Conan The Barbarian #12: "The Dweller In The Dark"

Conan The Barbarian #12
 "The Dweller In The Dark"
 December, 1971

 Roy Thomas: Writer
 Barry Smith: Artist
 Sam Rosen: Letterer
 Stan Lee: Editor
 Based on the hero created by Robert E. Howard

 None may drink from Zahmahn's springs -- until they have paid tribute to their queen. Conan thirsts -- and when he thirsts -- either he drinks deeply -- or else his blade does!

 As the captain commands the stranger seized, swords clash here in Corinthia -- one of the numerous city-states across the border from Zamora -- one guard falls, his head half-severed from his fallen body -- and then another -- Seeing that this is no ordinary man they have flushed out, Yulek himself intends to do the carving personally -- and the Cimmerian leaps forward -- and Yulek falls silent. Now it is Conan who bemoans the unfair odds and scimitars at his sides. He is lucky their queen will let him keep his head!

 One guard is all for leaving the barbarian to the vultures and the other reminds him they will haul this rogue in for slaying the queen's favorite paramour. The one who slew Yulek learns that he was the queen's lover, not her beloved! When asked by Fatima what he has to say for himself, the Cimmerian asks that his bonds be loosened, and that a sword be handed to him so they can all share the trip to hell. Seeing the barbarian's courage, Fatima orders Yaila to fill a wine flagon for their -- guest. By the law of gods and of men, Fatima could have him killed -- but the queen who makes the law may also break them. She needs a new guard captain, now that the previous one is dead. Conan makes no bargains while his hands are tied.

 His hands are now free and he would have some wine. When the handmaid asks if she may show the new captain of the guards his palace quarters, it is Fatima herself who dismisses the others, and who shall show the Cimmerian to his rooms. when they are alone, he asks why she bristled when the handmaid touched him. She replies he is now captain to a queen. He must guard their springs -- and his other duties will be told to him... as Fatima thinks of them --

 Days become weeks and the Cimmerian becomes a fixture of the palace --- His every movement is watched by the other fixture, a sword-wielding eunuch. There comes a time when even his guardian must sleep -- and the Cimmerian becomes determined to test the boundaries -- and finds them at spear point! Fatima has given orders to slay him -- if he ever tried to leave the palace. He lives the life of a lap-dog now and should enjoy it while it lasts. When he goes in search of Fatima, he finds Yaila in the royal bath-chamber. He may think of himself as the captain of the guard, but the handmaid knows Conan is that in name only. Before she speaks further, Yaila asks for yon robe for protection against chilling drafts.

 She has longed for the Cimmerian ever since she first saw him. Conan has no love for the cold fish of a queen and loves life -- and whatever he needs to do to preserve it. Yaila knows when Fatima becomes bored with him, she will discard him as she has with so many others. Fatima has arrived with the palace guard. The queen informs them the moment he touched another -- when their eyes met, and Yaila's fingertips brushed his cheek -- they both signed their death-warrants in blood. Conan finds it better to die quickly than to suffer the slow embrace of a mad-woman.

 The Cimmerian and the handmaid are led at spearpoint downstairs -- to the castle dungeon -- Conan wonders if they are to slowly starve or to serve as food for the rats. Fatima regrets that the barbarian was unable to keep his hot young blood and devote himself to her only -- They are both left -- for the dweller in the dark. The queen and her guards leave and the dweller is coming. As Yaila prays to Mitra, Conan mentions his god is Crom, and all he needs is a strong sword-arm. No one has ever seen the dweller and lived to tell the tale. The Cimmerian decides to test his chains -- they are new -- but the links which hold them to the wall are not. The splashing is coming closer by the moment.

 The Cimmerian knows he is truly doomed -- when he lays down to die -- and not before! "HUNNGHH!" The handmaid sees the chains did not break, but Conan knows Shadizar was not corrupted in a single day. After bidding Yaila to keep silent -- and still, the young Cimmerian pulls at his chains! The metal bites into his wrists -- and the waters churn at the sight of blood -- Yalia gasps --as Conan braces his legs against the stone wall -- wrenching forward, with one last effort -- FREE--

 The Cimmerian has done it! The handmaid can only stare at his wrists...! The only way for them to leave is by heading where the splashing sounds are coming from. If they went the other way, the queen's guards would hack them to bits! Conan would rather face the dweller than with his back to him -- while seeking to breach a steel door in vain. He does wish to Crom that he had a -- A SWORD!? Maybe there is something to be said for the power of prayer! The sounds are getting closer. As the Cimmerian retrieves the sword from the skeleton, Yaila spots the dweller in the dark!

