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"A Witch Shall Be Born" is a novelette, written in late May or early June, 1934, by Robert E. Howard first published in the December, 1934, issue of Weird Tales.

Howard had recently finished the Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon, which was not intended for publication in Weird Tales and the story previous to that, "The People of the Black Circle" which was already scheduled for August. He finished "A Witch Shall Be Born" in only two drafts over a period of days in order to meet editor Farnsworth Wright's demand for another Conan story. Farnsworth, anxious to publish the growing-ever-more-popular Conan tales, accepted it without hesitation, telling Howard it was his best Conan story to date, and made it the cover story for the December issue.

Plot Summary[]

When a sorceress replaces her twin sister as queen of Khauran and embarks on a rule of darkness, an exiled Conan must lead a band of thieves to get revenge.

Detailed Plot[]

  • 1. The Blood-Red Crescent
    Queen Taramis of Khauran is awakened to an image of her long-dead twin sister appearing in her chambers. The apparition gains form and reveals that she is truly her sister, Salome, left to die as a baby in the deserts because of a crescent shaped birthmark on her chest, a cursed sign of witchcraft. She was found and rescued by a magician from Khitai and learned the arts of sorcery. Salome has conspired with the Shemitish mercenary Constantius, called the Falcon, currently camped outside the city, to take over the city state. Queen Taramis is taken to the palace dungeon, with the implication of torture and rape. Salome assumes Taramis' identity as queen of Khauran and appoints Constantius as her royal consort, though she throws her sister at him to please his lust as she orders the doors to be thrown wide open to allow Constantius's army to enter the city unchallenged.
  • 2. The Tree of Death
    Hours later, a wounded soldier named Valerius recounts to his woman, Ivga, how Taramis disbanded the army in favor of Constantius's mercenaries. When Conan, captain of the queen's guard, refused, a fight broke out, though ultimately the Shemite mercenaries won, dragging Conan away. Constanius crucifies Conan and after a day of hanging on the cross, dying of thirst and exposure, Conan is rescued by Olgerd Vladislav, a Zaporoskan outlaw chief of a band of Kozak horseriders. Vladislav has his man Djebal cut the base of the cross, letting fate decide if cross falls forward and crushes Conan or backward to release him. Then, to make sure Conan is worth saving, he forces Conan to ride the ten miles through the desert back to the camp without water or assistance. A determined Conan does so.
  • 3. A Letter to Nemedia
    Over the next seven months, Salome's reign as "Taramis" has plunged the state into ruin. Citizens are killed, tortured or sold as slaves; heavy taxes are imposed and women are frequently debauched by the Shemites. Salome desecrates the temple of Ishtar in the center of the city and summons a demon, Thaug, to live within it. Khaurani citizens are routinely sacrificed to Thaug. Although many believe a demon has possessed Taramis, Valerius suspects the truth, but has since disappeared. The real Taramis remains imprisoned in the dungeon to be emotionally and physically tortured for Salome's pleasure. As she discusses the situation with the mercenary Kumbanigash, one of the few who knows the truth, they are overheard by a supposedly mute and blind beggar - Valerius in the disguise.
  • 4. Wolves of the Desert
    Conan has been expanding the numbers of the Zuagirs as Vladislav's lieutenant, while also communicating with Khaurani knights who had become refugees. When he has sufficient forces he usurps Vladislav but does not kill him in recognition Vladislav having saved Conan's life.
  • 5. The Voice from the Crystal
    Valerius spreads his tale of Salome's takeover of the kingdom to eager listeners and plans to use Conan's approaching attack on the city as a distraction to rescue Taramis. Meanwhile, Constantius prepares to meet Conan's army on the plains, and Salome sends her priest Zang to observe and report on the battle. Conan fakes the construction of siege engines with palm trees and painted silk. Constantius is fooled by this as his scouts cannot get close enough to see them properly and Conan is known to be experienced in all manner of warfare. The mercenary army rides out of the city for an open-field battle with Conan expecting only the lightly armed Zaugirs, but are taken by surprise by Khaurani heavy cavalry hidden amongst them. Conan's forces are victorious. All this is reported to Salome by a panicked Zang, who is soon killed himself. Salome, knowing that the battle has been lost, decides to kill Taramis before Conan can take the city, but stops when she sees Valerius's attempted rescue.
  • 6. The Vulture's Wings
    Salome and her priest interrupt Valerius and take Taramis to the former temple of Ishtar, injuring Valerius in the process. Ivga comes to Valerius's aid, and he manages to kill Salome and her priest, but not before she unleashes Thaug. Luckily, Conan arrives with his Zaugir forces, who kill the demon with two flights of arrows. Taramis offers to make Conan councillor as well as captain but he declines, nominating Valerius instead. Conan, as chief of the Zaugirs, mops up the remaining Shemites and leaves to raid the nearby Turanians. His last act before leaving is to crucify Constantius by the stump of the earlier crucifix.


  • Conan
  • Queen Taramis, Queen of Khauran
  • Salome, Princess of Khauran*
  • Constantius, Shemite mercenary
  • Valerius, Khauranian soldier
  • Ivga, Khauranian
  • Olgerd Vladislav, Zaporoskan outlaw
  • Djebal, outlaw
  • Thaug, demon*
  • Zang, Shemite priest*
  • Kumbanigash, Shemite mercenary

* dies in this story


Continuity Notes[]

  • Conan appropriates a stallion abandoned by one of the Hyrkanian soldiers and heads back by land to the steppes of his kozak friends. But he finds the kozaki still scattered. Yezdigerd, now on he throne of Turan, is already proving himself a far more astute and energetic ruler than his late sire. He is submerging the fortunes and energies of would-be rivals in a program of imperialism, which will eventually make him master of the greatest empire of the Hyborian Age. After some narrow escapes from the far-ranging Turanians, Conan reaches the small border kingdom of Khauran, between the eastern tip of Koth and the steppes and deserts over which the Turanians are methodically extending their control. Soon, Conan wins himself the command of the royal guard of Queen Taramis of Khauran. -- Conan the Freebooter
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Road of the Eagles"
"A Witch Shall Be Born" Next Story:
"Black Tears"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Road of the Eagles"
"A Witch Shall Be Born" Next Story:
"Black Tears"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Road of the Eagles"
"A Witch Shall Be Born" Next Story:
"Black Tears"
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"Shadows in the Moonlight"
"A Witch Shall Be Born" Next Story:
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
"A Witch Shall Be Born" Next Story:
"The Devil in Iron"


Publication History[]