With more comments on the infinite complexity of historical processes, the narrator tells us that Kutuzov warily reports a victory at Borodino but then decides to retreat beyond Moscow with his depleted army. Listening wearily to his disagreeing advisors, and despite the commander Bennigsen’s firm refusal to abandon the Russian capital, Kutuzov realizes that Moscow must be left for the French. Privately, Kutuzov tries to understand how he ever allowed Napoleon to reach Moscow. Despite official orders not to flee, Muscovites leave the city, refusing to submit to French occupation.
Meanwhile, Helene has become romantically attached to a foreign prince and an old Russian grandee. She converts to Catholicism in the hopes of persuading the Pope to annul her marriage to Pierre, making a sizeable donation to the church at the same time. After some wavering, Helene settles on remarriage to the Russian grandee. She seeks divorce from Pierre even though the Rostovs’ friend Marya Dmitrievna publicly calls her a whore.
After Borodino, Pierre is dazed and distressed, traveling on the road to Mozhaysk, where he intends to take refuge. Sleeping in the courtyard of an inn, he dreams of his Masonic benefactor and of other acquaintances. He awakens to news that Mozhaysk is being abandoned to the French, and that Andrew and Anatole Kuragin are dead. Arriving in Moscow, Pierre is summoned by Count Rostopchin, the local commander in chief. Another official tells Pierre of a case involving a forged Napoleonic proclamation, and also conveys rumors about Helene’s plans to travel to Europe. Count Rostopchin warns Pierre to break off contact with the Masons. Informed that Helene has converted to Catholicism to attain a divorce, and reflecting sadly on Andrew’s death, Pierre suddenly abandons the twelve people waiting to conduct business with him. He flees into the city of Moscow without telling anyone where he is going.
When Petya joins the hussars, Countess Rostova is distressed that both her sons may be killed at any moment. Meanwhile, the Rostov family inefficiently prepares to flee Moscow, despite contradictory official rumors that no one will be allowed to leave. The countess is pleased at Nicholas’s news of a romantic interest in the wealthy Princess Mary. Even Sonya admits this development is a good prospect, and she appeases her grief by directing the evacuation of the Rostov household. Natasha and Petya, home on leave, are in high spirits, awaiting the extraordinary events to come.
The Rostov household is in disorder as the evacuation from Moscow grows imminent. Natasha, too distracted to help pack the family’s belongings, invites wounded soldiers stationed outside to stay in the Rostov home. Petya learns that there will be a battle the next day. The countess is terrified, but Petya is excited. Natasha takes control of the packing, and the household prepares to leave the following day. Andrew shows up wounded and dying, and is given refuge in the Rostov home without the Rostovs’ knowledge.
Moscow is thrown into confusion, as commodities are pricier and serfs are running away. Just before departing, the old count generously offers to unload some of his carts and use them to convey wounded soldiers, despite his wife’s objections. Under Natasha’s influence, the count finally orders all the family’s possessions to be unloaded, and all the carts made available to the wounded. Sonya, told that Andrew is among the soldiers being conveyed, informs the countess, who worries about Natasha’s reaction and hides this development from her.