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 4: Rocks and Shoals
This episode is a bit different from the others. Normally, I share the stories of others. This time, however, the story is mine. I rarely leave Shayol Ghul. So, naturally I was here the day that Lews Therin assaulted the Bore. I had been getting reports from our eyes and ears in the Hall of the Servants that a council had been called of the Light’s most prominent commanders. Despite our best efforts we were unable to determine their intentions.
It had been a long time since the enemy had won anything larger than a skirmish and we had three armies knocking at their very gates. They needed something that would change the nature of the contest completely. To do that, they needed to cooperate and that proved to be something of a problem. As with all things in the Age of Legends, the most powerful works and by extension attacks always required men and women to work together.
Even just a few years ago the ability to casually form circles was a major advantage for the Light. We rarely, if ever even tried to do it. We simply did not trust one another enough for that to be common practice. So, forcing a wedge between the male and female Aes Sedai was a major strategic consideration since the beginning of the war. Fortunately for us, it ended up being an all too easy argument to make.
The truth of the matter is that when faced with uncertain and often horrific situations, people tend to trust the people they already know. So, when the Collapse began, Lews Therin turned to his closest friends to investigate the matter. As it so happened, they were all men. When those investigations turn violent, he enlisted even more of his friends, who happened to also be men.
Much later in the War of Power, men were also tapped to play a larger role on the battlefield then their female counterparts. The thought process was that since men were stronger in the Power that they made for more better commanders and deadlier combat channelers. That’s nonsense of course.
Which isn’t to say that women did not play a major role. In other spheres of battle throughout the world, there were female generals and combat channelers. Many of them quite brilliant and equally deadly but they did not see much in the way of public acclaim. There is only so much time in the news cycle. As a result, the generals in the primary sphere of conflict – mostly men – received more fame than all of the rest of their peers combined.
It wasn’t anyone’s design. It just happened to work out that way. Even so, it was not without consequences. After a certain point, this became a real concern and slowly as the war progressed the women started to close ranks. They were done. No more so than their leader, Latra Posae Decume. From that point on if you wanted a Sister’s help you had to go through her. Their movement came to be known as the “Fateful Accord.”
I cannot say Latra Posae Decume was the Dragon’s equal. But she did share exceptional aptitude in the same areas Lews Therin also favored. She was also a creature of sublime spite. I admired her greatly. She would have done quite well here.
I was not alone in that belief, only some thought that possibility was a threat that could not go unanswered. It is said that the Lady of Pain wanted desperately to capture her. Which is funny because I desperately wanted her to try. The Slicer of Shadows would have sent Semirhage back to us as a pile of ash and charred black cloth.
There is tendency among the unwise to characterize the Light as being weak because they are altruistic and value compassion above strength. That is a huge mistake. Have you seen a murder fight? How about a soldier? Can you imagine what would happen when the two faced one another? I promise you this would not go well for the murder, and we had far more of the former than the later. As vicious as casual killers can be, they do not stand up in the face of professionally trained infantry.
Which brings me to the second major faction in the Hall of the Servants. Let me tell you about the Hundred Companions. The stories say that Lews Therin formed the group in opposition to the Fateful Accord. This is incorrect. While they were not initially called by that name, the group was formed in the early days of the Collapse. Their mission was to investigate and quietly eliminate divergent elements of society. They were ruthlessly loyal, lavishly equipped, and carried the personal seal of the Tamyrlin himself.
As such they were given almost unlimited power in their investigations. For example, despite strenuous public protests, they are the only known formation of the Light to make open use of compulsion. White Cloak Questioners are at best apprentices in their craft. Even as bad as Ahridol would turn out to be they still only knew the most basic of techniques employed by Lews Therin’s finest.
Naturally, their numbers increased the longer the Collapse went on, and by the raid on Shayol Ghul there were considerably more than we could readily track. Our best guess had them at over one hundred and sixty at that point. The eldest of them had been fighting the Shadow for over a hundred years and the only emotions left to them were hatred and pride.
All in all, the Hundred Companions were the most experienced killers on either side, and they had zero hesitation in finding victory regardless of the cost. As a result, we spent a lot of time keeping them committed to disparate war zones. Why? Well, regardless of what we might say in public we were afraid of them of course. Engaging the lot all at one time would prove costly in the extreme.
