Disclaimer: Jim and Blair belong to people who don’t appreciate what they have.
Beta’d: Linda – ta muchly, you’re a star.
Rating: R-if you’re of sensitive disposition.
Warnings: Caveat Lector (see the rating, man). Personally, I think warnings spoil things.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own?’ Matthew: Chapter 7 Verse 3.
Preparation took three days. Three days that he deemed necessary to cleanse himself before his first meditation since the incident in the Fountain. His partner, Detective James Joseph Ellison, despite his heightened senses, had not noticed that his ersatz roommate only drank pure spring water and the most basic of foods and fruits for several days. But then again Ellison had some peculiar blind spots at the best of times.
Blair Jacob Sandburg set a pure beeswax, hand-dipped candle in the centre of the coffee table. Slowly, he walked around his impromptu altar—something was missing. Brow furrowed, he viewed his preparations: soft acoustic music—beating of drums—selected for continuous repeat; a wooden orb saturated with frankincense and neroli; a pile of plump cushions to sit upon; and, finally, a glass lantern (no bare naked flames allowed; he didn’t know how long he would be gone). There was still something amiss. He had taken a long hot shower, shaved twice and he now wore clean, new clothes. All had been set by the dictates of his own heart. Blair glanced around the loft, the sink wasn’t dripping and the oven was switched off. Then he darted across to the front door and double locked the deadbolt.
Everything was perfect.
It was time.
Gracefully, he settled into a lotus position before the candle. With an innate grace, which was rarely visible as he vibrated through his days, he placed the thick candle in the lantern. For a moment he looked at it—the wick untouched and the wax unmarred by flame—it seemed a pity to ravage such perfection.
Sighing, he took a match and then with great deliberation struck it. The light flared engulfing the bright red head. An acrid tendril of smoke snaked upwards and Blair automatically held his breath as he waited for it to dissipate. Slowly, he brought the flame to the wick.
Everything was now perfect.
One last thing—he made a quick dash into the bathroom. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and stopped. For the first time in a long time his hair was untied, combed and unsnarled it was a riotous mass of curls. He had cut it recently, shearing away the long ends that pulled it down and flattened the natural bounce. But then, for some obscure reason, he kept it tamed with a strip of leather. Darker eyes than normal stared back at him, the blue shadowed by thunderclouds. The finest spray of lines gave his eyes unaccustomed depths. They hadn’t been there a year ago.
His eyes cast down, viewing this mature stranger. He should stay away from mirrors; he saw too much. The little chicken pox scar at the corner of his mouth was never going to fade—unaccountably that cheered him. His lips curved in an unconscious smile and the lines faded just a little bit.
Blair turned from the mirror and the unfamiliar image that it reflected. He dealt with his business automatically, wondering where this oh-so-serious meditation would take him, as he urinated. Abstracted, he washed his hands, re-situated his brand new silk boxer shorts underneath his brand new overly baggy cotton trousers. He let the matching cream tunic drape over the leggings. Naomi, his alternative religion—alternative everything—mother, would be so pleased with his outfit.
‘You look like a yogi, sweetie!’ her exuberant, imaginary voice was almost loud enough to hear.
It was time.
The flame was dancing joyously; a small well of molten wax had already formed. Once again he settled into a lotus position.
He focused on the candle, striving to clear his mind. Thoughts skittered, untamed. He had a spirit guide—he had seen it when he had been pulled from the spirit world. He had died. Or since he now walked and talked and breathed, perhaps he had not died? How could he say that he had died when he now ate and slept and dreamt? Semantics. One moment he had been in the waking world of pain and fear as a warped sentinel forced him head first from air into water and the next…
The fountain had been a bridge between worlds.
Then suddenly he had crouched beside a wolf in a forest grove. He had become the wolf and a whole new world opened up. He had been just about to explore further when the bereft lament of a jaguar stayed his feet.
Then he was back, cold and wet and coughing up slime.
And people were crying.
And nothing would be the same ever again.
He had tasted death and his balance had shifted in response. His spirit was defeated—he knew no other way to describe the feeling of tiredness and sorrow. But why sorrow? He lived—he had defied death—that was a reason to rejoice. His roommate rejoiced beneath a façade of distance. They were back together, living in the loft. Jim hadn’t thrown him out of the loft during the debacle with the thesis. That had been a nightmare of ultimate proportions. He had destroyed his old life and started anew. Within the week he would be enrolling in the police academy. In a few weeks he would be a fully fledged member of the Cascade P.D.
Yet now he flailed, looking for a tightrope as he stood on a precipice. He had to know the reason for his disquiet.
Blair relaxed into himself, striving to find that quiet place that brought him contentment. It was simply a matter of letting go. Calm mind. Still thoughts.
At peace, Blair opened his eyes.
He was back in the glade.
It was beautiful, vibrant green and alive. It called to him. Sunlight shafted through the foliage. The summer buzz of birds and insects ambled above his head. And there sitting in the cool shade of a tall oak tree a grey wolf laughed at him. Happy yellow eyes watched. Unafraid, Blair ventured forwards. A spirit guide. His spirit guide - that had to be a special kind of magic. Drawn, he crouched beside the wolf. His fingers tangled in coarse fur catching in the shorter, warmer hair beneath. The wolf still bore his winter coat.
“Do you feel the cold, boy?” he asked.
The wolf didn’t respond only leaning into the caress. Carefully, Blair teased his fingers through the fur, taming the few little knots that he found. The wolf nuzzled against his chest, sliding inevitably downwards until the majestic animal was sprawled on the grass accepting a tummy rub.
“You like that, don’t you. Yeah.”
He rubbed a furred belly losing himself in shared sensual pleasure. The wolf twisted beneath his hands, rising to bestow a long lick over Blair’s nose. The anthropologist laughed richly. Wise amber eyes smiled with him. And then with a flick of a tail, the wolf scampered away. The spirit paused at the edge of the glade looking over his shoulder. Caught between standing and sitting, Blair paused. The scene was eerily familiar. He had stood in this place once before when he had died. That time he had been called back to merge and return to his sentinel.
The wolf barked once drawing his attention from the material world. Blair bounded after him, his tongue lolling in a lupine laugh.
Was his hold on life so tenuous that he could turn his back on it without a backward glance?
Jim Ellison balked at the door, banging his hip against the wood as only one turn of the key failed to unlock the door. Weighed down by two shopping bags, he scowled at the door.
“Sandburg! Open the damn door.”
Grumbling under his breath, he waited impatiently for the ex-grad student to open the door.
No answer. Muttering to himself, he set the bags on the floor and double turned the key to get into his home.
“I’m gonna... You better not... I know that you’re in there; I can hear music.” The door swung open. He froze on the threshold, brought up short by the atmosphere in the loft. The single candle cast soft shadows on his friend’s face. The essential oils permeating the room were a strange choice, they had him thinking reflective thoughts. Jim shook his head and slowly ventured into his home.
“Blair?” Usually the anthropologist responded when the detective interrupted his meditation sessions. This time he remained locked in his own type of zone.
“Fine, Chief. I’m making lasagne for dinner. I assume that’s okay.”
Jim dumped the bags on the counter and began to unpack—separating out the ingredients for the night’s repast and putting the rest away in their proper places. In short order, he had the iron bottomed skillet on the burner and was preparing their dinner.
Jim hummed to himself, content, as he browned the mince with onions and a hint of garlic. Mid stir, he stopped and peered at the anthropologist. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing.
“Sandburg?” he ventured.
Concerned, he crossed to the kid’s side. Automatically his senses extended, playing over the anthropologist, striving to catalogue the heartbeat and breathing pattern. There was no heartbeat.
“Shit!” Jim dropped to his knees in a half collapse-half controlled descent. His own heartbeat clamoured in his ears as he reached for his roommate. Blair sagged as Jim touched him, falling against the detective like a disconnected puppet. Jim braced him, allowing Blair to sprawl against his chest before curling over to gently lay him supine on the floor.
Jim tipped Blair’s head back clearing the airway. His touch told him a myriad of things; all bad. How could this have happened? Contrary to his senses, he plastered his ear against the anthropologist’s chest and listened with all his heart and soul.
“Please, please, please...” he didn’t hear his own plea. His fingers tangled in his roommate’s curls as his other hand pawed at the still chest.
A beat. A beautiful heartbeat.
Blair loped through the forest after the wolf. He thought that this was perfect. It was much nicer than the hot steamy jungle that Jim described on his spirit walks. It was the perfect temperature for running. He bounded over a fallen, moss covered tree trunk into another sunlit glade. Warmth washed over him as he came to a halt. Motes of pollen encircled him, drawing him with them.
He knew that the wolf was now at his heel. Entranced, Blair brought up his hand allowing his long fingers to disturb the pinpricks of light.
“So what lesson would you have me learn, wolf?” Blair asked. “Apart from obvious? This is a cool place.”
A low, rolling laugh heralded the wolf’s metamorphosis. The wolf’s legs stretched, hindquarters straightened and the paws extended to long, narrow hands. The short tufty fur on his head lengthened to dark brown curls as his ears became small and rounded. Blair faced himself, naked as the day he was born. An impish grin formed on the wolf’s face. Obviously entranced, the wolf ran his fingers along his chest, fingering the prominent ribs.
“Strange.” He smiled, showing sharp teeth.
“Personally, I think it’s a rather good body.”
The wolf cocked his head to the side as he scratched his ear. “It’s very wolfish.” He plucked at a chest hair. “Nice and compact. Muscular.” He stamped a bare foot against the grassy earth.
“My body is a temple,” Blair intoned, and then laughed, spoiling the effect.
“Yes, I like a good piece of steak every now and again.” Wolf crossed his legs and sat. “So you’re really getting into this shaman gig.”
“Is this what this is about?” Blair asked, pacing around the recumbent wolf.
“You tell me.” Wolf rolled onto his back and scratched his tummy.
“Great. Why all the metaphorical stuff? Can’t you just tell me? I’m not Jim; you just tell me something and it’ll sink in.”
The wolf laughed. “Even you don’t believe that it could ever be that easy!”
“So what have I got to do to achieve enlightenment?”
Blair jerked to a halt and stared down at the wolf, who was still sprawled on the grass.
“Stop running,” Blair echoed. “I’m not running.”
“If you say so.” Somehow Wolf shrugged whilst lying down.
“Okay, I’m not running.” Abruptly, Blair sat.
Wolf rolled onto his side propping up his head on one hand. “Maybe running’s not the right word. I might be speaking metaphorically.”
“Are you sure you’re not really ‘Coyote the Trickster’?”
“Well, he is my little brother so we might share a few characteristics.”
Blair rolled onto his back, cupping his hands behind his head. He stared up at the open sky and the eagles whirling over head. While this was pretty cool it wasn’t helping him.
The sun overhead was blindingly bright, almost like the light that had called him from the fountain. A low, distraught wailing entwined in his consciousness. Concerned, Blair sat up. During his moment of introspection, the wolf had reverted to his true form and watched him with warm, amber eyes.
“What’s that?” He clambered to his feet and listened. It sounded like a baby. An upset, hurting baby. The cries were coming from somewhere ahead.
Sitting on his hindquarters, the wolf remained in the glade. Blair stopped at the tree line and looked back.
“This is part of the lesson, isn’t it?”
The wolf shrugged, enigmatically. The crying increased, wailing in abject misery. Unable to ignore the siren like call, Blair scurried into depths of the woods.
The forest was still warm and inviting, Blair almost expected it to turn into a scene from a horror story. Imagery was the name of the game in a spirit world. The white light was ahead - he was running straight for its heart.
The baby was wailing in misery. Blair sobbed with it, kicking at the coarse blankets that swaddled his body. The room around him was dark and he couldn’t see many details over the high wooden sides of the crib.
‘Reality check,’ Blair thought, belatedly realising his position.
“How’s ma wee man?” A giant figure loomed over him. “Why all the noise?”
Equally large hands pulled back the blankets and cradled his tiny body. The sensation was beyond weird as he was lifted and draped across a warm, bare shoulder.
“Did you have a nightmare?” The soft lilt of the man’s voice was Scottish. “Stop your grizzling, Da’s here.”
Instinctively, Blair turned his head. His neck was wobbly, but he managed to look up at the man. He would recognise those eyes anywhere. The face was different and the hair bore a distinct red tinge, but despite the outward changes he knew in the depths of his soul that this was...
