Note: I've never dedicated a story before, but there's a first time for everything. This one is for the memory of my grandfather, who awakened my fascination with Native American cultures when I was a child. I'm grateful to have been given such an intriguing, lifelong interest.
Thanks to Danae for beta reading this one. I appreciate your help so much! To MegaRed, I appreciate your encouragement! You know which scene is for you...
"Sandburg! Get down!" Jim's voice echoed through the warehouse over the screaming sound of bullets cutting the air. Blair felt strong hands at his back, pushing him without warning behind the large shipping containers stacked against the far wall. The concrete floor ripped at his jeans, and he felt his skin burned raw against its roughness. A sudden heaviness pressed his body down and held it there firmly. Hot breath blew aside his curls as Jim whispered to him, "You stay down, right here. I mean it, Sandburg, stay down!" Struggling for oxygen, Blair could only nod. Before he could look up, the heaviness disappeared, he could breathe again, and Jim was gone.
Silence. The guns were quiet; no voices broke the stillness of the starless night. Blair dragged himself to a crouching position at the corner of one of the containers, straining to hear something...anything...that would indicate Jim's position and reassure him that his partner was all right. Nothing. Blair felt the cold fear rising, constricting his heart in its icy grip.
Come on, man. Where are you? You gotta be okay, Jim. Please be okay!
Three quick shots shattered the silence. Jim! Oh, God, don't let it be Jim! A wave of terror washed over him, and Blair almost bolted from his sanctuary, but the commanding tone he remembered in Jim's voice stopped him. Surely, Jim was okay. His partner would be here soon, and they could go home. Together. Safe. Oh, please...
He waited, trying to control the shivering that seemed to spread throughout his body. He knew the tremors weren't only from the cold concrete floor. Nothing frightened Blair Sandburg more than the thought of losing his sentinel, his best friend. Too often he had gone through this same fear, and he dreaded the day when his worst nightmare might come true. Blair could only pray that whatever took Jim's life would take his as well.
The seconds slowly ticked by. I have to move, Blair thought in frustration. I have to find...
"Sandburg? You still back there?"
Blair slumped over in relief and felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Jim knelt down beside him and let his arm wrap around his friend's trembling shoulders. Blair leaned gratefully into Jim's warmth, letting it soak away his fear. Jim was here; everything would be all right now. He felt Jim's arms go around him, pulling him close.
"You okay, Jim?" Blair hated the quiver in his voice, but there it was...no taking it back now.
He felt Jim's nod against the top of his head. "I'm fine, Chief? How about you? Stand up; let me take a look at you."
With Jim's support, Blair got to his feet and dusted off his jeans, inspecting the rips. "Got a few scrapes, I think, but that's it. No hospital this time, Jim." He managed a weak smile at his partner.
Jim Ellison ruffled his hair affectionately. "That's a rarity for you, Sandburg. Those nurses start to worry that you've skipped town if they don't see you in the ER at least once a month. Glad we can disappoint them this time though. If you're okay, I'm going to go fill Simon in on what went down. He can take your statement in the morning. Then we can head for home."
Blair nodded. "Go on. I'm fine. I'll wait outside. Some fresh air sounds good right now." Jim patted his back gently as his
partner stepped away.
Outside in the coolness of the Cascade night, Blair leaned heavily against Jim's old truck, his breath coming in short, uneven bursts. Calm down, Sandburg. It's over. Jim found you, and You're both all right. Breathe slowly...steadily. In and out... In and out... At last, his pulse steadied, and his breathing slowed to a normal rate. By the time Jim emerged from the warehouse, Blair was sitting in the truck, his head leaned back against the glass behind him, eyes closed. He didn't stir when Ellison opened the door.
Jim slid into the driver's seat and started the ignition, glancing over at his partner. "Sure You're okay, Chief?" Concern laced Jim's calm voice.
Blair nodded, eyes still tightly shut. "Fine. Just want to go home. 'kay?"
"We're on the way, buddy. Just relax, and we'll be there before you know it." With another glance at Sandburg's tense features, Jim put the truck in gear and pulled out of the warehouse parking lot.
The ride home was silent. Blair was awake; Jim could tell by his breathing. Obviously, he wasn't in the mood for conversation,
and a silent Sandburg was not a normal Sandburg. That worried James Ellison.
Two hours later, the silence remained mostly unbroken. Except for meaningless small talk over the dinner Jim carefully prepared, Blair remained quiet. While Blair washed the dishes, Jim leaned back on the couch, covertly studying his friend as he pretended to watch an old movie on television. Too pale, too quiet. All right, Sandburg. As soon as the dishes are done, we talk.
Blair drifted into the living area of the loft. He moved over to the balcony door and stood there, silent and withdrawn, staring at the lights beyond.
In a voice so soft only sentinel ears could have heard, Blair whispered, "How did you know I was there?"
Jim switched off the television set, hesitating before replying, "How did I know you were at the warehouse?"
Blair turned to face him. "Right! Nobody knew where I was going to meet Martin about those artifacts. I certainly had no idea they were forgeries, or that the whole deal was going to get dangerous and blow up in my face once I figured it out. So how did you know? How did you show up right in the nick of time...again? Not that I'm complaining...don't get me wrong. But how did you know, Jim?" His crystal clear blue eyes locked onto Jim's, demanding an answer.
No way to hide the truth now. "The panther came to me, Chief. I was at my desk, and he just appeared. He growled at me, and suddenly I got this vision of you, and I...I knew you were in trouble. All the secretary at the university could tell me was that you were going to meet a Mr. Martin about some newly shipped artifacts, but they didn't know where the meeting was taking place. I put out an APB on your car. Luckily, a unit was patrolling down by the docks and called in about ten minutes later. That's how I found you." Jim stopped, his eyes never leaving Blair's, gauging his reaction.
Blair whirled around, pounding his fist against the glass door. "Damn it! I knew it! Damn!"
