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Literature / Have Sword, Will Travel

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Have Sword, Will Travel is a children's fantasy adventure novel by Garth Nix.

While they fish for eels, Odo and Eleanor find a sword buried in river mud. Odo accidentally awakens the sword, a talking blade called Biter. Biter knights Odo, and insists that he goes on a quest. Eleanor, eager to be a knight like her late mother, agrees to be Odo's squire, and they set off to find out what's causing the river to dry up.

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Do not confuse this with the martial arts movie of the same name.


This book provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Eleanor's father Symon gives her his blessing to go on the quest, but clearly worries that she'll die like her mother did and makes Biter promise to protect her.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Eleanor and Odo decide to remain knights, and go to stop a wolf invasion at their village.
  • Bait the Dog: When Eleanor and Odo hear that another knight is in a village, Odo thinks it means they don't have to fight a dragon alone and Eleanor is eager to see a pro. Although Sir Saskia greets them cordially, she humiliates Odo in a duel the next day and then is revealed to be a Fake Ultimate Hero.
  • Big Bad: It's revealed that Sir Saskia is this, since she and her brigands were the ones who dammed up the river as a means to starve the people on purpose.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
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    • Unlike Biter, who operates on Honor Before Reason, Runnel encourages this in Eleanor. She points out that not all foes will be honorable, and a foe like a dragon won't allow you to fight fair.
    • Sir Saskia is not much better. When Quenwulf corners her and her squire, Saskia before she can be judged tries to knife the dragon in the eye. It proves to be a No-Sell.
  • Cool Big Sis: When she isn't lamenting about her "curse," Runnel proves to be this to Biter, who is seventy years her junior.
  • Cruel Mercy: The fate that Quenwulf bestows on Sir Saskia: to walk for one thousand days in the east, without talking to anyone. If Sir Saskia is truly remorseful, she will have a chance. If she doesn't, she'll die of thirst and hunger.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When they blow up the river dam, all in one swoop, Odo realizes belatedly that they have accidentally caused a flood, and he, Eleanor and Old Rice have to outrun it.
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  • Doing In the Wizard: When they go far enough upstream, Eleanor and Odo find that a man-made dam, not a dragon, is blocking the river, and that it's a fire-shooting machine that is boiling the river water and burning people alive. It was all a scheme by Sir Saskia to rob the villages dry by pretending to protect them. Of course, then the real dragon shows up.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Something Eleanor notes; while Sir Forenian was an awful tyrant, a bully, and a medieval arms dealer, he never pretended to be noble and heroic the way Sir Saskia does.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Runnel and Biter both agree that people that pretend dragons exist and starve entire villages don't deserve to live. Odo at least agrees that it's very wrong.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Sir Saskia is a bandit lord who has her men attack villages so that she can look good driving them off and then extort them for money. According to Quenwulf, she is a genuine knight, though she hasn't acted the part in a long time.
  • Fallen Hero: Sir Saskia is a real knight despite her crimes. Quenwulf says she may be able to redeem herself, especially if her lord is alive.
  • The Fog of Ages: Either from sitting at the bottom of a river for centuries or the injuries that resulted in him down there, Biter's memories are imperfect. In addition to not remembering what happened to him, he forgot that evil dragons are rare, and thus it's unlikely that a dragon is the one causing the problem.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The vast majority of dragons are good, and rogues are very rare. Quenwulf is not a rogue, she is a fair judge who keeps having to defend herself from random idiots trying to make a name for themselves.
  • Heroic Lineage: Odo's great-grandfather was a common-born knight just like Odo, something his mother only tells him as he and Eleanor leave on the quest.
  • Jumped at the Call: Eleanor has been waiting to be a knight her whole life, and jumps at the chance to go on an adventure. Odo is less enthusiastic.
  • Knighting: When Biter discovers that Odo awakened him, he says only a true knight can do that, and solves the problem by knighting Odo on the spot. He names Eleanor Odo's squire. Quenwulf later says that enchanted swords don't have the authority to do that, but she does, and knights both Odo and Eleanor.
  • Old Soldier: Local knight Sir Halfdan is an old man with a missing foot who doesn't do much besides make a toast to the new harvest, adjudicate arguments between merchants and make himself available to defend the village in the event of an attack. 
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Eleanor's and Odo's parents react to a magic talking sword with little more than "Huh, where'd that come from?"
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