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Daenerys tries to bribe the Pureborn, the high civic council of Qarth, to help her invade Westeros, but they refuse. She asks Xaros to supply her with ships, but he tells her to give up her foolish dream and pleads with her to marry him. A sorceress tells Daenerys that she and her dragons are bringing magic back into the world and that Daenerys should go to Asshai to find what she seeks. Jorah urges her to leave the city and tells her that if she hopes to take back the Iron Throne, she needs to find a way to win over some of the lords of Westeros.
Tyrion sees off Myrcella, who is to be taken to Braavos for her safety before being brought to the Martells in Dorne. As they return to the castle, a crowd taunts Tyrion, Cersei, Joffrey, Sansa, and other members of the royal court. Joffrey sends the Hound to pacify the crowd, but the taunts quickly turn to violence, and chaos erupts. Under attack, the party fights its way back to the castle but not all make it. Tyrion berates Joffrey for inciting the violence and orders the Kingsguard to go back out in the city to find Sansa. As fire breaks out and spreads through the city, the Hound rides in carrying Sansa. That night they learn that the the mobs killed the High Septon and gang raped Lady Tanda’s daughter. Jacelyn Bywater warns Tyrion that the people have started resenting and hating the Lannisters, Tyrion most of all. Bronn mentions to Tyrion how much better things would be if Tommen were king rather than Joffrey, but Tyrion angrily refuses to think about that possibility.
Davos attends a parley between Stannis and Ser Cortnay Penrose, who still holds out inside Storm’s End. Stannis demands that Cortnay surrender and turn over Edric Storm, Robert’s bastard. Cortnay accuses Stannis’s council of being turncoats, refuses Stannis’s demands, and proposes the standoff be settled by single combat instead. Stannis dismisses Cortnay’s offer and the parley ends. Davos tells Stannis that many of the men who now follow him are not trustworthy, as they were Renly’s men only days before, a point Stannis appears to concede. Stannis tells Davos that he was having a nightmare when Renly was killed, and that he mourns his brother’s death. Davos advises Stannis to leave Storm’s End and attack King’s Landing, but Stannis refuses, saying it would make him look weak.
Stannis tells Davos that Melisandre has foreseen that Cortnay's death, but Davos disputes her ability to see the future, saying the events she foresaw only occurred because Stannis acted on her predictions. Stannis orders Davos to sneak Melisandre into Storm’s End that night. Davos does as he is told, but as he ferries Melisandre to the castle he accuses her of treachery and the murder of Cressen and Renly. She tells Davos that she is good because she serves the Lord of Light. Davos sails them into a cave under the castle. Melisandre takes off her red cloak, and Davos sees that she is pregnant. Melisandre squats and gives birth to a shadow, a figure that Davos, horrified, recognizes. The shadow quickly disappears into the castle.
Qhorin Halfhand, a revered commander of the Night’s Watch who serves in the garrison at the Shadow Tower, arrives at the Fist with his forces. Qhorin tells the Old Bear that he has learned that Mance Rayder has a vast army gathering in the Frostfangs. Qhorin says that Mance seeks some sort of sorcery or secret in the mountains, a magic power that will allow the wildlings to pass through or under the Wall and invade the Seven Kingdoms. Qhorrin chooses Jon to accompany him on a scouting mission into the mountains.
Cersei sends Tommen, her youngest son, out of the city for protection, but Tyrion sends Jacelyn and his men to intercept the party and hold Tommen at Rosby castle. Tyrion goes to the brothel, which has a secret entrance he uses to visit Shae, but he does not take his usual precautions to make sure he is not seen. At Shae’s, Varys comes to Tyrion and tells him that Cortnay Penrose is dead and Stannis has taken Storm’s End, which means Stannis can now march on King’s Landing. To protect Shae, Tyrion and Varys decide to bring her into the castle to serve as handmaiden to Lady Tanda's daughter. Varys tells Tyrion that he suspects Cortnay was killed by magic, though Tyrion is skeptical.
As Edmure goes out to fight the Lannister armies, Catelyn reflects that songs about the glorious conquests of knights lead people to romanticize war. Catelyn learns about the death of Cortnay and realizes that Stannis intends to put Edric Storm forward as proof that Joffrey is not Robert’s son. Catelyn and Brienne watch as some of the Lannister men attack the river fortifications and are driven back. As more attacks are beat back, Catelyn begins to think she was mistaken about the wisdom of Edmure’s plans and that Edmure, like Robb, is not the little boy she once knew.
Cleos Frey tells Catelyn that he saw Sansa at court but not Arya. Catelyn wonders if Tyrion might be more trustworthy than she thought, but she recalls Littlefinger’s claim that Tyrion’s dagger was used in the attempted murder of Bran, and she angrily dismisses the idea. A letter from Edmure reveals that they have repulsed all of the Lannister forces and that the Lannisters are now heading away from Riverrun. Catelyn consults a map and sees that Tywin marches in the direction of King’s Landing. She reflects that they have won many battles but she cannot shake her fear.
