On the third day after setting out from the inn with Harwin and their other new companions, Arya realizes that they're not traveling north toward Riverrun: The moss is growing on the wrong side of the trees. Gendry thinks it's just because the road here takes a southward turn, and that they're taking a short cut, but Arya doesn't believe it. After all, he says, Lem and Tom live here, so they should know the way. They have left Hot Pie at the inn, where he is happily baking, so Gendry is the only companion left she can fully trust.
But there is Harwin, of course, whom she tells about finding his father, Hullen, dying when she fled from King's Landing. She also tells him of her subsequent adventures, omitting the stableboy she had stabbed while escaping and the guard at Harrenhal whose throat she cut. She also leaves out Jaqen H'ghar and the men he killed for her. She still sometimes mutters "Valar morghulis" under her breath sometimes, and recites her list of the men she wants dead.
Harwin tells her that of the twenty men her father sent from King's Landing with Beric Dondarrion, only six survived the trap Lord Tywin set for them, expecting that Eddard would be with them and that Gregor Clegane would kill him. Jaime, however, had been unaware of the plan so he attacked her father in King's Landing. That's when Lord Eddard broke his leg and was unable to ride west with the others. Harwin was among the survivors of the ambush, and Lord Beric was wounded but recovered. After hearing of Lord Eddard's execution, everything changed:
"We'd been sent out by the King's Hand to deal with outlaws, you see, but now we were the outlaws, and Lord Tywin was the Hand of the King. There was some wanted to yield, but Lord Beric wouldn't hear of it. We were still king's men, he said, and these were the king's people the lions were savaging. If we could not fight for Robert, we would fight for them, until every man of us was dead. And so we did, but as we fought something queer happened. For every man we lost, two showed up to take his place. A few were knights or squires, of gentle birth, but most were common men -- fieldhands and fiddlers and innkeeps, servants and shoemakers, even two septons."At one village, Arya hears that Jaime has escaped from Riverrun. That night she dreams of Winterfell, except that she is outside the walls, slogging through mud up to her knees, and when she nears the gates the stone walls dissolve into smoke. She is surrounded by wolves. "Whenever she looked at them, she remembered the taste of blood."
The next day the sun is out, and her suspicion that they are going south is confirmed by its position. She takes out her map and confirms that they are riding away from Riverrun. She protests to the others, and they admit that they're not going to Riverrun, they're taking her to Beric Dondarrion, who will "know what's to be done with you." Anguy tells her, "We bring him all our highborn captives." Until this moment she hadn't know she was a captive and immediately she spurs her horse into running away.
She leads them on a furious chase, but eventually Harwin catches up to her and brings her to a halt. "I thought you were my father's man," she says to him, but he tells her that now her father's dead he belongs to "the lightning lord," Beric Dondarrion, and to his brother outlaws. They aren't in opposition to Robb, but they serve "the smallfolk." He asks if she will come peacefully, and she says she will. "For now."
He is exhausted, slogging through the steadily falling snow with the others of the Night's Watch who have escaped from the attack on the hill fort. "They had been fifty when they fled the Fist, maybe more, but some had wandered off in the snow, a few wounded had bled to death ... and sometimes Sam heard shouts behind him, from the rear guard, and once an awful scream.... They are behind us, they are still behind us, they are taking us one by one."
He can see the torches around them, "The Old Bear's ring of fire, he reminded himself, and woe to him who leaves it." He berates himself: "Fat and weak and useless, even my wits are freezing now." His thoughts turn to Maslyn, who had been caught by a wight and lifted into the air by his throat and his head nearly ripped from his body. "The dead have no mercy left in them, and the Others ... no, I mustn't think of that, don't think, don't remember, just walk, just walk, just walk."
And then he falls, and weighed down by the layers of clothing and mail that he's wearing, struggles to get up, then gives in to fatigue and sinks back to the ground. He thinks that the snow will cover him, and it will be warm underneath the snow. He has done his duty, he thinks. The Lord Commander wanted him to tend to the ravens, and he had written out the messages about the initial attack to send to Castle Black and the Shadow Tower. "I got the birds off. I did that right, at least." In the confusion of the attack on the Fist, however, the Lord Commander told him to get off more ravens. Sam had written about how they had held off the attackers with fire arrows, how the wights had kept coming, how they had broken into the camp, how they were cutting their way free and heading for the Wall, and then how they had lost.
Grenn finds him fallen in the snow and tries to get him on his feet. "You'll freeze, or the Others will get you. Sam, get up!" A man with a torch comes up and tells Grenn to leave him and save himself, but Grenn keeps trying to hoist Sam from the ground. Finally the man says, "If you take the torch, I can take the fat boy." And suddenly he is lifted up, and he recognizes the man who is carrying him as Small Paul, who had earlier been one of the conspirators with Chett. He is saving Sam because he wants "the Old Bear's raven, the one that talks," and thinks Sam can get it for him. But Sam tells him the ravens have all flown, and remembers that he had forgotten to send any of the messages he had written before he released them from the cages.
