If the chapter of The Children of the Forest was based on a considerable amount of speculation upon a layer of derivative evidence this chapter takes it even further. During my time in the North the stories of the Others I heard varied from unreliable to ludicrous, but all stories agree in one thing: a long time ago the Others came during the Long Night. I know I tread on thin ice when I write about such topics as the Others on a book meant to educate the general population, but there is still something about the subject that I deem fascinating. Whereas the existence of the Children is accepted among most scholars of the Citadel, that of the Others raises some eyebrows, yet I thought this book would be lacking if I didn’t include them in here.
Putting aside the real question of whether the Others existed there are some assumptions we must concede if we are to speculate about the topic. First, that the Others would have been sentient creatures capable of having enough of a culture to create their own music. Second, that either the Others were capable of singing or that they had the ability to create instruments. Without those concessions speculating about the music of the Others is utterly pointless.
During my time at the Wall I befriended some of the Night’s Watch brothers, and even some of the Freefolk traders. These acquaintances didn’t come cheap, as Eastwatch-by-the-sea was in dire need of a Maester who could give a helping hand at the rookery and who was open handed enough to buy tales from the Freefolk with gold from his own pocket. Mayhaps it was all for naught, but I still send ravens to Maester Harmune all the way up in East-watch-by-the-sea to hear any news from Beyond-the-Wall.
While Harmune’s ear is nowhere near as accurate as mine is by any means, he proved competent enough to write down the tunes I sang for him while I was there. It is true that had any of the Freefolk known how to use quill and ink (and to be trustable enough) any of them would have probably been a better candidate to notate music for me, but certain compromises need to be made from time to time. I must say now that is not an attempt at criticizing Maester Harmune in any way, but to give context to the letter I received via raven not long ago. Although there has been close to nothing of interest coming from the North since I left more than ten years ago, the letter I received was most unexpected, since Maester Harmune had never been the first to write after a long hiatus. This time it was different, though. The letter was vague and cryptic in a manner I had already been accustomed to after years corresponding with him; mostly due to Maester Harmune’s habit of indulging in drinking while writing (more than one letter had come with a distinct stench of what passes for wine in the North). But unlike the other letters this one had actual music written on it (fig. a). I will reproduce the contents of the letter here in their entirety so as to avoid altering any of the content.
“Winter came. Traders did not and the Wildlings who didn’t leave empty handed froze to death. A mother sang to her dead child in her arms before burning the body in a pyre. I had never heard this song before. It was in the Old Tongue. Send more wine.”
How much of this letter was inspired by the Maester’s inebriation and how much was accurate I can’t say. The tune is certainly baffling if accurately notated, as the scale (fig. b) has not appeared in any scale discussed in First Men’s, Children of the Forest’s nor Giant’s chapters.
I admit I have no reason other than mere speculation to associate this tune to the Others, as it is a dirge to lament the death of those who freeze in the hard, cold winter Beyond-The-Wall when winter comes. Still, this letter raises more questions than it answers. The range seems incredibly large for a normal voice, especially taking into account the repetition at the lower octave, or perhaps it is men who are supposed to sing the repeat? Also, there seems to be a second voice supporting the first one implying there were other people singing with the woman? But there are much more important questions that arise when looking at the actual notes. Despite the many questions the tune itself is beyond Harmune’s writing skills, begging the questions of him possibly misspelling the melody? If so the symmetry of it would be definitely less satisfying, as there seem to be some sense of cohesiveness to the melody, even to one as harsh and dissonant as this one, for the intervals on which the two phrases end in measures three and six are quite interesting: the first being exactly twice the size of the second one, as if the octave where divided into four equal parts (fig. c). The missing note is not in the tune, leaving this point unclear, but the three last notes of the melody create a type of melody with two consecutive major thirds (fig. d), a feature of Children of the Forest’s music. How much of this analysis we can trust is not for me to say. I have written back to Maester Harmune but I am yet to receive any response from him.
Nothing can be said with confidence about what type of instruments the Others could have used, so for the time being I will abstain from doing so. If any evidence where to come forth I will update this entry accordingly.
Not much can be extracted from Harmune’s letter in terms of form except that there seems to be a cyclical nature to the tune that repeats at the octave just as we saw with the Children of the Forest music.