A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY (III)

By Frieda W. Landau

 

 

 

It was time to start the preparations for the birth rituals. Mayan gathered what she needed. Just as she was about to leave her quarters, the door chimed. It was Sheridan, looking as though he hadn't gotten any sleep either.

   "I hope I'm not disturbing you. May I come in?"

   "Of course," Mayan responded. "Please, sit down." She indicated a chair in the sitting area and took a seat opposite. "I'm sorry you had to sleep on the couch last night. You should have awakened me," she said.

   "That's OK. Lately, I've spent a lot of nights sleeping on that couch," Sheridan told her.

   "These last few weeks, Delenn's been very restless at night. The baby keeps waking her.

   If Delenn's asleep when I get home, I try not to disturb her." He smiled wryly. "Of course, she then accuses me of being selfish by sleeping when she cannot!"

   "I am pleased you are here. I was just coming to see you. Part of the birth ceremony requires the participation of the father," Mayan explained.

   "When do you want me to come?" he asked.

   "The usual time is after the purification rites, but if that is inconvenient for you...."

   "I'll make it convenient," Sheridan responded firmly. "Delenn wants to do this properly, and so do I. So just tell me when and where. Our son will have enough problems without his dad messing up his very first ritual." Sheridan grinned and Mayan laughed.

   "Mayan," Sheridan was serious now. "Delenn had a nightmare last night, didn't she?"

   "Yes, but how did you know?"

   "I recognized the signs this morning. She's been having nightmares regularly now for the last three months. When I ask her about them, she says she doesn't remember and changes the subject."

   "That is what she told me last night," Mayan said. "I did not think I should question her further at the time."

   "Mayan," Sheridan said earnestly, "Delenn is greatly troubled about something. She won't tell me what is the matter. Perhaps she will tell you. Will you try to find out? If it is something she does not want me to know, for whatever reason, I can accept that, so long as I know she will be all right."

   "Of course, I will try to help," Mayan told him. "But it is probably just worry over the baby. Pregnancy is not an easy time for females, human or minbari."

   "Or for fathers." Sheridan's smile was rueful. "Delenn doesn't know I know, and since she doesn't want me to know, please don't tell her. But I'm aware of her fear that the mixture of minbari and human DNA will produce some sort of freak. That's nonsense, of course."

   "Of course," Mayan agreed.

   "Delenn has a mixture herself, and she's fine. Besides, the doctors have done every conceivable test and they assure us our son is perfectly normal."

   "There, you see," Mayan said relieved. "That is probably the cause of her bad dreams. And she doesn't want to talk about them because she is embarrassed about her irrational fears."

   "I wish it were as simple as that," John said. "I've learned enough Adronato so that when she talks in her sleep, I know there is something else wrong." He leaned forward. "Delenn is afraid of something. Something in her past she's done or hasn't done. She's not always easy to understand when she's screaming in her sleep."

   "I will see what I can do." She stood up. "I was just going to prepare the nursery for the ceremony. Perhaps I can persuade Delenn to talk to me."

   Sheridan walked to the door. Before leaving, he held out his hand to her. "Thank you, Mayan. It just kills me to see Delenn suffering like that. I keep feeling there must be something I can do or say to help her, but I don't know what. All I can do is hold her until she falls asleep again. She won't let me do anything else."

   Mayan shook the proffered hand. She watched, thoughtfully, as Sheridan walked away.

   The man was very worried. Was it just the reaction of an overanxious father-to-be, or did he have real cause for concern? She did not know him well enough to be sure.

   Mayan found Delenn in the nursery, rearranging the pictures on the wall. "Since you are in a decorating mood," Mayan said laughing, "you can help me prepare for the purification of the room."

   Delenn, looking a bit sheepish, took a handful of candles from Mayan's basket and started to insert them into the newly purchased silver holders. Mayan placed fragrant bundles of flowers and herbs around the room and under the crib. As they worked, the women discussed the details of the upcoming ceremony.

   "Have you and John chosen which clan members will be responsible for teaching your child the customs and rituals of the two clans?"

   "You know that humans do not have clans the way we do, don't you?" When Mayan nodded, Delenn continued. "I explained to John that although our son will become a member of my clan, he will be expected to know about his father's side of the family also. John thinks his sister Elizabeth and her husband would be best suited for that role."

   "Very well. And what about the choices from your clan?"

   "I have decided that there is only one logical choice. Lennier." Delenn raised her hand to stop Mayan's response. "I know he is not a member of my clan, but in the distant past, Chudomo was a fane of my clan, so technically, the choice is permissible. And it would please me to have Lennier instruct my son."

   Mayan sighed. "I cannot argue with that. Now, who is the female you have chosen?"

   "Delenn smiled. "Do you really have to ask, Mayan?"

   Mayan started to speak, stopped, looked at her friend, and finally said, "Oh no, Delenn. You're not serious. Are you? Besides, I'm only adopted into your clan."

   "That does not matter. When you chose the religious caste, my clan gave you all the rights and privileges of membership. It is time you assumed some of the responsibilities." Delenn could not hold her stern expression. She smiled and said,"You know there is no one else I would choose. It will not be a burden, I promise."

   Mayan sighed again. "I suppose I knew all along you would choose me. Thank you, my friend. It will be an honor to instruct your son." She bowed.

   "Now, we must wait until the candles have burned out before we can continue," Mayan said on the way back into the main room. "Later, I will go to Medlab and prepare the birth area. Have you told Doctor Franklin to expect me?" At Delenn's nod, Mayan continued. "That is all that is necessary today. Tomorrow, we will hold the ceremonial meal for the father and mother.

   "And now, since I will be a participant in a portion of the rites, as well as the facilitator, you are going to have to loan me the proper robe. I did not bring anything suitable."

   Delenn hugged her and led her to the wardrobe in the bedroom. "Choose whatever you like. If there is nothing suitable, we will purchase a new robe for you."

   "That won't be necessary. I'm sure I'll find something in here." Mayan, with Delenn's help, finally chose a simple white robe trimmed in gold and red. Before she closed the wardrobe, Mayan pulled out a black garment, unlike any she had ever seen. Puzzled, she held it out to Delenn.

   "It is a human garment, Mayan, called a little black dress."

   Mayan held the dress against herself. "Well, it is little, and it is black, but a dress? What do you wear under it, or over it? And why is the lower portion ripped along a seam?"

