The morning light was at the point where it lingered between flat grey and giving the world its first pastel colours. Flådhöjden was more silent than usual. The few sounds were hoarse birds trying out their morning chirps and the dirty elves on party cleaning duty sweeping the streets. Makrofaga felt slightly groggy where she walked up a small street together with Grak and Foetida. This time Grak was the sober one – Foetida was hugging her earlobe and singing softly. They searched for Odoferus, and had managed to find someone awake enough to point them to the officers’ blocks. The streets were lined with the remnants of the great party, and many officers had fallen asleep ungracefully in their gardens. Since captain is a rather low grade they headed for the part with humble little houses, not in marble, but of whitewashed stone. They hoped finding a sign with “Enris’ house” or something similar, and that Odoferus really was there once they found the right place.
They got something better. In the middle of the street, and in the middle of the gentle morning sounds, a raspy male voice bellowed out.
“BEDDY BYYYYYEEEEE, CLOSE YOUR EEEEEEEEEEEEEYES…”
Following Odoferus’ lullabye opera they soon found the house that indeed had a sign “cpt. Enris” and entered its garden. Pink flowers bowed their heads in the flower beds, behind straight lines of lavender, and even Foetida took notice.
“Kinda’ cutesy, don’t you think, daaaahlings!”
Grak och Makrofaga exchanged looks. They didn’t really expect this, and suddenly walking in felt even more forbidden. Unfortunately Odoferus wouldn’t hear them over his own song, so they had to continue. The door to the house was still open, and when they stepped inside they noticed a heap of clothes on the floor. It was not Odoferus’ clothes. Grak mimicked “what???” and looked at Makrofaga. Makrofaga shrugged. Her gaydar was bound to be wrong some times. After all, she didn’t need and didn’t use it.
Odoferus song came from the biggest room in the house. An open fire burned in a decoratively framed hearth, and before the fire the hairy elf sat, his frock coat half open, and swinging a bottle of very expensive wine. Empty bottles covered the floor, and the content of one of the box beds was spread among them. One of the pillows served as Odoferus’ chair, the mattress was placed beside him, and on the mattress Auduin Enris slept – with his head resting on Odoferus’ lap. It was probably Odoferus that had pulled the duvet over him too, the piece was heaped in the way only caring but drunk hands can heap fabric. Makrofaga, Grak, and Foetida was given a few minutes to take in the scene, before the hairy elf noticed them.
“SHUSH!” he bellowed and pointed to the sleeping captain “HE HAS HAD A HARD NIGHT, POOR THING!!!”
“Okay,” Makrofaga said softly and started to walk toward them.
Behind her Grak tiptoed between the bottles.
“YOU REALLY WERE RIGHT, QUEENY! HE IS AS STRAIGHT AS A BROOMSTICK!”
Auduin Enris started to stir, and neither Makrofaga nor Grak wanted him to wake up. Not before they could cover up most of Odoferus’ shenanigans in the house. Grak put her index finger to her lips.
“HUSH, HUSH! YOU’RE RIGHT! I’LL BE SILENT! AS SILENT AS A CAT ON VELVET!”
“What about those clothes in the weapons’ house?” said Grak softly.
“HE WAS SO SWEATY! YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN HIM! LOOKED LIKE HE’D BEEN DIPPED IN A WELL! POOR THING!”
Briefly Makrofaga felt that burning will to smack a friend over the head that occur when you both are heading for disaster, and could have avoided it but for that small mistake. Auduin Enris stired again. He was obviously about to wake up. She put her index finger to her lips.
“YEAH! SHUSH! THE BOY NEEDS HIS SLEEP! HE REALLY DO! I SHOULD BE SILENT!”
Auduin Enris opened his eyes, tried to focus, and fumbled around for his glasses. Makrofaga and Grak both inhaled deeply and waited for catastrophy to rain on them. Odoferus on the other hand…
“OH! DID I WAKE YOU UP? I WAS JUST TELLING THEM HOW STRAIGHT YOU ARE!”
