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Hawks Over Shem is a Conan novelette by L. Sprague de Camp based on a Diego de Guzman story, "Hawks Over Egypt", by Robert E. Howard; it is usually credited to Howard and de Camp. The story was first published in Fantastic Universe Science Fiction in October, 1955.

Plot Summary[]

Conan pursues General Othbaal, an ally turned traitor, into the city of Asgalun. He allies himself with Mazdak, one of two other generals involved in a power struggle serving under mad King Akhirom. Conan and Mazdak eliminate the other generals, before causing Akhirom to be overthrown in a coup d'état. Soon, Conan must flee Asgulun, and a potentially profitable alliance with Mazdak, when it's discovered that he is actually Amra; a pirate who fleeced many nearby city-states.

Detailed Synopsis[]

A Hyrkanian traveler stops suddenly in the streets of Asgalun and confronts Conan, who he believes has been following him. Conan denies the accusation, just as four large Kushites arrive to kill them both. Conan and the stranger, Farouz, who's an archer, defeat the Kushites. Farouz removes a ring from their leader, Keluka, and the two men head toward safer territory.

At the nearly empty tavern (because the king has banned wine) of Khanoon, Conan tells Farouz he's in Asgalun to hunt down a man named Othbaal, who betrayed his Akkharia's troops and fled into Asgalun for protection under his cousin, the mad King Akhirom. Farouz tells Conan how Othbaal's position has risen quickly in Asgalun, while being involved in a three-way power struggle between himself, Mazdak (commander of the Hyrkanian troops and Farouz's master), and the Kushite general Imbalayo.

Conan and Farouz sneak into the walled inner-city later that night, via the secret tunnel underneath a canal leading into Othbaal's house. After dispatching a bodyguard, they surprise Othbaal, who, although in the middle of entertaining a slave girl, grabs his sword and holds Conan at bay while Farouz prevents reinforcements from entering the room. Farouz notices the woman, a slave girl named Rufia who once belonged to Mazdak, sneak out through a secret passage. After Conan kills Othbaal in the resulting duel, both men race for the now-revealed door. Before they leave, however, Farouz leaves the ring he stole from Keluka by Othbaal's body.

Rufia steals through the city, aware of the ban on women in the streets, reflecting on her journey from slave girl to consort for one of the most powerful men in Asgalun. She runs into a hooded figure, who, though surprised to see a woman on the streets of the city, takes her somewhere safe. Rufia notes that several men are following them, but the stranger tells her not to worry as he leads her into the doorway of a palace. Inside, he throws back his hood to reveal himself to be King Akhirom and has his men, who were following, arrest Rufia.

Inside the palace, as Akhirom berates Rufia for breaking his laws, she kneels before the king and calls him a god. In his madness, Akhirom thoughtfully agrees with Rufia and forgives her sin. He then sends servants to the temple of Pteor to inform the priests of their new god and destroy all false idols.

Abdashtarth, high priest of Pteor, finds himself bound in front of an idol to his bull-headed god, which is currently being set aflame by Akhirom's soldiers, as his former assistant, Mattenbaal, declares Akhirom a god. Abdashtarth protests against this act of blasphemy, while the soldiers toss his body into the fire. This sparks a riot in the watching crowd and Mattenbaal is struck by a hurled stone. The rioters are dispersed by a cavalry of Kushites led by Imbalayo, who also takes the opportunity to loot the residences.

Word is brought to Akhirom on the discovery of Othbaal's corpse, in addition to Keluka's ring, which places suspicion upon his fellow Kushite Imbalayo. However, Akhirom declares himself beyond such petty intrigues.

Conan sneaks through the Kushite patrolled city until he finds Farouz eating alone at a cookshop. Conan greets the man as General Mazdak, showing he has guessed Farouz's secret. He knew the house of Othbaal too well; it was previously Mazdak's residence. Conan offers his services to Mazdak in killing Imbalayo, although Mazdak is uncertain such a plan is wise at the moment. Mazdak leaves as Conan dines, and he overhears a conversation about how the local Anakian soldiers bristle working with Imbalayo's Kushite interlopers, and are likely poised to revolt. He also hears about how Akhirom has tossed aside Zeriti (a Kushite witch) in favor of Rufia, which has infuriated her. Conan decides to find Zeriti, and returns through the secret passage under the canal into the inner city. Unfortunately, he takes a wrong turn into one of the palace rooms and finds six armed Kushites.