   "It is worn as is. There is no underdress or overdress." Delenn was amused at Mayan's expression. "And that split is deliberate, to show off the legs of the wearer." Mayan's eyes widened and Delenn laughed. "Really. Humans have differing ideas of what is proper. I would model it for you, but I do not have the shape for it at the moment."

   "I cannot picture you in such a garment." Mayan shook her head. "Surely, your mate does not approve of you wearing it."

   "John loves it. Wait, I will show you a still taken the last time I wore that dress." Delenn rummaged in a drawer of the bureau until she found a small folder. Inside was a color photo of Sheridan and Delenn at what appeared to be a social function. Sheridan wore civilian dress that nevertheless looked ceremonial. He was smiling at Delenn in open admiration and adoration. Delenn was grinning, obviously pleased with herself. Mayan did not know what to make of it. The Delenn in the still was a stranger to her. She looked completely human. Mayan looked from the photo to Delenn and back again.

   "It is still me, Mayan," Delenn told her. "But sometimes, I like to take advantage of my human side, and although it is very vain of me, it pleases me when human males look admiringly at me. And it pleases John."

   Mayan returned the dress to the wardrobe. "Perhaps, that is not so surprising. You were always vain about the shape of your headbone, as I recall. Now, let us check the nursery. It is time for the next step."

   Mayan carefully collected the burnt-out candles and wilting flowers, wrapping them in a cloth she took from her basket. Chanting a brief prayer, she placed the bundle in the waste disposal unit of the apartment. She returned to the nursery with two pure, white tapers atop two crystal holders, each one meter high. These she placed at each end of the foot of the crib. She lit the candles at the same time Delenn turned on the artificial daylight in the alcove above the head of the crib. The crystals on the shelves refracted the light, spilling a rainbow of colors onto the crib, which in turn, was reflected by the crystal candelabra, until the whole was bathed in soft jewel tones. Mayan called upon Valen to bless and guide the soul that was about to be born, the soul that the light of the Universe welcomed with glowing colors. She raised her arms to the light and ended her chant on a note of triumph and exaltation.

   Dropping her arms, suddenly weary, Mayan turned to find Delenn standing nearby, tears streaming down her face and a joyful smile on her lips.

   "Oh, Mayan," Delenn gasped. She paused to catch her breath. "Thank you for doing this for me. I shall remember this moment, always."

   "I am honored to serve you," Mayan said formally, blinking back the tears in her own eyes. "Let the candles burn down until all the wax is gone before you turn off the light. And do not put anything into the crib until you place your son inside it. You know the prayer to say then?" Delenn nodded. "That is all for now," Mayan concluded. "I will go to Medlab in a little while. Right now, I could use a cup of tea."

   "I will make it while you rest," Delenn said. "Come, sit down. You look weary!"

   Mayan set her empty cup on the table between them. She looked at her friend for a moment and then casually said "You know, Delenn, Sheridan is not at all what I expected."

   Delenn smiled. "Oh? And what did you expect?"

   "He does not seem to fit the picture of 'Starkiller' painted by the warrior caste. There is something gentle about him. Especially where you are concerned. Yet, the strength of will is there. Do you know, he reminds me a little of Dukhat!"

   "Only in the beard," Delenn laughed. "But you are right. They do have some of the same qualities, at least in diplomatic skills. Dukhat would have appreciated the way John maneuvered the League worlds into granting the White Star Fleet permission to patrol their borders. I told you about that, didn't I?"

   Mayan nodded. "I would like to get to know your mate. He is an interesting man. Even if he is not my type. And he loves you very much."

   "Yes. And I love him. More than I ever thought possible. I am incomplete without him." Delenn paused to look thoughtfully at Mayan. "What is it, my friend? What do you really want to know?"

   "Everything, of course!" Mayan laughed nervously. "But not today." Delenn continued to look at her until Mayan said "Oh, all right! I am curious about something. You said there was something missing in your love for Branmer. Did you find that missing piece?"

   "Yes, at the moment I met John."

   Delenn paused to collect her thoughts. She regarded Mayan as if determining how much to tell her. Her decision made, Delenn began. "I met John at the first station Council meeting I attended after my transformation. Only Lennier and Doctor Franklin had seen me since I emerged from the Chrysalis. I entered the Council chamber robed and hooded in white and stood before the new commander of Babylon Five. I pushed back my hood and looked into the eyes of Sheridan Starkiller. And saw my own soul. I am not speaking figuratively, Mayan. I gazed into the eyes of our people's worst enemy and saw my soul! Fortunately, John was so astounded at my appearance, he did not notice my confusion.

   "I did not understand. The prophecies said we would unite with the other half of our souls, but this seemed absurd. Who was this man? I determined to find out. And the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to learn. Our hearts and minds were joined long before we realized it. To this day, neither of us can say for certain when we fell in love. But I did not understand how I could see my soul in him until we joined our bodies for the first time." She laughed then.

   "Is your mate so amusing in bed that even the memory makes you laugh?" Mayan asked.

   "What? Oh, no. I was just thinking. I have had two d'ar'sha'Na. One in each body. But the temple masters would be scandalized by the circumstances of my second 'first time'." Delenn paused to sip at her tea.

   "Oh?"

   "Yes," Delenn said. "There was no purification, no solemn prayers and rituals, no ceremonial chamber, the first time with John. Only the two of us. It wasn't even planned; it just happened." She grinned. "Actually, there was an amusing aspect. John didn't realize why the membrane was still intact. He was so afraid that he would hurt me or do something wrong, until I told him I was inexperienced only in this body.

   "I knew what to expect this time, what feelings I would have. Or so I thought." She paused again, this time for thought. "I do not know if I can explain it to you. When our bodies joined, I felt as though a part of me that I didn't know was missing, was returned. That now I was whole. John told me later, that it was the same for him."

   "You are very fortunate," Mayan said softly.

   "Yes. I know."

   "Then why are you having nightmares, Delenn? What is wrong?"

   Delenn abruptly stood up. "Isn't it time for you to go to Medlab for the next part of the rites?"

   Mayan started to say something, saw the look on Delenn's face, and just nodded. As she walked with Delenn to the door, Mayan said, "Don't forget the ceremony with Sheridan tomorrow. You will both have to be purified beforehand. You know what to do? Good. I will see you tomorrow then." She walked out without waiting for Delenn's response.

