The Age of Conan - A Short Guide to the Hyborian Age

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A Short Guide to the

Hyborian Age

Edited by Christopher J. Monte

Based on the works of Robert E. Howard

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The Tale of Years

“Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ... Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”

The Nemedian Chronicles

When Robert E. Howard began to chronicle the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian, more than eighty years ago in the Golden Age of pulp fiction in the 1920’s and 1930’s, he prepared a fictional history of the so-called Hyborian Age which he had created. That “history” dealt not only with the period during and after Conan’s life, but also with events some eight thousand years earlier, during the Thurian civilization which produced King Kull of Valusia, the exiled warrior of Atlantis, who lived and loved in the days before that island continent sank into the surging seas of the Western Ocean. This then, is the tale of years, leading to the Age of Conan, and beyond to our own time.

The Pre-Cataclysmic Age (circa 20,000 B.C.)

Of that epoch known by the Nemedian Chronicles as the Pre-Cataclysmic Age, little is known except the latter part, and that is veiled in the mists of legend. Known history begins with the waning of the civilization of the primary, or Thurian continent of the world, a continent known in later times as Hyboria. Civilization at this time was dominated by the kingdoms of Ramelia, Valusia, Verulia, Grondar, Thule and Commoria. These people spoke a similar language, suggesting a common origin, though they would have fiercely disagreed with the suggestion that they had anything in common. The barbarians of this age were the Picts, who lived on islands far out on the Western Ocean, the Atlanteans, who dwelt on a small island continent between the Pictish Islands in the west and the main continent of Thuria to Atlantis’ east, and the Lemurians, who inhabited a chain of large islands in the Eastern Hemisphere which were all that remained of the ancient sunken continent of Mu. There were vast regions of unexplored land on Thuria; the civilized kingdoms,

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though enormous in extent, occupied a relatively small portion of the whole planet. Valusia was the westernmost kingdom of Thuria; the Valusian capital, known as the City of Wonders, was the marvel of the age. Grondar, whose people were less highly cultured or advanced than those of their kindred Thurian kingdoms, was the easternmost land. East of Grondar stretched a wild and barren expanse of deserts. Among the less arid stretches of desert east of Grondar, in the serpent-infested jungles and among the snow-perched mountains, there lived scattered clans and tribes of primitive human savages.

On the far eastern shores of Thuria lived another race...human, but mysterious and non-Thurian in their origins, with which the Lemurians from time to time came in contact. They apparently came from a shadowy and nameless continent lying somewhere east of the Lemurian islands. Far to the south, there was a second mysterious civilization of humanoid serpent-men, worshipers of the dark god Set. These serpent-men were unconnected with the main Thurian culture and apparently long pre-dated the emergence of humanity in their nature and history.

The Thurian civilizations were crumbling and their armies were composed largely of barbarian mercenaries. Picts, Atlanteans and Lemurians were their generals, their statesmen and often, their kings. Of the bickering of the kingdoms and wars between Valusia and Commoria, as well as the conquests by which the Atlanteans founded a colony that grew to become a kingdom in its own right on the Thurian mainland, there are more legends than accurate history.

Then the Great Cataclysm rocked the world. What caused this terrible catastrophe is unknown, though some scholars have claimed that the catastrophe was brought on by the mystical actions of the Atlanteans, while others claim that a great flaming mountain fell from the sky. Atlantis and most of the islands of Lemuria sank beneath the waves, the Pictish Islands were heaved up to form the mountain peaks of a new continent, while sections of the main Thurian continent vanished under the waves or sank and formed great inland lakes and seas. Massive volcanoes burst forth and shattering earthquakes shook down the shining cities of the Thurian empires. Whole nations were blotted out and the face and shape of the world was forever changed.

The Rise of the Hyborians (circa 17,000 - 15,000 B.C.)

When the great Cataclysm caused the destruction of Atlantis and Lemuria, the inhabitants of the Pictish Isles likewise perished. But a great colony of them, already settled along the mountains of Valusia’s southern frontier to serve as a buffer against foreign invasion, were virtually untouched.

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Atlantis’ kingdom on the main continent of Thuria also escaped the common ruin, and to it came thousands of Atlantean tribesmen, fleeing in seagoing vessels from their sinking homeland in the Western Ocean. Many Lemurians also made their way to the eastern coast of the Thurian continent, only to be enslaved by the ancient race which already dwelt there. And their history, for thousands of years, became only a tale of brutal servitude.

In the western part of Thuria, which now increasingly was called Hyboria, the changing environmental conditions after the Cataclysm gave rise to strange new forms of plant and animal life. Thick jungles covered the plains, great rivers cut their roads to the sea, wild mountains were heaved up, and lakes covered the ruins of old, Pre-Cataclysm cities in fertile valleys. To the

continental kingdom of the Atlanteans, from the now-sunken areas, swarmed myriads of beasts and savages. Forced to battle continually for their lives, the Atlanteans yet managed to retain vestiges of their former state of highly-advanced barbarism. Then their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish nation. Robbed of metals and ores by the Cataclysm, the Atlantean

survivors became workers in stone like their distant ancestors, and had attained a real artistic level in stonework when their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish colony nation. The Picts had also reverted to flint, but had advanced more rapidly in terms of increased population and their more advanced war-science. The Picts had none of the Atlanteans’ artistic nature; they were a ruder, more practical, more prolific race. They left no pictures painted or carved on ivory, as did their enemies, but they left remarkably efficient flint weapons in plenty. The two Stone Age kingdoms of the Picts and the Atlanteans clashed, and in a series of bloody wars, the outnumbered Atlanteans were hurled back into savagery, and the cultural evolution of the Picts was halted. Five hundred years after the Cataclysm, the barbaric kingdoms had all but vanished and been replaced with one group of savages—the Picts—who continually warred with another band of savages—the Atlanteans. The Picts had the advantage of numbers and unity, whereas the Atlanteans had fallen into loosely-knit clans. That was the makeup of the West of Hyboria in that day.

In the distant East, cut off from the rest of the world by the heaving up of gigantic mountains and the forming of a chain of vast lakes, the Lemurians were toiling as slaves of their ancient masters. The far south, untouched by the Cataclysm, was veiled in mystery, its destiny still pre-human. Of the original civilized races of the continent of Thuria, only a remnant of one of the non-Valusian civilized nations dwelled among the low mountains of the southeast. They were the Zhemri. Here and there about the world were scattered clans of protohuman savages, entirely ignorant of the rise and fall of the great civilizations.

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Meanwhile, in the far north, another people were slowly coming into existence. At the time of the Cataclysm, a band of human savages, whose development was not much above that of the long-extinct Neanderthal, fled to the north to escape destruction. The primitive humans first drove away the beasts and the race of savage white-haired humans who called the northlands their own. They then adapted to their hardy new environment and survived.

After the Pictish-Atlantean Wars had destroyed the beginnings of what might have been a new culture, another lesser Cataclysm further altered the appearance of the original Thurian continent and left a great inland sea to separate East from West. The resulting earthquakes, floods and volcanoes brought on by this second Cataclysm completed the ruin of the barbarians, already begun by their fierce tribal wars.

A thousand years after the lesser Cataclysm, the Western world was seen to be a wild country of jungles and lakes and torrential rivers. Among the forest-covered hills of the northwest existed wandering bands of ape-like primitive men who possessed no human speech, fire or tools. These were the devolved descendants of the once-proud Atlanteans, sunk back into the squalling chaos of jungle-bestiality from which ages ago their ancestors had so laboriously crawled upwards. To the southwest dwelled scattered clans of degraded cave-dwelling human savages, primitive of speech, yet still retaining the name of Picts. The term “Picts” had come to mean merely a term designating men—to distinguish them from the true beasts with which they contended for life and food. It was the Picts’ only link with their former stage of technological development. Neither the squalid Picts nor the beastlike Atlanteans had any contact with other tribes or peoples.

