Archive for February, 2015

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“Red Sonya from Rogatino – that’s all we know. Marches and fights like a man – God knows why. Swears she’s sister to Roxelana, the Soldan’s favorite. If the Tatars who grabbed Roxelana that night had got Sonya, by Saint Piotr!  Suleyman would have had a handful!  Let her alone, sir brother; she’s a wildcat. Come and have a tankard of ale.”

— Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

While Gottfried von Kalmbach engaged in adventures (and misadventures) from Hungary to Italy, the woman he was to meet at the siege of Vienna had been characteristically active herself. Red Sonya was born in Rogatino, or Rohatyn, a town in the western Ukraine. (It may derive from the Slavic word “rogatyna,” a heavy, broad-headed spear.)

The region was then known as Ruthenia and lay under the influence of Poland-Lithuania. If indeed she was a sister of the Sultan’s favorite Roxelana, she must have been born in the early sixteenth century. Estimates of Roxelana’s birth date vary from 1502 to 1506. I assume Sonya told the truth, and whether older or younger than her sister, was born in 1504 – the same year as that other red-haired sword woman of REH’s, Agnes de Chastillon of La Fere in Normandy.

hamilton-bladesforfranceRuthenia was plagued by slave raids carried out by the Crimean Tatars. Their khanate was an Ottoman vassal state, and one of its greatest slave trading depots. They raided constantly, on a huge scale, into Ruthenia and Russia. The descent upon Rogatino that saw Sonya’s sister captured was merely one case. I estimate that it took place in 1521, when Sonya was seventeen. If correct, that would mean that both Sonya in the east and Agnes de la Fere in Normandy experienced a violent turning point in their lives at the same age – Agnes when she rebelled against a forced marriage, killed her detestable bridegroom and fled, Sonya when her sister was captured and her town burned.

(Gottfried von Kalmbach was twenty-three at the time, by my estimate. He had been a Knight of St. John since his teens, and become a seasoned fighting man on land and sea. The siege of Rhodes was one year away.)

Sonya and Roxelana’s father was apparently an orthodox priest, though little is known of the childhood of either. The red-haired sister must have been wild and aggressive from an early age, to judge by her later career. Possibly she learned to ride, and use a saber and lance, from a servant in her father’s house who had once been a soldier. He may even have been an aged and retired Cossack. In a region so subject to raiding by Tatars – not to mention Cossacks – the skills were all too likely to be needed.

Sonya’s dislike of her sister, which she was to express vehemently on the walls of Vienna, probably dated from those days also. It doesn’t seem likely that she would want to blow Roxelana to Hades with a cannon merely because she had risen to become the Sultan’s favorite. She, like Sonya, may have shown her essential qualities young, and in later life, as Haseki Sultan, she caused Suleiman to believe his son Mustafa wanted to usurp his throne, resulting in Mustafa’s execution, because she wanted her own son to succeed. She also caused the Sultan’s trusted vizier Ibrahim, whom he loved as a brother, to be executed on false charges, even though Suleiman had sworn to Ibrahim he would never award him a bowstring. Roxelana’s name for ruthless treachery is not mere mythic vilification. She covered those traits with charm and vivacity; her Turkish name was Khurrem, the Laughing One or the Joyous. Perhaps, as a girl, she was never more joyous than when causing painful trouble for Sonya.

maxresdefaultFollowing the Tatar attack on Rogatino, I feel sure that Sonya turned wilder than ever and rode with the Zaporozhian Cossacks. They had emerged in the fifteenth century as bandits, runaway serfs, deserting soldiers and other outlaws formed their own communities in the wild places. They became known by the Polish word kozaki – free men. Details can be found in my series, “If Wishes Were Horses” Parts 5(A) and 5(B), “Scalplock and Sabre” and “The Wolf-Brothers.” REH was fascinated by the Cossacks; it seems hardly thinkable that Sonya never made one of their fellowship. Such a brawling macho bunch would have required very tough tests of a woman, even if she had been recommended by the (hypothetical) old Cossack who taught her to ride and wield a sword in the first place. Sonya must have passed them, however.

The Zaporozhian Sech, on the lower Dneiper, lay in a debatable region between Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy. The free and violent life appealed to Sonya; so did the Cossacks’ frequent battles with the Crimean Tatars, whom they plundered as the Tatars plundered others. Sonya had a debt to collect from them. She pursued it, riding as hard and cutting as deep as any of the male Cossacks. As a landsknecht said to Gottfried years later, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way.”

The Polish-Lithuanian state (then a Grand Duchy) saw possibilities in these fierce horsemen, who had formed a disciplined, united community in spite of their anarchic beginnings. A state council of 1524 gave official consideration to the idea of recruiting Cossack companies for border service. Nothing came of it because the nobles and magnates were unwilling to vote the funds for putting it into effect. Red Sonya, then, had been with the Cossacks three years, and this blogger believes she had become the adopted daughter of a hetman. When he was killed fighting, some who disapproved of a woman riding and fighting among them talked louder, and one bawcock who considered himself quite a lad tried to ravage her. Outweighed by a good three stone, Sonya still killed him, and perhaps, like Valeria in “Red Nails,” hurled his severed head out of sight. The Cossack chiefs still banished her from the Sech. Alternately weeping and grinding her teeth, Sonya rode for the horizon. She took the amazing stunt horsemanship and endurance of the Cossack life with her.

cms pcf 1171109It would be interesting to know when and how she learned that her abducted sister had been selected for the Sultan’s harem and become his favorite. “Roxelana” means simply “the Russian girl” and was probably not her original name, any more than “Khurrem” – The Laughing One. I’ve read that she had been Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska before the Tatars seized her. Perhaps Sonya learned that somehow. One also wonders if Roxelana ever knew that her sister was the warrior girl Red Sonya, the woman who along with Gottfried von Kalmbach sent her husband defiance and Mikhal Oglu’s head.

The year 1524 saw Gottfried riding east into Lithuania, and later into Russia. Oddly enough, Sonya chose the same time to travel west. She wanted to see Italy, and did; the 1521-26 phase of the Italian Wars was in full swing, and Sonya, typically, soon plunged into the action. Essentially it was France against the German Empire and Spain (ruled by the same monarch), with the soil of Italy as their battlefield. The French lost Milan in 1521 and were beaten again at Bicocca in 1522. Not being French, German or Spanish, Sonya felt free to fight on any side she pleased, and went to Milan, which – now that the French had been kicked out – was ruled again by Duke Francesco Sforza. Sonya drew the attention of Milan’s court with dramatic demonstrations of Cossack horsemanship and fighting tricks. She hoped to become the Duke’s cavalry leader, with her experience against the Tatars, if she could overcome the taken-for-granted bias against female captains of war. An uphill struggle, but Sonya was never daunted by an uphill struggle.

Then the unexpected impinged on Sonya’s fate. Charles Duke of Bourbon, former Constable of France, had broken with King Francis the year before and gone over to the Imperial side. He had been swindled out of his inheritance and titles; King Francis I’s mother, Louise of Savoy, who hated Charles, had tried to have him murdered. (REH’s story “Blades for France,” featuring Dark Agnes, gives an account of the events.)  Her tool had been the king’s mistress, Frances de Foix. Frances had been wholly unwilling, but dared not defy Louise. Now she gained knowledge of a new plan on the vindictive Louise’s part to have Charles of Bourbon killed. This time there was no need for complex, hidden machinations like working through bands of bravos and pirate crews. Charles was considered a traitor to France. It could be argued with some validity that Louise and his ungrateful king had driven him to it, but Charles nevertheless had no standing in France any longer, and Louise could send assassins after him without fear of political consequences.

