Saturday, March 11, 2023

Conan - The Road of the Eagles (aka Way of the Swords, Conan Man of Destiny)

The December, 1955 Fantastic Universe issue featured an L. Sprague de Camp Conan story called “Conan, Man of Destiny”. This story was taken from a Robert E. Howard manuscript, originally titled “The Road of the Eagles”, discovered by Glenn Lord, about the Ottoman Empire featuring a hero named Ivan Sablianka. Howard's original version was edited by Lord and published in the Donald Grant collection Road of Azrael as “The Way of the Swords”. de Camp changed the title “Conan, Man of Destiny” to “The Road of the Eagles”. That story – de Camp's version – was later published in Lancer's 1968 collection Conan the Freebooter as by both de Camp and Howard. The comic adaptation appears in The Savage Sword of Conan #38

“The Road of the Eagles” continues where “Shadows in the Moonlight” leaves off. Conan and his pirates, now referred to as the Red Brotherhood, are attacked by Yildiz, the king of Turan and his General Artaban. Meanwhile, a young woman named Roxana escapes the ransacking and destruction of her village by a man named Kurusk Khan. Roxana, and a small army of Hyrkanians, runs into Artaban and he explains to her that he was in debt to Yildiz and basically attacked Conan's pirate crew to just pay off debt. Now, he is sort of rethinking his decision to serve Yildiz and wants to go independent and do his own thing with his army. 

With Artaban's change of heart, Roxana also reveals that the chief rival to Yildiz is Prince Teyaspa, her lover. She tells Artaban that Teyaspa is in a dungeon jail and he agrees to assist her with liberating him. While this is happening, Conan, nearly playing a bit part by this point, is running around with his surviving pirates trying to find and kill Yildiz. Here is where the story becomes very complicated and rather convoluted. Which, seems to be a pattern now with de Camp's reworking of Howard's stories that were never meant to feature Conan or The Hyborian Age. 

My understanding is that the castle where Teyaspa is imprisoned is simultaneously attacked by the Hyrkanians wanting revenge for their village destruction and Conan and his Red Brotherhood that want to find and kill Artaban before they seek Yildiz. Then, you have Artaban and Roxana attempting the prison break for Teyaspa. Honestly, this is like Game of Thrones on drugs that just leads to a Shakespeare-styled tragic ending. But, before the suicides (yes, they happen) the best part of the story reveals itself. Conan vs vampires!

Inside the dark cavernous tunnel system below the castle are ravenous hairy cave creatures called brylukas. They are vampiric in nature and attack Conan and his crew. This portion of the narrative is just brimming over with intense action-adventure as the titular hero attempts to climb through the cave's passageways while fighting off these savage monsters. This is more of what I want from Conan – brawn versus monsters, evil men, and sorcerers. Unfortunately, this exhilarating story within the story of Conan's escape from the creatures comes at the very end and is very short-lived. 

“The Road of the Eagles” is an okay read, but requires patience and pen on paper (or a handy phone notepad) just to keep up with who is chasing whom and for what reason – revenge, power, loot, women, etc. If you can dedicate 45 mins of heavy concentration, then the story totally works. If you are looking for just casual escapism, look elsewhere.

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