Monday, April 20, 2020

Robert E. Howard's "The Conquering Sword of Conan" (1934-35)

Among the rocks, Conan fights a Pict warrior (Del Rey 2005, Gregory Manchess)
In 2005, Del Rey books published The Conquering Sword of Conan, its third and final collection of unedited Robert E. Howard stories featuring the Cimmerian barbarian Conan, written from 1934 to 1935. Below are synopses and illustrations from the original issues of Weird Tales in which they were published (except for "The Black Stranger" which was published posthumously).

  • "The Servants of Bit-Yakin" (1934, published as "Jewels of Gwahlur")
  • "Beyond the Black River" (1934)
  • "The Black Stranger" (1935)
  • "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula" (Mar 1935, published as "Shadows in Zamboula")
  • "Red Nails" (June 1935)

The Servants of Bit-Yakin (1934)

Margaret Brundage
First published in Weird Tales, Mar 1935 as “Jewels of Gwahlur”.

1. Paths of Intrigue: Conan arrives in Keshan intending to steal the fabled Teeth of Gwahlur. He soon learns that the jewels lie in the legendary deserted city of Alkmeenon, which also hosts an ageless oracle named Yelaya accessible only to the priests of Keshia. While climbing over the protective cliff wall surrounding Alkmeenon, Conan discovers a mummy holding a piece of parchment. He reads that a traveler named Bit-Yakin had come to Alkmeenon and then had his servants place his corpse inside the cliff face. After entering the city proper and inspecting the oracle in its sacred chamber, the sound of a gong rings out. Conan goes to investigate but ends up falling through the floor into a cold black stream.

2. A Goddess Awakens: Conan climbs out of the underground stream and returns to the oracle. Earlier appearing to be made of stone, it soon comes to life. However, Conan recognizes the oracle of Yelaya to be merely Muriela, a dancing girl he had once seen in Corinthia. The girl is an imposter, ordered by rival thief Zargheba to fool the priests of Keshan into giving the jewels to the Stygian rogue Thutmekri and his partner Zargheba (and then kill Conan). Conan tells her to maintain her false identity, but to instead tell the Keshani priests to kill Zargheba, and then give the treasure to Conan. Conan then departs to look for Zargheba. Outside he is surprised to run across Zargheba’s decapitated head.

3. The Return of the Oracle: Conan comes across the Yeshani priests and follows them as they proceed into the chamber of the oracle. There, Muriela does as Conan has instructed, after which the priests depart to retrieve the jewels. As Conan enters to rejoin Muriela, he is surprised to find the girl in the hands of Gwarunga, a co-conspirator of Zargheba’s, and knocks him out.
Conan comes to the rescue when Gwarunga tries to throttle Muriela for betraying him (Joseph Doolin).
While preparing to finish Gwarunga off, Muriela is kidnapped from the oracle chamber. Conan also notices that the real oracle has somehow been returned to its original spot on the dais. He then discovers a secret passageway laden with death traps, but which also contains wall carvings describing Bit-Yakin’s secret. He learns that Bit-Yakin and his inhuman servants had pretended to be the voice of the oracle for centuries until Bit-Yakin had finally died. His inhuman servants, however still live on, and had probably killed Zargheba earlier, replaced the true oracle on her dais, and then kidnapped Muriela.

4. The Dome of the Teeth of Gwahlur: Blocked from following Muriela’s captors, Conan follows the Yeshani priests as they proceed into a domed cavern set against the inside face of the circular cliff wall surrounding Alkmeenon. The priests eventually reach the cavern’s interior where they are halted by the sudden appearance of the oracle, suspended high above them on a ledge. A booming voice berates them for listening to a “false goddess” and orders the priests to retreive the Teeth of Gwahlur and give them to Thutmekri and his associates. As the priests rush into the next chamber to do the voice’s bidding, Conan investigates and discovers that Gwarunga is behind this new manifestation of the oracle (as well as being the oracle’s voice). After finally killing Gwarunga, Conan finds Muriela bound in another room and learns that she had been abducted by the inhuman servants of Bit-Yakin. After freeing her, they watch the priests retrieve the treasure chest containing the Teeth of Gwahlur from a sacred chamber. However, as soon as the head priest opens the chest, the servants of Bit-Yakin attack and massacre the priests. As they go off to chase down one last priest, Conan rushes into the chamber to grab the treasure chest for himself. As he and Muriela try to escape to a passageway leading to the outer face of the cliff wall, one of the servants of Bit-Yakin appears. Conan eventually defeats the creature but both Muriela and the treasure chest end up teetering on the edge of falling into the river below. When Conan is forced to chose one or the other, he unhesitatingly saves Muriela, and they escape into the forest surrounding the forbidden city of Alkmeenon.

Beyond the Black River (1934)

First published in Weird Tales, May - June 1935.

Weird Tales, May 1935
Margaret Brundage
1. Conan Loses His Axe: Just east of the Black River in the wild territory of the Picts, an Aquilonian named Balthus runs into a young Conan, who is working as a forest ranger for a nearby Aquilonian outpost named Fort Tuscelan. After saving Balthus from a wild Pict, Conan and  Balthus discover the corpse of a merchant named Tiberias. Tiberias had earlier humiliated a Pictish wizard named Zogar Sag, prompting Zogar Sag to set a forest demon on his trail. Imitating the cry of a woman, the forest demon lures Conan away from Tiberias’ body. When Conan returns, he is annoyed to find that the demon has made off with Tiberius’ head. Seeing a slithering blue light in the bush, Conan throws his axe at it, but it escapes.

