Monday, February 22, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #3: Games of Deception

By Linda

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.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

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 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.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances.

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’.

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.


LordJuss said...

I'm surprised you don't mention the 'nine' who remember the game. I'd always thought this was meant to confirm to the reader that Sammael was indeed 'toast' but the timing doesn't work unless this is set after Moridin's later appearance.

Any thoughts?


Linda said...

Well I do, but I did so in the Sha'rah games article. I wanted to talk about other things in this article, not just repeat the other.

The nine were the nine living Forsaken at that time: Moridin/Ishamael, Graendal, Demandred, Semirhage, Mesaana, Moghedien, Osangar/Aginor, Arangar/Balthamel and Cyndane/Lanfear.

Dida said...

Nicely polished article, Linda! =o)

I'm curious though, how and where do you place the scene of Rand al'Thor cutting his finger on the Fisher Stone in tEoW, in a maybe "Dream"?

Ch.24 'Flight Down the Arinelle'

Without thinking he put his finger in his mouth. At the taste of blood, he stopped breathing. Slowly he put his hand close to his face, to where he could see in the dim moonlight, to where he could watch the bead of blood form on his fingertip. Blood from the prick of a thorn.


tEoW book, Chapter 43 'Decision and Apparitions'

“He said the same thing to me. I don’t think he does,” he added slowly. “I don’t think he knows which of us . . . ” Which of us what?
As he levered himself up, pain stabbed his hand. Making his way to the table, he managed to get the candle lit after three tries, then spread his hand open in the light. Driven into his palm was a thick splinter of dark wood, smooth and polished on one side. He stared at it, not breathing. Abruptly he was panting, plucking at the splinter, fumbling with haste.
“What’s the matter?” Mat asked.
Finally he had it, and a sharp yank pulled it free. With a grunt of disgust he dropped it, but the grunt froze in his throat. As soon as the splinter left his fingers, it vanished.


There has been hints that things done in Dreams, are more powerful than in real what can one do with 'blood' gained in a Dream? Either Perrin, nor Mat lose blood in their tEoW book dream scenes. Yet Rand did, and that should be an important difference.

Also, why are you sure that the living nine Chosen at the time includes Cyndane/Lanfear?

Sammael was not yet killed, according the timelines I have seen at both eWOT &


The nine should include:
Osan'gar/Aginor; Aran'gar/Balthamel; Moghedien; Mesaana; Semirhage; Demandred; Graendal; Sammael.

Plot wise, the story seems to be set-up for Lanfear being alive in the Eelfinn realm with Moiraine.

And Moridin assumes Lanfear is out of the picture completely here in tPoD, Prologue. Hence, the creation of a pseudo-Lanfear in the form of Cyndane to throw-off Demandred and the other male Forsaken from Moridin's real game.
Cyndane is not a product of the Age of Legends, according to multiple female Forsaken, so Cyndane would not know the board game Moridin's is referring too.

Too many things Cyndane does, thinks are unlike Lanfear's very own doings, and thoughts for the two characters to be the same soul in a new body. Cyndane's thoughts in WH,Ch.35 are not Lanfear's.

It seems that Moridin has decided to kill off the female Chosen, who doubt that Cyndane is Lanfear. Semirhage was sacrificed to harden Rand's heart; and Graendal was sacrificed to push Rand to use balefire to destroy. Neither Semirhage nor Graendal believed that Cyndane was ever Lanfear. They actually persuaded Demandred that Cyndane may not be Lanfear in fact.

LordJuss said...


You said “The nine were the nine living Forsaken at that time: Moridin/Ishamael, Graendal, Demandred, Semirhage, Mesaana, Moghedien, Osangar/Aginor, Arangar/Balthamel and Cyndane/Lanfear.”

Sammael should also be on this list if Moridin’s appearances are chronological. He appears in tPoD:2 on the same day the Bowl is used. In tPoD:7, Perrin thinks that "more than half a week (>5 days)" has passed since the Bowl was used. The next day (tPoD:10), Perrin meets Queen Alliandre, who says that "four days ago Illian fell to the Dragon Reborn." So Moridin’s appearance in Ebou Dar was several days before Sammael died. The most obvious explanation is that Moridin’s first appearance in the tPoD takes place *after* his second, which is weird. If true, it would be the only case we know of in the entire series where a character appears out of order within a single book. I’d love a better explanation but I can’t think of one.


