Precious Things - Joe's Story (part 4 of 9)
Precious Things - Joe's Story (part 4 of 9) bdo stories
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ferp2
ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Joe jumped down to the grassy bank of the river and then turned back with his arms raised. The four-year-old allowed herself to be lifted down and followed Joe the few yards to where the cooking fire had been set up and where, suspended on a tripod above the flames,

Precious Things - Joe's Story (part 4 of 9)

Joe jumped down to the grassy bank of the river and then turned back with his arms raised.

The four-year-old allowed herself to be lifted down and followed Joe the few yards to where the cooking fire had been set up and where, suspended on a tripod above the flames,

a small cauldron of water was starting to steam and bubble.

After a glance over his shoulder to make sure the kid hadn't decided to just run off, Joe picked up his fishing net and headed for the river.

He stood on the bank untangling the net and Ophelia came to dutifully stand next to him. It only took a few seconds for the smell to reach his nose.

"Phew, kid. I think before I pull anything edible out of that water, we better get you cleaned up a bit."

Joe took, or more precisely, swallowed Ophelia's hand into his own and led her down to one side of the ford that crossed the stream.

He sank to his knees with her in front of him the, holding the little girl's arm in one great fist, Joe's other hand disappeared behind his back to reappear a second later with a knife.

Not quite sure where to start, he let go of her scrawny arm and instead hooked a finger into the neck of her dress.

Then, with practised ease, Joe inserted the point of the blade into the gap between flesh and clothing and, as if Finny were a fish and her tattered garment its skin,

Joe sliced downwards from neck to hem in a single movement of the razor-sharp filleting knife.

Joe felt the anger begin to bubble up at what he saw. Bruises on her arms where rough hands had grabbed her. Bruises, too, elsewhere where a kick or a cuff had been used to speed compliance.

But what made Joe have to concentrate on bottling the rising rage was the mess of painful-looking red skin and sores that covered the poor little thing's naked nether regions.

He swallowed the anger down like it was bile before forcing a smile to his lips. He lifted his head.

"Right then, time to see if there's a kid under all that muck, eh?"

Joe scooped her up and carried her out into the middle of the ford to a soft patch of clean sand under the glistening, fast-flowing water

"It's cooooold!" She wailed.

The forced grin became a genuine smile as he looked down at the little naked thing crouching for warmth, not even knee-deep in the water.

"Well I'm sorry, your ladyship, but the water heating fairy is off today, so you'll just have to make do."

She looked up.

"But, there's no soap."

"Use the sand."

Ophelia looked down to where her toes disappeared into the fine white sand of the stream bed.

Very slowly, she started to reach down but baulked when her fingers touched the cold water and pulled them back like the water was scalding.

Joe sighed. He bent over and used a finger to push the top of the little girl's matted head, making her lose her balance and fall, bum first, into the stream.

She squealed and tried to get to her feet, but Joe just pushed her over again.

"Look, just get on with it," he said. "The sooner you're done, the sooner you get to sit by the fire."

But the four-year-old had reached her limit. Sitting up to her belly button in cold mountain water, she started to cry.

Joe rolled his eyes and, as the bawling infant showed no sign of stopping, lifted her to her feet.

Cupping a handful of the super-fine sand, he very gently began washing away two weeks of grime and other mess. By the time he had finished, the crying had thankfully stopped.

Satisfied, Joe scooped the little girl up again then carried her out of the stream and sat her down in front of the fire.

"Wait here."

Joe climbed up into the wagon and came back a couple of minutes later with the cleanest horse blanket he could find and a linen flour sack.

"Stand up."

Controlling his rising temper at the patches of raw red skin, Joe used the blanket to pat the shivering girl dry.

Even so, he noticed the little winces as the rough wool touched the areas where the kid's piss and shit had burned her skin.

He again bottled his anger at the neglect of those who had taken her, the last thing he wanted was to scare the still skittish four-year-old.

When he had finished, Joe wrapped her in the blanket and moved the log she had been sitting on closer to the small cooking fire.

"Sit."

Joe stood over her until the little girl's teeth stopped chattering. She was staring into the fire, and Joe wondered if he should say something, try and comfort her, that sort of thing.

In the end, he decided against it and went back to the river with his net.

He returned half an hour later with a string of fish and immediately set about cleaning them. Joe was aware of two intense green eyes watching him from the cocoon of brown blanket.

It was unnerving. To break the silence, he called the girl over and waited as she waddled towards him, trailing half the blanket behind her as she hugged the rest around her.