She did.

1747_La_Feuille_Map_of_Provence,_France_-_Geographicus_-_Provence-ratelband-1747They could not reach Charles at once. He had invaded Provence at the head of an Imperial army, but was driven back towards Italy, and King Francis pursued him, personally leading a French host. His mistress de Foix, as she had in 1521, decided to take action to prevent Charles’s murder, for Charles loved her and she had a distinctly soft spot for him; she was the king’s mistress by secret order of Louise. She needed to conceal her actions from her dreaded puppet master, but Louise was too concerned just then for her son’s fate to watch Frances closely. Louise knew that Germans allied with the English were advancing against Francis from the north, and begged him to return, writing, “Our good angel has abandoned us. Your horoscope foretells disaster!”

Charles of Bourbon arrived in Milan in 1525. So, unknown to him but well known to Frances de Foix, had Louise’s paid assassins, ranking high in their homicidal trade. So did Frances herself, under an assumed name, pretending to be a rich young abbess on pilgrimage. Meanwhile, Red Sonya had caused a stir in the city by fighting a duel with a young noble who had decided to put her in her place, and soundly beaten him. Frances naturally assumed this was Agnes de Chastillon; how many red-haired mistresses of the blade could there be in Western Europe?  And Agnes had been bound for Italy with Etienne Villiers when Frances met them.

She discovered her mistake, but prevailed on Sonya to aid her, for a price, and Sonya struck the bargain. Complex skullduggery and crossed blades in the night ensued, but in the end, Sonya finished the assassins. The landsknecht who told Gottfried, “Cut – slash – death to you, dog-soul!  There’s her way,” did not misinform him. As for Frances, she said in a daze, handing over Sonya’s fee, “Mon Dieu, I did not think there could be another like Agnes,” to which Sonya shot back, “By the blessed saints, I had not thought there could be another like me!”

I don’t think they ever did actually meet. It was probably as well. Two of a kind might not have agreed.

King Francis met the disaster his stars had foretold. Defeated and wounded at the Battle of Pavia, he was held prisoner in Spain until January 1526, the conditions for his release amounting to the dismemberment of his kingdom. He signed the Treaty of Madrid at last, but repudiated it once free. He had, however, contracted both syphilis and a head abscess. Neither his health nor his personality, or his mental acuteness, were the same afterwards.

Hans_Bocksberger_(I)_-_Emperor_Ferdinand_I_-_WGA02326Sonya decided she had had enough of Italy. She realized she would never be anything but a curiosity at the Milanese court, like a dwarf or a Brazilian dancer, and belike at any other Italian court also. Then, Italy was extremely Catholic, and Sonya was Russian Orthodox so far as she had strong religious leanings. She preferred not to risk interrogation for heresy. She decamped to the north – first Switzerland, then France, then England, which she had to leave in haste, though the part of her legend which avers she attracted the lustful notice of Henry VIII and did not want to become his mistress is doubtless just that, legend. It’s much more likely that she killed someone. She escaped from England by way of York, on a Dutch trading ship bound for the Baltic, and went ashore in Gdansk. After that she travelled south through Poland-Lithuania. Probably she was involved in the private fights of feuding nobles and other upheavals along the way. She was neither at the Battle of Mohacs nor the sack of Rome, but she knew as well as anybody that the Grand Turk would not stop with Mohacs and that Vienna would be next. Sonya gathered about her a heterogeneous force of Poles, Moravians, Bohemians and Styrians, hardened fighters and expert horsemen all, half a thousand strong, and offered her services to the Archduke of Austria.

Perhaps it was then she discovered that the Sultan’s new favorite was none other than her sister.

Ferdinand also knew what was coming. He accepted her irregular band. Until the Ottomans actually marched against Vienna, their main work was scouting and reconnaissance far into conquered Hungary. They performed it well. Then, as the dreaded Akinji outriders came ahead of the main Turkish host, Sonya and her rogues took their places behind the walls of Vienna to await the onslaught.

Gottfried von Kalmbach appeared not long after, with Mikhal Oglu the Vulture hot on his trail, hunting his head for the Turkish Sultan.

Inshallah . . .

Images by Stephen Fabian, Donato Giancola and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

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In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. June 1934, Howard describes a close call his friend and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffmann Price had while traveling through Texas. Price was the only one of Howard’s contemporaries that he met in person.

By the way, Price was stopped at the Red River crossing by men with guns in their hands, looking for the famous outlaw Clyde Barrow, who was working in those parts at that time. As I told him, it was fortunate that his car was loaded with objects that evidenced his innocence, for Barrow was about his size, and was, like him accompanied by a blond young lady: Bonnie Parker. As you might have read in the paper, Bonnie was with Clyde when he met his finish at the hands of the ex-Rangers, in Louisiana. Bullets from machine rifles, ripping through him, riddled her, plastered the interior of the car with blood, brains and bits of Barrow’s skull. 167 slugs were poured into the automobile of the outlaws.

Howard didn’t have a very high opinion of the deadly pair as he did other outlaws who plied their trade in Texas, notably “Machine Gun” Kelly and Harvey Bailey. Howard admired the pair for living by an “outlaw code.” In his eyes Bonnie and Clyde had so such code and were little more than ruthless killers.

In a letter to  August Derleth, dated September 4, 1933, he says this about the Barrow brothers.

I note that the Barrows boys have been raising some hell up in Iowa, and one of them managed to get himself bumped off. They’re local products; were raised over in Coleman County, which adjoins Callahan County on the west. They were never considered big-time bandits at all.

There was some confusion were Bonnie Parker was from. She never lived in either Coleman or Callahan Counties as was reported in newspapers of the day. She actually was born in Rowena and her family moved to Cement City, a suburb of Dallas, when she was four years old after the death of her father.

Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck were born in Telico, on their father’s tenant farm. In 1921, the Barrows moved to West Dallas where the family opened a gasoline station.

Of course, Buck is the Barrow Howard is referring to as being killed. On July 19, 1933, Buck suffered a mortal head wound in a gunfight with lawmen at a tourist court in Platte City, Missouri and was captured in another shoot-out in Dexter, Iowa on July 24, 1933 where he sustained several more wounds. His wife, Blanche, a reluctant and wounded gang member was also captured. Buck died in a hospital in Perry, Iowa on July 29, 1933.

Both Bonnie and Clyde were young adults at the beginning of The Great Depression, had hardscrabble upbringings and made poor life choices early on.

Bonnie-Parker-with-her-first-husband-Roy-ThorntonBonnie married small time criminal Roy Thornton when she was just 16 years old. Roy was always away from home, planning or doing his next crime. Bonnie tired of being left alone and the marriage fell apart. However they never got a divorce. She still wore her wedding ring until the day she died. Thornton was killed in a failed prison escape in 1937.

