Howard, Robert E. - Conan - Four Conan Books (DeCamp).pdf

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Transcript of Howard, Robert E. - Conan - Four Conan Books (DeCamp).pdf

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    Table of Contents[B2B]_Robert E. Howard_-_Conan_The_Warrior_-_Front.jpg

    [B2B]_Robert E. Howard_-_Conan_The_Warrior_-_Map.jpg[B2B]_Robert E. Howard_-_Conan_The_Warrior.txt

    [B2B]_Robert E. Howard_-_Conan_The_Warrior_-_Back.jpg

    R.E.Howard-ShadowsInZamboula.txtRobertEHoward-RoguesInTheHouse.txt

    RobertEHoward-TheDevilInIron.txt

    _SHADOWS I N ZAMBOULA__by__ Robert E. Howar d__ 1. A Dr um Begi ns__"Per i lhi des i n the house of Ar am Baksh! "__The speaker ' s voi ce qui ver ed wi t hear nest ness and hi s l ean, bl ack- nai l ed f i nger s cl awed at Conan' s

    mi ght i l y- muscl ed arm as he cr oaked hi s warni ng. He was a wi r y, sunbur ntman wi t h a st r aggl i ng bl ack bear d, and hi s r agged gar ment s prol cai medhi m a nomad. He l ooked smal l er and meaner t han ever i n cont r ast t o thegi ant Ci mmer i an wi t h hi s bl ack br ows, br oad chest , and power f ul l i mbs.

    They st ood i n a cor ner of t he Swor d Maker s' Bazaar , and on ei t her si deof t hemf l owed past t he many- t ongued, many- col ored st r eam of t heZamboul an st r eet s, whi ch ar e exot i c, hybr i d, f l amboyant , andcl amorous. _Conan pul l ed hi s eyes back f r omf ol l owi ng a bol d- eyed, r ed-l i pped Ghanara whose shor t ski r t bared her br own t hi gh at each i nsol entst ep, and f r owned down at hi s i mport unat e compani on. _"What do you meanby per i l ?" he demanded. __The deser t man gl anced f ur t i vel y over hi sshoul der bef ore repl yi ng, and l ower ed hi s voi ce. _" Who can say? Butdeser t men and t r avel ers _have_ sl ept i n the house of Ar amBaksh and

    never been seen or hear d of agai n. What became of t hem? He swor e t heyr ose and went t hei r way - - and i t i s t r ue t hat no ci t i zen of t he ci t yhas ever di sappear ed f r omhi s house. But no one saw t he t r avel ersagai n, and men say t hat goods and equi pment r ecogni sed as t hei r s havebeen seen i n t he bazaar s. I f Ar am di d not sel l t hem, af t er doi ng awaywi t h thei r owner s, how came t hey t here?"_ " I have no goods, " gr owl ed t heCi mmer i an, t ouchi ng t he shagr een- bound hi l t of t he br oadsword t hat hungat hi s hi p. "I have even sol d my hor se. "_ "But i t i s not al ways ri chst r anger s who vani sh by ni ght f r omt he house of Ar am Baksh! " chat t eredt he Zuagi r . "Nay, poor deser t men have sl ept t her e - - because hi s scor ei s l ess t han t hat of t he other t averns - - and have been seen no more.Once a chi ef of t he Zuagi r s whose son had t hus vani shed compl ai ned tot he sat r ap, J ungi r Khan, who ordered t he house sear ched bysol di er s. "_ "And t hey f ound a cel l ar f ul l of cor pses?" asked Conan i ngood- humored der i si on. _" Nay! They f ound naught ! And dr ove t he chi eff r om t he ci t y wi t h t hr eat s and cur ses! But " - - he dr ew cl oser t o Conanand shi ver ed - - "somethi ng el se was f ound! At t he edge of t he deser t ,beyond t he houses, t her e i s a cl ump of pal m t r ees, and wi t hi n t hatgr ove there i s a pi t . And wi t hi n that pi t have been f ound human bones,char r ed and bl ackened. Not once, but many t i mes! "_" Whi ch pr oves what ?"gr unted t he Ci mmer i an. __ "Ar amBaksh i s a demon! Nay, i n thi s accur sedci t y whi ch St ygi ans bui l t and whi ch Hyrkani ans r ul e - - wher e whi t e,br own, and bl ack f ol k mi ngl e t ogether t o pr oduce hybr i ds of al l unhol y

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    hues and breeds - - who can t el l who i s a man, and who i s a demon i ndi sgui se? Ar amBaksh i s a demon i n t he f orm of a man! At ni ght heassumes hi s t r ue gui se and car r i es hi s guest s of f i nt o t he deser t ,wher e hi s f el l ow demons f r om t he wast e meet i n concl ave. " _" Why does heal ways car r y of f st r anger s?" asked Conan skept i cal l y. _" The peopl e oft he ci t y woul d not suf f er hi m t o sl ay thei r peopl e, but t hey car enought f or t he st r anger s who f al l i nt o hi s hands. Conan, you are of t heWest , and know not t he secr ets of t hi s anci ent l and. But , si nce t hebegi nni ng of happeni ngs, t he demons of t he deser t have wor shi pped Yog,t he Lor d of t he Empt y Abodes, wi t h f i r e - - f i r e that devour s humanvi ct i ms. _"Be warned! You have dwel t f or many moons i n t he t ent s of t heZuagi r s, and you are our br ot her! Go not t o t he house of Ar amBaksh! "_" Get out of si ght ! " Conan sai d suddenl y. "Yonder comes a squadof t he ci t y wat ch. I f t hey see you t hey may remember a hor se t hat wasst ol en f r omt he sat r ap' s st abl e- - "_The Zuagi r gasped and movedconvul si vel y. He ducked between a boot h and a st one hor se t r ough,pausi ng onl y l ong enough t o chat t er : "Be warned, my br other ! There ar edemons i n t he house of Ar am Baksh! " Then he dar t ed down a nar r ow al l eyand was gone. _Conan shi f t ed hi s broad sword- bel t t o hi s l i ki ng andcal ml y r etur ned t he sear chi ng st ares di r ect ed at hi m by t he squad of

    watchmen as t hey swung past . They eyed hi m cur i ousl y and suspi ci ousl y,f or he was a man who st ood out even i n such a mot l ey t hrong as cr owdedt he wi ndi ng st r eet s of Zamboul a. Hi s bl ue eyes and al i en f eat ur esdi st i ngui shed hi m f r om t he East er n swar ms, and the st r ai ght swor d athi s hi p added poi nt t o the r aci al di f f er ence. _The watchmen di d notaccost hi m but swung on down t he st r eet , whi l e the cr owd opened a l anef or t hem. They wer e Pel i sht i m, squat , hook- nosed, wi t h bl ue- bl ackbear ds sweepi ng t hei r mai l ed br easts - - mer cenari es hi r ed f or work t her ul i ng Turani ans consi der ed beneat h themsel ves, and no l ess hat ed byt he mongr el popul at i on f or t hat r eason. _Conan gl anced at t he sun, j ustbegi nni ng to di p behi nd the f l at - t opped houses on t he west er n si de oft he bazaar , and hi t chi ng once more at hi s bel t , moved of f i n t hedi r ect i on of Ar am Baksh' s t aver n. _Wi t h a hi l l man' s st r i de he movedt hr ough t he ever - shi f t i ng col or s of t he st r eet s, wher e t he r aggedt uni cs of whi ni ng beggars br ushed agai nst t he ermi ne- t r i mmed khal ats ofl or dl y mer chant s, and t he pear l - sewn sat i n of r i ch cour t esans. Gi antbl ack sl aves sl ouched al ong, j ost l i ng bl ue- bear ded wander s f r omt heShemi t i sh ci t i es, r agged nomads f r om t he sur r oundi ng deser t s, t r ader sand advent ur eer s f r om al l t he l ands of t he East . _The nat i ve popul at i onwas no l ess het r ogeneous. Here, cent ur i es ago, t he armi es of Stygi a hadcome, car vi ng an empi r e out of t he east ern deser t . Zamboul a was but asmal l t r adi ng t own t hen, l yi ng ami dst a r i ng of oases, and i nhabi t ed bydescendant s of nomads. The St ygi ans bui l t i t i nt o a ci t y and set t l ed i twi t h thei r own peopl e, and wi t h Shemi t e and Kushi t e sl aves. Theceasel ess caravans, t hr eadi ng t he deser t f r omeast t o west and backagai n, brought r i ches and mor e mi ngl i ng of r aces. Then came t heconquer i ng Tur ani ans, r i di ng out of t he East t o t hr ust back the

    boundar i es of Stygi a, and now f or a generat i on Zamboul a had beenTuran' s west er nmost out post , r ul ed by a Turani an sat r ap. _The babel of amyr i ad t ongues smot e on the Ci mmer i an' s ear s as t he rest l ess pat t ern oft he Zamboul an st r eet s weaved about hi m - - cl ef t now and then by a squadof cl at t er i ng hor semen, t he tal l , suppl e war r i or s of Tur an, wi t h dar khawk- f aces, cl i nki ng metal , and cur ved swords. The t hr ong scamperedf r om under t hei r horses' hoof s, f or t hey wer e t he l ords of Zamboul a.But t al l , somber St ygi ans, st andi ng back i n t he shadows, gl owereddar kl y, r ememeber i ng t hei r anci ent gl or i es. The hybr i d popul at i on car edl i t t l e whet her t he ki ng who cont r ol l ed t hei r dest i ni es dwel t i n dar k

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    Khemi or gl eami ng Aghr apur . J ungi r Khan rul ed Zamboul a, and menwhi sper ed t hat Naf er t ar i , t he sat r ap' s mi st r ess, r ul ed J ungi r Khan; butt he peopl e went t hei r way, f l aunt i ng t hei r myri ad col or s i n t hest r eet s, bar gai ni ng, di sput i ng, gambl i ng, swi l l i ng, l ovi ng, as t hepeopl e of Zamboul a have done f or al l t he cent ur i es i t s t owers andmi naret s have l i f t ed over t he sands of t he Khar amun. _Br onze l ant er ns,car ved wi t h l eer i ng dr agons, had been l i ght ed i n t he st r eet s bef oreConan r eached the house of Ar amBaksh. The tavern was t he l ast occupi edhouse on t he st r eet , whi ch r an west . A wi de garden, encl osed by a wal l ,wher e dat e pal ms gr ew t hi ck, separat ed i t f r omt he houses f ar t her east .

    To t he west of t he i nn st ood anot her gr ove of pal ms, t hrough whi ch t hest r eet , now become a r oad, wound out i nt o t he deser t . Acr oss t he roadf r omt he t aver n st ood a r ow of deser t ed hut s, shaded by st r aggl i ng pal mt r ees and occupi ed onl y by bats and j ackal s. As Conan came down t her oad, he wondered why t he beggars, so pl ent i f ul i n Zamboul a, had notappr opr i ated t hese empt y houses f or sl eepi ng quar t er s. The l i ght sceased some di st ance behi nd hi m. Here were no l ant erns, except t he onehangi ng bef or e the t aver n gat e: onl y t he st ar s, t he sof t dust of t her oad under f oot , and t he r ust l e of t he pal m l eaves i n t he deser tbreeze. _Aram' s gat e di d not open upon t he r oad but upon t he al l ey whi ch

    r an bet ween the t aver n and t he gar den of t he dat e pal ms. Conan j erkedl ust i l y at t he r ope whi ch dangl ed f r om t he bel l besi de t he l ant er n,augment i ng i t s cl amor by hammer i ng on t he i r on- bound teakwood gat e wi t ht he hi l t of hi s sword. A wi cket opened i n t he gat e, and a bl ack f acepeer ed t hr ough. _" Open, bl ast you, " r equest ed Conan. "I ' m a guest . I ' vepai d Ar am f or a r oom, and a roomI ' l l have, by Cr om! "_The bl ack cranedhi s neck t o st ar e i nt o the st ar l i t r oad behi nd Conan; but he opened t hegat e wi t hout comment and cl osed i t agai n behi nd t he Ci mmer i an, l ocki ngi t and bol t i ng i t . The wal l was unusual l y hi gh; but t her e wer e manyt hi eves i n Zamboul a, and a house on the edge of t he deser t mi ght havet o be def ended agai nst a noct urnal nomad r ai d. Conan st r ode through agarden, where gr eat pal e bl ossoms nodded i n t he st ar l i ght , and ent eredt he t apr oom, wher e a Stygi an wi t h the shaven head of a st udent sat at at abl e broodi ng over namel ess myst er i es, and some nondescr i pts wr angl edover a game of di ce i n a corner . _AramBaksh came f orward, wal ki ngsof t l y, a por t l y man, wi h a bl ack bear d t hat swept hi s br east , a

    j ut t i ng hooknose, and smal l bl ack eyes whi ch wer e never st i l l . _"Youwi sh f ood?" he asked. "Dr i nk?"__ " I at e a j oi nt of beef and a l oaf ofbread i n the _suk_" grunt ed Conan. "Br i ng me a t ankard of Ghazan wi ne -- I ' ve got j ust enough l ef t t o pay f or i t . " He t ossed a copper coi n ont he wi ne- spl ashed board. _" You di d not wi n at t he gami ng tabl es?"__ "Howcoul d I , wi t h onl y a handf ul of si l ver t o begi n wi t h? I pai d you f ort he roomt hi s morni ng, because I knew I ' d pr obabl y l ose. I want ed t o besur e I had a roof over my head t oni ght . I not i ce nobody sl eeps i n t hest r eet s of Zamboul a. The very beggars hunt a ni che t hey can bar r i cadebef or e dar k. The ci t y must be f ul l of a par t i cul ar l y bl oodt hi r st y bandof t hi eves. "_He gul ped the cheap wi ne wi t h rel i sh and t hen f ol l owed

