St. Ninian’s Well, near Leol, Cumbria

The yard of the inn was almost deserted.

The yard of the inn was almost deserted: an eerie contrast to its bustle when Ethelwyn and Cenn Faelad had ridden in last evening, just in time to attend the Mass of the Last Supper in the chapel.

When they’d ridden out to search the hills that morning, they’d left behind the clamorous, chaotic departure of the last band of pilgrims who might hope to reach Lothere by Easter morn. None of them had seen or heard of Egelric.

Now, on the afternoon of Good Friday, there was no one abroad but a few scratching chickens, the innkeeper, the stablehand, and a lackadaisical fellow whom Ethelwyn recognized as the manservant of the gentlewoman currently occupying the inn’s best chamber.

The gentlewoman would be staying for a few days yet: she’d come hoping to be healed by water from the holy well. But she and her party—with Ethelwyn and Cenn Faelad—probably made up the only guests remaining at the inn. Two days before Easter, there was scarcely a soul left on the road between Leol and Lothere. Ethelwyn’s hope was almost gone.

The stablehand took his horse’s reins, and he swung out of the saddle.

'Any news?'

“Any news?” he called over the pommel at the innkeeper.

The innkeeper only slid the straw he was chewing from one corner of his mouth to the other. He did not appreciate men who asked too many questions of his customers. So far Ethelwyn’s silver had only sufficed to buy his tolerance and a little extra hot water. No useful information.

The stablehand asked, “Should I bed ’em down for the night, sir?”

“Looks that way,” Ethelwyn muttered.

'Looks that way.'

He slipped the man a coin and walked up to Cenn Faelad, who still sat his horse. Cenn Faelad had grown up in Leol, on the English side of the ancient wall, but his scowls and his grunts were all Scot. Ethelwyn missed Egelric enough to put up with more than his fair share of foul moods.

“You getting down or what?”

'You getting down or what?'

“Aye, I’m getting down,” Cenn Faelad said. “And I’ll be getting back up tomorrow and a-​riding away home, whatever you have to say about it.”

“And I’ll be right beside you. I gave the King my word.”

Cenn Faelad grunted.

Cenn Faelad grunted.

Ethelwyn was about to head into the inn, but Cenn Faelad’s gelding swung his head around and whinnied off towards the coppice behind the well. Ethelwyn was so accustomed to looking that he looked.

“Oh my God…”

How many silhouettes and glimpses had he investigated, just in case? How many youths of impossible heights and widths had he run to earth, only to be sure?

He saw he might have spared himself the trouble. Even at a distance and in the dappled shadows of the trees, the indubitable Finn-​ness of Finn struck him a stunning blow, sending his heart rebounding against his ribs.

In the end, he had recognized Finn in an instant.

“Oh my God! Finn! Is that you?”

Ethelwyn began to walk, and then to run. Finn hastened down from his hummock as if determined to meet Ethelwyn on neutral ground.

“Finn! I can’t believe it!”

Ethelwyn opened his arms. Finn stopped short and shoved his hands into his armpits.

Finn stopped short and shoved his hands into his armpits.

Ethelwyn slowed. No sudden movements, he reminded himself. No loud sounds. It was advice for approaching wild animals, but it probably applied to Finns. If this boy scampered away and disappeared into his den, he didn’t know what he would do. His broken heart would crack clean in two.

“Praise God!” Ethelwyn said in a hushed voice. “We’ve been looking for you for weeks!”

“I know,” Finn said. He jerked his chin towards the innkeeper, in a gesture so utterly Egelric that it brought tears to Ethelwyn’s eyes.

“He told me, a man is looking for us,” Finn continued, his mouth flat. “He said, it is a fussy fellow with curly hair, so I thought it might be you.”

Ethelwyn managed a breathless laugh.

Ethelwyn managed a breathless laugh, too poignantly happy to feel the least bit insulted.

“That does sound like me! And you, Finn! My God, you have grown, haven’t you? Your hair and—” Ethelwyn leaned closer. “Are you shaving?”

Finn’s face brightened. “No! Do you think I should?”

'Do you think I should?'

Ethelwyn laughed. He hadn’t really seen any sign of stubble, but he wasn’t about to tell Finn that.

“Keep an eye on it,” he advised. “But beware: once you start, you can’t stop!”

Finn’s shining-​eyed gaze drifted off to the side. Ethelwyn was satisfied that Egelric’s situation could not be dire if Finn could daydream about his future beard.

“How’s your father?” Ethelwyn asked him. “Where is he? Is he with you?”

Finn’s defenses snapped back down. “Middling fair,” he replied warily, choosing the very words Egelric might have chosen for himself.

Finn took a dawdling step towards the inn, his arms still locked over his chest. Ethelwyn fell in beside him and tried not to stare.

