James and Blair
12/04 (about time, yes?)
Summary: AU. Complete in two parts. Another meeting. A stubborn sentinel meets a young guide that has no choice in the matter. Death of a minor character. This story takes a sharp turn to a fairy tale type ending.
Note: I started this story months before 'Feral Sentinel' (rated R, with good reason) and thought I would never try to finish it because of the slavery issue. But a few months ago I opened it up and thought I'd give it a go. In an LOC about 'FS' someone had commented that she didn't know how a sentinel or guide could (or would want to) function as a slave without trust between them. I do agree.
Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.
Crockery was scattered. Foul language filled the air. Ellison was on a rampage again. Simon, in his Free Guardsman uniform, stood silently and unhappily out of the way for a moment as the room was laid waste. The mad frenzy of his Lord's son was not lost on him, and his own safety and probable future flashed through his mind if he tried to intervene. But enough was enough. James would be appalled at his childish actions when he was again himself. With a grip on his courage he spoke up, but quietly, “Lord James, you must stop this activity at once. This behavior is unacceptable.”
James stopped and glared wildly at the Captain of his Guardsmen, and remembered belatedly that this man was also his friend. His clenched hands nearly drew blood, as he fought to gain control. Welts on his skin itched with a consuming intensity. His head ached with a nauseating pounding from Simon's whispered entreaty. His eyes burned and ran, adding to his misery. In trying to control these senses, he lost control on the others. Smell and taste left him retching till he lost consciousness.
He woke with a soft cloth soaked in rainwater covering his eyes. Even through the cloth he could tell the lights were down in this room. A little glow to the left told him a candle was left on the table in the antechamber. The softest silk bedding surrounded him. He was home again. His foray into the city had ended ignominiously. His embarrassment flushed his face. With a small groan he settled back into slumber, knowing the worst was yet to come. He'd have to face his father. He knew he'd have to accede to William's demands to purchase a guide now. His father had enough ammunition to force it. There would surely be repercussions from his temporary derangement. There had been witnesses before Simon had spirited him away to the home of Councilor Tevins. He groaned softly as he remembered that he'd nearly demolished the man's home.
William met his son's defiant entrance with one of reproach. He knew his son's views on guides only too well. He was of like mind about the holding of slaves, for that was the state of these poor people in their society. But at this point he had to consider his son's safety and those around him. He tried to prepare himself for a major battle with James, but this had to stop. He would put forth his arguments again and allow no weakness in his decision this time. If James was to inherit his place as Lord of the Ellison Estate, he had to be of stable demeanor. His conduct would have to be above reproach. He was somewhat startled then when James' countenance broke, and with a sigh, he gave his father a defeated look.
“You've decided then?” William asked, hardly daring to allow relief to calm his fears for his son.
“Yes father, it will be as you wish,” sighed a wan and subdued James.
William was relieved, yet his heart ached for his son. Sentinel blood ran in the Lady Grace's family. He'd seen her brother do incredible things with his gifts, yet when his guide had died, the man had been bereft, inconsolable, and had finally lapsed into a fugue until death had eased his torment. He'd not wanted that for his children and had hoped Grace's children would be spared. He was grateful that Steven lacked these 'gifts', and he knew that James resented his father's opinions on the subject. William feared James believed he favored Steven because of James' sentinel senses.
“As we have already agreed, James, your guide will not be treated as a slave. He will be a respected member of the household. That is at least one recompense we can offer your guide.” At James weary acceptance, William continued, “Your search should begin today. We cannot risk another demonstration such as yesterday's. Do you agree?”
“Of course. I will take several of the Free Guardsmen with me to ... search this afternoon,” James acquiesced, but glumly, as he realized that he had almost said 'purchase a guide'.
The boy lay retching in the filth of his sty of a cell, unable to sit, much less stand. It had been hours since anyone had brought him more than water. He feared that this day they wouldn't bother with even that comfort. He certainly wasn't going to bring them much profit in this condition, so why throw good money after bad, as the saying goes.
He could feel the fever going up again, but there wasn't anything more anyone would do for a slave, a half grown one, and unbonded at that. Healers were expensive. His beloved Naomi had perished because of such indifference. His mom had been taken from the cell just two days ago. There had been no healer for her either. Indeed, they stayed far away from them both.
