Tyrion sends the last of his mountain men off to harass Stannis's oncoming troops, leaving his with only Bronn and his mercenaries among his personal guard. He now gives Bronn the task of burning the buildings along the waterfront that have attached "themselves to the city walls like barnacles on the hull of a ship." But he's aware that even the walls are not adequate protection. He has heard of the fall of Winterfell to Theon's band, and reflects, "They had given the Starks Harrenhal and taken Winterfell, a dismal exchange." He feels a twinge as he recalls his visit to Winterfell, and especially when he remembers the godswood, where he had felt alien. "He wondered if the Greyjoys would feel it too. The castle might well be theirs, but never that godswood. Not in a year, or ten, or fifty."
He returns to his quarters where angry merchant ship captains are waiting to protest his seizure of their ships. He promises to compensate them after the war. Then he goes to the installation of Ser Balon Swann and Ser Osmund Kettleblack as members of the Kingsguard. Balon is an honorable and courageous man, he thinks; on the other hand, Osmund is being paid by Bronn to tell him Cersei's secrets. He had replaced Ser Boros Blount on the Kingsguard after Jacelyn Bywater and his men had surprised them on the road and taken Tommen into their custody. Blount has been imprisoned.
After the investiture he takes the new High Septon aside and asks him to tell the gods that Stannis plans to burn the Great Sept of Baelor if he takes the city. The septon, who was Tyrion's choice, asks if it's true, and Tyrion replies, "It may be. Stannis burned the godswood at Storm's End as an offering to the Lord of Light. If he'd offend the old gods, why should he spare the new?"
Back at his chambers, he meets with Maester Frenken, who has taken over some of Pycelle's duties. Frenken has received a raven from Balon Greyjoy, who is calling himself King of the Isles and the North and requests that Joffrey send an envoy to discuss the boundaries between their kingdoms as well as a possible alliance. Then he talks to Hallyne the Pyromancer, who tells him they have nearly thirteen thousand jars of wildfire. He explains that for some reason the alchemists' spells have been working better than they once did, and recalls an alchemist who once commented that "magic had begun to go out of the world the day the last dragon died." Tyrion observes that he hasn't seen any dragons lately, so he doesn't think that could be an explanation for the magic working so much better.
Then he meets with Jacelyn Bywater, who says that Prince Tommen is happy at Rosby. "He has adopted a fawn some of my men brought home from a hunt. He had one once before, he says, but Joffrey skinned her for a jerkin." Tyrion asks what arrangements have been made for Tommen's safety if Stannis should be victorious, and Jacelyn replies, "You commanded me to tell no one, my lord." Tyrion is pleased with the answer: If King's Landing falls and he's taken alive, he'd rather not know where Joffrey's heir is.
Finally, Varys brings him a list of wealthy men who have been discovered to be plotting against Joffrey and intend to go over to Stannis during the attack. Tyrion orders their arrest.
Even though he is sleeping in Eddard Stark's bed with a tavern wench named Kyra, Theon is restless and hears noises. He goes to the window and looks out, but there are no unusual sounds. Then he realizes that the wolves aren't howling as they usually do. He sends one of his men to check on them, and then wakes his squire, Wex, and tells him to see if Bran and Rickon are in their beds. Wex returns first, shaking his head in a no, then his man returns to say the wolves are gone too.
Theon orders the castle awakened and summoned to the yard. Then he learns that the two men who were guarding the Hunter's Gate, which opened onto fields and forests, have been killed. One of them seems to have been savaged by wolves, while the other has been found with his pants down, as if he was with a woman who killed him.
In the yard, he confronts the residents of the castle, and asks how many of them are missing. Reek tells him that six are gone: "Both Starks, that bog boy and his sister, the halfwit from the stables, and you wildling woman." No horses are missing, so Theon assumes they are on foot, with Bran on Hodor's back and Rickon being carried by Osha.
