"Before you can speak, Mitra knows the contents of your mind - " began Vateesa. Then both girls started violently as a voice began in the air above them. The deep, calm, bell-like tones emanated no more from the image than from anywhere else in the chamber. Again Yasmela trembled before a bodiless voice speaking to her, but this time it was not from horror or repulsion.
"Speak not, my daughter, for I know your need," came the intonations like deep musical waves beating rhythmically along a golden beach. "In one manner may you save your kingdom, and saving it, save all the world from the fangs of the serpent which has crawled up out of the darkness of the ages. Go forth upon the streets alone, and place your kingdom in the hands of the first man you meet there."
The unechoing tones ceased, and the girls stared at each other. Then, rising, they stole forth, nor did they speak until they stood once more in Yasmela's chamber. The princess stared out of the gold-barred windows. The moon had set. It was long past midnight. Sounds of revelry had died away in the gardens and on the roofs of the city. Khoraja slumbered beneath the stars, which seemed to be reflected in the cressets that twinkled among the gardens and along the streets and on the flat roofs of houses where folk slept.
"What will you do?" whispered Vateesa, all a-tremble.
"Give me my cloak," answered Yasmela, setting her teeth.
"But alone, in the streets, at this hour!" expostulated Vateesa.
"Mitra has spoken," replied the princess. "It might have been the voice of the god, or a trick of a priest. No matter. I will go!"
And so we see one of the most baffling (to me) mysteries of the Conan stories: just what was going on in the Temple of Mitra in Khoraja that night?
The actuality of Mitra as a deity is generally viewed by most as unsubstantiated: in Howard's universe, there are no gods, and any beings that could be called such are monstrous amoral devils beyond our ken. The quote at the end - "It might have been the voice of a god, or the trick of a priest" seems to be taken as the logical explanation, but this leads to more problems. Indeed, the whole episode is baffling and mysterious, with no resolution or explanation ever offered in the tale.
So let's look at some explanations for Mitra's annunciation to Yasmela:
1. It was a priest using acoustics and trickery to imitate the voice of Mitra. This is unsatisfactory because it assumes that a priest would actively want Yasmela to put the entire kingdom in the hands of some stranger on the street: why on earth would he do such a thing? Was it an attempt to punish the Khorajans for abandoning Mitra by directing them to doom, in which case it backfired spectacularly? Or did the priests know, even arrange, for Conan to be that man? Again, why would they put Khoraja in control of an unproven mercenary captain as opposed to, say, Thespides or Amalric?
2. It was Mitra himself. On the face of it, the only reason I can see that it would not be Mitra is because it doesn't "jive" with Howard's mythos. Having a benevolent deity manifest in such a manner seems somewhat un-Howardian, but since we've seen benevolent supernatural forces in Epemitreus and the priests of Asura, it might not be as outlandish as one would think. There may be forces for good helping mankind out, but that doesn't mean that good would always triumph, or even strike a balance: they may be as outnumbered and hopeless as mankind itself.
3. It was Epemitreus. There seems to be a possibility that Epemitreus is an "avatar" of Mitra based on his possible name meanings (Sword of Mitra, or Coming of Mitra). Epemitreus has helped out enemies of Set before in The Phoenix on the Sword, but these were Aquilonians: why would he help out a kingdom out of his jurisdiction like Khoraja? As well as that, it has unfortunate connotations of "destiny" for Conan, where even early in his career Epemitreus has been "watching" Conan and knew his potential.
None of these are really satisfactory to me, but it's been bothering me for ages.
Anyone have anything to contribute/refute/discuss?