*Spoilers for episode 1 of The Wheel of Time series on Amazon Prime*
I would like to preface this by saying, I know next to nothing about the Wheel of Time series. My entire exposure to the story has been the Amazon show and my one friend, Kyle, describing a battle to me years ago from one of the later books. The magician ladies use their magic to open portals in a cave far away from the battlefield, that cannons then shoot through into the enemy forces and then they close the portals before any of the advancing army can come back through. It’s definitely a very interesting tactic to use for sure, and after seeing the magic system in the show, I can very easily see how that would be a near unbeatable strategy. That being said, this is going to be about something completely different than that, Heron Marked Blades.
In the first episode, when one of the big Trollocs attacks Rand and his dad, Tam al’thor (bearded Roose Bolton from Game of Thrones, also known by his actual name as Michael McElhatton) in their mountain home, the pair are at a disadvantage. Rand and Tam are using longer range weapons in a confined space and suffer some devastating blows because of it. Rand using his bow and arrows manages to land a few shots but not before he is thrown across the small space by the huge Trolloc. Tam picks up his trusty spear (we see him with in the opening shot of them) and begins trying to end the fight quickly. When he gets thrown into the mantle of the hearth, that’s when he decides to break out what he’s known for, his sword. Tam slides over and pulls out a slightly curved sword which he draws from its ornate scabbard. The chest, scabbard and blade are all emblazoned with what I thought was a crane, but have since learned is a Heron. Tam wastes no time and uses his curved blade to his advantage, dodge strikes and slashing the beast as often as he can. It isn’t until the Trolloc physically grapples him that the class difference is obvious. Outside where he could move, Tam would’ve absolutely destroyed the Trolloc, but without the space to move out of its reach he got grabbed and stabbed with its poisoned blade.
Now, as I previously stated, I have had no expsure to the series at all up to this point. So when I was watching the episode, and the camera had a split second freeze frame on the sword, I said out loud “well I think that mar is going to be significant”; turns out, I was right.
HERON MARKED BLADES
So I did manage to find a very informative YouTube channel that spells out the meaning and history behind these weapons that are wielded by Blade Masters. The channel is called Unraveling the Pattern, and the gentleman behind them has a whole team of researchers assisting with the lore compilation. He makes both spoiler-free/spoiler light and full spoiler videos for topics from all ages of the Wheel of Time series. I’ve linked his light spoiler video here for reference:
As you can see from the video Heron marked blades are something of a status symbol in the World where the Wheel of Time takes place. They’re typically made by forging steel weapons while the Aes Sedai (female magic users) imbue it with energy and magic from the One Power (the source of magic) giving these blades a “Power Wrought” or “Power Forged” designation. This makes these blades EXTREMELY durable and able to combat the dark magic of the “Dark One” and his Eyeless. The power wrought blades never lose their edge and will never shatter or break no matter the force applied to the weapon.
Not all heron marked blades carry this distinction however. Following the “Boring of the Hole” during the war known as the War of Power, the number of blades bearing the mark of the heron greatly increased due to the demand for such weapons. Not all of the swords that carried the heron were power wrought in their forging process. Because of the strain and limited number of the Aes Sedai some of the blades made during this time carried the mark of the heron without getting the magic imbued into the steel during forging. These blades were still extremely durable but unlike “true” heron marked swords, they needed constant care and could break when enough force is applied. As the video I’ve linked above states, the Sword of the Malkieri Kings (I have no idea who they are, fyi) did not have the mark of the heron but was still a power wrought blade. Conversely, there are far more blades in the third age (timeline of the book series) that have the heron mark but are not power wrought.
The War of Power ended roughly 3,000 years before the first book picks up, and since that time, the process of making power wrought weapons has been lost. The few remaining true power wrought blades are passed down through families and kingdoms to younger generations to continue the fight against the Dark One. As it stands, during the setting of the book there are reportedly only a few true power wrought heron marked blades left in the world.
Robert Jordan had this to say on power wrought swords, “(During the forging process) the material of a true heron marked blade is altered. It is not simple steel anymore.”
To become a Blade Master is a title very few achieve in their lifetime during the series. Most fighters can work their entire lives and never receive this distinction.
