by Michael Arram
Henry Gretason of House Atwood beat his way north to Petakhrad. He had taken a couple of days to visit the parents at home in South Riverlands, or ‘Atvoodija’ as some liked to call it. Hendriksberh was his native city and his great-grandfather had his seat there as sovereign prince and Chief of House Atwood, the most numerous though perhaps not the most influential of the noble Petakh houses, those in which horned avians appeared from time to time. Henry’s majalath had been split when they went into lodge, as was customary, and being the eldest and the only boy he was sent off to the capital. Petakhrad Three had been his father’s lodge and the children of some of his dad’s usakamaradij populated it, a few of whom Henry knew well as a novachek, though they were from widely dispersed realms across Rodinija and Selene. Petakhrad Three was a sought-after lodge.
Now past fifteen, Henry was trusted to make long flights on his own. He had wanted a few days out of lodge as, though he was young for it, he was pretty sure that he was about to go into zharpulavnij. There were unmistakable signs that his usakamaradij were coming into heat. Their empathic sharing meant the lodge would go into sexual maturity together, so young or not, Henry would soon be possessed by the sexual rage of his species. Henry had wanted to see his parents for the last time as a child. He was not entirely happy at what his body was about to do to him, though there was nothing about sexuality and its many expressions that was a mystery to any Petakh youth. Mostly, Henry was worried that he would miss his school, which was now over for him and which he had enjoyed. It would be quite a few years before he could register for university.
He began to beat harder as the land rose once Lake Maresku was left behind him. He picked up the empathic wavelength of his lodge well before the city, and it had an immediate impact on him. He felt control slipping. His cock swelled of its own accord and, as he looked back along himself, he saw that for the first time its head was wet and oozing. His body seemed on fire and his stomach felt empty. Had there been a myelhei going on above the city he would have plunged right into it. As it was he made full speed for his lodge and sought out his usakamaradij, the first with whom a Petakh adolescent should seek sex.
He soared through the first floor entry and into a new world. His usakamaradij were all there as before, but barriers had fallen and body language was now radically different. This was no longer a house full of children at play, but of highly-sexed animals rutting, resting then rutting again. His heart hammering, Henry searched for the usakamarad he wanted. ‘Where’s Welf?’ he yelled at a couple deeply into each other on the couch. A finger pointed upwards, then the guy put it back into the wet and appreciative place where it had previously been.
Henry pounded up to the music lounge yelling, ‘Welf!’
He found Welf and Andreij at it furiously. The displayed and shivering blue wings told him at once that Welf was on top and really enjoying it. Andreij was underneath with his feet in the air, the position Henry wanted so much to be in. ‘You ... asshole!’ he cried. ‘You said you’d wait to do me first.’
Welf came out of his sexual daze for a moment and pointed to his rear. ‘Looks like you’ll have to use what’s available.’
Henry slammed his cock abruptly into the first hole it had ever filled. One question at least had been answered. His romantic dreams of making millenij with Prince Welf Helgeson of House Skipper were ashes. He took it out on the ass of the boy who would never now be more than a friend to him. He grabbed Welf’s new horns to assist the vigorous punishment of his princely rear.
The Shropshire countryside in the twenty-ninth century was unchanged from what it had been in the twenty-first. The Welsh hills were still blue in the distance. Only human affairs were different, for those hills were now the borders of the sovereign principality of Wales, and both it and England were distinct monarchies within the Oecumene.
As with the rest of the world, Medwardine School had been reformed, rebuilt and refinanced over eight centuries, but it was still teaching boys only, and nowadays rather special boys. Cricket was still the summer game of choice at Medwardine School, much to the regret of one particular fifteen-year-old, who was mooching around the old pavilion, the lineal successor of the one first constructed on the site the best part of a thousand years before. Henry Atwood knew this, and somewhere on his notepad was the historical evidence and diagrams to prove it. Indeed there was an awful lot on his notepad to do with things historical. For instance Henry knew that he was descended from one Richard Atwood and his wife Helen, who had once lived not far from here, in a long-lost village called Trewern where Richard’s father had been a clergyman. Henry had visited the ruins of the ancient church, a cultural heritage site of the Oecumene.
