“Blake,” Idris said, “are you and Gwen familiar with the story of Ananias and Sapphira?” Blake glared up from the foot of the bed, hate in his eyes, but did not – could not – speak. “What about you, Gwen?” Idris asked lightly, rolling the sleeves of his cable-knit sweater just past the elbows so as not to get any breadcrumbs on them. “You’re a smart woman. Were, anyways. How’s your New Testament? Do you remember what was their besetting sin?”
Gwen twitched as if to lunge at him, but only succeeded in rolling off the bed and thudding painfully to the floor. “You’ll find it easier not to struggle,” Idris said through a mouthful of toast. “I know my witch-heart knots. It’ll only get tighter the more you move.” He smiled broadly. “Neither of you knows the story, then? Very well. A certain man of the church – Ananias – had a wife named Sapphira. I imagine he looked rather like you did, Blake. Do you remember when you still looked like something?”
Blake groaned, but did not move. “Smart,” Idris said after a minute. “Smarter than they give you credit for. So was Ananias. He and Sapphira sold a certain possession. They brought a certain part of the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Ananias had kept back part of the proceeds, and Sapphira his wife – a helpful woman, rather like you, Gwen – was aware of it. That’s something I’ve always admired about you, Gwen, although I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the chance to say it. Your helpfulness. Where was I?”
There was no answer. Idris carefully buttered another slice of toast and ate it, licking his fingers neatly after each bite. “The apostles. That’s where I was. Specifically Peter – Simon Peter – Simon from the Hebrew for hearer, and Peter from the Aramaic meaning rock. The Rock of the Church. My name has two meanings too, did you know that?” Here he paused and looked at Blake. “Did you know that, Blake?”
Blake, who could do nothing but glare, glared. Idris nudged at him with his foot. “Two meanings,” he said softly. “Two separate derivations. One from the Welsh Idris, meaning ardent lord. Or enthusiastic lord, if you like. Can also be translated as impulsive. And I am very enthusiastic, very ardent, about my new lordship. My king-year begins today, and I am –” here he took a noisy bite of toast – “en-thu-si-as-tic.”
Blake may have been screaming behind his gag. It was difficult to tell. “The other derivation,” Idris continued, “comes from Arabic, Idris being the Islamic name given to the prophet Enoch. Enoch, if you’ll allow me to expand on our Bible lesson for today, was known for two things: his goodness, and his deathlessness. ‘Idris walked with God, and then he was no more; for God took him.’ So now you know two important things about me: I am enthusiastic to begin my reign and I have no intention of dying. Mine will be a very long king-year. Which – ah, I knew you for smart ones – is exactly why we are starting the ceremony a little bit early, and without the benefit of the Council. I have dissolved the Council, as their input will not be necessary to mark future years of my reign. If the Sexiest Man Alive remains alive and sexy from year in to year out – well. Why bother to change something that isn’t broken?”
“People are tired of brokenness,” Idris said, leaning forward towards Blake. “Five years now, there have been nothing but problems with the Ceremony. Adam’s escape, Hemsworth’s faithlessness, the persistence of the Unfaced Men, the interference of Gwen – People want peace, and continuity. People want me.”
“But here I am,” Idris said, turning up the corner of his mouth to a wry smile, and even Gwen had to admit in her heart of hearts that he was beautiful, “distracting myself from the story. Ananias and Sapphira lay their gift before Peter, and he said, ‘Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
“What do you think happened to Ananias after that?” Idris asked Blake. He leaned forward and tugged a finger behind the gag until it fell away. “What do you think will happen to you?” Blake opened his mouth to speak, but before a word could escape, Idris shoved his fist inside and squeezed.
The sound was terrible, and unmistakable, and lingered long after Blake had stopped moving. Idris pulled his hand back, wiping it carefully with a napkin. “The young men of the church arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him,” he said, addressing Gwen on the floor. At those words a door opened, and a group of dark-hooded men – Gwen thought she saw, with her one good eye, a tonsured Pete Davidson among them – padded silently into the room, covered Blake’s body with a shroud, and carried him back out. “And shortly thereafter his wife came in, not knowing what had happened to her husband. And Peter asked her: ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’”
“Gwen,” Idris asked, “Is there anything you and Blake have not told me that you should have?” He reached down to the floor and tugged the gag away from her mouth.
“Cooper lives,” she said dully. “Blake could never find him. It was a stag’s heart we presented to the council.”
“I always wondered,” Idris said, “how far Blake could have possibly gotten without you.”
“Not very,” Gwen said.
“No, not very,” Idris agreed. “I thank you for telling the truth to me.”
“If a lie could have helped me,” Gwen answered, “I would have used it.”
“After the death of Ananias,” Idris said, as if he had not heard her, “a great fear came upon the church, and upon all who heard these things. Would you like to help me build a great fear upon all who hear of us, Gwen? Or would you like to be with your husband? You have always been such a great help to him – perhaps you would like to help him in the next life now.”
“What had you in mind?” Gwen said.
Idris smiled and rolled his shoulders back, stretching until his feet reached the floor. “Jeremiah 29:11,” he said, springing up. “‘For I know the plans I have for you, declareth the Lord.’ The hour is not yet that I should share my plans with you, Gwen Sheltonless. But if you would like to live, and if you would like to help build my glory, you may stay and help. Or – if you would find it distasteful – the feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and are ready to carry you out also.”
Gwen nodded, and lay still for a moment. “Isaiah 6:8,” she said. “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
“It’s killing work,” Idris said in a warning tone.
“If it’s bloodless hands that worry you,” Gwen said, “you’ve found an excellent companion in me. I’ve got the stomach for it. Untie me and let me clean myself off. The sooner we start the killing, the sooner it finishes.”
Idris laughed and bent down to undo the witch-heart knots. “The sooner, then! A virtuous woman, who can find? Her price is far above rubies.”
“I haven’t told you my price yet,” Gwen said sharply. Idris laughed again.
“There’s no price I can’t meet,” he told her. “My bank is boundless, my credit endless, my horizons infinite. There is not a sexier man living.”
“Enthusiastic,” Gwen said.
“Enthusiastic,” Idris agreed. “Come with me.”