Ho, Fafhrd tall! Hist, Mouser small!
Why leave you the city Of marvelous parts?
It were a great pity To wear out your hearts
And wear out the soles of your feet,
Treading all earth, Foregoing all mirth,
Before you once more Lankhmar greet.
Now return, now return, now!
Swords Against Death is the second collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and The Gray Mouser, the small thief from the slums. For the past three years, the two have grown so close that they are now (as Neil Gaiman suggests in his introduction to the audio version) like two halves of the same person. They’ve been traveling the world together in an effort to forget their lost loves.
During their travels “they acquired new scars and skills, comprehensions and compassions, cynicisms and secrecies — a laughter that lightly mocked, and a cool poise that tightly crusted all inner miseries,” but they haven’t been able to assuage their guilt or lessen their feelings of loss outside of Lankhmar, the city which they swore never to return to.
But as Sheelba of the Eyeless Face prophesied (“Never and forever are neither for men. You’ll be returning again and again.”), Fafhrd and the Mouser are persuaded to return to Lankhmar where, it turns out, they have not been forgotten, and soon the duo is back to their old tricks and dealing with their former enemies in these stories: “The Circle Curse,” “The Jewels in the Forest,” “Thieves’ House,” “The Bleak Shore,” “The Howling Tower,” “The Sunken Land,” “The Seven Black Priests,” “Claws from the Night,” “The Price of Pain-Ease,” and “Bazaar of the Bizarre.”
Some of the stories are better than others (my favorite was “Bazaar of the Bizarre”) but all are “classical rogue” (Neil Gaiman’s term) and all are worth reading simply because they’re written in Fritz Leiber’s gorgeous prose, which is thick with alliteration, insight, and irony.
I listened to Swords Against Death on audio. It was produced by Audible Frontiers, introduced by Neil Gaiman, and read by Jonathan Davis who does a terrific job with this series. His voices for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are perfect — Fafhrd sounds pensive, intellectual, and introverted while Gray Mouser sounds a bit greasy and common. I highly recommend this format; it adds an extra dimension to these fun stories.