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Literature / The Misenchanted Sword

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Valder is just a simple soldier in the army of Ethshar, on a simple scouting mission. When the enemy attacks in force, Valder is trapped behind enemy lines with a patrol chasing him. He then inadvertently stumbles upon an elderly hermit wizard, and the result is that the wizard's hut is destroyed by the enemy patrol.

The wizard, wanting nothing more to do with Valder, makes him a deal: he'll enchant Valder's sword, enabling Valder to return to his unit, and Valder promises to leave the wizard alone. The sword is enchanted...and what an enchantment it is. The sword is capable of killing anyone it's used against, and in fact Valder cannot be killed while he uses it.

Too bad there's a drawback...

The Misenchanted Sword, first of the The Legends of Ethshar fantasy novels by Lawrence Watt-Evans, details Valder's misadventures as he struggles to adapt his life around the power of his sword Wirikidor's enchantment...and the desires of those who want to take advantage of those powers.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Valder, not being particularly skilled as a soldier.
  • Age Without Youth: Part of Wirikidor's enchantment will keep its owner, Valder, alive indefinitely, but he continues to age. The wizard who made it was also old to begin with, and later appears again over a century on looking just the same.
  • The Archmage: The wizard who made the sword is among the most powerful, since he cast multiple spells that few others can break.
  • Awful Truth: It turns out that Ethshar disintegrated into tiny squabbling feudal kingdoms long ago. The army had been carrying on the fight against the northerners for generations, with only the generals aware of what had happened.
  • Bag of Holding: Iridith gives Valder an enchanted bottomless bag to hold his sword inside so people won't notice (he's got to carry it everywhere due to its enchantments).
  • Brick Joke: The entire novel could be seen as the setup for one.
  • Blood Magic: The Sanguinary Deception, the spell the wizard casts to make him and Valder appear dead, requires a bit of blood from them both.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Wirikidor refuses to be separated from Valder in both the literal sense (when unsheathed it sticks to his body until he kills someone) and the metaphorical sense, manipulating people and events to be brought back to Valder if taken away.
  • Deal with the Devil: The northerners made several. Then the gods took notice.
  • Distant Finale: Takes place 160 years after rest of the novel. Valder is still running his inn.
  • Draw Sword, Draw Blood: The eponymous sword literally cannot be resheathed until it's used to kill someone.
  • The Empire: The northerners, complete with The Emperor.
  • Exact Words: Valder's sword is enchanted to keep him from being killed and to fight for Valder when unsheathed so it can kill any man, and will do so 100 times. Any man being a human (or partially so) male. And it will fight brilliantly until it has killed one man, after which it won't fight on its own until sheathed and unsheathed. Because it's enchanted to kill, it wants to kill, meaning when unsheathed Valder has to stop it from trying to kill men he doesn't want killed. Because it's meant to fight for Valder, it will rejoin him no matter how he tries to get away from it, arranging events around itself to get back to him (sometimes dramatically so). Finally, because it's meant to preserve his life it'll keep him from dying until it reaches 100 men, upon which the next person to touch it will be compelled to kill him and start the cycle over—"keep him from dying" meaning it won't stop any of the numerous horrible things that might happen to someone from happening to him, they just won't kill him, and he can't die of old age or an incurable terminal illness or massive wound. At least it's basically indestructible?
  • Faking the Dead: The wizard casts a spell which he calls The Sanguinary Deception on him and Valder. It makes them look like dead and gory corpses. It works, as the northerners after Valder buy the ruse and leave.
  • Fantastic Nuke: At one point a seer Valder talks to about getting Wirikidor disenchanted explains that, in the unlikely event that he found a wizard powerful and willing enough to even give it a shot, the resulting magical backlash would kill everyone in a broad radius around the sword, with the best case scenario resulting in 33 fatalities.
  • Fish out of Water: Valder at first, adapting to peacetime life.
  • Flying Weapon: Wirikidor does everything a flying sword does except leave Valder's hand. It fights entirely by itself and will pull itself towards prospective victims unless he restrains it.
  • Forever War: The Great War has lasted centuries by the start of the novel. Entire generations of soldiers have lived and died without ever setting foot in their nation's homeland.
  • Fountain of Youth: Iridith gives Valder eternal youth with a spell in the book's finale to solve issues he has with his enchanted sword. She also has it herself.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives: The protagonist — a soldier behind enemy lines — takes a nap in a tree, and when he wakes up, there's a young dragon on the ground beneath him. He jumps on the dragon but is unable to kill him, so he runs away through the forest, the dragon chasing him, until he finds himself unwittingly on the edge of a large enemy encampment. He screams and runs through the camp — and the sentries, soldiers, etc. who start chasing him have to turn around to deal with the dragon.
  • The Hermit: The wizard who Valder meets and enchants his sword lives all by himself.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Valder eventually becomes this, as his work as the army assassin eventually gets to him.
  • Immortality Inducer: The protagonist is a scout granted this by a magic sword. He believes he "cannot be defeated until he has killed 100 men", and puts his sword down and retires long before reaching that number. He doesn't find out the truth for... quite a long time. He cannot die until he has killed a hundred men. Worse, the sword has to be taken up by someone else next who will be compelled to kill him, leaving them with the requirement of having to kill 99 men (the enchantment of the blade specifically making it uninterested in women and non-humans), and so on as it loses one off the count each time.
