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Literature / A Witch Shall Be Born

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"You know how to reach the dungeons from the palace, Constantius?" said the witch-girl. "Good. Take this spitfire and lock her into the strongest cell. The jailers are all sound in drugged sleep. I saw to that. Send a man to cut their throats before they can awaken. None must ever know what has occurred tonight. Thenceforward I am Taramis, and Taramis is a nameless prisoner in an unknown dungeon."

"A Witch Shall Be Born" is a Conan the Barbarian story written by Robert E. Howard. First published in December, 1934.

Queen Taramis is woken in the middle of the night by a woman looking just like her, who reveals that she is Salome, Taramis' twin, and the born witch who stems from the curse on the royal family. She has let in an unscrupulous mercenary captain Constantius, and with his aid, seized the city and exiled Taramis to the dungeon.

Conan, the captain of her guard, is crucified by Constantius and rescued by wandering bandits. Meanwhile, Valerius, another soldier, hid despite his injuries, and in due course discovered the truth of why the queen had suddenly taken to the depths of evil. When Conan, after taking control of the bandits, stages an attacks, Valerius leads a rescue party and brings out the queen. In desperation, Salome unleashes a monster upon the city, but Conan and his forces vanquish it and kill Salome. Constantius is then crucified by Conan as the story ends.


Generally considered one of the weaker Conan stories, mainly for it's lack of Show, Don't Tell and underdeveloped characters, as well as a significant lack of poetic storytelling which Robert E. Howard had become known for (he had just finished writing his first novel, The Hour of the Dragon, and rushed out A Witch Shall Be Born quick to pay his bills). Still, it's not without it's merits.

The crucifixion scene was later used as inspiration for a similar scene in the film.


Tropes used in this story

  • After-Action Patch-Up: Valerius and Ivga. Both the info-dumping and the UST reasons.
  • Batman Gambit: Conan builds fake siege engines to trick Constantius into leading his army outside of the city (the rationale being that without siege engines, Conan's army would starve in the desert while trying to starve out the city's defenders), allowing Conan to ambush and destroy the mercenary army.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Conan and his men arrives just in time to save Valerius and Taramis from the toad-like monster summoned by Salome.
  • Brain Fever: Valerius during the After Action Patchup, to give him an excuse to babble.
  • The Caligula: Salome.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Used freely on Taramis.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Conan's crucifixion, which inspired a similar scene in the first Conan movie.
  • Crystal Ball: Salome scorns using it for study, but does communicate with it.
  • Curse: Why the witch is born.
  • Damsel in Distress: Taramis.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: What Salome creates.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Conan is not the main character here. Valerius is.
  • Distressed Dude: Conan is crucified.
  • The Dragon: Constantius to Salome, specifically chosen for his lack of morals.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Salome summoned a toad-like demon from the netherworld, to whom she feeds prisoners. Upon her death, it frees himself from his room and tries to eat Taramis and Valerius, but is killed by a shower of arrows from Conan's soldiers.
  • Evil Laugh: Salome.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Salome.
  • Evil Twin: Salome again.
  • Eye of Newt: Salome doesn't like magic as such, and scorns gathering such things when she can just go for power.
  • Fake King: Salome takes Taramis' place as queen and throws her in the dungeon to torment her.
  • The High Queen: Taramis, who is beloved by her people for being a kind, virtuous, and benevolent ruler.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: At the end of the story, Conan gives Constantius a taste of his own medicine by having him crucified like Constantius did to him. Constantius is nowhere near as enduring of the pain as Conan is.
  • Hot Witch: Salome.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Witches of Khauran; they are born from some ancient curse that bedevils the royal family, marked by a red crescent-moon shape on their chests. Always female, they have an instinctive knack for foul sorcery and dark rites, compounded by a total lack of empathy and intense hedonistic urges. This is why the royal family kills the Witches at birth, for if one were to live, she would be compelled to usurp control of Khauran and would subsequently ruin it in pursuit of her own endless desires for selfish indulgence and perverse pleasures.
  • Human Sacrifice: Part of the Religion of Evil.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down
  • Klingon Promotion: How Conan takes the control of the tribe.
  • Red Right Hand: The birthmark which identifies Salome as a witch, a red crescent moon on her chest.
  • Rescue Arc: Valerius's plan as soon as he learns she is a prisoner.
  • Religion of Evil: Salome institutes it.
  • Rightful King Returns
  • Scream Discretion Shot: The end of the opening scene, where Salome hands off her sister to Constantius to be raped.
  • Sex Slave: One thing Salome wants.
  • The Usurper: Salome.
  • Villain Opening Scene: With Salome's seizure of her sister.
  • Wham Line: Conan wants to lead the Zuagir to liberate Khauran from Constantius. Olgerd argues that Constantius's mercenaries are too strong for them to defeat.
    "Not if there were three thousand desperate Hyborian horsemen fighting in a solid wedge such as I could teach them," answered Conan.
    "And where would you secure three thousand Hyborians?" asked Olgerd with vast sarcasm. "Will you conjure them out of the air?"
    "I have them," answered the Cimmerian imperturbably. "Three thousand men of Khauran camp at the oasis of Akrel awaiting my orders."
    "What?" Olgerd glared like a startled wolf.
  • Witch Species: Salome was born a witch.


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