This refers to the end of the series so I'm hiding the question within the spoiler

Why did Shieldbreaker break against Woundhealer? Does Woundhealer have some internal regenerative power which counteracted Shieldbreaker's power and caused a feedback reaction?


There are two reasons why Woundhealer ended up being the only weapon that Shieldbreaker could not break, one in-universe and one thematic.

Narrative Reason

Out-of-universe, it's clear by the end of the last Lost Book of Swords that Saberhagen is trying to rid his universe of the Swords of Power, to wrap up the story in a convenient way. So he obviously needed to eliminate Shieldbreaker, which is otherwise the ultimate weapon. One of the main theme's of the series was how the use of the Swords as weapons almost always turned out badly (see, for example, Farslayer's Story). As the only Sword that cannot actually kill, Woundhealer was the logical choice for the "last" one. (In fact, I think many readers had been anticipating a Shieldbreaker/Woundhealer showdown for a while, once it became obvious that Saberhagen was killing off the remaining swords.) By having the one character that was not using a Sword as a weapon -- Mark, using Woundhealer to heal himself -- ultimately be the downfall of the last Sword was a statement that "peace and love" were stronger than "hate and war".

Canon Reason

Within the story, the official explanation is unfortunately quite vague. The explanation given at the end of the novel (paraphrasing, since I don't have the book handy) is that Woundhealer was plunged into the heart of Prince Mark, one of the strongest characters in the series both magically and morally. Even Vulcan was incapable of making a weapon strong enough to destroy the "heart" of a truly good person, only his physical heart muscle, so once that physical form was made invulnerable by the constant healing, Shieldbreaker was finally outmatched.

Non-Canon (But Better) Reason

Note that many, many readers found the ending unsatisfying exactly because of this question; while I liked the way the story wrapped up thematically, it really did come out of nowhere and go largely unexplained. As such, there are a lot of other theories that are floated around to "explain" the discrepancy. The unsupported-by-canon, but otherwise most popular, theory is basically as follows:

Someone wielding Woundhealer can hardly be considered armed because it cannot actually harm anyone else. We've seen that Shieldbreaker actually harms its wielder when wielded against an unarmed opponent. Since Shieldbreaker was thrown at Mark, it technically no longer had a wielder, effectively wielding itself against an unarmed opponent. Therefore, the only remaining option to destroy itself.

This theory is also flawed, in that it doesn't explain how wielding Woundhealer would have been any different than being totally unarmed. It's sometimes explained that Woundhealer's presence is what allowed Mark to survive a sword exploding inside his body, or that the dual weapon/not weapon nature of Woundhealer is what caused Shieldbreaker to "short circuit" as opposed to simply passing through Mark unharmed (which is normally what it does to unarmed opponents).

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    If unwielded, Shieldbreaker would simply have the superior edge that Dragonslicer would have if wielded against an opponent. So thrown, it would still cut him non-magically... but it's within Woundhealer's ability to heal that. I personally liked the resolution of the books. Not everything needs to be explained in a good story. More interesting questions are things like "Which was truly the second most-powerful sword after shieldbreaker?", but I don't feel like submitting it. – John O Jul 26 '12 at 15:02
  • @Michael Edenfield Thanks for the answer. I think I like the non-canon answer myself. – Chetter Hummin Jul 26 '12 at 16:35
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    +1 Your answer is a thing of beauty and will be a joy forever. I so wish I had written it. – Thaddeus Howze Jul 26 '12 at 16:39

I've always looked at it this way.
1) Shieldbreaker vs. weapon = "superior". This is one end of the power scale.

2) Shieldbreaker vs. unarmed = "impotent". The middle of the power scale.

3) Logically then: Shieldbreaker vs. something that's the opposite of a weapon = "vulnerable". The opposite end of the power scale.

The business about Shieldbreaker somehow becoming Mark's is just a fudge to get rid of Arridu in a hurry. Otherwise you've still got an angry Orcus-class demon still hanging around. Personally I would have resolved one simply by Mark riposting with Woundhealer and discovering that it can kill demons.

A bigger question is how anyone in the middle of a fight can throw Shieldbreaker.

