Sunday, 2 December 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 9: The Time of the High King

The Height of the Empire & the Siege of Tar Valon
In FY 943 Artur Paendrag Tanreall was merely the king of a small nation. Twenty years of warfare later he was the High King of the entire subcontinent. But, whilst peace fell at last across the West, Hawkwing was not done with war just yet.

Shortly before he took the throne of Shandalle, Hawkwing married Amaline Paendrag Tagora, a political marriage but one that was also blessed by love. In FY 942 Amaline gave birth to twins, Amira and Modair, and later she and Hawkwing had another son and another daughter, but their names have been lost to history. Modair was an accomplished tactician, and before the age of fifteen was already at least the equal of his father in games of skills and tactics. By this age he was also a better swordsman than his father. Artur was very proud, seeing that upon his death he would leave his growing empire in good hands, but this was not to be. In FY 959 Modair was slain in battle. Though Hawkwing mourned his son’s death for months, he knew the dangers of war as well as anyone, and when he won the battle he did not treat the enemy particularly harshly at all.

But in FY 961 tragedy struck even closer to home when Amaline, Amira and Hawkwing’s remaining children all died by poison. This almost undid Hawkwing, plunging him into a fury which would last a full three years, "The Black Years" as they are referred to in later histories. Hawkwing was a man of honour, and the cowardly slaying of women and children from the shadows sickened him, all the more for it was his own wife and children that perished. He became convinced that King Ramedar of Aldeshar had ordered the assassination and, when Ramedar surrendered to him in the summer of FY 963, Hawkwing ordered him beheaded. He then stripped the nobility of all their titles and scattered the people of Aldeshar to far parts of the Empire. This shocked many and Hawkwing’s own Aes Sedai advisor, Chowin Tsao of the Green Ajah, departed the Imperial Palace in protest.

Even being acclaimed High King of the whole of the land did little to smother Hawkwing’s rage. Almost immediately he began gathering a new army and early in FY 964 launched an invasion into the Aiel Waste. Hawkwing’s troops were not used to the Waste, a harsh, humid and all but waterless land stretching for over a thousands miles to the north and east. The Aiel themselves fought tooth and nail against Hawkwing, costing him tens of thousands of casualties although in most battles the Aiel were heavily outnumbered. Hawkwing made some progress, capturing a couple of sept-holds and a few watering grounds, but at his initial rate of progress it would have taken decades to complete the conquest. In addition, the Aiel refused to surrender to the "wetlanders", preferring to fight to the last man or woman. After nine months of gruelling warfare and with morale at an all-time low, Hawkwing called a strategic withdrawal from the Waste.

Hawkwing returned to his capital and brooded. His harsh treatment of Aldeshar had spread resentment across many parts of the Empire and a few nobles, usually former rulers of the nations conquered by Hawkwing, began whispering words of rebellion. The Empire may have fractured barely a year after it was completed, had not Hawkwing met Tamika.

Tamika was a young woman at least twenty years Hawkwing’s junior. Whilst not a peasant or commoner, she was not a high-ranking noble either. How he met her is unclear; under Hawkwing’s reforms it was possible for anyone to request an audience and, if his subordinates were convinced of the validity of the claim, be granted one. Even knowledge of her last name has been lost. What is clear is that they fell in love very quickly and married towards the end of FY 965, not much more than a year after they first met.

Tamika’s calming influence ended the Black Years of Hawkwing’s rule. He reinstated the nobility of Aldeshar, removed Jeorad Manyard, the scholar-governor who'd been place din charge of them, and even installed Endara Casalain, daughter of the late King Joal Ramedar, as the governor of the Imperial Province of Andor, the province which held most of the former lands held by Aldeshar and Caembarin.

Now the Peaceful Years of Hawkwing’s rule set in. For eleven years he ruled an empire at peace with itself and its neighbours. Trade was undertaken with the Sea Folk and, though bad blood existed with the Aiel for a while, occasional trade caravans were permitted to cross the Waste to distant Shara. It is from this period that Hawkwing gained much of his prestige and the Black Years largely forgotten, or seen as an aberration.

