Plot Summary:

Ghor, Kin-Slayer
by Robert E. Howard, Et Al.

Robert E. Howard, the famed fantasy author, wrote the first chapter of an unfinished novel which was found among his files after his death. The novel was completed by sixteen other authors. Van Vogt contributed the tenth chapter, entitled "The Gods Defied." Only chapters 1-12 appeared in a serialized form in Jonathan Bacon's fanzine, Fantasy Crossroads, from 1977 to 1979 (issues #10/11 — #15). Chapters 13-17 were about to be published when Fantasy Crossroads folded, and these last five chapters were thought to be lost forever. A complete manuscript was recently found in the possession of Glenn Lord, making it possible for Necronomicon Press to publish the novel in its entirety.

Although van Vogt wrote only Chapter X of this collective novel, I have decided to summarize the rest of the book, not only so his contribution will appear in context, but because it is overall an excellent story, worthy of its own attention.

Chapter 1:

"Genseric's Son"
by Robert E. Howard

In the distant past a woman named Gudrun gives birth to her fifth son. He is born with a crooked leg, and, according to custom, he is taken out to the wastes by his father Genseric and abandoned to be devoured by the wolves. But instead, he is suckled by the wolves, and raised by them. The boy is later known Ghor the Strong, and his life as told in this book is remembered by a 20th-century man named James Allison, the soul of Ghor in a subsequent reincarnation.

Chapter 2:

"The Coming of Ghor"
by Karl Edward Wagner

Living and feeding like a wolf with the rest of the pack for the entirety of his boyhood, Ghor does however realize he is different than the wolves. He notes a similarity to a kind of creature they often kill and feed on, known as "man." One day the wolves come upon a battle between two groups of men, and while the wolves leave, Ghor remains to watch. He covets one particular warrior's sword, and waits for his opportunity. That warrior is the last surviving member of the battle, though near death. Ghor fights him for the sword and wins, but not before receiving a severe blow to the head which renders him unconscious. He is found, taken away and cared for by men from the Æsir tribe, enemies of the Vanir whose chieftain — Genseric — Ghor killed. Over the following years Ghor recovers and trains in the arts of warfare, and his strength and fierceness are greatly admired by the Æsir. Eventually, the Æsir march against the Vanir again. During a battle, Ghor is about to kill a man when the man recognizes Ghor and tells him that he is Genseric's fifth son. Ghor thereby learns the story of his abandonment as an infant, and learns the names of his four brothers and mother. He vows to slay them all for revenge.

Chapter 3:

"Ghor's Revenge"
by Joseph Payne Brennan

Days later, filled with bloodlust, Ghor leaves the Æsir camp to infiltrate the Vanir camp and slay his brothers and mothers. He stealthily follows a small Vanir scouting party for a few, unwittingly leading him to their main base. Ghor spots the tents his kin are living in and waits for night to kill them in their sleep. His four brothers are in one tent, his mother in another, and he chooses to kill his brothers first. He enters their tent, but accidentally makes a small noise, waking them all. He fights and kills them all, but not without first being seriously injured. He then goes to the other tent and abducts his mother Gudrun and flees into the forest, evading the Vanir. He strips her bare and abandons her to the wolves, as was done to him as an infant at her bidding. Only this time, the wolves are called to feed by Ghor, and they do not suckle Gudrun but tear her limb from limb.

Chapter 4:

"The Ice Woman's Prophecy"
by Richard L. Tierney

The troops of Vanir continue to pursue Ghor, but he escapes into a cave where he rests and recovers from his wounds. During the night he has a vision; Ythillin the Ice Woman appears to him bearing a message from the Ice Gods, the fathers of the Vanir and Æsir. They have chosen Ghor to conquer the peoples of the South who worship other gods. Ythillin, however, lays a curse on Ghor for slaying his family, who worshipped her. He is to remain childless throughout his life and know nothing but "danger and strife," and he will never belong with either men or animals.

