As usual, extensive spoilers for those unfamiliar with the series.
A map of the Seanchan continent and empire, c. 999 NE
The Founding of the Seanchan Empire
In FY 993 an immense fleet made landfall on the western coast of the Aryth Ocean. More than two thousand ships carrying three hundred thousand soldiers and settlers found themselves in a new land, far from home. The commander of the invasion was Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, the son and heir of Artur Hawkwing. His armies achieved some early successes, such as capturing the city of Imfaral, but were presented with a formidable problem. In this new land - Seanchan - female channellers of the One Power had never unified as they had at home. Instead, female channellers frequently ruled as queens and warlords. Seanchan, an immense continent divided into two landmasses almost girdling the planet from pole to pole (and considerably larger than Luthair's homeland), was a shifting patchwork of hundreds of nations, often at war with one another, with the One Power used openly in battle. The local rulers also used exotic creatures such as raken (flying lizards) and grolm (three-eyed reptilian beasts of notable strength and ferocity) in battle. They were initially mistaken for Shadowspawn by Luthair's forces, but were then employed by him in his own army.
Due to the schism between his father and the Aes Sedai, Luthair's armies lacked any channellers or any way of levelling the field. Outnumbered and outclassed, it is likely that Luthair's forces would have been annihilated had providence not delivered a great force-equaliser to him. A woman named Deain offered Luthair an alliance in return for the use of the a'dam, a ter'angreal shaped like a leash which could prevent women from touching the One Power and force them to use it only at the direction of the leash-holder. Luthair took possession of the a'dam and used it on Deain herself. Satisfied that the device worked as advertised, Luthair employed the a'dam to take enemy channellers prisoner and then force them to fight for him.
In this manner Luthair and his descendants overran and conquered the entire continent of Seanchan, a process which took three centuries. A series of civil conflicts wracked the newly-forged Seanchan Empire for a further two centuries, with a near-constant succession of uprisings and rebellions following. Before his death Luthair committed his descendants to the Corenne, the Return, to resume contact with the empire of his father and, if it had fallen, to reforge it by military means. But it would be some considerable time before Seanchan would be stable enough to support such a venture (which would match or exceed the original invasion of Seanchan itself in size).
After the War of the Hundred Years
Back on the home continent, the century-long war that followed the death of Artur Hawkwing ended with the establishment of twenty-four new, sovereign kingdoms. Ten of these nations would fail over the centuries, leaving behind the fourteen nations of the modern era: Saldaea, Kandor, Arafel, Shienar (collectively, the Borderlands), Arad Doman, Tarabon, Amadicia, Ghealdan, Altara, Murandy, Illian, Tear, Andor and Cairhien. There were also three notable city-states: Tar Valon, Far Madding and Mayene (along with numerous smaller independent townships, such as Falme).
The influence of the Aes Sedai waned considerably in this period. Their numbers had dropped notably and they were no longer able to reach crisis-points in time to stop wars and conflicts erupting. The Children of the Light were also vigorously opposed to the Aes Sedai, decrying and denouncing them at every turn and although many nations ignored them, some individual opinions were changed. Amadicia, which the Children of the Light annexed as their own fiefdom in the 930s NE, effectively banned Aes Sedai from entering its borders. Tear did not go as far, but Aes Sedai were extremely unpopular there. However, these problems were balanced by Tar Valon's official alliances with Andor and the Borderlands, and their friendly relations with most of the other kingdoms.
Rivalries grew between the nations. Cairhien and Andor frequently clashed over control of trade along the strategically vital River Erinin, whilst Tarabon and Arad Doman warred several times over Almoth Plain and Toman Head (left uncontrolled after the fall of the kingdom of Almoth). Tear and Illian frequently came to blows over control of the Plains of Maredo, whilst Tear attempted several times to conquer the city-state of Mayene (by both war and political intrigue) but was repulsed on every occasion. Altara and Murandy were also riven by internal dissent, with the nobles acting independently and only paying lip service at best to their titular rulers. Cairhien also suffered frequent raids from the Aiel along its eastern border.
