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"The Scarlet Citadel" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine circa January 1933. Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, this story concerns a middle-aged Conan battling rival kingdoms, being captured through treachery, and escaping from an eldritch dungeon via unexpected aid. The story also includes Tsotha-lanti, an evil wizard whose sorcerous arts help ensnare King Conan.

The story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Usurper (Lancer Books, 1967). It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).


Plot Summary[]

After the Aquilonian army, under the guidance of King Conan, have been slain, he is taken prisoner and placed in a Kothian dungeon below Khorshemish. He rescues a sorcerer, Pelias, and escapes, only to find the capital Tarantia has been taken over by a rival in his absence, and the Kothian army is set to destroy another city.

Detailed Synopsis[]

  1. Conan's army is destroyed on the plains of Shamu, having answered a plea for help from his ally Amalrus of Ophir. Amalrus has treacherously joined forces with Strabonus of Koth and the wizard Tsotha-lanti, in an attempt to overwhelm Conan's army and capture him. While Strabonus wants the king dead, Tsotha wants him alive. With a touch of poison, he paralyze Conan and has him bound in chains. While Strabonus orders his general, Arbanus, to invade Aquilonia through Shamar, both he and the wizard bring Conan to Khorshemish, capital of Koth.
  2. Conan stands before Strabonus and Amalrus, while they dictate terms - they want him to turn over control of Aquilonia to Prince Arpello of Pellia. Conan scoffs at the kings and insults them, spitting in Amalrus' eye. The enraged king moves closer to kill Conan for his defiance, but Tsotha blinds him, reminding the king who the real power is as Strabonus pretends he doesn't notice. Tsotha sends Conan to the dungeon, guarded by his eunuch servant, Shukeli, and leaves him in complete darkness before going to assist the siege at Shamar.
  3. Conan tests his restraints and finds them too strong to break. The stories he has heard of Tsotha's dungeons and inhuman experiments actually strikes fear in the barbarian's heart. His fear is amplified when he hears a rustling sound and, in the shadows, sees a tremendous snake, over 80 feet long, slither into the chamber. Conan stands motionless as venom drips from the snake's fangs and burns his thigh. Suddenly, the sound of a door opening from inside the prison chamber forces the snake to flee. A gigantic naked black man, who calls Conan by his pirate name Amra, has come with the keys and asks what he would pay for them. This is merely a ruse, however, as the man wants Conan dead for killing his brother during his travels with Bêlit. Fortunately, just as he's about to deal a killing blow towards Conan, the snake rears up behind him and constricts the man in its coils, causing the keys, along with a sword, to fall onto the floor at Conan's feet. He manages to grasp the keys with his feet and free himself, only to find the door barred from the outside. Shukeli appears outside the barred window and shrieks with laughter. However, in a flash, Conan stabs through the bars with his sword and instantly skewers Shukeli in the stomach. Because the barred door can only be opened from the outside, Conan is still trapped and realizes he must go down the same corridor where the snake came in from. Conan creeps down the corridor, ignoring the passages on either side, until he hears a sobbing sound and diverts himself towards an adjacent tunnel. However, he is horrified upon discovering the source of this weeping - a tentacled, amorphous blob-like creature who, when it sees Conan, becomes overjoyed with laughter and starts chasing him. He quickly outpaces it, but trips and drops his torch, thrusting himself into darkness as he scrambles up before continuing his escape. He creeps along the nearest passage and stops before a large pit in the ground. Obviously, he has gone in the wrong direction. However, before he can decide on what to do, Conan senses something unseen rising from the pit and turns back the way he came. He comes across the final embers of his torch, manages to get it fully lit again, and hurries his way back towards the central corridor, again feeling the invisible presence engulfing him. He flees in sheer horror, while hearing the sounds of different monsters and beasts down each tunnel. As Conan is wondering why these beasts won't come out into the central opening, he realizes the giant serpent is already slithering behind him. It seems as though even the monsters are afraid of this serpent. He hurries down a side passage and, through the window of a prison door, witnesses a monstrous plant torture an unconscious captive entwined within its grasp. Conan enters the cell and slices away the plant's stem, as it hisses while waving its tentacles and blossoms at him. Soon, the plant dies upon having its stem chopped away and the man is freed. The man, Pelias, tells Conan how his rival, Tsotha-lanti, has held him captive for almost a decade. His powers are beginning to return and he leads Conan back to the entrance. The snake, identified by Pelias as Satha, emerges and moves in to attack. However, once it sees Pelias, its eyes widen in terror and it flees. When they reach the barred door, Pelias re-animates Shukeli's corpse and has him unlock the door. The two go to Tsotha's private chambers, where Pelias uses the wizard's crystal ball to show Strabonus' army laying siege to Shamar and chaos engulfing Tarantia, as, with word spreading of Conan's alleged death, Prince Arpello of Pellia has moved to take over the kingdom. Conan laments that the capital is almost a week away by fastest steed, and Strabonus's army lie along the path, but Pelias summons a batlike creature to fly him directly towards Tarantia.
  4. In Tarantia, Trocero desperately tried to keep the peace as rioters and looters, mystically encouraged by Tsotha-lanti to believing Conan is dead, rampage through the streets. Prince Arpello made his play for the crown and managed to get the council to surrender, when he won the support of the public. Trocero abandons the city with 1500 soldiers upon realizing he would have to fight the citizens themselves. The chancellor, Publius, had been imprisoned and heavy taxes laid on the merchants of the city, with anyone protesting hanged. Soon, armed men from the Pellian army quickly and violently clamp down on any acts of disloyalty within the city. When word spread that the Kothian army had taken Shamar, the people turned to Arpello for reassurance, but he simply drank some wine and laughed at them. When a small insurgency headed by the student Athemides is quelled, the young man is smuggled out of the city to the camp of Trocero to plead with him to return. It's then, with Arpello loudly proclaiming from the ramparts that he is now king, Conan arrives on the wings of the demon. A shocked Arpello charges Conan, but the true king picks up the Prince and throws him off the castle walls.
  5. The siege of Shamar continues, and although the city is hopelessly outnumbered, its strong walls have prevented it from being entirely overrun. Strabonus grows anxious, as he would like to continue into Aquilonia but doesn't want to leave his flank unprotected. Suddenly, a bugle is heard and a galloping army rides from within the country. When Tsotha sees it is Conan leading the charge he realizes Pelias must have helped, Strabonus frantically sends his men to the attack, but the outnumbered Aquilonians burst through the ranks and Amalrus is trampled to death under the charge. Conan ends up face to face with Strabonus. Strabonus takes one desperate swing at Conan, but is run through immediately. The Kothian army is routed and slaughtered as Conan turns his attention to Tsotha. Although Tsotha hurls magic at Conan, the king lops off the wizard's head, though it still lives and glares at Conan...until a giant eagle swoops down the pick up the head and fly away. The body of Tsotha rises and runs off in the direction of the eagle, who laughs with the voice of Pelias and Conan, though grateful for Pelias's help, hopes never to see him again.

