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Omniscient Monks and Irish Drunks

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In Finan’s defence, the whole scenario regarding Sihtric’s wife had been rather amusing. And if Father Beocca, a man of the cloth, could make jokes about it well… that more than made it acceptable for the rest of them too. He (and the others, he’d like to point out) had assumed that the marriage wouldn’t make it to the year mark, and Sihtric would learn a valuable lesson about not falling in love with whores and be all the more mature for it. Except the marriage endured. And Sihtric remained hopelessly in love with a woman who still made her living sleeping with other men. It was around the point when Sihtric happily announced the birth of his son, Wilfred, that Finan reluctantly realised it was time to take this seriously.

“Sihtric? What’s your wife’s name?” Finan asked him one day as they returned back to Wintanceaster, deciding he should probably know that at least.

Sihtric understandably looked more than a little hurt. “Sigeburg. How do you not know?”

“I, ah, forgot. Must’ve been hit on the head one too many times. Time for a helmet, eh?” Finan didn’t have the heart to tell him that he tended to blank out whenever Sihtric talked about his wife.

Sihtric hit him. Just hard enough to make a point.

“Alright alright.” Finan held his hands up in apology.

“You should stay with us for a while.” Sihtric offered. Finan knew the offer was genuine, and came from a good place, but he could think of nothing worse than spending his nights listening to a screaming baby. Except, perhaps, listening to a screaming baby mixing with the sounds of Sihtric and his wife humping.

“I think I might find a whore of my own.” Finan replied. “I’m sure Osferth would just love to take you up on your offer though.” He added, with a sly look back at the monk.

“I would not.” Osferth said amicably.

“Come for food, at least. Sigeburg is always asking about you both.” Sihtric said.

“Probably wondering if she could get another customer or two.” Finan muttered to Osferth, who hushed him. “Alright, we’ll come for food. And ale.” Finan said at a normal volume. “But I’m warning you, as soon as that boy of yours starts howling, I’m out of there.”

****

Finan was almost disappointed that Sigeburg didn’t make any sort of advances towards him that he could have used to show Sihtric the folly of his marriage, but ultimately he was too full of food and ale to care. Sihtric certainly seemed overjoyed to be reunited with his wife, and if young Wilfred did seem fairer of hair then was to be expected of one of Sihtric’s blood well… what would be the harm in leaving that particular line of thought alone. Ridding Sihtric of a wife who whored behind his back was one thing, but taking away a child was too much. So Finan let it be, and tried to be respectful of Sihtric’s relationship, but over time the old jokes crept back.

“I’ll stop saying she’s a whore, when she stops being a whore.” Finan drunkenly told Osferth one night as the monk manhandled him out of an alehouse.

“I think you care about this a bit too much.” Osferth told him, dunking Finan’s head in a nearby water trough. Finan happily shoved Osferth’s head in afterwards to see how he liked it. Not a great deal, it seemed.

“The rumour amongst the women of the night is that she had another child while we were away. A ginger one. Sent to the Church.” Finan told Osferth once the other man had stopped spluttering.

“And?”

“A ginger one, Osferth. There’s no way Sihtric would have a ginger child. Look at him. And, if it was Sihtric’s why would she give it up to the Church?” For some reason, Finan decided it was highly important to press the point.

Osferth sighed. “Lots of parents give children to the Church. And lots of Danes have red hair: it’s in their blood.”

“Why are you defending her?” Finan was moderately outraged, which was perhaps the fault of the barrel of ale he drank, but was mainly the fault of Osferth defending a cheating whore.

“Why do you care? He’s happy, Finan, leave him be.”

“I care, because Sihtric deserves someone better than a woman who takes his silver, and his kindness, and his home, and still humps other men for money. She’s using him, Osferth. Sihtric’s too good for her.”

Osferth gently propelled Finan back to their room at the inn. “I think you’re just jealous.”

Finan snorted as he fell face first onto his bedroll. “I don’t need to pay for my women.”

“I didn’t mean jealous of Sihtric.” Osferth said quietly.

“Hmmm?” Finan mumbled, already giving in to unconsciousness.