“Jim,” the softly spoken name was unrecognisable and only sounded like baby talk.
“There, there.” Rough hands patted his back. Blair could only see the large expanse of a hairless chest. Frustrated, he craned his neck looking around the room. The man holding him, reacted to his squirming, shifting him higher. Blair took the opportunity to look around. They were in a small room. The walls were constructed of large stones. In a shadowy corner a small doorway led off to another room. In the opposite corner a banked fire glowed in a large fireplace. He was distracted as a blanket was draped over his tiny body.
“Did you have a bad dream?” the man soothed, walking across the room to a rocking chair by the fire.
The large hands moved him again so he was cradled in one arm, braced against the chest.
“You miss your ma, don’t you? You don’t know where she’s gone.” A sad smile crossed his craggy face. “She’s with the angels, little man. It’s just you and me... now.”
Blair moved with his...father... as the man leaned closer to the fire, stirring it up and throwing on some more peat. One handed, the redhead ladled some grey concoction from a pot hanging over the fire into a square wooden plate. Then they sat back.
“Your wet nurse’s asleep,” the man continued conversationally. “You tire her out, you hungry little man.”
Blair kicked out at the hand holding his feet, testing the man’s grip—it was secure and comfortable. He watched as Jim took a spoonful of the stew and chewed thoroughly. He was feeling a little hungry himself. His stomach grumbled in response. Then Jim delicately transferred the contents of his mouth onto the spoon. Blair watched horrified as a spoon was then brought to his own lips.
The wood nudged against his mouth. Anthropologically speaking this was hardly unusual—before the advent of electricity and food processors, baby food had to be broken into little chunks somehow. He’d never had it demonstrated so...fundamentally before. Intrigued, he took another look around the room, ignoring the stew for the moment. The fact that he was in what could only be a nursery, and that he had a wet nurse, meant that the family was obviously well-to-do. As spirit walks went this was a doozy.
The spoon nudged against his lips again and obediently, Blair opened his mouth. He managed a few mouthfuls before a sleepy lassitude overtook him. Experienced hands moved him again onto a hard shoulder. His back was rubbed gently, until a nice, rich burp escaped.
A soft laugh reached his ears. Content, he was lifted and he didn’t protest as he was placed back in his crib.
“Are you going to let your Da get some sleep now?” Jim leaned over and planted a soft kiss on his forehead.
Blair batted out an uncoordinated hand and connected with Jim’s cheek. He managed to stroke it once, before the redhead caught it and tucked it under the blankets.
“I love you too. Go to sleep.”
It was impossible to not obey the order. Blair yawned once and drifted away.
White light shone in his eyes. Blair blinked furiously and focused on a shaft of sunlight shining through an open window. Intrigued, Blair stepped forwards. Another room but this was different again. Straight well-made walls surrounded a wide open room. The air was warm and scented with a floral bouquet. The windowsill was at a level with his head. He had grown but he was still a child. He looked down at himself, stocky prepubescent limbs and sandals told him little. He wore a simple white tunic gathered at the waist.
Blair clambered up onto the sill and peered through the window. Rolling, fertile plains stretched out before him. In the distance a smoking volcano caught his eye. He leaned out further.
“What are you doing!”
Hands caught him, he was braced against a hip and his bottom was smacked. What was it about adults and picking up children, Blair wondered. He didn’t remember feeling this vulnerable when he had been a child.
He was set down on his own two feet and a man loomed over him. A long aristocratic finger was waggled under his nose.
“Agrippina, how many times have I told you not to climb on the window sill?”
The man had a classic Roman nose and his olive tinged, aquiline features were framed by short grey curls. Blair squinted at his eyes trying to see a familiar essence. He didn’t recognise this man.
“Lots,” Blair hazarded, when it seemed apparent that the man wanted an answer.
“So why did you?”
“I wanted to see the volcano.”
“Are you talking back to me, young woman?” Hands on hips, the man was almost a caricature of a concerned parent.
“No, sir.” Blair chewed on his bottom lip; he had no idea how old he was supposed to be and didn’t want his words to sound too adult.
“Next time, go down to the orchard. And no climbing the trees.”
Sighing deeply (Blair got the distinct impression that this Agrippina was a wilful little person), the man tousled his hair. Blair stood quietly until the man, who he supposed was his father, exited the room. He then took stock. In the far corner of the airy bedroom was a bronze polished mirror and a bowl of water on a dresser. Blair took the opportunity to look at himself.
Blue-black curls tumbled past his shoulders. A hooked aristocratic nose was too big for his face. Big brown-black eyes made him look a bit insipid. Despite that he was a little on the chubby side, he could see the family resemblance with the man who had chastised him. It was also blatantly obvious that he was female.
‘Okay, I’m a girl and I’m somewhere nice and sunny. And, I look like I’m about four.’
He clambered of the stool beside the mirror snagging a pear from the overfilled bowl beside the mirror. Happily munching, he toddled out of the room. Jim Ellison had to be somewhere, it was just a matter of finding him.
Searching the one level house from room to room yielded no Jim, but he did find the atrium of what was probably a roman villa. His father was resting under the shade of a cherry tree—improbably growing in the central court of the house.
“Hello, Pina, did you lose your cat?”
Mutely, Blair shook his head, but then nodded, it was, in fact, a good description of a certain sentinel who had a black jaguar spirit guide.
“I think I saw Augustus chasing his tail in the kitchen,” the man volunteered.
“Sir.” A small, rotund man bounced into the atrium. “You have a visitor.” The servant stepped aside to reveal a tall, young sapling of a man under the rounded arch of the doorway.
The man was a soldier, dressed in the simple uniform of the Roman Army. Eagerly, Blair craned his head trying to see if this was Jim who had entered. The young man wore a cuirass and the metal breastplate was buffed to a blinding shine. Pteriges—leather strips sewn into a protective skirt—overlaid a pristine white tunic. The high level of personal grooming was certainly an Ellison characteristic. Blair could see the purple band of a military tribune on the tunic. This was a young man from one of the upper class Roman families doing his family duty in the army for a few years. He was freshly shaven and his hair, although curled, was a lighter hue than Blair’s own.
But Blair couldn’t see into the officer’s eyes. He bounced, frustrated from foot to foot, as the solider continued to stare ahead. It was weird, but he knew, no matter what the outward characteristics he would be able to recognise his friend by his eyes.
“What is it, Quirinus?”
The solider took that as permission to speak, “The Galli slaves attempted to escape. A poor attempt which failed. I have the ringleaders in custody if you wish to dictate a suitable punishment.”
“I will handle this myself.”
Evidently, Agrippina’s father was someone of importance. Blair chased after them as they strode out of the house. Around the villa was the orchard, to which the commandant had referred. High walls separated the home from the rest of the world. On the south side was an open wooden gate. His little legs pumping, Blair managed to keep the commandant and the possible-Jim in sight. Once outside the gate he could see that the villa was situated in the far corner of military compound. A cavalry unit was practising drills on a flat open field. The two men skirted the edge of the field, avoiding the manoeuvres. They headed towards a small stockade on the western side of the compound. Several legionaries were on watch outside the barred gates. Two legionaries opened the gate before the two officers approached. Through the gates, Blair could see a handful of prisoners, manacled and forced to kneel on the hard earth.
The commandant stopped a mere pace away from the slaves. Blair cast a sideways glance at one of the legionaries before he entered the stockade. He saw the man’s fingers twitch as if to grab him. Grinning, Blair wondered what sort of picture he made to the solider. Generally little girls with short tunics and long black ringlets didn’t enter prisons.
Another legionary made an abortive move to intercept him when he stopped behind the commandant and peered around his knees. Eight men, from a young—barely, post-pubescent—boy to a wizened man, all chained but not cowed, glared up at the two officers. They were Galli, Blair remembered. They bore the fair skin of their race coupled with dark red hair. Dressed in skin tight chequered trousers and heavily bearded they were a startling contrast to the clean and precise Roman citizens. One stood out, he was a tall Nubian slave, his skin was coal-dark and unblemished. He looked like an ebony statue. Blair chuckled, he reminded him of Simon.
“Who was the leader?” the commandant questioned, his voice authoritarian.
“I...” One slave struggled to his feet. He wore silver bands at his throat and waist. Blair was surprised that his jewellery hadn’t been confiscated. Intricate, woven metal bracelets were wound around his wrists and biceps.
“I... Chief,” the prisoner said, imperiously.
“JIM!” Blair crowed and then slapped his hand over his mouth.
“Agrippina, what are you doing here!”
Blair imitated a stranded fish for a heartbeat, then he blurted, “I wanted to be with you, papa.” He tried to bat his eyelashes.
The commandant drew himself taller but a smile frittered at the edge of his lips. “You shouldn’t be here, little one.”
“I will take care of her, Gaius Octavius.” A bass, rounded voice interrupted. Another officer joined them, bedecked with a plumed helmet and the uniform of a centurion or higher officer. He was a dashing figure.
“Go with your Uncle, Pina.” A broad hand patted his bottom.
Once more he was picked up. What was it about these adults and their power plays? Was that the point of this spirit walk, for him to realise that he was a victim to the whims of those more powerful than himself? No, that had not seemed to be the message from the first episode.
Agrippina’s Uncle moved to turn them away. “No, no, no...” Blair tapped his shiny breastplate.
“Your father’s dealing with military matters. You shouldn’t watch.”
Blair could easily read between the lines. What would the military response to an escape attempt be? There was only one answer.
“That’s a big word,” Uncle said patronisingly.
“No!” Blair wriggled out the man’s grasp and dropped to the ground. “Papa, don’t kill him.” He ran to the commandant’s side and grabbed his tunic, tugging on it urgently. The officer carefully unpeeled his grip and then straightened his tunic with a sharp tug. Blair tried to quiver his bottom lip.
A heavy hand rested on his head. “I’m sorry, Agrippina, but he led the escape.”
Blair grabbed the man’s thumb and held onto it for all his worth. He plumbed the depths of obfuscation and looked up at the man with liquid eyes. “Papa, if he had led the escape they would have escaped.”
Blair held his breath as the commandant regarded the Galli chieftain. They weighed each other with a long hard stare, both as proud as one another.
“My daughter speaks the truth. Quirinus described a poorly executed plan. You Galli are an emotional race, undisciplined and unclean, but you are not, generally, stupid. Ignorant, but not stupid. Who is responsible?”
Blank incomprehension was the only response to the question.
“I don’t think they understand,” Blair whispered softly.
“I think you’re right. But someone has to be punished.”
“They just want to go home, papa. What’s wrong with that?”
The young man amongst the slaves shifted uneasily. Automatically the chieftain put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. Their chains clinked together. Jim’s eyes were flinty as he glared at the commandant.
“Ahah,” the commandant said wisely. “I think I know what happened. This... boy... attacked his guards and started a revolt. What to do? What to do?”
The commandant stepped into Jim’s personal space. The chieftain bared his teeth in a travesty of a smile. Blair jammed his fingers in his mouth, not wanting to disrupt the moment. Stock sill, Jim bore the commandant’s regard without flinching.
“Quirinus,” the commandant said lightly.
who speaks their incomprehensible tongue and explain to them that they are
slaves of the
“Sir, they tried to escape,” Quirinus protested.
Dismissing, the chieftain and his charge, Gaius Octavius raised an eyebrow at his subordinate. “I am a solider. I do not execute children. Make it so.”
The younger officer saluted and marched off to find the translator.
Blair let out the breath he had been holding.
“I should put you on half rations.” The chastising finger was once again waggled in his face.
Blair squashed a broad smile and tried, futilely, to look repentant. Once again he was picked up. He was getting used to it.
The commandant’s expression was one of frustration and amusement. “I indulge you.”
‘Thank God,’ Blair thought.
“I’m proud of you. Your teachers say that you are a wilful child and despair of you. I told them you were bright. I didn’t realise how bright.”
Blair smiled winsomely, content now, Jim was, albeit for the moment, safe.
They walked back along the straight road to the villa. The cavalry were still practising manoeuvres—swords clashing in the summer sun. A sword flashed and a sunbeam bounced catching Blair’s eyes...
Panic... chaos... Blair darted to the side away from the throng of wailing people trying to find refuge beside a wall. He had no idea where he was but fear was rife in the air. He flattened himself against the wall and looked into the rioting crowd. Grey tenement buildings, smashed together in the smallest possible pace, seemed to hang, threateningly, over him. One woman screamed—a high pitched, heartrending scream. Blair focused on her. A man pulled her to her feet and braced her with his own body. A flash of yellow caught the anthropologist’s eye. Then another, then another. People wore a yellow star sewn badly onto their clothes. Blair knew where he was and his blood froze in his veins.
