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The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 2: Grim Lands Paperback – November 27, 2007


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The Best of Robert E. Howard    Volume 2: Grim Lands + The Best of Robert E. Howard     Volume 1: Crimson Shadows + The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
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Product Details

  • Series: Best of Robert E Howard (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; First Softcover Edition edition (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345490193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345490193
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

By This Axe I Rule!

I

“My Songs Are Nails for a King’s Coffin!”

“At midnight the king must die!”

The speaker was tall, lean and dark, and a crooked scar close to his mouth lent him an unusually sinister cast of countenance. His hearers nodded, their eyes glinting. There were four of these – one was a short fat man, with a timid face, weak mouth and eyes which bulged in an air of perpetual curiosity – another a great somber giant, hairy and primitive – the third a tall, wiry man in the garb of a jester whose flaming blue eyes flared with a light not wholly sane – and last a stocky dwarf of a man, inhumanly short and abnormally broad of shoulders and long of arms.

The first speaker smiled in a wintry sort of manner. “Let us take the vow, the oath that may not be broken – the Oath of the Dagger and the Flame. I trust you – oh, yes, of course. Still, it is better that there be assurance for all of us. I note tremors among some of you.”

“That is all very well for you to say, Ascalante,” broke in the short fat man. “You are an ostracized outlaw, anyway, with a price on your head – you have all to gain and nothing to lose, whereas we –”

“Have much to lose and more to gain,” answered the outlaw imperturbably. “You called me down out of my mountain fastnesses to aid you in overthrowing a king – I have made the plans, set the snare, baited the trap and stand ready to destroy the prey – but I must be sure of your support. Will you swear?”

“Enough of this foolishness!” cried the man with the blazing eyes. “Aye, we will swear this dawn and tonight we will dance down a king! ‘Oh, the chant of the chariots and the whir of the wings of the vultures – ’ ”

“Save your songs for another time, Ridondo,” laughed Ascalante. “This is a time for daggers, not rhymes.”

“My songs are nails for a king’s coffin!” cried the minstrel, whipping out a long lean dagger. “Varlets, bring hither a candle! I shall be first to swear the oath!”

A silent and sombre slave brought a long taper and Ridondo pricked his wrist, bringing blood. One by one the other four followed his example, holding their wounded wrists carefully so that the blood should not drip yet. Then gripping hands in a sort of circle, with the lighted candle in the center, they turned their wrists so that the blood drops fell upon it. While it hissed and sizzled, they repeated:

“I, Ascalante, a landless man, swear the deed spoken and the silence covenanted, by the oath unbreakable!”

“And I, Ridondo, first minstrel of Valusia’s courts!” cried the minstrel.

“And I, Volmana, count of Karaban,” spoke the dwarf.

“And I, Gromel, commander of the Black Legion,” rumbled the giant.

“And I, Kaanuub, baron of Blaal,” quavered the short fat man, in a rather tremulous falsetto.

The candle sputtered and went out, quenched by the ruby drops which fell upon it.

“So fade the life of our enemy,” said Ascalante, releasing his comrades’ hands. He looked on them with carefully veiled contempt. The outlaw knew that oaths may be broken, even “unbreakable” ones, but he knew also that Kaanuub, of whom he was most distrustful, was superstitious. There was no use overlooking any safe guard, no matter how slight.

“Tomorrow,” said Ascalante abruptly, “I mean today, for it is dawn now, Brule the Spear-slayer, the king’s right hand man, departs from Grondar along with Ka-nu the Pictish ambassador, the Pictish escort and a goodly number of the Red Slayers, the king’s bodyguard.”

“Yes,” said Volmana with some satisfaction. “That was your plan, Ascalante, but I accomplished it. I have kin high in the counsel of Grondar and it was a simple matter to indirectly persuade the king of Grondar to request the presence of Ka-nu. And of course, as Kull honors Ka-nu above all others, he must have a sufficient escort.”

The outlaw nodded.

