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Apparently the sword became invisible as Fafhrd grasped it, for the black statue did not follow him with its iron eyes as he shifted position across the room. Instead it swiftly laid down its own mighty blade and caught up a long narrow silver trumpet and set it to its lips.
Fafhrd thought it wise to attack before the statue summoned reinforcements. He rushed straight at the thing, swinging back Graywand for a great stroke at the neck-and steeling himself for an arm-numbing impact.
The statue blew and instead of the alarm blare Fafhrd had expected, there silently puffed out straight at him a great cloud of white powder that momentarily blotted out everything, as if it were the thickest of fogs from Hlal the River.
Fafhrd retreated, choking and coughing. The demon-blown fog cleared quickly, the white powder falling to the stony floor with unnatural swiftness, and he could see again to attack, but now the statue apparently could see him too, for it squinted straight at him and cried its metallic "Ha!" again and whirled its sword around its iron head preparatory to the charge-rather as if winding itself up.
Fafhrd saw that his own hands and arms were thickly filmed with the white powder, which apparently clung to him everywhere except his eyes, doubtless protected by Sheelba's cobweb.
The iron statue came thrusting and slashing in. Fafhrd took the great sword on his, chopped back, and was parried in return. And now the combat a.s.sumed the noisy deadly aspects of a conventional longsword duel, except that Graywand was notched whenever it caught the chief force of a stroke, while the statue's somewhat longer weapon remained unmarked. Also, whenever Fafhrd got through the other's guard with a thrust-it was almost impossible to reach him with a slash-it turned out that the other had slipped his lean body or head aside with unbelievably swift and infallible antic.i.p.ations.
It seemed to Fafhrd-at least at the time-the most fell, frustrating, and certainly the most wearisome combat in which he had ever engaged, so he suffered some feelings of hurt and irritation when the Mouser reeled up in his coffin again and leaned an elbow on the black-satin-quilted side and rested chin on fist and grinned hugely at the battlers and from time to time laughed wildly and shouted such enraging nonsense as, "Use Secret Thrust Two-and-a Half, Fafhrd-it's all in the book!" or "Jump in the oven!-there'd be a master stroke of strategy" or-this to the statue-"Remember to sweep under his feet, you rogue!"
Backing away from one of Fafhrd's sudden attacks, the statue b.u.mped the table holding the remains of the Mouser's repast-evidently its antic.i.p.atory abilities did not extend to its rear-and sc.r.a.ps of black food and white potsherds and jags of crystal scattered across the floor.
The Mouser leaned out of his coffin and waved a finger waggishly. "You'll have to sweep that up!" he cried and went off into a gale of laughter.
Backing away again, the statue b.u.mped the black coffin. The Mouser only clapped the demonic figure comradely on the shoulder and called, "Set to it again, clown! Brush him down! Dust him off!"
But the worst was perhaps when, during a brief pause while the combatants gasped and eyed each other dizzily, the Mouser waved coyly to the nearest giant spider and called his inane "Yoohoo!" again, following it with, "I'll see you, dear, after the circus."
Fafhrd, parrying with weary desperation a fifteenth or a fiftieth cut at his head, thought bitterly, This comes of trying to rescue small heartless madmen who would howl at their grandmothers hugged by bears. Sheelba's cobweb has shown me the Gray One in his true idiot nature. This comes of trying to rescue small heartless madmen who would howl at their grandmothers hugged by bears. Sheelba's cobweb has shown me the Gray One in his true idiot nature.
The Mouser had first been furious when the sword-skirling clashed him awake from his black satin dreams, but as soon as he saw what was going on he became enchanted at the wildly comic scene.
For, lacking Sheelba's cobweb, what the Mouser saw was only the zany red-capped porter prancing about in his tip-curled red shoes and aiming with his broom great strokes at Fafhrd, who looked exactly as if he had climbed a moment ago out of a barrel of meal. The only part of the Northerner not whitely dusted was a masklike stretch across his eyes.
What made the whole thing fantastically droll was that miller-white Fafhrd was going through all the motions-and emotions!-of a genuine combat with excruciating precision, parrying the broom as if it were some great jolting scimitar or two-handed broadsword even. The broom would go sweeping up and Fafhrd would gawk at it, giving a marvelous interpretation of apprehensive goggling despite his strangely shadowed eyes. Then the broom would come sweeping down and Fafhrd would brace himself and seem to catch it on his sword only with the most prodigious effort-and then pretend to be jolted back by it!
The Mouser had never suspected Fafhrd had such a perfected theatric talent, even if it were acting of a rather mechanical sort, lacking the broad sweeps of true dramatic genius, and he whooped with laughter.
Then the broom brushed Fafhrd's shoulder and blood sprang out.
Fafhrd, wounded at last and thereby knowing himself unlikely to outendure the black statue-although the latter's iron chest was working now like a bellows-decided on swifter measures. He loosened his hand-axe again in its loop and at the next pause in the fight, both battlers having outguessed each other by retreating simultaneously, whipped it up and hurled it at his adversary's face.
Instead of seeking to dodge or ward off the missile, the black statue lowered its sword and merely wove its head in a tiny circle.
The axe closely circled the lean black head, like a silver wood-tailed comet whipping around a black sun, and came back straight at Fafhrd like a boomerang-and rather more swiftly than Fafhrd had sent it.
But time slowed for Fafhrd then and he half ducked and caught it left-handed as it went whizzing past his cheek.
