Shadows in the Moonlight
A swift crashing of horses through the tall reeds; a heavy fall, a despairing cry. From the dying steed there staggered up its rider, a slender girl in sandals and girdled tunic. Her dark hair fell over her white shoulders, her eyes were those of a trapped animal. She did not look at the jungle of reeds that hemmed in the little clearing, nor at the blue waters that lapped the low shore behind her. Her wide-eyed gaze was fixed in agonized intensity on the horseman who pushed through the reedy screen and dismounted before her.
He was a tall man, slender, but hard as steel. From head to heel he was clad in light silvered mesh-mail that fitted his supple form like a glove. From under the dome-shaped, gold-chased helmet his brown eyes regarded her mockingly.
‘Stand back!’ her voice shrilled with terror. ‘Touch me not, Shah Amurath, or I will throw myself into the water and drown!’
He laughed, and his laughter was like the purr of a sword sliding from a silken sheath.
‘No, you will not drown, Olivia, daughter of confusion, for the marge is too shallow, and I can catch you before you can reach the deeps. You gave me a merry chase, by the gods, and all my men are far behind us. But there is no horse west of Vilayet that can distance Irem for long.’ He nodded at the tall, slender-legged desert stallion behind him.
‘Let me go!’ begged the girl, tears of despair staining her face. ‘Have I not suffered enough? Is there any humiliation, pain or degradation you have not heaped on me? How long must my torment last?’
‘As long as I find pleasure in your whimperings, your pleas, tears and writhings, ‘ he answered with a smile that would have seemed gentle to a stranger. ‘You are strangely virile, Olivia. I wonder if I shall ever weary of you, as I have always wearied of women before. You are ever fresh and unsullied, in spite of me. Each new day with you brings a new delight.
‘But come--let us return to Akif, where the people are still feting the conqueror of the miserable kozaki; while he, the conqueror, is engaged in recapturing a wretched fugitive, a foolish, lovely, idiotic runaway!’
‘No!’ She recoiled, turning toward the waters lapping bluely among the reeds.
‘Yes!’ His flash of open anger was like a spark struck from flint. With a quickness her tender limbs could not approximate, he caught her wrist, twisting it in pure wanton cruelty until she screamed and sank to her knees.
‘Slut! I should drag you back to Akif at my horse’s tail, but I will be merciful and carry you on my saddle-bow, for which favor you shall humbly thank me, while--’
He released her with a startled oath and sprang back, his saber flashing out, as a terrible apparition burst from the reedy jungle sounding an inarticulate cry of hate.
Olivia, staring up from the ground, saw what she took to be either a savage or a madman advancing on Shah Amurath in an attitude of deadly menace. He was powerfully built, naked but for a girdled loincloth, which was stained with blood and crusted with dried mire. His black mane was matted with mud and clotted blood; there were streaks of dried blood on his chest and limbs, dried blood on the long straight sword he gripped in his right hand. From under the tangle of his locks, bloodshot eyes glared like coals of blue fire.
‘You Hyrkanian dog!’ mouthed this apparition in a barbarous accent. ‘The devils of vengeance have brought you here!’
‘Kozak!‘ ejaculated Shah Amurath, recoiling. ‘I did not know a dog of you escaped! I thought you all lay stiff on the steppe, by Ilbars River.’
‘All but me, damn you!’ cried the other. ‘Oh, I’ve dreamed of such a meeting as this, while I crawled on my belly through the brambles, or lay under rocks while the ants gnawed my flesh, or crouched in the mire up to my mouth--I dreamed, but never hoped it would come to pass. Oh, gods of Hell, how I have yearned for this!’
The stranger’s bloodthirsty joy was terrible to behold. His jaws champed spasmodically, froth appeared on his blackened lips.
‘Keep back!’ ordered Shah Amurath, watching him narrowly.
‘Ha!’ It was like the bark of a timber wolf. ‘Shah Amurath, the great Lord of Akif! Oh, damn you, how I love the sight of you--you, who fed my comrades to the vultures, who tore them between wild horses, blinded and maimed and mutilated them--ai, you dog, you filthy dog!’ His voice rose to a maddened scream, and he charged.
In spite of the terror of his wild appearance, Olivia looked to see him fall at the first crossing of the blades. Madman or savage, what could he do, naked, against the mailed chief of Akif?