Jim vaulted up and stood behind his partner. "What the hell is wrong with you, Sandburg? You could have cut yourself with a stunt like that." He grabbed Blair's shoulders, turning the younger man to face him. "You want to tell me what's going on here? What's bugging you, Chief?"
Blair jerked away from Jim's hands, leaving his partner standing alone. He missed the flash of hurt in Jim's eyes as he pulled away from his partner's touch. He paced over to stand by the fireplace, then he moved to sit on the couch. "What's bugging me? I'll tell you, Jim. Why don't I ever see them? Huh? Try explaining that one, why don't you?"
Jim shook his head in confusion. "See what, Chief? I don't think I'm following you here. Slow down, and try to tell me what's going on."
Blair took several deep breaths before continuing. When he spoke, his voice was steadier, more controlled. "The animal guides...the spirits, Jim. Why don't I see them? I'm supposed to be the shaman here, right? So why is it that you are the one who sees the panther and the wolf, not me?" He looked up at Jim through a tangle of curls that had fallen about his face. Blair's confused eyes reminded Jim of a small child who had been denied a special privilege but didn't understand what he had done wrong.
With a deep sigh, Jim sat next to his friend, placing one hand on his knee and squeezing gently. "Sometimes I wish Incacha never passed that title of shaman on to you, Blair. We were doing just fine without it. I don't know why I see the spirit guides and you don't. Maybe you don't need to see them. Maybe you enable me to be the one who does. I frankly don't think it matters."
Blair turned to face Jim. "Don't you see it matters to me, Jim? I've done all this reading about shamans, to learn what my role is, and yet I can't seem to fulfill the most basic requirement...connect to our animal spirits. What am I doing wrong here?" His desperate eyes filled with tears.
Ellison place both hands on his friend's shoulders, dreading the moment when Blair might pull away once again, but this time, the younger man leaned into Jim's arms. Relieved, Jim pulled him close. "You're not doing anything wrong, Chief. I don't have the answers here, but I know it's not anything you've done or not done that keeps you from seeing them. Trust me." He felt Blair relaxing against him, but he still heard the small quiver in his voice when he spoke.
"I need to find out, Jim. This is really important to me...to both of us. I'm so afraid that if I'm doing something wrong...if I should be able to see the spirit guides, but can't...that something could happen...to you... I couldn't handle that, Jim, if you got hurt because of something I didn't, or couldn't, do. I have to find out what's wrong."
Jim tightened his arms around Blair for a moment, then pulled back and looked at his friend. The blue eyes were still worried, but now held a determination that Jim Ellison knew all too well. Once his young friend made up his mind, it was easier to reverse the direction of the tides than to change it. "What are you thinking, Chief? Although, I'm almost afraid to hear the answer."
Blair chuckled, and Jim smiled in relief at the familiar sound. "Nothing dangerous, don't worry."
"Sandburg, with you even the simplest things can turn into dangerous."
Blair swatted him playfully on the arm. "I mean it. Nothing dangerous. I'm going on a vision quest."
At Jim's look of confusion, the younger man continued. "A vision quest. It's an ancient part of Native American and other cultures throughout history. In many Native American tribes, young men go up into the mountains alone, often for three days and nights. They have nothing to eat and only water to drink, and they meditate to find their spirit guide in a vision and to find their true names...their spirit names. I've been reading up on it, and I think it just might be the way for me to finally contact our...or at least my...animal guide. Maybe I can find out why you see them and I don't."
Jim's face reflected his doubts. "Nothing to eat? Alone in the mountains? I thought you said this wasn't dangerous, Sandburg. Sounds awfully..."
Blair interrupted, "I'll be fine, Jim, I promise. I spent some time out in Arizona when I was young with Naomi. There's an old friend there, Sam Begay, a Navajo, who'll help me out. I won't be gone long, a week tops."
"Arizona? I thought you'd go up into the mountains around here. Why Arizona?"
The desperation in Blair's face melted Jim's heart. "I want to make this work, Jim. I figure if I go into the land where vision quests are respected and held as sacred, I have a better chance of...of connecting somehow to the spirits. I've always felt an affinity with the land there. It's a very spiritual place. I feel that it's important that I go back there. Understand?"
His friend's dedication to him never ceased to amaze Jim Ellison. If this was what Blair genuinely believed he had to do, then Jim would support him, all the way. Slowly, he nodded. "I guess so. When do we leave?"
Even though he was touched that his friend would follow him on a mission that Jim clearly had major misgivings about, Blair shook his head. "This time I need to go alone, Jim. You can see the guides. I have to be sure that, if they appear, they're coming to me, not to you."
"I could wait for you with your friend. Blair, I hate for you to do this alone..."
Blair placed his hand on Jim's arm and squeezed. "I'll be fine, Jim. This is just something I know I have to do, and I know I have to do it alone."
"Okay, Sandburg. I surrender. You're on your own on this one," Jim said in resignation. He grabbed the back of Blair's neck and squeezed in mock roughness. "Just promise me you'll be careful, all right?"
Grinning, Sandburg broke free, picked up a small throw pillow and smacked the detective across the chest. "Bully! I'll be careful, I promise."
"That's it, Chief! No respect for your elders. You can start being careful right now by learning to avoid offending those bigger and stronger than you." With a malicious smile, Jim flexed his fingers out in front of him, then grabbed his partner around the waist, pulling him down next to him on the couch.
"No! No tickles, Jim! Not tonight, please?" Laughing, Blair struggled to free himself from Jim's powerful arms, but to no avail. "Uncle! I give! C'mon, Jim, stop!"
Ellison pinned Blair down on the couch with his knees on either side of his partner's body. His fingers roamed Blair's ribs, finding the most sensitive spots with the ease only practice can provide. "No magic words of surrender tonight, Chief. Just take your punishment, and remember the lesson. Never strike your partner, even with a pillow."
