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 Nancy, Rogue, Gail and Lois for all your help and input with this story.

Warning: As always this is a general story, but it does contain scenes of intense emotional bonding.

 

Love and Lies     Part Three

Jeme circled the two bodies on the ground in the small clearing. He felt Blaer touch his arm and then he knelt down, not touching, but his hands ghosting over them.

"Tell me what you see, Jeme." Blaerís voice was supportive and calming, but at the same time had the bite of command to it.

"There are prints around them: six to eight men with horses. There are defensive cuts to both of their hands; they tried to ward off the blows that killed them. Someone on horseback did these; they were done from above, but the deathblows were by someone on the ground. The boy was trying to protect Shelia, and they died together."

"My god."

Blaer spun around and saw that Sarane had come into the clearing. One hand was pressed against her mouth, a look of total horror on her face. "Oh, my god, it canít be her." She looked at Jeme and Blaer, her eyes pleading for it to be someone else.

"I am sorry, Sarane."

Jemeís simple statement unlocked the spell that had held her to the spot. She started forward, only to be caught and pulled against Blaer, as he buried her face against the black of his robe. She tried to break free, then all her energy was gone and she clung to the Dark Guide, her body shaking as the emotion flowed out of her.

"We will get them, Sarane. I promise you." Blaer tried to calm her.

She only held on more tightly. Blaer looked over her bowed shoulders at Jeme and saw the determination on his face. The killers of this young woman and her lover would not go un-avenged.

After what seemed an eternity, Sarane straightened up. Her eyes were red and swollen. "Shelia was foolish, but she did not deserve to be killed for it. I want to see the killers brought before the clan for this."

"They will." Blaerís voice was soothing, his hand lightly rubbing her arm.

"No. I want to be there when you track them down."

"Sarane."

She lifted her head higher. "It is my right of blood."

"That is the right of a man, not a..."

"Not a woman," Sarane spat the words. "Then, Guide Blaer, the rules have now changed." Her eyes flashed back at him, and then they dropped to look at her cousin. Revenge could wait for the moment. There was something even more important. Something that needed to be done. "You are a priest, Blaer. Could you see that they start their journey to the other side? I know that your religion is of the old ways, but please, the gods would still listen to you."

"Of course." With great care he pulled her to him again. This time she allowed him to walk her back to the horses. "Let us do what is needed and then, when the time is right, you can join us for their last journey. I promise it will not start without you."

"Thank you." She hugged him, needing to feel the connection with him. He understood. Then she sank down against the base of one of the trees.

Jeme straightened up from the bodies as Blaer approached him. "What you told her Blaer, that was good. She will find peace in knowing that they started their journey under the eye a priest."

"What have you found?"

"There were four to start with: the young man, John, Shelia, and two others that joined them earlier as we tracked them. They were joined by a group of other warriors and that was when they were murdered. No need to keep them alive, they had the dowry." Jeme opened his hand. Nestled in it was one of the golden brooches that had been made for Darylís wife. "They headed north towards the mountains. We can catch up with them."

"Tomorrow, Jeme."

"Blaer, we are wasting time."

"No, they have to be buried before the setting of the sun, and then tomorrow they must start their new life with the rising of the sun."

Jeme was about to argue when he saw the look on Blaerís face. "My Guide, the Priest. What do I need to do?"

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane sat on the sleeping furs and stared into the fire. Blaer was seated near her. She had watched as he performed the rites of passage to the next life. In death, Shelia would get the peace that she had lacked in life.

"Sarane." She looked up to see Jeme standing over her. He handed her a steaming cup of fused herbs and honey. "Blaer said that would help you to sleep," he added quickly. "We will not leave you, but you need to rest." He patted her shoulder and then returned to his Guide. Lying on his side, he curled around the seated figure of Blaer, grounding him on this side of the spirit world as Blaer walked the spirit plain.

0-0-0-0-0

At Blaer's side were the Wolf and the Panther. He reached down and patted the Wolfís head and it turned its head to lick at his hand. He smiled; he knew the Panther was Jeme in his Panther persona. It was then he saw a strange large cat; this one had orange stripes running down it. The animal was laid on its side, blood dripping from its mouth onto the ground and a horrific wound opened in its side.

When he tried to go to it, the Jeme-Panther blocked him, and when he dodged around, he was knocked flat by it. The Panther used its weight to pin him down, snarling at the Wolf in warning.

Then, out of the woods, a smaller wild cat came. It looked unsteady on its feet; its eyes were wide open. It looked at the Wolf, Panther and the spirit human, and then went over to the large orange-striped cat, licking at its face. A large paw lifted and held it down. It rubbed its head against the flank of the wild cat.

Blaer came out of the dream to find himself being held tightly by Jeme. The fire had died down. He yawned and then dropped asleep.

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane rode in silence. Trailing a little behind the two men, she examined her feelings. Shelia had been a vain girl, and they had never been close, but she felt that a little of her had died with Shelia. They had both wanted to get out of the life that society dictated they live. Shelia had seen her refuge with John and their elopement, and it had ended in blood.

Sarane needed the account to be put right. She was so deep in thought that she nearly rode over Jeme when he stopped suddenly. He dismounted and then signalled Blaer to follow him. They dropped the reins onto the ground, the horses trained to stand still.

The campsite looked as if it had been hastily left. Jeme turned quickly as he detected the scent of blood and a heartbeat.

The body was half hidden in the thicker undergrowth, under another body, a smaller one. The manís face was covered by a cloth wrapped around it, so only the eyes showed. Blood had seeped through it along one side; blood stained his sword and clothing.

"A raider." Jeme only had to take one look at the clothing, and knew what he was looking at. He moved the sword out of the way, and then checked for any other weapons before he would allow Blaer to help the man.

"Let him die," Sarane spat the words, and then showed the two men what she held in her hand. It was part of the dowry. "This bastard killed my cousin. I canít believe that you would even think of helping him."

Jeme looked up at her. "Sarane, a raider would never leave a prize like those on the ground. Look at the campsite, this is an established site, he has been here a while. The other hoof marks are very fresh. I think that the killer came up on them, and decided to leave some bodies for us to find, proof that it was the raiders that killed your cousin, before they fell out over the treasure. I think we need to look closer to home."

Sarane shook her head. "No one would do that."

"Unless he survives, we might never know."

Blaer carefully peeled the cover back from the injured manís face and his heartbeat went through the roof as he gasped.

Jeme spun on his heels, then caught Blaer and pulled him back away from the body, the smaller man landing on his backside. As he saw what had caused Blaer to react, he was looking down at his own face, the face he saw in the reflection of the mirror.

"Huon." He breathed one name.

"Jeme." Blaer looked in disbelief. "By the gods, he looks like you."

"Brothers usually do, Blaer."

Blaerís mouth opened and closed. "Brother. Jeme, you canít leave it like that, you have to talk to me."

