"The Pool of the Black One" is one of the original short stories starring the sword and sorcery hero Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard. It's set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, and concerns Conan becoming the captain of a pirate vessel while encountering a remote island with a mysterious pool which has the power of transmutation.
|The Pool of the Black One|
|by Robert E. Howard|
|Series||Conan the Cimmerian|
|Published in||Weird Tales|
|Publication type||Pulp magazine|
|Publication date||October 1933|
|Preceded by||"The Slithering Shadow"|
|Followed by||"Rogues in the House"|
First published in Weird Tales in October 1933, the story was republished in the collections The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952) and Conan the Adventurer (Lancer Books, 1966). It has more recently been published in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).
"The Pool of the Black One", which appeared in Weird Tales magazine a month after "The Slithering Shadow", is a pirate-themed adventure story and occurs in the Western Sea of the Hyborian Age. The story begins with Conan adrift at sea, after escaping from rival pirates in the Barachan Isles. He climbs aboard the Wastrel, a ship belonging to a different pirate order who are bitter rivals of the Barachan ones. After a tense conversation with the captain and his brawl with a Zingaran bully, Conan is begrudgingly accepted as a lowly member of the crew and is allowed to remain on board.
The vessel sails to a mysterious island, where the captain hopes to find a legendary treasure and, perhaps, much more. All hands go ashore, including the tyrannical captain and his mistress Sancha. The island seems deceptively inviting, as the crewmembers gorge themselves on sweet fruit - which causes them to fall asleep. While on the island, Conan confronts his captain alone in the jungle and slays him in a vicious duel. However, the mysterious kidnapping of a crew member convinces Conan to travel deeper into the jungle. The island is revealed to be inhabited by a tribe of tall black humanoids (not black as in kushite or zembabweian, but rather jet black with strange golden-glowing eyes and clawed hands) who capture the crew, force one of the pirates into performing an ancient ritual (which involves having him dance and cavort wildly to the tune of a bizarre flute-like instrument with the power to "lay bare the most secret lusts and passions of one's soul"), and proceed to dunk some of Conan's crewmembers in the eponymous pool, which transformed his men into shrunken figures. Thousands of such figures placed across shelves at the side of the pool indicate that the humanoids have been doing this for countless years, and this accounts for many ships which sailed into the west and never returned.
Conan rescues the remaining captives, including Sancha, and rallies them to fight against the black humanoids. After a brutal fight, Conan slays the leader of the black humanoids who, before falling dead, utters an ancient formula (the only words ever spoken by the taciturn beings) which triggers a self-destruct device inside the pool. Its sickly and verdant fluids erupt upwards like a geyser and, seemingly broke free of some mystical yoke, proceeds to chase after the surviving pirates, who all scamper wildly towards the Wastrel. Fortunately, the crew manages to raise anchor and set sail literally seconds before the snake-like mass of fluid could touch their ship's hull.
Conan warns his crew about the powers of the greenish fluid, leading the way during their rush for the ship and jumping at the helm as soon as the Wastrel departs; bloodied by their battle against the Black Ones and shocked by these supernatural events, the surviving crew readily accept Conan as their new leader. Soon, Conan asserts his authority as captain and claims Sancha as his prize. The story concludes with the Cimmerian dreaming of raiding seaports and of the future plunder he will acquire.
Clark Ashton Smith, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft dated October 1933, praised the story. Smith wrote "Howard has some fine romantic fantasy in "The Pool of the Black Ones" [sic]".
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