This work is copyright 2000, 2001, 2002 by Xaltatun of Acheron (A Pseudonym). It may be posted on the Internet to any free forum, provided it is not modified in any way, and provided that this notice is included in its entirety. It may not be sold, or included in any compilation that is sold, or posted on any forum that requires a fee for access, without my written permission. My permission will require payment, terms to be negotiated. For purposes of this notice, sites guarded by Adult Check or similar packages are considered pay sites. Posting on any site must include this copyright notice.
Story codes: (MF, FF, pony, SF, little sex)
Adult Content Warning - this story contains adult themes, including non-consensual bondage/slavery. It could also prove highly disturbing if you think our current socio/political worldview is the only one that exists. If you are under the lawful age for such materials (18 in most jurisdictions) or if you would find such material offensive, please go elsewhere.
There are currently seven stories in the Freehold series:
1. A Slave Girl of Freehold
2. A Ponygirl of Freehold
3. The Field Ecologists Ponygirl (sequel to A Ponygirl of Freehold)
4. Delivery Ponyboy
5. Carriage Team of Freehold
6. Escaped Ponygirl
7. Pyramid Scheme
Stories 2 and 3: Ponygirl and Field Ecologist form one story and should be read in that order. Story one leads into story 4, although there isnt any real continuity of plot.
Carriage Team of Freehold, Escaped Ponygirl and Pyramid Scheme form a sequence, to some extent based on events at the end of Delivery Ponyboy. You do not need to read them in sequence, but it may help fill in gaps.
Some additional background on Freehold, in particular, how it happened, is in the story The Curtain Falls, The Curtain Rises, the end of the Ponygirl Transformation series.
The name Freehold has no relationship to any other use of the term by any other author. No connection should be assumed, either derivative or as a base for parody.
Safety Warning. This story may contain descriptions of practices that are decidedly unsafe, either in general, or if performed by someone without adequate training. There are a number of good books available on safety in the BDSM scene. Most large cities, and some not so large ones, have organized BDSM groups that will usually welcome a newcomer. Im not going to point out which practices are safe, and which arent. Any practice is unsafe if performed by someone with inadequate training and experience, or if performed when not paying attention. Please think before you act. Dont make yourself a candidate for a Darwin award.
OK - now on to the story -------
I, Running Flame, and my three companions, Fast Fox, Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook, had arrived in the Ancient Egypt enclave pulling Prince Andy and his coachman and valet, Steel Rivers. We got left hitched to his coach, standing in the broiling sun, while they were taken off somewhere in a panequin carried by four bearers. After broiling for a couple of hours, I decided to break out of pony bondage (using the fast release in my hoof boots) which earned me some nasty stares from the other three ponies. After reconnoitering, I retaliated by putting them to work filling a gigantic cistern. Then I got in touch with control, who told me to hang on and see what was going to happen. Lotsa help, right? Still no grooms, still no food, but at least we had some water.
While I looked around, a number of parties walked past on the road, minding their own business. Eventually, a party of five people and one loaded donkey stopped in front of the courtyard. There were three of the little brown men, all armed, one larger male and one even larger redheaded female. They came trooping in without so much as a bye-your-leave. The leader (at least, he was the one with the sword) said something incomprehensible, and the odd man out unharnessed the baskets from the donkey and put them on the ground. The troops turned around and left, leading the donkey, and not incidentally, leaving me staring at two wicker baskets, one young man and one young woman.
Well, I hope you speak English, I said from the shadows.
The male jumped and spun around. The woman stiffened and then resumed her intense study of the ground in front of her.
He was about 5 6 tall, brunette, dressed in the white linen kilt that seemed to be standard for all the men Id seen (except for the bearers, I remembered. Theyd worn loincloths.) He looked more the thin, enduring type than the thicker, batter down the wall by leaning against it type, which was just as well. She was taller, maybe 61, redheaded, and dressed in a relatively simple linen pullover that made mine look like high fashion. On the other hand, from what I could see, her figure would probably make a feed sack look good, assuming she ever looked up and got some spirit.
I walked out into the sun, giving them a good look at my tail. He stood his ground, eyes bugging out. Brave man. Then he relaxed a bit.
Youre a Freehold ponygirl, right?
I suppose the mane is a dead giveaway, I responded dryly. His eyes jerked away from my tail. The clod hadnt even noticed my hairstyle! What are you supposed to do here?
They shoved us in here and told us we should do whatever needs doing.
Did they tell you what that was? I asked.
Uh, no, maam.
Well, lets get these baskets inside. The house is at the back. Tell me who you are and what you can do while we do it.
The young man started the recital. It turned out his name was Frank, Fhaqed in the local dialect, and hed been a slave for a couple of years. He took care of livestock, mostly donkeys and oxen. It took a bit of probing to find out why hed been enslaved, but eventually the story came out. Hed been with a gang of drug runners and had crossed the boss. At the time, hed been here picking up a shipment and he managed to get away before they killed him. The locals had thumped on him a while before he had decided that cooperation was better. Once I looked closely, I could see the scars.
