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Author Topic: Possessed--Part Twelve  (Read 3012 times)

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Offline Evie

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Possessed--Part Twelve
« on: March 03, 2011, 09:29:43 am »
   Chapter Twelve—A Tangled Web

   July 15, 1130
   Caerdraig Castle


   Aylmer watched, his lips compressed tightly with anger, as Walter goaded his wife.  He felt safe in his small show of emotion, hidden from his master as he was by the carved wooden screen between them.  He could see them clearly enough through the small carved openings in the screen, for there was enough light in the solar for him to see them clearly, though here in the darker area of the chamber beyond, he was well enough hidden from their sight.

   As usual, the baron's abuse of Javana was more emotional and mental than physical, at least in this part of the castle where others in the household might happen by and observe.  After all, having waited so long to win his wife's hand in marriage, Walter hardly wanted to cause his hard-won prize serious injury.  Still, it was becoming more difficult for Aylmer to hold his tongue and hide his feelings whenever Walter decided to amuse himself by tormenting Javana.  He would have made her a far better husband, he told himself, if only he'd had the chance to make her his own.

   Perhaps he still might, someday.

   He fingered the folded parchment in his pouch, considering the best opportunity he might have to show it to his Baroness.  He hoped the knowledge it contained might win her favorable regard.  If he held that, then perhaps he could persuade her to the plan that might spell freedom from Walter for them both someday.

   Walter would likely be riding his borders in the morning; it was his custom to do so at least once per sevenday, but summer showers had kept him from doing so earlier in the week.  Tomorrow promised to be bright and fair, though, if Aylmer had read the weather signs aright, so the Baron would doubtless wish to spend the morning out of doors.  

   Aylmer would plead illness and remain in the Castle instead.

#

   Javana looked up from the hard cheese she was slicing, her fingers tightening their grip around her belt knife’s handle as she saw Aylmer standing in the doorway to her bower.  “What do you want?”  Her eyes darted nervously out the window, down the mountain slope where she’d last seen Lord Walter riding off to check on his mines and the fields closer to the village below.

   “My lady, I have acquired something that might be of special interest to you.”  Aylmer reached into his pouch, pulling out a folded parchment with a broken wax seal.  He handed the missive to Javana, who took it with her free hand, her eyes never leaving Aylmer’s face.   “Read it,” he urged.

   Javana briefly continued to stare distrustfully at him, then pulled the knife free of the cheese, still holding it as she flipped the letter open to read the text enfolded within.  A moment later, as she absorbed the message it contained, her knees suddenly gave way, and she sank onto a nearby bench, her eyes flitting back to Aylmer’s face.  “Where did you find this?” she asked hoarsely.

   “It was in one of the coffers on Walter’s desk,” Aylmer said, a slight smile on his face.  “I thought you might find it…informative.  It seems your former suitor didn’t mean to abandon you quite so completely after all.”

   Javana glanced back at the letter again, blinking back tears as she read Stefan’s words to Seisyll—words which had never arrived at Tre-Arilan.  If they had, how much different her life might have ended up!  “Seisyll might have agreed to a long betrothal,” she whispered.  “I would have….”  The tears spilled over, and she looked back up at Aylmer angrily.  “Why show me this now?  Do you simply mean to torment me?”  She held the letter out to him, knowing better than to keep it for fear it would be missed by her husband and he would discover she’d seen it.

   “No!”  Her husband’s lieutenant took another step into the room, gently closing the door behind him and taking Stefan’s letter back to tuck it safely away in his pouch.  “No, my lady, never that.  I just thought you deserved to know the extent to which Walter has altered your destiny to suit his own fancies.  You deserve better than that, my lady; you always have.  I would free you of him, if you’ll allow me.”

   Javana stared at him, startled.  “You would?  But….”  She shook her head in disbelief, knowing there must be some trickery in Aylmer’s offer.  “What’s in it for you?” she asked.  “Walter has ever been your benefactor.  You owe him your livelihood, and more besides….”  Her voice trailed slightly as she considered the many things Walter and Aylmer had shared in their years of association, and she suppressed a shudder as she contemplated some of their more unsavory pastimes that she had learned about over her years of marriage to Aylmer’s master.

   “Aye, my lady, that’s always been the problem with breaking free of Walter, hasn’t it?  He may not have controls set into my mind as he has in yours, but I’ve grown quite fond of eating and living indoors.”  Aylmer favored his baroness with an ironic smile.  “Not to mention a few other…’benefits’ of my position in his employ.  But I would be willing to give up those benefits if only I could have two things in exchange.”