“Yes” said the captain weakly.
He had managed to find his glasses, and by some sort of miracle – considering Odoferus was involved – they were still in one piece. Focusing on nothing he put them on and huddled into a sitting heap. His hair stood in seven directions
“GRAK! THE KITCHEN! YOU MUST SEE THE KITCHEN! HE HAS TEA TOWELS AND A HEARTH! WHAT A THING! YOU CAN HAVE THE FIRE INDOORS!”
“I think,” said Grak and took her boyfriend under one arm, “that you need some fresh air.”
She clasped a hand over his mouth and carried him out on the street. The tired captain just looked after them.
“I’m so sorry about this!” said Makrofaga.
Auduin Enris just looked at the mess around him, and slowly got on his feet. Makrofaga tried to help him clean up, but he just waved at her to leave things be and stumbled into the kitchen. Outside Odoferus got wind again, and started to babble about teapots.
When Auduin Enris sank onto a chair Makrofaga took pity on him. After all she was at maximum one third as hangover as him, and could move around in the world. She filled a glass of water and put before him on the table. Then a detail caught her eye – or rather a lack of a detail.
“Do you have a teapot?”
Auduin Enris looked at the shelf over the kitchen hearth.
“Not any more, it seems.”
They could hear Odoferus from the outside.
“AND THE TEAPOT! IT HAS NO CRACKS IN IT! CAN YOU IMAGINE? LOOK! NO CRACKS!”
Makrofaga made a circular motion with her hand. The teapot materialised on the table.
“No,” said Auduin Enris, “Let him have it.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded, and winced in pain. Makrofaga made a reversed motion and the teapot disappeared.
Sheepishly, and blearily Auduin Enris looked up on her.
“Ever since this” he pointed to his glasses “I get ghost hugs when I hear explosions.”
He blushed from shame.
“If your councilor hadn’t shown up I’d be sitting under the table peeing myself now. I’m… just frozen. So if he wants that teapot… I mean I can’t march down there and gift it to him. Not me.”
Makrofaga was surprised. Seeing Auduin Enris in his own home, and in the very normal green tunic Odoferus had managed to get on him, was like seeing a pig dancing saltarello – without any magic involved. With his nodded permission she rummaged around in his larder and cooked up the strongest hangover cure she knew.
“Incidentally” she said when she put the mug before him, “this is Odoferus’ recipe.”
Auduin Enris looked down the mug with the suspicion of a man served an unknown medicine. Still he took a gulp without flinching.
“What was he doing here?”
Makrofaga had had a long night herself, and only slept a few hours at a wooden bench she’d found in the temple. The tension from many difficult tasks was already dissolving, and she still had one before her. The sound of klinking glass and shrieks of joy revealed Foetida was squeezing the last drops from a wine collection Odoferus cleaned out completely. With a sigh Makrofaga gave up on lying.
“He came here to seduce you, captain.”
Auduin Enris had already perked up a little.
“Oh,” he said, “must’ve been a disappointment.”
“In general he’s just happy someone’s telling it like it is. He keeps trying ‘till he finds someone who enjoys it. But I need to talk to you about your daughter.”
In between the preparations for the ceremony and the big party Makrofaga had managed to find judges who were willing to stay sober long enough for a trial. As soon as Kingdom of Heaven was handed over to Skräpmården it would take place inside the temple. Makrofaga, being the representative of the state, was both complainant and the one who could claim the punishment. She had decided upon complete erasure of all memories of Kingdom of Heaven.
“So Pamphylia won’t remember anything of the temple?” said Auduin.
He looked so relieved Makrofaga realised she had to explain. Any dirty elf would get it, so she wasn’t sure where to start.
“No… it’s… She’ll remember she has forgotten something. It’s like constantly thinking you have something on the tip of your tongue. And since I showed her the entire complex it’ll be a heavy urge to speak, and to search for what she’s forgotten. It can drive you crazy in the same way a single mosquito in a dark room does. Someone needs to be there to help her learn to handle it, or she’ll go crazy.”
