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I: Sea Magic



On the world of Nehwon and the land of Simorgya, six days fast sailing south from Rime Isle, two handsome silvery personages conversed intimately yet tensely in a dimly and irregularly lit hall of pillars open overhead to the darkness. Very strange was that illumination—greenish and yellowish by turns, it seemed to come chiefly from grotesquely shaped rugs patching the Stygian floor and lapping the pillars' bases and also from slowly moving globes and sinuosities that floated about at head height and wove amongst the pillars, softly dimming and brightening like lethargic and plague-stricken giant fireflies.

Mordroog said sharply, "Caught you that thrill, sister?—faint and far north away, yet unmistakably ours."

Ississi replied eagerly, "The same, brother, as we felt two days agone—our mystic gold dipped deep in the sea for a space, then out again."

"The same indeed, sister, though this time with a certain ambiguity as to the out—whether that or otherwise gone," Mordroog assented.

"Yet the now-confirmed clue is certain and bears only one interpretation: our chiefest treasures, that were our most main guards, raped away long ages agone—and now at long last we know the culprits, those villainous pirates of Rime Isle!" breathed Ississi.

"Long, long ages agone, before ever Simorgya sank (and the fortunate island kingdom became the dark infernal realm)—and their vanishment the hastener or very agent of that sinking. But now we have the remedy—and who knows when our treasure's back what long-sunken things may rise in spouting wrath to consternate the world? Your attention, sister!" snapped Mordroog.

The abysmal scene darkened, then brightened as he dipped his hand into the pouch at his waist and brought it out again holding something big as a girl's fist. The floating globes and sinuosities moved inward inquisitively, jogging and jostling each other. Their flaring glows rebounded through the murk from a lacy yet massy small gold globe showing between his thin clawed silver fingers—its twelve thick edges like those of a hexahedron embedded in the surface of a sphere and curving conformably to that structure. He proffered it to her. The golden light gave the semblance of life to their hawklike features.

"Sister," he breathed, "it is now your task, and geas laid upon you, to proceed to Rime Isle and regain our treasure, taking vengeance or not as opportunity affords and prudence counsels—whilst I maintain here, unifying the forces and regathering the scattered allies against your return. You will need this last cryptic treasure for your protection and as a hound to scent out its brothers in the world above."

Now for the first time Ississi seemed to hesitate and her eagerness to abate.

"The way is long, brother, and we are weak with waiting," she protested, wailing. "What was once a week's fast sailing will be for me three black moons of torturesome dark treading, press I on ever so hard. We have become the sea's slaves, brother, and carry always the sea's weight. And I have grown to abhor the daylight."

"We have also the sea's strength," he reminded her commandingly, "and though we are weak as ghosts on land, preferring darkness and the deep, we also know the old ways of gaining power and facing even the sun. It is your task, sister. The geas is upon you. Salt is heavy but blood is sweet. Go, go, go!"

Wherewith she snatched the goldy ghost-globe from his grip, plunged it into her pouch, and turning with a sudden flirt made off, the living lamps scattering to make a dark northward route for her.

With the last "Go," a small bubble formed at the corner of Mordroog's thin, snarling, silvery lips, detached itself from them, and slowly grew in size as it mounted from these dark deeps up toward the water's distant surface.


Three months after the events aforenarrated, Fafhrd was at archery practice on the heath north of Salthaven City on Rime Isle's southeastern coast—one more self-imposed, self-devised, and self-taught lesson of many in learning the mechanics of life for one lacking a left hand, lost to Odin during the repulse of the Widder Sea-Mingols from the Isle's western shores. He had firmly affixed a tapering, thin, finger-long iron rod (much like a sword blade's tang) to the midst of his bow and wedged it into the corresponding deep hole in the wooden wrist heading the closefitting leather stall, half the length of his forearm and dotted with holes for ventilation, that covered his newly healed stump—with the result that his left arm terminated in a serviceably if somewhat unadjustably clutched bow.