These raids come to a surprising end in 509 NE, when the Aiel presented the King of Cairhien with a sapling of Avendesora, the legendary Tree of Life (and the only chora tree to survive from the Age of Legends). All raids on Cairhien stopped and the Aiel left without much explanation, baffling the Cairhienin. In reality, the Aiel had identified the Cairhienin as the distant descendants of townsfolk who had given the Aiel's ancestors succour and refuge during their long flight into the Waste, during the Breaking of the World, and wished to make restitution. The sapling, Avendoraldera, grew in the city centre near the Sun Palace for more than four centuries, adding to Cairhien's prestige.
As the years passed, more false Dragons began to appear than ever before. Few could channel, and almost all of them were defeated and contained before they could do much damage, but their appearances spread fear and panic. With the Aes Sedai rarely, or in most cases never, seen by the common people, the One Power was starting to become something that was feared and the legend of the Dragon Reborn was retold emphasising that he would destroy the world once more, not that he would save it. As such, superstition and fear began to replace the more educated, enlightened times of earlier epochs.
Lan Mandragoran in 1000 NE.
The Fall of Malkier
In 955 NE the Borderland kingdom of Malkier was destroyed by internal treachery and external attack. Breyan Mandragoran, the wife of the king's brother, schemed to place her husband on the throne and to make her son, Isam, the royal heir. Breyan's husband, Lain, took five thousand lancers into the Blight to challenge the Shadow, with Breyan hoping to shame King al'Akir with a demonstration of his brother's superior bravery. Instead, al'Akir refused to support the endeavour and Lain and all his men were slain. Somewhat irrationally, Breyan blamed al'Akir and plotted with another noble (and secret Darkfriend), Cowin Gemallan, to kill him. The coup failed, with Gemallan slain in single combat by al'Akir (after the king's most trusted scout, Jain 'Farstrider' Charin, had captured him) but it distracted the Malkieri long enough for a vast army of Shadowspawn to descend on their nation and destroy it. The Malkieri fought a heroic defence almost to the last man but were overwhelmed. The other Borderland armies prevented the Shadowspawn from advancing any further, but Malkier was lost to them.
A small number of Malkieri warriors fled south into Shienar, bringing with them the infant al'Lan Mandragoran, son of al'Akir, the heir to the Malkieri throne. Lan was raised and tutored in the arts of warfare. He made a personal pledge of warfare against the Blight and that he would not rest until either he or the Shadow was slain.
Lord Captain Pedron Niall of the Children of the Light in his youth.
The Whitecloak War
In 957 NE the Children of the Light decided to expand their power from Amadicia into the neighbouring kingdom of Altara. Altara was divided between squabbling nobles paying lip service to whoever sat on the royal throne in the remote, southern port city of Ebou Dar, ripe for division and conquest. The young Lord Captain Pedron Niall, noted for his vigour and tactical acumen, led the attack and was initially extremely successful. However, the equally young and determined King Mattin Stepaenos den Balgar of Illian was disturbed at the thought of losing Altara as a buffer between Amadicia and his own kingdom. He convinced many of the nobles of Murandy to the north of this and forged an alliance between their kingdoms and Altara. Their joint forces then moved into Altara to engage the Whitecloaks.
The resulting conflict became known as the Whitecloak War. It was hard-fought, with Niall winning several stunning victories (such as at Soremaine, when Mattin himself was taken prisoner and ransomed back to Illian for a huge sum of money) but ultimately concluding that the Whitecloaks and Amadicians lacked the strength to defeat the opponents ranged against them. He negotiated a peace and returned home. Despite their defeat, the Whitecloaks noted Niall's comportment and his individual victories, which were vital factors in his later elevation to the position of Lord Captain Commander of the organisation.
