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Title: Conan - Shadows In The Moonlight
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Date first posted: May 2006
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SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT
By Robert E. Howard



I

A swift crashing of horses through the tall reeds; a heavy fall, a
despairing cry. From the dying steed there staggered up its rider, a
slender girl in sandals and girdled tunic. Her dark hair fell over her
white shoulders, her eyes were those of a trapped animal. She did not
look at the jungle of reeds that hemmed in the little clearing, nor at
the blue waters that lapped the low shore behind her. Her wide-eyed
gaze was fixed in agonized intensity on the horseman who pushed
through the reedy screen and dismounted before her.

He was a tall man, slender, but hard as steel. From head to heel he
was clad in light silvered mesh mail that fitted his supple form like
a glove. From under the dome-shaped, gold-chased helmet his brown eyes
regarded her mockingly.

"Stand back!" her voice shrilled with terror. "Touch me not, Shah
Amurath, or I will throw myself into the water and drown!"

He laughed, and his laughter was like the purr of a sword sliding from
a silken sheath.

"No, you will not drown, Olivia, daughter of confusion, for the marge
is too shallow, and I can catch you before you can reach the deeps.
You gave me a merry chase, by the gods, and all my men are far behind
us. But there is no horse west of Vilayet that can distance Item for
long." He nodded at the tall, slender-legged desert stallion behind
him.

"Let me go!" begged the girl, tears of despair staining her face.
"Have I not suffered enough? Is there any humiliation, pain or
degradation you have not heaped on me? How long must my torment last?"

"As long as I find pleasure in your whimperings, your pleas, tears and
writhings," he answered with a smile that would have seemed gentle to
a stranger. "You are strangely virile, Olivia. I wonder if I shall
ever weary of you, as I have always wearied of women before. You are
ever fresh and unsullied, in spite of me. Each new day with you brings
a new delight.

"But come--let us return to Akif, where the people are still feting
the conqueror of the miserable kozaki; while he, the conqueror, is
engaged in recapturing a wretched fugitive, a foolish, lovely, idiotic
runaway!"

"No!" She recoiled, turning toward the waters lapping bluely among the
reeds.

"Yes!" His flash of open anger was like a spark struck from flint.
With a quickness her tender limbs could not approximate, he caught her
wrist, twisting it in pure wanton cruelty until she screamed and sank
to her knees.

"Slut! I should drag you back to Akif at my horse's tail, but I will
be merciful and carry you on my saddle-bow, for which favor you shall
humbly thank me, while--"

He released her with a startled oath and sprang back, his saber
flashing out, as a terrible apparition burst from the reedy jungle
sounding an inarticulate cry of hate.

Olivia, staring up from the ground, saw what she took to be either a
savage or a madman advancing on Shah Amurath in an attitude of deadly
menace. He was powerfully built, naked but for a girdled loincloth,
which was stained with blood and crusted with dried mire. His black
mane was matted with mud and clotted blood; there were streaks of
dried blood on his chest and limbs, dried blood on the long straight
sword he gripped in his right hand. From under the tangle of his
locks, bloodshot eyes glared like coals of blue fire.

"You Hyrkanian dog!" mouthed this apparition in a barbarous accent.
"The devils of vengeance have brought you here!"

"Kozak!" ejaculated Shah Amurath, recoiling. "I did not know a dog of
you escaped! I thought you all lay stiff on the steppe, by Ilbars
River."

"All but me, damn you!" cried the other. "Oh, I've dreamed of such a
meeting as this, while I crawled on my belly through the brambles, or
lay under rocks while the ants gnawed my flesh, or crouched in the
mire up to my mouth--I dreamed, but never hoped it would come to pass.
Oh, gods of Hell, how I have yearned for this!"

The stranger's bloodthirsty joy was terrible to behold. His jaws
champed spasmodically, froth appeared on his blackened lips.

"Keep back!" ordered Shah Amurath, watching him narrowly.

"Ha!" It was like the bark of a timber wolf. "Shah Amurath, the great
Lord of Akif! Oh, damn you, how I love the sight of you--you, who fed
my comrades to the vultures, who tore them between wild horses,
blinded and maimed and mutilated them all, you dog, you filthy dog!"
His voice rose to a maddened scream, and he charged.

In spite of the terror of his wild appearance, Olivia looked to see
him fall at the first crossing of the blades. Madman or savage, what
could he do, naked, against the mailed chief of Akif?

There was an instant when the blades flamed and licked, seeming barely
to touch each other and leap apart; then the broadsword flashed past
the saber and descended terrifically on Shah Amurath's shoulder.
Olivia cried out at the fury of that stroke. Above the crunch of the
rending mail, she distinctly heard the snap of the shoulder bone. The
Hyrkanian reeled back, suddenly ashen, blood spurting over the links
of his hauberk; his saber slipped from his nerveless fingers.

"Quarter!" he gasped.

"Quarter?" There was a quiver of frenzy in the stranger's voice.
"Quarter such as you gave us, you swine!"

Olivia closed her eyes. This was no longer battle, but butchery,
frantic, bloody, impelled by an hysteria of fury and hate, in which
culminated the sufferings of battle, massacre, torture, and fear-
ridden, thirst-maddened, hunger-haunted flight. Though Olivia knew
that Shah Amurath deserved no mercy or pity from any living creature,
yet she closed her eyes and pressed her hands over her ears, to shut
out the sight of that dripping sword that rose and fell with the sound
of a butcher's cleaver, and the gurgling cries that dwindled away and
ceased.

She opened her eyes, to see the stranger turning away from a gory
travesty that only vaguely resembled a human being. The man's breast
heaved with exhaustion or passion; his brow was beaded with sweat; his
right hand was splashed with blood.

He did not speak to her, or even glance toward her. She saw him stride
through the reeds that grew at the water's edge, stoop, and tug at
something. A boat wallowed out of its hiding place among the stalks.
Then she divined his intention, and was galvanized into action.

"Oh, wait!" she wailed, staggering up and running toward him. "Do not
leave me! Take me with you!"

He wheeled and stared at her. There was a difference in his bearing.
His bloodshot eyes were sane. It was as if the blood he had just shed
had quenched the fire of his frenzy.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"I am called Olivia. I was his captive. I ran away. He followed me.
That's why he came here. Oh, do not leave me here! His warriors are
not far behind him. They will find his corpse--they will find me near
it--oh!" She moaned in her terror and wrung her white hands.

He stared at her in perplexity.

"Would you be better off with me?" he demanded. "I am a barbarian, and
I know from your looks that you fear me."

"Yes, I fear you," she replied, too distracted to dissemble. "My flesh
crawls at the horror of your aspect. But I fear the Hyrkanians more.
Oh, let me go with you! They will put me to the torture if they find
me beside their dead lord."

"Come, then." He drew aside, and she stepped quickly into the boat,
shrinking from contact with him. She seated herself in the bow, and he
stepped into the boat, pushed off with an oar, and using it as a
paddle, worked his way tortuously among the tall stalks until they
glided out into open water. Then he set to work with both oars, rowing
with great, smooth, even strokes, the heavy muscles of arms and
shoulders and back rippling in rhythm to his exertions.

There was silence for some time, the girl crouching in the bows, the
man tugging at the oars. She watched him with timorous fascination. It
was evident that he was not an Hyrkanian, and he did not resemble the
Hyborian races. There was a wolfish hardness about him that marked the
barbarian. His features, allowing for the strains and stains of battle
and his hiding in the marshes, reflected that same untamed wildness,
but they were neither evil nor degenerate.

"Who are you?" she asked. "Shah Amurath called you a kozak; were you
of that band?"

