- For other uses, see Derketo (Disambiguation)
Derketo in Age of Conan
Funcom's Age of Conan community website describes Derketo thus:
The Goddess Derketo-They will put her through paces she never dreamed of! She is too soft to endure what I have thrived on. I am a daughter of Luxur, and before I had known fifteen summers I had been led through the temples of Derketo, the dusky goddess, and had been initiated into the mysteries.
—Robert E. Howard, "The Slithering Shadow"
A goddess of fertility and lust originally worshipped in Shem, Derketo can be found among the pantheons of many southern kingdoms, particularly Stygia and Kush. Though the arch-priests of Set frown upon the wanton rituals of the temple and some would like nothing better to see the religion driven from their kingdom, they know that the noble families and the merchant class would never permit it.
The sign of Derketo is the fish, representing her powers of fertility and life, and in Shem she is frequently associated with the life-giving river Styx. In Kush, however, she is worshipped as Derketa, the malevolent Queen of the Dead. There are several priestesses of Derketo in the towns of Bubshur and Pashtun in Khopshef province. A cult claiming to worship Derketo is recruiting in Bubshur and is based in the nearby Pyramid of the Ancients, where their leader, the self-proclaimed Oracle of Derketo resides. The Blessed Caves near Bubshur are sacred to Derketo and were used to celebrate her mysteries, until they were recently taken over by Thoth-Amon's Black Ring. During the early pre-release development of Age of Conan, the Scourges of Derketo were intended to be a playable Priest class: their powers were reportedly mostly fire-based area-effect attacks. In January 2007 they were removed from the game, and some of the game-play concepts for them were amalgamated into the Tempests of Set.
Derketo in Conan the Role-Playing Game
The Conan paper and dice Role-Playing Game sourcebook "Stygia - Serpent of the South" has the following to say about Derketo. It seems like anyone can claim anything about these things, even if howard wrote almost nothing on them:
Derketo, Set's whore, the Sable Queen (Anuket, Derketa)
Derketo, or Anuket as she is known to the Acheronians and the Giant-Kings, is a goddess of passionate lust, sacred ecstasy, and sexual pleasure. Her attributes and cult are considered obscene by most Hyborian standards. She is depicted as a nude queen with a crown of ostrich feathers, often pictured standing on a lion. In her hands, she holds symbols of eroticism and fertility; in one hand lotus flowers and in the other a pair of snakes. Her sacred symbols are the gazelle, lion, and star. Unlike most Stygian deities, she is usually shown full-face foward, instead of in profile. As Anuket, she was the daughter of Satet and the first wife of Khnemu. Derketo is a Shemite deity granted to Set as a war concession. Originally, Set had two whores, but over time they coalesced into just one deity. Her lustful embrace is said to fertilize the mighty Styx. She is a deity of life, sexual power, birth and war. Her aspect of battle is the feasting and sex that comes after a victory in war. She is also a goddess of the dead, leading spirits of the dead through the sky on midnight winds.
Derketo is also a seductress deity, a temptress who epitomises the essence of independent womanhood and a willing descent into uninhibited sexuality. The rites are among the most orgaistic of Stygia's religions. The dancers and priestesses of Derketo are usually temple prostitutes. Sexual intercourse is the best way to capture and hold onto male worshippers. Her sacred prostitutes are considered the embodiment of Derketo herself.
Derketo of the Shemite Pantheon
Goddess of Seduction and Depraved Sexuality
Derketo is a temptress that attempts to win Pteor away from Ishtar. Her rites are among the most orgiastic of Shem's religions, even considering the sensual nature of ceremonies honoring Ishtar and Adonis. Certain dark ceremonies re-enact her masterful arranging of the rape of Ashnan by El-Lil, because Derketo desired to be the goddess of grain and beer. Other ceremonies re-enact the mating of Dagon and Derketo. The exotic techniques preformed in the temples of Derketo are extremely intense and can cause corruption (see Conan the Roleplaying Game for rules on Corruption). Her sacred prostitutes are considered the embodiment of Derketo herself. She is a sexual predator, who takes the vitality of her lovers into herself either as a sacrifice or as a means of gratification of herself. She copulates with others, particularly young men, via deceptive guiles, illusions, sheer coercion, or through her own personal attributes. She is the patron goddess of Nippr.
