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The Dark Storm Conan Chronology

A Post-Modern look at Conan’s life according to the writings of Robert E. Howard

by Dale Rippke

 

This revised article originally appeared in four parts as:

"Can Anything Good Come Out of Cimmeria?" (REHupa #180–April 2003)
"Go East, Young Man…" (REHupa #181–June 2003)
"Black Flag, Scarlet Skull… Black Flag, Golden Lion…" (REHupa #182August 2003)
"Blurring the Lines between the Reality and the Dream" (REHupa #183–October 2003)

Special thanks to Joe Marek, Steve Tompkins, and Ed Waterman for their input into this essay.


In 1936, Conan fan P.S. Miller sent Robert E. Howard an outline of Conan’s career as he (Miller) felt it occurred, organizing it into life-periods: thief, mercenary, king. Howard commented that it was pretty close (but not perfect), correcting a few minor errors in a return letter to Miller. This outline became the basis for the official Conan chronology, written by Miller and fellow fan John Clark. Additional information has been added to the chronology by L. Sprague de Camp and his collaborators.

My research into the Mysteries of the Hyborian Age series over the past few years has been quite an eye-opener. I cannot begin to overemphasize the amount of change that was introduced into the Conan saga by L. Sprague de Camp. It is apparent that he changed some details from Conan’s past in order to make them fit more snugly into his preconceived version of Conan’s life. The story that I picked up from reading the British Fantasy Masterworks duo is quite a bit different from what was provided by the de Camp-conceived twelve-part Lancer/Ace series.

Even P.S. Miller’s outline that was tentatively approved by Howard has some serious problems with it when you examine the stories themselves. What is needed is for a Conan scholar to tear apart the stories and attempt to order the chronology using the story material, as well as Howard’s letters and comments. Anyone who has visited my website can appreciate that I have done the same type of thing with other heroic fantasy characters. So I have decided to attempt this, knowing full well that I will probably get royally blasted for my efforts.

 

The Dark Storm Conan Chronology

The Frost-Giant's Daughter | The God in the Bowl | The Tower of the Elephant | The Hall of the Dead | Rogues in the House | The Hand of Nergal | Shadows in the Moonlight | Black Colossus | Queen of the Black Coast | The Snout in the Dark | The Slithering Shadow | A Witch Shall Be Born | The Devil in Iron | The People of the Black Circle | Shadows in Zamboula | Drums of Tombalku | The Vale of Lost Women | The Pool of the Black One | Beyond the Black River | The Black Stranger | Red Nails | Jewels of Gwahlur | Wolves Beyond the Border | The Phoenix on the Sword | The Scarlet Citadel | The Hour of the Dragon

Musings on the various chronology issues

 

Conan the Cimmerian is born on a battlefield, during a fight between his tribe and Vanir raiders. Clad in a pantherskin loin-cloth, he spends his youth amid the continual warfare that takes place on the mountainous northern frontiers of Cimmeria. His grandfather had taken part on raids into the Hyborian kingdoms, and his tales instill within Conan a desire to see the civilized world.

At the age of fifteen, he stands six feet and weighs 180 pounds, and even though he still lacks much of his later growth, his name is already being repeated around the council fires. His first notable success is when the Cimmerians tribes band together to destroy the Gunderland fort-town of Venarium, built in an attempt to colonize the southern marches of Cimmeria. Shortly thereafter, Conan leaves Cimmeria, but instead of heading south into the Hyborian lands, he travels north and joins the Æsir, fighting against the Vanir and the Hyperboreans for several months.

The Frost-Giant’s Daughter

Last survivor of an Æsir raiding party, Conan has a supernatural encounter with the gods of the Northlands.

"The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" was an unsold tale that did not appear in P. S. Miller’s original outline. R. E. Howard, in a letter to Miller on March 10, 1936 states that, after Venarium, Conan traveled northward to fight with the Æsir. It seems fairly obvious that Howard considered this to be the first Conan tale, but when John Clark reworked the chronology, he placed this story shortly before "Queen of the Black Coast". In expanding the biography, Clark was working from edited stories supplied by L. Sprague de Camp; it seems quite reasonable that de Camp had some input into the stories placement. Dr. Clark’s placement of "The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" before "Queen of the Black Coast" is possibly due to the fact that Conan is wearing an Æsir helmet in the latter yarn. However, Howard scholars feel that the actual reason that Clark and/or de Camp opted for their placement is that the story featured a near rape, which could sour readers on the series if the tale were read first; in other words, their Conan chronology fell victim to a Politically Correct decision.

 

During an ill-fated Æsir raid into Hyperborea, Conan is captured, developing a hatred of Hyperboreans that lasts his whole life. He escapes southward, into the Hyborian nation of Brythunia. Penniless and hungry, Conan decides to take what he wants by sword-point. Eventually he winds up in Numalia, a Nemedian city on the trade-routes.

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The God in the Bowl

New to civilization, and entirely lawless, Conan attempts to loot a Numalian treasure-house, and is caught between the authorities and an ancient menace.

Another unsold story that didn’t appear in the original outline, an altered version of it was added to the series by Sprague de Camp. Dr. Clark placed the story after "The Tower of the Elephant" (de Camp placed it after "The Hall of the Dead" synopsis) in his chronology. This was the second original Conan story written by Howard and it clearly takes place earlier in Conan’s career than either Clark or de Camp place it. The Conan in "The God in the Bowl" is nearly feral. He bares his teeth and practically snarls at the law. He answers nearly every accusation with a threat. He is unkempt and nearly naked, wearing only a loin-cloth and sandals. He is bewildered and baffled by the workings of civilized networks and systems. You could replace Conan with a Pict from "Beyond the Black River" and his character wouldn't change much. He also seems pretty naive for a thief that de Camp would have you believe supposedly practiced in Zamora, since he doesn't expect an obvious (Conan noted that the man was making rounds, for Christ's sake) watchman to actually be a watchman and he even expects his busted employer to be a stand-up guy. He gains entry into the temple by bashing a bolt with his sword until it breaks; he is lucky that the watchman didn’t hear him. Numalia is probably the place where Conan first heard about the “Prince of Thieves”, Taurus of Nemedia. It seems unlikely that the Zamorans would sing his praises. That Conan flees the city due to his encounter with the god-snake is understandable, since he is still a primal barbarian ruled by his atavistic fears, and it’s the first time he's come face to face with the supernatural while not in some type of dream-state. This is a moody and overly talky tale that is redeemed by Conan expertly kicking everyone’s ass at the end.

 

The murder of Aztrias Petanius forces Conan to flee Nemedia westward into Aquilonia. He continues to practice his thieving skills with varying degrees of success. A short time later, he relocates in Koth. Learning that Zamorans are masters of the art of thievery, Conan resolves to travel there to make his mark. He enters Zamora’s City of Thieves around a year after leaving Cimmeria.

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The Tower of the Elephant

More daring than skilled at thievery, Conan attempts to steal a fabled jewel from the tower of the wizard Yara in Zamora’s fabled City of Thieves. He is about 17 years old.

The Miller-Clark outline has this as the first tale of Conan encountering civilized people. This was primarily because "The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" and "The God in the Bowl" weren’t published until long after Howard’s death in 1936. It was an excellent story to begin the series on, and remains one of Howard’s finest Conan tales. The Conan in "The Tower of the Elephant" is still very young, but definitely seems more experienced. He knows about tower-guards and watchmen now, although he still a bit gullible and trusting. He attempts to fit in by wearing a tunic, although he discards it when he gets down to business (Howard shows us that Conan can discard the trappings of civilization as easily as removing his tunic). Howard shows that this version of Conan has been around a while by noting the Cimmerian's take on gods and religion and how he spent the time to learn it. Conan's encounter with Yag-kosha nearly swamps him with unreasoning terror, but he is able to wrestle it under control with a bit of effort (showing us that this Conan has grown somewhat emotionally since "The God in the Bowl").

