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"Iron Shadows in the Moon" is a novelette by Robert E. Howard first published in the April, 1934, issue of Weird Tales as "Shadows in the Moonlight".

Plot Summary[]

Escaping a massacre that claimed his army, Conan and an abandoned princess make their way to a haunted and occupied island at the same time as a band of pirates.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  • 1.
    A lovely female named Olivia, having fled captivity from the city of Akif, is chased down and cornered in a marsh, on the edge of the Vilayet Sea. Her pursuer and former master is a sadistic Hyrkanian rogue named Shah Amurath. But before he can lay loathsome hands on the hapless heroine, a figure rises from the reeds. Apparently, the newcomer has his own bone to pick with Shah Amurath, having seen all his kozaki allies and his Free Companions betrayed and treacherously cut down to a man, before escaping into the marshes where he has hidden out for so long he is nearly mad. The newcomer quickly dispatches Shah Amurath, then he and Olivia hop in a boat and decide to lie low for the next little while. Only then does the newcomer identify himself: Conan the Cimmerian. Olivia reveals herself to be a princess of Ophir, sold by her father into slavery for refusing to marry a Kothian prince. She was in turn sold to Shah Amurath but escaped. Conan tells her of his time with the Free Companions, until recently in the employ of a rebel prince in eastern Koth, raiding up and down the borders of Koth, Turan and Zamora. They were hunted down by Shah Amurath and his men until only Conan remained, and he intends to head to the north on the Vilayet sea past the Hyrkanian encampments and into the steppes beyond. Conan and Olivia find their way to a dark and apparently deserted island, and encounter a bird that speaks in almost a human tongue. Conan, looking for food, thinks he spies movement, and a large rock flies from the forest barely missing them. While investigating discovers ancient ruins decorated with remarkably life-like statues. They stand atop a platform and spy sails possibly approaching the island. They decide the high ground of the ruins is safer than the forest and resetlessly fall asleep.
  • 2.
    Olivia has a dream in which she sees a band of men with skin the color of true black torturing and killing a fair skinned youth. When the youth's head is cut off, a godlike figure, apparently one of the elder gods, perhaps The Great Dark Nameless One himself, seemingly father of the mortal youth, appears and turns the ebony skinned warriors into into the statues that dot the ruins. She wakes convinced they will come to life in the moonlight. Conan is less than convinced of Olivia's fears but agrees to leave immediately. They return to where they docked their boat but find it has been smashed. Conan becomes less unsure about Olivia's vision. A pirate ship makes port on the island, and leaving Olivia hidden in the brush, Conan challenges their captain; an old rival. He slays the pirate captain, expecting to be made their leader, but is knocked unconscious by a stone from a sling by the pirate Aratus. Some pirates agree with Aratus that Conan has no right to be leader, but others, under the direction of Aratus's rival Ivanos, believe Conan should be their new captain. Ultimately, the pirates bind and drag Conan away, leaving a hidden and horrified Olivia behind.
  • 3.
    The pirates take the bound Conan to the ruins where they discuss his fate, until they pass out drunk. Olivia meanwhile, narrowly escapes from a massive and dark figure that pursues her up to the ruins. Olivia sneaks past the drunken and sleeping pirates and frees Conan. Conan then slays the dark figure that pursued Olivia, a giant fanged man-ape, which had also been hurling the boulders at them. As Conan recovers from his battle with the man-ape, they hear the beginning of a horrific slaughter back at the ruins. They quickly head back to the deserted pirate ship.
    WikimediaCommons-Hugh Rankin - Shadows in the Moonlight
  • 4.
    As Conan prepares the ship to sail, a band of beaten and bedraggled pirates, including Ivanos, comes and asks to come aboard and leave the island. The statues had come alive and slaughtered most of the crew. Conan challenges them and they accept him as their captain. At the end Olivia begs Conan to allow her to stay with him and laughing, accepts, saying he'd make her Queen of the Blue Sea.


  • Conan
  • Olivia, Ophirian princess
  • Shah Amurath, Hyrkanian*
  • Sergius of Khrosha, pirate*
  • Aratus, Brythunian pirate*
  • Ivanos, Corinthian pirate

* Dies in this story


  • Western shore of Vilayet Sea
  • An island in the Vilayet Sea

Continuity Notes[]

  • Conan's pride will not let him be "Mr. Queen" to any woman, no matter how beauiful or ardent. After a time, Conan slips away to revist his Cimmerian homeland and avenge himself on his old enemies, the Hyperboreans. Conan is now nearly thirty. His blood brothers among the Cimmerians and the Aesir have won wives and sired sons, some of them as old and almost as big as Conan had been when he first ventured into the rat-infested slums of Zamora. His experiences as a corsair and a mercenary have stirred the spirit of battle and plunder too strongly in his blood for him to follow their example. When traders bring word of new wars to the South, Conan rides back to the Hyborian kingdoms. A rebel prince of Koth is fighting to overthrow Strabonus, penurious king of that far-stretched kingdom, and Conan finds himself among old companions in the princeling's army. Unfortunately, the prince makes peace with his king, and his mercenary force becomes unemployed. It's members, Conan among them, form an outlaw band, the Free Companions, who harry the borders of Koth, Zamora, and Turan impartially. They finally gravitate to the steppes west of the Sea of Vilayet, where they join the ruffian horde known as kozaki. Conan soon fights his way to the leadership of this lawless crew and ravages the western borders of the Turanian Empire, until his old employer, King Yildiz, adopts a policy of massive retaliation. A force under Shah Amurath lures the kozaki deep into Turanian territory and cuts them down in a bloody battle by the river Ilbars. - Conan the Freebooter
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"Shadows in the Dark"
"Shadows in the Moonlight"/ "Iron Shadows in the Moon" Next Story:
"The Road of the Eagles"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan the Renegade
"Shadows in the Moonlight"/ "Iron Shadows in the Moon" Next Story:
"The Road of the Eagles"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan the Renegade
"Shadows in the Moonlight"/ "Iron Shadows in the Moon" Next Story:
Conan of the Red Brotherhood
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Snout in the Dark"
"Shadows in the Moonlight"/ "Iron Shadows in the Moon" Next Story:
"Queen of the Black Coast"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Hand of Nergal"
"Shadows in the Moonlight"/ "Iron Shadows in the Moon" Next Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"


Publication history[]