Thursday, March 14, 2002

Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders


By Linda

This essay describes the development of Mat’s interest in fireworks and why he needed to know about bellfounders.

Mat had long had a fascination with fireworks and a personal knowledge of their explosive power. He dismantled a firework in Emond’s Field:

When he was ten, he had tried to cut one open to see what was inside, and had caused an uproar.

- The Dragon Reborn, A Hero In The Night

Years later, Mat cut open one of Aludra’s fireworks to look at its contents and finds:

Something that looked like dirt, or maybe tiny gray-black pebbles and dust.

- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted

Thom roared:

“Are you trying to kill us boy? Haven’t you heard that those things explode ten times as hard for air as for fire? Fireworks are the next best thing to Aes Sedai work, boy.”

- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted

Despite such warnings, Mat was determined to experiment:

Mat tossed the handful of paper and little pebbles into the fire to a screech from Thom, the pebbles sparkled and made tiny flashes, and there was a smell of acrid smoke…

“It did not explode,” Mat said, frowning at the fire…”I wonder why there was no bang.”

- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted

[The powder was loose and therefore the gases formed as the heat caused a rapid chemical reaction could expand and escape easily.]

He used a firework to distract the Darkfriends attacking him and Thom in Andor:

Mat tossed the firework into the flames and threw himself toward his quarterstaff. There was a loud bang and a flash of light – “Aes Sedai!” a man cried.

- The Dragon Reborn, Hunted

This experience led him to clump together many fireworks to make a very loud noise to lure soldiers away from their posts in the Stone of Tear. He had no idea that the fireworks would have an explosive charge large enough to blow an entry hole in the wall of the Stone of Tear, even though Aludra told him that if they all exploded at once they could destroy a house:

[Mat]…unslung the bundle from his back. Hurriedly, he wedged it into the [arrow] slit, forcing it in as far as he could; he wanted as much of the noise to be inside as he could manage. Pulling aside a corner of the oiled cloth cover revealed knotted fuses. After a little thinking, back in his room, he had cut the longer fuses to match the shortest, using the pieces to help tie all the fuses together. It seemed they should all go off at once, and a bang-and-flash like that should be enough to pull everyone who was not completely deaf.

- The Dragon Reborn, Into The Stone.

After the resulting explosion, Mat discovered that he had blown a man-sized hole in the Stone of Tear and used it to enter the Stone.

Interestingly Mat was not the first character to think of using fireworks as a weapon: Rand tilted a lofting tube on its side and fired the rocket to kill Trollocs in The Great Hunt, The Shadow in the Night. There was a woman who witnessed this, perhaps it was Aludra, or perhaps she told Aludra.

Once Mat gained memories and knowledge of warfare, he could see military applications for fireworks. Even before Ebou Dar was taken by the Seanchan at the end of A Crown Of Swords, Mat was searching for an Illuminator prepared to sell him fireworks to use in fighting the Seanchan. Or something more – the secrets of making them:

He did want to find an Illuminator – a real one, not some fellow selling fireworks full of sawdust.

- A Crown Of Swords, The Triumph Of Logic

When Illuminators made the sky bloom, as they said, they planted more than four flowers. Plainly someone with coin had made a purchase for Swovan Night. He wished he knew who. An Illuminator who would sell nightflowers would sell more than that.

- A Crown Of Swords, Swovan Night

Close contact with Aludra in Valan Luca’s travelling circus expanded Mat’s knowledge and ideas. He realised that the lofting tubes from which the nightflowers are launched could be turned on their sides and as a weapon against the Seanchan and their damane:

“And what would you do if I gave you the fireworks? Hurl them at the Seanchan from the catapult, I suppose.” Her [Aludra’s] snort told what she thought of that.

