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.

With thanks to my beta reader Nancy, for making sense of my spelling and grammar.

Warning for some intense emotion, h/c and angst.

This story is a sequel to Cry of the Panther and contains references to Green Eyes Monster.

Note: Some details of the Temple of the Love had been taken from a television program on the ancient religions of the Incas and the Aztecs.

Love and Lies

Part One

Simon Banks peeled back the adhesive strip that sealed the envelope closed and took out the spiral bound manuscript, recognizing it for what it was, the next installment of the Dark Guide Saga.

Settling himself in his favorite chair, he took an appreciative sip of his cup of coffee, and with a contented sigh opened the book.

0-0-0-0-0

The Camp of Warren, Council of the Clan:

After the drama of Blaer's reclaiming by Jeme in front of all the clans, Saemund was looking forward to a peaceful return to his home and his wife.

Warren waved Saemund to take his ease, as his wife poured ale for them. "Your son Daryl, how old is he now?"

"Thirteen summers, why?"

"Have you decided on a wife yet for him?"

Saemund almost choked on the ale. "He's still a child, Warren."

"He's old enough to be pledged in marriage, and for the Panther Clan to form an alliance of power. He would not have to marry for at least another four seasons, but she would come to your Clan and learn the duties of a wife and mother from Caro. Surely you have spoken about his future."

Saemund took another sip of his drink. "And who is this girl you have selected, or rather would like me to consider?" The Clan Leader thought he saw a look of anger in Warren's eyes at that remark, or was he just not happy that he was only going to consider it.

"Her name is Shelia, from the Fire Storm Clan."

"Jeme's father's Clan." That made Saemund sit up a little straighter. "You would want me to form an alliance with his father." His voice was edged with disbelief.

"Wilhelm has indicated that he is willing, but before you judge, listen to me." He raised his hand to stem the flood of words he could see building. "Wilhelm has taken a second wife, Elaine, from the Falcon Clan. They are a small but wealthy clan, mostly traders. They have loaned money to other clans and to some of the leading houses they have power. Wilhelm's wife has a daughter. She is only eighteen summers old, fair of features. The match would be with her."

"My son is not cattle to be bred like a..."

"Like a what, Saemund? You put your own Guide and Sentinel to stud on the eve of their bonding for the good of the tribe. What is so different with this? Is it because it's your son? If you wish to lead, then lead as a man, and not an old woman.

A Clan Leader's children never marry for love, they are lucky if they find it later. They marry to make alliances and to gain power for the clan. Your stand at the Council was brave, but at the coming Great Gathering, will you turn down the tribute from the others that they will offer if your sentinel becomes the Prime of all the Clans? He and that slip of a guide will be worth gold and much more, if you are the man, the leader, to take advantage of it. Already Charles of the Fire Horse Clan has approached me to broker a mating with his daughter, the first did not result in a rooted seed, and you would turn that down."

Saemund shook his head. "I have told them that."

"You have done nothing, Saemund, just given in when you should have led. Is your hold on Jeme so fragile that he would break from you over this? Think it over my friend." Warren's voice softened, now he was now the voice of reason. "We will all accept your ruling on this. All I ask is that you do not rule it out. Now the girl, I hear, is sweet and fair of face, a virgin, no man has touched her. Daryl I am sure will love her on sight, and when a child is born of the union, the child might have the talent. After all, Daryl is the product of your wife's union with a sentinel." //So, my friend, you didn't know that I knew that.//

Warren noticed the way that Saemund had moved uncomfortably at the memory of his wife lying with a sentinel. Their marriage had been barren until she had gone to the Temple of Love, and the high priestess had taken her in for three days, during which, like many, she had served the goddess as a devoted follower. It was commonplace for women of breeding and culture to serve for a short time in the Temple. It was accepted, and no stigma was attached to it. In fact, a woman that did not bring a man to the faith had to remain until she had. Some, it was said, who lacked a fair face, had been there for months until a devotee of the temple took pity on them.

Saemund shook his head to clear it; he could not deal with those thoughts now. He decided to tackle Warren's logic on another layer. "You forget that their Clan has no tolerance of sentinels and guides. By the gods, Wilhelm threw his own son out because he was one. Hasn't it dawned on you that he would not want another *freak of nature* in his family?" The bitter tone of the words coming from Saemund stopped Warren in his tracks.

"Wilhelm wants to embrace the new way. He has seen the pathway to the future, but he is grief-stricken that his own son should have turned his back on him."

Saemund was not taken with the idea. "Jeme is my Sentinel Prime. He won't like this, I will need to talk to him on this matter."

"You answered your own question. He is *your* Sentinel Prime and he will obey you on this; or is he the leader of your clan?" Warren dropped his tone so that he made it a challenge.

The Clan Leader was now in a position; if he refused, then Warren would know that he was governed by his own Second in Command. He would have to go ahead with the marriage to prove himself. He did not allow it to show on his face, but he could see that Warren had manipulated him into a corner.

Warren put an arm around his shoulder. "Come, let us talk to Wilhelm. I am sure he will be keen to celebrate the joining of the clans."

As they walked, Warren smiled broadly. The deal had now been made with Saemund, so now he had Wilhelm in his pocket. The man had all but sold his soul to him. In return, he would ally himself to the Peacemakers. Soon he would have the entire key Clans allied to him. Then he would become Overlord of the Clans, and then he would take them forward. The Panther Clan would be his enforcer. The talk among the Sentinel Primes was that with the Dark Guide by his side, Jeme would be the next Senior Sentinel Prime. That was something he could not let Saemund control. The man had no idea of what was needed; an idealist with principles was the worse kind of fool.

The journey back to the clan had been peaceful. Saemund nudged his horse forward to keep pace with his friend. Blaer was riding with his sentinel; his body was still recovering from Sean's attack. He seemed for the entire world to be asleep snuggled up against his sentinel's chest, held secure in his arms.

He was about to broach the subject of Daryl's marriage. Then at the last moment he had pulled back. Instinctively he knew that at this moment, Jeme would not be rational about this. His argument with his father was much too recent. The fact that his father had rejected him, and then tried to reclaim him, had the sentinel's emotions at the boiling point. And, from what he had heard, Blaer had been insulted through Wilhelm's ignorance of the bond.

He would have to wait his time.

Daryl had been sent out of the tent to play while Caro had led her husband to the furs, then moved into his arms.

Later, Caro had leaned on one elbow and watched her husband, as he had looked almost lost in the fire. She got up and pulled the blanket around her and sat behind him, opening her arms to circle his waist and bury her head against him, the warmth of her body pressed against him.

She knew what was bothering him.

"We have to do what is right for our son. This girl, Shelia, is an intelligent and kind girl. She will be a good match for Daryl."

"Daryl is a child," Saemund protested.

"He will soon be a man, and will need a wife, but there is no need to rush things. Shelia will come to our tent as our honored daughter, and they will get to know each other. Then, when Daryl is of age, they will become one."

"Why is it that I am more worried than you are Caro?"

"Because it is the lot of the woman to always join the man. I did it, remember? I was barely of age when we met, and a dashing warrior swept me off my feet. You went to my father with my bridal piece."

"He did not think the horses were good enough."

"Saemund, my father loves me, the finest stallion would not have been good enough. He will be at the great gathering with my mother. It will be good to see them again." She slid her arm around her husband and hugged him.

Still, Saemund was worried. "Caro, Shelia is of the most strict feayr clan. What if she looks down on him because of his guide ability?"

"Saemund, beloved," when she used his name that way with that tone, he knew he had to listen to her. "Our son has little talent, not enough to even be a grey. There is nothing that she could find unclean. I am more worried about the way she will look at his brothers, a sentinel and guide."

She paused, then added, "A wrong word or gesture, and she will make an enemy of them, especially if she insults our Blaer."

"Then she must learn the worth of the sentinel and guides. What if I ask Jeme and Blaer to collect her? It would show her grandfather that I treat her marriage to Daryl highly enough to send my own Dark Pair to escort her to her new home."

