Sunday, May 31, 2009
Portal Stones : Interesting Pieces from another Time
In the Great Hunt we are introduced to Portal Stones which can instantly transport a person, or a large group of people to different worlds.
From the beginning, it is insinuated that using a Portal Stone requires a great deal of the One Power. Loial clearly mentions that the strongest of the Aes Sedai who could Travel, could also use Portal Stones. The statement does have several interpretations. Once again, it could follow the slightly flawed statement echoed by Moiraine that only the most powerful Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends could Travel. I say slightly flawed, because while Moiraine may believe that only channelers approaching Forsaken strength can Travel, she is right that it takes a considerably strong woman to Travel unaided. Aes Sedai tend to be stronger in the Power than the average woman. We see later in the series that it takes up to three linked Kin to Travel effectively, and while most Aes Sedai cannot Travel, many above average women such as Verin can.
Loial either means that those who could Travel could also use a portal stone, or he means that out of those who could Travel, only the strongest could use them. I'm inclined to think that it takes a very powerful channeler to wield these ancient relics. I would go as far to say that not even Egwene or Elayne could transport themselves, though Nynaeve and Rand obviously could. Verin says that she would be destroyed long before she channeled enough saidar to transport them, though Verin has always been a dodgy authority on the Power, even for a Brown. For instance, she makes claims that while the Amyrlin, Elaida and Moiraine could wield the Choedan Kal on Tremalking, Logain would be burnt out if he tried. Aes Sedai ignorance is a major theme of the early series, and Moiraine only makes in worse in The Dragon Reborn.
The best evidence comes from Selene, who is Lanfear in disguise. When Rand transports them back to the real world, she regards it as a truly remarkable feat - stating that all of them were transported safely with their horses included. This strongly hints at the fact that Rand was far more powerful than she expected at this stage of the series.
The more saidin or saidar you channel through the symbol of the Portal Stone, the greater the radius of transport. Rand channels while he is sleeping, leading to three of them and their mounts being taken for a ride to a parallel world where the Shadow defeated the Light. Later Rand brings Selene back with them, and she comments on the act. In TSR, Rand takes everyone to the Aiel Waste, though he requires the fat man angreal to aid him, once again pointing to an area of effect which is proportional to the amount of the Power used.
It may be a stretch to call these stones ter'angreal. They seem to predate the Aes Sedai from the Age of Legends. Of course, the Power is not limited to their Age, but the stones are said to be ancient. The stones are not written in any known language such as the Old Tongue, but contain a vast array of symbols. Certain levels depict other portal stones, and once can move between the beacons instantaneously. Other symbols depict worlds, and when one arrives there, one cannot return unless one finds another stone. This is what happened to Rand and his friends.
The stones also appear to react to both saidin and saidar. While only saidin is used to activate them, we see that Verin cites her lack of strength as the reason that she cannot use them, and not the fact that she is a woman. Selene also seems to be very familiar with their use, and she undoubtedly used them to follow Rand to the parallel world where she was 'rescued' if she did not Travel there directly. The stones also have other qualities of ter'angreal. They seem to resist movement, and although one did fall over and was pulled up, they seem to have been minimally affected by the Breaking. On the other hand, many symbols do seem to have been slightly eroded over the years, which is unusual with Power-wrought objects.
These stones probably require considerable skill to use, because Lanfear is not easily impressed. Despite this, it is Rand's great power and dumb luck that save the day. Rand's saidin surge later in the book causes them to miss out on three months of time, and leads them into various parallel existences almost to the same degree as the Wise One ter'angreal in Rhuidean.
The Portal Stones remain a mystery in the series. Anything that predates the Age of Legends is usually not elaborated on, and must usually just be accepted by the readers - such a being a wolfbrother. With Travelling fully established in the series, it is unlikely we will see these devices used again.
Who killed Lord Barthanes?
The night after the visit of Rand to his palace near Cairhien, Lord Barthanes Damodred was assassinated, gruesomely if the rumor that rapidly spread through Cairhien isn't exaggerated. Those who watch too much procedural shows on TV know this often indicated personal hatred and a desire for revenge... or sadism, or torture.
Lord Bsrthanes's murder was an early example of an element of Jordan's storytelling that would become typical of his style as the series progressed. He loved to leave loose threads around and created quite a few, whenever the resolution of the mystery itself had no further impact on the plot. All WOT readers know the absolute classic of the genre: the assassination of Asmodean, which Jordan originally didn't intend to resolve (he changed his mind since and was looking for a way to either reveal it in AMOL - or if he couldn't find a proper place, to reveal it on his blog eventually - Brandon and Harriet have since found an opportunity for the revelation in the book). The Great Hunt has its fair share of unresolved issues, and it used to have many more before Jordan started answering questions about them on his Blog : Ingtar freed Padan Fain, Fain was responsible for the weird time loop trap in the village etc. Is that too many open-ended mysteries? To my personal taste, yes, at least as The Great Hunt is concerned. I must confess it's my least favourite book of the whole series, and each time I embark on a full re read, the first three books are a tad more difficult to get through than the rest. I find it a bit hard to get interested all over again in events that never get explained, in Forsaken plots that are murky at best in places. I find RJ got infinitely better at playing the 'open threads' game in The Shadow Rising and beyond.
About the murder of Damodred's High Seat, the book offers no definitive answer but still few scant clues - yet all pointing in the same direction. The list of realistic suspects is fairly short, basically there are four - and while most people assume Ishamael or his pawns were responsible, I'll also look at other avenues.
As we know, Lord Barthanes passed a message from Padan Fain to Rand, a message he knew came from another Darkfriend, and a message he didn't understand. As Linda demonstrated in her post about the 'Darkfriends social', Lord Barthanes wasn't one of the DF summoned, and had no idea he was facing the Dragon Reborn, or even a man very must wanted by Ishamael. The night after he passed this message, he was murdered.
As motive for killing him, Ishamael would have fury that Rand was lead to Toman Head. It's a viable scenario in a crude way, but I see many problems with that solution. The foremost is that Barthanes can hardly be blamed. Fain knew all the signs and secrets, and the way Ishamael organized the Darkfriends such mistakes can be expected. Ishamael may have been furious, but he had little motive to be furious enough at Barthanes to so gruesomely punish him. With other Forsaken and some Black Ajah, this wouldn't count for much, but this is Ishamael. He has let pass many failures unpunished before, Mili Skane's and Paitr Conel's in The Eye the World, for example. Ishamael is not Mesaana, while he punishes darkfriends, he isn't one to waste his resources for no good reason. Barthanes was an interesting asset, his power on the rise he had become the most powerful noble, second only to the King in Cairhien - a relatively short way from delivering the Sun Throne to the Shadow. As part of his schemes, he had secured a Waygate on Cairhien's doorstep. Furthermore, during his tenure as High Seat and in his rivalry against House Riatin, Barthanes had escalated and darkened the Great Game very much, which was also all to the Shadow's benefit. I find it hard to think Ishamael would stupidly assassinate the man for a mistake he wasn't even really responsible for.
The second problem with Ishamael is that he had to be aware of Fain's message before he could decide to kill Barthanes for passing it. The evidence is that Ishamael never knew, as it took no disposition over months to catch Fain up on Toman Head, nor did he, or his agents among the Seanchan like Suroth, seemed in the least prepared for Rand's arrival months later. As far as we can tell, Rand vanished and Ishamael had not a single clue what happened (perhaps suspecting Lanfear, another excellent tracker of ta'veren, was involved) - in a move to force Rand to resurface he rather had Nynaeve and Egwene 'kidnapped' from the Tower, perhaps thinking Moiraine was with him and could learn of this from Siuan.
So, Ishamael doesn't even make a good suspect.
The second suspect is Lanfear. In her case, the only possible motive to kill Lord Barthanes would be to prevent Ishamael from learning where Fain, and Rand, were going next. It is somewhat weak, notably because it is quite uncertain Ishamael would even make the connection and learn he should go to Lord Barthanes for answers, and secondly because Lanfear had to be aware that Ishamael could track ta'veren as well as she. Lanfear also claims not to kill unless she has a good reason to, and her motives would be devoid of the rage or desire for revenge that the gruesome murder suggest. What Lanfear did in this book, a prelude to offering Rand a teacher, was to give to Rand a mean to almost-Travel, and thus increase his chances to escape Ishamael for a while (it's doubtful the Forsaken are able to track ta'veren in the Pattern very fast, especially if they do not know in which area to expect them - it is more likely a process of narrowing it down until they find the precise location). A problem with Lanfear is that unless she was right there in the night to learn about all this first hand, it's difficult to understand how she even found out, and so quickly, about Barthanes and what Fain did. The same might be said for Ishamael, for that matter.
So, Lanfear definitely doesn't make the best suspect either.
The third suspect is one of Padan Fain's cronies. Fain had the best motive to eliminate Barthanes as soon as he passed the message: he wanted to escape Ishamael and to have his chance to kill al'Thor, and what better way to erase his trace than to kill Barthanes, once he discovered he was a Darkfriend? Fain also had the means at his disposal: one or more darkfriends who were with him in Cairhien could easily be left behind, with orders to come to Barthanes's palace in the night to eliminate him. Darkfriends could explain the nastiness of the murder, possibly without rage or the desire for revenge - especially darkfriends in complete fear of Fain, and who had lived among Trollocs and witnessed Trolloc ways for weeks. One problem with this is Hurin, but it's a small problem: one or a few Darkfriends left behind would not leave that much of a trail, and Hurin could have overlooked it for the core of Fain's group. It is much harder to believe Fain could have managed to leave behind Shadowspawn, and for all I said above, the murder was still gruesome even for Darkfriends.
Still, Padan Fain is already a much better suspect than either Forsaken.