"First, let's get him cleaned up."

They worked in near silence, Sarane watching them. "Your brother, heís a raider." Jeme ignored her, dismissing her anger.

Finally, Blaer wiped the blood off his fingers and then straightened up, he had been examining the head wound.

"He will live." He paused. "So, Jeme, are you ready to tell me now how a raider has your face?"

"My father, like many men, used his slaves. Huon was the result of one of the unions. She died later in childbirth and Huon was taken in a raid on the camp. Then my father took my mother, a woman of honour, as his wife."

"But if Huon was taken before you were born, howÖ?"

"How do I know about him? We have met before at the Great Gathering. There was a truce when Warren tried to bring the Raiders and the Clans together. He failed, but I met Huon. He tried to kill my father, I stopped him."

Jeme pushed up his sleeve and showed a jagged wound down his arm. "We have met since, but that is none of your concern, Blaer." Jemeís tone was final.

Blaer stored his words away for later, when in the bond he would get to the truth. The promise made, he found himself pulled back. "Huon is coming around."

Blaer skirted past his Sentinel to see to the injured man, leaning over him, when Huon's good hand shot up and wrapped in his robe, pulling him down. The raider froze as the knife pricked at his throat.

Blaerís voice was chilling, but the words were reasonable. "You will not scent me, Sentinel, I am bonded. If you try, I will kill you."

Huon released his grip and Blaer pulled back, looking around. "You are bonded, Sentinel. Where is your Guide?" His eyes rested on the dead body.

"Dead." Huon spat the word; the enormity of it showed on his face.

"What happened?"

Huonís eyes fixed on his half brother; he didnít seem surprised to see him. "I was with my Guide when we were attacked by a gang of horsemen. One of them tried to talk to us first, but I could smell the blood on them. My Guide tried to protect me, block the blow, but it killed him, then I remember nothing."

Sarane edged forward slowly. She could see, no, feel the emotions that were wracking the Sentinel. "What will you do without a Guide?" She stepped back as she was pinned by a pair of vivid blue eyes.

Jeme bent and helped his brother up, holding him as he swayed. With the blood-streaked face, he looked as if he had been to the underworld and back.

He tilted his head slightly and inhaled, his eyes fixing on Sarane, and a light flared in them. "A ripe female. Yours, brother?"

Sarane flamed bright red as if his eyes seemed to strip her naked. "I am no one's female, you over-sensed barbarian," she spat at him. Taking a step closer she added, "I need no man." She turned to walk away, anywhere than near this man. As she did so, she failed to see the look on his face.

"The female is unclaimed?"

Sarane stopped in her tracks, and then turned back slowly. In two strides she was in front of him, looking up into his face, slightly unnerved by the way he looked like the Sentinel Prime of the Panther, but there were slight differences; a harder edge to him. "I am not *the* female. My name is Sarane from the Fire Storm Clan. I belong to none but my family."

Huon smiled. "Yet you gift me with your name."

Sarane threw her hands up in despair. Looking across, she could see that the other two men were keeping out of it, by some silent mutual agreement. "Guide Blaer, speak to this creature, tell him-" She broke off as she felt Huonís hand run down her arm. Her face went hard; this was going to stop here. She spun around and knocked his hand away, aiming a kick that would have made a gelding of him if it had landed. "Keep your hands off me!" She stormed off.

Blaer had moved quickly to protect her if Huon had gone after her telling kick, but he was just watching her go with a look that the young Guide found hard to identify. "There is fire in that one's belly."

"She is no whore to warm your furs."

Huon looked Blaer up and down carefully, noting the dark robes and the purple and black belt, the mark of a fully mated Guide, and nodded slowly.

"Rest easy, young Guide. I am talking of my future Guide."

"No." Blaer brought his hand down hard in a slashing motion. "That will not be allowed. She is a girl, they cannot be a Guide, they lack the power, the..." He spluttered to a halt.

Huon caught Jeme rolling his eyes to the heavens. He got the feeling this was an old argument between the two of them. "Donít you feel it, Guide, the energy in her?"

"No, she is, well, she..."

Jeme cut in quickly. "Blaer is of the Temple. A female Guide is seen as a perversion of what is destined by the gods. We have one in the Panther Clan, it's just he has not accepted her yet as a Guide." He added under his breath, "Itís going to be an uphill struggle."

Huon heard the last part whispered Sentinel soft.

Aloud, Jeme added, "Blaer, go see to Sarane. Calm her, while I speak to Huon." He watched his Guide leave with a longing look; since Sarane had been with them they had been unable to bond. The need had begun to build up in him and he could feel the answering burning need in Blaer.

"You have not mourned your Guide's death, Huon."

"Garth was a good Guide, but there was no connection between us. I had the itch that he could scratch. It was through mutual need that we came together; it was not through a connection of the souls. We never experienced what you and the Dark One have, but this girl, I can feel it, Jeme, and she will be mine."

"If you try to..."

Huon shook his head, and then regretted it with a gasp of pain. "She will come to me, into my territory and into my furs, of her own free will, and our bonding will be of the ages. That I already know."

Jeme suppressed a smile. "She hates your guts, Brother."

"She just doesnít know me yet."

Sarane was leaning against a tree, brushing at the tears that fell down her face silently; with a loud sniff she tried to pull herself together.

"Sarane."

"Blaer, did you hear what he said? That animal, that base animal."

"Yes, Huon thinks that you have a Guide in you. I told him that no woman could be a Guide. You can birth one, but not be one."

"Why? Because we are not good enough?" The anger flared up in her.

Blaer opened his empathy up, anger was an honest emotion, people tried to hide behind calm, but they could not hide the truth in their anger. Then it hit him, the force that he had tried to deny - she was a Guide. He reached a hand out, and then as she took it, he pushed. Sarane gasped. It was as though pain exploded through her head like a branding iron, as the pathways were ripped open, ready for the Sentinel that would claim her. Then Blaer closed them back down. Like raw wounds, they would break open at the moment of her claiming, but at this moment, she was not in danger of overloading on the emotions of others. In the woods he had seen it, and recognized it was the spirit Guide of Huon. Now he knew to whom the other spirit Guide belonged.

Huon and Sarane, the die had been cast; he could stick to his learning and refuse what he was seeing. A female Guide. Part of him still balked at the idea, but the logical part of his brain told him that as Saemund had taken a Guide and Sentinel into his clan, and he himself had seen a female Sentinel, now he must acknowledge the female Guide.

0-0-0-0-0

As the night drew in, a fire crackled into light, and in the cold evening, Sarane found her self huddled in a sleeping fur by the side of the fire. Every now and again she would look up and find the barbarian looking at her.

She tried to ignore him, and finally she fell asleep, only to wake and see Jeme and Blaer, blankets and furs in hand, moving off into the darkness away from the fire. For a moment she was puzzled, and then she remembered all too clearly what she had seen earlier.