He knew from his travels and studies with foreign peoples that fevers could strike isolated groups like the slaves, with devastating consequences. He used to care. Now he could only grieve, for his lost mother, and also for a way of life denied them as guides. He feared he had little time left to worry or grieve as the fever was rising again. He knew delirium would follow and none would come except to bury him.
Lord James was on edge, so Simon, the Captain, and the Guardsmen Joel, Henri, and Rafe accompanied him with an eye to soothing his temper. If his madness overcame him again it would take all their strength to subdue him, and so they watched for the signs they had come to recognize. Their greatest fear was that he would fall into a fugue state. They had been well trained at the Lady Grace's family estate in aiding an out of control sentinel, but a guide was much more effective.
Despite his loss of control at times, Lord James was a decent man. He was less formal than his father with the Guardsmen. He had taken training himself when he was old enough, at his mother's estate. A Lord needed to be able to defend his land and people as well as manage the running of the properties that would someday be his by birthright. Lord Steven was his good right hand in matters of estate business, and would have been a good second choice if James should fail in his duties. But Lord James decision to accede to his father's will in this matter greatly comforted the Guardsmen, for they knew young James loved this land and his people and cared for them deeply.
The arrival of the riders at the city gates brought home to James the finality of his decision. A great weight seemed to bear down on him. A guide would be his this day. A guide, he had learned, was much more than a slave, but attitudes were such that rampaging sentinels were feared and guides eased that fear. Therefore guides were considered to be tools to protect the people. A happy circumstance for all but the guide he thought. It was the guide that was torn from his home and family to lead a life of servitude.
Sentinels were physically impressive and aggressive. Their physical attributes were blood borne and perhaps their aggressive behavior also. But arrogance and selfishness were inadvertently trained into some of them. Many had been coddled to ease their senses. They'd also been coddled to defuse their destructiveness when overstressed senses sent them on rampages. As a result, some sentinels demanded what they believed was owed to them, a 'servant' that could ease their misery and allow them to use their gifts to their own advantage. Guides ended up taking the brunt of their sentinel's abusive behavior because they had so little power to direct their own destiny.
Yet most Sentinels learned later, if not sooner, the worth of their guide. After a bond was forged they found that their guide was closer than blood. That guides were within the circle of their family, not beneath it. The majority of Sentinels stood beside their guide in times of trouble, to protect the guide and be guided in turn, to their mutual benefit. It was through Sentinel persistence that life's burdens were slowly easing for their guides.
Lord James dallied among the booths of the market as long as he could before his own disgust with the situation forced him to get on with what was now his acknowledged duty, acquiring a guide. He could at least follow his father's wishes and become a respectable Lord. It would be a good thing to have his father proud of him for a change, to finally gain his approval.
For all of his eighteen years he had avoided the guide slaves in the market. He had known his uncle and his guide before their deaths and after his training he had come to respect guides for their devotion to their sentinels. He couldn't abide the attitude of the general public toward guides and their status in society, and so had fought his own necessity.
The scent from the guide cells was telling. So many unbonded guides left his senses reeling with the 'need'. That had been yet another reason to avoid the slave pens. When he passed them slowly, he found them not as he had expected. They were small but tolerably clean. The guides were all dressed reasonably. It seemed that this slave merchant was following the statutes rigorously. For that James was more than pleased. If the guides couldn't be free, at least the sentinels had gained fairer treatment for them. He swore to himself that in his own future dealings he would do right by the guides.
A smell still bothered him. He followed it to a locked door. The slave merchant seemed nervous as he approached Lord James. His Guardsmen tensed, and with hands surreptitiously on weapons, waited to see the cause of the merchant's unease. Lord James stood square to the door with one hand slightly raised, palm turned toward the door. Simon feared a fugue for a moment, but the merchant's approach drew his attention. He boldly stepped into the man's path. Few men could face the Captain in this fierce persona without giving way.
The merchant wrung his hands, “I beg your forgiveness, but Lord James must not enter the sick room.”
In startlement James swung on the merchant, “Who is ill, merchant? I sense a guide. Is one so ill he is kept in isolation? What has the healer done for him?”
