The first week of the year pressed onward and the tension around the house became more pronounced as the snow continued to fall. Charlotte found that there was a kind of pall over the house that only got worse as the weather continued to get colder. It was not helped by the delay in getting hired hands out to this area of the woods to take care of the menial tasks that required some doing. Master Kent found himself arguing with his more vile henchmen to make sure that the drive was able to be used even though by all accounts, the storm would see them all stuck inside for at least another three days if not more. The lady staff were all silent with their heads hung low, lest they be caught looking at anything too long. Well, perhaps lady was a bit of a strong descriptor. If any of the girls that populated the house staff were over the age of twenty, they were surely sent down to scrub the soiled linens and nothing more. Charlotte wondered if that was the fate that all of the girls in the house would eventually suffer if they didn’t go mad or run away from this house in a fit of desperation first. The life of a laundry maid in this house was something of a punishment and the brutal amount of work would break most within a year, so she had been told. Of course, the alternative was a fair bit worse because it meant that any young woman upstairs had to contend with the awful family that resided here. If Vivian was in the room with them, they would be lashed for attempting to steal something, regardless of whether or not it was worthless. If Reginald Kent was in the room, they only hoped that they were not alone with him. It was a terrible life to live and one that was fraught with pain and fear around every turn. That was, until recently.

Charlotte’s arrival had been something of a stir in the house and, admittedly, in the first days it was more difficult for everyone involved. While she had found it easy enough to gain the trust of the household staff, there were those who found that her sudden inclusion in the order of things had caused a particularly volatile rift in the already strained environment of the Kent home. Kent himself was not a patient man and he was determined that he would have what he wanted regardless of what Charlotte thought but that appearance of the body of one of his more trusted hired hands was enough to make him pause. It was not enough to convince him to let her go. Reginald Kent could be said to be a great many things and a fool was typically high upon most people’s list. He was more than happy to house a viper if it meant that he could own her, after all was said and done. Still, he could not have her now and that was causing his patience to dwindle and his humor, what little he had, to turn to rot. None of this was lost on the lady of the house as she became insufferable. She was wretched at the best of times but she became almost obsessive about her routines, punishing the staff for any infraction that she imagined that she saw. She had quite the imagination as well and there were quite a few young ladies sporting bruises and cuts from her vicious moods. All the while, Charlotte watched with rapt fascination at it all. The very fabric of this house was woven in with a kind of delicious cruelty. It was unfortunate that she was still not at liberty to come and go as she pleased but she had soon discovered that no one, not even Vivian herself, was able to properly go about. That was a luxury afforded to the wicked master alone. One that everyone envied and few were keen to see him keep. This caused a kind of discord at the heart of this house and it was one that Charlotte quickly found that she could exploit.

Getting out of her room had proven to be an easy first step, though it had been the most perilous. That first evening, when she was still sporting the bruises from her encounter with Kent and his men, the fiend had been under the mistaken impression that he had intimidated her. He’d kept her locked up in this forgotten wing in the hopes that she would wallow in self pity and fear of what was to come. It seemed the height of stupidity to her at the time that a man who had been at least aware of her trailing legacy of dead husbands, even if he had been spared the gory details, had thought that his tactics were those she had not seen before. That she would not have been at least passing in familiarity with the slovenly workings of men who use brutality to grease the wheels of their wants. Why, that had practically been her first lessons in this world. Why he might have thought that she would simply play nice by giving into fear of her new master, drinking his vile poison and later allowing him to bed her was beyond her understanding. What further baffled her was why he seemed to think that he might still find a method for bedding her when his first two attempts at domesticating her had already proven to be spectacular failures. His right hand man had been found at the bottom of the servant’s quarters stairway with a broken neck as well as a mysterious bruise around his throat. If he had been under the impression that this hired man was capable of making her quake with fear at the sight of him simply because he’d marred her skin, Reginald Kent was quickly discovering that Charlotte was not exactly given to tremors of terror. No, she was much more likely to become enraged with cold vitriol that she intended to see through at a leisurely pace. At least, a clever man might have come to this conclusion. Master Kent was far from clever and certainly not enough to notice that while his own wife was struggling to keep her bread from becoming vomit, Charlotte was hardly slowed by the same illness.

