Monday, March 18, 2002

Inventions From Rand's Academies

By Linda

This article describes the technology being developed by the members of Rand’s academies in order of their occurrence in the series. All these technologies have been developed before in Jordan’s world, but, in keeping with his ideas on cyclic time, they were forgotten during the Breaking or the early Third Age and are only now being rediscovered.


This was Rand’s first academy and it is located in Barthanes Damodred’s former palace.


During the siege of Cairhien, [Idrien] had built a huge crossbow, all levers and pulleys, that hurled a small spear a full mile hard enough to drive through a man.

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

This is a small ballista, and would be fastened to a mount. In our world ballistas were developed in Ancient Greece. Idrien may not have (re)invented the ballista in the Third Age, since in The Shadow Rising, Verin and Alanna used catapults, a related device, against the Trollocs in the Two Rivers and no one was particularly surprised.

In general, military technology currently lags behind other technologies in the Wheel of Time world. Gunpowder is not used yet, for instance, though its military use in our world predated the invention of the printing press (which has been developed in the Third Age).

Improvements in paper quality

One of the academy’s inventors has developed a method to improve the quality of paper:

An array of screens and scrapers and crocks full of linen scraps produced finer paper than anyone made now.

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

Unfortunately Jordan gives no details of this method.

In our world paper mills were in existence in Europe by the 14th century, and the process remained largely unchanged until the late 18th century, with linen and cotton rags as the raw materials. Eventually the great demand for paper was more than the rag industry could provide, and a process was developed to make paper from wood pulp in the 18th century.

In The Wheel of Time world, cotton is unknown in outside the Aiel Waste (algode is similar to algodon, the Spanish for cotton), so paper is made of linen alone and there is no mention of insufficient linen to meet demand for paper making.

The most likely improvement in paper making that the academy member made would be wove (velin) paper. Previously paper was produced on a mould of parallel lengths of wire laced together with fine wire or thread (laid paper), which left a grid pattern on the paper. Wove paper, invented by Englishman James Whatman in the 1750s, was produced on finely woven brass wire cloth. It quickly replaced laid paper ( The Whatmans and Wove (Vélin) Paper, John Balston).

There are two other real world possibilities for the academician’s improvement in paper making: sizing with rosin and alum and chlorine bleaching, but neither resulted in a great improvement in paper quality:

Before 1800, paper sheets were sized by impregnation with animal glue or vegetable gums, an expensive and tedious process. In 1800 Moritz Friedrich Illig in Germany discovered that paper could be sized in vats with rosin and alum. Although Illig published his discovery in 1807, the method did not come into wide use for about 25 years.

Discovery of the element chlorine in 1774 led to its use for bleaching paper stock. Lack of chemical knowledge at the time, however, resulted in production of inferior paper by the method, discrediting it for some years. Chlorine bleaching is a common papermaking technique today.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Improvements in the printing press

Interestingly the technology of printing presses was not lost during the Breaking:

Printing presses for example were one of the things that managed never quite to be wiped out completely. Printing started up again, even a few times during the Breaking people managed to get printing presses going, and once the Breaking was over, printing was one of the first trades to get going.

- Jordan, Dragoncon, September 2005

While printed books exist in the Wheel of Time world, they are neither common nor easily obtainable (in part also due to poor distribution methods). This may change now that an academy member has made significant improvements to the printing press:

A great hulking array of levers and huge flat plates was a printing press, much better than those already in use

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

In our world, the printing press was invented by Gutenberg in about 1450 and, like in the Wheel of Time world, early printing, while faster than hand copying, was a cumbersome process. Improvements which made the printing process more rapid were:

About 1620 Willem Janszoon Blaeu in Amsterdam added a counterweight to the pressure bar in order to make the platen rise automatically; this was the so-called Dutch press, a copy of which was to be the first press introduced into North America, by Stephen Daye at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1639.

About 1790 an English scientist and inventor, William Nicholson, devised a method of inking using a cylinder covered with leather (later with a composition of gelatin, glue, and molasses), the first introduction of rotary movement into the printing process.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

The first all-metal press was developed in England in about 1800 by the Earl of Stanhope. The screw, which impressed the paper onto the inked forme, was replaced by levers and this is most likely the invention that Jordan is referring to, since Rand describes the presence of levers as well as flat plates.