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  • Is there canon support for this? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 20 '15 at 20:57
  • Sheldbreaker vs unarmed is worse than impotent - it also makes you unable to wield any other power against your foe so that even a god was captured. – Oldcat Apr 20 '15 at 21:34

None stands against Shieldbreaker. Not even Shieldbreaker. Shieldbreaker itself against Woundhealer itself, though buried in a man's heart, would show Woundhealer to be 'unarmed'. The cursed power of Shieldbreaker turns upon itself and so it is destroyed.

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    This seems to contradict the question. – Chenmunka Sep 4 '15 at 7:25

And now Mark faced a nice, practical, tactical question: How should an unarmed opponent – like himself, for one armed only with Woundhealer was effectively unarmed – how should such a one attempt to fight an enemy who held Shieldbreaker and the Sword of Despair?

And Mark thought he knew; his recent experience with Farslayer had helped him acquire the knowledge. It could be assumed, or gambled, though no one could claim solid proof, that Woundhealer would save the mind as well as the body from ongoing damage – or repair the damage as fast as it was inflicted.

Mark, his left hand still clamping the hilt of Woundhealer hard against his own ribs, feeling the transcendent giddiness of the Sword of Love buried in his own heart, leapt in to wrestle with only his right hand.

Arridu immediately dropped Shieldbreaker – and was at once seized, staggered as he had dared to hope he would not be, by the mortal power of unsheathed Soulcutter still in his other hand. The impact of Depair was strong enough to stun the demon momentarily, sending him reeling back. Soulcutter slipped from his weakened grip.

Mark, still holding himself transfixed with the Sword of Love, grabbed up the discarded Sword of Force and struck at the nearest vital target, smashing Soulcutter to bits as the Sword of Despair lay on the ground.

Its poisoned fragments stung him harmlessly. At least, at last, if all our struggles achieve nothing else, that damned thing is gone…

Now the great demon, stunned and terrified by the loss of two Swords, turned to flee. And Mark, determined that Arridu should not escape, hurled Shieldbreaker after him…he saw to his horror the demon’s figure twisting in mid-air, saw the gigantic warrior’s hand reach out to seize the hilt of the spinning Sword of Force. Screaming with new triumph, howling like a whirlwind, the enormous demon fell upon him.

Mark started to draw from his breast the only Sword he had, meaning to meet the last attack full on.

His effort came too late. Shieldbreaker and Woundhealer were smashed together, inside a human heart.

…Arridu was dead, obliterated in the explosion of Shieldbreaker’s deadly fragments – and only Woundhealer, of all the Twelve Swords, still survived.

It was Stephen’s older brother, come home from his distant studies as quickly as he could, but just too late to join the fight, who at length deduced and announced an explanation – how Shieldbreaker, once in Mark’s heart, had become the Prince’s and not the demon’s weapon – and how the blast of its destruction, edge to edge against the one Sword it could not break, had slain the demon at close range.

It doesn't state that Arridu threw Shieldbreaker at Mark, if it matters.

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  • I’m not sure if this is answering the actual question asked if I’m honest. Could you edit it to be clearer? – TheLethalCarrot Feb 6 '19 at 20:32
  • I had posted the actual text to aid in the answering of the question. I don't have a fitting answer to this question yet. The canon explanation does not make sense. the best theory I can can come up with is that Woundhealer destroyed Shieldbreaker. The Sword of Love heals. The Sword of Force kills. When they came together, inside Mark's heart, Woundhealer proved to be the stronger blade, and thus destroyed Shieldbreaker, since that was the only way Woundhealer could permanently repair the damage caused by Shieldbreaker still being stuck in Mark. There are problems with this theory. – Peter LaPlante Feb 7 '19 at 14:06
  • "or that the dual weapon/not weapon nature of Woundhealer is what caused Shieldbreaker to "short circuit" as opposed to simply passing through Mark unharmed (which is normally what it does to unarmed opponents)." -- After thinking things through, I feel that this poster's explanation is the best, and that's what I am going with. :) – Peter LaPlante Feb 15 '19 at 14:24

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