You said: “why are you sure that the living nine Chosen at the time includes Cyndane/Lanfear?”

Firstly, we know she existed because the second Mindtrap (the one on Cyndane) is seen in aCoS, which definitely takes place before this.

But I think you know that, as the rest of your argument is about Cyndane not being Lanfear at all. You say that “Cyndane's thoughts in WH,Ch.35 are not Lanfear's”

I think this is incorrect for several reasons, all taken from that very chapter. Cyndane thinks of Rand as “Lews Therin”, which seems unlikely if she’s not from the AoL (and is a Lanfear trademark). Also, to quote Cyndane’s thoughts regarding Alivia, “She was stronger than Cyndane had been before the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn held her”. So, Cyndane was stronger at a previous time (and we know from Graendal that Cyndane is weaker than Lanfear) and, more importantly, we know that Cyndane was held at some point by the Aelfinn/Eelfinn. What are the chances that a fake-Lanfear, created in the modern age, would also have been held by the very creatures whose realm we last saw Lanfear enter? Very little I think.

Equally, she thinks of weaving the flows as a “web”, a phrase only used by those from the AoL.



old salt said...

Verin's notes:
I picked up on that too, but I'm wondering if it's only an error. It's been a while since I read about Egwene's reading of the book that Verin gave her, but from what I can remember, it was presented as the complete record. An obvious out for team Jordan would be to say that Verin condensed all those notebooks into one volume, and that fact got left out of the final edit somehow. The other possibility is the old plot ploy of "more shall be revealed later" Tho I'm somewhat in doubt of this. My sense is that it was simply an error, they can't catch everything.

Old(if they caught everything what would we write about?)Salt

Anonymous said...

I've got a completely off-topic question. Has anyone tried to put the stories in "The Road to the Spear" and "The Dedicated" into some kind of chronological organization?

We know the oldest stories happen during the collapse, the strike at Shayol Ghul and the Breaking, but then it all becomes very misty. When did the first Aiel pick up the Spear? When did the first Maiden pick up the spear? When did the Aiel get water from the proto-Cahirienin? When did they cross the Spine of the World? When did the Jenn start building Rhuidean? When were the chiefs first called to Rhuidean (this has to have been during the last 1000 years, as it's infered that Arthur Hawkwing invaded the waste earlier than that)? When did the last Jenn die? And so on.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Old Salt. This sounds like a mistake and not a mistake at the same time.

Perhaps it's a simple continuity error. Jordan had in mind (but did not specify in his plot outline) to have Egwene return to Verin's rooms with the cypher book Verin gave her to "read and find out" (eh, eh...), perhaps finding other things too, like Coriennin's (sp?) writings?

Perhaps it's a change made on purpose, because Brandon couldn't have Egwene go to Verin's rooms so early in the "trilogy", whereas in the original AMOL that scene was taking place fairly late into it (near the two-third mark, as far as we can guess - not a whole lot before the LB starts).

No doubt Brandon had to keep a few Verin aces up his sleeve. In the original AMOL, we probably learned a few more things that have gone on with Verin before the meeting with Egwene. Brandon probably had to tweak a few things to make it work in the context of three books. He may have postponed to books 2 or 3 material Verin was supposed to tell Egwene, and Brandon had Egwene also unable to afford time to read DO/Shadow stuff not BA-related... for now.

He teased us with her letter to Mat (that he would probably have opened not a very long time after the Egwene scenes) but he's kept us in the dark about the few weeks between the meeting with Mat and the Egwene-Verin scenes. In the original version, we probably got to learn about what else she's done in that time, before we get to learn what it was all about, with the Egwene-Verin scenes shortly before TG starts.

Linda said...

Lord Juss:

There are two other explanations.

One is that Moridin should have said nine other people remembered Sha'rah. It's not as though that sort of error hasn't happened before.

