This was first published in Weird Tales, April 1934. It didn’t make the cover.
Shah Amurath, conqueror of the kozaki, is missing his own fete due to chasing the runaway slave girl Olivia. As he tries to drag her away from a marsh on the edge of the Vilayet (Caspian) Sea, Conan pops up, dried blood on his body and sword. Turns out he’s the lone survivor of those conquered kozaki guys. He kills Amurath and then pulls out a hidden boat, ignoring Olivia.
“Do not leave me! Take me with you!”
Barely registering her existence til now, Conan is confused. “I am a barbarian, and I know from your looks that you fear me.” She admits she does, but better to take her chances with him than be re-enslaved and tortured by Amurath’s followers. So our odd couple is off on a boat.
She tells him she’s a princess of Ophir. Conan can’t swing a dead cat without hitting the noblewomen of Ophir, can he? Her father sold her into slavery for refusing to marry a prince of Koth. Conan had been one of five thousand mercenaries for a rebel prince in eastern Koth, “and when he made peace with his cursed sovereign, we were out of employment; so we took to plundering the outlying dominions of Koth, Zamora and Turan impartially. A week ago Shah Amurath trapped us…” Hey I wonder if he was the same guy Olivia’s father wanted her to marry?
Rowing north, they find an island. A parrot appears and says ominously “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!”, laughing. Then something throws a huge block of cut stone at them, and they’re spooked because no man could throw that more than three feet and they see no siege engine. They find a long building in ruins, made from similar blocks of stone. Inside they find life-size statues of iron, looking continually polished despite no one being around. Conan is confused that they’re made of black metal yet don’t resemble black people. Leaving, they climb the highest point on the island and spot a sail north in the water. Conan suggests they sleep in the ruins to avoid the newcomers, which scares Olivia. Conan brags: “I could sleep naked in the snow and feel no discomfort, but the dew would give you cramps, were we to sleep in the open.”
Olivia’s thoughts: “His kinship to the wild was apparent in his every action; it burned in his smoldering eyes. Yet he had not harmed her, and her worst oppressor had been a man the world called civilized.”
Is anyone else noticing the affinity these stories have with the conventions of romance novels, when the POV character is a woman rather than Conan? Just put Fabio on the cover with his hair Photoshopped black.
Olivia dreams of the people the statues represent, torturing a godlike blond guy bound to a pillar. His death is described almost exactly like that of Livia’s brother in “The Vale of Lost Women”: “Blood trickled down the ivory thighs to spatter on the polished floor.” Upon his death, a mature white god turns the killers into rows of statues with a cry of “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!”
As soon as she wakes up, Olivia sees the statues move! She runs away, Conan following. He wants to know which gods she saw interact with the statue-men: “Who knows? They have gone back into the still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs beyond the stars.” Huh, preceding Star Trek’s Apollo by 32 years here.
They would have fled the island, but something smashed their boat. Later they spy on the ship that’s arrived, Conan identifying it as Hyrkanian by, literally, the cut of its jib. He’s pleased to identify the crew as the Red Brotherhood of pirates. He steps forward to try his luck at joining them. But oops, their captain is an old enemy, a Kothian named Sergius. They duel, Conan predictably wins. A pirate named Aratus knocks Conan unconscious with a sling and explains that no outsider is entitled to a Klingon Promotion: only an initiate of the Red Brotherhood, which Conan is not. He’s bound as the pirates go check the ruins for loot, leaving Olivia sad.
Olivia spies on the pirates from the grass til after moonrise, and once every pirate is drunkenly sleeping, she comes up to free Conan. Fleeing, they’re ambushed by “a monstrous shambling bulk–an anthropomorphic horror, a grotesque travesty of creation.” Hey, that’s an awful thing to call gorillas! Well, like Tarzan before him, Conan increases his power level by going from killing a Mangani/Thak to killing a gorilla. That was him throwing the stone. Also, Conan says it’s a wary creature that only attacked out of lust for Olivia. Ew.
The pair climbs aboard the ship while the pirates sleep. At dawn the 44 of them come running, crying that a dozen of their fellows were killed by the statues in the moonlight, so we’ll accept you as captain if you let us up! We end with Conan seeing if Olivia will vow “To sail a road of blood and slaughter? … This keel will stain the blue waves crimson wherever it plows.” She will!
I now pronounce you barb and wife. THE END
This was a well-constructed fantasy adventure. The monster site has an interesting explanation, the situation is complicated by a natural threat and the arrival of pirates, and Conan’s plans never pan out until the end, requiring him to think fast and get rescued by the girl. And the girl… well, at least she’s not a distressed damsel. She doesn’t have much of a personality, but she undergoes a small character arc and gets to save the hero.
I feel that one of the weaknesses we’re going to see in the formula is Conan ending up with the girl only for the next story to find him in another place with no reference to her existence.
Speaking of which, next time Conan will have given up piracy to serve a queen who turns out to have an evil twin in “A Witch Shall Be Born”!