- "Crom is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, 'What is the riddle of steel?' If I don't know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me." ~Conan the Barbarian
In the beginning, we see Conan's father explain the Celtic lore concerning the ancient Giant Kings of earth stealing the forging secrets from the god Crom. Conan's father added his interpretation that you cannot trust things of the flesh, but steel in your hand you can trust. Even though Conan's father had produced a superior sword, he and the people of Conan's village were all killed by an overwhelming force led by Thulsa Doom.
Years later, Conan tracks down and confronts Doom and his raiders. Doom tells him that he has abandoned the pursuit of steel, because flesh is stronger. To prove his point, he beckons one of his cult followers on a cliff to come to him. Blinded by her faith, she steps off the cliff and falls to her death. This, the ability to kill with a twitch of the hand, is real strength for Doom, and he reproaches Conan for not recognizing the strength of his own flesh.
Conan is nailed to a dead tree in the desert for several days until rescued. As he heals, he reflects upon the Riddle of Steel. No longer does the barbarian limit himself to direct brute assault. Using covert methods and battlefield tactics, Conan and his friends inflict great damage to their enemy. However, the cumulative result of all Conan's vengeance does not harm the overall power of Thulsa's cult. It isn't until his father's sword is broken that Conan realizes the true answer to the riddle: all the power of both steel and flesh come from one's beliefs.
Flesh grows weak. Steel becomes brittle. But the will is indomitable.
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