Valeria (Conan the Barbarian)

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Cover of Weird Tales (July 1936) which featured the short story "Red Nails" by Robert E. Howard. It depicts Valeria about to be sacrificed by Tascela. Art by Margaret Brundage.
Interior illustration from Weird Tales (August–September 1936). It depicts Valeria standing on the far right, beside Conan. Art by Harold Saylor De Lay.

Valeria is a pirate and adventuress (a member of The Red Brotherhood of pirates) in the fictional universe of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories. She appears in Robert E. Howard's Conan novella Red Nails, serialized in Weird Tales 28 1-3 (July, August/September & October 1936). This was the last Conan story written by Howard, and published posthumously. The name was also used for Conan's love interest in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian.

Events of the short story[edit]

Valeria, an Aquilonian woman, is a pirate (later a mercenary). Her antecedents and reasons for taking up such a career remain unknown. She is an expert swordswoman and can be very ruthless and resort to torture (also of other women). Living as a woman in a predominantly male environment (and of particularly wild and violent males) she must be constantly on her guard against unwanted sexual advances - to which her response is either killing the man making such advances or escaping. Previous to the events of the story, she and Conan knew each other but were not particularly close. Both of them, for different reasons, left the sea (at least for a time) and ended up as mercenaries guarding the south Stygian border against raids from Darfar (as noted in Shadows in Zamboula, the people of Darfar are notorious cannibals).

However, Valeria killed a Stygian officer for making unwanted sexual advances and was forced to escape quickly. Conan, who was also serving as a mercenary on the border, follows her due to his own lust, killing the Stygian officer's brother (who was seeking revenge on Valeria) en route.Both end up in the lost city of Xuchotl. Both of them get caught up in the mad fighting of the city's rival clans, both of which seek the total extermination of their rivals (preferably by slow torture). Conan and Valeria ally themselves (mostly by chance) with one of the clans and help its victory - but get little thanks. Valeria nearly gets raped by an immensely strong chieftain who managed to disarm her be deceit. Then she falls into the hands of the lesbian witch Tascela, who is not only sexually interested in Valeria but also intends to sacrifice Valeria in a rite intended to keep Tascela herself young. Conan and Valeria finally manage to overcome all the complicated threats of Xuchotl, Valeria finally killing the loathsome Tascela, declaring: "I had to do this for my self-respect". Having fought so long and hard at Conan's side, Valeria finally consents to accept him as her lover, and the two of them are set to return to piracy.

Roland Green's novel Conan and the Gods of the Mountain (Tor, 1993) continues the adventures of Conan and Valeria just after the events of Red Nails.

Description[edit]

Robert E. Howard's description of Valeria in Red Nails is:

She was tall, full-bosomed, and large-limbed, with compact shoulders. Her whole figure reflected an unusual strength, without detracting from the femininity of her appearance. She was all woman, in spite of her bearing and her garments. The latter were incongruous, in view of her present environs. Instead of a skirt she wore short, wide-legged silk breeches, which ceased a hand's breadth short of her knees, and were upheld by a wide silken sash worn as a girdle. Flaring-topped boots of soft leather came almost to her knees, and a low-necked, wide-collared, wide-sleeved silk shirt completed her costume. On one shapely hip she wore a straight double-edged sword, and on the other a long dirk. Her unruly golden hair, cut square at her shoulders, was confined by a band of crimson satin.

— Robert E. Howard, Red Nails

She is also described as a superior swordswoman. Valeria is faster and more agile than Conan.

Movie version[edit]

Another Valeria had a major role in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, where she was played by Sandahl Bergman, although the character portrayed in the movie differed from Howard's character, having a romantic relationship with Conan and borrowing characteristics from Bêlit, another character by Howard. Valeria is killed during the course of the film, but assists Conan in spirit.