"I am Conan, of Cimmeria," he grunted. "I was with the kozaki, as the
Hyrkanian dogs called us."

She knew vaguely that the land he named lay far to the northwest,
beyond the farthest boundaries of the different kingdoms of her race.

"I am a daughter of the King of Ophir," she said. "My father sold me
to a Shemite chief, because I would not marry a prince of Koth."

The Cimmerian grunted in surprize.

Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. "Aye, civilized men sell their
children as slaves to savages, sometimes. They call your race
barbaric, Conan of Cimmeria."

"We do not sell our children," he growled, his chin jutting
truculently.

"Well--I was sold. But the desert man did not misuse me. He wished to
buy the good will of Shah Amurath, and I was among the gifts he
brought to Akif of the purple gardens. Then--" She shuddered and hid
her face in her hands.

"I should be lost to all shame," she said presently. "Yet each memory
stings me like a slaver's whip. I abode in Shah Amurath's palace,
until some weeks agone he rode out with his hosts to do battle with a
band of invaders who were ravaging the borders of Turan. Yesterday he
returned in triumph, and a great fete was made to honor him. In the
drunkenness and rejoicing, I found an opportunity to steal out of the
city on a stolen horse. I had thought to escape--but he followed, and
about midday came up with me. I outran his vassals, but him I could
not escape. Then you came."

"I was lying hid in the reeds," grunted the barbarian. "I was one of
those dissolute rogues, the Free Companions, who burned and looted
along the borders. There were five thousand of us, from a score of
races and tribes. We had been serving as mercenaries for a rebel
prince in eastern Korb, most of us, and when he made peace with his
cursed sovereign, we were out of employment; so we took to plundering
the outlying dominions of Koth, Zamora and Turan impartially. A week
ago Shah Amurath trapped us near the banks of Ilbars with fifteen
thousand men. Mitra! The skies were black with vultures. When the
lines broke, after a whole day of fighting, some tried to break
through to the north, some to the west. I doubt if any escaped. The
steppes were covered with horsemen riding down the fugitives. I broke
for the east, and finally reached the edge of the marshes that border
this part of Vilayet.

"I've been hiding in the morasses ever since. Only the day before
yesterday the riders ceased beating up the reed-brakes, searching for
just such fugitives as I. I've squirmed and burrowed and hidden like a
snake, feasting on muskrats I caught and ate raw, for lack of fire to
cook them. This dawn I found this boat hidden among the reeds. I
hadn't intended going out on the sea until night, but after I killed
Shah Amurath, I knew his mailed dogs would be close at hand."

"And what now?"

"We shall doubtless be pursued. If they fail to see the marks left by
the boat, which I covered as well as I could, they'll guess anyway
that we took to sea, after they fail to find us among the marshes. But
we have a start, and I'm going to haul at these oars until we reach a
safe place."

"Where shall we find that?" she asked hopelessly. "Vilayet is an
Hyrkanian pond."

"Some folk don't think so," grinned Conan grimly; "notably the slaves
that have escaped from galleys and become pirates."

"But what are your plans?"

"The southwestern shore is held by the Hyrkanians for hundreds of
miles. We still have a long way to go before we pass beyond their
northern boundaries. I intend to go northward until I think we have
passed them. Then we'll turn westward, and try to land on the shore
bordered by the uninhabited steppes."

"Suppose we meet pirates, or a storm?" she asked. "And we shall starve
on the steppes."

"Well," he reminded her, "I didn't ask you to come with me."

"I am sorry." She bowed her shapely dark head. "Pirates, storms,
starvation--they are--all kinder than the people of Turan."

"Aye." His dark face grew somber. "I haven't done with them yet. Be at
ease, girl. Storms are rare on Vilayet at this time of year. If we
make the steppes, we shall not starve. I was reared in a naked land.
It was those cursed marshes, with their stench and stinging flies,
that nigh unmanned me. I am at home in the high lands. As for
pirates--" He grinned enigmatically, and bent to the oars.

The sun sank like a dull-glowing copper ball into a lake of fire. The
blue of the sea merged with the blue of the sky, and both turned to
soft dark velvet, clustered with stars and the mirrors of stars.
Olivia reclined in the bows of the gently rocking boat, in a state
dreamy and unreal. She experienced an illusion that she was floating
in midair, stars beneath her as well as above. Her silent companion
was etched vaguely against the softer darkness. There was no break or
falter in the rhythm of his oars; he might have been a fantasmal
oarsman, rowing her across the dark lake of Death. But the edge of her
fear was dulled, and, lulled by the monotony of motion, she passed
into a quiet slumber.

Dawn was in her eyes when she awakened, aware of a ravenous hunger. It
was a change in the motion of the boat that had roused her; Conan was
resting on his oars, gazing beyond her. She realized that he had rowed
all night without pause, and marvelled at his iron endurance. She
twisted about to follow his stare, and saw a green wall of trees and
shrubbery rising from the water's edge and sweeping away in a wide
curve, enclosing a small bay whose waters lay still as blue glass.

"This is one of the many islands that dot this inland sea," said
Conan. "They are supposed to be uninhabited. I've heard the Hyrkanians
seldom visit them. Besides, they generally hug the shores in their
galleys, and we have come a long way. Before sunset we were out of
sight of the mainland."

With a few strokes he brought the boat in to shore and made the
painter fast to the arching root of a tree which rose from the water's
edge. Stepping ashore, he reached out a hand to help Olivia. She took
it, wincing slightly at the bloodstains upon it, feeling a hint of the
dynamic strength that lurked in the barbarian's thews.

A dreamy quiet lay over the woods that bordered the blue bay. Then
somewhere, far back among the trees, a bird lifted its morning song. A
breeze whispered through the leaves, and set them to murmuring. Olivia
found herself listening intently for something, she knew not what.
What might be lurking amid those nameless woodlands?

As she peered timidly into the shadows between the trees, something
swept into the sunlight with a swift whirl of wings: a great parrot
which dropped on to a leafy branch and swayed there, a gleaming image
of jade and crimson. It turned its crested head sidewise and regarded
the invaders with glittering eyes of jet.

"Crom!" muttered the Cimmerian. "Here is the grandfather of all
parrots. He must be a thousand years old! Look at the evil wisdom of
his eyes. What mysteries do you guard, Wise Devil?"

Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its
perch, cried out harshly: "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!" and with a
wild screech of horribly human laughter, rushed away through the trees
to vanish in the opalescent shadows.

Olivia stared after it, feeling the cold hand of nameless foreboding
touch her supple spine.

"What did it say?" she whispered.

"Human words, I'll swear," answered Conan; "but in what tongue I can't
say."

"Nor I," returned the girl. "Yet it must have learned them from human
lips. Human, or--" she gazed into the leafy fastness and shuddered
slightly, without knowing why.

"Crom, I'm hungry!" grunted the Cimmerian. "I could eat a whole
buffalo. We'll look for fruit; but first I'm going to cleanse myself
of this dried mud and blood. Hiding in marshes is foul business."

So saying, he laid aside his sword, and wading out shoulder-deep into
the blue water, went about his ablutions. When he emerged, his clean-
cut bronze limbs shone, his streaming black mane was no longer matted.
His blue eyes, though they smoldered with unquenchable fire, were no
longer murky or bloodshot. But the tigerish suppleness of limb and
the dangerous aspect of feature were not altered.

Strapping on his sword once more, he motioned the girl to follow him,
and they left the shore, passing under the leafy arches of the great
branches. Underfoot lay a short green sward which cushioned their
tread. Between the trunks of the trees they caught glimpses of faerylike vistas.

