“Beyond the Black River” is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian, written by American author Robert E. Howard and first published in Weird Tales magazine, v. 25, nos. 5-6, May-June 1935. The story was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Warrior (Lancer Books, 1967). It has more recently been published in the anthology The Mighty Swordsmen (Lancer Books, 1970), and the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (Gollancz, 2001) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005). It’s set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and concerns Conan’s battle against a savage tribe of Picts in the unsettled lands beyond the infamous Black River.
The story takes place in Conajohara, a newly established Aquilonian province recently annexed by King Numedides from the Picts. Balthus, a young settler on his way to Fort Tuscelan at the Black River, the province’s border to the Pict Lands, encounters Conan in the forest slaying a Pict. Accompanying the young man back to the fort, Conan finds the corpse of a merchant left by a Pictish wizard named Zogar Sag and slain by a swamp demon. The fort’s commander, Valannus, desperately asks Conan to slay Zogar Sag before he raises the Picts against the whole borderlands, especially since Tuscelan is vastly undermanned after Numedides foolishly decided to withdraw most of its garrison. Taking a hand-picked team of scouts and Balthus, Conan sets off stealthily in his canoe.