Here near town the heath was grass mingled with ankle-high heather, here and there dotted with small clumps of gorse, in and out of which the occasional pair of plump lemmings played fearlessly, and man-high gray standing stones. These last had perhaps once been of religious significance to the now atheistical Rime Islers—who were atheists not in the sense that they did not believe in gods (that would have been very difficult for any dweller in the world of Nehwon) but that they did not socialize with any such gods or hearken in any way to their commands, threats, and cajolings. They (the standing stones) stood about like so many mute gray grizzle bears.

Except for a few compact white clouds a-hang over the isle, the late afternoon sky was clear, windless, and surprisingly balmy for this late in autumn, in fact on the very edge of winter and its icy, snow-laden winds.

The girl accompanied Fafhrd in his practicing. The silver-blond thirteen-year-old now trudged about with him collecting arrows—half of them transfixing his target, which was a huge ball. To keep his bow out of the way Fafhrd carried it as if over his shoulder, maimed left arm closely bent upward.

"They ought to have an arrow that would shoot around corners," Gale said apropos of hunting behind a standing stone. "That way you'd get your enemy if he hid behind a house or a tree trunk."

"It's an idea," Fafhrd admitted.

"Maybe if the arrow had a little curve in it—" she speculated.

"No, then it would just tumble," he told her. "The virtue of an arrow lies in its perfect straightness, its—"

"You don't have to tell me that," she interrupted impatiently. "I keep hearing all about that, over and over, from Aunt Afreyt and cousin Cif when they lecture me about the Golden Arrow of Truth and the Golden Circles of Unity and all those." The girl was referring to the closely guarded gold ikons that had been from time immemorial the atheist-holy relics of the Rime Isle fisherfolk.

That made Fafhrd think of the Golden Cube of Square Dealing, forever lost when the Mouser had hurled it to quell the vast whirlpool which had vanquished the Mingol fleet and threatened to sink his own in the great sea battle. Did it lie now in mucky black sea bottom near the Beach of Bleached Bones, or had it indeed vanished entire from Nehwon-world with the errant gods, Odin and Loki?

And that in turn made him wonder and worry a little about the Gray Mouser, who had sailed away a month ago in Seahawk on a trading expedition to No-Ombrulsk with half his thieves and Flotsam's Mingol crew and Fafhrd's own chief lieutenant Skor. The little man (Captain Mouser, now) had planned on getting back to Rime Isle before the winter blizzards.

Gale interrupted his musings. "Did Aunt Afreyt tell you, Captain Fafhrd, about cousin Cif seeing a ghost or something last night in the council hall treasury, which only she has a key to?" The girl was holding up the big target bag clutched against her so that he could pull out the arrows and return them over shoulder to their quiver.

"I don't think so," he temporized. Actually, he hadn't seen Afreyt today, or Cif either for that matter. For the past few nights he hadn't been sleeping at Afreyt's but with his men and the Mouser's at the dormitory they rented from Groniger, Salthaven's harbor master and chief councilman, the better to supervise the mischievous thieves in the Mouser's absence—or at least that was an explanation on which he and Afreyt could safely agree. "What did the ghost look like?"

"It looked very mysterious," Gale told him, her pale blue eyes widening above the bag which hid the lower part of her face. "Sort of silvery and dark, and it vanished when Cif went closer. She called Groniger, who was around, but they couldn't find anything. She told Afreyt it looked like a princess-lady or a big thin fish."

"How could something look like a woman and a fish?" Fafhrd asked with a short laugh, tugging out the last arrow.

"Well, there are mermaids, aren't there?" she retorted triumphantly, letting the bag fall.

"Yes," Fafhrd admitted, "though I don't expect Groniger would agree with us. Say," he went on, his face losing for a bit its faintly drawn, worried look, "put the target bag behind that rock. I've thought of a way to shoot around corners."

"Oh, good!" She rolled the target bag close against the back of one of the ursine, large gray stones and they walked off a couple of hundred yards. Fafhrd turned. The air was very still. A distant small cloud hid the low sun, though the sky was otherwise very blue and bright. He swiftly drew an arrow and laid it against the short wooden thumb he'd affixed to the bow near its center just above its tang. He took a couple of shuffling steps while his frowning eyes measured the distance between him and the rock. Then he leaned suddenly back and discharged the arrow high into the air. It went up, up, then came swiftly down—close behind the rock, it looked.

