"Hawks over Shem" is a Conan novelette by L. Sprague de Camp based on a Diego de Guzman story, "Hawks over Egypt", by Robert E. Howard; it is usually credited to Howard and de Camp. The story was first published in Fantastic Universe Science Fiction in October, 1955.
Conan pursues General Othbaal, an ally turned traitor, to the city of Asgalun. He allies himself with Masdak, one of two other generals involved in a power struggle serving under mad King Akhirom. Conan and Mazdak eliminate the other generals and cause Akhirom to be overthrown. Conan must flee Asgulum, and a potentially profitable alliance to Mazdak, when it is discovered that he is Amra; the pirate who fleeced many nearby city-states.
A Hyrkanian man stops suddenly in the streets of Asgalun and confronts Conan, who he believes has been following him. Conan denies the accusation just as four large Kushites arrive to kill them both. Conan and the stranger, Farouz, an archer defeat the Kushites, Farouz removes a ring from their leader, Keluka, and the two men head to safe territory.
At the nearly empty tavern (because the king has banned wine) of Khanoon, Conan tells Farouz he is in Asgalun to hunt a man named Othbaal, who had betrayed Conan's Akkharia's troops and who fled to Asgalun for protection under his cousin, the mad King Akhirom. Farouz tells Conan that Othbaal has risen quickly in Asgalun, and is involved in a three-way power struggle between himself, Mazdak, commander of the Hyrkanian troops and Farouz's master, and the Kushite general Imbalayo.
Conan and Farouz sneak into the walled inner city later that night via a secret tunnel under a canal that leads into Othbaal's house. After dispatching a bodyguard, they surprise Othbaal, who, although in the middle of entertaining a lady, grabs his sword and holds Conan at bay while Farouz prevents reinforcements from entering the room. Farouz notices the woman, a slave-woman named Rufia who used to belong to Mazdak, sneak out a secret passage, and when Conan finally spills Othbaal's entrails, the two men race for the now revealed door. Before they leave, however, Farouz leaves the ring he stole from Keluka by Othbaal's body.
Rufia steals through the city, aware of the ban on women in the streets, and thinking of her journey from stolen girl to slave to consort to one of the most powerful men in Asgalun. She runs into a hooded man, who, though surprised to see a woman on the streets of the city, takes her somewhere safe. Rufia notes that several men are following them, but the stranger tells her not to worry as he leads her to the doors of the palace, then throws back his hood to reveal himself to be King Akhirom and has his men, who were following, arrest her.
Inside the palace, as Akhirom berates Rufia for breaking his laws, she kneels before him and calls him a god. In his madness, Akhirom thoughtfully agrees with her and forgives her sin. He then sends servants to the temple of Pteor to inform the priests of their new god and destroy all false idols.
Abdashtarth, high priest of Pteor, is bound in front of an idol to his bull headed god that is currently being set aflame by Akhirom's soldiers as his former assistant, Mattenbaal, declares Akhirom a god. Abdashtarth protests while soldiers toss his body in the fire. This sparks a riot in the watching crowd and Mattenbaal is struck by a hurled stone. The rioters are dispersed by a cavalry of Kushites led by Imbalayo, who also takes the opportunity to loot the residences.
Word is brought to Akhirom about how Othbaal's ccorpse was found, in addition to Keluka's ring, which places suspicion upon his fellow Kushite Imbalayo, but Akhirom declares himself beyond such petty intrigues.
Conan sneaks through the Kushite patrolled cities until he finds Farouz eating alone at a cookshop. Conan greets the man as Genearl Mazdak, showing he has guessed Farouz's secret. He knew the house of Othbaal too well; it was previously Mazdak's residence. Conan offers his services to Mazdak to help kill Imbalayo, but Mazdak is uncertain such a plan is wise at the moment. Mazdak leaves as Conan dines, and he overhears a conversation about how the local Anakian soldiers bristle working with Imbalayo's Kushite interlopers, and are likely poised to revolt. He also hears about how Akhirom has tossed aside the witch Zeriti in favor of Rufia, which has infuriated the witch. Conan decides to find Zeriti, and returns to the secret passage under the canal into the inner city. Unfortunately, he takes a wrong turn into the wrong palace room and finds six armed Kushites.