 It had once been a man like any other. One who lived, loved, laughed, and fathered children. Now he was stripped of his humanity by the cruel gods -- and was now a writhing, gurgling obscenity! The dweller tries to speak -- to explain that it had once been as human as they! The words die, in a throat not made for human speech -- and in its madness, it lashes out as it has done before! Conan yells for Yaila to run, but the handmaid's feet-- will not move! As the Cimmerian reaches for her, he sees her caught in one of its tentacles!

 Conan is coming for her, but Yaila insists that it's too late!! As he is caught in one of its tentacles, Conan bemoans the fact that women are no good because they tease you -- caress you -- promise you the moon on a platter -- but when it comes to fighting, they go off in the corner -- and leave him to hack their way out -- or die in the trying!

 When the handmaid points out they are both about to be devoured -- the barbarian replies he will strike first with his sword -- and wish it were the queen instead! The dweller has gone mad from the pain of having a sword thrust into its misshapen orb, and thrashes about in its wild throes! Now, the Cimmerian climbs the niches of a pillar, the way he would scale the cliffs in his native Cimmeria. Conan urges Yaila to remain quiet, but the sight of the dweller's arm so close to them is too much to bear! Half-blind, it will certainly get them -- unless there is something at the top of the shaft -- besides further darkness.

 The handmaid feels something brushing her foot and the barbarian tells her to remain still. He -- can make his way upward -- by bracing his back against the side of the stone shaft -- but if she squirms once more -- he will drop her. The stone sides are slashing his back to bloody ribbons. There is a trapdoor above him. As he pushes it open, she wonders what could possibly be on the other side -- and Conan doubts it could possibly be worse than what's below them. One more push -- and they'll "CROM!" They now find themselves in the throne room itself! The queen has just witnessed someone successfully escape from the dweller. Now the eunuch will give him his reward! Fatima is sadly mistaken if she thinks he just fought off the dweller's harsh embrace -- to die beneath this eunuch's sword.

 The others are in no mood to rush him now that he has got a sword in his hand. The first one who would die for their queen is Fatima herself! She has learned much about him from their nights together. She knows he would never stab a woman -- no matter what. Perhaps -- not -- but there's more than one way to flay a she-cat! The others are kept back at swordpoint and Fatima is asked what she sees in the shadows of the pit below! The sight of the dweller is enough to make the queen plead for her own life! She offers Conan the chance to reign by her side -- or make her his slave -- she promises him anything --!

 The barbarian knows that promises are cheap and are far easy to break. "NNOOOOO" Fatima's screams go on -- or were they merely -- echoes against stone --? With their queen dead and her loyal subjects well-armed, the Cimmerian asks if he must fight them one at a time or all at once. It makes -- little difference to him. Conan The Barbarian is hailed as their deliverer! They live by the rules of losing one ruler and choosing another.

 These people are far more sensible than he had thought. He dreamt once he would be king some day -- perhaps here? Unfortunately for the young Cimmerian, Zahmahn has never had a king -- only queens. Still, he may choose the next queen -- and chooses -- YAILA! She was born a slave and knows not what to say! Conan is out of breath -- with several scars -- to reply. ALL HAIL QUEEN YAILA! She would have her hero stay in Zahmahn as her consort. For his own part, Conan has many wounds to lick -- and a throne of his own to find. He has had enough of queens for two weeks -- and he doe not know -- if he could possibly survive another --!

 The Cimmerian was thirsty for water and his blade was bloodthirsty for those who would keep him from the springs.

 Talking a good fight in the Hyborian Age is about as effective as it is in our current age.

 Conan finds his hands are tied as captain of the palace guards.

Slave girls are a touchy subject for the queen of this particular palace.

 The barbarian manages to find the weakest link in the chain and ends up meeting the missing link that is the dweller in the dark.

 Crom makes wishes come true for those who keep their sword arm strong.

 One wonders what Red Sonja would say if she heard Young Conan spouting off about women the way he was against the dweller.

 The queen should have known it wasn't a good idea for her to pit herself against a barbarian.

 Steve Chung
 "The Dweller In The Review"