“And what’s wrong with the idea?” he [Mat] asked defensively. A good field catapult, a scorpion, could throw a ten-pound stone five hundred paces, and ten pounds of fireworks would do more damage than any stone. “Anyway, I have a better idea. I saw those tubes you use to toss nightflowers into the sky. Three hundred paces or more, you said. Tip one on its side more or less, and I’ll bet it could toss a nightflower a thousand paces…Those tubes are a lot smaller than a catapult, Aludra. If they were well hidden, the Seanchan would never know where they came from.”

“This is not bad, for one who only saw the lofting tubes a few days ago,” she said, “but me, I have thought about this long before you. I had reason.” For a moment, her voice was bitter, but it smoothed out again, and became a little amused. “I will set you the puzzle, since you are so clever, no?” she said, arching an eyebrow. Oh, she definitely was amused by something! “You tell me what use I might have for a bellfounder, and I will tell you all of my secrets.”

- Winter’s Heart, In Need Of A Bellfounder

That was Aludra’s challenge to Mat: she would tell Mat the secrets of fireworks and how they can be adapted for use in weaponry, if he could tell her why she would need a bellfounder.

So Why Would An Illuminator Need A Bellfounder?

Perrin could have told Mat in an instant, but Mat knows nothing of metalworking. A bellfounder melts metals in required proportions and pours the molten metal (usually bronze, an 80% copper/20% tin bronze for bells) into moulds to cast bells. They are the only metalworkers in the Wheel of Time world who have the knowledge, skill and equipment to cast the lofting tubes Illuminators use to launch nightflowers. Photo of bellfoundry at right by Stu Savory.

A bellfounder would be able to cast the body for either field size or hand-held cannons (guns or artillery in military terms). The field cannon was invented first, but small firearms were developed soon after. Since gunpowder is the crucial and most expensive part of firearms, let’s look at it first.


There’s quite a lot of science in gunpowder, so Aludra’s knowledge shouldn’t come cheap. Such a powerful invention was worth a great deal to keep secret, just as the Illuminator’s Guild strictly enforced secrecy about fireworks. Loial was aware of this:

“I’ve heard that Illuminators kill intruders. They keep their secrets hard and fast, Rand."

- The Great Hunt, The Shadow In The Night

The three principal ingredients of gunpowder are saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal.

Gunpowder was probably developed soon after the process for purifying saltpetre (potassium nitrate) was discovered by Chinese alchemists in about 900 AD. It was introduced to Europe via trade routes around 1225 AD, and cannon were invented in southern Europe just before 1300 AD. Small arms appeared soon after, and warfare was revolutionised.

Nitrates were not recognised in antiquity, since they are rare in pure form in nature. (Chile Saltpetre, sodium nitrate, is found in large quantities in Chile and Peru, but this was not known until much later. Nitre, saltpetre or potassium nitrate, is very much rarer.) Until the development of the Haber process for obtaining nitrates from atmospheric nitrogen at the beginning of the 20th century, nitrates were always in short supply. Some mineral springs and rock salt deposits contain nitrates, and in places where nitrates are present in the soil, dissolved nitrates may appear as efflorescence on rocks where the nitrate waters have evaporated.

However, the largest source was from the urine of animals; the urea in urine decomposed into nitrates. Nitrates were obtained from manure and stable earth by treatment with wood ashes and fractional crystallisation. The Illuminators appear to have been able to do this themselves, although they bought nitrates from salt merchants if the opportunity arose:

[Aludra said] “And you, Tammuz! You will set everything right, and tomorrow you will leave with the carts to buy the manure.”

- The Great Hunt, The Shadow In The Night

He spotted Aludra, her face framed by beaded braids, walking through the crown with a grey-haired man who had to be a salt merchant form the amount of bright embroidery covering his silk coal in flowers and humming birds. What could the Illuminator want with a salt merchant? Whatever she was saying to him, his pleased smile had added a few creases to his face, and he was nodding.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Something Flickers

Saltpetre can also be obtained from brine wells. The two photos below of a salt well in China were taken by Yunnan Explorer.

