---------------

Prelude

---------------

Freedom. Her hero's disguise offered freedom, though it placed her in great danger. But the danger created a thrill, and the thrill instilled an amazing sense of freedom. For some, danger and freedom might seem strange bedfellows, but they were Marian's closest companions, and they created in her a sense of importance and relevance which helped to define her existence and which she refused to relinquish, despite her lover's persistent requests. The thrill was at its greatest on an evening such as this—climbing upon the rooftops of Nottingham on a clear, moonlit summer's eve. The full moon made it easy for her to find her way, while the deep shadows it created made excellent hiding places.

After visiting the villages, she was flying over the western wall, the least guarded this time of night. But on this night there was one guard who was not where he was supposed to be. Perhaps sneaking in and out was beginning to come too easily. Perhaps she had become complacent in her sensory awareness. Perhaps she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but whatever the reason a weapon came down hard across her shoulders and she soon felt the stone, still radiating the heat of the day, pressed against her cheek, and a strong, piercing force on her spine.

Her next conscious memory was blood…everywhere…on her hands, on her clothing. She watched as it swirled and danced and discolored the water in the basin. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until the skin around her nails began to turn pink and irritated. She stuffed the trousers, jacket, hood and cape beneath her bed and donning her nightclothes, curled her knees to her chest and rocked herself to sleep.