Artur Hawkwing was well-loved by his people, who saw him as a man of honour and fairness. It seems that every town, city and even village in the land erected some kind of monument to him, though all of these were later torn down and destroyed. Hawkwing himself was modest of his achievements, but despite repeated commands to demolish these monuments they remained and Hawkwing in the end relented, knowing this was one battle he could not hope to win.

Whilst the common people adored him, many nobles detested him. Hawkwing had known that dissolving the nobility of the lands he had conquered might have fuelled rebellions again him, so instead had kept them largely intact and appointed them to positions of power and authority in the new provinces. It seems that Hawkwing wasn’t as an expert on human nature as his former nemesis Guaire Amalasan had been, for once the nobles’ surprise at not being beheaded faded, they became resentful, for without Hawkwing they might very well be kings or generals, not just administrators and governors. And, whilst the former nobles were granted positions of authority, they only kept them if they proved worthy. Incompetence and inefficiency was not tolerated by Hawkwing, who promoted and made appointments (civilian and military alike) strictly by merit alone. Some nobles suffered the ignominy of being demoted and having commoners placed above them!

The largest rebellion against Hawkwing’s rule came from the Almoth Province (formerly the kingdom of Darmovan), where nobles formerly loyal to Amalasan attempted a coup against the Hawkwing-appointed governor. The rebellion was stopped not by Hawkwing’s armies, but by the people themselves. The rebel nobles were rounded up by public-appointed militias and handed over to Hawkwing’s troops once they arrived.

Part of this love for their ruler can be attributed to Hawkwing’s new, revolutionary style of justice. Under the High King’s Law all men and women stood equal. No noble or general was treated any better or worse than the commonest peasant. All special privileges held by nobles were suspended once accused of a crime, even if the one making the accusation was a lowly soldier or scullery maid. Judges sat in panels of three, with juries chosen at random from the local census rolls. To their horror, nobles found themselves often being judged for crimes by peasants. This was a motivating factor in several rebellions launched against Hawkwing's rule, all rapidly crushed.

Hawkwing, aware of the vulnerability of most people to bribes, also chose officials from the one source he knew to be immune to corruption: the Aes Sedai. In return for this Tar Valon merchants were not subject to the same taxes as other King’s Citizens and Tar Valon, as the only freehold remaining in the land, was given assurances of its continued independence and safety. Hawkwing, impressed by Aes Sedai efficiency, soon began appointing them to other positions in his Empire, appointing some as Governors or even generals. The Red Ajah, the one most resentful of Hawkwing and his rule of the subcontinent, was given free reign to pursue suspected male channellers of the One Power in any province of the Empire and the right to request local military aid in bringing them down. Whilst it would be saying too much to say the Red Ajah respected him for this, they at least spoke of him in less harsh terms from this point forwards.

But whilst the Aes Sedai began to see the benefits of working with Hawkwing, rather than opposing him, the Amyrlin Seat, Bonwhin Meraighdin, retained her hatred of the man. She was powerless to act, it seemed, for the Hall of the Tower judged it better to support him. After all, the land was more united than it had been at any point in history. If Tarmon Gai’don and the Dragon Reborn came in their lifetimes, they would find the Westlands already one whole to stand against the Dark One.

Hawkwing sponsored many public works during his rule, building most of the great highway network that is still maintained and used today. He established new provincial cities, including many of the capital cities of the modern nations (Amador, Chachin, Shol Arbela and Fal Moran may have been founded at this time). He organised watchtowers along the Blight to keep an eye out for Shadowspawn incursions, and established fortresses in the Niamh and Jangai passes to watch for any trouble from the Aiel.