Gunpowder requires considerable chemical knowledge and technique to make: the saltpetre is purified from salt deposits by recrystallisation, the sulphur is obtained by distillation, while the charcoal must come from uniform wood. Aludra has determined her supply requirements for large scale manufacture of gunpowder:

A mountain of charcoal, sulphur and . . . bat guano? The notes claimed there was a city specializing in producing it over in the northern reaches of the Mountains of Mist.

- The Gathering Storm, Legends

The bat guano is the source of nitrates.

The ingredients for gunpowder are coarsely ground, moistened to extinguish any sparks, and constantly mixed in a mortar and pestle or a stamp mill for twenty four hours. Unless the ingredients are laboriously mixed in this way, they will only burn or fizzle when ignited, not detonate.

The powder is then moistened to a paste and pushed through a sieve to reduce it to small grains. The dried grains are then packed in airtight containers (barrels in earlier times), because the nitrates absorb water out of the air and cause the gunpowder to spoil. The sulphur in the gunpowder reduces this to a degree. The milling of gunpowder shown at right was photographed by Ukexpat and posted on Wikimedia commons.

Gunpowder factories were isolated buildings surrounded by earthen ramparts because explosion and fire was always a risk. The Illuminators also kept their guild buildings isolated, not only to keep their secrets, but also to keep others safe (without telling anyone there was any danger).

The products of exploding gunpowder are 40% gaseous and 60% solid. In artillery, the gases are highly compressed behind the projectile, and push it out as they expand. The solid fraction is expelled as a dense white smoke, which gives away the position of a battery (unit of guns) as soon as it is fired.

Mat’s and Aludra’s Gunpowder Weapons

Rockets and Bombs

Incendiary bombs were used from ancient times. Fireworks were developed into the rocket, which projected a ball or bomb without the use of a cannon. War rockets were used in China from about 1200 AD.

Bombs could be as effectively thrown by catapults as by cannon. In fact, Mat considers fireworks hurled with a catapult to be a useful weapon, although Aludra does not. Aludra also used a nightflower as a flare or signalling device in Knife of Dreams, Prince of the Ravens.

A nightflower itself looks like a bomb – it is a leather-coated ball the size of a large melon with a small fuse sticking out of one side (Knife of Dreams, Dragons' Eggs). Smaller devices have been tested in the field. In Altara Mat had fifty men throwing explosives with four-foot long sling staffs, which Aludra now calls roarsticks (Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend). These projectiles are stubby leather cylinders larger than a man’s fist stuffed with pebbles as well as gunpowder and with a short fuse sticking out of one end (Knife of Dreams, Prince of the Ravens). Each man lit the fuse with a slow match (which itself was lit by Aludra using one of her strikers) and hurled his primitive grenade into the advancing troops. Slow matches were lengths of cord or cambric impregnated with chemicals and set to burn slowly (taking up to about 15 seconds per half inch).


Mat finally worked out that Aludra needs a bellfounder to make lofting tubes from bronze, but not why (Knife of Dreams, Dragons' Eggs). Aludra explained it to him:

“[An ordinary lofting tube] will send a nightflower close to three hundred paces straight up into the sky with the right charge and a longer distance across ground if tilted at an angle. But not far enough for what I have in mind. A lofting charge big enough to send it further would burst the tube. With a bronze tube I could use a charge that would send something a little smaller close to two miles.”

- Knife of Dreams, Dragons' Eggs

The bronze tubes are called dragons and their iron projectiles dragons eggs. The dragons will be mounted on dragoncarts, each to be drawn by four horses. This is similar to the cannon that was introduced into European warfare by one of Mat’s historic parallels, Jan Zizka (see Mat essay).

The smooth bore cannon was first used in the early fourteenth century in Europe. Many cast guns (i.e. made of molten metal) appear in inventories throughout the century in a variety of metals and alloys, including iron, copper, bronze and brass.

The best cannon were cast in bronze, and were bored so that the stone, iron, or lead cannonballs fit closely. Gunmetal bronze was nine parts copper to one part tin, a different bronze to that used for bells, which is eight parts copper to two parts tin.