Far to the East, the enslaved Lemurians, leveled almost to a bestial existence themselves by the brutishness of their slavery, rose and destroyed their sallow-skinned masters. They were savages, stalking the ruins of a strange civilization. The survivors of their masters’ civilization, the few who had escaped the fury of their Lemurian slaves, came westward. They fell upon that mysterious prehuman kingdom of the south and overthrew it, substituting their own culture, modified by contact with the older, pre-human civilization of the serpent-men. The new hybrid kingdom was called Stygia, and remnants of the older serpent-men civilization such as the cult of the god Set seemed to have survived, and even been worshipped, after the serpent-men race as a whole had been destroyed.

Here and there in the world small groups of human savages were showing signs of an

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and refashioned into the king who had led them into the north, in the days of the great Cataclysm, which the tribes remembered now only in distorted folklore. Fifteen hundred years in the snow-country made the Hyborians a vigorous and warlike race. The Hyborians had spread over the north and were slowly pushing southward in leisurely treks. So far they had not come in contact with any of the other races of men; their wars had been only with one another. Fifteen hundred years in the north country had made them a tall, tawny-haired, grey-eyed race, vigorous and warlike, and already exhibiting a well-defined artistry and penchant for poetry and lusty song. They still lived mostly by the hunt, but the southern tribes had been raising cattle for some centuries.

A wanderer to the North at about this time returned with the news that the northern icy wastes were inhabited by ape-like men, descended from the beasts driven out of the more habitable areas of land by the Hyborians’ ancestors. To exterminate these creatures, a small band of warriors followed the wanderer back beyond the Arctic Circle. None returned. But the tribes of the

Hyborians were drifting south, and as the population increased this movement became extensive. The following age was an epoch of wandering and conquest.

The Hyborian Kingdoms (circa 14,000 - 10,000 B.C.)

Fifteen hundred years after the lesser Cataclysm which created the inland sea, and five hundred years after the first Hyborian tribes first began moving south, tribes of tawny-haired Hyborians had moved southward and westward, conquering and destroying many of the small unclassified clans and giving their own name of Hyboria to all the continent among the peoples of the West. Absorbing the blood of conquered races, already the descendants of the older movements had begun to show modified racial traits, and these mixed races were attacked fiercely by new, purer-blooded tribes, and swept before them, as a broom sweeps dirt, to become even more mixed and mingled in the tangled debris of peoples and the remnants of peoples. As yet, these conquerors had not come into contact with the older races. To the southeast the descendants of the Zhemri, given impetus by new blood resulting from admixture with some unclassified tribe, were beginning to seek to revive some faint shadow of their ancient culture. To the west the primitive Atlanteans were once more beginning the long climb upward to civilization. The Atlanteans had completed the cycle of existence; they had long forgotten their former existence as a great civilization; unaware of any other former state, they were starting the climb unaided and unhindered by memories of history. To the south of the Atlanteans the Picts remained savages, apparently defying the laws of human nature by

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neither progressing nor retrogressing. Far to the south dreamed the ancient mysterious kingdom of Stygia. On its eastern borders wandered clans of nomadic savages, already known as the Sons of Shem, or the Shemites. Next to the Picts, in the broad valley of Zingg, protected by great mountains, a nameless band of primitives, tentatively classified as akin to the Shemites, had evolved an advanced agricultural system and civilization.

Meanwhile, the first of the settled Hyborian kingdoms had come into existence, the rude and barbaric northeastern kingdom of Hyperborea, which had its beginnings in a crude fortress of boulders heaped together to repel a tribal attack. The people of this tribe soon abandoned their horsehide tents for stone houses, crudely but mightily built, and thus protected from their enemies, they grew strong. There were few more dramatic events in early human history than the rise of the rude, fierce kingdom of Hyperborea, whose people turned abruptly from their nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by cyclopean walls—a race scarcely emerged from the Late Stone Age, who had by a freak of chance, learned the first rude principles of architecture.

The rise of this kingdom drove forth many other Hyborian tribes, for, defeated in war, or refusing to become tributary to their castle-dwelling kinsmen, many clans set forth on long treks that took them halfway around the world. And already the more northern Hyborian tribes were

beginning to be harried by gigantic blond savages, not much more advanced than the primitive ape-men from which they had descended.

In the South, the migration of the people who had fled the revolt of their Lemurian slaves and founded the kingdom of Stygia comprised two branches. While the southern branch created Stygia, the northern branch simultaneously founded the powerful Empire of Acheron, with purple-towered Python as its capital city in the lands to the north and west. An ancient civilization of black-hearted sorcerers and vile priests of the serpent-god Set, Acheron conquered the north in the name of vile magic and blood-fueled corruption. Only the wild tribesmen who dwelled in the gray hills of the north, where Cimmeria eventually stood, were able to resist them. All other nations fell beneath their blades and sorcery. Five hundred years after the founding of the Empire of Acheron, the first of the Hyborian wanderers reached its borders, to recoil from the priests and warriors of the South. For nearly two thousand years, Acheron warred against the invading Hyborians. At last the

barbarians swept over Acheron and blotted it out, to be stopped at last from ranging further south only by the disciplined armies of Acheron’s sister empire, her southern neighbor Stygia.

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invaders encountered the Picts, driving them into the barren lands of the West. To the northwest, the descendants of the Atlanteans, climbing unaided from almost subhuman status back into primitive savagery, had not yet met the conquerors. Far to the East, the Lemurians were evolving a strange semi-civilization of their own. To the south the Hyborians had founded the kingdom of Koth, on the borders of those pastoral countries known as the Lands of Shem, and the savages of those lands, partly through contact with the Hyborians, partly through contact with the Stygians who had ravaged them for centuries, were also emerging from barbarism.

The blond savages of the far north had grown in power and numbers so that the northern Hyborian tribes moved southward, driving their kindred clans before them. The ancient kingdom of Hyperborea was overthrown by one of those northern tribes, which, however, retained the old name. Southeast of Hyperborea a kingdom of the Zhemri had come into being, under the name of Zamora. To the southwest, a tribe of Picts had invaded the fertile valley of Zingg, conquered the agricultural people there, and settled among them. This mixed race was in turn conquered later by another roving tribe of Hybori, and from these mingled elements came the kingdom of Zingara.

Five hundred years later the kingdoms of Western Hyboria were clearly defined. The kingdoms of the Hyborians—Aquilonia, Nemedia, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Koth, Ophir, Argos, Corinthia, and a politically chaotic and divided region known as the Border Kingdom—dominated the Western world. Zamora lay to the east, and Zingara to the southwest of these kingdoms— peoples alike in darkness of complexion and exotic customs, but otherwise unrelated. Far to the south slept the kingdom of Stygia, untouched by foreign invasion, but the peoples of Shem had exchanged the Stygian yoke for the less galling one of Koth. The dusky Stygian masters had been driven south of the great River Styx, also called the Nilus, or Nile, which, flowing north from the shadowy hinterlands, turned at right angles and flowed almost due west through the pastoral meadowlands of Shem, to empty into the great sea. North of Aquilonia, the westernmost Hyborian kingdom, were the Cimmerians, ferocious savages, untamed by the Hyborian invaders, but rapidly advancing culturally and technologically because of contact with them; the Cimmerians were the descendants of the Atlantean colonists who had settled on Thuria, and they progressed more steadily than their old enemies the Picts, who dwelled in the wilderness west of Aquilonia and remained at a Stone Age level of cultural development.

