Conan the Barbarian

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Book: Conan the Barbarian by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter Read Free Book Online
Authors: L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter
giant form reeled, took two tottering steps towards the throne, and collapsed into a heap of bones and dust. The helmet rang like a cracked bell when it struck the stone flooring. Then the torch flickered and went out.
    For a moment, the Cimmerian stood staring into the darkness, unable to comprehend that his supernatural adversary was truly dead and that the great sword was his. Then he turned and, holding his weapon at the ready, mounted the stairs.
    At last Conan emerged into the moonlight to find the wolves still waiting for him. Howling, they bounded toward him, tongues lolling from their fanged jaws. With a tight smile, he took his stance on the ledge and raised the long blade over his head. As the first beast hurled itself toward him, Conan pivoted, sweeping his sword in a horizontal arc. Caught in mid-leap, the wolf was tossed high in the air and fell, yelping, to its death on the boulders.
    Before the Cimmerian could lift his sword arm to deliver another slashing blow, a second wolf sprang at him, its jaws agape. In the white light of the moon, he drove the point of his blade between the open jaws, seating it deep in the animal’s gullet. The wolf’s legs scrambled frantically on the rounded surface of a boulder as it tried in vain to tear itself loose from the impaling blade.
    At that instant, a third wolf dove at Conan from the side, snapping at his legs. Still encumbered by the spitted animal, Conan kicked out, in time to catch the new attacker on its nose. The beast drew back with a yelp, then made another dive; but Conan, having freed his sword, dealt the attacker a blow that laid open its skull.
    With three of their number down, the remaining wolves drew back. Whining, they trotted off, tails low, and disappeared into the low-lying mists.
    Conan spent the night, a long and wearisome time, hidden among the boulders on the upland, alert to the twin dangers of further attacks by hungering beasts or by walking dead men from the nearby cave. In the grey dawn, he skinned the three dead wolves and, tying the skins together, made a crude mantle for protection against the cold. Some of the flesh he roasted over a small fire and ate with ravenous enjoyment; some he wrapped in the skin of a wolf’s leg to assuage his hunger during the journey southward.
    The sword Conan slung on his back, thrust through the dead soldier’s belt and secured there by a string of animal sinews. Thus outfitted and provisioned, he clambered down the rock pile and, sighting on a pallid sun, headed south.
    Three days later, the level tundra had given way to a vista of gently rolling hills crowned with scrub timber. The ground beneath his feet had grown soft from the melting of the lingering snows, and clear water ran in rills from tunnels in the thawing drifts. In the distance, a lazy pillar of smoke wavered upward to meet the high overcast.
    Conan headed for the place whence the smoke ascended; and, coming to a clearing, found a stone-walled, sod-roofed dwelling dug into the side of a hill. Curiously carved wooden poles jutted from the earth at crazy angles about the hut, like a flimsy palisade. Several standing stones had been rudely chipped into the semblance of human heads, grimacing or shouting into the uncaring wind. His primitive instincts attuned to the supernatural, Conan could almost feel the emanations of evil power arising from these cryptic sticks and stones.
    The door of the hut stood ajar, and the barbarian approached it, moving with the feline caution of a stalking leopard. Suddenly he stopped, rigid with amazement; for, tethered by a chain to a heavy stone post, he saw a crouching figure, wrapped in ragged furs. It was a man, squat, bow-legged, and half naked, who with the eyes of an injured animal regarded the newcomer. Voiceless and unmoving as the stone against which he huddled, the short man stared at the young Cimmerian from slitted, ebon eyes.
    Suddenly, a voice, as clear as a cowbell in the gloaming, jolted Conan from

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