The other is that one of the Forsaken has no interest or knowledge of board games. That is not unusual. I've found that many people lack knowledge of board or card games. Aran'gar or Osan'gar for instance are the oblivious types.

The short answer is that yes, I did work out rough dates for the Aiel history.

LordJuss said...

I've never been keen on the forsaken who doesn't care about games theory. The exact phrase is

"Only nine people living even remembered the game"

The use of "even" in there implies a minimum level of knowledge.

However, the nine other people suggestion seems fair.


Hans said...

I had always read Moridin's comment on the third way to win sha'rah differently. I think he is implying that the game can only be won by the complete annihilation of your enemy if the Fisher King is killed. The main paths to victory hinge on using the Fisher or manipulating his actions; if he is removed from play, annihilation is the only option left.

This suggests a reason for his saving Rand's life when they meet in Shadar Logoth at the end of ACoS: that as the Dragon/Fisher King, Rand provides a clearer path to victory alive and manipulable.

Apparently Moridin was already burned once when forced to this tactic, though unfortunately I can't point to the event in WoT history (as Lews Therin survived the attack on Shayol Ghul, if only to go mad from the taint).

Linda said...

Hans: That is why I don't think your interpretation works. Whenever Moridin was able to use this tactic in the war against the Shadow the Dragon was alive, not dead - in either the AOL or the Third Age.

Moridin made no qualification in his description of the third way just that it involved a bloody melee and that you had to move quickly before you were trapped.

old salt said...

I have always thought that the "all out attack" that Moridin referred to was the OP battle at the end of tDR. You must admit it ended rather badly for Moridin/Ishy as he ended up dead. He obviously was trying to kill Rand, and even if he did end up with a nice new body, I'm sure the experience was unpleasant. I think it was Aginor who refered to "the second much more horrific sleep".

Old(anytime you die can't be good)Salt

Hans said...

Thanks, Old Salt, for bringing up the Rand/Ishy fight at the end of tDR. I hadn't considered this example, since Rand/Fisher/Dragon lives through it, but having considered it, I actually think it supports my point.

Note that Ishy really is trying to kill Rand in this fight. While up to this point he's been (rather unsubtly) trying to manipulate him still into the Shadow's camp, you don't try to manipulate someone with balefire. (I had a moment of awe when Rand splits the balefire in two with Callandor, protecting himself: "Callandor can do that???") Seeing Callandor in your enemy's hands should certainly push you to act 'in desperation,' and Ishy does so in an attempt to kill Rand (or, in the game analogy, remove the Fisher from play) that leads to his painful demise.

Of course the other Forsaken try to kill Rand all the time, and we think nothing of it. But they're not playing Sha'rah; Moridin/Ishy is. His wholehearted attempt to kill Rand should therefore surprise us, and in retrospect, I agree is probably the event he's describing in tPoD Sha'rah scene. If that's true, then killing Rand/the Fisher is what starts the degeneration of the game into a bloody melee which Moridin describes.

My position also makes sense from a game perspective. Even if the game gets quite bloody and players are losing pieces left and right, so long as one player controls the Fisher King the first path to victory is still open to her (and the second to her opponent). As soon as the opponent loses enough of his force that he is 'trapped', the player with the Fisher King will proceed to win in the usual way, uncontested. I see no way that a real game could end in total annihilation if the Fisher is alive, as it will always be the center of both players strategy.

Thanks for your responses, Linda & Old Salt! Incidentally, I think the future will be interesting on this topic, due to Rand's revelation at the end of tGS (is the Fisher King no longer blind?) and the effect of Min's comment on Nynaeve and Cadsuane. Perhaps Moridin will find that Rand is not playing Sha'rah, either.

Linda said...

Since the game shows the strategy, how is the Fisher forced to change sides in it, and how is it killed - if it can be?

Perhaps a single custodial capture forces the Fisher to change sides (though that would not be too difficult, which is why I thought a double custody would be necessary, plus the capturing pieces then become the new guard) and a double custodial capture results in the Fisher's death.

Linda said...


Some of the Aiel Chronology is discussed in this The Shadow Rising Read-through post.