Another five centuries and the Hyborian peoples were the possessors of a civilization so virile and advanced that contact with it virtually catapulted from savagery such tribes as it touched. The most powerful kingdom was Aquilonia, but others vied with it in strength and splendor. The

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Hyborians had become a considerably mixed race; the nearest to the ancient genetic root-stock were the Gundermen of Gunderland, a northern province of Aquilonia. But this mixing had not

weakened the Hyborians by any means. They were supreme in the Western half of the continent of Hyboria that now bore their name, though the barbarians of the wastelands were growing in strength. In the North, however, golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians who were the descendants of the white-haired arctic savages, had driven the remaining Hyborian tribes out of all the snow-countries of the far north except Hyperborea, which resisted their onslaught. Their land was known as Nordheim among the Hyborians, and they were divided into the red-haired Vanir of Vanaheim and the yellow-haired Aesir of Asgard.

At this time the Lemurians entered history again, now known as the Hyrkanians. Pushing westward, several Hyrkanian tribes eventually evolved into the Khitans of Khitai, while another Hyrkanian tribe established the kingdom of Turan on the southwestern shore of the great inland Vilayet Sea. Between the inland sea and the eastern borders of the native kingdoms lay vast expanses of steppes and in the extreme north and extreme south, deserts. The non-Hyrkanian dwellers of these territories were scattered and pastoral, an unclassified ethnicity in the north, Shemitish in the south, aboriginal, with a thin strain of Hyborian blood from wandering conquerors. Toward the latter part of the period other Hyrkanian clans pushed westward, around the northern extremity of the inland sea, and clashed with the eastern outposts of the Hyperboreans.

Glancing briefly at the peoples of that age, the dominant Hyborians were no longer

uniformly tawny-haired and grey-eyed; they had mixed with other races of men, but this mixing had not weakened them. There was a strong Shemitish, even a Stygian strain among the peoples of Koth, and to a lesser extent; of Argos, while in the case of the latter, admixture with the Zingarans had been more extensive than with the Shemites. The eastern Brythunians had intermarried with the dark-skinned Zamorians, and the people of southern Aquilonia had mixed with the brown-skinned Zingarans until black hair and brown eyes were the dominant type in Poitain, the southernmost province of that kingdom. The ancient Kingdom of Hyperborea was more aloof than the others, yet there was alien blood in plenty in its veins, from the capture of foreign women in war—Hyrkanians, Aesir, and Zamorians. Only in the Aquilonian province of Gunderland, where the people would keep no slaves by custom and traditon, was the pure Hyborian stock found unaltered. But the barbarian peoples had kept their bloodlines pure; the Cimmerians were tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or grey eyes like their Atlantean forebears. The people of Nordheim retained their light

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The Shemites were generally of medium height, though sometimes when mixed with Stygian blood they would be gigantic, broadly and strongly built, with hawk noses, dark eyes, and blue-black hair. The Hyrkanians were dark and generally tall and slender like their Lemurian forebears, though a shorter, almond-eyed bloodline was more and more common among them, resulting from mixture with a race of intelligent, if short-statured humans they met in the lands of what would become Khitai. These people had been conquered by the Hyrkanians among the mountains east of the Vilayet Sea, while on their westward drift. The Picts were the same type as they had always been; short, very dark with black eyes and hair. Between Aquilonia and the Pictish Wilderness lay the Bossonian Marches, peopled by descendents of an aboriginal race mixed with the Hyborians. This mixed people never attained the civilization of the purer Hyborians, and was pushed by them to the very fringe of the civilized world. The Bossonians were of medium height and complexion, their eyes brown or grey, and they were mesocephalic. They lived mainly by agriculture, in large walled villages, and were considered politically a part of the Aquilonian kingdom. Their marches extended from the Border Kingdom in the north to Zingara in the southwest, forming a bulwark for

Aquilonia against both the Cimmerians and the Picts. They were stubborn defensive fighters, and centuries of warfare against northern and western barbarians alike caused them to evolve a type of defense almost impregnable against direct attack. The ruling classes of Stygia were tall men, dusky and straight-featured. The lower Stygian classes were a downtrodden horde of mixed ethnicities, a mixture of Kushite, Stygian, Shemitish, and even Hyborian blood. South of Stygia were the vast Black Kingdoms of the Amazons, the Kushites, the Atlaians and the hybrid empire of Zembabwei. The dark-skinned tribal inhabitants of these lands in the far south lived in splendid isolation. Far to the East, across the Vilayet Sea and the steppe lands, lay the mysterious city-states of Khitai and the glittering palaces of the Rajahs of Vendhya, from which silk and spices flowed to the West.

This, then, was an “Age undreamed of,” when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.

This was the Age of Conan.

The Beginning of the End (circa 9,500 B.C.)

Five hundred years after the time of King Conan I of Aquilonia, the Hyborian civilization was swept away while its vigorous culture was still in its prime. It was the greed of the men of Aquilonia which indirectly brought about that overthrow. Wishing to extend their empire, its kings

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annexed Zingara, Argos and Ophir, as well as the western cities of Shem. Koth itself, with Corinthia and the eastern Shemitish tribes, was forced to pay Aquilonia tribute and lend aid in its wars.

Nemedia, which had successfully resisted Aquilonia for centuries, now drew Brythunia and Zamora and secretly, Koth into an alliance against that western kingdom. But before their armies could join in battle, a new enemy appeared in the East. Reinforced by Hyrkanian adventurers, the horse riders of Turan swept over Zamora to meet the Aquilonians on the plains of Brythunia. Defeating the Turanians, the Aquilonians sent them flying eastward; but the back of the Nemedian Alliance and its resistance to Aquilonian hegemony was now broken. The defeat of the Hyrkanians showed the other nations of Hyboria the real power of Aquilonia.

Zamora was reconquered, but the people discovered they had merely exchanged an eastern master for a western one. Aquilonian soldiers were quartered there, to keep the people in subjection as well as to protect them. In the North, there was incessant bickering along the Cimmerian borders between the black-haired warriors and their various neighbors, the Nordheim, the Bossonians and the ever more powerful Picts. Several times, the Cimmerians raided Aquilonia itself, but their wars were less invasions than plundering forays.

But, by a strange quirk of fate, it was the growing power of the Picts in the West which was destined to throw down the kings of Aquilonia from their high places. At about this time, a

Nemedian priest named Arus determined to go into the western wilderness and introduce to the heathen Picts the gentle worship of the chief Hyborian god, the benevolent Mitra. He was not daunted by the grisly tales of what had happened to other traders, missionaries and explorers from the civilized lands before him in the Pictish lands. Over the years, the Picts had benefited from contact with Hyborian civilization, but they had always fiercely resisted that contact. They dwelt in Stone Age clans which were perpetually feuding with each other, and their customs were

bloodthirsty and generally inexplicable to a civilized man such as Arus of Nemedia.

Arus was fortunate in meeting a Pict chief of more than usual intelligence, Gorm by name, who gave him permission to remain among his tribe unbutchered. This was a case unique in the history of the Picts; and better for the flower of Hyborian civilization if Arus had been speared instead! Having learned the Pictish tongue, Arus harangued Gorm at length, expounding the eternal rights and justices which were the truths of Mitra. Being a practical man, Arus appealed to the savage’s sense of material gain. He pointed out the splendor of the Hyborian kingdoms as proof of the power of Mitra. Arus spoke of wealthy cities and fertile plains, of jeweled towers and glittering

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and their teachings, and fixed instead on the material riches Arus so vividly described. There, in the mud-floored wattle hut, where the silk-robed priest droned on, and the dark-skinned chieftain crouched in his tiger-hides, were laid the foundations of the Pictish Empire.

Fire and Slaughter (circa 9,500 B.C.)

