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Poem: "Down the Drain" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Down the Drain"

This poem came out of the July 5, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from ellenmillion and aldersprig, who wanted to go adventuring in sewers.  It also ties in with the "golden rule" prompt from janetmiles -- whereas most fantasy governments are monarchies, this one is a plutocracy, which has an interesting influence on culture and character perspectives.  (See the related poem "All That Glitters," also set in the Plutocracy of Aurea.) The poem was sponsored by janetmiles.

Down the Drain


Ehlon's glamorous career as a mage
had gone down the drain the moment
he manifested a strong talent in water magic.

Not for him the spectacular battle magics of Fire
nor the respectable messenger service of Air.
Even the workaday construction charms of Earth
would have been better than this.

When it came to Water magic,
what the city really needed was sewer workers.
In fact it needed far more than it had,
Water magic being uncommon in this population
for reasons best known to the gods,
so they were always understaffed and overworked.

Ehlon found the job depressing at first,
but soon he found that it concealed its own wonders:
miniature mermaids with alligator tails,
dung dragons that breathed pale blue methane flames,
brick wights making music with their tiny chisels and hammers.
He stood entranced for an hour the day he discovered the chamber
full of mireslime, each patch glowing a different color,
the water below dancing with eerie blossoms of pastel light.

When the Executor of Eress
decided to stage a hostile takeover
and sent sappers into the city 
in hopes of crippling its waterways,
Ehlon was there. 

Not with spells but with coaxing and favors
he laid out his plan of action.
The gatormaids sang sweetly to the sappers
as they drowned them in sewage.
The dung dragons filled a chamber with methane
and lit it all at once, incinerating invaders by the dozens.
The brick wights used their tiny, impossibly heavy hammers
to shatter ankles and finger bones.

The invaders would, Ehlon determined,
have a hard time explaining to their superiors
just how this mission went down the drain.

Ehlon led the sappers on a dark and stubborn chase
through twist after turn of subterranean pipes.
When they saw the light at the end of the tunnel,
they charged recklessly ahead,
only to find the Watermage surfing blithely by them
on the crest of a pure clear wave.

The hapless sappers,
each shining a different pastel color
that would never come off,
erupted from the sewers on carefully controlled geysers.
Some of them managed to scramble away,
but the city guard had little difficulty
tracking down culprits who glowed in the dark.

They were soon rounded up
and sent back to the Executor of Eress
with an itemized bill for damages and services.

Ehlon imagined it would take the sappers
several days to realize that
the mireslime was slowly eating through their skin.
The Executor was sure to complain about that.
Perhaps the Burghermeister would give him a discount.
Then again, probably not.

Ehlon smiled,
imagining the impact of a good day's work
on the sanitation department's forthcoming budget.

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13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: July 6th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's delightful -- well done, Ehlon! Good use of common sense, networking, and imagination.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Ehlon taps the brim of his flat little hat and replies, "Just doing my job, ma'am."
siege From: siege Date: July 6th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love every character you write who manages to solve problems from "beneath" instead of "above".
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 6th, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

You'll have a ball with this month's offerings, then. That's a key aspect of low fantasy as a genre, and a reason why I love it.

I'm also charmed that "Down the Drain" and "All That Glitters" give a matched set of perspectives, one below the city and one from its heights.
eseme From: eseme Date: July 7th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent!

I do like everyday magic, and I really like Ehlon's solutions.

I am very impressed that you made the sewers seem a magical place (I am sure that they aren't).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 7th, 2011 02:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>Excellent!

I do like everyday magic, and I really like Ehlon's solutions. <<

Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed this poem.

>>I am very impressed that you made the sewers seem a magical place (I am sure that they aren't).<<

Ah, but they can be, if you know what makes them so; even in our world. I have a thing for kidney gardens and swamp filters -- little ecosystems designed to purify wastewater, because Nature has designs for that which can be copied. Now this particular sewer doesn't look like it was designed that way from scratch, but has attracted its own ecosystem and people have learned to assist the beneficial elements. The gatormaids are probably predators. The dung dragons manage methane and prevent it from building up to cause dangerous explosions. The brick wights ... I think they're kind of pests, because they do wreck brick and mortar, but they're probably also the ones who deal with cave-ins and other rubble/obstruction problems. And the mireslime is a kidney organism, removing contaminants from water.

Sometimes magic is what you make of it. Part of the point to this poem is that Ehlon got stuck in an unglamorous job that was totally not what he wanted, but instead of sulking forever or fleeing town, he kept an open mind ... and discovered that there was a lot more going on down there than he realized at first. He's a better Watermage for those discoveries, too.
eseme From: eseme Date: July 7th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I will admit to also being intrigued by gardens designed to filter water. They put one in at a new Lake Resource center that opens this fall.

I'll have to take a look.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 7th, 2011 02:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

They're really cool and can be beautiful as well as functional. There are deepwater versions that use floating plants such as water hyacinth (which I've grown for fun). There are marsh versions with shallow water that run kind of a maze structure. Then there are gravelbed versions where the water is all kept below the surface. They all use different structures and plants.

Here's one example:
http://jeffshome.net/jeffshome/pond/swamp/swpdiag.html
siege From: siege Date: July 7th, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Bloomington has a park which acts as a large, long kidney garden for rain-storm overflow.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 8th, 2011 04:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Woohoo! Go urban design!
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 7th, 2011 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, nice!
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: April 3rd, 2014 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)
This is great! I could go on for ages about how every part of this is perfect.

On another note, my husband used to be a sewer/water worker, and boy are they underappreciated. So it's nice to have a sewer worker hero.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 3rd, 2014 12:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> This is great! I could go on for ages about how every part of this is perfect. <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> On another note, my husband used to be a sewer/water worker, and boy are they underappreciated. So it's nice to have a sewer worker hero. <<

Yay! In my writing, ANYONE can be a hero.
13 comments or Leave a comment