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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** Shen an Calhar - The Band of the Red Hand **


Shen an Calhar, or in the Old Tongue, The Band of the Red Hand, comes about almost accidentally as Matrim Cauthon tries to flee the impending battle with Couladin's Aiel at Cairhien.

Unable to let a chaotic chaotic jumble of Tairen and Cairhienin fall into an ambush unwarned, he ends up commanding the entire group, fusing them into an effective whole, wielding them as gracefully and as lethally as his ashandarei. By the end of the day, a series of bloody triumphs culminates in Mat's defeat of Couladin himself <TFoH: 43, 684-709, This Place This Day>.

Sometime in the middle of that first day, some 3000 men remain <TFoH: 43, 702, This Place This Day>; the numbers would have been less by its end. Yet Mat's losses are small, though always outnumbered. After that first day, the Tairen Lord Nalesean Aldiaya and Cairhienin Lord Talmanes Delovinde, both stiff-necked noblemen, pledge themselves to Mat without hesitation: "You are our battle leader ... our general." <TFoH: 45, 721, After the Storm>

And somewhere, the Band acquires its name; Mat does not know how. "Some fool got the name from somewhere, and they all started using it." <TFoH: 51, 861, News Comes to Cairhien> It is uncannily appropriate.

The men of the first Band "were the last to fall to the Trollocs, guarding Aemon himself, when Manetheren died. Legend says a spring rose where they fell, to mark their passing ..." <TFoH: 51, 861, News Comes to Cairhien> That is, they died at Emond's Field - Aemon's Field - and the spring is the Winespring, where two thousand years later, Trollocs strike again, and are defeated. Twice.

Where Mat was born.

Mat who, before he has other men's memories interjected with his own, recalls leading Manetheren's Heart Guard into the heart of the advancing Trollocs hordes: "They must win here or die. He was known as a gambler; it was time to toss the dice." <TDR: 19, 216, Awakening>

The Band's banner first appears in Maerone: "a red-fringed white square with a large, open red hand in the center, and beneath it, embroidered in red, the words Dovie'andi se tovya sagain. It's time to toss the dice." <KoD: 37, 746, Prince of the Ravens; also LoC: 5, 126, A Different Dance>

The Band of the Red Hand even acquires its unofficial anthem on that first, bloody day. Mat teaches them the words to "Dance with Jak o' the Shadows," to divert himself from being stitched; it spreads as wildfire. "Tairen and Cairhienin, horse and foot, had all been singing it when they returned at dawn." <TFoH: 45, 717, After the Storm> One new verse seals them to him:

    We'll toss the dice however they fall,
    and snuggle the girls be they short or tall,
    then follow young Mat whenever he calls,
    to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
    <TFoH: 45, 722, After the Storm>

At Maerone, the Band still looks a rag-tag lot: "crossbowmen and archers in jerkins covered with steel discs, pikemen in battered breastplates cast off by their betters or looted from the dead. Everywhere rode breastplated horsemen, Tairen lancers in rimmed helmets and Cairhienin in bell-shaped helmets, even some Andorans in conical helmets with barred face-guards." <LoC: 5, 115, A Different Dance> Edorion probably represents his peers fairly well: "The rimmed helmet bore no plumes now, and chips and dents marred the once ornate gilding on his breastplate." <LoC: 5, 114, A Different Dance>

Mat's 3000 cavalry consists of two banners of 1500 horse, each divided into three squadrons of 500 horse, and further divided into troops of 50; "each squadron and troop with its own long banner bearing the Red Hand, a sword, and a number." <LoC: 5, 126, A Different Dance; also LoC: 22, 341, Heading South; RJWoT: 26, 232, The Military of the Land>

The Band's 3000-odd infantry divides into twelve companies, each with 250 men, 200 of them pike- or billmen, and 50 archers or crossbowmen, "each company behind a drum beating cadence as well as one of the long pennants, theirs with a pike instead of a sword across the hand ..." <LoC: 5, 126, A Different Dance>

Mat's Legion of the Dragon, an elite unit of crossbowmen, proves extremely effective. However much he likes his own Two Rivers longbow, he intends to find crossbows for his archers. <LoC: 5, 118, A Different Dance; RJWoT: 26, 233, The Military of the Land>

