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We'd up and fly if we had wings for flying
Charity stands in front of the roaring fire, watching the flames jump and dance. She's always found comfort in watching a fire. Most likely because she spent much of her youth huddled in damp caves or rotting tree stumps in an attempt to keep warm. A fire was a luxury in those days. She turns away and walks to the balcony. And here she is now; Queen of all she surveys. Some nights, she'd trade it all to be back in the woods.
There's no doubt that the King is a cruel man. She knew that before she married him. But given the choice between securing a future for her children or letting them grow up as she had; constantly on the run and always looking over her shoulder pursued by accusations, there was only ever one way she could go.
She lifts a hand and curls her fingers, flames form in her palm and grow in intensity as she nurtures them, urging them to burn hotter. If only she'd been able to harness her power in her youth, she might never have gone to sleep shivering. She might never have ended up married to a tyrant.
The whistle of something moving quickly through the air zips by her ear, causing her to jump and snuff the fireball out. She turns to see an arrow embedded in the stone doorway, still quivering. There's a rope attached to it. Charity frowns and shakes her head.
Leaning over the balcony, she can just about make out a figure clambering up the castle wall, cloak billowing in the wind. Charity's heart speeds up, thudding dully in her chest, even as she keeps her expression indifferent. She's not going to encourage this kind of behaviour.
"Vanessa, what do you think you're doing?" she hisses. "You're going to kill yourself."
The masked visitor looks up at her and frowns. "Uh, it's nice to see you too, Your Majesty."
Just the sound of her voice makes Charity thrum with something she can't quite name, but she's not going to let her off lightly. "There could have been anyone here with me!"
"But there isn't, is there?" Vanessa's slightly out of breath from her climb, and she's close enough now for Charity to see that her cheeks are pink, her brow damp. It does not help. "I saw you playing with fire and you don't do that when there are people around."
"Oh so now you're just lurking down there spying on me? Wonderful." Charity steps back when Vanessa reaches the balcony's railing, crossing her arms. Vanessa winks at her and then promptly falls over the railing, ending up on her back. Charity rolls her eyes. "God almighty. She scales a thirty foot wall only to fall at my feet. If that's not romance, I don't know what is."
Vanessa scowls and gets to her feet, brushing herself off. "Well, if you were any sort of sweetheart at all, you'd use your witchy powers to lift me up here and save me the trouble."
In the face of Vanessa's indignation, Charity's resolve to be stern wavers, her lips itching to turn up. She moves closer to Vanessa, grasping her cloak with both hands and pulling her in so their lips are almost touching.
"But then where would be the excitement of you risking life and limb just for a kiss, eh?" she murmurs, and brings their lips together. She pulls back and frowns. "And who said we were sweethearts?"
"Oh, give over, Charity." Vanessa shoves her mask up, wrinkling her nose and rubbing at it. "I thought we were past all that?"
"Fine. Sweethearts it is, if that's what you want." Charity sighs and pushes Vanessa's hand to the side, taking over the scratching briefly before cupping Vanessa's cheek and searching her face. "How in God's name do people think you're your father just because you wear that flaming mask?"
Vanessa leans her face into Charity's hand and shrugs. "People know the stories about him, but hardly any of them ever saw him. They don't know that I'm a foot shorter and-"
"And much, much better looking?" Charity grins when Vanessa blushes and looks down. "Old Frank would be proud of you, Ness." She rolls her eyes. "I mean, I don't see the appeal of this robbing rich folk and giving it all away lark, but he did."
"Well, eventually he did," Vanessa says, looking back up at her with a sad smile. Charity leans in and kisses it away, resting her forehead against Vanessa's when they part. "I do like to think he'd be pleased, if he's looking down on me from somewhere."
Charity nuzzles Vanessa's cheek and moves to whisper in her ear. "But you don't want him looking down on you all the time, eh? Not when you've got your hands on the King's most precious jewel."
"Charity!" Vanessa sounds scandalised and Charity briefly worries that's now what she'll be thinking about the next time they find a moment to be together. Vanessa's arms tighten around her and a warm rush of air is blown out against her shoulder. "I hate that that's how he treats you. Like a possession. A thing."
Closing her eyes, Charity cups the back of Vanessa's head, scratching at her scalp. "But that's what I am." That's what she's always been. First she was owned by her father, and when he discarded her, she fell into the hands of the 'kindly' Sheriff Bails. From there she was passed from man to man, never having a say in her own destiny. At least now she's the possession of a King.
Vanessa draws her head back suddenly, eyes burning hot as blue flame, and just as dangerous. "No, you're not." She shakes her head. "You're not his. You belong to no-one but yourself."
The words are just that; words. But the sentiment is not one Charity's heard often. And if she were able to choose who to belong to, she would give herself to this woman body and soul for the rest of her life. "Not even you?"
Eyes softening, Vanessa stretches up to kiss her lips and whisper against them. "Least of all me." She drops back down off her toes and takes Charity's hand, pressing it against her heart. "Charity, I'd never want to possess you or own you. Only to lo-"
Charity covers her mouth with a firm finger. "Don't say that."
Frowning, Vanessa turns her head to the side, dislodging Charity's finger. "But that's how I feel."
"I know it is, you daft thing." Charity sighs. "And you know that as long as I'm married to the king, as long as he holds power over my family, I can't give myself to you. Not the way you deserve."
"And you know that I'll wait for you." Vanessa gives her a lopsided smile. "I'll wait forever, if I have to, for you to be free of him."
