Two boys, Tion Frey and Willem Lannister, squires captured and held as hostage, have been murdered by a group led by Lord Rickard Karstark, seeking retribution for the death of his own sons. The bodies of the murdered boys make Catelyn think of Bran and Rickon, and she wonders if Robb does too. Karstark, brought in as prisoner by Greatjon Umber, is defiant, and blames the deaths on the boys on Catelyn, for releasing Jaime Lannister.
Robb, who is furious, orders Karstark's men hanged, but says he will deal with Karstark himself. But before he can do so, Brendyn Tully arrives, and Robb goes to speak with him privately, bringing his mother with him. The Blackfish reports that all of Karstark's men have left. "Near three hundred riders and twice as many mounts," Robb comments, "melted away in the night." Catelyn silently blames herself for the situation, which leaves Robb "surrounded by enemies to every side but east, where Lysa sat aloof on her mountaintop." Moreover, Willem Lannister was Ser Kevan's son, which could be taken as a pretext to do harm to Sansa, as Catelyn knows to her agony.
Edmure suggests that Lord Karstark not be executed but be kept prisoner, a hostage that will ensure the loyalty of his son. But Robb is not willing to do this. He asks Catelyn if her sister is going to answer her calls for help, and she admits that she has no doubt that her messages have reached Lysa and been ignored: "Lysa was never brave." The Blackfish agrees: No help should be expected from that quarter. Robb now knows how uneasy lies the head that wears the crown:
"Gods be good, why would any man ever want to be king? When everyone was shouting King in the North, King in the North, I told myself ... swore to myself ... that I would be a good king, as honorable as Father, strong, just, loyal to my friends and brave when I faced my enemies ... now I can't even tell one from the other. How did it all get so confused? Lord Rickard's fought at my side in half a dozen battles. His sons died for me in the Whispering Wood. Tion Frey and Willem Lannister were my enemies. Yet now I have to kill my dead friends' father for their sakes."He puts on his crown and says, "Lord Rickard dies." Edmure protests, but Robb says he has no choice. "Rickard Karstark killed more than a Frey and a Lannister. He killed my honor. I shall deal with him at dawn."
The executioner is waiting at dawn, but Robb takes the axe from him. "He dies at my word. He must die by my hand." Lord Rickard reminds Robb of their kinship. "The Karstarks traced their descent to Karlon Stark, a younger son of Winterfell who had put down a rebel lord a thousand years ago, and been granted lands for his valor. The castle he built had been named Karl's Hold, but that soon became Karhold, and over the centuries the Karhold Starks had become Karstarks." But Rickard's last words are, "Kill me, and be cursed. You are no king of mine." The blow Robb delivers kills him, but it takes three blows to sever the head.
Later, Jeyne comes to see Catelyn, wondering what she can do to console Robb, but all she can do is counsel patience. She also takes the opportunity to remind her daughter-in-law that she needs to produce an heir. Jeyne tells her that her mother "makes a posset for me, herbs and milk and ale, to help make me fertile. I drink it every morning." When she leaves, Catelyn remarks once again that she has good hips for child-bearing.
They are riding through a desolate landscape, with destruction on all sides. Jaime's mind is on Cersei, and he thinks that maybe the stories about them have opened a new possibility: "there was nothing left to hid. Why shouldn't I marry Cersei openly and share her bed every night? The dragons always married their sisters. Septons, lords, and smallfolk had turned a blind eye to the Targaryens for hundreds of years, let them do the same for House Lannister." They could even marry Joffrey to Myrcella and send Sansa home. He had already decided that they should send Sansa back to her family: "the notion of keeping faith when they all expected betrayal amused him more than he could say."
Suddenly they are under attack. An arrow hits Jaime's gelding and he has to cling to its neck to keep from being thrown. Ser Cleos is less skillful; he is thrown from his horse but his foot is caught in the stirrup and he is dragged along the ground. Brienne is still mounted on her horse, but she has an arrow lodged in her back and another in her leg. Jaime calls out to her that the archers are behind a wall, and he charges them, hoping that Brienne will follow. She does, and the archers flee.
They go in search of Cleos and find him dead, his foot still caught in the stirrup and his head bashed in from being dragged across the rocky ground. Jaime lays claim to his horse and his clothes, shocking Brienne with his callous attitude toward his own cousin. He pulls Cleos's sword from its scabbard and pivots to find Brienne ready to parry his blow. Even though his hands are still chained, he is able to meet her blows, and they fight for some time until he realizes that he is tiring. "She is stronger than I am."