   Mayan awoke early after another restless night. It was just as well. She had a lot of work ahead of her, preparing for the evening's ceremonial meal. She had brought the main ingredients from Minbar, not trusting the station markets, but she still had to purchase a few perishable spices and herbs. That, and the purification and blessing of the special utensils would occupy the whole morning.

   Four hours later, Mayan rang the bell of the Sheridan apartment. When there was no response, she let herself in. Delenn thought it best, what with all the preparations and rituals, that Mayan have access to the apartment whenever necessary.

   Mayan placed the food and utensils on the counter. Softly reciting the proper prayers, she worked quickly, yet methodically. An error now meant she would have to start over. But at least, thank Valen, the meal could be prepared in an afternoon, and not the more usual two or three days.

   As she worked, Mayan thought about that evening's ceremony, the only one which involved the father of the child. Sheridan was eager to take part, to perform the rituals correctly. She wondered if his knowledge of Minbari tongues was sufficient. Probably not. She would conduct the rites in English, then, which meant she would have to give some thought as to the correct translations. English was such an imprecise language. But she would make the effort, as much for Sheridan's sake, as Delenn's.

   Mayan recalled the other night, when Sheridan, over her protests, insisted on escorting her back to her quarters. She had expected an uncomfortable half hour or so with the tense, ill at ease man who greeted her when she arrived for dinner. Instead, she found herself chatting with an easy familiarity to the genial mate of her best friend. They had talked of Delenn, of course, but also, to her surprise, of other interests they had in common. She had told the truth to Delenn when she said she would like to know Sheridan better.

   Preparations completed, Mayan set the main dish into the oven to bake slowly. The rest of the meal would be cooked just before serving. She left a note reminding Delenn not to open the oven and let herself out of the apartment. She still had much to do before she could return to her own quarters and prepare herself for the ceremony.

   Mayan returned to the Sheridan apartment an hour before the rites were to begin. Delenn and Sheridan were running late. They still had to perform a ritual cleansing. Mayan told them to get on with it while she finished cooking and set the special table. As she worked, Mayan could hear splashing noises and muffled laughter. She should be somewhere else. She did not want to hear the sounds of lovers at play. For a moment, she felt a sharp stab of pain. Then, something that had been clenched and tight in her chest relaxed and the pain eased. She could not begrudge her friend the joy of a happy mating. Nonetheless, she was relieved when all she could hear was Delenn's voice raised in prayer.

   When Sheridan and Delenn, robed in white, emerged from the bedroom, Mayan bowed and led them to a low, three-sided table. While they settled, cross-legged, onto the floor cushions, she lit the candles on the table and poured a dark red liquid into handleless crystal cups. She next placed in the middle of the table, a silver platter that held three shallow crystal bowls. Mayan chanted rythymically in the formal religious tongue as she consecrated the meal. She then picked up one of the crystal cups and indicated the others to do the same.

   "This is the juice of the fruit eaten at the mating rebirth ceremony," she explained in English. "Here, it signifies the joining of your blood to create a new life. Taste of it and remember that the child was conceived in joy." Delenn took a sip and closed her eyes as she savored the flavor. John, after a moment's hesitation, did the same.

   Mayan lifted one of the bowls. She showed them the crisp, yellow leaves inside and chanted another prayer. Handing them each a piece, she told them to chew it slowly. "This cabbage like vegetable has a sharp, peppery flavor. It grows on mountainsides, in cool climates. This next bowl contains a spongy root that is found in low, moist places. It has a slightly bitter and salty taste." She bade them taste it, which they did.

   The third bowl contained a round loaf. Mayan cut into it to reveal a creamy, white interior under the dark crust. She served a piece to John first and then to Delenn. After a brief blessing, she told them to eat it slowly, pausing between each bite to consider the different textures and flavors.

   "The loaf you are eating tastes sweet, with a texture that is smooth on the tongue. It is unlike the other two dishes. Yet, it is made from the root and the leaf, combined with a few seasonings," Mayan told them. "It is to remind you that although the child was created from the joining of your bodies, the child is a new and unique creation, separate from you."

   When they finished, Mayan told John and Delenn to stand facing each other. "Delenn, place your left hand on your stomach and your right hand on your mate's heart. You, John, place your right hand over Delenn's on her stomach, and your left hand over her heart. Yes, like that. Good. You are two, soon to be three. But you are also one, joined in heart and blood. Never forget that." Mayan chanted one final prayer in the ancient tongue and then bowed.

   "The rest of the meal is more informal," she said when they were seated at the table once more. "I have prepared a variety of dishes I think you will enjoy. While we eat, we will celebrate the imminent arrival of the new life."

   The following days were busy ones for Mayan. Although she was performing the birth rituals for Delenn, she did not see much of her during this time. Most of the prayers and ceremonies for this phase were performed in the small station temple without the presence of the mother. Mayan, upon the advice of Anla'Shok Kendrick, enlisted the aid of two Minbari female Rangers since Delenn's human friends were unavailable to complete the prayer cycle.

   Four days after the ceremonial meal, Mayan went to the Sheridan apartment to start the preparations for the last stage before the birth. Getting no response to her ring, Mayan let herself in and went to the small wall shrine to Valen. She lit the two blue candles provided, and filled the silver filigree incense burner. As the spicy-sweet odor of cinnamon and cardamon fill the room, she asked for Valen's blessing and guidance for the successful performance of the rites. She chanted a few prayers and then stood in silent meditation for a minute. After chanting one final prayer, she made the sign of the triluminary and bowed.

   Mayan removed three silver and crystal candle holders from the ornamental storage chest in the corner and fitted a thick, white candle, designed to burn for a full Minbari daily cycle, in each. Until the birth, these candles would be replaced daily. She walked to the nursery to position the candles. This was the last rite she had to perform before the birth. Mayan gave a small sigh of relief. This was the first time she had ever been in charge of a birthing ceremony. But so far, thank Valen, everything had been done correctly.

   Mayan had just lit the third candle when she heard a faint whimper behind her, like the sound of a small animal in pain and distress. Startled, she turned toward the sound. The light of the candles revealed Delenn sitting in the rocker in the far corner, arms hugging her middle, her head bent low. Mayan saw that her friend's face was streaked with drying tears, her eyes red and raw.

   "Delenn! Are you all right? Is it time? Shall I call the doctor? Can I do anything?"

