The rats all over Lankkmar, after suffering huge losses, dove back everywhere into their holes and pulled tight shut the doors of such as had them. This happened also in the rooms of pink pools in the third floor of Hisvin’s house, where the War Cats had driven back the last of the rats who had gained their human size by drinking the white vials there and at the expense of the flesh of Hisvin’s Mingols. Now they guzzled the black vials even more eagerly, to escape back into their tunnels.
The rats also suffered total defeat in the South Barracks, where the War Cats ravaged after clawing and crashing open the doors with preternatural strength.
Their work done, the War Cats regathered at the place where Fafhrd had summoned them and there faded away even as they had earlier materialized. They were still thirteen, although they had lost one of their company, for the black kitten faded away with them, comporting himself like an apprentice member of their company. It was ever afterwards believed by most Lankhmarts, that the War Cats and the white skeletons as well had been summoned by the Gods _of_ Lankhmar, whose reputation for horrid powers and dire activities was thereby bolstered, despite some guilty recollections of their temporary defeat by the rats.
By twos and threes and sixes, the people of Lankhmar emerged from their places of hiding, learned that the Rat Plague was over, and wept, prayed, and rejoiced. Gentle Radomix Kistomerces-Null was plucked from his retreat in the slums and with his seventeen cats carried in triumph to the Rainbow Palace.
Glipkerio, his leaden craft tightly collapsed around him by weight of water, until it had become a second leaden skin molded to his form — truly a handsome coffin — continued to sink in the Lankhmar Deep, but whether to reach a solid bottom, or only a balancing place between world bubbles in the waters of infinity, who may say?
The Gray Mouser recovered Cat’s Claw from Hreest’s belt, marveling somewhat that all the rat-corpses were yet human size. Likely enough depth froze all magics.
Fafhrd noted with distaste the three pools of pink slime in front of the gold audience couch and looked for something to throw over them. Elakeria coyly clutched her coverlet around her. He dragged from a corner a colorful rug that was a duke’s ransom and made that do.
There was the noise of hooves on tiles. In the high, wide archway from which the drapes had been torn there appeared Kreeshkra, still on horseback arid leading the other two Ghoulish mounts, empty saddled. Fafhrd swung the skeleton girl down and embraced her heartily, somewhat to the Mouser’s and Elakeria’s shock, but soon said, “Dearest love, I think it best you put on again your black cloak and hood. Your naked bones are to me the acme of beauty, but here come others they may disturb.”
“Already ashamed of me, aren’t you? Oh, you dirty-minded puritanical Mud Folk!” Kreeshkra commented with a sour laugh, yet complied, while the rainbows in her eye sockets twinkled.
The others Fafhrd had referred to consisted of the councillors, soldiers, and various relatives of the late overlord, including the gentle Radomix Kistomerces-Null and his seventeen cats, each now carried and cosseted by some noble hoping to gain favor from Lankhmar’s most likely next overlord.
Not all the new arrivals were so commonplace. One heralded by more hoof-cloppings on tile, was Fafhrd’s Mingol mare, her tether bitten through. She stopped by Fafhrd and glared her bloodshot eyes at him, as if to say, “I am not so easily got rid of. Why did you cheat me of a battle?”
Kreeshkra patted the beast’s nose and observed to grim Fafhrd, “You are clearly a man who attracts deep loyalty in others. I trust you have the same quailty yourself.”
“Never doubt me, dearest,” Fafhrd answered with fond sincerity.
Also among the newcomers and returners was Reetha, looking suavely happy as a cat who has licked cream, or a panther some even more vital fluid, and naked as ever except for three broad black leather loops around her waist. She threw her arms about the Mouser “You’re big again!” she rejoiced. “And you beat them all!”
The Mouser accepted her embrace, though he purposely put on a dissatisfied face and said sourly, “You were a big help! — you and your naked army, deserting me when I most needed help. I suppose you finished off Samanda!”
“Indeed we did!” Reetha smirked like a sated leopardess. “What a sizzling she made! Look, doll, her belt of office _does_ go three times round my waist. Oh yes! we cornered her in the kitchen and brought her down. Each of us took a pin from her hair. Then — ”
“Spare me the details, darling,” the Mouser cut her short. “This night for nine hours I’ve been a rat, with all of a rat’s nasty feelings, and that’s quite long enough. Come with me, pet; there’s something we must attend to ere the crowd gets too thick.”
