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your heart will never be free, not when the enemy of freedom is me [rsv]


Mira
 Mira
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Every morning the Sheriff of Nottingham woke to the sound of birdsong and to the screams of the condemned in the undercroft. Unperturbed, the man would rise and stretch, extending his arms up over his head and overexaggerating a yawn, and begin his day. Ignoring the mounting paperwork on his desk, he would make a beeline for the room that adjoined his bed chamber, where, throwing off his silk robe, he would step into his morning bath—a luxury even few nobles could afford these days—and often break his fast at the same time, languishing in the water until it grew cold or he grew bored, whichever came first. He would raise a limp wrist from the water and ring the little bell placed for him beside his breakfast tray, the sound summoning two or more servants to towel him off and attend him while he dressed.

Yes, every morning was much the same for Sheriff Vasey, Chief Deputy of Nottinghamshire.

Even now, as he sat informally in his chair with his leg thrown over the side, contemplating his excruciating boredom, there was no denying that during the day he lived a life of privilege. Cheek pillowed in his fist, he stared at some vague point of interest past Guy of Gisborne's shoulder as the other blathered on and on about something-or-other, his eyes having taken on a glassy, disinterested sheen several anecdotes back. His thoughts drifted like an errant flock of sheep, breezing from one topic to the next: he contemplated money; Marian; Guy of Gisborne's uncanny likeness to a shaggy black bear he had once seen perform in a traveling circus; the fate of the peasant man he had sentenced to hang tomorrow for humming half a verse of King Richard's march; the unidentifiable scrap of food caught in the wiry hairs of Gisborne's beard; how good Marian looked astride a horse; Prince John's impending visit...

"... and then there's the matter of Robin Hood."

"Of what, now?" Vasey interrupted, finding his daydreaming infringed upon. "Speak up, Gisborne! For God's sake, must you always mumble so?"

"My apologies, Sheriff," the other mumbled quickly. "But Hood is becoming quite a problem—"

"Don't you think I already know that?" Vasey spat, his tone of voice appropriately petulant, appropriately irritable. "He's surpassed being just a nuisance to become a full-blown threat to Prince John's empire! And how are you progressing in your arrest of this outlaw?"

"We had a bit of an altercation two days ago," Gisborne divulged, his wormy lips parting to reveal an ugly, stained smile. "I managed to inflict him quite a nasty wound across the broad side of his shoulder."

"Hm," Vasey hummed noncommittally, wincing at the memory.

"If he is one of the nobles in disguise, as I believe him to be, he should be easily identifiable at tonight's feast. A solid pat on the shoulder ought to give him away. I intend to flush him out, all right!"

"How uncommonly brilliant of you, Gisborne," the Sheriff drawled. "While I think your theory misguided and, quite frankly, a waste of time and taxpayer money, it's an infant's first step in the right direction."

"I won't disappoint you, my lord."

"Superficial flesh wounds are disappointing to me, Gisborne!" Vasey let loose with a demonstrative slamming of his fist on the arm of his chair. "I want his head delivered to me on a stake before the month is out!"

Guy of Gisborne bowed, missing the brief flash of mocking laughter in the Sheriff's eyes. The other man rose again immediately when a commotion just outside the receiving room drew both their attention. Vasey sat back in his chair, suddenly attentive, green eyes glittering with... surely it wasn't amusement? "What is that awful racket? Has yet another prisoner let themselves out of the dungeon?"

"My lord, there is a small matter to attend to this morning..." Gisborne's brow, however, had knitted itself into a Neanderthal's approximation of confusion, and the deputy sheriff turned on his heel to stroll quickly to the great double doors. He disappeared between them; more shouting issued from the hall, and Gisborne returned, face flushed as ruddy-red as a slab of undercooked beef.

"A prisoner requires your deliberation, my lord, but it seems that Lady Marian has inserted herself once more into the proceedings—"

"Marian! Insertion!" Vasey repeated delightedly, clapping his hands. "Well, what are you waiting for? Send her in!"

"My lord..." Gisborne began apprehensively. "Do you think it wise? The last time she was allowed to attend a public hearing, her very vocal objections nearly rallied the peasantry against you."

"Yes, she's marvelous, isn't she?" Vasey agreed without really listening. "Send her in, Gisborne; don't make me repeat myself! I could use more attractive company this morning."