Six furrow plough

There was a plow on wheels meant to turn six furrows at once

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

In ancient Roman times wheelless ploughs with iron shares drawn by oxen tilled the light Mediterranean soils. The wheeled plough was developed during medieval times for the heavier soils of northwest Europe. In the 1800s, two or more ploughs were fastened together to turn multiple furrows. This is the invention that has been made in the academy. Since one or more of the horses pulling these ploughs had to walk on the loose, previously ploughed earth, the animals had to be rested every half hour for about ten minutes.

The next development would be the replacement of horse power with steam power from Mervin Poel’s steam engine (see below). This occurred in the real world in 1830.

Horse drawn hay harvester

And another thing with shafts for horses that was meant to harvest hay in place of men with scythes

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

Hay was cut by hand with sickles and scythes, until the middle of the 19th century, when the horse drawn sickle bar hay mower was developed. The bar was usually five feet long and had a board at the end to scrape the new mown hay away from the standing hay, otherwise the previous round’s cut hay would clog the sickle bar.

Improvements to the Loom

And a new sort of loom that was easier to operate

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

The loom improvement referred to here is probably the flying shuttle. Prior to the development of the flying shuttle by Englishman John Kay in 1733, the shuttle was passed through the warp threads by hand. Wide fabrics (eg broadcloth) required two weavers sitting side by side, each taking turns to pass the shuttle through their half of the warp threads and back.

This stopping of the shuttle and the reaching between the warps caused imperfections in the cloth.

Kay mounted his shuttle on wheels in a track and used paddles to shoot the shuttle from side to side when the weaver jerked a cord. Using the flying shuttle, one weaver could weave fabrics of any width more quickly than two could before.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

With the addition of the flying shuttle, the Wheel of Time loom is ready for automation – the addition of the steam engine being developed by Mervin Poel (see below).


There were painted wooden models of viaducts to carry water to places where the wells were going dry

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

Viaducts and aqueducts were developed extensively in Roman times. There was a renewed interest in restoring and developing urban infrastructure from the late 18th century. The Wheel of Time world, too, had a technologically advanced age which declined into a dark age, the Third Age, from which it is only now slowly emerging.

Drains and sewers

New drains and sewers for Cairhien

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

Early civilizations often built drainage systems in urban areas to handle storm runoff. The Romans, especially, constructed elaborate systems that also drained waste water from the public baths. During the European Middle Ages these systems fell into disrepair…As the correlation between sewage and disease became apparent in the mid-19th century, steps were taken to treat waste water. The concentration of population and the addition to sewage of manufacturing waste that occurred during the Industrial Revolution increased the need for effective sewage treatment.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

This renewed interest in public works (and the inventions taking place at the academy) implies that the Third Age is on the brink of an Industrial Revolution.


Even a tabletop exhibit with tiny figures of men and carts, cranes and rollers, meant to show how roads could be built and paved as well as they had in years long gone.

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

This is another development in public works aimed at reviving the forgotten technologies of the Age of Legends and early Third Age. This parallels what happened in Western Europe after Roman times:

The Romans were the first to construct roads scientifically. Their roads were characteristically straight, and the best ones were composed of a graded soil foundation that was topped by four courses (layers): a bedding of sand or mortar; rows of large, flat stones; a thin layer of gravel mixed with lime; and finally a thin wearing surface of flint-like lava. Roman roads varied in thickness from 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 m), and their design remained the most sophisticated until the advent of modern road-building technology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

When interest in road building revived in Europe in the late 18th century, engineers began designing roads that incorporated lighter surfaces, relying on the subsurface for load support. Roads could thus be built relatively cheaply and quickly. The most influential of the early engineers was John Loudon McAdam, inventor of the macadam road surface. His design comprised a compacted subgrade of crushed rock to support the load, and a surface covering of light stone to absorb wear and shed water to the drainage ditches.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

McAdam is probably the real world parallel of the academy member.