    Ar am out of t he t apr oom. Behi nd hi m t he pl ayer s hal t ed t hei r game t ost ar e af t er hi m wi t h a crypt i c specul at i on i n t hei r eyes. They sai dnothi ng, but t he St ygi an l aughed, a ghast l y l augh of i nhuman cyni ci smand mockery. The ot hers l owered t hei r eyes uneasi l y, avoi di ng oneanother ' s gl ance. The art s st udi ed by a St ygi an schol ar are notcal cul at ed t o make hi m shar e t he f eel i ngs of a normal bei ng. _Conanf ol l owed Ar am down a corr i dor l i ght ed by copper l amps, and i t di d notpl ease hi m t o not e hi s host ' s noi sel ess t r ead. Ar am' s f eet wer e cl ad i nsof t sl i pper s and t he hal l way was car pet ed wi t h t hi ck Tur ani an r ugs;but t here was an unpl easant suggest i on of st eal t hi ness about t he

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    Zamboul an. _At t he end of t he wi ndi ng corr i dor, Ar am hal t ed at a door ,acr oss whi ch a heavy i r on bar r est ed i n power f ul met al br acket s. Thi sAr am l i f t ed and showed t he Ci mmer i an i nt o a wel l - appoi nt ed chamber, t hewi ndows of whi ch, Conan i nst ant l y noted, were smal l and st r ongl y setwi t h t wi st ed bar s of i r on, t ast ef ul l y gi l ded. Ther e wer e r ugs on t hef l oor , a couch, af t er t he East er n f ashi on, and or nat el y car ven st ool s.I t was a much mor e el abor at e chamber t han Conan coul d have procured f ort he pr i ce near er t he cent er of t he ci t y -- a f act t hat had f i r stat t r act ed hi m, when, t hat morni ng, he di scover d how sl i m a pr use hi sr oi st er i ng f or t he past f ew days had l ef t hi m. He had r i dden i nt oZamboul a f r om t he deser t a week bef ore. _Ar amhad l i ght ed a br onze l amp,and he now cal l ed Conan' s at t ent i on t o t he t wo door s. Bot h werepr ovi ded wi t h heavy bol t s. _" You may sl eep saf el y t oni ght , Ci mmer i an, "sai d Ar am, bl i nki ng over hi s bushy beard f r omt he i nner door way. _Conangrunt ed and t ossed hi s naked broadswor d on t he couch. __ "Your bol t s andbar s ar e st r ong; but I al ways sl eep wi t h st eel by my si de. "_Ar am madeno r epl y; he st ood f i nger i ng hi s t hi ck bear d f or a moment as he st aredat t he gr i m weapon. Then si l ent l y he wi t hdr ew, cl osi ng t he door behi ndhi m. Conan shot t he bol t i nt o pl ace, cr ossed t he r oom, opened t heopposi t e door , and l ooked out . The room was on the si de of t he house

    t hat f aced t he road r unni ng west f r omt he ci t y. The door opened i nt o asmal l cour t t hat was encl osed by a wal l of i t s own. The end wal l s,whi ch shut i t of f f r omt he rest of t he taver n compound, wer e hi gh andwi t hout ent r ances; but t he wal l t hat f l anked t he road was l ow, andt her e was no l ock on t he gat e. _Conan st ood f or a moment i n t he door ,t he gl ow of t he bronze l amps behi nd hi m, l ooki ng down the r oad to wher ei t vani shed among t he dense pal ms. Thei r l eaves r ust l ed t oget her i n t hef ai nt br eeze; beyond t hem l ay the naked deser t . Far up t he st r eet , i nt he other di r ect i on, l i ght s gl eamed and t he noi ses of t he ci t y camef ai nt l y t o hi m. Her e was onl y starl i ght , t he whi sper i ng of t he pal ml eaves, and beyond t hat l ow wal l , t he dust of t he r oad and t he deser t edhut s t hr ust i ng t hei r f l at r oof s agai nst t he l ow st ar s. Somewhere beyondt he pal m gr oves a drum began. _The garbl ed warni ngs of t he Zuagi rr et urned to hi m, seemi ng somewhow l ess f ant ast i c t han they had seemedi n t he cr owded, sunl i t st r eet s. He wonder ed agai n at t he ri ddl e oft hose empt y hut s. Why di d the beggars shun t hem? He t urned back i nt ot he chamber , shut t he door , and bol t ed i t . _The l i ght began t o f l i cker ,and he i nvest i gated, swear i ng when he f ound t he pal m oi l i n t he l ampwas al most exhaust ed. He st ar t ed t o shout f or Ar am, t hen shrugged hi sshoul der s and bl ew out t he l i ght . I n the sof t dar kness he st r et chedhi msel f f ul l y cl ad on t he couch, hi s si newy hand by i nst i nct sear chi ngf or and cl osi ng on t he hi l t of hi s br oadsword. Gl anci ng i dl y at t hest ar s f r amed i n t he bar r ed wi ndows, wi t h t he murmur of t he breezet hough the pal ms i n hi s ear s, he sank i nt o sl umber wi t h a vagueconsci ousness of t he mut t er i ng dr um, out on t he deser t - - t he l owr umbl e and mut t er of a l eat her - covered dr um, beat en wi t h sof t , r hyt hmi cst r okes of an open bl ack hand . . . _2. The Ni ght Skul ker s__ I t was t he

    st eal t hy openi ng of a door whi ch awakened t he Ci mmer i an. He di d notawake as ci vi l i zed men do, drowsy and drugged and st upi d. He awokei nst ant l y, wi t h a cl ear mi nd, r ecogni zi ng t he sound that had i nt er r upedhi s sl eep. Lyi ng t her e t ensel y i n t he dar k he saw t he out er door sl owl yopen. I n a wi deni ng cr ack of st ar l i t sky he saw f r amed a gr eat bl ackbul k, br oad, st oopi ng shoul der s, and a mi sshapen head bl ocked outagai nst t he st ar s. _Conan f el t t he ski n cr awl between hi s shoul der s. Hehad bol t ed t hat door secur el y. How coul d i t be openi ng now, save bysuper nat ural agency? And how coul d a human bei ng possess a head l i ket hat out l i ned agai nst t he st ar s? Al l t he t al es he had hear d i n t he

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    Zuagi r t ent s of devi l s and gobl i ns came back t o bead hi s f l esh wi t hcl ammy sweat . Now t he monst er sl i d noi sel essl y i nt o t he room, wi t h acr ouchi ng post ur e and a shambl i ng gai t ; and a f ami l i ar scent assai l edt he Ci mmer i an' s nost r i l s, but di d not r eassur e hi m, si nce Zuagi rl egendr y r epr esent ed demons as smel l i ng l i ke that . _Noi sel essl y Conancoi l ed hi s l ong l egs under hi m; hi s naked sword was i n hi s r i ght hand,and when he st r uck i t was as suddenl y and murder ousl y as a t i gerl ungi ng out of t he dar k. Not even a demon coul d have avoi ded thatcatapul t i ng charge. Hi s sword met and cl ove t hr ough f l esh and bone, andsomethi ng went heavi l y to t he f l oor wi t h a st r angl i ng cr y. Conancr ouched i n t he dar k above i t , swor d dr i ppi ng i n hi s hand. Devi l orbeast or man, t he t hi ng was dead ther e on t he f l oor . He sensed deat h asany wi l d t hi ng senses i t . He gl ar ed t hr ough t he hal f - open door i nt o t hest ar l i t cour t beyond. The gate st ood open, but t he cour t wasempt y. _Conan shut t he door but di d not bol t i t . Gr opi ng i n t he dar knesshe f ound t he l amp and l i ght ed i t . Ther e was enough oi l i n i t t o bur nf or a mi nut e or so. An i nst ant l ater he was bendi ng over t he f i gur et hat spr awl ed on t he f l oor i n a pool of bl ood. _I t was a gi gant i c bl ackman, naked but f or a l oi n cl oth. One hand st i l l gr asped a knot t y- headedbudgeon. The f el l ow' s ki nky wool was bui l t up i nt o hor nl i ke spi ndl es

    wi t h t wi gs and dr i ed mud. Thi s barbar i c coi f f ur e had gi ven t he head i t smi sshapen appear ance i n t he star l i ght . Provi ded wi t h a cl ue t o ther i ddl e, Conan pushed back t he t hi ck red l i ps and gr unt ed as he st areddown at t eet h f i l ed t o poi nt s. _He underst ood now t he myst ery of t hest r anger s who had di sappear ed f r omt he house of Ar am Baksh; t he r i ddl eof t he bl ack drum t hr ummi ng out t here beyond t he pal m gr oves, and oft hat pi t of char r ed bones - - t hat pi t wher e st r ange meat mi ght ber oast ed under t he st ar s, whi l e bl ack beast s squat t ed about t o gl ut ahi deous hunger . The man on t he f l oor was a canni bal sl ave f r omDar f ar . _Ther e wer e many of hi s ki nd i n t he ci t y. Canni bal i sm was nott ol er at ed openl y i n Zamboul a. But Conan knew now why peopl e l ockedt hemsel ves i n so secur el y at ni ght , and why even beggars shunned t heopen al l ey and door l ess r ui ns. He gr unt ed i n di sgust as he vi sual i zedbr ut i sh bl ack shadows skul ki ng up and down t he ni ght ed st r eet s, seeki nghuman pr ey - - and such men as Ar am Baksh t o open t he door s t o t hem. Thei nnkeeper was not a demon; he was worse. The sl aves f r om Dar f ar werenot ori ous t hi eves; t her e was no doubt t hat some of t hei r pi l f er ed l ootf ound i t s way i nt o t he hands of Ar am Baksh. And i n r et ur n he sol d t hemhuman f l esh. _Conan bl ew out t he l i ght , st epped t o the door and openedi t , and r an hi s hand over t he ornament s on t he out er si de. One of t hemwas movabl e and wor ked t he bol t i nsi de. The roomwas a t r ap t o cat chhuman pr ey l i ke r abbi t s. But t hi s t i me, i nst ead of a rabbi t , i t hadcaught a saber - t oot hed t i ger . _Conan r et ur ned t o the ot her door , l i f t edt he bol t , and pressed agai nst i t . I t was i mmovabl e, and he r emember edt he bol t on t he other si de. Ar am was t aki ng no chances ei t her wi t h hi svi ct i ms or t he men wi t h whomhe deal t . Buckl i ng on hi s sword bel t , t heCi mmer i an st r ode out i nt o t he cour t , cl osi ng the door behi nd hi m. He

    had no i nt ent i on of del ayi ng t he set t l ement of hi s r eckoni ng wi t h Ar amBaksh. He wonder ed how many poor devi l s had been bl udgeoned i n t hei rsl eep and dr agged out of t hat r oom and down t he r oad t hat r an t hr ought he shadowed pal m gr oves t o t he roast i ng pi t . _He hal t ed i n t he cour t .

