The Significance of a Heron Marked Blade, Explained

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time Episodes 1-3, available now on Prime Video, and for the books by Robert Jordan. 

Robert Jordan's high fantasy epic The Wheel of Time is full of intense battles with the fate of the world hanging in the balance of the outcome. Some of these duels are fought between channelers of the One Power, hurling weaves of spirit to sever lifelines or summoning lightning and lashing winds. Some of them are massive clashes between opposing armies who have traveled through mystical portals to surprise or flank the enemy.

Among the most memorable of The Wheel of Time's conflicts are the times when two swordsmen proficient in the forms cross blades. In addition to the poetry Jordan imbued in every stance, feint, counter and lunge, there was an integrated mythos when two heron-marked blades entered a duel circle because such a blade is a work of art and the sign of a blademaster.

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In the wake of the lantern ceremony meant to honor and summon the spirit of a woman both men loved, the al'Thors, Tam the father and Rand the son, are working in their home side by side when a neighing horse alerts them that something outside is not as it should be, moments before the door bursts off its hinges. A creature half the size of either man, crowned with curving horns, mouth sharp with toothy fangs and taloned paws clutching a bladed club, swings its crude weapon in a deadly arc, narrowly missing Rand. Tam lunges with a hunting spear, not much more than a sharpened pole, and Rand to his credit lodges an arrow in its shoulder, but the beast ignores both and batters them about their home like puppets with cut strings. With his son's life in imminent danger, Tam turns from the battle and claws underneath his bed for a heron-marked case and the matching blade resting within.

A blade stamped with this sigil means its bearer has earned the right to call themselves a master of the forms and demands respect, and oftentimes deference, in any showdown on the battlefield or counsel in times of peace. The forms are martial stances that precede specific movements designed for specific outcomes during a deadly encounter. The Moon Rises Over the Lakes, for example, describes a particular technique to draw a blade from its scabbard and simultaneously attack, while Apple Blossoms in the Wind is meant to create distance between oneself and multiple combatants. Plucking the Low-Hanging Apple is a decapitation maneuver often followed by Leopard's Caress to respond to typical defensive postures to keep one's head attached to one's shoulders.

There are dozens and dozens of forms and, much like chess, each gambit has a set of counters with varying degrees of successful compatibility. A master is someone who has memorized all of them in the marrow of their bones and the patterns of their breathing. Knowledge of the forms also creates more than martial instruction and can be used in meditative ways during their practice but also to maintain deep environmental and personal awareness. Cat Crosses the Courtyard, for instance, is intended to maintain a looseness to one's limbs while keeping an erect spine so that movement can flow naturally from this form and keep one's senses sharpened. It also has the added benefit of conveying confidence and mastery without having a blade at hand.

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Jordan's fighting styles were heavily influenced by Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings, a manual that not only addresses combat on a one-to-one scale but advocates that its principles adhere consistently to broader mass conflicts. It is still used by business leaders today in the art of negotiation. Miyamoto was a Kensei, or sword-saint, which is the probable inspiration for the blademaster adept, was undefeated for 61 duels and was known as an expert of the two-sword technique. Also an accomplished artist, he encouraged artistic pursuit as supplemental training in the martial arts and his ink paintings often depicted geese, shrikes and sparrows as his subjects. These may have influenced Jordan's use of the heron as the symbol of the Kensei in his world.

It is noteworthy, and source material accurate, that when Tam draws his masterwork blade, it is the only sword seen used by any member of the Two Rivers community. As farmers, craftsmen, fishers and healers, they have no need for weapons for their own sake, though audiences see the blood of Manetheren in them as they battle against these creatures born of nightmares, using whatever tools they have at hand. There is another blademaster in Emond's Field at the time, however, fighting beside his Aes Sedai. Lan Mandragoran, the last son of Malkier, is a Gaidin or Warder, meaning that he has been bound to an Aes Sedai in part to provide protection. Though all Warders are accomplished warriors, true blademasters are as rare among them as they are in the world at large. Rand, who now carries his father's blade towards an uncertain future, will eventually reach their ranks underneath his tutelage and earn the heron mark in more ways than one.

In the days of The Wheel during the attack on Emond's Field, there are only a dozen or so known blademasters in the world, Tam and Lan being two of them. Within the first three episodes, another blademaster has been introduced, but his martial prowess has yet to be depicted. Eamon Valda of the Children of the Light has attained this distinguished rank and is considered an extremely dangerous man, though there are already some apparent changes between his character in the Wheel of Time books and the one presented in the television adaptation. The Hand of the Light, or the Questioners as they are called derisively, are the interrogation arm of the Children and known for their brutality. In the books, Eamon Valda had an esteemed place within the Children, serving on The Council of the Anointed, but he was not himself a Questioner. So while his grisly collection of serpent rings mounts, his mastery of the blade within The Wheel of Time will be something worthy of eager anticipation.

The Wheel of Time is now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes releasing on Fridays.

KEEP READING: The Wheel of Time: How Hiding the Dragon Reborn Will Help the Show Stick Its Landing

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Mark Millien (69 Articles Published)

Creator/writer of The Hidden Scribes and COVID39 podcasts. Film screener for the Austin Film Festival and holder of passionate opinions e.g. M>DC+(Wars-Sequels~GOAT)/( Game(Breaking(The Wire)Bad)of Thrones-2 last seasons)=FACTS. Raised by Dungeons and Dragons, judges people who liked "Signs", and solidly chicken on the which came first ideological spectrum.

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