Derketo in the Writings of Robert E. Howard
In "The Slithering Shadow"
The principal mention of Derketo in Howard's writing is in "The Slithering Shadow" (1933) (later retitled "Xuthal of the Dusk"), which is quoted in part in the article by Funcom that is quoted above. Below (reproduced from Project Gutenberg Australia's eBook version ) is the portion of the story that relates to Thalis, an initiate of Derketo. While only a couple of mentions are made of Derketo herself (in a single paragraph, highlighted below), the description and actions of Derketo's initiate Thalis throughout this passage seems to give some insights into the nature of the goddess she worshipped (and that Howard created for her); Thalis is, after all, a beautiful, decadent, licentious, and ruthless seductress, highly trained in the arts of pleasure, and skilled with a whip:
They had traversed but a single chamber when again they stopped short. Some one or something was approaching. They faced the doorway whence the sounds came, waiting for they knew not what. Conan's nostrils widened, and his eyes narrowed. He caught the faint scent of the perfume he had noticed earlier in the night. A figure framed itself in the doorway. Conan swore under his breath; Natala's red lips opened wide.
It was a woman who stood there staring at them in wonder. She was tall, lithe, shaped like a goddess; clad in a narrow girdle crusted with jewels. A burnished mass of night-black hair set off the whiteness of her ivory body. Her dark eyes, shaded by long dusky lashes, were deep with sensuous mystery. Conan caught his breath at her beauty, and Natala stared with dilated eyes. The Cimmerian had never seen such a woman; her facial outline was Stygian, but she was not dusky-skinned like the Stygian women he had known; her limbs were like alabaster.
But when she spoke, in a deep rich musical voice, it was in the Stygian tongue.
"Who are you? What do you in Xuthal? Who is that girl?"
"Who are you?" bluntly countered Conan, who quickly wearied of answering questions.
"I am Thalis the Stygian," she replied. "Are you mad, to come here?"
"I've been thinking I must be," he growled. "By Crom, if I am sane, I'm out of place here, because these people are all maniacs. We stagger in from the desert, dying of thirst and hunger, and we come upon a dead man who tries to stab me in the back. We enter a palace rich and luxuriant, yet apparently empty. We find a meal set, but with no feasters. Then we see a shadow devour a sleeping man--" He watched her narrowly and saw her change color slightly. "Well?"
"Well what?" she demanded, apparently regaining control of herself.
"I was just waiting for you to run through the rooms howling like a wild woman," he answered. "The man I told about the shadow did."
She shrugged her slim ivory shoulders. "That was the screams I heard, then. Well, to every man his fate, and it's foolish to squeal like a rat in a trap. When Thog wants me, he will come for me."
"Who is Thog?" demanded Conan suspiciously.
She gave him a long appraising stare that brought color to Natala's face and made her bite her small red lip.
"Sit down on that divan and I will tell you," she said. "But first tell me your names."
"I am Conan, a Cimmerian, and this is Natala, a daughter of Brythunia," he answered. "We are refugees of an army destroyed on the borders of Kush. But I am not desirous of sitting down, where black shadows might steal up on my back."
With a light musical laugh, she seated herself, stretching out her supple limbs with studied abandon.
"Be at ease," she advised. "If Thog wishes you, he will take you, wherever you are. That man you mentioned, who screamed and ran--did you not hear him give one great cry, and then fall silent? In his frenzy, he must have run full into that which he sought to escape. No man can avoid his fate."
Conan grunted noncommittally, but he sat down on the edge of a couch, his saber across his knees, his eyes wandering suspiciously about the chamber. Natala nestled against him, clutching him jealously, her legs tucked up under her. She eyed the stranger woman with suspicion and resentment. She felt small and dust-stained and insignificant before this glamorous beauty, and she could not mistake the look in the dark eyes which feasted on every detail of the bronzed giant's physique.
"What is this place, and who are these people?" demanded Conan.
"This city is called Xuthal; it is very ancient. It is built over an oasis, which the founders of Xuthal found in their wanderings.They came from the east, so long ago that not even their descendants remember the age.”
"Surely there are not many of them; these palaces seem empty."
"No; and yet more than you might think. The city is really one great palace, with every building inside the walls closely connected with the others. You might walk among these chambers for hours and see no one. At other times, you would meet hundreds of the inhabitants."
"How is that?" Conan inquired uneasily; this savored too strongly of sorcery for comfort.