As Gisborne turned away once more, the Sheriff took a moment to wince privately to himself and massage his right shoulder conspicuously. He worked it around in the socket, rolling it a few times, before giving up with a sigh. Left untreated, the wound he had sustained from the fight with Gisborne was sure to become infected, and he would lapse into fever in a few days... but that seemed to him the least of his problems at the moment.

Yes, the Sheriff of Nottingham had a lot of problems. Chief among them, he was living a lie: the personality he affected for the world, for gentry and peasantry alike, was a total sham. The most accomplished thespians in the country would have fallen sadly short had their talents been measured against Vasey's grasp of his character. He was corrupt; a sadist; a tyrant; but that wasn't who he was, not truly. Ever since the prince had sacked the former sheriff, Sir Edward—Marian's father—and passed the title off to Vasey, Vasey's life had reduced itself to a part he played. The Sheriff of Nottingham was a boorish, corrupt coward, albeit handsome—even his talents for deception couldn't extend that far. Despite the vile part he played, he wasn't wanting in female admirers, attracted to his dashing good-looks; his unconscious charisma; to his power and the security such a union promised. Prince John's court was as full of swine as it was silly women, and Vasey—the real Vasey—because of this, for the most part, favored his time spent alone.

When you made your bed in a viper's nest, you didn't tend to want to lay with them.

There was the one glaring exception. There was one person in court, one who shared his most secret and carefully buried ideals, that he wished to have by his side at all times, but how could she help but despise him? Noble creature that she was, Vasey had swiftly established himself as the mortal enemy of every principle she held dear. Wanting her to want him, yet willing her to feel nothing but contempt for the sort of man he was forced to be when she was around... it was all very complicated.

But Sheriff Vasey was nothing if not a schemer. For months he had managed to keep his Robin Hood persona intact, and the rumors abounded. Was the man an outlaw? A villager? A deserter from King Richard's army? Or a nobleman, as Gisborne seemed to think? (And Gisborne really was hitting a little too close to home with that one.) Nobody would ever suspect the Sheriff of Nottingham of being his own nemesis, and what better way to subvert the Sheriff's wishes than to become the man's enemy? Again, it was all very complicated—but politics usually were.

With Prince John's impending arrival in Nottingham, and the welcome feast scheduled for that evening, Vasey thought it high time the king's brother met Robin Hood. It was high time Marian met Robin—and as the Sheriff, he would personally ensure that she did not miss tonight's main event.


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Jersey
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Lady Marian was a woman well-known throughout the court, and for fairly good reason. Her status was not all that high-ranking, being simply the daughter of the sacked sheriff, yet her reputation preceded her in several ways. Her beauty was a contributor to the wagging tongues, lovely as she was. Despite being far too old for an unmarried woman, she had the glow of youth in her small, delicate features and eyes the color of warm Caribbean waters. Her slim figure was contoured by womanly curves, narrow waist emphasized by pretty dresses provided by the court. She was much too beautiful to be alone, as many suitors were fond of telling her. Yet those eyes they found so enchantingly blue were more than capable of becoming colder than any glacier, harder than any diamond. She was not a woman known for her easily persuaded nature, especially those of the romantic persuasion. If anything, her infamy came from her surprising steadfastness in situations a woman would typically hold her tongue in. It contrasted sharply against her fragile appearance, like a simple harsh word would break her. More often than not, she was the one delivering the harsh words. Her taciturn nature was commonly mistaken for shyness, but certainly because she didn't want to speak didn't mean she wasn't perfectly capable. Silence was an attractive quality in a woman, but hers' was not one of meekness nor agreeance to the social stigma. Staying socially acceptable was a constant struggle for her (one of the few battles she commonly lost), but as of late she had been persuaded further to reign in her sharp tongue and unladylike wit.

As much as it pained her to admit, her father was weak in his old age. Certainly the vulnerable state he was in need not be vexed further by his daughter's disobedient nature. Concern for her father was the greatest contributing factor to her sudden compliance, but there was also the fact the two of them were currently housed in the castle, and surely not out of the kindness of the current Sheriff's heart. As if he could possibly have one, with all the hangings then went on and his nonchalance about them. The thought received a small internal scoff of agreement as she pressed all the memories of a smiling boy slightly older than her aside. They certainly can't be the same person, as she can't imagine the Vasey of her youth ever being so needlessly cruel. And to think she'd actually been excited for his return, eager to see the man her closest childhood friend had turned out be. Man was inaccurate in the situation however, monster was much more appropriate. 

