Author's Note:

This fic is AU for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious ghost thing, the timing is off. I haven't seen S3 for awhile (I'm not nearly as much of a fan of it as the first two seasons), so I'm not sure if the continuity is correct. But this isn't really intended to fit anywhere specifically into canon anyway, except for taking place after Vaisey's death in Season 3. This is my first Guy fic, and there will be four more staves after this, as would be consistent with Dickens's wonderful story. (Trivia! Did you know that Charles Dickens was Harry Lloyd's great-great-great-grandfather? I guess awesomeness runs in the family!) Enjoy and please review! Merry Christmas!

The Sheriff of Nottingham was dead. At least, the old Sheriff of Nottingham was dead. Sir Guy of Gisborne had done the deed himself, and watched the old man's body be wheeled out of Nottingham town on a cart with no small amount of satisfaction. After all, he was now the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John had promised that this was just the beginning of his rewards. The farthest reaches of wealth and power were now finally within his grasp, so close that he could almost taste them. He knew that he should feel relieved that, after years of working for Vaisey and not receiving anywhere near the credit he deserved, he had finally been assured that he would reap his appropriate benefits. But instead, his drive was stronger than ever.

It was this drive that had caused him to lock Isabella in the dungeons the moment his new title was made official. She strove to take his position away from him and claim it from her own, but he had made it perfectly clear that he would let no one, not even his little sister, put his prize in jeopardy.

"Comfortable, little sister?" Guy did not try to hide his sarcastic smirk as he stood outside the door of her cell, arms crossed over his chest and head tilted cockily to one side.

"Extremely," she shot back from where she sat on a splintering wooden plank that was suspended from the ceiling by two thick iron chains which matched the ones that were currently shackled around her wrists. Her evergreen-colored dress was smudged with dirt and wrinkled, her long dark hair tangled and dull. And though her eyes were narrowed in anger and hatred, Guy knew her well enough to tell that she was fighting to keep up her confident, defiant visage, wanting desperately to give into tears, to drop to her knees before him and beg him to show her mercy.

"Well, we can't have that, now can we? Maybe I could make those shackles a little tighter."

"What is it that you want from me, Guy?" Isabella was beginning to lose her grip on her mask of security-Guy could hear it in the way her voice shook, ever so slightly, as she asked him this question, and the knowledge brought him a sense of cold satisfaction.

"Want? Oh, there's nothing I want from you, sister. You are sitting in that cell because you have committed a crime and are being punished. It's the common protocol for criminals, but you wouldn't know that, would you? Because if you did, I wouldn't have caught you consorting with outlaws in the first place!"

"That's only a pretense!" she snarled. "You've thrown me in here because you see me as a threat! Me, your own little sister!"

"So what if I do? You're in there in chains, and I'm out here with the key. What are you going to do about it?" Guy raised one eyebrow as he twirled the keyring around his index finger. To him, their jingling sounded like an anthem to his success.

Isabella leapt suddenly to her feet and threw herself against the bars of the cell in a moment of blind desperation, crying "Let me go!" Her brother merely took a step backward, his amusement growing with every second.

"No."

She tried another approach, dropping to her knees and grasping the bars with her chained hands. "Please Guy, it's Christmas Eve. Just for a moment, could you not allow the spirit of Christmas to manifest itself in you, to remember the needs of your family?"

He blinked. "No."

"Then could you not at least take the shackles off, and bring me a blanket? It's freezing in here, and my wrists are burning. Please." Isabella drew a shaky breath as she awaited her brother's response.

Guy squatted down so that his eyes were at the same level as hers and dangled the keys in front of her face, his smirk unwavering as he spoke.

"I have worked in this castle for seven years, sister, and I have seen thousands of prisoners dragged down the hallways that lead to these dungeons. And apart from the ones who have already had their tongues cut out, every single one of them has either tried to beg or charm their way out. Now I don't care what day of the year it is, or who you are-you're going to suffer through your punishment just like the rest of them, like the common criminal that you are." He spat at her feet for emphasis before standing straight, turning on his heel, and setting off down the corridor toward the upper levels of the castle, ignoring the sounds of his sister's sobs that followed him.

