s features with any precision, but the courts sneaky carrion bird with the pointy beard was not one you easily mistook. Only question was what the hell littlefinger was doing seeking accommodation in the little pisshole that was this holy island. Latest news Sandor had had about him was that he had gotten himself the whole sky castle to play with. Littlefinger was welcome to rot in that place, Sandor thought, or better still, he could take a skydive like that cow of a wife he’d had. Now, that would have been some happy news. Instead the little rat had come here. The whole thing was very annoying.
He worked the rocky field until late afternoon. In a whole day he had completed only two deep enough graves. Not nearly as many as there were corpses to fill them. He rinsed the worst dirt of his back in the bay and shook out his robe before heading back to the Sept where afternoon prayers waited. A full hour of tedium.
After that he had hoped to calm his belly that was raging with hunger, but instead one of the brothers instructed him on additional chores. The brothers. Sandor still didn’t think of them as his brothers. Robed in brown or not, he was a warrior. Elder brother had been a warrior to, albeit unwilling. He had tired of the killing and of the guilt constantly nagging him. But he had come to terms with his blood drenched past and moved on and the guilt had stopped nagging him. Sandor hadn’t even reached the feeling guilty part yet. He had liked the killing. And why not? It wasn’t like he’d ever killed anyone uncalled for. It had been on orders, in self defense or because some bastard deserved it. Not like Gregor. Not even close.
The other novices had already started setting up dinner for the guests when he arrived at the hermit’s hole. The floor had been swept clean of the day’s dirt, the heart was burning eagerly and the embers were sending up tiny sparks. The table had been set with wooden plates and a basket of bread, fresh from the oven, stood in a braided basket at the tables end. There was nothing left for a Hound to do but grab a pitcher of the isle’s native all-too-sweet cider and stand in a corner until the guests came and wanted their cups filled. He didn’t have to wait long. Elder brother and proctor Narus soon lead the little party of nobility into the sanctum talking in low gentle voices. The girl was out of her riding dress and had instead donned a simple but nice green dress embroidered with patterns of vines. Her hair was a plain brown spilling past her shoulders down to her waist in lazy curls. She had nice curves and enticing hips. She followed littlefinger and the proctors’ conversation very dutifully before moving on to a seat that one of the other guests held out for her. When she sat down Sandor could finally catch a glimpse of her face. Bloody bastard!! He had to choke down shock. Auburn hair, brown hair, bald… it didn’t matter. The pretty little bird Sansa Stark he would never fail to recognize. He dreamed of her sometimes. A tiny hand on his shoulder. The earnest way she had said that Gregor “wasn’t a true knight”. Those were the nice memories. He could remember just as clearly the way she had squirmed in his grip and closed her eyes when he stole a kiss from her. It had hurt. Still did. But he had no right to feel hurt. He knew what he was. A monster. And he looked the part to. No woman had ever gazed upon him with anything but disgust, and he had not cared. He had been a great monster. Kingdom’s best probably and sort of morbidly enjoyed it. So why did he care what Sansa thought of him?