Medwardine’s history appealed to Henry, though to many parents it was the fact that it was still the favoured school of the Elphberg imperial dynasty that gave it appeal. There was one member currently in residence, who was Henry’s particular bugbear. Prince Rudolf Leopold was a grandson of the ruler of the Oecumene, Osra II, the Third Empress, and God, was he cute! For Henry Atwood was gay, and he was not hugely happy about it, at least not when his libido kept fixing on targets as unattainable as an imperial prince. And what a cricketer too!
Henry had not had much to distress him in his life so far. Like all the boys of Medwardine he was a ‘super-sap’, so childhood disease had not come near him and he healed rapidly from every physical abrasion, though emotional upsets were a different matter. Since the age of Emperor Maxim the Great, the now legendary Second Emperor, it had become evident that a beneficial mutation was rapidly spreading into the human populace. Human fertility had dropped markedly, and even though wars had ended with the triumph of the Oecumene the world population had stabilised, and along with that had come a major extension of individual life expectancy. The Second Emperor had lived for nearly two centuries in vigour and youthfulness, to the awe of humanity. He had but one son, however, in all those years, and that late, the Third Emperor, Rudolf II the Unifier.
Henry knew the order and the dates of every Elphberg monarch all the way back to fifteenth-century Rothenia. He had also painstakingly worked out epic tables of the kinship group at the date of accession of each emperor or empress since Rudolf I. And HIRH Rudolf Leopold, prince of the Oecumene and Rothenia, duke of Wendel, had exploded with laughter when he had told him of it, to Henry’s acute embarrassment.
Henry came out of his glum mood as an adult began crossing the cricket oval. He had difficulty focussing on the man, whom he first took for one of the younger teachers but finally concluded must be a visitor. Whoever he was, he came directly towards the pavilion and took a seat on the steps, seeming unaware of Henry sitting inside with his notepad. The boy eventually began to feel as if he were spying on the guy and, his conscience pricking him, shuffled and coughed as a way of advertising his presence.
The man snapped out of his trance. He looked around and smiled. He appeared familiar to Henry, though he could not say why. Henry also thought he looked quite cute for an old guy: rich dark brown hair, like Henry’s own, and a tight, slim and perky body. To his confusion, Henry’s unruly member began to erect. He rallied and suppressed the inflation.
‘Hi, sorry to disturb you,’ the man offered.
‘Oh, it’s alright,’ the boy answered, as he got up and joined the man on the veranda. ‘I gotta get back to class. Excuse me, do I know you?’
The man’s smile broadened. ‘I don’t think we’ve met. You a cricketer?’
Henry shook his head. ‘God no. I catch like a penguin, and being super-sap gives you no advantage in coordination.’
‘Ah yes, every boy here is at least tenth-generation homo sapientius, isn’t he?’ the man commented.
Henry grimaced. ‘Homo sapientius isn’t that clever a name for us if you ask me. We don’t seem any brighter than the rest. We just live longer.’
The man chuckled. ‘But all the changes that have happened: the end of war; the defeat of disease and famine; the new sources of clean energy?’
‘Sure, but not all those were made by super-saps. And there remain the big questions. If life’s longer, what does it mean? Are we alone in the Universe?’
‘You clearly think a lot, kid. What’s your favourite subject?’
‘History’s my thing.’
The man beamed. ‘Mine too. I make a lot of it.’
Henry didn’t quite think he’d caught that last comment right, so ignored it. ‘Sorry, sir, I forgot to ask your name.’
The man raised an eyebrow. ‘You don’t know it? Oh well, no matter. I used to be at this school, a while ago. Maybe you’ve seen my picture somewhere. Do you think we’re alone in the Universe?’
Henry shook his head. ‘No. It stands to reason that on the millions and billions of planets out there, there’ll be other intelligent life. It’s just spread thin. I think we were all disappointed with the Tau Ceti and Alpha Centauri probes, but the fact that those systems were barren of life doesn’t mean all of them are. Maybe the new generation of probes will have more to offer when they start broadcasting back.’
The man took a moment to reply. ‘Let’s hope it’s good news.’