He recalls more of the escape from the Fist, finding himself on a horse and Lord Commander ordering the men to form a wedge to move down the south face of the hill. His horse almost threw him when they were attacked by a bear, "dead, pale and rotting." Thoren Smallwood charged at the bear but was killed by it. They charged down the hill, trampling the wights underfoot, and into the forest. But a man on foot pulled him from the saddle and rode off on his horse. Sam had lain there weeping until he was discovered by Dolorous Edd. Then he found himself walking with the others.
Now he is being carried by Small Paul, who is told by one of the men passing them that they're falling behind. When Small Paul says that Sam had "promised I could have a bird... I want me a bird that talks, and eats corn from my hand," the man calls him a fool and rides on. Grenn realizes that they have fallen behind the rest of the men and are alone, and Small Paul says he can't carry Sam anymore.
Then a horse appears through the woods. But it is dead, and seated on it is "a rider pale as ice." Sam feels "a cold so savage that his bladder felt frozen solid. The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow." Grenn thrusts the torch at it, and the Other cuts it in two. The burning torch falls into a snowdrift and is snuffed out. Small Paul charges at the Other with his axe, but the creature impales him with its sword, and his weight pulls it from the Other's hand.
Sam is weeping and praying, but he hears voices telling him to fight -- his father's, and Alliser Thorne's, and then Jon's.
And then he was stumbling forward, falling more than running, really, closing his eyes and shoving the dagger blindly out before him with both hands. He heard a crack, like the sound ice makes when it breaks beneath a man's foot, and then a screech so shrill and sharp that he went staggering backward with his hands over his muffled ears, and fell hard on his arse. When he opened his eyes the Other's armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked.The Other melts away, leaving only the obsidian dagger, and when Grenn reaches down to pick it up, he drops it immediately because it's too cold to handle. When he is finally able to pick it up, Sam tells him to keep it. "You're not craven like me." Grenn replies, "So craven you killed an Other," and then points out the dawn through the trees. That would be the east, he says, and if they keep walking in that direction they can catch up with Mormont and the remaining men of the Watch.
Lord Tywin has called his council together and takes his seat at the head of the table with Cersei on one side and his brother Ser Kevan on the other. Tyrion is at the foot of the table. Grand Maester Pycelle is there, sitting as far from Tyrion as possible. In addition to Varys and Littlefinger, the others present include Mace Tyrell, Paxter Redwyne of the Arbor, Mathis Rowan of Gardengrove, and the High Septon. Tyrell and Redwyne congratulate Tyrion on the success of his chain. And Kevan says his son Lancel has told him how brave Tyrion was. Tyrion thinks that Lancel has better be saying nice things about him, considering what he knows about his relationship with Cersei.
Cersei wants to begin by talking about the plans for the wedding, but Tywin wants a report from Varys on the war. He reports on a victory at Duskendale, which Littlefinger observes is a "terrible defeat for the north," although one in which "Robb Stark played no part. The Young Wolf remains unbeaten in the field." Tywin says that Robb has returned to Riverrun, "abandoning the castles he took in the west," and that preparations are being made to attack Riverrun when he moves north.
Ser Kevan says that Balon Greyjoy, calling himself King of the Isles and the North, has offered to join them in alliance. Tywin observes that Greyjoy now controls the Neck and that Winterfell has fallen, and that Greyjoy's ships could be turned against Lannisport and Highgarden. Greyjoy wants only to be recognized as king of "everything north of the Neck." Redwyne scoffs at the idea that there's anything in the north worth having, and Tyrell says, "Let King Balon finish the northmen whilst we finish Stannis."
Tywin observes that they still have to deal with Lysa Arryn, "whose husband was conspiring with Stannis Baratheon at the time of his death." Tyrell thinks there's nothing to worry about from her because she's only a woman, and Redwyne says she hasn't "committed any over acts of treason." But Tyrion reminds them that Lysa threw him into a sky-cell and put him on trial for his life, and that she hasn't sworn fealty to Joffrey as she was ordered to do. He offers to take an army and "sort out Lysa Arryn."
But Tywin has another solution to the problem: marry Lysa to Littlefinger, who proposes to woo her and "deliver you the Vale of Arryn without a drop of blood being spilled." When Lord Rowan questions whether she will have him, Littlefinger replies, "She's had me a few times before." And now that he's Lord of Harrenhal, there is no problem about her marrying someone beneath her. Tyrion raises one objection: Littlefinger "is our wizard of coin, and we have no one to replace him." But he finds that the matter is already settled: Lord Tywin tells Tyrion, "You are admirably suited to the task, I believe."
That settled, Lord Redwyne wants to return to the matter of the alliance with Balon Greyjoy, but Tywin is content to let the matter rest for the time being: "Granted enough time, a better option may well present itself." Tyrion wonders what his father is up to, and recalls him saying, "Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens."
