In the south-western spur of the Kezankian mountains separating Brythunia from Zamora, one of the hundreds of wandering holy-men of the Kezankians is drawing the traditionally feuding tribes together to witness a miracle of “the ancient gods.” The True Gods of earth, air, fire and water led Basrakan Imallah deep into the bowels of the earth to a clutch of fire-drake eggs. With blasphemous knowledge of the thaumatergical arts, Basrakan managed to hatch one of the nine eggs and bind the infant creature to his will, albeit imperfectly. Now, with an avatar of the fire god under his command, Basrakan preaches a holy war against the plains-dwellers of Zamora and Brythunia.
Unfortunately, as the creature grows, his hold on it weakens.
In secret, Basrakan has agents searching for two huge rubies, The Eyes of Fire, that will grant him complete control over all nine dragons. With them, he can complete his unification of the hill-tribes and lead them to conquest over all who would oppose him.
Completing a spectacle where his dragon kills three Brythunians as a sacrifice to the True Gods, Basrakan receives word his spies have located the Eyes of Fire. They are in the possession of House Perashanid of Shadizar.
Shadizar, capital city of Zamora. Conan steals across rooftops bound for the house of Samarides, the gem-merchant. On commission from the spice merchant, Barastes, Conan intends to steal a goblet carved from a single huge emerald from Samarides’ mansion. Almost killing himself to gain access to the place, Conan is beaten to his prize by a female thief calling herself Lyana. To discourage him from using her rope to escape, Lyana casts a black throwing knife at the Cimmerian. When he jumps back to avoid the projectile, she makes good her escape. Narrowly escaping from Samarides and his guards by going out the front door, Conan vows to avenge his wounded pride by beating the thief to her next prize.
But first he has to find out who she is.
From Abuletes, Conan learns a thief named Jamal used knives similar to the one the girl threw at Conan…until he was beheaded by the City Guard a decade ago. Jamal had a daughter and two brothers, Gayan and Hafid, who took the orphaned girl in. They were thieves as well and used clothing and tools similar to what Conan saw the girl employ. The girl’s name was Tamira.
Conan offers a reward of two silver pieces to the city’s beggars, trulls and street urchins to find the girl for him.
The Lady Jondra of the House Perashanid is know to possess a fabulous tiara and necklace both of which feature a huge ruby set amongst diamonds and opals. She is also reputed to be an capable huntress. She is also famous for being unwed and the last scion of noble house of Zamora. However, her mother was Brythunian, not Zamoran, and no small few at court consider her a half-breed, much to her chagrin. We see her snub the hopes of one would-be paramour by telling him she can marry no man unless he can equal her as an archer; then she bests him at archery.
After many false leads, the street urchins locate Tamira at The Red Lion Tavern. A confrontation ensues where Conan suggests that Tamira is a virgin and wants to bed her.
His real plan is to have her followed from the tavern by the urchins to see where she goes and report back to Conan.
A day comes and goes and Conan finds himself confronted by Barastes the spice merchant, visiting Abulete’s Tavern to talk with Conan about the whereabouts of the goblet. Asking to keep their dealings private, they adjourn to Conan’s small room on the second floor and, unsatisfied with Conan’s explanation of events, Barastes tries to kill the Cimmerian. Conan disarms him easily and stuns him with a blow to the face. Stripping him of his purse, cloak and weapons, Conan shakes him awake and throws him out the window to the filthy alley below.
Knowing that his actions will eventually bring the city guard to Abuletes, Conan arranges with the tavern-keeper to secure a horse and leave the city. As Abuletes sends a message to a man he knows, Laeta the street urchin enters and tells Conan that Tamira has been spending time at the Lady Jondra’s mansion. One of the urchins saw her leave a few hours past, dressed like a serving girl, along with the rest of Lady Jondra’s hunting party.
Needing to leave town in any case, Conan plays a hunch Tamira would not tag along with the noblewoman while the jewels stay in Shadizar. Taking his new horse he sets off into the northern Zamorian wastes intent on catching up with Jondra’s hunting expedition. [note: Jordan uses Zamoran throughout instead of Howard’s term, Zamorian, used throughout this article]
Coming upon Jondra cornered and alone, menaced by a pack of wolves, Conan rescues her by killing nine of them before the rest slink back into the wilderness. With both their horses dead, the pair must walk back to Jondra’s camp. Unfortunately neither one has any water left and the Zamoran wastes offer no chance to find any. As the day stretches into afternoon, Jondra begins to fail, so the Cimmerian carries her, against her weak protests. It is full night when Conan spies the fires of a camp. Not knowing or caring if it is Jondra’s, he staggers into camp, sets the woman on the ground and demands water, hand on his sword hilt.
