"The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E. Howard
is the first Conan the Barbarian
story. First published in December 1932.
There is a conspiracy afoot to overthrow Conan, the new king of the prosperous nation of Aquilonia. The Rebel Four, disparate leaders who each want Conan dead for their own reasons, have been brought together by Ascalante, who seeks to use them as part of his own bid for the crown of Aquilonia. Ascalante's chiefest slave is Thoth-Amon, once a powerful sorcerer of Stygia who seeks his lost ring of power.
Meanwhile, Conan has been restless ever since taking the throne, yearning for the days when he was a warrior. When Thoth-Amon reclaims his ring and calls forth a powerful demon from the underworld to destroy his master, the dead sage Epemitreus calls Conan to him to protect his land from this evil foe, and places the mark of the phoenix on Conan's sword. Thus armed, Conan destroys both the demon and the conspirators that have come to his chambers to assassinate him.
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The Phoenix on the Sword contains examples of:
- After Action Patch Up: Conan's injuries are treated as he recounts his tale.
- An Axe to Grind: Conan's main weapon against his would-be assassins is a battleaxe, which he uses when his sword breaks on Gromel's helm.
- Anti-Villain: Rinaldo. He is the only conspirator among the Rebel Four who does not have an ulterior motive behind wanting Conan dead.
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: Conan attacks aggressively even when outnumbered.
- Because Destiny Says So: Why Epemitreus aids Conan — it seems that his destiny is tied with that of Aquilonia itself.
- Blood Magic: Thoth-Amon uses it.
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: Late enough that they don't believe him.
- Cool Sword: The sword, once the phoenix is on it.
- Dark Is Evil: Invoked in a prayer.
- Dead Person Conversation: Where Conan gets his warning.
- Deadly Gaze: The demon of Set that Thoth-Amon calls upon Ascalante has the ability to stare into someone's eyes and blast their soul. While it works on Ascalante, it does not work on Conan.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Thoth-Amon, wanting more than anything to make his former master Ascalante pay, sends a demon of Set after him and everyone with him at the time. Including, as it happens, Conan whom Ascalante was trying to assassinate at the time.
- Divorced Installment / Dolled-Up Installment: This story was originally written as a Kull story titled "By This Axe I Rule". After Weird Tales rejected it, Howard rewrote it as a Conan story.
- Dragon with an Agenda: Ascalante, who seeks nothing less than the throne of Aquilonia itself.
- Drunk with Power: Thoth-Amon, once he reclaims his lost Ring of Power from Dion.
- Evil Sorcerer: What Thoth-Amon was long ago, and which he becomes again upon reclaiming the Ring.
- Famed in Story: Opens with a history describing Conan, which was famously referred to in the opening of the movie.
- The Fatalist: Conan's people — and why he left.
- Flaw Exploitation: Ascalante's plans toward the conspirators.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: While Thoth-Amon was once a powerful sorcerer, at the beginning of the story he's simply Ascalante's slave — until he finds the Serpent Ring of Set once again.
- Green-Eyed Monster: In the opening, Conan toward Prospero; he can just leave.
- Holy Hand Grenade: Conan's sword receives demon-slaying powers as a result of the phoenix mark Epemitreus put on it.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: Thoth-Amon as a slave.
- In Harm's Way: Invoked in a chapter heading verse.
- Last-Second Chance: For Rinaldo. Sadly, he's too mad to take it, and Conan has to kill him.
- Made a Slave: Thoth-Amon, a result of him spilling his darkest secret to the leader of the bandits that attacked his caravan, Ascalante, to save his life.
- No Badass to His Valet: Prospero toward Conan.
- Nostalgia Filter: Rinaldo has a rather romanticized view of King Numedides, the last king of Aquilonia who Conan slew for the throne. He remembers only that he patronized the arts, but not any of the horrific abuses and atrocities which allowed Conan to gain enough popular support to overthrow him. In general this seems to be the attitude of the populace. Conan comments how people whose families were ravaged by Numedides have elevated him to the status of a saint.
- Ouroboros: The Ring of Power.
- The Phoenix: The image of one is put on Conan's sword by Epemitreus to empower it against the demon summoned by Thoth-Amon.
- Religion is Magic: The high priest identifies the White Magic put on Conan's sword by Epemitreus. It is probably the only instance of White Magic in the entire Conan saga.
- Religion of Evil: The worship of Set is very much portrayed as one of these.
- Scars Are Forever: Thoth-Amon is taunted with how the scars of Ascalante's whip will last.
- Summoning Artifact: Thoth-Amon's ring has the power to call powerful demons to serve the summoner.
- Talking in Your Dreams: Where Conan gets his warning.
- The Time of Myths: Underscored by the excerpt that opens it.
- The Underworld: Conan describes one in his people's beliefs.
- Too Dumb to Live: Dion, who made the deadly mistake of revealing that he had a "ring of good fortune" sold to him by a Shemitish thief who stole it from a sorcerer of Stygia — to a former Stygian sorcerer clearly obsessed with finding a lost ring of power that was stolen from him. He really should have kept his mouth shut.
- Unknown Rival: As in all the other stories in which he appears, Thoth-Amon endangers Conan only as collateral damage.
- Unstoppable Rage: Conan's reaction to the Deadly Gaze.
- The Usurper: Dion seeks to take the throne because he had a bloodline connection to Numedides. Ascalante is backing the plot in hopes of deposing Dion in turn and seizing the Aquilonian throne for himself. Conan is seen as one himself by the time the story begins, as the people have forgotten Numedides's atrocities and now only remember him as the rightful king deposed by a barbarian mercenary.
- Villain Opening Scene: Starts with the conspiracy against Conan.
- White Magic: Epemitreus is perhaps the only wielder of such in the Conan saga, and the mark he places upon Conan's sword is powerful enough to slay demons.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Rinaldo the poet. He's part of the plot against Conan not for any personal ambition, but simply because he wants to strike a blow against tyranny.
- Wrecked Weapon: Conan's sword breaks upon Gromel's helm during the battle with the conspirators. Even so, the part of it that is left is still enough to kill Thoth-Amon's demon.
- You Imagined It: After the battle with the demon, Conan is told that he is imagining things. This is quickly disproved however, when the priest recognizes the mark on Conan's sword.