   Javana looked wary again.  “And what two things might that be?”

   His smile grew.  “Walter would need to die.  I trust you have no objection to that?”

   “None,” she affirmed.  “And the other?”

   Aylmer fell to one knee before her.  “Your hand in marriage afterwards, my heart.”

   Jesú!  Javana stared at the man in shock.  She was certain she’d never said or done anything to encourage the man’s attentions.  Did the idiot have a death wish?  Or could he simply not resist the challenge of trying to win the one woman in the Kheldish Riding he knew Walter would never permit him to have?

   “Why me?!” she asked him, morbidly fascinated.

   The knight took a deep breath, evidently bracing himself for his outpouring of devotion.  “Because ever since I first saw you, my lady, you have held my heart in your hand.  I may have assisted in Lord Walter’s courtship of you, believing you deserving of a better life than I could possibly offer, but I was vastly mistaken in that, I see that now.  I…had hopes that Lord Walter would be a better husband to you than he turned out, given his deep desire to have you to wife.  I would amend my wrongs in helping him secure you, if you would allow me to.”

   Javana regarded him curiously.  She had been Truth-Reading as he spoke, and though she knew he could not possibly have been so blind to Walter’s true character as to think her husband had ever meant to become a better man for her, evidently Aylmer had somehow managed to convince himself otherwise over the years, for his words to her had the feeling of truth to them.  Or if not outright truth, at least not an outright lie either.  Walter’s hired lunatic truly baffled her.

   “So…you believed that as soon as Walter wed me, he’d leave off his little pastimes of rape, murder, mental torment, and mucking about with people’s memories to become a reformed man?”  Javana allowed her skepticism to color her voice.

   “Well…I suppose that would have been a bit much to hope for,” Sir Aylmer allowed, “though I had truly believed he would treat you better than he has.”

   Ah, yes, that would redeem him utterly, wouldn’t it?  And you as well?  Javana barely suppressed an eyeroll.  As much as she wished to be free of Walter, the thought of accepting Aylmer’s odd proposal sickened her.  Was she to be rid of one monster only to find herself shackled to another?

   Granted, Aylmer, being human, would be far more malleable.  He wouldn’t be able to control her in the same ways that Walter had.  If she were to go along with his plan, at least to a point, perhaps she could free herself from him later….

   No.  Javana shrank from that temptation.  She could kill a man in self-defense, mayhap, but coldly premeditating his murder was something completely different.  Walter had not brought her quite that low yet, she hoped.  Jesú, was she truly Denis Arilan’s niece, to have been able to contemplate doing something so heinous, if only for an instant?

   Still, she must find some tactful means to turn down Aylmer’s proposal, for he had it in his power to make her life even more miserable than it was already.

   “I’m very sorry, Sir Aylmer, but I’m afraid that your second condition would be quite impossible.  I would dearly love to be free of Walter, of course, and if you desire the same thing, then I shall quite cheerfully look the other way while you rid us both of him.  I wouldn’t be able to assist you, obviously, or I’d have freed myself of the bastard years ago.  But if I were to become a widow, I would lose all rights to Walter’s baronial lands, you know, just as you would lose your own means of livelihood.   Since I lack any other means of support, I would doubtless need to return to my brother Seisyll’s guardianship.  My small dower would hardly be enough to support the both of us.”  

   Sir Aylmer took her hand, stroking it tenderly.  “Ah, but my darling, I have a plan for that.  If you were to bear Lord Walter a son, then he would inherit his father’s lands, and you would almost certainly be made regent for him until he attains his majority.  We could continue to live here at Caerdraig, you and I, just without Walter any longer. I would treat you kindly, my heart, far more kindly than Walter ever has.”

   Javana pulled her hand away, wondering idly if the controls Walter had set in her mind would permit her to stab her new suitor with the knife she belatedly realized she still held in her other hand.  She forced back a shiver of revulsion, carefully keeping her expression neutral.  “Walter keeps few secrets from you, Sir Aylmer.  You must surely know that my husband takes great pains to avoid my bed during the time of month when he knows me to be fertile.”  Her voice hardened.  “That’s why he’s keeping Meg,” she added coldly.

   “Yes, my dear, which is what gave me the idea,” her husband’s lieutenant said, his smile growing.  “No one else besides us need know that Lord Walter’s heir is not his.  He’d be ours, darling.  And once we’re certain the babe is thriving, I would move against Lord Walter.   Since you’d be with child already, Caerdraig would be securely in your keeping until our son comes into his inheritance, and as for afterwards, he’d surely not turn his own mother, the Dowager Baroness, out into the cold, would he?”  Sir Aylmer grinned.  “We could still live quite well, my love, if you would but agree to have me.”

    “And if I have a daughter, my lord?”

   Aylmer shrugged.  “A less ideal situation, granted, but Caerdraig can be inherited through the female line.  It’s Walter who insists upon a male heir.  Either way, you’d still be regent, and I’d still have a position in the baronial household.”  He stroked her cheek.  “Think on it, poppet.  I’ll be far more gentle with you than Walter is.  I don’t have his proclivity for pain.”

   Javana could practically feel her blood curdling in her veins.  

#

   August 1, afternoon
   Caerdraig Castle dungeon


   Meg of Caerdraig lay on her pallet in her dimly lit cell in the baron's dungeon.  She had long since exhausted all efforts to escape her confinement.  There was only one way out, Meg knew.  Whenever she ended up with child, Baron Walter would bring her upstairs, up into the realm of light and fresh air, only to sequester her securely in the Baroness's bower.  At least she had companionship then.  She had hated the Baroness at first, believing her to be fully in league with Lord Walter, but after a time she had worked out that the lord of Caerdraig had some strange sort of control over his wife, and that she could not act to resist him, though she loathed him just as much as Meg did.  Meg felt sorrier for the Baroness Javana than she did for herself at times.  No matter what indignities Baron Walter had visited upon her, her mind and body were at least fully her own when he was absent.  Years of careful observation had taught her what signs to look for to see if the Lady of Caerdraig were acting on her own accord or if she was acting under compulsion at any given moment.

   A faint rapping at the cell door announced Baroness Javana's arrival.  Meg sighed from relief, knowing it was the Baroness rather than the Baron because the Baron never heralded his entrance with a knock, preferring instead to catch his prisoner unawares.  The door opened, admitted the Baroness carrying a tray of food.  

   The food was pre-cut in small morsels, meant to be eaten with her hands, for the Baron did not permit Meg to have any items in her cell which might be used as weapons.  Knives had been forbidden from the start, of course, but once quite early on Sir Aylmer had made the mistake of allowing her to keep one of the metal spoons.  This, Meg had rubbed against the stone walls of her cell until the edges of the bowl had been ground sharp.  She had lurked in wait by the door one evening, waiting for the approach of an unannounced visitor, but when the door had finally opened and she'd sprung out of the shadows to attack, it had been Sir Aylmer who had entered first and took the wounding blow.  Baron Walter, upon discovering the cause of the injury, had told Sir Aylmer that the wound had served him right for being so lax.  But after that, he had grown even more restrictive about what Meg was permitted to keep in her cell.  Even a blanket was denied her now, for fear she might attempt to strangle herself or one of her few visitors, and she was left with only a thin shift for clothing.

   She was allowed more when she was imprisoned in the bower, allowed the luxuries of an outer gown and some blankets on her sleeping pallet in cold weather, for the Baron had charged his wife with keeping a watchful eye on her, and Javana had obliged, though out of true concern for Meg rather than Walter's simple desire to keep his brood mare alive.  These added luxuries, the Baron had told Meg, were to be considered incentives to do her duty by him.  And so she had managed to do twice already, not that she'd willed for it to happen, and twice she had seen her babies snatched from her arms.  The second babe, her son, she had seen die, and since she'd seen no signs of her firstborn—a daughter—since her birth, nor had the Baroness, they assumed that child was dead as well.  There had been something wrong with both children, Meg had gathered, though she knew not what it was.  Nor did Meg understand why the Baron insisted on holding her prisoner and pressing his unwanted attentions on her to breed his sons, when he had a wife—albeit an equally unwilling one—already.

   She'd been pregnant with yet another child at the beginning of the year, but while the Baron and Baroness were away, off to visit faraway Rhemuth and the Baroness's family beyond, she'd miscarried that baby.  Walter had been far from pleased to find her womb empty upon his return, and had immediately started in on trying for child number four.

   The door opened, and Javana slipped into the cell.

#

   Javana tried, as usual, to 'forget' to lock the door behind her, but as usual the compulsion kicked in, and she found herself using her Deryni powers to turn the tumblers in the door.   Walter did not allow her to use keys to enter the cell; keys, he said, were far too easy for a prisoner to steal, should Meg attempt to overpower her.  So only Sir Aylmer was permitted to use his key to open the cell door, and only at dire need, if the Baron or Baroness of Caerdraig were not in residence.  So far, the only time Aylmer had had sole custody of her husband's unwilling charge had been the last time Walter had allowed her to accompany him to Rhemuth and to her nephew Jamyl's baptism festivities at Tre-Arilan, rare privileges which he gladly would have denied her if he'd thought he could avoid allowing her to attend without drawing undue suspicion from her family.

   She set the tray of food down on a crude wooden bench with a wan smile at Meg, who returned the expression.  Both of them had long since come to some measure of acceptance of their strange situation, and were allies of a sort, though neither of them had enough power to break free of Walter's hold on them even with their combined efforts.  But they provided some measure of comfort to each other, small though it might be, for shared torment had brought down any natural divisions between noblewoman and rustic, and Javana had come to think of Meg as a sister in shared sorrows.

   “Let's see here...today we have bread, cheese, and some roast pork with turnips and carrots.”  It was simple fare, simply some of the leavings from the noonday meal served to the household earlier in the day, but at least it would be filling.  Javana knew that Meg's only hope in resisting Walter, should she ever discover the opportunity, lay in keeping up her strength.  Not to mention that if her health were to fail, she'd not be able to breed Walter's heir, and if he decided she'd outlived her usefulness, he would dispose of her.  Javana knew better than to think he'd simply remove her memories of her imprisonment and allow her to return to the village.  Perhaps if she'd only been missing for a few days, that might have been possible, but allowing her to go free after all these years would be out of the question.

   Javana straightened, reaching for the small napkin she'd tucked into her belt, and as she did so, her hand brushed against something unexpected.  She glanced down to see her belt knife still neatly tucked into place.  She'd forgotten to remove it from her belt in her haste to gather the foodstuffs together before returning to the Great Hall to take her ornamental place seated beside Walter for Court that afternoon.  

   Javana met Meg's eyes, trying to remove the knife from her belt to hand it to the woman along with the napkin, but of course she could not.  Still, if the controls set on her would not allow her to resist them actively, perhaps they could be gotten around by passive means.  Javana looked down at the napkin again, still in her hand, still mere inches from her belt knife.  She held the position as if frozen, a colorfully painted statue captured in mid-motion, her gaze staring fixedly at the knife at her side.

   At last, when Javana had begun to despair that Meg would never catch on, she heard a quiet gasp, then the village woman reached quickly for the knife, enfolding it in the cloth napkin and hiding it in the folds of her skirt.  

   Javana looked up at that, catching Meg's gaze.  She gave the woman a faint glimmer of a smile.  “One of us will return for the tray this evening.  Enjoy your meal.”

   “Thank 'ee, m'lady,” Meg murmured.

   Javana walked to the door quickly, not daring to look back lest the compulsions upon her suddenly kick in belatedly, undoing all her efforts to get around them.  She turned the tumblers in the lock, opening the door and edging through it quickly as those controls demanded, locking it behind her before heading up the stairs to dress for Court.

#

   August 1, late night
   Caerdraig Castle, Baron's study


   Walter was livid.  Three years he'd invested in that useless wench—four, if one counted the months of careful preparations to ensure the chit was fertile before stealing her away—and all for naught!

   She had made her feelings towards him clear, even in her death, stabbing through her womb in an effort to slay any unborn fruit of their union that might have existed—though he had not detected any signs of a new conception yet when he'd checked the week before—then  making the cut to her own throat which had ended her life before her perfidy could be discovered.  Walter was, alas, not a Healer, but it had been plain to see that Meg had placed herself well outside the scope of even the most skilled Deryni Healer's care, even had one been in the room with her when she made the final deep slash across her jugular.  

   Meg had been, Walter belatedly remembered, a butcher's daughter.

   It was definitely a pity that there was no Hell, for clearly Meg belonged there, doomed to roast for all eternity for the sin of putting herself far outside his reach when he still had need of her.  Now he would have to take the risk of finding another wench, preferably one with similar coloring and facial shape as his lovely wife's, before he could try for other sons.  He dared not pick just any woman; whoever would have the honor of bearing his heirs ought to at least look similar enough to his wife that any issue from her might plausibly be believed to be Javana's.

   Perhaps he should reconsider the matter of Jashana Arilan.  Surely his wife would be glad of a sister's companionship after all these years away from home?   And any lad who favored Jashana in coloring or feature would favor his aunt Javana as well.  Walter allowed himself a brief smile, but it faded as he realized that—amusing as the idea was—harboring two Arilans in his demesne would merely double his troubles with that family.  They were like cockroaches, those Arilans; pestilential and into everything.  At times Walter wondered if his magnificent wife was truly worth the bother of having to deal with her family.  