He decides to search when it gets light, and orders the kennelmaster, Farlen, to ready some hounds for the search. Farlen asks, "And why would I care to hunt down my own trueborn lords, and babes at that." Theon reminds him that he is the one who rescued Palla, the girl who works in the kennels, from the rapists among his men, and punished the men as well, indicating that he might not be so protective next time, so Farlen backs down. He also orders Maester Luwin to go along because he doesn't trust the maester not to send messages with ravens while he's absent. One of the Freys also volunteers because he wants a "wolfskin cloak."
They follow the tracks of the wolves and the people on foot into the wolfswood, which makes Theon uneasy. As they ride, Maester Luwin makes a case for sparing the lives of Bran and Rickon, arguing that they have value as hostages, and pleads for mercy for Hodor. Theon says he'll consider it, but he won't spare Osha. "She swore me an oath, and pissed on it."
The dogs find a dead elk, which appears to have been killed by the wolves, but not butchered to feed the humans. But they lose the scent when they reach a brook. And the footprints at the brook are only those of the wolves. Theon realizes, "Osha must have turned aside back of us. Before the elk, most likely. She sent the wolves on by themselves, hoping we'd chase after them." But he decides to follow the wolves along the stream, knowing that eventually they will return to the boys. He sends a small party back to where they lost the trail.
By noon, there is no more sign of the wolves, and Theon fears that the boys have found a village that will shelter them. When all of the search parties reunite, they have no news to report. By dusk, they have to give up the search. But then Reek comes up with a suggestion. He remembers an old mill that the party bringing him as a captive to Winterfell had stopped at. Theon knows the mill, but doesn't understand why Reek should single it out. Then Reek takes him aside and shows him something he has brought with him: "a wolf's-head brooch, silver and jet." Theon suddenly understands what Reek is suggesting. He calls some of the men he trusts and sends the rest of the search party, along with the hounds, back to Winterfell, telling them, "I know where Bran and Rickon are hiding now."
Before he leaves, Maester Luwin reminds Theon of his promise to be merciful. "'Mercy was for this morning,' said Theon. It is better to be feared than laughed at. 'Before they made me angry.'"
The scouting party led by Qhorin Halfhand also includes, in addition to Jon, the rangers Squire Dalbridge, Ebben, and Stonesnake. They have spotted a campfire on the side of a mountain, "Half a mile ahead and two thousand feet up, Jon judged, and perfectly placed to see anything moving in the pass below." They are surprised to see the fire, which gives away the wildlings' position, since they have been careful not to light any fires themselves.
Stonesnake volunteers to make the climb, and Jon follows. Qhorin suggests that Ghost stay behind: "White fur is seen too easily by moonlight." When they reach the wildlings and capture or kill them, they are to throw down a brand from the fire as a signal to join them.
The Skirling Pass was really a series of passes, a long twisting course that went up around a succession of icy wind-carved peaks and down through hidden valleys that seldom saw the sun. Apart from his companions, Jon had glimpsed no living man since they'd left the wood behind and begun to make their way upward. The Frostfangs were as cruel as any place the gods had made, and as inimical to men.As he makes his way up the mountain, Jon thinks, "Bran used to love to climb. I wish I had a tenth part of his courage."
They find the wildlings' camp "in a shallow depression above the narrowest part of the pass, with a sheer drop below and rock behind to shelter them from the worst of the wind." Stonesnake and Jon climb to just a few feet above them. One of them is asleep, another is feeding the fire, and a third, who wears a horn, is looking out into the pass. Jon is surprised to find that there are three of them, but at least one is asleep.
Stonesnake points at the one with the horn, indicating that he belongs to Jon. Stonesnake leaps down first, and Jon draws Longclaw and follows. The wildling reaches for his horn to sound the alarm, but Jon knocks it from his hand with the sword. The man then grabs a burning stick from the fire and thrusts it at Jon, but Jon takes hold of his sword with both hands and cuts him down. The falling man grabs the sword from Jon's hand, just as the sleeper awakes. Jon pulls out his dirk and grabs the now-awake man by the hair, putting the point under his chin -- and then realizes that it's not a man but a girl. "A wildling," Stonesnake says. "Finish her."