Presently Conan grunted in pleasure at the sight of golden and russet
globes hanging in clusters among the leaves. Indicating that the girl
should seat herself on a fallen tree, he filled her lap with the
exotic delicacies, and then himself fell to with unconcealed gusto.

"Ishtar!" said he, between mouthfuls. "Since Ilbars I have lived on
rats, and roots I dug out of the stinking mud. This is sweet to the
palate, though not very filling. Still, it will serve if we eat
enough."

Olivia was too busy to reply. The sharp edge of the Cimmerian's hunger
blunted, he began to gaze at his fair companion with more interest
than previously, noting the lustrous clusters of her dark hair, the
peach-bloom tints of her dainty skin, and the rounded contours of her
lithe figure which the scanty silk tunic displayed to full advantage.

Finishing her meal, the object of his scrutiny looked up, and meeting
his burning, slit-eyed gaze, she changed color and the remnants of the
fruit slipped from her fingers.

Without comment, he indicated with a gesture that they should continue
their explorations, and rising, she followed him out of the trees and
into a glade, the farther end of which was bounded by a dense thicket.
As they stepped into the open there was a ripping crash in this
thicket, and Conan, bounding aside and carrying the girl with him,
narrowly saved them from something that rushed through the air and
struck a tree trunk with a thunderous impact.

Whipping out his sword, Conan bounded across the glade and plunged
into the thicket. Silence ensued, while Olivia crouched on the sward,
terrified and bewildered. Presently Conan emerged, a puzzled scowl on
his face.

"Nothing in that thicket," he growled. "But there was something--"

He studied the missile that had so narrowly missed them, and grunted
incredulously, as if unable to credit his own senses. It was a huge
block of greenish stone which lay on the sward at the foot of the
tree, whose wood its impact had splintered.

"A strange stone to find on an uninhabited island," growled Conan.

Olivia's lovely eyes dilated in wonder. The stone was a symmetrical
block, indisputably cut and shaped by human hands. And it was
astonishingly massive. The Cimmerian grasped it with both hands, and
with legs braced and the muscles standing out on his arms and back in
straining knots, he heaved it above his head and cast it from him,
exerting every ounce of nerve and sinew. It fell a few feet in front
of him. Conan swore.

"No man living could throw that rock across this glade. It's a task
for siege engines. Yet here there are no mangonels or ballistas."

"Perhaps it was thrown by some such engine from afar," she suggested.

He shook his head. "It didn't fall from above. It came from yonder
thicket. See how the twigs are broken? It was thrown as a man might
throw a pebble. But who? What? Come!"

She hesitantly followed him into the thicket. Inside the outer ring of
leafy brush, the undergrowth was less dense. Utter silence brooded
over all. The springy sward gave no sign of footprint. Yet from this
mysterious thicket had hurtled that boulder, swift and deadly. Conan
bent closer to the sward, where the grass was crushed down here and
there. He shook his head angrily. Even to his keen eyes it gave no
clue as to what had stood or trodden there. His gaze roved to the
green roof above their heads, a solid ceiling of thick leaves and
interwoven arches. And he froze suddenly.

Then rising, sword in hand, he began to back away, thrusting Olivia
behind him.

"Out of here, quick!" he urged in a whisper that congealed the girl's
blood.

"What is it? What do you see?"

"Nothing," he answered guardedly, not halting his wary retreat.

"But what is it, then? What lurks in this thicket?"

"Death!" he answered, his gaze still fixed on the brooding jade arches
that shut out the sky.

Once out of the thicket, he took her hand and led her swiftly through
the thinning trees, until they mounted a grassy slope, sparsely treed,
and emerged upon a low plateau, where the grass grew taller and the
trees were few and scattered. And in the midst of that plateau rose a
long broad structure of crumbling greenish stone.

They gazed in wonder. No legends named such a building on any island
of Vilayet. They approached it warily, seeing that moss and lichen
crawled over the stones, and the broken roof gaped to the sky. On all
sides lay bits and shards of masonry, half hidden in the waving grass,
giving the impression that once many buildings rose there, perhaps a
whole town. But now only the long hall-like structure rose against the
sky, and its walls leaned drunkenly among the crawling vines.

Whatever doors had once guarded its portals had long rotted away.
Conan and his companion stood in the broad entrance and stared inside.
Sunlight streamed in through gaps in the walls and roof, making the
interior a dim weave of light and shadow. Grasping his sword firmly,
Conan entered, with the slouching gait of a hunting panther, sunken
head and noiseless feet. Olivia tiptoed after him.

Once within, Conan grunted in surprize, and Olivia stifled a scream.

"Look! Oh, look!"

"I see," he answered. "Nothing to fear. They are statues."

"But how lifelike--and how evil!" she whispered, drawing close to
him.

They stood in a great hall, whose floor was of polished stone,
littered with dust and broken stones, which had fallen from the
ceiling. Vines, growing between the stones, masked the apertures. The
lofty roof, flat and undomed, was upheld by thick columns, marching in
rows down the sides of the walls. And in each space between these
columns stood a strange figure.

They were statues, apparently of iron, black and shining as if
continually polished. They were life-sized, depicting tall, lithely
powerful men, with cruel hawklike faces. They were naked, and every
swell, depression and contour of joint and sinew was represented with
incredible realism. But the most lifelike feature was their proud,
intolerant faces. These features were not cast in the same mold. Each
face possessed its own individual characteristics, though there was a
tribal likeness between them all. There was none of the monotonous
uniformity of decorative art, in the faces at least.

"They seem to be listening--and waiting!" whispered the girl uneasily.

Conan rang his hilt against one of the images.

"Iron," he pronounced. "But Crom! In what molds were they cast?"

He shook his head and shrugged his massive shoulders in puzzlement.

Olivia glanced timidly about the great silent hall. Only the ivy-grown
stones, the tendril-clasped pillars, with the dark figures brooding
between them, met her gaze. She shifted uneasily and wished to be
gone, but the images held a strange fascination for her companion. He
examined them in detail, and barbarian-like, tried to break off their
limbs. But their material resisted his best efforts. He could neither
disfigure nor dislodge from its niche a single image. At last he
desisted, swearing in his wonder.

"What manner of men were these copied from?" he inquired of the world
at large. "These figures are black, yet they are not like negroes. I
have never seen their like."

"Let us go into the sunlight," urged Olivia, and he nodded, with a
baffled glance at the brooding shapes along the walls.

So they passed out of the dusky hall into the clear blaze of the
summer sun. She was surprized to note its position in the sky; they
had spent more time in the ruins than she had guessed.

"Let us take to the boat again," she suggested. "I am afraid here. It
is a strange evil place. We do not know when we may be attacked by
whatever cast the rock."

"I think we're safe as long as we're not under the trees," he
answered. "Come."

The plateau, whose sides fell away toward the wooded shores on the
east, west and south, sloped upward toward the north to abut on a
tangle of rocky cliffs, the highest point of the island. Thither Conan
took his way, suiting his long stride to his companion's gait. From
time to time his glance rested inscrutably upon her, and she was aware
of it.

They reached the northern extremity of the plateau, and stood gazing
up the steep pitch of the cliffs. Trees grew thickly along the rim of
the plateau east and west of the cliffs, and clung to the precipitous
incline. Conan glanced at these trees suspiciously, but he began the
ascent, helping his companion on the climb. The slope was not sheer,
and was broken by ledges and boulders. The Cimmerian, born in a hill
country, could have run up it like a cat, but Olivia found the going
difficult. Again and again she felt herself lifted lightly off her
feet and over some obstacle that would have taxed her strength to
surmount, and her wonder grew at the sheer physical power of the man.
She no longer found his touch repugnant. There was a promise of
protection in his iron clasp.

