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"Shadows in the Dark" 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.


As merchants and magicians end their daily work in the city of Eruk, an emissary of the king approaches the astrologer Rhazes for information on neighboring kingdoms. Rhazes prophesies of two men and a woman who hold the fate of the kingdom of Khoraja, currently recovering from the seige of Natohk's undead armies. Rhazes then takes his leave to begin a journey to Khoraja himself.

In Khoraja, General Conan forces his way into the chambers of Princess Yasmela, the regent of Khoraja. Though she and Conan have a relationship, the duties of the kingdom take all of Yasmela's time and energy. Conan suggests they just get married but Yasmela claims it is impossible while her brother, Khossus, the true king of Khoraja, is imprisoned by Moranthes of Ophir. If he were to be rescued, he would retake the duties of the ruler, and she could convince her brother to allow her to marry Conan. Conan ponders this for a moment, then turns and leaves.

Conan meets with the chancellor Taurus and proclaims his intent to sneak into Ophir and rescue Khossus. Taurus is surprised, as only days before the astrologer Rhazes had come to him to reveal the stars had foretold of Conan's mission, which Taurus dismissed as foolish trickery. Now Taurus sees Conan as Khossus's last hope, as Moranthes of Ophir is contemplating selling Khossus to Strabonus of Koth, who intends to torture Khossus into abdicating his throne. Khoraja cannot afford to pay the constantly increasing ransom Moranthes demands. Conan agrees to rescue the king in exchange for Yasmela's hand, and half of the original ransom demand. Deciding it's better than nothing, Taurus agrees.

Soon, Conan returns to the place in the company of the Ophirian thief Fronto, a lockpick whose father designed Moranthes's palace, including secret passages in and out of the castle. Moranthes blinded the architect, and he died soon after, but not before revealing to Fronto his secrets. Fronto wants revenge, and his skills, Conan claims, will be vital to the mission. Taurus insists Rhazes make the journey as well, and, although Conan resists at first, he finally agrees not only to allow the fat astrologer to accompany them, but also, at the request of Rhazes, to pass through Koth (despite the lurking danger of Strabonus), as it would shave days off the journey. However, Conan makes it clear there will be no retinue, only the three men, and after sending the others off to prepare, Conan accompanies Yasmela back to her quarters, hoping for her company that night.

The three riders, in disguise, approach the border of Koth. When they are stopped by a patrol, Rhazes takes charge and easily talks his way past the Kothans, claiming the hulking Fronto is his son.

The group avoids central Koth, skirting the borders, and Fronto, while a great boon in the physical needs of travels, murmurs constantly of the revenge he will take on Moranthes. Conan warns him to do nothing until Khossus is free. Meanwhile, Rhazes does little on the trek, to Conan's annoyance, but his astological and sorcerer skills are without question. He regulary takes readings on their journey, and one evening, as the group settles into camp, shows Conan an illusion wherein he turns a rope into a snake. He indicates his traveling bags contain many magical items, and warns them specifically against a small casket he keeps there. Suddenly, the small party is ambushed by a number of thieving archers, whose one-eyed leader, intrigued by the look of the casket, and ignoring Rhazes's warnings, opens it. An inky smoke emerges, engulfing him and another thief. The two fall dead and the others flee as the smoke reaches out to them. Rhazes commands the smoke back into the casket and reveals it is an elemental that he can control, but it can only emerge at night. Conan, angry at himself for not hearing the thieves approach, ends the night's conversation.

Soon the group passes through Koth and enters Ophir, approaching the city of Ianthe. Conan's slight uneasiness at the lack of difficulty in the journey is put aside as Fronto leads them to the secret passage into the castle.

They dismount and make their way through forest and shrubbery to the city walls. Fronto finds the trap door his father had installed, and Conan opens it to reveal a staircase going down. Rhazes magically ignites a torch for light and the three men make their way through the moss-covered and rat-infssted passage. As the castle is located at the center of the city, the walk is long, but soon they face another trap door. They emerge into a dungeon, and Rhazes, who has predicted the location of Khossus, leads them to the proper cell. Fronto picks the lock and Conan greets the king, who turns out to be quite rude and unappreciative of Conan's efforts. He demands Conan's swords so he can kill the jailer who besmirched his honor. Conan swiftly knocks the boy out to shut him up. The warden has heard, though, and comes running, but Rhazes uses his serpent trick to deal with him. They reach the trapdoor and run through the passageway, Khossus complaining all the while. When they reach the exit, the group is confronted by a small party from Kosh, who greet their conrade Rhazes. It had all been a plan to get the king from Ophir without paying Moranthes. Enraged, Fronto stabs Rhazes to death, grabs his bag of magic, and runs before he is cut down by crossbow bolts and the bag falls into a campfire. Conan fights with the Kothians, while trying to protect Khossus, but then he hears a sound coming from the tunnels. He quickly pulls Khossus into the brush as the soldiers of Ophir burst from the tunnel to confront the Kothians. The two groups fall on each other and Conan and the king flee, but quickly they are pursued by the remnants of both parties. Suddenly, a smoky mist lurches forth from the fire and Rhazes's bag of magic - the elementals have escaped the casket they were trapped in. In horror, Conan and Khossus throw themselves onto a pair of horses and make their escape, Conan only stealing a quick glance back to see the shadows cover the site and hear the screams of the men within.

Conan and Khossus make their way southwest, to Argos, instead of east to Khoraja, to throw any pursuers off their trail. Khossus warms up a bit to Conan, finally appreciating what he did, but refuses to give his blessing for Conan to marry his sister. However, he decides that Conan should marry into wealth and power, and he pledges to find a perfect mate. He also admits that he cannot allow a commoner to be a general, and tells Conan that he shall have to accept a position as advisor to whichever man of noble birth will be appointed as the new general. Conan sarcastically thanks Khossus for his generosity, which goes over the boy's head. When they arrive in Messantia to hire a ship to take them upriver into Shem and to travel from there to Khoraja, Khossus borrows gold from a moneylender and gives it to Conan for safekeeping. Once Conan sees the king to his boat, he gives the king a handful of the coins, keeps the rest in payment for saving Khossus's life, and leaves to find a ship to sail in the opposite direction, with the intention of returning to Cimmeria.


  • Conan
  • Rhazes (Corinthian astrologer)
  • Yasmela (Princess and regent of Khoraja)
  • Vateesa (Handmaiden to Yasmela)
  • Taurus (Khorajin chancellor)
  • Fronto (Ophirian thief)
  • Khossus (Imprisoned King of Khoraja)


Continuity Notes[]

  • This story follows the events of Black Colossus.
  • Conan is in his late twenties.


Publication History[]