King's Landing is filled with smoke from both Tyrion's firing of the waterfront and Stannis's burning of the kingswood on the other side of the Blackwater Rush. Sansa has gone to the godswood to meet Ser Dontos, who assures her that he has spoken to someone about hiring a ship "when the time is right." Sansa observes that there couldn't be a better time than now, before the fighting has started, but Dontos points out that the city is "more heavily guarded than ever," and that the only ships to be seen are warships.
Stannis himself has not arrived yet, but the first of his men have been there for two days. Sansa has heard that there are five thousand of them and that by the time Stannis arrives with the rest there will be ten times as many of them as Joffrey commands. Like everyone she is afraid, and she is more than a little disgusted that her only friend is this drunken knight-turned-fool. She shies away when he tries to kiss her, and returns to the castle.
But her room only arouses claustrophobia, so she goes out and climbs to the top of the tower where she can see the fire, the soldiers preparing for battle, and the three great trebuchets waiting to repel the attack. She suddenly feels a sharp pain, and almost falls, but Sandor Clegane emerges from the shadows and grabs her arm. When she tells him to let go, he asks if she thinks she has wings, and tells her she'll wind up a cripple like Bran. She says she wasn't going to fall and that he startled her, but he tells her she's still afraid of him. "The little bird still can't bear to look at me, can she? ... You were glad enough to see my face when mob had you, though. Remember?"
She does remember, and forces herself to look him in the face. His scars don't repel her so much as his eyes. "She had never seen eyes so full of anger." She tries to express her thanks for his bravery, but he denies that he was brave. The mob feared him, he says, and that was his advantage. She asks if he likes scaring people, and he says he likes killing them. "Killing is the sweetest thing there is." Drawing his sword, he says, "Here's your truth. Your precious father found that out on Baelor's steps." And he mocks her father and evokes his execution for her.
She asks why he is "always so hateful," and he mocks her romantic view of knighthood. Laying his blade along her throat, he says, "So long as I have this, ... there's no man on earth I need fear." She thinks, "Except your brother," but she knows better than to say it aloud. Doesn't he fear the soldiers across the river, she asks, and he replies, "All this burning.... Only cowards fight with fire." She asks if he isn't afraid of being sent to hell by the gods, and he scorns the gods: "Tell me, little bird, what kind of god makes a monster like the Imp, or a halfwit like Lady Tanda's daughter? If there are gods, they made ... the weak for the strong to play with."
She backs away and says, "You're awful." He replies, "I'm honest. It's the world that's awful," and tells her to "fly away, little bird." She leaves, telling herself that he's wrong, that there are gods and true knights. But in her bed she dreams of the riot and that she is being stabbed in the belly and cut to shreds. When she wakes, she realizes that she is menstruating for the first time.
Panic sets in when she realizes that this means she is marriageable, and she tries to burn her bedclothes to hide the evidence. But smoke fills the room, and her maid discovers her. She is taken to the queen, and to cover up her real reason she claims that she was frightened by the blood. She tells Cersei that she thought becoming a woman would be "less messy, and more magical." Cersei responds, "A woman's life is nine parts mess to one part magic, you'll learn that soon enough."
When Sansa tells her that she realizes she is "now fit to be wedded and bedded ... and to bear children for the king," Cersei observes that it is "A prospect that no longer entices you as it once did," and admits to her that "Joffrey has always been difficult." It took her a day and a half to deliver him, she says, and she screamed so loudly that she thought Robert, who was away hunting, could hear her. Sansa is surprised that Cersei's husband was away, but Cersei says, "When they told Jaime he was not allowed in the birthing room, he smiled and asked which of them proposed to keep him out."
When she assures Sansa that she may not love Joffrey but she will love his children, Sansa assures her, "I love his Grace with all my heart." But Cersei tells her to learn some new lies. She recalls that Joffrey always cried when Robert picked him up, whereas his bastards "always gurgled at him happily." She adds, "Robert wanted to be loved. My brother Tyrion has the same disease." And she gives Sansa some "womanly wisdom": "Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same."
