The Prologue title emphasises deceiving others, or being deceived by them.
Moridin sits meditatively re-playing a past board game. Despite his reputation and the odd spot of acting, he is not as mad as he appears. He has been too effective to be mad, but it makes the other Forsaken wary of him if they think he is. The game is not an academic or idle exercise either. He is using it to work out his strategy in the war against the Light.
Moridin tells us he is playing both sides of the board in the real game. He has seemingly been helping Rand as well as openly opposing him. Since he thinks Rand is moving to his wishes, he approves of Rand ousting Sammael from Illian and killing him – thinning out his more independent rivals - and of sending Perrin and Mat away on long-running errands. Later he will advise Rand on how to permanently remove the Forsaken and aim him at the more dispensable or troublesome ones…
Verin in this chapter is playing both sides in the name of the Light. Her compulsion weave is safe of itself; it is her manipulations that she suggests to her victims that are potentially dangerous. In her rooms at the White Tower she has cupboards and chests filled with ciphered notebooks but in The Gathering Storm she only gives one to Egwene along with her cipher key. With her compulsion, she also tries to find out the identities of Rand’s ‘secret Aes Sedai supporters’. If only Rand had told Verin that the letter offering him support had come from Alviarin…
The Sha’rah game, played on a 13 x 13 board surrounded by a goal row with 33 pieces per player (see the symbolism of 13 and 33) plus an independent bone of contention, the Fisher, is a metaphor for the struggle between the Shadow and the Light, with Rand as the Fisher. One player takes the red side, and the other player the green. It’s a fairly safe bet that Moridin likes to choose red (blood, one of his colours), not green (fertility and life), when he plays.
The Fisher has a real world equivalent, the Fisher King of Arthurian legend who guarded the Holy Grail, San Greal, as Rand did the great sa’angreal. His unhealing wound represents original sin. Rand’s wound is made from the taint that was on saidin, tainted by the Dark One for men’s pride. It is overlain by the Shadar Logoth evil, the hatred of evil that becomes evil itself; hypocrisy is a very ancient and underestimated sin. Weakened by his wound, the Fisher King could not hunt, only fish; hence his name. Since the Fisher was at one with the Land, it could not be healthy while he was wounded and because no one asked about the Fisher’s wounds, the Land wasn’t healed. Nobody really asks about Rand’s wounds either, just Delves them when he is incapacitated, and he isn’t volunteering anything. Four holy objects, the Sword (Callandor or Justice), the Spear (Seanchan sceptre or Mat’s spear), the Cauldron (Bowl of Winds) and the Crown (of Swords) are necessary to restore the Fisher’s Land and Rand.
In Sha’rah the Fisher is always hunted. The real world games that Sha’rah was based on, the Tafl family of games (see Sha’rah and Fisher King article), are considered to be hunting games rather than war games like chess. Sha’rah is more complex, being both a hunting and a war game.
Depending on his square colour, the Fisher has differing moves:
Several pieces had varying moves, but only the Fisher's attributes altered according to where it stood; on a white square, weak in attack yet agile and far-ranging in escape; on black, strong in attack but slow and vulnerable.On the road to Caemlyn, Rand was weak yet elusive, since he could not channel consciously, but he did elude Shadowspawn and Darkfriends. In contrast, during the cleansing of saidin, Rand attacked strongly but was slow and vulnerable. He needed all the extensive defences that Cadsuane organised, and was helpless afterwards until he recovered consciousness. The varying moves weaken the Fisher’s powers since it makes him unstable and also makes playing him or manipulating him more complicated. This symbolises Rand’s vulnerability and tendency to cause chaos, but also his strokes of luck and genius.
- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances
The Fisher changes sides repeatedly during the game and is coloured black and white to reflect this. Likewise there have been attempts to tempt Rand to the Shadow and to force him to do evil along with any good. He was been captured a couple of times and manipulated many more. Neither Rand nor the Fisher is ever safe.
We don’t know how the Fisher is forced to change sides. Perhaps it occurs when he is blocked and taken in custody by one player. In the Tafl games any piece is won by custodial capture - blocked on both sides in either a column or a row by enemy pieces - and the King is won by double custodial capture, when all four squares around him are occupied by enemy pieces, or if he is surrounded on three sides by enemy pieces and on the fourth by the throne square or the side of the board. If at this point the Fisher then becomes a piece of the player who trapped and surrounded him, his previous owner would have to separate him from these now protective pieces and try to take him back into custody.
Moridin does explain most of the ways to win the game:
When the Fisher was yours, you tried to move him to a square of your color behind your opponent's end of the board. That was victory, the easiest way, but not the only one. When your opponent held the Fisher, you attempted to leave him no choice for the Fisher but to move onto your color. Anywhere at all along the goalrow would do; holding the Fisher could be more dangerous than not. Of course, there was a third path to victory in sha'rah, if you took it before letting yourself be trapped. The game always degenerated in a bloody melee, then, victory coming only with complete annihilation of your enemy. He had tried that, once, in desperation, but the attempt had failed. Painfully.A major part of the tactics is manipulating the other player to play the Fisher where you want, not where they want. This reflects the amount of manipulation going on in the war against the Shadow. In fact, it is not possible to win in Sha’rah unless one manipulates the other player, and through them, the Fisher. Ishamael is always manipulating Rand, even when he is in the hands of other ‘players’.
- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances.
Most ways to win in Sha’rah involve getting the Fisher to move onto your colour whether you hold him or not. If you hold him, you move him to the other end of board. If your opponent holds him, you leave them only legal moves which force them to score an ‘own goal’ anywhere on the goal row resulting in your victory.
There is another path to victory, not described fully, which involves being the last man standing. Since you can be trapped using this strategy, it seems to be a last resort. If a player decides to win by eliminating all their opponent’s pieces, the other player would have to do likewise for their own protection. The game would indeed “degenerate into a bloody melee” as Moridin described it, since there are so many pieces to remove. Prior to this scene, Ishamael apparently attempted this once with very painful results. Ishamael was killed in Tear, but this wasn’t a bloody melee. Nor was Falme or the Eye. Lews Therin said Dumai’s Wells was nothing compared to the battles in the War of Power, so Moridin must have been referring to the Age of Legends when he was indeed trapped on the verge of victory.
Moridin is trying to win by manipulating and constraining Rand, surrounding him on all fronts, including inside his head, or disguising his pieces as Rand’s pieces (eg Taim), or subverting Rand’s pieces. The placement of the internal link to Rand was unintentional and hasn’t been successful for manipulatory purposes either, since there is a leakage of influence from Rand to Moridin. Order burns to clear Rand’s path, and Moridin is obstructing Rand as much as possible with conflicting orders, misinformation, subverted aides, distractions (eg rebellion) and multiple enemies (eg Seanchan). Until recently he left Perrin and Mat largely alone, since they appeared to have been distracted from their original instructions, and thus were seemingly not contributing. But now he has commanded they be killed, to free up some space so he can get his own pieces in for the final blocking moves, the double custodianship, on the Fisher King.