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City of Sorrow, City of Peace

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Valen — would-be Minbari revolutionary, great military general against the Shadows, and the former human known as Jeffrey Sinclair — gazed down on his adopted planet for the first time since his transformation. Minbar hung like a misty sea-green marble in space, end-capped by the brilliant white polar regions frosting the poles. It was lovely to see the familiar landmasses, although not nearly as familiar as Earth’s would have been. Sol’s system was closed off to him forever now, mired in the bloody Middle Ages without so much as a combustion engine to its name, let alone a hyperspace jump gate. Sinclair wouldn’t want to return, even if he could. In his present form, humans would probably spear him on sight.

It had been two years since he’d been hurled back in time on the newly minted space station Babylon 4. Two years since crawling inside the alien Triluminary cocoon and emerging an alien himself, complete with a vigorously fortified body and a ridiculously heavy bone crest in place of a scalp. Two years since he took Valen’s sacred name and identity, and accepted his Vorlon-proscribed destiny to defeat the Shadows and unite Minbari society, thus paving the way for his birth timeline a thousand years hence.

In an ironic turn, however, it turned out that the Minbari of a thousand years ago weren’t nearly so easy to convince of Valen’s greatness than the history books suggested. Sure, arriving with an empty space station just in the nick of time to save the Warrior caste from a crushing defeat by the Shadows had done wonders for his reputation, and the two angelic-Vorlons hanging out with him upon introduction didn’t hurt either. But Valen was still brand new, him to them, him to simple being Minbari. Just like their descendants they resisted change, and undermined any efforts to alter the power structure’s status quo. Very polite resistance on the part of the Religious caste, in particular, who without breaking protocol or losing face, ignored him and his allegiances at every turn. Very politely.

That was another irony — without the burden of humanity weighing him down, the Warrior caste loved him. If only Neroon could see his present circumstances, Valen thought with amusement. In fact members of the Star Riders clan — apropos of the name, they were the first collective group of Minbari to launch themselves into space — were among his most prominent supporters. So it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that some of Neroon’s great-great-great-grandparents were on B4 among his fighting forces. Neroon would probably be appalled, but Sinclair thought that he’d also be impressed at their resilience and vision and dedication to true honor, instead of only power for power’s sake. Valen certainly was.

Here at the beginning, Valen’s main claim to fame was strategic victory against the Shadows out on the periphery of Minbari-controlled space, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the Warriors embraced him, while the Religious caste back home remained suspicious. During his current mission to Minbar proper, he hoped to chip away at Religious obstinacy by uniting more of the Religious clans with the Warriors under the banner of the newly formed Anla’shok. That was the plan, anyway. Based on the enigmatic hints that Nukenn kept dropping, he was beginning to suspect it might take the entire hundred years of Valen’s existence to make any headway with them.

Through these ruminations, Valen stared down at the planet through his private window on the shuttle. Something about the Minbar seemed…off. It didn’t match his memories from before: the continents’ edges were less distinct, as if swallowed by the oceans, the polar ice caps appeared shrunken enough that the continents had different shapes, and the whole planet seemed to shine greener instead of reflecting crystal blue-white.

He pulled his foraged Earthforce comm unit out from a locked cabinet and slid one of the database crystals into place. Two years earlier, before his fateful introduction to the Minbari of the past, Sinclair and Zathrus had purged B4’s databanks of its encyclopedic general knowledge, lest some enterprising Worker programmer figure out that it was from the future. But he’d kept a copy, one that he vowed to crush to shards before his death. It was difficult to leave everything to faith and fate.

