Spoilers for A Dance With Dragons!
One of the most popular mysteries of the novels is the mysterious Pink Letter received by Jon Snow. In it, Ramsey Bolton writes to Jon Snow about his victory over Stannis. Many people have queried the providence of such a letter due to the following inaccuracies:
- There is no way Jon would know who Reek was
- The letter is not signed with a seal
- The letter doesn't have any of Theon's body parts attached, as per Ramsey's norm
- How does Ramsey know Jon's home address?
- Stannis is the Mannis and so can't be beaten off-screen by Ramsey.
Some have thought this to be a trick by Ramsey into trying to scare Jon into giving up valuable hostages. Others believe it to be a secret code from Stannis. The second answer is of course, the correct one.
Now, what you must remember is that this is a letter sent in war time. Clearly Stannis does not want any of his communications intercepted. Thus when he needs to send a message to Melisandre, he uses what is known as the 'I will kill you bastard' cipher. Any paragraph with the word 'bastard' is treated like a bastard itself, ie a baseborn sentence full of lies and opposites. References to horrible murder are in fact morale-boosting words, and threats are signs that those involved are safe and sound.
With this in mind, we can translate his message thus:
"Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore". = Hey, Mel! Roose Bolton is dead, I stuck my magic sword in his face.
"Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me." = We hold Winterfell now, and everyone's fine. Mance is fine too, tell the Wildlings!
"I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell." = Mance is safe with me. I am keeping him warm (there is no 'bastard' in this paragraph but clearly Stannis is using the classic 'skinning whores' cypher to indicate his safety)
"I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it." = Don't worry, everything's fine, you're all safe!
Trueborn Lord of Winterfell."
In sending a secret message to Mel, this classic cipher was the best method by far. The only drawback was that Jon Snow clearly did not understand the code and so unreasonably went a bit nuts. But this serves him right for reading Stannis's secret messages. (Due to the code, it was addressed to Jon but really meant Mel as it was code) In fact, the purpose of this message was to reassure Jon, not make him think that everyone is dead and he is doomed!