2. The Wizard of Gwawela: When Conan returns to Fort Tuscelan to report to its commander, Captain Valannus realizes that the fort and the settlements it was built to protect will eventually fall to the Gwawela Picts unless something is done about Zogar Sag. He asks Conan to go into the Picts’ territory and assassinate the troublesome wizard. Conan elects to take a dozen men with him, one of them being Balthus.

3. The Crawlers In The Dark: Conan takes his men into Pictish territory on a boat and docks on a riverbank south of Zogar Sag’s camp. He orders Balthus and one other man to stay at the boat, while Conan takes the rest of the men northwards to kill Zogar Sag. Later at the boat, Balthus realizes that his partner has been killed by unseen hands. Balthus himself is soon captured by the Picts.

4. The Beasts of Zogar-Sag: After waking up in the camp of the Picts, Balthus watches as Zogar Sag calls forth a gigantic sabre-tooth tiger to rend apart one of Conan’s captured assassins. The heads of the other members of Conan’s expedition can be seen piled in a mound. When Zogar Sag summonses a giant snake to next consume Balthus, a spear strikes it from the the darkness, causing it to go berserk amongst the Picts. In the confusion, Conan appears and frees Balthus. They barely make it outside the camp barrier walls.
Zogar Sag's giant serpent causes havoc amongst the Picts after Conan spears it (Hugh Rankin).

Weird Tales, June 1935
Margaret Brundage
5. The Children of Jhebbal Sag: Trying to confuse their Pict pursuers, Conan leads them further west into the wilderness. After realizing that Zogar Sag has called on the Children of Jhebbal Sag (animal friends of an old nature god), Conan traces a mysterious figure in the ground which counters these creatures. When they eventually turn back east towards the river to try to head back to Fort Tuscelan, they run into a Pict patrol and kill all of them.

6. Red Axes of the Border: Realizing that they need to quickly warn Fort Tuscelan of the gathering Pict army, Conan lures a Pict on a canoe by mimicking Pictish and then killing him with an arrowhead. After taking his canoe, Conan and Balthus head down the river towards the fort. However they are too late: the Picts have already begun their attack and Conan realizes that it will soon fall. He decides that the only thing they can do is to try to warn the settlers whom the fort was designed to protect. Heading east, Conan splits off down one path to warn the settlers laboring at a salt lick while Balthus continues east to herd the laborers’ families to safety. As the Picts approach, Balthus and his new dog ally Slasher try to hold off the Picts as long as they can, allowing the women and children time to flee farther east to Velitrium.

7. The Devil In the Fire: Conan has the laborers at the salt lick head east, but soon senses that he is being followed. He is confronted by Zogar Sag’s demon, a fire-wreathed crane-like creature who claims that it has been given permission to kill Conan due to Conan’s “abuse” of the mark of Jhebbal Sag earlier. Conan fights and eventually kills the creature with his sword.
Conan fights Zogar Sag's fire demon (High Rankin).

8. Conajohara No More: The Picts eventually break off their march towards Velitrium and begin retreating back to their own territory. A survivor from Fort Tuscelan returns and explains that Zogar Sag had suddenly sustained mysterious injuries and died (wounds apparently suffered when Conan had killed his demon), after which the Picts fell apart. Conan also learns that Balthus and the dog had died valiantly. He and the fort survivor recognize that Aquilonia will have to give up its dreams of taking the western borderlands (Conajohara) from the Picts.

The Black Stranger (1935)

Hannes Bok, 1953 Re-edited publication of "The Black Stranger"
Published posthumously as "The Treasure of Tranicos".

1. The Painted Men: Pursued by wild bands of painted Picts, Conan reaches a rocky hill which the Picts are afraid to ascend. Exploring a cleft in the cliff face, he discovers a door. Inside he sees several silent figures sitting before a black table.

2. Men From the Sea: For a year, Zingaran Count Valenso, his niece Belesa, and a personal retinue of warriors have been marrooned on the Pictish coast, constantly in fear of a Pictish attack from the interior. One day, a Baracchan pirate named Strom sails in and accuses Valenso of hoarding treasure hidden in the area. Although Valenso professes ignorance of any treasure, Strom and his men attack the Count’s compound using a battering ram, shielded from Valenso’s arrows by a makeshift shield barrier (mantlet). However, when a Zingaran galley appears in the distance, Strom orders a retreat from the area. His ship sails out of view.

3. The Coming of the Black Man: The Zingaran buccaneer Zarono lands and reveals that he is also in search of Tranicos’ legendary treasure, supposedly hidden near this part of the Pictish coast. He proposes to help Count Valenso escape back to civilization, but in return he demands Valenso’s niece Belesa as his wife. Valenso at first resists, but when a young girl named Tina enters and reports seeing a glowing black man roaming around the area, he becomes strangely panicky and agrees to Zarono’s demands.

4. A Black Drum Droning: That night, Belesa and Tina sight the mysterious black man creeping around Valenso’s grounds. Later, a drumming drone begins coming from the forest, followed shortly by a violent storm. Zarono’s ship is destroyed by the storm when it is dashed into the cliffs.