“Good. I have at last managed, through Gromel, to corrupt an officer of the Red Guard. This man will march his men away from the royal bedroom tonight just before midnight, on a pretext of investigating some suspicious noise or the like. The various sentries will have been disposed of. We will be waiting, we five, and sixteen desperate rogues of mine who I have summoned from the hills and who now hide in various parts of the city. Twenty-one against one –”

He laughed. Gromel nodded, Volmana grinned, Kaanuub turned pale; Ridondo smote his hands together and cried out ringingly:

“By Valka, they will remember this night, who strike the golden strings! The fall of the tyrant, the death of the despot – what songs I shall make!”

His eyes burned with a wild fanatical light and the others regarded him dubiously, all save Ascalante who bent his head to hide a grin. Then the outlaw rose suddenly.

“Enough! Get back to your places and not by word, deed or look do you betray what is in your minds.” He hesitated, eyeing Kaanuub. “Baron, your white face will betray you. If Kull comes to you and looks into your eyes with those icy grey eyes of his, you will collapse. Get you out to your country estate and wait until we send for you. Four are enough.”

Kaanuub almost collapsed then, from a reaction of joy; he left babbling incoherencies. The rest nodded to the outlaw and departed.

Ascalante stretched himself like a great cat and grinned. He called for a slave and one came, a somber evil looking fellow whose shoulders bore the scars of the brand that marks thieves.

“Tomorrow,” quoth Ascalante, taking the cup offered him, “I come into the open and let the people of Valusia feast their eyes upon me. For months now, ever since the Rebel Four summoned me from my mountains, I have been cooped in like a rat – living in the very heart of my enemies, hiding away from the light in the daytime, skulking masked through dark alleys and darker corridors at night. Yet I have accomplished what those rebellious lords could not. Working through them and through other agents, many of whom have never seen my face, I have honeycombed the empire with discontent and corruption. I have bribed and subverted officials, spread sedition among the people – in short, I, working in the shadows, have paved the downfall of the king who at the moment sits throned in the sun. Ah, my friend, I had almost forgotten that I was a statesman before I was an outlaw, until Kaanuub and Volmana sent for me.”

“You work with strange comrades,” said the slave.

“Weak men, but strong in their ways,” lazily answered the outlaw. “Volmana – a shrewd man, bold, audacious, with kin in high places – but poverty stricken, and his barren estates loaded with debts. Gromel – a ferocious beast, strong and brave as a lion, with considerable influence among the soldiers, but otherwise useless – lacking the necessary brains. Kaanuub, cunning in his low way and full of petty intrigue, but otherwise a fool and a coward – avaricious but possessed of immense wealth, which has been essential in my schemes. Ridondo, a mad poet, full of hare-brained schemes – brave but flighty. A prime favorite with the people because of his songs which tear out their heart-strings. He is our best bid for popularity, once we have achieved our design. I am the power that has welded these men, useless without me.”

“Who mounts the throne, then?”

“Kaanuub, of course – or so he thinks! He has a trace of royal blood in him – the old dynasty, the blood of that king whom Kull killed with his bare hands. A bad mistake of the present king. He knows there are men who still boast descent from the old dynasty but he lets them live. So Kaanuub plots for the throne. Volmana wishes to be reinstated in favor, as he was under the old regime, so that he may lift his estate and title to their former grandeur. Gromel hates Kelka, commander of the Red Slayers, and thinks he should have that position. He wishes to be commander of all Valusia’s armies. As to Ridondo – bah! I despise the man and admire him at the same time. He is your true idealist. He sees in Kull, an outlander and a barbarian, merely a rough footed, red handed savage who has come out of the sea to invade a peaceful and pleasant land. He already idolizes the king Kull slew, forgetting the rogue’s vile nature. He forgets the inhumanities under which the land groaned during his reign, and he is making the people forget. Already they sing ‘The Lament for the King’ in which Ridondo lauds the saintly villain and vilifies Kull as ‘that black hearted savage’ – Kull laughs at these songs and indulges Ridondo, but at the same time wonders why the people are turning against him.”

“But why does Ridondo hate Kull?”

“Because he is a poet, and poets always hate those in power, and turn to dead ages for relief in dreams. Ridondo is a flaming torch of idealism and he sees himself as a hero, a stainless knight, which he is, rising to overthrow the tyrant.”