Sometimes Valen was plagued with doubt that he was replaying history somehow wrong, and any minor action on his part would indelibly divert Minbar’s timeline from its path, and thus his own. And then he chided himself for being ridiculous, because by definition it had been him all along, and was he going to make some significant decision in two radically different directions? But what of the small encounters that through chaos he couldn’t control: inadvertently altering the meeting of some of Delenn’s ancestors, for instance, so that hundreds of years from now a different Delenn was birthed into the world? And if Delenn were different, would she make the same choices, still declare genocide in righteous fury on the humans after Dukhat’s death, still pick him at the Line, still use the Triluminary and let him go at the Line? If any of a thousand chance events conspired to make him miss the tiny window to ride B4 back, would Valen cease to exist in Minbar’s history?

Time loops. Even as he lived in one, Sinclair never understood it.

“Activate database. Query: Show Minbar’s current climate and atmosphere,” he said softly. The English sounded harsh and foreign to his own ears. He’d programmed the unit to think it was still 2260 and deactivated all external sensory input, so the machine functioned as a library now, a testimony to a realm cut off to him as if he were dead.

An image of the planet and its two moons dutifully popped up on the screen, followed by a scrolling summary of information. He tapped the screen to freeze some data points, and compared it to the live report wavering in the view-window of the little ship. There was no doubt: Minbar was significantly warmer here in the past, with much less ice and a greater portion of its land masses covered in vegetation, despite higher oceans and a reduced coastline.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. This little fact hadn’t been mentioned anywhere in the histories Sinclair had read, although they were peppered with references to population decline, agricultural difficulties and general angst about diminishing “greatness.”

There was a faint knock at the door, in the coded pattern so that Valen knew it was Isilyan. Worker caste, at a time when the other castes made no pretense of equality and unabashedly discriminated against them; unsurprisingly, among his three assistants she was the most likely to efficiently carry out his orders in the manner he wanted them done, not the manner his Religious and Warrior assistants thought they should be done. He’d poached Isilyan almost immediately off the Warrior-ruled engineering crew that had arrived to turn B4 into a Minbari base, and elevated her to personal assistant, a high-status position. Naturally this perplexed and quietly offended the Religious caste, although they wouldn’t say that to his face.

Valen flicked off the pilfered B4 technology and slid it back into the cabinet. “Come,” he said.

Isilyan glided in and glanced up to meet his eyes — another reason he liked her. “Honored One, Sech Nukenn has requested a meeting before the descent.”

She spoke in slightly accented Andronato, the language of the Religious caste. Likely because Nukenn was right outside the door pretending not to listen, and also because she wanted to signal to him that protocol demanded he speak Adronato with his guest, and not the Warrior Fek that they generally held to on the ship. Valen smiled slightly at the hint, although Minbari language customs were among the first things he’d learned even back in the old Tuzanor. Isilyan was often spot-on in heading off his cultural deficiencies, without scandal or comment.

“Thank you, Isilyan, send him in.”

She bowed and gracefully curved away at the same moment he motioned for dismissal, and in the few seconds transition he switched the view window to the live feed from the front of the ship, with the Heyyian mountains looming into view. They couldn’t yet see Tuzanor.

Valen stood up as Nukenn entered. “Welcome, my friend.” Isilyan stood off to one side near the wall, head bowed, ready to serve either Nukenn or himself if necessary.

“Greetings, honored friend. Have you prepared for the descent?”

There was nothing to prepare for, of course, not for a seasoned fighter pilot, but this was Nukenn’s oblique way of asking if he was certain of his intention to approach the Religious clans to participate in the Anla’shok.

“I’m ready, my friend. Although we will have to see if I can say the same for the City of Sorrows.”

Nukenn paused, obviously not wanting to broach the delicate subject of Tuzanor. But he did so anyway, a sign that it was weighing on his mind.

“Are you still resolved to establish the base within sight of City? The Wind Swords and Moon Shields still object to training in the vicinity of pilgrims of peace. Four of the religious clans have already declared they will not approve of any non-Warrior defense force, particularly in the presence of the pilgrims. It is not too late to change course. Even nearby in the valley, there are several villages that would be suita…”

“They are not suitable,” Valen interrupted. Rude, but sometimes the Religious caste needed a little directness. “The Anla’shok must be sited at Tuzanor.” He shifted back on his feet and bowed slightly with his hands clasped, to soften his stance. “No other place carries the same neutrality as does Tuzanor. The Anla’shok will not merely be another Warrior clan vying for dominance, and the sanctity of the City of Sorrows will not be disturbed. Trust me, Nukenn.”