Suddenly he was glad for the oversized hood that came with the robe, and backed a step further into the shadows ringing the room. He was careful to serve the cider quickly and keep his head bowed and eyes down at the table. Still, he imagined Sansa watching him. Back in his corner he caught her looking straight at him, lurking there in the shadows. There was nothing of recognition in her face and she was soon engaged in polite talk with the badger bearded man sitting next to her. Although he knew he was being a fool, that made him feel like a kicked puppy. After dinner service he slunk away with his tail between his legs, to wounded to stay for his own supper. Hurt and shamed. Shamed for harboring such moronic feelings. He was death and steel and vengeance. Not the knight of flowers. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Sandor felt even more stupid when he woke to a hungry belly that seemed to want to punish him for his foolishness- skipping supper – with a vengeance. Eating a bland breakfast of old bread dipped in egg and fried, along with a meager serving of salted pork made him feel slightly better. Then it was back to the bloody field, the rotting corpses and the endless stink of them and the whole business. By noon he was desperate for a flagon of wine, or even some of that sugary cider. But the elder brother had put a restriction on his intake of “intoxicating drink” the saintly swine, and Sandor had drunk his entire weeks share on the first day of the week. As always. And as always it had seemed a good idea at the time, but not at the end of the week. Maybe it wasn’t better to have a real good stupor once a week. Maybe it was better to try and stretch the ration into a light drunkenness for the whole week. Brooding on the topic he went down to the bay to look for any more of the rivers swollen gifts to pull out and dig more graves for. There were no stinkers on the south shore of the bay. Only a couple of brothers doing laundry in a rocky section of the beach were the sheets and robes wouldn’t get all muddy. If they hadn’t all taken vows of silence already, they would have quieted when he moved past them. He could see it on their faces. All that about past sins being atoned for and that the isle gave no judgment… what a load of horseshit! Bah!
As he walked the length of the south beach he found nothing more than little red crabs and elongated clams that he knew was god for eating- if you liked your food to have a twang of mud in it. Really, he should be getting back to the dig. Instead he found himself crossing the shallows that lead to the women’s island. He had been there only once, doing servant’s work to keep the little huts from growing cobwebs. There was no reason to go there more often. But there was reason now. The place wasn’t empty anymore. The pretty wolf pup had slept there last night, and although he had seen littlefinger and a couple of his companions take the ferry to saltpans he was sure she hadn’t left. Sandor wondered if there ever was a besotted monster sneaking around maiden’s towers in any of Sansa’s fairytales… or in some laughable comedy… What the hell was he doing?!
He had just started back down the densely vegetated slope when he heard her singing. Something sweet and sad about the most beautiful flower in Winterfell. Not something he had ever heard before, but oh could the little bird sing. Perhaps she wasn’t a trained parrot repeating everything she heard after all. Perhaps she was more like a nightingale. Following the singing toward the water he soon made a new revelation. The nightingale was naked, standing in the river with the water coming up to her waist. Sansa was stunningly beautiful, but she sure wasn’t the brightest girl he had ever met. He felt his lip twitch. With a frown on his face he went down to the tiny beach she had found and sat himself down on a piece of driftwood. She didn’t even notice, so concentrated was she on her singing and her washing.
‘You know, it’s pretty distressing for a brother, sworn to celibacy, to come across a woman displaying all her bodily assets like some little bitch in heat’
Sansa yelped and ducked down into the water to hide herself. ‘You’re not supposed to be here!’ she screamed at him, hiding all but her head in the water. ‘This island is for women! You must go. Go now! Or I’ll tell Lord Petyr, and he’ll have you strung up when he gets back!’
Sandor couldn’t help but laugh. Sansa looked ridiculous making dire threats with her head bobbing in the water, and littlefinger… Well, Sandor just didn’t find him very threatening…
‘Oh, really, I’m shaking with fear, little birdie. You think a big guy like me couldn’t just snap the neck of fine lord Petyr like a twig if I wanted to?’ Sandor said with a voice like a dog choking on a growl. He hadn’t said a word in mother knows how long, and his throat felt thick and slow.
She didn’t reply at once, just stared at him incredulously with a face so blank of emotion it must have hidden an ocean of battling feelings. When she finally spoke it was in a soft kind voice, full of control. ‘I thought the brothers and the novices of this island all had to take a vow of silence, as a part of repenting for their past sins’. It was an accusation and a question all in one.
‘Perhaps all brothers don’t take pretty oaths all that serious. And maybe they didn’t come here to repent for their sins either. You know, there are a lot of sinners on this holy little bit of mud. Robbers and thieves, liars… and most likely a bunch of rapists as well. What would you imagine they’d do if they found a pretty mermaid, all alone and helpless in the river?’
