The story of a formative experience Alynnya had during her days at Ranger academy.
True ‘days off’ for cadets were pretty rare; even when there were no classes and we were not ‘on duty’ with our work assignments, there was always studying to do. When I did get some free time, I usually spent it training and exercising, or reading–in my room, or outdoors if it was nice.
Today was different, I wanted to get out and about in the city. I needed some new clothes; my wardrobe consisted mostly of soft cotton pants, worn-in casual shirts, and comfy hooded fleece. Those, and workout clothes. I hadn’t treated myself to anything nice in quite a while.
I’d also had an idea for a special treat for myself. I wanted to find some costume that would remind me of Miriam, the heroine of my Greener Pastures book, a baron’s daughter who had been taken by orks. The early harvest holiday was coming up, and with it, lots of costume parties. It was a night where everyone could dress up as their favorite fantasy selves. It didn’t matter to me that no one else would know who Miriam was, she was the perfect fantasy dress up for me.
The weather was still warm for early October, so I headed out in just denim pants and a loose cropped shirt, and my high-topped athletic shoes. I felt casual and comfortable so I didn’t think of my outfit as alluring or revealing until I caught the eyes of passers-by upon me and heard an occasional whistle. I looked down at my bare midriff and snug bottoms, and suddenly felt a little exposed and embarrassed…but knowing that others found me appealing gave me a little thrill.
My plan for a costume involved taking an inexpensive lightweight dress, getting it dirty and tearing it up a bit. I might even smear some dirt on my skin where it showed. Even coming up with that simple idea had been a challenge, as Miriam rarely wore anything in the story besides the collar the orks put on her.
I’d been to a few shops without finding the right dress, and was now wandering and window shopping while pondering new ideas. I came across the popular tack shop where most of the calvary knights and rangers go to outfit their horses. I’d been inside a few times, and for a girl from a small village, the smell of a tack shop was a welcome memory of home–the rich smell of fresh leather and the scent of the polishes with which they were treated.
The window display held the usual saddles and stirrups, blankets and grooming supplies. A display rack held bridles and bits, while some shelves showed riding accessories such as shiny tall boots and riding crops. There was even a hunting display with a mannequin of a dog outfitted for retrieving game.
My eyes zeroed in on the collar on the dog mannequin. The collar was wide and thick, modestly polished, with a heavy metal buckle and a thick shiny ring for attaching a leash. I stared for a moment. The collar looked much like I imagined the one Miriam would wear. My knees wobbled for a moment as I thought about including that in a costume. Could I do that? Could I wear a collar like that–even to a fantasy party?
My eyes wandered over the other items in the windows…the bridles, the bits, the leader lines and buckles. The riding crops. Even the shiny boots and gloves. Suddenly I was seeing all these items in a very different light. They were all legitimately used for keeping and training horses and other animals…but what if they were sometimes used on people? What if they were used…on me?? I felt a warm blush across my cheeks.
As if propelled by some unknown compulsion, I opened the door and entered the shop. The familiar smells hit me right away and I smiled and took them in. I looked around to orient myself. Saddles lined the left wall, heavier equipment covered the right. In the center were lower display fixtures and tables. The proprietor looked up from behind the counter in the back with a friendly smile. I nodded and smiled back and began browsing the tables.
I let my hand brush over many of the items, enjoying the feel of the smooth worked leather strips and the shiny metal buckles and rings that made them functional. I was imagining these familiar items with multiple purposes now. Halters, leads and bits all held new ideas for me. But it was Miriam’s main item, her sole possession, that I was looking for at the moment.
I slowly worked my way over to the displays that held the items for smaller domestic animals such as dogs, cats, sheep and goats. An entire table was covered with collars, from thin jeweled decorative pieces to heavy spiked ones for more aggressive animals. I picked up a few, feeling the weight and measuring the width against my hand, imagining them against my throat. I could barely contain my excitement, my thrill at imagining myself wearing one.
The party costume was no longer my main motivation now. In my book, Miriam reflected often upon how the collar felt on her neck, how it made her feel, and what it represented for her. It was a constant reminder to her that she was a possession; she belonged to the ork who had eventually claimed her. It was also a constant reminder to all other orks that she had been claimed by another, and under his protection. She even began to describe her collar as something erotic to her, that made her aroused when she was made to wear it.
I wanted to get a sense of what she felt–I wanted to imagine it the next time I read her story. I wanted a collar for myself.
One collar caught my eye, and I picked it up. It was a fairly simple band with a sturdy buckle and a solid ring. It was wide enough to cover half the height of my neck. But the edges were only moderately polished and somewhat rough to the touch. That could chafe my neck if I wore it for any period of time, I thought. I wanted something a little nicer than that.
“Yer dog must be pretty good sized,” the proprietor’s voice came from beside me, startling me.
“Oh!” I exclaimed. I had jumped a little when he startled me, and dropped the collar. I could feel my face instantly flush, and his kindly helpful smile and friendly eyes made me look to the floor, then back to the collars. I hadn’t thought of a plausible reason I wanted a collar. ‘Words, brain!’
“That one will hold a good sized dog, a retriever or even a dane,” he said as he picked it up and placed it back in my hands. “What kinda dog do ya have?”
“I uh…” I stammered. “I don’t have a dog. I mean, I don’t have one now. I want to have one someday. Maybe a big one, like a wolf.” My cheeks felt like they were burning now, and I fought to keep eye contact.
“I see,” the shopkeeper said. He smiled, then nodded thoughtfully a couple more times. “I think what yer looking for might be over here….” he turned, and motioned me to follow him as he walked away.
I nervously followed him back to the display counter that separated the shop from his work area. He stepped behind the counter and moved over to the left, near the saddles. I approached the counter, and when I saw the display there I stopped dead in my tracks. I could feel the heat instantly rising from my cheeks again…and from other places, as well…
At first the items on display looked much like many of the other items in the store. But every one of the items in this area were designed for humans, not animals. Or perhaps so that humans could be restrained and controlled like animals? In my book Miriam had experienced and described many of these items, had been restrained and gagged and flogged with them…but I had never actually seen them before–I wasn’t even sure some of them existed!
“That’s what I thought…” the shopkeeper said in his kindly voice. He wasn’t taunting me or being a creep about it, but he had figured out what I was really looking for. I’m sure I wasn’t the first nervous person to walk through his door looking for these kinds of things.
On the countertop before me lay a dozen or so collars coiled on pegs. I looked them over, my uneasy smile growing to an excited grin. These were not like the roughly finished pieces over on the animal display. These were beautifully finished and polished. with carefully smoothed and rounded edges. Some were very thin strips that were little more than a decorative choker, to heavy pieces that would cover my neck from chin to collarbone. A few had tiny spikes embedded in them, and I was shocked to see a few had words imprinted, like ‘slave’ and ‘slut.’
“If I might be so bold to ask, miss, is this a gift, or perhaps for you yerself to wear?”
My eyes flashed up to his. He still had the same kind look on his face, with no trace of judgment. “It’s…it’s for me. For myself.” I couldn’t get the one that said ‘slave’ out of my mind.
He reached to his right. “Then miss, and again forgive me for being bold, but your neck is slender…as are you…might I suggest one of these over here?”
The rows he indicated were among the narrower ones, yet still looked thick and strong enough to really hold someone. I picked up a thin black one but immediately noticed it was very light. Miriam often mentioned that the width and the weight of her collar were a constant reminder she wore it…I wanted to be able to feel mine, too.
I noticed a beautiful light brown one polished to a glossy shine and a buckle with a mirrored finish. I held it in my hand and traced my thumb over the smooth edges. “Your craftsmanship is excellent,” I told the shopkeeper. “The way you rolled this end around the buckle without a crease is impressive.”
“Why thank ya, miss,” he said with some surprise. “Yer familiar with fine goods, then.”
“I grew up in Frayhollow. We had animals, and there were always things to mend.”
“I’m glad ya can appreciate me workmanship, then…see how the rivet has ridges to keep it from spinning?”
I nodded. “It is beautifully crafted…but still not right…” Then I spied one that called out to me.
The collar that caught my eye was a simple darker brown band, with a heavy buckle and ring. And though the leather was every bit as well worked and finished, it was not polished to a high gloss like the lighter brown one; the finish was a more natural mottled look. It looked more like the plain handmade strap that Miriam described in the book. The type that a more brutish master might use…I shuddered with excitement.
“Aye, yes, that’s the perfect one fer ya, miss.” The shopkeeper picked it up and uncoiled it. For a moment I feared he would try to put it on me, but he simply held it out to me with both hands.
