The Feast of Blades is a centennial competition of honour held between the Imperial Fists Space Marine Chapter and its Successor Chapters. Each Chapter is chosen to compete in a test of arms, sending a champion to the Feast who is usually selected from among its Company Champions. Because many of the Imperial Fists' Successors are quite different from one another in temperament, and also because several are fleet-based formations with no permanent base of operations, centuries can go by without the various Chapters crossing paths.
In order to maintain at least some links between the scions of Rogal Dorn, the Imperial Fists and their Successors hold this semi-regular gathering, in which each of the Chapters in attendance selects a champion, who competes in trials of arms against the champions of each of the others. The Feast of Blades has been held for 8,140 standard years and Imperial Fists tradition mandates the Feast be held no more than once every 100 Terran years. However, the hosting Chapter may choose to hold the Feast sooner.
The combat is a highly ritualised (and generally non-lethal) affair, and is fought according to ancient duelling traditions until, after many solar days, a single champion is declared the victor. Winning the Feast of Blades earns both the champion himself and his Chapter great honour, as well as the artefact known as the Dornsblade and the right to host the competition in the locale of their choosing within 100 Terran years of their victory. Many individual rivalries between champions have developed over the years.
At least twelve Chapters are known to regularly attend the Feast of Blades, though on occasion war and other duties preclude more than a handful from the gathering. The purpose of the competition, which was created by the Primarch Rogal Dorn after the Horus Heresy, is to maintain the bonds of brotherhood between all of the Successor Chapters of the original Imperial Fists Legion.
Following the Battle of the Iron Cage between the original Imperial Fists Legion and their mortal enemies, the Iron Warriors upon the world of Sebastus IV, the Imperial Fists' Primarch Rogal Dorn established the tradition known as the Feast of Blades -- a competition held every 100 Terran years between the Imperial Fists and their Successor Chapters that involved ritual combat between select Chapter champions. The Feast of Blades commemorates their Rogal Dorn's decision to break up his Legion into Chapters as the Codex Astartes -- and Imperial security -- required.
The tradition was soon established and Rogal Dorn presided over the first of the centenary Feasts. Dorn wanted to foster brotherhood between the various Chapters that resulted from splitting his Legion during the Second Founding. To maintain close relations between the Successor Chapters, the bonds of brotherhood were to be strengthened and tempered through competition.
It is customary for the host Chapter to select the site of a recent victory to serve as the contest's location. The most recent Feast of Blades, the 816th, was held on the recently emancipated world of Samarquand IV, a formally Ork-held world in the middle of what might just be the only non-expansive Greenskin empire in the galaxy. Samarquand had been part of the Urk Empire for two thousand years. An Ork Warlord called the Great Tusk held the system. The Great Tusk and its entire line of Ork rulers were plagued with an uncharacteristic lack of ambition. The fat monsters seemed content to sit on their throne world, breeding in their own squalor. The Urk Empire's fleet and forces had never committed themselves out-system or joined the Ork invasions plaguing nearby sectors. After two thousand years of warfare, the Imperium was still attempting to utterly destroy the small, but populous Ork empire. The Imperial Fists, the Dark Angels and the Space Wolves had all honoured commitments to remove the Great Tusk and cleanse the system of Greenskin filth, but progress had been slow as there were just too many Orks to clear. The Imperial Fists had finally succeeded where the Space Wolves and the Dark Angels had failed. Samarquand IV had finally rejoined the Imperium.
Tradition has it that the Feast of Blades is a centennial tournament where each of the participating Chapters presents ten of their finest champions. A series of individual fights are scheduled and fought, until only one clear winner remains. The Chapter that claims victory in the Feast is allowed to schedule another before one hundred Terran years have passed. The Feast of Blades serves its purpose. Many pacts are created and obligations honoured amongst the Sons of Dorn during the Feast -- but all Astartes are bred for victory. Reigning Chapters want to build on past triumphs so that their success can echo through eternity and catch Dorn's approving eye or ear, wherever the Primarch might now be. The winner of the previous Feast calls the next to best complement their advantage -- the prowess of their champions and the perceived weakness of their opponent Chapters. If a Chapter is unable to attend the Feast, as has been known to happen on occasion due to combat commitments, they may request another Chapter take their place.
The ritual combat is held within an arena known as The Cage. Though The Cage is a ceremonial arena it is not some dusty amphitheatre. It is an architectural interpretation of the Iron Cage as far as accounts allow, but the layout is changed between and within each round of the competition -- even the geometry of the field can be shifted during battles.
When fighting in the Feast, all combatants wear Carapace Armour like that worn by the Scout Marines of their Chapter, which consisted of a simple sparring arrangement; a tunic and plated skirt, chestplate, codpiece and Ceramite shoulder guards. Plated gauntlets and boots completed the armour. No helmet was worn and both forearms and thighs were left exposed. All combatants in the Feast wore the original Imperial Fists Legion’s colours in the Cage as a sign of symbolic unity. On one of the shoulder guards was the allegiant yellow of the old Legion. The second one bore the champion's own Chapter colours and iconography.
The rules of the Feast of Blades were simple. Each round could be ended by a simple knock-out. Two champions entered the ring. The one that walked out of The Cage was declared the winner. The competitions lasted as long as one combatant remained standing. A combatant was only permitted two weapons within The Cage; their own bodies (to use as they saw fit) and a gladius (ceremonial sword) that was secreted about The Cage. There were two, one for each opponent. The tips and edges of both blades were smeared with a powerful paralytic toxin, engineered by the Adeptus Mechanicus especially for the Feast. The more a combatant cut his opponent, the more likely it was that they would be the first to go down, unconscious. The combatant left standing would walk away victorious.
