Conan has made himself the war-chief of a tribe in Vaguest African when an obnoxious moral dilemma is sprung on him: is he a bad enough dude to not rescue President Damsel from the Negroes? Or will his conscience force him to save her from gang rape?
This story was never submitted for publication, but since Conan stories were written for Weird Tales, there are also flying Lovecraftian entities that demand women sacrifices, but mostly it’s just a racist moral dilemma. So let’s break it down…
A white woman named Livia has been abducted by the Bakalah tribe along with her brother, who was stripped naked and murdered, which seems to be described by her in a delirious PTSD-like state. A Bakalah woman brings her food, wickedly rolling her eyes and mocking her by swaying her hips. From her hut, Livia watches the ugly, smelly King Bajujh receive a visit from the warriors of a neighboring group. She’s excited to see that one of the visitors is a white man in the local fashion of leopard loincloth and plumed headdress, and the visitors have the body language of equals rather than suppliants to Bajujh.
“His appearance was alien and unfamiliar; … But she made no effort to classify his position among the races of mankind. It was enough that his skin was white.”
You can see where this is going: she assumes that he’s enough of a 1930s racist to save a white woman from black men, despite knowing nothing of his culture. So she sneaks up to him and, well, it’s a good thing he actually knows her language (Ophirean). She exposits to Conan that
“By special permission of the king of Stygia, my brother was allowed to go to Kheshatta, the city of magicians, to study their arts, and I accompanied him.” Kushites were raiding for travelers to ransom or sell into slavery outside the city, and the siblings got caught between greedy rivals until the divided band of Kushite captors got overtaken by the Bakalah tribe. She cries for the blood of her brother’s murderers, offering her virginity as a bribe. But Conan is like “Eh, no thanks. Women are cheap as plantains here.”
Livia on cultural relativism: “I see the absurdity of supposing that any man in this corner of the world would act according to rules and customs existent in another corner of the planet,” she murmured weakly.
But then Conan: “I am not such a dog as to leave a white woman in the clutches of a black man; and though your kind call me a robber, I never forced a woman against her
consent. Customs differ in various countries, but if a man is strong enough, he can enforce a few of his native customs anywhere.”
Aaaugh, why even have him say no if he’s going to change his mind into a 1930s racist right when Livia says she lost their debate?
Anyway, Conan has his Bamula warriors attack their hosts instead of forming an alliance with this larger group of people to loot a third, the Jihiji. I feel like Conan’s suddenly a Paladin and, having achieved a nice small domain in his Dungeons & Dragons campaign, the racist Dungeon Master sprung a “make the Paladin fall” dilemma on him. Unarmed Conan gets the element of surprise by using the old “use a beef bone as a club” trick he learned in prison, which acts as the signal for his warriors to attack. Despite being the one who demanded violence, Livia is a soft civilized woman who freaks out at the sight of it. As Conan approaches the prison hut to free her, she smashes the door open herself and runs away. She tries to steal a horse and a local man tries to stop her, but she gets away by letting him rip off her tunic. She’ll stay naked for the rest of the story.
Riding for hours in the dark, Livia comes across a valley. She wonders if it’s the valley her captors mentioned with fear, the one where all the women of a different ethnicity had fled to escape rape by men. Conservation of Detail being in effect, yes, there’s an all-female settlement here.
“One, lovelier than the rest, came silently up to the trembling girl, and enfolded her with supple brown arms. Her breath was scented with the same perfume that stole from the great white blossoms that waved in the starshine. Her lips pressed Livia’s in a long terrible kiss.”
Oops, I guess lesbian separatists don’t revere consent either. Right after kissing her, though, the woman and her fellows lie Livia on a stone altar. Ring around the altar, chant a soft paean of soulless joy, a welcome to the flying god come down to claim a fresh sacrifice.
“Its wings were bat-like; but its body and the dim face that gazed down upon her were like nothing of sea or earth or air; she knew she looked upon ultimate horror, upon black cosmic foulness born in night-black gulfs beyond the reach of a madman’s wildest dreams.”
Conan rushes in to fight Cosmic Horror Bat for her life, getting his blood splashed thickly on the ground for his trouble. One interesting detail: he doesn’t kill it, but only injures it enough that it chooses to fly away. He approaches the altar, panting, dripping blood at every step, and… hang on, where the brown women at? They’re never described reacting to an unknown swordsman and their god fighting.
Conan on what that thing was: “A devil from the Outer Dark, … Oh, they’re nothing uncommon. They lurk as thick as fleas outside the belt of light which surrounds this world. I’ve heard the wise men of Zamora talk of them. Some find their way to Earth, but when they do, they have to take on earthly form and flesh of some sort.”
Livia tells Conan she double-crossed him, so “punish me as you will.” Is… is that flirting? Well, no matter: Conan won’t have sex with her, calling her a child of cities, and books, which isn’t your fault but you’d die trying to be a hard man’s girlfriend. He says he’ll take her back to Kheshatta, where she can find passage home. THE END
OK then. What to say? Despite her racism, Livia is a highly sympathetic victim. She saw her brother tortured to death and rape is rape; you don’t lose all sympathy because you’re white and they’re black. But her and Conan’s 1930s racism is an obnoxious anachronism, worse than the others in the series because it’s so morally/politically charged. No one wanted to see Conan as a too-literal White Knight. The weird valley is underdeveloped as though this was only a first draft (it was), and the Lovecraftian entity is merely serviceable.