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Interpretation of the Grey Swords by dejan-delic

"Courage almost inhuman, defying mortal limits... These soldiers humble us all."
―Ganoes Paran[src]

The Grey Swords were a mercenary cult[1] of warrior priests and acolytes sworn to Fener, the Boar of Summer. Their order was dedicated to Fener's Reve.

Originally from Elingarth, they were hired by Prince Jelarkan of Capustan to supplement his own forces, the Capanthall. By city law, the Capanthall was capped at 2000 soldiers, so Jelarkan hired the mercenaries to strengthen the city's defences in the face of an invasion by the Pannion Domin. The Grey Swords originally numbered over seven thousand, but supplemented their numbers with 1200 largely female recruits from Capustan.[2][3]

Jelarkan's rivals in government, the Mask Council, sought to rein in his increased power by invoking a law preventing the Grey Swords from any engagements outside the city walls. This severely restricted what they could do in the event of a siege.[3]

The Grey Swords' service did not come cheap, as their standard-contract charged twice what the Crimson Guard demanded.[3]


Overall command was held by Mortal Sword Brukhalian. The highest ranking priest was Destriant Karnadas. Itkovian was Shield Anvil, a position that "demanded both scholarly pursuits and military prowess". He studied history, philosophy, and religion in order to formulate tactics and strategy based on an accurate understanding of both enemies and allies.[2]

The Grey Swords were broken into two kinds of units: Manes (infantry) and Wings (cavalry). A Wing was made up of fifteen soldiers who were trained to arrange themselves in multiple formations such as the inverted crescent and the crooked wing shape of the raptor formation. The Wing soldiers were armed with swords, lances, and bows, as well as lassos with which they could pull down larger foes.[2] Grey Sword warhorses could be heavily armoured for combat. They were trained to bite and stamp opponents, spin in place, and respond to their rider's verbal commands and touch.[4]

Manes were trained to fight in various formations including squares and lines. They could lock shields together when facing massed numbers. They carried long serrated pikes and swords.[4]

In large scale engagements, Wings and Manes fought in groups of three under the command of an officer known as a Trimaster. For example, a Trimaster might be in charge of the First, Sixth, and Seventh Manes or Wings One, Three, and Five.[5]

Grey Swords were skilled in the healing arts and had access to High Denul through their Destriant, even when he or she was not present.[2]

Grey Swords recruited from amongst local populations and their training followed the tenet of "Train the soldier in the real world". New recruits were taught the minimal skills to ride and given weapons and armour to accustom them to their weight. Only after observing the recruit's ability to follow the example of others would they receive weapons training. If a unit with a recruit found itself in combat, two veterans would remain at the recruit's side at all times.[2]

Grey Swords despised blind obedience, and officers were willing to listen to the advice and recommendations of subordinates.[2] Both male and female Grey Swords were referred to as "Sir".[4]

The cult did not demand monastic vows such as celibacy of its adherents, although some chose to impose these strictures upon themselves.[6]

Notable Members of Fener's Reve[]

In Memories of Ice[]

Interpretation of K'ell Hunter fighting the Grey Swords in Memories of Ice by Spindrift

Preparing for the inevitable Pannion Domin Siege of Capustan, the Grey Swords acted independently of the oversight of their employer, Prince Jelarkan. Contacted by Quick Ben, they first made a secret alliance with the forces of High Fist Dujek Onearm and Caladan Brood. While patrolling outside the city, Itkovian stumbled upon the first of the Pannion Seer's undead K'ell Hunters. This led to another secret alliance with the K'Chain Che'Malle common enemy, the Kron T'lan Imass.[7][8] Meanwhile, the Grey Swords began constructing refugee tunnels below the city without waiting for Council approval.[9]

When Septarch Kulpath's Pannion army arrived, the Grey Swords did their best to defend against overwhelming numbers. Their hope was to make the city too costly to take, and to hold out long enough for Dujek and Brood's forces to arrive. Mortal Sword Brukhalian asked Itkovian to hold for six weeks, but the city fell within three days.[10][11]

On the last day, the Mortal Sword and his remaining veteran soldiers were betrayed by High Priest Rath'Fener, the city's representative of their own god, and slain. Itkovian was nearly killed by the Tenescowri hordes, but Destriant Karnadas sacrificed his own life to heal the Shield Anvil.[12] By this time only about 112 Grey Swords remained and most were recent Capan recruits. Itkovian led the recruits on an assault to retake Jelarkan's Palace where they found Anaster and his peasant army feasting on Jelarkan and his court. The last of the Grey Swords drove off the occupiers and then held the palace until the siege was lifted by the Malazan alliance.[13] Possibly as many as twenty thousand civilians survived in the Grey Sword tunnels.

Once the battle was over, Itkovian exacted retribution for Rath'Fener's betrayal invoking the Reve's ritual punishment for treachery. The Shield Anvil also confirmed his suspicions that Fener had fallen from his divine realm and now walked the mortal earth. Rath'Trake, representative of Fener's seeming successor, offered to take over the blessing of his vows, but Itkovian refused.[14]

After the siege, Itkovian decided that the survival of the Grey Swords called for drastic measures. He led Captain Norul and the former recruit Velbara to a gathering of Barghast elders where the Grey Swords were reconsecrated, swearing allegiance to Togg and Fanderay and proclaiming a new Reve, the Wolf's Reve, with Norul as the new Shield Anvil and Velbara the new Destriant.[15] Itkovian disassociated himself from the new order, trading in his finery and symbols of rank.[16]

