The Serpent, Spear, and Wheel of Time
A Compendium of Weaponry and Military Costuming
of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time
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The Aiel
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Birgitte and her bow
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** the Aiel **


The Aiel carry simple weapons, plain and unadorned, with deadly functionality. Rather than describing each individually, it seems best to describe them in relation to each other, and to their bearers, or specifically Urien, of the Reyn Aiel:
    "... a tall man, with skin dark from the sun and red hair cut short except for a tail in the back that hung to his shoulders. From his soft, laced knee-high boots to the cloth wrapped loosely around his neck, his clothes were all in shades of brown and gray that would blend into rock or earth. The end of a short horn bow peeked over his shoulder, and a quiver bristled with arrows at his belt at one side. A long knife hung at the other. In his left hand he gripped a round hide buckler and three short spears, no more than half as long as he was tall, with points fully as long as those of the Shienaran lances." <TGH: 28, 408, A New Thread in the Pattern>

When Morin becomes the first Maiden, a standard spear is shortened, "... leaving four feet, counting nearly a foot of steel point ..." <TSR: 25, 414, The Road to the Spear>; it becomes the Aiel's most important weapon. The point is twice again described as a full foot long <TSR: 37, 604, Imre Stand; TSR: 50, 818, Traps>. It is neither black nor brightly polished, but "... dull so they hardly caught the faint light of the moon at all ..." <TDR: 54, 631, Into the Stone>

Aiel hiding

Artwork courtesy of Helena Zeegers,
Copyright © 1997, Helena Zeegers, used with permission


The foot-long spear point provides the most compelling evidence for equivalency between real-world and WoT feet (see also the section on measurements). Since Aiel spearpoints are long enough to span the width of an adult victim's chest <TSR: 3, 93, Reflection>, the WoT foot would have to be a real-world 12". No longer than 12", however, if the ranges achieved with Two River bows are to maintain any credibility.

Urien's spearpoint, referred to above, is an oddity, with the two foot length of the Shienaran lances. It is possible that Urien personally preferred a two-foot spearpoint, but this is improbable given that Urien's spear was no more than half his height, that is, likely some 3' to 3' 6" in length. A two-foot point is quite disproportionately long. One must assume that Jordan ignored or abandoned the length he previously assigned the Shienaran lance.

Spears are worn on the back by at least some of the Maidens: "each had three or four spears stuck through the harness holding her bow case on her back." <KoD: 18, 386, News for the Dragon> This is likely standard practise, though not described previously.

On a different note, it seems likely that this spear is modelled on the long-bladed, short-hafted stabbing assegais of the Zulu, during Shaka's reign. Some Aiel battle tactics appear to have been borrowed from this culture; the phrase 'washing the spears' certainly derives from them. Other parallels with this society are present, not least an organized warrior class encompassing virtually all able-bodied males, and the practice of polygamy.

Men and Maidens alike carry a pointed, "... long heavy-bladed knife ..." <LOC: 1, 66, Lion on the Hill; TDR: 38, 433, Maidens of the Spear, and many other references> at their sides, the other dominant weapon in the dance of the spears. "A foot or more of steel, it was almost a short-sword ..." <ACoS: 7, 145, Pitfalls and Tripwires>

scramasaxesThough many types of knives could legitimately serve as model, I favor the scramasax, a heavy-bladed fighting knife of the Vikings, Saxons and Franks. As with the scramasax, it is likely that Aiel knives varied from individual to individual, bladesmith to bladesmith. Whatever the basic design, I doubt that any model can be rigidly adhered to. One I've seen, with a heavy, inches-wide 12"-long blade and a total length of 18", for me best represents the Aiel knife.

The Aiel bow is small and carried in a worked case of hard leather, strapped to the back. <TSR: 11, 202, What Lies Hidden; WH: 3, 118, Customs> It is a "... dark, curved bow that had the dull shine of horn ..." <TDR: 38, 433, Maidens of the Spear; also WH: 3, 118, Customs, and other references>; it is made entirely of horn, rather than the horn and wood composite bows that have been so effective in human history. Further information is unfortunately lacking, so far ...

