Thanks as always to Wolfshy. She has been so patient with my outpouring of stories. You're the best! Thanks also to Danae for reading my fiction and making such valuable suggestions for improvements and corrections. Any remaining errors are mine alone. Thanks, too, to the wonderful people of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales for their hospitality and for sharing their beautiful land with me. I hope I have represented your homeland well in these stories. If I have made errors, they were unintentional, and no disrespect was intended. A special thanks to MegaRed for encouraging my writing and allowing me to bounce ideas off her creative mind.
I decided to include additional author's notes at the end, so as not to give away any of the plot.
Blair Sandburg's resiliency never ceases to amaze me.
As is too often the case, our time away from Cascade had, in the final tick of a terrorist's bomb, turned from a relaxing vacation to a living hell. With Sandburg right in the thick of it. I know the images will invade my dreams forever - the sinking ferry; the separation from my partner; the heavy dread that filled my heart when I wasn't sure if he had survived the blast or was already dead; the sight of his body trapped beneath that wreckage as the rising waters threatened to cover his face; the fear in his blue eyes as he be gged me not to let him drown - again.
The images that nightmares thrive on.
When it was over, after he was safely tucked in the hospital bed, warm and dry at last, I figured he'd want nothing more than to cut our trip short, to leave the British Isles for the more familiar surroundings of Cascade, to go home. Once again, he surprised me.
He wanted to go on, he told me, in a quiet, firm voice, its edges still blurred by pain medication. We'd made it to England, after all, our next destination anyway, even if the crossing from Ireland to England had been a bit rougher than we'd expected. His blue eyes even twinkled at that, blessing me with the first light I'd seen in them in days. Since leaving Ireland.
He had me. But then, hasn't he always, right from the start?
Besides, I wasn't ready to leave, either. I hoped to prolong what we'd discovered in Ireland; I wanted to keep that magical connection, that rare closeness we've experienced since arriving in that peaceful, emerald countryside. I wasn't ready to return to the hustle of our Cascade lives, to allow the real world to invade the warm, secure cocoon we've built here, enclosing us it its protective layers while shutting out whatever lay beyond.
I wasn't ready to share him yet with the rest of the world.
Maybe it has something to do with my sentinel instincts. Back home, my focus is spread out, protecting the city, our colleagues in Major Crimes, and, of course, Sandburg. Although he is always uppermost in my mind, my attention is divided. It has to be.
Here, it's been different. Without the tribe, the city, to guard, all my sentinel instincts have been freed to focus only on him. With each passing day, I've felt inexplicably drawn more and more to him, until I can honestly say we've never been closer. It was in Ireland that we discovered the words which described so well what we have become to each other. Maybe they even describe what we've always been to each other, perhaps before we ever met.
Damn, when did I become the mystical one? Even as recently as last year, I told him I wasn't ready to take that trip with him, that mystical journey we caught a glimpse of that day at the fountain. But even I can't deny such a powerful truth when it's revealed to me. Thanks to an elderly little Irish lady, I now have words to describe the unique relationship Sandburg and I have forged, words that take us beyond sentinel and guide, words that actually get at who and what we really are.
Anam Cara...friends of the soul.
It seemed once we had the right words, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. I could almost touch the connection, the bond, between us, a shimmering, living energy that draws us together, molds and meshes us, makes us one. Not even the tragedy on the ferry could dilute its brightness and power. Not even cynical, hard headed James Ellison can deny its existence or its rightness. I can no longer fight it, this thing that is bigger than both of us and seems destined to endure, in spite of my numerous attempts to sabota ge it.
It is who we are. It is who I am and who he is. We are anam cara.
No, now is not the time to go back home. I want this time alone with Blair. I need it. Somehow, deep in a part of myself I'm not sure I even recognize, I know that this time of discovery is not over. There's something more, a connection we've yet to make, and it must be here, in this ancient, mystical land, that the final connection will come. Why here, and not Cascade or Peru or Mexico, I'm not sure. I only feel deep within my soul that this is where we need to be right now, at this point in our lives.
So, we've stayed here in England. I called Simon the day we decided to continue our journey, to request some additional days off to make up for those we lost following the ferry bombing. Poor Simon. Have we complicated the man's life to the point where absolutely nothing surprises him any more? Not even hearing that two of his men, and he does consider Blair one of us now, had almost died in the Irish Channel aboard a ferry attacked by terrorists seemed to take Simon by surprise. He agreed to the extra days, seemingly resigned to the now well-established fact that with Blair and me, nothing is ever simple. Not even an innocent trip abroad.
Thanks, Simon. You're a great captain and an even better friend. You didn't even rub it in about Jim Ellison, driving demon of Cascade, losing another vehicle. Of course, it wasn't my fault, but then, it never is.
So here we are, in a second rental car, slowly working our way inland from the coast of England. We were both ready to leave the sea, for once in our lives, so we decided to explore some of the smaller towns and villages as we make our way toward London. I glance over at Sandburg, instinctively cataloging his appearance - face too pale, several angry scrapes marring his features, the cast up to the knee on his right leg, but breathing deeply and calmly in his sleep. He'll be okay. He's survived the impossible once again. He looks so tired and worn that my heart skips a beat. The joy that Blair brings me is always balanced by the weight of the responsibility which comes with along with that happiness.
His Blessed Protector...
Sometimes I emphasize the protector part of Blair's familiar phrase and forget the blessed part. I am blessed to have him in my life. As I've done so many times, I send up a brief prayer of thanks, grateful to have him at my side, safe, secure, and sleeping, followed by a fervent request that I be allowed to always keep him there.
We've spent several nights already on the road, mostly in quaint bed and breakfasts. Sandburg suggested avoiding the anonymous chain hotels in favor of the local inns and pubs. I have to admit that he was right. It's been good to meet the local people, to get to know them on a more personal level than is possible staying in a nondescript chain establishment. We haven't hurried; if a town catches our interest, we stop for the night, regardless of the time of day. It's become a custom of sorts to check in early, then stroll the streets, window shopping, visiting the great cathedrals, or just sitting on a park bench or in a pub, watching the world go by. I've watched the changes in Blair, day by day, as he has healed in both body and spirit. He recognizes the renewed connection, too; I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me and feel it in his trusting touch when he gently leans against me as we walk or sit quietly together. Whatever went wrong between us is right again, and it stretches its gossamer threads between us, binding together what once was torn apart.
I reach over and gently rub his knee. "Hey, Chief. Wake up, buddy, we're almost there." Glancing at him, I see the deep blue eyes flicker open, a hint of confusion clouding their depths. Hastening to reassure him, I rub his leg again. "It's okay. We're just coming into York, and I thought you'd want to start waking up a bit."
Out of the corner of my eye, I see him straighten in the seat and stretch his arms out in front with a huge yawn. A brief flash of pain touches his face as he shifts his right leg and tries to get the cast into a more comfortable position. "Hurting, Chief? You can have a pain pill, you know."
He shakes his head in denial of the obvious. "Just a little stiff, that's all. It'll get better once I'm up and moving around some." He stares out the window. "Do you know the way to the inn, Jim?"
We had read about an inn which sounded interesting a few days back and decided to try to stay there. The Golden Fleece was located in the heart of York and dated from the late 1500s. It's still hard for me to imagine that kind of antiquity, although such dates seem modern to my partner. A lifetime of anthropology will do that to you, I guess.
