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Author Topic: Possessed--Part Nine  (Read 3299 times)

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Offline Evie

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Possessed--Part Nine
« on: February 22, 2011, 10:31:22 am »
   Part Nine—Murders Most Foul
   
   April 5, 1127
   Tre-Arilan


   The Arilans guests had come and gone, but still there was no rest for the household until the following week, for right after Stefania's baptismal celebration had come Easter Court.  The Arilan men returned with Sir Ethan to Rhemuth for the weekend, leaving Jashana to tend to Sophie, who was still recovering from her first childbirth, not to mention the effects of sleep deprivation.  Walter and Javana had already returned to Rhemuth before the others, Walter claiming he had some personal matters to attend to before Court.  So it wasn't until Court was over and the Arilans had a chance to return home and recover from their busy week that they had a chance to compare their impressions of Javana's odd behavior during her all too brief visit for Stefania's christening.

   “Perhaps she was simply tired—they did have that long journey from the Kheldish Riding, with just a few days to rest before their visit here—but Javana didn't seem quite herself the whole time she was here,” Sophie mused.  “Though granted, all of you would know far better than I would.”

   “Maybe she and Walter had some sort of a spat just before they arrived,” Seisyll ventured, though the guess didn't ring true once he gave himself another moment to think about it.  Or, if it was some sort of marital conflict that had caused Javana's strangely subdued mood, he had the feeling it was not some brief passing discord, but something of much longer duration.  He could not have said why he thought so; it was more of a gut feeling than anything else.  Seisyll looked troubled as he tried to figure out on a conscious level what had inspired that instinctive guess.

   “Do you think it was just the shock of seeing Stefan and Lisette again, especially with a baby on the way?” Sextus guessed.

    Seisyll quickly shook his head at the notion.  “No, I was talking to her before she noticed he was there, and something seemed wrong to me from the very outset.”

   “Maybe it's just taking her a while to settle into marriage,” Sophie mused.  “Lord Walter seems the strong-willed sort, and Javana.... Well, it might be different if they'd had a true love match going into it, but maybe it's just taking them longer to bond.  I imagine that would make it harder to settle into married life.”  She looked thoughtful.  “Walter certainly seems devoted to her, though.  If anything, maybe a little too devoted; he hardly let her out of his sight the entire time!  I just...didn't get the impression that the feeling was mutual.”  Sophie shrugged.  “Or maybe I just imagined that; it could simply be that Walter felt more comfortable staying with his wife all evening rather than mingling with a group of near-strangers.”

   “Mayhap,” Sextus said doubtfully, “though if you're thinking he's simply a shy sort, I don't think so.  I've seen him at Court, and he can mingle and charm his way through a room with little effort if he chooses to.  No, I think it's something besides that.”

   Jashana listened to her brothers' and sister-in-law's impressions before speaking up.  “Javana said something very odd to me when I was introducing her to Ethan.  At the time, I meant to pursue it further, but Sir Aylmer interrupted, and she seemed to want to drop the subject.  It was one of the rare times when she was apart from Walter; I wonder if she felt freer to talk without him listening in on every word?”

   “What did she say?” Seisyll asked.

   Jashana shared the memory of that odd interlude in the withdrawing room directly mind-to-mind with her family, not wishing any detail of it to be lost in a mere verbal retelling.  Seisyll's frown deepened.  “That's...very strange,” he mused.  “Sextus....”

   “Get ready to tour the beautiful Kheldish Mountains?” his younger brother quipped, though his voice sounded grim.  “I can, but if Javana meant to ask us to investigate, why didn't she simply ask outright?”

   “Walter strikes me as the very private sort who doesn't like others meddling in his affairs,” Sophie considered.  “Maybe Javana is worried he'd take it the wrong way if she asked someone else to look into the strange goings-on in his barony?”

   “Or maybe she felt, since it's not officially 'King's business,' that she hadn't the right,” Jashana guessed.  “But I suspect Kelson would want it looked into anyway, were he to find out about it.”

   “Hm.  And if Kelson were to send us in officially, Walter might well take that amiss, thinking the King believes him incapable of taking care of matters in his own barony.  That would be a serious affront to his pride.” Seisyll nodded.  “Perhaps that's why Javana simply hinted at the problem.”

   Sextus snorted.  “All right.  So I'm supposed to...what, unofficially start hanging about the Riding and keeping my ears open, using what for a pretext, since obviously I can't claim to have been invited by our sister, who expressly told us this would not be a good time for a visit?”  He raised his hand as Seisyll opened his mouth to make a retort.  “Not that I'm disagreeing that it needs to be looked into; I'm just saying I'd better have a plausible reason for being up there, under the circumstances, since I can't very well simply ride up to Walter's gates and say, 'Greetings, new brother; my sister says this is a bad time for us to come calling because the women of your barony keep turning up missing, so how 'bout a pallet by the hearth?'”