For the next few days Ghor continues to live like an animal, and explores the area around the Vanir camp to have something to report when he returns to the Æsir. He returns to the glade where he abandoned his mother to the wolves, when another man enters and shouts out to the Ice Woman that he has come as she requested. Ghor confronts the man, who turns out to be Hialmar, a general of the Æsir. Hialmar hails Ghor as the man promised by the Ice Woman to help defeat the people of the South. Also, during Ghor's absence the Æsir took advantage of the chaos among the Vanir after the death of their chiefs and slaughtered everyone in the camp.

Hialmar and Ghor return to the Æsir camp to tell their king, Harolf, of the Ice Woman's prophecy. The high priest, however, denies that she could have communicated with anyone but himself. A series of incidents lead Hialmar and Ghor to slay Harolf and take the leadership of the tribe with the backing of the other Æsir warriors. As a beginning act of mercy to counterpoint Harolf's long-standing reputation for cruelty, Hialmar grants amnesty to the remaining Vanir prisoners and they join with the Æsir.

Chapter 5:

"The Nemedians"
by Michael Moorcock

Months later, Ghor and a small group of troops make a raid on a caravan in the Southern areas. The caravan was a contingent of Hyrkanian mercenaries who had abducted the three children of a Nemedian prince — two sons and a daughter. Ghor takes a fancy to the daughter — Shanara — rapes her, and takes her as his wife. The two brothers, though thankful for their rescue, are not grateful for the treatment Shanara received at the hands of Ghor, but explain their plight to him nonetheless. Their kingdom of Nemedia is under siege by the Picts, and the regent is near death causing a dynastic emergency. Their father, Garak, and uncle Ushilon are two generals; Ushilon is jealous of his brother's popularity and hired the Hyrkanians to kill Garak's wife and kidnap his children. They solicit Ghor's help, and Hialmar hears that they would be rewarded with gold and luxury. Hialmar agrees, so the Æsir ally themselves with the Nemedians.

Chapter 6:

"Betrayal in Belverus"
by Charles R. Saunders

In Belverus, the capital of Nemedia, the regent and his generals debate about whether they should accept the Æsir's help. Ushilon is vehemently opposed to it, knowing that Ghor of the Æsir is now the son-in-law of General Garak, his brother and rival to the throne. The regent overrules Ushilon's objections and the Æsir are given quarters in the palace.

That night, Ghor and Shanara are drugged at dinner. Shortly after retiring, Ghor sees another vision of Ythillin the Ice Woman, and she renews her curse. He awakens in a dungeon along with Shanara, having been kidnapped by Ushilon's minions. They are confronted by Ushilon and his accomplices: Tasheko, Garak's son and Shanara's brother; Tostig, one of the Vanir given amnesty and who joined with the Æsir but now revealed to be Ghor's cousin; and Mentumenen, a sage and priest of Set, of the Stygian religion of Turan (a city to the south). Ushilon at one point strikes Shanara and in a fit of rage Ghor breaks free and comes close to killing him when he is rendered unconscious. He is not killed, however, because Mentumenen wants him alive.

When Ghor awakens, he is in a sack being carried by a giant bat. He is dumped in a forest far from Nemedia, where he chances to see the ancient wolf who suckled him as a babe being disemboweled by a lynx. Ghor kills the lynx, but is too late to save his "mother." He realizes he was intentionally dropped there to see her die. He wanders the woods like a wolf for days until chancing upon a group of sub-human Mi-Go who he joins up with, determined never to return to the world of men.

