Monday, November 17, 2008

The Blade of the Slayer

Depending on who you ask, Simon Magus is either a historical figure or a bit of biblical apocrypha or both. He appears in some early Christian writings and is sometimes known as the first heretic. After seeing Simon portrayed by Jack Palance in the 1954 movie The Silver Chalice, author Richard Tierney made him the hero of a series of Sword & Sorcery stories. Unlike most S&S series, which tend to take place in unrecorded pre-history, Tierney set his tales of Simon Magus firmly in a historical setting, most of them taking place circa 30 A.D. Simon, a former gladiator, is trained in the arts of magic and mysticism and spends his time fighting against Rome and various supernatural menaces, often with links to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Tierney has also linked his series to Robert E. Howard's Conan through various references. The first two Simon Magus stories I read, The Ring of Set and the Scroll of Thoth, which appeared in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies, both concern relics from the Hyborian Age. Set is the snake god of the Stygians and the ring appears in two of Howard's stories, and the titular scroll belonged to Thoth-Amon, the evil wizard who causes Conan so much trouble. There are probably other references in the series, but so far I've only read four Simon stories, the two previously mentioned plus The Sword of Spartacus and The Blade of the Slayer.
The Blade of the Slayer is of particular interest to sword and sorcery aficionados because it features a guest appearance by another famous S&S character. And we know what a sucker I am for a crossover.

SPOILER ALERT. STOP HERE IF YOU WANT TO READ THIS STORY AND BE SURPRISED.

In this one, Simon is fleeing a band of cut throats in the desert and he ends up taking shelter in the ruins of an ancient city. There he meets an aged wizard who shows him an underground pit filled with some sort of heavy mist, fatal if breathed, and within that pit is the body of a man. According to the wizard, this is the first slayer. The man who let evil lose upon the world. The wizard claims that he and his brother wizards have imprisoned the man through sorcery but he still lives. Simon figures the old guy is nuts and the figure in the pit is just a well preserved corpse. But he also notices that the corpse has a sword and when the band of bad guys show up, the unarmed Simon holds his breath long enough to drop into the pit and grab the sword. The first man he kills pitches over into the pit, spilling blood on the prone figure and this counteracts the restraining sorcery.
Just when it seems that Simon is toast, the man from the pit rises from the mist and proceeds to handily kill the whole mob of bandits with a savagery that amazes even the battle hardened Simon. The man is massive, with red hair and beard, and the glittering blue eyes of a stone killer. When Simon asks the man's name he tells him that he is Kane, which Simon hears as Cain of course. He is indeed the first slayer. The man who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Able, and who must wander the world until he himself is killed by violence.
Of course Kane is also the creation of Karl Edward Wagner and the protagonist of numerous novels and short stories. Wagner liked and approved of Tierney's story, though he asked him to change the character's name to Nimrod for reprints so as not to interfere with Wagner's own continuity for projected further Kane stories. Now, many years after Wagner's death, the story appears with the Cain name intact in the Chaosium collection The Scroll of Thoth, which contains all the Simon Magus tales written solely by Richard Tierney. There are a couple of other stories done in collaboration with other writers that aren't included.
This ten year old book has become very collectible, perhaps because of the Kane connection, and I rarely see a good copy for less than 60 bucks. Though I'd wanted to read Blade of the Slayer since learning of its existence, I wasn't willing to fork over quite that much dough. I kept checking Ebay and Amazon and someone finally listed a copy on Amazon for 25 dollars. I snatched that one up. So now I have eight Simon Magus stories left to read, plus a new novel about Simon, The Drums of Chaos, was published just this year and I have a copy on the way.
Tierney's unique mix of historical adventure, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian horror makes for great reading, and I'm glad I snagged a copy of Scroll of Thoth. Plus, it was nice to see Kane one more time, even through the eyes of a different writer.

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