Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands, and it is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.

Warning: This story is a general work of fiction, set in an AU world of the ancients. Please be warned there are scenes of intense emotional bonding.

For Rogue, Nancy and Gail

Happy Christmas.

The Grand Gathering

Simon Banks opened the manuscript and settled down to read.

 

For the last five days the clans had been gathering. Each one was given an area that would be their territory for the time of the gathering, and from each area they flew their banners.

Warren knew that it was going to be a major headache. Even though there was a universal truce, there were still times when one clan would refuse to camp next to another clan and ever the diplomat, he would have to soothe the troubled waters and make everything right.

Among the groups attending was the large, colorfully-tented Temple of the Followers of Aphrodite, here to bring people to the faith. The Guide Temple was also attending with thirty grey Guides, ready to bond at the time of selection, but Warren had been refused any request for dark Guides. The only ones present would be those of the High Priest's personal bodyguard, already pledged. They would be publicly wearing the veil for the last time.

The traders were already busy, and by the day, more of them arrived with a larger selection of goods to sell. Mixed in with them were the healers and the whores. Some worked from the taverns that sprang up through the tented city, which in two short days would become the center of their world.

Saemund knew that his arrival needed to be seen, and his importance as a Clan Leader acknowledged, for the when the time came to negotiate for treaties with the other clans. So, next to his side rode his Sentinel Prime in full battle dress. A broad sword six feet long hung from his horse’s left shoulder; on the right hung the war shield of his clan. His own sword hung at his hip, and across his back, a spray of throwing knives.

Riding next to him, dressed in the full robes of the Dark Guide, was Blaer, his sword across his back, the purple and black of his sash proclaiming to the world his status. The same purple and black band marked Jeme at his forearm, the Dark Guide publicly claiming his Sentinel. Like all the dark Guides, he was fully armed with at least eight weapons on him.

Saemund was advertising to the entire gathering of Clans that he had a Dark Guide and Sentinel to do his bidding. The rest of the Clan came behind them. The feayr were in the center, flanked by their Sentinel clansmen. Alfric was on Jeme’s left in the place of honor as the next senior Sentinel of the clan. He, too, wore full battle dress, but he also had Alistair seated behind him. The robe he wore had a cowl which was pulled up to hide his face from the people that stared at them as they entered the gathering. His fear vibrated through his link with Alfric, sending his Sentinel towards Blessed Protector instinct. His fear also soured his scent, and the other Sentinels in the clan began to bristle, looking for a threat to one of their kind. Giving comfort was Henri, the large man, cradling a war axe that few could even lift, let alone wield in battle. Although feayr, Henri had been accepted into the Sentinel clans. A good man, he had found the Sentinels interesting, and although his questions had sometimes shocked them, he had always spoken with a good heart.

The Panthers had arrived, and the whole of the gathering knew that. They shouted that here was a Clan with power and prestige, and one that would be a force to contend with. Now Saemund would deal from a position of strength.

Warren came out of his hut with Fallon, his Second and most trusted adviser, by his side. He greeted Saemund warmly.

"Hail and Welcome, Saemund of the Panther Clan."

"Hail, Warren, Leader of the Clans." The courtesy spoken, Saemund was invited to dismount. Warren crossed to embrace him and lead him to the hut to break bread with him.

Fallon nodded; all was going well. Saemund was an old hand and knew the game of politics well. The Council would not sit until the official opening of the gathering, but already the unofficial meetings had started. His wife had already selected two girls from the Peacekeeper clan that he wanted to arrange a mating with between the Dark Guide and Sentinel. Saemund had argued it once before in front of the whole clan, but that was then and this was now. Both girls were willing to be taken to their beds for the chance of a Sentinel or Guide baby. Saemund had gold in their loins; he would learn that a true leader led, and that the needs of the clan would - no, *must* - be put above everything else. Jeme was known to have fathered three sons already; all strong and healthy and Sentinels. His seed was strong, and the gold for him would be high. His Guide was young, his breed strain unproven, and of course being a Dark Guide…

Fallon shook his head. He had already heard the rumor about Blaer, from a member of one of the other clans, whose wife had been thrown out of the Panthers for putting into words what most people thought about the dark Guides, that they grazed in two fields. But Blaer would still be expensive. A dark Guide was a strong Guide, and who knows, he might sire a dark Guide. The taller of the two girls, the raven-haired Maggie, was sired by a Guide and had some talent. She would birth a Guide.

His mind was pulled from his planning as he heard Warren call to him.

Blaer swung down from his white stallion and threw the reins to Daryl, who was proudly wearing the clan colors for the first time. He caught the reins and then collected the reins of Jeme’s black stallion, noticing the way that some of the young girls smiled and waved at him. He saw that Blaer immediately went to Jeme’s side, his hand resting against his back, linking. Daryl had learned to recognize the signs. Jeme had need of his Guide to gentle him.