In Davos’s chapter, the novel shows the nature of true loyalty by contrasting Davos with the men who have recently sworn Stannis their allegiance. As Davos points out, Cortnay Penrose seems more admirable than the men who have come to Stannis’s side, since Cortnay has not shifted his allegiance. Many of the other men swore allegiance to Renly only the day before, but once Renly was dead their loyalty to him died as well. Of course, despite his reservations, Stannis is a realist, and while he cannot bring himself to forget how easily the men now in his camp have shifted their loyalties, he needs them and will take what help he can get. Stannis is clearly aware of is that they may simply view his side as the more likely to win the war, and thus it benefits them to be “loyal” to him. Were circumstances to change, however, so would their loyalties. Davos acts as a foil to these characters in that his loyalty is true, and when Stannis alternately thanks Davos for his honesty and chastises him for not serving him more unthinkingly, he reveals the dual nature of true loyalty: Davos may sometimes disagree with Stannis or tell him things he doesn't want to hear, acts that can seem to be disobedience, but Davos does so in order to serve Stannis better. The men who swear allegiances to one king or another so easily may do what Stannis says without question, but Davos serves Stannis more faithfully.
In Tyrion's first chapter, Joffrey’s cruelty once again appears in his ill-conceived order to send the Hound to pacify the crowd, and through the riot that ensues the novel suggests that ruling through fear and intimidation as Joffrey has done is not only cruel but also ineffectual. By this point, it is evident that Joffrey does not understand any way of ruling other than by force. In fact, he has proved time and again that he likes to elicit fear from others and that perhaps his greatest pleasure in being king is the joy he gets from lording the power he was born to over those around him. While he has learned this approach from Cersei, in this chapter even Cersei sees the merits of Tyrion’s more nuanced approach to power, as she orders the Kingsguard to obey Tyrion in the wake of the attack on the royal party. That attack comes as a result of Joffrey's policies and harsh treatment of the people of King's Landing. When Joffrey has the Hound try to subdue the unruly crowd, again through force, it serves only to inflame them, sparking a full-fledged riot. Joffrey seems immune to the irony that his efforts to get what he wants through force often yield the opposite of the desired effect. The novel, however, demonstrates this irony over and over to the readers.
Although the grievances of the masses are no doubt genuine, the novel also shows that the masses are capable of great cruelty, most notably through the gang rape of Lady Tanda’s daughter, and also great ignorance. Lady Tanda's daughter bears no responsibility for the plight of the commoners in King's Landing, yet many take their frustrations out on her because she is part of the royal court and is therefore a symbol of power. They rape her violently essentially for revenge. The truth, however, is that she is little more than a scared girl, and the revenge the commoners seek is not achieved through brutalizing her. That fact, and the reaction of the crowd toward Tyrion, illustrates how ignorant the masses can also be. The people appear to hate Tyrion most of all, when Tyrion has been the only person trying to help them and to moderate Joffrey’s excesses. Tyrion’s outward appearance strikes people as so abnormal that they cannot see him as someone who works on their behalf. Instead, they see him as a monster, showing their prejudice and gross misunderstanding of how power is wielded in the royal court.
The novel subtly probes the boundary between the real and the supernatural in Daenerys and Jon’s chapters. The incident with the sorceress from Ashaai seems almost trivial to Daenerys, but in the context of the book as a whole it is important, as it introduces the idea that the mere presence of Daenerys’s dragons is changing the world in mysterious ways. In several of the other characters’ stories, magic appears to be creeping its way back into a world that has largely forgotten it, and here the novel hints at why this might be so. It doesn't offer a full explanation, and it is unclear whether the appearance of dragons has brought magic back into the world or if the causation occurred the other way around, but it is certain that something momentous and supernatural is occurring in the world of the novel.
The events surrounding Catelyn further the civil war plot and show again how uncertain war can be. Edmure and the Tully men are proud of their defense of the riverlands against the Lannisters, but the novel gives readers two clues that it might not be the sweeping victory that it appears. The first is Catelyn’s own anxiety. The victories seem to be coming fast for the Starks and the Tullys, but she cannot shake the sense that something is amiss, a feeling confirmed when she looks at the map and sees where Tywin is headed. The other, more subtle clue lies in Edmure’s letter to Catelyn, in which he notes that the Lannister attack might have been a feint, or misdirection. Earlier in the book, readers saw Robb pull a surprising move that resulted in a great victory. Tywin, the book suggests, might be capable of something similar, though as of yet it remains unclear what that might be. As a result, Catelyn—and the reader—are left to wonder whether the Starks and Tullys are premature to think they're victorious.