When frost doth grow on Claves' bellMemory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a High Fantasy novel written by Tad Williams, comprising three volumes: The Dragonbone Chair, The Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. The latter volume was broken up into two separate books in its paperback release.The story is set on the mythical continent of Osten Ard, a fairly Standard Fantasy Setting in which humans are the dominant race after centuries of struggle against the elf-like Sithi, troll/dwarf/Eskimo crossover Qanuc, and various other creatures. Beneath the surface, however, ancient magics are stirring as the undead Storm King nears the culmination of a 500-year long plan to return to power. The key to defeating the Storm King's plan involves three magical swords (the titular Memory, Sorrow and Thorn), which must be found and brought together if his threat is to be averted... or so it appears.The plot mainly follows young Seoman (Simon), an orphan and kitchen boy in the Hayholt, capital of Erkynland, who mopes around, avoids chores, and dreams of a heroic life. Of course, The Call Knows Where You Live, and he is rapidly embroiled in The Hero's Journey, which he finds out the hard way isn't as glamorous as the stories. Along the way, he befriends members of various races, rescues a Rebellious Princess, slays (pretty much) a dragon, searches for the three swords, fights in battles, is knighted, and finally embarks on a journey back to the Hayholt in a desperate bid to disrupt the Storm King's plan.There is also a rather spectacularly large number of secondary characters and plot lines, which are responsible for the size of the books. On the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, the story falls somewhere in the middle: Anyone Can Die, characters get Killed Off for Real with depressing regularity, and the main characters seem to be the focus of all the suffering that the author can imagine throwing at them. Yet what slim hope there is of victory may owe more to The Power of Love than strength of arms.Williams has announced that a Sequel Series, The Last King of Osten Ard, is forthcoming.The character sheet is here.
And shadows walk upon the road
When water blackens in the well
Three Swords must come again.
When Bukken from the earth do creep
And Hunën from the heights descend
When Nightmare throttles peaceful sleep
Three Swords must come again.
To turn the stride of treading Fate
To clear the fogging Mists of Time
If Early shall resist too Late
Three Swords must come again.
— Nisses, Du Svardenvyrd
And shadows walk upon the road
When water blackens in the well
Three Swords must come again.
When Bukken from the earth do creep
And Hunën from the heights descend
When Nightmare throttles peaceful sleep
Three Swords must come again.
To turn the stride of treading Fate
To clear the fogging Mists of Time
If Early shall resist too Late
Three Swords must come again.
— Nisses, Du Svardenvyrd
This series provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Invoked. A core theme of the novel; in the end nearly all the villains are revealed to be sympathetic to a degree and these revelations are discussed by the characters. The few entirely unsympathetic villains, by contrast, get horrible Karmic Deaths and are uniformly reviled — nobody misses Fengbald or Skali, for example.
- All Deaths Final: Failing to accept this is what drives Elias into Pryrates' clutches.
- All Trolls Are Different: The Qanuc are referred to as trolls, but more closely resemble mountain dwarves with an Inuit culture.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: All of the good human kingdoms have been captured or subverted by the end of the first book; this is part of the villains' plan to keep any possible resistance off-balance and on the run.
- And the Adventure Continues: Discussed by the characters when Aditu bestows a prophecy over Josua and Vorzheva's twins. Just because everyone's in the middle of a grand adventure doesn't mean there won't be more things happening in Osten Ard after it's over.
- Answers to the Name of God: When Jiriki's sister shows up in a human war camp, one exclaims, "Blessed Elysia, Mother of our Ransomer!" She responds that her name is Aditu; it is unclear whether she is mocking them or genuinely ignorant of their culture.
- Apron Matron: Rachel, headmistress of the Hayholt, who has earned the nickname "The Dragon" for her strictness. Simon is her favorite disciplinary case.
- Archer Archetype: Miriamele's weapon of choice is the bow, which fits with her theme of independence; plus as a woman (and a princess) she would be unable to easily acquire training with a sword. Some humor comes from the contrast between her archery skills and Simon's, who self-deprecatingly claims to be able to "hit a cow at ten paces." Her skill with the bow also comes in very handy in the climax.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Straight cases — King Elias (bad), Duke Isgrimnur (good). Aversions — Count Eolair (good). Duke Skali (bad). It goes all over the place, in fact; one of the major themes is that royal blood alone does not make a good person. Not only that, but the question is often raised as to what, exactly, constitutes "royal" blood.
- Ascended Extra: Williams himself commented that he originally wrote Cadrach as a one-off character who would play no further part in the story after his (brief) initial appearance. Williams found the character he'd created intriguing and decided to bring Cadrach back, and he ends up being a fairly important player in the story.
- Astrologer: Xannasavin in the court of Nabban does an astonishingly good job of predicting the future — it doesn't hurt that in this universe, astrology is entirely valid. Of course, the future he predicts ends up not being what Duke Benigaris wants to hear, which gets him thrown off a roof.
- Attending Your Own Funeral: Josua does this, and even wryly comments on how everybody should have the opportunity.
- Badass Beard: Beards are an important element of the Rimmersgard culture. Isgrimnur, a powerful (if elderly) warrior, is enormously proud of his and is aghast when told he'll have to shave it for a covert mission.
