Assassin's Tale

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Chapter 20

Dannia looked down to where the guard Caroline slept and wondered not for the first time how she was going to do it with out getting caught. Her room was shared by two others who were now deeply asleep from the narcotic Dannia had sprayed into their faces while they slept and thankfully the room door was shut so that gave her a chance. Dannia had administered a weaker dose of the narcotic spray to Caroline which allowed her to retrieve from her leg pouch a set of chain mail armour, which now hung on a stand beside the bed along with a few rings and trinkets. The pride and joy of Dannia’s plan now lay on Caroline’s chest with her hands curled around its grip. A gem encrusted longsword laid there in its ornately stitched scabbard its pommel just under her chin and its point by her toes. Alright the gems were semiprecious or paste but it looked the part. Dannia slipped up into the darkness of the roof space placed the voice changer into her mouth and spoke to the women quietly.

“Awake Caroline, rouse from your slumber for you have nothing to fear.”

The woman moaned and her eyes began to flutter open.

“Awake child your God needs you.” Dannia’s voice was deep and gentle.

Caroline became wide awake and looked around her in a bemused state of panic, not sure if it was a dream or not.

“I had not abandoned you, rather you had abandoned me, but now we have found each other again.” Dannia saw the woman shiver and her hand clutch instinctively harder on the weapon on her chest before staring at it in wonder. “Though you broke your prayer beads I never broke my oath to you.”

Caroline’s eyes widened and she made to make the holy symbol over herself.

Dannia let out a deep chuckle.

“We need no signs between us daughter.”

“What do you want of me my Lord God?” She asked taking a quick look at the other two women who slumbered on.

“No you are not dead child.” Dannia said interpreting the glance. “My words are for you and you alone. A terrible evil grips my people; false prophets warp my words, my teachings. I taught for my people to find purity of body and mind in themselves and to go out and help others to attain it too but they have turned my words to hate. They think they are superior to others and in doing so break their oaths to me. They inflict pain on others in my name and therefore on me, it must not be!”

“I was told that you wished to bring purity and justice to all of the world my Lord.” Caroline said shakily.

“Yes, but not by force of arms, by butchery of the innocent and guilty alike, but by reason and example. I have selected you Caroline to be my Paladin, my warrior against the lies.” Dannia paused for breath and gathered herself for the final push, the words that could make or break everything she had built up. “In this camp Innocents are abused and tortured while the guilty in your own ranks go unpunished. Fornicators who lie with their sisters, rapists who force themselves on the innocent who are too frightened to resist, sadists who get pleasure in the pain of those in your care, the ones you hold against their will. Find them child and eradicate them in my name. I have left you the “Sword of Truth” and the “Mail of Justice” wear them with pride my Paladin my Justicular.”

“I will my Lord though terror turns my blood to ice, I will visit on them your justice.” Caroline replied nervously. “I had come to doubt what we do here and I know there are others who feel like I do.”

“Bring them into my light child and tell them to be prepared for this coming eight day when I will end this blasphemy.”

Caroline’s face paled.

“Do not be afraid girl you are safe from my wrath. Go to sleep child for you have much to do when the sun rises.” Dannia deliberately made her voice slowly fade. “Good night, good knight, my Paladin.”

Dannia waited in the dark watching Caroline’s reaction. She slowly got up and looked at the sword and mail that hung on its frame. Carefully, respectfully she laid the sword on its pegs on the frame and picked up the rings and trinkets and put them on the top of her small locker. She picked up the prayer beads that lay there and sunk to her knees by her cot and began to pray.

One of the women in the other beds groaned pledging never to drink so much wine as her head thumped from the narcotic.

“Caroline shut up and go back to sleep. The last thing I want to hear is you whining away, now shut up.” The woman settled down to sleep once more. “If you don’t shut up I’ll shut you up.”

“Hildegard you must wake and listen to my words?” Caroline shook the woman. “You and I know that what we are doing to the women is wrong, cruel.”

“Silence woman do you want us killed.” Hildegard whispered urgently glancing back at the door.

