The Courier Ch. 20bycaligula97236©
Chapter 20 -- The Downfall of the Duchess
Program Director Cecilia Sanchez spent the following day with her normal routine. On Saturdays she always met with her students to receive updates on their studies and how they were handling life in Danubia. The majority seemed to be adjusting well, and as for the few who were having problems, those problems were routine and manageable. There was no reason for Cecilia to feel uneasy that day.
However Cecilia did feel uneasy, a feeling which only increased every time she met with one of the 13 students who were wearing a collar on behalf of Maria Elena. Earlier in the week she had lied to the group, allowing them to assume that their friend would be better off in the Royal Residence than she possibly could be at the university. She showed them old reports and articles that talked about how well Royal Servants had been treated under the old Grand Duchess and the rulers who had come before her. She had wanted no further trouble from her students, so she deceived them by telling them that Maria Elena was fine in her new home.
Carmen's counseling session was almost at the end of her schedule, and out of the collared group she was the last. By the time Carmen came in for her appointment Cecilia was so guilt-ridden that she could not look her student in the face. Carmen looked at her director, wondering if she was going to be sick.
"Yeah...yeah. Truth is I must have eaten something...don't feel good at all..."
Great. Now she was compounding lies with yet more lies, something that was considered highly dishonorable in Danubian society. She figured that she would tell Carmen the truth after Maria Elena was returned to the Ministry of Justice, but her motivation for waiting was purely selfish. What she wanted was to avoid any further public spectacles from her students and thus avoid any further headaches for herself. She knew what she needed to do, simply tell Carmen what really was happening and also tell her that it was likely Maria Elena would be extracted the very next day. But to do something like that was not in Cecilia's character. She was by nature a secretive person who always felt that the less people knew about her affairs, the better.
When Carmen left, Cecilia decided to cancel the remaining appointments. She repeated what she had said to Carmen, that she was feeling ill. She stepped outside into the cool late summer air. At first she thought about going home, but she could not face Victor and the sight of Maria Elena's empty room. Instead she decided to walk in the direction of the campus Temple, which was an old church that was being used by the university. She knew that her fiancé Jason would be there, working on a routine maintenance project with several other students who were performing Public Penance.
Jason was not scheduled to get off work for several more hours. However, the Priest overseeing the maintenance crew took one look at Cecilia and knew that she needed Jason much more than the Church needed him. He released Jason and told him to return on time the following day. Jason knelt, touched his head to the ground, and said goodbye to his superior.
Cecilia had a hard time putting into words what was bothering her so much. For several minutes she spoke incoherently about Carmen and other protesters. She hardly expected her fiancé to understand what was going on. She looked at Jason's youthful innocent face, assuming that the person listening to her was the same naive freshman she had seen standing in the hallway of the second floor of Huntington Hall five years before. However, she had underestimated him, because during his four years in Danubia he had studied under the Priestess and had taken the teachings of the Danubian Church very seriously. As a result of his efforts, he had acquired insight and understanding about life that few people from the US would ever experience. It wasn't long before he gently cut off Cecilia and bluntly asked her:
"You feel guilty about all the lies you told this week, don't you?"
"Yeah, I 'spose. I 'spose that's it."
"Or maybe it's not just the lies, Cecilia. Maybe it's that you told all those lies because you were just worried about protecting yourself, trying to save yourself some embarrassment?"
Cecilia became defensive: "I was doin' it for the program. I don't want Carmen doin' a bunch of shit that's gonna embarrass the university that..."
"...and so you thought lying was the best way to handle it? You never thought that if you took the time to explain, in detail, what's really going on, that Maria Elena is in the Royal Household because it's her Path in Life to go there, that she had to go there so the Prime Minister could get the other servants out...that maybe Carmen might not have reacted the way you thought she'd react?"
"Carmen would've wanted to protest. I just wanted to shut her up."
"You know that for a fact? Did you ask her?"
"No. I didn't ask her. I just knew she was gonna stir up shit and I don't need it. I don't need her shit, Jason."
"So it all comes back to you, doesn't it? You don't need her shit. You don't want to be embarrassed. So you dishonored yourself by deceiving her and all the others wearing collars. Next week they're gonna know the truth, and the Church is gonna know the truth. Next week everyone's gonna see you for what you are."
Cecilia angrily turned away. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Look. If you're gonna insult me, then you can go fuck yourself. I don't need you."
"I'm not insulting you, Cecilia. I'm just telling you that you've dug yourself into a very big hole with your students. You lied to them, and next week they're gonna know that you lied to them. And I'd bet they'll figure out real fast that you lied to protect yourself, even though you keep talking about protecting the exchange program, which is total bullshit. You dishonored yourself by lying to people who are wearing Church collars, to people who trusted you as their leader. The relationship you might have had with them is now broken, because once you break trust, you're dishonored and you can't fix that."
Cecilia was horrified to hear her normally docile fiancé speak to her with such cold confidence, as though he were a Priest who had spent decades in the Temple. The worst part of it was that she knew he was right. However, she couldn't bear hearing such a harsh assessment from Jason. Her reaction was typical of her when she felt cornered, she counter-attacked. She tore off her engagement jewelry and threw it at him.
