Flådhöjden, the magnificent city close to the plains of Födogårdarna, was in every way an elvish city. The elves were noble, beautiful, skilled soldiers, well dressed, well modulated, and polite. They lived in marble palaces, listened to soft harp music and sipped pearling wine. While they themselves came in all colours, from alabaster white to so dark brown their skin almost turned blue, they prefered pastel clothes of exquisite quality. And of course you never saw a spot or a worn patch in the fabric. There’s simply nothing ugly or imperfect with an elf.
But have you ever wondered how they got that way? It’s simple – they threw away everything that didn’t suit them. Bad food? Throw away. Broken furniture? Throw away. Clothes in the wrong colour? Throw away. A scratch on the book cover? Throw away. An elf growing ugly with age? Throw away. A child that wasn’t perfect? Throw away. Anything could be thrown away – which usually meant being dropped in the sewers and bobble away on the brown current.
At the foot of the white marble city wall, far below the watch towers, Skräpmården begun and stretched over an area at least three times as big as the city. Once long ago the place had been a forest, thick with lush trees, moss, rocks and critters that skittered between their hiding places. No one alive remembered it, because now the place was the biggest slum any elf had seen – or human, orc, gnome, dragon or any other fay creature else had for that matter. Huts and rubbish were cramped together so close it looked like they were fighting each other for space, and in some miraculous way the inhabitants had managed to squeeze in paths between them. Muddy water dribbled from the shoddy roofs and though there were planks for the pedestrians to step on, the naked earth beneath was in a state of perpetual slush that stained their clothes up to their waists. Fires everywhere filled the air with stinging smoke, and everything stank. This was the home of Skitalverna – the dirty elves.
Skitalverna lived off the three rivers of sewage floating out of Flådhöjden, and since the elves in the city absentmindedly threw away almost everything, it could be a good life. They mainly lived on manure – Flådhöjden produced exquisite manure – that they rescued from the brown waves and sold to the farmers of Födogårdarna, but they also got their food, clothes, their children, their litterature, their aunts and uncles, their tools – like saws, hammers and digging bars – , their jewels, well everything that could float from that source. And while they all called themselves skitalver not all of them were elves, because even guests could end up in the sewers. Many fay creatures had suddenly found themselves in the dirty waves and then been dragged to shore by a dirty, patched, and oddly accepting crew. Some of the rescued returned to their homes telling upset tales of snobbish jerks, others stayed and joined their rescuers.
Unfortunately the sewers were also an unreliable source for living. Manure was only valuable if the farmers could pay for it, and when the weather was dry fertilizer was the last thing the crops needed. At those occasions large mounds of stinking brown goo rose on the shores, attracting flies and illnesses, and at the same time the people of Flådhöjden stopped throwing away food. Not one of the high elves would admit it, but they could also feel the pinch of a starvation period. At other times they just stopped throwing away food and clothes anyway. They had trends of thriftiness when they thought they would be Good Persons by not wasting a lot of resources on their extravagant living. In one way the dirty elves could understand – the Flådhöjden way of life did come with a cost – but they also wanted to eat. The Flådhöjden elves never recognised that their waste became food for the dirty eleves. Well, there were exceptions from the rule, since they had a habit of making fun of, or gagging in horrid sensationalism over, their neighbours for their eating habits. When starvation knocked on the door, Flådhöjden’s inhabitants kept the food for themselves, with the motivation that they didn’t have enough to share.
Frankly, the Flådhöjden elves didn’t want to admit the the Dirty Elves existed at all, because the Dirty Elves were Not How Elves Were Supposed To Be. While an elf should be soft spoken, a dirty elf shouted, roared with laughter, and wailed with grief. Those precious pastel clothes, that could have been slightly stained pastel clothes after their journey down to Skräpmården, somehow ended up tie-dyed in garish, flaming colours, cut up and sown together into clothes that seemingly assaulted people by being as extravagant as possible. The Flådhöjden elves wore little, select and very expensive jewelry to their clothes, the Dirty Elves buried themselves in anything that shined. Broken glass, bottle caps, fool’s gold, polished brass and anything similar were skillfully set in cheap metal casings and strung together into long bands the dirty elves wore layered around their necks as huge bling shawls.
