The White Tower is the primary stronghold, training academy and redoubt of the modern Aes Sedai, the wielders of the One Power. It is located in the centre of Tar Valon, the largest city of the Westlands, on an island in the middle of the wide and fast-flowing River Erinin. It is located north-west of Cairhien, north-east of Andor and south of the Borderlands, to the east of the Black Hills.
Apart from the Stone of Tear, the White Tower is the largest artificial structure in the Westlands, and reportedly the world, although the Seanchan claim that the Court of the Nine Moons in Seandar is both larger and more impressive, along with several other structures in the empire. The truth of this remains unknown.
In the Age of Legends the Aes Sedai – “Servants of All” in the Old Tongue – were channellers of the One Power, both male and female. They were loosely organised in a guild, commanded by the Hall of the Servants. The Hall – both the body and the building in which it operated – was located in Paaran Disen, the largest and most beautiful city in the world.
At the end of the War of the Shadow, the Dark One’s curse tainted saidin, the male half of the True Source, driving all male channellers insane on the instant. In their insanity they destroyed civilisation and almost wiped out humanity in a series of tumultuous earthquakes, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions known as the Breaking of the World. The Breaking lasted for some three centuries and was ended only when the last male Aes Sedai was killed or gentled (cut off from the Power).
In the aftermath of the Breaking, numerous organisations of women able to channel had formed. These had been begun by female Aes Sedai survivors of the Age of Legends, who had found and trained girls. The process had been complicated by the loss of the art of Travelling (able to travel thousands of miles in an instant with the Power), possibly due to the constantly shifting ground making it impossible to “learn” a location in the world and work out how to Travel to another. The groups trained others and so on. By the end of the Breaking it appears that few or no Aes Sedai from before the chaos survived.
How many groups of female channellers emerged from the chaos of the Breaking is unknown. What is known is that these groups soon began jostling for power and influence with one another, sometimes violently. It may well be that the Westlands may have gone the way of Seanchan, a shifting quilt of kingdoms ruled by Aes Sedai warlords, had not reason prevailed.
In 47 AB a grand convocation was held of female channellers. Approximately sixteen factions were represented, possibly more, and the names of twelve representatives are recorded: Elisane Tishar, Mistora Caal, Karella Fanway, Azille Narof, Saraline Amerano, Dumera Alman, Salindi Casolan, Catlynde Artein, Biranca Hasad, Mailaine Harvole, Nemaira Eldros and Lideine Rajan. It appears that each woman represented a separate group or organisation claiming to be Aes Sedai. During this conference it appears there was an agreement to ally these factions into one “true” Aes Sedai organisation. Each one of the separate factions was to become an ajah, a political alliance within the larger organisation. Ajah were a creation of the Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends, temporary groups which came together on certain issues. It appears they were prevented from becoming permanent factions due to the divisiveness, factionalisation and tribalism this encouraged (believed by some to have resulted to significant chaos in the period before the Age of Legends began). Groups such as the Hundred Companions and the Fateful Concord were ajah of the War of the Shadow, for example.
Once the agreement was made to ally the Aes Sedai together, it was also decided they would need a base of operations. The wide island on the River Erinin within sight of Dragonmount, the burial mound of Lews Therin Telamon and reportedly the place where he would be reborn, was a natural choice. However, the amalgamation of the Aes Sedai was not smooth. It appears that, at a certain point, Lideine Rajan and Mailaine Harvole rebelled against the way things were being handled and tried to break away from the nascent organisation. At the end of the resulting conflict, circa 77 AB, Lideine was stilled and Mailaine forced to surrender.
In 98 AB construction of both the city of Tar Valon and the White Tower began. Ogier stonemasons were contracted and the One Power was employed in both endeavours. By this year the organisation of the Aes Sedai had become established, with Elisane Tishar listed as the first Amyrlin Seat (a title descended from the First Among Equals of the Age of Legends Aes Sedai, who wore the ring of Tamyrlin). The Hall of the Tower had been established to advise her, consisting of seven advisors: Caal, Fanway, Narof, Amerano, Almoan, Casolan and a newcomer, Kiam Lopiang. This suggests that the earlier twelve ajah had by now amalgamated into seven, with Lopiang perhaps representing Mailaine Harvole’s now-reconciled faction.
