As usual, spoilers for those unfamiliar with the books.
The Breaking of the World
At the end of the War of the Shadow, Lews Therin Telamon and the Hundred Companions launched a near-suicidal strike on Shayol Ghul, the site of the earthly link to the Dark One's prison. In a pitched battle, Telamon and his forces were victorious and the Dark One's prison was re-sealed. But at the moment of triumph the Dark One's final counterstroke tainted saidin, placing a rotting curse across the male half of the One Power. Those male Aes Sedai present went insane on the instant, laying waste to large tracts of the world. Lews Therin himself destroyed his own home and slaughtered his family. Ishamael, strongest of the Forsaken and not immediately imprisoned alongside the rest of them (though he was soon drawn into the prison as well), Healed Lews Therin and revealed the horrific truth to him. Lews Therin killed himself with the One Power, causing a cataclysmic eruption of the Truth Source that created a huge mountin, Dragonmount, in the process.
The ripples of the curse spread across the world, gradually affecting all male channellers over the course of months. The female Aes Sedai undertook a number of projects to Heal or protect their male colleagues, but nothing worked. Although it was possible to create an untainted stockpile of saidin using the female half of the Power, saidar, to filter it (this was done to create the legendary Eye of the World), it was not possible to remove the taint or protect someone indefinitely from the corruption. As the male Aes Sedai succumbed to the taint and unleashed death and destruction on a huge scale, it became eventually clear that the only way to end the problem was to kill or gentle - remove the ability to channel - from every last male channeller in the world.
Some of the men managed to avoid this fate, some by taking refuge in Ogier groves or stedding, where channelling was not possible. However, once someone had started to channel it was impossible to stop for long, and ultimately many of these men felt compelled to leave the stedding, where they succumbed to the taint. Unfortunately, this compulsion also meant that men cut off from the One Power were unable to live without it, some killing themselves and others wasting away. However, some male channellers gave a gift to their Ogier hosts before departing, creating a transdimensional series of passageways connecting the stedding together, the Ways, allowing the Ogier to cross vast distances in a matter of hours or days. Ultimately, the chaos of the Breaking led many Ogier to abandon the stedding for decades before they rediscovered them. In this time they developed a malady known as the Longing, which resulted in an Ogier's death if he spent more than a few years out of a stedding. Although they were reunited with the stedding, this malady later resurfaced in any Ogier who spent more than a couple of years away from their homes.
The crazed male channellers ultimately destroyed the world, sweeping away the glories and achievements of the Age of Legends in three centuries of floods, earthquakes and fire. Great seismic disturbances wracked the world as the male channellers flattened mountains, drew others out of the ground, shattered entire continents and sank them beneath the waves and dragged others out of the ocean depths. Untold millions died.
At Paaran Disen before its destruction, the last remnants of the Aes Sedai made contingency plans to protect whatever future human civilisation may arise, including giving them a warning. A series of Aes Sedia Foretellings had revealed that the Dark One had only been defeated, not destroyed. Worse still, the breach in its prison - the Bore - was only sealed off, not completely healed. Eventually, though it might take millennia, the Dark One would be able to escape. But the Foretellings also revealed that the Dragon would be Reborn to fight and defeat the Dark One at the Last Battle. The Last Battle would destroy and wrack the world a second time, for the Dragon Reborn would not be immune to the taint on saidin. To help prepare for this day, the Eye of the World (the untainted reservoir of saidin) was given to Someshta, last of the Nym (later known to legend as the Green Man), to protect in a remote location. Also given to him was the Horn of Valere, an ancient device of unknown origin, said to be able to summon great heroes from beyond the grave to fight for the sounder of the Horn.
The Aes Sedai also created a powerful sa'angreal, a crystal sword called Callandor. The last surviving sane male Aes Sedai helped created powerful wards around the sword, wards that only the true Dragon Reborn could breach. The sword was placed within a mighty redoubt, a huge mass of rock shaped with the One Power into a fortress known as the Stone of Tear.