Luckily, there was a room available. Like most rooms here, it was small compared to American hotels, but comfortably furnished and clean. Every inn we've visited has offered a small electric teapot and a selection of tea in the rooms, an amenity which has delighted Sandburg greatly.
A simple teapot and a choice of teas has the power to satisfy him completely. He asks so little of life, and of me, for that matter. Of life, all Sandburg expects is to make a meaningful contribution, to live simply and peacefully, to laugh, to cry, and to learn all he can while he is here.
Of me? All he asks of me is my heart.
And that, he already possesses.
After checking in, Blair lies down on his bed, closing his eyes with a grateful sigh. I study his face. He looks tired and drawn, somehow older than his thirty years. Even though we've had a wonderful time since leaving the hospital on the coast, I know the traveling has been hard on him. He nearly died, for heaven's sake.
"Hey, Chief," I call to him softly. "Why don't you grab a quick forty winks, and I'll go and scout out a good place for dinner tonight? I'll be back in a couple of hours or so, then we can go take in the sights, if you're up for it."
I know he's tired when he doesn't argue. "Sure, Jim," he replies without opening his eyes. "Sounds like a plan."
He's asleep before I make it to the door.
Outside, I glance up and down the narrow, cobblestone street. The Golden Fleece's sign, a golden ram, hangs over the door, and there are numerous other such signs scattered in both directions. Hard to decide which way to go first. I head to the left.
It doesn't take long to locate a pub that looks promising for tonight's dinner. I have to chuckle a little when I first spot its sign, hanging above the front door. The Gray Wolf. Sandburg should get a kick out of that. I check out the posted menu and find it appealing with enough choices to satisfy both our individual tastes in food. The Gray Wolf it is, then.
It's too early to go back to the room. I want Sandburg to have time to rest, so I wander on. The sound of distant music reaches me, and I gravitate toward it. As I turn a corner, I'm faced with the majesty of York Minster, rising up to the heavens right before me. Its pinnacles tower above me, and its limestone walls glisten in the late afternoon sun. I cannot resist the pull, and I enter the grand structure.
It was the choir I had heard blocks away as I walked, and now I sit down in one of the chairs in the nave to listen. Above my head, Gothic arches dwarf the few visitors like me who drifted inside to listen. The sun sparkles through the magnificent rose window, lighting its rainbow of colors with fire from the heavens. The music swirls and dances around me, as the sound of the powerful pipe organ reverberates throughout my body.
Maybe it's the close call we had only days ago on the ferry, maybe it's the too many close calls we've had over the years, or maybe it's just the renewed closeness I've discovered with Blair, but suddenly, I feel an unexpected wave of gratitude wash through me. I do have so many blessings, so much to be thankful for. As I listen to the sounds of the Bach chorale, I think back over my life. Yes, I have suffered losses, maybe too many for one relatively short lifetime. But look what I've gained. A career that I love, coworkers who respect me and whom I respect, a place to call home, a sensory gift that is sometimes a curse, but more often, a blessing.
Why does everything always seem to come back to him? I start to ignore the fleeting thought, then chide my cowardice. I swore I'd stop avoiding my feelings, promised myself that I would face my fears, my emotions, after the fountain. At least I've had the sense to realize that avoidance hasn't been an effective strategy in my life thus far. So I'm trying to be more honest with myself.
I face the question once more as the majestic music surrounds me. Why does everything seem to come back to Sandburg? It's simple really. Everything comes back to Blair because Blair is everything.
Suddenly, I realize with an almost physical shock that I'm comfortable with that admission. There's no small, nagging desire to deny what I feel, to strike out and claim that I don't need him, that I'm strong enough and independent enough to make it on my own. I've known for a long time that I love Blair. Suddenly, it's easy to admit that I need him, that I want him in my life, not behind me to follow, but right beside me, where he's always belonged.
That's what I've been fighting, the acknowledgment, the confession, that I, Jim Ellison, need someone else in my life to feel complete, to be whole. It has been the hardest thing I've ever done merely to admit that I need him. I feel a sense of calm, deep peace, flood my soul. I close my eyes and send up a prayer of thanks...for my life, for my sensory gifts, for the acceptance I have found, but most of all, for Blair. For the first time, I no longer have that desire, that almost desperate desire, to deny my need for him or his rightful place in my life and my heart.
It is a wonderful feeling, and I smile, despite my damp eyes. What the hell took me so long?
The cathedral bells chime the five o'clock tones, and I realize that I have been sitting here for almost two hours. And Sandburg says I can't meditate. I rise, stretching my stiff knees, and walk back up the long aisle. The choir has stopped rehearsing, and the silence rings in my ears. I stop at a display of lighted prayer candles, then, hesitating just a moment, drop some change in the collection box and take a candle. Lighting it, I pause for a moment before placing it alongside the others. A candle seems appropriate somehow. A burning flame in memory of all those I allowed into my heart and lost, those who left me, whether by their own choice or by the hand of fate. Then I light a second candle, this one in honor of the one who dwells there now...the one who has promised never to leave me...the one I trust to keep that sacred oath.********************
I wander back through the meandering streets of York, glancing in the shop windows as I pass. The attractive window displays beckon visitors from far and wide to come in and sample the wares each shop has to offer. Not a shopper who is easily tempted, I resist. Until I pass a tiny, half-timbered woolen shop, neatly nestled between its two more imposing brothers. "Black Sheep Woolens," the sign proclaims.
In the window is a display of sweaters. One in particular catches my eye. I move closer to the window, employing my sentinel sight to inspect the quality and workmanship. I find it impeccable. The sweater is woven in the shades of Ireland, the land where we first learned of Anam Cara in the small cottage of an elderly angel named Fiora. Its wool has been dyed in a hundred shades of green, blended and swirled together to create a vision of Irish fields melting in the rain.
Instantly, it reminds me of Sandburg. Its wool would keep him warm; my partner seems perpetually cold. The green rainbow colors would remind him of the special place in both our hearts forever captured by the Emerald Isle. The surprise of its purchase would remind him of the special place in my heart he captured so easily a lifetime ago.
I enter the store, and when I leave it a quarter of an hour later, the sweater is tucked safely away under my arm.
I can hear Sandburg moving about our room and muttering under his breath as soon as I step from the small elevator. I smile when I hear the focus of his irritation. He can't decide what to wear tonight for dinner. To look at my friend, most people wouldn't think he spends a minute a week thinking about his wardrobe. I, however, resident sentinel and friend, know differently. Those funky outfits of his take him forever to assemble - hours of shopping, more time spent coordinating new purchases with his existing wardrobe, and even more hours spent picking and choosing the best clothes for any occasion he considers even remotely special. Of course, he doesn't know I've noticed this. Sometimes I think Sandburg sees me as a totally self-absorbed, insensitive lug who seldom notices the things which are important to him. I should let him know more often exactly how wrong he is. Never hurts to surprise the kid occasionally.
The muttering stops as my plastic key slips in and out of the lock. When I enter, Blair is dressed only in jeans. New, only slightly faded jeans at that, and his best Nikes. The jeans were purchased right after he left the hospital for their ability to cover the cast on his leg. He's paired them with a solid green shirt which lies on his bed. I grin at his choice of color tonight.
