Literature / Lythande

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Lythande is a character created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and conveniently enough also the name of the anthology of stories written about the character. There are also several other stories that were not published in the original anthology which were not collected for 25 years, until The Complete Lythande was published in 2013; most are available in other anthologies, and some as separate ebooks. The character was originally created for, and the first story ("The Secret of the Blue Star") written for, the first Thieves' World anthology.

The stories are usually at best tangentially related; some stand completely alone and some reference previous stories, but only a few are directly related (through recurring characters). The general setup is Lythande entering a new place and either being hired to deal with a magical menace or falling afoul of a magical effect. The conflicts are usually resolved by a combination of wits, willpower, force, and magic.

Due to a Late-Arrival Spoiler in the original story which forms the basis of several others, all story folders will have unmarked spoilers.


Tropes applying to Lythande or the stories in general:

  • All Men Are Rapists: This is not a nice setting, and several plots revolve around just how normal and expected it is for almost any man to force himself on any woman if he gets the chance.
  • All There in the Manual: Your first thought on seeing the name Lythande is probably "How do you pronounce 'Lythande', anyway?" Well worry no longer - in the foreword of the original anthology, MZB reveals that in her mind it's pronounced "LEE-thond", and also that anyone else's pronunciation is just as valid.
  • An Aesop: Lythande sometimes tries to deliver Aesops to the hirers, such as telling a farmer he must make peace with his neighbors to avoid being cursed again, and is sometimes the one being taught by the experience.
  • The Ageless: Lythande can still be killed, but can live for centuries without aging.
  • Alien Sky: Lythande's own world has two suns, Keth and Reth, and may have more than one moon.
  • Character Development: Over the course of the stories (or, more precisely, between them) Lythande grows in such ways as taking back up the lute and rediscovering the love of music that preceded the love of magic. Lythande's earlier appearances were also significantly more anxious (or angsty) than the later ones, which seem more jaded and pragmatic than anything.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: The mage robe isn't the source of Lythande's power, but it is explicitly magical - fireproof, waterproof, and spelled into its form rather than cut and sewed (which means it can't be unmade by unbinding spells like regular clothes).
  • Conditional Powers: Pilgrim Adepts' powers are dependant on obeying a number of vows, especially on keeping a Dark Secret; if a man or another Adept learns their secret, they lose their powers and can be killed.
  • Dual Wielding: Lythande carries two daggers or swords: the black-bound right-hand one for material enemies, and the red-bound left-hand one for creatures of magic.
  • Exact Words: Magic seems to run on precise wording; the vows binding Pilgrim Adepts are extremely literal (their secrets can never be learned by man, but women don't count) and when a magician states something it seems that they set the rules of the situation (such as saying "Even I cannot kill what's already dead" ensuring that the problem won't be resolved by finding a way to kill the dead).
  • Famed In-Story: Normal people tend not to know of Lythande's reputation (just being a magician is often reputation enough), but other mages from hedge-witches up to other Adepts, as well as magical beings like goblins, view the name "Lythande" with anything on the continuum of awe, terror, and loathing.
  • Funetik Aksent: Peasants often have their common accents written out, and it's also sometimes used to show Lythande adopting the local vernacular.
  • Guile Hero: Oddly enough, for someone supposedly bound to defend Law, Lythande's at least as likely, if not more, to solve an obstacle with wits, bluffs, third options, and manipulation as with magic and force. Dealing with the public and potential customers involves quite a lot of wearing masks and playing their expectations, and for all Lythande wants to avoid politics, talking the way out of a corner happens pretty often.
    • There is a subtype of Action Hero, though, because when wits and talking aren't enough Lythande's perfectly ready with magic and blades.
  • Immortality: The Pilgrim Adepts, including Lythande, are said to be living forever to fight against Chaos in the Last Battle.
  • In Universe Nickname: Other Pilgrim Adepts know Lythande as "The Shadow", due to a sneaky and stealthy reputation.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lythande wears practical normal clothes beneath the mage robe and has at least one change of clothes, but in every appearance where clothing is mentioned, it's that same mage robe over and over.
  • Magical Accessory: In several stories, Lythande wears a ring that can spark fires (and light cigarettes).
  • Meaningful Rename: Lythande took that name upon deciding to pursue magic and power, leaving any normal life behind.
  • Only One Name: Lythande, just Lythande. And that's not even the birth name, which is pointedly not revealed in "Sea Wrack".
  • Power Tattoo: Pilgrim Adepts have a blue star on their foreheads.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Lythande's magic spell book provides spells and information relevant to apparently any circumstance. In one instance, this provides a spell to return the dead to life. Despite the power that such an ability could have to change the world, it isn't used for its intended purpose even once, let alone regularly.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: The robe is played completely straight - the clothes of not only Lythande but most other Pilgrim-Adepts and professional magic-users are described as a "mage robe", in nearly every story. The hat is not; no mage is described with a hat, but almost all with deep hoods.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: Werewolves are mentioned as being real and weredragons are mentioned, with one being a recurring character. A werewolf is never actually shown, but is likely fairly traditional, given the traditional bent of the vampires in the story where it was brought up. Weredragons, however, seem to be more like dragons in human shape, rather than humans who can turn into dragons.
  • Self-Made Myth: Lythande cultivates a mysterious and otherworldly reputation among common folk - figuring it can do only good for mages to be regarded with awe, even if only for parlor tricks like vanishing in the morning but leaving the room locked. Lythande also cultivates an image among other magical people and creatures as being swift to anger and prone to Disproportionate Retribution, because it comes in handy when intimidation is the best way to accomplish something and it forestalls any meddling; keeping everyone at arm's length is a happy side-effect.
  • Smoking Is Cool: In some stories, Lythande smokes "sweet herbs" rolled up like a cigarette.
  • Spell Book: In some stories Lythande has a reference book for magic; sometimes spells and information just appear there as needed.
  • Squishy Wizard: Defied. Lythande knows some magicians who focus purely on magic, and thinks they're weak and foolish - ergo the dual-wielding daggers and skill with a sword.
  • Walk the Earth: Lythande is always on the move, wandering around picking up odd jobs, killing time until the end of time.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Lythande carries a lute (or sometimes a harp) and wanders around, singing for supper when no magic employment is available, sometimes performing Magic Music.