“Hilda, you and Annette and I know that what we are doing to the prisoners is wrong, well if we can find other like minded ones this eight day we’ll be able to do something about it.” Caroline’s eyes were fervent and full of restless energy. “Who do you think would help?”

Dannia slipped away unseen as the conversation became more involved, satisfied but a little doubt niggled at the back of her mind that she may have over done it.

Dannia lay on her bunk dusty and very tired knowing to well that she should have washed herself and her clothes before taking to her bunk but was too fatigued to move.

The first few days of the eight days started well if a little oddly. Caroline had entered on day one after a polite knock and laid a small bag of fruit pieces next to their extra ration of gruel.

“You’re early this morning Caroline?” Called Hattie yawning as she dried herself with the rough towel provided.

“Good Morning Hattie, ladies. Would you all assemble outside in fifteen minutes please as the Commandant wishes to make an announcement?” She turned and made for the door but paused at the threshold. “Ladies it would pay you to be on your best behaviour this morning to avoid being selected.”

“Selected? Selected for what?” Hattie asked of the fast disappearing guards back.

Dannia had a sinking feeling that she already knew what was to come but kept quiet for the moment.

After eating and washing they all assembled outside and made a neat row in the shadows of the building. The Commander was already on her dais with the hell hounds sitting each side of her smoke rising from their nostrils to make lazy smoke rings in the air.

Once everyone was assembled the Commander spoke.

“Ladies you have toiled long and hard for our war effort and for some of you the end is in sight and for some the chance to further their involvement in our great military machine.” Her voice was oily and low.

“What is she expect us to do, enlist.” Muttered Juliet.

“Something like that.” Dannia muttered back.

The Commander signalled for the main gates to be opened and for a split second Dannia harboured thoughts that they may be released. All thoughts of that was crushed as the male prisoners were led in. Emaciated and wearing just tatty loincloth’s they trudged in. Bones stood out starkly as they staggered in pitifully helping each other to walk. They drew up by the dais their eyes blank, devoid of emotions, their will power totally smashed. A wave of grief washed over the women making them groan audibly as they spied husbands, brothers and lovers in the dishabille group. “Please ladies join your love ones they have need of you.”

With a wail and much tears the women moved forward to greet and hold their men folk.

“I can honestly say that you will not be parted from them ever again.” The commander said with an evil grin. “Guards take them away. Take them to their new quarters.”

The group was herded away into the inner compound where they were locked into cages one family in each. Inside the cages there seemed to clean bedding and plentiful water and food.

“I am sorry that the accommodation is so basic but be assured that will be dealt with by nightfall. Tomorrow they will be together in all senses of the word and will feel more comfortable.” The commander told the rest of the assembled women. “Guards reassemble working units from those that remain. They will be expected to work two hours more after sunset and I will accept no excuses for shoddy work or laziness. Is that understood? Good!” She turned her ruined face toward their group. “Caroline, you will draw extra rations for your group and they will be excused work on seventh day. Carry on!”

Caroline turned to the women and politely instructed Hattie and Juliet to lead the way out of the camp.

As they strode out past the guards quarters they saw three figures hanging in the air. The first was impaled on a pole quite obviously dead while the other two were being crucified. As they drew nearer Dannia recognised the punished. On the crosses barely still alive hung the brother and sister that had committed incest with the brother they later murdered, whilst the dead body on the spike was the brute who was known to have raped the women under his charge, some several times.

Caroline brought them to a halt by the bodies and the doorway into the guard’s quarters.

“Ladies I trust you to behave but you have my understanding and permission that you may speak to the prisoners if you wish while I change.” She pointed with her rattan cane at the two hanging on the crosses. “They are guilty of fornication with each other, being brother and sister, and their brother which they have confessed to murdering.” She pointed to the impaled body. “He resisted arrest for unhealthy couplings with the women in his charge and with those on the crosses. He denied the charges I brought against him and chose to fight me. He lost.” With that she left them to it.

“Is she expecting us to make a run for it do you think?” Fran asked pointedly not looking at the guards that hung there. “She’d be mad to think we’d try, we’d be shot down before we’d gone two hundred yards.”

