The 1968 Lancer paperback collection Conan the Wanderer begins with “Black Tears”, a short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It was also featured in Orbit Books omnibus The Conan Chronicles 2. The story was later adapted by Roy Thomas and Ernie Chan in issue #38 of The Savage Sword of Conan.
The story picks up right after the events in “A Witch Shall Be Born”. Conan is the chief of the Zaugir, an outlaw band of Kozak horsemen, a role he obtained by usurping their former leader Vladislav. Unbeknownst to Conan, the Zuagir have a traitor in their ranks, a former blood brother of Vladislav named Vardanes. Off page, Vardanes makes a deal with the rival Turanians to have the Zuagir ambushed on a mountain pass.
The story begins with the Turanians lying in wait for Conan and the Zuagir to reach the pass. Once Vardanes reaches safe passage through the pass, the sky is filled with arrows as the remaining Zuagir are attacked. Thankfully, the Zuagir possess the fighting spirit to charge up the hill and crush the weak Turanians. Seeing the disaster, Vardanes rides off to escape the carnage. One enemy is left behind, a former acquaintance of Conan's named Boghra. Conan tricks Boghra into revealing that the traitor was Vardanes.
Conan is later drugged by the Zuagir and left to die in the desert. His Hellbent quest for vengeance against Vardanes wasn't widely supported by his men. After five days of riding, Conan stumbles upon a city rumored to be a myth, a place called Akhlat the Accursed. Dehydrated, Conan falls from exhaustion and is nursed back to health by two of the city's residents. They explain that the city has been cursed by a vampiric force that drains the life from every living thing. Supposedly, their religion states that a man will come to liberate the city, thus Conan is assigned a task. He must destroy the ancient enemy while also finding and killing Vardanes (who just happens to be in the city as well).
Parts of this story reminded me of Robert E. Howard's “The Scarlet Citadel”, especially the inevitable boss-fight in the city's underground tunnels. The stone statue part of the story was reminiscent of “Shadows in the Moonlight”, with a little bit of “Red Nails” thrown in with the inner-city stuff. I really enjoyed the story and found it to be a perfect companion to “A Witch Shall Be Born”. The descriptions of mountains, tunnels, and the “beast” were executed very well. I know some Conan fans really don't like Carter or de Camp's pastiche style, but as I've stated in numerous reviews, I find their work to be enjoyable.
Depending on your timeline, this story is followed by “Shadows in Zamboula” or John Maddox Roberts' Conan and the Manhunters, which takes place in southwest of Turan.
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