In his private chamber, a white robed clad Akhirom declares himself above weak concepts such as love and dismisses Rufia from his bed, giving her to Imbalayo. A terrified Rufia is dragged away by the Kushite general, but as he heads towards his rooms he is confronted by the witch Zeriti, who wishes to purchase Rufia, and threatens Imbalayo to provide fabricated proof he had Othbaal killed unless he hands over the slave. Imbalayo does so, and Zeriti has her servants take the girl to her home.
Conan plunges through a window into a garden, then heaves himself over a wall to escape his pursuers. He finds his way to Zeriti's house and is let in. As he waits he hears the sounds of a woman screaming in pain, and he begins to search the residence.
Zeriti stops in her torture of Rufia to summon a creature from the smoky darkness, but she is interrupted by the sounds of fighting outside. Imbalayo bursts into the chamber, relating how the city is rioting, and demanding Rufia back. He stabs the witch to death just in time to see Conan appear in the doorway. Mistaking Conan for a bodyguard, the Kushite attacks, and in the midst of the battle, recognized Conan as the pirate Amra. Unfortunately, the fight is not going Conan's way until the thing in the smoke, forgotten in the fight, lunges forward onto Imbalayo's back, sucking the bones and organs from the Kushite until the sack of skin falls to the floor and the demon vanishes. Conan goes to tend to Rufia when Mazdak appears. Conan convinces him to back the Anakim uprising and take control of the city himself, with Conan as a loyal general. Mazdak agrees and goes to rally his men. Rufia begs Conan not to return her to Mazdak but Conan intends to do so until Zeriti rises, unable to be killed, revenge in mind, and determined to reveal Conan's identity to Mazdak. She magically flees and Conan realizes he has to get out of the city now if Rufia still wants to leave.
In the city, the Kushite cpatain Bombaata struggles to quell the revolt of the Anakim soldiers and Asgalun civilians, when word comes that Imbalayo is slain and Mazdak's Hyrkanians have come out against Akhirom. He barely has time to process this before the Hyrkanians come crashing into the Kushite lines, killing them all. Then the mob turns its attention to Akhirom, storming his palace. The mad king runs to the tower, believing he can fly away, until he slams into the ground. Rumors that Amra is in the town fuel rioting and looting for some time, but Conan and Rufia have already fled north.
- Mazdak, Hyrkanian general, also known as Farouz
- Keluka the Sworder, Kushite assassin*
- Khannon, Pelishtan tavern owner
- Othbaal, Shemite noble*
- Rufia, Ophirean slave girl
- Akhirom, King of the Shemite city-state Pelishti
- Mattenbaal, Shemite priest
- Abdashtarth, Shemite priest of Pteor*
- Imbalayo, Kushite general from Darfar*
- Zeriti, Stygian witch
- Bombaata, Kushite captain*
* dies in this story
- Asgalun, capital of the Shemite city-state Pelishtia
- Following the events of the story "The Snout in the Dark", Conan, dissatisfied with his accomplishments in the black countries, wanders northward across the deserts of Stygia to the meadowlands of Shem. During this trek, his reputation stands him in good stead. He presently finds himself in the army of King Sumuabi of Akkharia, one of the southerly Shemitish city-states. Through the treachery of one Othbaal, cousin of the mad king Akhirom of Pelishtia, the Akkharian forces are ambushed and wiped out - all but Conan, who survives to track the renegade to Asgalun, the Pelishti capital. - Conan the Freebooter
"The Snout in the Dark"
|"Hawks over Shem"||Next Story:|
Conan: The Road of Kings
|Robert Jordan Chronology|
"The Snout in the Dark"
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|William Galen Gray Chronology|
Conan and the Emerald Lotus
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- Fatnastic Universe Science Fiction • Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp • King-Size Publications, Inc. October, 1955
- Tales of Conan (collection) • Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp • Gnome Press 1955
- Conan the Freebooter • Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp • Ace 1968