Literature / Rogues in the House

"Rogues in the House" is a Conan the Barbarian story by Robert E. Howard. First published in January, 1934.

Conan is sitting in prison after killing a priest (he had it coming) when he is approached by a nobleman named Murillo, who has a proposition for him: kill the Red Priest Nabonidus for him, and he will provide Conan a horse, a sack of gold, and a one way ticket out of town and away from the gallows.

Conan escapes from jail, and, after dealing with the prostitute who turned him in, heads off to Nabonidus's mansion. Conan tries entering through the sewer, only to get stuck down there thanks to one of the mansions traps. While down there, he runs into Murillo, who had arrives there first with the intention of killing Nabonidus himself, thinking Conan had high tailed it out of town. They soon discover Nabonidus trapped down there as well, a prisoner in his own home.

Turns out Nabonidus's servant, a man-ape named Thak, has rebelled against his master, and now uses the assortment of traps set around the mansion to keep out unwanted guests (and keep his prisoners in). The three rogues will have to work together if they ever want to get out of the mansion alive, lest they fall victim to Thak, or perhaps, to each other.

The story has been adapted by Marvel Comics in their Conan the Barbarian comic, as well as by Darkhorse Comics.

Notable as being one of Howard's personal favorite stories, and one of the stories that he was most happy with the finished result, only having to go through two drafts before publishing. He also remarked on how he was especially happy with the story as his editor didn't force him to add a fetish/nude scene, which was almost a requirement for pulp stories at the time.

Tropes included

  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Implied. In the chronologically-earlier story "The Hall of the Dead," which Robert E. Howard began and L. Sprague DeCamp later finished, Conan meets a Gunderman mercenary named Nestor, and they become Fire-Forged Friends over the course of looting an ancient cursed citadel and fighting the demons and monsters they find there. At the beginning of this story, passing mention is made of Conan's accomplice, an unnamed Gunderman who was captured and executed well before the events of the main narrative. Ohhhh...
  • Enemy Mine: Conan joins with Nabonidus.
  • Evil Chancellor: Nabonidus is this to the king.
  • Exact Words: Nabonidus promises not to have the king kill Murillo.
  • The Exile: Murillo is not sure whether he's been warned to opt for this.
  • Finger in the Mail: An ear is sent to Murillo.
  • Frazetta Man: Thak, however see It Can Think. We are told that in 100,000 years or so his people are liable to become human.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Nabonidus who uses a lot of Clock Punk tech to safeguard his house.
  • Gambit Pileup: A fairly good description of the plot. Murillo arranges Conan's escape from prison to have him kill Nabonidus, but then ends up going to Nabonidus's mansion to do the job himself when he hears that the escape was botched. Conan, meanwhile, manages to break out of prison on his own, but decides that he could probably use the sack of gold and the fast horse that Murillo promised him once the job was done and he felt at least partially indebted to Murillo for getting him a good meal while he was in prison, so he heads to the mansion as well. Unfortunately, this is the exact night that Nabonidus's pet Ape-Man Thak decides to rebel against his master. AND THEN, partway through the story, a band of political rebels breaks in with the intent of assassinating Nabonidus (they do about as well as you'd expect). Everyone wants to kill Nabonidus, and they all want to do it right now, and nothing goes according to plan for any of them.
  • Gas Chamber: Used to disburse the dust of the gray lotus.
  • Great Escape: Arranged for Conan to escape prison and assassinate a target.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: As per the norm for the Conan universe, the unnamed city where this story takes place is astoundingly corrupt and decadent. Even the guard that Murillo bribes to get Conan out of jail is into a bunch of unscrupulous things, which is what gets him caught and the escape stopped. Murillo is a courtier selling state secrets to rival kings. Nabonidus is a Mad Scientist/Dark Wizard type with all kinds of vaguely evil plots in motion. And between them is Conan, amoral sword-for-hire. Everyone pretty much agrees that of the three of them, Conan is the least corrupt, because at least he's not pretending to be anything but a thief and mercenary.
  • Hidden Depths: Murillo is a dandy and a traitor, but he's no coward. Once he hears that his assassination plot has been thwarted, he straps on a sword and heads off to do the job himself. Granted, he's acting out of desperation and he doesn't really think he'll pull it off, but he's clearly not going down without a fight.
  • It Can Think: Thak is not just inhumanely strong, he is also much more intelligent than he looks.
  • Killer Gorilla: Thak's portrayal is somewhere between this and a more typical Frazetta man.
  • The Mole: Murillo sells secrets to foreigners.
  • Noble Fugitive: Murillo thinks of this but it might not be allowed.
  • Not So Different: Conan's opinion of Thak: 'I have slain a man tonight, not a beast. I will count him among the chiefs whose souls I've sent into the dark. My women will sing of him.'