During Clyde’s teenage years West Dallas was a very rough neighborhood, but Clyde had no trouble fitting right in. Clyde and older brother Buck managed to stay in constant trouble with the law. This was the beginning of Clyde’s extreme hatred of lawmen. The pair was usually arrested for small time crimes such as stealing turkeys and cars. As they grew older and bolder, the seriousness of their crimes escalated.

Clyde met Bonnie in 1930, shortly before he was jailed for burglary in Waco. With the aid of Bonnie, who slipped a handgun to him out of the guard’s view, Clyde escaped, but was captured a week later in Ohio. He was returned to Texas and sentenced to fourteen years hard labor in a Texas State penitentiary. Barrow’s mother pleaded with the warden to let Clyde go and he was paroled in February 1932, six days after he had a fellow prisoner cut off two of his toes to get out of the work detail. For the rest of his short life, he walked with a limp and had to drive in his socks to maintain control of the vehicle.

While Bonnie, Clyde and their bank robbing “gang” were celebrated as folk heroes by many who had lost their businesses, farms and homes to banks during The Great Depression, their darker side caused the general public to eventually turn against them. They robbed more mom and pop grocery stores and gasoline stations than they did banks and killed people indiscriminately–13 in all, mostly lawmen.

untitledmaIt was a well-known fact in law enforcement circles that Bonnie and Clyde would frequently arrange clandestine meetings with their families. So the lawmen constantly harassed Clyde and Bonnie’s relatives and sought to get indictments on any family member who aided and abetted the pair. Texas state officials, frustrated by a lack of progress apprehending the duo, appealed to Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who gave permission for them to hire a special agent to track the pair down once and for all. That special agent chosen was legendary retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

So on February 10, 1934 Hamer was hired and paid a salary of $150 a month and immediately took up the task of tracking down Clyde and his cohorts. He used a Ford V8, which he knew Clyde was partial to. Hamer was soon on their trail, getting news they were spotted in Texarkana, but despite his best efforts he always seemed to be a day late catching up to the elusive pair. Regrettably, while chasing them, Clyde killed three more policemen. Living out of his car, he tracked them for 102 days before finally finding them.

Once he had located them in northwest Louisiana, he knew he had to work fast to avoid letting them to slip away again. So Hamer assembled a contingent of five law enforcement officers from Texas and Louisiana to make up a posse to kill the outlaw pair. He first recruited his old friend B.M. “Maney” Gault, along with Bob Alcorn, Ted Hinton, Henderson Jordan and Paul Oakley. Hamer knew capture was not a possibility. It was a well-known fact that Clyde swore he rather die than return to prison and would take as many lawmen as he could with him.

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The Posse: Left to right, standing: Ted Hinton, Prentiss Oakley & B.M. “Maney” Gault. Sitting: Bob Alcorn, Henderson Jordan and Frank Hamer.

Frank Hamer knew Barrow gang member Henry Methvin was in a jam – seems he escaped from a Texas prison and was on the run. Ivy Methvin, Henry’s father, had in the past let Bonnie and Clyde use his place in Louisiana to hide. Now fearing for his son’s life, he made a deal with Hamer for a full pardon for his son in Texas in exchange for information on the Barrow gang.

On the evening of May 22nd, knowing that Bonnie and Clyde used a specific route, the posse snatched Ivy Methvin who was traveling in his old farm truck on a narrow road known as Highway 154 between Mt. Lebanon and Sailes, Louisiana. Even though Methvin knew Hamer and his men were going to take down Bonnie and Clyde, he did not know the details. Hamer planned it that way so Clyde wouldn’t be tipped off and for Methvin’s protection as well. They hustled him into the woods and handcuffed him to a tree. The posse removed one of the old truck’s wheels to make it look like it had broken down at that spot. Knowing that Clyde knew what Methvin’s truck looked like, they expected him to slow down or stop to be of assistance to Henry’s father.

They lawmen stood vigil in the woods for nearly seven hours until they heard an automobile approaching at a high rate of speed at about 9:10 a.m on May 23, 1934. Clyde, with Bonnie at his side, was going 85 mph in a stolen Ford–a four-door 1934 Deluxe with a V-8 engine. Just as planned, Clyde slowed down when he saw Methvin’s disabled truck on the highway.

ambushmap3It is unknown whether it was Hamer or Alcorn stepped into the road to order them to stop. When the car came to a halt, they were told to give up. The outlaw pair reached for their guns but never fired a shot. Hamer and his men let loose,  firing with steel jacketed, high velocity bullets into the car from seemingly every angle. The shoeless Clyde worked the pedals and shifted the transmission, causing the car to lurch forward. Under that hail of bullets, the car came to a dead stop in a ditch beside the road. The relentless firing continued even after the car stopped moving.

Despite the fact they had just fired 167 rounds into the car, the posse approached the bullet-riddled Ford with care. Having escaped so many ambushes and scrapes with the law, their survival of these deadly confrontations seemed to make them imperious to death. But their luck and time had run out. The couple was shot to pieces and could not have been any deader than they were.

Upon inspecting the car Hamer and his men found the following items: one saxophone, three .30 caliber Browning automatic rifles, one 10 gauge Winchester lever action “sawed-off” shotgun, one 20-gauge “sawed-off” shotgun, one .32 Colt caliber automatic, one .380 Colt automatic pistol, one Colt .45 caliber “double action” revolver, seven .45 Colt automatic pistols, 100 rounds of machine gun clips and approximately 3,000 rounds of ammunition. They also discovered license plates from Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio and Louisiana.

A contemporary of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger (who was himself gunned down two months after the outlaw couple met their end), said upon learning of their deaths, “Bonnie and Clyde gave bank robbing a bad name.”

Both Bonnie and Clyde knew their days were numbered. Just two weeks before their violent  deaths, Bonnie wrote this prophetic poem:

The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde

by Bonnie Parker

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.

From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

Here is a short video of the aftermath of the ambush (Warning: Graphic Content):

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Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold.  But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.  Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet.

— Robert E. Howard, “The Nemedian Chronicles”

All Robert E. Howard fans recognize that paragraph. It first appeared at the beginning of “The Phoenix on the Sword” and has been reprinted countless times since. Before going further it’s probably a sound idea to caution all readers – as Howard did himself — that his “Nemedian Chronicles,” like his prehistoric “Age undreamed of” were plot devices for fiction, and he was not advancing any theories in contradiction of accepted history. It’s easy to make that error. Even Howard, knowing the tricks of the trade, briefly entertained the notion that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon existed, and was mildly surprised to learn otherwise from the horse’s mouth.

Since REH invented both the “Nemedian Chronicles” and Friedrich von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, aka Von Unausspreclichen Kulten or “The Black Book,” it seemed possible there was a link. (A fragment of REH’s will be cited later to show this is more than a possibility.) It’s often supposed, on insufficient grounds, that the “Nemedian Chronicles” were written in Conan’s time, or during the centuries that followed his reign, before a cataclysm destroyed the Hyborian Age world. The author is assumed to have been a scholar or sage in the kingdom of Nemedia during the Hyborian Age.

