Sunday, 14 October 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 2: The Age of Legends

Exactly how long the Age of Legends lasted is unknown, but it was certainly many thousands of years. Whatever the figure, it was certainly an exceptionally long and prosperous period in world history.

Under the guidance of the Aes Sedai the peoples of the world came together in common interests. Before the discovery of the One Power a debating forum used by most of the nations had been in existence, but under the guidance of the Aes Sedai this became something greater, a single planetary government referred to as the World Parliament. Only one Aes Sedai representative, their spokesman, actually sat on the World Parliament and then only in an advisory position (although some national leaders were also Aes Sedai, but put loyalties to the Aes Sedai behind that to their homeland). Each of the world’s nations had a seat and a vote on the parliament. However, as time passed it seems that the notion of individual nations or states dwindled and passed, with the world becoming one single community.

The One Power was used to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the entirety of the human race. Droughts ended, natural disasters became rare and the human lifespan increased as the Aes Sedai researched both new medicines and ways of Healing injuries with the One Power. Exact figures vary, but some claim that as much as 3% of the total population could channel the One Power. The world population was reduced in the Age of Legends to a manageable level (by reliable birth control methods), but still this would indicate that the number of Aes Sedai at the height of the Age could be counted in the millions, if not tens of millions.

The nations of the First Age gradually disappeared, with the world becoming divided into townships or city communities. Each city, town and even village was largely independent, with locally elected councils dealing with local affairs. Local councils could call upon the World Parliament for greater resources if needed, and if a large area was affected by a particular event, say a new valley created by damming a river, then several councils would unite and work for the good of all their people, or call upon Aes Sedai assistance.

Pollution was unknown in this Age. Technology had developed to the point where anti-gravity devices could be constructed. Using opposing magnetic fields to suspend themselves in the air, jumpers and hoverflies were quick and reliable means of transport, moving along well-ordered highways. Other vehicles, jo-cars, could travel off the major roads to reach remote areas, whilst huge aircraft known as sho-wings could travel safely and quickly between the continents at will.

Power was provided by several means. The Sun itself generated a large amount of power, by a means unknown, whilst the energies buried far below the surface of the Earth were also harnessed. Coastal areas used the powers of the tide, and mountain districts placed huge windmill-like objects on the peaks, generating power by the very air that people breathed. Energy was disseminated through a worldwide grid through mechanisms no longer understood.

The weather was predictable and comforting, since it was controlled by the Aes Sedai. Ter’angreal - devices harnessing the One Power for one particular purpose - were built that could regulate weather patterns. Though it took dozens of such devices to affect even just one of the smaller continents, it was enough to do the job at hand. Rain could be made to fall on huge farms covering hundreds of square miles, providing enough crops to feed thousands of people. Additional food could be grown in greenhouses in the very heart of the cities, or deep underground in research establishments.

Most people in this Age lived in townships and villages; greatly improved communications meant that most people worked from home and thus had no need to travel or live in the great cities. It seems that by means of this communications technology a three-dimensional image could be sent straight into people’s homes even from the other side of the world. This technology was also used for entertainment, with plays being transmitted into homes for the amusement of the public at large.

Houses and indeed all buildings were self-regulating. Heat-exchangers maintained a constant, comfortable temperature inside regardless of the weather. Glowbulbs provided light and never needed to be changed or recharged. An unknown mechanism monitored the health of everyone inside the building and could even summon trained medical personnel should someone fall ill or have an accident. Clothing was adaptable to its owner, even altering shape and size to fit the wearer. Many materials were used, but only two remain known to us today. One, streith, changed its colour and texture to match the mood of its wearer. The other, fancloth, could blend in with its surroundings almost completely, providing a camouflage affect (this was considered fashionable at parties, where games such ‘search-and-find’ were apparently popular even amongst the adults). Fancloth is used for another, more practical, purpose today.

Medical technology was highly advanced, but in most cases was completely unnecessary. Aes Sedai specialised in the Talent of Healing – Restoring as they called it then – could cure any illness or injury bar death itself. Only extremely complicated neurological disorders could not be Restored and the few to suffer from such diseases were treated with compassion and generosity from birth to death.