Arus, a priest of the benevolent Hyborian god Mitra from Nemedia, had instilled in Gorm, the Pictish chief, a desire to see the civilized lands. At Gorm’s request, Arus conducted him and some of his warriors through the Bossonian Marches, where the honest villagers stared in

amazement, and into the glittering outer world of Hyboria. Soon, Picts came and went freely into all of Aquilonia. Arus no doubt thought he was making converts for Mitra left and right, because the Picts listened to him and refrained from smiting him with their copper axes. But what they really wished to learn from him—and did—was how to mine the vast iron ore deposits in their hills and work them into weapons. With access to iron weapons, Gorm began to assert his dominance over the other Pictish clans, who had access only to stone weapons and tools.

Aquilonia, meanwhile, was pursuing her wars of aggression to the south and east, and paid little heed to the vaguely known lands of the west, from which more and more stocky Pictish warriors swarmed to take service in her mercenary armies. These warriors, their service completed, went back to their wilderness with good ideas of civilized warfare and that special contempt for civilization which arises from familiarity with it. As for Gorm, he became the Chief of Chiefs, the nearest thing to a king the Picts had known in thousands of years. Gorm had waited long; he was well past middle age. Too late, Arus saw his mistake; he had touched only the barbarian’s greed, not his soul. And making a last effort to undo his unwitting work, Arus was brained by a drunken Pict. Gorm was not without gratitude to the disciple of Mitra; he made sure the skull of Arus’ slayer was set on top of the priest’s cairn. The Picts then burst upon the Bossonian frontiers, clad not in tiger skins but in scale mail, wielding weapons of keen steel. Still, for years, the sturdy Bossonian Marches held the invaders at bay, thus keeping them from attacking Aquilonia itself.

Meanwhile, the Aquilonian Empire waxed strong and arrogance lead them to treat less powerful peoples, even their own Bossonians, with growing contempt. Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Zamora and the Shemite countries were treated as subject nations, which was especially galling to the proud and rebellious Zingarans. Koth, too, was practically made a tributary and first Stygia, then Brythunia were defeated in battle. Yet, powerful Nemedia directly to the east had never been subdued. Thus, the Aquilonian armies moved at last against their neighbor state. Their glittering

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ranks however, were largely filled by mercenaries, especially the Bossonians. Because of the eastern war, scarcely enough men were left in the Bossonian Marches to guard the Aquilonian frontier. And hearing of Pictish outrages in their homelands, whole Bossonian regiments quit the Nemedian campaign and marched westward, where they defeated the Picts in a single great battle.

This desertion, however, was the direct cause of the Aquilonians’ defeat by the desperate Nemedians, and thus brought down on the Bossonians the cruel and shortsighted wrath of the Aquilonian Imperialists. Aquilonian regiments were brought to the borders of the Marches, and the Bossonian chiefs were lured into their encampment. There, the unarmed chiefs were massacred and the Imperial hosts then attacked the unsuspecting people. From north to south, the Bossonian Marches were ravaged, and the Aquilonian armies marched back from the borders, leaving a ruined and devastated land behind them.

And then, the second Pictish invasion burst in full power along those borders, led by Gorm, an old man now, but with the fire of his fierce ambition undimmed. This time there were no sturdy Bossonian warriors in their path, so that the blood-mad barbarians swarmed into Aquilonia itself, before her legions could return from the war in the east. Zingara seized this opportunity to throw off the yoke, followed by Corinthia and the Shemites. Whole regiments of Aquilonian mercenaries and vassals mutinied and marched back to their own countries, looting and burning as they went, while still the Picts surged irresistibly eastward. In the midst of this chaos, the wild-born Cimmerians swept down from their northern hills, completing the ruin, and the Aquilonian Empire went down in fire and blood.

The Darkness... and the Dawn (circa 9,500 B.C.)

Following the collapse of the Aquilonian Empire, the Hyrkanian hordes came riding in from the East. Hyrkanians and Turanians arrived together this time, united under one great chief. With no Aquilonian armies to oppose them, they were invincible, sweeping first over Zamora, then

Brythunia, Hyperborea and Corinthia. Next, they swept into Cimmeria, driving the black-haired barbarians before them. But, among the Cimmerians’ precious hills, where the Hyrkanian cavalry was less effective, the Cimmerians turned on them, and only a disorderly retreat saved them from complete annihilation. The Picts, meanwhile, made themselves the masters of Aquilonia, massacring nearly all of that proud nation’s inhabitants in the process. Probably only those fierce Pictish thrusts stopped the raging Hyrkanians from adding even ancient Stygia to their widening empire. Nemedia,

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never before conquered, now reeled between west and east when a tribe of Aesir wandered south, to be engaged as Nemedian mercenaries. Meanwhile, the Pictish chief Gorm, whose ambition had begun the slaughter, was slain by Hialmar, a chief of the Nemedian Aesir. Seventy-five years had elapsed since Gorm the Pict had first heard tales of the western lands from the lips of Arus, the priest of Mitra. Long enough for a man to live, or a civilization to die…

For a short age, Pict and Hyrkanian snarled at each other over the ruins of the world they had conquered. Then the ice of the glacial ages returned one last time, and many Nordic tribes were driven southward by the moving ice fields, driving kindred clans before them in turn. Nemedia, meanwhile, became a Nordic kingdom, ruled by the descendants of its own Aesir mercenaries. Pressed by the Nordic tides coming down on their borders, the Cimmerians were on the march, destroying first the Aquilonian province of Gunderland, then hewing their way through the Pictish hosts to defeat the Nordic Nemedians and sack some of their cities. Then the Cimmerians

continued eastward, overthrowing a Hyrkanian army on the borders of Brythunia. Hot on their heels, hordes of Aesir and Vanir swarmed south, and the newly founded Pictish Empire reeled beneath their strokes. Nemedia was overthrown at last, and the half-civilized Nordics fled before their wilder kinsmen, leaving the cities of Nemedia ruined and deserted. These fleeing Nordic Nemedians broke the back of Hyrkanian power in Shem, Brythunia and Hyperborea, forcing the descendants of the ancient Lemurians back toward the Vilayet Sea. Meanwhile, the Cimmerians, wandering southeastward, destroyed the ancient Hyrkanian Empire of Turan and settled by the inland sea.

Their western empire destroyed, the Hyrkanians butchered all their unfit captives and herded thousands of their remaining slaves before them as they rode back into the mysterious East. They would return thousands of years later, as the Mongols, Huns, Tartars and Turks. Meanwhile, red-haired Vanir adventurers came into Stygia, where they overthrew the ruling class of mages and priests and built up a vast southern empire which they called Khem and the Greeks later named Egypt. From these red-haired conquerors the early pharaohs were to eventually boast descent. The Western world was now dominated by Nordic barbarians. There were few cities anywhere; the once dominant Hyborians had vanished from the Earth, leaving scarcely a trace of blood in the veins of their conquerors. In time, the whole history of the Hyborian Age was lost in a cloud of myths and fantasies as new civilizations of men were born and died.

And then, another terrific environmental shift of the Earth hurled all into chaos again, carving out the lands as they are known to us now as the great ice sheets retreated for the last time

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from the northern lands. Great strips of the western coast of what had been Hyboria sank once more beneath the seas, and the mountains of western Cimmeria became the equally valiant islands that were later named Great Britain and Ireland. A vast inland sea, later called the Mediterranean, was formed when the continent that had been home to Stygia and the Black Kingdoms broke away from the rest of the Hyborian land mass. The territory around the slowly drying inland sea later rechristened the Black Sea was not affected, and the Nordics retreated there and lived more or less at peace with the Cimmerians already present. In time, the two races became intermingled and gave birth to the Celtic and Germanic peoples of Europe. In the West, the remnants of the Picts, reduced once more to the status of Stone Age savages, possessed their land again in northern Scotland, till, in a later age, they were overthrown by the westward drift of the Cimmerians and the Nordics. This drift resulted from a growing population which thronged the steppes west of the other inland sea, now known as the Caspian and much reduced in size—to such an extent that migration became an economic necessity. Known now as Aryans, these tribes moved both eastwards and westwards into the areas now occupied by India, Asia Minor and most of Western Europe.

