Finn makes a friend among men

March 5, 1086
The Irish Sea, east of Man

Sometimes in the trough between two great splashing waves there would come a sort of quiet.

Sometimes in the trough between two great splashing waves there would come a sort of quiet. It was not silence, for seawater still hissed over the hull, and ropes squeaked and wood creaked, and men sat muttering further up the deck, but it was quiet enough that Finn could hear all the way to the front of the ship, and then he would strain his ears.

In the curving prow, beneath a tented, waterproof canvas and behind the squared shoulders of her two household guards, Sadb lay huddled with Finnecht her maid. Sometimes in the lull between two waves Finn thought he heard her sob.

A little nearer to Finn, beyond the mast but before the two guards, Diarmait’s body lay trussed and wrapped in a garish bundle of dyed shawls and bloodstained burlap. Whoever had tied him up had left the flap of cloth loose over his head, so that it could be pulled back to reveal his face. Finn had not seen it. He had only seen Sadb’s face when she had.

Like Diarmait, Finn lay wrapped in stiff, dirty cloth with his face peeking out like a swaddled babe. He was wedged in with his father between two benches—two sea chests, as Brede called them, and Finn so loved the term that he whispered it to himself when he thought of it.

His father was snoring and snorting in starts, and the stars still shone bright overhead, but Finn was not sleeping. The ship that had rocked his father to sleep was now shuddering off greater and greater waves, until Finn’s skull began to ache from thunking against the hull.

Finally he shrugged his shoulders out of his canvas cocoon and sat up.

Finally he shrugged his shoulders out of his canvas cocoon and sat up.

The sea wind buffeted the back of his head, blew his hair into his eyes, and spilled icily down into his collar. Finn stretched his shoulders and shivered in delight. The wind was fresh and cold as a waterfall in a pine forest, and its wuthering in his ears drowned out the sound of his father’s raspy breathing. It washed him clean and left him alert and alive.

The sail filled the northern sky, but its pale belly reflected just enough starlight to reveal Brede and Eadred across the deck, thunking their skulls against the other side of the hull. Eadred was another mummy of rough wool and canvas, hunkered down for the long trip in the hope of putting off his seasickness as long as he could. But Brede was awake and slouching lazily against the side of the ship, with his knees higher than his head.

The next gust made the ship lean so steeply that Finn gripped a handle on the sea chest beside him and held his breath, fearing that Brede and Eadred and half the crew were about to be tipped into the water and drowned. But Brede simply went on cracking walnuts in his lap and tossing the shells behind his head into the sea, utterly unconcerned. Finn let out his breath in a silent whistle of admiration. And a furious wave crashed behind him as the ship settled back, splashing his hair with its spray.

Finn wriggled his legs out of his bundle of canvas and pulled himself up to straddle the bench, facing the sea. The sudden cold stunned him, and the gusting wind beat him senseless at first. The bench reared up beneath him like a wild horse, and Finn gripped a handle and held on. It was glorious.

And then his father barked, “Get down!”

All he could see of his father were the whites of his eyes and the flash of his teeth.

Finn glanced at him. All he could see of his father were the whites of his eyes and the flash of his teeth.

“I won’t fall in!”

“Get down anyway!”

“The water was leaking in down there,” Finn lied. “I was getting wet.”

“Nothing like how wet you’ll be from your own tears, laddie, once my belt and I have had a go at you!”

His father’s voice was still gruff, but the Scot was so strong in his accent that Finn supposed he was hearing his father’s cantankerous grandfather speaking through him. Finn’s father had never whipped him and never would.

Perhaps he had meant it as a joke or a gesture of reconciliation. But Finn was not ready to forgive him. Even though he knew his father had been right.

Finn scooted as close to the hull as his knees would allow and leaned his elbows on the ledge. Beneath him the churning water of the ship’s wake rose and fell as Ghost Wolf rocked with the wind. Sometimes, farther out, where the sea was all darkness, a wild wave reared up and fell over with a crash of foam that was bright for an instant in the starlight.