    Spoilers about Lythande in general 
  • Badass Gay: Lythande is attracted to women, but that's a lot less important than her magic, ambition, and willpower that lets her walk the world for decades and centuries, combatting Chaos and dealing with magical troubles.
  • Butch Lesbian: Lythande is masculine enough to pass as a man in her normal life. It helps that she is very tall and very thin, and people expect eccentricity (like shaving) from mages.
  • Covers Always Lie: Completely inverted; every cover of the original anthology makes it obvious Lythande is a woman. This page's image was from a new anthology from 2013 which finally does lie.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Lythande's Dark Secret to which her power is tied is her gender; because she pretended to be a man so that she could have the power of the Pilgrim Adepts, she must live her life as a man to keep it.

Tropes applying to individual stories:

Stories are listed in rough chronological order, and in order of publication when there aren't chronological clues.

    open/close all folders 

    The Malice of the Demon 
A vain queen demands Lythande summon a demon for her.

  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The vain queen wishes to be returned to the height of her beauty, and the demon gives her exactly that; she's reverted in age to an infant.
  • Deal with the Devil: The queen demands Lythande summon a demon so she can make a pact for youth and beauty. It goes about as well as you would expect.
  • Exact Words: The queen demands to be restored to the height of her beauty with her whole life ahead of her. Lythande confronts the demon after he turns her into an infant, and the demon points out that who could say she was ever any more beautiful, and she certainly had her whole life ahead of her, didn't she?

    The Secret of the Blue Star 
Pilgrim Adepts are bound by many vows, the most important of which is the secret that is the key to their power; should any man learn their secret, they will lose their power and be worth nothing but death. An old enemy has come into town and is trying to discover Lythande's.