His thoughts too went for a moment fast as his actions. He thought of how his adversary, able to dodge every frontal attack, had not avoided the table or the coffin behind him. He thought of how the Mouser had not laughed now for a dozen clashes and he looked at him and saw him, though still dazed-seeming, strangely pale and sober-faced, appearing to stare with horror at the blood running down Fafhrd's arm.
So crying as heartily and merrily as he could, "Amuse yourself! Join in the fun, clown!-here's your slap-stick," Fafhrd tossed the axe toward the Mouser.
Without waiting to see the result of that toss-perhaps not daring to-he summoned up his last reserves of speed and rushed at the black statue in a circling advance that drove it back toward the coffin.
Without shifting his stupid horrified gaze, the Mouser stuck out a hand at the last possible moment and caught the axe by the handle as it spun lazily down.
As the black statue retreated near the coffin and poised for what promised to be a stupendous counter-attack, the Mouser leaned out and, now grinning foolishly again, sharply rapped its black pate with the axe.
The iron head split like a coconut, but did not come apart. Fafhrd's hand-axe, wedged in it deeply, seemed to turn all at once to iron like the statue and its black haft was wrenched out of the Mouser's hand as the statue stiffened up straight and tall.
The Mouser stared at the split head woefully, like a child who hadn't known knives cut.
The statue brought its great sword flat against its chest, like a staff on which it might lean but did not, and it fell rigidly forward and hit the floor with a ponderous clank.
At that stony-metallic thundering, white wildfire ran across the Black Wall, lightening the whole shop like a distant levinbolt, and iron-basalt thundering echoed from deep within it.
Fafhrd sheathed Graywand, dragged the Mouser out of the black coffin-the fight hadn't left him the strength to lift even his small friend-and shouted in his ear, "Come on! Run!"
The Mouser ran for the Black Wall.
Fafhrd snagged his wrist as he went by and plunged toward the arched door, dragging the Mouser after him.
The thunder faded out and there came a low whistle, cajolingly sweet.
Wildfire raced again across the Black Wall behind them-much more brightly this time, as if a lightning storm were racing toward them.
The white glare striking ahead imprinted one vision indelibly on Fafhrd's brain: the giant spider in the inmost cage pressed against the bloodred bars to gaze down at them. It had pale legs and a velvet red body and a mask of sleek thick golden hair from which eight jet eyes peered, while its fanged jaws hanging down in the manner of the wide blades of a pair of golden scissors rattled together in a wild staccato rhythm like castanets.
That moment the cajoling whistle was repeated. It too seemed to be coming from the red and golden spider.
But strangest of all to Fafhrd was to hear the Mouser, dragged unwillingly along behind him, cry out in answer to the whistling, "Yes, darling, I'm coming. Let me go, Fafhrd! Let me climb to her! Just one kiss! Sweetheart!"
"Stop it, Mouser," Fafhrd growled, his flesh crawling in mid-plunge. "It's a giant spider!"
"Wipe the cobwebs out of your eyes, Fafhrd," the Mouser retorted pleadingly and most unwittingly to the point. "It's a gorgeous girl! I'll never see her ticklesome like-and I've paid for her! Sweetheart Sweetheart!"
Then the booming thunder drowned his voice and any more whistling there might have been, and the wildfire came again, brighter than day, and another great thunderclap right on its heels, and the floor shuddered and the whole shop shook, and Fafhrd dragged the Mouser through the trefoil-arched doorway, and there was another great flash and clap.
The flash showed a semicircle of Lankhmarians peering ashen-faced overshoulder as they retreated across the Plaza of Dark Delights from the remarkable indoor thunderstorm that threatened to come out after them.
Fafhrd spun around. The archway had turned to blank wall.
The Bazaar of the Bizarre was gone from the World of Nehwon.
The Mouser, sitting on the dank flags where Fafhrd had dragged him, babbled wailfully, "The secrets of time and s.p.a.ce! The lore of the G.o.ds! The mysteries of h.e.l.l! Black nirvana! Red and gold Heaven! Five pennies gone forever!"
Fafhrd set his teeth. A mighty resolve, rising from his many recent angers and bewilderments, crystallized in him.
Thus far he had used Sheelba's cobweb-and Ningauble's tatter too-only to serve others. Now he would use them for himself! He would peer at the Mouser more closely and at every person he knew. He would study even his own reflection! But most of all, he would stare Sheelba and Ning to their wizardly cores!
There came from overhead a low "Hssst!"
As he glanced up he felt something s.n.a.t.c.hed from around his neck and, with the faintest tingling sensation, from off his eyes.
For a moment there was a shimmer traveling upward and through it he seemed to glimpse distortedly, as through thick gla.s.s, a black face with a cobwebby skin that entirely covered mouth and nostrils and eyes.
Then that dubious flash was gone and there were only two cowled heads peering down at him from over the wall top. There was chuckling laughter.
Then both cowled heads drew back out of sight and there was only the edge of the roof and the sky and the stars and the blank wall.
Other works by Fritz Leiber also available in e-reads editions
THE GREEN MILLENIUM.
SWORDS AND DEVILTY.
SWORDS AGAINST DEATH.
SWORDS IN THE MIST.
SWORDS AGAINST WIZARDY.
THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR.
SWORDS AND ICE MAGIC.
THE KNIGHT AND KNAVE OF SWORDS.