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"Black Tears" is a short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter featuring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian created by Robert E. Howard. It was first published by Lancer Books in the paperback collection Conan the Wanderer (1968), which was reprinted several times, first by Lancer and later by Ace Books through 1982. It has since been published by Orbit Books in the omnibus paperback collection The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990).

Plot Summary[]

Conan, seeking revenge for the defeat of his army, chases a traitor into the desert and confronts a life-sucking evil in a cursed city.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  • 1. The Jaws of the Trap.
    Amir Boghra Khan lies in wait with his Turanian army for the approach of the Zuagirs led by Conan, who has been betrayed by the former chieftain's blood brother Vardanes. When the Zuagirs reach a pass, the Turanians loose a flight of arrows into the horsemen, who kick up an impenetrable cloud of dust. After a moment's silence as the cloud of dust settles, the Zuagir charge up the small hill of the pass through the dust and plow into the astonished Turanians, slaughtering them to a man save for Boghra, who realizes he had known Conan from a decade ago when both were part of Yilidiz's army. Out of respect for his former comrade, and because he owed Boghra a bag of gold anyway, Conan lets the amir go, but not before he tricks Boghra into revealing Vardanes was the one who betrayed him.
  • 2. The Land of Ghosts.
    For two days Conan and his army chase Vardanes through the red desert sands of Shan-e-Sorkh. Gomer, one of Conan's lieutenants, begs Conan to give up the hunt, as they have entered the cursed Land of Ghosts, the Makan-e-Mordan. Conan, determined to punish Vardanes, refuses, and Gomer, though he respects and idolizes Conan, determines to drug his chieftain and lead the army away.
  • 3. Invisible Death.
    Conan awakens from his stupor to find his superstitious men have abandoned him in the desert, leaving him only two skins of water. He considers his options, and decides to continue on Vardanes's trail. He walks through the scorching sun, conserving his water, for some time.
  • 4. The Deathless Queen.
    For five days, Vardanes, knowing Conan and the Zuagirs are less than a day's ride behind him, and seeing the cloud from their horses in the distance, rides his horse to the point of exhaustion. Eventually he comes across a small city in the midst of a fertile valley hidden in the desert dunes. He realizes he has found the mythical city of Akhlat the Accursed, but while he stares in shock he is accosted by a band of warriors and dragged towards the city gates.
  • 5. The Hand of Zillah.
    A cleansed, healed, and very surprised Conan awakens in a comfortable room in the company of a young woman, Zillah, who tells Conan that her and her father, Enosh, found and tended to the barbarian for the past three days. She takes Conan to see her father.
  • 6. The Thing from Beyond.
    Conan is ushered into Enosh's presence, and the shaykh explains how the city of Akhlat the Holy was founded by an evil priest who convinced the residents of his innocent and good nature, but secretly summoned a demoness to act as a patron god. The demoness broke free of the sorceror's control and has ruled the city for hundreds of years, leeching the lifeforce from plants, animals, and men alike, leaving just enough alive to continually sustain her. The lush land has turned to desert, and the young are sacrificed to the demoness's hunger on a regular basis. She is invulnerable, but a prophecy has told of Akhlat's liberator, and that man is Conan.
  • 7. Hall of the Living Dead.
    Vardanes spends several days and nights in a cell, trying in vain to bribe the guards, and though they feed him well, they ignore his pleas. Eventually, however, they drag him to a magnificent hall filled with valuable statues and a throne of gold. An almost mummified corpse sits propped up in the throne wearing a three-eyed mask with magnificent jewels. Even though Vardanes hears cries and moans from the darkness, he briefly forgets his fear as his greed takes over and he snatches the mask. Suddenly, the creature in the throne opens all three eyes...
  • 8. The Face of the Gorgon
    Conan is ultimately convinced to aid Enosh when told that Vardanes has been captured and is an intended victim of the goddess - Conan hasn't come this far to lose his chance at vengeance. He makes his way through secret passages to the hall of statues. He stalks the room, hearing the same cries and wails that Vardanes did, and suddenly realizes they come from the statues; they are stone from the neck down, but the heads are alive! In fact, Conan sees Vardanes, wailing uncontrollably, as his legs and torso slowly change into stone. On the throne, the demoness's wrinkled features smooth out as she drains the lifeforce from Vardanes. Conan leaps forward and beheads Vardanes and turns his attention to the now young woman on the throne.
  • 9. The Third Eye
    Conan finds himself falling into the abyss of the gorgon's third eye, but with a tremendous act of will manages to glance away. The creature simply laughs at him, but stops laughing when Conan, using the golden mask as a guide, slashes at her third eye. Moments later, a black ichor begins to pour from the eye and the creature ages instantly into dust. The statues, kept alive by her sorcery, lapse into death as well. Conan, after saying goodbye to Enosh and Zillah and refilling his waterskins, decides to head for Zamboula.


  • Conan
  • Amir Boghra Khan, Turanian general
  • Vardanes, Zamorian raider *
  • Gomer of Akharia, Shemite raider
  • Zillah, Akhlatim daughter of Enosh
  • Enosh, Akhlatim shaykh
  • A demoness *

* dies in this story


  • Shan-e-Sorkh (the Red Waste), desert of Turan
    • Makan-e-Mordan (the Plain of Ghosts)
    • Akhlat the Accursed

Continuity Notes[]

  • After the events narrated in "A Witch Shall Be Born", Conan leads his band of Zuagirs eastward to raid the cities and caravans of the Turanians. He is about thirty-one years old at this time and at the height of his physical prowress. He spends, altogether, nearly two years with the desert Shemites, first as Olgerd's lieutenant and then as their sole chieftain. But the fierce and energetic King Yezdigard reacts swiftly to Conan's pinpricks; he sends out a strong force to entrap him. - Conan the Wanderer
  • It is about a year after "A Witch Shall Be Born".
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"
"Black Tears" Next Story:
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"
"Black Tears" Next Story:
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"
"Black Tears" Next Story:
Conan and the Manhunters


  • Savage Sword of Conan #35 • Marvel Comics, 1978
    • Reprinted Conan Saga #44 • Marvel Comics, 1990
    • Reprinted The Savage Sword of Conan (collection) #3 • Dark Horse, 2008

Publication history[]