Jeme felt the tug at the back of his mind, and saw Blaer looking up at him. "I know, Jeme, I can feel them. They are the Primes of the other clans. They want what you are going to take. You will be Senior Sentinel Prime of the Clans." He ran a hand down Jeme’s arm. "You will defeat them; no one will stand in your way."

Jeme’s hand closed over the smaller, cool hand. The Panther pulled back, but not before it had allowed the other Sentinels to see and recognize it for what it was: primal and dangerous.

"Hail, Jeme of the Panther Clan." The sarcastic tone to the greeting was not lost on either man. Blaer’s hand went to the hilt of his sword, ready to pull it over his shoulder and kill any threat to his Sentinel.

Jeme hesitated, and then turned slowly. His posture changed as he faced another Sentinel. The man wore the colors of a Traditionalist clan, the lowest of all the clans because of the way they treated their Guides.

He looked Blaer up and down, and smirked. "It’s been a long time, Jeme. I see that you have done well; been accepted into a clan, and you have found your Guide."

"If you say it, Marco, you will regret it," Jeme warned.

"You can stay my tongue, Jeme, but can you stay the others? He brands you, just as his kind branded their own Sentinels in the days of the ancients. You should do as we do; keep our Guides barefooted and veiled. They know their place, and that is to serve their Sentinels." He dropped his hand down and rested it on the head of his Guide as he knelt by the side of his Sentinel, his head down, his face veiled.

"Those times, Marco, are gone, and never to return."

"Brodgar the Good destroyed the Temple once and will do it again, removing their tainted hold on the world of the Sentinel."

With that he turned on his heels, his Guide rising and following him.

Blaer shuddered. He had heard of the Traditionalists, but had never thought to see one.

"Who was Brodgar the Good?" Jeme was puzzled by the effect the name had had on his young Guide.

"What?" Blaer shook himself back to the present. "Brodgar … the Guide history speaks of him as a man that wanted the Dark Order to work only for him, to keep his territory by fear. When the High Priest refused, Brodgar went among his people and told them that we were the corrupters of all that was decent. That we raped our Sentinels, and that only a mated Dark Guide was able to channel their power. The people believed and the Temple fell." For a moment he lapsed into silence and then added, "He is dangerous."

"Not to you, Blaer. You are mine, marked and claimed."

"Claimed and marked," Blaer echoed the vow. Jeme’s arm went around him, hooking him around the waist and pulling him close, his face snuffling at his neck. Blaer stroked his short hair and looked past the Panthers. Already the feayr were starting to arrange the tents for their stay. It was noted by all watching that this was a rich clan, with plenty of horses and well made tents and surprisingly, both Sentinel and feayr were working together, each of them doing what they were best at. With the Panther Clan watchmen looking after their own, there would be no chance of betrayal.

0-0-0-0-0

Once their tent had been erected in its place of honor by the side of his Clan Leader, Jeme was attentive to his Guide. He smiled gently as he saw his Guide bouncing with excitement, and he knew why. Blaer had already seen the multicolored banners flying over his mother’s Temple. He wanted to go, but duty held him at Jeme’s side.

"Do you think that is your mother’s chapter?"

"Naomi is a High Priestess. Only her chapter would come." It was said with longing that echoed through the bond.

"Lead on, Blaer. We are not needed here." His smaller Guide bounced as he set off with a bemused Sentinel in his wake.

The Aphrodite camp was bigger than many clan encampments. It was square, the walls of the Temple made up of cloth, brightly colored. Each corner was decorated with a banner. Once inside the wall, it was like a maze based on a traditional pattern. Each area was walled off with hangings. More cloth formed the courtyard, where the faithful would come to make their offering. Then a disciple would come from one of the rooms behind the hangings and take them by hand to the inner sanctum. Jeme’s hearing had already picked up the faint moans and cries of the men as they were brought to the faith.

Blaer knelt in front of the sacred image. This was the religion of his birth, and he saw nothing wrong in honoring it, even though he was now of the Dark Arts.

Naomi came through from one of the other rooms. "Blaer!" She caught him in an embrace, kissing her son as he hugged her back.

Blaer pulled back, his eyes bright. He held both her hands, his barriers falling so that he could merge with his mother. "You’re looking well, Naomi."

"The winter was good to us, Blaer. We brought many to the faith." Her face clouded. "When I heard that you had been taken, I feared for you. Does he treat you well?" She tried to see any sign of maltreatment on her son.

Blaer smiled broadly, reassuring her. "I am cherished and protected by Jeme, and he is my soul mate."

She reached out, her fingers brushing the sash. "As I see." Naomi pulled her son close again, needing connection, tears beginning to fall silently. "Where is he? Did he let you walk the gathering unattended? You could have-"

"Naomi-" When that failed he added, "Mother," and that got her attention. "I am a Dark Guide. If anyone bothers me, I kill them. And Jeme is here."

