I left the Mall with an enormous sense of relief. For me, Katya, it was extraordinary. Maybe more extraordinary than any other marathon I have run. We just walked away, Daphne holding on to me, her head on my shoulder as we edged through the crowd of runners, both of us oblivious to anything except the relief of finishing and the turn our relationship had taken.
We reached Daphneís home and both went for a shower.† There is nothing like warm water washing away the residue of several hoursí intense physical effort. To feel the grittiness of dried salt washed from your skin, leaving it clean and smooth, almost makes the effort of running worthwhile. I finished my shower and wrapped myself in a towel and went looking for Daphne.
She was sitting on a stool in her bathroom, drying herself off, rubbing the towel over her spiky short hair. I knelt down in front of her. As I looked up I caught her look of confusion and concern and realised the cause. "Donít worry Daphne, I want to look at your feet, not kiss them."
The look of relief was instant. "Oh, good, yes, why?" Daphne stuttered.
"Blisters. Toenail bruising. If we donít check and there are any problems you can end up with very sore feet." I took each foot in turn, checking it thoroughly. "Theyíre fine, Daphne," I said. She looked pleased. "And now we have to talk."
I sat down beside her. Daphne nodded. "I know," she said.
"Daphne," I began, I guessed she knew what I was about to say. "I cannot be your slave. I think we have seen that. I will not be involved in forced enslavement with you. I saw too much of what that means at home in Russia. People who were in the Gulag, in the camps. I canít be part of anything that feels like that. I donít want to live looking over my shoulder for the immigration people, either. Actually, neither do you, you are a guest in this country, too."
Daphne responded quickly, almost too quickly, the words tumbling out. "Yes, Katya, I understand. Youíre right. Of course youíre right but..." Daphne had looked glum. "But Katya, what about us? Youíve changed me; Iíve spent the last months doing everything you say. It almost seemed like I was your slave."
"And how did that feel, Daphne?"
She blushed, embarrassed. "Good," she said. "I know itís silly but it felt good. Just to feel I could let myself do anything you said; whatever you wanted."
"But that didnít need chains or ropes or gags or any of Connieís prepping, did it? You did it because you wanted to, didnít you?"
I interrupted her. "However, I know what I want for us. There are things I have thought about in my own life. I know I want my life to include Branca and Daphne from here on out. I love the idea of you as my slave, Daphne." Her face lit up with child-like delight. "But it must be because it is what you want. Long term, consensual enslavement. Not brainwashed, not a robot, not on automatic pilot, like Branca, but because you give your active consent and keep on giving it. Thatís the only way that it can work for me. And I think that will be good for you too, Daphne. I only want whatís right for you."
I could see that Daphne was watching me closely. Listening to every word. I saw her mouthing the words to herself; Ďlong-term-consensual-enslavement.í
"Youíre not going to leave me." It wasnít a question but a statement.
"No, Daphne," I said. "Even if you donít want to go through with this, I wonít leave you. Iíll always be your friend. I respect what you did. To train as you did. To run as you did. To get to where you are from where you were. That was an achievement. But if you want more, then I can give you more. But it has to be as I say."
"Long term, consensual enslavement?"
"I give myself to you and go on giving myself to you?"
I nodded again.
"Thatís not an easy thing to do."
"No, but neither was running a marathon. And of course you didnít," Daphne looked puzzled for a moment, "any more than any of us do. You ran one mile, and then you ran another mile and then another mile. You just kept on running miles. Thatís what this will be too."
She kept on looking at me. Taking in what I had set. Turning it over in her mind. I went on. "Hereís what we do. You run your business and I run the gym and my training business. You call me Katya and I call you Daphne. But here, everywhere, all the time, I am your Mistress and you are my slave. Understand?"
"Yes Katya. I understand." Daphne looked back at me with a steady gaze.
"But do you want it?"
"Yes Katya, I do want it." Daphne nodded her head emphatically. She was grinning widely. I felt her trying to stop giggling. "Oh, Katya, I feel like I have champagne bubbling up inside me." I look at her. I know what sheís feeling. Itís a mixture of happiness, fulfilment, fear and a reckless desire to drive with the brakes off. Completely. "You know I should be calling for a cooling off period, like they do when you buy pensions or insurance. But I canít. I am falling over myself to say Yes, Yes, Yes, before you change your mind."
"Iím absolutely sure, Katya, even if I donít really know what I am getting myself into."
I smiled. After all her experiences that sounded strange. "Daphne," I said, "you of all people must know what you are getting yourself into. Are you still sure? Do you still want to go ahead?"