In his private chamber, Akhirom (now clad in a white robe) declares himself above weak concepts such as love and dismisses Rufia from his bed, giving her to Imbalayo. A terrified Rufia is dragged away by the Kushite general. However, as he heads towards his room, Imbalayo is confronted by Zeriti, who wishes to purchase Rufia, and threatens the general with fabricated proof of his involvement in Othbaal's murder unless he hands over the slave. Imbalayo does so, and Zeriti has Akhirom's servants take the girl to her home.

Conan plunges through a window into a garden, then heaves himself over a wall to escape his pursuers. He finds his way into Zeriti's house and is let in. As he waits, Conan hears the sounds of a woman screaming in pain. Acting quickly, he begins to search the residence.

Zeriti halts her torture of Rufia to summon a creature from the smoky darkness. Soon, she's interrupted by the sounds of fighting from outside. Imbalayo bursts into the chamber, relating how the city is rioting and demanding Rufia back. He seemingly stabs the witch to death, just in time to see Conan appear in the doorway. Mistaking Conan for a bodyguard, the Kushite attacks, and in the midst of the battle, recognized Conan as the pirate Amra. Unfortunately, the fight is not going Conan's way until the thing in the smoke, forgotten during the fight, lunges forward onto Imbalayo's back, sucking away his soul until the Kushite's shriveled body falls to the floor and the demon vanishes. Conan goes to tend Rufia when Mazdak appears. Conan convinces him to back the Anakim uprising and take control of the city himself, with Conan as a loyal general. Mazdak agrees and goes forth to rally his men. Rufia begs Conan not to leave her with Mazdak. However, Conan intends to keep Mazdak's promise, until Zeriti rises, unable to be killed, with revenge in mind and determined to reveal Conan's identity to Mazdak. She magically escapes, while Conan realizes he must flee the city now if Rufia wishes to leave.

In the city, Bombaata (a Kushite captain) struggles to quell a revolt led by the Anakim soldiers and Asgalun civilians, when word comes out about Imbalayo's death. Meanwhile, Mazdak's troops come out of hiding and join the insurrection against Akhirom. He barely has time to process this before the Hyrkanians come crashing into the Kushite lines, killing them all. Soon, the mob turns their attention towards Akhirom, storming his palace. The mad king runs up his tower, believing he can fly away, until he crashes into the ground. Rumors that Amra is in the city fuel rioting and looting for some time, despite Conan and Rufia having already fled north.


  • Conan
  • Mazdak, Hyrkanian general, also known as Farouz
  • Keluka the Sworder, Kushite assassin*
  • Khannon, Pelishtan tavern owner
  • Othbaal, Shemite noble*
  • Rufia, Ophirean slave girl
  • Akhirom, King of the Shemite city-state Asgalun
  • Mattenbaal, Shemite priest
  • Abdashtarth, Shemite priest of Pteor*
  • Imbalayo, Kushite general from Darfar*
  • Zeriti, Stygian witch
  • Bombaata, Kushite captain*

* dies in this story


  • Asgalun, capital of the Shemite city-state Pelishtia

Continuity Notes[]

  • Following the events of the story "The Snout in the Dark", Conan, dissatisfied with his accomplishments in the black countries, wanders northward across the deserts of Stygia to the meadowlands of Shem. During this trek, his reputation stands him in good stead. He presently finds himself in the army of King Sumuabi of Akkharia, one of the southerly Shemitish city-states. Through the treachery of one Othbaal, cousin of the mad king Akhirom of Pelishtia, the Akkharian forces are ambushed and wiped out - all but Conan, who survives to track the renegade to Asgalun, the Pelishti capital. - Conan the Freebooter
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Snout in the Dark"
"Hawks over Shem" Next Story:
Conan: The Road of Kings
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Snout in the Dark"
"Hawks over Shem" Next Story:
"Black Colossus"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan and the Emerald Lotus
"Hawks over Shem" Next Story:
"Black Colossus"


Publication history[]