Historical Adventures - Robert E. Howard - ebook

Historical Adventures ebook

Robert E. Howard

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The immortal legacy of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Cimmerian, continues with this latest compendium of Howard’s fiction and poetry. He will always be best remembered for his sword and sorcery tales but his work was extraordinarily varied. Unlike most of his better known works such as Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, etc., these stories are all historically based adventure stories. These adventures, set in medieval-era Europe and the Near East, are among the most gripping Howard ever wrote, full of pageantry, romance, and battle scenes worthy of Tolstoy himself. Lots of swashbuckling adventure here but no magic or supernatural elements. „Historical Adventures” is a must-have for every fan of Robert E. Howard, who, in a career spanning just twelve years, won a place in the pantheon of great American writers.

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Contents

RED BLADES OF BLACK CATHAY

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

LORD OF SAMARCAND [THE LAME MAN]

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

THE SOWERS OF THE THUNDER

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

THE LION OF TIBERIAS

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

THE SHADOW OF THE VULTURE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

GATES OF EMPIRE [THE ROAD OF THE MOUNTAIN LION]

RED BLADES OF BLACK CATHAY

CHAPTER 1

Trumpets die in the loud parade, The gray mist drinks the spears; Banners of glory sink and fade In the dust of a thousand years. Singers of pride the silence stills, The ghost of empire goes, But a song still lives in the ancient hills, And the scent of a vanished rose. Ride with us on a dim, lost road To the dawn of a distant day, When swords were bare for a guerdon rare. –The Flower of Black Cathay.

THE SINGING of the swords was a deathly clamor in the brain of Godric de Villehard. Blood and sweat veiled his eyes and in the instant of blindness he felt a keen point pierce a joint of his hauberk and sting deep into his ribs. Smiting blindly, he felt the jarring impact that meant his sword had gone home, and snatching an instant’s grace, he flung back his vizor and wiped the redness from his eyes. A single glance only was allowed him: in that glance he had a fleeting glimpse of huge, wild black mountains; of a clump of mail-clad warriors, ringed by a howling horde of human wolves; and in the center of that clump, a slim, silk-clad shape standing between a dying horse and a dying swordsman. Then the wolfish figures surged in on all sides, hacking like madmen.

“Christ and the Cross!” the old Crusading shout rose in a ghastly croak from Godric’s parched lips. As if far away he heard voices gaspingly repeat the words. Curved sabers rained on shield and helmet. Godric’s eyes blurred to the sweep of frenzied dark faces with bristling, foam-flecked beards. He fought like a man in a dream. A great weariness fettered his limbs. Somewhere–long ago it seemed–a heavy axe, shattering on his helm, had bitten through an old dent to rend the scalp beneath. He heaved his curiously weighted arm above his head and split a bearded face to the chin.

“En avant, Montferrat!” We must hack through and shatter the gates, thought the dazed brain of Godric; we can not long stand this press, but once within the city–no–these walls were not the walls of Constantinople: he was mad; he dreamed–these towering heights were the crags of a lost and nameless land and Montferrat and the Crusade lay lost in leagues and years.

Godric’s steed reared and pitched headlong, throwing his rider with a clash of armor. Under the lashing hoofs and the shower of blades, the knight struggled clear and rose, without his shield, blood starting from every joint in his armor. He reeled, bracing himself; he fought not these foes alone, but the long grinding days behind–the days and days of hard riding and ceaseless fighting.

Godric thrust upward and a man died. A scimitar shivered on his crest, and the wielder, torn from his saddle by a hand that was still iron, spilled his entrails at Godric’s feet. The rest reined in around howling, seeking to overthrow the giant Frank by sheer weight of numbers. Somewhere in the hellish din a woman’s scream knifed the air. A clatter of hoofs burst like a sudden whirlwind and the press was cleared. Through a red mist the dulling eyes of the knight saw the wolfish, skinclad assailants swept away by a sudden flood of mailed riders who hacked them down and trampled them under.

Then men were dismounting around him, men whose gaudy silvered armor, high fur kaftans and two-handed scimitars he saw as in a dream. One with thin drooping mustaches adorning his dark face spoke to him in a Turkish tongue the knight could faintly understand, but the burden of the words was unintelligible. He shook his head.

