Thursday, 27 December 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 12: The Aiel War


Laman's Folly

In 970 NE Illian and Tear clashed again for control of trade along the Sea of Storms and across the Plains of Maredo. The fighting lasted six years and was divided into three separate wars. During these wars Tam al’Thor rose to the ranks of Second Captain of the Illianer Companions, one of the most elite military formations on the subcontinent. At the conclusion of the wars in 976 NE Tam had had enough and wished to return home to his father’s farm in the Two Rivers district of Andor (where Manetheren’s capital had once existed). Before he could, one last battle remained to be fought.

In 971 NE Luc Mantear, eldest son of Queen Mordrellen of Andor, was urged by Gitara Moroso, his mother's Aes Sedai advisor, to seek his glory in the Blight. An accomplished swordsman, he joined the Shienarans on their patrols of the Blight and soon won acclaim for his bravery and skill. However, Luc went into the Blight one day and did not return. He was presumed dead.

This news plunged his mother into grief and his sister into despair. Tigraine despised her husband, the rude, arrogant Taringail Damodred, nephew to King Laman of Cairhien. Whilst he doted on his and Tigraine’s son, Galadedrid (born very early in 972 NE), he almost ignored his wife, or scorned and mocked her even in public. Luc was the only person Tigraine could confide in and news of his apparent death struck her hard. In desperation she also sought the advice of her mother’s Aes Sedai advisor, Gitara Moroso. Gitara, who often had the Foretelling, told Tigraine that the safety of Andor and the world itself depended on her going east, to the Aiel Waste, and joining the "Maidens". She was not to return to the lands of the west until the time came for the Maidens to journey to Tar Valon. Confused, Tigraine heeded her words. Leaving behind a son she loved dearly and a husband she did not at all, she fled Caemlyn by night in the spring of 972 NE with only the clothes she wore and enough money to get her to the Dragonwall.

Tigraine’s disappearance plunged her mother into the very deepest pits of despair. Mordrellen simply could not tolerate any more heartbreak and died in the late spring of the year. House Mantear was too weak to hold the throne and the other Houses fell into dispute over the succession. The Third Succession War raged for three months, though only a few deaths resulted of it, ending when the powerful noble Houses Taravin, Renshar, Coelan, Carand, Traemane and Pendar united behind the youthful Morgase Trakand, High Seat of House Trakand, and propelled her to the Lion Throne. Upon her ascension Queen Morgase pardoned all the Houses that stood against her and married Taringail to appease Cairhien. She also adopted Galad as her own son, again to appease Cairhien. But where Tigraine had been weak, Morgase was extremely strong-willed. She did not tolerate Taringail’s rudeness, often dismissing him from her presence like he was a servant and not even inviting him to some parties and balls. It is a matter of some debate in Andoran society as to how exactly their children, Gawyn (b. 979) and Elayne (b. 981), could have been conceived, such was their disdain for one another. Morgase inherited Gitara Moroso as her Aes Sedai advisor, but barely a year later Gitara was recalled to Tar Valon to serve as the Keeper of the Chronicles for the newly-raised Amyrlin Tamra Ospenya. Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan of the Red Ajah became Morgase’s new advisor. Though Morgase was not aware of it, Elaida’s decision to serve her was based on a Foretelling she had years earlier, that the salvation of the world at the Last Battle would depend upon the Royal House of Andor.

Over the next four years King Laman saw his nephew’s spirit being broken by his stronger-willed wife and also saw his own dreams of seeing Damodreds on the thrones of both Cairhien and Andor crumble. A skilled player of Daes Dae’mar or the Game of Houses (as the complex web of politics between the noble Houses is called), Laman decided to cut down Avendoraldera, the sapling of Avendesorathat had stood outside the Sun Palace in Cairhien for the past five centuries. From that tree he would make the most wondrous and impressive throne in the whole world. This was just a minor part of his schemes, but it had the most infamous and far-reaching outcome.

At the moment the axe bit into the trunk of the only chora tree to exist outside the Aiel Waste in almost four thousand years, Laman’s fate and the fate of the whole world was sealed.




