Mance’s Inspiration: A Wolf Takes Flight

“I only sing the songs that better men have made.”

So I think I made a compelling case for Jenny’s song actually being the prophetic ‘song of ice and fire’.

However that was more of building block than a capstone in my exploration of these ideas. This essay, the spiritual successor to that one, articulates the following:

There are many singers in contemporary Westeros that know Jenny’s song.

A close examination of these singers and their manifestations of the song gives us a fuller picture of the song’s nature, themes and content.

A number of careful observations seemingly allow the inference of a second verse from the song.

This possible verse suggests something profound was planned at Winterfell.

Something involving Mance.

This is is the final essay in the Composer of Prophecy series which closely examines Rhaegar’s involvement in the the prophecy of the promised prince and how he may have covertly ‘stored’ it in the song which is informally known as “Jenny’s song”.

Composer of Prophecy

  1. Rhaegar’s Song of Love and Doom
  2. Broken Bonds – The Secrets of His Song
  3. A Wolf Takes Flight
    1. Insuring a Prophecy. The distribution of Jenny’s song: which singers know the song. An exploration that highlights the very subtle distribution of the song through Westeros.
    2. A Wolf Takes Flight. A suspected ‘hidden verse’ is assessed as a possible explanation for some of Mance’s plans in Winterfell.
    3. Killed with a Spell. Continuing the previous section, how the ‘hidden verse’ might reveal about unrevealed/forthcoming elements of Mance’s plans.

*   *   *


So what other singers or musicians in Westeros know “Jenny’s song”? What is the relevance?

A Single Song

I raised a point in the previous essay that Rhaegar’s obsession with playing his harp may have derived from knowing “Jenny’s song”. His music seems to have a consistent, tragic quality, and is described that way in all of his known performances.

Additionally, there are several occasions where Rhaegar is described as only playing one song:

The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.

At the welcoming feast, the prince had taken up his silver-stringed harp and played for them. A song of love and doom, Jon Connington recalled, and every woman in the hall was weeping when he put down the harp. Not the men, of course.

Granted we don’t know what song that is, but given the prominent unity in description, there’s no reason to believe he’s performing more than one song.

It’s entirely possible that he plays one song obsessively because it is Jenny’s song and contains the prophecy of the promised prince. Playing it on repeat helps insure that he always remembers the words.

*   *   *

Rhaegar Targaryen

Although the whole theory is predicated on the idea that Rhaegar knew Jenny’s song, its worthwhile to take a thorough inventory of his performances. It gives us a lot of details by which to identify the other singers who know Jenny’s song.

In addition to the descriptions cited moments ago, here are some additional excerpts about Rhaegar’s music.

He went to the window seat, picked up a harp, and ran his fingers lightly over its silvery strings. Sweet sadness filled the room as man and wife and babe faded like the morning mist, only the music lingering behind to speed her on her way.

When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”

By night the prince played his silver harp and made her weep.

When you look at all of these passages about Rhaegar’s music, here are some common elements:

  • The music is sad, seemingly tragic in nature.
  • It causes a lot of women to weep (rather apropos considering the Ghost’s reaction).
  • It seems to be preoccupied with ‘love and doom’; perhaps a tragic romance.
  • It concerns dead kings.
  • It concerns ‘twilights’, suggesting an emphasis on transitions of a worldly nature.
  • It’s apparently a serviceable lullaby.
  • It concerns tears.
  • Although ostensibly about the past, the song seems to reek of some kind of relevance to current events.

These ideas are useful in looking at the other candidates.

*   *   *

Tom of Sevenstreams

Unlike many candidates, we know that Tom O’Sevens most definitely knows “Jenny’s song”: he performed it for the Ghost of High Heart on two occasions, and even played the first verse at the end of A Storm of Swords.

As redundant as this seems it’s important for beginning our investigation into the identities of the other possible singers who know the song.