"Now that is decided my husband." With a mischievous grin, Caro kissed the back of his neck as she whispered something that made him laugh. He pulled her back to the furs and silenced her with a long kiss.

But events in the camp had pushed the matter into the background, as the Dark Sentinel and Guide had reached towards the highest bonding level. The whole Clan had been holding their breath. Things had calmed slightly, but they had not yet returned to normal.

Something had gone wrong with the darkest of bonding. Although Jeme had calmed down somewhat, Blaer, if anything, was worse. His possessive nature around his sentinel had doubled, and he was getting to be dangerous. Several members of the feayr had approached their Clan Leader asking what he was going to do about the Dark Guide.

Jess was seated with Saemund when Jeme came to the Clan Leader, answering his summons.

"You wanted to talk, Saemund."

"Please sit, Jeme." He waved his friend down.

Jeme nodded to Jess, recognizing the man as the clan leatherworker.

"Jess, speak freely to Jeme as you have done to me."

Jess was a small, almost mouse-like man. He wrung his hands as he spoke. "Sentinel Prime Jeme, I say this with the greatest of respect to you and your guide. I, er..."

Jeme was never the most patient of men and snapped, making Jess jump. "Piss or get off the pot, Jess."

"Er, well I Ö It's your guide, Blaer. He... well he... my daughter..."

"I have only ever seen Blaer treat the women of his clan with great respect. He would never..."

"Jeme, er Sentinel Prime, he ... well ... he told her..."

Saemund cut in at that point. With a glaring sentinel, and Jess so intimidated that he could barely speak, this was going nowhere fast.

"Jeme, it appears that Blaer heard Jan and another girl talking. They were somewhat graphic in what they would like to do with you." If it hadn't been so serious, he would have laughed at the look the sentinel gave him. Didn't Jeme realize what a prize he was for the females of the clan?

"It appears that Blaer got into her face and told her that if she as much as came within an arm's length of you, she would be dead, and that he would make it long and painful."

Jeme swore long and hard. "I will speak to him Jess", but in the meantime tell her to stay away from me, and especially Blaer. He will not hurt her, you have my word."

Only when the leatherworker had gone did Saemund turn to his friend. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Blaer is not settling into the bond, he seems restless. I'm worried. He's hardly eating."

"Then take him back to the Temple. They know of these things."

"I will not let him go. He is mine, they will not take him!"

"Jeme." Saemund was shocked by the outburst. "They will be able to help ease whatever he is going through. Trust me my son, they will do right by you, he is of the calling."

"Tomorrow Blaer is performing a ceremony to honor the darkest of bonds. You are invited as his Clan Leader and Father. You have no part as such in the ritual, you just have to bear witness to it. Perhaps once this is done it will help him. It is important that the Clan witness the ceremony."

"Then I am honored to be invited."

0-0-0-0-0

Simon refilled his coffee cup and then saw the small handwritten note.

It appears that the Dark Guide performed the rite eight days after the funeral of the young unbonded dark guide. My guess would be that it was dictated by the phase of the moon at the time of the funeral. He did not wish to taint his ceremony with the dark shades of the funeral.

In this rite, the guide celebrated the bond. What the Temple appears to refer to as an * honored state *.

Blair

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer was up before the first light of day. He wore a heavy sleeping robe and carried his fresh robes down to the river.

Jeme walked with him and settled on the edge as he watched his guide brave the chilling water. Blaer waded back to the riverbank; careful as always not to go out of his depth, his fears of water were still very real.

Jeme watched as Blaer dried himself off and then settled down in front of him.

Blaer lifted up a pot of cream, made from the local herbs and the sap of the plants. Jeme dug his fingers in and, for a moment, was nearly lost with the texture of it as it oozed over his fingers. Then a light touch to his wrist and he came back to Blaer. His apology was waved away with a smile.

Blaer itched to connect with his sentinel to maximize the feelings that were running through him, the light touch of the hands on his body maddening, wanting them to be holding him, pinning him down while they bonded. The need to bond was running through him now like quick-fire. He had nearly thrown himself at Jeme to try and force him to complete the bond then and there, on the side of the riverbank, but he had held himself in check. He would not give way to his own spirit guide, the Wolf. He could hear it howling in his head, but unlike his sentinel he would not let the primal needs overtake him. He was a Dark Guide, trained to lead his sentinel, not a barbarian, but a man given the wisdom of the Temple to help him through this time. Blaer took a deep breath to clear his head, and exhaled slowly. The time was coming soon, they would bond.

"It is complete, * Little One *." Jeme's hand gently carded through his long hair, and he had to smile. Since the very start, the sentinel had in particular liked to touch his hair. It seemed to be a sensory feast for him.

Jeme looked up into the early morning sky, dawn would be coming soon. As if reading his mind, Blaer held out a leather tie. Jeme smoothed the unruly dark curls back, and then tied them in place. He allowed himself the indulgence of scenting the back of his guide's neck before getting up to stand guard while Blaer dressed. The scent of his guide was overwhelming him, the Panther in him roared, but the man held him back. This was not for him; this ceremony was for Blaer. Later there would be plenty of time to bond.

This was important to Blaer, and so it was important to him.

He glanced up. The sun would be breaking through soon, then the ceremony would start.

In the center of the camp, Hender and Bryn had prepared the platform for the ceremony just as Blaer had instructed.

Looking up at the horizon, Jeme knew when Blaer came up behind him; the touch to his shoulder, and the curve of the body as Blaer made physical contact with him. But the touch of his mind was still withheld.

"Come, Jeme, it is time."

At the platform, the clan was waiting. Jeme recognized the people. They had been among the first to welcome his guide to the clan. He bristled at the look on some of the other people's faces, and his hand strayed towards his sword.

All too well he knew that some of the feayr still resented the fact that his guide practiced a different religion. They saw it as an affront to their gods, and that it might call down on them their wrath. But, hopefully, today they would see that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Blaer looked to the horizon and the sun that would soon be heralding a new dawn. He knelt down. Leaning forward with his elbows resting on the ground, he rested his head on his arms, his body in the attitude of total respect. The sun began to rise, and the first fingers of the morning light rolled over him. Blaer began to chant, as he called on the gods of sun and water to pay witness to his bonding. Then he rose up on his knees, hands held up. He let the earth fall from his fingers. The soil caught in the wind as he intoned, "Mother Earth, Father Sun, witness my bond to my sentinel.

"Only Death can part our bond, and then it is only fleeting, until we are united for eternity in the Halls of the underworld, to eat and drink at the table of the gods. Mother Earth, Father Sun, hear my prayer."

Blaer folded down again and knocked his head three times against his arms. Only then did he straighten up, settling back on his heels again.

Jeme moved forward. He embedded the sword in the ground, and then removed Blaer's bonding sword and placed that so that the two swords were together. Into this, both sentinel and guide went unarmed.

Jeme removed a black belt, the ends tipped with purple, from his tunic. He stood in front of Blaer. Only then did Blaer get to his feet, now lifting his head to look into the face of his sentinel.

The Sentinel held the belt in both hands and then raised them to the sun, toward the river, and to the earth.

He reached around his guide and tied the belt in place around his waist, then knelt and touched the trailing ends to his forehead and to his lips. Only then did he let it fall from his fingers.

Blaer's hand rested on Jeme's shoulders, and then his head.

0-0-0-0-0

Simon read the post-it notes attached to the manuscript.

The dark guide ceremonies and rites appear to be of an older religion than that practiced by the Clans. This is not unusual, but it would mean that Blaer would see their rites as barbaric, even as heresy. The fact the Saemund allowed him to practice his religion shows that religious tolerance is not a modern thing. The fact the sentinel touched the sash that indicated the higher bonding to his face appears to be a sign that he acknowledged the change in the bonding. This appears to be a rare acknowledgment of the guide dominance of the sentinel.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme linked with him, and could feel the emotions that were churning inside of him; intense pride in the darkest of bonding. He could only hope that Blaer would now find more stability.