Tears of laughter rolling down his face, Blair sputtered, "Just can't take it, huh, buddy? Just remember, the bigger they are, the harder they fall..."
"Oh, that did it, Sandburg..." Jim was interrupted by the sound of a knock at the door.
Simon's voice called into the loft, "Jim? Sandburg? Are you in there?"
"Simon! Help me! Make him quit, please!" Blair called frantically, between giggles.
Jim answered, "What's up, Simon? Use your key. I'm...unavailable...right now!" Blair was twisting beneath him, struggling to get off the couch.
Simon opened the door, chuckling at the scene before him. His top detective had his long haired partner pinned to the couch, tickling his ribs with a vengeance. Trying to control his amusement, Simon walked over beside the couch and told Jim, "I need your signature on these papers, Detective, if you can spare the time from torturing your partner there. Not that he probably doesn't deserve it..."
Blair blurted indignantly, "That's right, Simon, take his side. You really don't know this guy. He's mean, Simon. Really mean." With that, Blair twisted and slid out from under Jim to the floor. He leapt to his feet and scampered away into the kitchen, breathing hard and keeping the table between himself and his too large, too playful partner.
Jim kept one eye on Blair. "Where do I sign, sir?" He signed the papers quickly, then said, "If there's nothing else, Simon..."
The captain grinned. "No, Jim. Nothing at all. Carry on; I'll show myself out."
By the time he reached the door, Blair and Jim were circling around the table warily. Simon shook his head as he closed the door behind him. Blair Sandburg, You're a magician. How else could you have taken temperamental, belligerent James Ellison, and have him eating out of your hand...chasing you around the loft...tickling you, for heaven's sakes? And make him happier than I've ever seen him in the process... Keep working that magic, kid.
As he started down the steps, he heard Blair howl, "Jimmmm! No more, please! I give...I give..." The young man's protests turned into peals of laughter, accompanied by Ellison's deep chuckles. Simon just smiled and went down the steps to his car. He had a sudden desire to stop by his ex-wife's house and see Daryl.
The laughter from the loft continued on into the night.
A week later, Blair Sandburg stepped off the plane in Tucson, looking for the face of his old friend, Sam Begay. He brushed the flyaway curls back from his eyes and looked up to see a man about his own height approaching him. His age was difficult to determine because of the leathery skin earned from a lifetime in the desert sun. His deep brown eyes twinkled as he spotted Blair. He walked up to the young man, a questioning look on his features.
"Blair Sandburg?" The man stopped and studied his face. "It is you, isn't it? I'd recognize that hair anyplace. Still haven't cut it off, have you?"
"Not on your life, Sam," Blair answered with a smile, reaching out to hug the older man. "Not on your life. How've you been?"
Sam Begay smiled, his weathered face wrinkling with the effort. "Just fine, Blair. Been keeping busy with the sheep and all the grand kids. Sorry the family won't be around while You're here. They've gone up north for the clan gathering and pow wow. I've got a lot of dancers in the family, you know, and my oldest is a drummer."
A look of concern entered Blair's eyes. "I didn't keep you from going, did I? I could have come another time..."
Begay waved off his worries with his hand. "No, no. Wasn't planning to go this year, anyway. Someone has to stay home and take care of the animals. My turn this year. Now get your gear, and let's head home. Have you had lunch yet?"
Blair shook his head. "Not yet. They don't feed you on those short flights any more."
"Good. From what I hear, airplane food stinks anyway. We'll stop at Nell's. She has good food. Put some meat on those skinny bones." He pinched Blair's ribs with a smile.
Blair grumbled, "Reminds me of someone else I know. Always tickling."
Sam's old red pickup pulled off the highway in front of a narrow strip of small, dusty buildings. Whatever paint had once graced their exteriors had long ago faded in the hot desert sun. One had a hand painted sign in front designating it at "Nell's: Good Food, Fair Prices." Next to it was a small shop advertising handmade crafts by local artisans. Blair eyed it with interest as they got out of the truck. He twisted his hair back into a ponytail to keep the dry desert wind from blowing it into his face.
"Sam, would you order something for me? Whatever you recommend. I'm going to look in here for a minute. That okay?"
Begay nodded knowingly. "Always the anthropologist. Go ahead. Your food will be ready when you are." He stepped into Nell's.
Blair's eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness of the small shop. The smell of sage greeted him. Wouldn't Jim love that? he thought with a fond smile. Probably be sneezing big time by now. Seeing no one around, he looked at the displays, stopping to admire a hand-woven tapestry on the wall.
"You admire the Yeibichai?" Blair turned at the sound of the voice.
An elderly man peered over the small counter at the rear of the shop. Not much taller than the counter itself, his brown eyes twinkled at Blair. An old cowboy hat covered the top of his head, but not the long, silver hair that fell to his shoulders. Blair noticed the doorway behind him, covered by another woven tapestry, and supposed he had entered the showroom from there.
"Yes, the colors are beautiful. I like the use of earth tones." Blair touched edge of the tapestry in appreciation.
The old man nodded approvingly. "All vegetable dyes. Very traditional. I carry nothing but the best here. Please, look around. I will give assistance if you request."
Blair smiled, "Thanks. My friend is waiting on me next door for lunch, but I'll look around a little first." He wandered to a display of baskets, picking up a large coiled piece. "This is Hopi, right?"
With a smile, the old man nodded. "Yes, it is a mudhead basket. Made by one of the finest of the Third Mesa weavers. These baskets take much time to produce. The materials must be gathered at just the right time of its growing cycle...not too young, not too old...from just the right soil. Willow and yucca are much harder to find now. Most are made by the women. Much time...much time."
Blair ran his hands over the basket in appreciation of the skill applied in its creation. He was sure Jim would enjoy its tactile beauty as well as the detailed designs created by its skillful weaver. "I'll have to take this home for Jim. I'll come back after lunch." He placed the basket back on the shelf and moved to a small display cabinet under the single hanging bare bulb. Its weak glow barely illuminated the contents.
