Notes of Ice and Fire

Anyone who grows up in Westeros is expected to speak the Common Tongue, and for most of them it is the only tongue they will ever speak. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, the lowest of commoners is expected to know some bastardization of Valyrian depending on where they live, apart from their own native tongue if they happen to come from any place other than the Free Cities. And of course, any person living in the Free Cities who deems themselves truly noble needs to know High Valyrian to some extent. Even traders have their own speech, which they need to learn if there is any chance to make business at various ports. There is no intention on my part to belittle Westeros, far from it. There was a time when Westeros had a much more diverse roster of languages, when the Old Tongue of the First Men and the Giants had not been displaced yet; when the Dornish still spoke the Rhoynish they had brought on their barges. Even not so long ago High Valyrian still had a place at court in the capital. Most people, including the wisest and most well-read Maesters of the Citadel seem to agree there is only one tongue on Westeros; but I disagree with these people, and especially, as I tend to do, with the most well-read Maesters of the Citadel. There is no one tongue spoken in Westeros but many; hundreds. I recall the first time I saw two knights sparring; I had seen no more than two winters but I still recall it vividly: a knight in silver armor started a debate posing a question with his sword, to which his opponent, a knight in ill-fitting tarnished armor answered with his shield, only make a statement of his on with his blade on the silver knight’s spaulder. The silver knight decided gracefully not to interject, letting his armor rebut his opponent’s argument and ended the debate with a swift rejoinder to the helm. I was young but quickly understood these knights were not only fighting but communicating beyond the mere grunts and puffs. That was a tongue reserved for those who poses arms, as much as the tongue of the seas is reserved for those with a vessel. I learned so during my first voyage across the Narrow Sea when the captain of the ship spent a moment just shy of an eternity looking in silence at the horizon. I the sun was setting and the sea was calm as a baby in a crib, but a stern captain turned to the crew and ordered to steer away from our course and batten down all hatches. At first, I thought him crazy, but with the sun gone below the horizon I found myself in my cabin praying to the Seven in a barge rocking at the mercy of the waves. These are only some examples of many tongues around us, so many that it would be an errand’s fool to list them all. Northmen seem know the language of the winds, always ready to seek shelter from a snowstorm; while smiths seem to speak the language of fire and metal always listening to the glowing of the iron that tells them when hammer and when to reheat. Some people, even the reader, might tell me these are not tongues that people speak but learned habits, and I might concede to that point as long as they conceded to the definition of a tongue: a means of communication between two separate parties. People aren’t the only ones who speak but also the land, the sea, and the animals. If one is to learn any of these tongues one must begin taking instruction early in life lest the brain stiffens making the task nearly impossible to learn as an adult.

As a peasant lad I didn’t have much to begin with, and after the death of my parents I had even less. Not eager to starve in the countryside I moved to the nearest city and I did what many of boys would do, but Oldtown had no lack of pickpockets and soon I found myself starving anyway. The only meals I could procure were at the septs, where I waited after every service eager for any scrapes of food the Septon would leave to the poor. Soon enough the Septon took me as a novice and I found myself reciting the prayers with the choir at the altar, where I traded my young and crystal voice for anything the Septon might find unappetizing. My voice hadn’t even broken before I put some meat on my bones and I was well known in the city for my singing, but once manhood came to rid me of my one and only virtue, I found myself out in the streets again. This time it was different though, has during my time as a novice the Septon had seen to impose on me a rigorous (and tortuous) regime of copying the hymnals anew, and I found myself quite at ease with the quill and the ink. Knocking on the Citadel’s door was the only way I saw a future where I kept some meat on my bones in exchange for my newly found virtue, and sure enough, I was accepted as an apprentice. The years would pass but my interest in music remained intact, always attending the services at the septs and listening attentively to the music. As an adult I found out I heard music where others didn’t: in the beauty of the port at dusk when the sunrays gleam on the water, or the majesty of a courser in full barding jousting at the lists. Music seems to have always accompanied me one way or another, and I can’t help to hear it everywhere I go. For this reason, I have decided to create this volume to serve as a collection of the music I associate to the peoples and places of Westeros and Essos.

~Turn the page to People~