The story begins as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, at this time unknown to another, simultaneously undertake the same plan: to steal from two members of Lankhmar's infamous Thieves' Guild, who had just previously stolen from a gem merchant.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser faced each other across the two thieves sprawled senseless. They were poised for attack, yet for the moment neither moved.And so begins the most famous partnership in pulp fantasy.
Each discerned something inexplicably familiar in the other.
Fafhrd said, "Our motives for being here seem identical."
"Seem? Surely must be!" the Mouser answered curtly, fiercely eyeing this potential new foe, who was taller by a head than the tall thief.
"I said, 'Seem? Surely, must be!'"
"How civilized of you!" Fafhrd commented in pleased tones.
"Civilized?" the Mouser demanded suspiciously, gripping his dirk tighter.
"Take care, in the eye of action, exactly what's said," Fafhrd explained. Without letting the Mouser out of his vision, he glanced down. His gaze traveled from the belt and pouch of the one fallen thief to those of the other. Then he looked up at the Mouser with a broad, ingenuous smile.
"Sixty-sixty?" he suggested.
The Mouser hesitated, sheathed his dirk, and rapped out, "A deal!"
Emboldened by their initial success as a team -- and spurred on by their lovers -- they decide to strike against the Thieves' Guild itself, about which Fafhrd boasts:
"I am not a coward!" he cried. "I'll dare the Thieves' House and fetch you Krovas's head and toss it with blood-a-drip at Vlana's feet. I swear that, witness me, Kos the god of dooms, by the brown bones of Nalgron my father and by his sword Graywand here at my side!"Unfortunately for them, things do not turn out quite as planned. The Thieves' Guild of Lankhmar does not appreciate being made to look foolish, not once but twice by the same freelancers and, with the help of a sorcerer in the employ of its guildmaster, exact revenge upon the pair, a revenge that in turn pushes them to the brink and forever forges the bonds of friendship between them.
He slapped his left hip, found nothing there but his tunic, and had to content himself with pointing tremble-armed at his belt and scabbarded sword where they lay atop his neatly folded robe -- and then picking up, refilling splashily, and draining his mug.
The Gray Mouser began to laugh in high, delighted, tuneful peals. All stared at him. He came dancing up beside Fafhrd, and still smiling widely, asked, "Why not? Who speaks of fearing the Guild-thieves? Who becomes upset at the prospect of this ridiculously easy exploit, when all of us know that all of them, even Krovas and his ruling clique, are but pygmies in mind and skill compared to me or Fafhrd here? A wondrously simple, foolproof scheme has just occurred to me for penetrating Thieves' House, every closet and cranny. Stout Fafhrd and I will put it into effect at once. Are you with me, Northerner?"
"Of course I am," Fafhrd responded gruffly, at the same time frantically wondering what madness had gripped the little fellow.
"Ill Met in Lankhmar" is an excellent story and a good introduction to Leiber's fantasy world and characters. All too often, prequels written years after the fact feel off in various ways, as if the author couldn't quite remember what it was that inspired his earlier writings. That's not true of "Ill Met in Lankhmar," which, if anything, feels even truer to these characters than some of Leiber's earlier efforts. Reading this tale, it's hard not to see in it the literary protoplasm out of which D&D arose. So many D&D staples, most notably the very idea of a Thieves' Guild, are presented here in glorious form, making it an enjoyable way to see where Dave and (especially) Gary got the ideas out of which they created this game we all so love. Read it, if you've never before had the chance; read it again, if you have. It's a great story by a great fantasy author.