They reached Heidal a couple of weeks later, and from there Joe planned to take them both further east to Altinova where she and Joe could lose themselves in that teaming city.
But they were stopped at the eastern gate because the direct route had been declared unsafe because of a flare-up of the in the on-again,
off-again fighting that was all too common in the area due to the war with Calpheon.
So, traffic was being diverted north to the coastal village of Velia where they could embark on a boat that would take them along the coast and then upstream to the city.
The journey to Velia should have taken two days, but as they made camp on the second evening, Finny was not feeling well. More worryingly, she didn't want her supper. Joe had noticed too.
Finny usually ate everything put in front of her...
Well, except for that one time when Joe had made a stew from a pair of rats after being unable to catch anything else, and Finny had point-blank refused to eat it.
After Joe's final demand that she would eat it 'if she knew what was good for her', The little girl had calmly walked over to the stew pot,
scooped up a hand full of dirt and deposited it into the stew.
Even as the soil and twigs and dead bugs slid through her fingers, Finny was realising that she had just ruined the only meal either of them was likely to get until getting to Velia...
and the big berserker liked to eat. She felt a small pit open up in her middle. But it was done now.
Finny wiped her dirty hand on the seat of her britches and wondered if the movement was forshadowing a more dramatic action to that part of her anatomy. She looked up at Joe.
The half-giant's face was a moving picture of contorting muscles, and his big hands clenched and unclenched like they couldn't make up their mind. Finny wondered what would happen now.
Although she was pretty sure Joe wasn't going to go all crazy, her recent experience with the various people who had kept her locked up suggested that it still wasn't going to be good.
The berserker shifted his eyes from the pot of ruined stew to Finny. Joe, having gotten his anger under control, then pointed off to the wagon.
"Go on. Get your little arse in that wagon and stay there. I don't even want to see you until bedtime."
So, she wasn't getting punished? But then a thought struck her.
"But what about if I need to do a..."
Finny moved, scooting off to the wagon as fast as her feet would carry her. She would figure out what to do if she needed a wee, if it happened.
As she was climbing into the back of the wagon, she glanced back to the campfire. Joe had turned and was staring into the ruined stew, shaking his head.
Spending the rest of the day in the wagon was boring, and Finny was hungry.
At some point in the interminably long wait for Joe to give her freedom again, Finny wondered why he hadn't smacked her.
But, lacking an answer to the question or having any understanding why grown-ups did things anyway, Finny put it out of her mind.
It had gotten dark. Finny had been told many times not to use matches in the wagon, so she hadn't.
As it had gotten darker, she had given up on getting her freedom so had gotten undressed and snuggled down into the bedding.
She was just dropping off to sleep when the wagon tilted, and Joe climbed in. There was a scratch and the brief smell of sulphur and the interior of the wagon filled with smokey yellow light.
Finny lay still and pretended to be asleep as Joe crawled across the rush mattress which served as their bed. She felt a nudge.
"Here. Sit up."
Not sure if Joe was still mad at her, Finny slowly pulled herself into a sitting position. He didn't seem mad, he sat next to her and was holding out a wooden bowl with a spoon in it.
Not mad then, unless; the sudden thought struck her, he was going to make her eat the spoiled stew.
But no. Finny took the bowl. Inside was what smelled like oatcake, the very hard round biscuits they fed the horses when they were low on fodder.
The oatcake biscuit had been broken up and softened with hot milk, which Finny realised must have been the last of their little supply. Joe had even sprinkled some brown sugar on top.
Finny felt very grateful and very sorry at the same time. She bit her lip and looked up. Joe's face was anything but mad, a little sad maybe, undoubtedly tired, but any anger was gone.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "For doing..."
"I know." Joe tilted his chin towards the bowl on her lap. "Just, eat your supper before the milk goes cold."
Finny nodded and started to eat. Joe was still watching her.
"Finn?" She swallowed what was in her mouth and looked up. Joe's face was very serious. "You mustn't do things like that Finny. If I get mad... even if I don't get 'mad' mad...
if I ever even tapped you, I could really hurt you, break bones, that sort of thing." He paused.
"I know you're only a kid, but you have to try and really behave because sometimes it's very hard for me... you know?"
"Yes, Sir." She stuck the spoon in her mouth and used her free hand to make an 'X' over the centre of her chest. "Crosh my hard."
Joe smiled at her as she went back to eating her supper.
"Good girl. Make sure you drink all the milk up, I don't want it spilling on the blankets, and it ends up stinking the place out.
" Joe pulled off his boots, climbed under the cover and rolled over with his back to her. "Put the candle out when you're done. See you in the morning."
Finny slurped down the last of the milk.
"See you in the morning." She intoned. The little phrase had become a kind of ritual, as if not to say it and get the reply was to invite terrible things during the night.
She snuffed the candle and then snuggled down. Joe's colossal body put out a lot of warmth, which was good.
It also put out a lot of nocturnal farts but, on the whole, Finny always slept well knowing the berserker was there.
So that had been then.
But now, here they were, late afternoon a few miles south of Velia and Finny felt hot and sicky and headachy and... and then she threw up.
Joe 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, she could have told him that.
What she couldn't have told him and was even more concerning was that Finny's face was 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."
Even at four, Finny doubted that logic. But, what did she know? She closed her eyes and opened her mouth. She gagged; nasty was an understatement.
"Urghh! What is it? It's horrible!"
"It's er... for sore tummies." Technically, Joe was right. He just hid the label which displayed the fact that this 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 and becoming delirious. 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.