There was an instant when the blades flamed and licked, seeming barely to touch each other and leap apart; then the broadsword flashed past the saber and descended terrifically on Shah Amurath’s shoulder. Olivia cried out at the fury of that stroke. Above the crunch of the rending mail, she distinctly heard the snap of the shoulder-bone. The Hyrkanian reeled back, suddenly ashen, blood spurting over the links of his hauberk; his saber slipped from his nerveless fingers.
‘Quarter!’ he gasped.
‘Quarter?’ There was a quiver of frenzy in the stranger’s voice. ‘Quarter such as you gave us, you swine!’
Olivia closed her eyes. This was no longer battle, but butchery, frantic, bloody, impelled by an hysteria of fury and hate, in which culminated the sufferings of battle, massacre, torture, and fear-ridden, thirst-maddened, hunger-haunted flight. Though Olivia knew that Shah Amurath deserved no mercy or pity from any living creature, yet she closed her eyes and pressed her hands over her ears, to shut out the sight of that dripping sword that rose and fell with the sound of a butcher’s cleaver, and the gurgling cries that dwindled away and ceased.
She opened her eyes, to see the stranger turning away from a gory travesty that only vaguely resembled a human being. The man’s breast heaved with exhaustion or passion; his brow was beaded with sweat; his right hand was splashed with blood.
He did not speak to her, or even glance toward her. She saw him stride through the reeds that grew at the water’s edge, stoop, and tug at something. A boat wallowed out of its hiding-place among the stalks. Then she divined his intention, and was galvanized into action.
‘Oh, wait!’ she wailed, staggering up and running toward him. ‘Do not leave me! Take me with you!’
He wheeled and stared at her. There was a difference in his bearing. His bloodshot eyes were sane. It was as if the blood he had just shed had quenched the fire of his frenzy.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded.
‘I am called Olivia. I was his captive. I ran away. He followed me. That’s why he came here. Oh, do not leave me here! His warriors are not far behind him. They will find his corpse--they will find me near it--oh!’ She moaned in her terror and wrung her white hands.
He stared at her in perplexity.
‘Would you be better off with me?’ he demanded. ‘I am a barbarian, and I know from your looks that you fear me.’
‘Yes, I fear you, ‘ she replied, too distracted to dissemble. ‘My flesh crawls at the horror of your aspect. But I fear the Hyrkanians more. Oh, let me go with you! They will put me to the torture if they find me beside their dead lord.’
‘Come, then.’ He drew aside, and she stepped quickly into the boat, shrinking from contact with him. She seated herself in the bow, and he stepped into the boat, pushed off with an oar, and using it as a paddle, worked his way tortuously among the tall stalks until they glided out into open water. Then he set to work with both oars, rowing with great, smooth, even strokes, the heavy muscles of arms and shoulders and back rippling in rhythm to his exertions.
There was silence for some time, the girl crouching in the bows, the man tugging at the oars. She watched him with timorous fascination. It was evident that he was not an Hyrkanian, and he did not resemble the Hyborian races. There was a wolfish hardness about him that marked the barbarian. His features, allowing for the strains and stains of battle and his hiding in the marshes, reflected that same untamed wildness, but they were neither evil nor degenerate.
‘Who are you?’ she asked. ‘Shah Amurath called you a kozak; were you of that band?’
‘I am Conan, of Cimmeria, ‘ he grunted. ‘I was with the kozaki, as the Hyrkanian dogs called us.’
She knew vaguely that the land he named lay far to the northwest, beyond the farthest boundaries of the different kingdoms of her race.
‘I am a daughter of the King of Ophir, ‘ she said. ‘My father sold me to a Shemite chief, because I would not marry a prince of Koth.’
The Cimmerian grunted in surprize.
Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. ‘Aye, civilized men sell their children as slaves to savages, sometimes. They call your race barbaric, Conan of Cimmeria.’
‘We do not sell our children, ‘ he growled, his chin jutting truculently.
‘Well--I was sold. But the desert man did not misuse me. He wished to buy the good will of Shah Amurath, and I was among the gifts he brought to Akif of the purple gardens. Then--’ She shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
‘I should be lost to all shame, ‘ she said presently. ‘Yet each memory stings me like a slaver’s whip. I abode in Shah Amurath’s palace, until some weeks agone he rode out with his hosts to do battle with a band of invaders who were ravaging the borders of Turan. Yesterday he returned in triumph, and a great fete was made to honor him. In the drunkenness and rejoicing, I found an opportunity to steal out of the city on a stolen horse. I had thought to escape--but he followed, and about midday came up with me. I outran his vassals, but him I could not escape. Then you came.’