The young woman was named Bonnie, and I didnt even try to remember the hash theyd made of that name. Shed been here with her father, who was an anthropologist studying the local culture. Hed died suddenly and shed been taken before she had a chance to call home and make arrangements. Since then, shed had several owners, whod used her as a housekeeper and concubine. Her story didnt sound at all pleasant.
The baskets yielded food and various supplies, some of which I could identify. It also yielded two small scrolls.
Can either of you read this? I asked after one look.
Maam? Bonnie held out her hand as if she expected it to be slapped. Hard. I gave her one of the scrolls. She looked at it. Theyre bills of sale for us. They say we now belong to some ruler named, uh, Andy.
I nodded. It looked like things were headed in the right direction.
Bonnie. You first. Get all of this stuff stowed away, and then get us a hot meal. If youve got time, start cleaning.
Frank. All three ponies need to be groomed. Theyre easy to get along with as long as you treat them like livestock. Like real valuable livestock that the owner will kick your ass from here to the waterfront if you damage them. Understand? He nodded. Id noticed him stumble a bit when we walked past the water tower with its three pony-power pump.
By the way. If those two make an advance on you, you can follow up. Just do it before you wash them down.
He stared at me as if Id given him the keys to the candy store, and he was scared that the lock wouldnt work.
Those two are bisexual nymphomaniacs. Theyll fall down in front of anything with a penis, legs spread, once. If you do a good job on giving them their orgasms, theyll eat out of your hand. Come to think of it, theyll do that anyway, at least if youve got a sweet for them. Scratch them behind the ears, ruffle their mane, and theyll behave.
I turned to Bonnie. Get to work, girl. And you dont have to keep looking at the floor; I dont want you to run into anything. She picked up one of the baskets and scooted off toward the storeroom.
Well start with Fast Fox. One of the things you need to know about the ponies is that they go on all fours except when theyre hitched to something. I stopped the pump, and unhitched Fast Fox. Then I moved one of the blondes forward so she was on the same crossbar as her sister, and got them started again. This time, they both managed to start up at the same time, which avoided the slapstick comedy routine.
Heres how it goes. I unsnapped the hooks that held his front hoof boots together behind his back, and pushed on his shoulders gently. He obediently bent over and planted his front hooves on the ground.
On all fours, he came to around my waist, or an inch or so higher. He was simply taller than I was, and his legs were correspondingly longer. On the other hand, he came up to Franks rib cage. The difference was the hoof boots; they kept our feet at full extension, adding at least six inches to our height, and that much leverage to our pulling ability. The front hoof boots had a stilt arrangement so that the wearers back stayed level.
Frank finished his inspection and picked up the reins. He led the ponyboy into the slave kennel, and looked at the wall. He found a coil of rope, and walked back, tying knots in it as he came. Then he took the bridle and bit off, and slid the halter over the ponys head before he had time to object. Fox whinnied in surprise.
He led the puzzled ponyboy out to the front, and looped the rope over a post, tying it off with a knot. Then he got a bucket of water and sloshed it over Fox. Next, he soaped the ponyboy down, and then rinsed him off. He ran his hand through the mane, wringing out water, and then did the same for Foxs tail.
Finally, he picked up a brush, and proceeded to comb out the ponyboys mane and tail. I nodded in approval; hed done a nice, fast job. Then, he started to lead the ponyboy back into the stable.
I held up a hand. Switch him with one of the ponygirls. They dont look like theyre working up a sweat, so he shouldnt.
He grinned, showing white teeth against the sun-browned skin, and walked away, towing the ponyboy behind him. We stopped at the windlass. He held up his hand and said: Stop. They stopped, fortunately at the same time so that neither of them got whacked with the crossbar.
I broke in and asked: Which one of you is Rippling Stream? One of them whinnied at me, fortunately the nearer one. Frank efficiently unharnessed her from the bar, and harnessed Fast Fox. Then he stripped the halter off of the Fox, and changed Rippling Streams bridle for the halter. She smiled nicely at him, teasing her lips with her tongue. As he turned around, she slid her tail up under his skirt, causing him to jump and look down.
She likes you, big boy, I said as he walked past, leading his prize. I went on into the kitchen to see what Bonnie was doing.
What she was doing was grinding some of the grain with a pair of small stones and a hand crank. She also had a pot of water that was just coming to a boil. That was curious; I hadnt noticed a stove when Id looked, and I didnt see anything burning.
Hows the stove work? I asked.
Oh! She turned around. She actually hadnt noticed me? My horseshoes werent exactly quiet. Which reminded me that Id probably be better off with sandals.
She laughed. They like to pretend this is Ancient Egypt, but thats true only when its inconvenient for us. Its solar powered. Theres a collector on the roof, and I adjust it with this. She pointed to some leather straps that were hanging from the ceiling. I walked closer and admired the design. The pot was sitting on a bronze plate that was perched on top of four bricks. A hot bronze plate. I had the impression I didnt want to put my hand between the plate and the hole in the ceiling.
Kind of hard to do a hot meal at night? I asked.
