AN: Yeah, probably like every other person in the world, I'm grieving. And I deal with it by writing, so yeah. Here's my homenage to my absolute favorite character in fiction besides Guts from Berserk. My heart bleeds. This can be taken as cannon, or the show, or whatever. It's just something that flowed, so there it is.
There was no sept, no tomb, no marker and no body.
As the cold winds blew and food became scarce, and the dragon slowly withered and fled to Essos in search for heat and flesh, the North came together and huddled under the warmth of a castle in reconstruction. Men, women, children, cripples and lames entered the Gate and breathed in relief and safety, an escape from the wolves and the frostbite. The castle that withstood Winter again and again, the castle where Winter broke, awaited its people as the odors of animal and shit and piss grew with every passing day.
Winterfell stood proud, a castle which had been there for thousands of years, and would stand for thousands more despite dragonfire, the onslaught of the Dead, the Night King, and Daenerys Targeryen. The last two, she recalled whilst walking towards it, she had personally executed. The Night King had simply vanished into a cloud of ice and ash, whereas the Queen had withered, spat out blood and had her face turn purple and blue before she had decided it was due time to slit her throat. She had earned it, in the end; the place on the very top of her list, the poison in her throat and the red of her eyes as she desperately croaked 'Drogon' over and over again.
Jon was gone, now.
Not even the Lord of Light seemed able to bring someone back from the Iron Throne, it would seem, and however much of a good man her brother… cousin…brother had been, he had always been an honorable fool. She had learned long ago, by the septs of Baelor, that honorable fools lost their lives without reason, many a time at the hands of deranged tyrants and their schemes. All the remaining hope she had left went to him, and to the thought that perhaps, in a few years, he would be at peace at long last. Jon slept, but never rested. He ate, and found no pleasure in food or drink. He ruled, permanently marked by the teachings of Eddard Stark, and so the King in the North had become King of Westeros, First of his Name and Protector of the Realm.
A bastard boy, her brother, was King.
She was not on her way to honor him, nonetheless, nor was she headed to the crypts to pay respect to her honorable father. She was not walking through the knee-high snows and forcing her way onwards to greet the soldiers, train or ride. She walked, snow and cold biting into her feet, past the Weirwood where Bran sat, past the pond, past the trees and moved onto the Wolfswood within the castle walls.
'I don't like crowds.'
The sept would be too crowded, a graveyard simply insulting, the crypts too finely decorated, too dark and too highborn. They had spent most of their time together in the wild, surrounded by trees and beasts, hunting, eating in silence by the fire, hating. Hating each other, themselves, their families, their fates, their meals; days had merged in together under the heavy strain of his grating voice.
'Hate is as good a thing as any to keep a person going. Better than most.'
Tree branches cracked and broke on her way, leaves frozen in the ground turned to fine dust and her breath came out in clouds, the crows screeched their discomfort from the tops, and not a squirrel nor rabbit dared a glance into the white world which surrounded her. It made no difference, it was better even. He had always hated noise as well. Braziers burned day and night in and out the castle walls, frozen wood was cut and thrown about into the hungry flames to ensure another day passed and no Northman froze in his sleep. He had always hated fire.
Just as she was about to kick the last remnant of snow out her way the small clearing came into view, and for once she found the company of one other person not so irksome. There was no body, no bones to honor, no cloth to carry his scent, no sword to carve his name into, no full plate armor to remember him by.
A snarling dog's helm, enclosed in the finest glass the Seven Kingdoms had to offer, was all that remained.
To her, it was enough.
