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The Black Stranger

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The Black Stranger is a novella by Robert E. Howard first published in Echoes of Valor, ed. Karl Edward Wagner (Tor 1987).

This was originally written as a Conan story, but was not accepted for publication. REH rewrote it as a Black Vulmea story ("Swords of the Red Brotherhood"), which was also not accepted.

L. Sprague de Camp found "The Black Stranger" and rewrote it into a different Conan story, The Treasure of Tranicos. With four paragraphs at the opening added by editor Lester del Rey, this was published in Fantasy Magazine (March 1953) under Howard's original title.

For the collection Conan the Usurper (Lancer 1967), de Camp restored condensed portions and excised del Rey's additions.

SynopsisEdit

1. The Painted Men
Conan steals through a glade, making an intentional trail, then carefully doubles back and hides in a thicket as a small band of Picts tracks him. He waits for them to pass his hiding space, then leaps out to slaughter them. He runs again, soon hearing the sounds of the Picts' companions finding the bodies, and races towards the edge of the forest where he faces a cliff wall. He scrambles up to a ledge as a group of Picts bursts into view. They let loose arrows, one penetrating Conan's calf, but he makes it to cover and prepares to make a last stand on the cliff ledge. The Picts begin to make their way up, but suddenly stop and chatter among themselves, finally putting their weapons away and leaving. Conan is shocked. The Picts chasing him were from the Eagle tribe, and they had several scores to settle with Conan. After he had fled from Aquilonia he was captured by the Wolf tribe, who traded him to the Eagle tribe. Conan killed their war chief in his escape, and he cannot think of a reason they would abandon the chase. He takes a moment to gather his wits then explores the ledge. He finds some carved hand and footholds in the rock that lead to a tunnel in the side of the cliff, and inside the tunnel, to his utter shock, he faces an oaken door and several iron chests. He pushes open the door and jumps back - just inside is a large cavern covered with a blue mist, and a table, illuminated by a glowing jewel on a pedestal in the center of the table. Seated at the table are several unmoving people. Conan tries to talk to the people, but they ignore him. However, when he steps into the room the blue mist coalesces into a pair of hands and attacks!
2. Men from the Sea
On Korvela Bay, off the coast, Lady Belesa is informed by her servant Tina that ships have been spotted approaching the coast. They hurry to the fort. There, Valenso and his servant Galbri watch the ship and conclude it must be the pirate Strombanni. They close the fort tight as the ship drops anchor and a longboat separates and comes to the shore. When he reaches earshot, Strombanni verbally spars with Valenso, demanding loot from a sunken ship, though Valenso claims he has no idea what the pirate is talking about. When Strombanni turns threatening, Valenso has his men shoot arrows at the pirates, who scatter back to their longboat and begin to assemble siege equipment. Their mantlet rams the gates and just as it falls, the pirates break off their attack and return to their ship as another boat, this bearing the flag of Zingara, breaks the horizon.
3. The Dark Stranger
The monstrous shape that is coalescing next to Conan has his neck gripped tightly in black, hairy hands. Using all his might, Conan breaks the creature's grasp and stumbles out of the room. The mist-creature stays in the room and Conan suspects it may be mystically bound there. He turns his attention to the chests in the cavern chamber. Meanwhile, back at the fort, Valenso orders the mantlet dragged inside the fort so the new arrivals can't use it, to the wonder of Tina and Belesa, who assume a Zingaran would be a friend. Valenso claims that not all his enemies are foreigners, and calls to the new landing party and their leader, Black Zarono. Although Valenso doesn't trust the buccaneer, he allows him and his men access to the beach and forests, though he warns Zarono not to allow his men to go into the forest at night, for the Picts lurk there waiting to attack any stragglers. And in fact, that night, a lone figure watches the camp on the beach from the cover of the trees. The next morning, Zarono joins Valenso and Belesa for breakfast, and he reveals that the reason he was close enough to drive Strombanni off is that he followed the pirate, searching for the same thing that Strombanni was. Zarono asks Valenso why he left Zingara and the nobleman is evasive, but he does talk about how his boat was stranded on this island so he decided to make it a home for him and those who fled with him. He is stuck on the island, but they have made the best of it. Zarono offers to ferry them to another place if Valenso helps him find the treasure of the pirate Tranicos, which is what led Strombanni and himself here, and what both men thought Valenso had already found. Zarono is now convinced that Valenso was ignorant of the treasure, although his ship's captain, Zingelito, who wrecked the ship on the cliffs years ago, was with Strombanni and Zarono when they had a glimpse of a map to the treasure. Zarono believes Zingelito came to this island with purpose originally, although he was slain by Picts early on, and Strombanni has put together the clues leading to the cove, with Zarono close behind. Valenso does not seem interested until Tina enters with news a large black man, a Kushite perhaps, lingers near the forest. In a fit of insane rage, Velanso orders Tina held and whips her mercilessly, calling her a liar, until the cries of Belesa checks his rage and he agrees to help Zarono and leave the island, and as part of the deal, give Belesa to Zarono to marry.
4. A Black Drum Droning
That night, Belesa decides to flee with Tina into the forest. As they attempt to sneak out of the fort, they see a glimpse of a man lurking through the corridors. Tina is convinced it is the mysterious black man she saw, and although Belesa is skeptical, she decides they cannot risk leaving. The next morning, Belesa is awakened by the rhythmic sounds of a drum beating from the forest, though nobody else seems to notice. She watches in awe as a black mist forms out on the ocean into a raging hurricane. When the storm is finally noticed, the sailors scramble to anchor their ship agsinst the unexpected hurricane, but it rips from its moorings and heads towards the jagged cliffs as the sailor's camp is flooded by waves.
5. A Man from the Wilderness