Finn sat up. This time it was not his father. The call seemed to come from far off, and the wind stripped the voice to a husk that he could not even classify as male or female. He looked towards the prow, fearing it was Finnecht, hoping it was Sadb.

Then the wind gusted just right and the voice called quite clearly from the stern: “Finn! Come here!” Against the dark sky he saw Congal waving.

Against the dark sky he saw Congal waving.

His father had heard, too. “Get down from there! I told you twice already!”

Finn simply turned back to the water. He had not forgiven Congal yet, either.

His father had probably been right to hold him, to crush him in the crook of one arm and clamp his big, callused hand over Finn’s mouth while he bucked and struggled; but Finn had been a young man bent on murder, and such treatment was no more than he deserved.

But Sadb was a lady.

Finn had not seen Diarmait’s face when the cloth had been flipped back, and he had not truly seen Sadb’s face, either, because Congal’s hairy hand had covered everything but her eyes.

And he had not heard what Congal said to her, but the idea of Congal whispering hot words into Sadb’s ear while holding her helplessly writhing against his groin was enough to make Finn quake with reawakened rage. It was not right. He knew she had to be told, and he knew she had to be prevented from screaming and alerting the fort, but he would have found a gentler way.

Finn leaned over the edge of the ship, ignoring both Congal and his father to begin another imaginary dialog with the woman he loved. He would have told her so gently…

Finn leaned back over the edge of the ship.

Congal shouted again: “Finn! Come here!”

His father growled, “Get down here, I said! I don’t want you talking to him!”

Finn did not like his father telling him whom he could talk to. And just then Congal called, “Cousin!”

Congal won.

Finn swung his leg over the bench and dismounted. Brede looked up at him as he stepped out onto the deck, but he said nothing, only cracked another walnut over his belly.

Brede was probably already drunk. Eadred had given him his ration of wine, fearing it would only make him sicker faster; and Finn had surrendered his own as well, thinking Brede simply deserved it.

Nevertheless Finn staggered like a drunk as the deck plunged away from his next step. Embarrassed to stumble before Brede, he paused to get his balance and then strode carefully down the creaking planks, leaving a little slack in his legs for the rolling ship to pick up. He ducked beneath taut ropes and stepped over the feet of sleeping sailors that stuck out into the aisle here where the ship grew narrow. And he stopped where the deck began its slope up to the stern, and looked up at the wolf-​pelted silhouette of Congal, against its backdrop of a thousand-​thousand stars.

'Ever steer a big ship before?'

“Ever steer a big ship before?” Congal shouted down at him.

On his voice Finn could hear that enormous grin again. He could not believe that any sane person could be so happy or ever have so much fun.

He shouted back, “I only went on a ship one time before!”

Congal whistled, though the wind whipped all the music in the note to tatters. “Then come on up! Now’s your chance!”

Finn stared into the darkness at the level of Congal’s hands, trying to puzzle out the form of the equipment used to steer. “I don’t know how!”

Congal laughed. “Well and how are you expecting to learn? Come on up!”

Finn took another step and hesitated. “What must I do?”

'What must I do?'

“Ach! Come on, now! It’s like lying with a girl! I could tell you where to put your limbs, but the only way to learn is to do it!”

He concluded with an affectionate slap to the long pole he held before him.

Ghost Wolf rocked steeply again, and Finn let the deck drop away and rise up beneath him, but this time he watched Congal’s body tense and ease, reacting to some impulse from the ship.

Finally Congal laughed. “Let me guess! You’re a virgin!”

Finn stiffened with outrage and took a jolt to his knees when the ship pitched beneath him. No one laughed, however, and he realized the men huddled nearby probably spoke no English. And in the dark Congal could not see his ears turn red.

“Never mind!” Congal shouted. “Can you swim?”

“I love to swim!”

