Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Pt 6 Punches And Party

First when Makrofaga stopped by Grak’s market stall she realised her plan to cover up Auduin Enris’ espionage may have had some flaws. Her face hurt. A lot. She wanted someone to, frankly, give her a hug and help her repaint the makeup. While it had been oddly heart warming to see how unwilling Auduin had been to beat her up, it was disconcerting to discover how good he was at it. The memory of his eyes freezing to ice before he socked his fist into her eye kept flashing through her mind. She had ended up with one eye swollen shut, a bleeding, thick lip, and probably a broken rib. She limped past market stalls where dirty elves and high elves turned and stared at her, and when she finally found Grak the first thing she saw was the orc turn pale as a sheet of paper.

Every soul has an off-button. It’s a security device to keep the psyche from imploding from stress, and it releases when things raises the feelings over the highest alert level. As soon as this level is reached you stop feeling, and are supposed to deal with a panic situation in calm and cold manner. In Makrofaga’s case this off-button triggered too early. Many people thought she didn’t have feelings, since she often dealt with tragic situations without – seemingly – being affected. They never saw how she lay awake at night, for years afterwards, and replayed what had happened, having those painful feelings slowly digging themselves into her soul like barbed daggers. It was little comfort that the same thing happened with positive things – a favour or a kind word didn’t affect her much at first, but the warm feeling stayed for a long time. Now, when she limped to one of her oldest friends in Skräpmården, this off button kept her from connecting the feelings she saw around her with herself. She loved all the dirty elves, and couldn’t, at least not at the moment, connect their shock with her black eye.

Grak dropped her scissors and gaped so big her underjaw fangs nearly touched her upper lip.
“I hope you don’t mind, Grak” said Makrofaga and felt her soul squirm, “but I need a hug.”
“But off course!”
She wrapped Makrofaga in a hug so tight the last ordered makeup smeared itself against the intricately embroidered coat. That was one of Grak’s most important portfolios, and before Makrofaga was ambushed by the pain in her side she thought that it would be destroyed forever.
“Ow! Ow! My side! I think I’ve broken something!”
“Your majesty! What happened to you???”
Makrofaga put her hands over her face.
“I asked for it! But can you help me with the makeup? I think the last pieces just wore off.”

The eyes of the entire market followed them when Grak led Makrofaga behind the curtains of her fitting “room”. The dirty elves elaborate makeup had more functions than being a decorative part of their dress habits. That it annoyed the high elves wasn’t wrong, far from it. Some dirty elves put on their eye shadow with a sneer ever day. But one of the more important reasons to use it was to become hard to recognise. Being recognised by former friends and relatives meant having to face, full frontal, that you had been thrown away like trash. Some even thought about those friends and relatives and wanted to keep them from being embarrassed. For whatever reason a dirty elf rather ran around naked than without makeup.

Grak had extra makeup in her stall – putting on and off clothes smeared things, and the customers appreciated the service. Now she put the pallets before Makrofaga and helped treat the bleeding lip.
“I asked for it” Makrofaga repeated while she mixed her preferred colours, “stupid as it is.”
“Did that Auduin Enris do this?”
“Yes… We need to hold an extra council tonight. Are there babysitters available?”
At least ten persons shouted they were willing to babysit.
“I even think Foetida and Odoferus will be sober, you majesty.”

Makrofaga side glanced at the crowd outside the curtains, and cursed herself for not thinking further. She had a person she needed to talk to, and she would have to walk through almost the entire Skräpmården to reach xer. As hard as it was for her to connect the feelings people had they still would affect her. Having wrath around teared her soul like a grater teared fabric.

Suddenly mr Lotus peaked around the curtain. An odd relief. Unlike most dirty elves he wouldn’t assault her with hugs or loud wails.
“Your majesty?”
“How did you get here so fast?”
“I flew… well, jumped. Do you need anything?”
“Mostly company. I have a person I need to talk to. Do you mind escorting me.”

Normally it would take her somewhere between half an hour to an hour to walk down to the sewers, because the person she had to talk to worked around the sewer mouth. This time the time stretched over two hours, and was filled with dirty elves talking, inspecting her wounds, offering remedies, wishing for Auduin Enris’ gory demise, and in general being the awesome people the dirty elves were. Makrofaga had been around them enough to not act like their concern was of no importance to her, but she had to direct herself to hide that her soul currently was overworn and numb. Mr. Lotus walked close behind her, not saying much. He didn’t even hold her hand, and given their earlier conversation she wasn’t surprised. She barely had time to reflect over it, and it wasn’t until she reached the sewer mouth she realised how much she appreciated that he was there.

She was still in the middle of a worried group of dirty elves, and could ask one of them to fetch Dido. Much to her surprise the assembly dissolved, as if they knew what she was going to ask. Only the person who had agreed to find Dido stayed around, and soon returned with her. The woman was brown, like a hazel nut in the last warm days of fall, she lacked one arm, and her face was completely immobile under all her makeup.
“Hello,” said Makrofaga and draw for breath, “are you the mother of Pamphylia Enris?”
“Yes”

***

It was a good mountain top, but it wasn’t “their” mountain top. To be fair Makrofaga hadn’t realised the mountain mr Lotus had carried her to earlier were special until she had suggested to the rest of the councilors that they’d take a look at it. She could’ve hit herself. Despite years of training she still missed those special little clues in relationships. She could only hope this wouldn’t put one of those awkward wedges between her and mr Lotus that tend to kill an early relationship. Where she stood she could see the place where he had coiled up around her, though she soon chose to look out over the valley. She had to tell the rest of the council what Auduin Enris had told her, and the reason they all had “made an excursion” was that this was something that couldn’t reach the rest of Skräpmården’s ears. Not yet at least. They needed a plan for what they would do.

The king of Flådhöjden was a vain man. He was indeed beautiful, with long, midnight black hair, alabaster skin and red lips, and he wanted the rest of the world to match. Over the last years he had cleaned up Flådhöjden of anything he didn’t want there, and his efforts had come to an end. It was as perfect as it could be, even with the most the relentless efforts no more improvement could be made. At the same time Makrofaga’s efforts with Skräpmården had made her place swell over. People may not be in the best place, but they were healthier, happier, and more numerous than they had ever been. But instead of being impressed the Flådhöjden king saw something else when he looked at Skräpmården from his windows. He saw overflowing cow dung, and he wanted it removed.

Auduin Enris didn’t meet the king often, and until Makrofaga forced him to ask around he had seen himself as an official working for a normally flawed leader. There are always unsavoury parts of ruling a country, and no one can handle them perfectly. Of course the Flådhöjden king was due to push buttons and stomp on a few toes just like anyone else. But when Auduin dug deeper he had found out that the king didn’t care. Removing Kingdom of Heaven was a first step, since the king rightly assumed it was the anchor to the identity of the dirty elves. They were a fiercely diverse bunch – not all of them believed in the same deities, or in gods at all, but they all visited Kingdom of Heaven. Remove that, and the crowd would be more easy to handle. With kindness or cruelty… well, the king didn’t care at all. Eventhough he leaned to cruelty all the persons walking the streets of the slum was just as important to him as specks of dust. If he torched all of it he wouldn’t feel anything. And since the dirty elves were loud and, in his opinion, ugly he had decided to send Skräpmården, piece by piece, into oblivion.

It’s only in fairy tales a large mass of persons panics and flees at such news. What Makrofaga feared was the creeping loss of spirit. They already felt like trash, and while Flådhöjden’s treatment wasn’t kind, at least it was a ceremonial recognition of them as a country. If the news got out one of the most important life lines for their self esteem would be cut, and gradually people would just sit down and wait for death. One of the few things that could keep them upright was for her and her council to already spread a Very Good Plan around. So they needed A Plan, and when she stood there, looking out over Skräpmården together with mr Lotus, Odoferus, Grak, and Foetida, they all felt that they lacked too much in that department.

“How much time do we have” Grak asked.
“Hard to tell” Makrofaga said, “Auduin Enris said he’d already stalled the plans as much as he could. I mean, he wants his daughter back in one piece.”
“You need to fight” said Grak.
Odoferus found a suitable stone and sank down on it. For once he didn’t smile.
“We can’t fight! We’re party animals!”
They all sighed. Dawn spreads its rosy clouds over Skräpmården, and a thousand golden windows in Flådhöjden made the towering city look blacker than it should.
“Nothing wrong with a party” said mr Lotus.
The others stared at him.
“Do you have any ideas, mr. Lotus?” Makrofaga asked.
“Yes, your majesty. Ask for another audience and demand thirty meters of Sprättströget.”

They held another council at Skräpmården, to cover up the first one. They had one issue that could be heard by the regular dirty elves, and it had the benefit of giving some extra explanation as to why Makrofaga was beat up by Auduin Enris. Should they introduce Pamphylia to her mother? Dido herself had agreed to it, reluctantly. Both parents agreed on one thing – they wanted Pamphylia to stay at Flådhöjden. The chance was the girl would want to stay once she found out her mom was still alive, and worked by dragging feces from the sewers. All of the persons around the table at Makrofaga’s hut could understand the parents. The choice between a dirty, overpopulated slum, and the lap of luxury – when it was for one’s only child it wasn’t a hard one to make.
“Whatever,” said Odoferus, “I think they set themselves up! You really should ask the _gal_ if she want to meet her mom.”
“You think?” said Makrofaga.
“DAAAAAAAAAAAAHling! Think! How long have that lIIIIIttle one thought her mom had crOOOAAAked, and then YOOOUUUUU just DROOOOPS her into the CEEEEEEEEEElll. Could make an OOORRRC crazy!”
Makrofaga thought it over.
“You couldn’t be a better bunch of councilors if I dipped you in gold! Anyway, I need to rest – council is ended.”

There were things Makrofaga gladly stalled as long as she could. The next day she took her usual walk around Skräpmården first. She could have rearranged her habits, yet it felt better to keep them just as they were. Not only for the knotty subject of reintroducing a mother to her daughter. This was tax collecting day, and from experience she knew things would run more smoothly if she had been around first. This way they ended up with far less wounded and dead. As discretely as she could manage she reminded people that she wanted them alive, before she joined mr Lotus and Dido at the top of Kingdom of Heaven.

Makrofaga went along down the dark corridor. She listened to her own footsteps and tried to find something to say that wasn’t as boorish as she could be. The exercise of playing through different scenarios usually made her find the right words once she had to really speak. Still, when she stood at the door, she had a feeling she would be a bit too brutal. As usual – but the thing needed to be said.

The cell was neatly kept, and Pamphylia wasn’t screaming at her. The girl wasn’t overly happy to see her either, something Makrofaga could understand. And the kitten surprised her. Last time she’d seen in it it had been tiny, almost so small you could fit it into one hand. It’s grey striped fur had still had its kitten fluffyness. The thing that slept at the foot of Pamphylia’s bed was huge, and had midnight blue fur with saphire stripes.
“Is that a moon tiger???”
Pamphylia shrugged and looked slightly embarrassed.
“I was bored, and the magic here around is interesting. Can you call magic ancient? I thought all magic was the same, but here it’s as it is cleaner, older.”
Makrofaga couldn’t agree more, though again she was surprised someone wouldn’t notice how different magic looked in different places.
“Have you tried to get out?”
The girl looked to the cat and coughed.
“It’s impossible. I don’t even recognise what holds the mechanism down.”

They both looked at the sleeping moon tiger, trying to find out what to say.
“Will I ever get out from here.”
“Good question. You haven’t even had a trial yet…”
The insight was like a hammer to Makrofaga’s soul. On top of everything else she’d need to arrange a trial for Pamphylia, and find judges that were willing to stay sober for the entire process.
“…but that’s not why I came. You think your mother is dead, right?”
Pamphylia looked up.
“Shouldn’t she be?”
“She’s one of many here who are “dead” to their families in Flådhöjden, since she was thrown into the sewers.”

With one hand buried deep into the moon tiger’s fur Pamphylia drew for breath.
“I’m not sure I believe you.”
The tiger noticed her hand, and stretched over the bed with a friendly growl, pushing one of its paws against the wall over the pillow.
“I can understand, but if you want to she can come and see you.”
“Is she here?”
“In the temple, at least.”
First Pamphylia fell silent, then the rest of the cell. The only thing you could hear was the faint breathing of the tiger. Makrofaga grabbed a handful of fabric in her dress and squeezed hard. She hoped she hadn’t said anything wrong.
“Yes,” Pamphylia finally said.

Mr Lotus brought Dido within minutes. It was as if the corridor only swallowed time when you walked through it. As soon as the woman was inside the cell Makrofaga changed places with her, and stepped as close to mr Lotus as he was comfortable with. Pamphylia stood up from the bed, not sure what to do. The moon tiger opened up one eye, took in what happened in the room, and closed it again. Dido stood with her back as straight as a rake, and looked down on her daughter. At that moment mr Lotus gently drew Makrofaga from the cell, and closed the door.

They went to the middle square and took seats at the feast table. Unlike all other elves around it they mostly sat quiet.
“I brought you a gift” said mr Lotus and pulled a box out of one of his sleeves.
“You don’t need to, you know that?”
“I know, your majesty, but I want to.”
She removed the wrapping and found a small, foldable chess set. It was made by one of the best craftsmen in Skräpmården, and must have cost quite a bit. The pieces where made of re-purposed glass, and the table was made of hammered tin and brass.
“I like this game,” Makrofaga said, “the queen moves around being a bitch, while the king hides behind his officers and does nothing but getting beat.”
Mr Lotus looked up.
“Oddly close to reality, don’t you think?”
They chuckled and put up their pieces.

You learn a lot about a budding partner by playing games with them. Mr Lotus was a good opponent, his strategies solid and elegant, and he often had several to back up with if his first failed. He also started to sweat when Makrofaga got the upper hand. She made another crushing move just to see if she was right. And suddenly felt the magic around them shift. It had nothing to do with their game. It was something from the outside. The entire square vibrated, the magic rippling like water when someone kicks the pier foundation. She looked around the square together with mr Lotus and all the other party participants. The place was suddenly silent. Then the doors to the hospital flew open and the doctors paraded out. All had their beaked masques, their hooded red frocks, and a golden chalice in their hand. In grave silence they walked, pair upon pair, toward the exiting corridor.
“What’s happening?” mr Lotus said while Makrofaga sprung to her feet.
“Something’s happening outside. I need you to lift me.”

They ran outside, and mr Lotus leapt into the air. Once he could lift her they soon saw why Kingdom of Heaven had dispatched its healers. An irate crowd had attacked the tax collectors.

The taxes were collected four times a year, and that was one of the few times – apart from the charity projects – that high elves went into Skräpmården. They didn’t risk anything. The collectors were always many more than they needed to be, members of the guard, and those who didn’t collect the money sat on their war horses. During the day they slowly meandered through the slum, paying a visit to every hut demanding money. A few dirty elves put up a fight, and the evening in general ended with a bruise comparing party. As far as Skräpmården parties goes it usually was sombre. Losing to the tax collectors wasn’t much to write a note about. The leader of the tax collectors was always Auduin Enris, riding first on a dapple grey horse.

From the air Makrofaga and mr Lotus could only see a boiling mass of bodies and horses. Normally the dirty elves would be no match for the trained soldiers. Even if they were fewer they knew their craft. But this time close to fifty elves had taken on each of the guards, beating and kicking furiously. For a moment Makrofaga was at loss for words, taking in how the rest of the Flådhöjden army was about to notice that something was amiss.
“DRENCH THEM MR LOTUS!”

Mr Lotus dived, opened his mouth and let out a flood of clear water. The effect was similar to turning a huge bucket upside down over an anthill. Dirty elves and high elf guards, still locked to each other in fight, floated away in as small, angry islands, their kicking and biting subsiding the more they felt the cold water seep through their clothes. Huts flatted, and the sorry rests were driven together into trash islands. Horses strove to keep their heads above surface and screamed in panic. And suddenly the water turned, flattened, and trickled out over the rest of the slum. Groggy fighters looked at each other and tried to find their footing again.
“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?!”
Makrofaga was so mad she had climbed on top of mr Lotus’ head and screamed on top of her lungs.
“I SAID I WANT YOU ALL ALIVE!”
“But…” said one of the dirty elves who miraculously still were standing, possibly because he was an orc “we were winning…”
“AT THE MOMENT YES! BUT THEY HAVE AN ARMY TO BACK THEM UP!”
The dirty elves slided through the mud, striving to stand, and sheepishly not looking at each other. The high elf guards clenched their teeth and did the same.
“I CAN SEE THE SOLDIERS GEARING UP FROM HERE! DID YOU WANT THE ENTIRE SKRÄPMÅRDEN BURNT TO THE GROUND?”
More sheepish shuffling. No one seemed to know what to do with the foe beside them. Makrofaga sighed and pointed.
“DIRTY ELVES – OVER THERE!”

When the dirty elves had retreated the high elf guards looked strangely vulnerable in the mud. With grey slime all over their clothes none of the fancy soldier design was visible, and they were reduced to being their bodies. Anyone of them could be anyone in Skräpmården. In the middle of the empty spot left after the flood one couple was still locked in fight. Auduin Enris kicked and strived to unclench Silver’s jaws from his butt. The unicorn’s eyes were red from war frenzy. For a while Auduin’s swearing was the only thing that was heard.
“Someone,” said Makrofaga, “get Grak.”
It says a lot about Auduin’s reputation among the dirty elves that no one dared laughing. Not there and then. No one even felt a flicker of a giggle.

After an awkward and long wait Grak stomped over to the unicorn. Without looking at the captain she gingerly wiggled her fingers between the unicorn jaws.
“It’s time to let go!”
“’Hneve’!”
“Yup it is!”
Slowly and carefully, to not hurt her friend, she pried the jaws apart. As soon as Auduin felt he was free he rolled over and crawled away as fast as he could. Still red eyed Silver tried to lunge for him.
“MURDERER! MURDERER!”
Grak slung him over her shoulder and left. They could hear the unicorn scream until he was hoarse. At the same time Auduin finally came to his feet. Red splotches mixed with the grey goo on his pants. He looked around. The horses, being trained to not run way when they lost their riders, had collected in an shivering group as far away from the dirty elves as possible.
“Binky!” he spat out “Binky! Over here!”
The dirty elves stared wide eyed at each other. Still not even a hint of a giggle. The dapple grey horse left the flock and limped over to his owner, head held nobly high, and eyes that said “say a word and I kick in your head”. Makrofaga leaned down to make sure Auduin heard her.
“YOU!”
Auduin looked up. His cheeks were smeared with mud, and while he still had his eyeglasses they were covered in splotches.
“You have enough of what you came for! Leave! And get me a real audience the next time!”