Now, the merchant was actually a law abiding man. He kept his guide slaves in decent comfort. In this, he actually went beyond the laws. But although illness in these times was feared, it was also true that healers were costly. He had not been inattentive, but when basic treatments were ineffectual, slaves were left to either recover or die as nature would decide. But this Lord James, if the merchant read him right, would not be happy with the reality of profit or loss. But also, being a sentinel, it would be best to tell the truth. Lying would only make the Lord's anger worse.
The Lord's anger was as expected. The merchant hadn't wanted to let him past the door, but gave in to the inevitable.
Lord James ordered his Guards to remain at the door, at their dismay. There was no reason to risk them further James reasoned. He knelt before his guide behind the cell door ... his guide? He stood quickly and left, leaving his Guards behind and hurrying to catch up. He didn't stop till he stood at the edge of the grounds. He 'couldn't' go any further. Turning, his shocked face unerringly found the direction of THE guide. He 'couldn't' claim this child. He was ill, nearly to death. If he lost a newly bonded guide he would probably survive, but at what cost? Would he remain sane?
“Simon, what am I going to do? My guide is dying,” the fearful words trembled from James' lips.
His Guards closed ranks around their Lord. They realized instantly what he was saying. Joel, as a Guard healer, spoke, “My Lord, I will need supplies.” To Henri and Rafe he gave a list to be delivered within the hour. “I will stay with your guide until his illness takes a turn, my Lord. I can't guarantee that I can save him, but I will try. You must remain as far away as possible. You cannot allow the bond to continue any further than it has. Do you agree my Lord?”
Lord James pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and sank to a low bench at the edge of the market. He slowly lowered his hands then raised eyes that showed the others how shaken he was by this rapid turn of events. “Help him Joel, both our lives are in the balance.”
Joel's work was sadly uncomplicated. There wasn't much he could do for the boy that hadn't been tried already if the merchant was to be believed. He prepared the usual potions to ease the fever and chills. Others to ease the pain and let the boy sleep. Broth was brought for the guide's sustenance. The child was painfully thin. In his delirium his pleas for Nomi, about broke his and the sentinel's heart. The sentinel may not have been present, but he heard every word, breath, and unpredictable beat of the guide's heart. The fever continued to spike. James sent his Guardsmen out with every coin he carried to bring all the ice they could find. Joel was delighted, the ice might be the thing to turn the fever.
Lord James had sent word to his father, and his father had responded by sending all the supplies he thought would be needed. Steven was well versed in business matters and was acquainted with the market regulars. After some negotiation, and paying the merchant for his trouble, the cells in the building were cleared for the duration of James' stay, and hopefully, the guide's recovery.
Long hours later, a chill wracked guide lay pale on the pallet of clean linen and straw. More clean dry blankets waited for him piled near the brazier warmed by the coal glowing inside.
woke James with a weary smile and a nod of assent. The guide was on
the mend. James lurched upright and in economical strides reached
the door that had barred him from his guide. He controlled his rush
to the boy. James could see something was upsetting him. He could
see and smell the tears. The small cries of anguish twisted his
insides like no overloaded sense ever had. He walked slowly to the
side of the pallet and sat in Joel's recently vacated chair. He
ached with scarcely controlled longing just to touch him. His
fingers trembled as if he had been the one so ill, as he reached out
to slowly stroke the blanket covered arm. The whimpers caught in the
boy's throat, and his flinch was extreme for such a light touch. The
boy's eyes, big in the thin face, grew even bigger.
“What did you do!” he exclaimed in a strained voice.
“I? I only touched you,” said James in surprise.
“No, not just touched. It was something more.” The boy trembled with a sudden chill, but his eyes never left Lord James. “I'm a guide, you know,” the boy stated. James just smiled and nodded in agreement. “You, are you a sentinel?”
James smile grew and he again nodded agreement. “That would explain it then,” the boy whispered in wonder. “I always wondered what it would be like. Nomi tried to tell me. She had a sentinel once, after I was born. He was kind to me. He let me call him Uncle. Nomi almost died when he was killed by robbers. I didn't understand why it had hurt her so much. I think I know what she meant now about feeling like something was missing. You would have liked Mama. I wish I could have shared this with her.” Screwing up his courage he confronted his sentinel with his greatest fear. “I am your guide, master. What will you have me do, sir?”
