Rogues in the House
|"Rogues in the House"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Publication type||Pulp magazine|
"Rogues in the House" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine circa January 1934. It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan inadvertently becoming involved in the power play between two powerful men fighting for control of a city. It was the seventh Conan story Howard had published.
- Weird Tales magazine (Jan 1934)
- Terror by Night anthology (Selwyn and Blount, 1934, ed. Christine Campbell Thomson)
- Skull-Face and Others (Arkham House, 1946)
- The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953)
- More Not at Night anthology (Arrow Books, 1961, ed. Christine Campbell Thomson)
- Conan (Lancer, 1967, later reissued by Ace Books)
- Rogues in the House (Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., 1976)
- The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989)
- The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000)
- Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
"When did a priest keep an oath?” complained Conan, comprehending the trend of the conversation. “Let me cut his throat; I want to see what color his blood is. They say in the Maze that his heart is black, so his blood must be black too..."— Robert E. Howard, "Rogues in the House"
The story takes place in an unnamed city-state between Zamora and Corinthia during an apparent power struggle between two powerful leaders: Murilo, an aristocrat, and Nabonidus, the "Red Priest," a clergyman with a strong power base. After he is delivered a subtle threat by Nabonidus, Murilo learns of Conan's reputation as a mercenary and turns to him for help.
Prior to the story's beginning, Conan killed a corrupt priest of Anu who was both a fence and a police informer, but was caught after he became intoxicated and a prostitute turned him in. Languishing in a jail and awaiting execution, Conan receives Murilo's visit and is proposed a bargain: in exchange for setting him free and getting him out of Corinthia with a bag of gold, Conan will kill Nabonidus.
Conan is brought food but while he's consuming it, the jailer who should set him free when Murilo is at home (thus with an alibi) is arrested on unrelated corruption charges (corruption seems to run rampant in the city). The new jailer is flabbergasted to see a prisoner awaiting execution whilst chomping on a haunch of beef; but when he enters the cell to confiscate it, Conan splits his skull with the very bone he was gnawing on and makes his escape.
For a while, he considers leaving Murilo on his own, but then decides to follow the original plan and keep his word.
After taking revenge on the prostitute who turned him in (he slays her new lover and drops her into a foul cesspit), Conan sneaks into the Red Priest's booby-trapped mansion, only to find that Murilo and Nabonidus himself are being held captive by a mysterious third party that took Nabonidus' place and impersonated him. This turns out to be Thak, a primitive (pre-human) ape-like creature whom Nabonidus had captured as a cub and trained as a bodyguard and servant. The three observe Thak via a series of hidden periscopes and see that the creature has learned to imitate Nabonidus well enough to activate a toxic pollen trap which eliminates yet another party of assassins (nationalistic agitators) penetrating the villa.
Finally, Conan and the other two men manage to get back into the house from the basement and Conan defeats Thak in combat. The Red Priest then turns on his temporary compatriots; but, while Nabonidus gloats over his plans in a monologue, Conan slays him with an expertly hurled stool. The surviving pair leave and go their separate ways.
"Rogues in the House" is written in an extremely ironic fashion, and as a Jacobean revenge story. It is eventually revealed that Nabonidus' "usurper" is actually his pet, a (relatively) intelligent and strong ape-like creature, Thak, who got the better of his master.
The story's title reflects the story's other main irony, the rivalry between Murilo and Nabonidus. Each man has been using his position of influence for personal profit (Nabonidus by manipulating the king; Murilo by selling state secrets to foreign rulers); when they stumble upon each other in the pits beneath Nabonidus' house, the two rivals realise that they are each equally corrupt and, indeed, that Conan may be the most morally honest of the three because he does not attempt to conceal his criminal nature.
The point where Conan clamors to be brought food while he waits to be set free evidently struck a chord in Lin Carter the post-WW2 heroic fantasy writer who cooperated with L. Sprague de Camp in bringing Lovecraftian and Howardian fiction back in vogue. He included similar scenes in almost all instances when his Conan-inspired Lemurian hero Thongor managed to end up imprisoned.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
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