The Aiel War, the Battle of the Shining Walls & the Dragon’s Rebirth
In the spring of 972 NE a young woman asked to join a Cairhienin caravan bound for Shara. The caravan leaders were dubious, but she could pay her way, though she refused to give a name. They agreed, but a few days after entering the Aiel Waste she suddenly left, striking out on her own. The caravan leaders tried to stop her, but she ran off. With only a few days’ worth of food and water, they believed her as good as dead.

Maybe she would have died, but a small group of Aiel Maidens of the Spear - Aiel female warriors - tracked her and rescued her from the brink of death. She refused to divulge her true name, instead taking the name Shaiel, "The Woman Who is Dedicated" in the Old Tongue. She told them that she had been sent to join the Maidens by an Aes Sedai with the Foretelling, and that she left behind a newborn son she loved and a husband she did not. Impressed by her spirit and courage, they adopted her into the Chumai sept of the Taardad Aiel. Barely a year later they let her join the Maidens of the Spear. She would never be an equal to a true Aiel Maiden, raised and trained since almost birth, but she was as skilled a warrior as a wetlander could be expected to become.

Shaiel eventually met and fell in love with Janduin, leader of the Iron Mountain sept and recently-raised clan chief of the Taardad Aiel. One of the youngest clan chiefs in history, Janduin is now accounted as one of the great Aiel leaders. He ended the Taardad's blood feud with the Reyn Aiel and made peace with the Nakai, who were not far from blood feud. He also strengthened the Taardad’s alliance with the Shaarad Aiel and came close to negotiating a peace between the Shaarad and the Goshien, who had been blood enemies for many years. But it was then that news came from across the Spine of the World: Laman had cut down Avendoraldera, destroyed that which could not be replaced and spurned five centuries of peace with the Aiel. Janduin was filled with anger and called a meeting of all the clan chiefs at Alcair Dal, a valley in the Waste where the clans can meet in safety. Despite his entreaties that vengeance was needed against the Cairhienin, only four of the twelve clans agreed to support him. The Reyn, the Nakai and the Shaarad made alliance with the Taardad and soon four full clans of the Aiel were heading west towards the Jangai Pass through the Dragonwall.

The Aiel War began with the invasion of Cairhien in the late spring of 976 NE. The people of Cairhien could only watch, stunned, as more than 90,000 Aiel warriors poured into the eastern part of the country. Taien and Selean, the fortress-towns guarding Jangai Pass, were both razed, as was Eianrod and most of the other settlements in the east. King Laman began gathering the Cairhienin army, and hired mercenaries from Murandy, Andor and Tear, for a decisive battle. That battle, the First Battle of Cairhien, was fought less than four months after the Aiel entered the country. Outnumbered, Cairhien’s army crumbled and fled the battlefield. Laman himself had already fled down the River Alguenya. The Aiel razed parts of Cairhien City, igniting the Topless Towers and sparing only the Great Library (the Aiel will not destroy knowledge, which is precious to them). Incensed that the Treekiller had fled rather than stand and fight honourably, Janduin ordered the Aiel to follow him downriver.

Fighting ravaged most of the south-eastern part of the Westlands for over a year. The rapidly diminishing Cairhienin army and its hired mercenaries battled the Aiel in the Maraside Mountains and Haddon Mirk, rarely achieving any victories of note. At this point Tear entered the war, reinforcing Laman with its own army on the condition that the fighting be moved away from their borders. Laman seemed to know that the Aiel were chasing him, but didn’t share this knowledge with his generals, who believed that the Aiel wished to destroy Cairhien as a prelude to a general invasion of the West.

The fighting now raged up the western side of the Erinin, across the Plains of Maredo near the river. Laman called upon his alliance with Andor and Morgase reluctantly sent troops to aid him. Battles were fought in Braem Wood and on Caralain Grass, but the Aiel ever harried Laman northwards. During this period Shaiel became pregnant, but refused to return to the Waste. Out of his love for her Janduin agreed to let her remain with the Aiel force which, nine months later, came to the Shining Walls of Tar Valon themselves.

