Swords in the Mist
Swords in the Mist is a book by Fritz Leiber.
It is the third in the canonical series concerning Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
The Cloud of Hate
The night is cold. In an underground temple, a spooky cult is raising a hate monster. This consists of a cloud of fog with unpleasant abilities, including casually killing those it encounters, or (if they are nasty enough) bending them to its destructive and antisocial will.
At this time, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (being down on their luck at this time) are earning a modest stipend as night watchmen. As such, they are in a position to kill four of Lankhmar's more notorious bad guys, all of whom are under the mind control of the hate monster. This they do with their usual aplomb and minor injuries.
However, the game is not entirely over. The hate monster picks up the discarded weapons of the dead bravos in its tentacles of fog, and continues the attack on our heroes. And suddenly the pair are fighting a ten-weaponed multipod. Further mayhem ensues, in which Mouser finds its eye and blinds it, then (while Fafhrd is making the best of a frantic defence) finds the reddish-pink cord of fog leading back to the temple and severs it.
The hate monster collapses into nothing but a revolting stench. The pair nurse their minor wounds (Fafhrd has burnt his hands by using a brazier as a weapon), and loot the dead bodies of the thugs they have killed. Excellent - they now have enough to quit their jobs, and go to find a hostelry.
Lean Times in Lankhmar
Times are hard in Lankhmar, which may be the reason why Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have apparently fallen out and parted ways.
The Gray Mouser has joined Pulg's protection racket. Pulg's calling is to demand tribute from the various practitioners of religion in the Street of the Gods. Mouser's job is to enforce this.
Fafhrd, on the other hand, has broken his sword (injuring himself in the process, apparently) and joined the cult of Issek of the Jug. Apart from the elderly and somewhat doddering priest, Fafhrd is the one follower of Issek.
The Street of the Gods runs from the Marsh Gate to the Citadel. The further your temple is from the former, that is, the closer to the latter, the higher status and prestige your religion has. Progress is made by physically moving your shrine further up the road, and the more followers you have, the better you will be at making such progress.
Issek of the Jug starts near the Marsh Gate, but with Fafhrd as his acolyte it is only a short time before he makes rapid progress up the street. He makes an imposing acolyte, what with his size and hairiness; his voice also (trained as a Skald as he was in his youth) is a decided asset, as is his ability to embellish the somewhat modest claims of Issek (a god of peace who was broken on a rack) into a tale more stirring and dramatic.
All of this has brought the cult to the notice of Pulg, and it is up to the Mouser to extract the protection money. This, of course, he fails to do in person, leaving it as a task for his henchmen (whom, of course, Fafhrd has no trouble at all in seeing off, peacefully of course).
Eventually Issek has become so powerful and his temple so grand (donations, you see) that Pulg has to take action. So what does he do? Gets the Mouser to tempts Fafhrd out (with a bet), gets him drunk and shaves him, tying him to a bed. The next service to Issek is a crucial one for some reasons, but of course Fafhrd is not there. Until the crux of the proceedings, in which he appears with a broken bed tied to his arms and feet, completely shaven (and therefore unrecognisable as Fafhrd) demanding the jug of ale that he had expected to find under the bed. "Where is the jug?" he thunders.
This, of course, makes him (in the eyes of the congregation) the incarnation of Issek himself. In the ensuing mayhem (which at this point is considerable), Fafhrd and the Mouser (now with an understanding again) loot what they can, and flee in a boat which has been stolen from a corrupt government official (another subplot to this tale, never mind).
Their Mistress, The Sea
A linking piece between Lean Times in Lankhmar and that which is to follow.
Aboard their new ship the Black Treasurer it takes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser some while to get back into shape (Mouser, for example, has grown somewhat fat, and both are amusingly seasick for some time). Once fit again, they embark on a life of piracy with moderate success.
Various incidents occur, more or less amusing, until Ourph demands to be set ashore, leaving Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to go sailing where they please. And, in the middle of nowhere, they are becalmed.