"All right! Fetishes." Blair bent down to study the small figures in the case. Suddenly, his memory flashed back to the very beginnings of his partnership with Jim Ellison as they worked on the Switchman case. Back to a perfume store where he'd mentioned Zuni fetishes to his new partner, only to receive a now familiar, patented James Ellison look of disbelief and humor. Blair had quickly tried to explain the small stone carvings to his newly discovered sentinel. He grinned at the memory. How far they had come...
The old man moved beside him and opened the top. "All Zuni?" Blair inquired.
The man nodded. "With a few Navajo. All the best."
"I can tell. These are exquisite. May I pick some up to look?" At the old man's nod of approval, Blair started to reach into the case, then hesitated with a small intake of breath.
"One speaks to you?" The voice beside him was encouraging. Following Blair's line of sight, he smiled. "Ah, two speak to you. The wolf and the mountain lion. Very strong spirits, those two. You know of fetishes?"
Blair nodded. "Some. I'd like to hear more, though." He gently picked up the black stone figure of the mountain lion...the jaguar...the panther...and cradled it in his hands. Then he took the wolf, carved of gray stone, and held it beside the first figure.
The old man began in a singsong voice. "In the early days of my people, the Asiwi, Zuni as you call us, all animals were once turned to stone by the twin sons of the Sun Father. This was done to save the flooded world with the drying power of fire. But this allowed the predators of the earth to find their weaker prey too easily. To save the people, the Warrior Twins took lightning and turned these animals to stone, keeping their hearts alive and beating within them. The animals were then instructed to be helpers to mankind. When the time came that they should be restored to flesh, some were overlooked by the mighty ones. These stone animals became the first fetishes. They were not shaped by man but were found in nature and recognized by man as the animals they had once been."
"As time passed, my people began carving these stone animals for themselves. These were used for protection, to bring luck in hunting, for healing and fertility, and to gather abundance for the people. Each direction has its own animal...North is your mountain lion; south is the badger; east is your wolf; west is the bear; the zenith is the mighty eagle; the nadir is the mole. A fetish is sacred and must be treated with reverence for the spirit and power it holds and the assistance it can bring unto its owner."
Blair stood mesmerized by the voice and the cold, stone figures in his hand. "The blue line with the arrow running from the panther...I mean the lion's mouth to its belly. That's the heartline, right?" He traced it carefully with his finger.
The man nodded in pleasure at his knowledge. "It represents the spirit of the animal...its life force. This lion is carved from jet by a respected carver. The heartline is turquoise with a coral tip. Your wolf is from Picasso marble. It is carved by his younger brother. On its back are strapped shell and coral tied with sinew. This increases its power."
The old man continued in his musical voice, "The mountain lion is a figure of great strength. Since they are solitary animals, this gives them a sense of mystery. It is this mystery which gives the lion its power, and makes it the most powerful of all animal spirits. The lion, or your panther, spirit is associated with many qualities. Those who possess his fetish believe they may be given these qualities through him. Are you interested in these qualities?" He stopped and looked quizzically at Blair.
Barely able to contain his excitement, Blair replied, "Definitely. Please tell me all you can about the panther and the wolf." His blue eyes danced with the excitement of discovery.
Smiling at the young man's exuberance, the Asiwi went on with his story, "Zuni associate the lion, the panther, with personal power and resourcefulness. The lion brings independence and leadership, a great sense of intuition, the power to lead others, loyalty to friends, and a very fierce protectiveness."
Blair drew in a quick breath in amazement. "That's...that's unbelievable!"
The shopkeeper looked puzzled and asked, "What do you find difficult to believe, my young friend?"
"I have a close friend, my best friend, whose spirit guide is a panther," Blair answered. "Those qualities...they're Jim! Exactly! Please, what are the qualities of the wolf?"
Nodding his understanding, the old man asked, "The wolf...he is your spirit guide?"
Blair smiled and replied, "Yes, my guide is a wolf."
"I see. You, too, have a powerful guide. The wolf is a social animal, very intelligent and curious. It is a cooperative spirit that, when bonded to another, remains committed for life. Is this you, young one?"
Blair was rarely at a loss for words, but the description of the characteristics of the wolf left him speechless. Both spirit animals in the Zuni tradition were perfect matches for the personalities of sentinel and guide. "Yes, that is an accurate description of me," Blair finally answered. "It's amazing!" He smiled and gently touched the figures. "I'll take these now. Plus the mudhead basket."
"They speak to you?" He repeated the question he had asked earlier.
The young man's eyes never left the two figures lying side by side in his palm. "Oh, yes, they speak to me. With great voices."
"It is good," the old man said seriously. "It is very good that they have found their place. We must all find our place, young one, as you have found yours."
Blair looked up in surprise. "Yes, that's true. But..."
The old man chuckled. "Take the fetishes with you. I will hold the basket until your return from your journey. If they do not
assist you with your quest, I will take them back. If they help you find your way, you can pay me when you return. No argument.
The fetishes either belong with you or not. You will let me know. Now, go. Meet your friend. Have a good meal. I will see you
again when your journey has reached its end." With that, the old man took the mudhead basket from the shelf and disappeared into
the darkness of the hidden back room.
"I'll be going into the mountains tomorrow, Jim," Blair spoke into the pay phone outside Nell's. "There's no phone at Sam's and no cell phone towers out there, so I figured I'd call you from here before we left. Everything okay there?"
"Just fine, Sandburg, except for the mountain of paperwork accumulating on my desk. You'll have your work cut out for you when you get back. I'm wading through it, but you know me and reports..."
The laughter from the other end of the phone teased a smile onto Ellison's face. "I know, Jim, I know. I'll help you out as soon as I get back, I promise."
"That's on Sunday afternoon, right?" Jim knew the date, time, and number of Blair's return flight, but he suddenly had a strong need to hear his friend confirm the information.
