The Age of Conan - A Short Guide to the Hyborian Age
A short but comprehensive guide to Conan the Barbarian's savage world of Hyboria! Perfect for someone new to the leg...
A Short Guide to the Hyborian Age
Edited by Christopher J. Monte Based on the works of Robert E. Howard
The Tale of Years “Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ... Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” —The Nemedian Chronicles
When Robert E. Howard began to chronicle the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian, more than eighty years ago in the Golden Age of pulp fiction in the 1920’s and 1930’s, he prepared a fictional history of the so-called Hyborian Age which he had created. That “history” dealt not only with the period during and after Conan’s life, but also with events some eight thousand years earlier, during the Thurian civilization which produced King Kull of Valusia, the exiled warrior of Atlantis, who lived and loved in the days before that island continent sank into the surging seas of the Western Ocean. This then, is the tale of years, leading to the Age of Conan, and beyond to our own time.
The Pre-Cataclysmic Age (circa 20,000 B.C.) Of that epoch known by the Nemedian Chronicles as the Pre-Cataclysmic Age, little is known except the latter part, and that is veiled in the mists of legend. Known history begins with the waning of the civilization of the primary, or Thurian continent of the world, a continent known in later times as Hyboria. Civilization at this time was dominated by the kingdoms of Ramelia, Valusia, Verulia, Grondar, Thule and Commoria. These people spoke a similar language, suggesting a common origin, though they would have fiercely disagreed with the suggestion that they had anything in common. The barbarians of this age were the Picts, who lived on islands far out on the Western Ocean, the Atlanteans, who dwelt on a small island continent between the Pictish Islands in the west and the main continent of Thuria to Atlantis’ east, and the Lemurians, who inhabited a chain of large islands in the Eastern Hemisphere which were all that remained of the ancient sunken continent of Mu. There were vast regions of unexplored land on Thuria; the civilized kingdoms, 1
though enormous in extent, occupied a relatively small portion of the whole planet. Valusia was the westernmost kingdom of Thuria; the Valusian capital, known as the City of Wonders, was the marvel of the age. Grondar, whose people were less highly cultured or advanced than those of their kindred Thurian kingdoms, was the easternmost land. East of Grondar stretched a wild and barren expanse of deserts. Among the less arid stretches of desert east of Grondar, in the serpent-infested jungles and among the snow-perched mountains, there lived scattered clans and tribes of primitive human savages. On the far eastern shores of Thuria lived another race...human, but mysterious and nonThurian in their origins, with which the Lemurians from time to time came in contact. They apparently came from a shadowy and nameless continent lying somewhere east of the Lemurian islands. Far to the south, there was a second mysterious civilization of humanoid serpent-men, worshipers of the dark god Set. These serpent-men were unconnected with the main Thurian culture and apparently long pre-dated the emergence of humanity in their nature and history. The Thurian civilizations were crumbling and their armies were composed largely of barbarian mercenaries. Picts, Atlanteans and Lemurians were their generals, their statesmen and often, their kings. Of the bickering of the kingdoms and wars between Valusia and Commoria, as well as the conquests by which the Atlanteans founded a colony that grew to become a kingdom in its own right on the Thurian mainland, there are more legends than accurate history. Then the Great Cataclysm rocked the world. What caused this terrible catastrophe is unknown, though some scholars have claimed that the catastrophe was brought on by the mystical actions of the Atlanteans, while others claim that a great flaming mountain fell from the sky. Atlantis and most of the islands of Lemuria sank beneath the waves, the Pictish Islands were heaved up to form the mountain peaks of a new continent, while sections of the main Thurian continent vanished under the waves or sank and formed great inland lakes and seas. Massive volcanoes burst forth and shattering earthquakes shook down the shining cities of the Thurian empires. Whole nations were blotted out and the face and shape of the world was forever changed.
The Rise of the Hyborians (circa 17,000 - 15,000 B.C.) When the great Cataclysm caused the destruction of Atlantis and Lemuria, the inhabitants of the Pictish Isles likewise perished. But a great colony of them, already settled along the mountains of Valusia’s southern frontier to serve as a buffer against foreign invasion, were virtually untouched.
Atlantis’ kingdom on the main continent of Thuria also escaped the common ruin, and to it came thousands of Atlantean tribesmen, fleeing in seagoing vessels from their sinking homeland in the Western Ocean. Many Lemurians also made their way to the eastern coast of the Thurian continent, only to be enslaved by the ancient race which already dwelt there. And their history, for thousands of years, became only a tale of brutal servitude. In the western part of Thuria, which now increasingly was called Hyboria, the changing environmental conditions after the Cataclysm gave rise to strange new forms of plant and animal life. Thick jungles covered the plains, great rivers cut their roads to the sea, wild mountains were heaved up, and lakes covered the ruins of old, Pre-Cataclysm cities in fertile valleys. To the continental kingdom of the Atlanteans, from the now-sunken areas, swarmed myriads of beasts and savages. Forced to battle continually for their lives, the Atlanteans yet managed to retain vestiges of their former state of highly-advanced barbarism. Then their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish nation. Robbed of metals and ores by the Cataclysm, the Atlantean survivors became workers in stone like their distant ancestors, and had attained a real artistic level in stonework when their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish colony nation. The Picts had also reverted to flint, but had advanced more rapidly in terms of increased population and their more advanced war-science. The Picts had none of the Atlanteans’ artistic nature; they were a ruder, more practical, more prolific race. They left no pictures painted or carved on ivory, as did their enemies, but they left remarkably efficient flint weapons in plenty. The two Stone Age kingdoms of the Picts and the Atlanteans clashed, and in a series of bloody wars, the outnumbered Atlanteans were hurled back into savagery, and the cultural evolution of the Picts was halted. Five hundred years after the Cataclysm, the barbaric kingdoms had all but vanished and been replaced with one group of savages—the Picts—who continually warred with another band of savages—the Atlanteans. The Picts had the advantage of numbers and unity, whereas the Atlanteans had fallen into loosely-knit clans. That was the makeup of the West of Hyboria in that day. In the distant East, cut off from the rest of the world by the heaving up of gigantic mountains and the forming of a chain of vast lakes, the Lemurians were toiling as slaves of their ancient masters. The far south, untouched by the Cataclysm, was veiled in mystery, its destiny still pre-human. Of the original civilized races of the continent of Thuria, only a remnant of one of the non-Valusian civilized nations dwelled among the low mountains of the southeast. They were the Zhemri. Here and there about the world were scattered clans of protohuman savages, entirely ignorant of the rise and fall of the great civilizations.
Meanwhile, in the far north, another people were slowly coming into existence. At the time of the Cataclysm, a band of human savages, whose development was not much above that of the long-extinct Neanderthal, fled to the north to escape destruction. The primitive humans first drove away the beasts and the race of savage white-haired humans who called the northlands their own. They then adapted to their hardy new environment and survived. After the Pictish-Atlantean Wars had destroyed the beginnings of what might have been a new culture, another lesser Cataclysm further altered the appearance of the original Thurian continent and left a great inland sea to separate East from West. The resulting earthquakes, floods and volcanoes brought on by this second Cataclysm completed the ruin of the barbarians, already begun by their fierce tribal wars. A thousand years after the lesser Cataclysm, the Western world was seen to be a wild country of jungles and lakes and torrential rivers. Among the forest-covered hills of the northwest existed wandering bands of ape-like primitive men who possessed no human speech, fire or tools. These were the devolved descendants of the once-proud Atlanteans, sunk back into the squalling chaos of jungle-bestiality from which ages ago their ancestors had so laboriously crawled upwards. To the southwest dwelled scattered clans of degraded cave-dwelling human savages, primitive of speech, yet still retaining the name of Picts. The term “Picts” had come to mean merely a term designating men—to distinguish them from the true beasts with which they contended for life and food. It was the Picts’ only link with their former stage of technological development. Neither the squalid Picts nor the beastlike Atlanteans had any contact with other tribes or peoples. Far to the East, the enslaved Lemurians, leveled almost to a bestial existence themselves by the brutishness of their slavery, rose and destroyed their sallow-skinned masters. They were savages, stalking the ruins of a strange civilization. The survivors of their masters’ civilization, the few who had escaped the fury of their Lemurian slaves, came westward. They fell upon that mysterious prehuman kingdom of the south and overthrew it, substituting their own culture, modified by contact with the older, pre-human civilization of the serpent-men. The new hybrid kingdom was called Stygia, and remnants of the older serpent-men civilization such as the cult of the god Set seemed to have survived, and even been worshipped, after the serpent-men race as a whole had been destroyed. Here and there in the world small groups of human savages were showing signs of an upward cultural trend; these were scattered and unclassified. In the north, one tribe was growing: the Hyborians or Hybori. Their god was Bori, some great chief whom legend made even more ancient
and refashioned into the king who had led them into the north, in the days of the great Cataclysm, which the tribes remembered now only in distorted folklore. Fifteen hundred years in the snowcountry made the Hyborians a vigorous and warlike race. The Hyborians had spread over the north and were slowly pushing southward in leisurely treks. So far they had not come in contact with any of the other races of men; their wars had been only with one another. Fifteen hundred years in the north country had made them a tall, tawny-haired, grey-eyed race, vigorous and warlike, and already exhibiting a well-defined artistry and penchant for poetry and lusty song. They still lived mostly by the hunt, but the southern tribes had been raising cattle for some centuries. A wanderer to the North at about this time returned with the news that the northern icy wastes were inhabited by ape-like men, descended from the beasts driven out of the more habitable areas of land by the Hyborians’ ancestors. To exterminate these creatures, a small band of warriors followed the wanderer back beyond the Arctic Circle. None returned. But the tribes of the Hyborians were drifting south, and as the population increased this movement became extensive. The following age was an epoch of wandering and conquest.
The Hyborian Kingdoms (circa 14,000 - 10,000 B.C.) Fifteen hundred years after the lesser Cataclysm which created the inland sea, and five hundred years after the first Hyborian tribes first began moving south, tribes of tawny-haired Hyborians had moved southward and westward, conquering and destroying many of the small unclassified clans and giving their own name of Hyboria to all the continent among the peoples of the West. Absorbing the blood of conquered races, already the descendants of the older movements had begun to show modified racial traits, and these mixed races were attacked fiercely by new, purerblooded tribes, and swept before them, as a broom sweeps dirt, to become even more mixed and mingled in the tangled debris of peoples and the remnants of peoples. As yet, these conquerors had not come into contact with the older races. To the southeast the descendants of the Zhemri, given impetus by new blood resulting from admixture with some unclassified tribe, were beginning to seek to revive some faint shadow of their ancient culture. To the west the primitive Atlanteans were once more beginning the long climb upward to civilization. The Atlanteans had completed the cycle of existence; they had long forgotten their former existence as a great civilization; unaware of any other former state, they were starting the climb unaided and unhindered by memories of history. To the south of the Atlanteans the Picts remained savages, apparently defying the laws of human nature by
neither progressing nor retrogressing. Far to the south dreamed the ancient mysterious kingdom of Stygia. On its eastern borders wandered clans of nomadic savages, already known as the Sons of Shem, or the Shemites. Next to the Picts, in the broad valley of Zingg, protected by great mountains, a nameless band of primitives, tentatively classified as akin to the Shemites, had evolved an advanced agricultural system and civilization. Meanwhile, the first of the settled Hyborian kingdoms had come into existence, the rude and barbaric northeastern kingdom of Hyperborea, which had its beginnings in a crude fortress of boulders heaped together to repel a tribal attack. The people of this tribe soon abandoned their horsehide tents for stone houses, crudely but mightily built, and thus protected from their enemies, they grew strong. There were few more dramatic events in early human history than the rise of the rude, fierce kingdom of Hyperborea, whose people turned abruptly from their nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by cyclopean walls—a race scarcely emerged from the Late Stone Age, who had by a freak of chance, learned the first rude principles of architecture. The rise of this kingdom drove forth many other Hyborian tribes, for, defeated in war, or refusing to become tributary to their castle-dwelling kinsmen, many clans set forth on long treks that took them halfway around the world. And already the more northern Hyborian tribes were beginning to be harried by gigantic blond savages, not much more advanced than the primitive apemen from which they had descended. In the South, the migration of the people who had fled the revolt of their Lemurian slaves and founded the kingdom of Stygia comprised two branches. While the southern branch created Stygia, the northern branch simultaneously founded the powerful Empire of Acheron, with purpletowered Python as its capital city in the lands to the north and west. An ancient civilization of blackhearted sorcerers and vile priests of the serpent-god Set, Acheron conquered the north in the name of vile magic and blood-fueled corruption. Only the wild tribesmen who dwelled in the gray hills of the north, where Cimmeria eventually stood, were able to resist them. All other nations fell beneath their blades and sorcery. Five hundred years after the founding of the Empire of Acheron, the first of the Hyborian wanderers reached its borders, to recoil from the priests and warriors of the South. For nearly two thousand years, Acheron warred against the invading Hyborians. At last the barbarians swept over Acheron and blotted it out, to be stopped at last from ranging further south only by the disciplined armies of Acheron’s sister empire, her southern neighbor Stygia. The tale of the next thousand years was the tale of the rise of the Hyborians, whose warlike tribes dominated the Western world. Rude kingdoms were at last taking shape. The tawny-haired
invaders encountered the Picts, driving them into the barren lands of the West. To the northwest, the descendants of the Atlanteans, climbing unaided from almost subhuman status back into primitive savagery, had not yet met the conquerors. Far to the East, the Lemurians were evolving a strange semi-civilization of their own. To the south the Hyborians had founded the kingdom of Koth, on the borders of those pastoral countries known as the Lands of Shem, and the savages of those lands, partly through contact with the Hyborians, partly through contact with the Stygians who had ravaged them for centuries, were also emerging from barbarism. The blond savages of the far north had grown in power and numbers so that the northern Hyborian tribes moved southward, driving their kindred clans before them. The ancient kingdom of Hyperborea was overthrown by one of those northern tribes, which, however, retained the old name. Southeast of Hyperborea a kingdom of the Zhemri had come into being, under the name of Zamora. To the southwest, a tribe of Picts had invaded the fertile valley of Zingg, conquered the agricultural people there, and settled among them. This mixed race was in turn conquered later by another roving tribe of Hybori, and from these mingled elements came the kingdom of Zingara. Five hundred years later the kingdoms of Western Hyboria were clearly defined. The kingdoms of the Hyborians—Aquilonia, Nemedia, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Koth, Ophir, Argos, Corinthia, and a politically chaotic and divided region known as the Border Kingdom—dominated the Western world. Zamora lay to the east, and Zingara to the southwest of these kingdoms— peoples alike in darkness of complexion and exotic customs, but otherwise unrelated. Far to the south slept the kingdom of Stygia, untouched by foreign invasion, but the peoples of Shem had exchanged the Stygian yoke for the less galling one of Koth. The dusky Stygian masters had been driven south of the great River Styx, also called the Nilus, or Nile, which, flowing north from the shadowy hinterlands, turned at right angles and flowed almost due west through the pastoral meadowlands of Shem, to empty into the great sea. North of Aquilonia, the westernmost Hyborian kingdom, were the Cimmerians, ferocious savages, untamed by the Hyborian invaders, but rapidly advancing culturally and technologically because of contact with them; the Cimmerians were the descendants of the Atlantean colonists who had settled on Thuria, and they progressed more steadily than their old enemies the Picts, who dwelled in the wilderness west of Aquilonia and remained at a Stone Age level of cultural development. Another five centuries and the Hyborian peoples were the possessors of a civilization so virile and advanced that contact with it virtually catapulted from savagery such tribes as it touched. The most powerful kingdom was Aquilonia, but others vied with it in strength and splendor. The
Hyborians had become a considerably mixed race; the nearest to the ancient genetic root-stock were the Gundermen of Gunderland, a northern province of Aquilonia. But this mixing had not weakened the Hyborians by any means. They were supreme in the Western half of the continent of Hyboria that now bore their name, though the barbarians of the wastelands were growing in strength. In the North, however, golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians who were the descendants of the white-haired arctic savages, had driven the remaining Hyborian tribes out of all the snowcountries of the far north except Hyperborea, which resisted their onslaught. Their land was known as Nordheim among the Hyborians, and they were divided into the red-haired Vanir of Vanaheim and the yellow-haired Aesir of Asgard. At this time the Lemurians entered history again, now known as the Hyrkanians. Pushing westward, several Hyrkanian tribes eventually evolved into the Khitans of Khitai, while another Hyrkanian tribe established the kingdom of Turan on the southwestern shore of the great inland Vilayet Sea. Between the inland sea and the eastern borders of the native kingdoms lay vast expanses of steppes and in the extreme north and extreme south, deserts. The non-Hyrkanian dwellers of these territories were scattered and pastoral, an unclassified ethnicity in the north, Shemitish in the south, aboriginal, with a thin strain of Hyborian blood from wandering conquerors. Toward the latter part of the period other Hyrkanian clans pushed westward, around the northern extremity of the inland sea, and clashed with the eastern outposts of the Hyperboreans. Glancing briefly at the peoples of that age, the dominant Hyborians were no longer uniformly tawny-haired and grey-eyed; they had mixed with other races of men, but this mixing had not weakened them. There was a strong Shemitish, even a Stygian strain among the peoples of Koth, and to a lesser extent; of Argos, while in the case of the latter, admixture with the Zingarans had been more extensive than with the Shemites. The eastern Brythunians had intermarried with the dark-skinned Zamorians, and the people of southern Aquilonia had mixed with the brown-skinned Zingarans until black hair and brown eyes were the dominant type in Poitain, the southernmost province of that kingdom. The ancient Kingdom of Hyperborea was more aloof than the others, yet there was alien blood in plenty in its veins, from the capture of foreign women in war—Hyrkanians, Aesir, and Zamorians. Only in the Aquilonian province of Gunderland, where the people would keep no slaves by custom and traditon, was the pure Hyborian stock found unaltered. But the barbarian peoples had kept their bloodlines pure; the Cimmerians were tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or grey eyes like their Atlantean forebears. The people of Nordheim retained their light skin, blue eyes and red or yellow hair.
The Shemites were generally of medium height, though sometimes when mixed with Stygian blood they would be gigantic, broadly and strongly built, with hawk noses, dark eyes, and blue-black hair. The Hyrkanians were dark and generally tall and slender like their Lemurian forebears, though a shorter, almond-eyed bloodline was more and more common among them, resulting from mixture with a race of intelligent, if short-statured humans they met in the lands of what would become Khitai. These people had been conquered by the Hyrkanians among the mountains east of the Vilayet Sea, while on their westward drift. The Picts were the same type as they had always been; short, very dark with black eyes and hair. Between Aquilonia and the Pictish Wilderness lay the Bossonian Marches, peopled by descendents of an aboriginal race mixed with the Hyborians. This mixed people never attained the civilization of the purer Hyborians, and was pushed by them to the very fringe of the civilized world. The Bossonians were of medium height and complexion, their eyes brown or grey, and they were mesocephalic. They lived mainly by agriculture, in large walled villages, and were considered politically a part of the Aquilonian kingdom. Their marches extended from the Border Kingdom in the north to Zingara in the southwest, forming a bulwark for Aquilonia against both the Cimmerians and the Picts. They were stubborn defensive fighters, and centuries of warfare against northern and western barbarians alike caused them to evolve a type of defense almost impregnable against direct attack. The ruling classes of Stygia were tall men, dusky and straight-featured. The lower Stygian classes were a downtrodden horde of mixed ethnicities, a mixture of Kushite, Stygian, Shemitish, and even Hyborian blood. South of Stygia were the vast Black Kingdoms of the Amazons, the Kushites, the Atlaians and the hybrid empire of Zembabwei. The dark-skinned tribal inhabitants of these lands in the far south lived in splendid isolation. Far to the East, across the Vilayet Sea and the steppe lands, lay the mysterious city-states of Khitai and the glittering palaces of the Rajahs of Vendhya, from which silk and spices flowed to the West. This, then, was an “Age undreamed of,” when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. This was the Age of Conan.
The Beginning of the End (circa 9,500 B.C.) Five hundred years after the time of King Conan I of Aquilonia, the Hyborian civilization was swept away while its vigorous culture was still in its prime. It was the greed of the men of Aquilonia which indirectly brought about that overthrow. Wishing to extend their empire, its kings
annexed Zingara, Argos and Ophir, as well as the western cities of Shem. Koth itself, with Corinthia and the eastern Shemitish tribes, was forced to pay Aquilonia tribute and lend aid in its wars. Nemedia, which had successfully resisted Aquilonia for centuries, now drew Brythunia and Zamora and secretly, Koth into an alliance against that western kingdom. But before their armies could join in battle, a new enemy appeared in the East. Reinforced by Hyrkanian adventurers, the horse riders of Turan swept over Zamora to meet the Aquilonians on the plains of Brythunia. Defeating the Turanians, the Aquilonians sent them flying eastward; but the back of the Nemedian Alliance and its resistance to Aquilonian hegemony was now broken. The defeat of the Hyrkanians showed the other nations of Hyboria the real power of Aquilonia. Zamora was reconquered, but the people discovered they had merely exchanged an eastern master for a western one. Aquilonian soldiers were quartered there, to keep the people in subjection as well as to protect them. In the North, there was incessant bickering along the Cimmerian borders between the black-haired warriors and their various neighbors, the Nordheim, the Bossonians and the ever more powerful Picts. Several times, the Cimmerians raided Aquilonia itself, but their wars were less invasions than plundering forays. But, by a strange quirk of fate, it was the growing power of the Picts in the West which was destined to throw down the kings of Aquilonia from their high places. At about this time, a Nemedian priest named Arus determined to go into the western wilderness and introduce to the heathen Picts the gentle worship of the chief Hyborian god, the benevolent Mitra. He was not daunted by the grisly tales of what had happened to other traders, missionaries and explorers from the civilized lands before him in the Pictish lands. Over the years, the Picts had benefited from contact with Hyborian civilization, but they had always fiercely resisted that contact. They dwelt in Stone Age clans which were perpetually feuding with each other, and their customs were bloodthirsty and generally inexplicable to a civilized man such as Arus of Nemedia. Arus was fortunate in meeting a Pict chief of more than usual intelligence, Gorm by name, who gave him permission to remain among his tribe unbutchered. This was a case unique in the history of the Picts; and better for the flower of Hyborian civilization if Arus had been speared instead! Having learned the Pictish tongue, Arus harangued Gorm at length, expounding the eternal rights and justices which were the truths of Mitra. Being a practical man, Arus appealed to the savage’s sense of material gain. He pointed out the splendor of the Hyborian kingdoms as proof of the power of Mitra. Arus spoke of wealthy cities and fertile plains, of jeweled towers and glittering armor. And Gorm, with the unerring instinct of the barbarian, passed over his words regarding gods
and their teachings, and fixed instead on the material riches Arus so vividly described. There, in the mud-floored wattle hut, where the silk-robed priest droned on, and the dark-skinned chieftain crouched in his tiger-hides, were laid the foundations of the Pictish Empire.
Fire and Slaughter (circa 9,500 B.C.) Arus, a priest of the benevolent Hyborian god Mitra from Nemedia, had instilled in Gorm, the Pictish chief, a desire to see the civilized lands. At Gorm’s request, Arus conducted him and some of his warriors through the Bossonian Marches, where the honest villagers stared in amazement, and into the glittering outer world of Hyboria. Soon, Picts came and went freely into all of Aquilonia. Arus no doubt thought he was making converts for Mitra left and right, because the Picts listened to him and refrained from smiting him with their copper axes. But what they really wished to learn from him—and did—was how to mine the vast iron ore deposits in their hills and work them into weapons. With access to iron weapons, Gorm began to assert his dominance over the other Pictish clans, who had access only to stone weapons and tools. Aquilonia, meanwhile, was pursuing her wars of aggression to the south and east, and paid little heed to the vaguely known lands of the west, from which more and more stocky Pictish warriors swarmed to take service in her mercenary armies. These warriors, their service completed, went back to their wilderness with good ideas of civilized warfare and that special contempt for civilization which arises from familiarity with it. As for Gorm, he became the Chief of Chiefs, the nearest thing to a king the Picts had known in thousands of years. Gorm had waited long; he was well past middle age. Too late, Arus saw his mistake; he had touched only the barbarian’s greed, not his soul. And making a last effort to undo his unwitting work, Arus was brained by a drunken Pict. Gorm was not without gratitude to the disciple of Mitra; he made sure the skull of Arus’ slayer was set on top of the priest’s cairn. The Picts then burst upon the Bossonian frontiers, clad not in tiger skins but in scale mail, wielding weapons of keen steel. Still, for years, the sturdy Bossonian Marches held the invaders at bay, thus keeping them from attacking Aquilonia itself. Meanwhile, the Aquilonian Empire waxed strong and arrogance lead them to treat less powerful peoples, even their own Bossonians, with growing contempt. Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Zamora and the Shemite countries were treated as subject nations, which was especially galling to the proud and rebellious Zingarans. Koth, too, was practically made a tributary and first Stygia, then Brythunia were defeated in battle. Yet, powerful Nemedia directly to the east had never been subdued. Thus, the Aquilonian armies moved at last against their neighbor state. Their glittering 11
ranks however, were largely filled by mercenaries, especially the Bossonians. Because of the eastern war, scarcely enough men were left in the Bossonian Marches to guard the Aquilonian frontier. And hearing of Pictish outrages in their homelands, whole Bossonian regiments quit the Nemedian campaign and marched westward, where they defeated the Picts in a single great battle. This desertion, however, was the direct cause of the Aquilonians’ defeat by the desperate Nemedians, and thus brought down on the Bossonians the cruel and shortsighted wrath of the Aquilonian Imperialists. Aquilonian regiments were brought to the borders of the Marches, and the Bossonian chiefs were lured into their encampment. There, the unarmed chiefs were massacred and the Imperial hosts then attacked the unsuspecting people. From north to south, the Bossonian Marches were ravaged, and the Aquilonian armies marched back from the borders, leaving a ruined and devastated land behind them. And then, the second Pictish invasion burst in full power along those borders, led by Gorm, an old man now, but with the fire of his fierce ambition undimmed. This time there were no sturdy Bossonian warriors in their path, so that the blood-mad barbarians swarmed into Aquilonia itself, before her legions could return from the war in the east. Zingara seized this opportunity to throw off the yoke, followed by Corinthia and the Shemites. Whole regiments of Aquilonian mercenaries and vassals mutinied and marched back to their own countries, looting and burning as they went, while still the Picts surged irresistibly eastward. In the midst of this chaos, the wild-born Cimmerians swept down from their northern hills, completing the ruin, and the Aquilonian Empire went down in fire and blood.
The Darkness... and the Dawn (circa 9,500 B.C.) Following the collapse of the Aquilonian Empire, the Hyrkanian hordes came riding in from the East. Hyrkanians and Turanians arrived together this time, united under one great chief. With no Aquilonian armies to oppose them, they were invincible, sweeping first over Zamora, then Brythunia, Hyperborea and Corinthia. Next, they swept into Cimmeria, driving the black-haired barbarians before them. But, among the Cimmerians’ precious hills, where the Hyrkanian cavalry was less effective, the Cimmerians turned on them, and only a disorderly retreat saved them from complete annihilation. The Picts, meanwhile, made themselves the masters of Aquilonia, massacring nearly all of that proud nation’s inhabitants in the process. Probably only those fierce Pictish thrusts stopped the raging Hyrkanians from adding even ancient Stygia to their widening empire. Nemedia,
never before conquered, now reeled between west and east when a tribe of Aesir wandered south, to be engaged as Nemedian mercenaries. Meanwhile, the Pictish chief Gorm, whose ambition had begun the slaughter, was slain by Hialmar, a chief of the Nemedian Aesir. Seventy-five years had elapsed since Gorm the Pict had first heard tales of the western lands from the lips of Arus, the priest of Mitra. Long enough for a man to live, or a civilization to die… For a short age, Pict and Hyrkanian snarled at each other over the ruins of the world they had conquered. Then the ice of the glacial ages returned one last time, and many Nordic tribes were driven southward by the moving ice fields, driving kindred clans before them in turn. Nemedia, meanwhile, became a Nordic kingdom, ruled by the descendants of its own Aesir mercenaries. Pressed by the Nordic tides coming down on their borders, the Cimmerians were on the march, destroying first the Aquilonian province of Gunderland, then hewing their way through the Pictish hosts to defeat the Nordic Nemedians and sack some of their cities. Then the Cimmerians continued eastward, overthrowing a Hyrkanian army on the borders of Brythunia. Hot on their heels, hordes of Aesir and Vanir swarmed south, and the newly founded Pictish Empire reeled beneath their strokes. Nemedia was overthrown at last, and the half-civilized Nordics fled before their wilder kinsmen, leaving the cities of Nemedia ruined and deserted. These fleeing Nordic Nemedians broke the back of Hyrkanian power in Shem, Brythunia and Hyperborea, forcing the descendants of the ancient Lemurians back toward the Vilayet Sea. Meanwhile, the Cimmerians, wandering southeastward, destroyed the ancient Hyrkanian Empire of Turan and settled by the inland sea. Their western empire destroyed, the Hyrkanians butchered all their unfit captives and herded thousands of their remaining slaves before them as they rode back into the mysterious East. They would return thousands of years later, as the Mongols, Huns, Tartars and Turks. Meanwhile, redhaired Vanir adventurers came into Stygia, where they overthrew the ruling class of mages and priests and built up a vast southern empire which they called Khem and the Greeks later named Egypt. From these red-haired conquerors the early pharaohs were to eventually boast descent. The Western world was now dominated by Nordic barbarians. There were few cities anywhere; the once dominant Hyborians had vanished from the Earth, leaving scarcely a trace of blood in the veins of their conquerors. In time, the whole history of the Hyborian Age was lost in a cloud of myths and fantasies as new civilizations of men were born and died. And then, another terrific environmental shift of the Earth hurled all into chaos again, carving out the lands as they are known to us now as the great ice sheets retreated for the last time
from the northern lands. Great strips of the western coast of what had been Hyboria sank once more beneath the seas, and the mountains of western Cimmeria became the equally valiant islands that were later named Great Britain and Ireland. A vast inland sea, later called the Mediterranean, was formed when the continent that had been home to Stygia and the Black Kingdoms broke away from the rest of the Hyborian land mass. The territory around the slowly drying inland sea later rechristened the Black Sea was not affected, and the Nordics retreated there and lived more or less at peace with the Cimmerians already present. In time, the two races became intermingled and gave birth to the Celtic and Germanic peoples of Europe. In the West, the remnants of the Picts, reduced once more to the status of Stone Age savages, possessed their land again in northern Scotland, till, in a later age, they were overthrown by the westward drift of the Cimmerians and the Nordics. This drift resulted from a growing population which thronged the steppes west of the other inland sea, now known as the Caspian and much reduced in size—to such an extent that migration became an economic necessity. Known now as Aryans, these tribes moved both eastwards and westwards into the areas now occupied by India, Asia Minor and most of Western Europe. Some variations of these primitive sons of Aryas are still recognized today; while others have been long since forgotten. The Nemedians of Irish legend were the Nemedian Aesir from the last days of the Hyborian Age, while the later sea-roving Danes were the direct descendants of the Vanir. The blond Greek Achaeans, Celtic Gauls and Britons were descended from the pure-blooded Aesir. The Celtic Gaels, the ancestors of the Irish and the Highland Scots, came of pure-blooded Cimmerian clans. The ancient Sumerians and Persians were of mixed Hyrkanian and Shemitish blood, while from the purer Shemites were descended both the Arabs and the Israelites. The Hyrkanians, retreating to the eastern shores of the continent, evolved into the nomadic tribes later known as Huns, Mongols, Tartars and Turks before they bloodily re-entered Western history in the era we now call the Middle Ages. The origins of all the other races and ethnicities of the modern world may be similarly traced. In almost every case, older far than they or their historians and lorekeepers will ever realize, their origins stretch back into the mists of the long forgotten Hyborian Age...the Age of Conan the Cimmerian.
The Peoples and Places of the Hyborian Age The Road of Kings The Road of Kings, often spoken of in tales of Conan the Cimmerian, passed through many of the major Hyborian kingdoms in the West. Though it is uncertain whether this important east-west trade route began in the nation of Khauran or in Turan, it is known that it wound its way through Zamora, Corinthia, and Nemedia on its serpentine way westward, finally cutting through Aquilonia and Argos to the ports on the Western Ocean. It is doubtful that these oft-warring ancient states ever managed to cooperate in anything so peaceful as road-building. More likely, the route of the Road of Kings was an ancient one, predating the Hyborian kingdoms, perhaps built during the days of the Empire of Acheron. Regardless of its origin, the Road of Kings was the most important overland route for trade, transportation and communication between East and West during the Hyborian Age.
The Aesir (Asgard) Asgard, a far-northern mountainous nation in Nordheim which lay to the north and east of Cimmeria beyond the ice-capped Eiglophian Mountains, was permanently glaciated, and was home to the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aesir, a virile and rough-hewn race of hunters and axe-wielding warriors who fought by day and caroused by night. Like the Cimmerians, the Aesir were hunters and gatherers who possessed no central government. The Aesir lived in tribal units that each had their own king, who presided in timber-roofed Great Halls. Asgard, like Vanaheim to its west, extended as far north as any man had ever roamed, into vast and inhospitable tundras. All Aesir worshiped Ymir, the King of the Frost Giants, whom they shared with their hated Vanir neighbors. They were the blood enemies of the Vanir, the red-haired Nordic barbarians of neighboring Vanaheim. Eons of feuding ensured that there would never be an easy peace between these two peoples. The Aesir relished battle, but only to loot and pillage, not as a means of expanding their borders.Given their lack of agricultural knowledge and experience and their disdain even for the raising of animals, the Aesir would not have known what to do with new lands if they had conquered them. At the close of each winter, the Aesir began their yearly raids, riding south on horseback to pillage townships of their cattle, wealth, and women. Men who surrendered to Aesir warriors were usually spared. Those who resisted were slain in a gruesome fashion that produced as much pain as possible. The Aesir rarely burned a village they
plundered, preferring to leave their targets fairly intact to allow the survivors to rebuild and provide another lucrative target in the future. In battle, the Aesir preferred the iron (more rarely steel) broadsword or battleaxe. Additionally, they relied upon their chain-mailed shirts, horned helmets, and wooden shields to protect them from the weapons of their enemies. Many Aesir learned to use the throwing axe, but most refused to learn the throwing spear or bow, weapons they believed were cowardly. Only by dying in battle, with sword or axe in hand and courage in the heart, could an Aesir warrior find his way to Valhalla, the paradise of the afterlife sought by all the warriors of Nordheim. The Aesir lived by conquest. When two Aesir fought, the winner took his choice of the loser’s women, children, and animals. Aesir men had only one wife at a time, but Aesir women had few legal rights and were treated more like chattel. When an Aesir warrior tired of his present wife he either killed her or sold her to another, and obtained a new female more to his liking. If a woman was unfaithful to her Aesir husband, she was most often killed by a ritual called “the Wheel of Axes,” where all who disbelieved her claims of innocence hurled axes at her bound body. Any man caught in adultery was stripped of his belongings, and forced to cross the snow plains naked. In this way he froze to death and never gained his chance to reside in the Halls of Valhalla by dying in glorious battle. Only a legitimate wife could commit adultery or expect her husband to be faithful, and thus an Aesir man could be frivolous with as many unmarried women as he wished. Asgard was one of the few nations never subdued during the wars of the later Hyborian Age. The creeping glaciers of the North that grew as the climate cooled at the end of the Hyborian Age ultimately forced Asgard’s people to migrate to the south.
