- "Crom is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, 'What is the riddle of steel?' If I don't know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me." ~Conan the Barbarian
In the beginning, we see Conan's father explain the Celtic lore concerning the ancient Giant Kings of earth stealing the forging secrets from the god Crom. Conan's father added his interpretation that you cannot trust things of the flesh, but steel in your hand you can trust. Even though Conan's father had produced a superior sword, he and the people of Conan's village were all killed by an overwhelming force led by Thulsa Doom.
After Conan seeks out the group that murdered his people, Doom explains to him, "Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. Look around you." Thulsa motions to some of the thousands of followers surrounding his mountain who worship him as the mouthpiece of God. He points up to the top of a cliff, "There, on the rocks, that beautiful girl." He motions to the girl, "Come to me, my child." The girl steps off the cliff and falls to her death. "That is strength, boy. That is power: the strength and power of flesh. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength of your body, the desire in your heart. I give you this ...such a waste. Contemplate this on the Tree of Woe. Crucify him."
Conan is nailed to a dead tree in the desert for several days until rescued. As he heals, he reflects upon the Riddle of Steel. No longer does the barbarian limit himself to direct brute assault. Using covert methods and battlefield tactics, Conan and his friends inflict great damage to their enemy. However, the cumulative result of all Conan's vengeance does not harm the overall power of Thulsa's cult. It isn't until his father's sword is broken that Conan realizes the true answer to the riddle: all the power of both steel and flesh come from one's beliefs.
Flesh grows weak. Steel becomes brittle. But the will is indomitable.
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