The Princess of Hertod

Princess of Hertod Canva

There was once a King and a Queen who lived in a kingdom named Hertod. Their daughter Gytha was young and lovely and had many teeth – a trait the court physician said was the most positive sign of wellness. King Oluf and Queen Bothildr were very proud.

Years passed, Gytha grew older, and the King and Queen did not have a male child who would succeed them. The people said there was a curse put on the King by his enemies, for how sad it was that they should have a daughter with many teeth and not a son to inherit the kingdom. Hertod had green pastures that stretched from horizon to horizon, a range of mountains dotted with cows that produced the sweetest milk and richest cheese, blue lakes, and sharp valleys invigorated by the sound of waterfalls. In the winter, snow dusted the land and the farmers and herders stayed in steep-roofed cottages lit by the glow of the hearth. King Oluf rode on horseback to visit the villages, bringing with him cartloads of bread and cured meats for those whose stockpiles were running short. He knew that without a King, the people would have no one to turn to in times of need.

One night the King stole his daughter from her room and took her to the sorcerer dwarf  named Ragnfred who lived in the woods, and King Oluf demanded that the sorcerer turn his daughter into a boy.

Now this sorcerer had a long history in the kingdom of Hertod. While he was a dwarf and everyone knew he was a dwarf, on account of his short stature and his long full beard, the dwarf was convinced he was a Breckle, who were a race of pumpkin-headed giants who lived in the East. He did wear a pumpkin upon his head but no one called him a Breckle because they could see his beard sticking out and they could see that holes were cut in the pumpkin for his eyes. Moreover, the dwarf had a pumpkin patch so as to renew them as they rotted. The sorcerer dwarf had grown bitter over this. This and the fact that the King and his knights would hunt in the woods for sport and the horses would trample his pumpkin patch.

And so, the sorcerer was delighted to welcome the King into his hut. It was late at night and King Oluf was drunk and Gytha was frightened.

“Make her into a man,” said the King.

“Of course, good King,” the dwarf said happily, “I will do as your majesty commands. But for a small price.”

The King promised that he would pay anything. He had many stores of gold and bounty, for his kingdom was large and his campaigns, and those of his forefathers, were glorious.

“That is not what I want,” said the dwarf.

The King then promised him land—so much land that the dwarf would feel like he had a kingdom of his own.

“That is not what I want,” said the dwarf.

The King offered him women—concubines enslaved from the far corners of the world and dressed in exotic garb, their faces painted to make the skin appear more blemished and irregular.

“That is not what I want,” said the dwarf, and the King could think of nothing more to offer. The dwarf said, “I am not a Lord or Knight. I am but a humble Breckle with one simple request.”

King Oluf asked what it was he wanted. Ragnfred the dwarf said that he merely wanted to marry his Queen, and to have her for his own queen. The King was saddened to hear this, for he had always cared for his Queen, more even than his most prized concubines. Yet he yearned for his Kingdom of Hertod to survive and not fall into the hands of foreigners and thieves, and for his name to always be remembered, and he agreed to the dwarf’s demand.

Ragnfred the dwarf took the Gytha and spoke through the pumpkin on his head, “The magic will take time.” He buried Princess Gytha up to her chin in the soil near his pumpkins and began his work with the magic tonics. The dwarf ordered the King to return in three years to collect his daughter, who would then be his son.

The next day, the Queen was sent, in chains, to the dwarf. He hopped and whooped with joy.

Now at that time Prince Valgerd of the forest Kingdom of Noenr had come to age and was searching the land for a bride. He thought to himself that he would find the most beautiful princess, perhaps a damsel with hairy ears, or patchy skin, or numerous teeth. And he had heard of the beautiful Princess Gytha, daughter of the King and Queen of Hertod, and he came to them and said, “Where is the Princess of Hertod? For I have heard tales of her beauty and have come to take her hand in marriage, that I may make a family and that our kingdoms may flourish.”