Another collection of artifacts of the One Power was given to the safekeeping of a small number of Aes Sedai, who decided to take them into the east. The Da'shain Aiel, who were being persecuted because of their association with the now-cursed name of the Dragon (they had served him as couriers and servants in the War of the Shadow, their pacifistic nature meaning they could not fight directly), accompanied the Aes Sedai on their generations-long journey. Ultimately, the Da'shain found it impossible to maintain the Way of the Leaf. Some Aiel turned to violence to defend themselves, taking up the spear. A small number of Aiel remained true to the Way, becoming the Jenn Aiel, the True Aiel. Another group who retained the Way decided it could not stomach the presence of the 'fallen' Aiel and turned away, becoming a nomadic race of travellers known as the Tuatha'an, the Travelling People (or, later, the Tinkers).
The Aiel and their Aes Sedai charges encountered hostility wherever they went, with the exception of one incident. As they approached the foothills of a vast mountain range, the Spine of the World, they were helped by the inhabitants of a small town. Many generations later, the Aiel discovered that the town had grown into a mighty city, called Cairhien, and vowed to repay the kindness that was shown to their ancestors years earlier. Ultimately, the Aiel passed over the Spine into a hostile land of heat, rocks and little water. In the shadow of a great mountain, Chaendaer, the Aes Sedai with them founded a city called Rhuidean. In this city they stored their precious artifacts of the Power, including a number of crystal columns containing the true history of the Aiel race. These they bequeathed to the Aiel, charging that their clan chiefs and Wise Ones (many of whom were channellers of the One Power) come to the columns so they would always remember the truth of what they had lost when their ancestors abandoned the Way of the Leaf. The Aes Sedai also left behind a prophecy that, one day, an Aiel would come from Rhuidean with the dawn at his back and would unify the Aiel. He would be the Car'a'carn, the Chief of Chiefs, who would take the Aiel back into the fertile westlands and save them, but in doing so, wouldd destroy them, saving only a remnant of a remnant. These Aes Sedai, now ancient, passed away, as did the Jenn Aiel, leaving behind an increasingly proficient race of spear-wielding warriors, most of whom never learned their true history.
The Breaking of the World lasted between 239 and 344 years, and left the world completely changed. When the last male Aes Sedai died (or was gentled), the earthquakes and floods that had wracked the world for decades finally ended, and peace was restored.
After the Breaking
Arguably the first civilisation to arise after the Breaking was that of the Athan'an Miere, the People of the Sea, or Sea Folk. Early in the Breaking they took to the sea in flotillas of boats, and managed to ride out the worst of the chaos either at sea or on remote islands. They quickly established a civilisation spanning multiple islands in what would become known as the Aryth Ocean and the Sea of Storms, trading between islands and with the mainland.
On the mainland, the first city to arise after the Breaking was Tear, which was built up around the Stone of Tear. Other cities rapidly followed, including Tanchico (at this time called Mainelle) and Hai Caemlyn, not to mention Al'cair'rahienallen near the Spine of the World.
During the Breaking, the organisation of the Aes Sedai had broken down and ultimately been lost. Individual women trained such girls as they found who had the potential to channel, resulting in many small, separate bands of female channellers forming. As the chaos of the Breaking subsided, these bands began to ally together. Forty-seven years after the accepted end of the Breaking (47 AB), the sixteen largest bands of female channellers met to decide on their future. They agreed to refound the Aes Sedai, now a sisterhood of female-only channellers. The goals they set themselves were to hunt down and kill or still male channellers wherever encountered, to fight Shadowspawn (which still existed in remote corners of the world) and to prepare the world for the Dragon's Rebirth and the Last Battle with the Shadow.
With the Aes Sedai refounded, they also needed a base of operations. Knowing that Dragonmount marked the last resting place of Lews Therin Telamon, they established their stronghold on an island in the River Erinin, almost within reach of Dragonmount's shadow. They contracted the finest Ogier stonemasons to build their city, which they named Tar Valon. Construction of the city began in 98 AB, by which time the Aes Sedai had reached a level of organisation similar to their present structure. Seven Ajahs - permanent political and ideological factions rather than the temporary ajah of the Age of Legends - had formed, with one sister from each Ajah advising their leader, the Amyrlin Seat, in a council called the Hall of the Tower. Later, as the Aes Sedai expanded their numbers into the thousands, this expanded to three sisters from each Ajah. Elisane Tishar was the first Amyrlin Seat, taking up the role circa 90 AB.
The Aes Sedai stronghold, the 500-foot-tall White Tower, was completed in 195 AB. The city itself was finished in 202 AB. Created by the Ogier and Aes Sedai using the One Power, it was the most structurally and aesthetically-pleasing city in the known world.
