A big red comet in the sky is freaking everyone out. Even Maester Cressen, who is Stannis Baratheon's maester on Dragonstone. Cressen knows it's a perfectly common astronomical phenomenon, but he can't help feeling uneasy because everyone seems to think it's an omen of some sort. And now a message from the Citadel has been delivered by a white raven announcing the end of summer.
As he's worrying about these things, Pylos, a young man who will replace the octogenarian Cressen as maester some day, enters to announce that Lady Shireen, Stannis's daughter, has come to see the white raven. She is accompanied by her fool, Patchface, who has on "a mock helm fashioned from an old tin bucket, with a rack of deer antlers strapped to the crown and hung with cowbells." Shireen, who is ten, is a homely girl disfigured by a skin disorder called "greyscale," that has left patches of mottled dead skin on one cheek and down her neck.
Shireen is troubled by the comet because she has heard that it is "dragonsbreath. If the dragons are breathing, doesn't that mean they are coming to life?" He assures her that the comet is just "A star with a tail, lost in the heavens," and that it will be gone soon. But when she asks about the white raven, he tells her that it is indeed a sign that summer is ending -- "Ten years, two turns, and sixteen days it lasted, the longest summer in living memory." They should hope for a good autumn harvest so they can stock up for the winter.
Pylos enters with the bird, "white as snow and larger than any hawk, with the bright black eyes that meant it was no mere albino, but a truebred white raven of the Citadel." Patchface begins to sing a song, "The shadows come to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord.... The shadows come to stay, my lord, stay my lord, stay my lord." Shireen asks Cressen to make the fool stop singing the song, which he does all the time. "It makes me scared." But Cressen is unable to do that.
He reflects on Patchface's arrival on Dragonstone. He had survived a shipwreck that had drowned Lord Steffon Baratheon and his wife, the parents of Robert, Stannis, and Renly Baratheon. Steffon had written to say that they had found a wonderfully amusing fool that they were bringing with them, but when Patchface washed ashore two days after the shipwreck he "was someone else, broken in body and mind, hardly capable of speech, much less of wit." He was identifiable as the fool Steffon had written about only because of the tattoo that covered his face, "patterned in squares of red and green motley."
Pylos returns now to tell Cressen that Ser Davos has arrived and is meeting with Stannis -- "the king," Pylos calls him, because Stannis has laid claim to the throne once held by his brother Robert. Cressen is surprised that no one has told him, so he excuses himself and makes his way to the meeting. As he makes his way up the many steps, he stops to catch his breath and meets Ser Davos Seaworth on his way down. "Before Lord Stannis had knighted him, he had been the most notorious and elusive smuggler in all the seven kingdoms. He is known as "Shorthand" and "the Onion Knight." Davos was knighted for his part in breaking the siege of Storm's End, the castle that Stannis had defended for almost a year. The smuggler had arrived with a cargo of onions and salt fish, which kept the inhabitants of the castle alive until Eddard Stark and his army could end the siege. But though Davos was knighted, Stannis also punished him for his career as a smuggler by lopping off the final joints of every finger except the thumb on Davos's left hand. Davos "took for his banner a black ship on a pale grey field -- with an onion on its sails.
Davos has been on a mission to raise support for Stannis's claim to the throne, but he hasn't succeeded. He also brings news of those who have joined in support of Renly Baratheon's rival claim to the throne. Renly has created his own Kingsguard, who traditionally wear white; but Renly has had his seven men each take a different color and calls it "the Rainbow Guard." Cressen reflects that "It was just the sort of notion that would appeal to Renly Baratheon," who "Even as a boy ... had loved bright colors and rich fabrics."
Davos tells Cressen that he has advised Stannis not to march on King's Landing with the meager force he has assembled, but adds, "My fingers will grow back before that man bends to sense." Cressen agrees, and ascends the stairs to second Davos's advice. Stannis, however, is in no mood to hear Cressen's advice. He is brooding over the injustices done to him by his brother Robert, because he made Stannis Lord of Dragonstone and gave their younger brother, Renly, Storm's End, which "belonged to House Baratheon for three hundred years; by rights it should have passed to me when Robert took the Iron Throne." Cressen suggests that Robert wanted someone older and wiser than Renly to rule Dragonstone, which had been the seat of the Targaryens whom Robert dethroned. This doesn't mollify Stannis one bit.
