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Conan and the Sorcerer

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Conan and the Sorcerer

Conan and the Sorcerer is a Conan novel by Andrew J. Offutt illustrated by Esteban Maroto and first published by Ace Books in 1978.  It is the first installment in a linked trilogy of novels by Offutt featuring Conan, part two being Conan the Mercenary and part three being Conan: the Sword of Skelos.

SynopsisEdit

The novel opens on the city of Arenjun, Zamora.  After three consecutive successes, two as a a freelance thief and then one as a thief for hire, Conan has taken his newfound wealth and some fancy clothing to an upscale night-spot in a better part of town to see how the other half live...at least for one evening.  The Shadiz Inn, where the well-born and well-moneyed gather, is his chosen haunt this particular evening.

A disagreement over a woman with a sergeant of the city guard leads to a short brawl.  The loser's friends, also city guardsmen, decide to draw steel and backstab Conan.  Foiling their attempted murder, Conan kills one guardsman.  Another man, warning Conan that more guardsmen are on their way, kills a second, then flees.   Conan escapes by climbing to the rooftops but wrecks his fine clothes in the process.

On a nearby roof, Conan pauses when he overhears voices coming from a window.  He eavesdrops on a plot by agents of the Khan of Zamboula to steal an amulet, the Eye of Erlik, from a mage named Hisarr Zul, who stole it from their Khan.  The two thieves, a man and a woman, name each other as Karamek and Isparana through the course of the conversation.  Isparana declares that they will steal the amulet in two days and Conan moves off, thinking that he will beat them to the punch and steal it the very next night.

After Conan departs, however, Karamek reminds Isparana that two nights hence the festivals "the Night of Ishtar" and the "Equilibration of Derketo" will be celebrated and the streets will be full of revelers, ensuring that the wizard will be home.  So the plotters move their plans ahead a night.

The next night, Conan steals into Hisarr Zul's mansion.  Hearing footsteps coming toward him around a turn in a hallway, Conan hides in an unoccupied room.  Soon the man who warned Conan about the approaching guardsmen in the tavern, the previous night, passes by.  The Cimmerian is about to leave his concealment and continue his search when he hears the approach of yet more people; three guardsmen following the man who helped Conan.

Slipping from his hiding place, Conan continues his search for the Eye, but soon sounds of battle echo from the direction that both the man and the guards went.

Holding to the "code" of the men of Cimmeria, Conan goes to help the man.

The two make short work of the zombie-like guards and Conan learns that the man's name is Ajhindar of Iranistan.  Ajhindar asks Conan how he came to be in Hisarr Zul's house and Conan replies he has come to steal "...a certain amulet...dear to a certain desert-bound king."   

So Ajhindar tries to kill him.

In doing so he slips in the blood of one of the slain guardsmen allowing Conan to move to a safe distance.  It turns out the Iranistani is also after the Eye.  When Conan refuses to join him, due in no small part to Ajhindar's obvious penchant for treachery, Ajhindar tries to kill him a second time.  This time Conan disarms the thief but lets him keep his life if he agrees to leave.  While trying to rise, Ajhindar slips once again and activates a trap in the door he falls against.  The trap releases a pair of asps both of which bite the Iranistani.  Knowing he is dying, Ajhindar attempts to kill Conan a third time by flinging the snakes at him.  Conan evades the projectiles, killing them as they fly past.  As Ajhindar dies, he tells Conan where the amulet can be found and what it looks like, and then tries one last time to convince Conan to procure the amulet for Kobad Shah, King of Iranistan.

Following Ajhindar's directions, Conan catches Isparana and Karamek in the act of stealing the Eye of Erlik.

Karamek engages Conan while Isparana escapes, locking the chamber door from the outside.  Dispatching Karamek and seeing that the door will not yield, Conan rushes to the only window of the room in order to catch up with the fleeing thief.  Unfortunately he blunders into a trap designed to catch thieves entering the room via the window.

And there he is stuck until Hisarr Zul arrives.

Inventorying the damage done by the Cimmerian in his house that night, Hisarr Zul states that Conan will repay him by recovering the Amulet for him.  He renders Conan unconscious and the Cimmerian awakes to find that the Sorcerer has removed his soul and imprisoned it in an ornate mirror.

To aid him in his mission, Hisarr Zul provides Conan with a replica of the amulet.  He gives Conan a deadline of one month to return with the real amulet or he will smash the mirror and doom Conan to an eternity of soulless slavery to the evil Sorcerer, just like the zombie-guards Conan fought earlier that same night.

Zul informs Conan of Isparana's exact course, south to Zamboula, and dismisses him.