“You mean me, who am her father? She’s almost grown up, I have little say…”
“But you’re the only one willing to put in the hours.”
Many feelings flashed over Audin Enris’ face while he thought. There was something sad lingering over his mouth. He wrinkled his eyebrows.
“Is it reversible?”
“The temple can call her back if the deities decides she’s worth it.”
He rubbed his temples.
“It’s your land, it’s your laws.I’m just glad I get her back.”
Makrofaga bit her lip.
“The judges can overrule me. They can still decide on quartering. And in that case I have to carry her out in pieces.”
She had to stay even more and tell Auduin the official things. He offered to arrange an official audience for her, but she turned it down. It had been an deliberate insult having her negotiating the affairs between Skräpmården and Flådhöjden with a captain in the guard, yet the outcome had been that Auduin knew the ropes. King Gadoron didn’t, and would probably find an excuse to kill someone as an outlet for his bad mood. And it was a ceremonial thing – the interkingdom protocol for saying “Thanks for borrowing us your temple! We’ve cleaned up. Here’s the key.” She could trust her dirty elves to clean up after themselves – the only thing she needed to worry about was them cleaning out things that maybe wasn’t dirt.
If Auduin Enris noted was hard to tell. He seemed strangely distant through the entire thing. She had gotten to the last parts when he suddenly started to scratch his ears. Tiny grey hairs started to grow along their rims. He scratched some more. The ears elongated. Traveled up on top of his head and got little black tips. He reached up with his right hand.
“What is this?”
“How many do you have among you who can do these things?”
“Not many. Our land is so dry most forgets these skills after a few years.”
He conjured a mirror and took a look at it. Twitched the ears a bit.
“Well,” he said with a tired smile, “they look good at me.”
When Makrofaga walked back through Flådhöjden, gathering the last cleaning dirty elves with her, the Flådhöjden elves woke up to the bleak aftermath of an Epic Party. It was common knowledge that the dirty elves couldn’t handle advanced magic. The Flådhöjden elves loved to harp on it in saga and song. So when the marble city suddenly was magically altered and booby trapped the only culprits could be themselves. They had, by themselves, painted mustaches on deities and portraits of their Grand Military Personalities Of History, and protected them with high security spells. The fact that the statue of the founder, who normally rode on a galloping horse, now rode a giant duck could only be explained that a drunk Flådhöjden citizen had had a mental blank out. For weeks they were ambushed by farting sounds when they sat down on a chair, and it was impossible to tell which sitting place was booby trapped and which one was safe. Prodding things could, without warning, trigger fountains of confetti and streamers going off, often with a wheezing “tooooot!”. They couldn’t know that Makrofaga had, among the dirty elf revelers, hidden a group who stayed sober to whisper juuuuust the right ideas in the drunk high elves’ ears.
Not even the fact that the Flådhöjden guard took the hardest hit seemed to tip them off. Maybe they didn’t like their soldiers as much as the dirty elves had thought. The next few weeks dirty elves secretly frowned with surprise as high elves smirked when the guards – suddenly and with little warning – grew donkey ears, or got red clown noses, or both. The guards’ weapons could any minute turn into half wiltered vegetables or gardening utensils. At the gates the guards frequently tried to look intimidating carrying rakes, and a cavalry drawing cucumbers isn’t half as scary as when they have sables. The top officers were ambushed, anywhere, anytime, by cream pies, landing in their faces with embarrassing perfection. Even their horses got a part of it, suddenly getting bright coloured spots in blue, green, red, and yellow all over their bodies.
Two days after the party the collected spells were at a top, for some reason coinciding with the return of Kingdom of Heaven to Skräpmården. Auduin Enris was there, carrying his apologies from king Gadoron who had suddenly fallen ill and couldn’t attend the little ceremony. Since Auduin himself had bunny ears, bunny nose and a bunny tale, the Skräpmården audience nudged each other and speculated, loudly. Any time any of the guards removing the fence around the mound sprouted ears or a red nose the crowd roared with laughter. Makrofaga didn’t mind joining them, eventhough she could see how Auduin Enris’ shoulders drooped. For some reason the unicorns were unaffected. They were herded into their pen, and securely locked in. They paced slowly in their prison, studying Silver with deep interest. She could see him fidget.
