Petrus ran recklessly, far outdistancing his townsmen, those he had left at the teetering rock. Eyes full of tears, choking back sobs, he was already mourning Rona. And yet he hoped.
He arrived at his home, briefly composed himself and walked through the door, looking for Rona. He found the windows opened and everything in order, except Rona lay collapsed onto a bench.
Petrus walked over and touched Rona. When she did not respond, he gently shook her. She opened her eyes, looked at Petrus, and smiled. “He answered me, Petrus! He said to have faith.”
Rona spoke softy, but Petrus could not miss the joy. Her eyes closed, and Petrus could not rouse her again. In a few moments, she stopped breathing. Briefly, Petrus sat in shock. Then Petrus quietly raged in anger, wondering who to blame, who to destroy. Finally, he thought of her last words, “He said to have faith.”
He bent over and kissed his Beloved one last time. “I will not do anything that would separate me from you. I will have faith.” Then he cried again, wailing her name, “Rona!”
When Rona’s sister, Freja, heard Petrus’ cry, she came running. She saw Petrus in anguish, the sword on the floor, and Rona laying quietly on the bench. Petrus saw her. He stooped to pick up the sword. Then he wiped the tears from his eyes and spoke. “I have no choice, Freja, my sister. I must go. Can you and the women prepare a funeral pyre for Rona?”
Shocked, Freja said nothing. She had wanted this morning to be like so many of the others before it. She walked over, bent down, and shook Rona. She saw she was not breathing, and cried softly. Then Freja stood up and turned to Petrus. She looked at the sword again. Then she nodded, “yes.”
Petrus gripped Freja shoulder. Before she died, she spoke. She said: “‘He answered me, Petrus! He said to have faith.’ God answered her prayer. I don’t understand, but she died joyfully.”
Then Petrus walked out the door. Again he started running, this time to battle. How could they win? He did not know. He only knew what Rona had said. “He said to have faith.”
As the sun rose, shimmering across the waves, Petrus began his daily trek up to that large boulder that teeters atop the crag overlooking the valley. Why did he submit himself to this trial every morning? A decade ago, when he had begun to discover the gift of his stamina and strength, he had run for his own prestige. Then he had run for the beauty of a morning sunrise, the singing birds, the memory of a smile on Rona’s face… Of late, he had run to glorify and give thanks to God for all His gifts. Thus, in spite of his loss in strength, what he had given up to keep Rona alive, he still set out each morning.
To the amazement of the townsfolk, he ran in both fair weather and foul. Nevertheless, Petrus had run for years, and so few still bothered to notice. Today was different. Here and there his fellow townsfolk stopped their daily chores to take notice. Some with sad faces waved to him. Petrus nodded in return. He supposed people knew how the king had threaten him and Rona. What Petrus did not notice is that many set aside what they were doing and ran after him.
Petrus ran on. He used the trail along the northern edge of the crag. That allowed him to look over the sea and down upon the bay that provided the entrance for Teetering Rock’s harbor. Yet as his run continued the trail grew rough, and he grew tired. So he focused on the trail and each stride he took.
Eventually Petrus arrived at the huge, teetering boulder. Looking over the sea again, he took a moment to regain his breath and to give thanks for once again for reaching this beautiful spot. Then he strode a few paces more and fell to his knees. He still wondered what to pray.
Petrus did not believe he had the strength save both Rona and to satisfy the king. Could the king be satisfied? Wasn’t that his problem? Therefore, he asked God to help him save Rona and for his protection from the king. Oddly, Petrus felt compelled to silence. Even though there was no one who could hear him at this lonely place, for the first time Petrus prayed silently.
For the first time Petrus also felt God answering his prayers. There was no voice. He could not explain it, but Petrus knew Rona too was praying, praying for him and refusing his offer of strength. Yet Petrus’ sadness did not become despair. He knew today was Rona’s day to go home. What was home? God did not say. He just knew Rona had fulfilled her life’s purpose.
Petrus also knew his second prayer would be answered. Someone capable and righteous would risk everything to stand up to lead his people. Who? That was not his problem. It was time to return to Rona. He rose, turned, and started to run down the hill. Then he saw two men with drawn swords blocking the way, and he stopped. The voice behind him was that of Adolf the goði.
“You lying dog! We are taking you to the king.”
Petrus turned back. Adolf stood smiling with a mace in his hand. On either side him stood two lesser priests, each with a mace. The men with swords he had recognized as some of the hoodlums who served the king. The bloodthirsty corruption of the hoodlums did not puzzle him, but these were priests.
Then Petrus wondered in bafflement. Lord God, you said we would have your protection? Suddenly stones hailed upon the swordsmen and the priests. Petrus’ five ambushers died before they could use their weapons or run away.