The Aquilonians (Aquilonia) The mightiest kingdom of the West and the foremost of the Hyborian states of Conan’s day, the Kingdom of Aquilonia was a commercial and military giant with a high level of civilization and technology. Only Nemedia, Aquilonia’s greatest rival, boasted of a richer cultural diversity and heritage. Aquilonia was, overall, a land of pleasant, temperate climate. The Aquilonians were tall and varied in complexion, but all were steadfast in their devotion to Mitra, the Phoenix Lord. In matters of war, Aquilonia put its trust in a heavily armed heavy cavalry and a strong heavy infantry. The Aquilonian imperial troops were called the Black Legion, and the king’s personal royal bodyguard was known as the Black Dragons. Tarantia, the kingdom’s greatest city and the seat of power in Aquilonia, was a center of romance, adventure, wisdom, and wit. If in a later era, it was said that all roads led to the city of Rome, then in the Hyborian Age, the same could certainly be said of Tarantia, which was located astride the exact 16
center of the Road of Kings. No matter their destination or direction, travelers were likely to pass through Aquilonia or sail upon its major rivers, the Khorotas, the Shirki and the Valkia. Tarantia also housed the grim Iron Tower, a notorious prison. Aquilonia was also home to other large cities, such as Shanar in the south aong the Tybor River and Galparan and Tanasul along the Shirki. The kingdom was divided into feudal provinces for administrative purposes although its overall sigil was that of a roaring lion. The source of much of Aquilonia’s wealth was its abundant possession of fertile croplands and fecund forests. There was a shortage of good farmland in the interior of Aquilonia, however, because the great feudal lords of the kingdom had sequestered much of the cropland for personal use (such as privileged hunting preserves), creating a never-ending movement of pioneers toward the Westermarck, the frontier between Aquilonia and the far western Pictish Wilderness. The Aquilonians were a people divided behind a front of unity, and threatened behind a show of dominance. Their kingdom, the so-called Flower of the West, was the unrivalled jewel of Hyboria. It was a land of prosperous cities, great wealth, enlightened culture, with a king-sanctioned order of religious freedom, where no faith was suppressed. Yet for all the kingdom’s vaunted glories and despite the actions of its popular Cimmerian monarch, King Conan I, it was a land where culture clashed and the chaos of unrest always threatened the populace. Aquilonians know now, just as they always have, that their borders are neither safe nor sealed. Conflict with other nations scars Aquilonia’s history, with Pictish raids increasing in number year by year and enmity between Aquilonians and Nemedians reaching back for many decades. With the kingdom comprised of so many conquered, submissive or allied nations, Aquilonians also expected a degree of tension within their own lands. In the past, pretenders to the throne had raised armies and marched on the capital city of Tarantia, plunging the people of the nation into periods of civil war. While the nation was ostensibly peaceful, all Aquilonians had come to expect a degree of bloodshed around their throne and over issues of sovereignty. For all these epic domestic troubles, the people of the world’s greatest kingdom were cultured and educated, more so than any other nation in the Hyborian Age could claim of its citizens. Scholars were respected as much as soldiers, and slavery—where it was still practiced—was nowhere near as harsh as the servitude found in other nations during this time. Quality of life was important to the Aquilonians. Aquilonian fighters were disciplined and tough, often more soldier than warrior. The people value martial skill and admire any who stand against the nation’s many enemies, especially the hated Picts. Aquilonians also value free-thinking and independence, so those who can make a living off the backs of their own selfreliance often garner respect. Sorcery was shunned as the pursuit of evil men, but Mitran priests practiced
their own magic and earned great respect among the populace for their perceived favor in the light of the true god’s grace. Another reason for the prosperity and relative domestic peace of Aquilonia was that the nation was shielded from attack by several buffer frontier provinces. The thinly settled region known as the Westermarck lay between the Black River and the Thunder River, separating Aquilonia from the Pictish Wilderness. The Westermarck regions of Schohira, Oriskonie, Conawaga and Conajohara, “a 19-mile spear thrust into the Pictish Wilderness”—before it fell to the Picts—were each controlled by a baron who owed only a tenuous allegiance to the king of Aquilonia. Bossonia, also called the Bossonian Marches, likewise resisted all-out rule by the central government. The hills of Gunderland provided troops to the capital of Tarantia, but its people “never considered themselves exactly Aquilonians.” Poitain, Aquilonia’s southernmost region, had not always been a part of the great kingdom. But in Conan’s day, it was ruled by Count Trocero and was renowned for its military strength and its fealty to the Aquilonian Crown in Tarantia. Its banner was that of the Trocero family, a golden leopard. As noted above, Aquilonia contained at least three provinces with distinct cultures and heritages from other Aquilonians. The province of Gunderland in the north of the country did not have any slaves, as the Gundermen were opposed to the practice of slavery on cultural grounds. The people of this province had underwent less interbreeding with other races than any other Hyborians of the time. They resembled the ancient Hyborians closer than any of the others and were still auburn-haired and gray-eyed. The Bossonian Marches extended from the border of Aquilonia with Zingara, along its border with Pictland and to the south of Cimmeria east of the Border Kingdoms. The Bossonians descended from a formerly independent race which had been among the first to fall to the conquests of the Hyborians. They had some Hyborian blood by the time of King Conan’s reign but were distinct in appearance from their fellow Aquilonians. They were people of average height and skin pigmentation, and had either gray or brown eyes while their skull shapes were mesocephalic. The Bossonians’ position at the borders of Hyborian civilization with the barbarians of Cimmeria and Pictland never allowed them to advance to the cultural height of the other Hyborians. They were mostly farmers, settled in fortified villages and their main concern was the defense of their land from barbarian raids. In effect, the Bossonians were Aquilonia’s and Hyboria’s first line of defense also from invasions by the Picts, the barbarians of Nordheim or the Cimmerians. Centuries of barbarian wars led to the Bossonians being particularly stubborn combatants and their defense techniques were impenetrable to the direct charges of light and heavy infantry favored by barbarian military commanders.
In the south of Aquilonia, the province of Poitain lay along the kingdom’s borders with Zingara. The relatively peaceful relations between the two civilized kingdoms allowed for people and goods to flow with ease through the borders of Aquilonia and Zingara. Interbreeding with the Zingarans led to the people of Poitain being predominantly dark-haired and brown-eyed. Nestled in a valley and sheltered from the harsh winters of the region, the Wild Lands of Zelata exemplified Aquilonia’s untamed eastern frontier. It was a place for people with the desire to start afresh, to begin anew—to establish a life away from the bustling metropolis of Tarantia or any of Aquilonia’s other majestic, chaotic cities. Settlements were built, spreading slowly in the wilderness, protected by hunters and occasional patrols of soldiers who fended off both the wild beasts of the northern forests and the bandit groups which plagued so much of Hyboria. Another source of conflict arose from the Nemedian border to the east; the location of the Wild Lands made them an infrequent battleground for clashes between King Conan’s men and the soldiers from Aquilonia’s rival nation. During the years of King Conan’s reign the Wild Lands fell under the shadow of a new threat—one that spelled the death of Aquilonian settlement and influence in the region if the danger was not quashed. Creatures known locally as the Dark Beasts prowl the wilderness beyond the edges of each settlement, slaughtering those who walk the wilds. Some villages have already fallen prey to mass attacks from these feral, razor-clawed creatures. The small hamlet of Tesso now shields a growing refugee population, drawing survivors from the villages shattered in the wake of the Dark Beasts and their hunts. Zelata, a witch who once counseled King Conan himself, lived in the Wild Lands away from civilization. She was a mysterious figure to the people of the region, unknown to many and mistrusted by the few who were aware of her existence. Her powers set her apart from others and vilified her in the minds of those who needed a scapegoat for the region’s troubles. As Nemedian soldiers pressed south and as the Dark Beasts slaughtered whole villages during this time, the ostracized witch-woman found herself hated by many who believed her responsible for the problems they faced. Brooding on a mountaintop, overlooking the Wild Lands, the ruins of the City of Burning Souls was a tainted place. The last vestiges of Acheronian magic still clung to the ruins, and few were foolhardy enough to risk the wrath of the spirits and demons within. Yet there are those who make the journey, through the warped and twisted labyrinth of ancient stone to the very heart of the darkness itself…the Sanctum of the Burning Souls. The few who returned from such expeditions were insane, frothing at the mouth as they screamed the names of unimaginable horrors.
The very stones of the Sanctum were soaked with the blood of thousands of innocents; victims who fell beneath the knives of the Acheronian Warlords and the vicious Priests of Set who they served some three millennia before Conan took up the rule of Aquilonia. Great fountains, which once flowed freely with the blood of sacrifice, now stand silent, dark stains around their base the only testimony to their grim purpose. Lusting for power, the Nemedians have sent a small force to investigate the ruins, and no man or woman knows what they have found there, though the Dark Beasts began attacking the Wild Lands shortly after the expedition arrived. Thoth-Amon of the Black Circle has also sent some of his most trusted allies to discover what secrets the dark heart of Acheron may hold that the mages of Stygia may find useful. Dark Beasts, Nemedians, Stygian Sorcerers and the demons of Acheron; the Sanctum is a challenge to even the greatest of heroes. But with stout allies and courageous hearts, a stalwart group might be able to uncover the horrible secrets contained therein. Aquilonia itself was geographically nestled east of the savage Pictish Wilderness, west of militant Nemedia, north of cutthroat Zingara, and south of the Cimmerian tundra. It had pleasant weather and rich, arable lands interwoven and fed by some of the largest rivers in the world. Game hunting was common and plentiful, and wilderness paths and civilized roads were patrolled by the efficient Aquilonian military forces. At first glance, it was a peaceful kingdom of plenty built on a very pleasant stretch of Hyborian land. Alas, it cannot be so. Although the barbarian King Conan of Cimmeria later took great lengths to keep his kingdom safe from outside threats and domestic squabbles, Aquilonia saw its share of unrest. Aquilonia was a kaleidoscope of intrigue and hand-on-hilt politics. There were many peoples who called this land home, carving several invisible regional borders within the kingdom itself. Bossonians, Poitanians, Gundermen, and others laid claim to lands that now all existed under King Conan’s rule. The famed barbarian king ruled from his throne in the Aquilonian capital city of Tarantia, delegating his laws and edicts down through the cascade of titled and landed nobles. The city is a massive, walled urban sprawl, its blue and golden towers reaching high into the sky. A kingdom’s worth of people from all corners of the world called Tarantia home, protected in part by its high walls and its elite Black Legion army, the capital’s military force. The king also had a special elite group of warriors who served as his bodyguard and were known as the Black Dragons. They patrolled the grounds of the Royal Palace constantly. Many traveled long distances from across Hyboria to come to Tarantia, the “Heart of Aquilonia,” trying to claim part of its dazzling wealth and power for themselves.
Called the “most princely city of the world’s West” by chroniclers far and wide, Tarantia was a sprawling city of wonders and the capital of Aquilonia. Its skyline was dotted with towers of blue and gold, and many of its buildings were clean and dazzling to behold. Created in layers, like rumpled cloth against the cliffs of the Khorotas River, Tarantia had several distinctive areas separated by walls and tiers both physical and social. Possibly the most famous of these sections, unsurprisingly, was Old Tarantia. Old Tarantia sat at the end of a huge bridge that lead to the rest of the bustling city, divided elsewhere by high walls and guarded gates. It uses its own docks and has a massive gate sitting on the Road of Kings. All were patrolled regularly, and watched for dangerous visitors. Old Tarantia was the center of the city, from which the rest of the capital grew outward from, and was the base of the Royal Palace itself. The shining towers of the palace rose high into the sky, overlooking the rest of the city and, some might say, the rest of Aquilonia. Old Tarantia was not an example of your typical Hyborian city by any means. The streets were clean and devoid of miscreants, the businesses did their best not to charge too exorbitant prices for their wares, and common crime was near non-existent. The elite bodyguard unit of the king, the Black Dragons, patrolled the palace’s grounds constantly and could even be found outside its walls from time to time. Few were foolhardy enough to deal with these strapping soldiers, making most criminals look elsewhere to ply their illegal trades. It was a safe city for those who abided by the Aquilonian Crown’s laws, and where many came to shop and see the beautiful city with their own eyes. There was far more going on beneath the shining surface of Old Tarantia than met the eye. Just because it was not crawling with muggers and pickpockets on the streets did not mean that Tarantia was without its darker element. During the reign of King Conan, nobles that were not pleased with a Cimmerian on the throne were constantly scheming and pushing pieces around their political chessboard, some willing to sacrifice many pawns to get closer to their goals. King Conan made many enemies in his winding road to power. Some died at his hands, but many escaped the edge of his sword. With King Conan on the Aquilonian throne, the brilliant beacon of civilization that was Old Tarantia attracted enemies like vultures to a corpse. Aquilonia’s countryside was divided into countless noble estates and segmented villages that were ruled by individual noble lords, all of whom were supposed to owe allegiance to the king. Many did, but just as many were disgusted during King Conan’s reign by their king’s uncivilized Cimmerian heritage and paid homage to the Crown in deed only, wishing great ill upon him. It was there, in their hollow hearts, that much of the kingdom’s unrest was born. Perhaps if it were not for the eternal squabbling and
backstabbing among its nobles, Aquilonia would have had strength enough to be an unyielding bastion against its many outside threats. Although they could prove to be deadly to any who were swept into them, Aquilonia’s politics were not the only risk to its rolling landscape. There were many dangers, even with the increased patrols and hired huntsmen, which threatened travelers here. Constant harassment came from Nemedian mercenaries, Pictish tribes, and mysterious servants of ancient, darker forces. These grueling and merciless minions seemed bent on shattering what peace could be found in the kingdom. It was dangerous to travel too far from guarded lands, and many nobles kept hired guards—not much more than mercenaries themselves— to protect their personal estates. To make matters more difficult, as if the relentless two-legged threats were not bad enough, the hunters could only do so much to keep the wolves, great cats and larger predators from moving against small families and lone travelers. Even with such dangers, Aquilonia remained one of the jewels of Hyboria. It was a temperate land of noble and proud people, with a lightly-obscured storm brewing beneath the surface of its grassy hills and ox-plowed wheat fields. One day, sooner than King Conan knew, the silken curtains of Aquilonia would be ripped down and the kingdom would find itself at the mercy of its own scheming nobility. By Conan’s time, Aquilonia’s royal house was in a state of decadence and the Westermarck region was on the verge of revolt. Conan first came to power as an Aquilonian leader in the Westermarck. Subsequently, a Poitainian noble faction helped Conan usurp the Aquilonian throne. King Conan the Cimmerian ruled Aquilonia for some 20 turbulent years before abdicating in favor of his son, King Conan II, more often called Conn. Conan then left Hyboria behind in search of greater adventures and sailed across the Western Ocean. Years later when Aquilonia was at its zenith, it founded a great empire and annexed Zingara, Argos, Ophir, and western Shem. Some 500 years after Conan’s time, internal decay and a massive Pictish invasion destroyed Aquilonia and ultimately destroyed the civilizations of the Hyborian Age.
The Argosseans (Argos) Argos was one of the greatest commercial nations of the Hyborian Age, renowned for its maritime commerce and industry, master shipmen, and short, stocky sailors, reputedly the best in all the world. The nations of Zingara and Stygia were its major sea-faring rivals, but Argos dominated over even them in the coastal trade. Argos’ own coast was a glittering array of cosmopolitan cities and teeming ports from which merchant ships sailed south to Kush and the Black Kingdoms. The largest and richest port city of all in 22
Argos was Messantia. In Messantia began the western terminus of the Road of Kings, the major Hyborian trade highway running eastward to Turan, an endless flow of traffic from Aquilonia, Nemedia, and Ophir traveling on its winding lengths. The Argosseans were Hyborian, with some Zingaran and Shemitish influences. They were dark-skinned, with thick, curly dark hair and short, stocky bodies. Culturally, the Argosseans were also Hyborian, although some Shemitish customs had infiltrated Argossean culture, particularly in eastern Argos. Argos’ judges were appointed by the Argossean nobility. The Argossean courts were well known for siding with the wealthiest party in civil cases. They had no compunction about imprisonment or torture for witnesses who refused to testify. The Argosseans were primarily worshippers of the Hyborian god Mitra, although Bel, the Shemitish God of Thieves, was worshipped by many Argossean freebooters. Other religions were tolerated, although worship of Set, the Stygian serpent-god, was always viewed with considerable suspicion. Argos may have been the fourth of the Hyborian kingdoms to be established, after Hyperborea, Nemedia and Aquilonia. Argos had a long-standing feud with Zingara, based on their maritime rivalry. Zingara had launched a major military incursion into Argos when Conan was a young man. The Argosseans under King Milo trounced King Ferdrugo of Zingara’s invaders soundly. After Conan’s time, the Aquilonian Empire annexed Argos. Still later, the Pictish hordes looted and burned the region. With the advance of the glaciers at the end of the Hyborian Age, Argos vanished beneath the ice and eventually beneath the Atlantic Ocean when the glaciers retreated.
The Border Kingdom The Border Kingdom was a region of small city-states so loosely allied to one another that they could not even agree on a proper name for the land they shared. The region seems to have been little more than a trade route for other states, rather than any kind of nation in its own right. In one account, it was described as a “dreary waste of desolate, empty moors,” where “here and there gnarled and stunted trees grew sparsely.” One later cartographer speculated that much of the country was a “Great Salt Marsh” created by the drainage from the other nations’ river systems. It is no small wonder then that the youthful Conan chose to pass through Brythunia, rather than the Border Kingdom, when he decided to journey to the south! But the Border Kingdom lay sandwiched between much greater powers like Cimmeria, Aquilonia, Nemedia and Hyperborea, thus earning its name, since all of these states were happy to keep the Border Kingdom independent so it could serve as a bulwark against the territorial ambitions of any of the others. This meant its people were constantly threatened on all sides by the intrigues of the greater powers but such precarious geography also presented enormous opportunities for those men and 23
women of an adventurous bent who were skilled with a blade or with spells and were willing to carve out their own destiny in such a chaotic land. The prize of the Border Kingdoms, within the grasp of the bandit-king Atzel, was the main pass into Cimmeria—used by humble traders and merchant-princes alike. Control over that pass kept Atzel’s bandit minions well-paid, well-fed and well-armed. Gripped by a cruel winter, the mountain passes of this lawless land were choked with ice, while snow-laden winds howled through the canyons, sounding to mortal ears like the cries of a dying god. Any who set foot in these lands walked into the frozen heartland of Atzel’s power, falling under his sight as he watched all transpiring in his realm from the highest windows of a great fortress. Atzel’s Approach, the region leading to the bandit-lord’s castle, was a land teeming with thieves and brigands banding together under their master’s banner. Some told stories of Atzel’s death at the hands of Conan the Cimmerian years before, but if these tales were true, how then did the bandit-king walk once more? Why did lawless killers from across Hyboria answer his call to arms? Why did an army of bandits flood the high passes of Cimmeria, killing and plundering in his accursed name? Ruins jut from the scarred land of Atzel’s Approach, the broken bones of a long-dead civilization. An ominous shadow fell upon these ruins, an unholy silhouette of inhuman size and shape. The word dragon passed many lips in a fearful hiss. Others whispered demon, and prayed to their gods for protection. Atzel’s Approach offered a variety of torments to ensnare unwary travelers, and not all of them—not even most—were human. While the bandit groups under Atzel’s banner were a grave threat throughout the region, darker dangers exist. The greatest of these, and the father of many lesser evils, was the demon known as Vistrix. Little was known of Vistrix in truth, and much of the death-filled rumor tied to the beast was born of fearful speculation rather than iron-hard fact. The tales spin into myths as the cold nights pass, blending legend and truth into one. Young mammoths are taken from their herds, torn from the earth by a great shadow and a thunder of swift wind. Snake-like inhuman beasts, the chill crawlers, crawl free of the entombing snow in obscene numbers and claw their way to the surface world. Those eking out a living on the slopes of the region’s mountains blame Vistrix for these acts. The demon takes the mammoths to feed. The chill crawlers are the monstrous spawn of the dragon-thing. Vistrix appeared to be a new threat to the region, rather than some ancient evil well-known for plaguing Cimmeria and the Border Kingdoms for centuries past. All aware of the spreading evil in Atzel’s Approach know the arrival the demon-dragon coincides with the blossoming darkness. Whether Vistrix is the cause or another symptom of the foulness in the realm, none can be sure. In form, the demon is a reptilian echo from a long-forgotten age when cold-blooded and scaled predator-kings claimed the world as their hunting
ground. Does intelligence—a human intelligence—gleam in its giant eyes? The answer to that depends entirely on which tales a traveler believes… Whatever the truth, a great unease bleeds through the region. Were neighboring kingdoms not so concerned with the invasions ravaging their borders, Hyboria’s rulers would look to Atzel’s lands with grim resolve in their eyes and blades in their hands. Evil bred there unopposed—that much had become clear. Deep within the canyons and upon the mountainsides, bandit armies toiled alongside Stygian sorcerers among the shells of decayed settlements, pulling ancient relics from the earth and hoarding them for purposes unknown to all others. It seemed Atzel had forged an unusual—and dangerous—alliance. Time would tell the tale of what the unexpected ties between the bandit-king and the Stygians spelled for the security of Hyboria.
The Brythunians (Brythunia) Brythunia was a loosely-knit Hyborian confederation of largely autonomous city-states. Its southern, Nemedian frontier was the Yellow River. Another river flowed eastward along the Brythunian side of the Graaskal Mountains and marked the northern border. The highlands in the northeast were cleft by numerous passes, through which Hyrkanian invaders poured into the West during the years following the Age of Conan. Interior Brythunia was a land of fertile, humid prairies interspersed with very thick, wolfhaunted coniferous forests. Brythunia’s economy was probably primarily agricultural, with its aristocracy centered upon land-owning boyars who made their homes in the fortified cities. The most fertile soils were found in the alluvial deposits of the interior river valleys and in the southern piedmont. The folk of Brythunia had the dubious honor of serving as the traditional butts of Hyborian Age humor which painted Brythunian men as thick-witted oafs and their women as saucy and willing wenches for other men. The women of Brythunia, mostly blonde, spirited and beautiful, were much sought after by slave traders. Modern Brythunians descended from a mixture of ancient Hyperborean and native Brythunian stock. The Hyperboreans had been stocky (like the Shemites), with dark hair; ancient Brythunians were tall, fair-skinned and blond. Modern Brythunians were a mixture of these traits, being stocky, but with fair skin and blond hair. Most Brythunians lived in small villages of wattle-and-daub huts. In the central regions, these villages were set into copses of trees, while in the northeastern highlands, they were perched upon the tops of high crags. Where necessary, steps and footholds are carved into the rock to ensure easy climbing, and most Brythunian villages have at least one horse-path. In the fertile central plains, farming fed most Brythunians, but in the highlands men hunted wild game to survive. Brythunian women remained at 25
home, weaving, embroidering and raising children. A Brythunian widow moved in with her husband’s brother or her own family. Brythunians lived in many Hyborian cities outside their own homeland, especially in Corinthia, where they worked as skilled weavers and dyers. Central Brythunia was ruled by hereditary nobles who officially owed allegiance to the Brythunian king but were in fact independent in all but name. This divided leadership caused many of Brythunia’s problems, and put the king into a difficult position when bargaining with the other Hyborian nations. The Brythunian nobles bickered with one another as frequently as they ignored the throne. The difficulties of Brythunian life prevented any Brythunian noble from having the manpower or wealth required to raise large standing armies, but each noble maintained a few household guards who raided neighboring steadings for cattle and sheep (or on the whim of a piqued noble). This constant internal strife prevented Brythunia from consolidating into a true nation-state. The Brythunian monarch was constantly trying to make other kingdoms acknowledge his sovereignty over Brythunian territory. However, as he had no real army to draw upon, Nemedia and Corinthia generally ignored the Brythunian “King of Oafs.” Brythunians in the populated central plains were usually worshipers of Mitra, although there was also some worship of the gods of Turan and Zamora.
The Cimmerians (Cimmeria) Known for their strength and ferocity throughout the Western world, the Cimmerians were barbarian tribesmen to whom war was the only known way of life. Few Cimmerians left their homeland, but those who ventured into the great world to the south soon learned that the other civilized races did not follow their own codes of honor or loyalty. Cimmeria was an unremittingly somber land, “all of hills, darkly wooded, under skies nearly always gray, with winds moaning drearily down the valleys” and its inhabitants were wont to be moody, taking on the cast of their gray skies. The Cimmerian people were the direct descendants of the vanished Atlanteans who had settled Thuria after the Cataclysm. They were tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or gray eyes. They lived in small, isolated tribes made up of extended family units which herded cattle, grew oats and raided one another for cattle or wives. A hard region of tundra, mountains and wooded fields seated beneath a cold, gray sky were the lands of Cimmeria. It was surrounded by those who would aim to either kill or conquer the native barbarian clans that had thrived there since the time of the Atlanteans. The hard terrain was often softened with the blood-churned mud of Pictish invaders, Vanir raiders, Hyperborean Gurnakhi, or foolish would-be conquerors from the Border Kingdoms. But no one man could possibly claim these 26
unconquerable people—or the lands in which they struggled daily to survive. Cimmeria was a harsh place of clan wars and tightly-knit families, where strength and cunning were the keys to survival. Cimmeria was a land filled with dangerous people and predators, where much of the life that can be found in its frozen hills only sought to take life from another. Wolves, mountain cats and fierce bears hunted the frozen ranges and thick woods, more than capable of killing entire hunting parties unprepared for their savagery. Stories of monstrous beasts and dark legends waiting in the icy wastes for foolish travelers were told around crackling campfires, many of which had been proven true time and time again. In Cimmeria, if the weather and the terrain did not claim you, something else likely would. Only the strong carved out a living there, often quite literally. The terrain was difficult, but many came to see for themselves. The Eiglophian Mountains tempted adventurers into their frozen heights to test their mettle against bloodthirsty cannibals and fabled creatures of legend. These towering peaks marked the northern border of Cimmeria. Beyond their steep cliffs to the northwest were the lands of the Vanir invaders; to the northeast were the folk of the Aesir, who were infrequent allies or foes of the Cimmerians. There were few passes through the mountains, so most hostilities were limited to raids and pillaging—or so many believed, before the Vanir marched an army of warriors into Cimmeria. Passage through the mountains was difficult and dangerous, even for seasoned travelers. Apart from trappers and scouts, few men dwelled in these mountains. To survive in the Eiglophians, one had to be possessed of incredible willpower, physical strength, and great courage. The howling winds and biting cold gnawed at both body and soul; the leopards and ice worms weeded out the weak, and treacherous paths and sheer cliffs killed the unwary. What human life did cling to existence here was divided between scattered Cimmerian clans and the savages of the flesh-eating tribes that had bedeviled hunters and trappers for decades now. These murderous cannibals raided nearby Cimmerian villages, not for conquest, but to capture people who were fated to be eaten in the deep, dark caves that the flesh-eaters claimed as their territory. The range itself was a holy place to the Cimmerians. In the eastern spur of the Eiglophians, there stood Ben Morgh, known to outlanders as Mount Crom. Here, it is said, Crom dwelled, sending out death and doom to those who had failed him. His anger shook the peaks in the form of thunderstorm and avalanches—and Crom was wrathful of late, as invaders from Hyperborea, Vanaheim, and the Border Kingdom trespassed ever deeper into Cimmeria. Among the other notable locations in frozen Cimmeria was the “Field of Chiefs” and its Standing Stone, where the Cimmerian clans came to speak of peaceful alliances, fearless of treachery, was a living piece of history. There was little question as to why foreigners who believed themselves strong of arm and swift of blade came to Cimmeria.
Cimmeria was the land that spawned the great and famous Conan the Barbarian, whose travels and adventures became the road map of legendry for all of Hyboria. Many of his exploits echoed across his homeland, beckoning others of the Cimmerian clans to mimic his life of danger and excitement in the pursuit of women and wealth. In a way, it was this land’s harshness that tempered Conan as much as the drive of the man himself. Cimmeria, the land of the god Crom, was not peaceful, pleasant, or easily survived, but it made a tough people even tougher and sent forth the foolish to an early grave. It was a difficult place that laid low the weak and heralded the strong. There was a saying among the Cimmerian clans of the southern border, “Make peace with your gods before you come to Cimmeria, as it will not be found here.” A shroud hung over the people of Cimmeria. While one might assume it was the pall of the dark weather overhead, eternally threatening grim days and violent storms, the truth was that the Cimmerians lived under a shroud of impending doom. As the Hyborian Age entered its final centuries, few people felt it as acutely as the northern barbarian clans. It was a subconscious sensation—more a subtle, ever-present melancholy than any true emotion. But it was there, in the blood and bones of every Cimmerian. They all felt it. They each sensed, deep within, the end was coming. King Conan I of Aquilonia was Hyboria’s most renowned Cimmerian, though he was not a typical example of his people. He treasured life while his people struggled through and endured it. He burned with a curiosity to see the world’s wonders, while his kinfolk stayed within the mountainous boundaries of their homeland and cared nothing for what occurred outside their clan territories. Life was hard in Cimmeria, and no greater evidence for this fact exists than the dour Cimmerians themselves. The Cimmerians were a barbarous people, with a culture shaped by their harsh and dreary land to the point where foreigners looked askance at the tribes of the north and wondered if they ever laughed or sung any songs other than dismal dirges. To the world beyond Cimmeria, the barbarians of this cold and rugged region were locked in the misery of internal wars between feuding tribes and surviving through the efforts of dedicated hunters that provided meat and fur for each community. The Cimmerians lived hand-tomouth subsistence lives in a hostile realm. It earned them the pity of the other nations, but it gave them a strength no training could ever teach. While the Cimmerians acknowledged Crom as their god, they did not worship him as the Aquilonians revered Mitra and the Stygians feared Set. Crom watched and brooded from his mountain throne, but he cared nothing for the lives of mortals. The Cimmerians believed that Crom gave them strength at birth—the strength they will need to meet the trials of life. After that, they were on their own, as it should be.
These barbarians had little in the way of writing or book-learning, instead passing their lore verbally in fireside tales or whispered legends. They valued martial prowess over their enemies, physical strength, and the ability to provide for oneself over all else. While they had their seers and shamans, the supernatural held terror for most barbarians, not any wonder or tempting appeal. They prided themselves on working through life with their strength, skill and cunning, and never relying on the arcane mysteries that blackened the souls of the men in other “civilized” nations. One of the most famous regions of Cimmeria was Broken Leg Glen, once the home of Conan the Cimmerian himself. Typical for Cimmeria, Broken Leg Glen was a deep valley surrounded by steep mountains and cut by a cold river running through its center. Positioned between the controversial Aquilonian colonial settlement of Venarium and the battletorn Conall’s Valley, it had its share of travelers simply “passing through” to reach other parts of Cimmeria. Some came just to see the stretch of land that gave birth to King Conan himself, and the rest of his now lost Clan Conarch. For those who chose or were chosen to stay in the Glen, they were likely to have adventure thrust upon them. The rocky soil and frequent rains and snows, depending on the season, made agriculture a difficult endeavor that many families simply did not have the resources to pursue. Even so, there was a life to be carved from the Broken Leg Glen, and many succeeded in doing so. There was a large village located there, at least by Cimmerian standards, that was home to many. It was arguably the most civilized settlement in the nation, and was home to a number of families. A large waterwheel-driven grain mill ground out flour and mash for the Glen’s families to use, powered by the cold water that rushed down the river from the mountaintops. Game animals were plentiful and hunting was a household practice. Some families took to raising livestock, keeping them in small numbers to avoid attracting the numerous predators that stalked the forests. Bears and wolves were a constant threat to lone travelers. These mighty hunters were responsible for the deaths or disappearances of livestock, children, and even full-grown villagers. The beasts of Broken Leg Glen were hardly the only threats, however. With the red-haired Vanir raiders moving in on nearby territories from the frozen north every week, there have already been “Vanir sightings” in the Glen. Some dismiss these as rumor; others are already sharpening their axes and tightening their armor straps down for an impending battle. Some wonder that the Vanir may be coming for simple conquest; others believe they are after the renowned blue iron ore that is used to make the fabled Cimmerian Blue Steel. The mysterious and powerful metal would be a boon to an invading force to be sure, if they could also steal the secrets to forge it, for Blue Steel cannot be crafted using normal metallurgical techniques.
The Vanir invasion is not the only thing that keeps the people of Broken Leg Glen at arms. There were darker rumors too; whispers of a deeper evil from the area’s past that had crept out of their nightmares. Likely it was nothing more than old fears, but those who remember were not taking any chances. In Cimmeria’s icy east, the ravine of Conall’s Valley cuts a shallow slice in the stone and soil flesh of Hyboria. Here, in the shadow of Ben Morgh—Crom’s mountain throne—his people made a valiant and desperate last stand against invaders from the north. In times past the region was known for its wild beauty and was home to several Cimmerian clans; each tribe founding their settlements among the many ancient Atlantean ruins that the lush northern forests have never completely concealed. Then came the Vanir. Now the woodland pass is littered with the ashen remnants of villages burned to the ground, and where Cimmerian forts once rose among the trees, Vanir spears are plunged into the earth, bearing the severed heads and rotting bodies of the valley’s slain defenders. When the Vanir swept down from the north, they came not to raid, but to conquer. The Cimmerian warriors who fought for their homeland were slain; their families enslaved or slaughtered while villages burned. The few survivors were mainly outcasts, hunters and warriors who managed to flee south and escape the blades of the Vanir. The once-beautiful Conall’s Valley has become a battleground; its beauty spoiled by savagery and bloodshed as the Vanir and Cimmerians fight over the ruins of destroyed villages. If the woodland pass falls completely, the way into Cimmeria will be laid open to the berserkers of Vanaheim. The survivors of the northerners’ assaults gather around their night-fires in makeshift settlements and sharpen their swords, vowing to sell their lives dearly in the name of their homeland. All the while, these last Cimmerians cast looks at the distant tower of Ben Morgh. Their distant and cruel god watches from that mountain peak, and the warriors know that dying while Crom himself looks on would be a shameful death indeed. Conall’s Valley was also adjacent to the Field of the Dead, the sacred burial ground for Cimmerian chieftains that had been used for many centuries. The Field of the Dead lay at the eastern end of Conall’s Valley in the northern part of Cimmeria. Situated at the very foot of Ben Morgh, the towering mountain where Crom himself was said to dwell, the Field of the Dead bore a close resemblance to Cimmerian descriptions of the afterlife. It was a rocky, windswept land, full of cold mists and pitiless rain. Dark heather grew on the stony hillsides and the burial mounds of old chieftains, and the howls of wolves echoed plaintively from the depths of the twisting valleys. It was a bleak, haunting place, as grim and cheerless as a Cimmerian’s soul.
