The Phoenix on the Sword

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"The Phoenix on the Sword"
AuthorRobert E. Howard
CountryUnited States
SeriesConan the Cimmerian
Published inWeird Tales
Publication typePulp magazine
PublisherRural Publishing Corporation
Publication dateDecember 1932
Followed by"The Scarlet Citadel"

"The Phoenix on the Sword" is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard, and first published in Weird Tales magazine, in December, 1932. The tale, in which Howard created the character of Conan, was a rewrite of the unpublished Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule!", with long passages being identical. The Conan version of the story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Usurper (Lancer Books, 1967). It has most recently been republished in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and details Conan foiling a nefarious plot to unseat him as king of Aquilonia.

The first Conan story depicts him as a king—which means that when writing later stories placed earlier in Conan's life, as a thief, pirate, mercenary, etc., Howard (and his readers) already knew that the character was ultimately destined to become a king.

Plot summary[edit]

Letter from Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, to Robert E. Howard

"The Phoenix on the Sword" begins with a middle-aged Conan of Cimmeria attempting to govern the turbulent kingdom of Aquilonia.

Conan has recently seized the crown of Aquilonia from King Numedides after he strangled the tyrant upon his throne. However, his rule over Aqualonia is nonexistent, as Conan is more suited to swinging his broadsword than signing official documents with a stylus. The citizens of Aquilonia, who originally welcomed Conan as their liberator from Numedides' tyranny, have gradually turned against him due to his foreign Cimmerian blood. They have constructed a statue to Numedides' memory in the temple of Mitra, and priests burn incenses before their slain king, hailing it as the holy effigy of a saintly monarch who was done to death by a red-handed barbarian.

Desiring to give the Aquilonian crown to someone of royal blood, a daring band known as the Rebel Four is formed: Volmana, the dwarfish count of Karaban; Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion; Dion, the fat baron of Attalus; and Rinaldo, the hare-brained minstrel. The Rebel Four recruit the services of a southern outlaw named Ascalante. However, in secret, Ascalante plans on betraying his employers and claiming the crown for himself.

Ascalante has a slave named Thoth-Amon, formerly a powerful Stygian wizard, who has fallen on hard times since he lost a mystical ring. A thief had stolen his ring and left Thoth-Amon defenseless, forcing him to flee from Stygia. Disguised as a camel driver, he was waylaid in Koth by Ascalante's reavers. While the rest of his caravan was slaughtered, Thoth-Amon saved himself by revealing his identity and swearing to serve Ascalante.

The story revolves around the conspirator's attempt in assassinating King Conan when he is unprepared and defenseless. However, two unforeseen events ultimately thwart their plan. Conan is forewarned of an impending coup by the arrival of a long-dead sage named Epemitreus, who marks Conan's sword with a mystical phoenix representing Mitra, a Hyborian god. Meanwhile, Thoth-Amon murders Dion and recovers his lost ring of power, then summons a fanged ape-like demon who he wishes to slay Ascalante. Conan slays the three remaining members of the Rebel Four, breaking his sword upon the helm of Gromel and using a battle-axe against the rest of his would-be assassins. Conan hesitates to kill Rinaldo, whose songs once deeply touched the King's heart—a scruple which costs Conan dearly, as Rinaldo manages to stab him before being finally killed.

Ascalante, seeing his goal within reach, moves to finish off the wounded king. But before Ascalante can strike, he is set upon and killed by Thoth-Amon's demon, which is then slain by Conan with the shard of his enchanted sword.


The story was adapted by writer Roy Thomas and artists Vicente Alcázar & Yong Montano in Conan the Barbarian Annual #2 (1976).[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Conan the Barbarian Annual #2 at the Grand Comics Database

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Scarlet Citadel"
Preceded by
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Scarlet Citadel"
Preceded by
Conan the Liberator
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Scarlet Citadel"