The Aes Sedai had come to the conclusion that the Aiel were intent on looting the West (some guessed that they were after Laman, but it was merely one possibility amongst others for the invasion) and the only way to stop them was with a sound defeat. To this end, for the past few months they had sent Grey Ajah ambassadors to the rulers of every nation, even, through third parties, Amadicia and the Children of the Light. Though they detested the idea of working with their hated foes, the "witches" of Tar Valon, the Children of the Light concurred that a single massive battle should be enough to halt the invasion. Thus was formed the somewhat grandiosely-named "Grand Alliance’.

Only four nations did not formally participate in the Grand Alliance, though mercenaries from those lands did fight. Tarabon and Arad Doman were too far away to muster an army and have it arrive in time for the battle (although individual lords were able to march quickly enough to join in the engagement), whilst Saldaea and Kandor were both distracted by a rapid increase in the number of Trolloc raids across the Blight (in fact Kandor’s army had begun marching southwards, but had to be recalled to help combat the increasing Trolloc raids). The other ten countries all participated in the battle.

The Grand Alliance Army numbered approximately 167,500 regular troops from the ten nations, plus an additional 5,000 or so mercenaries and irregulars (much to the chagrin of the First, the small number of Mayener Winged Guards who fought in this battle are only counted amongst the irregulars in histories of the conflict). Shienar sent 29,000 troops, Andor fielded 28,000 soldiers, Illian sent 26,000 troops (including the Illianer Companions), Tear deployed 24,000 troops, Arafel sent 21,000 soldiers, Cairhien’s surviving 7,000 soldiers fought, Ghealdan dispatched 5,000 men, Altara sent 3,500 and Amadicia and Murandy both fielded 4,000 apiece. In addition Tar Valon fielded almost the entirety of its 13,000-strong Tower Guard (keeping only 1,000 back for the defence of the city itself) and the Children of the Light sent 4,000 soldiers. There is no doubt that this was the largest army fielded in the Westlands since the early period of the War of the Hundred Years.

In comparison the Aiel had around 100,000 warriors west of the Dragonwall, but of these only 80,000 or so were actually present at the battle. This discrepancy was balanced by several factors, such as the clarity of their goal (the Aiel only wanted to kill Laman; the Alliance had to defend Tar Valon from all directions and wanted to drive off the Aiel, not destroy them, which it didn’t have enough troops to do), sheer savagery (the Aiel did not fear death, whilst the Alliance troops certainly did) and a simpler command structure. The Aiel only had one leader, Janduin. The Grand Alliance had to make do with a council of eleven different leaders.

This council arose because of politics. The armies arrived at Tar Valon days or even weeks before the Aiel and, in the beginning, nine of the nations, the Aes Sedai and even the Children of the Light agreed that there was one obvious candidate for command: Lord Agelmar Jagad, Lord of Fal Dara on the edge of the Blight and Defender of Tarwin’s Gap. Unfortunately, King Laman Damodred of Cairhien demanded the right to command because it was Cairhien who had suffered the most from the depredations of the Aiel. All of the other leaders refused this simply because Cairhien had lost almost all of its engagements with the Aiel and more than three-quarters of its army had been destroyed thanks to Laman’s tactical ineptitude (this may not be entirely fair, as the Aiel invasion took Cairhien completely by surprise and destroyed most of its army piecemeal before it could assemble). The Amyrlin Seat of the Aes Sedai, Tamra Ospenya, suggested that Tar Valon retain command because it would be at the centre of the battle, but Tear, Amadicia and the Children of the Light refused even to consider this. Pedron Niall offered himself as commander and, whilst even the Aes Sedai admitted he was one of the great captains of the day (though not to his face), it would not be politically acceptable for the Children of the Light to lead a battle fought around Tar Valon. The skilled, though not outstanding, King Mattin Stepaneos of Illian offered himself as a compromise choice which might have been accepted, had not Murandy and Altara’s lords suddenly started squabbling amongst themselves for the role.

The council rotated field command on a day-by-day basis. In the event only four of the eleven commanders actually commanded the Alliance forces: Lord Agelmar Jagad of Shienar on the first day, Lord Captain Commander Pedron Niall of the Children of the Light on the second day, Captain-General Aranvor Naldwinn of Andor on the third day and Lord Hirare Nachiman of Arafel on the fourth. The commander for the fifth day, Mattin Stepaneos, took charge of the aftermath operations of the battle (tending to the wounded, burying the dead, etc) but did not actually command under combat conditions (the month-long harrying of the Aiel forces as they retreated eastwards was commanded by junior officers in the field).