Each Cimmerian clan laid claim to a specific part of the Field of the Dead, interring their leaders in mounds shaped of earth and stone. The chieftain’s final resting place was surrounded by armor and weapons, fine clothes, trophies and treasure, so that he would enter the realm of the dead with all the wealth that befit a great leader. Tales of such treasure sometimes lured raiders and treasure-seekers onto the burial fields, despite the terrible risks. Even if these would-be looters managed to avoid the watchful eye of Cimmerian patrols, they had still to face the wrath of the spirits themselves. Many who ventured into the depths of the burial mounds never saw the light of day again. This terrible drama is now being played out on a grand scale as a large force of Vanir warriors have invaded the sacred burial grounds. They are pillaging the grave mounds of ancient chieftains and plundering them of arcane relics, caring nothing for the warriors interred within. Bodies have been dumped onto the dank earth, or defiled by Vanir knives. Now the specters of angry chieftains haunt the Field of the Dead, seeking to avenge themselves against those who wronged them—or upon any living soul unfortunate enough to cross their path. Worse still, Cimmerians struggling to turn back the Vanir raiders have heard terrible howls in the darkness, and some claim to have seen werewolves stalking the mist-shrouded valleys. It was feared that the Vanir had unleashed an ancient curse locked up in one of the older burial mounds, and the Cimmerians of this period were powerless to stop it. Cimmeria was a land known for its grim weather, harsh terrain and its mountain ranges which formed Hyboria’s icy spine. The most hostile patch of the grey realm was not, however, the snow-wracked Eiglophian Mountains or the ghost-plagued grave land called the Field of the Dead. Even Conall’s Valley, where Vanir berserkers brandished bloodstained blades and howled their challenges to the retreating tribes, was not the most feared or dangerous part of that sunless northern region. That sinister honor went to a place named with typical barbarian simplicity: the Frost Swamp. If one region could be said to house every nightmare of the frozen north, it was here. Dark legends walked, stalking the misty paths with ichor-wet fangs and trembling claws, seeking human prey. Mortal foes abounded, from the loose-fleshed doppelgangers who murdered through illusion-aided hunts, to the corpse-white mystics of Hyperborea. Truly, the gods themselves must laugh at the collection of hateful evils that gathered here to torment the Cimmerians, all stirred up by the probing fingertips and black sorceries of the Hyperboreans. It was said the Hyperboreans came to the Frost Swamp to unearth ancient secrets from a time before the gods drowned Atlantis. Whatever the truth behind their presence, their insidious touch had roused malicious forces within the stagnant, greasy waters of the region. Few souls willingly entered the Frost Swamp, and those that did (who have any expectations of walking back out again) were invariably the finest, most skilled hunters and warriors Cimmeria had ever
bred. Only these souls, the strongest sons and daughters of the northlands, stood any chance of navigating the winding, fog-thick pathways or overcoming the many breeds of inhuman creatures that prowled through the brackish bog waters of the swamp. The first Cimmerian clans existed contemporaneously with Atlantis, intermarrying with Atlantean colonists who had settled in the Western region of the Thurian continent prior to the Cataclysm. Cimmerians of Conan’s time apparently still existed in a hunting and gathering culture, living in villages deep in the humid forests of Cimmeria. The people used iron, and more rarely, steel weapons and had borrowed other elements from the more advanced cultures to the south. Cimmerians respected strength and little else. This belief was best represented by their chief god, Crom, the Lord of the Mound, who the Cimmerians believed breathed life into men when they were born, and gave them the strength and courage to conquer all which they must face in a hard life. Afterwards, a man could rely only upon his own skills to carry him through life. The practice of magic of any kind, the Cimmerians believed, corrupted the soul, and extracted a terrible price from those who practiced it. Men could expect little pity from a Cimmerian. Women were to be protected, but a man who could not fend for himself was usually left to die. Even the sick were rarely helped unless they were of the Cimmerian’s own tribe or clan. Those children born deformed were left in the snows to die so they would not burden their families or their tribe; life was too hard to spare pity on those who could not pull their own weight. Invaders and thieves were slain outright. Any companions captured by an enemy were considered dead men and were mourned but then forgotten. In this way the Cimmerians remained strong and were not weakened by pity or remorse, which they considered the weaknesses of civilization. In Cimmeria, a youth was considered a man once he had killed in battle. For most Cimmerians, this came before their sixteenth birthday, either in interclan feuds or in battle against the Vanir, Aesir or Hyperboreans, the Cimmerians’ most common enemies. After this time, a Cimmerian man was obligated to uphold his tribe’s customs like any adult. A proper Cimmerian male took a wife before his eighteenth birthday, then stayed to take care of his clan’s cattle and lands, which were held as the common property of all in the clan. Widows often married the brother of the deceased, although the Cimmerians did not practice polygamy. Few Cimmerians lived to old age. Gray hair was a mark of respect, for it indicated that the elder had been a skilled-enough warrior to survive for so many years. During the reign of King Conan in Aquilonia, his homeland came under a fierce invasion from the Vanir of Vanaheim, and the region of Cimmeria called Conall’s Valley saw the brunt of the desperate fighting. In Cimmeria’s icy east, the ravine of Conall’s Valley cuts a shallow slice in the stone and soil flesh
of Hyboria. Here, in the shadow of Ben Morgh—Crom’s mountain throne—his people made a valiant and desperate last stand against the Vanir invaders from the north. In times past the region was known for its wild beauty and was home to several Cimmerian clans; each tribe founded their settlements among the many ancient Atlantean ruins that the lush northern forests had never completely concealed. Then came the Vanir. With the northern invasion the woodland pass was littered with the ashen remnants of villages burned to the ground, and where Cimmerian forts once rose among the trees, Vanir spears were plunged into the earth, bearing the severed heads and rotting bodies of the valley’s slain defenders. When the Vanir swept down from the north, they came not to raid, but to conquer. The Cimmerian warriors who fought for their homeland were slain; their families enslaved or slaughtered while villages burned. The few survivors were mainly outcasts, hunters and warriors who managed to flee south and escape the blades of the Vanir. The once-beautiful Conall’s Valley has become a battleground; its beauty spoiled by savagery and bloodshed as the Vanir and Cimmerians fight over the ruins of destroyed villages. If the woodland pass falls completely, the way into Cimmeria will be laid open to the berserkers of Vanaheim. The survivors of the northerners’ assaults gather around their night-fires in makeshift settlements and sharpen their swords, vowing to sell their lives dearly in the name of their homeland. All the while, these last Cimmerians cast looks at the distant tower of Ben Morgh. Their distant and cruel god watched from that mountain peak, and the warriors knew that dying while Crom himself looked on would have been a shameful death indeed. Five hundred years after the Age of Conan, the Cimmerians were still ensconced in their ancient homeland, having weathered the Vanir invasion only with the help of the heroes of Conan’s time. Hyrkanian invaders during this time exploded into other Hyborian kingdoms; but their thrust fizzled out amid the ferociously defended Cimmerian hills much like the Vanir before them. Only the great Nordic surge in advance of the glaciers of a new Ice Age at the end of the Hyborian Age finally displaced the black-haired barbarians. Many ousted Cimmerians then moved eastward, all the way to the southwestern shore of the great inland Vilayet Sea, where some of their descendants would one day become the Celts of Galicia in Asia Minor, and from whence the Celtic race would one day return to the Western lands of their forefathers.
The Corinthians (Corinthia) A land of mountains and non-descript city-states held together in a loose alliance like Brythunia and the Border Kingdom to the north, Corinthia’s main claim to fame was that the Road of Kings passed through its central country-side. The western reaches contained rank after rank of forested ridges, extending to the jagged wall of the Karpash Mountains. At least half of Corinthia’s territory was composed of mountains. That rugged geography led to isolation and certainly contributed to this land’s ability to remain unconquered by even the most powerful Hyborian Age empires. Corinthia apparently had a separate identity as early as the first days of the fallen Empire of Acheron. It was subject to the latter, then “gained its independence” before the fall of that ancient empire to the Hyborians. Some time during the 3,000 years that followed, it came under the growing hegemony of the Hyborians. The economy of Corinthia was based on both pastoral and cereal agriculture, with specialized small industries in the city-states, including the production of wool and hand-crafted musical instruments. The Corinthians were dark-skinned as Hyborians went, due to their intermixing with the Zamorans. They still retained the Hyborians’ stout build and tawny hair. The city-states of Corinthia had a variety of governmental styles, all of which pursued some form of representative, republican government. Government leaders were called Senators, and their power varied with the extent of their financial holdings. A Corinthian city-state’s Senate not only created the city’s laws, but also managed the courts and the prosecution of criminals. The Senators commonly used their legal powers to intimidate their opponents, and each city-state in Corinthia had its own “whips,” senior Senators who ruled the city through their control of groups of well-connected clients. The largest and most powerful of the Corinthian city-states in Conan’s time was called Polopponi which straddled the Road of Kings and was a major stopping-point for caravans and merchants on that route. The Corinthians were worshippers of Mitra, with only a scattering of devotion to the pantheons of Shem and Turan. There was little religious innovation, as most theological developments came from Nemedia or Aquilonia, but in some Corinthian city-states the temples were a major political force.
The Ghulistani (Ghulistan) Afghulistan lay in the southwestern foothills of the Himelian Mountains, north of Kosala and west of Vendhya as a small part of the larger Southern region called Ghulistan. It was inhabited by warlike tribes of mountaineers, who raided the northern reaches of Vendhya for spices and gold. The Vendhyans said only the Ghulistani knew all of the twists of the mountains and valleys of Ghulistan, knowledge that 34
was used to lay ambushes with great effect. The Ghulistani tribesmen were tall and powerful, with broad shoulders, brown skin, curly hair and long beards. The harsh mountain winds dried and wrinkled their skins, giving them a wizened appearance. They fought with the tulwar, a long, curved sword and the yardlong Zhaibar knife. There were hundreds of such tribes scattered throughout Ghulistan. Those mentioned in the saga of Conan included the Afghulis, who ruled the southwestern region known as Afghulistan, the Wazulis, who controlled southern Ghulistan near the Vendhyan border, and the lesser tribes of the Dagozai, the Galzai and the Khurakzai. Typically, the tribes obeyed a strong, charismatic warrior-leader, and followed him until he made a mistake. One failure, and the leader was deposed or even killed.
The Hyperboreans (Hyperborea) The first of the aboriginal Hyborian tribes to discover the use of stone in building, the Hyperboreans abandoned a primitive, nomadic way of life to settle in huge walled dwellings of stone, consequently founding the very first, but most isolated, of the Hyborian kingdoms. Separated from Asgard to the west by the River of Death Ice, the Hyperborea of Conan’s day was ruled by wizards and witches, a group known as the White Hand. Its tall, gaunt lords and ladies tended towards white hair and emerald eyes. The citadels of Hyperborea were impressive even by Hyborian standards. They were made from mortarless stones carefully fitted together and dressed smooth to give no foothold for a climber. The walls were turreted and crenellated, fifty feet high and twenty paces thick, giving the fortresses a squat appearance. Windows and arrow-slits were set into the walls, too high to be entered, but low enough to allow effective defense. The ironwood gates were protected by iron portcullises and decorated with protective runes formed by patterns of iron nails. The western boundary of Hyperborea with Asgard was the River of Death Ice, having its source in the Eiglophian Mountains. This stream was shallow, clogged by glacial debris. Since it was also frozen throughout the long winters, it provided an ineffectual barrier against invading Aesir from the west. The land of Hyperborea was wild and mountainous, gloomy and damp, its main pass through the mountains ominously named Skull Gate. The Hyperborean people were pale-skinned, extremely tall and gaunt, with white hair and cat-green eyes. Many were as tall as seven feet. They were a superstitious lot who lived as serfs in huts and hovels beyond the stone walls where they eked out meager livings from farming the stubborn soil and herding small numbers of shaggy cattle and reindeer. Hyperborea was ruled by the White Hand—a coven of 35
sorcerers not unlike the Black Ring of Stygia or the Scarlet Circle of Khitai which ruled the land from Castle Haloga in the far reaches of Hyperborea. The White Hand’s “Witch-Men” were also the priests and priestesses of Louhi, the ever-reincarnating goddess of the Hyperboreans, as well as accomplished sorcerers who received their arcane magical abilities from service to their goddess. Their magic focused around the cold of their land and necromantic control of the undead. Hyperborean sorcerers were highly prized in the northern wilds, but they were little respected in the rest of the Hyborian lands because they were viewed as having sold their souls for power. Hyperborea also hosted several bands of hardy slave raiders who made repeated forays into Cimmeria to fill their slave pens. According to tales, Conan was taken captive by Hyperborean slave traders early in his youth. After the Age of Conan, Hyperborea was conquered by Hyrkanians who galloped around the frozen tundra north of the Vilayet Sea to lay the land to waste.
The Hyrkanians (Hyrkania) Hyrkania was a vast land of prairies, forest, and tundra. Hyrkania was best known for its broad, barren steppes where horse-warriors, masters of the powerful double-curved Hyrkanian bow, galloped the great treeless tracts of land. Living in tribal clans and led by chieftains called Khans, these warriors rode on raids of plunder. They were “lean horsemen in sheepskins and high fur caps lashing their horses and loosing their barbed arrows.” In Conan’s day, Hyrkania was less a unified state than a region in which isolated city-states held sway, separated from their neighbors by steppe, forest, desert and even tundra in the far north. Although many of these city states like Rhamdam, Onagrul and Khoraf on the eastern shore of the Vilayet Sea were dominated by the Empire of Turan, others retained their autonomy, at least for a time—perhaps by trading with and paying tribute to the acquisitive kings in the Turanian capital of Aghrapur across the water. Autonomous regions were situated along the northeastern shore of the Vilayet Sea and deep into the interior, with Turanian vassals along the southeastern coast and the eastern caravan routes. Some nomadic Hyrkanian tribes dwelt far from the Inland Sea and thus from Turan’s powerful navy. These tribes often refused to even acknowledge Turan’s existence, which they viewed as a betrayal of the Hyrkanians’ traditionally nomadic ways. The Hyrkanians were tall and slender, with hooked noses and brown or black hair. Their skin was naturally light, but was darkened by the sun and wind of the steppe to a deep brown, almost like a Zingaran’s. The men wore moustaches, and beards were not uncommon. The Hyrkanians were fearsome warriors. Their horsemanship, combined with their carefully made saddles and skill at their chosen
weapons, makes them a terrible raiding force. They did not fight the “set piece” battles favored by Hyborian armsmen; rather, they fought when and where they chose. A troop of Hyrkanian cavalry could travel nearly 100 miles in a day, bringing four to five horses per rider, and fight at the end of that day without resting. When traveling, Hyrkanians did not stop to change horses; rather, the warrior vaulted from horse to horse, taking his bow case and arrows with him. Hyrkanian archery was legendary. Their recurved composite bows were made from wood, horn and sinew glued together, and took over a year to make and season. The Hyrkanians got the bows from artisans who lived in villages on the western slopes of the Mountains of Night in Khitai. The strength of one of these bows was rated by the number of men required to string it. Youths used a “one-man” bow, most warriors used a “two-man” bow, which could also be strung by one man with the aid of a special harness, and the strongest archers used a “three-man” bow. Since these bows cannot be left strung for more than two hours without cracking or losing resiliency, Hyrkanian warriors generally carried two bows. The Hyrkanians did not take slaves or, at least not adult male slaves. Sometimes they took young children or non-Hyrkanian concubines, but otherwise they killed those who stood in their way. “We do not want to rule over conquered peoples,” said the Hyrkanians, “but over great pastures.” The Hyrkanians had little fixed territory to defend. Their nomadic way of life made them immune to the territorial imperatives of more “civilized” lands. There was one outstanding exception to this impermanence: each Hyrkanian tribe maintained a burial ground, called a kakaba, or City of Mounds, for its Khans and Ushi-Khans (Over-Khans). The kakaba was a secret field of barrows, often concealed in the most inhospitable regions of the steppe. As a sign of reverence to the dead, horse-riding was not permitted in the kakaba. Similarly, it was forbidden to fire arrows into the kakaba, for fear of striking the spirit of one of the tribal ancestors. This made it difficult to drive invaders from the kakaba. Although these kakaba constituted a weakness in the Hyrkanian defense, they were not exploited: the Hyrkanians ensured that no enemy who entered the kakaba was permitted to leave alive. The Hyrkanians were ancestor worshippers, who respected the accomplishments of men and the Everlasting Sky. They had no true gods, as Hyborians knew the term, and whatever cultural influence the Khitani had upon their religion had long since been rejected. Some of the westernmost Hyrkanians followed the deities of the Turanians.
The Iranistani (Iranistan) An Eastern nation south of the Vilayet Sea, Iranistan was one of Turan’s strongest rivals, and had grown rich on trade with Vendhya to its east and the Black Kingdoms to its west. Its capital, glittering Anshan, was presided over by a king called a Shah and was far-famed for its cultivated court, its splendid woven carpets, and exotic delicacies, such as the pistache nut. The Ilbar Mountains, a western extension of the Himelian range, extended into Iranistan, and the Ilbarsi hillmen who inhabited the towns in these mountains were nominally subject to the Iranistani government, though they were openly rebellious, owing their true allegiance only to their own personal chiefs and overlords. The Iranistani were a short, stout, broad-shouldered people. They had light brown skins, blue or brown eyes, and steely-blue hair (much like the Shemites, to whom they were distantly related). The Iranistani people were divided into a myriad of tribes banded together against the threat of Turan. Although this common enemy gave the kingdom some strength, the varying origins of the Iranistani made the kingdom fractious. Each tribe had ancestral lands which they had held for millennia. These lands were not tremendously valuable, nor were they extensive, but they represented the tribes’ independent spirits. “Let the king rule in Anshan,” one tribal leader said. “These lands are ours.” Iranistan did not have a formal legal system. Minor infractions were resolved by the tribal leader, without recourse to “national” courts. In more significant cases, the king’s word was theoretically absolute, but a tribe who disagreed with the king simply withdrew to its ancestral lands and ignored his directives. Depending upon the monarch and his state of mind, such withdrawals were viewed either as the right of the independent tribe, or as willful disobedience and treason. The former response usually allowed for resolution of the dispute, while the latter quickly involved Iranistan’s soldiers in putting down the “insurrection,” further weakening the teetering nation. The Iranistani gods comprised a myriad of tribal deities and heroes mixed with ancient sects of Hyborian or Vendhyan gods. There was no “state religion” in Iranistan; the temple district of the capital Anshan was a confusing maze of tiny hut-shrines beside huge stone temples. The strength of a given cult was directly tied to the associated tribe’s favor with the king. Drujistan, the land of demons, was a wild and barren region of black rock in the southern Ilbar Mountains where an undead ghoul king once built Yanaidar, a haunted, ruined city. One cult within the borders of Drujistan was the Yezmites, or the Sons of Yezm. This cult had its roots in the pre-Cataclysmic Society of the Hidden Ones, a sect of assassins who used their dreaded Flame Knives to sway the destiny of empires. Yezmite assassins were blamed for the deaths of King Yildiz of 38
Turan, King Satish of Vendhya (father of Bhunda Chand and the Devi (Queen) Yasmina) and Kobad Shah of Iranistan. Their acts were marked by the stealth of their assassins and the poisoned daggers they used. The Yezmites’ daggers had blades shaped like a many-tongued flame. The Yezmites’ religious beliefs allowed them to take life and offer the assassinated person as a sacrifice if the murder was done according to proper rituals.
Khaurani (Khauran) Khauran lay between the eastern tip of Koth and the Eastern Desert of Turan. Khauran, whose name was also given to its capital and principal settlement, was blessed with fertile soil and lush meadows on the very edge of the desert. Like Khoraja to its southwest, Khauran had been founded years before by Kothian adventurers in an era when such men carved several tiny kingdoms out of the eastern Kothic uplands. Politically, there seems to have been no tradition that demanded that the small state’s ruler be a man, for in Conan’s time Khauran’s Queen Taramis felt no pressure to wed.
The Khitani (Khitai) Khitai was the mysterious land of the East, home of powerful sorceries and ancient mysteries. Khitai was a nearly legendary place to the average Hyborian of the West, although the more easterly peoples (such as the Turanians and Vendhyans) maintained considerable commerce with the many kingdoms of Khitai, which dominated most of eastern Hyboria. Khitai’s borders were ill-defined, as no other civilized “kingdom” lay near it. The Khitani themselves marked their western boundary at the Great Wall they built to keep out the Hyrkanian tribesmen and the mountains upon which it was built. This mountain range ran north to the trackless, icy wastes, and south to the Southern Sea. The north-central region of Khitai was marked by the Kara Korum, the harsh Desert of Black Sand that separated the city-states of Khitai’s fertile easter coast from its arid, western-most settlement of Wan tengri on the slopes of the Mountains of the Night north of the Great Wall. Over the centuries, the peoples of Khitai merged into a homogeneous race: slender, of medium height, with parchment-yellow skin, almond-shaped eyes, sharp features, high foreheads, and oval faces. Some regional variation existed (Southern Khitani, for example, tended to be shorter and thicker about the waist), but the distinctions were almost invisible to Westerners, though they were very visible to the Khitani. Khitan behavior was wrapped in complex ceremonies. Each member of Khitani society had a place in the structure and codes of behavior of society which must be followed. These codes did not prevent personal initiative. The Khitani believed that those who best obeyed the codes would be rewarded 39
by the gods, a concept they referred to as “obeying the will of Heaven.” From this, they deduced that “the winner was right in the eyes of Heaven,” and this success-oriented approach gives them a penchant for treachery and double-dealing which would cause a Hyborian noble to blanch. One confusing aspect of these codes of behavior was the extreme politeness of the Khitan demeanor. Most Western traders found this extreme unctuousness irritating, if harmless; successful traders recognized the traps concealed in this veneer of respect and watched their backs. Khitani law was administered by the king or overlord of each of the individual Khitani city-states, which included Ruo Gen, Shaulun, Shu Chen, Paikang and Wan Tengri in the far west on the edge of the Hyrkanian steppes. The overlord made the laws and often personally judged major criminal cases, although most overlords appointed jurists to try and punish criminals. Fines were common, although for serious crimes or those who upset the status quo, mutilation and death were the usual punishments. Unlike the Hyborian lands, where judges were often subject to financial influence, it was very difficult to bribe a judge in Khitai. On the other hand, a judge was often subject to the political concerns of his clan or faction, and might well ignore the law and the truth to accomplish some “higher” political purpose. One of the great wonder of the Hyborian Age was the Great Wall of Khitai, built by the Khitani city-states along the edge of the Mountains of the Night in western Khitai that separated Khitai proper from the steppelands of Hyrkania and that land’s fierce nomadic tribesmen. Memories of this Great Wall would survive the last Ice Age to prompt Khitai’s Chinese descendants to pursue a similar strategy to keep the horse nomads of our own era from ransacking their cities. Just as Stygia had its Black Ring, and Hyperborea its White Hand, the magi of Khitai were bound into a brotherhood of power: the Scarlet Circle. The Circle, like its counterparts in the West, was a hierarchy of dominance. Each wizard was served by those weaker than they, and in turn served those more powerful in the arcane arts. At the pinnacle of this magical pyramid stood the wizard Yah Chieng, ruler of the city-state of Paikang, whose demons, magic and sorceries were feared by all in the East.
The Khorajans (Khoraja) Khoraja was the name of both the small kingdom nestled between Koth and the Eastern Desert and its principal city. In fact, that settlement was this state’s only true city, for a map of the time reveals no other towns within Khoraja’s mountainous borders. As for its geography, Khoraja was separated from Shem by the formidable Kothian Escarpment, and its Shamla Pass was essential for overland caravans cross from the Hyborian lands of the West to Turan or the other Eastern kingdoms to the south. Once a
part of Shem, Khoraja had been carved out of the Shemite lands by the swords of Kothian adventurers many years before. And the people of Khoraja never lost their fierce desire to remain independent.
The Kothians (Koth) Koth was one of the oldest countries of the West, pre-dating the Hyborian invasions. It may have been established by refugees fleeing the devastation wrought in the ancient Thurian kingdom of Valusia by the Great Cataclysm. Despite its landlocked status, Koth was among the greatest commercial nations of the age, dominating much of the overland trade routes. The land of Koth included meadows in the west and farms to the east, and at least one thousand miles of hills separating the Kothian Uplands from the pastoral lands of Shem. The Flaming Mountains, an impenetrable volcanic range, lay in these hills. Shamla Pass to the east was the most important break in the extensive Kothian Hills and Escarpment, though a second pass was thought to exist near the city of Eruk in Shem. The capital of Koth was Khorshemish, a walled city of spires, minareted temples, markets and broad white streets. It was dubbed “the Queen of the South.” Koth’s other major settlement, a commercial center along its northeastern border near the Road of Kings was called Daramish. The Kothians were a mixed people of Hyborian and Shemitish strains, with a touch of Stygian blood. They were of medium height and build, although they tended to be overweight because of their more sedentary lifestyles. Koth’s people were much like those in other Hyborian nations, albeit more heavily taxed. Kothic law was like that of most other Hyborian lands. There was a system of justices and courts and a fair number of professional lawyers, particularly in Khorshemish. The primary distinction was the tax laws, which had increased taxes almost to the point of causing armed insurrection. The King of Koth during the time of Conan, Strabonus, was notable for several reasons. He repeatedly broke treaties with Ophir, Shem, Corinthia and Nemedia; he invaded Argos twice, and Shem and Ophir once each. Most serious, however, was his association with the sorcerer Tsotha-Lanthi. This secretive being inhabited the Scarlet Citadel, which adjoined Strabonus’ palace in Khorshemish. Tsotha-Lanthi’s citadel contained supernatural horrors that those few who entered and returned only hinted at. After Conan became the King of Aquilonia, his kingdom was attacked by an allied Koth and Ophir—with catastrophic results for the invaders. The Kothians worshiped the gods of Shem, and chiefly the cult of Ishtar the Earth Mother. This worship, however, was still tainted with the beliefs of the ancient empire of Acheron, giving Kothian religion a Stygian cast. Mitra was not a popular deity in Koth. 41
The Kushites (The Black Kingdoms) The Kushites were the black-skinned tribesmen most often encountered in Kush, Darfar, Keshan, Punt, southern Stygia, and the Black Kingdoms, although their tribes dominated the entire far South. The peoples of the Black Kingdoms were barbarians like the lighter-skinned Cimmerians and the Picts, who lived in loosely organized tribes in their small villages hidden away in the jungles of the south. Notable exceptions to this were the magnificent but savage kingdoms of Keshan, Darfar, Punt and Zembabwei, as well as the Stygian-influenced kingdom of Kush itself. Kush was the northernmost of the Black Kingdoms located to the south of Stygia. But because the Hyborians of Conan’s time knew so little of the black lands, they often used the term “Kush” to refer to all lands which had dark-skinned inhabitants indiscriminately. This term would have included the states of Darfar, Keshan, Punt, Zembabwei and almost all of the others. Little is known of these lands. Darfar was an inland kingdom known for its cannibals who filed their teeth and shaped their hair with mud, building up a hornlike headdress. Darfari are cannibal warriors with sharp, filed down teeth. They are fierce, aggressive hunters and have started moving upwards through the Black Kingdoms towards the heart of Stygia. They had conquered a halfforgotten fortress in Purple Lotus Swamp and made it their own. Probably the most distinctive feature of Darfari culture was their religion, which was focused around Yog, the god of empty abodes. Practically all Darfari were followers of the foul god Yog and took part in vile ceremonies involving human sacrifice and cannibalism in his name. There may have been other denizens in this land with less repulsive habits, but sharp-tooted Darfars often retained their taste for “long pig” even after they had been carried off by slavers from Shem. Bordered partly by the River Styx, the kingdom of Punt was blessed with an abundance of precious metals that could be found in its portion of the great river. Its people worshipped a goddess whose idol was crafted from pure ivory. Punt was often subjected to slave raids by slavers from Stygia and Shem. Zembabwei was perhaps the most powerful of the Black Kingdoms of the South and was said to be ruled by “twin kings.” Virtually nothing more is known of this rising empire in the south, although some legends say its people worshipped the Stygian serpent-god Set under the alternate name of Damballah. The country named Kush, the capital of which was at various times given as Meroe or Xuthal, was comprised mostly of villages that lay along the shore of the Western Ocean. Plunging a few miles inland, careless trvalers would have encountered first a band of almost impenetrable rain forest, followed by a broad savanna which was bordered on the east by rugged hills. Those in Kush who thought about such things counted the great Southern Desert, which lay beyond those hills, as part of their kingdom, but the 42
supposed “kings” of the Black Kingdoms exercised no control over that vast wasteland. South of Kush lay a land largely unmapped by Hyborian cartographers. There was only one city along this vast coastline, called the Black Coast, whose existence was confirmed by the Nemedian Chronicles: Abombi, a town sacked by Conan and Belit, the Shemite pirate who was known as the “Queen of the Black Coast.” Two other cities of the Black Coast, Kulalo and Yanyoga at the southernmost tip of the Hyborian continent, were spoken of in later legendry. The extreme southern tip of the continent near Yanyoga was said to be range f massive fiery volcanos known as the Fires of the South. Their glow was said to be visible for hundreds of miles out to sea at night. Several large tribes of Kushites dwelled among the deserts along and below southern Stygia, but most of these people were nomads, who wandered from one area to the next. The Black Kingdoms were dotted with huge pre-Cataclysmic cities. Some were abandoned, empty ruins buried in impenetrable jungle; others retained small remnants of their original populations, sometimes horribly changed and mutated over the millennia; yet others were occupied by small groups of modern people who fled from the “civilized” lands and took refuge in the ancient citadels. The peoples of the Black Kingdoms were black-skinned, with many variations in height, skin color, etc. Their eyes were savage, and they were strong, tall and usually very lean, although some chiefs were grotesquely fat. They had little chronic disease, as those who got sick in the Southlands quickly died because of the sheer intensity of Southern pathogens and parasites. In Kush, the common people were dark-skinned (as in the rest of the Black Kingdoms), but the Set-worshipping ruling class were the lightskinned descendants of Stygian lords. Tribal Kushites were adept at the use of the bow and the spear. They were governed by the whims of their tribal chieftains and witch-doctors (a type of shaman), who they followed without fail unto death. They worshiped many strange gods and beasts, many of whom were known only to specific tribes and were more like demons and monsters than true deities. Most of these “gods” were believed to dwell near the villages of their worshippers and came forth to protect the tribe, or punish it, should the need arise. Each tribe had a distinguishing ritual scar or tattoo which identified its members; in a society where little clothing was worn, such marks made it difficult to infiltrate an enemy tribe. The Stygians enslaved many Kushites and turned them into remarkably docile servants.
The Nemedians (Nemedia) Among the Hyborian kingdoms, Nemedia was second only to Aquilonia, and its people chafed that they were always in the shadow of that rival nation. Despite ancient enmity and sporadic wars, the two 43
nations remained locked in a diplomatic and military stalemate during the time of Conan. Nemedian civilization was of great antiquity and sophistication. Nemedia was well situated geographically to fend off invasion, making its territory secure. Possibly the first advanced Hyborian nation, Nemedia nurtured a tradition of intellectual inquisitiveness and scholarship unusual in the mostly pre-literate world of the Hyborian Age. The greatest historians and philosophers of the Western half of Hyboria hailed from Nemedia. The liberal atmosphere engendered by academic inquiry also accounted for Nemedia’s tolerance of a broad range of religious sects outside the state-endorsed worship of Mitra. All citizens had to pledge allegiance to the Nemedian king and were subject equally to the country’s code of laws. These laws were administered by Inquisitorial Councils and Courts of Justice, which, to their credit, exonerated the innocent as often as they convicted the guilty, another rarity in the Hyborian Age. Debtors were dealt with harshly, branded on the shoulders and sold as slaves. But slaves were well protected by law. The capital of Nemedia was Belverus, a beautiful city surrounded by rich croplands and orchards. Nemedia had long been Aquilonia’s primary rival. Many of Nemedia’s political and diplomatic efforts were directed toward demonstrating that Nemedia was more powerful than Aquilonia. However, despite Nemedia’s cultural depth and intellectual freedom, the land simply did not have the raw materials and natural resources which Aquilonia had access to in its lands. This continued rivalry had left the two kingdoms stalemated in an uneasy cold war. Nemedia maintained its feudal hierarchy more strictly than in the other Hyborian nations. All Nemedian citizens had a place in the feudal hierarchy; they had to swear allegiance to their lord, and they held specific obligations and rights under Nemedia’s detailed feudal code. Fiefs and noble offices were passed from father to eldest son, on the basis of blood ties alone. Should no son be available to take the Nemedian throne, complex rules of consanguinity were then invoked to determine the proper heir, according to the tradition of primogeniture. The King of Nemedia during Conan’s youth was named Nimed. That monarch was eventually murdered and succeeded by his borther Tarascus, who then warred with King Conan of Aquilonia. Few kings of the Hyborian Age died in their beds with their crowns still firmly attached to their heads, and those of even a nation as advanced as Nemedia were no exception. Noble birth was also a prerequisite for many positions of state. Only those with noble lineage were permitted to hold high ranks in the Nemedian army, to serve on the Courts of Justice, or to head an Inquisitional Council. Only in the field of scholarship were bloodlines ignored, although a noble’s sponsorship was required to get any scholarly grant from the Dragon Throne of Nemedia.
Nemedia was a society of inquisitiveness and scholarly and arcane learning. The greatest scholars of the West were employed by the Nemedian Dragon Throne to produce theological, scientific and historical works. Included in these were the Nemedian Chronicles, a running historical record produced by the Court Historian of Belverus. The Chronicles were startling in their lack of bias, and it is to recovered fragments of the Nemedian Chronicles that we owe our present-day knowledge of the lost Hyborian Age. Slavery in Nemedia, on the other hand, was more liberal than in most Hyborian nations. The law protected slaves from excessive cruelty by their masters, and permitted the children of a slave and a free person to remain free. Slaves, even debt-slaves, might be released by their masters, although many would refuse such an offer. In Nemedia, like much of the rest of the ancient world, many would rather be well-fed slaves than starving freemen. Nemedia was also the most liberal of the Hyborian kingdoms when it came to religion. In addition to the worship of the chief Hyborian god Mitra, which was nominally the state religion, Nemedia supported agnostic philosophical orders such as the Skeptics, as well as temples to the Shemitish deities and the mysterious cult of Ibis, the Stygian god of knowledge and archenemy of Set. This religious diversity was one of the sources of animosity between Aquilonia and Nemedia. The Temple of Mitra in Aquilonia had near-total control of the religious life of Aquilonia’s citizens, and over the centuries the Aquilonian branch of the Mitraic faith pressured Aquilonia’s kings to sue with the Dragon Throne for similar concessions in Nemedia.
The Ophireans (Ophir) Ophir was the wealthiest of the Hyborian kingdoms. It did not have the population or the agricultural base of Aquilonia or Nemedia, but it had something else of great value—gold mines. Ophir was mostly rolling plains, with forested regions throughout. In the east, Ophir’s land turned mountainous, merging into the rocky Nemedian-Corinthian border at its eastern end. Ophir was slightly rainy, with western storms pouring along the western edge of the mountains. There was little snow, except on the highest peaks, but the winters could become bitterly cold, with sudden drops below freezing. Ophir abounded in veins of gold, silver and a large number of gem-bearing ores. Some of the finest jewelers in the West resided in Ophir, where their raw materials were in the most abundance. As a sign of this skill, the knights of Ophir all possessed gilded armor—a most conspicuous extravagance. Ophir had a Hyborian culture, very similar to that of Aquilonia. The most striking difference was the presence of great wealth among the populace. As noted, every member of Ophir’s military wore gilded armor, and almost every bourgeois person (which itself was extraordinary since few Hyborian Age cultures were wealthy 45
enough to have a middle class) possessed a sizable quantity of gold, jewelry and gemstones. This wealth, and the associated high standard of living in Ophir, had given the Ophireans a reputation for generosity unsurpassed among the Hyborian nations. It is said that no one went hungry in Ophir, and that no one slept in the cold. Though this was a slight exaggeration, it was true that the Ophireans were free with their belongings, and their “charitable contributions” to other nations were unsurpassed. These riches also paid for a large army powerful enough to protect Ophir from its larger neighbors, such as Koth, Aquilonia and Nemedia. The Ophireans were devout Mitra worshippers, although this belief was tempered with more religious tolerance than was seen in Aquilonia. The nature worship of the druids had a following here as well, but it was limited to the more remote villages and towns. In one infamous instance, Ophir betrayed an alliance with Aquilonia during the time of King Conan’s reign there to join Koth in an invasion of the greatest of the Hyborian kingdoms. Needless to say, it turned out to be a very bad decision for the Ophireans and their Kothic allies.