It was then she saw the larger man standing by one of the doorways. She took in the close-cropped hair, strong face, and broad shoulders. She smiled. She would take him to the faith for a lead bead.

"Mother!" Blaer sounded shocked, and Naomi had the good grace to color slightly. She had forgotten that Blaer was now much stronger, and had easily read her emotions as if she had spoken them out loud. "That’s my Sentinel."

"I know, sweetie. Introduce us."

Jeme closed the distance between them, his eyes on Naomi, admiring what he was looking at. The light from the sacred images made her gown almost transparent. His smile flashed his thoughts. Blaer caught them, and a hand slapped against his chest. "Jeme, that's my mother."

"Of course she is."

"Jeme, have you ever been brought to the faith?"

"No." A simple answer. As a mercenary, he had preferred the tavern wenches or whores to the Temple. The price was the same, but you did not have to hide behind the pretense of a religious experience. But then again if he had seen a beauty such as Naomi, then perhaps it would have been different.

She reached out her hand and drew him close. "Then perhaps I can convert you to our ways. Many come and find fulfillment here."

"Blaer!" The name was said with a excitement. It was a small group of women. Their colorful dresses, like Naomi’s, seemed to shimmer, only masking and not hiding what was under them. Around each waist was a bronze, silver or gold belt, depending on their status and how many they had brought to the faith. The girls flocked around the Dark Guide, and he was hugged and kissed. Naomi eased Jeme back. "Blaer has always been a favorite, and his devotion is good. On his last visit, he joined with three girls of the faith."

"Really." The amusement was simmering close to the surface. "Such devotion is a blessing; you must be proud of him."

"It is, Jeme, and I am."

The perfume from the girls began to make the air heavy like syrup, the noise of their chatter became almost deafening, when a foreign hand touched his arm, it was like gravel against his skin. He gasped and then, nothing.

Blaer’s touch and voice called him back. He came around with Blaer leaning over him, hand caressing his face and shoulders. He was lying on a comfortable bed. He reached up and brushed Blaer’s face. The smile was brilliant. Blaer slowly leaned down to rub his face against the Sentinel’s, going willingly when he was tugged down to cover Jeme.

Blaer’s knees straddled Jeme’s body, his elbows keeping his weight from pushing down onto the bigger man, but even that small distance was too far for the Sentinel, and an arm around his waist brought Blaer down on top of him.

"You had me worried, Jeme. You were totally lost in the void and-"

"Their scent was too heavy. I felt as if I was drowning, couldn't breathe-"

"Jeme!" The name was barked with the power of a Dark Guide, kicking the ass of a particularly stubborn Sentinel as he had felt Jeme drift again.

"Tell me what you want, Sentinel." Blaer’s tone was lighter now, and his eyes flashed brilliantly. He rocked his body slightly, seeing the spreading heat in the eyes of his Sentinel.

"It is not nice to tease your Sentinel, Guide." There was a warning tone to Jeme’s voice that had not been there before. "You know that we can’t bond here in the Temple."

"Why not, Jeme? This is my home, and we can bond here. Naomi would not mind, and neither would the disciples." He paused and then leaned closer so that his lips almost brushed Jeme’s as he breathed his scent on Jeme’s face. "So, Sentinel, what do you want?" The connection between them was blazing.

The Panther roared, and Blaer was flipped over onto his back and pinned down as the Sentinel gave way to the need to claim and mark his Guide.

On the other side of the thin cloth wall, Naomi collected her disciples together and moved them away. She could see the two shadows; the larger one moving over the smaller one now.

She saw a couple of the girls starting to creep forward, and called them back with a clap of her hands, her eye going to look back at the two people outlined by the glow of the torches. Naomi’s mouth opened and then closed, as she heard the breathless need in her son’s words, and the growl of ownership, possession by the Sentinel. She shooed them out, and when she pulled the curtain closed behind them, her hand was shaking.

0-0-0-0-0

The Sentinel only started to relax once Naomi walked away. Although he knew that the bond Blaer shared with his mother was passive and not a threat to him, he had not liked her near his Guide. The smaller man smelt of her scent. When they had embraced, the Panther in him had risen and he had had to ruthlessly squash it to prevent himself from tearing Blaer from her arms, and to take back what was his. Now he would take his Guide, make sure that he knew who he belonged to, and remove from him any trace of her scent on his mate.

0-0-0-0-0

Once his mother had left them, Blaer had turned to his Sentinel, a half smile on his face, which had slowly broadened as he saw the way that Jeme was looking at him. Through the bond he could feel the Sentinel’s need. It was like a slow burning fire, all he had to do was fan it to make it explode into a red hot heat. Jeme was to many people the perfect warrior, coldly professional and emotionless. He was all of that, but he was also the man that could make him smile, that would cradle him through a night terror, a man with a sense of humor that was full and rich, unlike his only slightly macabre black humor. Others saw the stoic man, he saw flesh and blood.

