The Summoning of Saint Peter
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The Summoning of Saint Peter

Aethelwulf makes his move.

Alfred had two Saints, and Aethelwulf none. Offended at the very thought of Alfred's growing power, the Mercian king sought out the Inquisition- my Puritans- to find an answer to the might that Alfred now wielded. In return for his relics, we gave him the secret of Saintmaking, like the Peacemakers gave to Alfred, expecting him to summon the Saints that we needed to purge the land of our pagan enemies.

But Aethelwulf, I found out later, wanted none of the holy war that transpired to the north. In our folly, we gave the Mercian the keys to grow in power that would outshine even Alfred, so that he may destroy what was left of the peace in our Christian lands.

The King, in his infinite ambition, wanted no ordinary Servant of God- he wanted Saint Peter.

Archbishop Aethelstan, The Journals of the Puritan Inquisition, 5th June 875

The sun set heavily over the Kingdom of Mercia, and as it did, it shone upon a dying man being crucified upside-down.

The man was nobody- a peasant from a nearby village who had been taken for thievery and blasphemy, though if these charges were right, no one dared to truly speak their mind. He had been despicable, the peasants said, though they truly knew not the crimes of this peasant man. He had been a heretic, the priests said, though they truly did not hear what they accused him of. He had been a traitor, the nobles said, though they cared not for what this no one had done.

Men from all over took to seeing the ritual for themselves as the peasant lay dying and gasping on the cross. To them, the screams of the damned man mattered not, for the symbolism of what he was dying for took over all pretense of his perceived crimes- the execution of Saint Peter.

From afar, King Aethelwulf looked on proudly on this feat of saintmaking, watching the slow death of the man on his throne. Ever since the day he had discovered the practice from the Puritans that he had allied himself with, he took to the old books of the lives of saints from the nearly one thousand years of the Church’s existence. He pored over virtuous men, sinful men, priests, martyrs, and disciples all.

Yet one prize lay tantalizingly close to him, one that he deemed to be greatly surpassing any other saint in its power and might- Saint Peter himself.

Archbishop Aethelstan knew not the ritual to summon the Rock that the Church was built on, yet he was certain of the process by which they could request the Saint from He in Heaven- a crucifixion, done upside-down and for three days, with a piece of Saint Peter’s bones replacing that of the sacrificial man.

That same Archbishop looked at the scene before him now, disgusted at the sight of the condemned man. Aethelwulf could not help but silently wince at the clergyman’s revulsion, for the man’s reaction did not surprise him in the least.

Puritans like him always speak of executions and purifications, the king thought. Yet they do not wish to carry it out themselves. He felt disgusted at the thought. Typical.

Beside him, his son Aelfric watched on silently, a wide smile plastered on his face. The boy was now nearly twenty-seven, yet the childlike glee with which he watched the torturous ritual was palpable even from the comfort of his throne.

“Enjoying the execution, boy?” Aethelwulf asked. “An atheling like you must do this out of necessity, not out of enjoyment.”

As he said this, the peasant cried out for the first time in an hour, his naked body covered with both sweat and blood. Aelfric smiled at the sound, then turned to his father to answer.

“When I assume the crown, father,” Aelfric said, smiling as he spoke. “I shall do it out of both.”

Aethelwulf sighed, leaning back on his throne. The boy has not learned, he thought. “Then do so.”

As they watched on, the sun began to sink beyond the horizon. Slowly, the man’s pained gasps began to die down with it, his teeth gritted as he continued to squirm in agony.

Aethelwulf looked on expectantly, his fingers locked around each other in anticipation of the summoning of the Saint.

His heart began to race.

His breaths became quick and hurried.

Then, with a last agonized cry, the entire land was plunged into darkness as the man became still.

The crowd gathered around the cross waited with bated breaths, looking on in expectation of the Saint to come.

But there was none.

The ritual, such as it was, had been a failure.

Aethelwulf sighed in frustration, moving off of his throne as Aelfric stood still with his mouth agape.

“Take the peasant’s body off of the cross. Take the bone from his body.” Aethelwulf said, his arms crossed on the rich fabric of his royal robes. “We try again on the morrow.”

As the king left, the gathered crowds of peasants, nobility and clergy began to file out piecemeal, disappointed.

Archbishop Aethelstan felt a pit in his stomach form at the thought of another gruesome ritual, and hurriedly turned away to leave to spare himself of the sight for another moment.