And the parties… Oh, the parties!
This is hard for a person who have never lacked food to understand, so it’s no surprise the Flådhöjden elves didn’t get the Dirty Elves knack for parties. You see, when you have food for two out of the week’s seven days you have a strange choice; you can stretch your eating over two, perhaps three days by being stingy, and then starve the rest of the week, making the entire week miserable…
…you could use the food for a party one day, being happy as a clam, and try to live on the memories for the rest of the week. Either way you starve, either way you’ll be miserable, but for one alternative you get a party. Now, the Dirty Elves usually did stretch their food, but the few times they got a surplus – even just a small one – they grabbed the chance to a feast, like a drowning person latch on to a floating log. Their parties were legendary, and often loud enough to keep the entire Flådhöjden awake until dawn. Skitalverna knew the maze of sewer ducts under Flådhöjden like the back of their own hands, and when they got drunk they arranged torch parades through it, singing songs no child should ever need to hear, and occasionally making pockets of metan gas explode. Everything echoed up through the… well… “comfort chairs”, and there were a few Flådhöjden elves who had gotten their precious behinds singed.
The dirty elves had even got their royalty from the sewers. Of course, most of the dirt elves came from the sewers, but their queen was an exception in a few ways. Her name was Makrofaga, she was fat and soft spoken. She had become queen due to an inability to say “No”, and she had been thrown away when she was an adult, a young adult. Normally a Flådhöjden elf who made it to what would be about twenty years in human age, would not be thrown away – there were some slack in the norms of perfection. Makrofaga still had managed to cross the limits. First by being fat, since everyone knows elves are thin. Second by being oddly out of synch with other persons. She either was too loud or too softspoken, she seldom got hints on when to keep quiet about something, and she could blurt out embarrassing things without blinking. If “overstepping the lines” had been one word, it would have been Makrofaga’s middle name. However the third thing was the worst – she was religious.
The elves of Flådhöjden had godesses and gods. They even had the region’s biggest, holiest and most expensive temple. Being rich, though, they could afford the luxury of not caring about it. For religion they preferred people to be either spiritual in an ethereal way, meditating in the privacy of their chambers and not letting it impact on their daily behaviour, or to be so losely attached that they hardly cared. Makrofaga was neither – she was religious in a practical way, almost like a cleaner is practical about cleaning. She kept her family gods in good shape, and served them daily meals on a set of children’s china, chatting loudly with them all the time. Sometimes she even carried one of them downtown, strapped to her back, to let the god or goddess in question “get some fresh air”. She meticuosly followed every religious rule, from fast to feast to giving alms to the poor. While she never proselytised other elves felt strangely uncomfortable around her. The tipping point came when one man in her age softly had told her
“You know you don’t need religion to be a good person?”
Makrofaga had turned beet red and shouted over the entire square where they stood
“AND YOU JUST PROVED YOU DON’T NEED RELIGION TO BE A DOUCHEBAG EITHER!”
She was dropped into the sewers within minutes.
Fifty years later Makrofaga sometimes thought about that moment. Why hadn’t she been polite about it? Could she had been less rude? Why didn’t she just keep quiet and let the insult pass? Painful questions she knew never would get their answers. The one thing that softened her pain was that she felt so much more at home in Skräpmården than she ever had at Flådhöjden. Everyone here was a little off, had their scratchmarks, and had a personality that didn’t match what the Flådhöjden elves thought was appropriate. She had made herself a new set of goddesses out of trash, displayed them on shelves in her hut, and fed them from a set of bottle caps and an old tin can. No one batted an eye about it.
She had been queen elect two years after arriving to Skräpmården, since no one else wanted the job. Every skitalv knew that the job meant hard, hands on work in managing the different fractions of dirty elves, rustling up food in the numerous dry periods, and – worst of all – negotiating with the Flådhöjden elves. Makrofaga had had no idea on how to do things, but volunteered when no one else did. Her method of ruling mostly consisted of stumbling upon a task that needed to be done, finding the person that seemed to know how it should be done, and making that person do what was needed. There had been some spectacular mess-ups, but on the whole it seemed to work. People where happy enough to reelect her now and then. And the perks of being a queen was not bad; she had a roof that never leaked, and she had Silver.
