PROLOGUE

SANDOR

The days that he blamed himself were easiest. The days he got drunk on naught but his own guilt and misery, the days he choked on sobs for hours, inconsolable, all steeped in self-loathing, they passed in a sweet blur. I should have stayed, he would think, I could have kept her from that…that imp's twisted pleasure, I could have kept her safe, I could have, I should have…selfish dog.

Then there were days he blamed her for not coming with him. The days he mocked her memory, all filled back up with his once-customary anger and spite, and convinced himself that she was the mistress of her own damnation. Stupid Little Bird… he would think again, thinking you could be safe with them. You were never safe with them. You didn't know what you were losing, when you lost me. Piss on your courtesy, your ladies' armor…I was the only armor you ever had... You should have come…You should have come… And while those days stretched longer, his anger was heady enough to float them past.

It was the days that Reality set in on him that were the worst. He couldn't have stayed to protect her-his desertion from the Blackwater would have cost him his life. She wouldn't have gone with him to any sort of safety-the Little Bird was demure and dutiful, and would have kept on her perch even if the rest of her pretty little cage had fallen away into rubble. The gods had in their plan a cruel destiny set for her and there was nothing the Hound, or even Sandor, could have done to stop it. The Elder Brother tried to convince him to feel some sort of relief in the acceptance of what had happened, but in Sandor's experience, looking Reality in the face was sobering in the worst way possible.

On those days he wanted to be the Hound again, driven on by bitterness and hatred and self-preservation, all wrapped up in his armor, safe and heavy on his arms. It was better than wallowing in his regret (or worse, acceptance); he'd had more control when he used to be the Hound-he had been a fearsome, fearless warrior, and a great one too-but now that he was Sandor, he was a scared, scarred little boy again. He had burned

But he was Sandor, now; he had to remember his name.