“Jacob! Stay will us.” A hand grabbed his shoulder and shook him. “I cannot find your mother, I think that she has gone on one of the trains ahead.”
Horrified, Blair stared open mouthed at the Hasidic Jew who was shaking him. The long curls on either side of the man’s face bobbed with every movement.
“I do not
“They’re lying —they’re going to kill us *ALL*. This is the Holocaust!” His heart was clamouring against his rib cage.
“Don’t be silly. Here, take your cousin and come with us.”
A wriggling baby was thrust into his arms and the man dragged him into the screaming, milling crowd. Blair dug in his heels, promptly losing the older man. The wash of people carried him forward, as he stumbled with the weight of the baby. He was older than Aggripina but he was not a man and the tiny baby weighed heavily in his thin arms. Even the tiny baby wore the obscene yellow star pinned to her breast.
The fate of the baby in a concentration camp was written in stone. Babies were of no use to the Third Reich. They were simply disposed of with a casual contempt that Blair hoped he would never understand.
A narrow alley called to him. Fighting with the strength only desperation could bring, Blair forced him way through the people and staggered into its relative protection. Cowering behind a mess of crates and refuse, he breathed rapidly and unevenly, halfway towards a panic attack. The baby wiggled against him. Ruthlessly, Blair clamped down on his reaction, since now was not the time. He placed the baby carefully on some sacking and took stock. Rifling through his pocket he found a mélange of child’s toys and a few sticky sweets. Then he found a penknife. Brutally, he ripped away the star on his chest and then the baby’s. Repulsed, he cast them aside. He ran his fingers through his hair
‘Get away. Get away. Get away. You’re in danger.’ The litany ran in his mind and Blair agreed with its message.
Picking up the baby and smothering its weak cries against his chest, he ran pell-mell down the alley. They emerged on the opposite side of the tenement buildings to a deserted street. Rubble was scattered across the road and a few burnt out vehicles had been pushed onto their sides. Apparently there had been some sort of uprising. On the far side another alley beckoned. Keeping low, he scurried around the blocks of stone heading away from danger.
Blair ignored the command. A single bullet whizzed overhead. Picking up speed, he ducked into the alley. Fear lent wings to his feet and the baby seemed weightless. What was the point of stopping? What was the point of arguing with someone who had already decided that you were less than nothing? Another bullet whizzed overhead. Blair ducked, and scampered into the welcome alley. Heavy jackboots stomped after him; the man wasn’t even running. It was as if a cat was playing with a mouse.
The baby kicked against him. Blair held it with a ruthlessness that surprised him. He darted around crates and refuse as another bullet skimmed past his arm, spanging off a wall, dislodging mortar. Elaborate swearing filled his ears as the larger man on his heels kicked his way through the slalom course, Blair had dodged through. With half of his attention on the looming terror behind him, Blair nearly missed the figure standing waiting for him at the end of the alley.
He skidded to a halt, breathing sharply. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, muscular, the man was the perfect example of Adolph Hitler’s Aryan ideal. He was also the very image of Jim Ellison. Blair’s heart lodged in his throat. Jim Ellison wore the hated uniform of the SchultzStaffel (SS)—Hitler’s elite. It was such a base betrayal that he felt like crying.
“Kill the little bastard, lieutenant,” another person said.
Blair would have known that voice anywhere. Could the nightmare get any worse? The spirit walker turned as the other SS officer cast aside the final crate and stood before him in all his infamous glory. Pale, pale, wet eyes gleamed with an orgasmic lust. Wispy blond hair was gelled in a skull cap. He wore the swastika with pride.
David Lash was in his element.
“Kill the brat. I will take the baby.”
Blair tried not to cower as Ellison grabbed the fleshy part of his arm above the elbow and gave him a light shake. “Why do you want the baby, Obergruppenfuhrer?”
“Don’t be so naive, Captain,” Lash said snidely.
Lash oozed his way forward, reaching out for the black headed baby girl. Blair cowered away, unable to find it in himself to kick and spit at the image of Ellison holding him.
“The child, Captain.”
“I will take them to the train and return them to their parents,” Ellison said patiently.
Blair looked up at him, hope in his eyes. Could it be true that Jim didn’t know of the atrocities sanctioned by the higher echelons of the S.S.?
“I gave you an order, lieutenant,” Lash continued, imminent demotion in his voice.
Slowly, Ellison reached for the baby. Blair could see the right angled cross of the swastika at the officer’s throat. Pinned to his breast was an iron cross, rather than a yellow star. This Ellison was a hero to the Third Reich.
Blair stared imploringly up at his Blessed Protector. Self preservation kept
him talking. “He is going to send us to Dachua or
The blow took him by surprise. Blair found himself face down on the ground the baby wailing beneath him. He rolled away from the kick that he knew was coming and had the perverse satisfaction to see a polished boot become scuffed in the dirt as it missed him.
“Miserable little brat.” Slowly, vindictively, Lash pulled out his luger and pointed it at Blair’s forehead.
Staring up the barrel of the blocky gun, Blair felt his heart almost stop in pure terror. He could feel another set of boots to his left and he knew that Ellison was standing beside him.
“Where did you hear the names of the camps?” Lash demanded.
“Obergruppenfuhrer, the child probably heard officers talking.”
“Obergruppenfuhrer?” Blair echoed. That meant that Lash was one of Hitler’s elite, studying the so-called-mystic arts. His thoughts bent sideways as he attempted to react coldly and logically. It had never been proven to the satisfaction of the general public that Hitler’s top cabal of officers had in fact been an occult group. But regardless of reality he was on a spirit walk; this wasn’t happening. He was using shamanistic techniques to explore his inner reality to better understand the miasma of, and he admitted it, the depression weighing him down. Now he faced his ultimate nightmare, Lash.
He had had enough of this spirit walk he wanted to go home. Now.
Lash pistol whipped him. Pain blossomed across Blair’s cheek. Why did he feel pain? This was a dream - wasn’t it? Claw like hands grabbed his collar and dragged him to his feet. The baby slipped out of his grasp, dropping to the ground with a startled squeal. Damp hands gripped his head forcing him to meet Lash’s damp gaze.
“Little boy, where did you hear the names of the camps?” Lash drawled.
Terror made his heart slam against his rib cage. He could feel the perspiration trickling between his shoulder blades.
“I dreamt it!” Blair blurted. “I dream things. It told me to run from the trains or I would die....” The anthropologist dredged up every minor detail that he could remember from reading about Nazi connections with the occult. “You’re a Knight of the New Templars.”
Lash’s eyes narrowed.
Blair’s words tumbled out in his haste to convince Lash not to kill him. “You’re trying to find the spear of destiny... the Spear of Longinus for the Furher. You’re looking for the spear that pierced Jesus Christ’s side to ensure that the Third Reich is victorious for a millennia.”
“Tell me more, brat.”
Hitler was obsessed by the occult. Blair knew that for a fact. “I saw a castle.... A castle on a cliff top. A castle in the...west? I saw a sacrifice. A sacrifice of an officer of the S.S... he was the best of the best....” Blair’s words trailed off and he glanced sideways at Ellison.
A maniacal gleam flared in Lash’s eyes. “What a beautiful little gem.” The grip on his head became a slimy caress. “You do have the gift.”
Obfuscations aside, Blair suddenly wondered if he had got himself into more trouble. Deftly, Lash twisted his grip, propelling Blair into Ellison’s side. “Keep him close, he may be of use.”
“The baby, Obergruppenfuhrer?” Ellison nodded at the child, squalling on the hard earth.
“The Sturmabteilung will deal with it,” Lash said dismissively. “This one will be of much more use. Take it to the car. I want to continue looking around.”
Ellison saluted, and Blair’s heart dropped further. How could this be? How could Jim Ellison be a nazi? It was beyond belief. Half-choked by the massive hand gripping his collar, he was frog-marched along, feet barely touching the ground.
“This is seriously bad karma, man,” Blair hissed up at his captor. “You’re a sentinel; you should be protecting people not...”
His words were cut short as he was dumped in the back of a black Daimler.
“You should be honoured that Obergruppenfuhrer Liske has chosen you to serve the Third Reich,” Ellison said impassively.
are you from?” Blair said disparagingly. “By the end of this war, two-thirds of
the population of Jews in
The resultant slap made his ears ring.
“You will keep a civil tongue in your mouth.”
‘I haven’t even started yet.’
“You wanna know what they do to people? They give them showers, but there is no water—just poisonous gas...”
“You know don’t you? How can you stand here and let it happen? They make children scavenge the bodies looking for everything from jewellery to gold teeth.”
“You are speaking of rumour and innuendo.” Ellison said flatly.
“Fuck you,” Blair said rudely. “I’m telling the truth. And if you’d bother to look—you’d know that I speak the truth.”
“And what would you have me do? I am one man.” Ellison raised his eyes heavenward, as if finding his own words impossible to believe.
“Find the evidence, make copies to give to the Allies when they take over.”
“You’re talking treason, boy.” Ellison threw his hands in the air. “Why am I talking to you? You’re a...”
“A Jew?” Blair shot back. “So what? I’m a human being. I don’t believe that you’re doing this. It’s... it’s... abhorrent. Jim Ellison, you disgust me.”
The perfect S.S. officer’s brow furrowed. “My name is Eichmann.”
Blair vomited. Curled up on the floor of the Daimler, he wiped the mess from his mouth. Shocky and nauseated, he could only shudder, his entire world view had changed.
“Ach!” Ellison (or was it Eichmann?) stepped back, utterly disgusted.
Blair picked himself up. The S.S. officer had retreated away from the stink of the vomit. Perhaps sentinel senses were working? But this wasn’t Jim Ellison, Blair corrected himself, so why would there be sentinel senses? Eichmann was occupied, masking his nose with a perfectly pressed handkerchief.
Blair took the opportunity that had been presented. The opposite door of the car was unlocked. A heartbeat later he was running pell-mell down the road, dodging through more rubble and crates. He could hear the officer spitting and swearing as he attempted to force his larger mass through the makeshift barriers left by the inhabitants of the ghetto to impede the advance of the nazi troops.
A gap in a wooden fence caught his eye. A small gap. Blair swerved towards the opening. At the top of the fence was coiled barbed wire. Eichmann would not be able to climb over the fence.
“Halt!” Eichmann ordered.
Blair automatically skipped sideways. A bullet parted his hair, shearing off a couple of curls. Shocked, he stumbled and sprawled flat on the ground. Another bullet whizzed passed him. Galvanised, Blair rolled onto his back and peered up at the S.S. towering over him. A hard eyed figure stood over him — emotionless and distant as the moon. Blair watched horrified as Eichmann calmly sighted along the barrel of his luger and fired.
The light took him unawares.
“Noooo!” Blair flailed at the hands trying to hold him. A multitude of sensation assailed him. Bright light, green foliage, confining clothes, overwhelming bright blue eyes...
“Sister! What is the matter?” a strident voice questioned.
The panicked breathing echoing in his ears was his own. Desperate to find some modicum of sense, Blair clapped his hands over his eyes. Ruthlessly, he ignored the voice clamouring for his attention. This was all a dream — this was all a dream. He was on a spirit walk. This wasn’t happening.
‘Sister?’ Blair peeked between his splayed fingers. A young woman peered at him worriedly. Riotous copper curls framed a heart shaped face that was creased in concern. Blair didn’t want to look, he really didn’t want to look. Slowly he dropped his hand and looked into those familiar blue eyes. James Ellison looked at him from within the mask of a young, barely prepubescent woman.
“Emily, speak to me. Shall I get Papa?”
Narrow, dainty hands gripped his own, similarly, dainty hands. Looking in the large doe-like eyes he saw himself—literally—mirrored in them. He was the spitting image of the young woman holding him. Identical twin sisters?
“No, sister. I had a sudden blinding headache. It’s gone.”
Frankly disbelieving, the young woman rocked back on her heels, releasing his hands. “I thought that you were dying!”
James Joseph Ellison had never been as excitable. Blair found himself leaning forward to pat her hand reassuringly.
“I think that I was dreaming, awake...” The words were voiced, unbidden. Blair wondered at the cadence of his speech. The masks his spirit wore seemed to affect his thoughts and actions.
