The sewer mouth was huge, judging by its width it must have been two to two and a half elves tall. Whomever designed it had lined it with bricks, made it perfectly round, and made it slightly wider at its opening. Ancient magic made air flow backward through it. Instead of funneling the horrible stench up to Flådhöjden it transported the rotten air through the mouth. Only dedicated dirty elves could stand in that draft. Makrofaga felt slightly nauseous standing there together with Odoferus, Foetida, and Sourpuss. They contemplated the islands of debris floating by – old chairs, curtains, clothes, even the odd piece of jewelry, glued together by the horrible goo you expect from this kind of outlet. All were secretly relieved they didn’t see any elf parts. Everyone had seen it and dealt with it, and it still cut your heart.
What we would call “elevator pitches” wasn’t Makrofaga’s strong side. In general she shortened things too much and focused on completely wrong things, leaving the listener to say “it’s impossible”, and them both in an odd standstill. She had battered herself into better habits over the years, but she knew that if she didn’t stay focused she could still mess up. Odoferus’ and Foetida’s roll this day was basically to keep the person they were about to meet listening if she did. They were both extremely good at elevator pitches, though they tended to focus around “have a lot of kids and party”, and that was a pitch even Makrofaga would manage – at least the party part of it.
“Have you ever met Fungus?” she asked at a sudden realisation.
Sourpuss scratched her chin.
“No, dear. I heard of him, of course, but we have managed to run around each other each time I’m down here to collect pots.”
Everyone was slightly scared of Fungus. The ride down the sewers hadn’t been kind to him. Body wise he didn’t get many scratches, his soul had been the thing taking the biggest hit. He growled at everyone, he never smiled though his mouth sometimes did an icecold sneer that could scare an orc out of their socks, and his eyes were wild. Being the informal boss over the sewer crawlers he had seen more accidents and bodies than anyone else in Skräpmården, and that was saying something.
“I’m still not so sure about this,” said Odoferus with a trembling voice.
“Sure about what?” growled Fungus behind them.
Even Makrofaga jumped. None of them had heard him coming. The sun sent its rays around him, resulting in the bluish reflexes on dark skin being so popular up at Flådhöjden. Despite spending most of his days inside dark tunnels he was still as black as an elf could be. Sourpuss marveled.
“Dear! I didn’t know! Have you too been “promoted” to this place?”
Fungus stared at her. For a while he seemed to make complicated calculation in his head, trying to know what he should say.
“Oh,” Sourpuss said when realisation struck, “it’s “Sourpuss” dear, after the battle at Megalodon.”
He giggled and held out a hand for her to shake.
“Nice to meet you, Sourpuss! It’s Fungus here!”
Odoferus looked from Fungus to Sourpuss, from Sourpuss to Fungus, and back again. His eyes widening with every move.
“What’s THIS all about???”
Foetida patted his shoulder.
“Fungus used to be one of them Big Time Generals up at Flådhöjden.”
“We have two? Why the hells are we such idiots when it comes to fighting?”
“Oh, it’s more than two, dear” said Sourpuss, “I know of at least ten more. Perhaps not as big as Fungus here, but very decent officers.”
Odoferus gasped for air, got a lungful of sewer air and coughed until he nearly threw up. Fungus watched him thoughtfully in the meantime, hesitating over his words.
“You lose the spark,” he said when the hairy elf had regained his balance, “You spend years training and fighting for that…”
He pointed to the white marble towers of Flådhöjden.
“…and it throws you away. Might as well party your head off instead.”
Sourpuss nodded, suddenly completely serious.
“Not all of those officers are decent officers now, dear.”
Makrofaga had to shout a bit to get them to listen to her plan. She was as detailed as she could be, and felt as if she was talking the ears off the others. Fungus listened, and the more she spoke, the more a light came on in his eyes. He focused, and part of his scaryness was replaced by… stature, as if his soul surfaced from a quagmire of black thoughts.
“It won’t be easy,” he said, “there’s the pockets of explosive gas, and the build ups of time, you know.”
“Oh I know,” said Makrofaga, “I’ve tumbled through the sewers so many times now.”
“The lower east big opening, huh?”
She nodded, and was rewarded with a surprisingly friendly grin.
“I’m sure you’ve cleaned it for us!” he chuckled, “We’ll do something extra at it.”
