Tadhg sank to his knees atop the tor. Wind, icy and iron-like, skirled off the sea, summoning a doleful rattle from the bone necklace dangling down the matted furs that served as his coat. A weak cough scratched his throat. A short distance away, down in a glen that opened up into a cove along the beach, he could see a a stone cottage. At one end was hat looked to be a wood door. At the other was a lichen-bedecked chimney, from which a gauzy stream of smoke spiraled away into the air. "Good," muttered the traveler, "it won't be long now, will it, Fiachna?"
Tadhg smiled, wincing as his leathery lips split again. He reached a sun-burned hand up to caress the little skull attached to the end of the necklace. Tadhg reckoned his companion now gone would have liked the cottage and its promise of warmth and food.
The sun above offered the traveler little of the former and none of the latter. His belly not having been troubled by the presence of proper food for several days, he barely had energy to shiver. The sight of the cottage gave him some strength, and he struggled upright to hobble down the faint dirt track that led into the cove. As Tadhg set off, he saw the door open, and into the light stepped an old man wearing a wool cloak. It looked like kelp.
Tadhg limped up to the door. The old man was leaning on a stout driftwood walking stick, watching him, soundlessly and with eyes like those of a skua. The traveler staggered to a halt, swaying a bit. Neither man spoke. The wind offered whispery counsel with faint soughing about the stones of the cottage. After twenty or so heartbeats, the old man spoke.
"I see you've brought your talisman, my son."
"Blessed Father, I have."
"What was his birth name?"
"Ah, a proper name for such strong bones. How long ago did the soul depart this shore?"
"Many months, Father. I've barely slept since. My dreams offer no succor, and his eyes haunt me no matter how heavy the dark."
" I can see it writ upon your visage, man. And your belly is meeting your backbone."
"Aye, Father, aye…" Tadhg's voice trailed off into the tail end of a gust. Tears wove tracks in the grime upon his face, staring helplessly at the priest.
The old man said nothing while stroking his beard. A resounding whoomp shook the ground as it traveled up from the beach. Tadhg started a bit, that seventh wave taking him by surprise. The old man moved not at all. He was staring into the emerald distance over Tadhg's shoulder. A clutch of seagulls wheeled overhead with thin metallic cries. The old man looked up at the birds. He sighed and spoke.
"Come inside, lad. There is fire, there is bread and meat. Feed the belly first, then rest your bones by the hearth. The tide turns soon, and we shall bless the bones of Fiachna that you and he shall sleep untroubled."
The old man turned and entered the cottage. Tadhg started forward, head down, but warm relief beginning to flood his frame. The oak door creaked shut, wind filtering into the cracks in its face with the faint sound of scratching. Down below, the waves roared onto the shingle, spray hissing and purring among the rocks.