Featured Work: Prince Henrik the Fifth

Prince Henrik V.jpg

Eight years into the reign of King Henrik Quillian the Fourth of Prava, a golden, triangular ship descended from the heavens. Citizens flocked to the edge of Ferruthe, the kingdom’s capital, except for the widow Tally. Upon spotting through her window the arrival of a gleaming triangle tenfold larger than the king’s largest galleon, she dropped dead.

The Pravans who didn’t drop dead approached the landing site, although it might be improper to refer to it as a “landing site” since the ship never touched down. Instead, it came to a stop twenty cubits off the ground. For a time, nothing happened. The Pravans gawped at the golden ship, and the ship hovered in silence. 

“Is it from Dorgol?” someone asked. Dorgol was a barbaric land far beyond Prava’s borders. Little was known of it, and this uncertainty bred fear that a horde of Dorgol savages might one day invade Prava.

“Dorgols couldn’t have built this,” someone else answered. “Dorgols can’t even find their own arses with a lantern, a spyglass, and an extra pair of hands.”

A smattering of nervous chuckles followed. If this vessel wasn’t from Dorgol, then from whence had it come?

One elderly man raised both hands and declared, “Surely it is a vessel of the gods!” 

Everyone retreated a few steps. According to the scriptures, the gods could be both benevolent—as when Diolyne the Messenger bestowed upon humanity the ability to speak—and, shall we say, unkind—as when Ortuna the Sea Goddess sank an entire fleet because the captain had not made an ample sacrifice to her before embarking.

“Blasphemy!” shouted the portly priest Jonber Wite. “True faithful servants of the gods know there is no such mention of a flying golden vessel in the holy scriptures. These trespassers, whoever they be, should immediately be interrogated and—”

A green light beam as narrow as a rope shot from the triangle’s front point and struck Jonber Wite’s forehead. Some observers gasped, some screamed, and several ladies—as well as a few men, although they would later virulently deny it—fainted. 

Jonber froze, as stiff as a corpse, his eyes rolling back in his head until only the whites showed. Then he melted into something that looked and smelled like a puddle of spoiled beef stew. 

Some onlookers gasped even louder, some screamed even louder, and several more ladies—as well as a few more men, although they would later virulently deny it—fainted. The remaining conscious Pravans took to their knees or completely prostrated themselves and began praying. A few prayed in silence. Many prayed aloud since, because of the fate that had just befallen Jonber Wite, the gods themselves were on this golden ship. They prayed to the benevolent gods and to the unkind gods, Ortuna included. Some made sure to especially praise Ortuna as the wisest, most beautiful goddess of them all. 

The vessel again fired its green beam. More gasps. More screams. More fainting women. More fainting men who would later deny it. One man, Charles Rummond, had been among the first to faint. He had just come to when the green light reappeared, and immediately he fainted again. From that day forth, despite his virulent and occasionally violent denials, he became known throughout the kingdom as Charles the Faint. Some say that is why his wife began to venture into the sheets of other men’s beds.

This time the beam did not liquefy anyone. Instead, it focused on the ground, and suddenly two figures—one male, one female—appeared from thin air. Both were six cubits in height, two cubits taller than any man in Ferruthe, and even more stunning than the marble statues of them in the kingdom’s temples. Their flowing azure robes shimmered like sunlight on the ocean’s surface, and their skin glimmered like the stars in the firmament. Gods they most assuredly were.

Gasping. Screaming. Fainting, although not by Charles Rummond since he was presently unconscious. 

“Good day, our humblest and most devoted servants,” the male said in a booming voice both powerful and terrifying. “We are indeed your gods, only two of the seven. I am the Father of All Gods, Zerron, and this is my wife, the Mother of All Gods, Vaya.”

The crowd erupted into paroxysms of bowing and praying and praising and prostrating and weeping and singing. And, yes, gasping and screaming and fainting, though all from sheer jubilation.

“You are too gracious!” said Vaya. Her voice was powerful as well but more melodic than Zerron’s, like a pipe organ’s sweetest notes. 

“Alas,” said Zerron, “we come on a matter of great import. We must have an audience with His Royal Highness King Henrik Quillian the Fourth.”
A dozen citizens raced to the palace, all vying to be the first to inform His Majesty of the news. Charles Rummond would later claim he was among those who ran to tell the king, but of course at the time he lay on the ground with his wife fanning his pallid face with her apron.