“I said God bless you.” Osferth gave him a nudge with his toe. “Now don’t go throwing up in the night.”

****

It’s years later, when it came to selling any jewellery they had for food and horses that Finan felt a twinge of regret for the way he’d always talked about Sigeburg. Sihtric was wearing the expression of a puppy left outside in the rain as he took the wedding band off his finger to add to their collection, but was as stoic as ever and didn’t protest. More worrisome was that he didn’t even respond with a joke or a shove as he normally would have when Finan warned him not to spend their money on women: he just silently walked off in the direction of the nearest settlement. Finan pondered on it for a moment then ran after him.

“Look, don’t sell your ring. It’s not going to make that big a difference to what we can get. Keep it.” Finan told him. To his surprise Sihtric shrugged.

“I will sell it.”

“Look, Uhtred losing Beocca… I just think now’s not the time to go throwing away what little you have to remind you of your family.” Finan playfully ruffled Sihtric’s hair in an attempt to liven the other man’s mood. “Maybe sell some of that lovely hair of yours instead.”

Sihtric battered Finan’s hand away. “I said I will sell it. My marriage is long dead anyway.”

Sihtric turned and carried on his walk, leaving Finan more than a little confused. Certainly, Sihtric “I have a wife” Elflaedsson might have been unusually quiet on the subject of his wife recently, but proclaiming that the marriage was over was another thing entirely. Especially when he’d said not a word of it to any of them.

“Wait wait wait.” Finan once again jogged to catch up to Sihtric. “You’re going to have to do just a little bit of explaining here. When did this happen?”

“Around a year ago, perhaps more. When I arrived home to find her in bed with another man.” Sihtric didn’t stop walking.

“A year? Jesus, Sihtric, why didn’t you tell us?”

“There was no need.”

“No need? Sihtric, we’re your friends.” Over the years, as their friendship grew, Finan had got into the habit of telling Sihtric everything. Every woman he’d bedded, every funny anecdote from his past, and it had seemed that Sihtric was equally open with him. They’d been to hell and back together, talked about their pasts and their hopes for the future so much so that Finan could almost recount Sihtric’s life story as if it were his own. Which was all the more surprising that Sihtric had kept this from him. He didn’t want to admit it, but Finan was a little hurt.

“I did not want your pity. Or your laughter that it took me so long to realise that she didn’t love me. As you’ve always said.”

Sihtric finally stopped walking. Finan couldn’t tell if the dark look on his face was anger or sorrow: Sihtric was so rarely upset or remorseful. They’d fought, and joked, and sat in silence together for years, and yet only now was Finan realising that he’d never seen his friend show a vulnerable side. He’d assumed that just because Uhtred wore his heart on his sleeve so completely that all Danes must do, and kicked himself for always assuming that Sihtric was fine, that Sihtric didn’t need comfort or consoling. How wrong he had been.

“We wouldn’t have laughed. Well, maybe later. But not then.” Finan said earnestly.

“Good.” Sihtric nodded, apparently satisfied, and carried on his way, leaving Finan set to tear his own hair out in exasperation. He would never understand Danes.

He walked back to the others in a huff, immediately seeking Osferth out. He knew they had bigger things to worry about right now: Beocca’s death, their journey back down south, Uhtred’s reconciliation with his son- all infinitely more important things than Sihtric’s revelation. And yet.

“Sihtric’s marriage is over. And he didn’t tell me.” Finan sat down on the grass next to the monk.

“I thought you’d be happy.” Osferth had his eyes closed, though whether he was in prayer or pain Finan couldn’t tell.

“I am. But. He didn’t tell me. Why didn’t he tell me, Osferth?”

“Because he knew you’d say “I told you so”?” Osferth cracked one eye open to look at Finan.

Finan huffed. “I wouldn’t. Well alright, I would. But not when he needed my support.”

“That’s one good thing amongst all this at least. Now Sihtric can find a woman who truly loves him. You can stop worrying so much.” Osferth closed his eye again. Finan got the impression the monk was goading him somehow.

“I suppose.” He agreed, for want of something more substantial to say. For some reason, the idea of Sihtric going off and finding another woman didn’t sit right with him. Probably because the thought of Sihtric marrying twice in the time it had taken Finan to be married precisely no times just wasn’t fair.