   “Seisyll....Are you sure you want to send Sextus?  This sounds like it might be dangerous.”  Sophie bit her lower lip, looking worried.  “I mean, if people are disappearing....

   “It's potentially dangerous,” Seisyll agreed, “though Sextus is perfectly capable of looking after himself, sweeting.  Though it would probably be a good idea to bring someone else in to watch your back,” he added, glancing at Sextus.  “I don't think Ethan can get free for a few weeks, but maybe after that....”

   Jashana stared at him in dismay.  “Seisyll, we're getting married in June, have you forgotten?”

   “Not at all,” Seisyll assured her.  “But he'll have a few weeks before then during which he and Sextus can do some checking around to find out what's going on and if they can find out anything that might lead to a culprit.  If the matter ends up needing more attention than that, then we'll consider longer term options after the wedding.”

   “Not immediately after the wedding, I hope!” Jashana said testily.

   “We might let Ethan deflower you first,” Sextus joked.  “But only if you beg nicely.  Shouldn't take him too long.”

   Seisyll glanced at his gaping wife, suppressed a grin, and raised a brow at his brother.  “Sextus!  Pretend you're housebroken.”

#

   April 28
   Forest glade just outside Tre-Arilan

   
   “Do be careful, Ethan!”  Jashana turned concerned eyes up at her beloved.  “I know you've been in dangerous situations before, but I just have a gut feeling this isn't going to be like one of your usual fact-finding missions Seisyll's sent you on in the past.  If Javana's fears aren't exaggerated—and she's not usually the sort to overreact—then this is a different sort of situation you and Sextus will be walking into than what you're used to investigating.”  She held him close.  “I just want you to come home to me quickly, safe and sound.”

   “I will, sweeting,” her betrothed assured her, giving her a quick squeeze before disengaging himself to continue down the wooded path beside her.  “It would take the entire Torenthi army to keep me from returning to you; I've been looking forward to our wedding for far too long already!”  Ethan flashed her a winning grin.  “We'll be our usual discreet selves, staying in the area just long enough to get a feel for what's happening, resolve it if we can, or report what we discover to the proper authorities if we can't.  At any case, even if we don't turn up anything, at least we'll be able to tell your sister we looked into the matter next time we see her.  The situation might not even be as dire as she thinks, if rumors have twisted the story enough in the retelling.  It could well have been a couple of isolated incidents that have become blown all out of proportion by gossipmongers.”

   “Mayhap,” Jashana said dubiously.  “But mayhap not, and since you don't know what it is you're walking into, all I ask is that you'll be cautious.”

   “I shall.”  Ethan took off his cloak, spreading it under the large oak he had come to think of as 'their' tree.  Jashana sank down onto it, Ethan following immediately afterwards, reaching for his intended wife eagerly.  “Jesú, I've missed you!  The end of June can't possibly come soon enough.  Can't you persuade Seisyll to let me move the wedding date a little sooner?”

   “I can't see how, if he's about to send you halfway across the Kingdom for the next few weeks,” Jashana answered a bit gloomily.

   Ethan pulled her close, kissing her to lighten her mood.  “Well, maybe Sextus and I will find our answers sooner than that.  I'll certainly be motivated to discover what's going on as quickly as possible, if that means getting to come home to you in days rather than weeks.”

   “I wish I could go with you!” Jashana told him.  “It's not as if Seisyll hasn't sent me on fact-finding missions before.”

   “Not this sort, love,” Ethan said, shaking his head.  “And anyway, you and your sister look enough alike, you're more likely to draw attention to us rather than blend in with the local population.  We don't want to send the gossips in Caerdraig into a tizzy wondering who the lovely stranger is who looks so much like their baroness; that would hardly be discreet, if we're trying to avoid having Walter notice we're looking into the matter!”

   “I suppose you're right,” Jashana said unhappily.

   Ethan smoothed her hair away from her face, looking into her eyes.  “I love you, Jashana Arilan.  You know that, don't you?”   

   She gave him a slight smile.  “You'd better!”

   He leaned down to kiss her, his eyes darkening as she responded eagerly.  After a moment, his kisses began to wander, skimming along her jawline to one ear, then down her neck.  “If we can't do anything to move the wedding up,” he whispered as he began loosening the lacings of her gown, “maybe we could just start the honeymoon a little earlier?”

   Jashana forced down her feelings of foreboding, reaching up to entwine her fingers in her beloved's hair.  “I love you, Ethan,” she whispered back.

