The Family Fair
Authors Notes: The first of a series of stories about a new Sentinel and Guide pair in a world that accepts them.
Warnings: AU, SIP (Series in Progress)
Disclaimers: As before, not mine. Just borrowed.
Story One: The Family Fair
Dawn always seemed to come later on the mornings of Family Fairs, even for those who were not taking part. The Family Fair was a tradition with roots so old that no scholar had ever successfully traced them. New adults and those adrift from their previous Families because of death or disaster or disillusionment would come to the Family Fairs in the hopes of forming a new Union. Those who wanted to Head a Family would wear the distinctive Silver Badge and stand forth on a Family Matt. The Matts design would show what kind of Family the potential Head sought, both by size and profession, and those with an interest would come and talk.
Other badge colors signaled to the possible Heads what position was being sought or what job interests a potential family member had: Bright Red for those who wished to take on the roles of Caretakers, acting to make sure that the Familys Home was clean and comfortable. Caretakers also worked with the Familys children, if the Family chose to have them. Green badges signaled those who were willing and wanting to do outdoor work. Yellow signaled a person trained in the various elements of finance and sales, Purple was for scholars and artists, Brown for artisans and those mechanically inclined, and Neon Orange for those looking to work in protective services. Pale pink showed that this was a person still trying to decide. Small symbols next to the badges refined the overall categories, showing the difference between someone willing to upkeep a yard and someone wanting to work a farm, someone wanting to be a healer rather than a soldier or police officer, and someone wanting to travel as a trader as opposed to handling accounts in an office. Those with split interests wore split badges, the multi-colors showing their multiple interests and skills.
Family Fairs were fortnight long events. Even that was a short time for multiple personalities to meet and mesh for a future together. Moreover, the week before the Family Fair, another Fair was held, the Sentinel-Guide Fair. Here new Sentinels and Guides had the chance to meet an array of potential partners. The new Pair would then decide if they wanted to join a Family or not.
For Blair Sandburg, the night before his first ever Family Fair seemed to last forever. Hed been raised by a mother who had been a Registered Single, but hed seen how Families lived, and he wanted a Family. Since the death of his mother when he was sixteen, hed been counted officially as an Orphan Single, the only member of a small, broken Family, alone in the world and, unlike his mother, lonely. He had avoided placement in an Orphanage only because he was a Apprentice with a Mechanical family. Now, he was eighteen.
His training was with mechanical skills, and he left his Apprenticeship able to drive almost any vehicle (land, sea, or air). He was also on his way to becoming a gifted storyteller, a profession much honored among some of the peoples with whom he lived during his mothers travels (and her own profession in fact), if less important here back in his home country of Cascade. He had also recently been tested and found to be a potential Guide, something he found fascinating and desirable. Guides didnt have to worry about being lonely.
On the morning before the Family Fairs Opening Day for Sentinels and Guides, the Sentinels were allowed onto the grounds. Rather than Matts as later used by Family Heads, the Sentinels would set-up in the small cabins, putting their badge colors in the windows, and making a nest for a new bond to form in. Unlike the main Family Fair, little was done here with talking, although the participants would often have friendly exchanges. No, the draw here was much more instinctual. Hopeful Sentinels would sit outside their open doors, and a closed door would signal a new bond being settled.
Waking from a very brief sleep just as sun-up was becoming a possibility at the edge of the sky, Blair immediately put on the distinctive robes of a newcomer to the Family Fair, proudly displaying his new badge, half Purple, half Brown, with the smaller insignia for land, sea, and air vehicles as well as the ones for storytelling and scholarship. The gown itself was pure white, symbolizing his potential Guide status. Excitedly, he left his hotel room and headed for the Fairgrounds, duffle in hand, too nervous to wait for breakfast. Hed stay in the Fair hostel for the next week, unless he Bonded, and, in that happy circumstance, hed stay with his Sentinel in a little cabin. Hopefully his Sentinel would then agree to stay for the actual Family Fair, so that they would be more than a Pair.
Although he wasnt the first potential Guide on the scene, he was the first one there in pure white robes. The other early attendees were wearing the pale yellow robes of the previously Bonded. Two of the women had gold bands on the edge of their sleeves, showing that their Sentinels had died within the first year of their Bonds, and red badges. The third womans badge was a surprising green, and her sleeves had the black stripe of a Broken Bond, signaling that within the first year of her previous Bond she and her Sentinel had quarreled. In fact, she actually had three such stripes. Blair hadnt known it was possible to wear multiple stripes, and he looked at the woman in dismay, feeling more than a little distraught over the idea that he might find a Sentinel and then be rejected. Much of his joy in the new morning faded.
