The Siege of Pugglemunt Pt 8 (sludge)

Chapter Four: In Which I Descend Into The Sewers

Sewers get a lot of stick. There are no positive metaphors containing sewers. Slip a sewer into your verbal imagery and people assume the worst. ‘Lord Bramble had a mouth like a sewer’. See? You don’t know exactly what it means – perhaps Lord Bramble swore a lot, perhaps he drooled, perhaps he was just a bit gormless – but you know for certain it’s nothing good. Poor sewers. Nobody likes sewers.

Oh no I’ve said ‘sewer’ too much and now it doesn’t sound like a real word. Soowah. Soowuh. Soooo eeeeeer. Seweper duper. Sewer nice of you to pop by. Syewwwww-AH!


Oh yes.

Because everyone hates sewers, mad old granny Ethelstar (only I’m allowed to say that by the way, it’s Queen Ethelstar to you and you’d better not forget it) — she felt sorry for them. So she built a really lovely one to prove everyone wrong.

Ethelstar popped the entrance to Pugglemunt’s first sewer in the centre of the Financial District, which was quite unthinkable at the time for anyone with a normal brain. The financiers kicked up a fuss of course, but granny claimed it was only fair that the citizens of Pugglemunt should share the stink: the peasant districts were already smelly enough, and the concern was that adding a new level of whiff to those neighbourhoods might finally push the cloud of perma-guff that hangs over the place into sentience – and nobody wants another roving funk tempest. Plus she just didn’t really like bankers and thought it amusing to antagonise them, bless her socks.

The entrance to the Grand Sewer is quite interesting: it’s a gigantic stone snail, with its mouth wide-open in a kind of perpetual silent roar. I don’t know why Ethelstar wanted a snail; I’d personally have chosen a tasteful statue of Blubbub, our noble Goddess of All Things Liquid. I suppose one does tend to associate snails with wetness and slime. That said, while they are inarguably aesthetically pleasing, you don’t really want a gargantuan stone in the middle of your city. It looks weird to visitors and you end up having to spend a lot of time explaining what the hell it is. Alas: we’re stuck with it now.

Come now! Let us join the past version of me, as I arrive outside the big snail-mouth door to the sewer.


“Hello,” I said to my sewer guard, Captain Plug.

“Your Majesty,” said Captain Plug.

She stood to attention and rapped the end of her spear three times against the cobbles. Then she saluted, bowed, and did a little twirl while I watched in silence. I made a mental note to hold a meeting when all this was done (if we hadn’t all been ripped apart etc) to address the fact that nobody in my kingdom seems to have any idea of how to properly address their King. In fact—


That’s literally it. How do you all keep getting it so wrong.

“Captain Plug,” I said, once she’d finished leaping about and doing little curtsies, “I’m here to aid Sir Pip Senior in his clogging of the sewers.”

“He went in earlier today,” said Captain Plug. “I sent several of my soldiers down with him, just in case he runs into any Globules.”

“The Globules are about again, are they?”

“They’ve been sighted this morning in the shit-tubes,” said Captain Plug.

I winced.

“Can we call them canals, please, Captain. It’s just a bit less horrible.”

Captain Plug saluted and spun her spear around her head five times in a display of respectful acquiescence.

“Yes Sire. Apologies Sire. We sighted Globules in the shit-canals this morning.”

Why do I bother.


Granny did her best to make the sewers really nice. As the wooden platform lowers you creakily into the depths, torches illuminate frescos on the walls: waterfalls, pond nymphs, clown fish, that sort of thing. For a sewer, it’s certainly very pretty. However, anybody who has experienced a bout of desperate flatulence at a wedding (ahem) will know that it doesn’t matter how pampered your other four senses are, a spiteful odour can ruin everything. I mean it: imagine entering the most splendid palace you’ve ever seen. Imagine gilded ceilings and chandeliers. Opulent, decadent, majestic. Now imagine somebody tears one off, right as you’re standing there on the red carpet. The whole illusion is wrecked immediately.

Fortunately, last spring I had Quincy the Wizard hex a special helmet for me. I produced it now, out of my handbag: The Helm of Immunity From Malignant Miasmas. It would say it looks like a goldfish bowl except those haven’t been invented yet.

“What’s that?” asked Captain Plug, as I squeezed my head into the bowl.

“A magic helmet to make – ow – to make things not stink,” I wheezed, struggling to get my chin inside.

Captain Plug looked at me, clearly contemplating something.

“I don’t suppose… you wouldn’t happen to have a spare, would you?”

I pretended not to hear her (which wasn’t hard because the glass really muffles everyone’s voices).

At the bottom of the lift shaft we stepped out at the edge of the canal, where several gondolas were bobbing about. Looking at them, and at the godawful river of sludge they sat in, I found myself wondering why we’d designed them with such perilously low sides. Using Captain Plug’s shoulder for balance, I stepped in daintily and took a seat in the centre. She clambered in after me and took up the long oar thing at the back.

“Punt us off, Captain Plug,” I spoke. “I am ready.”

Okay do five stars.



I found that the sewerside riverride was actually quite relaxing if I just avoided looking at the sloshing gunk all around us and focussed on the wall frescos. A crane. A bluebird. Some koi fish. Lilypads. Every now and then I heard Captain Plug gagging and retching and hurling somewhere behind me, but my magical helmet muffled the sounds enough that I could pretend they were the tittering summer songs of a thrush and/or lark.

After forty five minutes we came upon the Sewer Dam, which is essentially a big wall you can turn on and off. Sir Pip Senior was standing atop it, ordering some men about.

“Right lads, one last heave and we should have her clogged. A-one, and a-two, and a-th— oh, hello Sire. One sec boys.”

He waved at me and hopped down from the dam, onto the small iron platform beside it.

“How goes it?” I asked my knight, as he mopped sweat off his brow with a rag I didn’t want to know where he’d gotten.

“Not bad, my liege,” said Sir Pip Senior. “Almost clogged now. One of the boys, Henrik, got engulfed by a Globule about an hour ago, but we dragged him back out and now he’s fine. Aren’t you Henrik?”

A filthy, quivering young man behind him stood up to salute me and immediately keeled over into his comrades. They caught him and draped him gently over a railing. Sir Pip Senior scratched his beard (his own beard, I mean, not the young mans).

“He’s fine. How are you?”

“Oh, it’s been a day,” I sighed. “The portcullis might not be ready and we’ve got forty eight arrows and Mr Wiggle has been diminished considerably. My haircut’s good though, isn’t it? Do you like it?”

“Beautiful, my King,” said Sir Pip Senior.

I clapped my hands together.

“Right. Let’s get on with that last big heave then, shall we?”

Stepping manfully off the gondola with the assistance of Sir Pip Senior and Captain Plug, who held my hands, I got into position by the Sewer Dam crank – one of those big turny ones that looks like a wagon wheel on its side. The soldiers took a handle each, and together we completed one full rotation and the dam shut tight.

“Excellent,” I said, removing the velvet gloves I’d just put on but forgot to mention. “Now we can— why is the sludge rising.”

I looked at Captain Plug. She looked at Sir Pip Senior. Sir Pip Senior was looking at the sludge, so I looked at the sludge too. It was getting higher – and quickly to boot. Eyes bulging in horror, I lunged forward and grabbed Sir Pip Senior by the lapels of his breastplate.


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