Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #23: War Comes to Emond's Field part 2: Bloody Sunday

War Comes to Emond's Field, part 2: Bloody Sunday

by Dominic

On Amadaine 14, the day before the Sunday festival (the important midsummer day of Festival that takes place between Amadaine 14 and Amadaine 15 - more discussion on why RJ attached quite a few battles with the Shadow to his festivals in the future read-throughs), as Perrin Aybara came back from his expedition to the East of the Two Rivers to hunt Shadowspawn he found Emond's Field much changed. The village was now completely surrounded by a wide low hedge of spikes, broken only at the main roads, where carts and wagons were used to block entrance. Every fence, hedge and low stone walls dividing the fields and pastures closest to the village had been sacrificed - crops higher than barley stubble had been scrapped (again much of what's green has to be sacrificed), every tree in a perimeter of 500 paces (250 spans, 1/4 mile) from the spikes hedge had been cut leaving a field of low stumps, and the men were still hard at work pushing the woods back even further (they will have pushed them back to 600 paces by the time of the final battle). Many of the farmers around had regrouped in Emond's Fields and the villagers were sending the flocks out to the closet remaining pastures only in large groups (equivalent to ten men's flocks, according to Perrin) with many more shepherds than usual. More wagons and carts had been used to block the spaces between houses. The Green was now crowded with sheep, cows and geese.

The hedge of spikes is of course meant to break or at least slow down charges by Trollocs, the cleared out perimeter (which we had first seen used in Shienar, all around the town of Fal Dara) is meant to give a clear bow shot and to deprive the Shadowspawn of any cover.

Very interestingly, Robert Jordan chose to give the farmers of the Two Rivers their own iconic weapon: the Two Rivers longbow. This choice was not innocent and reflects his theme that the characters from this area bring a massive transformation to the world and most of all to the world's leadership, largely in the hands of nobles, several of which Rand ended up 'casting down', while both Perrin and Mat find their different ways to nobility. Rand, Mat, Perrin and Egwene are turning the old order upside down so a new Age might arise, each in their own way. The Two Rivers longbow (which is fairly unique in the series' world, though now spreading to the Band and such) is largely based on the English longbow, the medieval weapon that contributed massively to bring an end to the age of chivalry and the domination of heavily armored mounted knights in battles (all of them nobles, of course), most famously with the Battles of Crécy and Agincourt, where the French nobility met disaster. The longbow became for a time the iconic symbol of the commoner soldier, as the common men gradually displaced the mounted armies of nobles from the field. This change is also beginning to happen in the story, between the Band of the Red Hand and the Legion of the Dragon, though for different reasons. Though this happened earlier in history than the period of reference from which Jordan took his inspiration for material life in the series (16th to 18th centuries), this delay is coherent with his decision that gunpowder has not yet been introduced. In the series, the real nobility of the arms is in decline in several nations outside the Borderlands (from Tear to Cairhien etc.), with professional armies emerging while nobles dedicate themselves more and more to politics and to enriching themselves.

Another thematic element associated to the longbow is that it is a weapon that while very deadly against a single target with good marksmanship (also for hunting, its primary purpose in the Two Rivers), in battle it is most effective when used in large volleys at long range to break charges, which goes hand in hand with RJ's theme that the people need to regroup, come together and work together - learn to be as one - if they want to be able to keep the Shadow at bay and defeat it, completing thematically with the weaponry used in those scenes the alliance of the villages that save Emond's Field at the end. Jordan liked to use the Two Rivers' longbowmen in such situations: in The Shadow Rising in the Two Rivers where all the villages come together; again in Lord of Chaos where they are part of an impromptu multinational alliance lead by Perrin of Aiel, Cairhienin and Mayeners (including even Aes Sedai) to save Rand at Dumai's Wells; and again at Malden, where Perrin makes an alliance with the Seanchan.