They shook hand on it.
“I’ve already talked to Reflux and Shart. They’ll be here this afternoon so you can work out your strategies.”
The relief over a meeting going at the right direction lasted all the way home. Makrofaga was about to just throw herself in a heap on her porch when she noticed there was something wrong with Silver. He was shaking as if every muscle in his body had decided to start a crazy dance. Odoferus and Foetida gasped for air, and even Sourpuss looked concerned. The unicorn jittered over to Makrofaga.
“Sihihilver reheheports for duhuhuty, youhouhour mahahajesty”
Makrofaga looked at his watery blue eyes, and saw an unfamiliar clearness in them. It looked painful.
“Silver? Are you… sober?”
“Cahahan’t behehehe fohoggy, now, mahahajesty! Wehe’ll sohohohoon behe at bahattle.”
“You can’t DO that!!!”
Odoferus was already on his way to find a cup of clean water.
“Doho whahahat? Behe sohohober?”
“Yes! Your body isn’t used to it! It can kill you!”
Silver gave her a hesistant stink eye. For the first time in decades Makrofaga realised he wanted to be sober. And Foetida was right, it could kill him. From time to time someone, usually a newbe charity project, trapped old, punchy dirty elves without any kind of drug in an effort to rehabilitate them. It always ended in the same way; the poor souls started to see things, screamed about it, and died in pain. In general Makrofaga tolerated the charity projects in Skräpmården since they seemed to keep down the number of intrusions of guards, but for these kind she had put down her foot. The last twenty years or so no one had been allowed to introduce sobriety in this way.
Silver had always been way too punched to notice, though. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him sober without having something he needed to do for her. He tried to resist Odoferus when the elf dipped his horn in the water, but the withdrawal made him so weak Odoferus didn’t need to use force at all. He held the unicorn water in front of Silver’s mouth and looked him straight in the eye.
“Drink this, for daddy.”
This far into the sentence Silver realised he couldn’t fight both withdrawal and daddy power. He sighed, and drank. Odoferus didn’t let go of him until they could see the white body relax.
“Duuude,” Silver said, “I so wished I could stay sober! People are gearing up for battle, and I want to do my part.”
Makrofaga sat down beside him to give him someone to lean on.
“But I have already thought out a part for you.”
Putting in his last pride Silver managed to stay upright while she explained to him. Just as with Fungus he straightened up while she talked. The crooked body returned to a pose it hadn’t done for a long time, and his mane started to shine. When she had finished he smiled, and despite his earlier drink looked almost sober.
“This I can do!” he said “You have no idea how much I want to do this!”
He fell asleep on the porch, and Makrofaga made sure he could breathe before they all went into her hut to discuss some more details. She made some tea, and managed to find some paper to draw on. Sourpuss looked around the little house.
“He said ‘People are gearing up for battle’ dear. Is this a problem?”
“Yes and no” Makrofaga said and poured the tea, “I have a lot of people willing to do something, and they are putting power behind it. In a way I just have to point them in the right direction. But I’m not good at talk them into what we need them to do – I’ll just discourage them.”
Foetida dipped her cup in Odoferus.
“In general we do the talking.”
Sourpuss nodded, while Makrofaga wrote down a few names.
“I want you to talk to these persons. They’re good, and I think they’ll listen more to you than me. You know a few of them…”
She gave Sourpuss the note, and the old elf started to read. She pursed her lip a few times, pondered the persons behind the skritches before her. Then she put the note down.
“I think I can get them all. These three were my officers. They trusted me with their life. These two are too young, so let’s hope that legend thing works. That one is one horrible bastard, never liked him, so I have to work a bit. If not, five out of six is not bad, dear.”
“I’m sorry this isn’t what you’re used to in the guard…”
The old elf giggled.
“Oh don’t! I wish my entire career could have been this!”
When the party had left Makrofaga stayed behind serving the deities the rest of the tea. They looked straight forward with their terracotta eyes and didn’t say much. That was the problem with goddesses and gods – they were much like parents. Of course they could swoop in and fix all your problems in an explosion of divine golden rays and ethereal choirs, but they didn’t. Not out of cruelty, but out of respect for your own ability to live your life. Life is cruel. It throws horrible things at you, and if someone should stear you like a string puppet for its entirety, then what is left for you? You won’t have any grievances, but you won’t have any joy either. The divinities were glad to push things in your favour once in a while, yet they left you with the heaviest badge of honour – the responsibility not only for yourself but for the world around you as well. As Makrofaga filled the little bottle caps she could only hope she could she would rise to the task this time.