Astronomical telescope

Kin Tovere made lenses and looking glasses (terrestrial telescopes) prior to The Fires of Heaven:

It had been finding a craftsman who made lenses and looking glasses - and his two apprentices - among the refugees that had first given Rand the idea for this tower.

- The Fires of Heaven, The Craft of Kin Tovere

Tovere’s looking glasses were three paces long and were not considered new inventions. Militarily, telescopes were used only in a limited way at this time, and in fact it was Rand who inspired their use from the top of a tower:

“A wonderful thought, this tower. I would never have conceived it, but once you started asking how far you could see with a looking glass . . . Give me time, and I will make you one to see Caemlyn from here. If the tower is built high enough,” he added judiciously. “There are limits.”

- The Fires of Heaven, The Craft of Kin Tovere

When Kin Tovere joined the Cairhien Academy, he wanted to build an astronomical telescope:

Aside from looking glasses in various sizes—"Count the hairs in a man's nose at a mile," he said; that was how he talked—he had a lens as big across as his head, a sketch of the looking glass to hold it and more like it, a thing six paces long, and a scheme for looking at the stars, of all things. Well, Kin always wanted to look at things far off.

Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

“Kin Tovere constructed his big looking glass. You can see the moon through it plain as your hand, and what he claims are other worlds, but what is the good of that? He wants to build a bigger, now.”

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

The real world parallel of Kin Tovere is Galileo, who is credited with developing the astronomical telescope in 1609, the year after Hans Lippershey developed the terrestrial telescope in the Netherlands. The largest of Galileo’s telescopes was about 120 centimetres long, had an objective diameter of 5 centimetres, and an eyepiece that provided an upright image. With this telescope Galileo was able to see the craters of the Moon, the phases of Venus, and the four largest Jovian satellites. Tovere has made similar observations.

Gas from Animal Waste

The round-faced fellow who did something with cow dung that ended with a bluish flame burning at the end of a brass tube…

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

This member of the academy is producing gas (mostly methane) by the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of cow dung. Methane is a product of the anaerobic decay of vegetable matter under water (hence its alternate name, marsh gas).

Two real world people that are parallels of this academy member are Jan Batista Van Helmont, who first determined in 17th century that flammable gases could evolve from decaying organic matter, and Sir Humphry Davy, who determined in 1808 that methane was present in the gases produced during the anaerobic decomposition of cattle manure.

When a method of utilising this discovery is developed, the gas could be used directly for heating or used to heat the boilers of Mervin Poel’s steam engine (see below). In our world the first anaerobic digestion plant was built at a leper colony in Bombay, India in 1859.


The lanky young woman whose display was mainly a shell of paper moored by strings and kept aloft by the heat rising from a small fire in a brazier. She mumbled something about flying – he was sure that was what she said – and birds’ wings being curved – she had sketches of birds, and of what seemed to be wooden birds …

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

“Maryl Harke makes huge kites she calls gliders, and come spring, she will be throwing herself off hills again.”

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

The first man-made objects to fly were balloons, which were first developed by the Montgolfier brothers in France in 1783. Some of the basic scientific principles of heavier-than-air flight were laid down in England in the early 19th century by Sir George Cayley and he also built and tested a glider in 1852-3.

Though many men contributed to the development of the glider, the most famous pioneer was Otto Lilienthal (1848–96) of Germany, who, with his brother Gustav, began experiments in 1867 on the buoyancy and resistance of air. Lilienthal also investigated camber and wing sections and studied ways to increase the stability of the gliders he built, finally incorporating stabilizing tail surfaces. In 1891 he built his first man-carrying craft, with which he could take off by running downhill into the wind.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Maryl Harke is probably a combination of Sir George Cayley and Otto Lilienthal.

Steam Engine (Stationary and Moving)

And then there was the balding man with an assemblage of brass tubes and cylinders, roods and wheels, all covering a heavy wooden table freshly gouged and scraped, some gouges nearly deep enough to pierce the tabletop. For some reason half the man’s face and one of his hands was swathed in bandages. As soon as Rand appeared in the entry hall he had begun anxiously building a fire under one of the cylinders. When Rand and Idrien stopped in front of him, he moved a lever and smiled proudly.