5. A Man From the Wilderness: Strom returns to Valenso’s shore with his ship intact after the storm, and meets with Valenso and Zarono. He accuses Zarono of having killed one of his crew on another part of the coast, one who had the map to Tranicos’ treasure. Conan suddenly appears from behind a curtain, dressed in pirate gear lifted apparently from Tranicos’ time. He reveals that he was the one who had killed Strom’s crewmember. He also tells the captains that he has discovered the hidden cave of Tranicos, where the bodies of Tranicos and his men still reside. He then notes that he has found a dead Pict in the forest, nailed to a tree with evidence incriminating Valenso. In any case, they make a temporary pact to work together to retrieve the treasure from the interior.

6. The Plunder of the Dead: The next day, Conan, Strom and Zarono head into the forest with some of the pirates and buccaneers to retrieve the treasure. After they depart, Valenso tells Belesa that the “black man” is a demon he had once bargained with in order to assassinate a political rival, but who now is coming for Valenso’s life. The demon had killed the Pict which Conan had found in order to turn the other Picts against him. Meanwhile at the treasure cave, Conan tries push the Strom and Zarono into the cave so that they will be killed by poison gas. However, the trick fails and a stand-off ensues. Soon Picts attack, forcing the seamen to again put aside their differences and flee back towards the shore to find refuge in Valenso’s stockade. As they arrive at the shore, Strom’s panicking pirate crew decide to desert their captain and his ship sails off.

7. Men of the Woods: The Picts attack Valenso’s stockade, and for several hours Conan and the other pirates fend them off as best they can. During a break in the siege, a fight breaks amongst the rival pirate crews. The Picts take this opportunity to climb over an unguarded barrier wall and swarm the interior. Zarono and Strom as well as their crewmen are all eventually slaughtered. Conan runs into the manor to try and save Belesa and Tina, but finds them threatened by Valenso’s demonic “black man” (who has already killed Valenso). Using  a silver bench, Conan drives the demon into the fireplace. He and the two girls narrowly escape into the forest as the Picts enter.
Del Rey 2005, Gregory Manchess
8. A Pirate Returns To the Sea: After putting some distance between himself and the Picts, Conan use smoke signals to call back the remnants of Strom’s crew, who are have been loitering around the area, unable to pilot the ship back home by themselves. He gives a few jewels picked up from Tranicos’ cave lair to Belesa and Tina and tells them that after he drops them off in Zingara he will soon sail to the Baracchan islands and call up a new crew of pirates.

The Man-Eaters of Zamboula (Mar 1935)

First published in Weird Tales, Nov 1935 as “Shadows in Zamboula”.

Zabibi is forced to dance in order to avoid the poisonous fangs of Totrasmek's cobras (Margaret Brundage).
1. A Drum Begins: In Zamboula, a Zaugir desert warrior warns Conan of Aram Baksh, an innkeeper whose dwelling Conan is planning to stay in that night. Skeptical, Conan gets a room there anyways, although he hears the sounds of pounding drums in the distance.

2. The Night Skulkers: When a strangely-garbed black man sneaks into his room, Conan instantly awakes and kills him. He recognizes the intruder as one of the cannibals from Darfar which are allowed to roam the streets of Zamboula at night, and prey on travelers. He surmises that Aram Baksh allows the cannibals to prey on his tenants for a profit. Heading outside to look for Aram Baksh, he turns his attention to the rescue of a dancing girl named Zabibi. After killing her Darfar cannibal attackers, she uses her feminine wiles to induce Conan to help her kill a wizard named Totrasmek. Totrasmek had caused her lover to go mad and run amok in the streets. Following Zabibi’s wishes, Conan finds and knocks out her lover, and after putting him to bedrest they head to the temple of Hanuman to kill Totrasmek. However, once inside Zabibi is abducted and taken behind a secret door.

3. Black Hands Gripping: Conan soon encounters Baal-pteor, a Kosalan servant of Totrasmek trained since youth in the art of mesmerism and bare-handed strangulation. He distracts Conan with various hypnotic visions, until he grabs Conan by the neck. With his sword out of reach (stuck in a magnetic block), Conan counters by strangling Baal-pteor in return. Baal-pteor eventually falls to superior Cimmerian strength, and Conan breaks his neck.
As Totrasmek taunts Zabibi (top right), Conan endures the crystalline visions of Baal-pteor (Vincent Napoli).

4. A Sword-Thrust Through the Curtain: Behind a curtain, Conan sees Totrasmek force Zabibi to dance wildly in order to avoid the bites of phantom cobras. He impales Totrasmek with a sword thrust from behind the curtain. After Zabibi obtains the cure to her lover’s madness from Totrasmek’s robes, she then searches Totrasmek’s room for the stolen Star of Khorala, a valuable gem once belonging to Nefertari, mistress of Zamboula’s ruler Jungir Khan. Although she cannot find the gem, they return to Zabibi’s lover and restore him to sanity using the elixir from Totrasmek’s robes. She then tells Conan that her earlier flirting had been a sham, and that she is actually Nefertari and her lover Jungir Shan, and therefore can never reward Conan as she had originally implied. Instead, Conan is given a bag of gold and ordered to search for the Star in the morning. Apparently unbothered by this turn of events, Conan returns to Aram Baksh’s dwelling. There he captures the treacherous inn-keeper and gives him to the Darfar cannibals still roaming the streets. He then rides off with Nefertari’s bag of gold and the Star of Khorala, which he had swiped off of Jungir Khan when he had recognized him (and Nefertari) for who they really were when he had first met them.