"Much of the time these people lie in sleep. Their dream-life is as important--and to them as real--as their waking life. You have heard of the black lotus? In certain pits of the city it grows. Through the ages they have cultivated it, until, instead of death, its juice induces dreams, gorgeous and fantastic. In these dreams they spend most of their time. Their lives are vague, erratic, and without plan. They dream, they wake, drink, love, eat and dream again. They seldom finish anything they begin, but leave it half completed and sink back again into the slumber of the black lotus. That meal you found-- doubtless one awoke, felt the urge of hunger, prepared the meal for himself, then forgot about it and wandered away to dream again."
"Where do they get their food?" interrupted Conan. "I saw no fields or vineyards outside the city. Have they orchards and cattle-pens within the walls?"
She shook her head. "They manufacture their own food out of the primal elements. They are wonderful scientists, when they are not drugged with their dream-flower. Their ancestors were mental giants, who built this marvelous city in the desert, and though the race became slaves to their curious passions, some of their wonderful knowledge still remains. Have you wondered about these lights? They are jewels, fused with radium. You rub them with your thumb to make them glow, and rub them again, the opposite way, to extinguish them. That is but a single example of their science. But much they have forgotten. They take little interest in waking life, choosing to lie most of the time in deathlike sleep."
"Then the dead man at the gate--" began Conan.
"Was doubtless slumbering. Sleepers of the lotus are like the dead. Animation is apparently suspended. It is impossible to detect the slightest sign of life. The spirit has left the body and is roaming at will through other, exotic worlds. The man at the gate was a good example of the irresponsibility of these people's lives. He was guarding the gate, where custom decrees a watch be kept, though no enemy has ever advanced across the desert. In other parts of the city you would find other guards, generally sleeping as soundly as the man at the gate."
Conan mulled over this for a space.
"Where are the people now?"
"Scattered in different parts of the city; lying on couches, on silken divans, in cushion-littered alcoves, on fur-covered daises; all wrapt in the shining veil of dreams."
Conan felt the skin twitch between his massive shoulders. It was not soothing to think of hundreds of people lying cold and still throughout the tapestried palaces, their glassy eyes turned unseeingly upward. He remembered something else.
"What of the thing that stole through the chambers and carried away the man on the dais?"
A shudder twitched her ivory limbs.
"That was Thog, the Ancient, the god of Xuthal, who dwells in the sunken dome in the center of the city. He has always dwelt in Xuthal. Whether he came here with the ancient founders, or was here when they built the city, none knows. But the people of Xuthal worship him. Mostly he sleeps below the city, but sometimes at irregular intervals he grows hungry, and then he steals through the secret corridors and the dim-lit chambers, seeking prey. Then none is safe."
Natala moaned with terror and clasped Conan's mighty neck as if to resist an effort to drag her from her protector's side.
"Crom!" he ejaculated aghast. "You mean to tell me these people lie down calmly and sleep, with this demon crawling among them?"
"It is only occasionally that he is hungry," she repeated. "A god must have his sacrifices. When I was a child in Stygia, the people lived under the shadow of the priests. None ever knew when he or she would be seized and dragged to the altar. What difference whether the priests give a victim to the gods, or the god comes for his own victim?"
"Such is not the custom of my people," Conan growled, "nor of Natala's either. The Hyborians do not sacrifice humans to their god, Mitra, and as for my people--by Crom, I'd like to see a priest try to drag a Cimmerian to the altar! There'd be blood spilt, but not as the priest intended."
"You are a barbarian," laughed Thalis, but with a glow in her luminous eyes. "Thog is very ancient and very terrible."
"These folk must be either fools or heroes," grunted Conan, "to lie down and dream their idiotic dreams, knowing they might awaken in his belly."
She laughed. "They know nothing else. For untold generations Thog has preyed on them. He has been one of the factors which have reduced their numbers from thousands to hundreds. A few more generations and they will be extinct, and Thog must either fare forth into the world for new prey, or retire to the underworld whence he came so long ago.
"They realize their ultimate doom, but they are fatalists, incapable of resistance or escape. Not one of the present generation has been out of sight of these walls. There is an oasis a day's march to the south--I have seen it on the old maps their ancestors drew on parchment--but no man of Xuthal has visited it for three generations, much less made any attempt to explore the fertile grasslands which the maps show lying another day's march beyond it. They are a fast-fading race, drowned in lotus dreams, stimulating their waking hours by means of the golden wine which heals wounds, prolongs life, and invigorates the most sated debauchee.