    The drum was st i l l mut t er i ng, and he caught t he r ef l ect i on of a l eapi ngr ed gl are thr ough t he groves. Canni bal i sm was more t han a perver t edappet i t e wi t h t he bl ack men of Darf ar ; i t was an i nt egr al el ement oft hei r ghast l y cul t . The bl ack vul t ur es wer e al r eady i n concl ave. Butwhat ever f l esh f i l l ed t hei r bel l i es t hat ni ght , i t woul d not be hi s. _Tor each Ar amBaksh, he must cl i mb one of t he wal l s whi ch separated t he

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    smal l encl osure f r om t he mai n compound. They were hi gh, meant t o keepout t he man- eater s; but Conan was no swamp- bred bl ack man; hi s t hewshad been st eel ed i n boyhood on t he sheer cl i f f s of hi s nat i ve hi l l s. Hewas st andi ng at t he f oot of t he near er wal l when a cr y echoed under t het r ees. _I n an i nst ant Conan was cr ouchi ng at t he gat e, gl ari ng down ther oad. The sound had come f r om t he shadows of t he hut s acr oss t he r oad.He hear d a f r ant i c choki ng and gur gl i ng such as mi ght r esul t f r omadesperate at t empt t o shr i ek, wi t h a bl ack hand f ast ened over t hevi ct i m' s mout h. A cl ose- kni t cl ump of f i gur es emer ged f r omt he shadowsbeyond t he hut s and st ar t ed down t he r oad - - t hree huge bl ack mencar r yi ng a sl ender , st r uggl i ng f i gur e bet ween t hem. Conan caught t hegl i mmer of pal e l i mbs wr i t hi ng i n t he st ar l i ght , even as, wi t h aconvul si ve wr ench, t he capt i ve sl i pped f r om t he gr asp of t he br ut alf i ngers and came f l yi ng up t he r oad, a suppl e young woman, naked as t heday she was bor n. Conan saw her pl ai nl y bef ore she r an out of t he r oadand i nto the shadows bet ween t he hut s. The bl acks were at her heel s,and back i n t he shadows t he f i gur es merged and an i ntol erabl e scr eam ofangui sh and hor r or r ang out . _St i r r ed t o r ed r age by the ghoul i shness oft he epi sode, Conan r aced acr oss t he r oad. _Nei t her vi ct i m nor abduct orswer e awar e of hi s pr esence unt i l t he sof t swi sh of t he dust about hi s

    f eet brought t hem about ; and t hen he was al most upon them, comi ng wi t ht he gust y f ur y of a hi l l wi nd. Two of t he bl acks t ur ned t o meet hi m,l i f t i ng t hei r bl udgeons. But t hey f ai l ed t o est i mat e pr oper l y t he speedat whi ch he was comi ng. One of t hem was down, di sembowel ed, bef or e hecoul d st r i ke, and wheel i ng cat l i ke, Conan evaded t he st r oke of t heot her ' s cudgel and l ashed i n a whi st l i ng count er - cut . The bl ack' s headf l ew i nt o the ai r ; t he headl ess body t ook t hr ee stagger i ng st eps,spur t i ng bl ood and cl awi ng horr i bl y at t he ai r wi t h gr opi ng hands, andt hen sl umped t o the dust . _The r emai ni ng canni bal gave back wi t h ast r angl ed yel l , hur l i ng hi s capt i ve f r om hi m. She t r i pped and r ol l ed i nt he dust , and t he bl ack f l ed i n pani c t owar d t he ci t y. Conan was at hi sheel s. Fear wi nged the bl ack f eet , but bef ore they r eached t heeast ernmost hut , he sensed deat h at hi s back, and bel l owed l i ke an oxi n t he sl aught er yar ds. _" Bl ack dog of Hel l ! " Conan dr ove hi s swordbetween the dusky shoul ders wi t h such vengef ul f ur y t hat t he br oadbl ade st ood out hal f i t s l engt h f r om t he bl ack br east . Wi t h a choki ngcr y t he bl ack st umbl ed headl ong, and Conan braced hi s f eet and dr aggedout hi s swor d as hi s vi ct i m f el l . _Onl y the br eeze di st ur bed t he l eaves.Conan shook hi s head as a l i on shakes i t s mane and growl ed hi sunsat i ated bl ood l ust . But no more shapes sl unk f r om t he shadows, andbef ore t he hut s t he star l i t r oad str et ched empt y. He whi r l ed at t hequi ck pat t er of f eet behi nd hi m, but i t was onl y the gi r l , r ushi ng t ot hr ow her sel f on hi m and cl asp hi s neck i n a desper at e gr asp, f r ant i cf r om t er r or of t he abomi nabl e f at e she had j ust escaped. _" Easy, gi r l , "he gr unt ed. "You' r e al l r i ght . How di d they cat ch you?"_She sobbedsomet hi ng uni nt el l i gi bl e. He f or got al l about Ar am Baksh as hescr ut i ni zed her by t he l i ght of t he star s. She was whi t e, t hough a ver y

    def i ni t e br unet t e, obvi ousl y one of Zamboul a' s many mi xed br eeds. Shewas t al l , wi t h a sl ender, suppl e f orm, as he was i n a good posi t i on t oobser ve. Admi r at i on bur ned i n hi s f i erce eyes as he l ooked down on herspl endi d bosom and her l i t he l i mbs, whi ch st i l l qui ver ed f r om f r i ghtand exer t i on. He passed an arm ar ound her f l exi bl e wai st and sai d,r eassur i ngl y: "St op shaki ng, wench; you' r e saf e enough. "_Hi s t ouchseemed to r est ore her shaken sani t y. She t ossed back her t hi ck, gl ossyl ocks and cast a f ear f ul gl ance over her shoul der , whi l e she pr essedcl oser t o t he Ci mmer i an as i f seeki ng secur i t y i n t he cont act . _" Theycaught me i n t he st r eet s, " she mut t er ed, shudderi ng. "Lyi ng i n wai t ,

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    we can dr i ve t hi s madness f r om hi m i f we can f i nd hi m. "_ " I f _we_ f i ndhi m?" r umbl ed Conan. "What makes you t hi nk I want t o spend the ni ghtscour i ng the st r eet s f or a l unat i c?"_She cast a qui ck gl ance i nt o hi sf ace, and pr oper l y i nt erpr et ed the gl eam i n hi s bl ue eyes. Any womancoul d have known that he woul d f ol l ow her wherever she l ed - - f or awhi l e, at l east . But bei ng a women, she conceal ed her knowl edge of t hatf act . _" Pl ease, " she began wi t h a hi nt of t ear s i n her voi ce, " I have noone el se t o ask f or hel p - - you have been ki nd - - "_ "Al l r i ght ! " hegr unt ed. "Al l r i ght ! What ' s t he young r epr obat e' s name?"_" Why - -Al af dhal . I am Zabi bi , a danci ng- gi r l . I have danced of t en bef or e t hesat r ap, J ungi r Khan, and hi s mi st r ess Naf er t ar i , and bef or e al l t hel ords and royal l adi es of Zamboul a. Tot r asmek desi r ed me and, because Ir epul sed hi m, he made me the i nnocent t ool of hi s vengeance agai nstAl af dhal . I asked a l ove pot i on of Tot r asmek, not suspect i ng t he dept hof hi s gui l e and hate. He gave me a dr ug to mi x wi t h my l over ' s wi ne,and he swor e t hat when Al af dhal drank i t , he woul d l ove me even mor emadl y than ever and grant my ever y wi sh. I mi xed t he drug secr et l y wi t hmy l over ' s wi ne. But havi ng drunk, my l over went r avi ng mad and t hi ngscame about as I have tol d you. Curse Tot r asmek, t he hybr i d snake - -ahhh!"_She caught hi s arm convul si vel y and both st opped shor t . They had

    come i nt o a di st r i ct of shops and st al l s, al l deser t ed and unl i ght ed,f or t he hour was l ate. They wer e passi ng an al l ey, and i n i t s mout h aman was st andi ng, mot i onl ess and si l ent . Hi s head was l owered, butConan caught t he wi er d gl eam of eer y eyes r egar di ng t hem unbl i nki ngl y.Hi s ski n cr awl ed, not wi t h f ear of t he sword i n t he man' s hand, butbecause of t he uncanny suggest i on of hi s post ur e and si l ence. Theysuggest ed madness. Conan pushed t he gi r l asi de and dr ew hi ssword. _" Don' t ki l l hi m! " she begged. " I n t he name of Set , do not s l ayhi m! You ar e st r ong - - over power hi m! "_" We' l l see, " he mut t er ed,gr aspi ng hi s swor d i n hi s r i ght hand and cl enchi ng hi s l ef t i nt o amal l et - l i ke f i st . _He t ook a war y step t owar d t he al l ey - - and wi t h ahor r i bl e moani ng l augh t he Taurani an char ged. As he came he swung hi ssword, r i si ng on hi s t oes as he put al l t he power of hi s body behi ndt he bl ows. Sparks f l ashed bl ue as Conan par r i ed t he bl ade, and t he nexti nst ant t he madman was st r etched sensel ess i n t he dust f r omat hunder i ng buf f et of Conan' s l ef t f i st . _The gi r l r an f or war d. __" Oh, hei s not - - he i s not - - " __Conan bent swi f t l y, t ur ned t he man on hi ssi de, and r an qui ck f i nger s over hi m. _" He' s not hur t much, " he gr unt ed."Bl eedi ng at t he nose, but anybody' s l i kel y t o do that , af t er a cl outon t he j aw. He' l l come to af t er a bi t , and maybe hi s mi nd wi l l ber i ght . I n t he meant i me I ' l l t i e hi s wr i st s wi t h hi s swor d bel t - - so.Now wher e do you want me t o t ake hi m?" _"Wai t ! " She knel t besi de t hesensel ess f i gur e, sei zed t he bound hands, and scanned t hemavi dl y.

    Then, shaki ng her head as i f i n baf f l ed di sappoi nt ment , she r ose. Shecame cl ose to t he gi ant Ci mmer i an and l ai d her sl ender hands on hi sar chi ng br east . Her dar k eyes, l i ke wet bl ack j ewel s i n t he st ar l i ght ,gazed up i nto hi s. _"You ar e a man! Hel p me! Tot r asmek must di e! Sl ay

    hi m f or me!"_" And put my neck i nt o a Tur ani an noose?" hegr unt ed. __ "Nay! " The sl ender ar ms, st r ong as pl i ant st eel , wer e ar oundhi s cor ded neck. Her suppl e body t hr obbed agai nst hi s. "The Hyr kani anshave no l ove f or Tot r asmek. The pr i est s of Set f ear hi m. He i s amongr el , who r ul es men by f ear and super st i t i on. I worshi p Set , and the

    Turani ans bow t o Er l i k, but Tot r asmek sacr i f i ces t o Hanuman t heaccur sed! The Tur ani an l ords f ear hi s bl ack ar t s and hi s power over t hehybr i d popul ar i on, and t hey hate hi m. Even J ungi r Khan and hi s mi st r essNaf er t ar i f ear and hat e hi m. I f he wer e sl ai n i n hi s t empl e at ni ght ,t hey woul d not seek hi s sl ayer ver y cl osel y. "_" And what of hi s magi c?"

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    r umbl ed t he Ci mmer i an. __" You are a f i ght i ng man, " she answered. "Tor i sk your l i f e i s par t of your prof essi on. "_" For a pr i ce, " headmi t t ed. __" Ther e wi l l be a pr i ce! " she br eat hed, r i si ng on t i pt oes, t ogaze i nt o hi s eyes. _The near ness of her vi brant body dr ove a f l amet hr ough hi s vei ns. The per f ume of her br eat h mount ed t o hi s br ai n. Butas hi s arms cl osed about her suppl e f i gur e she avoi ded t hem wi t h al i t he movement , sayi ng: "Wai t ! Fi r st serve me i n t hi s mat t er . " _" Nameyour pr i ce. " He spoke wi t h some di f f i cul t y. __" Pi ck up my l over , " shedi r ect ed, and the Ci mmeri an stooped and swung t he tal l f orm easi l y t ohi s broad shoul der . At t he moment he f el t as i f he coul d have toppl edover J ungi r Khan' s pal ace wi t h equal ease. The gi r l mur mured anendearment t o t he unconsci ous man, and t her e was no hypocr i sy i n herat t i t ude. She obvi ousl y l oved Al af dhal si ncer el y. What ever busi nessar r angement she made wi t h Conan woul d have no bear i ng on herr el at i onshi p wi t h Al af dhal . Women ar e more pr act i cal about t hese t hi ngst han men. _" Fol l ow me! " She hur r i ed al ong the st r eet , whi l e theCi mmer i an st r ode easi l y af t er her , i n no way di scomf ort ed by hi s l i mpbur den. He kept a wary eye out f or bl ack shadows skul ki ng under archesbut saw nothi ng suspi ci ous. Doubt l ess t he men of Dar f ar wer e al lgat her ed at t he roast i ng pi t . The gi r l t ur ned down a nar r ow si de st r eet