The fourth realistic suspect is King Galldrian. In the Great Hunt, RJ introduced a somewhat simplistic and crude version of The Great Game. It has yet none of the relative subtlety of later books. Ta'veren or not, this whole episode of the piling up invitations from incrementally powerful Houses is somewhat nonsensical. But that's the book, and this can be taken at face value. We even see that the results are indeed deadly - a complete innocent, Dena, got coldly assassinated the next day, obviously because Thom had been seen by Riatin spies (among the nobles or servants, possibly) talking to Rand at Barthanes's palace the last night. We are told that the fact Rand threw to the fire the King's letter and accepted Barthanes' invitation may well have dire consequences, that these two are deadly rivals. As ridiculous as it seems, we have to take at face value that the nobles became absolutely convinced Rand was utmostly important and up to some scheme. We must also note that he passed for Andoran nobility, and House Damodred still has links to the Andoran throne, all dormant that they were under Barthanes. Rand may well have passed for an agent of Morgase/Galad, and the presence of a Shienaran Lord and an Aes Sedai with him would have done nothing to appease Galldrian. In this context - and in the light of Dena's murder the next morning which suggests Galldrian left no stone unturned and may constitute a clue, it's not hard to believe that as soon as he learned in the night about Rand's presence at Barthanes's palace in the evening, Galldrian, by all accounts a dark character, entered in such a fury and decided to take the means to get to the bottom of this plot - sending his thugs to force Barthanes to reveal the secret of the conspiracy, torturing him if necessary, and eliminating this bitter and infuriating rival when they were done. Barthanes, of course, could not tell anything close to the truth or provide a satisfying explanation, short of revealing he is a darkfriend - signing his death warrant. So Galldrian's assassins ended up torturing him, learning not much - and the butchery may have been inflated by the rumor as 'he's been torn apart limb from limb'. By the next morning, one of the assassins was already after other people Rand had talked to, like Thom. By the end of that day, Galldrian's paranoia about Rand and Barthanes had lead to his death at Thom's Merrilin's hands - he had had committed one too many assassination. And Cairhien plunged into a bitter and senseless civil war.
Galldrian had the motive, the means and the dark character to get Barthanes killed. With the few clues Jordan left us about what could have happened - such as the evidence (from Dena's murder) he learned very rapidly all the details of what happened at the reception, he also offers the simplest solution to the murder.
Not a definitive answer - and probably not enough to convict Galldrian, but one better than Padan Fain, while Ishamael and Lanfear, well viable options, make very weak suspects.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Fain Fails in Falme
In Falme, Mordeth/Fain says he always did well where men were tense and afraid. Mordeth laughs at Turak’s hawk banner and thinks he knows its significance. How does he know? Hawkwing was 1000 years after Shadar Logoth. Did Mordeth understand all the Dark One’s plans from Fain? Or has he kept ‘up to date’ somehow, despite being stuck in Shadar Logoth?
The Seanchan notice that Fain is not afraid of Seanchan beasts and are surprised. Fain thinks they are nothing compared to Shadowspawn.
Fain leaves his Trollocs on Toman Head. Are these the ones who later attack Rand and co in The Dragon Reborn?
Fain doesn’t care about the Horn; it is a means to an end, the end being the Seanchan conquering the mainland and Fain gaining a position of influence with them. He thinks the damane are not of use to him now, but might be later - that would probably be when the Seanchan invade, especially for eliminating the White Tower.
Fain is too impatient, too clumsy, in this interview. He is used to being allowed to speak as he wants (this links in with Fain being a dark court Fool, see Fool and Joker article). Seanchan protocol is against him and he refuses to adapt to it. Fain is impatient because he thinks Rand and co are only a day or two behind him. He doesn’t know the Black Wind stopped them following even though he supposedly set it to guard the Waygate and catch them. Rand and co’s late arrival means the novelty and veracity of Fain and his tale have long worn off.
Fain is convinced he can get the Seanchan to kill Rand:
Fain let the grimacing Huan pull him out of the room, hardly even listening to the snarled lecture on what would happen if he ever again failed to leave Lord Turak's presence when given permission to do so. He barely noticed when he was pushed into the street with a coin and instructions to return on the morrow. Rand al'Thor was his, now. I will see him dead at last. And then the world will pay for what was done to me.Fain didn't do that well, so maybe men weren't as tense and afraid as he thought.
The Great Hunt, The Wheel Weaves
Friday, May 29, 2009
A Map and Survey of Almoth Plain and Toman Head
History and Geography of Almoth and Toman Head
The Nation of Almoth arose with the collapse of the High Kingdom of Artur Hawkwing and the War of Hundred Years, but it faded away over 400 hundred years ago, at an unknown date. Its territory covered the regions of Almoth Plain and, seemingly, Toman Head. The banner of Almoth showed the Tree of Life on a blue-and-black field. By Verin's explanation in The Great Hunt,the symbolism was 'blue for the sky above, black for the earth below, with the Tree of Life to join them'.
Almoth claimed to have possessed at some point a branch or even a sappling of Avendesora, the Tree of Life. The neighbouring nation of Arad Doman claim to have descended from the makers of Avendesora in the Age of Legends (a garbled legend at best, since Avendesora wasn't unique nor even a proper name in the Age of Legends - the name is probably a deformation of aviende chora, ie: Chora Tree - which was an Aes Sedai bio-engineered construct), while the Taraboners to the South call themselves the Tree of Man and claim descent from nobles and rulers from the Age of Legends - another unlikely legend. The origin of the area's association to Chora Trees is unknown, but they may originate with the passage of Da'shain Aiel in this area at some point. In The Shadow Rising, we see the wandering Paraan Disen Dai'shain in the years shortly after the Breaking in a region with seas to the West and further to the South (they then followed the second coast east, all the way to the Spine of the World, where they lost the Doorway ter'angreal the Mayeners later found, and then travelled north up to the area of Cairhien and took the Jendai pass into the Waste). If the area is identified correctly, a great city of the AOL, Comelle, used to stand west of this region, before it seemingly sank into what is now the Aryth Ocean during the Breaking (a parallel to Atlantis?).
In the Second Covenant era, the territory of Almoth formed the larger part of the nation of Safer. The nation joined the Compact of the Ten Nations during the reign of King Eawynd. The capital of Safer, Iman, stood at the present location of the city of Katar. The city of Miereallen stood at the site of Falme. A third city, Shainrahien, was situated as an unknown location, though its Old Tongue name suggests it was in one of the hilly areas and the hills at the end of the bay below Toman Head is a possible location (there are other areas with large hills on the Plain, however). Another possible interpretation of the OT name (as we do not known enough about the order of words and the grammar to be sure) would link it not to hills but to the setting sun. These cities of Safer were all destroyed in the Trolloc Wars. The capital city of Iman was Ogier-built and had a Waygate still existing near Katar. Little of the History of Safer is known: before the Trolloc Wars, King Aedomon of Safer destroyed the forces of Buiryn of Manetheren at Midean's Ford (unknown location, possibly near the source of the river Eldar) in a series of wars between the two nations. According to Mat, years later Aedomon died at the hands of a young Manetheren boy with a spear.
During the Free Years, after the Trolloc Wars had ended, the northern area of the territory became the nation of Darmovan. Again, fairly little of its history is known, though it is famous as the nation in which Guaire Amalasan falsely proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn in FY 939, as a black plague scourged the land from East to West. Within a year, he had proclaimed himself ruler of Darmovan and had seized the nation of Elan Dapor (southwestern Almoth Plain) and Balasun (Tarabon). By FY 941 as he advanced and conquered the southwest, every nation had sent armies and generals against Amalasan in what became known as the War of the Second Dragon, including the man that would eventually be his nemesis: Artur Paendrag Tanreall of Shandalle.
Little is known of the geography of present day Almoth Plain. It is bordered to the west by the Toman Head peninsula and the Aryth Ocean. To the east, it ends on the slopes of the Mountains of Mist. To the northeast is Lake Somal and the large forest known as The Paerish Swar ('The Darkwood'). Almoth Plain is bordered to the North by Arad Doman and to the South by Tarabon.
Almoth Plain has had no formal government since Almoth collapsed. There is an unknown number of self-ruled communities and towns on the Plain, but no known city. The closest known city is the Domani city of Katar. Katar is ruled by a group of Lords. Recently, during the war for control of Almoth Plain with Tarabon (ongoing since sometime in 998 NE) that degenerated into civil wars in both nations after the events with Rand at Falme, the great Domani general Rodel Itulrade had a major victory at Katar, managing as a result to force the Lords of Katar to stop trading with the Dragonsworn (likely for weapons, giving their local speciality). Itulrade also claims a military triumph at Lake Somal, making it likely there's one or more unknown cities or towns down the road near the Lake area (unless there were just major Dragonsworn camps hidden there). Others cities mentioned as the sites of recent battles by Lord Ituralde were Solanje, Maseen and Kandelmar. It is unknown whether these cities are located on Almoth Plain or within the borders of Arad Doman itself, but as Itulrade mentionned them in the context of the civil war, they are more likely to be beyond the Domani border. There is an abandoned stedding near The Paerish Swar, where many suspect Ituralde plans to set an ambush for the Seanchan (he may be very disappointed if they have Ogier Gardeners with them - they may sense the Stedding ahead and give warning). There are several other stedding in the Mountains of Mist, including Chinden, Jinsiun, Madan, Shangloon, Tsofan, Yandar.
The Domani city of Katar probably controls the nearby passes through the mountains of Mist, that leads to Baerlon and into Andor. Those passes are snowed in in winter and do not open until late spring. The economy of Katar seems very similar to that of Baerlon, its connected mines and Ironworks on the other side of the mountains. A minor geographic mystery concerning this area is posed by the itinerary of Verin, Hurin, Mat and Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve in The Dragon Reborn. We know they traveled back from Falme to Tar Valon through Almoth Plain and the Caralain Grass, and Egwene mentions only going through small isolated communities. They must have went through the mountain passes past Katar, but it is quite unknown how they reached the Caralain from there. According to information in The Eye of the World, there is no way to cross the River Arinelle South of Maradon in Saldaea before Whitebridge. They possibly only veered north after taking the Caemlyn road to Whitebridge, but Egwene rather mentions they've travelled from Almoth through the Caralain Grass. Possibly Verin knew of a village or town on the Arinelle with a ferry service. With Jim Rigney's passing, this is a small mystery most likely to remain one forever.
The peninsula of Toman Head is a hilly and sparsely wooded area, with villages and small towns and coastal fishing communities, all in the western area. Toward the eastern end of the peninsula a Portal Stone can be found. The small city of Falme is situated at the westernmost coastal point of the peninsula. We also know of the small village of Atuan's Mill, situated a day or two west of the Portal Stone. Falme is a trade center for Toman Head and Almoth Plain, notably with the Sea Folk. It was also home to an esoteric community known as the Watchers over the Waves, who believed in the return of the Armies of Hawkwing sent oversea.
