Conan The Barbarian #17: "The Gods Of Bal-Sagoth"

Conan The Barbarian #17
 "The Gods Of Bal-Sagoth"
 August, 1972

 Roy Thomas: Writer
 Gil Kane: Artist
 Ralph Reese: Inker
 John Costanza: Letterer
 Adapted from the story by Robert E. Howard
 creator of Conan

 The sound of thunder on the sea and the clashing of sword against mace... the screams of those who are going to die cuts through the roaring of waves and of wind... and in the center of it all: Conan the Barbarian! If they manage to kill the Cimmerian youth -- the others will follow as sheep beneath the axe!

 The Turanian galley crew fight desperately against pirates made up of Zingaran corsairs, Zamoulan nomads, naval deserters... and an armored Aquilonian army deserter... who has come so far to die beneath Conan's sword! Fafnir's voice thunders behind the Cimmerian and the flat of his great axe plays momentarily upon the barbarian's skull... and Conan's world fades into darkness! His consciousness slowly returns... his head throbs against the swaying deck... until his eyes behold the one from Shadizar -- who was run through by his fellow thief! Blackrat did not have enough strength to thrust his sword properly!

 Fafnir's men would have gladly slain the Cimmerian along with the rest of the crew... and let him spare him only if he were tied to the mast. The ship is being blown ever onward by the wind and Fafnir would rather have remained in his native Vanaheim. The Cimmerian youth has had his experiences with them on the Aesgaard borders! He will be loosed from his bonds if he swears to help them steer the ship. Before Conan can speak his defiance, they see the white mist, and the ship strikes a hidden reef! They must abandon ship and Fafnir heads for Conan with knife in hand!

 His hands are now free to risk the shark-infested waters with the rest of them. Before he enters Dagon's cellar, Conan decides to arm himself with a sword! The Cimmerian youth sees the white mist ahead and in that moment, the ship strikes the hidden reef once again... its masts snap and the prow breaks like glass! As the ship shudders against the reef, Conan has already dove over the side, and the waters close in on him... with his lungs close to bursting.

 He has found air once more and spots a man laying on a piece of wreckage... Mere yards away from the limp forms approaches a shark's fin! The Cimmerian youth dives... and his Hyrkanian sword cuts into the shark's underbelly... time and time again... until there is a crimson stain where a sea creature once swam! It is Fafnir who was saved and they are now even. They are now inside the mist -- where none have gone before! They hear the breakers and see an isle within the mist... They are about to hit it hard!

 Minutes later, the dawn sun bears witness as two men drag themselves to shore... The Cimmerian youth has got a score to settle with the Vanirman. Fafnir has no quarrel with him, but Conan is determined that only one of them will walk away from this beach. Many corpses were left in Cimmeria and the youth would extract payment from the Vanirman! Fafnir does not find this to his liking, but Conan's sole regret is that Vanaheim does not have only one breast for his sword to cleave!

 Fafnir's axe swings first, but Conan avoids it, and his own sword slashes wildly... Fafnir is unable to make headway, then lowers his axe...! When the Cimmerian youth bids him to raise his weapon, the Vanirman refuses! It is only when Conan gazes into Fafnir's face and sees his respectful smile... his sudden bloodlust leaves him. They are now friends.

 SKRAW They both hear the fiendish sound and wonder if there are devils here -- A fleeing girl needs their help and the Cimmerian youth obliges her by leaping to her defense against her pursuer -- but he is unable to get a firm grip on the reptile... whose serpentine neck jerks free...

 SKRAWWWW Conan leads his past Fafnir -- who vows by Bragi -- by Ymir -- and by all the gods to break its neck -- or his own heart!! SKRAWWKKK* Unlike Cimmeria's Crom, the Vanirman's gods heeded his oaths! Fafnir will sacrifice a caribou to them -- if he ever gets back to Vanaheim--!

 As Conan vows to get Fafnir home, the Vanirman is grateful he had weakened its neck. The girl would know why they are on the isle of the gods and Conan would learn more about this girl -- of some beauty. She is a Vanir like Fafnir! This is Bal-Sagoth, the oldest land in all the known world! Even Hyrkania -- Khitai -- and Atlantis are as babes compared to it. She is Kyrie, the daughter of Rane the Reaver. Fafnir ran with Rane's band when he was younger. Years ago, Rane and his daughter journeyed East -- but the pirate was no match for the white mists! After the storms, Kyrie was swept ashore by the gods. She was thought to be the sea-goddess Aala by those who found her --

 She was placed in the temple and worshipped with reverence! The child soon learned their language -- and how to use their own childish beliefs --! Only Gothan the high priest knew she was no goddess -- but a mortal woman -- The time came when Gothan stirred the other priests and their warriors against her! Those who had been faithful to her were slaughtered! Because she was thought of as a goddess, she was not slain by Gothan. They rowed her across the lagoon which splits the isle in two -- and left her to her fate! Groth-Golka was the last of the lizard-gods and was now as dead as the past! It is time to speak of the future and she wants them to come with her to win back her kingdom! If they do, they will receive honors! If she leads them to food, Conan vows to hack his way through a horde of priests and warriors to fill his own belly! Fafnir agrees, then wonders what the three of them could do against an entire city!