Congal laughed again, with his head tipped back and his hair whipping around his face—such wild, pealing laughter that Finn could almost believe a man could have that much fun.

“I promise you’ll love women more, man! But we’ll say it’s like swimming! I could tell you how to kick and paddle, but the only way to learn to swim is to get in the water and do it, aye? So come on!”

He rapped the end of the pole, and Finn finally moved, climbing up the slanting planks of the stern to where Congal stood at the helm.

“Come around, come around,” Congal said eagerly, waving him around behind the pole.

Even upwind of the man, Finn found himself wrapped in the raw, wet, sourly sweet gale of drunkenness that he exhaled, all mingled with the reek of wet wolf. Now he knew why Congal seemed so exuberant. And he remembered that he did not like Congal very much, after all.

He remembered that he did not like Congal very much, after all.

Congal reached into his jacket and pulled out his flask. With one hand still half-​steering the ship, he managed to uncork it and held it out to Finn.

Finn turned his face away to grimace, but he politely said, “No, thank you.”

“Damn it!” Congal pulled the flask back and took a sloppy drink. He smacked his lips, corked his wine and put it away again, and finally drew himself up to begin his lesson.

“Now, I’d tell her to go easy on you,” he drawled, “seeing as it’s your first time, but she’s in rare high spirits tonight, so you’ve just got to hang on and ride her!”

He slurred half his words and trilled the others, and Finn found his English both crude and captivating. Still embarrassed by his own girlish-​sounding elven accent and still in search of another, he turned his head aside and attempted to whisper “rrrare high sperrrits” as Congal had done.

Congal slapped Finn’s back to get his attention.

Congal slapped Finn's back to get his attention.

“Now this here,” he said, patting the long wooden pole before them, “is called the hjalm-​volr. And that’s how you move the styri down there.”

He pointed down the length of the hjalm-​volr, but before Finn could see what a styri was, Congal pawed over Finn’s far side until he found his arm and pulled his hand up onto the pole. He slid it along until it bumped into a leather strap attached to the wood.

“So, you hang onto a styri-​hamlu—”

“Wait! Is that English?”

Congal drew back as if outraged. Finn felt the pole—the hjalm-​volr—humming beneath his hand.

“No, it is not English!” Congal sneered. “She’s a Norse ship! She isn’t knowing your English!

Congal leaned unsteadily over the hjalm-​volr and looked left and right. Then he pulled Finn’s head close and whispered loudly, “It’s called a rudder, man! And this here’s the tiller, and those things are the goddamned rudder straps, and don’t let her hear you say it, or you’ll learn how it feels to take a goddamned hjalm-​volr to the balls!”

'Don't let her hear you say it!'

His breath was noxious with wine, but Finn could not help but giggle.

“So, hang on to the styri-​hamlur, and just hold her straight. Here, take this one.”

He guided Finn’s left hand into a strap he had been holding a moment before. The leather was still warm and strangely squishy.

“Hang on close to the wood so she has no room to kick,” Congal advised. “Got the other one?”

Finn shoved his hand into the other strap Congal had shown him. This one was stiff and cold. “Got it.”

“Hang on, then,” Congal said cheerily, “and may the saints and archangels guide you. I’m letting go!”

And the tiller, which thus far had only hummed against Finn’s knuckles, leapt forward and nearly jerked the straps out of his hands, cutting into the tender flesh beneath his thumb like a bolting horse yanking on the reins.

Finn gasped, “Whoa!”

Congal laughed and clapped his hand down on Finn’s shoulder. “It always does hurt the first time!”

Finn tightened his grip on the straps and steadied his feet, and then he and the ship settled into a tug-​of-​war truce. The hum of the tiller vibrated as far as the sockets of his shoulders, and he felt the rudder dragging through the water off the side of the ship as clearly as if it had been his own hand.

“Your job,” Congal shouted through the wind, “is to keep the sail filled!”

'Your job is to keep the sail filled!'