"Yet they cling to life, and fear the deity they worship. You saw how one went mad at the knowledge that Thog was roving the palaces. I have seen the whole city screaming and tearing its hair, and running frenziedly out of the gates, to cower outside the walls and draw lots to see which would be bound and flung back through the arched doorways to satisfy Thog's lust and hunger. Were they not all slumbering now, the word of his coming would send them raving and shrieking again through the outer gates."
"Oh, Conan!" begged Natala hysterically. "Let us flee!"
"In good time," muttered Conan, his eyes burning on Thalis ivory limbs. "What are you, a Stygian woman, doing here?"
"I came here when a young girl," she answered, leaning lithely back against the velvet divan, and intertwining her slender fingers behind her dusky head. "I am the daughter of a king, no common woman, as you can see by my skin, which is as white as that of your little blond there. I was abducted by a rebel prince, who, with an army of Kushite bowmen, pushed southward into the wilderness, searching for a land he could make his own. He and all his warriors perished in the desert, but one, before he died, placed me on a camel and walked beside it until he dropped and died in his tracks. The beast wandered on, and I finally passed into delirium from thirst and hunger, and awakened in this city. They told me I had been seen from the walls, early in the dawn, lying senseless beside a dead camel. They went forth and brought me in and revived me with their wonderful golden wine. And only the sight of a woman would have led them to have ventured that far from their walls.
"They were naturally much interested in me, especially the men. As I could not speak their language, they learned to speak mine. They are very quick and able of intellect; they learned my language long before I learned theirs. But they were more interested in me than in my language. I have been, and am, the only thing for which a man of them will forgo his lotus-dreams for a space."
She laughed wickedly, flashing her audacious eyes meaningly at Conan.
"Of course the women are jealous of me," she continued tranquilly. "They are handsome enough in their yellow-skinned way, but they are dreamy and uncertain as the men, and these latter like me not only for my beauty, but for my reality. I am no dream! Though I have dreamed the dreams of the lotus, I am a normal woman, with earthly emotions and desires. With such these moon-eyed yellow women can not compare.
"That is why it would be better for you to cut that girl's throat with your saber, before the men of Xuthal waken and catch her. They will put her through paces she never dreamed of! She is too soft to endure what I have thrived on. I am a daughter of Luxur, and before I had known fifteen summers I had been led through the temples of Derketo, the dusky goddess, and had been initiated into the mysteries. Not that my first years in Xuthal were years of unmodified pleasure! The people of Xuthal have forgotten more than the priestesses of Derketo ever dreamed. They live only for sensual joys. Dreaming or waking, their lives are filled with exotic ecstasies, beyond the ken of ordinary men."
"Damned degenerates!" growled Conan.
"It is all in the point of view," smiled Thalis lazily.
"Well," he decided, "we're merely wasting time. I can see this is no place for ordinary mortals. We'll be gone before your morons awake, or Thog comes to devour us. I think the desert would be kinder."
Natala, whose blood had curdled in her veins at Thalis's words, fervently agreed. She could speak Stygian only brokenly, but she understood it well enough. Conan stood up, drawing her up beside him.
"If you'll show us the nearest way out of this city," he grunted, "we'll take ourselves off." But his gaze lingered on the Stygian's sleek limbs and ivory breasts.
She did not miss his look, and she smiled enigmatically as she rose with the lithe ease of a great lazy cat.
"Follow me," she directed and led the way, conscious of Conan's eyes fixed on her supple figure and perfectly poised carriage. She did not go the way they had come, but before Conan's suspicions could be roused, she halted in a wide ivory-cased chamber, and pointed to a tiny fountain which gurgled in the center of the ivory floor.
"Don't you want to wash your face, child?" she asked Natala. "It is stained with dust, and there is dust in your hair."
Natala colored resentfully at the suggestion of malice in the Stygian's faintly mocking tone, but she complied, wondering miserably just how much havoc the desert sun and wind had wrought on her complexion--a feature for which women of her race were justly noted. She knelt beside the fountain, shook back her hair, slipped her tunic down to her waist, and began to lave not only her face, but her white arms and shoulders as well.
"By Crom!" grumbled Conan. "A woman will stop to consider her beauty, if the devil himself were on her heels. Haste, girl; you'll be dusty again before we've got out of sight of this city. And Thalis, I'd take it kindly if you'd furnish us with a bit of food and drink."