Norul took her place among the leaders of the alliance against the Pannion Domin.[17] She recruited from the defeated Tenescowri to refill the Grey Sword ranks and accompanied Brood's army south to Coral. Martial training of new recruits took place on the march.[18] Norul also took personal charge of the captured Anaster, taking his pain upon herself and leaving him a broken shell who rode alongside her. This was done with the blessing of Ganoes Paran.[19][20]

At the Battle of Black Coral, the Grey Swords rode ahead of Brood's forces to assist Whiskeyjack and Dujek.[21] Norul volunteered to lead her forces in a likely suicidal charge on the Pannion Domin's army of undead K'ell Hunters along with Gruntle and his Trake's Legion. Although vastly outpowered, the Grey Swords harried the K'Chain Che'Malle with barbed lances and lassos.[22] Once inside the city, Velbara and the surviving Grey Swords located Dujek and the remains of his army, and brought them out to safety.[23] By the battle's end, only about 100 Capan women and gaunt Tenescowri recruits remained.[24]

Itkovian perished taking the pain and suffering of tens of thousands of T'lan Imass upon himself.[25] Velbara and Norul oversaw the former Shield Anvil's entombment as the gathered soldiers and undead warriors built a barrow of gifts and tokens over his body.[26]

In exchange for Toc the Younger's sacrifice of his body, Togg helped to place his soul within Anaster's now empty vessel of a body, granting Toc a second chance at life. Toc-Anaster became the new Mortal Sword of the Grey Swords.[27] Word of Anaster's rebirth and salvation brought Coral's Tenescowri to the Grey Sword camp. Toc-Anaster rode among them as Velbara's healing energies embraced them within the Wolf's Reve.[28]

In Reaper's Gale[]

The 700 remaining Grey Swords, led by Toc Anaster and an unnamed female commander, followed a prophecy to Lether seeking the Battlefield of the Gods.[29][30] The Wolves had sent them murky visions in their dreams that some vast conflagration awaited them--a battle where they would be desperately needed.[31] Once reaching the Awl'dan, the Grey Swords hired on as mercenaries with the Awl people against the Letherii Empire, who sought to conquer the Awl and take their land.

But Hadralt, the Awl warleader, was secretly in league with Letur Anict, the Letherii Factor of Drene. He saw Letherii victory as inevitable and began taking payment for the betrayal of his people.[32] After a half-dozen skirmishes with the Grey Swords, Atri-Preda Bivatt pursued them with a force of six thousand. Hadralt abandoned them on the battlefield, preferring to keep the coin promised the mercenaries as payment. The outnumbered Grey Swords sold their lives at great cost, killing almost half of Bivatt's forces, but were eventually overcome.[29]

Onos T'oolan and his White Face Barghast arrived too late to aid Toc and his soldiers. Since the Letherii had mutilated the bodies beyond recognition, Tool assumed his friend was dead and declared he would have vengeance against both the Awl and the Letherii. He and Hetan also witnessed packs of wolves remove the hearts from each corpse, which they assumed was an act of honour from the mercenaries' patrons.[33]

Redmask, the former Awl warleader, returned to his people after a long exile and overthrew Hadralt to fight back against the Letherii. When he discovered that Hadralt had secretly captured Toc before the battle and kept him prisoner, he released him and recruited him as an advisor.[34] Tool kept his vow to the Grey Swords, slaughtering the Awl and Letherii survivors of the Battle of Q'uson Tapi, but once again arriving too late to save Toc.[35]

In Dust of Dreams[]

When the Barghast arrived to help the Grey Swords in their fight against the Letherii, all they found was the dead of the Grey Swords.[36]

Notable Members of the Wolf's Reve[]


Author Steven Erikson says the Grey Swords resemble in some ways the Knights Templar, a "very rigid, very structured military society" whose "fanaticism and their belief in what they were doing in service to god would have overridden anything else."[37]

See also[]

Notes and references[]

  1. Memories of Ice, Glossary, UK MMPB p.1181
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Memories of Ice, Chapter 7
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Memories of Ice, Chapter 3, US SFBC p.101
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Memories of Ice, Chapter 16
  5. Memories of Ice, Chapter 14
  6. Memories of Ice, Chapter 14, US SFBC p.458-459
  7. Memories of Ice, Chapter 14, US SFBC p.454
  8. Memories of Ice, Chapter 7, US SFBC p.243-246/251-258/285-286
  9. Memories of Ice, Chapter 14, US SFBC p.481
  10. Memories of Ice, Chapter 7, US SFBC p.244-245
  11. Memories of Ice, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.550
  12. Memories of Ice, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.538-544/546-547
  13. Memories of Ice, Chapter 17, US SFBC p.585-591
  14. Memories of Ice, Chapter 17, US SFBC p.589-593
  15. Memories of Ice, Chapter 18, UK MMPB p.790-792
  16. Memories of Ice, Chapter 20, US SFBC p.843-844
  17. Memories of Ice, Chapter 20, US SFBC p.702
  18. Memories of Ice, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.829
  19. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, UK MMPB p.921
  20. Memories of Ice, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.794
  21. Memories of Ice, Chapter 24, US SFBC p.898
  22. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.920-923
  23. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.945
  24. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.982
  25. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.936/956-957
  26. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.982-984
  27. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, UK MMPB p.1102/1109-1111/1129/1145/1167/1168
  28. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.989
  29. 29.0 29.1 Reaper's Gale, Chapter 1, US HC p.40
  30. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 6, US HC p.151
  31. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.701
  32. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 6
  33. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.704
  34. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 6
  35. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.702-706
  36. Dust of Dreams, Chapter 4
  37. Ten Very Big Books podcast - Memories of Ice - See 29:00
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