- Badass Bookworm: Notably averted, in that Smart Guy characters like Strangyeard and Tiamak are explicitly told to keep out of the fighting, and do for the most part. Ironically, this leads to a Not Now, Kiddo moment in the final battle. Straight examples can be found in the original members of the League of the Scroll — both Jarnauga and Morgenes get dangerous in their respective Heroic Sacrifices. The founder of the League, Ealhstan Fiskerne, was both a king and a scholar, owned the sword Minneyar, and was killed fighting a dragon.
- A few of the successors to the league also count. Binabik is a shaman, expected to keep the lore and sing in the spring, but also to hunt down cave bears. With a stick. Josua, now an innkeeper, survived quite an ordeal before retiring to his little hideaway. Tiamak may be a shy little nerd, but he did wrestle an alligator and win.
- Once upon a time, Cadrach. Remember, he's the only person to have read the entirety of Du Svardenvyrd who didn't go insane.
- Badass Normal: Camaris and King Prester John were the two greatest heroes of their age, dominating any field of battle they entered. Even decades later and after a Heroic B.S.O.D., Camaris is still stronger than a half-dozen other men, which puts him about even with a Sithi warrior.
- Bad Boss: Benigaris of Nabban has a habit of executing people who tell him what he doesn't want to hear. In this way, he manages to ignore the fact that Camaris (the rightful heir to the throne) is marching across his country, crushing his armies, and recruiting all the people who have become disaffected by his rule.
- Became Their Own Antithesis: Ineluki evolved from a compassionate and knowledgeable prince who wanted to save his people to a desperate warrior seeking to stop humanity's onslaught, was maddened by his father's rejection of his choice of tactics, and died for his troubles. His hatred burned so strongly that he refused to pass into Unbeing and instead became an undead Omnicidal Maniac.
- Beneath the Earth: The labyrinthine tunnels beneath the Hayholt, including the ruins of Asu'a, are a major story element. Simon is forced to traverse them twice during his journey, both times representing his "descent into darkness"". Other characters visit the tunnels as well, including the Sithi (and Norns) near the climax.
- Berserker Tears: After Amerasu's death, Simon goes into a berserker fury, not realizing that he's crying the whole time.
- BFS: Thorn is described as being unusually large and heavy, so that only a very strong man can wield it, yet its weight seems to vary — at times it's too heavy for anyone to lift, while at others it seems weightless. The other two swords are more conventionally sized.
- Big Damn Heroes: A staple of the series. Binabik plays this role for Simon on too many occasions to list, Simon himself does it for Jiriki and Miriamele, and even Cadrach gets his moments.
- The Big Guy:
- Duke Isgrimnur is a hulking Rimmersman warrior; even in his declining years he is unmatched in battle. When he is forced to disguise himself as a monk, he is terrible at acting the part, but is so physically intimidating that nobody dares question him.
- Camaris is the largest and strongest human in Osten Ard. While living as a witless servant in Kwanitupul, he obliterates a local street gang that tries to assault Tiamak, and after his mind is restored (as well as in his past days of glory), he is so fearsome in battle that enemies flee or switch sides rather than face him.
- Big "NO!": Isgrimnur is not happy when Josua makes him shave off his beard.
- Bittersweet Ending: For many characters, but Count Eolair especially drives this one home. He unwillingly rules the shattered remains of Hernystir, has seen too many good friends to count die in pointless battle, and worst of all, Maegwin died a madwoman without ever requiting his love for her. Simon at least hopes to soften the latter blow by revealing that she was sane at the end of her life.
- Black Swords Are Better: Thorn is midnight black thanks to its (apparent) extraterrestrial origins, and it is the most fearsome of the Three in direct combat.
- Blood Knight: King Prester John rejoiced in battle, laughing amid the slaughter of his foes, and frequently rode out to face his most dangerous enemies heedless of the odds. This is set in stark contrast to Camaris, who regarded every death by his hands as a stain on his soul.
- Blood Magic: Pretty much the raison d'etre of the Storm King and his minions. Sorrow's hand-off to Elias is sealed by the blood sacrifice of a high noble, for example.
- Cain and Abel: Elias and Josua, right down to the former attempting to use the latter as a sacrifice to seal his Deal with the Devil.
- Calvinball: The Sithi game of Shent, which has more rules than a human could hope to master in a lifetime. Aditu uses it to teach Simon both patience and strategy; both lessons come in handy later.
- Can't Argue With Elves: The Sithi have a centuries long enmity with humans and many of them are quite vocal about it. Most humans live in superstitious fear of them, and those who don't tend to carry some old grudges, so it's pretty understandable.
- Card-Carrying Villain: While Pryrates has an ultimate goal that he's willing to sacrifice anything for, he seems to revel in being evil for evil's sake along the way, killing and torturing for no better reason than the enjoyment of terrifying people.
- The Chains of Commanding: Prince Josua in a nutshell; also Camaris. (The similarity is not a coincidence.)
- Chair Reveal: Simon stumbles on King Elias inside Hjeldin's tower, sitting in what he thinks is an empty chair.
- Character Development: The focus of the story is Simon's development into a hero, but many other characters get this as well. In fact, Simon's development is lampshaded by the return of boyhood friend Jeremias, who points out just how far Simon has come.
- Chekhov's Gun: The White Arrow. Deornoth being called the "Prince's Right Hand". Simon's dragon-blood scar.
- The Chessmaster: Utuk'ku, the Norn Queen, has been scheming to get her revenge on mortals and her Sithi rivals for thousands of years. She's even depicted as a spider in her web, manipulating the strands of her various plots.
- Christianity Is Catholic: While the Aedonite religion is a clear Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of Catholicism, there don't seem to be any other sects or denominations.