It was when he was flipped on his back that the cramp hit him in his left leg. It seized up, and unbelievable pain ran up his leg. Jeme was linked to him and knew what was wrong almost before he did. Working quickly, Jeme rolled him onto his belly, almost at the same time as Blaer called his name, "JJJJEEEEMMMMEEEE!!" Then Jeme’s fingers began to dig into the muscles, working on them to ease the tension. "Tell me what you need." Jeme’s voice was low and deep.

"I don’t want to stop the bond. We both need it."

Jeme chuckled and patted his Guide. "You think too much, little one. Now just stay still." Then he added, a little louder, "All you had to do was ask." Gradually, the muscles began to ease off and Jeme could feel, through the link, that Blaer was relaxing. Only then did Jeme ease himself down and gather his Guide to him, pulling him close. Blaer rested easily against Jeme’s shoulder, an arm around his chest, his mind entering that of his Sentinel. The bond was mellow and their minds met and merged together, swirling, as through the bond, Blaer told Jeme of his childhood at the Temple. Then, like a colt, he shied away from some incident in his past, and his mind was flooded with fear. Immediately, the Sentinel pulled him closer, easing his head under his chin, petting him more aggressively, reassuring him with touch of mind and hand that he was no longer alone. Blaer’s mind became peaceful again. Just before he drifted into an easy sleep, Blaer’s lips brushed Jeme’s throat as he murmured, "My Sentinel."

"Yours, Blaer."

Then together Sentinel and Guide slept cocooned in the warmth of the bond.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer was the first to wake. He laid contentedly with his Sentinel for a moment as, through the thin curtain, he could see more of the torches had been lit; the answering darkness showed it was now evening. In the corner of the room was the cleaning bath where the faithful were cleansed by the disciple before being taken to the faith. The lure of the water was too much. Blaer slid off the bed and walked over to the tub and began to fill it. This was the one thing that he missed living with the Panther clan. There was the river, but only one tub for the whole clan. He was leaning over it when he felt a stir in the bond, and turned to see Jeme lying on his side, his head propped against his hand. Blaer stepped into the large wooden tub and gave a sigh. The water was deep, and although cool, it was a luxury. "Join me, Sentinel."

Jeme padded over and then circled the tub. It was large enough for two and was on a wooden frame; it looked sturdy. He picked up one of the bottles and then pulled back with a snort as the scent seemed to rip through his sense of smell. With a laugh, Blaer reached up and took it from him before sinking back into the water. "This one is better suited to a Sentinel. It is the scent of musk."

He reached up with the second bottle and this time Jeme nodded in approval. The scent had the same low key notes as his Guide’s scent. He got into the tub and pulled his Guide to him so that the smaller man was seated between his legs, his back resting against Jeme’s chest. He felt Jeme’s hand stroke his leg under the water, then he was tugged to rest against his Sentinel as the older man reached for a cleaning cloth and, using a lump of the much finer soap, he rubbed it into the rag and then used his longer arms to wash his Guide. Blaer’s body relaxed against the larger man, the Guide at peace with his Sentinel.

Just when his eyes where closing, pulled deep into the bond between them, lost to the soft touch of his Sentinel, he was eased forward, as Jeme tugged the tie from his hair, his fingers brushing his skin. The fingers carded through the mass of curls, fanning them out from their tight constraint. A soft smile lit up Blaer’s face, his Sentinel was drawn to his hair, the colors and texture. When they bonded he always wound one hand into it, anchoring him closely to him.

Blaer’s cool hand reached back, and trailed down his Sentinel's side. "Keep with me, Jeme." The words, said softly, had the kick ass snap of a Dark Guide to them.

Jeme pulled back from the void and for a moment hesitated, and then buried his face into the side of his Guide's neck, where the scent was the thickest. Blaer reached up, his hands hooked behind Jeme’s neck as the emotions flowed between them, looping through minds and bodies, tightening the bond between them.

Blaer arched back against the larger body, as Jeme's other hand caught him around the waist, holding him in place. Firmly, he was pushed forward so that his hands rested on his knees as the cloth moved back to crisscross his shoulders, leaving a cooling swath across his skin. Then it swept across his neck, then followed the line of his spine down, then back up his flanks. Jeme worked with the thoroughness of a Sentinel detecting and removing any alien scent from his Guide.

Jeme dropped the cloth and reached for a small jug, scooping the water up, and then up ended it over the riot of curls. When he hesitated, Blaer prompted and picked up one of the oil bottles. Jeme took a careful sniff and then scented his mate; it would mix with his natural scent and enhance it. He upended the bottle then began to work it into the curls. Then he rinsed it out. Blaer sighed softly. This was the side of his Sentinel that few saw; the Sentinel pampering and caring for his Guide. However, despite his enjoyment of the pampering, having his own Sentinel body servant, Blaer could feel the need through the bond. Reluctantly, he pulled himself from this induced state of bliss; it was not fair that only he could feel this good. He had to make is as good for his Sentinel.