As much as Guy had disliked Vaisey, he had certainly picked up a useful technique or two from him when it came to dealing with prisoners, that he had to admit.

Back in his office, Guy sat back in his chair for a moment, glancing around the room with satisfaction. He had made several improvements from when Vaisey had piloted Nottingham from that room. He had gotten rid of that godforsaken bird collection, to begin with. And he'd had a new chair specially crafted-padded with black leather, of course.

He was just beginning to start brainstorming new ideas for taxes-he needed money to keep Prince John happy, after all, as it was he who had allowed him to take on this position, and it was he who would help Guy advance in power in influence-when his captain of the guard burst through the door.

"Can't you see I'm busy? Learn. To. KNOCK!" Guy's growl became a bark.

"Sir G...I mean, my lord Sheriff, we have a problem." The soldier sounded very nervous, and his tone made Guy's heart perform a worried flip.

"What kind of problem?" he asked, keeping his voice low and forcibly calm.

"My lord, it would seem as though the chest of gold that was to be sent to London for Prince John's taxes tomorrow morning has been...emptied." The guard shuffled his feet in a very un-soldierlike manner as he confessed this.

"What do you mean, emptied? Emptied by whom?" Guy's voice was dangerously quiet, for he already knew the answer to this question.

Slowly, the captain of the guard reached into the pocket of his uniform and withdrew an arrow, fletched with the telltale black-and-white-striped feathers.

"I'm afraid it was Robin Hood, my lord."

"Yes, I can see that!" spat Guy, leaping to his feet in rage. The guard took a step backward. Guy stood with both hands on his desk, breathing labored in his anger, silently cursing Hood and this setback to his success and the damper it had put in his confident mood. After an uncomfortably long silence, he raised his head to look at the shaken captain of the guard.

"I want whoever was supposed to be guarding that money given forty lashes, and then I want the guard doubled on the treasury. DO IT NOW!"

The captain of the guard nodded vigorously and hurried with much relief away from the office. Guy glanced wildly around for something to throw, settling on a thankfully unlit candelabra. The broken candles left a waxy residue on the stone wall.

Hood! His day had been going perfectly, perfectly, and then that overrated, peasant-championing lover-boy and his band of ragtag outlaws had to come and ruin it! That chest had contained a month's worth of taxes, and it was due to go out on Christmas morning, which happened to be the very next day. If Prince John didn't get his requested amount of money from Nottingham, Guy would be the one to suffer for it. The prince would think him unfit to be Sheriff, reducing his promised riches and influence and ruining his reputation, not to mention possibly stripping his hard-won title. No, that could not happen. Guy would not let it.

Guy sat back down in his leather chair, dipped a quill in ink, and began what he had meant to do before he was so rudely interrupted by this most annoying news. Annoying, yes, and infuriating-he had, after all, just been robbed and mocked by his sworn enemy-but he would not let it be debilitating. Oh, no. Robin Hood and his men would no doubt be distributing the money to the peasants, but Guy would make their efforts completely worthless by upping the taxes.

The problem was, what to tax that had not already been taxed? Vaisey's reign as Sheriff had seen that literally every possible good and action come with an extra toll to be brought into the castle. Guy knew this because he had been the one to collect these taxes, for the most part. The only time another tax collector had stepped in, he'd ended up dead. Guy wondered briefly if he could charge the citizens of Nottingham for the air they breathed, but then realized that this would be very difficult to measure. Finally, he settled on increasing the taxes for food and cloth, necessities that the peasants could not do without. He called for a page to fetch the scroll and have the "alterations to the economic system" announced. With his Sheriff's work done for the day, Guy pulled on his heaviest leather coat and headed out to the stables.

After threatening the stableboy with twenty lashes next time he did not have the Sheriff of Nottingham's horse ready on time, Guy set off for Locksley Manor. He cursed the cold as he rode-it made his horse energetic, and after his fuming over the theft, he did not have the energy to deal with it. And he hated, absolutely hated snow. It was much too...white. Guy liked black. Why couldn't snow be black?