“I wish to, Honored One. But this seems an unwise action. Already the Elleya collective and Charabi clans are mounting opposition in the City. They say…” He trailed off and dipped his head in obvious reticence.

Ah, here we get to it, Valen thought. “They say what, Nukenn? We should all strive to speak our conscience.”

“Forgive me, Honored One, but they say you are not born of Minbari.”

Behind Nukenn, Valen could see Isilyan twitch at this grievous slight against his reputation. He ignored her and kept his eyes on Nukenn.

“You have no clan or caste,” Nukenn continued. “Even your peculiar speech cannot be traced to any region. Why should an outsider be allowed to disturb the stability of the Holy City? It has been a place of peace for three hundred cycles. That is what they say.”

“The family Zir is of clan Charabi, is it not?” The question was obvious, for they were both well aware of Nukenn’s background.

“Yes, Honored One.”

“And your wife is from Tuzanor? She and your son live in the Holy City?”

“Yes, Honored One. They are looking forward to my return.”

“What do they say, apart from the clan leaders? Do they trust you, Nukenn, or do they believe you have gone over to the Warrior caste?”

Nukenn was silent for so many seconds that Valen was sure he would deflect and change the subject. But then he said plainly, “They trust me. But they do not know you, Honored One. It is difficult for the Religious clans to not categorize you as a Warrior, even though you have disputed this many times.”

Actions speak louder than words, and I am a stranger in strange land, Sinclair thought. He came marching into Tuzanor with the Warrior clans united behind him; no wonder the priests were nervous. “They will get a chance to meet me soon enough, and we will have to convince them. Are there particular challenges you know of for our arrival today, my friend? Has the Council of Elders decreed something I should know?”

“They… they wish to examine you, Honored One. The Worker Elders concur.”

Isilyan’s head shot up at the latest outrage. Valen silently willed her to control herself, even though his own internal reaction was hardly different from a primal scream himself.

“I see.” Well, it would hardly be an introduction to Minbari leaders without a good probing. “If that is all, you may tell the Council that as a gesture of goodwill, I agree to give a blood sample and submit to a shinarit scan. That should be sufficient to ease their doubts, I hope?”

Both Nukenn and Isilyan looked shocked at his easy acquiescence. Perhaps his cover as totally-born-of-Minbari wasn’t as intact as he thought, appearances be damned. Or perhaps this was another cultural faux pas, that he was expected to resist rather than accept the loss of honor associated with a breach of bodily autonomy. There were many subtle issues surrounding the body and physicality that Sinclair still didn’t get, wrapped up in Minbari xenophobia and religious austerity. It hadn’t been a high priority to research thus far.

Valen stood his ground, placidly waiting for them to absorb his words. “Is there anything else? I do want to reassure the Elders in any way I can. Trust must be extended from one side first, Nukenn, so it may be reciprocated.”

Nukenn seemed to regain his composure at the soothing words. “Of course, Honored One. I will tell them.” He bowed deeply, and backed out of the cabin.

With Nukenn gone, Valen directed his attention back to Isilyan. “You flinched. The Elders’ request is not … unendurable.”

“I am sorry, Honored One. I will keep my composure in the future.” She bowed as well, although not as low as Nukenn.

“You think I should not have given in? Or maybe not as quickly?”

She glanced back up again, unable to keep her composure for long. Sometimes Valen thought it was a blessing she hadn’t spent decades locked away in some temple, getting horse-trained for her “honorable” position.

“It is disrespectful. Extremely. They wouldn’t force a lowly laborer to such an exam, such is the disrespect. It will weaken your desired standing with the Religious clans.”

