Sweet Cersei has returned from Dragonstone with the welcome news that Stannis's former citadel has fallen. This means that Cersei can devote the fleet's attention to the Shield Islands and the Mander, where the ironmen have been conducting raids. And word now has it that Euron's forces are preparing to attack Oldtown.
But the attack on Dragonstone has been costly: A thousand men have fallen, and Ser Loras is seriously wounded. Cersei hides her pleasure at this news and listens as Aurane Waters tells the full story. Then she goes to find Margaery and tells her that her brother is a hero, but first he was wounded in the thigh with an arrow and then some ribs were broken by a blow from a mace. But worst of all, "He was doused with boiling oil." The maesters believe he will not survive.
"Dying is not dead," Margaery replies, and won't listen to Cersei's assurances that the burns are too severe. Cersei retreats to her room, where she prides herself on doing something that her father would have approved of. She will raise a statue to Ser Loras, and everyone will be grateful. "As for his lady mother, if the gods are good this news will kill her." Taena arrives in the morning, after a sunrise that "was the prettiest that Cersei had seen in years," to tell her they had grieved all night but that Margaery still refuses to believe that Loras will die.
Ser Osmund comes a little later to tell her that four men have come to her with news about Tyrion, and one of them has brought a head. She sees the one with the head first, but it isn't Tyrion's, and she has the man hauled off for Qyburn to deal with. Another of the men claims that Tyrion is hiding in a brothel in Oldtown, "pleasuring men with his mouth." The second says he is in "a mummer's show in Braavos," and the third claims he's a hermit in the riverlands. Cersei suggests that each of them lead some of her knights to the dwarf and if it proves true they will be rewarded. "If not ... well, my knights have little patience for deception, nor fools who send them chasing after shadows. A man could lose his tongue." The men suddenly decide "that perhaps it might have been some other dwarf they saw."
She then goes to court, where she deals with various pleas, and meets a delegation from the Faith. She is displeased to see Lancel Lannister among the "pious fools," and that the High Septon has not attended in person. She is also annoyed that the Warrior's Sons have taken in on themselves to "battle wickedness" by preaching and praying against the local brothels.
"These sinners feed the royal coffers," the queen said bluntly, "and their pennies help pay the wages of my gold cloaks and build galleys to defend our shores. There is trade to be considered as well. If King's Landing had no brothels, the ships would go to Duskendale or Gulltown. His High Holiness promised me peace in my streets. Whoring helps to keep that peace. Common men deprived of whores are apt to turn to rape. Henceforth let His High Holiness do his praying in the sept where it belongs."Pycelle reports that Gyles Rosby is gravely ill, but Cersei scoffs at the report: "Lord Gyles has had that cough for years, and it never killed him before." She suggests that someone is trying to do him in, perhaps the Tyrells, perhaps Pycelle himself. She huffs, "You will return to Lord Gyles and inform him that he does not have my leave to die."
Finally all the tedious business is done, and she goes to have supper with Tommen, who is upset about Ser Loras's condition. He also says that Margaery says he should go to court and listen, which is the last straw for Cersei. Margaery talks too much, Cersei says. "For half a groat I'd gladly have her tongue torn out." To her surprise, Tommen grows angry and says, "Don't you touch her. I'm the king, not you." Furiously, she hauls Tommen by the ear to the door and tells Ser Boros Blount, who is standing guard, to take Tommen to his bedchamber and bring the whipping boy, Pate, to him. "This time I want Tommen to whip the boy himself. He is to continue until the boy is bleeding from both cheeks. If His Grace refuses, or says one word of protest, summon Qyburn and tell him to remove Pate's tongue, so His Grace can learn the cost of insolence."
When she goes to bed, she thinks about Lady Falyse, whom Qyburn has put in the black cells. She has received word of the death of Lady Tanda and of Lollys's ascension to Lady Stokeworth, with Bronn as her lord. And then she dreams of the visit she and Jeyne Farman and Melara Hetherspoon had made to the sorceress, Maggy the Frog. Jeyne had been so frightened she ran away, and Cersei reflects, "She was the wise one, though." Jeyne was still alive, married, and mother of a dozen children.
The old woman had tasted their blood and said they could each ask three questions. Cersei had asked when she would marry Prince Rhaegar, and Maggy had replied, "Never. You will wed the king." And that she would be queen "until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear." And when she asked if she and the king will have children, Maggy said, "Oh, aye. Six-and-ten for him, and three for you." Their crowns and their shrouds will be gold, "And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white neck and choke the life from you." Cersei didn't know what a valonqar is, and Maggy didn't tell her. But she had heard enough and told Melara to leave with her.
Melara hadn't had her three questions, however, and insisted on asking if she will marry Jaime. But Maggy said she won't marry anyone: "Your death is here tonight, little one." Cersei was eager to get away, so she picked up a potion from a table and threw it in the old woman's eyes. Maggy cursed her, but now in the dream Cersei hears again "The valonqar shall wrap his hands about your throat." And Tyrion's face leers down at her as his fingers dig into her throat. She wakes to find the coverlet wrapped around her neck, and sends her maid, Dorcas, to fetch Pycelle. She asks him for something to help her sleep without dreaming.