At last they stood on the ultimate pinnacle, their hair stirring in
the sea wind. From their feet the cliffs fell away sheerly three or
four hundred feet to a narrow tangle of woodlands bordering the beach.
Looking southward they saw the whole island lying like a great oval
mirror, its bevelled edges sloping down swiftly into a rim of green,
except where it broke in the pitch of the cliffs. As far as they could
see, on all sides stretched the blue waters, still, placid, fading
into dreamy hazes of distance.

"The sea is still," sighed Olivia. "Why should we not take up our
journey again?"

Conan, poised like a bronze statue on the cliffs, pointed northward.
Straining her eyes, Olivia saw a white fleck that seemed to hang
suspended in the aching haze.

"What is it?"

"A sail."

"Hyrkanians?"

"Who can tell, at this distance?"

"They will anchor here--search the island for us!" she cried in quick
panic.

"I doubt it. They come from the north, so they can not be searching
for us. They may stop for some other reason, in which case we'll have
to hide as best we can. But I believe it's either pirate, or an
Hyrkanian galley returning from some northern raid. In the latter case
they are not likely to anchor here. But we can't put to sea until
they've gone out of sight, for they're coming from the direction in
which we must go. Doubtless they'll pass the island tonight, and at
dawn we can go on our way."

"Then we must spend the night here?" she shivered.

"It's safest."

"Then let us sleep here, on the crags," she urged.

He shook his head, glancing at the stunted trees, at the marching
woods below, a green mass which seemed to send out tendrils straggling
up the sides of the cliffs.

"Here are too many trees. We'll sleep in the ruins."

She cried out in protest.

"Nothing will harm you there," he soothed. "Whatever threw the stone
at us did not follow us out of the woods. There was nothing to show
that any wild thing lairs in the ruins. Besides, you are soft-skinned,
and used to shelter and dainties. I could sleep naked in the snow and
feel no discomfort, but the dew would give you cramps, were we to
sleep in the open."

Olivia helplessly acquiesced, and they descended the cliffs, crossed
the plateau and once more approached the gloomy, age-haunted ruins. By
this time the sun was sinking below the plateau rim. They had found
fruit in the trees near the cliffs, and these formed their supper,
both food and drink.

The southern night swept down quickly, littering the dark blue sky
with great white stars, and Conan entered the shadowy ruins, drawing
the reluctant Olivia after him. She shivered at the sight of those
tense black shadows in their niches along the walls. In the darkness
that the starlight only faintly touched, she could not make out their
outlines; she could only sense their attitude of waiting--waiting as
they had waited for untold centuries.

Conan had brought a great armful of tender branches, well leafed.
These he heaped to make a couch for her, and she lay upon it, with a
curious sensation as of one lying down to sleep in a serpent's lair.

Whatever her forebodings, Conan did not share them. The Cimmerian sat
down near her, his back against a pillar, his sword across his knees.
His eyes gleamed like a panther's in the dusk.

"Sleep, girl," said he. "My slumber is light as a wolf's. Nothing can
enter this hall without awaking me."

Olivia did not reply. From her bed of leaves she watched the immobile
figure, indistinct in the soft darkness. How strange, to move in
fellowship with a barbarian, to be cared for and protected by one of a
race, tales of which had frightened her as a child! He came of a
people bloody, grim and ferocious. His kinship to the wild was
apparent in his every action; it burned in his smoldering eyes. Yet he
had not harmed her, and her worst oppressor had been a man the world
called civilized. As a delicious languor stole over her relaxing limbs
and she sank into foamy billows of slumber, her last waking thought
was a drowsy recollection of the firm touch of Conan's fingers on her
soft flesh.



2

Olivia dreamed, and through her dreams crawled a suggestion of lurking
evil, like a black serpent writhing through flower gardens. Her dreams
were fragmentary and colorful, exotic shards of a broken, unknown
pattern, until they crystalized into a scene of horror and madness,
etched against a background of cyclopean stones and pillars.

She saw a great hall, whose lofty ceiling was upheld by stone columns
marching in even rows along the massive walls. Among these pillars
fluttered great green and scarlet parrots, and the hall was thronged
with black-skinned, hawk-faced warriors. They were not negroes.
Neither they nor their garments nor weapons resembled anything of the
world the dreamer knew.

They were pressing about one bound to a pillar: a slender white-
skinned youth, with a cluster of golden curls about his alabaster
brow. His beauty was not altogether human--like the dream of a god,
chiseled out of living marble.

The black warriors laughed at him, jeered and taunted in a strange
tongue. The lithe naked form writhed beneath their cruel hands. Blood
trickled down the ivory thighs to spatter on the polished floor. The
screams of the victim echoed through the hall; then lifting his head
toward the ceiling and the skies beyond, he cried out a name in an
awful voice. A dagger in an ebon hand cut short his cry, and the
golden head rolled on the ivory breast.

As if in answer to that desperate cry, there was a rolling thunder as
of celestial chariot wheels, and a figure stood before the slayers, as
if materialized out of empty air. The form was of a man, but no mortal
man ever wore such an aspect of inhuman beauty. There was an
unmistakable resemblance between him and the youth who dropped
lifeless in his chains, but the alloy of humanity that softened the
godliness of the youth was lacking in the features of the stranger,
awful and immobile in their beauty.

The blacks shrank back before him, their eyes slits of fire. Lifting a
hand, he spoke, and his tones echoed through the silent halls in deep
rich waves of sound. Like men in a trance the black warriors fell back
until they were ranged along the walls in regular lines. Then from the
stranger's chiseled lips rang a terrible invocation and command:
"Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!"

At the blast of that awful cry, the black figures stiffened and froze.
Over their limbs crept a curious rigidity, an unnatural petrification.
The stranger touched the limp body of the youth, and the chains fell
away from it. He lifted the corpse in his arms; then ere he turned
away, his tranquil gaze swept again over the silent rows of ebony
figures, and he pointed to the moon, which gleamed in through the
casements. And they understood, those tense, waiting statues that had
been men . . .

Olivia awoke, starting up on her couch of branches, a cold sweat
beading her skin. Her heart pounded loud in the silence. She glanced
wildly about. Conan slept against his pillar, his head fallen upon his
massive breast. The silvery radiance of the late moon crept through
the gaping roof, throwing long white lines along the dusty floor. She
could see the images dimly, black, tense--waiting. Fighting down a
rising hysteria, she saw the moonbeams rest lightly on the pillars and
the shapes between.

What was that? A tremor among the shadows where the moonlight fell. A
paralysis of horror gripped her, for where there should have been the
immobility of death, there was movement: a slow twitching, a flexing
and writhing of ebon limbs--an awful scream burst from her lips as she
broke the bonds that held her mute and motionless. At her shriek Conan
shot erect, teeth gleaming, sword lifted.

"The statues! The statues!--Oh my God, the statues are coming to
life!"

And with the cry she sprang through a crevice in the wall, burst madly
through the hindering vines, and ran, ran, ran blind, screaming,
witless--until a grasp on her arm brought her up short and she
shrieked and fought against the arms that caught her, until a familiar
voice penetrated the mists of her terror, and she saw Conan's face, a
mask of bewilderment in the moonlight.

"What in Crom's name, girl? Did you have a nightmare?” His voice
sounded strange and far away. With a sobbing gasp she threw her arms
about his thick neck and clung to him convulsively, crying in panting
catches.

"Where are they? Did they follow us?"

"Nobody followed us," he answered.

She sat up, still clinging to him, and looked fearfully about. Her
blind flight had carried her to the southern edge of the plateau. Just
below them was the slope, its foot masked in the thick shadows of the
woods. Behind them she saw the ruins looming in the high-swinging
moon.

