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A Witch Shall Be Born
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"A Witch Shall Be Born" is one of the original novellas by Robert E. Howard about Conan the Cimmerian. It was written in only a few days in spring of 1934 and first published in Weird Tales in 1934. The story concerns a witch replacing her twin sister as queen of a city state, which brings her into conflict with Conan who had been the captain of the queen's guard. Themes of paranoia, and the duality of the twin sisters, are paramount in this story but it also includes elements of the conflict between barbarism and civilization that is common to the entire Conan series. The novella as a whole is considered an average example of the series but one scene stands out. Conan's crucifixion early in the story in the second chapter ("The Tree of Death") is considered one of the most memorable scene in the entire series. A variation of this scene was included in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Queen Taramis of Khauran awakens one day to find an identical twin sister, Salome, staring her in the face. As an infant, Salome was deemed a witch due to a crescent birthmark on her chest. This birthmark was believed to be a sign of evil, so she was left in the desert to die. However, a magician from Khitai (China) found her, brought her up, and instructed her in the arts of sorcery. Salome has conspired with Constantius, known as "the Falcon," the Kothic leader of a force of Shemitish mercenaries, to take over the city state. Queen Taramis is taken to the palace dungeon, with the implication of torture and rape. Salome assumes Taramis' identity as queen of Khauran and names Constantius her royal consort. The Khaurani army is disbanded and replaced by Constantius' Shemitish mercenaries, an event which turns violent when the captain of the queen's guard, Conan the Cimmerian, refuses to obey the order. After putting his back to a wall and killing a number of Constantius' Shemites, Conan is finally captured and crucified for his defiance. Olgerd Vladislav, the Zaporoskan leader of a band of Zuagir desert raiders, rides by with a scouting party and happens by the crucified Conan a mile from the city walls. Vladislav does not entirely help Conan. He has the base of the cross cut, leaving it to fate and Conan's hardiness that he is not crushed by the heavy wood. Vladislav then refuses to give Conan any water, claiming the Cimmerian must wait until after a ten-mile trek to the outlaw camp to prove his worthiness to his band. Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 - June 11, 1936) was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. He is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre. Howard was born and raised in the state of Texas. He spent most of his life in the town of Cross Plains with some time spent in nearby Brownwood. A bookish and intellectual child, he was also a fan of boxing and spent some time in his late teens bodybuilding, eventually taking up amateur boxing. From the age of nine he dreamed of becoming a writer of adventure fiction but did not have real success until he was 23. Thereafter, until his death at the age of 30 by suicide, Howard's writings were published in a wide selection of magazines, journals, and newspapers, and he had become successful in several genres. Although a Conan novel was nearly published into a book in 1934, his stories never appeared in book form during his lifetime. The main outlet for his stories was in the pulp magazine Weird Tales.
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