For answer Thalis leaned herself against him, slipping one white arm about his bronzed shoulders. Her sleek naked flank pressed against his thigh and the perfume of her foamy hair was in his nostrils.
"Why dare the desert?" she whispered urgently. "Stay here! I will teach you the ways of Xuthal. I will protect you. I will love you! You are a real man: I am sick of these moon-calves who sigh and dream and wake, and dream again. I am hungry for the hard, clean passion of a man from the earth. The blaze of your dynamic eyes makes my heart pound in my bosom, and the touch of your iron-thewed arm maddens me.
"Stay here! I will make you king of Xuthal! I will show you all the ancient mysteries, and the exotic ways of pleasure! I--" She had thrown both arms about his neck and was standing on tiptoe, her vibrant body shivering against his. Over her ivory shoulder he saw Natala, throwing back her damp tousled hair, stop short, her lovely eyes dilating, her red lips parting in a shocked O. With an embarrassed grunt, Conan disengaged Thalis's clinging arms and put her aside with one massive arm. She threw a swift glance at the Brythunian girl and smiled enigmatically, seeming to nod her splendid head in mysterious cogitation.
Natala rose and jerked up her tunic, her eyes blazing, her lips pouting sulkily. Conan swore under his breath. He was no more monogamous in his nature than the average soldier of fortune, but there was an innate decency about him that was Natala's best protection.
Thalis did not press her suit. Beckoning them with her slender hand to follow, she turned and walked across the chamber.
There, close to the tapestried wall, she halted suddenly. Conan, watching her, wondered if she had heard the sounds that might be made by a nameless monster stealing through the midnight chambers, and his skin crawled at the thought.
"What do you hear?" he demanded.
"Watch that doorway," she replied, pointing.
He wheeled, sword ready. Only the empty arch of the entrance met his gaze. Then behind him sounded a quick faint scuffling noise, a half- choked gasp. He whirled. Thalis and Natala had vanished. The tapestry was settling back in place, as if it had been lifted away from the wall. As he gaped bewilderedly, from behind that tapestried wall rang a muffled scream in the voice of the Brythunian girl.
When Conan turned, in compliance with Thalis's request, to glare at the doorway opposite, Natala had been standing just behind him, close to the side of the Stygian. The instant the Cimmerian's back was turned, Thalis, with a pantherish quickness almost incredible, clapped her hand over Natala's mouth, stifling the cry she tried to give. Simultaneously the Stygian's other arm was passed about the blond girl's supple waist, and she was jerked back against the wall, which seemed to give way as Thalis’s shoulder pressed against it. A section of the wall swung inward, and through a slit that opened in the tapestry Thalis slid with her captive, just as Conan wheeled back.
Inside was utter blackness as the secret door swung to again. Thalis paused to fumble at it for an instant, apparently sliding home a bolt, and as she took her hand from Natala's mouth to perform this act, the Brythunian girl began to scream at the top of her voice. Thalis's laugh was like poisoned honey in the darkness.
"Scream if you will, little fool. It will only shorten your life."
At that Natala ceased suddenly, and cowered shaking in every limb.
"Why did you do this?" she begged. "What are you going to do?"
"I am going to take you down this corridor for a short distance," answered Thalis, "and leave you for one who will sooner or later come for you."
"Ohhhhhh!" Natala's voice broke in a sob of terror. "Why should you harm me? I have never injured you!"
"I want your warrior. You stand in my way. He desires me--I could read the look in his eyes. But for you, he would be willing to stay here and be my king. When you are out of the way, he will follow me."
"He will cut your throat," answered Natala with conviction, knowing Conan better than Thalis did.
"We shall see," answered the Stygian coolly from the confidence of her power over men. "At any rate, you will not know whether he stabs or kisses me, because you will be the bride of him who dwells in darkness. Come!"
Half mad with terror, Natala fought like a wild thing, but it availed her nothing. With a lithe strength she would not have believed possible in a woman, Thalis picked her up and carried her down the black corridor as if she had been a child. Natala did not scream again, remembering the Stygian's sinister words; the only sounds were her desperate quick panting and Thalis’s soft taunting lascivious laughter. Then the Brythunian's fluttering hand closed on something in the dark--a jeweled dagger hilt jutting from Thalis's gem-crusted girdle. Natala jerked it forth and struck blindly and with all her girlish power.
