Executioner's Sword
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"Her bitter blade was an ell in length, straight and square-pointed as such a sword's should be. Man-edge and woman-edge could part a hair to within a span of the guard, which was of thick silver with a carven head at either end. Her grip was onyx bound with silver bands, two spans log and terminated with an opal. Art had been lavished upon her; but it is the function of art to render attractive and significant those things that without it would not be so, and so art had nothing to give her. The words Terminus Est had been engraved upon her blade in curious and beautiful letters, and I had learned enough of ancient languages since leaving the Atrium of Time to know that they meant This is the Line of Division.

…"'There is a channel in the spine of her blade, and in it runs a river of hydrargyrum—a metal heavier than iron, though it flows like water.'"

(from) Shadow of the Torturer Gene Wolfe

Basic Information

The Executioner's Sword is a sword designed not as a melee weapon but for the sole purpose of carrying out executions by beheading (or by other amputative methods such as quartering. Presumably it could also be used for non-capital punishments such as mutilation by the removal of limbs or extremities.

Such instruments are typically two-handed and flat ended, often balanced towards the blade to allow a slow but powerful cutting stroke, and being intended for public display will also tend to be highly decorated. Even when not in use for execution, such a sword was prone to be displayed as a symbol of capital authority and might well take its place in civic processions or be displayed in a courtroom.

There is little or no historical evidence of anything as sophisticated as the mercury filled spine of Gene Wolfe's Terminus Est - since such things would have been a needless complication to what was, at heart, a very simple thing - but such embellishments appear common in fantasy versions.

Where a choice exists, beheading with the sword is probably higher status than where an axe is used. This may be a far more important distinction than you might expect … or may not exist at all.


At "the other wiki".

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • These are not combat weapons - they are probably far more expensive, likely more fragile and typically smaller than an equivalent war-sword which, added to the poor balance and flat end should make them a menace in close combat unless the wielder can find no other weapon. If the rules make this into a weapon that anyone would actually choose to take into combat, then the rules need fixing.
  • This can also mean that a given executioner need not actually be proficient with a sword - he simply needs to know one specific stroke.
  • A sword used in a significant martyrdom might be transformed into a relic of the appropriate saint (along the lines of the Spear of Longinus).
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