Then they talk about the wedding preparations, and when Mace Tyrell hears that a contingent from Dorne is expected, blusters about not having given them permission to cross his lands. Tywin reminds him that Prince Doran is coming at his son's invitation, "not only to join in our celebration, but to claim his seat on this council, and the justice Robert denied him for the murder of his sister Elia and her children." And Kevan points out that when Joffrey marries Margaery and Myrcella marries Prince Trystane, they'll "all be one great House."
Then there's a dividing-up of "the fruits of victory," in which Tyrell gets the lion's share. And Varys gives a report on various international news, including an item that "Sailors back from the Jade Sea report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth." And when Cersei proposes executing the gold cloaks who deserted during the battle, Varys suggests that they be sent to the Night's Watch because there have been reports of "wildlings astir." Tywin dismisses that idea and wants their knees broken, so that "any man who sees them begging in the streets" will learn the lesson. Tyrion argues that they break only a few knees and send the rest to the Watch, which "is grievously under strength." But Tywin thinks that the wildlings are a problem for the Starks and the Greyjoys. "King Robb and King Balon both claim the north. Let them defend it, if they can. And if not, this Mance Rayder might even prove a useful ally."
There being no more business, Tywin dismisses everyone except his immediate family: Kevan, Cersei, and Tyrion. When they're alone, Tyrion proclaims his distrust for Littlefinger and his suggestion that he be made master of coin, and he and Cersei fall to insulting each other until Tywin puts an end to their "unseemly squabbling." And Kevan says that Littlefinger demonstrated his loyalty by reporting the Tyrell plan to marry Sansa to Willas Tyrell. Tyrion is surprised that the news came from Littlefinger and not from Varys, and Cersei is furious that anyone should be trying to do something to her hostage without her permission.
Tywin says the marriage won't take place. "I will not have the rose and the direwolf in bed together." He will prevent it by marriage. He tells Cersei "So long as you remain unwed, you allow Stannis to spread his disgusting slander.... You must have a new husband in your bed, to father children on you." Cersei protests furiously: "Three children is quite sufficient. I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!" But Tywin is adamant: "You will marry and you will breed." And after going through a number of possibilities, as Cersei says, "No, no, no," he decides that solidifying the alliance with Highgarden is the best option, and that she will marry Willas Tyrell, unless she can come up with a better idea. Seething, Cersei says she will need a few days to think it over, and asks her father's leave.
Tyrion is delighted by Cersei's plight, but not for long. His father then turns to him and tells him, "It is past time you were wed." Tyrion knows what he has in mind: "You mean to wed me to Sansa Stark. But won't the Tyrells take the match as an affront, if they have designs on the girl?" Not if Tyrion marries her before the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, his father says. They had given them no hint that they were thinking of Sansa for Willas. And Kevan adds that "any lingering resentments should be soothed by the offer of Cersei for ... Willas."
Tyrion rubbed at the raw stub of his nose. The scar tissue itched abominably sometimes. "His Grace the royal pustule has made Sansa's life a misery since the day her father died, and now that she is finally rid of Joffrey you propose to marry her to me. That seems singularly cruel. Even for you, Father."But Tywin says he's not interested in Sansa's happiness. "Our alliances in the south may be as solid as Casterly Rock, but there remains the north to win, and the key to the north is Sansa Stark." He tells Tyrion that he has proposed marrying him to other houses, but has always been rejected on the grounds that the proposal was an insult. If he doesn't marry Sansa, he will find "some little lordling who'd gladly part with a daughter to win the friendship of Casterly Rock. Lady Tanda has offered Lollys..." Tyrion shudders at the thought.
When Tyrion protests that he had always hoped to marry someone who wanted him in her bed, Tywin cruelly says, "If you think your whores want you in their bed, you are an even greater fool than I suspected." The reminder that he might become Lord of Winterfell through the marriage does appeal to him, but he points out that it's more likely that Robb Stark will produce an heir with "one of those fertile Freys" he has sworn to marry. And here Tywin reveals something that he didn't tell the council: "The Young Wolf has taken Gawen Westerling's eldest daughter to wife."
Tyrion is stunned at the news, not least because of Robb's breaking "his sworn word." It is Ser Kevan who reveals more about the family Robb has married into:
"Gawen is a good man, but his wife is Sybell Spicer. He should never have wed her. The Westerlings always did have more honor than sense. Lady Sybell's grandfather was a trader in saffron and pepper, almost as lowborn as that smuggler Stannis keeps. And the grandmother was some woman he'd brought back from the east. A frightening old crone, supposed to be a priestess. Maegi, they called her."Tyrion is not bothered by the lineage, but he is still amazed at Robb's behavior: "He forswore himself, shamed an ally, betrayed a solemn promise. Where is the honor in that?" Ser Kevan observes, "He chose the girl's honor over his own. Once he had deflowered her, he had no other course." Tyrion is still pondering the enigma of this strange marriage when his father reminds him, "You will marry Sansa Stark, Tyrion. And soon."