  • Brainwashed: The girl Lythande rescues in the beginning is enspelled by another magician to fall madly in love with her, so that the other magician can use her to try to learn Lythande's secret.
  • Constrained Writing: The author managed to write almost the entire story without actually assigning Lythande a gender via pronouns, but did slip up at one point:
    Lythande drew from the folds of his robe a small pouch containing a quantity of sweet-smelling herbs, rolled them into a blue-grey leaf, and touched his ring to spark the roll alight. He drew on the smoke, which drifted up sweet and greyish.
  • Gender-Neutral Writing
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The secret revealed at the end is that Lythande is a woman, living in disguise as a man under pain of death.
  • Time Stands Still: Lythande demonstrates the ability to stop time with sheer force of will to consider her options.

    The Incompetent Magician 
Lythande is hired to retrieve a magician's stolen magic wand.

  • Intangibility: Lythande demonstrates an ability to walk through walls, though it's rather unpleasant.

    The Wandering Lute 
Lythande comes to a minor heir to a kingdom who has suddenly inherited the throne, who is unfortunately bound on his route as a Wandering Minstrel by an enchanted lute that keeps him moving. Lythande trades instruments with him so that he can go back and ends up at the mercy of the wandering lute.

  • Clingy MacGuffin: The enchanted lute has some very specific idea about where it's going; if you have it, you're going there whether you like it or not.
  • No-Sell: Lythande attempts an unbinding spell so powerful it causes clothes to unsew themselves; the lute and its spell are utterly unaffected.
  • Solitary Sorceress: The lute leads the way to a small house isolated in a swamp, with a single beautiful woman living there. Initially she's taken to be a hedge-witch hiding her power from society, but it turns out that she's a were-dragon in human form.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Beauty is clearly able to take at least two human forms and a dragon one, which is likely her native body.

    Somebody Else's Magic 
A dying priestess bequeaths her magic sword to Lythande, and Lythande has to pass as a woman to return it to where it belongs.

  • Bestiality Is Depraved: The insult "You molester of virgin goats!" is commonly used in the region where the story is set. In the finale, when Lythande is throwing insults at the villainous Adept to distract him before he figures out her Secret, she throws in the one about virgin goats and his reaction makes her immediately realize that that's his Secret.
  • Blasphemous Boast: "I am Lythande! Who dares challenge me, man or woman or goddess?"
  • Chekhov's Gun: The unusual swearing in the region - "defiler of virgin goats" and similar - turns out to be the very weapon Lythande needs to destroy the villainous Adept, as it's his Secret.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Lythande buries the sword with the most powerful sealing spells she knows, and it ends up back in her pack.
  • Empathic Weapon: The priestess's sword has a mind of its own; it hunts down and kills the people who killed her, basically using Lythande just as a hand to hold it.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The villainous Adept's secret has been hidden in plain sight in the community - it's used as a commonplace swear unique to the area.
  • Im Dying Please Take My Macguffin: The priestess at the beginning presses her magic sword onto Lythande, to take back to the temple.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The goddess's swords may only be touched by women.
  • Recursive Crossdressing: Played with - Lythande is a woman, but she's been passing as a man for decades or longer by this point; dressing as a woman to get into the temple is awkward crossdressing to her. This is further complicated by the fact that to anyone who knows her, she still has to pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman.

    Sea Wrack 
A siren has been terrorizing a fishing village, and Lythande agrees to get rid of it. It turns out to be a hard decision to go through with.

