Once upon a time the Crown Prince of Jupiter glimpsed a miniature of Esmerelda, Princess of the Sun, and fell instantly in love. But was that really such a good idea?
Once upon a time, in the great depths of his cloudy realm, in those tight and narrow lands where gravity makes metals of us all, the Crown Prince of Jupiter just happened to glimpse a miniature of Esmerelda, Princess of the Sun, and fell instantly in love.
His advisors objected, of course. It was a terrible match, of no political value, not even to mention the difficulties of physics. “Surely, Your Royal Highness,” they addressed him, “there are more suitable matches for you. Why, the Dowager Princess of Neptune, Viscountess of The Rings and in-her-own-right Lady Hexagon, is newly unattached and what’s more an heiress to her aunt’s estates. Think of it! To join our realms once more!”
But the Prince could not be reasoned with. He was in love, and his heart knew no persuasion. “Oh look at her,” he would say, admiring the tiny portrait, “what radiant beauty!”
“Her radiance,” commented his advisors, “is due entirely to her nuclear fusion. If your royal highness was in her presence, even a moment, then by those self-same processes you would find yourself instantly annihilated.”
“Are we not all slain by the self-same arrows of true love?” answered the Prince. Which, of course, was not any sort of answer, except to a young man in love.
“And furthermore,” continued his advisors, “there is the question of physical scale. This so-called ‘Princess’ (in fact little more than a royal cousin, with only neutrinos for her dowry) is far too large! Perhaps Your Majesty has been misled by the size of her miniature, but if you look again, you will see we have added a tiny dot of Ganymede for scale.” The Prince looked again at the miniature and let out a wistful sigh. “Yes,” said his advisors. “Over there in the far left corner. That little speck of paint. So, you see, Your Majesty, it would be quite impossible for you to have her as your bride. Even if we could resolve the issue of her fusion reactions, how could she possibly reside within any of your royal palaces?”
The Prince, though, could not be persuaded by politics or physics or any other argument that his advisors attempted. He would merely smile, and sigh, and turn once more to the miniature of his beloved. Over time, the Prince’s infatuation grew graver and graver until he wouldn’t eat and would barely drink or leave his rooms at all. His advisors had long since given up all hope of dissuading him, but one advisor, who we will call Alisterisk, could not bear to simply leave the Prince tormented by his impossible love, and so traveled upward, to the late-unfashionable Windward Palace, where the Crown Prince’s maternal aunt resided in obscurity.
Now, this maternal aunt was no ordinary noblewoman. No, she was quite a different creature altogether. Her skin was made of carbon chains and her eyes ran cool and liquid-filled. She was, in fact, of the ancient House of Ganymede. Having grown up amidst those wet and savage orbits, she knew a great many secrets from beyond the reaches of civilization.
“Lady,” said Alisterisk as he came into her quarters, a small and disused suite widdershins of the palace proper. He had addressed her as “Lady” because, of course, he knew better than to name a witch out loud. “I have come to ask a favor, not on my own behalf, but for my master, your nephew, the Crown Prince of this very realm of Jupiter. Simply from a single glimpse of her miniature, my Prince has fallen in love with Esmeralda, Princess of the Sun, a love that for reasons political and physical may never be consummated.”
“What’s the problem? Hah! He’s just a young boy in love. Boys shall fall in love as suits their fancy. Let it be, and let it pass in time.”
“Be that as it may, Lady,” said Alisterisk, “this situation is presently rather grave. His Majesty has shut himself up in his quarters, refusing all food and almost all drink.”
“Oh dear,” said the Lady. “That seems quite grave indeed.”
“It is,” insisted Alisterisk. “You must come to the Coreward Palace and see to him at once.”
But when they arrived at the Coreward Palace, the Prince would not even grant his aunt an audience. Alisterisk called in all the favors he held, but the Prince had shut himself away in his own chambers and would not answer even the most careful of entreaties. At last, tired of waiting and sick of all this gravity, his aunt came rapping on his door herself in the middle of the night.
“Go away!” shouted the Crown Prince of Jupiter.
“Go away? Nonsense! Open this door right this instant, or I swear by your mother, my dear departed sister, I will take you over my knee, Crown Prince of Jupiter or no!”
The door cracked a bit, and the Prince peered out. His face was drawn, his particles so diffusive she could barely see him. “Auntie?” he asked.
“Of course!” she yelled. “Who else would it be, you silly boy? Let me in.” She did not wait for him to open to the door, but pushed her way inside. “Now, drink down this ammonia broth and tell me all about it.”