Chapter 7:

"Lord General of Nemedia"
by andrew j. offutt

After months of living among the Mi-Go, even taking a Mi-Go woman as mate, Ghor becomes dissatisfied with his life and wishes to return to the struggle of the Nemedians against the Picts. Ghor is apprehended by a Nemedian scouting party while journeying to Belverus and is taken to their commander, Garak, Ghor's father-in-law. Garak is relived that he is not dead. He and Hialmar bring Ghor up to date on recent events: the regent has died and Ushilon and his men are now in control of Nemedia, and Shanara has been married off to Agha Junghaz — the leader of the nearby kingdom of Turan — to forge an alliance. (Turan is the home of the sorcerer Mentumenen.) Ghor tells them what happened to himself and Shanara at the hands of Ushilon. Garak is shocked to learn that his son Tashako is in league with Ushilon and Mentumenen. A guard of Garak's overhears all this, and sets out to assassinate Ushilon and succeeds, leading Tashako to claim the throne. The next day, at Tashako's coronation, Garak and his forces invade Belverus to overthrow the evil government and set himself up as King. In the palace Ghor battles his cousin Tostig, who now wields the sword of Genseric. Ghor kills Tostig, but barely escapes with his life, and reclaims Genseric's sword, again at the death of a kinsman. In the meantime, Mentumenen and Tashako escape on a large bat, and Garak is crowned king. Ghor, as Garak's most trusted general, is sent to Turan to deal with Agha Junghaz and bring back Shanara.

Chapter 8:

"The Oath of Agha Junghaz"
by Manly Wade Wellman

Ghor sets out to Turan with a small band of his most trusted men. After barely escaping from two clashing armies of Picts and Hyrkanians, they continue to ride South. Before arriving in Turan, they are confronted by a group of soldiers, whose commander has never heard of Nemedia or King Garak. The commander decides they're merchants and he and a few of his men decide to kill them and take their valuables. Ghor kills him in self-defense, and a more senior official stops the bloodshed by agreeing to take Ghor to Turan to see Agha Junghaz.

While riding into Turan, the official explains some of the customs of the city, including their deeply felt worship of the god Set, and that to swear by Set is the most bonding agreement possible to a Turanian. Ghor is disarmed and allowed to see Junghaz, and delivers his message from King Garak for the release of Shanara and a possible alliance between the two peoples. Junghaz, however, insists that since Shanara was in Turan as his concubine when Ghor's marriage to her was announced in Nemedia, that it is not legally binding. Ghor returns to his men, where they are being served refreshments. He is offered wine, but the slave-girl tells him quietly that it is drugged. She tells him of Shanara's whereabouts, and how best to get her back and escape. (She is telling him this because she is jealous of the attention given to Shanara by Junghaz and wants her out of the way.) She leads him to a back entrance to the throne room, where Ghor kills the guard and holds a blade to Junghaz's throat. He forces him to swear by Set to let Shanara go and safe passage out of Turan for himself and his men. Knowing, however, that once past the border Junghaz will send an army to slay them and reclaim Shanara, Ghor and his band of men steal a small ship and sail off.

Chapter 9:

"The Mouth of the Earth"
by Darrell Schweitzer

In the hurry to escape Turan, Ghor and his men did not have time to make sure the ship was properly provisioned with food and water. They make due with what little is on board and eagerly await the sight of land.

Days later they run ashore on an uninhabited island, where they find plenty of food and water. That night they sleep in a wooded area in the middle of an island, rather than by the boat so if another ship comes to the island they'll have advance warning and won't be caught on the beach. Ghor, ever-vigilant, stations sentinels around the camp during the night.

In the middle of the night, Ghor is awakened by the sound of men screaming and the clashing of battle. He finds many of his men fleeing, and kills a few of the cowards after learning from one that an army of hundreds of bronze bird-men are advancing on the camp. The whole night for Ghor is a flurry of frantic fighting. Strange things continue as a nearby mountain resolves itself into a face with a gigantic mouth and swallows him. Inside, he is confronted by his slain kinsmen and everyone else he has killed. He fights them off, only to be confronted then by a bronze giant. During the fight, Ghor grows to the size of the giant and apparently defeats him. Ghor then awakens on the beach, grievously injured and surrounded by the bodies of his men, but no bodies of the bronze men are in sight. He still has his sword of Genseric's, but finds his left arm severed at the elbow. He tightly bandages his arm, and sees in the distance two giant bats flying off with Shanara as their prisoner.