“Do they think you’re a pet?”
He shook his head.
“Unicorns are never pets. We tend to eat our owners.”
Auduin Enris’ nose twitched and Makrofaga had to fight to keep from giggling.
“People try from time to time, your majesty,” he said. “Never ends well.”
“How do you…”
Auduin Enris couldn’t finish his question. Silver growled, a growl three times bigger and darker than himself. Briefly his eyes was as red as his cousins’ in the pen.
“I don’t.” said Makrofaga, “Silver is a free subject of Skräpmården. I’m lucky he wants to stay as my bodyguard, and he does it as a job, with a salary.”
Silver eyed Auduin Enris from top to toe, as if he took aim for spearing him on his horn. Subconsciously Auduin put his hand on the part Silver had dug into last time, and his white bunny tale started to wiggle nervously. The audience laughed.
Maybe it was just as well that the guards had finished their removal of the fence and the ceremony could start. It was not anything elaborate. Auduin read the treaty aloud, hold the parchment roll text towards the audience so everyone could pretend they had a chance to read it for themselves, then he folded it into a handy pouch for its seals, and gave it to Makrofaga. She checked that the seals were right, and that the seal ribbons weren’t tampered with. She simply said
And Kingdom of Heaven was once again in the hands of Skräpmården. Those of the dirty elves who had paid attention applauded.
Makrofaga put the treaty on one of the Stone Guardians and waited. She feared it would be long before anything happen, because standing between Auduin Enris and Silver started to become unnerving. To her relief the mound opened immediately, showing the start of the corridor down to the square and the first deities lining it. Just as Makrofaga heard the first thrilling children’s laughters she happened to look beside her on Auduin Enris. He was looking at the hill side since everybody else did, but didn’t know what to focus on. She shuddered when she realised he didn’t see the opening at all.
Mr Lotus herded the children he had saved the night when Kingdom of Heaven fell into Flådhöjden hands. He looked as unfazed as ever. Not even when millions of parents, or what felt like millions, stampeded toward him to pick up their child. Hugs, cries, for joy, childrens laughter, he didn’t even flinch. And while she was admiring him he suddenly disappeared. She nearly felt her heart stop. Looked around close to panic, until she found him right beside herself.
“I’ve missed you.”
Strictly speaking Makrofaga couldn’t miss anyone. She always carried her friends in her mind, thinking of them every other minute. But that wasn’t the right thing to say to someone she really wanted back into her life.
“I’ve missed you too!”
They suddenly got caught in their own hesitation. What was appropriate here? Whose “appropriate” should they use? They fidgeted gently, laughing little embarrassed laughs until mr Lotus took both her hands in his.
“How about a hug?”
Instead of answering Makrofaga threw herself into his arms and squeezed him with all her might. He wrapped his arms around her, and leaned against her head.
Warm laughter and applauds made them both blush. One of the elves even shouted “YES!”, and quickly hid behind an orc. That was Odoferus who still was slightly embarrassed over the theft of Auduin Enris’ teapot. Not so embarrassed he would make sure the teapot was returned – it was the best teapot the Odografoe family had ever had – just enough to keep him from being around Auduin Enris.
“Your majesty,” said mr Lotus, “perhaps we should go on?”
She untangled from him.
“Yes, mr Lotus! We’ll have to talk later on.”
The judges, waiting close by, joined her. They walked into the corridor and the opening closed behind them, as if the mound swallowed them whole.