He was the reason she was finding it increasingly difficult to still her tongue, something she usually did without second thought. But she couldn't allow herself, not without an extreme amount of guilt and feeling of wrongdoing, allow such obvious immoral acts to precede. There was nothing she could presently do to fight the system besides speak out, and even that was tiptoeing a thin line. If not for her father's condition, most likely she'd be sharing a cell down in the dungeon with another poor peasant and victim of unfortunate circumstances. Such injustice angered her in ways she couldn't possibly verbalize, and as a result her ventures to the forest seemed to be occurring in higher frequency. It was an unusual activity for a woman, but most were simply under the impression she rode horseback through the winding trails as a way of calming herself. More commonly, she was fond of taking out her frustration by practice with various weapons. But this wasn't a recent development, in her youth she'd made herself quite proficient with throwing knives out of simple boredom and pent-up frustration. 

Now, several years older (and twice as bored and frustrated) she was an adept swordsman and her aim with the bow was nearly impeccable. She wasn't quite at the talent level she would be satisfied with, but she was a relatively petite woman and there were limits to her strength level. With the way things currently were, she'd certainly have a lot of time to practice. That was her current intention, actually, the sole reason she'd bothered leave the safe confines of her bedroom (as if any room in this Godforsaken castle could be considered "safe"). Yet her attention, usually so incapable of being swayed, was sent reeling in the opposite direction as she passed two severe looking guards leading a man to the dungeon below. She could only assume that was there desired location, as he was struggling so wildly something in her heart throbbed painfully.

A guard requested she move in a tone short of patience, and she did not comply to his order as easily as he expected she would. 

"What is his crime?"She demanded of the guard, forcing her eyes away from the piteous looking man's to the steely eyed guards. Surprise flitted briefly across his thick brow, and he humored her briefly. 

"Disloyalty, my lady,"He remarked vaguely, jerking with his head gesturingly to the guard. She was pushed aside as a result, curtly sidestepped by the three men (though clearly one was much more reluctant to do so). Undeterred, she followed them as a hound would a fox, her pale blue eyes narrowed with determination. 

"In what way was he disloyal?"She inquired further over the accused man's wails, curiosity and displeasure mingling her in tone. The taller guard seemed to be growing gradually more frustrated by both her pestering and the man's lack of cooperation. The guards seemed unwilling to humor her farther, but the man turned suddenly and his wild eyes met hers. She didn't flinch back as one would in the situation, as he was only inches from her face. 

"For simply humming a song, Miss,"He informed her breathlessly, and her words caught suddenly in her throat as he was yanked back forward savagely. Had her father been there, he would've known the sudden glint in her eyes belayed trouble. But he was not, and so the forewarning she gave them was unheeded. It was only until she slid in front of them once again were they forced to stop. She met the guard's eyes, her own piercingly bright and pinning him to the very spot he stood.

"And you agree with this, then? Punishing a man for nothing more than humming a tune?"She demanded of the guard, who's stoic expression shifted uneasily. He looked to his comrade, who remained unphased by her presence. 

"It's of no relevance whether I agree or not,"He remarked in a severely unamused tone, one that further tested her impatience. It was no longer surprising when she met his eyes defiantly. 

"I think if had to send a man to his death, I'd have to agree with the sentence. Otherwise it seems just a bit insincere,"She shot back dryly, clearly furthering thinning the guards' nerves. The two looked at each other once again, clearly musing on what would be the easiest way to disperse of the pest. Deciding which was more annoying, her persistent questioning of their admittedly shaky morals, or the man's constant wailing and imploring to be set free, required strict deliberation. Deciding on how to get rid of the former did not however, as it was with surprise to all four persons that a new player had joined. Gisborne seized her arm with a thin lipped smile.

"I thought I'd find you here Marian,"He remarked simply, fingernails digging unpleasantly into the flesh of her arm,"The Sheriff requires your presence upstairs. I'm afraid you'll have to say goodbye to your new friend,"He elaborated, and disgust flickered visibly in her eyes. She did not have time to argue or protest however, pulled away from the scene like a petulant child. Her agitation was thinly veiled, and was evident in her tone.

"I am not a child for you to pull away and scold Gisborne,"She informed him, pulling her arm from his grasp and letting it rest at her side. She took steps away from him, though was not stupid enough to walk farther away. Her sideways glance caught sight of the man being lead further away, and her fingers curled involuntarily. She clasped her hands behind her back to hide it.