“Here, sister.” The young woman offered him a delicately fluted crystal goblet.
Blair stared stupidly at it for a moment before taking the drink. Hiding his confusion behind the masquerade of concentration on the glass, he belatedly took stock. They sat on a grassy knoll overlooking a sea vista. A tall ship, sails unfurled to catch the slight sea breeze, tacked towards the horizon. At their feet sat an elaborate picnic complete with an embroidered tablecloth. Not a single item, from glassware to the paté seemed to be mass produced. Where was he? What era?
Blair smiled at Jim. The answer sat before him. His sister wore a sky blue dress of heavy silk or brocade, with full skirts that forced the young woman to kneel to cope with the mass of material. The eighteen-century dress was supported with a bodice that forced his... her... attributes upwards. ‘God, this spirit walk’s confusing.’ Blair looked down, he wore exactly the same cut of dress, and... boy... was it uncomfortable. The bodice hampered his breathing and pinched in the most personal of places.
“Emily, what did you dream? I thought that your heart was going to leap out of your mouth!”
“I dreamt that you killed me.”
Jim blanched as white as a sheet, throwing the spray of freckles across her snub nose into sharp relief.
“How... how... how...Emily, how could you even think that I could do such an awful....”
Blair fumbled inelegantly to his feet, hampered by the full skirts. He paced before his sister trying to put his thoughts in order.
“I’m going to tell Charles to get Papa. I think that you’re having a funny turn.” She turned to look at an elaborately dressed footman, complete with curly powdered wig, waiting in the shade of a large tree at the edge of the meadow.
“Stay!” Blair snarled, fixing his sister with a poisonous glare. She froze, crystal tears welling in her eyes.
“Emily,” she sobbed.
“You killed me. Did you kill me? You pointed your gun at me. I saw the flash of light from the gun. But it wasn’t you. No, it wasn’t your fault. You weren’t in control. You know... Have you heard about the perils of obedience?” Words tumbled insanely. “There was this study in the aftermath of the Second World War where this scientist called Milgrim investigated how far that people would go if they were ordered. Do you know that most people will obey the most horrific of instructions if they believe that they come from someone in authority? Fuck. Not everybody. But most people. Only the rarest of rare don’t blindly follow orders. I don’t believe for one moment that you’re a Nazi. That’s against the rules of the universe. So what did it mean? Why did I see you as the most evil incarnation that I could possibly perceive? Am I that screwed up? Were you once incarnated as a German who became a S.S. officer through no choice of your own because you were the best of the best? But it wasn’t you, was it? He looked like you, but I couldn’t see your soul in his eyes. Am I stepping through our incarnations or am I having a bizarre, horrible dream? Naomi would *love* this!” Blair continued to pace, practically babbling. “What does it mean? I saw you as my father, then as a chieftain and finally as an S.S. officer—those are all positions of authority. You don’t have authority over me. I respect your opinion and I listen to you when you speak to me with the benefit of experience. But you don’t have authority...”
“Sister?” A little voice said tentatively.
Blair stopped his spiel and stared at the pert young woman peering at him so worriedly. His sister. He snorted; Jim was his identical twin sister, hardly a position of authority.
“Are we close?” Blair demanded.
Jim’s eyes flashed to the right, to the left, as if hunting for some kind of escape. “We’re... inseparable.”
“Do we fight?”
“Papa say that we’re so close that we’re ‘sweetness and light’; we don’t fight, at all. You’re scaring me.”
“We don’t fight? You’re not Jim then. We fight. Not really, just over the little things. He finally listens to me, you just have to bang him over the head. But he finally listens to me. He listened to me about the pheromone thing. He listened to me about the spirit guide thing. Eventually. Why didn’t I keep at him over Alex? Why did I let him throw me out of the loft? I just went. That wasn’t right. WHY? Why did you just let me go? I thought that we had something better than that.”
Unaccountably, Blair felt tears gathering.
“It hurt. It hurt.” He sniffed, once. “I know. I know. You gotta be a man about this. Check your emotions at the door. You can still be *fucking* hurt, though!”
“Emily!” Jim caught him by the arms and gave him a shake. “What ever I did. I am sorry. You’re the other half of my soul. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. You’re my best friend.”
“Why couldn’t you say that out there in the real world? Look I’m sorry, too! I though... I thought, if you and Alex got together there would be fireworks. I was *really* surprised by the fireworks. You were insane. Why on earth did you kiss Alex – mating instinct? That was what I said, wasn’t it! Why did you go to the temple alone?”
“Do you mean Lord Alexander Sutton? I didn’t kiss him, Emily. He’s,” she hesitated and shivered, “awfully ugly and... fat.”
“Ah —” He’d forgotten in his vitriol that he wasn’t facing Jim Ellison. Apparently they still had a few issues to address. Was that what this spirit walk was about? Was he down because he felt that they hadn’t resolved their disagreement? Ooh, that was a nice word for a breakdown in friendship, a fight about trust.
“Shit,” Blair sagged to his knees, the yards of silks forming his skirts fluffed upwards, swamping his body.
“Charles! Get Papa; Emily is ill. Hurry!”
“Yes, Lady Louisa,” came the faint reply.
The drumming of hooves against sundried earth broke Blair from his misery. Two ornately dressed men galloped across the meadow. Blair viewed their tailored, embroidered jackets and flouncy silk shirts with some dismay, evidently the men’s clothes were worse than the women’s. The younger of the two men dismounted with a flourish. Simultaneously, Blair saw a vision in tights and recognised his colleague from Major Crime, one Brian Rafe.
“Lord Bute,” Jim gushed. Blair felt positively nauseated, that wasn’t his Jim Ellison. “Emily’s taken a funny turn. Charles has gone for Papa — he’s fishing by the lake. Can you help?”
“Of course, Lady Louisa.”
Blair barely had time to squawk an unladylike squawk before he was picked up and deposited in the arms of the other rider. Captain Simon Banks, although he was probably named Lord Algernon Cromlyx Folxworthy, held him securely on his lap. The pale, pasty skin of a blue-blooded aristocrat vied with Blair’s memory of the captain, but he knew who held him.
“Be calm, Lady Ellison.” Banks’ authoritarian tones survived this incarnation along with his immense height.
“Ellison?” Blair queried. “I’m an Ellison?”
“You are not yet my wife, my love,” Banks said evenly.
Blair actually felt his jaw drop, he was struck dumb. Engaged to Simon Banks? How had his subconscious dredged up this scenario? Now was probably a good time to stage a swoon. Although given the tightness of his whalebone bodice, fainting probably wasn’t that unusual.
“Sister?” Jim asked sweetly, she was at his feet controlling the voluminous skirts, ensuring that his ankles remained covered, as was seemly.
“WHAT?” Blair demanded. If this was happening, and he was travelling through his incarnations, he was probably doing serious damage to Emily’s reputation.
“Nothing, Emily,” Jim said soothingly, patting his leg. “I’m just worried about you.”
Blair sagged against Banks’ chest and cupped his hands over his eyes. ‘I am calm. I am calm.’ The mantra did little to help. He was surprised by the gamut of emotions that had assailed him. His anger towards his best friend repulsed him. Yet he revelled in it. It was cathartic.
He was barely aware of the horse’s slow walk. God, his head hurt. Was this mad dream actually happening? His head felt so fuzzy, making thought difficult. If it was happening, was it an out of body experience?
Jim carefully laid Blair on the carpet ensuring that he was in the recovery position. Training and experience made him assess the anthropologist’s medical condition before rushing to the telephone and calling the paramedics. All Blair’s physical responses were on an even keel apart from the fact that he was unconscious. Catatonia, he wondered. Had Blair ingested something? As his fingers brushed against the cool skin on Blair’s cheek he saw a sudden flash of colour. Pictures assailed him — jack boots and deadly black uniforms. Jarred, he fell back, severing the flow of images.
A black and cloying miasma seemed to cling to his hands. He could see it in his mind’s eye, slimy smoke crawling around his fingertips. This was out of the realm of medical science; this dealt with the sentinel and shaman guide. And the sentinel feared the supernatural part of his heritage. Once in a blue moon, he stepped into the other world—he saw spirit guides and saw resonances of images past and present. And his visions preceded horror.
It always struck as cruel that the one partner of their relationship who would revel in visions never experienced them. Apart from at the fountain; they had shared a vision, he realised belatedly. The loft bore the trappings of meditation: candles, incense and music. Blair had obviously planned a serious session of meditation. The anthropologist had been distracted of late, lost in deep thoughts. Yet, every time the detective had asked him if there was anything wrong, the ex-grad student had replied that all was ‘fine’.
“Blair, what the Hell have you been doing?” Automatically, he reached out touching Blair’s pale forehead. And the images swamped him.
Flash. Grey light. He stood in a picture that felt like a faded image of an old photograph. Mannequins dressed in wild costumes were poised in motion. A tall man—his hair hidden by a white wig with a ponytail tied at the nape of his neck, and wearing an embroidered waistcoat and ruffled cravat—held a young woman in his arms. Her dress, with miles of material, obscured any further details. But her face drew Jim’s eye. Despite the washed out colours he could tell that her hair was the purest shade of copper. Her freckles matched the fine curls. Their very darkness spoke of her pallor.
‘Was she ill?’ Jim wondered.
The thought seemed to breathe life into the image. Jim had the most bizarre feeling that he was watching the scene through another’s eyes. The other players, who were as shadows, kept out of the tall man’s way as he barrelled his way along the decadently bedecked corridor to the swirling white marble staircase at the far end. Abruptly Jim realised that he was in fact watching the scene through another’s eyes as he moved forwards after the pair. A maid (Jim assumed) rushed though an open doorway, her mouth moving anxiously. Jim guessed that her consternation was due to the young woman in the man’s arms. The lord brushed her off with a snarl and mounted the stairs. Jim leaped forward, scurrying after them. The upper landing was as ornate as the lower hall — gilt framed portraits and the occasional scene of running horses graced the walls.
The lord kicked open a door and Jim knew that he was in a woman’s bedroom. A pink swathed four poster bed dominated the room. Jim dogged the lord’s side as he, with infinite gentleness, laid the young woman on the plump pink bedspread. She slumped back onto the pile of pillows and peered up at them through dazed eyes. The lord bestowed a gentle kiss on the young woman’s lips and she went ridged in pure shock.
Jim had never seen anyone so struck dumb before. She was beyond speechless, not even breathing. The lord cocked his head to the side, questioning, and then dipped down, his lips puckering. Her eyes were as wide as oceans and mute with shock as the lord kissed her once more. He stayed a heartbeat longer, melting into the kiss. Her palms batted the bedspread, nervously, a staccato beat of terror or virgin passion.
Abruptly the scene shifted and Jim fell back into the real world. The loft, painted in living colour, breathed light and life. But Blair was cold, almost shocky, and he was curled on his side resting against the detective’s hip.
Jim backed away, looking at his fingers, turning his hands over to view the
backs, trying, insanely, to see what had happened. He had touched Blair and had
the strangest waking dream imaginable. He had had waking dreams before, when
Alex—a woman who shared his preternatural abilities but by no stretch of the
imagination shared the honour and protective instincts of a sentinel—had
threatened both him and his partner. He wasn’t very good at interpreting
visions; he had no idea what this one meant. The woman in his vision had been
ill. Did that mean that Blair was ill? If this was a sentinel-thing the doctors
Hesitantly, he bent to take his friend’s pulse. Then stopped, concerned that touching his friend would trigger another vision. ‘So be it,’ he realised, ‘this might be the only way to figure out what was happening.’ Gingerly, he touched the base of Blair’s throat, sensing the beat of life on many levels.
The magic whisked him away.
Blair lay against the pillow, his fingertips resting against his lips. Simon Banks had kissed him—full on the lips with a hint of tongue. His lips tingled. A nervous reaction, he believed, shaded with a hint of shock.
“Unreal. Un... fucking... real,” Blair said tiredly.
canopy of the four poster bed seemed claustrophobic, so he rolled onto his side
and stared out of the window at the rolling green fields of southern
The door to his room opened interrupting his thoughts. Blair contained a sigh as he recognised his sister, the incarnation of Ellison.
“How do you feel?” she asked meekly.
“Better,” Blair growled perfunctorily.
“Oh, Emily. Can you not talk to me?” She settled, gingerly, on the edge of the bed. “We do not usually have secrets from one another.”