The next morning, after the storm has passed, a sailor splashes his face with water on the beach. He is interrupted by a large man striding toward him. The pirate has barely enough time to show recognition before the second man slays him. Zarono and Valenso survey the damage - the ship is destroyed. Valenso is convinced the storm was meant to keep him trapped in the cove, but Zarono begins the process of building a new one. Valenso begins to explain why he fears the black man so when a sail is spotted on the horizon - Strombanni has returned. Strombanni offers a truce to the two men...they can share the treasure together. Valenso begrudgingly allows Strombanni into the fort the next day. Strombanni explains that Zingelito actually had the map to the treasure, not just a glimpse, though it was stolen and brought to Strombanni. Unfortunately, the man who carried the map was slain that morning and Strombanni suspects Zarono now has the map. Zarono does not, but doesn't reveal that information as the two men grow increasingly antagonistic. As swords are drawn, a voice comes from the stairs, and down strides Conan. The pirates recognize him at once, and the other have heard of the name. Conan had climbed the eastern walls while all attention was to the west and tells those assembled that it is he who has the map. He shows it to the others, then tosses it in the fire. He tells them he had already found the treasure in the cliffs - the chests were full of gold and jewels - and he is willing to split the treasure four ways for either passage on Strombanni's ship or command of the entire fort. Valenso quickly agrees - all he wants is to get away from the cove. Strombanni, in the best position, agrees to take the others with him, and Zarono, grumbling, also agrees. Fifteen men from each crew prepare to go into the forest to bring back the treasure but before they leave, Conan questions Valenso about the head of a Pict he saw nailed to a tree, a chain knotted about the stump of the head tied in form of the Korzetta seal - Valenso's own chain. Valenso has no idea how that happened and he insists all of his men were in the fort last night. Everyone leaves, though Galbro lingers for a moment to look at the remains of the map in the fire, recognizing some faint landscape on the charred paper...
6. The Plunder of the Dead
Conan leads the men into the woods and Valenso and Belesa talk about the treachery that is sure to come. When Belesa mentions seeing the black man in the fortress the night before, Valenso realizes it was he who stole the chain and killed the Pict in an effort to anger and incite the others. He finally confesses to Belesa - years ago he entered a compact with the sorcerer Thoth-Amon but then betrayed him. When the sorcerer came after Valenso, the nobleman fled and ended up in this atoll, but Thoth-Amon has tracked him down again. In the forest, Conan stops when he finds the body of the man he discovered yesterday, but the head, which Conan had hidden, has been found and replaced. Conan suspects that someone is trying to rile the Picts and finds a set of unfamiliar footprints. Zarono and Strombanni begin to wonder if Conan is leading them into an ambush but they reach the hills and cave without incident. The two captains, plus one man from each crew, follow Conan into the cave and they look on the half-open door to see the remains of Tranicos and his eleven captains at the table. Zarano and Strombanni enter the chamber, but stop when they seen the corpse of Galbro, who had beaten them there (it was his trail Conan noticed) and died at the hands of the misty monster that is beginning to reform. Conan tries to shove all four men into the chamber and slam the door but the pirates are too cautious and he fails. Swords are drawn and Conan slays one of the men before the fighting takes all to the lip of the cave, and Conan scrambles up the outside cliff to a ledge out of sight. From the ledge, Conan taunts the others with the tale of Tranicos, trapped in the cave by the magic of the Picts with the demon that still haunted the cave. While the pirates ponder what to do, their men below are attacked by a small band of Picts. The Picts are fought off, but Conan assures them a larger war band is coming. Conan is reluctant to leave any men to be slaughtered by Picts, so even though he could easily climb down the other side of the mountain to safety, he decides to help get the men through the forest. He melts into the trees and slays a scout and then reappears to lead them back to the beach. Back at the fort, as dusk begins to settle in, Belesa and Tina are startled by the sounds of howling from inland. Suddenly, dozens of men led by Strombanni and Zarono break through the forest and race towards the stronghold, signaling all the men encamped on the beach to enter as the howling and screaming from the trees grows. They all enter the fort and close the doors but Conan is nowhere to be found - he stayed back to hold off the Picts to give the others time to escape. Moments later, Conan bursts into view, chased by hundreds and hundreds of Picts. Conan leaps onto the wall and skitters over as arrows are loosed to and from the fort.
7. Men of the Woods
The battle rages much of the night, but the fort holds the walls. The Picts leave their dead and disappear back to the forest, but Conan knows this is only a respite, not a victory. As the men rest and prepare, a voice floats out from the forest - Thoth-Amon, who says he has released the demon from the cave and will send it against the fortress. Valenso screams in terror and rushes into the great hall to sit alone and await his fate. Belesa notices the south sentry has gone missing and tells Tina to inform the count, but when she hears Tina's screams she runs to find her, only to see a sight of carnage in the great hall. Conan also hears the scream and he and Strombanni make toward the hall, but stop when they see one of Strombanni's men dead. Strombanni immediately thinks Zarono did it and runs up to the other man accusing him of murder. A giant brawl breaks out between the two camps that only ends when the Picts swarm over the south wall. Zarono is one of the first to die, with Strombanni soon after. Conan tries to rally the remaining men to the manor, but it is on fire. Conan makes his way through the smoke and sees Valenso, dead, in the great hall and the demon lounging in his chair. The two women are petrified with fear to the side as the creature rises to meet Conan. Knowing his sword is useless, Conan grabs a fallen silver candelabra and heaves it at the demon, knocking it back into the fire. The combination of silver and fire mortally wounds the monster, and Conan grabs the women and escapes the burning fortress into a field of nothing but death.
8. Swords of Aquilonia
The next morning, Conan lights a fire to signal Strombanni's ship, which had fled at the first sign of trouble. As they wait for the ship to approach, Conan tells Tina and Belesa how he fled from Aquilonia after inadvertently crossing King Numedides. When a skiff finally rows ashore, Conan is shocked to find it crewed with Aquilonian friends of his who have split from Numedides and seek Conan as their leader in a rebellion. Conan is overjoyed and, with the demon gone, plans one more excursion to the treasure of Tranicos to help fund his new campaign.