They are moving through the Skirling Pass, with Ghost at Jon's side responding uneasily to sounds only he can hear. They reach the highest point of the pass and begin their descent into the Milkwater valley. When they pause to rest, Jon tells Qhorin about the story Ygritte had told him of Bael the Bard. Qhorin says he knows it, that Mance Rayder used to sing the song to them when he was a member of the Night's Watch. Jon learns now that Qhorin and Rayder used to be friends and brothers, and asks why Rayder deserted. Qhorin tells him that there are various stories, but he really thinks it was because "He loved the wild better than the Wall." Rayder had been born a wildling and had been brought to the Wall when he was a child.
Qhorin also warns Jon, "Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline." And when he says that Rayder "never learned to obey," Jon says, "No more than me." Qhorin is not surprised then to learn that Jon had let Ygritte go. "If I had needed her dead, I would have left her with Ebben, or done the thing myself." He hadn't commanded Jon to kill her, but left it up to him. "To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow. I know more of you now than I did this morning."
When he goes to sleep that night, Jon summons Ghost to sleep beside him, but the wolf only looks at him and then leaves. Jon assumes that he wants to hunt, but during the night he dreams of direwolves the way Bran does: "There were five of them when there should have been six, and they were scattered, each apart from the others." He is one of them, and he howls for the others. A voice behind him calls "Jon!" but when he turns around there is only a weirwood there, growing from a sapling into a tree as he watches. He walks around it until he finds the face. "The weirwood had his brother's face. Had his brother always had three eyes?" He hears the voice say, "Not always.... Not before the crow."
He smells "wolf and tree and boy," but also other smells, including a terrible one: "Death, he knew. He was smelling death." But the voice tells him not to be afraid, and that he needs to open his eyes. "And the tree reached down and touched him." Suddenly he is looking down on the valley in an autumn afternoon. One end of it is plugged with "A vast blue-white wall.... Then he realized he was looking at a river of ice several thousand feet high. Under that glittering cold cliff was a great lake, its deep cobalt waters reflecting the snowcapped peaks that ringed it." Below it were thousands of people, some of them training for war. He also sees "a shaggy lumbering beast with a snake for a nose and tusks larger than those of the greatest boar that had ever lived." And it is being ridden by a huge thing "too thick in the leg and hips to be a man."
Then he hears the sound of wings and a shadow plummets from the sky with a scream. He wakes, shouting "Ghost!" and calling for the wolf. "He could still feel the talons, the pain." His cry brings the others and he tells them about his dream. Qhorin and the others take it seriously. "'Skinchanger?' said Ebben grimly, looking at the Halfhand. Does he mean the eagle? Jon wondered. Or me?"
They set out again, but without Ghost, who hasn't returned. It is growing dark when Squire Dalbridge points out an eagle perched above them, watching. Then Jon spots a patch of white, and when it moves he spurs his horse toward it. It is Ghost, who has been wounded by the eagle. They wash and dress the wound, and when they are done it is dark. Qhorin says they need to retreat. "Eagles have sharper eyes than men. We are seen. So now we run."
They ride all night, and just before dawn they near the place where they had killed the wildlings. They leave Squire Dalbridge there with his longbow and a plentiful supply of arrows. "He's staying to die, Jon realized." When dawn breaks they spot the eagle flying high above them, and hear the sound of a hunting horn. "'And now they come,' said Qhorin."
Our first hint of what may have happened to Bran and Rickon comes when Tyrion is on his way to see Cersei and Varys brings him "A report from the north." He reads it and asks Varys, "Both of them?" Varys replies, "I fear so, my lord," and observes that they were "so young and innocent." When Tyrion gives the letter to Cersei, he says, "I trust you're pleased.... You wanted the boy dead, I believe." She replies that it was Jaime who threw Bran from the window, and that "This was Greyjoy's work, I had nothing to do with it." Tyrion replies that he hopes "Lady Catelyn believes that," which makes Cersei realize that Bran's death could lead to Jaime's. They had better take good care of Sansa, he tells her.
