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"The Devil in Iron" is a novelette by Robert E. Howard first published in Weird Tales 24 2 (August 1934).

Plot Synopsis[]

While pursuing a slave girl into a trap on a seemingly abandoned island, Conan discovers a slumbered, resurrected city watched over by an ancient evil.

Detailed Summary[]

  • 1.
    A Yuetshi fisherman who was blown off course by a storm makes his way through the cliffs and jungles of the remote island Xapur to an abandoned, ruined, thousand year old city. He finds a domed structure and, investigating further, a body lying on a golden slab. The fisherman reaches for the jeweled dagger the body clutches, but the eyes open and the body, truly a giant of a man, sits up and snaps the fisherman's neck with his bare hands.
  • 2.
    Jehungir Agha, lord of the coastal town Khawarizm, is relating to his counsellor Ghaznavi how King Yezdigerd of Turan is upset at his handling the border excursions of kozaki bandits from the steppes. Conan, it seems, has become their chief and has led many successful raids. Ghaznavi has a plan, however, and brings forth the captive Nemedian princess Octavia who will be among a proposed prisoner exchange. Ghaznavi intends her to attract Conan, then "escape" to the island of Zapur, where the barbarian is sure to follow. Once trapped there, Jehungir Agha and his men can hunt Conan down. The defiant Octavia refuses to help, until she is persuaded by the approach of the mute torturer Gilzan.
  • 3.
    Soon, Octavia truly escapes (or so she thinks), and makes her way into the swampy morass and, spying an island close on the horizon, swims toward it. She makes her way up steps carved into the cliffs as darkness surrounds her, but is surprised when a human arm reaches out to grasp her and, despite her shrieks and struggles, carries her away.
  • 4.
    The next morning Conan sails for the island as Ghaznavi planned. He makes shorefall under the watchful, spying eyes of Jehungir and his men. Conan enters the forest, thinking of the beauty he had seen at Jehungir's pavilion and, after being told by a fisherman that she had escaped to Xapur, determined the rescue her. He was familiar with Xapur, having attended a pirate conclave a month ago, but freezes when he sees what were once crumbling ruins now rebuilt into full walls and battlements. He turns and runs for the shore, but a trace of Octavia's perfume stops him in his tracks and he reluctantly returns to the wall. He climbs the green stone and looks down on a small, if deserted, city. He begins to look in windows, and is confronted by a girl, Yateli, who seems nonplussed by the scimitar-wielding barbarian. She mentions that the city is protected from rebelling Yuetshi slaves by Khosatral Khel, but then she becomes confused because she recalls how she was killed by the slaves when they revolted and climbed the walls last night. She then decides it was a dream and sleepily tries to take Conan in her arms before she falls into a deep slumber. A stunned and disturbed Conan then notices the skin of an extinct golden leopard in the piles of furs on the floor and another slumbering citizen. He begins to leave but hears an inhuman, slobbering movement outside the doors, and backs away into a narrow, dark staircase.
  • 5.
    Conan makes his way down the dark passageway, and finds a room containing a throne and what seems to be a living, if slumbering, giant snake. He hastens through a door, but hears the movement from above descend into the throne room. He runs down a cooridor into another room, but stops when he hears a hypnotizing chant about the history of Khosatral Khel, an ancient force who took the form of man and settled on the inhabited island of Dagonia. His followers built the great city of Dagon, but were harrassed by the Yuetshi. The Yuetshi were defeated and enslaved, but soon rose against the Dagonians and, using a knife forged of a magical meteor, slayed Khosatral Khel. The Dagonians were slaughtered, and the city crumbled in time. But when the fisherman removed the dagger from Khel's remains, the godlike creature was reborn, and recreated the city as it stood in its glory, though the inhabitants sleep in deep slumber during the day. Suddenly, a woman's sobs snaps Conan out of the hypnotizing recitation.
  • 6.
    After an hour of waiting, an impatient Jehungir Agha takes ten archers into the forest. He stops in incredulity at the walled city, believing it built by pirates. In the city, Conan confronts the iron-skinned giant Khosatral Khel. His sword useless, Conan blinds Khel with a tapestry and grabs Octavia as he runs out of the room, the demon-god not far behind. They find refuge in a steel-lined room, likely Khel's chambers, and wait as the creature pounds on the doors. When it almost seems the doors might give, the blows end and Khel leaves. Conan decides to make a run for the magical dagger, which he assumes is being guarded by the snake in the throne room, and he tells Octavia to wait. He returns to the room, and he slowly makes his way towards the door behind the throne, careful not to disturb the ancient coiled serpent. Unfortunately, Octavia, afraid to wait alone, loudly enters the room and screams in terror as the snake awakens. It moves towards the girl, but Conan leaps in and manages to kill the creature, break down the door, and recover the dagger laying there. They flee the building, intending to race for the cliffs, but they see what drew Khel away - he has slaughtered all of Agha's men. Jehungir Agha himself has fled and is trying to take Conan's boat when Conan and Octavia overtake him. Conan kills Agha just as Khosatral Khel comes upon them, and, using the magical dagger, wounds, chases, and kills the creature, who reverts to its natural inhuman form as it dies. The city of Dagon fades away into smoke and dust, and Conan and Octavia row away.


  • Conan
  • Jehungir Agha, Turanian lord of Khawarizm *
  • Ghaznavi, Turanian counsellor to Jehungir Agha
  • Octavia - enslaved Nemedian princess
  • Gilzan, Shemite torturer
  • Yateli, Dagonian girl *
  • Khosatral Khel, demon-god *

* - dies in this story


  • Xapur, an island in the Vilayet Sea, once known as Dagonia
    • Dagon, an ancient city on Xapur
  • Khawarizm, city of Turan on the Vilayet Sea

Continuity Notes[]

  • Leaving Zamboula, Conan rides westward with the Star of Khorala into the meadowlands of Shem. Whether he reaches Ophir with it and claims his roomful of gold or whether he loses it to some thief or light lady along the road, there is no record. At any rate, the proceeds cannot have lasted him very long. He pays another short visit to his native Cimmeria, finding old friends dead and old ways duller than ever. When word comes that the kozaki have regained their old vigor and are making King Yezdigard's life as unhappy as possible. Conan takes his horse and his sword back to the harrying of Turan. Although the northlander arrives all but emptyhanded, he has old friends both among the kozaki and among the Red Fellowship of Vilayet Sea. Presently, sizeable contingents from both groups of outlaws are operating under his command and finding the pickings better than ever. - Conan the Wanderer
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Star of Khorala"
"The Devil in Iron" Next Story:
"The Flame Knife"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan and the Amazon
"The Devil in Iron" Next Story:
"The Flame Knife"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan and the Manhunters
"The Devil in Iron" Next Story:
"The Flame Knife"
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Slithering Shadow"
"The Devil in Iron" Next Story:
"The People of the Black Circle"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"
"The Devil in Iron" Next Story:
"The People of the Black Circle"

Publication history[]