"Yes," she said firmly. "I mean Iím not sure. Itís different, isnít it, like this? But I still want to go ahead. I know that. Every bit as much as I knew that I had to run the marathon."
I was touched by her trust in me, touched by her courage. I leant forward and kissed her on the forehead. She reached out and clutched my legs. I could see she was almost overcome with emotion, weak and tired after the race. She started to shake, I stroked her head anxious to calm her but there was one more thing that had to be settled. "Now Daphne," I said quietly,"what are we going to do about Branca?"
"Canít† Branca just stay?"
"Sure. If she wants to."
"If she wants to?"
"Thatís the deal, Daphne, no slaves unless they consent, remember? You donít need to buy companionship these days. You can stand on your own feet now.† You donít need props like bought, programmed, captive slaves, do you?"
"No, Katya, I guess not.† No, I know I donít. Gee, I absolutely donít. But Iíll miss her, if she goes. I mean it wasnít just the housework. Sheís good to have around and there was the work she was doing."
"What work?" Iíd seen Branca busy with some papers for Daphne but Iíd never asked her what they were about. It hadnít seemed like it was my business.
"Well, I have this investment in Brazil and I needed someone to translate some technical engineering papers, so Larryís people found Branca and brought her to me."
"Huh? Oh, sure, via Connie."
"Well, Branca was studying engineering at Imperial College. Thatís... "
"Yes, I know about Imperial College. Well, Daphne: there is something more to resolve here.† If sheís bright enough to be studying at Imperial she should not spend her life cleaning house and entertaining you."
"You are going to get Branca re-instated at college after the summer."
"But I donít want her to go. Any more than I want you to go."
"Well she might want to stay but the least you can do is to give her back her life and then offer her a job and somewhere to live. Agreed? Well, actually, those are my instructions, slave. So thatís what is going to happen. Because I say so. Get used to it!"
Daphne smiled up at me with relief, I guess feeling that another weight had fallen from her. Suddenly I realised that during our conversation she had slid down from her seat. Now she was on the floor, kneeling. She looked at me with that same determined expression I had seen at the start of the marathon. "Yes, Mistress," she said. "Absolutely." Then, "Mistress?"
"Yes, slave?" I said.
"What happens now?"
That was a pretty big question. And Iíd only thought about the answer to the first part of it. I stoked the back of Daphneís neck. "Some coaches say you should take one dayís rest for every mile you have run. I guess that means youíve earned a month off athletics training. Then, when you have fully recovered, we will start you running again with a view to some half marathons later in the year and I think your physique could use some further work in the weights gym. Would you like that Daphne?" She nodded. I knew she would. Running marathons is a drug. Even while youíre aching from the last one youíre longing for the next. In the short term, Branca and I are going on holiday.† We deserve it. Somewhere warm, I think. We both deserve it and you can afford to pay for it. A little present from you perhaps as an apology, maybe?"
"Oh." Daphne looked sheepish and then apologetic. "Yes thatís only fair, I guess." She paused for a moment and looked concerned. "But what about me?"
"Well, I said you were having a month off athletics training. But there is some other training I want you to do, some very special training of your own. While we are away."
"Special training, Mistress?" She was getting into the swing of things quite well, I thought.
"Yes Daphne, you see, Branca and I learned a lot from Connie. I donít want you conditioned like we were but I do want you to learn the discipline and obedience skills she can give you. It just would not be fair for you to miss out! Would it?" Daphne looked a little doubtful. "Itís not easy being a slave. Youíll have a lot to learn and Connie is an excellent teacher Can I rely on you to fix that with Larry?"
And Daphne just said (a bit weakly but she still managed to say it), "OK Mistress. Iíll go do it now."
I listened while she spoke to Larry. I could only hear her side of it but I could tell he was confused.
"Larry, I need another favour. No, everything is fine, Larry, everything is better than fine. But I need a favour. I have a slave that needs to be trained. Not prepped, you understand, not conditioned, just trained. Basics of obedience and discipline, the usual stuff... Well, I thought it would be OK. I guessed youíd be happy to take on paid training commissions. Whoís it for? No, not for Katya." Daphne laughed. "Itís for me, Larry. Larry, are you still there? Oh. Right. Look, I know itís strange. Thatís why I said it was a favour. I promised Katya I would go through what she did, what Branca did. No not the prep stuff, just the obedience and discipline training. You can? Great. Youíre an angel. Get back to me on when you can take me. Mmm, soon as. Thanks."
Daphne left for her Training a couple of days later. I will admit to teasing her a bit over the training but I thought sheíd like it anyway. Just before Larryís people were due to arrive I had her report in front of Branca and me in the living room. She looked a little distressed when she saw Branca curled up at my feet but she choked back any concerns and stood waiting for me to speak.