James' frown made the boy pale even further and scrunch down into his blankets. The boy thought he'd gone too far. He knew of Nomi's stories about other sentinels. He'd hoped they were just monster stories to frighten children. Now he'd find out for sure, and he was scared.
James knew in an instant of course, the effect his countenance had on the boy. He strove to control his expression and saw the boy didn't seem any too relieved. Inwardly he let go of the fear he held. This child was his guide. His guide to raise within his family. He couldn't hide from a guide, from all he'd been told. This person before him would know all his secrets, so they would be secret no longer. With this boy he could let down his guard and just be himself. He would allow himself to embrace the gift of this guide, to cherish him as only family could be cherished.
“My name is James, boy. Will you tell me yours?” Lord James asked with a shy grin.
The sentinel asked for my name, the boy thought. He didn't demand it. He didn't yell. The boy liked his smile, it made his eyes crinkle. “My name is Blair,” and the light in the boy's eyes outshone the weary smile on his face.
Ten year old Blair proved to be a loquacious invalid. Lord James had no problem learning the boys basic history. He found that his instinctive protectiveness grew quickly to a fondness for his guide. He was a charming child if the evidence of his Guardsmen's attentions to the boy were any indication.
Blair had learned at his mother's knee about caring for a sentinel. Most guides were sent for training for their duties. Some learned like apprentices and journeymen. That Blair had the basics down was a great relief to James because he could use his help immediately.
Blair had called his mother's sentinel Uncle Eli. 'The' Eli Stoddard, Professor of Anthropology and explorer. He and his guide, Naomi, had traveled extensively in Southlands. It was very unusual that Blair had been allowed to accompany them. He talked of several long voyages, strange flora and fauna and odder people, among them an indigenous tribe called the Chopec. The stories Blair told were the stuff of fairy tales. But as a sentinel, James had ample evidence of their truth from his senses.
Full recovery would take a while, but the young guide was well enough to be moved in a few days. A carriage was ordered from the estate for the trip home.
Blair was full of questions but often drifted off in the midst of them, leaving James to smile protectively over him while he slept. Blair was surprised when James himself carried him from the isolation cell. And a little embarrassed. After all, he wasn't a child anymore. He was a guide; a bonded guide, to a Sentinel. He grieved for Naomi, but he knew when they were captured that they wouldn't be allowed to stay together. His mother had told him that if either of them bonded, they would be separated. And from his readings he knew that a child that bonded was always taken from his family.
When James carried him through the slave pens Blair was surprised to see they were all empty. “James? Where are all the other guides? Have they all bonded too?”
James hated to tell him the truth, “No Blair. We, my family and I, arranged for them to have different quarters while you were sick. I admit it was partly for our convenience. But also, it allowed us to make sure the cells were cleaned and to have a healer check them for illness. They'll be moved back after the isolation cell is cleaned.”
Blair leaned his head sadly on his sentinel's shoulder, “Wouldn't it be nice if they could bond with their own sentinel and be free?”
James heart thumped with pain. Didn't he know? It would be hard to tell this child that he wasn't legally a free citizen, and neither would these other guides be. Harder still would be the truth that some sentinels abuse their guides. He held his guide tighter in his embrace. THIS ONE, is safe. THIS ONE, is my guide. THIS ONE, I will protect, with my life. How could a sentinel hurt the one who was the other half of himself? How could there be trust?
Since Blair was asleep and still recovering from his illness, his arrival at the estate was quiet and uneventful. But most people on the estate, aside from James and his family, would have thought it odd to celebrate the purchase of a slave/guide.
James again carried the child, this time to his suite of rooms. A room had been kept in readiness for years for the arrival of James' guide, whoever he or she might be. Mistress Sally waited for her charge to arrive with his guide. James greeted her with a wide smile and a peck on the cheek. “Here he is, Sally,” he whispered. “The room is ready?”
Sally was so glad for James, but the guide still was ill. She had her work cut out for her to fatten this child up. By the look on James' face, she'd have a lot of help. She led the way into the small side room and opened the window on this sunny day. Sunshine never hurt an invalid. She'd bring food to them right away, and keep sending tidbits every hour or so until the guide was up and running around like a boy should. She ran her hand through the tangled curls. She wished she could protect the child from the cares of the world as easily.