“Perhaps that is just what she expects us to be desperate enough to do. It would solve their problems without any comeback. It would just be killed while trying to escape.” Hattie told them logically.

“You think you are so much better than us but you are far worse than any of us. I will take great pleasure in spitting down your necks when they remove your heads!” Bella growled angrily.

Beatrix was incensed too.

“They dare to call us deviants when they practice such depravity.” She said loudly.

“I agree Holy Sister but there are those of us who will stamp it out without compassion if the miscreants are unable or unwilling to change.” Caroline said from behind them as she buckled on her sword. Dannia had to admit that Caroline looked great in the new armour she had left her. The chain mail shone in the morning sunshine and the sword looked formidable strapped to her side with the rings on her fingers glittering. She actually looked like a Holy Paladin which made Dannia feel uncomfortable. The idea was to sow dissent in the guard’s ranks and certainly not the production of a great heroine to rally behind.

“The armour looks great on you Caroline where did you get it?” Dannia cautiously asked to try and gauge the woman’s mood a few minutes later.

Caroline smiled but for a few moments seemed at a loss as to how to answer.

“My father gave it to me.” She finally said as if that was the best answer she could come up with as she fondled and rotated the rosary beads in her hand.

It was sometime later before she spoke again dropping back until she was level with Beatrix.

“Holy Sister may I speak with you?” She asked respectfully.

“Of course Guard Caroline, what is on your mind?” Beatrix replied with equal formality.

“How did you become a Holy Sister? Did your God speak to you?” The words came out in a rush and if they surprised the Priestess she hid it well.

“Did I hear Him well in a way I did. I had stolen some green fruit from a farmer’s orchard for my family but on the way back home I passed a family who had lost their farm due to the previous year’s drought. They were starving but I had food in my belt pouch and I just averted my gaze and walked pass them. I made sure I didn’t meet their eyes. I treated them as if they were invisible.” Beatrix eyes had a far away look as she recalled the events. “I had only gone a dozen steps when I turned and rush back to them. They were too proud to beg and almost too proud to take a gift so we ate, together sitting there by the roadside, what I had stolen. It was the first food they had had for several days and meagre though it was they relished it and were grateful. It was then that I knew I had been called. Afterwards I rushed to the temple of Huron and prayed vowing to be his servant. Much against my fathers wishes I join the convent as a novice a month later.”

Caroline nodded as she ingested this.

“But you have never heard your Gods voice?” She asked.

“No not then but later I did, twice in fact, the last time was when Angel was brought to me to be healed and cared for. He spoke to me as I tried to remove the poisons from her blood.” She paused and tears ran down her cheek unchecked. “His voice was deep and warm as he instructed me on what to do to help Angel. It something I will never forget. If I had doubts they were swept away at that moment and I would have willing died for that voice if he ordered me to.”

Caroline looked relieved and with a smile and a nod thanked the Holy Sister before marching to the front once more.

The days work was hard but Caroline allowed plenty of breaks even procuring some oat cakes from somewhere for their midday stop. Along with the main work the surreptitious work also continued too. Bella and Michelle chatted up the two overseers. Talking about fishing and boats with the men to get information about the river a short distance away and what craft plied their trade there and where they tie up for the night. Bella hit a rich seam of information there as her target used to be a sailor and had his own small skiff moored at the jetty no more that a mile away.

Juliet still managed to create clandestine tools which could be reassembled back at their hut.

Hattie and Beatrix took the lead in working on Caroline and had much to tell them that night when they got back to the hut. Dannia listened intently but most she knew first hand.

“Caroline told us that she has been selected as a Paladin by her God. He apparently spoke to her.” Hattie told them.

“That was why she asked me all about my faith this morning.” Beatrix confirmed.

“She’s lost her mind if she started hearing voices. My Aunt started hearing voices. It told her my Uncle was the Devil incarnate and must be destroyed. When the family found her she had butchered Uncle and was trying to eat him. When they hung her she was still saying she was told to do it by God.” Bella scoffed.

“Whether she is insane or not we need to think how we can use this information to our advantage.” Hattie said sensibly. “Any ideas?”