Sansa didn’t look so somber and controlled any more. Instead her gaze flitted nervously between him sitting there in the middle of the beach and the heap of clothes laying not ten yards away from him. ‘Life’s not as pretty as those bards and storytellers will make it out to be with princes with flowers in their hair, you know’ he told her sadly. ‘Better you learn that sooner rather than later, and cultivate a bit of caution in the future’. He had been distressing her long enough, he felt, and the hardness in his loin was getting discomforting. He didn’t hurry to get back to his chores. Instead he stopped in a small clearing and remembered Sansa Stark standing waist high in the water, singing a pretty song.
The brothers didn’t ask where he had been when he finally got back to the septry, nor did he tell anyone. The vow of silence had some small pros. That evening littlefinger’s pack was having supper in the hole while Sandor was repenting his day’s sinful abandonment of the fucking grave digging with silent prayers kneeling in front of a painted wooden statue of the mother. The punishment was a mild one and not so bad he guessed, but sitting there like a retard, silently staring at the paint flaking on mother’s skirt was so stupid it made Sandor angry. When proctor Triman finally released him from prayers he was too agitated to sleep. Instead he decided to forage the wine cellar. It was locked good and proper. The night was cool and crisp and the stars were out, and so he thought to walk of his restlessness instead. Soon enough he was crossing the gangplank to the women’s isle. The plan was not to actually go and see Sansa. He was sure she didn’t want no bloody hound scratching at her door at night. Especially not since the river. Didn’t matter if she had figured out who was hiding in his itchy brown robe or not. She hadn’t looked adoringly at the Hound at kings landing, and would not be impressed by some lowlife limping novice either. He was just going to take a look at the hut she was sleeping in. Maybe remember a little to. Remember singing. No, screaming. Wait, the screams was now?!! Seven fiery hells, it was the bird’s screams. Shrill and full of terror and helplessness in the night. Sandor was charging up the path so fast he couldn’t see where he was going, too fast for his injured leg but to slow for Sansa. The women’s huts were cylinders of stone, windowless with only one door. The door to the closest one stood ajar and lights and shadows were flittering inside. Hobbling to the rescue he could hear shuffling, thumps and furniture moving inside. No screams. He feared he was too late. As he banged the door open he could se Sansa pushed face down into the bed by one of his fellow brothers. The man had ripped open her nightgown and was busy fishing inside his own robes for his cock. That woke the Hound’s cold rage, alive and strong like never before.
‘Oh, no you don’t’ said Sandor as he sprung awkwardly at proctor Narus. Even with a lame leg it wasn’t a fair fight. The hound was big and strong, knew a hundred ways to kill a man and had no qualms about it. Proctor Narus was stocky and soft and had only preyed on the weaker sex before. His skull broke easily when Sandor hit it hard against the stone wall. The holy brother slumped to the floor with a thud and was nothing more than a corpse that needed burying. Sansa didn’t scream once the whole time.
‘Is he dead?’ she asked shakily, sitting half hidden on the opposite side of the bed. ‘Is he dead? He looks dead. You killed him, didn’t you?’
She was staring at the corpse and asking questions she knew the answers to. She was looking very innocent. Sandor moved to pick up the corpse and drag it outside and now she was staring at him instead. She was very quiet and her eyes were big as saucers.
‘It IS you!’ she announced suddenly. ‘I thought it was, but since you’re dead it couldn’t be, the hood hid your face and the hound wouldn’t serve drinks, but then you called me “bird” and it was all so strange’ She looked at him with tears in her eyes. Poor girl must be in shock from the attack.
‘I thought I made things up because I wanted it to be you’. She wasn’t making any sense and started sobbing uncontrollably. She was making him a bit nervous. He wasn’t good at giving comfort, and would have told her simply to get over it if she had looked any less helpless.