By Maerone, Mat has also organized a kind of military police for the Band: "soldiers carrying cudgels and wearing red armbands that stretched from wrist to elbow. Each unit had to take its turn providing Redarms, different men every day, and Redarms had to pay for any damage the day they were on duty." <LoC: 5, 116, A Different Dance>

When Mat rejoins the Band in Knife of Dreams, the Band sports a new look. "Burnished armor was all very well for parades, but it could reflect moonlight as well as sunlight ... the hard part had been convincing the lancers to give up their bright breastplates and the nobles their silvering and gilding. The foot had seen sense straight off." <KoD: 27, 598-599, A Plain Wooden Box> Captain Mandevwin appears in a green-painted, open-faced footman's helmet; his crossbowmen in dark coats and dull green armour that fade into the foliage. Even Talmanes wears the same dull green breasplate, though under a dark silk coat. <KoD: 27, 598-599, A Plain Wooden Box, also KoD: 36, 728-9, Under an Oak> Camouflage armour.

Some of the Band wear red cloth tied around the left arm: presumably his Redarms, reinvented. Certainly far less conspicuous than a sleeve red from the elbow down.

Mat's crossbowmen, re-equipped, are lethally effective. Their primary weapons are the new crank-equipped crossbows: "Three turns of the new crank ... and the bowstring is latched. With a little training, a man can get off seven or eight quarrels in a minute. With a heavy crossbow." <KoD: 26, 554, As If the World Were Fog> Quarrels punch through breastplates and shatter legs. In more detail:

    windlass-operated crossbow; woodcut from Nordisk familjebok"... the fellow bent to fasten the paired hooks of the bulky, boxlike crank, hanging from a strap at the front of his belt, to his crossbow string. As the man straightened, the cord streamed out of the crank, but once he was erect, he set the crank on the butt of the upended crossbow, moved a small lever on the side of the box, and began to work the handles. Three quick turns with a rough whirring sound, and the string caught on the latch." <KoD: 27, 602, A Plain Wooden Box>

Depicted to the right is a windlass-operated crossbow - the cord streaming from the crank makes this the more likely real-world match, as opposed to a cranequin mechanism. Either type of mechanism, however, requires far more than three turns to draw fully. This makes sense: a bow too heavy to draw by hand can be drawn mechanically using less force, if applied over a longer period of time.

Jordan suggests crossbowmen and sling-men are identical in appearance, but for their primary weapons <KoD: 37, 743, Prince of the Ravens>. As such, they likely carry the same shortswords - a logical assumption. Once the enemy closes, the front rank must drop its bows, and only a shortsword is of any use in close formation.

Talmanes' cavalry are lancers, primarily, but versatile enough not to need those lances. Against the Seanchan allies, they fire from horsebows: "a volley from four thousand bows at three hundred paces that cleared saddles." <KoD: 37, 747, Prince of the Ravens> A very long bowshot, even with a longbow, drawn to the chest; impossible to get both that range and accuracy from a horsebow. Unless, as I discussed under the Two Rivers bow, Jordan's pace is a more flexible measure of distance than implied elsewhere. If a pace is about 24-26" in real-world length, then his description matches that of horsebows in our world.

On closing with the enemy, Talmanes' men drop their bows and use their swords <KoD: 37, 748, Prince of the Ravens>.

Sling-men also appear in this battle. "Tall men [with] ... shortswords they called cat-gutters, but instead of crossbows, they were armed with four-foot sling-staffs ... Each man wore a cloth belt sewn with pockets slung across his breastplate, and each pocket held a stubby leather cylinder larger than a man's fist with a short length of dark fuse sticking out the end." <KoD: 37, 743, Prince of the Ravens>

Slow-burning "matches" are held between the teeth, and a cylinder is attached to the sling-staff. The fuse is touched to the match, the staff whipped back then forward, and the projectile launched 100 feet or more <KoD: 37, 743-748, Prince of the Ravens>. To devastating effect: see Aludra's grenades, Dragons, and pyrotechnics for more.


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