The Sea Folk, or more properly Atha'an Miere (ah-thah-AHN mee-EHR; /a.θɑˈʔɑːn miˈɛɹ/) Old Tongue: People of the Sea": pronounced a-tha-AHN mee-AIR), are a seafaring people who live on ships and the islands in the Aryth Ocean and Sea of Storms; indeed, they take every effort to be born, give birth, marry, and die on board their ships. They only show up on the mainland to trade goods, until prophecy seemed to be fulfilled (see Coramoor, below). They typically have a dark complexion, and are seen as "exotic" by mainlanders.
The Sea Folk control several islands and archipelagos. The known Sea Folk islands are: the Aile Somera and Aile Jafar in the Aryth Ocean (it is assumed but unconfirmed that the Aile Dashar are also inhabited by the Sea Folk); and Tremalking, Qaim and Cindaking in the Sea of Storms. Two additional Sea Folk archipelagos are known to exist, one some considerable distance to the south-west of Tremalking in the southern hemisphere, slightly closer to the Land of the Madmen than the Westlands, and another on the equator south-east of Mayene, roughly a thousand miles west of Shara. The names of these islands are unknown.
The Atha'an Miere are headed by a Mistress of the Ships, roughly equivalent to a queen, but without a fixed geographic territory. Her consort and/or male counterpart is the Master of the Blades, responsible for trade and security concerns. Under this leadership, the Sea Folk are further organized into clans, headed by a Wavemistress. The male counterpart at this level is a Swordmaster. The current Mistress of the Ships is Zaida din Parede Blackwing.
Hierarchy of the Atha'an Miere
Main article: Hierarchy of the Atha'an Miere
The Atha'an Miere have a hierarchy that is very strict and, in some cases, complex. The rank of a Sea Folk can be determined, among other things, by the number of earrings (typically ear and nose, with a chain in between for higher ranks) a man or woman has and the number of medals they have on their honor chain.
The Sea Folk believe that the Coramoor is predicted by the Jendai Prophecies to lead them to greater glory, including domination of all the seas of the world. Rand al'Thor, who is also the Dragon Reborn and the Car'a'carn of the Aiel, is believed to be the fulfillment of that prophecy. The Sea Folk will serve the Coramoor in any way they can, but so far they have not pledged formal allegiance to Rand, who has been too busy with mainland matters to meet with them. The recent execution of the Mistress of the Ships by the Seanchan has complicated matters further, until a successor is named.
Bargaining with the Atha'an Miere
Main article: Bargains of the Atha'an Miere
Making a contract, or Bargain, with a member of the Atha'an Miere is a very serious affair that is steeped with formality. They are also renowned to be fierce negotiators and the chances of coming out with an advantage after making a business agreement, or any agreement, with a member of the Atha'an Miere are slim.
Sea Folk porcelain, including cups, teapots, vases, and possibly sculptures, delicate and graceful objects of art, are highly prized by mainlanders, frequently costing their weight in gold to obtain. Their vaunted porcelain is actually created by the Amayar, land-dwellers on the Atha'an Miere islands, though this isn't common knowledge in the Westlands.
Another little known facet of Sea Folk culture is that both genders go topless while at sea, and out of sight of the mainland. Presumably all of their passengers know this eventually, and keep silent either out of respect/moral outrage, or for more prurient interests. This fact alone may account for why passage on a Sea Folk ship is frequently so costly, although they are also the fastest sailing vessels in the land, and some of the most reliable (partially due to the unrevealed abilities of Windfinders).
Channelers among the Atha'an Miere
Windfinders can be found on every ship the Sea Folk inhabit. Almost all Windfinders can channel, and are ranked only under the Sailmistress and Cargomaster on a ship. Windfinders who can channel can typically handle Air and Water most skillfully using the Talent of Weaving the Winds, creating thick and powerful flows to aid their ship's travel. Conversely, many have little to no skill with Fire or Earth, even less than most female channelers, due to the nature of their society. We have not seen any Windfinders who are not able to channel.
If a man is discovered that can channel, he is given two choices: The first is to drown himself by walking of the bow of their ship holding a stone that is tied to their legs or be abandoned on a barren island with no food or water. The second is considered the more shameful of the two.
After the Cleansing of saidin, Rand tells Harine din Togara Two Winds that this practice must stop as it is needless death to men that are no longer fated to go mad. Harine is skeptical that saidin is indeed cleansed.
Relationship with Aes Sedai
Windfinders typically fear being found by Aes Sedai, as they believe the Aes Sedai may take them to the White Tower against their will, to train them. Because of this, they hide their channelling capacities and every Windfinder has the right to refuse passage to a passenger who can channel, something usually reserved for the Sailmistress of the ship.
To allay suspicion among Aes Sedai, the Sea Folk usually send their weakest and less skilled channelers to the White Tower to give the impression that the One Power does not flow strongly among the Sea Folk and to stop a possible investigation by the Aes Sedai into potential channeling abilities among the Sea Folk.
Despite the strained relationship with Aes Sedai, when Nynaeve al'Meara and Elayne Trakand approach the Sea Folk on the orders of the rebel Amyrlin Egwene al'Vere, they comply with many of the Aes Sedai's requests, such as assistance in finding and using the Bowl of the Winds and helping Elayne Trakand maintain Caemlyn's food supplies during the siege, by opening gateways for merchant wagons to travel through.
At the time of the Coramoor, there were only three Aes Sedai from the Atha'an Miere: Aiden, Nyein and Zemaille. In New Spring, there were four, two of which were almost as old as Gitara Moroso and who died of old age before the main events of the books. At this time Zemaille was only Accepted. All three sisters are of the Brown Ajah and share quarters in the White Tower Library. They are all librarians for the Thirteenth Depository that contains the secret histories of the Tower. This seems more than coincidental, implying that the Tower as an organisation knows that Windfinders can channel after all, even if that fact is restricted to those elite few that have access to those secret histories, and likely only a subset of those. It is, in effect, a quid pro quo with these Atha'an Miere: We keep your secrets and you keep ours.
The Amyrlin Egwene also contacted the Windfinders directly, sending them Siuan Sanche to teach the use of some Sleepweavers. Finally she was able to create an informal alliance with both Windfinders and Aiel Wise Ones, to face the Seanchan menace. They even arrange to exchange for a while some apprentices, that can learn the best from each other culture.
Contracting a treaty with the Seanchan Empress Fortuona, Egwene obtained the restitution of their islands to the Sea folk.