A very young Andoran soldier named Tam al'Thor came to notice in this war, fighting on the side of Illian. He was noted by his superiors for his bravery and tactical skills. He was recommended for the Illianer Companions, the most elite military formation in the kingdom, and over the next twenty years rose to the rank of Second Captain.
Even after the war, several villages and towns evacuated during the fighting were left abandoned and never reoccupied. One of these, Salidar, was pressed into service by the Aes Sedai as a secret base of operations for sisters spying on events in Amadicia to the west.
Laman Damodred, King of Cairhien (965-978 NE).
In 965 NE Laman Damodred was elevated to the throne of Cairhien and immediately moved against Andor, planning to decisively take command of the river border between their two kingdoms. The Andorans opposed him, resulting in a military stand-off that lasted for three years. With open warfare between the two most powerful kingdoms on the continent not an option, Laman grudgingly accepted a peace agreement in 968. As part of this deal, his nephew and heir Taringail was married to Tigraine Mantear, the Daughter-Heir of Andor (the heir to Queen Modrellen), and the two nations united in peace.
Unfortunately, the match was not successful. They had a child, Galadedrid, but otherwise the two did not love one another, with Taringail trying to dominate Tigraine with his overbearing manner. Tigraine was miserable, a situation that was worsened in 971 NE when her brother Luc disappeared on a visit to the Borderlands (allegedly vanishing into the Blight). Tigraine became distraught, and sought the advice of her mother's Aes Sedai advisor, Gitara Moroso. Gitara had the Foretelling and told Tigraine that the safety of the world itself depended on her going into the Aiel Waste and joining 'the maidens'. She was not to return to the green lands until the maidens went to Tar Valon. Baffled, confused and afraid, Tigraine took her advice and departed Andor in secret.
The disappearance of her daughter, so soon after her son's vanishing, pushed Queen Modrellen into despair and depression. She died in 972 NE with no further heirs remaining. A civil conflict - the Third Succession War - briefly wracked Andor until the youthful Morgase Trakand won enough support to take the Lion Throne. Morgase also inherited Gitara Moroso as her advisor, but a year later Gitara returned to Tar Valon to serve the new Amyrlin Seat, Tamra Ospenya, as her Keepers of the Chronicles. She was replaced by Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan (who also had had a Foretelling that Andor was vital to victory in the Last Battle).
Morgase, a wilful, proud and politically canny woman, married Taringail to ensure continuity with the old regime and adopted Galad as her own son, but also rejected any of his attempts to control her. Morgase and Taringail had two children, Elayne and Gawyn, and with the line of succession secured Morgase had little time for her husband. With Taringail sidelined and marginalised, King Laman realised his dreams of unifying Andor and Cairhien under one ruler were done for, to his fury.
In 976 NE Laman ordered that Avendoraldera - the only chora tree to survive in the world outside the Aiel Waste and a gift from the Aiel to the Cairhienin - should be cut down and its wood used to create a throne of stunning beauty and prestige. This proved to be a horrendous error in judgement that would cost him everything.
The Aiel army advancing on Tar Valon.
The Aiel War
In 972 NE a caravan entered the Aiel Waste. Protected by rules of hospitality and free passage, the caravan was bound for the Sharan trade towns on the far side of the wasteland, where huge amounts of profit could be made. Before entering the Waste, the caravan had been joined by a young woman of unknown origin who wished to travel with them. Shortly after entering the Waste, she ran off. The caravan moved on, believing she would die without shade or water.
Instead, the young woman was found by a group of Aiel Maidens of the Spear belonging to the Chumai sept of the Taardad clan. They took her in and gave her hospitality. She refused to divulge her true name, instead taking the name 'Shaiel', or 'She Who is Dedicated' in the Old Tongue. After proving her determination and worth, the Maidens adopted her into their ranks.
