351: Ring Around The Collar

on February 13, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Somebody Puts Baby In The Corner

A collar? Like a pet collar or a slave collar? My cheeks burned and my neck kind of tingled… so did other parts. A collar. That was… it seemed like a big thing. But, I loved Amaranth. I couldn’t work out how our life together would go, but I couldn’t imagine life without her.

A collar… why not? It wasn’t the sort of thing I’d pictured for myself, but I had to admit it was a little subtler than “Nymph’s Toy” written across my forehead… and it had been exciting to wear that for a day.

“Okay… so… are you looking to spice things up for Veil, then?” Caron asked. “I’ve got some spiky rubber ones with matching cuffs

“Um, actually, we were going to look for costume ideas, too,” Amaranth said. “But what we’re really looking for something permanent and real.”

Caron snorted.

“Of course you are,” she said. “Did you want that in mauve, or lilac?”

“I’m sorry?” Amaranth said.

The dwarven woman put a hand on her forehead and shook her head.

“Khersis, how old are you?” she asked from behind her hand.

“You know, I’m actually a timelessly immortal being created as a fully grown and mature adult,” Amaranth said. “So, um, my physical age isn’t really material.”

“How… old… are… you?” Caron asked again, lowering her hand and tilting her eyes up at Amaranth in an unblinking stare of pure, unadulterated authority.

“S-seventeen,” Amaranth said.

“And how old is Subby Suzie here?” she said, jerking her thumb at me.

“She’s eighteen,” Amaranth said. “Which should be old enough to buy anything in this store, and legally I’m…”

A guy came up towards the counter with a pair of tights on a card. Caron waved him over to the register and started walking back around to help him.

“Okay, you two do me a favor and go wait back there,” she said over her shoulder, waving to the a corner of the store, “while I serve these folks. I’ll take care of you when I can give you my full attention.”

I looked at Amaranth. She looked at me.

“Um…” she said. “Actually, can we just look around for…”

“You can do that or you can leave,” Caron said. “But I’m not having this conversation in front of customers.”

“What conversation?” I said, more than a little ticked at the dismissal. “We just want to buy…”

“Control her or remove her,” Caron said to Amaranth.

“I think I’ll do both, if you don’t mind,” Amaranth said, and she grabbed my wrist and started pulling me towards the door. I pulled back. “Baby, don’t embarrass me,” Amaranth said in a whisper of a hiss. “We’ll take our business somewhere else, somewhere they don’t make us go stand in the corner like a couple of little kids.”

“You asked me where I wanted to go and I said here,” I said. True, I hadn’t had a strong preference for this place so much as a dislike of the other option, and true, I hadn’t had a chance to digest the news of what exactly the intended surprise was and what it would mean, but I didn’t like being treated like I wasn’t welcome. A dwarf lesbian-body piercer-whatever else Caron might have been was the last person I’d expect to be intolerant or dismissive. “Let’s go wait… I want to hear what she has to say.”

“Fine,” Amaranth said, now pulling me towards the indicated corner, which was by the changing rooms and bereft of merchandise. “We’ll listen, and I mean listen… don’t go flying off the handle at her.”

Caron hurried the other customers along while Amaranth tried her best to act like the model of patience and I simmered. She ignored us completely until the last customer was gone, and then she went and put a sign up in the window and locked the door.

“We appreciate personal attention, but we don’t want to put you through any trouble,” Amaranth said, having apparently resolved to interpret everything that had happened in an entirely different light than the one she’d been seeing when she’d started to storm out. I was uneasily reminded of Sooni, rewriting our night together the morning after to make keeping our friendship chaste her mature decision. “All we want is to look at your collars. Any advice or…”

“Last time you kids were in here, I thought you were cute,” Caron said. “You had the new couple smell. You still do. Collars, huh? Do you just need one, or are you looking for a matching set?”

“Um… one,” Amaranth said. She pointed to me. “She’s my toy, and we want to do something to make our relationship… well… I guess concrete?”