‘Once swore an oath that I’d never know no rest before I had looped off Gregors big ugly head and fed it to the flames. But someone else looped it off, so now I can’t. Maybe I’m stuck here like a ghost’
He had meant that to be comforting but when he voiced it, it sounded more like mockery. What a romantic figure he was. ‘Or maybe you just heard of my death from some liars. There’s a lot of liars around’. Sansa was still shaking and sobbing. Her long hair was a mess from the struggle and her cheek was getting red and swollen. It reminded him of the torment Joff had put her trough when Wolf king Rob had beaten Joff’s cousin in battle. He should have stood up for her then. But he hadn’t. Coward. It was a shameful memory.
‘Are you alright, Sansa?’ he asked, ’you look a complete mess’. He could see that she fought to get herself under control. Back into the proper little lady she usually fronted with.
Little bird stopped most of her sobbing and tried to wipe away her tears with a piece of her torn gown. ‘I’m better now, thank you.’ She contemplated her dress and probed a tear with her tiny fingers. ‘It’s all ruined. I will have to throw this away.’
So much gratitude for her savior. It would have been different if Sandor had been fair and golden like the kingslayer. Stupid girl!
‘Good’ he said gruffly and stepped out the door. Served her right to stay in there alone with the dead guy if she couldn’t be a bit more friendly. He felt more welcomed by the rows of dead that was kept in the barn waiting for his graves. Angry, he started limping back towards his own sleeping quarters. There was soft hurried steps behind him and he swung around violently causing a lightning of pain down through his leg. She was on him in a second. Clinging tight to his chest- she didn’t reach any higher. ‘Please stay, Sandor. I don’t want to be alone right now’. She was probably hugging him as hard as she could, yet he hardly felt it. Someone so weak and fragile surely needed protecting. He felt his anger subside and put his arm protectively around her. ‘You should come with me to the Sept then, Littlefinger and the Elder Brother will put you in order again’.
‘No’ she said, her face still snug against him. ‘I don’t want to go there right now. They’re just going to ask a lot of questions and get all hysterical. And they don’t make me feel a least bit safe.’ He could feel each breath she took warming his chest. It was giving him a hard on.
‘So you rather have this ugly dog guarding your door will you? Are you sure it’s appropriate for a little lady to associate with the fairytale’s monsters?’ He growled, irritated with the whole idea. Sansa broke apart a bit from their embrace and actually looked at him. Really looked.
‘Septa Mordane told me all men are beautiful, as long as you look hard’. That was funny and Sandor laughed at it. ‘Bet she never took a good look on my face then or she would have taken that back!’ Sansa didn’t laugh at all.
‘No, she wouldn’t. You’re face is badly scarred Sandor, but you don’t look like a monster. Beside’s I’ve seen a lot worse. I was married to the Imp you know. Compared to him you’re beautiful. I was a silly little girl with my head in the clouds when I came to King’s landing and thought knights were all the good guys and that life should be all about nice dresses and lemon cakes. I’m not so silly anymore.’
Sandor still thought Sansa was a silly girl, but maybe she wasn’t quite as silly as she had been. Right now she didn’t look silly at all, despite ruffled hair and her dress in tatters. She looked very much like a women that expected to be taken seriously. He was lost for words. Instead he frowned at her which mad her smile sadly at him.
‘You don’t believe that I could like you, do you? But I do. You are very strong and powerful and always kept me safe. You were the only man at Kings landing that helped me with Joff. And you’re no liar.’ She reached up and put a hand on his burned cheek. ‘I know you’re no knight, and you’re not in shining armor neither, but you’re the closest to the hero in my story that I know.’ Sandor wanted so badly to believe her. He had been an ugly kicked dog for so long, being a hero might be a nice change. He embraced her so closely she was lifted off her feet.
‘You better not be toying with me, girl, or I’ll get really pissed with you’ he warned her severely before he pressed his lips hard against hers. She didn’t struggle this time. Instead she parted her lips slightly and kissed him back.
/ Karin Ström