“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.
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.”
“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.
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!”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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!”