Joe's feeling must have been apparent on his face. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
"She's fine." Joe stood up and found himself looking down into the tired face and confident eyes of a mother who had seen it all. Then she smiled up at him.
"Why don't you take your big hairy ass for a walk while I clean up and get my youngers out of the way. Then I'll show you how to do the medicing."
Joe nodded. There wasn't much he could do anyway and just his bulk in the tiny room was making it difficult for the family.
"I'll send Casper to find you."
Velia was a fishing village surrounded by farms; but for the last six months,
all the ship traffic to and from Heidal was being sent through Velia's wharfs and jetties and the bay was full of ships waiting their turn.
The results of so much new activity were roads full of horses and the clatter of wagons going to and from the docks. Of course, so many horses produced a lot of horse shit.
That and the smell of fish, both fresh and not so fresh, was enough to make even Joe's eyes water.
But it wasn't what his nose was telling him, or the noise. No, it's what Joe's eyes were showing him that made the big berserker feel so at home. It was all around him, the thievery.
On the wharfs, in the warehouses, even among the overladen wagons as they slowed to a walking pace straining to haul them up the steep hillside Velia was built on.
On top of all that, the pike-wielding guardsmen were few and far between.
Joe noticed, too, that they were a mix of Heidal city guards and local constabulary, suggesting that the sudden explosion of trade was more than Velia's sheriff could handle on his own.
It was all very interesting.
Joe got something to eat in a small pub. While he chewed, he started to think that maybe he didn't need to go north to Altinova.
He was jolted from his lunchtime musings by the arrival of a small blond head at the window.
"Mum ses you can come back now."
Joe opened his mouth to acknowledge the message, but the boy had already gone.
So Joe made his thoughtful way back to Shelly's room; there quietly closing the door behind him after seeing Finny still asleep; buried in the colourful counterpane on the big bed.
Shelly was midway to the bed when Joe entered. In one hand a big open bottle of something that smelled like an apothecary. In the other, a large wad of sheep's wool.
"Oh good. You're just in time for your first lesson in treating weaslepox."
She put the bottle and the wool down on the seat of the chair that was serving as a bedside table. Shelly sat on the edge of the bed and patted the space next to her.
"Park your big butt here mister Spivey..."
"Call me Joe."
"Joe then. Sit here and I'll show you how to apply the liniment."
Joe sat down as daintily as he could and tried to ignore the ominous creaking.
Shelly carefully folded back the counterpane, and even more carefully rolled up what looked like one of Casper's shirts, so as not to wake Finny or rub against the sore blisters of the rash.
Finny sighed and rubbed her nose in her sleep.
"That looks really...."
The look on the berserker's face again confirmed for Shelly that, however these two had ended up together, the half giant really cared for the little girl.
She watched his concern for Finny's condition for several seconds before turning and taking the bottle and wool.
"Okay now, you just watch. This liniment don't do nothing to clear up the rash, only time will do that, but it will go some ways to stopping the itching."
While she talked, Shelly tipped the bottle into the wool, soaking a good area of it.
"Now, you gotta do this gentle like, and I mean real gentle. Make sure you cover all the blisters. You'll know you've done it right 'cause when it dries it leaves this white powder."
Joe watched. Even as gentle as Shelly was being, a time or two the sleeping toddler's face scrunched up in apparent discomfort.
Joe was getting worried; he wasn't sure he had that degree of gentleness in him.
Worry turned to panic when Shelly handed him the bottle and the wad of wool.
"Okay, here you go. Just do what I done."
But Joe was shaking his head.
"Look, maybe you better do the whole thing..."
Shelly's face hardened.
"What ya'll gonna do when I'm not around?
You've got a kid now whether you like it or not, so you better learn how to look after her or I'll make damn sure she gets taken off you and given to someone who can. You hear me mister?"
Just the look on the woman's face told Joe that she wasn't kidding. Prostitute or whatever she was, this Shelly woman wasn't in the slightest bit afraid of him.
He was put in mind of the momma bear that had damn near gotten the better of him back on the trail. Chastened like he hadn't been since he was a boy, Joe took the proffered bottle and damp wool.
"Well okay then. Gentle is the key. Now get on with it."
Joe took a breath and tipped the bottle. Ever, ever so slowly, he reached out and dabbed a wool-covered finger onto one of the vivid clusters of red blisters.