- Clingy MacGuffin: The three swords - it's very hard to get rid of one if it doesn't want to be rid of you.
- Collapsing Lair: Green Angel Tower collapses into ruin after the Storm King's defeat, symbolically representing the final eradication of the Sithi's ancient empire.
- Comet of Doom: The Conqueror Star, said to herald the rise and fall of kingdoms. It appeared over the death of Usires Aedon, the fall of Asu'a, and the end of King John's reign, and its final appearance plays a key role in the spell cast to summon Ineluki during the climax.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Simon's, and to an extent, Miriamele's as well.
- The Commies Made Me Do It: The "traitorous" captive townsfolk at the battle of the Stone of Farewell.
- Compelling Voice: One of Pryrates' uses of the Art is to mentally compel people to do his bidding, even when he doesn't know exactly where they are. Simon nearly falls into this trap on several occasions, saved only because the priest keeps getting distracted.
- Cool Chair: The Dragonbone Chair, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Cool Horse: Sithi horses, which are bred for endurance, speed, and overall awesomeness.
- Cool Sword: Three of 'em, oddly enough.
- Confess in Confidence: Father Strangyeard accepts confession from Camaris when it is thought that his knowledge might give them something of aid against the Storm King, yet he refuses to disclose it out of shame. What is revealed therein is devastating to the priest, but proves useless to the heroes' plans; it is not fully revealed until the denouement when it turns out that Camaris also told Josua.
- Convenient Decoy Cat: A grey cat that lives in the Hayholt saves Simon when he's trapped in a cellar by Pryrates, by offering itself as a distraction. The cat makes several appearances later in the story.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Camaris, the most powerful knight in Osten Ard, becomes this after his Heroic B.S.O.D. and apparent suicide. When awakened from his simpleminded state, he picks the Bad Ass mantle right up again, along with some Shell-Shocked Veteran baggage.
- Crown of Horns: The Sithi king traditionally wore a crown of witchwood while ruling Asu'a, which looked like stag's antlers. When Ineluki deposed his father, he took the crown, and an artist's depiction of him in this pose can be found in Morgenes' book. Simon sees it and it haunts him all the way to the climax.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Averted with the religion of Usires Aedon, a clear Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of Christianity.
- Cue the Flying Pigs:
Cadrach: "You saw them, Princess. They were there."
- Miriamele swears that she will only trust Cadrach again "when the stars shine at midday." Cue his Heroic Sacrifice to save them from the Collapsing Lair.
- Simon uses the same phrase to describe his chances of becoming King and marrying Miriamele.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
- Ineluki learned one of these, if not several, in his search for power. His use of one in an attempt to destroy the human armies invading Asu'a is what killed him.Unknown Sithi: "Do not utter the words. You will summon Unbeing!"
- Pryrates picks up a few too, including the Words of Changing and the Words of Unmaking. They'd have worked fine if he hadn't tried to use them against the Storm King.
- Ineluki learned one of these, if not several, in his search for power. His use of one in an attempt to destroy the human armies invading Asu'a is what killed him.
- Deader Than Dead: What apparently happens to those touched by Unbeing.
- Declaration of Protection: Frustrated by Miriamele's refusal to reciprocate his affections, Simon instead declares that he will be her knight-protector, and abandons his duties to Josua in order to accompany her on her journey back to the Hayholt.
- Demonic Possession: Unsealing the Storm King requires that his spirit have a physical host to inhabit. Guess who gets to be the lucky victim? Unwitting Pawn Elias.
- Demoted to Extra: Sludig is one of Simon's primary traveling companions and a major character in the second book; in the third, he's Put on a Bus for most of the story and doesn't get much face time when he does come back. He even lampshades it one point by complaining about being ignored.
- Determinator: The Norns, who perform such feats as pulling themselves up the sword that's impaling them in order to kill its wielder. Ingen Jegger, a Black Rimmersman working for the Norns, embodies this trope perhaps more than any other character, dragging himself in pursuit of Simon's party on shattered legs and crushed ribs and somehow managing to crawl back to Stormspike after the confrontation on the ice mountain.
- Dirty Coward: The scoundrel monk, Cadrach. Considering what he's gone through, however, it's a miracle he's still (questionably) sane. Miriamele takes on the task of reforming him and is rewarded in the end.
- Doorstopper: All the novels, but most especially the third, whose hardcover edition is over a thousand pages and had to be split into two separate novels for the paperback release — each of which is over 800 pages long.
- The Dragon:
- Pryrates, to Elias. He tries to be this for the Storm King too, but, well...
- The Storm King has his own band of Dragons (though they're not unique enough to be a Quirky Miniboss Squad), in the form of the Red Hand. They were his companions in life and are now undead like him, though rather less powerful. Only one of them is named, as part of a ritual—the Duke of the Black Wind.
- Dramatis Personae: Made necessary by the Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: The Road of Dreams is a powerful mystical component of the world of Osten Ard, where things beyond ordinary perception are revealed. Practitioners of the Art can enter it at will, bringing others with them. Prophetic dreams are handed out all over the place, but of course not all of them are entirely trustworthy.
- Dying as Yourself: Elias comes to his senses at the very end, just before Miriamele kills him.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Played about as straight as it comes. Osten Ard is left in ruins by the depredations of Elias and the Storm King; even if they are defeated it'll be a long, hard road back to anything approaching normalcy.
