(circa "Beyond the Black River")
Medium Human Expert (Hunter)
Hit Points: 23
Speed: 30 ft.
AC: 11 (+1 Dex)
Attacks: Shortsword +5 melee; Knife +5 melee; Axe +5 melee; longbow +4 ranged.
Damage: Shortsword 1d6+2; Knife 1d4+2; Axe 1d8+2
Face/Reach: 5 ft. by 5 ft./5 ft.
Saves: Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +5
Abilities: Str 15, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
Skills: Wilderness Lore +10, Knowledge (Nature) +7, Move Silently +8, Animal Empathy +5, Craft +6, Intuit Direction +4, Listen +4
Feats: Track, Skill Focus (Wilderness Lore), Endurance
Challenge Rating: 3
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Advancement: by Character class
|"He was a young man of medium height, with an open countenance and a mop of tousled tawny hair unconfined by cap or helmet. His garb was common enough for that country – a course tunic, belted at the waist, short leather breeches beneath, and soft buckskin boots that came short of the knee. A knife hilt jutted from one boot-top. The broad leather belt supported a short, heavy sword and a buckskin pouch. Though not tall, he was well built, and the arms that the short wide sleeves of the tunic left bare were thick with corded muscle."|
The Swamp Devil
|~Robert E. Howard, "Beyond the Black River"|
|Balthus is an
Aquilonian from the Tauran, one of Aquilonia's provinces. Balthus is
a hunter, yet more of a settler than the woodsman type in
temperament. His experience hunting deer has taught him
woodcraft, tracking, and skill at moving quietly through the woods.
Brave, Balthus roused the settlers of Conajohara and brought them to
safety to Velitrium when the Picts, under the leadership of Zogar Sag,
rose to battle the frontier. Balthus, and a dog who had befriended
him, died battling the picts, delaying them so the people could have time
to reach Velitrium.
Balthus fights with sword, dagger, or axe. Brave, he will fight to the death to protect Aquilonia, women or children. He has no formal training with the weapons, nor the natural talent Conan enjoys, but his exuberance and zeal make up the slack. At least seven picts died during his last stand, not including those he killed with bow and arrow.
|Robert E. Howard's story, "Beyond the Black
River," was first published in Weird Tales as a two part serial, beginning
in May of 1935 and ending in June 1935. The story can also be found
in the Ace/Lancer paperback "Conan the Warrior"; and the Gnome Press
collection "King Conan". It is also available in the Burkley/Putnam
edition, "Red Nails".
This was the second of Conan's four serial length appearances in Weird Tales. For a change, the Robert E. Howard story did not make the cover (probably because there wasn't a scantily clad female in distress). Instead, the magazine featured "A weird Craig Kennedy murder-mystery" by Arthur B. Reeve.
Of this story, Howard said this, "My latest sales have been... a two-part Conan serial to Weird Tales; no sex in the latter. I wanted to see if I could write an interesting Conan yarn without sex interest. I've attempted a new style and setting entirely - abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls,
|etc., and thrown my story against a background of
forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin clad settlers,
and painted tribesmen. Some day I am going to try my hand at a
longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts."
(This probably refers to "The Black Stranger", which he was unable to sell
to Weird Tales.)
A lot of people don't care for "Beyond the Black River" because it is such a departure in style, but I think it is an excellent Conan story. For the first time, Howard was writing a Conan story in a framework which he knew from his own experience, which, in my opinion, gives the story a sense of reality and power that few of the other Conan stories can match.
Conan has, by this time, become such a super hero that it takes a secondary character so that the reader can relate to the story. In many ways, Balthus is a reflection of Howard himself, and it can be said that this story is a sort of 'what if Howard had met Conan' tale. This story seems to generate the most controversy amongst Howard fans. They either love the story, or they hate it.
|Marvel Comics adapted the story in issues 26 and
27 of Savage Sword of Conan. I have presented here the cover to
issue 26, as well as (above) original interior artwork from
(the picture of Zogar Sag is from the Savage Sword presentation. The
snake is the Weird Tales picture drawn by Hugh Rankin).
Fritz Leiber (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) has called "Beyond the Black River" the truest and most satisfying of the Conan stories. Robert Weinberg considers this tale "one of those stories that elevates Howard's sword and sorcery fiction well above any that has ever been written. Karl Edward Wagner agrees.
This story also has one of Howard's best lines- "Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph."
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