The Battle of the Shining Walls, also called the Battle of Tar Valon and, most famously, the Blood Snow, began on the twenty-seventh day of the penultimate month of 978 NE. The first day saw heavy fighting as the Aiel advanced on Tar Valon from the south and, unexpectedly, from both sides of the Erinin (the Aiel’s crippling fear of water had been overcome to surround the city). The fighting was centred on the Alindrelle Erinin (the western side) and ranged onto the bridges themselves, but never any closer to the city (the Aiel, it seems, were aware that the Aes Sedai could only use the One Power against them if they were attacked and at this time the Aiel were still in awe of Aes Sedai and did not wish harm on them). Heavy snows fell on the morning of the second day, but despite most of them having never seen snow before, the Aiel were not hindered at all. On the third day a contingent of Aiel led by Janduin finally located the Cairhienin camp and in a furious battle decimated it, exposing Laman and killing him. Both of Laman’s brothers died with him. Barely 500 Cairhienin troops survived the battle, though some of the nobles Laman had brought with him managed to get away. Laman’s head was carried back to the Waste as a trophy, along with his sword, a rare Power-wrought blade from the Age of Legends.

The afternoon of the third day, that night, and the following morning saw the Aiel regroup on the eastern side of the Erinin and commence a strategic withdrawal towards the Spine of the World. The fourth day of the battle was really a harrying manoeuvre as the Alliance forces directed the Aiel away from Tar Valon.

The bulk of the Alliance cavalry continued the pursuit of the Aiel for a further twenty days, until the Aiel slipped into Kinslayer’s Dagger and all but vanished, slipping away between the peaks, down into Cairhien again and then east across the Jangai and back into the Waste. The Aiel were gone and the Alliance claimed victory, though almost all of its commanders now realised that the death of Laman had been the Aiel’s only true objective and from that point of view the Aiel had won.

The Battle of the Shining Walls saw several of the more prominent military commanders of the West fall. Captain-General Aranvor Naldwinn, commander of the Queen’s Guard of Andor, perished on the third day of the battle and was succeeded by Captain-General Gareth Bryne. Lord Hirare Nachiman of Arafel, brother to King Paitar, perished on the fourth day of combat and was succeeded by Lord Ishigari Terasian.

But one event above all others took place on the third day of the Battle of the Shining Walls, though its significance would not become clear for twenty years.

On that third day, whilst the bulk of the fighting raged around Tar Valon, a group of Aiel Maidens of the Spear pursued an Andoran contingent south-west to the lower slopes of Dragonmount, a good fifteen to twenty miles from the city itself. Here they fought, but the Aiel were surprised by the arrival of a force of the elite Illianer Companions. In fierce fighting the Aiel were all slain. Examining the corpses afterwards, Second Captain Tam al’Thor was startled to find a new-born baby boy, still in the arms of his dead mother. Tam had always wanted children, but he and his wife Kari had not been able to have them. He took the baby as his own and named him "Rand", one of Kari’s favourite names. A few weeks later he would retire from the Illianer Companions (though only forty years old or so) and return to his home farm in the Two Rivers in western Andor.

At the moment that skirmish was fought on the slopes of Dragonmount, the Amyrlin Seat, Tamra Ospenya, was discussing important matters with her Keeper of the Chronicles, Gitara Moroso. Two Accepted - Moiraine Damodred (Taringail’s half-sister and Laman’s niece) and Siuan Sanche (daughter of a Tairen fisherman) - were also present, acting as couriers between the Amyrlin and the Yellow Ajah sisters out Healing the wounded at the city gates. Suddenly Gitara Moroso was gripped by the Foretelling, crying, “He is born again! I feel him! The Dragon takes his first breath on the slope of Dragonmount! He is coming! He is coming! Light help us! Light help the world! He lies in the snow and cries like the thunder! He burns like the sun!”. At that instant she fell dead on the spot. Shocked, Tamra swore the two Accepted to secrecy and gave several trusted Aes Sedai sisters a secret mission: to find the Dragon Reborn wherever he was and bring him to Tar Valon to be brought up in safety.