"Are you ready Daphne?"
She nodded. "Yes, Mistress, if this is what you want me to do."
"It is, Daphne. Now let Branca cuff and gag you ready for collection."
Daphne face gave an expression of alarm. "Shouldnít you do that Mistress?" she said.
"It is my wish that Branca should do it," I replied. "And that should be good enough for you."
Daphne looked bashful. "Of course," she said. "Of course." She held out her arms in front of her, wrists together. Branca got to her feet holding the handcuffs and shook her head, indicating with her finger that Daphne should turn around. Soon the cuffs were locked in place, the ball gag pushed into her mouth and strapped tight. A ring at the door announced the arrival of Larryís people and one of their transport crates. Daphne was calm as Branca helped the two men fasten her securely inside it. Moments later they, and she, were gone.††
It felt strange. Suddenly Daphne wasnít there and I was wondering if she was all right. I knew she would be, intellectually, of course. Larryís people were careful, I knew that but even so I worried. Branca tried to reassure me. That helped but even so I was already looking forward to the time when we could all be together again.†
It was a couple of days later; the morning before Branca and I were to leave for our break. I phoned the contact number that Daphne had left for me.
"Ms Mbazuís office," a coolly efficient voice answered, "can I ask who is calling?"
"Katya Izotova," I reply. The line goes silent for a second.
"Yes, Ms Izotova. One moment, please."
And then Connie was on the line. Her voice was deep, soft, gentle and reassuring. Just as I remembered. "Katya! Howís things? I have been really missing you! We had such fun. Why donít you and Branca just come round -- before you go? To see me again? It would be great to see you again. You know how much Iíd like to see you again. How much youíd like to see me again. Just come as you are. Just come... now."
My head felt lighter, as though I was being lifted up, as though...† My hand went up to my ear lobe and I pinched it very hard. Ouch that hurt! That was better. My head cleared.† "Connie," I said, "lovely to speak to you. Nice try if I may say. You do not like to let your girls go, do you?"
The soft voice laughed quietly, "No, nor the boys either."
I kept squeezing my ear. The pain kept me focused, kept me in my right mind. "Anyway, Connnie; Branca and I have been thinking about Daphne."
"Sheís very well. Sheís made a good start. Of course itís not easy for her. Itís a big change but she is learning. She does seem keen to learn."
"Thatís good but there is something I would like -- I would like her to come home with one or two souvenirs."
"To remember her time here? I donít think sheíll forget!" I could here the laugh in Connieís voice. "What did you have in mind?"
"The first is she has a tendency to get a little dry skin on her scalp. Itís very difficult to moisturise her scalp properly. I expect youíll be keeping her hooded for some of the time," Connie gave an affirmatory hmmm, "and that will only make it worse. So the first thing is to give her a shaven head for the duration."
"Thatís fine Katya. A good idea. It really suits her. I was thinking about keeping her completely shaven anyway. What else?"
"Well in training Daphne rather enjoyed the extra ear piercings she got as rewards for hard work. There was no time to give her something special after her Marathon efforts and so..."†
Branca leant across me and called into the phone, "so we thought she could have her tongue and nipples done."
"Ah, Branca!" Connie said. "Nice to hear from you too. Isnít that something you could do with as well? But of course we can let Daphne have that and weíll be happy to do it for you too, Branca. For old times sake!"
"One last thing," I said.
"Last thing, Katya? Thatís a shame. I thought you were both coming round to see me. I thought that was supposed to be the last thing." Connieís soft voice was a persuasive as ever.
"Thank you Connie, but... no. Just look after Daphne. Maybe weíll see you some time but not too soon. Youíll forgive us if we think that it not be safe for us for a while."
Connie gave a resigned sigh.
"One last thing. I told you there has been a revolution. Well, this Mistress likes her slaves to be marked. Please have Daphne tattooed. Make sure she knows all this is because Iíve asked for it. I want a large Tsarist Eagle outlined in black on her right shoulder. Make sure itís placed to be seen whenever she wears an evening dress. It should be quite large, about as big as her shoulder blade. I want another just above her left ankle. The same Tsarist Eagle again but this time black as though stencilled on a red background -- so she can show it off during the day! I will send the artwork across. Can you do that?"
"Of course, Katya. You know, Iím thinking you really have changed since you were here."
"I have not changed as much as you might think Connie but I have just found a second vocation!" I knew that whatever else happened I would always want Daphne in my life -- just as long as that was where she wanted to be.