True, she said. Its just one of those things. Theres also a fire pit out back for roasts and such. At least, there should be if this is like most other places. Then, we keep supplies in the cellars where it stays cold.
Since everyone was productively occupied, I took the opportunity to sit on the raised platform that seemed to serve as a bed, legs tucked neatly under me. I turned on the communicator, and the words formed in the air.
I see youre back with us, Running Flame.
Yes, I am. I think the situation has been resolved. I dictated. Check my mail, please.
You have one message.
It was from Prince Andy, and said that he thought everything was going to be taken care of, and please keep him informed.
I sent off a message detailing what had been happened, and asking advice about what to tell the two slaves about their future. Then I asked the advisor about mine.
As I have said before, advancement review is not my function. You would not have been given the releases in your hoof boots if the review board had not wanted to see what you would do with them. They will decide whether you acted appropriately given the situation and what, if any, corrective measures will be needed.
Humph. Well, if it was going to be opaque, then it was, and there wasnt a thing I could do about it. I switched to the coursework.
It looked like Id been buried under a tidal wave! There were well over a dozen new courses. I backed out hastily and asked about it.
This is the curriculum for deputy supervisor, which is what you are currently doing. You should take the course detailing what can, and cannot be disclosed to whom, under what circumstances first. The others can be taken at your leisure.
As soon as youve finished it, theres a letter from the advancement board waiting for you to discuss with your two assistants.
I set a timer for half an hour and plunged in. When I came up for air, there was another message from Prince Andy.
Youve done well so far. Finish up the disclosure policy course, and then discuss their future with Frank and Bonnie. Frank will, of course, go into the ponyboy program. Explain why. We dont have enough information on Bonnie; see what you can collect. Her story makes me suspect that there is something she has not told you. Concentrate on personal and social responsibility, in particular, whether she tended to irritate people.
Try to find out more about the drug smuggling. In particular, how deeply are the locals involved? You can release Fast Fox to work with you on that, after you have gotten into the deputy supervisor course. Make sure he understands that hes going back into harness afterwards; if he shows resistance, dont release him.
Other than that, have fun. Go look at them building the pyramid; it should be instructive or amusing. Expect us back in about a week.
I sent an acknowledgement and headed back out to see how Frank and Bonnie were doing.
When the Sun headed toward its daily appointment with the western horizon, I had Frank put all three ponies down for the night. The two girls were practically purring; apparently he knew how to keep his women happy. I put the helmets on Fast Fox and Rippling Stream. Sparkling Brook was still looking at them like they were from the fourteenth dimension or something. Well, the rules were the rules; she had to ask first. I wasnt allowed to cram her head into one and tell her to learn something or else.
A quick check of the water tower showed that it was about half full. That bothered me slightly; I wasnt sure what I was going to do to keep the ponies occupied for the rest of the week.
Bonnie had done a simple dinner of something delicious wrapped in a bread that certainly wasnt made from wheat. I congratulated her; she mumbled something to the effect that if she hadnt learned how to cook, shed have been toast.
I grabbed her chin and pointed her head so she was looking me in the face.
Bonnie, cut that poor me act out right now! You did an excellent meal, you look like youve got the housekeeping under control, and youre probably quite good at keeping a man sexually satisfied. Theres no reason I can tell for you to go around like a whipped cur! Tell me about it if you want, or not, but drop that act. Now!
She tried to pull back, and I released her chin. Then she shook herself and relaxed a bit.
So, what do you think will happen if youre just yourself?
They always tell me Im trying to take control, she whined.
I lifted my hand. Say it again, like its all right.
She flinched and then took another deep breath. They always complain when I try to tell them how they should do something. I cocked my head in a question, and the tip of my tail lifted slightly. But theyre all so stupid! I want to show them how to do it easier!
So what happened when they told your father to send you home? I asked. It was a pure guess, of course, but it made sense, and Ive never liked the weepy scenes where the problem is obvious to everyone except the participants until after the final commercial.
She straightened up. He refused. Then they killed him!
They killed him because of you? Are you sure?
She fell over sobbing. Yes No, I dont know! But when they took me, they said that theyd waited long enough to humble the proud bitch.
I pulled her in and let her sob it out on my shoulder while I slowly massaged her back. Eventually she took a long breath and relaxed.
Whats going to happen to me?
Truthfully, I dont know for certain. There are a number of options. First, you could decide to stay here, so wed put you up for sale when we leave.
Her back straightened in hastily suppressed rage. Then her face smoothed and she took a deep breath. You did say I could decide. What else?
Well, you could contact your countrys embassy, and ask for passage home. Technically, you havent done anything wrong on Freehold territory, and whats on your record doesnt merit correction as long as you behave yourself while youre in Freehold proper.
Ill probably do that. What else?
You could decide to immigrate. Then youd either go into the correction sequence or the immigration sequence. The review board hasnt decided which would be appropriate yet.
Correction or immigration?