'… I really do hope you have found happiness, now.' The gentle voice carried on through the wind, and even as the cold forced the other person's teeth to chatter, the melancholy rang as hard as the bells had in King's Landing. Sadness, longing, anger, hate and… something she was not to touch, ever, under any circumstance, because it belonged in their memory, not hers. 'The arrangements with the Northern houses have gone well enough, we finally have found a suitable family to overtake the Dreadfort,' a small pause, an intake of breath and a sigh that turned into a cloud, the a bit of laughter assaulted her keen hearing. 'I'm certain you would mock me for choosing them, but… their sigil is a dog, on a field of green. I thought it proper, since I fed Ramsay to his hounds.' Another pause, and she almost heard it; the small whisper in the wind. Aye, that be proper alright, little bird. Let the fuckers remember what happens when you touch their Queen. Another small giggle came her way, forcing a tiny smile on her own lips. 'I know you would have preferred it if we tear the castle down to the ground, but we are in great need of trustworthy league lords.' The woman paused herself, as though interrupted. 'I know, I know, no one can be trusted. But that doesn't mean we can't make them think we trust them.'
'You've changed, little bird.'
'Do you think I've changed for the better, or the worse?' The question rang on in the empty in the woods, there was no response from the wind, or the crows. No response from the snarling helm. 'Would you have liked me better a little bird, I wonder?' A hitch, a small sob and some heavy intakes of cold air constricted her chest, even when she shed not a tear herself. 'Would you have stood by my side, once it was all over?'
'At least I'd have one happy memory.'
'He would have killed all your enemies without a second thought,' she answered, knowing the cold breeze of the North would not answer that particular inquiry. Shocked Tully blue eyes turned to her in surprise, relaxing a few seconds afterwards while she noiselessly threaded on the snow. 'It would have been the great honor… the only honor of his life, to serve you.'
She thought of Jorah Mormont, strangely enough, but realized the man whose helm was so earnestly conserved would have never lied, or betrayed them for any reason whatsoever. The Queen in the North dried almost frozen tears, and offered her sister a saddened smile. 'He served us without us even asking of it.'
'He protected us, too.' Joining her sister, Arya of House Stark took a longing glance at the helm, and saw the burns on the side of his face.
'When have you ever fought for anyone but yourself?'
'I fought for you, didn't I?'
Sansa licked her lips, dried and parched as they were, gaze lingering on the altar they had erected. There were no words, no name carved into the stone which held it upwards, no candles to ignite, no marker and no grave. He had always hated knights, vows, prayer and empty praise. Hard, unyielding and transparent as the glass and stone which held the one belonging of his they had been able to find. Sansa had paid outrageous amounts of gold to retrieve it, and as Queen in the North such an act arose doubt and questions from her people at a time, but the Northmen understood better than any southerner that a man was not worthy for his position, name or birthright.
Sandor Clegane had been the protector of the Stark girls, Stark women. The first and truest sworn shield, and the most honest man either of them had ever met.
Remembering him brought about a turmoil of hatred, horrible memories and numbness in her chest. Robb, murdered and butchered, Grey Wind's head stuck grotesquely to his body. Her mother, murdered. The man and child they had robbed, dead most likely. The Brotherhood, with Beric, the Lightning Lord who had laid down his life, burning through his left arm; and Brienne of Tarth came to memory.
'Brienne of fucking Tarth.'
'Do you…' Sansa began, forlorn. As of late, her sister only ever displayed true emotion in the presence of Brienne, the helm, or her. 'Do you think that he…'
'He loved you,' she interrupted, drawing the eyes he had seemed so fond of to her frame. There was no envy there, no sense of misplaced anger or estranged longing. A man could love in many a different way, after all. A Hound and his Little Bird were not a Hound and a Wolf Pup, and there was nothing wrong with it. 'As much as he could ever love anyone. He loved you the most.'
'And you think you're on your own.'
'Then why did he leave?' The next phrase was uttered with the utmost spite, words bitten and clipped, full of rage and betrayal. 'Why did he not stay… with us? With… me? I could use his counsel, and his strength now.'
'You think you've wanted revenge a long time? I've been after it all my life.'
'If he had stayed,' Arya said at last, once the trees and the Northern Wind refused to answer. 'He would have never rested, not truly.' She wanted, so very badly she wished for it, to convince herself he had ushered her away so he could fight without respite or concern, and die to his leisure. It would be, however, a sickening dishonor to the man and an insult to his memory. 'He protected me, to the very end.'