"Did you not see them?--The statues, moving, lifting their hands,
their eyes glaring in the shadows?"

"I saw nothing," answered the barbarian uneasily. "I slept more
soundly than usual, because it has been so long since I have slumbered
the night through; yet I don't think anything could have entered the
hall without waking me."

"Nothing entered," a laugh of hysteria escaped her. "It was something
there already. Ah, Mitra, we lay down to sleep among them, like sheep
making their bed in the shambles!"

"What are you talking about?" he demanded. "I woke at your cry, but
before I had time to look about me, I saw you rush out through the
crack in the wall. I pursued you, lest you come to harm. I thought you
had a nightmare."

"So I did!" she shivered. "But the reality was more grisly than the
dream. Listen!" And she narrated all that she had dreamed and thought
to see.

Conan listened attentively. The natural skepticism of the
sophisticated man was not his. His mythology contained ghouls,
goblins and necromancers. After she had finished, he sat silent,
absently toying with his sword.

"The youth they tortured was like the tall man who came?" he asked at
last.

"As like as son to father," she answered, and hesitantly: "If the mind
could conceive of the offspring of a union of divinity with humanity,
it would picture that youth. The gods of old times mated sometimes
with mortal women, our legends tell us."

"What gods?" he muttered.

"The nameless, forgotten ones. Who knows? They have gone back into the
still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs
beyond the stars. Gods are no more stable than men."

"But if these shapes were men, blasted into iron images by some god or
devil, how can they come to life?"

"There is witchcraft in the moon," she shuddered. "He pointed at the
moon; while the moon shines on them, they live. So I believe."

"But we were not pursued," muttered Conan, glancing toward the
brooding ruins. "You might have dreamed they moved. I am of a mind to
return and see."

"No, no!" she cried, clutching him desperately. "Perhaps the spell
upon them holds them in the hall. Do not go back! They will rend you
limb from limb! Oh, Conan, let us go into our boat and flee this awful
island! Surely the Hyrkanian ship has passed us now! Let us go!"

So frantic was her pleading that Conan was impressed. His curiosity in
regard to the images was balanced by his superstition. Foes of flesh
and blood he did not fear, however great the odds, but any hint of the
supernatural roused all the dim monstrous instincts of fear that are
the heritage of the barbarian.

He took the girl's hand and they went down the slope and plunged into
the dense woods, where the leaves whispered, and nameless night-birds
murmured drowsily. Under the trees the shadows clustered thick, and
Conan swerved to avoid the denser patches. His eyes roved continuously
from side to side, and often flitted into the branches above them. He
went quickly yet warily, his arm girdling the girl's waist so strongly
that she felt as if she were being carried rather than guided. Neither
spoke. The only sound was the girl's quick nervous panting, the rustle
of her small feet in the grass. So they came through the trees to the
edge of the water, shimmering like molten silver in the moonlight.

"We should have brought fruit for food," muttered Conan; "but
doubtless we'll find other islands. As well leave now as later; it's
but a few hours till dawn--"

His voice trailed away. The painter was still made fast to the looping
root. But at the other end was only a smashed and shattered ruin, half
submerged in the shallow water.

A stifled cry escaped Olivia. Conan wheeled and faced the dense
shadows, a crouching image of menace. The noise of the night-birds was
suddenly silent. A brooding stillness reigned over the woods. No
breeze moved the branches, yet somewhere the leaves stirred faintly.

Quick as a great cat, Conan caught up Olivia and ran. Through the
shadows he raced like a phantom, while somewhere above and behind them
sounded a curious rushing among the leaves, that implacably drew
closer and closer. Then the moonlight burst full upon their faces, and
they were speeding up the slope of the plateau.

At the crest Conan laid Olivia down, and turned to glare back at the
gulf of shadows they had just quitted. The leaves shook in a sudden
breeze; that was all. He shook his mane with an angry growl. Olivia
crept to his feet like a frightened child. Her eyes looked up at him,
dark wells of horror.

"What are we to do, Conan?" she whispered.

He looked at the ruins, stared again into the woods below.

"We'll go to the cliffs," he declared, lifting her to her feet.
"Tomorrow I'll make a raft, and we'll trust our luck to the sea
again."

"It was not--not they that destroyed our boat?" It was half question,
half assertion.

He shook his head, grimly taciturn.

Every step of the way across that moon-haunted plateau was a sweating
terror for Olivia, but no black shapes stole subtly from the looming
ruins, and at last they reached the foot of the crags, which rose
stark and gloomily majestic above them. There Conan halted in some
uncertainty, at last selecting a place sheltered by a broad ledge,
nowhere near any trees.

"Lie down and sleep if you can, Olivia," he said. "I'll keep watch."

But no sleep came to Olivia, and she lay watching the distant ruins
and the wooded rim until the stars paled, the east whitened, and dawn
in rose and gold struck fire from the dew on the grassblades.

She rose stiffly, her mind reverting to all the happenings of the
night. In the morning light some of its terrors seemed like figments
of an overwrought imagination. Conan strode over to her, and his words
electrified her.

"Just before dawn I heard the creak of timbers and the rasp and clack
of cordage and oars. A ship has put in and anchored at the beach not
far away--probably the ship whose sail we saw yesterday. We'll go up
the cliffs and spy on her."

Up they went, and lying on their bellies among the boulders, saw a
painted mast jutting up beyond the trees to the west.

"An Hyrkanian craft, from the cut of her rigging," muttered Conan. "I
wonder if the crew--"

A distant medley of voices reached their ears, and creeping to the
southern edge of the cliffs, they saw a molly horde emerge from the
fringe of trees along the western rim of the plateau, and stand there
a space in debate. There was much flourishing of arms, brandishing of
swords, and loud rough argument. Then the whole band started across
the plateau toward the ruins, at a slant that would take them close by
the foot of the cliffs.

"Pirates!" whispered Conan, a grim smile on his thin lips. "It's an
Hyrkanian galley they've captured. Here--crawl among these rocks.

"Don't show yourself unless I call to you," he instructed, having
secreted her to his satisfaction among a tangle of boulders along the
crest of the cliffs. "I'm going to meet these dogs. If I succeed in my
plan, all will be well, and we'll sail away with them. If I don't
succeed--well, hide yourself in the rocks until they're gone, for no
devils on this island are as cruel as these sea-wolves."

And tearing himself from her reluctant grasp, he swung quickly down
the cliffs.

Looking fearfully from her eyrie, Olivia saw the band had neared the
foot of the cliffs. Even as she looked, Conan stepped out from among
the boulders and faced them, sword in hand. They gave back with yells
of menace and surprize; then halted uncertainly to glare at this
figure which had appeared so suddenly from the rocks. There were some
seventy of them, a wild horde made up of men from many nations:
Kothians, Zamorians, Brythunians, Corinthians, Shemites. Their
features reflected the wildness of their natures. Many bore the scars
of the lash or the branding iron. There were cropped ears, slit noses,
gaping eye sockets, stumps of wrists--marks of the hangman as well as
scars of battle. Most of them were half naked, but the garments they
wore were fine; gold-braided jackets, satin girdles, silken breeches,
tattered, stained with tar and blood, vied with pieces of silver-
chased armor. Jewels glittered in nose-rings and ear-rings, and in the
hilts of their daggers.

Over against this bizarre mob stood the tall Cimmerian in strong
contrast with his hard bronzed limbs and clean-cut vital features.

"Who are you?" they roared.

"Conan the Cimmerian!" His voice was like the deep challenge of a
lion. "One of the Free Companions. I mean to try my luck with the Red
Brotherhood. Who's your chief?"