Blair found life at the estate quite different from life with Nomi and Uncle Eli. Their travels were far from civilization, with few of the amenities of a civilized lifestyle. He had hated being fit for new clothes. He had to sneak his blue and white vest, that his mother had made for him, into the back of his wardrobe and wrapped in a cloth. He had carefully placed the bundle under some new shiny black leather shoes that he thought he'd never have a reason to wear. At least James let him wear trousers instead of short pants and stockings. Yuck.
The best part about the estate was the library of course. Blair fell in love at first sight. His recovery was mostly spent ensconced on a huge plush chair by the window in a quiet alcove there. James had hoped he'd fall asleep over the books. He soon learned better. He talked to his father about a tutor for Blair, since regular schooling was out of the question for a slave. Arrangements were soon made for him to begin in a fortnight. Hopefully that would be enough time for James and Blair to settle into their bond strongly, and for Blair to recuperate.
The Headmaster at the local Academy recommended Teacher Quinn, a new resident of the district. Being new he had few students and seemed willing enough to take on a guide/slave child. Blair was excited to have the chance to learn. Uncle Eli had directed Naomi in his education and he had far surpassed other children much older than himself, and even those in University, in the areas of linguistics and anthropology.
Indeed Teacher Quinn found himself embarrassed academically by the 'little brat' as he privately called Blair. But he had other reasons for his choice of vocation, and his acceptance of the absurd task of teaching a slave. It had proven to be an easy way to gain access to the homes of the wealthy that a man like Quinn could not gain otherwise. He had hidden away a tidy sum by pilfering from other student's families in other districts. Moving often, but not too soon after a theft was discovered, kept him above suspicion.
“Mr. Quinn, I've already read this book, sir,” said Blair respectfully.
Quinn knew from previous lessons that 'the brat' wouldn't settle down unless he kept his nose in a book. And he needed time to meet with his accomplice, the lovely Lisa, and arrange to drop off a few items and pass on information for a bigger haul he had planned. “Listen you little ... guide ... why don't you pick out a book from the library and read for a while. Then I'll ask you to report on it. Go. Go,” and he shooed him off in the right direction.
Blair was glad to go and do as told but at present William was having a meeting with several of his tenant farmers in there. He sighed in frustration, knowing Mr. Quinn would not be happy. He headed slowly back to the little schoolroom that they used. He smiled to think that his sentinel James and his brother Steven had used the room too when they were children. As he neared the room he passed a dark alcove. He stopped when he heard Mr. Quinn. He didn't want to interrupt so he waited patiently. What he heard sent him sliding silently back behind a heavy tapestry in the hallway.
When Mr. Quinn and the lady headed out of the alcove and were out of sight, he headed straight to his sentinel. He couldn't face Mr. Quinn again, he was too scared. He had to tell James what kind of man Mr. Quinn was. He didn't have any trouble convincing James or William, but the Sheriff of the district was less believing of the slave. The Sheriff was downright belligerant, “This child, this slave, was given an education and now he's making accusations against his Teacher? How can you put up with this behavior? The man would have every right to bring counter charges, and if the boy wasn't a guide, he'd be put in jail.”
James was furious. He could tell how terrified Blair was that he would be taken away. “I am a sentinel, Sheriff. You 'must' what that means. I can tell if my guide, or anyone else, is lying. That is one of our responsibilities in the district, to ascertain truth in cases before a judge passes sentence. Blair is telling the truth.” James struggled to keep his anger under control while trying to keep the boy from hiding behind him, out of the Sheriff's sight.
The Sheriff had to rethink his assumptions. It wasn't good for his future prospects to intimate that the Lord's son was lying or mistaken about the man's own guide. He called forward the Captain of the Guardsmen and left the whole mess in his hands while he stomped off to his interrupted dinner.
“Hello, Captain Simon,” whispered Blair.
Simon tried not to smile but he couldn't quite contain it. “Hello Blair. Go with Lord William. James and I will follow in a minute. We have a bad man to put away young man.” Simon waited until William and Blair were gone before turning to James, “Unfortunately we're going to need more than the testimony of a slave James. I know you believe him, as do I, but a court may throw it out just because he's a guide and his sentinel 'might' be swayed.”
