Stobrod, Pangle, and a third man climb the lobe of a mountain. They all have digestive problems from venison they have eaten the day before and often have to rush off into the bushes. The men find level ground and pause, determining which way they should go. The third man is identified as a fellow outlier, a boy of seventeen from Georgia whose cousin recently died atop Cold Mountain. Stobrod and Pangle are looking to start their own community near the Shining Rocks. They gather provisions that Ruby and Ada left for them underneath a stone covered with strange markings.
The men discuss which trail to take. Stobrod decides that they should eat a meal before deciding how to proceed. The boy disappears into a thicket on account of his “scours” from the venison while Stobrod dozes in front of the fire. He awakens to find a troop of Home Guard with their weapons drawn on him. Teague tells the men he knows they’re deserters and that he’s looking for the outliers’ cave. Stobrod lies to Teague and gives a false location, but Pangle reveals where the cave is when Teague questions him. Teague and his men cook breakfast. Stobrod tells Teague what he’s been up to and then plays some tunes with Pangle for entertainment. Birch calls the musicians “holy men” before Teague tells them to stand in front of a nearby poplar. Stobrod holds his fiddle proudly in front of him while Pangle gives his executioners a friendly smile. Unnerved, Teague orders Pangle to hold his hat in front of his face before the guards shoot both him and Stobrod.
The Georgia boy recounts the tale of Stobrod’s and Pangle’s deaths to Ada and Ruby. Ada asks the boy why he wasn’t killed, and he explains that he was hiding in the thicket. Ada asks him to show them the way after promising to feed him. Ruby displays no sign of emotion; she decides that the men should be buried up the mountain. Ruby explains to the boy the route he needs to take to get home. The women plan their journey and decide they will have to spend a night in the woods. They dress in Monroe’s old clothes and leave the farm.
Ada and Ruby walk through the gloomy woods. Ada disagrees with her father’s theological reasoning that everything in the world holds its own heavenly meaning. It starts snowing and the women search for shelter. Ruby finds a camp that she remembers from her childhood. The women eat and rest underneath a stone shelter. They find traces of ancient civilizations, including fragments of arrowheads in the ashes of the fire. Ada watches the patterns of light thrown by the fire. Ruby argues that mankind never advances, but loses something for everything that it gains.
The next day the women reach the trail fork and find Pangle. They decide to bury him near a chestnut tree, and Ada hopes that the locust cross they use will grow and tell a tale like Persephone’s, with “black bark in winter” and white flowers in the spring. Ada finds Stobrod, who is still breathing. Ruby removes the bullet from his chest. The women descend into the valley and set up camp in an old Cherokee village. They put Stobrod to bed in one cabin and stable Ralph in another. Ada stares at the fire and feels overcome by loneliness.
In the chapter “naught and grief,” music appears to provide a measure of harmony if not logic in a world of insensible changes. Teague and the Home Guard are moved by Stobrod and Pangle’s performance, although they shoot the musicians nonetheless. This brutal act is committed out of fear and a lack of understanding, and it foreshadows Inman’s eventual death.