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The Hour of the Dragon (Conan the Conqueror), Part 4

[1]915 words

Part 4 of 4

In our final installment we will examine the end of this novel and its denouement. The Heart of Ahriman—the foundation to resist Xaltotun’s magick—has been obtained by Conan after numerous adventures. This means that the Aquilonians do not need to fear his necromancy as they begin their final rebellion against the Nemedians—prior to expelling them from the kingdom for good. 

Conan begins to knit together the sinews of his army, involving the Gundermen from the north and the Bossonians from the west, together with his Poitanian allies, under Prince Trocero, from the deep south. He moves around the south west of Aquilonia—not giving battle to Tarascus—and appearing and disappearing, almost at will. This is designed to destabilize the Nemedians.

The latter are also put off balance by Xaltotun’s growing ambition—together with his possible desire to bring back the ancient kingdom devoted to black magic known as Acheron. In the presence of the rival satraps—Amalric, Taracus, and Valerius—he is careful to speak only of a new empire of this earth—not a resuscitation of a magical one which is three thousand years old. Xaltotun murders the ex-priest of Mitra who brought him back to life—primarily as a punishment for his revealing too much about the arch-wizard’s ultimate plans.

While Conan prepares his rebellious army for battle, Xaltotun comes to the camp of the Nemedian leaders. The blindness and cruelty of Valerius’ kingship, and the beacon of light which is Conan’s resurfacing, means that this is a revolt like no other. Xaltotun tells them to expect a flood which will trap the Aquilonians on either side of a river that has burst its banks. Each smaller force can then be dispatched by the Nemedian knights.

He goes to his tent in order to prepare the rain magic, but the witch Zelata and the priests of Asura, aided by the Heart of Ahriman, are acting against Xaltotun in order to frustrate his plans. They now have the power and the ability to do so. The river in question does rise in spate but only by a foot or so, and Conan is able to throw both armies across so that they unite and form one cohesive whole.

The Nemedian leaders are astounded—for the first time in their association with him the black Pythonian’s magic has failed them. But they have no time to dwell on this; Conan is a real and ever-present danger. They march against him to a stronghold in the Gorelian hills—the last redoubt or battle-stage for many an Aquilonian king. Conan means to emerge victorious—defeat is unthinkable.

With things set for the battle on the morrow, a traitor comes forward from the Aquilonian camp. This is a broken mountebank or vagabond of an individual who offers to lead Valerius, the Aquilonian king, round the back of Conan’s army at the high-point of the battle. He is prepared to do all of this for as much gold as he can carry. But, in reality, it is a trap for Valerius set by all of the men he has ruined.

Aided by a mist from the priests of Asura, Valerius and his Aquilonian renegades are led into a defile with only one exit in a different part of the mountain range. It is no threat to Conan’s lines whatsoever. Once imprisoned, the tyrant and his key mercenaries are done to death from the cliff by rock, spear, and arrow. Moreover, at the high-point of the battle, Valerius’ standard—a dragon upon a scarlet backdrop—is brandished by a horseman amidst Conan’s lines. It is a testament to the fact that the Hour of the Dragon is over!

Xaltotun tries one last magical intervention—a piece of black thaumaturgy involving the demons of the lower earth. But he is upstaged by Zelata and Hadrathus, the high-priest of Asura, both of whom have been given new confidence by their possession of the Heart of Ahriman, the heart of sorcery. At the height of his human sacrifice, Xaltotun is struck down by fire from the great jewel and is returned to the state of a mummy. “I only saw him as a mummy—never a living man!” claims Zelata sourly.

Both white magicians then give a signal to Conan’s army to charge, and they do so—down-hill—at breakneck speed, and in such a way as causes the Nemedian lines to be broken and smashed asunder. As the Nemedians flee the field, in a confused mêlée, Almaric is killed in a joust by one of Conan’s generals, and finally the Nemedian king, Tarascus, is brought low by a great blow from Conan’s broadsword. He surrenders and agrees to leave the Kingdom with all his forces, reversing slavery, and paying a large indemnity. His body will remain in trust or forfeit until all of this is carried out.

In the uproarious scenes at the novel’s close, the entire Aquilonian host declares Conan to be their king and he urges upon Tarascus the following restitution: the slave-girl, Zenobia, shall be raised from the Nemedian seraglio to be the Queen of Aquilonia.

In this analysis and synopsis we have pointed out the Caucasian heroics, hero-worship, and fantasy-mongering. But it is only fair to draw attention to a biting Spenglerian pessimism and an ultra-conservative pathos, in terms of cultural politics. For, buried at the very heart of what can appear to be pulp fiction, is a zest for life and death which transcends the Zeitgeist and imbues a spirit of warriorship in all who attend to it.