Deuce Richardson questions this on the grounds that the famous passage from the “Chronicles” clearly harks back to a vanished prehistoric age from its writer’s own point of view. “ … between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Aryas … an Age undreamed of …”

Who, as Deuce cogently asks, refers to his own time as one that remotely was – as “an Age undreamed of?” Why would a native of the kingdom of Nemedia write in fulsome terms of Aquilonia, Nemedia’s traditional rival, and the barbarian king who trounced Nemedia? Further, the “Sons of Aryas,” that is, the “Aryans”/proto-Indo-Europeans, arose in the history we know, not before the cataclysm which cast down the Hyborian Age kingdoms. (The notion that “Aryan” was a racial type instead of a language group was popular in Howard’s day.)

For these reasons it seems that the “Nemedian Chronicles” would have been penned after the cataclysm; in all likelihood, long after, when new civilizations, now known to history, had risen and the Hyborian Age had been forgotten except in rags and scraps of legend.

A1PictsI recommend Deuce’s posts, “Know, oh prince… ”: The “Nemedian” Chronicles?” (25th February 2009) and “Of Celts and Nameless Cults: The (Irish) Nemedian Chronicles” (11th March 2009) on that noble weblog The Cimmerian, to anybody who wants the full and closely-reasoned lowdown.

If that argument holds water – and I think it does – who were those “Nemedians” who gave their name to the Chronicles?

Robert E. Howard makes this pretty clear in the latter part of his essay, “The Hyborian Age.” He says that centuries after Conan’s time, the Picts, having wrecked a corrupt, arrogant, imperial (but still mighty) Aquilonia, founded a barbaric empire of their own. Other barbarians also took their share. Two different tribes of Aesir (primordial, golden-haired Nordics) conquered Brythunia and Nemedia. Each adopted the name of the Hyborian kingdom they had overrun. Then, after the cataclysm, these “Brythons” and “Nemedians” fell back into Neolithic savagery and survived under their borrowed names in the general area of Scythia – the modern Ukraine.

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They drifted and wandered across the world until some of them came to the British Isles. The Brythunians or Brythons, became the ancestors of the Brythonic Celts. A tribe of Nemedians reached Ireland, and like their successors in a series of invasions, fought against the grotesque Fomors. They were subjugated, and later rebelled with partial success against their harsh bondage, which included demands for two-thirds of their children as tribute. The majority fled from Ireland. Later they returned, and their fortunes are recorded in the Lebor Gabala Erenn, or the Book of Invasions of Ireland. Howard writes of them in his pseudo-historical essay.

They came into these countries as Aryans. But there were variations among these primitive Aryans, some of which are still recognized today, others which have long been forgotten. The blond Achaians [sic], Gauls and Britons, for instance, were descendants of pure-blooded Aesir. The Nemedians of Irish legendry were the Nemedian Aesir. The Danes were descendants of pure-blooded Vanir; the Goths – ancestors of the other Scandinavian and Germanic tribes, including the Anglo-Saxons—were descendants of a mixed race whose elements contained Vanir, Aesir and Cimmerian strains. The Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and Highland Scotch, descended from pure-blooded Cimmerian clans. The Cymric tribes of Britain were a mixed Nordic-Cimmerian race which preceded the purely Nordic Britons into the isles, and thus gave rise to a legend of Gaelic priority.

— “The Hyborian Age”

In the history we know, when were the “Nemedian Chronicles” written, by whom, where, and how did the “chronicler” know so much about a vanished, forgotten time?

It’s fair to assume the chronicler was Irish, probably of Nemedian descent himself. Other ancestors of his would have included Cimmerians, described by REH as direct forebears of the Gaels, and of the historical Cimmerians who also inhabited the Ukraine, between 1500 and 800 BC. (Those dates are approximate and sweeping, of course.) He, the chronicles’ author, must have been literate, which suggests he was a monk.

Scholarly Irish missionaries founded monasteries across Europe in the Dark Ages. They did an immense amount, not only to keep learning alive in a bloody, ignorant time, but to spread it. Some of their greatest foundations graced the German lands – at Cologne, Mainz, Strasbourg, Reichenau, Regensburg and Salzburg.

In Cologne, for example, a group of Irish monks led by Minnborinus arrived in the late 10th century. Warin, the Archbishop of Cologne, made Minnborinus Abbot of St. Martin’s in the city, a position he held until he died. He was succeeded as abbot by one of his companions, Kilian. Besides the Irish abbey of St. Martin’s, there were many shrines dedicated to Irish saints around Cologne; a dozen bearing St. Brigid’s name, for example. There was even a German term for the Gaelic monasteries, so significant was their presence — Schottenkloster.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt’s birthplace and home was Dusseldorf on the Lower Rhine, not far north of Cologne.

Okay. The author of Howard’s “Nemedian Chronicles” may well have been an Irish monk somewhere in Germany, a man whose remote ancestors had prehistoric Cimmerians and Nemedian Aesir among them. Being Irish, he likely knew the legends of his homeland.

A8GonarWe know from Howard’s own Underwood that the gist of such legends could be passed down for over a thousand centuries. In “Men of the Shadows,Gonar retold the (garbled, but recognizable) history of the Picts. That history began long before the fall of Atlantis (in fact, back to the origins of Homo Sapiens itself) and extended right up to the defiant Pictish struggle against the imperialism of Septimius Severus.

The saga of the Nemedians and their forebears spanned far less than half such a chasm of history. That said, we are still looking at millennia, not centuries. How were the very specific data provided by the Chronicles passed down?

As noted above, the Nemedians were early settlers of Erin, apparently returning later as Firbolgs (according to Gaelic legend). Those same Gaelic legends all point to a period sometime before 1000 BC (some accounts place it specifically at 1145 BC). The Firbolgs returned after a sojourn in “Greece”. If that is in any way accurate in regard to Robert E. Howard’s own pseudo-history (and why not?), then we are looking at the end of the Homeric/Mycenaean Age.

The Mycenaeans were literate.  Guess what? So were the druids of Ireland. The Yellow Book of Lecan records that one hundred and eighty druidical books were burned during the time of Patrick. Perhaps just one unburnt tome  was preserved by a Firbolg clan, recounting tales chanted down the centuries by Nemedian bards from Hyborian Age times.

Of course, there is possibly a more esoteric source (or supplement) for the Chronicles. The son of Senchan Torpeist, Murgen, is said to have received the whole of the Tain Bo Cuailnge from a ghost. Why not something similar for the Chronicles? For that matter, there are the tarb feis and taghairm rituals known from Gaelic Erin and Alba, respectively. Rites of divination, but also it seems, of communication with the dead. Robert E. Howard certainly didn’t see native Gaelic beliefs being extirpated by 500 AD. Turlogh Dubh‘s ship (circa 1015) was named “Crom’s Hate.”

The “Nemedian Chronicles” could have been the result of such rites and ancient accounts, written down at any time between the eighth and thirteenth centuries CE. The “prince” to whom they were addressed would then have been a prince of the medieval German Empire, miscalled the “Holy Roman Empire,” when, as the cliched crack goes, it was neither holy, Roman, nor imperial. He might even have been Otto I, who was crowned and anointed Emperor by Pope John XII in 962 AD. Whomever he was, it is almost a surety that the nameless Irish monk instructed said “prince” that Nemedians once held sway (ages before) over the very land now ruled by their present (somewhat lateral) descendants. In addition, the monk could point out that all Germanic peoples had a bit of ancient Cimmerian blood in their veins, and thus a visceral link with Conan himself. 

