The Black Stranger

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This article is about a short story. For the protagonist and principal character, see Conan the Barbarian.
"The Black Stranger"
Author Robert E. Howard
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Barbarian
Genre(s) Fantasy short story
Published in Fantasy Magazine
Publication type Magazine
Media type Print (Magazine)
Publication date 1953

"The Black Stranger" is one of the stories by Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian. It was written in the 1930s but not published in his lifetime. When the original Conan version of the story failed to find a publisher, Howard rewrote "The Black Stranger" into a piratical Terence Vulmea story entitled "Swords of the Red Brotherhood."

The original version of the story was later rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp into a different Conan story and published in Fantasy Magazine in February 1953. It was retitled "The Treasure of Tranicos" for book publication later the same year. Its first hardbound publication was in King Conan by Gnome Press, and its first paperback publication was in Conan the Usurper published by Lancer Books in 1967. It was republished together with an introduction and two non-fiction pieces on the story and on Howard by de Camp with illustrations by Esteban Maroto as The Treasure of Tranicos by Ace Books in 1980.

The Treasure of Tranicos (also known as "The Black Stranger") by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp, Ace Books, 1980

Howard's original version of the story was first published in 1987 in Echoes of Valor and more recently in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey Books, 2005).

Plot summary[edit]

The story finds Conan in the Pictish Wilderness, fleeing native warriors who are hunting him. To escape his pursuers, Conan scales a crag of rock, whereupon he sees the Picts inexplicably abandon the chase and turn back. He realizes the spot must be a taboo place to the Picts. The hill turns out to hold a treasure cave along with the preserved bodies of the pirate captain Tranicos and his men. Conan's attempt to remove the treasure proves futile; a demon of mist forms and attempts to strangle him. He barely escapes with his life, leaving the treasure undisturbed.

Coinciding with Conan's attempt at looting the treasure is the main plot of a character named Count Valenso Korzetta, a former noble of Zingara who fled his homeland to escape a demon whom he double crossed, only to end up on the Western shores of Pictish territory. With his entourage came his niece, the Lady Belesa, and her handmaiden, Tina, among other soldiers and retainers. The Count is stunned when he learns that the buccaneer Black Zarono has landed on his shores followed by the pirate Strombanni. Both pirates believe that the Count set out for this deserted place in search of the legendary Treasure of Tranicos.

The buccaneers are bitter enemies and bring their feud to the Count's stronghold. During a meeting one night between the Count, Black Zarono, and Strombanni, Conan surprisingly emerges from behind a drapery. All eyes are on Conan as he dominates the room. The men learn from Conan that he himself has found the Treasure of Tranicos and would be willing to share the loot with the others if they help him retrieve it. They reluctantly make a thieves' pact and agree to join Conan, knowing full well that they will kill him once the treasure is in their possession. Conan, on the other hand, has something else in mind for his companions, chiefly trapping them in the treasure room to have them killed by the demon, taking the treasure with the crews of both ships, and sailing away.

Conan's scheme ultimately fails, and the sailors find themselves trapped by Picts surrounding the rocky cleft. The pirates once again declare a truce to combat a common foe. Once the pirates escape the cleft, it is a race to the Count's stronghold with the Picts in hot pursuit. The story ends with the defeat of the stronghold by the Picts and the deaths of the Count, Strombanni, and Black Zarono. However, Conan himself manages to escape over the fortress wall in the darkness and ensuing chaos of battle, carrying Belesa and Tina with him to safety.

Howard's version of the story pointed toward a new piratical career for Conan; one of de Camp's major changes was to make it lead instead into the revolution that would bring the Cimmerian to the throne of Aquilonia. The Counts of Poitain arrive on the isolated shores, looking for Conan to lead them against the despotic King of Aquilonia, Numedides. Tranicos' treasure would be used to finance the rebel army which would transform Conan from pirate and mercenary into a king.

Picts as Native Americans[edit]

Though set in a fictional past twelve thousand years ago, the story has many connotations of the American Frontier, about which Howard also wrote some stories. The Picts are thinly-disguised Native Americans--with feathers in their hair, wearing moccasins and wielding tomahawks. The situation of an isolated outpost behind its palisade in the midst of the threatening forest full of these hostile Picts is familiar from numerous historical and literary depictions of the frontier; Conan makes several references to his being "a white man"--a racial bond uniting him, the "barbarian," with the other "civilized" protagonists as against the Pict "savages."

"Swords of the Red Brotherhood"[edit]

As noted above, when the original Conan version of the story failed to find a publisher, Howard re-wrote "The Black Stranger" as "Swords of the Red Brotherhood" by placing it in a historical background of 17th Century America. In this version, the location is moved to the Pacific shore of Central America, and Conan becomes the Irish pirate Black Terence Vulmea (Howard regarded Conan's Cimmerians as the ancestors of the Irish and other Celts). The exile Zingaran Lady Belesa becomes the French Francoise d'Chastillon, the rival Zingranan and Bracchan pirates become respectively French and English, the Picts become Native Americans (which they already resembled in the original), and the Treasure of Tarnicos becomes the Treasure of Montesuma. The main differences with the original are a reduction of the supernatural element and that in the ending of this version, Black Vulmea is not offered any throne and is quite content to remain a pirate captain.

In both the original and this adaptation, the Cimmerian/Irish pirate protagonist is highly chivalrous--saving the Damsel in Distress at considerable risk to himself, giving her as a parting gift a fortune in gems big enough to have a comfortable wealthy life in Zingara/France, and asking for no sexual favors in return.


The story was adapted by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in Savage Sword of Conan #47-48.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"The God in the Bowl"
Original Howard Canon
(publication order)
Succeeded by
"The Frost-Giant's Daughter"
Preceded by
"Beyond the Black River"
Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
Succeeded by
"Red Nails"
Preceded by
"Moon of Blood"
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
"Wolves Beyond the Border"