Cast iron was a later development than bronze, and when it became available, it was used not only for cannonballs, where it completely superseded stone by the end of the 16th century, but also for the cannon themselves, since it was cheaper. However, if the casting was not done well, and the iron was not free of phosphorus, the cast-iron cannon often burst.

Aludra insisted that the bronze was cast in precise proportions:

Aludra insisted that her orders be carried out exactly and had forced the men to recast the tube three times.

- Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling

Many early gunners were killed or seriously injured by bursting guns or in making gunpowder.


In The Gathering Storm, Aludra made a ‘feasibility study’ of her dragons project to determine quantities of materials and labour (and she emphasises her figures are only estimates and that scribes are better assessors), and their costs to produce dragons in sufficient numbers for the coming world-wide wars. Apart from very large amounts of bat guano (for nitrates), charcoal and sulphur for the gunpowder, she will need at least the entire output of copper and tin of every mine and metal store in Caemlyn, Cairhien, Illian and Tear for the cannon (bronze shot would be too wasteful, but they might use lead or iron or, of course, stone), and every bellfounder from Andor to Tear to cast them (The Gathering Storm, Legends).

Like all engineering projects, the dragons need a backer to supply money for resources and people. Mat, the god of wealth (see Mat essay), joked he might have to dice with the Queen of Andor for the cash (or maybe resources or labour) yet he did have to bargain hard with Queen Elayne:

He had no intention of giving the Seanchan access to these dragons, but he did not fancy giving them to Andor, either. Unfortunately, he had to admit that there was no way he was going to have Andor build them without giving the weapons to the nation, too.

"I [Elayne] build them and promise to give them to the Band. No commission, just a contract, hiring you for a long term. You can go at any time. But if you do, you leave the dragons behind."
"I want the right to keep a few of these dragons," Mat said, "if we leave. One-quarter to us, three-quarters to you. But we'll take your contract, and while we're in your employ, only we use them. As you said."
"I get the Band in at least a one-year contract," Elayne said, "renewable. We'll pay you whatever you were earning in Murandy."
"You can cancel," she continued, "as long as you provide a month's warning—but I keep four dragons out of five. And any men who wish to join the Andoran military must be given the chance."
"I want one out of four," Mat said.
"I get the medallion for three days."
"I agree to that," Mat said, "but Elayne, the Band has to be free to fight in the Last Battle, however Rand wants. And Aludra has to supervise the dragons, I have a feeling that she'll insist that she remain with you if the Band breaks off from Andor."
"I have no issues with that," Elayne said, smiling.
"I figured you wouldn't. But, just so we're clear, the Band has control of the dragons until we leave. You can't sell the technology to others."

- Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

Firing cannon was an involved process. The bore of the cannon was first swabbed thoroughly to extinguish any embers that might remain from a recent firing. The correct amount of gunpowder was then inserted into the base of the bore and rammed firmly behind a wad (plug) of wood or cloth. This wad contained the gases when the charge was detonated, and thus pushed the ball out of the muzzle. The ball was then put in the bore, and rammed firmly against the wad. Gunpowder was poured into the touch hole. When the command to fire was given, a slow-burning taper or match or a red-hot rod was brought to the touch hole, igniting the gunpowder trail, which then burnt quickly down to the charge and ignited it. The charge then detonated, and the cannon fired the ball.

Elayne describes the re-loading process:

The men pulled the dummy tube back—it was on a set of wheels—and rotated it up a bit toward the sky. One poured some black powder in from his cask, then another stuffed in a wad of something. This was followed by the man with the long pole ramming it down the tube. That wasn't a chimney brush he held, but some kind of tool used for packing.

- Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling

The prototype is more accurately described as a mortar, with a limited range compared to the cannon used in the Last Battle. It takes the men three minutes to re-load the cannon, although Aludra thinks that this is slow and will be reduced with more training. Each dragon requires 3 or 4 men to operate it for maximum efficiency:

"You see?" Aludra said, patting the dragon. "Three men is best. Four for safety, in case one falls. One could do the work if he had to, but it would be slow."

- Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling

Her dragons are designed to launch a cast iron ball as far as a mile (Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons). She and Mat have worked out they may be used in sieges and battle:

“Look, she shows here the dragons firing on a city wall from a mile away. With fifty dragons and two hundred and fifty solders she could knock down a wall like the one around Caemlyn in a few hours...But look here. I had her design a spreading shot. Fire it on a line of Trollocs from four hundred paces, and one of these dragons will do the work of fifty bowmen. Burn me, Elayne, but we’re going to be at a disadvantage. The Shadow can always toss more Trollocs at us than we have soldiers, and the bloody things are twice as hard to kill as a man.

- Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons


What to use as ammunition is not a problem. A great variety of projectiles were used in early firearms: stone balls, arrows and balls of iron and bronze, lead pellets (shot), cast iron shot. In fact, any small stones, nails or iron pieces could be used to turn a cannon into a giant shotgun which fired a broad angle of shrapnel fire (“hailshot").

The preferred ammunition for the dragons was cast iron balls about four to six inches in diameter. When these ran out, or a big spreading shot was required, pieces of metal, which Aludra called ‘dragons’ teeth’, were loaded into the cannon (A Memory of Light, What Must Be Done).

Small arms projectiles were always of lead. Lead shot was easy to cast, which was essential when there was no standardization of calibre. However, it is easier to manufacture and supply ammunition to large amounts of artillery (especially small arms) if the calibres are standardised.

Efficient Lighting of Fuses:

A safe and efficient method of lighting the charge is required. Slow burning tapers and red-hot rods were used at first to ignite the charge (or the gunpowder trail leading to the charge). Aludra, however, has invented matches:

“That secret [of sticks, or matches] not even the Guild knows, for it is my discovery alone. I will tell you this much. When I know how to make it work properly, and work only when I want it to, sticks will make my fortune for me.”

- The Dragon Reborn, A Hero In The Night.

Aludra now calls them strikers and is using them to light fuses and slow-matches in Knife of Dreams, Prince of the Ravens. She was reluctant to share the secret of their manufacture, and in fact, wouldn’t let Mat’s men use them directly, but insisted on lighting all fuses and slow-matches herself in Altara. In the Last Battle, the slow-matches were called “flame-sticks” and the dragoners used them to light the fuses themselves, while Aludra worked out where to deploy or aim the cannon.

Moving the cannon

Early real world cannon were originally lashed to a log or to a flat table, and supported near the muzzle. Such cannon were not mobile, the recoil was difficult to absorb, and the cannon could not be elevated very well for aiming.

The solution was to use only two wheels, with the axle supporting a sturdy trail that held the cannon with its trunnions. Now the cannon could be easily pointed, and the trail could be dug in to absorb the recoil. The assembly was pulled by two or four horses.

Aludra’s original plans were for each dragon to be mounted on a cart to be pulled by four horses with another cart for the dragon eggs (Knife of Dreams, Dragons' Eggs). In A Memory of Light each dragon cart was pulled by two horses, or at times, by mules or people.


The recoil of a field cannon is very great: a cannon on wheels leaps into the air when fired, and must be restrained by digging in its trail or by ropes, although we saw nothing of this during the demonstration to Elayne on the tower top in Caemlyn. When Aludra tested her dragons – on a tower top - they did not recoil, nor did they emit any white smoke, but they should have. Mat or Aludra mounted their cannon on wagons similar to the cannon in the photo right(photographer: cneukpix), and anchored the carts into the ground to control recoil (A Memory of Light, Prologue).

In A Memory of Light, the cannon were shown emitting smoke and recoiling.

Fouling of the cannon

Gunpowder fouls the barrel of a gun.

In a later development, grooves were cut in the barrel of the cannon order to reduce the fouling. It was discovered that if the grooves were cut in a spiral (rifling), the weapon was more accurate. While rifling improved accuracy, it made it harder to load the weapon.