 

Conan spends his time in Zamora establishing himself as a professional thief, becoming quite successful at it. His depredations eventually attract the attention of the local authorities.

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The Hall of the Dead

Conan ambushes a patrol sent out to capture him and enlists the help of its only survivor, a Gunderman mercenary named Nestor, to loot a ruined city of the ancients.

This story only exists as a synopsis and was never actually a part of the Miller-Clark outline. It seems pretty evident that it would have been placed here. Sprague de Camp wrote a complete story from the synopsis for the Lancer series.

 

Pressure from the Zamoran authorities forces Conan and Nestor to leave the country and they end up in one of the independent city-states on its western border. Conan is still a professional thief, albeit harder and more experienced.

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Rogues in the House

Thrown in jail for the murder of the priest that betrayed his partner, Conan agrees to become an assassin to gain his freedom. He is probably around 19 years old.

There is some debate among Howard scholars as to whether this story should be placed after "The Tower of the Elephant" and before "The God in the Bowl". The argument is that it makes more sense for Conan to be traveling in an east to west line, instead of wandering in what amounts to circles. This theory made sense at the time because de Camp had altered "The God in the Bowl" to make it fit later in Conan’s career. The earlier placement of "The God in the Bowl" causes this theory to collapse. In my opinion, the Conan in "Rogues in the House" is more mature than the Conan in "The God in the Bowl" and "The Tower of the Elephant" and is quite a bit more comfortable dealing with the foibles of civilization. He is now a fully-grown man. Also, I believe Howard intended that Conan’s partner, the Gunderman deserter mentioned in this tale to be Nestor, the Gunderman from "The Hall of the Dead" synopsis.

 

Conan leaves Murillo’s city-state on his newly acquired horse. He uses it to return for a brief period to Cimmeria. Conan then heads back to the rich southlands. He decides to change his profession and signs up for a stint as a mercenary swordsman in a Corinthian army.

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The Hand of Nergal

Conan is just about the only survivor of a battle, presumably near the city of Yaralet.

This is a fragment of a Conan story and didn’t appear in the Miller-Clark outline. Lin Carter finished the story for the Lancer series, placing the location of Yaralet as northern Turan. Actually, the fragment doesn’t mention its location. It literally could be anywhere and anytime during Conan’s mercenary days. There are a few facts that can be gleaned from it, though. Conan is nearly unarmored as a mercenary, being dressed in sandals, a girdle and loin-cloth; except for the girdle, it’s the same outfit he wore in all of his thief stories. In "Black Colossus", Conan mentions that, prior to his Khorajan adventure, he was a mercenary in Corinthia; nearly the same location as "Rogues in the House". Both of those facts argue for "The Hand of Nergal" to be placed early in Conan’s mercenary career. Two of the primary characters are named Atalis and Prince Than; neither name seems particularly Turanian. Prince Than wears a feathered velvet cap. Since the Hyborian nobles of Khoraja are also described as wearing this type of cap, this could be seen as a Hyborian, rather than an Eastern, fashion. Most importantly, Nergal is a Mesopotamian god. There are only two other gods of this type mentioned in Howard’s world. Anu and Ishtar are the gods of Corinthia and Koth/Shem, respectively. From the fragment’s internal evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that this story takes place, not in Turan, but in Koth, Corinthia, or some adjacent Hyborian land. Taken all together, Yaralet is most likely a Corinthian city-state.

 

Traveling southward, Conan hires on as a mercenary to a rebel prince in eastern Koth. The prince makes peace with the Kothian King and the five thousand newly unemployed mercenaries, calling themselves the Free Companions, take to impartially plundering the outlying reaches of Koth, Zamora, and Turan. Shah Amurath, Turanian lord of Akif, fields an army of fifteen thousand and traps the mercenary kozaki against the Ilbars River in Turan and annihilates them almost to a man. Conan attempts to escape the slaughter by heading eastward toward the Vilayet Sea.

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Shadows in the Moonlight

Conan and a girl named Olivia are trapped amidst a trinity of perils on a devil-haunted island in the Vilayet Sea.

This tale, called "Iron Shadows in the Moon" by Howard, is usually set quite a bit later in Conan’s career. I can’t see why this story has never been considered Conan’s introduction to the Hyrkanian world. There are two primary reasons that seem to place "Shadows in the Moonlight" earlier in the chronology than Miller had it. Firstly, the tale has Conan fighting for an unnamed rebel prince of Koth, while in the tale "The Slithering Shadow", Conan fights for a rebel prince of Koth named Almuric; if they are the same prince (and this seems likely), then "Shadows in the Moonlight" is the earlier tale, since Almuric dies in "The Slithering Shadow". Secondly, in "Black Colossus", Conan states that the miserly king of Koth is “no friend of mine”; this could refer to the back-story in "Shadows in the Moonlight", where Conan was employed to fight against the Kothic king. This would place it before the events of "Black Colossus". Even though this story was written subsequent to "Queen of the Black Coast", Conan never makes mention of the fact that he was formerly a member of the Black Corsairs, which could have helped him some with the pirates. A placement before "Queen of the Black Coast" makes this lapse understandable. Also, Cimmerian’s youth and inexperience show quite a bit in this story. He is only a member of the Free Companion’s rank and file; not a leader in any sense. Conan also seems to be a bit naive in his belief that he should become the captain of the pirate vessel when he isn’t even a member of the Red Brotherhood. He shows only a superficial sense of the area’s geography; he plans to escape his pursuers by traveling the Vilayet Sea in a rowboat. His planned escape route is the longest and riskiest of his options. He could have traveled southward, past Aghrapur in the dark, and reached the safety of the mountains to the south of the city within a day or so. Instead he chose to row northward past all of the Turanian ports in an effort that would have taken him weeks to accomplish. This clearly shows that he isn’t familiar with the layout of the nation of Turan, which he should be if he had actually experienced the country years earlier as a mercenary. While it’s apparent that he is familiar with siege equipment, he could have learned that in eastern Koth, or in his earlier mercenary endeavor. He is familiar with the Kothic pirate, Sergius of Khrosha, but since Khrosha is in eastern Koth (it is close to Khauran), Conan could have met him when he joined the Free Companions. He has a passing familiarity with the laws of the Red Brotherhood, but it seems unlikely that he could have learned them as a member of the black corsairs; it’s more likely he heard tales about them as a Kozak or a thief. Conan notes that the iron statues aren’t Negro, but that doesn’t need to imply that he’s visited the Black Coast, as some of his fellow mercenaries could have been black. The only real evidence that Conan may have visited Turan prior to this story is the fact that he recognizes the cut of the pirate ship’s sail as Hyrkanian. Of course, since the City of Thieves lay close to Zamora’s eastern frontier, he might have fled to Turan for a few months to let things cool down after the events of "The Tower of the Elephant". That this story is set early in Conan’s career seems evident from the fact that Yildiz is king of Turan, not Yezdigerd in the subsequent Turanian tales.

 

Conan is the captain of a pirate galley for only a short time. This is the first time he has been in a leadership position, but unfortunately, his lack of seafaring experience compels the crew to abandon him at the first opportunity. Conan finds himself on the eastern side of the Vilayet Sea and visits several major Hyrkanian cities. Meanwhile, King Yildiz of Turan has died or been deposed, and his successor, Yezdigerd, embarks on a series of imperial campaigns which will make him the master of the greatest empire on Earth. While in Hyrkania, Conan fights against the invading Turanians, learning the craft of archery while working as a mercenary warrior.

Tiring of the east, Conan wanders westward and has an unpleasant experience with a band of kozaki under the command of a Zaporoskan River hetman named Olgerd Vladislav. Conan reenters the Hyborian lands and enlists in the mercenary army of Amalric of Nemedia, working his way up to captain of the mercenary spearmen. Amalric hires out his mercenary army to Yasmela, queen-regent of the border kingdom of Khoraja. Conan is around 22 years old.

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Black Colossus

Conan is chosen by Queen Yasmela (with the urging of Mitra) to lead her country’s defense against the high-powered sorcery of the resurrected Thugra Khotan of Kuthchemes.