Henry Gretason’s libido did not subside, but he learned to live with it. With six gay guys in his lodge there was enough sex on offer not to need to join a homosexual myelhei, though Andreij did, and said it was challenging. Rutting meledhij were like magnets to older guys. The size of cocks on offer was phenomenal.
Henry’s dick was not the largest in lodge, so it was in demand amongst the boys. As it was not that big the strain of oral with him was possible for avian jaws. Even his straight mates were happy to suck him and the girls did too, just for the experience, so Henry’s zharpulavnij got a lot of satisfaction in that respect. He often had a head slurping between his legs, but he could not bring himself to reciprocate on the girls. The straight guys were too big to fellate and weren’t interested in his shapely ass. He got over the Welf fixation. Their empathic union meant he could not disguise it, and Welf had been nice about it, because he was a very pleasant aristocrat, and said he was flattered.
There came a day two months into zharpulavnij when there was suddenly a surge of gossip around all the meledh lodges, which overrode even the rutting of Petakhrad Three. After two centuries, the seraph Mendamero had been seen on Rodinija. There was no mistaking him, as he appeared in the guise of a human, not a Petakh.
Now Henry Gretason had a real interest in the subject of Mendamero, his namesake, as it was the glory of his house that its members were the descendants of the angel-borns Rafe and Gabe, sons of Henry Atwood himself. The Atwoods may not have had much land and they had little money, but they did have an impressively magical descent. When Mendamero appeared in the past on Rodinija it was to Atwoods he often appeared. Henry’s great-grandfather, the lord of the South Riverlands, had told Henry when he was little some things about Mendamero’s last appearance, of which his own grandfather had been a witness. Little Henry, not yet then fledged, remembered being cuddled on grandpapa’s lap in the great gallery of the ramshackle Atwood house-tree in Hendriksberh and asking him about the wall murals, which told the tale of Henry Atwood from his time as a boy on legendary Earth till his adventures in the First Yaahl War.
‘And was that the end of the story, Grandpapa?’ he remembered asking.
The prince chuckled. ‘No, he lives on, but the rest of his story isn’t fully known to us. He came again to Rodinija after the Yaahl War, as also did the One, and for a while there was traffic between our worlds. There was a time when humans were quite often seen on our streets, and some stayed, for Mendamero would make them Petakh at their request. From those days derive several of our Latter Houses, such as the Peachers.
‘But with the death of the One, no more traffic happened. Mendamero came himself to announce the news that the great Maxim was no more, and there was mourning on Rodinija, as much as when our First King and Emperor and the Lady Helen passed. In the catacombs of Petakhrad there is a great cenotaph for the One, which the People raised to his memory, and Mendamero was there at its consecration. You must look at it one day.’
‘And did he come again?’
‘Never in state, to meet our emperor, kings and princes. When he did come, it was quietly, and it was at this city he usually appeared, which is why we – like the royal Elphbergs of Radelngrad – are a favoured House, for the Elphbergs saw him too, though less than we did. My own grandfather met him when he was novachek, the last generation of the People to see him.’
‘What was he like, grandpapa?’
‘My own grandpapa said he was very small, as humans are, not much bigger than a novachek. Wingless like a small child, of course. But he had the thick brown hair all we Atwoods have. Oh, and he was funny.’
‘Funny? Like peculiar?’
‘No dearest. He made my own grandpapa as a child laugh and laugh with his silly jokes, and did magical tricks that enthralled all the novachekij. He conjured up things like fireworks bursting indoors, and constellations and little planets revolving, which, if you went up close to, you could see clouds and continents. And there were the sweets, marvellous ones from Earth. Your three times great-grandfather especially liked the ones called Maltesers.’
So Henry Gretason had grown up with a high opinion of the Lord Mendamero, his ancestor, and always hoped he would get to see him as his forbears had. He was somewhat disappointed that this time Mendamero had appeared other than at Hendriksberh or Radelngrad. Rumour had it that he was at the university down in Antonsberh, where the great and wealthy House Tsernatov had the seat of its principality and a vast limestone castle. Flocks of meledhij from the Petakhrad lodges made the trip south in hopes of seeing the legendary human, but he was apparently closely engaged with the scholars. The seraph kept his head down, apart from an early courtesy visit to Damien VIII Macavoy, current Petakh emperor, to which the several Macavoy and Elphberg under-kings of Rodinija and Selene were invited.