Cressen suggests that rather than turning his anger against Renly, he should try to make an alliance with him against the Lannisters, who are the real power behind the throne now held by Joffrey, Robert Baratheon's son. Stannis stubbornly refuses to have any dealings with Renly as long as his brother calls himself a king. So Cressen tries another tack: an alliance with Robb Stark, who has "all the power of Winterfell and Riverrun behind him." But Stannis dismisses Robb as "A green boy ... and another false king." Nor is he persuaded by the idea of helping Robb avenge his father's murder. He is filled with spite because Robert preferred Eddard Stark over him when he named a successor to Jon Arryn as Hand. Cressen tries again: What about an alliance with Lady Arryn by betrothing Shireen to her son? Even though Jon Arryn's heir "is weak and sickly," Stannis finally thinks this might be worth a try.
Unfortunately, Lady Selyse, Stannis's wife, who enters at the moment, doesn't think much of the idea. All of these people -- Lady Arryn, Renly, the Starks -- owe Stannis allegiance, she argues. "It would not be fitting to plead and bargain with them for what is rightfully yours by the grace of god." Cressen observes that she said "god," not "gods." For Lady Selyse belongs to a new monotheistic religion.
There is no love between Stannis and Selyse: "he did his duty in the marriage bed once or twice a year, but took no joy in it, and the sons he had once hoped for had never come." But she promises the support of her family, House Florent. Stannis is dubious about this. And then she proclaims that her god, "the Lord of Light," will bless his cause, and points to the comet as a sign, "blazoned on the sky. Red it is, the red of flame, red for the fiery heart of the true god." She assures him that if Renly were out of the way, he would have the support of the troops of Storm's End. Cressen is alarmed at what she is proposing: "Fratricide ... my lord, this is evil, unthinkable ... please, listen to me." But she tells Stannis, "Melisandre has gazed into the flame and seen [Renly] dead."
Stunned, Cressen returns to his chambers and reflects on the power of this Melisandre, "The red woman, the servants had named her, afraid to speak her name." She was "sorceress, shadowbinder, and priestess to R'hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow." He renews his determination that her "madness must not be allowed to spread beyond Dragonstone." So he finds his supply of a poison, "made from a certain plant that grew only on the islands of the Jade Sea, half a world away." It causes the muscles of the throat to constrict, choking the victim to death. That night, Melisandre would be feasting with Stannis and his followers.
So Cressen goes to the feast, which is anything but festive: "there was no loud laughter, no raucous shouting such as marred the dignity of other men's feastrs; Lord Stannis did not permit such." But as Cressen enters, Patchface collides with him, knocking him to the floor. Someone helps Cressen stand, and he is surprised to find that it is Melisandre.
As ever, she wore red head to heel, a long loose gown of flowing silk as bright as fire, with dagged sleeves and deep slashes in the bodice that showed glimpses of a darker bloodred fabric beneath. Around her throat was a red gold choker tighter than any maester's chain, ornamented with a single great ruby. Her hair was not the orange or strawberry color of common red-haired men but a deep burnished copper that shone in the light of the torches. Even her eyes were red ... but her skin was smooth and white, unblemished, pale as cream.... Many called her beautiful. She was not beautiful. She was red, and terrible, and red.She picks up Patchface's helmet from where it has fallen and puts it on his head. People laugh at him, but he summons his dignity and gives the bucket back to Patchface. Then he discovers that Pylos has taken his usual place at the table. Pylos blushes and tells him that Stannis had sent for him instead, saying that Cressen needed to rest. Stannis speaks up and tells him that Pylos will be his counselor from now on: "You are too ill and too confused to be of use to me, old man."
Ser Davos rises and offers Cressen a place beside him at the table, and Stannis agrees, then turns his attention to Melisandre, sitting by him. Cressen realizes that she is too far away for him to slip the poison into her drink. Davos tells Cressen, "The red woman has seen victory in her flames, so Stannis means to press his claim. Before she's done we're all like to see what Patchface saw, I fear -- the bottom of the sea." Cressen is determined to get Stannis's attention, so he calls out, "Lord Stannis." But Lady Selyse corrects him: "King Stannis. You forget yourself, Maester." But Stannis asks what he wants. Cressen again urges him to make an alliance with Robb Stark and Lady Arryn, but Stannis cuts him off. Lady Selyse says that Stannis has an ally: "R'hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow."