Silver was a unicorn, and here we need to know a few things about unicorns in general to understand him. The Flådhöjden elves kept unicorns as guardians – they were voracious meat eaters, as intelligent as humans, and fierce enough to kill on the first try. Another important trait was that they could neutralize any poison simply by touching it with their horns. When Silver was given to Makrofaga as a crowning gift it seemed like an unusually generous gesture from them. Makrofaga had awkwardly given him his freedom and citizenship of Skräpmården as soon as it was possible, because she couldn’t see herself owning someone she could discuss theology with. And it was soon discovered he would fit right in with everyone else. He had a birth defect – his horn didn’t neutralize poison, it turned every liquid it touched into a drug instead. As a result Silver was perpetually drunk. Possibly as a result, he had a tendency to buy loads of cheap beer and get hammered, claiming he drank to forget. If anyone asked what he was so broken over, he always exclaimed
“I can’t remember!”
and went back to drinking.
Since he still lived with Makrofaga she could tell whether he was drunk on “horn juice” or beer. If it was beer, and he could stand, he went out and fished for fights with the biggest orcs he could find. If it was horn juice he sat amiably in a corner, slowly saying things like
“Duuude! Do you realise toilet paper is like napkins for your bumbum?”
Often slumping over and falling asleep after delivering such nuggets of wisdom. It took a while for Makrofaga to find out how he could afford the massive amount of beer he was drinking. Turned out he shaved off pieces of his horn when it was long enough, and sold it on the black market. She was terribly conflicted, but there was no law against it, and since the supply was low she chose to look the other way.
The one thing Silver mastered, regardless of how horned or drunk he was, was to keep Makrofaga on a regular schedule. Her brain didn’t multitask. At all. Her choice was to either be the best housewife ever for herself, or concentrate on ruling the queendom and let her home fall into disarray. Silver kept her schedule, and it was as if he saved the few sober neurons he had only for this. He went from flubbering horner dude to stone sober in a second, and didn’t relent until she had changed tasks. That was all he did, but for Makrofaga it made a world of difference, even if she still had to do all the job herself.
Another perk, if you could call it that, was her advisors Odoferus and Foetida. Odoferus was a former Flådhöjden elf like herself, but he had been thrown in the sewer as a toddler. Makrofaga was secretly jealous of him for that. He couldn’t remember, and miss, the place like she did. She had instructed herself sternly to never say something about it, though. She had known him long enough to know that he didn’t take being thrown away as lightly as he pretended he did. He was unusually hairy, so hairy it looked like he needed to be sheared in the spring. The only one hairier than him was Foetida. She was a fairy, a pink fluffball hoovering around his head most of the time. When she was close to Silver she hovered around the unicorn’s head instead, trying to hide that she licked the horn as much as she could. Needless to say her advice was mostly drowsy and not always coherent.
Odoferus was coherent though. He always burst into her hut while she was serving the goddesses and gods breakfast shouting
“YOU KNOW THEY’RE NOT REAL, DON’T YOU!”
Makrofaga usually replied.
“Of course they’re real. They’re standing right there.”
“BUT THEY’RE NOT GODS, THEY’RE JUST DOLLS MADE OUT OF PAPER AND CLAY!”
Untroubled Makrofaga continued serving the goddesses their food. Like every elven idol they had their eyes shut. Every elven child was taught that they only open their eyes to look at the worthy.
“They’re both” she said.
“BUT THEY’RE NOT OPENING THEIR EYES. ARE THEY PERHAPS STILL ASLEEP???”
At this point Odoferus usually grabbed one of the gods or goddesses and banged it violently on the wall.
“WAKEY, WAKEEEEY! TIME TO GET UP!”
When the goddess stayed silent he hurled it against the floor as if he wanted to throw it through the entire world.
“YOU SEE??? NO ANSWER!!!”
Makrofaga took up the goddess and brushed it off. The clay was of excellent durability and never cracked.
“That’s because she’s stunned.”