"That's not around a corner," Gale protested. "Anybody can do that. I meant sideways."

"You didn't say so," he told her. "Corners can be up or down or sideways right or left. What's the difference?"

"Up-corners you can drop things around."

"Yes, indeed you can!" he agreed and in a sudden frenzy of exercise that left him breathing hard sent the rest of the arrows winging successively after the first. All of them seemed to land close behind the standing stone—all except the last, which they heard clash faintly against rock—but when they'd walked up to where they could see, they found that all but the last arrow had missed. The feathered shafts stood upright, their points plunged into the soft earth, in an oddly regular little row that didn't quite reach the target-bag—all but the last, which had gone through an edge of the bag at an angle and hung there, tangled by its three goosefeather vanes.

"See, you missed," Gale said, "all but the one that glanced off the rock."

"Yes. Well, that's enough shooting for me," he decided, and while she pulled up the arrows and carefully teased loose the last, he loosened the bow's tang from its wood socket, using the back of his knife blade as a pry, then unstrung the bow and hung it across his back by its loose string around his chest, then fitted a wrought-iron hook into the wrist-socket, wedging it tight by driving the head of the hook against the stone. He winced as he did that last, for his stump was still tender and the dozen last shots he'd made had tried it.


As they walked toward the low, mostly red-roofed homes of Salthaven, the setting sun on their backs, Fafhrd studied the gray standing stones and asked Gale, "What do you know about the old gods Rime Isle had?—before the Rime men got atheism."

"They were a pretty wild, lawless lot, Aunt Afreyt says—sort of like Captain Mouser's men before they became soldiers, or your berserks before you tamed them down." She went on with growing enthusiasm, "They certainly didn't believe in any Golden Arrow of Truth, or Golden Ruler of Prudence, or Little Gold Cup of Measured Hospitality—mighty liars, whores, murderers, and pirates, I guess, all of them."

Fafhrd nodded. "Maybe Cif's ghost was one of them," he said. A tall, slender woman came toward them from a violet-toned house. When Afreyt neared them she called to Gale, "So that's where you were. Your mother was wondering." She looked at Fafhrd. "How did the archery go?"

"Captain Fafhrd hit the target almost every time," Gale answered for him. "He even hit it shooting around corners! And I didn't help him a bit fitting his bow or anything."

Afreyt nodded.

Fafhrd shrugged.

"I told Fafhrd about Cif's ghost," Gale went on. "He thought it might be one of the old Rime goddesses—Rin the Moon-runner, one of those. Or the witch queen Skeldir."

Afreyt's narrow blond eyebrows arched. "You go along now, your mother wants you."

"Can I keep the target for you?" the girl asked Fafhrd.

He nodded, lifted his left elbow, and the big ball dropped down. Gale rolled it off ahead of her. The target-bag was smoky red with dye from the snowberry root, and the last rays of the sun setting behind them gave it an angry glare. Afreyt and Fafhrd each had the thought that Gale was rolling away the sun.

When she was gone he turned to Afreyt, asking, "What's this nonsense about Cif meeting a ghost?"

"You're getting skeptical as an Isler," she told him unsmiling. "Is something that robs a councilman of his wits and half his strength nonsense?"

"The ghost did that?" he asked as they began to walk slowly toward town.

She nodded. "When Gwaan pushed into the dark treasury past Cif, he was clutched and struck senseless for an hour's space—and has since not left his bed." Her long lips quirked. "Or else he stumbled in the churning shadows and struck his head 'gainst the wall—there's that possibility too, since he has lost his memory for the event."

"Tell me about it more circumstantially," Fafhrd requested.