This tale is usually placed after "Queen of the Black Coast" in the Miller-Clark outline. My feeling is that it takes place before. Conan doesn’t seem to have his huge resume in "Black Colossus". He presents himself as having “fought in blood-feuds, tribal wars, and imperial campaigns” and mention is made that he was once a thief in Zamora. There is no mention of the sea battles and coastal raids that Conan participated in as a Black Corsair, even though "Queen of the Black Coast" was already written by Howard. Howard scholar Steve Tompkins has an interesting observation concerning the placement of this story. In a recent email he stated:

There's a moment when Amalric is amused by Conan's expectation that Yasmela is going to "strap on a sword and take part in the actual fighting, as the barbarian women often fought." There's no indignant rejoinder from the Cimmerian when Amalric sets him straight, so I think we're forced to assume that Conan, despite his reference to a stint with Corinthian mercenaries, hasn't been around Hyborian warfare very long. By the time of the escape from the not quite long-enough arm of the law in Messantia, Conan has sojourned in many Hyborian kingdoms and familiarized himself with their customs; so for the exchange with Amalric to work, "Black Colossus" has to come before "Queen of the Black Coast".

Interestingly, Conan does not seem to care much for the King of Koth, which could be the result of his stint with the rebel prince in "Shadows in the Moonlight". He is well equipped in this story; a chain-mail hauberk, blue-steel greaves and basinet, and a scarlet cloak. He has better equipment in "Queen of the Black Coast", though. This also helps the case that this story precedes Queen.

 

After the defeat of Natohk, Conan’s position as General in the nation of Khoraja erodes as his only support is from the Queen. Eventually, he leaves and begins looking for a new war to enlist in. Hearing news of possible war in Argos, he rides westward to check it out. Trouble with the law in Messantia impels him to take the first ship heading south.

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Queen of the Black Coast

Conan joins the she-pirate Bêlit and her crew of Black Corsairs aboard her ship, the Tigress. He is about 23 years old. Conan becomes known along the Black Coast as Amra, the Lion. Bêlit is the love of his life and that life is good. Together they sack the Black Coast city of Abombi and burn the Stygian Fleet in its harbor at Khemi. Then comes the day Conan hears about the city on the Zarkheba River.

This is the second story that Conan appears in chain mail and a scarlet cloak. Around two to three years pass between the first half and the second half of the story. Even though this is Conan’s first time on the Western Ocean, Howard subtly implies that the Cimmerian has spent some time at sea prior to this story. While trying to escape Bêlit’s Tigress, he manages to accurately land most of his arrows on his intended targets at a fairly long range. Due to the complexities of archery while standing on a ship under the combined chaotic effects of wind, waves, and being rowed, it is apparent that Conan practiced, at least part of the time, while on the sea. Ship to ship archery is a feat that is, quite frankly, impossible to accomplish if you’ve only learned how to shoot on land. Howard claims that Conan learned archery in Hyrkania; it follows that he must have first gone to sea in Hyrkania as well. This could seem to support the placement of "Shadows in the Moonlight" as having taken place prior to "Queen of the Black Coast".

 

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The Snout in the Dark

Leaving the Black Coast behind following the death of Bêlit, Conan rides into Shumballa, the capital of Kush at a time when a demon is terrorizing the city. He rescues Tananda, sister of the king of Kush, from a raging mob and is offered the job of captain of the royal guard. Conan becomes embroiled in the intrigue which follows until, at last, the true master of the demon is exposed. He is 25 years old.

This story consists of an unfinished draft of the tale and a synopsis. It was not in the original Miller-Clark outline, but it seems pretty obvious that it takes place immediately after "Queen of the Black Coast"; the story says as much. This is the final story in the saga of Conan’s chain mail and scarlet cloak. When Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter rewrote the story for the Lancers, they renamed the capital city Meroê.

 

The events in motion around Tananda prove to be too unstable for Conan to control as captain of the royal guard. He leaves Shumballa and travels to one of Kush’s ports, where he gains passage back to Hyborian shores.

Upon arrival, Conan hears news of a big war in Koth. He learns that his old employer, the rebellious prince Almuric, is once again feuding with the unpopular King Strabonus, and is gathering an army from far and wide. Conan travels to Koth to join the fighting as a swordsman. Almuric’s rebellion is crushed and sent reeling by the forces of King Strabonus, and his mercenary army flees headlong through the lands of Shem and into the outlands of Stygia. With a Stygian host at its heels, Almuric’s army of thirty thousand strong cuts its way out of the eldritch nation, and through to the desert beyond Kush, only to be utterly annihilated; half by arrow, the other half by a rolling, black plague that the Stygians summoned. Conan and a young Brythunian camp-follower named Natala are the only survivors.

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The Slithering Shadow

Fleeing southward into the desert, Conan and Natala discover the time-lost city of Xuthal and must deal with its demonic deity.

This tale, called "Xuthal of the Dusk" by Howard, is set quite a bit later in Conan’s career in the Miller-Clark outline. Its placement needed to be rethought when Howard scholar Joe Marek noticed that a chronologically earlier Conan tale, "The Devil in Iron", made mention of the lotus-eaters of Xuthal. There really doesn’t seem to be any reason why "The Slithering Shadow" couldn’t have taken place this early in Conan’s career. Certainly nothing is mentioned in the story that refutes this placement. I’ve never understood why the story was renamed when published in Weird Tales. "Xuthal of the Dusk" is a evocative title, comparing the twilight world of the city’s dreamers to the twilight time of dusk. "The Slithering Shadow", on the other hand, sounds like the title of a bad Doc Savage story.

 

Conan and Natala reach the grasslands to the south of Xuthal and apparently decide to travel northeast and back toward Stygia by skirting the eastern edge of the desert. Most likely they fell in with a Luxor-bound caravan that had recently come up from the southern black nations; Conan can easily have hired on as a guard. I believe that either another caravan guard or merchant from the semi-mythical land of Punt befriends and regales Conan with stories of his nation’s history, culture, and customs. The journey northward takes them through the western parts of Darfar where he encounters members of its cannibal cult for the first time. It also passes along Lake Zuad, where a mongrel Stygian race called the Tlazitlans live. At last, the caravan’s journey ends at the capital of Luxor, the most cosmopolitan of the Stygian cities. Conan and Natala soon part ways and he wanders across the city-states of Shem, eventually becoming the captain of the royal guard in the frontier kingdom of Khauran, on the eastern edge of Koth. He is 26 years old.

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A Witch Shall Be Born

Khauran’s Queen Taramis is overthrown by her sorceress sister and Conan is nailed to a cross to die. He is rescued by Olgerd Vladislav, who has left the kozaki and has become the chief of the Zuagir, a band of desert tribesmen. Seven months later, Conan deposes Olgerd, rallies the Khauranians to revolt, and retakes the kingdom, restoring Taramis to her throne. He decides to remain as the chief of the Zuagir.

This is the first tale that Conan realizes the possibilities of turning an alliance of brigands and tribal factions into a de facto army. It becomes his “modus operandi” while in the East. I also find it interesting to see just how far Conan will go to exact vengeance on someone who has wronged him.

 

Not content with merely raiding Turanian outposts and Shemitish city-states, Conan uses his desert-wolves to systematically ravage the Turanian outlands. At one point he even considers sacking the Turanian city of Zamboula, going so far as to personally go there to get a measure of the city. Before this plan can be carried out, Conan leaves the Zuagirs for unknown reasons (presumably due to a combination of problems dealing with an extremely large group being continually supplied and supported in what is basically an arid wasteland and with the Turanian’s decision to field an army to deal with the Zuagir problem).