He looks at me, puzzled at my demeanor. Does my happiness show through that clearly? I thought I was more stoic than that. At least, that's what I've heard.
"What?" he asks. "Are we going black tie tonight or something?" He grins back at me, that blinding, completely open and heart warming smile that is his alone. A small, everyday miracle complete within Sandburg's smile.
I shake my head. "Did a little shopping today, that's all." I toss the sack over to him, and he catches it without looking away from my face. Then he looks down at it, obviously taken a little off guard by the gesture.
"You bought something for me?" His eyes widen in surprise.
"Open it, Sandburg." Nonchalantly, I wander into the bathroom and start the water for my shower. When I turn around, Blair is standing behind me, staring down at the sweater in his hands.
His face is so void of expression that I immediately figure he doesn't like the sweater. Ignoring the small pang of disappointment the realization triggers, I move past him into the bedroom, stripping off my own sweater as I go. "If you don't like it, Chief, I can take it back. It's not like you have to keep it or anything. I just saw it in the window and thought..."
"No! Jim, that's not it at all. It's beautiful, and I love it. It's just that this is really weird, man."
I turn from my suitcase and stare at him. "It's a sweater, Sandburg, nothing weird about that."
He shakes his head abruptly. "Not the sweater, Jim. The fact that it's this sweater, that's what's weird. See, I saw this same sweater over in Ireland, back in Killarney, right after we met Fiora. I thought it looked just like the countryside. All the greens swirled together reminded me of the days we spent there. I wanted to buy it, but the price was, shall we say, out of my reach? So I just forgot about it." He looks down at the sweater in disbelief. "And here it is. Karma, man. Thank you."
I can't stop the grin that spreads across my face, not that I try very hard. "Don't mention it." Reaching out, I ruffle his hair affectionately. "Get dressed, Junior. There's a pub with our name on it right down the street."
Over a dinner of fish and chips for me and a chicken pasty for Sandburg, we chart out our plans for the next few days. Sightsee in York tomorrow, then, the next day, head toward London, stopping on the way in whatever towns catch our eye. It's nice not having to hurry, to have the freedom to do as we wish with no appointments to keep, no responsibilities to meet. "Just so we see Stonehenge, man," Blair reminds me. "All my life, I've wanted to go there. I just can't miss it now that I'm so close, okay?"
"We'll see it, Chief, I promise. Want some more beer?" He's wearing the new sweater, and it looks good on him. Twice tonight, I've seen him fingering the soft wool, admiring the pattern and smiling softly. I'm glad I bought it for him. He deserves more nice things, but I know his finances are strained. Another sacrifice made for me. He could have finished his degree by now, be working full time at Rainier or another university, and be making decent money. Instead, he's drawn out this whole research thing, postponed ending his observer status, out of fear that it would end our partnership, maybe even our friendship. Now, that part of his life is over. The academy looms right around the corner, only a few weeks after our return to Cascade.
At least the kid'll be bringing home a decent paycheck soon.
I refill his glass at the bar, then, as I sit back down, he pushes a brochure across the table toward me. "Hey, look at this, Jim. I got it in the inn lobby this afternoon. It's a ghost walk tour through York, and it leaves tonight at 8:00. Sounds cool, huh?" Those bright, blue eyes beam at me, full of excitement.
I look at the brochure which is entitled, "Ghost Walks of Olde York with Mad Alice." After reading the description inside, I look at Blair doubtfully. "Are you sure you're up to this, Chief? It says the walk lasts about two hours, and you know most of these streets are cobblestone. Not exactly the easiest walking for a man in your condition."
His voice now contains a hint of pleading. "C'mon, Jim. I can handle it. I hate to ask you to do it; I know you'd rather not, and I'd go alone, y'know, but since I've got this cast on and all..." He lets his voice trail off and turns those hopeful blue eyes on me at full strength. Man, that kid knows how to push my buttons. And I fall for it every time. Actually, it sounds like it might be a good way to see the city and have some fun besides. But I can't let Sandburg know that, now can I?
I take a long, deep breath, and put on my best long-suffering look. "You win, Sandburg, we'll go on the ghost walk. But don't expect to see any poltergeists, okay? This whole thing's just a way to make money off tourists, right?"
"Sure, Jim, sure. Whatever you say, man. But England's loaded with ghost stories and legends about spirits. You never know, we just might get lucky! After all, you saw Molly, right?"
Should have known he'd tie this in to Molly, the restless spirit we found in the abandoned apartment building a while back. As much as I hate to admit it, I did see her and communicate with her. Spirit animals and ghosts. For a logical, methodical guy, I sure have had my share of supernatural experiences recently. "This has nothing to do with Molly, Chief. That was a once in a lifetime thing. Forget it; I am not seeing any ghosts, tonight or any other night. Got that?"
Sandburg nods, smiling at me with that grin I know too well. The one that means "I know you think you're right, and I'm not going to argue with you right now, but you'll see, man!" What bothers me is, all too often, that's exactly what happens.
We meet the tour group in front of Clifford's Tower. By the time Mad Alice finishes her introduction, I can't help but be in a positive mood. Around fifty years old, Mad Alice certainly dresses the part. Wearing a long red wig, an oversized black dress reminiscent of the 1800s, floppy black hat and veil, with a shawl over her shoulders and lace gloves on her hands, the ebullient woman is impossible not to like. She begins by recounting the history of the city of York and the 13th century structure on the hill behind us.
When Mad Alice recounts the massacre of hundreds of Jews on this very hill during the Middle Ages, I watch Sandburg out of the corner of my eye. Blair's never said much about his Jewish heritage, but I can see the pain in his face as he visualizes the Jewish people who were marched to this hill for execution, merely because too many of the prominent, powerful people of the town owed them money, borrowed in loans over many years. Rather than pay what was owed, the Jews were killed.
Blair looks up toward Clifford's Tower, perched high on its flat-topped hill and flooded with golden light against the night sky. I know what haunting images must be playing in his mind. He closes his eyes for a moment, and his lips move silently. Quietly, I shift to stand closer to him, letting my shoulder touch his, gently pressing against him. I can't understand what it must be like to know that my people have been hated and exterminated throughout history, but I want him to know that I care. After a few silent moments, Blair looks up at me and smiles softly, sadly, and presses closer against me. "Thanks, buddy," he whispers, so quietly that only I can hear. I just nod and return his smile. Mad Alice finishes her talk, describing how the shadowy figures of those long dead Jews have been seen throughout the centuries, marching up Clifford's Tower Hill toward their doom. Then, with a final look back at the shadowy hill, we follow her through the ancient streets of York into the night.
The next stop is the area of York known as the Shambles. Blair tells me along the way that this is one of the best preserved medieval streets in all of England. As we walk, we admire the half-timbered buildings lining both sides of the narrow, crooked streets. Mad Alice stops beside a small building, two stories tall with a door painted red. An antique shop stands next door, its bay window packed with expensive china and Staffordshire figurines. Since we've been walking more slowly than the rest of the group, we end up standing at the back of our assembled crowd to listen to Alice's story about this house.