Chapter 10:

"The Gods Defied"
by A.E. van Vogt

Ghor realizes that he is but a "test" that the gods made to compare their Wild Nature against their new invention of Civilization, and that he has failed. He tries to summon Ythillin to argue, but instead Mentumenen appears and declares the verdict of the gods of the South: that the Wild (represented by Ghor) has indeed been condemned in favor of Civilization. Filled with fury, yet knowing that he doesn't stand a chance against sorcery especially in his new weakened condition, he fights cunningly against Mentumenen by gradually cutting away parts of his garment during their fight. Eventually, Mentumenen is almost bare and therefore now largely defenseless The priest flees, but calls out that Ghor's day of doom is coming and that he will loose Shanara to another man. Ghor nevertheless resolves to save her, and soon spots a ship approaching the beach.

Chapter 11:

"Swordsmith and Sorceror"
by Brian Lumley

Ghor makes a deal with the captain of the merchant ship to trade "his" beached vessel in exchange for passage to the eastern end of the sea. He is however disgusted by the conduct of the crew of this ship when they cut the fingers off the dead men of Ghor's band for the jewelry.

Before arriving in port at Zaporakh, they are approached by a pirate ship. The captain decides to turn back into the open sea to escape, but Ghor is intent on reaching the city, so he slays the captain and the crew, and lights the ship on fire when the pirate vessel comes alongside. He escapes only with his sword and the barrel containing the fingers of his fallen comrades that the crew had cut off for the jewelry. While in the water, on the verge of drowning, he has another vision of Ythillin the Ice Woman. She tells him that his purpose in life is not yet achieved, so he must survive to save all civilizations. Mentumenen has allied himself with the primal powers and is now intent on destroying the gods of both the North and the South, and Ghor must defeat him before he can do this. She cannot, however, remove her former curse, but she will grant him two things: a new left hand, and some magic to help save Shanara. She tells him to visit a swordsmith and a sorcerer in Zaporakh, that these two meetings are vital for the future.

Ghor is pulled out of the water by military sailors who have sank the pirate ship. They take him for a pirate at first, but he coerces them into believing him to be the captain of the merchant ship that sank. Upon arriving in Zaporakh, he asks the captain to direct him to a good swordsmith's shop. The man specializes in making hooks and such for men who have lost their hands. When Ghor asks for a special piece, the man reveals that he too had a vision of Ythillin, who instructed him to get to work on designing a new arm-weapon for Ghor. The man has it ready in a matter of days, and the night after Ghor first puts it on the man is killed by burglars. Ghor hunts down the burglars and kills them with his new multi-function blade/hook/crossbow forearm.

Chapter 12:

"The Gift of Lycanthropy"
by Frank Belknap Long

In his quest to find the sorcerer, Ghor is drawn out into the desert east of Zaporakh and into a cave in the side of a cliff. The White Magician offers him the gift of Lycanthropy, which is the ability to change himself into a wolf whenever he speaks the incantation. He asks a favor in return, though; he must — using his wolf-form — kill Lamaril the Invincible, a great conqueror from the north who is marching towards Zaporakh. Ghor agrees. But in order for him to speak the words to Ghor without himself being changed, the sorcerer calls on Ythillin to protect him from the magical effects of the words. For some reason, however, Ythillin chose not to protect him and he changes and attacks Ghor, who must kill him in self-defense. Though he now knows the words, he is filled with doubts about the Ice Woman's motives.

So Ghor journeys deeper into the desert, to find Lamaril, who has the habit of riding out far ahead of his main force. After finally spotting his target on the horizon, Ghor takes off his arm-weapon and puts down his sword and transforms himself into a wolf. He attacks and kills Lamaril, and returns to where he left his weapons. He then hears Ythillin speaking to him. She explains that while Ghor is in the form of a wolf he is close to nature, and as such he can draw from the powers of the sleeping Old Ones, god-like beings who due to a great blasphemy they committed have been sentenced to sleep for eons. They are the enemies of all the gods, but so long as they sleep they are no threat, and their powers can still be used by some. She reveals that Mentumenen has fooled himself into thinking he has awakened the Old Ones to do his bidding, though he is nothing more than a pawn of the gods of the South.