He pointed down the center of the ship with one arm. The tremendous sail was fastened fore and aft almost parallel to the body of the ship, and was rounded out with a bellyful of wind.

“Without a styri in the water,” Congal shouted, “a ship mostly wants to just turn about in the wind like a weather vane!” He held up his hands to demonstrate, and Finn tried to follow along in the darkness. “Put the styri down, and it’s like she’s got a second leg to stand on! And between the sail and the styri you can tell her where you want to go. But it’s easier to move the styri than the sail, aye?”

The ship reared and plunged into a deep trough between two waves, and the tiller jerked against Finn’s grip and pulled ferociously. Finn went stiff and hung on in a panic until he felt a strong hand steadying the rudder, and for a moment the vibration in the long pole was halved as it poured into two bodies. Then Congal let go, and the drag of the water felt right again, and the ship was sailing straight on.

Finn said, “Thanks!”

Congal laughed. “Aye, well, don’t get used to it! I won’t be there to hold your hjalm-​volr when you bed your first girl!”

Finn giggled, but he was grateful for the darkness.

“I don’t understand, though!” he said to change the subject. “The sail is sideways, and the wind is blowing sideways, so how can go we go forward?”

“Ach!” Congal buffed the tiller with the side of his hand for a while, and let the wind blow his hair into his face. “That’s being complicated.”

'That's being complicated.'

Then he lifted his arm and pointed off to the left. “So! You see that star over there? That’s the north star! Your second job is to keep that star always at your left shoulder, for we’re sailing due east!”

“Where are we going?”


Congal did not reply at first. Finn realized Congal might not want him or his companions to know, and his mistrust of the man began to crystallize again and form an icy shield between them.

Finn heard the flask slosh as it came uncorked, and the tug on the tiller was abruptly halved as Congal put one hand on it and held out the wine to Finn with the other.

“No, thank you,” Finn said aridly.

“Damn it!”

Congal released the tiller and drank another swallow of wine. The ship rocked and leaned, and Finn tried to steady it by holding the rudder where the rudder seemed least willing to go. He would not ask Congal for help.

“To Ravenglass,” Congal grumbled, his wet mouth reeking with wine. “Aed wants me to take you four to Brass Dog.”

Eirik! This time Finn was slow to reply.

This time Finn was slow to reply.

All through the night they had despaired, believing Young Aed had come along just in time to prevent Eirik from rescuing them as planned—believing themselves Aed’s prisoners, as nothing aside from Congal’s bursts of affection for Finn belied. And yet Young Aed had wanted them delivered to Eirik?

Finn shouted, “What about Sadb?”

Congal muttered, “I’m to take Sadb to the mouth of the Dee…” Then he roused himself and turned to Finn. “The Black Water of Dee! You’ve seen it if you’ve been to Lord Colban’s country! The Dee is starting there, and the Water of Ken in my country, and where the two meet, that’s where Old Aed is having his hall! And farther down the Dee is Lord Lulach’s country, and it flows into the firth at Cill Chuithbeirt, and that’s where I’ll be leaving Sadb! She’ll be taking her man home, God rest him!”

Congal turned away suddenly and thumped the tiller with the heel of his hand. “If Brass Dog doesn’t take my ship, anyway.”

So that was that. Congal meant to leave Finn and the others at Ravenglass—wherever that was—and take Sadb on home to Scotland.

Finn wondered when he would ever see her again. Of course she would need a little time to mourn, but when would he see her again? Where would she go? Where would he go?

“Don’t let him take her,” Congal whimpered.

Finn looked up at him, startled by the sniveling tone and the hand that picked at his sleeve.

“Brass Dog’s your friend, isn’t he? Brede is, and he’s his brother-​in-​law. Don’t let him take my ship. Please tell him not to take my ship. She’s all I have.”

Finn could scarcely believe a sane man could be so forlorn. “I shall ask him,” he said stiffly.