They talk of other things as they dine, including the fact that there has been no news from Littlefinger. She says Varys has told her that Tyrion plans to remove Sandor Clegane from guarding Joffrey. Tyrion is annoyed by the eunuch's telling her that, but he says he needs him "for more important duties." Cersei considers nothing more important than guarding her son, but Tyrion argues that Ser Osmund and Meryn Trant will be sufficient. He needs the Hound and Balon Swann to lead sorties to defend the city. Joffrey will be part of the battle, too -- not "in the thick of the fighting, but he needs to be seen. Men fight more fiercely for a king who shares their peril than one who hides behind his mother's skirts."
She protests that Joffrey is only thirteen, but Tyrion says, "Remember Jaime at thirteen? If you want the boy to be his father's son, let him play the part." He'll be well-armored and well-guarded and if it looks like the city will fall, he'll be "escorted back to the Red Keep at once." She asks him if the city will fall and he tells her no, though he thinks, "if it does, pray that we can hold the Red Keep long enough for our lord father to march to our relief."
When dessert arrives, she says, "I hope you like blackberry tarts," which provokes him to say, "I love all sorts of tarts." She says she knows that, and adds that the reason Varys is so dangerous is that "He doesn't have a cock." Neither does she, he retorts, and thinks, "And don't you just hate that, Cersei?" But he notices a smile on her face that he doesn't like. And he finds out why when she proclaims, "I have your little whore." He affects calm, but wonders how she found Shae, and what she plans to do with her. She tells him no harm will come to her as long as nothing happens to Joffrey or Tommen. "If Joff should be killed, however, or if Tommen should fall into the hands of our enemies, your little cunt will die more painfully than you can possibly imagine."
He is surprised that she believes he would kill his nephew, and promises her that he has nothing of the sort in mind. "Gods be good, Cersei, they're my own blood!" He thinks that in his place Jaime would kill her for making such an accusation, but he knows he can't do that, and thinks, "If I fail this test, I had as lief seek out the nearest grotesquerie." He says that for all he knows she has killed the girl already. She meets the challenge and goes to the door and orders, "Bring in my brother's whore."
The brothers Osney and Osfryd Kettleblack bring her in, bruised and bloody, with her hands tied and a gag in her mouth. Tyrion wants to laugh when he realizes what has happened, but he keeps calm and adopts his father's tone and voice. He says, "Whatever happens to her happens to Tommen as well, and that includes the beatings and rapes." Cersei is taken aback: "You would not dare." He replies, "Dare? I'll do it myself."
When Cersei tries to slap him, he grabs her wrist and twists her arm behind her back, then threatens to break her arm with Osfryd steps forward. He shoves Cersei to the floor and orders the Kettleblacks to untie the woman and remove her gag. He massages her fingers until the circulation returns to her hands and says he is sorry they hurt her. Alayaya bends and kisses his forehead, leaving a trace of blood from her broken lips. Then he turns to Cersei.
"I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You've ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don't know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in hour mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid."She orders him out and he leaves, realizing that he had put Alayaya in danger when he started using the secret tunnel from her brothel to Shae's residence. In his room, Shae is waiting for him. "How could he tell her that another woman had taken the beating meant for her and might well die in her place should some mischance of battle fell Joffrey?" He asks her to show him the secret entrance, but she says Varys had made her wear a hood, and all she could see was a floor with a mosaic of red and black tiles that depicted a dragon.
He goes around the room, trying various loose stones and sconces to see if any of them will trigger the entrance, but nothing works. And when they try to make love, he can't achieve an erection, so he lies awake in the night while she sleeps.