Tactical Employment of Cannon

One hundred dragons were rescued from Caemlyn, but little ammunition; this had to be transported from Baerlon (A Memory of Light, Prologue).

Since guns are most effective when used from ambush, and especially against those without guns or not expecting them, Mat planned to have his artillery forces hidden (Winter’s Heart, In Need Of A Bellfounder). Artillery was a shock weapon, most effective when used in large groups, although it had to be carefully placed. In the real world, cannon (artillery) joined cavalry and infantry in the army. The battery (unit of guns) had to be protected from assault, while its field of fire had to be as open and level as possible. A volley of shot from a battery across the front of a cavalry or infantry charge would lead to very great destruction. It could largely protect itself from a frontal assault by firing on the enemy, but was vulnerable to a cavalry attack from the rear.

Dennel nodded. "Dragons aren't meant to make up frontline units all by themselves, my Lord. They need support to keep the enemy from coming too close and destroying the weapons. We can man those dragons, but we won't last long without infantry."

A Memory of Light, Prologue

In Braem Wood, the dragons were placed in four ranks across a roadway, each rank firing in turn upon the attacking Trolloc army and then rolling back to reload (A Memory of Light, The Use of Dragons). They were an unexpected ambush.

A small contingent was used to protect a company of men bridging the Erinin for Elayne’s army. Only the timely arrival of Logain’s force prevented Elayne’s dragons from being overrun and destroyed in Cairhien.

Different tactics were needed when the battery fired upon an enemy battery, since they fired back. The muzzles would be elevated for long range, and by observing the smoke emitted from the enemy guns, the aim of the cannon could be improved. Only targets that could be seen from the battery, or from a nearby hill, could be attacked, since there was no electrical communication. Mat saw artillery as the only thing available to counteract channellers (equivalent to an enemy battery) in battle. The dragons on the Polov Heights were set to fire upon Sharan channellers and Shadowspawn and were protected by Aes Sedai until Demandred brought a full circle against them and destroyed most of the dragons and Aes Sedai (A Memory of Light, The Last Battle). A few working dragons were retrieved from the battlefields and kept in reserve. Some were hidden in a cavern and became the perfect ambush battery by opening a gateway in front of them to fire through and then quickly closing it, hiding them while they reloaded (A Memory of Light, A Smile). Mat and Talmanes knew that dragons were vulnerable to channellers, so they fired them from a hidden location that was very difficult for channellers to locate. Those dragons kept in the field with Aludra were moved continually so they couldn’t be pinpointed by the enemy (A Memory of Light, The Last Battle). Aludra determined where the batteries of dragons would fire and guided them on setting trajectories.

Small Arms

After the development of the cannon, a portable weapon was developed that could be carried and fired by an individual soldier. The first versions were actually hand cannons - small tubes that the user loaded with gunpowder and a ball (or shot) and lit from the outside. Around 1400 AD, hand cannons were fairly common, even four-barrel hand cannons. Each barrel could be loaded and lit as required. Early small guns of cast copper/bronze alloys fired arrow-like missiles or lead shot. A major improvement was a trigger to fire the gun.


Each type of early real world gunpowder weapon had a specific name; such as falconet, serpentine, culverine, and dragon. Likewise, Aludra has given names to her weapons and ammunition: dragons, roar-sticks, dragons’ eggs, dragons’ teeth. The serpentine was a European matchlock gun dating from the mid-15th century which held a burning slow match in a clamp at the end of a small curved lever known as the serpentine. Since serpents are associated with the Shadow and also with dragons, Jordan would have approved, and perhaps been inspired by, this name. Dragoon (dragon in French) was the name for a horse-riding, gun-carrying infantryman. The dragon was a short wheel-lock weapon used in the French army; wheel-locks dating to the 15th century and being the first self-igniting firearms. These weapons may have acquired their name from dragon decoration on their muzzles, or from the dragoon on horseback with his burning match and firearm being likened to a fire-breathing dragon.

