Swords and Deviltry
Swords and Deviltry is a book by Fritz Leiber.
It is the first in the canonical series concerning Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
It consists of a series of three independent stories, which concern:
- The early life of Fafhrd, and how he came to leave home and come to Lankhmar;
- The early life of the Gray Mouser, and how he likewise came to Lankhmar;
- How the two of them met, and the experiences that bound them together as sword-brothers.
A brief introduction to the world of Lankhmar and our main protagonists.
The Snow Women
In which Fafhrd is introduced. He is eighteen, and lives in a tent with his mother Mor, the acknowledged chief of the Snow Clan, a hidebound matriarchy dwelling in Cold Corner in the snowbound Cold Waste. He is tall, fit, intelligent, philosophical and skilful with the various tools of his environment. He is also a skilled singer and story-teller. His father, it turns out, has perished some years earlier while mountain-climbing.
The story opens with the arrival of a troupe of travelling players whose presence is barely tolerated by the womenfolk, but (in general) welcomed by the men of the clan, as it offers them the opportunity to escape for a while from the tyranny of the rule of the women. Fafhrd is forbidden to watch the show, not only by his youth but by his mother.
He has already fathered an as yet unborn child on his sweetheart Mara, and he is philosophically resigned to the fact that he is about to transfer his slavery from his mother to Mara. As the story opens, he is contented for this to happen, as he still enjoys his love-life with Mara.
However, an encounter with the intriguing Vlana, whom he rescues, is about to change all this. She is a good decade older than he, a performer in the troupe, and a victim (it will turn out) of certain political skullduggery between the Snow Clan and the management of the troupe.
Fafhrd and Vlana's relationship is illicit on many levels, mainly because in different ways both are in a kind of slavery. Both wish to escape this slavery, and see in each other a means by which to do so. They plan to flee south, go to Lanhkmar (probably), and live the free and happy life of vagabond performers, or something equally romatically alluring or whatever. However, what Fafhrd does not know is that he is but one of the possible means of Vlana's escape, and that he has several more-or-less deadly rivals for her affections. It transpires that she seems not to be particularly concerned exactly which of these rivals she ends up with.
Considerable entertaining mayhem later, Fafhrd sees Vlana flee on a stolen sleigh, with one of those rivals at her side. He follows on skis. This exciting pursuit requires his utmost skill and strength, as you would expect. He is just in time to thwart an ambush by other parties concerned in Vlana's future, which he does by exploiting his considerable reserves of cunning and skill. As you'd expect, the tale ends with Fafhrd and Vlana fleeing in the stolen sleigh, destination (eventually) Lankhmar.
The Unholy Grail
Mouse is a small, skinny orphan. He is apprentice to a wizard, Glavas Rho, whose magic is exclusively white (i.e. "good"). Mouse has, apparently, been experimenting with black, or course, as youngsters would. Hence he has already gained the soubriquet "gray", and indeed his clothing is gray, as described in the opening paragraph.
All is not right. Mouse has returned from a minor quest to find that Glavas Rho has been murdered by Janarrl, the local Duke, a thug, bully and bigot who despises magic in all its forms. The reason Janarrl has done this, and burned his woodland hut to the ground, is that he has discovered that his daughter Ivrian has also been secretly taking lessons from Glavas Rho. This is too much for Janarrl.
Ivrian is Mouse's sweetheart. They have met via Glavas Rho himself. She is also faint-hearted and somewhat cowardly, a bit of a milksop. Her mother, who died when Ivrian was younger, was a fit and outdoorsy type like her husband, but without the brutality of the latter.
Mouse suspects, with some reason, that Ivrian has in fact betrayed Glavas Rho, from fear of her father, who treats his daughter with contempt. He is equally concerned that she will in turn betray him. However, he has a plan of revenge of his own.
Using black magic (specifically, the pins-in-doll technique), he deliberately sets out to kill Duke Janarrl. This would be accomplished at great danger to his soul, which would forever after be tainted. However, he is thwarted, as demanded by the exigencies of the plot, by Ivrian. She has been followed to Mouse's lair, and so is the unwitting cause of Mouse's capture and imprisonment by Janarrl, as Mouse had all but expected. At this point he expresses his disgust at her cowardice and declares her as beneath even his hate.
However, he has another plan. He devises a black magical working which will rely upon Ivrian's presence in the torture chamber in which he is to be racked to death. What he intends to do is channel his suffering through Ivrian to her father as she sits at his side, dressed as she is in her mother's clothes.
Sure enough, this working is as successful as the reader would desire. Ivrian has redeemed herself in Mouse's eyes (although he is not blind to her character flaws), and they ride off into the night together.
Ill Met in Lankhmar
Inevitably, both kicking around in Lankhmar at the same time as they are, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are bound to meet. This they do, having both selected the same victims for a job, namely Sleyvas and Fissif. The latter are two thieves of the Thieves' Guild of Lankhmar, and have together just raided a local jeweller.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser duly rob those two thieves, during the course of which they impress each other with their skills at swordfighting. Each forms an instant liking for the other. Despite their differences, they see each other as a kindred spirit.
It's probably worth pointing out at this point that they have suspicions of being followed by something, having been spotted in their robbing of Sleyvas and Fissif, but (in order to fulfil the vicissitudes of the plot) they shrug this off. Instead of following this possibility up, they convene with copious quantities of alcohol at the Gray Mouser's place, a sumptuously furnished upper room behind the Silver Eel (the local hostelry) in a ramshackle tumbledown building that in modern society would be condemned as unsafe. Fafhrd has brought his current squeeze Vlana (see The Snow Women), and she meets the Mouser's girl Ivrian (see The Unholy Grail). Fafhrd, incidentally, identifies the Mouser as the perpetrator of a whole series of thefts of carpets, rugs, tapestries and so forth - everything, in fact, that provides the furnishings in which the Mouser keeps Ivrian in a state of cosseted seclusion.
The wine runs out, the tales get taller, the party rolls on. Vlana (as we have learned in The Snow Women) has a vendetta against the Thieves' Guild, and is disappointed in both of our heroes that they did not actually terminate the lives of both Sleyvas and Fissif when they could have done (the pair are actually not, in fact, that kind of person). After some argument and self-aggrandisement from both our heroes, they succumb to Vlana's taunts, and embark (drunk as they are) to go and bring back the head of Krovas, the chief of the Thieves' Guild.
Predictable and gloriously entertaining mayhem ensues, in which the pair disguise themselves as beggars from the Beggars' Guild and sneak into the headquarters of the Thieves' Guild, as planned. They are discovered before having accomplished their aim, and barely escape intact, having failed to achieve their aim.
Returning to the Mouser's abode, they find their loves murdered. They had been followed, after all, by an animal familiar of Sleyvas and Fissif. The deed had been done by magic while Fafhrd and the Mouser were causing trouble at the HQ. In fact, they realise that they had actually been viewing the adept Hristomilo performing that act, while they were sneaking about.
Overcome by madness of grief and rage, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser burn down the Mouser's dwelling, then go out to do the same to the Thieves' Guild headquarters. They are but partially successful; several thieves die that night, including Hristomilo and one or two others who perhaps did not so deserve. Krovas remains alive.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser walk off into the night, still burdened by their grief, and walk out of Lankhmar, swearing never to return.