   "It is too late," Delenn said bleakly. "There is nothing anyone can do."

   "I don't understand, Delenn. What is too late?" Mayan gasped at the look of complete despair on Delenn's face. "Please, Delenn, you are frightening me. In Valen's name, what is the matter?"

   Delenn laughed harshly. "In a few days, a week at most, I shall be delivered of a son. What could possibly be the matter?" She laughed again and then began sobbing.

   Grabbing her shoulders and shaking her, Mayan said "Stop it, Delenn. You are out of control." As Delenn continued crying, Mayan knelt beside her. She put her arms around her and held her until the sobs quieted. Finally, Delenn nodded when Mayan asked her if she was all right now.

   "I am sorry, Mayan. I did not mean for you to see me like this." She paused to catch her breath. "It is all these human hormones. They play havoc during pregnancy." She smiled faintly.

   "That may be," Mayan responded. "But that is not why you were hysterical. Don't you think it is time you told me what it is you fear?" Mayan held her eyes, not allowing Delenn to look away.

   Delenn sighed and at last said, "Yes. You are probably right." She sighed again. "I should not be having this baby. I should never have allowed myself to become pregnant."

   "The doctors have assured you there is no problem. The baby is healthy and so are you," Mayan told her firmly.

   "That is not the problem."

   "Then, in Valen's name, what is the matter? I want the truth."

   "Mayan, throughout my life I have held many titles: satai, ambassador, Entil'Zha, head of the Interstellar Alliance Advisory Council. I can govern a people, negotiate a treaty, command a warship in battle. I have been trained in many skills. All but the one I most need now. And that lack terrifies me." She stopped abruptly.

   "Delenn," Mayan asked, trying to conceal her exasperation, "Are you deliberately trying to be obscure?"

   "You wanted the truth. I am trying to explain." Delenn rose from the rocker and walked over to the crib. "In a little while, my son and my husband will discover I am unfit to be a mother. How can it be otherwise? I have no training. I do not even have my own mother to use as a model." She began pacing. "I cannot bear the thought of John's pity when he finds out."

   "Delenn, come with me," Mayan said firmly, taking her hand and leading the way out of the nursery. "Now sit on the couch and we will discuss this sensibly."

   "There is nothing to discuss," Delenn said. Nevertheless, she sat as Mayan took the chair opposite.

   "Why have you not told your mate about these fears?" Mayan asked.

   "I told you why," Delenn snapped. "Mayan, this conversation is futile."

   "Delenn, calm down and listen to me. We both grew up motherless. After my mother's death, my father never mated again. But he could call on the women of his family for aid, if necessary. As could your father. Surely, there are both Minbari and human females you can turn to. You told me Sheridan's sister has children. Can you not ask her for assistance?" Delenn shook her head. "Why not?" Mayan asked. "There is no shame involved in seeking assistance."

   Delenn just shook her head stubbornly. Mayan knew that look. "Very well, Delenn. But what about your son's father? Will he not play a role?"

   "Of course, but that does not lessen my responsibility. Mayan, it is no use."

   "Delenn, did you want the child?" Mayan asked. "Was the decision to conceive made by both of you?" Delenn nodded. "Then, in Valen's name, why do you insist on bearing all the responsibility for raising the child? Don't look at me like that, Delenn. You know very well that is what you are doing by refusing to share your fears with your mate. Have you considered that he too is fearful? That, perhaps, he is afraid you will think badly of him if he confides his doubts and confusion? You haven't, have you? As usual, you have taken onto yourself total responsibility and total blame without allowing anyone to help you. For your sake, and for Sheridan's sake, this must stop. Talk to him!"

   Delenn started crying again, this time softly. "How can I tell him? He will be so disappointed in me!"

   "Delenn, you are underestimating him. He will be relieved that there is nothing seriously wrong with you. You have said yourself he worries about you. Don't you see what you are doing to him by shutting him out?" Mayan paused. Delenn said nothing.

   "Delenn," Mayan continued, "I can't even pretend to know what is happening to you; what carrying a child, especially a partially human child, is doing to you physically. But I see what you are doing to yourself, and what you are doing to your mate. You will only disappoint him if you do not let him help you."

   Delenn wiped her eyes and smiled faintly. "I do not remember, Mayan, that you were this wise in school." She stood up. "Thank you, my friend. I think I should talk to John right away, before I lose my nerve. Perhaps you should say a few extra prayers on my behalf."

   "I do not think you need them now, but I will say them anyway," Mayan said as she walked to the door. "I will see you tomorrow, Delenn. This is the first free time I have had in over four days. And a certain Ranger has promised to show me around the station.

   She placed her hand over Delenn's heart in the Minbari fashion. "Do not be afraid, my friend. You are surrounded by those who love you."

   Mayan awakened the next morning when the com sounded. It was Delenn. Would Mayan like to meet for a late lunch in the Zocalo? Mayan agreed and went back to sleep.

   She was late for her lunch with Delenn. When Mayan got to the restaurant in the Zocalo, Delenn was already seated at a table. Unobserved, Mayan watched her for a few moments. She was amused to see Delenn apparently holding court, surrounded by human females. Delenn smiled and said a few words to each, but Mayan recognized the smile as the one Delenn perfected in school for use when she was bored but had to be polite. Just then Delenn saw Mayan. Turning to the women around her, Delenn murmured something and bowed. The women nodded and walked away.

   "You did that very well," Mayan said, laughing as she sat at the table. "Who were those women and why were they boring you?"

   "I did not offend them, did I?" Delenn worried.

   "No. Only someone who knows you very well would even suspect your complete indifference to their company."

   "Oh," Delenn said, relieved. "I have discovered that humans, especially human females, expect the wife of the President of the Interstellar Alliance to behave in public in a certain manner." She shrugged.

   Mayan laughed again. "You look much better today. Calmer and more rested. Somehow, I do not think it is the effect of those women."

   "No," Delenn said a trifle embarrassed. "I had a good night with John."

   "That always helps," Mayan said dryly. "But did you talk to him?"

   Delenn blushed. "Yes. We talked." She paused as the waiter came to take their order.

   "I will tell you after we eat. I am very hungry."

   "Exercising at night will do that to you."

   "Mayan, stop that!" Delenn blushed even deeper.