"Sunday, Flight 504, arriving in Cascade at 3:07 PM. Jim, you know all that. I wrote it down for you by the phone. You sure everything's all right back there? No trouble with your senses or anything?" The hint of concern in Blair's voice was impossible to miss.
"Everything's fine, Chief. Don't worry. You're going out tomorrow, huh?"
"Yeah, Sam's loaning me a horse for the trip. The place he suggested is about five miles from his hogan. He says it was a power spot for him on his vision quest many years ago. He'll take me out there and then come home. I'll head on back after I'm done. Sam says a vision quest has no set time boundaries. It could take a day or less, maybe more. It's so beautiful out here, man, I want you to see it. You'd love this place...all open skies and mountains. Let's come visit Sam sometime, Jim. We could camp out, ride..."
Jim Ellison interrupted his guide's excited voice with a laugh. "Whoa, there, Chief. You don't have to work so hard to convince me. It sounds great. We'll definitely make the trip, I promise. For now, though, you just be careful on your adventure tomorrow, okay? Your Blessed Protector doesn't want to have to make a trip to Arizona right now to rescue your hide, got it?"
Blair thought of the protectiveness of the panther spirit and chuckled softly, "But you would, wouldn't you, Jim?"
He could almost see the fond smile on the other end of the line. "You know it, Chief. Any time, buddy."
"I'll be careful, Jim. I promise. Call you in a few days, okay?"
"Okay. Blair? I hope you find your answers."
Jim heard the sigh that accompanied his response, "Me, too, Jim. Me, too."
Early the next morning, Sam and Blair prepared to mount their horses. Sam's horse was a rangy paint with black and white markings that Sam called Mister. Sam introduced Blair to his mount, Chief, and the younger man couldn't hide the wide grin that spread across his face.
"Like that name, Blair?" Sam inquired curiously.
Blair reached out and stroked Chief's chestnut neck. "Kind of a coincidence, that's all. Jim calls me that. It's his nickname for me." Or perhaps it's confirmation that I'm in the right place, doing what I should be doing, after all.
Sam smiled and finished tightening the cinch on Chief's saddle. Blair had filled him in the previous evening on his work with Detective James Ellison. The affection in his eyes and voice as he spoke of his partner was impossible to miss. Sam nodded, "Then the name is a good one for your horse. It will remind you of home during your journey. It is good you have found a home at last, Blair."
Blair met his old friends eyes across the saddle. "How did you know, Sam? I told you that Jim and I are roommates and partners, but how did you know that I've finally come home?"
The older man's leathery face crinkled with his smile. "Your eyes hide nothing, never have. They reveal what your words do not say about what is in your heart. Your home is with this man, this James Ellison. That is good. You have long needed a home."
After a moment, Blair smiled back, "You still know me well, Sam. You're right, Chief will remind me of home...of Jim. Thanks." Both men swung into their saddles and turned in the direction of the distant hills. Blair wore his long hair loose under his leather hat. In his jeans, plaid shirt, and worn boots, he looked like he had never left the land so many years before.
As they rode, Blair questioned Sam about his knowledge of vision quests.
"They are not always successful, you know. You may not find your spirit animal the first time, Blair. You must be patient and try again. Sometimes the seeker is not ready for the answers. The answers you find may be very subtle...the call of a bird, a small animal that passes by... These may all be signs from your guides and be easy to miss. Time is relative, Blair. The answers may take time to be understood."
Blair shook his head. "I am ready, Sam. I've been ready a long time. I have to find the answers; I have to."
Sam studied his face carefully. The anxiousness stretched across the handsome features like a cloud, darkening his eyes, dimming his smile. "Do not try too hard. Relax and let the spirit come to you, if it will. If you work too hard, the spirit and your answers will elude you."
"I know," Blair agreed. "It's just that this is so important to me, Sam. I hope I can let go enough to allow the spirits come to me."
Sam nodded and looked toward the cliffs ahead of them from the desert floor, shading his eyes with his hand. He pushed his dirty hat back from his face and smiled. "There it is, Blair. It is called Nah-tan Mesa. This means Corn Mesa. The corn is sacred to my people; it is the provider of nourishment, of life. This is where I had my vision quest. I hope it will be as generous with you, my friend."
Blair looked up at the steep, red cliffs rising above them, growing taller and more impressive as they approached. Their color appeared even more spectacular against the vivid blue, cloudless sky above. Very few signs of life appeared on the sheer walls, only a few shrub trees broke the barrenness of the cliffs. Overhead, the shrill call of a hawk broke the stillness.
Sam reined Mister to a halt. "We stop here. Now we climb the rest of the way. There is a trail that will lead us to the cave."
Both men dismounted and ground tied their horses. Sam removed Chief's bridle, slipping a halter over his head. He rigged a line between two small trees and tied the halter's lead line to it. Spreading out a generous supply of hay and placing a large bucket filled with the water he had brought from the stream near his hogan on the ground, Sam dusted off his hands in satisfaction. "He will be fine, now, until your quest is done."
Blair patted Chief's neck before turning to follow Sam up the path along the side of the mesa. "You just wait right here, buddy. I promise I'll be back for you. Be patient."
Trying not to look over the edge of the narrow path, Blair nimbly followed the older man up the trail. It was amazing how quickly Sam scurried over the rocky terrain, considering his age. Blair found he had to concentrate to keep up the pace. Just when Blair knew they must be reaching the very top of the mesa, Sam halted on the path ahead of Blair.
Ahead of them on the left of the trail, a cave disappeared into the mesa. Small shrub bushes clung to life near the entrance. "This is it," Sam declared, approaching the entrance. He took a kerosene lantern attached to his backpack and carefully lighted it, turning the flame down to a comfortable glow. Stopping before the entrance, he placed the lantern on the ground, closed his eyes, and began to chant in a low, singsong voice. Blair moved to stand beside him, closing his eyes, although he did not understand any of the words his friend sang.