The lonely King on his throne said, “There is no Princess of Hertod! Depart from my court, you presumptuous fool!” and the guards dragged him from the court.

The Prince was bewildered. Yet he reluctantly took up his horse to continue his search.

Riding through the woods he heard a yelping. He found the source of the noise to be a head growing in a pumpkin patch. He asked the head why it was yelping so, for it had startled him and sounded as if there was great distress.

She said, “I am the Princess of Hertod!” and she showed him her many teeth. She said the dwarf was feeding her nothing but rotten pumpkins and the ingredients of his strange concoction: raven feathers and lizard bones and fish skin and other things more fowl. Prince Valgerd was instantly glad that he had finally found her, but when he tried to dig her from the soil, he found that the earth was too firm and compacted to release her. Perhaps a spell told the dirt to keep her there. Princess Gytha explained that she would be released in two years’ time, and he vowed to wait until that day. Whenever the dwarf was out collecting his ingredients, the Prince would come to the pumpkin patch, and he would bend down and kiss his Princess and say, “What beauty!” though he lamented he could not marvel at the rest of her.

One day the Princess told him of her mother Bothildr, and how the dwarf had taken her captive, and asked that he rescue her from Ragnfred’s dungeon. The Prince hesitated but because he loved her he complied, and went into the dwarf’s hut. He soon realized that it was no simple hut, and there was a complicated dungeon that went deep into the ground. In the deepest dungeon he saw the headless body of a woman walking in circles, and hanging from the ceiling by the hair was the Queen’s head, and it shouted at him to save her. The Prince was so frightened that he ran. But the dwarf arrived and poked him with his magic cane and the Prince froze in place. The dwarf looked at him through the holes in his pumpkin and asked who he was and why he was in his hut. Prince Valgerd announced himself and the dwarf offered this challenge: “Kill the King and I will set you and the Princess free.”

Prince Valgerd of Noenr agreed to the challenge and returned to the King’s castle. The Prince threw a dagger at the King and it missed and he was thrown in prison. The King asked what traitor had sent him and the Prince told him it was Ragnfred the dwarf. Then King Oluf took his army into the forest to destroy the dwarf, for he was tired of waiting for the Princess to become a Prince.

When the King came to the woods he could not find the hut or the pumpkin patch, and it was as though they had never existed. With the help of a guard who was loyal to the Queen, Prince Valgerd escaped from the dungeon and disguised himself as a peasant so that he could search for the Princess without being arrested again.

For eight years he searched far and wide and found no sign of her. He was weary of searching and no longer had interest in returning to the Kingdom of Noenr, so he remained in the Kingdom of Hertod living the cold life of a peasant, hoping he would be reunited with his beauty. Meanwhile, King Oluf searched far and wide for the dwarf and the Prince and promised great reward for the capture or killing of either.

One day the Prince came upon a hermit’s house on a hill. He entered into it and the hermit woman offered him food and drink. He accepted cheerfully.

She said, “You are the lost Prince of Noenr,” and he was surprised and asked how she could have known. He was afraid she would turn him over to the King. She only said, “If you seek the Princess, you must go to the floating island.” It was the island that floated over the Kingdom of Hertod. She told him, also, that the only way to get there was by taming the Flying Toad Beast of Toronomerick and flying upon its back.

He traveled for months to reach the den of the Toad Beast. He saw that it was not toad-like at all, for it had slimy skin, eyes scattered over its body, and tubules on its legs and belly. It had a head and mouth at the top of its bulbous body, and the Prince thought it would be impossible to tame. But he was determined to do it because of his love for the Princess.

The Prince tried to get on its back, but was nearly eaten. He did this again and again for many days before retreating to safety and thinking to himself what he could do.

Prince Valgerd tried distracting it with fire, which startled it, and tried offering pigs for it to eat. None of these were successful. Then, thinking it wouldn’t work, he stroked its back with the branch of a tree. This soothed the Toad Beast’s temper and the Prince was able to mount upon its back and wrap a harness around its short neck.

