Towers of Midnight, the second to last book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, is brimming over with amazing moments, from Perrin’s battles with Slayer, Egwene’s machinations in the Tower, Rand’s defense of Maradon, the forging of Perrin’s hammer, Mat’s rescue of Moiraine, and onward. To Wheel of Time readers, these moments were somewhat expected. They’re all main characters, after all, so of course they’re all going to do something fantastic.
What really took readers and fans like myself by surprise were the two gut-wrenching chapters near the end of the book where Aviendha watches the slow unraveling of the Aiel people. Shortly after the publication of Towers of Midnight there was some question as to whether Aviendha had actually seen the future past The Last Battle and, if so, if that future was fluid. A Memory of Light answered both of these questions, but it left a smaller one behind. Namely: Exactly how far in time did Aviendha see?
This isn’t a question that demands an answer, but it’s our only glimpse into the series’ Fourth Age and I like theorizing about the Fourth Age as well as deducing exact figures from environmental clues. Aviendha’s trip through the “way-forward ter’angreal” is difficult to pin down, but given the clues from the book itself, as well as some confirmed facts about Aes Sedai from the forthcoming Wheel of Time Companion encyclopedia, I was able to arrive at a likely number for Aviendha’s trip through time.
It turns out that passing through the Rhuidean ter’angreal again causes Aviendha to see six iterations, or generations, of Aiel that turn out to be her descendants. The ter’angreal starts Aviendha at the very last descendant of her bloodline and works its way back to Aviendha’s direct offspring. What follows is that same journey, reversed into chronological order.
Note: The Last Battle occurs in the year 1000 NE (New Era) according to the in-universe calendar. For the sake of clarity we’ll continue to use that numbering even though the turning of the Age may have called for a new calendar.
What Happens: This viewing reveals all four of Aviendha and Rand’s prophecied quadruplets, and also reveals that all four have the highly unusual quality of being able to automatically channel since birth. We see this viewing through the perspective of Aviendha’s daughter Padra, and learn that Padra has one sister, Marinna, and two brothers: Alarch and Janduin. We also meet Ronam, Rhuarc and Lian’s son.
The links to Aviendha, Rand, and the Last Battle are directly stated in this iteration. It has been 17 years since Tarmon Gai’don. It is highly likely that the quadruplets were conceived during Rand and Aviendha’s night together at the beginning of A Memory of Light, that means that in the viewing Padra and her brethren are 16 years old.
At the end of the viewing, the 11 clan chiefs gathered in Arad Doman declare war on the Seanchan.
Notable Revelations: Tuon’s rule of Seanchan is “honorable” but doesn’t last long. Mat’s fate becomes ominous as a result, and since we hear of damane and sul’dam in subsequent iterations, this must mean that even if Tuon introduced reforms to halt the collaring of channelers, those reforms were surely reversed upon her assassination.
We also know that this iteration likely never comes to pass, since Aviendha was able to warn Rand in A Memory of Light to include the Aiel in the Dragon’s Peace, an agreement they are clearly not beholden to in Aviendha’s viewing.
Huh?: A huge meeting of Aiel leaders that hasn’t been seen since before The Last Battle? Why wouldn’t Aviendha be there?
Years After The Last Battle: 17 (1017 NE)
What Happens: We see through the perspective of Oncala, a Maiden of the Spear, as she visits a rebuilt Caemlyn and tricks the ruler of Andor into joining the Aiel’s war against the Seanchan.
Andor’s ruler is not Elayne but her granddaughter Talana, a “middle-aged woman with deep, lustrous red hair.” Oncala mentions that the grandmothers of both her and Talana were first-sisters, signifying their relationship to Aviendha and Elayne. Despite this relationship, Oncala is extremely arrogant and contemptuous of Talana and pretty much all “wetlanders,” since they have stayed neutral in the Aiel’s four-decades-long war with the Seanchan. Oncala presents Talana with Seanchan plans for the assassination of all neutral rulers, but doesn’t tell Talana that these are only theoretical contingency plans. It is heavily implied that Andor and its allied powers will join the war against the Seanchan.
Notable Revelations: Rhuidean is under siege by Seanchan forces but the Seanchan have otherwise stayed in the lands they conquered before The Last Battle. Talana’s brother is the captain-of-arms in Andor, continuing a long Andoran tradition.
No mention is made as to whether Oncala, Talana, or Talana’s brother can channel.
The Two Rivers is mentioned separately from Andor, implying that it does eventually become its own country. The Court of the Sun is mentioned, which we know means the alliance between Andor and Cairhien. The Pact of the Griffin is also mentioned, which we know through the marriage of Faile and Perrin means the alliance between Saldaea, the Two Rivers, and the Two Rivers’s liege nation Ghealdan.
