Jem had me sewing for the rest of the week, right up until the moment I had to change in to the dress that had caused several swear words to fly from my mouth when I'd done something wrong. Sewing, I had discovered, was not my strong point. It had been a long couple of days, and it was made even longer by my refusal to speak to Jem on anything other than a professional level. I could not believe she had taken charge over me, and despite the nagging feeling I had that she was right, I could not help being angry with her. And myself.
I had spent the entire few days being distracted from my task constantly by the Marshall, Corin Twynam, who was the main issue upon my thoughts. I realised on the second day that I found myself delighting in thoughts of annoying him, of seeing that look on his face as he realised he was beaten, stuck, held at knife point. Then I found that I was constantly drawn back to the moment when he realised I was a woman, how he had been so close to me, so strong, and how terrified I had been under all the adrenaline. How terrified I had been that I would die there on the forest floor at his hand. I had never felt like that in battle. And I knew that it was because in our fights I had been with my group, I had been confident that no mere soldier could take me on. But Twynam... his eyes, the wildness of him, it would defeat me, I was sure. He was the first person I had faced that I thought could beat me, and that was... unnerving.
My dreams now revolved around fights with him, and whether they were nightmares or not depended on whether he had the upper hand. In them he was ruthless, bearing down upon me until I was weaponless and backed against something and he would chuckle as he plunged his sword mercilessly in to me.
"Now remember, blend in, this is the one time we can wear masks without being suspected as Hawks. You want to find the time to slip away, before the speeches, to raid the vault. The best time would be during the dance, because everyone will be distracted. A few of us will remain on the floor to keep an eye on things. Griever and Jem, I want you leading the assult on the vault. Kiara and I will take the dance floor and keep and eye on things."
"Are you sure you should be anywhere near Twynam-?" Jem began but I silenced her.
"This is how it's going to be. Let's go."
The music was graceful and despite the mission I stood momentarily in awe of the riches and beauty around me. Thank goodness for my dress; it made me feel as though I fitted in with these rich women. I smoothed it down and checked my mask was in place. An emerald green velvet dress, it was the most expensive thing I had ever worn in my life. And the mask which covered my eyes was brown leather with gold patterns on it, that matched the gold trim of the dress. I felt... clean and comfortable, despite not having my usual battle wear on. It surprised me. Kiara stood to my left and from the look on her face I thought she might be similarly comfortable. I shook the emotions off and instead scanned the room. Dancers filled the floor, the Sheriff was sat at the head of his table with a scowl on his face and Twynam was no where to be seen. But then it was difficult, since everyone wore masks. I found myself smiling at the irony. We used masks constantly and felt completely at ease but as soon as everyone else was wearing one...
"Spotted him yet?" Kiara asked.
"No. He has to be here." It would unnerve me if he wasn't. That would mean he was doing something, planning something...
"There!" Kiara exclaimed under her breath. "What about him?"
I looked over and breathed a sigh of relief. There he was, leaning against one of the wooden columns, a black mask covering his face. But it was unmistakably him; the way he held himself, the way he stared round...
"That's him. Right, you make your sweep, I'll watch him."
"Alright." She nodded and left me. I pretended to watch the dancers, smiling and clapping along like everone else, but I watched him intently instead. His eyes were flicking around the room and once or twice I thought he was watching me, but I couldn't be sure.
"The guards seem prepared." Kiara muttered as she appeared back at my side.
"I'm worried. Twynam seems too alert. Maybe they know."
"Or maybe they're just concerned. Maybe the Sheriff's been grilling Twynam."
"Or maybe he's coming over here just to ask you to dance."
"He's what?" I asked, stopping myself from looking over at Twynam.
"Heading this way. Prepare to run." She muttered.
"Ladies. I couldn't help noticing that you are alone this evening. What a shame, since you are both so beautiful. May I ask you to dance?" I saw the hand appear in front of me once again, although this time it was not shrouded in a glove. His skin was worn and well worked, not perfect like those of the lords and ladies around us. I realised he was waiting for an answer and found myself agreeing with him. I laid my hand on his and supressed the shiver that attempted to run down my spine. How many people had he hurt, or killed, with this hand?
We began to dance and I kept my head down, not wanting to look him directly in the eye.
"That is a very beautiful dress you have." He complimented as we swung round the floor.
"I wonder how long it took you and your little band of thieves to make it. Or did you just steal it as you do everything else?"
"Excuse me I-"
"No no, my sweet Hawk, you shall stay with me." I felt his hand tighten on my back and immediately felt the urge to throw it off. But we were surrounded by people, guards, it would only cause trouble for Jem and the others who were at this moment heading towards the vault. As we twirled past Kiara I gave the signal, a sharp in and out of fist movement with my fingers and saw her freeze, then disappear hurriedly off. At least the others would be warned.
"So, the dress. Another of your thefts or...?"
"I don't know what you mean." I tried.
"I recognise you even with your mask on now. You have caused me too much trouble." He said, and I knew it was over. He'd got me. I could not reach the knife strapped to my thigh.
"I hope I have not caused you any sleepless nights."
"Many, but that is over now."
"Your triumph is over. Now it is my turn." He spun me and for a moment I thought I was free. But hands closed around my arms and I was held fast by guards. Twynam marched over to me and pulled the mask from my face. The music had stopped and everyone was staring. "Behold. The leader of the Night Hawks. They are not spirits, not fae, not demons. They are mere women, and they will be defeated."