During this period the Aes Sedai carried out a purge of other groups claiming the title. This purge was thorough and widespread. During this period the Aes Sedai also established firm influence through the nascent city-states and nations, with several Aes Sedai rising to command these polities as governors and sometimes Queens.
By the time Tar Valon was completed in 202 AB, the current formal organisation of the White Tower had come into being. The Aes Sedai were split into seven permanent Ajah, each represented by a colour: Blue, Brown, Green, Grey, Red, Yellow and White. Each Ajah is represented in the Hall of the Tower by three Sitters, for twenty-one Sitters in total. The Amyrlin Seat is the head of the Tower, the first among equals, with the Keeper of the Chronicles serving as her aide-de-camp.
This organisation remains in place today, despite the numbers of Aes Sedai falling. The White Tower was designed to hold 3,000 women, with room for future expansion, meaning the original number of Aes Sedai was likely between 2,000 and 2,500. That number was approximately 1,250 during the Aiel War, some 3,254 years after Tar Valon’s completion. The reduction in numbers is slow, but steady. Some Aes Sedai believe this is down to the Aes Sedai practice of gentling or killing male channellers “winnowing” the ability to channel out of the human race, whilst others point to the lack of proactive Aes Sedai recruitment: since far more women can learn to channel than have the inborn spark, the majority of these will go undetected unless found by an Aes Sedai. The potential number of Aes Sedai sisters, given the population of the Westlands, is likely in the tens of thousands at least, but the White Tower prefers a smaller, more flexible organisation.
In 209 AB Mabriam en Shareed of Aramaelle, both Queen and Aes Sedai, called a meeting at Tar Valon between the rulers of the ten nations that had arisen. At this meeting was signed the Compact of the Ten Nations, binding them to peaceful coexistence and mutual trade and alliance in face of the Shadowspawn threat. The Aes Sedai likely played a key role in mediating this treaty. The treaty held for eight centuries until the Westlands were invaded by Shadowspawn hordes in 1000 AB, marking the beginning of the Trolloc Wars.
The Aes Sedai proved key in defeating the Shadow during the wars, particularly the leadership and impressive military acumen displayed by Rashima Kerenmosa, the Soldier Amyrlin. Rashima’s bold leadership saw the Fourth Siege of Tar Valon (1290 AB) end in a stunning victory, followed by her planning for the Battle of Maighande (1301 AB), the largest battle fought since the War of the Shadow. The surviving armies of the Ten Nations crushed the Shadow, slaughtering so many Myrddraal and Dreadlords that the Trollocs went out of control and lost all battle discipline. This reduced the rest of the war to a prolonged mopping-up exercise. Rashima gave her life and that of her five Warders in the battle, personally slaying nine Dreadlords in direct combat.
During the Free Year period, Aes Sedai influenced remained key but somewhat dwindled. After Queen Sulmara of Masenashar (c. FY 450) no Aes Sedai are reported as ruling nations and respect for the organisation, although still present, was less all-encompassing. A particular blow to the organisation was the Black Fever, which swept across the continent in FY 937-939 and killed millions of people. Although the Aes Sedai helped where they could, the number of sick people was too high and the number of Aes Sedai (particularly Yellow sisters, who specialised in Healing) too low. This was followed by the opportunistic rise of Guaire Amalasan, a false Dragon. Seizing control of the Kingdom of Darmovan in FY 939, he embarked on a campaign of conquest which, by the spring FY 943, had delivered a third of the continent into his hands. He was defeated by Artur Hawkwing at the Battle of Jolvaine Pass in FY 943, who then delivered him to Tar Valon to be gentled. Hawkwing then had to help defend Tar Valon from a counter-attack by Amalasan’s followers in a fierce battle that reached the White Tower itself. Hawkwing was credited with saving Tar Valon, to the unmitigated fury of the Amyrlin Seat, Bonwhin Meraighdin, who could not countenance the idea of a man saving the White Tower. Bonwhin spent almost fifty years trying to destroy Hawkwing, including manipulating other nations into attacking him and – as certainly Hawkwing believed – arranging the deaths of his wife and children. The latter incident (although doubted by historians and Aes Sedai) inspired Hawkwing to break all ties with Tar Valon and besiege the city in starting in FY 975. In FY 992 Deane Aryman, a Sitter for the Blue Ajah, exposed evidence confirming that Bonwhin had tried to manipulate and control Hawkwing against the Hall of the Tower’s command. Bonwhein was deposed and stilled only two years before Hawkwing’s own death from advanced age.
