Ned wakes from a dream of an old battle to find his steward, Vayon Poole, standing over him. He has been unconscious for six days and seven nights, Poole tells him, since Maester Pycelle gave him "milk of the poppy" for the pain of his broken leg. Poole tells him that the king has asked to see him as soon as he wakes up. In the meantime, Jaime Lannister has returned to Casterly Rock and the news has spread further about Catelyn's abduction of Tyrion.
The king and the queen are there to see him, but Cersei's words are not designed to ease his discomfort: "A man in your place should count himself fortunate that his head is still on his shoulders." Robert snaps at her to be quiet, but he admits he's not happy about Catelyn's actions. He wants her to release Tyrion immediately and Ned to make peace with Jaime. Ned protests that three of his men "were butchered bfore my eyes, because Jaime Lannister wished to chasten me. Am I to forget that?" Cersei has it that "Lord Stark was returning drunk from a brothel. His men attacked Jaime and his guards, even as his wife attacked Tyrion on the kingsroad." Robert tells him that Littlefinger "admits you were returning from some whorehouse."
Ned retorts that he went there to see Robert's daughter. "Her mother has named her Barra. She looks like that first girl you fathered, when we were boys together in the Vale." Cersei's expression betrays nothing at this news, but she tells the king, "This man dishonors you with every breath he takes, and yet you stand there meekly, asking if his leg pains him and would he like some wine." Robert sends "a vicious backhand blow to the side of the head. She stumbled against the table and fell hard, yet Cersei Lannister did not cry out." She says of the bruise, "I shall wear this as a badge of honor." Robert calls for a guard and has her escorted back to her room.
When she is gone, Robert expresses his contempt for her, tells Ned that he is going hunting the next morning, and forbids him to resign as Hand, threatening to make Jaime Lannister Hand instead. Ned reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, plans are going forth for the trial by combat, and Catelyn reflects on the change in her sister: "The shy girl she had known at Riverrun had grown into a woman who was by turns proud, fearful, cruel, dreamy, reckless, timid, stubborn, vain, and above all, inconstant."
In the hall where the combat is to take place, Lysa is surrounded by her knights. "Most of them still hoped to wed her, bed her, and rule the Vale of Arryn by her side. From what Catelyn had seen during her stay at the Eyrie, it was a vain hope." She tries to dissuade Lysa from going through with the trial. "Alive, the Imp has value. Dead, he is only food for crows." And, she adds, suppose his champion should defeat hers.
Lysa's knights assure Catelyn that Ser Vardis will prevail. Catelyn has her doubts, however. She has seen Bronn fight. But Lysa will not be persuaded: "'Lord Robert wants to see him fly,' she said, as if that settled the matter." When Tyrion is brought forth, Lord Robert says, "The bad little man.... Mother, can I make him fly? I want to see him fly." Lysa promises him that he will.
The champions appear. "Ser Vardis Egen was steel from head to heel, encased in heavy plate armor over mail and padded surcoat.... Bronn was so lightly armored he looked almost naked beside the knight." But he is taller and has a longer reach, Catelyn observes, "and Bronn was fifteen years younger, if she was any judge."
There is some ceremony before the fight begins, which only makes Lord Robert more petulant. The combatants kneel, and afterward Ser Vardis is so encumbered by his armor that he has to be helped to his feet. He is given "a triangular shield almost four feet tall, heavy oak dotted with iron studs," but when Bronn is offered a similar shield he declines it. The sword Ser Vardis is handed was made for Jon Arryn, Lysa boasts. Catelyn observes that the knight "might have been more comfortable with his own sword," but she doesn't tell her sister that. Lord Robert keeps urging, "Make them fight," and when finally the time has come, he screams out the order, "Fight!"
Bronn's tactic is to wear the armored Ser Vardis out, enraging the crowd, which calls him a coward. Ser Rodrik, however, explains to Catelyn what Bronn is doing. She remembers the duel between Brandon Stark and Littlefinger, when the latter challenged him for her hand. It was a brutal mismatch that ended with Littlefinger being seriously wounded. Because her father forbade her seeing him, it was Lysa who nursed Littlefinger back to health. She did not see him again until her secret return to King's Landing. Littlefinger also nursed a grievance against her brother Edmure, who had been Brandon's second in the duel.
