"The Scarlet Citadel" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine circa January 1933. It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns a middle-aged Conan battling rival kingdoms, being captured through treachery and escaping from an eldritch dungeon via unexpected aid. The story includes Tsotha-lanti who is an evil wizard whose sorcerous arts help ensnare King Conan.
The story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Usurper (Lancer Books, 1967). It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
Conan's army is decimated on the plains of Shamu, having answered a plea for help from his ally Amalrus of Ophir. Amalrus treacherously joined with Strabonus of Koth and the wizard Tsotha-lanti to overwhelm Conan's forces and capture him. While Strabonus wants to kill Conan, Tsotha wants him alive. With a touch of poison he paralyzes Conan and has him bound. While Strabonus sends his general Arbanus to attack Aquilonia at Shamar, he and the wizard take Conan to Khorshemish, the capital of Koth.
Conan stands before Strabonus and Amalrus while they dictate terms - they want him to turn over Aquilonia to Prince Arpello of Pellia. Conan scoffs at the kings and insults them, spitting in Amalrus's eye. The enraged king moves to kill the bound Conan, but Tsotha blinds him, reminding the king who the real power is as Strabonus pretends not to notice. Tsotha takes Conan to the dungeon, guarded by his eunuch servant Shukeli, and leaves Conan in the darkness to go assist the siege at Shamar.
Conan tests his restraints and finds them too strong to break. The stories he has heard of Tsotha's dungeons and inhuman experiments actually strikes fear in the barbarian's heart. That fear is amplified when he hears a rustling sound, and in the shadows sees a a tremendous snake, over 80 feet long, slither into the chamber. Conan stands motionless as venom drips from the snake's fangs and burns his thigh but the opening of the door to the prison chambers causes the snake to flee. A gigantic naked black man, who calls Conan by his pirate name Amra, has come with the keys and asks what Conan would pay for them. It is merely a ruse, though, as the man wants Conan dead for killing his brother when he traveled with Belit. But just as he is about to deal a killing blow to Conan, the snake rears up behind him and wraps him in his coils, snapping his bones and causing the keys and a sword to fall to the ground at Conan's feet. He manages to grasp the keys with his feet and free himself, but he finds the doors barred from the outside. Shukeli appears outside the barred window and shrieks with laughter, but in a flash Conan stabs through the bars with the sword he picked up and instantly slays the eunuch. As the barred door can only be opened from the outside, he is still trapped and realizes he has to go down the same corridor that houses the snake. Conan creeps down the corridor, ignoring the passages on either side, until he hears a sobbing sound and diverts down that tunnel. However, he is horrified when he finds the source of the weeping - a tentacled, amorphous blob-like creature who, when it sees Conan, turns to laughter and chases him. He quickly outpaces it, but trips and drops his torch, thrusting him into darkness as he scrambles up and continues to flee. He creeps along and stops before a pit in the ground. Obviously, he has gone the wrong direction but before he can decide what to do he senses something rising from the pit and he turns back the way he came. He comes across the final embers of his torch, manages to get it fully lit again and makes his way back to the central corridor, again feeling the invisible presence engulfing him. He flees in sheer horror and hears the sounds of different monsters and beasts down every tunnel, and as he wonders why they don't come out into the opening, he realizes the giant serpent is slithering behind him, and not even the monsters want to encounter it. He hurries down a side passage and through the window of a door sees a monstrous plant entwining and torturing a man. Conan enters the cell and cuts at the stem of the plant as it hisses and waves its tentacles and blossoms at him, but it dies and the man is freed. The man, Pelias, tells Conan that his rival Tsotha-lanti has held him captive for a decade. His powers are beginning to return and he leads Conan back the entrance. The snake emerges and moves to attack but once it sees Pelias, its eyes widen in terror and it flees. When they reach the barred door, Pelias animates Shukeli's corpse and he unlocks the door. The two go to Tsotha's private chambers and Pelias uses Tsotha's crystal ball to show Strabonus's army laying siege to Shamar and chaos engulfing Tarantia, as, with word spreading of Conan's alleged death, Prince Arpello of Pellia has moved to take over the kingdom. Conan laments that the capital is almost a week away by fastest steed, and Strabonus's army lie along the path, but Pelias summons a batlike creature to fly him directly to Tarantia.
In Tarantia, Trocero desperately tried to keep the peace as rioters and looters, mystically encouraged by Tsotha-lanti, believed Conan was dead, rampaged through the streets. Prince Arpello made his play for the crown and managed to get the council to surrender when he won the support of the public. Trocero abandoned the city with 1500 soldiers when he realizes he would have to fight the citizens themselves. The chancellor Publius had been imprisoned and heavy taxes laid on the merchants of the city, with anyone protesting hanged. The Pellian army quickly and violently clamped down on the city and when word spread that the Kothian army had taken Shamar, the people turned to Arpello for reassurance, but he simply drank and laughed at them. When a small insurgency headed by the student Athemides is quelled, the young man is smuggled out of the city to the camp of Trocero to plead with him to return. It is then, with Arpello loudly proclaiming from the ramparts that he was king that Conan arrives on the wings of the demon. A shocked Arpello charges Conan, but the true king picks up the Prince and throws him from the castle walls.
The siege of Shamar continues, and although the city is hopelessly outnumbered, its strong walls have prevented it from being entirely overrun. Strabonus grows anxious, as he would like to continue into Aquilonia but doesn't want to leave his back unprotected. Suddenly, a bugle is heard and a galloping army rides from within the country. When Tsotha sees it is Conan leading the charge he realizes Pelias must have helped, and Strabonus desperately sends his men to the attack.
- King Strabonus of Koth
- King Amalrus of Ophir
- Tsotha-lanti, Kothian wizard
- Arbanus, Kothian general
- Shukeli, eunuch servant of Tsotha *
- Pelias, Kothian wizard
- Prince Arpello of Pellia
- Publius, chancellor of Aquilonia
- Athemides, Aquilonian student
No sooner have the mutterings of civil war died down, than Conan receives an urgent plea for help from Aquilonia's ally, King Amalrus of Ophir. King Strabonus of Koth is demonstrating against Ophir's borders, and Conan rides to the rescue with five thousand of Aquilonia's bravest knights, but finds both kings treacherously allied against him on the plain of Shamu. - Conan the Usurper
- The date is the tenth day of the month Yuluk in the year of the Gazelle
- Savage Sword of Conan #30
- King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel (Dark Horse Comics, 2012)