A scream burst from Thalis's lips, feline in its pain and fury. She reeled, and Natala slipped from her relaxing grasp, to bruise her tender limbs on the smooth stone floor. Rising, she scurried to the nearest wall and stood there panting and trembling, flattening herself against the stones. She could not see Thalis, but she could hear her. The Stygian was quite certainly not dead. She was cursing in a steady stream, and her fury was so concentrated and deadly that Natala felt her bones turn to wax, her blood to ice.
"Where are you, you little she-devil?" gasped Thalis. "Let me get my fingers on you again, and I'll--" Natala grew physically sick as Thalis described the bodily injuries she intended to inflict on her rival. The Stygian's choice of language would have shamed the toughest courtezan in Aquilonia.
Natala heard her groping in the dark, and then a light sprang up. Evidently whatever fear Thalis felt of the black corridor was submerged in her anger. The light came from one of the radium gems which adorned the walls of Xuthal. This Thalis had rubbed, and now she stood bathed in its reddish glow: a light different from that which the others had emitted. One hand was pressed to her side and blood trickled between the fingers. But she did not seem weakened or badly hurt, and her eyes blazed fiendishly. What little courage remained to Natala ebbed away at sight of the Stygian standing limned in that weird glow, her beautiful face contorted with a passion that was no less than hellish. She now advanced with a pantherish tread, drawing her hand away from her wounded side, and shaking the blood drops impatiently from her fingers. Natala saw that she had not badly harmed her rival. The blade had glanced from the jewels of Thalis's girdle and inflicted only a very superficial flesh wound, only enough to rouse the Stygian's unbridled fury.
"Give me that dagger, you fool!" she gritted, striding up to the cowering girl.
Natala knew she ought to fight while she had the chance, but she simply could not summon up the courage. Never much of a fighter, the darkness, violence and horror of her adventure had left her limp, mentally and physically. Thalis snatched the dagger from her lax fingers and threw it contemptuously aside.
"You little slut!" she ground between her teeth, slapping the girl viciously with either hand. "Before I drag you down the corridor and throw you into Thog's jaws I'll have a little of your blood myself! You would dare to knife me--well, for that audacity you shall pay!"
Seizing her by the hair, Thalis dragged her down the corridor a short distance, to the edge of the circle of light. A metal ring showed in the wall, above the level of a man's head. From it depended a silken cord. As in a nightmare Natala felt her tunic being stripped from her, and the next instant Thalis had jerked up her wrists and bound them to the ring, where she hung, naked as the day she was born, her feet barely touching the floor. Twisting her head, Natala saw Thalis unhook a jewel-handled whip from where it hung on the wall, near the ring. The lashes consisted of seven round silk cords, harder yet more pliant than leather thongs.
With a hiss of vindictive gratification, Thalis drew back her arm, and Natala shrieked as the cords curled across her loins. The tortured girl writhed, twisted and tore agonizedly at the thongs which imprisoned her wrists. She had forgotten the lurking menace her cries might summon, and so apparently had Thalis. Every stroke evoked screams of anguish. The whippings Natala had received in the Shemite slave markets paled to insignificance before this. She had never guessed the punishing power of hard-woven silk cords. Their caress was more exquisitely painful than any birch twigs or leather thongs. They whistled venomously as they cut the air.
Then, as Natala twisted her tear-stained face over her shoulder to shriek for mercy, something froze her cries. Agony gave place to paralyzing horror in her beautiful eyes.
Struck by her expression, Thalis checked her lifted hand and whirled quick as a cat. Too late! An awful cry rang from her lips as she swayed back, her arms upflung. Natala saw her for an instant, a white figure of fear etched against a great black shapeless mass that towered over her; then the white figure was whipped off its feet, the shadow receded with it, and in the circle of dim light Natala hung alone, half fainting with terror.
From the black shadows came sounds, incomprehensible and blood- freezing. She heard Thalis's voice pleading frenziedly, but no voice answered. There was no sound except the Stygian's panting voice, which suddenly rose to screams of agony, and then broke in hysterical laughter, mingled with sobs. This dwindled to a convulsive panting, and presently this too ceased, and a silence more terrible hovered over the secret corridor.
Nauseated with horror, Natala twisted about and dared to look fearfully in the direction the black shape had carried Thalis. She saw nothing, but she sensed an unseen peril, more grisly than she could understand. She fought against a rising tide of hysteria. Her bruised wrists, her smarting body were forgotten in the teeth of this menace which she dimly felt threatened not only her body, but her soul as well.