As a military man Hawkwing’s first love was the army, and in peacetime he dispersed his forces to act as peacekeepers and "circuit rovers", patrols which regularly visited every single isolated village and hamlet to keep crime down to a minimum. At regular intervals he recalled the army to fight in great wargames on Caralain Grass and the Plains of Maredo, keeping their skills up, and took a keen interest in the development of new sciences - military and peaceful - at the cities of Tanchico and Cairhien. Hawkwing was especially interested in the rapid progress of naval technology, some of which had been gained from the Sea Folk at a massive cost in trade (although these "secrets" were techniques long ago surpassed by the Sea Folk, ensuring the continuation of their trade monopoly). The Imperial Navy, based on the west coast with its primary headquarters at Falme, Tanchico and Bandar Eban, and on the south coast with its main bases at Ebou Dar, Illian and Tear, soon grew to a huge size and patrolled the waves looking out for pirates and criminals who sought shelter on isolated islands.

All in all these were years of prosperity and peace. But it was not to last. In FY 974 Hawkwing unexpectedly and curtly dismissed all Aes Sedai from their posts as governors, advisors, generals and even Justices. Three months later, in the early part of FY 975, Hawkwing put a price on the head of every Aes Sedai who refused to renounce Tar Valon. Finally, in the summer of that year Hawkwing’s armies overran Tar Valon’s territory and began laying siege to the city itself.

Exactly why Hawkwing went from appreciating Aes Sedai and employing them to hating them with an almost religious fervour in under a year is not clear. Most historians conclude that he simply wanted to seize the last remaining bastion of independence (though the same historians concede that Hawkwing forged the Empire more out of defence than out of the desire for conquest), but this does not explain the fury that accompanied his decision. Other possible explanations range from the somewhat plausible (a complex Aes Sedai plot that backfired badly) to the downright bizarre (Hawkwing fell prey to a strange mental disorder, though this fails to explain why in all other matters he remained the same as he always had been). One theory, currently popular amongst revisionist historians, centres on a man named Jalwin Moerad.

Little is known of Moerad save that he arrived at Hawkwing’s court in late FY 973 and within six months had become one of his most trusted advisors, smoking out several plots and conspiracies against Hawkwing’s rule. Moerad also openly disliked Aes Sedai, one witness describing his attitude to them as "oddly contemptuous". Even those who hate Aes Sedai at least respect their powers and influence. Apparently these did not concern Moerad at all.

The few diaries and letters that have survived since this time indicate that the Imperial Court believed Moerad to be more than half insane, prone to giving rambling lectures and discourses. He also had a deep knowledge of history, but refused to be contradicted or even agree to discuss some his wilder ideas (one rival historian claims that Moerad often related historical episodes as if he had been there). He also vanished from Court for long periods, sometimes as long as six months at a time, and even Hawkwing proved unable to find out where he had been, save that when Moerad returned it was always with news of some development of interest to the High King, ensuring his continued service.

That Moerad may have had something to do with Hawkwing’s turning on the Aes Sedai seems possible, especially given the dates (Moerad became Hawkwing’s second-most trusted advisor a mere two months before he began dismissing Aes Sedai from his service). Some have suggested that Moerad uncovered evidence that Bonwhin may have been involved in the death of Amaline and Hawkwing’s children. Whilst this would have explained Hawkwing’s furious attack on Tar Valon, it does not explain the slow build-up to that fury; surely Hawkwing would have struck at once, with the element of surprise, instead of slowly dismissing all Aes Sedai from their posts and giving some forewarning to the White Tower that something was wrong? One possibility is that Moerad initially suggested the idea as a hypothesis and Hawkwing only acted in anger when hard evidence was brought before him.

It is probable that Bonwhin did not order the deaths of Amaline or her children. In fact, whilst she despised Hawkwing, Bonwhin seems to have at least tolerated and respected Amaline (unlike Tamika, whom she disliked immensely). There was also no logic to the decision: aside from provoking Hawkwing, what purpose would have been served by killing his wife? That leaves the conclusion that Moerad faked the evidence for his own ends.

At this point some readers may draw parallels between Moerad and Ba’alzamon/Ishamael, given their similar contempt for the post-Breaking Aes Sedai, their half-maddened demeanour and their complex, murky schemes. This is hardened by the fact that, like Ba’alzamon, Moerad vanished without a trace forty years almost to the day after he first appeared and during all that time he did not age. The simple truth is that we do not have enough information to do more than speculate.

