This is a collection of six fantasy short stories. Part of the Lean Times in Lankhmar collection.
Publication year: 1996, 1947-1968 for the stories
Page count: 143
Publisher: White Wolf Publishing
The third collection that chronicles Fafhrd’s and the Grey Mouser’s further adventures.
In “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) the worshipers at the Temple of Hates manage to conjure a mist which is the Hate given physical form. The mist billows around Lankhmar looking for suitable people to kill or corrupt. Then it meets our adventurous duo, down on their luck.
At the start of “Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) the twain are separated because of lack of money. There are several amusing theories why this happened but none of them are confirmed. The Mouser ends up as an enforcer to Pulg who extorts money from small time priests while Fafhrd gets a religious awakening and becomes the only acolyte of Issek of the Jug. Fafhrd uses his skills as a skald to invent interesting adventures to the minor god and lots of people start to follow Issek’s pacifist ways. Of course, that means conflict with Pulg and his chief enforcer.
“Their Mistress, the Sea” (1968) is a very short story, only a couple of pages, where the duo recuperate from their previous adventures by doing a spot of pirating.
In “When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) Fafhrd and the Mouser have been on the sea for a long time when Fafhrd starts to babble about the Sea-King’s wives and concubines who are lonely and looking for mortal lovers when the King himself is away. At first the Mouser thinks that his northern companion has lost his mind because of too long in the sun but then a passageway into the sea opens underneath their boat. The Mouser is hesitant to enter it but Fafhrd descends, looking for women and treasures. The Mouser has no choice but to follow his friend.
“The Wrong Branch” (1968): After their underwater adventure, the friends are convinced that the Sea-King has put a curse on them and they decide to consult Ningauble of the Seven Eyes for a cure. However, they find themselves in a whole new world: the Ancient Earth.
“Adept’s Gambit” (1947): The duo are quite at home in the new world, in Tyre. However, they are plagued by a new curse: when Fafhrd kisses a girl, she’s transformed into a sow. At first Fafhrd suspects the Mouser is playing a horrible prank. But then almost all of the girls the Mouser kisses are turned into slugs and they decided to consult Ningauble. The Gossiper of Gods tells them, after beating around the bush, that an adept is targeting them, and in order to fight the adept the duo will need various items. While lots of modern writers would have made an entire book out of each item, Leiber takes just a funny paragraph or two, and then the actual adventure begins. The story starts out funny but soon feels more like horror. The Elder Gods are mentioned a couple of times.
All of these stories are funny with lots of witty but long sentences. When the Sea-King’s Away especially has great descriptions. The second story makes fun of religions.
I found it a bit strange that Leiber brought the duo to Earth but then didn’t involve them in any historical or mythic stuff. There are a few references to myths created by deeds they had done, for example, Fafhrd and the Mouser supposedly defended a city against Alexander the Great, but they were actually a bit frustrating to me. I’d have preferred to read that story!
Still, the stories are funny and entertaining, especially the second one which pits Fafhrd and the Mouser against each other, sort of. And makes a point about the gods in Lankhmar and the gods of Lankhmar (you just don’t piss off the latter).