- Elite Mooks: The Norns themselves, certainly in relation to human soldiers.
- Emergency Impersonation: The heroes' army uses Body Doubles for the final battle to hide the fact that Prince Josua and Camaris have both gone into the Hayholt via the tunnels, both for the enemy's benefit and to boost the morale of their troops. Although the ruse does work, it turns out to be irrelevant.
- Emotion Bomb: The Storm King and the Red Hand emanate an aura of fear sufficient to drive most mortals mad.
- Empathic Weapon: The three swords, in a creepy and subversive way. They have the ability to manipulate people around them to get where they want to go.
- Eureka Moment: See Oh Crap!, below.
- Evil Chancellor: Pryrates, along with Evil Gloating and Evil Sorcerer. In fact, he pretty much deserves his own section composed entirely of Villain tropes.
- Evil Is Cold: Cold, along with fear, are the Storm King's primary weapons.
- Evil Is Not a Toy, The Starscream: Pryrates hopes to use the power he was granted by the Storm King to control him and use him to rule the world. Unfortunately (for him), it doesn't work.
- Evil Weapon: Minneyar and Thorn, while definitely dangerous, are not explicitly evil. Sorrow, on the other hand, deserves its name; merely touching it can be enough to destroy a mortal's soul.
- Exact Words: The Storm King promised that Pryrates would be "first among mortals." First to die, that is.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Prester John is over ninety years old and a very devout definitely-not-Christian. Prester is another form of presbyter, meaning "ruling elder of the church". Emphasis on "elder".
- The Fair Folk: The Sithi are the Chaotic Good version, while the Norns partake of the Always Chaotic Evil aspect.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: King John Presbyter. He went into the Hayholt to kill the dragon that was inside, but when he arrived he found that it had already been killed by the previous king, Ealstahn Fiskerne, with the sword Minneyar; Ealstahn had died from his wounds. John takes Minneyar and hacks off one of the dragon's claws, and drags it out of the Hayholt to make it seem as if he had killed it.
- Fantasy Axis of Evil: Norns, Hunën, Bukken, the Red Hand.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Almost every single human nation is one of these, from the Nabbanai (Renaissance Italy) to the Wrannamen (Aborigines). The Qanuc are a mashup of Inuit culture with All Trolls Are Different and the Sithi have a pinch of Japanese to a good helping of The Fair Folk. Fortunately, no real life human culture is anything like the Norns.
- Fantastic Racism: Rimmersgarders and trolls do not get along.
- Faustian Rebellion: Subverted in that Pryrates is neither a good guy, nor is the power he gained from the Storm King him enough to bind him.
- Five Races: Humans, Sithi, Trolls, Dwarrows/Niskies (although technically the same race).
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: The phantom bells that ring in Green Angel tower during the summoning ritual.
- Functional Magic: The Art generally falls into a mix of Rule Magic and Wild Magic.
- Giant Mooks: Hunën, brutish giants that the Norns are allied with.
- Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Technically, Simon and Miriamele, although it's a few days later after everyone's had a chance to rest a bit.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: The monk and scholar Cadrach loses all hope after reading Du Svardenvyrd, and many minor characters go stark raving mad after being touched by the Storm King.
- Gotta Catch Them All: "Three Swords must come again." One of the Driving Questions of the story is how to get all three swords together, as the heroes have one, the villains have another, and the whereabouts of the third is unknown.
- Groin Attack: How Prester John actually defeats Sir Camaris, revealed in Doctor Morgenes' biography of John. Judging by Simon's reaction when Binabik reads this aloud to him, it's not common knowledge.
- Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: Most of the male protagonists prefer melee weapons, including Simon, while women are generally not permitted to fight (that Qanuc and Sithi women do fight proves to be a matter to some consternation to the humans). Miriamele, however, insists on not conforming to the pampered princess stereotype and so learns the bow. She is quite competent with it, and the cover of To Green Angel Tower prominently features Simon and her in swordsman-and-archer pose.
- Hearing Voices: Liable to happen to anyone wandering the bowels of Asu'a.
- The Heavy: Pryrates is the least powerful and personally dangerous of the three main villains (himself, Utuk'ku, and the Storm King), but he gets easily the most face time and has the most personally enmity with the protagonists. He's also the most purely malevolent of the three.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Simon, after Amerasu's death. Also Camaris, in his backstory, explaining why he disappeared for so long.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Cadrach, in the Collapsing Lair.
- Heroic Willpower: Particularly exercised by Simon in Inch's dungeon, and notably inverted when it turns out that no amount of willpower is sufficient to stop the swords. In fact, Elias' will to become immortal, Camaris' self-hatred, and Simon's hatred for the Storm King are what are keeping them in thrall to the swords' song.
- Hidden Elf Village: After Ineluki's "death" and the fall of Asu'a, the remaining Sithi retreated to the forest city of Jao é-Tinukai'i and tried to remain aloof from mortal affairs. Simon's arrival sets in motion the chain of events that finally breaks the Sithi's isolation.
- Hidden Villain: Ineluki, for much of the first book.
- Hitchhiker Heroes: Simon's encounters in the first book with the characters who become his friends and companions pretty much fit this trope to a tee, although it's subverted in Binabik's case when we find out that he was specifically told to look for Simon.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Inch gets his clothing caught in the waterworks he used as a torture device, ending in the textual equivalent of a Gory Discretion Shot.
- Hope Spot: Miriamele's lucky shot that appears to kill Pryrates. He gets better, and disturbingly quickly.