Conan doesn’t waste any time mourning the breakup of the Zuagir horde. He rides eastward to the steppes along the southern edge of the Vilayet Sea and wanders into the armed camps the kozaki bandits. Using no other possession than his wits and his sword, he carves his way to leadership among them. Conan seems to have learned a thing or two about running an army of brigands. As hetman, he allies his kozaki with the pirates of the Vilayet, allowing him to make lightning raids with smaller forces. He continually uses these raids to entice the local Turanians forces into chasing him, and then either destroys them or eludes them and sacks the city in their absence. His brigands loot Khitian and Vendhyan caravans by the score. The local Turanian lord decides to solve this problem with a beautiful piece of bait.

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The Devil in Iron

Conan is caught between the Turanians and a diabolism from the earth’s dawn on the isle of Xapur.

This period of Conan’s life is probably where he made his reputation in the East. It certainly made the Turanians curse his name. This story also has a bit of weird geography in it, since the Turanian port of Khawarizm seems to lie only about five to ten miles from Conan’s camp on the Zaporoska River, since they both lie near the island of Xapur.

 

The local Turanian authorities are unable to stop Conan’s wholesale plunder; presumably, it is his sack of Khawarizm gains the attention of their Grand Monarch, Yezdigerd. The Turanian emperor sends Kerim Shah, his most trusted spy, to infiltrate Conan’s camp and gather intelligence. He poses as a Hyrkanian renegade and manages to quickly rise as one of Conan’s lieutenants. His intelligence reports prove to be an invaluable aid in the destruction of Conan’s schemes. Like all great spies, Kerim Shah manages to drop out of sight before the Cimmerian figures out who betrayed him. Conan escapes whatever happens and heads out east into the wilds of Hyrkania. In an uninhabited mountain range he happens across an archaic symbol carved in the rock of a cave. He finally decides to head south toward the Himelian Mountains and the nation of Vendhya.

While crossing the northernmost Vendhyan province of Ghulistan, Conan falls in with the war-like Afghuli hill clans, and in a show of resilience, quickly rises to chieftainship. He manages to wield at least seven of the fractious clans together into a makeshift army of hillmen, held together primarily by his own will and the lure of plunder. As war-chief, he manages to seriously annoy both the Vendhyans and Yezdigerd’s Turanians, who are busy expanding southeastward into Afghulistan. Fate intervenes when seven headmen of his Afghulis are captured by the Vendhyans.

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The People of the Black Circle

Conan kidnaps Yasmina, the Devi of Vendhya, in an attempt to ransom the release of his Afghulis. He loses her to the sorceries of the Black Seers of Mount Yimsha and is compelled to join forces with his old enemy, Kerim Shah, to attempt a rescue.

Of all Conan’s Eastern adventures, this one seems to offer the most promise of blood and plunder, since both Vendhya and Hyrkania are rich with gold and precious jewels.

 

Events subsequently conspire against Conan and he gives up his attempt to wield the Afghulis into an army. He drifts into Vendhya and then decides to head west, traveling through Kosala. He decides to rejoin the kozaki, but finds them scattered and a substantial price on his head. Conan travels southward into Iranistan in an attempt to skirt the ever-expanding edge of the Turan’s empire. Running low on money, he heads for the city of Zamboula in an attempt to increase his funds by gambling.

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Shadows in Zamboula

After a brush with the Darfari cannibal cult, Conan rescues Zamboula’s satrap from the magic of the priest of Hanuman, steals the satrap’s ring, and indulges in a bit of vengeance before taking his leave of the city.

This tale, called "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula" by Howard, is set shortly after "A Witch Shall Be Born" in Conan’s career in the Miller-Clark outline. I have changed its position in my chronology because it just seems to fit better where I’ve placed it. It’s hard to describe why, but it just feels as if some time has passed since Conan left the Zuagirs. There is no mention of his being their chief in the conversation with the Zuagir thief. The city guard, while suspicious of him, makes no effort to check him out, which would seem to indicate that a western barbarian of his description is no longer their top priority. Nafertari (Zabibi) doesn’t seem to recognize Conan’s name, although she was around at the time of the Zuagir raids. On the other hand, not a great deal of time has passed either. The Zuagir thief is worried the city guard will recognize him from a horse theft that occurred while Conan was a brother to the desert nomads. This seems to indicate that no more than a few years have passed since the theft, at most. The most important clue in the story’s placement is the fact that Conan is planning to head west to the Hyborian land of Ophir to redeem the satrap’s ring at the end. In the original outline, Miller-Clark would have had Conan travel west to Ophir, then back east to join the kozaki in Turan. This doesn’t really work well for me, since it tends to stretch the timeline to the breaking point (which is probably why they suggested that he lost the ring, somehow).

 

Conan heads northwest back into Hyborian lands with plans to ransom the Star of Khorala back to the Queen of Ophir for a “room-full” of gold. Whether he accomplishes this and how long the proceeds last are anybody’s guess, although apparently it doesn’t last long. It’s possible that he makes one of his infrequent trips to Cimmeria at this time. Conan is around 29 years of age at this stage of his career.

Conan has returned to find the West is afire. Argos and Stygia are warring with each other. The northern maritime nation has managed to get Koth embroiled in the war. Argos is paying good money to hire mercenaries, and Conan decides to sign up under the command of Prince Zapayo da Kova. The plan is for Argos to strike Stygia by sea, while the Kothic army invades by land from the north. The Argive navy smashes the Stygian fleet and drives it back into the port of Khemi. Their admiral, Prince Zapayo, is overly cautious and sails southward, coming ashore on Stygia’s border with Kush. His plan is to drive into the heart of the Stygian interior and link up with the Kothic army. His plan fails when Koth betrays Argos and makes a separate peace with the Stygians. In desperation the mercenary army attempts to skirt the border of Stygia and make for the deserts of eastern Shem. The northern Stygian army intercepts them and after an all-day battle, the Stygians retreat. The following day another army from Khemi catches up to Prince Zapayo’s depleted forces and between the two Stygian forces the Argive host ceases to exist. Conan and a young Aquilonian named Amalric escape southward into the desert since there is no other way to go. Conan tells Amalric that he has been in this part of the world before and that he feels confident that they can survive. They are harried from oasis to oasis by Stygian riders, eventually becoming lost in the trackless desert. Fate conspires to separate the two men when Conan is knocked unconscious and Amalric leaves him to flee into the desert.

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Drums of Tombalku

A captive, Conan is hauled into the desert city of Tombalku. Condemned to death, he is recognized as the corsair Amra by one of its two kings and is freed. The king, Sakumbe, is Conan’s friend and makes him the general of the horsemen. This leads to Conan being reunited with Amalric, who, together with a local girl named Lissa, are being pursued by demonic horsemen. Conan eventually deposes the other king, but political intrigue (and the revelation that Amalric killed one of their gods in Lissa’s home city of Gazal) brings everything crashing down. Conan, Amalric, and Lissa barely escape with their lives.

This is a fragment/synopsis of a Conan story and didn’t appear in the Miller-Clark outline. In fact, most of the fragment isn’t even about Conan, but instead about the adventures of Amalric and Lissa in the desert city of Gazal. The fragment ends midway through, and the rest of the story is told in the form of a synopsis. This story needs to be placed in the timeline sometime after the events of "The Slithering Shadow", since it refers to Conan having been in this part of the world before. As a point of fact, "The Slithering Shadow" was placed in this position on the Miller-Clark outline and Sprague de Camp places "Drums of Tombalku" immediately after the events of "The Slithering Shadow". I have always hated that idea since the rebel prince of Koth builds a huge army of 30,000 sell-swords and then six months later Argos hires another huge army of mercenaries. Where do all of these warriors appear from? I’ve also never liked de Camp’s placement since Conan is continually bouncing hither and yon between the Hyborian lands to Kush’s desert to the Hyborian lands and back to Kush’s desert. I think he might have been a bit uneasy about being a sell-sword after the events of "The Slithering Shadow". Putting a break between the two tales gives Conan a chance to marginalize his feelings about the disaster in Koth. It would have been interesting to see how "Drums of Tombalku" would have turned out if Howard had completed it, since the city has “half a dozen powerful factions plotting and intriguing against each other”. I pretty much visualize Conan being in the thick of it as Tombalku dissolved into civil war.