Shelly watched intently.
"Okay, good. Just dab. Don't rub. If you rub, you'll open the spot and that will leave a pox mark. You don't want her covered in tiny little scars, do you?"
Finny murmured as the cold dabs and hushed voices brought her slowly back towards consciousness.
She became aware of the two grown-ups staring intently at her and that Joe was poking at her with something that was tickly and smelly. Her eyes focused in on Joe's face.
Joe, with fearful concentration, was gently dabbing away at the hundreds of little spots which now covered Finny's whole body.
The half giant was acutely aware that his finger was huge compared to Shelly's and each dab left a silver dollar-sized smear of ointment.
Finny grunted as Joe's finger poked rather than dabbed the spots on her chest.
"Gently!" Shelly admonished, slapping Joe's arm.
Finny held her breath, half expecting Joe to explode. But the enormous muscles never flinched. All that happened, was the look of concentration and anxiety on his haggard face intensified.
Finny saw that the apology was spoken to the woman, but his eyes had directed it at her. She smiled a reassurance and was rewarded with Joe's face relaxing a little bit.
Joe eventually got the hang of it and, by the time all of Finny's red blotches had turned white from the liniment, the little girl had fallen asleep again.
Joe sat back and let out a long sigh of relief. He'd done it. Then he looked up and caught Shelly's smirk at his self-congratulatory smile.
Shelly released joe from his embarrassment by busying herself with rolling down Casper's shirt and pulling up the bedspread. Only then did she turn to the berserker.
"Okay, you done good..." There was a long pause. "You wanna give me the damn bottle now?"
All that day and the next, Finny drifted in and out of sleep. Sometimes Joe was there when she woke, attending to her spots, but she soon drifted off again.
Nevertheless, Joe could see that the rash was slowly fading.
By the third day, a regular stream of mums bringing their kids to see Finny meant the room was often crowded and noisy.
Joe was shocked on one of his visits to see that some of these kids were actually in bed with her.
It became apparent through this kind of thing, that Shelly was something more than what she seemed.
Everyone knew Shelly. Shelly was the one to go to if your kid was sick, or this week's money wasn't stretching to the end of the week.
Or even if you just needed someone to listen to you over a pot of tea. She was certainly the hub of the working mums.
The organiser of weddings, of kid's parties, of food drives when times were even harder than normal. And, importantly, Shelly knew who was who in the village, and what was what going on there.
In fact, Shelly was the final piece of the jigsaw that decided Joe on staying in Velia.
By the end of the week, Finny was allowed to play in the little courtyard at the bottom of the stairs.
Also, 'playing' with Bino had turned into looking after Bino, even though she was only a year older than the little boy.
Also by the end of the week. Joe had sold the wagon; sold the horses; and even sold his armour. With the proceeds, he had bought a little house on the hill that led down to the wharfs.
He could have bought a bigger place, in a less busy part of the village. But this house had a pigsty and six big porkers. Pigs were useful. Pigs ate anything.
Joe also bought another house, a little bigger than the one he and Finny would be living in, but this one was for Shelly and her boys.
Joe and Shelly had had some long discussions while Finny was getting over her weaslepox. She and Joe had grown up in hard times so eventually, an agreement was reached.
For his part, Joe would provide Shelly with a house. For her part, Shelly would provide Joe with certain information.
Information that, in the coming days and weeks, led to some very well-fed pigs and Joe's rapid climb up Velia's blossoming criminal hierarchy.
So, Shelly had her house and spent her free time with a gaggle of mothers decorating and repairing it.
Then came the day of the move and Finny and Bino were given strict instructions to stay out of the way while Joe,
Shelly and Casper set about moving all the family's belongings out of the room and along the street to Shelly's new house.
The last night in Shelly's room above the inn, as Joe was tucking Finny and Bino into bed together, Finny sighed.
"I wish we could live here."
Joe looked down at her for a moment, then scowled the fakest of scowls.
"Go to sleep, scabby."
Finny laughed and rolled over onto her side. Joe looked back at her from the open doorway. He smiled and nodded to himself. Yeah, this was going to work.
Then he closed the door and headed downstairs into the night where he had a meeting with a man in a dark, seldom used passageway.
At the bottom of the stairs, one of Joe's new employees handed him a large sack and a substantial club. Joe tested its weight.
"Okay, let's do this."