Lifespans in this Age were greatly increased due to the elimination of poverty, disease and most forms of stress. Normal humans lived between 150 and 200 years. Aes Sedai, whose ageing was greatly slowed by regular use of the One Power, lived between 650 and 700 years. The death of an Aes Sedai from old age was mourned greatly in the region where he or her lived, whilst the death of an Aes Sedai in an accident was an event that caused considerable shock at all levels of society.

Whilst most people lived in smaller settlements, major cities did exist. The largest and most legendary of these cities was Paaran Disen. Paaran Disen was the location of the World Parliament Building and also the Hall of the Servants, the base of operations for the Aes Sedai. The Hall of the Servants was famed for its tall columns and was made of a material called elstone, which made the whole building shimmer in the light. The city itself was made up of tall spired buildings, some of which were seemingly made out of crystal. A great park lay at the heart of the city, filled with sparkling lakes and also with chora trees. Chora trees radiated peace and harmony which induced contentment in any who came near to them. Groves of these trees could be found in every city and most large towns in the world.

Outside of Paaran Disen other great cities endured. These cities, in descending order of importance and size, were M’Jinn, Comelle, Adanza, Mar Ruois, V’saine, Jalanda, Emar Dal, Paral, Halidar, Kemali, Tsomo Nasalle, Devaille and Tzora. Comelle was a great port clinging to the side of a mountain. Adanza was reportedly a wild carnival town many people went on holiday to, and then needed holidays to recover from.

V’saine was a university city. The university, the Collam Daan, was accepted as the premier seat of learning in the whole world. As a celebration of its great feats of the knowledge, the students and teachers at the university had a huge silver sphere known as the Sharom created and suspended above the university. A thousand feet in diameter and floating by means of gravitational and magnetic fields, the Sharom was used as a research centre for advanced studies of the One Power itself. Through the Sharom, great strides were made in researching the Power and the Wheel of Time.

Fast and reliable transport had made the world a very small place indeed. The legends claim that because of this, mankind had expanded beyond this world. One legend - surely a fanciful story - says that a great explorer named Lem travelled to the Moon in an eagle of fire in the First Age, and that by the Second there were people living on the Moon, and beyond as well. The same legend claims that even the distant stars could be travelled to by use of the Power, though at this point the extract ends, the rest lost to the ravages of time. It is unclear if people lived on worlds around these stars as well, or what their fate was later.

What is known is that the Aes Sedai had begun conducting experiments on objects known as Portal Stones. Portal Stones had been created in the First Age after the first channellers had appeared, but before the end of the Age. Why exactly so many of these devices were created – the remnants of dozens can be found in the Westlands alone – is unknown, but their purpose remains clear. Through the use of these Stones Aes Sedai could travel to what were called “parallel universes,” realities different to our own but also less substantial. Aes Sedai scientists concluded that Portal Stone worlds were “shadow dimensions”, weavings of the future begun by the Wheel of Time but then discarded. Despite their less-substantial nature, objects and even living beings from within these worlds could be brought back to our own with no ill effect.

It is possible that the Ogier came from one of these worlds. The Ogier were, and still are, a non-human race different to us but also resembling us. Ogier are around ten feet tall with large, tufted ears and wide, almost snout-like noses. They are a quiet, peaceful race, patient but also hungry for knowledge. They lived in special areas called stedding, large forested areas of peace and tranquillity. It is not clear if a normal area could be converted into stedding or if the Ogier somehow brought stedding with them from their enigmatic homeland. One of the stedding’s more unusual features was that within one the One Power could not be used at all. Despite millennia of Aes Sedai study, the cause of this remained unknown. Whatever the secret, it was clearly lost even to the Ogier themselves by the end of the Age.