"You ever gut a fish?" Joe asked.

The blanket shook its head.

"Time you learned then I'd say."

Now comfortable in a subject he knew, Joe showed the attentive four-year-old where to cut the head off so as not to tear the guts, how to remove the scales and how to fillet and debone the fish.

Her first couple of attempts didn't go so well, and Joe had to rescue as much of her fishy victims as he could.

But, eventually, she picked up the necessary skills and Joe was rewarded with the first smile.

After she had washed her hands, the eager student ran back to her blanket to learn the next lesson, which was how to cook fish over an open fire.

Joe showed her how to skewer the bigger fish and place them next to the heat, not over it.

He showed her how to fry and even took the time to make a mud oven to bake the tiny trout that were too small to skewer and which would fall apart in the frying pan.

Finally, and very pleased with her progress, Joe showed her how to make herb tea,

making sure the leaves were cut and crushed small enough so that maximum flavour would diffuse into the hot water.

And all of this with so few words passed between them that, to an outsider watching, it might even appear that man and child had been together for longer than just a few hours.

When all was done, Joe brought out some bread and some seasoning, and the pair of them ate their little meal like it was a feast.

While he ate, Joe considered what to do next.

Ophelia was going to be instantly recogniseable the very first time they hit civilisation; or worse, civilisation hit them in the form of a militia patrol.

He was going to have to change the girl's appearance. The dress, the braids, they had to go.

Even the fact she was a girl had to go too; a man and a boy in a wagon was common, an apprentice and his master. A man and a girl? That would risk a second glance.

When he had finished eating, Joe reached for the flour sack. It would have to do until he could get hold of some boys clothing. There was nothing delicate about his work.

With his knife, Joe simply cut the corners off the closed end of the sack then hacked a rough round neck hole in between them.

Then, a simple short slash down what would be the front made sure Ophelia would be able to get her head through.

Joe called her over with a finger. The girl put down her plate and shuffled over to him in her blanket.

Joe lifted the flour sack dress up over her head and Ophelia, letting the blanket fall to the ground, stretched her arms up to meet the homemade dress as the Joe pulled it down over her.

As a finishing touch, he pulled a length of thick cord from his pocket, cut it to a suitable length and tied it around her waist as a belt.

Joe sat back and checked his handiwork... It would do.

Now he watched as the kid examined her new outfit. Stretching her armas and swinging her body to adjust the fit. But her expression suggested that she wasn't entirely happy.

It was just a flour sack, after all.

Joe looked at her.

"I'll get you some proper clothes at the next village."

Ophelia looked down and wiggled her toes.

"I need some shoes too."

"Shoes too."

"An' I need some underpants."

Joe sighed.

"I'll get you what you need, okay?"

The four-year-old tilted her head to one side and smiled at Joe.

" 'kay. Thank you, mister Joe."

The berserker grunted.

"Sure, whatever. Oh, one more thing..." He reached for his knife. "Hold still."

Ophelia held her breath.

Joe and pulled one of the kid's long braids away from her head until the pulled hair made her wince.

Ophelia opened her eyes just in time to see her long ginger rope of hair, now unattached to her head, held in the grown-up's hand. She gasped.

"What are you doing?!" Too stunned to do anything other than stare, she could only watch as the other one joined it a couple of seconds later.

Only then did the barefoot toddler react and Joe watched her run off to the stream, where she knelt down to get a better look at the mutilation done to her.

Joe left her to it and wandered off to where Ophelia's rag of a dress lay where it had fallen.

He carried it back at arm's length and between finger and thumb, arriving just in time for her to stomp up to him, arms crossed and bottom lip like a step.

"I look like a boy!"

Joe walked past her to the fire and dropped Finny's filthy dress and her tell-tale braids into the fire.

"That's the idea."

Ophelia sat down on her log with a thump.

"Why?"

Joe wasn't paying her much attention. He was looking up at the position of the sun. Then he poured two cups of what was left of the herb tea and brought one over to her.

"So you don't get recognised," Joe said, passing her one of the cups. "Here, drink this. We're leaving."

While Joe went to tend to the horses, Ophelia watched unhappily as her party dress and her braids were consumed by the fire. Joe paid her no nevermind.

"Put the fire out when you are ready, but don't be long about it because we've got a long way to go."

He never noticed her stare into the fire before slowly pouring the remains of the herbal tea onto the fire before walking back towards the wagon.

"Coming."

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