conan unconquered title

Today, Funcom and Petroglyph studios released their Hyborian Age real-time strategy/survival game (available on Steam) called CONAN UNCONQUERED.  As part of the deluxe edition of the game, I wrote a story that’s being offered with the package.  Also called “Conan Unconquered”, it’s set during the events of Robert E. Howard’s “Black Colossus” — which features in the game — and makes use of Howard’s own unfinished “Yaralet Fragment” (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Del Rey, 2003), which DeCamp made into “The Hand of Nergal”.

In the story, Conan sits with his brother mercenaries the night before the battle at the end of “Black Colossus”; being soldiers, they have a yen for telling tales, and Conan’s offering is the tale of a battle he took part in, which was fought over a woman.

Here’s the opening paragraphs:

Darkness fell across the Kothian Hills, and the army of Khoraja stretched like a rough beast upon the nape of the earth. Fires by the hundreds sprang up, ruddy stars in a constellation of war; to them were drawn the fierce men of the hill-clans – sun-blackened rogues with bristling beards and hooked noses, their once-white khalats yellow with the dust of the road. They carried grave news from the deserts bordering Khoraja.

“Bring us to your chief of chiefs,” these hillmen said in earnest.

And the sentries obliged. But if these men expected to find themselves in some nobleman’s pavilion, reclining on velvet cushions and drinking wine from silver goblets, they were sorely disappointed. Instead, the sentries led them to a fire no different from the scores of others, situated among the tents of the mercenaries. Here, they beheld a giant of a man clad in steel plate, a scarlet cloak draped carelessly about his broad shoulders. One scarred hand rested lightly on the long hilt of a sheathed broadsword as, from beneath a square-cut black mane, smoldering blue eyes appraised the hillmen as a lion appraises its prey. For all that he wore the trappings of civilization, here was no city-bred dog; nor was he like them, a jackal who prowled the fringes of the civilized lands, who recognized no master save strength. No, here was a creature of elemental fury, raw and untamed; a barbarian in truth.

“I am Conan,” he rumbled. “Speak.”

If you’re a gamer, grab a copy of CONAN UNCONQUERED!  If you’re a reader, grab a copy, keep the story, and give the game as a gift!  Or, wait a bit and it should be available on its own (not sure when).

Conan-Unconquerd 2



A Pause for the Deadline Cause

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye, and asks you if you paid your dues; you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: “Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes, sir, the check is in the mail.” — Jack Burton

Deadline’s rolling around for Twilight of the Gods, which means it’s time to put that ol’ check in the mail.  To that end, I’ll be eating and sleeping 13th century Northern crusaders, Pagan berserkers, a pissed off Orc, a headstrong Geatish shield-maiden, and maybe a dragon till next week.  This, of course, means the next chapter of the Shadow of Vengeance Companion will be a bit delayed.

I think the dragon will more than make up for the delay, though . . .

Mark this, little bird: you can judge how high you stand in your enemy’s esteem by the weapon he draws against you. By that measure, the one-eyed lord of Ásgarðr must have thought us titans. For what he drew against us in the days after Mag Tuiredh was a weapon without mercy, as cruel as the grave. Niðhöggr, it was called, the Malice-Striker. Grimnir’s voice dropped to an awed whisper. I saw it, me and the lads Raðbolg sent to fetch the honey. Saw the dragon when it crawled out of the fjord and slithered up the slopes of Orkahaugr. This was no flying wyrm that breathed fire like you miserable Geats like to yammer on about. This one was a creeper, half serpent and half lizard. Longer than a wolf ship, it was – longer even than the dragon ships of the Norse – and it pulled itself along on two clawed legs. Scales of bone armored it above and below, pale as man-flesh on its belly but fading to the colors of moss and lake mud along its back. That monstrous head . . . Grimnir’s nostrils flared; his brow furrowed at the memory. He shook, as if to rouse himself.



Steve Tompkins: Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago, we lost one of our own.  REH scholar and peerless writer Steve Tompkins passed away on 3/23/09, from complications related to an illness.  It was the first such death to affect me on more than a surface level.  I want to share something from the archives, from the first anniversary of Steve’s passing:

The Ideal Reader: A Tribute to Steve Tompkins

It has become something of a cliché to say that authors write for an audience of one. Clichéd, but nonetheless true. Most often, this singular audience is the author himself, but some also write for the enjoyment of another, for an individual they hold in esteem: a spouse or loved one, a friend, an old teacher. Sitting metaphorically at the author’s shoulder, this individual becomes their Ideal Reader—a person who, to quote Stephen King’s excellent On Writing, “at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?’”

Steve Tompkins was my Ideal Reader.

I never got the chance to actually meet Steve, nor were we correspondents. I knew him solely through his dense and erudite essays at The Cimmerian; essays filled with insights and deliciously turned phrases that often forced me to reach for my dictionary. From each one, I gleaned a little something about the kind of man Steve was: passionate, eloquent, and generous in both praise and criticism. The highest laurel I can lay upon his brow is to say that he was a world-class scholar of literature; as a writer in his notice, especially one newly published, that forged in me a desire to bring my best work forward.

I have two moments as a published author that I will never forget. One was hearing that my first novel, Men of Bronze, had earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly; the second was casually clicking the link from my blog to The Cimmerian blog and reading an essay wherein Steve Tompkins recommended my work. It was a heady moment, and I doubt he knew how much his approbation bolstered my self-confidence. I was a writer! And I knew it, by God, because Steve Tompkins said so!

In the end, the Fates decided to cut Steve’s life far too short. It is to my eternal regret that I didn’t take time to send Steve more than a cursory thank-you note; I regret I didn’t express how much I appreciated his kind words, and that his essays were like peripatetic sojourns into the dark heart of the fantastic. I regret I did not write faster, so he could have read The Lion of Cairo.

Most of all, I regret not letting Steve know he was my Ideal Reader.

raise the horns

Raise your horns, mates, and drink to the shade of one of our own!