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Dark Rocks

Five Balefire Swords Inspired by Fantasy Worlds

When we started Balefire Blades back in 2018, our mission was to bring the fantastic back into historical fencing. We certainly started swordfighting in response to our favourite fantasy films and books, longing to emulate our fictional heroes - and we had a feeling that a lot of our audience did too.

Now six years later, we have a beautiful catalogue of custom swords that we've made, many of which take their inspiration directly from fantasy worlds. From the sweeping high fantasy of Middle Earth to the grimdark angst of the Warhammer universe, we have proudly brought tangible artefacts from many magical realms to life.

It's no easy choice to pick favourite swords from our portfolio - a bit like being asked to choose a favourite child. However, here are five great fantasy-inspired fencing weapons that might inspire you in turn!

The Iridea Sabre - The Witcher

This elegant sabre was commissioned by a friend of the forge, who requested a functional fencing tool based on Iris from blockbuster game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Now Iris is no entry-level Witcher sword - in fact, it can only be found in the Hearts of Stone expansion, where it belongs to the tragic antihero Olgierd von Everec. To make a long story short, Olgierd gained three wishes at great cost. With his first wish he won the hand of his beloved Iris, but as the result of his second wish - for immortality - he lost the ability to love.

If the titular Witcher chooses to free Olgierd from the constraints of his deal, he will receive the sword named for his beloved as a token of gratitude.

Tasked with bringing this fan-favourite sword to life, Chris looked into the swords that inspired it in turn: Polish szablas of the 16th and 17th Centuries. From this research, he was able to create both a feel and aesthetic anchored in our own world while strongly evoking the Witcher's.

Hyper-realism was key to this effect, and to this end Chris used an antiqued grey finish, adding a bit of grimdark flair to the guard and heel cap, as well as decorative engraving that stands out from the antiqued background and makes the sword look "realer than real".

For more about the Iridea sword, its inspiration, and how it feels in the hand, check it out here.

The Sigismund Sword - Warhammer 40k

Tasked with making a fencing longsword inspired by the legendary Black Sword of the Warhammer 40k universe, Chris knew he had a challenge to rise to.

In the Warhammer universe, the Black Sword was wielded by Sigismund, the founder of the Black Templars. It is an ancient artifact, created by the Emperor himself, and given to Sigismund as a sign that the Emperor had chosen him to lead the Templar forces against invading Chaos armies. The sword became synonymous with the heroic champion, to the extent that Sigismund himself was known as The Black Sword. After Sigismund's death, the sword became a sacred relic, borne by only the most peerless swordsmen of the Black Templars.

With such a commanding reputation, Chris wanted to be sure he did the sword justice. Source material about the sword speaks of its fine gold and black decoration, a feeling of decadent excess, and a jet-black blade that casts no reflection. Chris achieved the latter by oil-blackening the blade to a matte finish.

The decadent decoration was a particular challenge, as it needed to be fencing-safe and durable. By rounding down the sword's trademark sharp angles, Chris kept the feel of the 40k artwork without risking snagged clothing. The hand-carved skull and cross motifs on the pronounced ecusson are differentially polished to leap out from the black background and leave no doubt as to which universe the sword has come from. Meanwhile, the mention of gold detailing is reflected by a half brass wire grip.

To learn more about this grimdark beauty, including how even its balance is an homage to the source material, check it out here.

The Hessian Sword - Sleepy Hollow

This exquisite gothic longsword was closely inspired by the Headless Horseman's weapon in Tim Burton's classic Sleepy Hollow. Rather than making a replica of the film prop, we took it as a starting place and ran with its serpentine imagery, making a wieldy and elegant fencing tool that nonetheless evokes the folk horror of its inspiration.

In the film, the Headless Horseman originates as a Hessian mercenary fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Having lost his head in battle, he is cursed to ride a black steed in search of his stolen skull.

Historically, the Hessian checks out: the professional troops of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel were "lent out" to supplement the relatively small British standing army in America in the 16th Century. However, these elite forces would have used muskets and rifles with sabres and hangers as side weapons - not elaborate Medieval longswords!

With no direct historical reference, Chris focused on the strong gothic aesthetic of the sword, which revolved around the snake's head pommel. To make the longsword safe for fencing, Chris made this more rounded than the film prop, with hand-carved detailing to add both grip and character. The open mouth features inset steel fangs and a brass tongue.

The snakeskin carvings continue down the black leather grip of the sword, all the way to the slender downturned crossguard (a more practical variant on the film prop's shorter, thicker design). The final serpentine element is the blade itself, which is carved into a tight flamberge wave - a far cry from the heavy-looking slab of blade in the film, but a delight to fight with, offering a willing weight and control in the bind.

To read more about our Hessian homage, check it out here or support us on Patreon to see a full photo set of the snake head pommel being forged and carved.

Elthrovan - The Lord of the Rings

We couldn't write this article without including at least one of our beautiful Middle-Earth-inspired swords. While we've crafted interpretations of some of the beloved fantasy franchise's most instantly recognisable swords, one of our favourites is an original design sketched for by our client.

The design was inspired by the Dúnedain Rangers of the North, best known for their star pupil Aragorn, who amply demonstrates the Rangers' grim clothing and countenance, and their superior survival and swordfighting skills, in The Fellowship of the Ring. The Dúnedain were mortal men, but had almost elf-like qualities inherited from their Numenorian ancestors, such as long life and keen senses.

Elthrovan is a broad and blade-centric longsword, with a stripped-back aesthetic that would suit the lifestyle of a hardy tracker and warrior, but an east elegance that befits the Dúnedain as descendants of Numenor and friends of the elves.

The way that the quillon terminals swell to reflect the shape of the elongated pommel is a definite homage to Aragorn's Anduril, while the eight-sided star motif engraved into the blade and tooled into the scabbard references the star-shaped cloak pins worn by the Rangers of the Grey Company during the War of the Ring.

It was a thrill to work on an entirely original Middle Earth artefact, and while we necessarily paid homage to Weta Workshops' stunning film props, we were able to work closely with our client to create a functional fencing sword that referenced the deeper mythos of Tolkien's texts.

To learn more about Elthrovan, and read the Dúnedain-inspired story that Alicia cowrote with the sword's wielder, check out the full profile here.

The Pandaemonia Dussack - Elric of Melniboné

When it comes to Chaos in fantasy, there is a whole litany of work worth referencing. However, when we were asked to create a suite of swords featuring the eight-arrowed Chaos Star as a central motif, we went back to its origins: the works of Michael Moorcock.

Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné novels centre on a tentative balance between Chaos and Order. The sickly titular hero, Elric, has a particular affinity with the forces of Chaos via his ancestral patron, the Lord of Chaos Arioch, and his demonic sword Stormbringer.

Rather than striving to make a fencing version of Stormbringer, we were tasked with bringing a glimpse of Moorcock's grimdark beauty to a range of historical sword types. The Discordian Suite features a sidesword, a rapier, and a dagger - but our favourite piece is the Pandaemonia dussack.

This beauty incorporates Moorcock's infamous Chaos Star motif into the barwork of a dussack-style basket. This proved a particular challenge, as our client wanted the basket to function ambidextrously while looking chaotically asymmetrical. Rising to the challenge, Chris took ribbon-work schiavona baskets as a structural starting point, building in the typical curved quillons of a dussack, a large chaos star to the foreguard, and a cage of intersecting arrows to the counterguard.

To learn more about the Pandaemonia dussack, including how Chris built its hilt to accommodate a range of grip styles, check it out here.


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