"Call me dishonored? Then you can take this shit and you can shove it up your ass, Jason!"
Jason said nothing, which infuriated Cecilia even more. Not knowing what else to say, she stormed off, assuming that she had just broken off their relationship. Jason calmly picked up the engagement necklace and hair-piece. It took him a few seconds to spot her ring, almost buried in the grass. He did not follow her and he did not try to shout anything after her. The truth was that Cecilia had indeed dishonored herself by lying to Carmen and the others, and she needed to understand that before she could attempt to repair the damage. He simply had told her the same thing that any Priest or Priestess would have told her. It was not his Path in Life to try to comfort her, because all that would accomplish would be to prolong her own self-deception. He loved her too much to tell her that her behavior was acceptable or that everything was going to be fine, when it wasn't.
Cecilia walked about 100 meters and stopped. She was totally horrified...how could that have happened? Jason...he was the only man she had ever loved...five years they had been together...and now...it was over...gone...just because she was pissed at him...
She looked back. He was calmly standing right where she had left him. He had not chased after her, but he had not walked off either. He was still there, if she wanted to go back to him. But that decision would be hers to make. She would have to return to him. He would not be coming after her.
She knew that she had to go back. Without Jason her life really had no meaning, but to go back to him would be the hardest thing she could imagine doing. To go back would be to admit that she was wrong. She took a deep breath, summoned her courage, and slowly retraced her steps. As she got closer she could see him quietly holding her engagement jewelry in his hands. So, all along he had known she couldn't leave.
He waited until she was within arms' length before holding up her hair-piece. She stood quietly as he worked it back into her hair. After her engagement necklace and ring were safely restored to their proper places on her body, he announced:
"I'm taking you to the Temple. Then you're gonna need to go over to Carmen's place and tell her what's really going on."
The Priestess was at her usual post in the Temple of the Ancients when Jason Schmidt brought in his forlorn-looking fiancé. As usual, he was completely naked and she was wearing a simple one-piece dress that was typical of what young Danubian women wore during the summer. As he had over the past four years, he knelt and put his head on the ground, rising when she gave him permission. Cecilia simply knelt upright, staring ahead with sad glassy eyes.
The Priestess had seen Cecilia and Jason together and separately many times over the past four years, so she knew both of them very well. What was interesting to her was that Jason had changed so much, while Cecilia had changed so little. The Priestess knew why. Jason had been performing Public Penance almost the entire time he had been in Danubia, while Cecilia had not. From the beginning it was obvious that Jason desperately wanted to free himself from the burdens he carried from his past. He understood what he needed to do, and he was willing to take any measure he or the Priestess felt was necessary for him to achieve that freedom. The most important part of the break from his past was his collar. Officially he might have declared himself property of the Danubian Church, but in doing so he had liberated his soul from all of the guilt and burdens he had brought with him from the US. He never could have experienced such freedom had he not accepted the collar.
Cecilia Sanchez's concerns always were much more worldly. She was a competent and skilled program director, a good student, and a dedicated caretaker for Victor Dukov and her nephew Pedro. She had learned a lot during her time in Danubia, but unlike Jason, her character had not undergone any real changes. After four years of being in Danubia, she was exactly the same person she had been in the US, while Jason had grown and had become totally different. The Priestess could see that so clearly that she wondered how it was possible that Cecilia could be so blind to what had happened to her partner.
Even before Cecilia began speaking, the Priestess knew that, at the insistence of her fiancé, the Dominican had come to her to confess something she had done wrong. She also could tell that what Cecilia was about to do would be very difficult for her. The Priestess decided not to immediately address whatever it was that was bothering Cecilia, but instead talk about what was going to happen the following day. Even though the stated purpose of the trip would be to obtain a simple confession and counseling for Criminal # 101025, everyone involved in the affair knew that the real purpose would be to find legal justification needed to get Maria Elena and the other Royal Servants away from the Grand Duchess and her predatory assistants.
The Priestess had her sources within the Royal Household, so she also knew about the strange meetings between Anyia's two Lords and mysterious groups of visiting foreigners. She momentarily let down her guard when she commented:
"The Creator has enlightened me that our task may be much more important than merely addressing what is going on within the Royal Household among the servants. It is not my Path in Life to make idle speculation about the people I work with and the tasks I must accomplish. I have access to information. I am fully aware of what is going on in that house; a dwelling that has become a refuge for the Destroyer. For that reason, I have asked the Prime Minister to accompany me, along with his son Vladik. The father and the brother of the Grand Duchess will be witnesses to her full disgrace."
The Priestess turned to Cecilia: "The Destroyer has been very active in the life of your friend. You must understand that tomorrow you will be speaking to a person who will be traumatized by what has happened to her. You must summon your strength and not be shocked when you see her."
Cecilia understood that the moment had come for her to confess her own problem. In just a few sentences she related that she had lied to her students about Maria Elena's situation to keep them from protesting and causing her embarrassment. As a result, the following week she faced being dishonored when Carmen and the others found out that their program director had deceived them about their friend's situation. She concluded by saying she was deeply sorry for what she had done.