*   *   *

A Sad, Soft Song

When you look at Tom’s various performances of Jenny’s song, two characteristic words emerge:

So the singer played for her, so soft and sad that Arya only heard snatches of the words, though the tune was half-familiar.

A man in patched, faded greens was sitting crosslegged atop a weathered stone sepulcher, fingering the strings of a woodharp. The music was soft and sad.

So there are two key words that we see in close formations: sad and soft. Notice that this is quite close to the ‘sweet sadness’ used to described Rhaegar’s music in the House of the Undying.

It’s further consistent with the fact that Rhaegar’s performance in that scene was a lullaby, given the newborn present. ‘Sad’ and ‘soft’ are both very compatible with describing a song that can be used as a lullaby.

Why does this matter?

*   *   *

Mance Rayder

During Mance’s stay at Winterfell in A Dance with Dragons, there are two times where he plays a song that Theon does not recognize:

He could hear the sound of music from the hall behind him. A soft song now, and sad. For a moment he felt almost at peace.

As he began to play—a sad, soft song that Theon Greyjoy did not recognize—Ser Hosteen, Ser Aenys, and their fellow Freys turned away to lead their horses from the hall.

We can guess from the first passage that Theon does not know the song, based on the fact that he has a rapid-fire recollection for every other song he hears, quickly citing the names for every song Abel plays. And it’s explicit in the second passage.

Given that Theon seems to quickly and avidly recall the names of songs, it’s perhaps possible that he’s unfamiliar with the song because he cannot place the name. Or quite simply because he’s never heard it before.

In any case, the citations clearly show the same consistent, proximal use of the word-pair sad and soft.

I’m sure that rigid thinking dictates that this establishes no true connection, that it could just be an author’s repetitive prose.

However, there are no other ‘unidentified’ songs that are so consistently described by these two words.

Additionally, consider the context in which Mance performs these songs:

  • Just prior to when the spearwives accost Theon in the godswood.
  • When the spearwives initiate their rescue attempt.

In other words, whatever song he’s playing seems to have extreme significance to him and his plans. Mance has a tendency to be a sly-yet-brazen man (several of his song choices are openly roasting Ramsay or even stating his plans outright), it seems likely that he would not pick something innocuous for this purpose: it is not a simple, randomly chosen ditty.

There are bonus points toward this idea when Mance said the following:

“Would that I were. I will not deny that Bael’s exploit inspired mine own . . . but I did not steal either of your sisters that I recall. Bael wrote his own songs, and lived them. I only sing the songs that better men have made. More mead?”

There are very important details that can be derived from the fact that Mance knows this song, to be discussed later in this essay. One key question is “How in seven hells does Mance know Rhaegar’s song if he’s been north of the Wall most of his life?”

Although I feel I’ve provided enough context to explain that Mance knows the song regardless, some readers might demand at least a plausible explanation for how Mance knows it. I will attempt to provide at least one possibility in a moment.

*   *   *


In A Feast for Crows, Sansa is driven half-mad by Marillion’s sad singing at the Eyrie:

He sang of the Dance of the Dragons, of fair Jonquil and her fool, of Jenny of Oldstones and the Prince of Dragonflies. He sang of betrayals, and murders most foul, of hanged men and bloody vengeance. He sang of grief and sadness.

What’s interesting here is that he is last mentioned singing about Jenny of Oldstones. Notice the next sentence is about betrayals, murders most foul, hanged men, bloody vengeance.

If you put this into context of what’s happening in the Riverlands, the song is rather eerily describing the Red Wedding and the hanging of the Freys, events that are happening right now leagues away from the Eyrie.

It’s curiously apropos –almost prophetic– if you will.

It also describes the music in terms of sadness and grief, quite close to our ‘sad, soft’ song, and Rhaegar’s song of ‘love and doom’.

It’s also notable that there are no songs besides Jenny’s song which are known to be about Jenny of Oldstones. This also suggests that he was playing Jenny’s song.