Seeing his shock, the two gold banded women moved to stand between him and the other Guide, protecting her from his emotions and him from dwelling any more on her failures. They introduced themselves and chatted with him, trying to put him back at ease, waiting out the last little while before the gates opened.
A loud bell rang out the imminent opening of the Fair, and suddenly the area was filled with other white-robed potential Guides, surrounded by anxious Family members and solicitous friends, and other yellow-robed Guides as well, most with the gold bands, but a few others with the distinctive and disturbing black. Blair felt again his lone and lonely status and took several deep breaths, trying to calm his nerves. Then the gate actually opened.
Although it hadnt been his original intention, Blair headed first for his assigned hostel and set his bag in his room. He moved to the dining room and took advantage of the pot of coffee set out invitingly. He knew about black bands, of course, it was just disconcerting to see them. Blair didnt think he could stand it if he was black-banded. Many Guides couldnt. So, how could that Guide keep coming back to the Fair?
He decided he was making himself crazy. It was time to head out and see what there was to see. Just because that woman had failed didnt mean that he would.
This was the largest Family Fair in the country; smaller ones were being held simultaneously in distant areas. Most other countries held their Fairs on the same day to avoid both confusion and too much border movement. Joining a Family across borders was all it took to make an immigrant a citizen of his or her new country. All this meant to Blair, however, was that this Fair had almost two hundred cabins, a staggering number of potential Sentinels.
James Ellison, dressed in the dark tan robes of a Sentinel, approached the gate with some trepidation. He knew he was arriving late, not that he had to be there on time, but his lateness signaled his ambivalence, an ambivalence highlighted by the black band on sleeve. Hed come to his first Family Fair with such high expectations, hoping to find a Family to make up for the faulty, failing one that was his birth Family. Apprenticeships with both soldier and healer Families had shown him the potential joys of Family life, and he had come to want that very much.
Almost immediately hed found a potential Guide in a woman named Carolyn. Theyd joined a soldier Family, headed by a man named Norman Oliver, and hed been briefly happy. Then, Oliver had callously sacrificed most of their Family in a mercenary action for unsavory ends. Carolyn had remained completely loyal to Oliver, even with proof that he had been responsible for the deaths of their other Family members, and Jim hadnt been able to see past their betrayals. Although he and Carolyn had been together for almost the full Bonding year, hed snapped the Bond, taken off the jewelry that had been Olivers Family Mark, and drifted until he had undertaken a late Apprenticeship as a police officer.
The Family had allowed him to stay on past his Apprenticeship, and then had introduced him to their Heads birth Family, also police officers. One of his Heads birth brothers had recently returned to their birth Family, his own police Family having been killed by criminals theyd been investigating. Simon had survived because the attack had occurred while he was out testing new firearm equipment. The man was only just starting to come out of his own shock and grief, and he and Jim became friends.
Simon had decided to stand forth with a Silver badge at the next Family Fair. He prodded Jim until he also agreed to take another chance on Family. Such maneuvering behind the scenes was part of what allowed the Family Fairs to work so well. Yes, there was still random chance involved, but there was also history and friendship and planning.
No Family had stepped in and taken up the patrols or division left by the death of Simons first Family, so he had spoken with the town leaders and offered to form a new Family and take the position. Assuming he formed an acceptable Family, the job was theirs, especially as he was almost sure to have a Sentinel this time.
As Jim came in through the gate, he felt it. His Guide was here, somewhere. He remembered the feeling hed gotten from Carolyn, but now he knew that that had been a weak Bond from the start. Hed been young and the attraction had been there, but this? This was incredibly powerful. He could feel his dormant senses springing back on line, and he fought to keep them in balance so that he could claim a cabin and his Guide without the indignity of a zone out at the gate.
Blair was strolling past the first row of Sentinel cabins when he felt it. Something was different. A pretty blonde woman only a few years older than Blair stood up from her seat outside the cabin a few doors down and stared at him. Her tan robe, rather than hiding her body, accented it. He couldnt help but stare and hope that the feeling was coming from her, and then he noticed her sleeve. She was black-banded, an entire series of six stripes marched up her arm. He recoiled, frightened rather than dismayed as he had been earlier with the black-banded Guide, and turned to flee, to escape the woman and his fear.
Almost immediately he ran into a broad, tan-covered chest. Starting to apologize, so that he could continue on his way, he suddenly felt that feeling again, the good one, the strange one, and it was growing stronger. Looking up, he saw a shy smile on the face of the man holding him. The man still had his duffle, a latecomer then, and on his sleeve oh no, a black stripe.