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"The City of Skulls" is a short story written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter and first published in the paperback collection Conan (Lancer, 1967).

Plot Summary[]

While escorting a Turanian princess, Conan and his comrade Juma are kidnapped and enslaved by the inhabitants of a hidden city.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  • 1. Red Snow
    Conan is part of a Turanian escort bringing Princess Zosara to an arranged marriage. As they travel east through Hyrkania, Conan's entourage is ambushed by well-armored and armed hillmen. Conan and his comrade, a giant black Kushite named Juma, fight bravely, but Prince Ardashir is slain. Finally, Conan is brought down.
  • 2. The Cup of the Gods
    Conan awakens to discovers he, Juma, and Zosara are the only survivors, as their captors, the Azweri, lead them though the mountains into a lush green valley, Meru, between the Talakma Mountains to the north and the Himelians in the south. They are guided through a jungle, and while Juma is at home in such an environment, Conan, having never seen a jungle before, is uncomfortable; moreso when he sees a tiger and rhino for the first time. After a week, the party finally arrives at the city of Shamballah.
  • 3. The City of Skulls
    The city's gates are formed into a giant skull, and the skull motif is seen throughout the city. They are brought before the god-king, or rimpoche, Jalung Thongpa. Acting quickly, Conan lifts the ruler, demanding both he and his companions be set free or he will choke Thongpa to death. The Grand Shaman, Tanzong Tengri, agrees to Conan's terms, but when Conan walks by the priest, Tengri taps Conan with his staff, and Conan instantly falls unconscious.
  • 4. The Ship of Blood
    Conan awakens once more in captivity, this time in a slave pit, once again with a bemused Juma nearby. Conan learns from a Meruvian slave, Tashudang, how his people believe the valley exists through the grace of their god, Yama, and if they defy the shamans or their god-king, who has reincarnated for centuries into new bodies, their valley will rise to the top of the mountains and become uninhabitable. After many, many days, the slaves are removed to a ship for auction, and Conan reacts by attacking the overseer before being quickly surrounded by pikemen. As punishment, Conan is made an oarsman and whipped mercilessly by the overseer, but he doesn't react, much to the overseer's annoyance. Soon, the ship sets off.
  • 5. Rogue's Moon
    The ship makes a circuit of the cities of Meru on the river Sumeru Tso before finally returning to Shamballah. A frustrated Conan and Juma want to rebel, but the Meruvians refuse and beg Conan not to cause problems. Unfortunately, the conversation is overheard by Gorthangpo, who begins to whip Conan again but Conan instead grabs his whip and wrenches it from the overseer. He then breaks his giant oar, slips it from its chain, and beats the overseer to death with it. A jubilant Juma does the same thing and the two of them easily hold off the sailors until the bows come out. The two naked men leap into the water.
  • 6. Tunnels of Doom
    Conan and Juma find and enter the sewers of the city, and Juma luckily stumbles across a secret door that the two men follow. It leads to an opulent, domed temple in which a chained Zosara is being married to Jalung Thongpa in front of a thirty-foot jade statue of the monstrous god Yama. Conan and Juma jump into action, and while Conan tosses a torch into a mass of scarlet-robed priests and heads to release Zosara, Juma kills Tanzong Tengri with his oar, but before he can turn to Thongpa, the toad-like god-king runs to the base of the statue and begins praying. Conan frees Zosara but realizes with horror that the statue of Yama has come to life.
  • 7. When the Green God Awakens
    The giant statue lumbers towards Conan, who is powerless against it. He hurls a marble bench at the creature, but it barely chips it. Then the god catches Conan with its ruby eyes and Conan finds himself paralyzed as the monster slowly reaches for him. In frustration, Juma picks up the cackling Jalung Thongpa and throws him at the creature, and Yama accidentally crushes him beneath its giant foot, which immediately turns it back into a statue once again. The three flee, steal horses, and head north. A month later Zosara is finally delivered to her arranged husband, the Great Khan of the Kuigar nomads, and when Conan and Juma leave several days later with gifts and gold from the Khan, Conan reveals he impregnated Zosara, much to Juma's amusement.

Characters[]

  • Conan
  • Juma, Kushite soldier in Turanian army
  • Prince Ardashir of Turan
  • Princess Zosara of Turan
  • Jalung Thongpa, god-king of Meru
  • Tanzong Tengri, Grand Shaman of Shamballah
  • Tashudang, Meruvian slave
  • Gorthangpo, Meruvian slave overseer

Locations[]

  • Talakma Mountains, Hyrkania
  • Shamballah, capital of Meru
  • Sumeru Tso, river in Meru

Continuity[]

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Hand of Nergal"
"The City of Skulls" Next Story:
"The People of the Summit"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Hand of Nergal"
"The City of Skulls" Next Story:
"The People of the Summit"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Hand of Nergal"
"The City of Skulls" Next Story:
Conan the Hero

Publication History[]

Adaptations[]

  • Very loosely adapted in "The Curse of the Golden Skull!" (Conan the Barbarian #37, April, 1974). The story covers the same period/episode (in a far different form after the first few pages) that "The City of Skulls" did (adapted in Savage Sword of Conan 59). As Marvel Comics had originally obtained the rights only to the Robert E. Howard material, the established policy was that when they had produced an episode of Conan's life which had also been covered by other authors, such as de Camp or Carter, the non-comics version were ignored. The two versions are mutually exclusive, Golden Skull being the "authentic" story in Marvel's Conan, while The City of Skulls occurs in another reality, "Earth-80179".[1]
  1. Savage Sword of Conan 59; The City of Skulls' preface
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