Ignoring the murmured protests, Blaer turned in the tub, kneeling and straddling Jeme’s legs so he was facing him. Reaching out, he took a bottle of the musk oil, poured it into his hands and began to work it into Jeme’s shoulders and chest. The Sentinel leaned back against the wall of the tub and began to purr, low in his throat, savoring the feel of his Guide’s hands, as they moved in soothing patterns.

Blaer heard a sniffing, and saw the head of the Panther Spirit Guide poking over the side of the tub. Its head turning from side to side, a bemused look on its face. With a chuckle, Blaer splashed the water playfully with the flat of his hand; it pulled back with a disgusted huff.

Blaer's attention had wavered, and when he was pulled forward he gave a yelp of surprise, his water slick body, slid down the oiled one of his Sentinel, and he ended up with his face just above the water level, resting against Jeme’s chest. His own body resting between his Sentinels legs, one of which curled around him pinning him in place across the back of his own legs. Purring out loud the Sentinel began to pet him, one hand carding through the wet curls, lifting the hair up to watch the change in the colors that only he could see, letting it fall back. He began to massage the back of Blaer’s neck and head. Blaer twisted his head to look up at Jeme, he could feel the need vibrating through the body that held him, and as it ignited and began to burn the Sentinel, Blaer willingly gave himself over to the same need.

"Are you sure that Naomi-" Jeme started to ask, his voice shaking.

Blaer waved his concern away knowing that his Sentinel would pull back from the bond despite their mutual need if he thought it would cause his mother distress by offending her religion. He would not dishonor her beliefs. "This is my home, Jeme. No matter where the Temple is, this is my home, and if we had not met the way we did-" When he felt the guilt run through the bond, he added quickly, "I have no regrets, Jeme." He paused and then added, "You would have come to my house, and we would have bonded. This is my home."

Jeme rubbed Blaer’s hip to reassure him that he understood. Blaer suddenly stood up, nearly slipping on the smooth wood of the tub, his hands landing on Jeme’s shoulders. "Honey wine - Naomi should have some."

He climbed out, looked around, saw a disciple’s robe, and pulled it on. It was second nature to him, belting it around his waist. Then with a glance over his shoulder to his relaxed Sentinel, said, "I won’t be long."

Blaer had never been self-conscious of moving around the tent nude; after all, a Sentinel could almost see through his skin, hear the blood in his veins. The robe was for covering him from the view of outsiders.

Jeme soaked happily. The musk oil floating in the water was a sensation that he had never felt before. It felt as smooth as silk to him. Blaer pampering him was bliss to the older man. For the Sentinel, only with his Guide could he totally let go of the iron control he held over his senses. The mutual caring helped bond Sentinel and Guide even closer.

Jeme ducked his head under the water and ran his hands through his short hair. Without thinking, his senses automatically locked onto the vibrant bundle that was his Guide, and then he was powering out of the tub and reaching for his sword.

 

Blaer walked through the cloth corridors into a smaller courtyard and found the bottles of honey wine that he knew would be there.

Hugh’s breath caught in his throat at the vision in front of him: the long dark hair framing a face only the gods could have created. To be brought to the faith by such a vision would be worth the gold. He fingered the coins in his money pouch.

The vision wore the robe of the Temple and it stuck damply to his body, showing his form clearly. The vision was collecting a jug of wine. Hugh dropped his eyes down to the vision’s waist. No belt. His eyes flicked to the wrist; no bangle to show the number of people that he had brought to the faith. The vision was new to the Temple, then. Otherwise, each link of the bangle, and later, the belt, would be a link purchased by the devotee to give to the disciple. Depending on the donation, the link would be bronze, silver or gold. This vision, new to the Temple, would be a gift indeed, one that he would partake of nightly during the gathering, giving thanks for such a find.

"Well, beautiful, where have they been hiding you?" Hugh’s voice was husky. He coughed. Usually a senior disciple would be there to undertake this part. "I will certainly give well to your goddess tonight for the bounty she is offering me in you."

The man moved closer, and Blaer backed away.

He did not want to offend the man, because he could see that he was a true believer to the faith. He stated firmly, "You’re mistaken; I am not of this Temple."

"There is no need to be shy, little one. I will honor you, and only you, during the Grand Gathering. You will bring great wealth to your Temple." Hugh came closer, sure that the vision was only being bashful; he had seen it before with the new disciples.

Blaer shook his head and backed further away. If the man tried to touch him, the Dark Guide would kill him. No one but his Sentinel could lay a hand on him in his honored state and live, but to kill in the Aphrodite Temple would be sacrilege. He was preparing to strike, to put the man down when it was taken out of his hands.

Naomi entered the courtyard with an older matron and long time devotee of the Temple. She heard only part of what was being said. She called, "Hugh, my son is not-" She never got to finish.