The buckler, made of layers of cured bullhide <TSR: 27, 447, Within the Ways; WH: 2, 105, Taken>, and consistently described as "small" <TDR: 38, 433, Maidens of the Spear, et al.>, probably matches the smaller bucklers in English history in size, some 11 to 14" in diameter. Small indeed: bucklers as a whole ranged from only some 11 to 18" in diameter.

Finally, to elaborate on the Aiel warrior's appearance, and the cadin'sor, itself: Maidens and men alike wear loose breeches tucked into soft, laced, knee-high boots, again in shades of brown, gray and green, and reminiscent of Gaidin camouflage attire:

    "Their short-cut hair ranged from a reddish brown to almost golden, with a narrow, shoulder-length tail left long at the back. They wore loose breeches tucked into soft boots, and all their clothes were some shade of brown or gray or green ... the garments would fade into rock or woods almost as well as a Warder's cloak. Short bows poked over their shoulders, quivers and long knives hung at their belts, and each carried a small, round shield and a cluster of spears with short shafts and long points ... two quickly lifted brown cloths from around their shoulders, wrapping them around their heads instead. The older women were raising black veils across their faces, hiding everything but their eyes ..." <TGH: 35, 506, Stedding Tsofu>

    "... soft, knee-high boots. The greens and grays and browns of their clothing stood out against the white landscape, though. Green had been added to the cadin'sor since crossing the Dragonwall ..." <WH: 3, 113, Customs>

According to RJWoT, the "cadin'sor is an adaptation of the ancient Da'shain working clothes." <RJWoT: 20, 187, The Aiel>. Differences in cadin'sor cut help mark clan, sept and society; furthermore, "... there were often subtle differences between warriors and craftsmen, a smaller belt knife or none at all, perhaps a shoufa with no black veil attached ... The distinctive haircut mentioned above applies to all Aiel males, and Maidens of the Spear, though not to other women <TSR: 50, 817-18, Traps; TDR: 34, 395, A Different Dance; ACoS: 32, Prologue; RJWoT: 20, 187, The Aiel; etc.>.

tuaregAiel headdress consists of the "... gray-brown shoufa draped like a wide scarf about [the] neck ..." and a separate, attached black veil, pulled up for killing only <TGH: 28, 409, A New Thread in the Pattern; TGH: 35, 506, Stedding Tsofu; TDR: 54, 631, Into the Stone; TFoH: 2, 81, Rhuidean; many other references>. Gaul's veil, at least, was made of a thick cloth. <TDR: 34, 395, A Different Dance>

The shoufa itself matched the cadin'sor in color, and was worn either wrapped around the head, to ward off the sun, or simply rested loosely about the neck.<TSR: 3, 92-93, Reflection; TSR: 36, 592, Misdirections; LoC: 3, 93, A Woman's Eyes; etc.> It probably wrapped around the head in Tuareg fashion: some six yards of shesh wound about the lower face, flowed loosely about the neck, and tightly wound around the head down to the eyebrows.

In contrast, the much-cited black veil attached to it was simply pulled up by warriors when ready to do battle, hiding all but the eyes. It was optional, for younger Aiel and for Aiel craftsmen. At Stedding Tsofu, only the Maidens (the only warriors present) don their black veils, preparing for combat. <TGH: 35, 506, Stedding Tsofu; TSR: 50, 817-18, Traps> In RJWoT, both text and artwork incorrectly discard the black veil. Here, the veil is neither black nor separate from the rest of the shoufa, but merely a part of it, pulled up over nose and mouth when needed <RJWoT: 20, 187, The Aiel>.

Interestingly, Tuareg desert-dwellers have also inspired Jordan's Aiel: a fiercely independent, tent-dwelling, nomadic feudal society, divided into clans or tribes, where alone in the Arab world men wear a (usually) indigo-black shesh wrapped about the head, where women have remarkable freedom and go about unveiled, and where matrilineal descent reckons strongly. Their traditional weapons of daggers, iron lances, and leather shields are echoed again in the WoT, minus the double-edged swords also used by the Tuareg.


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