While seven-year-old Ophelia, Finny to everyone, slept in the only bed, Joe Spivey was comfortably asleep in the battered rocking chair infront of the open door of the stove.
Joe's eyes half opened as the room was lit up by the lightning.
The eyeballs sent a message to the brain; 'shouldn't you do something about that?' But the door was locked, Joe's brain was not at home to visitors.
The eyeballs shrugged and slipped the message under the door, then they closed again, and Joe continued to snore in front of the dying embers of the open oven.
The message drifted down the dusty corridors of Joe's sleeping mind until it found an old wooden door with a falling off sign that said 'Memories' and floated underneath.
Shouldn't you do something about that?
The thought had been nagging Joe all the way through the tough stew. Not that he actually wanted the stew, or even to be in this gods forsaken inn out in the middle of nowhere.
Joe was familiar with such places. It had once been a derelict farm, bought cheaply by people who had no interest in running a farm, or even an inn for that matter.
These places were called 'inns' to give them the tiny amount of legitimacy needed to keep the local militia off their backs as they went about their real business...
Or businesses, because many things went on under the leaking roofs of these inns, and very few of them in any way legal.
The reason Joe Spivey, a half-giant who hailed from many miles away from this dump, was familiar with inns like this was because he needed them to conduct his own nefarious affairs.
Or rather he used to. And the reason he was so far away from home and out of his patch was because the law was after him.
This time, though, it was not just for the run of the mill crimes that he and his cronies were usually on the wanted lists of local law enforcement. No, Joe was wanted for murder.
So here he was, his wagon driver's oilskins creating a pool of water underneath where they hung from a hook by the door, sitting at a rough-hewn table set close to the roaring fire.
Joe was thinking while not enjoying the thin stew, sitting in an inn where all the corners were occupied,
or would have been if he hadn't been the only traveller taking advantage of the meagre hospitality this dark and stormy night.
Outside the rain was coming down in buckets and visibility was down to the arse of the lead horse in the four-horse team that pulled the large trader wagon.
Not that Joe was a trader, not in the ordinary sense of the word anyway.
When, a month ago now, he'd had to get out of town in a hurry, the stolen wagon had been a better bet than a fast horse,
a fact verified by the posse of half a dozen militiamen who had ridden blindly past him in pursuit of a horse they assumed to be laden under the weight of an enormous and heavy half-giant.
Joe had travelled a route not often frequented by traders, or anyone really,
and he only entered the towns and villages as dusk was falling and people were either too tired or too interested in getting home to pay much attention to yet another wagon rumbling through the
So, Joe was thinking. While he had drunk the piss-water beer waiting for his stew, Joe had listened to the conversation behind the bar.
Although carried out in hushed tones, the landlord and his wife hadn't taken into account Joe's mongrel ears.
Attached either side of a head easily twice as big as a normal human one, Joe's ears were as big and as sensitive as his giant mother's had been.
Putting that painful childhood memory aside, Joe listened in out of simple boredom.
"... so stop the nagging woman. I've dug a hole in the woods." The barman drained the flagon of the beer he was supposed to be selling and went to the tap to refill it.
The woman, who was messily making pastry on the table behind the bar, wafted a cloud of flour away from her face.
"Well, I hope it's deep enough. We don't want some mutt wandering in and plonking a human foot down in the middle of the room like last time."
"It's deep enough. As soon as our customer friend buggers off I'll take her for a little walk and that's the end of her."
The woman left the pie-making and went over to a pot on the stove to stir what Joe hoped was his stew.
"We should never have agreed to hide her in the first place..."
Joe tuned out. This was not an unfamiliar scenario. Somewhere in a back room, or the cellar maybe, some poor woman was awaiting her unpleasant fate.
Likely as not she was either a witness to some crime or was a kidnap victim whos 'loved ones' had not been able to raise the ransom. Or maybe just some whore who had lost her looks.
Joe tuned it all out and looked impatiently hopeful in the direction of the cook, or barmaid or whoever the woman was, but who was still berating the unsteady drunk of a barman from the stove.
The woman eventually reached for a plate and ladled a goodly amount of what was in the pot onto it.