“And you?”

Ascalante laughed and drained the goblet. “I have ideas of my own. Poets are dangerous things, because they believe what they sing – at the time. Well, I believe what I think. And I think Kaanuub will not hold the throne seat overlong. A few months ago I had lost all ambitions save to waste the villages and the caravans as long as I lived. Now, well – now we shall see.”



II

“Then I Was the Liberator – Now –”



A room strangely barren...

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gary Privitt on December 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book and the first volume, "Crimson Shadows", provides a very decent look at the work of a truly American author. Covering Howard's stories from Conan to his westerns, horror, and other genres, this is an excellant introduction for the new fan (and a great way to introduce him to new people), and a boon to hardcore collector. I've been reading Howard since 1965. This is a nice way to have a variety of his most excellant stories without having to carry several books with you at on time (not that there's anything wrong with that). The lavish illustrations by Jim & Ruth Keegan are reminicent of older illustration from the magazines that first published Howard and manage to capture the moods of the stories very well. Buy these books...you'll not be disappointed.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Barbarian on April 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
First of all disregard the Disappointing and subjective review as the reviewer is "knocking" the Keegan's and their artwork, REH's boxing and cowboy stories, and more. I really like the boxing stories! In defense of the Keegan's they drew about 10 drawings for Red Nails and each drawing was in proper alignment with the story. To me, their wonderful visual artwork enhanced each and every story and added a lot of value! They drew from their heart and soul just like REH and I appreciated it very much.

I can't praise this book enough as anytime you can get a collecton of Robert E. Howard stories do so!! The man was and still is the Best of The Best!! Grab Vol 1 & 2 while you can. You'll be glad you did. They make excellent gifts, too!!

Quote from intro on page xvii - " Unpublished during Howard's life, but among the finest of his Kull tales, was By This Axe I Rule! The story is not, strickly speaking, one of "swords and sorcery" - there is no fantasy element other than the setting itself. In this tale, the ostensible villains are the consprators who hope to overthrow Kull, but I think the real villain is one more terrible than any other-worldly demon, nefarious sorcerer, or would-be assassins: it is the stultifying traditions and laws of an ancient society, inflexible rules that stifle and inhibit everyone, from king to servant. The last of a fantasy element made the story unsuitable for Howard's primary market at the time, Wierd Tales, while the imaginary antediluvian setting probably hurt it with the non-fantasy magazines to which he submitted it. A few years later Howard would rework the story considerably, turning it into the first of the Conan of Cimmeria tales, The Phoenix on the Sword.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Ferguson on January 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
A wonderful collection of REH stories! Great to see the renewed interest in this often under-rated Author and for Publishers like this one to be providing top quality volumes.
Well worth adding to your personal collection!
Highly Recommended!!
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5 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bruce D. Wilner on April 20, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am, first and foremost, a diehard fan of Howard's sword-and-sorcery tales, particular his Conan series and, to a lesser extent, his Kull, Kane, and Bran series (in descending order). What we have in the last two volumes (#7 and #8) of the Ballantine/Del Rey series too often feels like a collection of lesser leftovers. I was never impressed by his Western-themed works nor by his two-cent street boxing efforts. To top it off, Jim and Ruth Keegan seem to have taken the quick way out of illustrating the works, foisting off the easiest possible substitutes for what should be action drawings. (As the simplest example, when Conan and Valeria must escape from a murderous giant snake in the novelette "Red Nails," Gary Manchess [in the same publisher's "Bloody Crown of Conan"] offers us a thrilling picture of the duo taking to their heels, with a slavering reptilian colossus in hot pursuit. In contrast, Keegan offers no better than a ho-hum representation of Conan standing there, utterly relaxed, as if he's about to start filing his friggin' fingernails.) This is made all the more disturbing by the Keegans' foreword that praises the excellence of the works, the outstanding opportunity to illustrate them, and (thank you very much) their own profoundly challenging efforts at slaving away to produce a handful of tres boring charcoals. No, by all means purchase the first six volumes of the series, but pass on these two!
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