While awaiting the king, the multitude at the city’s edge grew to include nearly every man, woman, child, dog, cat, rat, bird, roach, fly, and flea in Ferruthe. Soon, amidst the prayers, many citizens began to come forward to lay offerings at the feet of Zerron and Vaya. Baskets of shiny green apples, sacks of grain, bolts of fine fabrics, loaves of freshly baked bread, wrapped legs of lamb, and packages of salt-cured meats—the very best of whatever they had. The gods graciously accepted these gifts with polite smiles and nods and thank yous that brought tears to their worshipers’ eyes. No one, however, saw the gods periodically exchange eye rolls.

Then along with the offerings came questions.

“Almighty Zerron, Father of All Gods, when is the recent drought going to end?” a farmer asked.

Zerron scratched his radiant chin. “Very soon, my child.”

“How soon?” 

“Um... A fortnight,” said Zerron. Despite the farmer attempting to hide his disappointment, it was evident on his face. So, Zerron added, “Did I say fortnight? No, my child. I meant four nights. Yes, in four nights the drought here will end. I was thinking of another drought somewhere else.”

“Bless you, Zerron!” exclaimed the farmer. “Bless you! Bless you!” He set down a basket containing twenty of his plumpest ears of corn and then bowed about thirty times.

“Glorious Vaya,” said an elderly woman, “can you please, oh please, heal my husband’s gangrene? His right foot is black and foul-smelling as swamp water. Why, you can probably smell it all the way up in the heavens!”

“Mind your words, woman,” said a man behind her, waiting his turn to meet Zerron and Vaya. “You are addressing the gods!”

“I am sorry,” the old woman said to the goddess. “My husband is in such agony day and night.”

“Gangrene, you say,” said Vaya. “I guess this should do the trick.” She plucked a single lustrous sable hair from her head and bent to hand it to the woman. 

The old woman took the hair and pulled it taught in her swollen, gnarled fingers. She grinned, tears in her eyes. “I can feel it working on me already! The pain in my hands is gone! What shall I do with it to cure my husband?”

“Wrap it around his foot,” said Vaya, “for a fortnight.”

“She means four nights,” Zerron interjected. 

“Yes, Your Magnificence,” said the woman, her back popping as she bowed. “Bless you! This is all I have.” She deposited a small pouch of bronze coins at the gods’ feet. Then she hurried off, her knees and ankles popping now, as fast as she could, which wasn’t very fast, to wrap the strand around her husband’s rotting foot.

Trumpets flurried at the rear of the throng, accompanied by cries of “Make way for the king! Make way for His Majesty! Make way!”

Zerron and Vaya both sighed as the disappointed Pravans still waiting in line dispersed. The people parted, revealing a retinue of armed and armored guards on horseback and on foot. Behind them clattered a horse-drawn carriage, which came to a stop close to the gods. A guard opened its door, and out stepped King Henrik the Fourth, dressed in his finest crimson doublet embroidered with gold thread and pearls sewn into the collar and sleeves. He also wore a gold crown so enormous and encrusted with jewels that it was a wonder he could keep his head upright. He then assisted his wife, Queen Gannah, from the carriage. She also wore a crown, although not as ostentatious as his, and her exquisite gown consisted of layer upon layer of purple silk adorned with swirling silver designs and frills of ornate lace.

Hand in hand, they approached the gods. King Henrik helped the queen to her knees, and then he himself knelt. They removed their crowns and laid them at the gods’ feet. Gasps swept the crowd. No screams or faints, only gasps. Literally everybody did so, however, for they had never witnessed the king or queen genuflecting, not even in the temple. Many of them knew not what to do, so they too dropped to their knees. 

“Welcome to our kingdom of Prava, Father of All Gods and Mother of All Gods,” said King Henrik, crownless head bowed. “Verily, what an honor it is to kneel in the presence of the almighty gods we worship so faithfully each day. We humbly ask for your forgiveness for any slights or sins we may have—”

Zerron stopped him. “Please, King Henrik Quillian the Fourth. Rise. We are here not for any slights or sins.”

The king stood so quickly that he nearly knocked the queen into the heap of gifts. She tried coughing to get Henrik’s attention, but he was solely focused on the gods—and on the fact that they weren’t there to transform him into a toad or a dung beetle or something even worse for sleeping with several of his wife’s handmaidens behind her back or with Councilman Angstrad’s daughter or with Chamberlain Bardling’s daughter—both of his daughters, actually—or for imagining sleeping with every comely lady within his kingdom’s borders. Two guards clanked over, lifted the queen to her feet, and collected her crown for her. Everyone else rose as well.

“Then to what do we owe the pleasure of a visit from the gods themselves?” the king asked.

“We desire to speak with you privately aboard our ship,” said Zerron.

