The Courier Ch. 09bycaligula97236©
Chapter 9 -- Dinner with the Prime Minister
The next morning Maria Elena was awake early to set up the kitchen, in spite of having had only a few hours of sleep. Cecilia was up as well, fixing breakfast for her nephew, who was still in bed sick. The Dominican clearly was exhausted from having spent the entire night with Jason, but she also felt guilty from having dumped caring for Pedro on Victor while she spent Saturday out of the house. She'd have to make it up to both of them on Sunday, although it was obvious the only thing she wanted was to go to sleep.
Cecilia took her nephew's breakfast to his room while Maria Elena awaited Victor. Because it was Sunday, Victor had no reason to dress in a suit; instead he put on a prayer robe to go to a nearby church for early services. As dictated by custom, he wore nothing underneath the robe and was barefoot. Apart from putting on a single piece of clothing; there was nothing he needed to do to prepare for worship.
Maria Elena wanted to accompany him, partly out of curiosity and partly out of wanting to be with him. However, the thought of going outside in the nude on a cold drizzly morning did not appeal to her, and she was intimidated at the prospect of being naked at a Temple service without understanding anything that was going on. Victor did not give her any indication he wanted her to go, so she held back and quietly watched him as he went out the door. He joined a group of neighbors in the street, all of whom wore black robes. Victor and his companions knelt in a circle, stood up, and solemnly marched out of sight.
Cecilia had crawled into her nephew's bed to read to him, but promptly fell asleep. Pedro was asleep as well, so Maria Elena was left alone. She cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, but those tasks were completed within 30 minutes. Out of boredom she turned on the TV, but all the channels were playing the same public service message, a still picture of an old temple with scrolling text. Maria Elena later would learn that the message was a request in archaic Danubian for the viewer to leave home and attend services at the Temple. On Sunday mornings there were only two socially acceptable activities in Danubia: resting or attending worship services.
The prisoner's melancholy mood from the night before returned, as did her desire to step out into the chilly misty weather. Although it already was mid-morning, the only sounds she heard were drops falling off the trees and the ringing of Temple bells. The bells had a somewhat different sound than what she was used to hearing in Colombia, which she found sinister and spooky when combined with quiet dripping of water and rustling of tree leaves.
Maria Elena looked at her ruined fingernails, which still had traces of fingernail polish. That polish was the final reminder that, just a few days before, her life had been totally different from what it was now. Her nail polish, just like all of the other items she had brought with her from Panama, was gone, seized by the Danubian police. She took a deep breath, because she realized that her only material possessions were a toothbrush and a comb, both of which had been given to her by Cecilia. That was it, just two insignificant personal hygiene items that she could call her own. She was stripped...totally stripped, completely cut off, not only from her former life, but also from the world of material possessions.
Two hours after they left, Victor and the others returned. It was clear that their religious obligations had ended, because instead of marching in silence they were chatting casually. The neighbors disappeared into their respective houses while Victor noticed that his house guest was standing alone in the street. The poor girl was soaked and shivering...why was she standing in the rain instead of staying inside where she could be warm and dry?
Before he could say anything, Maria Elena went to her knees and touched her forehead to the ground. She was immensely glad to see her host and enormously relieved he had returned. He wondered what was going on with her, but his first concern was getting her back inside before she got sick. He tapped her on the shoulder:
"Doshéschkt dék holódnikt. Pogánakt dék nad tebe...pogánakt dék nad tebe."
She knew the words "holódnikt", which meant "cold", and "pogánakt" which meant "bad". She correctly guessed that he had said "This rain is cold. It's not good for you."
"Ya pogánakt. Ya negát harásh...ya..."
Victor whistled to show his disapproval of her last comment. She had told him in Danubian that she was no good, but with a long low whistle he disagreed. There was nothing wrong with her, she was a nice girl...but he didn't know how to tell her that in Spanish. With a quick short whistle he ordered her to stand up and follow him into the house.
As soon as they got inside, Cecilia handed Victor a message from his brother Vladim. The Prime Minister had invited Victor's household to Sunday dinner at his official residence. Cecilia explained in Spanish that meant he and his sons and their wives were invited, along with Cecilia, Jason, Pedro, and Maria Elena. The prisoner wanted to make sure she understood correctly:
"Vladim Dukov...isn't he...this country's president?"
"No, not the president...the Prime Minister..."
"But he's their leader, right?"
"And...I'm supposed to go to his place?"
"Yes, along with the rest of us."
"You're part of Victor's household, just like me and Pedro. He's invited, so we're invited."
"But...I can't go see the Prime Minister. I'm not wearing anything..."
"Maria Elena, you're collared, so guess what? You're naked. It's what's expected of you, and just because you're naked doesn't mean that your life or responsibilities have stopped. Jason won't be wearing anything either, nor Tiffany. And if Cynthia and her husband show up, they'll be naked too."
Maria Elena shuddered at the thought of being naked in front of the nation's Prime Minister, but decided it was best not to argue further. Cecilia continued:
"Now, obviously you need to show proper protocol when we get there. Just follow what Jason and Tiffany are doing. The Prime Minister will expect you to follow protocol, but he also knows you're new at this and if he needs to, he'll tell you what to do. Basic rule is: if he speaks to you, kneel before you open your mouth. Second rule is: don't speak unless you're spoken to. Anyhow, I'll have to translate, so I'll tell you what's going on."
Victor re-appeared dressed in traditional attire; loose pants, boots, a linen shirt, and a gray tunic. Cecilia had to excuse herself to change into a long white linen dress and make sure Pedro was properly outfitted with a linen boy's shirt and linen pants. Maria Elena took a shower, but there was nothing else she needed to do to get ready. She simply dried off and nervously waited for the rest of the household.
Jason showed up at the door, his skin wet from the cold mist and his uncovered body covered with goose-bumps. Upon seeing Victor he knelt. Maria Elena followed suit and knelt next to him. She was very grateful to have another collared person with her, to not feel so alone and freakish.
A short while later Victor and his companions got off the trolley that took them from the university to a park outside the Old City Wall. The Prime Minister's residence was just on the other side of the park. It looked somewhat like some of the nicer 18th-Century houses that Maria Elena had seen in historical districts in Colombia. It was not very large, but the house and its architecture were very attractive.
According to Danubian custom, the Prime Minister's son was responsible for greeting other members of the family and ushering them into the residence. Upon seeing Vladik in his police uniform, Jason immediately dropped to his knees and put his forehead to the ground. Maria Elena followed his lead. As she knelt and bent forward, she felt the cold air blowing against her exposed bottom-hole and vagina. She realized that she was lewdly displayed, and also that Victor was standing immediately behind her and could see everything. She blushed, but she knew that, as a prisoner, modesty was a privilege she no longer had.
Vladik saluted Victor, Cecilia, and Pedro before granting permission to Jason and Maria Elena to stand up. Vladik then led his guests into the residence and into the main reception area. Victor's sons already were present with their wives, as were Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna and her husband, and Kim's sister with her husband. Also present was Criminal # 98946. Besides Pedro, there were several other children and babies in the house.
Cecilia told Jason and Maria Elena to join Cynthia, her husband, and Tiffany in the center of the room. As dictated by protocol, the five collared people knelt together and placed their foreheads on the ground.
The Prime Minister and his wife entered the reception area in formal attire. The couple greeted everyone standing; then told the five collared guests to kneel upright. One by one Vladim Dukov greeted them. He warmly took both Cynthia's hand and Tiffany's hand as he asked them to rise. When Jason stood up, the Prime Minister shook his hand and patted his arm. Maria Elena later would find out that he loved Cynthia and Jason as much as if they belonged to his own family and felt uneasy making them kneel. However, protocol was protocol. As long as they were collared, it was the Path in Life for the two Americans to kneel, regardless of whatever personal feelings the Prime Minister had towards them.
Cecilia instructed Maria Elena to stand up when the Prime Minister greeted her. Blushing furiously, the Colombian complied while struggling not to cover herself or look away. She looked Vladim Dukov in the face. He looked very much like his younger brother, but his hair was much shorter and his expression was different. Unlike Victor, who always wore an unpleasant expression, Vladim's face was more tranquil and kinder, but also more reflective. Maria Elena could tell that, of the two brothers, Vladim was by far the more intelligent.
The Prime Minister greeted Maria Elena, verifying that she was from Colombia and asking how she was doing in Victor's house. Her heart pounding, the prisoner answered while Cecilia translated. It was a totally bizarre experience, to stand naked in front of a Prime Minister at a formal family dinner, an invited guest, even though she was a criminal facing trial. Within a few days she would be convicted, sentenced, and whipped, but for the moment she was a guest of the nation's leader and would eat dinner with his family.
The experience was about to become much stranger. Two naked collared young women entered through the front door, both holding bouquets. They knelt on opposite sides of the entrance. Two other naked young women then came in, carrying small trumpets. They blew a loud high pitched note before kneeling next to the women carrying the bouquets. A fifth naked young woman entered the room and announced:
"Honored guests of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Danubia! The Grand Duchess of Danubia wishes to join the Honorable Prime Minister and his family for dinner!"
Vladim Dukov responded: "We would be honored to have Grand Duchess Anyia sit at our table. Please tell my daughter I wish to have her join us."
The entire room came to attention, except for the five collared guests, who immediately dropped to their knees. Maria Elena was totally perplexed...had she understood right? Did Vladim Dukov say "my daughter"?
A young woman, who could not have been any more than about 22 years old, entered the room followed by six naked attendants. She was dressed in elegant linen and wore a white tunic with a gold griffin engraved on her chest. On her head she wore a small crown. Maria Elena looked at her: daughter...yes...the woman looked like both Vladim and his wife Maritza. Anyia...yes...now she remembered that both Victor and Cecilia had mentioned that the Prime Minister had a daughter called Anyia, although no one had said anything about her being the Grand Duchess of Danubia.
Anyia took the two bouquets from her kneeling attendants and continued towards her parents. The two women who had given her the flowers stood up to follow her, while the trumpeters stood guard at the entrance. The Grand Duchess approached the elder Dukovs and handed each a bouquet. Then, with a dismissive royal tone of voice, she addressed the five naked persons kneeling in the center of the room:
"Collared guests of my father: I grant you permission to rise and to sit at his table."
Maria Elena's companions responded in unison: "Thank you Grand Duchess Anyia."
Anyia's attendants took up positions around the table, with the Grand Duchess sitting at one end and her father sitting at the other. Ceremonially they were the most important people in the room; Vladim as the leader of the nation, and Anyia as the Grand Duchess, the wife of the country's Grand Duke and representative of the Danubian Royal Family. They were seated first, although Vladim waited for his wife to join him before he sat down. Once Anyia and her parents were seated, her attendants quickly took positions behind the other chairs to seat the remaining guests.
Once everyone was sitting, Anyia tapped a spoon on her wine glass to call her servants to attention. The young women immediately departed to the kitchen and reappeared with four bottles of fine wine and appetizers. One of the attendants presented a bottle to the Grand Duchess, who sniffed the cork and tasted a small portion. She granted permission for it to be served. The servants filled everyone's glasses, with the exception of Maria Elena and Tiffany. As collared criminals, they were not allowed to drink alcohol.
As she ate the meal's first course, Maria Elena noted that it was obvious the Royal House servants were extremely disciplined and highly trained. They moved silently and quickly, knowing their duties without the Grand Duchess or anyone else having to tell them what to do. Whenever they weren't attending to someone's needs, they immediately went to their knees and kept their eyes facing forward. Their faces were expressionless and their bodies immobile while waiting to serve or attend to the desires of their mistress. All of the women were quite attractive and in very good health, but two of them had welts from a switch criss-crossing their bottoms.
Another interesting detail was that several of Anyia's servants did not appear to be Danubian. There were two blond women in the group, one of whom was very tall and had a tattoo on her ankle. There was a short woman with olive skin and thick black hair who was from Sicily. There were a couple of others that had mixed ancestry: two who appeared to be part Asian, and another who was part black. Maria Elena did not know it at the time, but the Grand Duchess was fascinated with having foreigners as her servants and liked to "collect" them. She did notice Anyia looking at her intently, but assumed that was due to simple curiosity. Maybe she never had seen a Colombian before...
Maria Elena noticed that the collars of Anyia's servants were different from those issued by either the Danubian Ministry of Justice or the Danubian Church. They were much more elegantly crafted, inlaid with silver trim, and marked with the seal of the Royal House. However, like the Ministry of Justice collars, the servants' collars included a sturdy ring that could be attached to a chain.
As the meal progressed, it was obvious that the Grand Duchess was enjoying herself and the fact that her position allowed her to act so imperiously. The Prime Minister and his wife looked very ill at ease with all the formality, precisely because it entailed their daughter. Everyone else sitting at the table also seemed unhappy with what was going on. Anyia's older brother Vladik tightened his lips. Maria Elena noticed Kim and Cecilia exchanging nervous glances, Jason staring sullenly into his plate, and Cynthia with a hurt expression on her face. Anyia's cousins and in-laws didn't seem very pleased either. However, the young woman was so full of herself that she was oblivious to the discomfort she was causing for the rest of her family.
Maria Elena then observed the Prime Minister as he quietly took control of the table and put everyone at ease without overtly offending his daughter. He had a reputation as a skilled negotiator who could talk his way out of any difficult situation, a talent which saved the night for his guests. As much as Anyia wanted to be the star of the evening, her father undercut her without her even realizing it. He engaged everyone at the table in conversation, including the newest member of Victor's household, but in a way that Anyia did not feel slighted. Still, everyone at the gathering knew that, without the skill of her father to keep her under control, Anyia quickly would have ruined the meal.
Once the final course had ended, two minivans boasting the Royal House emblem arrived to pick up the Grand Duchess and her naked entourage. Anyia said goodbye to her parents by formally kissing each on the hand while her servants knelt with their foreheads pressed to the floor. As soon as Anyia was ready to step outside, the four tallest women of her group held a large canvas cover over her to protect her from the rain. The two trumpeters stepped outside as well, to blow their horns and announce the exit of the Grand Duchess.
As Anyia's servants boarded the minivans, Maria Elena noticed the Prime Minister tightening his lips and exchanging a disgusted look with his wife. Vladim Dukov was an unassuming person who treated everyone with respect and courtesy, while his daughter, because of the nobility she had married into, was totally the opposite. Presumably he should have been proud to see her in such an exalted position, but in truth he was profoundly disappointed and embarrassed every time she was in his presence.
The departure of Grand Duchess Anyia and her entourage lightened the mood in the Prime Minister's Mansion considerably. The Prime Minister passed out drinks to his brother and nephews, while Jason conversed with the husbands of the Lee sisters. Most of the women gathered around Maritza Dukov while she described a trip she recently had taken to Vienna. The children ran around the dining room table in circles and ducked under the chairs.
Kim tapped Cecilia on the shoulder, letting her know that her translating services would be needed. She realized that Maria Elena was totally bewildered by the bizarre spectacle from the Grand Duchess that she had just witnessed, and felt that she owed her client an explanation. Kim explained that actually she knew Anyia quite well, having lived with her during her sentence as a collared criminal. Vladim Dukov had been Kim's Spokesman and, because she had nowhere else to live, she stayed with the Dukov family.
When Kimberly Lee first met Anyia eight years before, the girl was 14 years old. For a Danubian teenager she was somewhat rebellious, but otherwise was very ordinary, with a typical circle of friends from her school. As a young teen, she had never really been pleasant company because of her ill temper and moodiness, but she was approachable and did enjoy having fun. Kim and Anyia spent a lot of time together doing mundane tasks such as grocery shopping. Anyia taught Kim many things she needed to know about her new life in Danubia, such as how to braid her hair and a multitude of slang expressions and popular phrases. Towards the end of Kim's stay with the Dukovs, Anyia began to mature. That was to be expected, but no one, certainly not Kim, could have foreseen the Path in Life that the Creator had in store for her.