She was three years old when she first went to meet her father. Her mother washed her face, put her in a clean blue dress with only one patch in it, sent Rica to stay with Orena across the street, and carried her out of Dust Town, up the great stone steps to the Commons, and into the tapster's.
To the child's eye, the crowded, noisy tavern was as beautiful and exciting as a palace and the dwarf at the corner table, wearing a breastplate of real steel, and copper beads in his long white beard must, she thought, be a prince; but her mother strode directly up to him and plopped the child down on the floor in front of him.
One bushy white eyebrow shot upwards and wild blue eyes glared down at her, "What is this?" he turned his mad gaze on her mother. "Do I know you?"
"You did once," Kalah Brosca replied sharply. "And this," she pushed her child toward him, "is your daughter."
The child stumbled, and her father reached out instinctively to catch her. She ran a tiny fingertip over the thin white knife scars on his bare forearms, and the robed human beside him giggled shrilly, "Can't deny it, Nico. It even looks like you."
Nico lifted the little girl until her face was even with his, "So it does," he turned his gaze back to Kalah. "Well, woman, what do you want me to do with it? I already have an heir."
Kalah did not seem to have expected this response. She stood silent a moment, her broad face blank. "Well," she said at last, vaguely, "if I'm to keep her, what would you have me call her?"
Nico's companion stood up...and up...and up. The nameless child stared in wide-eyed awe at the human's enormous height, and he gave that high-pitched giggle once again, "Look at those big, scared eyes!" he reached out to tug gently at one of her white pigtails. "You should call it a rabbit."
Nico threw back his head and roared with laughter. "There you have it, "he declared, handing the girl back to her mother."Call it, "he stifled another snort of laughter, "Rabbit."
* * *
She was eight when she watched her father die. She'd watched him from a distance for years, sneaking around Dust Town, making deals with the carta, buying lyrium, disappearing into locked back rooms for hours on end only to stumble out, more mad-eyed than ever, the next morning and go back to whatever wonderful, magical life awaited him somewhere outside of Dust Town. Rabbit didn't understand what Nico Mazin was doing or why, but his rich clothes, his brandless face, and the knowledge that, in some strange, secret way, she was connected to him, fascinated her. So she followed him. She followed him to where the lyrium smugglers sold their wares. She followed him into the abandoned house across from the old, dried up fountain. And when she could not follow him any farther, she sat beside his locked door and waited.
Usually when this happened, she heard only the faintest rustlings of movement and, perhaps an inarticulate curse or two, then silence for several hours. This time was different. This time Rabbit was startled out of her waiting by a sudden, thunderous crash, followed by strange, scrabbling, scuffling thumps. Frightened, Rabbit struggled to open the heavy door. Her little hands were not yet very clever at lock picking, so by the time she got the door open, all noise on the other side had stopped. Cautiously, the little girl peered around the door, but nothing moved in the room beyond. Her father lay slumped on the floor, his eyes rolled back in his head, fresh cuts on his arms still oozing a glowing mixture of blood and lyrium. Rabbit stepped cautiously toward him. She had seen death before. Death came to the streets of Dust Town all the time; from starvation, from sickness, from being on the wrong end of a carta blade; but that it could happen like this, to someone as strong and rich and magnificent as her father, confused and terrified Rabbit. She inched closer and closer to the body until at last she could reach out a hand and gingerly touch his face. Nico's skin still felt warm, but he did not respond to her touch, did not move, did not breathe. Growing bolder, Rabbit touched him again, running her hand over his long beard, feeling the cold, hard rounds of copper beads beneath her fingers. She closed her hand around one of the beads and carefully drew it free from her father's beard and looked at it. It sat in her palm, small and cold and heavy, and suddenly, for no reason she could name, Rabbit was terrified. Clutching the bead to her chest, she ran from the room, ran from the house, ran until she was breathless, then went and picked a fight with Leske to clear her head. She never told him why.
* * *
"Guess what," Rica declared importantly.
Her little sister glanced up briefly, then went back to her game of pebbles, "No."
Rica ignored Rabbit's indifference. "I'm going to get a job."
It was Leske's turn to look up from the game, curious. "A job? You mean like Soma the cripple?"
"Not begging, nughead," Rica glared down at him with all the superiority her fourteen years afforded her. "Behrat's going to teach me to be a lady, and then the nobles will pay me for singing and dancing and...and...things," she finished vaguely.
Rabbit frowned. "Behrat? Mother says he's no good."
Rica wrinkled her nose. "Mother also says that Soma's pet deep stalker is planning to kill her in her sleep."
Leske scuffed a bare toe through the dust. "Behrat is no good," he declared darkly.
"Nobody asked you, duster," Rabbit swatted the back of his head.
Leske punched her and they fell into the dusty street, kicking and punching one another good-naturedly. By the time Rabbit had succeeded in pinning her friend face-down in the dirt, Rica was gone.
* * *
Leske frowned. "It's not my nameday."
"You don't know that," Rabbit retorted, and her friend shrugged, conceding the point. Then his eyes widened when he saw the gift she held out. The dagger's bone handle was embossed with a delicate trace work of silver and the blade fairly glistened with keenness. Leske reached out to take it, then hesitated as if afraid it might melt away at his touch. "Who'd you lift that off of?" he breathed in awe.
Rabbit kicked at the dirt uncomfortably, refusing to meet her friend's eyes. "I...uh...didn't exactly lift it off anyone," she admitted. "Somebody gave it to me."
Leske looked at her sharply. "Who?"
"You won't like it."
He continued to stare her down, waiting.
"Look, it's just going to be this one time, and you know we need the extra money, and Behrat says he'll--"
"I told you you wouldn't like it."
Then, to her astonishment, Leske grabbed her by the shoulders and mashed his lips against hers. The dagger fell to the ground, forgotten in sheer surprise, and Rabbit pushed Leske away so hard he stumbled and almost fell. "What'd you do that for?" she demanded.
Leske actually blushed. "Well, if you're going to be working for Behrat and all...I mean if you're going to...I just wanted to be the first to...you know...." he replied disjointedly.
After a few bewildered moments, Rabbit finally made sense of what he was trying to say. "Not like that, nughead!" she sighed in exasperation. "Behrat just wants me to go scare somebody," she grinned. "You know how good I am at scaring people."
Leske smiled back sheepishly. "Oh."
"I mean, can you see me all painted and dressed up like that?"
"Nah," but he'd hesitated a little too long before answering. Rabbit frowned at him. Leske ducked his head, then bent to pick up the fallen dagger. "You sure you don't want this?"