The Shadow Knows is an ongoing series about things Dark as seen by a mysterious, Friend of the Night. As such, they are written from a certain point of view and cannot be taken as the absolute truth. These articles are intended to be entertaining, and at times might contradict accepted canon. Viewer discretion is advised.
Part 5: The End of the Beginning
It was a day of singular importance. It marked the high watermark for the Shadow during the Age of Legends. Lews Therin’s spear tip had inverted their weaves and were not detected by our wards until they tried placing the seals. It was not so easy as they thought it would be. After the first attempt, the mountain itself began to shake itself apart. When it was obvious that he had failed, Lews Therin ordered the full attack.
Gateways began to form up and down the valley of Thakandar, and all manner of infantry poured out. These were not simple line soldiers. They were elite veterans, armed and armored for extreme violence. The Dragon must have taken every unit of elite infantry he had to fill these ranks, and with them was what could only be the entirety of the Hundred Companions.
We were in a horrible position. It might seem odd, but Thakandar was only lightly garrisoned. We needed the maximum amount of troops at the front. Besides, the Great Lord’s hand lies heavily here and he is capable of rewriting reality this close to the Bore. I knew a good deal about that, having been re-forged myself. Coming here would be madness. It was so absolutely mad, we never considered it a serious possibility.
This was a nightmare scenario, a failure of imagination on a massive scale. A full ten thousand of the best the Light had, backed up by Darkness knows how many power wielding killers. I knew that with the possible exception of Ishamael we were going to be on our own. Very few people know it, but it is impossible to channel the One Power in the Pit of Doom. I have been told that as a sign of his ascensions only the Betrayer of Hope had access to the Great Lord’s bounty.
So, he might make it out but the other Chosen would have to climb down the old fashion way. In which case they would walk right into the teeth of Lews Therin’s spear tip. That’s if the cavern hadn’t been sealed, which it almost certainly had. No, we could not count on any of them.
We might not have considered an attack here to be likely, but we were not without some preparations. There is a fortress buried deep in the rock of Thakan’dar. It takes the form of an inverted pyramid and it was carved out of the rock one level at a time for nearly a hundred years. Every brick, pillar, and arch were reinforced by the One Power. When Sammael joined us, he further enhanced our defenses.
It was probably the most unassailable location in the entire world. You would have to know it was here. You would have to cram your army into a very, very, unpleasant valley and then somehow dig your way level by level until you hit something important. Good luck with that. All of that being said, given the needs of the War we were only lightly garrisoned. It was however designed with a very generous armory.
We even had the people to use those weapons. At the time, Shayol Ghul was the nerve center of a global conflict. All in all, there were over 60,000 people there actually running the war. They all nominally answered to me, but getting them into the fight would be nearly impossible. They came and went through gateways rather any sort of physical outlet to the surface. After all we were more concerned with keeping people out than potentially mounting a possible counterattack this far behind our own lines.
What did we have? Many people forget that Trollocs and Myrddraal are born. They have to be raised and trained. We have facilities here for that purpose, and very prestigious ones at that. I generally refer to them as the Academy. The fiercest and cunning of Trollocs were being groomed to squad-level command. Very much in the manner of noncommissioned officers in other armies. The Myrddraal, on the other hand were being trained as infiltrators and for special operations.
The most senior among them is Bacahr. I knew him well. He is one of the few Fades who actually cares about swordsmanship. Normally, Myrddraal are lackadaisical fighters at best. They rely on their unnatural talents and unnatural swords to do the work for them. The good captain however, takes his craft seriously. As a result, we sparred regularly, and were scrupulously polite to one another. I made certain to always use his rank, as a sign of respect. So, we got on well enough.
I was going to need him now. I was going to need the lot of them. Many things happened at once. I sent one of Sammael’s grotesques to tell Bacahr what was happening. Jamal, Ishamael’s captain, told the couriers to get reinforcements. Everyone else with a martial bent went and armed themselves. Once they had weapons, I made the rest of them take a shock lance too. But not all of them wanted to engage the enemy.
The twenty broken Aes Sedai that came with Semirhage were weeping together in one of the corners. I approached the nearest rag clad wretch. I explained to her, that her mistress was trapped and would be very unhappy if her servants did not even make the attempt to rescue her. That put some steel in their spines and they left right alongside everyone else.
From the surface we could clearly see that the opposition were installing prefabricated fortifications up and down the path to the Bore. Which is bad, the fact that they were made of heart stone made it much worse. We had very little time before those barricades would be operational.
We had no choice but to attack. The only people I could be sure of was the two hundred and eighty souls I had immediately at hand, and most of them were noncombatants. Those odds were on the wrong side of hilarious.
As far as reinforcements, there were the students at the Academy. They were close but not close enough to make an immediately difference and we could not wait. I stopped for a minute and grinned at Kyranna. Unfailing gallant, she grinned right back. Regrettably, her mouth was a bit too wide, and her teeth longer than they should be. They looked a bit like fangs. I made a mental note to work with her on that later.
So, let me give you some really good advice. Don’t bring a sword to a fire fight. Channelers can get away with it to a certain degree, but honest people have to rely on teamwork and luck. Not that I had a choice. Even worse, I was without proper armor, or shield. But I wasn’t alone. In addition to Kyranna, I also had my bodyguard close to hand. While it was far from optimal, we had practiced for this.