The discovery of the Ogier led the Aes Sedai into experimenting with creating nonhuman races of their own. It seems that many Aes Sedai were wary of such experiments and after only one success they abandoned research in this department (publicly at least; we now know that research continued in secret by more amoral scientists). This success was the Nym. Nym were huge humanoid beings, fifteen to twenty feet tall, seemingly entirely composed of living matter. Most seemed to be made of grass and flowers, with insects actually living inside them, but they did not seem to mind. Despite their fragile appearance, Nym were monstrously strong, far stronger than even the Ogier. Nym, and to a lesser extent Ogier, were in harmony with nature and could manipulate the forces of nature around them.

To be able to channel the One Power was a great responsibility, but unlike today the Aes Sedai never gave up on teaching someone in the ways of the Power. If you could channel you were Aes Sedai and to be trained as such. Even if you never went to the Hall of the Servants or even ever wielded the One Power again, you were still Aes Sedai. This was purely for reasons of preservation: then, as now, three out of four women and half of all men with inborn ability to channel (as opposed to those who could learn) died horribly without training. Given that most settlements, from cities down to villages and even tiny hamlets, had a trained Aes Sedai resident, the vast majority of those able to channel were found and dispatched to training centres quite quickly. The Aes Sedai also encouraged people to periodically call at their local Aes Sedai to be tested for the ability. Tests were also carried out in schools and colleges. Girls manifested the ability to channel between the ages of twelve and twenty-one (again, as today) and as such were almost all identified whilst still in education. Men were more difficult to locate, since they manifested the power between sixteen and twenty-eight or thereabouts. Most difficult of all to locate were those who could be taught how to wield the One Power, since they did not display ‘symptoms’ as those with the inborn ability did.

Once identified, those able to channel were either apprenticed to their local Aes Sedai, sent to a training school in one of the major cities or, for the most powerful and those with the greatest potential, to the Hall of the Servants itself. It is not clear how long such training took place, but discipline was relatively relaxed, with a lot of the skill in using the Power developing from first-hand experience rather than in classes. Certainly, training never took more than a few years, a far cry from the one or two decades spent today in attaining the rank of Aes Sedai.

The organisation of the Aes Sedai was certainly less formal than it is today. This was because, unlike today, most Aes Sedai did not engage in internal politics. The Hall of the Servants was not the home of all Aes Sedai (as the White Tower is today), merely a meeting place and forum for debate. Likewise, the First Among Equals was more of a chairman than a unilateral leader (as the Amyrlin Seat is today). The First Among Equals, according to some records, sat on the High Seat, summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion and wore the Ring of Tamyrlin. The Nine Rods were regional governors, rulers of parts of the world who sought Aes Sedai advice frequently. A ruling council led the Aes Sedai, of which the First was the chairman, and the First also represented Aes Sedai concerns at the World Parliament. The Hall of the Servants’ primary job was to assemble teams of Aes Sedai to work on construction or mining projects, to train those able to channel as Aes Sedai and also to work out the rules and regulations for, say, hiring an Aes Sedai for a job. On rare occasions the Aes Sedai would become divided over an issue and committees would form to defend or criticise the matter at hand. Such factions were called ajah and were temporary organisations lasting only for a few months or years.

For those relatively uninterested in becoming deeply involved in the Aes Sedai hierarchy, it was in fact possible to only visit the Hall of the Servants once in an entire lifetime (when formally inducted into the ranks of the Aes Sedai). Indeed, the vast majority of the Aes Sedai pursued careers unrelated to the Power. A few jobs were forbidden to them, since their abilities would give them an unfair advantage over their colleagues (not even thousands of years of peace could totally change human nature), but most avenues of employment were still open. Aes Sedai could be writers, philosophers, bankers, clerks or shopkeepers without any problem whatsoever. With the cultural pressure to serve others, most gravitated to tasks they were most suitable for, namely as Restorers or using the One Power in construction projects or mining efforts. A large number of Aes Sedai also worked as researchers, using the One Power to augment a certain area of scientific or technological research. Some volunteered for the somewhat dangerous job of exploring the Power itself, developing new Talents and discovering exactly what could and could not be done with it. Sometimes accidents happened and people were ‘severed’, that is losing the ability to channel (gentling or stilling it is called today) after being overwhelmed by the Power. Some even died. Yet it seems by a few thousand years into the Age the limits of the One Power had been pretty firmly set and understood. The one thing the Power was not used for was as a weapon against other people.