Assuming the worst upon seeing Jonrda’s limp form dropped to the ground, Arvaneus, Jondra’s Chief Huntsman, orders Conan slain. In a soft but firm voice Jondra commands her men to stop and, after taking some swallows of water, berates Arvaneus for not doing enough to try to locate her before dusk. So does Conan earn the enmity of Arvaneus.
In Brythunia, in a village near the Kezankian Mountains, a young warrior named Eldran returns from the West to find his fellow villagers all bearing arms and shields. The local priestess of Wiccana, Boudanecea, takes him to her abode where Eldran’s teacher in the art of the sword, Godtan, lies horribly burned and dying. He is the only surviving member of a hunting party that went, against Boudanecea’s advice, to the mountains in search of the creature responsible for burning farms in the foothills of the Kezankians. When they came upon the beast they learned, to their horror, that the priestess spoke true; no weapons forged by ordinary men could harm the creature. After fleeing the dragon, the remaining warriors were ambushed by hillmen. Eldran’s brother, Ellandune, and two other men, Aelric and Aelfric, were taken prisoner. The rest were slain. The hillmen left Godtan for dead.
Boudanecea leads Eldran to The Sacred Grove of Wiccana and, using druidic magic, opens the way for Eldran to obtain the sword called Flame Slayer; forged by great wizards almost 3,000 years prior to defeat the beasts of fire unleashed by Acheron’s foul sorcery. Empty claws on either end of the guard once held great rubies called the Eyes of Fire which gave the wielder control of the beasts. The blade is given only to the worthy and only once in their lifetime. If it leaves the possession of the worthy, it magically returns to the mound in Wiccana’s Grove and can only be granted to another after the proper ceremony is performed. Eldran accepts the priestess’ benediction while making a list, in his mind, of the men he will lead into the mountains.
Meanwhile, back in Zamora, Conan observes the leaders of the hunting party concealing their presence from a contingent of over 5,000 Zamorian troops crossing their intended path, far ahead in the distance. Arvaneus finally challenges Conan to a duel but Jondra forbids it, so Conan suggests they cast spears for money. Conan ties Arvaneus at 30 paces and at 40 paces and then beats him at 60 paces. Incensed, Arvaneus dares Conan to hit the arget at 100 paces…so he does. Not only does he win 500 pieces of silver from the Chief huntsman, Lady Jondra gives herself to the Cimmerian because she could never have made such a spear-cast.
Three days later Eldran and his riders meet Lady Jondra’s hunting party on the Zamorian plain. In speaking with them, Jondra describes the beast that she hunts and the Brythunians recognize it as the beast of fire that they seek. Eldran tries to warn Jondra that the beast cannot be slain by normal weapons but the proud noblewoman sends them on their way. But not before Eldran out-shoots Jondra with a bow, making quite an impression on her…and focusing her wrath on both Arvaneus and Conan.
Through ensorcelled ravens, Basrakan learns of the arrival of the Zamorian soldiers and dispatches 20,000 hillmen to destroy them, to prove they are worthy in the eyes of the True Gods.
That night the Cimmerian wakes to the sound of unshod hoofs on gravel coming up the hill toward camp. Djinar and his band of hillmen from Shadizar have caught up with the hunting party and attack while they sleep, intent on killing them all and taking the Eyes of Fire to Basrakan. Conan kills a number of them while the hunters are still waking up and helps drive them off. He then argues with Jondra, trying to convince her to turn back.
The next afternoon Conan tells Tamira of his intention to return to Shadizar, with or without Jondra. Tamira promises to accompany Conan but not until after dark, in order to avoid a confrontation with the noblewoman over leaving her service. Shortly thereafter a Zamorian cavalry company of nearly three hundred riders arrives at Jondra’s camp. Their commander, Lord Zathanides, insists it is too dangerous near the mountains at this juncture and tells Jondra return to Shadizar. Trying to make Conan jealous, she invites the general into her tent to discuss her future. Her ploy backfires however and the Zamorain nobleman tries to rape her.
Conan throws Zathanides out of Jondra’s pavilion and disarms him when he tries to draw on the Cimmerian. Jondra stops Conan from killing him and warns she will inform the king of his indecent assault if he attempts use his station to exact revenge on the Cimmerian. The general takes his leave but not before casting aspersions on Jondra’s mother and Conan’s heritage.
After his departure, Conan and Jondra quarrel again over returning to the city, after which Conan decides to take his own advice and begin preparations to leave that night with Tamira. Discovering a saddle and waterskin already sitting by a fresh horse however, Conan proceeds directly to Jondra’s tent and catches Tamira stealing the tiara and necklace. Scooping her up and carrying her off down the hill to the edge of camp behind some scrub brush, Tamira kicks him as he is releasing her. He loses his footing on the uneven ground and falls atop her. An argument ensues but soon Tamira beings to kiss him. After a second or two of surprise, Conan returns the favour.
