Saturday, February 18, 2017

Claws from the Night

Valuables disappeared in broad daylight, even from chambers locked and carefully guarded, or from sheer walled roof-gardens. A lady secure in her home chanced to lay a bracelet on an inaccessible windowledge; it vanished while she chatted with a friend. A lord’s daughter, walking in a private garden, felt someone reach down from a thickly-leafed tree and snatch a diamond pin from her hair; the tree was immediately climbed by nimble servitors, but nothing was found. 
Then a hysterical maid ran to her mistress with the information that she had just seen a large bird, black in color, making off through a window with an emerald ring clutched securely in its talons.  
This story at first met with angry disbelief. It was concluded that the girl herself must have stolen the ring. She was whipped almost to death amid general approval. 
The next day a large black bird swooped down on the niece of the Overlord and ripped a jewel from her ear.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser use the terror from a rash of black bird thieves to cover their own heist. To gain the jewel a merchant has bought to appease his shrew of a wife, Atya, the adventurers have brought their own preparations: a fishing rod, to snare the jewel, and an eagle, in case the birds strike first. But when the black birds prove to be the quicker thieves, Fafhrd and the Mouser follow the flock to the hidden temple of Winged Tyaa and her angry priestess.

"Claws from the Night" is another standard Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, plotted to the same structure as the previous tales but lighter in tone than even "Seven Black Priests." Yet it's still a fun little rollick, as Fafhrd and the Mouser try to use the chaos of the bird thieves for their own ends before getting swept up in a serious mystery. Like a soloist in jazz, Leiber uses the established pattern as a guide to creativity, and not as an instruction set, with no two stories told in the exact same way.

I've noticed a pattern as of late. When a dynamic duo goes on an adventure, be it Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser; Doc Savage and the Shadow; or Reimu Hakurei and Marisa Kirisame, the problem-solving responsibilities tend to be split in a regular pattern. If you want something to stop, send the Fafhrd analogue. If you want to find out why something is happening, send the thieving wizard. And whenever the Fafhrd of the team gets bogged down, the Mouser clears the jam with a shout, a spell, a sword, or gunfire. I will need to think on this a bit more to properly formulate it.


For a different take on the story elements presented in "Claws from the Night", check out Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. Clad in Chinese clothes, it recounts the adventures of Number Ten Ox and the sage Master Li as they try to save the children of their village from poison by stealing a treasure from the local lord. Nobler analogues of Fafhrd, the Gray Mouser, bird deities, and treasure-mad shrewish wives can be found in its pages.

No comments:

Post a Comment