VonJunzt1Returning to Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt — he was German. He lived between 1795 and 1840. He was, this blogger believes, a baron of Dusseldorf (part of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1816 on) with the rank and prestige to investigate secret archives in monasteries dating to the Middle Ages. Howard writes in “The Thing on the Roof” that “he spent the full forty-five years of his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.” In “The Black Stone” we are informed that von Junzt read “countless little-known and esoteric books and manuscripts in the original.”

There could hardly be a more likely candidate for the discoverer of the “Nemedian Chronicles” in a centuries-old German monastery founded by Irish monks. The chronicles were written in Latin, and von Junzt certainly found them of interest. He discovered them, in fact, late in 1815, when he had just turned twenty. Their extraordinary content, and the vistas of a previously unknown age of history they opened to him, impelled Friedrich to continue his world-wide travels and studies from then onward. Von Junzt struggled for years against the academic world’s dismissal of them as the wild fancies of a medieval Irish monk, or even the hoax of an imaginative student.

Von Junzt gave over an entire chapter of his infamous “Black Book” to the Chronicles and their implications. Von Unausspreclichen Kulten is almost wholly devoted to obscure, sinister cults of the German’s own day, but he discovered that many dark beliefs and practices of the Hyborian Age had survived into the post-cataclysmic world, even down to the nineteenth century – especially those described in the Necronomicon. For this reason, and also because of his constant efforts to have the legitimacy of the Chronicles recognized, Friedrich allowed them conspicuous space in the pages of his magnum opus.

A10UK

All this is speculative so far, with respect to Robert E. Howard’s views of any link between von Junzt and the “Nemedian Chronicles.” Possible, maybe plausible, but nowhere definite. However, there is a passage in REH’s own written words that clinches it. Untitled, but known as the “Unaussprechlichen Kulten Fragment,” it has two typical Howard adventurers, Brill and Allison, talking about a tomb they are about to plunder. The relevant bit follows:

“And before them, who was in Egypt?”
“I reckon we’ll know after we’ve looted this tomb,” answered Allison, with a certain grimness in his manner.
Brill laughed.

“You mean to tell me you think there was a race here before the Egyptians, civilized enough to build a tomb such as this? I suppose you think they built the pyramids!”

“They did,” was the imperturbable reply.

Brill laughed. “Now you’re trying to pull my leg.”

Allison looked at him curiously. “Did you ever read the ‘Unaussprechlichen Kulten’?”
“What’s that?”
“A book called ‘Nameless Cults’ by a crazy German named von Junzt – at least they said he was crazy. Among other things he wrote of an age he swore he had discovered – a sort of historical blind spot. He called it the Hyborian Age. We have guessed what came before, and we know what came after, but that age itself has been a blank space – – no legends, no chronicles, just a few scattered names that came to be applied in other senses.

“It’s our lack of knowledge about this age that upsets our calculations and makes us put down Atlantis as myth. This is what von Junzt says: That when Atlantis, Lemuria and other nations of that age … “

After that, Allison essentially tells his companion what we’ve all read in REH’s essay, “The Hyborian Age.” The man who created the Hyborian Age directly connects it with Nameless Cults, and writes that Friedrich von Junzt had knowledge of that lost time. It’s difficult to see how the German baron could have known about such “an Age undreamed of” unless he had made some such discovery as the one postulated here.

Images by Frank Frazetta, Michael Kaluta, Jim Fitzpatrick, Michael L. Peters, Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

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The 15th annual Windy City is just two months away, running from April 15th through April 17th. In addition to celebrating their 15th anniversary, Windy City will be marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of H.P. Lovecraft.

Here are the details.

Memberships: Memberships are only $35 for all three days, $25 for Friday only, $25 for Saturday only, and $10 for Sunday only. Windy City is also offering Early Bird Admission for non-dealers for $60, which is a three day membership which allows entry to the dealer room on Friday at 10 a.m. (which is one hour after dealer setup begins and two hours before the con generally opens to the public). Ages 13 and under are free. Please note Windy City can now accept payments online through PayPal.

2015-windycityProgram Book:

All attendees will receive a program book, containing pulp articles and reprints. To advertise in the program book, rates are: full page ads $70 (4 1/8″ x 6.75″), half page $40 (4 1/8″ x 3 3/8″), business card size $25 (3.25″ x 2″). The deadline for submitting and paying for ads is March 5, 2015. Please contact Tom Roberts for ad and other program book matters (other than payment).

Art Show:

Windy City will once again be hosting an art show displaying original pulp and paperback art, sponsored by Dan Zimmer and the fine folks at Illustration Magazine. If you have any art you’d like to make available for display in the art show, please contact the organizers. The art show hours will be posted to the website when they are set.

Auctions:

There will be two auctions, Friday (from the estate of Jerry Weist) and Saturday nights.

Pulp Film Fest:

The Pulp Film Fest shows old movies based on pulp stories. More info, including the schedule, will be posted on the website closer to the con. The Pulp Film Fest is organized by Ed Hulse and sponsored by Blood ‘N’ Thunder magazine.

Con Suite:

The con suite will operate from Thursday night (so that you can pick up your badges and program materials) until late Saturday night/early Sunday morning — stop by and grab a drink, some munchies and meet other attendees.

westin-lombard-yorktown-centerHotel:

For the eighth year in a row Windy City is at the Westin Lombard, in the Western suburbs of Chicago. The Westin is located about 20 minutes Southwest of O’Hare Airport and about a half hour West of Midway Airport. Room rates are $113 per night (to get the con rate, you must book by 5:00 p.m. Central time on March 26, 2015). Parking is free. The hotel is in the midst of a shopping and restaurant corridor — it’s adjacent (within walking distance) to Yorktown Mall and about a mile from Oak Brook Shopping Center. For those with families, it’s also only 7 miles from the Brookfield Zoo, one of the nation’s top zoos. Movie theaters are also a short walk away. And if you like to gamble, the Aurora River Boat is about 10 miles away. If you are flying in and not renting a car, you can contact the hotel for details on various cab companies and shuttle services that offer fixed price transportation to and from the hotel. Please mention the con when booking rooms.

For more details and updates visit Windy City’s website and Facebook page. It is always a great convention and there is always a good sized contingent of Howard fans who attend each year.

Battle_of_Mohacs

“. . . but the world is ours! I think there are brave times ahead of us, adventures and wars and plunder! Then hey for Italy, and all brave adventurers!”

— Robert E. Howard, “Sword Woman”

The Battle of Mohacs in August 1526 left Hungary effectively split in three by the Turkish victory. The center was now ruled by the Ottomans, the east and Transylvania by the Sultan’s puppet, John Zapolya, who had held his forces back from the battle instead of coming to the aid of Hungary’s young King Louis. With Louis now dead – he had drowned in the Danube as he retreated after the fighting – the Hungarians of the western third of the country recognized Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, as their ruler. They had no other available, unless Zapolya, and him they cursed as a traitor to rank with Judas.

Gottfried von Kalmbach held the same view. He had charged at Mohacs with Marczali and thirty others in a dedicated attempt to slay Sultan Suleiman, reached the Sultan and wounded him – the only one of the thirty-two left – and then, miraculously, survived the battle amid the confusion. He recovered from his wounds at Vienna. War having broken out between Archduke Ferdinand and Zapolya, the big German fought for a time on the Austrian side. However, since Zapolya was backed by the Ottoman Empire and Ferdinand by his older brother, the Emperor Charles, Gottfried foresaw a frustrating stalemate, at least for the present. Besides, he had come to think Ferdinand little better than Zapolya.