There were also rules of conduct in place to ensure an honorable fight, but these were not effective at preventing accidental casualties. In fact, accidental deaths were overlooked, while deliberate debilitation was vocally objected against by all of the participating Chapters. The sole remaining Champion won the Feast and was formally awarded the Dornsblade as his and his Chapter's trophy and prize. This was the most ancient and revered artefact of Rogal Dorn by those Space Marine Chapters descended from the Imperial Fists Legion. The Chapter who won this honour was granted custodianship of the sacred blade and the solemn duty of presenting it at the next Feast that they would host, at most, one hundred Terran years later.
- Black Templars
- Celestial Lions
- Crimson Fists
- Death Strike
- Emperor's Warbringers
- Fire Lords
- Fists Exemplar
- Hammers of Dorn
- Imperial Fists
- Iron Fists
- Iron Knights
- Knights of Dorn
- Shadow Wolves - No longer participates. Destroyed by a Tyranid splinter fleet in 987.M41.
- Sons of Dorn
- Soul Drinkers - No longer participates. Declared Excommunicate Traitoris.
- Venom Thorns - No longer participates. Declared Excommunicate Traitoris.
- White Templars
- Unknown Feast of Blades (546.M32) - During the War of the Beast, Chapter Master Maximus Thane of the Fists Exemplar declares a Feast of Blades on Inwit during the funeral of Koorland, last of the Imperial Fists, while Thane himself serves as the champion for the Fists Exemplar. After defeating Sergeant Dathan Tychor of the Excoriators, Thane is declared the winner of this Feast of Blades.
- The Feast of a Hundred Duels (Unknown Date) - The Feast of Blades is the target of a massive World Eaters invasion. The sons of Dorn quickly unite against the Khornate maniacs smashing their way through the world's defences. The finest Space Marine bladesmen of the age match their Power Swords against the Chainaxes and flails of the World Eaters. Though the Chaos Space Marines finally fall to superior numbers, the skies rumble with Khorne's approval, for the feast halls are awash with the hot blood of champions.
- 812th Feast of Blades (749.M41) - The 812th Feast of Blades was held on the planet of Ganath in the Segmentum Pacificus. All 12 competing Chapters were in attendance. The Iron Knights' Champion Hervald Strom wins the competition.
- 813th Feast of Blades (849.M41) - Despite suffering heavy wounds in the Vinculus Crusade, Hervald Strom of the Black Templars emerges triumphant once more. Never before has one Chapter, let alone one champion, prevailed in two successive assemblages.
- 814th Feast of Blades (949.M41) - The ravages of war dictate that only 8 of the 12 participating Chapters are in attendance, but the tradition is still observed. The competition is tied between the Imperial Fists and the Crimson Fists Chapters, who have won the Feast's competition the most times of any of the 12 Chapters invited.
- 816th Feast of Blades (Unknown Date.M41) - The most recent Feast of Blades was held on the formally Ork-held world of Samarquand IV, within the heavily contested Samarquand Sector, which had been part of the Urk Empire for nearly two thousand years. Suffering some of their worst losses in five thousand years, the Excoriators Chapter suffered the indignity of having seven of their champions defeated early in the tournament, and their remaining two were hopelessly outclassed by their upcoming match-ups. With a heavy heart, the Chapter decided to risk waking Zachariah Kersh (the Chapter Scourge or Champion) in a desperate bid to salvage some honour. The recently disgraced Kersh had suffered the unfortunate dishonour of losing his Chapter's sacred standard to the vile Alpha Legion. It is not clear whether the Chapter's genetic affliction known as Dorn's Darkness caused Kersh’s recent failures or was triggered by them. As punishment, he had been placed within a stasis sarcophagus. A risky medical intervention with Kersh's Catalepsean Node brought him out of the Darkness and restored him to something resembling a functional state. Though Kersh performed admirably and won several successive victories during the grueling 816th tournament, the senior officers of the other competing Chapters remaining in the Feast did not recognise the legitimacy of "the Scourge's" victories. Their honour prevented them from stepping into The Cage with Kersh and the same honour also prevented them from claiming victory in the Feast without first besting Kersh. Therefore, Master Fortinbrase, the senior Imperial Fist presiding over the Feast, decreed that the final match would be decided by a three-way duel between Kersh and the remaining Champions from the Black Templars and the Imperial Fists. The Black Templars Champion Alighieri was a devout Brethren of the Sword and a Castellan. He was half the age of Kersh but had twice the victories to his name. The Imperial Fists' Champion was Montalbán, a hulking Astartes and Chapter Master Vladimir Pugh's personal Champion, as well as the best competitor at the Feast. Despite the disadvantages arrayed against him, Kersh managed to do the impossible and defeat both champions in The Cage. He became the first Champion of the Excoriators to win the Feast of Blades in the Chapter's history.
- Codex Heretic Astartes - Chaos Space Marines (8th Edition), pg. 44, "The Feast of a Hundred Duels"
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 49
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pp. 69, 75
- Index Astartes: Company Champions (6th Edition), pp. 5–6
- Legion of the Damned (Novel) by Rob Sanders, pp. 57, 65-67, 104
- Irixia (Short Story) by Ben Counter
- Shadow of Ullanor (Novel) by Rob Sanders, Chapter 3