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Ishamael's 40-year cycle


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Hi - first post. 


One thing about the books that has been a very mild irritant is the casual reference to "three thousand years" since the sealing of the Bore (ie Aginor and Balthamel have suffered the depradations of time over three thousand years, Ishamael talks about three thousand years since Lews Therin's death, etc).  And yes, I know that it's informal "about three millenia" rather than an exact figure - except, it's not.  It is:


Length of the Breaking (239-344 years)

plus 1000 years of the AB calendar until the Trolloc Wars

plus about 350 years of Trolloc wars

plus 994 years of the FY calendar until the death of Hawkwing

plus 141 years (the 123 years of the War of the Hundred Years plus some time to draw breath) until the establishment of the Farede calendar

plus 998 years of the New Era until the starting of the books.


That's 3722-3827 years. 


Why am I being so persnickety about it?  Because as a sad maths geek, I tried to calculate the length of Ishamael's 40-year freedom cycles.  We are told that Ishamael walked the Earth for 40 years before being pulled into the Seal and was spat out at a cycle of a multiple of forty years to wander the world again for 40 years - becoming Ba'alzamon in the Trolloc Wars (and establishing the Black Ajah) and being an adviser to Hawkwing (Jalwin Moerad) from FY 973-1013 , as well as being around noticeably before the rest of the Forsaken in the books.  I've seen it described as a thousand year cycle, but this is obviously incorrect because it's nowhere near 3000 years from Sealing to the Eye of the World.  It's at least 3722 years.


So I tried to see if we could reconcile the following facts:


1. Ishamael's cycle is 40 years of freedom followed by n times 40 years of imprisonment.

2. It started at the Sealing.

3. The Breaking lasted 239-344 years.

4.  His first exit was late enough that investigations by someone born in 50AB couldn't pick him up.

5. Ishamael was present during the height of the Trolloc Wars, probably active at somewhere in the 1200-1250AB range.

6. Ishamael was out during FY 973-1013

7. Ishamael's final exit started between 958 and 983 NE (had to be after 958 or he'd be pulled back in before tEoTW; reports of his activity were seen by 983)

8.  The length of the AB period was c. 1350 years; the length of the FY period was c.1135 years.


We can't.  At least one item has to give.  So what can we do?

Well, the period from the books to Jalwin Moerad can be calculated better than any other.  So - what multiple of 40 gets us from FY1013 (-122 NE) to the books?  Well, 40 x 27 gives us 1080 years; giving an exit date from the Bore of 958 NE.  He'd be feeling the pull back in by 998, so it's close, but doable.  After the breaking of the first seal that allowed Aginor and Balthamel to escape, he's safe.  Although would probably be fairly anxious up to that point. (NB the exact year under the FY calendar by FY 1135 wasn't clear in any case, so we could have a year or two in hand anyway)


Okay, let's go with 1 in, 27 out.  What would that give us reaching back?  Well, 1080 years prior to FY973 puts him being drawn back in at about 1243 AB, with his exit about 1203 AB.  Well, that looks pretty much spot on.

Roll it back.  Next period (going back in time) of mobility would be 123 AB to 163 AB.  Nothing much happened then, but it is after the time of Aran son of Malan son of Senar (born 50 AB), who postulated the 40-year cycle but couldn't find proof and concluded it was too long for him.  The only problem here is that going back one more jump puts the Sealing at 957 years before the Breaking concluded.  That's way too long.


Except here I've simply assumed it's the full 27:1 cycle.  You could also have smaller cycles.  It could work as 26:2 (13:1), 24:4 (6:1) or 21:7 (3:1).  The latter two break number 4 - he'd have been out way too soon (240:40 and 120:40 give Ishamael far too much free rein).  However, the 13:1 cycle looks promising - the number 13 does crop up a few times in the WoT.  Let's see what happens with a 13:1 cycle.


Going backwards in time.  Ishy is free for the following periods:


958-998 NE (and then free from Seal breaking) - Ishy in the Eye of the World and before.

398-438 NE

FY 973-1013 (Jalwin Moerad)


1203-1243 AB (As Ba'alzamon in the Trolloc Wars)

643-683 AB


-477 to -437AB (the Sealing of the Bore).