'I shall ask him.'

“Please, man! Jesus!” Congal made a broken laugh, trying and failing to return to his customary exuberance, and waved his arm out over the deck.

“Look at her!” he commanded, though all was dark. He yanked and jerked at Finn’s sleeve like a dog playing tug-​of-​war with a rag. “The rigging alone! Every rope on this ship is made of walrus hide! The fucking rigging alone is worth a herd of cattle!” Abruptly he fell back into his cringing, whining tone. “I let you steer her! She’s not just any ship! Is she?”

He waited for Finn to answer. When he saw Finn would not he demanded savagely, “Is she?”

Finn’s heart was beginning to pound. “No, sir.”

Congal slumped back into his mournful tone. “She isn’t, man,” he whimpered. “She isn’t. I’d do anything to keep her.”

He took out his wine again and waved the open flask unsteadily beneath Finn’s nose.

The ship seemed to be growing annoyed at Finn’s rigid grip on the rudder, like a horse protesting an undeservedly tight rein. He tried to speak without inhaling the fumes of the wine. “No, thank you.”

“Fuck!” Congal held the flask out a moment longer, then pulled it back and drank with an ominous sloshing sound. Then he laughed.

“The Devil I would! Fuck me! There’s one thing I wouldn’t do!”

His laughter was hard, and he did not sound like a man having fun. Nevertheless Finn was curious enough to ask, “What?”


“Betray a friend! Jesus Christ! When did I turn into a man a body can count on?” He laughed again, more warmly, and shouted, “Fuck me, I’d do anything for a friend! The proof?”

He gestured grandly at the ship before him, at the sail and the stars.

“Alone! The middle of the night! At low tide! In a winter gale! Into the jaws of Brass Dog! All because Aed asked me to!”

He laughed again, wildly, and his laughter was still ironic and hard, but Finn was beginning to detect a fatalistic sense of fun in the man that was not due to insanity. Congal might be crazy enough to leap from a cliff if Aed asked him to, but he would laugh all the way down, glorying in those fifteen seconds of flight—and not because he did not know how they would end.

“You are a good friend!” Finn shouted. “And Young Aed is not, because he asked you!”

“Ach!” Congal put his hand through one of the straps and gave a gentle push, not steering the ship, but only guiding Finn. “You cannot judge him the same way, man! He’s not only my friend. He’s a lord, too. He has responsibilities! You know—those things you and I avoid at any cost?”

Finn smiled for a moment. He liked the you and I. Then he straightened his face and tried to make his voice stern. “Perhaps so!” he shouted into the crosswind. “Still, I do not like him, though!”

'Still, I do not like him, though!'

“Whom? Aed? Ach! He likes you!”

Finn looked up. “He does?”

“Sure and certain! You showed balls, my man! Aed likes balls.”

“Because I stood up to him?”

“And to Sigefrith, too! King, lord—fuck them! Finn knows what he wants! Aed liked you best of all the men he met in Lothere!”

Now Finn could not help smiling. “He did?”

“Cross my balls and hope to die! And I’m telling you, that’s not nothing! Don’t throw away a chance to make a friend of him! He’s…”

Finn heard a jangling of medallions, and he expected the flask to come out again. But Congal only rubbed his throat.

“Ach! I don’t know what he is. But I’d do anything for him. Behold!”

He stretched out his arm to the ship again. Then he jerked it back and held up his fist.

“Jesus! I almost forgot! You want to see what kind of friend he is? Look at this!”

He held the fist beneath Finn’s face. It was too dark to see, but Finn remembered the reaction of the guard in the hall.

“A ring?”

'A ring?'

“That’s his father’s ring! Black Colin gave that ring to his son Aengus, and he gave it to his son, and he gave it to his son, and that was Aed’s father. That’s a lord’s ring, Coz! That’s how much he trusted me!” Congal’s voice broke, and he concluded shivering, “Jesus!”