   All thoughts of the Kheldish Riding were soon forgotten as the lovers became thoroughly lost in each other's arms.

#

   May 1
   Shrine to Saint Catulina, Stavenham


   Sir Ethan, taking a moment to recover his equilibrium after being brought through the Transfer Portal in Stavenham, took a curious look around at his new surroundings.  “What is this place?” he asked Sextus.

   Sextus risked a quick peek outside the entrance to the small grotto.  “We're in a private shrine in a garden in Stavenham.  The original owners of the property were killed back in the days of the Regents for helping Deryni escape the Kingdom, and their home was destroyed, but the Custodes Fidei allowed the shrine to remain, thinking it harmless.  The current owners are human, but sympathetic to Deryni.  They're aware we come and go through here at times, but they choose to look the other way.”

   Ethan peered closely at the statue of the young woman housed in the niche before him.  “Is this a shrine to a Deryni saint?”

   Sextus chuckled.  “No, she was human.  Saint Catulina, the patron saint of virtuous maidens.  Come on, it looks like there's no one in sight.”

   Ethan suppressed a laugh.  “You brought us to a shrine for a protectress of maidenly virtue?  Jesú, Sextus, no wonder it took us a couple of tries to get in!”

   The younger knight grinned.  

#

   May 10
   The Dragon Inn, Village of Caerdraig, Kheldish Riding


   “Does the sun come out at night here in Caerdraig, or is that just your beautiful smile?” Sextus asked the pretty barmaid who was topping off his ale tankard.

   She giggled.  “Does that line usually work for you?”

   The youngest Arilan shrugged.  “I don't know yet.  You're the first woman I've tried it on.  Does it work for me?”  He shot her his most charming grin.  Ethan choked back a laugh, taking a deep quaff of his own ale instead to hide his amusement.

   The woman laughed.  “Well, you're a right charmer, you are, and easy on the eyes, but I don't walk out with anyone I don't know anymore.  It just ain't safe these days.”

   “Oh?”  Sextus feigned casualness.  “How so?”

   The barmaid looked at him speculatively.  “You and your friend ain't from around here, are you?”

   “No, just passing through on the way to Stavenham. Unless there's work to be had here in Caerdraig?” Sextus said, sounding hopeful.

   “Nay, not really, not unless you’re a miner or looking to learn the trade.”

   “Ah.  Mining country, is it? I suppose that's no great surprise, with all these mountains.”  Sextus took a sip of his ale.  “So, why is it that it's not safe to go walking out of an evening these days?  Or is it just me you're wary of?”  He winked at the young woman, reaching for her hand and stroking it gently with his thumb.

   She blushed, giggling slightly, though she didn't pull her hand away.  “Oh, that too!” she teased him, but sobered quickly as she considered his question.  “No offense, goodman, I'm sure you’re a right sort, but it's just that there's been several women in the past few years as either have come up missing, or else had things happen that they can't explain afterward, so we've learned to be wary, especially of folks we don't know.  And just less than a year ago, there was a woman's body found up in the forest, though no one knows to this day who she was.”

   “Hm, that is strange.  I can see why a lass might be wary.”

   “Well, it ain't just the lasses, but mostly so.  Three years ago there was a courting couple out walking of an evening about two miles north of here.  They went missing; a couple of weeks later, the man's body was found in a ravine with his neck broke, but the woman's never turned up.  Some think maybe the man fell off the mountain road in the dark—he was found just a bit below that—and that maybe the woman fell too, but just wasn't found, or maybe she got scared she might be blamed for it and run off, but either way, she ain't turned up since.  And there was a feeble-minded boy who went missing earlier this year.  But aye, mostly it's been women strange things have been happening to.”  She lowered her voice.  “My friend Meg, two weeks ago, woke up one morning still wearing her clothes from the night before, only they was stained and torn, and she can't remember why.  She said she felt right as rain the night before, but doesn't remember exactly how she got home that night even though she'd not been drinking, or even much of what happened after suppertime, and she woke up all achy and with her feet bruised and bloody as if she'd walked a ways without shoes on.”

   “Very strange!”  Sextus frowned over his ale.  “And were her shoes missing?”

   The barmaid nodded.  “Yes, and they were new ones too.  Cost a week's wages, those did!  Meg was most put out.  She thought maybe someone robbed her for them, but that seems a bit odd, doesn't it?  Especially as you'd think she'd remember, were that the case!”

   “So you'd think,” he agreed.  “Though sometimes if there's a blow to the head, a person can forget a few things.  Do you know if maybe she had a fall or a knock on her head that might have caused her to lose her memory of what happened?”

