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‘The Cold White Sea’
Restless Waters by Robert E. Howard
Unpublished until 1974, reading from Del Rey’s The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2006, pages 89-94
Unusual for Howard, this tale begins with men seated around a table. The four figures are served by the tap boy who serves as the narrator. The two follows who dominate the scene are both sea captains, one, John Gower, seemingly a Kane prototype. The other captain, Starkey, is the prototype of such as Harston from Swords of The Red Brotherhood, Conan’s host among the hillmen in The People of the Black Circle, a large, bristle-bearded and boisterous alpha male. The scene itself, from the perspective of a powerless observer, seems to be the seed for the captains' scene in Swords of The Red Brotherhood and its Conan version, The Black Stranger.
The single scene framework for this weird tale is ideal for such a moody story about a man selling his niece [again echoed in Brotherhood and Stranger] like a common slave. The sale of women in particular seemed a great injustice in Howards’ eyes, particularly if they were being sold as an unwilling wife. Interestingly, this tale of human trafficking is set, not in Faring Town, but in New England. The author’s passion resounds in the passage below:
“‘Keep your hands off me, you damned pirate!” shouted Starkey furiously.
“Gower grinned bleakly. “That’s yet to be proven,” said he. ‘But lay a finger on this child and we’ll see how quick a ‘damned pirate’ can cut the heart out of an honest merchantman who’s selling his own blood and kin to a miser.”
This reader cannot help but conclude that Gower, a captain, a quiet, stern her of the lean type, who uses the word child to describe a woman, unlike most Howard characters, was, in Howard’s mind’s eye, either a prototype or stand-in for Solomon Kane, the glowering avenger, and Howard’s most emotionally engaged hero.
Restless waters is a argument against a nation founded on merchant ethics, a worldview that many a westward migrating American family consciously fled from in their bid for freedom.
A Well of Heroes
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