An inhuman roar came from in front of them as the naked, primal Sentinel arrived. Sword in hand, he stood there, the oiled water catching in the flickering light of the torch as it flashed across his chest, arms, stomach and thighs. As it hit the sword that he held, the blade looked to be on fire. A low growl rumbled deep in his chest as he advanced on the man that had dared to try and lay claim to his mate. His head tilted to one side as his nose caught the scent of need on the man, and was ready to cleave him in two. The growl turned to a bloodthirsty roar. "He is mine!"

Blaer went to his Sentinel, making himself a barrier between Jeme and the luckless man. Naomi went to catch her son’s hand, frightened for him, but Blaer twisted out of the way. He knew the Panther was out of its cage.

He did the only thing that he could: he went down on his knees and lowered his head. The Sentinel stopped a few feet from Blaer. The younger man moved on all fours to him and then knelt again. The Sentinel’s eyes never left Hugh’s face as he caught a handful of Blaer’s hair and pulled his Guide’s face to rest against his thigh. "MINE."

"Yours and only yours; claimed and marked." Blaer’s voice trembled, his face held so close that his lips brushed his Sentinel’s leg as he spoke.

Only then did the Sentinel look down at his mate. His grip changed to the front of the robe, and he pulled Blaer to his feet in one smooth move. Then he stooped and threw the smaller man over his shoulder. As he started to turn, Hugh moved and the Sentinel spun around, the tip of the blade pressed against the man’s groin. "MINE."

Hugh barely managed to stutter in a small voice, "Y-yours."

Only then did the Sentinel carry his prize back to his territory.

Naomi turned to the devotee, Julia, and noticed the way she was fanning her face with her hand. A smile tugged Naomi’s mouth, which was answered by Julia. The older woman said, "If he is a disciple, then I would beggar my husband to pay for him to bring me to the faith." She sighed as she remembered the firm strong body of the warrior. "But what a way to pass into the other world, in the arms of such as he." She put her hand into her pocket, and handed Naomi two gold coins. Before the priestess could say anything she added, "A small donation to the Temple."

"But you haven’t been brought to the faith."

"Call it what you like, Naomi, but I certainly feel closer to the goddess than ever before." She looked in the direction the warrior had taken with a longing... if she was but twenty years younger; the thoughts warmed her.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme threw his Guide onto the bed, and brought the sword down to imbed it into the wooden floor. He tore the robe off his Guide and threw it across the room.

"Claim me." Blaer barely got the words out when Jeme pounced and he was nose to nose with his very primal mate, pushed none too gently onto his back.

0-0-0-0-0

"Master Reece," Naomi addressed Hugh. "I am honored to see you again."

The trader almost jumped at her voice, his eyes still locked on the way the warrior had departed with his prize.

Then Hugh Reese flinched as a roar cut through the tented Temple; it was the cry of a giant predator. Reece shook his head. "Most honored of all of your calling, please keep my donation to your Temple. I will return later." Then he took off as if the whole of the demons of the underworld were on his heels.

Tonight he would lie with his wife; it was a lot safer that way. His devotions could wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, he would try to push the vision he had seen from his mind.

The Panther was checking his mate. Starting with his head, he snuffled at Blaer’s hair. His fingers mapped every inch of the Guide’s face, fingertips lightly brushing his eyelids and then lips. Then Jeme nuzzled at his neck, sniffing and tasting as he slowly began move down his mate’s body, every inch covered with taste, touch and scent. The bond between them had ignited, and Blaer was finding it hard to keep focused; his breath coming in pants. Only then did his Sentinel lift his head, petting and calming him, and then the process would start again. Blaer began to move under him; his entire being knowing what he needed, feeling as if his mind was melting under the intensity of the sensations of hand and mouth.

0-0-0-0-0

In the tent of the High Priest of the Dark Order, a man was admitted in audience. High Priest Dar looked at him; the man’s face was covered. "Why do you ask for audience, brother?"

"One of you, called Blaer… he is bringing disgrace to your order. A woman of his clan caught him abusing his Sentinel, but none would listen to her, and he drove her away. Before his coming, his Sentinel was one with the pleasures of the female flesh and honored the way of the clan, taking a mate at the time of the gathering. Now he has forsaken all for his Guide. He even gives his Sentinel the purple and black sash to wear on his arm, proof of his ownership of the man. You are the highest of your calling. I tell you this in good faith, before he corrupts a Dark Sentinel, the most honored of the Sentinel calling."

Dar looked to Denis, who shook his head. The trainer could not believe what he was hearing.

Then he said, "Thank you for coming, brother. We will look into your claims."

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer lay in the arms of his Sentinel, their minds now entwined as they communicated without the need for words. The intensity had burned out, leaving only the mellow bond, the living force that joined them. Blaer’s face rested against his Sentinel’s throat. He felt cherished, loved and protected. Jeme’s mind cocooned him from the emotions of the people around him. Blaer’s mind was a living force moving in Jeme’s head, curling around his mind, caressing and soothing, amplifying his emotions. Sentinel and Guide where joining mind, body and soul.