Odoferus was the first person Makrofaga met when she arrived to Skräpmården, and they had been fast friends ever since. They both knew they would never agree on whether the divine beings were real or not, so they kept the daily charade going mostly for fun. After all it released a lot of pressure.
Then there was mr Lotus, who arrived as soon as Odoferus and Makrofaga had ended their theological debate. Mr Lotus was unusually not from Skräpmården. He had arrived the usual way by being thrown into the sewers, but he was softspoken and polite, as if he still was up at the city. They had figured out that he came from far, FAR away, and not much more. The reasons he wasn’t liked by the Flådhöjden elves were so much clearer. First of all he was a dragon that could look like an elf – or a human – and that was Wrong by their book. Second he was well mannered and very, very, VERY polite. Fact is he was so noble in his manners all his attempts to fit in with the Dirty Elves fell flat. He wore the tie-dyed patchwork clothes, he had bling everywhere, including an abnormally large pearl that hang from a chain around his neck, and he smeared himself with dirt. Still his body was so royal it just looked like he had come from a masquerade. The only thing that gave away his true form was that he was discretely buff – as if muscle upon muscle lurched under his clothes waiting to burst into a frenzy of movement. This was also Wrong according to the Flådhöjden elves, who knew that dragons were gnarly, old, and while muscular they must have a bit of a beer belly. Worst of all, though, was that he didn’t breathe fire – he spouted water.
Neither Makrofaga, nor Odoferus, nor Foetida had ever heard him say anything about why he stayed at Skräpmården. He could leave in a blink, and while they like their home it seemed a bit… small for him. They were curious as cats outside a closed door, but for some reason they never dared to ask him.
“Are you done?” he asked when he stepped inside.
“As always” said Makrofaga “our debate ended in a tie. Sit down, please!”
He was the only one she had to tell. Odoferus just grabbed a chair, turned it around and straddled it. His frock coat opened up revealing two hairy thighs and that he wore nothing but a pair of dirty underwear under it. Mr Lotus winced and looked another way. Foetida managed to sense that their meeting was about to start and wobbled over to the rackety table Makrofaga kept at one end of the hut. She aimed for an empty chair, and ended up crashing in Makrofaga’s lap. A cloud of glittery, pink fairy dust rose with a “pouff!” around them both. Makrofaga coughed for five minutes straight, and then wheezed
“Are we all here?”
“Not Grak Silverstickaren” said mr Lotus.
Grak had the unfortunate habit of always be late, mostly because she was a busy woman. She was a polite orc, and that had been enough for throwing her into the sewers. She had come to Flådhöjden as an envoy since the orcs, and you can’t blame them, assumed a polite diplomat would have more success with the elves. The elves on the other hand, well – you know the drill. After she ended up in Skräpmården Grak made sure her king knew that a “normal” orc would fare better, and then she stayed. Skräpmården was of a softer mess and din than Orcheim, and she liked that. An old embroiderer had taught her how to embroid for a living, and she was now the best embroiderer you could ever find. Not only did she decorate the dirty elves’ clothes, half of Flådhöjden were clad in her art – including the king. She still couldn’t visit the city, because a polite orc Was Wrong, so any Flådhöjden elf had to either send a messenger or come down themselves to order her clothes. Secretly Grak found that extremely funny.
The reason she ended up at Makrofaga’s board of advisors was that she used her money to set up a soup kitchen for the surplus children of Skräpmården. There were a lot of them, and a few years ago most had been living on the streets. When Makrofaga discovered Grak’s soup kitchen she awkwardly asked the gigantic orc if she was willing to coordinate the children with families who could adopt them. After a stumbling start Grak had now managed to find home to all of them, and new kids floating in soon found themselves with loving parents. Grak never accepted anything less than loving parents, and few dared to challenge a two meter tall orc with shoulders almost as broad. The soup kitchen was still open. Nowadays the kids arrived with their families, and it was more of a perpetual potluck. Slightly less for Grak to do, at least in that end.
Officially Grak was the family coordinator, inofficially she was there to add the final touch. Whatever the subject was she had a wise word, and often a clever solution. When she finally arrived the others simultaneously drew a sigh of relief.