He groped for the flask again, and this time Finn only shook his head when it was half-​heartedly offered. Congal took a drink, put it away, and laid his hand back on the tiller.

“What in the Devil am I going to do if he’s never coming home?”

At last it was his ordinary voice, neither exuberant nor maudlin nor aggressive, only the voice of a man talking with his friend. Finn was already learning to foresee a tug on the rudder by watching for gusts of wind, but he could not follow Congal in the tempest of his moods.

“Eh, man?” Congal asked wistfully. “Do you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fuck me! Neither do I. Did he? I wonder.”

'I wonder.'

Congal lifted his hand, and for a long while he scrutinized his fist in the dark.

Hoping to distract him, Finn shouted, “I have such a ring!”


“My father does! At home. But he said, he will give it to me if he gets it back. It was his grandfather’s ring!”

“Sweet Jesus, I forgot who you are!”

“It has two hands, holding hands together. I saw it.”

“Jesus Christ! That’s as much a lord’s ring as this.” Congal lifted his fist. “Except you’re lord of nothing nowadays! Black Colin gave his last-​born son that ring when he married! Did you know that?”

“My father told me a little!”

“Jesus! I wonder whether anyone remembers where his house was? You know, you should come with us! I bet Aed would give you a ship! Ha! Aed would love that! What if your grandfather’s house was right in the heart of Lulach’s country? Aed would say, ‘Just helping my friend Finn win back his land!’”

Congal laughed his wild laugh.

Congal laughed his wild laugh, and Finn’s excitement flagged. He was not certain he liked Young Aed. He did not like the idea of being some other man’s pawn—nothing but a docile hand with a lord’s ring on it. He did, however, like the idea of a ship.

“Why don’t you come back with me now?” Congal asked. He gave the tiller an affectionate slap. “If Brass Dog lets me keep this old girl! Come back with me!”

Finn pretended to struggle with the rudder to give himself a chance to think. Could he? He would not have to leave Sadb. He could stay with Sadb as far as the coast of Galloway. He might even accompany her all the way home. She only had two men, after all.

“Do it, man!” Congal said, bouncing like a riled-​up puppy. “I’m serious! We’ll have a rare revel! First thing we’re going to do is get you laid! And second thing is get you a ship! Aed will be glad to have you! And if he never returns?” Congal gave a shrill laugh. “Sweet Jesus! I’ll be needing you then! I’ll be needing all the help I can get!”

Finn supposed it might be better to give Sadb time to mourn. He could bid her such a fond farewell at the coast that it would stay with her and call him to mind when she was well again. And meanwhile he could stay with Congal. He might make a truce with Young Aed. There was bound to be adventure that way…

But no. He did not think he could leave his father. Brede and Eadred planned to return to Lothere, and his father would have to await word somewhere. Leol perhaps, since he could not sleep near the sound of the sea.

And Finn could not leave his father to stay alone in some inn. What if he woke in the night, disoriented, living out his nightmare, and Finn was not there to reassure him? Even when Finn was there, they both ended up with bruises from their battles.

He did not even like the idea of his father left alone in the daylight, with nothing to do but think.

“I can’t!” he shouted. “I have to stay with my father!”

Congal laughed mockingly. “Why? Does he keep you on a leash?”

'Does he keep you on a leash?'

Finn fixed his gaze on the mast. “No! But I have to stay with him.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of this thing called running away? I thought we settled this already! Are you a titty-​baby or a man?”

The ship swooped down the slope of one wave and up the back of another, and Finn leaned against the tiller and pulled hard when she twisted to starboard. When the spray had settled, the sail was round-​bellied with wind, and the ship was sailing straight on, with the north star at her side.

Finn wished all his life’s awkward conversations could be transacted at the helm of a ship, in the middle of the night, during a gale.

“I ran away one time!” he shouted into the wind. “I ran away from everything I ever knew! And I found out everything I ever knew was a lie! So I’m staying with my father, because he’s the one thing I have that’s true!”