The contraption began to quiver, steam hissing out from two or three places. The hiss grew to a shriek, and the thing began trembling. It groaned ominously. The shriek became ear-piercing. It shook so hard the table moved. The balding man threw himself at the table, fumbling a plug loose on the largest cylinder. Steam rushed out in a cloud and the thing went still.

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

A large wagon stood surrounded by buckets like mushrooms in a clearing. Half a dozen men in heavy coats and scarves and caps seemed to be working on the wagon’s odd cargo mechanical devices crowded around a fat metal cylinder that took up more than half the wagon bed. Even stranger, the wagonshafts were missing. One of the men was moving split firewood from a large wheelbarrow in the side of a metal box fastened below one end o the big cylinder. The open door in the box glowed with the red of fire inside, and smoke rose from a tall, narrow chimney…

In the stable yard, the capless man had pulled a lever on the wagon, and one end of a long horizontal beam suddenly rose, then sank, driving a shorter beam down through a hole cut in the wagon bed and, vibrating till it seemed ready to shake apart, trailing smoke form the chimney, the wagon lurched ahead, the beam rising and falling, slowly at first, then faster. It moved, without horses!...

“Oh, that! That’s Mervin Poel’s steamwagon, as he calls it, my Lord Dragon. Claims he can pull a hundred wagons with the contraption. Not unless he can make it go further than fifty paces without bits breaking or freezing up.”

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

Mervyn Poel made real strides with his steamwagon. Six steam wagons hitched one behind the other pulled fifty wagons all the way from Cairhien. They covered over a hundred miles each day (Knife of Dreams, Within the Stone) fuelled by wood. The inventor gave demonstration runs in Tear and perhaps stayed at the Academy there and exchanged information (see below).

The steamwagons played a part in the Last Battle delivering supplies to Kandor and Thakan’dar:

Food was brought in daily through gateways in wagons—some pulled by those unreliable metal machines from Cairhien. When those wagons left, they carried away clothing for washing, weapons to be repaired and boots to be mended.

A Memory of Light, To Feel Wasted

They were less vulnerable to physical weapons than horses, but were destroyed eventually:

One last steamwagon lay broken nearby, carrying arrows and bolts brought through the last gateway from Baerlon…

Thom took special note of the wagon—he would need to use it in a way that preserved its wonder, showing how its cold, iron sides had deflected arrows before its fall.

A Memory of Light, Two Craftsmen

The Sea Folk were particularly interested in them, as Ituralde noted in A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens, probably seeing their potential for moving large quantities of goods on land efficiently, with or without gateways.

While in the real world stationary and moving steam engines were developed by different people, Jordan understandably did not want to develop more characters than necessary.

Thomas Savery took out a patent for a “new Invention for Raiseing of Water and occasioning Motion to all Sorts of Mill Work by the Impellent Force of Fire” in 1698 (No. 356). His apparatus depended on the condensation of steam in a vessel, creating a partial vacuum into which water was forced by atmospheric pressure. Early commercially successful steam engines were developed by Thomas Newcomen and the partners James Watt and Matthew Boulton. They were stationary machines; it was only at the end of Boulton and Watt’s partnership that steam engines were used in vehicles. Early steam engines were inefficient because they only operated at one atmosphere and therefore were massive with very large cylinders. It wasn’t until steam pressures were increased above a single atmosphere that the machines could be developed small enough to be installed in vehicles. One of the first developers of the smaller high pressure steam engine was the French military engineer Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. In 1769 he developed a tricycle (with two cylinders) at first intended as a tractor for moving cannon; this is commonly thought of as the first automobile (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Mervin Poel is correct in saying that his steam engine will bring a new Age—an Industrial Revolution—when he makes it work (Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude). Indeed several machines are ‘ready’ for the steam engine: the loom with flying shuttle, paddleboat, paper making machine, printing press and plough.