    and pr esent l y knocked caut i ousl y at an ar ched door . _Al most i nst ant l y awi cket opened i n t he upper panel and a bl ack f ace gl anced out . She bentcl ose t o the openi ng, whi sper i ng swi f t l y. Bol t s cr eaked i n t hei rsocket s, and t he door opened. A gi ant bl ack man st ood f r amed agai nstt he sof t gl ow of a copper l amp. A qui ck gl ance showed Conan t he man wasnot f r om Dar f ar . Hi s t eet h wer e unf i l ed and hi s ki nky hai r was cr oppedcl ose to hi s skul l . He was f r om t he Wadai . _At a wor d f r om Zabi bi , Conangave t he l i mp body i nt o the bl ack' s arms and saw t he young of f i cer l ai don a vel vet di van. He showed no si gns of r etur ni ng consci ousness. Thebl ow t hat had rendered hi m sensel ess mi ght have f el l ed an ox. Zabi bibent over hi m f or an i nst ant , her f i nger s ner vousl y t wi ni ng andt wi st i ng. Then she st r ai ght ened and beckoned t he Ci mmer i an. _The doorcl osed sof t l y, t he l ocks cl i cked behi nd t hem, and t he cl osi ng wi cketshut of f t he gl ow of t he l amps. I n t he st ar l i ght of t he st r eet Zabi bit ook Conan' s hand. Her own hand t r embl ed a l i t t l e. _" You wi l l not f ai lme?"_ _He shook hi s maned head, massi ve agai nst t he st ars. __ "Then f ol l owme t o Hanuman' s shr i ne, and t he gods have mercy on our soul s. " _Amongt he si l ent st r eet s t hey moved l i ke phant oms of ant i qui t y. They went i nsi l ence. Per haps t he gi r l was t hi nki ng of her l over l yi ng sensel ess ont he di van under t he copper l amps or was shr i nki ng wi t h f ear of what l ayahead of t hem i n t he demon- haunt ed shr i ne of Hanuman. The barbar i an wast hi nki ng onl y of t he woman movi ng so suppl el y besi de hi m. The per f umeof her scent ed hai r was i n hi s nostr i l s, t he sensuous aur a of herpr esence f i l l ed hi s br ai n and l ef t r oom f or no ot her t hought s. _Oncet hey hear d t he cl ank of br ass- shod f eet , and dr ew i nto the shadows of agl oomy arch whi l e a squad of Pel i sht i watchmen swung past . There weref i f t een of t hem; t hey mar ched i n cl ose f or mat i on, pi kes at t he ready,

    and t he r ear most men had t hei r br oad, br ass shi el ds sl ung on t hei rbacks, t o pr ot ect t hem f r om a kni f e st r oke f r om behi nd. The skul ki ngmenace of t he bl ack maneat er s was a t hr eat even t o armed men. _As soonas t he cl ang of t hei r sandal s had receded up t he st r eet , Conan and thegi r l emerged f r omt hei r hi di ng pl ace and hurr i ed on. A f ew moment sl at er , t hey saw t he squat , f l at - t opped edi f i ce t hey sought l oomi ngahead of t hem. _The t empl e of Hanuman st ood al one i n the mi dst of abr oad square, whi ch l ay si l ent and deser t ed beneat h t he st ars. A marbl ewal l sur r ounded t he shr i ne, wi t h a br oad openi ng di r ect l y bef ore t heport i co. Thi s openi ng had no gat e nor any sor t of barr i er . _" Why don' t

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    t he bl acks seek t hei r pr ey her e?" mut t er ed Conan. "Ther e' s not hi ng tokeep them out of t he templ e. "_ He coul d f eel t he t r embl i ng of Zabi bi ' sbody as she pr essed cl ose t o hi m. _" They f ear Tot r asmek, as al l i nZamboul a f ear hi m, even J ungi r Khan and Naf er t ar i . Come! Come qui ckl y,bef ore my cour age f l ows f r omme l i ke wat er ! "_The gi r l ' s f ear wasevi dent , but she di d not f al t er . Conan dr ew hi s sword and st r ode aheadof her as t hey advanced through t he open gat eway. He knew t he hi deoushabi t s of t he pr i est s of t he East and was awar e that an i nvader ofHanuman' s shr i ne mi ght expect t o encount er al most any sor t of ni ght marehor r or . He knew t here was a good chance that nei t her he nor t he gi r lwoul d ever l eave t he shri ne al i ve, but he had r i sked hi s l i f e t oo manyt i mes bef ore t o devote much t hought t o that consi derat i on. _They ent ereda cour t paved wi t h mar bl e whi ch gl eamed whi t el y i n the st ar l i ght . Ashor t f l i ght of br oad mar bl e st eps l ed up t o the pi l l ar ed por t i co. Thegr eat br onze door s st ood wi de open as t hey had st ood f or cent ur i es. Butno wor shi pper s burnt i ncense wi t hi n. I n the day men and women mi ghtcome t i mi dl y i nt o t he shi r ne and pl ace of f eri ngs t o t he ape- god on t hebl ack al t ar . At ni ght t he peopl e shunned t he t empl e of Hanuman as haresshun t he l ai r of t he ser pent . _Bur ni ng censer s bat hed t he i nt er i or i n asof t , wei r d gl ow t hat cr eat ed an i l l usi on of unr eal i t y. Near t he r ear

    wal l , behi nd t he bl ack st one al t ar , sat t he god wi t h hi s gaze f i xed f orever on t he open door , t hr ough whi ch f or cent ur i es hi s vi ct i ms hadcome, dr agged by chai ns of r oses. A f ai nt gr oove r an f r om t he si l l t ot he al t ar , and when Conan' s f oot f el t i t , he st epped away as qui ckl y asi f he had t r odden upon a snake. That groove had been wor n by t hef al t er i ng f eet of t he mul t i t ude of t hose who had di ed scr eami ng on t hatgr i m al t ar . _Best i al i n t he uncer t ai n l i ght , Hanuman l eer ed wi t h hi scarven mask. He sat , not as an ape woul d cr ouch, but cr oss- l egged as aman woul d si t , but hi s aspect was no l ess s i mi an f or t hat r eason. Hewas car ved f r om bl ack marbl e, but hi s eyes were rubi es, whi ch gl owedr ed and l ust f ul as t he coal s of hel l ' s deepest pi t s. Hi s gr eat handsl ay upon hi s l ap, pal ms upward, t al oned f i nger s spread and gr aspi ng. I nt he gr oss emphasi s of hi s at t r i but es, i n t he l eer of hi s sat yr -count enance, was r ef l ect ed t he abomi nabl e cyni ci sm of t he degerer at ecul t whi ch dei f i ed hi m. _The gi r l moved around t he i mage, maki ng t owardt he back wal l , and when her sl eek f l ank br ushed agai nst a car ven knee,she shrank asi de and shuddered as i f a rept i l e had t ouched her . Therewas a space of several f eet between the br oad back of t he i dol and t hemar bl e wal l wi t h i t s f r i eze of gol d l eaves. On ei t her hand, f l anki ngt he i dol , an i vor y door under a gol d arch was set i n t he wal l . _" Thosedoor s open i nt o each end of a hai r pi n- shaped corr i dor , " she sai dhur r i edl y. "Once I was i n t he i nt er i or of t he shr i ne - - once! " Sheshi ver ed and t wi t ched her sl i m shoul ders at a memory both t er r i f yi ngand obscene. "The cor r i dor i s bent l i ke a horseshoe, wi t h each hornopeni ng i nt o thi s r oom. Tot r asmek' s chambers are encl osed wi t hi n t hecur ve of t he cor r i dor and open i nt o i t . But t her e i s a secret door i nt hi s wal l whi ch opens di r ect l y i nt o an i nner chamber - - "_She began t o

    r un her hands over t he smoot h sur f ace, where no cr ack or cr evi ceshowed. Conan st ood besi de her , sword i n hand, gl anci ng war i l y abouthi m. The si l ence, t he empt i ness of t he shr i ne, wi t h i magi nat i onpi ct ur i ng what mi ght l i e behi nd t hat wal l , made hi m f eel l i ke a wi l dbeast nosi ng a tr ap. _" Ah! " The gi r l had f ound a hi dden spr i ng at l ast ;a square openi ng gaped bl ackl y i n t he wal l . Then: "Set ! " she scr eamed,and even as Conan l eaped t oward her , he saw t hat a great mi sshapen handhas f ast ened i t sel f i n her hai r . She was snat ched of f her f eet and

    j er ked headf i r st t hr ough t he openi ng. Conan, gr abbi ng i nef f ect ual l y ather , f el t hi s f i nger s sl i p f r om a naked l i mb, and i n an i nst ant she had

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    gl i st ened i n t he wei r d l i ght . _Conan dodged i nst i nct i vel y, but ,mi r acul ousl y, t he gl obe st opped shor t i n mi dai r , a f ew f eet f r om hi sf ace. I t di d not f al l t o t he f l oor . I t hung suspended, as i f byi nvi si bl e f i l ament s, some f i ve f eet above t he f l oor . And as he gl ar edi n amazement , i t began t o rot ate wi t h gr owi ng speed. And as i t r evol vedi t gr ew, expanded, became nebul ous. I t f i l l ed t he chamber . I t envel opedhi m. I t bl ot t ed out f ur ni t ur e, wal l s, t he smi l i ng count enance of Baal -pt eor . He was l ost i n t he mi dst of a bl i ndi ng bl ui sh bl ur of whi r l i ngspeed. Ter r i f i c wi nds scr eamed past Conan, t uggi ng at hi m, st r i vi ng t owr ench hi m f r omhi s f eet , t o dr ag hi m i nt o t he vor t ex t hat spun madl ybef ore hi m. _Wi t h a choki ng cry Conan l ur ched backwar d, r eel ed, f el t t hesol i d wal l agai nst hi s back. At t he cont act t he i l l usi on ceased t o be.

    The whi r l i ng, t i t ani c spher e vani shed l i ke a burst i ng bubbl e. Conanr eel ed upr i ght i n t he si l ver - cei l i nged r oom, wi t h a gr ay mi st coi l i ngabout hi s f eet , and saw Baal - pt eor l ol l i ng on t he di van, shaki ng wi t hsi l ent l aught er . _" Son of a sl ut ! " Conan l unged at hi m. But t he mi stswi r l ed up f r om t he f l oor , bl ot t i ng out t hat gi ant br own f or m. Gr opi ngi n a r ol l i ng cl oud t hat bl i nded hi m, Conan f el t a r endi ng sensat i on ofdi sl ocat i on - - and t hen r oom and mi st and brown man were gone t oget her .He was st andi ng al one among t he hi gh r eeds of a marshy f en, and a

    buf f al o was l ungi ng at hi m, head down. He l eaped asi de f r omt he r i ppi ngsci mi t ar - cur ved horns and dr ove hi s sword i n behi nd t he f orel eg,t hr ough r i bs and hear t . And t hen i t was not a buf f al o dyi ng t her e i nt he mud, but t he br own- ski nned Baal - pt eor . Wi t h a curse Conan st r uckof f hi s head; and t he head soar ed f r om t he gr ound and snapped beast l i ket usks i nt o hi s t hr oat . For al l hi s mi ght y st r engt h he coul d not t ear i tl oose - - he was choki ng - - st r angl i ng; t hen t here was a r ush and r oart hr ough space, t he di sl ocat i ng shock of an i mmeasurabl e i mpact , and hewas back i n t he chamber wi t h Baal - pteor , whose head was once mor e setf i r ml y on hi s shoul der s, and who l aughed si l ent l y at hi m f r om t hedi van. _" Mesmer i sm! " mut t ered Conan, cr ouchi ng and di ggi ng hi s t oes hardagai nst t he marbl e. _Hi s eyes bl azed. Thi s brown dog was pl ayi ng wi t hhi m, maki ng spor t of hi m! But t hi s mummer y, t hi s chi l d' s pl ay of mi st sand shadows of t hought , i t coul d not har m hi m. He had but t o l eap andst r i ke and t he br own acol yt e woul d be a mangl ed corpse under hi s heel .