She knew what Sansa thought and felt on some of the harsher days, when Ramsay's memory came to visit and there was none but her to listen as she bawled, trembled and raged. You took him from me, you stole him when I had him in my grasp. It's your fault he is dead. The Queen and Lady of Winterfell respected the man as well, though, and did not indulge in lies within her own brain.
'Father promised,' her sister intoned, and Arya saw how the young queen fought to keep the emotions at bay. 'He promised me a man who would be strong and kind and gentle.'
'You're very kind. It's going to get you killed.'
'He was not kind, nor was he gentle.' The hand on the back of her neck had been warm, so very warm, so alive and so concerned for her wellbeing. Jon used to do it, how had he known to hold her just so? 'But he would have been the only man to never, ever hurt you.'
Despite the sadness, she saw her elder sister smile and dry a new trail of wetness before it froze on her cheeks. 'I know. On some days, his memory keeps me strong,' the Queen explained, gloved fingers grazing the altar and cleaning the snow off the glass. 'On days like these, I truly do wish he would have taken me.'
'Then he wouldn't have taken me,' she added; a few steps taking forward and both were but mere feet away from the helm. 'Is it selfish of me to say I'm glad he took me, and not you?'
Sansa was quiet for a moment, hand glued to the glass and mind gone once more in that small place where only she and his memory were allowed, a place where Arya was not allowed to disturb, not wished to do so. 'No,' the elder Stark sister replied. 'I do not believe so. Every Hound need a Pup to watch over. Had he not taken you, we would have never seen each other again.'
She nodded absently, looking up, and for a second she saw him there, standing before her, a gnarled, calloused hand gently holding onto her nape, and eyes which had for so long been filled with hatred and rage, overwhelming her with the truest concern. He had worried for her life when she had been ready to forsake it, saved her soul and not thought once about his own.
'Do you want to be like me?'
'He did love you, though,' she said, recalling the way his voice had gone soft and queer as they rode towards the Trident. 'More than you know.'
'Ask her, if you ever see her again.'
Sansa of House Stark, First of her Name and Queen in the North, nodded, smiling, and her hand departed from the glass. 'I think I did, as well. I do.' Her hand was clutched by her sister's, and both Stark women shared a lasting glance, dark grey reflecting in Tully blue. 'Do you think it would have pleased him? Made him happy, perhaps? He once told me killing was the sweetest thing there is.'
And it was, many a time, as Arya had discovered herself. She would not retail such intimate details about her shared love with Sandor, however. 'I think to him, you were sweeter than anything else in this world, and more precious than anyone. I know it. He would have gladly given his life for mine, even when we hated one another. For you, he would have taken on the bloody dragon itself, I wager.'
They said their prayers, her sister to the Seven and she to the one God, nodded to one another and left their offerings. Sansa buried a yellow, finely crafted handkerchief under the snow, one with depictions of thee dogs on a yellow field on one side, and a red bird on the other. She placed some selected pieces of cooked chicken in the base, and produced a wineskin from her coat. Arya took a long swig of Dornish Sour Red, passed it to her sister who also drank heavily, despite her habit of barely drinking at all. It was winter, the chicken would be taken by crows, vultures on even wolves, but she did not care. She poured a generous amount of wine on the snow next to their small altar, and placed the wineskin on the foot of the structure
The snarling dog's helm was never to be touched, or interfered with in any way as ordered by the Queen herself. Any transgression would be dealt with immediately, and mercilessly, by Arya of House Stark. There was no marker, no name or inscription, no body underneath. There was no need for one.
Resting comfortably in its bed of stone, the snarling dog's helm held the memory of Sandor Clegane, and no man, woman or child in the North pretended to ever be worthy of wearing it.
'Do you know what wolves do to dogs?'
'Aye,' Arya said while overlooking the Wolfswood. 'They honor them.'