The Ten Nations
By 209 AB, the Westlands - the subcontinent defined as lying between the Aiel Waste, the Aryth Ocean, the Sea of Storms and the Great Blight - had become home to ten powerful nation-states arising out of the ashes of the Breaking. High technology had been lost, plunging humanity back to a medieval level of technology, but some of the unity of the Age of Legends remained and each of the Ten Nations proved to be vast, spanning many thousands of square miles of territory. Hoping to quickly rebuild and reclaim the glories of the Age of Legends, the Aes Sedai invited representatives from the Ten Nations to meet at Tar Valon for a conference. The result of this was the Compact of the Ten Nations, where the individual kingdoms agreed to support one another and work together (with Aes Sedai advice and guidance).
This plan worked. Some minor border skirmishes aside, the Ten Nations - Jaramide, Aramaelle, Safer, Aelgar, Eharon, Essenia, Almoren, Manetheren, Aridhol and Coremanda - existed alongside one another in peace for more than eight centuries after the signing of the Compact. The only problems in this time were the emergence of the so-called 'false Dragons', men who could channel the One Power. Rather than admit they were doomed to insanity and death, they believed they were the prophecised Dragon Reborn. In some cases they raised great armies and attempted to take the Stone of Tear to prove their claims, but in each case were defeated. The first false Dragon was Raolin Darksbane, who arose in 335 AB before being defeated in battle and stilled by the Aes Sedai.
During these long centuries of peace, the Aes Sedai took up the practice of swearing the Three Oaths (to utter no word that was not true, to not use the One Power as a weapon except in defence and to never make a weapon with which one human may kill another) and bonding Warders, formidable male warriors who would defend their charged Aes Sedai to the death. Aes Sedai were seen as valuable advisors and mediators at this time, and in some cases rose to high office, including ruling nations.
Outside of the Westlands, humanity also thrived on remote continents. Beyond the Aiel Waste lay a vast land called Shara, which was unified into a single powerful nation-state shortly after the Breaking (at least according to the natives). Highly secretive and isolationist, the Sharans traded with Sea Folk ships that visited their south-western coasts and with Aiel traders at trade towns along their western borders, but undertook no further contact with outsiders.
More than five thousand miles to the west, across the Aryth Ocean, the two vast, adjoining landmasses that existed there become divided into a shifting patchwork of small nation-states, almost constantly at war or at least in strife with one another. Female channellers, taking the name Aes Sedai, became rulers and warlords themselves and fought one another in wars rather than trying to unify as in the Westlands. This land, Seanchan, became a land of war and strife for almost two thousand years.
However, in the Westlands this was an unusually long period of peace and enlightenment in which humanity grew again in numbers and strove to recapture what had been lost in the Breaking of the World.
The Trolloc Wars
Circa 1000 AB, the Westlands suffered a brutal and overwhelming invasion of Shadowspawn out of the Great Blight. Vast hordes of Trollocs, led by Myrddraal and channellers sworn to the Shadow - Dreadlords - struck south into the northern-most nations of the Westlands (the term 'Borderlands' did not come into vogue until some centuries later), Jaramide and Aramaelle. The great city of Barsine in Jaramide was destroyed, as was the fortress-city of Mafal Dadaranelle in Aramaelle (in later years it was refounded under the name Fal Dara). The Ten Nations were caught by surprise. Though the Aes Sedai encouraged military cooperation and the founding of vast armies in the hundreds of thousands to oppose the Shadowspawn, the reaction was not as fast as might be hoped. Large tracts of territory were lost - including the entire nation of Aramaelle - before the Ten Nations managed to respond in force.
The Trolloc Wars raged for three and a half centuries. Initially, the Trollocs seemed leaderless, but a leader named Ba'alzamon (presumed to be a Dreadlord, though some held him nonsensically to be the Dark One himself) soon arose to guide them to victory after victory. The nation of Aridhol, thanks to the advice of a mysterious counsellor known as Mordeth, took the step of becoming hardened, cold and ruthless, even moreso than the Shadow according to some legends, to stop the Trolloc attacks. Though this was successful, Aridhol was instead consumed by its own evil and destroyed in an event not fully understood by either Aes Sedai or the Shadow. Aridhol City became a forbidding ruin known as Shadar Logoth, haunted by a living mist called Mashadar which killed all it touched. With the Aridholian army removed from the equation, the Trollocs bypassed Shadar Logoth and were able to attack the nation of Manetheren to the south.