“He’s not here,” Finn said. “He’s in the hills, guarding sheep.”

“Close by?”

Finn shrugged. “A few miles.”

Ethelwyn laughed in amazement. “My God! We tried to go all over these hills, but there’s too damned many of them! Behind every hill another hill! We’ve been all over—north of the border and everywhere, and here you’ve been not two days’ ride away!”

'We've been all over.'

Finn’s feet dragged over the gravel: a new way of walking for him who had always glided like an elf. Ethelwyn peeked. The boy was definitely taller. His jaw had a harder edge… unless it was only the effect of his hair, which had grown so long as to graze it.

Ethelwyn was reminded that Egelric was supposed to have cut his hair almost to the scalp. He could not imagine that.

“It is behind many hills,” Finn muttered. “Not easy to find.”

“How is he, Finn? Pray tell me. When did you see him last?”

Finn looked a little surprised at the question. “This morning.”

“Do you stay with him, then?”

“In the night. In the day, he makes his business and I make mine.”

Finn set his jaw and sent a defiant glare up at Ethelwyn through his hair, daring him to inquire into the nature of his “business.” Ethelwyn sagely held his silence.

It was Finn who broke first. He stopped scuffing his feet and looked squarely up at Ethelwyn.

“He takes care of some sheep. He says he likes it.” Finn took a breath before asking, “Did you ever know my father when he took care of sheep?”

“I never knew your father to be a shepherd, Finn. He was a tiller of the soil. A farmer, I mean. But he was good with the animals. Sheep, too. I saw him shear once.”

“Did you ever see him geld the lambs?”

“Ah… You mean…”

'Did you ever see him geld the lambs?'

As ever when the subject was broached, Ethelwyn laughed the cringing laugh of men who did not grow up in sheepfolds and byres. Finn didn’t laugh. If anything, his pained face grew still more pale.

In the space of another heart-​staggering instant Ethelwyn understood what Finn was asking. He must have seen his father at the labor, or at least seen the blood in his beard and teeth and all down the front of his shirt. What must Finn—raised by elves—think of someone who bit off the balls of bleating lambs? How long had he been living with the fear that his father was a monster or a madman?

“Ah… that’s how they do it around here, Finn. Some of them do it with a knife, but they say it’s easier and cleaner with the teeth, and doesn’t hurt the lamb as much. I’ve never seen it done, but… err… Your father did sometimes threaten me with the spectacle. At least they spit them out, right?”

Finn finally wrinkled his nose in disgust like any other boy. Ethelwyn laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. Solid boy under coarse, soiled wool. It was so miraculously remarkable to find him here, so everyday-​ordinary at the same time.

'Come in and let me buy you a drink!'

“Come in and let me buy you a drink!” Ethelwyn offered. “Nothing like sitting cross-​legged on a good wooden stool for a while to coax the old boys back out of hiding.”

Finn looked warily at the inn and shied a step back. “I did not mean to stay long.”

“Finn! You can’t run right off like that! I’ve been looking for you for… for months, in fact,” Ethelwyn concluded shakily.

'You can't run right off like that!'

Oh God, if he lost track of the two of them again? If they didn’t want to be found, they would never, never be found. Ethelwyn knew both Egelric and Finn well enough to be certain of that.

“Won’t you take me to your father?” he pleaded.

Finn withdrew still more, stepping out of range of snatching arms. “What do you want with him?”

“I want to welcome him home! We all do. Look! Here’s Cenn Faelad. You’ve met Cenn Faelad? The King’s messenger?”

Cenn Faelad grudgingly left his horse and ambled up to join them. He and Finn exchanged nods.

“Your father has been cleared of all charges. Hasn’t he?” Ethelwyn prompted Cenn Faelad. “The King has lifted the sentence of banishment, hasn’t he?”

'The King has lifted the sentence of banishment, hasn't he?'

Cenn Faelad finally said, “Aye.”

“So, do you see? And he sent his own men out to find your father and make everything right.”

Ethelwyn waited for a response from Finn, but he only stared at Cenn Faelad. And Cenn Faelad stared back until he called it all off with a toss of his ponytail.

“I have to see the horses bedded down,” he muttered. “God be with you and the father of you, Finn.”

Cenn Faelad tramped off, and Finn’s stiff shoulders relaxed as he watched him go.

“Between us,” Ethelwyn whispered, “you knew that the charges were false from the beginning, didn’t you? Your father must have told you it was all a plot.”

“Aye,” Finn said roughly, silencing Ethelwyn again.


What had happened to the slender, pale boy who peeked out from behind his hair and pronounced a careful, sibilant “Yes” in reply to inquiries? This young man was tanned and tough and gruff as his father.

Later Ethelwyn would mourn the shy elfin child who had left Lothere last winter and would never return. But for now he wanted to cling to the Finn before him: living proof that Egelric still walked the earth, active and alive and rubbing off on his son.