The word dragoon also means to overcome by the imposition of troops; and by extension to compel by any violent measures or threats. This brings us to the consequences of gunpowder weapons.


With every leap forward in weapons technology comes responsibility for the resulting death toll. Egwene has had dreams of Mat being responsible for changing the world:

Mat sat on a night-shrouded hilltop, watching a grand Illuminator’s display of fireworks, and suddenly his hand shot up, seized one of those bursting lights in the sky. Arrows of fire flashed from his clenched fist, and a sense of dread filled her. Men would die because of this. The world would change.

- A Crown Of Swords, Unseen Eyes

Mat stood on a village green, playing at bowls… There was not another human being in sight. Rubbing the ball between his hands, he took a short run and casually rolled it across the smooth grass. All nine pins fell, scattered as if they had been kicked. Mat turned and picked up another ball, and the pins were back upright. No, there was a fresh set of pins. The old still lay where they had fallen. He hurled the ball again, a lazy underhanded bowl, and Egwene wanted to scream. The pins were not turned pieces of wood. They were men, standing there watching the ball roll toward them. None moved until the ball sent them flying. Mat turned to pick up another ball, and there were more new pins, new men, standing in orderly formation among the men lying sprawled on the ground as if dead. No, they were dead. Unconcerned, Mat bowled…

Everyone of those human pins had represented thousands of men. Of that, she was certain. And an Illuminator was part of it…Yet she had dreamed of it at least twice, not the same dream, exactly, but always the same meaning. Did that make it more likely to come to pass?

- Crossroads of Twilight, In The Night

Does it also reflect the multiple times the weapons will be used?

Haunted by guilt over the repercussions of using these weapons Mat has had dreams where he wept for the death and destruction they will unleash (Knife of Dreams, Dragons’ Eggs). He heard the Dark One’s laughter too, because he knows his use of these weapons will ultimately kill as many people as the Shadow will.

Birgitte, too, is aware of the repercussions:

"The world just changed, Elayne," Birgitte said, shaking her head, long braid swinging slightly. "It just changed in a very large way. I have a terrible feeling that it's only the beginning."

- Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling

She explained further:

"Now—as if it weren't bad enough that men channel openly and the Seanchan use channelers in combat—we have those things. I don't like the way this is going. If any boy with a tube of metal can destroy an entire army…"

A Memory of Light, The Use of Dragons

Previously channellers either never had access to sa’angreal or linking and so could not do vast amounts of damage, or swore on the Oath Rod not to. (Thus it can be seen why male channellers were hunted mercilessly for their destructive potential).

When Elayne saw that the dragons could break city walls (specifically her own city walls) as well as demolish Trolloc armies, she realised that warfare had just been revolutionised and that Rand was right to insist on a world peace pact:

If dragons can do that to a city, she thought, surveying the hole that Talmanes had made in the nearest wall, the world will need to change. Everything we know about warfare will change.

A Memory of Light, That Smouldering City

After that, the eggs fell among Trollocs, ripping through their ranks, tossing them into the air. Thousands of body parts fell to the crimson-splattered ground. For the first time, Elayne was frightened of the weapons.

Light, Birgitte has been right all along, Elayne thought, imagining what it would be like to charge a fortified position equipped with dragons. Normally, in war, at least a man could depend on one thing: that his skill would be placed against that of his foe. Sword against sword. Trollocs were bad enough. What would it be like for men to have to face this kind of power?

We'll make sure it doesn't happen, she told herself. Rand had been right to force that peace upon them.

A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens

Already Aludra is disseminating the secrets of gunpowder:

Aludra now had half of the dragoners trained to build fireworks and handle her powders. She seemed far less secretive than she once had.

A Memory of Light, Epilogue

There were two visions of the future where gunpowder weapons were used on unarmed civilians: in the glass columns in Rhuidean, where Aviendha saw Seanchan traders shoot desperate Aiel with hissing staves (guns) (Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora), and in one of the alternative futures the Dark One made where a stallholder in Caemlyn shot a starving boy (A Memory of Light, The Last Battle).