    Thi s t i me he woul d not be f ool ed by shadows of i l l usi on - - but hewas. _A bl ood- curdl i ng snar l sounded behi nd hi m, and he wheel ed andst r uck i n a f l ash at t he pant her crouchi ng t o spr i ng on hi m f r om t hemet al - col ored t abl e. Even as he st r uck, t he appar i t i on vani shed and hi sbl ade cl ashed deaf eni ngl y on the adamant i ne sur f ace. I nst ant l y hesensed somethi ng abnor mal . The bl ade st uck t o t he t abl e! He wr enched ati t savagel y. I t di d not gi ve. Thi s was no mesmer i st i c t r i ck. The t abl ewas a gi ant magnet . He gr i pped t he hi l t wi t h bot h hands, when a voi ceat hi s shoul der br ought hi m about , t o f ace t he br own man, who had atl ast r i sen f r om t he di van. _Sl i ght l y t al l er t han Conan and much heavi er ,Baal - pteor l oomed bef or e hi m, a daunt i ng i mage of muscul ar devel opment .Hi s mi ght y ar ms were unnatural l y l ong, and hi s gr eat hands opened and

    cl osed, t wi t chi ng convul si vel y. Conan r el eased t he hi l t of hi si mpr i soned sword and f el l si l ent , wat chi ng hi s enemy t horugh sl i t t edl i ds. _"Your head, Ci mmer i an! " t aunt ed Baal - pt eor . "I shal l t ake i t wi t hmy bar e hands, t wi st i ng i t f r om your shoul der s as t he head of a f owl i st wi st ed! Thus t he sons of Kosal a of f er sacr i f i ce t o Yaj ur . Bar bar i an,you l ook upon a st r angl er of Yot a- pong. I was chosen by t he pr i est s of

    Yaj ur i n my i nf ancy, and t hr oughout chi l dhood, boyhood, and yout h I wast r ai ned i n t he ar t of sl ayi ng wi t h t he naked hands - - f or onl y thus ar et he sacr i f i ces enact ed. Yaj ur l oves bl ood, and we waste not a dr op f r omt he vi ct i m' s vei ns. When I was a chi l d they gave me i nf ant s t o

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    t hr ot t l e; when I was a boy I st r angl ed young gi r l s; as a yout h, women,ol d men, and young boys. Not unt i l I r eached my f ul l manhood was Igi ven a st r ong man t o sl ay on t he al t ar of Yot a- pong. _" For years Iof f ered t he sacr i f i ces to Yaj ur . Hundr eds of necks have snapped betweent hese f i ngers- - " he worked t hembef ore the Ci mmer i an' s angr y eyes. "WhyI f l ed f r omYot a- pong t o become Totr asmek' s ser vant i s no concer n ofyour s. I n a moment you wi l l be beyond cur i osi t y. The pr i est s of Kosal a,t he st r angl er s of Yaj ur , ar e st r ong beyond t he bel i ef of men. And I wasst r onger t han any. Wi t h my hands, bar bar i an, I shal l br eak yourneck! "_And l i ke t he st r oke of t wi n cobr as, t he gr eat hands cl osed onConan' s t hroat . The Ci mmer i an made no at t empt t o dodge or f end themaway, but hi s own hands dar t ed t o t he Kosal an' s bul l - neck. Baal - pt eor ' sbl ack eyes wi dened as he f el t t he thi ck cor ds of muscl es t hat pr otect edt he bar bari an' s t hr oat . Wi t h a snar l he exer t ed hi s i nhuman st r engt h,and knot s and l umps and ropes of t hews r ose al ong hi s massi ve ar ms. Andt hen a choki ng gasp bur st f r om hi m as Conan' s f i nger s l ocked on hi st hr oat . For an i nst ant t hey st ood t her e l i ke st at ues, t hei r f aces masksof ef f or t , vei ns begi nni ng t o st and out pur pl y on t hei r t empl es.Conan' s t hi n l i ps dr ew back f r om hi s t eet h i n a gr i nni ng snar l . Baal -pt eor ' s eyes were di st ended and i n t hemgr ew an awf ul surpr i se and t he

    gl i mmer of f ear . Bot h men st ood mot i onl ess as i mages, except f or t heexpandi ng of t hei r muscl es on r i gi d ar ms and br aced l egs, but st r engt hbeyond common concept i on was war r i ng t her e - - st r ength t hat mi ght haveupr oot ed t r ees and cr ushed t he skul l s of bul l ocks. _The wi nd whi st l edsuddenl y f r ombet ween Baal - pt eor' s par t ed t eet h. Hi s f ace was growi ngpur pl e. Fear f l ooded hi s eyes. Hi s t hews seemed r eady to bur st f r omhi sarms and shoul ders, yet t he muscl es of t he Ci mmer i an' s t hi ck neck di dnot gi ve; t hey f el t l i ke masses of woven i r on cords under hi s desperat ef i nger s. But hi s own f l esh was gi vi ng way under t he i r on f i nger s of t heCi mmer i an whi ch gr ound deeper and deeper i nto t he yi el di ng t hr oatmuscl es, cr ushi ng t hemi n upon j ugul ar and wi ndpi pe. _The st atuesquei mmobi l i t y of t he group gave way t o sudden, f r enzi ed mot i on, as t heKosal an began t o wr ench and heave, seeki ng t o t hrow hi msel f backward.He l et go of Conan' s t hr oat and gr asped hi s wr i st s, t r yi ng t o tear awayt hose i nexorabl e f i ngers. _Wi t h a sudden l unge Conan bore hi m backwardunt i l t he smal l of hi s back crashed agai nst t he t abl e. And st i l lf ar t her over i t s edge Conan bent hi m, back and back, unt i l hi s spi newas r eady t o snap. _Conan' s l ow l augh was merci l ess as t he r i ng ofst eel . __"You f ool ! " he al l but whi sper ed. " I t hi nk you never saw a manf r om t he West bef ore. Di d you deem yoursel f st r ong, because you wereabl e to t wi st t he heads of f ci vi l i zed f ol k, poor weakl i ngs wi t h muscl esl i ke r ot t en st r i ng? Hel l ! Br eak the neck of a wi l d Ci mmer i an bul lbef or e you cal l your sel f st r ong. I di d t hat , bef or e I was a f ul l - gr ownman - - l i ke t hi s! "_And wi t h a savage wr ench he twi st ed Baal - pt eor' shead ar ound unt i l t he ghast l y f ace l eer ed over t he l ef t shoul der , andt he ver t ebr ae snapped l i ke a r ot t en br anch. _Conan hur l ed the f l oppi ngcor pse t o the f l oor , t ur ned t o t he sword agai n, and gr i pped t he hi l t

    wi t h bot h hands, br aci ng hi s f eet agai nst t he f l oor . Bl ood t r i ckl eddown hi s br oad br east f r omt he wounds Baal - pt eor ' s f i nger nai l s hadt orn i n t he ski n of hi s neck. Hi s bl ack hai r was damp, sweat r an downhi s f ace, and hi s chest heaved. For al l hi s vocal scor n of Baal - pt eor ' sst r ength, he had al most met hi s match i n the i nhuman Kosal an. Butwi t hout pausi ng t o cat ch hi s br eat h, he exer t ed al l hi s st r engt h i n ami ghty wr ench t hat t ore t he sword f r om t he magnet wher e i tcl ung. _Anot her i nst ant and he had pushed open t he door f r ombehi ndwhi ch the scr eam had sounded, and was l ooki ng down a l ong st r ai ghtcor r i dor, l i ned wi t h i vor y door s. The ot her end was masked by a r i ch

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    vel vet cur t ai n, and f r ombeyond t hat cur t ai n came t he devi l i sh st r ai nsof such musi c as Conan had never heard, not even i n ni ght mares. I t madet he shor t hai r s br i st l e on t he back of hi s neck. Mi ngl ed wi t h i t wast he pant i ng, hyst er i cal sobbi ng of a woman. Gr aspi ng hi s sword f i r ml y,he gl i ded down t he cor r i dor . _4. Dance, Gi r l , Dance!__ When Zabi bi was

    j er ked head- f i r st t hrough t he aper t ure whi ch opened i n t he wal l behi ndt he i dol , her f i r st , di zzy, di sconnect ed t hought was t hat her t i me hadcome. She i nst i nct i vel y shut her eyes and wai t ed f or t he bl ow t o f al l .But i nst ead she f el t her sel f dumped unceremoni ousl y onto the smoot hmarbl e f l oor , whi ch br ui sed her knees and hi p. Openi ng her eyes, shest ar ed f ear f ul l y ar ound her , j ust as a muf f l ed i mpact sounded f r ombeyond the wal l . She saw a br own- ski nned gi ant i n a l oi n cl oth st andi ngover her , and, acr oss t he chamber i nto whi ch she had come, a man sat ona di van, wi t h hi s back to a r i ch bl ack vel vet cur t ai n, a br oad, f l eshyman, wi t h f at whi t e hands and sanky eyes. And her f l esh cr awl ed, f ort hi s man was Tot r asmek, t he pr i est of Hanuman, who f or year s had spunhi s sl i my webs of power t hr oughout t he ci t y of Zamboul a. _" The barbar i anseeks t o bat t er hi s way t hr ough t he wal l , " sai d Tot r asmek sar doni cal l y,"but t he bol t wi l l hol d. "_ The gi r l saw t hat a heavy gol den bol t hadbeen shot acr oss the hi dden door , whi ch was pl ai nl y di scerni bl e f r om

    t hi s si de of t he wal l . The bol t and i t s socket s woul d have r esi st ed t hechar ge of an el ephant . _" Go open one of t he door s f or hi m, Baal - pt eor , "ordered Tot r asmek. "Sl ay hi m i n t he square chamber at t he ot her end oft he cor r i dor . " _The Kosal an sal aamed and depar t ed by t he way of a doori n t he si de wal l of t he chamber . Zabi bi r ose, st ar i ng f ear f ul l y at t hepr i est , whose eyes r an avi dl y over her spl endi d f i gur e. To t hi s she wasi ndi f f erent . A dancer of Zamboul a was accust omed t o nakedness. But t hecr uel t y i n hi s eyes st ar t ed her l i mbs t o qui ver i ng. _" Agai n you come t ome i n my ret r eat , beaut i f ul one, " he pur r ed wi t h cyni cal hypocr i sy. "I ti s an unexpected honor . You seemed t o enj oy your f ormer vi si t sol i t t l e, t hat I dar ed not hope f or you t o r epeat i t . Yet I di d al l i n mypower t o pr ovi de you wi t h an i nt erest i ng exper i ence. "_For a Zamboul andancer t o bl ush woul d be an i mpossi bi l i t y, but a smol der of angermi ngl ed wi t h t he f ear i n Zabi bi ' s di l at ed eyes. _" Fat pi g! You know Idi d not come here f or l ove of you. "__ "No, " l aughed Tot r asmek, "you camel i ke a f ool , cr eepi ng t hr ough t he ni ght wi t h a st upi d bar bar i an t o cutmy t hroat . Why shoul d you seek my l i f e?"_" You know why! " she cr i ed,knowi ng t he f ut i l i t y of t r yi ng t o di ssembl e. _"You ar e t hi nki ng of yourl over, " he l aughed. "The f act t hat you ar e her e seeki ng my l i f e showst hat he quaf f ed t he dr ug I gave you. Wel l , di d you not ask f or i t ? Anddi d I not send what you asked f or , out of t he l ove I bear you?"_" Iasked you f or a dr ug t hat woul d make hi m sl umber harml essl y f or a f ewhour s, " she sai d bi t t er l y. "And you - - you sent your ser vant wi t h adr ug t hat dr ove hi m mad! I was a f ool ever t o t r ust you. I mi ght haveknown your pr otest at i ons of f r i endshi p wer e l i es, t o di sgui se your hat eand spi t e. "_" Why di d you wi sh your l over t o sl eep?" he r etort ed. "Soyou coul d st eal f r omhi m t he onl y t hi ng he woul d never gi ve you - - t he

    r i ng wi t h t he j ewel men cal l t he St ar of Khor al a - - t he st ar st ol enf r omt he queen of Ophi r , who woul d pay a r oomf ul of gol d f or i t sr et ur n. He woul d not gi ve i t t o you wi l l i ngl y, because he knew t hat i thol ds a magi c whi ch, when pr oper l y cont r ol l ed, wi l l ensl ave t he heart sof any of t he opposi t e sex. You wi shed t o st eal i t f r om hi m, f ear i ngt hat hi s magi ci ans woul d di scover t he key t o t hat magi c and he woul df orget you i n hi s conquest s of t he queens of t he wor l d. You woul d sel li t back t o the queen of Ophi r , who under st ands i t s power and woul d usei t t o ensl ave me, as she di d bef ore i t was st ol en. "_" And why do _you_want i t ?" she demanded sul ki l y. __ " I under st and i t s power s. I t woul d

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    i ncr ease t he power of my ar t s. "_" Wel l , " she snapped, "you have i tnow! "__"_I _ have t he St ar of Khoral a? Nay, you er r . " __"Why bother t ol i e?" she ret ort ed bi t t er l y. "He had i t on hi s f i nger when he dr ove mei nt o the str eet s. He di d not have i t when I f ound hi m agai n. Yourser vant must have been watchi ng t he house, and have t aken i t f r om hi m,af t er I escaped hi m. To t he devi l wi t h i t ! I want my l over back saneand whol e. You have the r i ng; you have puni shed us bot h. Why do you notr est ore hi s mi nd t o hi m? Can you?" _" I coul d, " he assured her , i nevi dent enj oyment of her di st r ess. He dr ew a phi al f r omamong hi sr obes. "Thi s cont ai ns t he j ui ce of t he gol den l ot us. I f your l overdr ank i t , he woul d be sane agai n. Yes, I wi l l be mer ci f ul . You havebot h t hwar t ed and f l out ed me, not once but many t i mes; he hasconst ant l y opposed my wi shes. But I wi l l be merci f ul . Come and take thephi al f r om my hand. "_She st ared at Tot r asmek, t r embl i ng wi t h eagernesst o sei ze i t , but f ear i ng i t was but some cr uel j est . She advancedt i mi dl y, wi t h a hand ext ended, and he l aughed hear t l essl y and dr ew backout of her r each. Even as her l i ps par t ed t o cur se hi m, some i nst i nctsnat ched her eyes upwar d. Fr omt he gi l ded cei l i ng f our j ade- huedvessel s wer e f al l i ng. She dodged, but t hey di d not st r i ke her . Theycr ashed t o the f l oor about her , f or mi ng t he f our cor ner s of a squar e.