None the less, I let the visitors lead off. We stayed in the second rank to take advantage of any breach if we were fortunate enough to make one. It would be hard going. We were charging up a narrow defile. It was a literal shooting gallery but we had to buy time for help to arrive.
Kyranna ran just ahead of me so that the enemy would focus on her. She wore a brace of dueling daggers at the small of her back but made no attempt to reach for them. She didn’t need a weapon because she was a weapon. Kyranna was only matched by her five siblings. Nothing stopped her. Weaves just slid right off and no bolt or blade could find purchase. Meanwhile she literally tore her opponent’s limb from limb. Bonds of affection aside, I never got used to seeing that.
About those reinforcements – getting them here was proving to be a problem. The female Aes Sedai might be in nearly open revolt but the military still answered the Tamarlyn’s call. At the same time the spear tip hit Shayol Ghul, the armies belonging to Demandred, Sammael, and Bel’al came under attack. It wasn’t a serious offensive. They didn’t have the numbers for that but it did pin our forces down and cause all kinds of confusion. We would have no help from them.
The matter was further complicated by the fact that Shadowspawn cannot travel. The Light knew this limitation all too well. They even used it as a weapon in the form of “Death Gates.” That is why formations of Dark Friends were so valuable. They were mobile in ways no Trolloc army could ever manage. The couriers who were able to find aid largely came back with Dreadlords. It would take hours for us to get enough boots on the ground to force the matter and drive them away.
My impromptu company was taking terrible losses. Half of us died taking the first barricade. We lost a third more defending it. It would have been a last stand had the students not arrived. There were just too many, and since they were relying on channelers to do most of the work, they were fresh. I was wounded three times before help could arrive.
Help took the form of a thousand Trollocs charging up the pass. Kyranna and I began to force our way back through their ranks to safety. The way up was one long choke point and a thousand Trollocs, while impressive, were no match for fixed formations and concentrated fire power. Then again, they didn’t have to be. They were a distraction, or to be more eloquent about it they were the anvil. All they had to do is hold the enemy’s attention just long enough for the second part of the trap to land.
The hammer took the form of what we had come to call a Myrddraal shock attack. Shayol Ghul is a labyrinth of shadows. It was the perfect battlefield for Fades. Prior to this moment, the enemy had only fought a few Myrddraal at a time. Even then, killing one took a great deal of effort. Killing even one made the slayer a hero.
Now, fifty teams of ten Myrddraal exploded from the shadows up and down the pass in a coordinated attack. Each group only stayed engaged until their opponents began to find their equilibrium. Then the lot would stride back into the shadows and attack somewhere else. This made their assault nearly impossible to counter by conventional means. The only way to truly answer them was with channelers.
Surprise had inflicted massive casualties, but perfect terrain for Fades or not, this was not the optimal situation to make use of a shock attack. (The tactic works better indoors or at least in heavy cover.) Save for the barricades there was nothing to hide behind. Even worse, the Light had the best possible counter in the Hundred Companions. We took significant losses employing that tactic under these conditions.
I found out later that we left nearly two hundred Myrddraal and almost all the Trollocs on the field during the initial attack. We would lose all but three Myrddraal by the end of it. Captain Bacahr ground his forces down upon the invaders until he had nothing left to give. Brave lads, every one. Their deaths did send a message. Even if Lews Therin achieved his goal, this raid was going to bleed him white; and like as not be seen as a disaster in the Hall.
It is difficult in the Third Age to really explain what it was like to fight a battle without at least parity in combat-focused channelers. In this day and age, short of aggravating the entire White Tower there are just not enough to make a real difference. You would have to have been at the Battle of the Shining Walls to even believe the carnage the One Power could inflict upon an enemy.
That being said, damage alone does not carry the day. You cannot hold territory with channelers. You need armies for that. At this point in the War, even when faced with fire and lightning, armies were disciplined enough that they just closed ranks and carried on. Bloodied or not, the Light still held most of the narrow pass.
On a long enough timeline, we were going to win by attrition alone, even if the cost was going to be staggering. Two things happened next. The first was that Lews Therin finally managed to get all seven seals in place. The second that just as the bore was sealed, the Great Lord’s wrath tainted Saidin.
He poisoned it to such a degree that it was effectively unusable for anyone not already in his service. A good number of the Companions immediately went mad. While this blunted the Light’s momentum, sixty-eight of the most powerful male channelers the Light ever had were now destroying everything in sight, including each other. It was all we could do just to stay alive.
Everyone and everything that was not protected by Sammael’s artiface was utterly destroyed. The Hundred Companions killed all of us they could find. They even killed one another. The soldiers were largely left marooned without channelers to make gateways home. There were a few of those that had been tied off but not nearly enough for their conventional forces to make an escape. They were cut down where they stood by people who just moments before had been heroes to them.
It went on like that for an eternity. Eventually we regained control of the valley, one dead Dreadlord at a time. I eventually made my way back safely underground. One of Ishamael’s staff walked over, a specter in black and red. “He will see you now, Castellan,” she said in a quiet voice. With the Great Lord suddenly absent, there was only one “He” left.
“Ishamael then?” I asked quietly. She answered with a whisper, “No, Baalzamon.” Well, that part had happened as planned, perhaps there was some hope left. None the less it seemed that the Heart of the Dark and the Castellan of Shayol Ghul would have to decide together how to best lose the war.
Next, Part 6: The Day the Music Died