“I would imagine Beatrix would be the best suited there.” Offered Dannia. “Try and build up her faith and confidence it may get her on our side which might be useful if things go sour. If nothing else it will cause dissention in the ranks if she tries to convert some of the guards.”

“I agree. I might be able to help you with that Beatrix under your guidance, I seem to be unable to do sod all else.” Hattie rarely swore and it only went to show the level of frustration and fatigue she was feeling.

“I’ve made the digging tools, five of them and a form of crowbar to get the floorboards up.” Juliet had been busy assembling her little arsenal of tools. She had fashioned five small trowel like affairs and a small rod with flattened ends, one split to form a fork.

“Well done Juliet.” Hattie rested a hand onto Juliet’s muscular forearm. “Get up a couple of the planks as quietly as you can will you so we can get a look at what we’re dealing with.”

“Fran any idea’s on what we can do with the soil we excavate?” Hattie asked brightly. “Come on girl don’t be shy all idea’s will be happily received.”

“I haven’t much of an idea. Sorry Hattie.” The young druid looked crest fallen. “We could put it in the roof space but I don’t think it would be strong enough to hold much and the chances are that some will drift down and give our secret away. I can migrate it but not very far certainly not as far as the woods. Sorry Hattie that’s not much use is it.”

Hattie put her once chubby arms around the girl and held her close.

“No tears now. We’re all tired child it is no shame to admit it.” She kissed Fran’s cheek. “You’ve done your best girl that is all anyone can ask.”

Bella was the next to report. She and Michelle had found out that one of the overseers at the tannery had a small sailing skiff moored at a jetty on the river only a few miles from where they worked. Several boats, mainly fishing, plied the river which was pretty much clear of any dangerous rocks and sandbars. The best and easiest time to go down river to the inlet sea was at season’s tide which was this coming eight day at midnight or there about. Hattie had just thanked Bella when Dannia piped up.

“Fran can you more the earth across to one of the empty huts or is that too far?”

“No I can do that, why?” Fran answered with a mighty yawn. “The guards look through the windows every morning remember.”

“If you can move the earth across to the roof space of those that aren’t used any that trickled down will be missed, lost in the general dust and neglect.” Dannia said strongly willing her sex partner to understand.

“Why don’t I put it under the huts in general I can get the plants to grow and screen it.” Fran looked relieved that she could contribute in some fashion.

A few minutes later they were standing looking down into the hole Juliet had created by removing three of the floor boards near the small stove. Without much more of a do Dannia dropped into the open space and found their first problem. The top half of her small body was still in the room. They knew that there was a gap between the floor of the building and the ground beneath but they had hoped it was deep enough to allow them to get underneath to excavate the soil to form their hidey holes when they try to convince the guards they had escaped. Dannia ducked down for a moment before asking to be hauled up.

“We’ll be a bit exposed under there or should I say I will. Fran can you get the plants to grow up underneath us at the edge of the building to form a screen so I can’t be seen?” She asked.

Fran lay on her belly and dangled herself upside down into the hole and had a look.

“Yes I can do that.” Her muffled reply floated up.

“No time like the present Fran.” Hattie told her.

A few moments later a dusty strained Fran reappeared.

“It’s done.” She reported before running a weary hand over her face. “That was harder than it should have been I’m weaker than I thought.”

Beatrix led the girl to the chair and began to examine her carefully.

Dannia stripped off and taking one of Juliet’s trowels jumped into the hole and began to quietly dig while the others watched helplessly. Juliet was particularly concerned claiming she would rip up even more floor boards if anything should happen to Dannia.

As Dannia dug another problem arose.

“This stuff is rock solid clay I’m making very little headway at the moment.” Dannia toiled on, her legs and back aching from the confined space and she toiled quite a long while before total fatigue over came her and she went into a faint. Juliet’s huge hands pulled her up into the cabin where Beatrix swiftly attended her.

“Easy Angel you’re exhausted.” Beatrix was carefully examining her. “Just rest on your bunk for a while then you’ll be alright.”

Fran stood beside the hole and with a slow movement cup her hands together as if scooping up the earth before turning around and walking to the main door where see dropped the invisible earth. The pile of earth in the hole vanished to reappear under one of the unoccupied huts with a sibilant hiss.