The next day finds Conan already well into the mountains at sunrise and looking back at a battle on the Zamorian plains where a huge horde of Kezankian hillmen are massacring thousands of Zamorian soldiers.
From another part of the mountains, Eldran watches the same battle and mourns for Jondra, who he is sure the soldiers were escorting back to Shadizar. Eldran addresses his men and tells them they are now on the beast’s home-ground; that he’s felt it’s evil growing ever stronger as they travelled further into this part of the mountains. He lets them know, If any want to turn back, now is the time. None do.
Further into the mountains, Basrakan’s meditations are interrupted by a group of heretical hillmen. The Imalla slays them with magic and then casts a spell that immolates every one of their male relatives, regardless of their age, in the surrounding camp. Jbiel tells Basrakan that Shamal, one of Djinar’s men sent after the Eyes of Fire, has returned, but is insane. Against the tradition of the Old Gods that the insane are not to be molested, Basrakan orders him interrogated to find out everything he knows.
Before noon, after the massacre of the Zamorian soldiers, Jondra calls a halt and orders her retinue to make camp; sending out her huntsmen to look for signs of the dragon. Conan spends the day on lookout duty, honing the blade of his sword, trying to spy the source of an oppressive feeling that has grown stronger the further they forged into the mountains.
Telades is the first hunter to return. He found no sign of the beast but did discover another large force of Zamorian soldiers camped further within the mountains, to the north. Telades was able to get close enough to recognize the commander of the force; one General Tenerses.
One by one the other hunters return, each of them finding no trace of the creature…until, at last, Arvaneus returns with news of the beast’s tracks. Despite the distance to the tracks and the sun hanging at mid-afternoon, Jondra insists on seeing the spoor that day and takes 20 men, plus Conan, into the mountains.
Reaching the first tracks, the oppressive feeling Conan has had that whole day increases. He suggests they return to camp but Jondra insists on seeing the complete tracks Arvaneus claims are further along. Coming to a small valley with many cuts leading off to each side, the earth becomes softer and complete tracks can be seen.
And then the dragon attacks.
The beast decimates the hunting party with claws and fire; each of the hunters falling as they realize that no part of the beast is vulnerable, not even its eyes. Jondra is nearly killed by the beast but she and Conan are provided the chance to escape when Telades sacrifices himself to distract the monster. Jondra breaks down and Conan carries her to safety.
Conan strides into camp carrying Jondra and Tamira helps her to her tent. No other hunters have returned. The remaining hunters look to Conan for leadership. He orders them to be vigilant against hillmen tonight for they leave in the morning for Shadizar. He also tells them to flee if the beast attacks.
Hillmen do attack that night, but there are too many of them to repel. Conan rescues Tamira from a hillman and escapes the camp with her. Finding her a place to hide, he returns to the camp to see if he can rescue Jondra. Jealous and angry that he would leave her to help the noblewoman, Tamira leaves her hiding place intent on returning to camp to steal the gems and return to Shadizar without Conan, but is soon captured by hillmen.
Returning to the camp, Conan finds the battle over and begins looking for supplies to use on the journey back to the city. He is accosted by Arvaneus, just arrived after wandering in the mountains since the attack of the fire-drake. Arvaneus is insane with guilt over first leading the hunters to their doom and and then fleeing instead of helping them. Accusing the Cimmerian of being a thief, he becomes enraged when he hears Conan’s plan to find Jondra and return her to Shadizar. He attacks and Conan kills him,
Before he died Arvaneus admitted to seeing Jondra escape the camp and hide from the hillmen. Worried that he has been so long away from Tamira, Conan goes to collect her before searching for Jondra’s hiding place.
In need of water, Jondra leaves her hiding place, reluctantly…because she is nude…to sneak to a water hole she could see from her sanctuary. Losing her footing, she slides off the edge of a short drop but her ankle gets caught in a tree and she is left hanging upside down, still naked, mere yards from the pool of water.
Struggling to free herself, she does not hear a hillman approaching the water hole until he is already there; and then he is dead with an arrow sticking from his neck. Her initial relief that one of her huntsmen has saved her is dampened by the fact that she cannot manage to free herself. Her relief turns to horror when she sees that her saviour is not from her hunting party but is Eldran, the Brythunian.
Effortlessly he lifts her down and carries her to the pond. When he begins to talk of how obsessed he has become with her she picks up a large rock and bounces it off his head. Grateful that he continues to breathe, she nevertheless robs him of his cloak, leggings, bow, knife, etc and limps off in an attempt to get away from him.
And she limps right into six hillmen.
Meanwhile, Conan is tracking Tamira’s departure from her hiding place and discovers that she was taken by hillmen. As he tracks them he comes upon the remaining members of Eldran’s band. Together he and Eldran agree that they will save the women and then slay the beast.