Blaer had all but climbed into his Sentinel's lap, wrapping himself around the older and larger man as the need to bond with Jeme was getting out of control. He had buried his face against his neck. Patiently, Jeme had eased him down to rest against his chest, his hand moving in soothing strokes over his head and shoulders. He knew through the connection what Blaer needed.

Finally, he collected his Guide, and left the light and the warmth of the fire.

She had expected Huon to say something, but he had just pulled the blanket tighter around himself and rolled onto his side. Taking that as her cue, she had followed suit, giving them their privacy.

Then she heard Huon chuckle and she sat up fast; he had been right next to her. When she brought the knife around, he trapped her wrist and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, then moved back to his own blanket, rolling over and trying to settle. "Good night, Guide, Claimed and Marked."

Sarane took her rage out on the coat she was using as a pillow, giving it a hard thump, wishing it could have been Huon. She burrowed down into the sleeping furs, then sat upright as she heard a noise from the dark.

The scream was ragged and gasping, one name stretched until it became a plea. JJJJJJJEEEEEEMMMMMMMEEEE!!

Huonís voice drifted over to her softly. "Vocal, isnít he? Blaer, I mean. My Guide was always nearly silent in the bond, but he is a regular firebrand. Must be the Dark Guide in him, they are known to be impulsive and spirited. I wonder what you'll be like in the bond?"

"Thatís it, Huon. Tomorrow morning, I am having Jeme kill you. One more word and Iíll do it myself. Now shut up, and go to sleep." She heard him inhale and flushed, knowing that he was trying to scent her. Her anger flared as she hissed, "You do that again and Iíll tie a knot in your neck."

She pulled the blanket over her head and tried to go back to sleep, her anger not abating when she heard him laugh again.

Blaer was stretched out, blanketing his Sentinel's body, his head resting against Jeme's chest, as lazily Jeme stroked the back of his neck and carded his fingers through the long hair. Blaer smiled softly to himself. Jeme was purring; he could hear it vibrating through his chest. He had needed the bonding. Since the darkest of bonds, the Animal Spirit bonding, had been completed, he had felt the need to bond with Jeme even more keenly. He was pleased that his Sentinel would bear the marks he had given him in the bond, before he had been pinned by the much larger Sentinel. The girl, Sarane, would know to whom Jeme belonged. He had noticed the looks she had given him; now he was marked to prove that he was already bonded. He felt Jeme's other hand around his waist massaging his hip and lower back, and was almost purring himself. His Sentinel understood his body better than he did; he also understood his needs. Blaer raised himself up, catching Jemeís eyes. They were now nose to nose and he could see the hungry light in his eyes as it burned bright. If he had been made of tinder, he would have exploded into flames. He felt his body burn every place it touched Jeme; it seemed to be engulfed in flames. Blaer lowered his head and nipped at his Sentinel's throat again.

"Ouch, you little demon. I told you what I would do if you did that again."

"So bite me, Panther." Blaer lowered himself back down and rubbed up against the larger body, their sweat mixing, and with it their scent. He needed for Huon to know that he was Jeme's and that Jeme was his. If Sarane, thought she could take Jeme, he would kill her. His anger flared through the bond, swamping Jeme with the emotions of ownership, the ancient emotions of the Dark Guide, dating back to a time when the darkest of Guides bought their Sentinel. Not wishing control to be taken from them, they bought a Sentinel as a slave: the stronger the senses, the higher the price. With the darkest bond connecting them, the Sentinel would be willing to die to protect his master Guide. The ancient memories still coming back, Blaerís emotions branded Jeme as his property, as much as the Guide was the Sentinel. He felt the larger hands holding him, a powerful leg wrapped around his, then their minds merged and they became one. The Wolf had his Sentinel and would not let go.

Blaer growled. The darkest bond was now unleashed, and his head came back as he roared, the need to dominate and control overtaking him. His voice lifted up in a cry of ownership, as it was mixed and echoed with the cry of the Panther, submitting to its mate.

Together they sank into the bond.

***

Huon rolled over. He had not meant to eavesdrop on the bonding, but you did not have to be a Sentinel to hear them, the cries had split the night. It ignited in him a deep need to take and claim his own Guide, who was laying just a scant few feet from him. He was almost sitting up when he realized that Jeme would kill Ö by the gods, the *girl* would kill him if he tried. He settled back again. She had the spirit and fire of a true soul-mated Guide, his mated Guide. She would bring to the bond the passion that his former Guide had lacked. She could run, but his quest would bring her to him, and then he would claim her in front of the whole clan, claim and mark her so deeply that no other Sentinel or man would be able to take her from him. Sarane, he savoured the name, would be his. She would come to him willingly, into his furs, into his territory, and into his bond.

His interest in Blaer was clinical. This was a Dark Guide, and he had heard, like most Sentinels, about them, heard the stories in the taverns, and now he was in the same camp as one of the exotic creatures. The Dark Guides were known to be the catalyst of the darkest bond. The Animal Spirit bond, the highest and most honoured of all bonds, could only be reached through a Dark Guide. He would never reach that bonding level, but he knew in his heart of hearts that what he found would be magnificent.

Blaer was seated, tugging on his boot; his Sentinel curled around him, the Panther and the man united together.

Blaer was caught and pulled back onto the blankets and the furs as his Sentinel loomed over him. The primal Sentinel nuzzled at his hands, chest and throat. When they had first bonded, he had been in control, now the Panther was back. The Sentinel moved down him, and he was dragged down the blankets as Jeme pulled off his boots throwing them aside, then his pants followed. He pulled his knee up as the Sentinel crawled back up and over him, then with a foot pressed to the advancing Sentinel's chest he pushed back. Jeme toppled backward, and Blaer made his knees.

"Whatís the matter, getting old?"

With a growl, the Sentinel lunged, but Blaer rolled clear. "Have to do better than that."

But the Sentinel had lulled his Guide into a false sense of security, and this time when he pounced, Blaer could not get clear. As hands caught his ankles and his feet were pulled out from under him, he landed on his front, half on the furs half off, the breath knocked from his body, his face deep in the undergrowth. With a gasp, he inhaled some of the leaves, with a splutter he spat out the foliage. But by then it was too late, he was caught. When he tried to push up back to his knees, a hard hand pressed against the center of his back pushing him flat again. The Sentinel was between his legs, then an arm snaked around his waist and he was pulled up so that he was seated on his Sentinelís thighs.

"Open your mind, Blaer. I can feel your need, open it wide."