‘I was lying hid in the reeds, ‘ grunted the barbarian. ‘I was one of those dissolute rogues, the Free Companions, who burned and looted along the borders. There were five thousand of us, from a score of races and tribes. We had been serving as mercenaries for a rebel prince in eastern Koth, most of us, and when he made peace with his cursed sovereign, we were out of employment; so we took to plundering the outlying dominions of Koth, Zamora and Turan impartially. A week ago Shah Amurath trapped us near the banks of Ilbars with fifteen thousand men. Mitra! The skies were black with vultures. When the lines broke, after a whole day of fighting, some tried to break through to the north, some to the west. I doubt if any escaped. The steppes were covered with horsemen riding down the fugitives. I broke for the east, and finally reached the edge of the marshes that border this part of Vilayet.
‘I’ve been hiding in the morasses ever since. Only the day before yesterday the riders ceased beating up the reed-brakes, searching for just such fugitives as I. I’ve squirmed and burrowed and hidden like a snake, feasting on musk-rats I caught and ate raw, for lack of fire to cook them. This dawn I found this boat hidden among the reeds. I hadn’t intended going out on the sea until night, but after I killed Shah Amurath, I knew his mailed dogs would be close at hand.’
‘And what now?’
‘We shall doubtless be pursued. If they fail to see the marks left by the boat, which I covered as well as I could, they’ll guess anyway that we took to sea, after they fail to find us among the marshes. But we have a start, and I’m going to haul at these oars until we reach a safe place.’
‘Where shall we find that?’ she asked hopelessly. ‘Vilayet is an Hyrkanian pond.’
‘Some folk don’t think so, ‘ grinned Conan grimly; ‘notably the slaves that have escaped from galleys and become pirates.’
‘But what are your plans?’
‘The southwestern shore is held by the Hyrkanians for hundreds of miles. We still have a long way to go before we pass beyond their northern boundaries. I intend to go northward until I think we have passed them. Then we’ll turn westward, and try to land on the shore bordered by the uninhabited steppes.’
‘Suppose we meet pirates, or a storm?’ she asked. ‘And we shall starve on the steppes.’
‘Well, ‘ he reminded her, ‘I didn’t ask you to come with me.’
‘I am sorry.’ She bowed her shapely dark head. ‘Pirates, storms, starvation--they are all kinder than the people of Turan.’
‘Aye.’ His dark face grew somber. ‘I haven’t done with them yet. Be at ease, girl. Storms are rare on Vilayet at this time of year. If we make the steppes, we shall not starve. I was reared in a naked land. It was those cursed marshes, with their stench and stinging flies, that nigh unmanned me. I am at home in the high lands. As for pirates--’ He grinned enigmatically, and bent to the oars.
The sun sank like a dull-glowing copper ball into a lake of fire. The blue of the sea merged with the blue of the sky, and both turned to soft dark velvet, clustered with stars and the mirrors of stars. Olivia reclined in the bows of the gently rocking boat, in a state dreamy and unreal. She experienced an illusion that she was floating in midair, stars beneath her as well as above. Her silent companion was etched vaguely against the softer darkness. There was no break or falter in the rhythm of his oars; he might have been a fantasmal oarsman, rowing her across the dark lake of Death. But the edge of her fear was dulled, and, lulled by the monotony of motion, she passed into a quiet slumber.
Dawn was in her eyes when she awakened, aware of a ravenous hunger. It was a change in the motion of the boat that had roused her; Conan was resting on his oars, gazing beyond her. She realized that he had rowed all night without pause, and marvelled at his iron endurance. She twisted about to follow his stare, and saw a green wall of trees and shrubbery rising from the water’s edge and sweeping away in a wide curve, enclosing a small bay whose waters lay still as blue glass.
‘This is one of the many islands that dot this inland sea, ‘ said Conan. ‘They are supposed to be uninhabited. I’ve heard the Hyrkanians seldom visit them. Besides, they generally hug the shores in their galleys, and we have come a long way. Before sunset we were out of sight of the mainland.’
With a few strokes he brought the boat in to shore and made the painter fast to the arching root of a tree which rose from the water’s edge. Stepping ashore, he reached out a hand to help Olivia. She took it, wincing slightly at the bloodstains upon it, feeling a hint of the dynamic strength that lurked in the barbarian’s thews.