“I’m terribly sorry” she said, walking sideways through the door to not topple the hut “there was some troubles in the Quidi family, and I wanted it all sorted before I came here. Terribly sorry everybody!”
The giant, pink puff of hair on Makrofaga’s lap stired, and Foetida’s bleary eyes became visible. As Grak carefully fitted her bum to a chair that looked tiny under her, the fairy droned
“Thaaat’s my daaaaaaahling!”
“HEY!” said Odoferus.
Foetida had already taken flight and wobbled over to the orc.
“Sooorry daaaaaaahling, but I neeeed my daaaaahling.”
She crashed into the orc and started kissing her ear until it was pink with fairy dust.
“Well,” said Makrofaga, “since we all are here I declare this meeting open.”
The morning meetings were usually over in about half an hour since they held them every day. They compared notes, shared some advice, and had a cup of tea. A lot of things happened every day in Skräpmården, and they needed to be out to catch it, not talking about how to catch it. This day they still took some extra time to discuss a pressing subject.
“We need more space” said Makrofaga.
They all nodded, deep in thoughts over how cramped their home was.
“Any offer of help from the city?” mr Lotus asked.
“They” Odoferus growled “as if they would! What was it they called it again? Compressed cohabitation! Yeah, right! Trendy! We’re so trendy the most common injury is from those “multifunctional homes” clapping shut over people!”
Odoferus was, among other things, responsible for Skräpmården’s public health system.
“Oh dear!” said Grak
“Nah, it’s fine. They’re so shoddy the houses break before the people do. But there has been some blisters and bleeding owies. Where did we get that crap again?”
Makrofaga’s face went purposfully neutral.
“Not from the sewers. It was the freshly founded organisation “Friends of Skräpmården” that gave them to us.”
If the board from Friends of Skräpmården had been present their souls had been crushed by the mean laughter around the table.
“Kiiiiiiiids” moaned Foetida “adooooorable kiiiiids! Shouldn’t go neeaaar a hooouse…”
She fell asleep over Grak’s shoulder before she could finish the sentence.
“Can we just cut the crap up and use for something better?” asked Odoferus.
“Be my guest” said Makrofaga “find out some health reason to do it, so I have something to say when those precious souls show up again.”
“There’s still the question of more space” said mr Lotus
“Yes, and I’m afraid there’s the only solution. We can’t “compress” any more.”
The following silence was only broken by Silver’s drunken snores. Everyone waited for someone else to say it.
“We could ask for a piece of Sprättströget” said Grak.
Sprättströget was an enormous park outside Flådhöjden, bordering both the city and Skräpmården. Originally the park had been part of the Skräpmården forest, and while Skräpmården slum had shaved off the entire fauna in its area, the park had manicured it into oblivion. Every tree was carefully pruned, every bush cut into shape and planted in decorative lines. There were vast lawns, and broad, white roads to ambulate along. This was the Flådhöjden elves’ idea of a wilderness, and the amazed dirty elves had several times seen camping – or rather glamping – taking place over several days. If they hadn’t seen the city elves’ military skills up front, they had thought they were complete whimps, and they still wondered where the soldiers got their actual wilderness training. It couldn’t be there, among the decorative bushes, could it?
Since Skräpmården stunk the area of Sprättströget closest to it was rarely used. Makrofaga had gazed over that strip of land many times, calculating how many families she could fit into it, if only she was allowed to expand the slum. Unfortunately all of the ground, Skräpmården as well as Sprättströget, was owned by Flådhöjden, and while Makrofaga was a queen she still had to bow under the Flådhöjden king and his administration. She was not eager to meet with them. Not at all. And the rest of the board both knew and sympathised. On the other hand the population of Skräpmården was now so dense they soon would have to sleep standing up. The meeting ended with the decision that Makrofaga should request an official audience with the king.