For the next few days Skräpmården worked almost as it used to. Since no one could throw trash on Kingdom of Heaven the dirty elves threw it as close to the feet of the guards as they dared, along with a stream of insults. Every now and then they could see elves who looked knowledgeable climb the mound, point and talk. After a while the hum of the stone guardians seemed to get to them. They rerolled their parchments, shuddered, and left. But they worked hard to be braver, and returned, day after day. Many dirty elves studied them, ready to rush to the queen if any change would occur.
Makrofaga and the rest of the council took their usual walks around Skräpmården. For each day they could see more and more people turn from wild plans of attacking Flådhöjden and turning to sewing, wood working, crafting, cooking, and cleaning. They weren’t alone in noticing. You could see the guards around Kingdom of Heaven speak to Auduin Enris about it every time he showed up. Once or twice he called for Makrofaga demanding an explanation. Every time she answered that they were preparing a ceremony for those who had died defending the temple. Every time he looked like he wanted to swallow his tongue. Every time Makrofaga was surprised over how easy it was to lie. No one had died. Thanks to the landbound doctors working overtime even the worst cases were on the mend. But she didn’t say that, and Auduin Enris kept to his role.
Then finally came the dusk they had waited for. Flådhöjden closed its gate as soon as the sun’s last rays had stopped shining on the city walls, and the plan hinged on this. Hours of walking, and personally securing people’s attendance payed off. When Makrofaga arrived at the border of Skräpmården, wearing her official robe, crisp makeup and a large bowl of stew, she met an unordered train of ten thousand dirty elves. All were dressed in their best robes, many of them were carrying unlit torches, others big trays of food or drink, and some led kids. Despite the solemn moment they were all chatting, roaring with laughter, and in some cases wailing with grief. It was not the dirty elves’ way to ponder things with deep gravity. Silver stood by her side, not sober, but fresh enough to walk with stability and be aware of the world around him.
“I need to see this!” he said and his eyes glittered in the last rays of the sun.
She looked out over her people. Most where actual elves, others came from everywhere. Quite a few orcs mingled around. A few dragons lumped their way through the crowd, smoke whisping from their nostrils. Fairies hovered, many of them just as hairy as Foetida. Trolls and gnomes shared the burden of bowls and kids. They stunk, their clothes were odd, they were scraped and smashed by life, and she couldn’t be prouder in that moment. She heard Odoferus and Foetida curse gently while they lit the first torches, and then she saw light spreading before her as Grak rose them as high as possible.
“WELL!” she shouted to get attention “WE have come to mourn the dead and celebrate the living!”
She raised the bowl of stew.
The torchbearers closest to Grak lit their torches on hers, and then passed on the flame down the giant train of people. For the first time ever she heard the dirty elves fall silent during a ceremony. As the lights multiplied silence fell, until ten thousand dirty elves stood still, waiting for the first step.
“LET’S WALK TO THE TEMPLE!”
They walked, completely silent, out of Skräpmården and through the market place. The train wobbled slightly when they was through and turned upwards, towards the bridge. The dirty elves born at Skräpmården had never been this far, and those who had been tumbling down the sewers battled heavy memories. Makrofaga walked first, a silent prayer repeating itself in her heart “Please, let them keep it together! Please, let them keep it together!” The train stayed silent, walking, nearing the gigantic gate through the city walls.
When a gate is as sturdy as the Flådhöjden gate it doesn’t need a standing guard. Two soldiers stood outside it mostly, it seemed, for decoration. As Makrofaga came closer she realised they were beginners, probably at basic training, and they were acutely aware that they alone faced a sea of dirty elves. She stopped about a meter away from them.
They answered with a muffled mix of a military salute and a civilian hello.
“I’m sorry for this! We need to perform an important ceremony for our dead, and we can’t reach our temple. Can we borrow yours?”
If it was the every day ordinariness over her question, or that they were facing a mass of silent dirty elves was hard to tell, but the guards had a hard time finding their words. In the end they agreed they had no idea if they could let them in.
