Salladhor Saan has brought the news to Stannis:
"The Red Wedding, the smallfolk are calling it. They swear Lord Frey had the boy's head hacked off, sewed the head of his direwolf in its place, and nailed a crown about his ears. His lady mother was slain as well, and thrown naked in the river."Davos is shocked at the violation of the code of hospitality: "At a wedding.... As he sat at his slayer's board, a guest beneath his roof. Those Freys are cursed." Ser Axell Florent and Queen Selyse piously invoke the name of R'hllor, but Stannis observes, "This sounds more like Walder Frey's handiwork than any god's."
Melisandre claims to have seen in her flames the rising of more kings to take the place of Balon Greyjoy and Robb Stark. "You must show the realm a sign," she urges. "A sign that proves your power!" But Stannis scoffs at the idea of his having any power at all: He has "thirteen hundred men on Dragonstone, another three hundred at Storm's End." The only fleet he has at hand belongs to Salladhor Saan, and he has no money to hire mercenaries.
But what he does have, the queen and Ser Axell remind him, is the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Melisandre presses the point: "Give me the boy for R'hllor ... and the ancient prophecy shall be fulfilled. Your dragon shall awaken and spread his stony wings. The kingdom shall be yours." Davos holds his tongue as Ser Axell and the queen kneel before him, claiming that burning the boy will bring the stone dragon to life and even break the curse of barrenness that has made the queen unable to bear Stannis a son.
Stannis begins to waver when Melisandre says, "From his king's blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born." He really would like to see a dragon. He remembers going with Robert to Aerys Targaryeon's court, where the dragon skulls were displayed. Stannis had been about four and Robert five or six, and they "agreed afterward that the king had been as noble as the dragons were fearsome." Later, however, their father told them that the man on the throne that day wasn't Aerys, who had cut himself on the protruding blades of the Iron Throne, "so his hand had taken his place. It was Tywin Lannister who'd so impressed us."
Still, he thinks about how impressed people would be if he could show them his dragon. Then Davos ventures forth to say, "I know little of dragons and less of gods ... but the queen spoke of curses. No man is as cursed as the kinslayer, in the eyes of gods and men." Melisandre protests that there are no gods apart from "R'hllor and the Other, whose name must not be spoken." Davos persists in asking her why she needs Edric Storm (he shrewdly repeats the name, knowing that as long as they think of him as a person they'll be more reluctant to kill him).
"Only death can pay for life, my lord," Melisandre replies. "A great gift requires a great sacrifice." The greatness resides in the king's blood in his veins, and she reminds him that the blood in the leeches that Stannis burned has already taken effect. But Davos says, "Robb Stark was murdered by Lord Walder of the Crossing, and we have heard that Balon Greyjoy fell from a bridge. Who did your leeches kill?" And Stannis points out that she's still short a king. Melisandre replies:
"To be sure, Your Grace. One king might die by chance, even two ... but three? If Joffrey should die in the midst of all his power, surrounded by his armies and his Kingsguard, would not that show the power of the Lord at work?""It might," Stannis agrees. "Or not," Davos adds, hoping he hasn't gone too far, and remembering the murderous shadow that Melisandre gave birth to.
Stannis dismisses them, but Davos stays behind to plead the case for sparing Edric Storm's life. But Stannis is torn between his need of Melisandre's help and his skepticism about her powers. The glowing sword she gave him, Lightbringer, didn't help him on the Blackwater, but he would really like a dragon. And he tells Davos he, too, has seen things in the flames: "a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning ... burning, Davos. His own crown consumed the flesh and turned him into ash."
"If Joffrey should die ... what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?" he asks. And Davos replies, "Everything." Stannis glares at him and sends him away, "before you talk yourself back into the dungeon."
Outside, Davos smells the sea and wishes he could sail away on it. He looks at the gargoyles and grotesques on the buildings, and the dragon figures carved everywhere. Even the buildings are designed in the shape of dragons. He wonders, "What if they were real dragons, somehow turned to stone?" He finds Salladhor Saan standing there, and asks if he's still angry with him for quashing Ser Axell's plan to invade Claw Isle. Salladhor says he has forgiven but not forgotten. He also says that he has heard that Davos is unpopular at court and is finding new friends elsewhere.
Davos has indeed been doing that, seeking out people who are not followers of Melisandre's religion and gaining their confidence. Salladhor tells him to be careful: "You are grown so very great now, yet the higher a man climbs the farther he has to fall." As he leaves Salladhor, Davos reflects on the truth in his statement. He is on his way to see Maester Pylos, who is teaching him to read, a skill that he is certain the king's Hand should have mastered. He arrives to find his own son, Devan, the Princess Shireen, and Edric Storm finishing up their lesson with Pylos. Edric has been reading about his father's battles, and recounts them with pride.
For his own lesson, Davos is reading from the letters that have been sent to the king. "His first duty was to help his king rule, and for that he must needs understand the words the ravens brought." There are no new letters, so Pylos gives him an old one. It turns out to be addressed to the "five kings," and to be about the attack by the King beyond the Wall and his wildlings. "We fear Mormont slain with all his strength," he reads, haltingly at first.
