Joe returned with a string of fish and immediately set about cleaning them. Finny, now dry and warm in her blanket, watched in silence, already imagining the fish cooked and on a plate.
Joe noticed her interest and called Finny over.
Hugging the blanket around her, Finny waddled over with half the blanket trailing behind her like the bridal train of the woman she might one day grow into.
"You ever gut a fish?" Joe asked.
Finny shook her head.
"Time you learned then I'd say."
And so it was that Finny got her first life lesson in looking after herself. Where to cut the head off, how to not tear the guts, how to remove the bones, all that useful stuff.
After she had washed her hands, Finny had run back to her blanket to learn the next lesson, which was how to cook fish over an open fire.
The berserker 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.
Then Finny was shown 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 between them that to an outsider watching, it might even appear as a mime.
For Finny though, it was the most pleasurable experience she had had since waking up that birthday morning two weeks previously.
The fish they had prepared together was the best thing Finny had tasted, ever. Joe brought out some bread and some seasoning, and they ate like it was a feast.
After she had satisfied her initial hunger, Finny watched Joe, who had set to work turning the flour sack into a makeshift dress. 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 Finny would be able to get her head through.
The berserker called her over with a finger. Finny put down her plate and shuffled over to him in her blanket.
Joe lifted the flour sack dress up over her head and Finny, letting the blanket fall to the ground, stretched her arms up to meet the homemade dress as the giant pulled it down over her.
As a finishing touch, Joe pulled a length of thick cord from his pocket, cut it to a suitable length and tied it around Finny's waist as a belt.
Finny examined her new outfit. It was okay... but...
Although she was happy not to have to wear the tattered remains of her party dress, but did he really expect her to wear this now? Her expression must have given away her misgivings.
Joe looked at her.
"I'll get you some proper clothes at the next village."
Finny looked down and wiggled her toes.
"I need some shoes too."
"An' I need some underpants."
"I'll get you what you need, okay?"
Finny tilted her head to one side and smiled at the man.
" 'kay. Thank you, mister Joe."
The berserker grunted.
"Sure, whatever. Oh, one more thing..." He reached for his knife. "Hold still."
Finny held her breath.
Giant hands reached up to her head, she closed her eyes tight and hunched her shoulders as once more Finny thought that the man was maybe going to kill her, this time by cutting her throat.
But he didn't. Finny felt a tug at the side of her head, then one of her braids was pulled tight.
Finny opened her eyes just in time to see her long ginger twisted 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.
Her hair! Finny ran off to the stream, desperate to find a still pool where she could see the mutilation done to her. When she saw herself, she was furious.
Finny stomped back to where Joe had just returned to the camp from where Finny's party dress had fallen, carrying the rag between finger and thumb.
"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."
Finny sat down on her log with a thump.
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."
Leaving? Finny took the proffered cup and watched unhappily as her party dress and her braids were consumed by the fire.
Joe left her alone while he packed up the camp and hitched the four horses. 'So you don't get recognised' he had said. That meant he wasn't taking her home then. Her party dress. Her braids.
These were the very last things of her life before. Short hair and a sack dress, this was her now.
Joe's voice came from the other end of the wagon, where the refreshed horses were stomping and ready to be off.
"Put the fire out when you are ready, but don't be long about it because we've got a long way to go."
'...A long way to go'. Finny swallowed and forced the tears not to come. Okay then, fine, this is my new life.
She stood up and, with a final look at the last of the sequins shrivelling to blackness in the heat, Finny poured the remains of the herbal tea onto the fire. Her past hissed into oblivion.