Blair is getting tired. We've already walked a long way at a fairly fast pace. I can see the small tension lines around his mouth, and the dullness of his eyes that signifies pain and weariness. I knew this wasn't such a good idea, but now's not the time to say I told you so. I move to stand behind him and lightly cup his shoulder with my hand. Gratefully, he leans back against me, taking some of the weight off his injured leg. His head rests against my chest, a trusting, welcome weight that warms my heart, and I briefly wonder what some of the other tour members might make of us. Not that it matters. I learned a long time ago that Blair and I don't fit any mold, any expectations of behavior held by the rest of the world. We can't. There just isn't much in the way of precedent for sentinel/guide behavior. We have to make up our own rules, our own expectations, as we go along. Whatever feels right, that's the way we should go. Right now, my guide is tired and hurting, and it's my place to help him, however I can. If he needs to lean on me for a time, I'm here. God knows I've leaned on him often enough, even when he didn't realize it.
My thoughts have been drifting, and I make an effort to focus back on the story Mad Alice is telling about the medieval house with its cheery red door. Her compelling voice cuts through the evening air with knife like clarity, rising and falling with practiced precision according to the tenor of her tale.
"The wealthy couple had one child only, a beautiful daughter of five years who was given the name of Amelia. Her hair was spun gold, cascading over her shoulders and down her back. Amelia's eyes were sapphires of the clearest clarity, and her smile warmed the coldest night. She was her parents' pride and joy, she was."
"One night, not long before Christmas, the parents gave a party. It was a glittering, brilliant affair, and all the finest people of York attended. From her tiny room upstairs, Amelia could hear the beautiful music and the laughter of the joyful people below. Although her mother had instructed her to stay in her bed, the lure of the party was too much for little Amelia to resist. She slipped from her bed, still dressed in her delicate gown of white linen and lace. Without making a sound, she crept to the railing of the balcony which overlooked the foyer. Kneeling, Amelia's tiny hands grasped the wooden railing, and she peered through the slats to gaze at the wonders below."
"Fine ladies danced by, dressed in gowns of the most expensive silk and satin, their fine jewelry of gold and precious gems glittering in the candlelight. Handsome gentlemen strolled past with their ladies on their arms. The music swirled about her, and the smells of delicious foods drifted upward on the breeze. Amelia leaned harder against the railing, trying to glimpse more of the magnificent festivities."
"Suddenly, the music was interrupted by the sound of cracking wood and a terrified scream. As quickly as it had begun, the scream halted in mid-breath. A crowd gathered in the foyer, staring down at the battered, crumpled form of poor little Amelia, lying dead on the wood floor beneath the balcony railing. The fall from above when the railing gave way had killed the poor child instantly."
"It is said that even today, on a chilly December eve, strange music can be heard from this house. Music of dancing and joy, but coming from no orchestra of this world or time. As the music plays, if you look closely, you may see the small form of a child, with golden hair and dressed all in white, as it floats upstairs and disappears into the small room above. Perhaps it is the ghost of Amelia, returned to listen to the music and marvel at the festivities once more, over three hundred years later."
After the expected smiles and curious glances at the house, Mad Alice and the crowd of tourists moves on. Somehow, I can't seem to get my feet to move. I feel drawn to remain here in front of this house. Blair turns to look at me curiously. "Jim? They're leaving. Are you ready?"
I shake my head quickly and continue to stare through the thick, wavy glass into the dwelling. It's dark inside, and there doesn't appear to be any furniture in the foyer. I focus more intently, pouring all my concentration into my sense of sight.
Then I see her.
A little girl with golden curls and blue eyes floats on a moonbeam down from the second floor. Her nightgown is old fashioned in design with white eyelet lace encircling the neckline. She wears a tiny, golden locket about her neck. There's a soft smile on her face as she gazes out the window, directly at me.
I know my eyes must be wide in amazement, for I feel Blair's sudden urgent concern for me even before he speaks. "Jim! What is it, man? What's...?"
"Shhhh!" I shake my head, not wanting to risk her disappearance with any conversation.
The figure moves closer, slipping through the red painted wooden door with no effort at all. She hovers on the stoop, not five feet in front of us. She smiles at me, her eyes bright with understanding.
"Not all which is true is visible to the eyes," she whispers. "Believe in the wisdom of your heart and the visions of your spirit." She looks at Blair, and a warm, tender smile touches her lips. She gazes again at me and nods slowly, the same understanding light in her eyes.
Then, as quickly as she appeared, the child vanishes.
I take a half step backward, involuntarily, as if released from a trance. Blair clasps my arms, lending me his weight for balance. "Jim! What did you see? C'mon, man, I know something just happened here, so talk to me!" His eyes are bright with a mixture of excitement and the slightest touch of fear.
I find my voice at last. "It's okay, Chief. I... Let's go catch the others. I'll tell you about it later." Before I can move to walk away, Blair grasps my arm tightly.
"No way, buddy. I wanna know right now what you just saw! Don't try to put me off here, because it ain't gonna work. Talk!"
The quick approach of Mad Alice postpones my reply. "Are you two all right? Is there a problem?" Her concerned eyes evaluate the situation quickly, and I can tell that this is a lady who can discern a lie from a mile away.
Blair turns on his warmest Sandburg smile and cranks the old charm up to full steam ahead. "We're fine, really. You see, I've got this bad leg, and I think I'm just getting a little tired, that's all. We hate to miss the rest of the tour, but I'd better find a place to sit and rest for a while. I hope that's not a problem."
Alice may be mad, but she's still a woman. That patented Sandburg charisma does its job again, and Alice soon departs, smiling and walking with a bounce in her step which hadn't been there ten minutes earlier. That's my partner, Mr. Personality.
As soon as she disappears, Blair focuses his undivided attention back on me, Alice fading from his mind like a wisp of fog. "Okay, Jim, spill it."
I see a bench on the sidewalk across the street. "Let's go sit, Sandburg, and get you off that leg." At his doubtful look, I assure him, "Then I'll tell you. I promise." That satisfies him. I lead Blair over to the bench and help him get settled. We both sit silently for a moment, staring across the street at the house with the red door.
"Remember earlier when we were talking about Molly?" I begin tentatively.
Blair erupts in a blur of excitement and motion. Gesturing back toward the house, his words fly like leaves in the wind. "Did you see her? Or someone else? That little girl! You saw her, right? Oh, man, this is so cool! What did she do? What did she say? She spoke to you, didn't she? I'll bet...?"
"Sandburg!" I can barely control my laughter. Blair is endearing almost any time, but when he gets all wound up, so excited about something, then he is practically irresistible. Of course, I'd never let him know that. I force myself to look serious. "If you'd give me just a minute here, I'd explain the whole thing. Are you ready to listen now?" I gaze at him, with what I hope is a combination of exasperation and implied threat in my eyes.
He buys it. At least I know I can still bluff the kid when I need to. That's one skill I'd hate to lose. He nods, keeping silent, waiting.
I look back over at the house and take a deep breath. "Yeah, I saw her. Amelia, the little girl. Alice had just finished her story, when this bright figure dressed all in white appeared at the top of the stairway. She drifted downstairs, right in a shaft of moonlight, and just looked at me with this little smile. Then, she floated out the door and kinda hovered right in front of us." I stop, suddenly realizing how ridiculous this sounds.
To anyone but Blair.
