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‘The Infidel Dog’
The Slave Princess (Unfinished draft) by Robert E. Howard


Reading from Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient

Zuleika is a slave girl to a merchant of a town that is being sacked by a Turkoman horde. She watches in horror and relief as her master is slain by a beastly Turk only to realize that the Turk, bloodlust unsated, was about to kill her as well. Into this scene steps one of Howard’s darker heroes, without much good in him, Cormac FitzGeoffrey, a Frankish outlaw, more brutal than the Turks whom he hunted with. Butchering his way out of the city with Zuleika as his prize, Cormac decided to pass her off as the missing princess whom she resembles.

The draft of the slave princess is accompanied by a synopsis that seems like it would have occupied seven chapters. In the draft, Howard completed five and got a third of the way into six. The view of a harsh world peopled by brutal warriors and conniving others is poignantly seen from Zuleika’s vulnerable vantage. Howard shifts perspective in the story in the following passage from the point of view of the only sympathetic male character in the entire cast.

“Amory rested his chin on his fist and gazed broodingly at the Arab girl, Zuleika. In the past days he had found his eyes straying often to his slender captive. He wondered at her silence and submission, for he knew that at some time in her life, she had known a higher position than that of a slave. Her manners were not those of a born serf; she was neither impudent nor servile. He guessed faintly at the fierce and cruel school in which she had been broken – no, not broken, for there was a strange deep strength in her that had not been touched, or if touched, only made more pliable.”

In a letter to a friend, Howard alluded to FitzGeoffrey as one of his most “somber creations.” FitzGeoffrey does not fit in a love story. Like Balthus in Beyond the Black River and the young nobleman in love with the slave girl in By This Axe I Rule!, when Howard places a love interest or sentimentality into one of his stories, it will be expressed through a secondary character like Amory, not through the barbaric plot driver that is Cormac FitzGeoffrey. Once Howard has settled on such a character, we get to see his ideal of a woman who is above the perception of someone like Cormac. An exception would be Esau Cairn in Almuric who is both a plot driver and has a love interest. There was an attempt at this in Queen of the Black Coast, but Belit was such a raging psychopath that she was consumed by the story as a plot driver herself. Through Amory we seem to be treated to Howard’s ideal image of womanhood.

“She was beautiful – not with the passionate, fierce beauty of the Turkish women who had lent him their wild love, but with a deep, tranquil beauty, of one whose soul had been forged in fierce fires.”

With the advent of the conflicted Amory, the reader discovers that Zuleika the slave girl has a chance.

Add Comment
Bruno DiasDecember 4, 2016 6:15 PM UTC

I think i've read a comic book Conan story with a plot smilitar to that. Ill try to find the name of it for you.
responds:December 5, 2016 5:01 PM UTC

Many of Howard's historical stories were mined as sources for Conan comic plots.