Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 377
The book's major theme is the necessity of honoring one's own calling and talents. This is shown primarily through Kerowyn's life and decisions. When, at the very end of the story, she is "chosen" for new tasks in the realm of Valdemar, the theme takes on another aspect. Only through her faithfulness to earlier commitments does this chance become possible. While it promises an end to the hardscrabble life of a mercenary and the loneliness of command, these responsibilities were necessary to fit her for the next step in her life.
Honor is important in this entire series; not the honor of the hothead or braggart who is quick to take insult, but the honor which means one keeps one's commitments and defends those under one's protection. For years Kerowyn and her faraway lover Eldan fail to understand each other's codes of honor. Herald Eldan's loyalty to a cause and nation seems abstract and cold to Kerowyn. Her willingness to fight for money baffles him. When, as Captain, she realizes her true loyalties are to the troops of her company and to her own ethical code, she finds she and Eldan are not so far apart after all.
Along with the major theme are a couple of more subtle ones. The warfare sequences implicitly compare the professional fighting force with conscript armies; the latter are generally inept. These passages do not seem to advocate militarism, but rather to emphasize the importance of both expertise and choice. As Kerowyn says repeatedly, as long as there is war it is important for good people to take up the profession of arms. The results of leaving it to the evil or the incompetent are disastrous.
The limits of choice are another theme. While it is important to pick one's own path, as Kerowyn did, more than mere human agency is usually at work at decisive moments. "Kerowyn's ride," which made her a legend while she was still young, could not have succeeded without the help of Need, the mystical sword. Likewise, the Companions who choose new Heralds are led by some instinct undetectable to human reason. These factors do not mean people are at the mercy of random factors; rather, the "seen and the unseen" work together in most events.