No need for further words. Auduin took his horse by the reins and lead his muddy soldiers out of Skräpmården. They had a silent audience of dirty elves along the way. Not even the kids said anything. Not until the group was safely outside their borders, and had rejoined the army on the other side. The entire slum erupted in triumphant roar, and refused to go silent.

***

Late that evening Makrofaga and mr Lotus sat watching stars on their mountain top, trying to make sense of the day. Makrofaga had spent hours rebuilding huts, and working complicated diplomacy to make try to smooth out the tax losses over the entirety of Skräpmården. By asking the right family share with the right persons she had managed to end up with a population were all had paid half the taxes. She felt wrung out in every fiber. Now the entire Skräpmården was a gigantic party. She had stayed until the din had wore her down, and she asked mr Lotus to help her to a silent spot. He had stayed in dragon form and coiled up to form a comfortable chair for her.
“Fighting the tax collectors…” she sighed. “What got into them?”
Mr Lotus chuckled.
“You get one thing that few rulers get,” he said.
“Huh?”
“You get that a ruler is the servant of the people. You personally rebuild losses, you are always around them, and you don’t give up until all have a fairly good life – as long as it’s possible.”
“Is it anything wrong with that?”
“No! That’s one of the reasons I stay! You’re the best teacher I can have! But on the other hand…”
He headbumped her gently.
“…you seem to miss one thing that get rulers a big head; a ruler is the first representative of a people…”
“…and that means I have to handle that butt Auduin Enris!”
“No, that means if someone strikes you he strikes the heart of all the dirty elves. Everyone will know, everyone will be angry.”
“Hm. I haven’t thought of it that way. Being a ruler seems to be a job almost anyone can do, as long as they’re willing to put in the work – and there are many of those around in Skräpmården.”
The dragon lifted his gigantic head and looked at the stars for a long time.
“In a way,” he finally said, “it’s the same where I come from.”
“Speaking of which; what does sitting on horseback looking at flowers mean?”
“I have to tell you a story to explain…”

“Once upon a time there was a boy and a girl who were looking to marry. Where they lived women and men didn’t spend time together in the same way they do in Skräpmården, they hadn’t even met each other. Instead they had to rely on matchmakers, and it so happens they ended up paired with each other. Being young they both wanted to look like the perfect spouse, and _have_ the perfect spouse. Their parents, who were the ones taking the important decisions, had agreed to the marriage. It was the usual case of families and properties fitting together, but they decided that the young couple would have the last say. The prospective groom would be allowed to walk past the girls house, and look at her in the garden. She, of course, would look at him at the same time. If they liked what they saw they would agree to marry.

There was only one problem – or two if you want to be picky about it. The boy had a permanent limp, and knew he would look bad hobbling about. The girl had a cleft lip, and thought – not without reason – that the boy would find her ugly. But the boy had a friend who suggested he’d ride past the house instead of walk. That way he would look royal, and the limp would be invisible. The girl had a friend who suggested she’d pick a bunch of flowers and smelled them when the boy showed up. The flowers would enhance the beauty of her eyes, and hide the cleft lip.

The Big Day came, and the boy borrowed a magnificent horse. He look royal where he road. The girl picked the garden’s most beautiful flowers, and her eyes twinkled with them and the sun as he came by. They both agreed to the marriage. And thus they also had to spend the most awkward wedding night in history.

That’s sitting on horseback looking at flowers.”

Makrofaga thought back to the morning earlier that week.
“Well,” she said at last “you have seen me in a few of my most unsavoury moments, that’s true.”
“And so have you. Speaking of horseback and flowers… Which is your real name?”
Makrofaga looked to Flådhöjden’s burning fires and sighed.
“I’ve lived for so long at Skräpmården that I think it is Makrofaga, but if you really want to know…”

***

For a few days the entire Skräpmården was boiling. They had driven out the tax collectors. For once they had had the upper hand. Makrofaga felt the pressure rise with each day, and she worried. The dirty elves were still a group of party animals, and not soldiers. If they got into their mind to do any kind of attack on Flådhöjden it would end in a blood bath. She searched the library for answers, she discussed the thing with her councilors, and – most important – she let everyone know there was a plan in the works. And when she was as most preoccupied with rebuilding and planning one of Flådhöjdens heralds knocked on her door. It was a rainy day and his pastel yellow and blue and orange shoe where drenched in mud and unspeakable dirt. He left her a message without open his mouth, his face being a painting over how much he not wanted to be there. It was one of those moments Makrofaga was happy she could read. Having that sourpuss reading for her would have destroyed her day. But she nearly fainted when she read the parchment. She had been granted an audience with the king of Flådhöjden – and given ample time to prepare herself. She was so amazed she called the council together.

“This have never happened before!”
The others glanced over the parchment.
“Why now” said Grak.
“DAAAAAAHling,” said Foetida, “should we REAAAAAAAly look a gift HOOOOORSe in the mouth?”
“Yes,” said mr Lotus, “sometimes that horse is a bad tempered unicorn with the horn removed.”

Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Pt5 Sitting on horseback looking at flowers

It wasn’t possible to think much during the daily walk around Skräpmården. Where one conversation ended and one problem hopefully had gotten its solution, another one started. At the end, when she could see her own hut again, Makrofaga felt like her head was full of chatter. She longed for the, well not silent but at least not as loud and clattery, peace of own home. But this day she slowed her pace and hesitated. Would mr. Lotus wait for her? She shook her head and returned to the more important details of what had happened the last twenty four hours. The careful reading of the treatise book had reminded her of one thing; Skräpmården used to be its own country.

It hadn’t been a big country. Rather it was one of those lands of the ancients, where each regent ruled over a piece of land so small the royal subjects could hear the cattle bleat in surrounding kingdoms. But unlike today it had been completely independent, and had treatises with a lot of other lands. Today, well, they weren’t even allowed to collect their own taxes, and she got her apanage as a “reroute” from Flådhöjden. The money were just enough for her to buy her daily food, and she had to scrounge clothes second hand. If she hadn’t known Grak, and the orc hadn’t been the kind soul she was, she wouldn’t even have an official royal robe.

She sighed, and stopped at her favourite food vendor Pacho. He was a gnome with one ear and an enormous scar across his face. The scar transformed his smile into a cruel sneer, and if you didn’t know him you expected him to stab you as soon as you turned your back. When he lift the lid of his cauldron the boiling grease sent white clouds of steam around the street. She ordered her usual and got twice the amount of deep-fried something she payed for. This, as well as Grak’s donation of an official robe, was a kind of small scale rebellion. If they weren’t allowed to pay taxes directly to the regent they chose, then they could give xer some gifts now and then. Personal gifts, of course, not at all related to the cost of the crown. Makrofaga spent a lot of her mental capacity keeping track of those presents, and in as many cases as possible direct them to places that needed them, instead of to her personal keep box. A gigantic stew did, if the giver allowed, a lot better work with the family where both parents had fallen ill than with her who could still pay for her food. Even part of her food from Pacho went to others.

The last steps to her hut she worked hard to return with her thoughts to the last twenty four hours. Now when she could poke the details there were some things about Auduin Enris that stood out. He had told his daughter “not to”, and was defensive about what exactly he tried to keep her from doing. He could copy a dirty elf exactly, down to the details in makeup and movements, and he must have his own supply of horrgoo. Makrofaga had checked the box from Pamphylias things – the last scrape marks in it was from the girl’s spoons when she had performed her analysis. Moreover Auduin’s wife “wasn’t with them anymore”. She could be dead-dead, but Flådhöjden elves in general said “xe’s with xer ancestors” in those cases.

And then her thoughts pulled back to mr Lotus. Handling the mess after waking up with Odoferus felt like a breeze in comparison. They had a silent agreement that since they didn’t remember much not much had happened. Then they argued with Grak and Foetida about it, and were sour for a few days until they gradually became friends again. This was nothing Makrofaga wished for, but with mr Lotus being so different it felt comfortingly familiar. He didn’t march to the same drum as the rest of Skräpmården at all. It was one thing that he insisted that she sat with her back against the north and look to the south – annoying as it was it was still more of a quirk. But he laughed when he was angry or sad, and that made him look creepy. How would he react if they sat down and had a serious talk about waking up in the same bed?

To her relief mr Lotus didn’t wait for her when she arrived to her door. A bunch of the Odografoe kids did, though, and all got their share of the deep-fried apples. After hours of being a strict queen she allowed herself to be a total wet sock for them. They got food, even on fairly regular hours, so she didn’t need get them some extra. It was just for the luxury of spoiling someone. None of them had seen anyone who seemed to search for her, and Silver slept belly-up beside her door without any sign of distress. Everything seemed clear, and she relaxed as she went into the hut.

Someone had put a flower on the table. She had not seen anything like it before. It was so big she could put both her hands under the crown when she examined it. The leaves where almond shaped, slightly concave and pink, a colour that concentrated in the tips and diluted over the leaf body – making the flower seem like it glowed from within. The fragrance filled the entire room. For a while she just poked the thick leaves and admired the beauty.

A polite knock on the door woke her up. She wasn’t surprised to find mr Lotus on the other side.
“I’m here to apologize,” he said.
“Come in.”
He looked just as stiff and embarrassed as she felt.
“I’m not sure what you’re apologising for,” she said.
“I behaved inappropriately yesterday…”
Makrofaga started to rummage around her one cupboard for something to offer. She could put on some tea, if she could stop mr Lotus from making it for her.
“Maybe? I can’t remember much of it.”
There was a hint of a smile in mr Lotus’ confused voice.
“Your majesty – we woke up in the same bed!”
“Yes?”

The confusion shut his mouth, and Makrofaga took the opportunity to make the tea and put it on the table before he found his balance again. She seemed to have a small personal amount of magic at the moment, just enough to heat water in a pot. Unfortunately not enough to get some crackers. He refused a portion of her food, so she had to awkwardly eat it during their conversation. She finished off something deep-fried and green and hoped it was a vegetable.
“What happens where you come from if someone wakes up together with the queen?”
“That does not happen.”
Makrofaga hoped to get something to go on, but mr Lotus firm tone nearly made her lose track. The only thing she could manage was
“No?”
“No.”
He seemed to hesitate over something.
“When that certainly doesn’t happen the man is dead – or castrated.”
“Whoa! That’s HARSH!”
He stirred his tea with gracile movements.
“Our queens tend to be married, your majesty, and the kings… are perhaps not as forgiving as you are.”
“Hm. Are you married?”
She realised how much she overstepped when mr Lotus went beet red.
“No…”
He fumbled with the teacup.
“…but I’ve had mistresses. I have eighteen kids in Kingdom of Heaven.”
Makrofaga nearly blew tea through her nose.
“I would know that!”
“Kingdom of Heaven is my home country, your majesty. It has the same name as your temple.”
“Oh. That explains it.”
“Explains what?”
“I don’t know if you know it, but you smirk every time I say it’s time to go to Kingdom of Heaven”
She gently waved a deep-fried beige thing around.
“One time you even asked if we wanted you to fly us.”
He just smiled, and it struck her that he didn’t smile often. Not because he was a serious man, more because he seemed to think that smiles were something to save for special occasions.
“I’m married, though” she said.
“Forgive me, your majesty, but shouldn’t I know about that? And the rest of the queendom?”
“It’s the queendom I’m married to. It takes all my time, and all my care.”
She was so occupied giving her teacup a depressed look she didn’t see how mr Lotus again blushed.
“And you’re not open for… having… a ‘second husband’?”
Even the tip of his ears was beet red.
“Only if he’s open for being a very weak second choice.”
“Well, at least I’m not sitting on horseback looking at flowers.”

There was a long moment of silence while Makrofaga struggled to make sense of his saying. It was probably something along the lines of positive? Since not one of them said anything they became painfully aware of children’s giggles. By the sound of it at least three of the Odografoe kids stood eavesdropping outside – with friends. Both Makrofaga and mr Lotus sighed, and she made a fast decision.
“Mr. Lotus. I need to discuss the planning of Skräpmården with Foetida. Is it okay to lift me?”
“I’d gladly do, your majesty!”

They found Foetida sleeping blanketed over Busa. Busa in turn slept as firmly as only newborn babies can, on top of Odoferus chest. Odoferus slept in a hammock with a toddler under each arm. Long time ago someone in the Odografoe family had had the good sense to put the hammock up on the back side of their hut. Grak sat beside the odd bunch gently rocking the entire thing with a foot while she embroidered a red piece of silk. Makrofaga felt a sting of bad conscience.
“I’m sorry, Grak” she whispered while they took in the cute scene and tried to duck the waves of beer fumes “I shouldn’t have brought them along while we visited the sewer mouth.”
“Don’t be” smiled Grak, “Busa’s such a precious thing! And she couldn’t have ended up with a better family.”
“Aaaaw! But please tell me if you need help. There’s at least ten persons lining up for it.”
“I know. I can manage!”
“I need Foetida. Do you think…”
Grak fetched a blanket, and woke her girlfriend. The fairy wasn’t exactly happy about having to leave the hammock, but she took one look at Makrofaga and mr Lotus, and went into work mode. As soon as she started flutter around them the surrounding children got energized. Within minutes they had somewhere between twenty and a hundred of them around, all eagerly waiting for mr Lotus to transform.

The reason mr Lotus never traveled the streets of Skräpmården in dragon form was that he was a Very Large dragon. If he would transform on ground he would tear down at least a quarter of the huts in one go. Now, when Makrofaga had some extra interest in studying him she noticed he seemed to be secretly flattered by the children’s attention. He jumped into the air, unfurling like a roll of silk ribbon. Upwards, upwards, upwards. Tie-dyed clothes turned into blue scales with silver rims, a ridge of red fins rose along his back, and his strong legs grew red, sharp talons. The children burst out in an impressed “ooooooooooooh” as he disappeared high up in the sky. The could vaguely see him roll around to adjust his speed, before he slowly lowered himself towards the ground again. He changed between looping through the air like a ribbon, and swimming like a snake do through water. When his head was at the same height as Makrofaga’s he stopped, swaying gently and shaking his long red moustaches.
“Your ride is here, your majesty”
Grak elbowed Foetida to stop her from giggling while Makrofaga climbed up behind his head and grabbed his horns, secretly glad to escape his piercing dragon eyes. The pearl he usually wore in a chain around his neck hovered over his forehead. Since Foetida normally hitched a ride up to the altitude they needed she just curled up in Makrofaga’s arms and tried to forget her hangover. Gingerly mr Lotus raised his head and swam away through the air.

Despite the dragon’s flying style the ride was pleasant, and much more comfortable than riding a “normal” dragon. Mr Lotus had multicoloured hair that flowed around and shielded them from the cold, high-altitude air. While a normal dragon flew more straight, the flapping of xer wings made the tour bumpy, and the smooth scaly body made it hard to hold on. Swimming the way he did, mr Lotus could adjust his movements and reduce them to a smooth swing from side to side. Despite her headache Foetida soon was asleep in Makrofaga’s arms, and Makrofaga couldn’t help smiling.
“She’s asleep again, your majesty?”
“How did you know?”
“I felt you shift as you looked down on her.”
“Yeah, she’s cute! But don’t tell her, or she’ll try to kill an orc again!”
“I’ll just take a tour around the valley, shall I?”
“Yes, please do.”

Flådhöjden straddled the pass of a large valley. Fact is the valley was so large you had to get into the air to see it properly. Sharp mountains lined its edges, but for some reason the plain between them was vast and flat. The three rivers transporting fresh water into the marble city danced down spiky mountain sides and disappeared through ornate gates. On the other side they came out through the sewers, heavy and black. A large area behind Flådhöjden was shared between Skräpmården and Sprättströget, the fence between them visible as a crisp, straight line. From the air it was easy to see that the two pieces were of equal size, and that they once had been part of a whole. Födolandet stretched its vast fields around them both, feeding of the slightly cleaner water that flowed from Skräpmården. The most fertile pieces bordered Sprättströget, while a long part of the Skräpmården line had sharp rocks as neighbours. Makrofaga had many times pondered expanding over that barren land, but Flådhöjden had vetoed every time she suggested it, and she couldn’t overlook that the cliffs and stones were unstable and sharp. Only the dense population of her queendom made the land interesting. The farm closest to Skräpmården was owned by the Flådhöjden crown. It had been for sale during Makrofaga’s reign, and she still shuddered at the thought of how she wore herself to the knuckles to collect money enough to buy it – only to have the king snatch it at the last opportunity.

Once again Makrofaga eyed Sprättströget. If she just could use that part! She’d been modest when she asked for a twenty meter broad strip – she should’ve asked for the entire thing. The answer would still be no, so…
“I’m not asleep!”
Foetida bolted up, trying to look like she had been awake all the time. Mr. Lotus quietly stopped mid-air.
“Good” said Makrofaga, “How’s it looking?”
The groggy fairy took to the air, shivering before she adjusted to the cold air.
“Cloggy as always, daaahling. You see that congestion over theeeeere? We need to mooooove the houses a few decimeeeeeeters to widen the passage…”
She was about to go on a looooong lecture, but Makrofaga interrupted.
“I need to discuss some security matters.”
“Of course, daaaaahling, I should’ve known. Want diiiiiirt on anyone?”