 

Conan drifts southwestward into the black kingdoms south of Kush. During this time, he watches a Kushite witch-finder scratch an arcane symbol into the sand of a nameless river. The Cimmerian recognizes it as the symbol he saw on the cave-wall in Hyrkania, and finds out that the glyph is sacred to Jhebbal Sag, a being that all of the creatures of earth used to worship.

The Cimmerian falls in with the war-like Bamula tribesmen. His reputation as Amra has preceded him, and because his martial prowess is so impressive, he quickly finds himself elevated to war-chief of the fierce tribe. As war-chief, Conan learns the lesson that life is hard, death is sudden, and that treachery is a virtue in the black kingdoms.

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The Vale of Lost Women

Conan breaks a truce during a war council for the sake of a woman.

This is a Conan story that didn’t appear in the original Miller-Clark outline, because it wasn’t published until long after Howard’s death. Sprague de Camp placed the story between the death of Bêlit and Conan’s adventure in Shumballa. The story is grim and bloody and Conan is not shown in the most favorable light. It is almost certainly the least popular Conan story that Howard wrote. That being said, I am in total agreement with Howard scholar Joe Marek that this story takes place far later in Conan’s career than when de Camp places it. Marek argues that Conan has an appearance, attitude and outlook that is similar to the Conan that appears in another tale placed about this time called "The Pool of the Black One". In fact, the two tales have a similar plot; Conan killing a leader for the possession of an attractive woman, with a supernatural element thrown in at the end. Marek also notes that Conan is missing the red cloak that he should have been wearing; a cloak he is wearing in "The Snout in the Dark" (which comes after this tale in de Camp’s chronology). While those are good reasons, my opinion as to why this tale should have a later placement is because the Conan we see in this story is the natural outgrowth of his attempting to bring what worked for him in the East into the black kingdoms and finding out that it doesn’t work so well when everyone’s a brigand. He clearly doesn’t care much for where he is. The Cimmerian war-chief describes this place as “hellish”, and he claims that he’s “sick at the guts” with the native women. There are no gold and jewels here; wealth is measured by cattle and horses. Conan is so immersed in the native paradigm that it takes a girl from the Hyborian lands to make him realize who he was as opposed to who he is now.

 

Conan makes good on his promise to take Livia to the borders of Stygia and sends her home. Realizing that he doesn’t really care to return to his Bamulas, Conan travels westward until he reaches the Western Sea. He is 30 years old and about to make his mark on the West.

Upon reaching the coast, Conan is picked up by a ship of the Barachan Pirates. He remains true to his nature and irresistibly rises to command his own pirate vessel. Conan soon proves to be as adroit and ferocious a pirate as he was a Bamula war-chief. He sinks ships, sacks towns, and in time becomes legendary as one of the greatest scourges of the Western Sea, renowned for his audacious exploits. The men of the Red Brotherhood are eager to ship with him because he leads them to rare loot. At last, several jealous pirate lords conspire to bring Conan down and he is lured to a rendezvous at Tortage, in the Barachan Isles. Conan escapes the trap, but is compelled to flee the Barachas in a leaky rowboat.

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The Pool of the Black One

Conan is picked up by the Wastrel, a ship of buccaneers led by the Zingaran renegade, Zaporavo. Conan joins the “Fellowship of Freebooters” as a member of the crew. On a trip deep into the empty Western Sea, Zaporavo discovers a mysterious island. Conan conspires to kill him while ashore, but quickly runs afoul of the ancient evil that abides there.

This tale is basically the transition tale between Conan as a Barachan pirate and Conan as a Zingaran buccaneer. While not a particularly strong story, it does boast one of the saga’s most eerily effective weird menaces. Practically nothing is told of Conan’s time with the Barachans, leading Miller and Clark to speculate that Conan found little opportunity to advance in the Red Brotherhood, probably since no one seemed to recognize his name. Howard’s "The Black Stranger" (unpublished at the time of the Miller-Clark outline) gave lie to that assumption, with the lady Belesa’s description of Conan being a veritable Hyborian Age “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the villain of a “score of ballads”. Still, it is somewhat curious that none of the crew recognized Conan’s name; perhaps they didn’t keep up on Zingaran popular culture.

 

As captain, Conan sails the Wastrel back eastward to where the “seaports are fat, and the merchant ships are crammed with plunder”. Conan probably attempts to inflict his vengeance upon the Barachan pirate lords who betrayed him by raiding their holdings and sinking their ships. This has the effect of making the Zingaran authorities a bit more kindly disposed toward him; they won’t try to hang him, as long as he directs his depredations upon Argos and Stygia. Conan has varying degrees of success as a Freebooter, but nothing as audacious as when he sailed with the Barachans. He is nearly 33 years old when a storm shatters the Wastrel upon a reef, presumably upon the Pelishtim coast of Shem.

Washed ashore half-dead, Conan is discovered and spends the next several weeks regaining his health and strength in the city of Asgalun. His spends his time familiarizing himself with the basics of the written Pelishtim language and even meets some wise men who have managed to extend their lives by several hundred years. Regaining his strength, Conan wanders among the major cities of western Shem. Tiring of Shem, he travels to Koth seeking rumors of war; instead he finds the land disgustingly peaceful and the only rumor being the strange circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Kothic sorcerer Pelias.

With nothing better to do, Conan returns to Cimmeria for a time to ponder his future. His notoriety has spread across the Hyborian lands and he now has a price on his head in the lands claimed by Turan, Argos, Zingara, and Stygia. Eventually, Conan grows bored with life in Cimmeria and travels southward into Aquilonia. He is 34 years old.

Traveling in Aquilonia, Conan learns that there is work to be had in the region of the Westermark. He travels to Fort Tuscelan in Conajohara and hires on as a forest runner and frontier scout under Governor Vallanus. Life on the frontier is no picnic, since Namedides, the recently crowned king of Aquilonia, has decided to save money and has stopped sending troops to fight the Picts. Conan has only been a scout for a few months when a Pictish wizard named Zogar Sag tries to steal a string of mules and is thrown in a cell for his troubles. Feeling insulted, he escapes, vowing vengeance on the men who captured him.

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Beyond the Black River

The escape of Zogar Sag sets off a string of events that end in a Pictish war to retake Conajohara. Learning that the Picts are coming, Conan escapes in time give warning to the province.

This tale is a real change of pace from the rest of the Conan series, and one of the best, as well. It’s a companion piece to Howard’s "The Black Stranger". It is usually set later in Conan’s career; both the Miller-Clark and de Camp chronologies place it shortly before Conan takes the throne of Aquilonia. The story has an interesting feature in that a part of Howard fandom believes that two of the tale’s primary characters, Balthus and his dog Slasher, are modeled on Howard and his dog Patch. Howard described the story to Novalyne Price as "The triumph of a dog and the barbarian."

 

The invasion is a success for the Picts, in that they are able to destroy Fort Tuscelan and retake Conajohara. Fortunately, the death of Zogar Sag, combined with Conan’s warning, allows the Aquilonians to stop the Pictish invasion at the town of Velitrium on the Thunder River, saving innumerable lives. Conan is hailed as the Hero of Velitrium. He then hires on as a scout under the baron of Conawaga, patrolling the frontier along the Thunder River for some months.

Conan crosses the Thunder River to follow a raiding party of Wolf Picts that had harassed the settlements along the river. He manages to kill their chief, but is knocked senseless and captured by the Wolf men. They then trade Conan to the Eagle Picts in exchange for a captured Wolf chief. The Eagle men carry Conan nearly a hundred miles westward to burn him in their chief village. He manages to escape the Eagle Picts, killing a notable war-chief in the process. He flee westward, across the Pictish Wilderness with the Eagle men warriors in hot pursuit.

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The Black Stranger

After a chase of several hundred miles, Conan manages to shake the pursuit of the Eagle Picts. He holes up in a hidden cave and discovers within the fabulous treasure trove of the legendary pirate, Tranicos. After regaining his strength, he travels west to the ocean shore, only to discover a rendezvous of notable rogues at the stockade of a Zingaran exile. He deals himself into the meeting in an effort to return to the Main as a pirate. All of his planning goes to hell when the Picts attack the stockade.