Some variations of these primitive sons of Aryas are still recognized today; while others have been long since forgotten. The Nemedians of Irish legend were the Nemedian Aesir from the last days of the Hyborian Age, while the later sea-roving Danes were the direct descendants of the Vanir. The blond Greek Achaeans, Celtic Gauls and Britons were descended from the pure-blooded Aesir. The Celtic Gaels, the ancestors of the Irish and the Highland Scots, came of pure-blooded

Cimmerian clans. The ancient Sumerians and Persians were of mixed Hyrkanian and Shemitish blood, while from the purer Shemites were descended both the Arabs and the Israelites. The Hyrkanians, retreating to the eastern shores of the continent, evolved into the nomadic tribes later known as Huns, Mongols, Tartars and Turks before they bloodily re-entered Western history in the era we now call the Middle Ages.

The origins of all the other races and ethnicities of the modern world may be similarly traced. In almost every case, older far than they or their historians and lorekeepers will ever realize, their origins stretch back into the mists of the long forgotten Hyborian Age...the Age of Conan the Cimmerian.

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The Peoples and Places of the Hyborian Age

The Road of Kings

The Road of Kings, often spoken of in tales of Conan the Cimmerian, passed through many of the major Hyborian kingdoms in the West. Though it is uncertain whether this important east-west trade route began in the nation of Khauran or in Turan, it is known that it wound its way through Zamora, Corinthia, and Nemedia on its serpentine way westward, finally cutting through Aquilonia and Argos to the ports on the Western Ocean. It is doubtful that these oft-warring ancient states ever managed to cooperate in anything so peaceful as road-building. More likely, the route of the Road of Kings was an ancient one, predating the Hyborian kingdoms, perhaps built during the days of the Empire of Acheron. Regardless of its origin, the Road of Kings was the most important overland route for trade,

transportation and communication between East and West during the Hyborian Age.

The Aesir (Asgard)

Asgard, a far-northern mountainous nation in Nordheim which lay to the north and east of

Cimmeria beyond the ice-capped Eiglophian Mountains, was permanently glaciated, and was home to the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aesir, a virile and rough-hewn race of hunters and axe-wielding warriors who fought by day and caroused by night. Like the Cimmerians, the Aesir were hunters and gatherers who possessed no central government. The Aesir lived in tribal units that each had their own king, who presided in timber-roofed Great Halls. Asgard, like Vanaheim to its west, extended as far north as any man had ever roamed, into vast and inhospitable tundras.

All Aesir worshiped Ymir, the King of the Frost Giants, whom they shared with their hated Vanir neighbors. They were the blood enemies of the Vanir, the red-haired Nordic barbarians of neighboring Vanaheim. Eons of feuding ensured that there would never be an easy peace between these two peoples. The Aesir relished battle, but only to loot and pillage, not as a means of expanding their borders.Given their lack of agricultural knowledge and experience and their disdain even for the raising of animals, the Aesir would not have known what to do with new lands if they had conquered them. At the close of each winter, the Aesir began their yearly raids, riding south on horseback to pillage townships of their cattle, wealth, and women. Men who surrendered to Aesir warriors were usually spared. Those who resisted were slain in a gruesome fashion that produced as much pain as possible. The Aesir rarely burned a village they

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plundered, preferring to leave their targets fairly intact to allow the survivors to rebuild and provide another lucrative target in the future.

In battle, the Aesir preferred the iron (more rarely steel) broadsword or battleaxe. Additionally, they relied upon their chain-mailed shirts, horned helmets, and wooden shields to protect them from the weapons of their enemies. Many Aesir learned to use the throwing axe, but most refused to learn the throwing spear or bow, weapons they believed were cowardly.Only by dying in battle, with sword or axe in hand and courage in the heart, could an Aesir warrior find his way to Valhalla, the paradise of the afterlife sought by all the warriors of Nordheim.

The Aesir lived by conquest. When two Aesir fought, the winner took his choice of the loser’s women, children, and animals. Aesir men had only one wife at a time, but Aesir women had few legal rights and were treated more like chattel. When an Aesir warrior tired of his present wife he either killed her or sold her to another, and obtained a new female more to his liking. If a woman was unfaithful to her Aesir husband, she was most often killed by a ritual called “the Wheel of Axes,” where all who disbelieved her claims of innocence hurled axes at her bound body. Any man caught in adultery was stripped of his belongings, and forced to cross the snow plains naked. In this way he froze to death and never gained his chance to reside in the Halls of Valhalla by dying in glorious battle. Only a legitimate wife could commit adultery or expect her husband to be faithful, and thus an Aesir man could be frivolous with as many unmarried women as he wished.Asgard was one of the few nations never subdued during the wars of the later Hyborian Age. The creeping glaciers of the North that grew as the climate cooled at the end of the Hyborian Age ultimately forced Asgard’s people to migrate to the south.

The Aquilonians (Aquilonia)

The mightiest kingdom of the West and the foremost of the Hyborian states of Conan’s day, the Kingdom of Aquilonia was a commercial and military giant with a high level of civilization and

technology. Only Nemedia, Aquilonia’s greatest rival, boasted of a richer cultural diversity and heritage. Aquilonia was, overall, a land of pleasant, temperate climate. The Aquilonians were tall and varied in complexion, but all were steadfast in their devotion to Mitra, the Phoenix Lord. In matters of war,

Aquilonia put its trust in a heavily armed heavy cavalry and a strong heavy infantry. The Aquilonian imperial troops were called the Black Legion, and the king’s personal royal bodyguard was known as the Black Dragons. Tarantia, the kingdom’s greatest city and the seat of power in Aquilonia, was a center of romance, adventure, wisdom, and wit. If in a later era, it was said that all roads led to the city of Rome,

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center of the Road of Kings. No matter their destination or direction, travelers were likely to pass through Aquilonia or sail upon its major rivers, the Khorotas, the Shirki and the Valkia. Tarantia also housed the grim Iron Tower, a notorious prison. Aquilonia was also home to other large cities, such as Shanar in the south aong the Tybor River and Galparan and Tanasul along the Shirki. The kingdom was divided into feudal provinces for administrative purposes although its overall sigil was that of a roaring lion. The source of much of Aquilonia’s wealth was its abundant possession of fertile croplands and fecund forests. There was a shortage of good farmland in the interior of Aquilonia, however, because the great feudal lords of the kingdom had sequestered much of the cropland for personal use (such as privileged hunting preserves), creating a never-ending movement of pioneers toward the Westermarck, the frontier between Aquilonia and the far western Pictish Wilderness.

The Aquilonians were a people divided behind a front of unity, and threatened behind a show of dominance. Their kingdom, the so-called Flower of the West, was the unrivalled jewel of Hyboria. It was a land of prosperous cities, great wealth, enlightened culture, with a king-sanctioned order of religious freedom, where no faith was suppressed. Yet for all the kingdom’s vaunted glories and despite the actions of its popular Cimmerian monarch, King Conan I, it was a land where culture clashed and the chaos of unrest always threatened the populace.