- Horned Humanoid: The Storm King appears this way when he manifests, which is an echo of his living past when he briefly wore a crown of antlers as the King of the Sithi. This is the artist's rendering of Ineluki that Simon sees in Morgenes' book, and it is an image that haunts him until the finale.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The justification for the Storm King's plan to destroy humanity.
- I Call It "Vera": Naming one's personal weapons seems to be a tradition in the story, whether they have any particular powers or not. The Three Swords are examples of Named Weapons, since they're renowned throughout the world.
- In the Blood: Characterization seems very strongly to pass from father to son in Osten Ard, even when the father in question never knew or raised his child. Elias' recklessness, Simon's heroism, Josua's introspection...
- I Owe You My Life: The Sitha prince Jiriki owes a life debt to Simon after the latter rescues him from a human hunter. They trade this favor back and forth throughout the story.
- Kansas City Shuffle: The Storm King and Utuk'ku employ all the elements of misdirection at their command to prevent the heroes from figuring out how the Three Swords are actually supposed to be used.
- Karmic Death: Elias is killed by his own daughter's hand, after attempting to sell her into marriage and generally acting like a Jerk Ass to her. Also, Pryrates. And Inch, for that matter; see Hoist by His Own Petard.
- Kick the Dog: In Simon's first encounter with Pryrates, the evil priest literally crushes a puppy to death beneath his boot. Gee, are we supposed to think that he's a bad guy?
- Knighting: Simon is knighted by Prince Josua atop the Stone of Farewell as a reward for his bravery in recovering Thorn. The ceremony is preceded by a night of fasting and vigil, in keeping with Aedonite tradition.
- The Lady's Favour: Miriamele gives Simon her scarf, and he keeps it almost to the very end; this is what finally makes Miramele realize he loves her.
- Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Osten Ard is a textbook example with ocean to the west and vast unexplored territory to the east.
- Little Hero, Big War: Defines Simon throughout most of the story. His Character Development is largely focused on growing into his responsibilities, which of course sets him up for his Moses in the Bulrushes Reveal at the end.
- Living Legend: Seoman Snowlock by the end, who travels the length and breadth of Osten Ard; discovers a lost blade of legend, slays a dragon, is a hero of the Battle of the Stone of Farewell, befriends the Sithi, is bound on a Wheel of Pain, defeats the Storm King, and is a descendant of the sainted Ealhstan Fiskerne. Aditu even has some fun adding to his legend to scare a girl Simon was kissing.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Combined with No Ontological Inertia, it seems that the Storm King's power is all that has been holding Green Angel Tower together for all those centuries. That or the shock of his destruction simply weakens it to the point where it collapses.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Locked into Strangeness: A lock of Simon's hair is permanently turned white after being burned by the blood of a dragon; it results in him being called "Simon Snowlock".
- Love Redeems: Both Simon and Miriamele's respective abilities to love their ultimate foes are critical to the climax.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Camaris reveals this secret to Josua (and Strangyeard in confession). It goes a long way toward explaining the Cain and Abel nature of Josua and Elias' relationship.
- MacGuffin Delivery Service: The entire three swords plot. Also, Cadrach, in the backstory, by delivering Du Svardenvyrd to Pryrates.
- MacGuffin Title: The series is titled after the three swords that are the focus of the plot.
- Made of Indestructium: The three swords are indestructible. Only the Words of Unmaking can undo what was wrought with the Words of Making.
- Magical Native American: Binabik, sort of. More like a Magical Eskimo, but the basic idea of the trope still applies. Tiamak is a variation in that what makes him distinctive is that he's gained a "modern" education but is still presumed to be a savage because of his race.
- Magic Mirror: The Sithi employ a variety of magical artifacts to enter the Dream Road, mirrors being a favorite. Simon gets one from Jiriki and uses it to call for help on more than one occasion. It also ends up being a subverted Chekhov's Gun when Simon and Miriamele are trapped by the Storm King's cultists; rather than call for help, they shatter it in order to cut their bonds with the fragments.
- Maintain the Lie: King Prester John, renowned throughout the land as the killer of a great dragon, dies of old age without ever revealing his secret: Ealhstan Fiskerne, the previous king, killed it, not him. John took credit for it and parlayed it into a kingship. This lie overshadows the entire plot and sets up The Reveal that Simon is the rightful heir. It's also why he persecuted the Sithi so much - he suspected them of knowing his secret (they did), and the resulting enmity causes the Sithi to wait until almost too late to intervene in the war.
- The Man Behind the Man: Throughout the majority of the novels, the protagonists think that King Elias is the one driving the war. Turns out it was Pryrates all along, in cahoots with the Storm King. Elias was simply the Unwitting Pawn.
- The Man Behind The Monsters: While the main protagonists are aware that the Storm King is behind all of the evil that's going on, most folks believe that King Elias is the Big Bad and thus that the Norns, Bukken, and Hunen attacking everyone are doing so at his bidding. Not so at all: they are "on loan" from the real Big Bad and fully plan to betray Elias once their plan is complete. A hint of this can be seen when Elias demands that a pair of Norns do his bidding; they obey only after he threatens to draw Sorrow on them.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Being a young man, Simon spends a fair bit of time attempting to get laid, with no success, and at times it seems that Fate itself is conspiring against him. In fact, when he and Miriamele finally get together at the end, he's still a virgin while she is not.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: The Storm King's minions intentionally hunt down and destroy the members of the League of the Scroll and anyone else who might have enough knowledge to unravel the Evil Plan before it's complete.