The words were growled in his ear. The link to the darkest bond opened wide and Blaerís head came back as he cried out, the still tender pathways of the darkest bond opened wide. He was flooded with input as his mind met and merged with his Sentinel. He could feel the warmth of Jemeís body, running the length of his, the coldness of the air as it touched his skin. He shivered and was pulled closer by the arm around his waist, the flat of the hand pressed against his stomach, the warmth of his Sentinelís hand, the swirl pattern on his fingertips. He was breathing harshly trying to cope with the input he was receiving as he piggybacked his Sentinelís talents. The heat now radiating from Jeme scorched his back.

Jeme's other arm went around his neck, leaving the other hand to roam over him. "Blaer, I am the Guide now, and you the pupil. My hand Ö feel the change in the texture, the warmth, the softness."

Jeme sensed through their link that his young Guide was losing himself in the bond, and was heading into the black void. He lightly scraped his nails across Blaerís stomach, and then held tightly as his Guide bucked against him. Jemeís hands held him, his hips, tightly against his own stomach.

"YESSSSSSSS." Blaer hissed the word.

Blaer was now back fully. He could feel through Jeme the sweat running down his body and pooling between them. Then the air was thick with a scent, his head moved from side to side, unsure what it was.

"What is it?"

"You, Blaer, my beacon to find you." Jeme leaned forward to nip at Blaerís neck, revelling when he heard him yelp, and then chuckled at the way his smaller Guide strained, thrusting backwards, trying to increase the connection between them. "Now I bond."

It was a command. Blaer shivered, trembling at the force of the emotions that backed up those three simple words.

This was not the voice of Sentinel reason, the man who was his equal, the Sentinel in the darkest bond. This was all about the alpha male, taking what was his, claiming his Guide, marking his Guide, so that none would mistake his ownership.

At that moment, Blaer had never felt the bond so keenly, where Jeme now held him was like wildfire rushing through him. It flared in his stomach and rolled up through his body, leaving him panting for breath. His eyesight began to grey and then the nail scraped across Blaer's stomach again, then down his thighs. Blaerís eyes flew open and his breath came in a gasp. He had not realized that he had stopped breathing.

Jemeís voice hissed in his ear, "Did you think that I would let you lay your claim, Blaer, without me claiming you, when I have Huon there, hungering over you?" He nipped further down on Blaerís shoulder, feeling him buck again, and then he calmed it with his tongue, pleased at the responsive nature of his Guide.

Jeme released his hold, and Blaer sank forward onto the furs on his belly, as his mind was flooded with the need of his Sentinel, and with being cherished and possessed.

The Sentinelís hand still anchoring him, he tried to move as the furs felt like rough cords to his over-sensitive body. His Sentinel covered him. The chill that had swept across his sweat-covered body when he had lost the heat of his Sentinel was quickly forgotten.

Blaer pushed his hands under him and lifted his chest off the furs, his head still hanging low, exposing the nape of his neck in submission. The bigger manís body slowly covered him, a steady pressure. A hand pushed his arms out from under him and he was flat on the furs, blanketed by the heat of his Sentinel, radiating along the whole length of him.

The pressure building from his feet, curling up in his lower stomach to explode through his lungs and throat, and he screamed again, his head arching back as he was claimed, "JJJJJJJEEEEEEMMMMMMMEEE!!"

For a moment there was blinding pain from the none too gentle joining and then the pathways in his head began to ease as he accepted the power of his Sentinel, riding it like a piece of driftwood in the sea, no longer trying to fight it or being lost in it. With a heartfelt moan, he became one with his Sentinel.

Mind, body and soul.

 

Part Four

Sarane started to wake, but she was warm and comfortable, and did not want to wake yet. Slowly it began to filter through her groggy brain that the pillow she was hugging was warm. In fact, the pillow was like an oven, and hard. Then she found she could feel the rise and fall of it under her head, and the steady thump of a heartbeat. She began to surface from her half sleep, when she was swept with a feeling of calm, the feeling of being cherished. She began to lift her head, only for a warm firm hand to Guide it back down on her pillow. //Pushy pillow,// she thought tiredly, and she tightened her grip around it, snuggled back down, and with a sigh, buried her face against it in the warm nest of blankets.

Huon was in Sentinel bliss. His Guide was curled around him, and at his touch she had gone back to sleep. Holding her, he stretched out his hearing; only with this passive contact he could focus on the dark pair. It had now gone quiet. He gave a soft chuckle; his brother had claimed his Guide and all was right in the world. Now that Sarane was asleep again, he could indulge himself, and he leaned down and sniffed at her scent. It was like flowers in springtime, light and feminine, but already he could detect the start of the linkage scent underlining it. He opened his mouth slightly and tasted it, savouring it. He began to open up his senses as he began to bond, only to pull back from the brink. When they bonded, she would be willing, moving under his hands, her need as much as his. With that dream fixed in his mind, he sent out his sensor net around them both and tugged her closer, and with one final scent, allowed himself to sleep.

Blaer and Jeme were walking back to the campsite when they heard the commotion coming from it. Blaer winced; he did not have to be a Sentinel to hear Sarane.

"You bastard! How could you, when I was asleep?!"

"Why complain? You didnít seem to mind last night. In fact, you crawled right over me."

The dark pair arrived in time to see the smug look on Huonís face. "In fact, you craved my touch. If you remember, you had your hand up my tunic."

Sarane did the only thing she could; she threw the blanket straight at his head, and stormed off as he swatted it away effortlessly. Her anger made worse by the fact that she knew, just knew that he was laughing at her.

"I am going to kill him. By the gods I am going to kill him."

Huon just laughed, then sobered as he saw Jeme standing right behind him, his voice a low warning rumble. "Huon, if you have hurt herÖ"

"Nothing, brother, I did nothing." He let his eyes sweep over Blaer, calculating, and then nodded, satisfied with what he saw. The Dark Guide was more relaxed and at peace with himself, so it seemed what they said about the Dark Guide was true.

"I will go and speak to Sarane. Huon, keep away from her; she may be your Guide, but she has not yet agreed to join with you, so back off, or you may lose the very treasure that you crave."

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane was leaning against a tree, her body shaking.

"Sarane."

She heard Blaerís voice and looked up. She did not flinch when he laid a hand on her shoulder.

"I know what youíre going through, Sarane."

"How could you?" she snapped back.

"Because I have been there. When Jeme first claimed me, I was in the Temple of the Guides, and the Sentinel clans attacked. I was taken, dragged from that place by Jeme, and we bonded."

"Did he hurt you?"

"No," Blaer smiled. "Jeme was caring, and he cherished and treasured me; his touch was gentle." He saw the way she coloured. "Sarane, the bond is the most beautiful thing in the world. What you will have with Huon will be magnificent; you will be a strong Guide, and Huon will come into his own."

"How do you know that?"