    And she scr eamed, and scr eamed agai n. For out of each rui n rear ed t hehooded head of a cobr a, and one st r uck at her bar e l eg. Her convul si vemovement t o evade i t brought her wi t hi n r each of t he one on t he ot hersi de and agai n she had t o shi f t l i ke l i ght ni ng t o avoi d t he f l ash ofi t s hi deous head. _She was caught i n a f r i ght f ul t r ap. Al l f our ser pent swer e swayi ng and st r i ki ng at f oot , ankl e, cal f , knee, t hi gh, hi p,whatever por t i on of her vol upt uous body chanced t o be near est t o t hem,and she coul d not spr i ng over t hemor pass between t hemt o saf ety. Shecoul d onl y whi r l and spri ng asi de and t wi st her body t o avoi d t hest r okes, and each t i me she moved to dodge one snake, t he mot i on broughther wi t hi n r ange of another , so that she had t o keep shi f t i ng wi t h t hespeed of l i ght . She coul d move onl y a short space i n any di r ect i on, andt he f ear f ul hooded cr est s were menaci ng her every second. Onl y a dancerof Zamboul a coul d have l i ved i n t hat gr i sl y squar e. _She became,her sel f , a bl ur of bewi l der i ng moti on. The heads mi ssed her by hai r ' sbr eadt hs, but t hey mi ssed, as she pi t t ed her t wi nkl i ng f eet , f l i cker i ngl i mbs, and per f ect eye agai nst t he bl i ndi ng speed of t he scal y demonsher enemy had conj ured out of t hi n ai r . _Somewhere a t hi n, whi ni ng musi cst r uck up, mi ngl i ng wi t h t he hi ssi ng of t he ser pent s, l i ke an evi lni ght wi nd bl owi ng thr ough the empt y socket s of a skul l . Even i n thef l yi ng speed of her ur gent hast e she r eal i zed t hat t he dar t i ng of t heserpent s was no l onger at r andom. They obeyed t he gr i sl y pi pi ng of t heeer y musi c. They st r uck wi t h a hor r i bl e rhythm, and per f orce herswayi ng, wr i t hi ng, spi nni ng body at t ur ned i t sel f t o t hei r r hythm. Herf r ant i c mot i ons mel t ed i nto t he measur es of a dance compar ed t o whi cht he most obscene t ar ant el l a of Zamor a woul d have seemed sane andr est r ai ned. Si ck wi t h shame and t er r or Zabi bi hear d t he hat ef ul mi r t h

    of her merci l ess t orment er . _" The Dance of t he Cobr as, my l ovel y one!"l aughed Totr asmek. "So mai dens danced i n the sacr i f i ce t o Hanumancent ur i es ago - - but never wi t h such beaut y and suppl eness. Dance,gi r l , dance! How l ong can you avoi d t he f angs of t he Poi son Peopl e?Mi nut es? Hour s? You wi l l wear y at l ast . Your swi f t , sur e f eet wi l lst umbl e, your l egs f al t er , your hi ps sl ow i n t hei r r ot at i ons. Then t hef angs wi l l begi n t o si nk deep i nt o your i vor y f l esh- - "_Behi nd hi m t hecur t ai n shook as i f st r uck by a gust of wi nd, and Tot r asmek scr eamed.Hi s eyes di l at ed and hi s hands caught convul si vel y at t he l engt h ofbr i ght st eel whi ch j ut t ed suddenl y f r omhi s br east . _The musi c br oke of f

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    shor t . The gi r l swayed di zzi l y i n her dance, cr yi ng out i n dr eadf ulant i ci pat i on of t he f l i cker i ng f angs - - and t hen onl y f our wi sps ofharml ess bl ue smoke cur l ed up f r om t he f l oor about her , as Tot r asmekspr awl ed headl ong f r omt he di van. _Conan came f r ombehi nd t he cur t ai n,wi pi ng hi s br oad bl ade. Looki ng t hr ough t he hangi ngs he had seen t hegi r l danci ng desper at el y bet ween f our swayi ng spi r al s of smoke, but hehad guessed t hat t hei r appear ance was ver y di f f erent t o her . He knew hehad ki l l ed Tot r asmek. _Zabi bi sank down on t he f l oor , pant i ng, but evenas Conan st art ed t oward her , she st agger ed up agai n, t hough her l egst r embl ed wi t h exhaust i on. _" The phi al ! " she gasped. "Thephi al ! "__Tot r asmek sti l l gr asped i t i n hi s st i f f eni ng hand. Rut hl essl yshe t or e i t f r om i hs l ocked f i nger s and t hen began f r ant i cal l y t or ansack hi s garment s. _" What t he devi l are you l ooki ng f or ?" Conandemanded. __"A r i ng - - he st ol e i t f r omAl af dhal . He must have, whi l e myl over wal ked i n madness t hr ough t he st r eet s. Set ' s devi l s! "_She hadconvi nced hersel f t hat i t was not on t he person of Tot r asmek. She begant o cast about t he chamber , t ear i ng up di van covers and hangi ngs andupset t i ng vessel s. _She paused and raked a damp l ock of hai r out of hereyes. __" I f or got Baal - pt eor ! "__ "He' s i n Hel l wi t h hi s neck br oken, "Conan assur ed her . __She expr essed vi ndi ct i ve gr at i f i cat i on at t he news,

    but an i nst ant l at er swor e expr essi vel y. _"We can' t st ay her e. I t ' s notmany hour s unt i l dawn. Lesser pr i est s ar e l i kel y t o vi si t t he t empl e atany hour of t he ni ght , and i f we' r e di scover ed her e wi t h hi s corpse,t he peopl e wi l l t ear us t o pi eces. The Tur ani ans coul d not saveus. " _She l i f t ed t he bol t on t he secret door , and a f ew moment s l at ert hey wer e i n t he st r eet s and hur r yi ng away f r omt he si l ent squar e wher ebr ooded t he age- ol d shr i ne of Hanuman. _I n a wi ndi ng st r eet a shor tdi st ance away, Conan hal t ed and checked hi s compani on wi t h a heavy handon her naked shoul der . _" Don' t f or get t her e was a pr i ce- - " __" I have notf or got t en! " She t wi st ed f r ee. "But we must go to - - t o Al af dhalf i r st ! "_A f ew mi nut es l at er t he bl ack sl ave l et t hem t hr ough t he wi cketdoor . The young Turani an l ay upon the di van, hi s ar ms and l egs boundwi t h heavy vel vet r opes. Hi s eyes were open, but t hey were l i ke t hoseof a mad dog, and f oam was t hi ck on hi s l i ps. Zabi bi shudder ed. _" For cehi s j aws open!" she commanded, and Conan' s i r on f i ngers accompl i shedt he t ask. _Zabi bi empt i ed t he phi al down t he mani ac' s gul l et . The ef f ectwas l i ke magi c. I nst ant l y he became qui et . The gl ar e f aded f r omhi seyes; he star ed up at t he gi r l i n a puzzl ed way, but wi t h recogni t i onand i nt el l i gence. Then he f el l i nto a normal sl umber . _" When he awakeshe wi l l be qui t e sane, " she whi sper ed, mot i oni ng t o the si l entsl ave. _Wi t h a deep bow he gave i nto her hands a smal l l eat er bag anddrew about her shoul der s a si l ken cl oak. Her manner had subt l y changedwhen she beckoned Conan t o f ol l ow her out of t he chamber . _I n an ar cht hat opened on the st r eet , she t ur ned to hi m, dr awi ng her sel f up wi t h anew r egal i t y. _" I must now t el l you t he t r ut h, " she sai d. "I am notZabi bi . I am Naf er t ar i . And _he_ i s not Al af dhal , a poor capt ai n of t heguar dsmen. He i s J ungi r Khan, sat r ap of Zamboul a. "_Conan made no

    comment ; hi s scarr ed dark count enance was i mmobi l e. _" I l i ed t o youbecause I dared not di vul ge the t r ut h to anyone, " she sai d. "We wereal one when J ungi r Khan went mad. None knew of i t but mysel f . Had i tbeen known t hat t he sat r ap of Zamboul a was a madman, t here woul d havebeen i nst ant r evol t and r i ot i ng, even as Tot r asmek pl anned, who pl ot t edour di st r uct i on. _" You see now how i mpossi bl e i s t he rewar d f or whi chyou hoped. The sat r ap' s mi st r ess i s not - - cannot be f or you. But youshal l not go unr ewarded. Her e i s a sack of gol d. "_She gave hi m t he bagshe had r ecei ved f r om t he sl ave. __" Go now, and when the sun i s up comet o t he pal ace. I wi l l have J ungi r Khan make you capt ai n of hi s guar d.

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    But you wi l l t ake your or der s f r om me, secretl y. Your f i r st dut y wi l lbe t o march a squad t o t he shr i ne of Hanuman, ost ensi bl y t o sear ch f orcl ues of t he pr i est ' s sl ayer ; i n r eal i t y t o sear ch f or t he St ar ofKhoral a. I t must be hi dden ther e somewher e. When you f i nd i t , br i ng i tt o me. You have my l eave t o go now. "_He nodded, st i l l si l ent , andst r ode away. The gi r l , wat chi ng t he swi ng of hi s broad shoul ders , waspi qued t o note t hat t here was not hi ng i n hi s bear i ng t o show t hat hewas i n any way chagr i ned or abashed. _When he had r ounded a cor ner , hegl anced back, and t hen changed hi s di r ect i on and qui ckened hi s pace. Af ew moment s l ater he was i n t he quart er of t he ci t y cont ai ni ng t heHorse Market . There he smot e on a door unt i l f r om t he wi ndow above abearded head was t hrust t o demand t he r eason f or t he di st urbance. _" Ahorse, " demanded Conan. "The swi f t est st eed you have. "__ " I open nogat es at t hi s t i me of ni ght , " gr umbl ed the hor se t r ader . _Conan rat t l edhi s coi ns. __"Dog' s son knave! Don' t you see I ' m whi t e, and al one? Comedown, bef ore I smash your door ! "_Pr esent l y, on a bay st al l i on, Conanwas r i di ng towar d the house of Ar am Baksh. _He t ur ned of f t he road i nt ot he al l ey t hat l ay bet ween t he t aver n compound and t he dat e- pal mgarden, but he di d not pause at t he gate. He rode on to t he nor t heastcor ner of t he wal l , t hen t ur ned and r ode al ong t he nor t h wal l , t o hal t