The correction sequence is for people who demonstrate low social or personal responsibility. It starts at ponygirl or ponyboy, then goes to personal slave, household slave and finally to supervised citizen. Youre functioning at household slave right now, although theres a lot you need to know to do that in Freehold. The immigration sequence is for people who have the appropriate level of personal or social responsibility, and simply need to learn the ropes before being turned loose at supervised citizen. Essentially, its a lot of coursework, and you can play tourist while youre doing it.
She was lost in thought for a couple of minutes. What do jobs here pay?
They dont. Freehold doesnt use money in any form. No medium of exchange at all.
She pulled her head back and looked at me like she didnt believe Id said that. How does that work? I thought Marxism had been disproved.
Any economic theory can be wrecked if its implemented by ideologues with oatmeal for brains. Freehold tries to operate everything at an economic surplus, so there are never shortages, and has economic monitors for resource wastage, again set to be fairly liberal. The old Soviet Union didnt do either of those things, and also had an idiotic planning cycle. It was much too long to adjust production, and much too short to keep things running smoothly long term.
How do I find out more?
Everything they want you to know is on the system. Ill see if I can get you approved for access.
Her eyes narrowed in thought. You know, experiencing that might just make staying worthwhile, even if I have to start as a ponygirl. I assume that the system includes immigration requirements?
Of course, I smiled at her, and she smiled back.
Now that youve settled her future, whats going to happen to me?
Well, youre going right into the ponyboy program, unless you want to stay here and keep grooming the livestock and sleeping chained in a stall. We can arrange that.
Why the ponyboy program?
Remember what I told Bonnie about social responsibility? Dealing in highly addictive psychoactive drugs demonstrates that you dont care about what happens to the people that get addicted to them. That puts you on the bottom, and youll have to work your way up.
He shrugged. So, I spend some time in stir. That beats the heck out of getting rubbed out. What happens after that?
If you finish the program in the time limit set, you can stay. Also if you immigrate. Otherwise, youll be kicked out when the time limit runs out, and the police will be waiting for you when you get off the boat. At least in your case. Most countries count time served on Freehold as time served, but if the crime carries a decade or more, they wont dismiss it.
Im less worried about the police than my old associates. Whats this social responsibility thing?
All Freehold requires of a citizen is that they do something socially useful, keep within the laws as administered, and treat their neighbors at least as well as they want to be treated. Essentially, you wont be allowed in a position where you affect more people than you can be trusted to treat well.
So, how do I get to the top of the heap?
You dont. Its too complicated to explain, and I dont understand all the ins and outs myself, but you can take it that anyone that would be qualified for the top jobs would not consider drug running. Period. The people at the top consider everyone on the planet to be their brothers and sisters, whether theyve met them or not, and they simply wouldnt do that.
Why the ponygirls and ponyboys? If you have to do time, why not a prison?
They tell me that prisons simply dont work for rehabilitation. I dont fully understand the livestock program. The explanation Ive been given is that its a place for people of demonstrated low social responsibility where they cant do any damage, and are doing something socially useful. In any case, its not permanent; you can go as high as you can manage to pass the tests. Just remember that most of the tests are behavioral.
Youve got a mane and tail, so you must be a ponygirl? Why arent you in one of the stalls? Bonnie asked slyly.
Its a long story, but you can be assured of one thing. When we leave here, Im going to be in harness. Im out because we need a supervisor right now, and theres no one else available. The blondes are totally unsuitable. Fast Fox could probably do as well as I can, but this is the way the die fell.
So, whats this system you were telling Bonnie about?
Its the advancement system. Everythings computerized. Theres an AI with a very dry sense of humor that runs the thing. Thats what Fast Fox and Ripping Stream are doing right now. Sparkling Brook hasnt figured it out yet, or maybe she just doesnt care.
She doesnt want to learn things? Bonnie sounded shocked.
Some people dont. Calling those two dumb blondes is an insult to the species. The only reason Rippling Stream is on the system is that shes caught on that she really doesnt want to go to farm work, and some of the things she needs to know to avoid it are only available online.
Which reminds me, I turned to Frank. I dont know how good you are on training, but those two have a lot of difficulty keeping a pace without a pacemaker. Even with a pacemaker, they tend to get distracted, so they have to wear blinders when theyre doing anything. I wouldnt care, except that it means that Fast Fox and I also have to wear the damn things when were in a foursome. If theres anything obvious you can do, tell me and Ill probably tell you to go ahead and try it.
So, how soon can I get started with the system? Bonnie asked.
Ill check. It could be tonight, weve got the equipment, but its not my decision.
So, where do we sleep? Frank asked. I doubt if you want us in with you.
What did your owners usually do? I riposted.
Mine chained me up in one of the stalls, he responded glumly.
Some of mine left me loose, some of them had a collar and chain in their bedchamber, Bonnie said.
I can do either, I said. How are you on sex? Want some tonight, or would you just as soon stay celibate for a while? Male, female or both?
Mmm she said, dreamily. That ponyboy sure turned me on. Hes built like
Ok. If Fox likes you, you can have him tonight. I can put a second collar in his stall. She wrinkled her nose at that, but didnt actually say anything.
Which, I turned to Frank, means you get me, assuming you want me and can still perform after this afternoon. The bulge in his skirt was all the answer I needed. I patted it lightly to make it feel welcome.