When they returned after a short space, the Mouser was carrying a box wrapped in his cloak, while Reetha wore a violet robe, around which was still triply looped, however, Samanda’s belt. And the crowd had thickened indeed. Radomix Kistomerces-no-longer-Null had already been informally vested with Lankhmar’s overlordship and was sitting somewhat bemused on the golden seashell audience couch along with his seventeen cats and also a smiling Elakeria, who had wrapped her coverlet like a sari around her sylphlike figure.
The Mouser drew Fafhrd aside. “That’s quite a girl you’ve got,” he remarked, rather inadequately, of Kreeshkra.
“Yes, isn’t she,” Fafhrd agreed blandly.
“You should have seen mine,” the Mouser boasted. “I don’t mean Reetha there, I mean my _weird_ one. She had — ”
“Don’t let Kreeshkra hear you use that word,” Fafhrd warned sharply through _sub voce_.
“Well, anyhow, whenever I want to see her again,” the Mouser continued conspiratorially, “I have only to swallow the contents of this black vial and — ”
“I’ll take charge of that,” Reetha announced crisply, snatching it out of his hand from behind him. She glanced at it, then expertly pitched it through a window into the Inner Sea.
The Mouser started a glare at her which turned into an infuriating smile.
Flapping her black robe to cool her, Kreeshkra came up behind Fafhrd. “Introduce me to your friends, dear,” she directed.
Meanwhile around the golden couch was an ever-thickening press of courtiers, nobles, councillors, and officers. New titles were being awarded by the dozen to all first-comers. Sentences of perpetual banishment and confiscation of property were being laid on Hisvin and all others absent, guilty or guiltless. Reports were coming in of the successful fighting of all fires in the city and the complete vanishment of rats from its streets. Plans were being laid for the complete extirpation from under the city of the entire rat-metropolis of Lankhmar Below — subtle and complex plans which did not sound to the Mouser entirely practical. It was becoming clear that under the saintly Radomix Kistomerces, Lankhmar would more than ever be ruled by foolish fantasy and shameless greed. At moments like these it was easy to understand why the Gods _of_ Lankhmar were so furiously exasperated by their city.
Various lukewarm thanks were extended to the Mouser and Fafhrd, although most of the newcomers seemed not at all clear as to what part the two heroes had placed in conquering the rats, despite Elakeria’s repeated accounts of the final fighting and of Glipkerio’s sea-plunge. Soon, clearly, seeds would be planted against the Mouser and Fafhrd in Radomix’s saintly-vague mind, and their bright heroic roles imperceptibly darkened to blackest villainy.
At the same time it became evident that the new court was disturbed by the restless tramping of the four ominous war-horses, three Ghoulish and one Mingol, and that the presence of an animated skeleton was becoming more and more disquieting, for Kreeshkra continued to wear her black robe and hood like a loose garment. Fafhrd and the Mouser looked at one another, and then at Kreeshkra and Reetha, and they realized that there was ageement between them. The Northerner mounted the Mingol mare, and the Mouser and Reetha the two leftover Ghoulish horses, and they all four made their way out of the Rainbow Palace as quietly as is possible when hooves clop on tile.
Thereafter there swiftly grew in Lankhmar a new legend of the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd: how as rat-small midget and bell-tower-tall giant they had saved Lankhmar from the rats, but at the price of being personally summoned and escorted to the Afterworld by Death himself, for the black-robed ivory skeleton, was remembered as male, which would doubtless have irked Kreeshkra greatly.
However, as next morning the four rode under the fading stars toward the paling east along the twisty causeway across the Great Salt Marsh, they were all merry enough in their own fashions. They had commandeered three donkeys and laden them with the box of jewels the Mouser had abstracted from Glipkerio’s bed-chamber and with food and drink for a long journey, though exactly where that journey would lead they had not yet agreed. Fafhrd argued for a trip to his beloved Cold Waste, with a long stopover on the way at the City of Ghouls. The Mouser was equally enthusiastic for the Eastern Lands, slyly pointing out to Reetha what an ideal place it would be for sunbathing unclad.
Yanking up her violet robe to make herself more comfortable, Reetha nodded her agreement. “Clothes are so itchy,” she said. “I can hardly bear them. I like to ride bareback — my back, not the horse’s. While hair is even itchier — I can feel mine growing. You will have to shave me every day, dear,” she added to the Mouser.
He agreed to take on that chore, but added, “However, I can’t concur with you altogether, sweet. Besides protecting from brambles and dust, clothes give one a certain dignity.”
Reetha retorted tartly, “I think there’s far more dignity in the naked body.”
“Pish, girl,” Kreeshkra told her, “what can compare with the dignity of naked bones?” But glancing toward Fafhrd’s red beard and red, curled chest, she added, “However, there is something to be said for hair.”