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!”
“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?”
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?”
“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.
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.”
“Well, I thought I’d give you a tour around Skräpmården…”
“Oh, I have seen it!”
“Have you seen the sewers?”
“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.
“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.”
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.”