Anjou_1570louvreThus Gottfried drifted west as far as Innsbruck and halted there for a time, brooding on his failure at Mohacs and the deaths of his thirty-one comrades. He became a merchant’s bodyguard and conducted a large mule train of goods through the Brenner Pass, along the Imperial Road to Verona. The Italian wars were flaring into a blaze again; the King of France, captured by the Imperial forces at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, had been held captive in Madrid until he signed the treaty named for that city, in January 1526. Pressure from Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had been another factor contributing to Francis of Valois’ release. He was being, let us say, co-operative with the Sultan. The Emperor Charles V was a bitter enemy to both of them.

King Francis soon repudiated the Treaty of Madrid and began trying to conquer Italy again. Emperor Charles had ambitions in the same direction. The Pope, Clement VII, decided he feared Charles more than Francis, and formed an alliance of the Papal States with Venice, France, Florence and Milan. He desired Henry VIII of England to join, also, and Henry was willing, but balked when the other members refused to sign the undertaking in England. They proceeded without him to create what became known as the League of Cognac against the Empire.

So matters stood when Gottfried von Kalmbach came to Verona. There he discovered that Georg von Frundsberg, veteran leader of landsknechte, hero of Bicocca, “Highest Field Captain”, and the man who had captured the King of France at Pavia, was among the League’s commanders. Von Frundsberg was one of the few men Gottfried respected without reserve. He abandoned the mule train and the merchant’s service to ride for Piacenza, where the landsknechte were said to have joined the Duc de Bourbon. Bourbon had been Constable of France, but he threw in with the League after a little too much shabby treatment from the French king and a great deal too much vindictive enmity from the king’s mother, Louise of Savoy. (REH’s Dark Agnes story, “Blades for France”, gives interesting sidelights on that feud.)

romeMapGottfried found that the news was a little out of date and faulty. The League’s forces, led by Bourbon and von Frundsberg, had run into trouble when the soldiers’ pay fell too far in arrears. They – von Frundsberg’s fourteen thousand landsknechte, six thousand Spaniards under the Duc de Bourbon, and fourteen thousand Italian infantry and cavalry, had mutinied and compelled their leaders to march on Rome. Gottfried rode like the devil, caught them before they reached the Eternal City, and joined them, knowing this was the sort of chance for plunder that comes once in a lifetime.

They reached Rome in May. As they attacked the walls, the Duc de Bourbon, conspicuous in his white cloak, was shot and killed, which destroyed the last restraint and discipline in the Imperial forces. (Benvenuto Cellini claimed to have been the man who killed Bourbon, but he was notoriously a hot-headed braggart, so he may have lied, or at least deceived himself.) The Imperials took the walls and carried out a fierce onslaught on St. Peter’s basilica. The Swiss Guard made a brave stand on the steps, but were massacred there, by Gottfried among others. The Pope escaped down a covered stone passage to Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber, once the tomb of Hadrian, long since converted into a fortress. Days of murder, pillage and arson followed, despite the efforts of the new commander, Philibert de Chalon, to halt the outrages. Gottfried did nothing particularly vicious, as sacks in Renaissance warfare went, but he extorted a huge sum from a wealthy cardinal to prevent the destruction of the man’s property in Rome, camping in his palace with a company of soldiers on whom he had imposed his strong-arm discipline for lack of any other, and going forth at intervals to loot other palaces and churches. For that brief time he was the richest he had been in all his life.

agnes1This blogger thinks it likely that two other REH characters of note, Dark Agnes de la Fere, or Agnes de Chastillon, and her companion Etienne Villiers, were in Rome with the Imperial forces. Certainly they were French, which should have placed them with the League of Cognac, but they strongly sympathized with the Duc de Bourbon. They had actually rescued him from his enemies one eventful night before they departed for Italy. “A blow to France if he should fall,” Etienne had said, and fall he had, now.

I believe Hildred Taferal of Devon and Solomon Kane’s grandfather Reuben were present in the city as well. Hildred is mentioned – then an aged man – by Solomon in “The Moon of Skulls.” He suffers from gout and blasphemes freely, the readers are told. He and Reuben were young at the sack of Rome, mercenaries who had served on the continent for some time. They doubtless felt free to sign a contract with the Imperial army, since the English king had not joined the League of Cognac. (He did, shortly afterwards, making loud noises of horror over the sack, his breach with the Pope over the matter of his divorce still in the future.)

It may even be that all five were drinking in the same tavern – or courtyard, or looted monastery – at one point. If Gottfried had encountered Agnes, though, a fierce red-haired sword woman, he would surely have commented on her startling likeness to Red Sonya of Rogatino when he met the latter, and he didn’t. Of course, he may have seen Agnes only briefly, and been too drunk to recall it later. The historical references in “Sword Woman,” “Blades for France” and “The Shadow of the Vulture” do establish firmly that Agnes, Etienne, Gottfried and Sonya were contemporaries.

frundsberg1The affair of Rome did the old commander von Frundsberg no good. The worthy soldier had gone into debt and even sold his table silver to finance his part of the Italian campaign. The mutiny of his forces and the sack of Rome had so shaken and dishonored him that he suffered a stroke. He spent some time in Italian hospitals as an invalid, and von Kalmbach – who hardly had the temperament of a nurse, but nevertheless had received hospital training among the Knights of St. John – stayed by his side, making sure he was well treated. He also escorted him home to Germany once the old man was strong enough to travel. Von Kalmbach carried his plunder with them in a pack train, planning to settle von Frundsberg’s debts out of it when they arrived, but in the Tyrol a robber count attacked them and collared Gottfried’s ill-gotten gains. Von Kalmbach chose to abandon the loot and get the commander to safety, which ought to be mentioned and set against the record of a generally misspent, dissolute career which contains a great deal to Gottfried’s discredit.

He could not prevent the death of one of von Frundsberg’s sons or the loss of his estate. Plagued by troubles and grief, the old soldier died a year later. It was the frequent fate of brave, honorable men in an age when being alive and prosperous was often a reflection on one’s character.

Images by Mor Than, Mark Schultz and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

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Big news from TGR contributor Jeff Shanks:

Modiphius Entertainment announces the definitive sword & sorcery roleplaying game, planned for launch August 2015

KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of….

Modiphius is proud to announce a licensing deal with Conan Properties to publish Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of. This is CONAN roleplaying as Robert E. Howard wrote it – savage pulp adventure battling ancient horrors in the Hyborian Age! We plan to bring the game right back to its roots, focusing on the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Modiphius has scored a leading team of Hyborian Age scribes to chronicle these adventures including Timothy Brown (designer of the Dark Sun setting for Dungeons & Dragons), award-winning Robert E. Howard scholar and essayist Jeffrey Shanks (Conan Meets the Academy, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction, The Dark Man: The Journal of REH Studies, Zombies from the Pulps!), Mark Finn (Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, The Barbaric Triumph, The Dark Man: The Journal of REH Studies and REH: Two-Gun Raconteur), Jason Durall (Basic Roleplaying, Serenity, The Laundry), Chris Lites (Paizo, Savage Worlds, Omni, Slate), and many more to be announced.