A dreamy quiet lay over the woods that bordered the blue bay. Then somewhere, far back among the trees, a bird lifted its morning song. A breeze whispered through the leaves, and set them to murmuring. Olivia found herself listening intently for something, she knew not what. What might be lurking amid those nameless woodlands?
As she peered timidly into the shadows between the trees, something swept into the sunlight with a swift whirl of wings: a great parrot which dropped on to a leafy branch and swayed there, a gleaming image of jade and crimson. It turned its crested head sidewise and regarded the invaders with glittering eyes of jet.
‘Crom!’ muttered the Cimmerian. ‘Here is the grandfather of all parrots. He must be a thousand years old! Look at the evil wisdom of his eyes. What mysteries do you guard, Wise Devil?’
Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its perch, cried out harshly: ‘Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!‘ and with a wild screech of horribly human laughter, rushed away through the trees to vanish in the opalescent shadows.
Olivia stared after it, feeling the cold hand of nameless foreboding touch her supple spine.
‘What did it say?’ she whispered.
‘Human words, I’ll swear, ‘ answered Conan; ‘but in what tongue I can’t say.’
‘Nor I, ‘ returned the girl. ‘Yet it must have learned them from human lips. Human, or--’ she gazed into the leafy fastness and shuddered slightly, without knowing why.
‘Crom, I’m hungry!’ grunted the Cimmerian. ‘I could eat a whole buffalo. We’ll look for fruit; but first I’m going to cleanse myself of this dried mud and blood. Hiding in marshes is foul business.’
So saying, he laid aside his sword, and wading out shoulder-deep into the blue water, went about his ablutions. When he emerged, his clean-cut bronze limbs shone, his streaming black mane was no longer matted. His blue eyes, though they smoldered with unquenchable fire, were no longer murky or bloodshot. But the tigerish suppleness of limb and the dangerous aspect of feature were not altered.
Strapping on his sword once more, he motioned the girl to follow him, and they left the shore, passing under the leafy arches of the great branches. Underfoot lay a short green sward which cushioned their tread. Between the trunks of the trees they caught glimpses of faery-like vistas.
Presently Conan grunted in pleasure at the sight of golden and russet globes hanging in clusters among the leaves. Indicating that the girl should seat herself on a fallen tree, he filled her lap with the exotic delicacies, and then himself fell to with unconcealed gusto.
‘Ishtar!’ said he, between mouthfuls. ‘Since Ilbars I have lived on rats, and roots I dug out of the stinking mud. This is sweet to the palate, though not very filling. Still, it will serve if we eat enough.’
Olivia was too busy to reply. The sharp edge of the Cimmerian’s hunger blunted, he began to gaze at his fair companion with more interest than previously, noting the lustrous clusters of her dark hair, the peach-bloom tints of her dainty skin, and the rounded contours of her lithe figure which the scanty silk tunic displayed to full advantage.
Finishing her meal, the object of his scrutiny looked up, and meeting his burning, slit-eyed gaze, she changed color and the remnants of the fruit slipped from her fingers.
Without comment, he indicated with a gesture that they should continue their explorations, and rising, she followed him out of the trees and into a glade, the farther end of which was bounded by a dense thicket. As they stepped into the open there was a ripping crash in this thicket, and Conan, bounding aside and carrying the girl with him, narrowly saved them from something that rushed through the air and struck a tree-trunk with a thunderous impact.
Whipping out his sword, Conan bounded across the glade and plunged into the thicket. Silence ensued, while Olivia crouched on the sward, terrified and bewildered. Presently Conan emerged, a puzzled scowl on his face.
‘Nothing in that thicket, ‘ he growled. ‘But there was something--’
He studied the missile that had so narrowly missed them, and grunted incredulously, as if unable to credit his own senses. It was a huge block of greenish stone which lay on the sward at the foot of the tree, whose wood its impact had splintered.
‘A strange stone to find on an uninhabited island, ‘ growled Conan.
Olivia’s lovely eyes dilated in wonder. The stone was a symmetrical block, indisputably cut and shaped by human hands. And it was astonishingly massive. The Cimmerian grasped it with both hands, and with legs braced and the muscles standing out on his arms and back in straining knots, he heaved it above his head and cast it from him, exerting every ounce of nerve and sinew. It fell a few feet in front of him. Conan swore.
‘No man living could throw that rock across this glade. It’s a task for siege engines. Yet here there are no mangonels or ballistas.’
‘Perhaps it was thrown by some such engine from afar, ‘ she suggested.