There was nothing that the Crown Prince could do. He dared not call for his guards. She was his aunt, after all, and a witch besides. So he sat down and sipped on the ammonia while telling her all about Esmerelda, his love, and how his advisors had all come between them.
“You poor child,” she said sincerely, when he had finished. “I see now that this is not a passing infatuation. No, I am afraid you are quite totally in love.” She spoke like a doctor delivering bad news.
“But what shall I do, Auntie? All I want is to be with her, my radiant beloved. But my wicked advisors keep her from me.”
“Oh, my child,” said his aunt. “It is not simply a question of politics, or even of physics. The situation is much worse than that. Your Esmerelda, this princess, lives on the sun. The sun is a completely different world than our own, out here amongst the gas giants. And those two worlds can never meet.”
“Then there is nothing for it!” announced the prince, tossing the remains of his ammonia broth across the room. “I must starve myself to death!”
His aunt slapped him across the face and then, to his pout, said, “Wipe that pout off your face! You deserved it, and more besides. Now stop being a fool, sit down, and listen to your auntie. I have wisdom far beyond these walls of hydrogen, far beyond anything you imagine possible, savage lore from the wet and savage orbits of our moons, lore enough to unite you with your love, if you will simply sit still and listen.”
“Yes, Auntie,” said the prince, looking down at the floor. “Sorry, Auntie.”
“Now, if you truly love her—”
“If you truly love her,” his aunt continued, “then you must leave our world behind and enter into her world, the flares and fusions of the sun. Such a task is beyond even my capacities, for I am yet a creature of Jupiter. No, you must seek out the advice of someone who lives between the storms of our Jupiter and flares of the sun. You must find Ursula the Earth Witch, who dwells on Earth of the terrestrials, far without our orbit. She is a master of all such stories, and will surely have some method by which you can be united with your love.”
“The terrestrials!” gasped the Prince. For a man of his status to visit such vulgar worlds was beyond imagination.
“If you gasp at the mere thought of visiting the terrestrials,” said his aunt, “then you should turn back straightaway. Forget your love Esmerelda, burn her miniature, content yourself with a marriage to the Dowager Princess or the cold royal of some other giant. Because there is no magic without sacrifice, Prince. And no love without it, either. I do not know what this course shall cost you, but it shall be far more than a simple visit to a scant terrestrial world.”
She hoped, in that moment, that her nephew would hesitate, or turn away, or in any other manner set aside his love. But he did not. He looked her steady in the eyes and then embraced her. “Thank you, Auntie,” he said. “I will go to Earth.”
When his advisors heard the Crown Prince’s plan, they sputtered and admonished him. “Quite impossible!” they said. “For one of Your Majesty’s status to even visit a terrestrial planet! Unthinkable!” But the Prince would not be dissuaded, and Alisterisk came to his support. Together, the Prince and his loyal Alisterisk gathered the materiel of their expedition. They put aside reactants and hoarded inert gasses. Within a disused store-house they even found two sets of pressurized armor. “Look at us,” said the Prince. “Sallying forth like the Jovian Knights of old.”
“Quite so, Your Majesty,” answered Alisterisk, worried.
At long last came their orbital window, and the Prince launched them upward, ever upward, through all the storms and whorls of his domain, the whole world of Jupiter that he had never before seen. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered to Alisterisk, and for a moment Alisterisk hoped that the Prince would see the folly of this quest, would fall in love with his own realm and—matured by this experience—would return to the Coreward Palace to rule in justice and in mercy as only a good king can. But, alas, it was a mere passing observation, and the Prince was undeterred. Up they went, through clouds, past moons and captive asteroids, through rings so thin and scant as to be invisible, out into the naked void of space before falling, falling, in their long slow orbit down to the diminutive Earth.
After some months, some years, some decades, when they fell at last to Earth, they travelled at once to the residence of the Earth Witch, at the edge of her valley between three mountains and two rivers. The Earth Witch, out in her garden, did not notice them at first.
“Hail!” shouted the Crown Prince of Jupiter and then, when she did not respond, “Hail!” again.
The Earth Witch looked this way, then that way. “Who’s there?”
“It is I,” said the Crown Prince of Jupiter, “the Crown Prince of Jupiter, accompanied by my loyal advisor Alisterisk. If you are in fact the Earth Witch Ursula, then we have come to ask a boon of you, if you will hear us.”