"'Gods make uncertain allies at best,' the old man insisted, 'and that one has no power here.'" Melisandre and Selyse react sharply to this blasphemy: "If you will speak such folly, Maester, you ought to wear your crown again," Melisandre says, and Selyse commands him to put on Patchface's helmet again. Stannis commands Patchface to hand it over. "The maester sat silent while the fool put the antlered bucket on his brow." Then he sees Davos's half-full cup of wine and slips a bit of the poison in it. He proposes that Melisandre share the cup with him, and she accepts.
Melisandre takes the cup and drinks from it until there was only "half a swallow" remaining in it. Cressen finishes the wine, and Melisandre says, "He does have power here, my lord.... And fire cleanses." Cressen begins to choke. "As he sank to his knees, still he shook his head, denying her, denying her power, denying her magic, denying her god."
Yoren has cut Arya's hair until "her scalp was nothing but tufts and stubble." He tells her that from now until they get to Winterfell, her name is Arry and she's a boy. He warns her that she'll be traveling with "bad company" -- thirty boys and men bound for the Wall. "Lord Eddard gave me pick o' the dungeons, and I didn't find no little lordlings down there." He advises her to pee in the woods. "That'll be the hardest part, the pissing, so don't drink no more'n you need."
The disguise helps her get out of the city. The guards at the gate "were looking for a highborn girl, daughter of the King's Hand, not for a skinny boy with his hair chopped off." But from Arya's point of view, the hardest part was not the pissing but the threats she gets from Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie, orphaned street boys that Yoren has recruited with promises of food. The others came from the dungeons, and the worst are three that Yoren keeps in shackles. She is the smallest and skinniest of the lot, so Lommy and Hot Pie decide to bully her, and when they see Needle they are determined to take it away from her.
Arya has a defender in a boy with "shaggy black hair" whom Lommy calls "the Bull, on account of this horned helm he had that he polished all the time but never wore. Lommy didn't dare mock the Bull. He was older, and big for his age, with a broad chest and strong-looking arms." But Arya has her wooden practice sword with her, too, and when Lommy and Hot Pie start to make their attempt to take Needle away from her, she decks Hot Pie, then turns on Lommy. The Bull gives her a warning that Hot Pie is behind her with a large rock, so she turns on him again. "By the time Yoren pulled her off him, Hot Pie was sprawled out on the ground with his breeches brown and smelly, crying as Arya whapped him over and over and over."
Yoren drags Arya off into a thicket where the others can't see her and has her pull down her breeches. He "laid the wood against the back of her bare thighs" as she screams. Then more quietly he tells her how he happened to be there to rescue her when her father was executed:
"It wasn't supposed to happen like it did. I was set to leave, wagons bought and loaded, and a man comes with a boy for me, and a purse of coin, and a message, never mind who it's from. Lord Eddard's to take the black, he says to me, wait, he'll be going with you. Why d'you think I was there? Only something went queer."
Joffrey, who is turning thirteen, is celebrating his name day with a tournament. Sansa is wearing a gown with long sleeves to cover the bruises left there when Joffrey had been told that Robb had been proclaimed King of the North. He sent Ser Boros to beat her. Joffrey uses five of his six guards to do the beatings; only Sandor Clegane, the Hound, is never called on for that task.
The tourney is a shabby affair compared to the one Robert had staged in honor of Sansa's father. She learns from Ser Arys, who is one of the kinder guards, that Cersei will not be there because she's meeting with the council. "Sansa always felt safer when Cersei was there to restrain her son." She remains on her guard with Joffrey, who tells her the latest news: that Viserys Targaryen is been killed by having molten gold poured over his head. "It's almost as good as if some wolf killed your traitor brother. Maybe I'll feed him to the wolves after I've caught him."
The jousts are not very impressive. In the second one, Ser Balon Swann goes against Morros of House Slynt, the son of Janos Slynt, the former head of the City Watch who had been made a knight for his help in getting Joffrey the throne. Sansa hopes that Morros will be killed: "When Joffrey proclaimed her father's deth, it had been Janos Slynt who seized Lord Eddard's severed head by the hair and raised it high for king and crowd to behold, while Sansa wept and screamed." But Morros only makes a fool of himself by getting his foot caught in the stirrup and being dragged along by his horse.