The guard patrolling by this hut stopped just as a small group of dusty rats came running out from underneath. He was about to stoop and have a look when he heard the same noise from beneath the adjacent hut followed by a rat exodus once more.

Back in the hut Dannia was weakly calling to Fran.

“Fran don’t put it under the huts. If the guards hear a different sound when they enter the huts they’ll investigate. Put it in the roof space of the low building in the compound.” With a sigh Fran obliged just making the last load vanish a split second before the guard looked underneath the hut.

Having seen nothing his mind came up with an alternative explanation for the noise.

“Dagma!” He called to his fellow patrol officer. “Keep an eye out for a snake will you, probably a large one going by the way the rats reacted. A Rattle Python I should imagine.”

In the hut Dannia got down ready to start digging again but was pulled up short by Beatrix and Hattie.

“Where do you think your going young lady?” Hattie said sternly.

“You’ve done enough for tonight Angel dear.” Beatrix told her leading her to a chair by the table.

“We don’t have time for this Hattie, I’m the only one small enough to get under there and we have only a few hours each night to do this to be in time for eight day.” Dannia protested.

“She has a point there Hattie.” Juliet said sadly. “Though I wish to the God’s she hadn’t.”

“I think I could do it.” The nervous little voice of Alice their sorceress in training added. She pulled off her shift to reveal her slim almost gaunt body and dropped into the hole.

“Alice don’t try and get under the hut you could get stuck simply try and increase the size of the hole your in.” Cautioned Hattie.

With that ringing in her ears Dannia the great assassin who prided herself on being always alert fell asleep. She was barely aware of Juliet lifting her up and putting her on her own bunk.

It was still dark when she woke up and looked over the side of the bunk to see the floor planks back in place cursing herself for her weakness. The others were breathing deeply and emitted the occasional grunt and snore. A feeling of deep affection for her fellow prisoners threatened to overwhelm her and had to be fought down. Dannia had work to do before Angel was allowed to wake.

Following her usual route she left the building and rapidly crossed in the blind spot to the palisade. Once over that she made her way to the guard’s quarters. Suddenly she heard the sound of footsteps and rapidly shinned up a tree to hide in the branches and watch from the foliage. Caroline appeared moving stealthily with two young women and an even younger man away from the buildings before she eventually stopped under a tree.

“Caroline what’s this all about? We could get into massive trouble by being out here!” The young lad in a low voice remarked quite obviously unsettled by this turn of events and extremely weary.

“Quietly Todd you idiot. With your voice you’ll wake every one up.” Hissed one of the others angrily. “I’ve got to agree with him though what is this all about Caroline?”

“Do you believe what we are doing to the women here is right?” Caroline asked them. “Do you like beating them even though they are innocent of any known crime save that of being not of our own people?”

“You know full well we don’t but what can we do about it? If we don’t follow orders we’ll be in there with them or worse?” One of the women said.

“A feeble excuse my child.” A deep voice rumbled from above told her before asking. “Don’t you agree my Paladin?”

“Yes my Lord God but don’t look down on them too harshly, they are good people it is just that they are afraid.” Caroline said looking skyward with a strange euphoric expression on her face.

“Are you not afraid also Caroline?” The voice was gentle and sounded amused. “And yet you have taken on the mantle of Paladin, for you are learning it is not the absence of fear that makes you brave but its acknowledgement and carrying on regardless of that fear that makes you courageous.”

The three other guards had dropped to their knees in shock and horror begging for forgiveness.

“Get up and rejoice in hearing his voice.” Caroline took hold of their hands one by one and pulled them to their feet. “I have found six others who feel as we do which with you three and the officer will make us eleven in all.”

“But what do you expect us to do?” The young man asked.

“I expect you to fight young man, I expect you to fight.” Their God told them. “I will create a diversion, children, and you will attack those who enjoy the torturing of innocents and the sodomite in your ranks this coming eight day. Wear a white ribbon or cloth upon your arm or around your head so I do not harm those of my followers.” Dannia turned her head slightly and spoke in a far off sounding voice. “Carry on Caroline, prepare our army of revitalisation.”