The next morning I woke when the communication unit beeped. Frank kept snoring gently next to me, which was a nice feeling. Waking up with someone sexy in your bed is one of those things that you dont really know you missed until it happens to you again. Not that I wanted Frank there permanently. He wasnt bad, but I not only preferred the Fox, we had a tentative agreement to find out if we could make a go of it after we both made supervised citizen.
Dawn filtered in through the high, barred windows. I lit a candle to get some more light. Id woken Frank by all the moving around, so I unlocked his collar and sent him out to see to the livestock, and not so incidentally release Bonnie so she could make us breakfast.
I made a cursory appearance, and then checked in on the computer. There wasnt anything urgent I had to take care of, so I wandered out to see what they were doing. Bonnie, as I expected, was in the kitchen making something. Frank had taken our three ponies out into the yard where they were slurping water from a trough, occasionally swishing their tails in the process. Hed tied their front legs together somehow into a crude hobble, and had them all haltered, with the halters tied to a handy protrusion. They werent going anywhere.
I liked the idea. It got them out of the stalls, and seeing one brunette and two blonde heads bobbing up and down as they sucked in the water and swallowed did something for me. Then Bonnie came out carrying food. She dumped it into another shallow trough, said about ten minutes, and walked back into the stable. I tried to avoid a giggle; Bonnies dominance was showing through.
Breakfast was whatever kind of grain they used, boiled into porridge, and seasoned with several kinds of fruit. I wondered briefly how Prince Andy was making out; if his cook was any better, he must be somewhere around the fifth heaven, well, fourth for sure.
After it broke up, Frank went back out to harness the two blondes to the pump so they could refill the cistern. I started making lists of things that needed maintenance, and had Bonnie put together a shopping list for a weeks supplies. When we got together over lunch, it looked like we had supplies for about two days, which meant a shopping trip today or tomorrow. I opted for tomorrow, based on a lack of money.
That meant the afternoon was free for sightseeing, and Prince Andys suggestion was still the best thing Id heard of. Looking at them building the pyramid was it. Frank had found a chariot. It was a big sucker with a bench on the back for someone important to sit, and space in the front for a driver and one or two factotums, standing. The biggest problem was that it didnt have any shafts to hitch the draft animals to. The wheels werent that good either, but they would do on any kind of hard surface, and they might not be that bad on sand. I hoped. I walked around it, looked at it, and began to grin evilly. Fast Fox might never speak to me again. The twins might not either, but that wouldnt ruin my day.
I had Frank hitch all three of our ponies to the chariot, Fast Fox in the middle and about one stride ahead of the other two. Just to make a point, the twins were outfitted with blinders and checkreins, while I left Fast Fox with his head free, other than the bit, bridle and reins, of course. We had them decorated with the full set of plumes and bells, as well. If I was going to go sightseeing, I wanted to do it in style. Besides, putting on a show would impress people with our importance, which might be useful in avoiding problems.
Id left the last little detail for last. Bonnie thought she was coming along as kind of a guide; her father had been an anthropologist, and she knew a lot about the culture from an outside viewpoint. Well, she was right in a way. I was sure I would find her comments on the art and craft of building a pyramid interesting.
Her jaw dropped when I handed her the reins. But Ive never driven a ponygirl!
Neither has Frank. I havent either. Tell me why youve been appointed.
Um She consulted the sky, and then the ground. I dont know, she almost wailed.
Because you like to tell people what to do, I told her. So figure it out.
Oh. Its an object lesson.
Partly. And partly because someone has to do it, and Id rather that it not be Frank.
She thought about that for a moment. Oh.
And dont worry if you go real slow around corners. Turning this thing has got to be a bitch.
Ill bet. She walked around it, shaking her head. She climbed in and set her feet in the center. Frank stood to her right, and I ascended the bench like it was a throne.
Lets go, I said. She looked at the mess of leather reins she held, and sorted them in her hands until she had somewhat equal tension on all three sets of bits. Then she flipped them once and pulled on the left reins, which she had put into her left hand. The ponies pulled, and the chariot jerked behind them, slewing to the left as Rippling Stream (on the right) took up the load. It pivoted, wheels complaining as they tried to move at different rates on a common axle. I shook my head. No wonder they used sedan chairs!
She got them straightened out to the gate, and then managed to get them turned right more by brute force and awkwardness than planning, and not a few choice words that I didnt recognize. I heard Frank chuckle. Once we were headed in the right direction, I leaned over and asked her to tell them to trot.
Trot! Now that we were under control, she had a nice, firm command voice. Fast Fox picked up the pace, and the blondes fell in automatically.
It was a spectacular view. The bench was high enough that Bonnies head bounced just below me, and I had a great view of our three ponies straining in their harnesses, brunette and blonde heads and tails bobbing in time with their steps. I noticed that Fox had his tail out, tip flicking back and forth in time with his steps. Well, if it kept the twins on step, it helped.
Frank turned his head and asked: Isnt this kind of a heavy load for them?
