The Riverlands

Introduction

The constant flux of population moving up and down the neck makes it easy to understand why it has always been the melting pot of Westeros when it comes to the cultures of the First Men and the Andal. The last time one of these migrations took place in large numbers was less than two hundred years ago, after the conclusion of the Dance of the Dragons, when thousands of northern men found new homes, and wives at the Riverlands. Even with such population intermixing no one disputes that the Riverlands is almost entirely Andal in its customs and traditions but we can’t deny northern influence either. Northern dances are popular in the Riverlands during any type of celebration, and it is a strange wedding where northern musicians aren’t sought out to join in and play their most jolly dances. Some types these dances are so well known and liked that Andal musicians travel frequently to the Riverlands looking for music to adapt into new songs. After making enough coin playing at weddings and arranging enough dances into songs these singers travel back south and pass the songs off as entirely their own. Hundreds if not thousands of songs have been penned this way and it is a common practice both in Westeros and Essos that I have no problem with, for it only increases the number of beautiful songs we will listen to in our lifetime. But on the other hand, we have to give credit where credit is due and sadly there are many southerners who still think of northern men as little more than savages incapable of the refinement of the south, and they say this right before going back to singing songs that originated precisely in the North! To illustrate this point, I have decided to explore one such case of a northern dance that became one of the most popular songs in all of Westeros today: ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ (fig. a).

Forms

I’m sure the reader not only has heard the song and knows the lyrics to this most upbeat song, but I wouldn’t dare to say how many readers are aware of the origins of the song. In my years of traveling I have come across may written versions of ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’. Most of them tried to claim to be the original version by dating their version further back in time than others had; some of them even went back as far as almost a millennia ago. I won’t waste precious ink and paper debunking such forgeries as any learned Maester worth his chain could see the deceive instantly. Instead I’ll reason why the song is indeed very new, probably no more than a hundred and fifty years old. One of the best indicators for this is that there is only one well-known version of this song in all the Seven Kingdoms. Arrangements of northern dances have existed for a long time but it is rarely that songs become equally loved on both sides of The Neck equally. Songs, just as the tales we call history, change slowly overtime, regardless of how well transcribed on paper they might be. People’s tastes change, instruments change, and so old versions melt away with like the snows of Winter with the coming of Spring where new versions of the song take over people’s hearts. If ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ were any older than the Targaryen unification of Westeros there surely would be more than one version, or at least a more popular version of it in the north as it is usually the case with Andal songs. Before the unification of Westeros, a song would spread only as far as a singer could travel, or better yet, dared to travel. In this more modern world with roads, more trade, and of course much more peace than ever before, it only takes months to cross all of Westeros from end to end, inn by inn, performance to performance. And so the reality is that, except those times when a singer has had too many cups of mulled wine, every recital of the song is likely to be just like any other, both in words and music.

So, if the song is fairly new and based on a northern dance, is the original dance still around in the North? Probably, yes and no. I’ll explain. Northern musicians have only adapted Andal musical transcription as much as they need it, which is to say not much at all. Due to their musical system, entire compositions can be written down in their simplified form and improvised upon later during performance. If one tries to look for any of these simplified versions of northern dances that resemble ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ one is to find dozens of candidate pieces could be the original basis for the composition. This might seem a dead-end in our search for the original dance, but actually it is the final evidence that cements the suspicions: ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ is a typical northern dance, with a very familiar melodic base based on jumps of a third that any skilled northern musician would improvise over during large wedding celebrations. It is very probable that northmen recognized the melody instantly and the lyrics were of their liking. It definitely helped that the writer of the lyrics saw to it to include the figure of a bear in the role of the singer, an animal any northern man would identify with.

The version I enjoyed the most was one I hear many years ago when I was still a lad new to Oldtown. I remember vividly a young couple who had the idea of splitting the verses among the two of them and played the song in such a theatrical way that filled their pockets with every performance. He was a burly man with a sweet powerful voice who had let his hair and beard grow as long as wild as possible, while she dressed in the whitest gown a peddling busker could find. He played the lute while she accompanied every nuance of their performance with the little tambourine that twirled and turned at with every step she took. When the War of the Ninepenny Kings came she had grown too old to play the role of the Maid, and his hands had grown too stiff to play the lute so he had to resort to stealing from the same marketplace he had once performed in. He was caught by the butcher, who took care of the stiffness in his right hand. After that incident they were never seen again but I still remember every nuance of their performace, and even though it would be more appropriate to notate the more conventional rendition of the song I wouldn’t want theirs to vanish entirely from this world.

A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair.
The bear!
The bear!
Oh, come they said, oh come to the fair!
The fair? Said he, but I’m a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair!






The fair!







The bear smelled the scent on the summer air.
The bear!
The bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair!
He smelled the scent on the summer air!
He sniffed and roared and smelled it there!
Honey on the summer air!



A bear!
A bear!

The bear, the bear!
Lifted her high into the air!
The bear!
The bear!


A bear,
A bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair.

But he licked the honey from her hair.

He licked the honey from her hair!



And off they went, from here to there,
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.








And down the road from here to there.
From here!
To there!

Three boys, a goat and a dancing bear!
They danced and spun, all the way to the fair!


The fair!

Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair!
The maid with honey in her hair!
Her hair! Her hair!
The maid with honey in her hair!









Oh, I’m a maid, and I’m pure and fair!
I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!


I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!





I called for a knight, but you’re a bear!

A bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair.
She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair,

Her hair! Her hair!


Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!
My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!
And off they went, from here to there,
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.

Lyrics by George R R Martin 

~Turn the page to The First Men~