The next morning Greg woke up to find Nikolai's guest room empty. He'd been given a pallet on the floor with pillows and a blanket, which he pushed aside and slowly sat up. He wondered where Nikolai was and what to do. He got up and went into the bathroom. When he came out, Mikael was there waiting for him.
"Hey Greg. You sleep alright?"
"Yeah, mostly," he answered, finding his clothing washed and folded on a side table. "Should I dress then?" he asked, seeing as Mikael was dressed but he didn't want to assume anything.
"Oh, sorry, yes, get dressed. There's some food saved for you and I'm supposed to show you around the estate this morning. Master Nikolai is in a meeting with the other masters right now."
Greg quickly dressed and followed Mikael through the house, surprised at the lack of locked doors or guards. They passed a few people along the way and Greg couldn't tell if they were slaves or not. Mikael met their eyes, nodded and greeted them politely but didn't stop or introduce him, so he nodded and remained silent.
"Here we go," Mikael said, leading him into what looked like a large common room. Greg saw Raven and a couple of other slaves from the night he'd been there, sitting on the furniture around the room doing various things, none of them looking like work. Mikael moved over to a kitchenette on the side of the room, putting a covered plate of food in a microwave and starting it up. "Do you want some coffee?"
Greg was hesitant and looked cautiously around the room, expecting any moment someone, maybe Aristide, to come in and punish everyone.
"Hey. Greg! You want coffee? Or there's juice, tea, milk, water. What do you want to drink?" Mikael asked again.
"Is this allowed?" he asked hoarsely.
"You mean the choice of drinks?"
"Yes. That … and all of this," he said, gesturing to the others. "They're not working."
"No, not right now. Some of us have already started working, some of us start later in the day. This is our common room, where we come in our free time. You can read, play games, talk," Mikael explained, starting to get a sense of what was going on and simply pouring a cup of coffee for Greg. Too much freedom and too many choices were clearly making things difficult for him and that wasn't what they wanted to do.
After eating and a little small talk with Mikael and Raven, Greg followed Mikael out and around the estate as he gave him the fifty cent tour, finally meeting up with Aristide in his office.
"Thank you, Mikael. Sit on the chair, House," Aristide said, dismissing Mikael with a nod and startling the hell of out Greg, who slowly took a seat in one of the two leather club chairs facing the desk.
"You seem a bit better this morning," Aristide observed. "Did you enjoy the house? This is Master Tobias' personal estate. Three of the other masters in the area have large estates like this as well. We use them as gathering places for the Brotherhood."
"It's a nice place. Lots of rooms, but that makes sense with what you said," he answered.
"You look puzzled. Anything I can help you understand?"
Greg looked up, wary of the offer but after a moment he decided to take the risk. He needed answers.
"The doors weren't locked this morning. Mikael looked everyone in the eye and even spoke first when greeting them and no one punished him for it. He took me first to this place he said was a common room where no one was doing any work."
"Currently, we do not have any brand new slaves here," Aristide began to explain, "and therefore we have no need of locking things up as we don't have anyone who is a flight risk. You will see locks used, when either of those instances occur, and very occasionally as a temporary measure for punishment.
"The Brotherhood prefers our slaves to meet our eyes rather than look down all the time. We are restricting their personal liberty but we do not think less of them. We are all humans; any of us could have fallen into circumstances leading to enslavement and we recognize that. It helps with training, supervision, and proper care; after all, the eyes are the window to the soul. There is no slaves are to be unseen and unheard rules here in the estate. When we go into public, there is a need to comply with accepted Slave Administration laws, but we are exempt from them on the major estate properties. In house, we use common courtesy. We observe rank in the household, but a slave here may if he or she has need go up to Tobias' office, knock on his door, and receive permission to speak with him, even to interrupt what he is currently doing, if it is urgent enough."
Greg just gaped at Aristide, unable to even imagine a slave being allowed to do such a thing. He wasn't at the hospital only under the strictest definition of medical emergency for his current patient.
Aristide nodded, reaffirming what he was saying. "The common room is for the use of all slaves not on duty at the time. There are books and other amusements such as board games, cards, even video games. It is stocked with drinks and snack items and everyone is free to mingle and make friends as they wish. Misbehavior removes the privilege and gets you grounded to your room, much like any recalcitrant teenager," he said with a smirk.
