Beyond the Black River

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"Beyond the Black River"
Hugh Rankin - Beyond the Black River.jpg
Author Robert E. Howard
Country US
Language English
Series Conan the Cimmerian
Genre(s) Fantasy
Published in US
Publication type Pulp magazine
Publisher Weird Tales
Publication date 1935

"Beyond the Black River" is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine, v. 25, nos. 5-6, May-June 1935. The story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967). It has more recently been published in the anthology The Mighty Swordsmen (Lancer Books, 1970), and the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005). It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan fighting the savage Hyborian Picts in the unsettled lands beyond the infamous Black River.

Plot overview[edit]

(From Conan The Warrior, ISBN 0-441-11465-2)

The foreword to the story tells of his travels to Punt with Muriela, refers to a scam perpetrated against worshippers of an ivory goddess and then on to Zembabwei, where he joins a trading caravan on its way to Shem. Around 40 now, Conan visits his homeland and finds his old friends are fathers. Bored, Conan sets off for the Bossonian Marches and becomes a Scout at Fort Tuscelan on the Black River. Naturally, there is a war going on...

A young settler named Balthus encounters Conan in the forests slaying a forest devil. Accompanying the young man back to the Fort, Conan finds the body of a merchant ensorcelled by a Pictish wizard named Zogar Sag and slain by a swamp demon.

The Fort Tuscelan Commander, Valannus, is a desperate man and asks Conan to slay Zogar Sag before he raises the Picts against the whole borderlands. Taking a hand picked team of scouts and Balthus, Conan sets off stealthily in canoes. Balthus is captured and most of Conan's men slaughtered in an ambush.

Balthus and one of the Scouts are tied to stakes and the scout is sacrificed by Zogar Sag to one of his jungle creatures. Before Balthus can meet a similar fate, Conan sets the Pictish village on fire and the two flee into the woods. Conan tells Balthus of the cult of Jhebbal Sag, now forgotten by most. Once all living things worshipped him when men and beasts spoke the same language. Over time men and most beasts forgot his worship. Zogar Sag has not, however, and can control those few animals and creatures who also remember. And they are on Conan's trail now.

Conan is able to neutralize them using a symbol he once noticed, and the pair hurry to return to the Fort to warn them of the impending Pictish assault, but they are too late. The Picts already are all around the fort, and furious fighting is going on. The number of Picts ensures that eventually the fort will be overwhelmed and the defenders slaughtered. The only thing left to do is warn the settlers to flee while the Picts are busy with the fort - otherwise they will be slaughtered, too.

Conan and Balthus go to warn the settlers that the Picts have crossed the river and are raiding. They are joined by Slasher, a feral dog formerly owned by a settler who had been slain by the Picts. Balthus is sent on to warn settlers of the coming Pict raid, and Conan parts from him to warn a group of settler who had gone to gather salt. Balthus warns women and children to leave their huts and flee. When a band of Picts arrives, who move quicker and might overtake the women, Balthus stays behind to cover their escape. Accompanied by Slasher he makes a stand against the coming Pict raiders, first shooting arrows from concealment and then in a furious face to face battle. The man and dog's sacrifice delays the Picts and gives the settlers time to reach safety. Conan manages to warn the salt-gathering party in time, but finds he has been marked for death by the gods of darkness for misusing the symbol of Jhebbal Sag. In the end Conan triumphs, but the fort is lost, and so is the entire province.

The story ends in a tavern. A survivor tells Conan about the courageous act of Balthus and Slasher, and how their final stand had delayed the Picts just barely long enough for the settlers to reach safety. Upon hearing of the fight, Conan vowed to take the heads of ten Picts to pay for Balthus' sacrifice, along with seven heads for the dog, who was "a better warrior than many a man."


The story was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan #26 and #27.

The Sword, on the album Gods of the Earth, based the song "The Black River" on this story.[1]


  1. ^ Ziemke, Mark. "The Sword are Gods of the Earth". Ground Control. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Jewels of Gwahlur"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"Shadows in Zamboula"
Preceded by
"The Pool of the Black One"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"The Black Stranger"
Preceded by
Conan the Rogue
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"Moon of Blood"