“I don’t think so, Isilyan.” The skepticism radiated out of her, so he continued. “I’m a stranger who arrived with aliens to help fight off other aliens, both immensely more powerful than the Minbari. Caution is not unwarranted. Furthermore, it will demonstrate that I’m not here as a conqueror, and that I have my own respect for the three Councils that supersedes my own reputation. Honor is earned by patience and diligence, not through defiance. There is only goodwill to gain, for almost no price.”

Very slowly she said, “Are you sure there is no price?”

He knew she really meant, Are you sure you will pass as Minbari?

No. He wasn’t sure. Maybe this was the point that the whole “Minbari not born of Minbari” business would start. They could find traces of non-Minbari DNA in his blood. They could discover that -- as he suspected at least -- while most of his body was fully Minbari, his brain had not been altered as much. Even something like the true age of the bone crest on his head could be a tell. It had accumulated in weeks, not decades, and Zathrus had been forced to take a laser scalpel to it to make it look carved.

“I’m willing to pay the price,” he said softly to Isilyan. “Whatever comes, will come.”

“The Warriors will never accept anyone who isn’t Minbari to lead them, no matter how many victories you bring. And the Religious will reject anyone who is impure.” She took a step towards him, shaking her head. “I have never asked, Honored One, and I never will. But you must choose carefully what you allow to be discovered. Knowledge, once gained, cannot be taken back.”

“You need to have some faith in the universe, Isilyan,” he told her gently. “A great teacher once said, Soon you’ll be ashes or bone. A mere name at most, and that is just a sound. Everything will work out as it should.”

She bowed lower than he’d ever seen her, palms together like a prayer, and left the room.

* * * * *

The shuttle descended onto a small landing pad to the north of the pilgrimage city, on the opposite side of the thin valley where the great bloody battle had taken place centuries before. Even Valen wasn’t willing to tempt fate by setting up a training base on the site where a million people died; and besides, Mount H’Leya was on the north side.

When he stepped off the shuttle onto Minbar’s soil for the first time in this new-old age, the day seemed brighter, bluer. More like Earth, although that coincidence made him doubt the memory. His Minbari sensory systems sometimes interpreted stimuli in novel ways, and then his vestigial human brain tried to tie it to the familiar. The mountain air was definitely warmer than any season he’d previously experienced in the region, though, to the point that most of the Minbari clustered near the landing strip to meet them were not wearing the familiar layers of thick robes, but simpler two-piece wrap-arounds.

By Valen’s request, Nukenn stepped forward first to greet the Religious Council Elders in attendance. Three out of the nine, decent representation. They included the leaders of Charabi, Nukenn’s clan and the closest thing he had to a Religious ally; Elleya, a clan currently dominant in Tuzanor but which centuries hence would produce the family Mir and Delenn; and Fellana, a Minbar-bound isolationist clan that Valen had no experience with. Off to one side he recognized three of the Warrior caste Elders accompanied by small contingents, including the familiar clan leaders of the Star Riders, Moon Shields and Wind Swords, all close supporters and heavily involved in the Shadow War. And behind them he spotted a three clusters of Workers, each Elder accompanied by a simple two aides.

A full Grey Council worth of Elders, he thought with amusement. Perhaps this was the origin of the legend that Valen had formed the first Grey Council upon arrival at Tuzanor, to unite — and shame, a bit — the quarreling castes. In reality he was years away from having the political power to override the current system of three independent Elder Councils, but perhaps there was an opportunity here to begin constructive dialogue between them.

Nukenn bowed low, first towards his own clan leader, then the other two Religious clans. “Greetings, Revered Satai. We are honored by your presence at this holy convocation.”

The Charabi leader bowed back. “Good greetings to you, Sech Nukenn, my old friend. You have news of this new leader from the war?”

Direct, that one, thought Sinclair. The Religious caste wasn’t nearly so obtuse in its youth. Or perhaps extraordinary circumstances demanded an extraordinary response.

