He’s never had the experience of digging a grave. Not once. He’s never dug anything before—at least, not with a shovel. He’d dug plenty with his hands when he was a child and he and Alinore would pretend to be pups burying bones. Father had yelled at them for dirtying their clothes but that had never stopped them.
The wood of the shovel’s handle in his hands is different from the leather grip of his sword. Softer, somehow, perhaps because the material is softer than what lay beneath the leather. Certainly more breakable. He could easily snap the thing in two. But he doesn’t. That would serve no purpose. And besides, the new blisters on his hands remind him.
It had been a repentance, at first. Repentance for the lives he’d taken, the lives he’d destroyed, the people he’d maimed, the butcher’s boys he’d flung over Stranger’s—Driftwood’s—back. Each time he dropped the shovel into the earth, each time it made that slicing sound of metal parting dirt, it was to remind him of the limbs he’d hacked, the bodies he’d torn asunder, the pain he’d inflicted. And each time he hears it, he feels it.
But the more he digs, the more his muscles change—warring muscles, hardened for fighting, to bear the weight of armor fading, softening, weakening while the ones in his shoulders change from the motion of the digging—the more he realizes there is no repentance, no matter what the brothers tell him. The gods will never forgive him, no matter how he works for it. The gods had never loved him—that much he’d learned when his face had been melting off.
But, even with no hope of forgiveness, he digs. He digs, and digs, and digs, every day, all day, under the sun, the wind, the rain, the fog off the sea, he digs, digs, digs the whole day through. Because what else could he do? What else should he do? What else is he worthy of doing?
He mentions it to Elder Brother one day while they eat their lunch. “Do you think you are not worthy of the gods love?” Elder Brother asks.
“The gods have never loved me. They never will.”
“Why do you think they have never loved you?”
He laughs. “What love have they ever shown me?” he demands, pointing at his face. Elder Brother knows the story by now. They all do. “What love has ever been shown me?” Gentle Mother, font of you don’t deserve the gift of mercy.
“And how would you recognize their love when you do not love yourself?” Elder brother asks him quietly.
He feels his eyes widen, feels his jaw go slack, feels the air cool in the back of his throat.
“What’s there to love?” he asks.
Elder Brother only smiles. “That is something you must answer for yourself, Brother Sandor.”