The group of Sea Folk Islands known as the Aile Somera and the harbour of Cantorin are located ca. 150 Leagues due west of Toman Head. These islands were eventually seized by the Seanchan - before or after the events of Falme. They established their secret naval base of operations at Cantorin, seizing the Sea Folk ships and no doubt sinking or seizing those that showed up there later on. So far, it appears the Sea Folk have not discovered that the Seanchan have seized control of the Aile Somera - but Rand in KOD has sent their biggest and fastest ships to the West Coast, and Zaida intended to send fast ships to all the Islands to deal with the Amayar tragedy. The disappearance of the ships sent to Cantorin may finally attract attention.
For the last three hundred years, the nations of Tarabon and Arad Doman have laid rival claims to the territory, resources and populations of Almoth Plain and Toman Head. The diplomatic struggle lead to five Treaties of Falme, the last of which was negotiated and signed in 961 NE under the guidance of the Grey Sister Merana Ambrey, but it has failed almost immediately. It is unknown why control of Almoth Plain is so important to both nations. The nations of the Westlands are under populated and not lacking room. It may have to do with the resources of the Mountains of Mist. Faile will get reports of gold, silver and iron found by surveying the mountains beyond Emond's Field. It may also have to do with trade routes: Arad Doman is not a seafaring nation, yet like Tarabon it specializes in trade and both are major centres of Sea Folk trade. Almoth would give Arad Doman or Tarabon better access to the central and northern heartland, and let them control taxes on goods exported through the passes.
In 998 NE, the conflict finally led for the first time to open war between Arad Doman and Tarabon, in the midst of which the Seanchan Forerunners landed on Toman Head and along the coastline, seizing Falme and killing harshly one by one the members of the Watchers Over The Waves for obscure reasons related to 'not having watched for the right thing'. Though the details were never explained, it seems likely the Watchers failed to recognized the Seanchan as Hawkwing's returning armies, perhaps refused to swear the Oaths or accused them of being impostors.
In the early winter 999 NE, following the events of Falme concluding The Great Hunt and that proclaimed Rand al'Thor as the Dragon Reborn and pushed back the Seanchan to the sea and forced them to regroup and consolidate their forces at Cantorin, groups of scattered Dragonsworn sprouted all along the West Coast and on Almoth Plain - people of Almoth, Domani, Taraboners. The situation rapidly degenerated into chaos during the winter, leading to civil wars in both Arad Doman and Tarabon. It is still unknown what role if any Graendal, who placed herself in a country palace of Arad Doman as 'Lady Basene' - and Moghedien who went to Tanchico, played early on in the Dragonsworn crisis. According to a comment by Asmodean, Graendal was around before the situation degenerated - Asmodean even foolishly believed Graendal cared too much for her comforts and would have left the area. It is also quite possible Ishamael played a role, creating or infiltrating groups of Dragonsworn to lure Rand out of his hiding place and kill him - as Moiraine pointed out in The Dragon Reborn, young men vaguely matching his description were murdered on the Plain. Whatever her speculative early role, it is known that Graendal has since worsened the conflict badly, kidnapping several members of the Domani nobility including members of the Domani royal line and making King Alsalam 'vanish', compelling numerous leaders of the Dragonsworn and Domani Lords and giving conflicting orders. Despite this, Lord Ituralde has managed already mentioned military triumphs at Katar, Lake Somal, Solanje, Maseen and Kandelmar.
As the war erupted between Tarabon and Arad Doman, Lord Commander Pedron Niall of the Children of the Light conceived a plan to secure Almoth Plain and resurrect the sovereign nation of Almoth as a puppet state under the control of the Children of the Light, a first step in creating an empire for the Children in the West. His plans, put in the hands of the Inquisitor of the Hand of the Light Jaichim Carridin came to naught: a darkfriend, Carridin had conflicting orders from Ba'alzamon, including keeping the landing of the Seanchan secret from Amador. Lord Commander Geofram Bornhald who brought his legion to the plain, was appalled by the methods and actions of the Questioners and, intercepting rumors of the Seanchan, he managed to fool Carridin and bring a large group of soldiers all the way over Toman Head to Falme, where he launched a suicidal attack against the Seanchan and perished with his troops in the Battle of Falme. After the failure, Niall ordered Carridin to keep Rand and the Dragonsworn crisis alive on Almoth Plain, in an effort to paint the Children as the only saviours and unite the area behind his leadership. Carridin had conflicting orders to find and kill Rand from the Shadow. These plans of Niall also came to naught, and he then turned his eyes and his spreading of chaos using proxies and provocateurs to the East (in methods reminiscent of Demandred, which seems to have fooled Sammael into thinking his rival was the one coming for him, weakening Altara and western Illian using fake Dragonsworn).
In 1000 NE, Rodel Ituralde managed to vanish after receiving orders from the King to attack the Seanchan (actually coming from Graendal). Ituralde managed to get a truce between some of the important Dragonsworn, Domani Lords and Taraboners and conceived a plan to attack the Seanchan's bases in Tarabon to force them north in pursuit. This part of the plan worked and Ituralde and his forces are currently pursued over Almoth Plain by a large Seanchan army. His exact intentions, though obviously a trap or ambush of some kind, are still unknown, as is the possible role Rand's forces - that recently seized Bandar Eban - may play to help or hinder these plans.
About the map:
The map started from a scanned charcoal base scanned in the computer and completed in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
It is based on the layout of two maps by Ellisa Mitchell, the colour "big map" and the black-and-white versions.
The Aile Somera and Jafar are positioned according to canonical information in the books. The island and harbour of Cantorin are an educated guess. The harbour is described as a vast lopsided bowl and I put it at the location most closely matching this description.
The locations of the Portal Stone, Atuan's Mill and the villages are guesses based on the partial information in The Great Hunt. We know from Verin in the text the Portal Stone is in the east, and the towns and villages all to the West. Placing it more to the north would have placed Falme too sharply to the southwest for Verin to say this. The locations have been estimated by following the travel information from Steven Cooper's excellent Chronology and allowing for 10 to 12 leagues of Travel per day at most.
The scale was established by a transposition of the scale of the World Map found in Robert Jordan's The World of the Wheel of Time to my map of the Westlands. Thanks to Weird Harold for the help with this. This scale is forcibly approximate.
The decorations are inspired by the banner of Almoth and the trefoil leaf of Avendesora. The further decorative elements are inspired and reworked from elements found in 18th century Dutch Atlases and in a 17th century Spanish atlas.
The cities icons are only decorative and do not attempt to accurately show the size of the cities in the books (information is lacking for most, and they would be too small to be visible enough anyway).
- You're welcome to leave comments about this post below, or to use The Great Hunt Round-Table open thread to leave a commentary of your own about any aspect of the book.
- Got any nagging question about a topic from The Great Hunt? Send them to 'Ask Zemaille' and the librarians will do their best to answer it.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Bad Trip
The Portal Stone symbols in Rand’s mind changed from arrow and circle, which was Rand’s random choice, to wavy parallel lines representing the stone on Toman Head. They rapidly went through thousands of symbols, representing all the lives they saw:
"The Lines that join the Worlds That Might Be, laid by those who knew the Numbers of Chaos…I've never heard it, but there is no reason we would not be born in those worlds, yet the lives we lived would be different lives. Of course. Different lives for the different ways things might have happened."(More on the mathematics of chaos below.) Verin thinks it was a surge of the One Power that forced or pushed them to the Stone on Toman Head. It is interesting that this Stone is the only one that she has been to. They are now on Toman Head and have lost time. For them the trip took a few hours (from noon until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon) which is just as well, since Mat only has weeks to live, but in elapsed time it was about 4 months later. Egwene lost contact with Rand during that time. They must have literally been in those If Worlds.
The Great Hunt, What Might Be
Verin assumes that Rand made the mistake of trying to do too much.
Was the trip through the If Worlds the Pattern trying to show them the consequences of their decisions and warn them, or the Shadow trying to trap them? Or both: the Shadow set it up and the Pattern took the opportunity? The fact that the Shadow claimed to have won at the end of each of the thousands of lives Rand experienced makes it more likely they were involved, even if the Pattern used the situation as well. Of course, the Pattern may have been warning Rand of what is at stake, what his life means to the world – the Wheel and Creator are fairly keen on tough love. The Shadow may have been softening Rand up so that if he survives the trap he will be despairing and vulnerable to Ishamael’s temptation, which happens three days after they arrive at Toman Head.
Rand’s other lives were:
1 Rand and Tam were killed at home by Trollocs on Winternight.
2 Rand married Egwene, who was an excellent Healer – better than Nynaeve whom she replaced as Wisdom. The Seanchan conquered the mainland. Egwene died of old age (though she should have lived a long time since she channelled to keep Rand’s rotting at bay). The Shadow overcame the Seanchan and invaded the Two Rivers. Rand felt he had been born to fight the Shadow. He was killed by a Trolloc.
3 Egwene died the week before her wedding to Rand. He left the Two Rivers with Tam’s sword, was robbed in Baerlon and went to Caemlyn, where he joined the Queen’s Guards. Elayne married a Tairen prince. The Pattern threw up a lot of false Dragons. Rand’s body rotted. The Seanchan invaded and Rand defended Elayne while Andorans fled. Rand was killed by lightning.
Rand died of rot, sickness, accident, age, insanity, or execution. He proclaimed himself Dragon, never channelled, sometimes Moiraine took him from Two Rivers, sometimes other Aes Sedai did so, sometimes none. Sometimes Egwene killed him at his request; sometimes she was Amyrlin and gentled him. Apart from Egwene, he married Elayne, Min, Else Grinwell or other, as yet unknown, women (eg Aviendha) in other lives.
The If Worlds show the people Rand is closely linked to. They show Egwene’s possible lives, but interestingly, Rand didn’t see anything relating to any of the Forsaken, even the ones he has had close contact with such as Selene/Lanfear or Ba’alzamon/Ishamael, nor did he of his close friends, Mat or Perrin. Yet Mat and Perrin obviously saw Rand in their lives. Aiel Wise Ones experience something very similar when they step through the three rings ter’angreal in Rhuidean. Rand passed the first step of becoming a Wise One, even though he is male.