Red Nails (June 1935)

First published in Weird Tales, July, Aug/Sept, Oct 1936.

Weird Tales, July 1936
Valeria is held down on an altar as Tascela moves to slay her for her life-force (Margaret Brundage).

1. The Skull On the Crag: The swordswoman Valeria of the Red Brotherhood (an Aquilonian pirate), enters a forest near Darfar in order to escape the pursuit of angry Stygians she had evaded back in Sukhmet. An infatuated Conan follows her, and when he catches up to her he tries to proposition her (after slaying one of her pursuers). Their conflict is interrupted when a giant reptilian dragon chases them up onto a rocky ledge. Conan assembles a makeshift spear and dips its point in the poisonous juices of a nearby hanging melon. He then spears the dragon in its mouth, driving it into a frenzy. When the monster goes off to quench its thirst, Conan and Valeria descend from the ledge and try to make a dash towards a shadowy city sighted earlier beyond the forest. The dragon senses their flight and pursues them, but its wild charge (and the poison) causes it to crash into a tree, killing it instantly.
Conan fights the dragon in the forest (Harold S. De Lay).

2. By the Blaze of the Fire Jewels: Conan and Valeria enter the seemingly-deserted city and discover that it is comprised of a series of halls and galleries arranged like a labyrinth. After they split up, Valeria sees a wiry local native being threatened by flaming skull. Valeria attacks the skull and kills the man underneath a skull-topped costume.

Weird Tales, Aug/Sept 1936 
Margaret Brundage
More men arrive and she kills them as well. A final attacker is eliminated when Conan arrives. The man they have saved, Techotl, identifies the attackers as Xotalancas and tells them that they are in the city of Xuchotl. Techotl leads them towards his own region of the city, Tecuhltli. They soon sense that they are being pursued and race towards a stairwell leading to the gate of Tecuhltli. Just before making it to safety, Conan uses his sword to drive off a slithering “Crawler” just behind them.

Conan and Valeria defy Olmec and Tascela in the Tecuhltli throne room (Harold S. De Lay).
3. The People of the Feud: Once inside, Conan and Valeria are brought before the leader of the Tecuhltli, a large man named Olmec, who rules with his strange, staring queen Tascela. Olmec describes the history of the feud between the Tecuhltli and the Xotalancas, which had been caused by a rivalry for the hand of Tascela. He also mentions that Tolkemec, one of the original occupants of the city (and a third rival), had long ago been thrown into the catacombs to be devoured by rats. Olmec also reveals that the Tecuhltli drive a copper nail into a wooden black cylinder for every dead Xotalanca they have killed. Conan and Valeria agree to help the Tecuhltli in return for jewels. Later, Techotl tells Conan that Tascela is an immortal witch who has discovered a terrible method to extends her youth.

4. Scent of Black Lotus: Valeria wakes when she realizes that Tascela’s servant woman Yasala is trying to drug her with the scent of the black lotus flower. Valeria whips the girl but she refuses to explain her actions. Yasala later manages to escape into the underground catacombs. Valeria considers following her but then hears strange tittering, followed by Yasala’s death scream. Valeria decides that she and Conan should just leave this strange city while they still can.

Weird Tales, Oct 1936
J. Allen St. John

5. Twenty Red Nails: Using a strange flute, the Xotalancas drive the Tecuhltli gate guards insane and penetrate Olmec’s domain. However, they are outnumbered by the Techuhltli (who are still aided by Conan and Valeria) and eventually are all killed. Conan then volunteers to visit the Xotalanca’s halls in order to determine if there are any remaining enemy warriors. When Conan gets there, one of Olmec’s warriors tries to kill him. On the way back to Tecuhltli, Conan runs into a dying Techotl who tells Conan that Olmec has captured Valeria for himself (explaining why Olmec had wanted Conan assassinated). However, as Conan approaches a hall leading towards the Tecuhltli gate, he discovers a room where Olmec is himself stretched on a torture rack.

6. The Eyes of Tascela: With Conan away on his mission to look for Xotalanca survivors, Olmec overpowers Valeria and carries her to a lower level chamber. However, Tascela appears and reprimands her former lover Olmec for taking prey which she has already claimed for herself. Using her mesmeric powers she forces Olmec to drink a paralyzing potion and then puts him on a torture rack. Tascela then bears Valeria away as her own prisoner and bolts the gate leading back into Tecuhltli.