“Yes, Revered Satai. May I introduce the honored Valen, friend of Valeria, savior of the Star Riders and the collective Minbari people from annihilation by the Shadows.”

Valen stepped forward, just as mention of the Star Riders brought favorable murmurings from the group of Warriors. Good call on Nukenn’s part, although Valen couldn’t tell yet whether it would hurt them with the Religious clans. He bowed with his eyes rolled to the ground, as low as he could go.

“Greetings to you all. Today I am honored — doubly honored to be standing here in this holiest of cities, in a place of reconciliation and peace. Satai Ashan” — he bowed again to the Charabi leader — “Satai Dellier. Satai Renonn. Guardians of tradition and peace.” Then he turned to the Warriors. “Satai Shinaver. Satai Driall. Satai Rashok, my old friend. Defenders of integrity and peace.” Then, before anyone could a word in edgewise, he turned at last towards the Elder Workers. “Satai Zaken. Satai Volani. Satai Iridel. Builders of institutions and peace. I thank you all for receiving me today.”

Every one of the Satai looked shocked at the inclusion of the Workers, or possibly that Valen had addressed anyone but the Religious caste, whom he was here to ostensibly woo. He pressed on into the silence.

“You have gathered here today to meet me, evaluate me even, in my endeavor to create a caste-free force for peace, at the place of Minbar’s most horrific battle. Tuzanor today stands as a reminder that we cannot let the interests of individual families, clans or castes destroy the soul of the Minbari people. We must face the darkness together, or not at all. So it is my request today, that while you stand in judgment, you stand together in that judgment. Confer with one another as to my fate, and I will obey.”

The Minbari took a moment to recover from the total breach of protocol. Finally Satai Ashan, standing closest to Nukenn, recovered first.

“Honored warrior, perhaps there has been some misunderstanding. We have no intention of standing in judgment of you today. The war against the Shadow destructors has been most challenging, and we honor you for that.”

“I am not a warrior,” Valen replied. “I am not a priest or a poet. I am not even an honored worker, may their efforts be blessed. But in both my previous life and this one, I strove towards unity in all things. You should pass judgment, but on the totality of what you see before you, not the illusion of what you think you see.”

“You speak like you are of the religious caste, Honored One,” Satai Ashan said.

Valen bowed again and smiled. “I believe the Warriors here today would dispute that. I will await your decision, from all nine Honored Satai here today. Tuzanor’s Temple of Verenni would make an auspicious meeting place.” The local version of Verenni — more of an ancient courthouse than a place of worship or meditation — had been over two thousand cycles old in Sinclair’s time, and in this era was still used to vote on local leaders and resolve disputes. The Satai and their staffs murmured approvingly on the choice. It appealed to their sense of the natural order of things, despite the fact that Elders of the different castes rarely met together in such a large group.

Isilyan slid up from behind him. He nudged his chin towards the conferring parties, conveying to her without words, go spy on the meeting for me, please. She nodded back, and whispered, “What will you do for now, Honored One? Where can I find you?”

Valen looked around the small valley that would one day hold the Anla’shok training compound. The twin crystalline mountain ranges shone fiercely in both directions in the abnormally bright sun, contrasting with the sinking green at the base of the foothills. There was hardly any trace of what the land would become a thousand years hence, or even within one, if Valen had his way.

“I think I’ll go for a walk. That way.” And he pointed in the direction of Mount H’Leya.

* * * * *

The area in the vicinity of the landing pad, just north of what later would be known as “old town” but right now was the town, wasn’t any more recognizable to Valen up close. It seemed to consist of endless fields of neatly trimmed orchards, punctuated by clusters of the simple homes and meetings places of the Worker caste. The homes, like the trees, were laid out in hexagonal patterns surrounding a central hall, and then surrounded themselves by elaborate gardens on the edge of each orchard group. The air smelled spicy and floral and seemed sticky with pollen. It was late summer, he remembered now. In space for two years, Valen had practically forgotten what summer was, on Earth or Minbar.