*   *   *


Recall the verse we know of Jenny’s song:

“High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts”

Now, Dareon once tries to soothe Gilly and her baby with a song while they are traveling to Braavos:

Once, at Sam’s urging, the singer played a lullaby to soothe the babe, but partway through the first verse Gilly began to sob inconsolably.

When you consider that her real son is back at Castle Black, staying in upper floors of the King’s Tower, it’s certainly an amazing fit. Rhaegar already showed us that his song is a serviceable lullaby as well.

Some people like to argue that any song could make her cry, however, that doesn’t make sense: she started crying after only hearing part of the first verse. For Jenny’s song, that would mean she only heard the following bit before she started crying:

“High in the halls of the kings who are gone…”

It’s amazingly precise to her situation and the location of her biological child (he’s back at Castle Black, in the King’s Tower on the upper floors with Val). No other known song could be so precise to her situation in just half a verse. I hate to say it, but it would seem preposterous to think otherwise.

Some readers have countered that Gilly was crying the whole time, so any song could have set her off. This ignores the context of the citation. At the time of the excerpt, Gilly was already calm and that she and Dareon were both attempting to get the baby to calm down. Her reaction to the song came out of the blue. In other words the song provoked a strong, nigh-uncontrollable reaction from her. Only Jenny’s song seems appropriate.

Thus Dareon knows Jenny’s song.

*   *   *

Orland of Oldtown

This one is rather tenuous. Mance Rayder briefly mentions watching Orland play at Winterfell:

“The night your father feasted Robert, I sat in the back of his hall on a bench with the other freeriders, listening to Orland of Oldtown play the high harp and sing of dead kings beneath the sea.”

Orland’s song is about dead kings, sure dead kings beneath the sea, but still dead kings. Which upon a glance does indeed ring true with one element of Barristan’s description of Rhaegar’s song. It could conceivably be our song, but there is absolutely no guarantee. It’s quite likely there are other songs about dead kings.

While this looks very very much like coincidence, isn’t it rather odd that the Ghost of High Heart declares the following:

“Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”

Arya’s heart caught in her throat.

“Which bloody king is dead, crone?” Lem demanded.

“The wet one. The kraken king, m’lords. I dreamt him dead and he died, and the iron squids now turn on one another.”

Couple that with what we know of Balon’s death:

“Balon Greyjoy?” Catelyn’s heart skipped a beat. “You are telling us that Balon Greyjoy is dead?”

The shabby little captain nodded. “You know how Pyke’s built on a headland, and part on rocks and islands off the shore, with bridges between? The way I heard it in Lordsport, there was a blow coming in from the west, rain and thunder, and old King Balon was crossing one of them bridges when the wind got hold of it and just tore the thing to pieces. He washed up two days later, all bloated and broken. Crabs ate his eyes, I hear.”

A rather happy coincidence that this lines up so well with dead kings beneath the waves from Orland’s song. Almost –prophetic– if you will.

If the Ghost of High Heart dreamed of Balon’s death and it was recorded in Rhaegar’s song, then its entirely possible that Orland’s reference to dead kings beneath the sea could be about Balon.

I admit this one is the most tenuous of the bunch, which is why I list it last.

This could be a plausible explanation of how Mance learned of Jenny’s song, since we know he observed Orland in Winterfell. It’s entirely possible that Mance learned it some other way, but this exists as a plausible scenario.

*   *   *

What’s interesting about all of this is that –by playing his song regularly and at every opportunity– Rhaegar ensured that the prophecy would be widely available — even after his death.

Could that have been intentional? Could it have been meant for some other purpose?

While these are tantalizing questions, a more immediate avenue of understanding has become available: What these secondary singers can tell us.

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*   *   *


Note: I’ve presented variants of this argument before in other essays. This version is slightly altered to hopefully clarify my points more articulately, more convincingly.