Okay: problems:  He's active while Aran son of Malan son of Senar is theorising and writing.  Not too much of a problem; Aran is looking through historical texts; if Ishy isn't being too conspicuous at that time, he'd only be visible in retrospect.  Second one is bigger - this puts the Breaking at 477 years; 133 years longer than the longest length given.  However, this is the closest we can come with those facts without abandoning the 40 year cycle or postulating big chunks of time unrecorded elsewhere in the calendars.


However, we're often told that RJ wanted some of the things in the White Book to be challengable - as per normal history, there could be errors.  I'd contend that going back 3500 years+ to a time of devastation and chaos lasting centuries is a pretty good candidate for a challangeable fact, so I'm sticking with it.  The Breaking lasted 477 years - which helps make sure that no Aes Sedai of the pre-Breaking era could realistically survive into the AB world.  If we accept that, everything else slots in.  We then have a timeline from the Sealing of:


0 AS (After Sealing).  The Strike at Shayol Ghul, placing of the Seals, tainting of saidin and start of the Breaking of the World

0-40 .  Ishamael remains at large, being drawn in at the end of the period.

477 .  The Gazaran calendar is established.  Year 0 of the AB calendar.

524 .  The Aes Sedai come together in a conference of a dozen groups of female channelers who determine to found the White Tower

527. Birth of Aran son of Malan son of Senar.  He postulates Ishamael's potential cycle and looks in the histories for any supporting proof before concluding that the cycle is too long for him to see - yet.

560-600 .  Ishamael freed from the Bore for a time.  His first post-imprisonment period. (83-123 AB)

1020-1060.  Ishamael freed from the Bore for his second post-imprisonment period (643-683 AB)

1477  Start of Trolloc Wars (1000 AB)

1580-1620.  Ishamael freed for the third time.  Raises the banner of Ba'alzamon (1203-1243 AB)

1827.  End of Trolloc Wars. (1350 AB)

2140-2180.  Ishamael freed for the fourth time. (FY413-453)

2700-2740.  Ishamael freed for the fifth time (FY 973-1013).  Adviser to Hawkwing.

3260-3300.  Ishamael freed for the sixth time (398-438 NE)

3820-3860.  Ishamael's seventh cycle of freedom.  (958-998 NE)

3860.  Ishamael freed for good.  (998 NE)

(3861 Ishamael killed (999NE))


We also have seven cycles of freedom, which also fits with the special numbers kind of theme.


So - am I completely off of the stedding, with a concoction of airy numerology and half-baked logic, or does this hold together?  If so, what was Ishy doing during 83-123 AB, 643-683 AB, FY 413-453 and 398-438 NE?  To be honest, it allows Ishamael to do more to set up the big events of the Trolloc Wars and other shenanigans.



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I'm pretty sure it's implied that the seals had weakened enough by EotW that all of the Forsaken were free for about a year or two prior to the events of the first book. Given Ishy's partial sealing, he may have been completely free even before the rest were. Either way, I don't think his latest appearance prior/during EotW needs to be counted as part of his 40-year cycle, unless we have evidence otherwise.

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Good question.  However, the result from projecting back the "today" to Hawkwing cycle back to the Trolloc wars matches so well that it looks very linear at least from 1203 AB to 998 NE.  Given that, and that any effect from the seals weakening would hit later rather than sooner, it does look as though it remained linear from start to finish.


There is one alternative - I did realize that if we accept that the length of the Breaking is challengable, the 6:1 ratio could fit as well.  It also works with 'significant numbers' - it means he's out for one period in every seven, and he is released a total of thirteen times (cf the original figures of released for a total of seven times and with a thirteen-to-one ratio of in-to-out).


This, though, implies that the Breaking is shorter than the shortest figure given, but this might match up better with the Aiel wayback ter'angreal records.  If we choose one-in-seven, then we have:


0-40 AS - Ishamael remains free until drawn in.

0-197 AS - the Breaking (21% shorter than the bottom-end figure given, as against 38% longer than the top-end figure given)

197 AS Toman Calendar established; year 0 AB

247 AS.  Aran son of Malan son of Senar born

280-320 AS  (83-123 AB)  Ishamael's 1st exit

560-600 AS (363-403 AB)  Ishamael's 2nd exit

840-880 AS (643-683 AB)  Ishamael's 3rd exit

1120-1160 AS (923-963 AB)  Ishamael's 4th exit.  Gets things ready for Trolloc Wars?

