The Courier Ch. 15bycaligula97236©
Chapter 15 – The Priestess
Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna decided that, before anything, she needed to talk to Victor and let him know what was about to happen to Criminal # 101025. She called to make sure he would wait at his office, before turning her attention to the detainee who was supposed to appear before the arraignment committee that afternoon. Fortunately it turned out the three committee members were still in the building, so Kim's newest client could be arraigned after all. Kim noted that the committee members were furious about the delay and an explanation that she had been summoned to talk to the Grand Duchess calmed them only slightly. Kim sighed, because the delay had not been her fault and it seemed things were only going to get worse for her.
Once the arraignment was finished and her client was fitted with a temporary collar and released for the weekend, Kim went to Victor's office. She explained what his niece was planning to do with Criminal # 101025. Before Victor had the chance to react, Kim added that she was going to formally petition to have formal custody of Maria Elena transferred back to the Ministry of Justice. Fortunately she did have a good justification: the Colombian only spoke Spanish and would need a translator until she could learn Danubian. In truth Kim was not particularly worried about her client's lack of language. She was much more worried about what Anyia might do to her. She also was worried that Maria Elena's mental health was rather fragile and that it was important that her life be as normal as possible. Victor offered the hope of a normal life in a fairly normal household, and the university offered the hope of a normal life through a routine job. The Royal Household offered nothing that could be considered normal.
Kim could tell that Victor was very distressed upon hearing what had happened that afternoon at the Royal Residence, but outwardly he did his best to appear stoic. He was more pessimistic that Kim's efforts would accomplish anything other than get her in trouble. There was also his brother to consider: Victor was concerned about doing anything that would reflect badly on Vladim Dukov's government. To that Kim replied:
"Cecilia pointed something out to me today. I told her that I am very worried about what's going to happen when Anyia's behavior becomes a public scandal, which at some point it will. She said 'what good is it gonna do to tell that to me? You need to tell it to the Prime Minister.' I realized she's right. Anyia's behavior is only going to get worse until someone brings her under control. And besides, I took an oath to defend my clients' interests to the best of my ability. I do not believe that Criminal # 101025 should be moved to the Royal House. It is my duty to try to get her transferred back. I realized that if I get fired, I get fired, but I cannot allow myself to be dishonored. And if I get fired, then I will know that the Creator wants me to pursue a different Path in Life. I suppose I could always go back to singing."
As they walked back towards Victor Dukov's house, Cecilia told Maria Elena what was going to happen on Monday; that she would have to report to the Central Courthouse to have her Ministry of Justice collar removed and instead be collared with a Royal House collar. Then Maria Elena’s trial judge would sign the documents officially transferring custody from Ministry of Justice Spokeswoman Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna to the Grand Duchess. Criminal #101025 would officially become property of the Royal Family. The Royal Representative would shackle her and she would be taken to the Royal Residence. Upon entering the Residence, she would receive training to become a Royal Servant.
Cecilia explained that Royal Servants had lives that were very different from criminals that belonged to the Ministry of Justice. They ate extremely well and each had a private room with a bathroom. At night they were allowed to cover themselves with a sheet or a blanket. They were expected to be extremely clean; to bathe in the morning and in the evening, and also any time before they performed an official duty for a member of the Royal Family. Royal Servants also had excellent medical and dental care and were forced to exercise on a daily basis to keep their bodies fit and attractive. They were highly trained and took pride in their positions in the Royal Household.
Traditionally to be a Royal Servant was considered an honor among criminals. Unlike ordinary criminals, who often performed menial or dirty tasks, Royal Servants served the Royal Family during meals and tea time, and participated in ceremonial functions such as carrying banners and unrolling carpets. When not performing official duties they practiced and trained, so that every movement was perfectly choreographed. Part of their training consisted of staying perfectly still for long periods of time, even if forced to stand or kneel in an uncomfortable position. Cecilia warned Maria Elena that much of her training during the first week would consist of learning to stay immobile.
There were other differences between ordinary criminals and Royal Servants that were not so pleasant. Ordinary criminals were considered property of the Ministry of Justice, and thus belonged to an institution, not an individual. Apart from adhering to protocol, staying within their collar zone, and performing adequately at their assigned job, criminals assigned to the Ministry did not face many restrictions on their daily behavior. They were free to talk, move about within their designated area, buy and eat what they wanted, have relationships, make love, and even marry and have children. Royal Servants did not enjoy any of those freedoms, because their status was totally different. Their lives were very restricted and they did not have any free time. When they were not working, they were exercising or training. Talking was not allowed unless responding to a superior and correspondence with the outside world was prohibited. There was no such thing as having a personal relationship, because the Royal Servant's Path in Life was to provide undivided loyalty to the member of the Royal Family holding custody.
Although in theory he or she belonged to the Royal Household, in practice a Royal Servant always was assigned to an individual member of the Royal Family, usually the person who demanded the transfer. In Maria Elena's case that meant she would be the personal servant of Grand Duchess Anyia. Cecilia explained that, from what she understood, Anyia would be more than Maria Elena's custodian; she would become her owner. She commented:
"For some criminals it's not that bad of a life; there are some people do well under total control. But to keep servants under those conditions, the members of the Royal Family have to respect them and not be abusive. Traditionally that's not been much of a problem because of Royal protocol, but things have changed under Anyia. For one thing, she's got a lot more servants than the previous Grand Duchess had. The old Grand Duchess only kept five servants, and she had the same ones for decades. Anyia's already got at least 20, after being on the throne for just a couple of years. Another problem is that she's not nice at all. She keeps that switch in her hand all the time, because she's constantly using it on her servants. And I hate to say this, but you can expect her to be using it on you."
"But...why? Why does she punish them? What do they do?"
"In most cases, nothing...the servants don't do anything wrong, or at least nothing major. However, the Grand Duchess feels that, because she's wearing this country's crown, the world owes her treating her like a goddess. If she thinks a servant is disrespecting her, she'll punish that person immediately. She's got a real violent temper, and the least little thing can set her off. The least little thing, and there's no one to control her."
Maria Elena said nothing for a long time, as she walked in horrified silence with her translator. What else could she say? She had just become accustomed to her routine as a criminal and was looking forward to living a fairly normal life, but it turned out that the productive life she had expected wasn't going to happen after-all. Instead she was destined to become the personal slave of that maniacal young queen. Cecilia didn't know what to say either, because she felt horrible for her companion. Whatever her faults, she certainly did not deserve the grim life that she faced under Anyia.
When Cecilia and Maria Elena returned to the university, they ran into Cecilia's fiancé. Jason had just finished his classes for the day and was about to go in the opposite direction of the two women, downtown to the Temple of the Ancients. As a condition of his Public Penance, most Friday nights he had to report to the Priestess who held custody over him to receive the Church taskings that he had to perform over the following week. The taskings normally entailed manual labor for the upkeep of buildings, or assisting in moving food and other supplies for Church charity work. Increasingly, however, he was being called upon to provide counseling for recent converts and for people who had just started performing Public Penance.
Jason could tell that both his fiancé and the Colombian were miserable from dealing with some very bad news. Cecilia told him what had happened that afternoon at the Royal Residence. She didn't expect him to have much to say about the matter. However, without any hesitation he responded:
"Did you go to the Temple and discuss this with anyone?"
"No, we didn't. What does the Church have to do with it?"
"To me it's pretty obvious. The Creator has determined that Maria Elena's Path in Life will be to serve the Grand Duchess. The problem is that the Duchess has a broken soul, and to deal with a person with a broken soul, Maria Elena is gonna have to seek guidance."
Cecilia looked at Jason with a stunned expression. It had not occurred to either her or Kim that Maria Elena might benefit from talking to a member of the Clergy. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea. She turned to the Colombian and translated what Jason had just told her. Maria Elena thought for a moment.
"You mean...Jason thinks I should talk to someone from their Church?"
"Yes. I hadn't thought about it, but I think he’s right."
"But...I'm not a member of their Church. I don't know anyone there...why would they want to talk to me?"
"That's what they do at the Temple. People go there with questions and the Clergy talk to them."
"And do they get answers?"
"Yes, they get answers. Sometimes not the answers they want to hear, but they always get answers."
Maria Elena turned to Jason and asked him in Spanish: "If you're going to the Temple, can you take me there? And get someone to speak with me? Can you do that?
Cecilia translated Maria Elena's Spanish to English, and Jason's response:
“Yes, I’ll have you talk to my Priestess, the one I work for. She’s the most perceptive person I know, and I’m sure she’d be very curious to hear about your Path in Life.”
A few minutes later Jason led his companions to a plaza in a section of the city center that Maria Elena had not yet seen. Most of the buildings were older than the late 18th Century architecture surrounding the Central Police Station and were made out of stone. Dominating the plaza was a very old temple that obviously had been built long before anything else in Danube City. It had pillars and a large staircase leading off the street to the main floor. The stairs were full of people going in or coming out, most of whom were dressed in black robes. There were many naked people as well; some of them wearing Church collars like the one Jason had on, and the others wearing collars from the Ministry of Justice. Unlike the Cathedral and other churches Maria Elena had seen so far, there was nothing Christian about the building’s architecture at all. Jason explained:
“This is the Temple of the Ancients. It’s the main building for the Danubian Church and the holiest place in Danubia. The building itself is 3,000 years old, and it’s been used non-stop ever since it was built.”
Maria Elena’s prejudices urged her to get away from that Pagan building as quickly as possible. However, Jason’s confidence that he knew what she needed to do gave her the courage to follow him in.
Cecilia had to borrow a prayer robe. She paid a copper coin to an attendant and received a garment similar to the one Victor used. She slipped it over her clothes before joining her fiancé and her housemate. Jason quickly located the Priestess who was his Church custodian and fell to his knees and placed his head at her feet. Maria Elena followed his lead. Cecilia also knelt, but unlike Jason and Maria Elena, did not have to put her head on the floor.
The Priestess told the three foreigners to stand up in Danubian. They saluted her and she saluted back. The woman was unlike any religious authority Maria Elena had ever seen. She must have been about 40 and was tall, elegant, and carried herself with an air of dignity and severity. Like every other female member of the Danubian Clergy, she wore a black dress with dark red trim that was her only worldly possession. It was obvious that she was intelligent and perceptive of other people’s emotions. She was extremely intimidating as her gaze seemed to penetrate the depths of the soul of anyone she was conversing with. Even Cecilia, who normally dominated other people with her abrasive self-confidence, was quiet and timid in the presence of that Priestess.
The Clergy woman spoke fairly good English, but Jason and Cecilia had long since mastered Danubian and conversed with her in her native language. While Maria Elena stood by nervously watching, Cecilia explained her situation with the Grand Duchess. The Colombian could make out just enough of the conversation to realize that both the Priestess and Cecilia were talking at length about Anyia.
The Priestess suddenly turned to Maria Elena and spoke to her in Danubian. Cecilia translated:
“She wants you to tell her why you came to Danubia.”
Maria Elena started giving a short summary of her trip and her arrest. As soon as the Priestess realized that the Colombian was not giving her the detail that she wanted, she impatiently drew her fist across her chest, which in Danubian was an impolite way of saying “Shut up!”
After several unsuccessful attempts the Priestess explained that she did not want Maria Elena to simply tell her what happened. She wanted to know why the Colombian had chosen to violate herself by using her body to store cocaine. She did not want to know what happened to Maria Elena; she wanted to know why it happened.
Maria Elena haltingly started explaining about her past, and how she got mixed up with the man who introduced her to Alex. A few probing questions got out of her the story of her ex-boyfriend Jose Pablo and how she indirectly caused his death. Now the Priestess felt that she was getting out of Maria Elena details that she needed. However, it was not until Maria Elena repeated what Kim had told her, that she actually had been duped into a white slavery operation and only by sheer luck had avoided that by landing in Danubia, that the Priestess was satisfied that she had heard what she needed to know. She spoke and Cecilia translated:
“Your soul is broken, Maria Elena. Your soul, and all of the souls of the women who went before you to Frankfurt. Your companions remained in the grasp of the Destroyer. You did not. The Creator rescued you and brought you here. Now, can you tell me why that is? Can you tell me why you were spared?”
“I don’t know…but my Spokeswoman told me the same thing, Priestess. She told me that El Flaco was responsible for the disappearance of a bunch of women, and I was spared. She told me to ask myself why I was the one who didn’t end up like the others. I guess it was so he could get arrested…El Flaco, I mean…that’s the only thing I can think of.”
The Priestess told Maria Elena to put out her hands. Cecilia translated, adding: “She’s gonna squeeze very hard and it might hurt. Don’t get scared, ‘cause it’s the way they pray when they’re with another person.”
The Priestess grabbed Maria Elena’s hands and clamped down in a vice-like grip. She closed her eyes and began shaking her arms violently. Maria Elena, in spite of the warning, was totally terrified as the woman painfully gripped and spasmodically shook her hands. After the longest minute of the prisoner’s life, the Priestess suddenly stopped. She continued holding the Colombian’s hands, but turned to Cecilia and asked yet more questions about Grand Duchess Anyia.
Finally she had enough information to give Maria Elena the answer. Still gripping the Colombian’s hands, she pulled her within a few centimeters of her own face, staring hard into her eyes. She spoke in Danubian:
“The Creator brought you here to Danubia. The Creator brought you here not to save you, but to save others. You are here because you will have to perform an important task for the Danubian people. Your Path in Life has not been completed yet. The arrest of El Flaco wasn’t the purpose of your Path in Life; that wasn’t your contribution…or I should say; that wasn’t your most important contribution. The most important part of your Path in Life has not yet transpired.”
The Priestess waited for Cecilia to translate, and continued.
“You understand that the Grand Duchess has a broken soul?”
“I…I guess so, Priestess…”
“That is not a guess, Maria Elena; that is a fact. The Destroyer has taken control of Anyia’s soul and she is broken. What you must understand is that through corrupting the Grand Duchess, the Destroyer can inflict a great deal of harm on our country. You have to understand that before you can understand anything else. You also must always remember that the Creator brought you to our country for a purpose. You will be placed before the Grand Duchess for a purpose, and you will suffer under her for a purpose. The Creator has not enlightened me of what that purpose might be. I do know that your Path in Life, your destiny before you ever came to Danubia, was to serve the Creator, and in doing so repair your own broken soul.”
Maria Elena whispered to Cecilia: “Who’s this ‘Destroyer’ she’s talking about?”
“That’s their version of the Devil. What she’s saying is that she thinks Anyia is possessed with evil. It’s kinda different than the Christian version and more complicated, but that’s the simplest way I can put it so you'll understand.”
The Priestess continued:
“I am convinced that you are more important than you realize, even though you are just a humble criminal. I am convinced that, through Jason, the Creator brought you to me. There is a reason that happened. And I believe it is my Path in Life to listen to your troubles, so I can try to better understand what has happened to the Grand Duchess.”
“But…I won’t be able to come here, Priestess. I’m gonna be locked up.”
“I can provide you a letter saying that I am your spiritual guide, a letter that you can take with you to the Royal House. That letter would give you the right to see me once a week. The Royal Family does not have the authority to cut you off from the Church, not if you have officially declared someone in the Clergy as your spiritual guide. Also, if I am your spiritual guide, I can provide you with correspondence that others may wish to give you. When you are with me, I can let you see letters from other people in your life, and allow you to respond.”
There was no question that Maria Elena would jump at the opportunity, which she did. To have a few hours a week away from the Royal Household, to be allowed correspondence, to have someone sane to talk to…of course she wanted all that. Who wouldn’t?