“If you say so.” Osferth said. Finan was certain he hadn’t spoken aloud. Sometimes the young monk scared him.

Thankfully, Sihtric’s mood was considerably lighter when he returned with horses and food. As he was distributing the food about he tossed a ring towards Finan, who realised when he caught it that it was one he’d taken off himself to sell.

“You were right.” Sihtric called over. “One ring less didn’t make much of a difference.”

Danes, Finan had heard, often left finances to their women to sort out, which would explain both why Sihtric had remained married to Sigeburg for so long and why he’d foolishly decided not to sell Finan’s ring. Or perhaps he was just kind. He watched as Sihtric adjusted Osferth’s sling, then broke apart his bread into more manageable chunks for him. He was certainly kind. But he was also certainly still an idiot.

****

Finan’s conclusion that Sihtric was indeed an idiot was proved at Tettenhall, when the man nearly got himself killed by letting a Dane yank him down to the ground. If Finan hadn’t been looking out for him, Sihtric would doubtless be amongst the dead. A fact that Finan took great delight in bringing up as they made camp for the evening.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I definitely saved your life back there.” Finan casually remarked as he threw another handful of sticks onto the fire.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I would have survived.” Sihtric had removed his armour to wash himself clean of blood and mud, and now sat next to the fire wrapped tightly in a blanket. He looked content, cosy even, and Finan idly wondered if he could get away with joining Sihtric in his cocoon. Sharing body heat was the best way to warm up, after all. He shook his head to untangle himself from the thought. He had his own blanket. There was no need to share Sihtric’s.

“Even so, I reckon you owe me.” Finan poked Sihtric with one of the sticks. Sihtric kicked him.

“Very well. What do you wish for? Though having sold my jewellery I have little left to offer.”

Finan had already considered this. “Name your next son after me.”

“Finan Sihtricson?”

“It has a good ring to it, you have to admit.” Finan grinned.

“It does.” A peculiar look spread across Sihtric’s face. Finan was interrupted from asking what the matter was when Uhtred and Aethelflaed arrived back at the camp.

“What’s the plan, Lord?” Finan asked, nobly pretending not to notice the bruises on Uhtred’s neck that certainly hadn’t been there before he’d disappeared into the woods with the Lady of Mercia.

“We ride to Saltwic at first light to get Stiorra and the Lady Aelfwynn. We should get there before nightfall.” Uhtred sat down by the fire, and shot a glance at Sihtric. “Get some clothes on, we have a lady present.”

Sihtric smirked and got up, carefully holding onto the blanket as he left. Aethelflaed took his spot and warmed her hands on the fire. She seemed distracted.

“How long will we be staying at Saltwic, Lord? I need a change of pace after all that blood.” Finan asked Uhtred.

“A few days. Then back to Coccham once it is safe.”

Good. Finan was looking forward to a proper bed. And more than a few hours sleep at a time. He was also looking forward to no longer having to bear witness to whatever was going on with Uhtred and Aethelflaed, whose eye contact with each other over the fire was making him feel decidedly awkward. In a rare moment of devotion, he decided now was as good a time as any to join Osferth and Young Uhtred in evening prayer, and left the two together in peace.

****

Things took a turn for the decidedly strange when Finan ended up on parental duties along with Sihtric and Osferth at Lady Aethelflaed’s estate. Tettenhall had been brutal, and draining, but when Finan had said he fancied a change of pace after the carnage he’d more been thinking of a mug or two of ale and a willing woman back in Coccham. Not playing mother to four children. He had protested being assigned the role of mother, but was over-ruled by everyone except the boy Aethelstan, who hadn’t a word to say about the matter either way.

“Surely, Stiorra is the mother here.” Finan argued.

Stiorra glared and folded her arms. “I’m done playing mother. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“Sihtric, then. He has the longest hair.”

“Which makes him like father.” Stiorra retorted.

“It’s because you have the nicest singing voice.” Sihtric offered, less than sincerely. Sihtric enjoyed Finan’s repertoire of bawdy tunes, but always made it clear he thought the manner in which they were sung was atrocious.

