THE VALE OF LOST WOMEN is a fantasy short story by Howard and one of his original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian. It was not published during his lifetime. The Magazine of Horror first published the story in its Spring, 1967 issue. It was republished in the collection Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer Books, 1967). The story has been edited and is the same in both The Magazine of Horror #15 and the Laser edition.

If it was the editor Robert A. W. Lowndes or L. Sprague de Camp that did changes to Howard’s original typescript is not known. It has also been republished in the collections The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). Set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age, “The Vale of Lost Women” details Conan’s rescue of a female Ophirean captive from the Bakalah tribe, on the (apparent) condition that he will receive sexual favors in return for his generosity. The Wandering Star and Del Rey editions are from Howard’s original typescript and are unedited, except for correcting obvious typos and punctuations.

Plot summary

Livia awakens into semi-consciousness in a bamboo hut, visions of her brother tortured and killed by savages dancing in her head. A tribeswoman brings her food, and she numbly eats it as the rhythmic drums beat outside…until they suddenly change the beat and she looks outside to see the cause. She spots Bajujh, the fat, squat king of the Bakalah tribe on his ivory stool and then a column of men coming down the path, all black spearmen of the Bamula tribe, save one white man, their leader, who approaches the king. The obese, grotesque Bajujh fumbles off his stool to greet the white man, his deigning to get off his stool a sign of respect for the white man’s power, and the tribe cheers. Livia watches the celebration and notes the great lengths the tribesman go to respect the white man, although he still places several guards at his tent when he finally retires. Livia tries to sneak into the tent, but is pulled forcibly by the hair inside when she tries to go under the flap. The man demands to know who Livia is, and she explains she and her brother were children of a noble family who were kidnapped by Kushites, who were then attacked by the Bakalah tribesmen and her brother murdered. She begs Conan to kill Bajujh, and offers herself as a reward. Conan is disgusted with the girl, but agrees to help her simply because he’s more disgusted with Bajujh, who had wanted Conan’s help in attacking another tribe.

The next day passes with negotiations between Bajujh and Conan, but that night during the feast, Conan sends a signal to his Bamulas when he attacks Aja, a Bakalah war chief and the Bamulas erupt in a slaughtering frenzy, ending with Conan holding Bajujh’s severed head. Livia watches all through peepholes in her hut, and when she spies Conan striding toward her, she screams and bursts through the back door of the cabin, stealing a horse and riding off in sheer panic.

After hours of aimless running, Livia slips off her horse in exhaustion. She realizes she is near a valley that the native men fear, claiming that it was where women fled from their men, and the gods, taking pity on them, turned them into the white flowers that fill the area. Livia walks into the peaceful meadow and sees a race of lithe, brown women, human yet different. As she stands transfixed, one comes to her and kisses her. Almost in a trance, she barely registers the naked women chanting around her as she is led to an altar and a giant bat appears and hovers over her menacingly, a monstrous god claiming its sacrifice. Suddenly, Conan leaps into view and attacks the creature, which, after a few bites from Conan’s sword, flees skyward and escapes. Conan tells her he tracked her down to the valley, but his men refused to step inside, so he came himself. Conan says he never intended to take her forcibly, and wanted only to send her home, jokingly telling her she was too soft to be a proper mate for a Bamula warchief.

Published based on Howard's Typescript in:

The edited version

The text in the following publication is based on an edited version of the original text. Either edited by de L. Sprague de Camp or perhaps Robert A. W. Lowndes (editor of Magazine of Horror).

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