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.
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!”
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
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“Where I come from couples don’t spend time alone together the way you do. Not even if we’re married.”
“Aaaaaw come OOOOOOOOOON! You must at LEEEAAAAst hold HAAAAAAAAAANDS!”
“If you’re married?” said Makrofaga.
“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.
“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.”
“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???”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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?”
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.
“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.
Not a move.
Well, he moved, but he was also deep in thought. He hadn’t heard anything.
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.”