Cecilia expected the Priestess to give her an angry lecture about the evil of lying, but all she said was:
"You are kneeling here before me, so to me that means you are aware of the dangers of deceit. You understand what you did; you broke trust. I need not say anything more about that. I do know what you must do to minimize the damage you have done, and to regain the confidence of your students. But before I tell you what I believe you should do, I would like to comment about something, something about your country that has always troubled me."
"What's that, Priestess?"
"You Americans have a custom that strikes me as very strange. A few minutes ago you used the word 'sorry' to express how you felt about the betrayal against the trust of your students. It is not a word I took seriously because I have heard it too often from the people of your country. You are always saying "sorry" for things, for things both trivial and significant. I understand that "sorry" is even posted on signs and recorded telephone messages. If one feels remorse over something one has done, how is it possible to express such sentiment on a piece of paper or a recorded device? How is such a thing possible?"
"I...it's just kinda the way we do things, Priestess. I guess...so people won't be mad..."
"So, in your country, people normally say 'sorry' when they want a problem they have created to disappear, for a wrong they have committed to be forgotten. But not to actually correct that wrong through their own initiative. Is that not so?"
"Yes, Priestess. That is so."
"I asked you the question because I expect you to understand that the American word 'sorry' is a concept with no meaning. You would do well to abolish 'sorry' from your vocabulary and thoughts. There is no point in expressing remorse if that expression is not supported by action to remedy what you have done. Do you understand that?"
"The Creator does not forget, Cecilia Sanchez. A problem will not disappear unless you take specific action to correct what you have done."
Cecilia cringed slightly, because she knew what was coming. She already knew she would have to put on a Temple collar and perform Public Penance. Wearing her collar, she would have to go over to Carmen's house and confess what she had done. As difficult as it would be to appear in front of Carmen and her host family naked, approaching her while performing Public Penance would solve one problem for Cecilia. She would not have to try to find any words to apologize, because the collar would do that for her. All she needed to do was tell her student what had happened. Under the traditions of Danubian culture, because Cecilia was collared, it would be Carmen's responsibility to forgive her.
Cecilia stood up and the Priestess put her hands around her throat to measure her neck size. She wrote a number down on a small piece of paper and handed it to a Temple attendant.
Cecilia knelt. The Priestess looked at her severely.
"Before we go to the firepit and before I ask you to surrender that dress you are wearing, I wish to make you understand something important. My impression is that you expect that I would allow you to perform Public Penance for a short time, as I have allowed for your students. You hope to properly express remorse for your deceptions, and then after the equinox, to resume your life as it has been up to today. That is your hope, is it not?"
Cecilia hesitated in answering, because that was indeed what she was expecting.
"Speak, Cecilia Sanchez. Answer my question."
"Yes, Priestess...that is...kinda what I was hoping."
"Then I want you to understand the condition of your Penance will differ from that of your fiance. He is wearing the collar of his own free will. After knowing him for four years, I trust that he has the maturity of the spirit to determine for himself when it is best to ask for release from his Penance. I do not believe that you have such maturity of spirit. Therefore I anticipate the Creator will communicate to me about the length of your Penance, not to you. If you accept the collar, you will wear it for a long time, not just a few weeks. The winter will come and the cold wind will punish your exposed body. Everyone in your life will see you, day after day, week after week, month after month, in your condition of Penance. It will be up to the Creator to enlighten me when you are to be released, and you are not to inquire about being released until that moment comes. Do you understand me?"
Cecilia was horrified. She had come to the Temple simply wanting to get her problem with Carmen and the other students resolved. What Jason had told her really seemed to make sense: just display remorse by being collared and tell the truth about what she did and what her motivations were for doing so. She would be naked for a few days, participate in the Day of the Dead ceremonies, and then she would get dressed and everything would be fine...or so she had thought...
To the Priestess however, Cecilia's deception was the manifestation of a much deeper problem in her soul. Cecilia Sanchez obviously suffered from an over-developed concept of self-worth that could only be addressed through a lengthy time of Public Penance that had no fixed date for ending. The first thing Cecilia would have to surrender was the idea that she controlled her own future. She would remain collared for a long time; months, maybe years, maybe the rest of her life. She had to accept that reality and in doing so submit to the Will of the Creator.
"You will come, Cecilia Sanchez. You will come and you will submit."
Cecilia followed the Priestess to the back of the Temple, with Jason trailing behind. The trio emerged onto the large platform in the rear and approached a circular fire-pit. Cecilia felt a pang of regret about the dress she was wearing, because it would be torn and burnt as part of the age-old ceremony submitting to Public Penance. Cecilia and Jason knelt as the Priestess took two items from a Temple attendant. One of the items was a small knife; the other was the collar that Cecilia would be wearing within a few minutes.
Cecilia stood as the Priestess quickly slit her dress down the front. The Priestess nodded to Jason, quietly ordering him to pull the ruined article of clothing off his fiancé's body. Another quick slash cut Cecilia's panties, which Jason picked up. He handed both pieces of clothing to Cecilia. The Priestess prayed for a moment before ordering Cecilia to toss the ruined articles of clothing in the fire-pit. There was a flash as the burning coals consumed the cloth.