So that had been then.
But now, here they were, late afternoon a few miles south of Velia and Finny was feeling sick, and Joe didn't know what to do about it... and then she threw up.
Joe quickly put down his own bowl and knelt down in front of her. He lifted her head with a finger on her forehead to feel if she was hot.
She was, and her face was now covered in a vivid red rash.
While Joe was familiar with a lot of common horse ailments; colic, equine arthritis, laminitis, Behr River Virus, the shivers, and botulism. His knowledge of human ills was sketchy at best.
One of the benefits of being half-giant was that you were immune to a lot of human ailments and diseases. Children's illnesses he just didn't have a clue about.
He tried a weak smile.
"It's probably just something you ate."
Finny just groaned and doubled over, holding her tummy.
"I dun like it. Make it stop hurting."
Joe went to the wagon and came back with a bottle and a spoon. He poured a good measure out and held it in front of Finny's face.
Finny sniffed it and wrinkled her nose.
"It doesn't smell nice."
"It's not supposed to. That's because the nastier it is, the better it is for you."
Finny closed her eyes and opened her mouth. She gagged immediately.
"Urghh! What is it? It's horrible!"
"It's er... for sore tummies." Technically, Joe was right. He just hid the bit of the label which said it was meant for colic in horses.
Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be working, and by the time the sun was low in the sky, Finny was complaining more and more of being hot and achy. The rash had spread.
Now it covered her arms and chest, too. She was also groaning a lot more. Eventually, the four-year-old was vomiting nothing but clear liquid... with traces of blood in it.
At this point, Joe had had enough. He scooped her up and lay her on the driver's seat while he quickly hitched the horses.
Climbing on board himself, Joe wrapped Finny in his driver's blanket and curled her onto his lap. Then he cracked the reins.
"Move, you dumb bastards!"
Leaving the camp behind, the big wagon lurched into the sunset.
Three years later, Finny does not remember much of that night; Joe, however, does.
She had drifted in and out of consciousness and has vague recollections of being gently rocked on Joe's lap, his legs perfectly softening the bouncing of the wagon along the heavily rutted road.
The stout, generations old, wooden door of 'The Blue Moon' inn didn't stand up too well to Joe's kick and was left supported only by recently replaced lower hinge,
leaving the door at a lopsided angle.
Hot air hit Joe like a furnace after the chill of the drive into Velia. Not that Joe noticed it.
By the end of the journey,
the berserker was barely managing to keep it together - something not lost on the patrons of the crowded inn as they backed away or scrambled from their seats to put furniture between them
and the mountain of muscle that had just invaded their quiet evening's drinking.
Joe headed for a recently emptied table with Finny in his arms and used her dangling feet to clear away the bottles and tankards before laying her face-up on the beer-soaked planks.
"Get a doctor."
All heads turned towards the fire and the spindly little man who sat in the corner.
As if he were a puppet activated by Joe's words, the man, after some arm-waving and swaying, staggered to his feet.
"I," he managed after standing more or less upright. "Am the doctor."
Joe's eyes narrowed.
"Who..." Which is as far as he got before the 'doctor' face-planted onto the dirty floor.
All heads now swung back to Joe. Well, nearly all. Some were already making hasty exits through the main doors, the side door, or in one case, a window.
It was then that an overworked looking, middle-aged woman with a scarf holding in her hair appeared from where she had been washing dishes.
Wiping her hands on her apron, she stood over the semiconscious four-year-old.
According to the tugged forelocks and muttered acknowledgements from the inn's regulars, her name was Shelly.
She talked quietly, her voice slowly soothing the dangerous berserker who had erupted into their midst.
At the same time, she gently sat Finny up and lifted the stolen shirt up and off so that she could see the extent of the bright red spots. After checking back and front, she turned to Joe.
"Aye, just like I thought, he's got the weasel pox alright."
"She," Joe said. "She's a girl."
Shelly stared at Joe. She had been fooled by the clothes and the short hair. She pursed her lips in annoyance.
"Well, why didn't you say so?!" She quickly pushed Finny's arms back through the sleeves of the shirt. "Before I stripped the poor lass half-naked in front of all these people."
The assembled audience was amused at Shelly's offended sensibilities. Joe looked confused.
"She's four..." He shook his head. "Anyway, is it, you know, serious?" Out of sight of Finny, Joe made a barely noticeable slicing motion across his throat.