"Of course not Marian, I am well aware of your age,"He remarked smoothly back, waiting patiently for her to scale the stairs before him. It wasn't out of gentlemanly concern of course, that she was aware. His knock at her age, practically ancient considering she wasn't married, was responded only with silence simply because the remark she had in mind wouldn't be that wise. She continued her trend of quiet until the door the Sheriff was in was opened. Wordlessly she stepped inside, inclining her head in curt greeting. 

"You needed to see me?"She asked in a deceptively innocent tone, all the while resisting the urge to start humming loudly. 


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Mira
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Vasey, hearing voices drawing nearer, began to adjust his clothes self-consciously; he ran his hands repeatedly through his short brown hair and was frustrated by the futility of his attempt. For God's sakes, why hadn't he attempted to make himself more presentable this morning? Prince John was coming! More importantly, Marian was about to step right through those doors. If he was going to find himself in the hot seat once more with the fierce-tempered young woman, he wished the confrontation might come when he wasn't looking so disheveled.

Go forth with confidence, Vasey. After all, you're the Sheriff.

But even his unearned promotion could not prepare him for the vision that now swept in from the hall. Petite, small-waisted Marian, as poised and polished as a porcelain doll, moved towards the throne, her brilliant blue eyes only thinly veiling her derision. She was fortunate their color so distracted that no other stood a chance of reading them as well as he did. Generally speaking, Marian was quite proficient at disguising her emotions, but Vasey liked to think he knew her well enough to understand that when they burned just a little brighter, it almost always meant trouble for him.

She'd come a long way from the skinny girl he had known in his youth. Always determined to keep up with him, she had tagged along with him almost everywhere he went, her intelligence at turns encouraging and diverting his naturally impulsive nature. They had been quite a team in their day. If only she could know him now as Robin Hood! If only he wasn't forced to keep up this torturous charade and disappoint her time and again, making her feel isolated and helpless and alone in her plight. She couldn't really think that he would change so totally in the years that separated them, could she? Admittedly, Vasey had seen for himself the effect that time spent in Prince John's court had on people. Decent, morally upright nobles were seduced daily to the dark side, either through blackmail or appeals to their greed. Vasey had resisted it all, but in the end he had been no match for what seemed to him now an irrefutable truth: if you couldn't beat them, you had to join them. And when you joined them, you brought the law down around their heads from the inside.

All of this and more he had learned at court. What his years spent there had not prepared him for was the revelation of Marian, grown to womanhood, and her steadfast conviction to the principles of their youth. Her effect on him was something that had been thoroughly unexpected, and she made the progression of his plans... difficult, to say the least. He could not reveal who he was, but some days the disappointment in her eyes made him half-mad with a desire to give up the whole gimmick and brave the gallows—if she only might be allowed an instant's recognition of the man he truly was.

Ignoring the tumbling of his thoughts—he was growing accustomed to dealing with them, especially when Marian was around—Vasey reclined in his chair, lacing his fingers as his smile betrayed amusement.

"Harassing my guard again, Lady Marian? You know those fools are no match for your rapier wit and exceeding beauty. I'm surprised they didn't take the liberty of finding you a temporary cell of your own just to be rid of you."

Although Vasey knew her true motive for being there, he didn't wish to address it right away. Undoubtedly she would bring it up herself eventually, and he would be forced to defend his actions. Admittedly, he didn't have much of a defense yet for sending the musically-inclined man off to prison. He was counting on her to chalk it all up to the Sheriff's sadistic, unreasonable nature, a thing impossible to appeal to.

"Oh, I get it," he said suddenly, knowingly, propping his chin on his fist as he considered the woman before him. "You wished to see me so badly you had to battle your way past my guard. I admire your commitment, but you know such gestures aren't necessary."

Damn it. Did he always have to purposefully try to make her angrier? The way he acted around her was lamentable; like a child, if he found her affections impossible to win, he sought other ways of securing her notice. Being loathed was preferable to being an object of indifference, wasn't it?

"Marian, what are your plans for this evening?"