"So…" Greg began hoarsely, then cleared his throat and tried again. "So if I wasn't working and wanted to play cards or read a book, I could?"
"Absolutely. A grave mistake that the Slave Administration perpetuates is that in order to keep your slaves in line you must complete ignore the fact that they are in fact people with active intellects, hobbies, and interests. I'm sure you've noticed that we like to speak with our slaves, not to them, and how can we have an interesting conversation if we allow their minds to go unstimulated? Their emotional needs unmet? Balance is the key that makes this equation work."
Greg nodded glancing away as he filed all this in his mind and was liking the picture it was forming of what his life would be like here. He had thought it would be only the two extremes of the human pony races and the sexually charged meeting halls but now could see there was actually living to be done here. Tobias' pronouncement of never intending to free him didn't seem so gloomy now, even if he had only gotten what he'd initially thought.
"Master Aristide, can I ask you a question about Nikolai's training?"
"You may, but I can't guarantee I will know the entirety of his reasons."
"That's okay. After he started teaching me about… posing and being on display… trying to actively capture attention instead of just knelt spread open like the SA taught… he has me brought to his room each morning and put in restraints at the end of his bed. When he wakes up, he sometimes… uh… masturbates first then he just ignores me and gets ready for the day. It's frustrating because it's arousing but he says that I have to show him I want him to do something about it. I'm usually fully erect not to mention pretty restricted movement wise. What does he want me to do?"
Aristide was glad to hear the question and the frustration behind not understanding. It demonstrated Greg's desire to be part of the Brotherhood and he leaned forward in teacher mode.
"Nikolai is moving into nuance training with you now. It's not so much a matter of what you are to do, since you are responding with full arousal, it's the how and why. Now that there is a solid master/slave bond between you as a foundation, he wants to see if you can reach the next level, which is a mental step not a physical one."
"What's the next step?"
"Up until now, all contact between the two of you has been at Nikolai's initiation. That's as far as it ever goes outside of the Brotherhood residences. But since you have been put onto the short list, he wants to know if you can move beyond initiation. Have you developed enough of a bond with him, trust him enough, feel secure enough that he will meet your needs, to desire him? To want his attention and his touch? This is different from merely being frustrated and wanting the scenario to hurry up and finish so you can get on with your day," he explained, watching Greg carefully, for this was the real question to be answered for Greg's purchase.
Greg frowned and looked down at the floor, thinking very hard about this. He definitely wanted Nikolai's attention to end the frustration, get out of the restraints, and get on to work. Did he simply want Nikolai's attention? Could he want it like that? He had no idea and felt more confused than ever, even though he had the answer to his question.
"Walk with me," Aristide said, getting up and leading the way through the house and out onto the grounds, casually pointing things out. They walked into the barn and Greg could see four slaves, three men and a woman, all outfitted as ponies being trained. They were harnessed and tethered to an overhead exercise wheel that was turning as they walked in a circle. The trainer used a riding crop to correct posture and gait, chiding them to show some energy.
"I'd like for you to stay and watch the training session. You will not be harnessed up, just watching. Think about what is going on from both the trainer and the slave's perspective. Apply what you might know from psychology. When the session is over, come back to the house. The meeting will be over by then. I'll make sure they know where you are," Aristide said, waiting until House agreed before walking back to the house himself.
House sat down on a nearby wooden storage box and watched the session as instructed. He decided that two of them, one man and the woman were new to the role, and that the other two men were well used to it and actually there to train the other two. After they had been on the exercise wheel for another half an hour, the trainer hooked all four of them up to a wagon, and having seen Aristide leave Greg behind, called out to him to climb aboard.
"You're Nikolai's tag, right?" the man asked with a friendly smile. "I'm Gandy, good to see you again," he added after House nodded.
"I'm House," he responded quietly, still cautious about using his surname even though he had permission from Master Tobias, but Gandy merely nodded.
"These two are just starting out their training in the pony teams. Normally I wouldn't put a woman into a male team, since the strength ratios are different, but it works out alright in the initial stages," Gandy said as the wagon pulled out at a walk.