After several minutes, Sam stopped and looked at Blair. "I was asking the spirits to bless this place and those who enter into it. I also asked that they might join you on your journey here within."
Blair nodded his thanks. "What do I need to do?"
"Right now, we go inside. Do you have your blanket?"
Blair held out the tightly woven blanket Sam had given him for this purpose. The older man touched it reverently. It had been woven by Sam's grandmother many years before Sam's birth. The design, he had explained, was called the storm pattern. Its vivid colors of dusky red, gray, white, and black accentuated the jagged lines and traditional patterns recalling the lightning and rain of the western storms. Recognizing its craftsmanship and significance to Sam, Blair handled it with utmost care.
"I'm honored that you are sharing your grandmother's blanket with me for my vision quest, Sam," Blair said.
Sam nodded in appreciation. "She would be honored that it is being used for such a noble cause. Spread it on the ground there, in the center of the cave."
Blair followed the instructions. Sam continued, "Did you bring your fetishes?" As Blair held them out, he continued, "First, we must create the ritual circle."
Chanting, Sam began calling out the six directions as he carefully outlined a circle about nine feet in circumference with small rocks from his pack. He and Blair had chosen the rocks carefully the day before, asking each for permission to remove it from its home to form Blair's ritual circle. Blair knew he was to bring them back after his quest was done so that each rock could be returned to its proper place, as tradition dictated. Sam placed the six directional stones first, then filled in with the smaller rocks. When he was done, Sam told Blair, "This is the doorway between worlds. Go ahead and sit down. Then place your fetishes on the blanket in front of you. Sprinkle the corn meal for their nourishment. That is good."
Sam stood outside the circle. "After I leave, your quest is your own. You should first close your eyes and greet the elements surrounding you. Then you may choose how to proceed...dance, sing, chant...sleep only when necessary. Burn your sage. Remember that the signs may be subtle. Being restless or hungry is part of the experience. Acknowledge that and accept your feelings."
Sam paused and studied Blair's face intently. "There is one more thing. If you receive your vision, remember that you should not discuss it in detail with anyone, even your friend Jim. It is yours and yours alone. This may be difficult for you, Blair. You can help him to understand the lessons you may learn, but do not tell what you saw. That would reduce the power of the vision. Do you understand this?"
Seeing the seriousness in the older man's eyes, Blair nodded. "I understand, Sam. I'll remember that, I promise."
Sam smiled, and after placing the lantern within Blair's reach, he turned off the light. "You may relight it this evening, if you wish. For now there is enough light through the entrance. The rest is up to the spirits. I wish you luck on your journey, Blair." With that, Sam slipped from the cave and disappeared back down the rocky trail. A few minutes later, Blair heard hoof beats as Sam and Mister slowly rode away.
He was alone.
Blair began by burning sage in the pottery bowl brought for that purpose. He waved the smoke on himself to cleanse his spirit. He closed his eyes and meditated. Next, he listened to the sounds outside the cave, sounds that seemed amplified by his solitude. The hours passed slowly. Blair grew restless sitting within the circle of stones, so he tried more meditation.
Darkness approached. Blair opened his eyes, surprised at the swiftly encroaching night. He decided to accept the darkness and not use the lantern. Shivering a bit from the cold, he wrapped his extra blanket about his shoulders. He closed his eyes again and began an ancient chant for knowledge learned from a tribe near the Amazon.
The night was long. Looking out the cave entrance, Blair could see a black sky emblazoned with more stars than he could count in a lifetime. He wondered briefly if Jim might be looking at the same stars from the balcony of the loft. A sharp wave of homesickness tightened his heart. He closed his eyes again and tried to clear his mind.
Daylight dawned bright red and clear with the sunrise. Blair's weary eyes greeted the new day with renewed hope. He stood and stretched his tired muscles, walking around his small circle several times, first in one direction, then the other. He repositioned himself on the blanket and waited.
By the time the sun was high overhead, Blair was thankful for the coolness inside the cave that protected him from the heat outside. Sounds became even more magnified. He heard Chief munching hay far below. Some small animal scurried up the red stone cliffs near the cave, sending a shower of stones scattering down the side. The wind blew haunting melodies through the air beyond the small, dark opening that formed the boundary of Blair's universe. Is this how Jim senses the world? Everything so clear...so delineated? No wonder he has to tune down his senses. It must be overwhelming to live like this constantly.
By evening, clouds gathered in the darkening skies. Blair took his first small sip of water, letting it trickle slowly down his parched throat. He stared out at the approaching storm, watching the flashes of lightning as they danced closer across the empty land. He counted the seconds between the flash and the booming thunder, gauging the speed of the approach. Without realizing his own actions, he clutched the small fetishes in his hand, the panther tightly clinched in one fist, the wolf in the other.
By midnight, the storm was in full attack. Blair's bleary eyes were captured by the rhythm of the bright lightning strikes; his hypersensitive ears almost tortured by the crash of the powerful thunder. As the flashes illuminated the scene outside his cavern entrance, Blair could discern the ghostly outlines of the distant mountains in silhouette against the black, cloudy skies. It was a scene from another world, a different place and time. Exhausted, Blair curled on his side, facing the erupting world outside his cave, staring out at the pyrotechnics beyond, scarcely blinking...entranced. His vision began to fade, turning red around the edges, then darker until all sight faded into a vision only of blackness...then another vision began.
The world was bright, clear, and freshly washed. He stood alone on a mountaintop, breathing in the crisp, clean air. Above him, a blur of motion caught his eyes. Looking up, he followed the diving form of an eagle as it plunged toward a lake below. Scooping up a fish in its beak, it soared to the side of the mountain to eat. He could hear the wind ruffling its feathers as it flew.