She strained her eyes into the blackness beyond the rim of the dim light, tense with fear of what she might see. A whimpering gasp escaped her lips. The darkness was taking form. Something huge and bulky grew up out of the void. She saw a great misshapen head emerging into the light. At least she took it for a head, though it was not the member of any sane or normal creature. She saw a great toadlike face, the features of which were as dim and unstable as those of a specter seen in a mirror of nightmare. Great pools of light that might have been eyes blinked at her, and she shook at the cosmic lust reflected there. She could tell nothing about the creature's body. Its outline seemed to waver and alter subtly even as she looked at it; yet its substance was apparently solid enough. There was nothing misty or ghostly about it.
As it came toward her, she could not tell whether it walked, wriggled, flew or crept. Its method of locomotion was absolutely beyond her comprehension. When it had emerged from the shadows she was still uncertain as to its nature. The light from the radium gem did not illumine it as it would have illumined an ordinary creature. Impossible as it seemed, the being seemed almost impervious to the light. Its details were still obscure and indistinct, even when it halted so near that it almost touched her shrinking flesh. Only the blinking toadlike face stood out with any distinctness. The thing was a blur in the sight, a black blot of shadow that normal radiance would neither dissipate nor illuminate.
She decided she was mad, because she could not tell whether the being looked up at her or towered above her. She was unable to say whether the dim repulsive face blinked up at her from the shadows at her feet, or looked down at her from an immense height. But if her sight convinced her that whatever its mutable qualities, it was yet composed of solid substance, her sense of feel further assured her of that fact. A dark tentacle-like member slid about her body, and she screamed at the touch of it on her naked flesh. It was neither warm nor cold, rough nor smooth; it was like nothing that had ever touched her before, and at its caress she knew such fear and shame as she had never dreamed of. All the obscenity and salacious infamy spawned in the muck of the abysmal pits of Life seemed to drown her in seas of cosmic filth. And in that instant she knew that whatever form of life this thing represented it was not a beast.
She began to scream uncontrollably, the monster tugged at her as if to tear her from the ring by sheer brutality; then something crashed above their heads, and a form hurtled down through the air to strike the stone floor.
In "Queen of the Black Coast"
The other mentions of Derketo in Howard's writings are fleeting. The existence and importance of the goddess Derketo is asserted in "Queen of the Black Coast" (1934) . Here Conan and his beloved pirate-queen, Belit, are discussing the gods and the afterlife:
"But what of the worlds beyond the river of death?" she persisted.
"There is no hope here or hereafter in the cult of my people," answered Conan. "In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls enter a gray misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander cheerlessly throughout eternity."
Belit shuddered. "Life, bad as it is, is better than such a destiny. What do you believe, Conan?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."
"But the gods are real," she said, pursuing her own line of thought. "And above all are the gods of the Shemites--Ishtar and Ashtoreth and Derketo and Adonis. Bel, too, is Shemitish, for he was born in ancient Shumir, long, long ago and went forth laughing, with curled beard and impish wise eyes, to steal the gems of the kings of old times."
"There is life beyond death, I know, and I know this, too, Conan of Cimmeria--" she rose lithely to her knees and caught him in a pantherish embrace--"my love is stronger than any death! I have lain in your arms, panting with the violence of our love; you have held and crushed and conquered me, drawing my soul to your lips with the fierceness of your bruising kisses. My heart is welded to your heart, my soul is part of your soul! Were I still in death and you fighting for life, I would come back from the abyss to aid you--aye, whether my spirit floated with the purple sails on the crystal sea of paradise, or writhed in the molten flames of hell! I am yours, and all the gods and all their eternities shall not sever us!"
In "Black Colossus"
It was a low mutter of voices that roused her. Opening her eyes, she saw that the fire was burning low. A feeling of dawn was in the air. She could dimly see that Conan still sat on the boulder; she glimpsed the long blue glimmer of his blade. Close beside him crouched another figure, on which the dying fire cast a faint glow. Yasmela drowsily made out a hooked beak of a nose, a glittering bead of an eye, under a white turban. The man was speaking rapidly in a Shemite dialect she found hard to understand.