Cut to the oasis that Hisarr Zul promised Conan he would find two days travel south of Arenjun, Conan and his horse are watering themselves after a long, hot, dry journey.  Two other men also occupy the oasis, both with less than honourable purpose.  Carrying stolen goods from Samara to sell in Arenjun, one of the pair previously spent time in Zamboula and remembers the Khan wearing the Eye of Erlik.  That one also sees the replica of the Eye hanging from Conan's neck.  Thinking it the genuine article, the rogue waits until nightfall and attempts to kill Conan in his sleep.

Making short work of the first man, the second man is drawn by the sounds of combat and attacks Conan for slaying his friend.  He has as much success as the first man did.

With a new, second horse, supplies and a few choice wares from the dead rogues, Conan continues south on Isparana's trail.  On his third day from Arenjun he learns from a caravanseer that a lone rider, on two camels, passed south earlier that day.  As Conan asked about a woman, the man remembers with some surprise that although heavily wrapped against the elements the rider was narrow of shoulder but thick in the chest.  On the fourth day, approaching a sprawling line of interlaced hills, called the Dragon Hills, Conan spies a lone rider with two camels cresting a hill only a few miles away...but probably a day's travel due to the terrain.

Moments later, Conan is greeted by a band of five Turanian soldiers, commanded by one Captain Arsil of Samara, on the northbound trail of two thieves; the very same two that Conan slew at the oasis.  A cordial meeting ends a few minutes later with some of Conan's booty confiscated and a Samaritan gold-piece gifted to each of the soldiers, but Conan that much farther behind Isparana for the delay.

In addition to verifying that the rider up ahead was indeed a woman, and learning that there is an oasis two days ride from the southern side of the Dragon Hills, Arsil warns Conan to stay away from a haunted pass through the Hills called the Gorge of the Sand-Lich.  Previously it was the main pass through the Hills but for the past decade only two travellers who entered the pass were ever seen again and those two went mad.

Needing to make up time on Isparana, Conan ignores the warning and takes the gorge.

Before long, Conan runs afoul of the sand lich.  As a disembodied howling moan turns into a swirling sandstorm, despite there being no wind, Conan's horses give up and flee back down the valley without him.  The swirling, stinging, choking sand thickens, becoming something man-shaped, before enveloping Conan in an airless mass of malevolent sand.

But as Conan begins to smother, the thing speaks to him inside his mind.  Apparently it can sense that Conan has no soul and demands to know if Conan is the, "...thrice-accursed Hisarr Zul?"  Conan shouts back, inside his mind, that he is not and that Hisarr has taken his soul.

Abruptly the creature moves away from Conan, allowing him to breathe again, but continues to speak inside his mind.

The sand-lich again curses when he mentions the Sorcerer's name, and Conan decides to lie about his mission, saying that he is pursuing Hisarr Zul in order to kill him and take back his soul.

The sand-lich relates that he was Tosya Zul, Hisarr's brother who betrayed and murdered Tosya in that same valley, 10 years ago.  Both were Sorcerers in Zamboula and Tosya had taken precautions to prevent being killed.  Hisarr chose a method to circumvent those measures...but was not entirely successful.  Tosya's body died but his consciousness remained, trapped in the valley forevermore.  The mage saw his body decompose and be torn apart and eaten by jackals.

He also went mad.

But his will grew stronger and he gained control over the sand of the valley.  When the next caravan passed he slew everyone, hoping that one of them would be his brother.  He killed over and over down through the years but his brother was never among the slain. 

Hopelessly insane and wishing a release from his torment, the sand-lich tells Conan various ways that Hisarr Zul can be killed. He also, in passing, tells Conan how the zombie-like minions of the Sorcerer can be properly released from their half-life, probably as it involves indignities done to Hisarr's skull.

Conan vows, "...on my mother by the gods that my people swore by that I shall do all I can to slay..." Hisarr Zul, but only if Tosya will tell Conan how to restore Conan's soul.  The shade relents and tells him three methods to accomplish the deed.

At the last, Conan reminds Tosya that his horses are fled and he has no way of catching Hisarr.  Speeding him toward their prey, the sand-lich uses his power to transport Conan all the way to the oasis south of the Dragon Hills that Arsil spoke of.  It is the night of the same day that Conan entered the Dragon Hills.  Conan estimates that he is now two days ahead of Isparana.