 There is a legend about the arrival of two men from the sea causing the fall of Bal-Sagoth! She thinks their arrival will cause the citizens to rush to her for aid! Kyrie vows to hurl both Gothan and his puppet king from the highest battlement, and to sleep in her own palace this evening! The three of them pass through the shadowy forest. They are soon across the lagoon separating them from the ramparts of Bal-Sagoth! Even as they gaze upon the sight, they are also being watched!

 As a slave runs off to alert Gothan, Kyrie bids them to build a raft, and get across the shark-infested waters. When asked why she did not slay Gothan, they learn that the high priest is regarded as a god himself. Bal-Sagoth is a city of many gods, the greatest being Gol-Gorth, the god of darkness. She forbade the worship of his image -- and even ordered her men to destroy it. The doors to his temple were bolted -- but Gothan must have opened them once more -- and slain her own priests on the ebon altars! They are three against a nation of fools! The gate is smited and the portals swing inward--!

 Once inside, Kyrie becomes Aala, and now speaks in a loud voice -- There are no words for the goddess' return. The Cimmerian youth gazes upon a very old man who seems more like a lean serpent. In that selfsame moment, the Cimmerian knows he has gazed upon Gothan -- the dark god's priest! Fafnir and Conan wait for the girl to make her move! She sees Gothan wearing the jade amulet of kingship and asks why his puppet king not wear it for a while! As for Ska -- he remembers she was doomed by decree to be placed beyond the lagoon!

 She has returned from there with those who slew the lizard god Groth-Golka! These are the two men who have emerged from the sea!! They have come to fulfill the ancient prophecy and to overthrow Bal-Sagoth, whose people worship false gods! She will forgive them if they give her the head of the high priest Gothan! They must rise up against him -- restore the amulet of royal power to her -- or else the sun shall set on what remains of this once-city! Ska remembers the tradition which states that a king must fight a challenger's champion for his crown -- or else be hurled from the highest parapet, in the coming dawn! Gothan bids Ska to stop, but the puppet knows that he is still the king!

 Gothan did not place the crown upon Ska's head to have him lose it upon a whim! It is up to the high priest to handle this, for Ska has gotten quite fond of both crown and his own head! As Aala prepares to select her champion, Gothan reminds the false goddess that a friend of the king may fight in his stead -- if he rises unbidden! Ska has no friends that have not been paid off in gold -- but the king's defender has come! Vertorix has arrived! The wholly-armored figure of Vertorix descends the stairs -- his stride more of an executioner than a warrior! In that moment, the Cimmerian youth knows which of them must face him! Across the abyss, Conan faces off against Vertorix -- and the eyes of Gothan are upon them both.

 They silently circle one another -- the Cimmerian's eyes ablaze with hatred -- the other with eyes of obsidian! It suddenly begins! The armored one's blade sings past Conan's ear, slowed by its wielder's sheer weight! The Cimmerian youth sees his chance and takes it! His opponent has got a jaw of iron! Vertorix's sword whistles once more and the barbarian is backed into a corner -- The blood-rage consumes Conan -- who strikes ever harder -- until his armored opponent must give ground -- as silently as he has held it!

 As Fafnir wishes he could have a go against Vertorix, Aala eyes Gothan, and sees that the wizard does not move while Vertorix does just that! Although his head is well-shielded, the Cimmerian is curious to see the effect of his sword upon his opponent's -- neck? Conan can only gape at the sight of his now-headless opponent and the sword which threatens to sever his own head from his body! The barbarian ducks in time and the others see the armor is empty!

 The Cimmerian's sword strikes again and a severed forearm drops to the floor -- there are now beads of sweat upon Gothan's brow, and Vertorix arcs his sword -- to shatter Conan's own blade -- The Cimmerian is rooted to the spot by his own fear of the unknown -- Just as the headless Vertorix is about to strike the death blow -- the crimson-haired goddess strides across the marble court -- and turns to face both the high priest -- and the sun's baleful glare! With the sun in his eyes, Gothan can no longer see!!

 The Cimmerian youth watches as the high priest shields his eyes -- the mighty Ventorix and his armor have come undone! It was Gothan's gaze that moved him! As the people crave their goddess and their queen, Conan searches the crowd for both Gothan and Ska! They must have gone into the shadows to brew up more trouble! It is time to celebrate -- and Conan remembers a dream that told him he would become a ruler one day -- so why not here?

 On the cover of Conan The Barbarian #17 by Gil Kane and Frank Brunner, the Cimmerian must hold his own against an armored opponent, and carry an unconscious maiden at the same time!

 Fafnir knows how to play a mean tune on Conan's skull with the flat of his axe.

 Conan knows Fafnir from the story, "Devil Wings Over Shadizar!"

 Thanks to his Hyrkanian sword, the Cimmerian youth did not end up in the belly of the sea-beast.

 Although the armor of Vertorix was empty, he was far from an empty threat for Conan.

 Gunfighters and swordfighters know enough to never let the sun get into their eyes.

 The Cimmerian witnessed the prophecy of his becoming a ruler in the very first issue of his Marvel mag.

 Conan the Barbarian would one day rule the kingdom of Aquilonia.

 Steve Chung
 "The Review Of Bal-Sagoth!"