Finally, as they are fighting in a stream, he slips but manages to cut her thigh before he strikes a rock with his knee. Finally she gets the better of him and cries, "Yield, or I'll drown you!" Suddenly laughter rings out around them. There are armed men on both sides of the brook. "The scum of the earth surrounded them: swarthy Dornishmen and blond Lyseni, Dothraki with bells in their braids, hairy Ibbenese, coal-black Summer Islanders in feathered cloaks. He knew them. The Brave Companions."
Immediately there is talk from Rorge of raping Brienne, and Jaime feels compelled to defend her against that. He asks who is in charge, and a cadaverous man identifies himself as Urswyck the Faithful. He also addresses Jaime by name: "It takes more than a beard and a shaved head to deceive the Brave Companions," he says. Jaime knows them as the Bloody Mummers, and he asks, "Where's the goat?" Urswyck says that he'd better not call Lord Vargo Hoat that to his name, and Jaime is surprised to hear that Harrenhal has supposedly been promised to Lord Vargo: "Has my father taken leave of his senses?" he wonders.
Then Urswyck informs him that they no longer serve the Lannisters. "We now serve Lord Bolton, and the King in the North." When Jaime expresses his contempt for that, two of the Mummers grab him and Rorge punches him in the stomach with a mailed fist. Brienne calls out that he's under her protection, and dives into the brook to retrieve her sword. It takes four of the men to restrain her and to beat her into submission.
They are dragged back to the plow horse and bound back to back on it. Jaime calls Urswyck over and tries to bargain with him: Take him to King's Landing and collect a ransom. "Hers as well, if you like. Tarth is called the Sapphire Isle, a maiden told me once." (He knows that it's really called that because of the blueness of its lake.) But Urswyck isn't fooled by the offer of ransom, or even of a knighthood, when Jaime brings it up. "I have heard enough, Kingslayer. I would have to be a great fool indeed to believe the promises of an oath-breaker like you."
As they ride toward Harrenhal, Brienne asks him why he lied about the Sapphire Isle, and Jaime says, "The sooner they know how little you're worth in ransom, the sooner the rapes begin." She is silent for a while after that. Late in the day they find Vargo Hoat and more of the Brave Companions sacking a sept and using the corpse of the septon for target practice. "Kingthlayer," Hoat greets Jaime, "You are my captifth." Brienne introduces herself, and Rorge drags her off the horse and begins kicking her. Urswyck tells him not to break any bones: "The horse-faced bitch is worth her weight in sapphires."
Jaime again tries to bargain with Hoat, promising ransom money. Hoat says, "But firth I mutht thend him a methage." Jaime is knocked to the ground and his arms are pulled out in front of him by the chain. A fat Dothraki raises "a huge curved arakh, the wickedly sharp scythe-sword the horselords loved." Jaime refuses to show fear. But when the blade comes "shivering down, almost too fast to see," he screams.
They are searching for Beric Dondarrion, but so far have only been told to ask the Lady of the Leaves. They reach a forest and in the middle of it a member of the group who is called Jack-Be-Lucky blows a signal on his horn. Rope ladders unfurl from the trees, and Arya climbs with the others into a hidden village in the treetops, presided over by "a stick-thin white-haired woman," the Lady of the Leaves. She tells them that Lord Beric is dead: He was caught by the Mountain, Gregor Clegane, who "drove a dagger through his eye." But Lem tells her it's an old story, and that the lightning lord didn't die of having an eye put out. The woman is pleased to hear that Dondarrion isn't dead, but otherwise has no clue to his whereabouts.
The next village they come to has been destroyed, but in the ruins of its sept an old septon remains. He tells them the village was burned by "Northmen ... Savages who worship trees." Arya is both "angry and ashamed" at the characterization. There are a dozen men living in the vault under the sept, but they have no news of Dondarrion either, even though one of them has a lightning bolt on his cloak.
When they rest for the night, Anguy lets Arya try his bow, but she's unable to draw it. He promises to make her a lighter one when they reach Riverrun. But Tom Sevenstrings says they'll only stay at Riverrun long enough to collect ransom for Arya's return. Lord Hoster hangs outlaws and his son hates music. Lem says it's Tom that the son, presumably Edmure, hates, and Tom retorts, "Well, he has no cause. The wench was willing to make a man of him, is it my fault he drank too much to do the deed?" So presumably Edmure has several weaknesses. And this particular one became the basis for a song Tom wrote.