“Privately?” said the king. “Concerning what matter?” They knew about the handmaidens. And Councilman Angstrad’s daughter. And Chamberlain Bardling’s daughters. Of course they did. Gods knew all. But surely they didn’t care about his extramarital indiscretions. After all, the scriptures included numerous stories of the gods having affairs with humans.

“We shall speak onboard,” said Vaya.

One guard hurried to the king’s side and spoke lowly. “Majesty, you cannot go alone. It is not safe.” 

“Not safe?” the king said loudly enough for the gods to hear, for he figured they could hear whatever anybody said no matter how softly he or she whispered. “These are our gods, fool! How dare you speak ill of them! We should ask them to turn you into a toad or perhaps a dung beetle or something even worse for your insolence!”

“That will not be necessary,” said Zerron. “Now, King Henrik, if you will accompany us onboard.”

“Certainly, Father of All Gods,” the king said. Then he glared at his guard. “Fetch my crown.”

The armored guard awkwardly bend down and, after half a minute fumbling at it with his gauntlets, he picked up the crown and handed it to the king, who placed it back atop his head. Henrik then kissed the queen’s hand and told her he’d return to her soon, although he didn’t admit he was worried he might return to her as a toad or a dung beetle or something even worse. Hadn’t his subject said that the gods had reduced a priest to a quivering puddle of slop?

The green light beam shot from the triangular ship again, first onto the forehead of Zerron, who disappeared. Then onto Vaya, who disappeared too. Then onto King Henrik. Trying to hide his trembling, he squeezed his eyes shut.

When he opened them, he was aboard the vessel. He had presumed the inside of it would resemble... well, something akin to the gods’ lavish homes described in the scriptures: gold pillars and gold walls and gold tables and gold chairs and gold silk drapery and gold tiling. Like the ship’s outer hull. What surrounded him was not only lacking gold but lacking anything, really. There were no furnishings in the arched hallway of silvery metal that appeared more liquid than solid. Henrik wanted to touch it, yet he didn’t dare for fear that it might boil the flesh from his hand as any molten metal would. 

In front of him stood Zerron and Vaya. He bowed and caught his heavy crown before it slipped from his head. “Most powerful Zerron and Vaya,” he began, “I—”

“We’re not your gods, human,” said Zerron, his voice no longer thunderous.

“We’re not even your species,” Vaya added. She too now sounded normal.

“Spee-sees?” the king echoed. 

“We’re from another world,” said Zerron. “An entirely different dimension, in fact.”

“Di-men—”

Vaya huffed. “We don’t have time to explain to him the totality of quantum physics.”

Zerron held up a hand. “Henrik, there are worlds other than your own. Whole planes of existence parallel to your own. Think of them like all the floors and rooms in your palace, and while some rooms may look nearly identical to others, some may look vastly different.”

“H-h-how many?” the king asked. “How many worlds?”

Vaya shrugged. “Septillions? If you’re just counting the ones with life.”

“S-s-sep—”

“All right,” said Zerron, “we’re straying from the true purpose of our visit.”

“If this is about the handmaidens,” said King Henrik, “or the chamberlain’s daughters or—”

“What? No, we’re here for your offspring.”

King Henrik was stunned. “My offspring? Unfortunately, I have been unable to impregnate... my wife.” He’d almost said anyone, thinking of the plethora of handmaidens and daughters and wives and sisters, none of whom had soon thereafter conceived a child.

“Can we hurry this along?” Vaya said. “Our daughter is waiting back home. And can we take off these?” She pulled at her glistening robe. “It’s so dry and itchy.”

Zerron’s brow furrowed. Henrik, however, became a bit titillated. He’d gazed at countless unclothed female bodies in his time, but never had he dreamt he’d have the chance to behold any of the goddesses, especially one as divinely ravishing as Vaya, nude.

“I guess so,” said Zerron. “Although we know how some humans react to—”

“He’s a king. He can handle anything.” Vaya batted her eyelashes at Henrik. “Can’t you, Your Majesty?”

Henrik nodded his head so vigorously his crown nearly toppled from his head.

Instead of disrobing, however, Zerron and Vaya removed their skin, like the peel of a banana, which flopped to the floor along with their robes. What floated before Henrik now were two six-cubit tall jellyfish-like creatures, each a translucent, sparkling orange glob that was either a head or body or both atop plumes of ropelike tentacles.

“Ah,” the Vaya-creature said even though she—it?—didn’t have a mouth. “That’s better.”

As his subjects had done earlier, Henrik gasped and screamed and, yes, fainted.

He awoke when something squishy and slimy prodded his cheek. 

“I told you,” said the Zerron-creature. “Exactly what happened the last time we showed ourselves to a human.”

