It took great control to wait until the following morning to visit my new prisoner. Still she visited my dreams, but they took a more pleasant turn. Instead of constantly eluding and mocking me, my various plans came to fruition resulting time after time in the capture of the elusive Night Hawk.
Striding into the prison the next morning brought me a feeling satisfaction such as I had never felt before. Though I tried to remain calm and detached, I couldn't help but give in to the feeling and allow a large smile to break through.
"At last I have snared the leader of the infamous Hawks. How was your night? Do you know now why the caged bird sings?"
The cell's sole resident rose to her feet and rolled her eyes.
"No. But I expect that the story will be my first form of torture."
I spread my hands and bowed, "Oh if you insist!"
"The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom."
The jovial tone slipped from my voice,
"Do you long for freedom young hawk?"
"From these bonds? I do. Although I'd settle for freedom from your voice."
"A green-eyed hawk? That's not something I ever thought I would see."
She barked a laugh, "Jealous? Me? Of you? I would rather die with nothing save the knowledge that I have done the right thing, than live lacking nothing but morality."
"You have an interesting way of defining morals. Loyalty to one's superior, country, and established law is as immoral as it is moral to kill innocent soldiers to steal supplies . If it is moral to kill men who are merely trying to protect their supper, then I will be the first to admit that I am an immoral man."
Her eyes narrowed, "We do what we do to protect those who are unable to fight the cruel rule under which they are forced to stay. Laws are all well and good, but the people cannot live if they are not treated like human beings."
I gave a short derisive laugh, "To be treated like a human being is to not 'be treated' at all. Human beings are not pets to be pampered and taken of."
My captive's nostrils flared and she practically exploded,"Then be human and show some feeling!"
With an effort she calmed down and her voice softened,"If we are not pets to be looked after and pampered, then we are not animals to turn on each other and look on with apathy."
A small part of me understood and maybe even accepted what she said, but that part was lost among the victorious Corin who would not be defeated by a woman behind bars.
Turning to leave, I made one last comment,
"You cannot truly understand the mind of a human. You have spent too long living in the forest like an animal."
I left the prison feeling cheated of my victory. That's not how things were supposed to go, but oddly, I almost preferred it that way. I respected this girl for precisely the behavior she had exhibited in the prison. It would not have been the same if she had allowed me to berate her while she sat quietly.
Even as a prisoner she was still as dangerous spirited as ever.
Which is why I visited the next day.
And the day after that.
"Is having a roof over your head an improvement over your life in the forest?" I asked on one rainy day.
Leaning against the back wall she replied, "I cannot say I prefer it to the leaves and the stars but... are you back again to flaunt your one small victory? Does having one win over my many make you happy?"
"I would that it were more, but to think big you have to start small. But enough of that, tell me about yourself."
Her eyebrows came together in a frown, "You think to find out all the secrets of my people from me? Have you not realized that I am no fool?"
"You are no fool, and it pains me greatly that you believe I'd think such a thing. I am wounded young hawk." The outlaw rolled her eyes at my mock sadness and I continued, "But I did not ask about your people or their secrets. I asked about you."
"Why would you know about me? What would you know? And why should I tell you? I will be hanged either way."
"Perhaps I wish to gain leverage over you, for it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles. Perhaps I wish to try and exploit you with it, use it against you in a dire moment. Or perhaps," I folded my arms and leaned against the prison bars, "I am simply curious as to what your name is."
For all that I received a derisive snort.
"It is a fair request I should think. You already know mine."
"I know your position and your father's name. I know not yours. Therefore I shall give you the same, I am Bingham of the Night Hawks."
I gave her an exasperated look and finally said, "Hang the formalities, you may call me Corin."
She returned the glare but made no move to reply for several minutes. Then at last, she stood and grudgingly muttered,
"Kate... Katherine... No. Kate. Anything else you wish to know Corin?"
"Well... I would be interested to know about your past... where you come from. Let us not be enemies for a few moments."
"He says from the other side of the bars with a weapon in his reach."
Against my better judgement I unbuckled my sword, unlocked the cell, and entered, making sure to relock it just in case.
"Better?" I asked.
She punched me in the face.
Rubbing my cheek I looked at Kate ruefully, "I thought we were already even."
"I would never want to be even with you."
Cocking my head, I asked the follow-up, "Why not young Hawk?"