When The Sea-King's Away
Becalmed, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have encountered a weird occurrence: shafts of air stretching from the surface to the sea bed. Tying a rope to the bowsprit of the Black Treasurer, they descend to investigate. They find a sunken world peopled with, among others, the Sea-King's daughters and a witch who is keeping the phenomenon active by means of a series of spinning-tops, and a model of the surroundings (including one of the Black Treasurer).
They cause mayhem, as usual (Fafhrd finding he has to fight a giant squid armed with a sword in each tentacle), and the sunken world begins to collapse around them. They barely escape, finding a stairway up the great cliff that separates the Outer Sea with the Inner Sea (no more than a razor of rock sticking out of the middle of the ocean). During the furore even this collapses, and they escape by the skin of their teeth to the Black Treasurer which magically appears nearby.
The pair suspect that they may have been able to escape only because the Gray Mouser has remembered to go back for the model of the ship.
The Wrong Branch
A linking piece between When The Sea-King's Away and what is to follow.
It is fairly clear to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser that, as a result of their recent indiscretions, they must have become the victims of a curse from the Sea-King.
They eventually (and eventfully) find their way back to civilisation, having come off badly in an encounter with anti-pirate mentalities and various underwater hazards. They decide to consult Fafhrd's mentor Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, who lives beyond Ilthmar on what they need to do to get that curse lifted.
Arriving in Ilthmar, their ship the Black Treasurer falls apart in mid-harbour like a joke, and it's all our heroes can do to negotiate the sharks and swim to shore with their clothes and (somewhat necessary) weapons. Ilthmar is not the most welcoming of cities, and naturalised Lankhmarians like our heroes are somewhat out of place. So they are not in the best of moods as they trudge off to Ningauble's cave.
This cave is, inside, a veritable labyrinth. Fafhrd knows it fairly well, but even he is not so sure of himself after the pair get slightly lost. But no matter, in a place where they were not expecting it, they find a pair of well-provisioned horses and a note from Ningauble: "The sea-king's curse is lifted."
However, rather than going back to Ilthmar, they find a way out of the cave system into a desert land, somewhere which is most definitely not Ilthmar, or Lankhmar, or in fact anywhere in Nehwon. In fact, they are speaking Phoenician, Greek and Aramaic. Fafhrd's memories are those of lands around the Baltic, and the Mouser comes from somewhere called Tyre.
A long, complicated and difficult-to-summarise tale of a series of magical quests in the Middle East.
Any young lady that Fafhrd attempts to embrace is magically turned temporarily into a pig. Similarly, any such that the Gray Mouser embraces becomes a giant snail. All, that is, except for Chloe, a cross-eyed Greek girl. Broad-minded though they are, this is too much for them (particularly as it turns out to be no fun for the girls involved either). Chloe is clearly not adequate to satisfy them both, and besides, Mouser has first dibs on her. The pair find themselves forced to go once more for help from Ningauble of the Seven Eyes.
The latter suggests that their problems stem from an adept who has cast a spell on them for some reason. It is suspected that a mysterious young lady Ahura, often seen hanging around Chloe, has something to do with it.
Ningauble sends them off on a series of impossible-sounding quests, but which are all in a days work for our boys. The latter then set off to the Lost City. They are joined on their journey by Ahura, who Ningauble had hinted would be doing so. The journey is long and moderately tedious for our pair, who come close to falling out over Ahura (especially since the Mouser is obsessed with trying to determine whether she may in fact actually be a he. There are a few titillating and amusing scenes.
Eventually they reach their destination. Ahura has told the tale of her upbringing, which reads like something typical of the era and milieu. The adept turns out to be Ahura's brother Anra Devadoris. In a complicated climax, Anra is vanquished, having made the appropriately grotesque transformations required by this sort of tale, eventually becoming a mouse.
The tale ended, the pair are set to return (somehow) to Lankhmar.