by Gary Romeo
“Treason in Zagadar” was first published in The Anthology of Fantasy & The Supernatural, edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, Tiger Books International, London, 1994. The story is by Adrian Cole.
From Wikipedia: Adrian Christopher Synnot Cole (born 22 July 1949 in Plymouth, England), is a British writer. He is known for his Dream Lords trilogy, the Omaran Saga and Star Requiem series, and his young adult novels, Moorstones and The Sleep of Giants.
Mr. Cole is a participating member in some of the same Facebook groups that I’m a member of. We have never interacted, but everything suggests he is a personable fellow. I hope he doesn’t mind the few criticisms I have of this short story.
When doing a King Kull pastiche, you have two routes you can follow. Do a “By This Axe I Rule!” or “The Shadow Kingdom” type of story or do a metaphysical story like “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” or “The Screaming Skull of Silence.” Adrian Cole chose the former.
The opening line is “Three men sat alone, dreaming of power and grandeur as the huge primordial sun sank down like a bloody ball of fire into the western ocean where Atlantis still held sway…” I thought that a nicely poetic sentence reminiscent of Robert E. Howard.
We are introduced to Gorvic, who is related to King Borna, whom Kull slew to obtain his kingship. Later we are introduced to Xaldeev, a necromancer. Xaldeev secreted Gorvic to Zagadar when Borna’s throne was usurped by Kull. Both Gorvic and Xaldeev mistakenly believe Kull would have had Gorvic slain, as a threat to his throne. Of course, any reader familiar with the Kull stories knows that Kull was not that petty. He left Kaanuub, a known relative of Borna, alone when he became king. But Xaldeev hadn’t read that story. 🙂
Xaldeev is not alone for long. An “obsequious creature” tells Xaldeev he has a visitor. Three people plotting? Are these the three referred to at the beginning? Nope. Finally, we are introduced to Ambellus, a general of Kull’s Red Slayers. To my thinking, this first chapter works just a little too hard to set a mood and somewhat confusingly introduces characters like the “obsequious creature” and a specific “serpent man” who do not figure significantly in the later narrative.
Anyway, onward. Zagadar is a remote southern kingdom that started out as a military outpost allied to Valusia. Gorvic became king of Zagadar when the military outpost declared independence. He is a tested warrior and leader of men having fought off attacking Grondarians and serpent men and other monstrosities that exist in the nearby jungles.
With the second chapter, things come more into focus and the writing became more straight forward in my opinion. Gorvic refers to Kull as “the Tiger” which is kinda cool (at first, anyway.) Gorvic tells Ambellus that Kull and his Red Slayers need to come to Zagadar to help exterminate the serpent men. Ambellus recklessly decides to make a foray into the jungle with his own Red Slayer army to attack a serpent men citadel and to also prove that the Red Slayers are better warriors than any in Zagadar.
It is all a big trap. Ambellus and his men are taken to the citadel and the Red Slayers begin smashing up the place. They are then attacked by a large force of serpent men and wiped out. Ambellus swears “By the Tiger” upon realizing he fell into a trap. Gorvic and Xaldeev have come up with this trap to force “the Tiger” into coming to Zagadar.
When Kull learns his best general was slain by the serpent men, he goes to Zagadar as Gorvic and Xaldeev knew he would. Adrian Cole captures the relationship between Kull and Brule very well. You can feel REH’s voice coming through. But when Kull refers to himself as “the Tiger” I was disappointed. It was cool when others referred to him that way but not so much when Kull referred to himself that way. (Now I’m worried someone will find where REH had Kull doing it too! Oh well, mea culpa if that happens!)
Gorvic and Xaldeev’s plan to kill Kull and install Gorvic as the king of Valusia seems to have a few flaws to my thinking but villains never think it all the way through. The plan as stated is to kill Kull and his army with the aid of the serpent men and then leave for Valusia letting the serpent men take over Zagadar. Why Gorvic thinks Valusians would readily accept him after proving himself incapable of protecting his own kingdom doesn’t enter his thoughts.
Others may disagree but I think Cole makes a bit of a mistake in the fifth chapter titled “Within Accursed Walls” by having Kull and Brule behave somewhat stupidly. They are in Gorvic’s palace deciding how to attack the serpent men when they notice movement in the tapestry. Brule tosses his spear at the moving figure. When they look behind the tapestry, they see a hidden chamber where the intruder has fled. Instead of asking Gorvic about hidden entrances or calling forth guards to search for such, Kull merely opines, “The smell of the serpent. We must sleep lightly this night.”
The next day Kull decides to lead his men to the place where Ambellus was ambushed. Before that happens, the serpent men attack the palace walls. Forgetting that the serpent men have secret access to the palace Kull concentrates the fight on defending the walls. Of course, the serpent men get into the palace via secret access, and they start to win the battle.
I won’t spoil the ending but will say Xaldeev goes rogue and changes the plan conjuring up a pretty nifty beastie. Adrian Cole gets into action mode and the writing won me over despite my nitpicks. I’d welcome more Kull from him.
The story ends more on a Conan note than a Kull one though: “And Kull threw back his head and laughed at the stars, a loud ringing sound, filled with relief that the crisis had passed.”
The book was later reissued as The Giant Book of Fantasy and the Supernatural.