“You guess,” Caron said. She rolled her eyes. I seethed. Amaranth calling me her toy… that filled me with such pride and happiness and security, and Caron for some reason felt the need to just absolutely shit on that. Was she just bitter? Maybe she’d never had a relationship like ours and she didn’t know what it was like.

Or maybe she knew what it was like and she was jealous.

That was probably it, I decided.

“You know… please take this as constructive criticism, but your attitude as a saleswoman could stand some improving,” Amaranth said. “This is a big deal to us, and the fact that we chose your shop…”

“Yes, I’m incredibly flattered that a seventeen-year-old girl picked my shop for her spur of the moment celebration of her freshmen fling,” Caron said.

“Who said it was spur of the moment?” Amaranth said. “I’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“And this isn’t a fling!” I said.

“Baby, hush,” Amaranth said.

“It is until it isn’t,” Caron said.

“What is that even supposed to mean?” I asked angrily.

“Baby!” Amaranth said.

“What I said,” Caron replied. Her eyes flicked to Amaranth while she kept her face towards me. “Your toy seems a little conflicted about the ownership issue. How much did you talk about this before you decided to do it?”

Amaranth turned dark red beside me.

“It… it was a surprise,” she said.

“Look… we want a collar,” I said. “Are you going to sell it or aren’t you?”

“I’m a dwarf, ‘Baby’,” Caron said. “And I’ve got rent to pay and a girlfriend who can’t find a job in the city. I’ll sell you the lining of my ass if you have enough gold for it. But do you want a collar because you want it, or because you think I won’t let you have one?”

“What is your problem?” Amaranth said. She gestured to a wall that had collars of leather and metal and chain in a glass-fronted case. “You sell them, so obviously you don’t disapprove of them… is it something about us that’s bothering you?”

“A sixteen year old boy came in here the other week asking me for advice on an engagement ring,” Caron said. “I wouldn’t buy an engagement ring from here, but he was one of those gothy kids. So, he asked me for my advice, and I told him: wait.”

“We aren’t getting engaged,” Amaranth said.

“No?” Caron asked. “Why do you want her to wear your collar?”

“To show… so she’ll know… so we can feel like she really belongs to me,” Amaranth said, starting to choke up. I thought part of it was just her reaction to being angry… part, but not all of it. “No matter where we are or what happens.”

“Forever and ever, amen?” Caron said.

Don’t mock this,” Amaranth said, the tears drying up in a hurry as she gave Caron a taste o the over-the-lenses look. I wouldn’t have expected that to rock Caron back like it did, but part of that might have just been the surprise.

“Okay, but seriously,” Caron said. “Is this a forever thing?”

“Yes,” Amaranth and I both said. Amaranth looked at me, giving me a little nod. I stepped forward a little.

“I want to be hers,” I said. “Completely hers.”

“That’s sweet,” Caron said. “And so not at all like a ring that I don’t know what I was thinking, making the comparison. Is she your first Dom?”

“Yes,” I said.

“First girlfriend?”

“She’s my first everything, okay?” I said. “First relationship.”

“Aw, how sweet,” Caron said. “And how lucky for you that you got it exactly right the first time.”

“Some people do,” I said. “Are we supposed to break up because first relationships don’t always succeed?”

“There is a narrow patch of ground between ‘breaking up’ and ‘commitment ceremony’,” Caron said. “Try living there for a while. If you’re still together in a few years, and you’re still sure you want to go that way, I’ll give you twenty percent off any collar you want… in store, from the catalogues, custom order. Twenty percent.”

“You don’t understand,” Amaranth said, tears welling up in her eyes.

“No, no, no,” Caron said, shaking her head. “It’s ‘You don’t even understand!’ Emphasis on ‘even’. Bunch your fists up when you say it, and stomp your foot. And don’t forget to tell me that you hate me.”