I took it from him with both my hands, starting at it intently. It felt cool and smooth in my hands. This one had a thick ring in the shape of a ‘D’ set into the middle of it, where the smooth flat band might rest at the front of my throat. It occurred to me I might need to buy something to attach to that ring, too. Another shiver rolled through me.
I turned it over in my hands, lifting it up closer to my eyes. Like the glossy collar, this one had a strong buckle that would not break easily. Unlike the other one, I could see a clasp beside the buckle where a lock could be attached to prevent it being removed. I got another thrill at that thought–having the collar locked upon me?!?
“Would ya like to try it on, miss?”
I nodded, my brain not able to form words at the moment. I held the collar dangling from my left hand, and with my right I reached up to sweep my hair back off my neck. I tilted my head to my left, my jawline rising to expose the soft flesh of my neck beneath.
The shopkeeper swallowed audibly and cleared his throat, but didn’t say a word.
I placed the flat inside of the collar against the front of my throat and used both hands to slide it under my hair. I fumbled with the buckle at first, but once I threaded the loose end through the hasp, I drew the ends together smoothly. With my fingertips I found the holes and put a prong through one. On my first try, the collar still felt loose…not the snug feeling Miriam described.
I pulled on the tongue and slid the prong to the next hole. Now I could feel the flat inside of the collar all the way around my neck, and snug against my neck. I swallowed nervously. So this is what it felt like…secure, safe…I wasn’t sure how else to describe the feeling, other than that something that had been missing was now in place.
“It does suit ya, miss, If’n you don’t mind me saying.” His voice sounded a little more husky than before. “I can give ya a good price…”
“Yes!” I exclaimed in a brilliant demonstration of my negotiation skills. “But…do you have…a, um…leash?” I could feel my face feeling hot again.
“Got just the one…I’ll be right back.”
I could barely contain my excitement. ‘was I really doing this??’ It seemed so crazy…and yet so right! I had the feeling of butterflies in my stomach and a sudden weakness in my knees–just as Miriam described. Miriam had begun to view her collar as a sexy and erotic thing…and I could now understand why. This wasn’t just a fleeting feeling to enjoy at the moment…this was going to help me imagine myself in Miriam’s place more easily.
The shopkeeper came back with a coiled leash that matched the finish of the collar almost perfectly, even the metal hardware. The thought occurred to me that he probably crafted some as matching sets. Again I feared he would want to clip it on to my collar himself, but he stood across the counter and held it out to me.
I took it from his hand, uncoiled it, and grasped the clasp with trembling fingers. I found the thumb release and clipped it onto the collar with a quiet click. I gave it a soft tug and felt the pressure at the back of my neck…perfect. My knees threatened to give out completely now.
The shopkeeper named a price a lot higher than I had budgeted for this little costume. He saw my alarmed look, and quickly named a price that was still high, but more within my reach. “Because I have a feeling you’ll be back for more,” he explained.
I thought about it for a moment. It was a lot of money for just a costume. ‘But it was more than a costume,’ I reminded myself. ‘I would use this again and again, for a long time…’
“Tell ya what, miss…” He reached below the counter, then held out what he had retrieved. “I’ll give ya this little padlock and two keys t’ sweeten the deal.”
I stared at the padlock. ‘Oh yes, yes, yes!’ my brain screamed at me. I was already imagining myself locking my collar in place back in my room.
“You have a deal, sir.” I reached out my hand to shake his, and nervously squeezed a lot harder than I intended.
“Yikes, miss, that’s quite the grip,” he said with a grin. “I pity the man that doesn’t respect ya when you’re wearing that.”
“Alynnya…and thank you…” I said as I reached into my bag and retrieved my money. “You’ve been…you’ve been a perfect gentleman, and I thank you for that.”
“It’s been my pleasure, Alynnya.” he said while accepting the payment. Then as I turned to go, he asked, “are ya planning t’ wear them home?”
“Oh! Oops!” I laughed nervously. “I’d better stow these…for now.”
I gave him my sincere thanks again and left with my purchases. I practically skipped down the street in excitement, an excitement that grew the closer I got back to campus. My copy of Greener Pastures was riding in my bag alongside my new accessories…and I just couldn’t wait to get back to my room to spend some private time with all of them.