Characters[]

  • Conan
  • King Strabonus of Koth *
  • King Amalrus of Ophir *
  • Tsotha-lanti, Kothian wizard
  • Arbanus, Kothian general *
  • Shukeli, eunuch servant of Tsotha *
  • Pelias, Kothian wizard
  • Trocero
  • Prince Arpello of Pellia *
  • Publius, chancellor of Aquilonia
  • Athemides, Aquilonian student
  • Prospero

* - dies in this story

Locations[]

Continuity Notes[]

No sooner have the mutterings of civil war died down, than Conan receives an urgent plea for help from Aquilonia's ally, King Amalrus of Ophir. King Strabonus of Koth is demonstrating against Ophir's borders, and Conan rides to the rescue with five thousand of Aquilonia's bravest knights, but finds both kings treacherously allied against him on the plain of Shamu. - Conan the Usurper

  • The date is the tenth day of the month Yuluk in the year of the Gazelle
Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"The Scarlet Citadel" Next Story:
Conan the Conqueror
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"The Scarlet Citadel" Next Story:
Conan the Conqueror
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"The Scarlet Citadel" Next Story:
Conan the Conqueror
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"The Scarlet Citadel" Next Story:
The Hour of the Dragon
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"The Scarlet Citadel" Next Story:
The Hour of the Dragon

Adaptation[]

Publication history[]

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