The Courier Ch. 23bycaligula97236©
Chapter 23 -- Homecoming
Cecilia Sanchez and Maria Elena Rodriguez-Torres quietly stared out through the van's windows as the line of lights in the distance marking the edge of Danube City grew brighter. Within a few minutes individual buildings came into view; then suddenly the vehicle passed the first houses lining the city's edge. The van turned onto a street of nicer residences and passed a yellow sign that marked the edge of the Danube City collar-zone. A few meters beyond was the house where Vladim Dukov had lived before he was Prime Minister, and where his son Vladik now lived with his wife and two sons.
The van turned from the side street onto a tree-lined boulevard leading towards the city center, but then veered to the northeast to go towards the University District. Soon the part of the city most familiar to Cecilia and Maria Elena came into view, a section of houses built around 1910 that were almost completely hidden by large trees. A short distance beyond lay the university, but the van's driver was not taking them that far.
During the entire trip neither Maria Elena nor Cecilia felt inclined to talk. Now that she had some rest, Cecilia was awake enough to feel the painful sores covering her feet and to fret about what would happen when Victor and her nephew Pedro saw her naked and collared. As for Maria Elena, the momentary happiness she felt upon leaving the Royal Residence had faded back into emotional numbness and a fatigue that was deeper than anything she had ever experienced. She was dead tired from not having slept, but also she was still in shock from the events that had torn at her over the past week.
Finally the van pulled to a stop in front of Merchant Victor Dukov's house. Victor quietly stepped outside, with Jason and Pedro shyly following. The side door of the van opened and the two women got out. The moment had come for Maria Elena to return to her lover's arms and for Cecilia to begin her radically changed life. For a moment the two women stood quietly, simply staring at their loved ones but unable to speak. Everyone was very uncomfortable, not just because of the experiences that Maria Elena and Cecilia had just endured, but also because no one was used to seeing Victor and Cecilia naked and wearing Temple collars. Pedro, especially, seemed not to know what to make of seeing his authoritative aunt wearing nothing but a collar and a subdued expression.
It was Jason who broke the silence. He stepped forward to take Cecilia in his arms. Victor followed suit and embraced Maria Elena. At first she couldn't react. She wanted to feel joy at being back in Victor's arms, but couldn't feel anything at all. She hated herself for her lack of emotion, but then the numbness lifted and she started crying. She hugged Victor hard as her old personality asserted itself through the trauma of the past week. She realized it would take time, but eventually she would indeed recover.
The cops in the van drove off and everyone went inside. Jason had a practical issue to deal with, the condition of Cecilia's feet. He helped her upstairs, unwrapped her bandages, and put more disinfectant on her sores. He told her that if she stayed off her feet she would be much better the next day, and that calluses that would protect her would start forming within a few days. His own feet were covered with thick calluses, from spending four years living without footwear whenever weather permitted.
Cecilia summarized what had happened at the Royal Residence, focusing on that awful moment the Royal Guard pulled open the cellar door and she saw Maria Elena as she was being beaten and raped. Then she related the day's other events, right up to the moment she and Maria Elena passed the corpses of the two treasonous Lords and headed out to the van.
There was a lot missing from Cecilia's narrative, because she had no information concerning what had become of Grand Duchess Anyia. She had overheard one of the servants mentioning that she had been beaten by her mother, but had not seen the punishment herself and did not know if it was true. She had no clue what had happened to the Grand Duke. To that Jason responded:
"Well, you'll be in court tomorrow and I'd imagine Kim will fill you in."
Jason ran Cecilia a bath and carried her to the tub so she wouldn't have to get on her feet. Being carried made Cecilia feel like an invalid, but Jason was insistent. She had to stay off her feet until the next morning so they could heal.
A few minutes later Jason lifted Cecilia out of the bathtub and set her on a towel on her bed. As he carried her, Cecilia's feelings about him changed somewhat. She now was helpless and dependent upon him. Not only was she feeling weak in his strong arms, but also she realized that during her time she was collared he would be in charge of what was going on in her life. He knew what she needed to do about her feet, just like he knew how she would have to make the transition to properly performing Public Penance. It was the collar that would make her dependent upon him. Anytime in the past, she would not have found submitting to his direction acceptable, but at that moment she realized that she didn't mind.