Makrofaga did her request exactly according to the official rules, down to sending it with an herald clad in a pastel blue tabard and with one green and one red shoe. As usual she got the answer that she couldn’t see the king since there had been an error in the procedure, but she could meet with the Skräpmården officer Aiduin Enris if the subject matter was pressing. This outcome had been the same during all the years she had been queen. Out of curiosity she looked up what had been wrong this time. The upper left corner on the letter had been slightly bent. It was, in a way, an improvement from the last time, when the upper right corner had been too straight. With an internal sigh she clad herself in as much of her official garment she could, and requested a meeting with Aiduin Enris. She knew Aiduin. He would set a time so close to the returning mail it would be almost impossible to be punctual. Nowadays she imagined he hoped she would be late, though she couldn’t figure out why.
She was still a bit out of breath when she sat down at his desk. The gigantic queen gown snagged in the chair, she nearly ripped it, and had to awkwardly fidget around to wiggle it lose. Auduin waited, and managed to look patient all the time. Patient in that way that got you bad conscience for being such a dunse. Once everything was sorted they just stared at each other in silence.
Elves neither view genders nor sexuality the same way as we do, so our terms rarely apply. But there’s no time for me to delve into a dissertation on elven gender construction, so forgive me for breaking the fourth wall for a short time to say that even if it’s an mismanaged fit, we’ll use our terms on this foreign world. And the reason for this is that Makrofaga had a gaydar.
Makrofaga had a gaydar, although she was way to shy to check its accuracy by interviewing any person who triggered it. After all it was none of her business. Moreover, it only worked on men, so she had little use for it. But sometimes it struck like a gong, screaming “GAY” or “STRAIGHT” into her ear. It happened every time she met Aiduin, because that man was so straight he put broomsticks to shame. He was as wooden as a broomstick too, always staring at her over his eyeglasses, shuffling through the papers he held in his hand. She caught herself wondering if he absorbed the text through his fingers, and managed to quench a giggle just in time. She could see for her inner eye how he would let the joke fly straight over his head just to embarrass her.
“…so,” she ended her long lecture “we desperately need more space. There is no other solution, since you’ve already forbidden us to build more than one story…”
“Fire hazard” interrupted Aiduin
“Yes, fire hazard… more than one story high, and also forbidden us to dig cell…”
“You know the clay ground…”
This was the fifth time he interrupted and Makrofaga was at her wits end.
“YES, I KNOW THE CLAY GROUND! I LIVE THERE! BUT WE NEED MORE SPACE!”
For a long time only the rustling of papers was heard.
“So what do you want us to do? It’s not our fault you’re outbreeding your grounds.”
“There is a part of Sprättströget that is rarely used. It’s just by our borders, so if we could expand for some ten to twenty meters or so…”
She felt her heart sink, and stared in panic on Aiduins blonde hairline. He was one of those extremely white elves.
“What do you mean “ten to twenty meters”? It’s not clear how you want it. Is it in a square or ten to twenty meters from the city wall?”
“No!” Makrofaga started flail over the table, feeling heat racing through her body “I mean we move the border – here- ten to twenty meters to _here_. An expansion.”
The little word hanged in the air while he sat motionless and expressionless. For a looong time.
“I’m not sure that is possible, but I’ll se what I can do. And it’s good you take up that end of Skräpmården, because we have some plans… I’ll fetch a map.”
Once she was alone in Aiduin’s office Makrofaga studied the walls. She had a horrible hunch about the plans, and she knew she’d be mad if her premonition was true. She had hope this would be the one time she also left Flådhöjden the official way, just this one time. Usually the meetings ended with her being impolite in some way, and then Aiduin had her thrown in the sewers. While it was the fastest way home she dearly wished for a more dignified return. Unfortunately the Skräpmården officer returned with the worst possible proposition – already drawn on an official map. Makrofaga took one look – and exploded.
“Men är ni helt blåsta i huvudet??? Det måste ni vara! Det förklarar den underliga musiken jag hörde när jag kom hit – det var vinden som for genom for genom era tomma skallar och skapade orgelmusik! Och de där klapprande kastanjetterna som lät… Det är klart att det var de där stenarna ni har i bröstet istället för hjärtan! Ni är förkrympta uttorkade paragrafryttare som hellre suger kuk än försöker er på att vara medalver. Jag tror inte ens ni vet vad det är. Ni struttar hellre runt…”(Translation: You are heartless idiots)
That’s when Aiduin called the guards and they threw Makrofaga in the sewer.