Then she took a fork from an old flagon full of them and carried the plate of steaming stew over to Joe.
When she had gone, Joe pushed the scraggy lumps of meat around in the gravy. Well, at least there was a lot of it.
Fortunately, besides the ears, the genes from Joe's mother had provided him with a strong jaw. He set to work on the meat while trying not to think where it had originated.
There was movement behind the bar. The woman turned and went to a door.
Joe's jaws continued to break down the fibres of what he was starting to think was a very old horse while his eyes sought entertainment in the only other thing going on in the inn.
The door opened and closed behind the woman. Joe's jaw stopped.
The door had been open for less than two seconds, but it had been enough.
It was the braids. The braids instantly told Joe everything. Just the fact that they were braids told Joe that he was looking at a little girl.
Their copper colour, along with the ruined party dress she was wearing,
told him that this was most likely the same child kidnapped a fortnight ago on the very same continent Joe had left in such a hurry.
All of it, including the just overheard conversation,
told him that the little girl tied to the table in the back room was also the soon to be the occupant of the water-filled grave in the woods.
It was at this point that the thought first entered his head.
Shouldn't you do something about that?
Three slowly chewed mouthfuls of stew later, the question hadn't gone away. Three mouthfuls of stew was also the length of time it had taken Joe to have the long conversation with himself.
He already knew that he was the kind of man who could, quite happily, pay for his meal and walk away from the situation. However, this was only one side of the conversation.
Joe's recent history and the reason he was on the run added content to both sides.
So, what made him sigh, stand up and walk across to the barman had little to do with the fate of the kid in the other room.
Despite the promise he had made not to try it again, something inside Joe made him want to give it one more go. The kid was dead anyway, so why not?
To be honest, the deal he struck with the barman hadn't taken much bargaining. Joe made the offer and then simply added:
"... or I'll get fucking annoyed." But it did the trick.
The barman had looked at Joe more closely, then went pale.
There weren't that many berserkers around. Most of the offspring of a human father and giant mother tended to live out their lives quite peacefully.
For some though,
the normal docility of the giants was short-circuited by the latent psychopathic makeup of the father and the result was a potentially lethal mix of human aggression and giant's strength.
Even then, most of these unfortunate half-breeds, commonly called Berserkers, could control their inclination to anger and went on to live successful lives in some army or other.
A small minority, however, could not and these would eventually die in some fight where even their colossal strength and anger-crazed energy could not hold out against the odds.
Joe was one of these. A man very quick to anger, and who left behind a trail of destruction, and usually bodies, too.
Small minutes later, back inside his oilskins, Joe climbed down from the back door of the wagon into the pouring rain, rumbling thunder and frequent lightning flashes.
Tucked in his belt was a large sack. In his hands, he held several pouches. Pouches donated to him on his journey by people who didn't want their bones broken.
Joe tossed each donated bag into a secret compartment under the bed of the wagon, a place where he also kept a long-unused suit of armour and a pair of giant two-bladed axes,
either of which any normal man would struggle to lift.
He walked through the deluge until the waiting barman appeared from behind the curtain of rain.
Behind him, Joe could just make out the grey shape of the woman and beside her the much smaller figure of a child. Joe tossed all of the heavy pouches into the mud in front of the barman.
"It better all be there." The barman warned.
Joe put his hands on his hips.
"Or what? You'll attack me? Just hand the kid over."
"Just make sure you take her a bloody long way away, I don't want her coming back this way and putting the finger on me."
"She won't. Now, the kid?"
The barman stepped to the side, and Joe took the sack from under his belt.
He moved forward, holding the sack open and just had time to see the pale,
upturned little face with the widening eyes before he dropped the sack over it and them and scooped the little girl off her feet.
The barman and the woman were already pulling the coin-heavy pouches from the sucking mud as Joe tied the sack closed.
He walked back to the wagon and then, with a lurch from his shoulder, heaved his purchase through the tiny rear door to land on the makeshift mattress Joe used as a bed.
Then he locked the door and, ignoring the man and woman on their knees in the mud, walked around the wagon to the driver's side and climbed up onto the seat.