Another unsold story that didn’t appear in the original outline, a heavily rewritten version of it called "The Treasure of Tranicos" was added to the series by Sprague de Camp. He changed the ending so that Conan used Tranicos’ treasure to finance his usurpation of the crown of Aquilonia. Howard’s original version doesn’t take place nearly that late in Conan’s career. "The Black Stranger" has a wealth of background material. I am positive that if this story had been available to P. S. Miller, his outline would have looked completely different. It’s interesting to see that both of the pirate captains know Conan personally. Zarono seems to be merely acquainted with the Cimmerian, but knows his reputation. Strom, on the other hand, knows him first-hand, and he is uncomfortably aware of what Conan is capable of. This tale also relates how Conan’s voyage on The Wastrel ended three years previously; shipwrecked on a reef.

 

After returning Belesa and Tina to civilization, Conan returns to the Red Brotherhood as the captain of the Red Hand. He 35 years old. Conan resumes his piratical career with a vengeance, much to the dismay of the Zingarans. They commission several warships to hunt the Cimmerian down and put an end to his depredations. The Zingarans come across the burning port-town of Valadelad and discover that the Red Hand was responsible. Heading southward, they sight the Barachan carrack and give pursuit. Conan attempts to evade the Zingaran squadron and leads them on an exhausting chase. They finally catch him off the coast of Shem, and after a short, sharp battle, sink the Red Hand. Conan escapes the disaster by swimming ashore.

Once in Shem, Conan learns that the Free Companions, under the command of Zarallo, are looking to hire mercenaries. Since no better opportunity presents itself, he signs up. Zarallo marches his host to the Stygian border-town of Sukhmet. Conan is bored and thinking of leaving, when a beautiful young woman arrives to join the Free Companions. Her name is Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. She is in camp only a short time before she knifes a Stygian officer and flees southward. Smitten, Conan decides to follow her.

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Red Nails

Barely escaping a rampaging dragon, Conan and Valeria discover the forgotten city of Xuchotl and become involved in a decades-long feud.

This story didn’t originally appear in the outline the Miller sent to Howard, since it hadn’t been published in Weird Tales yet. Miller eventually placed it after "The Pool of the Black One". The published version of "Red Nails" didn’t mention the burning of Valadelad; that only appeared in the first draft of the story. This was the last Conan tale that Howard ever wrote. Some features of the back-story include Conan’s visit to Kosala, his knowledge of the Tlazitlans, and some trivia about the glow-stones of Punt.

 

After leaving Xuchotl, Conan and Valeria travel westward until they reach the Black Coast. They part; Valeria returns to the sea, while Conan decides to investigate rumors of a fabulous treasure in the semi-mythical land of Keshan, far to the east. He travels over a vast distance of plain, river-laced jungle, and mountains, eventually coming to its royal city of Keshia. His reputation precedes him and he is employed to train their armies and lead them against their hereditary enemy, the nation of Punt.

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Jewels of Gwahlur

Conan learns that the treasure, the Teeth of Gwahlur, are hidden in the ancient ruins of Alkmeenon. He surreptitiously travels there and becomes embroiled in a rival’s confidence game.

This tale, called "The Teeth of Gwahlur" by Howard, is the only story in the series to feature Conan as a confidence-man. There is some interesting background material in this yarn; Conan’s learning to write Pelishtim and his wealth of knowledge about Punt, a land he’s never visited.

 

Conan loses the jewels, but gains a partner, a Corinthian actress named Muriela. The pair travels on to Punt, plotting to ensnare them in a similar confidence game. Rumor suggests that Conan may even have visited the jungle nation of Zembabwei. He is 37 years old.

We pick up Conan’s trail again about a year later, when he reenters the Hyborian nation of Aquilonia. King Namedides’ rule has left the land in chaos, and his people cry out under suppression and excessive taxation. The king seems oblivious to the nation’s problems and Aquilonia is torn with warring between the barons. Conan takes service in the army of Aquilonia, and quickly rises through the ranks to command a regiment of mercenaries. Though he doesn’t know it yet, an old dream of his is about to become reality.

The king of Zingara has dreams of empire and believes that the rich province of Poitain is ripe to be plucked from the dissolute nation of Aquilonia. He leads his army across the Alimane River to secure the province. The knights of Poitain are fierce defenders and are supported by several regiments from barons in the southlands who recognize the danger should the province fall. Count Trocero of Poitain petitions Namedides for troops in repelling the Zingarans; the king decides to send his expendable mercenary army.

The fight for the province of Poitain is fierce, and in short order Conan takes command of Aquilonia’s army. He proposes an unorthodox tactic that enables his army to smash the invaders, killing the Zingaran king and sending the scattered survivors fleeing back across the Alimane. Conan is hailed as a great hero by the people of Poitain and his renown spreads across the mountains into Aquilonia.

Namedides recalls Conan to his capital, feting him before the citizens of Tarantia. The good times do not last long. Scheming nobles use Conan’s sometimes blunt opinions to inflame Namedides’ jealousy of his popular general. Conan finds himself arrested and imprisoned in the infamous Iron Tower. He escapes the Tower and, evading capture, swiftly makes his way back to Poitain.

At Trocero’s urging, Conan regains command of the mercenary army and purges it of Namedides’ loyalists. Trocero flatly refuses to bow to the king’s edicts and pushes Poitain into revolt against the might of Aquilonia. Conan announces that he is striking for the throne and asks for support. Namedides is incensed and orders the southern Aquilonian army to suppress the rebellion and capture Conan and Trocero. The Aquilonian army attacks the rebel host, which is entrenched in the mountains of northern Poitain. Namedides’ army breaks itself on Conan battle-hardened forces and is decimated. The way to Tarantia is open. Meanwhile, support for Conan’s rebellion spreads throughout Aquilonia.

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Wolves Beyond the Border

A treacherous Aquilonian noble, blood-brother to the Picts, attempts to inflame tensions in the Westermark during Conan’s rebellion.

This is an uncompleted fragment/synopsis and didn’t appear in the Miller-Clark outline. In fact, most of the fragment isn’t a traditional Conan story, but instead, has completely different characters. It takes place in the Westermark region concurrent with Conan’s rise to king of Aquilonia. This fragment is interesting in that the primary hero, Gault Hagar's son, claims to have been ten years old at the time of the Picts' destruction of Fort Tuscelan. His age isn’t given, although he is apparently an adult. I believe that he’s about 16 years old in this tale for a couple of reasons. The men on the frontier grow up quickly. In "Beyond the Black River" a young married couple is murdered by the Picts and it states that the wife was little more than a girl (about 14-15). This shows that adulthood on the frontier is quite young by our standards. I feel that the name “Gault Hagar’s son” simply means that Gault hasn’t started his own family yet, and is still thought of as his father’s son. This would also imply that the hero of the fragment is still fairly young. Howard’s fragment also dispels a notion that Sprague de Camp advanced in his rewrite of this story for the Lancers; that Conan’s army victory came by defeating the Picts. Howard’s reason that the Thandaran’s give for supporting Conan is that “We have not forgotten Conajohara”. So, Conan’s victory had to come from some place else, but where? "The Phoenix on the Sword" states that Nemedia is at peace with Aquilonia. Ophir is supposedly an ally to Aquilonia in "The Scarlet Citadel", while The Hour of the Dragon maintains that Argos has been at peace for quite a while. I doubt that Conan would lead Aquilonia’s army to victory over the Cimmerians. The only nation bordering Aquilonia that really fits the bill is Zingara. The Hour of the Dragon states that Aquilonia has continual wars with the Picts, Zingarans, and Cimmerians. The novel also depicts Zingara as a nation where “Half a dozen princes strive against each other, and the country is torn asunder by civil wars”. This has apparently gone on for quite sometime, so it’s logical to assume that Zingara’s civil war is the aftermath of Conan’s victory, especially since he didn’t fill the nation’s power vacuum by military invasion.