CharactersEdit

  • Conan
  • Count Valenso of Korzetta, Zingaran nobleman *
  • Lady Belesa, Zingaran noblewoman
  • Tina, Ophirean servant
  • Galbro, servant *
  • Strombanni, Argossean pirate *
  • Black Zarono, Zingaran buccaneer *
  • Prospero, Aquilonian
  • Trocero, Aquilonian Count of Poitain
  • Plubius, Aquilonian
  • Dexitheus, Aquilonian sorcerer

LocationsEdit

  • The Pictish Wilderness, some 150 miles from the Thunder River
    • Korvela Bay, off the Pictish coast

Continuity NotesEdit

After the events of the story Beyond the Black River, Conan rises quickly through Aquilonian service. Becoming a general, he defeats the Picts in a great battle at Velitrium and breaks the backs of their confederacy. Then he is called back to the capital, Tarantia, for a triumph. But, aroused the suspicion and jealousy of the depraved and foolish King Numedides, he is plied with drugged wine and chained in the Iron Tower under sentence of death. The barbarian, however, has friends as well as enemies in Aquilonia, and soon he is spirited out of his prison and turned loose with a horse and a sword. Riding back to the frontier, he finds his Bossonian troops and a price on his head. Swimming Thunder River, he strikes out across the dank forests of Pictland toward the distant sea. - Conan the Usurper


Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"Moon of Blood"
"The Treasure of Tranicos" Next Story:
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"Moon of Blood"
"The Treasure of Tranicos" Next Story:
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"Moon of Blood"
"The Treasure of Tranicos" Next Story:
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
Beyond the Black River
"The Black Stranger" Next Story:
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
Beyond the Black River
"The Black Stranger" Next Story:
Red Nails


Publication historyEdit

The Treasure of TranicosEdit

Differences from The Black Stranger

De Camp made many egregious changes to better fit the story within his imagined chronology. Howard's version of the story pointed toward a new piratical career for Conan; one of de Camp's major changes was to make it lead instead into the revolution that would bring the Cimmerian to the throne of Aquilonia. The Counts of Poitain arrrive on the isolated shores, looking for Conan to lead them against the despotic King of Aquilonia, Numedides.

Publication history

De Camp-del Rey version

De Camp's revised versionEdit

References Edit

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