But the need to bond was burning through him, branding him to the very bone. Jeme could feel the tremor building in the slender body, the brightness in the eyes. Blaer would want to bond now. In fact, he could already feel the younger man losing himself in the bond, trusting his sentinel to protect and care for him.

Blaer was seeing the camp and the people for the first time through the senses of his sentinel.

The scream came from the side of the platform, and Hector lunged out. He brought the battle-ax down, narrowly missing Blaer as Jeme pulled him out of the way, his body sheltering his smaller guide. Blaer was lost deep in the bond; he was in no condition to protect Jeme. He had opened himself up fully to bond, and was lost.

The giant Henri tackled the ax man, knocking the man down with one mighty blow of his fist. On his knees the man was screaming, "You, Saemund, have allowed this to happen in our camp, this unholy creature to spread his filthy ways among our people.

Cast out this creature and its minions now, before the gods bring us all to ruin."

Saemund raised his voice to be heard. "Blaer is a Dark Guide. This ceremony is important to him, and it will take place. Jeme, complete the ceremony, claim your guide."

But Jeme shook his head. "Blaer is lost, I must bring him back. He is in the void."

Bending, he put his arm under his unresponsive guide's body and lifted him up. "Bryn, take our swords and follow me."

Once in their tent, he quickly laid Blaer down, pressing his hands to the side of his face. He pushed against the block that he could feel. Blaer's skin was like ice, his breath was shallow, his heart was slowing. "I will not lose you, Blaer. Fight, damn it." He pressed hard against the block. Hearing a low groan, he tried again.

Blaer lay in a black void. He was more puzzled than frightened. He had been bonding with his sentinel. Although his eyes were closed, he had seen Saemund and Caro standing there to witness his bond. He had smelt the incense that Wulfstein had made for them, and placed in the tent, even though it was far away. He had heard the whispered words of Saemund as he had asked Alfric what was happening. He was one with his sentinel, his senses a gift that Jeme had offered to him, sentinel and guide one.

Then suddenly it was gone. His senses had spun, and he had lost his anchor in Jeme's mind. Lost, he had fallen into the pits of the underworld.

Then he heard nothing.

Wulfstein rushed into the tent. He heard the low growl deep in the base of the Sentinel Prime's throat, and recognized the Panther immediately. He slowed.

"Panther, you are not wanted now. It is the man that must bring his guide back."

But it was the Panther that spoke. "Leave us now."

Wulfstein stood his ground. "Jeme, it is you that Blaer wants, not the Panther. As a man you must claim your guide. Claim him. Mark him as yours. Complete the darkest bond, NOW."

Wulfstein saw the look on Jeme's face. The man came back, and the features softened, then with a snarl the Panther was back. Then the Panther was in his face, he was caught hold of and thrown out of the tent, stumbling and going down on his knees.

The flap of the tent was pulled down with a crack and then lashed into place. No one would get in their way now.

Wulfstein's concern was very real. Jeme still refused to give way to his emotions and along that route lay disaster. He had to speak to Saemund. This was now beyond them; only the Temple could complete the circle. //Saemund, you will have to make them see sense.//

The Panther looked down at his soul mate, his senses moving over the still body. Kneeling by his side he lightly stroked Blaer's face and neck, then his hands held Blaer's head. The Panther closed his eyes, and connected with his guide. Blaer's head moved in his hands, but Jeme held him tightly, as with his power he began to force his way into his guide's mind, through the dark block. Blaer was now moaning, his hands moved to try and push Jeme off him, to stop the pain. But the Panther held tightly. Then with a scream, which mixed with the cry of the Panther, the block caused by the zone shattered and Blaer's eyes flew open. He was gasping for breath. His hands clutching Jeme's tunic, he pulled him down onto him.

The Panther eased back. "I am too heavy for you."

"No. Need to feel you. I thought I had lost you." His shaky hand ran up from Jeme's chest to the side of his face. All the time Blaer's eyes were locked on his sentinel.

The Panther gave a low chuckle as he saw the color changing; the bright blue became clouded, darker. Bending, he inhaled the scent of his guide, it was richer and heavier. Blaer wanted to bond, the linkage scent called the sentinel to him.

As he dipped his head, Blaer's hand moved up into Jeme's short hair, and his fingers slid through the dark bristles as he petted his sentinel. The link between them was bright and alive.

The sentinel, like his cat spirit, was purring, the sound vibrating down in his throat as he ran a hard, callused hand firmly over his guide.

The Panther's senses began to heighten. For him the world was now made up only of his guide; his heart the sound of the mother earth's heartbeat, his scent the smell of the life force of the world.

The guide, still connected to his sentinel, was being drawn deeper into the darkest bond. This time it was the Panther that knew what it needed, Blaer going along for the ride. Through the link, he could feel the needs and wants of his sentinel broadcasted clearly. He had to control the Panther, or else he could be lost himself.

The Panther eased back, and just looked down at him, his eyes bright and burning.

Blaer rolled, moving smoothly from his knees to his feet. Immediately, with a growl, the Panther pounced, bringing his young guide down, twisting so that he took the impact of the fall. Blaer made it to his knees and was starting to move again when a strong hand caught his ankle and he was pulled back. The Panther knew this game. He liked it. He released his hold and let Blaer scrabble to his knees and get a little away from him before he pounced again, rolling over with him, liking the way the smaller body moved under and over him. He let Blaer go and then waited. For a second, the guide just lay still, and then lunged sideways. The Panther's arm wrapped around the struggling guide's waist and he was pulled back against his chest.

His other hand caught Blaer's wrist and pushed them up high against the smaller guide's heart, holding him firmly against his body.

The Panther's sense of touch had heightened, and Blaer's body, as it struggled against him, twisted and bucked against the Panther, trying to free himself from the iron grip that held him molded against the much larger body. The growling of the Panther became deeper, the need burning brighter in him, to take and claim his guide.

Blaer was panting heavily, the connection between them was betraying him. Linked to his sentinel, his own sense of touch was heightened. His clothing was like sack cloth as it brushed across his lower stomach, sending his mind into overload, as his non-sentinel mind tried to identify the sensations rocking his body.

Blaer tried to form the words to plead with his sentinel to release him, but suddenly, with a growl, the Panther bit down on his neck, and Blaer bucked hard against him, crying out, his voice that of his own spirit guide as it broke through the defenses that he had put up. The Primal Dark Guide was out. All control that Blaer had had, was stripped away. The Wolf guide did not like to be held, it wanted freedom to move. But both Panther and Wolf now knew that they were heading towards what both wanted--the Animal Spirit bonding the Darkest of Bonds.

The Panther's hand came up to pet his face. The Wolf waited, then bit down on the fleshy part of the Sentinel Panther's palm; at the same time he brought his head back.

The Panther easily dodged the move, but it meant that he was off balance, and fell backwards. That, coupled with the elbow that caught him in the stomach with an oomph, made him let go.

The Wolf was free. He moved quickly, spinning and facing his sentinel, his eyes never leaving the sentinel's face. As he reached a hand up and touched his neck, he felt the thin film of moisture on his fingers, and then looked, it was a trace of blood. The Wolf was growling almost indignantly. His mate would pay for this.

The Panther Sentinel was ready to spring; he was rubbing his hand, his lips pulled back showing his teeth. His mate had drawn blood.

Wolf faced down the Panther.

The Panther, with insolence, let its gaze move down his mate's body, seeing the flush of the skin and the sweat that coated his face, the scent rolling off him, the hitch in his breath. His lips curled back into a smirk. His Wolf could never lie to him. He might protest and posture, but he wanted the Panther, needed to complete the bond.

All the time his eyes never left his mate's face, noting the change in the eyes and breath, as the Wolf felt his senses wrap around him; the sway of the body without conscious thought towards its mate. The scent of Wolf's need to bond now permeated the whole tent, blocking all others. The hunger for the bond was bright in his eyes.

That was all the Panther needed as it moved to claim its mate. Catching him swiftly around the waist, he swept him down onto the furs. With a growl of triumph the Wolf was his.