How the other men fared:
Ingtar realises the consequences of being a Darkfriend from his lives. He insists he walks in the Light and will find the Horn and pull down Shayol Ghul’s power. Later in the book he describes what he saw in those lives:
"Rand, when Verin brought us here with the Portal Stone, I - I lived other lives. Sometimes I held the Horn, but I never sounded it. I tried to escape what I'd become, but I never did. Always there was something else required of me, always something worse than the last, until I was . . .
The Great Hunt, To Come Out of the Shadow
Uno was nauseated by what he saw of his lives.
From his exclamation, Mat appears to have betrayed Rand in at least one life:
"Rand, I'd never tell anyone about - about you. I wouldn't betray you. You have to believe that!" He looked worse than ever, but Rand thought it was mostly fright.Will Mat? Or will the warning be enough?
- The Great Hunt, What Might Be
Perrin says they have few choices and can’t escape some things. He is resigned to his fate and his ties to Rand thanks to this trip.
Main world symbol
The Portal Stone symbol for the main world is a triangle on its point surrounded by a circle. The triangle represents the union of body, mind, and spirit. Pointing upwards it symbolises fire and male power, pointing down, water and female power. The circle stands for unity, wholeness, the Divine. The upwards pointing triangle within a circle is a symbol of protection and power – the circle contains the power and prevents it from breaking out and doing damage. It was used by Alcoholic's Anonymous to stand for the integration of personality. There is little or no use of the downwards pointing triangle within a circle but it would logically mean in the context of WOT that the true world is the most real, most divine, but the world uses saidar (the female power) and not both Powers.
Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to describe systems which appear random. Such systems are very sensitive to initial conditions.
Much of the mathematics of chaos theory involves the repeated iteration of simple mathematical formulas, which is impractical to do by hand.
Ishamael refers to chaos theory when he remarks in Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News that small changes can have huge flow on effects - the butterfly effect. Small variations of the initial condition of a dynamic system may produce large variations in the long term behaviour of the system.
Systems that exhibit mathematical chaos are deterministic, and thus orderly in some sense. In a deterministic system, every action produces a reaction and every reaction more reactions in an infinite chain of events. All the different ‘If worlds’ show the variation of events in the deterministic Wheel of Time universe. Completely random events do not occur in a deterministic system – everything is part of the Pattern. This leads to the philosophical question of free will versus the Pattern (a subject of the WOT Eschatology essay), and the ‘If worlds’ show the consequences of the interplay between the two.
The If Worlds haven't been used at all since The Great Hunt, which I think is a pity. Surely they were introduced for more than an attempt at trapping Rand and explaining the theological framework of the WOT world. It could be that they will be crucial in winning the Last Battle. RJ hasn't yet explored the paradox of meeting yourself in one of the If Worlds. The Dark One himself is a paradox as Verin explained to Egwene:
"The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order."Perhaps a philosopher like Ishamael can turn this to his advantage. Or perhaps Rand and Min can gleam enough from Herid Fel's writings to solve the mysterious answers of the Aelfinn and work out how Rand can win against the Dark One.
- The Dragon Reborn , A World of Dreams
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The Inns in The Great Hunt offer somewhat of a 'regression' compared to those found in The Eye of the World and it is one more way in which it shows the second book of the series was actually the first Robert Jordan completed.
While the Inns in the first book were full of myth and legends references, those in The Great Hunt have much simpler symbolism and often relate mostly to plot elements.
The first we encounter, Easing the Badger in Illian, is some sort of an inside joke. Probably a reference to an obscure folktale (real or invented by Jordan), the sign shows a man with a silver shovel dancing with a badger. The Inn has a rough clientele, but the innkeeper Nieda keeps all these badgers happy, offering sailors and the like drinks and, later on when the mood in Illian won't make drinking enough to 'ease the badger', lewd entertainment. Badgers are, to say the least, ill tempered. It may be a reference to sailors forced to go to the sea for long and caught like a badger in its hole. The Inn sign promises that at this establishment your 'badger' will be eased - with booze and innuendo.
At the second degree, this is reflected in the events that take place there. Bayle Domon in the The Great Hunt episode will take the decision to 'ease his badger' at this Inn, finding a way to escape the Darkfriends pursuing him since Saldaea. In The Dragon Reborn when we return to Nieda's Inn, both Faile and Perrin will be in a badger-like temper, especially Faile (the fish hater) who growls, sulks or complains during the whole meal. At this location, Perrin's group will also manage to ease their badger by confronting and defeating the Grey Men that Ishamael had tracking them and Rand since the Mountains of Mist... only to gain a new pursuer in Sammael.
With The Nine Rings, in the village of Tremonsien, Cairhien, Jordan made his first (but not last) explicit Lord of the Rings reference. Here it refers to an in-world story Rand loved a lot growing up. Of course, we have to understand RJ loved the book as well. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this sort of too blatant references to the real world (outside all the mythological/legendary stuff, I mean). It tends to throw me out of the secondary world - but thankfully Jordan didn't overdo it (the Mr. Underhill reference in a recent book was more cringe-inducing). As for the reference here, it obviously refers to the Nine Kings of Men in Lord of the Rings who were seduced by power and glory and fell into Sauron's grasp, with his One Ring that binds them all. The parallel in The Wheel of Time and this book is of course to Lanfear, who tries to entice the heart of Rand, to light a desire for immense power and glory in him, to make him fall for her, and to the Shadow. Located near Kinslayer's Dagger and the location of the male Choedan Kal, The Nine Rings may allude not only to the desperate hubris of Lews Therin and that of the makers of the Choedan Kal - an artefact with enough power to destroy the world - but also to the vainer hubris of the Kings of Men, here Galldrian, who tries to unearth the sa'angreal, and his predecessor Laman who cut the Tree. Finally, this Inn is visited right after Rand stole back from the Gollum figure of the story, Fain, his 'precious' without which he cannot feel complete.
In Cairhien itself, The Defender of the Dragonwall shows a King, probably Galldrian (it's doubtful any Inn would dare celebrate Laman at all, even less when the current King's House is a big rival of the Damodreds) triumphing over an Aiel. He stands over an Aielman, his sword at his throat. This is primarily a reference to the events at the Inn: shortly before Perrin and Verin have met Aiel, and we got even more clues about Rand's true ancestry. At this Inn, Rand gets nearly overwhelmed and embroiled in the Game of Houses, in the end receiving invitations from both Barthanes Damodred and Galldrian. Funnily, all this ends not with the Aielman being killed, but with "The Defender of the Dragonwall" himself (it's a title of the monarch of Cairhien) being assassinated, having ruthlessly played the Game against the wrong man, Thom Merrilin, in his efforts to get to Rand. The Inn itself is burned out by Fain, in a variation of the 'pattern' of events of Winternight: the chest hidden upstairs (ie: Tam's in EOTW) doesn't contain a sword this time, but the Horn of Valere. Rand isn't threatened (the moonlight risks making him seen) and helped (hidden by the moonshadows) by the Full Moon that seems ready fall on him (as it is described in The Eye of the World), he is stalked by the the Moon herself, Daughter of the Night, helping and threatening him at the same time. Where Fain caused an explosion, seemingly as a diversion, at Winternight, here he causes a fire for the same motive. Thom and Rand discuss Aes Sedai and Aes Sedai help, as they did on the morning of Bel Tine. The dying man isn't Tam but an older man who defers to Rand: Hurin, on whom Rand must rely as a guide. Desperate, he isn't met by the blacksmith Haral Luhhan but by the blacksmith apprentice. Again, the Wisdom can't save the dying man, and it's the arrival of an Aes Sedai that save Hurin... again with the feeling there's a hook involved.
RJ liked to have his plots progress using repeating patterns like this, mixing up similar ingredients in different ways; while most of these 'repetitions' are too subtle to catch on without a few re reads (and even sometime with analysis of the elements), they still create the subconscious impression of a Pattern on readers, which no doubt was RJ's goal using this technique. On a side note, the Inn sign is very possibly inspired by the classic depiction (used in variants on tons of paintings, famous and less famous) of the triumphant Archangel St.Michael and the beast (the Aiel are seen little short of beasts and demons-darkfriends to some) - and to various Dragon slayers.
The Great Tree, an in-world allusion to Avendoraldera Laman had cut down, is obviously foreshadowing of Rand's destiny and the developments to come in The Shadow Rising. In many ways, the Tree of Life represents Creation/humanity needs to save. As the Tree of Man, Avendesora is also a representation of Rand himself - Rand as the Great Tree, solid but which if can't bend enough could be broken by the 'great gathring storm' ahead. More immediately, 'The Great Tree' also mark a turning point: from there, Rand will depart for Almoth and Toman Head, which a verse of the Dark Prophecy and Verin's explanation linked to the Tree of Life. This is also from The Great Tree that Rand will visit the site of the ancient Grove (ie: Barthanes's palace and the Waygate) and it's also from The Great Tree he will depart to visit the Great Trees, those of The Stedding.
The Bunch of Grapes alludes to a metaphor Jordan liked. As he often did, the metaphor isn't explained in this book but in another, The Shadow Rising. Grapes can't do nothing to stop being eaten one by one or sent to the press, and the winemaker doesn't think twice of the bunch of grapes he sends to the press to make wine. This is a very apt reference for the Foregaters, mostly peasants who left their farms after the Aiel War and would soon die or become homeless refugees of the civil war, after the Foregate burned, victims of a King and nobles who care only for the wine and don't spare a thought for the grapes they need to send to the press. More immediately, it's Thom's lover Dena that gets sent to the press to make wine, assassinated by one of the King's thugs.
To accompany this Read-through post, were are publishing the The Great Hunt entry of Dew Drop Inn: Wheel of Time Accommodation, where you'll find the complete listing of the Inns from the book, a few illustrations of Inn signs and complementary and alternative interpretations of the Inn names and signs.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Wounding of Rand
In The Great Hunt Rand acquired a heron branded on each of his hands and an unhealing wound in his side. These wounds link Rand with Christ; and the unhealable nature of his side wound also links Rand with the Fisher King of Arthurian myth (see Rand parallels essay), who had an unhealable wound on his thigh. Actually all three men are linked since the Fisher King was believed to guard the Holy Grail, the cup Christ drank from at the Last Supper. Rand guarded the access keys to the Choedan Kal sa’angreal, a parallel of the San Greal, Holy Grail. The wound in Rand’s side can’t be healed until Rand defeats the Dark One and allows the Land to be Healed of the Shadow. Rand is at one with the Land, and his wounds are the Land’s wounds.