   Mayan laughed. "While we are waiting for our food, I'll tell you about my adventures last night, although they were apparently not as strenuous as yours. All right! I'll stop teasing! Put down that bread! Jason. Yes, Jason. Don't widen your eyes like that! Jason decided to show me some of the sights that, as he put it, 'are not normally seen by your average, law abiding tourist.' We went to some very colorful bars and gaming establishments. And not all of them were Down Below. Delenn, did you know that the senior attache at one of the Alliance embassies has a half-interest in the 'hostesses' that work at those places?"

   "Yes. Such knowledge is useful when John or I need to obtain information and do not wish to use regular embassy channels. But Kendrick should not have taken you there. He should have postponed the meeting with his informant. I will have to speak to him."

   "Please, Delenn, don't. It was my fault. I insisted. I didn't realize he was working."

   "Very well. I will overlook it this time. But if he ever takes advantage of you again, I will be very angry."

   "Take advantage? What do you mean?"

   "I sometimes forget that you are still naive about certain things." Delenn did not conceal the amusement in her tone. "By now, everyone on Babylon Five knows you are my friend. And that I would not allow my people to do anything that could pose a danger to you. Kendrick took advantage of that to camouflage his activities."

   "Oh," Mayan said sheepishly. "And I thought he was just indulging me because we are friends." She was growing visibly upset.

   "Rangers are trained to take advantage of every opportunity, Mayan," Delenn told her. "Do not be too hard on him. If he did not enjoy your company, he would find ways to avoid you while you are here."

   "Are you sure?"

   "Yes. He stayed with you all evening, did he not? Here comes our lunch." Delenn paused as the waiter served them. She smiled her thanks and turned back to Mayan. "I hope you are not growing too fond of Kendrick. He has a reputation among the female Rangers, the Minbari as well as the Humans."

   Mayan laughed. "You are forgetting again. He sounds just the sort of challenge I enjoy!"

   Delenn had no response to that. They concentrated on eating for a while. Finally, Delenn pushed back her plate and said, "That is much better. I do not understand why I am so hungry today." Mayan grinned, and Delenn made a point of ignoring it.

   "Mayan," Delenn said, "John and I had a long talk last night. I was reluctant at first, but I finally admitted my total lack of preparedness for motherhood. I was afraid he would be angry or ashamed of me. But he did not react that way at all! If I didn't know better, I would say he was relieved. But that is nonsense, of course."

   "Of course," Mayan agreed, hiding her smile behind her napkin.

   "John told me that every woman believes she will be an unfit mother during a first pregnancy; that his sister drove everyone crazy with her doubts. Naturally, I did not believe him. But it was kind of him to try to reassure me. Afterward, John spoke of his own fears about becoming a father. You were right about that, Mayan. I would not have believed it. I had to spend most of the evening reassuring him, but he felt much better when we went to bed."

   Delenn was blushing again, but Mayan pretended not to notice. Her admiration for Sheridan increased. As long as Delenn believed someone needed her care, she would ignore her own worries. Delenn was speaking again. What did she say?

   "Mayan, you are not paying attention. I asked you if you wanted anything else. If not, we should go. I will walk with you to your quarters. I have to pass that way anyway."

   When they reached her quarters, Mayan invited her in for a while, but Delenn had an appointment. As she said goodbye, Mayan took her hand and said, "Do not worry so much about your lack of training for motherhood. You will be fine. You are still the most caring, nurturing, loving woman I have ever known."

   "I am trying to believe you."

   "It is true. I would not lie about something like this."

   "John said the same thing to me last night. I found it hard to believe him too."

   "If we both agree, it must be true." Mayan kissed her cheek.

   "Thank you, Mayan," Delenn said and walked away.

   The few days before the birth were nerve wracking ones. Mayan called or visited Delenn so many times a day to check on her that Delenn threatened to assign Kendrick to take Mayan on a long trip, somewhere, anywhere, just to keep her busy. She was joking, of course, and anyway, Kendrick was off station at the moment. Mayan made three extra offerings in temple for the well-being of mother and child. After the third offering, the temple attendants gently hinted that any more would be unseemly. Mayan checked and rechecked, and then checked again, to be sure she had everything prepared for the rites during the birth itself. Finally, even she had to admit there was nothing left to do but wait.

   Delenn was wrong: David did not arrive early. In fact, he was now officially late. Mayan took the news much harder than Delenn, who was surprisingly calm about the delay. Sheridan barely left his wife's side. And Lennier, who until now had seemed invisible, fussed around Delenn like a hen with one chick. Mayan, amused by the unconscious rivalry between the two men to anticipate Delenn's every wish, almost forgot her own nervousness. A week past the due date, Delenn confided that the men in her life, including her son, were driving her crazy. She needed some time alone. Although she could do nothing about David, Delenn could insist Sheridan return to work.

   But that still left Lennier. She knew she was asking much, but would Mayan distract Lennier? At least for a few hours? Reluctantly, Mayan agreed.

   Mayan knew she would have to meet with Lennier at some point. As clan teachers for Delenn's son, they would have to take part in a special ceremony in temple. Although the rites were usually held sometime after the birth, there was no prohibition to performing them beforehand. Now was as good a time as any.

   Mayan, wearing the robe she had borrowed from Delenn, met Lennier, who was also robed in white, in the small station temple at the appointed time. They bowed to each other and then to the temple attendants who would act as witnesses. Mayan lit the candles on the altar as Lennier filled the small depression in the center of the stone with incense. They bowed to each other again and then faced the altar. Placing the left hand over the heart and the right one outstretched, palm out, toward the smoke of the incense, Mayan and Lennier pledged themselves to protect and instruct the child, and to see to his well-being. They called upon Valen to guide them in their task.

   Then, hands still in position, Mayan and Lennier faced each other, palms almost touching. They pledged to put aside all personal considerations, to always act in the best interests of the child. Turning back to the altar, they formed the sign of the triluminary, bowed and offered a final prayer. Two of the attendants handed them small cups filled with a red juice. Mayan bowed to Lennier and drank. When she finished, Lennier followed suit. Then both doused the incense with the remnants of the juice, bowed to the attendants, and left the temple.

   Mayan and Lennier had not spoken beyond the words of the ceremony. They were silent now as they parted, yet it was not an uncomfortable silence. As they bowed in formal leave taking and walked their separate ways, Mayan sensed a change. They were not friends, and might never be, but they were no longer enemies.