"The council session had lasted well after dark, for the waning gibbous moon had just risen," she began. "Cif and I being in attendance as treasurer and scribe, Zwaaken and Gwaan called on Cif for an inventory of the ikons of the virtues—ever since the loss of the Gold Cube of Square Dealing (though in a good cause) they've fretted about them. Cif accordingly unlocked the door to the treasury and then hesitated on the threshold. Moon-light striking in through the small barred window (she told me later) left most of the treasure chamber still in the dark, and there was something unfamiliar about the arrangement of the things she saw that sounded a warning to us. Also, there was a faint noxious marshy scent—"

"What does that window look on?" Fafhrd asked.

"The sea. Gwaan pushed past her impatiently (and most discourteously), and then she swears there was a faint blue smoke like muted lightning and in that trice she seemed to see a silent skinny figure of silver fog embrace Gwaan hungrily. She got the impression, she said, of a weak ghost seeking to draw strength from the living. Gwaan gave a choking cry and pitched to the floor When torches were brought in (at Cif's behest) the chamber was otherwise empty, but the Gold Arrow of Truth had fallen from its shelf and lay beneath the window, the other ikons had been moved slightly from their places, as if they'd been feebly groped, while on the floor were narrow patches, like footprints, of stenchful black bottom muck."

"And that was all?" Fafhrd asked as the pause lengthened. When she'd mentioned the thin silvery fog figure, he'd been reminded of someone or something he'd seen lately, but then in his mind a black curtain fell on that particular recollection-flash.

Afreyt nodded. "All that matters, I guess. Gwaan came to after an hour, but remembered nothing, and they've put him to bed, where he stays. Cif and Groniger have set special watch on all the Rimic gold tonight."

Suddenly Fafhrd felt bored with the whole business of Cif's ghost. His mind didn't want to move in that direction. "Those councilmen of yours, all they ever worry about is gold—they're misers all!" he burst out at Afreyt.

"That's true enough," she agreed with him—which annoyed Fafhrd for some reason. "They still criticize Cif for giving the Cube to the Mouser along with the other moneys in her charge, and talk still of impeaching her and confiscating her farm—and maybe mine."

"Ah, the ingrates! And Groniger's one of the worst—he's already dunning me for last week's rent on the men's dormitory, barely two days overdue."

Afreyt nodded. "He also complains your berserks caused a disturbance last week at the Sea Wrack tavern."

"Oh he does, does he?" Fafhrd commented, quieting down.

"How are the Mouser's men behaving?" she asked.

"Pshawri keeps 'em in line well enough," he told her. "Not that they don't need my supervision while the Gray One's away."

"Seahawk will have returned before the gales, I'm sure of that," she said quietly.

"Yes," Fafhrd said.

They had come opposite her house and now she went inside with a smiled farewell. She did not invite him to dinner, which was somehow annoying, although he would have refused; and although she had glanced once or twice toward his stump, she had not asked how it fared—which was tactful, but also somehow annoying.

Yet the irritation was momentary, for her mention of the Sea Wrack had started his mind off in a new direction which fully occupied it as he walked a little more rapidly. The past few days he had been feeling out of sorts with almost everyone around him, weary of his left-hand problems, and perversely lonely for Lankhmar with its wizards and criminous folks, its smokes (so different from this bracing northern sea air) and sleazy grandeurs. The night before last he'd wandered into the Sea Wrack, Salthaven's chief tavern since the Salt Herring had burned, and discovered a certain comfort in observing the passing scene there while sipping a pint or two of black ale.

Although called the Wrack and Ruin by its habitués (he'd learned as he was leaving), it had seemed a quiet and restful place. Certainly no disturbances, least of all by his berserks (that had been last week, he reminded himself—if it had really ever happened), and he had found pleasure in watching the slow-moving servers and listening to the yarning fishers and sailors, two low-voiced whores (a wonder in itself), and a sprinkling of eccentrics and puzzlers, such as a fat man sunk in mute misery, a skinny graybeard who peppered his ale, and a very slender silent woman in bone-gray touched with silver who sat alone at a back table and had the most tranquil (and not unhandsome) face imaginable. At first he'd thought her another whore, but no one had approached her table, none (save himself) had seemed to take any notice of her, and she hadn't even been drinking, so far as he could recall.