“No, the other human soiled himself too,” said the Vaya-creature, still poking Henrik’s cheek with a tentacle. 

He batted it away and scrambled back against the metallic wall, the fear of touching its surface now the furthest thing from his mind. “Wh-wh-

what sorcery is this? What in the gods’ names are you? Do you plan to devour me?”

“Well, I think it’s obvious we’re not your made-up gods,” said the Vaya-creature. “And, no, we’re not going to eat you. How barbaric.” 

“Don’t tease the human for his beliefs,” said the Zerron-creature. “I’m sure there are things about us that he would find preposterous.” As the Zerron-creature addressed him, Henrik was unsure where to look. It didn’t have eyes or anything resembling a face, only an orange blob and tentacles. “As I said, we are from a different world from yours, a different dimension altogether. I would tell you what we call our world as well as our true names, but they do not translate to your language. Our species converses by releasing bursts of various-scented gases excreted from our communication glands.”

“Plus, we enjoy speaking all manner of human tongues,” said the Vaya-creature. “They vibrate our appendages rather sensuously.”
The Zerron-creature’s tentacles retrieved the crown from where it had ended up when Henrik collapsed and held it out to him.

“We will not harm you,” the Zerron-creature said.

On shaky legs, Henrik stood and took his crown. He returned it to his head without wiping off whatever discharge the tentacles had likely left behind, afraid doing so might offend the creatures. 

“So, why do you come seeking my nonexistent offspring?” Henrik asked.

“In short, our daughter wants a pet,” said the Zerron-creature. “Our kind owns pets of many species.”

“Our daughter begged and begged us for a human,” said the Vaya-creature, “so we scanned billions of worlds in various dimensions for a male and female specimen to breed.”

“The queen and I—”

“Your wife is not the female specimen our daughter chose,” said the Zerron-creature. “We already collected a female from another dimension, but our daughter did select you as the male specimen. She thinks you’re... cute.”

“We’re wasting time explaining this,” said the Vaya-creature. “We’re going to erase his memory anyway.”

“Very well,” said the Zerron-creature. “Henrik, if you will, please step into the room to your left.” 

The king was about to say he saw no room to his left. Before he could, though, a circular opening appeared in the metallic wall. Tentacles, whose he wasn’t sure, nudged him into the room, and the opening sealed itself. In the middle of this rather small chamber was a raised rectangle, roughly the size of a bed, made from the same bizarre metal as every other surface inside this vessel. King Henrik wasn’t alone. Sitting there was an alluring young woman in a pink sleeveless waistcoat and something like black undergarments, an outfit more revealing than anything a chaste woman would allow herself to be seen in, except perhaps by her husband. She also had short hair, like a man, so blonde it was almost white.

“Oh mon Dieu!” the woman said in a language Henrik had never heard. Her eyes were red from crying. “Qui êtes-vous? Savez-vous où nous sommes? Pouvez-vous me sortir d’ici?” She ran over and pulled him into a hug. She smelled of sweet apples.

The king, despite rather relishing it, backed away from her embrace. “I am sorry, good lady. I do not understand you.”

Suddenly, as if by magic, the Zerron-creature’s disembodied voice spoke to them. “Henrik, if you will please have a seat in the middle of the room.” Then the voice said, “Léonie, vas avec lui, s’il vous plaît.”

Henrik made his way to the bed-like structure, fearful of what the creatures might do to him if he refused. The woman took his hand and went with him. They sat on the metallic rectangle. He looked into her dark eyes, and for the first time in his life he felt flustered in a woman’s presence. 

“Good lady,” Henrik said, “I must tell you I am married, so I cannot take any satisfaction from what these creatures are forcing us to do.” He was lying, but this woman—if she even understood him, which he doubted—didn’t know.

“Pardonnez-moi?” she said.

“And your husband, if you do indeed have—”

The room suddenly filled with vexing green light and an even more vexing buzzing sound. Henrik and the woman both covered their ears and winced, but within seconds the light and sound ceased.

“Done,” said the disembodied Zerron-creature’s voice. “Nous sommes finis.”

The circular opening reappeared in the wall. 

“Okay, Henrik,” said the Zerron-creature’s voice, “if you will kindly exit the room.”

As Henrik stood, the woman seized his hand. “Ne me laisse pas!” she pleaded.

The king shook her hand away and hurried from the room, and the opening sealed behind him. Waiting in the hallway was one of the creatures. Henrik couldn’t be certain which one since they looked identical in this form until it spoke.

“Not too bad, eh?” said the Zerron-creature.

“Is nothing more required?” the king asked. “I thought you wanted us to...”

“Not necessary. Besides, the human reproductive process takes too long.”