7. He Comes From the Dark: When Olmec sees Conan enter his torture chamber, he offers to show Conan the secret path back into Tecuhltli so that they can rescue Valeria from Tascela. Conan frees Olmec, after which they ascend a tower and then descend towards the throne room. When Olmec treacherously tries to kill Conan from behind, Conan spoils his aim and they both tumble down the stairs. After breaking Olmec’s neck at the bottom of the stairs, Conan enters the throne room to see Tascela and the remaining Tecuhltli holding Valeria down on an altar. When Conan tries to stop them his leg is caught in a vise hidden in the floor. Tascela then explains that she will drink in Valeria’s lifeforce as she stabs her with a dagger. However, the scene is interrupted when a strangely dehumanized Tolkemec, ragged and scaly, appears from the catacombs holding a strange wand. The wand begins emitting flame bolts which arc between its red-globed tip and the metal doors surrounding the hall (as well as the altar in the center). When all of Tascela’s followers have been incinerated by Tolkemec’s flame arcs, Tascela frees Conan’s leg from the floor trap and asks him to save her. Conan skillfully dodges the wand’s beams and kills Tolkemec with a thrown knife. When Tascela tries to reach for the fallen wand, Valeria intervenes and impales her with a dagger. Now the only living beings in the entire city, Conan and Valeria depart the accursed place and decide become partners in plunder.
While dodging bolts from Tolkemec's strange wand, Conan hurls a knife at him (Harold S. De Lay).


Robert E. Howard's death was announced in the Aug/Sept 1936 issue of Weird Tales:

The following issue (Oct 1936) included tributes from H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price:

Del Rey 2005, Gregory Manchess

Friday, April 10, 2020

Robert E. Howard's "The Bloody Crown of Conan" (1934)

US Edition, Gary Gianni
In 2002, Del Rey Books began publishing the unedited fiction of Robert E. Howard. In 2004/2005 the second volume chronicling Conan the Cimmerian was published: The Bloody Crown of Conan (the 2003 second volume in the Del Rey REH series featured Solomon Kane). This volume contains three stories written in 1934, all of them originally published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales (from September 1934 to April 1936 and edited by Farnsworth Wright). Below are synopses and illustrations from the original issues. All Weird Tales covers by Margaret Brundage unless otherwise noted.

  • "The People of the Black Circle"
  • The Hour of the Dragon
  • "A Witch Shall Be Born"

The People of the Black Circle (Jan 1934)

First published in 3 parts in Weird Tales, Sept-Nov 1934.

The ancient Master of Mount Yimsha threatens his captive, Vendhya Queen Yasmina (Margaret Brundage).

 Weird Tales, Sept 1934, "The People of the Black Circle", Pt. 1

Fearing the damnation of his soul by evil shadows, the King of Vendhya asks his sister Yasmina to take his life before it is too late (Hugh Rankin).
1. Death Strikes A King: The Turanian nobleman Kerim Shah and an acolyte of the mysterious Black Seers of Mount Yimsha named Khemsa conspire to imprison the soul of the king of Vendhya. In order to prevent this horrible fate, the king has his sister Yasmina kill him with a dagger before his soul is damned.

2. A Barbarian From the Hills: Yasmina journeys to Peshkhauri hoping to pit Conan’s Afghuli forces against the Black Seers of Yimsha. She has several of Conan’s Afghuli comrades captured in order to force Conan to do her bidding. Conan sneaks into Peshkhauri and kidnaps Yasmina instead.

3. Khemsa Uses Magic: Yasmina’s treacherous servant girl Gitara conspires with Khemsa to execute Yasmina’s Afghuli hostages so that Yasmina will not be returned by the Afghulis. Gitara and Khemsa scheme to capture Yasmina themselves and blackmail Vendhya for her return.

4. An Encounter In The Pass: At the Zhaibar Pass, Conan and Yasmina run into Yar Afzal, one of Conan’s old friends, now a ruler of the Wazulis.

5. The Black Stallion: In order to turn the Wazulis against Conan, Khemsa sends an enslaved warrior to Yar Afzal  with a jade ball, which soon turns into a poisonous spider. With their leader dead from the spider’s bite, the Wazulis blame Conan. Conan and Yasmina flee the camp on a black stallion. When Khemsa arrives at the Wazuli camp, he destroys them with black magic.

Weird Tales, Oct 1934, "The People of the Black Circle", Pt. 2

6. The Mountain Of The Black Seers: When Khemsa and Gitara catch up to Conan, Khemsa attacks with his hypnotic powers. However, a red tornado appears, bringing with it Khemsa’s superiors, the Black Seers of Yimsha. They blow their rebellious acolyte off a cliff and then whisk Yasmina away back to Mount Yimsha.
After defeating Khemsa, the Black Seers of Yimsa use a red cloud to abduct Yasmina (Hugh Rankin).
7. On To Yimsha: Conan discovers the barely-alive Khemsa in the rocks. Wishing vengeance on his murderers, Khemsa gives Conan some secret advice and an enchanted girdle in order to help him defeat the Black Seers of Yimsha. Conan then runs into his Afghuli men and learns that the prisoners at Peshkhauri have been executed. They blame Conan. Conan heads the other way and runs into Kerim Shah, the Turanian conspirator who had originally ordered Khemsa to kill Yasmina’s brother, the king of Vendhya. He and Conan call a temporary truce in order to try and rescue Yasmina from the Seers of Yimsha (Kerim Shah’s ultimate goal is to bring Yasmina to Yezdigerd, king of Turan).

8. Yasmina Knows Stark Terror: Yasmina wakes inside Mount Yimsha and meets the ancient Master of the Black Seers. The evil wizard tells Yasmina that her brother was killed partly to appease the Turanians and partly for his own reasons. After having Yasmina relive her past lives in a vision, the Master transforms into a corpse and attacks her (see cover to previous issue above).