   That night Delenn finally went into labor. At three in the morning, Mayan received a frantic call from Sheridan. She dressed quickly, remembering at the last minute to don the ceremonial overdress, and hurried to Medlab. Delenn was in the delivery room, on what looked like a Minbari bed with side rails. She was moaning in pain. Sheridan sat at her side, holding her hand and murmuring inanities.

   Mayan placed the electric tapers in position; real candles were banned as a fire hazard. She started to chant a soft, rhythmic prayer to ease the passage of the child into the light. She would repeat this and similar prayers until the delivery. Normally, other women of the clan and caste would take turns chanting the prayers, especially during a long labor. Delenn was willing to forego this part of the rites, but Mayan insisted that everything be done correctly, no matter how long it took.

   Delenn's labor lasted over two hours. After the first half hour, Mayan's chanting became automatic, enabling her to observe more closely. She had never attended a birth before. She was fascinated and appalled by what was happening.

   Delenn was in great pain yet refused all offers of relief. Beads of moisture covered every exposed surface of her skin and dampened her gown, which seem to be wrong way round, the closure in the back and not in the front where it belonged. Every few minutes a stronger contraction caused Delenn to scream. Sheridan looked frazzled as he held her hands and tried to wipe her face simultaneously. Only the doctor seemed calm, telling Delenn she was doing fine, just keep it up.

   When the baby's head appeared, Mayan started a song of exaltation and thanksgiving. She mouthed the words automatically. The baby was so bloody. Was anything wrong? The doctor seemed unconcerned, so perhaps it was normal. Yes. The doctor wiped the child and placed him on Delenn's chest, the birth chord still intact. Delenn's eyes softened as she gingerly stroked her son and spoke to him in Adronato. The doctor handed Sheridan an instrument to cut the chord. Sheridan hesitated until Delenn smiled and nodded. Hands only slightly shaking, he made a clean cut.

   Mayan left quietly as Delenn handed her son to his father. It was time for them to be alone as a family. Mayan looked back once to see Sheridan, tears streaming down, look with joy and wonder and awe as he held his son in his large hands.

   Sha'al Mayan sat in the observation lounge of the passenger liner, watching the traffic around Babylon Five. It would be at least an hour before the liner reached the head of the queue at the jump gate. Delenn offered the use of a White Star for her return home, but Mayan had declined. She was in no hurry. And traveling as a passenger on a warship would be dull without the company of Anla'shok Kendrick. His duties prevented him from escorting her home. He sent his regrets at her departure, but she was a little disappointed he could not find the time to say goodbye in person.

   She reached into a pocket for her notepad when her hand encountered something stiff and slick. She had a moment's confusion before she realized what it was - a still of Delenn nursing her son while Mayan looked on, a little bemused. Just before she boarded, Sheridan had handed it to her, saying he thought she might like to have it. She took it out now. It must have been taken the afternoon following David's birth. Probably by one of the Medlab staff.

   Mayan had returned to her quarters when she left the delivery room. Exhausted, she fell asleep before she could properly prepare for bed. Eight hours later she awoke refreshed, and went to check on Delenn and the baby. Delenn was feeding her son when Mayan walked in. The baby that seemed so tiny in his father's hands looked much bigger as he suckled at his mother's breast. Delenn smiled when she saw her friend and told her to come sit by the bed.

   "How are you feeling, Delenn?" Mayan asked as she sat down.

   "Sore!" Delenn answered.

   I am not surprised," Mayan said laughing. "He is bigger than I thought."

   "Three and a half kilos," Delenn said proudly. "He is going to be tall and strong and beautiful, like his father."

   "Beautiful I can't judge among humans, but he has certainly made a start on tall and strong." As his mother shifted him to the other breast, David opened his eyes wide. "But he has your eyes," Mayan added.

   "Seriously Delenn, are you all right? You were in such pain last night. You've never screamed like that before, not even when you fell out of that tree and broke your arm in two places. You barely made a sound on the way to the infirmary."

   "If you remember, Mayan, we didn't want to wake the housemaster," Delenn said. "Actually, the screams were an indulgence. John kept telling me to 'let it all out,' as he put it. That I didn't have to prove how strong I was. He said screaming would make me feel better. Surprisingly, he was right. I think it has something to do with breathing and muscle reflexes." Delenn stopped and shook her head. "Poor John. As the contractions got worse, I'm afraid I berated him for getting me into that condition in the first place. Yet he just kept telling me he loved me, and I was doing fine. When I tried to apologize later, John said his father told him that it is best if husbands do not hear what their wives say during labor!"

   "I did not think humans could be so sensible," Mayan said.

   David finished his lunch, burped softly, and fell asleep. His mother shifted him to a more comfortable position in her arms and tucked his blanket more securely. Mayan smiled.

   "What?" Delenn asked. "What are you smiling at?"

   "You," Mayan said. "The way you seem so comfortable caring for your son."

   Delenn grinned sheepishly. "Perhaps I did overreact a little."

   "Just a little," Mayan agreed, deadpan.

   "I really do not know very much about being a mother," Delenn said. "But I am learning. David is teaching me." She smiled fondly at her sleeping son. "We have been together for only half a day, and already I have learned that he cries one way when he is hungry and another way when he is wet."

   "There, you see? I knew you would be a good mother."

   "I think there is a bit more to learn," Delenn said dryly. David stirred. Delenn rocked him gently in her arms. He settled back to sleep.

   "You'll manage," Mayan said softly.

   Two days later, when Delenn brought her son home, Mayan purchased some prepared meals in the Zocalo and delivered them to the Sheridan apartment. She doubted the new parents had given any thought to their own welfare. She was right. Delenn was delighted with the gift of food. She admitted the larder was bare. No one had remembered to shop for groceries.

   "I do not believe I have become so scatterbrained," Delenn said. "I wonder what else I forgot. Perhaps I should check. But first, come see David. Although as his mother, it is immodest for me to say so, he is a most intelligent baby."

   Mayan hid her smile as she followed Delenn into the nursery. David was lying on his side, one tiny fist curled under his chin, sleeping peacefully. Delenn gently stroked the fine dark hair surrounding the soft cartilage of the nascent crest.

   "He fell asleep just before you came. He has been restless this morning." She yawned. "When John comes home, I will take a nap," Delenn said and yawned again.