Last night he'd returned and found much the same crowd (and the same pleasant relief from his own boredom), and tonight he found himself looking forward to visiting the place again—after he'd been to the harbor and scanned south and east away for Seahawk.


At that moment Rill came around the next corner and hailed him cheerily, waving a hand that showed a red scar across the palm—memento of an injury that had created a bond between herself and Fafhrd. The dark-haired whore-turned-fisherwoman was neatly and soberly clad—a sign that she was not at the moment engaged in either of her trades.

They chatted together, at ease with each other. She told him about today's catch of cod and asked after the Mouser (when now expected) and his and Fafhrd's men and how Fafhrd's stump was holding up (she was the one person he could talk to about that) and about his general health and how he was sleeping.

"If badly," she said, "Mother Grum has useful herbs—or I might be of help."

As she said that last, she chuckled, gave him an inquiring sidewise smile, and tugged his hook with her scarred forefinger, permanently crooked by the same deep burn that had left a red track across her palm. Fafhrd smiled back gratefully, shaking his head.

At that moment Pshawri came up with Skullick behind him to report on the day's work and other doings, and after a moment Rill went off. Some of Fafhrd's men had found employment on the new building going up where the Salt Herring had stood, a couple had worked on Flotsam, while the remainder had been cod-fishing with those men of the Mouser's who were not on Seahawk.

Pshawri made his report in a jaunty yet detailed and dutiful manner that reminded Fafhrd of the Mouser (he'd picked up some of his captain's mannerisms), which both irritated and amused Fafhrd. For that matter all the Mouser's thieves, being wiry and at least as short as he, reminded Fafhrd of his comrade. A pack of Mousers—ridiculous!

He stopped Pshawri's report with a "Content you, you've done well. You too, Skullick. But see that your mates stay out of the Wrack and Ruin. Here, take these." He gave the young berserk his bow and quiver. "No, I'll be supping out. Leave me, now."

And so he continued on alone toward the Sea Wrack and the docks under the bright twilight, called here the violet hour. After a bit he realized with faint surprise and a shade of self-contempt why he was hurrying and why he had avoided Afreyt's bed and turned down Rill's comradely invitation—he was looking forward to another evening of watching and spinning dreams about the silent slender woman in bone-white and silver at the Wrack and Ruin, the woman with the so-distant eyes and tranquil, not unhandsome face. Lord, what romantical fools men were, to overpass the known and good in order to strain and stretch after the mysterious merely unknown. Were dreams simply better than reality? Had fancy always more style? But even as he philosophized fleetingly of dreams, he was wending ever deeper into this violet-tinged one.



Familiar voices raised in vehemence pulled him partially out of it. Down the side lane he was crossing he saw Cif and Groniger talking excitedly together. He would have stolen onward unseen, returning entirely to his waking dream, but they spotted him.

"Captain Fafhrd, have you heard the ill news?" the grizzle-haired harbor master called as he approached with long strides. "The treasury's been looted of its gold-things, and Zwaaken who was guarding them struck dead!"

The small russet-clad woman with golden glints in her dark brown hair who came hurrying along with him amplified, "It happened no longer ago than sunset. We were close by in the council hall, ready to share the guard duty after dark (you've heard of last night's apparition?) when there came a cry from the vault and a blue flash from the cracks around the door. Zwaaken's face was frozen in a grimace and his clothes smoked . . . all the ikons were gone."

It was strange, but Fafhrd barely took in what Cif was saying. Instead he was thinking of how even she was beginning to remind him of the Mouser and to behave like the Gray One. They said that people long in love began to resemble each other. Could that apply so soon?

"Yes, now it's not just the Gold Cube of Square Dealing we lack," Groniger put in. "All, all gone."

His bringing in that roused Fafhrd again a little and nettled him. Altogether, in fact, he strangely found himself more irritated than interested or concerned by the news, though of course he would have liked to help Cif, who was the Mouser's darling.

"I've heard of your ghost," he told her. "All the rest is news. Is there any particular way in which I can help you now?"