0-0-0-0-0

Simon moved the page back and forward, and swore. The kid had done it to him again--the page number had jumped. He was going to have to have a serious talk with him about this; it was not nice to tease a man with a gun.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer opened his eyes slowly as he took in his surroundings: not much of a view, only furs and blankets. He was laid on his stomach, the warm long length of his sentinel, his own personal bed warmer, covering his body. The sentinel's leg was hooked over his, more or less preventing him moving. An arm was around his waist, a heavy head resting on his back. The connection between them was mellow in sleep, but the living force of the heightened bonding still vibrated through it, forming a pulse which beat in time with their life force.

The Dark Guide swore violently, in frustration. Last night the need to bond had been overwhelming, and he had lost control, the one thing a guide should never do. His memory was a little vague on the exact form the bond had taken, but if the aches and pains were anything to go by, it was proof of the most primal of bondings. His teachers at the Temple would have been disgusted with him. To descend to that level was considered the worst thing a guide could do. In all things, the guide controlled the sentinel, even in the darkest of bonds.

He moved his arms under his body, and then tried to push up against the weight covering him.

Jeme was starting to surface from sleep, his senses and body wrapped around his younger, smaller guide. Half asleep, his arm tightened on his guide. He would not lose him now. Then, with a gasp, Blaer collapsed flat on the furs again, now resigned to the fact the he was not going to be moving far until Jeme had returned to the land of the living.

"Morning, Blaer." The voice was a low, husky whisper, as he nuzzled the back of his mate's neck, automatically checking his scent, using it as a baseline to set all his senses by.

Suddenly he sat upright, pulling back his eyes, taking in the body under him.

"By the gods, Blaer, what have I done?" With a shaking hand, he touched the bites and scratch marks that marred his guide's back and body. It looked like a large cat had mauled him.

He stared down at his hands, lifting one to his face, and confirmed what he already knew-his guide's blood was on his hands.

Jeme started to zone. But before he could go into the void, the touch of Blaer's hands, the warmth of his body and his voice brought him back.

"Jeme, listen to me. You didn't do anything that I didn't want you to. Open your eyes and look at me."

The sentinel found his guide kneeling beside him, and reached out, pulling the smaller man to him, holding him. Blaer allowed the embrace; he knew that Jeme needed it. His sentinel did guilt so well. A chuckle made Jeme pull back slightly to look at him, surprised.

"Look at yourself, Jeme. It wasn't just you. We both went a little wild there."

It was only then that he realized he carried the marks of his guide on him.

"What happened?"

"My fault." Blaer settled comfortably against Jeme, slowly petting his chest and shoulder to keep him calm. "I lost control. A guide must never lose control in the darkest bond, sorry. My punishment is in your hands."

"Punish you?" Blaer winced at the volume of the two words. He had to remember that Jeme didn't have the training.

Slowly, as if explaining to a child, he nestled closer. "The guide is the control, the wisdom, the emotion, and the sentinel is the strength, the power, the aggression. The sentinel is closer to its ancient urges, those that sent the first of the sentinels out to take and own their guides. In the darkest of bonds, it is up to the guide to remain in charge. I lost that last night. When this happens, the sentinel is charged to punish his guide for his neglect."

"How would I punish you?"

Blaer turned his face into his sentinel and whispered softly, his face flushing scarlet.

"You're a grown man, Blaer. There is no way that I would do that to you, beat you like an errant child."

"But..."

"Nothing. It was both of us, and it looks like we both paid for it, so get dressed." He tilted his head slightly, "And Caro already has the food ready for us."

For a moment, Jeme watched as Blaer donned his warm sleeping robe, the first thing that he had ever bought his guide when he noticed how the slightest cold weather chilled Blaer.

When Blaer reached for his clothing to go down to the river, he found his wrist caught.

"Not today Blaer, I need you." Now it was his turn to blush.

"Need what, Jeme?" Blaer prompted. When the older man did not reply, he smiled softly; putting it into words that Jeme could not. "You need for me to have your scent over me, so that they all know that I am yours."

"It's stupid, they know we're bonded," Jeme spluttered.

"No." Blaer raised a hand, and gently stroked his sentinel's face and the strong jaw. "Ownership of the guide is an important part of the sentinel world. You need for them at this time to know without doubt that I am yours and yours only."

He dropped the tone of his voice to the guide tone. "Claimed and Marked, Sentinel."

Jeme moved his face so that he could scent Blaer's palm. "Claimed and Marked, Guide."

0-0-0-0-0

Saemund was a troubled man, his Clan was on the verge of breaking apart. He had to avoid it at all costs. Knowing that if Hector was killed for his actions, and the likelihood that Jeme would want his blood for the attempt on his guide's life, it would be the Clan's undoing. Saemund expelled Hector from the Clan, publicly letting the Clan know that any could leave who had a problem with that. None did. Hector, it appeared, had acted alone. But Saemund was far from sure. It made him wonder about the dead apprentice dark guide. Had he fallen victim to the hatred of Hector already? Now a man could go crazy trying to think that out. Better to hold his council until more evidence came up to prove his theory one way or another.

Saemund had gone over to check on the Dark Pair but his hand had frozen on the flap as he heard the noise coming from the tent. His hand had gone automatically to his knife. It had sounded as if they were trying to kill each other.

Then Wulfstein's hand had dropped on his shoulder, and softly he had said, "Leave them, Saemund. Your business can wait. Enter now, and it would be your death. The Panther will allow none near his mate in this state. Come, I have some new honey ale for you to try." He enforced it with a tug to Saemund's arm. As he turned away, he saw one of the sentinels from the clan moving into place far away so that his presence would not be seen as threatening, but near enough to protect the pair at this time, when both were lost.

Early the next morning, Saemund sought out his Sentinel and Guide Prime, not quite sure what to expect. Well, at least one of them had survived, he thought with a grin.

Seated outside of their home, Blaer was mixing a balm, adding ingredients as he worked, his eyes fixed on Saemund. His body tensed slightly, then appeared to make an effort to relax. Of course, Blaer was still a little twitchy from the darkest bond. It appeared that whatever changes were happening with the Dark Pair, it still had to run its course with him.

Saemund smiled a greeting to the younger man. "Good morning, Blaer. I need to speak to Jeme."

"Call him, he will hear you." The young guide returned to his work. His tone was offhand.

For a moment Saemund just stood there. "I though we had reached a truce Blaer, yet you looked at me just then as if I was the enemy."

Blaer put the bowl down, then with a calculating look, swept his gaze up and down the feayr leader.

"I have heard of your plans to marry into that pig Wilhelm's clan. Remember that, if you're ever to betray us," Saemund did not have to be a mind reader to know what he meant, "I will kill you, honored father." Blaer turned back to his work then looked up and added, "As much as I would regret it, I would do it, and I am sure I could explain it to Jeme in such a way as he could understand its needs."

That was at least honest. And the title honored father, had surprised him; it meant that on one level Blaer had accepted him.

"Blaer, Wilhelm is his father, You might want to watch the way you speak of him. Feelings may run deep, but they are the bond of family."

Blaer pushed a lock of hair from his eyes with the back of his hand. "The bond of the sentinel to his guide is stronger than any of blood. That alone is the true bond." The Clan Leader felt uneasy under the intense look in the eyes of the Dark Guide.

Saemund was puzzled how Blaer had found out about it. That he could ask later, at the moment Jeme had appeared.

"Jeme," Saemund called out--anything to get away from Blaer.

"What do you want Saemund?" Jeme made no comment on what had passed between his guide and his Clan Leader, but his voice had an edge to it.

"I need you to collect Daryl's wife." Saemund decided that small talk was not called for. Jeme needed to know officially, and better it came from him than anyone else in the clan. Because if Blaer knew he would have already shared the information with his sentinel. In a sentinel clan it was hard to keep a secret.

Jeme chuckled. "Daryl isn't old enough yet to marry."

