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"Legions of the Dead" is a short story written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, featuring Conan of Cimmeria, and first published in the collection Conan the Swordsman in 1978.

Plot Summary[]

While raiding into Hyperborea with a band of Æsir (Aesir), Conan rescues the Æsir chieftain's daughter but is captured by Witch-Queen Vammatar's undead army.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  • 1
    Conan and the Æsir jarl (chieftain) Njal silently hunt, kill, and skin a deer. Carefully covering their the evidence of their kill and their tracks, they return to their nearby camp where they are greeted by the bard Gorm with the news that a recently sent scouting party of thirty men has failed to return. It is revealed that Conan argued against sending the men to scout the nearby Hyperborean fortress of Haloga and was silenced by Njal, who then took the young barbarian on the hunt with him by way of apology. Njal's impatience stems from the fact the Haloga slavers kidnapped his daughter, Rann. Unfortunately, it seems Conan was right to be concerned.
  • 2. The Horror on the Parapet
    The Æsir make camp for the night in sight of Haloga. Conan, studying the arrow slits of the great black walls, wonders if someone of his slighter stature (as compared to the Æsir) could slip through one. When dawn breaks, Conan is missing, although other events concern Njal: his thirty scouts are dangled from ropes on the parapet, as the witch-queen Vammatar the Cruel and her Hyperboreans slowly torture them to death, a process that takes hours. Njal can only watch in frustrated horror, knowing that the show is for his benefit; Vammatar knows that the Æsir are out there watching. Suddenly, black smoke rises from inside the keep, and as the Hyperboreans react to the surprise fires in their midst, Njal feels a faint glimmer of hope.
  • 3. Shadow of Vengeance
    The previous night, Conan made his way to the black walls and, using a rope to catch a rain spout, managed to climb up and swing to an arrow slit.  He just manages to squeeze himself through. Moving silently through the keep, he eventually comes upon two Hyperborean guards.  Using surprise to make quick work of them, he hides the bodies after taking their weapons. The Hyperboreans were guarding Njal's daughter Rann and, to provide a distraction as they leave the keep, Conan starts a fire in a storeroom. The two escape the way Conan came in.
  • 4. That Which Pursued
    Njal greets his daughter with a bear hug and Conan with an affectionate but manly clap on the shoulder. Then the Aesir quickly break camp and race for their homeland, knowing the fires started by the Cimmerian will only delay the Hyperboreans for a short while. Indeed, in their haste to leave, they are spotted by Vammatar, whose only reaction is a mysterious smile. Soon, the Æsir notice they are being pursued by a force not only larger but slightly faster than themselves. As they race through the night, the Æsir note something odd about their pursuers, who seem not to tire. Also, although some are clearly Hyperborean based on their stature, some seem to not to be, and are dressed in traditional helms of the Æsir and Vanir. Realizing they cannot outrun the horde, Njal orders his men to take a stand on a hill. Soon, the battle begins and Njal soon realizes that the foe he faces is none other than the animated corpse of his captain Egil, who was tortured to death before his eyes the day before.
  • 5. "Men Cannot Die Twice!"
    One by one, the Æsir realize they are fighting their own deceased but reanimated comrades, the Hyperboreans killed by the fires Conan started as well as corpses even longer dead, rotting from the grave. Most of the dead do not fight with weapons, only their bare hands, and they do not tire nor are they slowed by most injuries. Conan beheads one, but the headless body still reaches for the Cimmerian. Njal is killed, and Vammatar appears riding a horse.  She orders her undead army to capture as many Æsir as possible to use as slaves. Desperately, Conan grabs Rann and breaks towards Vammatar. He pulls the surprised witch from her horse and throws her into a bog.  He lifts Rann to the horse's back but, before he can swing up behind her, he is grabbed by lifeless hands and he smacks the horse into motion as they pull him to the ground. Rann escapes, but Conan is captured. As the army shambles back to Haloga, Vammatar personally lashes Conan mercilessly.


  • Conan
  • Njal, jarl of the Æsir camp
  • Gorm, bard of the Æsir camp
  • Egil the huntsman - Æsir warrior. Leader of the missing scouting party
  • Vammatar the Cruel, eternally young queen of Haloga
  • Rann Njalsdatter, daughter of Njal
  • Thror Ironhand, captain in the Æsir camp


  • The Fortress of Haloga, Hyperborea

Continuity Notes[]

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan of Venarium
"Legions of the Dead" Next Story:
"The Thing in the Crypt"


Publication History[]