"You cause pain and suffering to the people who rely on you. You are not someone anyone should aspire to be equal to."
Again we came to it. We had argued over the same issue every time I had visited. And we also ended in the same spot.
"Pain and suffering? And what of you Kate? Killing innocent men? Stealing the provisions that feed those men? Pain and suffering are merely the tools I was forced to resort to to catch the band of ruffians plaguing my land. You would blame me for the loyalty that these people show you through their closed lips?"
Kate's face became accusing, "I would expect an honest man, a good man, to show mercy to those with less than him! We only kill those who would kill us, in defence. We have never started a bat-"
I gave her a sidelong look and only had to say, "The raids."
The glare deepened, "We have never killed without reason. We try to act as peacefully as we may and we do it all to save the people who starve under your rule!"
In our arguing we had come pretty close and Kate remedied it by shaking her head and inching away.
I closed the distance in a step, "Do you also blame me for abusing these people from the start? You look at me like I'm a criminal, when all I've done is do my job. How long have you fought this fight? How long have I been here? What have I done aside from trying to find you in an attempt to restore order at the command of those above me?"
Kate turned away, "It is not only you. You are the next in a long line of evil, greedy, manipulative men who try to take the land and the people to do with what you like. The sheriff, the previous marshall, they were- are all cruel, just as you are cruel." She faced me again, gradually coming closer as she spoke. Her voice had become quiet and calm, but not the good kind of calm.
"I heard what you did to the villagers you found with the food we supplied. I saw the bruises on the faces of women. Your order is the reason they cling to us so desperately."
As usual, her words began to strike home, but I did not want to admit that she was right, and grew even more defensive.
"And what would you have me do?" I yelled. "Join you and your rebellion in its quest to overthrow the sheriff? And then what, the king? How much of a chance do you think you have? If I am only the next in a long line, do you imagine the line will end with me? There will simply be another, and another, and another. Your fight is an unending one!"
"We do not seek to overthrow the true King. We seek to overthrow his replacement, his evil brother. And if King Richard returns and nothing changes, then we will fight against him! We will make a difference. We are not few, we are many. There are many like us across the country! Those people who have a soul, who love this country, who know right from wrong... they will stand with us! You, and those like you, will fall with the weight of your sins on your shoulders."
I was beginning to lose control as I fought back, "Sin? SIN!? I may have hit a woman, bloodied a few backs, but who is it that hides behind those backs? Who are the cowards who hide in the forest while those they claim to protect suffer for them? You could help them, you could end it by simply revealing yourselves, but you do not. Yet you dare to accuse me of sinning while I simply pursue justice for the crimes I have witnessed. Unlike you and your band I punish those responsible. I do not cast the atrocities of others onto those who come after them. So tell me girl who are the sinners?"
Kate stood on her tiptoes, getting in my face as she too, began to yell, "And if we were to reveal ourselves who would feed the poor then? Who would offer them safety, medicines? Your sheriff cares nothing for these people, and as his rat, you must enforce his will. Trust me Sir Rat, if I were ever to be in the situation where I could kill the sheriff I would. If only to free the villagers from his reign until the next greedy rich man replaced him. We gave him warning and he only crushed them harder. So we fight."
I raised my hand in preparation to strike, but the look on Kate's face stopped me. It was a look of fulfilled expectation and... disappointment.
"And so your true nature appears once again. Hit me rat, if you think it will make you feel better."
My hand began to quiver as I fought against the urge to let it fly. With a herculean effort I collected myself and at last my hand fell to my side.
"It would give me no more pleasure than I will get from carrying out your execution" and with that I turned to leave. Kate jumped in front of me before I could get to the door, confusion and suspicion playing across her face.
"You pretend you do not look forward to affirming your position by hanging me? Surely you know that by killing me you injure us? This should be a victory for you. You do not strike me, you do not wish to hang me... what game are you playing?"
After a long moment I returned her stare, just as confused.
"I don't know. But I'm certainly not winning."
Kate held the stare for a few more moments then stepped aside and allowed me to leave. As I walked down the long row of cells to the door of the prison the sound of whistling wafted towards me, and I found that it matched my mood perfectly. As I opened the door, Kate's words weighed on me, and for the first time since my childhood, I felt helpless.
I knew then why the caged bird sings.