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People of the Black Circle redirects here. For the Millennium/Gollancz collection, see The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle

The People of the Black Circle is a novella by Robert E. Howard first published in Weird Tales 24 3-5 (September, October, November 1934).

The October and November installments were each headed by a short recap of the preceding installment(s). Contrary to the magazine's usual practice, these were written by Howard himself. They have recently been republished under the collective title of "The Story So Far…".

There is also an untitled synopsis of the novella.

Plot SummaryEdit

Hill chieftan Conan heads into the Himelian mountains to rescue the Vendhyan queen, as Turanians, Afghulis, and Irakzais are caught in the machinations of demonic sorcerors of the Black Circle.

Detailed SynopsisEdit

  • 1. Death Strikes a King
    The death of Bunda Chand, King of Vendhya, via a curse channelled to his very soul through a lock of his hair which fell in the hands of a nefarious cabal of sorcerers leads to the ascension of his sister, Devi Yasmina, who vows to get revenge on his killers, the Black Seers of Yimsha. Across town, Khemsa, sorceror of the Black Seers, discusses Chand's death with the Turanian prince Kerim Shah, who serves King Yezdigerd of Turan.
  • 2. A Barbarian from the Hills
    Chunder Shan, the governor of the province Peshkauri, is writing a letter to the capital about the barbarian chief whose tribe is raiding the province and insisting on the release of prisoners when he is interrupted by the surprise appearance of Yasmina, the Devi. Chunder Shan is horrified the queen made the dangerous journey to an even more dangerous city, but she explains she is here to request the service of the barbarian chief, Conan; in return for releasing his men, she wants the heads of the Black Seers. Chunder Shan returns to his quarters, but Conan is waiting for him in secret. Chunder Shan tries to explain that things have changed, but the Devi, who had forgotten to tell Chunder Shan something about a familiar face she had seen, comes into the room, and Conan, realizing the prize, grabs the woman and springs out the window while Chunder Shan screams for guards.
  • 3. Khemsa Uses Magic
    As Chunder Shan leads the pursuit, Gitara, Yasmina's handmaiden, and the only other person who knew that Devi was here, steals away and heads to Khemsa. She tells him what happened, and when Khemsa moves to tell Kerim Shah, the girl stops him, convincing him to use the situation to his advantage, going after Devi himself and ransoming her. Although it is a betrayal of his Black Seer masters, Khemsa agrees, and briefly considers slaying the sleeping Kerim Shah, but his honor has not sunk that low. Khemsa and Gitara leave to make their plans, and Kerim Shah (who may in fact not be who he says he is), only feigning sleep, rises and sends a letter to Khosru Khan, governor of Secunderum, informing him of the situation and that he intends to capture Devi for their use. Meanwhile, Khemsa and the girl head to the prison, Khemsa's magic killing first the guards, and then the seven Afghuli tribesman to ensure they cannot be exchanged for Devi.
  • 4. An Encounter in the Pass
    Yasmina is more insulted and surprised than afraid as Conan rides with her to Afghulistan. They are ambushed by the Wazuli tribe, Conan killing one of his attackers, until their chief, Yar Afzal, recognizes Conan and invites him to his camp. Meanwhile, the pursuers follow Conan's trail...
  • 5. The Black Stallion
    Yasmina awakens a prisoner in Yar Afzal's tent, and Conan tells her she will write a letter to the governor regarding her exchange for Conan's seven men. Yasmina barely has time to haughtily refuse when word comes that Chunder Shan, having found the body of the Wazuli, has attacked and burned Wazuli villages searching. Rumors are spreading that an army will sweep the hills, and Azfal's men begin muttering that they should take matters into their own hands. Yar Afzal personally deals with the prime agitator, who, ordered away, encounters a prowling Khemsa. The sorceror hypnotizes the man and gives him a jet black ball to deliver to Azfal. He throws the orb to Azfal's feet, and when the chief picks it up, it changes into a spider, biting and killing him. The tribe immediately turns on Conan, spurred on by Khemsa's anonymous, but hypnotizing, shouts, but Conan escapes to Azfal's hut, grabs Yasmina and Azful's powerful stallion, and bursts out into the mountains, inadvertantly nearly trampling Khemsa.
  • 6. The Mountain of the Black Seers
    Conan and Yasmina plan to go to Afghulistan. Yasmina wonders who the man they nearly overran was, noting that he was in the company of Gitara. They stop only long enough for Conan to buy tribal clothes from a woman, and then head deep into the mountains. Yasmina spies Yimsha, the mountain of the Black Seers, and remembers her quest, and wonders if she cannot persuade Conan to attack them somehow, but they spy a crimson-colored cloud float amongst the mountaintops, which Conan calls Yimsha's Carpet. Suddenly, their horse stops and refuses to budge, and Khemsa silently appears, dropping Conan with a wave of his hand. He is about to finish Conan off when Yimsha's Carpet glides into view, its crimson mists concealing four black robed Rakhshas. The men compel Gitara to fling herself off the mountain, then turn to Khemsa, who betrayed their masters, and, despite his best efforts, he also tumbles down the mountain. The Rakhshas then silently pull Yasmina from Conan's arms and the crimson mists of Yimsha's Carpet appearing around them, fly off to their mountain home.
  • 7. On to Yimsha
    Conan races to the bottom of the ravine, and encounters an army of hillman who, having received word of their dead chiefs, blame him for their deaths. Conan races away, and finds the broken body of a nearly-dead Khemsa. The sorceror dies after giving Conan a magical girdle and Conan continues down the trail. He is soon surprised by the appearance of Kerim Shah and his soldiers, but the two men agree to rescue the Devi together.
  • 8. Yasmina Knows Stark Terror
    When Yasmina regains her senses, she is laying on a dais observed by the black-robed Master of Yimsha, who tells her that her brother's death was Yezigerd's desire, and he complied because it suited his whims. She attempts to distract him and attacks him with a dagger, but it turns into a lotus blossom as the Master laughs, explaining that he intends to keep Yasmina as a slave. When she acts defiant, he directs his monstrous will towards her, showing her fear and terror and visions of destruction, chaos, and pain, as well as a glimpse of his demonic, inhuman form, as she screams and loses consciousness.
  • 9. The Castle of the Wizards
    As Conan's small party approaches the mountain towers, they are attacked by beast and bird, and soon a cloudy puff of bubbles that disintegrate any man it touches. When they finally reach the first defensive tower, the lone sentinel sounds a large horn, which causes the earth to shake until Kerim Shah fells him with an arrow. Conan rushes the door and bursts into the tower, avoiding the lava and block traps that await him, and chases the retreating seers beyond towards the castle on the opposite side of a gaping chasm. A thin golden thread follows a narrow path down the mountain into the choking mist, and Conan takes the lead in following the green-robed sorcerors. They reach the bottom, but are attacked during the ascension, though Conan and his men win the battle and face the castle carved into the mountain. Conan breaks through the door and enters, leaving one man behind as a guard (who is swiftly killed by a black-robed sorceror). When the others turn to help the doomed guard, their way is blocked by an invisible curtain of air. With nowhere else to go, they head deeper into the castle, arriving at a throne room with several black robed figures descending down stairs in front of a crystal ball. Conan is magically compelled to stop, as his Irakzai companions are forced to come forward to offer their heads to the sorcerors. Conan manages to grasp his magical girdle and finds the strength to break free and he shatters the ball. The sorcerors shriek and collapse, dead, and their leader, the Master of Yimsha, reveals himself, and with a gesture, rips Kerim Shah's still-beating heart from his chest and through his armor. Conan attacks the Master, who throws everything he has at Conan, but, while slowed, is not stopped, and, to the Master's surprise, gets close enough to slash at the Master's robes. The sorceror promptly vanishes and Conan races up the stairs. He finds the Devi about to be slain by a giant snake monster, and a brief battle ensues in which the creature is mortally wounded and flees, though its tracks turn into human footprints on its trail through the castle. Conan and the Devi retreat through the castle.
  • 10. Yasmina and Conan
    Holding the Devi over his shoulder, Conan follows the golden thread down into the chasm and up the narrow passage to the other side of the canyon. He and Yasmina find their horses and ride north. Conan intends to make Yasmina his queen of the hill tribes, but soon he encounters a Turanian army attempting to capture a band of Afghuli hillmen, who were ironically hunting Conan to avenge their hill chiefs' deaths and Conan's perceived role. Despite their attitude, Conan feels obliged to assist but cannot abandon the Devi. This problem is resolved when a Vendhyan army, invading the mountains to rescue their Queen, arrives. Together, Conan with his Afghulis and Yasmina with her cavalry, they destroy the Turanian army. Conan leaves with the hillmen and the Devi returns to her country.