But Henry was not alone in linking the appearance of Mendamero to the abrupt summons to all reservists to report to barracks that came out of the office of the High Marshal of the Militia at Mound City.
It was a couple of weeks after Henry Atwood’s meeting with the stranger in the school cricket pavilion that Earth’s media channels came alive with astounding news. Distant scanners had observed the approach to the solar system of what appeared to be a spacecraft coming from the direction of Centaurus. Speculation was rife that contact had been made through the sub-light deep space probes Earth had sent out over a century before, one of which had successfully reached the Alpha Centauri system. But that particular probe was long defunct. There were other outgoing probes which were passing the neighbourhood of the alien spacecraft, one of which had logged it and beamed the news back while three light years out from Earth.
Instruments eagerly set to tracking the alien artefact’s course had found it on the fringes of the solar system. It was still far too distant to learn much more of it than that it existed, which was about as much as the probe had revealed. It was slowing as it entered within the heliopause. The implications were staggering; the craft had been moving at near light speed when detected by the probe and clearly had continued to do so over the intervening time, and its deceleration, while gradual, was still at a rate as far beyond any imaginable human technology as was accelerating anything to that speed in the first place.
The talk shows speculated that the insuperable difficulties of interstellar travel for sentient organic species meant that this was likely to be no more than an alien counterpart of one of the human probes. Others spoke learnedly of the effects of time dilation and predicted that the craft would indeed be crewed. Either way, there was great excitement as to what the Oecumene could learn from such an advanced species.
Not everyone was so sanguine. It soon became apparent that the imperial household had different ideas to those of the Oecumenical Assembly about the likely nature and intentions of the distant craft, or crafts. Henry had privileged access to the views of the Empress Osra, as she was very close to her grandson at Medwardine and they talked not infrequently. Henry was doing his Rothenian language prep in the Year 11 common room alone with Rudi, as he was known, idly admiring the flaming red hair and pale freckled skin of the handsome imperial prince, when the boy’s mobile let off a burst of the Rothenian national anthem.
‘Oh fuck. ‘Scuse me Atterboy,’ Rudi swore. ‘Atterboy’ was Henry’s nickname and he was quite fond of it, especially as other variants on his name could be vaguely obscene. The ironic ‘Fatwood’ was not his favourite. He was sensitive about his perfectly shaped but admittedly slim dick, as yet untouched by any other boy, though not for want of hoping, but gayness was as limited amongst homo sapientius as amongst its progenitor species.
Rudi did not disappear for the ensuing conversation, just went over to the common room window. The conversation with his grandmother was in Rothenian, but since that was a language in which Henry Atwood had a remarkable facility he had no difficulty in eavesdropping, which he did a little too shamelessly.
‘Hi Grossmutta!’ Rudi began.
‘Yeah ... we heard. Exciting!’
‘You think? That bad, huh?’
Rudi’s face darkened at this point. ‘Can’t I come home? I can help! I really could, Grossmutta.’
‘If you say so. The Codex! It really is bad then. Yeah, I’ll keep watching.’
Rudi hung up with a whistling exhalation of breath. He stood at the window a long time under Henry’s undisguised gaze. With a jerk he looked up and met Henry’s eyes. He frowned magnificently.
‘Were you listening in on me, Atterboy?’
‘Er, yeah ... no.’
‘Which is it, fuckwit?’
Henry clammed up. Saying nothing was less dangerous than risking a comment.
Rudi regarded him with a certain distaste. ‘Bear in mind, Atwood, an honest man would resist such temptations as you seem all too ready to succumb to. That’s not the Spirit of the Oecumene.’
Then he left the room, while Henry’s cheeks burned with humiliation.
Henry walked the Mere bank morosely. Without so much as physical contact Rudi Elphberg had given him the worst kicking he had experienced in his short life. He supposed he had best apologise.
The old school chapel and cloister was still intact up on its hill after nine hundred years, though Henry knew it had been repaired and refaced so many times that most of its original stone and brick was gone. He meandered up there and opened the heavy side door into an ancient world of an established church and long-forgotten Christian dogma. Spirituality had taken a major shift in the last millennium. But still the chapel endured, and offered a solemn quiet space in a frenetic youthful environment, which Henry for one had always appreciated.