They looked at him rather strangely. He realized his remark had been a somewhat cold one, so although he was most eager to get by himself again, he added, "You can call on my men for help if you need it in your search for the thieves. They're at their dormitory."

"On which you owe me rent," Groniger put in automatically. Fafhrd graciously ignored that. "Well," he said, "I wish you good luck in your hunt. Gold is valuable stuff." And with a little bow he turned and continued on his way. When he'd gone some distance he heard their voices again, but could no longer make out what they were saying—which meant their words happily weren't for him.

He reached the harbor while the violet light was still bright across the sky and realized with a throb of pleasure that that was one reason he had been in such a hurry and impatient of all else. The few folk about moved or stood quietly, unmindful of his coming. The air was still. He crossed to the dock's verge and scanned searchingly south and southeast to where violet sky met unruffled gray sea in a long horizon line, with never a cloud or smudge of haze between.

No sign of a sail or hint of a hull, not one. Mouser and Seahawk remained somewhere in the seaworld beyond.

But there was still time for sign or hint to appear before light failed. His dreamy gaze wandered to things closer. East rose the smooth salt cliffs, gray in the twilight. Between them and the low headland to the west, the harbor was empty. Off in that direction, to the right, Flotsam was moored close in, while to the left, nearer, was a light wooden pier that would be taken up when the winter gales arrived and to which a few ship's boats and other small harbor craft were moored. Among these was Flotsam's small sailing dory, in which Fafhrd was in the habit of going out alone—more training in making do with a hook for a left hand—and also a narrow, mastless, shallow craft, little more than a shaped plank, that was new to him.


The violet light was draining away from the sky now and he once more scanned the southern and southeastern horizon and the long expanse of water between—a magical emptiness that drew him powerfully. Still no sign. He turned away regretfully and there, coming across the dock so as to arrive at its verge a score of feet from him, where the pier extended into the harbor, was his silent, tranquil-faced lady of the Sea Wrack. She might have been an apparition for all the notice the few dock-folk took of her; she almost brushed a sailor as she passed him by and he never moved. Behind her faint voices called to her from the town (what were they concerned about—a hunt for something? Fafhrd had forgotten) and the shadows came down from the north, driving out the last violet tones from the heavens. The silent woman had a pouch at her hip that clinked once faintly while her pale hands drew round her a silver-glinting bone-white robe that also shadowed her face. And then as she passed closest to him, she turned her head so that her black-edged green eyes looked straight into his, and she put her hand into her bosom and drew forth a short gold arrow which she showed him and then slipped into her pouch, which clinked again, and then she smiled at him for three heartbeats a smile that was at once familiar and strange, aloof and alluring, and then turned her head forward and went out onto the pier.



And Fafhrd followed her, not knowing behind his forehead, or really caring, whether her gaze or smile had cast an actual enchantment upon him, but only that this was the direction in which he wanted to go, away from the toils and puzzlements and responsibilities and boredoms of Salthaven and toward the vasty south and the Mouser and Lankhmar—her way and whatever mysteries she stood for. Another part of his mind, a part linked chiefly with his feet and hands (though one of them was only a hook), wanted also to follow her on account of the golden arrow, though he could no longer remember why that was important.

As he stepped down onto the wooden pier, she reached its end and stepped onto the new narrow craft he'd noticed, and then without casting off or any other preparatory action, she lifted wide her arms as she faced the prow and the pale gray twilight, her back to him, so that her robe spread out to either side, and it bellied forward as if with an unseen wind, and she and her slight craft moved away toward the harbor mouth across the unruffled waters.

And then he felt on his right cheek a steady breeze blowing silently from the west, and he boarded the sailing dory and cast off and let down the centerboard and ran up the small sail and made it fast and then, taking its sheet in his right hand and controlling the tiller with his hook, sailed out noiselessly after her. He wondered a little (but not very much) why no one called after them or even appeared to watch them, their craft moving as if by magic and hers so strangely and with such a strange sail.