Blaer tapped his head. "Reading the Chronicles of the Ancients. They speak of a Dark Sentinel who mated with a Dark Guide." He added quickly, "soul-mated," when he saw the look on her face, stilling the question before it could be asked. "And then came a brother of the Dark Sentinel, not of the dark himself, but he became the Shield. The chronicles spoke that his Guide was different than the rest who had come, and that the Guide would be-" Blaer broke off. "The rest of the chronicles were removed, but I think that we have seen it. When I came to Jemeís old home and saw Stephen, I knew that although he was of the blood, he was not a Sentinel, nor would he ever be one. But now that Huon is here, the Chronicle can be seen in living flesh."

"You think that Huon is the Shield, and that I am destined by the gods to be his Guide."

"The Sentinel, when he loses his Guide, is usually lost, and many die. But Huon, given that he had not that stronger bond, still latched onto you, and it kept him strong. You and he are meant to be."

"I donít want him."

"Destiny is destiny, but," Blaer added with a grin, "you donít have to make it easy for him. You will bond when you're ready to bond, and not before." He put his hand out and she accepted it.

As they walked back, she pulled him to a sudden stop. "Thank you."

"Remember what I said: make him work for the bond."

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane was seated behind Huon; the argument of who would ride with Huon was short and sharp. Blaer was out of the question, and Blaer would not let her share with Jeme, so that left Huon. So Sarane found herself with an arm wrapped around his waist as he kicked the horse on to follow Jeme and Blaer.

The killers had attempted to hide their tracks to begin with, but then they had grown tired, and it was easy for the Sentinels to pick out which way they had gone.

Jeme pulled up and looked around him. "I know this territory; it belongs to War Lord Matthew, of the Forest Clan, and he is a feayr leader." He led them up a tight track way and then dismounted, before edging carefully to a point where he could see down the valley. In the distance was a crannog, an artificial island built just off the shore of the valley lake basin. Made up from clay and stones, a compound had been built. It was in the shape of two Dís with high walls made from wood, with its only entrance being a causeway.

Jeme stretched out his sight. He felt a touch to his shoulder, and a tug at the back of his mind.

Blaer closed his eyes and he could see what Jeme was seeing. For a moment he felt as if he was falling forward. The killers came into tight focus as they slowed to cross the causeway. Each face was clear to Sentinel eyesight. At the gate to the crannog was an older man, the War Lord Matthew. He gave the lead young man a hug, and then Blaer's ears heard the young man tell of a battle, and of taking the booty from raiders. A liar as well as a killer.

Blaer lowered his head, and when he opened his eyes, he did not break the link straight away. He let Jeme feel the bond, and then pulled back, as always mourning slightly the loss of contact with his Sentinel.

Jeme was pleased, the lesson last night in the bond had work somewhat in curbing his impulsive and spirited guide when he shared his senses. This time Blaer had only faltered slightly pulling back himself from the void that was an ever-present threat to Sentinel and Guide. He was young and he would learn. Blaer had rebelled against the lessons, until he had made them the prelude to the most intense physical bonding his young Guide had ever experienced. He had showed Blaer that patience had its own reward. If he paid attention to his lessons he got what he craved -- a deep bonding, a joining of mind, body and soul that left him sated and exhausted, cherished and loved, one mind, one heart, one soul with his Sentinel.

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane looked from one to the other, then up at Huon. With a start she realized that he seemed frozen. She put a hand on his arm and gave him a tug. "Huon, come back now." For a moment he seemed to shudder, and then his legs sagged. She kept a firm hold on him. It was then that she realized that she had pulled him back from the void; she was a Guide, his Guide.

Huon shook his head. "There is no way that we can get at them. The leader is the son of the War Lord. This can only come to justice with Warren."

"You have to do something," Sarane begged.

"The crannog is hard to breach. The man knows us, and to ride in there will only get us put in our graves. Matthew will take his son to the Great Gathering, and if I know his kind, he will bring his treasure with him. He will want to exchange it for gold and furs. That is when we will get him; he will have the dowry and then justice will be done," Jeme said.

"I want-"

"You want vengeance, Sarane, and that you will get. I vow that to you."

"I know you will, Jeme." She brushed at the tears that rolled down her face; she had seen the crannog and knew that four of them could never breech that defence. But at least they knew who had done it. Sarane didnít flinch when Huonís arm went around her and she found herself pulled against him. Without thinking she reached up and wrapped a hand into the leather tunic and held on tightly.

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane rode clinging to Huon. She felt his body tense as they entered the Panther territory. "You are safe, Brother. None here will threaten you or your Guide." Huon even so, went into Blessed Protector as they entered the camp. He could hear the gasps and comments as they approached the center of the camp and the tents of the Clan Leader.

Saemund came out to greet his Sentinel Prime. "Hail and welcome, Jeme and Blaer. Welcome back, my sons."

"Hail and welcome, Saemund, father of the Panther clan."

Jeme slid off his horse, then walked forward and embraced him. Blaer stood back slightly.

Saemund made sure that his emotions were open as he hugged the smaller Guide to him. Honest emotions could not harm him. Turning, he asked, trying to prevent the shock from showing on his face, "And who is this? Your brother, Stephen?"

"No, my brother, Huon."

Saemund noticed that he did not give him a clan. Then he looked past the warrior to the young woman. "Wilhelm sent us a messenger that Shelia had foolishly run. This must be Shelia, you are welcome to your new clan, your husband-"

"Mine!" Huon snarled, as his sword came out of its sheath with a hiss.

Blaer and Jeme moved quickly, blocking the warriors that were rushing to protect Saemund.

"No, Saemund. This is Sarane, cousin to Shelia. I am sorry, but Shelia has been killed. There will be no marriage," Jeme put in firmly.

"But this girl, sheÖ"

"Saemund," there was now a warning tone. "She and Huon are to bond at the Great Gathering."

"Another female Guide?" Saemund glanced at Blaer. He could see that Blaer was not totally happy, but that he was not aggressive about it. //Another of the ancient rules falls to the ground.//

Caro took over. "You look tired, my girl. Come, and I will find a place for you to sleep." She reached a hand up, ignoring the look on the face of the new warrior with Jemeís face. "There is no need to look like that, Sentinel. I am not taking your Guide away from you for keeps; she needs to rest. You may rejoin her later."

Sarane dismounted and then patted Huonís leg as she looked up at him. "Try not to dismember anyone, Huon. "

His hand stroked her head. Even in her unbonded state, she could feel the aggressive emotions running through him.

Without thinking, she said the three words that she had seen had calmed Jeme. "Huon, Claim and Mark."

Then she allowed Caro to take her away.

Huon looked at Jeme and smiled. Sarane had just agreed to bond with him; three words, and she had pledged herself to him.

It was only when Sarane had stripped and was washing away the dirt of the trail that Caro spoke up. "So, when will you bond? Your parents should really be there for the ceremony. I donít really know the connection with Jeme, but it is clear that Huon is family, and he is our adopted son, so we will sponsor the bonding."