 

Conan’s army marches on Tarantia and through a combination of hard work, skill, and luck arrives to capture the capital. He strangles Namedides on his throne and crowns himself king of Aquilonia. Conan is nearly 40 years old when the dream becomes a reality…

Life is no bed of houris for the newly-crowned King Conan. He has fractious nobles to contend with, petitions of redress from his people, and diplomatic requests from other nations. Conan appeals to Aquilonian tradition by holding court in the old capital of Tamar, residing in the palace of the popular King Vilerus. He wins the love of the people by lowering taxes and curbing abuses at the hands of the nobility. He institutes land reform to ease the pressure on the western frontier. Some of the noble families in Aquilonia are still quite restive, and King Conan must put down the occasional civil insurrection.

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The Phoenix on the Sword

The first major threat to Conan’s rule is an assassination attempt by the Rebel Four.

This is the first Conan story that Robert Howard wrote, as well as the Cimmerian’s first appearance in print. It is a rewrite of an unsold King Kull tale called "By This Axe I Rule!"

 

Around a year after the assassination attempt, Conan accepts an alliance with the Hyborian nation of Ophir. A short time later, Ophir asks for Aquilonia’s help in repelling an invasion by the land of Koth. Conan obliges by sending five thousand of his finest knights into Ophir, only to discover that he has been betrayed.

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The Scarlet Citadel

Conan is captured, during his first foreign war, by Amalrus of Ophir and Strabonus of Koth. He is imprisoned in the Scarlet Citadel and escapes with the help of his fellow inmate, the Kothic sorcerer Pelias.

Conan’s adventure within the titular Scarlet Citadel has some of the most fantastic weird menace ever written by Robert Howard. Two versions of this tale exist, the original Weird Tales publication and a rewritten version that was meant to appear in a British anthology.

 

In the wake of the abortive insurrection that accompanied the war with Koth and Ophir, King Conan moves his royal court from Tamar eastward to the city of Tarantia, taking up residence in the opulent palace of the late Namedides. Conan has not bothered to formally make any woman his queen; the sons of his concubines, of which there are a goodly number, are not recognized as heirs to the throne. About this time, unbeknownst to anyone, a magical artifact, the Heart of Ahriman, has been stolen from the crypt beneath Tarantia’s temple of Mitra.

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The Hour of the Dragon

A plan to reshape the face of western Hyboria is hatched with the resurrection of an ancient sorcerer, Xaltotun of Acheron. This conspiracy usurps the throne of Nemedia and even manages to depose Conan through black magic. Conan escapes and embarks on a quest to find the “heart of his kingdom” in a bid to reclaim his throne.

This novel has an interesting history, as it was originally written to be published as a hardback book in Britain. That plan fell through and The Hour of the Dragon was later serialized in Weird Tales. It is an amalgam of bits and pieces of other Conan stories, most noticeably "The Scarlet Citadel", "Black Colossus", and "The Phoenix on the Sword". The Hour of the Dragon is a propulsive tale, which is unusual, due to its episodic structure. In the 50’s, when it was published by Gnome Press, it was renamed Conan the Conqueror by the editor, P.S. Miller, reportedly due to the lack of dragons in the text. I find this notion absolutely laughable. The Hour of the Dragon is a great, evocative title that works on several different levels; probably my favorite title of any Conan story. The title refers to the short time that the dragon banner of Nemedia held sway over Conan’s Aquilonia. On a more esoteric note, the title refers to the resurrection and rise to power of the most powerful of Set’s high priests, surely a dragon among serpent worshippers if there ever was one. And finally, anyone who has read my essay “Children of the Fallen” (REHupa #169) should recognize that Howard based his Acheronians on the Dragon-Kings of ancient Persia, children of the demonic Ahuras. These Ahuras are identical to the Fallen Angels of the Bible, whose chief is Satan, the Great Dragon. The dragons were hiding behind the trees in Miller’s forest, I imagine...

 

Conan regains the throne of Aquilonia and ransoms King Tarascus back to Nemedia for the seraglio girl, Zenobia. As promised, Conan makes her his queen. He is 45 years old.

Conan remains king of Aquilonia for quite a few years. His reign is turbulent, with many violent events commonplace. The kings of the surrounding nations continually test his rule, until he is forced into wars of aggression as a matter of self-preservation. The extent of his empire through conquest is unknown.

Interestingly, King Conan still travels widely. He journeys to Hyrkania and the unknown lands to its north, as well as to Khitai and the little known region that lay beyond its southern border. He also manages a visit to a nameless continent in the western hemisphere, and roams among the islands adjacent to it.

The Conan stories finally came to a chronological end with The Hour of the Dragon. However, a March 10, 1936 letter written by Robert Howard shortly before his death, hinted that Conan was:

king of Aquilonia for many years, in a turbulent and unquiet reign, when the Hyborian civilization had reached its most magnificent high-tide, and every king had imperial ambitions. At first he fought on the defensive, but I am of the opinion that at last he was forced into wars of aggression as a matter of self-preservation. Whether he succeeded in conquering a world-wide empire, or perished in the attempt, I do not know. He traveled widely, not only before his kingship, but after he was king. He traveled to Khitai and Hyrkania, and to the even less known regions north of the latter and south of the former. He even visited a nameless continent in the western hemisphere, and roamed among the islands adjacent to it. How much of this roaming will get into print, I cannot foretell with any accuracy.

There is no record at all about Conan’s eventual fate, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Some things are best left to the imagination…

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Musings on the various Chronology issues

In his lifetime, Robert E. Howard never really got around to placing the stories featuring his Conan character into any definitive order. The closest that he got was giving his provisional blessing to the timeline proposed by a Conan fan, P. Schuyler Miller. This timeline was buffed and polished by Miller and Dr. John Clark and later expanded upon by the inestimable Lyon Sprague de Camp into the “Official Chronology” that remains to this day. My research has proven to me (and hopefully to you) that the “Official Chronology” is plagued by enough inconsistency and doubt as to be next to useless.

My feeling is that the Miller/Clark timeline started out with the best of intentions, but swiftly went astray once the “unpublished” Conan material became available. Both "The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" and "The God in the Bowl" were wrongly placed; presumably so that "The Tower of the Elephant" could the first chronological story to showcase Conan in the L. Sprague de Camp edited The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press). "The Vale of Lost Women" was placed after "Queen of the Black Coast" and at the time this seemed plausible. Only later, when "The Snout in the Dark" was added into the Conan saga in the Lancer series did this placement become suspect. It just became one more “inconsistency” in the chronology; Howard’s fault due to poor writing, not de Camp’s error in placement. When de Camp rewrote "The Black Stranger" as "The Trail of Tranicos", the chronology veered off into uncharted territories. It became a reflection of Sprague de Camp’s vision of the Hyborian Age.

And I’m not content to just pillory L. Sprague de Camp. Obviously, P.S. Miller and John Clark made their share of questionable placements. "The Slithering Shadow" is certainly placed incorrectly. "Black Colossus" and "Shadows in the Moonlight" are most likely wrong as well. The only thing that Miller/Clark have going for them is that Howard gave the thumb’s-up to their chronology. We should take a look at that event if we want to understand what went astray.

In a March 10, 1936 letter to Miller, Howard presented his comments on the Conan chronology proposed by Miller and Clark. In it Howard wrote: “Your outline follows his career as I have visualized it pretty closely. The differences are minor”. And also: “The chronological order of his adventures is about as you have worked it out, except that they covered a little more time”. This would seem to be a pretty clear cut admission that the chronology is correct, except that Howard qualifies both statements with “pretty closely”, “minor differences”, and “about as you have worked it out”. What does this actually tell us?