  • Enthralling Siren: The enemy Lythande is hired to fight is some sort of siren that attracts and kills all of the village's men.
  • Given Name Reveal: The Siren makes Lythande think back to her ancient past, before she took the name 'Lythande', making her think of her original name - but this is forcefully defied when Lythande realizes she's about to remember what her birth name was and wrenches her mind away, leaving the reader with nothing but that tantalizing hint.
  • Glamour: The siren appears in a vulnerable, gentle form, perhaps suited to the viewer's memories and personality; its true form is… less attractive.
  • Glamour Failure: The siren loses its attractive appearance at the end, snapping Lythande out of its enthrallment.
  • Magic Music: Both Lythande and the siren show off hypnotic music magic.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Lythande sings and enthralls most of the town.
  • Mind-Control Music: The siren causes people, mostly men, to come to it by singing.
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians: This story shows some of Lythande's backstory, where she and another girl had a relationship. For the other girl it was a phase and she grew out of it; Lythande did not.

    Looking for Satan 
This story was written for Thieves' World by Vonda N. McIntyre; Lythande is a borrowed character. Its canonicity isn't certain; MZB consulted to make sure it fit the character and it was included in the original collection, but it is not in the 2013 The Complete Lythande.

  • Polyamory: Group relationships seem to be normal in Kaimas.
  • Unfortunate Name: He was named 'Satan' after the caption on a painting of a fiery angel, with no understanding of the connotations.
  • What Could Have Been: An early draft of the story had Lythande agreeing to live in Kaimas with Westerly and the others. MZB did not want the character to be permanently reformed (and made happy!) this way, so the ending was rewritten to make it clear that she's only going for a visit.

    The Virgin and the Volcano 
This story is a crossover with the character Eirthe, created by Elizabeth Waters.

To undo a curse, Lythande accompanies Eirthe through a barrier around a volcano, only for it to demand a virgin sacrifice. The only virgin around is Lythande.

  • Appease the Volcano God: Invoked by the volcano itself; once they pass through the barrier, the volcano says they must sacrifice the virgin with them to stop it from erupting.
  • Fiery Salamander: Alnath, Eirthe's pet fire elemental, is a salamander who hangs out on her wrist. She seems to like Lythande.
  • Genius Loci: The volcano turns out to be able to speak and demand its own sacrifice.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The volcano demands a virgin, specifically, be tossed in.
  • Take a Third Option: Given the choice "be sacrificed to the volcano or be killed when the volcano erupts and kills everyone", Lythande figures out a way to feed the volcano a different "virgin" - a magic candle shaped like a woman.

    North to Northwander 

    The Gratitude of Kings 
This story is a crossover with the character Eirthe, created by Elizabeth Waters.

Lythande comes to the kingdom of Tashgan (the heir from "The Wandering Lute") for his wedding ten years later.

  • Series Continuity Error: The most commonly-mentioned restriction on Lythande, that she may never eat or drink in sight of a man, is apparently completely forgotten for this story, and she eats and drinks at the feast.
  • Fiery Salamander: Alnath, Eirthe's pet fire elemental, is a salamander who hangs out on her wrist.

    The Children of Cats 
This story is a crossover with the character Eirthe, created by Elizabeth Waters.

Lythande crosses path with the child of Rastafyre the Incompe-... Incomparable (from "The Incompetent Magician"), who shows she inherited his talents.

    The Walker Behind 
When being stalked by a supernatural entity, Lythande takes shelter in a wayside inn, and seems to have gone from the frying pan into the fire.

  • Baleful Polymorph: The innkeeper transforms travelers into pigs, and then slaughters those pigs for food.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The proprietess serves humans turned into pigs to the inn's visitors.
  • Inn of No Return: The proprietor of the inn is a witch who drugs, transforms, and slaughters the customers.
  • No Ontological Inertia: The "pork" returns to visibly human meat as soon as the witch who turned the visitors into pigs is dead.

    The Wuzzles 
Lythande comes into a village and is tasked with getting rid of "wuzzles". Whatever those are.