I swear I could tell him I went to the moon and that it really is made of green cheese, and the kid would believe me. Blair just looks up at me with those huge, blue eyes, filled with wonder and awe. He believes me, no questions asked. Very humbling, to be trusted like that. Humbling, but also very wonderful.
"Did she speak to you?" His voice is soft, little more than a whisper. He waits eagerly for my response.
"She did. She said that not everything that is true is visible to the eyes. That I should believe in my heart's wisdom and the visions of my spirit." I pause, considering the words. "How does she know me, Chief? And what exactly is all that supposed to mean?"
Sandburg sits silently for a long time, just staring over at the house with the red door. A few people pass by on the cobblestone street, some speaking, others ignoring us completely. I don't push for his answer. I'm not sure why I get the visions when he's supposed to be the shaman. For a while, that worried Blair, too. He even took a vision quest to find out. He never told me everything that happened on that trip. Apparently to share your vision with someone else can weaken its power, but he told me enough for me to understand that he is the interpreter of my visions. He's the one who holds the key to their meanings. Heaven knows, I could use an interpreter. I'm no good at figuring this stuff out on my own.
Finally, he turns back to me and smiles. "I don't know how she knows you, Jim, but I think the message is clear. What's gotten us in trouble over and over? When is it that we seem to lose our connection and end up saying and doing things that we later regret?" He waits for my response.
Such an obvious answer, but yet, so difficult to put into words. "When I hold out on you, Chief. As long as we trust each other, confide in each other, things are smooth. It's when we...no, make that when I pull away from you, when I start keeping things from you, that everything falls apart. Is that what she meant? To believe in my heart's wisdom and the visions of my spirit?"
Blair nods slowly. "I think so. You tend to be a very straight forward, logical guy, Jim. I mean, you've done great accepting all this mystical sentinel stuff, but I know it's hard for you. Maybe this was just a little reminder to keep doing what you're already doing...being open to whatever feelings or visions come your way." He sits still, watching and waiting for my response.
It makes sense. At last, I smile and nod. "Yeah, that seems sensible." I look back toward the house. "Okay, Amelia, I promise to listen to my heart and pay attention to my visions. You can relax now."
Blair is grinning and shaking his head. "You're impossible, man. You get visited by a ghost, receive a message from the other side, and you're still joking around." He looks up the street in the direction the tour took. "Hey, you think we could catch up with Mad Alice and the gang? I'll bet she'd love to hear about your encounter with Amelia."
"No way, Chief. What I saw stays between you, me, and little Amelia, okay? I have no desire to let the rest of England in on what happened tonight." I get to my feet and reach down to give him a hand in rising. Blair accepts my hand and squeezes it gently before releasing me.
"Okay, Jim. Whatever you say, man. Hey, I saw a shop with ice cream back the way we came. I could go for a double dip of rocky road; how about you?" His blue eyes twinkle in the lamplight, and a mischievous grin appears. "You can buy, oh great ghostbuster."
I reach out and swat him playfully on the back of the head. "Just for that, you can pack up both suitcases tonight, Junior. Yeah, ice cream sounds good." I drape an arm across his shoulders, and we walk slowly back up the streets of York.
A warm feeling has settled over me, a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. So, I occasionally see things I can't quite explain...visions, ghosts, and long dead shamans. I've got my own personal interpreter right here, my friend, my partner, and my guide. Together, we'll figure it out, all this sentinel stuff, along with the mystical and just plain strange things which seem to seek us out like bees seek the fragrance of flowers in the spring. As long as my guide is at my side, I have no doubts.
We depart from York the next morning and spend several days traveling vaguely in the direction of London. I try to limit Blair's touring and walking. Apparently, it helps, because as we draw nearer to London, he looks almost like the Sandburg of old. If not for the cast still on his leg, nobody would ever guess the ordeal he'd experienced such a short time ago.
I awaken early, before dawn, to the sound of steady rain on the streets below. I immediately look over at Sandburg, huddled beneath his pile of blankets on the other bed. For a long while, I'm content merely to watch him sleep. His face is relaxed, peaceful, and in contrast to only a few days before, he looks very young, and so vulnerable. Maybe it's that vulnerability that triggers such strong protective instincts within me. Maybe Sandburg's right, the sentinel is genetically predisposed to protect his guide. Right now, it doesn't really matter why I feel this way. I just know without a doubt that I would give my life for him, willingly and without hesitation. My greatest fear is that even this willingness to sacrifice all someday won't be enough to save him. That one day, I'll lose this precious life, and be faced with the impossibility of going on without him. The image sends a cold chill through me, and I shove away such depressing thoughts. He's here, and he's safe, and that's enough, at least for now.
The words of an old Irish poem suddenly come into my mind, one I read framed in a gift shop back in Ireland.
"There is one on whom I would gladly gaze,
To whom I would give the bright world,
All of it,
All of it,
Though it be an unequal bargain."
Sandburg gives me so much. It is an unequal bargain.
Shaking myself out of such deep thoughts, I get out of bed and wash up in the small bathroom. When I come out, dressed and clean shaven, I see Blair is awake, at least partially. He's sitting up in bed, rubbing his sleep filled eyes. When he sees me, he smiles, a drowsy, crooked little smile. My heart melts, the coldness of my earlier dark thoughts banished in the warmth of Sandburg's smile.
"Hey," he mumbles in a sleep scratchy voice.
I grin at him and sit on my bed to put on my shoes. "Hey, yourself, sleepy head. We gotta check out, you know. This is the day you've been looking forward to, remember? We're heading to Stonehenge."
Immediately, his eyes clear and become bright and focused. "Yeah! We need to get moving, Jim. Why'd you let me sleep so long, anyway? It'll be dawn soon, and I want to get there early, before the crowds." He pops out of bed and hurries into the bathroom. "I'll only be a few minutes. Get your bag packed, man. We've gotta move!"
I start putting things into my suitcase, chuckling at my partner's sudden energy and enthusiasm this early in the morning. Only Sandburg would get this excited over a bunch of old rocks out in the middle of a field.********************
It's early morning by the time we arrive at Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain. During the drive, Sandburg has filled my ears with the history of the place, the known facts and the unknown mystery of its existence. I admit, much of it is fascinating. I find I am looking forward to seeing the place. I just wish it wasn't raining.
I park the car in the lot across from the ancient monoliths, and we take the tunnel under the road that leads through the protective fencing. We are the first visitors of the day, and from the looks of the weather, likely to be the only visitors of the day. The woman on duty at the visitors' center gives the impression that she thinks we're out of our minds for wanting to tour the park so early in the morning and in such foul weather.
And what foul weather it is. The wind is whipping across the plain, tearing into us like we had stepped into a giant wind tunnel. At first, Sandburg tries to huddle with me under my large umbrella, but this wind refuses to allow even that small comfort. It quickly turns my umbrella inside out, ripping its fabric and destroying it in a matter of seconds. I toss the shredded umbrella into a nearby trash can, and we both settle for the meager protection offered by the hoods on our windbreakers.
Although England is known for its cool, damp weather, today we are experiencing only the damp part of the reputation. The air lies heavy and warm, and I think it feels strangely humid for this early in the morning. The low, distant rumble of thunder echoes across the plain.