- A Million Is a Statistic: Well-understood by Williams; his Establishing Character Moment for Pryrates is not to slaughter dozens of people, but to literally Kick the Dog.
- Mind Rape: Even casual contact with the Storm King and his minions can destroy the minds of mortals - heaven help you if you attract their personal attention. Mentally encountering the Norn queen on the Dream Road is quite unhealthy even to immortals. This trope is also one of the more charming side-effects of touching Sorrow. Similarly, Du Svardenvyrd is so laden with the Storm King's power that reading it is enough to drive people insane. That Cadrach wasn't driven mad, but merely to unending despair, is a sign of his strength.
- Misanthrope Supreme: Pryrates.
- Modest Royalty: Josua prefers simple attire and informality among his subjects, despite them continually attempting to impress upon him the value of looking regal. By the end, Simon also does this, but in his case it's out of having learned the hard way what is and is not important.
- Modesty Bedsheet: After their Last Minute Hookup, Miriamele steals the blanket from Simon after the two of them are woken unexpectedly by Josua.
- Monster from Beyond the Veil: A variation — we learn that the Storm King was contacted accidentally by Pryrates while he was attempting to reach the spirit of Elias' dead wife.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Simon, who turns out to be Saint Ealhstan Fiskerne's direct descendant, and therefore the legitimate heir to the throne.
- Mutual Kill: The Norns defending Naglimund use the "pull yourself up the sword that's impaling you to kill your attacker" version.
- My Girl Back Home: Sisquinanamook is betrothed to Binabik, and is not pleased that he went off adventuring for months when he was supposed to be back home conducting their tribe's spring rituals. After she relents and helps rescue him from execution, she decides to go along with the party to protect her investment.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Simon is utterly devastated to find out that Miriamele gave up her virginity to the Nabbanai noble who held her captive.
- Named Weapons: The titular swords.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Storm King. Sorrow.Ineluki: From sorrow have you come, and sorrow you have brought with you. Sorrow shall be your name.
- Necromantic: Elias, played for tragedy.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Bringing the swords together because a prophecy told you that they are the only thing that can defeat the Storm King? Turns out not to be such a good idea.
- No Man of Woman Born: The trilogy's primary Unwitting Pawns (the heroes) fall into the role partially because they make an error of this type.
- No Ontological Inertia: In addition to the aforementioned Green Angel Tower, there's a very plot-significant use of this trope in the three swords themselves (see the trope entry for details).
- The Nothing After Death: An variation, in that characters who are Only Mostly Dead tend to go into a limbo-like realm where things are extremely peaceful. From there, they can sometimes still have an impact on the real world in the form of dreams, but eventually pass on into nothingness.
- Not Quite Dead: Prince Josua, after the Collapsing Lair. Also Camaris, from his Heroic B.S.O.D. backstory.
- Offered the Crown: Simon, after his Moses in the Bulrushes reveal. In fact, Isgrimnur states outright that if he didn't have royal blood, they'd be inclined to make it up anyway, just to give the people someone to rally behind.
- Oh Crap!: The moment beneath Asu'a where Binabik figures out the Storm King's plan. This subsequently leads to a domino-like series of Oh Craps as the rest of the protagonists get clued in.Binabik: (of the prophecy) "But who is to say that it is speaking to us?"
- Oh My Gods!: A number of non-Aedonist characters do this. most Hilariously, so does Duke Isgrimnur- he converted as an adult, but tends to forget and start swearing by Fantasy Counterpart Culture versions of Odin and Thor instead of Usires.
- Omnicidal Maniac: The Storm King... but see Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.Binabik: "You will destroy this world. [...] There will be nothing for your governing. You do not belong here."
- One-Winged Angel: The Storm King has clearly transcended anything that vaguely resembles humanity (even for a Sithi), and the form he takes on entering the world verges on Eldritch Abomination. Especially pronounced as he does this while possessing Elias' body.
- Our Elves Are Better: The Sithi are an ancient race of nigh-immortals that deliberately invoke both The Fair Folk and the Tolkien-esque elf stereotype. While the remaining Sithi adopt the High Elf / Wood Elf archetype, the Norns go into Dark Elf territory, living mostly subterranean lives. Adding to their foreignness, there is some subtext implying that the voyage they took to reach Osten Ard may have been interstellar rather than oceanic.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: Simon's ring was given into the care of Dr. Morgenes by Simon's mother before she died; the writing on it contains the secret of his heritage.
- Phlebotinum Overload: Ineluki's attempt to cast a forbidden spell to destroy the human armies invading Asu'a backfired, killing him and his minions and casting them into the realms beyond death.
- Poisoned Weapons: In a rare heroic example, Binabik's various travelling implements include a hollow walking stick, a stash of poisoned darts, and some loose wool. Combined, they make a stealthy and highly lethal blowgun.
- The Power of Hate: A key ingredient of the summoning spell cast by Pryrates and Utuk'ku is the channeled fear and hatred of all the mortals in the world. Simon's revelation about Ineluki spoils the effect by leading him to reject hate in favor of forgiveness.
- The Power of Love: In the climax, Simon unravels the scheme to summon the Storm King by reacting to his evil with forgiveness. The latter Didn't See That Coming, and is weakened just enough for Miriamele to kill his physical host.
- Prophecy Twist: When following the words of an ancient prophecy, it's a good idea to check to see who it was written for... Also see Prophetic Fallacy.
