Queen Taramis of Khauran awakens one day to find an identical twin sister, Salome, staring her in the face. As an infant, Salome was deemed a witch due to a crescent birthmark on her chest. This birthmark was believed to be a sign of evil, so she was left in the desert to die. However, a magician from Khitai (China) found her, brought her up, and instructed her in the arts of sorcery.
Salome has conspired with Constantius, known as "the Falcon," the Kothic leader of a force of Shemitish mercenaries, to take over the city state. Queen Taramis is taken to the palace dungeon, with the implication of torture and rape. Salome assumes Taramis' identity as queen of Khauran and names Constantius her royal consort. The Khaurani army is disbanded and replaced by Constantius' Shemitish mercenaries, an event which turns violent when the captain of the queen's guard, Conan the Cimmerian, refuses to obey the order.
After putting his back to a wall and killing a number of Constantius' Shemites, Conan is finally captured and crucified for his defiance. Olgerd Vladislav, the Zaporoskan leader of a band of Zuagir desert raiders, rides by with a scouting party and happens by the crucified Conan a mile from the city walls. Vladislav does not entirely help Conan. He has the base of the cross cut, leaving it to fate and Conan's hardiness that he is not crushed by the heavy wood. Vladislav then refuses to give Conan any water, claiming the Cimmerian must wait until after a ten-mile trek to the outlaw camp to prove his worthiness to his band.