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Literature / The Scarlet Citadel

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"The Scarlet Citadel" is a Conan the Barbarian story written by Robert E. Howard. First published in January, 1933.

King Conan is captured in a deadly trap by King Strabonus of Koth, his former ally King Amalrus of Ophir, and their evil sorcerous advisor (and true power behind the throne) Tsotha-Lanti. They want him to abdicate his throne in exchange for a pile of gold so that they can annex Aquilonia as part of their growing empire. Conan, being Conan, isn't having this one bit, and tells them all to go to hell. Tsotha pens him in the dungeons of the Scarlet Citadel, intending to feed him to his gigantic snake known as Satha.

Meanwhile, Conan's kingdom is in a bad way, and the people suffer under the rule of Arpello, the puppet king installed by Strabonus and Tsotha. Conan escapes his bonds when a slave's attempt to avenge his brother upon him gets him killed by Satha. After braving the Citadel's many horrors, Conan finds and frees Pelias, a sorcerer and rival of Tsotha, who summons a giant flying beast to take him to Shamar, the capital of Aquilonia, and take it back from Arpello. Having taken back the capital, Conan rides with his army to take down Tsotha's imperial forces, and in a furious battle, Strabonus, Amalrus and Tsotha are all slain.


This story has been adapted in comic form by both Marvel Comics and Darkhorse Comics.

Tropes featured in this story

  • Abdicate the Throne: Conan is offered bribes to do this. Conan, being Conan, tells the bribers to go to hell.
  • Affably Evil: While it's debatable how evil Pelias is, he's certainly a jocular sort, quickly becoming friendly and polite to Conan, even stating that he should pouring their wine, as Conan is a king.
  • Always a Bigger Fish:
    • A man comes to murder Conan, and finds himself feeding the giant snake meant to kill Conan.
    • The snake in question finds itself on the receiving end upon seeing Pelias, and promptly bugs out and doesn't come back.
  • Animate Dead: To get out of the prison, Pelias uses his sorcery to reanimate their jailer and use him to open the door. This creeps Conan the fuck out.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: The most charitable interpretation of Pelias. A nice, friendly, heroic character who just happens to know how to do things like Animate Dead.
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  • Buy Them Off: Offered to Conan. He does not take it.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Inverted. An ally asks King Conan to bring himself and one thousand knights to aid in defending from a raiding rival. When Conan and five thousand knights arrive, they find the supposed rivals allied in a combined force of thirty thousand, composed of knights, pikemen, and archers. Conan's cavalry (literal and metaphorical) is overwhelmed by weight of numbers.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Conan reflects how he learned this on the throne.
  • Child by Rape: Tsotha-Lanti's purported Back Story. Demonic rape at that.
  • Crystal Ball: Tsotha-Lanti has one. Pelias says it's a toy, but one which is useful when you have no time for something serious.
  • Deathtrap: Tsotha's dungeons.
  • Decapitated Army: Justified. Strabonus' death at Conan's sword marks the end of his siege, but the army had been well-demoralized by Conan's force up to that point, and Strabonus dying rallied the defenders to counterattack with Conan's reinforcements, showing the besieging army this was a fight they could no longer win.
  • Distressed Dude: Conan.
    • Also Pelias, until Conan saves him.
  • The Empire: Trying to capture his kingdom.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: When Satha flees before the sight of Pelias, Conan is notably unsettled by his assertion that the snake "saw his naked soul."
  • Evil Laugh: Pelias. Even though he's on Conan's side.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Tsotha-Lanti. Maybe Pelias, but maybe not.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Tsotha's citadel.
  • Feathered Fiend: One attacks Tsotha's horse.
  • Fed to the Beast: Tsotha pens Conan in the dungeon of the Scarlet Citadel with the intent of feeding him to his gigantic snake, Satha, and is revealed to have done this to all of Pelias's apprentices while making him watch.
  • Giant Flyer: Pelias uses one to get Conan to his kingdom.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: Sort of. Pelias isn't outright bad but as a sorceror he still gives Conan the creeps. Tsotha-Lanti however is definitely evil.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Conan at the end. Given that this story contains some of the creepiest sorcery up with which Conan has ever had to put, one can hardly blame him.
  • Leonine Contract: While Conan is prisoner, one of Tsotha's slaves tries to wheedle promises from him for his freedom, before then revealing that he was the brother of a chief that Conan killed back in his pirate days, and that he will settle for nothing less than Conan's blood.
  • Made a Slave: Conan remembers the markets.
  • Man-Eating Plant: Conan encounters one of these by the name of Yothga in the dungeons. Conan, rather wisely, decides not to pull it up by its roots but to kill it with his sword instead. Pelias, who he rescued by doing this, tells him that if he had been able to pull it up by its roots, he would have found things clinging to the roots against which not even Conan's sword would prevail.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: An Eldritch Abomination produces this.
  • Offered the Crown: Arpello claims this.
  • Oh, Crap!: The giant snake Satha has a non-verbal version when he gets a good look into Pelias' eyes and "sees his naked soul". Conan describes Satha's eyes as filling with terror before he promptly rushes away from the pair.
  • One-Handed Zweihänder: Conan wields a broadsword thus.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: Started by rumors of Conan's death.
  • Pulling Themselves Together: Tsotha-Lanti can do this.
  • Puppet King: The villains intend to install one.
  • Religion of Evil: The worship of Set.
  • Revenge: The slave that tries to kill Conan wants him dead because he killed his brother back during his pirate days, when he was known as Amra the Lion. Pelias himself isn't too fond of Tsotha either, especially after he forced him to watch his apprentices get fed to Satha.
  • The Rival: Pelias and Tsotha have a big-time case of this.
  • Self-Made Man: Conan.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Satha, the giant white snake and chief among Tsotha-Lanti "pets". Ironically though, Conan admits he actually likes Satha the most, as of the monstrosities in Tsotha's dungeons at least Satha offers only a swift physical death.
  • Sole Survivor: After the treachery.
  • Succession Crisis: Triggered by Conan's disappearance.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Where you get your Eye of Newt.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Develops because of the new king.
  • Turn Coat: Amalrus
  • Virgin Sacrifice: When Tsotha learns that Conan has returned and has freed his old rival Pelias, in a Villainous Breakdown moment, he promises Set the sacrifice of five hundred virgins of Shamar if he will grant them victory over Conan's forces. Even Strabonus, Tsotha's ally, is horrified.
  • We Meet Again: Conan uses it at the end.
  • What Year Is This?: Pelias asks Conan this.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Lampshaded by Tsotha when he realizes an imprisoned rival sorcerer has aided Conan.


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