Years After The Last Battle: 57? (1057 NE?)
Huh?: Where is Queen Elayne? While an Aes Sedai’s age can range from 200 to 800 years dependent on her strength in the One Power, thanks to this Wheel of Time Companion entry regarding the Oath Rod, we know that the Oaths restrict an Aes Sedai’s lifespan to 300 years. Elayne was born in 981 NE, and even though she was ordered by Egwene to take the Aes Sedai Oaths, she would still be in the first third of her lifespan by the time of this viewing. So where is she?
It’s possible that Elayne rules from Cairhien, or has created a new capital city for the Court of the Sun (possibly from Aringill), ruling ceremonially from there. It’s also possible that Elayne has abdicated her throne to her offspring in order to serve as an ambassador. Alternately, Elayne may actually be Amyrlin at this point in time, since Cadsuane Sedai would have reached the end of her lifespan. There is, of course, a more simple and grim explanation, one that would fit the “tone” of this timeline: Elayne dies well before her time.
Even if Elayne dies prematurely, there remains the question of the fate of her and Rand’s twins. They are conceived in February of 1000 NE, putting their arrival in November of that same year. All we know for sure is that one of the twins survives childbirth, although it’s quite possible that both do, since Auntie Nynaeve, World’s Best Healer would probably watch over Elayne like a hawk. If both survive, one of them probably inherits the Cairhienien throne, with the other getting Andor.
Elayne becomes pregnant at age 18 or 19, but she was in a hurry since her lover was fated to die in only a few months. We don’t know when Talana’s mother becomes pregnant, but Talana is mentioned as being middle-aged, which would probably signify that she’s in her 40’s or older, since Morgase, who ages from 40 to 43 over the course of the series, is also considered to be transitioning into middle-age.
This doesn’t quite mesh with the birth year of Elayne’s twins, though. Whether Elayne is connected to Talana through a son or a daughter, that child would have to be very young, bordering on adolescence, in conceiving or impregnating Talana. Neverthless, it’s possible that Elayne has a daughter that has Talana when she is 16, making Talana 40 in Aviendha’s viewing, but it’s also just as likely that Talana is physically the age that Elayne’s daughter would be, if Elayne’s daughter did not inherit the ability to channel. (Unlikely as that seems.)
If Talana is born only 16 years after the Last Battle, and Elayne is gone, then that leaves open the question of the fate of Talana’s parents. It’s possible that Talana was born to Elayne’s son, but also possible that Talana was born to Elayne’s daughter, but that Elayne’s daughter did not survive childbirth, necessitating Talana’s accession to the throne.
The apparent age of Elayne’s offspring would fit much more comfortably if we added ten years to Aviendha’s viewing. However, this iteration clearly states that it is 40 years ahead of the iteration before it. And the timespan fits quite well with the apparent age of Oncala. Since both she and her mother have been spending their lives fighting the Seanchan, that probably means Padra delayed having children until her late 20s or early 30s, putting Oncala’s age in the viewing in roughly the same range. Elayne’s progeny raises a ton of questions, but the answer to all of those is probably: tragedy.
Years After The Last Battle: 57 (1057 NE)
What Happens: The Seanchan took Andor’s entry into the Aiel’s war as the breaking of the Dragon’s Peace and promptly returned to collaring channelers, both wetlander and Aiel. In the war that followed, all of Aviendha and Rand’s four lines of progeny were killed off with the exception of Ladalin, a Wise One of the Taardad Aiel, who is the woman that Aviendha has her viewing through. Ladalin is quite old and cannot channel (hence her survival), and through her recollection we learn how the Seanchan have progressed during the war. In this viewing, Ladalin learns that the White Tower, the last bastion of open resistance, has fallen to Seanchan forces.
Important Revelations: Andor fell to the Seanchan twenty years before this viewing, as did Cairhien, Illian, and the Black Tower. In Ladalin’s recollection, the Aiel have been retreating for “decades.” She recalls growing up as a child in Almoth Plain, but then being forced gradually down to Tear, and finally into the Spine of the World. The older amongst the Aiel still recall the blood of the Dragon and the Car’a’carn. It should be noted at this point that this branch of Aviendha’s progeny, from Ladalin onward, cannot channel the One Power.
From her physical condition, we get the impression that Ladalin is in her mid-40s to mid-60s. Since she remembers living in Almoth Plain as Andor entered the war, her mother is most likely Oncala. It’s possible that there is another generation between Oncala and Ladalin, which would add 15 to 30 years to the events in Ladalin’s recollection, but this strains credibility, since the Seanchan really ramp up their aggression after Andor enters the war, capturing Rhuidean, most of the Wise Ones, and leaving the Aiel stalled as a culture, meaning that the Seanchan would probably be farther along in their invasion. This leaves us with a range of 50 to 90 years after Oncala’s iteration, or a range of 50 to 70 years if we accept that Ladalin is Oncala’s child.
