1st place winner of the 2021 Tales Untold Writing Contest
They call me the Sewer Lord in a mocking tone, but I pretend they honor me. After twenty-two years of unclogging the King’s pipes, I can crawl this maze even when my helmet lamp fails.
I learn much about the royals while tending their drain lines. The Princess’s bathwater always smells of rose petals. Her attendant must be a rosebush. The Queen drinks hard liquor, which I smell with each dump of her chamber-pot.
But the King… his drain holds traces of a pink slime I’ve never seen before.
On knees and elbows, I follow a trail of it to a grating where it gums up the slots. I poke it with a spike, but the substance is tough, like tendon in the meat scraps that the head chef leaves for me out of pity. l pour a vial of declogger onto the growth, but it forms a harmless puddle. No holes, no hissing. I’ve found plenty of oddities down here, but nothing I couldn’t remove.
What is this?
The splash of a chamber-pot warns of incoming water. Sewage soaks my jumper with fresh filth as it passes, then pools atop the slime, unable to drain.
Defeated, I back out of the nearest manhole and squint against the courtyard’s light. Too dirty to use the main entrance, I hurry through the postern gate and head for the castellan’s office. I tell him to put the plumbing fixtures out of service. He nods, shooing me away with one hand while plugging his nose with the other.
Then I’m off to visit Rinvar. He’s pleasant for a goblin and carries the best supplies. He’s also the only vendor who doesn’t mind my stench. I need his help, because I mustn’t fail the King.
I show him the tip of my drain spike. “Ever see the likes of that?”
He sniffs it and jerks back his head. “Fisia herbal slime. Where’d you find it?”
“His Majesty’s drainpipe.”
Rinvar nods, eyes narrowing. “Loose tongues say his royal personality has shifted in the past two weeks.”
I gasp. “That’s when the slime appeared.”
“It comes from the Forest of Fools. I told the castle cooks to stop gathering herbs there, but do they listen? Strange things grow in that soil.”
“The forest,” I mutter. “Just last week, the King ordered knights to exterminate the wood voles to protect the herbs, of all things.”
The goblin’s eyes bulge. “The slime is a mind parasite, then. You must purge it from the King.”
“I’m no healer!” I lift my grimy hands to shove away his words.
“We don’t need a healer.” He pokes my helmet with a bony finger. “We need a thinker.”
I rub my chin, smearing poo across my stubble. “The voles eat the herbs and are fine. But when the King eats the herbs, they turn into slime, controlling him.”
The goblin’s rubbery face stretches into a smile. “Something in a wood vole’s gut breaks down the herb entirely.”
“Pancreatic juice and bile?”
“Precisely! And you say you’re no healer.”
I only know that because my declogger comes from the digestive fluids of pigs. Time to collect a stronger version.
I reach the Forest of Fools by evening, wondering if I’m a fool for coming here. Give me a dark, stinky sewer any day, not a forest that gleams with unnatural beauty.
A knight in tattered gambeson leaves the forest, heading my way. An armor bearer follows, tugging a wagon piled high with dead wood voles.
“May I have a few of those?” I point to the bodies.
“Tired of eating rats, Sewer Lord?” The knight backs up and waves away my stink.
I ignore the insults, like always. He is a knight, and I am a nobody.
He laughs. “The castle is so full of crap, no wonder it’s clogged. Take the whole lot.”
Within the hour, I’ve squeezed out enough caustic juices to fill two flasks. I bring them to the castle, running as fast as my banged up knees allow. The floor around the manhole is flooded, and servants warn me off. That fool castellan ignored me. Now everything’s backed up!
No matter. There are two sides to every drain.
I exit through the main gate, heedless of the stares and nose pinching, and slide down into the river moat. The northern effluent empties below the bridge, which should be belching out sewage at this hour. But it’s so dry I slip into it with ease. The tunnel stretches for fifty pipe segments before I come to the overhead grating with the slime. When I unstopper the flask, the pink mass wobbles.
“Get that swill away from me!” The strange voice comes from the slime.
I nearly drop my flask. “Y-y-you can speak?”
“I’ll leave the grating, okay? Just don’t hurt me or my friend inside the King,” it says. “And I will see that he recognizes you for your service.”
“I need no recognition.” To my surprise, the words ring true. Helping others is enough. Always has been. I splash the new declogger up into the grating. The slime screams and hisses, but I can’t stay to watch. The outflow will drown me if I don’t leave now.
I scramble out of the effluent, back through the main gate, and up to the head chef’s office. I give him the unused flask and explain that the King must drink the contents.
He nods. “I’ll spike his next wine chalice with this.”
“You believe me?” I say.
He places a hand on my shoulder. Nobody’s touched me in decades, and I start to cry.
“Listen to me, Sevroog,” he says. “Of all the King’s men, you are most faithful. Without complaint, you do what nobody else will, respecting even those who mock you for it. So yes, I believe you. Some foul creature plugs up our King, and his knights are useless. In this hour, only the Sewer Lord can save him.”