The Age was totally peaceful, with even the word “war” becoming unknown to all but a few historians. Most petty crime was eliminated by cheap goods, high wages and an excellent standard of living. Those without work were supported by a generous allowance scheme which was low enough to encourage work, but high enough to ensure a fair standard of living at the same time. Occasional crimes of passion or jealousy took place, but these were few and far between. Psychoses leading to violence were identified at a young age and eliminated by a method of the Power known as Compelling, which eliminated certain negative urges. Very rarely such an individual might slip through the net and become violent in later life. Such individuals were thoroughly Compelled never to commit such crimes again. Tactical games, such as chess, were still played and fencing was taken up as an athletic hobby, but was never used for actual combat. The only time when it was necessary to fight was if someone was attacked by a wild animal, and in most cases tranquilliser weapons could be used to stun or knock out the creature rather than kill it.

Modern historians and philosophers have raised the question that the utopian nature of the Age of Legends may have only been possible because of Compulsion, that the entire human race had peace and goodwill imposed upon it forcefully by the Aes Sedai, at the cost of true free will and thus a denial of human nature. The fact that the Aes Sedai today ban the use of Compulsion outright suggest there may be some truth to this, but the point remains contentious.

Arguments that flared into fistfights still took place and violence was not totally removed from the world, but some particularly pious people believed that even this was too much and dedicated themselves to a life of complete and total pacifism. The exact origins of this movement are unclear, but it seems to have developed from a First Age religion that preached tolerance of all others and also seems to have been the first to believe in reincarnation. This religion also taught martial arts for self-defence and exercise, but this new movement exercised all such factors. The new movement called itself the Da’shain Aiel (“People to Peace Dedicated”). The Da’shain Aiel followed a philosophy they called the Way of the Leaf. It preached unbending pacifism, even in the face of certain death. Their faith afforded them a respect second only to that of the Aes Sedai. It became traditional – though the origins of the tradition have been long forgotten – for the Da’shain to serve the Aes Sedai. The exact nature of this service is unclear, but seems to have been in the form of assistants or helpers, perhaps even housekeepers though most homes were self-cleaning. Since there were fewer Da’shain than Aes Sedai, most Aes Sedai did without (and indeed did not need any), whilst very busy Aes Sedai, mostly researchers and scientists, often had two or three Da’shain to help them.

The Da’shain’s extreme pacifism somehow opened their awareness to the world around them. Some of them exhibited unusual traits. Some could speak with wolves. Others could see auras surrounding people that revealed their futures (these abilities may also have manifested in the general population). The most common ability was the one that allowed them to walk in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, and use it for their own ends. These abilities were unrelated to the One Power (i.e. most of those who possessed them could not channel).

A large number of the Da’shain Aiel could also manipulate nature. By a method called "Seed Singing" teams of Da’shain Aiel, Nym and Ogier would encourage growth in fields, increasing the productivity of a farm by five or six times. The Da’shain Aiel were very close to the Nym and Ogier and learned their ways as well as those of the rest of the world. A key difference between the Da’shain and the normal population was a general lack of ambition. The Da’shain were content to serve where they were, whilst most people were keen to rise to the top of their field of study, from where they could serve more effectively (and with more prestige).

Those who did reach the height of their field were granted a third name to identify them. Many people attempted to gain the prestigious third name, but most failed, held back by one factor or another. Many Aes Sedai, though certainly not all, gained the third name through their works.

This, then, was the Age of Legends, an Age of peace, harmony and contentment. An Age born out of the fires of chaos and war, and an Age doomed to die in it as well.

Please note that Parts 3-5 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

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1 comment:

Pat Sammons said...

Excellent write up. One small edit suggestion, "The death of an Aes Sedai from old age was mourned greatly in the region where he or her lived" Sure you meant he or she.