Through the bond he felt Jeme start to wake. He pushed against his mind, and made the link for a moment. He was nearly tugged down into the void, as the voices and heartbeats of the people of the Temple came crashing down as he piggy backed the enhanced senses of his Sentinel.

Jeme tapped his nose gently with a finger. "Greedy little one, you open the senses up slowly. Too much too fast and you will be lost."

"You talk as if you are the Guide."

"Oh, but I *am* in this. Who is the Sentinel? Who has the most experience of the senses?"

"You do."

"Now send them out slowly. Find the first heartbeat, then the second."

Blaer blushed scarlet and buried his face deep into Jeme’s shoulder.

"Blaer."

"A devotee is being brought to the faith by Naomi." A firm hand massaged the back of his neck, and at Jeme's words, withdrew from the senses.

Jeme coaxed his young Guide’s face up. "Can you tell me what I want?"

Blaer laughed softly. "That is no challenge, Jeme. You want what all Sentinels want: to possess and own your Guide, to mark him so that none can challenge you for him."

"You think I think of you as a possession and nothing more." There was a touch of anger to his voice.

Blaer's fingertips pressed against his lips, stopping the words. "No, Jeme. If you did, you would not be as patient as you were with me. When I first came to you as your Guide you could have pinned me down and taken what you wanted. But you didn’t; you treated me with respect, and even in our most intense bond, the way you cherish and care for me, resonate through the bond. We are one--mind, body and soul." Then with a low chuckle he added, "And, Sentinel, I know what you want." He tugged Jeme with him as he rolled onto his side, the smaller body fitting perfectly with the larger one. Blaer’s mind was open, all barriers dropped; like this he could be hurt, but Jeme’s mind caressed his, encouraging the Guide to enter into his, wrapping around, swirling around in an intricate dance. Giving a hiss as strong teeth nipped at his throat, then a swipe of a rough tongue smoothing it, Blaer rolled his head back exposing more of his throat. The Panther was pacing in its cage, and the gate was being pulled open.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme was awakened by the scent of almond cakes. He was laid blanketing the body of his Guide. Blaer was asleep on his stomach, his arms tucked under his head using them as a pillow, his body kept warm by his Sentinel's body heat. Jeme’s eyes fixed on a young woman, a disciple. She had pulled the curtain back and was holding a jug of wine and a plate of the sweet almond cakes in her hand.

"S-s-Sentinel, Naomi sends this g-g-gift." Jess’s mouth had gone dry. The girls had spoken of the warrior who had bonded with Blair, but seeing him like this, naked on all fours, his legs coiled under him ready to pounce, his handsome face twisted in a snarl, her voice stuttered. Her eyes dropped from his face down his body, as her breath caught; a mighty warrior indeed. He had moved enough for her to see the red marks that marred the pale skin of Blaer’s body. "You hurt him."

The words came from her mouth before she realized it.

"GROOOOOOOWWWWWWLLLL." It was the roar of an enraged animal. Jeme powered up, his hands like claws.

Blaer only just managed to catch his Sentinel's ankle, wrap his arm around his leg and pull him down. Jeme’s hands missed the girl, tearing her robe as he nearly pulled her down. She staggered, just managing to keep a hold on the jug and the cakes. When Jeme hit the furs, Blaer was on top of him, crawling on him, holding him down. He snapped at the girl, "Get out of here; you're not wanted."

Jess hurried out, pausing only to risk a look over her shoulder. Blaer had been rolled off the much larger man and the Sentinel was now holding Blaer down, one hand keeping the smaller man's hands pinned against his chest, as the Sentinel's other hand moved over the smaller man. "Mine."

"Yours." Blaer only managed to get one word out when the Sentinel’s head dipped down, to continue the mapping that he had started earlier, and Blaer's brain lost its ability to think logically.

Jeme was purring as he had to increase his hold as Blaer bucked against him, his Guide no longer able to form words, only a mewing and then a whimper. The intensity of the mapping melted his brain, the bond was singing, burning with a red hot heat. There was no longer a Jeme or a Blaer... just a them.

0-0-0-0-0

Saemund entered the Temple. He smiled as he was greeted by Lina, one of the disciples. "Hail and Welcome, Warrior, and honored is your presence." Her robe was so sheer that if she had been naked she would have been more covered.

Saemund nodded, taking the hands of the disciple and touching her hands to his forehead in the traditional welcome of a devotee to a member of the Temple. "I am looking for two friends of mine: Blaer, formerly of this Temple, and his Sentinel, Jeme. Have you seen them?"

The young woman blushed. "Blaer has taken his Sentinel to the faith on several occasions."

Saemund nearly choked. "He what?"

"Took him to the faith. We could hear them; such devotion is to be honored."

Saemund took a deep breath. "I think that I need to see them now. It is

important."