Shaiel eventually married and fell in love with Janduin, the leader of the Iron Mountain sept of the Taardad who had recently become clan chief. A noted peacemaker and leader, Janduin had negotiated an end to the blood feud with the Reyn Aiel and made peace with the Nakai, who were not far from it. He was close to negotiating an end to the blood feud between the Shaarad and Goshien clans when word came from across the Spine of the World that Laman had destroyed the Aiel's gift to the Cairhien, an act of grave dishonour and insult.
Furious, Janudin demanded that all of the Aiel make war upon Cairhien for this infamy. Despite his passion, many of the clans did not agree, but four did. He led the Taardad, Reyn, Nakai and Shaarad clans through the Jangai Pass and into eastern Cairhien in 976 NE.
The sudden appearance of over 90,000 Aiel warriors in eastern Cairhien took everyone by surprise. The Cairhienin barely had enough time to gather their armies before the Aiel were upon the capital. They sacked it brutally, burning the 'topless towers' (tall spires built by the Cairhienin to impress visitors) and sparing only the Great Library from their fury. Laman evacuated the city and fled south with his army, the Aiel in pursuit.
The resulting Aiel War lasted two years, and only that long because the Aiel's primary goal was the execution of Laman, who proved extremely elusive. Laman sought refuge in Tear and Andor, but was refused it as he would bring the Aiel's fury down upon those nations. However, the true reason for the Aiel attack was never made widely-known, and Laman was able to convince many that the Aiel wanted nothing less than the conquest of all the lands west of the Spine of the World. As a result, and with the assistance of Aes Sedia mediators, he was able to forge a coalition of nations to oppose the Aiel.
In late 978 NE the largest army since the days of Artur Hawkwing was assembled outside Tar Valon. Laman's presence would ensure that the Aiel would attack. Almost 168,000 troops stood ready to defend against the Aiel. Amongst their ranks was Tam al'Thor, Second Captain of the Illianer Companions. Watching from the White Tower itself was Tamra Ospenya, Amyrlin Seat of the Aes Sedai, and her closest adviser, Gitara Moroso. Waiting on them were two young women of the Accepted, Moiraine Damodred (Laman's neice) and Siuan Sanche.
The Battle of the Shining Walls was joined, with the Aiel unexpectedly (as their fear of water was well-known) crossing the Erinin to attack from several directions. Janduin's goal was to locate Laman's camp and finally kill him, with other attacks being merely feints to direct attention away from this. After three days of heavy fighting across a wide swathe of territory surrounding Tar Valon (the Aiel, aware that the Aes Sedai could only use the One Power in defence, never attacked the city itself or any Aes Sedai they encountered outside the walls), Janudin's troops located Laman's camp and attacked it. Laman was decapitated, his two younger brothers killed and his Power-wrought sword captured as a trophy. The mission accomplished, the Aiel withdrew in good order and returned to the Aiel Waste.
Second Captain Tam al'Thor of the Illianer Companions finds a new-born child on the slopes of Dragonmount.
Neither the Aiel nor most of those present at the battle were aware that something of much greater significance had happened. During the battle an Illianer detachment trapped a group of Aiel Maidens of the Spear on the slopes of Dragonmount. A desperate battle was fought with no quarter given, and the Maidens slain. Tam al'Thor found one of them alive, but dying of her wounds. To his shock, she had gone into battle pregnant, and had given birth to a baby boy there and then. She perished, but Tam took the child as his own. His own wife, Kari, could not have children and he was willing to adopt the baby, especially since he had been planning to leave the army and retire to his home in the Two Rivers district of Andor anyway
But upon the moment of the child's birth on the slopes of Dragonmount, Gitara Moroso had the Foretelling. She cried out that the Dragon had been Reborn on the same spot where he had died, in accordance with The Prophecies of the Dragon, and then dropped dead from sheer shock. The Amyrlin Seat swore the only other two witnesses, Moiraine and Siuan, to secrecy. The world was not ready for the Last Battle, and the child must be found before the Shadow could find him.
Al'Lan Mandragoran swears himself to Moiraine Damodred's service.