- Punctuation Shaker: Sithi names are loaded with clicks, glottal stops and other difficult to pronounce phonemes, represented in text mainly by apostrophes.
- Questionable Consent: Miriamele gives in to Aspitis when he comes to her bunk but she is vulnerable, drunk, and possibly drugged at the time.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Inch is pure evil, but the capper for Jeremias' litany of his villainy not-so-delicately implies that Inch used him as a catamite.
- Rebellious Princess: Miriamele, from a young age, felt isolated and neglected by her father, and although she was a princess, never adapted to the role demanded of her. As a young woman, she learned the bow and dressed as a boy servant to sneak around the Hayholt, both of which would have made her the scandal of the court if found out. This culminates when her father promises her hand to Count Fengbald, prompting her to flee to Naglimund.
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: Pryrates wears red robes with black trim, and is often referred to as "The Red Priest" or "The Red Wizard".
- Reluctant Warrior: Camaris, despite being the most fearsome human warrior in all of Osten Ard, hated killing and viewed every death at his hands as a sin. After being restored to his senses, he spends a great deal of time lecturing his allies that war is not a thing to be celebrated in and of itself, but only waged in dire need as a means to peace.
- Reverse Mole: Helfgrim and his daughters pretend to subject themselves to Fengbald's blackmail in order to put themselves in a position to kill him.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Pryrates' attempted betrayal, the Storm King delivers on the Exact Words of his promise...
- Rule of Three: The Conqueror's star appears in three consecutive years (though very dimly in the second) when it appears, and this is its third appearance in history. There are also the three swords.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Storm King sealed himself away by killing his living body, forcing his spirit to inhabit the darkest reaches of Unbeing for centuries until Utuk'ku of the Norns made contact through the Dream Road and hatched his plan to be reborn.
- Self-Made Orphan: Miriamele, a particularly bitter moment because she goes to the final battle in the hopes of bringing her father back to his senses, but ends up having to kill him instead. Ineluki too, when he's Jumping Off the Slippery Slope in his backstory. Oh, and Benigaris, as part of his Face–Heel Turn.
- Self-Proclaimed Liar: Cadrach freely admits to Miriamele that he is a liar and would lie again. This isn't out of an attempt to deceive but because he has passed the Despair Event Horizon and believes the world doomed (by his own hand) no matter what he does.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cadrach. Also, Camaris after being awakened.
- Shrouded in Myth: Camaris. Justified, as he really is pretty Bad Ass, even after a Heroic B.S.O.D. and living as a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass for years.
- Sinister Minister: Pryrates, of course. He does get defrocked about halfway through, but is beyond caring at that point anyway. He just uses Black Magic to exact some rather messy revenge.
- Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Ineluki's backstory is a tale of a wise and noble prince trying to save his people from darkness but beset by tragedy after tragedy, darkening his heart until all he can think of is hatred and revenge.
- Slut-Shaming: Sex doesn't have a large role in the story, but when it shows up, expect talk of shame to come close behind. Simon takes it hard that Miriamele isn't a virgin and Josua gets some guff for not having made an honest woman out of his horselady.
- The Smart Guy: Strangyeard especially, and Tiamak to a certain extent. At least, those are the smartest guys that actually live to the end of the story, surviving all of their various mentors.
- Smug Snake: Count Aspitis, which makes the moment when Miriamele makes paste out of his pretty face with an oar all the more satisfying.
- Spiritual Successor: Tad Williams was inspired by and intentionally copied many themes from The Lord of the Rings.
- Spring Is Late: And gets Binabik in big trouble with his people until they can be convinced that it's the Storm King's doing and not his betrayal of his shamanistic duties.
- Standard Hero Reward: Justified, but present all the same. Kingship, check. Princess, check. Ruined kingdom and dead friends stacked like cordwood, umm, yeah.
- Staying Alive: Ineluki, in the backstory. He stays alive - or at least, "un-dead" - through sheer badassery and
HeroicVillainous Willpower, becoming the Storm King and setting up the plot of the novels.
- Storming the Castle: The final battle at the Hayholt.
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: Binabik is using progressive aspect even when he is meaning to express habitual or stative verbs.
- Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: Utuk'ku's primary motive.
- Supporting Protagonist: Duke Isgrimnur becomes the de facto leader of the army besieging the Hayholt after Josua and Camaris both enter the castle via the tunnels.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Malachias is Miriamele, as Simon discovers a bit too late for his pride.
- Sympathy for the Devil: As Simon learns more about Ineluki, he keeps seeing, rather than a terrifying being of fire and hate, a figure shrouded in despair, yet desperate to preserve his people at all cost. At the end, it is this vision that allows him to disrupt the Storm King's power, which is fueled by hate.
- These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: There is a lot of dark, dangerous knowledge in the world of Osten Ard. Those who delve too deep tend to Go Mad from the Revelation. Underlying it all is a concept called "Unbeing" which apparently makes you Deader Than Dead. Ineluki is one of the greatest practitioners of these arts. Pryrates likes them, too. Cadrach discovering some in the pages of Du Svardenvyrd sent him over the Despair Event Horizon.
- They Call Him "Sword": Count Streawe's Knife Nut goon becomes known as "Ave Stetto" (lit. I have a knife) for his fondness of threatening people with them.
