Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/5

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A Witch Shall Be Born

by Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard's stories of the wanderings of Conan the Cimmerian through the realms of the pre-Glacial era were based upon a carefully structed "history" of those ages devised by Howard before starting his series. It is, we think, this careful groundwork which makes these tales so colorfully realistic, so vivid, so varied in background. We sense that he has woven into his literary tapestry not merely varicolored threads but clothes of different textures, so that his prehistoric kingdoms are national not merely because he calls them by different names but because he has thought of them as different in culture, approach, tradition. This is no mean feat for a purely imaginary world and it is one of the things that have made Robert Howard's stories so much more memorable than attempts at similar construction by more commercially slanted writers.

1. The Blood-Red Cresent

Taramis, Queen of Khauran, awakened from a dream-haunted slumber to a silence that seemed more like the stillness of nighted catacombs than the normal quiet of a sleeping place. She lay staring into the darkness, wondering why the candles in their golden candelabra had gone out. A flecking of stars marked a gold-barred casement that lent no illumination to the interior of the chamber. But as Taramis lay there, she became aware of a spot of radiance glowing in the darkness before her. She watched, puzzled. It grew and its intensity deepened as it expanded, a widening disk of lurid light hovering against the dark velvet hangings of the opposite wall. Taramis caught her breath, starting up to a sitting position. A dark object was visible in that circle of light—a human head.

In a sudden panic the queen opened her lips to cry out for her maids; then she checked herself. The glow was more lurid, the head more vividly limned. It was a woman's head, small, delicately molded, superbly poised, with a high-piled mass of lustrous black hair. The face grew distinct as she stared—and it was the sight of this face which froze the cry in Taramis' throat. The features were her own! She might have been looking into a

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