Blades for Hire: Five Fictional Duellists

One could handle a personal conflict with diplomacy, which might be boring (too much talking) and involve some compromises on your part. Or one could just challenge the other person to a duel. This is expeditious, but much riskier. You might face murder charges…or you might find yourself losing said duel. People who come in second in a duel do not get a silver medal.

If you’re taking the expeditious route, perhaps it would be better to hire a professional duellist, as many people, both real and fictitious, have done. Here are five fictitious characters who dueled for pay (or in one case, for honour).


The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973)

Inigo Montoya trained to become a master swordsman for one driving purpose: to slay the six-fingered man who murdered Inigo’s father. Once he had become a master swordsman, Inigo discovered that his plan was flawed: Inigo had no idea who the six-fingered man might be or where he might be found. Years of searching turned into decades. A penniless Inigo had no choice but to hire himself out as a duellist. Alas, this meant he must work for evil men like master criminal Vizinni. Will he ever find the six-fingered man?



Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (1987)

The Hill’s aristocracy loves intrigue, affairs, and lethal duels, not necessarily in that order. This is a business opportunity for Richard St. Vier, the best of the expert duellists. When aristocrats feel their fencing skills will not win the day, they hire St. Vier or some lesser talent to stand in their place. Blemished honour is healed with blood (although rarely is it aristocratic blood). The system works perfectly for all concerned until Lord Hord tries to hire St. Vier and is refused. Unwilling to be denied, Lord Hord kidnaps St. Vier’s beloved and insists that St. Vier submit. Consequences ensue.



Revolutionary Girl Utena by Chiho Saito and Be-Papas (1996)

Utena is an unwilling duellist. Saved from drowning by a stranger, she aspires to repay the unknown benefactor by living a noble life. She is convinced that her savior must live by the highest of standards (on the basis of very slim evidence), standards she will also adopt. A decade later, she has followed a trail of clues to the savior’s identity to Ohtori Academy. She is soon entangled in Ohtori’s bizarre student culture: students fight duels to win the favour of the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. To protect the Rose Bride from less suitable aspirants, Utena has no honourable choice but to embrace the role of Anthy’s defender.



Colours in the Steel by K. J. Parker (1999)

Fencer-at-law Bardas Loredan is one of best duellists in the triple-city of Perimadeia. He’s the very fellow one wants to argue one’s legal case via trial by combat. It is a pity Loredan has long since tired of his profession; ennui could lead to lack of enthusiasm, which could lead to his death. He’s saved from ennui by the appearance of a barbarian army at the city walls. Loredan to the rescue! Warfare is less boring than courtroom duels, but perhaps even more dangerous.



Template by Matthew Hughes (2018)

The planet Thrais is governed by the precepts of Transactualism. In this most perfect of systems, poor but skilled men, like professional duellist Conn Labro, spend their lives serving the oligarchs who control the economy and thus Thrais. This system suits the oligarchs (naturally). It also suits Labro. He enjoys fighting and winning duels. But when his patron and then Labro’s best friend are murdered, Labro becomes a free agent. He resolves to invest his time, money, and lethal skills to solve the puzzle of his friend’s murder. It is a quest that will take the duellist to Old Earth itself.



No doubt you have your own favourite duellists. I know I am annoyed at myself for failing to see a pretext for a gratuitous reference to Yojimbo. Feel free to name the duellists I have overlooked. The comment section is waiting! (Maybe talking is easier, after all…)

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.


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