  • Immortality Hurts: The sword grants its owner eternal life so long as they retain their ownership. However, this portion of the magic has two staggering flaws: First, it doesn't prevent the wielder from aging, and will in fact prevent a natural death. Second, it will only prevent the wielder from dying; it is perfectly alright with letting them be maimed, blinded, or any number of other horrible things that happen when one wields a bloodthirsty sword.
  • Imperfect Ritual: The titular sword was not made an Evil Weapon out of malice, but because the wizard was in a hurry and mistook a brass ring for gold.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Wirikidor's got these, masterfully defending its owner with superhuman speed and manipulating its opponent for a killing stroke—and then loses all its power after the stroke is struck.
  • Logical Weakness: Valder rescues Iridith from a couple street thugs. Despite her power as a wizard, the pair took her by surprise, having prevented her reaching her components for magic with a knife to her throat. Valder distracts them enough that she can, burning one to a crisp with a spell.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum: Wirikidor to Valder, although said loyalty has its limits. Most of the plot is centered around getting around these limits.
  • Made of Indestructium: Wirikidor is virtually impossible to destroy or disenchant, which is good because doing so would kill Valder on the spot. Oh, and also everyone else in a broad radius.
  • The Magic Goes Away: According to General Gor, the gods shut themselves away after sealing away the demons and ending the Great War. While Gor makes it clear this doesn't mean all magic vanishes, he does say magic might not work the same - at least, the theurgy and demonology branches of magic, which deal with gods and demons, respectively. After this point in history, no one but theurges or demonologists may communicate directly with gods or demons.
  • My Grandson, Myself: Valder, after gaining eternal youth, poses as his own nephew to ensure that the inn remains his. After that he continues to use this ploy: he owns two inns and every so often switches which one he runs himself, then later returns to the other claiming to be his own son.
  • Never-Forgotten Skill: Averted. Valder was never any great shakes as a fighter to begin with, and after over a decade without practice the only reason he survives a fight with two thieves is due to Wirikidor's power, a solid bluff, and not being able to die of blood loss. By the time he hits his sixties, he's absolutely hopeless fighting by himself.
  • No Name Given: The wizard doesn't give his name to Valder, who never asks it.
  • Ostentatious Secret: After a theft attempt, Valder realizes that his identity as Valder of the Magic Sword is an Open Secret. He decides the best way to discourage more thefts is by openly displaying Wirikidor, explaining to anyone who asks that yes, it is a magical sword, but only he can unsheath it (offering a hefty cash prize if someone tries and succeeds) and that someone must die every time he's forced to do so. This works quite well. (He leaves out the part about immortality, though.)
  • Our Demons Are Different: The shatra, who are technically half-demons, are considered nigh-unkillable by almost everyone. Of course, almost everyone does not have Wirikidor. There are also full demons, but they never show up directly in this novel (some of them do turn up in other Ethshar stories, though).
  • Our Gods Are Different: Apparently they are all Actual Pacifists. They break their oath once, to seal the demons and kill those who summoned them.
  • Professional Killer: Valder ends up being forced into this.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The 288 year-old Iridith, who looks to Valder to be about 25.
  • Refusal of the Call: Valder has absolutely no interest in adventure whatsoever and would happily stay an innkeeper for the rest of life. Unfortunately, one of his army colleagues recognized him and spread the word, so adventurers keep turning up trying to recruit "Valder of the Magic Sword", only to end up sadly disappointed.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Valder joined the army out of a sense of loyalty to Ethshar, and chose to become a scout so that he could keep his fighting and killing to a minimum. Being forced by his superiors to become an assassin made him absolutely miserable, and he was more than happy to hang up his sword when the Great War was over.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: The wizard has both of these, which Valder notes mentally are old-fashioned items.
  • Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!: When the Northern Empire violates the customs of war by summoning an all-out demon attack, the gods break their own rule of non-intervention to remove the demons and wipe out the empire that summoned them.
  • Situational Sword: The sword will do your fighting for you, but only against adult male humans, and once it kills, you have to sheath it and draw it again to re-activate its power. Also, you can't resheath it, or even let go of it, until it's killed someone.
  • Solitary Sorceress: The wizard is a hermit who retired to work on his magic living in a hut within a great forest. Valder notes this has left him with poor interpersonal skills after so long alone.
  • Weapon of X-Slaying: The "X" being adult male humans or Half-Human Hybrids. When confronted by a half-demon it seems perplexed for a bit before finding the right spot.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Subverted. Certainly not Valder, but the alternative is worse.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: When Valder questions whether he'd be considered worthy of eternal youth and immortality, Irideth points out that leaving a dangerous weapon like Wirikidor in the hands of someone who refuses to use it—who in fact refuses to let its presence impact his life any more than he has to—could save potentially thousands of lives.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Valder learns that Wirikidor will turn on him after he kills roughly 100 people. By the time he's finished as an assassin, he realizes that he's hit 80. Fortunately the War ends soon after.