Rogues in the House
"Rogues in the House" is one of the original short stories starring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine in January 1934. It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, and concerns Conan inadvertently becoming involved in the struggle between two powerful men fighting for control of a city. It was the seventh Conan story Howard had published.
|"Rogues in the House"|
|Author||Robert E. Howard|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Published in||Weird Tales|
|Publication type||Pulp magazine|
|Publisher||Rural Publishing Corporation|
|Publication date||January 1934|
|Preceded by||"The Pool of the Black One"|
|Followed by||"Shadows in the Moonlight"|
- Weird Tales magazine (Jan 1934)
- Terror by Night anthology (Selwyn and Blount, 1934, ed. Christine Campbell Thomson)
- Skull-Face and Others (Arkham House, 1946)
- The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953)
- More Not at Night anthology (Arrow Books, 1961, ed. Christine Campbell Thomson)
- Conan (Lancer, 1967, later reissued by Ace Books)
- Rogues in the House (Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., 1976)
- The Conan Chronicles (Sphere Books, 1989)
- The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000)
- Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
"When did a priest keep an oath?” complained Conan, comprehending the trend of the conversation. “Let me cut his throat; I want to see what color his blood is. They say in the Maze that his heart is black, so his blood must be black too..."— Robert E. Howard, "Rogues in the House"
The story begins in an unnamed city-state between Zamora and Corinthia during a power struggle between two powerful leaders: Murilo, an aristocrat, and Nabonidus the "Red Priest", a clergyman with a strong power base. After he is delivered a written threat by Nabonidus, Murilo learns of Conan's reputation as a mercenary and turns to him for help.
Prior to the story's beginning, Conan kills a corrupt priest of Anu, who was both a fence and police informer. However, Conan was arrested after he became intoxicated and a prostitute turned him in. Languishing in a jail cell while awaiting his execution, Conan receives Murilo's visit and is proposed a bargain: in exchange for setting him free and getting him out of Corinthia with a bag of gold, Conan will assassinate Nabonidus.
After accepting his offer, Conan is given food and wine by Murilo. However, while he's consuming a roasted duck, the jailer who should release Conan when Murilo has left (thus with an alibi) is arrested on unrelated corruption charges (corruption seems to run rampant in the city). Soon, his replacement is flabbergasted to see a prisoner awaiting execution while chomping down on a slice of beef. Suddeny, as he's entering the cell to confiscate it, Conan splits the man's skull with the very bone he was gnawing on and makes his escape.
For a while, he considers leaving Murilo on his own, but then decides to follow the original plan and keep his word.
After taking revenge on the prostitute who turned him in (he slays her new lover and throws the woman into a foul cesspit), Conan sneaks into Nabonidus' trap-filled mansion. However, he find that Murilo and Nabonidus himself are being held captive by a mysterious third party who took control of Nabonidus' position while impersonating him. This turns out to be Thak, a primitive ape-like creature who Nabonidus had captured as a cub and trained as his personal bodyguard. The three observe Thak, via a series of hidden periscopes, and see that the creature has learned to imitate Nabonidus well enough to activate a toxic pollen trap, which eliminates yet another party of assassins (nationalistic agitators) penetrating the villa.
Finally, Conan and the other two men manage to regain entry into Nabonidus' mansion from the basement. Later, Conan defeats Thak in hand-to-hand combat. The Red Priest soon betrays both Conan and Murilo; but, while Nabonidus is gloating over his plans in a detailed monologue, Conan slays him with an expertly hurled stool. The surviving pair leave and go their separate ways.
"Rogues in the House" is written in an extremely ironic fashion and as a Jacobean revenge story. It's eventually revealed that Nabonidus' "usurper" is actually his pet, Thak, an intelligent ape-like creature who got the better of his master.
The story's title also reflects the other main irony, the relationship between Murilo and Nabonidus. Both men have been using their position of influence for personal profit (Nabonidus by manipulating the king; Murilo by selling state secrets to foreign rulers). After stumbling upon each other in a pit beneath Nabonidus' house, the two rivals realize that they're equally corrupt and, indeed, Conan may be the most morally honest of the three men because he doesn't attempt to conceal his criminal nature.
The point where Conan clamors to be brought food while he waits to be set fre evidently struck a chord in Lin Carter, the post-World War II heroic fantasy writer who cooperated with L. Sprague de Camp in bringing Lovecraftian and Howardian fiction back into publication. He included similar scenes in almost all instances when his Conan-inspired Lemurian hero Thongor managed to end up imprisoned.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
"The Pool of the Black One"
| Original Howard Canon
"Shadows in the Moonlight"
"The Hall of the Dead"
| Original Howard Canon
(Dale Rippke chronology)
"The Hand of Nergal"
Conan the Warlord
| Complete Conan Saga
(William Galen Gray chronology)
Conan the Victorious