They were nearly home, now. She couldn’t remember who she’d been hired to kill, this time. But there was something in her hand… oh yes, a head. The hire wanted to see it. But this was wrong. He should have been there. Well, one of them. They always were, on the way home. And they rounded the last corner, and there he was, waiting in the middle of the road. She put the head down. This would only take a few minutes.
And then it had, and she was standing there, swaying, while he picked up the coins from the grass, but left that other thing there. “That’s the best beating yet,” she said conversationally. It all still seemed like a dream: most things did, these days.
He looked at her oddly. Recognition: of course, he saw her every day. But more than that..? “Right my dear! But wouldn't you rather set records together? The grass is greener on the other side. Ragna, I am your father.........”
Ragna looked at the severed hand on the floor, then at the man who just beat her. Again. She was getting used to this. It almost felt like... security?
No. No security. Not since the bad thing happened. That wasn’t allowed. Keep the rage going, she might even remember that... but she was so tired... no, keep fighting, even if she was too tired to shout at him. She remembered what she used to do in school, when they said they’d set their daddies on her. "Naa," she said derisively. "My dad was good looking. You haven't even got horns. An' he was a better liar, Mum said."
He just stood there. Watched her pick up her hand, and leave. Back to the tavern. They paid her gold coins. Lots of them. She didn't know how many. She would put them under the bed, where the bear could look after them, like Mummy had when her friends had brought her presents. Sometimes she would take a big handful and go to the merchant, and he would give her pretty things. She could hold a bigger handful now than when Mummy used to take her there, and now he offered her rings, and stones, and pretty swords. He used to offer her sweets. She liked sweets, but he didn't give her those any more. Maybe that was because she'd been a bad girl.
Then home. If she went to sleep under her bearskin, everything would be all right, and her hand would stop hurting. She kissed Mummy goodnight. Mummy didn't kiss her back any more, not since the bad thing happened. Ragna had been a bad girl, then. She'd hidden under the bearskin, safe, like Mummy had told her. She should have come out and killed all the bad men with her wooden sword. But it wasn't a very big sword. She had a better sword, now. Still not big enough, though. Some of the bad men still hurt her, even now, instead of her killing them. But that was right. She'd been a bad girl. She wouldn't be a good girl until she'd killed all of them. Then Mummy would kiss her again.
Like on those evenings when Mummy had a friend to stay, and she'd be put to bed early, safe under the great bearskin. She could hear them, but she never saw them. Sometimes she pretended that one of them was her daddy. One of the nice ones, who made Mummy laugh. She remembered one in particular, and what Mummy had said when he tickled her.
"Ooh, you're a demon, you are!"
"Hush, you'll wake the child." His voice was nice. Was it familiar?
"No, she's safe enough." Mummy sounded happy. And she knew, Ragna was safe with her bear to look after her.