I’ve been enamored with Robert E. Howard’s writing since seeing his name in the credits of Conan The Barbarian and hunting down as many of the Frazetta and Vallejo illustrated paperbacks of his work as I could find in the local used bookstore.
His works have set my imagination racing from the time I was twelve or so.
I blogged a while back about the three pop culture items I would waste money on to mark my career milestones as a writer, and the first tier was the Father’s Sword famously forged in the opening of the John Milius movie to the hammering strains of Basil Poledoruis’s monumental score.
As many of you who follow this must know, I sold my first major professional rate novel, Andersonville, to Random House’s Hydra imprint a couple years ago, and it was published last year, putting me, for a time, ahead of Stephen King in the horror category on Amazon. Yep, I was King for a day.
I really wanted to mark this achievement with my first really foolish purchase of the big old Father’s Sword Windlass put out, but we were in a shaky financial state in Chateau du Erdelac around that time, and my better judgment won out.
I was supremely surprised then, this past Christmas, when one of my two gifts came in a weighty oblong box. My wife and eldest son had gone ahead and chipped in for the sword. On top of that, my uncle, who has always sort of poked fun at my writing aspirations and been pretty blunt in his critiques of my work (he’s not really a fan of ‘weird’ writing), carved a sturdy, rich wood plaque to hang it from and marked the date on the back.
No pics yet, as I haven’t had the time to hang it yet. I’ll post it here when I do. But it was a great gesture.
Anyway, whenever my creativity or enthusiasm wanes, I return to the well that Howard sank. This year, it was partially inspired by the re-reading of the Conan series authors Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward did over on Jones’ blog.
As ever, I have no new praise to heap upon Howard. Every year here at Delirium Tremens, I let the master’s words speak for him.
This year, on the occasion of his birthday and perhaps in celebration of my ‘taking up the sword,’ I present my favorite passages from the King Conan tale The Scarlet Citadel. Conan has been unseated from his throne of Aquilonia by his enemies and a plotting wizard, replaced by a despotic prince and locked away in a dungeon of horrors presumed dead by his subjects and the rest of the world.
In his absence his kingdom wavers at the brink of chaos….
While Athemides pleaded with Trocero, the mob still raved in the city with helpless fury. Under the great tower beside the royal palace the people swirled and milled, screaming their hate at Arpello, who stood on the turrets and laughed down at them while his archers ranged the parapets, bolts drawn and fingers on the triggers of their arbalests.
The prince of Pellia was a broad-built man of medium height, with a dark stern face. He was an intriguer, but he was also a fighter. Under his silken jupon with its gilt-braided skirts and jagged sleeves, glimmered burnished steel. His long black hair was curled and scented, and bound back with a cloth- of-silver band, but at his hip hung a broadsword the jeweled hilt of which was worn with battles and campaigns.
“Fools! Howl as you will! Conan is dead and Arpello is king!”
What if all Aquilonia were leagued against him? He had men enough to hold the mighty walls until Strabonus came up. But Aquilonia was divided against itself. Already the barons were girding themselves each to seize his neighbor’s treasure. Arpello had only the helpless mob to deal with. Strabonus would carve through the loose lines of the warring barons as a galley-ram through foam, and until his coming, Arpello had only to hold the royal capital.
“Fools! Arpello is king!”
The sun was rising over the eastern towers. Out of the crimson dawn came a flying speck that grew to a bat, then to an eagle. Then all who saw screamed in amazement, for over the walls of Tamar swooped a shape such as men knew only in half-forgotten legends, and from between its titan-wings sprang a human form as it roared over the great tower. Then with a deafening thunder of wings it was gone, and the folk blinked, wondering if they dreamed. But on the turret stood a wild barbaric figure, half naked, blood-stained, brandishing a great sword. And from the multitude rose a roar that rocked the towers, “The king! It is the king!”
Arpello stood transfixed; then with a cry he drew and leaped at Conan. With a lion-like roar the Cimmerian parried the whistling blade, then dropping his own sword, gripped the prince and heaved him high above his head by crotch and neck.
“Take your plots to hell with you!” he roared, and like a sack of salt, he hurled the prince of Pellia far out, to fall through empty space for a hundred and fifty feet. The people gave back as the body came hurtling down, to smash on the marble pave, spattering blood and brains, and lie crushed in its splintered armor, like a mangled beetle.
The archers on the tower shrank back, their nerve broken. They fled, and the beleaguered councilmen sallied from the palace and hewed into them with joyous abandon. Pellian knights and men-at-arms sought safety in the streets, and the crowd tore them to pieces. In the streets the fighting milled and eddied, plumed helmets and steel caps tossed among the tousled heads and then vanished; swords hacked madly in a heaving forest of pikes, and over all rose the roar of the mob, shouts of acclaim mingling with screams of blood-lust and howls of agony. And high above all, the naked figure of the king rocked and swayed on the dizzy battlements, mighty arms brandished, roaring with gargantuan laughter that mocked all mobs and princes, even himself.