Aelfric bit his lip in frustrated disappointment, his eyes unable to separate from the sight of the tortured peasant’s body as he looked on for any sight of the Saint. Eventually, he turned to leave, following his father back towards the keep.

As the man’s body was taken off of the cross by his friends and family in life, a calm began to replace the anticipation of the moment earlier. Little did the peasants know that this ritual would be the first of many attempts to summon the Saint, with each succeeding day bringing another man to the square to die.

It was many nights later when Aethelstan found the king silently scanning the spines of a large number of precious tomes, his eyes jumping from place to place as he looked at each shelf from below and above for any clue that could help him in his saintmaking.

“Lord?” Aethelstan called out, stepping forward. “I have come to tell you something.”

As if he heard nothing, Aethelwulf continued to pore through the tomes that he had gathered at a nearby table, sparing naught but a glance at the waiting archbishop.

“Lord?” Aethelstan called out again, moving to the table on which Aethelwulf skimmed the ancient tomes.

The king's reply was curt. Cold. “Out with it, archbishop.”

“King Aethelwulf,” Aethelstan began, straightening his back. “We cannot afford these sacrifices any-“

“-longer?” Aethelwulf said, finishing the priest’s sentence for him. “I share the sentiment, Archbishop Aethelstan, but we cannot afford to pause.”

“We must.” Aethelstan piped up, putting both of his hands down on the table. “What we are doing now is no longer justice. It is murder.”

“Murder out of necessity is justified, Archbishop.” Aethelwulf answered, setting a book to the side as he began to look through a gigantic leather-bound Bible. “If we wish to fight against our enemies, then we must continue the rituals.”

“Then by all means, Lord, perform another ritual for another Saint. God has made it clear to us that He has no wish to send the apostle, and we must honor-“

The king let out a huff of exasperation, his voice levelled at an irritated mutter. “Even my son is so much cleverer than you by half, priest.” He shut the book hard on itself, turning to face the Archbishop. “You promised me a Saint. You promised me Peter.

The Archbishop drew his hands up to his sides in frustration. “I only know of the process of Saintmaking, Lord, not the ritual by which you wish to bind Saint Peter to your will!” He raised his voice higher. “I am sure we could summon one of the Apostolic Popes, the Saints who have held his office, but not-“

“-not Peter?” Aethelwulf retorted. “Peter is the way by which I can unite the Saxons under myself to fight the heathens, and not Alfred. Wessex has two saints under its command, yet Mercia has none.” He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes as he did so. “Alfred did not take you, but I have. We are tied together now, Mercia to the Puritans, and if I fall…”

He stepped closer, his accusing gaze boring into Aethelstan’s.

You do too.

Before Aethelstan could manage a retort, the King stormed out of the room, slamming the wooden door behind him.

Aelfric watched on in boredom as another peasant, this time a young man of sixteen, died on the upside-down cross in the middle of Tamworth’s square. After a week of the same entertainment, the unchanging agonized gasps and groans, the atheling had found himself to be used to the once stimulating sight.

His father, ever since their first attempt at the saintmaking ritual, had refrained from attending the ceremonies from then on, leaving Aelfric to attend to the King’s seat in his place. Though the next few times amused him very much, each succeeding ritual began to leave him bereft of sensation and pleasure, leaving him to watch coldly on- much like his father did.

Now on their fifth day of their fifth attempt, the atheling amused himself with books taken from the library instead. One tome in particular called ”On the Deaths of the Apostles” entertained him now, being written by a particularly scholarly king of the distant past. It wasn’t onerously written, much to Aelfric’s joy, and it contained many bloody details that would normally be omitted from the burdensome histories by which he had once been educated with.

“Do you enjoy such a text, Lord?” A voice at his side said, barely audible against the loud and pained moaning of the crucified man. Aelfric lazily turned his head to one side, his gaze meeting that of Ecgberht, his faithful servant.

He chuckled as his eyes turned back to the text. “It is very… vivid, Ecgberht. I personally enjoy it much more than some monk’s histories.”

“Those histories are vital to our understanding of what has come before, Lord.” Ecgberht said, standing by his lord’s side as he put both of his arms behind him. “Only by learning from the mistakes of our forefathers can we avoid the same fates that they themselves suffered.”

