Shara is the name given to the mysterious land beyond the Aiel Waste, far to the east of the Spine of the World and the Sea of Storms. Very little is known about it, thanks to a combination of geographical barriers and the people of that land’s own concerns with privacy and security.
Very little is known about Shara’s history. Traders and merchants have managed to engage Sharans in discussions about their land’s history, but comparing notes they have found many flat-out contradictions, apparent lies and propaganda.
What is known is that the Sharan subcontinent was apparently unified into a single culture within a few centuries of the end of the Breaking. It appears that several nations may have once existed in Shara, but by the present day these have merged into one kingdom or empire. This may explain the different names given for the landmass: Shara is the most common, but others include Co’dansin, Shamara, Tomaka, Kigali and Shibouya. Others have speculated that these may be the major cities of Shara instead.
Some Sharans have confirmed that Shadowspawn plague the Blightborder in Shara as they do in the Westlands, but are rarely a problem. Some Sharans also confirm that an attempted invasion took place during the Trolloc Wars, but this invasion was easily defeated. Other Sharans deny that such an invasion took place.
In FY 993, the High King Artur Hawking sent a fleet of 2,000 ships and 300,000 troops to invade Shara, almost rivalling the fleet he’d sent across the Aryth Ocean the preceding year. This force, commanded by one of his daughters, successfully landed on Shara’s south-western coast. However, Sea Folk ships later report that the invasion had been beaten back and defeated, with the fleet burned at rest. The fate of the army and its commanders is unknown. Again, most Sharan contacts simply deny all knowledge of the invasion.
In 506 NE the Aiel gave the nation of Cairhien the right to trade across the Aiel Waste, thus opening the Silk Road, linking the Jangai Pass with the Sharan trade towns atop the Cliffs of the Dawn. Cairhienin merchants thus began the thousand-mile journey across the harsh climate of the Waste to trade with the Sharans. Some 470 years of continuous trade and enrichment followed, until Cairhien triggered the Aiel War and was soundly defeated. The Aiel closed the Silk Road to the Cairhienin, but have allowed independent traders and gleemen to continue using the route.
Shara is considerably larger than the Westlands, but significantly smaller than Seanchan. It measures well over 3,500 miles from east to west at its widest extent, but in the south narrows considerably. It measures approximately 5,300 miles from the south coast, along the Sea of Storms, to the Mountains of Dhoom in the north.
Its border in the east is the Morenal Ocean, part of which is known as the Sea of Omerna. Its border in the west consists of the Cliffs of the Dawn and the Great Rift, which separate it from the Aiel Waste, and the Sea of Storms in the south-west. The western border regions are mountainous, with extensive chains longer than the Spine of the World running down the eastern edges of the Great Rift and the coast. Narrow, twisting passes link these borderlands to Shara proper. Each pass terminates at a walled, fortified town overlooking the Cliffs of the Dawn. These six towns are the only permitted trading posts between Shara and the lands to the west.
The Cliffs of the Dawn and the Trade Towns
The Cliffs of the Dawn are one of the world’s most stunning natural sights, a huge, sheer cliff-face stretching south-west from the Mountains of Dhoom for over twelve hundred miles, forming an impressive natural barrier between the northern Aiel Waste and Shara. The cliffs vary in height, sometimes dropping to just above 100 feet but sometimes exceeding 500 feet in height.
Six towns are located along the Cliffs of the Dawn, each one at the top of a winding pass that allows the cliffs to be scaled. The towns block the top of the paths; the only way in or out of Shara is through these towns.
Each town is surrounded by massive walls which block all views into the Sharan interior. Outlanders are welcome to trade in these towns for goods such as silk and ivory, which can only be found in abundance in Shara (although ivory also exists in Seanchan). However, the Sharans are noted for untrustworthiness in negotiations, sometimes fulfilling the letter of deals but not their spirit, ruthlessly exploiting loopholes and poor wording to their advantage. Trading with the Sharans can be expensive, laborious and stressful, but the sheer wealth awaiting those who successfully strike a good bargain makes it worthwhile.
Those Aiel or Westlanders who have somehow managed to get past the gates into Shara proper are never seen again.
The Great Rift
Just south of where the Silk Road reaches the Sharan trade towns, the landscape suddenly and dramatically changes. From the heights of the Cliffs of the Dawn, the land gives way into a colossal chasm known as the Great Rift.
Possibly the most dramatic landscape feature on the planet, the Great Rift is colossal, a great gash in the world’s surface, formed by the Breaking of the World. It is between one and three miles deep (extending from 5,280 to 15,840 feet) and over 100 miles across at its widest point, so wide it is almost impossible to see the far side of the rift in places. The Rift extends for almost 2,400 miles from north to south, forming an absolutely uncrossable barrier between the southern Aiel Waste and Shara. Massive mountains lie along the eastern side of the Rift, further inhibiting travel that way, and the extremely hostile desert known as the Termool, the Waterless Sands, border the Rift in the south.
South of the Termool and Aiel Waste, the Rift continues just inland. In some places only a dozen miles or so separate the Rift from the Sea of Storms.
The Rift appears to be lifeless and barren, even more low-lying, humid and unpleasant than the Aiel Waste. Apart from the impressive scenery, there is no reason to travel here.
The Trade Ports
Located along the south-western and south coasts of Shara are five large port cities. These ports are also located at geographically favourable locations, with their backs to hill chains and mountains that prevent easy access to the Sharan interior. The ports share the massive walls of the trade towns, sometimes with the wall extending right across the port (it is believed to block access to rivers leading into the interior).
Although all outlanders are welcome to trade with the Sharans in these towns, in practice almost all such trade is carried out by the Sea Folk. One of the main Sea Folk island groupings is located just 1,300 miles or so from the the trade ports, allowing for relatively swift travel. The Sea Folk are much harder negotiators than most, so have been able to strike better trade deals with the Sharans which sees a lot of other ivory, silk and other trade goods flowing west via the Sea Folk islands into the Westlands via south coast port cities such as Mayene, Tear and Ebou Dar.
The Sea Folk have also proven to be far better than Westlanders and Aiel in slipping past Sharan defences. At some risk they have made charts of the far east coast of the subcontinent, from the south coast to the Mountains of Dhoom in the north. Aside from a few mountain and hill chains within sight of the coast, and a few islands of note, they have not been able to report much else of interest.
Shara remains an enigma.