The War of the Hundred Years was a particular low point for the Aes Sedai, who were unable to bring their influence to bear to mediate an end to the conflict. The war petered out by itself. A combination of the Aes Sedai’s failure and the rise of the Children of the Light, a military ascetic group who believed that the Aes Sedai were Darkfriends for their use of the Creator’s blessed power, saw Aes Sedai influence and respect tumble (along with their numbers) in the subsequent thousand years.
Design & Layout of the White Tower
The White Tower is 600 feet tall and measures 300 feet across at the base, tapering to 200 feet wide at the top. The Tower is connected to two wings which each extend 300 feet from the main tower and are 150 feet tall apiece. At the rear of the White Tower, but a separate building altogether, is the palatial Tower Library. Several other structures are located in the same compound, including quarters for Warders and stables.
The White Tower is divided into 40 distinct levels. The top 20 levels are roughly 12 feet tall apiece, with the bottom 20 levels being about 15 feet tall apiece. The wings contain 15 levels apiece, with ceilings about 8.5 feet tall. The floors are roughly each 1.5 feet thick. The Tower’s structural strength is provided by the cunning stonemasonry of the Ogier combined with the One Power, which effectively fused the entire building into one solid structure. The roof is flat and provides for impressive views over the city and the surrounding countryside. The Tower includes significant subterranean storage, extending hundreds of feet below ground.
The entrance to the White Tower is a wide gateway which leads to a meeting and visitor’s hall. Behind the hall are the kitchens and dining rooms. The novices and Accepted share one dining room and the Aes Sedai another, both two-floor rooms. The ground floor also contains the study of the Mistress of Novices and the testing chamber where novices become Accepted. The 3rd level contains the Amyrlin Seat’s traditional offices and chambers, with the office of the Keeper of the Chronicles located nearby. Some Amyrlins have considering adopting a splendid office on the 40th level at the very top of the Tower instead, but the practicality of climbing such a distance every day makes this a rare occurrence).
The Hall of the Tower, the largest audience room in the Tower itself, is located close to the ground floor, possibly on the 2nd or 3rd floor. A very large room overlooked by a tall window facing towards Dragonmount, the Hall is used by the Hall of the Tower to discuss matters of import, with an audience area which allows the entire White Tower to assemble (if required).
Teaching rooms, classrooms, workshops, audience chambers and administrative offices fill the rest of the lower half of the Tower (Levels 1-20). The relatively small number of Aes Sedai currently in existence means that that many of these rooms and chambers go unused for years at a time. Some staff and servants also have their quarters in this part of the Tower, although most are workers native to Tar Valon who walk in from their homes in other parts of the city.
The upper half of the Tower is the home of the Ajahs. These twenty floors are divided into “pie slices”, with each Ajah possessing one-seventh of the pie. This means that each Ajah effectively has twenty floors of quarters, meeting rooms and dining rooms to themselves. Some Ajahs, such as the Red, object to the equal distribution of space, as they have twice the numbers of the Grey or White Ajah. However, even the Red do not come close to filling their quarters, rendering the matter somewhat moot for now.
The two wings of the Tower are divided into “wells,” fifteen-level circular structures which rise up through the centres of the wings. They are open to the sky, with courtyards in the middle. There are least two wells in each wing. One is home to the novice, another (in the other wing) is home to the Accepted. The numbers are so low at present that the novices only fill two galleries of their particular well. The wings also contain some classrooms, storage and recreation facilities.
The White Tower is run by a complex bureaucracy consisting of gardeners, masons, clerks, cleaners and cooks, all answering to a group of Aes Sedai assigned with the maintenance and running of both the Tower and Tar Valon itself. This council reports directly to the Keeper of the Chronicles, who brings such matters as are relevant to the Amyrlin Seat.
The White Tower and Tar Valon are protected by the Tower Guard, an experienced and well-trained army. The Tower Guard number 12,000 and are responsible for defending Tar Valon and the surrounding bridge towns, as well as patrolling the surrounding countryside for dozens of miles in all directions. They police the city walls and streets, and some can be found at the entrance to the Tower grounds.
The Aes Sedai themselves and their Warders generally consider themselves more than capable of defending themselves and the Tower should it prove necessary.
Note on the Map
The diagram of the Tower – the first ever to be assembled, I believe – is based on the descriptions in the novels, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time and The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia.
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