Jon is reminded of Arya, and asks if she will yield. She says she does, but Stonesnake says, "Qhorin said nothing of taking captives." Jon replies, "He never said not to." Jon asks her name and she says it's Ygritte. When he tells her his name is Jon Snow, she says, "An evil name." He tells her he is the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell. Stonesnake says, "It's the captive supposed to tell things, remember?"
Ygritte says they should burn the men they killed, and Jon realizes why, remembering the undead who attacked at the Wall. Instead, Stonesnake flings the bodies over the edge of the cliff. Jon realizes that Ygritte is older than he thought, perhaps twenty. He asks if they were sent to watch them, and she says, "You, and others." Stonesnake asks what's beyond the pass, and she says, "The free folk.... Hundred and thousands." But when they ask what is in the Frostfangs that Mance Rayder wants, and whether they plan to march on the Wall, and whether she knows anything about Benjen Stark, she remains silence.
There is the sound of the growling of a shadowcat, then another, but she says they won't attack them. They were attracted by the smell of blood and will seek out the bodies. As they sit there, she tells them the story of Bael the Bard, who "was King-beyond-the-Wall a long time back." The Stark in Winterfell "called Bael a craven who preyed only on the weak," so Bael climbed over the Wall and walked into Winterfell posing as a singer named Sygerrik of Skagos. "Sygerrik means 'deceiver' in the Old Tongue, that the First Men spoke, and the giants still speak."
Bael entertains Lord Stark with his songs, and is told he can name his reward. Bael says he wants "the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o' Winterfell." So Stark has a rare winter rose brought to Bael. "But when morning come, the singer had vanished ... and so had Lord Brandon's maiden daughter. Her bed they found empty, but for the pale blue rose that Bael had left on the pillow where her head had lain."
Jon asks which Brandon this was, but Ygritte asks if he wants to hear the story, so he tells her to go on. She says that Lord Brandon had no other children, so he sent searchers out for his daughter. They couldn't find her, however, and it looked like the line of Starks had reached its end. But on his deathbed he hears a baby cry, and he finds his daughter in her chamber with a baby at her breast. She had been hiding in the crypt beneath the castle and "the boy grew to be the next Lord Stark. So there it is -- you have Bael's blood in you, same as me."
Jon says, "It never happened." Ygritte replies, "Might be it did, might be it didn't. It is a good song, though." The song ends with the baby being found, she says, but the story goes on. Thirty years later, Bael had become King-beyond-the-Wall and met his son, Lord Stark, in battle. And Stark killed Bael, who "would not harm his own son when they met sword to sword." But, she adds, "the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing." Stark returned to Winterfell with Bael's head, and when his mother saw it, she jumped from the top of a tower. And one of Stark's lords flayed him and wore his skin for a cloak.
Jon says Bael was a liar, but Ygritte insists "a bard's truth is different than yours or mine."
At dawn, they are joined by Qhorin and the others. Ghost runs to meet Jon, and he plays the game he and the direwolf play, in which the wolf closes his jaw around Jon's wrist and tugs his hand back and forth. Ygritte watchs "with eyes as wide and white as hen's eggs." Jon explains that she yielded to him, but Qhorin says there isn't enough food for her and they can't spare anyone to guard her. He tells Jon that since she yielded to him, he "must do what needs to be done."
The others leave Jon with Ygritte, who says, "You never killed a woman before, did you?" and asks if he will burn her body afterward. When he says he can't risk the smoke being seen, she says, "Well, there's worse places to end up than the belly of a shadowcat." She bares her neck and kneels before him. He raises Longclaw to strike, but then lowers it and says "Go." She does.