FRITZ LEIBER “The Sadness of the Executioner.” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. First published in Flashing Swords #1, edited by Lin Carter (Dell, paperback original, July 1973). Collected in Swords and Ice Magic (Ace, paperback, 1977).

   Although this is nominally a Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser story, they don’t appear the ninth page of this 15 page tale, which is basically little more than long vignette. No, the main protagonist before then is Death, and in particular the death that services the World of Nehwon, and he has fallen behind on his duties. So far, as the story begins, he has to choose 200 of those now living to pass through to the other side.

   To that end, 196 have done so. He has four remaining, and two of them are our duly fated heroes, neither of who are aware of their upcoming destiny. Nonetheless destiny, or fate, has a way of stepping in, and Death being a sportsman, in spite of his inevitable cheating, decides to let it have its way.

   It was Leiber who is said to have coined the phrase “swords and sorcery” as a subgenre of the larger world of fantasy, and while a minor tale, “The Sadness of the Executioner” is a prime example.

   And as Lin Carter so states in his introduction to the story, Leiber’s finely tuned fantasy resembles in no way that of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, among other similar and inimitably ruthless characters, and the other major author in the field. Which is why I still read Leiber’s work, while tales of Conan lie today with their pages unopened, at least by me.