She breakfasts with Tommen, and feels better, then sends for Qyburn, whom she asks if Falyse is still alive. "Alive, yes. Perhaps not entirely ... comfortable." She asks if perhaps they should produce her, in an attempt to thwart Bronn, but Qyburn tells her, "I fear that Lady Falyse is no longer capable of ruling Stokeworth. Or, indeed, of feeding herself." He has learned quite a bit from her, however. So Cersei changes the subject. She asks him about her dream and about the sorceress: "The smallfolk used to call her Maggy." Qyburn asks, "Maegi?" and tells her that "Bloodmagic is the darkest kind of sorcery." Melara, whose death the maegi had foretold, "was one-and-ten, healthy as a little horse and safe within the Rock. Yet she soon fell down a well and drowned."
Qyburn asks if she is still grieving for her childhood friend, but Cersei can't even remember what she looked like. What she wants to know is if the prophecy the maegi made about her, about "another queen, who would take from me all I loved," can be prevented. Qyburn says that it can, and when she asks how, says, "I think Your Grace knows how."
And yes, she does. Several ways, in fact. She begins laying her plot by asking Ser Osmund Kettleblack if his brother Osney could defeat Ser Boros Blount in combat. He assures her that Osney could.
They are traveling on, and they begin to find corpses hanging from the trees. Ser Hyle Hunt says what they are all thinking: "These are the men who raided Saltpans." But Brienne is more concerned about who had hanged them: "The noose was the preferred method of execution for Beric Dondarrion and his band of outlaws, it was said."
Finally they reach the inn that Septon Meribald knew was along the route, and they hear the sound of a forge. There are children in the inn yard, and Brienne introduces herself, Meribald, Podrick, and Ser Hyle. One of the children runs off to the forge and the hammering stops. A girl on the porch says her name is Willow and asks if they want beds. She tells them her sister Jeyne runs the inn, and they don't have many guests. "It's mostly sparrows on the roads these days, or worse." A boy's voice explains, "Thieves.... Robbers."
Brienne turns and sees the boy who had spoken, and gasps, "My lord?" For a moment she has taken the boy for Renly Baratheon. But he is, of course, Gendry, and she realizes that "Lord Renly's eyes had always been warm and welcoming, full of laughter, whereas this boy's eyes brimmed with anger and suspicion." When Septon Meribald asks if they have rooms for them, he says no, but Willow says yes. "They have food, Gendry. The little ones are hungry." The children, she explains, have just turned up there, sometimes having been brought by sparrows.
She and Podrick share a room. Septon Meribald will be going his own way from there on, Brienne plans to rise early and leave before Ser Hyle awakes. But when Podrick asks where they are going, she doesn't have an answer: East would take them to the Vale of Arryn, west to Riverrun, and north to Winterfell. Or, she thinks, she could just give up the quest, go south to King's Landing, confess her failure to Jaime, and take a ship home to Tarth.
The inn is full of children, and while they are waiting for dinner, Ser Hyle sits down by the fire with Brienne and proposes that they get married. She tells him to get lost. When dinner is served, Septon Meribald says grace, but notices that Gendry doesn't join in the prayer. When Meribald asks if Gendry doesn't love the gods, he says, "Not your gods," and leaves without eating. One little boy says that Gendry's god is the Lord of Light, and Willow hits him with her spoon to shut him up.
Brienne wraps some food in a cloth and takes it out to the forge for Gendry, telling Podrick to stay behind. She watches Gendry at the forge and thinks, "He has Renly's eyes and Renly's hair, but not his build. Lord Renly was more lithe than brawny ... not like his brother Robert, whose strength was fabled." He is sullen when she speaks to him, but she persists. She knows from his speech that he was born in King's Landing, and she says, "You have black hair and blue eyes, and you were born in the shadow of the Red Keep. Has no one ever remarked upon your face? ... In King's Landing you must have seen King Robert."
But before she can pursue her questioning, riders arrive. She counts seven of them, and tells Gendry, "you'll want a sword, and armor. These are not your friends. They're no one's friends." Then they see that the lead rider is wearing a helmet with "an iron snout and rows of steel teeth, snarling." Gendry says, "Him." But she says it isn't the Hound, just his helmet. Willow comes to the porch with a crossbow, but the lead rider threatens her obscenely. So Brienne steps forward with Oathkeeper drawn.
She has recognized her old tormentor, Rorge, and provokes him deliberately: "Shagwell said they cut your manhood off when they took your nose." He charges with his battleaxe, but she is the better fighter, and she cuts him down. "'Sapphires, she whispered at him, as she gave her blade a hard twist that made him shudder." But when she steps back to let him fall, she is attacked by Biter and loses her grip on Oathkeeper. He is on top of her, and she gropes for her dagger. He repeated slams her head into the ground, but she is able to slit his belly. Still, he gets the dagger out of her grip and breaks her forearm as he tries to wrench her head off.
Then he bites her cheek and tears off a mouthful of flesh. "He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. He opens his mouth again, and then his tongue sticks out at her, dripping blood. "His tongue is a foot long, Brienne thought, just before the darkness took her. Why, it looks almost like a sword."