“Of course… we can’t tell the truth of that to men like Cenn Faelad,” Ethelwyn confided. “But the King has made it clear to everyone that the sentence was lifted because the crime was never committed, not because your father was pardoned. He’s free. He’s welcome to come home.”

'He's welcome to come home.'

“We expected that,” Finn said. “But did you ever think, perhaps my father does not want to come home?”

“Well… Finn…”

“All the people, as soon as they heard these accusations, they said, ‘We always knew he was a murderer! We always knew he killed his wives!’ Even his old friends. Do you think he wants to go home to see people who said that?”

'There will always be those who gloat over others' misfortunes.'

“There will always be those who gloat over others’ misfortunes,” Ethelwyn said. “There will always be those who love to kick a man when he’s down. But that’s not the only kind of person there is. Your father now has the rare privilege of knowing precisely who his true friends are. I have the honor of counting myself among them, Mouse and myself. And Het—the Duchess prays for his return morning and night.”

Ethelwyn heard his voice grow shaky, and he took a breath and tried to slow himself before he broke down.

“Please, Finn. Hetty needs him. She needs him as a sister needs her brother. And Iylaine needs him desperately right now. And the boys do, too, of course, and Jehanne, and even the baby needs to know his father. And Connie, and the girls… We truly had no idea how much we needed your father until he was gone. He was like… like…”

Finn, red-​faced beneath his tan, grew impatient and scuffed off over the gravel, head bowed.

“Like a keystone!” Ethelwyn pleaded, waving at a nearby arch as he followed. “We’re all just a heap of tumbled-​down bricks without him. Please, Finn. Take me to him.”

'Take me to him.'

Finn stopped. “I can’t take you to him. He doesn’t know I’m here talking to you. I can’t make him a surprise like that.”

“But, Finn—”

“Maybe,” Finn interrupted, “he is not ready to be found.”

Ethelwyn let his arms fall.

Finn tossed back his hair and looked around the court. “How long do you stay here?”

“Only tonight. We were meaning to leave in the morning. I promised the King I would be home by Easter Monday. I could stay an extra day…”

'Do not bother yourself.'

“Do not bother yourself,” Finn commanded. “I will bring him tonight, if he will come.”


Finn whipped his head around, turning it unerringly towards the sun. “After supper time. Sunset or soon after. The days are getting longer.” He looked back to Ethelwyn. “Will you wait in the tavern? We come here sometimes for a drink. He does not mind it much.”

“Finn,” Ethelwyn said, his eyes wet, “I will wait anywhere and do anything you ask. Only bring your father to me. Let me talk to him. Let me explain.”

Finn nodded, shaking his hair loose to feather his cheeks again. “I will bring him if he will come. But, don’t be angry at him if we don’t come. I know you will not understand, but maybe it is best for everyone if he makes a new life.”

Ethelwyn sucked his lip with all his might, but when he blinked, he freed tears that slid down his cheeks. Finn lowered his eyes.

“Nobody,” Ethelwyn whispered, “could understand that so well as I. Tell him that, too. Remind him of that.”

Finn shrugged.

Finn shrugged.

Ethelwyn wiped his cheeks and cleared his throat. “Tell him I won’t make him come home if he isn’t ready or isn’t willing. But tell him, I beg him: at least let us drink together one last time. We never said a proper goodbye.”

“All right. But don’t blame him if he doesn’t come.”

“I won’t, Finn. How could I? I’ve talked to Eadred and Brede. I have some idea what he’s been through.”

Finn tossed his head and stepped back. “I have to go if I want to get back here by nightfall. You’ll be here?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Finn turned, but Ethelwyn called him back.

“Finn, wait.”

'Finn, wait.'

He wanted a last, long look, in case this young man was the closest he would ever come to Egelric again.

Finn’s face turned red as the last word he was expecting failed to come. He ducked his head and let his hair fall before his eye: a lingering habit of the shy, skittish boy he no longer had the luxury to be.

“No matter what he decides,” Ethelwyn said, since he had to say something, “you’re always welcome at my fire. You and your father, together or alone. Now and fifty years from now.”

Finn nodded. He turned again, and did not stop when Ethelwyn kept talking.

“Give him my regards. Tell him we miss him! Finn! God bless you and keep you both!”

Finn turned his head and called back, “The peace of God on you!”

Ethelwyn had started to shuffle after him, but that stopped him. He sucked his lip and blinked away the tears, but he wished that Finn had chosen some other words for his goodbye.

Even walking away he was a slighter, smaller image of his father. Perhaps walking away most of all: head bowed, back straight; and the long, bold stride of a man who might at any moment set off for the end of the earth, never to return.

Even walking away he was a slighter, smaller image of his father.