The Picts (Pictland) The Pictish Wilderness, or Pictland, was the last remnant of the great uncivilized West which remained after the Hyborian invasions. This region, which once stretched from the Western Sea to the borders of the ancient Stygian Empire of Acheron, was reduced in the Hyborian Age to a strip of wilderness a tenth its original size. Even so, the coast of Pictland was well over 1,000 miles long, yet was devoid of even a single port city or a real city of any kind. Along the Pictish coast of the Western Ocean, there existed only the rude huts and villages of the fierce Picts, who were not seamen of any kind. It is said that the Picts of the coastlands were on an even lower cultural and technological level than the Stone Age hunters and gatherers of the clans who dwelled in the densely forested interior of the Pictish Wilderness. Pictland was bounded on the north by the Eiglophian Mountains, on the east by the Black River, on the west by the ocean, and on the south by Zingara. The Pictish Wilderness was virgin forest, filled with oaks and maples, and haunted by creatures thought long extinct by the rest of the Hyborian world. Hyborian scouts reported saber-tooth tigers, giant pythons, giant apes and stegosaurs, as well as the more usual wolves, bears and elk. Nearly any forest creature (either modern or prehistoric) might be found somewhere in Pictland and the Pictish forests could conceal anything. In addition to the wide variety of normal animals, there were many creatures in the Pictish Wilderness who “remembered” the worship of Jhebbal Sag, the Lord of Beasts. Such animals were generally slightly larger and more intelligent than normal, and were more easily controlled by Pictish 46
shamans. The Picts were a primitive people, short and swarthy, with broad shoulders, deep chests, and black eyes and hair. Their Stone Age culture was very primitive, and only possessed occasional “modern” weapons of poor quality metals like copper, tin or iron either bought from the Zingarans or stolen from Aquilonian troops. The Pictish tribes were very independent of one another. Each tribe was named for its totem animal: there were thus tribes named for the Eagle, Hawk, Turtle, Bear, Wolf, Wildcat and Raven. The tribe was ruled by a chief, who was usually the best warrior, with the cooperation and support of the tribal shaman. Pictish life did not provide for those who could not defend themselves, so rarely was the chief position held by an “elder.” The Picts were consummate hunters and trackers. They had no agriculture or animal husbandry; their dinners were brought in through their hunting skill alone. They were also nearly invisible in the woods; western Aquilonian border fortresses possessed a large ring of bare “killing ground” around their bases to prevent a Pictish ambush. Picts had no understanding of Hyborian chivalry. To a Pict, there was nothing wrong with sneaking up on your enemy and slitting his throat before he knew you were there. On the other hand, Picts in pursuit of an intruder ran screaming through the forest as they got close, to bring fear to their enemies. It is no wonder that the Aquilonians never managed to conquer Pictland despite the Picts’ general lack of civilization. Pictish weapons were the bow and the cast spear, the stone-headed war club and the stone-bladed hatchet. They had little use for Hyborian swords and battle axes, although they prized iron or steel daggers and hatchet heads above all other possessions. They wore no armor save for cured animal skins. Pictish chieftains usually dressed themselves in saber-tooth tiger skins as a mark of their office and killing one of the great cats was usually a requirement for ascending to the chieftainship of a Pict tribe. Not all Pictish relations with other peoples were hostile. Zingarans occasionally sailed north, trading Kushite ostrich plumes, jewelry, and weapons for animal skins, copper ore, and gold dust. Such trading was not without risk. A careless captain could quickly find himself on a sacrificial altar with Pictish hands at his ship’s tiller. The Picts worshiped the animal gods of the pantheon that was subservient to Jhebbal Sag and each tribe’s shaman usually took the animal spirit of his tribe’s patron animal as his primary guide to the Spirit World. Picts took heads for trophies; they hung them inside their huts or bound them to the shamanistic altars of their villages. The Picts believed that if they brought the head of their enemy home, the spirit of that enemy would be forced to serve them in the afterlife. Several orders of druids, who worshipped and drew upon the power of nature itself rather than Jhebbal Sag, were also found wandering the forests of
the Pictish Wilderness. The Picts feared the druids’ power and viewed their stone circles as taboo places to be avoided.
The Shemites (Shem) In the vast land of Shem, despotic kings ruled stately city-states in luxurious, sensual splendor within walled palaces in the west, and lean nomads in camel’s hair tents ruled the arid desert sands to the east. The coastline had few harbors, thus overland trade was the true lifeblood of the nation. Crisscrossing the land in all directions were the famed caravan routes, ever-traveled by camel trains. Founded in ancient days by the dark-haired nomads called the Sons of Shem, the land’s western regions were composed of fertile meadowlands, with its many cities lying at higher elevations. Although the land became more arid as one moved eastwards, caravans never ceased crisscrossing this kingdom, and many Shemite cities fed off the trade traffic going from west to east and from north to south. Asgalun, Anakia, Akkharia, Nippr, Shumir and Ghaza…all the cities of Shem were commercial crossroads at heart. There were numerous wars between the city-states of the meadowlands and the city-states of the desert, between armies made up on bth sides of grim horsemen with their blue-black beards. It was Shem that gave birth to the Asshuria, a famed clan of warriors that was often mentioned in thr accounts of the mercenary armies of the Hyborian Age. Paradoxically, though trade flowed like a river through this country, the Shemites profited far more from the movement of goods through their land than from industry of their own. Nor did they send ships to sea to transport merchandise from their shores. As the Nemedian Chronicles pointed out, “there was scant profit in trade with the fierce and wary Sons of Shem.” The Shemites were, for the most part, always middlemen in the great currents of trade. The people of Shem were generally of medium height, broad shouldered and solid, with hooked noses, dark eyes, and blue-black hair. The men sported thick, curled beards and were famed as archers, selling their skill with a bow to many a Hyborian army. Primarily these people were herdsmen and farmers. An industrious, clever people, they manufactured textiles and pottery for their own use and for export. The Eastern Desert of Shem was the home of the Zuagir nomads, aggressive raiders whose desertbred horses were the finest in the world. These nomads were not aligned with any of the Shemite citystates. They raided Shemitish, Zamoran and Turanian caravans and steadings for their food, weapons and wealth. Much of the mercenary work available in eastern Shem was due to fear of the Zuagir, and the kings of Turan repeatedly sent forces into the desert to drive the Zuagir away. All Shemites, west and east, worshiped the female Earth Mother Goddesses whom they deemed responsible for watching over their 48
lands, their herds, and their families. Chief of these were Ashtoreth, Derketo, and Ishtar. Pteor, Adonis, and Bel of Shumir were popular male gods. Though the rival city-states were polytheistic, each also had its own patron deity.
The Stygians (Stygia) Known as the “Serpent of the South,” Stygia was a decadent theocracy characterized by being xenophobic, inscrutable, and obsessed with the subjects of death and immortality. To the Hyborian races, Stygia represented a sinister, sorcerous menace, a black land of nameless horror whose cult of the fanged serpent god, Set, was looked upon with cold dread. The Theocracy of Stygia came into being when the ancestors of modern Stygians drove westward and conquered the land from the serpent-men who had built the black pyramids and the haunted tombs beneath the pyramids. The Stygians of Conan’s time were a mysterious people whose society was strictly organized in a caste system dependant, by and large, upon physical types. The king, the royalty and the most ancient nobles were relatively tall people with black hair and fair skin. Below these, the ruling elite of aristocrats and a powerful middle class were dusky-skinned, hawk-nosed men, haughty of mien. The lowest classes were peasants and slaves of hybrid stock, a mixture of Kushite, Shemite, Hyborian, and Stygian ancestry. Dominated by a ruthless theocracy dedicated to the worship of the serpent-god Set, the Stygians were masters of occult secrets and diabolic lore. Their scholarship was legendary and their mastery of the magical arts was without equal anywhere in the known world. Unlike the Hyborian kingdoms, the Stygians cared little for what went transpired beyond their borders; while the Aquilonians and the Nemedians measured their worth in castles and glittering armies, the scholar-priests of Stygia cared nothing for such trifles. They learned long ago that true power lay in knowledge and in pacts with dark powers older than the cosmos itself. Stygian society was divided into three rigid hereditary castes: the nobility, the aristocracy or middle caste, and the peasant caste. The noble caste was much diminished during the Age of Conan. Unlike the lower castes, whose blood had been increasingly intermingled with Kothian, Shemite and Kushite stock, the Stygian noble caste was tall and dark-haired, with fair, ivory-colored skin just like the ancient Acheronians. They were rarely seen even in the largest Stygian cities, and were never known to travel abroad, preferring to spend lives of indolence and contemplation in their lotus-perfumed estates. The middle caste comprised the Stygian aristocracy, and was the true ruling power of the realm. Tall but duskyskinned, black-haired and hawk-nosed, the aristocracy provided the scholars and priests that ran the 49
kingdom’s many temples and maintained its fabled libraries. Beneath their heel lay the peasant caste, marked by their shorter stature, swarthier skin and heavier build. The aristocrats ruled the peasant caste with an iron grip, steeping them in a culture of absolute subservience and fear. The peasant caste existed to serve the aristocracy and to feed the appetites of their god Set, and even the merest hint of disobedience was enough to merit an agonizing death in the torture chambers of the city temples. Stygians as a people favored cunning, intelligence and agility over brute strength. Swords and axes were the hallmarks of a barbarian, not a civilized person. For this reason, most Stygians found outside the borders of their reclusive kingdom were typically scholars or seekers of knowledge. This quest for knowledge could come in many forms, whether through the practice of sorcery, the study of the body and the healing arts, or the stealthy practice of assassination or thievery. Each pursuit was equally valid in a Stygian’s eyes, because they required intellect, education and discipline; qualities they believed to be lacking in the lesser kingdoms of the age. Stygian society was dominated by the priesthood and cult of Set, who were the true rulers of the land while Stygia’s king was little more than a figurehead. The chief god of the Stygians was Set, the Serpent God, whose influence had stretched from the lands of Stygia into nearly all other lands. Rarely will a Stygian venture forth from his own lands. Even more rarely will an outsider enter his, as it was death for one who was not a Stygian to enter a Stygian city. Any wanderers found inside Stygian territory were killed. This was sometimes done unceremoniously, or it may have involved a sacrificial ritual to Set. The Stygians had never been known to allow captured trespassers to live. The only exception to this rule was the harbor-city of Khemi, where foreign merchants were allowed entry during the day, but must return to their ships at night. Sitting on the south shore of the River Styx where it met the Western Sea, Khemi was a stark vision of black walls and looming citadels. It was the priestly capital of Stygia as well as that desert nation’s commercial center, making it essentially the most powerful city in the entire country. Khemi was a major seaport for the serpent kingdom, but kept only a sparse navy in its docks. Few would ever try to war with Stygia from the sea, as the Stygian connection with the dark god Set was paramount and inspired much fear among the surrounding peoples. Even those who questioned religious faith thought twice about crossing the Setite priesthood. Khemi was scattered with castle-like estates of the Stygian nobility, some standing proudly while others were allowed to wither away into ruin. Above all the citadels, the walls, and the towering castles was a gigantic black pyramid—the resting place of the very coils of Set himself, or so they say. There was a great deal to back up such superstitious claims, as serpents of many breeds and sizes slithered through the city’s streets freely. In fact, these beasts were protected by Stygian law, and even those attacked by the
creatures were expected not to fight back. At night, the scaled swarms became aggressive, and the very shadows of Khemi writhed with reptilian life and the echoing cries of death. The city itself was barred from ocean travelers by the rocky island port of Akhet, or Tortoise Island. It was used as a barrier to the rest of the city, buffering infidel foreigners from the “holy city” proper. Always buzzing with visiting travelers, traders and merchants from all over, Akhet was the closest that many foreigners ever got to Khemi itself. Even inside the city there were areas that were not commonly traveled. Stygia was a land of social castes, with an established pecking order that could be as deadly as the desert hyenas. Areas like the Horn were dominated and populated by the Setite priesthood, who were the sole keepers of the monuments, temples and gardens found there. The holiest of Set’s children worshipped there, and disallowed those not of the faith to walk amidst the sacred buildings. There was also the Odji District, where slaves were bought and sold and the light of day seemed unwilling to brave the darkness of alleyways and awningcovered streets. Odji was deadly and dangerous, even for those who did not arrive there in chains or a cage. It was close to the harbor, and only a select few merchant traders were ever allowed to go there. There was a fortune to be made or lost in slaves in its markets, depending on what end of the life-trade someone found themselves. Khemi was a concrete reminder that the dark god Set truly ruled Stygia through the ironclad coils of his powerful clergy. Those who came to Khemi, especially those who managed to get beyond Akhet, could find all the pleasures, terrors, and adventures of Stygia lurking in the shadows of Set’s city. Stygia had many other cities, including the capital of Luxur, and the lesser settlements of Set, Pteion, Sukhmet and Keshatta, often called the “City of Magicians.” As for the land itself, most of Stygia was desert, although arable, richly cultivated earth lay alongside the River Styx, which flowed north from the jungles of the Black Kingdoms, then westwards for 2,000 miles to the city of Khemi and the Western Ocean. Luxur, Stygia’s capital city which was also barred on pain of death to all foreigners, lay on a tributary of the Styx called the Bakhr. East of the coastal city of Khemi, Stygia’s Khopshef Province boasted no great cities—only fabled ruins recounted in ancient legends and caravan tales. Newcomers arriving in the province at the small village of Bubshur heard stories of a great and ancient pyramid that lay along a tributary of the Styx some distance to the south. During the reign of King Conan I of Aquilonia, an enigmatic oracle of the Shemite goddess Derketo braved the haunted lands around the pyramidal tomb and laid claim to a temple structure adjoining the ancient pyramid, where his worshipful followers served his every whim. What the arrival of this oracle portended and why he chose to settle so close to the mysterious crypt, no one knew.
And local fishermen who risked the crocodile-infested waters of the River Styx spoke of the bleak island west of Pashtun and the strange ruins located there, said to be a temple dedicated to gods that were old when Atlantis still rode above the waves. Meanwhile, the people of Khopshef Province prayed to their gods and tried to go about their lives, mining salt from the flats around the village of Hep-Kab or welcoming the caravans traveling from Medjool Oasis to the south. They kept out of the punishing sunlight at midday and warded their houses against the evils of the night. But all was not well among the people of the region. The island town of Pashtun, an independent village claimed by neither Stygia nor Shem, had become the hunting ground for a fearsome monster that stalked its citizens each night. Each morning the bloodless corpses of its victims could be found lying along the village’s dusty streets, or empty boats were found drifting in the river’s sluggish current. The village leaders turned to the oracle of Derketo, seeking an explanation for the deadly rampage, but he answered them only in riddles. Each evening, as the red sun stained the western sky, the people of Khopshef Province glanced furtively downriver and awaited a hero who would stand between them and the horrors that lurked in the Stygian darkness. In southern Stygia, the great deserts finally broke into patches of stinking marshland with tropical trees poking from the unfarmable earth. If one journeyed even farther south, the marshlands turned thicker, the trees grew denser, until a traveler stood on the edge of the Black Kingdoms and the true jungles of those mysterious lands. Between Stygia’s hostile deserts and the impenetrable jungles of the Black Kingdoms, the Purple Lotus Swamp spread like a tropical smear across the realm. It was named after and known for the beautiful, valuable flower that grew there and nowhere else in Hyboria. Large marsh snakes glided underneath the silt-darkened water, ready to drag wanderers down into a drowning doom. Deep tar pits dotted the landscape, filled with the bones of the unwary. The Purple Lotus flower was dear to the hearts of sorcerers and assassins alike. For the former, it was a powerful narcotic used to enhance meditation, for the latter, an aid to killing. Consuming a potion made from Purple Lotus petals left the imbiber paralyzed for many hours, though he remained awake and aware of his surroundings. Accordingly, the swamp was often home to bands of lotus-hunters, seeking the blooms for various purposes arcane or nefarious in nature—most often both. During the reign of King Conan, the swamp was claimed as hunting lands by the Asitambuke tribe of Darfar. These hunters were led by the beautiful, powerful shaman Wub—a priestess of the serpent god Damballah— who possessed the slitted gold eyes of a serpent. Anyone venturing through the Purple Lotus Swamp was sure to run afoul of this clan from the Black Kingdoms at some point.
The desert kingdom of Stygia, possibly the most infamous nation on the Hyborian mainland, was the birthplace, home, and wellspring of the Priesthood of Set—the serpent god of darkness. The entire kingdom was ruled by the clergy, with each devotee or disciple of Set possessing near dictatorial power throughout the Stygian territory. From the coast of the Western Sea to the shores of the River Styx, the power of Set’s snake-worshipping acolytes was supreme. Although bordered by the dark-skinned Kushites and the cannibal Darfari to the south, and to the north by the influential merchant-traders of Shem—Stygia showed no fear of its neighbors. So ironclad was the Stygians’ belief in Set that they looked upon all outsiders as infidel lower creatures who had not yet discovered the truth in Set’s darkness. Outsiders were less than they were, and only a shackle’s clasp away from being a slave. As with any desert land, Stygia was a dry and desolate place that claimed many unprepared travelers who went into the desert without enough food or water. Culled from this world by scorpions, serpents, raiders and the very sand itself, few survived without native assistance—which was difficult to obtain, as few Stygians trusted or were allowed to give aid to those not of Stygian blood. Where this ethnic discrimination could be detrimental to trade and commerce elsewhere, it was simply noted as fact in Stygia. As far as the theocracy and aristocracy of Stygia were concerned, they did not need the outsiders’ trade. Why did these outsiders continue to brave this prejudice and risk choking on sand or the thrust of an assassin’s blade? Stygia was a rich land filled with treasure hidden away in tombs and catacombs all across its expanse, much of which lay in wait for a brave soul willing to risk the dark god’s eye by robbing graves and unearthing secrets. It was well known across all of Hyboria that magic was strong in Stygia, with promises of sorcerous power and witchcraft calling scholars and dabbling would-be mages from the far reaches of the world—if only to discover a single spell or ritual under the sand and stone. A dark shadow had been cast across Stygia for centuries, taking many shapes as time progressed. Rulers, warlords, beasts and demons had risen up between the dunes to make Stygia their rightful home. While the faithful controlled where the walls built by slaves kept the wilderness at bay, there were countless miles of sandy wastes that gave Stygia a thousand and one places to hide treachery, death, and— for the bravest of souls—high adventure! The Stygian population was notably small, for, despite Stygia’s large size, there was little arable land, and that was mostly along the banks of the River Styx (also sometimes called the Nilus). The Stygians developed an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing, and harvesting the palm date; major industries included the production of sorcerous charms and amulets, as well as drugs and pharmaceuticals for both
medicinal and magical use. Silk and steel arms were also manufactured here and were sought after for trade by the merchants who traveled the numerous caravan routes across the nation. However, the Stygians were less effective working with iron than the cultures of the West and Far East, but they were great masters of bronze casting and carving ivory. Their treasures were ancient, and told of a time when the ancient empire of Old Stygia was far grander than the dusty ruins of the Hyborian Age revealed. The Stygians’ land was one of forgotten and dangerous mystery, but it was known that their armies were well organized. In generations past, their tall and muscular warrior castes swooped across the desert in their bronze and brass chariots and inflicted grievous damage upon the Shemite and Acheronian ranks that had stood against them. The ruler of Stygia was always the one most favored by their god Set. Legends of the Stygians tell that before the times of men, the serpent-men ruled Stygia. They were seen as ancestors of the Stygians, and were treated as holy demigods. To the outsider, the beliefs of the Stygians seemed very strange. Their dead were mummified in long, involved rituals, which called upon the spirits of the underworld to perform many of the required tasks. The tombs of the Stygians were not like the tombs of other grand empires. They lacked the masses of wealth which other races placed within their graves. The dead of Stygia rest guarded by necromantic spells, and were buried with the scrolls and potions needed to return from the dead whenever their spirit was disturbed.
Tortage, the Pirates’ Haven (Barachan Isles) Off the southwestern coast of Hyboria, on one of the largest of the volcanic Barachan Isles in the Western Sea, lay a haven of smugglers, thieves, and pirates called Tortage. The Barachan Isles were an archipelago in the Western Ocean that lay some distance from the Zingaran coast. The isles were the stronghold of bloodthirsty pirates who preyed in the shipping of every nation, but especially that of Zingara. Carved out of the black and rocky cliffs of the island of the same name, the city of Tortage was the single most infamous port off the mainland of Hyboria. Although founded originally by Argossean sailors, its constant flow of miscreants, slaves and vagabonds has seen it become a teeming settlement home to all the cultures of Hyboria for generations. Kushites, Aquilonians, and Cimmerians lived side by side with Zingarans, Shemites and Stygians on its dark and sinister streets—even a number of wayward Picts had rowed south to call Tortage home. Tortage was the only settlement in the Barachan Isles, which were spread out for hundreds of miles along Zingara’s coast like a necklace of bloody sores. It is likely that Argossean pirates, fleeing from the 54
vengeful navy of Zingara, Argos or Stygia, were the first to set up a temporary settlement on the towen’s site many generations before Conan’s time. Some shrewd seaman must have realized that this particular cove would be a good place to lie low for a while. Utilizing plundered supplies, perhaps even slave labor, Tortage eventually grew from a few ramshackle huts hugging the seashore into a sizable town. Of course, how many of its inhabitants were actually in town at any given moment was another question. No crops were cultivated or harvested in Tortage. The place almost certainly survied solely on the pooled stores of the ships in port. Besides living quarters for crew and captains, there was a bar that dispended grog and even food “liberated” from vessels that had been seized or sunk. Chances are, some entrepreneurial pirate eventually realized that it would be far more profitable—and far less dangerous—to devote himself to providing goods and services, rather than braving the storms and swords of a life at sea. Perhaps clothing, too, was exchanged for the coin of the realm—any realm. Nor does it seem beyond possibility that a few women found their way to Tortage from time to time—mostly as captured passengers—and eventually wound up practicing a profession that was old even when Atlantis was swallowed by the sea. If it was illegal somewhere else, it was probably obtainable within Tortage’s inns, taverns and manors. Most of the city itself had been in turmoil for quite a while, a rebellious uprising forming against the ruthless oppressor who was in power during the time when King Conan ruled Aquilonia. This rebellion became so worrisome to the tyrant of Tortage and his sinister allies that only those proven loyal to the overlord of Tortage were allowed free passage off the island. His law was that of the sword, and he was capable of anything that brought him closer to crushing those who opposed his will. Such ruthlessness could be a powerful bargaining tool when dealing with Tortage’s slavers and smugglers, whose loyalty often had to be bought quickly when the need arose. Much of Tortage Island was dense and humid jungle, with dangers lurking along shadowy paths cut back daily by adventurous travelers and brave explorers. The island was dominated by a large volcano and its rumblings were sometimes the cause of nervousness to those who were new to the area, but most of the natives and long time residents believed it was nothing to fear. A host of sharp-clawed beasts awaited the unwary explorer. The heated cries of apes and even the blood-curdling shrieks of Picts who had reverted to their savage ways could be heard echoing into the night of the pirate city—along with the screams of their victims. Wandering the streets of Tortage alone was far from the safest practice. A home for predators of a different variety, in the form of swift-bladed pirates and lurking bandits, the weak or unprepared did not survive for long in the pirate port. While the swarthy inhabitants had cut open more than a few throats,
many more thrived on the slaving industry that flowed in and out of Tortage like the tide. Just as many lives were bought and sold in Tortage as were ended, sometimes for a pittance or over a trifle. While pirate factions like the Red Brotherhood, Zingaran Freebooters, and Black Corsairs agreed to leave their battles to the sea while in port, there was no lack of tension on the streets and docks of Tortage. It was not far from the mainland by ship, but the way was not an easy one. The pirate factions were always lurking to prey upon loot-filled vessels they could get to before their rivals. Between pirate threats, swirling maelstroms that could crush a ship like pottery, and the forbiddance of passage off the island by its tyrant, a future on Tortage seemed bleak. Once Tortage claimed you, your freedom depended on cunning, strength of will, and what allies you chose. And on Tortage, personnel decisions were always the most important. One could never tell whose hand might hold the dagger planted in your back.
The Turanians (Turan) The Splendor of the East and Mistress of the Vilayet Sea, the Empire of Turan was fiercely proud of its Hyrkanian heritage. Turan was perhaps the greatest empire ever to rise in the ancient world of Hyboria; Koth, Shem, Brythunia, and Zamora all paid tribute to the Empire of Turan. The chief religious figures of the Turanians were the prophet named the Living Tarim and the dark god he served, Erlik the Shrouded One. Turan was the wealthiest realm west of Khitai during the Hyborian Age, with the possible exception of Vendhya. The kingdom boasted a large, powerful navy and several large commercial cities like Khorosun, Sultanapur, Zamboula, Shahpur, Akhlat, Khawarizm, and Aghrapur that ringed the western shore of the great inland sea of the Vilayet. Skilled Turanian seamen aboard their famed war-galleys had made the Vilayet Sea a “Turanian lake.” Turan’s influence extended over most of the Hyrkanian heartland to the east of the Vilayet and its armies of powerful cavalry and horse-archers conquered many of the desert cities to the south like Zamboula, which had originally been established by the Stygians. During Conan’s lifetime, Turan was beginning to look westwards as well—casting covetous eyes at the rich farmlands and wealthy cities of Zamora, Shem and the eastern Hyborian kingdoms. Turan’s capital city, Aghrapur, was the most glorious and teeming city of the Age of Conan, extending from the Vilayet Sea to far inland. The huge, magnificent palace of the Turanian king was called the Sunrise Court. Turan’s eastern half was swallowed up by the Eastern Desert, which itself had no firmly established boundaries. It was simply the name given to the whole great sandy exoanse that lay to the east of Stygia,
Shem and the Hyborian lands. Beyond it to the east lay Turan, whose borders were always expanding westward across the desert. The “Inland Sea” as the Vilayet Sea was often called in the Hyborian Age, was both a barrier to and a catalyst for the relations between its two major coastal nations, Hyrkania on the eastern shore and Turan on the west. The sea itself was perhaps 300 miles across at its widest point and some 2,000 miles long. To any except the great vessels of Turan, it might as well have been an endless ocean, dotted with islands inhabited by savage peoples and grey carnivorous apes that dwarfed the gorillas of later ages in their size. Seafaring commercial traffic also often fell prey to the Red Brotherhood, the coalition of savage pirates who hid among the Inland Sea’s many islets and river inlets. The Turanian marketplaces were always filled with human “trade goods” and one could purchase slaves from Brythunia, Zamora, Ophir, Kush, Shem, and Stygia. The Turanian people were a self-assured lot, proud of their splendid nation, and supportive of their government’s policies of imperialism and expansion. The Turanians especially despised the Kothians, viewing them as needlessly arrogant and insulting. On more than one occasion, Turanian warriors had killed lone Kothians whose very existence insulted their honor. Women in Turani society wore veils and were not allowed outside during the hours of darkness. They only conversed with men when approved by the head male of their family. All Turani women were married under arrangements made by their fathers. No other person could make such decisions. If a man was killed before his daughter reached the proper age, the decision rested with his eldest son. All Turani men of wealth maintained large harems populated with as many foreign women of beauty as they could obtain. Most Turani who did not live in the cities were shepherds and traded in animals rather than material objects. Despite this, some Turani merchants did manage to gain significant wealth, particularly due to Turan’s position astride the trade routes between Hyboria’s East and West. Whenever two nomadic Turani clans met, each slaughtered one of its animals to prepare a meal for the leader of the opposite clan. In this manner, they honored each other. Richer clans also exchanged gifts, although this usually only occurred when the two clans shared roughly equal wealth. Otherwise, the richer clan gave a substantial gift to the poorer one. Any traveler who wished protection might seek to join a Turani clan. None who requested protection were ever denied, but the traveler had to surrender all of his weapons and follow all instructions from the clan’s leader. The ambitious Turanians (often calling themselves Hyrkanians, after their ancestor race) made forays in all directions as they attempted to enlarge their empire. They had usurped most of the important caravan cities of the Eastern Desert by Conan’s time, crowded the eastern
frontier of Zamora, taken over the caravan route to the Far East with the assistance of their kinsmen, the Hyrkanians of the far eastern steppe, and even invaded Vendhya. The strongest monarch of Turan, King Yezdigerd, fought successful battles with the armies of Hyperborea and Stygia. After the reign of Conan as king of Aquilonia, the Hyrkanians of Turan took advantage of the disintegrating Aquilonian Empire to absorb Zamora, Hyperborea, Brythunia, and Corinthia. In the South, they fought with the Pictish invaders in Ophir, subjugated Shem completely, and overran Stygia. They had seriously overextended themselves by the time they marched into Kush and needed to withdraw to the north, settling down to a long series of wars against the Picts before the onset of the last Ice Age ended the civilizations of Hyboria once and for all.
The Vanir (Vanaheim) Vanaheim was the westernmost of the nations of the Far North, lying west of Asgard and north of Cimmeria and Pictland in the overall region called Nordheim that it shared with Asgard. What set Vanaheim apart from the other lands of the North was its coastline. Interestingly, the Vanir never took to seafaring as their distant Viking descendants did. But the Vanir did establish villages along the the Western Ocean and were even more warlike than the Aesir or the Cimmerians, both of whom they often fought with savagely. They would doubtless have made war upon the Picts to the southwest if they had not preferred to remain deep in their thick forests of the Pictish Wilderness to the southwest. The Vanir were a red-haired barbarian people, worshippers of the god Ymir, the Lord of the Giants. It was Ymir who gave them strength in battle and fueled their drive for conquest. Vanaheim was a somber country, mostly a bleak tundra plain that was snow-covered throughout the long winters. Swampy taiga forests probably clothed its high southern regions thinly. Glaciers crept down from the Eiglophian Mountains in the south and the Blue Mountains on the frontier with Asgard. Far to the north were more mountains, crowned with a permanent ice cap that grew larger as the climate changed and a new glacial period came on at the end of the Hyborian Age. Fierce storms swept across the land from the Western Sea as well as the icy north. The most inhabited part of Vanaheim lay along the western coast. There were numerous villages there where the people eked out a living by beachcombing, fishing, and hunting marine and land mammals. Children collected seabird eggs from the rugged cliffs of the seacoast. The lands there were less barren of life than those of the interior were since the sea moderated the climate. The Eiglophian uplands of southern Vanaheim evidently harbored a considerable population, because both the Cimmerians and the Aesir conducted raids there for women, slaves and
valuables. Legends said that Ymir, the frost giant god of the Vanir, lived in the northern mountains of Vanaheim. He was the popular deity of the nation. The Vanir lived in snow-covered lands and were winter-bound throughout the majority of the year. During the warmer season they ventured forth from their homes to prey upon the barbarian tribes in their vicinity, such as the Cimmerians, the hated Aesir, the Hyperboreans and more rarely, the Picts. In this fashion, they believed, year by bloody year, they would eventually purge the world of their blood enemies, the Aesir and Hyperboreans. They despised each race with equal passion. Vanir raids were known to be especially brutal. The Vanir were famed for burning all they could not carry away with them. Vanirs disliked intrusions into their territories and always destroyed any other people’s settlements which came within several days’ march of their villages. Vanir men had only a single mate, although they sought sexual relations with all women who were not of Vanir blood in their raids. To the Vanir, this type of sexual activity was not considered adultery and was perfectly acceptable, even to the Vanir women. Vanir warriors were fond of the spear, the battleaxe, and the longsword, which were usually of iron or if they could afford such an item, of steel. They used wooden shields covered in horsehide and wore horned helms with prominent noseguards and scale mail shirts. The Vanir shared similarities with the Cimmerians: both peoples were considered barbaric by most other nations and lived tribal existences where the males trained almost exclusively to make war and hunt for food. The Vanir differed from their more isolationist Cimmerian neighbors to the south in that they were vicious raiders who attacked others for slaves, plunder and sometimes just for amusement, while the Cimmerians preferred mostly to fight among themselves! During the time when Conan was king of Aquilonia, the Vanir surged south through the mountain borders, beating back the Cimmerian defenders and taking the heads of the warriors who opposed them. Unlike typical Vanir warfare, this invasion seemed to be an assault of conquest, not a lengthy raid. In this bitter war, the northerners were led by Ymirish commanders, and these white-haired folk who claimed frost giant bloodlines held mysterious authority over the Vanir raiders. The Ymirish were blessed with the blood of their frost-giant godYmir in their veins, making them taller, stronger and more savage than mere mortal Vanir. Few Cimmerian warriors can stand against a Ymirish fighter in battle. Their strength is unrivalled because of their god’s blood, and though they are humans just as the Vanir and the Aesir of Nordheim, the Ymirish are also so much more than their northern kin. No one understands the exact nature of the Ymirish, or how truly divine their lineage is, but the blood of Ymir’s true sons, the frost-
giants, beats in their bodies. It is thinner than in their most powerful warlord, Grimnir Stormbringer, but it is enough to gift them with remarkable endurance and physical might. Ymirish warriors are often found at the head of Vanir patrols or as leaders of Nordheimer camps set up in Conall’s Valley in northern Cimmeria. They were distinctive not only for their height and snowwhite or yellowish hair, but for their night-glinting eyes, reflecting moonlight like the eyes of wolves. When Cimmerians and Vanir met in battle, it is the Ymirish who ended the lives of the most foes, and the Ymirish that take first fill of the women once victory is claimed. Such is their prowess on the field of war, and the respect they hold over their own men. Vanir of Ymirish heritage have also been known to possess a flair for the dark arts. Many of the Ymir hold within them the sinister potential to hear and answer Ymir’s Call. The mystical black power of their evil god wells up in them, eating away at their physical forms, using the strength of their own bodies to fuel dark magic. In Vanir encampments within the conquered lands of northern Cimmeria, the goldhaired sorcerers who have answered Ymir’s Call work their foul spells, lending their god’s sorcery to the feral savagery of their warrior kin. Vanaheim itself was a snow-blanketed land of tundra and freezing winds. In the closing decades of the doomed Hyborian Age, it was destined to be one of the first nations to die under the encroaching glaciers of the returned Ice Age, before sinking into the sea. That fate was a distant one, however, during the reign of King Conan. The warriors of the Vanir raided south with vicious abandon. The berserkers of Nordheim fell on the sullen-eyed natives of Cimmeria, killing the scattered and disorganized Cimmerian warriors, raping their wives and taking their children as slaves.
