The first and one of the most brazen of Howard’s “lesbians” is Queen Nakari in “The Moon of Skulls” (WT Jun-Jul 1930):
Nakari halted by the couch, stood looking down upon her captive for a moment, then with an enigmatic smile, bent and shook her. Marylin opened her eyes, sat up, then slipped from her couch and knelt before her savage mistress—an act which caused Kane to curse beneath his breath. The queen laughed and, seating herself upon the couch, motioned the girl to rise, and then put an arm about her waist and drew her upon her lap. Kane watched, puzzled, while Nakari caressed the girl in a lazy, amused manner. This might be affection, but to Kane it seemed more like a sated leopard teasing its victim. There was an air of mockery and studied cruelty about the whole affair.
"You are very soft and pretty, Mara," Nakari murmured lazily, "much prettier than the other girls who serve me.[“] (SK 129)
Later on in the story, Nakari claims: “[...] she shall be punished as I have punished her before—hung up by her wrists, naked, and whipped until she swoons!” (SK 137) Marilyn later confirms: “And in spite of my pleas she took me across her knees and whipped me until I swooned.” (SK 165) In “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933, also published as “Xuthal of the Dust”) the Stygian Thalis who has lived in the decadent city of Xuthal and is attracted to Conan, dishes out punishment to her prospective rival Natala:
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 ords, harder yet more pliant than leather things.
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. (COC 237)
This scene was depicted on the cover by Brundage, lovingly described by one critic:
[...] a bound woman leans back away from her captor, the retreating body language serving only to emphasize her pointed, bare breasts and her naked legs. Her captor, another woman, wears a kind of skirt, but her torso is almost entirely naked as well. And she holds a whip, which she clearly intends to use on the other woman. (Elliot 57)
Margaret Brundage recalled in a 1973 interview:
We had one issue that sold out! It was the story of a very vicious female, getting a-hold of the heroine and tying her up and beating her. Well, the public apparently thought it was flagellation, and the entire issue sold out. They could have used a couple thousand extra. [...] Having read the story, the thought of flagellation never entered my head. I don’t think it had theirs, either. But it turned out that way. (Korshack & Spurlock 29)
It is worth noting that “The Slithering Shadow” with Brundage’s cover appeared in the September 1933 Weird Tales. One month later would see the debut of Dime Mystery, the first of the “weird menace” or “shudder pulps” which would focus largely on torture, sadism, Grand Guignol-style grue and contes cruels, where stories of women, nude or near-nude, being threatened would be much more common. While there are many proto-weird menace stories in the pulps, “The Slithering Shadow” may have been a marker that there was an audience for this new pulp genre.
Also in 1933, Howard wrote “The Vale of Lost Women,” although it was never published during Howard’s lifetime. (COC 451) The beginning of the story includes an unnamed female character whose actions toward the slave Livia are at best ambiguous: