The City of Skulls (short story)

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For the fantasy roleplaying adventure game see City of Skulls

"The City of Skulls"
Author L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
Country United States
Language English
Series Conan the Barbarian
Genre(s) Sword and sorcery
Published in Conan
Publication type Collection
Publisher Lancer Books
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1967

"The City of Skulls" is a short story by American writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, featuring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian created by Robert E. Howard.

Publication history[edit]

Plot overview[edit]

Conan is a mercenary soldier serving in the army of the empire of Turan along with his friend Juma of Kush, both of them having met while in the army. They are assigned by King Yildiz to a Turanian detachment whose mission is to escort the king's daughter, Princess Zosara, to her wedding with the Great Khan of the Kuigar nomads of the eastern land of Hyrkania. Before they can reach their destination the Turanian soldiers are attacked by a band of warriors who descend upon them from the foothills of the Talakma Mountains. The Turanians are all killed in the battle except for Conan, Juma and Zosara who are captured by the warriors and taken as prisoners to the fabled land of Meru, which consists of seven sacred cities on the shore of a vast circular lake in a lush fertile valley concealed by mountains on the north and south.

The three are taken to Shamballah, City of Skulls, the capital of Meru. Everywhere Conan looks the architecture of the city is ornately designed or decorated in the likeness of human skulls of colored stone. They are eventually brought before the rimpoche or "god king" of Meru, Jalung Thongpa, a short, fat, ugly man of comical appearance who is nonetheless revered by the people as the reincarnated son of Yama the Demon King. It soon becomes clear that the reason for their capture was Jalung Thongpa's desire to claim Zosara for himself after his chief wizard, Tanzong Tengri, the Grand Shaman of Meru, revealed through magic her existence to the king. Conan then attacks the king in an attempt to escape but is struck by the wizard's magic staff, causing him to fall into a deep slumber. Conan and Juma are then sentenced to a life of slavery at the oars aboard a ship as punishment.

The two adventurers eventually escape their chains and return to Shamballah with the intent to rescue Zosara. They make their way through secret passages back to Jalung Thongpa's throne room while he and a group of priests are performing a ritual to celebrate the king's marriage to the unwilling Zosara, who lay naked and shackled to an altar before a gigantic statue of the god Yama. Conan and Juma disrupt the wedding ceremony as they leap in wreaking havoc, killing many of the priests including Tanzong Tengri and forcing others to flee in panic. The king chants a prayer which causes the great statue of Yama to come to life and advance toward Conan, but Juma grabs the king and hurls him toward the statue. The rimpoche is then crushed by the god's foot which breaks the spell, causing the statue to become inanimate once again. Conan and Juma flee the city with Zosara and complete their mission.

Preceded by
"The Hand of Nergal"
Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Succeeded by
Conan the Hero