"I, by Ishtar!" bellowed a bull-like voice, as a huge figure swaggered
forward: a giant, naked to the waist, where his capacious belly was
girdled by a wide sash that upheld voluminous silken pantaloons. His
head was shaven except for a scalplock, his mustaches dropped over a
rat-trap mouth. Green Shemitish slippers with upturned toes were on
his feet, a long straight sword in his hand.

Conan stared and glared.

"Sergius of Khrosha, by Crom!"

"Aye, by Ishtar!" boomed the giant, his small black eyes glittering
with hate. "Did you think I had forgot? Ha! Sergius never forgets an
enemy. Now I'll hang you up by the heels and skin you alive. At him,
lads!"

"Aye, send your dogs at me, big-belly," sneered Conan with bitter
scorn, "You were always a coward, you Kothic cur."

"Coward! To me?" The broad face turned black with passion. "On guard,
you northern dog! I'll cut out your heart!"

In an instant the pirates had formed a circle about the rivals, their
eyes blazing, their breath sucking between their teeth in bloodthirsty
enjoyment. High up among the crags Olivia watched, sinking her nails
into her palms in her painful excitement.

Without formality the combatants engaged, Sergius coming in with a
rush, quick on his feet as a giant cat, for all his bulk. Curses
hissed between his clenched teeth as he lustily swung and parried.
Conan fought in silence, his eyes slits of blue balefire.

The Kothian ceased his oaths to save his breath. The only sounds were
the quick scuff of feet on the sward, the panting of the pirate, the
ring and clash of steel. The swords flashed like white fire in the
early sun, wheeling and circling. They seemed to recoil from each
other's contact, then leap together again instantly. Sergius was
giving back; only his superlative skill had saved him thus far from
the blinding speed of the Cimmerian's onslaught. A louder clash of
steel, a sliding rasp, a choking cry from the pirate horde, a fierce
yell split the morning as Conan's sword plunged through their
captain's massive body. The point quivered an instant from between
Sergius's shoulders, a hand's breadth of white fire in the sunlight;
then the Cimmerian wrenched back his steel and the pirate chief fell
heavily, face down, and lay in a widening pool of blood, his broad
hands twitching for an instant.

Conan wheeled toward the gaping corsairs.

"Well, you dogs!" he roared. "I've sent your chief to hell. What says
the law of the Red Brotherhood?"

Before any could answer, a rat-faced Brythunian, standing behind his
fellows, whirled a sling swiftly and deadly. Straight as an arrow sped
the stone to its mark, and Conan reeled and fell as a tall tree falls
to the woodsman's ax. Up on the cliff Olivia caught at the boulders
for support. The scene swam dizzily before her eyes; all she could see
was the Cimmerian lying limply on the sward, blood oozing from his
head.

The rat-faced one yelped in triumph and ran to stab the prostrate man,
but a lean Corinthian thrust him back.

"What, Aratus, would you break the law of the Brotherhood, you dog?"

"No law is broken," snarled the Brythunian.

"No law? Why, you dog, this man you have just struck down is by just
rights our captain!"

"Nay!" shouted Aratus. "He was not of our band, but an outsider. He
had not been admitted to fellowship. Slaying Sergius does not make him
captain, as would have been the case had one of us killed him."

"But he wished to join us," retorted the Corinthian. "He said so."

At that a great clamor arose, some siding with Aratus, some with the
Corinthian, whom they called Ivanos. Oaths flew thick, challenges were
passed, hands fumbled at sword hilts.

At last a Shemite spoke up above the clamor: "Why do you argue over a
dead man?"

"He's not dead," answered the Corinthian, rising from beside the
prostrate Cimmerian. "It was a glancing blow; he's only stunned."

At that the clamor rose anew, Aratus trying to get at the senseless
man and Ivanos finally bestriding him, sword in hand, and defying all
and sundry. Olivia sensed that it was not so much in defense of Conan
that the Corinthian took his stand, but in opposition to Aratus.
Evidently these men had been Sergius's lieutenants, and there was no
love lost between them. After more arguments, it was decided to bind
Conan and take him along with them, his fate to be voted on later.

The Cimmerian, who was beginning to regain consciousness, was bound
with leather girdles, and then four pirates lifted him, and with many
complaints and curses, carried him along with the band, which took up
its journey across the plateau once more. The body of Sergius was left
where it had fallen; a sprawling, unlovely shape on the sun-washed
sward.

Up among the rocks, Olivia lay stunned by the disaster. She was
incapable of speech or action, and could only lie there and stare with
horrified eyes as the brutal horde dragged her protector away.

How long she lay there, she did not know. Across the plateau she saw
the pirates reach the ruins and enter, dragging their captive. She saw
them swarming in and out of the doors and crevices, prodding into the
heaps of debris, and clambering about the walls. After awhile a score
of them came back across the plateau and vanished among the trees on
the western rim, dragging the body of Sergius after them, presumably
to cast into the sea. About the ruins the others were cutting down
trees and securing material for a fire. Olivia heard their shouts,
unintelligible in the distance, and she heard the voices of those who
had gone into the woods, echoing among the trees. Presently they came
back into sight, bearing casks of liquor and leathern sacks of food.
They headed for the ruins, cursing lustily under their burdens.

Of all this Olivia was but mechanically cognizant. Her overwrought
brain was almost ready to collapse. Left alone and unprotected, she
realized how much the protection of the Cimmerian had meant to her.
There intruded vaguely a wonderment at the mad pranks of Fate, that
could make the daughter of a king the companion of a red-handed
barbarian. With it came a revulsion toward her own kind. Her father,
and Shah Amurath, they were civilized men. And from them she had had
only suffering. She had never encountered any civilized man who
treated her with kindness unless there was an ulterior motive behind
his actions. Conan had shielded her, protected her, and--so far--
demanded nothing in return. Laying her head in her rounded arms she
wept, until distant shouts of ribald revelry roused her to her own
danger.

She glanced from the dark ruins about which the fantastic figures,
small in the distance, weaved and staggered, to the dusky depths of
the green forest. Even if her terrors in the ruins the night before
had been only dreams, the menace that lurked in those green leafy
depths below was no figment of nightmare. Were Conan slain or carried
away captive, her only choice would lie between giving herself up to
the human wolves of the sea, or remaining alone on that devil-haunted
island.

As the full horror of her situation swept over her, she fell forward
in a swoon.



3

The sun was hanging low when Olivia regained her senses. A faint wind
wafted to her ears distant shouts and snatches of ribald song. Rising
cautiously, she looked out across the plateau. She saw the pirates
clustered about a great fire outside the ruins, and her heart leaped
as a group emerged from the interior dragging some object she knew was
Conan. They propped him against the wall, still evidently bound fast,
and there ensued a long discussion, with much brandishing of weapons.
At last they dragged him back into the hall, and took up anew the
business of ale-guzzling. Olivia sighed; at least she knew that the
Cimmerian still lived. Fresh determination steeled her. As soon as
night fell, she would steal to those grim ruins and free him or be
taken herself in the attempt. And she knew it was not selfish interest
alone which prompted her decision.

With this in mind she ventured to creep from her refuge to pluck and
eat nuts which grew sparsely near at hand. She had not eaten since the
day before. It was while so occupied that she was troubled by a
sensation of being watched. She scanned the rocks nervously, then,
with a shuddering suspicion, crept to the north edge of the cliff and
gazed down into the waving green mass below, already dusky with the
sunset. She saw nothing; it was impossible that she could be seen,
when not on the cliff's edge, by anything lurking in those woods. Yet
she distinctly felt the glare of hidden eyes, and felt that something
animate and sentient was aware of her presence and her hiding-place.