I laughed. Not really. Its not much heavier than a fully loaded taxi or package cart, and it only takes one ponygirl to handle that. Of course, taxis and package carts have lots better suspensions. Having all three of them for this is overkill.
We were coming up on a woman leading a laden donkey. Bonnies head kind of stiffened slightly as she sorted the reins between her hands. Then she pulled with her left hand, and the ponies went left. Well, at least Fast Fox went left properly. The twins shifted around confusedly for a moment before they fell in behind Fast Fox, like they were supposed to do. Once we were safely past the woman and her donkey, Bonnie pulled on the right reins, but this time I noticed that she just pulled Fast Foxs rein, leaving the two blondes to their own devices. I raised my eyebrows, and then relaxed as they simply followed the leader. Frank nodded slightly as he watched the maneuver.
I looked behind me; the woman was still walking stolidly on, leading her donkey. I decided not to wave my tail at her.
We trotted down the riverside road for a few miles, looking at the barges floating downriver, which was the direction we were going, and being hauled upriver by teams of oxen on towpaths. The right side had walled villas; very like the villa we were occupying, and fields stretching into the distance. The pyramid loomed in the distance, gradually coming nearer as we trotted on.
Eventually, we got to where a low dock fronted the river, with a crossroad leading directly to the pyramid. Bonnie hauled on the reins, saying Stop! All three ponies slowed down to a stop in good order. Id been looking forward to this maneuver with some trepidation, considering the comic opera that the twins had given us the previous day with the pump and crossbar, however, we didnt have any trouble. The chariot simply had too much rolling friction it stopped dead as soon as they quit pulling.
A man I took to be the supervisor walked up and started talking to Bonnie. Frank translated for my benefit. It seemed that he knew Bonnie from before her father had died, and for a wonder, had left any irritation with her behind. They chatted for a few minutes, and then he asked if he could inspect the ponygirls. Of course I said yes, and got out of the chariot. We gathered around Rippling Stream. He squatted down and looked at her tail, admiring the way she swished it back and forth. Then he looked at her mane, and quirked an eyebrow at me. I nodded, so he reached over and ran his hand through it.
He backed off and said something in Coptic. Frank laughed. He says that the Freeholders are even greater sorcerers than hed heard, to have merged a horse, a woman and a cat! He wants to know if the gods were pleased?
Well, they havent objected yet, I replied. Frank translated, and the supervisor laughed.
Just then, he looked toward the river, and started yelling orders to his crew. A barge with two large blocks of sandstone was floating toward the dock. Two of the dockworkers flung lines with loops on the end toward the barge, and caught some kind of attachment. Then they ran the lines around thick bronze poles and paid them out swiftly. The rest of the crew came up in what had to be a practiced movement, and pulled, slowing the barge down and bringing it gently into the dock. They tied it swiftly, and retired.
He pointed up the road toward the pyramid. Two groups of men wearing leather straps trotted toward us, maintaining a strict formation, and pulling little wheeled carts behind them. As they got nearer, I saw that the leather straps were harnesses, and that they didnt have much choice about the formation: they were harnessed together in two columns of four. When they arrived, the supervisor detached the carts. They turned around in a well-practiced maneuver, and backed up to the blocks. The supervisor hitched each of the groups to one of the blocks, and said something. They leaned into the traces, and the massive sandstone blocks moved behind them on what I saw were little carts, one on each end.
In a moment, they were receding slowly into the distance toward the pyramid. I chuckled to myself. They were using ponyboys to build the pyramid! Once they had a head start, he waved us down the road. As I looked back, they were releasing the barge, and polling it to the other side, where there was a waiting team of oxen to take it back upriver to the quarry.
We trotted down the road, keeping pace with the massive block in front of us. The country changed from fields and farms to open grassland, with some clusters of trees. We passed a number of the haulage teams coming back our way for their next sandstone block.
Once we got closer to the pyramid, we saw the teams taking the blocks up the face on sand ramps. One of the ubiquitous supervisors waved us to the side, and then waited for the next block, and trotted next to the team toward the pyramid. We were close enough to see that he was guiding the team to one of the sand ramps that lead diagonally up the structure. As we watched, they pulled it up the ramp, onto what seemed to be a flat surface. They hauled it around the side and vanished from sight.
That got me curious. I could see the blocks going up, but how did they get them into place? I asked Bonnie, and she just grinned and asked if I was up to walking up and looking? Hell, yes. Especially if I could bring the chariot. She frowned and asked the supervisor something. He walked around the chariot looking, and then said something.
He says we can go up, just watch out and follow the guide. Fast Fox didnt look like he had been listening, but his tail gave me the high sign; it seemed that he was just as interested as I was. Just then, another team of sweating haulers walked past, followed by another big block of sandstone. We clambered back on, and Bonnie flicked the reins. Fast Fox pulled out behind the block, and we were off.