"Good gods no, man! Have you never had the weasels when you were a kiddy?"
Joe shook his head.
"Half-giant missus, we, er, don't get much in the way of human diseases."
"Oh. I see." She relented a little bit. "No, then, it's not serious. Not if you are a child anyway. She'll be right as rain in a few days."
Fever-befuddled though she was, Finny managed a weak little smile.
Shelly lay Finny back down on the table and turned, hands on hips, to face Joe. There was an uplift to her chin in that way that indicates that nonsense of any sort will not be brooked.
"Who is looking after her?"
Joe shuffled his feet, then he crossed his arms and his face set.
Shelly looked at the audience of local drunks, sailors waiting for contracts and rich kids who frequented the inn looking for 'colour'. She gently lifted Finny into her arms.
"Come with me, mister half-giant; we need to talk." She turned to the already flustered chef cum barman. "I'm done for the night, David."
David Finto looked like he had something to say about that until Joe stood behind Shelly and glared at him, he just nodded and carried on chopping onions.
Shelly led Joe out the back of the kitchen and then up an outside stairway to a long veranda with several doors, some with a red scarf or rag hanging from the door knob.
Shelly stopped at one door and opened it. Joe followed her in and found himself in a sweet-smelling room with a bed.
Unusually though, in Joe's experience, there was also a cluttered table, and a line of washing at head hight that ran the whole length of the room.
Shelly laid Finny on the bed and covered with a patchwork counterpane. She gently pushed the sweat-soaked fringe of hair from the little girl's face.
Joe retreated to the doorway, and stood with arms folded, watching.
There was a movement behind Joe and two children pushed past him to go and stand with Shelly, the boys looked up at Joe with a mix of awe and apprehension.
"It's okay boys," Shelly was saying, stroking their heads and smiling down. "This man has brought this little girl; she's poorly, so we're going to be looking after her for a wee bit.
The two boys peered around their mother to where Finny's ginger hair was the only thing visible.
"Is she gonna be our sister?" The eldest boy asked.
"No Casper. She's just visiting until she gets better," She glanced at Joe. "Then she's going with her... daddy."
Joe made a noncommittal grunt from the doorway.
"What's her name?" The smaller boy asked.
"Well, I don't know Bino..." She looked at Joe again.
Joe cleared his throat.
"Finny... Her name's Finny."
"Okay boys," their mother said, guiding them back towards the door. "Now you know. You two go and play while I talk to mister...?"
"Spivey." Joe provided, stepping out of the way.
Shelly closed the door behind them and turned to see Joe frowning down at her.
"Listen, missus, what makes you think I'm going to leave Finn here with you? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this a whore's room?"
Shelly brushed past him.
"Yes, it is... And before you ask, yes, I am when I'm not working in the kitchen." Unphased by the berserker's size, she turned to stand right in front of him.
"But I'm also a mother with six years' experience and, if you don't mind my saying so,
you not even knowing about weasel pox doesn't make me think you are up to the task of looking after a little kiddy."
Joe opened his mouth... But then caught the hardening look in the woman's eyes. He closed his mouth; she had a point.
Shelly relented a little. The big lummox was obviously worried as hell.
"Look," she sighed. "Why don't you just leave her with me for a few days, you'll see. Weaslepox is common enough and she'll be right as rain in no time. Pop in anytime if you want.
" A thought struck her. "In fact, make sure you do because it looks like you need educating in what to look out for in a nipper when they say they don't feel well."
Joe stared at Shelly for long seconds, then pushed himself away from the door frame.
"Fine. Okay. I'll pay you, though."
"Damn right you will!"
They shared a grin.
"I'll go and take care of the wagon. Does this inn have rooms?"
"Sure it does; they're clean too."
Joe nodded and then Joe left Shelly's room.
First thing the following morning, Joe went back to check on Finny. Shelly's room smelled of breakfast.
Shelly and her boys were around the table, the youngsters making damn sure there was nothing left on their plates other that tongue prints.
Shelly nodded to the bed and the small bump that was Finny.
"She ain't moved much, drifting in an out like I'd expect. Fever will likely break today."
By the time Shelly reached the end of her sentence, Joe had done his own checks. Finny was wet with perspiration and her face was red and hot to the touch. He hoped Shelly was right.
To Joe it looked like the four-year-old was at death's door.