Caroline went down on one knee and drawing out her rosary began to pray the litany the three others joined her hesitantly still in awe at what had just occurred.

When Caroline rose to her feet the others followed suit, her face a radiant beacon of goodwill and wreathed in a shining smile.

As Dannia slipped away she could hear Caroline discussing with the others possible candidates to join the sect but just as importantly who couldn’t.

“The sodomite is the head chef Tilson I caught him doing a serving girl up the arse last week. The brute threatened to kill me and the girl if I said a word.” The youth told them.

“Then he shall be the first to be punished. Battle is coming and we must be prepared. I am your Paladin and you are my warriors together we shall begin to free these women and get them home before we go and lead our own people back to purity and understanding. ” Caroline told them. “Speak of none of this without my permission now go and get some rest. In two hours we will awaken our charges and the new day will begin. Treat them with respect and help them if you can in there allotted tasks.”

Moments later the area was cleared leaving a more than satisfied Dannia up in her tree removing the voice distorter from her mouth.

She was soon back in her bed and even managed a couple of hours sleep before Caroline knocked loudly on the door and asked permission to enter.

When she entered Dannia was pleased to see that she was in her ‘gifted’ armour and watched with some satisfaction as the young woman opened a bag containing fruit segments and laid them by the pot of hot gruel.

“Ladies I’m afraid you have only fifteen minutes to eat and wash before assembling outside for inspection.” She paused a moment. “More men folk will be brought in today, I beg of you do not react or do anything to draw attention to yourselves. I will endeavour to find out what is happening to these family groups.”

“Are they being sent home Caroline?” Hattie asked.

“I fear not but I am not sure.” Caroline replied. “Remember fifteen minutes Ladies.”

As she turned and move away her foot echoed hollowly on one of the floor boards they had up the night earlier. She stopped and tapped it with her foot while everyone looked on in trepidation. She looked back and gave a slight shrug before saying.

“Be careful ladies.”

Later when they had broken their nightly fast and had freshened themselves they watched as another wretched group of men were brought in and joined by their women folk. Hattie noticed and commented quietly that a few of the unattached women had suddenly claimed a small number of the unattached men seeing it as a route out of the camp. The men were either too weak to protest or to far gone to care.

Dannia noticed that Caroline was frowning as the new group was lead away.

“Do you think she noticed the floorboard this morning or was it coincidence do you think that she stopped there?” Fran asked Dannia as they trudged up the track toward the tannery.

“I don’t know how she could miss it, it sounded so wrong.” Dannia replied in a hoarse whisper. “But she did seem to be preoccupied.”

“No talking please ladies.” Caroline called having heard the muttering of quiet conversations over the clanking of her armour.

The work was hard as before but Juliet didn’t seem to be working on the rivets that were pushed through the still soft leather breast plates to give them extra protection. It wasn’t till their midday rest that Dannia found out what she was working on. Huge metal breast plates, arm and leg covers were piled in the corner as Juliet took a well earned rest, she looked totally exhausted.

“What are they for, for the Gods sake?” Juliet said wearily. “No one could possibly wear them not unless they are fifteen feet tall and four times the width of a normal man?”

“I have a sinking feeling I know?” Dannia whispered looking a little green. “I don’t think the others have been sent home or moved into new quarters.”

“What do you mean?” Juliet asked wide eyed.

But Dannia was forced to keep quiet as Caroline came back into the tannery with a tray of cold water and much to every ones surprise a pile of chicken meat.

“Don’t gorge yourself or eat to fast you’ll make yourself sick.” Beatrix cautioned sensibly.

She needn’t have worried as each person savoured each morsel as if they had never eaten chicken before.

When they had finished Caroline spoke to them in a strange cryptic fashion that left all of them even more puzzled.

“If you are going to take fresh air I think you will find eight day would be the wisest. It will be new moon and I believe we will be having a celebration that night.” Caroline’s voice was even and steady but her hands nervously moved the rosary through her fingers. “I shall be on guard along with guards Todd and Hildegard who are both of my faith. It should be an interesting night as it will be the culmination of your labours.”