Chapter 13:

"The War Among the Gods"
by Adrian Cole

Ghor is instructed by Ythillin to follow the creature Lamaril rode, and it will lead him to Shanara. He eventually comes to an oasis, where he is greeted by Earth elementals and sucked into the ground where he communes with the Earth-Mother Gaea. She explains that he is her son, and not the son of men or gods. She hates the ongoing conflict between the Gods of Order (Ythillin and the Ice Gods) and the Gods of Chaos (Set and the Gods of the South), and how they ignore and abuse the Earth and her children. She instructs Ghor to cooperate with the Gods of Order to establish a great civilization, but that she will deal with them in her own time in her own way. She explains that Genseric's sword was forged by her fire elementals and will protect him from the corrupting effects of the Old Ones when he is in wolf form. She also reveals that Shanara is a tool created by the Gods of Order for drawing Ghor along to do their bidding, and that he must accept that she is not to be his in the end. Lamaril's army is readying to march on Nemedia, with Mentumenen as their general.

Ghor continues on his journey and soon reaches the camp of the army of Chaos. It is a sickening horde of misshapen monstrosities. Ghor turns into a wolf and summons the Hounds of Tindalos to aid him in finding and killing Mentumenen and his human aids. Ghor finds Tasheko, Shanara's brother, working with Chaos and kills him. Mentumenen himself escapes yet again with Shanara.

Chapter 14:

"The Ways of Chaos"
by Ramsey Campbell

Ghor takes control of the army of Chaos and spares an acolyte of Set as a source of useful information. He rides west with the army, and on the way learns of Mentumenen's plans. When the army rests and refreshes itself in a sickening manner at a river, a group of Hyrkanian men attack. They are all killed, but the manner in which the army of Chaos killed them Ghor finds to be not only repulsive but evil and perverted. Sickened that he had presumed to use such an army for his own ends, he turns into a wolf and along with the Hounds of Tindalos kills the entire army. When Ghor returns to human form, he finds the acolyte gone, along with the Sword of Genseric. He pursues him, but finds himself in the middle of an ambush by Mentumenen and a larger Hyrkanian force. The dark sorcerer deals the acolyte a deadly blow, and he drops the sword. Ghor rushes to retrieve it before his enemy, his horse is killed and falls on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He is knocked unconscious by the soldiers and taken prisoner.

Chapter 15:

"The Caves of Stygia"
by H. Warner Munn

Ghor awakens and calls on Ythillin and Gaea to rescue him. She appears and freezes his guards with ice. Mentumenen in bird form however is readying to attack Ghor with the Sword of Genseric when a jealous Ythillin abandons Ghor to be saved by Gaea. Gaea makes the sword flaming hot — since it was forged by fire elementals deep within the Earth — forcing Mentumenen to drop it. It drives deep into the ground, returning to the fire elementals who made it and Gaea tells Ghor that he will have to go down into the Caves of Stygia to reclaim it. Mentumenen flees, and Ghor goes over to the apparently dead but alive acolyte to get information from him on the whereabouts of the Caves' entrance. The acolyte is willing himself to remain alive, for Set would keep him in eternal torment in the afterlife. Total incineration of his body is the only way to keep his soul out of Set's hands, so he and Ghor make a deal — he will lead him to the Caves if Ghor will kill him with fire.