It means that Howard isn’t actually giving the outline his “official” blessing. He’s leaving himself some wriggle-room if he decides to change anything. What you must understand is that Howard looked at the Conan chronology differently than Miller and Clark did, because they didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. Howard started to explain why his view is different in the March 10 letter when he explains that Conan went north into Nordheim after the battle at Venarium, and that instead of traveling straight to Zamora, Conan wandered around for a little over a year. He knew that "The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" and "The God in the Bowl" took place before Conan’s sojourn in Zamora. He should have known that the placement of "Beyond the Black River" in the outline was wrong as well. So why did he provisionally sanction the Miller/Clark outline?

My understanding is that in March of 1936, Howard was under an increasing amount of stress from a variety of sources. His mother was dying, his only real romantic relationship had failed, the source of his income was drying up due to the Depression, and he was suffering from writer’s block. He gets a letter from a fan detailing Conan’s life as well as a map of his world. Now does Howard research this document to see if its findings are correct? Of course not. He knows his world and how this all fits together. Besides, Miller doesn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle of Conan’s life that Howard is privy to. However, it is entirely possible that Howard assumed that the research producing the Miller/Clark outline worked out Conan’s life in a more internally logical manner, since he could only realistically believe that his unpublished Conan stories would never see print. My opinion is that Howard gave Miller validation for the work that he did, not really caring whether it was absolutely accurate. It was, after all, only a private fan letter; it wasn’t like the chronology was an official essay in a professional magazine.

And, this really isn’t all that unusual an occurrence in fandom. In 1974, Fred Blosser published a history of Brak the Barbarian in Marvel’s Savage Tales magazine that at the time was given John Jake’s blessings; the publication of The Fortunes of Brak in 1980 showed that Blosser’s chronology was no longer accurate. Jakes just pretty much ignored it. Also, in 2000, fantasy author David Gemmell discovered the website of a fan named Eric Davis that contained a beautiful hand drawn map of Gemmell’s Drenai world. According to Davis, Gemmell emailed him with the news that his map was going to be the official Drenai map when his next book was published. This map had over one hundred errors on it and Gemmell either didn’t notice them or decided not to comment on them. Needless to say, when a professional Drenai world map finally appeared in 2003, it wasn’t Eric Davis’s map. It’s easy for an author to get enthusiastic about a fan’s interest in his works, since it validates his ego. This isn’t a bad thing; just human nature. I feel that the intent of Howard’s March 10 letter to P.S. Miller to be really nothing more than that.

Since Howard’s death there have been a number of attempts to reorder the Conan tales, with varying degrees of success. The first one that I’m aware of was Kevin Miller’s "Another Chronology", published in Amra magazine in February of 1973. He is the first person to postulate (to my knowledge) that "The Frost-Giant’s Daughter" is the first Conan tale. Unfortunately, he also lobbies that "The God in the Bowl" takes place after "Rogues in the House", which is flat-out wrong. Former REHupan Joe Marek published his "Some Comments on Chronologies in Regards to the Conan Series" in REHupa mailings #148 (December 1997) and #149 (February 1998). He reorders quite a bit of the chronology, accepting Kevin Miller’s re-sequencing, as well as moving "The Slithering Shadow" and "The Vale of Lost Women" around. For the most part, Joe’s ideas make pretty good sense. He just didn’t take it far enough.

When I decided to take a crack at chronologically sequencing the Conan tales, I was filled with a bit of trepidation, since nearly everything I had read about them stated that it couldn’t be done. The prevailing wisdom was that the corpus of stories was riddled with inconsistencies and errors; so vague and contradictory that there was no hope of ever really untangling it in any satisfactory manner. Apparently Howard had a habit of providing linkage among the stories by providing biographical and chronological clues from previously written tales, regardless of where the story took place in the overall scheme of things. To confuse things ever further, L. Sprague de Camp had edited and rewritten some of the tales so that they fit into his preconceived idea of how Conan’s life played out. I decided that my best course of action was to access as much of the Conan material as I could find that hadn’t been altered by de Camp. I used the two volume Conan Chronicles, published in the U.K. by Millennium, as my primary source material, as well as a couple of pure-text versions of certain stories.

I read each story several times and I even took Ed Waterman’s online advice and read them in the order that Howard had written them (Thanks, Wandering Star!). The hardest thing I had to overcome was my preconceived notion as to how the series was ordered, as well as the Miller/Clark outline having a certain gravitas. My way around that was to throw out everything and start from scratch; I ignored everything but the stories themselves. I was actually pretty surprised at the outcome of my research. I figured it would mirror the Miller/Clark biography a lot closer than it did.

I was also surprised that there weren’t really all that many internal problems. I could be wrong, but I feel that quite a few of the inconsistencies were introduced into the saga mainly through the stories being incorrectly ordered, as well as de Camp’s rewriting background material to more closely tie the stories into his vision of Conan’s life. My research showed that Howard really knew his stuff. Most of his problems consist of variant spellings and minor questions of how Conan could have known about certain plot points. The Tarantia/Tamar error is certainly explainable (as per my biography). The two different ways that his career as a pirate ended aren’t even an inconsistency anymore! I simply didn’t find anything as egregious as can be found in the works of David Gemmell, for instance (In Legend, the port of Dros Purdol is located in two different locations; the prologue to Druss the Legend flatly contradicts certain events in The Legend of Deathwalker).

I also don’t really feel that Howard’s “borrowing” of certain themes from previous stories to be all that much of a problem. So what if parts of The Hour of the Dragon were similar to "The Scarlet Citadel" and "Black Colossus"? It doesn’t mean that the stories belong in alternate universes. It just reflects real-life in a way. Can you honestly say that parts of your day aren’t nearly the same, day after day? It’s really nothing more than the Hyborian Age version of “Been there, done that” writ large.

As for the lack of internal evidence linking the Conan stories; sure some of the stories are a bit vague. But it is possible to position them by placing the stories in context to each other. There are lots of ways to link the stories to each other, and some are fairly subtle. Travel times, clothing, occupations, Conan’s personality and goals, Howard’s themes of barbarism vs. civilization; all of this and more can be taken into account when ordering the stories. My only actual goal was to fit the saga into the ages that Howard claimed Conan to be in his March 10, 1936 letter to P.S. Miller. And I accomplished it, although it was actually more difficult than I thought it would be. So I can understand why de Camp rewrote "The Black Stranger", even though I don’t agree with it.

There has been some notion bandied about that Howard only had a vague notion of Conan’s career; it began as a thief and ended as a king. Everything in between was developed as he went along. I flatly reject this notion. The stories would have a great deal more contradictions if this were the case. From what I can tell, Howard had a pretty decent idea of Conan’s career trajectory. In the book One Who Walked Alone, author Novalyne Price Ellis wrote about Howard’s preparation for the Hyborian Age stories: “He had told me of his doing something similar to that before he began his Conan yarns. He wrote about the land where Conan lived, the age in which he lived and the people he'd known, the sorcerers he'd met”. So apparently he put some thought into it. To suggest otherwise, I find to be somewhat insulting to Howard’s ability as a writer developing a secondary world.

Any world-creator in a fantasy role-playing game setting can tell you about the hours/days/weeks spent building a working fantasy universe; immersing one’s self in minutia and fine tuning the whole thing. There comes a point when the “Created-world” takes on a kind on life inside one’s head. You are able to describe any part of it as if you had actually been there and experienced it. The whole thing transcends its origins and becomes (from a purely mental standpoint) a real place.

Every sense I get from reading Howard’s Conan stories informs me that he experienced something very similar from his creation of the Hyborian Age world. He mentally lived in this place when creating and writing his Conan stories. Perhaps it was part of his putting on a persona as many authors do. All I can tell you is that he wrote these stories like he believed it. And, as any damned fine author does, he makes you believe as well.

So how do I feel about "The Darkstorm Conan Chronology"? I feel it’s better than the Miller/Clark outline, because it’s more accurate and reflects Howard’s take on his Conan series a lot better. Whether it is acknowledged by fandom at large is anyone’s guess. I suppose it really doesn’t matter, since the only reason I only did it was to see if I could. So yeah, I’m happy with it…

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