Players and GM’s alike will feel the might of the 2d20 game system, the cinematic roleplaying rules devised by Jay Little (Star Wars: Edge of the Empire) for Mutant Chronicles, and sharpened up for intense sword and sorcery action. The 2d20 system lets players experience the true pulp adventure of the CONAN stories.

Howard expert Jeffrey Shanks will approve all content, ensuring it remains true to the spirit of the source material and brings the Hyborian Age to life. World-famous CONAN artist Sanjulian (Conan Ace Paperbacks, Vampirella, Eerie, Creepy) has been commissioned, as well as Carl Critchlow (Batman/Judge Dredd, Anderson: Psi Division). Joining them are other CONAN greats such as Mark Schultz (The Coming of Conan, Xenozoic Tales, Prince Valiant), Tim Truman (Dark Horse Conan, Grimjack, Jonah Hex), Phroilan Gardner (Age of Conan, World of Warcraft), Alex Horley (Blizzard, Heavy Metal, Magic: The Gathering) and many more.

Modiphius is working with other Conan Properties licensing partners including Monolith Board Games, creator of the hit CONAN boardgame which has surpassed $2 million on Kickstarter, and Funcom, creator of the long-running, free-to-play, MMO Age of Conan. Modiphius plans some select supplements including missions designed for the Monolith boardgame, as well as floorplan tile sets allowing you to use Conan miniatures in your roleplaying adventures!

Modiphius is already working on the roleplaying corebook for Robert E. Howard’s CONAN Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of to be released this Fall. A Kickstarter is planned for the summer to fund a larger range of roleplaying supplements, campaigns, and accessories to follow the core book.

Ho, Dog Brothers! (and Sisters) Don your mail, hone your blade, and pray to whatever fickle gods might listen. Harken to the sound of clanging steel, cries of battle, and death curses spat from bloody, frothing lips! Tread the jeweled thrones of the earth at www.modiphius.com/conan or die in towers of spider-haunted mystery. Crom cares not!

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Pathsdead

“Long ago,” answered Bran somberly, “you told me that nothing in the universe was separated from the stream of Life – a saying the truth of which I have often seen evident. No race, no form of life but is close-knit somehow, by some manner, to the rest of Life and the world. Somewhere there is a thin link connecting those I seek to the world I know. Somewhere there is a Door. And somewhere among the bleak fens of the west I will find it.”

— Robert E. Howard, “Worms of the Earth

Perhaps the young Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt had sought, in his brief collaboration with Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, relief from darker subjects. He still yearned, all evidence to the contrary, to prove his early researches false.

Von Junzt sailed to Corsica, Sardinia and Malta (with Ladeau along as a guide and interpreter), where he visited numerous megalithic sites in 1818-20. Friedrich was particularly impressed with the mazzeri (or “dream hunters”) of Corsica, whom he felt carried on “witch-cult” traditions dating back to the Stone Age.  He was left in awe by the dolmens still extant on the island.

Friedrich became convinced that the gigantic monuments of the central Mediterranean had been built by ancient peoples at the behest of beings other than human, and had served – the temples in particular – as gateways to extra-mundane realms which could be opened when the stars were suitably aligned. Von Junzt concluded that myths of the Titans and the Cyclopes who built such structures referred in a distorted way to these beings.

AzThroughout his travels in the Mediterranean (as well as his previous researches in France and Germany), wherever von Junzt discovered a “witch-cult”, he also heard tales of a “Black Man” or “The One Black Master.” At that point, he began to piece together, in his own mind, the concept that behind all of the veils of superstition loomed Nyarlathotep. According to Ladeau’s diary, Junzt, over time, came to view Nyarlathotep as “an infinitude; a manifold splintering of Chaos, whose name is Legion, in whom all is One and one is All. And all leads to Ultimate Chaos, which is Azathoth.”

As he traveled compulsively from place to place, von Junzt correlated the geography of the world he knew with that described in “The Nemedian Chronicles.” Sicily and Malta had once been upland plateaus within the northern Stygian Dominion later cast down by the Hyborians. Algiers, too, had lain within ancient Shemitish and Stygian territory. In fact, certain obscure references within “The Nemedian Chronicles” led Friedrich to speculate that the ruins of Kheshatta, the shadow-haunted “wizard city” of Stygia, lay south of al-Jaza’ir itself.

tunisian-private-toursThis, along with his discovery of the original, uncorrupted reference in Solinus regarding the “Sixtystone” of the North African troglodytes, convinced von Junzt that a journey to Algiers would be worthwhile.

(The relevant passage from Gaius Julius Solinus exists in an obscure translation by the 16th-century printer and classical scholar, Henri Estienne. He is frequently known by his Latinized sobriquet, Henricus Stephanus. Estienne’s version of Solinus is to be found in the “Stephani Quarto,” a rare work now almost unknown, but familiar to Ladeau, who brought it to the attention of his good friend. Both Friedrich von Junzt and the nineteenth-century ethnologist, Professor William Gregg seem to have read the “Stephani Quarto” and paid close attention to the passage from Solinus it contains. Both men eventually met inexplicable fates. That of Gregg was the more mysterious, and may even have been the more dreadful. His story is recounted in “The Novel of the Black Seal,” one of the interlocking tales in Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters.)

Von Junzt and Ladeau were aware of the perils awaiting them in North Africa. Pirates of Algiers still took European captives for ransom or slavery, though not on the huge scale they had previously. Only four years earlier (1816) a British expedition, led by Exmouth and supported by the Dutch, had bombarded Algiers to force the Dey, Omar Agha, to cease such practices. He had yielded, freed about three thousand slaves and signed a treaty. Thus, von Junzt and Ladeau felt they should be fairly safe. However, Friedrich hid the fact that he was a wealthy baron. He saw no point in tempting people with such a long tradition of piracy and, instead, represented himself as a Belgian scholar.

imagesWVAVY1N3While taking care to avoid trouble in Algiers, the pair made the acquaintance of a drunken, disreputable Tuareg marabout, or wandering holy man and religious teacher. This particular one, known as Amalu, also had a vast repertoire of desert legends and traditions older than Islam. Some of his living came from recounting these, some from selling talismans he made, some from telling the future, and some from presiding at significant events like weddings, births and funerals.

Amalu spoke understandable French. Ladeau and von Junzt treated him with respect, listened to his tales, gave him presents and money, and plied him with the finest liquor he had ever poured down his bearded throat. In return he told them Tuareg folk tales, such as the tradition – which Amalu swore was no mere legend – of the repulsive folk his folk called the Kel Essuf, or “People of the Night.” He spoke of an ancient kingdom ruled by evil wizards in which serpents were worshiped. Amalu also whispered of the prophecy, known throughout North Africa since before the Romans had ruled it, of a “Son of the Ocean” who knew neither age nor death and would come to lead the Berber tribes to greatness, forging a new empire.

Amalu knew the legend of Atlantis in detail. He averred that the “Son of the Ocean” would be an Atlantean, and described a ruined city hidden deep in the Hoggar region that had been an outpost of Atlantis. He promised that he could guide the two Europeans there, gain them the protection of a Tuareg band on the journey, and guarantee them immunity from having their throats cut by the grim “People of the Blue Veil.”

