Jewels of Gwahlur
|"Jewels of Gwahlur"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Original title||"Servants of Bit-Yakin"|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Publication type||Pulp magazine|
"Jewels of Gwahlur" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, it concerns several parties, including Conan, fighting over and hunting for the eponymous treasure in Hyborian Africa. The tale was first published in the March, 1935 issue of Weird Tales. Howard's original title for the story was "The Servants of Bit-Yakin".
Robert E. Howard set the story in Hyborian Africa. The Teeth of Gwahlur are legendary jewels, kept in the abandoned city of Alkmeenon, in the country of Keshan "which in itself was considered mythical by many northern and western nations".
Conan, following legends of this treasure, has travelled to Keshan and offered his services to train and lead Keshan's army against their neighbour, Punt. However, Thutmekri, a Stygian rogue with similar intentions, and his Shemitish partner, Zargheba, also arrive in the country with an offer of a military alliance with another of Punt's neighbours, Zembabwei, with some of the Teeth to seal their pact. The high priest of Keshan, Gorulga, announces that a decision on the matter can only be made after consulting Yelaya, the mummified oracle of Alkmeenon. This is all the treasure hunters require. Zargheba joins Gorulga in his expedition while Conan travels ahead of them.
In the abandoned city the initial atmosphere of the supernatural gives way to intrigue over the oracle. Zargheba has brought along a Corinthian slave girl, Muriela, to play the part of the oracle and tell the priests to hand all of the jewels to Thutmekri. Conan is first scared of the living oracle but quickly discovers the ruse. Intrigue and mystery follows as the imposter and the body of the genuine oracle switch and reappear. Gorulga, however, is an innocent in this, genuinely attempting to consult his oracle.
However, a fourth faction appears. A Pelishti traveller, Bit-Yakin, had visited the valley of the lost city in the past. When the people of Keshan visited the site to worship Yelaya as a goddess, Bit-Yakin provided prophecies from a hiding place. Eventually he died there; his undying servants buried him as per his instructions, and, got rid of their master's control, massacred all priests from Keshan who attempted to visit the city and consult the oracle afterwards. Bit-Yakin's servants, revealed to be large, gray-furred ape-like creatures, kill the survivors of Gorulga's party when they attempt to claim the jewels. Conan manages to acquire the chest containing the jewels but is forced to abandon them to save Muriela. They escape together and Conan ends the story by outlining a new plan.
Characters and places
Several parts of the story highlight Conan's intellect, in particular his grasp of written and spoken languages: "In his roaming about the world the giant adventurer had picked up a wide smattering of knowledge, particularly including the speaking and reading of many alien tongues. Many a sheltered scholar would have been astonished at the Cimmerian's linguistic abilities, for he had experienced many adventures where knowledge of a strange language had meant the difference between life and death." Conan's polyglottery is also a plot point in Robert E. Howard's only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, while his literacy and knowledge were noted in the very first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword".
The Conan stories take place in a fictional past, known as the Hyborian Age, but based on real places. The main country of Keshan takes its name from "Kesh", the Egyptian name for Nubia. Their enemy, the Land of Punt, has a similar Egyptian origin. The other nation, Zembabwei, takes its name from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe (as did the real-world country Zimbabwe some time after this story was published).
The collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967) republished the story. It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) as "Jewels of Gwalhur" and The Conquering Sword of Conan (2005) under Howard's original title, "The Servants of Bit-Yakin".
Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano adapted the story in Marvel Comic's "Savage Sword of Conan" magazine #25 in 1977. In 2008, that adaptation was reprinted in the trade paperback collection "Savage Sword of Conan" Volume 3.
P. Craig Russell also adapted the story in Dark Horse comics in 2005 as a three issue mini-series and collected in 2006 as a hardcover book.
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