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Jersey
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Marian found indignation burning her throat at being treated like a child. Gisbourne had grabbed her like an angry mother snatching a lost child, and she was no such thing. She was a well-respected woman in her twenties, though you certainly could not tell that know with the condescension so blatantly broadcasted upon her escort's features. Gisbourne was not a particularly attractive man, and certainly the haughty smirk upon his lips and the narrowing of his beady eyes only emphasized that. Her cruel thoughts were not spoken, but they brought a malicious glint to her darkening blue eyes. She seized her arm back at once, resisting the urge to rub the throbbing part of her bicep his nails had dug into.

And it was with the same stubborn dignity she moved to the side of him, inches away from him more than necessary as to make her revulsion even more apparent. It could not be said that her usual brand of subtlety was needed now. Gisbourne was well aware of her willful and stubborn ways, he'd seen her interact with the Sheriff too many times for her to bother hide it under her usual reserved and aloof demeanor. There seemed to be two conflicting sides to the Lady Marian, one of the courts were presented and the other she kept close only to be revealed in the most necessary of situations. 

Her facade was one of a politely taciturn girl, who was certainly well-mannered and beautiful, but never seemed to say a word more than necessary. It was with great confusion the ladies of the court heard the tales of Marian reacting with her vicious and firey temper, scolding guards so severely they questioned even the strictest of orders. Most of the ladies found it impossible to believe. How could it be true, that the same Lady Marian who spent most of her days at the castle tucked against a tree keeping herself company (unusual activities for a woman, to be sure, but hardly dangerous) , could be the same who challenged even Sheriff Vasey to his face? There were murmured whispers that the only reason she could possibly be so bold to him was due to a secret love affair, and it was quite the gossip that her firey temper was only concealing the other passion she had for him.

Had Marian caught wind of such gossip, she would've been surely displeased. It couldn't have been farther from the truth. Perhaps in her youth she had thought once... that maybe. But certainly not now, certainly not ever again. He had changed (but then again, so had she), and not for the better. He was no longer the boy from her youth, the one that allowed her to follow him about like a lost puppy, the one who showed him how to leap fallen logs and to climb trees, despite neither activity being fit for a lady. Her father, bless him, had been far too busy with his work to keep a consistent eye on his daughter, and with no mother she was left to her own devices. It was a lonely life, indeed, and it had been until she'd struck up the most unusual friendship with the boy next door. Marian thought it quite sad that they still lived in such close proximity, yet everything else had changed.

And it was with this thought she entered the room, Gisbourne holding the door for her and stepping behind her. She looked deceptively innocent, inquiring as to why he'd possibly want to see her, as though she'd never had trouble-causing thought in her life. Her hands were clasped tight behind her back, something she found made it easier to suppress her attention. It also had the unfortunate side affect of pronouncing her chest more prominently, but she supposed men needed little encouragement to stare at what they wanted.

"It would be much more convenient if that were true, Sheriff," The lady remarked lightly, meeting his eyes steadily. She kept them as blank as possible, concealing even her anger. When he remarked about the guards finding her a cell, she kept her mouth sealed though biting remarks sizzled against the roof of her mouth. She swallowed them reluctantly.

When he continued in that impossibly arrogant, impossibly knowing tone he seemed particular in using around her, she found her resolve to stay calm wearing thin. She smiled pleasantly, a slight quirk in her thinning lips. "And you yourself decided it was necessary to send a man to jail for humming just to see me. For if not for that, I would have no reason to battle your guards. I can truly see your charm," Though she spoke in a perfectly polite tone, the scathing fire simmering in her eyes made the implications of her words obvious. Her sarcasm was blatant, even if she had not bothered adjust her tone. 

His next question through her, which was unusual. Surprise flitted briefly across her brow, but she contained it with relative ease. "I had plans to take a ride to the forest, why do you ask? Certainly you have no intention of joining me..." She looked at him questioningly, the wheels turning in her head as she struggled to come to a logical reason as to why he'd find such interest in her plans. He usually left her to her own devices if she wasn't being particularly bothersome. When realization dawned and her memory served, she resisted the urge to groan aloud in displeasure.

"Please tell me you do not intend of forcing me to attend the welcoming feast," Marian remarked with exasperation, not sounding thrilled at all at the idea. And why would she be? Events such as those were the bane of her existence, and impossibly dull.