   The woman shrugged.  “She says she can't remember anything of that sort, but then again, she said she was achy all over, so it's hard to say. I suppose that's possible.”

   The innkeeper called something from a rear room, and the barmaid, giving Sextus an apologetic smile, withdrew her hand from his and went back to see what her employer wanted.  Sextus returned to Ethan's table.

   “Any luck?” Ethan asked.

   “Not as much as I'd hoped for, but yes, some useful information.”  He shared what he'd learned with Ethan.

   “Hm.  Sounds like maybe we should see if we can make the acquaintance of her friend Meg,” Ethan observed.  

   “That's what I thought too,”  Sextus agreed.  “She may have simply had some sort of head injury, but if her memories have been tampered with, maybe I'd be able to tell.”

   Ethan raised an eyebrow at his brother-in-law to be.  “That's going to take some doing, though.  Are you planning to ask for permission to take a peek into her mind?  I know there's beginning to be more acceptance of Deryni in the Kingdom, but that might not reach as far as every rustic maid in the back regions of the realm, you realize.  Old ways of thinking die hard.”    

   “You're right,” Sextus said, “which is why I was hardly planning to ask.  We might be able to learn what we need to know by simply asking Meg the right questions, but if it comes to needing more information, there are ways to take a peek at her memories without her being any the wiser.”  The Deryni fact-finder gave him a wry grin.  “I don't like doing so; in most situations it's probably unethical as hell, but in this particular instance having that information could end up saving lives, so I'm not going to be too conscience-plagued over it if it comes down to that.  Will it bother you, though?”

   Ethan shrugged.  “Not my problem, brother; I'm not the Deryni here, and as you say, it could save lives, so I’ve little quarrel with that.  It’s not like you’re using your powers to seduce virgins or swindle the poor out of their hard-gotten gains.  Finding out how to contact Meg will be another problem, though.  You don't suppose our barmaid will volunteer that information when she comes back out here, do you?”

   Sextus grinned, sharing his memories of reaching for the woman's hand and doing a quick probing quest of her memories as she spoke to him.  “Oh, she already has.”

#

   May 15
   Peasant's cottage, Caerdraig Village outskirts


   Sextus frowned as he rejoined Ethan outside Meg of Caerdraig's cottage.

   “Well?” Ethan asked once both men had walked out of earshot of the peasant woman's home.  “Were you able to tell what had happened?”

   “Not exactly,” Sextus said, “but I'm looking forward to seeing what Seisyll and Denis will have to say about it.  She's been tampered with, all right, and I suspect in more than one way, and perhaps on more than one occasion, but her memories have been altered to the point that I can't tell anything about who might have done it, except that he was almost certainly Deryni.  And what I don't understand is why he would have left as much of her memories intact as he did.  I don't think it was lack of skill on his part; he seems to have deliberately left her enough memories so that she'd know that someone has done something to her, even though one would think it would be more advantageous to simply erase her memories of those lost nights altogether and replace them with false ones.  I think whoever did this wanted her to remember just enough to torment her.”  Sextus shook his head.  “I tried to ease that fear a bit, but I didn't dare alter her memories too much further than that. It's probably best for her own safety if she retains a bit of wariness.”

   “You said he's been inside her head more than once?” Ethan looked startled.

   Sextus scowled. “More than just inside her head, unfortunately.  As best as I could piece together, someone's been poking about in her mind on at least three separate occasions, and she'll soon realize she was raped at least one of those times, which is doubtless what the memory alterations were meant to cover up.  She's with child, though, or at least I think I felt the early signs of one.”

   Ethan bit back a curse.  “How far along?”

   “How the hell would I know? I'm no midwife!”  Sextus pondered the question.  “I couldn't sense if the child was a boy or a girl, but I don't know if that means it's too early to tell yet—in which case she'd only be a few days along—or if it just means I've got no experience at sexing unborn babies and little business trying my hand at it.  That sort of thing is what Deryni women figure out by instinct, after all; we men just have to guess at it.”

   “Did you tell her?”

   A shadow crossed Sextus's features. “No.  As I said, she'll figure it out soon enough, if she hasn't already.  And once I realized whoever is doing this to her has visited her more than once, I had to erase any memories of my visit as well.”  He turned haunted eyes to his sister's betrothed.  “Unless we manage to catch and stop this man before he visits her again, I couldn't risk him finding out we're on his trail, after all.”

   “Won't he be able to detect you've been in her mind, though, the way you were able to detect he'd been there?”

   Sextus sighed.  “Oh, he might, though I did my best to cover my tracks.  But if I did the job right, at least he'll have no more idea who I am than we have about who he is.”  He turned a grim look at Ethan.  “I'm beginning to think we need to call in more help with this assignment.”