Continuing our battle against the wind, we finally stand in front of the huge stone monoliths. A fence prevents us from going any closer, but even from this distance, the sheer size of the stones is breathtaking. I stand for a few minutes, imagining the scene so many hundred of years before as it must have appeared when ancient man created this place.
I turn to share my thoughts with Blair, but the look on his face silences me. I can't help smiling as I look at him. His expression is vintage Blair Sandburg. He stand mesmerized, his eyes glowing with wonder as his brilliant mind coordinates with his vivid imagination to make the scene before us come to life in his mind. Suddenly, Blair throws back the hood of his jacket and laughs aloud, a musical, joyous sound. He tilts his face back into the pouring rain and smiles, a stunning smile which lights up his entire face. The driving rain streams down his cheeks, and the wind whips back his long, lank hair, now soaked from the downpour. I'm not sure he even remembers that I'm standing beside him. The intensity of his feelings from being in this ancient place that he has read about his entire life has blocked all else from his mind. In the distance, there is another rumble of thunder, louder this time, providing the underlying bass notes to the symphony of sounds and images which surrounds us.
He turns to look at me, with blue eyes turned dark in the gloom of this stormy morning. He doesn't speak right away, but instead, takes my hand and presses it to his face, staring into my eyes as if to reach the deepest recesses of my soul. His smile has vanished, replaced now with a serious intensity which turns his entire face to stone, almost as impossible to understand as the giant, gray monoliths we stand before. "Do you feel it?" he whispers, his voice hardly audible above the howling of the wind and the hard slap of the rain against our bodies.
For a moment, I think he means the cold, or the rain, or the wind. Then, as I gaze into those indigo eyes, I understand. It's as if we have been transported by the mysticism of these dark stones to another time and another place. A place long ago where sentinels and guides are revered, their powers understood, and their connection to each other accepted. A place where our own relationship was first molded from the fires of mutual need, and the strong bonds of devotion were forged.
"Yes," I answer softly, "I feel it, Blair."
Blair's cold hand trails down from my face, and he takes a step away from me, turning back toward the monoliths. Impossibly, the rain has increased, as has the wind. It howls now, shrieking with a sound which seems to summon us deeper into that other, long ago world. Suddenly, I see a flicker of movement from behind one of the huge stones, as if something has darted from one to another in the driving rain. I turn to Blair, to ask if he saw the movement, too, but I never get the chance.
My world explodes in a blinding flash of light and thunder and pain.
The light and the rain and the wind and the pain all fade into nothingness.
I am at peace. The sense of calmness, of cool serenity, is all encompassing. Here, there is no fear of loss, no possibility of incurring the pain which is risked by loving too much. For the first time in my memory, I feel totally relaxed, utterly peaceful.
The view from above is magnificent. The pouring rain fails to obstruct my vision, and the wind is no longer even noticeable. Heavy clouds part around me, seemingly in respect for my presence among them. Amazing.
I can see the patterns now, the ancient design of this mysterious place. I see the outlines of long forgotten roads, the remnants of highways once used, then neglected. The burial barrows stand in elevated contrast with the flatness of the Salisbury Plain, and I can almost see the important chiefs and holy men who lie within their mounded earth as they once were... respected...honored...alive.
And I am a part of it all. The ancient past...the future which lies so close, I could touch it if I tried...the distant present.
There is something I should remember. Someone I must remember...
I look downward, tearing my eyes away from the far reaching majesty of the views surrounding me, pushing aside momentarily the hypnotizing tranquility enveloping me. My vision focuses in, closer and closer, on the two small, lonely figures on the path which encircles the ancient monoliths.
And I remember...
My spirit fill with pain at the sight. I see my own body crumbled on the footpath, legs sprawled out at awkward angles, arms lying still at my side. It confuses me for a moment, to see my own body as separate from what I am thinking, what I am feeling. Strangely, however, it doesn't bother me; it merely serves as an object of detached interest. The warm coat of contentment cloaking me is enough; I don't need to understand what has happened to me.
But the spell is shattered in a single, piercing instant.
It is the sight of Sandburg that tears at my soul. Blair is hunched over me, his shoulders shaking with great, heaving sobs as he frantically struggles to revive me. His mouth covers mine, and I hear each broken breath that he blows desperately into my lungs. Tears mixed with raindrops stream down his stricken face, flowing from those deep blue eyes as though fed from an endless fountain of grief.
Blair lifts his mouth from mine and pumps down on my chest, his hands trembling with the effort. I realize that he is speaking, and immediately, I tune in to listen.
"Jim! Please, man. Oh, God, please, no." He stops for a moment, sobbing, then speaks again between gulping breaths of air. "You gotta breathe, buddy. You aren't supposed to die on me, man! Not you! You weren't supposed to leave me, Jim. Come on! I came back for you! Don't leave me now! This can't be happening!" His voice breaks, and once again, his lips press to mine, and he desperately resumes the mouth to mouth.
The rain soaked plains fade away into a watercolor wash, and I'm kneeling on the fresh, soft grass of Rainier, fountain waters dancing in the background. Blair lies before me, cold and still and pale, a bluish tint around his lips. I am there again, feeling my best friend, my guide, slipping away from me, feeling my own heart slowly withering, as surely as he is dying. Once again, I feel my mouth on his, taste the sweet essence of him, and confront the realization that he is leaving me, this time forever. The overwhelming panic once again twists my heart, leaving it writhing in agony, and I hear my own voice screaming, "No! He isn't dead! Don't you go! Sandburg! This can't be happening!"
Blair's heartbroken voice rises to join mine in a chorus of pain and denial. "Please, Jim! No! Don't leave me!"
I make my choice.
Abandoning the perfect peace, I plunge toward Blair. Downward, I spiral out of control, the clouds, the rain, the bolts of lightening rushing by me at unearthly speeds. Looming closer and closer, the drenched plains rise to greet me as I plummet toward earth, toward my waiting body. Blair looks toward the monoliths, his mouth open in astonishment, his eyes filled with disbelief. I follow his eyes, and I see them.
Emerging from behind the center stones are the black jaguar and the gray wolf. They stand still, gazing at each other, motionless in the driving rain. A flash of lightening illuminates their eyes...the luminescent green of the jaguar...the endless black ebony pools of the wolf. Throwing back his head, the wolf howls, a long, eerie tone that rises into the clouds on the wind. Simultaneously, the jaguar cries out, its call echoing through the monoliths and reverberating against the sky. For long moments, their voices rise, mingle as a single voice, then fall, combining in a haunting duet sung for eternity. Slowly, their tones fade into nothingness and silence descends. Then, as though of one mind, both animals run effortlessly toward each other, charging without hesitation to their shared destinies. As the thunder's roll echoes across the plains, they meet, merging their separateness into a single, blinding flash of light and motion and color.
And they are gone.
At the same instant, everything goes black, and I tumble into the void.
Coldness and warmth.
Fear and security.
Loneliness and love.
Gradually, I become aware of the contradictions which surround me. I know I am shivering with cold, but my chest, my belly, and my arms tingle with warmth.
I am afraid to open my eyes, fearful of seeing that I am in a place unfamiliar to me, that I have sacrificed the great peace I had found for a strange, unknown reality. Yet, my heart glows with the certainty that I am safe, that nothing can harm me now.
So many contradictions.