   "Why don't you nap now?" Mayan asked her. "I will watch your son." Delenn looked dubious. "I will call you if he wakes up. Don't worry," Mayan reassured her.

   "Are you sure? John will be home soon, I can wait until then."

   "Delenn," Mayan said, "Stop worrying and go. I am quite capable of watching a sleeping baby."

   "I didn't mean that, Mayan. I don't want to bother you."

   "It is no bother, Delenn. And, as you said, it will only be a little while before your mate returns." Mayan pointed to the door of the nursery. "Go," she said firmly.

   Delenn hesitated for a moment and then said, "Thank you. I am tired. But you will call me as soon as he awakens?"

   "Yes," Mayan said patiently. "I'll call you. Go!"

   Mayan stood watching the sleeping baby for a while. She reached into the crib, hesitated a moment, and then tentatively touched his hair. It felt silky, almost insubstantial. Not at all like Delenn's thick hair. The baby stirred and she quickly removed her hand. Was he going to wake up? No. He was sleeping soundly.

   "Sleep, little one," she said softly. "Sleep, little David Neroon. You bear an honorable name. Do you know that? When you are older, I will tell you about him. He would be pleased, I think, that you carry his name. It is a sign that your mother valued him at the end, as he valued her. But it will be a long time before you can understand that.

   "What kind of life will you have, I wonder. The first and only offspring of a human and Minbari mating. There are those who will resent you for that reason. But you will also be loved. By your mother and father, who defied two worlds to join their hearts. I saw that love shine strong and bright when you were born. So bright, the feeble glow from my poor candles was completely obscured. That love will surround you and protect you as you grow to manhood.

   "And I love you. Does that surprise you, little one? It surprises me. I love your mother, and I have come to respect and admire your father. But I gave no thought to you, except as Delenn's son, a part of her. But you are not a part of her. You are unique unto yourself. And you are the closest I will ever come to a child of my own."

   Mayan continued to gaze at the sleeping baby. She realized that she was looking forward to teaching David the ways of his clan. She would also teach him tee'la, she resolved, and anything else she could think of and his parents would allow.

   Very gently she touched his cheek with the back of her hand. "I will teach you as you grow, so that you will bring honor to your clan and your parents, and to yourself. But I do not worry about your honor. If you are only half what your parents are, you will be better than most, both human and Minbari."

   David awoke and made gurgling noises. Mayan debated waking Delenn and decided to let her sleep as long as the baby did not cry or seem uncomfortable. She lifted him into her arms, holding him the way she had seen his mother do. She rocked him gently and softly sang an old lullaby she remembered her mother singing. David seemed to like it. He gurgled again. Delenn was right. He really was a most intelligent baby! She laughed at herself. If she wasn't careful, she would become as besotted about this baby as his parents.

   "Come on, little one," Mayan said. "Let's take a walk and explore your new home." She carried him into the main room. Sheridan was just coming in. He smiled to see his son in Mayan's arms.

   "Hello son," he said coming toward them. "I see you're getting to know your Aunt Mayan. Smart boy."

   "Aunt?" Mayan echoed, puzzled. "But we are not blood relatives."

   Sheridan smiled and explained. "Among my people, close friends of the family are called aunt or uncle by the children. It is a mark of respect and affection."

   "Oh," Mayan said. "In that case, I am honored." She handed David to his father. "Delenn is sleeping, and I told her I would stay with him until you came home. I will go now."

   "Stay, please. We haven't had much chance to talk, especially since this little guy was born. And I never thanked you for getting Delenn to tell me what was wrong."

   "I do not require thanks," Mayan said. "Delenn is my friend, and you are her mate. And I think you also are my friend now." Sheridan nodded. "I will always do whatever I can to help you."

   "Thank you anyway. I'm glad you consider me a friend." David began to cry. "Uh oh," Sheridan said. "I think someone's hungry again. I'm afraid we'll have to wake Delenn. Right now, she's the only one who can feed him."

   "There is no need to wake me," Delenn said coming out of the bedroom.

   Mayan looked once more at the still and then tucked it securely into her notepad before replacing it in her pocket. The liner was almost at the jump gate. There was an announcement. Babylon Five Control requests that the liner delay its jump so that one final passenger can board by shuttle. The delay would only be a half hour at most. Mayan wondered who the VIP was and why he was late.

   Mayan patted the pocket containing the notepad. The familiar bulge was comforting. It had been too long since she last carried it. But now, she was writing again. Nothing complete yet, only fragments, but at least it was a start. Strange, she could not recall exactly what inspired her to write again. Oh well, she would not worry about it. And it was not entirely true that she had not finished anything.

   A week after David's birth, Mayan decided it was time to return home. The rites were finished, and Delenn was happy and content. In a few weeks, Delenn and Sheridan would bring David to Minbar for the naming ceremony. Mayan would have a lot to do beforehand. This being an 'aunt' was more work than it seemed! But she would not forego it for anything.

   Mayan sought out Delenn to tell her of her decision. Delenn, sitting in the rocker, was nursing David and singing an old Minbari nonsense song. For a few moments Mayan watched unobserved. She recalled the Delenn she first knew, the passionate child who wept bitter tears for Valen's wife. Who grew into the proud satai whose very words could start and end wars; and then became the charismatic leader of a mighty fighting force. And always, the willing instrument of prophecy. The nursing woman rocking her suckling son was a stranger with no connection to that other Delenn. Mayan said as much as she walked over to the rocker.

   Delenn regarded her. "Mayan, it has been my fortune, for good or ill, to be at the heart of the defining events of our time. Within my lifetime, the universe has changed. I have changed, and not only my physical appearance. And now I am grateful for the relative calm. Oh, I am still Entil'Zha of the Rangers. As their ranks and duties have grown with the creation of the Interstellar Alliance, so have my responsibilities. And if she is needed, the satai is still here," Delenn pointed to her chest. "Perhaps, in a few years, I will miss some of my old life. But for now, I am content to hold the universe in my arms." She smiled at her son.

   "As long as you are truly happy," Mayan said.

   "I am." Delenn rose and walked to the crib. She tucked the sleeping baby in securely. "Now," she said, turning to Mayan, "I do not think you came to tell me that. You came to tell me you are going home. How soon do you plan to leave?"

   "At the end of the week. I have things to do at home, not to mention preparing for David's naming ceremony."

   "And, since you are writing again, you also want more time to yourself. But you are too polite to say so," Delenn said.