“I do, don’t I.” Finan grinned dangerously at the children who he’d been trying to get rid of for the past half hour. “So which of you little runts wants to hear a song before bed?”

Unsurprisingly, none of the children fancied hearing him sing, and they scattered like ants. The children, along with Young Uhtred, shared the two large bedrooms between them, leaving the three men to draw lots on who got to share the smaller servant’s bedroom at the back of the hall. Whoever drew the short straw that night had to sleep on the floor in the main room, keeping an ear out for any visitors. They’d been there three nights, and yet Finan had somehow drawn the short straw every time. He was beginning to think Osferth was fixing it.

Osferth, however, had no chance of fixing the lots tonight, as he’d fallen asleep over his book a short while ago, no doubt worn out by chasing after children all day. Finan was looking forward to sharing the servant’s bed with Sihtric. By which he meant, he was looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed. Which would just happen to have Sihtric in. The man in question was currently alternating between drinking from a mug of the old ale they’d found in the kitchen, and doodling intricate inky designs on the sleeping Osferth’s sleeves.

“It will wash out. Probably.” He told Finan, realising he was being watched.

“God preserve me, I don’t need another child to look after.” Finan rolled his eyes.

“Would you prefer I drew on his face?” Sihtric asked, a dangerous glint in his eye.

“I would prefer it if you poured me some of that piss water.” Finan nudged his own mug towards Sihtric, who obligingly filled it up. Finan took a long drink. It was bordering on vile, but he hadn’t yet brought himself to ride to the next village over to buy anything better yet. Besides, he’d always been a man proud of the fact that he’d drink anything.

Somewhere from upstairs, Aelfwynn shrieked, and both men sat up in alarm, reaching for their weapons.

“Just a spider. The baby.” Stiorra called down quickly.

“God, being a father must be so stressful. I don’t know how you and Uhtred cope.” Finan said, sheathing his dagger. His heart was still jumping from the shriek.

Sihtric nodded in agreement, recommencing his drawing on the somehow still-sleeping Osferth.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t worry about Wilfred. Even though I know now that he’s not mine, I can’t forget the years I was his father. I would still die rather than have any harm come to him.” Sihtric took a drink and chuckled. “You worry too much even now, I think the fear would kill you if you ever became a father.”

“I do not worry.” Finan argued.

“You nearly shit yourself when Aelfwynn came in covered in berries today.” Sihtric was still laughing.

“I thought it was blood, alright?” Finan glared at him. “There’s nothing wrong with being careful.”

“Of course not.” They sat in silence for a while, listening to Osferth’s soft snores accompanying the crackling of the fire. The light outside had entirely faded, leaving only the fires inside to light the room. Sihtric stopped his drawing in favour of lounging back in his chair, cradling his mug of ale. The dim light illuminated him from behind, making the ends of his hair glow in a way that could almost be described as angelic, if the man in question wasn’t a born heathen.

“Do you miss her? Your wife, I mean.” Finan wasn’t sure why he asked: overcompensation perhaps, for hardly ever enquiring as to how Sihtric was doing, or maybe morbid curiosity.

“I did. Before I realised she never really loved me. Now I just miss having someone who cares about me.” Sihtric stared out of the window, as if it let him see into a time long past. Perhaps the Danes believed it could. In what was fast becoming a regular occurrence, Finan felt a wave of sorrow for the other man, and reached out to place his hand consolingly on Sihtric’s knee.

“Hey. We all care about you. Uhtred, Osferth; I’d wager even Lady Aethelflaed would be a bit distraught if something were to happen to you. I care about you.” Finan squeezed Sihtric’s knee. Sihtric’s expression didn’t change, didn’t shift away from the window.

“I know you do. But not in the way I want you to.” His voice was low.

Finan laughed. “I don’t think you want me to care about you the way a wife does. For one, I’m insatiable in bed.” He nudged Sihtric’s shoulder, hoping for a laugh, but instead Sihtric reddened, straightening up and turning to look at Finan.