Steamwagons feature in a couple of possible futures:

In the glass columns in Rhuidean, Aviendha saw them transporting the Seanchan traders called Lightmakers in the Waste. The “Lightmakers” are so named because they also carry globes that light their way. These seem to have a steadier light than flame would give and may be battery powered. At first the Aiel referred to the steamwagons as ‘steamhorses” (Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun), but later, more desperate Aiel had no understanding of the steamwagons at all and saw them as magical (Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora). The Lightmakers are constructing a trans-continental railway:

She rounded their massive wagon. There were no horses. Only the wagon, large enough to house a dozen people. It moved magically during the daylight, rolling on wheels nearly as wide as Malidra was tall. She had heard-in the hushed, broken communication of Folk-that in the east, the Lightmakers were creating a massive roadway. It would pass directly through the Waste. It was made by laying down strange pieces of metal.

Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora

The steamwagons are now much larger and would pull greater loads, making long distance trading more economic.

Steamwagons also appeared in passing in the Dark One’s alternate world where there was no good or evil, just the Dark One (A Memory of Light, The Last Battle).


“Jander Parentakis believes he can move riverboats with waterwheels off a mill, or near enough, but when he put enough men into the boar to turn the cranks, there was no room for cargo, and any craft with sails could outrun it.”

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

The human powered paddle wheel can really only propel small boats. In our world, early experiments with steam-driven paddles acting as oars led several inventors, including Robert Fulton, to mount the paddles in a wheel form, either at the stern or at the sides of the vessel (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Jander Parentakis has progressed his invention to this point, but this is another invention that will require Mervin Poel’s steam engine to be a viable alternative to sail.

In our world the steam engine was added to the paddleboat early in its development. The first trial of a steam boat was carried out by a French nobleman, Claude-François-Dorothée, Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans in 1776. This trial was not a success, but in 1783 Jouffroy carried out a second trial with a much larger engine propelling two paddle wheels. The overburdened boat moved against the current for some 15 minutes before it disintegrated from the pounding of the engines (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Electricity and the Leyden Jar

“Ryn Anhara traps lightning in big jars…It is a thing of wires and wheels and big clay jars and the light knows what. He calls it lightning, and I saw a rat jump down on one of the jars once, on the metal rods sticking out of the top. It certainly looked struck by lightning.”

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

Jordan is historically accurate in having experiments with electricity proceeding contemporaneously with the development of steam power. Ryn Anhara’s invention is a Leyden jar, the first device that could store large amounts of electric charge. It was invented by Pieter van Musschenbroek, a physicist and mathematician in Leiden, Netherlands and also by Ewald Georg von Kleist, a German cleric, in 1745.

In its earliest form it was a glass vial, partly filled with water, the orifice of which was closed by a cork pierced with a thick wire that dipped into the water. To charge the jar, the exposed end of the wire was brought into contact with a friction device that produced static electricity. When the contact was broken, a charge could be demonstrated by touching the wire with the hand and receiving a shock. The Leyden jar is of importance as a prototype of capacitors, which are widely used in radios, television sets, and other electrical and electronic equipment.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Some Analysis of the Real World Timing of the Academy’s Inventions:

Paper making: laid paper 1750s
Printing press: levered Stanhope press early 1800s
Multiple furrow plough: 1800s
Horse drawn sickle bar hay mower: 1850-60s
Loom: flying shuttle 1733
Water, sewerage and road infrastructure: late 1700s-mid 1800s
Astronomical telescope: 1609
Anaerobic bacterial decomposition of cattle dung: 1808
Gliders: from 1850s
Steam engine: 1712
Steam engine transport: 1769
Leyden jar: 1745

Most of the inventions date from 1700 to 1860 in our world.

History and Philosophy

There are several historians and philosophers at the Cairhien academy. The most noted was Herid Fel:

Herid Fel was an Andoran who somehow had ended up reading in the Royal Library here—a student of history and philosophy, he called himself—

- Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude

His books were published prior to the founding of the academy and include Reason and Unreason. Interestingly, Ishamael wrote a book with a similar title in the Age of Legends: The Disassembly of Reason. It is likely that Herid Fel was killed lest his philosophical knowledge and deductions aid Rand.