The End of the Third Age
In the aftermath of the Aiel War, the western nations underwent several more tumults. There was a brief, nasty war in Cairhien that saw House Damodred lose the Sun Throne to House Riatin, under King Galldrian. Whilst the Damodreds remained a powerful faction under Lord Barthanes, their prestige had been eroded by Laman's folly (now more widely-known) and their position weakened.
Several years after this defeat, in 984, Taringail Damodred was killed under murky circumstances in Caemlyn. Initially agents of House Riatin were suspected, but it was later suggested that Taringail had been planning to seize the Lion Throne himself and had been pre-emptively assassinated by Thomdrim Merrilin, Morgase's court bard and lover. Merrilin himself was exiled the following year after claiming that his nephew Owyn had been effectively murdered by the Aes Sedai (a channeller of the One Power, he'd been gentled by several Red Ajah sisters and then left to the mercies of a mob).
In 979 NE Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche were made full Aes Sedai. They decided to join the hunt for the Dragon Reborn organised by the Amyrlin Seat, but she was killed before they could learn much. Siuan remained in Tar Valon, making use of the resources there to help gather information for Moiraine to use in the field. Moiraine followed one trail of clues to the royal palace in Kandor, where she exposed and eliminated several Darkfriends (including a member of the Black Ajah, Aes Sedai secretly sworn to the Dark One) with the assistance of al'Lan Mandragoran, the heir to the lost throne of Malkier. Lan agreed to ally with Moiraine and became her Warder.
Around 983 NE, the Forsaken Ishamael escaped from imprisonment. Assuming command of the continent-spanning network of Darkfriends, he was furious to discover that the Black Ajah had risked discovery by ordering the assassination of Tamra Ospenya. He executed the leader of the Black Ajah and replaced her with the cold, logical Alviarin Freidhen. Tamra had been replaced by Sierin Vayu, who in turn was killed allegedly by elements amongst the Red Ajah. Her replacement, Marith Jaen, only managed four years before dying of old age.
Concerned that the deaths of so many Amyrlins in so short a time was not good for the image of the White Tower, the Hall of the Tower elected the young, vigorous and well-respected Siuan Sanche to the position of Amyrlin. Full Aes Sedai for less than a decade, the decision was controversial. However, it also allowed Siuan access to much more information to help Moiraine and Lan in their search.
Between 993 and 998 NE, no less than four false Dragons arose to trouble the world. The first three could not channel, but caused chaos in Kandor, Arad Doman and Illian regardless. The third, Gorin Ragad, amassed enough support to attack the city of Illian before being defeated and killed. However, the fourth claimant was a very different matter. Logain Ablar arose in Ghealdan in late 997 NE and revealed that he could channel. Amassing significant support, he blazed a trail of destruction across the southern nations as he marched on Tear.
In 996 NE a Darkfriend peddler named Padan Fain had been 'transformed' into a hound of the Dark One, ordered to sniff out traces of the Dragon Reborn on his travels. During his annual visit to the Two Rivers district of Andor in 997 he detected a trace of the Dragon Reborn. Moving slowly, trying not to attract attention, the Shadow ordered that Fain would return to the Two Rivers in early 998 and confirm the Dragon Reborn's presence. If this was the case, then steps would be taken against him.
Early in 998 NE, the towns and villages on Toman Head suddenly went silent. Merchants and travellers headed to Falme and the other independent settlements vanished. The governments of Tarabon and Arad Doman began to ponder if the other kingdom had seized Toman Head as a prelude to war, and began raising their own armies in response to this imagined threat.
Finally, in the spring of 998 NE Moriaine and Lan suddenly hit upon a lead that led them to believe that the Dragon Reborn, now a young man approaching his twentieth birthday, was located in or around the village of Emond's Field in the Two Rivers. By chance, they would arrive in the village mere hours ahead of Padan Fain, on the eve of the local celebration known as Bel Tine, where the fate of the world would be decided.
Next time: the book recaps begin (finally!).