“I didn’t mean you you. I just meant… generally. Of course I don’t want you as my wife- not that you would be a wife but-” Sihtric suddenly stood up and cleared his throat. “Did you hear a noise outside?”

Finan hadn’t heard a thing, but Sihtric was already gone. Perhaps he’d just urgently needed to take a shit. He finished off the dregs from his flagon and did some staring out of the window himself, wondering what Sihtric had been seeing in the glass. Across from him, Osferth shifted himself upright and blearily opened one eye.

“That was painful.” The monk commented.

“Do you think he’s alright? Or did he somehow get drunk on this sorry excuse for ale?” Finan asked him.

“He wasn’t drunk.”

“Well he certainly wasn’t making any sense either.” Finan replied. It was hard to make out Osferth over the smoke of the fire, but he was fairly certain the monk rolled his eyes.

“You’re an idiot. You’re both idiots.” Osferth told him, standing up and stretching. “Well, no sense in drawing lots if Sihtric isn’t here. I’m taking the bed tonight: whichever of you two decides to share it with me better not try to care for me.”

Osferth left, and Finan wondered when his friends had decided to stop making sense, and what he had done to deserve it.

****

“I’m bored.” Stiorra dropped onto the ground next to where Finan was sharpening his sword.

“Have you tried tidying your room?” this was the third day in a row she’d done this, and Finan was running out of suggestions. He envied Sihtric. He’d suggested a game of hide and seek with the two young ones after lunch and hadn’t been seen since. Bastard was likely napping on the roof.

“I don’t want to tidy.” Stiorra started tearing out blades of grass from the ground, shredding them between her fingers.

“Well, you can’t be that bored then.” Stiorra threw her handful of grass at him.

“I’m sure Osferth would be happy to teach you how to read. That would keep you occupied.” Finan tried.

“I don’t need to read.”

“Your father can read. When he chooses.” Finan had learnt early on during his stay that both of Uhtred’s children possessed unparalleled levels of stubbornness. Stiorra was an incredible girl, crafty and strong-willed, but he wished she’d bother Sihtric or Osferth half as much as she bothered him.

“Can you tell me about my father?” Stiorra asked. That at least Finan could do.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

She shrugged, plucking the longest strands of grass and weaving them together. “Anything. How you met.”

“That’s not a particularly nice story.” He warned her.

“I’m sick of nice stories.” She said savagely.

He almost laughed, but thought better of it. So he told her of the slave ship, and of Islond. He told her of Halig and Ragnar. Stiorra, unbelievably, was silent for most of it. Though his life as a slave was years ago, thinking back in such detail was painful. So he changed tone and told her of the time he and Uhtred had got absolutely, thoroughly drunk one time staying in Wintanceaster and attempted to sneak into Alfred’s library to add themselves into his chronicles. Steapa had caught them, of course, and thrown them out on their ears. Sihtric had been annoyed they’d attempted this without him, and had sulked for a day and a half until Finan promised to pay for his ale for a week. That had turned into a devastating week. They’d both ended up naked in the herb garden of a nunnery.

“I asked about my father.” Stiorra reproached him without malice when he went off on his tangent. “Not Sihtric.”

“Do I hear my name?” Sihtric appeared from around the side of the hall, Aelfwynn on his back. He had been letting her braid his hair again, and his mess of curls now had several impressively delicate plaits running through it. It suited him.

“Does she have to be here?” Stiorra sighed. “We were talking about my father.”

“She can listen too if she wants.” Sihtric swung Aelfwynn down from his shoulders and settled himself on Finan’s other side, lounging on his elbow.

“Where’s the wee lad?” Finan asked him.

“Reading. Or writing. Church things.” Sihtric shrugged. Stiorra snorted.

“Heathens.” Finan directed to both of them. “At least Aelfwynn here is a good Christian girl. Aren’t you?”

Aelfwynn smiled and nodded. Finan grunted in approval.

Sihtric seemed to suddenly remember something, as he sat up straight and searched through his pockets.

“Talking of heathens.” He said, pulling out a rough wooden charm on a thong that he handed to Stiorra. She stared at, a smile spreading across her face, and Finan squinted to work out what it was. It was a small Thor’s hammer, surprisingly neat and symmetrical for something that Sihtric had clearly made. He’d even carved in intricate swirls as embellishment.

