Six Maids in Winterfell


In A Dance with Dragons we see the mysterious bard Abel show up at Ramsay’s wedding. He is alone, save for the six “washerwomen” with him.

Now, we readers know that these people are in truth Mance Rayder and his six spearwives: Rowan, Myrtle, Willow, Frenya, Holly and Squirrel.

We also know that Mance Rayder is quite familiar with the tales and songs of Bael the Bard. It’s also clear that Mance exploits inside Winterfell were inspired by Bael’s story:

  • Mance’s alias in Winterfell is “Abel”, an anagram for Bael.
  • Bael’s story involved infiltrating Winterfell and stealing the lord’s daughter: something that Mance does in fact do.

However, Bael’s story doesn’t account for one element of Mance’s schemes in Winterfell:

The actual rescue of “Arya Stark” is nothing like the fabled abduction of the Stark daughter.

In particular, the original tale of Bael the Bard does not involve a half-dozen women: only Bael by himself.

The two previous essays in this appendix show clear evidence that Mance’s plans in Winterfell drew from not one, but several songs.

Subsequently we have to ask ourselves:

Given that the rescue of “Arya Stark” differs greatly from the tale of Bael the Bard, could there yet be another song that inspired elements of the rescue attempt?

In my opinion: Yes.

I believe that I can convince you of this and several related points. In particular, I hold to the following ideas:

The plan to rescue of “Arya Stark” was inspired by the tale of Florian and Jonquil.

In particular, the inspiration was drawn from the song “Six Maids in a Pool”.


  1. Young and Pretty. The odd disparity between what is suggested and what is realized.
  2. A Certain Ploy. Mance’s muse when it comes to his schemes.
  3. Six Maids in a Pool. The parallels in a song.
  4. Perfect Casting. The best actors to play Florian and Jonquil.
  5. Conclusion.

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val_wildling_princess____christina_t__by_mattolsonart-d7a7v65From the outset, there is something amiss about Mance’s spearwives.

One of the biggest clues is the gross disparity between the women that Mance describes and those that he actually requests.

A Certain Ploy

The first indication that Mance is concocting some sort of plan relates to his initial request for spearwives:

And this is nothing I can do alone. Some of the spearwives penned up at Mole’s Town should serve. Women would be best for this. The girl’s more like to trust them, and they will help me carry off a certain ploy I have in mind.

In the following Jon Snow chapter, he reflects on Mance’s requests in a bit more detail:

“Young ones, and pretty,” Mance had said. The unburnt king supplied some names, and Dolorous Edd had done the rest, smuggling them from Mole’s Town.

Mance asks for young and pretty spearwives. The first passage further indicates that these women will help him with some ‘ploy’.

As I said in The Ghost of Lann, given that Mance derives so much inspiration from songs, it seems perfectly natural to assume that this ‘ploy’ has its roots in songs and myth.

NOTE: You might notice that these details also help support my observations in Operating in the Dark that Mance would not need young, pretty spearwives if he was looking to rescue Arya in the woods.

As for Mance’s ‘ploy’, recall something Mance once said to Jon Snow:

“Bael the Bard,” said Jon, remembering the tale that Ygritte had told him in the Frostfangs, the night he’d almost killed her.

“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?”

So you have to wonder:

What ploy, possibly inspired by a song, would involve six young and pretty women?

*   *   *

Neither Young Nor Pretty

We also know that Mance provided the names of the spearwives he wanted to use. This makes something important immediately clear:

Mance knew each of the six spearwives personally, which obviously means he knew what they looked like.

The interesting element here concerns the disparity between what Mance says and what Mance actually gets: when given the opportunity to request his spearwives by name he selects women that are neither young nor pretty.


The woman smiled crookedly. “Do you take me for a whore?” She was one of the singer’s washerwomen, the tall skinny one, too lean and leathery to be called pretty …

Hers were bare, long-fingered, rough, with nails chewed to the quick. “You never asked my name. It’s Rowan.”


…a mousy brown-haired washerwoman called Squirrel…


…gaunt grey-haired Myrtle…


…he passed Rickard Ryswell nuzzling at the neck of another one of Abel’s washerwomen, the plump one with the apple cheeks and pug nose.

Frenya of the thick waist and enormous breasts…


…Willow Witch-Eye with her long black braid… (no real description of her exists, but being called ‘witch-eye’ doesn’t really imply attractiveness IMO.)


This one was young, fifteen or maybe sixteen, with shaggy blond hair in need of a good wash and a pair of pouty lips in need of a good kiss…

Holly the whore, he thought, but she was pretty enough.

Not to sound like a pig, but only one of these sounds pretty and at least half of them don’t appear young, either.

*   *   *

A person might dismiss this as meaning nothing. I find that unreasonable, it flies in the face of the specificity of Mance’s original request. Particularly because it directly contrasts the fact that Mance explicitly said that ‘young and pretty’ spearwives would help him pull off some ‘ploy’ he had in mind.

Obviously if these observations are not meaningless, then they must mean something. The real question then becomes:

What is the significance of the disparity between the actual spearwives with Mance Rayder, and the description he initially provided (young and pretty)?

The answer to this would seem to lay somewhere along a spectrum: trivial novelty at one end, major conspiracy at the other.

We will revisit this question after looking at some more details.