"Let Bel wither my arm! I speak truth! By Derketo, Conan, I am a prince of liars, but I do not lie to an old comrade. I swear by the days when we were thieves together in the land of Zamora, before you donned hauberk!
"I saw Natohk; with the others I knelt before him when he made incantations to Set. But I did not thrust my nose in the sand as the rest did. I am a thief of Shumir, and my sight is keener than a weasel's. I squinted up and saw his veil blowing in the wind. It blew aside, and I saw--I saw--Bel aid me, Conan, I say I saw! My blood froze in my veins and my hair stood up. What I had seen burned my soul like a red-hot iron. I could not rest until I had made sure.
"I journeyed to the ruins of Kuthchemes. The door of the ivory dome stood open; in the doorway lay a great serpent, transfixed by a sword. Within the dome lay the body of a man, so shrivelled and distorted I could scarce make it out at first--it was Shevatas, the Zamorian, the only thief in the world I acknowledged as my superior. The treasure was untouched; it lay in shimmering heaps about the corpse. That was all."
"There were no bones--" began Conan.
"There was nothing!" broke in the Shemite passionately. "Nothing! Only the one corpse!"
Derketa in "Red Nails"
The girl's restless eyes, roving the leaves below them, discovered splashes of color among the green. It was fruit, large, darkly crimson globes suspended from the boughs of a tree whose broad leaves were a peculiarly rich and vivid green. She became aware of both thirst and hunger, though thirst had not assailed her until she knew she could not descend from the crag to find food and water.
"We need not starve," she said. "There is fruit we can reach."
Conan glanced where she pointed.
"If we ate that we wouldn't need the bite of a dragon," he grunted. "That's what the black people of Kush call the Apples of Derketa. Derketa is the Queen of the Dead. Drink a little of that juice, or spill it on your flesh, and you'd be dead before you could tumble to the foot of this crag."
Moving down to the edge of the leaves, he reached the spear up and carefully thrust the blade through one of the Apples of Derketa, drawing aside to avoid the darkly purple drops that dripped from the pierced fruit. Presently he withdrew the blade and showed her the blue steel stained a dull purplish crimson.
"I don't know whether it will do the job or not," quoth he. "There's enough poison there to kill an elephant, but--well, we'll see."
"But dragons are immortal!" exclaimed Olmec. "They slay each other, but no man ever killed a dragon! The thousand fighting men of our ancestors who fought their way to Xuchotl could not prevail against them! Their swords broke like twigs against their scales!"
"If your ancestors had thought to dip their spears in the poisonous juice of Derketa's Apples," quoth Conan, with his mouth full, "and jab them in the eyes or mouth or somewhere like that, they'd have seen that dragons are no more immortal than any other chunk of beef. The carcass lies at the edge of the trees, just within the forest. If you don't believe me, go and look for yourself."
Derketo in the Real World
Most of Robert E. Howard's deities are named after or (often loosely) inspired by real historical deities, and Derketo is no exception. Derketo (or Derceto) is one of the names under which the Hellenistic Greeks worshipped a fertility and water goddess who was originally worshipped in northern Syria, there more commonly known as Atargatis. While Howard's Derketo seems more debauched than what we know of the historical Derketo (though even that seems to come from post-Howard writings), there are resemblances. Funcom seems to have further drawn on the historical Derketo in places. For example, Atargatis was sometimes depicted with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish (like a mermaid). Also, in Age of Conan, a figure resembling this adorns the doors of the Pyramid of the Ancients, home to a renegade cult who claim to worship Derketo.
The Conan Role-Playing Game material on Derketo draws on the historical Egyptian deity Anuket, a river and fertility goddess of the cataract region of the upper Nile, whose symbols include a gazelle, and who is often portrayed wearing a headdress of plumed feathers.
Some role-players interested in portraying worshipers of Derketo in Age of Conan have chosen to draw further inspiration from historical material on the worship of Atargatis/Derketo and Anuket. Thus, fleshing out the available source material on Howard's Derketo.
Historical information on the Syrian goddess Atargatis, called Derketo by the Greeks:
Historical information on the Egyptian goddess Anuket:
|Aquilonian||Asura • Mitra|
|Stygian||Ajujo • Derketo • Ibis • Jhil • Set|
|Other||Xotli • Ymir • Erlik • Zath • Dagoth • Bardisattva • Nebethet • Yezud • The True Gods • Al'Kiir • Ilas • Ailing • Ahriman • Thog • Bel|