“Then perhaps asking your top commander, general Martius, he should know.”
Still that nervous jumping around, and to her relief their inexperience took over. They opened a shutter in the gate, and called their sergeant. Who appeared to send someone running.
There was a wait that lasted for ages. Makrofaga glanced backwards to Odoferus, Foetida, and Grak. They all looked like they didn’t dare to believe what they had seen. She resisted the urge to tell them to breathe. Suddenly wood moved against wood, and the top commander stepped out of the gate, followed by two elite soldiers. Despite the short time to prepare, and despite the blue hour being in full swing, he had his uniform and dropped some of his liveliness for the sake of military protocol. He looked out over the sea of dirty elves, and then down on Makrofaga. He raised his eyebrows slightly, and a pained look came into his eyes.
“They tell me, h… your majesty, that you want to borrow our temple?”
“That’s right. The deities won’t complain, and we can’t reach ours.”
He put his fingertips to his lips and thought over it.
“I need to know if any one of you have weapons?”
“It’s a ceremony, commander. You don’t carry weapons during a ceremony.”
She tried not to flinch over the metallic clatter behind her. At least the dirty elves dropped what they had. General Martius gave her a sharp look.
“And it is only for the ceremony?”
“We have a party as part of it, and that may look a bit out of place, but we’re not planning anything else. We need a temple.”
He patted his lips with his fingertips. For a while his faced sagged, sending shadows over his cheeks and under his eyes. Then he sighed and straighted up a little.
“I need a few minutes to arrange things, your majesty. This wouldn’t do without an honour guard! Nope, not at all!”
He returned behind the gate. They could hear him shout orders on the other side.
Again Makrofaga exchanged glances with Foetida, Grak, and Odoferus. This time they exhaled simultaneously, and had to stop themselves from laughing. Neither of them wanted to break the silence. They hadn’t counted on it, and it felt so special. Only when the gate creaked again did they turned towards Flådhöjden. General Martius came out again, this time in full uniform.
“Welcome to our humble home, cousins!”
The blue hour was something of a favourite Flådhöjden elf occasion. With the chores of the day done for, and still with energy enough to mingle around, most of the high elves took to the streets. They chatted with each other under magical flares, and watched the sky turn from blue to black. Fountains all over the city spouted whine, and cornucopias mounted on their sides were ever filled with fruits and pastries. Gentle laughter and pleasant conversation echoed between the houses. And now, to their surprise, the high elves saw their main street getting lined with guards in full uniform. They had only noted the change, when Makrofaga and her dirty elves came walking up towards the temple.
The city was so clean. The white marble houses towered over them, and the flares shone their warm light over the dirty elves ruffled, tie dyed, patchwork clothes. They stared upwards, they stared at the surprised high elves in their perfect clothes, and they kept silent. Part of each and every one’s soul was aware that they were dirty, had scars and in no way fit in on the Flådhöjden streets. Another, bigger part, heaved an internal joyous roar over being there. Being in the face of people who had refused to see them as nothing less than rags for so long. For every step each and every one straightened up.
The dome shaped temple was huge. The white roof was lined with a golden chain of decorations, and golden spirals marked the supporting beams of its walls. At the temple gates two gigantic priestesses stood with their arms folded over their chest. They had the similar face a mother have when her child asks to do something outrageously forbidden. A worried whisper spread behind Makrofaga, and she felt her own stomach turn. But there was no return now. She steadied her step, and pretended to know exactly what she was doing. She stopped at the proper distance and raised her bowl of stew. She couldn’t help noticing its patches when she did.
“We’re here to mourn our dead and celebrate our living.”
The priestesses bowed their head and answered in unison.
“Mourn and celebrate you shall.”
They opened the gate.
The Flådhöjden temple was, rightly so, famed for its beauty. Ages of gifts had heaped gold and gems upon it. The dirty elves whispered around the golden deities, looked wide eyed up on the mosaics, and marveled at the fire pillar in the middle. They found the silver bells behind the gate and gently shook them while they placed their trays of food at the feet of the assorted deities. The ringing echoed around, making holes into eternity from this reality. When the food was delivered Makrofaga was the first one to greet the fire, having a four chest width uneven train of elves following her. It was all very beautiful, although they were hungry and hurried their steps, and somewhere in the middle of it they realised that, while this temple held more richness and beauty, it couldn’t capture what it was trying to portray. You only saw the gold, not the reality behind. And while they would talk about this night for decades they never grieved over not having a temple as elaborate as this. They lit their candles and placed them around the walls, secretly smug and doubly happy. Food was waiting.