I believe there is sufficient evidence to infer the existence of another line in Jenny’s song, the prophetic song of ice and fire.

Articulating this requires a small degree of ‘setup’, so please bear with some brief moments where your incredulity will be tested. I hope you feel rewarded for it afterwards.

Here we go.

I strongly believe that a careful understanding of some key events in the books lead to a revelation: that Rhaegar’s song at some point mentions the existence of a winged wolf.

In particular, I believe it mentions a wolf that grows wings and flies out of a tower window.

I acknowledge that convincing you readers of this will be one of the hardest parts of this essay. Please bear with me.

The Context: The Flight of Fake Arya

As noted earlier, Mance most likely played Jenny’s song when the spearwives commenced the ‘operation’ to rescue “Arya”.

Indeed, I believe the song was not just another of Mance’s brazen send-ups, but a signal to the women to conduct the rescue, and perhaps how.

When Theon and the spearwives first enter Ramsay’s chamber in search of Jeyne, he cannot find her and worries that she has committed suicide:

No day had dawned inside this room. Shadows covered all. One last log crackled feebly amongst the dying embers in the hearth, and a candle flickered on the table beside a rumpled, empty bed. The girl is gone, Theon thought. She has thrown herself out a window in despair.

It’s interesting and relevant that his first thoughts run to her jumping from a tower window.

Now, we know the plan was to swap “Arya” for Squirrel. Squirrel would later climb down a tower wall and join them in the escape.

This was the plan, the idealized version. Further we know it was premeditated:

Rowan grasped Theon’s arm. “The bath. It must be now.”

Now imagine if Mance’s plan had gone off without a hitch: ideal in every way.

What do you think Ramsay and his company would believe happened to “Arya”, had things gone according to plan, when they discovered she was missing? More importantly, what do you think the common soldiers would say to each other?

What would people say about a Stark girl, trapped in a locked and guarded tower, vanishing with no body to be found, the only viable exit being a tower window?

That certainly sounds like ‘Arya’ (a figurative wolf) just grew wings and flew away to me.

Can you at admit that this is a reasonable fantasy that would be readily entertained by the masses at least and pondered by the lords?

Now remember that Mance says songs inspire his deeds:

“Would that I were. I will not deny that Bael’s exploit inspired mine own . . . but I did not steal either of your sisters that I recall. Bael wrote his own songs, and lived them. I only sing the songs that better men have made. More mead?”

Why then, isn’t it possible that the details of the false Arya’s rescue were derived from a song??

I hope I have successfully communicated the idea here:

  • That if things worked properly, “Arya” would have seemed like a metaphorical wolf that had grown wings and simply flown out of a tower window.
  • That Mance was inspired by Rhaegar’s song, presuming the song actually had content about a winged wolf in the first place.

If you believe that I’ve made these assertions fairly, I believe you will enjoy the rest of this section.

*   *   *

Polliver’s Poetry

There’s a strange bit of prose that comes from Polliver of all people:

“I forgot, you’ve been hiding under a rock. The northern girl. Winterfell’s daughter. We heard she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window. But she left the dwarf behind and Cersei means to have his head.”

Just a few moments ago I articulated that Mance’s plan for Arya would appear to others as though she just flew away. I particularly emphasized that the common rabble and soldiers would be more apt to believe and perpetuate such superstitions.

Isn’t it passing queer that we have Polliver essentially replicating that same sentiment here, but in this case referring to Sansa after the death of Joffrey??

Further, this dialog is completely inconsistent with his normal vernacular. I’m strongly of the opinion that his words were are a clever bastardization of a song he’s heard. There’s some curious reference to songs if I expand the scope of the excerpt a small bit:

“I forgot, you’ve been hiding under a rock. The northern girl. Winterfell’s daughter. We heard she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window. But she left the dwarf behind and Cersei means to have his head.”

That’s stupid, Arya thought. Sansa only knows songs, not spells, and she’d never marry the Imp.