Later in A Crown of Swords, Rand’s side wound received a further injury from the evil of Shadar Logoth. The corruption in the original wound is now more than doubled; as it is for Fain:
”Mordeth tried to consume Fain's soul, to have a human body again, but found a soul that had been touched directly by the Dark One, and what resulted . . . What resulted was neither Padan Fain nor Mordeth, but something far more evil, a blend of the two. Fain - let us call him that - is more dangerous than you can believe. You might not have survived such a meeting, and if you had, you might have been worse than turned to the Shadow."Fain’s madness is due to Mordeth and the evil of Shadar Logoth and the Dark One’s touch being in the same body. This is the darker version of Rand’s own struggle with the evils in the wound in his side: the madness- and rot-causing taint of the Dark One and the Shadar Logoth evil. In both people the two evils fight each other and have caused psychological problems.
- The Great Hunt, What Was Meant To Be
Even his hand wounds, while Healed, are painful according to Min in Winter’s Heart, A Lily in Winter. They were symbolically burned by ‘hell-fire’. Rand's hands are scarred: the Land is scarred. Hands are a symbol of humanity and of power, strength and protection – Rand’s are marred and his potency thus reduced. Spiritual and physical energy are believed by many to be transmitted via the hands, which is why Aes Sedai (even Lews Therin, as we saw in Knife of Dreams, Vows) gesture with their hands when channelling. Now that Rand has lost one of his hands, he is even more reduced.
You might say Rand not only has the stigmata, but also the stigma of physical imperfection (which in Celtic society disqualified a person from rulership - and Rand has Celto-Arthurian parallels) and suspected insanity.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
A Grey Man in Fal Dara
"A poor shot for a Whitecloak bowman, or even a Darkfriend." Her eyes flickered up to touch Rand's. "If it was at me he aimed." Her gaze was gone before he could read anything on her face, but he suddenly wanted to dismount and hide.
It wasn't aimed at her, and she knows it.
A poor shot, really, or a ta'veren twist of fate that saved the target of this attack?
As Ingtar's party and the Amyrlin's gather for departure in the main courtyard of Fal Dara Keep, a bowman attacks, missing Rand and nearly hitting Siuan Sanche. Siuan immediately concludes the target was the Dragon Reborn, a logical assumption with her limited knowledge of what is really going on from the Shadow's pespective.
But was Siuan right? At the end of the book, before Ingar's last stand, we learn the bowman was a grey man, and the issue of its target is raised again:
"I never knew what he was going to do," Ingtar said softly, as if talking to himself. He had his sword out, testing the edge with his thumb. "A pale little man you didn't seem to really notice even when you were looking at him. Take him inside Fal Dara, I was told, inside the fortress. I did not want to, but I had to do it. You understand? I had to. I never knew what he intended until he shot that arrow. I still don't know if it was meant for the Amyrlin, or for you."
We know from RJ's blog that Ingtar was one of the darkfriends summoned to Ba'alzamon's meeting in the prologue. We know he was ordered to free Padan Fain and to let the Grey Man into the Keep. In The Great Hunt, Ishamael has very elaborate plans to taunt Rand to the Shadow's side. He wants him alive, even at the end he doesn't resolve himself to killing him before he tried one last time to sway him to his side. So why send a Grey Man to kill him at this point? Unless, of course, the target wasn't Rand but the Amyrlin Seat. The other explanation, that the Grey Man was meant to fail and this was an attempt to frighten Rand is very unconvincing. So the most logical target wasn't Rand, but Siuan herself.
Siuan may have considered the shot a very poor one, buy she stood next to the most powerful ta'veren in history. Stranger things have happened near Rand than a deviating arrow...
At this point, Siuan still did not fully realise the real peril she was in; in fact, blinded by the involvement of her archenemy Elaida she still have not figured out she was a main target of the Black Ajah that toppled her in The Shadow Rising.
When Elaida came to report in person to the Hall Moiraine's meddling with ta'veren and Siuan announced her intention to go to Fal Dara, the Hall behaved strangely. The Sitters came close to forbid Siuan from going to Fal Dara altogether (which, we learned much later, could be done by invoking the law preventing an Amyrlin from putting herself in danger - one of the few limiting her executive powers. Even threatening to invoke this law was a blow to Siuan's authority and prestige - the Hall was telling her they didn't fully trust her judgement). The almost unbreakable alliance of the Blue Ajah and Green Ajah, dating back to the days of Artur Hawkwing and Deanne Ariman nearly collapsed in this debate (and yet, it regained at least part of its strength later, hinting that something abnormal was at work in TGH). This alliance was also marked by the beginning of the open enmity between the Red Ajah and Green Ajah. Which came first? How are they linked? What happens in The Great Hunt (and other clues, such as Hawkwing's Green Ajah Aes Sedai advisor) suggests the Green's enmity for the Reds and their alliance with the Blues are linked directly to the Red Amyrlin Bonwhin's conspiracies to control Hawkwing, which nearly destroyed the White Tower. In this light, and knowing the sisters in general were very conscious that Tarmon Gai'don was coming, it makes sense that the Green Ajah would be quite worried by any sign the Blue Ajah may be on the way to repeat Bonwhin's mistakes. Contrary to Siuan's and Moiraine's belief, nobody in the Tower seems to have forgotten their old friendship. It seems that in The Great Hunt, the Green Ajah sent a warning shot accross the bow. But there is more than this, the Green appeared to do the unthinkable and ally itself openly to the Red, even suggesting that Moiraine should be punished and placed in the care of the Red Ajah. There, we might begin to see the machinations of the Black Ajah. One of the Green Sitters, Talene Minly, is black. The Head of the Red Ajah, Galina Casban, is Black as well. Velina, a White Sitter, and Rubinde, another Green, are both leading suspects to be Black Ajah (as we discovered later from an Alviarin POV there is more, at least one but maybe more, than Talene still to be exposed within the Tower Hall.). A white Sitter also acted weirdly and against the long standing alliances in these matters.
However, after opposing Siuan, the Hall backed off and let her have her way, but the vote came close. Finally, at least two of the sisters picked to accompany Siuan to Fal Dara were Black: Liandrin, who we know for certain was present at Ba'alzamon's meeting - and who seemed to have been , and no less than the Head of the Black Ajah herself, Alviarin (who may or not have been present at the meeting). Galina could have ensured Liandrin's choice, but who pushed for Alviarin? Not her Ajah Head, who isn't Black Ajah for certain (this is the main point to suspect Alviarin can count on the support of at least one BA White Sitter who receives orders to favour Alviarin, as choice for the embassy, and later by making her vote for Elaida contingent to the choice of Alviarin as Sitter).
As soon as she vanished from the Amyrlin's party, Moiraine became the target of an assassination attempt, seemingly tracked down by Liandrin, who vanished right after her. By the time of The Great Hunt, Ishamael would have learned of Moiraine's involvement with Rand.
So what should have happened in Fal Dara? What would have been the results if the Shadow's plans had worked?
The Dark Prophecy was issued as a threat and a taunt (remember that Liandrin was adamant it shouldn't be erased). We tend to focus a lot on the parts concerning Rand, and Lanfear, but there are other important elements. The first concerns Isam Mandragoran and reveals he may have survived and haunt the High Passes. Moiraine very cleverly, if somewhat disloyaly to her warder, decided to keep her understanding of the verse secret from anyone, especially from Lan. Lan is bound by Oath to avenge the fall of Malkier, and Isam's mother and the darkfriend Cowin Fairheart were responsible for it. Had Lan learned about the prophecy, it may well have resulted in a doomed expedition to find Isam in the Blight, separating him from Moiraine. Moiraine herself was ordered back to Tar Valon, to explain herself to the Hall and placed in the care of the Red Ajah, as well say she would have fallen into the hands of Galina Casban.
Liandrin, under the cover of the Red Ajah, was mostly concerned with making sure Rand was brought back to Tar Valon - she said as much to Lady Amalisa.
The Horn of Valere was to be brought to Shayol Ghul, away from the hands of the Light.
As for Siuan Sanche, she was to die. She was the target of the Grey Man. We know how concerned Ishamael was that the Black Ajah must not expose itself. Siuan's murder was to happen away from the Tower, after the Hall, spurred by the Black Sitters, expressed strongly its worries that the Amyrlin left the Tower and the Blue Ajah stood staunchly behind the Amyrlin. Alviarin was present in Fal Dara, in position to make a report to the Hall and to influence the other representatives. The Black Ajah would have stood ready to increase its power in the Hall, perhaps even by pushing for the election of Elaida, with the Blue position undermined by 'Siuan's fiasco'. The attention of the Tower was also brought, again by the Dark Prophecy, to their mortal enemy now advancing on Almoth Plain: the Seanchan. It would have had devastating effect if the Tower went to war, or tried to ally the nations against the Seanchan so early: the Light would still fight the Light bitterly by the time Tarmon Gai'don began... not that between the Tower coup and the conflict between Rand and the Seanchan the Shadow has not succeeded in part in bringing this back on track, at least for now.
In a single blow, Ishamael would have had the BA take over the Tower; brought Moiraine into the hands of the Black Ajah, separate her from her warder to send him where Isam would kill him; put Rand into the control of the Tower and the Red and Black Ajahs - and link him to Lanfear - making his predictions/threats to Rand about the Tower trying to use him a reality, with himself in the position to offer Rand his only way out: join him. Alternatively, he could have had him turned to the Shadow, a circle of 13 BA being easy to gather around him in Tar Valon. He would also have focussed the Tower on an early war with the Seanchan that would have plunged the whole continent in chaos.
But everything went wrong for Ishamael: Moiraine kept the revelation that Isam may be alive a secret from everyone, including Lan (which is disloyal to him and his Malkieri Oaths, but it saved his life and preserved him for her cause). She managed to escape from the Amyrlin's party that was bringing her back to Tar Valon. Immediately, Liandrin followed her, and an assassination attempt was made and failed... thanks to Lan. Rand's ta'veren effect managed to save Siuan's life: the Light still needed her, warming the Seat for Egwene and becoming her mentor. It would take a long time yet before the Black Ajah had another opportunity to topple Siuan Sanche without raising attention on themselves, using Elaida (again? It may well be Galina who ordered/invited her to come report to the Hall). Starting the War with the Seanchan would take even longer, and by that time they would find Rand between them and the Tower.
