The Phoenix on the Sword

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"The Phoenix on the Sword"
Weird tales dec1932.jpg
Cover of Weird Tales, December 1932.
Art by J. Allen St. John
Author Robert E. Howard
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in Weird Tales
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Rural Publishing Corporation
Publication date December 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 The tale, in which Howard created the character of Conan, was a rewrite of the unpublished Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule!", with long passages being identical.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.

It is noteworthy that the very 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 bloody crown of Aquilonia from King Numedides whom he strangled upon his throne; however, things have not gone well, as Conan is more suited to swinging a broadsword than to signing official documents with a stylus. The people 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 built a statue to Numedides' memory in the temple of Mitra, and people burn incense before it, 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 consisting of Volmana, the dwarfish count of Karaban; Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion; Dion, the fat baron of Attalus; Rinaldo, the hare-brained minstrel. The Rebel Four recruit the services of a southern outlaw named Ascalante. But, in secret, Ascalante is merely using the rebels to gain the crown of Aquilonia for himself.

At the same time, Ascalante has a unique slave named Thoth-Amon, formerly a powerful Stygian wizard, who has fallen on hard times since he lost a magic ring which was the source of his power. A thief had stolen the ring from Thoth-Amon and, thus, broken his power in Stygia. The other magicians rose up to slay him, and he fled. Disguised as a camel-driver, he traveled in a caravan in the land of Koth, where Ascalante's reavers fell upon them. All in the caravan were slain except for Thoth-Amon who saved his life by revealing his identity to Ascalante and swearing to serve him.

Overall, the story centers around the plot of the Rebel Four to assassinate King Conan when he is unprepared and defenseless. However, two unforeseen events occur: Conan is forewarned of the impending coup d'état by the long-dead sage Epemitreus, who marks Conan's sword with a mythical phoenix representing Mitra, a Hyborian god. Asynchronously, Thoth-Amon murders Dion and recovers his lost ring of power, and then proceeds to summon a fanged, ape-like demon against his former master 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 is extremely reluctant to kill Rinaldo, whose songs once deeply touched the King's heart - a scruple which costs Conan dearly, as Rinaldo manages to stab Conan before being finally killed.

Seeing Conan wounded in the battle, Ascalante moves to finish him off, but is taken by surprise by the demon summoned by Thoth-Amon, which kills him. Conan then uses what is left of his enchanted sword to slay the demon.


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"