Foetida was the security officer of Skräpmården, and a very good one once you got past her wish to blackmail and beat up people.
“Dirt and dirt… I want to know everything you can find about Auduin Enris.”
“DAAAAHLING! He’s from Flådhöjden! I’ll be luuuuucky if they know he exiiiiiiiiiist.”
“I’m not so sure about it. Try at least!”
Foetida threw her hands in the air.
“Well, dAAAAAAHling, since you’re paaaaaaaaying to gossip I’m not complaiining.”
Makrofaga dug her cold hands into mr Lotus hair and thought for a while. Now she needed to be tactful, something that was almost impossible for her.
“Mr. Lotus?”
“Yes, your majesty?”
“Whatever we feel – can we pretend to be a couple for a while?”
Foetida stared at them.
“Oh DAAAAAAAAAAAHlings! WHY should you preteeeeeeend?”
They both glared at her. Makrofaga could feel herself cold sweating, a cold that didn’t come from the air around them.
“Why, your majesty?”
“F.. For my part it isn’t pretending, but… if we’re a couple no one will wonder why we’re up here more often than we should.”
They both tried to ignore how Foetida squeeled. Mr Lotus took a thorough look over the valley, pondering the question.
“Yes” he finally said “there’s a backside to that plan, though.”
“It is?”
“Where I come from couples don’t spend time alone together the way you do. Not even if we’re married.”
Foetida groaned.
“Aaaaaw come OOOOOOOOOON! You must at LEEEAAAAst hold HAAAAAAAAAANDS!”
“No.”
“If you’re married?” said Makrofaga.
“Yes.”
“HOW DO YOU GET CHILDREN???”
Foetida folded her arms over her chest.
“Through VEEEEEEEEEEEEERY intense MAAAAAAAAAAIL conversation,” she said, “Haven’t you seeeeeeeeeeeen his handwriting?”
To her surprise Makrofaga could hear mr Lotus chuckle. He had a very neat hand. But the fairy was getting warmed up.
“DAAAAAAAAHLINGS! You, mr, have OOOOOOObviously LEEEEARNED a thing or two here in SkräpmÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅRden. IIIIIIIIs it TOOOOOO much to use that NOOOOOOOOOOW? QUEEEEEEEEEEny here NEEEEEEEEEEEVER do anything without a GOOOOOOD reason! You’ll BOOOOOOOOOOTH be HAppier FOOOR IT!
Makrofaga and mr Lotus tried to look at each other. They both felt found out. Foetida tapped her foot in the air.
“WEEEEEEEELLL?”
“I suppose,” said Makrofaga, “that there’s something to what you’re saying…”
Mr. Lotus just nodded. With a huff Foetida turned towards Skräpmården.
“Good! Now. The kiddies need me.”
And she was off.

They saw her fly down through the wind, like a pink wad of wool. For a while neither of them said anything. Mr. Lotus squirmed, and Makrofaga felt her heart flutter.
“Are we pretending or not?”
“Your majesty, I’m not sure we’re fooling anyone.”
She sighed.
“To be honest, mr Lotus. Every boyfriend I’ve had who hasn’t been a jerk, has broken up since I only cared about Skräpmården. I feel you deserve better.”
“But that’s why I love you!”
Every one of his blue scales turned purple as he blushed. Makrofaga had a hard time seeing it since she blushed too. Admitting personal things felt like ripping out a pound of flesh.
“Soooo… we’re not pretending?”
He flew to a nearby mountain top and coiled around her. After the cold high altitude air she thankfully absorbed as much warmth as she could.
“One of the reason I’m still at Skräpmården,” he said “though I have eighteen kids at home, is that I found a ruler I only thought existed in fairy tales.”
“Now, you’re making me blush!… Who cares for your children???”
“My parents.”
“What happened to the mistress?”
“Mistresses. They care for those too.”
She curled up against the warm wall of scales. If mr Lotus suggested she’d be one of many mistresses she’d have to say no. Being one of many wasn’t her thing.
“I’m not really…” she fumbled for ways to say it.
“…into being part of a harem?”
“Yes”
“Neither am I.”
“Are you on the run from your mistresses?”
“NO! I just didn’t get it to work with any of them!”
He stared out over the valley, with his thoughts elsewhere.
“Grak, Foetida and Odoferus,” he finally said “love each other. They chose. My mistresses were given to me – like trinkets. And when that happens you end up with so many fights, and so much diplomacy.”
He stopped himself and chuckled.
“You’re right! I am on the run from my mistresses! If you can be on the run from people who don’t want you back…”
“You know, that sounds really shitty!”
“Maybe, but eighteen children is still a good outcome.”
He silently beamed with pride. Makrofaga patted his scales.
“I think you owe me something.”
“What?”
“Your real name. I bet it’s not lotus.”
He clasped one of his forepaws over his forehead.
“Perhaps not, but which one do you want? My toddler name? My school name? My ritual name? My…”
“Are you telling me you have one name for each occasion?”
“It’s more like we’re shedding our names every now and then – much like we’re shedding our scales.”
“Can we narrow it down to a family name?”
He sighed and steeled himself.
“It’s Wang.”
She chuckled.
“So you’re royal!”

Minutes came and went. Mr Lotus just stared out over the valley. Finally he turned his head and looked Makrofaga straight in the eyes. For once she didn’t have that horrible shock sent through her body, like she normally had when she had to take eye contact. Surprised she looked into his dark pupils.
“You know what it means?”
“I read a book once that wasn’t about our Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t remember much of it now, but “wang” stuck…”
She blushed and looked to the side.
“…for obvious reasons.”
He gave her a gentle headbutt, like a large and scaly cat.
“It’s a common name, your majesty, but I am royal also.”
“Oh.”
She took the time to look out over the valley and its three countries. Being queen elect meant her training was sort of patchy. She had her education from Flådhöjden, one year of basic military training, and her many years of practice in Skräpmården.
“Then you may actually be able to help me. Were you brought up to rule a country?”
“As a matter of fact I was.”
“Let’s take another tour around the valley!”

This time they flew closer to Flådhöjden and Sprättströget. The military camp was still there, they saw the four tents and the unicorn pen. A little closer to the city wall a normal tent camp was set up. The silk clad elves looked up and pointed to the dragon dancing through the air. Despite being against things that were different they seemed to enjoy the sight. Seemed to. Makrofaga and mr Lotus told each other, at the same time, to rise in the air and withdraw to the mountains. There had been something oddly disciplined about those revelers.
“I’m not sure what’s about to happen,” said Macrofaga, “but my gut feeling is acting up.”
“If I were the ruler of Flådhöjden,” mr Lotus said, “that would mean I prepared a short attack and loaded up on power to be sure it went the way I wanted.”
Makrofaga sighed and looked to her little country. Bigger than Flådhöjden, filled with people who neither wanted to nor could fight, and a lot of children. They had absolutely nothing to counter with, yet they had to try.
“If you were a ruler in my place, what would you do?”

It was dark when they returned. Mr Lotus put down Makrofaga gently before he rushed up in the air, coiled himself together and landed on his feet as a dirty elf. Odoferus, Foetida, and Grak all came out to greet them, the older children trailing in their footsteps. In the darkness Odoferus was just a shining, sleasy smile inside a mass of black bristles.
“BROTHER IN LAW!” he bellowed and held out his arms wide to hug them both, “WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!”
Immediately mr Lotus took a step back, straining as far away from those arms as possible.
“Thanks?”
“Yes,” Odoferus explained, “If queeny is like a sister to me, then you are like a brother in law!”
Makrofaga gave Foetida a sharp look.
“You spilled the beans to how many?”
The fairy beamed.
“All of them! And you were right about Auduin Enris! Boy do I have juice on him!”

***

The herald had been dispatched, pastel blue tabbard, one green and one red shoe, and the message written on rabbit skin parchment with purple ink. This time he was sent back because the ink was in the wrong value of purple. As usual Makrofaga had to run through Skräpmården, clad in the embroidered dress Grak skillfully had assembled and embroidered. She tried to not get it stuck somewhere, she’d be mortified if it broke. Her long necklace rustled and pinched her neck. For her meetings with Auduin Enris she kept the horrgoo out of her face, to make it even more obvious that she had plastered her face with makeup. She regarded herself a kind soul, so she was surprised how eager she was to annoy him.

But when she walked through the city gate and had to pass over the biggest city square she felt small. Every time homesickness hit like a hammer. She missed the tall, white marble arches and the climbing houses. She missed being comfortable and served by magic on every whim. All around her she had the high elves in their light, well fitted clothes, and her dress suddenly felt like a puffed up burlap sack. A burlap sack someone had thrown up various hues of tint on – despite Grak’s beautiful embroderies. She always got a wrinkled nose from someone when she had to ask for something, and she could swear people were turning around behind her whispering things. And, as usual, Auduin Enris was late for his appointment. She had to sit on a chair that was too high for her, dangling her feet and look around, while busy people passed to and fro. No one ever looked at her, yet she felt like an animal put out for demonstration.

She looked at the magic dancing around the walls. It was everywhere here, not like the small, flickering puddles she was used to from home. It climbed like translucent stacks of whipped cream in the corners, it flowed like liquid rainbows over the floor, and it shimmered in the air like burning fairy powder. In many places elves had rerouted it, molded it to suit their needs. The magic cleaning the floor looked milky white, and streamed like a river over her feet. Some of the magic that climbed the walls ended in large upside-down drops emitting light for the parts of the room that wasn’t lit by sunlight. In a way it was overpowering. Makrofaga had to fight her own mind to see the non-magic world behind. On the other hand it was so much home, like suddenly stepping into one’s childhood room again.

At last Auduin Enris showed up. As usual he held some pieces of paper in his hand, and looked like he just came from something important. He didn’t even say her title, or name, he just pointed to his room. She rose to follow, and suddenly saw the thick wads of magic around the door.
“Why is this room sealed?”
Instead of answering he pushed over the threshold and closed the door. No sound would escape from the sealant. Whatever happened to Makrofaga would only be heard by Auduin and her. Hearts pounding she looked up at his thin lips and sharp nose, somewhere above two blue eyes tried to pierce hers. She backed off.
“How did you know the room is sealed?”
She weighed her options.
“It shows. There was magic two hands thick!”
“You can see magic?”
“You can’t?”
Without answering he showed her a chair and sat down himself. It was hard to tell since he was so white to begin with, but she thought he looked a bit pale.
“You’re going to have to beat me up,” she said.
He sighed.
“I just wanted to be able to talk about anything.”
“Ok… Does anyone here know about what happened to Pamphylia?”
“Almost everyone. Her case is on top of the pile, but there are other things happening now.”
‘On top of the pile’ didn’t sound promising. She had heard it several times, and it never meant good news.
“Then you have to beat me up.”
“WHY ARE YOU SO INTENT ON A BEATING???”

Makrofaga stared. Audin Enris hyperventilated until he managed to get calm again. She had never before heard him raise his voice, and they had had dealings for many years.
“Because that would give others a visible reason why you sealed the room. If there is none people are going to speculate. And no one is going to blame you…”
With a sigh Auduin Enris buried his face in his hands.
“I’ll lose this job!”
“I doubt it. I became queen because your predecessor kicked off my predecessor’s leg during a session in this room. Skopas had to walk home with his bones sticking out from the flesh, and died of sepsis three days later. Turnus stayed in office for ten years more.”
Auduin Enris lifted his head out of his hands and listened with his eyes fixed on something far away.
“Did he beat you up?”
“I was cuter back then.”

When minutes had passed without Auduin even moving Makrofaga started to fidget in her chair. She weighed different alternatives against each other, and tried to pick the most effective one. Hopefully also the less mean one. She couldn’t see any point in overdoing it.
“Auduin Enris?”
Not a move.
“Auduin? Enris?”
Well, he moved, but he was also deep in thought. He hadn’t heard anything.
“Beel?”
He jumped as if someone had put a torch in his butt.
“How did you know?”
“If you know how, you can dig up every secret in Skräpmården. I know you were adopted, and that you keep in touch with your first family in secret. And I know your wife is still alive.”
He sighed, put the papers on the table and turned to her.
“What difference does it make?”
“You tell me! As if anyone would believe me if I tried to break this secret to your bosses.”
“Your cousin would probably believe you.”
They glared at each other like they were chess players with a spectacular stand-off. Makrofaga was the first one to talk.
“We’re obviously both into genealogy.”

Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Pt 4 You sleep the way you make your bed

“Was that the first dead body you’ve seen?” Makrofaga asked as they left the sewer mouth.
Pamphylia was still green faced, though part of it could be the pungent smell from sewage and feces.
“No, but the other ones have been on your funerals. And with all the decorations and…”
The girl fell silent for a while. Searched for words.
“You do very nice things with trash.”
“It’s to remind ourselves that we’re not trash.”

The sewage pipes were hard to argue with. A floating body with parts missing after the rough ride, and drenched in slimy, grey-brown goo made, as an interior designer up in Flådhöjden would say, “a powerful statement”. Since the majority of the dirty elves had made that journey themselves, and wore the marks on their bodies, they never forgot it. The thought lingered over every hut, through every party, and in every beautiful morning. Trash. Not useful. Not wanted. Ugly. Repulsive. They hunted it, tried to swat it out like you swat out mosquitoes, only to see it rise from the dead with another theft from the Flådhöjden elves. It was a daily fight just as real as the fight to keep the house clean and the kids healthy. One of their ways to exorcise it was to hold elaborate funerals. Perpetual flowers made from cloth and tin decorated the body, multicoloured flames where put at its feet, and people visited to made their last goodbyes dressed up in their most colourful clothes and elaborate makeup. The wailing could be heard for miles, and since many lived in Skräpmården the song from a funeral was part of the daily din.

They had walked a few hundred arms when Makrofaga had to stop to let Pamphylia throw up and rest for a while. Silent dirty elves gathered around them. They just looked. Didn’t seem interested in argue or attack. Once Makrofaga had made sure she was right about her gut feeling she turned her attention to Pamphylia. As usual she didn’t really know what to do with a sick girl, and she could feel her arms shake slightly. Fortunately Pamphylia looked as she handled most of it herself. She sat on the stool someone had provided and stared at a point somewhere far away while the green in her face faded. Perhaps some of the reality of Skräpmården finally was about to sink in. Unfortunately Makrofaga knew that look. She had seen it in the face of many charity workers about to leave for the last time. The girl wouldn’t fully understand. Not unless she made the journey through the sewers herself, and, despite everything, that was something Makrofaga didn’t wish on her.

The walk to Kingdom of Heaven took them almost forty minutes. Makrofaga had expected to run the last distance, with irate dirty elves snapping at their feet and waving burning torches. Instead people folded away. Silent, as if they were watching a dead elf walking. She could feel that tingling sense of unreality. Later on she would spill her surprised thoughts for the councilors about how the dirty elves had respected her authority, and they would look at her like she had been amazed that water is wet. Nowadays she held on to that surprise, kept it as it was a precious jewel. She could take that respect for granted, and she knew she’d instantly turn into a bad regent. It was as if it blinded her for her daily duties and made her just expect things to sort out themselves.

Finally they saw Kingdom of Heaven rise above the huts. The usual trails of people either throwing trash or sacrificing to the fire serpented around it. Makrofaga and Pamphylia joined one of the queues, and while they followed it to the top Makrofaga could see the magic thicken around them. The divinities had made a promise the day before, and they intended to keep it. Pamphylia didn’t notice, she was still a bit pale, and she was more occupied with the dirty looks she got from people around her. Once on the top she bowed to the fire.
“It was the right way, wasn’t it” she asked nervously.
Makrofaga was impressed. The fire greetings were different in Skräpmården and Flådhöjden, and the girl had both noticed and tried to mimic the dirty elves.
“Close enough”
She pointed towards Sprättströget and the encampment.
“You see that camp there? That’s the difference we noticed… when you gave our secret away.”

The military tent were all up, and kept meticulously straight. A pen had been set up closest to the fence, inside a pack unicorns prowled about. They were so thin you could see their ribs under their skin. Thick wads of foam hanged from their jaws and their eyes were red with blood lust. Between the tents Flådhöjden guards moved, seemingly off-duty, but none of them was entirely relaxed. Like a resting tiger they could pounce any second they needed. Pamphylia sighed
“Aaaand there’s dad.”
Auduin Enris discussed a paper with one of his guards, occasionally glancing up against Kingdom of heaven.
“You knew he was here, didn’t you?”
“No. He doesn’t… Anyway, he’s been away for a few days, and I have my tutor so…”
The girl took some nervous looks towards the camp.
“I hope he doesn’t recognise me. He doesn’t want me here.”
“He wouldn’t even see you with a crystal orb.”
“Really?”
“We’re behind a veil of magic, because we’re going into the mound.”
Makrofaga had to push the girl to get her going.
“Come! We need to move against the sun.”

Still pushing the babbling girl Makrofaga made sure they circled the mound counterclockwise on the way down. The portal opened when they were almost at the bottom, exactly at border of the stone guards. Makrofaga had never managed to find an exact point for the portal, she suspected there wasn’t one. You walked the path, and if you were let in you suddenly felt engulfed in magic, darkness cradled you, and the next you knew was a long corridor lined with idols twice as high as any elf. Each idol held a lamp burning with scented earth almond oil, and the smell of roses filled the air. Pamphylia stopped in her step, completely petrified.
“Wow!”
Before Makrofaga could say anything they both heard the soft sobbing of a woman. At the feet of one of the idols a dirty elf stod on all four, as if she had fallen over. A limp child layed between her arms.
“We’d better help those out” Makrofaga said.
They hurried over, and soon saw the fever sweat pearling down the woman’s forehead. The child was red from the heat burning within.
“How are you?” said Makrofaga, more as a way to gain attention than a question to probe the situation.
This was obviously mud fever. Before horrgoo it could sweap Skräpmården and take half of the dirty elves in a few days. Now it could be contained, but those who got ill had to fight teeth and claw to survive.
“I can’t carry him anymore! I’m too weak!”
She meant to wail, but the illness reduced her voice to a whisper. Makrofaga pulled her up to sitting position and then lifted her in her arms.
“You take the kid!”
Pamphylia hesitated.
“Go on! They need the hospital!”
A limp body isn’t easy to lift, and Pamphylia had to make a few attempts before she could lift the boy in a manner that was comfortable for him. He was almost unconscious and the only sound he made was faint cries for his mommy.