When he realizes what he's reading, he asks if Stannis has seen the letter. Pylos tells him that he took it to Lord Alester when he was still the Hand, but he declined to send a reply: "'His Grace lacks the men to fight his own battles, he has none to waste on wildlings,' he said to me." Davos remembers his own visit to the Wall at Eastwatch, and the wildlings he had met who, he tells Pylos, "seemed men like any other men, some fair, some foul." Burt something about the letter bothers him:
If Melisandre knew of this letter.... What was it she had said? One whose name may not be spoken is marshaling his power, Davos Seaworth. Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends.... And Stannis had seen a vision in the flames, a ring of torches in the snow with terror all around.Pylos notices his behavior and asks if he is ill. "I am frightened, Maester, he might have said." But instead he asks Pylos for another letter. This one, he tells the maester, is "Too ... troubling."
The smoke of burning Mole's Town is visible from Castle Black, so they have been alerted that Styr and his wildlings are approaching. Jon is still in pain from his leg, but Maester Aemon has given him a crutch. Donal Noye has taken charge of the preparations to defend the castle, which lies open to the south, and Jon is ready to do whatever he can.
His thoughts turn inevitably to Ygritte, but he has to force them down: "Ygritte, stay away. Go south and raid, go hide in one of those roundtowers you liked so well. You'll find nothing here but death."
They have mounted black-clad scarecrows everywhere: decoys to make the wildlings think their forces are ten times more numerous than they are. There are six on top of the King's Tower with Jon, as well as two living brothers-in-black, Deaf Dick Follard and a boy who had been raised in an Oldtown brothel whom they called Satin. The tower is next to the Wall at the foot of the wooden stairs that zigzag up its side.
Jon remembers his Uncle Benjen telling him that the reason Castle Black is undefended on its southern side is that the Night's Watch is pledged to be neutral in any internal disputes. Its sole task is to defend attacks from the north, which is what the Wall is for. But no one seems to have anticipated that the foes might cross the Wall and then attack from the south. "We are caught between the hammer and the anvil," Jon realizes. So the plan is to move all essentials to the top of the Wall and to concentrate on defending the gate. A rampart of barrels of nails, salted meat, timbers, bales of grain and of cloth and so on is built ten feet high around the entrance to the gate and the foot of the stairway up the side of the Wall.
Villagers from Mole's Town are either climbing the stairs or being hauled up by the lift to the top of the Wall. The garrison itself consists of "old men, cripples, and green boys," and some of them still don't trust Jon because of his time with Mance Rayder: "They still think me a turncloak. That was a bitter draft to drink, but Jon could not blame them. He was a bastard, after all. Everyone knew that bastards were wanton and treacherous by nature, having been born of lust and deceit." He also has some enemies he made earlier, such as Rast, whom he threatened with having his throat torn out by Ghost because he wouldn't stop tormenting Samwell Tarly.
In addition to members of the garrison, Donal Noye is also trying to whip some of the villagers into shape to defend the castle, outfitting them with weaponry and armor. The women and children have been given tasks carrying water and tending fires.
The day passes without an attack, but when night falls the horns blow, signaling the approach of the wildlings. He and Satin and Deaf Dick take their positions, bows and arrows at the ready. He sees dark shapes slipping around below, but waits until they are close enough for a sure shot. Their arrows begin to hit the mark as the moonlight makes the wildlings increasingly visible. They are close enough that Jon can recognize some of his former companions, but what he really wants is a good shot at Styr, the Magnar of Thenn.
The wildlings have set fire to the common hall, and then Deaf Dick call's Jon's attention to the roof of the armory, where two wildlings have climbed, one with a torch. Deaf Dick aims his crossbow but misses. And then he is struck by an arrow from below and plunges a hundred feet to the ground. Jon looks down at the body and sees, not ten feet from it, Ygritte. He raises his bow and aims, but can't bring himself to release the arrow.
The stables are on fire, and the movements of the wildlings through the buildings is clearly visible. Jon limps over to Satin and they go to the north parapet, looking down on the gate and the makeshift barricade. The Thenns are attacking the barricade, and are an easy target. Jon realizes that he is out of arrows, so he goes to fetch more. As he does so, the trap door to the roof opens. Jon reaches for Longclaw and kills the first man through the opening with a blow to the head. He calls for Satin, who kills the next man with an arrow. Then they fetch a kettle of boiling oil and pour it down on the Thenns below. Jon shuts the trap door and puts the kettle on top of it.
They go back to the parapet where the battle has begun to turn in favor of the wildlings. The citizens of Mole's Town begin to flee, and the brothers are outnumbered. The gate has been taken, and no one has fallen back into the tunnels to defend it. The Thenns begin to climb the stairs, and although Jon and Satin manage to kill a few, there are too many of them. The brothers defending the fourth landing are cut down and the archers on the fifth landing begin to retreat.
Jon tells Satin to fetch the torches, and as he is bringing them, Jon sees Styr on the barricade, calling to the half-dozen Thenns following him. A horn sounds from the ninth landing of the stair, where Donal Noye is standing. Jon lights a fire arrow from a torch and shoots it at "the casks and kegs and sacks" at the foot of the stairs. They are full of lard, oil, and combustible wood. Fire arrows are coming from above, setting the steps aflame. The wildlings have no way to go. And then the heat from the fire melts the ice on the side of the Wall, "and the whole lower third of the stair broke off, along with several tons of ice. That was the last that Jon Snow saw of Styr, the Magnar of Thenn."
Satin helps Jon, who is crippled by pain, down the tower steps, past the bodies on them. He walks through the destroyed buildings and past the bodies of wildlings, some of whom he recognizes. He finds Ygritte with an arrow in her chest, but he knows from the feathers that it wasn't one of his. Her eyes open when he kneels beside her. He tells her that Maester Aemon will treat her wound and give her something for the pain.
"You're not going to die, Ygritte," he assures her. "You're not." And she says, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."