By reading Fel’s books Min discovered that the Seals to Dark One’s prison must be broken:

"Rand," she said. "You have to destroy the seals to the Dark One's prison."
He looked at her, frowning.
"I'm sure of it," she said. "I've been reading Herid's books all this time, and I believe that's what he meant by 'clearing away the rubble.' In order to rebuild the Dark One's prison, you will first need to open it. Clear away the patch made on the Bore."
She had expected him to be incredulous. Shockingly, he just nodded. "Yes," he said. "Yes, that sounds right. I doubt that many will wish to hear it. If those seals are broken, there is no way to tell what will happen. If I fail to contain him ..."
"We still don't know what to do," he said. "The seals are brittle enough that I could break them in my hands, but what then? How do I stop him? Does it say anything of that in your books?"
"It's hard to tell," she admitted. "The clues—if that's what they are—are vague. I will keep looking. I promise. I'll find answers for you.”

The Gathering Storm, A Place To Begin

The answer lay in Callandor.


Elayne took over the running of the Andoran academy in Caemlyn and its fame has spread: a mechanic in Murandy wanted to take a wagonload of his inventions to the academy and instructed the Band of the Red Hand’s armourers on how to make one of his inventions in exchange for funds for his journey to Caemlyn (Knife of Dreams, As If All the World Were Fog).

Crossbow Crank

A new crossbow crank has been invented by a Murandian. Three turns of the crank and the bowstring is latched, making firing the crossbow much faster:

[The crossbowman] bent to fasten the paired hooks of the bulky box-like crank hanging from a strap at the front of his belt to his crossbow string. As the man straightened the cord streamed out of the crank, but once he was erect, he set the crank on the butt of the upended crossbow, moved a small lever on the side of the box and began to work the handles. Three quick turns with a rough whirring sound, and the string caught on the latch.

- Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box.

With a little practise a crossbowman can fire seven or eight quarrels a minute using a heavy crossbow (Knife of Dreams, As If All the World Were Fog) or one about every eight seconds.

In our world, various mechanical devices were introduced from the 12th century to make loading crossbows easier and/or faster. Those that most closely resemble the new loading mechanism used by Mat’s crossbowmen will be described here.

The belt and claw, dating from the 12th century, consisted of a belt with a rope attached to it at the front of the body, with a claw or hook attached to the end of the rope. The crossbowman bent down, attached the hook to the string and stood up to span the crossbow. Cocking the crossbow this way requires firm footing and takes at least six seconds.

The goat's foot is a two piece hinged lever that is latched onto pegs fitted to the crossbow stock slightly behind the trigger. The shorter arm of the lever is fitted to the string, and pulls it back. The crossbow is then braced against a firm surface and cocked by pulling the long arm back towards the butt end of the crossbow. It takes over eight seconds to load a crossbow with this mechanism. If the weapon is braced against the ground, dirt may foul it. The goat’s foot is known from the late 13th century.

The windlass is known from the late 13th century and is a hook and hand crank mechanism. It was fitted over the butt end of the crossbow and the string hooked. (Most windlasses had pulleys in the cranking mechanism). The crossbowman then turned the two cranks, winching the string into position. Cocking a crossbow with a windlass takes twelve seconds, but it allows cocking of heavier crossbows. The crossbow does not have to be braced on a firm surface.

The crannequin or cranequin, also known as the rack or cric, is a metal cogwheel mechanism housed in a box secured to the butt end of the crossbow. An extendable claw is fitted over the string and the string is winched into position by a crank fitted to the cogwheels. Cocking the crossbow this way takes thirty-five seconds, but it gives greater mechanical advantage still and it does not require bracing the crossbow on a firm surface. Cranequins date from the late 14th century.