The Beast flew by ejecting gas from the tubules on its belly, and it made putting, sputtering sounds as it lifted Prince Valgerd from the den and into the open sky.

The island in the sky was actually a beautiful floating kingdom, with green hills and vibrant farmlands, a forest, and a roaring river that dumped over the edge of the island. There was a castle in the center of the island and he flew the Toad Beast there.

He entered the court of the King of the floating kingdom, who was a bearded man dressed in armor.

The Prince said, “With great respect I come to your kingdom. I have searched far and wide for the Princess of Hertod and was told she might be on this island.”

“The Princess of Hertod is no longer,” said the King.

“Tell me what has become of her,” said the Prince, distraught.

“I was once the Princess of Hertod,” said the King, “but now I am the King of the Floating Island.”

But the Prince laughed and said, “You cannot be the Princess of Hertod!”

King Gytha insisted it was so. And he smiled a grin of many teeth, which the Prince knew well, which were behind the lips he used to kiss in the patch of pumpkins, and the lips were now wrapped in a full, round beard.

Then King Gytha’s queen and three children entered the court. The Queen of the Floating Island had once been the Concubine of Kabe, and had brown skin, and was dressed in Eastern cloth. She held a staff upon which was the head of Queen Bothildr of Hertod, who said to the Prince, “Well met, good sir.”

It was explained to him that the dwarf had brought the Princess to the island to live, and the dwarf went to the land of Breckle to be with his people, the pumpkin-headed giants, and took with him the body of the Queen of Hertod, but left the Queen’s head with the Princess. Princess Gytha became King and had ruled the Floating Island ever since, and King Gytha had four breasts and four testicles, and lived a full, yet detached life, for travel to the other Kingdoms was rare and difficult.

Prince Valgerd was determined and said, “Then let us return to Hertod.”

King Gytha, who had once been the Princess of Hertod, expressed that this was a just course of action.

King Gytha possessed a magic hammer, which she gave to Prince Valgerd, and he took it and he mounted upon the Toad Beast and flew to the court of King Oluf. The guards fled at the sight of the Beast and Prince Valgerd entered the throne room of King Oluf to find a haggard-looking man in the seat of the King. Prince Valgerd announced that he had come to warn the King of the impending destruction of the Kingdom.

“There is nothing in this Kingdom for you to conquer,” said the King. “The fields are in perpetual fallow, the cows are reduced by half each winter, and one by one the Lords have emigrated to other Kingdoms.”

“The Kingdom will be destroyed,” said Prince Valgerd, “Not conquered. I give you this warning out of loyalty to my beloved.”

“I know who you are,” said King Oluf, “You are the Prince of Noenr. You are older, yet you are the same. You are a fool who wishes to take from me and make me suffer. You are a failed suitor and a failed assassin, who left his Kingdom to be overrun by foreigners, and you were hiding while your father and I searched and searched for you, and he searches for you to this day. Go now to your father and tell him how you abandoned your duty as a Prince, and spat upon your duty as a son, all for the sake of your desire.”

Prince Valgerd tried once more to reason with the King of Hertod.

“This is my Kingdom and I will not abandon it,” said King Oluf. “My fate and the fate of my people are entwined.”

Prince Valgerd left the throne room and mounted the Flying Toad Beast. It so happened that the Floating Island did not float at all, but was balanced atop a column of rock that went all the way down to the earth. With a mighty swing he broke the column of rock using the magic hammer and the island crashed onto Hertod and crushed everything including King Oluf, forming a mountain.

And so the Prince became a King of the newly formed Kingdom. And he also had children by the Concubine of Kabe, who became the new Queen of Hertod, and they both shared King Gytha’s bed. And the two Kings, and the Queen, and the head of Queen Bothildr, lived happily in the mountain kingdom of Hertod for the rest of their days.

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