#

   May 15
   Tre-Arilan


   Jashana counted the days again, her heart filled with mingled joy and trepidation.  No, she hadn't miscounted.  Her monthlies should have started a few days earlier, but so far there was no sign of her flow starting.

   The most likely reason for this was, obviously, a pregnancy, and that was the reason for her conflicting emotions.  She wanted this baby, of course; wanted any number of children that she and Ethan might be blessed with in their years together.  But at the same time, she'd not looked to start a family so soon.  Certainly not just over a month before her wedding day!

   The timing, she knew, would be hard to explain to her family, but with any luck, by the time any of them figured out she was expecting a child, she would already be married.  Seisyll was quite astute; there was a chance he might figure things out sooner, but with the wedding plans already underway, surely he'd do little more than grumble about the timing.
  
   Jashana closed her eyes, focused on trying to sense the presence of another life deep within her.  After a while, she thought she might have brushed against something, but she wasn't sure.  It was, however, still quite early, if her flow was only a few days late.  And, of course, there might be some other cause for the delay.  She would try again in a couple more days.  How long had her mother said it had taken to be sure of her own pregnancies?  Was it a week?  Ten days?  Jashana wished wistfully that she could ask, though under the circumstances, Lady Alix would have been mortified to think of her daughter catching with child before a proper exchange of wedding vows.   Sophie would doubtless be equally upset, not to mention worried about what Seisyll might say or do, especially given his reaction to finding Javana with Sir Stefan a few years earlier, and to the best of Jashana’s knowledge, at least they’d stopped short of a full consummation.  No, Jashana would hold off asking.  She'd doubtless be quite sure both about whether she was pregnant and what sex the child would be by the time Ethan returned for the wedding.  She'd tell him, if by that time there was any news to tell, and together they could decide on when to break the news to the rest of the family.

   She hoped, if this was a child growing within her, that she would bear a son, and that he'd have Ethan's charming smile.

#

   June 5
   The Red Wyvern, Caerdraig Village


   Sir Ethan of Mainwaring smiled at his lapful of curvy village wench.  “I'm afraid I can't, lass.  I'm betrothed and looking to wed in the next month.”

   The blonde walked her fingers down his chest.  “I'll no' tell 'er,” she purred.

   The knight grinned.  “Oh, I'm sure of that, sweeting.  But I'd know.”  He gently pushed her off his lap, tilting his head towards Sextus.  “Try that one; he's easier.”

   “Don' wanna,” she answered with a pout, her voice slurred with drink.  “My man's a black-haired lout.  Don' wan' anuver man wif black hair.”

   “Your loss, sweeting,” said Sextus equanimously, sipping at his stout.  He shot Ethan a wry grin as the woman stumbled over to the next table to try her luck with the patrons there.  “A regular saint now, are you, now that you're leg-shackled?  Or are you just on your best behavior because you're sharing a pint or three with your future brother?”

   Ethan chuckled.  “Well, that too, but honestly, Sextus, you've seen your sister, right?  Forget for a moment that you're Jashana's brother; does that blonde slattern even begin to compare?”

   “Depends on how drunk you are, I suppose,” Sextus joked.  “Too bad for her you're stone cold sober.”

   Ethan polished off the final bites of his meat pie, chewing slowly before looking back up at Sextus.  “You're not exactly the hopeless reprobate Seisyll painted you to be, either, are you?  I was expecting I'd be touring the Kheldish Riding with the devil incarnate, to hear him talk.  Not that you're anywhere near sainthood either, but why do you work so hard to maintain the bad boy guise?”

   Sextus raised his eyebrows as he picked at the crust of his meat-filled pastry.  “Who says it's a guise?”

   Ethan snorted.  “Well, we've been traveling together going on a month now, and while I've seen you down a drink or two at every tavern and inn along the way, I've yet to see you truly in your cups.  Not to mention that, given your reputation for wenching, I'd expected to see you visiting every bath-house and dragging up every doxy along the way, but so far you've only gone off with, what, two lasses?  And rather wholesome looking ones at that.  Did they do anything more than hold your hand?”

   Sextus laughed.  “None of your damn business!  Just don't go ruining my reputation with Seisyll and Denis.  I'd hate for them to develop high expectations for me; it's hard enough living up to their low ones.”  

   “Well, it's your game, Sextus; I'm just an amused spectator.  I just wish I understood why.  What do you stand to gain from having them think the worst of you?”

   Sextus shrugged.  “You've never had to grow up in their shadow, expected to live up to all their expectations of what an Arilan ought to be.  By not even trying, I may disappoint, but then again, when I do exert myself on occasion, they're pleasantly surprised.”  He took another sip of his stout.  “Whereas if I knock myself out trying to live up to their standards all the time, after a while they'd start to expect that, in which case nothing short of perfection will do thenceforth to impress them.  So why exert myself and still end up disappointing them, when I can go about doing that the easy way?”