Then, I hear the precious beating of a familiar rhythm and taste the saltiness of beloved tears. Everything suddenly makes sense, and the contradictions vanish.
I hear his voice, a symphony of blended feelings falling on my ears. Grief, fear, sorrow, and pain combine with hope, expectation, and love to create a montage of emotions. I rest and just allow myself to listen, to be immersed in the range of emotions all portrayed in Sandburg's voice.
"Jim...Jim...You're breathing, aren't you? Be breathing, please? I need you to come back now, Jim. Please, Jim, please... You can hear me; I know you can. Just try to follow my voice now, okay? We've done this before, right? Ahhh, Jim, please come back to me. I need you to open your eyes. I need to see you're gonna be all right."
His voice takes on a hint of desperation now, a touch of anxiety, and his breathing is ragged. "I'm scared, man. Jim, I'm so damned scared of losing you." His laugh is bitter, tinged with disbelief. "That's wild, isn't it? Me, Mr. Independence, world traveler, son of Naomi "Detach with Love" Sandburg. And the thought of losing you terrifies me. You know something, man? Last year, at that fountain, right before I lost consciousness, I wasn't all that scared of dying. I was just so damned afraid of leaving you, of having to go to a place where I'd be alone, somewhere I wouldn't have you."
He stops, and I feel the shuddering sob that shakes his body deep in my own soul. "So, I need you to come back, Jim. I don't want to even think about what I'd be without you, man. Come home? Please?"
That final plea opens my eyes. He is staring down at me, holding my face between his cold palms, his eyes red rimmed and swollen from crying. Reality rushes back like the tide, and I understand the grief and pain he's been experiencing these past few minutes.
To believe that you have lost someone you love forever is a terrifying experience.
I should know.
I grasp his wrists where they lie alongside my face and grip them firmly. My voice is husky, but I manage to rasp out the words I know he needs to hear. The words I need to say to ease his worry. "I'm with you, Chief. 'S'okay, now."
With that, he loses the remaining composure he's struggled to maintain. Collapsing across my chest, Blair buries his face in my neck and sobs of relief shake his entire body. Although each movement feels heavy and slow, I wrap my arms around him, holding him close against me, murmuring nonsensical words of reassurance and comfort. I press my face hard to his wet hair, and gratefully breathe in the scent of him. The relived memories of the fountain are still too fresh. I realize that I am the one who almost died here today, yet it is the experience of recalling that hellish day at Rainier which has upset me most. I know he needs to hold me to reassure himself that I am safe, but I need the reassurance that he is here, safe with me, just as badly. So, I embrace him tightly, hugging him close to me physically and keeping him even closer in my heart. And, in the holding, both our needs are met.
Slowly, the sobs subside, then cease altogether. The ground beneath me is cold and soggy, yet I am in no hurry to make Sandburg move. Small tremors quake through him like aftershocks. It was an earthquake he experienced here today, a shaking of his world and all that he knows as secure and solid. But now, the danger is over, and stability is returning slowly to his world.
"Jim?" Sandburg pulls back gently, and I reluctantly release my arms from around him. "Are you sure you're okay?"
I reach out and clasp his upper arms, beginning to pull myself upward. Realizing my intent, Blair lends me his strength, and in a moment, I'm standing beside him, gazing at the circle of stones. Blair keeps one arm around my waist for support, and I am grateful for it. I look down at him and smile. "Yeah, Chief, I'm really okay. A little wobbly, maybe, but basically all right." Then the memories flood my mind, bringing with them confusion and questions. "Uh, Blair? Can you tell me what happened here? I'm a little fuzzy on the details. Last thing I remember was looking at you and starting to say something, then..." I shake my head, trying to remember. "Then...nothing."
A flash of pain crosses his face, and he leans in against me, for his own security rather than mine. I hug him to me and wait. "A lightening bolt, Jim. It hit right there." He gestures toward a large black spot which darkens the earth only a few feet away. "I don't think it actually hit you, but the intensity of the strike, the power of the electricity, must have felt like a strike to your senses." His voice is shaking, almost desperate. "You... Your heart stopped, Jim. I was thrown off my feet, and when I got up, you weren't breathing, man. I tried and tried, but you just wouldn't breathe! Then..." His words trail off.
I stare down at him, wondering if he saw... Could he have seen the same vision? Again?
"What did you see, Blair?"
"The jaguar, Jim, and the wolf. They looked at each other, then they howled. Oh, man, what a sound! Then..." He hesitates, looking at me as if he is gauging my acceptance of what he has said. Of what he has yet to say. "It was just like at the fountain, Jim. They collided in this awesome flash of light." Softer now, a reverent whisper barely rising above the pounding of the rain. "And you started breathing again."
I can hear excited, anxious voices approaching the entrance to the tunnel, apparently summoned by the woman at the ticket window to check on us. There isn't much time left alone, and there is still much to be said.
"I saw it, too, Chief. The jaguar ... the wolf ... everything, just like at the fountain."
"But why, Jim? Why did it happen all over again, the same way?"
The answer suddenly becomes clear to me, crystallizing in my mind with each detail crisp and clear. "Because I had to make my choice, too." I turn him to face me, anxious to make him understand before we are interrupted by strangers. It seems suddenly vital that Sandburg understand what we have been brought here to experience. "You decided something that day at the fountain, Chief. What was it?"
He looks at me in disbelief. "I decided? Me? Jim! *You* almost died here today, and you're still talking about the fountain?"
I squeeze his shoulders hard, trying to force him to comprehend what is now so plain to me. "Because it's all related, Chief! What did you have to decide that day?"
Once released, the words pour forth in a torrent. "To come back! It was peaceful and calm and safe there, Jim, but I had to decide whether to stay. I really wanted to, you know. But I could see you, Jim! I could see your pain, and I could hear your cries, and it tore me apart. It was like I was floating above it all, apart from it all, but I could see everything; I could hear everything. Then I saw the wolf and the jaguar, and I knew it was time, knew I had to make my decision. And when I looked at you, I knew I couldn't go. I couldn't leave you. I wanted to stay with you." His eyes fill with tears at the painful memories, and I draw him close, tenderly sheltering him within my arms. "That was what I had to decide."
"And you made that decision, Chief. Thank God you made that choice." I tighten my embrace, as I pause to gather my thoughts, wanting to be sure that this came out right.
"Today, I made my choice. I felt that peace, too, buddy, but I could also see you. I saw your pain and knew I had to choose. I think we both saw the vision, the wolf and the jaguar, because it's never been just about you or just about me. There's something else at work here, Chief, I'm sure of that now. I think that something, or that someone, is trying to teach us that the choice has always been about both of us. Blair, maybe we both needed to realize that this sentinel and guide interdependence has linked us in a way we never conceived of before." I pull back slightly so that I can see his face. "I've known for a long time that you'd give your life for me, Chief. But it wasn't until that day at the fountain, when I lost you..." I stop, struggling to control the emotions rising within me at the thought of that horrible day. "That I realized you loved me enough to choose to live for me, too. To cross back over that river and come back to me again."
The old familiar look of concentration has appeared as Blair struggles to understand what I'm saying. Then a light flickers on behind his eyes, and a small smile turns up the corners of his lips. "You made the choice to be the sentinel a long time ago, during the vision you had in Peru. You said you had to choose to step off the cliff, to plunge down to the river below. My choice was to stay with you, to spend my life at your side, as your guide. Is that what you decided today, Jim, when you came back? To remain at my side, as my watchman...my sentinel?"