He shook his head. ‘It didn’t fall from above. It came from yonder thicket. See how the twigs are broken? It was thrown as a man might throw a pebble. But who? What? Come!’
She hesitantly followed him into the thicket. Inside the outer ring of leafy brush, the undergrowth was less dense. Utter silence brooded over all. The springy sward gave no sign of footprint. Yet from this mysterious thicket had hurtled that boulder, swift and deadly. Conan bent closer to the sward, where the grass was crushed down here and there. He shook his head angrily. Even to his keen eyes it gave no clue as to what had stood or trodden there. His gaze roved to the green roof above their heads, a solid ceiling of thick leaves and interwoven arches. And he froze suddenly.
Then rising, sword in hand, he began to back away, thrusting Olivia behind him.
‘Out of here, quick!’ he urged in a whisper that congealed the girl’s blood.
‘What is it? What do you see?’
‘Nothing, ‘ he answered guardedly, not halting his wary retreat.
‘But what is it, then? What lurks in this thicket?’
‘Death!’ he answered, his gaze still fixed on the brooding jade arches that shut out the sky.
Once out of the thicket, he took her hand and led her swiftly through the thinning trees, until they mounted a grassy slope, sparsely treed, and emerged upon a low plateau, where the grass grew taller and the trees were few and scattered. And in the midst of that plateau rose a long broad structure of crumbling greenish stone.
They gazed in wonder. No legends named such a building on any island of Vilayet. They approached it warily, seeing that moss and lichen crawled over the stones, and the broken roof gaped to the sky. On all sides lay bits and shards of masonry, half hidden in the waving grass, giving the impression that once many buildings rose there, perhaps a whole town. But now only the long hall-like structure rose against the sky, and its walls leaned drunkenly among the crawling vines.
Whatever doors had once guarded its portals had long rotted away. Conan and his companion stood in the broad entrance and stared inside. Sunlight streamed in through gaps in the walls and roof, making the interior a dim weave of light and shadow. Grasping his sword firmly, Conan entered, with the slouching gait of a hunting panther, sunken head and noiseless feet. Olivia tiptoed after him.
Once within, Conan grunted in surprize, and Olivia stifled a scream.
‘Look! Oh, look!’
‘I see, ‘ he answered. ‘Nothing to fear. They are statues.’
‘But how life-like--and how evil!’ she whispered, drawing close to him.
They stood in a great hall, whose floor was of polished stone, littered with dust and broken stones, which had fallen from the ceiling. Vines, growing between the stones, masked the apertures. The lofty roof, flat and undomed, was upheld by thick columns, marching in rows down the sides of the walls. And in each space between these columns stood a strange figure.
They were statues, apparently of iron, black and shining as if continually polished. They were life-sized, depicting tall, lithely powerful men, with cruel hawk-like faces. They were naked, and every swell, depression and contour of joint and sinew was represented with incredible realism. But the most life-like feature was their proud, intolerant faces. These features were not cast in the same mold. Each face possessed its own individual characteristics, though there was a tribal likeness between them all. There was none of the monotonous uniformity of decorative art, in the faces at least.
‘They seem to be listening--and waiting!’ whispered the girl uneasily.
Conan rang his hilt against one of the images.
‘Iron, ‘ he pronounced. ‘But Crom! In what molds were they cast?’
He shook his head and shrugged his massive shoulders in puzzlement.
Olivia glanced timidly about the great silent hall. Only the ivy-grown stones, the tendril-clasped pillars, with the dark figures brooding between them, met her gaze. She shifted uneasily and wished to be gone, but the images held a strange fascination for her companion. He examined them in detail, and barbarian-like, tried to break off their limbs. But their material resisted his best efforts. He could neither disfigure nor dislodge from its niche a single image. At last he desisted, swearing in his wonder.
‘What manner of men were these copied from?’ he inquired of the world at large. ‘These figures are black, yet they are not like negroes. I have never seen their like.’
‘Let us go into the sunlight, ‘ urged Olivia, and he nodded, with a baffled glance at the brooding shapes along the walls.
So they passed out of the dusky hall into the clear blaze of the summer sun. She was surprized to note its position in the sky; they had spent more time in the ruins than she had guessed.
‘Let us take to the boat again, ‘ she suggested. ‘I am afraid here. It is a strange evil place. We do not know when we may be attacked by whatever cast the rock.’
‘I think we’re safe as long as we’re not under the trees, ‘ he answered. ‘Come.’