First of all, Polliver is referring to Sansa here, but in the case of Mance Rayder we’re talking about Sansa’s closest friend, Jeyne Poole. Further, both of them are intimately familiar with songs and married against their wills.

I have further argued in other essays that Arya’s use of a ‘that’s stupid’ refrain is a thematic signal related to the presence of songs in ASOIAF (disregard the other elements of that essay for purposes of this one, only the ‘Songs are Stupid’ portion is needed).

Collectively these are a potent number of parallels.

Given the striking similarities between Polliver’s assertion about Sansa’s flight and Mance’s idealized rescue, coupled with the parallels between Sansa and Jeyne, isn’t this surpassing the levels of reasonable coincidence?

And like I said, since we know that Mance takes inspiration from songs, could not this suggest that the ‘wolf that grows wings and flies out a tower window’ be derived from a song??

*   *   *

Bran: The Chained Wolf

Another interesting manifestation of the winged wolf is Bran Stark. Look at these two passages:

Jojen gave a solemn nod. “I dreamed of a winged wolf bound to earth by chains of stone, and came to Winterfell to free him. The chains are off you now, yet still you do not fly.”

You are the winged wolf, and there is no saying how far and high you might fly . . . if you had someone to teach you.

What’s interesting about this is that Jojen is a green-dreamer, not unlike the Ghost of High Heart. He dreamed of a winged wolf, much as I’m proposing that the Ghost must have.

What makes this idea all the more compelling is that Bran was indeed thrown out of a tower window. Indeed, the process by which he ‘learned to fly’ did not begin until after he flew from a tower window.

*   *   *

The Lothston Shield

In another essay, I argue at length that Howland Reed ‘lied’ in his telling of the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. I proposed that Lyanna and Rhaegar actually met at the Tourney of Harrenhal, after she threw a ‘Lothston shield’ (with a bat sigil) out of a tower window. This was done while shedding her identity as the mystery knight, and thus could symbolize a wolf flying from a tower window.

*   *   *

Back to Mance and “Arya”

Now, even if you disregard the latter notion of the “Lothston Shield” (I acknowledge it’s a controversial idea), it seems fair to say that there is an established motif concerning winged wolves that fly from tower windows.

  • Jojen dreamed of one.
  • Polliver spoke of one.
  • The ideal result of Mance’s rescue would have seemed like one.

If Jojen dreamed of the winged wolf there’s no reason that the Ghost of High Heart might not have done the same, which would explain how the mention of a winged wolf might have ended up in Rhaegar’s song.

Finally, after Theon escapes Winterfell with Jeyne, he obsesses over the idea that they ‘flew’, specifically referring to it in those terms, even when corrected by others:

“I saved the girl,” he said. “We flew.”

He told her how he’d saved the girl, leaping from the castle wall into the snow. “We flew. Let Abel make a song of that, we flew.”

If I’m right in this, there’s an amazing irony in Theon’s declaration that Abel should write a song.

*   *   *

Why Do Winged Wolves Matter?

Well, in truth, that’s not really the juice I’m after.

It’s a fun novelty to discover a line in Rhaegar’s song via such esoteric methods, but it’s not the kind of reward I expect readers want from an essay this long.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


So what is the fun of all of this slogging through minutiae?

Return to Polliver:

“We heard she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window.”

Here’s the fun: she killed the king with a spell

Now if Mance is indeed inspired by songs made by better men, and Rhaegar’s song does indeed mention this presumed verse from Polliver, it would imply that somebody dies by what appears to be magical means.

Let me be clear that I’m only implying that Mance planned to kill someone and make it look magical.

Now, here I begin a small adventure and move away from what I would consider a serious attempt at theory and into a fun exercise in possibility. It starts out reasonable and fairly probable but quickly moves into the fascinating and unverifiable.