A middle-aged man, accompanied by two youths, arrives at the oasis the afternoon of the next day.  The family leaves, travelling south, but not before offering Conan food, watering their animals and giving Conan a brief lesson in how to work with camels.  They also warn the Cimmerian that a slave caravan from Khawarizm regularly passes this way at this same time, every phase of the moon, and that slavers are not choosy how they obtain their wares.  As they leave, Conan wonders why more people do not behave with kindness to others

Spying Isparana's approach from a distance, Conan hides amongst the boulders that are the source of the spring that feeds the pool of the oasis.  Seeing that she is exhausted he decides to wait for her to fall asleep before replacing her Eye of Erlik with the copy he carries.

This leads to an unintended act of voyeurism as he watches Isparana slowly, exhaustedly remove her garments, bathe, and lay down to sleep.

Once Conan is sure that Insparana has fallen into a deep exhausted sleep, he uses all the stealth with which he successfully plied his trade as a thief to remove a portion of Isparana's rations, for the woman can survive after he leaves.  Then he approaches the half-naked woman and slowly sinks to his knees beside her.  With great care Conan exchanges the counterfeit amulet for the real one onto the leather thong around her neck.  Going to her camels he gets them moving and departs the oasis.

At that moment, finally, Isparana comes awake and, though half-dressed, attacks Conan for stealing her camels.  Deflecting her attack, her momentum carries her into one of the camels.  This makes the first camel kick the second camel and they both run off into the desert.

Conan chases after them into the desert.

Returning to the oasis, without the camels, Conan is again attacked by Isparana.  He disarms her and tells her to behave while they wait for a visitor to the oasis with whom they can make travel arrangements.

When Conan awakes the next morning, Isparana is holding the point of her sword to his face.  Before she can kill him however, a scouting party from an approaching caravan arrives at the oasis and begins talking to the pair.  Ignoring Isparana, Conan converses with the leader, spinning a tale of a couple travelling to Samara from Zamora and of the nine thieves who made off with their mounts.  Their reason for being at this particular oasis?  Conan and Isparana are waiting for her cousin, Arsil of Samara, a soldier of the Turanian Empire.

The Captain of the scouts for the slave caravan does not buy Conan’s story and they attempt to enslave the couple.

As it happens the scouts were not competent warriors and Conan and Isparana kill four of them.  The last scout flees.  Watching the last scout flee, Conan turns to look at Isparana and sees her sword swinging at his head. Ducking away to avoid the cut, Conan falls from the saddle striking his head on a tree trunk and knocking him unconscious.  Isparana flees south on her stolen horse.

Cut to a party of Samaritan soldiers watching a slave caravan pass by.  One of the slaves calls out to Captain Arsil by name and yells, "Conan of Cimmeria needs help!"

Arsil orders the caravan master to halt and release Conan and Isparana.  The motley crew part, with Conan heading north and Isparana travelling south with Arsil and his men.

Cut to the home of Hisarr Zul with Conan bargaining with the Sorcerer for his soul's release.  Hisarr proves to Conan that he will know the fake amulet by melting the copy from afar, to the detriment of Isparana, no doubt, if she still wears it around her neck.

Conan reveals the real Eye of Erlik and the foul wizard pretends to begin the magic that will release Conan's soul.  Instead he attempts to murder Conan, but the Cimmerian contrives to turn his methods back against the sorcerer instead, achieving one of the means of killing Hisarr Zul as told him by Tosya.  

After performing the act outlined by Tosya for freeing the soulless zombies from their cursed existence, Conan leaves Hisarr Zul's mansion in flames, the Eye of Erlik and the ornamented mirror holding his own soul, safely hidden inside a large pack of loot.

CharactersEdit

  • Conan
  • Kiliya - attractive 19 year old Arenjun woman waiting at the Shadiz Inn for her boyfriend
  • Kagul - Sergeant of the Arenjun City Guard.  Boyfriend to Kiliya.
  • General Stahir - retired general and patron of the Shadiz Inn
  • Karamek - agent for the Khan of Zamboula in the matter of the Eye of Erlik
  • Isparana - agent for the Khan of Zamboula in the matter of the Eye of Erlik.  a.k.a. Lady Kiliya in Conan's ruse with the slavers.
  • Hisarr Zul - mage of Arenjun, formerly of Zamboula, main antagonist.  Brother to and murderer of Tosya Zul
  • Ajhindar - agent for the King of Iranistan in the matter of the Eye of Erlik
  • Water-hog - Conan's horse  
  • Uskuda - theif of Samara, travelling to Zamora to sell stolen goods from Samara
  • Horse - the horse previously owned by Uskuda and his accomplice
  • Captain Arsil - leader of a band of Turanian soldiers garrisoned in Samara and following Uskuda and his accomplice
  • Kambur of Iranistan - Turanian soldier under the command of Arsil
  • Tosya Zul - former wizard in Zamboula, was murdered by his brother, Hisarr Zul and became a sand-lich.  
  • Un-named man and his teenaged son and daughter who stop at the Oasis where Conan waits for Isparana.  The man teaches Conan to work with camels.
  • Sarid - Turanian soldier under the command of Arsil
  • Iskul - master of the slave caravan from Khawarism that took Conan and Isparana captive
  • Fars - guard in the slave caravan from Khawarism that took Conan and Isparana captive