   Ethan grinned.  “All right, that makes a sort of logic, I suppose, if rather an arse-backwards sort.”  He watched as the village wench who had draped herself over him earlier stumbled out the door with a dark-clothed man wearing a hood.
  
   “Should we follow them,” Ethan whispered, “just to make sure she's safe with him?”

   Sextus snorted.  “Define 'safe'.  How would we know?  She's drunk half out of her mind, so she's willing enough for a tumble at the moment; she might not be so willing once she sobers up tomorrow, but by then he'll be long gone, won't he?”  He stared at the hearth fire a moment longer, then nodded.  “I suppose we could at least make sure she gets no worse treatment than she was looking for.  But Jesú, I feel like we're just chasing after shadows at this point.  Maybe we should just go back to keeping a watch over Meg's cottage until someone comes sniffing around again?”

   “You're assuming that Meg's being assaulted at home and not someplace else,” Ethan said, equally gloomy.  He stood.  “Finish your pie.  I'm done eating; I'll follow them out.”  He smiled wryly.  “If I'm not back in half an hour, come after me.”

   Sextus gave him a tired smile.  “Right.  You're just hoping to catch an eyeful of wanton blonde giving that chap his money's worth.”

   “Yes, well, better that than the pox I was afraid she wanted to share with me.”  Ethan grinned, tossing a coin on the table for his half of the fare, and exited the tavern.

#

   The woman was drunk, but not so far gone that her body couldn’t register pain.  Not that Aylmer particularly wished to hurt her—no, that was becoming Lord Walter’s particular joy—but Aylmer couldn’t help but feel a trifle sorry for the wench.   Being drunk wouldn’t spare her from Walter’s excesses; if anything, Aylmer suspected he’d simply double his efforts just to ensure he left the woman something to remember their encounter by, even if he dared not leave her with her memories fully intact.  So Aylmer was careful to use her gently, not that she’d remember the favor, but at least he’d feel less guilty about his part in things.

   Aylmer simply enjoyed women, willing or not.  If certain powers could be brought to bear to make them more willing, or at least more compliant, who was he to argue against their use?  Life, after all, was all about power and control, and in that game at least, it was certainly better to be on top.  But he wasn’t particularly enamored of pain, whether of receiving it or giving it.  No, that was Walter’s love, something he prided himself in being a connoisseur of, in the same way that he took pride in being a patron of the arts and a collector of beautiful things.   Paintings, statuary, tapestries, the most skilled troubadours for his musician’s gallery, and of course, women.

   Walter’s wife, of course, was the ultimate work of art in the baronial treasure trove of beautiful things.  Baroness Javana de Branigan might have been forced to Walter’s will, but some inner part of her remained as yet unbroken, uncowed, and Aylmer secretly rejoiced in that.  Had Walter fully managed to break her, Aylmer suspected, Javana’s beauty would somehow have become diminished, and once it was, her value to Walter would be gone.  She, too, could go the way that many of Walter’s other women already had, though granted, those others had always been destined to be disposed of.  

   Aylmer had been loyal to Walter in all things, at least up until now, but if he were ever forced to choose between his loyalty to Walter and his love for the beautiful Javana….

   No, he must not allow himself to indulge such thoughts!   Lord Walter had never, so much as Aylmer knew, been so discourteous as to peek into Aylmer’s mind without his express consent, but Aylmer knew something of what the man was capable of in that regard, and he was not such a fool as to think the shields he had developed in his work with Walter over the years would be sufficient to keep Walter himself out.  

   No, Javana de Branigan was well out of his reach, but this woman, lying somewhat limply now yet still drunkenly willing beneath him, would suffice.  

   Aylmer felt another surge of pity for the woman.  He could, perhaps, strangle her now, not enough to kill her, but enough to make her pass out.  It would scarcely take any time at all; she was half unconscious with drink already.  Walter might be angry, but Aylmer could claim an excess of passion had caused him to choke her.  Walter would be less likely to cause undue harm to a woman who was unconscious and couldn’t register it.  With any luck, the woman would awaken later with enough alcohol remaining in her system still to numb her against whatever injuries Walter might choose to inflict upon her.

   He closed strong fingers around the woman’s throat.

#

   Sir Ethan’s grip tightened around his sword hilt as he watched the hooded man start to strangle the woman he was using.  With a fierce cry he leapt out of the shadows, drawing sword from scabbard as he did so, raising it to strike a blow against the woman’s assailant, swiftly gauging as he did so how he must swing the weapon in order to strike down the man without harming the woman herself.