All this verdant beauty was going to be destroyed for the sake of the Anla’shok, he realized with melancholy. Somehow he’d never given any thought to what was here before, as if the Rangers could be extended backwards forever. But of course, there was always a beginning, and a before.

He wandered along the crystal-stone paths without rhyme or reason. Most of the trees were leaden with Minbari staples, their equivalent of nuts and breadfruit and oily olive-like fruits. The Minbari had little in the way of sweet domesticated foodstuffs, which Sinclair had guessed was some unconscious avoidance of alcohol — it wouldn’t do to have a bowl of raspberries lethally fermenting on the counter. But now he came upon a small cluster of ancient trees, dwarf-sized compared to some of the other kinds but with thick gnarled trucks betraying their age. The trees were bearing what looked very much like bright red plums. With a start, he realized they were se n’kai, the sweet fruit used in the dedication ceremony of the leader of the Anla’shok. The fruit that, in the future, had almost been lost since the time of Valen.

He reached up and plucked one, hoping he wasn’t horribly violating some harvesting ritual. With his new Minbari taste buds the fruit was sickly sweet, almost too syrupy to gag down. And then his sugar-trained human brain kicked in and declared it good, possibly the best thing he’d ever had on Minbar, up to and including the last time he’d eaten the exact same fruit.

“Be careful with the se n’kai. They say that too much can drive a person mad, honored Entil’Zha. But they are indeed best straight off the tree.”

Valen nearly dropped the remaining piece of fruit at the honorific. He looked around, and the words came from an old Worker woman leaning on a cane and watching him from the closest house. Her age was likely extraordinary, based on the incredible overgrowth of the bone crest on her head, carved into intricate swirling patterns like a work of art. But then, almost simultaneously, he also noticed the house behind her, which looked eerily familiar now that he had spotted it. It was identical in construction to the home he and Catherine had lived in while leading the Rangers. He’d been told it was built specifically for Valen in the time of the Shadows, but now suspected that, yet again, the supposedly well-preserved knowledge may have been a false legend.

“Forgive me, Wise One, but how do you know that word?” he called after a moment, drawing his attention back to the wizened form hovering in the garden. “And is this your home?”

The old woman considered him with deep brown eyes. “You are the stranger who appeared from nowhere to fight our fearsome enemy, are you not? An enemy of the very universe, it is told. There are many whispers about you. Many contradictory stories and prophecies.”

Valen nodded, going with the flow even though she hadn’t answered any of his questions. She would get to it, he trusted. “And who does the whispering to tell you these tales?” he asked.

The woman smiled. “Oh, I still have friends in the Council of Elders. I was once an Elder myself, but now am too old for it.”

The older/Elder phrasing formed a pun in the Worker caste language, and Valen laughed.

“Come, sit, and enjoy the se n’kai in my garden,” she said, beckoning to the uncanny home. “I understand that this garden may not stand for much longer. You intend to build a new community, to replace the old.” The ancient Satai hobbled over to a hexagonal stone table on the edge of a herb garden trimmed into geometric shapes, and Valen followed suit next to her.

“Not replace,” Valen said gently. “It is with a sad heart I would see these centuries-old trees go. They grow very slowly, I’ve been told. But forming the Anla’shok is necessary, and this is the place they are destined to be.”

If he moved the training base, Sinclair wondered, would history be the same? Could he break with his own tradition, break a piece of the loop, without lasting consequences? Occasionally, Valen felt the lack of true prophesy grow cold in his veins.

“You know, young Honored One, my father built this house hundreds of cycles ago,” the woman continued, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “The awful battle was fought south of Tuzanor, but all the land surrounding the city was devastated in the siege. At the time the Workers were ordered not to rebuild, to leave it a wasteland as a permanent sign of the horrors that we Minbari are capable of doing to ourselves. But on this occasion, the Workers did not obey.