"I know, but Caro believes that if the girl comes now, by the time she is ready to marry perhaps they will have found a true love, and not just what is expected of them. I need you as Sentinel Prime to collect her." Saemund paused. "Her grandfather is Ricsige, of the Falcon Clan, they recently merged with your father's clan, when your father took his sister as his second wife."

Jeme's face went hard as he pushed the news back. To show emotion was to be weak, that he had learned from an early age.

He felt the touch of his guide on his leg, and without realizing it, he leaned against Blaer so that he was connected with him.

Blaer's words were for his ears only. "We will talk later, Jeme."

The sentinel dropped his hand down, and stroked his guide's shoulder, then became all business.

"I know Ricsige. His clan is a merchant clan. They have wealth and powerful contacts, but have to pay tribute to stronger clans. If Wilhelm has made that alliance, then the clan is doing well.

Saemund shook his head. "I am not too sure about that Jeme, but you will be able to learn more when you go. The Falcon Clan is a feayr clan, but they do understand, and often hire mercenary sentinels. I have made it very plain to Ricsige the importance I have set on his granddaughter by your presence. You are my Sentinel and Guide Prime. Any insult to you is an insult directly to the clan."

Jeme's head tilted to one side. "What is wrong Saemund? What aren't you telling me?"

"Blaer will have to wear the traditional garb of the guide. Otherwise, Ricsige won't let him into the camp, and you know your father's views."

The words hung in the air. Saemund found himself nailed by Blaer's gaze as the young guide got gracefully to his feet. The move showed some of the power of the smaller man.

"I am sure that the women of the clan can make it for you, Blaer." He found himself adding a little lamely.

Blaer's laugh was grating. "You honestly don't understand, do you Saemund? You try to be so far-sighted, but for the sake of appearance you would put your guides back into submissive servitude. For a Dark Guide to dress like that once bonded, is the worst insult imaginable. The traditional dress of the guide dates back to when the guides were slaves to their sentinels. The sentinels lived in feral clans. The spirit guides showed them what they needed, and they went out to claim them. The guides were taken and kept by force." He touched a hand to this throat. "Each guide wore a collar, marking ownership of his sentinel, just as he would mark his saddle or his horse. The sentinels did not want any other to claim them, and they learned that some of the unsenses, the feayr, were attracted to their mates." For the first time in the telling of the story, Blaer smiled. "It's amazing that they survived to grow out of the Dark Age. They were more prone to the void than their future children." He shook himself out of his thoughts and continued. "The feayr began to covet the guides, so they clothed them in the full-length robe, covering them from head to toe. Even their faces were masked, except for the eyes."

Jeme put in softly, "Blaer was dressed like that when I first met him."

"But that was in the Temple."

"No, we met when he was an apprentice. I knew his scent then, and I know now it is what called me to him at the Temple." As he spoke, he moved behind his smaller guide and slid an arm around his waist pulling him close, needing the connection.

Blaer, without looking, raised a hand and gently rubbed his knuckles against the side of his sentinel's neck. Saemund could not believe it when he heard Jeme almost purring at the touch.

"The guide was only uncovered in the tent of the sentinel. His face and body only to be seen by his master, just as his name was never spoken by anyone other than his sentinel. For another to speak the name would be to give them power over the guide. Only the old guard still dress their guides in that way."

"But you said that Blaer was dressed like that."

Blaer flushed slightly. "The creed of the Dark Guide is that until the time of bonding, the guide is kept covered outside of the Temple for fear of them being claimed by a sentinel not of their caste."

"A temptation demon." Saemund breathed the words. The glare he got showed that Jeme had heard it; the clan leader had the grace to appear embarrassed by his slip. Now Saemund was beginning to see where some of the rumors about the Dark Order had come from. The Sentinels, it was said in the most bawdy of stories around the alehouses, had rutted with their guides, and that the guides were temptation demons. The worst of their kind being those of the dark art, fair of face and body, that seduced the souls and hearts of men and women, sometimes coupling with both in the same bed, destroying all that was decent in a clan. The stories still surfaced from time to time. Always lurid and believed by some that had never met a sentinel and guide, and by some that misunderstood the close connection of the two.

He was pulled back from these thoughts as Blaer continued. "For me to dress like that now that I am bonded," his hand dropped to brush the sash belt, "would be to dishonor my sentinel. It would show that I was unclean." Blaer met Saemund's eyes levelly.

Jeme's hand gave a gentle squeeze. "Remember at the Council, Saemund. That is your answer."

Saemund's mouth formed an "Oh." He quickly tried to think up some way of changing the conversation; safety, perhaps, in history.

"One question Blaer," //only one.// "When did the guides take on the roles we see now, a partnership of gifts?" Saemund phrased the words very carefully, pleased to see that Blaer seemed to accept it.

"That was later. The sentinel learned that without the guide they were easy to kill. Some guides," Blaer shuddered slightly, "even killed their own sentinels to escape. They died long and painful deaths of insanity. So the wise elders called all the sentinels and guides together, and at the Great Council, the elders handed down the rules from which all sentinels and guides live. The selection of guide and sentinel is never to be forced; it is a choice of the souls, for only a soul-mated pair can survive together. Slavery between the pair was abolished. It was a partnership of equals.

"The rules then were taken to the Temple of the Guides, where guides would be taught their calling. Only when the sentinels had control and understood their role, would they be able to come and claim a guide.

"That, Saemund, is the history of the Temple of the Guides.

"Come, Jeme, the balm is ready, it will ease the scratches" He bent and caught up the pot, pushing his sentinel to the tent.

Once inside, Blaer shook his head. "I should never have told Saemund, a feayr, the history of the guides."

"Blaer," Jeme stopped him in midstream. "You did right. Saemund is our friend. Only by knowing the history, will we understand the future." Then with a grin he added, "See, and you say I never listen to you, Little One."

0-0-0-0-0

Standing in the dawn light, Jeme swung onto his horse. Then looking down at Alfric, he said, "The watch on the Clan is yours. My sword is your sword, and your words are my words. Lead in strength and wisdom."

"Until your return."

Only then did Jeme nudge his horse forward. Blaer followed him, leading a third horse, its back loaded down with dowry gifts for the bride's family, and some trinkets from Daryl to his new bride.

It would take them several days to journey to the Fire Storm Clan. The journey was a chance for them to relax before entering the emotionally charged atmosphere of the Camp, and a meeting with Jeme's father.

They made their last camp by the side of the River. The sentinel settled back against one of the trees as he watched his guide gut the fish he had caught. As usual, Blaer never did anything quietly; he was talking. Jeme could not help grinning. How did the High Priest ever get him to keep quite after the evening bell?

"Now the fire is hot ash. I have put the herbs in the belly of the fish, and now cover it with mud and bake it. The fish is at its best like this; moist, and with the herbs, a real treat."

He slid the fish into the ash and covered it, then turned back to his sentinel. Blaer's concern about Jeme came back again. His sentinel had been drifting into deep thought the first time he barked at him with his best guide tone, the one that kicked ass and brought a reluctant sentinel back out of the void. But he could see that Jeme was turning inwards.

Blaer sat back on his knees by the fire. Jeme had to talk to him. He could guess that it was to do with his father and the return to the camp, the home that he had been expelled from and had never thought to return to. In a perfect world, Jeme would have left on his guide quest, and returned in honor with his guide riding behind him, to be welcomed with a feast, akin in grandeur to any wedding feast. But instead, the clan had turned their backs on him and shunned him. Jeme might appear to be made of rock, with a void for a heart, but Blaer knew different. His sentinel was warm, loving and protective, to those he considered family. He felt this return greatly, but was doing it because his friend and clan leader had asked him to.

The food would take a while to cook, and they had time. The Wolf rose up in his mind and pressed against him, asking to be let out. But it was ruthlessly pushed down, this had to be controlled. Jeme had to accept the bonding as Jeme. The Wolf was guaranteed to bring out the Panther, and that would not help him face up to his feeling.