Victor had his own set of psychological issues to contend with as he held his traumatized lover in his arms. He felt horribly guilty that she had suffered so much at the hands of his own niece, the daughter of his brother. Of course the reason why that had happened was because of a very unique set of legal circumstances that had just been terminated, but at the moment that was not any consolation. The fact that he had spent the week totally helpless, fretting about her situation but unable to do anything to assist her, wore on his conscience. He was ashamed of his own helplessness.
Finally Maria Elena calmed down enough that Victor was able to take her inside. In the living room he saw the full extent to which she had been abused. Her body was covered with bruises and welts. Her bottom had taken the brunt of the abuse and was covered with painful welts and dark bruises. Beyond her backside the welts thinned out somewhat, but no part of her body: not her legs, nor her back, nor her arms, nor her breasts, had been spared from the continuous whippings of the Lord who had tormented her. Victor was enraged by what had happened, but for him there would be no revenge, because the Lord who had abused her was dead.
As soon as Jason had taken Cecilia out of the bathroom, Victor ran a bath for Maria Elena. She was dead tired, but grateful for the opportunity to get cleaned up and simply relax. For a long time she had no desire to get out of the tub; she just wanted the hot water to relax her sore body and clean away the psychological filth of her time at the Royal Residence. She was desperately hungry, which Victor sensed. He brought her a snack of bread and fruit, which she devoured while still sitting in the tub.
Once she finished eating Victor contemplated Maria Elena's dirty hair, which was still dishonorably loose. Looking at his lover's loose hair was a bizarre experience for him, because it had been many years since had he seen the unbraided hair of a woman he loved. When he was still in high school his future wife had her hair unbraided, but the day she graduated and formally became a woman her hair was properly done up, as was the hair of every other woman in the graduating class. He thought back to the moment he saw her at the graduation ceremony, no longer a high school girl but an adult...a woman who had made the transition to honorable citizen...and the woman he knew he was destined to marry. Since that ceremony he had never seen her hair loosened, because his wife was a proper Danubian who strongly believed in protocol.
Throughout his life, Victor's prejudices about braided hair had been typical for any Danubian man. The only women he had seen with unbraided hair were foreigners, who had all kinds of weird customs not practiced in the Duchy. A lot had changed since he graduated from high school, especially the influx of huge numbers of foreign tourists walking around Danube City with their hair flowing loose in the wind. Loose hair now was a common sight, but still it set tourists apart from everyone else. Dishonorable... totally dishonorable... those foreigners.
And yet...seeing Maria Elena's thick black hair loose around her wet shoulders gave Victor a strange idea. He was tempted to touch it...something he would not have dreamt of doing with his deceased wife. Maria Elena was a foreigner herself, so she really did not understand what a huge taboo it was in Danubian culture for a man to see a woman's loose hair, let alone touch it. He cautiously reached out and felt a loose strand.
Maria Elena did not understand what Victor wanted. She remembered that she had not yet shampooed her hair and assumed that was what her lover wanted to do, help her clean her hair. She handed him a shampoo bottle. Victor took a deep breath and complied, putting some shampoo into his hands and working it into her hair. It was at totally surreal experience for him, something that probably no other Danubian man had ever done, certainly not one without a foreign partner.
By the time Maria Elena got out she had spent nearly 40 minutes sitting in hot water, which helped to somewhat soften her welts. Victor helped her out of the tub and assisted her as she dried off. He led her to his bed, hoping to continue the moment of intimacy, but as soon as she lay down she was asleep. He looked at her bare body, but remained fascinated at the thought of her loose hair. He took a strand in his hand, knowing that as soon as she got up the next morning Cecilia would restore her braids and that would be the end of the strange intimacy he had shared with her. She would go to court, come back later in the day, and then life would return to normal. But for him the memory would remain...the memory of doing something forbidden with his lover that probably no other man he knew had ever done or even thought about doing.
The next morning it was Pedro who woke up everyone in the house. He had to go to school, which meant that either Cecilia or Victor had to get up to serve him breakfast. Victor went downstairs to cook for the boy, because Cecilia needed to braid Maria Elena's hair and Maria Elena needed to bandage Cecilia's feet. No sooner were those two tasks accomplished than did Officer Vladik Dukov pass by in a police van to take the two women downtown to the Central Courthouse. Before Criminal # 101025 could return to her normal life, her collar from the Royal Residence would have to be removed and replaced with one from the Ministry of Justice.
Victor stayed behind with Pedro. Although it no longer was a secret that he and Maria Elena were lovers, he saw no point in sharing that detail with the world by showing up wearing a Church collar in what was likely to be a very public hearing. Instead he would finish sending Pedro off to school and simply go to his office. As much as he wanted to be present to see Maria Elena officially returned to the Ministry of Justice, he knew that the public scandal would be bad enough as it was and for the Prime Minister's brother to be seen at the Courthouse wearing a collar was not something the public or the government needed.
A few minutes later Vladik delivered his passengers to the Central Courthouse. The steps where totally covered with people: most of whom were family members, friends, and former co-workers of the 30 servants who were to be transferred back to the Ministry of Justice that morning. The criminals had not been in contact with their families since their internment in the Royal Residence, so the relatives were desperate to find out what had happened to them. The throng entirely filled the steps and part of the street below, with only a narrow passage down the middle to allow police officials and criminals to pass.
Maria Elena was not surprised to see her classmate Carmen and several other norteamericanos standing among the crowd, their bare bodies standing out among the mostly clothed throng of people on the steps.
Just as Vladik drove up to the Central Courthouse, five Spokespersons led 30 naked criminals out of the Central Police Station and across the Plaza. The Spokespersons walked in single file, each leading his or her respective clients. Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna was the fourth in the group, because the Spokespersons had organized their walk according to seniority.
The Priestess who had organized the previous day's seizure of the servants followed the Spokespersons, accompanied by several other Clergy members. As she walked in her long black dress, she looked more severe than ever: the no-nonsense woman who had taken on the Royal Family and won.
Kim signaled to Maria Elena and Cecilia that they needed to fall in behind her and march with the other criminals into the Courthouse. They joined the line of naked clients and followed her up the steps and through the main door. The criminals and their Spokespersons passed through another set of doors that led into the main trial chamber. The Spokespersons then stood off to one side, while the criminals knelt in formation in front of the judges who made up the nation's Supreme Judicial Tribunal. The audience filed in next, quickly filling the seats off to the side of the chamber. Parents and employers were given priority for seating, but a few seats in the back remained open for friends and co-workers. Maria Elena and Cecilia noticed that Carmen and one other classmate had managed to get seats near the wall. The majority of the crowd would have to remain outside, but the police had rigged up some speakers to keep the people waiting on the steps abreast of what was going on inside the courtroom.
The spectators, Spokespersons, and police officers immediately stood at attention and saluted, while the criminals and people performing Public Penance knelt forward and placed their heads on the ground. The Supreme Court Justices had entered the room and took their seats at the bench. Cecilia, kneeling naked with a group of criminals, felt very awkward as she placed her head on the floor. According to protocol, her knees were slightly spread and she arched her back, completely exposing her bottom and vulva to everyone standing behind her. The position had forced open her labia. A slight breeze blowing through the courtroom felt cold as it touched the wetness of her vagina, making her very aware just how exposed she really was. A part of her that was reserved only for Jason now was on display to hundreds of spectators. She tried to force her mind off her embarrassment, telling herself that she was only one of 20 naked women kneeling in the same position, but that did not help her at the moment.
Cecilia and Maria Elena had expected a lengthy legal procedure, perhaps a reading of names or some other form of official protocol. However, as soon as the room was silent the Chief Justice called out:
"Minister of Justice Hóshtukt! Are you present in this courtroom?"
"Yes Chief Justice, I am present!"
"Grand Duke Mídchatk XXIX! Are you present in this courtroom?"
"Yes Chief Justice, I am present!"
"Very well. Please step forward!"
The Chief Justice addressed the kneeling criminals next:
"You will kneel upright for the remainder of this hearing. Remember your Paths in Life as criminals and do not speak unless spoken to, and do not move until directed."
Silently the group of criminals knelt upright. Cecilia whispered the translation to Maria Elena, who followed the others.
Maria Elena was curious to see the Grand Duke. He was wearing simple Royal Attire: an embroidered suit from the late 1700's and a tri-corner hat of the style that had been popular in Europe before the French Revolution. He did not have his cape and crown, which would have constituted full Royal Attire. He appeared very subdued, in spite of the fact that, unlike his wife, he was not being forced to perform Public Penance.
The Grand Duke did something that at the moment did not mean anything to Maria Elena and Cecilia, but was very significant in the eyes of the Danubian people. When he approached the Chief Justice, he took off his hat. Throughout Danubia's history, no King or Grand Duke had ever taken off his hat before a civilian official. The Danubian sovereign was very aware of the break in protocol and nervously held the hat in his hands as he stood before the bench. The Chief Justice did not display any reaction, because he had been forewarned by the Prime Minister of the upcoming change in the role of the nation's Royal Family. However, the audience stared at their sovereign's bare head with wide eyes.
In a barely audible whisper Cecilia translated the remainder of the hearing into Maria Elena's ear...
"Grand Duke. This Court is honored by your presence. Our understanding is that you wish to address a matter of concern to your household and to the Ministry of Justice. Is that true, Grand Duke?"
"Yes Chief Justice. What you have said is true. I have come before you to address the issue of the criminals currently serving in my personal residence as Royal Servants."
"Yes, Grand Duke? How do you wish to address the issue of your servants?"
"Chief Justice, the Royal Family wishes to release control of all criminals currently assigned to serve in the Royal Residence. We request that this Court reassign formal custody of all the criminals kneeling before you, specifically that they be returned to the custody of the Ministry of Justice and cared for as stipulated by the National Constitution of the Republic of Danubia and the National Code of Criminal Justice. The Royal Family wishes to formally declare that these criminals have no further obligation to myself or to any other member of the Royal Family."
"May I ask why you are requesting the reassignment of your servants, Grand Duke?"
The Grand Duke took a deep breath.
"There is legislation pending in the National Parliament that will revise the role of the Royal Family and assure that our status meets the needs of modern society. One of those changes will be that everyone working in the Royal Residence will be a salaried public employee instead of a criminal servant. I have agreed that the change is appropriate for both the needs of the Royal Family and the needs of the Danubian Republic. The position of criminal servant will be abolished, and therefore it is inappropriate to retain such servants on any property being utilized by the Royal Family."
"Very well, Grand Duke. To make sure this Court and the nation understands exactly what you wish to do, I shall repeat my understanding of your desire for the Royal Servants. Your wish is for them to be reassigned to the Ministry of Justice and for them to permanently leave your service. Is that correct, Grand Duke?"
"That is correct, Chief Justice. The Royal Family is requesting they permanently be reassigned."
"Minister of Justice Hóshtukt! Does your Ministry agree to accept custody of the criminals currently assigned as servants to the Royal Family?"
"Yes, Chief Justice. The Ministry of Justice accepts reassignment of the Royal Servants and will assume custody of them as ordinary criminals."
"What will be the condition of their reassignment, Minister of Justice?"
"Each criminal's original sentence will be reinstated. Each criminal will return to service for the Ministry under the direction of their former Spokesperson. The Grand Duke and I reached that agreement last night. However, I will request one change in the status of these criminals from this Court."
"Yes, Minister of Justice? What is that change?"
"I have determined that the criminals have proven themselves trustworthy enough to be assigned collars with brass rings. I wish to make that request to this Court."