Worse of all, the Mordeth wilcard was still hidden to Ishamael as it was to Moiraine and the Light, and it sent many of his plans in disarray. Fain heard of Toman Head from the Myrddraal and decided to go there to gain himself a power base, preventing the Myddraal from bringing Ishamael the Horn. He vanished in Cairhien, seemingly managing to hide his trail from Ba'alzamon, who seemed totally unaware of his presence in Falme. Ingtar betrayed the Shadow and embarked on a quest for redemption, making all efforts to retrieve the Horn. In the end, Ishamael was forced into another direct confrontation with Rand, the Seanchan were pushed back to the sea, delaying their invasion long enough for Rand and the Tower to at least have a chance. His further attempt to use Nynaeve and Egwene to bring Rand's attention on the Seanchan also failed. A second Seal broke, and not only Ishamael had to contend with the meddling of Lanfear, but from then on he had now to deal with the competing plans and rivalries of all the other Chosen. After Falme, the attempts by Ishamael to kill Rand would begin.
While the events in The Great Hunt were not a complete disaster for the Shadow - Ishamael seesm to understand at least to an extent that with ta'veren even the best plans can fail (he would stop wasting ressources against Mat and Perrin altogether until KOD) and he had many 'plans B', but the wound in Rand's side aside, The Great Hunt offers quite a string of failures - no wonder Lanfear will confront Ishamael and his beliefs he pulls all the strings openly in the next book.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, issue #00 (April 2009): Dragonmount
Publisher: Ernst Dabel, for The Dabel Brothers
Adaptation: Chuck Dixon
Artwork: Chase Conley
Cover art: Chase Conley; alternate cover art by Mike S. Miller
Colours: Nicolas Chapuis
Editors: Ernst Dabel & Rich Young
Project Manager: Derek Ruiz
The wait for this one has been long, very long. With the generally amazing adaptation of New Spring The Novel by the Dabel Brothers in 2005, we were many to salivate over the hints that an adaptation of the novels in the main series was forthcoming. And then, the bad news came. Red Eagle Entertainment cancelled the publication of New Spring after five issues (but thankfully, publication of the three last issues is to resume this month, this time without the involvement of REE), delaying the Dabels' and Robert Jordan's plans to develop the adaptation of The Eye of the World until options on the rights lapsed and a fresh new deal could be made by the DB and the Jordan succession. And of cours in the interim we very sadly lost Jim Rigney himself, whose involvement in the adaptation process made a visual retelling of his series all the more interesting.
But that was then, this is now. A while ago, the sympathetic Ernst from DB peddled around the WOT fansites a series of tantalizing pages from the prologue issue of the adaptation and to answer a few fans' questions. The 'real deal' finally arrived at the comic shop. Buying comics, waiting each month for a new part of the story, is a cool experience, as I rediscovered with New Spring in 2005. It makes you feel like a kid again, waiting for the next Star Wars episode and all that. Funny to think it the days of Alexandre Dumas, people used to experience novels this way, a chapter with each issue. With an adaptation of a beloved and re read series, you get the best of both worlds: the fun side of serials is present, and the frustrating wait to get know the story is absent, as you already know it by rote.
Comic book/graphic novels is in my view an excellent medium to adapt a series like the Wheel of Time. As a rule, dialogues and exposition are kept to the essentials, the artwork conveying most of the story. And yet, unlike cinematographic adaptations, less sacrifices are usually necessary and big changes in the dramatic structure are avoided while movies have their own language and pace, not always compatible with books. Comics are more evocative and, IMO, less intrusive for fans than movies, especially when they are bad or lacking budget, or dumbing down the original material too much, or introducing massive changes for a general audience not familiar with the booké Comics and graphic novels leave a lot more to the reader's imagination while expanding the experience with visual renditions, and do not intrude as much on the mental images evoked by the original book, the way movies tend to do - and they still let you read for yourself at your own pace, with the inner voices you give the characters, without the intrusion of actors, most often compromises for your mental images. The limits are those of the penciller's talent, without the constraints of acting or visual FX (limitations I experience all too often as a VFX designer myself). Gone are problems with recurrent minor cast and all as well, they manage in general to be more faithful to the letter and spirit of a novel than most movies do (as you can imagine, I'm fairly indifferent to the movie project by REE/Universal).
So, how does 'Dragonmount' lives up to my expectations? Fairly well, for the most part. The prologue issue combines the original prologue of The Eye of the World with the new introduction chapter Earlier - Ravens (mispelled as Raven in the Comic) Jordan had written especially for the Young Adult edition of The Eye of the World. Ravens had an Egwene POV and brought us back a few years, when Egwene was nine and carrying drinking water at the Shearing. It introduced many of the villagers and the main cast as kids, as essentially the chapter was meant to introduce at an age closer to that of the target audience of tt edition, and offered a more explicit, less mysterious and more accessible introduction to Lews Therin and The Sealing, via a story told by Tam.
It flirts with inconsistencies in places, but in the book version it was still mildly interesting, if only for the insight into the perpection of the characters RJ wanted the reader to have at this point, made a lot more explicit in this chapter for younger readers.
The Dabel Brothers chose to have Raven(sic) precede and lead into the main prologue Dragonmount, which works fairly well as it is set in the aftermath of the Sealing.
Chuck Dixon, adaptator of New Spring, is back with his fairly fluid adaptation style, that in most places manages to carry really quite well the essence of Jordan's story. In this medium, Jordan's descriptive writing style is of course more evoked by the artwork than the text. In the scenes that were not cut from the adaptation, Dixon did a good job preserving the feeling of the novel. Of course, with 22 pages to work with, a lot of scenes and details are gone, especially in Ravens, where the sections with the women and with Nynaeve are missing from the adaptation (which is a bit disappointing). Hard choices, as neither Dragonmount nor Ravens had enough material for a full issues, yet my feeling is that both could have used 2-3 additional pages. Dragonmount, for the most part, misses only some iconic lines of dialogue. With a chapter of the series that has near legendary status among the fans, it was not an easy challenge to trim it down - but it's one thing that's great with comics - with an half decent memories, you can fill the gaps and missing lines while looking at the artwok. Overall, Dixon is doing well. I'm eager to see how well he will do with RJ's humour and main cast interactions.
We had a very good idea of the art direction the DB team had taken for The Eye of the World with the B&W and full-colours previews the Dabels released. The printed version offer the same vibrant, often impressionist, colouring by N. Chapuis. It evokes well the more cheerful and summery ambiance of the Shearing, and should offer a nice contrast to the upcoming bleak mood of the first chapters.
The first issues of New Spring were pencilled by the excellent Mike S. Miller, with his precise and detailed style. Miller was succeeded by Carlos Rafael for issue #5, with a little less success. For the Eye of the World, The Dabels have picked Chase Conley. Conley has a fairly different style, more evocative and less realistic. His character design a little more stylized but interesting. I'm eager to see his young adult renditions of the main cast - Mat and Egwene so far are really good, and quite compatible with my mental images of these two. Perrin and Rand works well too. Tam is a bit too young for the character, but Bran is funny.
Conley's pencilling is more suggestive of movement than Miller's, and what he loses in place in details he gains in scene dynamism. The layout is generally good, with very few confusing cells (there is one page with the boys in particular, the character design isn't distinctive enough to make out who's who - I had to follow memories of the book to figure it out and even to guess how many of the boys were actually involved). I got the feeling Conley went off model here and there, especially in the Dragonmount section, but I'll get used to them with more issues. Better or not for Wheel of Time than Miller? It's pretty much a matter of taste, I guess. The character scenes work really well for me here, but I'll be keeping an eye out for the locations in future issues. Conley had not much to work with in this issue, with the quiet meadow and Lews Therin's barely described palace. Miller's shoes are big to fill for Jordan's cities and iconic locations, like the Amyrlin's office and the streets of Tar Valon. His work really shone there in New Spring, and I'm quite eager to see how well Chase Conley will do with his very different style. Faithful and evocative renditions of costumes and locales are a big part of the interest of such an adaptation, at least when the writer is Robert Jordan.
Overall, Raven is an interesting piece and an excellent, cheerful, rendition of the Two Rivers environment in happier and sunnier days. The 'feeling' of this location is definitely there. The missing scenes with the women, Egwene's sisters and Nynaeve and Mistress Barran, her Wisdom mentor, are a bit of a disappointement and the themes of the original chapter lost quite a bit of strength with these omissions. Dixon and Conley still managed to fit in some of the 'little details' that increase the 'RJ feel', such as the big shepherd dogs. The whole scene with them isn't there, but the nod is a nice little touch. Hopefully, they will keep an eye out for these as they really add something, the little touches that make it 'Wheel of Time' for me (well, not so much the bloody dog as such, but readers of WOT know what I mean).
Dragonmount itself is a bit more hit and miss for me. Starting with the hit, I really like the character design for Ishamael, which is fairly similar to the design created by Miller for the wallpapers released through Dragonmount a few years ago. Dixon did a good job adapting his dialogue as well. Some lines will be missed by many, though, I suspect. The rendition of the Age of Legends is more of a miss. I don't think Conley fully managed to convey the retro-futuristic ambiance of this era, though I must admit Jordan himself didn't, or chose to hide it, in the prologue. The full palace is nicer than I found it after having seen only the cover, but a touch here and there of futuristic technology, even as easter eggs, would have been nice. I'm not too impressed with the character design and costume for Lews Therin Telamon. Between the long hair, the bits of armor and the fur cape, he evokes more the maddened barbarian than the elegant and peaceful but dishevelled and insane character described by Jordan. Thankfully, there will be very few Age of Legends scenes and this should be the last, or so, we see Lews Therin. There will be many gripes with liberties taken with Traveling, I bet. The ornate gateway didn't bug me much, but I'm not a big One Power fan. On another note, I was a bit surprised the connection to the Erinin and Tar Valon, fairly explicit in the book if not by name, is absent in the adaption. I really expected this image, somehow.
