Red Blades of Black Cathay was written as a collaboration between Robert E. Howard and Tevis Clyde Smith. It was first published in Oriental Stories in the February/March issue of 1931. It was accepted in July 1930.

The story is an adventure set during the Crusades with Genghis Khan, flashing swords, mighty battles, lots of adventure, and lurid descriptions. 

In a letter (#136) Howard wrote to Smith circa July 1930 he says:

I haven’t heard from our story but that’s not unusual, seeing that I haven’t heard from a story I sent to Weird Tales some time before I sent the other; the editor may be taking a vacation or something.

and in the same letter:

I quote from a letter from Farnsworth: “I am very well pleased with ‘Red Blades of Black Cathay,’ and may use this as the cover design story for our third issue of Oriental Stories. We can offer you $118 on publication for it; and also $118 for “Wings in the Night” for Weird Tales. This is at our regular rate of 1c a word.”

Later, in another letter (#146) to Smith, circa November 1930, Howard says:

I quote from Farnsworth’s last letter: “‘The Voice of El-Lil’ is tied for first place with ‘Strange Bedfellows,’ in the letters and votes received so far for the first issue of Oriental Stories. This augurs well for the popularity of ‘Red Blades of Black Cathay’ and ‘Hawks of Outremer,’ which I think are much more striking. Von Gelb has galley proofs of ‘Red Blades of Black Cathay’ and is working on a cover design. Joseph Doolin will do the black and white illustration.”

While waiting for Farnsworth Wright to pay for the publication Howard writes (letter #154) to Smith late-January 1930, showing some of his humor:

I’ve delayed writing you, hoping I’d receive the check for the Cathay hooey, but the devil only knows when we’ll get it. I got a letter from Talman of the Texas Company saying that he hadn’t seen my Camp Colorado article, but had an idea that the moguls had approved of it. I hope so. Talman praised our Cathay story highly and said he was sure the historical details were nine-tenths correct. I’m going to write him that you supplied the historical data, so if he finds an error he’ll blame it on you — he said lousily.

and in the same letter:

Orientals might possibly send the check for the Cathay story to you; if they send it to me, I’ll either bring it over, or let you know immediately. The devil only knows when we’ll get it.

He also wrote to Lovecraft (Letter #156 – cirka February 1931) telling him about his collaboration with Smith:

If you haven’t seen the latest Oriental Stories, let me know. I have some extra copies. It contains a story by Tevis Clyde Smith and me, which you might possibly entertain an idle half-hour with, though I fear it isn’t anything to brag about.

Wilfred B. Talman had already read the story and sent his appraisal. In a letter to him (letter #157 – cirka February 1931) Howard thanks him for his kind words and says:

I can hardly find words to express my appreciation for your interest in “Red Blades of Black Cathay”. Both Mr. Smith and I are highly gratified by the compliments you paid the story, and hope that future efforts will meet with your approval. I also appreciate very much your writing to Mr. Wright in commendation of the tale. I hope that our details were as nearly accurate as you say — we were rather uncertain on a few points — medieval Oriental history being so sketchy. I must admit that there was a weak point in the story — from my study of Genghis Khan I feel certain he would never have allowed Godric to reign as an independent and equal king; he would have destroyed the empire of Black Cathay entirely first. But we had to have it that way, in order to allow Godric to live and realize his ambition. You being a writer yourself, understand such difficulties. Of course we took a great deal of liberties in regard to the actual conquest of Black Cathay, but I suppose that comes under the head of fictional license or something. By the way, the name “Subotai” is the Mongol term for buffalo.

From Tevis Clyde Smith

Excerpt from the introduction for the book Red Blades of Black Cathay, written by Tevis Clyde Smith, on January 18th, 1970:

“Red Blades of Black Cathay” came into being in 1930. I did the research and Bob did the writing. “Eighttoes Makes a Play” was another 1930 tale. I suggested the plot, Bob and I talked it over, and I did the writing, employing a style of storytelling popular at the time. The story was submitted to one of the leading pulp houses, but was returned, and went into my rejection drawer. 

Bob and I discussed “Diogenes” and we agreed that I should revamp the story and send it out. A more polished version was soon in the mails. Like the original, which you will read in this volume, it, too, was rejected, leaving “Red Blades of Black Cathay” the only one of the trio to be accepted at the time.

The story / summary

Red Blades of Black Cathay” by Tevis Clyde Smith and Robert E. Howard is a vivid tale set during the time of Genghis Khan’s rise to power, capturing the blend of historical fiction and adventure that Howard is known for. The story follows Godric de Villehard, a Norman knight, through battles, a duel of honor, and ultimately to a position of power within the lands threatened by Genghis Khan.

The narrative begins with Godric, clad in his hauberk, amidst a brutal fight against a howling horde of adversaries. Despite his wounds and exhaustion, he stands as a fierce combatant, embodying the knightly valor of his Crusading past. The battle scene swiftly introduces the reader to the high-stakes conflict of the story.

Godric’s journey from a wandering crusader seeking the mythical kingdom of Prester John to a key player in the defense of Black Cathay against Mongol invaders unfolds with rich descriptions of battles, strategic defenses, and alliances. Despite initial successes, the defenders face overwhelming odds. Godric’s leadership and combat prowess shine, especially in his encounters with the Mongol generals, including Subotai and Chepe Noyon, and ultimately with Genghis Khan himself.

The story culminates in Godric’s duel with Subotai, demonstrating his unmatched skill and bravery. However, it’s his honor and loyalty to the people of Black Cathay that define his character. When offered a choice by Genghis Khan to join the Mongols or continue his fight, Godric chooses to stand with Black Cathay, showcasing his integrity.

Genghis Khan, impressed by Godric’s valor and recognizing the futility of further bloodshed, offers him rulership of Black Cathay as an ally rather than an enemy. Godric’s acceptance marks his transformation from a crusading knight to a king, a journey that mirrors the themes of redemption, loyalty, and the quest for a noble cause.

The inclusion of Yulita, a character of royal blood and personal connection to Godric, adds depth to the narrative, providing a personal stake in the conflict and a romantic subplot that enriches the story’s conclusion.


  • Godric de Villehard: The protagonist, a Norman knight who becomes the ruler of Black Cathay.
  • Subotai: A Mongol general, represents the formidable military skill of Genghis Khan’s forces.
  • Chepe Noyon: Another Mongol general, part of the conflict against Godric.
  • Genghis Khan: The Mongol conqueror, whose ambitions set the stage for the story’s conflict.
  • Yulita: A princess of Black Cathay, she becomes Godric’s love interest and queen.
  • Roogla: A general of Black Cathay, loyal to Yulita and instrumental in the defense against the Mongols.

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