One of the world's great natural storytellers was Robert Ervin Howard
(1906-36) of Cross Plains, Texas. Although Howard was a versatile and
prolific writer - he wrote, for instance, a series of hilarious humorous Western
storie - his narrative sorcery reached its climax in his swashbuckling
adventure-fantasies. Through these tales of swordsman and sorcerers, demons
and dooms stalk his unforgettable, larger-than-life heroes: King Kull of
Valusia, Bran Mak Mom, Solomon Kane - and, mightiest and most colorful of all,
Conan the Cimmerian, hero of over two dozen rousing tales.
Conan is supposed to have lived about twelve thousand years ago, in Howard's imaginary Hyborian Age, between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginning of recorded history. A gigantic barbarian adventurer from the bleak northern land of Cimmeria (see the map), Conan waded through rivers of gore and overcame fell adversaries, both natural and supernatural to become at last the king of the Hyborian Kingdom of Aquilonia.
Eighteen Conan stories were published in Howard's lifetime, and several more have been discovered in manuscript - some complete and some fragmentary - during the last two decades. It has been my privilege to edit these stories for posthumous publication and to complete most of the incomplete ones. Lancer Books plans to bring out the entire Conan saga, which will take about eight volumes, in chronological order. The present volume (about No. 6 in the series) chronologically follows Conan the Warrior and precedes Conan the Conqueror.
Of the four stories in this volume, the first two have complicated histories. In 1951 I discovered, in a stack of unpublished Howard manuscripts in the house of the late Oscar J. Friend, then the literary agent for the Howard estate, a story entitled The Black Stranger! In preparing this manuscript for publication, I edited and rewrote it somewhat drastically, condensing it by more than fifteen per cent and adding a number of interpolations to tie the story in with King Numedides, Thoth-Amon, and the subsequent revolution in Aquilonia, to fit the story snugly into the saga.
The editor of Fantasy Magazine, who first published the story, made further additions and deletions. This version was reprinted in 1953 in the volume King Conan. The magazine editor retained the original title; but, when the story was published in King Conan, I changed the title to The Treasure of Tranicos because Tbe Black Stranger! was confusingly similar to the titles of a numher of other Howard stories, at least a dozen of which had black in their titles.
For the present publication, I have gone back to the original Howard manuscript and have edited it much more lightly, not trying to condense it and making only such changes as seemed urgently necessary. I have omitted the magazine editor's changes; I have, however, kept the interpolations I introduced the first time to tie the story in with the rest of the saga - e.g. Conan's account of his escape from Aquilonia. What you read is, therefore, a good deal closer to Howard's original than the previously published version.
In addition, Glenn Lord, the present literary agent for the Howard estate, found Wolves Beyond the Border in a cache of Howard papers in 1965. The story seemed to be in final draft, but it stopped halfway through (at the fight in the cabin) and gave only a brief summary, of about a page, of the rest. Whether Howard had grown tired of the story and had put it aside, meaning to round it out later, or whether he had something else in mind, will probably never be known. I have undertaken to complete the story in Howardian style, following the summary.
The two remaining stories, The Phoenix on the Sword and The Scarlet Citadel, are - save for a few minor editorial corrections - in the form in which Howard wrote them and Weird Tales published them in the 1930s.
The Conan saga runs as follows: Conan, the son of a Cimmerian blacksmith, was born on a battlefield in that hilly, cloudy land. As a youth be took part in the sack of the Aquilonian frontier post of Venarium. Subsequently, joining in a raid with a band of AEsir into Hyperborea, he was captured by the Hyperboreans. Escaping from the Hyperborean slave pen, he wandered south into Zamora and adjacent countries, making a precarious living as a thief. Green to civilization and quite lawless by nature, be made up for his lack of subtlety and sophistication by natural shrewdness and the herculean physique be had inherited from his father.
Eventually, he enlisted as a mercenary in the army of King Yildiz of Turan. He traveled widely through the Hyrkanian lands and acquired a knowledge of archery and horsemanship. Later he served as a condottiere in the Hyborian lands, led a piratical band of black corsairs on the coast of Kush, and served as a mercenary in Shem and the adjacent countries. He returned to outlawry among the kozaki of the eastern steppes and the pirates of the Sea of Vilayet. After mercenary service for the kingdom of Khauran, he spent two years as a chief of the Zuagirs, the nomadic eastern Shemites. Then followed wild adventures in the eastern lands of Iranistan and Vendhya, in the course of which Conan confronted the Black Seers of Yimsba in the Himelian Mountains.
Returning to the west, Conan again became a freebooter with the Barachan pirates and the Zingaran buccaneers. Then he served again as a mercenary in Stygia and among the black kingdoms. He wandered north to Aquilonia and - now about forty years old - became a scout on the Pictish frontier. When the Picts, with the help of the wizard Zogar Sag, attacked the Aquilonian settlements, Conan tried but failed to save Fort Tuscelan from destruction, but he did save the lives of a number of settlers between the Thunder and Black rivers. At this point, the present book begins.
L. Sprague de Camp