She climbed into the big canopy bed and snuggled her favorite teddy bear close. His name was Bart and he wore faded denim overalls, one strap fastened with a safety pin. He was also missing an eye but the little girl wouldn't sleep without it.
Her daddy pulled her blanket up under her chin and kissed her on the nose. She giggled; his beard tickled her face. "Tell me a story, Daddy."
He perched on the edge of her bed and crossed his arms in his lap. "And what story would my princess like to hear," he asked his accent a shadow of the past.
"You know," she said, a sly smile on her lips.
"Now, now that is no story for bedtimes. You will be awake all night with bad dreams."
"No I won't," ...view middle of the document...
In those years the warring was worse. Each political faction was backed by wealthy businessmen. It was bad times, bloody times."
Her father paused and his expression changed. Fearing he might get sad and change his mind, she prompted him to continue. "She snuck out one night..."
"Yes. It was early, about four A.M. I was guarding the house with another mercenary. I never knew his name but he was a horrible, vile man. He saw her first. She was trying to climb a tree to get to her room. Never try to climb a tree in heels, princess."
"I won't," she giggled. "And then you saved her."
"The mercenary found her first. I heard her cry out, recognized her voice. When I reached them he had a dagger to her neck. She was terrified; her eyes were as wide as a loris. He spit when he saw me; he wanted to...he was not an honorable man."
"But her father was paying him to protect her."
"Honor, my princess, cannot be bought. He might have argued that he was protecting her, from worse men or her father's ire. That doesn't mean that she was safe in his care."
"You killed him, though, and saved Mama."
"I did. After that, she would bring me little treats. A coke when the weather was warm, a scarf when it was cold. It wasn't long before her father noticed. I was warned-"
"You were threatened."
"You're right, I was threatened, with death if I didn't leave her alone. I tried to stay away. I pretended not to want her gifts but inside I longed to see her smile, to hear her laugh. I knew the price and so did she."
This was the part she could never understand. "But if you both knew it was bad-"
"When you are in love," he interrupted, "the heart doesn't know consequences. The...