“Is the doctor coming?” Blair asked changing the subject. That question hit to close to the bone, secrets and a lack of trust had led him on this venture.
“Lord Cromlyx sent Charles into the village to speak to the physician.” Jim—no Louisa’s—expression turned pained, as she accepted the change in subject.
Blair cast a leery glance at the woman, momentarily distracted by the outward appearance. The petite nature and glowing copper hair warred with his image of the detective. Self effacing, demure and retiring, there was none of Jim Ellison, ex-ranger, selfless-selfish, moral hardass in this young woman. How could one be the other?
“Don’t worry, Darling. I won’t tell Papa that Lord Cromlyx kissed you.”
Unconsciously, Blair touched his lips. “How am I going to face Simon next time I see him?” he wondered out loud.
“You are to be married to Lord Cromlyx in the autumn, surely a kiss or two will not go amiss?” She essayed a small but reassuring smile.
So the blue-blooded aristocrat in this era was also called Simon, fascinating. More so, that the authority the captain carried seemed to survive in both incarnations. As long as Simon didn’t do that chortling, false laugh that he forced out when facing absurd situations, Blair felt that he could cope with the whole affair.
He was distracted as Jim gave a shudder that rocked the bed with its violence. For a heartbeat Blair was sure that her blue eyes glowed.
“Louisa?” he ventured. “Are you all right? Sister?”
Blair watched as Jim cast about the room, unsure and then focused his intense gaze on him.
“Fine,” the young woman said sharply, “uhm, sister. I ... er think that I...uhm... am coming down with... your...uhm... It’s been a long day.” Abruptly, she shook herself like a large dog.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Blair began, responding to the mute appeal in the young woman’s eyes. It wasn’t her fault that he was on a spirit walk. Evidently Emily and Louisa were close and his possession was hurting the young woman. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I can’t explain what happened before; it’s too strange. You wouldn’t believe me. I will tell you everything, as soon as it makes sense.”
Jim stared directly at him, turning a pasty white at his words. Blair cocked his head to the side and stared into his sister’s eyes. James Ellison stared back at him. Blair blinked once. He knew that the soul of Jim lay within the vessel of Louisa, yet this seemed more—closer—for lack of a better word.
“JIM?” he hissed incredulously.
“Shit!” they said simultaneously.
Louisa — no Jim — stood and backed away. Caught up in the full skirts he tumbled to the floor, swearing like a trooper. Hampered by his own skirts, Blair struggled from his reclining position to crawl across the king sized bed. Jim had managed to prop himself up on one elbow and was staring up at him.
The bedroom door was flung open and in strode Lord Cromlyx followed by a little goblin of a man, dressed in black knickerbockers and a black flared jacket. Perched on his nose was a golden pince-nez. Blair didn’t recognise him or the soul within.
Simon stepped to the side allowing the older man to enter. The summer sunlight caught the man’s eye glasses momentarily blinding the anthropologist, with a white light. Blair didn’t even have time to swear as he was pulled away from 18th Century and on with his journey.
James Joseph Ellison considered himself to be a logical man, firmly routed in reality. He hoped if he kept telling himself this that he would believe it — and if he believed it this ‘dream’ would end.
‘I am relaxed. I am relaxed.’ His mantra did not help.
One moment he was facing a young woman who for some impenetrable reason was Sandburg and the next he was standing on a stone balcony over looking a valley dominated by a wide river. He sniffed, automatically using his senses to analyse the world around him. He tasted salt - the river was in fact an estuary and the tide was sweeping inwards. Far away on horizon, he could see golden sands and a hint of blue sea. Between him and the deep blue sea he could see squat buildings made of wattle and daub and the occasional stone structure. Yet none of the buildings had a radio or television antenna. Curiouser and curiouser. He wasn’t stupid; the first scene had been like something out of Jane Austen, this was something out of Indiana Jones — he had travelled to another time.
‘Damn, sentinel senses,’ he thought viciously.
He finally took stock of his clothing. He wore a long pleated dress girdled at the waist with a chain of golden links with an effigy of a lion as the clasp resting just above his crotch. A matching necklace adorned his chest, liberally daubed with lapis lazuli and emerald jewels. Across his forehead he could feel the heavy weight of more gold. Curious, he lifted it off his head and had a good look. The golden skullcap supported striped material— it didn’t take a rocket scientist to identify the head-dress. Egyptian.
was somewhere in
‘What the Hell does this have to do with Blair’s meditation?’ he wondered. What did this mean? He cast about looking for the jaguar that usually walked in his visions. From his history lessons he knew that Egyptians venerated cats. So an Egyptian scene might follow with a jaguar. He ground his teeth together, annoyed by his predicament and the fact that he did not understand what was happening. The whole experience felt like lucid dreaming. He knew that he was within the loft, his fingers resting against Blair’s cold, clammy forehead, yet at the same time he was looking out over an ancient horizon.
All he could do at this time was to see where the meditation took him. Perhaps he would meet Blair and he would tell him what had started this trip.
He strode off the balcony and through a wide open doorway buttressed by carved figures of angular men. The hall he walked through was similarly supported by massive carved figures. Halfway down the hall two overweight bald men, bowed fervently, and then threw open the massive doors beside them. The two fat men scuttled away. Jim stood on the threshold, testing the room before entering. The next room could only be a throne room. Impressed, despite himself, he walked in. A golden throne dominated the room drawing his eye. Curled next to it was a cheetah, watching him with pale, distant eyes.
Another soft-fat man appeared from behind a pair of shimmering curtains, to the left of the throne, he bowed once and then strode across the cold marble floor to stop polite distance from the sentinel. Jim waited patiently, taking the time to assess the man before him. The strangest lack of scent reached him — and Jim concentrated through the miasma of perfumes surrounding the man. The wig especially seemed to be soaked in some cloying oil. He was a short, dumpy little man. Jim focused and abruptly realised what he was missing - the telltale taste of testosterone. The man before him was a eunuch. Hence, Jim guessed that he was some kind of servant.
“Yes?” Jim finally asked, detecting nervous beads of perspiration on the man’s upper lip.
“My Lord and Living God, Pharaoh — the envoy from the Lower Lands has arrived.” There was a definite tilt to his voice implying a question.
Jim’s thoughts bent sideways; what was the Ancient Egyptian protocol for meeting envoys? He guessed since he was Pharaoh, Lord and Living God (he’d have to remember to apprise Blair of his new status and the respect that it would accord) anything he said would go. He grinned wolfishly.
“Let them enter.”
The eunuch blinked once and then backed away, bowing every few steps until he disappeared through the curtain.
With a swirl of his robes, Jim settled on the gold throne. Draping himself over the cushioned seat he patted the cheetah’s head casually. It leaned into the caress with a loving purr.
Ever the military ex-ranger and premier detective he wondered where the Lord and Living God’s bodyguard were. He shifted on the throne, assessing the exits and cover in the throne room. A number of potential weapons decked the walls. Unflappable, Jim decided to wait and see.
Should he stand? Should he sit? Since he was a God he decided he would sit.
A fanfare of horns announced arrival of the envoy. A bevy of tall well-armed men, parading two-by-two entered through the main door. They took a standard position of protection on either side of the hall in single file. Standing poised; they were obviously the bodyguard.
A number of young women flimsily dressed in silks and negligées streamed from hidden doorways on either side of the hall. They arrowed towards the throne and draped themselves decoratively at the sentinel’s feet. Jim withheld a cough, almost gagged by the perfume clinging to their wigs. The women were almost impossible to tell apart, their faces caked with white powder and their eyes limed by heavy kohl.
The sentinel cast about, looking for Blair within the throng, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. He hadn’t really recognised him last time as the woman until he... or she... had spoke. It had been more the cadence of the woman’s words than anything else that had told him that he faced his partner.
‘Damn,’ Jim snarled inwardly. ‘I’m going to kill Incacha next time I see him. I don’t care if he’s dead already.’
Once upon a time all he had to face were criminals and bureaucrats. Then a jaguar spirit guide had stalked its way into his life—offering cryptic advice and unflattering character assessments. The spiritual side of his sentinel inheritance had led to visions and lately interaction with a ghost. If he never met a ghost again it would be too soon. But now he was dreaming within a dream. At least he hoped that he was dreaming this.
Jim sighed phlegmatically as he watched the scene unfolding before him. Gaily dressed figures—male and female—practically nude except for brightly coloured feathered head-dresses and loincloths danced into the throne room. As their whirling dance progressed they each took their positions with almost military precision. Jim noted that they did not impede the bodyguards at any time.
More sedately dressed women entered carrying vast bowls filled with fruits and dates. They left them at the base of the throne and then retreated to the far edges of the throne room. The next procession presented bolts of golden cloth and finely woven carpets. Jewels followed. Jim guessed that they were gifts to the Pharaoh from the envoy of the Lower Lands. Was he supposed to give a gift in return? He only hoped that his grand vizier, or whatever, had that under control. As if his thought created the man, a wizened figure strode down the central path of the throne room as if he owned the place. Silence filled the hall. He certainly filled the criteria of a grand vizier, wrinkled skin, stooped posture and shiny bald skull. The man supported himself with a gnarled staff topped by a carved scorpion. He stopped at the base of the throne and banged his staff once against the stone floor before bowing and then taking his position at Jim’s right hand side.
Jim cocked his head to the side and glanced at the man — wondering if this was Sandburg. Surely his friend would have some position of authority? The cheetah butted his hand as he stopped stroking its head. Jim obeyed the imperious request to continue stroking.
“Zer is bringing the crown of the ‘Two Powerful Ones’ before the envoy and Neithhotep, as a gesture of respect,” the vizier said, his voice modulated not to carry.
‘Excellent,’ Jim drawled silently. ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’
A fanfare of horns blared through the throne room. Jim winced in response, clamping down on his sense of hearing. He concentrated on the feel of the cat’s pointed skull under his hand to focus his senses.
An achondroplastic dwarf entered the hall, he held a pillow on which rested the domed crown. This was obviously the crown of the ‘Two Powerful Ones’. The dwarf’s shortened limbs gave him a waddling gait as he walked down the central swath of the hall to stop at the base of the throne. He then stopped and held the crown high. Just as Jim decided that maybe he ought to go down and pick up his crown the vizier straightened.
“The Great King Menes bids welcome to Queen Neithhotep and her envoy.”
His announcement initiated a cheer from the throng.
union of Menes and Neithhotep unite the Upper and
“Aw, shit,” Jim muttered. Luckily the cheer at the vizier’s words drowned out his words.
“And heal the wounds caused by war.”
The room abruptly sobered.
It was a potential fire keg, Jim realised. Evidently he... Menes... had fought a war and conquered the Lower Lands. This woman was now being offered to him as a war prize come peace offering. Another fanfare heralded the appearance of a matching high vizier at the entrance. Behind the old man stood what could only be described as a walking tent. Supported on either side by tall Nubian warriors it effectively masked the occupant. They walked slowly down the hall. A slow measured walk that increased the tension in the room.
“I hope that she’s...” Jim whispered without thinking.
“Don’t forget that Neithhotep is the chosen of Neith, the Goddess of War and Wisdom,” the vizier whispered back, evidently overhearing his words.
“Good character traits,” Jim said obliquely. “Especially in a wife.”
“It should prove to be an interesting marriage.” A smile crossed the old man’s face.
The covering tent fell down, and with it the hall fell into silence. The young woman gazed imperiously at them down her long nose. Dressed in a long, golden shift gathered at her waist and adorned with the lion effigies she was a mirror image of the pharaoh. She lifted her head and stared directly at the Lord and Living God.
“I, Neithhotep, take thee Menes for my mate.”
Unconsciously, the sentinel found himself drawn forward like a moth to the flames.
“I, Menes, take thee Neithhotep as my love,” the words rose unbidden.
To riotous chants, Jim melded his lips to hers. She leaned forward into his embrace, her jaw dropping open as their tongues met. She filled his senses, entwining around his skin. He felt blood vessels dilating, liquid burning through his veins. Blood rushed to his extremities.
With a low, dirty laugh, Neithhotep disengaged. “Passion…” she whispered, “should not be shared.”
Lazily, she gestured at the spectators.
The sentinel fell back, his ardour quenched. He breathed deeply, once, twice. He strove for control. Alex Barnes had stripped him of control, he had sworn never to let that happen again. He was a man; not an animal.
Neithhotep shimmied against him and he shivered along the entire length of his body.
