SWORD WOMAN – This was the first story about Robert E. Howard’s fiery woman warrior Agnes the Dark aka Agnes de Chastillon, a sword fighting, butt kicking woman in 1500s France. Previously, Balladeer’s Blog reviewed the one and only story that R.E. Howard wrote about Red Sonya (NOT Sonja) – Shadow of the Vulture, set in the late 1520s, not in Howard’s fictional Hyborian Age.
Unlike Shadow of the Vulture, none of the Dark Agnes tales were published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime. Sword Woman, the character’s origin story, saw print posthumously in 1975, 39 years after Howard’s suicide. The author dedicated the short story “To Mary Read, Graine O’Malley, Jeanne Laisne, Liliard of Ancrum, Anne Bonney, and all other sword women, good or bad, bold or gay, who have swaggered down the centuries, this chronicle is respectfully dedicated.”
The opening line is from Agnes’ repulsive and overbearing father – “Agnes! You red-haired spawn of the devil, where are you?” Our heroine’s father is trying to force her into a marriage, convinced it will settle her down. As the ceremony approaches, Agnes asks her older, married sister Ysabel for advice on getting out of her impending nuptials.
Ysabel, obviously NOT happily married, slips her younger sister a dagger so she can kill herself rather than go through with the wedding. As it turns out, Agnes instead uses the dagger to kill her intended husband Francois during the ceremony, then flees into the forest.
She is pursued by her father and others, and when her father just misses her with an arrow he shot at her, she shouts a taunt back at him. He replies “Come back, you slut!” and Agnes answers “To the fires of Hell with you! And may the Devil feast upon your black heart!”
Our heroine leaves the men chasing her far behind, then faces life as a fugitive woman and must be wary of predatory men everywhere. Still wearing her ever more tattered wedding dress, Agnes encounters the seemingly chivalrous man with a past, Etienne Villiers of Aquitaine.
Etienne gets the young lady to confide in him about her plight and he is charmed by her pluckiness. He steals some boy’s clothing to pass her off as a young male in order to lessen at least some of the dangers she faces. Agnes travels with the shrewd rogue on the run and learns the ways of fugitive life. She is well on her way to earning her nickname Dark Agnes.
When our heroine accidentally addresses Etienne by his real name in front of an innkeeper, that man, Thibault, threatens to turn Etienne over to his pursuers, the Duke of Alencon. Villiers tries to convince Thibault to instead take Agnes and sell her to a brothel.
Dark Agnes turns the tables, killing Thibault and battering Etienne Villiers nearly unconscious in a fight. Having learned another lesson – that even one’s fellow fugitives are not to be fully trusted – Agnes reconciles with the seriously injured Etienne and they resume their life on the lam.
Through Etienne and his underworld friends, Dark Agnes meets mercenary warrior Guiscard de Clisson, who admires her courage and her skill with pistols and blades. He instructs our heroine, refining her fencing skills to their utmost and lets him ride alongside him and his fellow mercenaries.
Before long, Guiscard and his men are attacked from ambush and slaughtered by Captain Renault d’Valence and his troops. When those men have finally cornered the sole survivor, the savagely fighting Dark Agnes, Etienne Villiers arrives in time to help her escape. Agnes and Etienne agree to become comrades in arms, vowing to fight and steal their way through the world.
I’LL REVIEW ANOTHER DARK AGNES STORY SOON.
FOR MY LOOK AT ROBERT E. HOWARD’S JAMES ALLISON STORIES CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT ROBERT E. HOWARD’S TURLOGH DUBH STORIES CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LOOK AT ROBERT E. HOWARD’S FIRST FEW EL BORAK STORIES CLICK HERE.
12 responses to “DARK AGNES: ROBERT E. HOWARD’S “OTHER” RED-HAIRED FEMALE WARRIOR”
Nice pull! I almost forgot about her, and I’m a total whore for Red Sonja (or Sonya).
Thank you! Do you go for the full Trifecta by liking Catherine L Moore’s red-haired woman warrior Jirel of Joiry, too?
I know of Jirel but have not sought out those stories. I damn well should! I have two full comic boxes of Sonja alone, lol…
Well, I’ve reviewed all of the Jirel stories here at my blog if you want to see what they are like.
Okay, cool, I’ll check ‘er out!
Hope you like them! Have a great day!
You too, my friend!
She sounds like my kind of lady, the father-in-law sounds terrible though. It’s sad that Robert E. Howard took his own life, very sad. I think I would enjoy Red Sonya, great read.
Thanks! Yes, it was quite a loss when he killed himself.
I’ve always been a big fan of Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery stories, and I’m really excited to check out Sword Woman. I was curious, though, about the connection between Sword Woman and Agnes de Chastillon. Are they actually the same person?
Yes, they are the same woman. Glad you enjoyed this blog post!