SWORDS IN THE MIST
by Fritz Leiber
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The third volume in Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, Swords in the Mist, consists of four short stories and two interstitial works which serve to link those stories, one of which, "The Wrong Branch" is necessary because the story it introduces, "The Adept's Gambit," is so different from all the other tales Leiber wrote about the duo.
In “The Cloud of Hate,” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are serving as watchmen on the evening of a gala celebration of the betrothal of the Lankhmar Overlord’s daughter to the Prince of Ilthmar. They are stationed far from the festivities on a cold, foggy street. The action, however, starts below the streets of Lankhmar, with a mob of five thousand summoning the physical manifestation of hate to flood the streets and, one assumes, attack the Overlord’s party. The physical cloud of Hate spreads through the streets of Lankhmar infecting those who were predisposed to it, Gnarlag of the Two Swords, Gis the Cuthroat, and the assassin brothers Kreshmar and Skel. Leiber implies that the cloud will also take control over Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser, if not both, but his heroes are both able to fight off its effects and turn their attention to destroying the cloud of hate and those it has possessed. Although the cloud of Hate only causes the four villains to act on their hatred, it is fed by the hatred of the mob, a warning of the power of hatred to move through a community.
Leiber has again separated Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” with a falling out of some sort causing the Mouser to become an enforcer for extortionist Pulg and Fafhrd to become an acolyte to the god Issek of the Jug and his priest, Bwadres. Told mostly from the Mouser’s point of view, Fafhrd’s apparent devotion to Issek is causing the god’s cult to grow, which also means that Pulg is beginning to take an interest in the money that is being donated to the god and Bwadres. The Mouser is given the task of separating money from his erstwhile companion and must figure out how to remain in Pulg’s good graces without harming Fafhrd. The story is among the more humorous of Leiber’s tales with Fafhrd eventually, possibly, becoming the avatar of Issek as he fights against Pulg’s minion’s attempts to extort money from Bwadres.
“Their Mistress, the Sea” was written in 1968 for Swords in the Mist and is an interstitial piece, hardly a story, that links 1959’s “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and 1960’s “When the Sea-King’s Away.” In this brief interlude, Fafhrd and the Mouser escape Lankhmar on the ship that Mouser acquired in the previous adventure and sailed out for adventure, turned pirate, and ditched their associate, Ourph the Mingol, who had previously shown up in “The Bleak Shore.” “When the Sea-King’s Away” opens with the heroes adrift on their ship with Fafhrd relating tall tales about the wives of the sea-king and how they invite sailors to their realm when the king is away, complete with tubes of air so sailors can breathe. The Mouser is naturally skeptical, even when strange eddies appear in the sea and Fafhrd lowers himself down one. Told from the Mouser’s point of view, it appears that portions of Fafhrd’s tale are true, but not all of them, although more and more appear to be coming true, not, of course, in the way Fafhrd tells them. “When the Sea-King’s Away” is Leiber’s version of the tale of the selkie.
As with “Their Mistress, the Sea,” “The Wrong Branch” was written for this collection to link “When the Sea-King’s Away” to “The Adept’s Gambit.” This interstitial tale has a more difficult task, for while “The Adept’s Gambit” wasn’t published until 1947, it was the first story Leiber wrote, at a time when Nehwon and Lankhmar weren’t part of the story, instead placing the heroes in Seleucid Tyre. Leiber accomplishes what he needs to do by resorting to using Ningauble’s lair as a gateway between worlds, which also opened up the possibility of having his heros appear in any place, at any time.
The final story in the collection is the strangest. “The Adept’s Gambit” was the first story Fritz Leiber wrote featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Rather than being set in Nehwon and Lankhmar, it was set in the Seleucid Empire and drew an ancient mythology. In “The Wrong Branch,” Leiber established that when traveling to other realms, the characters lose most of their memories of Lankhmar and are implanted with memories so they think they are natives to that world. The story partially works, notably when it focuses on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and especially when it shows their interactions with Ningauble, who gives them a quest in these worlds. Unfortunately, a lot of the story is told to the characters by Ahura, a woman they meet in a tavern and who winds up accompanying them. When Leiber writes her scenes as flashbacks, the story comes to a shuddering halt from which he was not able to escape, even when his main character entered into the action again. The story is the longest one in the book, broken into nine chapters. It serves as a, perhaps, interesting historical coda to the rest of the book, but despite the main characters, feels out of place.
|The Cloud of Hate||When the Sea-King's Away|
|Lean Times in Lankhmar||The Wrong Branch|
|Their Mistress, the Sea||The Adept's Gambit|
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