There is a very good article on the Two Rivers longbow on The Compendium of Weaponry and Military Costuming in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time site, to which I redirect readers who want to look at the subject in more details. I will cover here the basics that relate to the map. Before doing so, I'll discuss briefly Jordan's system of measurements (the Compendium is also a good resource for a more in depth discussion of this). Jordan apparently told some readers his foot was equivalent to the real life's one, however there is much evidence from the series to suggest the foot is slightly shorter. Paul at the Compendium found evidence the foot might be somewhat under 11 inches, which seems to fit best with real life information on weapons. Following this, Linda and myself decided to take a guess that the inch is approximately the same size as in real life, which makes 10 inches to his foot, 30 inches to a pace, 2 paces to a span, and a thousand spans to his mile. RJ's miles would be 60000 inches instead of the 63360 inches to the mile in real life. This estimation makes the Two Rivers longbow more effective than the best English longbows, but not terribly so. The Mary Rose, for instance, could cover a range of 360 yards, which would correspond to 432 of RJ's paces. Perrin calls 500 paces 'a longbow shot', and in action on the Sunday battle, the farthest arrows fell 'about a hundred paces short' of the woods, so around 400 paces. This estimation put the Two Rivers longbows with the best of the English longbows. Tam al'Thor, who lead the longbowmen in the Sunday battle, had them shoot their first volleys has the Shadowspawn reached the 300 paces mark only - that's probably his estimate of the distance at which the volleys would have been most deadly - more accurate than at full range, and with greater strength to pierce armour.

The Two Rivers bowmen used their traditional broadhead arrows though all these battles. Neither Perrin nor the Warders (or Faile) apparently introduced Haral Luhhan to the chiseled type used in Shienar and the borderlands, designed to pierce the Trollocs' crude armour (Rand and Mat came to use them in The Great Hunt, and we concur with Paul's idea at the Compendium that they acquired those arrows in Shienar, the Two Rivers hunters would have had no need for those). Those Borderlander arrows would correspond to the classic bodkin point arrow that came to be used with English longbows, and which introduced changes in the type of armour worn by knights, lighter and ridged, designed to deflect the bodkin points.

Other weaponry used in the Sunday battle includes an assortment of old halberds and polearms and such found in attics and all sort of makeshift pikes assembled from agricultural tools. This motif of the people turning every day objects into weapon is very present in the series, especially associated to the Two Rivers. Back in TEOTW, the blacksmith hammer that becomes iconic to the Wolf-King was already wielded by Alsbeth, the blacksmith's wife. Working from descriptions by the warders Tomas (Verin's) and Ihvon (Alanna's), the carpenters and Master Luhhan assembled simple catapults (the type with a central beam). Through the battle, the two Aes Sedai put weaves on field stones used for projectiles that make them explode, seemingly on contact. The exact range of these catapults is not given, though Perrin describes them in action at the same time the Trollocs had reached the 300 paces mark. By the time of the Sunday battle, six catapults had already been completed. One was located on the side of the road to the South, two more were placed on the Western side of the village. The locations of the three others, to the North and East are purely illustrative on the map, though it sounds likely one was at the East end of the village and two were placed on the more exposed northern side that also has the Westwood in the West.

The map of the events of Sunday 999 NE

(1) The wide low hedge of spikes, all around the village, some distance from the last houses.

(A) Marks the 500 paces mark, what Perrin calls 'a longbow shot', likely the distance reached by the best and strongest bowmen, like Abell and Tam.

(B) Marks the 300 paces mark, the distance from the hedge reached by the Shadowspawn at which Tam orders the first volleys to be launched.

(C) Marks the 50 paces mark, the closest to the hedge some Trollocs managed to get.


The Events:

As Perrin, recently healed and still very weak, wakes up at the Winespring Inn in early morning of Sunday, there is some commotion and a large crowd of villagers assembled at the West end of the village to which he rides Stepper to investigate. Faile riding Swallow at his side, they are accompanied by a mounted escort of the local younglings who have begun to call themselves the Companions - a sure sign the normally extremely reserved Tam al'Thor has recently started to tell stories of his soldiering life as officer of the Illianer Companions. Interestingly, with this Jordan gave the future Wolk-King, his 'unifying' Hawkwing-like character, Lews Therin's Companions the Dragon Reborn doesn't have this time around.

At the West edge, Perrin learns a lone Trolloc scout or wanderer was seen and attacked by the men still doing woodcutting at the edge of the Westwood (wounding a few, which were healed by Alanna and Verin). Bain and Chiad had gone in pursuit and came back, announcing the imminent arrival of a Shadowspawn army, perhaps five hundred strong, that was then a mile or two at most behind them. The shepherds and flocks in the pastures are warned to return by Abell, as the two Aes Sedai prepare for battle at the catapults (3) (We do not know the exact positions of Verin and Alanna, placing the first to the south and the second to the north is illustrative only) and Tam al'Thor takes command of the Emond's Field's forces. Tam placed around a hundred men with the pikes and halberds in a single line along the hedge (5). They kneel to clear the way to the longbowmen, around 200 of them, arranged in two lines (4) behind the "pikemen".

The crowd is sent behind the last houses. The Companions have gone into the village and, having dismounted and left the horses behind, they return armed with their longbows (and the portable, bannerman's version of Wolf-Head Banner), surrounding Perrin and Faile who stand behind the lines (2).

After a time that seemed interminable to Perrin, the Shadow's army pours of the Westwood (8), perhaps five hundred Trollocs lead by three Myrddraal that ride back and forth to the rear, urging the Trollocs forward.

A few stray arrows are immediately shot (reaching 400 paces for the best ones, about a hundred paces short of the vanguard) by panicky untrained farmers before Tam manages to bring order back and remind them they need to shoot together at this order and wait until the Trollocs have reached the 300 paces mark (B). The catapults are put into action, sending the exploding stones in the midst of the Shadowspawn. The firing rate of the Aes Sedai decreases fast (Perrin will learn later those weaves are very taxing on the sisters). Soon, Tam's orders for volleys stop and the archers begin to spread out and take targets.

The battle is over in minutes, most of the Shadowspawn dead - only a few were seen escaping through the wood. The closest to the hedge of spikes some Trollocs have reached was 50 paces (C). The Emond's Fielders celebrate the 'great victory' but Tam, the warders and Perrin know better: the Myrddraal would have known this attack would forcibly fail, this was just a test of the village's defenses and defenders.

After the battle, Perrin rides to the South entrance (6) where the men left to guard have clustered (many of the older men and drunks were there, seemingly Tam had called to the West end most of the forces of the village to face the threat). Pretending at first they have also faced Shadowspawn, Perrin's keen eyesight soon disabuses Cenn Buie and his companions: hiding behind the first stone wall left standing about 500 paces away (7) are about 20 of the Tuatha'an, the first survivors to reach Emond's Field from Raen's caravans that faced a disastrous attack by Trollocs some distance south from the Aybara farm, on the edge of the Waterwood in the East (and many miles off the border of the map). The attack killed most of Raen's people, who learn the harshest way the price to the followers of the Way of the Leaf to have isolated themselves from the people.

Much later the same day, it's the arrival of 2 long files of horsemen (about 400 of them) on the North Road that causes a new commotion. Dain Bornhald had come to arrest Perrin. Perrin makes a deal with him: he will give himself up after the crisis has abated, if Bornhald will stay to participate in the defense of Emond's Field.


The third and last part of this article will cover the final battle of Emond's Field. Not to further delay the read-throughs, this last post for The Shadow Rising will be published between posts for The Fires of Heaven... as soon as the map is ready. :)

1 comment:

Linda said...

The longbow shows some of the beauty of RJ's world building.

There's the history of the development of weapons of course. It links the Two Rivers with the rest of Andor, Andor being Elizabethan in flavour. The Two Rivers is an outpost which has forgotten that link to the extent that the longbow is almost the only Elizabethan thing left there.

The longbowmen being able to counter the noble knight hastened the end of feudalism. The Two Rivers is one of the more democratic societies of RJ's world. The main character who uses the longbow most is Mat, and he is anti-noble. He has major parallels with the Jack playing card, which symbolises a foot soldier and farmer (described in the Mat parallels essay and the Fool and Joker essay).

I love the irony that the Two Rivers didn't have nobles until this very book when the longbow is finally used again in war!