Petrus looked behind the dead bodies of the priests. He saw his friends and neighbors stepping from behind the bushes and small trees. He turned again to look at the swordsmen. More of his friends and neighbors stood behind the dead bodies of the swordsmen. In the years since arms had been banned, the men of the town had become very adept at throwing stones with slingshots.
Then Petrus noticed Aage the Guard Captain. “Was this your idea?”
Aage nodded. “I overheard the king instructing Adolf.”
Petrus asked: “Thank you for standing up to lead us and for saving my life. What about Rona?”
“She is safe for the moment. Two of these — these corpses — were suppose to grab her on the way back to the castle.”
Petrus said: “It will not end here. We must defeat the king, or he will have all our heads on poles.”
Aage pointed to the arms the dead men had once wielded. “Those who know how to use them grab their arms. Petrus, pick four men and make certain no one leaves Teetering Rock and warns the king. The rest of you must get whatever you can use as a weapon. We will meet in front of my house in an hour. Then we must seize the armory.”
Petrus picked up one of the fallen swords. He called to four of his fellow shipyard workers, fast and strong young men. “Kiss your women and grab whatever you can use as a weapon from your home or the shipyard. I will meet you on the path to the castle.”
Petrus then took off. Dashing to his home to see what had happened to Rona, Petrus then realized he had regained his old strength. Stifling the tears, he lengthen his stride.
As Petrus walked to his home, he became more and more distraught. He had thought his prayers answered. It had cost him some of his health and strength. Nevertheless, he still had his precious Rona.
Now he remembered the king’s final words.
You will share your strength with me. Tomorrow you will strengthen me, or I will have your head and your woman’s head sitting up on poles. Now begone!
What was he to do? It had been his secret, known only to himself and his Creator. Now the king, his two drinking buddies, and the captain knew. Who else? Soon someone would tell Rona, and she would not accept his sacrifice. He would make it anyway, but what about the king?
What had he told the guard captain, Aage? He would pray, and so driven by desperation he did, but he did not know what to pray. He did not know what to do. He did not know what to ask for.
Petrus walked slowly on the path between the castle and his village. Surrounded by a darkening forest of tall, dark pines, he silently sent his plea to the Almighty, hoping for words from his God.
The forest ended at the edge of the cropland that surround his village. Petrus stopped. He pulled his eyes up from the ground to look. This village was home. His people lived here. Rona lived here with him. These were the people he knew and cared about. Like himself, they too were God’s Creations, and the king abused them all. He suffered, but he was not the only one. The king lacked any restraint. If he saw something — or a woman he wanted — he took what wanted. “God help us! God help us all!”
Did God answer prayers? Petrus thought He did, but he did not know how God would answer this prayer. He just felt less lonely and lost as he walked the rest of the way to his home. He would tell Rona the truth. He would depend upon and act upon the truth. He would depend upon God answering his prayers.
Rona sat outside the home where she and Petrus lived looking up the trail from the king’s castle. When he returned home, Rona’s father, one of the shipyard workers, told her that the king’s guard had taken Petrus to the castle, but no one knew why. Then Rona’s sister, Freja, who supplied the castle with eggs returned with a strange story. One of the kitchen staff had heard Adolf the goði say Petrus’ God had allowed him to share his strength with Rona.
Was that Petrus? She saw him stop and gaze at the village. When he resumed his walk, she was sure, and she ran to meet him.
Once home, Petrus and Rona hugged and talked, talked and hugged.
Rona reacted to Petrus’ confession that he had lent her his strength with horror. “You had no right to do to that without telling me,” she said.
Petrus replied, “you would have done the same for me.”
Then Petrus told Rona what the king had demanded. Rona said nothing. She hugged Petrus and wept quietly. They could not run. The king would have his vengeance. When someone ran, his henchmen tracked down the nearest family members and had two of them killed. Thus, instead of two heads on poles, the king would be pleased to have four.
While Rona sobbed, Petrus remembered when he had become of age. His father had presented him with a fine old sword, a razor sharp, dangerous weapon. But the old king had banned such weapons. Too many drunken brawls, too many angry family disputes, too many robbers demanding your gold or your life….. When the old king promised an end to such violence, many had cheered. The old king had seized all the swords and weapons he could find and put them all in public armories under the control of the throne and local militias. That was supposed to end the violence, but it had not. The violence had subsided only for a brief time.
When the old king died, King Adalbert took the throne. Within a few years King Adalbert and his cronies, men who owed their positions to him alone, had taken control of both the armories and the local militias. Robberies had increased; local bandit gangs now raided and cockily robbed — raping with great malice and glee — their unarmed victims. Sensing weakness, Danish raiders had seized Kalmor, a small coastal town to the south. The raiders had easily killed any who resisted, striped the place bare, and sold half the population off to southern slave traders.
When the raiders had discovered Kalmor”s armory, brimming with weapons, they had laughed. Those weapons were starting to rust, but still lethal. Of course, the raiders took them. They promised better care for these forgotten arms, and they promised to put them to good use.