Ursula’s eyes came at last on the Crown Prince and on Alisterisk beside him. In their pressurized armor, they looked to her as blue-white gleams in a beam of sunlight. “Ah,” she said, relaxing. “I see now that this is a science fiction story. And I suppose you want me to write the end of it. All right then. What’s the matter?”
The Crown Prince of Jupiter then told her the whole story, of how he had happened to glimpse a miniature of Esmerelda, Princess of the Sun, and had consequentially fallen totally in love with her. How his advisors had tried to dissuade him, how he had sighed and ignored them, and refused anything to eat and nearly anything to drink. How Alisterisk had fetched his maternal aunt, herself learned in the wet and savage lore of the outer moons, and how they had on her advice travelled here, to the realm of Ursula the Earth Witch, to ask her to transform him so that he might, even if only for a moment, enter into the world of his beloved.
When at last he finished his story, the sun had already sunk near to the horizon. Ursula clutched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger and let out of a heavy sigh. “The only advice I have for you, young man, is to give up with all this questing and all this doing. Nothing good will come of it. Instead, if you’ll listen to me, you should act without acting. Do without doing. If your attraction is destined for some requition, then it shall happen of its own accord. This Esmerelda, who you claim to love, does not even know of your existence! How arrogant! To assume that she would love you! And for what? Hah! It would be better for the both of you to relent, return home, and be content with what you have.”
“But I love her,” said the Crown Prince.
“Love her?” scoffed the Earth Witch. “You’ve never even met this girl! Love is not some shining thing that you can claim through your authority. It is a thing done, a thing made, a labor of days and years. What do you know about love? All you have is a portrait in miniature.”
Try as he might, the Crown Prince could make no reply to her. The witch returned to her tomatoes, but a minute later she seemed to think better of something. She stood up and faced the pair again.
“Regardless,” she said, “you two have altogether the wrong aesthetic, with your kings and princes and masculine authority: absurd and impossible besides! And not nearly enough anthropology. Even if I wanted to, I could not make a story of your tale. If you will not relent, and I fear for your sake you will not—and even if I wanted to help you, which I still do not . . . no, for your story, you should seek out the wizard Stanisław, who resides in the opposite hemisphere. He was exiled from this continent by the schemes of lesser mages, and I’m told is late retired from wizardry altogether, but perhaps your story, with all its absurdity and farce, might rouse him.”
The Prince, eager for any chance at fortune, left immediately. Alisterisk, though, stayed behind for a moment. “Thank you, Lady,” he said to the Earth Witch. “Even if you despise our ends, thank you.”
“Do not thank me yet,” said the Earth Witch. “For the matter is not done. I am afraid, Alisterisk, that you shall come to no good end in this affair. The side characters seldom do.”
“It is not for my own—” began Alisterisk, but stopped himself. Explaining his position would only aggravate her further, and he knew better than to aggravate a witch. “Thank you,” he said again, and left to follow his Prince.
Our pair found the wizard Stanisław in his apartments in an ancient city built around the headwaters of a great river. “You must be the Crown Prince of Jupiter,” he said as soon as he saw them. “For who else could be contained in the blue-white gleam of your microscopic pressure armor?”
“Indeed, sir, you are correct,” said the Crown Prince. “Are you the wizard Stanisław?”
“I am Stanisław,” said the wizard Stanisław. “But I am no longer a wizard. I have retired from wizardry and science fiction both. What use is science fiction if the future already comes too fast? Why, there is scarcely time for books to gather dust in the bookstores before they are replaced! And what good is wizardry if my every wish is already fulfilled?” He returned to his bookshelf.
When the Crown Prince of Jupiter heard the wizard’s diatribe, he turned to his advisor in despair. “Oh, Alisterisk,” he said. “All of our questing, all your loyal commitment, all this has come to naught! None of the witches of this world shall aid me. There is nothing for it but to return to Jupiter and starve myself to death.”
“Now, Your Highness, calm yourself a moment,” said Alisterisk. “Let us not give in to despair just yet. I will speak with this erstwhile wizard and make our case.”
Bowing respectfully to Stanisław, Alisterisk began his plea. “Sir,” he began, for he knew better than to address a wizard by his name, “if you will do us the great favor of simply hearing our story—no more than hearing us, that is all we ask—we would be forever grateful.”
“Gratitude!” scoffed Stanisław. “What good is gratitude to a wizard? But go ahead and tell your story, for I have nothing better to pass this afternoon.”