“Well, uh, sir...”

“Not just the sexual act itself. The gestation of the fetus as well. Our way is much faster. Our daughter’s new pet is already created. She’s with my wife now.”

“She?” said the king, his voice quavering. “I have a daughter?”

“No, my daughter has a new pet.” The Zerron-creature raised one of its many tentacles, which held a glowing red cube. “Now, it’s time to erase your memory and return you to your people. Don’t worry. We’ll also implant a different memory in your head. Something about a great prophecy that your gods delivered to you. That sound good?”

“Wait!” said the king. “You mean you were able, in the span of those few seconds, to create a child between that young woman and I?”

“Yes,” the Zerron-creature said flatly. 

“Can you do it again?”

“Of course, but we promised our daughter only one pet. We are not giving her two. Then she’d want three, then four, and before we know it, we’d have a zoo.”

“No,” said the king, “not for your daughter. For me.”

The Zerron-creature lowered the incandescent cube. “Well, I suppose...”

“You know of my lack of offspring. I am a king, and on my world that means I need an heir. A son.”

“Yes, we’re aware of human customs in many dimensions. Believe me, you kings are all the same.”

“Could you create a son for me?” The king fell to his knees, and even though it revolted him, he took several of the creature’s tentacles in his hands and kissed them. It was like kissing raw egg yolks. “Please, I beg you. Give me a son. I will be forever grateful.”

The Zerron-creature pulled its tentacles away. “Okay. All right. We’ll make you a son.”

“Oh, bless you! A million blessings upon you! No, a septillion blessings upon you!”

“I must warn you, though. For our process to work as rapidly as it does, we splice in some of our own DNA when spawning the pet species.”

The king stood, wiping the joyous tears from his eyes. “Dee-en-ay? I am not sure what that means.”

“Let’s just say, your son could exhibit... peculiar traits. Maybe not for some time. Maybe nothing at all. But it is a possibility.”

“But he would be healthy?”

“Most definitely. With our DNA, he could possibly live to be five hundred of your years.”

“What a king he would be!” exclaimed Henrik, “A god-king! Please, do this for me. And you need not erase my memory. I shall never tell my subjects of your true nature. I swear on my very soul to forever keep this secret. I wish to remember this as long as I live—the beings from the heavens who gave me a son and heir.”

The circular opening reappeared in the wall. In the room, the woman was crying again. “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” she said.

“Back into the room,” said the Zerron-creature.

This time, grinning, King Henrik strode into the room willingly.

* * *

Outside the ship, where the crowd had waited and prayed since their gods and king vanished, everyone cheered when King Henrik reappeared in a green flash. Above him, the golden triangular vessel whooshed into the sky and was gone. Gasps ensued, of course. Then the citizens’ focus returned to the king, something cradled in his arms. 

King Henrik spoke in a voice almost as resounding as Zerron’s. “My loyal subjects, I have such a wonderful story to tell! First, however, I must apologize to my dear queen, for I never made her privy to this fabulous tale, and for this I ask her forgiveness.”
Queen Gannah, donning a quizzical expression, curtsied to her husband.

“Some time ago,” said the king, “I was visited in the night by one of the gods, the most beautiful of them all—Ortuna the Sea Goddess. I must apologize to you as well, dear subjects, for my crassness, but that night the goddess and I lay together.”

Gasps and murmurs rippled through the crowd. Henrik expected the queen to swoon, but she remained afoot. 

“The gods Zerron and Vaya came to our magnificent city today,” continued the king, “to inform me that Ortuna and I conceived a child! A demigod!”

Silence. At this point, his subjects seemed confused, each wearing a similarly perplexed countenance as the queen.

“It is my joy,” proclaimed the king, “to present my son, heir to my kingdom and future king of Prava, Prince Henrik Quillian the Fifth!” 

He then lifted above his head what he had been cradling in his arms, a newborn baby swaddled in shimmering cloth. The child began to cry, but these cries were drowned out by the people’s ecstatic ovation. No one now cared that the gods had left behind their offerings, for they had also left behind a partly divine prince. 

Henrik beamed as he held his son high for all to see. Amid the celebration, a tiny orange tentacle wriggled free from the fabric wrapped around the newborn. The king swiftly tucked the tentacle away with his thumb and continued to hold his heir overhead. 

“Long live the king!” the subjects of Prava chanted. “Long live Prince Henrik! Long live the king! Long live Prince Henrik!”
 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Entropy, Deep Magic, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, Redheaded Stepchild, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, Odd Tales of Wonder, The Haunted Traveler, Exquisite Corpse, Pure Slush, Word Riot, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. For more information, visit writescott.com.