Exactly how long they glided on in this fashion he did not know or care, but the gray sky darkened to black night and stars came out around her hooded head, and the gibbous moon rose, dimming the stars a little, and was for a while before them and then behind (their craft must have turned in a very wide circle and headed north, it seemed), so that the moon's deathly white light no longer dazzled his eyes but was reflected softly from his dory's wind-rounded sail and made the Sea Wrack woman's bone-white silvery robes stand out ahead on her shining craft as they ever bellied forward to either side of her. Very steady was the silent wind that did that, and under its urging his craft gained upon hers so that at the last they almost seemed to touch. He wished that she would turn her head so that he could see more of her, yet at the same time he wanted them to go sailing on enchantedly forever.

And then it seemed to him that the sea itself had tilted imperceptibly upward so that their noiselessly locked craft were mounting together toward the moon-dimmed stars. And at that point she turned around and moved slowly toward him and he likewise rose and moved effortlessly toward her, without any effect whatsoever on the dreamlike motion of their two craft as they mounted ever onward and upward. And she smiled the wondrous smile again at him and looked at him with love, and beyond her hooded head great weaving streamers of soft red and green and pale blue luminescence mounted toward the zenith (he knew them to be the northern lights) as though she stood at the altar of a great cathedral with all its stained-glass windows shedding a glory upon her. Glancing fleetingly to either side, he saw without great surprise or fear that their two craft were indeed mounting toward the stars on a great tongue of dark solid water that rose with precipice to either side, like a vast wall, from the moonlit sea far below. But all he had thought for was her proudly smiling face and daring, dancing gaze, enshrined by the aurora, that summed up for him all the allure of mystery and adventure.

She dipped then into the pouch at her waist and brought up the gold arrow and proffered it to him, holding it by either end in her dainty slim-fingered hands, and the moonlight showed him her small pearly teeth as she smiled.

Then he noted that his hook, which seemed to have a will of its own, had reached out and encircled the short shaft of the arrow between her hands and was tugging at it, while his right hand, which appeared to be operating with like independence of his bewitched mind, had shot forward, grasped the bulging pouch by its neck, and ripped it from her waist.

At that, her loving gaze grew fiercely desirous and her smile widened and grew wild and she tugged sharply back on the arrow so that it bent acutely at its midst, and the blue component of the aurora flaring behind her seemed to enter into her body and flash in her gaze and glow along her arms and hands, and the golden arrow glowed brighter still, a blue aura all around it, and Fafhrd's hook glowed equally, and there was a dazzling shower of blue sparks where hook and shaft met. Glad was Fafhrd then for the wooden wrist between his stump and his hook, for his every hair rose on end and he felt a prickling, tickling strangeness all over his skin.

But still his hook dragged blindly at the arrow, and now it came away with it, sharply bent but no longer blue-glowing. He snatched it off the hook with forefinger and thumb of his right hand, which still clutched the bag. And then as he backed away into his dory, he saw her loving countenance lengthening into a snout, her green eyes bulging and moving apart, swimming sidewise across her face, her pale skin turning to silvery scales, while her sweet mouth widened and gaped to show row upon row of razorlike triangular teeth.

She darted at him, he thrust out his left arm to fend her off, her jaws met with a great snap, while those dreadful teeth closed on his hook with a wrench and a clash.



And then all was tumult and swirling confusion, there was a clangor and a roaring in his ears, the solid water gave way and he and his craft plunged down, down, down, gut-wrenchingly, to the sea's surface and without check or hindrance as far again below it—until he and his dory were suddenly floating in a great tunnel of air floored, walled, and roofed by water, as far below the sea's surface as the water-wall had risen above it—and extending up to that surface just as the wall had stretched down to it. This incredible tunnel was lit silver by the misshapen moon glaring down it and greenish-yellow by a general phosphorescence in its taut, watery walls, from within which monstrous fish-faces moped and mowed at him and nuzzled the dory's hull. The other craft and the metamorphosing woman were gone.