The Vendhyans (Vendhya) Vendhya was a land of ancient gods and great riches. Vendhya was a roughly triangular peninsula lying between Kosala and Khitai, south of the Himelian Mountains. Vendhya was tropical in climate, with wide expanses of untamed jungle though it also possessed some of the richest and densely populated cities in the Hyborian world, such as Ayodhya, Gwandiakan, Peshkhauri and Khorala. Vendhya was a fertile land, except in the stony regions of the Himelian foothills. Vendhya’s agriculture was well-developed, and there was also a thriving industry of silk and woven products, especially the famed Vendhyan carpets. In the north, mines provided copper, silver, gold and iron; the southern coast, however, had poor seaports, which channeled most of Vendhya’s trade overland. Vendhya’s jungles provided a variety of fascinating animal life. Elephants, tigers, panthers, cheetahs, gazelles and gorillas could be found, and beautifully colored birds filled the trees. Yaks and oxen wandered through the highlands of the north, and some were 60
domesticated by the hill peoples. Because of the kingdom’s great wealth, Vendhya was always at risk of aggression from the Empire of Turan to its northwest. Vendhyan products included herbs, spices, sandalwood, jade, mother-of-pearl and other natural substances worked into intricately carved pieces of distinctive beauty. Vendhya was also the source of several drugs, including various forms of lotus blossom. Vendhya’s various cities possessed a strictly stratified, caste-based society, much like Turan and Khitai, only older and even more rigid. Heading the kingdom was the ruler/scholar caste, the Brahma, made up of the nobility of the original invading lightskinned Hyrkanian tribes; below them was the warrior caste, or Kshatriyas, also of Hyrkanian descent who ruled and served in the armies; below them lay the craftsmen and townsmen, called Vaisyas, who provided the backbone of the Vendhyan manufacturing economy; and finally, the Sudra, or peasants, the most populous caste. Below all lay the Untouchables, Vendhyans whose lowly birth left them with the ritually unclean tasks of cleaning up garbage, slaughtering animals and preparing corpses for burial or cremation. In theory, birth determined a Vendhyan’s caste. In practice, over the millennia of the Vendhyan civilization, there has been so much interbreeding that there is little outward distinction between the members of the various castes. All Vendhyans had light brown skin; they tended to be short and stocky, with round heads. The Kshatriyas tended to be more slender than average for a Vendhyan, with a characteristic hooked nose. The Vendhyans were well versed in the arts of treachery and double dealing. It was said that every Vendhyan spied for at least two others, and often for more. Their treacheries, however, were less devious than those of Khitai; the Kshatriyan code of honor that remained from their Hyrkanian origins deplored direct lies, and most Vendhyan deception consisted of the “truth not told,” or the careful shading of words to give impressions, without actually lying. Spying, per se, was not considered treachery; the Vendhyans themselves knew it went on, and it made the sharing of a secret all that more meaningful in Vendhya. “The whole truth is a gift for your dearest friend alone,” says the Vendhyan proverb. Vendhyans worshiped their own pantheon of gods. There were many holy men among the Vendhyans who traveled from village to village, demonstrating their mystic power to the gathering crowds and performing strange feats for all to view. The villagers paid what they can for these miracles as a sign of respect for both the men and the gods they represented. They believed some holy men to be nature spirits, who walked among men to inspect the human domain. The Vendhyans worshiped both the Elder Gods of the Earth and Heavens (nature spirits) and the Gods of the Other Worlds (traditional deities). Foremost of these was the god Asura the Enlightened, who taught that all living beings reincarnated after death, and that the purpose of life was the paying of the karmic debt against the soul. Each evil act
extended the cycle of endless reincarnations; each good act shortened it and brought the soul closer to ultimate enlightenment and unity with the Creator, or Brahma. Other Vendhyan gods included Hanuman, whose children were the great apes of the jungle, Ganesha, the great elephant god of good fortune, and the evil Kali, who drank human blood and fed on living hearts. One of the most disturbing customs of the Vendhyans for Hyborians was the requirement that noble women must be burned alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres to demonstrate their devotion to their husbands in death as well as life. Vendhyans were allowed many wives, but only the unlucky first wife was required to engage in this practice.
The Zamorans (Zamora) Zamora was a mysterious land, a buffer zone between the Hyborian nations of the West and the Hyrkanians of the Turanian Empire, with a culture which was part of each, and part all its own. Its people were disdained by both sides, and even considered “evil by birth” by the Hyborians. Bordered on the east by the Kezankian Mountains and by lesser ranges to the south and west, Zamora had emerged as a kingdom several thousand years before Conan the Cimmerian’s time. Its capital city was the aptly-named Shadizar the Wicked, although equally well-known was its City of Thieves, though this city’s true if little-used name was actually Arenjun. The local guard in Arenjun dared not set foot in Arenjun’s notorious Maul district, “where the thieves of the East held carnival by night.” In the Maul, cutpurses, kidnappers and murderers all rubbed elbows and amused each other with tales of their bawdy behavior and illegal exploits. The most mysterious and sinister of all of Zamora’s city-states was Yezud, the City of the Spider-God, where—if the legends are to be believed—an arachnid the size of an elephant was worshipped as a deity. Conan is said to have done the world a favor by slaying the creature, whose name was variously given in the ancient texts as Omm or Zath. One of the thing’s vile priests survived and gained the ability to transform himself into a leopard-sized arachnid, most likely as a result of some form of shamanic magic. Zamora was an arid, infertile country. The locals lived by herding sheep and cattle, which thrived on the thistly scrub of the region, or by mining for tin, copper and other useful metals. Despite the number of mines, no gold or silver had ever been found in Zamora. The Zamorans were a short, dark-skinned race with dark eyes, jet-black hair, narrow features, and stunted limbs. The Zamorans had a reputation for cruelty, disloyalty and greed. This reputation was only partially earned. Zamoran attitudes reflected more of self-interest than of the high (but often ignored) ideals of the Hyborians. The people were insular,
although the increased trade along the Road of Kings did much to increase Zamoran contact with the Hyborians and Turanians. The nobles of the country’s various cities were the law in Zamora, though the nation did also have a king. Sentences were maiming or death, with all property confiscated by the local noble. An appeal to the Zamoran king was allowed, although sentences were usually carried out quickly enough to make appeals futile. The Zamorans worshiped many divinities. Some were local, embodying natural forces or places, such as Zath, the spider-god of the city of Yezud. Others were imported, such as Bel, the Shemitish God of Thieves, the patron of the Zamoran city of Arenjun, the well-named City of Thieves.
The Zingarans (Zingara) Zingara was founded by people who were an admixture of Valley of Zingg folk (possibly of Shemitish origin), invading Picts, and the Hyborian tribes. Most loremasters placed the Zingarans among the Hyborian peoples. The Zingarans were engaged in agricultural, commercial, and pastoral activities, and were ruled by petty princelings only nominally subservient to the capital city of Kordava that lay at the mouth of the Black River and the Zingaran monarchy that dwelled there. Because some believed the ancient Zingg Valley dwellers were Shemites, it was often disputed by the Nemedian scholars whether or not Zingara was to be considered a “non-Hyborian” kingdom. Numerous rivers flowed through Zingara, including the Alimane, which also formed Zingara’s border with Poitain, one of Aquilonia’s most powerful provinces. Aside from Kordava and one or two other great cities, it was a kingdom of mountains, woods and fields where farmers prayed to Mitra for rain. Precusely how the love of the sea entered the Zingarans’ veins is known, but in Conan’s time, Zingara was engaged in a fierce maritime rivalry with neighboring Argos for trade and regional supremacy. Each nation sought to buld and maintain the largest merchant fleet of galleys in the West. Yet it was the king of Zingara, not Argos, who gave official status to buccaneers and freebooters as privateers and mercenaries of the Zingaran Crown by granting them royal letters of marque.The leadership of Argos was more prone to call these Zingaran agents pirates—although no doubt there were many Argosseans who cheered wildly when they watched a Zingaran galley sinking far out at sea, its prow and sails flaming as a result of the actions of ships that had set out from Argos’ capital of Messantia! Bordered by the Shemites to the east and south, and the powerful Pictish tribes to the north, the Zingarans continued their economic expansion by building ships and sailing the Western Ocean. Zingara’s
chief adversary and rival, as noted above, was Argos. The Zingarans blamed Argos for the extensive pirate activity in the Western Ocean, and saw the Argosseans as “cutting in” on their shipping. Zingara was a land truly ruled by minor nobles, who paid only lip service to the Zingaran Crown in the capital city of Kordava on the nation’s eastern coast. Its seamen were often pirates and privateers and its proud, armored mounted warriors seemed always to be engaged in bloody civil wars with each other. Zingara had few allies. The Zingarans’ haughty manner and domination of the sea had made them few friends, although their privateer captains ensured that all the Hyborian coastal nations were very respectful of Zingaran interests. Zingaran pride and independence made it a very fractious nation. Internal problems, dissensions, and even civil wars long prevented Zingara from eliminating her enemies and once more ruling the Western Ocean. In theory, Zingaran law came from the king, much as in Aquilonia. In practice, each major Zingaran noble made his own justice, and unless an important noble or commoner was involved, the king ignored such flouting of his authority. Executions were by hanging (for commoners) or beheading (for nobles). Commoners could also be mutilated (hands removed, etc.) for crimes, while nobles were at worst fined and (for the most serious crimes) exiled. The Zingarans were halfhearted Mitra worshippers since they found the strict Mitraic code of morality difficult to uphold. Their devotion was not as strong as in Aquilonia, but their isolation made it difficult for other faiths to gain a foothold.
The Magic of the Hyborian Age While there were a fair number of foul demons, black-robed wizards and snake-worshipping priests in the saga of Conan the Cimmerian, the Hyborian Age was one where the use of true magic and sorcery was both extremely rare and extremely dangerous. The vast majority of men and women during the Hyborian Age lived their lives without being directly exposed to either magic or the supernatural. But they lived in an age of great superstition and often blamed death, disease and bad luck on the “wrath of the gods,” “demonic magic” or “the evil eye,” and sought to placate the gods and powers that be with offerings of wealth and human or animal sacrifices. The average person working their shop or in the fields had likely never seen a true wizard, observed the casting of a true spell or held an actual enchanted item. Magic was generally feared, and most sorcerers and wizards (but not all) were associated with dark curses, evil gods and unbearable secrets which mortals were not meant to know if they valued their lives and their sanity. Even priests, shamans and druids were feared and held in awe by the common man because of their mysterious connection to the divine, or in some cases, the demonic. Many of the barbarian nations (Asgard, Vanaheim, Cimmeria) outright reviled magic in any form, arcane or divine, though in some places, magic was a power wielded by the ruling class (such as in Stygia, Hyperborea, Kambuja, Vendhya). In the Black Kingdoms and Pictland magic was widely feared and misunderstood, the province of tribal witchdoctors and shamans, who protected the rest of the tribe from the vengeful spirits and demons that surrounded them, but also used their monopolies on this knowledge to secure their own place of primacy in their tribes. The select few who were able to use magic of any kind and cast true spells guarded their secrets jealously and attempted to use it to their advantage, often to the detriment of the lower classes. Magical items were extraordinarily rare and were almost never for sale if they were actually real, though sometimes one would turn up in a market, unrecognized for its true value or true function. Spellcasters might be willing to cast some spells for pay, depending on the individual’s motivation or greed, but these spells would rarely be of much power. Priests and other wielders of divine favor never bestowed the benefits of their abilities on others for a simple fee, instead some service to the priest’s, shaman’s or druid’s god was required as payment. Arcane magic, the powerful magic that manipulated the primal forces of Creation and probability that were wielded by magi, was alien to mankind – generally inimical to his nature, and continued delving into the arcane could result in madness, physical deformity and sometimes much
worse. Arcane magic had its source in the Far Realms (also called the Outside), the extradimensional space beyond the fabric of the Earth’s reality, where the alien Elder Gods resided, unspeakable entities of immense power and alien mindsets. Magic, the raw energy of Creation, was spawned here, and could be tapped by those on Earth at a price. There were two roads to gaining arcane power during the Hyborian Age. The first was the path of the wizard or the mage. To master the power of the wizard, an individual was required to spend many years of their life in the study of complicated, ancient formulae and mystic equations, and study of the stars and the myriad planes of existence. A mage could learn to send his mind out into the Far Realms through the Astral Plane while his body remained on Earth. In this trance, a wizard could capture the arcane energies of Creation that men foolishly called “magic” using the mystic formulae he had mastered. Once bound and held within his mind, a magus could return to his body and unleash the spells at will, only to lose their power until the next time he made a dangerous foray into the Outside. Exposure to the Old Ones and their domain could be damaging to the mind—many lesser wizards ultimately went mad, irrevocably, and almost all wizards who did resist still suffered the physical twisting or degradation of their bodies since the frail forms of men were never meant to channel the pure energies of Creation. For all these reasons, true wizards were extremely rare during the Age of Conan, and instead, most benevolent users of magic were priests, druids or shamans. The second, and far more common, arcane path to magical ability was for those who were illiterate, impatient, or simply not intelligent enough to grasp the fundamentals of the studies of wizardry—sorcery. To the layperson, there was no difference in the magical powers that a wizard and a sorcerer wielded, but to the enlightened, the gulf was clear—wizardry was a path to power in which the mage sought his own, solitary route to mastery of the arcane. In sorcery, the power was not discovered by the individual seeker, but given by an extradimensional entity as part of a bargain. Most often, this bargain was voluntary, but there were instances where unwilling or unwitting victims were so bound, for any number of reasons. Demons and elementals were the most common entities contacted for this purpose, but sometimes even a god might directly vest a mortal with sorcerous power, though only for a specific purpose. Once the bargain was struck, a mark was made on the sorcerer, either in the form of a tattoo, scar or birthmark, which completed the connection to the entity. Through this connection, the sorcerer could draw arcane power, and cast spells without the wizards’ need to psychically visit the Far Realms or use complicated and incomprehensible
equations. However, there was a greater price for this quick and easy power—as time progressed, the dark master always demanded more and more from the sorcerer in return for his arcane powers. There were several different types of sorcerers during the Hyborian Age. The most common was the demonologist, a sorcerer who bargained with demons for power and bound the weaker ones to his will. While a demonologist could use certain magical powers without resorting to demonic aid, the demonologist still needed to forge blood pacts to reach his full potential. Still, a demonologist was still powerful enough to bring demons to our world and bind them to his will. Some demonologists were either too weak-minded or ventured too far down the path of the demon to remain untainted by darkness. The Heralds of Xotli were those powerful warrior-mages that bargained with the ancient Atlantean demon god Xotli and paid the ultimate price, trading their souls to the demon in return for becoming a human host to his demonic power. A Herald could actually transform him or herself into a demon in battle to feel his enemies’ flesh tear, while still possessing a powerful arsenal of fiendish spells to lay waste to those who opposed his pursuit of more power. But in the end, a Herald’s soul was no longer his own. More powerful sorcerers learned the ways of necromancy, or unholy death magic. The necromancer animated the corpses of the dead and corrupted the living. Necromancers looked down on demonologists for their need to strike bargains to gain power. The necromancer needed no such help, for his own arcane mastery over death could defeat his enemies or empower his allies. The most powerful of necromancers sometimes made the transition to the form of a lich. Liches did not just animate the dead; they embraced or joined them in an undead state, at least for a time. By fusing his or her essence with the bones of the dead, a lich gained great physical strength and arcane power. Liches had a vast array of powerful necromantic spells, but also enjoyed wading into the thick of combat themselves to watch as their foes’ attacks made little headway against their withered, undead flesh. The gods, a catch-all term for those extradimensional beings of great power who were capable of manifesting in the physical world to seek the worship and devotion of human beings, offered supernatural power to those who devoutly gave them worship, the source of their strength. Unfortunately, very few gods in the Hyborian Age were more than overpowered demons who sought only to exploit their human worshipers for their own ends. Priests of the various gods were held in fear and awe by the common man. Through proper worship and observance of arcane rituals that pleased the god, priests were given mystical power through their prayers to affect the world around them. There was no need for a priest’s soul to
astrally visit the Far Realms, as the power was sourced directly from the divine entity or one of its avatars rather than from the raw forces of Creation. Many gods had their physical avatars reside at their temples, particularly during high holy days, and many priests expected to see their god or his avatar during their lifetime, which, regardless of the actual morality of a god’s religion, was a powerful proof of the priest’s faith. Among the most powerful faiths during the Hyborian Age were the cults of Mitra, the god of the Hyborians and Set, the foul serpent-god whose sorcerer-priests, called the Tempests of Set, ruled the southern desert kingdom of Stygia. Druids, or nature priests, also existed during the Hyborian Age and worshiped the divine in the form of nature itself, but did so through more primitive beings who lived both within the physical realm of this universe and in the Spirit World, an extradimensional shadow of the Earth. Druids served powerful spirit totems like the Bear and the Wolf, the concept of nature itself, or ancestral spirits and wild and feral gods who despised the ways of civilized men. In a similar vein, the shamans of the many uncivilized peoples believed that the deities themselves were everywhere. Shamans were intermediaries between the mortal world and the realm of spirits—the vast multitude of minor mystical beings that infused the entire world with their divine essence; this is a form of religious belief known today as animism. The shaman offered sacrifices, prayers, and services to the spirits, and in return gained the favor of patron spirits who bestowed spells and other magical abilities upon him. Among the most powerful of the Hyborian Age shamans were the Bear Shamans, who served the Bear totem and were taught by Bear’s spiritual manifestation how to shape-change into a powerful version of that animal. Another type of shaman was the Stormcaller, a shaman whose connection to the spirits of the weather was so strong that he or she could call forth lightning and the fury of a storm at a whim.
The Magical Societies of the Hyborian Age The Black Ring of Stygia Many Stygian sorcerers were loosely organized in a brotherhood known as the Black Ring, whose seat of power was Kheshatta, the City of Magicians. In ancient days, the city of Pteion, located in eastern Stygia, not far from the Turanian border, was the former seat of the black magicians, but it was abandoned when the desert encroached upon it. High-ranking members of the Black Ring, most of whom were necromancers, were said to be able to kill with a touch, leaving a black handprint on the dead body. The dark master of the Black Ring was Thoth-Amon, the lich who was both the Prince of Magicians and High Priest of Set, the de facto ruler of Stygia. The infamous home of the Black Ring, the Black Ring Citadel, was buried deep beneath an ominous mountain that loomed behind Kheshatta, the Stygian City of Magicians. This coven of the darkest sorcerers in all Stygia was led by the all-powerful Thoth-Amon, the Earth’s mightiest practitioner of black magic. Within its torch-lit halls foul sorcerers performed hellish conjurations, vile experiments and consorted with fiends from the abyss. Its pillared halls, adorned with snake idols and the architecture of Set, were marvelous to behold, though seeing them left one with an inevitable chill. How many screams had echoed through these passages? How much hot blood had been spilled upon its altars? What abominations wandered the passageways and dungeons? Few ever learned the answer to these questions, much to their relief. Dark clouds often gathered over Kheshatta and the sorcerers of the Black Ring recklessly attempted ever greater violations of natural law. The power of dark magic was growing throughout Hyboria during the time of Conan’s reign over Aquilonia and the Black Ring sought to exploit it, disregarding the cost and danger of such wild experiments. Slowly they withdrew into their stronghold, abandoning the city, Stygia and the outside world. Villainous members of the Black Ring such as Sabazios the Insane and Excorant the Golem Master dwell within the citadel defended by companies of elite Stygian guards and apprentices of the dark arts. Excorant was a sorcerer capable of molding stone to create mockeries of human life. Deep within the Black Ring Citadel in a facility buried far from the light of day Excorant worked to create stone mockeries of human life; blasphemous gargoyles replete with fangs and talons capable of tearing armor to pieces, puncturing shields and ripping flesh to shreds. Excorant’s experiments required a continuous supply of human victims to serve as guinea pigs. Criminals, the destitute and the insane were supplemented by slaves, foreign prisoners and 69
unlucky citizens of Kheshatta snatched from the back streets and slums. What happens to them is unspeakable as they were fouly sacrificed in the gargoyle creation process. All that was ever found of them were the open-chested corpses left outside the laboratory’s arched gate for other Black Ring necromancers to utilize. The alchemical concoctions and foul mixtures Excorant used to animate his stone sentries were unknown; he protected his formulae closely against jealous competitors and was always guarded by his ever-watchful stone sentinels. Horrors such as the demon Yarekma the soul-eater or other unnamed entities also lurked within. From what layer of Tartarus this monstrous angel of war was dragged is lost now for the thing has slaughtered those responsible for conjuring it. Not only did it slay their mortal forms but it dragged out their eternal souls and ravenously ate them, feasting on them while tearing their victims bodies apart and grinding them to bloody pulp. Yarekma is still trapped within the deeper recesses of the Black Ring Citadel. Only the most disturbed and avaricious of diabolists risk consorting with this entity, but the power it still offers tempts the weak. The gargantuan beast dwarfed men and women, standing to fill the enormous underground chamber. It was hemmed in only by arcane symbols seared into the marble floor and towers soaring to the vaulted ceiling and arcing incredible flashes of lightning. Yet the most fearsome aspect of the demon was not its size, but the aura of unbridled rage that surrounded it as it seethed against its captivity. A demonic general from the eternal battlefields of the mythic underworld, it was demeaned by its imprisonment and offered heaven and earth to any who would set it free, while threatening eternal damnation against anyone who contemplated trying to force its service. Its rage was capable of shaking the mountain that housed the citadel to its foundations. What madness would possess anyone to deal with such a creature is beyond comprehension and an even greater madness lies in opposing the archfiend. And Hyboria is surely doomed should it ever escape. Any assault upon the citadel would be doomed but if the fate of Hyboria lay in the balance then the brave, foolhardy and desperate might attempt such an epic conquest to fight the monstrous demonic titans and power-maddened necromancers and demonologists within.
The Scarlet Circle of Khitai Khitai was the stronghold of the world’s greatest wizards and mystical masters of the eastern half of the Hyborian continent. Its god-kings mastered the arcane mysteries of the Scarlet Circle, with its five elements: fire, bone, jade, blood and metal. The supreme master of the Scarlet Circle was Yah Chieng of the purple-towered city-state Paikang, whose demons and sorceries were feared by all in the East. His greatest rival was Pra-Eun, the god-king of Kambuja, a small kingdom to the southeast of Khitai. Kambuja’s capital city and the seat of Pra-Eun’s worship was the fantastic city of Angkhor, a settlement so beautiful that its name and legend would be remembered by the civilizations of what would become Southeast Asia in the eras to come. The Black Seers of Yimsha Mount Yimsha was one of the preeminent peaks in the Himelian Mountain region known as Ghulistan. It was the mountain stronghold of the Seers of the Black Circle, one of the oldest continuously existing groups of mages in the Hyborian Age world. The Black Seers consisted of a Master and several Adepts. The White Hand of Hyperborea Hyperborea was ruled by the White Hand, a coven of sorcerers not unlike the Black Ring of Stygia or the Scarlet Circle of Khitai. The White Hand “Witch-Men” served as the priests and priestesses of Louhi as well as accomplished sorcerers and necromancers who gained their magic by making a binding pact with their god. Their magic focused around the cold of their land and control of the undead. Hyperborean sorcerers were highly prized in the northern wilds, but they were little respected in other Hyborian lands. These Witch-Men became known as the White Hand, for when they touched human flesh, they left behind a pale and painful frozen brand in the form of their hand. In addition to their sorcerous powers, the White Hand supported teams of magic-wielding assassins who traveled for the Hand and carried out its assignments. These assassins wore black robes, capes and cowls and a white, flat mask which was magically transparent only to the wearer, giving them the appearance of having no face at all. They used a wooden baton called a Witch-Rod tipped with two egg-sized metal spheres with which they struck nerve centers to immobilize, torment or kill their victims. These assassins were said to be extremely swift and skilled.
The Book of Skelos The Book of Skelos was sought by sorcerers and wizards throughout the Hyborian world. Within the pages of this forbidding book were spells and incantations to bring the dead back to life, control the elements, and to summon extradimensional demons from the Outer Darkness, the black gulfs of space, and the demon pits of Arallu. In Conan’s age, only three complete copies were known to exist: one was beneath a royal crypt of Aquilonia (probably guarded by the priests of Mitra), while another lay in a remote temple in jungled Vendhya. The third copy was found by pirates on the Nameless Isle, below an idol of the toad-god Tsathoggua, and brought to Thoth-Amon, the undead master of the Black Ring and the chief Scion of Set on Earth. Single pages from incomplete copies of the Book of Skelos sometimes found their way into sorcerers’ and magi’s hands. These usually contained a spell or two, or the true name of a powerful demon. According to Thoth-Amon, at least one incomplete copy existed in Kheshatta, the Stygian City of Magicians. The Book of Skelos was also referred to as the Iron-Bound Book of Skelos. On a small island in the Western Ocean far to the west of the coast of Stygia, the lore of the Black Coast claimed that demons guarded the bones of the long-dead mage Skelos, the greatest wizard to ever walk the world in the days before Atlantis slipped below the waves.
The Gods of the Hyborian Age The gods of the Hyborian Age were rarely benevolent figures. Most, in reality, would be viewed in later times as little more than demons that preyed upon men for their own enrichment in blood and treasure. The only deities worshipped in this savage time who offered their followers even a modicum of compassion and opportunities to better their own conditions were Asura the Enlightened One and Mitra, the Phoenix Lord. Both of these gods would survive in half-remembered forms into the ages of humanity that were yet to unfold. They would make themselves known to new followers in later times and would evolve into two new faiths, respectively—the dharmic religions of Buddhism and Hinduism in India, the land that Vendhya gave birth to and the monotheistic religion of the Israelites among the descendants of the people of Shem.
Asura, the Enlightened One Most people of the great Eastern nation of Vendhya worshipped Asura, who taught that life was illusory and the only final truth came after death, in the light of the soul. The cult of Asura devoted itself to “penetrating the veil of illusion of life.” Asura’s doctrines taught that all living beings reincarnate, and that the purpose of life was the paying of the karmic debt against the soul. Each evil act extended the cycle of reincarnation; each good act shortened it. Those who suffered earned their trials in previous lives; they were not to be pitied or aided and deserved the burdens they carried in this life. According to his priests, Asura had no true form, but was a part of all the cosmos. When the god wished to send messages to his followers, he did so by the reincarnated birth of an exceptional mortal. Some priests of Asura wandered the land as beggar-priests, while others were members of the upper caste of Vendhyan society, the Brahma, who were their society’s scholars and rulers. All Brahma participated in rituals of meditation and purification, including ritual baths in the holy rivers of Vendhya. The Brahma priests commanded the lowest Vendhyan caste, the Untouchables, during cremation ceremonies, where the dead were burned to dust on great funereal pyres, their ashes blessed and spread on the winds. Anyone not properly cremated could rise as one of the feared undead of Vendhya. Unlike the sinister and hated Stygians, Vendhyans established Asuran worship centers in other lands where they traded in large numbers, including in Aquilonia. But because the Asurans’ rituals were a secret and the very location of their temples often were unknown to the local populace, they were wrongly believed by many Aquilonians to be cannibals who prayed to the Stygian god Set, a deity whose worship
was illegal in Aquilonia, as were all other faiths save that of Mitra before the time of King Conan. This belief was apparently bolstered by the Asurans’ excessive clannishness and their customary black clothing. But in a surprising turn of events, the fugitive King Conan once found succor in the hidden temple of Asura in the Aquilonian capital city of Tarantia while he was fleeing those who sought to overthrow his rule of Aquilonia. When the Cimmerian reclaimed his throne, he repaid the Asuran sect by ending its outcast status in Aquilonia, a move that enraged the powerful Mitraic priesthood in that kingdom.
Bel, Lord of Thieves Bel, god of thieves, appeared in some versions of the Shemitish myth-cycle, but his rather peripheral appearances in those myths were thought by scholars to be later additions to the canon. Bel was wellknown in all the lands settled by people of Shemitish blood, though he was most popular in the nation of Zamora, well-known for the quality and sheer number of its thieves. Bel was worshipped by many people who prided themselves on their larcenous ways, however; the Zuagir nomads and the thieves of the city of Asgalun pointed to his exploits to prove that their nefarious acts were blessed by the gods. According to legend, in the time of the Elder Gods who ruled the world in long ago days when men were still the slaves of these alien powers, Bel used his dark powers to conjure up an army of undead thieves, with which to plunder the wealth of all nations. In desperation, the people of Shem called on the goddess Ashtoreth (an aspect of Ishtar) for help. In the ensuing battle, the goddess severed Bel’s sixth arm. Thereafter, Bel was driven into exile in the nation of Zamora. None has ever seen the face of Bel, as befits a god of thieves, though several idols and amulets depicted him variously as a stocky dwarf with a grinning face, a six-armed elephant-man, and a lithe, catlike human wearing a black mask. Bel was worshipped, or at least paid lip service, by all who “earned” their living in Hyboria as thieves, outlaws and beggars. The priesthood of Bel was independent in each major city or region, to prevent the frequent actions against one thieves’ guild or Belite temple from spilling over and affecting others. In areas with a single strong thieves’ guild, the temple or shrine to Bel was usually connected to the guild’s hall via underground tunnels. In large cities with competing thieves’guilds, such as Arenjun, the temple was in an underground location and was recognized as neutral ground by all sides of the local underworld. To maintain their divine benefits, priests of Bel may never buy or trade for anything but must meet all their needs through theft of one kind or another. Should they slip, Bel can only be appeased by a sacrifice of stolen goods ten times the value of the item purchased. Priests of Bel spoke their own secret
language which they learned upon being initiated into the cult, which was also the basis of the secret language known as Thieves’ Cant used by many thieves’ guilds throughout the Hyborian world.
The Blood Defilers Not truly gods, adventurers traveling through the uncharted wilds of Hyboria sometimes reported dreadful encounters with these dreadful remnants of the ancient Stygian Empire of Acheron—though doubtless many more never lived to tell the tale. Born of macabre sacrificial rituals during the days of Acheron’s glory and composed of congealed blood surrounding a magical stone heart, the Defilers were said to be the guardians of six sacred Acheronian statues that dripped blood into basins below. If a traveler wished to treat with these beings, he first had to offer a sacrifice of his own blood to the statues. These noisome demons were made solely from human blood. They were not flesh like men, instead they were beings of the warm clotted blood used in their foul summoning ritual, bound together by unwholesome sorcery and their own maleficent will. Only found guarding the darkest sanctums and in the service of the most powerful practitioners of the dark arts, they were found lurking near the pools from which they were raised. Some sages surmised they were linked to the blood source of their creation. The gaze of their empty eye sockets was unnerving, their glistening, blood-red skin gently throbbed and drops of blood fell continuously from their rictus grins, but it was the flopping vestigial proboscises under their arms that truly horrified onlookers. They writhed continuously, seeking fresh sources of blood. Should a Blood Defiler envelop a victim in its arms these appendages burrowed into the host and greedily pumped blood from their screaming prey. The blood used in their creation directly affected the Blood Defilers’ power. Sorcerers were careful to use pure and innocent blood in their creation for tainted blood diminished their arcane control over the fiendish abominations. Tainted blood and tainted Blood Defilers could turn on their creators or run amok, killing all in their reach in a frenzy of teeth, claws and blood spray.
Crom, the Skylord Crom, the grim Lord of the Mound, lived atop a great mountain, sending forth dooms and death, caring little for humanity save to breathe into a man’s soul the power to strive and to slay his foes. Crom was the head of the Cimmerians’ pantheon of cruel gods, sending forth dooms and death from his seat on the great mountain of Mount Crom, or Ben Morgh, the holiest place in Cimmeria.
To pray to Crom was a pointless task, as it would only invoke his anger. Prayer was a sign of weakness, and Crom had little patience for the weak. Cimmerians prefered to not attract his attention, and if his name was muttered, it was invariably in the form of an oath or a curse. Nominally, every Cimmerian was a follower of Crom, but there was no established clergy devoted to him, he did not inspire any rituals, and the people bid him no sacrifice besides using the strength he granted them to take what they want from life and to cleave the skulls of their enemies. The Cimmerians believed in a gloomy afterlife in which the souls of the dead would wander Crom’s grey realm aimlessly. It was useless to call upon Crom for divine aid “because he is a gloomy, savage god, and he hates weaklings.” Crom gave men and women the tools to find their own destinies; the rest was up to them. Unlike many of the other known gods of the Hyborian Age, Crom did not send avatars into the world to meddle with the affairs of men. Some claim that the voice of Crom can be heard in the harsh winter winds of Cimmeria. Crom had few true followers and no priests. Crom did not care to share his divine power with mortals. It was enough that he breathed life into mortals when they were born. Cimmerian religious ceremonies were minimal at best since prayers and supplications were useless, for it was better not to disturb this god lest he be resentful. Certainly ritual human sacrifice was never practiced—for no Cimmerian would passively allow himself to be served up on an altar.
Damballah, the Old Serpent In the Black Kingdoms of the far South, Set was known and worshipped under the name Damballah. Nowhere except Stygia was the worship of the snake-god as prominent as in Zembabwei, where one of that realm’s twin kings was also the high priest of Damballah. Deep in the trackless jungles of the south, in the forbidden city of Old Zembabwei which was closed to foreigners, the altars of Damballah ran crimson with human sacrifice. It was whispered that on the night of sacrifice, the very moon itself burned red with the blood of those who were offered up in pain and torment to the Old Serpent. Damballah usually manifested as a giant black snake which appeared from within a column of rising smoke and devoured the human sacrifices brought before it. On nights known as the Nights of the BloodMoon, he turned the moon red, and magic performed under this moon was said to be extremely potent. The priests of Damballah were tribal witch-doctors and shamans. They were in essence worshipping a guise of Set, but were granted somewhat different powers than the serpent-god’s Stygian priests. There was some enmity between the followers of Damballah and the snake-priests of Stygia as to their god’s true 76
nature and methods of worship. The greatest high priest of Damballah was Nenaunir, one of Zembabwei's twin kings. He was said to rule three million savages from his Skull Throne. His twin brother Mbega opposed the cult of the Slithering God and supported the worship of Zembabwei’s ancestor spirits instead.
Derketo, the Fire Lady A goddess of fertility and lust originally worshipped in Shem, the cult of Derketo could be found among the pantheons of many southern kingdoms, particularly in Stygia and Kush. In Stygia, Derketo was a decadent, licentious deity, serving as the religious counterpoint to the strict and humorless devotions of Set, the Great Serpent. Nearly every Stygian city contained a grand temple to the goddess, where young girls were initiated into the erotic mysteries of Derketo. Initiates of Derketo often served as courtesans to Stygian nobles and high priests, while priestesses of the temple practiced the arts of pleasure with devotees of the cult in return for financial contributions to the temple coffers. Followers of the goddess celebrated the harvest and the equinox with wild, wine-soaked orgies that invoked Derketo’s life-giving powers. Though the arch-priests of Set frowned upon the wanton rituals of the temple and some would like nothing better than to see this other religion driven from their kingdom, they knew that the Stygian noble families and the merchant class would never permit it. The symbol of Derketo’s faith was the fish, representing her powers of fertility and life, and in Shem she was frequently associated with the life-giving River Styx. In Kush and the Black Kingdoms, however, she was worshipped as Derketa, the malevolent Queen of the Dead and the Lady of Fire. Her priests and priestesses were called the Scourges of Derketo in these lands and were known for their command over fire magics granted to them by their goddess. The Scourges were expected to travel the lands of men, inspiring the flames of passion wherever they went, as well as offering the gifts of healing to all those worthy of the goddess’ fiery touch.