Sansa notes with anxiety that Joffrey is getting bored. "When Joffrey Baratheon's mood darkened, any chance word might set off one of his rages." And in the next match, one of the combatants is so drunk that he appears at the lists chasing his horse. He is wearing only his breastplate and helmet. "His legs were pale and skinny, and his manhood flopped about obscenely as he chased after his horse." Then he gives up and sits down. "'I lose,' he shouted. 'Fetch me some wine.'"
Joffrey stands up and orders a cask of wine brought from the cellars. "I'll see him drowned in it." Shocked, Sansa says, "No, you can't." Which causes Joffrey to turn to her and demand, "Did you say I can't? Did you?" But Sansa quickly improvises that it would be bad luck for Joffrey to kill someone on his name day. This doesn't persuade Joffrey, who threatens, "I ought to drown you with him, if you care for him so much." But the Hound comes to Sansa's rescue: "The girl speaks truly.... What a man sows on his name day, he reaps throughout the year." So Joffrey says, "I'll have him killed on the morrow, the fool." Which Sansa seizes on to suggest that he ought to make him into a fool. "He doesn't deserve the mercy of a quick death." Joffrey likes the idea and tells the man, "From this day on, you're my new fool. You can sleep with Moon Boy and dress in motley."
Joffrey then cancels the rest of the tilts, but his little brother, Tommen, who was supposed to ride against a straw man, protests. And his sister, Myrcella, says that their mother, the queen, had agreed that he could do it. Joffrey gives in and lets Tommen, who is eight, ride his pony against "a child-sized leather warrior stuffed with straw and mounted on a pivot, with a shield in one hand and a padded mace in the other." Tommen hits the quintain, but it spins around and the mace knocks him off his pony. Joffrey laughs louder than anyone, but Sansa, "possessed of a queer giddy courage," urges him to go see about his brother.
But before Tommen can ride again, the gates open to admit a column of riders, in the midst of which is Tyrion Lannister. Tommen and his sister run to greet their uncle, who advances to Joffrey and kneels. Then he turns to Sansa and says, "My lady, I am sorry for your losses. Truly, the gods are cruel." Sansa is puzzled and wonders if he's mocking her. Then he tells Joffrey he's sorry for his loss too. Joffrey asks, "What loss?" Tyrion replies, "Your royal father? A large fierce man with a black beard; you'll recall him if you try. He was king before you." In the awkward moment that follows, Sansa tells Tyrion, "I'm sorry my lady mother took you captive, my lord." Tyrion says, "A great many people are sorry for that, ... and before I am done, some may be a deal sorrier."
Tyrion asks where he might find Joffrey's mother, and Joffrey directs him to the council, telling him that Jaime has been captured and Sansa's "stupid brother is calling himself a king." Tyrion replies, "All sorts of people are calling themselves king these days." Joffrey leaves Sansa with Tyrion, who looks at her and asks, "Is it grief for your lord father that makes you so sad?" Sansa gives out her reflexive answer: Her father was a traitor. Her brother and her mother are traitors. "I am loyal to my beloved Joffrey." Tyrion isn't buying it for a moment: "No doubt. As loyal as a deer surrounded by wolves." Sansa whispers, "Lions," then looks about uneasily. Tyrion takes her hand: "I am only a little lion, child, and I vow, I shall not savage you." Then he takes his leave.
Sansa is surprised at his gentleness, but recalls that Joffrey and the queen had once been gentle to her. "They had repaid that love and trust with her father's head. Sansa would never make that mistake again."
Ser Mandon Moore, the member of the Kingsguard, is unwilling to admit Tyrion to the council chamber. Tyrion introduces him to his own guards, Timett son of Timett of the Burned Men, and Bronn. Tyrion shows him the letter from Lord Tywin and Ser Mandon admits Tyrion, but not his guards.