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Mance_Abel_ValTo recap a key point, observe that Mance confesses to Jon that he is inspired by the deeds of others:

“Bael the Bard,” said Jon, remembering the tale that Ygritte had told him in the Frostfangs, the night he’d almost killed her.

“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?”

We also know that his young and pretty spearwives were intended to help him enact a certain ‘ploy’:

And this is nothing I can do alone. Some of the spearwives penned up at Mole’s Town should serve. Women would be best for this. The girl’s more like to trust them, and they will help me carry off a certain ploy I have in mind.

In combination these two quotes suggest something important:

When attempting to decipher Mance’s ‘ploy’, searching the tales and songs should be a primary resource.

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comp_blizzardAs I stated at the beginning of the essay, I believe that Mance was inspired by the song “Six Maids in a Pool”.

One unfortunate element of this song is that we know very little about it. We have a single line of the song courtesy of Jaime. We know that the song is about Florian and Jonquil as well, which allows us to draw from the sparse knowledge we have about these mythical characters as well.

Six Maids

One of the most powerful observations stems from the one line of the song Jaime gave us:

The pool from which the town took its name, where legend said that Florian the Fool had first glimpsed Jonquil bathing with her sisters, was so choked with rotting corpses that the water had turned into a murky grey-green soup.

Jaime took one look and burst into song. Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool . . .

“What are you doing?” Brienne demanded.

“Singing. ‘Six Maids in a Pool,’ I’m sure you’ve heard it. And shy little maids they were, too. Rather like you. Though somewhat prettier, I’ll warrant.”

Notice that the song mentions six maids bathing together. Replace the pool with a bathtub and we can begin to see immediate parallels: the spearwives and Jeyne’s bath strongly resemble the six maids and the pool.

Further, the song (and the additional details provided by Jaime) make it clear that the six women in the song would be young (maids/maidens/virginal) and pretty. Almost verbatim consistent with Mance’s “young, and pretty” description.


Mance’s comment about wanting young and pretty women for his ploy was an allusion to the maids in the song “Six Maids in a Pool”.

This makes sense of the discrepancy between Mance’s initial request (young, pretty) and the ragtag assembly of spearwives he actually recruits: it was just a casual reference to the song and not necessarily a sign of a larger more insidious plot.

*   *   *

A Spring-fed Poole

Again I refer to the one verse we know:

“Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool . . .”

Now ask yourself:

Where do you think the water for Jeyne Poole’s bath is coming from?

The springs beneath Winterfell!

NOTE: Alternatively, notice that there are six spearwives, and there is a spring-fed pool in the Winterfell godswood.

A curious find: isn’t it also intriguing that the original song involves a pool, and in Mance’s case it involves a Poole?

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*   *   *


tumblr_n8c9riwLfY1sy618eo1_1280Another compelling observation is that Jeyne Poole and Mance Rayder are both ideally suited to the roles of Florian and Jonquil.

The Damsel

Sansa’s many references to the fabled songs make it clear that Jonquil needed to be rescued by Florian, Jonquil had no agency to rescue herself:

Florian,” Sansa whispered. A shiver went through her.

“Sweet lady, I would be your Florian,” Dontos said humbly, falling to his knees before her.

Slowly, Sansa lowered the knife. Her head seemed terribly light, as if she were floating. This is madness, to trust myself to this drunkard, but if I turn away will the chance ever come again? “How . . . how would you do it? Get me away?”

No one can save me but my Florian.

“Me.” He staggered out from under the trees, reeling drunk. He caught her arm to steady himself. “Sweet Jonquil, I’ve come. Your Florian has come, don’t be afraid.”

“This is the way. It won’t be so hard for a strong young girl like you. Hold on tight and never look down and you’ll be at the bottom in no time at all.” His eyes were shiny. “Your poor Florian is fat and old and drunk, I’m the one should be afraid. I used to fall off my horse, don’t you remember? That was how we began. I was drunk and fell off my horse and Joffrey wanted my fool head, but you saved me. You saved me, sweetling.”
(It’s important to realize that the subtext here implies that normally the ‘Florian’ would be instead saving ‘Jonquil’, Dontos is pointing out that the reverse happened instead).

Jeyne is quite the embodiment of this: she has virtually no energy or spirit to fight against her captors. It’s further compelling because like Sansa, Jeyne also had a great interest in songs, especially those about romance and chivalry.

*   *   *

The Hero

Florian was renowned as, among other things, a great knight and a great fool. As it pertains to combat Mance certainly fulfills this requirement.

Also as a skilled performer and entertainer, he certainly could seem like a fool (particularly as it pertains to entertaining in a lord’s court).

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*   *   *


You may be left wondering:

Why does this matter?

First and foremost it is another feather in Mance’s cap, supporting the theory that his plans in Winterfell stem from not only from Bael the Bard, but from many other songs.

I also think some readers might just be fascinated to see a song used in such a subtle fashion. After all, it was Littlefinger who infamously said:

“Life is not a song, sweetling. You may learn that one day to your sorrow.”

Isn’t it then wholly ironic that a woman’s life is saved through the replication of a song?

It’s further notable that Jeyne Poole was Sansa’s closest friend, and they both had a shared interest in these fantastic songs and dreams of their fulfillment.

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3 thoughts on “Six Maids in Winterfell

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