Author: Leonard Carpenter
Cover by: Ken Kelly
First publication in any form by TOR 1990. Used book. Wear marks on front, back and spine (see pictures). Sticker on the front. Some yellowing to the pages. A bit bulgy pages.
King Anaximander of Sark calls in his high priest Khumanos to talk about a drought ravaging their city. After the ritual sacrifice of many high priests, Anaximander decides that a larger offering to their god, Voltantha, is required. He directs Khumanos to sacrifice Qjara, a more prosperous city to the north.
To do this correctly, Khumanos seeks out Solon in the desert, to which he expresses doubts about the mission. Solon sees Khumanos’ compassion as a weakness and shows him the ‘Sword of Onothimanos, which is just a rusted blade. Khumanos becomes emotionless and devoted to the mission. So much so that he kills Solon because he outlived his usefulness.
Conan is on the outskirts of Qjara awaiting a caravan to Shadizar. He is invited into the carvan sector of Ojara by some local children. He settles down in a bar and meets Afriandra in disguise. She proves her precognitive ability by correctly predicting the death of a nearby patron. When Zaius comes to the bar looking for her, Conan provides a distraction by taunting him. Zaius says he is not worth the effort.
Conan begins a romance with Afrianda, which offends Zaius. The two men have a quick fistfight which Conan is winning, which Afrianda implores him to stop. Conan demands a formal duel which Zaius rejects on the basis of Conan not being a citizen. After Conan defends Qjara’s gates from a nomad attack, he becomes an honorary citizen and uses the opportunity to challenge Zaius to ritual combat. Zaius accepts.
Meanwhile, King Anaximander begins a diplomatic mission to Qjara. He witnesses proof of what he thinks of as Qjara’s debauchery and asks the king and queen for permission to set up a temple to Voltantha in the city. Qjara’s royalty goes one better, proposing a “marriage” between the goddess Saditha and Voltantha. The deal is done, and Khumanos begins his work.
Khumanos bids slaves to mine three veins of glowing green rock from a Sarkian mountain. Extended exposure to this rock causes sores and cancer and even death. Keeping the rocks of the three veins separate, the slaves refine it into three separate statues. These three statues are hoisted onto carts and sent by three different routes to Qjara, avoiding populated areas and going through the wastelands. Despite the heat and hard labor, Khumanos insists the carts be driven by human labor with limited breaks.
In Qjara, Conan prepares for his duel. Zaius preens and postures for the crowd, angering Conan. When the duel begins, Zaius’ first stroke cuts off his own head. Not recognizing this as a ritual suicide, Conan begins ridiculing Zaius for backing away from the fight. This angers the royalty and forces them to cast him out of the city.