Unpublished until 1967 when the story appeared in King Kull by Lancer Books. Reading from Kull: Exile of Atlantis, Del Rey, 2006, pages 181-210, illustrated by Justin Sweet.
“…then he was among them and the dance of death was on.”
Valusia, Howard’s decadent mythic kingdom, reared like a mist-shrouded dream around the brooding figure of Kull, his prototype barbarian interloper, holds many a parallel to any waning empire. Howard—for whatever reason—was apparently obsessed with fading races and decaying nations in the midst of rising barbarian ambitions. The figure of Kull is one of coiled dynamics in the vise of civil constraints. Only when society turns on him is he able to be himself, which drives these tales towards intrigue aimed at the barbarian king.
The pivotal figure in this story is Delcartes, a young, spoiled beauty of the elite class who permits the rare latitude permitted the upper class of civilized women to carry her into dark intrigues that ultimately threaten the very fabric of the society that permits her unnatural agency. Unlike Conan, Kull is never the romantic figure, permitting himself to be entangled by the wiles of women. Kull is essentially a solitary patriarch, a purely masculine interloper among the still glorious dying civilization, home to a nocturnal precinct named “the Accursed Gardens.”
In Swords of the Purple Kingdom, Howard penned a reminder for every rising nation that the setting sun is not kind to empires and that their human survivors will require rare character and grit to halt the slide into moral oblivion.
As good as the reading linked below is, in terms of atmospheric nuance, the illustrations in the Del Rey collection, by Justin Sweet may surpass Nathan Kloske’s excellent reading in terms of the dark energy so pervasive in the tales of Howard’s most unconventional hero.