He took a seat under the organ screen and allowed the atmosphere to soothe him a little. It was a sunny afternoon and the colours of the stained glass refracted on the chapel’s masonry beautifully. Dust motes danced slowly in the rays of dim light, and then they did an odd thing which took Henry a while to appreciate. For the motes had stopped dead in mid-air.
Everything had gone very quiet, apart from a slight shuffle of feet across the aisle from him. He was not alone. The stranger from the cricket oval was regarding him with a curiously affectionate look. ‘Those Elphbergs,’ the man said gently. ‘What a temper.’
‘Excuse me, sir?’
The man got up from the stall, which Henry would have sworn was empty when he entered the chapel, and came over. ‘I had a similar problem with another Rudolf Elphberg, though we called him Burlesdon ... well actually it was ‘Broody Rudi’ in the end.’
Henry was intrigued despite an odd feeling of danger about this slight, disturbingly handsome young man. ‘Broody Rudi? Actually, sir, that’s not bad.’
‘Cheers. I coined it myself.’
‘Cheers? That’s a bit of an old-fashioned expression, sir.’
‘Oh really? What do kids say nowadays.’
‘Well ... thanks, actually.’
‘Then thanks actually. If he’s anything like the Rudi I knew, yours will in fact be feeling quite guilty about putting you down like he did, not that he’ll ever say so, but you’ll know it because he’ll be very mild with you next time you meet.’
‘But how do you know about what happened in the common room? How could you possibly know ...?’
The man looked quirky. ‘Oh ... I may not seem like your usual fairy godfather ...’
‘Sir, who are you?’
‘Me? I’m a sort of relative of yours. A fairy godfather, as I was saying. And I’ve come to grant your wish.’
‘What wish? How do you know ...?’
‘About your desire for a boyfriend who’s strong and free and happy, who’ll love and protect you and have hot sex with you more or less non-stop; not to mention having a stupendous cock? Oh ... and be a prince like Rudi is but even more handsome.’
‘Too near the knuckle? I thought you were fifteen? What else do you think about?’
‘Look, I really think ...’
‘Yeah, yeah. Listen up, young Henry. Your prince will indeed come, and pretty soon too. When he does, he’ll need you to hold him hard and look deep into his darkly shining eyes. You gotta kiss him. Remember the kiss. It’s dead important. Tongue would not be inappropriate in the circumstances.’
The man grinned in Henry’s face like a mischievous thirteen-year-old and of a sudden was no longer there. Henry gaped as the motes began dancing in the still chapel air once more.
‘Has to be the Yaahl,’ pronounced Welf Helgeson.
His usakamaradij in the lodge common room all nodded morosely, Henry among them. ‘What else would bring Mendamero into the open again after all these years?’ he commented.
‘Petakhrad Fifteen’s out of zharpulavnij and they all got drafted this morning,’ one of the girls added.
‘It’s big then. I mean, really big. So big my libido’s sinking,’ Andreij commented.
‘It’s cos the Great Family’s mood is turning,’ Welf said. ‘It was like that in the last Yaahl War; zharpulavnij was subdued, so my great granddad said. Even the meledhij experienced premenja when the draconids tried that sneak attack on Lodowicshrad. But the Rodinijan Yaahl have been quiet in the north for a generation, and there’re not enough of them these days to mount any serious attack on the People.’
Henry brooded, ‘So if it’s not the Rodinijan Yaahl, and since the Yaahl on Selene ate each other, it can only be the Yaahl main fleet.’
A girl gasped. ‘They’re coming back?’
The lodge went dead quiet. Henry rather admired Welf for what he said next. ‘It’ll be the great battle of our time, so we’re privileged to be the ones to put a stop to those galactic locusts. We can bloody well take them.’
Andreij shrugged a little petulantly. ‘We may not have the chance. None of us is of military age.’
A girl by the window shouted to come look. The lodge raced to the open windows. The Petakhrad lodges formed a small town in a valley below the city; for public health reasons, some cynics suggested. Flight after flight of avian warriors was issuing from the city walls above and wheeling in the air, thousands and thousands of them, regiments of the Imperial Guard in full battle gear.