Jeme was whittling a stick to death, just for something to do. He looked up as he felt his guide standing, looking down at him. His eyes traveled up the black clad figure, from the boots, trousers and tunic that he knew were covered by the long black robe. Around his waist was the black and purple sash. Then black gloves and up to the pale face with the long brown hair scraped back into a ponytail, giving him a scholarly look.

Blaer swayed slightly, in his now heightened condition. Since the first darkest bond, he had felt his sentinel's senses wrap around him like a gentle caress, as the sun touched him on a summer day.

Jeme embedded the knife in the ground, and got smoothly to his feet, the personal embodiment of his spirit guide; power and grace molded into a lethal killing machine.

He came to stand right in his guide's space. Then, with an almost painstaking slowness, he reached up a hand and pressed it against his guide's chest. Through the layers of clothing he could hear and feel thrumming through his fingers the beat of guide's heart. His hand pressed circles against his chest, all the time watching his guide's eyes. If he saw the slightest uncertainty, he would pull back. The bond between sentinel and guide was based on trust. A sentinel's need to bond might be great, but to force the guide to bond was the greatest of sins. The guide had to enter the bonding willingly, otherwise it was nothing more than a rape of the mind. Only the most warped of sentinels got any satisfaction from that. A bond was to be cherished and nurtured by the other partner, and to feel, especially in the more advanced bonds of an established pairing, a coming together of mind, soul and body.

Yes, he could see the need in Blaer to bond, to center themselves. Tomorrow they would enter the camp of his father. He needed this tonight as well, to merge and for them to become one. He needed to feel Blaer in his mind and in his arms, to know that his guide was real, and not just a presence.

His hand moved up and undid the sword harness. He placed it on the ground, then he tugged at the ties on the long robe, letting it fall open. His hands pushed it off the smaller shoulders, and it pooled onto the ground near his feet. All the time Blaer did not move or speak. Then Jeme felt the touch of a gloved hand rest against his stomach. It ran slowly up his chest, to his shoulder, the flat of his fingers rubbing against the his, Blearís thumb brushing his lips. Blaer stepped even closer, their bodies not quite touching. The bond was now a living force that bounced between them, binding the close.

Blaer could feel the anxiety in the older man, the feelings of betrayal and great sadness. He could not let his sentinel suffer, not when it was in his power to put it right, and give him the peace his mind needed.

He brought Jeme's face down level to his, so that they were nose-to-nose, and then rubbed his face against Jeme's. Pulling back only slightly, and keeping eye contact with him, he guided Jeme's hand to his waist, his voice the soft whisper of the guide for his chosen one.

"Join with me, Sentinel, join as one mind, one soul, one body."

He felt Jeme lean into him, his arms sliding around so his hands rested down in the middle of his back, so close that there was no gap between them. Blaer lowered his head and rested it on his sentinel's chest, feeling Jeme's face rest against his head.

Blaer's mind was open, and he felt Jeme enter him. He wrapped his mind around his sentinel as if it was a warm blanket, comforting him, telling him in this most intimate way, that he would always be there for him, and that nothing could ever make him turn his back on his soul mate.

Slowly, Blaer eased back and led Jeme over to the tree he had been sitting against. The guide now led, as he sat down and opened his arms for his sentinel to join him. The bond was rippling between them. Jeme settled next to him, and then allowed the smaller man to position him so that he rested in his arms, his head pressed against his guide's chest so that he could easily hear his heartbeat.

Blaer moved in his mind to calm the flash points of anxiety and fear that flared. Then, as peace came to the troubled mind for the first time in his life, Jeme began to talk, to give way to the emotions that he had bottled up inside of him.

Silent tears rolled down his face. For the first time since he was expelled and shunned, he let himself feel safe in the arms of the only person he trusted, free to talk to the only person that would never judge him, and had accepted him as the person he was, and, in fact, rejoiced in the very thing that had caused his father to expel him.

Finally, exhausted mentally, he fell asleep, held against his guide. He drifted deeper into the bond, knowing that Blaer would catch him if he fell.

Camp of the Fire Storm Clan:

"Sentinel coming!"

Jeme heard the cry in the distance, and slowed the pace of the horses.

"Blaer, my father is still my father, regardless of what he might say and do." He felt the sentence hanging in the air.

"I know, I know. Blaer, don't kill him." His expression showed that he was taking it far from seriously. The younger man ducked as Jeme clipped him across the back of the head, or at least tried to.

"Don't be a smart ass." But he could not hold the stern look for long, and his grin soon mirrored that of his guide.

Now Blaer could hear the cry. "Sentinel coming. Sentinel at the Camp."

He glanced at Jeme. The mask was now in place. This was his home, and yet they were greeting him as if he was a mercenary sentinel looking for work from the Clan, a servant.

The camp was a lot larger than Jeme had remembered it. Some new rectangular wooden buildings had been added to the center, based on the camp of Warren. So his father was giving up the more nomadic life of the clans. In the distance he could see fields already sprouting life. Interesting. Had it been his idea or Warren's?

Wilhelm came out of the most elaborately decorated of the houses. He had Stephen with him, and a smaller, portly man who looked like a sack of wheat on legs. The man's beard was neatly trimmed, and he carried a knife, but it was too highly decorated to be more than an eating tool. Certainly it was not a fighting weapon. //So this is Ricsige.//

Jeme stopped two yards from his father.

"Hail and welcome, Jeme." The welcome was more warm than he had expected from his father.

"Hail, Wilhelm, Clan Leader of the Fire Storm Clan."

"Dismount and share a bowl of ale," Wilhelm continued the traditional greeting.

Jeme had been all too aware that Ricsige had been looking sourly at Blaer all the time. "Your guide may dismount, but, Wilhelm, I am uncomfortable with the fact the creature is not veiled. A guide is the plaything of the temptation demon, here to seduce our women and turn the heads of the men. You know the rules of the ancients. He is to be veiled and covered whenever he leaves your tent. He must not leave it on his own, only when he is at your side, and he must speak to no one for fear of contamination of our clan."

Blaer leaned forward in his saddle, his smile was pleasant. "When the underworld freezes is when I will be veiled."

Ricsige's face took on an unhealthy color. "Sentinel, are you going to allow this creature to talk to me like that? I remind you that I am Ricsige of the Falcon Clan, that I..."

"That you misspoke," Wilhelm put in quickly. That fool Ricsige was about to sour the pot. "Hail and welcome Blaer, Guide of the Dark Calling."

For a moment, Blaer just looked at him. The welcome hung in the air. "Hail, Wilhelm of the Fire Storm Clan, and Father of my sentinel." The arrow neatly hitting home to all those listening.

"As you said Blaer, Jeme is my son, and as his guide and friend you are doubly welcome to my fire."

"Thank you." Blaer could see the man was trying, and he did not want to push him.

He dismounted, as did Jeme. A young boy came to hold their horses.

Wilhelm led them into his home, the wooden floors creaked. A blonde-haired woman came from the rear of the building, bringing with her a tray of drinks. So this, Jim mused, was his new mother. She was a good ten years younger than his father, but had a maternal look about her.

"Jeme, this is your mother. Before Alaine, I never thought to find peace of mind again. She has been a great addition to my life."

Alaine smiled as she took in the two younger men. So this was Jeme, the eldest son. She had heard a lot about him when she had joined the clan. He was a warrior of great power and courage. It was good that he would rejoin them. Her other stepson, Stephen, was no warrior, and under his leadership the Clan would suffer.

Her gaze moved on to Blaer, an assassin and practitioner of the Black Arts. Tonight she would pray to the gods to deliver them from his evil influence, but she was practical enough to know that he would be a useful tool later.

She placed the tray on the table, then went forward to greet her new family.

Wilhelm gave her a hug, which surprised Jeme; his father had never shown this much emotion openly to his late mother. Perhaps Wilhelm was changing.

Once everyone was seated and supping their ale, Wilhelm, rather than talk about the wedding, seemed eager to talk of other things. "The clan is now joined with the Falcon Clan. The merge between us has been successful, and both have gained from it. You'd be surprised how well we have flourished. "

Seeing that they had finished their ale, he added, "Stephen, escort your brother to his house. Refresh yourself, and do what is needed," he looked pointedly at Blaer, "and then return and we will speak of the marriage alliance."