There are only two ways for an individual to achieve the rank of Blade Master:
- You can have a panel of five Blade Masters observe and vote on your skills; or
- You can kill a Blade Master in fair combat
All Blade Masters are permitted and expected to carry a heron marked blade as a symbol of their status.
So, by this definition Tam ‘al Thor (bearded Roose Bolton) was a Blade Master and it would appear he kept that a secret from everyone. When he was beaten by the Trolloc in their mountain home, his son Rand had to save him. I think that even though he had survived that encounter, Tam knew that had Rand not intervened on his behalf, he would’ve been killed. By the rules of the Blade Masters, Rand was now permitted to carry a heron marked sword. Which he does following the first episode. It isn’t until the fourth episode when Rand and Mat are in that canyon town with the Gleeman, where one of the Dark one’s acolytes gets a hold of the sword and remarks that “it was too easy to take this from you”.
When asked about the fact of why he chose a Heron to signify the distinction of a blade master, Robert Jordan (the author of the book series) had this to say ” I chose the heron because that is a quick, supple, and to its prey, a very deadly bird. The perfect avian simile for a Swordsman.”
Side Bar: That Gleeman is the DEFINITION of a Bard of the College of Swords in D&D 5e. He’s got a gruff voice and can sing really well, but he’s the perfect blend of Dandelion from Witcher and an old timey Wild West Texas Ranger type. Long cloak with knives EVERYWEHERE and a healthy respect for other cultures and traditions because of his travels. Not only that, but he also sympathizes with the poor and knows what it’s like to be starving. The Gleeman (Bard) is played by a Danish actor named Alexandre Willaume who is perfectly cast in my opinion.
My favourite character in the show so far is Al’Lan Mandragoran played by Daniel Henney. He is the warder for Moiraine Sedai on her travels. Warders are extremely skilled fighters who are paired and bonded with the Aes Sedai they protect. Some of these relationships are superficial and out of respect. Whereas some of them have a much deeper love for one another. Lan’s love for Moiraine is very obvious but it is difficult to see (so far) if she feels the same towards him. Watching Lan fight during the first episode as Moiraine was summoning all sorts of magics to fight the Trollocs was something else! The magic takes on a wispy light that flows and ebbs around the Aes Sedai as they conjure the one power to their will. During this process, they are extremely vulnerable to physical injury which is where the warders come in. Warders act as close personal security to the Aes Sedai and keep them safe from harm during their magic use. As Moiraine was conjuring the One Power to mess up the invading Trollocs, you can see Lan jumping and bounding around her in a very fluid circle killing any of the beasts that dared get close to her. It’s a great pairing and was beautifully shot. I want to see more of that in the coming episodes for sure! Lan is NOT a Blade Master, I think, though I feel like if he was to take the test, they may provide him with that distinction because, in my opinion, he is that good.
Blade Masters use a variety of different sword techniques in their fighting. this is something that the books of history haven’t really taken into account. If you were to take a swordsman from let’s say France at the time of the Musketeers & King Louis and pit them against a Samurai from the feudal era of Japan, there is obviously going to be a clear winner in that altercation. In the Wheel of Time, Blade Masters use a large variety of techniques and styles to constantly keep their form and style fluid and adaptable to any situation. Some of them use precise fencing techniques while others use more brute strength like HEMA fighters.
In the book series Robert Jordan didn’t like to describe blow by blow fighting, which is something a co-worker of mine, Graeme, thinks should be common place. Instead, Jordan would describe the actual move by it’s name i.e.: Leopard’s Caress, Cutting the Clouds, Heron Wading in the Rushes, Reaping the Barley, etc. This allowed the reader to interpret the moves in their own imagination and make them completely subjective to each reader, which is really cool in my opinion.
So I have found anew obsession for me to dive into with all sorts of lore and history to explore with this new series! I do have to finish the Aftermath Trilogy on audible before I dive into this series but that shouldn’t take me too long. If you haven’t yet, I definitely recommend you check out the Wheel of Time series on Amazon Prime. It’s nowhere near as adult as Game of Thrones but it’s still a great fantasy series to keep that fix going until Witcher Season 2 comes out next month.
The multiverse awaits…