As Guy rode through the portcullis that separated Nottingham Castle from the rest of the town, he saw hundreds of beggars, huddled together in shivering, pitiful packs to keep warm as the wet, sticky snow fell out of the sky onto their poorly-clothed backs and uncovered heads. Guy shook his own head in disgust-they were getting what they deserved for being unmotivated enough to let opportunities to get ahead in life, to become successful, pass them by.

He was jolted out of these thoughts when his horse shied violently. Guy fought for the reins and yanked on the animal's mouth, bringing his crop down hard on its flank when it flattened its ears against its head. When Guy regained his composure, he noticed a small, shaking figure gathering itself up off the ground. It was clothed in rags, and when it turned its face briefly toward Guy, he could see that it was a child. It must have gotten beneath his horse's feet, causing it to spook.

"You there!" Guy's loud bark and dangerous glare set the already frightened child to tears. "How dare you run beneath my horse and spook it! You could have gotten me killed!"

"P...p...please, S...s...sir Guy, I did...didn't mean too," the little boy whimpered.

A girl, who looked to be a few years older than the boy but was just as dirty and poorly clothed, approached and placed a hand on the lad's shoulder.

"Please forgive my brother, Sir Guy. He meant you no harm, he is but a child. We were trying to cross the street to beg for our dinner. We haven't had any luck on this side." She motioned to the general area behind her, where there were numerous other peasants crying out at passers-by for alms. "I...I don't suppose you'd be willing to spare a coin, good Sir Guy?"

Guy narrowed his eyes. Spare a coin? His treasury had just been robbed by Robin Hood and now there was a danger of him not having enough money to maintain his position as Sheriff. Of course he could not spare a coin!

"Absolutely not!" he spat. "Begone with you!"

The little boy whimpered pathetically again, but the girl turned desperate eyes upon him. "Please Sir Guy, it is Christmas Eve. It has been nearly two days since my baby brother or I have tasted a crumb of bread. Please, be kind."

"I have given you my answer. Now out of my way!" Guy kicked his horse into a trot. The girl pulled her brother from the huge stallion's path just in time. Guy yelled "Make way for the Sheriff of Nottingham!" as he rode, never once looking back at the poor beggar children whom he had just denied life's sustenance.

Night had fallen by the time Guy reached Locksley, and he noted the eeriness of the glow cast by the moon upon the thatch huts and the vacant yards as he rode up the dirt track that ran through the little village. "Eerie glow," he snorted to himself. "Really now, Guy, you're getting a bit poetic there, aren't you?" But despite his sarcastic, self-depreciating comment, he could not shake the feeling that something was not quite right.

He was furious when he reached the stable to find it unoccupied by anyone but his horses-apparently all of his servants had found it acceptable to take their leave early on this holiday whose only point seemed to be to tax Guy's patience. Shivering now that he had been separated from the warmth of the stallion's body, Guy quickly and unceremoniously untacked the horse, threw a blanket on him, and dumped some oats into his feeding trough. The animal pinned its ears unhappily at having carried this somewhat abusive man, who was rather heavy in all of his leathers, all the way from Nottingham to Locksley, only to be under-appreciated like this. Next time, he would be sure to throw him into the closest mud puddle.

With the barn chores done with the minimum energy possible, a rather exhausted Guy went to let himself into the house. He had just rested his hand on the door-latch to open it when he felt something moving beneath his hand. Guy let out an embarrassingly high-pitched yelp and jumped backward, staring at the latch, chest heaving.

There was nothing there. It was just a regular door-latch.

The cold must have been playing tricks with his sensations. Guy glanced over both of his shoulders, wondering just how loud his rather feminine-sounding cry had rung through the village. He did not see faces in any of the cottage windows, but that was not a sure sign of anything.

He reached for the latch again, stretching out his arm and reaching his hand painfully slowly for it. He was just about to touch the latch with the tips of his fingers when it suddenly the cold iron twisted into the shape of the face of his least favorite person in the world, even though he knew him to be dead. His door-latch had become Vaisey.

As Guy looked on in utter horror, the iron face opened its crooked-toothed orifice and mouthed the two syllables that Guy hated to hear most from his mouth. And though no sound came from the metal monster, the message was clear: "GIZ-BORNE!"