So it happened that mr Lotus and Auduin Enris was left together outside for a long time. The dirty elves took little notice of them. They were already climbing Kingdom of Heaven throwing trash, and some even put down a few votive gifts. One gnome quickly collected the mangled paper roll, the old terracotta bowl, the rest of the cloth wick and the grease lump, and handed it all to mr Lotus. He thanked the woman, and fell silent again. Like every other dirty elf he was spoiled with noise, and as such had no fear of keeping quiet. The ears and odd noses on the Flådhöjden guards, and certainly Auduin Enris’ bunny appearance, were odd, but he was way more interested in Makrofaga’s version of the events than to destroy her tales by asking captain Enris about it.
Auduin Enris, on the other hand, who usually enjoyed the quiet Flådhöjden, shivered from conversation held back. Every time he draw for breath to say a word, he got a glance from mr Lotus that promised nine years in every hell if he tried. The Stone Guardians hummed around them, vibrating themself into their souls. Not that Auduin Enris was a chatty person, he was a good contestant in the glare game himself. But now, when he didn’t know whether his daughter would walk out of her prison by herself, or be carried out in in pieces, he dearly wished for someone to talk to him. Just the everyday conversation about everyday conversation would do. And no one wanted to. Every dirty elf around them glared at him when they though he didn’t saw, and often when they thought he saw too. They didn’t care much. Finally he couldn’t take it any more.
“Has my daughter behaved during this time?”
“She made progress.”
Mingling in the moving sea of dirty elves he could see Dido, and on other places his cousins and the few of his siblings he had left. They waited too. He drew himself together and made his best to look like an officer, despite the ears, nose, and the bunny tail. The humming from the Stone Guardians was getting on his nerves. It was as if it rattled something inside him. Something he had forgotten, but still was there, hidden somewhere. The sun started to set. It was not a full sunset yet, but the light was thinning, promising evening in the future.
Suddenly a loud “CLANG!” rose from the mound, as if hundreds of iron gates slammed shut at the same time. Startled he turned to mr Lotus.
“The deities are blocking the way with their weapons,” mr Lotus said and showed by crossing his arms, making them look like a roof, “like this. If you hear them open one by one your daughter is alive.”
That cursed sound. While he waited time flowed so slowly he could hear it go up and down, instead of being an even vibration. The Stone Guardians’ eyes were cold and abrasive, and still seemed to look at him.
Then a single CLANG made them all jump. Soon a second one. And a third. CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! If he had counted he’d known it was eighteen of them, but the only thing he could do was stare at the mound and hope it would open soon. The Pamphylia finally stood before him. She held a little kitten in her arms, and looked to the side as if she wanted to remember something.
“Pamphylia? Pamphylia! Hello!”
They had laughed at him, on principle, but the dirty elves still thought Auduin Enris was the scariest bunny they had ever seen. It wasn’t just his cold eyes and soldier’s posture, it were all those times he had driven his soldiers through crowds and houses, many times resulting in bleeding and death. When they saw him hug his daughter tightly and cry his eyes red they didn’t exactly warm up to him – they wondered how he could save so much affection for one person, while totally ignore the losses he caused daily. Many hearts boiled at the sight, and the only reason he wasn’t torn to pieces was that no one started the mob.
Perhaps there was a second reason. They knew the punishment Makrofaga had dealt to Pamphylia through the gossip network of many nanas and chatty men, and they had discussed it for two days straight. Many would rather had died, and when they saw her search her memory any time no one distracted her they flinched. It was like standing a bit too far from a baby heading towards a brazier. They were a little bit softer about her, she had screwed up big time, but at least she had tried to help. That was far more than one could say about her father.
Last but not least, they knew in their bones there would be retribution, and they didn’t want to waste their current victory just yet. They waited patiently and drew a sigh of relief when Auduin Enris and Pamphylia climbed onto their colourful horses and rode away. Finally they could celebrate without having any Flådhöjden elves in their faces.