“I don’t hate anybody!” Amaranth said… bunching up her fists and stomping her foot a little.

“Amaranth,” I said, touching her arm gently. She hated being angry, and I hated seeing her like that because I knew it made her miserable. “Maybe we should wait… it might, you know, mean more…”

“But we can’t wait!” she said. “We don’t know how much longer we’ll be together!”

“That’s a great reason to buy a symbol of eternal submission,” Caron said.

“Oh, shut up,” Amaranth said through tears. “My mother… she wants to keep us apart. She doesn’t think I’m ready, she doesn’t think we’re good for each other…”

“Oh, well, that completely unique story changes everything,” Caron said.

“You don’t understand…”

“I don’t even understand,” Caron said.

I hated her a little bit more for the smile on her face as she said that. It didn’t matter how stereotypically teenager-y Amaranth’s wording was or not, she really didn’t understand. Not everybody under the age of twenty was an idiot. Not everybody over the age of twenty knew everything about life… especially our lives, which were far from typical.

“I’m talking about the goddess Mother Khaele,” Amaranth said. “If she forbids us…”

“Everybody’s mother is a goddess to them,” Caron said. “Let me rephrase that: every spoiled kid who has a mother and depends on that mother for everything’s mother is a goddess to them.”

“Okay, but… my mother actually is a goddess,” Amaranth said. “So…”

“So if she breaks you two up, you lose each other twice as hard?” Caron said.

“If she breaks us up, I want Mack to have something that says she’s mine,” Amaranth said. She reached out and grabbed my hand and I gave hers a little squeeze. She steadied a bit. Her hand was so warm… I loved her so completely. “So she knows I love her, and I know that wherever she is, she’s wearing it and she loves me.”

“How wonderfully tragic,” Caron said.

“Hey, she’s trying to make the best of a bad situation,” I said.

“You want to talk about a bad situation?” Caron asked. “Let me spin a few for you. One: tragedy strikes and a cruel world sweeps you away from each other, but not before you swear to wear her collar for the rest of your life. Then somewhere down the line, you meet a new mistress and your heart learns to love again… or maybe you meet a nice boy and want to do the picket fence thing with him.”

I was about to protest that this wouldn’t happen, and then I remembered… Ian. How would this work, if I was going to put on a tangible symbol of submission and commitment to Amaranth? Was it just a symbol of what we already had… or did it signify something else, something greater?

“Right, now you’re thinking,” Caron said. “So, what do you do then? Let the opportunity pass you by? Try to make it work with the fresh new love while still wearing the ghost of your failed teenage romance around your neck? Or break your promise and spend the rest of your life feeling even more tragic because you betrayed true love?”

She paused as if to let that sink in… and sink it did. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do without Amaranth, but life could very well go on.

“I… I’d let her take it off,” Amaranth said. “If that happened. I wouldn’t want to stand in the way… she could keep it as a reminder, though.”

“Lots of things work as reminders,” Caron said. “You want a collar because it means something, and that, girly, is exactly why I think you should reconsider. If you think those scenarios are so easily dealt with, think about all that could go wrong if you overcame all the tragic portents and omens and the hand of fate and actually got to stay together.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Right now, everything about your relationship’s fresh and new and probably a lot of fun,” Caron said. “True submission… not submissiveness, which is a personality trait, but submission, which is an act, like love is an act and commitment is an act takes more than fun. It takes work. If you do spend the rest of your lives together, how much sense does it make to define your entire relationship by what you’re into right now?”

Caron turned and started walking away. At first I thought that meant she’d decided the conversation was over, which left me feeling… kind of flatfooted, actually. Except for what was honestly an ornery, contrary reaction, I hadn’t had a chance to make up my mind about whether I wanted a collar in the first place… and while Caron had some decent-ish points mixed in with everything she’d said, I hadn’t made up my mind that she was right, either.

