The Black Stranger

"The Black Stranger"
AuthorRobert E. Howard
CountryUnited States
SeriesConan the Barbarian
Published inFantasy Magazine
Publication typeMagazine
Media typePrint (Magazine)
Publication date1953

"The Black Stranger" is a fantasy short story by American writer Robert E. Howard, one of his works featuring the sword & sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian. It was written in the 1930s, but not published in his lifetime. When the original Conan version of his 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

The story begins with Conan in the Pictish Wilderness, fleeing native warriors who are now hunting him. To escape his pursuers, Conan ascends a nearby crag of rock. Suddenly, he sees the Picts inexplicably abandon their chase and turn back. Soon, Conan realizes this spot must be considered a forbidden place to the Picts. The hill turns out to hold a treasure cave along with the preserved bodies of a pirate captain, Tranicos, and his men. Conan's attempt to remove the treasure proves futile, as a demon of mist appears 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 nobleman from Zingara. Vanlenso has fled his homeland to escape a demon whom he double-crossed, only to end up on the western shores of the Pictish territory. With his entourage are his niece, the Lady Belesa, and her handmaiden, Tina, along with other soldiers and retainers. The Count is stunned when he learns that a buccaneer, Black Zarono, has also landed on the shores, followed by the pirate Strombanni. Both pirates believe Valenso has traveled to this deserted region in search of the legendary Treasure of Tranicos.

The buccaneers are both bitter enemies and bring their feud towards the Count's stronghold. During a meeting one night between the Count, Black Zarono, and Strombanni, Conan surprisingly emerges from behind some drapery. All eyes are on Conan as he enters the room. The men learn from Conan that he, "himself", has discovered 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 vault to have them be 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 crag. The pirates once again declare a truce to combat a common foe. Once the pirates escape the crag, 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 as well as the deaths of the Count, Strombanni, and Black Zarono. However, Conan himself manages to escape across the fortress wall in the ensuing chaos, carrying both Belesa and Tina with him to safety.

"The black stranger" referred to in the title proves out to be a vengeful stygian mage whose services Valenso has utilized but then betrayed and deceived. The now chaotic political situation in Zingara causes that Valenso have no king or other to protect him. Hence he must flee the land, not knowing that his sea captain have his own plans - and a map leading to the treasure of Tranicos. When little Tina tells of a strange black man that she has seen arriving to the shore Valenso reacts violently, indeed insanely, if not shooting so at least brutally beating up the messenger. De Camp did identify this unnamed stygian mage with Thoth- Amon.

A rather terrible aspect of this story is that at Most 12- year old Tina was originally a sex-slave of the said captain. She was rescued from this by Belesa to whom Tina, wise beyond her age, is totally devoted. Another unpleasant aspect is the undeniable racism we meet in this story.

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 a pirate and mercenary into a king.

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