“I can not linger,” Godric said, speaking slowly and with growing difficulty, “De Montferrat awaits my report and I must–ride–East–to–find–the– kingdom–of–Prester–John - - bid–my–men–mount–”

His voice trailed off. He saw his men; they lay about in a silent, sword- gashed cluster, dead as they had lived–facing the foe. Suddenly the strength flowed from Godric de Villehard in a great surge and he fell as a blasted tree falls. The red mist closed about him, but ere it engulfed him utterly, he saw bending near him two great dark eyes, strangely soft and luminous, that filled him with formless yearning; in a world grown dim and unreal they were the one tangible reality and this vision he took with him into a nightmare realm of shadows.

Godric’s return to waking life was as abrupt as his departure. He opened his eyes to a scene of exotic splendor. He was lying on a silken couch near a wide window whose sill and bars were of chased gold. Silken cushions littered the marble floor and the walls were of mosaics where they were not worked in designs of gems and silver, and were hung with heavy tapestries of silk, satin and cloth-of-gold. The ceiling was a single lofty dome of lapis lazuli from which was suspended on golden chains a censer that shed a faint alluring scent over all. Through the window a faint breeze wafted scents of spices, roses and jasmine, and beyond Godric could see the clear blue of the Asian skies.

He tried to rise and fell back with a startled exclamation. Whence this strange weakness? The hand he lifted to his gaze was thinner than should be, and its bronze was faded. He gazed in perplexity at the silken, almost feminine garments which clothed him, and then he remembered–the long wandering, the battle, the slaughter of his men-at-arms. His heart turned sick within him as he remembered the staunch faithfulness of the men he had led to the shambles.

A tall, thin yellow man with a kindly face entered and smiled to see that he was awake and in his right mind. He spoke to the knight in several languages unknown to Godric, then used one easy to understand–a rough Turkish dialect much akin to the bastard tongue used by the Franks in their contacts with the Turanian peoples.

“What place is this?” asked Godric. “How long have I lain here?”

“You have lain here many days,” answered the other. “I am You-tai, the emperor’s man-of-healing. This is the heavenborn empire of Black Cathay. The princess Yulita has attended you with her own hands while you lay raving in delirium. Only through her care and your own marvelous natural strength have you survived. When she told the emperor how you with your small band recklessly charged and delivered her from the hands of the Hian bandits who had slain her guard and taken her prisoner, the heavenly one gave command that naught be spared to preserve you. Who are you, most noble lord? While you raved you spoke of many unknown peoples, places and battles and your appearance is such as to show that you come from afar.”

Godric laughed, and bitterness was in his laughter.

“Aye,” quoth he, “I have ridden far; the deserts have parched my lips and the mountains have wearied my feet. I have seen Trebizond in my wanderings, and Teheran and Bokhara and Samarcand. I have looked on the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Ravens. From Constantinople far to the west I set forth more than a year agone, riding eastward. I am a knight of Normandy, Sir Godric de Villehard.”

“I have heard of some of the places you name,” answered You-tai, “but many of them are unknown to me. Eat now, and rest. In time the princess Yulita will come to you.”

So Godric ate the curiously spiced rice, the dates and candied meats, and drank the colorless rice wine brought him by a flat-faced girl slave who wore golden bangles on her ankles, and soon slept, and sleeping, his unquenchable vitality began to assert itself.

When he awoke from that long sleep he felt refreshed and stronger, and soon the pearl-inlaid doors opened and a slight, silk-clad figure entered. Godric’s heart suddenly pounded as he again felt the soft, tender gaze of those great dark eyes upon him. He drew himself together with an effort; was he a boy to tremble before a pair of eyes, even though they adorned the face of a princess?

Long used was he to the veiled women of the Moslems, and Yulita’s creamy cheeks with her full ruby lips were like an oasis in the waste.

“I am Yulita,” the voice was soft, vibrant and musical as the silvery tinkle of the fountain in the court outside. “I wish to thank you. You are brave as Rustum. When the Hians rushed from the defiles and cut down my guard, I was afraid. You answered my screams as unexpectedly and boldly as a hero sent down from paradise. I am sorry your brave men died.”

“And I likewise,” the Norman answered with the bluntness of his race, “but it was their trade: they would not have had it otherwise and they could not have died in a better cause.”

“But why did you risk your life to aid me, who am not of your race and whom you never saw before?” she pursued.