For a moment they walked in silence. Makrofaga was in one way relieved. The idols and the temple needed someone who could confidently give a tour and reveal select pieces of the mysteries. For her own part she felt she would mostly go “uh… uhm… we made these… statues… from trash, you know”. Carrying the ill woman absolved her of talking. She stumbled and breathed heavily. The woman wasn’t fat like her, but she wasn’t willowy thin either. The corridor felt like it was seven leguas long, though it couldn’t have been more than five minutes of walk until they heard the happy din of the perpetual feast in the heart of the mound.

The inside of the mound was shaped like a flower. Library, temple, achemy labs and everything else inside had an opening to a central round square. In the middle of the square was a golden fountain, and while they didn’t have time to take a look golden carps swam the water, their fins flowing like veils with every move. Around the fountain stood a long table where the visitors ate the food they fetched in the kitchen, well knowing they could eat for the entire day if they wanted. Every chair was filled, and people were chatting happily with each other, occasionally breaking out in the loud partying Skräpmården above ground was so famed for. As soon as Makrofaga and Pamphylia stepped into the square with their burden people sprang to their feet. A crowd fought to take over carrying the woman, and soon they all meandered to the hospital, where the doctors took over.

The partying crowd soon returned to the square, and Makrofaga and Pamphylia were left to see the woman and her child be cared for. Doctors put them in the same bed, and helped them drink a glowing liquid from golden chalices. While the couple still were hot with fever they lost some of their sickly red colour, and fell properly asleep, the woman cradling her son in her arms. It was a beautiful picture against the painted walls, but neither Makrofaga nor Pamphylia was given time to admire it. They were unceremoniously showed into another room where they were sprayed thoroughly with diluted horrgoo.
“Uuuuuh!” shivered Pamphylia “So this is why you stink!”
“Yes,” answered Makrofaga, “Mudfever is not child’s play.”

They returned to the square, and this time the crowd payed them little attention. Pamphylia happened to look up, and again stopped in her step. Golden mosaics covered the entire ceiling, sending reflexes and sparks over the room. Scenes from the myths seemed to move with the glow from the torches in the square, and the cupola was crowned with a rose. Makrofaga let her ponder the beauty a few moments before she gently pushed the girl towards the temple. Outside the holy room Pamphylia stopped and lightly poked a torch.
“Why isn’t the air filled with smoke?”
Surprised Makrofaga drew a deep breath. Crisp air mixed with the mist of rose oil filled her lungs.
“I should know…”
She digged through her memories.
“…I can look it up.”

This temple was clean, and surprisingly quiet. Happy chatter bobbled around in the air, partly from the outside, partly from the groups that moved around the room paying homage to the different deities. Here and there dirty elves had drawn together the temple benches and sat talking, comparing prayer requests and daily troubles. In the middle of the room another pillar stood, with a bowl on top. The fire within was fed by rose scented oil. Like anything else in Skräpmården it was made of trash. You could still see outlines of the tin boxes that had been carefully hammered together to form a pillar and a bowl. But they were both polished to a silver sheen and scenes from the forest where hammered in crisp reliefs. The foxes, the hares, the unicorns, and the rosebushes where so life like you almost expected them to jump out from the metal. Here too the pillar had the inscription
“Kingdom of Heaven
Kingdom of Hearts
Where everything ends
And everything starts”

Once Makrofaga and Pamphylia had payed their respects to the fire Pamphylia looked around the temple.
“So you have another temple here. Dad have always suspected it.”
“He does, doesn’t he?”
Makrofaga’s dark tone created an odd bubble of silence around them. For once it was the person before her who started to squirm, but Makrofaga didn’t take notice until a few hours later, when she had churned through the memories a few times. Instead she took the girl through the library, showed her the large collection of books, covering every conceivable subject. They were all slightly stained from their time in the sewers. Next were the stinking alchemy laboratories where horrgoo was manufactured and constantly improved. Pamphylia took it all in with gaping mouth
“This place is HUGE! How can it fit into the mound?”
Makrofaga shrugged.
“Time and space have little meaning here. What needs to fit, fits.”

Whiteclad dirty elves ran around the steaming kitchen, hard at work preparing fish, chicken and vegetables from the gardens. It was hard to see anything, but the gigantic cauldrons needed to cook up enough food were visible like the shadows of gigantic whales. The damp made their clothes heavy like armour, and Makrofaga soon brought Pamphylia to the gardens to escape. Again they where among groups of chatting elves. This time under lush trees and overflowing vegetable beds. Despite many dirty elves nabbing leaves from the cabbage plantations and berries from the bushes there was more than enough to cook from. Pamphylia helped herself to a handful of shimmering blue pealons without asking.
“I wonder if they will survive – those two we carried to the hospital I mean.”
The chatter of happy dirty elves and the faint choir of voices repeating grammar verses from the school traveled through Makrofaga’s mind while she pondered the question. She had seen so many gravely ill people.
“Yes, I think so. But they were on their last leg. If we hadn’t showed up they’d died in the corridor.”
“And the gods would have allowed it?”
“Apparently they didn’t!”
Before Pamphylia got a chance to answer a shadow silently went around a bush. It solidified as mr Lotus who bowed smoothly before Makrofaga.
“Your majesty, everything is prepared.”
“Good!” she turned to Pamphylia “We’ll only disrupt the lectures if we visit the school, so now we go to the place you came here for.”

Another long dark corridor. They wouldn’t had found its mouth unless mr Lotus showed it to them, and after they entered they walked for a long time. They went through the kind of darkness that seemed to swallow you and never end. Mr Lotus never said anything, just showed the way. Soon Pamphylia fell silent, since Makrofaga only answered her questions with single words. They walked, and walked, and walked.

A small spot of light formed the end of their journey. It grew to form the window pane in a wooden door. The hinges were ornate, though heavy and stretched like branches over the wood, the wood where thick, and the lock sturdy. Mr Lotus didn’t need a key to open, though they heard the gears click as soon as he touched the door. Silently Makrofaga showed Pamphylia into a white room. There was a bed, a desk, even a shelving unit with some books. A kitten slept on the patchwork bedcover. There were also a door that seemed to lead to a bathroom. Pamphylia looked around.
“Well… this is not exactly what I expected?”
“No?” said Makrofaga “What did you expect?”
The girl shrugged.
“I dunno’… A treasury perhaps.”
“If this place had a treasure I’d use the gold to to buy Sprättströget.”
She had no idea how to say the next thing, so Makrofaga gripped a wad of her dress and pushed it out.
“This is your prison.”
Pamphylia sat down on the bed and patted the kitten.
“Yeah, right”
“It is. You revealed a state secret against the regent’s whish…”
“I DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A STATE SECRET!”
“As if we would tell you! But you saw that we hold onto the horrgoo, you saw that we never left it within your reach, you had to eavesdrop to find out its name, and dig a box out of the street to get it. Weren’t that enough clues that we didn’t want you to know?”
“But I have to go home!”
“Clothes and everything else you need is here. I’ll tell your parents, and the regent. At the moment you have to stay in the cell – I can’t guarantee your safety outside, but if you behave you’ll probably be let out for walks.”
Makrofaga and mr Lotus could see her swallow, look from one of them to the other, and give in.
“Okay then.”

The dark, long corridor seemed even darker when they left. Both Makrofaga and mr Lotus tried to shake the feeling that they were monsters, and brooded on their own on if they did right or not. Soon they saw the mouth out to the rest of the complex.
“She’ll live a more luxurious life than all of the dirty elves,” said Makrofaga.
“Yes, majesty.”
“But… a kitten mr Lotus?”
“Even with the guards bringing food she’ll go mad otherwise.”
“Fair enough.” She sighed “And now we’ll see if a young woman is important enough for a military raid.”

***

It hadn’t been fun locking up Pamphylia. The icy feeling of being a monster lingered for hours. But telling her father, Auduin Enris, would be on an entire new level of ‘not fun’. To perk up her confidence Makrofaga took some time in one of the hospital’s bathrooms to wash up and try to look at least a little bit regal. The jewelry she’d confiscated from the girl to use as proof weighed heavily in her pockets. It bounced against her leg as she returned outside and walked to the top of the mound again. The camp hadn’t changed, the unicorns were still crazy with blood lust, and she decided to take a slightly different route this time. Her spot at the fence would be farther from the tents, and as a bonus she would keep all her fingers if she absentmindedly would grab the willow twigs. Mr Lotus would have to do as a body guard. He would do nice, when she thought closer of it. It was just that she didn’t have the group of highly trained guards the Flådhöjden king always had around him.

This time Auduin Enris came up to them without Makrofaga needing to call for him. As usual he looked like he swallowed a lemon whole and couldn’t sit because it was on its way out in the other end.
“We’re still just here for training.”
“Okay. And I’m here to speak to you as a father.”
To her secret delight he looked surprised.
“What?”
“Your daughter has been caught revealing our state secrets…”
With a groan Auduin buried his face in both his hands.
“I told her not to.”
Makrofaga opened her mouth and felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Excuse me, your majesty,” said mr Lotus and turned to Auduin “You told her not to what?”
Auduin Enris returned immediately to his straight backed, stuck up ways.
“That doesn’t matter.”
He huffed some extra.
“I’ll take it up with the regent. And I’ll talk to my daughter.”
“I’d be surprised if you did the latter,” said Makrofaga, “I have her arrested.”
There was a brief moment of silence while Auduin connected the dots.
“You don’t even have a prison!”
Makrofaga unceremoniously pointed a thumb to Kingdom of Heaven.
“She’s in there.”
“So it is hollow.”
“In a way, in a way. And you should think of that it’ll cave in if you try to dig in it. Clay soil, you know — unpredictable.”
“You can’t do this! You’re subservient to Flådhöjden! You have no right to arrest one of our citizens!”
“I so have. At least when it comes to state secrets. It’s in the first treaty.”
Auduin got beet red and vibrated. It looked like he had a mouthful for them, but couldn’t spit it out.
“I need proof” he said at last.
Makrofaga gave him the jewery. Like Pamphylia herself it was sensible, if you can say that of jewelry, and plain. When Auduin took it he for a few seconds cradled it in his hand like it was a fragile chicken.
“I can allow her mother one visit…”
“Her mother… isn’t with us.”
This time it was Makrofaga’s turn to fall silent. When an elf from Flådhöjden “isn’t with us” the expression usually meant that xe had been thrown into the sewers.
“Well, I can’t allow you in.” She said at last.

That evening the Odografoe family held a party to celebrate their newest family member. Through a long and and complicated chain of babysitting favours all kids in the vicinity had sober minders, while most of their parents marinated their brains in cheap booze, sang themselves hoarse and flirted with each other (though not always with their long-time spouses). Grak was behind this arrangement, and with Odoferus and Foetida as sweethearts she had a considerable amount of personal interest in it. The only reason no kids ended up with Makrofaga was Silver’s vicious resistance, and while she gladly would have helped she had to admit it would exhaust her. Now she sat in her hut and listened to the cacophony from the feast, wishing she could join. She had a few things to do first, and the treaty book lay open before her.

When one state arrests another state’s citizen on the grounds of espionage or similar, the first response is usually to use diplomacy. Not always in the sense of hug and make up, more often in the sense of ‘give us our citizen you dumbf*cks!’ expressed in more ornate terms. But when one state were much weaker, like Skräphöjden was to Flådhöjden, there was a real chance the stronger just took its military and ran the weaker state over. At least if the citizen was valuable enough. Gaming on Pamphylia being too lightweight was probably stupid. Makrofaga felt the knot in her stomach and ransacked her brain to find something else they could have done. She had done it over and over for the last hours, and always ended up at the same conclusion. That they could gamble on Pamphylia was an odd stroke of luck. In any other case they would have just had to hand over the recipe for horrgoo and see another of their precious properties stolen. She could only hope her plan would work.

Suddenly she heard a suprised “duuuuuude” from Silver on the other side of the door. Party nights when she couldn’t participate he guarded the hut from drunk intruders – which was another thing he saved his few sober neurons for. This time he let someone in. At the first glance it could be any dirty elf, the horrgoo, the patchwork clothes, even the elaborate makeup was there, and at first Makrofaga thought Silver had messed up. Then she took a closer look. And a double take. It was Auduin Enris.
“Good evening, your majesty”
Makrofaga collected her chin from her chest. She meant to be secure and ask something about how he’d found the note she’d hidden in Pamphylia’s jewels. Instead the first words that came to mind jumped over her lips.
“Wow! How many times have you done that???”
He just folded his arms over his chest and glared at her. She sighed.
“Sit down”
Before he sat down he threw a few books, some alchemy utensils and a broken horrgoo box on her table.
“Is that enough?”
Makrofaga poked the stuff. Always plain and simple, Pamphylia was very much her father’s daughter.
“I wish I could say yes, but…”
Auduin threw himself onto a chair and it bended dangerously from his harsh treament.
“I know, I know, I know…”
“It would be nice,” said Makrofaga sharply “if you STOPPED INTERRUPT ME!”

The commotion from the party outside effectively drenched their conversation, even Makrofaga’s sharp words. The party guests themselves weren’t interested in eavesdropping, and if anyone came too close Silver would shoo them away under the excuse that the queen needed to rest. Makrofaga had told him to patrol around the house, though she wasn’t sure he’d actually do it. Anyone who had seen Silver walk was always relieved when he stopped, he looked like a bunch of sticks with interpersonal problems any time he tried. Makrofaga poked the alchemy gear.
“Everyone here knows she let the cat out of the bag. As long as I keep her she won’t get lynched, and I can’t do it forever. Sooner or later I’ll have to dish out some sort of punishment.”
“What kind of punishment?”
With a sigh Makrofaga pushed over the treaty book to Auduin. It was already open on the right place.
“Quartering. But if I want to be merciful I can have her strangled first.”
He read the piece, and his face folded over itself while he pressed his lips together.
“I… I… You obviously didn’t call me here just for kindness. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to spy.”
A soft whisper from the deities made her add.
“And if you’re already spying for the regent, I want you to be on our side as a double agent.”

***

Once Audin Enris had slunk away Makrofaga joined the party for the new baby, and maybe she drunk a bit more than usual. The tension from having to force the one person she feared to spy for them, was so much she let lose like a bunch of feathers from a broken pillow. When she woke up the next day she couldn’t remember much. Odoferus had been dancing the tables with the baby in a sling, singing
“She’ll be named Busa, Busa is her name! Busa, Busa, Busa is her name!”
And that was almost all Makrofaga could recall. It had been fun, anyway, and if her pulsing eyes were right she’d woken up in her own bed. Carefully, to not have the last pieces of drunkness and the budding hangover to take a horrible revenge, she looked around. That table was her table. That broken mirror was her mirror. That three-legged stool was her stool… There were at lot of things around that were hers, so she must be at home. Good. Now the next test – was it possible to shift in the bed for the future prospect of sitting up? She leaned slowly backwards and suddenly stopped.

There was someone sleeping in her bed.

Makrofaga was immediately sober. Ending up with someone in bed almost always meant complications. There were a bunch of persons who thought it would be a shortcut to the gravy pot, there were a bunch of others who had jealous spouses, and there was that horrible category that was just plain unsanitary – and that meant something in Skräpmården. Makrofaga didn’t dare turn around. Instead she gingerly felt behind her back.
“Please don’t be Odoferus! Please don’t be Odoferus!” she thought.
While Odoferus, Foetida and Grak had some sort of open relationship, the morning meetings tended to become frosty if Odoferus and Makrofaga did something that even hinted at them being more than friends. But the person was smooth, almost hairless. Not Odoferus. Good. Could it be Grak? That would be a new one, at least. But this one wasn’t as large. Probably a tall person. Probably not as tall as Grak’s two meters. Who did she know that were taller than her? Quite a few since she was rather short herself. Then it struck her that she’d met one person the day before that was taller than her. Her heart nearly stopped.

A yawn behind her broke her cold sweat paralysis. Now she had to turn around. Dreading the sight she rolled over on her back and turned her head. And looked straight into the panicking eyes of mr Lotus. That was the moment Odoferus, still drunk as a skunk in a funk, broke into the hut waving a bottle.
“Hey, queeny! Is it time for the morning meeting yet” he managed to drunk giggle before he took in the scene.
The following silence seemed to last forever. Odoferus first stared at Makrofaga, then at mr Lotus, and back again. Then something in his brain seemed to click, he slammed his mouth shut, backed out of the hut, and closed the door quietly.

After the world’s most awkward breakfast, and a very quiet morning meeting Makrofaga found Odoferus waiting for her outside the hut. He’d kindly brought his special brew against hangovers.
“Congratulations!” he said.
“On what? My morning heart attack?”
“Are you kidding! He’s a million gold pieces gain!”
“And one of my councilors.”
She started her daily walk around Skräpmården, hoping Odoferus would get the hint. Unfortunately Odoferus was a master in ignoring obvious hints and trailed after her.
“So what? We have ended up in bed a few times.”
Makrofaga stopped and rubbed her temples while gossiphungry dirty elves got on high alert around them.
“Guess how I know it’s not good to end up in bed with a councilor!”
“Aaaawww, but he’s so cute! And almost impossible to get! Even I haven’t succeded!”
Instead of answering Makrofaga glanced over Odoferus hairy body, his shoddy frock coat, the wyvern teeth necklace and his sleasy smile. Something told her he was far, very far, from what mr Lotus preferred. Yet again, if she looked to her own flubbery body, her warts and tendency to pinch her pimples in public, she would be on the same distance, so maybe Odoferus picked up on something she missed.
“Where is he, by the way?” Odoferus asked.
“I sent him to check up on our prisoner. He’s the one with a knack for those things.”
“Of course,” Odoferus giggled, “You do realise we’ve put a lady in a dungeon guarded by a dragon?”
Makrofaga scratched her head and laughed.
“No, but they have to come from somewhere, don’t they?”
She continued her walk, unable to shake off Odoferus. After almost an hour, and three neighbour quarrels later, he sighed.
“Why are you panicking? First of all, it may be a one off, and if not…”
“Yes, if not” Makrofaga interrupted, “I don’t have time! I’m married to my queendom!”
It was not a figure of speech – previous attempt to have relationships have made painfully clear that her brain could stretch over either ruling or “girlfriending”, not both.
“Aaand you may have found the only one who could understand that…”
He put his arm around her shoulders and breathed morning after breath in her face.
“…Let me fill you in on the gossip!”

Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Pt 3 The girl

Where magic is scarce there’s a reciprocity between a city’s “finer” parts and its slum. From the slum come the workers who cook, clean, and take care of the few children rich people have. From the rich parts trickles money that stretches to feed way more people than you could think is possible. This is a bond that didn’t exist between Flådhöjden and Skräpmården. Flådhöjden was managed by magic. Food, delicious, nutritious and beautiful, was cooked by magic, and set the dishes on the tables in elaborate displays. Magic swept the streets and kept the houses clean. Kids roamed free because magic kept them safe, and alerted their parents if anything was afoot. Any boring task that others would give to a servant was here delegated to magic. Any illness or injury was cured by magic. Dark nights when clouds blanketed the moon you could see the entire city glow from the huge currents of magic streaming through it. Considering how Skräpmården was splotchy and had large dry areas it wasn’t surprising that many of the dirty elves thought Flådhöjden stole their magic too.

The only place where the high elves and the dirty elves met naturally was the market. Long ago it had been two strips of market stalls on each side of road leading up to Flådhöjden. Then the high elves decided to build a bridge over it, to keep visitors from seeing those embarrassing loudmouth elves in their garish clothes. In the shadow of the bridge the market still thrived, though. While magic could provide anything, the Flådhöjden elves appreciated the variation that came with buying craft goods, clothes, and food made by the Skräpmården elves. The Skräpmården elves, of course, appreciated making a living from something else than the sewers. Even though Grak Silverstickaren was so famous she didn’t need to, she sometimes set up a market stall here. The market didn’t just attract elves, fay creatures came from the entire world to visit, and customers with other tastes and body shapes made for valuable challenges. Even if most of them came from countries nearby she didn’t want to put that opportunity down – and she could get gossip from Flådhöjden that was impossible to get from inside Skräpmården.

At the moment she was fitting a frock coat on a two meter tall elf, quite the muscle mountain and probably way too beefy for the taste of “real” Flådhöjden elves. On the other hand few succeed in moving a large man a millimeter if it’s to a place he doesn’t want to go – like the sewers.
“Well honey! This is absolutely gooooorgeous!”
He twirled around and took a look at his back in Grak’s makeshift mirror.
“It makes my bum look sOO juicy!”
With eyes shining with admiration he went on to study the colourful curbits patterns Grak had embroidered on the sleeves.
“Honey, I don’t even know where to begin…”
Then he spent fifteen minutes scooping praise in spades over her. Grak just smiled and waited. He was one of her regulars, and she knew when or if it was necessary to stop him.
“You haven’t thought of moving up to Flådhöjden, have you honey?” he suddenly asked.
“I’m afraid not. A polite orc didn’t fair well the last time I was there, and even if I roughed up I’d still be an orc.”
He looked worried.
“But Skräpmården is sooo unhealthy. And with this new plans, who knows what… AhA! You could live with me and Sylvester! No one is ever going to complain, honey!”
“My spouses would have something against that.”
“You mean the hairy one and the pink fai…”
Grak put up a finger.
“DON’T say it!”
But it was too late. A pink flash zoomed through the air, and started orbiting the customer’s head emitting little pink puffs of powder.
“WHO ARE YOU CALLING A PINK FAIRY??? I’M CERISE!”
With her heart pounding Grak dived for a burlap bag. There was one thing that Foetida hated hearing “pink fairy”, but regulars provided stability, and not even the most successful artist could ditch that. While the customer gently tried to push away his tiny assailant
“Ouch! Oh I’m so sorry! Ow! I was terribly rude, honey! Ouch! Ow! I apologise!”
Grak waved the bag through the air trying to bag her irate girlfriend. The drapings around her fitting “room” danced around like they were full of crazy weasels (not far from the truth), and people outside the stall stopped and stared.

Finally Grak had her girlfriend in the bag, tied it up with double strings, and hung it on one of the clothes hooks. The burlap bulged and shook with Foetida’s attempts to get out, and her foul curses over everything in general, and the customer in particular still leaked from the holes of the fabric.
“I’m so, terribly sorry! My girlfriend has this sore spot and…”
“Just a moment, hon!”
The customer stood transfixed by his own reflexion in the mirror. Pink, no cerise fairy dust had settled over all over his head, most of his hair, and his shoulders.
“Honey, do you have a brush?”

Of course Grak had clothes brushes, and she couldn’t be more eager to give him one. Pink splotches were everywhere on the pastel blue silk she had worked so hard to protect from the dirty reality of Skräpmården. Without even looking at her he took the brush and started brushing. But instead of removing the dust he evened it out, carefully underscoring accidental patterns and making vibrating shades that grew thinner and thinner farther down the frock coat. It was as if a vibrating sun rise had imprinted itself on him and his clothes. He beamed at himself in the mirror.
“This will be the pièce de résistance tonigh! honey, I absolutely must pay some extra!”
Grak had a hard time picking up her chin from the ground.
“…I’d be stupid to say no, but…”
Without letting her finish the customer opened his purse and let gold pieces rain into her hands. Then he left before she could say some more.

Elves are by nature light creatures, but this man looked like the ground should shake under him when he made his way through the crowd, still beaming like a happy child over his new looks. Grak stood motionless, her hands full with gold, looking after him. She was still not sure she’d actually lived through what just had happened. Another furious attempt from Foetida to break free made her sober up.
Foetida wasn’t even half way out of the bag when Grak roared at her
“What in the five hells are you doing??? He is a regular!!!”
“DAAAAAHling! Iiiiiif he’s a regulAAAHR he coouuld have some manners!”
“He’s the freakin’ general! The highest military officer in Flådhöjden!”
“So HWHAT!”
“Do you want our kids to eat??? Do you want them to LIVE?”
Grak, Foetida, and Odoferus didn’t perhaps form the most functional family, but it was good enough, and their five children were as happy and as well fed as Skräpmården kids could be.
“That DOOOHRK can’t even hurt a FLYYYY!”
“He’s the only elf who’s killed an orc in hand to hand combat!”
Foetida snapped shut. For five minutes they just glared at each other.
“Well, he could still have some maaaahnners!”
Grak glared again and put away the gold.
“Shouldn’t you monitor the crowds?”
Being grumpy Foetida had withdrawn into her hair, but she extended a hand outside the fluff and waved dismissively
“They’re good, DAAAAAAAAHling. Looks as they should.”
“Did you see our queen?”
“OOOOOHn her way home now. Let me grump alone!”

If you asked any of the dirty elves about Makrofaga most of them would say that they had met her, but they didn’t know what she did as a queen, and that they made it on their own for most of the time. It wasn’t far from the truth. Skräpmården wasn’t bigger than it took her two hours to walk around it. She took that walk every day, using slightly different paths through the week. Being shy and awkward she wasn’t the one who could talk to people and make friends, but after fifty years she had sort of grown on enough persons to know them. Her two hour walk usually took her five hours, because many stopped her, asked her for help with any problem they thought a queen should solve. Why they accepted Makrofaga’s method she never figured out. She got the feeling they wanted a queen who swooped in on on a golden throne, waved a scepter and then some royal force of nature would turn everything right again. Her method was mostly to find the person who could handle the problem, and connect xer to those who needed help. She worked hard to see the actual persons, the actual problems, and the actual connection that would work out. What her subjects saw out of this work was her passing by once a week and give a tip – a good one if you used it – and then disappear.

Of course there were hard things to handle. Neighbour quarrels could grow out of hand in hours, dig themselves into the heartstrings of the persons who took part, and fester for years. Mr Lotus showing up in Skräpmården had been a gift from the gods, since he was a champion in mediate between heated feelings. Still Makrofaga dreaded these conflicts since she always was the first to stumble upon them, and had to hear people out when they were at the ‘scream on top of the lungs” stage. Every time it was like having a grater drawn over the heart. Worse still was deaths. Nothing can fix deaths, and even with magic and horrgoo there were a few every week. She did her best to comfort those still alive, and it never felt enough.

She was always tired when she came home, and if there was food she bought a tray of greasy somethings from the little street peddler close to her hut. This day she still had half of it left when Cloelia, one of Odoferus’, Foetida’s and Grak’s kids, ambushed her.
“You got a guest” she said eyeing the tray.
Guests had a habit of showing up every day, so Makrofaga wasn’t suprised. But the little kid was wide-eyed.
“It’s one of them SNOBS! Those who built funny things.”
“Thanks for telling me,” said Makrofaga, “Want a deep fried piece of apple?”
“YES!”
Cloelia grabbed the greasy, dripping thing and, to Makrofaga’s relief, ran for it. If there was one thing she didn’t understand it was kids. She tried to pat down her hair, and hoped she hadn’t dripped so much grease on herself it would be visible. “Those who built funny things” didn’t say much – half of the charity projects ending up in Skräpmården involved building things. With a deep breath she rounded her hut to greet her guest.

The elf on her doorstep would have been seventeen if she had been a human, she had brown hair, intelligent brown eyes, and dressed plainly and practically. She had been the leader of a project that a few months earlier had set up different contraptions to capture magic in the air and lead it down to needing dirty elves. Her name was Pamphylia, and she could be the poster child for well meaning charity workers who forgot to think outside their own sphere. The contraptions did lead magic to the designated places, but since they suck it out of the air they also randomly dried out big areas of Skräpmården, leaving ten times as many without it than they helped. This posed an unusual diplomatic problem for Makrofaga. On a personal level she couldn’t look past that while Pamphylia was mature in many ways, her hope for others and her enthusiasm in helping was of a five year old. The girl would need to mature by breaking that enthusiasm against a harsh reality, and Makrofaga did not want to hold the axe. On an official level personal relations still made a mess of things; Pamphylia was Auduin Enris’s daughter.

Once the charity group had left some of Skräpmården’s rougher element just happened to vandalise each and every one of the magic catchers in a remarkably coordinated raid. This may have had to do with some of the things Makrofaga said during her walk earlier that day, but no actual orders had ever been given – just a few suggestions between friends. If the news ever reached Pamphylia’s ears was hard to tell – the only official channel of communication between the two places were Makrofaga’s dealings, and gossip had a hard time travel, even via the market. However, the girl looked more excited than disappointed, so she probably wasn’t there because of any hard feelings. Feeling the weight of a five hour walk with constant social interaction Makrofaga invited her in for a chat and a cup tea – provided she didn’t mind that Makrofaga finished her food.

Something you had to accept in Skräpmården was that there was no secrets. Even well-built huts like Makrofaga’s had thin walls that let out every sound, and you had to count on every conversation being heard by passers-by outside. Everyone in the entire Skräpmården already knew that the military camp close to Kingdom of Heaven was put there for more than the usual reasons, and that the queen and her councilors suspected that the secret of horrgoo had escaped to Flådhöjden. Indeed, most of the things Makrofaga had discussed during her walk was conspiration theories and suitable punishment for the traitor. She had repeated over and over that they didn’t know exactly what the high elves knew, and that they needed to know more before they could do anything. Despite drinking tea her throat felt dry from the ordeal.
“Soo…” said Pamphylia “did it work?”
Makrofaga sighed
“The structures was vandalised pretty soon after you left. I’m sorry, but people needed the material for other things and…”
Pamphylia looked confused, and when realisation struck she laughed a slightly embarrassed laugh.
“Oh those! They were a bit of a shot in the dark anyway. No, I mean – have you seen any other change?”
There were so many hints in that tone of voice that Pamphylia practically were juggling manicules pointing to something Makrofaga didn’t see. She tried to kick her brain awake again, and could still not see what the girl was hinting at.
“No?”
Slightly flustered Pamphylia started to push her teacup around on the table.
“You see, I took home some of that horrgoo…”
While Makrofaga gripped her cup harder and harder the girl told the tale of how she had analyzed the salve in her home alchemist studio, realised its wonderous qualities, and told her father, her teachers and a few select officers about it. For a while Makrofaga felt as if she was in freefall. She remembered some of those officers, they were persons who could be amiable off field and suddenly turn into hardened monsters on field. Quietly she put down her teacup before she broke the china.
“People up there,” said Pamphylia, “they think you’re stupid. They talk about you as if you are animals, or trash. I wanted to prove that you are intelligent.”
“I see… Where did you get that horrgoo?”
“You hold onto it pretty hard! But I found a small box on the road one day…”
“Did you see who dropped it?”
Makrofaga’s abrupt interruption threw Pamphylia off track.
“N… no. It was stomped into the clay and broken. It had probably been there for a while?”
“A moment! I’ve forgotten to serve the deities! I’m sorry!”

Strictly it wasn’t necessary to serve the deities every meal you yourself ate, but Makrofaga needed to think. It was a small mercy that the girl had picked a box almost buried in one of the pathways – this meant Makrofaga probably wouldn’t have to deal with a lynching during the night. But what should she do with the girl? She hadn’t had to deal with a situation like this any time during her reign, she didn’t have the correct regulations clear in her memory, and the girl was the daughter to the officer responsible for Skräpmården questions. Her tired brain creaked and protested against being forced to think, and all she wanted to do was to fold herself into a small package and hide under the bed. She put up the last bottle cap and quietly asked Transcendentia to call back mr Lotus to the hut. Then she sat down and took a large swig of tea.
“You see,” she said to Pamphylia, “the reason we’ve been holding so hard onto our horrgoo is we wanted it to be a secret. I’m suprised you even know the name .”
“Well, I’m pretty good at listening.”
Mr Lotus quietly entered the hut. He was in human shape, but dragon was radiating around him like heat radiated around a sauna stove, and since he heard the last sentences that dragon seemed to be growling.
“You may have committed a crime.” said Makrofaga.
“Oh. But I didn’t know it was a secret”
“I know, and I need to consult my councilors. I suggest you go home – mr Lotus will escort you to the Flådhöjden gate – discuss this with your father and meet me at the market tomorrow”

When mr Lotus had left with Pamphylia Makrofaga closed the door carefully and banged her head against the door frame. It had been a child letting the secret out. A child old enough to punish, and Makrofaga had to decide in which way. She hated being a queen.

Makrofaga sat with a book at her table when mr Lotus returned half an hour later. Two teapots stod beside her, steaming hot both of them. Headache and the still lingering hangover wrinkled her forehead. Silver snored in a corner, the only sound made inside the hut. The sound of the sprawling slum seemed strangely distant.
“Your majesty, why did you let her go?”
“I don’t know, but I realise I probably saved the entire Skräpmården when I did.”
She put down the book – the one book that came with her job and listed all the laws, regulations and treaties that existed between Skräpmården och Flådhöjden.
“You can’t half-ass anything with those snobs. They take any fault, even the slightest ritual one, and turn it against us. I just found the right chapter – if we hold a Flådhöjden citizen without proof of a clear violation of our laws they have the right to tear down and burn hut upon hut until they find said citizen again.”
“Yet you can’t just let her go, your majesty. You’ll lose your people.”
Makrofaga pulled out a chair.
“The people will do fine without me, I’m not that important. Tea?”
Mr Lotus just nodded and sat down. When Makrofaga tried to pour him a cup he gently motioned her hand away, then he took the pot and refilled hers before he filled his own.
“Even if she’s clever enough to _not_ show up tomorrow” said Makrofaga, “we’ll have a lot to do.”

***

The market set up when the first grey rays of the sun tickled the ground. Wads of mist drifted between the wooden skeletons of the market stalls, and those who were unpacking weren’t very talkative. Same went for Makrofaga and her company. Not even the heavy makeup and the smudgy streaks of horrgoo could hide the dark circles under her eyes. Odoferus and Foetida looked remotely perkier. Hypothetically they could have slept through the night, but they had two toddlers who hadn’t adjusted to a normal sleep schedule yet, and since they had had a depression party the night before, they couldn’t persuade their baby sitter to help them again.
“Odoferus” said Makrofaga weakly “you need to push up your face a little – it’s hanging on your chest!”
He looked down and then forced his eyes open.
“Sorry queeny. It’s been a hard night.”
Foetida had a small teapot in her hands and drank relentlessly from its spout.
“Do you think she’ll come?”
As soon as the words were uttered every person withing earshot stalled slightly, and when they moved again they positioned so they could hear better. Faces that had been morning tired were suddenly tense.
“If she doesn’t we’ll have a lot less trouble with the snobs,” said Makrofaga.
The little fairy took another swig from the spout.
“Still think we should beat her up daaaahling.”
“That would probably be the last thing we’d do alive.”
“I’m not suuuuure I caaaare.”

Neither mr Lotus nor Grak were there, and two wrung out party parents could seem like an odd choice for a security guard, but they both were highly effective. Part of it came, obviously, from being parents. A person who need to herd five kids to a grown age learn quickly to be alert on threats, and handle all kinds of skirmishes. Furthermore Odoferus were known as the “No you can’t!” dude. Makrofaga had the tendency to say yes to anything, before she could stop herself. His job was often to just trail behind her and say “no you can’t” until she had thought the decision through, and while he had a considerable beer belly he still was strong enough to put up a fight and win. Foetida was as strong as three humans, and those time she really meant it she sent elves flying with her punches. Fighting her was like fighting a mosquito with a mallet. If Makrofaga really needed protection, either for herself, or for a elf girl about to be lynched, they could hold people off until reinforcements arrived. But now the three of them mostly drifted between the market stalls being put up and looked at the few wares that already had been displayed. Foetida managed to get her teapot refilled, and sat down on Odoferus’ shoulder to drink even more
“I’ll soooooon be a faaaaiiiry, again” she whispered and cradled the pot as if it would save her life.
Odoferus looked at the closed city gate for ten seconds.
“Nope. She didn’t come! Let’s sleep!”
Makrofaga pinched one of his sleeves and reined him in.
“Stop councilor! We have to do this for real.”