“Thank you.” Stiorra beamed at Sihtric as she slipped the necklace over her head, pausing to stick her tongue out at Finan.

“I want one too.” Aelfwynn piped up.

“No you don’t.” Finan and Stiorra told her at the same time. Sihtric just laughed, pleased with himself.

It was pleasant, sitting outside in the sun with no work to do. Osferth was on food duty that day, and better still, had finally drawn the short straw meaning Finan would get to sleep in a bed tonight. The afternoon turned to evening, and the evening turned to night all without incident. The usual threat of a lullaby from Finan sent the children to bed, and eventually he was ready to retire to bed himself.

“You’d better not steal the blanket.” Finan warned Sihtric as they both slipped under the covers. Sihtric promptly gathered up the whole blanket, leaving Finan no option but to wrestle it back from him.

Finan sighed contentedly as he stretched out on the bed. It was good to have a proper mattress beneath him again. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the shifting of Sihtric beside him. The damn man took forever to get settled. As soon as Sihtric was still though, Finan realised he was cold. He sat up, intending to get out of bed and retrieve his furs from where he’d dumped his pack.

“What are you doing?” Sihtric murmured sleepily.

“I’m getting my furs. It’s as cold as your Hel in here.”

“Come here.” Sihtric shuffled across the bed and wrapped his arms around Finan’s waist. He was like a furnace. So warm, in fact, that Finan could no longer bear the thought of leaving the heat to cross the cold hall and collect his furs. He lay back down under the covers and moved further back into Sihtric’s embrace.

“Did you do this with Osferth too?” Finan asked, hoping it came off a joke rather than the weird pang of jealousy he felt at the thought.

“He didn’t complain about the cold like you.” Sihtric replied into Finan’s hair. His breath was as warm as the rest of him. Finan was no stranger to huddling close to another man for warmth when the occasion called for it, but this felt different. More natural. Sihtric’s chest pressed against his back was strangely comforting, and Finan found himself drifting off to sleep in no time.

****

The next night Sihtric drew the short straw, and Finan shared the bed with Osferth. He planned ahead that time, and made sure his furs were already laid out on his side of the bed before he got in. Though warmer than the night before, it took him longer to fall asleep, and to his embarrassment he woke up in the middle of the night to find himself curled up against Osferth. In his dreams it had been Sihtric and his hearth-like warmth lying next to him. He couldn’t get back to sleep after that.

His lack of sleep affected his mood throughout the next day, his tolerance for Stiorra’s complaining and Aethelstan’s blank stares much lower than usual. It wasn’t even midday when he decided the only thing for it was to go back to bed and try to at least regain some lost sleep. It was strange, having the whole bed to himself, and Finan found himself still only taking up half of it. He closed his eyes and tried to rest, but the sounds of Aelfwynn playing with Sihtric outside prevented him from finding sleep. It sounded like she was using him like a tree to climb again- she’d discovered the other day that Sihtric was strong enough to hold his arms out and have her dangle from them, causing her no end of fun.

Being with the children suited Sihtric, Finan thought. It brought out a caring side to him until now only seen in the aftermath of a fight. Sigeburg had truly been a fool to throw such a man away. Finan frowned to himself. He seemed to be spending an awful lot of time thinking about Sihtric recently.

Unbidden, a memory from years ago came to his mind: Osferth quietly telling him that it wasn’t Sihtric he was jealous of, but more likely Sigeburg. He remembered the way his heart had stopped at Tettenhall when Sihtric went down, and how his heart now quickened every time he saw Sihtric smile. God help him, was he falling in love with Sihtric? How long had that been going on?

To add to matters, Finan ran through the other night’s conversation.

“I care about you.”  he had told Sihtric.

“Not in the way I want you to.”

Was it possible Sihtric felt the same? This was rather a lot to process, and Finan shoved his head under the pillow in frustration. He wished they’d gone back to Coccham, where between spending time at the alehouse or with a woman he wouldn’t have had time for things with Sihtric to get so confusing.

As if he knew Finan was thinking about him, Sihtric appeared at the door.