Congal said nothing at first, but he laid his hand on the tiller and slipped it into one of the straps. Finn did not look at him, but he felt him through the vibrations that passed between their hands.

“I’m sorry, man,” Congal said in his ordinary voice, though his words were sloppy and slurred with drink. “I didn’t know it was like that.”

Finn snorted. He peeked at Congal out of the corner of his eye, but he only saw Congal’s hair whipping around his head. Congal was looking out to sea.

Finn wished he had not said so much. He had never come so close to admitting an affection for his father. He resolved to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the night.

Then Congal released the tiller and reached into his coat. Finn rolled his eyes.

Finn rolled his eyes.

“Here,” Congal said. He held out the flask.

“No, thank you,” Finn said crisply. “I am not thirsty.”

“Damn it!” Congal pulled back the flask, and then he changed his mind and held it out again. “What do I look like to you?” he snarled. “A fucking serving wench?”

Finn looked up at him, alarmed. By daylight Congal was ugly enough. In the dark, with the wind ruffling his wolf fur and blowing his hair all about his rugged head, he scarcely looked like a man, much less a wench of any kind.

“When you’re at table, and a wench asks you, ‘Shall I refill your cup, good sir?’ then you may say, ‘I’m not fucking thirsty!’”

Even in a drunken fury Congal was theatrical enough to take a high-​pitched voice for the serving wench and a gruff bass for the man.

“But when a man offers to drink with you, you have two choices! You either say, ‘I would rather suck a raven’s asshole than drink with you,’ or else you fucking drink! So what’s it going to be?”

Finn was petrified. It had not occurred to him that there was an etiquette among men that went deeper than “Please” and “Thank you.” It had not occurred to him that by finding Congal’s cordial offers offensive he had been giving offense.

'It's up to you.'

“It’s up to you,” Congal said. “I just want to know how it’s going to be between you and me.”

Finn had forgotten the ship he was supposed to be steering, and when the next gust hit, the straps nearly ripped themselves from his hands. But Congal caught the tiller and guided the ship back onto a straight course, then gently surrendered the rudder to Finn. And he said nothing of it.

Finn looked up at Congal’s dark head and its halo of stars. His loneliness throbbed like an old wound Congal had leaned on and then let go.

Sometimes Finn did not want to return to Lothere at all, ever again. His childhood tie to the elves had shriveled up and sloughed away, and he was all man now, though he was still learning what that was. And he felt so much older, and he feared he would find his former friends unchanged. He needed new friends now.

And Congal had never treated him like a baby. To Congal he was a man among men.

He needed new friends now.

Finn twisted one of the straps more tightly around his hand, preparing himself to meet the next gale with one arm, and with the other hand he reached for the wine. Congal surrendered it with a nod.

Finn tipped back the flask until his mouth was nearly overflowing with the cold, sour-​sweet liquid. Then he swallowed and shook his head, hissing through his teeth and splitting his cheeks with a grimace of disgust and masculine delight.

Congal watched with that wild, impossibly mirthful grin of his. “I knew we were going to be bosom friends! And my invitation stands, now and for aye! Don’t forget—I’d do anything for a friend!”

“And I would do anything for bosoms!”

'And I would do anything for bosoms!'

In the dark no one could see Finn’s ears turn red. They both laughed until heads turned all down the deck, and Congal concluded with a glorious whoop.

Afterwards they both steered, each gripping a styri-​hamlu with one hand and passing the flask back and forth with the other. The south wind blew the ship steadily eastward, into a glimmer of dawn, and towards fates that none aboard could fathom.

Congal and Finn emptied their flask together while Brede drank three men’s rations alone; and the canvas-​wrapped mummies of Eadred and Finn’s father endured with sullen patience the spray of salt water on their faces and countless bumps to their heads.

And in the curving, wolf-​headed prow, Sadb finally slept.

Congal and Finn emptied their flask together.