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´╗┐Title: Shadows in the Moonlight
Author: Howard, Robert E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shadows in the Moonlight" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                    SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT

                      By Robert E. Howard

    [Transcriber's Note: This etext was first published in Weird Tales
    April 1934. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
    U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



1


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 Irem 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--_ai_, 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
Koth, 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 musk-rats 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 faery-like
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 life-like--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 hawk-like faces. They were naked, and every
swell, depression and contour of joint and sinew was represented with
incredible realism. But the most life-like 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 grass-blades.

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 motley 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 scalp-lock, 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 bale-fire.

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 tusk-like 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, man-like, 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, blood-stained
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 lion-like 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 blood-stained 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 corsair's 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!'





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