They had to wait for an hour. The market opened and was unusually well attended for being on an ordinary day. Most people were from Skräpmården and mainly drifted around the market stalls. Even Makrofaga noticed how they glanced at her and her guard. There was just a merest hint of tension in the air, and she hoped it wouldn’t be more. In a way she was relieved when Pamphylia showed up.
“Good morning,” Makrofaga said, “did you discuss with your father?”
“No your majesty, he’s not home, and, like, if I have done anything wrong I should stand for it. Right?”
Foetida and Odoferus took one look at her open face, draw silently for breath and exchanged glances.
“I’d preferred if you had.”
“Oh”
“Well, I thought I’d give you a tour around Skräpmården…”
“Oh, I have seen it!”
“Have you seen the sewers?”
Pamphylia blushed.
“I don’t do well with strong smells, so…”
“Then we’ll start at the sewers. After all, most of us do.”

To Makrofaga’s relief the dirty elves behaved. In other words they didn’t spit or curse, they mostly went on with their usual business when the little group walked by. But they glared when they thought no one saw, and a few fell silent. Pamphylia looked unusually relaxed, like she was on her way back to her former work on a charity project. Or as if she was oblivious to the danger she was in. Since they didn’t talk much Makrofaga had ample time to analyse her attitude. Being from Flådhöjen and with a father who wielded some power she probably didn’t think anything bad could happen to her. She was ready to face her punishment, because all she expected was a ritual slap on the wrist.
“Did you take crowd control at school?” Makrofaga suddenly asked.
“No, your majesty, dad hoped I would, but it just isnt… me.”
“That explains it”
Again Odoferus and Foetida exchanged glances. They had no idea what the other two talked about.
“Do you… your majesty know about crowd control?”
“I was out of basic training before I came here.”
“You were? In Flådhöjden? But how?”
Odoferus leaned over and breathed a cloud of morning breath over Pamphylia.
“You do know how people end up here, don’t you?”
“You are born here?”

When they reached the stinking, black shores of the sewers no one had explained anything to Pamphylia. In Odoferus’ and Foetida’s case it was because they couldn’t take in that Pamphylia didn’t seem to know that people in Flådhöjden was thrown into the sewers. Makrofaga knew why and understood. She remembered a time when she herself thought she was safe up there. Everyone knew that being thrown away was an option, and in some miraculous way everyone managed to convince themselves that it wouldn’t happen to them. No one talked about those who disappeared, and the one noone talked about was soon forgotten – like when a petal falls from a blooming flower leaving just a small dent in the hypanthium. Once you’ve made the journey through the cloacas you didn’t really talk about it. It wasn’t shame, almost every dirty elf had been there, it was just a sad story not worth much energy.

Pamphylia was on the verge of throwing up when they reached the mouth of the sewers. The brown water was smoking lightly and odd pieces bobbed in the waves.
“Oh DAAAHLing,” said Foetida, “just puke. Who CAAAAARes at this plAAACE!”
But Pamphylia fought her body and won, even if her face became slightly green. Makrofaga felt her soul shiver, and she hoped she looked more secure on the outside.
“This is where we come from,” she said, “We’ll stand here until we see the next one.”
“You can’t be serious!” said Pamphylia and turned to Odoferus and Foetida “You must have been born here?”
Odoferus hold his hand beside his knee, indicating the height of a child.
“I was about this high. They told me I could already walk.”
“Big as an WAAAALnut DAAAAHling. A miracle they cAAAUUght me in time.”
Pamphylia’s face went blank the way a face does when the person behind shuts xer previous knowledge as a door against a new, conflicting reality.
“Ok”
“There’s one!” Odoferus said.
They all looked at the smeared body slowly drifting by.
“DAAAAHling, it OOOOnly counts if they’re alIIIIve.”
When Pamphylia’s face went paper white Makrofaga patted her shoulder a few times.
“We have people further down who fishes the bodies out and buries them. No one here dies as trash.”
“But…”

That’s when they heard the faint but persistent cry of a newborn. First it was only a whisper deep inside the sewer, and as it grew stronger they could see why the child had survived the rough ride through the sewers. It was put in a small basket protected by magic. Apparently at least one person in the marble city knew that the dirty elves dragged their children from the sewage.
“AH can’t belIIEEEve it!”
“The magic is wearing off” said Makrofaga.
She could see it flicker and thinning like a soap bubble. As soon at it was gone the basket would keel, and the baby would end up under the surface. Odoferus ran straight into the waves, struggling against the current to get to it in time. The sewage wasn’t even waist high, but powerful. Despite having spent a life in Skräpmården he also gagged heavily over the odour. He nearly slipped a few times, before he finally grabbed the baby. The bubble of magic burst, the basket toppled over and rolled as it continued floating down the stream. Foetida started breathing again.
“Iiii guess we juuuust got our sixth chiiiiild” she said softly.

Odoferus struggled to shore and Makrofaga pulled him onto secure ground. He was sweaty and stinky and over the moon.
“It’s a girl! Look Foetida! Grak will love her!”
“AAAAAAH! She’s sUUUCHh a little beAAAAUty!”
Makrofaga discretely removed the dirt from Odoferus using magic. He looked cleaner than he had been in years. Foetida, on the other hand, conjured a baby bottle and spread herself over the child as a baby blanket. Soon the cries subsided.
“But why throw away a baby?” asked Pamphylia.
Gingerly Odoferus pointed to the baby’s rounded ears.
“She’s half,” he said, “probably human.”
“But sometimes we just don’t know,” Makrofaga added “Some babies have obvious “faults”, others just… well, someone didn’t want them.”

Another group of dirty elves came running from downstream. They were the group who Makrofaga had enrolled to pull bodies and living persons out of the sewage. Shouting happily they gathered around the baby, admiring its tiny fingers and pink cheeks. Two of them carried toddlers who had been saved earlier. The kids’ cheeks were striped with tears, and they had the blank expression of children who are about to realise they can trust the adults around them. The happy chatter over the remarkable children they all just had found wouldn’t stop.

Makrofaga smiled and sighed. This wasn’t what she had counted on, even if she realised she should have foreseen it. Odoferus and Foetida were shameless party animals, and loved kids – of course they wouldn’t have the discipline to not adopt a child, should one turn up. Dangerous as it was she had to bring Pamphylia alone on the last leg of the tour. She could just hope that rumour, versatile and unpredictable as it was, had registered that the entire Skräpmården would be burned if anything happend to the girl.
“Let’s go,” she said, “those two knows what to do – they have five kids already.”
The girl was still paper white.
“Really” she said and tried to laugh “how many are ‘theirs’?”
“All of them. But if you wonder how many they have adopted; two. Anyway, you and I are going to Kingdom of Heaven.”

Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Pt 2 Kingdom of Heaven

The grey morning light fell over Makrofaga’s face and its reflection in the bathroom mirror. Usually in the mornings she practiced her resting bitch face, or rather her resting bitch faces, because she had one for most occasions. Well meaning help organisations got another face than persons who were obvious scammers. They came in a steady stream offering a variety of strange gadgets or methods to “alleviate poverty”, and after fifty years Makrofaga knew the types so well she could write a book about them. While many of them had some useful stuff not one had offered the one thing they needed; more space, more money, and more food. When all was said and done their contribution was like a drop of water on a hot desert stone.

She had one resting bitch face for representatives from Flådhöjden who came down to complain. She had another one for representatives who came down to rearrange things. And she had a particularly effective one for representatives who came to tell they needed to give up parts of Skräpmården – Auduin Enris was the only one who didn’t flinch before it. Usually she had fun practice those faces, adding some goofy ones that wouldn’t be used for other things than as party tricks. But today depression lay like an anvil over her soul. Instead of contorting her face she looked at her budding wrinkles, the faint warts, and the odd pimples. She had reached the age when her looks started to relax and slide downwards. The nose had grown a size, and the corners of her mouth sagged. Her hair, once raven black, had started to grey, and not in that attractive way where white hairs sprinkled like stars against the dark background. No, her hair faded, like paint stuck in a sunny spot. The grey hairs had company by broad streak of light brown hair, not exactly grey – not exactly brown, just some odd value in between.
“Dear Gods” she thought “if I hadn’t been thrown in the sewers in my youth I’d sure be it now.”

The goddesses and gods were silent when she served them. It was just as well – she wouldn’t be able to listen to their words anyway. The only thing she could think of was what she would she would say to her subjects. How could she tell them such horrendous news. Only when she put up the last bottle cap, at the porcelain goddess at the top of the display, did someone open their mouth.
“You need to snap out of it” said the goddess.
“I don’t know if I can” sighed Makrofaga.
“You need to answer their “why” instead of agonizing over your “how”.”

When Odoferus burst into the hut thirty minutes later she still stood with the tray in her hand, looking up at the goddess.
“YOU KNOW THEY’RE NOT REAL, DON’T YOU!”
Makrofaga turned around and looked him straight in the eyes, something so unusual Odoferus completely lost track.
“I just had a conversation with Transcendentia. She said you’re asking questions you don’t want answers for, so answering them is as useless as trying to catch the wind with a bucket.”
For a while Odoferus struggled with his lips.
“Yeah… but it’s fun?”
“Well, it is fun, but there’s else…”
“Are you okay?”
Makrofaga swept the bottle caps from the shelves of the display and threw them, together with the tin can and the tray, on her bed.
“They want Kingdom of Heaven.”
Odoferus turned paper white.
“WHAT???”

While Makrofaga and Odoferus gathered the other advisors, and an unhealthy amount of the muddy liquid that went for booze at Skräpmården, there’s room for us to delve into Kingdom of Heaven, magic and gods. First of all Kingdom of Heaven was a dump, or at least looked like one. It was a mound close to the border of Sprättströget, and the dirty elves unceremoniously threw their garbage at its foot. Skitalver on their last end then russled through the trash trying to find the few scraps of clothing and food that was still useful. But on the top was a small shrine, a pillar with a bowl on top, and inside the bowl was a small amount of water and a flame that burned day and night. This being Skräpmården the pillar was made of a discarded paper tube, the bowl was a kitchen terracotta bowl with chips and cracks, and the flame inside had a wick made of cloths so worn you could hardly see the threads anymore, and it was fed with a kind of fat residue that floated from one of the sewers – hopefully the collected cooking fat from the Flådhöjden kitchens. On the paper tube someone had written, as steady as possible
“Kingdom of Heaven
Kingdom of hearts
Where everything ends
And everything starts”

This was the holiest place in the entire Skräpmården.

It may seem strange that skitalverna threw their trash there, but some of it wasn’t trash at all, it was offerings and sacrifices. If you looked closely you could see that the heap changed character the further up you looked. The undeniable trash at the bottom got mixed up with stuff and little clay miniatures of limbs, and closest to the pillar was almost only little trinkets and clay limbs. The worn out elves searching the trash usually ate everything edible on the spot, but if the meal was an offering the waited a while – roughly thirty minutes – before they devoured it, even if it was a large, decorated feast. You had to be skilled to see it, and that’s exactly what the dirty elves wanted.

The dirty elves were not more prone to religion than the elves of Flådhöjden. But when you’ve had everything stolen, when you’ve been told you’re trash, and stomped into the dirt, then the last thing you own is what you innermost believe in. You cherish it. This is what makes you you. So the dirty elves took good care of Kingdom of Heaven, and guarded its secret with their lives. The mound was hollow. For the one who believed the gate opened regularly and xe could walk down to the grotto beneath. It had been there for centuries, and the clay ground was indeed a treacherous vessel for it. Building on, or in, clay is like building on jelly, and anything that should stand needs skilled reinforcements. The ancient original walls was lined with oak beams, stringed together to be able to move with their support. Any dripping water was skillfully led away before it could harm the elaborate wall paintings and the gigantic idols lining the way down. But the most important thing that held it together was magic.

It’s impossible to fully understand magic. Indeed, the easiest thing about it is to identify a scammer. Xe tend to feed on other person’s need for it like a vampire feeds on blood, and the will to exploit others shines stronger and stronger with time. But for true magic… neither priests nor alchemists nor magicians had managed to capture its essence. The best you could say about it was that it was almost like water – it could collect in large “puddles”, it could “dry out”, and it could stream, sweeping away things and persons. Like water it could be used by anyone, and all over Skräpmården it was used to light fires, cure children, heal bones and clear the air. But it could also concentrate around persons who seemingly knew what they were doing, it could suddenly abandon those same persons, and it could build structures that were tougher than the teeth of time. The grotto under the Kingdom of Heaven was one of those structures. Even if every dirty elf was wiped from the face of the world, and the religion nourishing the temple disappeared without a trace, the grotto would stand.

As a queen Makrofaga was the main guardian of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it was the apple of her eye, and her pride as a queen. The rules for the grotto was simple – the visitors would leave with a full head, a full heart and a full stomach. Thanks to her expansions every dirty elf could visit once a week. The grotto had always contained a temple, a school and a kitchen. She had added a library, alchemist laboratories, and large underground gardens lit by thousands tiny magical suns. If the Flådhöjden elves could get to see it they would marvel at the complex’s beauty. Everything was still made out of trash, from the giant idols lining the way down to the grotto to the pillar and the bowl in the temple, but here the crafters had gone out of their way to make items of beauty. The light from magical fires reflected in polished tin and brass, traveled through remodeled shards of glass and played over the walls adding painting of light to the decorated walls. The gardens, mostly there to grow food for the kitchen, were designed as small parks where visitors almost forgot they were underground. The temple had a center that was well kept, where the pillar and bowl were whole, and the flame was fed with earth almond oil.

Any person of belief was welcome, and the same old magic that kept the walls standing called every worthy skitalv regularly to come and visit. This tug of the heartstrings extended to Odoferus too, which may seem odd considering his loud opposition to anything that looked like religion. But he was a person of faith – he fervently, with every fiber of his being – believed that gods did not exist. That was enough for the divine beings who ruled the temple, even though Makrofaga could see their idols smirk behind his back the times she visited the place with him. They both were there slightly more often than the average skitalv. She, of course, had to check up on the entire place, and Odoferus since he was responsible for Skräpmården’s public health and had to oversee the production of horrgoo.

The laboratories in the grotto were made up of alchemy tools thrown away by Flådhöjden, and as such they were surprisingly up to date. Roughly ten years ago the alchemist had invented a stinking, tar-like substance that had amazing healing properties. Well “stinking” is a bit unfair to say, its smell was close to tar, and not that bad once you got used to it. But the Flådhöjden elves couldn’t stand it, and that was another plus in the dirty elves’ book. They quickly named it horrgoo, and used it, either plain or heavily mixed with perfume, on everything. While it mostly was antiseptic and effective on infections, they tried it on broken bones, sore muscles, aching heads, and to uglify themselves and their kids.

The dirty elves knew on their bones the second secret to the high elves’ looks as exalted and ethereal. They stole. Everything that was beautiful, everything that was clever, was nabbed out of the hands of skitalverna and incorporated into Flådhöjden. It wasn’t called stealing, of course. Things were “bought cheaply”, and even Grak Silverstickaren had to calculate for stingy Flådhöjdare suddenly deciding they would only pay half price. Knowledge had to be “kept safe with the learned elders in the libraries” of the marble city. Jewels and historical artifacts had “a better chance of surviving” if the Flådhöjden alchemists took care of them – that’s how the Skräpmården crown jewels and a larger part of its regalia ended up on display in the Flådhöjden temple. Beautiful children were “obiously orphans” and “adopted”, beautiful adults were “wooed and married”.

At least for adults they could chose. There was a steady trickle of young persons finding spouses among the Flådhöjden elves and moving to the marble city. Roughly half them were soon dropped into the sewers, and they had to return to their old home – sometimes with children in tow. So all of the dirty elves made sure their kids had large and ugly streaks of horrgoo in their faces, and most of them also clapped horrgoo on themselves, on top of their already elaborate makeup. And they would rather die than reveal that the black stuff was good.

So when Makrofaga, Odoferus, Foetida, Silver, mr Lotus, and Grak gathered on the Kingdom of Heaven and sat down beside the worn paper tube with a large bottle of moonshine, they sat down on the secret, pulsing heart of Skräpmården.
“They want to take all of it” said Makrofaga sobbing “flatten the entire mound and expand their “nice lawn” over it.”
Odoferus took a swig out of the bottle.
“This is horrible! Did you have to make this worse by getting something half fusel?”
He gagged and took another swig.
“’SallIcou’get” said Silver
He wore Foetida like a very stoned fur hat.
“Do you think they know?” asked mr Lotus while he politely waited for his turn with the bottle.
“Oh yes,” Makrofaga said coarsly “they know, and they want to take the last thing that makes us us.”
She glared over the fence to the tent camp the Flådhöjden elves suddenly had set up.

Again, the Flådhöjden elves had a fad for glamping in Sprättströget. They set up embroidered tents, lit ornate sheets of fire and had barbecue on things so decorative it was hard to say if it was food or elaborate art pieces. Often they had parties and got themselves hammered. It wasn’t unusual to find elves who had passed out close to the fence, but they never got so drunk they ended up in Skräpmården. The camp set up this time wasn’t the usual party prop. The fabric, both in the tents and and the clothes worn by the elves, was sturdy, made for all kinds of weather and – since Makrofaga and her advisors had seen it before they knew this – impossible to lit on fire or penetrate. Shining plates of metal protected the elves shoulders and and elbows. They wore weapons void of any unnecessary decorations and were obviously good at handling them. At the moment they were occupied with getting their tents up, and paid no notice of the mound on the other side, where more and more of the dirty elves gathered. The normal din of Skräpmården seemed to lose intensity for every minute.

This was the Flådhöjden guard. Proud elite soldiers who had fought in three gigantic wars, and who kept the Skräpmården crowds under control should anyone get the idea to, say, start a revolution. Their heavy war horses grazed the lawn, wisping away flies with their tails and gently butting heads with each other. Most of the gathered dirty elves knew they wouldn’t be so gentle if the captain decided the soldiers would rally the crowd. At those times the soldiers drove their horses to gallop through the gathering, stopping at nothing, not even an elf crushing under their hooves. Every skitalv had at least once in their life run from such a charge. They knew those horses, they knew the heavy lances neatly put in a stand beside a tent, and they knew exactly how much mercy the soldiers showed.