Godric might have answered as would nine out of any ten knights in his position–with the repeating of the vow of chivalry, to protect all weaker things. But being Godric de Villehard, he shrugged his shoulders. “God knows. I should have known it was death to us all to charge that horde. I have seen too much rapine and outrage since I turned my face east to have thus thrown away my men and expedition in the ordinary course of events. Perhaps I saw at a glance you were of regal blood and followed the knight’s natural instinct to rush to the aid of royalty.”

She bowed her head. “I am sorry.”

“I am not,” he growled. “My men would have died anyhow today or tomorrow – now they are at rest. We have ridden through hell for more than a year. Now they are beyond the sun’s heat and the Turk’s saber.”

She rested her chin on her hands and her elbows on her knees, leaning forward to gaze deep into his eyes. His senses swam momentarily. Her eyes traversed his mighty frame to return to his face. Thin-lipped, with cold gray eyes, Godric de Villehard’s sun-darkened, clean-shaven face inspired trust and respect in men but there was little in his appearance to stir the heart of a woman. The Norman was not past thirty, but his hard life had carved his face into inflexible lines. Rather than the beauty that appeals to women, there was in his features the lean strength of the hunting wolf. The forehead was high and broad, the brow of a thinker, and once the mouth had been kindly, the eyes those of a dreamer. But now his eyes were bitter and his whole appearance that of a man with whom life has dealt hardly– who has ceased to look for mercy or to give it.

“Tell me, Sir Godric,” said Yulita, “whence come you and why have you ridden so far with so few men?”

“It’s a long tale,” he answered. “It had its birth in a land halfway across the world. I was a boy and full of high ideals of chivalry and knighthood–and I hated that Saxon-French pig, King John. A wine-bibber named Fulk of Neuilly began ranting and screaming death and damnation because the Holy Land was still in the possession of the Paynim. He howled until he stirred the blood of such young fools as myself, and the barons began recruiting men–forgetting how the other Crusades had ended.

“Walter de Brienne and that black-faced cut-throat Simon de Montfort fired us young Normans with promises of salvation and Turkish loot, and we set forth. Boniface and Baldwin were our leaders and they plotted against each other all the way to Venice.

“There the mercenary Venetians refused us ships and it sickened my very entrails to see our chiefs go down on their knees to those merchant swine. They promised us ships at last but they set such a high price we could not pay. None of us had any money, else we had never started on that mad venture. We wrenched the jewels from our hilts and the gold from our buckles and raised part of the money, bargaining to take various cities from the Greeks and give them over to Venice for the rest of the price. The Pope–Innocent III–raged, but we went our ways and quenched our swords in Christian blood instead of Paynim.

“Spalato we took, and Ragusa, Sebenico and Zara. The Venetians got the cities and we got the glory.” Here Godric laughed harshly. A quick glance told him the girl was sitting spellbound, eyes aglow. Somehow he felt ashamed.

“Well,” he continued, “young Alexius who had been driven from Constantinople persuaded us that it would be doing God’s work to put old Angelus back on the throne, so we fared forth.

“We took Constantinople with no great difficulty, but only a scant time had elapsed before the maddened people strangled old Angelus and we were forced to take the city again. This time we sacked it and split the empire up. De Montfort had long returned to England and I fought under Boniface of Montferrat, who was made King of Macedonia. One day he called me to him, and said he: ‘Godric, the Turkomans harry the caravans and the trade of the East dries up because of constant war. Take a hundred men-at-arms and find me this kingdom of Prester John. He too is a Christian and we may establish a route of trade between us, guarded by both of us, and thus safeguard the caravans.’

“Thus he spoke, being a natural-born liar and unable to tell the truth on a wager. I saw through his design and understood his wish for me to conquer this fabulous kingdom for him.

“‘Only a hundred men?’ quoth I.

“‘I can not spare you more,’ said he, ‘lest Baldwin and Dandolo and the Count of Blois come in and cut my throat. These are enow. Gain ye to Prester John and abide with him awhile–aid him in his wars for a space, then send riders to report your progress to me. Mayhap then I can send you more men.’ And his eyelids drooped in a way I knew.

“‘But where lies this kingdom?’ said I.

“‘Easy enough,’ said he; ‘to the east–any fool can find it if he fares far enough.’

“So,” Godric’s face darkened, “I rode east with a hundred heavily armed horsemen–the pick of the Norman warriors. By Satan, we hacked our way through! Once past Trebizond we had to fight almost every mile. We were assailed by Turks, Persians and Kirghiz, as well as by our natural foes of heat, thirst and hunger. A hundred men–there were less than a score with me when I heard your screams and rode out of the defiles. Their bodies lie scattered from the hills of Black Cathay to the shores of the Black Sea. Arrows, spears, swords, all took their toll, but still I forged eastward.”