    wi t hi n a f ew paces of t he nor t hwest angl e. No t r ees grew near t he wal l ,but t her e were some l ow bushes. To one of t hese he t i ed hi s horse andwas about t o cl i mb i nto t he saddl e agai n, when he hear d a l ow mutt er i ngof voi ces beyond t he cor ner of t he wal l . _Dr awi ng hi s f oot f r om t hest i r r up he st ol e to t he angl e and peer ed around i t . Thr ee men weremovi ng down the road towar d t he pal m gr oves, and f r omt hei r sl ouchi nggai t he knew t hey were Negr oes. They hal t ed at hi s l ow cal l , bunchi ngt hemsel ves as he st r ode t oward them, hi s sword i n hi s hand. Thei r eyesgl eamed whi t el y i n t he st ar l i ght . Thei r br ut i sh l ust shone i n t hei rebony f aces, but t hey knew t hei r t hr ee cudgel s coul d not pr evai lagai nst hi s sword, j ust as he knew i t . _" Where are you goi ng?" hechal l enged. __" To bi d our br other s put out t he f i r e i n t he pi t beyondt he gr oves, " was t he sul l en gut t eral r epl y. "Ar am Baksh pr omi sed us aman, but he l i ed. We f ound one of our br other s dead i n the t r ap-chamber . We go hungr y t hi s ni ght . "_" I t hi nk not , " smi l ed Conan. "Ar amBaksh wi l l gi ve you a man. Do you see that door ?" _He poi nted t o asmal l , i r on- bound por t al set i n t he mi dst of t he west er n wal l . _" Wai tt her e. Ar am Baksh wi l l gi ve you a man. "__Backi ng war i l y away unt i l hewas out of r each of a sudden bl udgeon bl ow, he t urned and mel t ed ar oundt he nor t hwest angl e of t he wal l . Reachi ng hi s hor se he paused t oascert ai n t hat t he bl acks were not sneaki ng af t er hi m, and then hecl i mbed i nt o t he saddl e and st ood upr i ght on i t , qui et i ng t he uneasyst eed wi t h a l ow word. He reached up, gr asped t he copi ng of t he wal land dr ew hi msel f up and over . There he st udi ed t he grounds f or ani nst ant . The t aver n was bui l t i n t he sout hwest cor ner of t he encl osur e,t he r emai ni ng space of whi ch was occupi ed by gr oves and gar dens. He sawno one i n the gr ounds. The t avern was dark and si l ent , and he knew al l

    t he door s and wi ndows were bar r ed and bol t ed. _Conan knew t hat Ar amBaksh sl ept i n a chamber t hat opened i nt o a cypr ess- bordered pat h thatl ed t o t he door i n the west ern wal l . Li ke a shadow he gl i ded among thet r ees, and a f ew moment s l at er he r apped l i ght l y on the chamberdoor . _"What i s i t ?" asked a rumbl i ng, sl eepy voi ce f r om wi t hi n. __" Ar amBaksh! " hi ssed Conan. "The bl acks ar e steal i ng over t he wal l ! " _Al mosti nst ant l y the door opened, f r ami ng t he t aver n- keeper , naked but f or hi sshi r t , wi t h a dagger i n hi s hand. _He cr aned hi s neck t o st ar e i nt o t heCi mmer i an' s f ace. __" What t al e i s t hi s - - _you_! "_ _Conan' s vengef ulf i nger s st r angl ed t he yel l i n hi s t hr oat . They went t o t he f l oor

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    t oget her and Conan wr enched t he dagger f r om hi s enemy' s hand. The bl adegl i nt ed i n t he st ar l i ght , and bl ood spur t ed. Ar am Baksh made hi deousnoi ses, gaspi ng and gaggi ng on a mout hf ul of bl ood. Conan dragged hi mt o hi s f eet and agai n t he dagger sl ashed, and most of t he cur l y bear df el l t o t he f l oor . _St i l l gr i ppi ng hi s capt i ve' s t hr oat - - f or a man canscr eam i ncoher ent l y even wi t h hi s t hr oat sl i t - - Conan dr agged hi m outof t he dar k chamber and down t he cypr ess- shadowed pat h, t o t he i r on-bound door i n the out er wal l . Wi t h one hand he l i f t ed t he bol t andt hr ew t he door open, di scl osi ng t he t hree shadowy f i gur es whi ch wai t edl i ke bl ack vul t ur es out si de. I nt o thei r eager ar ms Conan t hr ust t hei nnkeeper . _A hor r i bl e, bl ood- choked scream r ose f r om t he Zamboul an' st hr oat , but t her e was no r esponse f r om t he si l ent t aver n. The peopl et her e wer e used t o scr eams out si de the wal l . Ar am Baksh f ought l i ke awi l d man, hi s di st ended eyes t ur ned f r ant i cal l y on t he Ci mmer i an' sf ace. He f ound no mercy t here. Conan was t hi nki ng of t he scores ofwr etches who owed t hei r bl oody doom t o thi s man' s greed. _I n gl ee t heNegr oes dr agged hi m down the r oad, mocki ng hi s f r enzi ed gi bber i ngs. Howcoul d they r ecogni ze Ar am Baksh i n thi s hal f - naked, bl oodst ai nedf i gur e, wi t h t he gr ot esquel y shor n bear d and uni nt el l i gi bl e babbl i ngs?

    The sounds of t he st r uggl e came back t o Conan, st andi ng besi de t he

    gate, even af t er t he cl ump of f i gur es had vani shed among t hepal ms. _Cl osi ng t he door behi nd hi m, Conan ret ur ned t o hi s hor se,mounted, and turned west ward, t oward the open deser t , swi ngi ng wi de t oski r t t he si ni st er bel t of pal m gr oves. As he r ode, he dr ew f r om hi sbel t a ri ng i n whi ch gl eamed a j ewel t hat snar ed t he star l i ght i n ashi mmer i ng i r i descence. He hel d i t up t o admi r e i t , t ur ni ng i t t hi s wayand that . The compact bag of gol d pi eces cl i nked gent l y at hi s saddl ebow, l i ke a pr omi se of t he gr eat er r i ches t o come. _" I wonder what she' dsay i f she knew I r ecogni zed her as Naf et ar i and hi m as J ungi r Khan t hei nst ant I saw t hem, " he mused. " I knew t he St ar of Khoral a, t oo.

    Ther e' l l be a f i ne scene i f she ever guesses t hat I sl i pped i t of f hi sf i nger whi l e I was t yi ng hi m wi t h hi s swor d bel t . But t hey' l l nevercat ch me, wi t h t he star t I ' m get t i ng. " _He gl anced back at t he shadowypal m groves, among whi ch a r ed gl are was mount i ng. A chant i ng r ose tot he ni ght , vi br at i ng wi t h savage exul t at i on. And another sound mi ngl edwi t h i t , a mad i ncoher ent scr eami ng, a f r enzi ed gi bber i ng i n whi ch nowords coul d be di st i ngui shed. The noi se f ol l owed Conan as he rodewest ward beneat h t he pal i ng st ars. _

    _ROGUES I N THE HOUSE__by__ Robert E. Howar d__ At a cour t f est i val ,Naboni dus, t he Red Pri est , who was the r eal r ul er of t he ci t y, t ouchedMur i l o, t he young ar i st ocr at , cour t eousl y on t he ar m. Mur i l o t ur ned t omeet t he pr i est ' s eni gmat i c gaze, and t o wonder at t he hi dden meani ngt herei n. No wor ds passed bet ween t hem, but Naboni dus bowed and handed

    Mur i l o a smal l gol d cask. The young nobl eman, knowi ng t hat Naboni dusdi d not hi ng wi t hout r eason, excused hi msel f at t he f i r st oppor t uni t yand returned hast i l y t o hi s chamber . There he opened the cask and f oundwi t hi n a human ear , whi ch he recogni zed by a pecul i ar scar upon i t . Hebroke i nto a pr of use sweat and was no l onger i n doubt about t he meani ngi n t he Red Pr i est ' s gl ance. _But Mur i l o, f or al l hi s scent ed bl ack cur l sand f oppi sh apparel was no weakl i ng to bend hi s neck t o t he kni f ewi t hout a st r uggl e. He di d not know whet her Naboni dus was merel ypl ayi ng wi t h hi m or gi vi ng hi m a chance t o go i nt o vol unt ar y exi l e, butt he f act t hat he was st i l l al i ve and at l i ber t y pr oved t hat he was t o

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    be gi ven at l east a f ew hour s, pr obabl y f or medi t at i on. However , heneeded no medi t at i on f or deci si on; what he needed was a t ool . And Fatef ur ni shed t hat t ool , worki ng among t he di ves and br othel s of t hesqual i d quar t er s even whi l e the young nobl eman shi vered and pondered i nt he par t of t he ci t y occupi ed by t he pur pl e- t ower ed mar bl e and i vor ypal aces of t he ar i st ocr acy. _Ther e was a pr i est of Anu whose t empl e,r i si ng at t he f r i nge of t he sl um di st r i ct , was t he scene of mor e t handevot i ons. The pr i est was f at and f ul l - f ed, and he was at once a f encef or st ol en ar t i cl es and a spy f or t he pol i ce. He wor ked a t hr i vi ngt r ade bot h ways, because t he di st r i ct on whi ch he bordered was t heMaze, a t angl e of muddy, wi ndi ng al l eys and sor di d dens, f r equent ed byt he bol der t hi eves i n the ki ngdom. Dar i ng above al l were a Gunder mandeser t er f r om t he mercenar i es and a barbar i c Ci mmer i an. Because of t hepr i est of Anu, t he Gunder man was t aken and hanged i n the market squar e.But t he Ci mmer i an f l ed, and l ear ni ng i n devi ous ways of t he pr i est ' st r eachery, he ent ered t he t empl e of Anu by ni ght and cut of f t hepr i est ' s head. Ther e f ol l owed a gr eat t ur moi l i n t he ci t y, but t hesear ch f or t he ki l l er pr oved f r ui t l ess unt i l a woman bet r ayed hi m t ot he aut hor i t i es and l ed a capt ai n of t he guar d and hi s squad t o thehi dden chamber where t he barbar i an l ay dr unk. _Waki ng t o st upef i ed but

    f er oci ous l i f e when they si ezed hi m, he di sembowel ed the capt ai n, bur stt hr ough hi s assai l ant s, and woul d have escaped but f or t he l i quor t hatst i l l cl ouded hi s senses. Bewi l der ed and hal f bl i nded, he mi ssed t heopen door i n hi s headl ong f l i ght and dashed hi s head agai nst t he st onewal l so t er r i f i cal l y that he knocked hi msel f sensel ess. When he camet o, he was i n t he st r ongest dungeon i n t he ci t y, shackl ed t o t he wal lwi t h chai ns not even hi s bar bar i c t hews coul d br eak. _To t hi s cel l cameMur i l o, masked and wr apped i n a wi de bl ack cl oak. The Ci mmer i ansur veyed hi m wi t h i nt er est , t hi nki ng hi m t he execut i oner sent t odi spat ch hi m. Mur i l o set hi m at r i ght s and r egar ded hi m wi t h no l essi nt er est . Even i n t he di m l i ght of t he dungeon, wi t h hi s l i mbs l oadedwi t h chai ns, t he pr i mi t i ve power of t he man was evi dent . Hi s mi ght ybody and t hi ck- muscl ed l i mbs combi ned t he st r engt h of a gr i zzl y wi t ht he qui ckness of a pant her . Under hi s t angl ed bl ack mane hi s bl ue eyesbl azed wi t h unquenchabl e savagery. _" Woul d you l i ke t o l i ve?" askedMur i l o. The bar bar i an gr unt ed, new i nt er est gl i nt i ng i n hi s eyes. _" I f Iar r ange f or your escape, wi l l you do a f avor f or me?" t he ar i st ocr atasked. _The Ci mmer i an di d not speak, but t he i nt ent ness of hi s gazeanswer ed f or hi m. _" I want you t o ki l l a man f or me. "__"Who?"__ Mur i l o' svoi ce sank t o a whi sper . "Naboni dus, t he ki ng' s pr i est ! "_The Ci mmer i anshowed no si gn of surpr i se or per t ur bat i on. He had none of t he f ear orr ever ence f or aut hor i t y t hat ci vi l i zat i on i nst i l l s i n men. Ki ng orbeggar , i t was al l one to hi m. Nor di d he ask why Mur i l o had come tohi m, when t he quar t er s wer e f ul l of cut t hr oat s out si de pr i sons. _" WhenamI t o escape?" he demanded. __ "Wi t hi n the hour . There i s but one guardi n t hi s par t of t he dungeon at ni ght . He can be br i bed; he _has_ beenbr i bed. See, her e ar e t he keys to your chai ns. I ' l l r emove t hem and,

    af t er I have been gone an hour , t he guar d, At hi cus, wi l l unl ock t hedoor t o your cel l . You wi l l bi nd hi m wi t h st r i ps torn f r om your t uni c;so when he i s f ound, t he aut hor i t i es wi l l t hi nk you wer e rescued f r omt he out si de and wi l l not suspect hi m. Go at once to the house of t heRed Pr i est and ki l l hi m. Then go to the Rats' Den, where a man wi l lmeet you and gi ve you a pouch of gol d and a hor se. Wi t h t hose you canescape f r om t he ci t y and f l ee t he count r y. " _" Take of f t hese cur sedchai ns now, " demanded t he Ci mmer i an. "And have t he guard br i ng me f ood.By Cr om, I have l i ved on mol dy bread and wat er f or a whol e day, and Iam ni gh t o f ami shi ng. "_" I t shal l be done; but r emember - - you ar e not