“Perhaps this will not be such a chore,” she purred.
“Uhr,” Jim said intelligently.
“May the All-Father Ra gaze upon you,” the vizier intoned, providing a welcome distraction. “Let the celebrations begin!”
The fanfare dropped him to his knees. Neithhotep became his bulwark, flowing against him, offering support as they draped over a cascade of cushions. Her support was instinctive, and bolstered the illusion that all was well with the Pharaoh.
“Blair?” Jim hissed as his senses spiralled.
She pillowed his head on her breast and Jim lost himself…
Jim awoke in perfect comfort. Expensive silks caressed his body. He lay on a bed, splayed on his back. Even with his arms outstretched he couldn’t touch the sides of the mattress. Slowly, he sat up, delighting in the feel of the silks cascading down his chest to pool at his waist. Neithhotep was sitting on the other side of the room, performing her toilette
Embarrassed, Jim turned away. How could he hate himself when it was only a dream? Finished, she casually crossed the room, flesh whispering against flesh.
“Husband?” She draped a gown around her ripe body. Relieved, Jim turned. She moved into the shelter of his arms, and smiled, adoringly, up at him.
If he listened very hard he could still hear Blair’s heart beating at his side.
“I did not expect this,” Neithhotep said quietly, there was a sadness to her words that drew his attention.
“How so?” Jim asked, playing for time as he tried to guess.
“The simplicity of our joining. I thought that there would be flames, recriminations… I did not expect to be taken by the passion.”
“Why?” Jim asked opting for the easy way out.
“We,” and it was a royal ‘we’, “have been enemies for many generations. Our treaty brings stability to our people, where before there was only dissension and warfare.”
“We have to have our people’s best interests at heart.”
Neithhotep trailed a lazy circle with her finger above his breast. “It is a strange gift to give up everything to another but receive an equal gift in return.”
“You are very generous.” How would the real Menes act to his new wife? He wished that Blair was here, the anthropologist would be able to explain everything. Blair was a font of stupid information. Ellison chastised himself, the kid was actually useful— his contributions were helpful.
“Your thoughts wander?”
This woman was powerful, a goddess to her people. “I am concerned,” Jim began, delicately, “for our people. I do not want to make any mistakes with you.”
“I do not understand.” She drew back, chilling him.
“What I feel for you is akin to a tsunami…”
“A wave.” Jim edged forwards following her heat. “A wave that washes over me and takes away reason. But we are Pharaoh…”
Neithhotep’s lips curled upwards. A graceful, long, narrow hand came between them. Jim shivered as her touch scorched his skin. As inevitable as a tidal wave she washed over him. Jim’s last coherent thought was that the Pharaoh was part of him.
Blair stretched revelling in the feel of silk caressing him. He moved sensuously, enjoying the feel of a different body. This was beyond his wildest dreams. Slowly, he slipped free of the silks, allowing them to cascade down onto the floor. As he walked his hips swung in sinuous curves. His balance was easy and lackadaisical. He gloried in his new body.
Jim was close. He padded unerringly down the corridor. A guard outside the Pharaoh’s bedchamber ignored his approach. After a night of being pampered by minions he had been set upon a bed within the Lord and Living God’s suite. Now he appeared to have a free run of the rooms.
A large bed dominated the chamber. Blair padded across the cold tile and, catlike, leaped onto the bed. Jim lay sprawled in the centre of the bed, dissolute and debauched and fast asleep. With feline grace, he slinked over the bed. Blair crouched down and stared at his face. Jim remained oblivious, obviously exhausted. Not surprising, judging by the noise last night. There was nothing of James Ellison in the figure, but he recognised the soul within. Blair purred loudly as he realised a truth. Ellison was a sum of many parts – a truly unpredictable man. Jim was merely one facet of the soul within, and the body effected the higher reasoning of the man.
‘You can’t take the guy anywhere,’ Blair thought affectionately. ‘Such a creature of emotion. It’s like living with someone with PMS on steroids. I didn’t figure that out did I? Sometimes I am a pure scientist other times I am a complete and utter space cadet.’
Jim mumbled under his breath and reached out instinctively. Blair leaned into the caress. The hair rose along the back of his neck.
Blair leaned closer allowing his whiskers to brush the sentinel’s cheek.
“Morning, puss,” Jim said around a yawn.
Blair leaned back on his haunches and licked his right paw. He could learn to like being a cheetah. The catlike quality of his thoughts allowed him to view human mores with a detached objectivity.
Jim rolled out of bed and, naked, padded to the balcony. Blair settled into a ball in the centre of the bed and watched as the Pharaoh greeted the morning sun.
‘Jim responded to Alex like a salmon urged to mate or a vulcan in pon farr. His senses derailed all logical thought. He threw me out of the loft and I went. I don’t normally avoid confrontation. Yet that time I ran with my tail between my legs. Why? Was I feeling guilty because I was thinking of using Alex as my subject of my dissertation? Yes… and that was stupid. If I had written about her it would have saved us a lot of grief. I could hate Naomi for breaking my trust. For destroying my life. For giving my thesis to that dirtbag. But I had to write it. I couldn’t not write it. I needed to see the book in my hands, then I could concentrate on the fake thesis. That one that was the lie. It’s not that complicated: write the real thesis and keep it safe for the future. I could die tomorrow and what I discovered would be lost. Write another thesis on interactions between the Police and Sub-Cultures to get my degree. Yet it’s all gone now. No thesis… so no doctorate… which means no academia so I can’t teach, and in the end no observer’s position. I have to become a cop.
‘It’s not fair’
Jim turned away from the window. “I wonder where Blair is?” he said conversationally.
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward and set about kneading the silk coverings on the bed. His long talons shredded the material most satisfactorily.
“The kid’s got to be somewhere. Thank God, he wasn’t Neithhotep. Imagine explaining that one to him. I had sex with you in another life.”
‘At least you didn’t marry Simon Banks,’ Blair thought caustically.
“Twin sisters. That’s got to mean something. Think about it, puss. Together as sisters…”
‘We’ve also been father and son, captor and captive, now owner and king… Oh and don’t forget Nazi and Jew. Gee, I think we’ve covered every possible relationship in the book. I bet you ten bucks at some point in time we’ve done the big nasty.’
“Do you think that we were destined to be sentinel and guide, or sentinel and shaman?” Jim said contemplatively.
Blair cocked his head to the side, derailed from his own deep contemplation, and intrigued where the detective’s thought processes were taking him.
“All this mystical shit is so irritating. Do you think this is a past life, puss? We were sisters once and now we’re sentinel and shaman? And I know that Blair’s somewhere around, I just haven’t found him yet.” Jim settled on the bed, he automatically began to stroke the cat’s head. “I don’t even know if this is really happening. Maybe I’m having an allergic reaction to one of Blair’s essential oils? If I concentrate really hard I can feel Blair resting against my hip and the couch against my back. I know that I’m still in the loft…”
Blair began to purr as the sensitive fingers caressed his fur.
“I have some realistic dreams and there’s always a message somewhere… or a choice to be made. I wonder what choice I have to make? Or does Blair have to make a choice?”
Enlightenment engulfed him. Before he could finish the thought, he moved on in his journey.
A forest. A forest very similar to Wolf’s forest. Blair picked himself up from the ground and peered around. Old growth surrounded him. This was no clinical, managed woodland, this was a forest as nature intended. Mesmerised, he moved until he could touch a Grandfather tree. He laid his palm against the rough bark, imagining the flow of life beneath his fingers. The night sky above him was star bright. The plough constellation arched overhead. A lambent moon, behind the canopy of trees, limned the ebony-green leaves and spindly branches in slivery light.
The effect was breathtaking and magical.
Belatedly, he realised that the fingers touching the tree were his own. He recognised the broad square palms and long, musician’s fingers. An intricately wrought bracelet was wrapped around his wrist. Blair recognised the stylised wolf glyph as Celtic in origin. He took stock of his clothes, realising that they were of an earlier age. He wore a rough, homespun tabard that decked him from his neck to his toes. Beneath the tabard his body was bare.
Quietly, Blair moved around the girth of the old tree. Feet, simply encased in leather slippers, picked their way through the rough undergrowth. Somehow, he knew this place, this old, primeval forest. Inexplicably, it reminded him of the loft. A warmth of welcome but still aloof and restrained, tantalised him.
Ahead, Blair could see a flickering fire. As wary as a forest spirit he slipped through the trees to the edge of the clearing. Once there he crouched. The glade was empty, only a fire in a stone pit welcomed him. Alert to any potential threat he crept forwards and then squatted by the fire warming his hands. A flagon sat by the fire; there had to be another person nearby.
Blair stood. “Hello?”
The green world around him was quiet. Content to rest for a moment, Blair sat cross-legged on a stone, entranced by the dancing flames.
“Now what?” he said conversationally. “A choice. I have to make a choice. If I make a choice then I’ll be happy?”
Idly, he threw pieces of twig into the flames.
“I wonder what the choice is?”
Another twig joined the flame.
“I wonder where Jim is this time?” He peered over his shoulder.
“Why don’t you take a drink?”
“Jim?” Blair leaped to his feet, peering into the surrounding darkness eagerly.
“No, my name is Duirdwen. But you can call me Duir.”
Blair spun on his heel. A man stood on the opposite side of the fire. He wore a gown like Blair’s and he was of a similarly stocky build. His hair was dark copper rather than chestnut, but they both had wild curls. At his waist a leather bag dangled and he too wore a heavy gold bracelet on his wrist.
“Are you me?” Blair ventured.
Duir came around the fire, his gait uneven. He had an ungainly limp. “No. I can’t be both you and me at the same time. But you came from my loins.”
“You’re my… father?” Blair snapped defensively.
“No.” The man sat on the stone Blair had just vacated. His broad brow furrowed as he thought. “I think Grandfather would be better… great-great-great-Grandfather?”
“And a few more greats, I think?”
“Perhaps.” Duir took a swig from the flask and then passed it over to the ex-grad student.
Blair sniffed at it cautiously and then took a tentative sip. Molten fire. Grimacing, he managed not to cough.
“Serious stuff,” he said weakly.
“It’s made from honey. I assure you the next mouthful will be more pleasant.”
Blair took another glug, and was impressed by the sweet, warmth glowing in his belly.
“So, I’m here…” Blair left the sentence hanging, as he proffered the flagon to the older man.
Duir accepted it with a smile. “And you’ve got some questions?”
“Of course! How is this happening? Is this really real?” He began to pace. “Have I been reincarnated as a son of a Scottish Laird, a Jew murdered by the Nazi… a cheetah? That was pretty cool, by the way.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. Part of me thinks that I’m imagining this all and the other part thinks passing through my reincarnations. I mean, you’re speaking English. And I’m sure based on your clothes and jewellery that this scene is from something at least two thousand years old – so you shouldn’t be speaking English. So that means that it’s a dream.” Blair finished triumphantly.
“Does it matter if it is a dream or reality? Or a bit of both? Within each of us are the memories of who we are and who we have been. Else why do you meditate, except to plumb that knowledge?”
“You’re being deliberately abstruse,” Blair challenged.
Duir leaned forwards, his hands moved catching the light from the glowing fire. “My son is the man that I see before me, yet now I see the grandson that he will be. Do you remember this conversation we held on the eve of summer solstice and recall the time we spent together? Or has the spirit that became my grandson, who was my son, returned to his earlier vessel? Are you really here? Or am *I* imagining you?”
“You can’t prove either,” Blair said automatically. “I can’t prove you exist.”
“So why do you have difficulty with this spirit walk? Regardless of the route you take, you reach a destination. The experiences differ—as do the lessons—but you can only walk the route you can imagine.”
“You’re still speaking English,” Blair said stubbornly.
Duir sighed deeply. “I am not. I’m speaking Gaelic with a hint of the Pictish tongue. As are you. Because if you remember, I’m imagining you.”
Blair lapsed into silence. ‘I suppose if this is a previous incarnation maybe I’d be speaking in the language of my body… the language I learnt at my parent’s knee? Agrippina understood her father but she didn’t understand what Jim the Galli Chieftain said. Oh, boy, I think I’m really here…’
“How what?” Duir cocked his head to the side.
“I mean why? Why here? Why those points in my previous lives. How did I get here?”
“Haven’t you attended college?” Duir asked curiously. “You are an ovate, else you wouldn’t be here.”
“College? Ovate?” Blair stopped his pacing, coming to a halt in front of the older man.
