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"The Gem in the Tower" 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. It is a rewritten version of Carter's "Black Moonlight," featuring his character Thongor, first published in the magazine Fantastic in 1977.

Plot Summary[]

Conan and a pirate crew seek a crystal from a sorcerer's tower, but it is protected by a bat demon who systematically slaughters the men until Conan manages to defeat the creature and destroy the crystal.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  • 1. Death on the Wind
    Two long boats come ashore alongside a jungle and the crews scurry to pull the boats into the jungle to hide. Conan, second mate of the Hawk, surveys the terrain and notices that the crew's wizard, Mena, seems to be wary. Mena confides in Conan that he senses death, and when the captain, Gonzago, asks what's wrong, Mena is unable to get more specific. Both Conan and Gonzago are frustrated, as though neither care for wizards, they respect their abilities and senses.
  • 2. Jewel of Wizardry
    As the small band of pirates works their way through the jungle, it is revealed that they are on the island of the sorceror Siptah, who has in his posession a magical crystal that grants him vast power. The local powers and businessmen pay a vast tribute to Siptah to prevent their ships from sinking via the storms and monsters the sorceror can summon. When rumors spread that Siptah has died, merchants put a bounty on the crystal, one that Gonzago means to collect.
  • 3. Blood on the Sand
    Beore he undertook this mission, Gonzago had encountered Mena in a tavern in Messantia. Figuring that a wizard could counter another wizard, he brought Mena on his crew. Now, Mena prepares a spell to hide the pirates from Siptah's sight. He begins combining reagents and speaking in ancient tongues, much to Conan's annoyance, who would rather simply charge Siptah's tower. Soon, the conjurer asks the others to leave him alone to finish the spell, but after some time passes, Mena screams. Conan and Gonzago rush back to find the conjurer dead, his throat slit.
  • 4. Where None May Enter
    Without their wizard, and with the element of surprise most likely lost, Gonzago decided to attack Siptah's tower head on. Working their way down the beach, they reach a clearing in which the towering black spire sits. Gonzago instructs his men to build a ladder with which to seige the castle, and when the pirates race towards their objective they stop in confusion when they realize there are no doors or windows, simply a parapet at the very top. Gonzago orders a retreat to the cover of the jungle and he and Conan ponder their next move. They send for supplies and tools from Borus, the first mate, and settle in for an uneasy night, knowing that there is something stalking them.
  • 5. Dreams in the Night
    That night, Conan dreams of unfamiliar men camping, just as he and the pirates are camping, although he recognizes a brooding Gonzago seated in front of the fire. In the dream, Conan sees a cloaked figure emerge from the jungle and stand behind the unaware Gonzago. Suddenly, the cloaked figure spreads its arms out, revealing, in fact, the arms of a bat, and like lightning it lunges for the captain. Conan is awakened by a scream, and all the pirates awaken and scurry on the beach weapons drawn. Gonzago, however, remains slumped over, and Conan discovers the captain isn't sleeping; rather, he is dead, his throat slashed like Mena's.
  • 6. Murder in the Moonlight
    The men huddle next to the fire, afraid to sleep. Conan, now in charge, doubles the guard and ponders the situation. Suddenly, one of the sentries, Fabio, returns and leads Conan to the bodies of the men who had been sent back to the Hawk earlier. They had been slaughtered in the past fifteen minutes in the same gruesome manner as Gonzago.
  • 7. Winged Horror
    Fabio explains that he saw glimpsed the creature as it killed the men - a man bat with taloned claws at the end of wings, taller than Conan himself. The remaining pirates huddle together and discuss their options. They realize that the creature must come from Siptah's tower, as it could fly to the parapet at the top and would not need doors at the base. Conan surmises it's not Siptah himself, but possibly a demon summoned by the sorceror. He decides on a course of action - smoke the demon out of the tower.
  • 8. Death from Above
    After laboring all night to cut trees and drag brush to the tower, Conan lights the bonfire at the base. As the flame rises and the heat grows, the creature peers over the top of the parapet. It spreads its massive wings and takes to the air as bowman fire arrows to no avail. When it dives to kill a bowman, Conan lunges for it, but his sword snaps against the creature's flesh. The creature turns to face Conan, and despite the help of his crewman Abimael, the beast suffers only nicks. More pirates rush to assist Conan and Abimael, threatening to bring the monster down via sheer numbers, so it takes to the air again. Conan leaps on its back and it takes them both high above the tower. A lucky arrow pierces the creature's shoulder. Conan realizes the beast can be hurt and with a last bit of strength shoves a dagger into the creature's breast. It falls with Conan onto the top of the tower. The flat roof contains a staircased pit which Conan descends. He finds himself in a luxurious abode with curtained alcoves. Throwing back one of the curtains he comes face to face with Siptah the sorceror.
  • 9. Slave of the Crystal
    After a tense moment, Conan realizes Siptah is dead, and has been dead for some time. Not even carrion has penetrated the tower to devour the body, and the sorceror' has simply dehydrated and decayed, sitting in his throne, dressed in his finest robes. In the corpse's lap lay a great topaz crystal. Conan is unsure what to do but is distracted by a sound on the staircase - the bat-demon still lives, and is descending the stairs. It lunges at Conan again, and he stabs desperately at it to no avail. Conan even crushes its skull with a heavy lecturn, but still the beast advances. Finally, Conan, in a flash of inspiration, throws the crystal at the creature, and while the beast manages to dodge the gem, it shatters on the wall. The beast immediately decays into nothingness before Conan's eyes.
  • 10. Siptah's Treasure
    Conan bandages himself, makes a rope out of bedsheets, and lowers himself down the tower to the cheers of his crew. He has raided the tower of everything he could carry, and he tells his story to Borus, first mate - now captain - of the Hawk. The two discuss briefly where the demon came from, but Conan cares not for anything but a good rest and the thoughts of carousing in Port Tortage.


  • Conan
  • Gonzago (Zingaran Captain of the Hawk)
  • Mena (Stygian conjuror)
  • Fabio (Argossean crewman on the Hawk)
  • Abimael (Shemite crewman on the Hawk)
  • Borus (Argossean first mate on the Hawk)


  • A jungle island off the shores of Stygia, south of Khemi.

Continuity Notes[]

  • Conan is in his middle thirties.
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
"The Gem in the Tower" Next Story:
"The Pool of the Black One"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
"The Gem in the Tower" Next Story:
"The Pool of the Black One"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
"The Gem in the Tower" Next Story:
Conan and the Grim Grey God


Publication History[]