   "Nonsense! We were never polite with each other!" Mayan grinned. "But how did you know ...?"

   Delenn pointed to the notepad sticking out of Mayan's pocket. "And if that were not enough, you have fresh ink on your hands." She reached for her friend's hands. "I told you that you would write again. You should have more faith in yourself, my friend."

   "You seem to have more than enough for both of us." Mayan's eyes were shining as she squeezed Delenn's hands.

   As they walked out of the nursery, arms linked, Delenn asked "Mayan, before you leave, will you dine with us again? John would like that very much, as would I."

   "Of course, but I should really invite the two of you to dinner." Before Delenn could say anything, Mayan continued. "But, under the circumstances, it is easier for me to come here. I do not think you wish to leave your son in anyone else's care, even for a few hours."

   "You are right," Delenn laughed. "Doctor Franklin says we are still in that stage of parenthood where we are sure something terrible will happen if we let our son out of our sight for even a minute. He also says we will not be fit company for adults for at least another six months. But if you will put up with us, come to dinner tomorrow."

   The next evening, Mayan arrived at the Sheridan apartment bearing gifts. After greeting his parents and saying goodnight to David, already asleep in his crib to her disappointment, she handed Delenn a white box. Delenn opened it, laughed, and showed the contents to John.

   "I did not want to leave here without having some of these tubes again," Mayan said. "We can share them after the meal."

   "I don't blame you," John said as he popped one of the miniature cannoli into his mouth.

   "These are delicious."

   Mayan handed another, much larger, box to Delenn. "This is for my 'nephew,' for when he is a little older. I found it in an antique shop Down Below. I couldn't resist."

   Delenn opened the box and gasped. "Mayan, this is beautiful. Are you sure you don't want to keep it for yourself?" She placed the box on a table, and with great reverence took out the ancient Minbari lute. She held it out to Sheridan who, following her lead, carefully cradled it in his hands.

   "It is beautiful," Sheridan said. "Delenn is right. You should keep it for yourself."

   Mayan shook her head. "I have one, very like this one. No, this is for David. I plan to teach him to compose tee'la, and he should have the proper instrument to perform his compositions and those of others. He is still much too young, of course, but I would like him to be aware that this is waiting for him as he grows."

   Sheridan bowed to her and carefully replaced the lute. "David will treasure it, especially when he understands from whom it came."

   The meal was a merry one, in spite of Mayan's pending departure. And Delenn only checked on David between courses. Afterward, as they sat drinking tea and eating cannoli, Mayan rose from her chair. She stood in front of Delenn and Sheridan, sitting side by side on the couch, and withdrew a small package from her pocket.

   "Although I have conducted the birth rites for you Delenn, I have not yet given you the customary gift."

   "Your presence here with me, with us, is all the gift I want," Delenn said.

   "Nevertheless, since everything else has been performed properly, I am determined to do this properly also." She paused as Delenn opened the package. "Do you remember the poem I wrote for your womanhood ceremony?" Delenn nodded and looked inquiringly at Mayan. "I told you at the time that it was unfinished, that it was too early to complete it."

   "Yes," Delenn said. "I remember. I asked you when you would finish it, and you said when the time was right."

   "Well," Mayan said smiling, "I think the time is right now."

   "Oh," Delenn gasped. "I shall treasure this always. Look at this, John."

   She handed her husband a hinged, crystal and silver diptych. Inset into each side was a verse in elaborate calligraphy on antique parchment. Each verse was written first in Adronato and then in English. Sheridan read both verses and looked at his wife. His eyes were bright as he read aloud the new verse.

   She sits, softly rocking, at the
   Calm center of her destiny,
   Banking the fire lest she
   Burn the baby at her breast.
   The glowing embers of her eyes
   Remember the conflagration,
   Fed by the white-hot light of love,
   That once scorched a universe.

   Sheridan ran his hand over the title engraved into the crystal: Valen's Child. "Everyone in our family will treasure this, Mayan. You have given us a priceless gift. Thank you."

   "It is my pleasure and my honor," Mayan said simply. "Now, if no one else wants another of these tubes, I will finish them." She grinned and reached out her hand as Delenn laughed. But three pair of eyes were still suspiciously wet.

   The three days before her departure were busy ones for Mayan. She spent as much time as possible with the Sheridans, especially David, in between packing and last minute errands, mostly to renew her stock of writing materials and to purchase those small items that had previously caught her fancy. Her only regret was the absence of Ranger Kendrick. Delenn apologized, but Kendrick was needed elsewhere. She would recall him if Mayan wished? But Mayan told her she did not wish to appear to take advantage of her friendship with Entil'Zha. The night before she left, Sheridan stayed with David while the two women spoke in Mayan's quarters until the early morning hours.

   As she watched the shuttle approach the liner, Mayan remembered what Sheridan told her during that last dinner. She had complained that by the time she next saw David, he would have grown so she would hardly recognize him. His parents would have to bring him to visit Minbar often, if she were to fulfill her responsibilities as his teacher and his aunt! To her surprise Sheridan laughed and looked at Delenn as if to say "do you want to or shall I?" Delenn nodded, and Sheridan turned back to Mayan.

   "I don't think you'll have too much difficulty seeing David in the future. In fact, you'll probably see him so often you'll grow tired of him." Mayan looked puzzled as she turned to Delenn who only smiled. "Yes," Sheridan continued. "The Interstellar Alliance Headquarters at Tuzanor is almost completed. We will be moving into the President's Compound before the end of the year. And since you live quite near Tuzanor, I understand...." He stopped as his wife and her friend started laughing and hugging each other. He stood up and put his arms around them both.

   An announcement interrupted Mayan's thoughts. The shuttle had discharged its passenger and they would be jumping in ten minutes. She watched as the black of normal space turned to the orange streaks of hyper space. Someday, she promised herself, she would write about jumping. Nothing she had ever read successfully conveyed the sensations and colors. She was thinking about how she could begin such a work when a male voice interrupted her.

   "Excuse me, ma'am. Do you have the time?"

   "Ten minutes after eleven," she answered automatically, before the voice registered. "Anla'shok!" she yelped as she looked up to see the familiar dark head bending over her.

   "Jason, what are you doing here?"

   "Well, as of ten minutes ago, I officially started my leave." He smiled and sat down beside her.

 

*****

 

 

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