Stealing back to her rocky eyrie, she lay watching the distant ruins
until the dusk of night masked them, and she marked their position by
the flickering flames about which black figures leaped and cavorted
groggily.

Then she rose. It was time to make her attempt. But first she stole
back to the northern edge of the cliffs, and looked down into the
woods that bordered the beach. And as she strained her eyes in the dim
starlight, she stiffened, and an icy hand touched her heart.

Far below her something moved. It was as if a black shadow detached
itself from the gulf of shadows below her. It moved slowly up the
sheer face of the cliff--a vague bulk, shapeless in the semi-darkness.
Panic caught Olivia by the throat, and she struggled with the scream
that tugged at her lips. Turning, she fled down the southern slope.

That flight down the shadowed cliffs was a nightmare in which she slid
and scrambled, catching at jagged rocks with cold fingers. As she tore
her tender skin and bruised her soft limbs on the rugged boulders over
which Conan had so lightly lifted her, she realized again her
dependence on the iron-thewed barbarian. But this thought was but one
in a fluttering maelstrom of dizzy fright.

The descent seemed endless, but at last her feet struck the grassy
levels, and in a very frenzy of eagerness she sped away toward the
fire that burned like the red heart of night. Behind her, as she fled,
she heard a shower of stones rattle down the steep slope, and the
sound lent wings to her heels. What grisly climber dislodged those
stones she dared not try to think.

Strenuous physical action dissipated her blind terror somewhat and
before she had reached the ruin, her mind was clear, her reasoning
faculties alert, though her limbs trembled from her efforts.

She dropped to the sward and wriggled along on her belly until, from
behind a small tree that had escaped the axes of the pirates, she
watched her enemies. They had completed their supper, but were still
drinking, dipping pewter mugs or jewelled goblets into the broken
heads of the wine casks. Some were already snoring drunkenly on the
grass, while others had staggered into the ruins. Of Conan she saw
nothing. She lay there, while the dew formed on the grass about her
and the leaves overhead, and the men about the fire cursed, gambled
and argued. There were only a few about the fire; most of them had
gone into the ruins to sleep.

She lay watching them, her nerves taut with the strain of waiting, the
flesh crawling between her shoulders at the thought of what might be
watching her in turn--of what might be stealing up behind her. Time
dragged on leaden feet. One by one the revellers sank down in drunken
slumber, until all were stretched senseless beside the dying fire.

Olivia hesitated--then was galvanized by a distant glow rising through
the trees. The moon was rising!

With a gasp she rose and hurried toward the ruins. Her flesh crawled
as she tiptoed among the drunken shapes that sprawled beside the
gaping portal. Inside were many more; they shifted and mumbled in
their besotted dreams, but none awakened as she glided among them. A
sob of joy rose to her lips as she saw Conan. The Cimmerian was wide
awake, bound upright to a pillar, his eyes gleaming in the faint
reflection of the waning fire outside.

Picking her way among the sleepers, she approached him. Lightly as she
had come, he had heard her; had seen her when first framed in the
portal. A faint grin touched his hard lips.

She reached him and clung to him an instant. He felt the quick beating
of her heart against his breast. Through a broad crevice in the wall
stole a beam of moonlight, and the air was instantly supercharged with
subtle tension. Conan felt it and stiffened. Olivia felt it and
gasped. The sleepers snored on. Bending quickly, she drew a dagger
from its senseless owner's belt, and set to work on Conan's bonds.
They were sail cords, thick and heavy, and tied with the craft of a
sailor. She toiled desperately, while the tide of moonlight crept
slowly across the floor toward the feet of the crouching black figures
between the pillars.

Her breath came in gasps; Conan's wrists were free, but his elbows and
legs were still bound fast. She glanced fleetingly at the figures
along the walls--waiting, waiting. They seemed to watch her with the
awful patience of the undead. The drunkards beneath her feet began to
stir and groan in their sleep. The moonlight crept down the hall,
touching the black feet. The cords fell from Conan's arms, and taking
the dagger from her, he ripped the bonds from his legs with a single
quick slash. He stepped out from the pillar, flexing his limbs,
stoically enduring the agony of returning circulation. Olivia crouched
against him, shaking like a leaf. Was it some trick of the moonlight
that touched the eyes of the black figures with fire, so that they
glimmered redly in the shadows?

Conan moved with the abruptness of a jungle cat. Catching up his sword
from where it lay in a stack of weapons near by, he lifted Olivia
lightly from her feet and glided through an opening that gaped in the
ivy-grown wall.

No word passed between them. Lifting her in his arms he set off
swiftly across the moon-bathed sward. Her arms about his iron neck,
the Ophirean closed her eyes, cradling her dark curly head against his
massive shoulder. A delicious sense of security stole over her.

In spite of his burden, the Cimmerian crossed the plateau swiftly, and
Olivia, opening her eyes, saw that they were passing under the shadow
of the cliffs.

"Something climbed the cliffs," she whispered. "I heard it scrambling
behind me as I came down."

"We'll have to chance it," he grunted.

"I am not afraid--now," she sighed.

"You were not afraid when you came to free me, either," he answered.
"Crom, what a day it has been! Such haggling and wrangling I never
heard. I'm nearly deaf. Aratus wished to cut out my heart, and Ivanos
refused, to spite Aratus, whom he hates. All day long they snarled and
spat at one another, and the crew quickly grew too drunk to vote
either way--"

He halted suddenly, an image of bronze in the moonlight. With a quick
gesture he tossed the girl lightly to one side and behind him. Rising
to her knees on the soft sward, she screamed at what she saw.

Out of the shadows of the cliffs moved a monstrous shambling bulk--an
anthropomorphic horror, a grotesque travesty of creation.

In general outline it was not unlike a man. But its face, limned in
the bright moonlight, was bestial, with close-set ears, flaring
nostrils, and a great flabby-lipped mouth in which gleamed white  tusklike fangs. It was covered with shaggy grayish hair, shot with silver
which shone in the moonlight, and its great misshapen paws hung nearly
to the earth. Its bulk was tremendous; as it stood on its short bowed
legs, its bullet head rose above that of the man who faced it; the
sweep of the hairy breast and giant shoulders was breathtaking; the
huge arms were like knotted trees.

The moonlight scene swam, to Olivia's sight. This, then, was the end
of the trail--for what human being could withstand the fury of that
hairy mountain of thews and ferocity? Yet as she stared in wide-eyed
horror at the bronzed figure facing the monster, she sensed a kinship
in the antagonists that was almost appalling. This was less a struggle
between man and beast than a conflict between two creatures of the
wild, equally merciless and ferocious. With a flash of white tusks,
the monster charged.

The mighty arms spread wide as the beast plunged, stupefyingly quick
for all his vast bulk and stunted legs.

Conan's action was a blur of speed Olivia's eye could not follow. She
only saw that he evaded that deadly grasp, and his sword, flashing
like a jet of white lightning, sheared through one of those massive
arms between shoulder and elbow. A great spout of blood deluged the
sward as the severed member fell, twitching horribly, but even as the
sword bit through, the other malformed hand locked in Conan's black
mane.

Only the iron neck muscles of the Cimmerian saved him from a broken
neck that instant. His left hand darted out to clamp on the beast's
squat throat, his left knee was jammed hard against the brute's hairy
belly. Then began a terrific struggle, which lasted only seconds, but
which seemed like ages to the paralyzed girl.