“Come over here,” she said, gesturing us towards a low rack, three dowels arranged into an elongated triangle on which were hanging a bunch of chains of varying thicknesses and styles. Some of them lock-style medallions or pendants, like the necklace Oru had worn to the dance, and some of them had actual locks. “These are goblin chains,” she said. “They’re like a promise ring, or a varsity pin or letter jacket or whatever. It’s how the goblinoid races show a level of attachment with their sweethearts, how they show they’re serious before they’re ready or able to marry. It means they’re going steady. ”

“Oh,” Amaranth said. “You know, something like that…”

“Yeah, something like that,” Caron said. “I’m not selling you one of these because you’re not a goblin, you don’t know goblin culture, and you’re not going to ‘get it’ from a two sentence description.”

“You said you’d sell us your ass lining if we had the gold,” I said.

“If you’re interested,” Caron said. “But if you went around wearing one of these, you’d get your ass bit off and you’d deserve it, but I’d feel guilty for letting it happen.”

“Then why…” I started to say.

“I’m showing you these so you can see first, that this kind of thing does mean something to people who aren’t you, and second, so you can see that it’s not an all or nothing thing,” Caron said. “What you’re talking about when you say ‘collar’ is a for-real, for-true super serious thing… but that doesn’t mean buying one is going to make your love last forever. You don’t buy your sub a collar to find out if you’re serious… you find out you’re serious and then you get it. Until then? Get her some bracelets. Get matching lockets. Get a necklace with a collar motif.”

Amaranth looked at me, biting her lower lip. Conflict was written all over her face… she’d walked into the store with a plan, knowing exactly what she wanted and why. Now she wasn’t sure.

“You have some good points,” I said to Caron. “But you really don’t know us.”

“I really don’t,” she admitted. “And you might be really truly in love with each other, and you might actually be ready to submit for real. I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t look at a hundred young couples and tell at a glance which ones of them are going to be the ones who actually make it. Nobody can… and that’s really the ultimate point here. Your love might be for the ages, but right now it’s indistinguishable from anybody’s who isn’t. Nobody can know for sure.”

“Maybe we can,” I said.

“Sure you can,” she said. “And so can everybody else who’s in love, and most of you are going to be wrong.”

This was starting to remind me of conversations with Amaranth and Steff about the nature of gods, conversations that had made my head hurt and led to me losing my temper.

“Baby,” Amaranth said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll get… something. We’ll look around. We’ll talk about the collar. I don’t think she’s necessarily right… but it wouldn’t hurt to be sure.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay. Good. Great,” Caron said, holding up her hands. “Would you like some recommendations, or do you just want to browse?”

“Maybe in a bit,” Amaranth said. She took her glasses off and started rubbing the lenses with her fingers, even though they were perfectly clean. I think she was trying to cool down.

“Okay,” Caron said. “I’m going to actually leave you two alone, then, because I have to run downstairs and take care of something real quick. I’m going to trust you folks a little because I think you’re making a good decision and I don’t want to crowd you while you’re doing it. Also because the door’s locked. But if you steal from my store, you’re going to be wearing a collar sooner than you expected.” She looked at Amaranth. “Of course, you’re a kid, so the guards get to deal with you.”

“I’m not a kid,” Amaranth said.

“Sure,” Caron said. She headed for the curtained doorway. “Take your time. I’ll be back up in seven or so.”


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13 Responses to “351: Ring Around The Collar”

  1. Zukira Phaera says:

    Caron really is one of my absolute favorite characters.

    Current score: 2
    • Mike says:

      Yeah, except for what she tries to pull with Mackenzie soon.

      Current score: 1
      • Monke says:

        You know that thing they say about the first comment being spoiler?

        I don’t even get the point of getting back to previous chapters to do that.

        Nice move, ghost of the future comment. Feel my internet wrath.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          My thought: AE should just put up a notice above the comments that says “possible spoilers below”, and leave it at that. It’s not possible to prevent spoilers without some intense levels of moderation… and honestly, it ruins the fun for those of us who read a lot if we have to tiptoe around in the comments.

