Gates of Empire presents eight of Robert E. Howard's classic adventure stories, all of which are set during the Crusades. "Red Blades of Black Cathay" finds a 12th Century Norman Crusader on the Eastern frontiers of the world as it was known to his European contemporaries, rallying a rich but militarily weak splinter kingdom against the invading hordes of Genghis Khan. "Hawks of Outremer" and "Blood of Belshazzar" feature a hard-bitten knight, the half-Irish Cormac FitzGeoffrey, during the time of the Third Crusade. "The Sowers of the Thunder" pits two evenly matched characters against one another: Red Cahal is an exiled Irish prince who has been cheated out of kingship. The red-haired Baibars the Panther is a former slave who will one day seize a throne. Figuratively, one man will be the death of the other, and in a sense this is Howard's version of Poe's classic :William Wilson," played out against the turbulent background of the 13th Century. In "The Lion of Tiberias," two storylines diverge and then converge. In one, a gigantic British Dane named John Norwald is sent to the galleys by the warlord Zenghi, there to toil for more than twenty years as a cold, hard core of hate keeps him alive. The other storyline concerns Miles Du Courcey, a Crusader who invades Zenghi's stronghold to rescue his kidnapped sweetheart. "The Shadow of the Vulture" and "Gates of Empire" reveal a lighter side of Howard; yet here too, darkness lurks underneath the light. Although "The Shadow of the Vulture" is best known as the story in which Howard introduced Red Sonya of Rogatino, the prototype for Roy Thomas' Red Sonja of the comics and Sam Raimi's "Xena, Warrior Princess," the male protagonist is Gottfried Von Kalmbach, a dauntless but somewhat oblivious German knight.
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