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Legions of the Dead

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"Legions of the Dead" is a short story written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, featuring Conan of Cimmeria, and first published in the collection Conan the Swordsman in 1978.

Plot SummaryEdit

While living with a tribe of Æsir, Conan helps fight a Hyperborean witch and her undead army.

Detailed SynopsisEdit

  • 1
    Conan and the Æsir jarl (chieftan) Njal silently hunt, kill, and skin a deer. Carefully covering their the evidence of their kill and their tracks, they return to their nearby camp where they are greeted by the bard Gorm with the news that a recently sent scouting party of thirty men has failed to return. It is revealed that Conan had argued against sending the men to scout the nearby Hyperborean fortress of Haloga and was silenced by Njal, who then took the young barbarian on the hunt with him in grudging apology for having shouted the youth down. Njal's impatience stems from the fact the Hyperborean slavers had recently kidnapped his daughter, Rann. Unfortunately, it seems Conan was right to be concerned.
  • 2. The Horror on the Parapet
    The Æsir make camp for the night in sight of Haloga. Conan, studying the arrow slits of the great black walls, wonders if someone of his slighter stature (as compared to the Æsir) could slip through one. When dawn breaks, Conan is missing, although other events concern Njal: his thirty scouts are dangled from ropes on the parapet, as the witch-queen Vammatar the Cruel and her Hyperboreans slowly torture them to death, a process that takes hours. Njal can only watch in frustrated horror, knowing that the show is for his benefit; Vammatar knows that the Æsir are out there watching. Suddenly, black smoke rises from inside the keep, and as the Hyperboreans react to the surprise fires in their midst, Njal feels a faint glimmer of hope.
  • 3. Shadow of Vengeance
    It is revealed that, the previous night, Conan made his way to the black walls and, using a rope and hook to catch a rain spout, managed to climb up and swing into an arrow slit. He just managed to squeeze himself in and stole his way through the keep. He eventually found two Hyperborean guards and, using surprise to make quick work of them, hid the bodies after taking their weapons. The Hyperboreans were guarding Njal's daughter Rann and, to provide a distraction as they left the keep, Conan started a fire in a storeroom. The two leave the way Conan came in.
  • 4. That Which Pursued
    Njal greets his daughter with a bear hug and Conan with an affectionate but manly clap on the shoulder. Then the Aesir quickly break camp and race for their homeland, knowing the fires started by the Cimmerian will only delay the Hyperboreans for a short while. Indeed, in their haste to leave, they are spotted by Vammatar, whose only reaction is a mysterious smile. Soon, the Æsir notice they are being pursued by a force not only larger but slightly faster than themselves. As they race through the night, the Æsir note something odd about their pursuers, who seem not to tire. Also, although some are clearly Hyperborean based on their stature, some seem to not to be, and are dressed in traditional helms of the Æsir and Vanir. Realizing they cannot outrun the horde, Njal orders his men to take a stand on a hill. Soon, the battle begins and Njal realizes that the man he faces is none other than the corpse of his captain Egil, who he had witnessed swinging from a rope earlier that day.
  • 5. "Men Cannot Die Twice!"
    One by one, the Æsir realize they are fighting their own deceased but reanimated comrades, as well as the Hyperboreans killed by the fires Conan started. The dead do not fight with weapons, only their bare hands, and they do not tire or slow down for injuries. Conan even beheads one, but the headless body still reaches for the Cimmerian. Njal is killed, and Vammatar orders her undead army to capture as many Æsir as possible to use as slaves. Desperately, Conan grabs Rann and sneaks towards Vammatar and her horse. He pulls the surprised witch off the horse and throws Rann on it. Before he can swing up behind her, he is grabbed by lifeless hands and he smacks the horse into motion. Rann manages to escape, but Conan is captured. As the army shambles back to Haloga, Vammatar personally lashes Conan with every step.


  • Conan
  • Njal, jarl of the Æsir camp
  • Gorm, bard of the Æsir camp
  • Egil the huntsman - Æsir warrior. Leader of the missing scouting party
  • Vammatar the Cruel, eternally young queen of Haloga
  • Rann Njalsdatter, daughter of Njal
  • Thror Ironhand, captain in the Æsir camp


  • The Fortress of Haloga, Hyperborea

Continuity NotesEdit

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan of Venarium
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"


Publication HistoryEdit

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