Introduction

TWO AGAINST TYRE is a story based on an unpublished story featuring Eithriall the Gaul, one of the lesser-known characters created by Robert E. Howard.[1] The story celebrated the pageantry of medieval knighthood, the exoticism of the Orient, the ferocity of the invaders from the steppes, the mysteries of the seraglio, and the rise and fall of great dynasties. It was adapted by Marvel Comics into the Conan The Barbarian comics episode Two Against Turan, with major changes in the storyline.

Plot summary

Eithriall the Gaul has arrived in Tyre, known as “The World’s Richest Capital” – partly seeking adventure and fortune, partly in search of a man named Shamash – apparently an Assyrian – who had done him an (unspecified) wrong and on whom he seeks revenge. Even in cosmopolitan Tyre, Eithriall attracts attention as a particularly outlandish “Barbarian”. Witnessing what seems a funeral procession with hundreds of women crying “The Tammuz is dead!” Eithriall – unfamiliar with the Phoenician cult of the Dead and Reborn God Tammuz/Adonis – asks an innocent question that is misunderstood as mocking the god, setting the mob afire. The Gaul fights back the blood-thirsty crowd but is nearly overwhelmed when given timely refuge by a man calling himself Ormraxes the Mede.

Eithriall feels an immediate kinship with this man, seeing in him a fellow Barbarian – though one much much more familiar with Tyrian civilization. Sitting together in an inn, Ormraxes explains the political situation: Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, already rules the world’s biggest Empire, but he seeks to expand further westwards. The Princes of Syria are banding together to block the Assyrian expansion into their territory. This is of great interest to Eithriall, who thinks of enlisting as a mercenary with one of these Princes – but before he could ask further, soldiers of the King of Tyre burst in, seeking to arrest Ormraxes, whom they call “Khumri”. The two fight back to back, but are overwhelmed.

Eithriall is stunned and left for dead. He wakes in a room with a group of men, one of whom is tending his wounds. Their leader, Akuros – a rich Tyrian merchant – explains that he is a friend of Khumri and asks Eithriall to help free him from the king’s dungeons. Eithriall immediately agrees since Ormraxes/Khumri had saved his own life. It turns out that Khumri is an agent of the anti-Assyrian coalition; the King of Tyre, an Assyrian ally, intends to turn him over to Shalmaneser, who would flay him alive. Akuros heads a secret anti-Assyrian faction in Tyre, though he cannot act openly.

The escape is successfully effected – some of the guards are bribed, and Eithriall fights and kills those who remain. Khumri is freed in the nick of time, just before the Assyrian King’s men were to take him. A boat arranged by Akuros takes them out of the island city of Tyre. Before their departure, Akuros and Khumri make two agreements: A political one – after the anti-Assyrian coalition wins, there will be no retaliation against Tyre for its king’s support of the Assyrians; and also a personal commercial agreement – Khumri will buy from Akuros cedar wood, lapis lazuli, and precious stones. Akuros addresses Khumri as “My Lord” and treats him with great deference; obviously, he is a far more important person than Eithriall (or the reader) realized. Khumri and Eithriall then ride eastwards to further adventures, which Howard never got around to writing.

Had Howard written a sequel, Eithriall would have likely found himself involved in the crucial Battle of Karkar (853 BC), where the valiant rulers of Western Syria (among them King Ahab of Old Testament fame) did halt the Assyrian imperial advance, at least for one generation (though at a later the time the Assyrians, led by a later Shalmaneser, came back in an overwhelming strength).

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