The plateau, whose sides fell away toward the wooded shores on the east, west and south, sloped upward toward the north to abut on a tangle of rocky cliffs, the highest point of the island. Thither Conan took his way, suiting his long stride to his companion’s gait. From time to time his glance rested inscrutably upon her, and she was aware of it.
They reached the northern extremity of the plateau, and stood gazing up the steep pitch of the cliffs. Trees grew thickly along the rim of the plateau east and west of the cliffs, and clung to the precipitous incline. Conan glanced at these trees suspiciously, but he began the ascent, helping his companion on the climb. The slope was not sheer, and was broken by ledges and boulders. The Cimmerian, born in a hill country, could have run up it like a cat, but Olivia found the going difficult. Again and again she felt herself lifted lightly off her feet and over some obstacle that would have taxed her strength to surmount, and her wonder grew at the sheer physical power of the man. She no longer found his touch repugnant. There was a promise of protection in his iron clasp.
At last they stood on the ultimate pinnacle, their hair stirring in the sea wind. From their feet the cliffs fell away sheerly three or four hundred feet to a narrow tangle of woodlands bordering the beach. Looking southward they saw the whole island lying like a great oval mirror, its bevelled edges sloping down swiftly into a rim of green, except where it broke in the pitch of the cliffs. As far as they could see, on all sides stretched the blue waters, still, placid, fading into dreamy hazes of distance.
‘The sea is still, ‘ sighed Olivia. ‘Why should we not take up our journey again?’
Conan, poised like a bronze statue on the cliffs, pointed northward. Straining her eyes, Olivia saw a white fleck that seemed to hang suspended in the aching haze.
‘What is it?’
‘Who can tell, at this distance?’
‘They will anchor here--search the island for us!’ she cried in quick panic.
‘I doubt it. They come from the north, so they can not be searching for us. They may stop for some other reason, in which case we’ll have to hide as best we can. But I believe it’s either pirate, or an Hyrkanian galley returning from some northern raid. In the latter case they are not likely to anchor here. But we can’t put to sea until they’ve gone out of sight, for they’re coming from the direction in which we must go. Doubtless they’ll pass the island tonight, and at dawn we can go on our way.’
‘Then we must spend the night here?’ she shivered.
‘Then let us sleep here, on the crags, ‘ she urged.
He shook his head, glancing at the stunted trees, at the marching woods below, a green mass which seemed to send out tendrils straggling up the sides of the cliffs.
‘Here are too many trees. We’ll sleep in the ruins.’
She cried out in protest.
‘Nothing will harm you there, ‘ he soothed. ‘Whatever threw the stone at us did not follow us out of the woods. There was nothing to show that any wild thing lairs in the ruins. Besides, you are soft-skinned, and used to shelter and dainties. I could sleep naked in the snow and feel no discomfort, but the dew would give you cramps, were we to sleep in the open.’
Olivia helplessly acquiesced, and they descended the cliffs, crossed the plateau and once more approached the gloomy, age-haunted ruins. By this time the sun was sinking below the plateau rim. They had found fruit in the trees near the cliffs, and these formed their supper, both food and drink.
The southern night swept down quickly, littering the dark blue sky with great white stars, and Conan entered the shadowy ruins, drawing the reluctant Olivia after him. She shivered at the sight of those tense black shadows in their niches along the walls. In the darkness that the starlight only faintly touched, she could not make out their outlines; she could only sense their attitude of waiting--waiting as they had waited for untold centuries.
Conan had brought a great armful of tender branches, well leafed. These he heaped to make a couch for her, and she lay upon it, with a curious sensation as of one lying down to sleep in a serpent’s lair.
Whatever her forebodings, Conan did not share them. The Cimmerian sat down near her, his back against a pillar, his sword across his knees. His eyes gleamed like a panther’s in the dusk.
‘Sleep, girl, ‘ said he. ‘My slumber is light as a wolf’s. Nothing can enter this hall without awaking me.’
Olivia did not reply. From her bed of leaves she watched the immobile figure, indistinct in the soft darkness. How strange, to move in fellowship with a barbarian, to be cared for and protected by one of a race, tales of which had frightened her as a child! He came of a people bloody, grim and ferocious. His kinship to the wild was apparent in his every action; it burned in his smoldering eyes. Yet he had not harmed her, and her worst oppressor had been a man the world called civilized. As a delicious languor stole over her relaxing limbs and she sank into foamy billows of slumber, her last waking thought was a drowsy recollection of the firm touch of Conan’s fingers on her soft flesh.