   But then, one week out of every month, he allowed himself to take full ownership of his prize possession, to enjoy the heady pleasures which swiftly reminded him why he had considered this one woman, of all the beautiful Court wenches he'd encountered in Rhemuth, worth his particular attention.  No, Javana would not be replaced, at least not yet.

   She must, however, be punished for the role she had played in Meg's defiance.  Walter had barely managed to glean any fragmentary memories from the dead woman's mind, but he'd recovered just enough in his Death-Reading to show him how Meg had attained the weapon that she'd used to kill herself.  He frowned at the thought of the loophole in his controls that Javana had exploited.  Maintaining even that level of control over Javana required a fine balance.  Too little control, and she would have managed to escape, or at least send out some cry for help, years ago.  Too much control, however, and he was left with nothing but an animate puppet, so unable to function without his direct command that even the most dull-witted of observers would have quickly noted that something was wrong with the chit.  No, he had striven to find the perfect balance between too little control and too much, but evidently that balance still required a bit of fine tuning.

   He would do it tonight.  Tonight, he would show Javana exactly what her meddling had caused, sharing his own memories of the death scene with her so the squeamish chit could experience the gory display he’d walked in on in its full glory.  She would no doubt be horrified to know her actions had led to Meg's suicide, since doubtless she'd have hoped Meg would turn the knife on him instead—faithless shrews, both!—and while he was still in her mind, he'd discover any other plots she might be planning against him.  And then he'd tighten her controls, so she couldn't plot more.


Part Thirteen:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=674.0
« Last Edit: March 06, 2011, 03:02:42 pm by Evie »
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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2011, 10:16:58 am »
I have a feeling that Walter will be over-reaching himself soon.  He isn't nearly as clever as he thinks he is.

Offline DesertRose

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2011, 02:42:39 pm »
I sincerely hope you're right, Elkhound.  What a...oh jeez.  The words I want to use to describe him I can't say on this board.  I suppose conscienceless monster will do for now.
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)

Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2011, 06:37:29 pm »
At least Meg is safe from Walter now.  I would like to know how Walter became the THING that we all hate in the first place.  Was it one single event or something else?

Unless Alymer is under Walter's control, my dislike of him has dropped a little.  He'll still have to pay for whatever crimes he has committed.
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Offline Evie

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2011, 07:21:08 pm »
The jury is still out as to what causes sociopathy.  There's some evidence for genetic predisposition, but environmental factors seem to play a part as well.  For whatever reason, though, Walter grew up without that 'conscience chip' that most people, despite any bad parenting or bad choices on their own part, generally have.  Combine that with being born to rank and privilege, being raised by indulgent parents who may not have set appropriate boundaries on his behavior, and then never learning on his own that it's in his best interests to live by society's rules, and that's a bad mix.  Then give him arcane powers on top of that lack of empathy and conscience ....

I find it grimly amusing that Aylmer, despite being the medieval equivalent to the guy who uses alcohol or date rape drugs to rape women, comes across as the 'nice guy', at least compared to Walter.  But there's a major difference between Aylmer and Walter. Aylmer is capable of empathy and guilt; Walter is not.  So even though they do the same bad things, Aylmer comes across as more human, making Walter seem more monstrous by comparison.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 09:51:00 pm by Evie »
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Offline Elkhound

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2011, 11:53:00 pm »
Has anyone else ever read Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" stories?  Remember Lord Sieger?

Offline Evie

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2011, 09:19:18 am »
I've never read them, but after reading the Wikipedia entry about them, I have to say they look fascinating!
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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2011, 09:38:22 am »
Poor Meg - I'm suprised she ever carried a baby to term under those conditions.

I wonder if Walter will discover Aylmer's conversation with Javana when he invades her memories.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline Evie

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2011, 10:03:36 am »
I wonder if Walter will discover Aylmer's conversation with Javana when he invades her memories.

Heh.  Stay tuned for Part Thirteen, which is quite aptly numbered....   :D
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Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2011, 06:51:19 pm »
FEAR OF 13!!  It's called Triskaidekaphobia!!
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Offline Alkari

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2011, 07:33:14 pm »
I'd happily settle for Walter having the fear of "something" put into him.  :(    Like a nice long rusty knife ....

Offline Shiral

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Re: Possessed--Part Twelve
« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2011, 01:14:45 am »
I dunno.... Somehow, I think Alymer might not have been too smart to address Javana and consider conspiracies with her. Walter's clearly fascinated with her, still.  Alymer though... he's expendable and he has way too much dirt on Walter for Walter to just let him leave. Nor will Walter want the guy sniffing around Javana, getting ideas so far above his station....

Poor Meg!
Melissa
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