As far as the rest of the land was concerned, a major battle had been won or at least endured, and things returned to normal afterwards. But they were wrong. The Dragon was Reborn. Lews Therin Telamon breathed again and nothing would ever be the same.


Before the Storm
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Shining Walls Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche were raised to the shawl, becoming full Aes Sedai. Both chose the Blue Ajah. It was a startling decision, since both had been in the Tower less than ten years, but the Amyrlin Seat, Tamra Ospenya, was adamant, so pleased was she by their conduct during the battle.

Barely had the shawls settled on their necks before the two Aes Sedai went their separate ways. Siuan Sanche remained in the Tower, rising quickly through the hierarchy of the Blue Ajah, whilst Moiraine went out into the world. On the surface she merely wished to travel the land, looking for girls who could channel the One Power and seeing what matters might concern Aes Sedai. Many sisters did as much in their early years in the shawl. Others guessed that Moiraine feared being put forward for the throne of Cairhien as a niece of the dead Laman and slipped away to avoid an unwelcome destiny. But, unknown to the Tower at large, Moiraine had a secret purpose. She was to hunt down the Dragon Reborn whilst Siuan oversaw the search from the White Tower. The Amyrlin Sedai, Tamra Ospenya, had dispatched several trusted Aes Sedai sisters on the search as well (Aisha Raveneos, Kerene Nagashi, Valera Gorovni, Ludice Daneen and Meilyn Arganya) but Siuan and Moiraine appointed themselves to the hunt as well.

The biggest problem facing the hunters was that literally hundreds of children had been born in the days surrounding the appropriate date to camp-followers of the Alliance armies and in the city itself. Most of those children, and their parents, vanished without trace after the battle, with almost no record of where they had gone. Initial reports indicated the soldier might have been with a mercenary force from the Borderlands, so Moiraine’s first port of call was the Borderlands. There she met al’Lan Mandragoran, the famous Uncrowned King of Malkier. After spending some time together, she offered to bond him as her Warder. Lan initially refused, until Moiraine told him the truth behind her quest. Lan agreed that finding the Dragon Reborn was more important than anything, even his war with the Blight, and accepted her offer. In Shienar Moiraine was introduced to Lord Agelmar Jagad of Fal Dara and they became friends and allies. Around this time Moiraine also learned that all of the other sisters sent on the search for the Dragon Reborn had been murdered in highly unusual circumstances. Only she and Siuan remained alive, perhaps because none save Tamra knew that they knew of the Dragon’s Rebirth.

Halfway through 979 NE Tamra Ospenya died under mysterious circumstances. Moiraine’s search carried her to Kandor. There, in Chachin, she uncovered the first hard evidence that the Black Ajah still existed in the Tower and realised that Tamra had been murdered by them. Moiraine and Siuan both trod very warily after that.

In the spring of 979 NE what was left of Cairhien was again rocked by war, this time the Fourth War of Cairhienin Succession. This war saw House Damodred displaced and House Riatin take the throne under King Galldrian. Though House Damodred remained a powerful force under Lord Barthanes, its reputation had been seriously marred by Laman’s foolishness and it would be some time before it would become a contender for the throne again.

In Andor, Prince Taringail saw the end of his dreams to put a daughter on the Lion Throne of Andor and a son on the Sun Throne of Cairhien. Some say this was the final straw and he started plotting to take the Lion Throne for himself. Taringail was assassinated in 984 NE, leaving all such plans unfulfilled. Initially agents of House Riatin were suspected, but it is now believed that he was killed by the Court Bard, Thomdrim Merrilin, before he could harm Morgase. Thom himself was forced into exile from Caemlyn the following year, when his nephew Owyn discovered he could channel the One Power and was unlawfully gentled by the Red Ajah, who then left him to the "mercies" of the local townsfolk. Thom had several arguments with Elaida about this matter, the final one actually in public. Queen Morgase was sympathetic to Thom’s pain - after all, they had been lovers for more than five years - but refused to tolerate disrespect to her Aes Sedai advisor in the Royal Palace. When Thom refused to apologise, he was thrown out of the city. Thom took to the road as a common gleeman, entertaining peasants and farmers as he had once entertained nobles and queens.