Charity purses her lips, trying not to show how happy she is about this idiotic and grandiose declaration. She rolls her eyes. "And then what? Me and you sleeping in the forest? Giving all our money away to poor little orphans? That what you've got planned, is it?"
Vanessa's smile has grown into a full blown grin and she shrugs. "I don't care. As long as I'm with you."
"By God, you are a sentimental fool," Charity groans, running a thumb up Vanessa's jaw. "And, somehow, I like you anyway."
"Well then, I suppose you'd better-" Charity holds a hand up for Vanessa to be quiet. The candle on the mantelpiece has started to burn with a fierce green flame. Which means the wards she's set up at the foot of the staircase leading to her chambers have been breached.
"Someone's coming," she whispers, eyes wide and urgent. "You've got to go. Now."
"Do you think someone saw me?" Vanessa asks, heading to the balcony, slipping her bow and an arrow from beneath her cloak. She unties the rope from her previous arrow and attaches it to the new one. Keeping hold of one end of the rope, she expertly fires the arrow across to the next balcony.
Charity touches the necklace she's wearing, a golden heart with a diamond at the centre, a present from Declan the last time he'd struck her. Without a thought, she yanks it and breaks the chain, holding it out to Vanessa. "Here. Take it in case you were seen. I'll tell them you just dropped by to rob me."
Taking the necklace, Vanessa smiles. "Giving me your heart, Your Majesty?" She quirks an eyebrow as she places it in a pouch on her belt. "A girl could get ideas."
Charity narrows her eyes. "A girl better get her arse off this balcony before Declan arrives and separates a girl's head from her neck."
"Pffft." Vanessa scoffs. "He doesn't scare me."
"Which either makes you very brave or very stupid," Charity says, with a sigh. "And I've got to tell you, I'm leaning towards stupid right now."
"Bit of both, maybe." Vanessa says, winking. She tests the rope, making sure it'll take her weight. "Right, well, I best be off, then."
"Hang on." Charity takes the few steps that separate them and gently pulls Vanessa's mask back down over her eyes before leaning in to kiss her. "Now you can go, Robin Hood."
Trust Frank to choose a stupid name for his alter ego, she thinks, as Vanessa climbs up onto the railings and smiles down at her.
"I'll see you soon, Your Majesty."
Charity nods. Every time they say goodbye, she fears it will be the last time. That Vanessa will be captured, or worse. But she paints on a smile. "Goodbye, common thief."
"Oi, less of the common, you."
The door bursts open and several guards burst in, swords unsheathed, looking around the chamber. Vanessa winks at her and jumps off the balcony, swinging into blackness. Charity concentrates, helping alleviate the drop a little, ensuring Vanessa doesn't just fall to her death. Idiot that she is.
The guards rush over and she steps out of the way, glad to note none of them is carrying a bow.
"Are you alright, Your Majesty?" Declan's Captain of the guards addresses her directly. "We had a report of a man scaling the castle wall. Was…was it Robin Hood?"
"Well," Charity says. "I'm sorry but I didn't think to ask his name while he was robbing me. I'll try to remember to do formal introductions next time."
"It was him." They both turn to see one of the other guards holding Vanessa's arrow; the distinctive yellow feathers leaving no-one in any doubt of whose quiver it had come from. Charity rolls her eyes. Bit of a flair for the dramatic, has Ness.
Just at that, Declan enters the room, the guards falling into tidy formation as he passes them to reach her. His eyes flit over her body, checking for injury, she assumes. Not that he'd care if she were hurt, he just doesn't like people damaging his property.
"Are you alright, my Queen?" Rather than listen to her answer, he looks to his Captain. "Was it him? Was it Hood?"
He gets a sharp nod. "Yes, Your Majesty. We found one of his arrows."
Charity lays a hand on Declan's arm, drawing his attention back to her. "I'm not hurt. He was very polite, truth be told. And all he took was my-" She puts a hand to her chest, over her heart. "-my necklace."
"Polite or not, I'll have his head for this." Declan snaps his fingers. "Raise the bounty on him. Double it! He may be beloved by the peasants, but they all have their price. Someone will turn him in."
"Shall I send men after him, Your Majesty?"
Declan looks out into the night and sneers. "There's little point searching tonight. He'll have gone to ground by now, like the vermin he is." He whirls and points at the captain. "But I want more regular patrols, starting now. And more guards posted outside the Queen's chambers." He turns and dips his head at Charity. "I'll bid you goodnight, my lady."
She bows her head as he leaves, followed by the guards. She lets out a shaky breath and walks back to the balcony, leaning on the railing and looking out into the night. Once again, an arrow whistles by her head and comes to a juddering halt in the stone wall. She sighs. She appreciates a romantic gesture as much as the next person, but one of these bloody arrows will end up in her skull one day, she's sure of it.
On closer inspection, she sees there's a scroll wrapped around the shaft, so she reaches up and unties the string keeping it in place. Unravelling the paper, she smiles at the sight of Vanessa's messy scrawl.
Thank you for trusting me with your heart. I promise to keep it safe until the day you're able to give me the real thing.
Charity tries to roll her eyes, but they're too full of emotion. She shakes her head. "Idiot." She's not sure which of them she's even talking about.
Glancing down into the forest, she tries in vain to spot Vanessa. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, she conjures up a fireball in her hand once more and blows on it, causing it to grow and fly up into the sky, shaping itself into a fiery heart. Another flick of her wrist sends a flaming arrow up to pierce the heart, letting them both burn for a moment longer than she should before they fade to nothingness. She smiles as the dark settles around her shoulders.
"I'd sleep in the woods with you any day, my love," she whispers.
Blowing a kiss to the night, she turns and goes back inside.
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