Huh?: There’s actually no confusion in this iteration. Ladalin is very probably as old as she should be, considering the intervening events.
Years After The Last Battle: 100-120 (1100-1120 NE)
What Happens: 14-year-old girl Tava lives in a canyon in the Three-Fold Land, the last and most secret Aiel stronghold left. At least until that night, when the Seanchan sweep in with raken and attack. Tava is nearly killed by one until her father Rowahn rushes in with a sword and kills the Seanchan soldier. Once the battle is over, Rowahn urges the Aiel to rebuild their village but this proves to be the last straw for the Aiel, and the village disbands.
Important Revelations: Rowahn is considered an oddity amongst the Aiel for wearing the veil and clothes of their ancestors, instead of the more modern garb that the rest of the Aiel wear, and referring to them as a clan and referencing ji’e’toh. Tava knows that Rowahn inherited those clothes from his grandfather, who stressed that Rowahn remember the old ways of the Aiel.
The Seanchan are allied with Shara now (called The Far Ones) and have primitive guns.
Rowahn uses a sword, which is no longer forbidden, even though some of the Aiel still consider it to be bad luck.
This is the first confirmed generational skip in Aviendha’s viewings, possibly because Rowahn is male. If this is the case, it would mean that the ter’angreal can only show Aviendha the stories of her female progeny. There is some support for this argument when considering that Rand saw through only male Aiel when he walked through the glass columns in The Shadow Rising.
The narrative mentions that Rowahn inherited his clothing from his grandfather, so Tava is at minimum Ladalin’s great-grandchild, with Rowahn being Ladalin’s grandson. Emotionally, it seems likely that the generation skip probably doesn’t go further than that, as Ladalin’s family would have had the Aiel’s legacy weighing heavily on their minds after the taking of Rhuidean.
Since Ladalin is old when we see her, Rowahn’s father is most likely already born and an Aiel warrior in his 20s. Rowahn himself is probably born shortly before or after Ladalin’s iteration. If Rowahn has Tava when he is in his 20s, then we’re probably 40 years ahead of Ladalin’s iteration.
Interestingly enough, the presence of Seanchan with firearms doesn’t actually tell us much in regards to how much time has passed since The Last Battle, as cannons (introduced at the end of the series) and handheld firearms developed in parallel with each other upon the discovery of gunpowder. The Seanchan probably carried personal firearms earlier than this iteration, actually.
Years After The Last Battle: 140-160 (1140-1160 NE)
What Happens: Oh god, this iteration… We see through the eyes of Norlesh and learn that the Aiel as a people are now nomadic beggars wandering the Waste. Norlesh and her husband Metalan have had five children but only two are alive in the viewing, a baby named Garlvan and Norlesh’s second youngest, a girl named Meise. Metalan tries to trade rocks of metal ore for food, but the merchants and miners stationed at the Spine of the World won’t trade with Aiel, as the Seanchan forbid it. Metalan and Norlesh’s family leave without food and Garlvan dies quietly of starvation.
Important Revelations: The Seanchan are in complete control of the Randland continent and are now known as the Raven Empire. Higher class Seanchan are known as Illuminated Ones. Technology has proceeded apace, and the Raven Empire utilizes electricity and cars.
Norlesh mentions that Tava is her grandmother, establishing another generational skip.
The Aiel are now living in poverty and are forced to live a nomadic lifestyle in a land that provides little food or water, so their life expectancy should plummet. We can look to present day populations in two of the world’s poorest countries with similar climates, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to get an expectation of how long Aiel would live in this kind of environment. Life expectancy in these countries is 59 years of age, but only if you manage to live past 40.
In general, poverty also increases birth rates, as we see evidenced by the fact that Norlesh has had 5 children. Present-day Uganda is also a good parallel when considering Norlesh’s birth rate:
A typical Ugandan woman gives birth to seven children—an extraordinarily high fertility rate that has remained largely unchanged for more than 30 years. Half the population is under 15, and will soon move into childbearing age. Only one in five married women has access to contraception.
From this we can determine that Norlesh is probably 21 to 30 years old, and likely on the younger end of that range. Norlesh’s sole surviving child, Meise, was probably born when Norlesh was 20, and since Norlesh’s mother and Tava were in a similar situations, let’s assume that they all had their children at the age of 20, as well. Tava would have had her offspring 5 to 6 years after her iteration, and her offspring would have had Norlesh 20 years after that. Add another 20 for Norlesh’s age when she had Meise, and another 5 years for Meise’s assumed age during the time of the viewing. This gives us a 50 year jump from Tava’s iteration.