Weird Tales, Nov 1934, "The People of the Black Circle", Pt. 3

9. The Castle Of The Wizards: After overcoming attacks from wild dogs, swooping hawks, explosive gas clouds and earthquakes, Conan and his temporary ally Kerim Shah make it to the first tower on the outskirts of Yimsha. Navigating an enchanted chasm filled with poison gas, they eventually reach the castle of the Black Seers. When the four Seers begin to take mental control over his fellow warriors, Conan remembers Khemsa's advice and shatters a crystal globe, causing the Seers to wither and expire. Conan then meets the Master of Yimsha. The Master extracts Kerim Shah’s still-beating heart out of his armor with a gesture from afar. The Master’s hypnotic power almost defeats Conan’s will, but with the help of Khemsa’s girdle he is able to fight off the Master and save Yasmina. The Master escapes in serpent form.

As the Master threatens Yasmina in his snake form, Conan attacks (Hugh Rankin).
10. Yasmina And Conan: The only survivors of the castle rescue mission, Conan tells Yasmina that he wants her to accompany him north. Yasmina however, desires to remain ruler of Vendhya. Their argument is interrupted when they see Kerim Shah's Turanians (seeking Yasmina) attacking Conan’s Afghuli horde. Conan decides to help the Afghuli’s in order to win back their allegiance. Yasmina then sees a Vendhya force in the distance, in search of their lost Queen. As Conan rides down to lead his outnumbered Afghuli men against the Turanians, Yasmina rallies her own army and together they destroy the Turanians in a vice maneuver. Conan eventually departs with his Afghuli force, promising a defiant Yasmina that one day he will return for his reward.

The Hour of the Dragon (later collected as Conan the Conqueror) (May 1934)

First published in 5 parts in Weird Tales, Dec, 1935 - Apr, 1936.

Weird Tales, Dec 1935, The Hour of the Dragon, Pt. 1

The Nemedian harem girl Zenobia has pity on the imprisoned Conan (Margaret Brundage).

1. O Sleeper, Awake!: In Belverus (Nemedia), several conspirators led by an ambitious warlord named Amalric use the Heart of Ahriman to resurrect the 3000-year-old corpse of the sorcerer Xaltotun, formerly a ruler in lost Acheron. The former priest Orastes asks Xaltotun to help them place a man named Tarascus on the Nemedian throne, after which they will overthrow King Conan of Aquilonia and place their ally Valerius on it.

2. A Black Wind Blows: After a plague kills the king of Nemedia and allows Tarascus to take the throne, Tarascus declares war on Aquilonia. The armies of Nemedia and Aquilonia gather near the cliffs of Valkia. The night before the engagement is to begin, King Conan is attacked by a shadowy being and temporarily paralyzed. Unable to lead his men into battle, a substitute warrior is dressed in Conan’s armor.
Xaltotun has a shadowy mummy attack Conan in his tent the night before the battle (Vincent Napoli).
3. The Cliffs Reel: The false king seems to be headed for a victory, but the unexpected collapse of the nearby cliffs buries and kills all of his troops. The Aquilonian forces are routed. Xaltotun finds Conan still weakened in his tent and captures Conan by knocking him unconscious with sorcery.

4. “From What Hell Have You Crawled?”: In Belverus, Xaltotun asks Conan if he will serve the ancient wizard. After Conan refuses, he is imprisoned in a dungeon. Meanwhile, Valerius is placed on the throne of Aquilonia by Amalric.

5. The Haunter Of The Pits: A Nemedian harem girl named Zenobia declares her love for Conan and gives him a dagger and keys to unlock his chains (see cover above). Since the exit door is still locked, Conan is forced to seek passage to the surface another way. On the way out he encounters and kills a giant grey ape from Vilayet.

Weird Tales, Jan 1936, The Hour of the Dragon, Pt. 2

6. The Thrust Of A Knife: While Zenobia checks for guards, Conan spies Tarascus stealing Xaltotun’s Heart of Ahriman and ordering a mercenary to throw it into the sea. After the mercenary departs, Conan tries to kill Tarascus but Tarascus escapes. With the alarm sounded, Conan flees the palace. Later he runs into a Nemedian Adventurer (free knight) and after killing him with a dagger takes his horse.

7. The Rending Of The Veil: Heading towards Tarantia in the hopes of rallying his forces, a sorcerous black raven finds Conan’s position and marks it out for Tarascus’ hunters. When Conan runs into four Nemedian soldiers harassing a local witch named Zelata, Conan saves her. In return, Zelata shows Conan a vision of conquered Tarantia, and Conan realizes that the Aquilonians have given up hope under Valerius' rule. Nonetheless, after a night of troubled sleep, he continues towards Tarantia.
While sleeping in the home of the witch Zelata, Conan has a vision of Xaltotun's face hovering over a bizarre city (Acheron) (Vincent Napoli).

8. Dying Embers: Conan secretly meets with Servius, one of his loyal supporters at a plantation outside Tarantia and is told that the people will not rise against the usurpers due to their fear of Xaltotun's sorcery. When Conan learns that his loyal Countess Albiona is to be executed that night, he decides to try to rescue her in disguise.

9. “It Is The King Or His Ghost!”: Conan reaches the the watchtower in Tarantia and kills the Nemedian executioner. He visits Albiona’s room disguised as her executioner but then reveals his true identity, after which he kills the traitors. Fleeing the palace and killing several warriors along the way, Conan is eventually caught between squads of guards. Robed figures suddenly appear, and after killing the guards whisk Conan and Albiona into a secret passageway.