Manetheren was one of the smallest of the Ten Nations, but also one of the most renowned. Its army was formidable, and noted for its mobility. King Aemon al Caar al Thorin was himself a formidable warrior, and his elite bodyguard, the Band of the Red Hand, was famous for its deeds of valour. Aemon and his army were fighting in the east when word came of an impending Trolloc assault on Manetheren. They turned round and made a forced march, successfully intercepting the Shadowspawn at the banks of the River Tarendrelle. Communicating with the Amyrlin Seat, Tetsuan, King Aemon received assurances that reinforcements would arrive within three days. However, this proved not to be the case. In a huge battle lasting almost a fortnight, the army of Manetheren used the river as a defensive line which the Shadow could not breach. Repeated assaults on the only bridge over the river and vast exchanges of missile fire results in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Shadowspawn and maybe tens of thousands of defenders before the Shadow's vastly superior numbers finally achieved a breakthrough.
A fanciful depiction of the Fall of Manetheren, conflating the Battle of the Tarendrelle with the destruction of Manetheren City (which actually lay days from the battlefield).
Aemon and the Band of the Red Hand led a fighting retreat to a field a couple of days' travel east of Manetheren City. Exhausted, they turned and fought, killing thousands more Trollocs and Myrddraal before they were overrun. Queen Eldrene, who was Aes Sedai and bonded to her husband as a Warder as well as in marriage, was driven to despair by his death. Channelling more of the the One Power than was safe, even as Lews Therin had done more than a thousand years earlier, she killed herself but in the process unleashed a storm of the Power that destroyed the invading Trolloc armies as well. Unfortunately, Ba'alzamon survived.
Later, the Aes Sedai discovered evidence that Tetsuan had deliberately delayed the arrival of reinforcements at Manetheren out of jealousy of her rival Eldrene, whose strength in the One Power was superior. Horrified, the Hall of the Tower stripped Tetsuan of her position and rank and had her stilled (the female equivalent to gentling), the first time this had happened in the history of the Aes Sedai.
The End of the Wars
The Fall of Manetheren allowed Trolloc armies to penetrate into the deep south of the continent, reaching the southern coastal nation of Eharon. They destroyed the capital city at Londaren Cor before sacking the port of Barashta (later rebuilt as Ebou Dar), but were turned back by the increasingly proficient human armies. By this time Ba'alzamon had disappeared, leaving the Shadow's forces leaderless and increasingly easily divided. The remaining armies of the Ten Nations, on the other hand, gained a powerful and charismatic leader in Rashima Kerenmosa, famed 'Soldier Amyrlin'. A formidable general and battle commander as well as a powerful Aes Sedai, Rashima personally led forces in combat as well as designing strategies of division and encirclement, using mobility to draw out the Trollocs and destroy them piecemeal where their overwhelming numerical superiority did not count for much.
After defeating the fourth and final Trolloc assault on Tar Valon during the wars, Rashima enacted a series of offensives against the Shadowspawn, scoring numerous victories culiminating in the massive Battle of Maighande in 1301 AB. In this engagement, the largest of the Trolloc Wars, the armies of humanity finally broke the back of the invading hordes, unleashing slaughter on a scale not seen since the height of the War of the Shadow. At the end of the battle Rashima's corpse was found surrounded by the bodies of her five Warders, a veritable wall of Trollocs and no less than nine Dreadlords. Despite her death, the surviving nations were able to complete her victory. Over the next fifty years, the remaining Trolloc bands south of the Great Blight were weeded out and destroyed.
The Trolloc Wars had been won by humanity, but only at a terrible cost. Five of the Ten Nations fell during the wars and the remaining five fell to internal disputes not long after. The cost of three and a half centuries of constant warfare have proven devastating, destroying much of the progress that had been made since the Breaking of the World. The Aes Sedai, who had fought on the front lines during the conflict to counter the Shadow's Dreadlords, were terribly reduced in numbers by the conflict. Ultimately, humanity had survived but the progress it had made towards regaining the glory of the Age of Legends had been lost.
Next: Artur Hawkwing, the invasion of Seanchan and events leading up to the start of the books.