Sarane stopped washing with the cloth held in her hand. "I am not bonding with Huon."

"You confirmed it when you told him to Claim and Mark."

"No, that is what Blaer says to calm Jeme down. I heard him on the trail."

Caro shook her head. "When Blaer says it, he is confirming their bonding. It is the vow of their bond. For a Guide to say that to his Sentinel is to confirm that he belongs heart, bond and soul to his Sentinel."

"By the gods." Sarane sank down onto the sleeping furs. "What have I done?"

 

Part Five

 

Saemund was seated by the fire, and looked from Jeme to the newcomer and back again. When he looked close, there was a difference between the two of them, but it was hard to see. He noticed the way that Blaer knelt, his thigh in contact with Jemeís; the younger man seemed to be bouncing.

Huon was not concentrating on what Saemund was saying. His only interest was on Sarane. The fair-haired woman had taken his Guide away, and he wanted her back. She had spoken the words and committed herself to their bonding. He shifted slightly, not realizing that he had started to drift, and then Blaerís hand on his shoulder brought him back.

Saemund jumped as he heard the low growl come from Jeme. Blaerís hand dropped away. "Itís all right, Jeme. Yours, Claimed and Marked."

Jeme caught his hand, and then pressed the palm against his mouth and nose, inhaling the scent of his Guide, his lips brushing the skin.

"Yours and only yours; Claimed and Marked."

Caro, walking up to them, heard the words and then leaned over Blaer. "Blaer, could you come with me please?" She added quickly, "Nothing wrong, but a draft might help Sarane sleep."

Huon seemed to settle.

Once clear of the Sentinels, Caro caught his arm. "I am sorry, Blaer, but I need to talk to you alone." She shot a quick look at the fire. "Can they hear us?"

"Yes."

"Damn." She tugged him towards the tent that Sarane was sitting in.

Blaer pulled back the flap and went into the tent. "Sarane, are you all right?"

"I think I made a mistake, a terrible mistake." Her eyes were wide open.

0-0-0-0-0

Back at the fire, Huon carefully told his story, leaving nothing out. "The men I saw entering the Crannog were the same men that attacked us and killed my Guide. They will pay for that." Although Huon had fixed on Sarane, the justice he wanted for his dead Guide still burned bright.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaerís eyes never left the young girl's face; they burned into her, as if daring her to lie to him. "You said the words, Sarane. Tell me, did you say the words?"

"Yes. I heard you say them to Jeme, and he calmed down that time, and I thought, I thoughtÖ." She stuttered to a halt. "I thought that they were some magic words that calmed a Sentinel, I never thought-"

"When I say them, I am giving myself to Jeme, one heart, one body, one soul. This is not said to a Sentinel lightly. You have pledged yourself to Huon, and you will go through with it."

"Blaer, I canít, I-"

"You will go through with it." Blaerís voice became cold. "A Guide that goes back on their vow is nothing, and as such, I will kill you."

"Blaer, please," Caro put in. She was frightened; she knew that he would do it. At the moment, he was a Dark Guide first and foremost, and nothing else mattered.

"In the clearing, you were angry when I said that women could not be Guides. If you go back on what you have vowed, you will have proved all that I said was true." The Dark Guideís hand dropped down, and the knife slid into his palm. "So, do you go back on your vow, Guide?"

Only from where she stood could Caro see the knife. She knew with a sickening heart that if Sarane said the wrong thing, she could not save the young girl in time.

"Drop the knife, Blaer." The voice came from behind the smaller man.

"He needs his true Guide," Blaer spat at him. "Jeme, she said-"

"Sarane is a true Guide. She is just frightened, untutored; a first year grey." Jeme saw that he had reached his Guide, and the knife slid back into the sheath.

"Just remember my words, Sarane." The warning tone could not be missed; Blaer would take action if she failed her Sentinel.

Only now did Caro draw Sarane to her, leaving Jeme to deal with Blaer.

Outside, Hender and Bryn were forced to hold Huon down as he fought to get to his Guide.

Jeme tucked Blaer close as Huon was released at this command.

Huon growled at him, "If you have hurt her, Blaer-"

"Your Guide is in the tent. Claim her, Brother, and put an end to this now. She has made the vow, now she must honour it."

Huon was no longer listening to him. All that he could fix on was the rapid heartbeat of his Guide. She was frightened, and she needed him. He ignored everyone as he went into the tent, then crossed the short distance and pulled her from Caro into his arms, holding her tightly against him as he ran a hand possessively over her, making sure that she was all right.

Huon was lost in her, and then he zoned. One moment he was a blur of movement, the next he was like stone. Sarane panicked, and called out for Caro, for anyone that could help her. Sentinel and Guide burst into the tent. As Jeme laid his brother down, Blaer knelt by his side, his hand lightly brushing Huonís face as he felt into his mind. It was then he knew that Huon was truly the Shield as he went deep into the troubled mind.

Sarane edged out of the tent. This was proof of what she had dreaded. She had never felt so scared as when Huon tumbled into the void. She knew that she could not do this. Huon needed a Guide; someone like Blaer, who could care for him. Half of her felt the seduction of the bond. She had known only the fringe emotions of them, and it had called to her. But looking down at Huon now, she knew that she could never be what Huon wanted her to be.

Jeme turned away from his brother and Blaer as he heard something. He pushed out with his hearing and heard a soft voice, Saraneís voice.

"I am sorry. I canít do this, may the gods find you what you need."

It was then he heard the horseís hoofs.

"She is running." Jeme could not believe it. How could he have been so wrong?

Blaer touched his hand. "I have to join with him, to bring him back."

"No. Youíre mine!" He caught at the smaller slim hand.

"Jeme, this isnít a bond. This is only to call him back. Let me help your brother, please." Blaer knew that if Jeme said no, then he would have to leave Huon to his fate that was in the lap of the gods. For a moment they just looked at each other.

"Help him, Blaer."

Blaer reached out both hands, and placed them firmly on both sides of Huonís head, then he closed his eyes and reached out with his empathy. This was no passive scan; this was power. The block in Huonís mind shimmered and flexed as Blaer increased the pressure on it. With one last effort, Blaer blasted through it, and his body sank down onto Huon as his eyesight greyed out. He knew nothing as he was gathered up in strong arms and pulled against Jeme, as his own Sentinelís shield cocooned him.

Huon lay on his back and looked up at his brother, and seeing the nod, opened his arms. Blaer was lowered down to lay next to him, and then Jeme eased down onto his side with his young Guideís head resting on his arm, with his brother wrapped around Blaer from the other side. The two of them connected with the almost shell-shocked Dark Guide, firm hands petting and soothing him. For what seemed an eternity, Blaerís mind was in limbo, then be began to register the light touch of his Sentinelís mind brushing his, soothing the pain that engulfed it with the mellowing touch of the Shield supporting and boosting it. As two Sentinels cradled him, he had no fear of falling back into the void that had locked his mind. He did not have the strength to hold his barriers, but he did not have to. He moaned softly, and was petted and stroked, his body and mind relaxing. One Guide, two Sentinels, but the connection between them was strong. For the moment, Sarane was forgotten.