Alisterisk told Stanisław the whole story, even their conversation with Ursula the Earth Witch, how they begged for her help only to be chastised and rebuffed, of how she had told him of the wizard Stanisław who might, at last, provide assistance.
“All right,” said Stanisław when he had finally heard the whole story. “Having heard your story, I cannot help but want to end it. As it happens, I have a method such that your Prince might be at last united with his love. But know—as you would already know if you had read my stories—that most of my endings have horrible, ironic consequences.”
“I do not care!” declared the Crown Prince. “I will gladly suffer any consequence, no matter how ironic, if I can be even for a moment united with my love.”
“I have in my possession,” said the wizard Stanisław, “a Metaphoricator, left for me by the Constructor Trurl when he sojourned in my company these many years ago. A Metaphoricator is a most particular device. Operated properly, it can transform any real thing into a metaphor, merely a story meant to illustrate its point.”
“So you mean to transform us into metaphors?” asked Alisterisk hesitantly.
“Oh no!” said the wizard Stanisław. “You are quite clearly metaphors already. Just think of it! How could there be such a thing as a real Crown Prince of Jupiter, a real Princess of the Sun? Your entire narrative is quite clearly a farce.”
“But then what do you intend to do?” asked Alisterisk
“By means of a few simple re-arrangements and jerry-rigs,” said the wizard Stanisław, “my Metaphoricator can be transformed into a Demetaphoricator. And that is the machine I intend to operate.”
“What good is a Demetaphoricator to our present difficulties?” asked Alisterisk.
The wizard snapped his fingers. “With a single application of a Demetaphoricator, I can transform all of your story—the Crown Prince, Esmerelda, the Coreward Palace, Ursula the Earth Witch, even myself the wizard Stanisław, into real people and real events, actually existing in the world beyond this story. At such time, both your Crown Prince and his beloved Esmerelda shall be rendered as real people, with no physical impediments to their romance. Of course, they may still encounter other difficulties, but that is simply the course of being human. Now come down to the basement with me and help me find the device.”
Alisterisk and the Prince followed the wizard into his basement where the Metaphoricator stood beneath a white sheet, next to a box of proof-copies. Within a few hours, they had made all the necessary adjustments.
“Now,” said the wizard, “you should know that demetaphorication is entirely irreversible. If you will regret it, even the tiniest amount, it is best to give up entirely.”
“Well—” said Alisterisk, but the Crown Prince cut him off.
“I will never regret anything done for love!” cried the Prince.
Stanisław heard him and activated the device, transforming the Crown Prince, Alisterisk, his basement, himself, Ursula the Earth Witch, Esmerelda, and everything else in this story, the entire universe of it, into real things, in the real world, the very world from which you read this story.
So transformed, of course, they escaped this story. Whatever resolution they had, if any at all, is beyond my power to say. They are real now, as real as you or I, and I would not presume to narrate their thoughts, their hopes, or the events of their life.
But what good is this story without an ending? Instead, then, let us turn to your own life. Perhaps you knew a boy (if he even was a boy) who fell deeply in love from merely a picture or a glance, who could do nothing but sigh and pine after his love. And perhaps he was in love with a girl (if she even was a girl) who by her very nature, or at least by her acts and choices, could do nothing but destroy him.
Perhaps, so committed to his love for her, he pledged himself to her, did everything she asked—and she, even though she did not love him (for how could she love him, who kept nothing for himself?) could not help but accept his offer, taking everything from him, using every part of him as less and less remained, until he was consumed by his love for her, left dead or bereft or merely a husk.
Perhaps you watched this. Perhaps you even tried to help him.
Did you know a boy like that (if he even was a boy)? Then perhaps he was the Crown Prince of Jupiter, a real person in the real world, burned up by his love that could brook no hesitation, no question. Did you know a girl like that (if she even was a girl)? Then perhaps she was Esmerelda, Princess of the Sun, consuming the Prince without a second thought, without even understanding that he was alive. Did you try to help? Then perhaps you, dear reader, were Alisterisk, the advisor, whose loyalty and good intentions amounted to nothing in the end.
Or, more likely, perhaps you were not any these characters, so transformed. There are, after all, so many people in this world, and so many foolish loves. And of all those loves, of all those tragedies, only one of them is the ending of this story.
“How the Crown Prince of Jupiter Undid the Universe, or, The Full Fruit of Love’s Full Folly” copyright © 2022 by P H Lee
Art copyright © 2022 Bill Mayer