The younger brother was about to protest that he was not his father's lackey, but the words died unsaid.

"This way, Jeme." Stephen fell quiet as he escorted his brother. The return of Jeme was something he had never imagined. He loved his brother, but when he had been expelled from the Clan, it had opened up his world. He was no longer ignored; his opinion was sought by members of the Clan. There was no way that he could be the warrior that his brother was. He was the second son, birthed in case the first-born had died. He would have had no place in the structure of the Clan leadership. In fact, in some clans it had been known for the first-born to kill the second on becoming leader to prevent him from ever attempting to take his place. He never thought that Jeme would do that, but now he was being brought back, and their father had made it clear that it was what he wanted. Where would he now stand? Then there was the black shadow that followed his brother everywhere. He had heard about the Dark Guides. His brother might tolerate him breathing, but would the Dark Guide, or would he be a threat, and one day be killed for it?

The thoughts swirled around in his head. Suddenly, he realized that Jeme was speaking to him. He shook his head to clear it.

"Sorry, Jeme, what did you say?"

"This is your clan, brother. I have mine."

"How did you know?" He noticed the look that Jeme gave his guide.

"A good guess, Stephen, and a most natural one." He gave his brother a pat on the shoulder. "It's been a long time."

Stephen gave way and embraced his older brother warmly . "Too long, Jeme." He spluttered to a painful halt as he admitted, "At the Council I wanted to come to you, but father..."

He saw the expression on Jeme's face and knew he did not have to finish what he was saying. His brother understood.

"This is the house we have built for honored guests, and it yours while you are here. Now I must go."

Blaer entered the house. It was on a much smaller scale than the home of the Clan Leader, but it was well constructed, and was meant to impress any visitor with the wealth of the clan.

"Well, Blaer, I know you're itching to tell me what you think is going on here."

"Now that you ask, your father is so keen to have this alliance that he's even prepared to be civil to me. That must show that it's important to their plans. Ricsige is a rich man. For him to merge his clan with yours, means that they have something he wants or can make a profit from."

"You sound as if you know him."

"Ricsige visits my mother's temple. He is a great devotee of Aphrodite. She has brought him to the faith many times, and he awards the Temple well each time."

"A man of great faith," Jeme put in levelly.

"A man who likes money, and is buying his way into the next world. For him it's a business deal and nothing more. I would not trust him. Some of the things he has done in pursuit of gold would make a bandit blush. If he allied with your father, it was because he can see a future in it."

"And all this stems from Warren, so he could be the money behind our Council Leader. It gets even more interesting by the moment. Now my father..."

Blaer decided they needed to lighten the mood. Jeme could not afford to get locked into bad memories.

"Speaking of your father, are you going to *look after me*?" Blaer broke the more somber mood. He wiggled his eyebrows, and then fluttered his eyelashes, his body language changing in the perfect copy of a coy young maid. "Well, oh handsome and powerful Sentinel Warrior?"

"More likely I am going to turn a spoiled brat over my knee and tan his ass until he cries uncle, if he doesn't act his age."

"Promises, promises, oh powerful warrior. You have me quaking in my boots." He pulled back out of the way, as Jeme closed the distance between them.

"Who is promising, here?" Jeme went as if to lunge to his right, and switched, catching Blaer around the waist. He wrestled him down, giving him two quick playful swats to his seat and then let him go, bursting out laughing at the way Blaer played up to it, before collapsing in laughter next to him on the sleeping platform.

"By the gods, I needed that Blaer. Thanks."

He gave Jeme's leg a pat. "Ready for the negotiations now?"

"Yeah." Jeme got up, then reached down and pulled his guide effortlessly to his feet.

Sentinel and guide were halfway to Wilhelm's hut, when a man yelled. "Jeme, you horse stealing son of a bitch."

Blaer turned fast to the threat, and saw a warrior barreling towards them.

Jeme countered, "At least I don't sleep with them."

Immediately Blaer was between them, his sword ready.

To his surprise, Jeme just brushed past him and knocked the sword up, catching the man in a rib-breaking hug.

Blaer lowered the sword to the ground, //old friends must be,// as he watched with amusement as the two men pounded each other's backs in a macho display of brotherhood. Finally, they parted.

The man rubbed his bushy beard, that seemed to still contain much of his last meal, and then looked the smaller guide up and down. His lips curled up in a grin.

"Pretty little thing." He looked down at the sword. "He as spirited as this in your furs, Jeme?"

Jeme's broad smile died. "Jas, you do not disrespect my guide. If you do, be sure you will have to back your words up with your sword."

Jas scoffed. "So, you would protect HER honor."

"No, HE will. Blaer is my equal with a sword. More than one person has met their ancestors because of him, and, Jas, I am sure your funeral would be magnificent."

Jas looked from Jeme, his childhood friend, to the slighter figure in black. Looking into the pale blue eyes of the guide, he knew then that Jeme was telling the truth. He had his answer.

"I am Jas of the Fire Storm Clan. Welcome in good health." He put his hand out.

Blaer looked him up and down, and then accepted his hand.

"I am Blaer of the Panther Clan."

"Welcome, Blaer." He laughed. "No insult meant, Blaer of the Panthers. Just a joke, meant in good heart."

"No insult taken."

"Good friends all, then." He patted Jeme's shoulder with a large hand. "It's been a long time old friend, and tonight in my tent we drink and talk of the old times."

He started to turn away, and then stopped in his tracks, not turning back, but knowing that Jeme would hear him.

"I am glad you're home, Jeme." Then he walked away.

Blaer was watching him critically as he sheathed his sword. "He was your friend, but I take it he did nothing to stop them from expelling you from the clan."

"He had no choice Blaer. My father ordered it."

"There are always choices." His hand ran down Jeme's arm in a soft caress. "There are always choices Jeme. Come on, let's arrange that marriage."

Wilhelm knew that he had to make a good deal to appease Ricsige.

He almost breathed a sigh of relief when his eldest son arrived

and took a seat, the place of honor as a guest to the clan. His dark shadow moved behind him, where he could watch and counter any move that was made against his sentinel.

Before they could start, two children burst in. "Grandfather, grandfather." They threw their arms around Wilhelm and hugged him.

Blaer leaned forward. "Jeme, they're sentinels."

He felt the anger like a charge through the sentinel.

"Sentinels, father. You embrace them, but threw me out, your own child." Then with a sneer he added, "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

He got to his feet. Suddenly he spun around as he heard the squeal of delight as Blaer started to get up. The children let go of their grandfather and ran towards him.

Jeme pulled his guide behind him and snarled at the children. They backed off from the larger of their kind, instantly knowing that he was dangerous to them, but not understanding why.

"Get this father, Blaer is mine. Young or old, anyone that tries to claim him will die."

Edward turned to his grandfather. He had always given them what they wanted, and what they wanted wore black.

"Make him give him to us, we want him."

Wilhelm caught them and pulled them close. Blaer moved behind Jeme, linking and using his mind and touch to calm him down.

Jeme could barely tolerate his own students at times, depending on his mood. Like this, the children--no--the unbonded sentinels had brought out the worst of his possessiveness. Learning his nephews were sentinels and loved by his father was the final part of his betrayal by his family. Anything else could send Jeme over the edge, so Blaer tugged at his arm.

Blaer was about to say something to try and help when he saw the look that Jeme shot in his direction. He understood straight away. Jeme didn't want them to hear his voice; he was his guide, and only his. They would talk about this in the hut, but later. Now he had to get Jeme away and give him a chance to cool down.

He tugged his arm, and finally Jeme gave way.

Now Blaer was sure he knew what Stephen, Jeme's brother feared, not only Jeme's return, but also the fact his own children were sentinels. In a feayr dominated clan, they might be seen more as goods of trade than an asset to the clan as people.