LocationsEdit

  • Arenjun, Zamora
  • Shadiz Inn - upscale inn, Arenjun
  • Mansion of Hisarr Zul - Arenjun
  • Breath of Arenjun - oasis, two days travel south east of Arenjun on the way to Zamboula.  a.k.a. - Sight of Kherdpur
  • Dragon Hills - long range of interwoven hills bare of vegetation save for the odd cedar rising here or there from the rocks
  • Gorge of the Sand-Lich - haunted pass that cuts directly north/south through the Dragon Hills
  • Un-named oasis, less than 2 days travel south of the Dragon Hills, where Conan waits for Isparana, then steals the Eye of Erlik and is eventually taken captive by slavers. 

Mystic ItemsEdit

  • The Eye of Erlik - "...a sword-shaped pendant about the length of [Conan's] least finger.  The hilt was capped with a ruby pommel.  Each end of the cross-bar guard was set with large yellow stones, barred each with a single black stripe."  Pictured by Esteban Maroto as jewel encrusted miniature replica of a scimitar in a sheath hanging from a chain, all wrought in gold.  The yellow stones resemble eyes.  The Eye was sought by both the Khan of Zamboula (the original owner in this trilogy of novels) and the King of Iranistan.  Properties: the only property attributed to the Eye of Erlik was that it made the Khan of Zamboula invulnerable.  That power proved false in Conan: The Sword of Skelos.  Conan fabricated scrying powers for the amulet in order to pull off a sting operation against the main antagonist in Conan the Mercenary.
  • Black Lotus Powder - a fine yellow dust created from the flower of the Black Lotus, which blossoms in the jungles of Khitai.  Upon inhaling the powder, paralysis is instantaneous and death occurs within two minutes.  Conan was unable to breathe upon inhaling the dust.  Hisarr Zul used a long copper tube to blow the poison into the face of his victims.  The Sorcerer had also learned to create an antidote that could be administered after a victim had lost consciousness.  Conan first encountered the powder in The Tower of the Elephant when Taurus of Nemedia used it to kill the tigers guarding Yara's garden.
  • Soul-mirror - "...a mirror, no longer than Conan's hand, thickened by a small dome of glass or quartz."  Through an undisclosed means, Hisarr Zul removed Conan's soul and placed it in such a mirror.  The sorcerer had done so, previously, to other's souls as well.  Breaking the mirror with someone's soul inside caused the victim to become a zombie-like slave to Hisarr Zul.  In that state, the Sorcerer could hear through the zombie's ears and see through its eyes and speak through its mouth.  To live thus was, "...to be dead while alive..." but, "To die without a soul is worse."  Conan learns from the sand-lich, Tosya Zul, that the only way to give peace to a zombie created by the breaking of its soul-mirror is to stuff "...the skull of Hisarr with earth, and his ears and nostrils, and then severing that head and seeing that it is burned -- utterly consumed by flame."
  • Book of Skelos - mentioned in passing by Tosya Zul that he was able to save only a single page from the "book" when fleeing Zamboula with his brother Hisarr.

Continuity NotesEdit

Conan and the Sorcerer is regarded as a good swords and sorcery tale, with plenty of action and little filler in the 186 pages.  It is also considered to be a decent Conan pastiche, although it still has a ways to go to live up to Howard's tales.  

Location: The novel suffers from the de Camp confusion that Arenjun is the City of Thieves.  Dale Rippke clearly proves they are two different cities, in different parts of Zamora, in his essay here .  Due to that confusion, Yara's tower is said, by Offutt, to be located on the opposite side of the city from Hisarr Zul's home, when it is actually on the opposite side of the country.

Recent Travels: So, Conan has travelled across Zamora, from The City of Thieves to Arenjun, at some recent point.

Age: The story appears to be set shortly after Tower of the Elephant.  Throughout this novel, Conan still has the rope that Taurus of Nemedia used in "T.o.t.Elephant". That would make Conan approximately seventeen.  However, some argue that major plot points in this novel and it's two sequels suggest behaviour that is more likely to occur when Conan was a more experienced adventurer, not someone in his mid-teens.  Since it is highly unlikely that Conan would wander around for years with his soul trapped inside a mirror, after this story until the next in the series, the argument is that the entire story arc takes place later in Conan's life.