Her mind comes back to the duel at hand, and she notices that Ser Vardis is unable to lay a blow on Bronn, but Bronn has already put a dent in the knight's armor. The fight has taken them to the vicinity of a marble statue of a weeping woman meant to be Alyssa Arryn, a legendary ancestor whose tears for her dead husband and children are supposed to be the source of a waterfall near the castle. Bronn ducks behind the statue just as Vardis lunges, so the sword hits the statue instead. Lord Robert whines that they're "not fighting good," and Lysa assures him that they will: "The sellsword can't run all day."
Bronn lands more blows on the knight's armor and he hacks chips off of the shield. He ducks a blow from the knight's sword, and Vardis crashes into the statue. He is having trouble keeping the agile Bronn in his sights: the slit in his visor limits his vision. From behind, Bronn lands a blow on Vardis's sword arm, which begins to bleed. Vardis is moving slower and his breaths are audible. Lysa is oblivious to this, however, and orders him, "Finish him now, my baby is getting tired."
Vardis seems to respond to her command, and charges at Bronn, who almost loses his footing and has to grab the statue to regain his balance. Vardis drops his shield and uses both hands to raise his sword, but the blow misses Bronn and hits the statue, breaking the sword. Bronn shoves the statue and it topples onto the knight. Then Bronn moves in for the kill.
Lord Robert asks if it's over. "No, Catelyn wanted to tell him, it's only now beginning." But Lysa says, "Yes," and when the boy asks, "Can I make the little man fly now?" Tyrion speaks up. "'Not this little man,' he said. 'This little man is going down in the turnip hoist, thank you very much," meaning the basket that hoists provisions from below. Lord Robert is furious at his mother. "You promised I could make him fly." But Lysa remains true to her word and sets Tyrion free, giving them the horses and supplies they need as well, once they reach the high road.
Catelyn realizes what this means as "Lysa allowed herself a faint, satisfied smile. It was another sort of death sentence," exposing them to the same sort of attacks they had encountered on the way to the Vale of Arryn.
The promoted boys celebrate, but then "Jon noticed Samwell Tarly standing by himself beneath a bare dead tree in the corner of the yard." When he goes to offer Sam a drink from the wineskin being passed around, Sam declines. He says he is happy for Jon and the others, but when Jon is swept up again in the horseplay of the celebrating boys, Sam disappears.
At dinner they talk about what they hope their assignments will be. Most want to be rangers, but others want to be builders, tasked with maintenance of the Wall. They agree that Jon will be a ranger, since his uncle Benjen, whom Jon is still unwilling to believe is dead, was First Ranger. But Jon is upset because Sam is not at dinner. He has realized what is likely to happen to his friend: With him and the other boys who have protected him gone, Sam will be exposed to the sadism of the master-at-arms.
Jon goes back to his quarters to fetch Ghost, then saddles a horse and rides away from Castle Black on the road leading south. He lets Ghost run free and hunt while he reflects on the fact that the road leads to Winterfell and to the places beyond that he has never seen. "The world was down that road ... and he was here." He hasn't sworn his vow to the Night's Watch yet, so he could still just keep riding down the road to Winterfell and his brothers. But he corrects himself: They are his half-brothers, and Catelyn Stark will not be pleased to see him return. So he turns and goes back to Castle Black, followed by Ghost, whose muzzle is red with blood from whatever he has killed.
When he gets back to the castle, Jon goes and asks to see Maester Aemon. The two stewards, Clydas and Chett, tell him that the maester is asleep and can't be disturbed, but Jon gets his foot in the door and insists that it is important. So they let him in reluctantly and tell him to make a fire in the library. When Maester Aemon enters, Jon apologizes for waking him, but the maester tells him he wasn't asleep and is curious why he has "a midnight visitor." Jon tells him that he has come "To ask that Samwell Tarly be taken from training and accepted as a brother of the Night's Watch." Aemon says that training is under the purview of Ser Alliser Thorne, but Jon argues that the Lord Commander listens to the maester, "And the wounded and the sick of the Night's Watch are in your charge" -- and Sam will be both if he doesn't get the maester's help.
He explains that Sam is completely incompetent as a fighter, and "If Ser Alliser makes him fight, it's only a matter of time before he's hurt or killed." Chett argues that "The Wall is no place for the weak," and the maester should just leave it in the hands of the master-at-arms who will "make a man of him or kill him, as the gods will." Jon says, "That's stupid." And he tells how Maester Luwin once explained that the chain a maester wears around his neck is made up of a variety of metals, each of which symbolizes a different kind of learning. "A chain needs all sorts of metals, and a land needs all sorts of people.... The Night's Watch needs all sorts too. Why else have rangers and stewards and builders?" No one can make Same into a warrior, so why not make him a steward?