“Sit, my boy, you’re making me dizzy.”
Duir’s brow furrowed. Blair felt the weight of the older man’s gaze. He sighed deeply and passed the mead to Blair. Obediently, Blair took a mouthful, he reckoned that their conversation would improve with inebriation.
“Ovates are responsible for understanding the mysteries of death and rebirth, for transcending time – for divining the future, for conversing with the Ancestors – travelling beyond the grave to bring augury and counsel to those still living on the earth.”
“Travelling beyond the grave…” Blair echoed. “Alex killed me and Jim brought me back.”
“An ovate is born and made,” Duir said sagely.
“Incacha passed on the way of shaman to me.” He took another swig of the mead and passed it back to his great-great Grandfather.
Duir took a drag. “What’s a shaman?”
“Interesting, the word doesn’t translate into Gaelic-Pict? That’s fascinating; you’re hearing me speak in Gaelic and I’m hearing you speak English. What do you hear when I say: Pentium Processor PC with a modem.”
Duir’s face scrunched up as he pondered. “Vellum and word of mouth,” he hazarded.
“Wow! How about…”
“Child!” Duir held up his hand and said imploringly, “please, what is a shaman?”
Blair reigned in his enthusiasm. “Shamanism is a magic-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the master of ecstasy. And ecstasy is the withdrawal of the soul from the body; mystical or prophetic exaltation and rapture. It can be catalysed by hallucinogenic plants, fasting, meditation, drumming...”
“The shaman communes with the inhabitants of the higher and lower regions. They can accompany souls of the deceased to the next world or affect the well-being of the sick. They speak with nature spirits and tell stories.”
“Well,” Duir said reflectively, “I understood most of that. But I haven’t experienced ecstasy or used any mind altering drugs.”
“Well,” Blair echoed, “neither have I, except for that time when Craig slipped some LSD in my tropical fruit zombie at that frat party. But that’s the classic definition – it’s a generalisation. Incacha might not have been a classic shaman. I don’t know. Jim doesn’t talk about him much, but he did say that he was the healer and confidant of his people.”
Duir leaned forward, Blair felt himself pinned by the man’s deep blue gaze. “You could talk the hind leg off a horse.”
Blair grinned bashfully, and shrugged.
“An ovate’s most potent tool is his voice,” Duir continued.
“And?” Blair prodded, interest flared in his eyes.
studies tree-lore, herbalism and healing in the great colleges of Alba,
“The Druid Schools did not survive the invasion of the Romans and then the advent of Christianity,” Blair said soberly.
religion. It borrowed elements of the old faiths of
“Oh.” Duir sagged backwards. “That’s very sad. And almost impossible to believe… All gone?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Blair responded to the misery in Duir’s voice. “Elements survive. But the druids didn’t write down their mysteries so they were lost.”
“All gone? All that knowledge lost.” Duir aged in an instant. “No wonder you’re lost. You must be bereft, all alone, trying to find your own way… without any help.”
Blair shuffled forwards and gently clasped the older man’s leathery hands. “Shhh, I’m here. I’m learning. I don’t know if I’m an ovate and I don’t know if I’m a shaman. I don’t know what I am. I used to be an… anthropologist, what I am now is looking for my way. What I do do is learn.”
“It’s hard to imagine what existed for over a millennia has died.” Duir lifted aged eyes. “But… if you are here, my grandson, from wherever you came, the knowledge survives within you. I can take hope in that.”
Blair rolled back on his heels. Slowly, carefully, he debated his next step. There was a choice to be made and guidance was here before him, in the man who was his Grandfather a millennia ago.
“I didn’t intend to travel this way,” he began. “But I’ve passed through some amazing experiences. And now I know I need to make a choice. But I need to make an informed choice and I don’t even know what the choice is.”
“As an ovate, I will try to help.” Duir patted his chest. “My role is to guide people.”
“Guide?” Blair latched onto the word.
“No, not as witan to the weardian but as an ovate - a doctor, detective and intermediary to my clan.”
“Time out!” Blair held his hands out in the classic ‘T’. “Witan? I’ve heard that word before, it’s old English it means a sentinel’s partner, it also means wise one.”
Duir squinted at him. The ovate speared him with a frown. The younger man froze as Duir cupped his cheek with a leathery hand. “You are a sentinel’s partner, a witan, are you not?”
“Yes,” Blair said slowly, reluctantly, tiredly.
“What happened?” Duir slipped off the rock and Blair allowed to older man to draw him into an embrace. “Have you lost your sentinel? Is that why you travel?”
“No. I betrayed him. I didn’t mean to! I don’t know what to do,” the hitch in his breathing sounded close to tears. “Being a sentinel is dangerous where I come from. The government would hurt him if they discovered that he was special. They have no respect. It’s about take and take. My mother took the book I wrote. I had all this stuff in my head – I had to write it down. I think that there are people out there: autistics and schizophrenics and… I can help them and I can help other sentinels. But I also wanted my Ph.D. and I wanted to do post doctorate work with sentinels…with my sentinel. Maybe I unconsciously let my mom take the book, ‘cos I wanted the secret out. I don’t know! I even had a draft of a backup thesis. IT ALL FELL APART!” Blair wailed.
Duir rocked him. “Oh, you confused, little boy.”
“I don’t want to be a cop,” Blair admitted in a very soft voice. “I though about it, and it would mean that I would be able to help Jim. But I just want to be Blair Sandburg and work with my sentinel. I don’t want anything to change. Naïve, I’ll admit. ”
He lapsed into silence, leaning against the man that held him.
“Can it go back to the way it was before?” Duir asked.
“No,” Blair said quietly. “The milk’s spilt.”
“So what can you do?”
Blair remained silent as Duir stroked his hair. What could he do? Join the police force? Stay at Jim’s side as his partner? Or… he could give it up and enrol in another University under another name. Naomi, or one of her cronies, would be able to provide him with false documentation and he could start all over again, without the stigma of fraud hanging over him. Leave Jim? Was that the choice he had to make?
‘I could move
on. I could be foot loose and fancy free. No more psychos… no more bullets and
no more bruises. It’s not as if it has been fun. I live with an uptight
emotional retard… No that it *so* not fair. He needs me. He freaks out when he
thinks that I’m leaving. He was a mess when I was offered that fieldwork in
His thoughts milled uncertainly. Part of him was excited about starting anew, another part was desperately sad that he had even considered it. Yet, how could he stay with Jim? To stay at Jim’s side he had to become a police officer – and leave his true love – the study of man, wandering around in old musty libraries, plumbing new mysteries for the grind of police work. No more lecturing, no more students, no more … There was a cold, miserable hollow in his guts. He had been putting this decision, this choice off too long. He was denying his very self. He would have to wear a gun. He’d fired to protect his sentinel – laying down covering fire for his sentinel but he had never aimed at anyone.
‘I do not want to be a cop. I don’t want to shoot people.’
There he had said it.
“I don’t want to be a cop.” He pushed away from Duir’s chest and rubbed futilely at his snotty nose. “There, I’ve made my decision. I don’t want to be a cop.”
“What does your decision mean?” Duir asked sagely.
He carded his fingers through his curls and clenched. “It means that I have to leave Jim.”
Formless, the only thought that he had were emotion. The new being was content. A fragment of disquiet impinged. Knowledge. Jim opened his eyes to a red tinged darkness that throbbed with the beating of his heart.
He was suspended. With a peculiar quality that made thinking initially a slow laborious matter to contend with, thought processes were forged anew. Warmth. Comfort. Content. Weird. His suspended world tipped and he rolled slowly—completely supported. He wondered if he was in a sensory deprivation tank. But the soothing beat still filled his ears. There was sensation, he knew that he was alive, but it was like he was cocooned in silk.
The strangest thing was though, that he was not breathing. How could he live and not breathe? Gingerly, he touched his face. Something blocked his nose. It felt different, small and snub. His nails were too short to grip the plugs. Squinting, he peered at stubby, short fingers. His sentinel eyes refused to co-operate; in the soothing red light he thought that he could see through them. Unerringly, his thumb crept into his mouth. He had no idea where he was; he would wait for Blair; Blair would find him.
Blair was close.
The old ovate’s face was expressionless, waiting for him to continue, offering no false support.
Blair leaned forward, hiding behind a veil of curls. “I’ve made my decision… so why aren’t I happy?”
“Because you haven’t made the right choice.”
Blair started. “How can you say that? I know that I don’t want to be a cop!”
“True,” Duir said complacently.
Blair growled, frustrated. ‘Why can’t he just fucking tell me!’
“The answers are within you, to hand them to you on a plate would cheapen them,” Duir said apparently reading his mind.
“We are related, aren’t we?” Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. He rarely told his students the complete answer, but guided them with clues appropriate to their level of understanding. He clenched his fists, infuriated, knowing that he was missing something so very obvious to the older man.
“The line of descent passes through unblemished to your time.”
Blair was almost thrown by the non sequitur. “On my father’s or my mother’s side?”
“What do you think?”
“God! You’re worse than me.” His eyes narrowed, Blair scrutinised the copperhead, recognising in those deep-set eyes Naomi’s essence. “Mother’s inheritance.”
“And with it the gifts of empathy and understanding.”
Blair fell silent. Duir allowed him to ponder as he lost himself, staring up at the sparks dancing away from the fire into the heaven’s above.
“So,” he began, eventually, “you’re my great-great-something-Grandfather, but you’re also my mother a couple of millennia down the line?”
“I must love you, if I keep looking and finding you through our lives,” Duir said simply.
“Oh,” Blair said breathlessly.
“Finally.” Duir leaned forward and kissed his brow. “Go home, my son.”
“Jim!” Blair surged to his feet, bowling the sentinel over.
Automatically, he caught his friend trying to break their fall. They wound up in a ball of limbs between the coffee table and the sofa. Winded, Blair took stock. The sentinel sagged against him evidently completely disorientated, his heavy head rolling on Blair’s chest.
“Hey, Jim?” Gently, Blair patted his friend’s cheek. The sentinel was cold to the touch. How long had he been spirit walking? Belatedly, he remembered meeting Jim as the incarnation of Emily. How long had they been spirit walking?
The candle was burned to a nub; several hours.
“Hey, Jim? Come back to mama,” he cajoled. What had happened? Jim must have joined him in his meditation for some obscure reason. Or zoned?
Jim’s eyes cracked open a slit. There was little or no conscious thought reflected in those glacial blue eyes. Blair held him closer, unconsciously rocking.
“Come on, Jim. All the way.”
The sentinel’s lips were dry and cracked. He must have been breathing with his mouth open. His sinuses must have been bothering him again.
“Looks like you need to inhale some clove oil. Once you’re all the way back from your zone we’ll get a bowl of hot water and towel and do some old fashioned first aid to help your sinuses.”
He kept rambling on, weighing the benefits of a good hot chilli against the merits of an early night to nip what he thought might be a start of a bad cold.
“A hot toddy? Warm some milk up and add a dollop of honey with a shot of whiskey.”
Jim gurgled in the back of his throat. “Chief?”
“Hi, Jim,” Blair said singsong. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve went four rounds with Muhammad Ali.” Grimacing, he struggled upright. “What on earth were you thinking?” He snarled, he curled over the coffee table resting his forehead on the cool wood.
“What do you mean?” Blair asked softly, recognising his friend’s surliness as the beginnings of a migraine brought on by sinusitis.
When he tried to stand up his legs felt like spaghetti. He wobbled over to the kitchen, hanging onto the back of the couch and the counter. Pins and needles ran up and down his legs.
Sensation returned agonisingly as he boiled the kettle and filled a bowl with steaming hot water. By the time he’d added some oil of cloves (less stringent on sensitive sentinel mucous membranes) grabbed some heavy duty painkillers and brewed a cup of feverfew tea, he was sufficiently limbered up to carry his preparations without dropping them.
Jim was obviously in serious pain as he submitted to his ministrations without complaint. His eyes were tightly shut as Blair manoeuvred him until he was poised over the bowl, head resting on the rim. Blair draped the towel over his head capturing the steam and began to massage tight shoulders.
They were silent.
Then muted by the towel, he plainly heard the words. “Are you all right?”
“Me?” Blair responded automatically. “How are you feeling?”
“I wasn’t off in lalla land. You stopped breathing.” Jim’s hand crept from under the towel and latched onto his wrist feeling his pulse.
“Nah, I was probably just breathing really slowly.”