“That's ridiculous, Simon ... ” James spluttered.
“Of course it is, but let's not leave anything to chance.” Simon's smug smile eased James' temper, “You have very good hearing James. Right? With a sentinel to back up his guide, we'll have what we need to stop Quinn.”
Blair hid behind James and clung to his hand as he whispered sentinel soft, “James you better not be zoning I'm your guide and I'll be right here with you so you just keep aware and don't forget don't focus just on hearing I gave you some cinnamon for you to smell too so make sure you do the sentinel thing but stay with me ... ”
James was trying not to laugh. His guide took his duties seriously. And seriously, he was helping. So James smelled his cinnamon, tried to ease the tight grip on his hand, and with his guide's whisper in the background, he listened to Quinn in the alcove, again with the lovely Lisa, a new maidservant.
The Sheriff made sure to be on hand when the Captain of the Guardsmen arrested Quinn at a meeting with his merry band of thieves. One of them proved eager to trade a lesser sentence in return for the location of the stolen goods. Which made many wealthy people in the kingdom very happy when their stolen goods were returned to them.
The Sheriff was happy to receive recognition and a promotion for all his efforts ... such as they were. And the wealthy made their appreciation known to the King and his new Sentinel Queen. Their Majesties were happy to offer their own reward to Sentinel Lord James Ellison.
With the arrival of Winterfair, plans were made to offer a boon to the young Lord. James was embarrassed but had to accept and he dragged his faithful companion and guide along to an elegant reception where special awards, gifts, titles, and such were laid on those deserving, or not so deserving, such as the Sheriff. And, where the young guide had to wear some new shiny black leather shoes, which he hated.
It was unusual for a Sentinel and Lord to acknowledge their guide in the Royal Court. But his guide was right at his side, as nervous as he could be, and pale as a full moon.
“Sentinel Lord James,” intoned the King, “I present to you the title to an estate in Southlands in appreciation of your efforts on behalf of my citizens.”
Blair was upset. He whispered to James, “Not where the Chopec live. Right James? We're not taking their land are we?”
James turned beet red. How do you answer your guide in front of the King? He glanced at Blair and gave a little shake, for no. He hoped he understood.
Blair seemed to, because he looked relieved.
The Queen didn't miss the interchange though. And she 'heard' Blair. Being a sentinel too, that was understandable. She smiled at the young guide. She was quite taken with those blue eyes and the curls.
She spoke firmly so that not only the King, but James and Blair and members of the court could hear, “I have heard of your contribution in this matter, guide,” at which point Blair couldn't have said a word if his life depended on it. “It was your efforts that lead to the arrest of Quinn, and your sentinel backed your testimony with his own actions. Sentinel Lord Ellison received a boon for his efforts, but what of you, little guide. Is there something you would ask as a reward?”
Blair was just trying to breathe, and then he stopped doing even that while he thought. He saw James out of the corner of his eye, and he was looking very worried. Blair let out a long sigh. Did he dare ask? He looked to James, who just looked puzzled, but relieved that Blair was breathing again.
Well she wouldn't have asked if she didn't want to hear it Blair thought. He gulped and grabbed James' hand for comfort ... or safety. He wasn't sure of the reason right now, only that he had a request that could upset the order of things in their society. It had to be too much to ask or someone would have done it already, right? He was about to back down when the Queen smiled and nodded yes. Yes? So he asked, “I ask freedom for guides, your Majesties, and freedom to accept or deny choice of their sentinel.” He'd said it firmly and loud enough to be heard by those close by.
Rising murmurs carried it further, for the Court was astounded. The King waved his hand unconcernedly, and the Court was quickly silenced. He raised the Queen's hand to kiss it and they shared self-satisfied smiles.
The King, in a grand gesture of gratitude, granted the boon to the small guide. After all, it was about time that someone had asked. Now, by granting a boon, His Majesty had allowed a change in the legal system that the sentinels would have taken a generation or more to complete. Now it was simply done by Royal Decree, as a boon to one small guide for his service to some of the wealthiest in their society. And none dared protest.