For a moment, words desert me. He understands. How is it that he never fails to understand my deepest thoughts, my most intense emotions?
The voices are closer now, almost at the end of the tunnel. They'll be emerging soon, and this private moment will be no more. Quickly, I hug him close once again and bend down to whisper in his ear. "I've felt since we left Ireland that we had one more lesson to learn here, Chief, one more connection to make. This was it, the final connection. As long as it was only you who had made that ultimate choice, that final decision, then the scale still wasn't balanced. We've both made the choice now. You know I'd die for you; now you know that I live for you, too. My God, Blair, if death can't separate us, what can?"
He burrows deeper into the warmth of my embrace, and I feel his soft laughter as it bubbles upward. "Nothing, Jim. Nothing at all."********************
Our plane departs in two hours. We have cleared customs, and now we sit waiting for our flight to be called. Blair is beside me, thumbing through a National Geographic he bought at the newsstand. I glance at him and smile. Ever since the day at Stonehenge, he has stuck to me like glue, as though afraid to allow me out of his sight. I don't mind. It's the way I felt last year after we came home from the confrontation with Alex in Mexico. I never wanted to let him leave me again, wanted to keep him safely beside me forever.
That's how Sandburg feels about me right now. Protective. He says it's instinctual, this need we have to watch out for each other, to protect each other at all costs. Maybe he's right. It doesn't matter really. The drive is there, we both accept it, and that's what is important.
I study the people passing by. It's fascinating to watch them, busily scurrying to their appointed destinations, like ants hurrying to and fro.
Then, a familiar form catches my eye, and I do a double take. It can't be.
But it is.
She has spotted me, too, and I nudge Blair, nodding toward the approaching figure. His face breaks into a wide grin and he hops up to hug the elderly woman who has joined us.
"Fiora O'Brien!" he shouts happily. "What are you doing here?"
I take my turn hugging the small Irish woman who had begun our trip in such a delightful way and now turns up at its end to brighten our lives once again. "Yeah, Fiora," I ask. "Why are you here in London?"
She straightens her sweater with great dignity and pats at her tidy gray hair. "Yer a fine one to ask, Mr. James Ellison. And you supposed to be back in the United States by now. I am here to visit an old friend, I am. And why is it you are still here?"
We move to a small cafe. Blair does most of the talking, explaining to Fiora all the events that have transpired since we left in Killarney. The ferry bombing...the towns we've visited...the places we've seen. I am content to watch the two of them, one in the twilight of her years, the other, barely having moved beyond his life's dawn. Yet, they are two kindred spirits, and they both draw me in some inexplicable way.
As Blair describes the events at Stonehenge, Fiora listens gravely. Glancing at me for permission, I nod briefly, and he proceeds to explain to her about the jaguar and wolf and their second appearance to us at the threshold of death. She seems unperturbed, and somehow, I'm not surprised.
"Ah, it's a close bond, the bond of the Anam Cara. Yer wolf and jaguar are proof positive of that. Two souls meant to be together, you are, James and Blair." She reaches across the table and takes his hand, holding it gently in her own dry, gnarled one. Her lively green eyes twinkle through her glasses, and her smile is kind. "Yer biggest fear has been that he would abandon you, hasn't it, Blair?" She waits until he nods, his eyes fixed on the table, refusing to rise to meet my own. "Why does it surprise you so that James would not leave you, even in death? He did not abandon you on that ferry boat, now did he? 'Tho it might have meant his own death. You nee d not fear losing him. 'Tis a rare gift you were given, the friendship of Anam Cara. He understands this now, and he will not leave you. Not ever again." Fiora turns to me, taking my hand and placing it atop Blair's. "Is this not so, James?"
Blair's eyes meet mine, waiting for my response. I squeeze his hand and nod, smiling. "It is so, Fiora. Chief, I promise... Not ever again."
His other hand slips over mine to seal the vow.
As we bid Fiora farewell, she hugs me for the last time and whispers to me, "His heart is fragile, James, and he loves you so. Protect not only his life, but his heart, and you will truly be blessed."
Blessed Protector. Anam Cara. Different words with the same truths. Commitment. Friendship. Love.
I nod, almost afraid to risk speaking. Then, with a wave and a smile, Fiora O'Brien disappears into the crowd.
The jet soars through the night, over the dark expanse of ocean. Most of the passengers are quiet, coaxed to sleep by the steady, throbbing pulse of the jet engines.
The seat beside me is empty, and I've been grateful for the extra room to stretch my legs. Blair is curled in his seat, tucked between me and the window. He fell asleep hours ago, undisturbed by any of the noises of the flight crew or passengers. His head dropped to my shoulder long ago, and he gradually shifted in his sleep until he was as close to me as the airline seats will allow. Once, such physical closeness would have embarrassed me. Now, I welcome it.
A flight attendant passes by and glances our way. She smiles at me, a warm look in her eyes at the sight of Sandburg nestled against me. I smile back, then close my eyes to rest.
It has been quite a trip. We've returned Blair's old friend to the land of his birth, discovered a new way of seeing our friendship...Anam Cara...and reaffirmed the indestructibility of our bond. I believe as never before in the wisdom of my heart and the visions of my spirit.
Still unable to sleep, I glance past Blair's sleeping face to the window beyond. There, framed in the glass, is a full moon, shining brightly in the night sky. I feel Blair stir, and his sleepy eyes blink open.
"Hey," he whispers. "You okay?"
"Fine. Look out the window."
His head shifts against my shoulder as he turns. Then I hear him whisper,
"Greetings to you, gem of the night!
Beauty of the skies, gem of the night!
Mother of the stars, gem of the night!
Foster-child of the sun, gem of the night!
Majesty of the stars, gem of the night!!"
He is smiling as he settles back in against me, a soft, gentle smile that touches his eyes with a warm glow in the darkness. Soon, his breathing is steady again, warm against the skin of my neck. As my head rests against his, I focus on that soft breathing, allowing it to soothe me and lull me slowly into sleep.
The gem of my night. Of my life.
By the light of a million stars, the winds carry us home.
Notes: While in the British Isles during the summer of 1999, I took a ghost walk through the streets of York, England. The evening walk was led by a wonderful guide calling herself Mad Alice. She made the old legends and stories come alive, and that evening was a highlight of my trip. I couldn't resist borrowing Mad Alice and letting her encounter Jim and Blair as they travel to York. Alice, if you should ever read this, I hope you don't mind! The story with Amelia was one of Alice's tales, although if she used the child's name, I couldn't recall it. A bit of poetic license led to the name of Amelia. The house with the red door is there, next to the antiques shop, and of course, the Shambles is a wonderful reminder of medieval England. The story about Clifford's Tower is also true.
The day we visited Stonehenge was just as described, except the weather was bone chilling rather than warm. My umbrella was destroyed by the winds that day. I thought at the time what a wonderful setting it would provide for a story. I hope you agree.
The first poem quoted is "Grainne Speaks of Diarmait," Irish, 9th century.
"To the Moon" is traditional Scots Gaelic. (No, Jackie Gleason did not use the familiar phrase first.)
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