“Won’t you be enjoying the celebrations Caroline?” A baffled Hattie asked.

“No! No I will be needed.” She took the tray away and the women went back to work totally perplexed.

When they exhaustedly entered their hut that evening a discussion soon broke out about the events of the day but Dannia had more important things to deal with and after a few minutes of conversation drew Juliet aside.

“Juliet I’ve got to go outside can you cover for me. I’ve got to see him, I’ve got to work out what my feelings are for him and I may be able to find out what has happened to the others.” She implored the giant woman.

“It’s to dangerous Angel they have too many guards about now.” Juliet looked at her sadly. “I understand believe me but…”

All the conversations died in an instant as there was a solid knock on the door followed by Caroline’s voice.

“May I enter Ladies?” Her voice had an odd sound to it like some actor struggling with his lines.

“Come in Caroline you are welcome.” Hattie replied quizzically.

The guard entered and gave a respectful bow to Hattie which only puzzled her further.

“I must do an inspection of the hut to make sure it is secure.” Caroline told the lady mayor as she tapped the hollow board with her heel once again. “Will you accompany me please Hattie?”

“Off course I will.”

The other women watch as the pair of them examined the bunks, the walls and the floor boards save the ones Juliet had loosened. At the corner of the room closest to the watchtowers they stopped while Caroline tapped the wooded panels with the hilt of her rattan cane.

“As I thought these boards are rotten and will need replacing I’ll have the carpenter remove them on seventh day. You will have to put up with the draft for a few nights I’m afraid ladies.” She prised off one of the panels and peered out of the gap. “Yes totally rotten and so are some of the bed boards I will have the carpenter bring new ones tomorrow.” She bowed to Hattie once more and walked to the door only to pause once more. “Try to be good on eighth day ladies as if you are not even here. I don’t want to see you on the night of the eighth day.”

With that she left.

“She’s lost her mind that one.” Bella laughed.

“Why did she tap that board? She couldn’t have missed it this time!” Beatrix said with a worried frown.

“She didn’t miss it?” Hattie said slowly trying to get things clear in her mind. “She knows what we’re doing; she knows we are trying to escape.”

“How do you work that one out?” Bella asked disbelievingly.

“There is nothing wrong with the wall panels in the corner of the room yet she is having them removed, the very same panels we were going to take out because they let us out into the blind spot between the two guard towers.” She paused to let that sink in. “And there is nothing wrong with the bed boards but we would have used them to shore up any tunnel we would have dug and she given us extra to use.”

“And she tapped the board to warn us it sounds hollow. It seems logical but why is she helping us you don’t think she is setting us up do you? No I don’t think she would, oh I don’t know!” Fran was puzzled and tired and irritable.

Dannia reached up and drew Fran’s head down and kissed her tenderly.

“Whatever the reason it’s working in our favour of that we should be grateful.” She said gently as she kissed her once again.

“She seems to have had some sort of epiphany, a revelation of some sort. I wonder if her God has truly spoken to her and made her see the error of her ways.” Beatrix mused. “It could account for our religious conversations to and from the tannery.”

“You better look at these Hattie.” Juliet called as she unwrapped the small parcel Caroline had left. Separate from the fruit pieces and cold meat were three small picks and a trowel. “So that is what she got the old boy to make while we were eating that chicken.”

“Right that’s enough talk, lift the boards Juliet and let’s get to work.” Hattie ordered.

“I don’t think Angel should do any not after last time. She just isn’t fit enough, no offence mom petite.” Juliet said as she took up the boards.

“Don’t be silly I’m fine.” Dannia complained.

“I agree with Juliet Angel. Now to bed with you we have enough of us to do the work.” Beatrix then looked sternly at her. “No arguments.” She turned back to the others. “When we are done we’ll put the table over the boards. Caroline and the servant are the only ones to enter so it won’t look too obvious.”

Dannia climbed on to her bunk and made as if she was complying with the order to sleep before slipping out into the roof space while all the others were engaged with the now exposed hole. Little did she suspect what she would find and how dangerous things had become?

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