The Murandian’s crank appears to be an early form of cranequin or windlass developed from the belt and claw. It’s not conclusive which. The hooking of the string while crouching and then standing is like the belt and claw system, but that arrangement has no crank. The Murandian’s mechanism is housed in a box like a cranequin is, but a cranequin has one crank handle, not two, and does not require bracing the crossbow on a firm surface. A windlass has two crank handles as the Murandian’s crank does, but it is not housed in a box, and after use has to be carefully wound up and stored lest it tangle. It is slower to use than the Murandian’s crank, and does not have to be braced against a firm surface like the Murandian’s mechanism requires. It is used for heavy crossbows however, just as the Murandian’s crank is.

In The Gathering Storm Mat expresses dissatisfaction with the loading speed of his crossbows and wants new cranks, ones that don’t force the men to lower their crossbow to reload it:

Of course, they'd be more useful if they could fire faster. The cranking was the slow point. Not the turn of the crank itself, but the necessity of lowering the crossbow each time. It cost four seconds just to move the weapon about. These new cranks and boxes that Talmanes had learned to make from that mechanic in Murandy sped things up greatly. But the mechanic had been on his way to sell the cranks in Caemlyn, and who knew who else had bought them along the way? Before too long, everyone might have them. An advantage was negated if both you and your enemies had it.
Those boxes had given a lot to Mat's success in Altara against the Seanchan. He was loath to surrender the advantage. Could he find a way to make the bows fire even faster?

- The Gathering Storm, Legends

He suggests a possible solution and asks Aludra to work on it:

"I figure there should be a way to make them load faster. You know, like those new cranks, only maybe with some kind of spring or something. Maybe a crank you could twist without having to lower the weapon first."
"This is hardly my area of expertise, Mat," Aludra said.
"I know. But you're smart about things like this, and maybe..."

- The Gathering Storm, Legends

She’s a chemical engineer, not a mechanical one, and appears reluctant to work in another field. However, thanks to Verin, Aludra and Mat Travelled to Caemlyn, home to the Rose Academy…The academy would be a natural place for Aluda and Mat to work on developing their projects. If the Murandian who designed the current crank for the Band’s crossbows reached Caemlyn despite the wars and hard conditions, Mat would surely be interested in meeting him and commissioning a new version. This crank is likely to be closer in design to the real world windlass or crannequin described above, neither of which require lowering the crossbow to brace it on the ground to re-load.

In a world where clocks are rare and expensive, it is anachronistic that Talmanes timed the cross-bow firing rate in this fashion. Moreover Mat wants to shave 4 seconds off the already rapid firing time, bringing it up to that of the best modern mechanical non-repeating crossbows.

Ironically, the Seanchan have never heard of such rapid reloading of a crossbow, yet the Chinese, a parallel of the Seanchan, developed the repeating crossbow by at least the second century AD.

b Crossbows were eventually replaced in warfare by gunpowder weapons. At first, the early guns had slower rates of fire and much worse accuracy than contemporary crossbows (see Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders article).

The Caemlyn academy was destroyed when the city was lost to Shadowspawn and then fired in A Memory of Light. This is exactly the sort of destruction that Rand feared would cause a loss of knowledge, and why he set up academies. Rand's academies have not only sparked inventions, but at least one of them—steam power—will probably be disseminated; ironically not as fast or far as Aludra's gunpowder weapons.


Rand also established an academy in Tear. There is no information on its activities, but Mervyn Poel’s steamwagon may have visited it while it was in Tear.


The only technology from the Academies seen after Knife of Dreams is the steam wagon. None of the other inventions were developed further onscreen, nor were their creators or researchers seen again. This may be a function of lack of information in Jordan’s notes.


Written by Linda, April, 2005 and updated October 2013


Anonymous said...

I didn't realize late medieval crossbows had such a high rate of fire.

Is your source online? I'd like to read it. :)

Linda said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to this section. Since I wrote it in 2005, a couple of the archery sites I used for the research are no longer online and the other now has broken links. Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book on the Crossbow wasn't available on Google books either. It has influenced thinking on arming speed and the cranequin is now thought to have taken 35 secs to load. The re-arming speed of the windlass is still the same though. I shall have to rewrite this section.

The re-arming speed of the Band's crossbow is in line with the research I did in 2005. And Mat wants to shave 4 seconds off the cocking time. That would put the bow up with the re-arming speed of the best of modern crossbows.