With sentinel-like vision, he looked at the river that flowed into the lake, hearing the splashing of the water over the rocks, the gurgles it made as it swirled and tumbled. A group of beavers worked busily constructing their dam, their teeth crunching on the wood as they chewed. On the banks, small birds pecked for insects. Below the surface of the river, he could see fish swimming about, hear frogs paddling through the calmer waters, and almost feel the heat the turtles felt sunning on the rocks above.
Blair shook his head in amazement. Ah, Jim! So this is what it's like, man! Why didn't you tell me?
Then he heard the voice.
"What do you see, young one?"
Blair looked about, seeing no one.
"What do you see?"
He hesitated. "I...I see the sky, the mountains, the river, and the animals. But why? Why show me these things?"
Feeling a presence beside him, Blair turned. Before him stood the panther and wolf. As he watched, the panther began to change form. Blair stared at the new image in shock; it was Jim, yet it was not. Dressed as he was in the jungles of Peru, this Jim's eyes held none of their familiar warmth as they gazed, unflinching, at Blair. Blair realized that this figure, despite its resemblance to his friend, was pure sentinel, no cop, no partner, just primal instinct.
The sentinel looked at him curiously. "What do you seek, young shaman?"
Blair met his eyes with determination. "I seek the path of the shaman. I want to know how to be the shaman my sentinel requires."
The sentinel smiled slightly, the merest touch of humor reaching the familiar blue eyes. "What makes you believe that you are not already that which you wish to be?" As he spoke, his hand gently stoked the wolf's head. The animal gazed up at him in absolute trust. As Blair watched, he felt a brief longing to be back in the loft, back with Jim, instead of in the desert seeing visions sent to teach him lessons he was almost afraid to learn.
Blair blurted out without thinking, "Because you... I mean, Jim sees the spirit animals, and I don't. There must be something wrong there. I mean, if I'm the shaman, why don't I get the visions...see the animals? I want to know what I'm doing wrong!"
Suddenly, they were standing on the edge of the mountain, looking down at the prolific scene below. In the back of his mind, Blair realized with a vague curiosity that he wasn't afraid of the height and the sheer drop right before him.
"Tell me what you see," the sentinel demanded, the wolf still close at his side.
Blair looked down again. "Animals...hunting, building, swimming. The river flowing. The clouds floating by. All the beauty of nature."
Nodding, the sentinel looked pleased. "Do you see the eagle building a dam? Or the fish soaring through the sky, young shaman?"
Blair couldn't hold back a smile. "No, of course not."
"And why not? Why do they not do these things?"
"It...it is not their place, their destiny. Each performs the role expected of them."
Again the sentinel nodded in agreement. "And why do they have these roles, these destinies?" He stroked the wolf's head again as he waited for Blair's response.
Blair considered carefully. "For balance. Each fulfills a need for the good of the whole."
"You learn fast, Ankaree. I am pleased." The sentinel's smile reflected his approval.
Blair looked confused. "What? Why did you call me 'Ankaree'? What have I learned?"
The figures of the wolf and sentinel shimmered in the sunlight, gradually fading away. "Your true name is Ankaree which means One Who Interprets. As for what you have learned, time will tell, young one, time will tell." And they were gone.
Blair awoke with a start. The morning sun was shining brightly into the cavern, casting its rays upon the brightly woven blanket. He sat up, stretching his cramped arms and legs cautiously. Unclenching his fists, Blair carefully placed the fetishes of the panther and wolf on the blanket in the cornmeal prepared for them. Then, for the first time, he left the circle of stones.
His mind racing over all he had seen, Blair gazed out the cavern entrance toward the vista before him. No clouds broke the sea of azure above. The earthy colors of the mesas led his eyes upward toward the heavens. Below, Chief quietly dozed in the warming sun of morning.
Suddenly, a loud cry broke the stillness. Looking upward, Blair followed an eagle as it soared on invisible currents high above the earth. It cried again and began a swooping dive toward the very mesa on which Blair stood. Just as it reached the crest of the mesa above Blair's cave, the eagle pulled up and climbed again, its triumphant cry echoing across the land. As quickly as it had appeared, the magnificent bird was gone.
The rest of the morning found Blair pondering the interpretation of his vision. After eating a mid-afternoon lunch of cold biscuits and jerky, he saddled Chief and rode out among the mesas. As he relaxed into the horse's rocking rhythm, Blair's mind turned back to the vision. What have I learned? The animals all have their own destiny to fulfill for the benefit of the whole. How does that affect me? Especially me as Jim's shaman? And my name, Ankaree... How am I an interpreter?
His frustration mounted. The wind picked up and clouds began to gather in the darkening sky. Suddenly, the rain began to beat down in pounding sheets. "Yeahhh!" Blair shouted to the wind,to the rain, to the questions that haunted him. He kicked Chief forward, and the horse broke into a quick canter, then a full gallop.
He bent low over the horse's striving neck. His hat blew off, and the long, curly hair blew back in the wind. The rain stung his face like tiny slivers of glass. Blair closed his eyes and anchored his fists on each side of the muscular neck. Chief's mane whipped his cheeks, breaking the path of the tears that flowed from his clenched eyes. The rhythmic hoof beats pounded in his ears, echoing the beating of his own racing heart. In the distance, he heard the thunder rolling across the desert, an ancient drumbeat from another time, another place. They ran on.
Why do I think that I am not already what I wish to be? What am I? Who am I? I am...I am Jim's guide. That much I know is truth. Am I also already his Shaman? Jim believes that he sees the animal spirits through me. Can that be true? Is that my place then, to be the pathway for them to come to Jim?
Chief galloped on, the sheets of rain pounding down on the horse and the figure hunched over his back, urging him onward. Blair shook his head, flinging droplets of rain back into the wind. He sat straighter now, his eyes opened to the gray, wet, beautiful land surrounding him.
The eagle hunts. That's his place...his destiny. If I am already Jim's shaman, what other roles do I have? He often doesn't understand what the visions tell him...I seem to be able to do that. Am I the interpreter of his visions? The one who clarifies, makes sense of the message? Yeah... Maybe I don't need to see the panther...the wolf...but Jim does. He needs that visual confirmation to believe. I don't. Yeah!