Jeme and Huonís eyes met over the curly head of Jemeís Guide. "We will Guide quest her, Brother. She will be yours." He leaned forward and nuzzled at Blaerís hair and scent, rubbing his face against his Guide's. Now all that mattered was Blaer.

Saemund stood in the entrance of the tent. He was unsure what was going to happen next, and Alfric simply shook his head, unsure of what to say. This was of the Dark calling and he did not know what he should do. All he could do was keep the others away from them until this was resolved.

When Jeme woke, he looked around. Blaer was missing. Huon was curled up on the opposite side of the furs; they had shared the blankets that night, keeping Blaer between them so that he was warm and shielded.

Jeme pushed out his senses, then swore violently. "Heís not in the camp, Huon. Heís gone after Sarane." He was already on his feet, grabbing his sword. "When I get my hands on that little brat, he is going to be sorry. He will learn discipline."

"The joys of owning a Dark Guide," Huon all but snickered. He threw up a hand to ward off the almost homicidal intent in the other Sentinel.

"Get your sword, Huon. We have Guides to find and claim."

0-0-0-0-0

Sarane pulled her horse to a halt and shuddered. //What have I done?// All her life, she had believed that she was born to be more than a wife and mother for some man that had bought and paid for her. Now she had been given the chance to be a Guide, and she had run. Now she had to return and face her punishment; for once in her life she had to stand up and face her destiny.

She kicked her horse on, and headed him back to the camp; she followed the riverbank back to her destiny and her Sentinel.

It was then she saw Blaer. The Dark Guide was tracking her. She hesitated, unsure of what to do, when she heard a voice call out to the Guide. He turned, and then something hit him, and he fell off his horse and into the river. Spooked, the horse took off.

Sarane did not hesitate now as she saw him surface and roll onto his face. She kicked her horse, urging it forward to where she had seen the Dark Guide fall. Everything was forgotten except getting to the other Guide. She was off her horse before it had stopped. Stumbling, she managed to hold her footing, and then tearing off the heavy cloak, dived in.

In ten powerful strokes she had Blaer by the back of his robes and rolled him onto his back. Blood began to run down his face from a gash to the forehead, high in the hairline, the watered down blood staining his pale face red. His eyes were closed. She saw movement in the trees, and the flash of metal. She began to drag Blaer further into the river. Whoever was out there was waiting for her to bring Blaer out; the only safe haven was across the river.

 

Huon had caught his brotherís arm as he had almost fallen from his horse; it was as if Jeme had been hit by something only he could feel. Jeme shook his head to clear it. "Blaerís hurt, he canít breathe -- water -- heís drowning." Jeme forced his horse into a gallop with Huon on his heels.

 

Sarane heard a cry and saw double: Huon and Jeme. She was tiring, but would not let Blaer go, even though he was nearly pulling her down.

The next minute, Jeme was in the water, and Blaer was taken from her. She struggled to the shore, only to be caught hold of and pulled against Huon. This time she did not fight him; all she did was cling to her Sentinel.

Her Sentinel. That felt very good.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme looked up at her as he checked Blaer over. The wound was more messy than serious, and already he could detect the return of his Guide to the conscious world. "What happened?"

"I was on my way back." She laid her head against Huonís shoulder. "You have to believe me; I was on my way back." She shivered. "I saw Blaer, I was scared of him. He said he would kill me, so I hid." She bit her lip. "I heard someone call out to him, and he turned. The next thing, he fell and was in the water. I thought he was going to drown. Jeme, it was not an accident; whoever it was, meant for Blaer to die."

Jeme was thoughtful as he cradled his Guide to him, absentmindedly running a hand over his Guide, soothing him and encouraging his return to the world of the living. "The person who did this could have a hatred of all Dark Guides. We had a young apprentice Dark Guide killed near the camp a few weeks ago. But then again, the same person might have thought that was Blaer." He needed to feel him in his arms to know that he was going to be all right. "I will find out who is behind this and they will die. No one threatens my Guide or his calling."

Jeme broke off as he sensed Blaerís return to consciousness. He tightened his grip as Blaer began to struggle. Then, as the connection between them blazed, Blaer relaxed in the strong arms that held him. His cold, pale hands reached up and gripped his Sentinelís tunic. The faint tremors running through him were detectable to the Sentinel, pushing him further into Blessed Protector.

Sarane watched Guide and Sentinel, and envied them their bond. Jeme truly loved his Guide; it could be seen in the way that he cradled the much smaller man, tucking the curly head under his chin and holding him close. They would start their journey back to the camp when Jeme and Huon, Sentinel Prime and Shield, were satisfied that Blaer was recovered enough to start back.

0-0-0-0-0

When the white horse ran into the camp, Saemund wasted no time gathering a hunting party. With Alfric leading, they headed out to do battle if needs be for their Dark Guide. The fact that Blaerís horse was running loose meant one thing: Blaer was in danger, because the Dark Guide was too good a horseman to have simply fallen off his mount.

Alfric waved the hunters to a halt as he detected the Sentinel and Guide Prime closing on them. A few minutes later, they appeared on the track.

"Jeme, are they all right?" Saemund closed the distance quickly, needing to know that no one had been hurt.

"Blaer was attacked, but he will be fine. He needs to rest." As he spoke, Jeme ran a hand over his Guide nestled in front of him, held in place by an arm around his waist. Blaer was suffering from a migraine; his barriers had fallen. The pain from the migraine was so bad that he found it impossible to hold his focus and keep his barriers up. Like this, all he could do was cling to his Sentinel and let him cocoon him in his shields.

Sarane was riding behind Huon; both arms now wrapped around him. She knew now where she belonged, and it was with this man. Only a short time before she was looking for a blunt weapon to hit him with, but now it felt right to be holding onto him.

Alfric turned away; he could smell the heavy scent of linkage that was pouring off the young woman. The idea of a female Guide was unsettling, but if the Dark Guide let it be, then who was he to argue?

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme dismounted, then reached up to help Blaer down. The moment the smaller manís feet touch the ground he was pulled close, shielded both mentally and physically. "Huon, claim your Guide, and let this farce finish now. Claim and Mark, Brother." He openly nuzzled at his own Guide, all but manhandling him to their tent. Blaer needed to bond, and the urge was igniting the Sentinel.

Shyly, Sarane eased away from Huon, but before he could start to panic, she took his hand and gave it a tug, leading him to the tent that Caro had let her use. It was small, usually used for visiting traders, but it was big enough for what they needed.