Smoke and Mirrors

I know we all prefer a light touch with GRRMs magic in ASOIAF. Nonetheless it exists. That said, we already know about one very magical thing that Mance could very well have, all-but-literally up his sleeve:

The iron cuff that cloaked him in a glamor, making him look like Rattleshirt.

We know that Mance no longer has the cuff on his arm: he is no longer glamored. However, it very well could still be in his possession. Although this might normally seem like a use of magic that cheapens Martin’s world, the cuff and its magic was well-established in A Dance with Dragons. What’s more, several ‘rules’ regarding glamors were explained without any corresponding relevance in the plot; suggesting that the device may very well resurface as an important plot point.

In light of this possibility, note this seemingly innocuous passage:

Squirrel had stripped down to her smallclothes, and was rooting through a carved cedar chest in search of something warmer. In the end she settled for one of Lord Ramsay’s quilted doublets and a well-worn pair of breeches that flapped about her legs like a ship’s sails in a storm.

Squirrel is the spearwife that was left in Ramsay’s chambers, to later climb out the tower window and ostensibly rejoin the others.

I don’t know about you, but if I was planning to surreptitiously navigate Winterfell without attracting attention, the last thing I would want to do is be dressed in Ramsay’s signature clothing.

There’s something conspicuous about her choice of garment that defies rudimentary logic.

Coupled with the possible presence of the iron cuff, it seems entirely possible that Mance could be setting up an opportunity to disguise himself (or someone else possibly) as Ramsay Bolton.

Melisandre however had made it clear that ‘configuring’ the glamor requires not just a signature article of clothing, but the utterance of a secret keyword as well.

“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

Is it possible that Melisandre somehow rendered him able to ‘configure’ the glamor himself? If she did remove his cuff of her own accord, then it makes sense that she would try to aid him as best as possible. After all, she has tremendous motive to ensure Mance is successful. If they thought the glamor would help then there’s no reason to have ignored it. Heck, she might have even provided him with some of her magical powders as well:

While the boy was gone, Melisandre washed herself and changed her robes. Her sleeves were full of hidden pockets, and she checked them carefully as she did every morning to make certain all her powders were in place. Powders to turn fire green or blue or silver, powders to make a flame roar and hiss and leap up higher than a man is tall, powders to make smoke. A smoke for truth, a smoke for lust, a smoke for fear, and the thick black smoke that could kill a man outright. The red priestess armed herself with a pinch of each of them.

If Melisandre instead decided not to remove Mance’s cuff, we are left with a curious fact: how did he get it off?

The most likely explanation would be that he somehow picked the lock. If that was the case, isn’t it entirely possible that Mance could have picked the lock on Melisandre’s chest, the one that contained her powders and other items.

He had ample opportunity when she left him in her quarters to go visit Jon and see the three heads of the rangers.

It’s further possible that he somehow tricked Melisandre into demonstrating how to control the glamors as well. After all, he seemed quite content to verbally spar with Melisandre until she was forced to disable the glamor; possibly a trick on his part to see what she does or says.

*   *   *

At this point I would rather stop and leave the presented ideas hanging, food for thought. As I said these latter ideas are open speculations and could be wrong. The chief purpose of putting them here is to just stir the pot and generate ideas.

Another essay will likely come in the near future to discuss interpretations of the known verse of the song.

Revision History

  • 8/25 — Fixed typo regarding the mention of the Lothston sigil. Credit to /u/Cyril_Clunge.

2 thoughts on “Mance’s Inspiration: A Wolf Takes Flight

  1. Davy Espina

    This essay is amazing! I have to say though, I believe that Mance might actually be Rhaegar. Now you tell me that Daeron might actually be singing a prophetic lullaby to baby Aemon Steelsong….. just like Rhaegar sang to baby Aegon? whoa… mindblown

  2. Tim Bartlett

    The thing Barristan said is a verse, atleast a stanza,
    Just now caught it
    It rhymes and has rhythm
    “Could not But feel”?
    That’s a song lyric


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