Aelfric chuckled again as he turned the page of the manuscript, his eyes greeting a particularly beautiful image of the flaying of Saint Bartholomew, which he greeted with delight. “Spare me the lecture, Ecgberht. You sound much like my father.”

“The king is right to teach a promising atheling like you that lesson.” Ecgberht said. “It is of great import to you, once you become king.”

A smidge of annoyance on the atheling's face suddenly came to the fore at Ecgberht’s reply, and Aelfric lowered the book from his face to regard the servant with a look. “Careful now, Ecgberht. I enjoy you, but be careful.”

Ecgberht lowered his gaze respectfully, acknowledging his mistake. “I am sorry, Lord.”

Aelfric laughed quietly to himself, signifying his forgiveness of the servant’s error. “We may be half-brothers, Ecgberht, but it does not mean that we are equals.” He landed his gaze on the image before him again. “How goes your task in Wessex?”

“Well, Lord. The monks there greeted me and answered the questions by which you sent me to ask.”

Aelfric smiled in obvious delight. “As they should. Their answer?”

Ecgberht drew close, his lips close to the atheling’s ear. His voice came out in a whisper.

“Our ritual was nearly right, Lord. We only needed a different sacrifice.”

Aelfric’s eyebrows drew up, looking at his servant askance. “What is this different sacrifice, then?”

Ecgberht’s answer came again as a whisper.

“We must kill a man of the cloth, Lord, and crucify him upside-down to greet the dawn.”

The priest that they had managed to capture had been particularly heavy, and Aelfric despised that.

Father Aethelcod was a regular preacher at a nearby abbey, and much given to very… material tendencies. He was an oft-seen visitor at Tamworth’s taverns, gorging himself on favorites like lamb and beef. As a consequence, the priest had grown quite large, taking both the efforts of Aelfric and Ecgberht to carry him to a cart.

Aelfric, a stranger to carrying large weights, did not appreciate the work. He found it hard to appreciate the reek of ale on the priest’s breath as well.

In the dead of the early morning, the atheling and his servant finally reached their destination at an abandoned cottage, going to work as soon as they arrived- Ecgberht with assembling the cross out of the planks he had stored in the cottage, Aelfric with tying down the priest and flaying his body to make sure he died at the crack of dawn.

The atheling appreciated the muffled screams when the priest awoke- he had been looking forward to practicing the art once more after the pleasurable reading experience that was Saint Bartholomew’s gruesome death. He had grown used to the agonies of crucifixion, very quiet in its form of torture. Flaying was more direct- and creative.

It was almost dawn when they tied and nailed the dying man to the cross, making sure to put him upside-down and embedding the bone of Saint Peter into his exposed muscle to complete the ritual.

Aelfric smiled to himself as the dawn started to come into view, admiring the handiwork by which his hands had wrought. The skin of the priest was very difficult to flay- especially with a live and conscious canvass in which to practice his art. After the first few mishaps, however, he had grown very adept in its processes.

Soon, dawn started to crack outside of Tamworth. As it did, the man who had been known in life as Father Aethelcod had been stripped of his clothes, his skin, and his face, leaving him to die in agony on the cross as his blood flowed down it.

“Aelfric!” shouted a familiar voice, as King Aethelwulf of Mercia rode down to meet them on his horse with the Tamworth guard riding beside him. “What have you done?”

Aelfric and Ecgberht turned to look at the king, a wide smile plastered on the face of the atheling.

His laughing reply came like a victorious taunt. “Winning us another kingdom, Father.”

Behind him, the first sliver of the sun peeked out past the rolling hills as the nameless man died on the cross with a pained sigh.

Then, with a loud and sudden burst of fire, the entire cross became ensconced in flame, obscuring the form of the dead man from view as the inferno drew higher and higher into the sky.

It burned on for a few long seconds, before dying down to reveal the naked form of a brown-skinned man, his eyes flecked with the power of the divine as his long and shockingly black hair blew with the wind.

In one fell swoop, Aelfric Aethelwulfsson had done in one night what his father had failed to do in seven days.

Saint Peter, once called Simon, the first bishop of the Catholic Church, stood before the king, the atheling, the servant, and the king’s guards- and in that moment, Aelfric smiled with unparalleled delight.

“Where do you want me to send him, Father?” Aelfric said.

Aethelwulf sat unmoving on his horse, his face betraying no shock, pride, or anger.

Then, he spoke.

“We shall send him to Winchester.”

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