“And all for your liege lord!” cried Yulita, her eyes sparkling, as she clasped her hands. “Oh, it is like the tales of honor and chivalry; of Iran and those You-tai has told me of the heroes of ancient Cathay. It makes my blood burn! You too are a hero such as all men were once in the days of our ancestors, with your courage and loyalty!”

The sting of his healing wounds bit into Godric.

“Loyalty?” he snarled. “To that devious-minded assassin, Montferrat? Bah! Do you think I intended giving up my life to carve out a kingdom for him? He had naught to lose and all to gain. He gave me a handful of men, expecting to receive the rewards of what I did. If I failed, he was still winner, for he would be rid of a turbulent vassal. The kingdom of Prester John is a dream and a fantasy. I have followed a will-o’-the-wisp for a thousand miles. A dream that receded farther and farther into the mazes of the East, leading me to my doom.”

“And had you found it, what then?” asked the girl, grown suddenly quiet.

Godric shrugged his shoulders. It was not the Norman way to flaunt secret ambitions to any chance-met man or woman, but after all, he owed his life to this girl. She had paid her debt to him and there was something in her eyes....

“Had I found Prester John’s kingdom,” said Godric, “I had made shift to conquer it for myself.”

“Look,” Yulita took Godric’s arm and pointed out a gold-barred window, whose sheer silken curtains, blowing inward, disclosed the rugged peaks of distant mountains, shouldering against the blazing blue of the skies.

“Beyond those mountains lies the kingdom of him you call Prester John.”

Godric’s eyes gleamed suddenly with the conquering spirit of the true Norman - - the born empire-maker, whose race had carved out kingdoms with their swords in every land of the West and Near East.

“And does he dwell in purple-domed palaces of gold and glittering gems?” he asked eagerly. “Do, as I have heard, learned philosophers and magi sit at either hand, doing wonders with stars and suns and ghosts of the mighty dead? Does his city loom among the clouds with golden spires thrusting among the stars? And does the deathless monarch, who learned at the feet of our fair Lord Christ, sit on an ivory throne in a room whose walls are carved of one great sapphire dispensing justice?”

She shook her head.

“Prester John–Wang Khan we name him–is very old, but he is not deathless nor has he ever been beyond the confines of his own kingdom. His people are the Keraits–Krits– Christians; they dwell in cities, true, but the houses are mud huts and goatskin tents, and the palace of Wang Khan is as a hut itself compared to this palace.”

Godric fell back and his eyes went dull.

“My dream is vanished,” he muttered. “You should have let me die.”

“Dream again, man,” she answered; “only dream something more attainable.”

Shaking his head, he looked into her eyes.

“Dreams of empire have haunted my life,” said he, “yet even now the shadow of a dream lingers in my soul, ten times less attainable than the kingdom of Prester John.”

CHAPTER 2

Scrawled screens and secret gardens And insect-laden skies– Where fiery plains stretch on and on To the purple country of Prester John And the walls of Paradise." –Chesterton

THE DAYS passed and slowly the giant frame of the Norman knight regained its accustomed vigor. In those days he sat in the chamber with the lapis lazuli dome, or walked in the outer courts where fountains tinkled musically beneath the shade of cherry trees, and soft petals fell in a colorful rain about him. The battle- scarred warrior felt strangely out of place in this setting of exotic luxury but was inclined to rest there and lull the restlessness of his nature for a time. He saw nothing of the city, Jahadur, for the walls about the courts were high, and he presently understood that he was practically a prisoner. He saw only Yulita, the slaves and You-tai. With the thin yellow man he talked much. You-tai was a Cathayan–a member of the race who lived in Greater Cathay, some distance to the south. This empire, Godric soon realized, had given rise to many of the tales of Prester John; it was an ancient, mighty but now loosely knit empire, divided into three kingdoms–the Khitai, the Chin and the Sung. You-tai was learned beyond any man Godric had ever known and he spoke freely.

“The emperor inquires often after your health,” said he, “but I tell you frankly, it were best that you not be presented to him for a time at least. Since your great battle with the Hian bandits, you have captured the fancy of the soldiers, especially old Roogla, the general who loves the princess like his own since he bore her as a babe on his saddle-bow from the ruins of Than when the Naimans raided over the border. Chamu Khan fears anyone the army loves. He fears you might be a spy. He fears most things, does the emperor, even his niece, the princess Yulita.”