There was a shout from below, and the lodge kids spilled out on to the beaten tracks of their settlement. Petakhrad Fifteen was marching together through crowds of their cheering friends, who slapped them on the back, threw flowers at them and blessed them. The young warriors had projectile weapons strapped to their backs, avian sabres and pikes were in their hands and they wore the skilfully crafted battle armour Petakh troops now deployed, their powerful bodies making nothing of the weight. Males and females were in full premenja, their belly plates moulded tight to their sex.
‘Where’re you off to, Elenja?’ Henry shouted at an Atwood cousin amongst them.
‘Garrison in the north, Hendriczu!’ came the reply. ‘The Guards are mobilised for war!’
Vast black shadows now swept the valley and all looked up nervously. For the first time Henry saw the gigantic armoured air-cruisers the Tsernatov workshops had developed after centuries of studying Yaahl technology. A squadron of them had appeared above the mountain, moving majestically and slowly to take up positions flanking the hovering regiments of the Guard. Then at some invisible signal the avian force moved off south. The lodges rose into the air and stared after their troops for as long as they were visible.
That night the lodge made solemn music and waited for the emperor’s broadcast that had been advertised as imminent. All put their instruments down as the projector lit up and the imperial arms were displayed, followed by the image of the Emperor Damien on the Great Throne of the People, flanked by the High Chancellor and High Marshal.
‘Petakhij! My children! This is the moment the Family has prepared for and feared for so many generations. The Yaahl armada has finally come out of deep space. The horror of this time is that it has already entered the solar system of our human cousins. The Earth which is our common mother is in flames, and nothing stands between the Yaahl and human extinction but the People, their unsuspected family.’
‘We know this enemy and no longer fear its power. We have learned indeed to pity these creatures and have tried to cure their sickness, so far as we are able. They live their sad lives under our tutelage in our far North. How then can we bring aid to our human cousins? We have not attempted to follow the Yaahl way into deep space, for we have seen to what end their technology leads. But the Lord Mendamero, as you know, is among us in this great crisis. He and our scientists have finally broken the Underwood Paradox, and a way is now at last open for us to span the galaxy. Our entire Militia, in their millions, will leave for Earth in three days. Pray to the Creator that we are not too late.’
The projector grew dark and a long silence followed. The solemnity of this moment in the Family’s history was almost too much for words to comprehend. Henry got up and went out into the night under the stars. He needed a breath of fresh air and, unusually for a meledh, to be on his own to think.
He decided to walk down the valley to the small lake under the city gate. It was quiet, as most people entered Petakhrad in flight, not on foot, but there was a wide footway up into the city for the passage of materials and freight. He sat by the lakeside and communed with the dark, aware of the hum of the city close above him and as always the quiet presence of his usakamaradij in his mind, and in the background also his two sisters, his majalath, and his parents, minds that had been joined with his since before he entered the world. A Petakh was never truly alone.
A subdued curse brought him back to the lakeside. A dark figure had emerged from the open gate of the city and was walking down in his direction. It had tripped. It took Henry a while to work out why the figure looked so odd, then he shot to his feet.
The slim short figure gave a wave. ‘Hi, Henry!’
‘You know me, my lord?’
‘Yeah, course I do. You and every other Atwood. You’re my family. I may not be Petakh, but there’s a place for all of you in my heart. I’ve been watching you, son.’
‘Me, lord?’ Henry squeaked. ‘I’m just one of the lesser majalathij of House Atwood, grandson in the second degree of the Prince Rafael Danason, lord of the South Riverlands. My dad works in the credit office.’
‘Oh, don’t do yourself down kid. You’re special alright. Have you felt your forehead recently.’
‘What?’ Henry’s hands went to his brows and felt there for the first time two emerging sharp points, and his life and expectations immediately changed. Horns had just broken through the skin on his forehead. He was Durchlaucht, the only Atwood so favoured in several generations.
‘Yeah, surprise innit! You’re the next Prince of House Atwood. Now you gotta earn them head spikes. You won’t like it. But don’t worry, it’ll work out in the end ... I think.’
‘Lord Mendamero, what can I do to serve? You need only ask.’
‘Well, son, what I need is a lift.’