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    t o escape unt i l I have had t i me t o reach my home. "_Fr eed of hi s chai ns,t he bar bar i an st ood up and st r etched hi s heavy ar ms, enor mous i n t hegl oomof t he dungeon. Mur i l o agai n f el t t hat i f any man i n t he wor l dcoul d accompl i sh the t ask he had set , t hi s Ci mmer i an coul d. Wi t h a f ewr epeat ed i nst r ucti ons he l ef t t he pr i son, f i r st di r ecti ng At hi cus t ot ake a pl at t er of beef and al e i n t o the pr i soner . He knew he coul dt r ust t he guard, not onl y because of t he money he had pai d, but al sobecause of cer t ai n i nf or mat i on he possessed r egardi ng t he man. _When her et ur ned t o hi s chamber , Mur i l o was i n f ul l cont r ol of hi s f ear s.Naboni dus woul d st r i ke t hr ough t he ki ng - - of t hat he was cer t ai n. Andsi nce the royal guardsmen were not knocki ng at hi s door, i t was cer t ai nt hat t he pr i est had sai d nothi ng to the ki ng, so f ar . Tomorr ow he woul dspeak, beyond a doubt - - i f he l i ved t o see tomorr ow. _Mur i l o bel i evedt he Ci mmer i an woul d keep f ai t h wi t h hi m. Whet her t he man woul d be abl et o carr y out hi s pur pose r emai ned to be seen. Men had at t empted t oassassi nate t he Red Pr i est bef ore, and t hey had di ed i n hi deous andnamel ess ways. But t hey had been pr oducts of t he ci t i es of men, l acki ngt he wol f i sh i nst i ncts of t he bar bar i an. The i nst ant t hat Mur i l o,t ur ni ng t he gol d cask wi t h i t s sever ed ear i n hi s hands, had l ear nedt hrough hi s secr et channel s t hat t he Ci mmer i an had been capt ured, he

    had seen a sol ut i on of hi s probl em. _I n hi s chamber agai n, he drank at oast t o t he man, whose name was Conan, and to hi s success t hat ni ght .And whi l e he was dr i nki ng, one of hi s spi es brought hi m t he news t hatAt hi cus had been ar r est ed and t hrown i nto pr i son. The Ci mmer i an had notescaped. _Mur i l o f el t hi s bl ood t ur n t o i ce agai n. He coul d see i n t hi st wi st of f at e onl y the si ni st er hand of Naboni dus, and an eer yobsessi on began t o gr ow on hi m t hat t he Red Pr i est was mor e than human- - a sorcer er who r ead t he mi nds of hi s vi ct i ms and pul l ed st r i ngs onwhi ch t hey danced l i ke puppets. Wi t h despai r came desperat i on. Gi r di nga sword beneat h hi s bl ack cl oak, he l ef t hi s house by a hi dden way andhur r i ed t hr ough t he deser t ed st r eet s. I t was j ust at mi dni ght when hecame t o t he house of Naboni dus, l oomi ng bl ackl y among t he wal l edgar dens t hat separ ated i t f r omt he sur r oundi ng est at es. _The wal l washi gh but not i mpossi bl e to negot i at e. Naboni dus di d not put hi s t r usti n mer e bar r i ers of st one. I t was what was i nsi de t he wal l t hat was t obe f ear ed. What t hese t hi ngs were Mur i l o di d not know pr eci sel y. Heknew t her e was at l east a huge savage dog t hat r oamed the gardens andhad on occasi on t orn an i nt r uder t o pi eces as a hound rends a r abbi t .What el se t her e mi ght be he di d not car e t o conj ect ure. Men who hadbeen al l owed to ent er t he house on br i ef , l egi t i mat e busi ness, r eport edt hat Naboni dus dwel t among r i ch f ur ni shi ngs, yet si mpl y, at t ended by asur pr i si ngl y smal l number of servant s. I ndeed, t hey ment i oned onl y oneas havi ng been vi si bl e - - a tal l , si l ent man cal l ed J oka. Some oneel se, presumabl y a sl ave, had been heard movi ng about i n the r ecessesof t he house, but t hi s per son no one had ever seen. The gr eat estmyst ery of t he myst er i ous house was Naboni dus hi msel f , whose power ofi nt r i gue and gr asp on i nt er nat i onal pol i t i cs had made hi m t he st r ongest

    man i n t he ki ngdom. Peopl e, chancel l or and ki ng moved puppet l i ke on t hest r i ngs he worked. _Mur i l o scal ed t he wal l and dropped down i nt o t hegar dens, whi ch were expanses of shadow, dar kened by cl umps of shr ubber yand wavi ng f ol i age. No l i ght shone i n the wi ndows of t he house, whi chl oomed so bl ackl y among the t r ees. The young nobl eman st ol e st eal t hi l yyet swi f t l y t hr ough t he shr ubs. Moment ar i l y he expect ed t o hear t hebayi ng of t he gr eat dog and to see i t s gi ant body hur t l e thr ough t heshadows. He doubt ed t he ef f ect i veness of hi s sword agai nst such anat t ack, but he di d not hesi t at e. As wel l di e beneat h the f angs of abeast as of t he headsman. _He st umbl ed over somet hi ng bul ky and

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    yi el di ng. Bendi ng cl ose i n t he di m st ar l i ght , he made out a l i mp shapeon t he gr ound. I t was t he dog t hat guarded t he gardens, and i t wasdead. I t s neck ws br oken and i t bor e what seemed t o be t he marks ofgr eat f angs. Mur i l o f el t t hat no human bei ng had done thi s. The beasthad met a monst er more savage t han i t sel f . Mur i l o gl ared nervousl y att he crypt i c masses of bush and shrub; t hen wi t h a shrug of hi sshoul der s, he appr oached t he si l ent house. _The f i r st door he t r i edpr oved t o be unl ocked. He entered war i l y, sword i n hand, and f oundhi msel f i n a l ong, shadowy hal l way di ml y i l l umi nat ed by a l i ght t hatgl eamed t hrough t he hangi ngs at t he ot her end. Compl ete si l ence hungover t he whol e house. Mur i l o gl i ded al ong t he hal l and hal t ed t o peert hr ough the hangi ngs. He l ooked i nt o a l i ghted r oom, over t he wi ndowsof whi ch vel vet cur t ai ns wer e dr awn so cl osel y as t o al l ow no beam t oshi ne t hr ough. The room was empt y, i n so f ar as human l i f e wasconcer ned, but i t had a gr i sl y occupant , never t hel ess. i n t he mi dst ofa wr eckage of f ur ni t ur e and t or n hangi ngs t hat t ol d of a f ear f ulst r uggl e, l ay the body of a man. The f or m l ay on i t s bel l y, but t hehead was t wi st ed about so t hat t he chi n rest ed behi nd a shoul der . Thef eat ur es, cont or t ed i nt o an awf ul gr i n, seemed to l eer at t he hor r i f i ednobl eman. _For t he f i r st t i me that ni ght , Mur i l o' s r esol ut i on waver ed.

    He cast an uncer t ai n gl ance back t he way he had come. Then t he memor yof t he headsman' s bl ock and axe st eel ed hi m, and he cr ossed the r oom,swer vi ng t o avoi d t he gr i nni ng hor r or spr awl ed i n i t s mi dst . Though hehad never seen t he man bef ore, he knew f r om f ormer descr i pt i ons t hat i twas J oka, Naboni dus' sat ur ni ne ser vant . _He peer ed t hrough a curt ai neddoor i nt o a br oad ci r cul ar chamber, banded by a gal l er y hal f - waybet ween t he pol i shed f l oor and t he l of t y cei l i ng. Thi s chamber wasf ur ni shed as i f f or a ki ng. I n t he mi dst of i t st ood an ornat e mahoganyt abl e, l oaded wi t h vessel s of wi ne and ri ch vi ands. And Mur i l ost i f f ened. I n a gr eat chai r whose br oad back was t oward hi m, he saw af i gur e whose habi l ment s wer e f ami l i ar . He gl i mpsed an ar m i n a r edsl eeve r est i ng on t he ar m of t he chai r ; t he head, cl ad i n t he f ami l i arscar l et hood of t he gown, was bent f or war d as i f i n medi t at i on. J ust sohad Mur i l o seen Naboni dus si t a hundr ed t i mes i n t he royalcour t . _Cursi ng t he poundi ng of hi s own hear t , t he young nobl eman st ol eacross t he chamber, sword ext ended, hi s whol e f r ame poi sed f or t het hr ust . Hi s pr ey di d not move, nor seemt o hear hi s caut i ous advance.Was t he Red Pr i est asl eep, or was i t a cor pse whi ch sl umped i n thatgr eat chai r ? The l engt h of a si ngl e st r i de separ at ed Mur i l o f r om hi senemy, when suddenl y t he man i n the chai r r ose and f aced hi m. _The bl oodwent suddenl y f r om Mur i l o' s f eat ur es. Hi s swor d f el l f r om hi s f i nger sand r ang on t he pol i shed f l oor . A t er r i bl e cry br oke f r om hi s l i vi dl i ps; i t was f ol l owed by the t hud of a f al l i ng body. Then once moresi l ence r ei gned over t he house of t he Red Pri est . _2__Shor t l y af t erMur i l o l ef t t he dungeon wher e Conan t he Ci mmer i an was conf i ned, At hi cusbr ought t he pr i soner a pl at t er of f ood whi ch i ncl uded, among othert hi ngs, a huge j oi nt of beef and a t ankar d of al e. Conan f el l t o

    vor aci ousl y, and At hi cus made a f i nal r ound of t he cel l s, t o see t hatal l was i n order , and t hat none shoul d wi t ness t he pr et ended pr i sonbreak. I t was whi l e he was so occupi ed t hat a squad of guardsmenmar ched i nt o t he pr i son and pl aced hi m under ar r est . Mur i l o had beenmi st aken when he assumed t hi s ar r est denot ed di scovery of Conan' spl anned escape. I t was another mat t er ; At hi cus had become car el ess i nhi s deal i ngs wi t h t he under worl d, and one of hi s past si ns had caughtup wi t h hi m. _Anot her j ai l er t ook hi s pl ace, a st ol i d, dependabl ecr eat ur e whom no amount of br i bery coul d have shaken f r om hi s dut y. Hewas uni magi nat i ve, but he had an exal t ed i dea of t he i mpor t ance of hi s

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    j ob. _Af t er At hi cus had been mar ched away t o be f or mal l y ar r ai gnedbef ore a magi st r at e, t hi s j ai l er made t he r ounds of t he cel l as amat t er of r out i ne. As he passed t hat of Conan, hi s sense of pr opr i etywas shocked and out r aged t o see t he pr i soner f r ee of hi s chai ns and i nt he act of gnawi ng the l ast shreds of meat f r om a huge beef bone. The

    j ai l er was so upset t hat he made t he mi st ake of enter i ng t he cel lal one, wi t hout cal l i ng guar ds f r om t he ot her par t s of t he pr i son. I twas hi s f i r st mi st ake i n t he l i ne of dut y, and hi s l ast . Conan br ai nedhi m wi t h the beef bone, t ook hi s poni ard and hi s keys, and made al ei surel y depart ur e. As Mur i l o had sai d, onl y one guar d was on dut yt here at ni ght . The Ci mmer i an passed hi msel f out si de t he wal l s by meansof t he keys he had t aken and pr esent l y emerged i nt o t he out er ai r , asf r ee as i f Mur i l o' s pl an had been successf ul . _I n t he shadows of t hepr i son wal l s, Conan paused t o deci de hi s next cour se of act i on. I toccur r ed t o hi m t hat si nce he had escaped t hr ough hi s own act i ons, heowed not hi ng t o Mur i l o; yet i t had been t he young nobl eman who hadr emoved hi s chai ns and had t he f ood sent t o hi m, wi t hout ei t her ofwhi ch hi s escape woul d have been i mposs i bl e. Conan deci ded t hat he wasi ndebt ed t o Mur i l o and, si nce he was a man who di scharged hi sobl i gat i ons event ual l y, he det er mi ned to car r y out hi s promi se t o t he

    young ar i st ocr at . But f i r st he had some busi ness of hi s own t o at t endt o. _He di scarded hi s r agged t uni c and moved of f t hr ough the ni ght nakedbut f or a l oi ncl oth. As he went he f i nger ed the poni ar d he had capt ur ed- - a murder ous weapon wi t h a broad, doubl e- edged bl ade ni net een i nchesl ong. He sl