Arya is more interested in the idea that she will be ransomed, and Harwin says, "You will not be the first highborn captive we've ransomed. Nor the last, I'd hope." Arya then worries what will happen if if Robb doesn't pay the price they want for her. The next day they reach a hill called High Heart, which is encircled by the "huge pale stumps" of what was once a circle of weirwoods, and had been a sacred place for the children of the forest. "No harm can ever come to those as sleep here," Tom tells her.
That night, a storm comes up and blows the coverlet off of Arya. She runs after it, and then hears voices around the fading coals of the campfire. Tom, Lem, and Greenbeard are talking to a tiny, wrinkled old woman.
"The old gods stir and will not let me sleep," she heard the woman say. "I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye. I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging from his wings. I dreamt of a roaring river and a woman that was a fish. Dead she drifted, with red tears on her cheeks, but when her eyes did open, oh, I woke from terror. All this I dreamt, and more. Do you have gifts for me, to pay me for my dreams?"The symbols in her dreams are more suggestive for the reader than they are for Lem, who scoffs at them, but Tom Sevenstrings agrees to sing a song for her. Arya doesn't recognize it, but thinks that Sansa would. Singing is not one of Arya's skills. The next morning she asks Tom if the children of the forest still live on High Heart, and he knows that she saw the old woman. He tells her "she's only an old dwarf woman," but that "she knows things she has no business knowing, and sometimes she'll tell you if she likes the look of you." He also says that they now have a lead on Dondarrion.
Arya asks why, if he's their leader, he's so hard to find. Harwin says that he doesn't tell people his plans so no one can betray him. He doesn't want people following him around, either, because that way he keeps his followers scattered so they "can strike in a dozen places at once, and be off somewhere else before they know." If someone captures them, they can't torture them and find out where Lord Beric is. Arya is reminded of the way the Tickler had tortured the people around the Gods Eye to try to find him.
That day they ride to Acorn Hall, where Lady Smallwood welcomes them, but also scolds them for "dragging a young girl through the war," and is even more scandalized when she finds out that Arya is highborn. She has Arya scrubbed and scented and dressed "in girl's things," none of which Arya takes well to. When Lady Smallwood talks about her own daughter and her love of dancing, she asks Arya what she likes to do. Arya finally comes up with "Needlework," and when Lady Smallwood says that it's "restful," Arya says, "not the way I do it." And when she's asked if she works at it every day, Arya says, "I did till I lost Needle. My new one's not as good." When Arya goes down to supper in her feminine finery, "Gendry took one look and laughed so hard that wine came out his nose, until Harwin gave him a thwack alongside his ear."
Lady Smallwood tells them that the lightning lord passed by a fortnight ago, and that they were driving sheep. "Thoros gave me three as thanks. You've eaten one tonight." She says that she's heard of famine near Stoney Sept and the Threepenny Wood, and that she would look for Lord Beric there. She also says that some of Robb's followers came by looking for Jaime. Arya asks who they were, which surprises Lady Smallwood, but she describes the sigil, which Arya identifies as the Karstarks. She thinks that if she could find them and slip away from the outlaws, they might take her to Riverrun.
Lem asks how Jaime escaped, and Lady Smallwood says, "They claimed that Lady Catelyn set him free." Tom says, "That's madness," and Arya refuses to believe it, though she holds her tongue. Harwin, however, says to Arya that she shouldn't be hearing such talk, and the others agree. Greenbeard tells her, "Be a good little lady and go play in the yard while we talk, now." Arya leaves, angrily, but Gendry follows her and they go to the smithy. He asks if the Thoros being talked about is the same one who was at King's Landing, "A red priest, fat, with a shaved head?" When Arya tells him she thinks so, he remembers that Thoros used to come to the forge where he apprenticed. His master disapproved of Thoros's flaming swords because they ruined the steel, but Thoros only used cheap swords that he dipped in wildfire.
Gendry compliments her on looking like "A proper little girl," and says, "You even smell nice for a change." She tells him he stinks, and they begin to wrestle until they are dirty and her dress is torn. When they return to the hall, Harwin bursts out laughing and says, "She was much the same at Winterfell." Lady Smallwood makes her take another bath and dresses her in something even more feminine. But it's too delicate to ride in, so when they set out the next day Lady Smallwood gives her some riding clothes that her son wore before he died at the age of seven.
Arya apologizes for tearing the acorn dress and says it was pretty. Lady Smallwood replies, "Yes, child. And so are you. Be brave."