Tar Valon fell under siege in the summer of FY 975. It was a siege that was to last for the rest of Hawkwing’s life and even a few months longer. It was a war to the death, with no quarter given. Despite numerous entreaties from the White Tower, Hawkwing refused to negotiate. The Aes Sedai either had to surrender or suffer the consequences. Interestingly, whilst a few Aes Sedai were captured during the nineteen-year-long siege (usually by threatening their Warders or soldier escorts with death should they attempt to use the One Power to escape) none were executed or even harmed at all. Hawkwing’s rage seems to have been primarily directed at Bonwhin personally and the other Aes Sedai were merely swept up in it.

Whilst Tar Valon is a large city (more than sixteen square miles), Hawkwing’s armies had no difficulty in surrounding it. Tens of thousands of soldiers were permanently committed to the siege, although these were rotated out to maintain combat freshness. However, the city never fell. Any attempt to breach the Shining Walls was immediately met with a deadly response from Green and Red Ajah sisters wielding the One Power (the Three Oaths permitted the use of the Power in self-defence). In addition, attempts to block the river were thwarted because the Aes Sedai, working together with angreal and sa’angreal, could remove an obstruction at a distance of several miles. Food was smuggled in by boat by sympathisers to the Aes Sedai cause, who did not believe they deserved this treatment.

Outside of Tar Valon, the Empire remained relatively at peace, despite frequent entreaties to Hawkwing from his juniors to lift the siege. Apparently even Tamika, who disliked Bonwhin intently, thought he had perhaps gone too far. But he did not relent.

Another eleven years passed. Aside from the siege, the Empire remained prosperous and stable.

This stability was suddenly interrupted by news of a huge, unexpected Trolloc invasion out of the Great Blight. This assault began early in FY 986, but had been dismissed as nothing more than a large raid. Weeks later this changed, with tens of thousands of Trollocs, Myrddraal, Darkhounds, Grey Men and Draghkar overrunning the Blightborder forts in numbers not seen since the Trolloc Wars. Curiously, they did not destroy or even attack Fal Dara or the other major fortresses in the area, instead bypassing them and heading due south towards the capital itself.

Hawkwing, now 74 years old, moved as quickly and decisively as ever, assembling the Imperial Army and marching northwards. In seven massive battles ranging over eighteen months the Trollocs were slaughtered almost completely. The final battle took place in the summer of FY 987 at the Field of Talidar, roughly halfway between Kinslayer’s Dagger and the River Erinin south of Fal Dara. After the battle Hawkwing raised a huge monument, inscribed with the name of every soldier who fell in the battle. This monument was reputedly huge, so big it seemed incredible it had been made by the hands of man alone, without the use of the One Power.

This act confirmed the people’s love of Hawkwing, a love tempered with sympathy when Tamika died in the autumn of FY 987. Hawkwing was heartbroken, but her death was of natural causes and their four children - Luthair Paendrag Mondair (b. FY 967), Laiwynde Paendrag (b. c. FY 975) and two others, names unknown - survived to comfort him. Early in FY 988 Hawkwing began massive planning, throwing himself into work to compensate for his loss. He planned a new Imperial Capital located at the exact heart of the subcontinent, halfway between the Mountains of Dhoom and the Sea of Storms, the Aryth Ocean and the Spine of the World, on the Caralain Grass. The people refused to build the city, however, without first raising a statue of Hawkwing himself. Despite Hawkwing’s protests a huge statue of himself was erected early in FY 989, even before the marking-out of the new city boundaries began.

Some saw this as the beginning of the end for Hawkwing, the start of a semi-retirement from his great achievements. But they were proved wrong. Hawkwing had one last surprise in store for the world.