“She does not took like the Black Cathayan girls I have seen” commented Godric; “her face is not flat, nor do her eyes slant as much.”

“She has Iranian blood,” answered You-tai. “She is the daughter of a royal Black Cathayan and a Persian woman.”

“I see sadness in her eyes, at times,” said Godric.

“She remembers that she is soon to leave her mountain home,” answered You- tai, eyeing Godric closely. “She is to marry prince Wang Yin of the Chin emperors. Chamu Khan has promised her to him, for he is anxious to gain favor with Cathay. The emperor fears Genghis Khan.”

“Who is Genghis Khan?” Godric asked idly.

“A chief of the Yakka Mongols. He has grown greatly in power for the last decade. His people are nomads–fierce fighters who have so little to live for in their barren deserts that they do not mind dying. Long ago their ancestors, the Hiong-nu, were driven into the Gobi by my ancestors, the Cathayans. They are divided into many tribes and fight against one another, but Genghis Khan seems to be uniting them by conquest. I even hear wild tales that he plans to shake off the liege-ship of Cathay and even make war on his masters. But that is foolish. This small kingdom is different. Though Hia and the Keraits lie between Chamu Khan and the Yakkas, Genghis Khan is a real threat to this mountain empire.

“Black Cathay has grown to be a kingdom apart, pent in the fastness where no strong foe has come against them for ages. They are neither Turks nor Chinese any longer, but constitute a separate nation of their own, with separate traditions. They have never needed any alliances for protection, but now since they have grown soft and degenerate from long years of peace, even Chamu realizes their weaknesses and seeks to ally his house with that of the Chins of Cathay.”

Godric mused a space. “It would seem Jahadur is the key to Black Cathay. These Mongols must first take this city to make sure of their conquests. No doubt the walls throng with archers and spearmen?”

You-tai spread his hands helplessly. “No man knows the mind of Chamu Khan. There are scarce fifteen hundred warriors in the city. Chamu has even sent our strongest detachment–a troop of hard-riding western Turks–to another part of the empire. Why, no one knows. I beg you, stir not from the court until I tell you. Chamu Khan deems you a spy of Genghis Khan, I fear, and it were best if he did not send for you.”

But Chamu Khan did call for Godric before many days had drifted by. The emperor gave him audience, not in the great throne room, but in a small chamber where Chamu Khan squatted like a great fat toad on a silken divan attended by a huge black mute with a two-handed scimitar. Godric veiled the contempt in his eyes and answered Chamu Khan’s questions regarding his people and his country with patience. He wondered at the absurdity of most of these questions, and at the emperor’s evident ignorance and stupidity. Old Roogla, the general, a fiercely mustached, barrel-chested savage, was present and he said nothing. But his eyes strayed in comparison from the fat, helpless mass of flesh and arrogance on the cushions to the erect, broad-shouldered figure and hard, scarred face of the Frank. From the corner of his eye Chamu Khan observed this but he was not altogether a fool. He spoke pleasantly to Godric, but the wary Norman, used to dealing with rulers, sensed that dislike was mixed with the khan’s feeling of obligation, and that this dislike was mingled with fear. Chamu asked him suddenly of Genghis Khan and watched him narrowly. The sincerity of the knight’s reply evidently convinced Chamu, for a shadow of relief passed over his fat face. After all, decided Godric, it was but natural that an emperor should be suspicious of a stranger in his realm, especially one of such war-like aspects as the Norman knew himself to be.

At the end of the interview, Chamu fastened a heavy golden chain about Godric’s neck with his own pudgy hands. Then Godric went back to his chamber with the lapis lazuli dome, to the cherry blossoms drifting in gay-colored clouds from the breeze-shaken trees, and to lazy strolls and talks with Yulita.

“It seems strange,” said he abruptly one day, “that you are to leave this land and go to another. Somehow I can not think of you save as a slim girl forever under these blossom-heavy trees, with the dreamy fountains singing and the mountains of Black Cathay rising against the skies.”

She caught her breath and turned away her face as if from an inner hurt.

“There are cherry trees in Cathay,” said she, without looking at him, “and fountains too–and finer palaces than I have ever seen.”

“But there are no such mountains,” returned the knight.

“No,” her voice was low, “there are no such mountains–nor– “

“Nor what?”

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