Even before the attack, it was to be a day of singular importance. You already know part of the story. Thirteen of the most prominent Chosen were here for a high-level meeting in the Pit of Doom itself. Which is a bit of a tell because we don’t have meetings, high level or otherwise there. It is a sacred place. You only go there to make your obeisance or to answer for some great failing. You do not go there to simply talk. So, if it wasn’t some sort of conference what was happening that day?
The first item to be address was the elevation of Ishamael to Nae’blis. This was really just a formality. He had been the Shadow’s primary champion since the very beginning. The position was only kept open as a goad, for the people hoped to take that honor for themselves. I seriously doubt any of them would be so happy with the title if they really understood how things would play out for the Nae’blis in the end.
The second item was that all of the others were to be called to task for placing their personal interests ahead of the greater war effort. For example, someone decided it was a good idea to torture a whole city to death. Do you know how long it takes to do that? How about stopping to hunt down every great artist in your path? Or reeducate every child so that they turn upon their parents? Never mind, it doesn’t matter if it took a week or an hour, it was time we did not have if we wanted to win the War.
The Light might be on the back foot here but they were far from broken. If we gave them a chance to stabilize other fronts, they could shift their vastly superior resources against us here. Remember the Light had significant advantages. Their armies were larger, and far more mobile. They had a wealth of angreal and saangrel. They had more Channelers, not to mention superior command and control. We were winning but giving them any chance of a recovery was an awfully bad idea.
In any event, I would have given anything to see that “discussion.” Instead, I was left entertaining the honor guards, courtiers, and staff that always travel with the Chosen. Each of them was accompanied by no more than twenty individuals. Naturally, it turned out to be a motley collection of Shadowspawn, and Darkfriends.
For example, aside from his immediate staff Sammael had absconded with twelve hulking Trollocs from the Academy. He had them clad in thick plate and wielding great hammers. They formed a sort of flying wedge that split the crowd as their temporary master stomped around. That’s nothing short of pure theater. Graendal’s entourage wore outfits more akin to costumes than uniforms. I doubt any of them have had an original thought since they entered her service.
Ishamael’s people where seemingly everywhere, all of them in his livery of red and black. They looked as hard as nails. They were a grim, judgmental lot. Semirhage’s embassy was made up entirely of formerly prominent Aes Sedai. They were all beyond broken, not a one any better than a trophy. I can’t say I agree with her methods.
Lanfear didn’t bring anyone at all, which tells you all you need to know about Lanfear. Aginor, had brought a menagerie of prototype Shadowspawn. None of them looked terribly viable. I got the impression he just grabbed the most recent examples of his craft on the way out the door. No one likes him much. Even worse, it was obvious to those of us with eyes that his best work was behind him. More on that in a future episode.
Both Rhavin and Balthamel favored playthings over people who might actually be useful. It quickly became impossible to determine who was with whom. After a while I stopped trying. Asmodean only really had a reputation as a governor to fall back upon. So, he brought an odd combination of civil servants and fawning artists. He didn’t think to arm any of them. I had to wonder if all of them would make it home. I rather thought that was extremely unlikely.
As was their custom, Demandred, Mesaana, and Moghedien’s people all arrived at the same time. They seemed to share roles, which is the most elegant evidence of their alliance I have yet seen. That leaves Be’lal’s retinue – as a noted Blademaster it was not surprising that many of his servants also wore swords. Then as now, they carried slightly curved blades designed to be used with two hands. A classic weapon favored by Blademasters to this very day. They were very keen to talk shop and remarked upon the peculiarities of my own blade. I rather enjoyed that conversation. There was a purity to it that is sadly lacking in the matters we normally discussed.
My aide de camp, and unintentional insurance policy, Kyranna al Jakar was making the rounds. She was an unassuming woman and easy to miss, especially when she was dressing down. Her clothes, while expensive, were cut more for freedom of movement rather than to draw the eye. She was so very earnest in her attempts at conversation, but she missed all of the queues. That is hardly surprising, since she isn’t human. I met her shortly after she came into the world and we are rarely apart. If asked she says that I earned her friendship with the gift of a name and a smile.
Sammael aside, I think this is one of the few times I have seen so many of us genuinely happy. It seemed that our victory was only a matter of a few weeks. Once we broke their backs here the other fronts would also fall in short order. Truly it was a day of days, right up to the point that Lews Therin decided in abject desperation to take the fight right to our door.
Next, Part 5: The End of the Beginning