The Galen-Grey chronology and the Jordan chronology both place this novel and it's sequels after Tower of the Elephant, when Conan was sixteen or seventeen.  L sprague de Camp places it into his own chronology after Rogues in the House when Conan was older, around twenty-three according to de Camp, just before he becomes a mercenary soldier in The Hand of Nergal.

Fauna: Conan learns how to work with camels in this story.

Profession: In this novel, and the other two in the series, Conan decides that the life of a freelance theif is too uncertain that stealing for a rich patron has a better upside than simply pawning stolen property.  He also listens with some interest to Captain Arsil's offer of a place amongst the soldiers of Turan.

Continuity Errata: Sources who argue that this novel takes place when Conan is more mature point to the following as evidence:

In The Frost Giant's Daughter we see a fifteen year old Conan, despite being sorely wounded, chase a beautiful woman through the snow, driven by a powerful lust, initially sexual, then murderous.  Certainly he has taken a blow to the head and is obviously operating on different level of consciousness than normal because he can see and interact with spiritual beings that other people cannot normally see.  Arguably, in that altered state of consciousness Conan might have less control over his emotions and urges.  Early in this story we are shown that Conan is not yet good with women: "He plied the young woman with more earnestness than expertise." But, near the end of the novel, a beautiful woman slowly and sensuously removes her clothing before the same youth, and he feels tortured having to watch silently from his hiding place and cannot avert his eyes.  Then, later, mere inches away from her naked sleeping body, he not only controls his lust, he also considers and discards the idea of strangling her.  While those are similar sentiments as portrayed in "Frost Giant's Daughter" and while Conan is not suffering from a head injury, yet, in this novel, Conan exhibits a level of self-control that is admirable for a seventeen year old barbarian in an era where many men his age would have already been married and siring children.  In the Sword of Skelos, Conan explains that restriant by saying that he is no rapist. 

In the sequel to this novel, Conan the Mercenary, Conan knows how to read and write Turanian.  In addition, in the climax to that novel, Conan devises a detailed, staged deception to fool the antagonist into revealing himself.  While ingenious, it is unlikely that a seventeen year old barbarian with little experience in compelx deceptions would have had the ability, experience, voice-talents or charisma to engineer and carry out such a con.  Particularly since he cannot lie convincingly enough to prevent being taken captive by a slave caravan at the end of Conan and the Sorcerer.

In the climactic novel of this series, The Sword of Skelos, still only seventeen, Conan masterfully reads the political landscape between the Khan of Zamboula and his enemies to develop a plan to defeat both the former, then the latter and, finally, place the Khan's son on the throne.

Odd Plot Devices:

Conan the fashion-plate?  Throughout Howard's stories, conan is rarely seen dressed up in fine clothes because he wants to...yet much is made about the quality of his clothes at the begining of this novel and he wants to curse when he tears them...only suppressing the urge to do so because of a need to maintain his hiding place.

When Conan is eavesdropping on Isparana and Karamek, we hear no evidence that there is anyone else in the room, yet they repeatedly use each other's proper name when speaking.  While it may be a common practice for people of their nation/city to speak as if they are performing a play, no such verbal affectation is in evidence when Isparana is alone with Conan at the oasis at the end of this novel, nor does she talk that way in The Sword of Skelos

Much is made in the novel about Conan's distinctive physical characteristics, particularly his eyes which are, apparently, rare for that part of Hyboria.  When Conan confronts Isparana and Karamek in Hisarr Zul's home, Conan speaks Isparana's name in his first sentence.  Conan continues to speak at length, making a point of using all the knowledge he gained about them and their plan to try to intimidate them into abandoning their endeavour.  Karamek's first sentence, in response, specifically mentions Conan's blue eyes.  BUT, only a week later at the oasis south of the Dragon Hills, Isparana does not recognize Conan as the very same rival thief from Hisarr Zul's house!  This begs the question: "How many 6-foot tall barbarians with black hair and blue eyes did she meet while fleeing across the desert?"

At the end of the novel Conan prides himself on being the "hero" that, "...laid to rest the demon-lich of the haunted gorge!"  This statement is unlike the character that Howard writes about...Conan rarely does anything so that he can consider himself a hero.  He does things because they feel right or wrong to him.

Publication HistoryEdit

  • Conan and the Sorcerer (novel) • Andrew J. Offutt • Ace, May 1978, reprinted May 1979, 1982, and March 1984.

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