I heard the grunts as we hit the ramp. Up to now, we had been on very flat terrain. The ramp was not flat, and our three ponies were hard pressed to pull the chariot. I thought a moment and then shrugged. Those blocks were at least three times as heavy as we were, and if those teams could move them, then my three ponies shouldnt be in serious difficulty. So it proved. About ten minutes later, the ramp leveled off onto a three block wide platform. We followed the block around the corner. Halfway around the side, the block in front of us stopped. A work team heaved the block back and forth a bit until they had it lined up exactly the way they wanted, and then used levers to tilt it over against the wall. It fell into place with a thump! We got out and looked at the result. I didnt see how they could have gotten it any closer!
We got back in, and followed the haulage team around the new course of stone until they got to a down ramp, and then followed them down. All in all, I couldnt see what the big deal was. It looked like precision rock cutting, and then a precise roll, and it was done. I must have mentioned something about it, and Bonnie laughed delightedly. It seemed that all the Egyptologists had gotten in a huff about the reports. It couldnt have been that simple!
Well, she said thoughtfully, it probably wasnt. They still have to true up the structure and then put the limestone cover on it. Thats going to be a bit harder, but not all that much. Theyll just have to use some scaffolding. And of course, building around the rooms takes some other techniques, but theyre finished with that now.
We headed back after what I considered a quite successful day.
Over dinner I asked Bonnie what she had learned driving the ponies.
She thought a moment. I assume you dont mean what I learned about how to use the reins, angles and so forth? she asked in return.
Right. I didnt mean that.
Well, she said thoughtfully, I learned that Fast Fox is quite competent in handling the chariot. Just give him a minimal signal, and hell do the rest. And the twins get totally confused if I try to use the reins to control them. Theyll follow Fast Fox, and that usually works out.
And what does that mean?
That I was being an idiot, telling people what to do when they knew perfectly well what to do.
I nodded. Thats one of the lessons of supervision. If you have to stand over someone with a whip, youve got it organized wrong.
But what would I do if I didnt have Fast Fox? I dont think either of the twins could lead the team.
Youre right on that. Youd have to supervise them a lot more closely. However, thats a process problem. They arent trained for that kind of chariot.
Oh. No shaft.
Exactly. Hitch them up to a wagon with a proper shaft, and theyll do quite well. Thats the way theyve been trained.
So what do I do for shopping tomorrow?
Take one of the twins with a taxi. Weve got two taxis stored in the back of the carriage. Its got enough space for you and a couple of baskets, and its got proper shafts.
I thought Fox was the only one trained on taxi?
Taxi needs a few things they havent been trained on, like being able to get a passenger where they want to go just from the address, without the passenger having to use the reins. Also taxi stand procedures, and a bunch of other things.
None of which matters around here. I see, she said thoughtfully. That does make sense, most taxi passengers wouldnt want to drive a pony.
The next morning I watched Bonnie as she harnessed Sparkling Brook to the taxi, and guided her out the gate toward the neighboring village. Bonnie, I expected, wouldnt have any problem. She was a known quantity, even if Sparkling Brook wasnt.
Frank was outside, cleaning leather. I walked up behind Fast Fox and ruffled his mane. He butted his head into my stomach playfully. Fox, I said. Want a special assignment? I need to pump Frank about how the drug trade works around here, and I might need some backup.
If it gets me out of harness.
For a few days. Youre back in when Prince Andy comes back.
What about hitching those two to the carriage instead? he asked, trying to sound reasonable.
Well, Franks going right to the stables, but Bonnie most likely wont, and anyway, they arent trained. Pulling that thing for any length of time would kill them.
I take it you want my promise to go back nicely when you tell me?
You got it.
He shrugged. Id just as soon not have to wear that damn collar. It chafes! Youve got a deal.
I put my hand on his rump and he stood erect. Then I clicked the locks and pulled the zippers, and he slid them off of his hands. He stood there a few moments flexing them, and then reached out for me. One thing lead very swiftly to another until we came up for air a couple of minutes later, all flushed and excited.
Well, I see Id better get you a skirt, big boy, I said, turning toward the storeroom.
I walked out into the sunlight, and spotted Frank finishing up Rippling Stream. I told him to come in when he was done; I needed to talk to him. He walked into the main room without noticing Fast Fox standing by the door.
Sit down, I gestured. I want you to tell me about the drug trade around here.
He whirled for the door and stopped dead when he saw Fox standing, arms crossed.
Oh, just sit down, I said a bit crossly. Youre not in any trouble with us. Not any more than you were already, that is. You can tell us now, or you can let the interrogators get it out of you later. Your choice.
He turned around and sat in front of me, legs crossed. What do you want to know?
You said you were here to make a pickup, when your boss got irritated with you and you had to run for it. Who was your contact? Is he a local or not? Is this just a drop, or do they grow and process it here?
He clamped his jaw shut.
Dont think of trying to escape. Im an assassin, and Fast Fox is heavy muscle from some security agency. Freehold caught us fair and square. Now its your turn. Talk.
He sagged. Yes, they grow and process it here. He continued to outline what he knew of the operation. He wasnt sure how it had gotten started. He had heard someone had gene engineered a normally innocuous plant to create something that they then processed into pure heroin. And a few other things. He wasnt at all certain about that part of the story, he wasnt close enough to know for sure. What he did know was that they harvested one of the normal food plants. The processing plant was in a chamber in the pyramid, accessed by a tunnel that came all the way from the river. And another tunnel came to the waterfront warehouse area, where they stored exotic foodstuffs for export.
