The frigid crystals that clung to the trees had started to melt yesterday. Caroline had only noticed it when the icy water hit her face and cleared her stupor. Well, that was the impression that she gave off, anyway. In reality, she was dying to have a drink but she knew better. Not a drop would touch her lips if it came from any of their encampment. Not when she’d seen what it had been doing to her traveling companions. Of course, she made no mention of anything and acted none the wiser, asking nothing when the other men went off for walks and did not return. Their numbers had reduced down to nearly nothing. When she woke yesterday, there had been an accident with a man who’d been the last of the able-bodied help. He was dead well before anyone heard the news and though there was a show of making it seem like a random bout of bad luck, Caroline knew the look of a shark when she saw one. It was an expression she knew well and could tell by the look on his face that the man called Brother Adam had murdered him.
Caroline was not necessarily alarmed by the prospect of being among a murderer. If she were, she might have been in a dreary state by now. She knew that these men had been slowly but surely clipping off the extras that held them back. It had been a few here and there and while she was ashamed to admit that it took her long enough to realize what they were doing, she excused her short-sightedness on account of the fact that she was focused truly on only her revenge. Still, even if she had known right away that these men killed off her travel companions, this would’ve been of no real concern to her. It thinned out the competition for food and allowed her to stay true to her plans to get closer to Vivian by any means possible. To have fewer people around in the way of her goal was more of a relief because it meant that she would not have to entertain the idea of removing them herself. She was also not truly upset at the idea that these men killed as she understood they were running an operation that required some manner of force to it. She knew very well the touchy situations in these kinds of travels could be and it was simply undeniable that occasionally brute force was required. Why, she was going to commit a murder herself in the near future so she was hardly one to judge.
It was moments like this one where being high born was of some irritation. She knew that those around her of more delicate sensibilities would not approve of such thoughts. They always manifested in the voice of her rotten, cruel nanny. Oh she knew these types that roamed in the social circles. They believed that such acts were evil but she knew better. She knew the necessities of cruelty were something that few outside of those social norms truly understood. They had never tasted that agony of loss. They had no idea the pain of being forced to degrade herself like this. Alas, she had no fear of that cruelty. She would not be caught in a swoon of terror when she discovered that someone in her midst had simply taken care of business. She knew the danger inherent in this situation. She had no intention on falling prey to it either.
Though she might not disapprove of the methods by which they did their business, Caroline knew better than to trust these men. If she were as idle and unworthy as the wretches around her, she might not have seen the signs but she knew very well what she was looking at. Their work was nearly complete and she could tell from those brutal methods they employed that they sought to travel lighter than they had been prior to this. They had already taken out the last of the men who might have been able to fight them. It was a wholly unnecessary act, she thought. Callous at that. He’d been starving and weak for most of the journey and any spirited resistance he might have put up would not have stood up to the strapping men who had been at the heart of this operation. And if she was being perfectly honest, he was hardly a threat on account of his own blistering stupidity. He’d been entirely too thick to realize that his own impending demise was staring him in the face. She knew this as soon as she had quite accidentally stumbled on his wretched, half frozen body.
Oh Caroline was not offended by their nature, these men that surrounded her. She had come to expect as such from them. What she was rather horrified by was their clumsiness. She might not be as practiced in the art of murder as some but she found that she was rather put out by this display when she came upon the unfortunate body in the snow. Here they had gone to such embarrassing lengths to try to pose everything as a bad turn of chance. How they had lamented, almost to the point of parody, how things had gone so sour and how difficult it was to finish such a large task now. The others didn’t seem to notice their precious bundles were now stowed away in the remains of the house, buried deep under the ground. If they had understood any of this, they might have noticed that when this horrible hellish journey had started, there had been sixteen of them in the caravan. When Caroline had seen them stash away the bundles, she counted fourteen of them. There was, of course, her own but that meant that one was missing. She had few ideas of where it was but she already knew that they meant to use it for their own nefarious works. She knew this before but any doubt that she might have had was gone when she came upon the body that they had so tried to mourn for the sake of the other dullards. She might have laughed at the careless way they simply discarded the cord that he’d been strangled with near his hapless corpse. It might have been funny if this were a different situation but in this case, she found that her amusement was dampened by the prospect that this would soon be a situation she would have to find her way around. Thankfully, now she was in possession of a cord that was sturdy enough to strangle a man twice her size. Such a thing was a useful tool to have for a woman alone with such a precious and troublesome bundle.
Caroline had snatched it up quickly and stashed the offending weapon in her cloak. She made a point to try to muddy the tracks about so that her smaller footprints might go unnoticed if anyone bothered to try to track her whereabouts. She felt this was a minor concern at this point but there was no sense in giving these men the reasons they desired to dispatch her. As she made her way back towards the little encampment, she felt reassured by the weapon wrapped around her body. She knew the need to use it would come soon and it was only good fortune that allowed it to come to her so easily. She also knew that it might be the only way that she would make it alive to her nemesis. More would die, likely tonight if they had not already. She hoped to avoid having to kill anyone herself but she could not deny herself now. Not when revenge was so near.
As she returned to the small area they were settled in, she gave no indication of what she’d found. There were some faces among the camp that appeared to be disappointed at her return but Brother Adam was not among them. While this should have been a relief, she was still rather put out that among those who wished her dead was that ratfink criminal, Brother Stephen. She paid him no mind and indeed seemed completely oblivious to everyone as she settled in her usual spot in the little shelter they had provided. She might allow them to think she was stupid now but she watched, nonetheless. She was keeping an eye open tonight and when the call for blood came, she would answer. She would watch that Stephen especially. There was an attitude in him that she cared not to suffer for much longer.