Around 983 NE it seems that Ishamael finally escaped form Shayol Ghul for good, a clear fifteen years before the remainder of the Forsaken escaped. Ishamael made contact with the Black Ajah - it seems that he had already made arrangements for it to survive beyond the Trolloc Wars - and was enraged to discover that the current leader of the Black, Jarna Malari, had arranged the death of the Amyrlin Seat Tamra Ospenya, risking the Black Ajah with discovery. Jarna was killed in a horrific manner, which the Black Ajah arranged to look like an accident involving a ter’angreal. Ishamael then raised Alviarin Freidhen of the White Ajah to become the leader of the Black, ordering her to obey him absolutely. Sierin Vayu, the Amyrlin after Tamra, died in 984 NE but the Black Ajah took no hand in the matter (although it is speculated that some members of the Black manipulated the Red Ajah into performing the deed for unknown reasons). Marith Jaen, one of the oldest sisters in the Tower, was raised to the Amyrlin Seat, but then died of old age a mere four years later.

The Hall of the Tower decided that it was not good for the image of the Tower to go through so many Amyrlins in so short a time and it was decided to deliberately choose a young woman, one who would endure for decades. In the end they choose Siuan Sanche as the Amyrlin Seat in 988 NE, despite the minor controversy (Siuan had only been full Aes Sedai for nine years and in the White Tower less than twenty). Siuan proved a good choice, wise and strong. The Black Ajah left her alone because she didn’t seem to be a threat (Siuan in fact began actively investigating the Black Ajah at this time, but always moved slowly and carefully so as not to arouse their suspicions).

In 996 NE, a Darkfriend named Padan Fain was taken to Shayol Ghul and "altered" so he became a hound for the Dark One, destined to track down the Dragon Reborn no matter what. In his guise as a peddler he visited many parts of Andor, Ghealdan and Murandy and the Dark One’s minions sensed somehow that he had been in the vicinity of the Dragon Reborn. The following year, 997 NE, he sensed the Dragon Reborn’s presence in the town of Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers. For his visit the following year, he would have some guests accompanying him...

Between 993 and 998 NE no less than four false Dragons troubled the world. The first three could not channel, but these still caused chaos in Kandor, Arad Doman and Illian. The false Dragon in Illian, Gorin Rogad, went as far as laying siege to the City of Illian itself before being captured and executed on King Mattin Stepaneos’ orders in 995 NE. But the fourth false Dragon, named Logain Ablar, was a different matter. He arose late in 997 NE, raising the banner of the Dragon Reborn in Ghealdan. He was the first false Dragon in more than eleven centuries who could channel, the first since Guaire Amalasan himself. He made no secret of his intention to seize the Stone of Tear, and began marching eastwards towards Altara, Murandy and Illian.

Very late in 997 NE, or perhaps early in 998 NE, the town of Falme on the extreme western end of Toman Head suddenly fell silent. Merchants travelling to Falme from Bandar Eban, Tanchico or Katar did not return. Ships sailing to Falme also vanished. Tarabon and Arad Doman, each suspecting the other had invaded Toman Head as a prelude to seizing Almoth Plain, began mustering their armies for war. Tarabon even went so far as to send a small army onto Toman Head itself, but the army was apparently destroyed by a powerful, shadowy enemy.

In the east, in Cairhien, House Damodred under Lord Barthanes had managed to rebuild much of its lost prestige and began manoeuvring to challenge House Riatin for the throne. In Tear the High Lords began another of their periodic attempts to blackmail Mayene into surrendering to them, forcing the young First, Berelain sur Paendrag Paeron. In Amadicia Pedron Niall, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, hatched a new scheme to extend the Children’s power westwards into Tarabon.

And, in Illian, a young woman named Moiraine and her bodyguard Lan arrived to ask certain questions about the recent attack by the false Dragon. By chance she heard from an officer in the Illianer Companions that he'd heard that a fellow Companion had found a babe on the slopes of Dragonmount and took the child home with him to the Two Rivers. Moiraine and Lan rode for Emond’s Field that very day, unaware that a thousand miles to the north Padan Fain was riding westwards for the Two Rivers as well. Purely by chance, they would arrive within two days of one another.

And the world would forever be changed.


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1 comment:

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