Once inside, Huon closed the flap on the door, leaving the two of them together. His head tilted to one side; he could scent the linkage scent that was pouring off Sarane. There was also an edge of fear to the scent. That was all he needed to make him move slowly.

Questions ran though Saraneís mind. Would she ever have the kind of bond that Jeme and Blaer shared? Huon was so big and imposing, and so focused on her that it made her shiver. Huon lifted her hand he held to his face, brushing the inside of her wrist over his lips. Sarane shivered and she blushed as she realized it was not a bad shiver; the touch of his hands on her felt good and she realized that she wanted more. She had never had a man look at her like this, his eyes seeming to burn through her. The young boys that had tried to court her paled against her future Sentinel. Huon was all man. They had been children. Now she knew why she had had no time for them; she had been looking, waiting, for her Sentinel.

"How do we bond?" Sarane asked timidly

"Trust me, Sarane. Let me be the Guide and lead you." He coaxed her down onto the furs and then laid on his side, one hand supporting his head as he gently touched her face. When she flinched, he stopped, then when he read her vital signs had calmed, he started again. This time she sighed softly, her body lifting slightly, unconsciously, as she tried to maximize the touch.

Huon pushed her back down on the furs; the need to bond was burning strong again. His hand was moving over her tunic.

"Sarane, I need-"

It was the first time she could remember hearing fear and uncertainty in his voice. She caught his hand and squeezed it to reassure him.

"I need to touch you."

"But you are."

He wordlessly tugged at her tunic again.

"Oh." The one word was said on a silent exhale, and she blushed scarlet. No man had ever seen her like that.

She placed her hand against his chest and pushed back. Reluctantly, he went onto his knees. "I can understand-"

"Huon." She reached down and caught the edge of her tunic, then pulled it up and over her head. She fought the urge to cover her breasts, but she kept her eyes on his face, reached down, kicking off her boots, pushing her trousers down. Only then did she lie back as she bit her lip, trying to steady the shaking.

Even though his need to bond was getting almost uncontrollable, he forced himself to move slowly. Sarane was gifting him with the bond, was letting him map her, and he would not frighten her. He eased back down, stretching one arm out so that she could rest her head on the crook of his arm, and then looked into her wide brown eyes. "Youíre beautiful. Sarane, my Guide, my soul-mate." His other hand lightly traced the contours of her face, brushing her hair from her eyes.

"Huon, Claim and Mark." Her voice shook, but there was no mistaking her now. He leaned down and nuzzled at her throat, inhaling her scent; the linkage could not lie.

Then she tugged at his shirt and he smiled. With her help, he pulled off his shirt. He settled close to her as he mapped her body, learning every inch of his Guide, her scent and texture. Then he felt her smaller hands brushing over his chest and stomach, then his arms: the Guide mapping and learning her Sentinel. The unexpectedness of it all pleased him, and he settled over her as they bonded. Tomorrow he would take her from the camp, and they would travel deep into the mountains. Together, they would embrace the way of the Sentinel and Guide. Only then would he take her to the Great Gathering.

Much later, as she lay in Huonís arms, her head resting on his shoulder, with the newly made connection between them singing, she asked a question that had been bothering her for some time.

"When Jeme and Blaer first came to the camp to collect Shelia, I heard one of the men talking about Blaer."

She felt a flare of jealousy run through her newly bonded Sentinel. Sarane smiled brightly. She rubbed her face against his neck, and brushed her lips across his throat. She was rewarded by a deep-throated purr. "I need to understand. They say that Blaer is a Dark Guide. My father Ö he said that they were temptation demons, but Blaer is human. I am a Guide, and I am notÖ." She said it louder, "I am a Guide, and I am not a demon."

"The feayr misunderstand the nature of the bond, especially where there is a Dark Guide involved. They say that the only safe Dark Guide isÖ." Huon ground to a halt. "Er, is a fÖ er, is a *loved* Dark Guide." He stumbled over the words.

Sarane snuggled down a little further into the furs, her hand absentmindedly stroking Huonís arm. "Then theyíre right. Blaer is loved and cared for by Jeme. You can feel the emotions burning brightly."

Huon choked, and was having trouble breathing. Sarane grabbed for a flask of water. When he could finally speak, he said hesitantly, "Er, Sarane, itís not quite what they mean."

Her innocent expression of confusion threw him. His hands moved in a vague pattern in the air, but she just looked more puzzled. She honestly had no idea what they said about the Darkest of Guides. How could he tell her about the obscene and bawdy songs and stories that circulated the taverns about the Dark Guides? The Dark Guides were feared for their abilities as assassins, but at the same time there was an obsession about them. The fact that they remained veiled until they bonded, faces seen only by the people of the Temple, had made them seem exotic, remote and forbidding, and what people didnít understand they feared, and what they feared they made up stories to explain.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer was wrapped in a warm sleeping robe, curled up in the furs in the arms of his Sentinel. His barriers had begun to rebuild, but they were low, and he needed to be with his Sentinel, protected in his shields.

Jeme had vowed silently that he would make sure that Blaer saw the error of his ways for taking off like that on his own. But that, for the moment, could wait. He felt the smaller body move against him, getting comfortable on his human pillow. Jeme inhaled his Guideís scent, and a smile touched his lips. He could smell the increase in the linkage scent; Blaer wanted to bond. But this bond, unlike their last one in the woods, was going to be slow and gentle. Jeme inched down a little deeper into the furs and pulled the blankets up and over them. Now warm and safe, the Sentinel claimed his Guide.

Later, a mellow Sentinel and sated Guide finally talked.

"What worries me, Blaer, is if the killer of the other Dark Guide had been still in the area, then we would have known; our watchmen would have found him. The only stranger in the camp is Huon, and I would have known if he was in the area before." Jeme made no attempt to clarify what he said, even though he felt the flare of curiosity in Blaer through the bond.

"So my attacker is in the Panther Clan," Blaer put in levelly, his tone one of interest more than fear.

"He will not show himself now, but I do believe that he will when we get to the gathering." Jeme affectionately ruffled Blaerís hair as he moved onto his back and pulled Blaer with him. "In the meantime, rest. Tomorrow we will go and welcome Huon and Sarane into the Brotherhood of the Bonded."

"Then they will leave. They need time to join and become one."

Jeme was about to protest the idea of his brother leaving, but he recognized the command tone of the Dark Guide. If Blaer said they would have to go, they would go. In this, the Dark Guide would lead, and the Dark Sentinel would follow.

0-0-0-0-0

Simon Banks closed the manuscript, then placed it in his safe. Already there was the next part of the Chronicles of the Ancients waiting his attention.

He looked at the clock on the wall; it was too late to start it now. His fingers brushed the bound manuscript and the temptation became too much.

With a soft laugh, he lifted it out and placed it by his chair as he got another cup of coffee. It wouldn't hurt to start the first chapter, would it?

The End

7th October 2001