With a gasp, Guy stumbled backward, slipping on a patch of ice in his haste and falling buttocks-first into the snow. By the time he recovered himself and got to his feet, the face had gone, and his old iron door-latch was back. Closing his eyes, Guy thrust it open and rushed into his house, slamming the door behind him.

Thornton had at least been considerate enough to light a fire in the sitting room before he took his leave. Now Guy would have to punish him both for leaving without permission and for not knowing a fire hazard when he saw one. But in the light and relative warmth of the blaze, Guy realized just how silly he was being. A face in a door-latch? Preposterous! He hated to admit that his conscience was possibly playing tricks on him-he would have to get more comfortable with killing those who needed to be removed. One would think after two attempted regicides one would get used to murdering their betters to get ahead in life. Guy went to see what he could scrounge up for dinner, since apparently his cooks had left, as well.

After turning his kitchens practically upside for some form of sustenance that did not involve cooking (he had been born a lordling and therefore had no culinary skills whatsoever), Guy flopped down on a well-padded chair back in the sitting room with two pieces of bread, some cheese, some dried meat, and some wine. It wasn't exactly the hot meal he had been anticipating after the long, frigid ride. The bread was stale, the meat too salty, and the cheese too hard. Really the only decent thing was the wine, for Guy was in need of it tonight. He was wondering if maybe putting the meat and cheese between the two pieces of bread might make the whole lot taste better when he heard the distinctive sound of a door slamming. He froze-from the direction the noise had come from, it had to have been his front door. Swallowing his bite of bread/meat/cheese combination past a dry throat, Guy called out, cursing himself for the uncertain tone of voice that came out of his mouth.

"Who's there?"

There was no verbal response, but Guy could hear whoever had entered his house approaching the sitting room, and it sounded as though they had brought some extra baggage with them. Guy felt a chill run down his spine as a sound that could only be that of many heavy, metal objects being drug across the floor filled his ears. It got louder and more amplified until Guy had no choice but to put his hands over his ears or risk being deafened by high-pitched screeching as it grew closer and closer. Snapping out of his reverie with the realization that the noise had almost reached the sitting room, Guy leapt to his feet and slammed the door shut, and then grabbed a chair and shoved it under the knob to keep it from turning. Panting from the exertion and from fear, Guy stepped backward and stared at the door as that awful noise kept coming still closer. It was right outside the door, but still it kept coming. And suddenly he saw a transparent shape squeeze its way through the door. The see-through form of an all-too familiar short, bald man had entered Guy's sitting room, and now he was apparently bringing all of his prized possessions in with him, attached to his every limb by chains. There were some moneybags, also transparent, but what really terrified Guy were the machines and devices of torture. First there came a horsewhip, and then a pair of thick, strong metal clippers that Guy had used to cut out tongues and pull teeth. There was the ducking device that had been used to nearly drown the midwife accused of being a witch in Locksley pond, numerous stakes and stocks, the rack from the castle dungeons, and finally the gallows themselves.

Guy stood there for what seemed like ages, feet glued to the floor, mouth open in utter disbelief and fear, as the ghost of Vaisey, the former Sheriff of Nottingham, the man who he had killed, dragged the clear and yet obviously substantial image of every torture device he owned into Guy's sitting room. Finally the specter turned to him, breathing hard and glaring, and barked,

"Thank you for offering to help, Gisborne! I appreciate it, truly!"

"What are you doing here?" Guy had finally found his voice. "You're dead!"

"Really, Gisborne," spat Vaisey's ghost in a disgusted manner very much like that which he had possessed in life. "Did you really think that even death is a match for someone so cruel as me? You killed me, Gisborne, and therefore as long as you live on, so do I!" He rubbed his hands together in glee at the idea.

"You mean I'm tormented by guilt?" Guy raised an eyebrow-he certainly didn't feel very guilty. He thought that by murdering the old Sheriff, he had been doing everyone in Nottinghamshire a favor.

The ghost snorted. "Guilt? Oh come now, Gisborne, the only person you've ever felt guilty about killing is Marian." Guy bristled at the mention of what he considered to be the most horrible thing he had ever done-it was certain the action he regretted most in his life. "Oh, don't look at me like that. What are you going to do? I'm dead." The ghost chuckled, oddly thrilled at this idea.