Years After The Last Battle: 190-210 (1190-1210 NE)
Sixth (And Final) Iteration
What Happens: The 18 year old Malidra sneaks into an Illuminated Ones camp at the foot of the mountains of the Spine of the World, looking for food in their trash pile or something else valuable. The Aiel are just a name now, not a people with grand traditions and culture. Malidra is shot by a guard while sneaking into the camp and thus ends Aviendha and Rand’s lineage.
Important Revelations: Malidra continues the cycle of poverty we learned of in Norlesh’s iteration. She is the last of four sisters, is constantly starving and scavenging, and has little to no education. She doesn’t believe that there is any land beyond the Spine of the World, and knows the Raven Empire as “Lightmakers” due to their usage of electric lights.
The Seanchan are building a transcontinental railroad between Randland and Shara. They also have the ability to make Malidra “vanish with a stare,” which suggests that damane are still in use.
Malidra also refers to her people as “the Folk,” although the Seanchan guard refers to her as a “bloody Aiel.”
Norlesh is probably Malidra’s grandmother, since Meise had no sisters and Norlesh most likely did not live long enough to have three more daughters. That makes Meise the mother of Malidra. If we assume the same average birth rates and life expectancy established in Norlesh’s iteration, then Meise has Malidra 15 years after we see her in Norlesh’s viewing. With Malidra’s stated 18 years of age, that puts us 33 to 40 years ahead of Norlesh’s iteration. Let’s call it a straightforward 35 years.
Years After The Last Battle: 225-245 (1225-1245 NE)
Gods, recounting all of that is depressing. I now have a newfound appreciation for the reverse chronological order in which these scenes were presented in Towers of Midnight.
All in all, the reader moves through eleven generations of over a span of around 250 years.
- Aviendha + Rand
- Oncala (from Padra)
- Norlesh (+ Metalan)
- Meise (+ Garlvan)
- Meise (+ Garlvan)
- Norlesh (+ Metalan)
- Oncala (from Padra)
That many generations should actually take more than 300 years to play out, on average, but the Aiel’s dissolution shortens that considerably in the second half of Aviendha and Rand’s lineage.
It’s possible that there are generations we skip past entirely, and that the final iteration is 300 years, or more, after The Last Battle, but I doubt the ter’angreal shows Aviendha more than 300 years. The presence of the railroad 300 years-ish after the Last Battle actually tracks really well with the state of information and technology as it stands after A Memory of Light. Randland carries technology and techniques that are roughly equivalent to the 15th and 16th centuries, so it makes sense in comparison with our own history that the Raven Empire wouldn’t develop a continent-spanning railroad until 300 years later. In addition, extending Aviendha’s lineage further than 300 years, to 400 years, would lead to a startling change in the world we see. Humanity had television and tanks and atomic bombs 100 years after the railroad, and there’s certainly nothing of that nature in Malidra’s iteration.
A facet of the Wheel of Time that I kept coming back to while mapping Aviendha’s journey out was the absence of major channelers in her visions. We are eventually given an explanation, in Ladalin’s iteration, as to how channelers are being winnowed, but considering that so many of the Wheel of Time’s major characters are channelers, did all of them get taken down or captured by Seanchan? Aviendha’s ter’angreal future is ominous in regards to Elayne’s fate, and it never states what happens to Aviendha herself. Since Avi is strong in the One Power and not bound by the Oath Road, she could enjoy quite a few centuries of life before succumbing to old age. Which is more than enough time to help her descendants out in the Waste.
Since war comes to both their peoples, it’s easy to assume that both Avi and Elayne are killed or collared. Considering Rand’s new god-powers at the end of the series, he could probably end the Seanchan war at a stroke, but it seems unlikely that he ever becomes a major player on the world stage again. Not including the Aiel in the Peace is what leads to the future Aviendha sees, and that seems to have have lots of ripple effects, as well. Perhaps an Aiel kills a Seanchan warrior in a minor fracas, a warrior that would have otherwise been in the right place and right time to prevent Tuon’s assassination, which Mat possibly falls victim to, as well. Since the Seanchan war more or less concludes with the White Tower going down, we know for sure that characters like Moiraine and Nynaeve eventually get killed or collared. Perrin and Faile’s nations stand closer than anyone else’s to Seanchan territory, as well, so they probably don’t last long.
This is the point I had missed until rereading the section for this article: That excluding the Aiel from the Dragon’s Peace spells doom for more than just Aviendha’s future family and the Aiel people. It spells doom for everyone and everything that we love about The Wheel of Time. Our favorite characters and all of their accomplishments, Rand’s steam-powered car excepted, are ruthlessly eliminated in less than 300 years.
Thankfully, that future will not come to pass.