When he enters, Cersei says the same thing Joffrey had said on seeing Tyrion: "You." Her tone is "equal parts disbelief and distaste." He presents her the letter from their father, which she reads and pronounces "absurd": Tywin has appointed Tyrion Hand of the King until Tywin himself can assume the duties. Cersei protests, "I ask for an army and my father sends me a dwarf. The king names the Hand, with the consent of council." She insists that Tywin can't name his own replacement without Joffrey's consent.
Tyrion asks the councilors to leave him alone with his sister, and they depart after an exchange of ironic courtesies between Tyrion and Littlefinger, whom Tyrion has not forgiven for the incident involving the dagger that Littlefinger claimed was Tyrion's. When they are alone, Cersei threatens to proclaim the letter a forgery and send Tyrion to the dungeon. Tyrion, realizing that he needs to handle his sister with care, points out that this might upset "our father. The one with the army." He realizes that her chief aim is to get Jaime freed, and suggests that they might use the Stark girls as bargaining chips. Then he learns that Sansa is the only one of the girls they hold, and that Arya has escaped. "Likely she's dead," Cersei says. "A great many people died that day."
Then Tyrion asks about the members of the council. "Father seems to have taken a dislike to them," he says, and thinks they're not advising her well. "He knows that your son's short reign has been a long parade of follies and disasters. That suggests that someone is giving Joffrey some very bad counsel." She admits that beheading Eddard Stark was a great blunder. The plan was to allow Ned to take the black, which might have allowed them to make peace with the Starks, "but Joff took it upon himself to give the mob a better show. What was I to do? He called for Lord Eddard's head in front of half the city. And Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn went ahead blithely and shortened the man without a word from me!"
It was Sansa, she tells Tyrion, who revealed to her that Eddard "was plotting with Renly and he'd written to Lord Stannis, offering him the throne." This surprises Tyrion: "Sansa had always seemed such a sweet child, tender and courteous." Cersei explains that Sansa was "wet with love" for Joffrey -- until he cut her father's head off. Tyrion also asks about the dismissal of Ser Barristan Selmy from the Kingsguard. It was Varys, she says, who suggested to Joffrey that Barristan be made a scapegoat for Robert's death, so he had a position to use as a reward. But Tyrion points out that Barristan escaped and that he's a popular hero: "What do you imagine they'll think when they see Barristan the Bold riding beside Robb Stark or Stannis Baratheon?" Cersei admits she hadn't thought of that.
In the end, Cersei agrees to accept Tyrion as Hand, as long as he keeps her informed of his plans and does nothing without her consent. Tyrion agrees, though he's lying. And then he confronts her with what he knows: that she was sleeping with Jaime. She slaps him. He asks why, if she can sleep with one brother, why not the other. She slaps him. And he says he's joking: "I never understood what Jaime saw in you, apart from his own reflection. She slaps him. He warns her that if she keeps slapping him he might get angry, and he has some new friends that she might not like. He also learns from her that Robert was given especially potent wine to drink on the hunt. "The boar did the rest."
He takes his leave with a "parting request. Kindly make certain no harm comes to Sansa Stark. It would not do to lose both the daughters." As he leaves the castle, accompanied by Lannister guardsmen, he sees the heads mounted on the walls. He tells the captain of the guard that he wants them taken down. The captain replies that Joffrey has ordered that they remain there until the three empty spikes hold the heads of Robb Stark, Stannis and Renly Baratheon. Tyrion replies that Joffrey is thirteen years old, and says if they're not taken down tomorrow, "one of those spikes may have a different lodger." The captain gets the point and promises they'll be down tomorrow.
He notices the filthy and dangerous streets as they ride through the city, and the empty stores, and the vendor selling roasted rats. They reach the Broken Anvil inn, and he tells the guard to leave him there. Inside, he finds Chella daughter of Cheyk with Shae, accompanied by a plump man whom Tyrion doesn't recognize until he turns around. He is surprised to see that it's Varys. Chella has been showing Varys her necklace made of "no less than forty-six dried, wrinkled ears." He realizes that Varys is delivering a message: He has been able to find Shae. Tyrion wonders who has betrayed him.
Before he leaves, Varys gives Tyrion a riddle, but doesn't wait for an answer:
"In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. 'Do it,' says the king, 'for I am you lawful ruler.' 'Do it,' says the priest, 'for I command you in the name of the gods.' 'Do it,' says the rich man, 'and all this gold shall be yours.' So tell me -- who lives and who dies?"