   In his efforts to concentrate on the task before him, Ethan did not see the other dark-clad man approach him from behind until it was too late.  Something hard clubbed him, and as he fought to remain conscious, another blow brought him to his knees.  His last thoughts were of his beautiful Jashana, her blue-violet eyes glowing with love for him, as his mind went black and then, at the final second, a tunnel of light opened up before him, drawing him out of one existence and into the next.

#

   Lord Walter turned the man’s body over with his booted foot, staring at his features.  He looked somehow familiar, though it took Walter a few moments to place where he’d seen the man before.

   Eventually, the memory resurfaced.  Shave off the month’s growth of beard and replace his rustic clothing with finer garments, and this man was almost certainly Sir Ethan, Javana’s future brother-in-law.

   Well, at this point, future brother-in-law no longer.  Fortunate, that.  One less Arilan family gathering he’d have to make excuses not to travel across the Kingdom for.

   He knelt, doing a Death-Reading on the man to see what he’d known, and who else might be working with him, but Sir Ethan had evidently been safeguarded against such efforts.  Walter cursed violently as the knight’s memories dissolved away far more quickly than would normally be the case, too quickly for Walter to be able to retrieve information of any use.

   No matter.  If Sir Ethan of Mainwaring was snooping around Caerdraig and rescuing damsels in distress, that could only mean that those interfering Arilans were suspicious of him.  And if they were suspicious of him, Walter knew whose fault that had to be.

   Javana would pay for this.

   Walter stood, dusting off his trousers.  “Leave the woman be, Aylmer,” he muttered.  “We can’t afford the luxury right now.”  He walked over to the strangled woman, twisting her neck abruptly to finish the job as Aylmer stared in dismay.  “Fasten your trousers, man, and let’s be off!”

   They left the scene, Walter only briefly considering hiding Sir Ethan’s body, but deciding against it.  No, if he were working with someone else, let that someone discover him; that would serve as a warning.  And as for any investigation, Walter was a patient man.  He would simply make sure there were no new occurrences to investigate.  At least not for a long while.  The Arilans might be patient as well, but they could hardly afford to linger in the Riding forever, and once he was certain they were gone, Walter could resume his nocturnal activities, just a bit more discreetly than before.

   But Javana must be taught her lesson.  Walter suspected he knew the most effective way to do that.  He rued the necessity, but priorities were priorities.

   Aylmer gave a lingering look back at the cooling bodies in his master’s wake as the two men returned to the mountain path leading back up to the castle.


Part Ten:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=668.0
« Last Edit: February 25, 2011, 04:48:46 pm by Evie »
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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2011, 11:57:30 am »
I can't think of a horrible enough death for Walter.  It needs to be something that triples all the pain he has caused and continues to cause.  He deserves the worst imaginable.

I'm sure Evie will come up with something suitable.
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Offline Evie

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2011, 12:01:44 pm »
I can't think of a horrible enough death for Walter.  It needs to be something that triples all the pain he has caused and continues to cause.  He deserves the worst imaginable.

I'm sure Evie will come up with something suitable.

LOL!!!  Well, that's quite a tall order, but yes, hopefully I have.    ;D
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Offline AnnieUK

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2011, 01:13:33 pm »
Oops, now it's poor Jashana. :(  And I do love Sextus's logic - be a disappointment to your family then anything you *do* achieve is a pleasant surprise LOL.

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2011, 10:41:07 pm »
I can't think of a horrible enough death for Walter.  It needs to be something that triples all the pain he has caused and continues to cause.  He deserves the worst imaginable.

I'm sure Evie will come up with something suitable.

Could Deryni powers create 'locked-in syndrome'?  That is, have him able to see and hear and smell and taste and all the rest, but unable to move or speak or in any way communicate?  An 'I have no mouth but I must scream' situation?

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2011, 11:02:45 pm »
I can't think of a horrible enough death for Walter.  It needs to be something that triples all the pain he has caused and continues to cause.  He deserves the worst imaginable.

I'm sure Evie will come up with something suitable.

Could Deryni powers create 'locked-in syndrome'?  That is, have him able to see and hear and smell and taste and all the rest, but unable to move or speak or in any way communicate?  An 'I have no mouth but I must scream' situation?