Aquilonians know now, just as they always have, that their borders are neither safe nor sealed. Conflict with other nations scars Aquilonia’s history, with Pictish raids increasing in number year by year and enmity between Aquilonians and Nemedians reaching back for many decades. With the kingdom comprised of so many conquered, submissive or allied nations, Aquilonians also expected a degree of tension within their own lands. In the past, pretenders to the throne had raised armies and marched on the capital city of Tarantia, plunging the people of the nation into periods of civil war. While the nation was ostensibly peaceful, all Aquilonians had come to expect a degree of bloodshed around their throne and over issues of sovereignty.

For all these epic domestic troubles, the people of the world’s greatest kingdom were cultured and educated, more so than any other nation in the Hyborian Age could claim of its citizens. Scholars were respected as much as soldiers, and slavery—where it was still practiced—was nowhere near as harsh as the servitude found in other nations during this time. Quality of life was important to the Aquilonians.

Aquilonian fighters were disciplined and tough, often more soldier than warrior. The people value martial skill and admire any who stand against the nation’s many enemies, especially the hated Picts. Aquilonians also value free-thinking and independence, so those who can make a living off the backs of their own self-reliance often garner respect. Sorcery was shunned as the pursuit of evil men, but Mitran priests practiced

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their own magic and earned great respect among the populace for their perceived favor in the light of the true god’s grace.

Another reason for the prosperity and relative domestic peace of Aquilonia was that the nation was shielded from attack by several buffer frontier provinces. The thinly settled region known as the

Westermarck lay between the Black River and the Thunder River, separating Aquilonia from the Pictish Wilderness. The Westermarck regions of Schohira, Oriskonie, Conawaga and Conajohara, “a 19-mile spear thrust into the Pictish Wilderness”—before it fell to the Picts—were each controlled by a baron who owed only a tenuous allegiance to the king of Aquilonia. Bossonia, also called the Bossonian

Marches, likewise resisted all-out rule by the central government. The hills of Gunderland provided troops to the capital of Tarantia, but its people “never considered themselves exactly Aquilonians.” Poitain, Aquilonia’s southernmost region, had not always been a part of the great kingdom. But in Conan’s day, it was ruled by Count Trocero and was renowned for its military strength and its fealty to the Aquilonian Crown in Tarantia. Its banner was that of the Trocero family, a golden leopard.

As noted above, Aquilonia contained at least three provinces with distinct cultures and heritages from other Aquilonians. The province of Gunderland in the north of the country did not have any slaves, as the Gundermen were opposed to the practice of slavery on cultural grounds. The people of this province had underwent less interbreeding with other races than any other Hyborians of the time. They resembled the ancient Hyborians closer than any of the others and were still auburn-haired and gray-eyed.

The Bossonian Marches extended from the border of Aquilonia with Zingara, along its border with Pictland and to the south of Cimmeria east of the Border Kingdoms. The Bossonians descended from a formerly independent race which had been among the first to fall to the conquests of the Hyborians. They had some Hyborian blood by the time of King Conan’s reign but were distinct in appearance from their fellow Aquilonians. They were people of average height and skin pigmentation, and had either gray or brown eyes while their skull shapes were mesocephalic.

The Bossonians’ position at the borders of Hyborian civilization with the barbarians of Cimmeria and Pictland never allowed them to advance to the cultural height of the other Hyborians. They were mostly farmers, settled in fortified villages and their main concern was the defense of their land from barbarian raids. In effect, the Bossonians were Aquilonia’s and Hyboria’s first line of defense also from invasions by the Picts, the barbarians of Nordheim or the Cimmerians. Centuries of barbarian wars led to the Bossonians being particularly stubborn combatants and their defense techniques were impenetrable to the direct charges of light and heavy infantry favored by barbarian military commanders.

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In the south of Aquilonia, the province of Poitain lay along the kingdom’s borders with Zingara. The relatively peaceful relations between the two civilized kingdoms allowed for people and goods to flow with ease through the borders of Aquilonia and Zingara. Interbreeding with the Zingarans led to the people of Poitain being predominantly dark-haired and brown-eyed.

Nestled in a valley and sheltered from the harsh winters of the region, the Wild Lands of Zelata exemplified Aquilonia’s untamed eastern frontier. It was a place for people with the desire to start afresh, to begin anew—to establish a life away from the bustling metropolis of Tarantia or any of Aquilonia’s other majestic, chaotic cities. Settlements were built, spreading slowly in the wilderness, protected by hunters and occasional patrols of soldiers who fended off both the wild beasts of the northern forests and the bandit groups which plagued so much of Hyboria. Another source of conflict arose from the

Nemedian border to the east; the location of the Wild Lands made them an infrequent battleground for clashes between King Conan’s men and the soldiers from Aquilonia’s rival nation.

During the years of King Conan’s reign the Wild Lands fell under the shadow of a new threat—one that spelled the death of Aquilonian settlement and influence in the region if the danger was not quashed. Creatures known locally as the Dark Beasts prowl the wilderness beyond the edges of each settlement, slaughtering those who walk the wilds. Some villages have already fallen prey to mass attacks from these feral, razor-clawed creatures. The small hamlet of Tesso now shields a growing refugee population, drawing survivors from the villages shattered in the wake of the Dark Beasts and their hunts.

Zelata, a witch who once counseled King Conan himself, lived in the Wild Lands away from civilization. She was a mysterious figure to the people of the region, unknown to many and mistrusted by the few who were aware of her existence. Her powers set her apart from others and vilified her in the minds of those who needed a scapegoat for the region’s troubles. As Nemedian soldiers pressed south and as the Dark Beasts slaughtered whole villages during this time, the ostracized witch-woman found herself hated by many who believed her responsible for the problems they faced.

Brooding on a mountaintop, overlooking the Wild Lands, the ruins of the City of Burning Souls was a tainted place. The last vestiges of Acheronian magic still clung to the ruins, and few were foolhardy enough to risk the wrath of the spirits and demons within.

Yet there are those who make the journey, through the warped and twisted labyrinth of ancient stone to the very heart of the darkness itself…the Sanctum of the Burning Souls. The few who returned from such expeditions were insane, frothing at the mouth as they screamed the names of unimaginable horrors.

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The very stones of the Sanctum were soaked with the blood of thousands of innocents; victims who fell beneath the knives of the Acheronian Warlords and the vicious Priests of Set who they served some three millennia before Conan took up the rule of Aquilonia. Great fountains, which once flowed freely with the blood of sacrifice, now stand silent, dark stains around their base the only testimony to their grim purpose.

Lusting for power, the Nemedians have sent a small force to investigate the ruins, and no man or woman knows what they have found there, though the Dark Beasts began attacking the Wild Lands shortly after the expedition arrived. Thoth-Amon of the Black Circle has also sent some of his most trusted allies to discover what secrets the dark heart of Acheron may hold that the mages of Stygia may find useful. Dark Beasts, Nemedians, Stygian Sorcerers and the demons of Acheron; the Sanctum is a challenge to even the greatest of heroes. But with stout allies and courageous hearts, a stalwart group might be able to uncover the horrible secrets contained therein.

Aquilonia itself was geographically nestled east of the savage Pictish Wilderness, west of militant Nemedia, north of cutthroat Zingara, and south of the Cimmerian tundra. It had pleasant weather and rich, arable lands interwoven and fed by some of the largest rivers in the world. Game hunting was common and plentiful, and wilderness paths and civilized roads were patrolled by the efficient Aquilonian military forces. At first glance, it was a peaceful kingdom of plenty built on a very pleasant stretch of Hyborian land.