Chett protests that the work of stewards is hard, that they have to hunt and farm, cook and make clothing and fetch supplies from the south. Aemon asks if Sam is a hunter or a farmer or a butcher, and Jon is forced to answer no. But he argues, "He can do sums, and he knows how to read and write. I know Chett can't read, and Clydas has weak eyes. Same read every book in his father's library." He's good with animals, too. "The Night's Watch needs every man. Why kill one, to no end?"
The maester says, "Your mind is as deft as your blade, it would seem." And he tells Jon he'll think about it.
Tyrion and Bronn have reached the high road and are preparing to camp for the night. But when Tyrion starts gathering firewood, Bronn is astonished: "A fire will bring the clansmen down on us from miles around. I mean to survive this journey, Lannister." He argues that they should ride fast by night and hide during the day. But Tyrion observes, "Riding hard and fast by night is a sure way to tumble down a mountain and crack your skull." And as their journey to the Vale demonstrated, the horses tend to die if ridden that way. Besides, "I think the clans will find us no matter what we do."
Bronn threatens to take Tyrion's horse and go on without him, taking his chances by having an extra mount. "Make no mistake, dwarf. I fought for you, but I do not love you." To which Tyrion replies, "It was your blade I needed, ... not your love." He had taken a chance that Bronn would come to his aid because he knew the mercenary does things for gold. He took Catelyn's side in the abduction because he figured he'd get paid. So when the challenge came for the trial by combat, "I was counting on your being smart enough to know where your best interest lay. Happily for me, you did." Then he adds, "What do you want, Bronn? Gold? Land? Women? Keep me alive, and you'll have it." And if he dies, Tyrion says, "I'll have one mourner whose grief is sincere.... The gold ends when I do."
Bronn goes in search of food and comes back with a goat, which they roast and eat. Bronn asks where they'll go if they survive the journey, and Tyrion says either to Casterly Rock or to King's Landing. "I have some questions that want answering concerning a certain dagger." After dinner, Tyrion observes, "Our friends are taking their sweet time," and Bronn suggests that they're being so open about their presence in the territory of the hill people that maybe they think it's a trap. Tyrion begins to whistle a tune, "The Seasons of My Love." He tells Bronn, "The first girl I ever bedded used to sing it, and I've never been able to put it out of my head."
When he was thirteen, he was out with Jaime one night and rescued a girl being attacked by two men. As Jaime pursued them, he watched over the girl who said she was the daughter of a crofter who had died. He took her to an inn where Tyrion lost his virginity. They located "a drunken septon" who married them, and he set the girl up in a cottage, where they were man and wife for a fortnight. Then the septon sobered up and told Tyrion's father, who made Jaime tell him the truth: "The girl was a whore, you see. Jaime arranged the whole affair, the road, the outlaws, all of it. He thought it was time I had a woman." So Lord Tywin made Tyrion watch as his guards had sex with the girl, each of them paying her in silver. Then Tywin made Tyrion go last. "And he gave me a gold coin to pay her because I was a Lannister, and worth more."
Bronn says, "I would have killed the man who did that to me." Tyrion says, "You may get that chance one day. Remember what I told you. A Lannister always pays his debts." Then he says he'll try to get some sleep. "Wake me if we're about to die."
And Bronn does, waking Tyrion from a dream in which he is the jailer and his father is the prisoner in a sky cell. Shadowy figures are creeping up on them, and Tyrion invites them to share their fire and some of their goat. A voice replies that it's their mountain and their goat. A man who calls himself Gunthor son of Gurn of the Stone Crows steps into the light, followed by Shagga son of Dolf, and others who call out their names. "I am Tyrion son of Tywin of the Clan Lannister, the Lions of the Rock," Tyrion replies, and offers to pay them for the goat. Gunthor replies that since they have them surrounded, everything Tyrion and Bronn have is already theirs, "You have nothing to give us but your lives. How would you like to die, Tyrion son of Tywin?"
"In my own bed, with a belly full of wine, and a maiden's mouth around my cock, at the age of eighty," he replied.They laugh, and Gunthor orders his men to kill Bron and take Tyrion so "He can milk the goats and make the mothers laugh." Bronn leaps to his feet, but Tyrion restrains him, telling Gunthor, "If the Stone Crows will see us safely through these mountains, my lord father will shower you with gold." And he stands his ground when they threaten him, after he says of their weapons, "My father's smiths shit better steel." Gunthor stills the others: "What would you give us for your lives, Tyrion son of Tywin? Swords? Lances? Mail?"
Tyrion replies that he'll give them more than that: "I will give you the Vale of Arryn."