Tamara and Jondra awake to find they are chained spread-eagle on either side of a stone room, completely naked. Basrakan begins magically torturing the two, stopping only when Jbeil interrupts to tell him that Shamal has finally said something legible…that the Eyes of Fire were brought into the Mountains by Jondra.
Conan, Eldran and the remaining Brythunians tracked the hillmen back to the assembled horde surrounding Basrakan’s temple. They know Jondra is in the temple but only that Tamira is somewhere in the huge camp. Discussing how to proceed, Eldran insists on saving Jondra and Conan suggests that they use General Tenerses and his soldiers to their advantage by tricking him into thinking the hillman force is far smaller than it is and providing them with an easy victory. Eldran chooses Frydan for the task and the men settle in to await his return with the army.
After scouring the horde for the spoils from Jondra’s camp, Jbiel delivers the necklace and the tiara to Basrakan. Completely focussed on the gems, he discards the rest of the jewellery and prepares the binding spell that will link him to the fire-drake. He orders Jabiel to take the women to the dungeon to await sacrifice. The spell works and he orders the women taken to for sacrifice to the beast of fire. Thousands of hillmen stream after the women and the Imallas as they make their way to the next valley, where Basrakan performs the rituals to the True Gods.
Upon seeing both woman herded toward the next valley, Conan and Eldran decide that they cannot wait for Frydan’s return. Slipping down into the valley, Conan and the Brythunians disguise themselves as hillmen and join the throng.
As Basrakan completes his summoning ritual to call forth the fire-drake, yells are heard from the entrance-valley that the hillmen are under attack by soldiers. When the Imalla looks down into the sacrificial circle he sees men jumping the low wall and rushing towards the women.
Conan frees Tamira while Eldran frees Jondra and they all turn to consider escape. Sounds of battle from the valley entrance have distracted thousands from what transpires in the sacrificial circle, but many are not…and some are brave enough to intervene. Those hillmen enter the circle to stop the infidels,
But after a few minutes, the press of battle weakens and the hillmen begin to draw back. The beast of fire has arrived.
Finding himself too far away from the beast, Eldran calls out to Conan and throws Flame Slayer to the Cimmerian. Diving and rolling, Conan avoids the fiery breath of the creature and gets close enough to strike at its face. Jerking its head back in pain, the beast exposes its chest and Conan buries the blade in it.
Rearing back on its hind legs, the beast dies and topples onto Basrakan, mashing him to jelly.
Demoralized, thousands of hillmen break for the mouth of the valley and though he strides through them, none dares raise a hand against Conan. Head and shoulders above most of the hillmen, he sees Eldran and the Brythunians helping Jondra escape. Further away, he spies Tamira, his black cloak still covering her, swept into the entrance-valley with the flow of the throng, and out of sight.
Hewing his way back to the larger valley, Conan sees Tamira dash from Basrakan’s temple. As she yells something about recovering her clothes, Conan throws her over his shoulder with a curse and heads for the hills.
Rejoining Eldran’s company to escape the mountains, Conan and the Brythunians reach the foothills safely. Jondra is taken captive by Eldran as payment for her assault against him and the theft of his possessions before she was captured by hillmen. Tamira stops Conan from intervening, explaining that Jondra is in love with Eldran and would rather return to Brythunia with him than to Shadizar as a lonely, wealthy half-breed.
Tamira and Conan part from the Brythunians and ride out onto the Zamorian plain toward Shadizar.
First off, don’t click that “details” thingy above this. Some jamoke went and summarized the book instead of writing a synopsis and it’s 7 pages long. Who are these people who have that much time and energy to put towards something so futile? At least MY reviews will get read by me and millions of my nearest and dearest friends (and who have paid quite handsomely to BE my nearest and dearest) and adoring fans (who did NOT pay quite so handsomely, the cheapskates!)
Conan gets involved with trying to steal some jewels and then to protect a woman. A sorcerer is trying to unite a bunch of fractious tribes under the guise of “the old gods” and has some sort of creature semi in control. But the sorcerer needs the same jewels as Conan wants to complete his control over the creature.
Everything collides and Conan uses a magic sword to slay the beast. Which wasn’t really supposed to be possible, because only the Chosen One could hold the sword and he was already holding it. When the Chosen One lets go of the sword, it supposedly disappears back to its secret hiding place until a new Chosen One is born. So the current Chosen One tossing the magic sword to Conan for him to use just didn’t make sense. I don’t expect a lot from Conan books, but internal consistency is one thing I do want.
That’s why, even though I enjoyed this more than the previous book, I am giving it 3stars instead of 3.5stars. I know it might seem like a little detail to you and you could wonder why but I take my job as a Professional Book Reviewer seriously. I don’t get paid ½ million dollars each year for nothing after all.