“Pardon me if I say so” said mr Lotus, “but that is a lot of force for a lawn.”
One of the worn elves who spent his life digging through the trash tugged at the hem of Makrofaga’s dress.
“Ey, majesty. What’s happening? People down there wants to know.”
“They want to make Kingdom of Heaven into a piece of the lawn. Tell them we’ll fight for it.”
He bent his stiffed and crooked body into a sort of bow, and turned to the next elf below him. The message passed from elf to elf, and you could see how it traveled through the crowd. Not one person dared to say anything out loud, but xe stiffened up, got energized, until the entire mass of dirty elves was vibrating. On the other side of the fence the guards’ nonchalant tending to their camp got a little bit more alert, and the soldiers side glanced under their helmets.
“That wasn’t smart” hissed Odoferus into Makrofaga’s ear.
That moonshine gave him a horrible breath.
“What was I supposed to say, then?” she hissed to him “We can’t just give it to them!”

But she realised the problem, just as everyone else in the group. The dirty elves couldn’t fight. In fact, the most common reason to be dropped into the sewer was doing bad at military training. They pretended they didn’t care, that their party habits was a much better way of life than freezing their butt off during wilderness excursions and sweating one’s soul off during exercises. Deep inside they knew, though, that this was their hamper. Time and time again the trained Flådhöjden elves beat them and herded them into things they didn’t wanted. Usually it was work, roads that needed to be built, marble that needed to be moved, and all the other sorts of things that was heavy even when you used magic for help. A few times it had been to empty parts of Skräpmården so Flådhöjden could expand. The group setting up camp on the other side a the fence was small, perhaps ten soldiers and their captain, and they could still beat the entire crowd that now filled the area at the foot of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Your majesty,” said Grak Silverstickaren softly “is the hill you want to die on?”
“Oh, I don’t intend to die” said Makrofaga “I won’t have anyone die for this hill. We’ll just keep it, and they can poop in their pants.”
She struggled to her feet. Her body was heavy, not as cooperative as when she was younger, and that cursed moonshine had already started to bite. The ever so polite mr Lotus discretely pushed her to balance and trailed behind her when she stumbled down to the fence. It was twice as high as an elf, and built out of intertwined willow twigs. The willow had already taken root, and tender leaves were sprouting at the top. Makrofaga clenched a fist around the branches and looked through one of the holes. On the other side a soldier was fidgeting with a rope, something leftover from the tents.
“Ey you”, said Makrofaga “tell your captain he’s granted an audience”
She could see the magic around the willow crumble under her breath. That moonshine was certainly something, she couldn’t have drunk more than two sips? The poor elf saw her dark expression and nearly ran to get his officer. Soon Auduin Enris showed up, his captain’s wings clearly visible on his right shoulder.
“Good morning, your majesty.”
He stopped two decimeter farther from the fence than he needed, and drew his head backwards with a sour face.
“I thought I said it was no, Auduin.”
“The last thing I remember is a string of insults.”
“Funny that. The last thing I remember is being dropped into a sewer. You have a funny way of treating visiting royalty.”
“Was there anything more?”
“No, I just wanted to make sure you heard that YOU WON’T GET THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN! IT’S NO, NO, NO!
Behind her the crowd cheered. She could tell from Auduin’s tense lips and wrinkled nose that he put all his energy into staring at her with contempt.
“We’re just here for training.”
“Good. Because if you overstep this border, even with just a pinky, I’m gonna’ come for all and everyone of you nobles, and I’m gonna’ bitchslap you into oblivion!”

It was a spur of the moment thing, no doubt fueled by the moonshine, but when she returned through the crowd she realised it wasn’t such a bad idea. The Flådhöjden elves were proud warriors, and while they spent a lot of time playing harp and sipping pearling whine, their heads were spinning with ideas of dying honourably, valour on the field, and Real Fights. She remembered her youth clear enough to know it. A bitchslap was as far as you could come from their ideals, it was an insult as good as strapping them to a bleating donkey and paint them as clowns. As her brain churned though the impressions she also realized that while Auduin had kept his face straight he had paled slightly. She chuckled to herself and asked the present dirty elves to set up a party between the fence and the Kingdom of Heaven. A big one, at least three days long.

***

The party was still going strong when Makrofaga and her advisors woke up. Hungover and bleary eyed they gathered around the table in Makrofaga’s hut, and tried to think a few coherent thoughts. Silver was green faced and huddled up in a corner as if he couldn’t sort his limbs in the right order. Odoferus face cycled through white, green, waxy yellow and back to white again. The tan he’d gained from laying drunk in the sun lay as a film over the ever going colour change, and he made sure to have the “puke bucket” close by. Grak had taken the chair beside him to shorten the way if she needed it. Her grip around the table top made the dry wood creek. Around her neck hung a pink feather boa which, upon close inspection, turned out to be Foetida. The fairy’s complaints about the unfair sunlight was barely audible. Makrofaga sat absolutely still on her stool, like a pumpkin with fear of heights. Most of the time she kept her eyes shut, since she too was tormented by the sharp sunlight. Mr Lotus rubbed his temples.

For a long time no one said anything. They just longed for a cup of tea no one could make for them. Then Odoferus glared at mr Lotus.
“Whyareyou stinkfaced? You drink like a bird!”
“Perhaps,” mr Lotus sighed “that drink was of lesser quality.”
“AwRIGHT!” shouted Foetida and made them all wince “WHO SPILLED THE BEANS???”
“Do we have to?” asked Makrofaga and started to rub her temples too.
A tiny fist emerged from the feather boa shaking with rage.
“SOMEONEISATRAITOR! SsssXE NEEDS A BEATING! AND A HANGING!”
Makrofaga sighed.
“What if it’s a child? We have…”
She heaved and fought to keep it in.
“…we have no clue who did it. And it’s more important to… to… to figure out how we keep those snobs from taking our mound.”
“Your majesty,” said mr Lotus, “knowing who did it may give us clues to how much they know, and what to do.”
That was a long sentence to decode for hangover brains. The persons around the table glared at a vague point in front of their noses while they tried. The first one to even move was Grak.
“Thinking is needed,” she said, “I get us coffee.”

Coffee, water, more coffee, more water, and a few bits of plain bread later they felt a little bit better. They were still completely out of clues save for one; the Flådhöjden elves had tolerated the Kingdom of Heaven for centuries without a peep, something must have stired them, they wouldn’t have put up that show of power if they didn’t had a hunch there was something more to it than the shrine on the top. To at least get a hint on where to start they started to cycle through possible leaks. A child? Possible, but probably not. Childs’ talk should have busted the cover centuries ago if that was the case. A traitor among those who married up to elves in Flådhöjden? Maybe. Someone among the Flådhöjden elves who persisted in turning up with different charity projects? Maybe, but the dirty elves were usually completely tight lipped on both the Kingdom and the horrgoo. A traitor among the dirty elves who had sold the secret? Makrofaga shuddered at the thought. If that was the case the guilty person would be lynched.
“There’s also a chance,” she said and poked her slice of bread, “that they don’t know what’s under ground. They just know that we’ve grown too many, and wants to break down our core to better break us up.”
“DAAAAHLING” said Foetida “they can drive us like cattle any miiinute. If they want to break our core they wanna’ get done with AAAALL of us.”
She meant it as a joke, yet when the words had left her mouth they all realised there were something to them. For a moment the silence around the table where only penetrated by the distant sounds of the party by the foot of Kingdom of Heaven.
“Then we really need to know,” said Makrofaga, “because if they plan something like that…”
Something glowed red in her eyes.
“…No one is going to harm my dirty elves! I’ll see to that!”
“Wow” said Odoferus surprised.
He had still too much of a headache to applaud her, yet he was tempted. Makrofaga didn’t notice. She was deep in thoughts.
“We can’t all do both,” she said after a while, “I want you Foetida, and you Grak to investigate how much those snobs know, and if there was one who sold us out.”
Foetida stuck her face out of the hair, banging her right fist into her left palm.
“Awright! DAAHlin’ can we beat him up on spot?”
“No. All of xe need to be left to be punished publicly. If there’s a traitor everyone needs to see the punishment. Can you imagine the rumours otherwise?”
With a huff Foetida withdraw into her hairs. Absentmindedly Grak patted her back.
“Odoferus and mr Lotus, you help me find out ways to protect the Kingdom of Heaven. You’ll have the most important job, Odoferus…”
The hairy elf stared back at her with a mix of surprise and fear, mentally cycling through every impossible task she could heap upon him.
“…in case there’s a need you’ll be the unofficial liar.”
His brown face broke up in his trademark greasy smile.
“Alright! THAT I can do!”
That took a heavy weight off Makrofaga’s shoulders. She could lie if she wanted to, but she seldom found it worth the trouble. Keeping track of lies was way too much work in her book, especially since covering up one lie tended to birth more lies. Sticking to the truth had always been her way of reducing work. Odoferus, on the other hand, lied for the fun of it. He lied about his age, his weight, his colour – even to persons standing right in front of him – and any other thing he could lie about. Makrofaga had been at gatherings where he had lied about his opinions just to get an interesting discussion going. The only one he never lied to was Makrofaga, since he years ago had discovered she got hurt when people lied to her. Lying to the Flådhöjden elves on the other hand? Bring it on!

Once Grak and Foetida had left to tend to their daily businesses and discretely investigate if anyone had betrayed the secrets of Kingdom of Heaven, the three left sat down to set a plan for defending the mound. Well, Silver was there, but he held a deep conversation with some specks of dust and couldn’t be counted on. Makrofaga took a book from the pile under her bed and drew a map over the mound area on the lining paper. Keeping a map was one of the few lessons she remembered from the strategy lessons she’d taken as a young adult in Flådhöjden.
“I can see a few weak spots, your majesty” said mr Lotus, “though I think the biggest problem is the magic busters.”
Makrofaga sighed.
“Yes”
Magic busters were spells with the sole function of breaking up other magic. They came in different sizes, from small ones used by unruly kids to wreck havock among each other, to middle sized ones for jealous commoners who wanted to sink their neighbour’s floating cart, to humongous busters used in wars. You could count on Flådhöjden to have the biggest, latest, and best magic busters available. They were probably strong enough to break the ancient magic that kept the temple grotto together. Even though the ancient architecture in itself would serve as a backup, it would be fairly easy for a team of diggers to carve away the rest.
“Luckily we aren’t there yet,” said Makrofaga, “and that buys us some time. Our first problem is what we should do with Auduin and his prancing boys.”
“Not letting him know that we’re planning something!” said Odoferus.
“Are you sure? Isn’t it better to wisk him away in some way?”
“It’s the liar’s first rule! Hide your intention! We keep the party going! Irritate them as much as we could – because that is something we always do! Then we can have our big shenanigans in the direction he doesn’t look.”
“There’s some benefit to that plan, your majesty” said mr Lotus.
“Yeah, I see it. It’s a bit risky, though.”
“Every alternative is risky, your majesty, and if we start an elaborate plan to get him away from there someone will notice.”
Makrofaga sighed again.
“We still don’t know what they plan to do. Given that they already had drawn an official map they’ve been at it for a while.”
“Spies, your majesty.”

Sending spies into Flådhöjden wasn’t impossible. Dirty elves were sometimes enrolled to clean up after messes the city elves didn’t want to touch themselves. Setting off an explosion in a waste pocket somewhere would be easy, given how well they knew the sewer system. The tough part was for the spy to find the good stuff. If a cleaner meant to shovel shit suddenly ended up in the military archives… well, it would look suspicious. Especially since Flådhöjden had made an open move, and knew the dirty elves had interest in poking around. Another alternative was to bribe someone from Flådhöjden to do the spying for them. Hypothetically. Nothing in the entire Skräpmården was valuable enough to be a good bribe, unless the potential spy accepted a gift card for an embroidered coat from Grak. Yet another alternative was to enroll one of those well meaning charity workers. All three of them felt iffy at the thought. Not that the charity workers weren’t intelligent, because the usually were, but they were also naïve and often slightly airheaded. The chance that they would succeed in spying was laughable.

Still, they needed inside information from somewhere, and when she went to bed that night Makrofaga still chewed on the problem over and over
“Spy” she thought “where do we get a spy?”

Draft, Kingdom of Heaven, Makrofaga Queen of the Dirty Elves

Part 1 Meet the usual suspects

Flådhöjden, the magnificent city close to the plains of Födogårdarna, was in every way an elvish city. The elves were noble, beautiful, skilled soldiers, well dressed, well modulated, and polite. They lived in marble palaces, listened to soft harp music and sipped pearling wine. While they themselves came in all colours, from alabaster white to so dark brown their skin almost turned blue, they prefered pastel clothes of exquisite quality. And of course you never saw a spot or a worn patch in the fabric. There’s simply nothing ugly or imperfect with an elf.

But have you ever wondered how they got that way? It’s simple – they threw away everything that didn’t suit them. Bad food? Throw away. Broken furniture? Throw away. Clothes in the wrong colour? Throw away. A scratch on the book cover? Throw away. An elf growing ugly with age? Throw away. A child that wasn’t perfect? Throw away. Anything could be thrown away – which usually meant being dropped in the sewers and bobble away on the brown current.

At the foot of the white marble city wall, far below the watch towers, Skräpmården begun and stretched over an area at least three times as big as the city. Once long ago the place had been a forest, thick with lush trees, moss, rocks and critters that skittered between their hiding places. No one alive remembered it, because now the place was the biggest slum any elf had seen – or human, orc, gnome, dragon or any other fay creature else had for that matter. Huts and rubbish were cramped together so close it looked like they were fighting each other for space, and in some miraculous way the inhabitants had managed to squeeze in paths between them. Muddy water dribbled from the shoddy roofs and though there were planks for the pedestrians to step on, the naked earth beneath was in a state of perpetual slush that stained their clothes up to their waists. Fires everywhere filled the air with stinging smoke, and everything stank. This was the home of Skitalverna – the dirty elves.

Skitalverna lived off the three rivers of sewage floating out of Flådhöjden, and since the elves in the city absentmindedly threw away almost everything, it could be a good life. They mainly lived on manure – Flådhöjden produced exquisite manure – that they rescued from the brown waves and sold to the farmers of Födogårdarna, but they also got their food, clothes, their children, their litterature, their aunts and uncles, their tools – like saws, hammers and digging bars – , their jewels, well everything that could float from that source. And while they all called themselves skitalver not all of them were elves, because even guests could end up in the sewers. Many fay creatures had suddenly found themselves in the dirty waves and then been dragged to shore by a dirty, patched, and oddly accepting crew. Some of the rescued returned to their homes telling upset tales of snobbish jerks, others stayed and joined their rescuers.

Unfortunately the sewers were also an unreliable source for living. Manure was only valuable if the farmers could pay for it, and when the weather was dry fertilizer was the last thing the crops needed. At those occasions large mounds of stinking brown goo rose on the shores, attracting flies and illnesses, and at the same time the people of Flådhöjden stopped throwing away food. Not one of the high elves would admit it, but they could also feel the pinch of a starvation period. At other times they just stopped throwing away food and clothes anyway. They had trends of thriftiness when they thought they would be Good Persons by not wasting a lot of resources on their extravagant living. In one way the dirty elves could understand – the Flådhöjden way of life did come with a cost – but they also wanted to eat. The Flådhöjden elves never recognised that their waste became food for the dirty eleves. Well, there were exceptions from the rule, since they had a habit of making fun of, or gagging in horrid sensationalism over, their neighbours for their eating habits. When starvation knocked on the door, Flådhöjden’s inhabitants kept the food for themselves, with the motivation that they didn’t have enough to share.

Frankly, the Flådhöjden elves didn’t want to admit the the Dirty Elves existed at all, because the Dirty Elves were Not How Elves Were Supposed To Be. While an elf should be soft spoken, a dirty elf shouted, roared with laughter, and wailed with grief. Those precious pastel clothes, that could have been slightly stained pastel clothes after their journey down to Skräpmården, somehow ended up tie-dyed in garish, flaming colours, cut up and sown together into clothes that seemingly assaulted people by being as extravagant as possible. The Flådhöjden elves wore little, select and very expensive jewelry to their clothes, the Dirty Elves buried themselves in anything that shined. Broken glass, bottle caps, fool’s gold, polished brass and anything similar were skillfully set in cheap metal casings and strung together into long bands the dirty elves wore layered around their necks as huge bling shawls.

And the parties… Oh, the parties!

This is hard for a person who have never lacked food to understand, so it’s no surprise the Flådhöjden elves didn’t get the Dirty Elves knack for parties. You see, when you have food for two out of the week’s seven days you have a strange choice; you can stretch your eating over two, perhaps three days by being stingy, and then starve the rest of the week, making the entire week miserable…

…or…

…you could use the food for a party one day, being happy as a clam, and try to live on the memories for the rest of the week. Either way you starve, either way you’ll be miserable, but for one alternative you get a party. Now, the Dirty Elves usually did stretch their food, but the few times they got a surplus – even just a small one – they grabbed the chance to a feast, like a drowning person latch on to a floating log. Their parties were legendary, and often loud enough to keep the entire Flådhöjden awake until dawn. Skitalverna knew the maze of sewer ducts under Flådhöjden like the back of their own hands, and when they got drunk they arranged torch parades through it, singing songs no child should ever need to hear, and occasionally making pockets of metan gas explode. Everything echoed up through the… well… “comfort chairs”, and there were a few Flådhöjden elves who had gotten their precious behinds singed.

The dirty elves had even got their royalty from the sewers. Of course, most of the dirt elves came from the sewers, but their queen was an exception in a few ways. Her name was Makrofaga, she was fat and soft spoken. She had become queen due to an inability to say “No”, and she had been thrown away when she was an adult, a young adult. Normally a Flådhöjden elf who made it to what would be about twenty years in human age, would not be thrown away – there were some slack in the norms of perfection. Makrofaga still had managed to cross the limits. First by being fat, since everyone knows elves are thin. Second by being oddly out of synch with other persons. She either was too loud or too softspoken, she seldom got hints on when to keep quiet about something, and she could blurt out embarrassing things without blinking. If “overstepping the lines” had been one word, it would have been Makrofaga’s middle name. However the third thing was the worst – she was religious.