“Why?” Jim asked.
“Why? Why did my breathing slow?”
Jim shook his wrist. “Why meditate? What’s wrong? Tell me!”
“Tell you!” Blair snarled, and instantly modified his voice as the sentinel’s shoulders hunched.
‘I am calm. I am calm. I am calm.’ Anger, rekindled, seethed within him.
“Talk to you? Tell you what’s wrong? That’s a laugh.” Despite his modulated tones, none of his ire was lost.
Jim released him instantly.
“We never talked about it, did we?” Blair continued viciously. “I almost died. I did die! And then the stupid thesis. I didn’t do it on purpose. You’d learnt your lesson so well after Barnes, your dad, everybody… that you locked everything down. Cold, hard and untouchable. You were so fucking reasonable but as angry as a nuclear furnace in melt down. But it wasn’t all my fault…. Oh SHIT!” Blair fumed.
He dropped his head onto the table and began to sob. Hard, defeated, lonely sobs. He lost himself in them… so miserable he wanted to die.
“Chief?” the voice came tentatively. And again, “Chief?”
Blair sniffed loudly, his head felt full and wet; he was probably getting Jim’s cold. Fresh tears dropped onto the table top.
“I… I’m no good at this stuff…” Jim began. “Everything was weird with Alex, and got out of control, but I never meant in a thousand years for anything to happen to you! Nothing made sense.”
“S’okay, I understand,” Blair said wetly. “She got under your skin, got your hormones all out of synch. It just proved once again that you’re sensitive to external stimuli.”
The temperature at his side dropped several hundred degrees.
“See?” Blair lifted his head and rubbed his snotty nose with his cuff. The detective was sitting ramrod straight and his eyes were flinty, grey. “As soon as I get all scientific on you, you close down – stop listening. It’s just the way I communicate this kinda stuff. I was nine, maybe ten years old when this guy told me that I’d make a good scientist. The courses that I picked in high school and university were ninety nine times out of a hundred science based. I’ve been brainwashed for over twenty years to communicate on a scientific level – and I’m good at it. Okay, I won’t phrase it scientifically: it was…uhm… the feelings…. Aw shit!
He carded his fingers in his hair, striving to find the words.
“I can’t think how to say it. Science is the way I interpret data, it’s the way I try and understand things I come up with instinctively and it’s the way I write your fucking reports and the way I wrote about you in my thesis. I *know* that you don’t like being a study object, and I have been guilty of seeing you as an organic machine with hypersenses – I didn’t do it on purpose!”
Blair wound to a halt, drained.
Jim faced him, the towel was still wrapped around his neck, a faint odour of clove surrounded him and there was a glimmering of moisture in his blue eyes.
“You’re a person, and you’re my friend,” Blair finished.
Jim was frozen in stone. He breathed once, harshly —holding onto his iron control.
“I know that I’m… difficult. I don’t like to think that I’m different,” his words were sharp and clipped. The word ‘freak’ hovered unspoken between them. “When dreams start and I start overreacting and nothing makes sense — I don’t like it. And then I go… inward to ignore it, until it goes away. It didn’t work with Alex and it got you killed. I almost killed my best friend.”
“It wasn’t you!” Blair flung himself forward and gripped Jim’s shoulders. “It was you with your territory invaded, you with the memories of your father calling you a f… names, you reacting to pheromones…”
“See!” Jim pulled away and staggered to his feet. “How can I trust myself? I could smell some nasty aftershave and go psycho!”
Blair refrained from saying that had already happened.
“That’s what I’m here for. To help you maintain control.” The anthropologist followed the sentinel across the room, hand waving to emphasise his words.
“Losing control.” Jim bristled.
Blair came to a halt, right inside of Jim’s personal space. He clenched his fists, underlining his frustration. “I know that you hate losing control. And I know that you want to be independent, but I can’t help you unless I’m in your face. It’s a cosmic joke. More so when I failed you….”
There it was again, the fact that his life was ruined. Blair sagged.
“Blair,” Jim responded instantly to the sudden depression descending on his friend.
“We never talk about anything, Jim. We hide behind jokes and walls of silence. We’re a shaman and a sentinel. When we don’t talk the shit hits the fan. We have to talk ‘cos we live in each other’s pockets. We haven’t really talked since you read my thesis. I never meant to hurt you.” Blair looked at the floor.
A hand rested on his shoulder.
“And I never meant to hurt you,” Jim whispered.
“We’re both as bad as each other,” Blair said hollowly.
“Complicated as Hell.” Jim laughed without humour.
Blair didn’t resist as Jim pulled him forward to lean against his broad chest. Bone tired, Blair wrapped his arms around his sentinel’s waist. Uncertainly, probably convinced he was going to be rebuffed, Jim circled his shoulders.
“How’s the headache?” Blair said eventually.
“The painkillers and the steam stopped it dead.”
‘We’re talking again – this partnership might work,’ Blair thought with a moment of hope. Regardless of the progress that they had made was he now going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons?
“Jim?” he began hesitantly, a timeless moment later. “I need to talk to you.”
“Yes?” Jim responded evenly.
“I… appreciate the… I don’t know…”
“Spit it out, Chief?” his voice smiled.
“Do you think that there might be a way to keep me at the precinct other than becoming a cop?” There it was out, possibly the most circumspect way of saying it. He leaned his forehead against Jim’s chest waiting for an explosion.
“I don’t know, Blair. Maybe Simon would know. Possibly.”
Blair leaned backwards and stared up at Jim. “What?”
“When you were fired after reporting that scum for cheating and rape, Simon thought that there might be a consultancy position available in the department.” Jim’s expression was smooth, only concern radiating from his eyes. “You don’t want to be a cop, do you?”
Blair shook his head sorrowfully. “I will if we can’t figure out another way to keep me as your partner, but I don’t think that I’ll make a good cop. I mean I’d be an adept cop but I don’t think I’d be a happy cop. You understand?”
Jim nodded. “I’ve been talking to my dad.” He released his grip on Blair’s shoulders and laid a finger on his lips. “My dad is a lawyer by profession and he has plenty of judge and lawyer golfing buddies. He thinks that you have grounds to contest your dismissal from the University and their actions after reading your thesis without your permission.”
“Maybe,” Blair said around the finger on his lips.
“We could sue them for money or get them to reinstate your position and then you submit a thesis on a different subject. Something that would work with a consultancy position with Cascade P.D.? How about a thesis on police subcultures or the thin blue line?” Jim smiled. “You must have enough material? You’ve been on the roller coaster long enough.”
“You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you,” Blair accused, almost happily.
“Well.” Jim released him. “You’ve been so depressed. I didn’t know what to do. You seemed okay about being a cop, but you were so quiet. Simon mumbled something about suing the University, I figured he had a point – so I went and talked with my father. He was happy to help.”
Blair smiled through the tears welling up in his eyes.
“Aw, come on, Chief.” Jim brushed away the tears with his fingertips. “We’re supposed to be tough and hardy men. We’re not supposed to cry.”
“Yeah, right.” He reached up and brushed away the sentinel’s own tears with his thumbs. “We’re not supposed to be mushy.”
“Right,” Jim said gruffly. “It’s time for a beer.”
“Beer.” Blair approved wholeheartedly.
He dashed away the last of his tears as Jim concentrated solely on hunting down beers from the cavernous depths of the refrigerator. The detective spent an inordinate amount of time with his head stuck in the cool box. Blair gave Jim the time to shore up his defences. He felt wrung out but happier. Even if being a cop was the only way forward he would make the sacrifice, but he had faith in his sentinel that together they would find a way to allow him to continue his academic career. His meditation had answered a lot of questions and raised many more. Was it real or wasn’t it? That was unimportant, the lessons he had learnt were important. The true question that had plagued him was whether or not he should continue as Jim’s shaman guide.
Yet, wherever he had travelled he had looked for Jim – expected him to be by his side or he had been there.
The choices were all in his domain; Jim could deny his sentinel senses but they would always be within him effecting his thoughts and actions, he needed someone who understood even if that person often stumbled around in the dark. His thoughts turned to those lost sentinels, striving to find control without any assistance and the misguided help of uninformed medical personnel. While he might get a Ph.D. in police sociology he’d continue to pursue the sentinel research albeit at a slightly different angle.
“Yeah?” His eyes became hooded. They might have made five steps forwards on the talking issue but they had made the obligatory four steps backwards. It was something that they would have to work on. It would come with time. They had lots of time now.
“I had some dreams when I was meditating. You were in some of them.”
Jim’s knuckles were white as he gripped the necks of the bottles. “I dreamt that you were a girl. Then I was a Pharaoh. Lord and Living God – absolute power over life and death.” A shit eating grin crossed his face, as he reminisced.
“Cool, we did share the dreams. I was Emily and you were Louisa. And you were also the great King Menes.”
“You were there?” Jim said unbelievingly.
“Yeah, I was the cat.”
“Damn, I should have guessed.” Jim blinked evidently surprised by his thoughts. “Why does this happen to us, Chief?” he asked plaintively.
“Just lucky I guess.” Blair reached for the bottle of beer.
Jim handed it over as he shook his head, slowly from side to side. “My weirdness meter pegged out on this one.”
“Nah,” Blair declared. He sagged onto the couch. “Just another day in the life and times of a modern sentinel and shaman. Other people get to go to therapy, we just meditate and meet spirit guides – the outcome is the same.”
Jim laughed as he joined him on the couch. Then he abruptly turned serious. “We’re not going to let it get so far out of hand again, are we?”
“I won’t if you won’t.”
They sat quietly, contemplating the dark television and their own thoughts.
“The dreams were like when… you know…” Jim couldn’t finish.
“When you brought me back from the otherside – when I drowned in the fountain.”
“We didn’t talk about that, either,” Jim acknowledged.
Blair shrugged, and mouthed the bottleneck contemplatively. “You brought me back – I don’t think I ever thanked you for that.”
“You’re welcome,” Jim said seriously. “I don’t think I ever thanked you for saving my life.”
“When?” Blair turned, settling against the arm of the couch crossing his legs getting comfortable.
“Back when this all started.” Jim waved his arm aimlessly. “I thought that I was going insane. You saved me from myself.”
“I guess that makes us equal.”
“Yeah, equals.” A smile cracked Jim’s granite expression. “You having visions makes it easier to handle.”
“In what way?” Blair asked curiously.
“I hate the dreams. And I hate the mystical shit,” he admitted slowly and reluctantly. “But the fact that you’ve been there too makes it more… real and less than them being insane dreams of my own imagining.”
“A burden shared is a burden halved,” Blair said sagely.
“Very profound. But it would be a hell of a lot easier if these spirit guides just came out and told us what the hell is happening,” Jim grumped.
“Hah! I told my Wolf exactly the same thing, and Duir said that it would mean more if I figured it out myself.”
“Your Wolf is called Duir?”
“No, Duir’s my great-great-great-something Grandfather. You weren’t on that spirit walk. He was some kind of Celtic-shaman called an ovate. Actually, I’m not too sure if an ovate is a shaman. I’ll have to do some research.” Blair rubbed his hands together gleefully.
“You love this stuff, don’t you?”
Blair looked abashed. His joie de vivre had been reawakened, once again he had lost himself in his enthusiasm.
‘But at the end of the day, is that a bad thing?’ he wondered. “We live in interesting times, Jim. We’re on the roller coaster of life.”
“What if I want to get off?”
The anthropologist pondered over the serious question. He could think of a number of responses and many ways to phrase his answer. “You’ve denied your senses before and nothing good has come of it. But you don’t have to be a cop forever. You’d make a phenomenal search and rescue paramedic. That would cut out a lot of the stress and nastiness we face every week, and you’d still be helping people – which is like a *major* part of what makes you the guy you are.”
His words obviously touched a nerve. Caught half way between a self-deprecating grin at the compliment and a frown at the though of leaving the police force, Jim retreated back to the kitchen. He snagged another couple of beers.
“Quit the P.D.?” Jim chewed on his bottom lip. “Not today, not tomorrow. Maybe – someday. Search and rescue, eh? That’s a good idea.”
“To the future.” Blair held his empty bottle high making a toast.
Theatrically, Jim rolled his eyes heavenward, then swapped Blair’s empty bottle for a full bottle of beer.
“To the future,” Jim declaimed holding out his own beer.
Blair smiled radiantly, a smile that Jim echoed. They clinked their beers together.
“To friendship, man.”