10. A Coin From Acheron: The feared and oppressed priests of Asura who have come to Conan’s aid explains that they are loyal to Conan in return for his policy of religious tolerance during his rule. They prove that Xaltotun is truly who he says he is by showing Xaltotun’s ancient image on a coin. Their leader, Hadrathus, tells Conan that only with the legendary Heart of Ahriman does the King have a chance to take back his throne. Remembering that Tarascus had ordered a mercenary to take the jewel to the sea, Conan decides to try and intercept it. Meanwhile, when Valerius learns that Conan is still alive, he assigns four Khitans to search out and kill Conan.

Weird Tales, Feb 1936, The Hour of the Dragon, Pt. 3

11. Swords Of The South: Aided by the priests of Asura, Conan and Albiona reach Poitain disguised as funeral bearers. Reuniting with his ally Trocero, Conan learns that a thief named Zorathus is heading towards Zingara hoping to sell the Heart of Ahriman for a profit. Conan decides to intercept him, disguised as a Free Companion.

12: The Fang Of The Dragon: Conan reaches a Zingaran outpost and learns that Count Valbroso has captured Zorathus. Near death, Zorathus gives Valbroso the key to opening his locked treasure chest, but Valbroso is poisoned by a trick blade in the process. The Zingaran captain Beloso snatches up the Heart of Ahriman and escapes the camp. Conan pursues but is knocked out when his horse stumbles. He later awakes in a Zingaran forest to find himself amongst grey-skinned, cannibal “ghouls”. He fights off the bizarre creatures and rides off in pursuit of Beloso.
Conan fights off the ghoulish cannibals of the Zingaran forest (Vincent Napoli).
13: “A Ghost Out Of The Past”: In the merchant port town of Messantia in Argos, Conan visits an old contact from his black corsair days, Publio. Publio is disturbed to see Conan, but agrees to seek out information regarding Beloso’s possible presence in the city. Meanwhile, a Stygian galley arrives in the bay of Messantia, as well as Valerius’ four Khitan assassins.

14: The Black Hand Of Set: Publio tells Conan to seek out Beloso at the house of Servius. When he gets there, he sees that Beloso has been killed by a Stygian “black hand” blow, and the Heart has been taken by Beloso’s Stygian attacker. Racing to the dock in pursuit of the Stygian's galley, Conan is then ambushed by Publio’s men, who have orders to kill Conan and obtain the Heart for Publio himself. Conan is knocked out and left on the shore. The four Khitan assassins arrive at Publio’s house and ask him about Conan’s whereabouts.

Weird Tales, Mar 1936, The Hour of the Dragon, Pt. 4

15: The Return Of The Corsair: Conan awakens aboard the Venturer, an Argossean slave-ship. Captured on shore while unconscious, Conan is to be one of the galley's new slaves. Conan recognizes some of the black slaves as former black corsairs whom he had led as “Amra”. He frees them and they kill all of the Argossean slave masters. Conan steers the ship in pursuit of the Stygian ship.

16: Black-Walled Khemi: As the Khitan assassins pursue the Venturer in the distance, the Venturer sails past the Stygian port of Khemi and secretes itself in a marsh. A local Stygian fisherman is captured and tells Conan that the priest Thutothmes has just returned from Messantia. Conan takes teh fisherman's clothes and fishing boat and heads towards Khemi alone.

17: “He Has Slain The Sacred Son Of Set!”: Dressed under a cloak, Conan stalks the shadowy streets of Khemi. A giant serpent (“a son of Set”) appears, looking for a sacrifice. When Conan kills it, the bystanders chase him for his refusal to allow himself to be eaten. Later, Conan kills a priest and takes his outlandish costume. He joins a procession of Stygian priests heading towards a meeting with Thotothmes.

18: “I Am The Woman Who Never Died”: The procession heads into the bowels of a black pyramid. After giving the wrong hand gesture to the guardian at the door Conan is forced to slay him and then proceeds to get lost in the labyrinth. He soon encounters a beautiful woman who claims to be Akivasha, a legendary immortal woman. Akivasha turns out to be a vampire and Conan drives her away. Lost in total darkness, Conan searches for a way out.

19: In The Hall Of The Dead: Conan sees light from the glowing staff of one of the Khitans who have tracked him into the pyramid. He then emerges above Thutothmes and his followers in a hall of sarcophagi. He observes them as they try to use the Heart of Ahriman to resurrect an ancient wizard, hoping to learn how to overthrow Thoth-Amon, the head priest of Stygia. In the midst of this ritual the four Khitans arrive and challenge Thutothmes for the Heart. The Khitans and the Stygians engage in battle using sorcerous death staffs and the Black Hand of Set, until only the leader of the Khitans remains standing. Conan emerges and beheads the creature. He then sees that Thutothmes' mummy has come back to life through the Heart of Ahriman. Conan has the mummy show him the way out of the pyramid. Conan then races back to the Venturer with the Heart of Ahriman.
After beheading the last Khitan assassin, Conan reaches for the Heart of Ahriman, still lying on the mummy's chest (Vincent Napoli).