Ladeau and von Junzt, despite being sorely tempted by Amalu’s offer, decided not to push their luck. The fickle hospitality of the Lords of the Sahara was well-known and the two Europeans had collected a treasure-trove of lore already. As von Junzt said at the time (according to Ladeau’s diary), “Wolves are a grand sight. From a distance.”

451Bidding farewell to Amalu with a jug of Bordeaux, Friedrich and his friend took ship to Marseilles by way of the Balearic Islands. From Marseilles, the two men traveled north to Paris, where Alexis stayed to get his affairs back in order.  Von Junzt journeyed on to Brittany, a region rich in megalithic monuments. He was particularly awed by the Great Broken Menhir of Er Grah and the Carnac Stones.

Sailing from Brest, von Junzt crossed the Channel to Britain, an island he had long yearned to explore. There, he examined Stonehenge and Avebury. The huge stone monuments caused Friedrich to wonder – as he had before, on Corsica, Sardinia and Malta – whether the megaliths were of “Pictish” or “Turanian” provenance, recalling the ancient wars which ended the Hyborian Age. He even considered the possibility that they had been reared by wholly pre-human hands.

The Hyborian Age

In England, von Junzt followed his established practice of asking the local country people their view. Most of them said that they were the temples of ancient Druid sorcerers. Although von Junzt did not dispute them, he was certain the monuments had been raised long before the first Druids walked British soil.

He does not describe in his “Black Book” what led him to do so, but, from Avebury, Friedrich headed west. He came to the “desolate valley” where the abandoned castle known as Exham Priory stood. It had been deserted for two centuries when von Junzt saw it. Even after so long a time the locals were unwilling to discuss it, so deep was their horror of the place and the de la Poer barons who had formerly lived there. All of von Junzt’s talents for penetrating secret matters and gaining the confidence of strangers were tested to gain knowledge of the local legends in Anchester. (H.P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls”)

SFurther west, Friedrich journeyed into the Severn Valley, which he found to have a haunted reputation as well. He first passed through Goatswood (the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, saw fit to leave his usual area of operations in eastern England solely to find and destroy a coven that worshipped in Goatswood) and then Brichester. Of his stay in Severnford, Junzt stated laconically in Von Unausspreclichen Kulten, “The island beyond Severnford is avoided by those who value their lives and sanity.”

Passing north to Scotland, Friedrich noted the occurrence of “Dagon” as an element in several obscure place-names. He theorized that such were perhaps remnants of Phoenician visitations, but did not rule out (as always) the possibility of “primordial Turanian influence.” Junzt also recalled that there were Dagon cults only a few hundred miles to the south, on the Biscayan coast.

BEntering Scotland and investigating by his now established methods, von Junzt found the cult and the image of Bran Mak Morn, the Dark Man, a contemporary fact in the wild hills of Galloway. Descendants of the ancient Picts cherished the belief that Bran Mak Morn would return to establish the Pictish Empire again. Friedrich became certain there were close links between the Basque race and the prehistoric Picts; his earlier discovery of the “Nemedian Chronicles” had initiated that belief, and now he viewed it as established fact. Recent genetic studies seem to bear out von Junzt’s conjectures to a certain degree.

Von Junzt heard the hideous legends of the Worms of the Earth, their sacred Black Stone, and the fateful Bell of Morni which hangs “in a hidden cave under the heathered hills.” He had no success in penetrating that particular cult; it was even more secretive than most, and accessible only to folk of Pictish blood. But Friedrich established its reality. The folk-tales concerning the “Worms” reminded him strongly of the Tuareg legend of the “People of the Night” and their “Ikshakshar” stone, of which Amalu had told him in North Africa, confirming the ancient testimony of Solinus.

It appeared to von Junzt that Bran Mak Morn’s bargain with the “People of the Dark” must have led the remnants of the Pictish people, harder pressed than ever after their great king’s death, to follow his example and make pacts with those beings and the horrors they worshiped. Friedrich learned of ancient monuments, mazes and jewels being “keys” to open “doors.” In his writings thereafter, the theme of “keys” and “doors” to strange places beyond the world recurred many times.

Traveling back by way of Britain’s eastern coast, von Junzt arrived in London in time to view Giovanni Belzoni’s exhibition of Egyptian antiquities in Piccadilly (1821). Greatly interested, he formed the intention of going to Egypt someday, though that interest was not altogether healthy; it held the sprouting seeds of obsession.

imagesT6EWFBXC“The Nemedian Chronicles”, with their accounts of prehistoric Stygia and its “shadow-guarded tombs” had gripped his imagination. Von Junzt had also read in the Necronomicon of the accursed Pharaoh Nephren-Ka, who built a subterranean labyrinth holding foul secrets and driven a pact with Nyarlathotep, soul and messenger of the mindless Outer Gods, Lord of Chaos and Ancient Night. Friedrich partly craved to investigate the legend, and partly hoped to prove it was false, just an ancient invention. Within himself he knew it was a forlorn hope.

His romantic idealism lay in ruins. As Kipling was later to write, he “knew the worst too young” – or believed then it was the worst. Far from a higher, nobler reality existing behind the sordid appearances of the world, as Kant had taught, there existed alien dimensions and beings to make the most dreary scientific materialism seem like the prattle of optimists.

He was twenty-five, and had only begun his exploration of awful truths.

Images by Rafael Kayanan, Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and Others.

Read Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

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In a few months, the fourth and final volume of Fists of Iron: The Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard will be published. The project is the most ambitious effort from The Robert E. Howard Press, known for tackling big projects (The Collected Letters, The Collected Poetry).

Nearly two years ago I interviewed the three man creative team behind this multi-volume collection and they confirmed what a huge, time consuming effort the project was. But judging from their answers, it was clearly a labor of love for the trio.

Each of the four volumes sports a fine cover painting by award winning artist Tom Gianni, who visually captures the essence of what Howard conveyed with his words, detailing the adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan and his other pugilistic characters.

Here is the fight card for the final round of The Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard:

Introduction by Mark Finn

Kid Allison:

“The Man with the Mystery Mitts”
“Kid Galahad”
“College Socks”
“The Wild Cat and the Star”
“Fighting Nerves” (Kid Allison version)

Mike Dorgan and Bill McGlory:

“The House of Peril”
“One Shanghai Night”
“The Tomb of the Dragon”

Other Tales:

“The Sign of the Snake”
“The Fighting Fury”
“Fighting Nerves” (Jim O’Donnel version)
“Fists of the Desert”
“Fists of the Revolution”

Miscellanea:

“The Jinx”
“Fistic Psychology”
“The Drawing Card”
Untitled fragment (“Huh,” I was so . . .)
“A Tough Nut to Crack” (Allison version)
“A Tough Nut to Crack” (Clarney version)
“One Shanghai Night” – synopsis
Untitled notes (Knute Hansen)

“The Lord of the Ring, Part 4” by Patrice Louinet

Before you know it, a call for pre-orders will go out, so stay tuned to the REHF website, this blog, the TGR Facebook page and TGR Twitter feed for the announcement. It is sure to be a knockout of a book.

04/01/2015 Update: Now shipping: Round 4 of Fists of Iron. Order your copy today!