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Mira
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Vasey was certain that if looks could kill, this woman would have murdered him a thousand times over by now in an endlessly inventive number of ways. Every glance she afforded him stole the very breath from his lungs, suffocating him with a longing so potent he was helpless to subdue it. It would all be so much easier if he could cease to feel as he did for Marian, but each heated exchange with every passing day only seemed to solidify his opinion of her. Here was a creature of such beauty and cleverness that she made even loutish men like Gisborne tremble; here was a creature to be reckoned with. His most formidable opponent was his soul's greatest ally, and subsequently, his greatest desire. She was everything he had ever wanted; she was everything he was but could not be. The steadfast friend he had known since childhood had grown to become the woman of his dreams.

This was his punishment, he thought. This woman was fate's favorite weapon against him, its way of balancing the scales: in order to succeed in goodness, he was forced to commit wicked acts daily, and he feared the end result could never truly justify the suffering he caused. It was only fitting that he, too, should suffer, although Vasey often thought death preferable to this particular torture. Fate was a cruel mistress to exact her vengeance in this way.

Fate must have arranged Marian's posture now: deceptively demure, all the while emphasizing the swell of her chest, the very thing that Vasey would never permit himself to look at—at least, not while Marian's steely eyes were upon him. Even now, the man found himself breaking into a cold sweat with the effort it took to keep his gaze aloft. All the while, his male's intuition told him that he was missing a very glorious display, right there, not a lash's bat away from her face. It was as if the answer to some great riddle was being dangled tantalizingly before him. Like a glass of water offered to a dying man in the desert, how could he be expected to resist...?

No. This was certainly a trap. He was being tested—by the fates, again—but he could not permit himself to lose. He must not look down. While it would have been characteristic of the Sheriff to allow himself a leer, the mere thought of any man looking at Marian in such a way incensed him, as he had certainly seen such men doing in the past. Marian wasn't some court floozy. She was a goddess, to be respected and worshipped. A goddess with a pair of very, very nice—

Unbidden, Vasey allowed his gaze to stray. The man quickly snapped back to attention, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed thickly. Damn his self-control! How dare it abandon him now in his most dire moment of need?

There was the chance she would not have noticed the glance. It was weakness. He needed to recover his footing. He would not carry on like a lovelorn Locksley boy; he was a man, and in the face of business, he was impervious to the wiles of women—even if it was the despicable business of coercing Marian into attending a feast with him in defiance of her own judgment.

Reminded of his mission, the Sheriff straightened in his chair. It was uncommon for him to actually get up out of it, but seeing as they were alone, he pushed off from the arm rests all at once and rose. He clasped his hands firmly behind his back in an unconscious imitation of Marian's own posture.

"You misunderstand me, Marian. It is hardly my intention to force you to do anything against your will."

In all honesty, that had been his initial strategy. He had considered strong-arming the girl into attending, and he may yet have to as a last resort, but he wasn't fond of employing the distasteful tactic if it was what she had come to expect of him.

However, she may have just inadvertently offered him the solution to another pressing problem.

Vasey allowed his gaze to wander to one of the high windows as he descended the steps leisurely and joined Marian on the floor. He continued past her as if distracted by his own thoughts, when the reality was he was biding his time until he could deliver them most effectively.

"I must admit, your interest in our latest prisoner's plight has tugged at my heartstrings," the Sheriff lamented, the mocking edge to his tone coloring it as an unaberrant lie. He was like a cat with a canary, toying with her as he appeared to seamlessly change subjects. "And you know as well as I that the people of our court can be such a bore. I had every intention of treating Prince John to a hanging tomorrow by way of entertainment—Prince John does so enjoy public demonstrations, the gorier the better—but you know, it occurs to me..."

Vasey ceased his circling of the woman once he had positioned himself directly behind her. Hands still clasped unassumingly behind his back, he leaned in ever-so-slightly; half for dramatic effect, half because he couldn't resist.

"... should a beautiful lady grant me the honor of escorting her to the reception this evening, I suspect that it would put me in such a good mood I would be willing to pardon certain peasants of their tuneful transgressions."

Vasey allowed his eyes to flicker deliberately to her mouth, making his amorous intentions clear, before he turned from her. He had only pivoted just in time; he was now grinning broadly at the far wall, certain that he had at last backed the willful woman into a corner. Surely Marian could not deny him now, not with an innocent life on the line? It was a life he had intended to save, regardless, but his latest gambit was nothing short of elegant. Best of all, the choice was hers to make. It was possibly crueler than simply forcing the girl, but he hoped that she found the prospect of spending one evening by his side less loathsome than seeing an innocent man hang. If she didn't, well—then he had severely underestimated the depths of her hatred for him.


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