Xuthal of the Dusk

Infobox short story
name = Xuthal of the Dusk
title_orig = The Slithering Shadow
translator =
author = Robert E. Howard
country = USA
language = English
series = Conan the Cimmerian
genre = Fantasy
published_in = USA
publication_type = Pulp magazine
publisher = Weird Tales
media_type =
pub_date = 1934
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Xuthal of the Dusk" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in "Weird Tales" magazine circa September 1933 under the title ""The Slithering Shadow"." It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan finding a lost city in a remote desert and encountering therein a Lovecraftian-esque demon known as Thog.

The story was republished in the collections "The Sword of Conan" (Gnome Press, 1952) and "Conan the Adventurer" (Lancer Books, 1966). It has more recently been published in the collections "The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle" (Gollancz, 2000) as "The Slithering Shadow" and in "" (Del Rey, 2003) under its original title, "Xuthal of the Dusk."

Plot summary

cquote2|"We came from the desert," Conan growled. "We wandered into the city at dusk, famishing. We found a feast set for some one, and we ate it. I have no money to pay for it. In my country, no starving man is denied food, but you civilized people must have your recompense — if you are like all I ever met. We have done no harm and we were just leaving. By Crom, I do not like this place, where dead men rise, and sleeping men vanish into the bellies of shadows!"
Robert E. Howard|"Xuthal of the Dusk"

Conan the Cimmerian and Natala the Brythunian are the sole survivors of Prince Almuric's army which swept through the Lands of Shem and the outlands of Stygia. With a Stygian host on its heels, the prince's army had cut its way through the kingdom of Kush, only to be annihilated on the edge of the southern desert.

From that slaughter, when the Stygians and the Kushites surrounded the trapped remnants, Conan had cut his way clear and fled on a camel with Natala into the southern desert. For days they pushed on, seeking water, until their camel died. Then they continued on foot.

When their canteen is empty, Conan prepares to slay Natala as a mercy-killing, but he spies a distant city: Xuthal. At length, Conan and Natala enter Xuthal only to be attacked by a trance-like guard. They soon encounter Thalis, a beautiful Stygian, who reveals the history of the peculiar city and the existence of Thog.

Thog is a monstrous demon from the city-states of ancient Valusia; his present form spun by the ancient sorcerers of Xuthal from the darkness between the stars. For an ageless time Thog has haunted the halls of Xuthal in search of living flesh to assuage the continuing manifestation of his body on the physical plane.

Thalis falls in love with Conan and, to eliminate her rival, kidnaps Natala in the hopes of sacrificing her to Thog. However, Thalis pauses to strip Natala of her tunic and, with a jewel-handled whip, flagellates her. In the middle of this whipping, Thog clandestinely appears, snatches Thalis, and devours her. The demon returns for Natala, but Conan intervenes and saves her. Conan fights Thog with all his might but scarcely harming its supernatural form, while receiving hideous crushing wound in the coils of its pseudopods and tentacles until he manages to pierce what he perceives as the 'head' of the monster from below and to precipitate it down into a well. Conan frees Natala who sets forth to help him but he's rapidly dying (this is the closest Conan ever gets to death in all of his saga), the Brythunian girl then brings him a jade decanter full of golden wine, retrieved from a room with a dreaming woman of Xuthal in it. The beverage proves to be a life giving elixir briefly mentioned by Thalis in a previous exchange, which miraculously heals all of Conan's wounds. Finally the couple retrieve food and water to cross the rest of the desert with and depart toward the horizon with Natala jokingly blaming Conan for having aroused Thalis' lustful nature and him retorting playfully about women's jealousy.

Notes

The 'cure all' golden elixir which restores Conan's health after he's been flayed and poisoned and squeezed by Thog's tentacles looks very similar to the concoction given by Kathulos the Atlantean (in his guise of Master of the londinese drug underworld) to drug-addict WW1 veteran Costigan in the novelette Skull Face. In that story the elixir was dangerously addictive, while the Hyborian version seems not to have this side effect.

Adaptation

The story was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala in "Savage Sword of Conan" #20.

External links

* [http://conan.wikia.com/wiki/Xuthal_of_the_Dusk Conan wiki • Xuthal of the Dusk] • Synopsis, characters, locations, and publishing history
* [http://www.amrathelion.com/ Conan the Barbarian at AmratheLion.com]
* [http://www.conan.com/ Conan.com: The Official Website]


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