Erlik, the Shrouded God The Hyrkanian god Erlik was a figure shrouded in mystery and legend. Even though he was the supreme deity of the Hyrkanians and their younger kin, the Turanians, very little was known about Erlik. According to Hyrkanian myth, Erlik was the first man on earth, but he was not given a soul by the Creator. When Erlik tried to create life by himself, he was banished into the depths of the earth, where he claimed the dead (“those that lack breath”) for his own. Erlik is also known under the title “the God of
the Yellow Hand of Death.” But despite the fact that Erlik was worshipped by the noble classes of Aghrapur and the other great Turanian cities, virtually nothing is known of him or his cult. One scholar of things Hyborian identified the cult of Erlik worshipped in Conan’s day with a legendary entity of the same name who was known as “the Lord of the Black Throne” (see Hanuman, below). Like Lucifer in the poetry of our own civilization’s famed author John Milton, this version of Erlik rebelled against the Creator god. For his impudence he was cast into darkness. But by way of compensation, he became thereafter in that scholar’s words, “the ruler of of seven demon-haunted underworlds, from which his emissaries went out nightly to hunt down the souls of evil-doers and recruit for his black forces.” Erlik would have remained a minor god were it not for the human prophet known as the Living Tarim. Tarim brought Erlik’s worship from a remote region in the far northeast of the continent of Hyboria known as Pathenia to a group of Hyrkanian tribes who, with the strength of their religious fervor, later swept down and founded the Turanian empire. Erlik was a harsh god, who believed in the tempering of the soul through trials and deprivation. His tenets, as revealed by Tarim, forbid fornication, the consumption of alcohol and usury. However, even most of his priests ignored these precepts. Erlik’s avatar was the Living Tarim. The avatar appeared as a human form whose face and features were cloaked by a hooded robe. It was said that he sits on a throne in the inner sanctum of Erlik’s domed temple in Tarim’s capital city of Aghrapur. Idols of Tarim depicted him as a one-armed male. It was not uncommon for the priesthood of Erlik to sometimes proclaim that the Living Tarim had been reincarnated and then use this poor puppet to reinforce their religious control over the Turanian populace in the name of Erlik. Conan the Cimmerian found himself caught up in one such scheme when Hyrkanians from the city of Makkalet on the eastern shore of the Vilayet Sea snatched the man who was serving as the current Living Tarim from the Turanian capital of Aghrapur, forcing the Turanians to go to war to reclaim their “prophet.” Priests of Erlik (and the Living Tarim) who followed the strict codes of the Revelations of Tarim were able to master the terrible powers of necromancy. Among their powers was the ability to sink into the earth and command the undead. Priests of Erlik were always male. Like Set, Erlik was a dark god whose worshippers were known to carry out violent acts on his behalf. Some even filed their teeth down to sharp points, the better to draw out the sacrificial blood from nonbelievers.
Gwahlur, the King of Darkness In the mythology of Keshan, the jungled land south of Stygia, Gwahlur was known and worshipped as the King of Darkness, a demonic creature that reveled in destruction and death. It was said that in the birth of the world, the other gods wrenched the teeth from the awful jaws of Gwahlur, and commanded them to be hidden. The center of Gwahlur worship is Alkmeenon, a hidden city which is taboo to all Keshians except the priests of that land. Beneath the ruined palace of Alkmeenon, there exists a series of caverns, each with a hideous idol of a god or demon; images, perhaps, of Gwahlur, or of the gods that cooperated to steal his teeth. Only priests know how to unlock the bronze gates leading to these tunnels. During ceremonies, the priests make their way into each chamber and chant before each idol before moving into the next chamber. Darkness, which seems to consume and eat torchlight, hides the true size of each cave. The worship of Gwahlur was brought to Keshan by the Shemites who founded the city of Alkmeenon. It is thus probable that cults or servants of Gwahlur still exist in Shem. The oracle Yelaja, the last princess of the original founders of Alkmeenon, has some sort of arcane connection with Gwahlur; she is sometimes called the “dweller with the great one of darkness.” Much secrecy and superstition surrounded the myths of Gwahlur. Evidence seems to suggest that the priests of Keshia are not in fact priests of Gwahlur, but worship other gods of the jungle, such as Dagon, Derketa and Damballah. These gods might have tasked the priesthood to guard the sacred gems known as the Teeth of Gwahlur, and to perform rituals that keep Gwahlur chained or imprisoned somewhere. As such, the true might of Gwahlur can only be guessed at. The black priests of Keshan dress in leopard skin tunics, their heads decorated with ostrich plumes. They use invocations spoken in the ancient tongue of Alkmeenon, handed down from generation to generation of high priests. The former high priest, Gorulga, was killed by bestial corpse-eaters during an expedition to Alkmeenon.
Hanuman, the Lord of the Black Throne One “civilized” animal cult was that of Hanuman the ape-god, worshipped in the Turanian city of Zamboula, who was actually an aspect of the god Erlik worshipped by the Turanians. Hanuman’s priests were feared rather than loved, but worship of the ape-god was still supreme in Zamboula (much to the chagrin of the rival priests of Set and Erlik. Erlik’s priests in particular are aghast at the heresy of Hanuman’s worshipers, who do not recognize that their god is just one of Erlik’s many aspects).
Hanuman’s temple stands alone in the midst of a broad, marble-paved square in Zamboula, surrounded by a marble wall. The great bronze doors of the temple have stood open for centuries. In the day men and women come timidly into the shrine and place offerings to the ape-god on the black altar, but at night the people shun the temple of Hanuman as hares shun the lair of a serpent. Hanuman worship was thought to have come from Vendhya. The dark ape-god is probably worshipped in Kosala and other remote parts of the East as well. Hanuman is not known to manifest, but his idol is regularly appeased with human sacrifice. Although the statue of the ape-god is made from black marble, those who touch it quickly recoil from it, for the stone has the cold and sleek feel of a reptile. Hanuman has few, but powerful priests, who practice human sacrifice. One unusual ritual of the cult is the Dance of the Cobras, in which a young girl is made to dance between four live cobras, dodging their venomous fangs until, inevitably, she tires and falls to her death. The most famed high priest of Hanuman in Zamboula was Totrasmek, who was reputedly a mongrel—probably part Hyborian and part Shemite. He played a very active part in the politics of Zamboula, having spun his slimy webs of power throughout the city for years.
Ibis, the Fount of Knowledge Ibis was a lesser Stygian god, deeply opposed to Set. The priests of Ibis were driven from Stygia ages ago by the snake-worshippers of Set. Ibis was a god of knowledge, learning and magic. Priests of Ibis were scholars, sages, physicians and diviners. Ibis was not generous with his knowledge, but neither was he covetous of it. For those who worked long and hard at research and science, he was a faithful source of information. His worshippers claimed that Ibis was omniscient. It is said that Ibis maintained a set of three great books in which all the knowledge of the universe was recorded. These books were locked away at the heart of a great crypt somewhere in Stygia. Ibis seldom sent his physical avatar into the world, but might do so to further his own interests in seeking new knowledge or magic, or to oppose Set. Ibis could manifest as a sudden burst of inspiration or through dreams and visions. The priests of Ibis sometimes allied with the priests of Mitra against their common enemy, the snake-worshipping cult of Set. The wizard-priest Kalanthes who led Ibis’ cult as its high priest and led its war against Set was sometimes referred to as “the last priest of Ibis.” Always a powerful enemy to the worshippers of Set, Kalanthes had a long history that spanned the lands of Hyboria. An old man by the time of King Conan, he commanded a powerful will and magic that arguably rivaled any other soul on the continent. There were many rumors and folktales about the high priest, some spanning back many years, 80
which tell of his faith’s war with the dark serpent-god. The very hand of Ibis, Kalanthes had battled the darkness for a very long time. Kalanthes had crossed paths with the adventuring Conan several times. Their lives were at stake almost every time, but fate saw it to spare them repeatedly. Even the most horrid and powerful of Set’s agents were unable to successfully take the high priest of Ibis from this world—a feat that only a few could ever boast. The command of his faith and the gifts it bestowed was dazzling and mysterious, when he chose to use them. The high priest of Ibis would like to think himself a normal Nemedian man, but he knew the nature of destiny all too well to ignore its call. Kalanthes had made many allies, and counted a number of them as close friends. It seemed that, like his old friend and comrade King Conan, he had pulled back from the front lines of the war against Set in his later years. There were fewer stories of his magics, and the influence of the serpent-god on the world of men had not waned. Yet, there have been sightings of a man fitting a similar description around the beaches of the island of Tortage—an island that few would call a place of peaceful retirement. It is as if he was waiting for someone…
Ishtar, the Earth-Mother To many in the Hyborian Age, the chief deity was a woman, Ishtar. The practice of worshipping this goddess had originated with the Shemite nomads, the people who eventually founded the kingdom of Shem. Ishtar was best known as the Earth-Mother and if there were any make gods in the Shemite pantheon, there names remain unknown to us—so completely did goddess-worship eclipse all other rituals in that pastoral land. Ishtar’s temples were rich, lavish and exotic. They must have held great appeal to Westerners from the Hyborian lands who found their own chief god of Mitra too dry, too distant and too intellectual a deity. Ishtar’s colorful rituals included ornate ceremony and blood sacrifices—though only of animals. Ishtar, the ancient Mother Goddess, was often worshipped in rich temples and at lavish shrines with an orgiastic frenzy performed before sensuously carved idols of ivory. According to one scholar, these idols “combined southern sensuousness with northern restraint.” For those who served her, Ishtar bestowed bountiful harvests and many children in exchange for sacrifice. The voluptous temple prostitutes which were found in Ishtar’s temples were well known even outside the lands where the goddess was worshipped. Though a Shemitish goddess in Conan’s time, Ishtar was also worshipped in Shem, Ophir, Argos, Koth, Khoraja, Khauran and Zamora, and had small cults
elsewhere wherever Kothian populations had settled. She was also known under such diverse names as Ishnigarrab, Shupnikkurat, Ashtoreth, Derketo and Shub-Niggurath. Unlike the worship of Mitra, which used the altar only as a focus, the Shemites believed that their gods actually inhabited their omnipresent brass idols. These idols were caricatures: the swollen breasts and belly of Ishtar appeared repulsive to the more refined worshippers of Mitra. Ishtar can take any form, male and female, although she is most likely to appear as a young, voluptuous woman dressed in white robes, wearing a golden crown. The birth of hideously deformed children, as well as drought, were regarded as bad omens from Ishtar. Ishtar had both male and female priests. Their ceremonies included the blood sacrifice of animals, but never humans.
Jhebbal Sag, the Lord of Beasts All animals, including humans, once worshipped Jhebbal Sag, the Lord of Beasts, and spoke the same language. Now, most have forgotten, and only the largest, smartest and strongest animals remember the earliest days. Those who remember are bound together, however, and can be controlled by one who serves Jhebbal Sag and knows the language of the animals. In most cases the only men to remember the ancient language of Jhebbal Sag are those who are descended from his loins. According to legend, there are groves throughout Pictland and the Black Kingdoms where the old Beast Lord sometimes still visits and takes his pleasure among the females of the animal kingdom. Sometimes he mates with a pantheress, doe, or a woman. And from these matings come a steady supply of exceptional creatures who are brothers in spirit as well as blood. By demonstrating the power of the Call of Jhebbal Sag, the priests of Jhebbal Sag prove to be of the old god’s blood. A god of all beasts who lurk in the wild places, and men who act as beasts, the fang and claw are the only laws of Jhebbal Sag. The satisfaction of his primordial needs are his goals. For millions of years he has loped through his wild lands in the form of one great beast or another; for such is his pleasure. When humans came he added them to his stable. From him they learned to rip and tear one another like beasts. Jhebbal Sag is the leader of the animal gods (including Jullah the black gorilla-god and Jhil, the nighted god of ravens) and all of the other animal spirit totems serve him. Jhebbal Sag was worshipped almost universally in the Black Kingdoms, as well as among the tribes of the Pictish Wilderness. Jhebbal Sag can manifest as one or several natural animals. He might also send one of the lesser animal gods (Jullah, Jhil, etc.) or their servitor creatures. It is said that Jhebbal Sag likes to come out at night; there are tales from men and women who have seen his eyes burning like yellow coals in the darkness. 82
Priests of Jhebbal Sag are usually shamans or witch doctors of a tribe. They hear the whisper of the Beast-Lord on the wind, bring meat to his altars in sacrifice, and bring women to his sacred groves. In addition to being able to summon and speak with the animals who served the Lord of Beasts, the priests of Jhebbal Sag also learned the secret of the magical Symbol of Jhebbal Sag, an ancient, mystic sign which even the wildest animal was cowed before, and would not approach.
Mitra, the Phoenix Lord Mitra, the primary god of the Hyborians, was one of the rare benevolent gods, believed to be allpervasive and without a physical form, although he was often pictured as a tall man with wide-set, piercing eyes, curly hair confined by a simple band and a patriarchal beard. Mitra would accept no living sacrifices of any kind, since for him all life was precious, although Mitraic temples took extensive tithes from worshippers in money and services. Mitra was a cilivilied person’s god, whose followers believed him to be omnipresent. No human being could ever know what Mitra truly looked like, but he was often depicted “in idealized human form, as near perfection as the human mind can achieve.” According to Mitraic belief, each person was called to live a virtuous life. It was the obligation of each individual to follow the tenets of the faith of Mitra, which included truthfulness, honor and trustworthiness. In Mitra’s tenets, telling a lie or betraying a friend were truly mortal sins. In Mitraic theology, there was a heaven and a hell and men’s souls were subject to judgment in the afterlife by the god, based upon the types of lives they had led. Some Mitraic followers even believed that Mitra wanted people to forgive their enemies, a foreshadowing of the “golden rule” espoused by the Judeo-Christian theology of a much later period. Mitra was the most common god worshipped in Hyboria, and was the chief deity in almost all Hyborian kingdoms, including Aquilonia, Argos, Ophir, Nemedia, Brythunia, Corinthia, and even Zingara. The worship of Mitra was a monotheistic one. There were a host of saints in the faith, as men were heard to swear by them on occasion, but there could be no other god than Mitra, though his followers recognized that other entities calling themselves gods did exist in the world. His followers were fervently suspicious towards other gods and religions, especially the worship of Set and of the Pictish animal gods, which they saw as demons. Mitraic temples were civilized places where worshippers were expected to stand upright before their god, not crawl about on their bellies like worms as in many other Hyborian faiths of the period. If there existed a female consort for Mitra, her name is no longer known. As one scholar put it, like his later Hebrew counterpart, “Mitra stood essentially alone.”
As opposed to Crom and Set, Mitra was a kind god, although he holds his followers to high standards. The theology is based on justice and a very strong sense of right and wrong. His followers are expected to strive for justice and are encouraged to forgive. There was a huge clergy associated with the worship of Mitra, and one could find temples in his honor everywhere his influence was spread. Mitra’s temples were conspicuously free of ornamentation. They were supposed to reflect the pious and ascetic ideals Mitra expected his followers to emulate. Mitra did not need precious metals and elaborate ornaments in his honor. He wanted dedication and prayer, not superfluous sacrifice; and he abhorred the ritual of human sacrifice prevalent in many other Hyborian religions of the time. Mitra held his priests to even more strict behavior. Priests of Mitra had to remain celibate and abstain from all alcohol and mind-altering drugs. One of Mitra’s most potent aspects was as the Defender, protecting Hyborians from evil sorcery, most specifically from his ancient enemy, the serpent-god Set. In his battles with Set, Mitra preferred working through mortals, so that those who were called to be his champions can both defeat Set and act as living proof of the validity of his cult’s moral tenets. Mitra often sent visions and revelations to mortals through dreams. In addition to performing their service to the deity, priests of Mitra acted as keepers of ancient Hyborian lore and wisdom. Above all, they sought to oppose the evils of the priesthood of Set. Priests of Mitra were required to tithe one-quarter of their income to one of the god’s temples. The greatest Mitraic temples were found in Nemedia and Aquilonia.
Nebethet, the Ivory Goddess Nebethet, the Ivory Goddess of Punt, was worshipped primarily there, although some Shemitish scholars equated her with their goddess Derketo. She is also known as the Queen of Darkness and Mistress of the Night. Her traditional image is of a voluptuous woman with the head of a skull, although recent visitors to the shrine report that the original statue has been replaced by one appearing more human. The Shrine of Nebethet is a round, domed temple located leagues east of Kassali. The white marble shrine is designed to look like a giant silver skull. The people of Punt come to her for advice, since she is supposedly allknowing and gives spoken omens through her image. Nebethet is dual in nature, worshipped as the bringer of both darkness and light. In her dark aspect, she brings death and must be placated with sacrifice. In her beneficial aspect, she is worshipped as a bringer of wealth, materialized by the ivory and gold which the Puntish people have been blessed with in abundant quantities. 84
When moonlight falls on the goddess’ idol, it is said to come alive and deliver spoken omens. The goddess can manifest by possessing a mortal woman that enters her temple, surrounding her with a purple glow. According to the holy laws of Punt, the temple of Nebethet must remain uninhabited by mortal men and women. Therefore, the priests of Nebethet only visit the temple to offer sacrifice and receive omens from the goddess, often accompanied by the king of Punt. The darkness-shrouded chambers of the temple are supposedly guarded by inhuman creatures. The priests of Nebethet have shaven heads and dress in purple robes. They have good relations with the priests of Keshan. Priests of Nebethet must always be male.
Pteor the Bull Pteor was one of the chief deities of the Pelishtia, a Shemitish nation, but we know practically nothing of him or his worship today, other than that his tiny cult once competed with that of Ishtar for the religious affections of the Shemites. Some 2000 years or more after the Great Cataclysm, the Hyborian meadowlands were invaded from the east by clans of nomadic savages known as the Sons of Shem. Having conquered that land, the pastoral invaders combined with the locals who practiced cereal agriculture to form the land later called Shem. The Shemites’ religions—like their blood—became intermingled. The deity of each nomadic tribe was a sky-god, who was thought by his worshippers to control the weather. This male god was also thought to have mated with the Earth-Mother goddess of Shem’s original inhabitants, which was hotly denied by the cult of Ishtar which eventually became the dominant faith of the lands of Shem. One scholar held that Pteor’s small cult had probably evolved along these lines. However, this did not explain why the god was often depicted as an obscenely obese humanoid figure by some of his followers or why still others claimed that his true form was that of a bull.
Set, the Serpent-Lord Set, the ancient serpent god, was the master of darkness and the beasts that hunt by night, lord of the red desert, and ruler of the sunken cities and the black gulfs between the stars. Sometimes known as Yig, he commands hordes of hissing serpents, and he wracks the cities and the spirits of men with shrieking, violent winds. For a million years or more, Set the Old Serpent had been worshipped by reptilian serpent people, whose empires once spanned the jungles of the pre-human continent of Thuria before the Ice Ages began.
Theirs was a world of dinosaurs, ancient demons and sorcery beyond that now known to men. Primitive humans, in reality little more than apes, were kept as slave races. Only on remote continents did bestial humans survive unmolested, slowly learning the use of flint knives and fire-hardened spears and making the mystic transition from beast to man, from instinct to reason. The reign of Set and the serpent people was overthrown by these early humans and the global climactic changes that brought humanity to power, but the cult of the snake-worshippers survived in the deepest, hottest black jungles. The serpent-people returned to rule mankind once again, under the leadership of the undead sorcerer Thulsa Doom, but were defeated by King Kull of Valusia during the Pre-Cataclysmic Age. The serpentmen were once again banished to the steaming jungles of the South. Then, the Cataclysm destroyed Valusia and the Seven Kingdoms of Thuria. Five thousand years later, when the dark empires of Acheron and Old Stygia dominated the world, the altars of Set were once again soaked with the blood of evil sacrifice. Today the black-robed cult of Set controls Stygia, and has many secret outposts in other lands. Set, the Old Serpent, was Mitra’s arch-enemy, and the ancient god was revered and worshipped mainly in Stygia, and was known and worshipped as Damballah in the Black Kingdoms. Set was a cruel, jealous god who demanded constant human sacrifice from his subjects, and his priests were only too willing to comply as they brought naked virgins screaming to his altar to appease his blood-lust. In Stygia the snake was holy and to kill a snake was a mortal sin. If a snake slithered into the cities or on the streets, Set’s subjects would lay prostrate before him, hoping to be found worthy of his bite. Set’s priests were almost as frightening as the god himself, and they terrified their own people almost as much as they terrified their enemies. Stygia was a theocracy, and the mad and corrupt clergy ran the country on fear and wonder, as well as an indiscriminate willingness to sacrifice their own people. The tenets of Set worship were difficult and sheathed in many layers of dogma. Principally, the temples professed that Set was the most potent of gods, advocate of the strong, devourer of the weak, a powerful friend and a terrible enemy, and that it is the fate of mankind to serve the Serpent-Lord. Set’s greatest opponent was Mitra, the god of the Hyborians. According to the Setite priests, Mitra was perhaps as powerful as Set, but lacked the strength of heart to use his power to rule over humanity. Thus, the Setites preached, Mitra was ever doomed to failure; no matter how many times he succeeded in foiling Set’s plots, Set needed to prevail only once. Set’s avatar can assume any form which is a combination of man and snake, including full man and full snake forms. In any snake-tainted form, the avatar’s size can range from a small adder to a gargantuan
serpent, but in full human form it is restricted to human size. Omens of Set usually take the form of howling desert storms, the sudden bite of a snake, or stars that disappear from the night sky. It is believed that anyone who performs the proper rituals before an artifact known as the Black Mirror of Nekhen will call Set into the world. Set’s followers are a dark and scorned lot who, outside of Stygia, where they actually are the rulers, work under cover of darkness and keep themselves cloaked in treachery and deceit. Their seat of power is Stygia, where serpent-men are revered as demi-gods. The Stygian king who holds court in Luxur is in reality merely a puppet of the snake-worshipping priests. Priests of Set, usually called Scions of Set, were clean-shaven and bald-headed like most Stygian clergy members. Due to the priesthood’s exalted position, it was death for any Stygian commoner to even touch a priest of Set. Set’s cult especially favored red-haired people, seeing this color as a sign of the god’s favor. Initiates of Set who had learned some of the inner knowledge of the cult reported that Set also offered eternal life in the tomb as undead to those who served him faithfully.
Tarim the Living Like Erlik, Tarim was a principal god of the Turanians and their ancestral people, the Hykanians, although less sinister a deity than Erlik. Tarim’s origins and nature are likewise obscure and half-forgotten. By most accounts, he was a deity to be sworn by and nothing more. Other tales say that Tarim was a man blessed by Erlik who was the first to bring the worship of Erlik the Shrouded to the Hyrkanians from the land of Pathenia. The Turanians believed that those tribes that heeded Tarim’s call to worship Erlik became mighty in battle and that it was this enw faith that led these tribes to conquer the vast territory on the western shore of the Vilayet Sea that became the Empire of Turan. Once article of the faoth of Erlik was that the Shrouded God often caused Tarim to be reincarnated to lead the faith and this individual was known as the Living Tarim. Still, in one epic mythological cycle from Conan’s day known as “The War of the Tarim,” the god was a very real presence on Earth for at least a time. The tale relates how Tarim was thought to be a man, the reincarnation of a being who had founded the Hykanian race when they were still Lemurians in the days before the Cataclysm. Hyrkanians from the city-state of Makkalet on the eastern shore of the inland Vilayet Sea kidnapped this man-god from his temple in the lands of Turan, which prompted the heir to the Turanian throne, Prince Yezdigerd, to lead a seaborne assault on Makkalet, which destroyed that city and reclaimed the god. Conan, however, who had been a member of Turan’s army, had seen the truth: the “Living Tarim” was nothing more than a mentally defective man who was incinerated in a temple fire as the city fell to the Turanian forces. Yet even his corpse was treated as a holy relic by the Turanians. Such 87
deceptions to increase the power of a religious cult’s hold over often illiterate and uneducated peoples was common during the Hyborian Age.
Xotli, the Lord of Blood Little is known of the ancient Atlantean god Xotli, who was more a manifestation of demonic evil and man’s darkest emotions than a true god. He was feared as the personification of nature’s wrath rather than worshipped by most in ancient Atlantis, though it was known that some few who sought power at the expense of their own souls worshiped this demonic force. Xotli demanded ritual human sacrifice regularly from his followers, but could be generous with dispensing arcane power to his cultists if they pleased him. These men and women, the Heralds of Xotli, were warrior-sorcerers who had ventured so far down the arcane path of demonology that they had become tainted by demonic energy. They had paid the ultimate price to their bloody god and had become hosts for his demonic presence. Known as the Heralds of Xotli, these sorcerers were capable of actually transforming into demons themselves during battle to rend and feast upon the flesh of all those who opposed the will of the demon god. In the Hyborian Age, Xotli was most closely worshipped by the inhabitants of Antillia, a chain of islands at the extreme western edge of the great Western Ocean. However, this dark demon god also sought to broaden his worship to the Hyborian mainland and he had some success in turning away several Stygian sorcers from the reverence of Set. In return for abandoning the serpent god and serving up their own souls to his hellish embrace, Xotli offered these men and women the power to become one of his Heralds, the most feared warrior-mages in all of Hyboria. As can be imagined, the sorcerer-priests of Set who ruled Stygia were none too happy about Xotli poaching their worshippers and any Stygians caught serving the Lord of Blood were executed for apostasy. Of course, the Setites had to survive the encounter with an enraged demonic warrior-mage first.
Yama, the King of Devils According to Meruvian legend, the valley known as the Cup of the Gods was once the Roof of the World: a flat, icy plain that ran from the tops of the Himelia Mountains to the tops of the Talakmas. The Meruvian legend continues: “Then Yama, the king of the demons, determined to create this valley for us, his chosen people, to dwell in. By a mighty spell, he caused the land to sink. The ground shook with the sound of ten thousand thunders, molten rock poured from cracks in the earth, mountains crumbled, and forests went up in flame.”
When this enormous upheaval was over, the land between the mountain chains was a deep valley, warmed by the heat of the ground, and plants and beasts of the warm countries came to dwell in it. “Then Yama created the first Meruvians and placed them in the valley, to inhabit forever.” Yama is the patron god of Meru, a small nation high in the Himelias and the Meruvian king is his ever-reincarnating son. Priests of Yama are all-powerful and serve as officials, advisors and judges. An immense, 30-foot-tall, six-armed jade statue of the devil-god rests within the inner temple sanctum of Shamballah, the City of Skulls and the Meruvian capital. According to the priests of Yama, the god will come to life when the god-king Jalung Thongpa calls upon his father. The law of Meru was simple: obey the priests. The priests are the source of all law (as the spokesmen for mighty Yama), and their word is by definition the will of Yama. The Meruvians give full obedience to the priests. This is partially due to the belief that the priests are born into their lot due to their spiritual purity, but also because of the threat of the vengeance of Yama The head of the Meruvian government (and of the priesthood) is the Rimpoche (god-king) Jalung Thongpa, Terror of Men and Shadow of Heaven, the ever-reincarnating son of Yama. When Jalung Thongpa dies, the priests scour Meru for the child born at the time of the previous Rimpoche’s death; this child, no matter how deformed or unfit, is declared Jalung Thongpa’s reincarnated form. The High Priest, or Grand Shaman, is usually a gaunt man with shaven head, scarlet robes, wielding a carven staff of ebony. Lesser priests also had shaved heads, slanted eyes and wear red robes.
Ymir, Lord of the North Ymir was the King of the Frost Giants, the principal god of the people of Vanaheim and Asgard. He ruled over Valhalla, the legendary hall of Northern myth where the souls of Nordheim’s dead warriors congregated in the afterlife. At times Valhalla was described as a domain of snow-covered plains and at others as a vast hall. The Northmen believed that these warriors were sometimes reincarnated as the frost giants that plagued the most frigid regions of their homelands, like the pair that once tried to stand between Conan and a woman he pursued. That woman was Ymir’s daughter Atali. Like the Valkyries of later Norse legends, she was known to appear to those who had been mortally wounded in battle.While we today know little of Ymir’s cult or his rites, he seems to have primarily been a god of the northern storms and battle. It is likely that the ancient Nordheimers made blood sacrifices to him—sacrifices that may or may not have included human beings. Ymir was a god of battle for the fierce people of Nordheim and some scholars believe that the blood lust of his followers often led them to make grisly sacrifices in his name—especially of slaves or warriors captured on the battlefield. 89
Yog, the Lord of Empty Abodes Yog worship dates back to the Khari invasion. Ryborian scholars speculate that Yog may be a demon lord or Great Old One of the Elder Night, like those worshipped by the peoples of ancient Atlantis. Yog’s doctrine was simple. Worshippers may only eat meat, never plants of any kind. They must consume human flesh at least once per month, and those who fail are considered ritually unclean until they have done so. In Darfar, a nation south of Stygia, bodies for the cannibalistic rituals come from raiding other tribes. Outside of Darfar, however, the Yoggites banded together and took what they could get. Where there were many Darfar slaves, wandering bands hunted and killed anyone who left shelter at night. Although most city residents feared the Yoggite ceremonies, they permitted the Yoggites to practice their religion, as without this concession their Darfuri slaves were rebellious and violent. For proper sacrificial power, the victims are clubbed unconscious and thrown into fire-pits. Dead sacrifices were considered inferior, as were those who have been cut, so the Yoggites did not use knives or swords. One adult could feed as many as thirty or forty Yoggites, as only a token consumption was required to meet Yog’s requirements. For obeying these strictures, Yog promised strength in battle and victory over the worshipper’s foes. Such promises might hold more weight were Darfari slaves uncommon in the southern lands. Even so, Yoggites were devout enough to practice their foul religion wherever they went. At each full moon, the worshippers of Yog dig a pit, into which their priests pour certain oils and set alight with a flung torch. The Darfari identify the bright flame with that of the moon overhead. They believe that, once each month, they must “eat the moon.” Bathed in the fire-pit’s glow, any captive, in their eyes, becomes the earthly essence of the moon. Eating outsiders’ flesh is said to make the Yoggites immune to weapons. Yog was worshipped by two different groups: the man-eaters of jungled Darfar, and the desert-dwelling Zuagirs.
Zath, the Spider-God The most famous of the Zamoran divinities was Zath, the spider-god of the city of Yezud in Zamora. Zath’s worshippers believed that the great spider-god walks the earth, and must be served by humankind. Indeed, the giant spiders which have occasionally been seen in the hills near the city of Yezud are testaments to Zath’s power.
In the Temple of Yezud, the priests of Zath worshipped an enormous statue of the spider god. It is said that eight huge gems form its eyes. Zath was a god of darkness, spiders and poison. Priests of Zath were generally assassins, madmen and spies. According to the cult of Zath, the huge stone idol in the temple of Yezud can come to life, devouring any sacrifice which was regularly brought to it by the spider-robed priests. It can also manifest as the bite of a poisonous spider, or by the sudden webbing of buildings and passages. Priests of Zath do not drink alcohol or fornicate, and those laymen in the service of the temple must also abide by these strictures. Even more guarded were the temple virgins, who danced for the spider-god on holy days. There were rumors of extensive caverns beneath the Temple of Yezud, where hundreds of giant spiders reside, fed cattle (and occasionally humans) by the priests of Zath. The cattle came from enforced tithes demanded from the Zamoran steadings which surrounded Yezud; it was said that the priests would loose these spiders on the countryside if the king of Zamora did not permit them their grisly worship.
The Elder Gods Long ago, it is said that the Earth was the plaything of alien, godlike beings known as the Elder Gods or the Great Old Ones. These beings inhabited one of the Far Realms, extradimensional spaces which surround our own universe and interconnect to the Earth through powerful arcane portals. These entities were utterly alien in their motivations and desires to the mind of men, but they offered great power to those foolish enough to offer them worship, usually in the form of blood sacrifice. It is known that the barbaric Atlanteans were particularly dedicated to the foul worship of the Elder Gods in the PreCataclysmic Age. The coming of the Cataclysm wiped away most of the knowledge of these beings, but it is said they still sleep far beyond the Earth in the Far Realms. One day they shall awake and turn their eyes upon the world of men once more. Then all the kingdoms of the Earth will tremble. The most powerful of the Great Old Ones were named Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggaruth and YogSothoth. They were served by lesser entities, some of whom were already present on the Earth where they hibernated, awaiting the time of Awakening. Some of these Earthbound Elder Gods were known as Cthugha, Cthulhu, Dagon, Mordiggian and Ithaqua. Dagon, in particular, was worshipped in the lands of Zamora, Shem and the Black Kingdoms as a god who controlled the weather and could offer his worshippers protection from natural disasters and ill fortune in return for their obedience and human sacrifice.
The Lotus Blossom: The Hyborian Drug of Choice Several varieties of the lotus blossom existed in the Hyborian Age, and each had very different pharmacological properties. When the petals of the black lotus were dried and mortared into a powder and this powder was burned in an incense bowl, it produced a dark green smoke. Black lotus was generally a lethal poison, although it was said that certain dark sorcerers, such as Thoth-Amon, the High Priest of the Stygian god Set, willingly breathed its fumes to regain magical strength. It was believed that other sorcerers who received their arcane abilities from a dark god could also use the black lotus as a restorative rather than a lethal poison. The thief Taurus of Nemedia used black lotus powder to kill the lions in the gardens of the Tower of the Elephant in the city of Arenjun in Zamora when he sought to rob that mystical place by the side of Conan the Cimmerian. The Black Lotus Swamp was a forlorn, snake-infested marsh that lay on the south bank of the River Styx several days travel upriver from the city of Khemi in Stygia. Some claim, however, that the black lotus only bloomed in Khitai, where the priests of the dark god Yun alone could harvest it. The Purple Lotus Swamp lay in south-central Stygia and was the source of the purple lotus plant whose juices produced temporary paralysis by acting as a primitive nerve agent much like kurari. The swamp was said to be haunted by ghosts who hungered to feast on the souls of the living. Under the effects of the purple lotus, the mind could sense everything but had no control at all over the body. Sorcerers and wizards used it in small doses in conjunction with their arcane rituals to free their mind from the bonds of their bodies, but many unsavory people used it for much darker purposes, such as knocking out a victim or keeping a victim conscious as he or she was tortured. The potion looked and smelled like clear water and was undetectable. Yellow lotus was a powerful narcotic similar to the drugs of the opiate family like heroin and cocaine that was also used in some mixtures as a hallucinogen to produce trances and visions. It bloomed only in certain remote areas of Khitai but was the powerfully addictive drug of choice for many people, both poor and wealthy, in the Hyborian Age, since its use could dull pain and provide the sweet relief of oblivion, at least for a time. The lotus itself was sometimes seen in these visions, and it could be that the flower itself exerted a malign influence through its addicts. The inhabitants of Xuthal, an ancient city in the Southern Desert of Kush, were all addicted to the yellow lotus and spent most of their lives in lotus-induced dreams. Grey lotus was a drug which in liquid form caused madness, found in the Grey Lotus Swamp east of Khitai. The grey lotus essence triggered the user’s adrenaline glands to begin to over-produce their
hormone and also massively increased a user’s testosterone production. This caused the imbiber to become a raving berserker that attacked everything in sight with unnatural strength. The victim had no control of himself and would continue to kill and destroy until the effect wore off in a few minutes. The white lotus plant was a beneficial herb that could heal wounds and help cure disease. It worked by making the human body’s own immune and cellular healing responses more efficient. It was said to be cultivated in a secret place in Vendhya. The juice of the golden lotus also helped cure insanity and disease but was even more effective than the white lotus. It was even rumored that golden lotus extract could save a man poisoned by the black lotus. It was not known where it bloomed, but legend said it could be found only in peaceful places that had never been disturbed by dark magic or bloodshed, but the priest Totrasmek of the ape-god Hanuman, in the city of Zamboula in Turan, possessed a vial of this rare substance.
