One of the items that appears in the new Cat Among Dragons book (soon, my Presciousssss Readersssss, very soon) is an honor blade. Rada Ni Drako, or Lord Reh-dakh as she is now known, has served the Azdhag Throne for centuries but has never been granted one of these weapons. Readers familiar with the Azdhagi will not be surprised at the blend of archaic tradition and very high technology that are incorporated in the weapons.
The honor blade, non-Rada sized weapon is roughly 50 cm (20 in) long from the end of the pommel to the tip of the sheath. The blade is not so big, 20 cm (7 3/4 in) or so, probably a touch shorter, and is shaped like a single edge dagger. The creamy white handle is cylindrical, and a small guard separates the blade from the hilt. The hilt, like the sheath, is made of bone, the very dense foreleg or hind leg bone of a talkak, the large, heavyset, wild herbivore of the mountains. The tight cell structure allows the material to take a lot of detailed carving while staying strong. It also makes it resistant to staining by blood and other bodily fluids, and despite the deep carving, the weapon can be cleaned relatively easily. A few bahn-leh in the Imperial collection show staining. Those date from a period of social turmoil, or belonged to certain (in)famous individuals.
It is the carving and the latch mechanism that set the bahn-leh apart from other fancy weapons. The carving depicts scenes from the owner’s career, or the Lineage’s history, depending on the age of the weapon. The older weapons in the Imperial collection, some of which date to before the Great Relocation, are larger, and their patterns are more stylized. Later weapons have representational art, and a few show recognizable individuals. That is, Rada can identify the individuals, since she saw them in person. Others have to depend on the sigils and other marks to read the ownership.
Some outsiders, and even many common-born Azdhagi, believe that there is an element of the supernatural in the latching mechanism of the bahn-leh. Only the owner and the King-Emperor can draw the blade. The sheath can be broken off to reveal the metal inside, but only those two can draw the weapon without damaging it. When a blade is passed down the Lineage line, it is returned to the King-Emperor for a few days before the ceremony. Only after that can the new holder unsheathe the blade. There are stories that magic keeps the blade locked into the sheath. It is the same magic that allows the blade to prove that the owner’s intentions are honorable.
The truth is more complicated. The bahn-leh’s “magic” depends on advanced genetic and biochemical sensors. When the owner or a member of the male line of the Imperial lineage grips the blade, they rest their thumb pad on a grip point. Within the grip technicians build a tiny genetic reader. It confirms the identity of the holder and releases the latches. A coating of similar sensors coats much of the blade. But those depend on blood and adrenaline, or the Azdhag hormone that serves the same purpose. It is unlikely that any mammal other than Rada could use an honor blade for the traditional use: outside of combat, she does not produce as much adrenaline as humans or even most Wanderers do. Her strict emotional control also makes the honor blade work for her.
The honor blade is the final line of defense of personal honor and an absolute guarantee that the owner is acting by his definition of honor. Among the Azdhagi, this ties into the Pack, and the Pack will not question the proof of an honor blade’s reaction. In Rada’s case, despite her alien ancestry, the King-Emperor’s gift and her long tenure combine to place her within the tradition of the bahn-leh and the Azdhagi accept the blade’s actions just as they would if she were an Azdhag male.