1400-1440 AS (1203-1243 AB)  Ishamael's 5th exit; Ba'alzamon in the Trolloc Wars

1680-1720 AS (FY 133-173)  Ishamael's 6th exit

1960-2000 AS (FY 413-453) Ishamael's 7th exit

2240-2280 AS (FY 693-733) Ishamael's 8th exit

2520-2560 AS (FY 973-1013) Ishamael's 9th exit.  Incarnation as Jalwin Moerad

2800-2840 AS (118-158 NE) Ishamael's 10th exit

3080-3120 AS (398-438 NE) Ishamael's 11th exit

3360-3400 AS (678-718 NE)  Ishamael's 12th exit

3640-3680 AS (958-998 NE)  Ishamael's 13th and last exit


The advantage of this version is that the Breaking isn't quite so extended - although still requires denying the limits given in the Big White Book, but at the bottom end.  It also permits Ishy to set up more things (ie getting things ready for the Trolloc Wars); both of the options give him more time to sort things out in Seanchan (corrupting the prophecies there) and Shara.  However, I do worry that this second option gives Ishamael too much freedom.  It is, however, possible to read him more into the timeline (eg Caraighan Maconar's untimely death occurred during a putative period of Ishamael's freedom).

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I'm pretty sure it's implied that the seals had weakened enough by EotW that all of the Forsaken were free for about a year or two prior to the events of the first book. Given Ishy's partial sealing, he may have been completely free even before the rest were. Either way, I don't think his latest appearance prior/during EotW needs to be counted as part of his 40-year cycle, unless we have evidence otherwise.


It was said that there was evidence of him as early as 983 NE (he ordered the death of Jarna Malari, head of the Black Ajah), which is far enough before the rest of the Forsaken escaping the Bore that I'd feel more comfortable having a period of his freedom encompassing at least that date.

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I'm pretty sure it's implied that the seals had weakened enough by EotW that all of the Forsaken were free for about a year or two prior to the events of the first book. Given Ishy's partial sealing, he may have been completely free even before the rest were. Either way, I don't think his latest appearance prior/during EotW needs to be counted as part of his 40-year cycle, unless we have evidence otherwise.



Interview: Apr, 2003



Budapest Q&A (Verbatim)






[something about the Forsaken]



Robert Jordan




Essentially learned the local language.


They just got free and learned the local language in a few weeks or so.

Robert Jordan

A little more than a few weeks.


Wow...That's impressive! What about the first and second that were let loose?

Robert Jordan

They were very near the surface. It's one of the reasons for the effects on them. They were for three thousand years aware—not in a sleep like the others; aware—and more aware of what has happened in the world. And because of the way the Bore works... See, the Bore is not located at Shayol Ghul. Shayol Ghul is simply the place where the Bore is most easily sensed. The Bore is everywhere, because of the nature of the universe. And those two guys, in effect, spent the last three thousand years in a state of feeling that they had no body—they certainly had no ability to move—that they were simply trapped minds, but aware and drifting over the face of the earth, able to hear people, able to see what was happening in one area or another. They could speak the language when they came out.


You are talking about Aginor and Balthamel now.

Robert Jordan



And Ishamael as well?

Robert Jordan

Ishamael is a different case. Read and find out.



Interview: Jul 22nd, 2004

ComicCon Wrap-Up - Jason Denzel (Verbatim)

Jason Denzel

We talked about the Forsaken and how they know how to speak the current language.

Robert Jordan


He said that if you can speak the Old Tongue, learning to understand and speak the new "Vulgar" tongue is not that difficult. When the Forsaken are together having their meetings, they speak in the Old Tongue. (RJ: "But I translate it for you guys.")

Another very interesting note: Modern-day Sharans speak a form of the Old Tongue in their everyday speech. The exact analogy he used was a Roman landing in modern day Italy and having to figure out Italian from Latin. For someone extremely bright and well-educated like the Forsaken it wouldn't be that hard. This is also consistent with information in the books. The Old Tongue is more complex, so learning the Vulgar from Old Tongue is much easier than vice versa. It also gibes with Graendal's thought while she is writing a letter that the modern script was so easy to learn and duplicate.

He also went on at length about his thoughts on language drift and the impact of the printing press on continuity.



The rest of the Forsaken were not released until after the events at The Eye of the World. 

Edited by Whizbang
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