To conclude, Dragonmount is a tantalizing teaser for what's to come. It is fairly different visually from New Spring, and it remains to be seen if the new art direction will succeed as well in evoking Jordan's world, but issue #00 is definitely a good start, with a nice glimpse into the Two Rivers and the main cast as youngsters, and a prologue fairly faithful and satisfying, even if the art direction for this part is more debatable. The printing quality and paper are somewhat lower than what was used for New Spring, but in the current economical climate it's a fairly relative issue.
Issue #00, Dragonmount is available in stores and from the Dabel Brothers now, and will be collected next year into the first Eye of the World graphic novel. IRRC what Ernst told us at wotmania a while ago, the EOTW comics are expected to have a 36-issue run.
Cover Art Image: © 2009, Dabel Brothers Productions LLC
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
A Survey of Shienar
Shienar is the location that bridges the ending of The Eye of the World and the beginning of The Great Hunt. Crude or perhaps more aptly just a tad more ‘generic Fantasy’ in its world building, at least in comparison to the nations Jordan designed and introduced much later in the series, Shienar remains quite interesting – and Shienaran characters like Uno, Hurin and Ingtar have become favourite minor characters to many. Already this early in the writing of the Wheel of Time, you could see how Robert Jordan used his world building to reflect many of the greater themes in the story (such as the men and women relationship) and to vary and complement what he had shown of the Two Rivers and Andoran cultures.
As part of this read-through, here’s a general survey and a map of the nation of Shienar, where the great hunt to retrieve the Horn of Valere begins.
Sources used for the survey are mostly The Great Hunt, The Eye of the World, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, with additional information taken from The Path of Daggers and Knife of Dreams.
Sources for the map are described in the ‘About the map’ section.
Shienar's territory forms nowadays the north-easternmost nation of the Borderlands, guarding the passage between the Mountains of Dhoom and the Spine of the World known as Tarwin's Gap that leads northeast and eventually back into the valley of Thakan'dar and to Shayol Ghul, and from which massive invasions from the Blight can threaten Shienar and the continent.
Set below the meeting point of the two massive mountain chains, Shienar is a very hilly region, with large forested areas. Its one export product highlighted in the series so far are fine, precious woods, worth enough to be transported on river boats to the south.
To the east, Shienar is bordered by the Spine of the World. Two Stedding can be found in the mountain chain in this area, Stedding Qichen and Stedding Sanshen. Their exact locations in the Spine are unknown, though they stand farthest north of all the Stedding in the Dragonwall, and are only a few miles apart from one another. A third one, Stedding Shooloon, is on the territory of Shienar itself, again at an unknown location. Ogier are familiar to Shienarans, and very much respected among them. To the extreme southeast are the Niamh Passes, giving access into the Waste and through which the Shienaran suffer recurrent raids by the Aiel. The Eastern Marches are protected by the city-fortress of Ankor Dail, its exact location unknown but likely watching over the Passes, and near the Erinin.
To the north, Shienar is bordered by the Blight and the Mountains of Dhoom, where the nation of Malkier used to stand prior to its fall in 955 NE. The Seven Towers and the Thousand Lakes are located about a day's travel, perhaps 10 leagues or less, north of the city-fortress of Fal Dara – Lan and Moiraine made camp in front of them on their way to find the Eye of the World. Where the border of Malkier used to stand, Shienar has a defensive cordon of watch towers that extends from west to east are placed about half a mile apart. Those towers are equipped to give alarm to the fortresses night or day, using mirrors and sunlight, or bonfires.
To the west, the border between Shienar and Arafel stands at the river Mora that takes its source northwest of Fal Dara. On the Mora, some leagues southwest of Fal Dara, is the small village of Medo, an important trade point for the city-fortress as the Mora flows down south into the Erinin, the main trade route to Tar Valon and the South. The Amyrlin's party disembarked at Medo on its way to Fal Dara. On the return's journey, at crawling speed and with the short travel days it made, the Amyrlin's party took several days to reach Medo from the city.
To the south, the border of Shienar extends to the river Erinin, that takes its source in the Spine of the World near the Niamh Passes and sharply turns south below the border of Kandor and Arafel. The Erinin marked until around 700 NE the border with the now collapsed nation of Hardan. Scattered villages, unattached to any nation, remain in this area.
Two major roads connect the city-fortress capital of Fal Moran at the heart of Shienar with Tar Valon to the southwest (ending in the village of Daghain) and with Shol Arbela to the west, capital of Arafel. The city-fortress of Fal Dara, fief of Lord Agelmar Jaghad, stands north and slightly east of the capital, near the border (for discussion of its position, see the 'About the Map' section below). Beside those two cities and Ankor Dail, guarding the eastern marches, we know of the city-fortresses of Mos Shirare, Camron Caan, Fal Sion and Fal Eisen - fief of Lord Kayen Yokata - all of them currently not located from the text or the existing maps. Rand in The Eye of the World implied there are several more city-fortresses on the territory of Shienar. All those cities are likely to have dependent villages all around them, close enough for the inhabitants to seek the protection of the city in time of crisis. It is unknown, but somewhat unlikely at least in the north and east, if there are many scattered towns and villages far from the city-fortresses. Ingtar's passed very few settlements on their way to the Erinin. All major cities in Shienar are city-fortresses. Most of them stand on high hills, with a good view over their surrounding area. All of them are high walled, with many watch towers, and a perimeter of half and mile and more around the city is cleared of trees and covered with grass kept at ankle-depth, to prevent sneak attacks by Shadowspawn.
The nation of Shienar and its culture owe in general ways to various northern cultures, both European and Asian. Variations on its high peaked roofs that so impressed Perrin, for instance, could be found in comparable eras in most Nordic or semi-Nordic areas dealing with heavy snowfalls, from Canadian traditional homes to traditional farms in rural Japan. Shienar is one of the first nations fleshed out by Robert Jordan has he developed the series. It is closer to medieval culture than any of the other nations in the series, which are almost all inspired by early modern 17th and 18th century cultures. Geopolitically, it can be compared in some ways to the fortress cities of early Northern England, facing fierce raids from Scottish clans. But Shienar is also deeply inspired by medieval Japan, which adds an exotic touch to its more western elements. The Japanese touches can be seen in the starkness and severity of the culture, in the highly formal and ritualized social relationships, in the highly hierarchical yet united society and in elements such as the women's apartments, the beautiful but forcibly small and precious gardens in fortresses, the topknots and warrior ethos, in the warrior-lords' love of short formal poetry very similar to haiku, their love of simple and formal beauty, simple harmonious lines, sparse but perfectly positioned decorative elements, like a simple flower.
The system used to heat beds by placing a small oven underneath the bed's platform, as described by Rand in The Great Hunt, is fairly similar to the device used to warm people at the dining table during winter found notably in old rural Japan.
The names of many characters from Shienar are Japanese sounding and inspired, like Togita, Shinowa or Yokata, with additions of northern Chinese and Mongol elements – names like Changu, for example. First names, especially of Lords and ladies, follow different patterns.
The current nation of Shienar was born out of a province of the High Kingdom of Artur Hawkwing. The name of the province is unknown, but based on other examples (Andor, Cairhien), it may simply have been Shienar.
In the Free Years, this territory was still united with the northern region (which became Malkier in the New Era) as the nation of Rhamdashar, which explains in part the close relationship between Shienaran and Malkieri cultures. These common roots go way back, to early AB, when the territories now covered by Shienar, Malkier, most of Arafel and Kandor were part of the massive nation of Aramaelle. The capital in those days stood at the present location of Fal Dara. Mafal Dadaranell, as it was called, was Ogier built but was razed to the ground during the Trolloc Wars. One of the most famous historical figure from this area would no doubt be the celebrated Mabriam en Shereed (Mabriam’s Day is still a festival, though probably with the decline of the White Tower reputation it seems to have evolved into a feast when women plays tricks on men), Aes Sedai of the Gray Ajah and Queen of Aramaelle in Mafal Dadaranell, who was ta'veren and was highly instrumental in convincing the nations to join the grand alliance known as the Second Covenant or the Compact of Ten Nations, in 209 AB. Mabriam is the only known example of an important female ta'veren, playing a role of 'cultural hero' in her era similar to Artur Hawking’s role as unifier in the Free Years or Rand, Mat and Perrin at the end of the New Era. Shienarans still display nowadays a great reverence for Aes Sedai, and for unity.
The names of four more cities from Aramaelle are known: Anolle'sanna, Rhahime Naille, Cuebiyarsande. Their locations are not known, but the Old Tongue roots of Cuebiyarsande links it to horses, and suggests it was somewhere in nowadays Kandor, that still uses a rearing horse as its national emblem.
Another known historical figure from this area is Lord Mangore Kiramin, from ca. 300 AB, Sword-Bard of Aramaelle, scholar and translator of the Prophecies of the Dragon, and warder to Caraighan Maconar, the greatest legendary Green Sister.
Four nations' rulers can claim affiliation in spirit or more to the Aramaelle rulers: Queen Ethenielle of Kandor, who holds the Sword of the Warrior Queen Kirukan – character of many legends; King Paitar of Arafel, King Easar of Shienar and the uncrowned king of the Malkieri Lan Mandragoran, whose heavy signet gold ring, topped by a flying Crane above a lance and a crown, once belonged to the monarchs of Aramaelle, going perhaps all the way back to Mabriam en Shereed or Kirukan.
According to the RPG book, the nation of Shienar arose fairly early during the War of Hundred Years, as Hawkwing's former governors of the five Northern provinces allied and agreed to the necessity of forming solid and stable nations to face the threat of the Blight. The RPG gives Queen Merean Tihomar as the first ruler of Shienar. While much from the RPG book is subject to a debate on authenticity (though Robert Jordan reputedly provided the background information on nations), this history makes sense in the light, notably, of the ritual of alliance performed by the Borderlands rulers in the Black Hills, which seems to allude to this original and ancient compact between them.
Until around 700 NE, Shienar was bordered, south of the river Erinin, by the nation of Hardan (the capital, Harad Dakar, stood just south of the river. Ingtar's group passed its location in The Great Hunt, The Hunt Begins). According to Lord Ingtar, the scattered villages in that area resent Shienarans for refusing to extend their protection to the area south of the Erinin, but unlike many southern nations which seek to expand beyond their effective reach, the Borderlands can't afford this sort of territorial expansion.
