For some two years, as captain of the Wastrel, Conan continues a highly successful career as a freebooter. However, the other Zingaran pirates, jealous of the outlander in their midst, at last bring him down off the coast of Shem. Escaping inland and hearing that wars are in the offing along the borders of Stygia, Conan joins the Free Companions, a band of condottieri under the command of one Zarallo. Instead of rich plunder, however, he finds himself engaged in uneventful guard duty in the border post of Sukhmet, on the frontier of the black kingdoms. The wine is sour and the pickings poor, and Conan soon gets tired of black women. His boredom ends with the appearance in Sukhmet of Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, a woman pirate whom he had known in his Barachan days. When she takes drastic measures to repulse a Stygian officer, Conan follows her south into the lands of the blacks.