The ape maintained his grasp in Conan's hair, dragging him toward the
tusks that glistened in the moonlight. The Cimmerian resisted this
effort, with his left arm rigid as iron, while the sword in his right
hand, wielded like a butcher knife, sank again and again into the
groin, breast and belly of his captor. The beast took its punishment
in awful silence, apparently unweakened by the blood that gushed from
its ghastly wounds. Swiftly the terrible strength of the anthropoid
overcame the leverage of braced arm and knee. Inexorably Conan's arm
bent under the strain; nearer and nearer he was drawn to the slavering
jaws that gaped for his life. Now the blazing eyes of the barbarian
glared into the bloodshot eyes of the ape. But as Conan tugged vainly
at his sword, wedged deep in the hairy body, the frothing jaws snapped
spasmodically shut, an inch from the Cimmerian's face, and he was
hurled to the sward by the dying convulsions of the monster.

Olivia, half fainting, saw the ape heaving, thrashing and writhing,
gripping, manlike, the hilt that jutted from its body. A sickening
instant of this, then the great bulk quivered and lay still.

Conan rose and limped over to the corpse. The Cimmerian breathed
heavily, and walked like a man whose joints and muscles have been
wrenched and twisted almost to their limit of endurance. He felt his
bloody scalp and swore at the sight of the long, black, red-stained
strands still grasped in the monster's shaggy hand.

"Crom!" he panted. "I feel as if I'd been racked! I'd rather fight a
dozen men. Another instant and he'd have bitten off my head. Blast
him, he's torn a handful of my hair out by the roots."

Gripping his hilt with both hands he tugged and worked it free. Olivia
stole close to clasp his arm and stare down wide-eyed at the sprawling
monster.

"What--what is it?" she whispered.

"A gray man-ape," he grunted. "Dumb, and man-eating. They dwell in the
hills that border the eastern shore of this sea. How this one got to
this island, I can't say. Maybe he floated here on driftwood, blown
out from the mainland in a storm."

"And it was he that threw the stone?"

"Yes; I suspected what it was when we stood in the thicket and I saw
the boughs bending over our heads. These creatures always lurk in the
deepest woods they can find, and seldom emerge. What brought him into
the open, I can't say, but it was lucky for us; I'd have had no chance
with him among the trees."

"It followed me," she shivered. "I saw it climbing the cliffs."

"And following his instinct, he lurked in the shadow of the cliff,
instead of following you out across the plateau. His kind are
creatures of darkness and the silent places, haters of sun and moon."

"Do you suppose there are others?"

"No, else the pirates had been attacked when they went through the
woods. The gray ape is wary, for all his strength, as shown by his
hesitancy in falling upon us in the thicket. His lust for you must
have been great, to have driven him to attack us finally in the open.
What--"

He started and wheeled back toward the way they had come. The night
had been split by an awful scream. It came from the ruins.

Instantly there followed a mad medley of yells, shrieks and cries of
blasphemous agony. Though accompanied by a ringing of steel, the
sounds were of massacre rather than battle.

Conan stood frozen, the girl clinging to him in a frenzy of terror.
The clamor rose to a crescendo of madness, and then the Cimmerian
turned and went swiftly toward the rim of the plateau, with its fringe
of moon-limned trees. Olivia's legs were trembling so that she could
not walk; so he carried her, and her heart calmed its frantic pounding
as she nestled into his cradling arms.

They passed under the shadowy forest, but the clusters of blackness
held no terrors, the rifts of silver discovered no grisly shape.
Night-birds murmured slumberously. The yells of slaughter dwindled
behind them, masked in the distance to a confused jumble of sound.
Somewhere a parrot called, like an eery echo: "Yagkoolan yok tha,
xuthalla!" So they came to the tree-fringed water's edge and saw the
galley lying at anchor, her sail shining white in the moonlight.
Already the stars were paling for dawn.



4

In the ghastly whiteness of dawn a handful of tattered, bloodstained
figures staggered through the trees and out on to the narrow beach.
There were forty-four of them, and they were a cowed and demoralized
band. With panting haste they plunged into the water and began to wade
toward the galley, when a stern challenge brought them up standing.

Etched against the whitening sky they saw Conan the Cimmerian standing
in the bows, sword in hand, his black mane tossing in the dawn wind.

"Stand!" he ordered. "Come no nearer. What would you have, dogs?"

"Let us come aboard!" croaked a hairy rogue fingering a bloody stump
of ear. "We'd be gone from this devil's island."

"The first man who tries to climb over the side, I'll split his
skull," promised Conan.

They were forty-four to one, but he held the whip-hand. The fight had
been hammered out of them.

"Let us come aboard, good Conan," whined a red-sashed Zamorian,
glancing fearfully over his shoulder at the silent woods. "We have
been so mauled, bitten, scratched and rended, and are so weary from
fighting and running, that not one of us can lift a sword."

"Where is that dog Aratus?" demanded Conan.

"Dead, with the others! It was devils fell upon us! They were rending
us to pieces before we could awake--a dozen good rovers died in their
sleep. The ruins were full of flame-eyed shadows, with tearing fangs
and sharp talons."

"Aye!" put in another corsair. "They were the demons of the isle,
which took the forms of molten images, to befool us. Ishtar! We lay
down to sleep among them. We are no cowards. We fought them as long as
mortal man may strive against the powers of darkness. Then we broke
away and left them tearing at the corpses like jackals. But surely
they'll pursue us."

"Aye, let us come aboard!" clamored a lean Shemite. "Let us come in
peace, or we must come sword in hand, and though we be so weary you
will doubtless slay many of us, yet you can not prevail against us
many."

"Then I'll knock a hole in the planks and sink her," answered Conan
grimly. A frantic chorus of expostulation rose, which Conan silenced
with a lionlike roar.

"Dogs! Must I aid my enemies? Shall I let you come aboard and cut out
my heart?"

"Nay, nay!" they cried eagerly. "Friends--friends, Conan. We are thy
comrades! We be all lusty rogues together. We hate the King of Turan,
not each other."

Their gaze hung on his brown, frowning face.

"Then if I am one of the Brotherhood," he grunted, "the laws of the
Trade apply to me; and since I killed your chief in fair fight, then I
am your captain!"

There was no dissent. The pirates were too cowed and battered to have
any thought except a desire to get away from that island of fear.
Conan's gaze sought out the bloodstained figure of the Corinthian.

"How, Ivanos!" he challenged. "You took my part, once. Will you uphold
my claims again?"

"Aye, by Mitra!" The pirate, sensing the trend of feeling, was eager
to ingratiate himself with the Cimmerian. "He is right, lads; he is
our lawful captain!"

A medley of acquiescence rose, lacking enthusiasm perhaps, but with
sincerity accentuated by the feel of the silent woods behind them
which might mask creeping ebony devils with red eyes and dripping
talons.

"Swear by the hilt," Conan demanded.

Forty-four sword hilts were lifted toward him, and forty-four voices
blended in the corsairs’ oath of allegiance.

Conan grinned and sheathed his sword. "Come aboard, my bold
swashbucklers, and take the oars."

He turned and lifted Olivia to her feet, from where she had crouched
shielded by the gunwales.

"And what of me, sir?" she asked.

"What would you?" he countered, watching her narrowly.

"To go with you, wherever your path may lie!" she cried, throwing her
white arms about his bronzed neck.

The pirates, clambering over the rail, gasped in amazement.

"To sail a road of blood and slaughter?" he questioned. "This keel
will stain the blue waves crimson wherever it plows."

"Aye, to sail with you on blue seas or red," she answered
passionately. "You are a barbarian, and I am an outcast, denied by my
people. We are both pariahs, wanderers of earth. Oh, take me with
you!"

With a gusty laugh he lifted her to his fierce lips.

"I'll make you Queen of the Blue Sea! Cast off there, dogs! We'll
scorch King Yildiz's pantaloons yet, by Crom!"



THE END




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