Caroline was consumed with her thoughts as the men around her worked. Those who were capable enough in the party were to assist in getting things prepared in that ghastly house while the rest stayed behind. They were told that they were to rest but Caroline assumed it was the gentle way of letting them die. There was a growing sense that this journey was coming to a close and she didn’t know how but she knew that the next stop was the forest homes. She would see Vivian soon and her revenge would be complete. Still, she also had a growing awareness that there was something dreadfully wrong with this ruined house and what they were doing there. Something that she was deeply curious about but dared not look. Not when anyone was paying attention, that was.
Even those who were instructed to assist were kept at arm’s length during the procedures. This was the first place where the bundles were largely disregarded. All of them, with the exception of Caroline’s, was loaded up in a crate and carried with less decorum than before. The crate was still wrapped in cloth and kept in the caravan while the men worked during the day. At night, it was guarded in the vehicle while they slept. Still, the bundles were not completely left because there was always someone watching them and they were always the men who drove. Some of those men who had arranged this nightmare trip were taking to sleeping in the rotten house but few of them bothered. The man who had arranged her own travel refused to set foot in there unless he had to. He often wiped his feet after he emerged as if to remove the stain of the place from his soles.
He was the one who had made the comment about the Kent household. Caroline had always kept an eye on that man but since that conversation, she had made a point to listen as sharply as possible whenever he spoke. He knew things that the others didn’t and she’d known that since they started the journey. She quickly discovered that he’d started off riding in the back to keep an eye on the bundles but moreso, he was keeping an eye on them. His gaze had been piercing and particularly astute. Still, Caroline knew that he was a fool. He thought he knew what he carried simply because he carried these precious, deadly bundles with him. She might not know what the bundles were entirely but she knew that he was carrying them for someone in particular. Though she hadn’t yet been able to figure out what manner of dastardly deed they were committing, she knew better than to ignore this man and his smugness. She had given him the slip and he had no idea that she was truly a society girl. He had no idea the murderous rage within her. He thought he was just so bloody clever. Thought he knew they were all destitute, low-born beasts destined for slaughter. Oh, he hadn’t counted on her being too clever for him. She saw the way his eyes flickered with contempt. He truly believed that they would all die in this journey. He thought for certain that whatever his chore was, it was nearly finished. Caroline was more than happy to make sure that whatever happened, she would have the last laugh with this one. He was a fool to think that he could get in her way. He was especially foolish if it was the Kent family he worked for. How utterly charming that one of their own hired hands would bring her to the enemy’s vile doorstep.
Tonight, the men were tired and many of them ill at ease. The doorway to the ruined structure that once was a house was left open as carelessly as that but she knew that they stored the bundles in there. All but her own that she still cradled as though she were with child. She waited until the dead of night. She’d feigned sleep until she as certain that she would be able to see the last of the men fall to slumber. Beneath the twilight sky of midnight, she crept along the frozen pathways that the men had cut through the snow with their large boots. She followed easily to the front door. There was nothing but hollow cold in the structure but she didn’t care. She had to see where this treacherous crew had led her. If it would lead to the destruction of her enemy, she would look into its face with delight. If she was on her way with an agent of their filthy house, she would see to it that she found a way to ruin this plan and create agony in her wake. She must have her revenge and if this was how it started, so be it.
Within the walls of this crumbling wreck, she saw that they had done nothing to try to support the building. It was a miracle that it was still standing. The frigid winds ripped through the open windows as though it were a wind instrument and she could almost hear the hollow voice of something from beyond. It sounded like a cry of dull warning. Still, Caroline ventured forth. Following the footsteps forged in the dust, she came to a narrow corridor. It was impossible to tell what the grey walls once looked like but she knew a servant’s entrance when she saw it. It had a small door that had been left ajar and though it was too dark to see, she allowed her curiosity to get the better of her. Slowly pulling the door open, she felt with her feet as she began her descent into the space below the floor. To her surprise, there was a light below. It was too dim to be seen from the steps but the closer to the bottom she got, she saw that it was barely enough illumination for even the men that were seated on the cold ground facing each other. So engrossed in their conversation they were, neither noticed Caroline creep up and listen. It was the man who had allowed her to come and another man who had been doing the bulk of the driving.
“How can you be certain that the others don’t suspect? The Brotherhood is known in this county. They must know that we are too connected to simply be running,” the driver insisted. “As it is, the mules are aware that they’re in dangerous hands. The only reason they stay still is the loss of their numbers gives them no means to complain.”
“The mules are as dumb as they’ve always been,” the other man said, his voice unmoved as he spoke. “And it is true the Brotherhood is known but they believe us to be little more than a small group of boys trying to vie for the big titles. They’ve no idea our true numbers and what we are capable of.”
“And what of some of our bigger losses? Surely, we can’t even think about replacing Brother Edward,” the driver sighed.
“You forget yourself, Brother Stephen,” the other man snapped. “Brother Edward was good with a certain set of skills but his loss is of no concern to me or the others in the Brotherhood who are ready to move beyond this paltry town. If you ask me, he got greedy and it got the better of him.”
“He was White’s man of action,” Brother Stephen said, gravely. “You know White as well as I do.”
“Which is barely at all,” the other man grumbled. “I will admit that he has a way and I don’t want to cut our ties as of yet.”
“Brother Adam, this is foolish to even consider at this point,” Brother Stephen said. “Maybe at any point. I will agree that this county is becoming too small and that our ranks suffer from a lack of imagination in this rotten town. I will follow with this but I cannot truly believe that this is a wise decision.”
“Kent pays,” Brother Adam replied, sharply. “He pays and we deliver. That hag will be dead before the first bloom of spring and we can truly make good on this operation. He might not be that wise but he pays and he pays in advance.”
“And when Kent and White realize that they have been made fools?”
“The Brotherhood is always itching for a war, my friend,” Brother Adam mused. “But let us sweeten the pot before we get there. If Kent says that he wants his wife in the ground, we will make the grave even sweeter for him. Small favors are never that difficult and it greases the way for the bigger picture.”
“You really believe that you can take Kent, White and Brother Gene?” Brother Stephen blurted out.
“The wheels are already in motion,” he said, confidently. “All she has to do now is die.”
Caroline stayed still, her body rigid with rage. The rotten men were planning to rob her of her victory! To take her very purpose and squander it! Oh she could not let this happen. She cared nothing for this Brotherhood nor did she know or care about this man White they spoke of. She knew not what she would do yet. This would take time to plan but she had it in abundance. She needed only to make sure that they would not succeed. She would not allow them to take this one moment away from her. Even if she had to kill to prove it, she would not let them take her last act of love for her family.