"Drums of Tombalku" is an unfinished Conan story by Robert E. Howard which exists as a fragment and a synopsis only. The fragment was bowdlerized when it first appeared.

L. Sprague de Camp completed a novelette of the same title based on these.

Plot Summary

Conan and his comrade Amalric deal with intrigue and magic in the Black Kingdoms as they discover lost cities, rival tribal kings, and living gods.

Detailed Synopsis

  • 1.
    Amalric with his Ghanata tribesmen, Gobir and Saidi, wait at a watering hole in the desert when Tilutan, chief of the Ghanata, rides forth with a captive woman, Lissa. Gobir and Saidu cast dice to see who gets to rape her after Tilutan, but a disgusted Amalric attacks. After a bitter fight that leaves Amalric unconscious, the three Ghanatas lie dead. Lissa tends to Amalric's wounds and when he wakes, she tells him that she fled from the oasis town of Gazal, but tried to return after tasting the heat of the desert, only to collapse and be captured. After a night's rest, they begin the journey to Gazal, and Amalric speaks of how his army was betrayed and his companion Conan was killed. He has been scavenging with the Ghanata for the past month. Quietly, however, he wonders how the girl survived the unforgiving desert with barely a mark of the sun upon her.
  • 2.
    Just before sundown Lissa points out the deserted, run-down towers of Gazal. The disrepair of the city worries Amalric, but when he asks about a more pristine, reddish tower, Lissa frantically forbids him to speak of it. When people begin to emerge from the buildings, they ask of news that, to Amalric, is nearly a millennium old. Lissa guides Amalric into a dim tower and serves him while explaining how the city was settled nine hundred years ago by refugees from Koth, and he is the first outsider since that time. She ran away from the sheltered city to experience life and was captured and chooses to live for the moment in Amalric's arms...
    That night, Amalric is awakened by hideous shrieks of pain and dispair. He leaps to help, but Lissa holds him back, saying that the horror that dwells within the Red Tower is responsible for preying on the citizens, one at a time, until it rules an empty city as the residents are mesmerized against leaving. Amalric does step outside to investigate, but hears Lissa's scream and returns to find her missing. Amalric, reasoning she was taken to the Red Tower, races there, and confronts a white humanoid creature with fire for eyes, who begins to transform into something... more. Amalric recites a binding spell taught to him by a witchdoctor and traps the creature in human form. The enraged monster attacks, but the Aquilonian manages to twist aside and drive his sword into its back. Mortally wounded, the creature bellows a howl, which is returned from afar, frightening Amalric to his core. Lissa runs forward; she had merely screamed and ran when she saw the creature dragging a body through the street and followed Amalric to the tower. The two of them quickly get their stallion and camel and leave the city, prefering the desert to whatever answered those howls. Unfortunately, while still in sight of the walls, they see seven black clad horsemen ride forth, though there were no horses quartered in Gazal. They are chased all day, and as dusk falls, realizing they cannot escape, Amalric turns to face their pursuers, but is shocked when a small army of riders appears and attacks the black riders, who vanish in puffs of smoke. Amalric is stunned when he sees their leader is Conan, now at the head of the nomads who once attacked him! Conan tells his story - he was captured by these men from legendary Tombalku and taken to their dwellings. There, two kings ruled, and while one, Zehbeh, wanted Conan dead, the other, Sakumbe, knew Conan as Amra from his days as a corsair and declared him his friend, angering Zehbeh and the priest Daura. Sakumbe is backed by the influential witch doctor Askia, and his faction wins out. Conan was appointed leader of the horsemen and bears Amalric no will for leaving him behind. He is anxious to bring his friend back to Tombalku to help him train his new army.
  • 3.
    Three days later the group reaches Tombalku, but Conan senses a disturbance. They ride into the city to find the two co-rulers arguing. Vipers have invaded Sakumbe's home, and the witch doctor Askia has divined it to be the work of Zehbeh's priestly ally Daura, who is currently tied to a stake in the middle of the town. Askia chants and summons a demon to punish Daura. As Daura's flesh is devoured by an invisible monster, Zehbeh sneaks away. Sakumbe sends Conan to find the disgraced king after happily accepting Amalric into his army. Unfortunately, Zehbeh is prepared and a swarm of his army tears into the city to help their king. However, they are beaten back by Conan and Sakumbe's men. A bemused Sakumbe puts forth Conan as a new co-king, which gains hearty approval from all save Askia.
  • 4.
    A month goes by, with Amalric taking the role of training the Tombalku army. He returns home one day to find Askia questioning Lissa, and Amalric makes a note to inform Conan of the witch doctor's suspicious activities. He goes to find the two kings, who are drunk and discussing invading Kush; Conan is for it and Sakumbe against. Amalric asks Conan to perform a wedding for he and Lissa, and also informs the kings about Askia's activities. While Conan and Sakumbe are both disturbed by the witch doctor's activities, but their thoughts are interrupted by news of the Aphaki, assisted by Zehbeh, marching towards them. Conan immediately prepares for war.
  • 5.
    As Amalric prepares to take out the army, Askia accuses him of blasphemy for killing the god of Gazal. He fails to persuade Sakumbe to turn against Conan and Amalric, though, especially when Conan notes that Gazal would now be open for invasion. As Sakumbe, Conan, and Amalric make their final plans for the war, Sakumbe suddenly bursts into flames from the inside. Conan swiftly flees with Amalric, knowing that Askia will swiftly turn opinion against them. As they race along the rooftops, they see Askia rallying the citizens, until he is killed by an expertly thrown spear from Conan. The two men find Lissa and flee the city as the Aphaki burst into the town. Conan decides to head for Kush while Amalric and Lissa return to Aquilonia.


  • Conan
  • Amalric, Aquilonian soldier
  • Gobir, Ghanata, tribesman *
  • Saidu, Ghanata tribesman *
  • Tilutan, Ghanata tribesman *
  • Lissa
  • Zehbeh, co-king of Tombalku
  • Sakumbe, co-king of Tombalku *
  • Askia, Tombalkun witch doctor *
  • Daura, Tombalkun priest *

* - dies in this story


Continuity Notes

Eventually, Conan beats his way back to the Hyborian lands. Seeking further employment as a condottiere, he joins a mercenary army that a Zingaran, Prince Zapayo da Kova, is raising for Argos. Argos and Koth are at war with Stygia. The plan is that Koth shall invade Stygia from the north, while the Argossean army enters Stygia from the south by sea. Koth, however, makes a separate peace with Stygia, and the mercenary army is trapped in southern Stygia between two hostile forces. Again, Conan is among the few survivors. Fleeing through the desert with a young Aquilonian soldier, Amalric, he is captured by the desert nomads while Amalric escapes. - Conan the Adventurer

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
"Drums of Tombalku" Next Story:
"The Gem in the Tower"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
"Drums of Tombalku" Next Story:
"The Gem in the Tower"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
"Drums of Tombalku" Next Story:
"The Gem in the Tower"
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"The People of the Black Circle"
"Drums of Tombalku" Next Story:
"The Vale of Lost Women"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Man-Eaters of Zamboula"
"Drums of Tombalku" Next Story:
"The Vale of Lost Women"

Publishing history

Believed complete --Ant 21:36, 28 May 2006 (UTC)
"Drums of Tombalku" (fragment and synopsis) • Robert E. Howard

"Drums of Tombalku" (novelette) • Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
  • The Fantastic SwordsmenPyramid 1967
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