And while all of this was true, it was a truth that he found most unpalatable and that sent him into a fresh rage upon the hint of Charlotte’s refusal. She had not said no just yet but she had made it clear without using words that she intended to prevent him from touching her at all cost. Given that they had found the corpse of the man in the stairway, he was not keen to test his luck. Though they had no solid proof of Charlotte’s guilt on that, Kent was at least smart enough to know that the broken spirits within the house were hardly capable of such things. He knew her reputation. He also knew that this placed him in a kind of danger that might not be so easily rectified should she decide to take him out of the picture. She might not be able to do it immediately but she had already proven that she was more than capable of finding methods. Furthermore, when the body was discovered, his revenge was hampered moreso by the fact that he could not do anything other than arrange to have the corpse removed and hidden for the moment. The man was one that would do best to go missing rather than have his untimely death reported to any authorities. None of this surprised Charlotte in the least but it did reveal a rather glaring weakness of his and one that would be of great use in her future plans. That said, she would have to see the next day afterwards to be able to plot that far and on that first night when it became increasingly apparent that Charlotte would not fall in line, tomorrow was very far away. In fact, had it not been for the house staff, it might not have come at all.

While Reginald Kent had every intention on breaking her that very night, he’d assumed that she would be violently ill and incapable of putting up any fight to him. He’d also incorrectly assumed that she would be simply begging to be in a better room by the end of the afternoon. While it was rather unfortunate in terms of lodgings, she had done worse in the past and she knew that he would not suffer himself to spend the night in the wing of forgotten things. Suffice it to say that he was incensed that she was not only completely well upon finishing her food but also more than willing to find herself in the forgotten wing afterwards. He had all but ordered her to come to the sitting room but she found that word had travelled fast that she had managed to keep the girl from losing her dignity earlier and for her convenient good deed, she had found that they were not left alone for the most part. Any attempt he’d made to separate her from anywhere, he found that there were staff members about that would serve as witnesses and, more importantly, informants to his already scheming wife. That might have been more comforting had it not been that they found themselves finally in the sitting room and were immediately trapped in the room with his utterly miserable and sickened wife.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Vivian had all but insisted on sitting up tonight, specifically in that room. Charlotte figured that her nemesis had understood her husband’s motives and as such decided to make his aims that much more difficult. The result was ugly but it all but proved what Charlotte had figured out at dinner. Kent might be able to poison her slowly but he could not be the one to pull the trigger on her. She had to drop dead of something else and he would be a free man. But what was he standing to lose? And if they were tied in such a manner, what was stopping Vivian from getting up and leaving him? It was a small amount of dirt but it was enough to start digging and she intended to. That night, however, she found that digging would be put off in favor of making sure that she saw the next day to do so. Once the heat of the tension between them had become too uncomfortable for her to continue trying to gain a foothold in the dung heap that was what was happening there, she retired rather dramatically to the forgotten wing, only to be stopped on the way by the same servant girl from before. She rushed Charlotte down the hall of the wing to a small but very well hidden closet door. It was old but it matched the wall paper so well that it was virtually impossible to find it unless you knew where to look. Though the prospect of finding herself in this tiny room did not prove to be one she enjoyed, she didn’t have to ask by the look on the girl’s face if it was necessary. Once shut into the dark closet, Charlotte soon realized the other advantage of knowing about this tiny, musty sanctuary. It was a door that had a clandestine lock on it which came in handy when she heard the heavy footsteps of Kent coming, shaking the wood around them. The door that she had hidden behind might have shook but it did not move otherwise and considering the violence of his temper erupting somewhere outside of it, this proved to be rather comforting.

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