Weird Tales, Apr 1936, The Hour of the Dragon, Pt. 5

20/21: Out Of The Dust Shall Acheron Arise: In Tarantia, Valerius rules Aquilonia with an iron hand, intent on ruining it before he is ousted by Amalric. News of a border uprising fomented by the supposedly-slain Conan forces the conspirators to gathers in a secret meeting. Orastes tells the others that he fears that Xaltotun plans to destroy the modern world and bring back the evil past of fallen Acheron. Xaltotun suddenly appears and uses sorcerous dust to slay Orastes. Xaltotun then shows the remaing three conspirators a threatening letter from Conan.

22: Drums Of Peril: Xaltotun and the conspirators (Amalric, Tarascus and Valerius) amass an army to intercept Conan’s rebel force. Xaltotun comes up with a plan to trap Conan’s forces with a flood, and uses sorcery to summon a great storm overnight upriver. However, the flood somehow fails to materialize. A ragged man named Tiberias arrives, claiming to know a secret rear path which will allow a sneak attack on Conan’s position at the Valley of Lions. Amalric has Valerius take part of their army to follow Tiberias. Drums are heard in the distance, and a fog descends, which disorients Valerius. The fog eventually lifts and he sees that he has been trapped in a dead end by a band of outlaws made up of those whom he had oppressed as ruler of Aquilonia. Boulders rain down and destroy his army.

23: The Road To Acheron: Amalric has his remaining army attack Conan’s forces at the Valley of the Lions but Conan’s higher position and superior tactics gain the advantage. Xaltotun takes a slave girl to a hilltop and prepares to slay her in order to cause another earthquake to destroy Conan’s army. However, Hadrathus (the priest of Asura) and the witch woman Zelata appear and use the Heart of Ahriman to reduce Xaltotun back to a mummy. Amalric’s forces are eventually routed and Conan captures Tarascus. In return for Tarascus’ life, Conan demands the Nemedian girl Zenobia, and vows that she will be his queen.
Armed with the Heart of Ahriman, the Asuran priest Hadrathus confronts Xaltotun. Conan remembers Zenobia (Vincent Napoli).

A Witch Shall Be Born (June 1934)

First published in Weird Tales, Dec 1934.

Queen Taramis is attacked by her evil twin sister Salome (Margaret Brundage).

1. The Blood-Red Crescent: Taramis, Queen of Khauran, is visited in the night by an evil woman who likes exactly like herself. The woman reveals herself to be Salome, her sister, who had been abandoned in the desert as an infant due to a cursed red crescent birthmark (indicating her to be one of a long line of witches born to their family). Brought up by a Khitan priest, she has now returned to impersonate Taramis, with the aid of a Kothic mercenary named Constantius and his Shemite army, which is stationed outside the city walls. Taramis is thrown into the dungeon as Salome has Constantius’ troops enter the city.

2. The Tree Of Death: When Conan, captain of the palace guard, accuses Salome of being an imposter, a battle ensues, at the end of which Conan is overwhelmed by numbers. He is then crucified outside the city by Constantius. Left alone, vultures begin to attack, but Conan bites one in the neck and kills it. Four desert Zuagir led by their outlaw chief Olgerd Vladislav come across Conan and challenge him to survive after having his cross knocked down. Eventually freeing himself, Conan returns with the marauders back to their camp.

3. A Letter To Nemedia: A man named Astreas writes a letter to his philosopher friend Alcimedes, describing the horrific rule of Salome over the people of Khauran. Salome later visits Taramis in the dungeon and torments her with the decapitated head of her councillor Krallides.

4. Wolves Of The Desert: Seven months after Conan’s escape from the cross, Conan has by this time surreptitiously gathered enough Khauran refugees to take leadership of the Zuagir marauders from Olgerd. When Olgerd tries to kill Conan, Conan breaks his arm and sends him away into the desert.

5. The Voice From The Crystal: One of Taramis’ loyal warriors, a man named Valerius, discovers that Salome is an imposter. He gathers some men in order to wait until Constantius’ army rides out to meet Conan’s desert force and then rescue Taramis from her dungeon. Meanwhile, Constantius’ spies tell him that Conan has erected siege engines in preparation for an attack. With no time to prepare enough food for a long siege, Constantius decides to ride out with his army to destroy the desert rabble in the field. During the battle Salome uses a crystal globe to contact her priest in the field. She learns that Conan’s siege engines had been fake, and that a large force of armed Khauran cavalry have appeared amidst the desert bandits and destroyed Constantius’ army.

6. The Vulture’s Wings: Valerius finds Taramis in her dungeon and tries to bring her up towards the surface, but Salome uses flash powder to blind him and his men. Salome then takes Taramis towards her ritual temple where she plans to sacrifice her sister to a monster she has been keeping there named Thaug. Fortunately, Valerius catches up to her and impales her. However, before she expires, she summonses her creature, Thaug, a giant, fanged, toadlike creature. The Shemites and Khaurans panic, but Conan and a few dozen of his cavalry arrive and kill the monster in hails of arrows. A grateful Taramis asks Conan to be her new councillor, but Conan defers since he has promised to lead the Zuagirs against Turan on a mission of plunder. He suggests Valerius in his place. Before Conan leaves Khauran, he has Constantius crucified where he had once been crucified by Constantius. The vultures descend on Constantius as Conan says farewell.
As Salome's demon Thaug descends from the temple stairs, Conan orders his archers to fire on it. Valerius stands guard over Taramis (Hugh Rankin).

Gary Gianni, 2004