The elves of Flådhöjden had godesses and gods. They even had the region’s biggest, holiest and most expensive temple. Being rich, though, they could afford the luxury of not caring about it. For religion they preferred people to be either spiritual in an ethereal way, meditating in the privacy of their chambers and not letting it impact on their daily behaviour, or to be so losely attached that they hardly cared. Makrofaga was neither – she was religious in a practical way, almost like a cleaner is practical about cleaning. She kept her family gods in good shape, and served them daily meals on a set of children’s china, chatting loudly with them all the time. Sometimes she even carried one of them downtown, strapped to her back, to let the god or goddess in question “get some fresh air”. She meticuosly followed every religious rule, from fast to feast to giving alms to the poor. While she never proselytised other elves felt strangely uncomfortable around her. The tipping point came when one man in her age softly had told her
“You know you don’t need religion to be a good person?”
Makrofaga had turned beet red and shouted over the entire square where they stood
“AND YOU JUST PROVED YOU DON’T NEED RELIGION TO BE A DOUCHEBAG EITHER!”
She was dropped into the sewers within minutes.

Fifty years later Makrofaga sometimes thought about that moment. Why hadn’t she been polite about it? Could she had been less rude? Why didn’t she just keep quiet and let the insult pass? Painful questions she knew never would get their answers. The one thing that softened her pain was that she felt so much more at home in Skräpmården than she ever had at Flådhöjden. Everyone here was a little off, had their scratchmarks, and had a personality that didn’t match what the Flådhöjden elves thought was appropriate. She had made herself a new set of goddesses out of trash, displayed them on shelves in her hut, and fed them from a set of bottle caps and an old tin can. No one batted an eye about it.

She had been queen elect two years after arriving to Skräpmården, since no one else wanted the job. Every skitalv knew that the job meant hard, hands on work in managing the different fractions of dirty elves, rustling up food in the numerous dry periods, and – worst of all – negotiating with the Flådhöjden elves. Makrofaga had had no idea on how to do things, but volunteered when no one else did. Her method of ruling mostly consisted of stumbling upon a task that needed to be done, finding the person that seemed to know how it should be done, and making that person do what was needed. There had been some spectacular mess-ups, but on the whole it seemed to work. People where happy enough to reelect her now and then. And the perks of being a queen was not bad; she had a roof that never leaked, and she had Silver.

Silver was a unicorn, and here we need to know a few things about unicorns in general to understand him. The Flådhöjden elves kept unicorns as guardians – they were voracious meat eaters, as intelligent as humans, and fierce enough to kill on the first try. Another important trait was that they could neutralize any poison simply by touching it with their horns. When Silver was given to Makrofaga as a crowning gift it seemed like an unusually generous gesture from them. Makrofaga had awkwardly given him his freedom and citizenship of Skräpmården as soon as it was possible, because she couldn’t see herself owning someone she could discuss theology with. And it was soon discovered he would fit right in with everyone else. He had a birth defect – his horn didn’t neutralize poison, it turned every liquid it touched into a drug instead. As a result Silver was perpetually drunk. Possibly as a result, he had a tendency to buy loads of cheap beer and get hammered, claiming he drank to forget. If anyone asked what he was so broken over, he always exclaimed
“I can’t remember!”
and went back to drinking.

Since he still lived with Makrofaga she could tell whether he was drunk on “horn juice” or beer. If it was beer, and he could stand, he went out and fished for fights with the biggest orcs he could find. If it was horn juice he sat amiably in a corner, slowly saying things like
“Duuude! Do you realise toilet paper is like napkins for your bumbum?”
Often slumping over and falling asleep after delivering such nuggets of wisdom. It took a while for Makrofaga to find out how he could afford the massive amount of beer he was drinking. Turned out he shaved off pieces of his horn when it was long enough, and sold it on the black market. She was terribly conflicted, but there was no law against it, and since the supply was low she chose to look the other way.

The one thing Silver mastered, regardless of how horned or drunk he was, was to keep Makrofaga on a regular schedule. Her brain didn’t multitask. At all. Her choice was to either be the best housewife ever for herself, or concentrate on ruling the queendom and let her home fall into disarray. Silver kept her schedule, and it was as if he saved the few sober neurons he had only for this. He went from flubbering horner dude to stone sober in a second, and didn’t relent until she had changed tasks. That was all he did, but for Makrofaga it made a world of difference, even if she still had to do all the job herself.

Another perk, if you could call it that, was her advisors Odoferus and Foetida. Odoferus was a former Flådhöjden elf like herself, but he had been thrown in the sewer as a toddler. Makrofaga was secretly jealous of him for that. He couldn’t remember, and miss, the place like she did. She had instructed herself sternly to never say something about it, though. She had known him long enough to know that he didn’t take being thrown away as lightly as he pretended he did. He was unusually hairy, so hairy it looked like he needed to be sheared in the spring. The only one hairier than him was Foetida. She was a fairy, a pink fluffball hoovering around his head most of the time. When she was close to Silver she hovered around the unicorn’s head instead, trying to hide that she licked the horn as much as she could. Needless to say her advice was mostly drowsy and not always coherent.

Odoferus was coherent though. He always burst into her hut while she was serving the goddesses and gods breakfast shouting
“YOU KNOW THEY’RE NOT REAL, DON’T YOU!”
Makrofaga usually replied.
“Of course they’re real. They’re standing right there.”
“BUT THEY’RE NOT GODS, THEY’RE JUST DOLLS MADE OUT OF PAPER AND CLAY!”
Untroubled Makrofaga continued serving the goddesses their food. Like every elven idol they had their eyes shut. Every elven child was taught that they only open their eyes to look at the worthy.
“They’re both” she said.
“BUT THEY’RE NOT OPENING THEIR EYES. ARE THEY PERHAPS STILL ASLEEP???”
At this point Odoferus usually grabbed one of the gods or goddesses and banged it violently on the wall.
“WAKEY, WAKEEEEY! TIME TO GET UP!”
When the goddess stayed silent he hurled it against the floor as if he wanted to throw it through the entire world.
“YOU SEE??? NO ANSWER!!!”
Makrofaga took up the goddess and brushed it off. The clay was of excellent durability and never cracked.
“That’s because she’s stunned.”
STUNNED???”
Odoferus was the first person Makrofaga met when she arrived to Skräpmården, and they had been fast friends ever since. They both knew they would never agree on whether the divine beings were real or not, so they kept the daily charade going mostly for fun. After all it released a lot of pressure.

Then there was mr Lotus, who arrived as soon as Odoferus and Makrofaga had ended their theological debate. Mr Lotus was unusually not from Skräpmården. He had arrived the usual way by being thrown into the sewers, but he was softspoken and polite, as if he still was up at the city. They had figured out that he came from far, FAR away, and not much more. The reasons he wasn’t liked by the Flådhöjden elves were so much clearer. First of all he was a dragon that could look like an elf – or a human – and that was Wrong by their book. Second he was well mannered and very, very, VERY polite. Fact is he was so noble in his manners all his attempts to fit in with the Dirty Elves fell flat. He wore the tie-dyed patchwork clothes, he had bling everywhere, including an abnormally large pearl that hang from a chain around his neck, and he smeared himself with dirt. Still his body was so royal it just looked like he had come from a masquerade. The only thing that gave away his true form was that he was discretely buff – as if muscle upon muscle lurched under his clothes waiting to burst into a frenzy of movement. This was also Wrong according to the Flådhöjden elves, who knew that dragons were gnarly, old, and while muscular they must have a bit of a beer belly. Worst of all, though, was that he didn’t breathe fire – he spouted water.

Neither Makrofaga, nor Odoferus, nor Foetida had ever heard him say anything about why he stayed at Skräpmården. He could leave in a blink, and while they like their home it seemed a bit… small for him. They were curious as cats outside a closed door, but for some reason they never dared to ask him.
“Are you done?” he asked when he stepped inside.
“As always” said Makrofaga “our debate ended in a tie. Sit down, please!”
He was the only one she had to tell. Odoferus just grabbed a chair, turned it around and straddled it. His frock coat opened up revealing two hairy thighs and that he wore nothing but a pair of dirty underwear under it. Mr Lotus winced and looked another way. Foetida managed to sense that their meeting was about to start and wobbled over to the rackety table Makrofaga kept at one end of the hut. She aimed for an empty chair, and ended up crashing in Makrofaga’s lap. A cloud of glittery, pink fairy dust rose with a “pouff!” around them both. Makrofaga coughed for five minutes straight, and then wheezed
“Are we all here?”
“Not Grak Silverstickaren” said mr Lotus.

Grak had the unfortunate habit of always be late, mostly because she was a busy woman. She was a polite orc, and that had been enough for throwing her into the sewers. She had come to Flådhöjden as an envoy since the orcs, and you can’t blame them, assumed a polite diplomat would have more success with the elves. The elves on the other hand, well – you know the drill. After she ended up in Skräpmården Grak made sure her king knew that a “normal” orc would fare better, and then she stayed. Skräpmården was of a softer mess and din than Orcheim, and she liked that. An old embroiderer had taught her how to embroid for a living, and she was now the best embroiderer you could ever find. Not only did she decorate the dirty elves’ clothes, half of Flådhöjden were clad in her art – including the king. She still couldn’t visit the city, because a polite orc Was Wrong, so any Flådhöjden elf had to either send a messenger or come down themselves to order her clothes. Secretly Grak found that extremely funny.

The reason she ended up at Makrofaga’s board of advisors was that she used her money to set up a soup kitchen for the surplus children of Skräpmården. There were a lot of them, and a few years ago most had been living on the streets. When Makrofaga discovered Grak’s soup kitchen she awkwardly asked the gigantic orc if she was willing to coordinate the children with families who could adopt them. After a stumbling start Grak had now managed to find home to all of them, and new kids floating in soon found themselves with loving parents. Grak never accepted anything less than loving parents, and few dared to challenge a two meter tall orc with shoulders almost as broad. The soup kitchen was still open. Nowadays the kids arrived with their families, and it was more of a perpetual potluck. Slightly less for Grak to do, at least in that end.

Officially Grak was the family coordinator, inofficially she was there to add the final touch. Whatever the subject was she had a wise word, and often a clever solution. When she finally arrived the others simultaneously drew a sigh of relief.
“I’m terribly sorry” she said, walking sideways through the door to not topple the hut “there was some troubles in the Quidi family, and I wanted it all sorted before I came here. Terribly sorry everybody!”
The giant, pink puff of hair on Makrofaga’s lap stired, and Foetida’s bleary eyes became visible. As Grak carefully fitted her bum to a chair that looked tiny under her, the fairy droned
“Thaaat’s my daaaaaaahling!”
“HEY!” said Odoferus.
Foetida had already taken flight and wobbled over to the orc.
“Sooorry daaaaaaahling, but I neeeed my daaaaahling.”
She crashed into the orc and started kissing her ear until it was pink with fairy dust.
“Well,” said Makrofaga, “since we all are here I declare this meeting open.”

The morning meetings were usually over in about half an hour since they held them every day. They compared notes, shared some advice, and had a cup of tea. A lot of things happened every day in Skräpmården, and they needed to be out to catch it, not talking about how to catch it. This day they still took some extra time to discuss a pressing subject.
“We need more space” said Makrofaga.
They all nodded, deep in thoughts over how cramped their home was.
“Any offer of help from the city?” mr Lotus asked.
“They” Odoferus growled “as if they would! What was it they called it again? Compressed cohabitation! Yeah, right! Trendy! We’re so trendy the most common injury is from those “multifunctional homes” clapping shut over people!”
Odoferus was, among other things, responsible for Skräpmården’s public health system.
“Oh dear!” said Grak
“Nah, it’s fine. They’re so shoddy the houses break before the people do. But there has been some blisters and bleeding owies. Where did we get that crap again?”
Makrofaga’s face went purposfully neutral.
“Not from the sewers. It was the freshly founded organisation “Friends of Skräpmården” that gave them to us.”
If the board from Friends of Skräpmården had been present their souls had been crushed by the mean laughter around the table.
“Kiiiiiiiids” moaned Foetida “adooooorable kiiiiids! Shouldn’t go neeaaar a hooouse…”
She fell asleep over Grak’s shoulder before she could finish the sentence.
“Can we just cut the crap up and use for something better?” asked Odoferus.
“Be my guest” said Makrofaga “find out some health reason to do it, so I have something to say when those precious souls show up again.”
“There’s still the question of more space” said mr Lotus
“Yes, and I’m afraid there’s the only solution. We can’t “compress” any more.”
The following silence was only broken by Silver’s drunken snores. Everyone waited for someone else to say it.
“We could ask for a piece of Sprättströget” said Grak.

Sprättströget was an enormous park outside Flådhöjden, bordering both the city and Skräpmården. Originally the park had been part of the Skräpmården forest, and while Skräpmården slum had shaved off the entire fauna in its area, the park had manicured it into oblivion. Every tree was carefully pruned, every bush cut into shape and planted in decorative lines. There were vast lawns, and broad, white roads to ambulate along. This was the Flådhöjden elves’ idea of a wilderness, and the amazed dirty elves had several times seen camping – or rather glamping – taking place over several days. If they hadn’t seen the city elves’ military skills up front, they had thought they were complete whimps, and they still wondered where the soldiers got their actual wilderness training. It couldn’t be there, among the decorative bushes, could it?

Since Skräpmården stunk the area of Sprättströget closest to it was rarely used. Makrofaga had gazed over that strip of land many times, calculating how many families she could fit into it, if only she was allowed to expand the slum. Unfortunately all of the ground, Skräpmården as well as Sprättströget, was owned by Flådhöjden, and while Makrofaga was a queen she still had to bow under the Flådhöjden king and his administration. She was not eager to meet with them. Not at all. And the rest of the board both knew and sympathised. On the other hand the population of Skräpmården was now so dense they soon would have to sleep standing up. The meeting ended with the decision that Makrofaga should request an official audience with the king.

Makrofaga did her request exactly according to the official rules, down to sending it with an herald clad in a pastel blue tabard and with one green and one red shoe. As usual she got the answer that she couldn’t see the king since there had been an error in the procedure, but she could meet with the Skräpmården officer Aiduin Enris if the subject matter was pressing. This outcome had been the same during all the years she had been queen. Out of curiosity she looked up what had been wrong this time. The upper left corner on the letter had been slightly bent. It was, in a way, an improvement from the last time, when the upper right corner had been too straight. With an internal sigh she clad herself in as much of her official garment she could, and requested a meeting with Aiduin Enris. She knew Aiduin. He would set a time so close to the returning mail it would be almost impossible to be punctual. Nowadays she imagined he hoped she would be late, though she couldn’t figure out why.

She was still a bit out of breath when she sat down at his desk. The gigantic queen gown snagged in the chair, she nearly ripped it, and had to awkwardly fidget around to wiggle it lose. Auduin waited, and managed to look patient all the time. Patient in that way that got you bad conscience for being such a dunse. Once everything was sorted they just stared at each other in silence.

Elves neither view genders nor sexuality the same way as we do, so our terms rarely apply. But there’s no time for me to delve into a dissertation on elven gender construction, so forgive me for breaking the fourth wall for a short time to say that even if it’s an mismanaged fit, we’ll use our terms on this foreign world. And the reason for this is that Makrofaga had a gaydar.

Makrofaga had a gaydar, although she was way to shy to check its accuracy by interviewing any person who triggered it. After all it was none of her business. Moreover, it only worked on men, so she had little use for it. But sometimes it struck like a gong, screaming “GAY” or “STRAIGHT” into her ear. It happened every time she met Aiduin, because that man was so straight he put broomsticks to shame. He was as wooden as a broomstick too, always staring at her over his eyeglasses, shuffling through the papers he held in his hand. She caught herself wondering if he absorbed the text through his fingers, and managed to quench a giggle just in time. She could see for her inner eye how he would let the joke fly straight over his head just to embarrass her.
“…so,” she ended her long lecture “we desperately need more space. There is no other solution, since you’ve already forbidden us to build more than one story…”
“Fire hazard” interrupted Aiduin
“Yes, fire hazard… more than one story high, and also forbidden us to dig cell…”
“You know the clay ground…”
This was the fifth time he interrupted and Makrofaga was at her wits end.
“YES, I KNOW THE CLAY GROUND! I LIVE THERE! BUT WE NEED MORE SPACE!”
For a long time only the rustling of papers was heard.
“So what do you want us to do? It’s not our fault you’re outbreeding your grounds.”
“There is a part of Sprättströget that is rarely used. It’s just by our borders, so if we could expand for some ten to twenty meters or so…”
She felt her heart sink, and stared in panic on Aiduins blonde hairline. He was one of those extremely white elves.
“What do you mean “ten to twenty meters”? It’s not clear how you want it. Is it in a square or ten to twenty meters from the city wall?”
“No!” Makrofaga started flail over the table, feeling heat racing through her body “I mean we move the border – here- ten to twenty meters to _here_. An expansion.”
“Hm”
The little word hanged in the air while he sat motionless and expressionless. For a looong time.
“I’m not sure that is possible, but I’ll se what I can do. And it’s good you take up that end of Skräpmården, because we have some plans… I’ll fetch a map.”

Once she was alone in Aiduin’s office Makrofaga studied the walls. She had a horrible hunch about the plans, and she knew she’d be mad if her premonition was true. She had hope this would be the one time she also left Flådhöjden the official way, just this one time. Usually the meetings ended with her being impolite in some way, and then Aiduin had her thrown in the sewers. While it was the fastest way home she dearly wished for a more dignified return. Unfortunately the Skräpmården officer returned with the worst possible proposition – already drawn on an official map. Makrofaga took one look – and exploded.
Men är ni helt blåsta i huvudet??? Det måste ni vara! Det förklarar den underliga musiken jag hörde när jag kom hit – det var vinden som for genom for genom era tomma skallar och skapade orgelmusik! Och de där klapprande kastanjetterna som lät… Det är klart att det var de där stenarna ni har i bröstet istället för hjärtan! Ni är förkrympta uttorkade paragrafryttare som hellre suger kuk än försöker er på att vara medalver. Jag tror inte ens ni vet vad det är. Ni struttar hellre runt…”(Translation: You are heartless idiots)
That’s when Aiduin called the guards and they threw Makrofaga in the sewer.