The story begins with a bang:
It happened that while Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were dallying in a wine shop near the Sidonian Harbor of Tyre, where all the wine shops were of doubtful repute, a long-limbed, yellow-haired Galatian girl lolling in Fafhrd's lap turned suddenly into a wallopingly large sow. It was a singular occurrence, even in Tyre.At first, Fafhrd believes that his companion is using magic to play a trick on him.
"Scum of wit-weighted culture," he said, "I consider it the nadir of base perfidy that you should try out on me your puking sorcery."Despite Mouser's protestations, Fafhrd does not believe that his friend is not responsible for this "pig-trickery" upon him. He changes his mind, though, when a similar ailment befalls Mouser, whose kisses transform the objects of his affection into giant snails -- all that is except for a "cross-eyed Greek" girl named Chloe. This fact troubled both Mouser and Fafhrd, who, after some hoping for some other way to rid themselves of this bizarre curse "must fall back upon [their] last resource," namely the mysterious wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes.
"Softly, man of strange loves," purred the Mouser. "This unfortunate mishap has befallen several others besides yourself, among them an ardent Assyrian warlord whose paramour was changed into a spider between the sheets, and an impetuous Ethiop who found himself hoisted several yards into the air and kissing a giraffe. Truly, to one who knows the literature, there is nothing new in the annals of magic and thaumaturgy."
Ningauble, known as the "Gossiper of the Gods," is at first reluctant to help the pair:
"Yes, children," said Ningauble, suddenly making his eye stalks staringly rigid, stern, and uncompromising. "And I must furthermore tell you that I can in no way help you in this matter ..." (Fafhrd clenched his fists) "... and am very glad of it too ..." (Fafhrd swore) "... for it seems to me that no more fitting punishment could have been devised for your abominable lecheries, which I have so often bemoaned ..." (Fafhrd's hand went to his sword hilt) "... in fact, if it had been up to me to chastise you for your manifold vices, I would have chosen the very same enchantment ..." (But now he had gone too far; Fafhrd growled, "Oh, so it is you who is behind it!" ripped out his sword, and began to advance slowly on the hooded figure)This amusing section continues for quite some time more, with Ningauble expressing unwillingness to help Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, all the while insulting and belittling them as the red-headed barbarian grows ever more angry and closer to attacking the alien wizard.
Eventually, though, Ningauble changes his mind and tells that he will nevertheless "aid [them] with what little advice I can give." To overcome the curse, they must find the shroud of Ahriman from Persepolis, the powdered mummy of the Demon Pharaoh, the cup from which Socrates drank the hemlock that slew him, a sprig from the Tree of Life, and then find "the woman who will come when she is ready." With all these things, they must then travel to the Lost City of Ahriman in Armenia, where Ningauble claims their problems might be resolved. The comrades are skeptical:
"Why is it, Riddle Vendor, that you always give us half knowledge?" Fafhrd pressed angrily. "Is that at the last moment our blades may strike with half force?"What follows is far from a perfect story and certainly not, by any means, the best tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser but it's nonetheless an enjoyable one, filled with exuberance and excitement. I enjoy it as much as I do, I think, because it represents Leiber's earliest portrayal of the Twain, in their raw and unrefined form. It's a great pleasure to see a master writer at the dawn of his craft, laying the foundations on which he will later build a great creative edifice. Reading "Adept's Gambit," I became ever more convinced that Leiber truly was one of the greats and that his greatness was there from the beginning.
"It is because I know you too well, children. If I said one word more, Hulk, you could be cleaving with your great sword -- at the wrong person. And your cat-comrade would be brewing his child's magic -- the wrong child's magic. It is no simple creature you foolhardily seek but a mystery, no single identity but a mirage, a stony thing that has stolen the blood and substance of life, a nightmare crept out of a dream."