Everyone knows only low gods are rude enough to keep offerings for themselves, so when the ceremony came to its end they collected all their pots and pans, and went out to the square outside to celebrate. The only things left were walls covered in candles, the lingering smell of the best food Skräpmården could produce, and smiling deities.
Only at the square did the dirty elves start to talk again. Blankets were spread over the cobblestones, unruly babies were caught – and caught again. They chatted, softly at first, while they laid their blankets with their potluck banquet. Neighbours were invited to taste a dish someone was particularly proud of, and food and drink were exchanged in an intricate pattern over the entire square. The silent high elf guard looked on, with the surprised high elves amassing behind, and at first none of them realised they, too, were invited to the party. Increasingly happy and loud dirty elves shouted invitations at them, waving food and bottles, trying to look as unintimidating as possible. For a while it looked like they were still be forced to celebrate “alone” under the night sky, then a group of young high elves joined at one corner, while a group of silver haired ones joined at another. Slowly high elves started to trickle into the celebrations, and that trickle turned into a river. Within an hour no one could see where the dirty elves stopped and the high elves took over. It was a dancing sea of happiness.
Makrofaga mostly stayed off the wine, for several reasons. First and foremost she would quickly get under if she dared to drink at a party of this kind. But also because she needed to figure out if the important buildings were still where she remembered. The courthouse hadn’t changed place, the royal curiousity chambers – that’s where the high elves kept most of their war bounty – had moved to a bigger place, the palace was, of course, where it had been during her last visit. But the last reason was the most important one; a lot of the wine was laced with Silver’s horn. They had never tried this mix before, and she only needed one sip to find out she’d never try it again. Rainbows and sparkles still danced across her vision, and she didn’t need to be even more impaired. It did what it should do, though. The high elves were getting happier by the minute, and she had a feeling she only would need to step back for them to find out what to do for themselves. She looked around to find her councilors, found all of them except for Odoferus, and took them and Sourpuss for a walk to the royal palace.
They found king Gadoron on a balcony facing the party square. The messenger announcing their visit was sweaty and scared to death, yet the king himself seemed friendly. He offered them some wine they all politely turned down.
“It’s quite the spectacle down there,” he said. “If I’d known I’d invited you sooner.”
“I’m glad you liked it, your majesty! Wait until you see the fireworks.”
“There will be fireworks, just wait a minute or two.”
They stayed at the balcony, chatting with the king, and looking at the dancing square below. The inebriated elves started playing around with the magic flares, changed their colours, and made them bob over the sea like glowing beach balls. Then a whistling sound made everyone stop in their step. From several of the major sewer openings spears of fire rose, and exploded into chrysanthemums of white sparks with sharp pops.
“Impressive,” said the king without much enthusiasm.
“Oh, there’ll be more!”
Two times more the white chrysanthemums of sparks exploded in the sky. On the square people pointed and laughed. Then, with a BOOM! that shook the ground and dug into their souls, four massive pillars of white, yellow and blue fire, rose from the sewers, carrying a double explosion. First red flowers stretched their petals over the sky, only to fade away for a crackle of white feathers.
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD THAT IS TO DO!” shouted Makrofaga to overpower the madness of fireworks that followed, “THE SEWERS ARE FULL WITH FUMES THAT EXPLODES AT EVEN A HINT OF A SPARK.”
King Gadoron was suddenly alive and very pale.
“ARE YOU INSANE???”
The fireworks died down slightly.
“We know what we’re doing, your majesty. My sewer crawlers have been working for years under you. They know exactly where they can lit a match or not.”
Sourpuss started to laugh and slapped king Gadoron on the arm.
“And you’ll know exactly when they’re at the wrong place! How’s them buttocks coming, by the way?”
Gadoron glared at her, then turned to Makrofaga.