The Great Fleets & the Death of the Hawkwing
Whilst his new capital was marked out, Hawkwing began military preparations as well. Intrigued by Sea Folk legends of "the Isles of the Dead" that lay on the far side of the Aryth Ocean and reasoning that another continent existed there (a supposition possibly confirmed by Moerad, although his sources are unknown), he ordered the construction of a colonisation fleet, apparently consisting of some two thousand ships and over 300,000 military and civilian personnel. Whilst this fleet took shape at the western ports of Tanchico, Falme and Bandar Eban, Hawkwing then ordered the assembly of a second fleet, reputedly of equal size to the first, at the southern ports of Ebou Dar, Illian and Tear. He even ordered the founding of a new construction facility at the most extreme south-eastern part of the subcontinent, on the south-eastern coast of the Bay of Remara. A town grew up supporting the naval yards, rapidly growing into a city named Mayene.

After around four years of effort the first fleet was completed and dispatched westwards, across the Aryth Ocean. It was under the command of Luthair Paendrag Mondair, Hawkwing’s eldest surviving son. Some reports also suggest that Hawkwing’s second son also accompanied the expedition, but if he did he died shortly thereafter; certainly historical records held in Seandar fail to mention the existence of Luthair’s brother. Hawkwing founded a society, the Watchers Over the Waves, at Falme to relay messages that came back from across the sea.

The second fleet departed a year later, in FY 993. Its destination lay to the east, in Shara. The Sea Folk recorded the successful assaults on several Sharan cities and their capture. However, it seems that Hawkwing badly underestimated the military and naval prowess of the Sharans as well as being completely unaware of the Sharan sect known as the Ayyad, channellers of the One Power (women and men). The imperial army was slaughtered, the survivors taken as slaves and the fleet burned. The fate of the expedition commander, a daughter of Hawkwing’s, name unknown, remains a mystery.

The lack of news from across the Aryth Ocean and the Sea Folk accounts of the defeat of the Sharan expedition left Hawkwing silent and brooding. As FY 994 began he fell into a decline, eating less and sleeping more. A message arrived from Luthair in the spring. It did not sound hopeful. Luthair’s forces had been defeated in several battles by Aes Sedai openly wielding the One Power in battle and apparently working in alliance with Shadowspawn. Luthair report dubbed these "the Armies of the Night." Whilst Luthair’s forces had seized a stretch of the coast, it seemed that this fleet as well was doomed to destruction.

Hawkwing was struck by a sudden fever. As the weeks and months passed he became prone to hallucinatory fits, speaking of Tamika and Amaline as if they were in the room with him and often crying out for his sword, Justice. News of Hawkwing’s illness spread to every corner of the Empire and hundreds of medical experts, healers and even Wise Women from Ebou Dar came to the Imperial Palace to see what they could do. Nothing worked.

Then a message arrived from Tar Valon. All historians and first-hand accounts agreed it was the single most startling document they had ever seen and it is a true tragedy that no copies of it exist anywhere today. According to all accounts, the message was from the newly-raised Amyrlin Seat, Deane Aryman (formerly of the Blue Ajah). Aryman informed Hawkwing that Bonwhin Meraighdin had been stripped of rank and title two years previously and stilled for her attempts to manipulate him. She was now working as a scullery maid in the White Tower kitchen. Aryman failed to confirm or deny any involvement on Bonwhin’s part in the deaths of Amaline and the children, but she did offer to send Yellow sisters to carry out a full Healing that would probably save his life. Hawkwing refused. His last confirmed order was dispatched to General Souran Maravaile, ordering him to continue the siege of Tar Valon until the last man.

Artur Paendrag Tanreall, Artur Hawkwing, the High King of the Westlands, died in the summer of FY 994, aged eighty-two years. Within days of his death a crucial letter arrived. One was from the city of Mayene, informing the High King of the death of his daughter Laiwynde in a shipwreck on the Bay of Remara and the presumed loss of his grandson Tyrn sur Paendrag Mashera as well. This was important for it meant that no direct heirs to the Hawkwing now survived him this side of the Aryth Ocean.

Hawkwing was dead and he had left no heirs or instructions on how to decide who would follow him. The stage was set for bloody civil war.

The illustration of Hawkwing was created by Adam Masterman. More of his artwork can be seen here and here.

Please note that Parts 10-12 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.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

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