What had lead to the blowup with his gang?
Frank sagged even further before straightening up in resignation. Some nosey professor was checking discrepancies in the stone used to build the pyramid. He and his redheaded bitch of a daughter were getting on everyones nerves. The gang wanted him to kill both of them for safety. Hed refused. The professor, yes, but hed arranged for the daughter to be taken by a local slaver, saving her life. Then the blowup came, and hed run and been picked up himself.
Had he ever seen the daughter?
Frank blinked at the question and then turned pale. No, he hadnt.
So, Fast Fox rumbled from behind him, let me see if Ive got this straight. Theres a food crop that gets harvested, taken to the waterfront warehouse, then moved to the pyramid underground to be processed. A courier picks up the drugs at the end of the other tunnel. Someone has got to be covering the warehouse discrepancies, and someone has got to be getting the money back to the farmers. Who?
He didnt know for sure. He thought it had to be high up, though. The entire operation was simply too well greased not to have high-level connivance.
Well, Running Flame said, digging it out isnt our job. Well just turn it over to our security department, and let them sort it out.
Frank relaxed slightly. What about Bonnie?
If she wanted to have your guts for garters while you watched them tanning, Id help her. I do not like drug traders. However, Im not planning to tell her, if only because killing you would send her to the ponygirl stables, and she doesnt need that. So youre safe as long as you mind your manners.
Were done with you. Rippling Stream can handle the pump alone, just make sure the imbalance doesnt bind it. She waved her hand in dismissal. Frank got up, thoroughly shaken.
Lets move to the bedroom, love, I told Fast Fox. He followed me, a bulge beginning to show at the front of his skirt.
Not that, I swatted at it playfully with my tail. We need to report in. I handed him one of the experimental units. Push on and follow the instructions. A moment later, I was perched on the sleeping platform, sitting on my heels with my tail curled around my hips, focused on my own system terminal.
A half hour later, we came up for air and walked out. Rippling Stream was doing her almost eternal circles in front of the horizontal beam without a partner. Frank was out in the courtyard, cleaning out one of the troughs. I heard the rapid clip-clop of horseshoes on the outside pavement. A moment later, Sparkling Brook turned the corner into the courtyard at full speed and brought the taxi to a graceful stop as she answered to Bonnies hands on her reins.
Bonnie alighted from the taxi, throwing the reins to Frank almost in passing. Then she walked up front and removed the startled girls bit and held up her hand. Rippling Stream leaned forward to investigate it, and then rolled the sweet gently into her mouth between her tongue and upper teeth.
I think, I said, youve made a friend.
I guess so. Once I found out how she likes to respond to the reins, she was real easy to handle, and she just lapped up all the attention in the market. I think she likes playing the pony a bit more than she normally gets to.
Now, thats a thought. Theyre definitely exhibitionists. Howd you like to be part of a circus act? I ran my fingers through the girls mane as I asked.
Rippling Stream stamped one of her hooves and whinnied. Bonnie scratched her behind the ears, and then picked up the basket of groceries and headed toward the kitchen. Frank moved in to unharness the girl from the taxi, wash her down and groom her.
The message from Prince Andy was to the point.
Youre doing well. Security is evaluating the data you got from Frank. I tend to agree that there is very high level complicity in the drug running; there are subjects that Im being discretely steered away from.
I want your opinion of the ramifications of shutting this enclave down. Theyre clearly not doing Ancient Egypt the way the Egyptologists say it existed, so there isnt any formal reason to continue it, and it would allow us to deal with the drug problem in passing.
Get Frank and Bonnies opinions on the subject. Be discrete. Pose the question about how much adjustment the average inhabitant would need if they had to immigrate to Freehold society.
When Id digested that, I asked the advisor what I should look at for the next enclave. It never paid to be slack on the maps.
The next enclave on the schedule is a small contemplative religious community that normally poses no problems whatsoever. Prince Andy usually stops there for a day or so, just to maintain the personal linkage with the Abbott.
After that, the schedule calls for the Gorean enclave, and the Prince has not yet made up his mind about how he wants to approach it with you.
That night, after Running Flame finished her system time, I put Frank and the twins into an expanded stall Id had him build by removing a partition, and then left them to their own devices. They didnt seem to have any trouble figuring out what to do about the arrangement. I heard the twins start in on him before Id managed to get to the bedchamber. He didnt sound at all unhappy about it, either.
By the time I got back and dropped the bar in the slots across the door, both Bonnie and Fast Fox had put their terminals away. They looked at me expectantly. I looked at Bonnie, and then we both attacked Fast Fox. I took him high, she took him low. A half hour later, we snuggled up against each other on the platform, pulled up the furs and went to sleep.
What else can go wrong for our intrepid ponygirl? Is this too good to be true? Whats going on behind the scenes? Does the Prince need rescuing? Stand by for the next exciting installment of Pyramid Scheme!