“I guess, your majesty, that it’s little of those fumes. I mean, you wouldn’t risk…”
“Oh, there’s enough to hurl Flådhöjden to the moon, twice over. When I spoke to my head sewer crawler today he said one of the bigger pockets is under the castle.”
Again Sourpuss slapped Gadoron’s arm.
“You know what’s funny, dear? We have crawlers who know the system on their five fingers, who won’t get stuck in poisonous fumes and kill themselves. Your soldiers won’t even manage ten meters behind the sewer mouth.”
The fireworks picked up again. Heavy BOOMS! and crackling sparkle bombs made any kind of conversation impossible. Grak and Foetida were awestruck, the fairy securely curled up on the orc’s shoulder. Makrofaga and Sourpuss kept their attention on king Gadoron. He looked like he tried to swallow a blue whale pretending it was a sparrow.
“What do you want?” he said once it was possible to talk again.
“I want Kingdom of Heaven returned, and, as I’ve said so many times I want horrgoo to remain a state secret, and a strip of land from Sprättströget roughly thirty meters wide.”
Sourpuss added, using the general’s voice she hadn’t had use for in decades.
“And you know, dear, if the mound isn’t returned within three days we will blast Flådhöjden into oblivion.”
Gadoron ignored her and turned to Makrofaga.
“I will,” Makrofaga answered hoping he couldn’t see how her heart fluttered, “I will!”
The fireworks were still shooting flower holes in the sky when Makrofaga descended a castle stair together with Sourpuss, Grak, and Foetida. They felt oddly gigglish.
“Think he got it?” Foetida asked.
“Dear, he is thick as poo when it comes to his subjects, but he doesn’t want his own castle to explode under him. And he can’t just pretend it didn’t happen either.”
Makrofaga wrinkled her brow.
“But what happened to Odoferus? I needed him here.”
“I think I heard him say,” said Foetida, “that he wanted to see if Auduin Enris is as straight as you say he is.”
“Oh! Then he wouldn’t have been of much use!”
Sourpuss looked at the three of them.
“Shouldn’t we, perhaps, go and take a look? It could be all kinds of…”
Grak, Makrofaga, and Foetida looked at each other.
And they went down to enjoy the last of the party.
How Odoferus found out where Auduin Enris lived is a mystery. He himself couldn’t remember the day after, and no one claimed to have told him. Fact is, though, that he brought a large bottle of expensive wine he’d found somewhere, and giggled his way to Auduin Enris’ house in the officers’ quarter. The party had already reached this area of Flådhöjden. The houses were full of partying elves, and the last parts of the fireworks exploded over him. Being Odoferus he roared appreciation over the little villa, its friendly garden, and the house with the whitewashed walls. He had to try three times before he could pass through the gate to the inner garden, so it’s no wonder he at first missed that the house was silent. Yellow light flowed from its windows, and the door was half open, and Odoferus didn’t need more of an invitation.
“HELLO!” he roared and managed to get through the front door on the first try “ARE YOU HOOOME?”
Without much success he tried to focus on the wall paintings in the first room he entered.
“YOU HAVE A VERY BEAUTIFUL HOUSE! HAVE ANYONE TOLD YOU THAT?”
The only thing he heard from inside was silence, if you can call something so drenched in noise from the outside silence. Odoferus pulled himself together a little and stumbled to the kitchen.
He had never been in a kitchen before, a proper one with a hearth, teapots, towels and cosy little things that makes a home. By the look of it the inhabitants ate here too – a sturdy table was placed below the little window.
“I THOUGHT WE COULD DRINK SOME WINE, BUT…”
He turned around to walk away when something struck him. The chairs weren’t placed neatly around the table, they had been thrown around the kitchen. Slowly sobering up he looked closer on the walls, but they were painted – not stained with blood. Reluctantly he leaned down and looked under the table top.
Auduin Enris sat curled up as close to the wall as possible, grabbing the back of his head with arms so tense they were shaking. Already an extremely white man he was pale enough to shine in the dark. Sweat trickled down his forehead. His eyes were fixed on a point beyond his knees, and he didn’t blink. It was as if he didn’t dare to. Odoferus felt the last parts of drunkenness disappear. Without hesitating he put the bottle of wine on the table and crawled in to the captain. Patted him on the shoulder.
“Don’t you worry, buddy! I’ll get you out of there.”