Though its history links it with the four others, Shienar only became in truth one of the Borderlands in 955 NE, when its northern neighbour and virtually sister-nation Malkier fell to the Blight. The exact impact on the nation of Shienar of the fall of Malkier is a bit speculative. Surely they faced much increased Blight activity, and probably had to strengthen and expand their defences and alter somewhat their way of life - but how much is not known. It is highly doubtful the city-fortresses and their surrounding villages date only back to the fall of Malkier. Perhaps the cordon of watch towers in the north, however, was added in that time.
Shienar often faces Aiel raids in the eastern marches near the Spine of the World, and they seem to concentrate mostly around the area of the Niamh Passes and the city-fortress of Ankor Dail. Masema fought the Aiel at Ankor Dail, and Lan also fought them in the eastern marches before the 'Aiel War' (in his youth, before 976 NE). The exact purpose of these raids is unknown, though Shienar being heavily wooded, it's possible the Aiel raid this area for wood instead of establishing trade relations. But with the Aiel, it could also be for ‘sport’.
Shienar committed 29,000 men under the leadership of Lord Agelmar Jaghad to the Aiel War ( that spanned late 976 to early 979 NE, though most nations joined it only toward the end). Lord Agelmar, accounted one of the four living Great Captains of the Westlands (the fifth, Pedron Niall, is now dead), was originally considered by many nations for the position of Captain-General of the Grand Alliance, before King Laman opposed this and opened the can of worms that lead to a system of rotating military leadership, in the last days of the war.
In late Adar 998 NE, Shienar faced, and with the somewhat unwitting help of Rand pushed back, a massive invasion from the Blight in Tarwin's Gap - such as had not been seen since the Trolloc Wars.
In 999 NE, around the time the Dragon proclaimed himself in Tear and following the return of Hurin the Sniffer to Fal Moran with news of what had truly happened at Falme, extremely uncharacteristic riots and unrest erupted in Shienar and Arafel, but abated fairly quickly.
In early winter 1000 NE, with the Blight going uncharacteristically quiet (which we learned later in the series was an order of the Dark One), King Easar Togita joined the other Borderland rulers in a formal pact and expedition south to meet the Dragon Reborn, with massive armies at their backs. At least two of the city-fortresses' Lords, Agelmar Jaghad of Fal Dara and Kayen Yokata of Fal Eisen, accompany their King.
At the time of Knife of Dreams, the Bordermen rulers were now about 50 miles northeast of Caemlyn, advancing south with the blessing, even at the urging, of Elayne Trakand, who wanted to use their presence as a false threat to unite the Houses behind her.
King Easar is presently without an Aes Sedai advisor, but not by choice. His advisor, the Green Sister and ex-Tuatha'an Aisling Noon, obeyed Elaida's orders to return to the White Tower. She was part of the expedition sent to deal with the Black Tower, has been bonded by the Asha'man Arel Malevin from Logain's faction and is now part of Rand's entourage. With Kiruna Nachiman, sister of King Paitar, Aisling is in a good position to help Rand solve or at least understand the Borderlands rulers' "situation". Relationships with the Tower have been more strained since Elaida tried to pressure Easar, who answered with a letter essentially asking her to stop her meddling. Many readers have surmised that relations between the Borderlands and the Red Ajah are nowhere as good as they are with the Reds' bitter rivals, the Green Ajah, a more natural ally to them.
The Shienaran nobility, used to live communally atop one another all their lives in their fortresses, have developed a culture of extreme civility that must ease the burden of living all the time surrounded by other people. They are also a very formal people, another way of creating some artificial distance between each other and preserving their intimate space. The nobles do not indulge in the power games and conspiracies of the Game of Houses, out of necessity - with the Blight so close the nation can only survive through their unity in defending it - and because in Shienaran culture everybody has a place, a role to play, and a deeply ingrained respect for leadership and for a chain of command. The nobility of Shienar and the Borderlands in general is a true nobility of the arms, a real warrior elite. The socio-political system seems feudal or quasi-feudal, with lesser Houses (for e.g. House Shinowa) owing allegiance to higher Lords ruling the city-fortresses and owing allegiance in turn to the King in Fal Moran. Shienar is reputed for having the best heavy cavalry in the Westlands. These soldiers are known as Lancers. They are well-trained, fearless, used to hardship, respectful of authority and very disciplined. The character Uno is probably the archetype of the Shienaran Lancer.
Without this tightly united nobility, devoting their whole lives and efforts to the defence of the villagers and the city-fortresses, without the warriors serving them, without the people ready and able to take arms at need in support, Shienar – especially the Blightborder region - could not survive. Yet for all the formality and hierarchical society, the relationships between classes seem more symbiotic and less marked than they are in many nations of the South: the common folk feed, dress, arm and supply the warriors and the nobles who devote themselves to their protection and a mutual respect between the classes seems prevalent. The concept of nobility in the Borderlands has not declined into the parasitic and oppressive forms found in nations like Cairhien or Tear.
The hierarchical nature of Shienaran society is also reflected in men's and women's relationships. Shienarans are forced to live in a man's world centered on defence and war, and their dominance there seems balanced by a greater role women play in organizing social and family life, seeing to marital alliances and to running the affairs of the Houses. Marital alliances play a central role in Borderland culture, strengthening the bonds not only between the Houses but also between neighbours. King Easar's third son is wed to a daughter of Queen Ethenielle of Kandor and more of her kin (either of a brother and/or two of her sisters) have been married into House Togita.
This inter-relationship between men and women, one of the most harmonious in the series, is reflected well in the positions of Shatayan - the woman who runs the Keep but is so much more than a head housekeeper, and the Shambayan, the man who acts as 'head butler' as well as secretary and aide de camp and sometime advisor to the Lord - but the Shatayan can also be an advisor - the King's is at his side when he meets the other Borderland rulers. Men and women in Shienar are courtly and formal to one another.
In this world of men and warfare, an enclave of 'normality', with an illusion or perhaps more properly a veneer of a more peaceful and softer world has been created in the fortresses for the women, where warfare and even men themselves cannot intrude without invitation, and where the younger children are raised. At an indeterminate age, boys join their fathers to live in the men's apartments, probably when it's time for them to begin their warrior training.
The symbiotic relationship between men and women, between nobles, warriors and common folks, King and retainers as well as the communal way of life of Shienar is well reflected even in their communal bathing pools, where everyone, once naked and devoid of the trappings of the warrior, noble woman or servant, stand as equals. This also shows that the enclave of the women's apartments has nothing to do culturally with prudery, let alone with the oppressive seclusion of harems.
This idea of symbiosis, harmony and balance in Shienaran culture is also present in their beliefs and rituals. They send their dead naked back into the embrace of the Mother, the earth, the land, that gave them birth. The ritual, like the baths, seems to be the same for commoner or king.
The Shienaran are said to value three things above all: Peace, because the war against the Blight is unending; Beauty for the ugliness of the Blight it must face, and Life, for the warrior faces certain death down the road.
The other major value of Shienarans is honour. The nobility in particular cherishes honour way above material wealth, which they demonstrate very little of, especially in comparison to their southern counterparts.
The emblem of Shienar is the Stooping Black Hawk on a field of five alternating horizontal stripes, first sky blue than white. The sigil of the ruling King is also considered a national emblem; King Easar of House Togita's is a White Hart.
Map of Shienar
About the Map:
The map of Shienar was developed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, from a pen and charcoal sketch and a scan of my own over-sized reproduction of the 'big map'. It follows mostly two sources: the map of Shienar and the Borderlands found in The Eye of the World and the 'Big Map', both by Ellisa Mitchell, completed and amended with information from the text of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt. Beside substantial but in the end unimportant differences in the exact positions of rivers and mountains, Mitchell has positioned Fal Dara differently on her various maps. On the big maps and the maps made after them, Fal Dara is positioned north or slightly north east of Fal Moran, and below the opening of Tarwin's Gap. On her regional map, she positioned it slightly northwest of Fal Moran, well west of Tarwin's Gap. The scale and therefore imprecision of the 'big map' excuses this, but from the description in The Great Hunt, the regional map is the correct one: First, the Seven Towers are almost straight north of Fal Dara and well west of Tarwin's Gap and secondly, we know from Rand's description that the road to Fal Moran, taken by the refugees going to Fal Moran, isn't beyond the South Gate (by which Rand and co. arrived, and by which the Amyrlin's party arrived and left) but beyond the King's Gate, which is between the South Gate and the East Gate, by which Rand saw Lord Agelmar lead his troops out of the city to Tarwin's Gap. Though my map tends to follow the layout of the big map, I shifted the position of Fal Dara on the map to the position shown on the regional map.
I added a road to the village of Medo, to the south east of Fal Dara. This is the one taken by the girls and the Amyrlin's party. Egwene describes this road as going south and veering west. The location of Medo on the Mora is speculative. By instinct and looking at the distance covered (Ingtar, at near full speed and making long days reached the Erinin in the same time) I was tempted to place the village closer to the Shol Arbela road, but as it is the centre of the Erinin trade for Fal Dara, closer to the source of the river and the city made more sense - and Egwene speaks of the crawling slowness and short travel days of the Amyrlin's party. The roads going north east from Fal Dara and Fal Moran are speculative, but based on Rand's description of a main Gate to the East, at least a dirt road exists and probably larger than this, to allow troops to travel east to Tarwin’s Gap. Another road/path leads north of Fal Dara toward the manned border Towers. Years ago that road would have lead to the Seven Towers.
I have positioned Ankor Dail near the Niamh Passes, for it protects the Eastern Marches and faces recurrent Aiel raids.
The stedding aren't located on the map. Two, just a few miles apart, are in the Spine of the World in this area, and one more is 'in Shienar'. The area is so forested it can be anywhere, really.
The decorative elements show the national emblem of the stooping black hawk, as well as White Harts, in reference to King Easar's sigil.
The scale is established from transposing that found on the World Map. Thanks to Weird Harold for help with this. The scale is a general reference only and shouldn't be taken as too precise. There are, for example, differences of up to 50 miles between geographical features between the regional map and the 'big map' - and it is much worse than this with the maps from the 'Big White Book' not done by Ellisa Mitchell. When exact distances aren't provided by Robert Jordan in the text, it is best to consider those calculated from maps as highly approximate.