          Current score: 0
  2. MadnessMaiden says:

    I really don’t see what the big deal is to Caron about a collar. It’s the equivilant of a promise ring. It’s not some official ceremony where you’re bound to a person legally to life. While she has some good basic points about kids not rushing off to get married or whatever, a “promise ring” doesn’t hurt at all. It really is, as Amy said, something to remember her by.

    Current score: 1
    • Pamela says:

      What I’m getting from this is that it’s a little more than a promise ring. I’m getting the impression that it’s somewhere in between engagement and marriage.

      Current score: 2
    • Daezed says:

      It symbolizes a lot more than a promise ring. Caron is right in that it’s more like an engagement, or even wedding ring. Google ‘collaring ceremony’ sometime, if you are interested in learning more.

      Current score: 4
    • Ryzndmon says:

      Actually, MadnessMaiden, it’s much, much, infinitely more than a “promise ring”. Done properly, a collar is more permanent, and marks a couple far more, than a tattoo. And I know 20-somethings that regret their choice of tattoos when they were 18. Not even the relationship tat’s!
      Charon represents the Old Guard philosophy. And she’s trying to pass on that philosophy to Th Next Generation (TNG). The problem is, explaining the ideas and ideals, and the basis for them, often sounds like “Back in my day, I walked twenty miles to school and back, in hip deep snow, uphill both ways!”
      TNG and Old Guard. Neither is totally wrong, nor is either totally right. It’s a different world, with people learning about and accepting their, and other peoples, kinks much earlier and easier than even just a decade ago. That world, however, was built on the efforts, trials, and persecution of the ones that lived in the old world.

      Current score: 3
    • Athena says:

      To some, it’s the equivalent of a promise ring. Because these things are individual.

      However, that’s not what Amaranth and Mack were after. They don’t have the words or experience to effectively communicate what they’re after, but those who do know (like Caron), get the idea anyway.

      For some, a collaring ceremony really *is* just as serious and just as much of a commitment as a marriage. Of a different kind, perhaps, but just as huge. For others, it’s slightly below, but not much so. In either case, that’s about the level Amaranth is aiming for, and Caron is absolutely right that something like that is very, very serious and not something you just jump into. It’s not something you surprise someone with.

      Just like marriages, it doesn’t always work out. Some even break apart quite quickly – in both categories. Generally, though, it’s because it wasn’t really thought through well enough before it was entered into… again, that applies to marriage and collaring both.

      Caron’s not forbidding them from doing it. She’s just pointing out that they need to think about it a little longer, a little harder, before they just leap into something like that. She’s pointing out it should be thoroughly discussed, not a surprise. That it should be done for the right reasons. And, most of all, she’s *offering them alternatives*, middle grounds that *are* a lot closer to a promise ring than Amaranth’s initial idea.

      I… think I’ve gotten a little off track here now. But basically, the point stands that it really *is* that serious. As for the “bound to a person legally for life”… well, even marriage doesn’t do that, because divorce is a thing. The level of legally binding is mostly irrelevant to this, though. *Most* legal agreements, as far as I’m aware, can be dissolved if all involved parties decide to. Marriage is significant primarily because of the commitment. It can be done for purely legal reasons… at that point, though, it’s not really terribly significant. The bond is a legal one only, and most people aren’t going to urge you to think it through so much (some, yes, because of the powers it can afford legally… but they are especially these days somewhat limited and again, divorce is a thing)

      Current score: 1
  3. Arkeus says:

    Wow, thank you for that.

    Current score: 0
  4. C says:

    Well, I didn’t know that.

    Current score: 0
  5. Maesenko says:

    WOO-HOO! GO CARON!

    Current score: 2
  6. Rey d'Tutto says:

    “Seven for the Dwarf Lords in their Halls of Stone…”
    Thanks, A.E.

    Current score: 2