Teetering Rock, too close to the throne, had not been able hide from such troubles. Whenever the king saw a desirable lass, he demanded the opportunity to relieve her of her virginity. So it is that when the king had seen beautiful Sefa, he had demanded she attend to him at the castle that very night. Sefa’s betrothed, Thord, chose to escape with her across the sea. So it is that perhaps that Thord and Sefa still did not know what had followed their escape. King Adalbert had had their parent’s heads publicly displayed on poles paraded throughout the village. His royal execution team, as the king proudly named it, had then left those four poles staked in the ground at the entrance to the village. And there they remained.
Rona sobbing ended, and Petrus and Rona quietly prepared and ate their dinner. Finally, before they went to sleep, they sat together and prayed. Each spoke in turn.
Petrus spoke of the king, and he begged God to give that man wisdom and self-restraint. He asked for the strength and the skill he needed in the shipyard, and he spoke of few fellow shipyard workers who needed help, Latham with a broken finger and Ralph whose daughter the king had eyed without concealing his lust. Finally, he asked for good weather for the sailors, fishermen, and the farmers who lived in his village.
Rona also spoke of the king. She asked God to soften his stony heart. Then she offered up a prayer for each of their neighbors: Ake’s aching back, Alva’s sick baby, Helga chickens that would not lay, a new fishing net for Knud, and so forth.
Then both prayed silently. Petrus prayed for Rona, and Rona prayed for Petrus. Afterwards, they went to bed, and they held each, hoping it would not be for the last time.
Having done what they could to make peace with God and each other, they slept.
When Adolf the goði arrived with his complaint, King Adalbert sat in his throne room with two ne’er-do-wells much like himself. Even though it was still early in the day, these gentlemen were assisting the king by helping him to sample ale. Adolf the goði stepped into this small party, and he asked permission to speak.
“My king, may I speak.”
“Yes, Adolf. What is it?”
Adolf then leveled his charge. “I have learned that Petrus worships some other god than your own, Ægir. Not only that, he calls this god the Creator God, the One God above all. If you wish to retain Ægir‘s favor, Petrus must be punished.”
The king took another drink. Then he asked, “How do you know this?”
Adolf replied. “Petrus runs up the crag every morning. At the top he stops to pray. This morning, from behind a bush, I listened to his prayer. He thanked his God for allowing him to give some of his strength to his woman.”
The king rocked back on his heels. Then he gave me my orders. “Aage, bring Petrus to me.”
So I sought five of my men, and I went for Petrus.
Petrus was a widely respected man. Not only had he achieved renown as an athlete, he was honorable and dependable. Yet here I was, ordered to take him to the king for punishment. Unlike his father, King Adalbert had no honor, and he had no respect for those who are honorable. Unfortunately, the old king was dead, and that made Adalbert the king. Spoiled, this lazy good-for-nothing had never grown up. Even though he was in his 50’s, the king and old enough to know better, he still just took what he wanted, ate like a pig, and drank toasts to his favorite god, Ægir. With his foolish greed and gluttony, he was destroying his own kingdom. Not even Ægir would approve of such an undisciplined beast.
We arrived at the shipyard, where Petrus worked shortly after the noonday sun had reached its zenith. We found Petrus, and I told him that the king wanted to speak to him. He asked why, I said the king would explain. When the shipyard boss asked how long Petrus would be gone, I said I did not know. I was just sent to fetch him. Thereupon, I ordered Petrus and my men to get moving. Petrus’ fellow workers grumbled, but none dared to stop us.
After the sun had marched half-way down from its zenith, we arrived back at the throne room. When Petrus and I walked in, we found the king and his ne’er-do-well friends still nursing flagons of ale.
As Petrus walked in, the king turned to him. “Petrus, what is this I hear about you worshiping another god besides Ægir?”
Surprised, Petrus said nothing. Then the king asked. I understand you gave some of you strength to your lady. Can you do that for me?”
Again, Petrus stood silent. The king waited a moment. Then he howled. “Answer me!”
Finally, Petrus answered. “I don’t know. My God made it possible.”
Then the king spoke in an angry whisper. “You will share your strength with me. Tomorrow you will strengthen me, or I will have your head and your woman’s head sitting up on poles. Now begone!”
I escorted Petrus to the entrance of the castle, and I walked with him across the drawbridge. Then I said: “I am sorry. The king has no right to do this.”
Petrus calmly looked at me. Then he thanked me.
Then I asked. “Petrus, who is this god of yours?”
Petrus said. “He is the Creator, Guard Captain. All that we see He made. He is our Father.”
“How do you know of Him?” I asked.
Petrus paused for moment. Then he said, “I prayed.” After another moment, he added this. “You already know the Creator exists. We have the majesty of the night skies, the glory of a sunrise, the mystery of a child’s birth…. Our legends — even legends of so-called gods — are not enough to explain such things.”