Between the Aryth Ocean and the Spine of the World mountain range, and between the Sea of Storms and the Great Blight, lies a large landmass. Home to fourteen nations, three major independent city-states and tens of millions of people, this is the homeland of the Aes Sedai and Tuatha’an, the Children of the Light and the Ogier (at least, some of them). It is a chaotic land, lacking the single imperial rule of Seanchan, the apparently looser but still culturally-unified rule of Shara, the authoritative control of the Sea Folk or the fierce martial discipline of the Aiel clans. It has no regularly-used name, with the term “Westlands” apparently used in Shara (as a geographic shorthand) and “wetlands” by the Aiel (referring to the subcontinent’s relative fertility). It is a land of merchants, mercenaries, travelling gleemen and bickering nobles. It is also the land where, according to legend, the Dragon shall be Reborn.
A detailed history of the Westlands is beyond the scope of a single article. Instead, a historical series of maps will follow later in the series. For now, a briefer summary of the history of the Westlands will suffice.
The Westlands emerged from the chaos of the Breaking of the World. The first decades after the Breaking were spent in tribal struggles for power, with both kingdoms and organisations coming together slowly. One of the first organisations to cohere after the Breaking was the Aes Sedai, who by 96 AB (After the Breaking) had formed the foundations of the modern-day organisation. The city of Tar Valon was complete by 202 AB. In 209 AB the Compact of the Ten Nations was signed between the nations of Safer, Jaramide, Aramaelle, Aridhol, Manetheren, Coremanda, Almoren, Aelgar, Eharon and Essenia. A lengthy era of peace followed, broken only by the emergence of several false Dragons (men who claimed to be the Dragon Reborn, but in reality were frauds).
In 1000 AB a massive Shadowspawn invasion of the Ten Nations began. The resulting Trolloc Wars lasted for over three centuries before the Shadowspawn were defeated at the Battle of Maighande. The resulting chaos from the wars saw all of the Ten Nations collapse by 1350 AB, followed by the emergence of twenty-nine new kingdoms and the adoption a new calendar, naming the years as Free Years.
This period was marked by increased border skirmishing, a slight reduction in Aes Sedai power and even occasional wars between nations. In FY 943 the most infamous and powerful false Dragon emerged, Guaire Amalasan. He plunged the continent into chaos before being defeated by Artur Paendrag Tanreall – the infamous “Hawkwing” – at the Battle of Jolvaine Pass. Artur Hawkwing subsequently conquered the entire subcontinent in a twenty-year campaign. As High King of all the Westlands, Hawkwing ushered in a new era of unity, peace and freedom. However, a violent disagreement between him and the Amyrlin Seat saw him outlaw Aes Sedai from his empire and lay siege to Tar Valon, beginning in FY 975. In FY 987 Hawkwing defeated a massive Trolloc invasion. Five years later he sent a massive fleet and army across the Aryth Ocean to secure the newly-discovered continent there, and in FY 993 he second a second army to attack Shara, although this was defeated. Hawkwing himself took ill and died in FY 994; his empire promptly collapsed, beginning the desperate, multi-sided and chaotic conflict known as the War of the Hundred Years.
At the conclusion of the war, the nations of the modern age arose. The influence and numbers of the Aes Sedai reduced significantly over the next nine centuries, and more border wars and conflicts were fought. These included several wars between Illian and Tear and several border clashes between Andor and Cairhien. In 955 NE the northern kingdom of Malkier was overrun and destroyed by Shadowspawn; two years later the Whitecloak War raged between Amadicia, Altara, Murandy and Illian, which ended in the Whitecloaks’ defeat. In 976 NE the Aiel War began when King Laman Damodred of Cairhien cut down Avendoraldera, a gift from the Aiel, to make a throne beyond compare. In vengeance, four clans of the Aiel invaded Cairhien, chased Laman across the Westlands and finally killed him at the Battle of the Shining Walls outside Tar Valon itself.
Recent years have been blighted by the rise of false Dragons, increased political instability in Cairhien and tension between Illian and Tear and between Arad Doman and Tarabon.
The borders of the Westlands are held to be the Aryth Ocean to the west, the Sea of Storms to the south, the Spine of the World mountain range to the east and the Blight to the north. The subcontinent measures approximately 3,300 miles from the western tip of Toman Head to the Spine, and 2,700 miles from the southern tip of Illian to the city of Chachin, not far south of the Blightborder. The area of the Westlands appears to be between 7.5 and 8 million square miles.
The Westlands are mostly temperate, shading towards subtropical along the southern coast. The interior of the continent is watered by two massive river networks: the Arinelle-Manetherendrelle system in the west and the Erinin and its numerous tributaries in the east. These enormous rivers help speed north-south trade but also help cool the continental interior. Hills and mountain chains are numerous, such as the Mountains of the Mist in the west (which separate the Arad Doman, Almoth and Tarabon coastal plains from the interior) and the Venir Mountains along Arran Head, which help shield Altara from the worst of the tempestuous storms known as the ceranos.
There are currently fourteen sovereign nation-states in the Westlands: these are Altara, Amadicia, Andor, Arad Doman, Arafel, Cairhien, Ghealdan, Illian, Kandor, Murandy, Saldaea, Shienar, Taraborn and Tear. There are also three major independent city-states: Far Madding, Mayene and Tar Valon. There are also numerous independent towns and villages, the best known of which is probably Falme on Toman Head.
The population of the Westlands is unknown, but may approach 100 million. Although an impressive figure, it is a markedly smaller figure than in previous eras, when every corner of the Westlands was claimed by one nation or another. Today, several large regions of the subcontinent (most notably the immense Caralain Grass and the vast, heavily-forested regions to the west of the Black Hills, south of Saldaea) are unclaimed by any kingdom, the result of a decline in the population, a symptom, some say, of the increased touch of the Dark One on the world.
As well as the mainland itself, the “Westlands” are held to encompass several offshore islands. These include three archipelagos – the Aile Dashar, Aile Jafar and Aile Somera – and the large islands of Tremalking, Qaim and Cindaking. These islands are all controlled by the Sea Folk and their island-bound allies, the Amayar.
In our next article we will start looking at each kingdom and region of the Westlands in-depth.