To get the secrets of gunpowder weapons, all Mat had to do was understand what a bellfounder does in his foundry – which he finally did.


Written by Linda, August 2004 and updated October 2013


Anonymous said...


Fanatic-Templar said...

I worked as a tour guide at a powder mill, not long ago. It's quite interesting to see how much work, and how much risk was involved in simply producing the gunpowder - the components were purchased and shipped from elsewhere.

There were fourteen explosions there in the fifty years it ran (most of them involved the grinding of gunpowder into fine grain - obviously the most ready source of sparks in the entire production chain.

The security measures were also pretty drastic. For example, the entire mill was boardwalked, and workers were forbidden from stepping off from the walkways due to the risk of catching some rock or debris that might cause a spark.

Still, there was never a lack of employees. The powder mill offered very high salaries at the time, due to the risks involved, going up to over two dollars for those assigned to the powder grinding I mentioned earlier.

Linda said...

FT: You worked in a powder mill? Wow! When I researched this, I was surprised at how much effort it took to grind the powder. I was aware of the dangerous nature of the process: for a long while, I thought Mat might lose his eye to an explosion. Once I started writing about the 'Finns, however, I realised that it is more probable that he will lose it rescuing Moiraine.

Fanatic-Templar said...

I worked as a tour guide on the site of a long abandoned powder mill, that has become part of the region's cultural heritage (it's why the town was called Windsor Mills, actually.)

The way you wrote it made it sound like I worked in an actually functional powder mill, which I assuredly did not! ;)

But yeah, I had no idea how dangerous that kind of work was. The mill in question was only functional from 1864 to 1922, but in the course of that time twenty people died from the explosions ( I don't know how many were only wounded, or even maimed.)

And this was a relatively modern setting, compared to what Mat will encounter in The Wheel of Time's world. I do not envy those workers, nor Mat once he realises what he's begun.

old salt said...

As the son of a chemist and one who wanted at one time to follow in his footsteps, this article has long been one of my favs. With the new added material it is even better.


Old(making gunpowder was a laborious and dangerous process)Salt

Anonymous said...

Great article.

I recently re-read KoD, and noticed the rapid development of Mervin Poel's steam-wagon (KoD, Ch. 21). (Showed and commented upon when Rand goes to Tear after the Cleansing).

From it's humble beginnings in Cairhien (first hinted at in LoC, and then seens in the prologue of WH), it is now capable of very fast travel, and powerfull enough to pull scores of carts for hundreds of miles.

Could it be possible that RJ has been foreshadowing the immediate leap to primitive steam-tanks, rather than mirroring the real world's gradual development of horse-drawn cannons, and the tank centuries later?

Would a steam-tank even be feasible, or at all safe?

Linda said...


I have an article on all the inventions at the various academies that I'll re-publish next year.

I don't think there's time to go straight to the steam tank. (The Towers of Midnight will essentially cover the same timeframe as The Gathering Storm did - April to beginning of July. The Last Battle starts soon after). It depends on how much information about the achievements of each academy is spreading. The dragons are being developed in Caemlyn, and the steam tank in Cairhien, though it did a test run down to Tear.

Interestingly, sources of natural gas are being studied in Cairhien. That would be a good alternative to de-forestation. There's no sign of anyone mining coal.

Anonymous said...

Natural gas? When is that mentioned?

Oh noz btw, the dark one must be behind global warming... xD

Linda said...

When Rand visited the academy in Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude.

Incandescent said...

"Cneukpix"? What are cneukpix?

Linda said...

Cneulpix took the photo. I've changed the wording to clear up the confusion.

Anonymous said...

what i don't get about dragons is couldn't enemy channelers blow them up in mid air or make a wall of air in front of them either permanetly although probably not for multiple reasons which i think you can figure out or just a small wall of air in front of the projectile after they see it shot