With Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard created more than the greatest action hero of the twentieth century--he also launched a genre that came to be known as sword and sorcery. But Conan wasn't the first archetypal
adventurer to spring from Howard's fertile imagination.
"He was . . . a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan. . . . A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things. . . . Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect--he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane."
Collected in this volume, lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist Gary Gianni, are all of the stories and poems that make up the thrilling saga of the dour and deadly Puritan, Solomon Kane. Together they constitute a sprawling epic of weird fantasy adventure that stretches from sixteenth-century England to remote African jungles where no white man has set foot. Here are shudder-inducing tales of vengeful ghosts and bloodthirsty demons, of dark sorceries wielded by evil men and women, all opposed by a grim avenger armed with a fanatic's faith and a warrior's savage heart.
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June 28, 2004
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Excerpt from The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard
Skulls in the Stars
He told how murderers walk the earth
Beneath the curse of Cain,
With crimson clouds before their eyes
And flames about their brain:
For blood has left upon their souls
Its everlasting stain.
There are two roads to Torkertown. One, the shorter and more direct route, leads across a barren upland moor, and the other, which is much longer, winds its tortuous way in and out among the hummocks and quagmires of the swamps, skirting the low hills to the east. It was a dangerous and tedious trail; so Solomon Kane halted in amazement when a breathless youth from the village he had just left, overtook him and implored him for God's sake to take the swamp road.
"The swamp road!" Kane stared at the boy.
He was a tall, gaunt man, was Solomon Kane, his darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes made more somber by the drab Puritanical garb he affected.
"Yes, sir, 'tis far safer," the youngster answered his surprized exclamation.
"Then the moor road must be haunted by Satan himself, for your townsmen warned me against traversing the other."
"Because of the quagmires, sir, that you might not see in the dark. You had better return to the village and continue your journey in the morning, sir."
"Taking the swamp road?"
Kane shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"The moon rises almost as soon as twilight dies. By its light I can reach Torkertown in a few hours, across the moor."
"Sir, you had better not. No one ever goes that way. There are no houses at all upon the moor, while in the swamp there is the house of old Ezra who lives there all alone since his maniac cousin, Gideon, wandered off and died in the swamp and was never found - and old Ezra though a miser would not refuse you lodging should you decide to stop until morning. Since you must go, you had better go the swamp road."
Kane eyed the boy piercingly. The lad squirmed and shuffled his feet.
"Since this moor road is so dour to wayfarers," said the Puritan, "why did not the villagers tell me the whole tale, instead of vague mouthings?"
"Men like not to talk of it, sir. We hoped that you would take the swamp road after the men advised you to, but when we watched and saw that you turned not at the forks, they sent me to run after you and beg you to reconsider."
"Name of the Devil!" exclaimed Kane sharply, the unaccustomed oath showing his irritation; "the swamp road and the moor road - what is it that threatens me and why should I go miles out of my way and risk the bogs and mires?"
"Sir," said the boy, dropping his voice and drawing closer, "we be simple villagers who like not to talk of such things lest foul fortune befall us, but the moor road is a way accurst and hath not been traversed by any of the countryside for a year or more. It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims."
"So? And what is this thing like?"
"No man knows. None has ever seen it and lived, but late-farers have heard terrible laughter far out on the fen and men have heard the horrid shrieks of its victims. Sir, in God's name return to the village, there pass the night, and tomorrow take the swamp trail to Torkertown."
Far back in Kane's gloomy eyes a scintillant light had begun to glimmer, like a witch's torch glinting under fathoms of cold gray ice. His blood quickened. Adventure! The lure of life-risk and battle! The thrill of breathtaking, touch-and-go drama! Not that Kane recognized his sensations as such. He sincerely considered that he voiced his real feelings when he said:
"These things be deeds of some power of evil. The lords of darkness have laid a curse upon the country. A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go, who have defied him many a time."
"Sir," the boy began, then closed his mouth as he saw the futility of argument. He only added, "The corpses of the victims are bruised and torn, sir."
He stood there at the crossroads, sighing regretfully as he watched the tall, rangy figure swinging up the road that led toward the moors.
The sun was setting as Kane came over the brow of the low hill which debouched into the upland fen. Huge and blood-red it sank down behind the sullen horizon of the moors, seeming to touch the rank grass with fire; so for a moment the watcher seemed to be gazing out across a sea of blood. Then the dark shadows came gliding from the east, the western blaze faded, and Solomon Kane struck out boldly in the gathering darkness.
The road was dim from disuse but was clearly defined. Kane went swiftly but warily, sword and pistols at hand. Stars blinked out and night winds whispered among the grass like weeping specters. The moon began to rise, lean and haggard, like a skull among the stars.
Then suddenly Kane stopped short. From somewhere in front of him sounded a strange and eery echo - or something like an echo.