- Threshold Guardians: Simon's hero's journey faces him against a number of trials of his resolve, the most significant of which is his decision to save a Sitha from a woodcutter's trap. This turns out to be Prince Jiriki; the White Arrow he gives Simon and the life debt it represents are critical to saving the world.
- Throat Light: A symptom of the Storm King's Demonic Possession: "Emberlight bloomed in his mouth."
- Thunderbolt Iron: The origin of the sword Thorn.
- Time Abyss: Amerasu in particular, although several of the Sithi might qualify.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: Du Svardenvyrd (The Weird of the Swords), the book of the mad prophet Nisses, is essentially a guide book for summoning the Storm King, and merely reading it can drive one past the Despair Event Horizon.
- Took a Level in Badass: Simon, who starts out a scullion and, with training and a
bitlot of luck, manages to acquit himself quite well in battle.
- Torture Cellar: Pryrates has an entire tower filled with these.
- Touched by Vorlons: Very mild case, in that Simon's dragon scar gives him the ability to sense things he wouldn't otherwise be able to. This factors heavily in the climax. He also is mildly psychic and lives closer to the Dream Road than others. This is also invoked, to a degree, by Prince Josua, who is willing to make use of Simon's popularity and time with the Sithi as a way to bolster morale for the Battle at the Stone. Finally, this is invoked again at the end of the novel when Isgrimnur and others push Simon to take the throne, pointing out not only Simon's recently discovered heritage, but all the other crap he's gone through, saying of his heritage that "I'd be tempted to make it up if it weren't true." The fact is, that, with the exception of the Dragon's blood, none of his encounters have given him special abilities, he's just grown up.
- Tragic Dream: Elias' desire to be reunited with his dead wife is behind all of the evil that he commits or becomes a participant in.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Along with Loads and Loads of Characters comes Loads And Loads Of Subplots.
- The Undead: Ineluki and his Red Hand.
- The Unfettered: Pryrates claims to be this. Since his origins and motivations are never made clear, it's impossible to say if he's telling the truth, but his actions speak for themselves.
- Unfriendly Fire: Benigaris inherits the kingship of Nabban during the battle for Naglimund by stabbing his father in the back. This is also his Face–Heel Turn moment.
- Unholy Holy Sword: Both Thorn and Minneyar turn out to be this. Sorrow, of course, is Unholy pretty much from the getgo.
- Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Vorzheva gives birth to Josua's children — twins Deornoth and Derra, who are bestowed with an And the Adventure Continues hook.
- Unusual Euphemism: All of the languages (human and nonhuman) are liberally sprinkled with culture-specific curses and interjections, although the ones that stand out the most are Binabik's colorful swearing and the Aedonite religion's equivalents of Christian curses.
- Unwitting Pawn: Elias, especially as he goes into the whole thing hoping to bring his dead wife back to life, when that doesn't work out, decides to settle for a promise of immortality, and ends up playing host to an Omnicidal Maniac Eldritch Abomination. To his credit, he does repent at the end, but of course it's too late. Technically, the entire cast of protagonists are pawns. They fall right into the Storm King's trap despite a surfeit of clues, largely because his Kansas City Shuffle prevents them from ever really stopping to think about the situation.
- Vestigial Empire:
- The Sithi once ruled all of Osten Ard, but it was a loose rulership befitting a race of immortals. The Black Rimmersmen conquered them with iron, leading to their decline and giving rise to Ineluki.
- Nabban was once a great empire, ruling most of the human kingdoms as the center of both political and spiritual power. Its influence waned over the centuries until it was itself conquered by King Prester John, though it remains the center of the Aedonite religion.
- Villainous Friendship:
- Elias and Guthwulf have a genuine camaraderie at the start of the series, but the dark paths that Elias goes down baffle and frighten the earl, leading him to fall out of favor and eventually get his soul destroyed by Sorrow.
- Pryrates and Elias have a grudging alliance, with Elias refusing to hear ill of the priest and making him his closest advisor. Pryrates, in turn, feigns friendship, having all along intended to betray his liege to the Storm King.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Geloë practices the Art in a manner akin to classic Druidism, shapeshifting into birds. Handled fairly realistically in that it does not affect her clothing. Also used by Pryrates, thanks to the Words of Changing. His choice of form is anything but natural, however.
- Wandering Minstrel: Sangfugol. His uselessness during the war is lampshaded enough to make him almost qualify as a Spoony Bard.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Storm King himself, in his Start of Darkness. It's arguable that he started out a Knight Templar, but he definitely ended up here before turning into an Omnicidal Maniac.
- Where It All Began: The story both begins and ends at the Hayholt, Simon's home.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Some of the Sithi suffer from this problem, being (more or less) immortal yet having borne witness to countless tragedies. Utuk'ku may be the living embodiment, however, as her ennui and heartbreak have frozen over the centuries until her sole remaining purpose is to take the world with her into Unbeing.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: The Sithi seem to have no grasp of the concept of lying in their culture. The Norns, on the other hand...
- Winter Royal Lady: Utuk'ku lives in an icy fortress hewn into a mountain in the frozen north. She wears a mask of stone and robes of white, and no mortal or immortal has seen her face for centuries.
- The Wise Prince:
- The World's Expert on Getting Killed: Amerasu is second in knowledge and power only to Utuk'ku, and is the only person who fully grasps her plan. However, when it comes time to demonstrate her knowledge to the protagonists, Utuk'ku silences Amerasu seemingly without effort, while Ingen Jegger finishes the job by killing her.
- You Are Too Late: Five hundred years too late, to be exact.