The Tale of Conan the Cimmerian Conan of Cimmeria, also sometimes called Conan the Barbarian in the Nemedian Chronicles, is perhaps the most oft-mentioned figure of the Hyborian Age, at least among the few surviving fragmentary sources that still remain from that distant era. That he was a real person cannot be doubted, yet the sheer number of tales and the often out-sized nature of their details make clear that he was an epic hero-figure for the people of Hyboria, a man who became the focus of countless folk-legends and myths much like the Sumerian Gilgamesh or the Greeks Hercules and Odysseus in our own civilization. Deducing the “historical Conan” from these sources is a difficult task, but enough agreement between the various tales and legends about the famed Cimmerian exist to lay out a brief sketch of his life and seperate the man from his legend. Conan the Barbarian Conan was born into a clan that claimed an area in the northwestern part of frigid Cimmeria called Broken Leg Glen. His grandfather was a member of a southern Cimmerian clan who had fled from his own people after he became involved in a blood feud. After long wanderings through the world, which included extensive journeys to the Hyborian lands to the south of Cimmeria, Conan’s grandfather returned to his homeland and took refuge with another clan, that of Conan, in the north of that land. At night before a roaring fire, he would spin extraordinary tales of his travels—and no eyes would have grown wider at each telling than the bright blue orbs of his black-maned grandson. Conan’s mother’s name was given in one source as Greshan, his father, who served as his clan’s chieftain and blacksmith, was called Corin, and some versions of Conan’s story say he even had a sister. However, nearly every detail concerning Conan’s family and lineage is cloaked in mystery—even the name of his clan, which some sources claimed was called Clan Snowhawk while others named it Clan Conarch. Conan himself was born during a battle between his clan and a horde of raiding Vanir bezerkers from the Northern land of Vanaheim. One thing that all the sources agree on, however, was that both of Conan’s parents were dead by the time he left Cimmeria behind to wander south to pursue his destiny. Even from childhood, Conan seems to have been a hardy specimen and a warrior to be reckoned with. Before he had even seen fifteen winters, Conan’s name was mentioned as a youth to watch around his clan’s council fires. One story says that Conan fought off an entire pack of starving, maddened wolves as just a boy with his bare hands, saving the life of one of his clan’s hunters trapped beneath a fallen tree. Conan killed the wolf pack alpha by tearing out its throat with his own teeth.
Another tale explains that as a youth of fourteen winters, Conan made a name for himself among the men of his clan by killing a fellow clansman who tried to murder him. Yet another tale holds that, at the age of fifteen winters, he was sent out by his clan’s elders into the wooded hills of Broken Leg Glen to complete his solitary iniation rite as a full hunter and warrior of the clan. While there, Conan was initiated into the ways of men and women by Ursula, a strange beauty who roamed the Cimmerian wilderness in the company of two great white bears. Some say that Ursula was a druid, while others claim she was a nature spirit who saw greatness in the young Cimmerian and so chose to lay with him. But another version of Conan’s early life was far grimmer. This tale, inscribed on a badly broken third millennium B.C. clay prism from the Babylonian city of Nippur, explains that when Conan was eight winters old, his clan’s village was attacked by Vanir raiders hired by the Cult of Set. The priests of Set, directed by an immortal sorcerer-priest of that dark god named Thulsa Doom, wanted to seize the secret of crafting the famed Cimmerian Blue Steel from Conan’s people. Conan’s father, Corin, had been his clan’s primary smith as well as their chieftain, and he had often explained the “riddle of steel” to young Conan as they stood together at the forge where Corin crafted some of the finest weapons known to men. The truth of that riddle, which Conan took to heart, was that, in the end, even the best-forged steel was only as a strong as the flesh which wielded it. For all their barbarian ways, the Cimmerians had kept alive the secret of forging Blue Steel that had first been discovered by their Atlantean ancestors before the Great Cataclysm. The Vanir raiders killed all of the adults in the village, including Conan’s mother and father, and then led the Cimmerian children off into slavery in the frozen tundra lands of Vanaheim. But Conan never forgot the symbol of the serpent which the Setites overseeing the raiders had carried and the destruction of his clan left Conan with a lifelong hatred for the Cult of Set and all its minions. According to this version of the story, Conan spent five long winters serving as a mill slave in the frigid north, hand-turning a great grist mill in the Vanir village of Thurdvang nicknamed “the Wheel of Pain” along with other child slaves. By the time he was thirteen winters old, hardship had forged Conan’s body into a mass of muscle, bone and sinew that endowed him with the strength of a much older man. It also provided him with a physique that was perfect for being trained as an arena gladiator in the brutal pit fights that were the favored blood sport of the savage peoples of the far North. Conan was bought from the Vanir mill owner by a Hyrkanian pit master who had him trained in the arts of hand-to-hand combat so that he could become an exceptional pit fighter. Conan’s master took him all across the North and even into the eastern lands of Hyrkania to fight against the great champions of the Aesir and Vanir peoples. Conan first learned the ways of women when his master bred him with other
slave women in the hopes of producing strong slave offspring for their masters. Conan’s master even found time to take his slave eastwards where he could be trained by one of the famed War Masters of Khitai who had set up a mercenary training school in the lands of Turan. The War Master imparted the discipline in the arts of combat that Conan had not learned in the pit fights and also imparted an understanding of the tactics and military strategy needed to fight larger battles involving many combatants. In the end, by the time he was only sixteen winters old, Conan had become the greatest pit fighter the North had ever seen and had made so much money for his master that the Vanir decided to set his magnificent slave free. Of the two versions of his youth that have come down to us, the records of Conan’s enslavement by the Vanir and his liberation by the Hyrkanian pit master at sixteen, found in an Egyptian Old Kingdom papyrus in the British Museum, appear much more legible and self-consistent. But this question may never be settled. With his freedom Conan turned southwards to his homeland of Cimmeria just in time to take part in the Cimmerian attack on the Aquilonian colony of Venarium. Proud Aquilonia had long lusted after the land that lay beyond its northern frontier provinces of Gunderland and the Bossonian Marches. When Conan had still been a child, Gundermen were sent across the Cimmerian border to destroy several of the smaller southern Cimmerian clans and build a fortress-town named Venarium. That foreign settlement’s appearance on their land enraged every Cimmerian and overcame their own constant internal squabbles and clan blood-feuds. Some far-sighted Cimmerian leader, whose name has been lost to history, managed to briefly unite the clans in the common cause of eliminating the Aquilonian incursion. It may be true that the young Conan, now accepted into the bosom of a new Cimmerian clan, visited Venarium once or twice in the company of older warriors. They told the Aquilonian colonizers that they were there to trade—but their sojourns were in reality scouting missions for the larger Cimmerian host being massed in the heart of that harsh land. The scouts found that though the Gundermen formed the backbone of Aquilonia’s mail-clad infantrymen, they were not the equal in sheer hand-to-hand combat of the much more poorly armored Cimmerians. When the Cimmerians at last struck and initiated the Battle of Venarium, they swept out of the hills in a vast horde without warning and stromed Venarium with such fury that the small Aquilonian garrison was simply overwhelmed. Conan was one of the Cimmerian warriors who swarmed over the Aquilonian fort’s walls. All the inhabitants of Venarium save the women and children were put to the axe or the sword. Venarium was left a smoking ruin and the Aquilonians never again tried to colonize Cimmerian territory. The Battle of Venarium was the young Conan’s “baptism of blood,” but the sheer wealth that Conan had seen in Venarium, wealth that had
flowed into the fort from the civilized lands to be traded by the Gundermen, had whet his appetite to one day see what lay southwards beyond the Bossonian Marches. Yet, after getting this first glimpse of the civilized world at Venarium, Conan did not wander southwards, but returned to the North. In their usual manner, the brief unity that the Battle of Venarium had provided the Cimmerian clans did not last and the clans eventually went their separate ways. Before long, Conan found himself thoroughly bored by the endless rounds of hunting, gathering and story-telling around the village fire that made up the day-to-day life of the Cimmerian people. Conan wandered first to Asgard, where he proved his mettle to the fierce Aesir warriors he served with by rescuing a young Aesir woman and her infant from a member of a marauding group of Vanir raiders named Heimdul, though the battle nearly cost him his life and left him for dead. Conan was awakened from his unconscious state following this battle by Atali, the daughter of Ymir, the king of the frost-giants and god of the Aesir and Vanir. Conan chased the supernatural girl, who taunted him with her body as she fled across the icy tundra, and led him directly into the path of two frost-giants. Conan slew both of the monsters with his swift and savage sword, despite his weakened state, and he at last caught up to Atali. But the girl with the ice-blue skin called out to her father Ymir, who rescued his daughter in a flash of blue flame, leaving the Cimmerian barbarian struck unconscious, clutching in his hand a wisp of gossamer cloth that had never been spun by human hands. It was in this state that Conan was discovered by a band of Aesir warriors and brought back to consciousness for the second time. Impressed by his skill in slaying the frost-giants and being favored with a visit from Atali, who often derived perverse pleasure from showing herself to the dying, Conan was invited to join a band of Aesir warriors led by the great Northern warrior Niord. Niord was well-loved by those who joined up with him, for he never left a wounded warrior to the mercy of the enemy or the harsh elements of the frozen North. Niord’s band of warriors engaged in constant battle with both the hated Vanir and the Hyperboreans. While fighting alongside his new Aesir comrades, Conan honed his warrior’s instincts and his exploits during these months consisted mostly of raiding and pillaging Vanir and Hyperborean settlements. It is possible that the Aesir band he had joined had set out with vengeance as its goal— retribiution for some bloody act of the Vanir in Asgard. Or Niord may have formed the band as a rescue party intent on reclaiming several Aesir that the Hyperoboreans had captured to use in the abominable human sacrifices the White Hand’s Witch-Men offered to their dread goddess Louhi in their bleak homeland. It mattered little to Conan, who simply fought and killed besides his comrades. For a short time, at least, it was enough.
During one raiding expedition against the Hyperborean slavers, while serving under an Aesir chieftain or jarl named Njal, Conan was captured by the White Hand and carried to the capital of Hyperborea at Castle Haloga. The White Hand was led by the sorceress Vammatar, the Mistress of Castle Haloga. Rumored to be centuries old, she ruled the cult of the White Hand with an iron grip. The White Hand was composed of men and women known as the Witch-Men, although their faces were always hidden behind featureless white masks. Their chief weapon was the Witch-Rod, which gave a shock of cold like ivory lightning to any human with which it came in contact. In later years these gaunt terrors became known as the White Hand for the mark left when they touched human flesh, the cold of their touch leaving behind a pale and painful brand in the shape of their hand. These Witch-Men evoked terror among the mass of Hyperborea’s cowering common folk, but Vammatar wanted more. Employing the darkest of necromantic magics to reanimate the corpses of the dead, Vammatar created a Legion of the Dead to do her bidding and spread her rule across the lands of the North. But despite her necromantic powers, she was still only human. When Conan was captured by the Hyperboreans and brought before her, she became infatuated with the young barbarian and invited him to reign at her side. But Conan spurned the evil witch’s offer and her infatuation quickly turned to hatred. It amused Vammatar to use her necromancy to resurrect Conan’s former comrade and leader Njal, who had died alongside his men in the shadow of Castle Haloga and command him to slay Conan and his own daughter, who had also been along with the Aesir raiders and had been captured by the Hyperboreans. But in a river of flame and ice beneath Vammatar’s stronghold, the Cimmerian discovered the secret of how to make the undead fall once more and restore the peace of death to them using a magical artifact. While Conan used this to put an end to Vammatar’s dreams of conquest with her Legion of Dead, he was captured and grimly tortured for it. The Cimmerian expected to become yet another one of the Hyperboreans’ sacrifices to their dark goddess for his defiance of the White Hand. But Conan managed one night to strangle his Hyperborean jailer and break out of Castle Haloga’s dungeons, beating a path southward. Taking refuge from pursuing wolves in an ancient crypt, he lit a fire, which revealed a skeletal figure of some ancient, mummified Atlantean king seated upon a throne made of stone, a horned helmet on his skull and a naked sword forged of Blue Steel just like the Cimmerians made across his knees. The sight nearly scared the 16-winters-old Conan out of his superstitious barbarian wits! But the escaped and hunted Cimmerian had sore need of a weapon, and he lifted the blade, a broadsword of ancient Atlantean make, away from the corpse of the ancient king. But the hulking cadaver rose up and lumbered horrifically towards the young barbarian! Even its own sword could not hurt the cursed, undead
thing. Truly sick of Hyperborea and everything to do with the walking dead, Conan finally used fire to destroy the creature. Then, new sword in hand, Conan emerged into the Hyperborean night and once more set his feet on the road southwards. The ancient Atlantean broadsword he had recovered from the crypt would serve Conan well for the rest of his life, and the mighty blade would teach the “riddle of steel” to many a foe. Conan the Thief Tired of the frigid cold of the North, the teenage Conan at last decided to seek his destiny in the warmer civilized lands of the south, eager to learn more about the world he had first encountered within the walls of the fortress at Venarium. But when Conan wandered south for the first time he had no certain way of earning his daily bread—let alone a flagon of wine. Given his skill with a blade, some have asked why he did not simply become a sellsword, a mercenary soldier. And he might well have done so, if the opportunity had presented itself. But Conan was brought up in a land where nothing short of an outright Aquilonian invasion had united the Cimmerian clans even briefly, so it was difficult for Conan to submit to the military discipline required of soldiers in the civilized lands at the age of 16 or 17 winters despite his reputed training by a War Master of Khitai. Perhaps the life of the thief he took up was simply his destiny, after all. Every city in the Hyborian Age, even the tiniest hamlet, had its thieves—whether they were agile pickpockets, swift cutpurses or armed robbers who depended upon brute strength rather than stealth for success. But for most thieves, the tools of their trade were as old as civilization itself. Pickpockets, if they did not rely solely on their lightness of touch, often wore arm slings to make potential marks believe they had an injured arm. Cutpurses did exactly that—use a very small, sharp knife held between their fingers to slice a hole in the side of a wealthy man’s money bag to steal his coin. For climbing walls to commit outright burglary, grappling hooks were used. Naturally, the better thieves knew how to pick a lock—or at least how to cut through one with a file and a hacksaw. Either way, the thieves had to work as quickly as possible, while keeping an eye out for the city guard’s nightwatch or a rich man’s personal guardians, which, in the Hyborian Age, might not always have been human—or strictly speaking, animals either. According to those who have studied the surviving fragments of knowledge which tell of Conan’s career as a thief, the young barbarian was more daring than skillful in his early days. This was ironic, considering that he chose to pursue his trade in Zamora, a kingdom famed across the Hyborian world for the quality of its thievery. Conan had made his way to Zamora from Hyperborea through Brythunia. In
Zamora’s cities, it took Conan some time to earn a reputation among the older, more skilled thieves who worshipped Bel, the Shemtish god of thieves. Certain legends tell of Conan’s early attempts to transfer the wealth of others to his own pockets in the Zamoran city of Arenjun, often called the City of Thieves. One of Conan’s first adventures as a thief involved the Tower of the Elephant, a 150-foot-tall tower that had been erected in a single night in Arenjun by the captive elephantine alien named Yag-Kosha at the command of the evil sorcerer-priest Yara, the true power behind the throne in Zamora. The Zamoran king went to sleep every night bitter at how his decisions were ultimately overseen by the foul mage. Yara was rumored to be hundreds of years old and to be immortal, a quality bestowed by a magical gem within his possession known as the Heart of the Elephant. Perhaps Yara would have lived forever, had it not been for a rash young Cimmerian who invaded his tower and set in a motion a series of events that culminated in the wizard-priest’s terrible death at the hands of a poor being he had long enslaved. Conan had learned of the existence of the Heart of the Elephant from the other thieves of Arenjun and he was determined to steal it from the Tower of the Elephant and make a name for himself. As Conan prepared to climb the walls of the Tower, he was met by the Nemedian Taurus, one of Arenjun’s most famed burglars who was known as the “Prince of Thieves.” Taurus’ most prominent feature may have been his large belly, but that did not slow either his swift movement or his even quicker mind. Taurus liked Conan from the moment they met and so the two decided to assault the Tower together and split the proceeds they got from stealing the Heart of the Elephant. Two great lions roamed the walled gardens at the foot of the Tower of the Elephant. Yet there was…something…strange about these animals. Taurus slew them with a mist formed from the black lotus plant of Khitai, after which Conan realized what had been so strange about the lions. The lions had been enchanted to make no sound, which had made them all the deadlier. Inside the treasure chamber at the top of the Tower the two thieves scaled once they were past the lions, Taurus found sudden death—in the poisonous bite of a huge spider, mutated by the magic of Yara. Conan himself barely evaded the monster, as its thick webs nearly snared him and stray drops of its acidic venom seared his flesh. Conan hurled a heavy jewel chest at his attacker, crushing it against a wall and spilling gems out over the dying arachnid and its eight hairy, spasming legs. Conan took what riches he could carry from the chamber and then sprinted down into the Tower’s lower levels, where he came face to face with the humanoid elephantine alien Yag-Kosha. Before he met Yag-Kosha, Conan had wondered why Yara’s stronghold was called the Tower of the Elephant and his magic talisman was the Heart of the Elephant. But the moment he saw Yag-Kosha,
seated like a living idol on a marble couch, Conan understood. For, although his body looked like a man’s, green-skinned Yag-Kosha’s head possessed the wide ears and trunk of an elephant and white tusks capped with round golden balls. Yag-Kosha and others of his distant world had come to Earth many millennia before from the planet Yag. Propelled by great wings, they had traveled more swiftly than the speed of light through the other dimensions of the Far Realms, having been defeated and exiled during a great rebellion against the rulers of Yag. On Earth, their wings had withered and fallen off. The alien’s words to Conan indicated his people had come to Earth during the time of the dinosaurs millions of years before and had watched humanity evolve from primitive apes to the builders of great cities before the Cataclysm. His fellows had gradually died off over the years, until only Yag-Kosha had remained, dwelling in half-collapsed temples in the jungles of southern Khitai, in the farthest reaches of the East. Some argued that it was a human memory of the Yaggans’ visage that gave rise to the elephant-headed Hindu god of Ganesha in our own time. But Yag-Kosha was in chains when Conan found him. Three hundred years earlier, Yara had learned enough of the Yaggan’s magical and technological secrets to enslave him and bring him westwards to Zamora. Yara tortured Yag-Kosha into submission amd forced him to use his magical abilities to erect the Tower of the Elephant. The alien which Conan encountered could not move from his marble couch because he was mangled, broken and blind—yet still he had to do Yara’s foul bidding. Conan was moved by the alien’s plight. When asked to do so, he plunged his Atlantean blade into Yag-Kosha’s breast and pulled out his massive heart. He let its blood fall on the magical gem called the Heart of the Elephant, which Conan had taken from the Tower’s treasure chamber. The blood was absorbed by the gem as if by a sponge. Then the barbarian sought out the evil Yara, who lay in a drugged sleep, and placed the Heart down before uttering the words he had been told to say by the alien, “Yag-Kosha gives you a last gift and a last enchantment.” The horrified wizard-priest awoke and began to shrink in size, until he was bodily pulled into the gem. There, in that world within the magical jewel, Yara was pursued by the spirit of Yag-Kosha, winged once more and no longer blind or maimed. And then the Heart of the Elephant vanished all together from our reality in a blast of rainbow-hued light. That was the last of the evil sorcerer Yara, who paid the price of one who sought to master that which should be revered. And Conan had also done an unwitting service for the crown and people of Zamora, at last freeing them from the tyranny of the wizard.
But the great twin loci of magic in the Tower of the Elephant had been Yag-Kosha and Yara himself and when the Heart of the Elephant vanished from our plane of existence, so did both of those beings. Only their sorcerous powers had kept the supernatural structure standing in Arenjun. With those powers removed, Conan instinctively knew that he had to flee the Tower at once. The Cimmerian flew down the Tower’s winding steps three at a time, raced out into the gardens and turned back just in time to see the tall, bejeweled Tower of the Elephant crash to the ground in shining shards that soon dissipated into dust. Seeking greater opportunities to ply his trade, Conan wandered westward to the capital city of Zamora, Shadizar the Wicked. For a time his thievery prospered, although the whores of Shadizar soon relieved him of his gains. During one larceny, he was captured by the royal guardsmen of Queen Taramis of Zamora, who sent him on a mission to recover a magical horn intended to resurrect an ancient, evil demon god known as Dagoth who Taramis believed would reward her for its awakening by granting her the sorcerous power to conquer all of Hyboria. Taramis’ plot ultimately led to her own destruction when the awakened demon turned on the inhabitants of the city and Zamora’s queen became one of Dagoth’s first victims. Only Conan’s great strength was able to rip the horn he had so recently recovered from the foul creature’s forehead and reduce the “god” to a quivering mass of decaying flesh lying in a pool of its own black blood on Shadizar’s marble streets. The barbarian’s next exploit involved a fellow thief, a girl named Tamira. The Lady Jondra, an arrogant aristocrat of Shadizar, owned a pair of priceless rubies. Baskaran Imalla, a religious fanatic raising a cult among the Kezankian hillmen, coveted the jewels to gain control over a fire-breathing dragon he had raised from an egg. Conan and Tamira both yearned for the rubies; Tamira took a post as a lady’s maid to Jondra for a chance to steal the gems. An ardent huntress, Jondra set forth with her maid and her men-at-arms to slay Baskaran’s dragon. Baskaran captured the two women and was about to offer them to his pet as a sacrifice when Conan intervened and put down both the dragon and the fanatic. Soon Conan was embroiled in another adventure. A stranger hired the youth to steal a casket of gems sent by the new King of Zamora to the King of Turan. The stranger, a priest of the serpent god Set, wanted the jewels to be used as spell components in the workings of a sorcery against his enemy, the renegade Setite priest Amanar. Amanar’s emissaries, who were actually humanoid snakemen from the deep jungles of the south, had stolen the gems. Although wary of magic like all Cimmerians, Conan set out to recover the loot. He became involved with a bandit, Karela, called the Red Hawk, who proved to have quite an unusual understanding of gratitude; when Conan saved her from an attempted rape, she tried to kill him. Amanar’s snakemen party had also carried off to the renegade Setite’s stronghold a
dancing girl whom Conan had promised to help. Conan and the Red Hawk penetrated the stronghold, slew the Setite and recovered both the jewels and the girl. Soon rumors of treasure sent Conan to the nearby ruins of the ancient Acheronian city of Larsha, just ahead of the platoon of Zamoran soldiers dispatched to arrest him. After all of the Zamoran warriors but their leader, Captain Nestor, had perished in an accident arranged by Conan, Nestor and Conan joined forces to plunder the treasure; but ill luck deprived them of their gains. Conan’s recent adventures had left him with an extreme aversion to both mages and Eastern sorceries. He fled northwestward through Corinthia into Nemedia, the second most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms after Aquilonia. In Nemedia Conan resumed his thieving profession successfully enough to bring his larcenies to the notice of Aztrias Petanius, the ne’er-do-well nephew of the local Nemedian governor. Oppressed by his own gambling debts, this young gentleman hired the powerful outlander to steal a Zamoran goblet, carved from a single diamond, that stood in the temple-museum of a wealthy Nemedian collector. Conan’s appearance in the temple-museum coincided with its master’s sudden demise and brought the young thief to the unwelcome attention of Demetrio, a powerful spymaster who sat on Nemedia’s Inquisitorial Council. This caper also gave Conan his second experience with the dark magic of the serpent-brood of Set conjured up by the mighty Stygian sorcerer-priest Thoth-Amon when the young barbarian accidentally unleased the power of a Setite artifact in the museum. Having found Nemedia no longer a land congenial to his larcenous instincts because of Demetrio’s growing interest in him, Conan drifted south into Corinthia, where he continued to occupy himself with the acquisition of other people’s property. By diligent application, the Cimmerian earned a reputation as one of the boldest thieves in Corinthia. His continued poor judgment when it came to the members of the opposite sex, however, cast him into Corinthian chains for bedding a local nobleman’s wife until a turn in local politics brought freedom and a new career. An ambitious Corinthian nobleman, Murilo, arranged for Conan’s release in return for the barbarian’s promise to slit the throat of the Red Priest, Nalaonidus, who was the scheming power behind the Corinthian throne. This venture gathered a prize collection of rogues in Nabodinus’ mansion and ended in a mire of blood and treachery. Conan wandered back to the Zamoran city of Arenjun and began to earn a semi-honest living by stealing back for their owners valuable objects that others had filched from them. He undertook to recover a magical gem, the Eye of Erlik, from the wizard Hissar Zul and return it to its owner, the Khan of the Turani city of Zamboula.
There is some question about the chronology of Conan’s life at this point among scholars of the Hyborian Age. A recently-translated tablet from the Assyrian king Asshurbanipal’s library states that Conan was about seventeen winters old at this time. This would place the episode right after that of Conan’s infiltration of the the Tower the Elephant, which indeed is mentioned in the Assyrian cuneiform. But from internal evidence, this event seems to have taken place several years later. For one thing, Conan appears too clever, mature, and sophisticated; for another, the fragmentary medieval Arabic manuscript Kitab al-Qunn implies that Conan was well into his twenties by then. The first translator of the Assyrian Asshurbanipal tablet, Dr. Andreas von Fuss of the Munchner Staatsmuseum in Munich, Germany, read Conan’s age as “17.” In Babylonian cuneiform, which was the basis for the Assyrian written language, “17” is expressed by two circles followed by three vertical wedges, with a horizontal wedge above the three for “minus”—hence “twenty minus three.” But Academician Leonid Skram of the Moscow Archaeological Institute asserts that the depression over the vertical wedges is merely a dent made by the pick of a careless excavator, and the numeral properly reads “23.” In any event, while in Arenjun, Conan learned of the Eye of Erlik when he heard a discussion between another Zamoran thief, Isparana, and her confederate. He invaded the wizard’s mansion, but the wizard caught Conan and deprived him of his soul using foul necromantic sorcery. Conan’s soul was imprisoned in a mirror, there to remain until a crowned ruler broke the glass. Hissar Zul thus compelled Conan to follow Isparana and recover the talisman if he wanted his soul restored; but when the Cimmerian returned the powerful artifact to Hissar Zul, the ungrateful mage tried to slay him, though Conan got the better of the sorcerer and claimed the mirror containing his soul, hoping to find another mage who could make him whole, or some monarch who could break the mirror. Conan, his soul still englassed within the mirror, next accepted legitimate employment as a bodyguard to a Khaurani noblewoman, Khashtris. This lady set out for Khauran with Conan, another guard, Shubal, and several retainers. When the other servants plotted to rob and murder their employer, Conan and Shubal saved her and escorted her to the kingdom of Khauran, south of Zamora. There, Conan found the widowed Queen Ialamis of Khauran being courted by a young nobleman who was not at all what he seemed. In return for unmasking the suitor as yet another devotee of the dark god Set seeking to extend Stygian power into her land, Queen Ialamis shattered the glass of the mirror containing the Cimmerian’s soul, at last restoring his full strength. Conan had enjoyed this taste of Hyborian Age royal intrigue. It became clear to him that there was no basic differance between the opportunities in a royal palace and those in the Rats’ Den, the squalid slum of Arenjun, though clearly the pickings were far better among the high and mighty than among the
down and out. Besides, the barbarian had begun to grow tired of the furtive, squalid life of a thief. Conan was not, however, ready to turn over a new leaf and pursue a strictly law-abiding life. When unemployed once more, he took time out for a venture in smuggling Khauran. An attempt to poison him by a rival smuggler sent him to the eastern land of Vendhya, a land of wealth and squalor, philosophy and fanatacism, idealism and treachery. Soon after completing an exploration of Vendhya, Conan turned up in the Turanian seaport of Aghrapur. A new religious cult had established headquarters there under the warlock Jhandar, who needed new victims to be drained of blood and reanimated to serve as his cult’s undead servants. Conan refused the offer of a former fellow thief, Emilio, to take part in a raid on Jhandar’s stronghold to steal a fabulous ruby necklace. A Turanian army sergeant, Akeba, did manage to persuade Conan to go with him to rescue his daughter, who had vanished into the cult’s clutches. The pair successfully rescued the girl and killed the crazed warlock and his decaying zombie servants, ending a major threat to Aghrapur. Akeba was impressed with the young Cimmerian’s skill in battle and asked him to consider putting his sword to work for the Empire of Turan. Conan the Warrior After the warlock Jhandar’s fall, Akeba urged Conan to take service in the Turanian army and the barbarian agreed, ready to forge a new path to fortune and glory. The Cimmerian did not at first find the military life congenial, being too self-willed and hot-tempered to easily submit to discipline. Moreover, as he was at this time an indifferent horseman and archer, Conan was relegated to a low-paid irregular infantry unit in the Turanian Army, which like its Hyrkanian forebears, depended upon light cavalry for most of its offensive punch. Still, a chance soon arose to show his mettle. King Yildiz of Turan launched an expedition against a rebellious satrap who sought to break away from the Turani Empire. Using sorcery, the rebellious satrap wiped out the Turani force sent against him which had included Conan. Young Conan alone survived to enter the magic-maddened satrap’s city of Yaralet, where he killed the sorcerous wretch and returned with his head to Aghrapur. Returning in triumph to the glittering Turani capital of Aghrapur, Conan gained a place in King Yildiz’s imperial guard of honor. At first he endured the gibes of his fellow soldiers because of his clumsy horsemanship and inaccurate archery. But the gibes died away as the other guardsmen felt the fury of Conan’s sledge-hammer fists when their jeers grew too loud and as his skills on horseback and with the composite Hyrkanian bow improved.
Conan was chosen, along with a black-skinned Kushite mercenary named Juma who was serving the Turani crown, to escort King Yildiz’s daughter Princess Zosara to her wedding with Khan Kujula, chief of the Hyrkanian Kuigar tribe of nomads. In the foothills of the Talakma Mountains, the party was attacked by a strange force of squat, brown, lacquer-armored horsemen. Only Conan, Juma, and the princess survived. They were taken to the subtropical valley of Meru northeast of Vendhya and to the capital city, Shamballah, where Conan and Juma were chained to an oar of the Meruvian state galley, about to set forth on a cruise. On the galley’s return to Shamballah, Conan and Juma escaped and made their way into the city. They reached the temple of Yama as the deformed little god-king of Meru was celebrating his marriage to Princess Zosara. The two warriors managed to kill the Meruvian king and flee westwards with the grateful princess until they were discovered by Turani patrols and returned to Turan’s capital. Back in Aghrapur, Conan was personally promoted to the rank of a captain in the Turani Army by King Yildiz himself. His growing reputation as a good man in a tight spot, however, led King Yildiz’s generals to pick the barbarian for especially hazardous missions. On his first mission as an officer in the Turani forces, the Turani warlords sent Conan to escort an emissary from the crown to the predatory tribesmen of the Khozgari Hills, hoping to dissuade them by bribes and threats from plundering the Turani population of the Empire’s lowlands. The Khozgarians, respecting only immediate, overwhelming force, attacked the Turani detachment, killing the emissary and all but two of the soldiers, Conan and Jamal. To assure their safe passage back to civilization, Conan and Jamal captured Shanya, the daughter of the Khozgari chief. Their route led them to a misty highland. Jamal and the horses were slain, and Conan had to battle a horde of hairless apes and invade the stronghold of an ancient, dying race of strange humanoids to make his way back to Turan and eliminate the Khozgari pursuit. On his next mission for the Empire of Turan, Conan was dispatched thousands of miles eastward, to the fabled land of Khitai, to convey to King Shu of the city-state of Kusan a letter from King Yildiz proposing a treaty of friendship and trade between Turan and his city. The wise old Khitani sorcerer-king sent his visitors back with a letter of acceptance. As a guide, however, the king appointed a foppish little nobleman, Duke Feng, who had entirely different objectives, hoping to sabotage any deal between the Turani and the Khitani in the hopes of using the Khitani’s well-known dislike of “western barbarians” to raise up the people of Kusan in rebellion against King Shu. Conan spoiled Feng’s plans and was instrumental in opening the first major trade route between the western realms of Hyboria and the mysterious East.
Conan continued in his military service to the Empire of Turan for about two years, traveling widely and learning the elements of organized, civilized warfare as well as how to command men in the field. As usual, trouble was his bedfellow. After one of his more unwise amorous adventures, involving the mistress of his superior officer, a Turani general, Conan finally deserted the Turani Army and headed for Zamora. In the city of Shadizar he heard that the Temple of Zath, the spider god, in the Zamorian city of Yezud, was recruiting soldiers. Hastening to Yezud, Conan found that a free company of Brythunian warriors had taken all the available mercenary posts. To feed himself, Conan for a time became Yezud’s blacksmith because as a boy he had been apprenticed in this trade to his father, who had known the secret of crafting Cimmerian Blue Steel. Conan learned from an emissary of King Yildiz of Turan to Yezud, a Turani nobleman named Lord Parvez, that High Priest Feridun of the Temple of Zath was holding Yildiz’s favorite wife, Jamilah, in captivity. Parvez hired Conan once more on behalf of Turan’s king to abduct Jamilah. Meanwhile Conan had set his heart on the eight huge gems that formed the eyes of an enormous idol dedicated to the spider god Zath. As he was loosening the jewels, the approach of Zathite priests forced him to flee to a crypt below the temple’s main hall. The temple’s dancing girl Rudabeh, with whom Conan was truly in love for the first time in his life, descended into the crypt to warn him of the doom awaiting him there, which was none other than the monstrous spider that the foolish Zathites worshipped as a god. Coan slew the eightlegged demon, but not before its venom claimed the life of his first true love. Dealing with his loss in the only way he knew how—with strong drink and the lure of further riches—Conan next rode back to Shadizar to track down a rumor of treasure. He obtained a map showing the location of a ruby-studded golden idol in the Kezankian Mountains that divided Zamora from Turan; but thieves stole his map. Conan, pursuing them, suddenly found himself in a conflict with savage Kezankian hillmen and had to join forces with the very rogues he was tracking to fight the tribesmen off. He found the treasure, only to lose it under strange circumstances to yet another practicioner of the arcane arts. Truly fed up with magic and all those who dabbled in it, Conan decided to return to Cimmeria. After a time in the simple, routine life of another Cimmerian village that he chose to call his own, however, Conan grew restless and returned to the Hyborian lands, which included Aquilonia, Argos, Brythunia, Corinthia, Koth, Nemedia, Ophir, and Zingara. These countries were named for the Hyborian peoples who as barbarians 3,000 years earlier had conquered the Set-worshipping Empire of Acheron and built civilized realms on its dark ruins.