Alas, it cannot be so. Although the barbarian King Conan of Cimmeria later took great lengths to keep his kingdom safe from outside threats and domestic squabbles, Aquilonia saw its share of unrest. Aquilonia was a kaleidoscope of intrigue and hand-on-hilt politics. There were many peoples who called this land home, carving several invisible regional borders within the kingdom itself. Bossonians,

Poitanians, Gundermen, and others laid claim to lands that now all existed under King Conan’s rule. The famed barbarian king ruled from his throne in the Aquilonian capital city of Tarantia, delegating his laws and edicts down through the cascade of titled and landed nobles. The city is a massive, walled urban sprawl, its blue and golden towers reaching high into the sky. A kingdom’s worth of people from all corners of the world called Tarantia home, protected in part by its high walls and its elite Black Legion army, the capital’s military force. The king also had a special elite group of warriors who served as his bodyguard and were known as the Black Dragons. They patrolled the grounds of the Royal Palace constantly. Many traveled long distances from across Hyboria to come to Tarantia, the “Heart of Aquilonia,” trying to claim part of its dazzling wealth and power for themselves.

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Called the “most princely city of the world’s West” by chroniclers far and wide, Tarantia was a sprawling city of wonders and the capital of Aquilonia. Its skyline was dotted with towers of blue and gold, and many of its buildings were clean and dazzling to behold.

Created in layers, like rumpled cloth against the cliffs of the Khorotas River, Tarantia had several distinctive areas separated by walls and tiers both physical and social. Possibly the most famous of these sections, unsurprisingly, was Old Tarantia.

Old Tarantia sat at the end of a huge bridge that lead to the rest of the bustling city, divided elsewhere by high walls and guarded gates. It uses its own docks and has a massive gate sitting on the Road of Kings. All were patrolled regularly, and watched for dangerous visitors. Old Tarantia was the center of the city, from which the rest of the capital grew outward from, and was the base of the Royal Palace itself. The shining towers of the palace rose high into the sky, overlooking the rest of the city and, some might say, the rest of Aquilonia.

Old Tarantia was not an example of your typical Hyborian city by any means. The streets were clean and devoid of miscreants, the businesses did their best not to charge too exorbitant prices for their wares, and common crime was near non-existent. The elite bodyguard unit of the king, the Black Dragons, patrolled the palace’s grounds constantly and could even be found outside its walls from time to time. Few were foolhardy enough to deal with these strapping soldiers, making most criminals look elsewhere to ply their illegal trades. It was a safe city for those who abided by the Aquilonian Crown’s laws, and where many came to shop and see the beautiful city with their own eyes.

There was far more going on beneath the shining surface of Old Tarantia than met the eye. Just because it was not crawling with muggers and pickpockets on the streets did not mean that Tarantia was without its darker element. During the reign of King Conan, nobles that were not pleased with a

Cimmerian on the throne were constantly scheming and pushing pieces around their political chessboard, some willing to sacrifice many pawns to get closer to their goals. King Conan made many enemies in his winding road to power. Some died at his hands, but many escaped the edge of his sword. With King Conan on the Aquilonian throne, the brilliant beacon of civilization that was Old Tarantia attracted enemies like vultures to a corpse.

Aquilonia’s countryside was divided into countless noble estates and segmented villages that were ruled by individual noble lords, all of whom were supposed to owe allegiance to the king. Many did, but just as many were disgusted during King Conan’s reign by their king’s uncivilized Cimmerian heritage and paid homage to the Crown in deed only, wishing great ill upon him. It was there, in their hollow hearts, that much of the kingdom’s unrest was born. Perhaps if it were not for the eternal squabbling and

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backstabbing among its nobles, Aquilonia would have had strength enough to be an unyielding bastion against its many outside threats.

Although they could prove to be deadly to any who were swept into them, Aquilonia’s politics were not the only risk to its rolling landscape. There were many dangers, even with the increased patrols and hired huntsmen, which threatened travelers here. Constant harassment came from Nemedian mercenaries, Pictish tribes, and mysterious servants of ancient, darker forces. These grueling and merciless minions seemed bent on shattering what peace could be found in the kingdom. It was dangerous to travel too far from guarded lands, and many nobles kept hired guards—not much more than mercenaries themselves— to protect their personal estates. To make matters more difficult, as if the relentless two-legged threats were not bad enough, the hunters could only do so much to keep the wolves, great cats and larger predators from moving against small families and lone travelers.

Even with such dangers, Aquilonia remained one of the jewels of Hyboria. It was a temperate land of noble and proud people, with a lightly-obscured storm brewing beneath the surface of its grassy hills and ox-plowed wheat fields. One day, sooner than King Conan knew, the silken curtains of Aquilonia would be ripped down and the kingdom would find itself at the mercy of its own scheming nobility.

By Conan’s time, Aquilonia’s royal house was in a state of decadence and the Westermarck region was on the verge of revolt. Conan first came to power as an Aquilonian leader in the Westermarck. Subsequently, a Poitainian noble faction helped Conan usurp the Aquilonian throne. King Conan the Cimmerian ruled Aquilonia for some 20 turbulent years before abdicating in favor of his son, King Conan II, more often called Conn. Conan then left Hyboria behind in search of greater adventures and sailed across the Western Ocean. Years later when Aquilonia was at its zenith, it founded a great empire and annexed Zingara, Argos, Ophir, and western Shem. Some 500 years after Conan’s time, internal decay and a massive Pictish invasion destroyed Aquilonia and ultimately destroyed the civilizations of the Hyborian Age.

The Argosseans (Argos)

Argos was one of the greatest commercial nations of the Hyborian Age, renowned for its maritime commerce and industry, master shipmen, and short, stocky sailors, reputedly the best in all the world. The nations of Zingara and Stygia were its major sea-faring rivals, but Argos dominated over even them in the coastal trade.

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Argos was Messantia. In Messantia began the western terminus of the Road of Kings, the major Hyborian trade highway running eastward to Turan, an endless flow of traffic from Aquilonia, Nemedia, and Ophir traveling on its winding lengths. The Argosseans were Hyborian, with some Zingaran and Shemitish influences. They were dark-skinned, with thick, curly dark hair and short, stocky bodies. Culturally, the Argosseans were also Hyborian, although some Shemitish customs had infiltrated Argossean culture, particularly in eastern Argos.

Argos’ judges were appointed by the Argossean nobility. The Argossean courts were well known for siding with the wealthiest party in civil cases. They had no compunction about imprisonment or torture for witnesses who refused to testify. The Argosseans were primarily worshippers of the Hyborian god Mitra, although Bel, the Shemitish God of Thieves, was worshipped by many Argossean freebooters. Other religions were tolerated, although worship of Set, the Stygian serpent-god, was always viewed with considerable suspicion. Argos may have been the fourth of the Hyborian kingdoms to be established, after Hyperborea, Nemedia and Aquilonia. Argos had a long-standing feud with Zingara, based on their

maritime rivalry. Zingara had launched a major military incursion into Argos when Conan was a young man. The Argosseans under King Milo trounced King Ferdrugo of Zingara’s invaders soundly. After Conan’s time, the Aquilonian Empire annexed Argos. Still later, the Pictish hordes looted and burned the region. With the advance of the glaciers at the end of the Hyborian Age, Argos vanished beneath the ice and eventually beneath the Atlantic Ocean when the glaciers retreated.

The Border Kingdom

The Border Kingdom was a region of small city-states so loosely allied to one another that they could not even agree on a proper name for the land they shared. The region seems to have been little more than a trade route for other states, rather than any kind of nation in its own right. In one account, it was described as a “dreary waste of desolate, empty moors,” where “here and there gnarled and stunted trees grew sparsely.” One later cartographer speculated that much of the country was a “Great Salt Marsh” created by the drainage from the other nations’ river systems. It is no small wonder then that the youthful Conan chose to pass through Brythunia, rather than the Border Kingdom, when he decided to journey to the south! But the Border Kingdom lay sandwiched between much greater powers like

Cimmeria, Aquilonia, Nemedia and Hyperborea, thus earning its name, since all of these states were happy to keep the Border Kingdom independent so it could serve as a bulwark against the territorial ambitions of any of the others. This meant its people were constantly threatened on all sides by the intrigues of the greater powers but such precarious geography also presented enormous opportunities for those men and

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women of an adventurous bent who were skilled with a blade or with spells and were willing to carve out their own destiny in such a chaotic land.