House studied the harnessing and the reins carefully, noting where all the connections were and had to admit they did a great job of distributing force properly. Hands were bound up behind each person in a way that forced them to stand straight and square shouldered, which aided in pulling the wagon. The two new people were harnessed in the rear, which surprised him a bit. He would have thought to pair them side by side with an experienced pony, and after a moment he asked Gandy about that.
"Some do it that way," he nodded. "I will once they've had a bit of experience but those first few times, I like them right in front of me where I can see them better. Watch if something is pinching or hurting, if they are getting too winded, panicked, things like that. And they get to watch the experienced pair better this way too, gives them a chance to see what we're aiming for, someone to focus on."
They went up the lane and around a big pond before heading back to the stable, where they were all unhitched, then taken by groomers to be washed down and get muscle rubdowns before being returned to their regular duties. Greg headed back up to the main house, using the same door Aristide had led him out of and went right to his office. The man was reading through some mail in a chair near the window.
"Come and sit with me, House," he said, nodding at a nearby chair. "Pull that one over. There's fresh hot tea in the pot there or cold drinks in the mini fridge. Help yourself."
House poured himself a cup of tea after asking if he could put honey in it. Aristide smiled and told him he was welcome to any or all of the fixings he wanted.
"Why do you let slaves sit on the furniture, sir?" House asked after taking his seat and a sip of his tea. "Master Nikolai only allows it sometimes at meals."
"Master Nikolai lives off the manor, which is exempt from Slave Administration nonsense, and when he has an SA slave such as yourself, he must comply with their rules. Just in case of surprise inspections like the one you already experienced.
"Here, we acknowledge the fact that you are indeed people, not objects, and unless we are trying to teach a specific lesson, people sit on furniture not the floor. There are some protocols that go with it; don't sit before your master does, stand up if you are sitting and a master walks into the room, and if the seats are taken and another master arrives, you should give up your seat to them unless instructed otherwise."
House nodded, that made sense to him. He drank his tea and watched out the window until Aristide finished reading the mail.
"So what are your thoughts after watching the pony training?" Aristide asked, getting up to refill his teacup and waving at House to remain as he was.
"I like the thought that went into designing the harnessing. And I could tell that two were new and two were experienced. Gandy seems like a really good trainer. Calm, friendly. He explained things, both to me and to them. Too often things are just done to a slave without any explanation and then you get into trouble if you do something wrong," he added, frowning darkly and staring out the window.
"That's setting up for failure and extremely poor training and handling," Aristide commented as he returned to his seat. "As I said, slaves are people who need mental stimulation and challenge. A trainer that doesn't speak to a slave is an idiot."
House scoffed and gave him a smile. "That's everyone in Slave Administration."
"That's why we're not a part of it," Arisitde said conspiratorially.
House nodded and sipped his tea, deep in thought on that last point.
"Nikolai said you thought about putting me in as a trainer pony," House said a couple of minutes later.
"Yes, that is what I said," Aristide agreed.
"What would that entail?"
"You would be paired with a new pony and serve as a reassurance to them that all is well. You'll set the pace at a walk, which will force them to control themselves and their energy, to listen to the commands of the driver and trainer. To help them calm down and center, to find focus. Of course, you'll need to learn these things yourself before you can teach them to others. It could be a very good exercise for you, learning to center and focus, and once you do, it's a good place to think about things."
"Have you ever done it?" House asked, looking up and daring to meet Aristide's eyes.
"I have, more so when I was younger but yes, every now and then I harness up and pull the wagons and carts. It's good to remind myself of what I'm asking others to do, what sort of emotions and concerns that might come up."
House looked shocked at the answer. Aristide smiled and chuckled.
"I'll tell you what. If you agree to give training others a good effort, I will harness up and be your training pony."
"You will? Just the one time though," House said, shaking his head at the idea.
"I will let Gandy be the driver and he will decide how many training sessions you need before you can be the training pony. I will harness up for each of them."
"Seriously," Aristide answered firmly, holding out his hand for House to shake. House stared warily for a moment then cautiously shook his hand.
"Alright. Then I agree to give it a real try."