He found himself being all but manhandled to their hut. It was only when the door was closed and wedged into place that Blaer sat down and centered himself. Now, more than ever, he needed to be the calm voice of reason in the storm of sentinel emotion. He watched as Jeme paced around the room.

Blaer allowed the situation to continue for a while, but then enough was enough. Jeme had yet to talk to him, and as his guide this could not be allowed to continue. Now was the time to take the bull by the horns.

"A man will always love his grandchildren, perhaps seeing them as a way of making amends for his past mistakes."

"Do you believe that?" Jeme paused long enough to look at him critically.

"Yes, because he knows he made a mistake, and because he's the kind of man that will never say he's sorry.

"But then again," Blaer paused, my offer's still open. If you want him dead, just say the word. It will be my pleasure."

"Blaer, has anyone ever told you, you have a dark sense of humor?"

"Goes with the territory. Now, are you going to broker this marriage or are we going to have to explain why Daryl is minus a wife?"

Jeme reached a hand down, pulling him smoothly to his feet and into his arms. Only then did Jeme lean forward, resting hisforehead against Blaer's as he reaffirmed his guide as the baseline of his senses. He felt the vibration as Blaer laughed.

"Let's broker a deal that makes him squeal."

The smile between sentinel and guide would not have given Wilhelm any comfort if he had seen it.

0-0-0-0-0

Ricsige had joined Wilhelm when they went back to the hut. Jeme's emotions were near the surface. Blaer kept his hand resting on the small of his back to keep him calm and anchored.

Wilhelm called, "Alaine," she entered. With her was a tall, willowy young woman. Her face was pretty, but with the air of someone who knew it and expected it to be commented on.

She wore a white cloak wrapped around her.

To Jeme, her heart was beating as fast as a bee's wing.

Wilhelm cleared his throat. "I, Wilhelm of the Fire Storm Clan, and father of Shelia, hereby under oath of my honor, state that she is untouched by the hand of man. The midwife of the clan has vouched to her virgin state, and has said that she should birth many sons for the Panther Clan." He took a deep breath. "Alaine."

Her mother walked in front of Shelia. "This has to be done, darling, otherwise they could annul the marriage. It will be over in a moment."

She undid the tie, and the white cloak fell to Shelia's ankles, leaving her standing naked in front of the men. She crossed one arm across her breasts, and the other hand held lower tried to cover herself. She blushed scarlet.

"Turn around."

Shelia did it quickly, and then was covered up. Hot tears of embarrassment ran down her face. She had just been paraded like a prize cow in front the visiting men.

In the background she could hear her stepfather start the serious matter of the dowry. She rushed out and back to her tent, then burst out crying. She had been paraded in front of that sentinel and his unnatural creature. No one cared what she thought or who she loved.

Shelia tore off the ceremonial gown and then pulled on her dress. She had to get away from everyone, to find the only person that understood her.

She slipped out and then ran for the clearing, where she knew John would be waiting for her. She flew into his arms. His mouth sought hers, and her body pressed up against his, so soft and so willing. "John, we have to leave tonight. Tomorrow I am wed."

"By proxy only. The marriage isn't binding until you marry this Daryl. The proxy is only a promise. I will get some of my friends and I shall claim you, and put those two in their graves."

"No!" Shelia almost screeched. "That will bring down the wrath of the clans. I will escape them. Watch and then aid me." She kissed him again,and John reluctantly let her go, only to be pulled back and kissed deeper.

Shelia drew back, slowly touched his lips with her fingertips, and then ran back to camp.

"A pretty piece, John." The voice drifted over from the trees. John never turned around, his voice went ugly. She only has one valuable gift that I am interested in."

When the other man laughed, he added, "And that's her dowry, the rest you can take for yourself."

0-0-0-0-0

Wilhelm was pleased with the way his eldest son had conducted himself; during the talk on the dowry, he was strong, but fair. Saemund's trust in Jeme was well placed. In Jeme he could clearly see where Stephen failed. His younger son was not a warrior, he was a trader, and while he accepted that traders such as Stephen could gain power and wealth, it took a warrior to keep it.

His gaze went past Jeme to Blaer seated next to him. He had noticed that sometimes Jeme had tilted his head slightly towards his guide. He had seen the young man's mouth move, but no sound come out. The sentinel was listening to his guide. Then there would be a nod of the head, and Jeme would bring up another question. Reluctantly, Wilhelm now began to realize that Blaer was a force to be reckoned with, his son listened to his council. He had allowed his views to blind himself to the fact that only through accepting Blaer fully would he gain his son back.

Finally, the wedding dowry was agreed on.

The wedding ceremony would take place in two days' time.

Later:

Blaer stretched out on the furs, his hands tucked behind his head, and viewed his sentinel with interest. Jeme was prowling around the hut like a caged animal.

"Jeme, talk to me."

"It's like an itch I can't scratch. Something is wrong here, it's stupid, and I can't put my finger on what it is." He shrugged.

Blair sat up, pulling his feet under him, his face thoughtful. "You could be picking up on something you have heard, and yet not realized you have heard it. Come here." He patted the furs near him.

Jeme made a humph noise.

"Jeme, here." It was the voice of command of a Dark Guide. The one that a reluctant sentinel had to follow.

Jeme sat down, and Blaer moved so that he was kneeling behind him. He placed his hands by the side of his sentinel's head, and then eased his head back so that he was leaning into him.

Closing his eyes, Blaer felt Jeme try to link. "No, let me. Just open your mind and let go."

Jeme gave a soft sigh as he felt the gentle caress of his guide's mind entering his. It was like a mist swirling around. There was nothing held back, all that Blaer was, was open to him. Suddenly Jeme sat upright and pulled away from his guide. Blaer gave a cry of pain as the link was broken.

Blaer looked up and saw the expression on his sentinel's face--one of horror, of total betrayal.

Without conscious thought, Jeme bent down and picked up his sword, the blade half out of its sheath. He slammed it back in and stormed out.

Blaer collapsed forward at the waist, his eyes tightly closed, as the emotional backlash of his sentinel had engulfed him.

Wilhelm went to Jeme as he left the hut, but he just brushed past him and stormed off into the woods. He needed to be alone to think.

His mind was churning. Blaer, of all people, had lied to him, had taken advantage of their bond. For that he should kill him. He was no man's puppet. He was a warrior, a Sentinel Prime.

In the hut, Blaer slowly straightened up, and then took his bonding sword and ran his hand down the flat of the blade; the very images of the Wolf and the Panther seemed to mock him. He had managed, with one moment's carelessness, to destroy all that he had built. Jeme was not ready to have learned the truth; the Panther embraced fully the darkest bond, but the man did not. Then the Wolf rose in Blaer's mind, and he climbed swiftly to his feet, the sword swung around his shoulder. The man would either accept him, or he would die at the hands of his sentinel. There was no other way.

Wilhelm saw Blaer come out of the hut. Something was seriously wrong, you didn't have to be a genius to tell that. He shuddered when Blaer looked at him; it was like looking into the eyes of a wild animal.

"He went that way. Wilhelm pointed the way.

Blaer seemed to bounce once, and then took off at speed.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme sat down on a log and looked out across the lake. As a child he had spent many enjoyable, and some not enjoyable, times at the lakeside. It had been his refuge from the wrath of his father.

He stared out across the water, picking out a dragonfly far out, seeing the moment the pike had jumped out and snapped it from the above the water, disappearing into the mirror-like surface again.

What he had seen in Blaer's mind had scared him. Yes, scared him. The fact that the kid had lied to him, had taken advantage of his innocence as a sentinel and turned it against him. He pushed the anger down; he had nearly drawn his sword on his own guide. He was no guide he was ... he was his guide; the words kept twisting and turning in his mind.

He turned as he heard someone coming through the trees towards him. Jeme tilted his head and inhaled the scent of his guide, heavy and rich, musky. It could belong to no one else.

Blaer came through the trees and then slowed down. All he knew was that he had found his sentinel, and unless he could put this right, only one of them would leave the clearing alive.

End of Part One

To be continued.