“What are you doing?” He could hear the smirk in Sihtric’s voice, before he extracted his head from the pillow and saw the other man nonchalantly leaning in the doorway.

“Trying to get some damn sleep.”

“You did not sleep well?” Sihtric asked, concerned.

“Osferth is all knees and elbows. Uncomfortable to lie next to.”

Looking at Sihtric now, Finan wondered why he hadn’t figured out his feelings before. Sihtric was more handsome than any man had a right to with only half a head of hair, and that smile of his...

“I will tell the children to be quiet if you wish.” Sihtric offered.

Finan shook his head. “No, let them play.”

Sihtric cocked his head to one side, as if he were sizing Finan up. “Are you too cold to sleep again?” he joked. “I feel getting under the covers would help, to start.”

“Well where’s the fun in that?” Finan knew that exploring his revelation about Sihtric slowly and carefully was the best course of action. Unfortunately, he hardly ever took the best course of action, and saw no reason to make an exception now. “Why don’t you come and warm me up.” He said, looking levelly at the other man.

It was a line, and tone of voice, that had worked wonders for him in the past. Sihtric, however, took him at face value, and obligingly settled into bed pressed against Finan’s back as he had done before. Perhaps it was the language barrier, Finan thought, and struggled under the weight of Sihtric’s arm to turn himself over so that he was face to face with the other man.

“That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.” He said, and kissed Sihtric.

He’d meant it to be just a small kiss, over in an instant to test the waters, but Sihtric responded immediately, parting his lips slightly against Finan’s and tightening the grip he had on Finan’s body. Finan barely had time to register what was actually happening when Sihtric’s tongue flicked out, and with a groan that would have embarrassed most whores Finan opened his mouth to let him in. They kissed for what felt like an age, Finan’s hands sliding up under Sihtric’s shirt, feeling his muscles tense and relax as they started to move against each other. His hair, his ridiculous long hair was perfect for Finan to grab a hold of and use to angle Sihtric’s head into a better position. Sihtric moaned as Finan pulled his hair, and Finan grinned, seizing the opportunity to roll them both over, so that he was on top. He paused for a moment, to look down at Sihtric, taking in his dilated pupils and reddened lips.

“How long?” Finan asked breathlessly. He didn’t know why he asked. It wasn’t important right now. And yet.

“A while. I do not know exactly.” Sihtric ran his hands up Finan’s thighs, coming to rest on the top of his trousers. He was hard, Finan could feel him, and God help him he was just as hard.

“And you didn’t say?”

“Did you?” Sihtric rolled his eyes and fisted his hands in the material of Finan’s shirt, pulling him down for another kiss. Finan decided he should stop talking. For now at least.

He gave himself over to Sihtric’s mouth and God, Sigeburg was a demon for charging for this. Sihtric was a hard kisser, nothing like the women Finan had bedded before. It wasn’t long before Finan was rubbing himself against Sihtric’s hip, humping him like he was barely out of childhood again. Sihtric stilled him, deftly tugging the laces of Finan’s trousers undone, pulling them apart enough for him to slip his hand under the fabric and grab his cock. Finan choked back a moan, and moved his attentions to marking Sihtric’s neck, as Sihtric’s hand deftly brought him closer and closer to the edge.

“Stop.” Finan managed to get out, grabbing Sihtric’s hand. Sihtric withdrew immediately, concern on his face.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Finan laughed, pulling his trousers completely off, then his shirt.

“More than alright.” He replied, working on Sihtric’s trousers. “It just didn’t seem fair to not return the favour.”

Sihtric’s furrowed brow cleared, and he took his shirt off before helping Finan pull his trousers down. Finan climbed back on top and carefully lined them up together, spitting on his hand before wrapping it around Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric’s hips inadvertently thrust up off the bed into the touch, and he bit his lip, hands clutching uselessly at the bedsheets.