In Belverus, the capital city of Nemedia, the ambitious aristocrat Lord Albanus dabbled in sorcery in the hopes of usurping the throne of King Garian of Nemedia. To Belverus came Conan, seeking a patron with money to enable him to hire his own free company of mercenaries so that he might put to use as a sellsword what he had learned serving in the army of Turan. Albanus gave a magical sword to a confederate, Lord Melius, who went mad and attacked and killed many people in the streets of Belverus until he was killed like a mad dog. As he picked up the ensorcelled sword, Conan was accosted by Hordo, a one-eyed thief and smuggler whom he had preveiously known as the bandit Karela’s lieutenant. Conan sold the magical sword for a grand sum of gold, hired his own free company with the proceeds, and taught his men mounted archery to transform them into light cavalry in the potent Turani style. Then he persuaded King Garian to hire his company to help defend Nemedia. But Lord Albanus had made an enchanted golem of clay and through his illusory sorcery given it the exact appearance of the Nemedian king. Then Albanus secretly imprisoned the king, substituted his golem, and framed Conan for regicide. Conan escaped the Nemedian headsman’s axe and rescued the king, who promptly shuffled Albanus off to the fate that the Nemedian sorcerer had originally arranged for the Cimmerian. Conan next brought his free company to Ianthe, the capital city of the Kingdom of Ophir. There the Lady Synelle, a platinum-blond-haired Ophirean nobelwoman and sorceress, wished to bring to life the demon-god Al’Kirr. Conan bought a statuette of this demon-god and soon found that various parties were trying to steal it from him. He and his company took service under Synelle, not knowing her plans. Then the bandit Karela, the Red Hawk, reappeared and, as usual, tried to murder Conan. Synelle hired Karela to steal the statuette, which the witch needed to unleash her sorcery and summon the demon. She also planned to sacrifice Karela as apart of the same ritual. When Conan discovered the plot, he prevented Karela’s sacrifice and slew Synelle and her demon-god. For the Cimmerian, killing crazed wielders of the arcane and their pet demons was becoming a virtual career. Conan moved on to the coastal realm of Argos; but since that kingdom was at peace, there were few jobs for a band of skilled mercenaries. A misunderstanding with the law compelled Conan to leave his band of mercenaries behind and to leap to the deck of a ship as it left the pier in the Argossean port city of Messantia. This was the merchant galley Argus, bound for the lush, jungled coasts of the southern nation of Kush. Conan the Corsair A major new epoch in Conan’s life was about to begin. The Argus was taken during its journey by Belit, the Shemite captain of the pirate galley Tigress, whose ruthless Black Corsairs had made her mistress
of the Kushite littoral. Conan’s strength and charisma soon won him both a place in Captain Belit’s bed and a partnership in her bloody trade of piracy. Years before, Belit, the daughter of a wealthy Shemite trader, had been abducted with her brother Jehanan by Stygian slavers. Now she asked her lover Conan to try to rescue the youth from the forboding desert kingdom of Stygia. The barbarian slipped into Khemi, the largest Stygian seaport, and was promptly captured by the Stygians (who did not allow foreigners to wander freely around their cities), but escaped to the eastern end of Stygia, the province of Taia, where a revolt against Stygian oppression and the dark demands of the ruling Cult of Set had long been brewing. Conan was unable to find Jehanan, who had been sacrificed to Set long before. Then Conan watched as Stygian sorcerers connected to the Cult of Set and the mage Thoth-Amon’s Black Circle ruthlessly put down the Taian rebellion using summoned demons and undead. It would not be Conan’s last encounter with foul Stygian magic. Conan and Captain Belit resumed their piratical careers, preying mainly on Stygian vessels as the beautiful Shemite pirate sought vengeance against the sons of the Styx for their crimes against her family. Then an ill fate took them up the black Zarkheba River deep in the heart of the southern Black Kingdoms to the lost city of an ancient winged avian race where Belit lost her life to the ruin’s savage inhabitants. As Belit’s burning funeral ship—the war galley Tigress—slowly wandered out to the ocean, a downhearted Conan turned his back on the seafaring life, which he would not pursue again for years. Conan, having lost the entire crew of the Tigress in the ruins, plunged inland and joined the warlike Bamulas, a black tribe whose power swiftly grew under his leadership after he killed their previous chieftain in a battle of martial skill. Conan the Wanderer The chief of a neighboring tribe, the Bakalahs, planned a treacherous attack on a third tribe and invited Conan and his Bamulas to take part in the sack and massacre. Conan accepted but, learning that an Ophirean girl, Livia, was held captive in Bakalah territory, he betrayed the Bakalahs during their raid on the third tribe and turned against them. Livia ran off during the slaughter and wandered into a mysterious valley, where only Conan’s timely arrival saved her from being sacrificed to yet another demonic creature that seemed to prey on humanity. Before Conan could build his own empire in the Black Kingdoms he was thwarted by a succession of natural catastrophes as well as by the intrigues of hostile Bamulas who resented that their tribe was now ruled by a pale-skinned Northerner. Forced to flee from his adopted tribe, Conan headed north, back towards the more well-known regions of Hyboria. After a narrow escape from pursuing lions on the veldt,
Conan took shelter in a mysterious ruined castle of prehuman origin that had been built by the reptilian humanoids who had once dominated much of the Hyborian South. He had a brush with Stygian slavers and a malign supernatural entity within this ruin. Continuing on, Conan reached the semicivilized Kingdom of Kush. This was the land to which the name “Kush” properly applied; although Conan, like other Northerners, tended to use the term loosely to mean any of the Black Kingdoms south of Stygia. In Meroe, the Kushite capital, Conan rescued from a hostile mob the young Queen of Kush, the arrogant, impulsive, fierce, cruel, and voluptuous ebonskinned Tananda. Conan became embroiled in a labyrinthine political intrigue between Queen Tananda and an ambitious Kushite nobleman who was a demonologist and commanded a piglike demon as his familiar. The problem was aggravated by the presence of Diana, a Nemedian slave girl, to whom Conan, despite the jealous fury of Tananda, took a liking to. Events ultimately culminated in a night of insurrection against Tananda and the resulting slaughter of the demonologist and his pet demon by the powerful sweeps of Conan’s blue-edged Atlantean blade. Conan the Rebel Dissatisfied with his achievements in the Black Kingdoms (and the few material rewards), Conan wandered northwards into the meadowlands of Shem and became a soldier of Akkharia, a Shemite citystate. He joined a band of volunteers to liberate a neighboring city-state in Shem from a tyrant, but through the teachery of Othbaal, cousin of the mad King Akhirom of Pelishtia, a Shemite kingdom, the volunteers were destroyed—all but Conan, who survived to track the plotter to the Shemite city of Asgalun, the Pelishti capital. There, Conan became involved in a polygonal power war among the mad Akhirom, the treacherous Othbaal, a Stygian witch, and a company of black mercenaries from the South. In the final chaos of sorcery, steel, and blood that resulted, Conan grabbed Othbaal’s red-haired mistress, Rufia, and galloped north Conan’s movements at this time in his life are uncertain. One tale, sometimes assigned to this period, tells of Conan’s service as a mercenary in the Kingdom of Zingara. An Egyptian hieratic papyrus from the Ptolemaic period in the British Museum alleges that in Kordava, the capital of Zingara, a captain in that kingdom’s army forced a quarrel on Conan. When Conan killed his assailant, he was condemned to hang. A fellow condemnee, Santiddio, belonged to an underground conspiracy, the White Rose, that hoped to topple King Rimanendo of Zingara. As other conspirators created a disturbance in the crowd that gathered for the hanging, Conan and Santiddio escaped.
Mordermi, the head of an outlaw band allied with the White Rose rebels, enlisted Conan in this political movement. The conspiracy was carried on in the Pit, a warren of tunnels beneath the city of Kordava. When the Zingaran king sent an army to clean out the Pit, the insurrectionists were saved by Callidos, a Stygian sorcerer. King Rimanendo was slain by the White Rose rebels and Mordermi became the new king of Zingara. When he proved as tyrannical as his predecessor, Conan raised another successful revolt against him; then, refusing the Zingaran crown for himself, he departed. This tale involves many questions. If authentic, it may belong in Conan’s earlier mercenary period around the time of Conan the Warrior. But there is no corroboration in other narratives of the idea that Conan ever visited Zingara before his late thirties, the time of Conan the Buccaneer. Moreover, none of the rulers of Zingara mentioned in the Egyptian papyrus appear on the list of kings of Zingara in the Byzantine manuscript Hoi Anaktes tes Tzingeras. Hence some students deem the papyrus in the British Museum either spurious or a case of confusion between Conan and some other ancient hero of the Hyborian Age. Everything else known about Conan indicates that if he had indeed been offered the Zingaran crown, he would have grabbed it with both hands. Conan the Sellsword We next hear of Conan after he took service under Amalric of Nemedia, the general of QueenRegent Yasmela of the little border kingdom of Khoraja, which lay between Koth to the north and Shem to the south. While Yasmela’s brother, King Khossus, was a prisoner in Ophir, Yasmela’s borders were assailed by the forces of the veiled sorcerer Natohk—actually the 3,000-year-old lich Thugra Khotan of the ruined Acheronian city of Kuthchemes. Obeying an oracle of Mitra, the supreme Hyborian god, Queen-Regent Yasmela made Conan the captain-general of Khoraja’s small army. In this role he gave battle to Natohk’s undead and mercenary hosts and rescued the Queen-Regent from the malignant magic of the undead warlock. Conan won the day—and the Queen’s heart. Conan, now in his late twenties, settled down as the Khorajan military’s warlord. But the queen, whose lover he had expected to be, was too preoccupied with affairs of state to have time for frolics. He even proposed marriage, but she explained that such a union would not be sanctioned by Khorajan law and custom because of his foreign birth and non-noble blood. Yet, if Conan could somehow rescue her brother from imprisonment in Ophir, she might persuade King Khossus to change the law. Conan set forth for Ophir with Rhazes, an astrologer, and Fronto, a thief who knew a secret passage into the dungeon in the Ophirean capital city of Ianthe where Khossus languished. They rescued the King
but found themselves trapped by Kothian troops also seeking access to the dungeons of Ianthe, since King Strabonus of Koth had his own reasons for wanting to capture King Khossus. Having surmounted these perils, Conan found that Khossus, a pompous young ass of a king, would not hear of a foreign barbarian’s marrying his sister. Instead, he would marry Yasmela off to a nobleman and find a middle-class bride for Conan. Conan said nothing; but in Argos, as their ship cast off, Conan sprang ashore with most of the gold that Khossus had raised in return for his sister’s hand in marriage and waved the king of Khoraja an ironic farewell. Now nearly thirty winters old, Conan slipped away to the north to visit his Cimmerian homeland and avenge himself on the Hyperboreans. His blood brothers among the Cimmerians and the Aesir had won wives and sired sons, some as old and almost as big as Conan had been at the sack of Venarium. But his years of blood and battle had stirred his predatory spirit too strongly for him to follow their example and settle down. When Aquilonian traders brought word of new wars in the lands to the south, Conan galloped off once more to the Hyborian lands. Conan the Buccaneer A rebel prince of Koth was fighting to overthrow King Strabonus, the penurious ruler of that suffering nation; and Conan found himself among old companions in the princeling’s array, until the rebel prince unexpectedly made peace with his king after receiving a large sum of Strabonus’ coin. Unemployed once again, Conan formed his own outlaw band, the Free Companions. This troop gravitated to the Turani steppes west of the Sea of Vilayet, where they joined the horde of bandits known as the kozaki. Conan soon became the leader of this lawless crew and ravaged the western borders of the Turanian Empire until his old employer, King Yildiz, sent a force under his general Shah Amurath, who lured the kozaki deep into Turan and then cut them down with the Empire’s far superior light cavalry. Slaying Amurath even as his bandits died around him and acquiring the Turanian nobleman’s captive, Princess Olivia of Ophir, Conan rowed out into the Vilayet Sea in a small boat. He and Olivia took refuge on an island, where they found a ruined greenstone city, in which stood strange iron statues. The shadows cast by the moonlight proved as dangerous as the giant carnivorous ape that ranged the isle, or the pirate crew that landed for rest and recreation. Conan seized command of these pirates, who ravaged the Sea of Vilayet and before long Conan was the master of the pirate syndicate that cruised that inner sea. As chieftain of this mongrel Red Brotherhood, Conan was more than ever a thorn in King Yildiz’s flesh. That mild monarch, instead of strangling his brother Prince Teyaspa in the normal Turanian manner, had cooped him up in a castle in
the Colchian Mountains. Yildiz now sent his General Artaban to destroy the pirate stronghold at the mouth of the Zaporoska River in the southeastern shore of the Vilayet Sea; but the general became the harried instead of the harrier. Retreating inland, Artaban stumbled upon Teyaspa’s whereabouts; and the final conflict involved Conan’s Red Brotherhood outlaws, Artaban’s Turanians, and a brood of blooddraining vampires led by the undead Teyaspa. Conan the Reaver Deserted by his Red Brotherhood sea rovers after this harrowing battle because they feared drawing the full ire of the Turani Empire, Conan appropriated a stallion and headed back to the Turani steppes. King Yezdigerd, now having replaced his father Yildiz on the imperial throne of Turan, proved a far more astute and energetic ruler than his sire. He embarked on a program of imperial conquest. Conan moved on to the small border kingdom of Khauran, sandwiched between Zamora and Koth, where he won command of the Royal Guard of Queen Taramis. This queen had a twin sister, Salome, born a witch and reared by the yellow-skinned sorcerers of distant Khitai. She allied herself with the adventurer and mercenary Constantius of Koth, and planned to imprison the true Queen Taramis to rule in her stead. Conan, who perceived the deception, was trapped and crucified. Cut down by the Zuagir chieftain Olgerd Vladislav, the Cimmerian was carried off to a nomadic camp in the Zuagir Desert. The Zuagirs were a people of Shemite descent, though they lived close to the Turanian border. Conan waited for his wounds to heal, then applied his daring and ruthlessness to win his place as Olgerd’s chief lieutenant among the Zuagir. When Salome and Constantius began a reign of terror in Khauran, Conan led his fierce Zuagiri tribesmen against the Khauranian capital. Soon Constantius hung from the same tree to which he had nailed Conan, and Conan rode off smiling, to lead his bloodthirsty Zuagirs on raids against the Turanians. Conan, now about thirty winters old and at the height of his physical powers, spent nearly two years with the Shemite tribes of the Zuagir Desert, first as Olgerd’s lieutenant and then, having ousted Olgerd, as the sole chief of the Zuagir. The circumstances of his leaving the Zuagirs were recently disclosed by a silken scroll in Old Tibetan spirited out of Tibet by a refugee following the Chinese invasion of 1959. This document is now with the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The energetic Turani King Yezdigerd sent soldiers to trap Conan and his tribesmen. Because of a Zamoran traitor in Conan’s ranks, the ambush nearly succeeded. To avenge the betrayal, Conan led his band in pursuit of the Zamoran, a man named Vardanes. When his men deserted, Conan pressed on alone
until, near death after he killed Vardanes, the Cimmerian was rescued by Enosh, a chieftain of the isolated Shemite desert town of Akhlat. Akhlat suffered under the rule of a demon in the form of a woman, who fed on the life force of living things. Conan, Enosh informed him, was their prophesied liberator. After it was over and the Cimmerian had killed the demon, Conan was invited to settle in Akhlat; but, knowing himself ill-suited to a life of humdrum respectability, he instead headed southwest to the Turanian city of Zamboula with the horse and money of Vardanes the Zamoran. In one colossal debauch, Conan dissipated the fortune he had brought to Zamboula, a Turanian outpost. There lurked the sinister priest of Hanuman, Totrasmek, who sought a famous jewel, the Star of Khorala, for which the Queen of Ophir was said to have offered a roomful of gold. In the ensuing imbroglio, Conan acquired the Star of Khorala and rode westward. The medieval Latin manuscript De sidere choralae, rescued from the bombed ruins of the Bendictine monastery of Monte Cassino during World War II by some concerned Italian priests, continues the tale. Conan reached the capital city of Ophir to find that the effeminate King Moranthes II, himself under the thumb of the sinister Count Rigello, kept his queen, Marala, under lock and key. Conan scaled the wall of Moranthes II’s castle and fetched Marala out. Rigello pursued the fugitives nearly to the Aquilonian border, where the Star of Khorala displayed its arcane power in an unexpected way when it wiped Rigello and his minions off the face of the Earth. Hearing that the kozaki bandits had regained their vigor, Conan returned with horse and sword to the harrying of the trade of the Empire of Turan. Although the now-famous northlander arrived all but empty-handed, contingents of the kozaki and the pirates of the Vilyet Sea soon began operating under his command. King Yezdigerd sent the Turani general Jehungir Agha to entrap the barbarian on the island of Xapur in the southern Vilayet Sea. Coming early to the ambush, Conan found the island’s ancient fortresspalace of Dagon restored by magic, and in it the city’s malevolent god, in the form of a giant of living iron. After escaping from Xapur following his defeat of the iron giant, Conan built his kozaki bandits and pirate raiders into such a formidable threat to Turan that King Yezdigerd devoted all his forces to their destruction. After a devastating defeat at the hands of Yezdigerd’s light cavalry, the kozaki scattered, and Conan retreated southward to take service in the light cavalry of Kobad Shah, the King of Iranistan. Conan soon got himself into Kobad Shah’s bad graces and had to ride for the hills. He found a conspiracy brewing in Yanaidar, the fortress-city of the Hidden Ones. The Sons of Yezm were trying to revive an ancient cult and unite the surviving devotees of the Old Gods of the Far Realms in order to rule the
world. The adventure ended with the rout of the contending forces by the gray ghouls of Yanaidar, and Conan rode eastward. Conan reappeared in the Himelian Mountains on the northwest frontier of Vendhya, as a war chief of the savage tribesmen of Afghulistan. Now in his early thirties, the warlike barbarian was known and feared throughout the world of the Hyborian Age. Conan arrived in the region just in time, for King Yezdigerd had employed the magic of the wizard Khemsa, an adept of the dreaded Black Circle of Stygia, to remove the Vendhyan king from his path. The dead king’s sister, the Devi Yasmina, set out to avenge him but was captured by Conan during a raid by his Afghuli tribesmen on Vendhya. Conan and his captive pursued the sorcerer Khemsa, only to see him slain by the magic of the Seers of Yimsha who also abducted Yasmina before Conan could hunt the Seers down and reclaim her. When Conan’s plans for welding the hill tribes of Afghulistan into a single power failed because of their inherent fractiousness, Conan, hearing of wars in the West, rode thither. Almuric, a prince of Koth, had rebelled against the hated King Strabonus. While Conan joined Almuric’s bristling host, Strabonus’s fellow Hyborian kings came to that monarch’s aid. Almuric’s motley horde was driven south, to be annihilated at last by combined Stygian and Kushite forces. Escaping into the desert of Stygia following Almuric’s defeat, Conan and the camp follower Natala came to age-old Xuthal, a phantom city of living dead men and their creeping shadow-god, Thog. The Stygian woman Thalis, the effective ruler of Xuthal, double-crossed Conan once too often, forcing him to flee back to the Hyborian lands of the North. Seeking new employment, Conan joined the mercenary army that a Zingaran, Prince Zapayo da Kova, was raising for Argos in an attempt to conquer Stygia. It was planned that Koth should invade Stygia from the north, while the Argosseans approached the realm from the south by sea. Koth, however, made an unexpected separate peace with Stygia and the Kothian troops never materialized, leaving Conan’s army of mercenaries trapped in the Stygian deserts. Conan fled with another survivor, Amalric, a young Aquilonian mercenary. Soon Conan was captured by Stygian nomads, while Amalric escaped. When Amalric caught up again with Conan, Amalric had with him the girl Lissa, whom he had saved from the cannibal god of her native city. Conan had meanwhile become commander of the cavalry of the city of Tombalku. Two kings ruled Tombalku: the black-skinned Sakumbe and the mixed-blood Zehbeh. When Zehbeh and his faction were driven out, Sakumbe made Conan his co-king. But then the wizard Askia slew Sakumbe using her arcane power. Conan, having avenged his fellow ruler Sakumbe, escaped with Amalric and Lissa.
Conan the Privateer Conan beat his way to the coast, where he soon joined up with the pirates who operated out of the Barachan Isles off the coast of Zingara. The Cimmerian had now seen about thirty-five winters. As second mate of the pirate galley Hawk, he landed on the island of the Stygian demonologist Siptah, said to have a magical jewel of fabulous properties. Siptah dwelt in a cylindrical tower without doors or windows, attended by a winged demon. Conan smoked the unearthly being out but was carried off in its talons to the top of the tower. Inside the tower Conan found the wizard long dead; but the magical gem proved of unexpected help in coping with the demon when the Cimmerian used it to capture the demon’s essence within. Conan remained about two years with the Barachan pirates, according to a set of clay tablets discovered in the late nineteenth century by a University of Pennsylvania expediton in northern Mesopotamia that were written in Sumerian cuneiform. Used to the tightly organized armies of the Hyborian kingdoms, Conan found the organization of the Barachan pirate bands too loose and anarchic to afford an opportunity to rise to true leadership over all the buccaneers of the Barachan Isles. Slipping out of a tight spot at the pirate rendezvous at the Barachan settlement of Tortage, Conan found that the only alternative to a cut throat was braving the Western Ocean in a leaky skiff. When the Wastrel, the galley of the Barachan buccaneer Zaporavo, came in sight, Conan gladly climbed aboard. The Cimmerian soon won the respect of the Wastrel’s crew and the enmity of its captain, whose Zingaran mistress, the sleek Sancha, cast too friendly an eye on the black-maned Cimmerian giant for the pirate’s taste. Zaporavo drove his ship westward to an uncharted island, where Conan forced a duel on the captain and killed him, while Sancha was carried off by strange black-skinned demonic beings known as the Black Ones to a living pool worshiped by these entities. Conan defeated the Black Ones on White Sands Isle and rescued Sancha before she could be sacrificed. Conan became the new captain of the Wastrel and set Sancha up in business as the madame of the best whorehouse in Tortage. Conan persuaded the officials at Kordava, the capital of Zingara, to transfer Zaporavo’s privateering license to him, whereupon he spent about two years in this authorized piracy on Argossean and Stygian merchant ships while using the Barachan Isles as his hide-out. As usual, plots were brewing against the Zingaran monarchy. King Ferdrugo was old and apparently failing, with no successor but his nubile daughter Princess Chabela. Duke Villagro enlisted the Stygian sorcerer-priest Thoth-Amon, the High Priest of Set and leader of the Stygian Black Circle, in a plot to obtain Chabela as his bride so that he could claim the throne of Zingara. Suspicious, the princess took the royal yacht down the coast to consult her uncle. A privateer in league with Duke Villagro captured the yacht and abducted the girl. Chabela
escaped her captor and met Conan, who obtained the magical Cobra Crown, a powerful Setite artifact also sought by Thoth-Amon. A storm drove Conan’s galley to the coast of the Black Kingdom of Kush, where Conan was confronted by black warriors headed by his old comrade-in-arms, the mercenary Juma. While the Kushite chief welcomed the privateers, a tribesman stole the Cobra Crown. Conan set off in pursuit, with Princess Chabela following him. Both were captured by Kushite slavers and sold to the black Queen of the Amazons. The Queen made Chabela her slave and Conan her newest man. Then, jealous of Chabela, she flogged the girl, imprisoned Conan, and condemned both to be devoured by a carnivorous plant, the Flesh-Eater. Conan defeated the plant, freed the princess and soon returned to his ship. Having rescued the Zingaran princess, Conan shrugged off any hints of marriage and returned to privateering against the Stygians. But other Zingarans, jealous of his new links with Zingara’s royalty, sunk his vessel off the coast of Shem. Escaping inland, Conan joined the Free Companions, a mercenary company. Instead of rich plunder, however, he found himself in dull guard duty on the southern frontier of Stygia, where the wine was sour and the pickings poor. Conan the Conqueror Conan’s boredom ended with the appearance of the pirate Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. When she left the Free Companions’ camp, he followed her into the jungles of the South. The pair took refuge in a city occupied by the feuding clans of Xotalanc and Tecuhltli. Siding with the latter, the two Northerners soon found themselves in trouble with that clan’s leader, the ageless witch Tascela. Conan’s love affair with Valeria, however ardent at the beginning, did not last long. Valeria returned to the sea and eventually became the leader of the Red Brotherhood of the Barachans; Conan tried his luck once more in the Black Kingdoms. Hearing of the “Teeth of Gwahlur,” a cache of priceless jewels hidden in the Black Kingdom of Keshan southeast of Stygia, he sold his services to its irascible king to train the Keshani army. Thutmekri, the Stygian emissary to Keshan of the twin kings of Zembabwei, also had designs on the jewels. The Cimmerian, outmatched in intrigue, made tracks for the valley where the ruins of the city of Alkmeenon and its treasure lay hidden. In a wild adventure with the undead goddess Yelaya, the Corinthian girl Muriela, the black priests headed by Gorulga, and the grim gray servants of the longundead lich Bit-Yakin, Conan kept his head but lost his loot in the end. Heading for the Kingdom of Punt with Muriela, Conan embarked on a scheme to relieve the worshipers of an ivory goddess of their abundant gold. Learning that the Stygian wizard Thutmekri had
preceded him and had already poisoned King Lalibeha of Punt’s mind against him, Conan and his companion took refuge in the temple of the goddess Nebethet. When the king, Thutmekri, and High Priest Zaramba arrived at the temple, Conan staged a charade wherein Muriela spoke with the voice of the goddess which managed to keep the Puntians off their backs long enough for Conan and the Corinthian girl to make their escape once more. In Zembabwei, the city of the twin kings south of Punt, Conan joined a trading caravan that he squired northward along the desert borders, bringing it safely to Shem. Now in his late thirties, the restless Cimmerian adventurer heard that the Aquilonians were spreading westward into the Pictish Wilderness. So to the northwest, seeking more work for his Atlantean sword, journeyed Conan. He enrolled as a scout at the Aquilonian Fort Tuscelan in the Bossonian Marches, where a fierce war raged with the Picts. In the Pictish forests across the Thunder River, the wizard Zogar Sag was gathering a group of swamp demons he had summoned to aid his fellow Picts. While Conan failed to prevent the destruction of Fort Tuscelan, he managed to warn the Aquilonian settlers around Velitrium of the Pictish invasion and to cause the death of Zogar Sag, thus maintaining Aquilonia’s tenuous grip on the Pictish frontier between the Thunder and Black Rivers. Conan rose rapidly in the service of the Aquilonian legions. As a captain, his company was once defeated by the machinations of a traitorous superior. Learning that this officer, the aristocrat Viscount Lucian, was about to betray the Bossonian province to the Picts, Conan exposed the traitor and routed the onslaught of the Picts. Promoted to the rank of general in the Aquilonian Army, Conan finally defeated the Picts in a great battle at the Aquilonian settlement of Velitrium within the Pictish lands that prevented any further Pictish incursions in Bossonia for a generation. The Cimmerian general was then called back to Aquilonia’s capital city, Tarantia, to receive a grateful nation’s accolades for his accomplishment. There, having roused the suspicions of the depraved and foolish King Numedides III of Aquilonia, who feared Conan intended to use his new popularity to depose him, Conan was drugged and chained in the Ivory Tower of Tarantia under sentence of death for treason against the Crown. The barbarian, however, had friends as well as foes among the nobility of Tarantia. He was spirited out of prison and turned loose in the Aquilonian countryside with horse and sword. He struck out across the dank forests of Pictland toward the distant sea. In the Pictish forest, the Cimmerian came upon a cavern in which lay the corpse and the demon-guarded treasure of the pirate Tranicos. From the west, others—a Zingaran count and two bands of pirates—were hunting the same fortune, while the Stygian
sorcerer Thoth-Amon took a hand in the game as he desired several of the magical artifacts Tranicos was said to have taken from Stygian vessels in his long career of piracy. Rescued by an Aquilonian merchant galley from the Pictish coast, Conan was chosen by a group of Aquilonian nobles to lead a revolt against Numedides because of his well-known strategic skills and his military record. Numedides III had proven to be an insecure tyrant whose actions threatened the lives and fortunes of many of his fellow Aquilonians, but particularly the nobility. Many of these nobles were now willing to throw their political lot—and their coin—behind an able and proven general who would replace Numedides on the throne, even if he was a foreign barbarian. As the revolt began, an Aquilonian civil war also raged on the Pictish frontier. Lord Valerian, a noble supporter of Numedides, schemed to bring the Picts down on the town of Schohira to weaken the military forces of the Aquilonain frontier which were expected to support the rebels against the king. An Aquilonian scout, Gault Hagar’s son, undertook to upset this scheme by killing the Pictish wizard who would lead the assault. Conan then stormed the capital city of Aquilonia with an army of 11,000 men made up of Aquilonian rebels and foreign mercenaries raised in Argos. Fighting his way through the city, Conan personally slew the crazed King Numedides III on the steps of his throne when the monarch attacked him—and the Cimmerian promptly took that throne for his own. Conan of Cimmeria, now in his early forties, found himself the ruler of the most powerful state in all of Hyboria. At last Conan had come into his own kingdom. Conan the King A king’s lot, however, proved to not be the life of ease and glory that Conan had imagined in his youth when he first dreamed of the riches of the southern lands. Within a year, an exiled Aquilonian count who had supported Numedides in the civil war had gathered a group of plotters to oust the new king, who was seen as an uncouth barbarian usurper by many disaffected nobles in Tarantia, from the throne. Conan might have lost both his crown and his head but for the timely intervention of the ghost of the long-dead sage Epimitreus, who alerted him to the plot in time to prevent the assassination attempt. No sooner had the mutterings of revolt died down than King Conan was treacherously captured by the kings of Ophir and Koth, who feared that Aquilonia’s strong new monarch would soon lead the Aquilonian legions to conquer their lands. He was imprisoned in the tower of the wizard Tsotha-lanti in the Kothian capital of Khorshemish. Conan escaped with the help of a fellow prisoner, who was Tsothalanti’s wizardly rival Pelias. Using Pelias’s teleportation magic, Conan was whisked back to Tarantia in time to slay a pretender to his throne and to lead the Aquilonian legions against his treacherous fellow kings, who quickly sued for peace on Aquilonia’s terms.
For nearly two years, Aquilonia thrived under King Conan’s firm but tolerant rule. The lawless, hard-bitten adventurer of former years had, through force of circumstance, matured into an able and responsible statesman. But a plot was brewing in neighboring Nemedia to destroy the King of Aquilonia using sorcery from an elder day. King Conan, by this time some forty-five winters old, showed few signs of age save a network of scars on his mighty frame and a more cautious approach to wine, women and bloodshed. Although he kept a harem of luscious concubines, he had never taken an official queen; hence he had no legitimate son to inherit the throne, a fact which his many enemies among the Aquilonian nobility hoped to use against him. Another group of Aquilonian plotters magically resurrected Xaltotun, the greatest sorcerer of the ancient Empire of Acheron, which had fallen during the invasion of the Hyborian barbarians 3,000 years earlier. Using Xaltotun’s necromantic magic, the King of Nemedia was slain and replaced by his brother Tarascus. Black sorcery defeated King Conan’s army in the field; Conan was imprisoned, and the exiled Aquilonian noble Valerius took his throne at the invitation of the plotters. Escaping from a dungeon with the aid of the harem girl Zenobia, Conan returned to Aquilonia to rally his loyal forces against Valerius. From the priests of Asura, he learned that the Acheronian mage Xaltotun’s power could be broken only by using a strange talisman, a jewel called the “Heart of Ahriman.” The trail of the jewel led to a pyramid in the Stygian desert outside the city of black-walled Khemi that was crawling with Stygian undead raised by Setite cultists. Winning the Heart of Ahriman, Conan returned to face his foes. With the power of the Heart, the power of Xaltotun was broken, sending the foul undead necromancer’s soul back to the fires of Hell. Without the Acheronian’s power, Conan’s rallied armies easily drove the usurper Valerius from Tarantia and King Conan reclaimed his throne. After regaining his kingdom, Conan made Zenobia his queen. But, at the ball celebrating her elevation, the new queen was borne off by a demon sent by the Khitani sorcerer-king Yah Chieng. King Conan’s quest for his bride carried him across the known world, meeting old friends and foes. In the purple-towered Khitani city of Paikang, with the help of a magical ring, he freed Zenobia and slew the wizard. After returning to Aquilonia with the aid of Paikang’s grateful sorcerers, the way grew smoother. Queen Zenobia gave to King Conan his heirs: a son named Conan II, but commonly called Conn, another son called Taurus and a daughter. When Conn was twelve, his father took him on a hunting trip to Gunderland. Conan was now in his late fifties. His sword arm was a little slower than in his youth, and his
black mane and the fierce mustache of his later years were traced with gray; but his strength still surpassed that of two ordinary men. When Conn was kidnapped by the Witchmen of Hyperborea, who demanded that Conan come to their stronghold alone, Conan went. He found Louhi, the High Priestess of the Witchmen, in conference with three others of the world’s leading sorcerers: Thoth-Amon of Stygia; the god-king of Kambuja; and one of the sibling kings of Zembabwei. In the ensuing magical holocaust, Louhi and the Kambujan perished, while Thoth-Amon and the Zembabweian sibling king teleported away using their arcane powers. Old King Ferdrugo of Zingara had died at last, and his throne remained vacant as the Zingaran nobles intrigued over the succession. In the midst of this political turmoil, Duke Pantho of Guarralid, a province of Zingara, invaded the southern Aquilonian province of Poitain, despite having no chance of conquering an Aquilonian province. King Conan, suspecting sorcery, crushed the invaders. Learning that Thoth-Amon of Stygia was behind Duke Pantho’s madness and poor choices, Conan set out with his army to settle matters once and for all with the Stygian lich who ruled the Cult of Set and had caused so much suffering for the people of Hyboria thoughout Conan’s life. King Conan pursued his foe to ThothAmon’s dreaded stronghold in Keshatta, the City of Magicians in Stygia, to the jungles of Zembabwei and to the last realm of the ancient serpent folk in the far South. Only there did the mighty barbarian king at last put an end to the evil of Thoth-Amon, though the malice of the serpent-god he served would long outlive both the Master of the Black Circle and the barbarian king of Aquilonia. For several more years, King Conan’s rule over Aquilonia was peaceful and prosperous, ushering in a golden age in the culture of the Dreaming West. But time did that which not even the mightiest of foes had been able to do. The Cimmerian’s skin became wrinkled and his hair gray; old wounds now ached in damp weather. Conan’s beloved consort Queen Zenobia died giving birth to their second daughter. Conan of the Isles Then catastrophe shattered King Conan’s mood of half-resigned discontent in the twilight of his life. Supernatural entities, the Red Shadows, began seizing and carrying off his subjects. Conan was baffled, until in a dream he again visited with the spirit of the ancient Aquilonian sage Epimitreus. The Cimmerian monarch was told to abdicate in favor of Crown Prince Conn, who became King Conan II of Aquilonia after his father stepped down. Conan then took an Aquilonian war galley down the Khorotas River from Tarantia and set out across the Western Ocean.
Conan discovered that the Red Shadows had been sent by the sorcerer-priests of Antillia, a chain of islands in the western part of the Western Ocean. It was to Antillia that many of the survivors of Atlantis had fled 8,000 years before, following the Cataclysm. These Antillian priests and their warrior-mage counterparts offered human sacrifices to the ancient underwater demon-god Xotli, the Atlantean Lord of Blood who they believed had saved them from Atlantis’ destruction, on such a scale that their own population faced extermination. In Antillia, Conan’s ship was taken, but he escaped into the city of Ptahuacan. After conflicts with giant rats and several lizard-like dragons native to the Antillian isles, he emerged atop the flat-topped sacrificial Antillian pyramid just as his crewmen were about to be sacrificed by the sorcerer-priests of Xotli. Conan was also forced to face-off against the Antillian sorcerer-priests’ powerful protectors, a corps of warrior-mages called the Heralds of Xotli who possessed the ability to transform themselves into demonic avatars of the foul Blood Lord. Supernatural conflict, revolution and seismic catastrophe ensued, sinking Antillia beneath the waves much as had happened to the Antillians’ Atlantean forebears millennia before when Conan prevented his crew from being sacrificed in a final ritual intended to appease Xotli. In the end, Conan sailed off with his surviving crewmen to explore the great continents to the west that the Antillian sorcerer-priests had told him existed, hoping to find a whole new world to explore—and plunder. Whether Conan of Cimmeria died there, or whether there is truth in the tale that he strode out of the Far West to stand at his son’s side at a desperate moment in a final battle against Aquilonia’s foes as some legends relate, the known sources do not say. But, perhaps like all heroes of Conan’s stature, the great barbarian had discovered in legend a true source of immortality, one that can never fade.
Map 1: The Kingdoms of Man in the Hyborian Age