The weirdness of the scene (together with the horrid transformation of the Sea Wrack woman) had banished his bewitchment and brought all his mind alive. He knelt in the dory's midst, peering about. And now the roaring in his ears increased and a great wind began to blow up the tunnel from the deeps, filling the dory's small sail and driving it along toward the mad moon. As this infernal gale swiftly grew to a hurricane, Fafhrd threw himself flat, anchoring himself by gripping the base of the dory's mast in the bend of his left elbow (for his hook was gone and his right hand had other employment). Silvery-green water flashed by, foam streamed back from the prow. And now a steady thunder began to resound from the deeps behind, adding itself to the tumultuous roaring, and it flashed through his frantic thoughts that such a sound might be caused by the tunnel closing up behind him, further increasing the might of the wind blowing him up this great silvery throat.

Space opened. The dory leaped like a flying fish, skiddingly struck roiled black water, righted itself, and floated flat—while from behind came a final thunderous crack.

It was as if the sea herself had spat them forth, then shut her lips.



In shorter space of time than he'd have thought possible without magic, before even his breathing had evened out, the sea calmed and the dory rode lonely and alone on its dark surface. Southward the moon shone. Its rays gleamed on the fracture where his hook had been bitten off. He realized that his right hand still gripped the neck of the bag he'd grabbed from Cif's ghost (or the Sea Wrack woman, or whatever), while still clipped between his thumb and forefinger was a bent gold arrow.

Northward a ghostly aurora was glimmering, fading, dying. And in the same direction the lights of Salthaven gleamed, closer than he'd have guessed. He got out the single oar, set it across the stern, and began to scull homeward against the steady breeze, keeping wary watch on the silent black waters all around the dory.


Fafhrd was once more at archery practice on the heath of gray standing stones, companioned by Gale. But today a brisk north wind was singing in the heather and bending the gorse—forerunner more than likely of winter's first gale . . . and still no sign of Seahawk and the Mouser.

Fafhrd had slept late this morning and so had many another Rime Isler. It had been past midnight when he'd wearily sculled up to the docks, but the port had been awake with the theft of civic treasures and his own disappearance, and he'd been confronted at once by Cif, Groniger, and Afreyt—Rill too, and Mother Grum, and several others. It turned out that after Fafhrd's vanishment (none had noted his actual departure—an odd thing, that) a rumor had been bruited about (though hotly denied by the ladies) that he had made away with gold ikons. Great was the rejoicing when he revealed that he had got them all safely back (save for the sharp bend in the Arrow of Truth) and an extra one besides—one which, as Fafhrd was quick to point out, might well be the lost Cube of Square Dealing, its edges systematically deformed to curves. Groniger was inclined to doubt this and much concerned about both deformations, but Fafhrd was philosophic.

He said, "A crooked Arrow of Truth and a rounded-off Cube of Square Dealing strike me as about right for this world, more in line with accepted human practices."

His account of his adventures on, above, and below the sea, and of the magic Cif's ghost had worked and her horrid last transformation, had produced reactions of wonder and amazement—and some thoughtful frowning. Afreyt had asked some difficult questions about his motives for following the Sea Wrack woman, while Rill had smiled knowingly.

As for the identity of Cif's ghost, only Mother Grum had strong convictions. "That'll be somewhat from sunken Simorgya," she'd said, "come to repossess their pirated baubles."

Groniger had disputed that last, claiming the ikons had always been Rime Isle's, and the old witch had shrugged.

Now Gale asked him as they collected arrows, "And the fish-lady bit your hook off just like that?"

"Yes, indeed," he assured her. "I'm having Mannimark forge me a new one—of bronze. You know, that hook saved me twice—I'm getting to feel quite fond of it—once from the blue essence of lightning bolt coursing through the sea monster's extremities, and once from having another chunk of my left arm bitten off."

Gale asked, "What was it that made you suspicious of the fish-lady, so that you followed her?"

"Come on with those arrows, Gale," he told her. "I've thought of a new way to shoot around corners."

This time he did it by aiming into the wind so that it carried his arrow in a sidewise curve behind the gray standing stone hiding the red bag. Gale said it was almost as much cheating as dropping an arrow in from above, but later they found he'd hit his target.

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