Worms of the Earth

"Worms of the Earth"
AuthorRobert E. Howard
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesBran Mak Morn
Genre(s)Sword & Sorcery
Published inWeird Tales
Media typePulp magazine
Publication dateNovember 1932

"Worms of the Earth" is a short story by American fantasy fiction writer Robert E. Howard. It was originally published in the magazine Weird Tales in November 1932, then again in 1975 in a collection of Howard's short stories, Worms of the Earth.[1] The story features one of Howard's recurring protagonists, Bran Mak Morn, a legendary king of the Picts. [2]

Plot

Bran Mak Morn, King of the Picts, vows vengeance on Titus Sulla, a Roman governor, after witnessing the crucifixion of a fellow Pict. He seeks forbidden aid from the Worms of the Earth, a race of creatures who Bran Mak Morn's ancestors banished from their kingdom centuries ago. They were once men, but millennia of living underground caused them to become monstrous and semi-reptilian.

Searching for a contact with these creatures, Bran Mak Morn encounters a witch who lives in a secluded hut, shunned by her neighbors, who was born from a sexual encounter between one of the "Worms" and a human woman. The witch's price for helping him is "one night of love" which her human-half craves - as men in general are repelled by her reptilian traits. Bran Mak Morn, though also himself repelled, agrees to pay the price. In exchange, she tells him of a barrow where "The Black Stone", a religious artifact of great importance to the "Worms", is hidden.

Stealing the Black Stone is a highly risky enterprise - if caught by the "Worms", Bran Mak Morn would die in torment "as no man had died for a thousand years". Fortunately, the barrow is unguarded and he manages to carry out his theft by hiding the Stone at the bottom of a lake. To get it back, the "Worms" agree on delivering Sulla to him. This they proceed with, undermining and destroying a Roman fortress known as "Trajan's Tower" before snatching the Roman governor into their subterranean tunnels. Mak Morn intended, once Sulla was delivered, on challenging him to a duel to the death. However, Sulla's mind is damaged from his encounter with the horrific Worms of the Earth. Instead, Bran Mak Morn slays him in mercy rather than vengeance, realizing how some weapons are too foul to use, even against Rome.

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