The prize of the Border Kingdoms, within the grasp of the bandit-king Atzel, was the main pass into Cimmeria—used by humble traders and merchant-princes alike. Control over that pass kept Atzel’s bandit minions well-paid, well-fed and well-armed. Gripped by a cruel winter, the mountain passes of this lawless land were choked with ice, while snow-laden winds howled through the canyons, sounding to mortal ears like the cries of a dying god. Any who set foot in these lands walked into the frozen heartland of Atzel’s power, falling under his sight as he watched all transpiring in his realm from the highest windows of a great fortress. Atzel’s Approach, the region leading to the bandit-lord’s castle, was a land teeming with thieves and brigands banding together under their master’s banner. Some told stories of Atzel’s death at the hands of Conan the Cimmerian years before, but if these tales were true, how then did the bandit-king walk once more? Why did lawless killers from across Hyboria answer his call to arms? Why did an army of bandits flood the high passes of Cimmeria, killing and plundering in his accursed name?

Ruins jut from the scarred land of Atzel’s Approach, the broken bones of a long-dead civilization. An ominous shadow fell upon these ruins, an unholy silhouette of inhuman size and shape. The word

dragon passed many lips in a fearful hiss. Others whispered demon, and prayed to their gods for protection. Atzel’s Approach offered a variety of torments to ensnare unwary travelers, and not all of them—not even most—were human. While the bandit groups under Atzel’s banner were a grave threat throughout the region, darker dangers exist. The greatest of these, and the father of many lesser evils, was the demon known as Vistrix. Little was known of Vistrix in truth, and much of the death-filled rumor tied to the beast was born of fearful speculation rather than iron-hard fact. The tales spin into myths as the cold nights pass, blending legend and truth into one. Young mammoths are taken from their herds, torn from the earth by a great shadow and a thunder of swift wind. Snake-like inhuman beasts, the chill crawlers, crawl free of the entombing snow in obscene numbers and claw their way to the surface world. Those eking out a living on the slopes of the region’s mountains blame Vistrix for these acts. The demon takes the mammoths to feed. The chill crawlers are the monstrous spawn of the dragon-thing. Vistrix appeared to be a new threat to the region, rather than some ancient evil well-known for plaguing Cimmeria and the Border Kingdoms for centuries past. All aware of the spreading evil in Atzel’s Approach know the arrival the demon-dragon coincides with the blossoming darkness. Whether Vistrix is the cause or another symptom of the foulness in the realm, none can be sure. In form, the demon is a reptilian echo from a long-forgotten age when cold-blooded and scaled predator-kings claimed the world as their hunting

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ground. Does intelligence—a human intelligence—gleam in its giant eyes? The answer to that depends entirely on which tales a traveler believes…

Whatever the truth, a great unease bleeds through the region. Were neighboring kingdoms not so concerned with the invasions ravaging their borders, Hyboria’s rulers would look to Atzel’s lands with grim resolve in their eyes and blades in their hands. Evil bred there unopposed—that much had become clear. Deep within the canyons and upon the mountainsides, bandit armies toiled alongside Stygian

sorcerers among the shells of decayed settlements, pulling ancient relics from the earth and hoarding them for purposes unknown to all others. It seemed Atzel had forged an unusual—and dangerous—alliance. Time would tell the tale of what the unexpected ties between the bandit-king and the Stygians spelled for the security of Hyboria.

The Brythunians (Brythunia)

Brythunia was a loosely-knit Hyborian confederation of largely autonomous city-states. Its southern, Nemedian frontier was the Yellow River. Another river flowed eastward along the Brythunian side of the Graaskal Mountains and marked the northern border. The highlands in the northeast were cleft by numerous passes, through which Hyrkanian invaders poured into the West during the years following the Age of Conan. Interior Brythunia was a land of fertile, humid prairies interspersed with very thick, wolf-haunted coniferous forests. Brythunia’s economy was probably primarily agricultural, with its aristocracy centered upon land-owning boyars who made their homes in the fortified cities. The most fertile soils were found in the alluvial deposits of the interior river valleys and in the southern piedmont.

The folk of Brythunia had the dubious honor of serving as the traditional butts of Hyborian Age humor which painted Brythunian men as thick-witted oafs and their women as saucy and willing wenches for other men. The women of Brythunia, mostly blonde, spirited and beautiful, were much sought after by slave traders. Modern Brythunians descended from a mixture of ancient Hyperborean and native

Brythunian stock. The Hyperboreans had been stocky (like the Shemites), with dark hair; ancient Brythunians were tall, fair-skinned and blond. Modern Brythunians were a mixture of these traits, being stocky, but with fair skin and blond hair.

Most Brythunians lived in small villages of wattle-and-daub huts. In the central regions, these villages were set into copses of trees, while in the northeastern highlands, they were perched upon the tops of high crags. Where necessary, steps and footholds are carved into the rock to ensure easy climbing, and most Brythunian villages have at least one horse-path. In the fertile central plains, farming fed most Brythunians, but in the highlands men hunted wild game to survive. Brythunian women remained at

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home, weaving, embroidering and raising children. A Brythunian widow moved in with her husband’s brother or her own family.

Brythunians lived in many Hyborian cities outside their own homeland, especially in Corinthia, where they worked as skilled weavers and dyers. Central Brythunia was ruled by hereditary nobles who officially owed allegiance to the Brythunian king but were in fact independent in all but name. This divided leadership caused many of Brythunia’s problems, and put the king into a difficult position when

bargaining with the other Hyborian nations. The Brythunian nobles bickered with one another as

frequently as they ignored the throne. The difficulties of Brythunian life prevented any Brythunian noble from having the manpower or wealth required to raise large standing armies, but each noble maintained a few household guards who raided neighboring steadings for cattle and sheep (or on the whim of a piqued noble). This constant internal strife prevented Brythunia from consolidating into a true nation-state.

The Brythunian monarch was constantly trying to make other kingdoms acknowledge his sovereignty over Brythunian territory. However, as he had no real army to draw upon, Nemedia and Corinthia generally ignored the Brythunian “King of Oafs.” Brythunians in the populated central plains were usually worshipers of Mitra, although there was also some worship of the gods of Turan and Zamora.

The Cimmerians (Cimmeria)

Known for their strength and ferocity throughout the Western world, the Cimmerians were barbarian tribesmen to whom war was the only known way of life. Few Cimmerians left their homeland, but those who ventured into the great world to the south soon learned that the other civilized races did not follow their own codes of honor or loyalty. Cimmeria was an unremittingly somber land, “all of hills, darkly wooded, under skies nearly always gray, with winds moaning drearily down the valleys” and its inhabitants were wont to be moody, taking on the cast of their gray skies. The Cimmerian people were the direct descendants of the vanished Atlanteans who had settled Thuria after the Cataclysm. They were tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or gray eyes. They lived in small, isolated tribes made up of

extended family units which herded cattle, grew oats and raided one another for cattle or wives. A hard region of tundra, mountains and wooded fields seated beneath a cold, gray sky were the lands of Cimmeria. It was surrounded by those who would aim to either kill or conquer the native barbarian clans that had thrived there since the time of the Atlanteans. The hard terrain was often softened with the blood-churned mud of Pictish invaders, Vanir raiders, Hyperborean Gurnakhi, or

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