"So if it's not guilt, then why are you haunting me?" Guy glanced nervously at the transparent torture devices that now cluttered the floor of his sitting room and hoped that Vaisey showing up as a part of his door decor and then letting himself and everything material that was dear to his dearly departed dead heart into Guy's house would not become a recurring event.

The former Sheriff of Nottingham's ghost rolled his eyes and sighed in an annoyed manner. "It seems as though I've been sent here to warn you."

"Warn me? Of what?" Guy was sufficiently worried now. Since when had Vaisey ever cared enough about someone to warn them about anything? "And sent by whom?"

"Never mind the second question. That's for me to know, and you...not to know." There was sly tone to Vaisey's voice before he sighed and said, "All right then, Gisborne. Down to business. I suppose I should start by admitting that I did a few things during my lifetime that were... less than savory."

"I'll say," Guy stated drily.

The ghost chose to ignore his comment. "So I hanged some peasants, had a few more tortured, cut out some tongues here and there, really nothing serious if you ask me... anyway, I am apparently now being punished for it." He held up his wrists to indicate the chains that were shackled to them. "'A taste of your own medicine' and all of that nonsense. Do you realize how heavy the rack is, Gisborne?"

"Even when it's transparent?" Guy smirked.

"Try to lift it up, why don't you?" Vaisey was getting frustrated now. "So my...possessions...and I were sent to show you that you better not be like me because...well, you'll end up like me."

Guy lifted an eyebrow. "Be like you? I'm nothing like you. Because unlike you, I'm actually getting things done as Sheriff! Prince John has promised me wealth and power beyond even your wildest dreams! So I don't think you have to worry."

"When have I ever worried about anyone, Gizzy?" The specter laughed drily. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you-my job here is done. Now how am I going to get all of this...equipment...out through these narrow doorways?" he muttered this last question.

"Don't expect me to help you," Guy said caustically.

"Oh, I don't," said Vaisey's ghost with equal sarcasm. Slowly and painstakingly, he began to pull his immense load toward the door by which he had entered. He leaned on the see-through gallows and pushed as hard as he could. They didn't budge. He pushed again, even harder, it seemed to a simultaneously amused and horrified Guy. The enormous contraption of death moved ever so slightly this time. Vaisey sighed and made to go through the door and pull his load painfully along behind him, but then turned back to his employee in life.

"Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention. My job here is done; but your ghostly experience has just begun." He smiled evilly with the thrill of withholding information.

"What do you mean, my ghostly experience?" Try as he might, Guy could not hide the slight shake to his voice.

"Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits. One..." Vaisey held up his index finger. "Two..." It was joined by his middle finger. "Three." His ring-clad fourth finger joined the mix.

"But you're already here, so I've actually got two left?" Guy still wasn't entirely sure he believed that the image he saw before him was actually Vaisey's ghost. It was always possible he was reacting a little bit more strongly than he had planned to the wine he had consumed with his dinner. Therefore, he wasn't as worried as he might have been about the figure's words.

"Nope. Three more to go. I don't count. Maybe they'll be more successful at getting through your obscenely thick skull than I have. Good night, Gisborne." And with that, he vanished through the door, and all of his baggage with him.

Guy just stood there for quite some time, eyes fixed on the spot where the ghost had been. Though he didn't like to admit it, his sureness that the ghost was but a figment of his slightly intoxicated imagination was beginning to waver a bit. What if it had been real? Even worse, what if it had actually been telling the truth?

"Nonsense," said his practical side. "It's my new position and all of the stress that's come with it! Isabella and her plots to steal my title...not to mention Robin Hood. It's thanks to him that I have to scrounge up more money to send to London."

But that would have to wait until morning. If Guy was drunk enough to be seeing dead people come to life, he obviously needed a good night's sleep to clear his thoughts. After all, everyone knew there was no such thing as ghosts.

Guy kept this thought in his head as he climbed the darkened staircase to the second story of Locksley Manor and lay down in his bed, pulling the curtains extra tight, just for good measure. He was asleep almost instantly.