She took his hand and led him through the maze of the cloth walls. She knelt by the doorway and reached for the curtain. As she pulled it back she said, "In there, Warrior. Enter with a pure heart and soul." As Saemund entered she pulled it back into place and then moved away.

Jeme was relaxing in the tub with Blaer kneeling behind him. He was massaging his Sentinel's powerful shoulders and talking softly. Jeme was laughing as Saemund walked in.

Saemund stood there with his hands on his hips, and shook his head. "What by the underworld have the two of you been doing, and what the hell is all this about being brought to the faith?"

Blaer leaned forward, his arms going around Jeme’s chest as he nestled his face in the crook of his Sentinel's neck. The older man had proved to be addicted to the wooden tub, and Blaer was making a mental note to see if he could talk Naomi into letting them have this one.

Blaer sat up as the words "brought to the faith" registered. "Saemund, who told you that?"

The Clan Leader had never seen anyone look so alarmed as the young Guide.

"That is what they are saying, Jeme, that Blaer has brought you to the faith."

"We bonded, Saemund. Easy, Blaer, there is no need to be frightened."

"There is, Jeme." Saemund shook his head. "I wish I could say that all is right, but someone has gone to the High Priest of the Dark Guide Temple and they have repeated the words of Tia. The High Priest has spoken with Warren, and he wants to see Blaer now, to give his side of the story."

The Sentinel got up and strode out of the tub, leaving his Guide curled in the water. When Blaer started to stand up, he was pushed down with a sharp command, and his eyes had flashed at Saemund.

Saemund rolled his eyes. "Jeme, he has nothing that I want or haven’t seen before, and what in the underworld would I do with a naked, wet Blaer?"

He trailed off as the blue eyes pinned him. Then Jeme picked up one of the large cloths and rubbed himself dry, and pulled on his clothes. "By giving credence to those rumors he insults our bond; no one does that."

His eyes grew harder as he added, "No one takes my Guide."

"Jeme, they only want to talk to Blaer, nothing more. I am sure that he can make them see reason."

But the Sentinel turned his back on him, holding the cloth up so that Blaer was wrapped in it as he got out.

Saemund saw the way that Blaer looked down at the floor; the Guide was shy.

Total contradictions: he had been brought up in the Temple of Love, yet he was shy. Then, like a kick in the stomach, he realized what was wrong. Blaer was now a fully mated Dark Guide, and as such, the only one who would see him unclothed would be his Sentinel when they bonded, bathed or during one of the rituals that they performed. Saemund turned his back, giving the Guide the privacy to dress.

When he turned back, both where fully dressed and armed. Blaer was pulling on the black leather gloves. The only thing relieving the total black of his clothes was the purple on the belt, showing the darkest bond.

He gave a slight incline of the head to show his Clan Leader that he might walk ahead of them. When they stepped out into the dawn light, two of the dark calling were waiting for them. The covers on their faces showed they were unbonded. Jeme’s sword came out of its sheath as he stepped in front of Blaer.

"If you try to take him, then you will never live to meet your chosen one."

Blaer started forward to defuse the situation, only to be pulled back by Jeme, and tucked behind him. "Silence, Guide." The command was snarled.

"Jeme!" Blair snapped back in the kick assed tone of a bonded Guide, designed to bring his Sentinel into line. But the look that Jeme sent him stopped him before he could start. The look was raw and primal, the Sentinel was defending its mate, and on this he would brook no interference.

"We did not come alone, Sentinel." The taller of the Dark Guides spoke levelly.

As four of the Peacekeepers, the Clan warriors of Warren stepped forward.

"Having trouble, Brother?" The Peacekeepers turned fast, and then did an almost comic double take, as the black leather dressed warrior dropped lightly from the back of his horse, his sword in hand. His lips had pulled back in a mockery of a smile.

"Nothing that I can’t handle, Huon. Blaer will go only when he is ready tell your masters. Do I need to carve it into your hides?" Jeme growled the warning. "Now go."

The Dark Guides pulled back, taking the Peacekeepers with them. To stay would have resulted in their deaths. The two Sentinels were too dangerous.

The message Jeme was sending was simple: Blaer was his Guide, claimed and marked, the power of the Temple over him was past, his only loyalty to his Sentinel, his mate. And if Warren thought he could summon Blaer like a slave, then he was sadly mistaken. If he wanted to talk to Blaer, it was at his pleasure and the pleasure of his Sentinel.

Saemund wasn’t reassured by the sudden arrival of Huon. He had not really gotten a chance to know this half brother of his friend, and adding to it the knowledge that Jeme’s father had just arrived at the Gathering, didn’t fill him with any confidence. It was then he noticed the way that Huon was looking at Blaer. It was like a man who was starving being faced with the food of the gods. Even he could see the naked need burning behind the light blue eyes. It was then he realized what was wrong--Sarane was missing. Things had just gone from bad to worse.

It was then that Huon reached for Blaer.

 

End of Part One.