Why, that's positively diabolical, Elkhound!  And actually, if Walter were to tighten the controls on Javana a bit more, I suppose you could have a very similar result to that, so I'd have to give that a "Plausible"....   ;D

Oh, but wait, you were hoping to see that applied to Walter instead, weren't you?  In which case all I'll say is that that's not precisely what I have in mind for him before his demise, but it's close enough in a few aspects to make me grin widely.  He will definitely have multiple reasons to be Not A Happy Camper before he breathes his last, I assure you. 
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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2011, 12:18:51 am »
Quote
An 'I have no mouth but I must scream' situation?
  Ah yes, Elkhound, one of the most psychologically terrifying sci fi stories.    But I am sure Evie has come up with a suitably diabolical and unpleasant end for dear Walter  :D

And alas, I fear that it will be some time before the Arilans are truly aware of his activities.   If Sextus is going to start snooping around, then I hope he is as clever and competent as Seisyll says he is.   And why am I getting a very nasty feeling about poor Ethan?

Quote
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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2011, 01:22:00 am »
I can't think of a horrible enough death for Walter.  It needs to be something that triples all the pain he has caused and continues to cause.  He deserves the worst imaginable.

I'm sure Evie will come up with something suitable.

Could Deryni powers create 'locked-in syndrome'?  That is, have him able to see and hear and smell and taste and all the rest, but unable to move or speak or in any way communicate?  An 'I have no mouth but I must scream' situation?

Why, that's positively diabolical, Elkhound!  And actually, if Walter were to tighten the controls on Javana a bit more, I suppose you could have a very similar result to that, so I'd have to give that a "Plausible"....   ;D

Oh, but wait, you were hoping to see that applied to Walter instead, weren't you?  In which case all I'll say is that that's not precisely what I have in mind for him before his demise, but it's close enough in a few aspects to make me grin widely.  He will definitely have multiple reasons to be Not A Happy Camper before he breathes his last, I assure you. 

But when? WHEN??  I've got my rusty can-opener all ready to  make sure he dies a soprano!
Points to Elkhound for imagination, though. I hope Javana is the one who manages to inflict this state on him, once her relatives free her from Walter's controls. Maybe even they'll have some official royal aid????

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Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2011, 03:33:37 am »
Whatever happens to Walter should also be done to Aylmer as well.
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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2011, 07:00:39 am »
*dies laughing*  My word, it's like chumming the waters and watching the sharks appear!  ;D

As to "when", it's a 19 chapter story, if I'm remembering correctly, so we're around halfway there.  Remember, poor Javana was still married as recently as early 1133, and there's no changing that without having to rewrite bits of several other stories. :)

But things start to pick up from here on out, albeit with a setback or two along the way....
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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2011, 10:43:26 am »
If he were 'locked in', he'd still be technically alive, so she'd still be baroness.  And with her husband incapacitated, she'd have control of the estate and be ruling the domain.

Offline AnnieUK

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2011, 10:57:23 am »
How weird is that?  Locked-in syndrome has been suggested as a possible plot device on another forum I frequent too.  Coincidence or what?

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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2011, 11:15:48 am »
If he were 'locked in', he'd still be technically alive, so she'd still be baroness.  And with her husband incapacitated, she'd have control of the estate and be ruling the domain.

That's true...but would that necessarily be a good thing, though?  She'd be trapped by her duties to a barony that holds only horrific memories for her, shackled for life to a man she loathes (even if he can't actively harm her anymore), and unable to move on with her life to find happiness elsewhere.  I suspect Javana would prefer him dead for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is her own sanity.  Since people with "locked-in syndrome" are fully aware of what's going on around them, I also think Walter would end up having the last laugh--knowing that Javana is technically "free" of him but will never truly be free until he's dead, which puts her in the position of either having to continue living with and taking care of him or having to kill him in cold blood.  He might get some grim satisfaction from the irony.  Granted, that would be an awfully backhanded way of rewarding Walter....   :D 
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Re: Possessed--Part Nine
« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2011, 12:30:25 pm »
If he were 'locked in', he'd still be technically alive, so she'd still be baroness.  And with her husband incapacitated, she'd have control of the estate and be ruling the domain.

That's true...but would that necessarily be a good thing, though?  She'd be trapped by her duties to a barony that holds only horrific memories for her, shackled for life to a man she loathes (even if he can't actively harm her anymore), and unable to move on with her life to find happiness elsewhere.

I'd think that she'd be so man-shy that even if he were dead she'd not want to re-marry, and with him technically alive she'd be under no pressure to do so.  And she wouldn't have to stay in the barony.  She could install a competent steward and move to the capital; the revenues would enable her to buy or rent a nice house near the castle and support herself in a suitable lifestyle.

And, given the standards of nursing care in those days, how long could he live locked-in?  Probably a matter of months before some infection or respiratory problem set in, or a nutritional problem--where IV and/or enteric aren't available, how would you feed someone who can't swallow?--would carry him off.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2011, 01:55:13 pm by Elkhound »

 

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