The Hand of Nergal

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"The Hand of Nergal"
Author Robert E. Howard/Lin Carter
Original title "The Hand of Nergal"
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pastische
Publisher Lancer Books
Publication date 1967

"The Hand of Nergal" is one of the original short stories by American author Robert E. Howard starring the sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, an untitled fragment begun in the 1930s but not finished or published in Howard's lifetime. It was completed and titled by Lin Carter and in this form was published in the following collections:

It has since been published in its original form in:

Plot summary (Carter)[edit]

Conan is a mercenary soldier serving in the army of the empire of Turan and is fighting in a pitched battle against the forces of the rebellious satrap Munthassem Khan. As the two sides are locked in furious combat Conan looks up and sees a flight of winged black shadowy monsters with hellish green eyes resembling enormous bats descending from the sky onto the battlefield. Unknown to Conan, Munthassem Khan had summoned these supernatural creatures using the magical artifact known as the Hand of Nergal. The Turanians are routed and begin retreating from the field, all except Conan who is left to face one of the shadow bats alone. As he begins to fall victim to the unearthly cold emanating from the monster his hand makes its way to the mysterious golden talisman in his pouch that he had found earlier. As he touches it a surge of warmth flows through him, banishing the shadow bats and turning them back upon their former allies, the army of Munthassem Khan. Overcome with exhaustion, Conan loses consciousness.

Some time later Conan comes to and finds himself alone on the battlefield amid the dead bodies and wreckage of war but soon discovers two survivors, the horse belonging to his former general now dead, and a young Brythunian girl named Hildico. Hildico had been sent by her master, the sorcerer Atalis of the nearby city of Yaralet, ruled by Munthassem Khan. Convincing him to come with her to see her master, Conan meets Atalis who explains that his help is needed to stop Munthassem Khan's tyrannical reign of terror over the people of Yaralet and to end his rebellion against the Turanian king Yildiz.

According to the tale told by Atalis, Munthassem Khan was once a just and merciful ruler until he came into possession of the Hand of Nergal, an object of evil power in the form of an ivory sceptre with a clawed demon hand at one end grasping a crystal and inscribed with strange glyphs and runes. It fell to the earth from the stars in the ancient past and as it changed hands through the ages it granted whoever claimed it the promise of ultimate power as well as the curse of eventual destruction. The only way to counter the Hand's malevolent force is with the talisman known as the Heart of Tammuz, a golden amber stone shaped like a heart and warm to the touch, the same talisman that Conan had found and used to overcome the shadow bats.

Conan eventually confronts Munthassem Khan in his throne room, but finds himself losing to the power of the Hand until Hildico comes to his rescue, takes the Heart of Tammuz and hurls it at Munthassem Khan, striking him in the head and rendering him unconscious. The forces of the Heart and Hand are then unleashed and wage a cosmic struggle against each other until both finally come together with a great shattering thunder as of two worlds colliding. In the aftermath both the Heart and Hand are gone and nothing is left of Munthassem Khan but ashes. The curse is broken and Yaralet is free.

Adaptations[edit]

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Preceded by
"Wolves Beyond the Border"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Snout in the Dark"
Preceded by
"Rogues in the House"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Shadows in the Moonlight"
Preceded by
Conan the Unconquered
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"The City of Skulls"