From Makrofaga’s place there was a change from black to white once the two high elves had disappeared. The dirty elves suddenly held party food and picnic blankets instead of everyday tools of the heavier quality. She felt oddly proud, sort of a mix between love and being impressed of the stubborn will to defend the things worth the trouble. Grak, Odoferus, and Foetida had brought all their kids and a batch of food enough even for her – as usual she had forgotten that she needed to eat once in a while. They all sat down, watched the sun paint the sky red, and the Flådhöjden guards struggle to tear down the fence between Sprättströget and Skräpmården to be able to move the border. For once it was nice to sit still while the high elves worked, instead of the other way around. Makrofaga filled in mr Lotus of what had happened while he had been stuck inside Kingdom of Heaven. Odoferus bragged about his new teapot, and made some dirty passes at mr Lotus at the same time. They all waited for the time when the moon rose over the mound, and they could reinstate the fire pillar.
“Why not make a better pillar?” mr Lotus asked.
Makrofaga were just straightening out the weather worn paper. Luckily king Gadoron stepping on it hadn’t cracked it open.
“Naah! This one works fine! It’s been here for years!”
She glanced at him.
“…and when it wears out we can find paper enough to make a new one. If you want to you can write the verse on it!”
Foetida swung a tiny wine glass.
“NEEEEVER leave something for Flådhöjden to steal, DAAAAHling!”
“They’ll never change,” said Odoferus knowingly.
Grak had Busa in a sling. The baby had been cranky for the entire day until she came back from her market stall. Apparently she was a budding Grak kiddy. Now she slept soundly after being fed a full milk horn.
“Since I’m not born here… Which fire pillar is the “real” one, the top one or the one inside.”
“The top one” said Makrofaga
“The bottom one” said Odoferus at the same time
They stared at each other.
“No, the bottom one!” said Makrofaga
“No, the top one!” said Odoferus at the same time.
“Make up your minds!” said Foetida.
“Odoferus, you don’t even believe in gods!” said Grak
Odoferus glared at her.
“So what?” he huffed, “I can still know stuff!”
“Let me guess,” said mr Lotus, “since you don’t care much about the material the pillar is made of both is important, but for different reasons, and that’s why you can’t chose between them.”
“Pretty much,” said Makrofaga, “everyone can reach the one on top, so it has to be there. The one inside is the heart, so it has to be there – too.”
She looked beyond the mound, toward the strip of land being cleared for them.
“But it bugs me we had to fight so hard for things that already are ours, and a piece of lawn.”
“Want to give up?”
The moon rose over the mound when three of the six kids had fallen asleep. Makrofaga sent Foetida with a small lamp to fetch fire from the fire pillar inside the mound, and assembled the other things needed. Mr Lotus had been kind to provide clean water for the bowl, and she had given up on how exactly he did that – she just slung the bottle in its string over her shoulder, and took the paper tube under her arm. With the cloth and grease in the bowl she walked towards the mound. It was part of the ritual, but looked rather ordinary. Few dirty elves took away their attention from their picnics. She knew, though, that if she took the wrong way, stopped, or fell everyone would be on their feet in an instant. After a few steps the first elf joined her, and here and there another one stepped up to be part of the procession. Around them the parties went on. They met Foetida at the foot of the mound, with the lamp in her hand she looked like a cerise firefly. Talking and joking they went clockwise up the hill, with the fairy leading the way, and found the vague depression where the pillar had been mounted before. The high elves had almost erased it by running around and planning things. Since they didn’t have any digging utensils they kicked the hole open again, put in the pillar and supported it with votive gifts and trash. It stood fairly straight. At least it was good and sturdy enough to balance the bowl on top. Makrofaga poured in the water, clotted the grease in the middle with the wick, and took the lamp from Foetida.
“It ends and starts here” she said.
For no reason they giggled softly while she lit the fire. If it was the cold air or the fact that they couldn’t live up to the pressure of being Solemn and Holy. It didn’t matter anyway. What mattered that they had their hill back. The hum from the Stone Guardians subsided, and they sank slowly down under the trash again. Under the group, down under the mound, hospital, library, school, temple and horrgoo fabrication were in full swing. They could almost feel their heartbeats through the soles of their shoes.