“Good?” Finan chuckled, rubbing his thumb along the slit and spreading the precome there over Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric nodded, and reached his own hand down, back towards Finan. It was an embarrassingly short amount of time before Finan was coming, covering Sihtric’s hand and stomach. He rested his forehead against Sihtric’s as he caught his breath, Sihtric’s hand still gently stroking his cock. Sihtric’s own cock had been neglected at some point during Finan’s orgasm, and ever the gentleman, Finan shifted positions so he was now sat behind Sihtric, reaching around him to take his cock in hand again.

Sihtric moaned, low and quiet, and lay his head back against Finan’s shoulder. Finan used his other hand to cup Sihtric’s balls, circling them in his palm as he steadily picked up the pace on Sihtric’s cock. Sihtric’s damned Dane stamina meant by the time he finally came Finan was certain he had irreversible cramp in his hand, but it was worth it for the way Sihtric collapsed back into him, boneless and sated.

“Believe it or not, I only came in here to see if you were hungry.” Sihtric said after a while, contorting his head round to look at Finan.

“Well I’ve certainly worked up an appetite now.” Finan thought he’d tease Sihtric by licking his come from his fingers, but spat it out immediately. “Jesus that’s vile. How do women do it?”

Sihtric laughed. “It’s not so bad.”

Finan paused wiping his fingers on the bedsheets. “You’ve done this before?”

“Once or twice.” Sihtric offered no further elaboration.

Finan didn’t much like the idea of being the inexperienced one in whatever this was, but he’d be damned if he admitted that. He settled for wrapping his arms around Sihtric in a hug, but recoiled when he came into contact with the mess on Sihtric’s stomach.

“I’ll get you some water.” Finan offered, extracting himself from his spot between Sihtric and the headboard and tugging his trousers and shirt back on. Sihtric made no effort to move, or dress himself, and just stretched out on the bed, propping his head up on his hand to watch Finan leave.

The kitchen was thankfully next to the servant’s room, minimising the number of people Finan could potentially run into, but in a cruel twist of fate he entered the room to find Osferth and Young Uhtred preparing food. Uhtred seemed determined not to meet his eyes, but Osferth looked at him directly, a worrying smile on his face.

“Are you better rested now?” the monk asked innocently.

“Yes.” Finan answered slowly, edging round the corner of the room to grab a jug and dunk it into the water barrel outside the window. There was something incredibly disconcerting about Osferth’s expression.

“I assume you’ll be washing the bedding before I have to sleep there?” Osferth called after him as Finan backed out of the kitchen.

He as good as ran back to the bedroom. Once safely inside he slammed the door shut so hard the jug of water almost emptied itself over the floor. Sihtric raised an eyebrow at him.

“We can never leave this room.” Finan told him.

****

The best thing for it, Finan decided, was to pretend he had no shame. He wouldn’t give Osferth the satisfaction.

“If it’s all the same to you, Baby Monk, I don’t think you’ll be sleeping in that bed for a long time.” Finan told him as they sat down for lunch. He was gratified to hear Sihtric chuckle.

“How are you going to make it up to me then?” Osferth asked.

“I will personally massage those shoulders of yours every night for a week.” Finan said.

Osferth shook his head. “Not enough.”

“We’ll do your share of the cooking. Until Uhtred gets back.” Now it was Sihtric’s turn to shake his head in alarm at Finan’s suggestion.

“Deal. If you also take on Young Uhtred’s share for a week too. The poor lad’s traumatised.”

“I’m not traumatised.” Uhtred muttered, looking traumatised.

“I don’t want to eat Sihtric’s cooking for a week.” Stiorra objected.

“Now young lady, there’s nothing wrong with Sihtric’s cooking, and if you don’t want to eat it you can cook for yourself.” Finan pointed his knife at her to punctuate her words. Stiorra made a gesture she had no right in knowing at him.

“He’s lying, I’m a terrible cook.” Sihtric whispered rather loudly to Aelfwynn and Aethelstan, who giggled.

“Hey. Don’t undermine me in front of the children. Or I’ll have to punish you later.” Finan turned his knife pointing of shame towards Sihtric. Stiorra gagged dramatically. Young Uhtred looked legitimately ill. Aelfwynn looked sweetly concerned on Sihtric’s behalf, not wanting to see her friend punished.

Finan happily realised he now had another weapon along with singing to try and get the group of children to behave.