  • Exact Words: Magic in this story is described as being rather Literal-Minded. She sneezes while saying "May it be so", and thus curses someone with sneezes.
  • Geometric Magic: The banishing spell relies on a pentagram drawn on the floor.
  • Ritual Magic: The wuzzles are banished through certain candles, on certain places, with a certain spell. Lythande even teaches the farmer the spell; he grumbles and says he could have done that.
  • Put on a Bus: Frennet, the girl Lythande picked up in "The Walker Behind", who knows Lythande's secret and is not really smart enough or sophisticated enough to keep it successfully, and who could be a large enough problem that Lythande considers killing her to keep the secret, ends the story conveniently and happily married off to a guy in town while Lythande wanders off again.
  • Running Gag: Lythande has never heard of "wuzzles" before being called on to get rid of them; every time she thinks of them it's in the form of "— what was it, wuzzles —" or similar in the middle of the sentence.

    The Footsteps of Retribution 

    Chalice of Tears 

    To Kill The Undead 
Lythande must find a way to rid a town of a vampire, but since vampires are already dead, it seems impossible.

  • An Aesop: After the reveal of the vampire's identity and circumstances, Lythande counsels the town to be less petty and give the dead their due in the future so that such things don't happen.
  • Due to the Dead: The vampire is revealed to have been a townsman who committed suicide and was buried in unhallowed ground. He returned as a vampire because of this improper burial.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Lythande tells the townspeople she will not be able to kill a vampire, because it is already dead. This turns out to be true - however, should that which is dead be returned to life, it can then be killed.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The vampire is described as being a creature of pure magic unaccustomed to even being in human form anymore. Then it veers back into "our vampires are traditional", because the vampire turns out to have been a man who died of suicide and was buried in unhallowed ground.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Once reduced back to human form, the vampire is immediately attempting to change shape again.

    To Drive the Cold Winter Away 
Lythande comes to a town in which all sorts of happiness and fun have been outlawed.

  • Magic Music: The winter seems to have been extended because music in all its forms was outlawed, and she plays and sings her song, bringing spring back to the land.

    Fool's Fire 

    Here There Be Dragons 
Lythande goes up a set of magical stairs into a strange world.

  • Alien Sky: The evil nature of the world is revealed by a disgusting metallic sun Lythande finds absolutely abhorrent.
  • Dinosaurs Are Dragons: Lythande thinks of them as separate entities, but interchangeably, and what is described as and seems to be a dinosaur breathes fire, which dinosaurs are not known to be able to do...
  • Excalibur in the Stone: As this story was written for and published originally in an anthology about Excalibur, the unnamed sword Lythande finds and draws from the stone is implicitly Excalibur.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Lythande is carrying a crucifix, despite pointedly not being of the religion, and it proves to be a powerful force of good that hides the nature of the evil surroundings as long as she has it.
  • Series Continuity Error: The story has a couple errors within its own continuity, but it also states that Lythande has never carried a sword, which is explicitly false - she has a sword in "The Secret of the Blue Star", "Somebody Else's Magic" is all about her carrying a sword unwillingly, and in the latter she is skilled enough with the sword to show she has used one willingly in the past.
  • Uncanny Valley: Lythande finds there to be something subtly wrong and disturbing about everyone she sees in the town.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The sword, once drawn, is completely forgotten when she escapes. It should still be in her hand while going down the stairs, but it is not there or mentioned again once back in the real world.

    Goblin Market 

    Bitch 
Lythande and another Pilgrim Adept are turned into dogs by an angry ghost.

  • Baleful Polymorph: Lythande and the other Adept are turned into dogs.
  • Exact Words: A common vow binding the Pilgrim Adepts is that no man may ever see food or drink ass their lips. Lythande chooses to take this extremely literally and snatch bites of food while the male Adept is looking elsewhere.
  • Ghostly Goals: The ghost seems to be of the Tybe B, "kill the living", variety, though all she managed to do is frighten and inconvenience them. She is described as having been a wicked woman in life.
  • Magic Staff: The wandering priest's staff returns them to human form.
  • Religion Is Magic: They are returned to human form by merely touching the staff of a startled passing priest.
  • Ritual Magic: They attempt to undo the curse by following old wive's tales about running certain directions or numbers of times around gallows and eating certain plants.
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