CharactersEdit

  • Conan
  • Bunda Chand, King of Vendhya *
  • Devi Yasmina, Sister of Bunda Chand; Ascendant Queen of Vendhya
  • Kerim Shah, Turanian prince *
  • Khemsa, sorcerer of the Black Seers of Yimsha *
  • Chunder Shan, Governor of Peshkauri
  • Gitara, handmaiden *
  • Yar Afzal, Zhaibar Wazuli tribe chieftan *

* dies in this story

LocationsEdit

  • Vendhya
    • Ayodhya, the capital city
    • the province Peshkauri
  • Afghulistan
    • Zhaibar Pass (Khyber Pass)
    • Himelian Mountains (Himalayas)

Continuity NotesEdit

Declining the offer of Kobad Shad's successor, Arshak, to return to the service of Iranistan and defend that kingdom against the incursions of King Yezdigerd of Turan, Conan rides east into the foothills of the Himelian Mountains, on the northwest fronteir of Vendhya. Here he next appears as a warchief of the savage Afghuli tribesmen. He is now in his early thirties (about thirty-three, in fact), at the height of his physical powers, and known throughout the civilized and barbarian worlds, from Pictland to Khitai. - Conan the Adventurer

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Flame Knife"
"The People of the Black Circle" Next Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Flame Knife"
"The People of the Black Circle" Next Story:
Conan the Marauder
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan and the Shaman's Curse
"The People of the Black Circle" Next Story:
Conan the Marauder
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Devil in Iron"
"The People of the Black Circle" Next Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Devil in Iron"
"The People of the Black Circle" Next Story:
"Shadows in Zamboula"


AdaptationsEdit

Publishing historyEdit

The People of the Black Circle (novella) • Robert E. Howard


"The Story Thus Far…" • Robert E. Howard


Untitled Synopsis


The People of the Black Circle (novella) • Robert E. Howard • edited by L. Sprague de Camp

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