The rain was coming down faster, harder. As if to keep time with the rain's pounding rhythm, Chief galloped even faster over
the desert earth. Blair shook the wet curls off his face and lifted his head upward into the downpour, opening his mouth to drink
in the precious moisture. A bolt of lightning flashed, violently lighting the darkened desert sky for an instant. Dropping the
reins, Blair raised his arms triumphantly over his head, rising tall in the stirrups. His excited voice rolled clearly across the
land, accompanying the deafening roll of thunder, "I am a Shaman! I am Ankaree!"
Two days later, Sam stopped the old pickup truck in front of Nell's. "I'll go in and visit with Nell for a few minutes, Blair. You head on and tend to your business." He nodded toward the craft shop.
Blair smiled and promised, "I won't be long. We've got a long drive to the airport." He stepped into the small shop.
A few candles helped the bare bulb illuminate the showroom. "Anyone around?" Blair called out. A few moments later, the woven rug covering the entrance to the back room moved, and the old man stepped out. He smiled broadly at the sight of Blair.
"Ahhh...The young one returns. Your journey was successful, I hope."
Blair nodded. "Very much so. It was...intense."
The Asiwi nodded wisely. "As it should be. The fetishes belong with you now?"
"Definitely. I think they were a big part of what happened, of what I saw. How much do I owe you for them and for the basket you've kept for me?" Blair reached into his hip pocket for his wallet.
The old man figured in a small notebook. At last, he passed it over the counter to Blair. "Most of the price goes to the artists. They will be pleased to know their work has found such a worthy home."
"It has," Blair answered. "A most appreciative home." He counted out the money and handed it to the shopkeeper. From under the counter, the man produced a wrapped package and placed it on the countertop.
"Remember to treat your fetishes with honor, and their power will assist you," he reminded Blair.
"I won't forget," the younger man promised. "Thanks for all you've done."
The ancient Asiwi nodded solemnly. Blair gathered his carefully wrapped basket and stepped out into the sunlight.
At the airport, Sam stopped the truck to unload Blair's belongings. He glanced at his watch. "You should be right on time, Blair. Before you go, I want you to have this." Sam pulled out a colorful blanket from the back of the pickup.
"That's your grandmother's blanket, Sam. I...I can't accept that. It's too valuable to your family," Blair protested.
Sam shook his head. "My grandmother was a productive weaver. We have many of her creations to treasure. This one is special for you. It protected you during your vision quest. Its Storm pattern may have played a part in what you saw. It is yours." He held the beautiful blanket out expectantly.
Blair brushed his hand carefully over the vivid pattern, then took it into his own hands. "Thank you," he said simply.
Sam nodded his acceptance. "Now, let's get you on that plane. I think there is someone who is anxious to have you back home." Blair nodded, smiling at the thought of being reunited with his sentinel. There was so much to tell Jim.
As Blair stepped into the terminal from the plane, he eyes immediately located the tall figure of Jim Ellison striding toward him. His face broke into a huge grin, and he hefted his duffel bag onto his shoulder. He stopped in front of his friend, and their eyes locked. Jim knew immediately that something had changed within his guide. There was a new confidence, a new peace, radiating from Blair's bright blue eyes.
"You did it, didn't you?" Jim said softly.
Blair nodded. "I...I'll tell you about it later. It's a long story, Jim, and there'll be some parts I can't share, not without weakening the power of the experience." Blair searched Jim's face to be sure that he understood. His friend smiled and threw an arm over his shoulders. Blair leaned into Jim's one armed embrace, enjoying the familiar closeness and sense of belonging, of coming home, as they walked toward the baggage claim area.
"We've got time, Chief. All the time you need," Jim said with a smile. "to tell me whatever you can about what happened to you
out there. I'm just glad You're home. Safe and sound."
The night had turned off cooler than forecast, so Jim started a fire in the fireplace. Handing the sentinel a cup of hot chocolate, Blair settled in beside his friend on the couch, slowly sipping from his own mug of steaming sweetness. Blair gazed steadily into the flames for a long time. Jim sat silently beside him, content to wait until his friend was ready to share his experiences.
At last, Blair reached out, taking Jim's hand in his own. He placed two stone figures in his friend's palm, closing his fingers around them. Jim took the objects and studied them carefully, admiring the finely detailed craftsmanship and the significance of their shapes.
Finally, Blair spoke in a quiet, reverent tone, "It all started with a panther and wolf..."
Return to the Perception Series
The Story Behind the Story: I have been interested in Native American culture since I was a very young girl. I spent summers with my grandparents in Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina, where they ran a seasonal antiques business. It was in that beautiful area where I began learning about the Cherokee people. Since then, I have collected the crafts of various tribes, including baskets, pottery, jewelry, and fetishes.
When I recently added a mountain lion and a wolf fetish to my collection, the concept for this story was born. When I read the qualities associated with both fetishes, I was amazed at the connection with the personalities of Jim and Blair. That's when I knew this story had to be written. I had forgotten the reference to these fetishes in the Switchman episode until I watched it again, well after writing the story. Amazing...
I have done quite a bit of research to make the vision quest scene and the story of the fetishes as accurate as possible. There is quite a bit of variation in descriptions of vision quests, depending on the culture. I tried to create a composite of several of these. To anyone with more knowledge than I, please forgive any inaccuracies that may have occurred. They were certainly unintentional, and no disrespect for tradition was intended.
Two books were particularly helpful in my research. The first is Quest: A Guide for Creating Your Own Vision Quest written by Denise Linn. The second is Native American Fetishes by Kay Whittle. The latter contains beautiful photographs of fetishes by some of Zuni's most respected carvers. If you are interested in either book, I can send the ISBN numbers and publishers upon request.
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Jet.
Back to JET's page.