They travel far across the desert until they come to the deep canyon at the bottom of which runs the river Styx; down the side of this canyon is the entrance to the Underworld, home of Set and the Gods of Chaos. The Hounds of Tindalos continue to accompany Ghor, though in spirit only and not in physical form; they can be called upon to act at any time. They go deeper and deeper, through caverns of slime and white worms that were once people, until Ghor meets with the fire elementals. They return Genseric's Sword to him, and Ghor allows the acolyte to be consumed by their fire. Ghor hears the piping of the Howler of Darkness, the Blind Piper and messenger of the Old Ones, and he realizes that the Gods of Chaos and the Old Ones have allied, with Mentumenen as their servant. The Piper is deep below the Earth, awaiting Set's arrival, when Gaea calls down a friend of earth and mankind, Cthugha of Fomolhaut. Cthugha kills the Piper, causing the defeat of the Gods of Chaos. Mentumenen appears and Ghor fights him, cutting off his foot, and the sorcerer drops Shanara and flees. Ghor takes up the unconscious Shanara and likewise flees the Caves as they begin to collapse. Once out onto the desert plain once more the river Styx bursts out onto the sand and the Caves seal up. Ghor sets out to return to Nemedia.

Chapter 16:

"Doom of the Thrice-Cursed"
by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Ghor and Shanara travel through the desert beside the river Styx now flowing on the open plain. Though desperate for water, he dares not drink from that filthy water from the underworld. Shanara seems to be in shock and at one point she drinks from the filthy water despite Ghor's efforts to prevent her. This causes her to loose her memories of everything that had happened to her after being captured by Mentumenen in Chapter IX.

James Allison, Ghor's modern-day reincarnation, speculates that he too probably drank from that water, since he cannot remember how he returned to Nemedia or much of what followed once he returned except that it went on to become a might empire. However, at one point his army is driven north back to the lands of the Æsir and Vanir, which brings back unpleasant memories of his early days. They set up camp there and Shanara is due to give birth soon to Ghor's son. He recalls Ythillin's curse that Shanara will not be his forever, and that he will have no son to continue his legacy. The son is born with a twisted leg, just as Ghor was. He refuses to have it exposed, but that night Ythillin restores the memories of the horrible events that happened to Shanara during her captivity in Stygia, and the possibility that the child is not Ghor's but Mentumenen's. In her shock and grief she runs out of the camp at night with her son. Ghor awakes and pursues, but is stalled by Mentumenen who he finally defeats. But when he finds his wife and son it is too late; they had collapsed in the snow and are being eaten by wolves. In his rage, Ghor abandons all traces of civilization, summons the Hounds of Tindalos, and again lives the life of a wolf, wandering the wastes for food, trying to destroy the memory of how the Gods robbed him of everything and used him as their tool.

Chapter 17:

"The River of Fog"
by Richard A. Lupoff

This last chapter takes place in the 20th century, where James Allison is telling this whole story to his other wealthy friends. They accuse him of being unscientific and illogical about not only claiming to be Ghor reincarnated, but also the events of his story. They are however interested enough to ask for the end of the story, so he tells them.

Ghor lives like a wolf for many years, eventually slaying the wolf-leader and becoming their chief. He then reverts to human form and challenges Ythillin. She appears and appeals with him to join her, but the Hounds of TIndalos fall upon her and devour her. A drop of her icy blood falls on Ghor and he is obliterated.

In the present day, his tale concluded, Allison sees his visitors off.


Although this sort of novel — with chapters by different authors, each building on what the other has written — doesn't always have the consistency of single-author novels, they are nevertheless interesting and enjoyable to read for what they are. For one thing, it's amusing to see how often one author would painstakingly establish a new plot thread, and then the next author would go to great lengths to knock it down and go in an entirely different direction! This explains why a major development in one chapter is explained away or never followed up. Also, the diversity of the styles and materials makes for quite an unusual blend and keeps things suspenseful.

Unfortunately, van Vogt's chapter stands out like a bit of a sore thumb; it adds little to the plot, and is mainly a psychological character study of Ghor, which is largely inconsistent with what went on before. But it is an interesting attempt at overlaying his "violent male" personality profile on an established fantasy character. But apart from all that, I'm glad I took the time to read this book. It's refreshing to take the time for something so different.