“My father and mother and others came and took it upon themselves to plant the orchards. They were granted no resources to do this, so for many cycles it was little more than a camp in the wilderness. But slowly, they built up the land, and the trees began to bloom. It takes a hundred cycles before you can taste the fruit of the se n’kai. My father never did.

“If it is fate to remove all that was built, then it is what it is. I will be going to the sea soon, and my clan will not stand in the way, particularly if you secure the blessings of the priests. We Workers know the difference between permanence and renewal, that sometimes a thing of beauty must be destroyed in order for an even more lovely thing to be born. Can you give me your assurance of that?”

“I cannot say that it will be more lovely, Wise One. That is a difficult test to meet,” Valen said. “But it will be a light in the darkness for much more than this valley, and endure as a legacy for what the City of Sorrows represents. I can promise you that.”

“You seem to know this truly, with foreknowledge.” She leaned over and placed her palm on his chest, an intimate greeting and farewell. “This is why you are the true Entil’Zha. In my father’s dialect, which is mostly passed form the people’s mouths now, it means ‘One Who Builds the Future.’ Only builds is a mistranslation. It is more like putting into place something to which you already see the pattern, and are merely the instrument in carrying it out.”

She removed her hand before he could give her the traditional reply to the palm-gesture, and patted his hand instead. Then she added, “I believe your young friend is looking for you.”

Valen turned around to see where she was looking, and indeed there was Isilyan, walking away from a caravan of Workers who had given her a lift. When she approached and saw the old woman, her eyes widened and then dropped to the ground.

“Satai Ladeni,” Isilyan breathed. “Please forgive my intrusion. My message for the Honored One can wait.”

“No, I think the future is the one sending us a message. We have said all that needs to be said today, young one,” said Ladeni. “Please, enjoy my garden. It is yours now.”

She stood up then, looked them both straight in the eye with her crooked bow, and wobbled back into the house.

“Do you know whose home this is?” Isilyan said to him in a hushed voice, once the old woman had left the garden.

“A very ancient, wise, and — I’m gathering — famous retired Satai of the Worker Council of Elders? It was a most enlightening conversation.”

Isilyan shook her head. “You are drawn to the ineffable, Honored One. Do you wish to hear the news of the current Satai? They have come to a decision.”

“That was fast. Good news that they could all agree on something, I suppose. Considering I plan on press ahead with the Anla'shok in the very near future.”

“Not all agreed. Eight of the Satai present conceded that you need not take any special measures to demonstrate you are Minbari. The Worker clans followed the wisdom of Elleya, as the leaders of Religious matters in Tuzanor. The Fellana clan ended up abstaining, to avoid the shame of dissent. I believe this is representative of the three Councils of Elders as a whole.”

“I see.” Immediate crisis averted, although it wouldn’t stop the rumors. Plus he now had valuable information: Elleya was the key clan to convince to participate in the Anla’shok. Valen already guessed that, but the confirmation was good. The pattern was falling into place. Across a thousand year barrier, Delenn would have been proud of her clan.

One more matter to attend to, before tackling stubborn politics of the Religious caste. “There is a healing center in Tuzanor, I believe? One that can perform a basic shinarit scan?”

“Yes, of course, but…”

“No buts. Arrange for the scan, and then arrange to have the results find their way into the hands of both Fellana and Elleya.”

Sinclair decided not to leave a blood trail, given that the tricky issue of DNA could give him away. But he would likely pass an anatomical scan, one that in this century could only detect crude deceptions such as surgery. And he had a psychological advantage: The prospect of an alien masquerading as a Minbari leader would cause so much scandal, it was virtually unthinkable. His followers wanted to believe.

“As you say, Honored One.” She bowed her head low, and left Valen in the garden in peace.

The garden that would one day fall to him, he knew. He privately vowed to preserve as much of the Worker village as possible in this era, for they too were part of the history and future of the Anla’shok. Even if the trees couldn’t withstand the changes wrought over the centuries, the house would stand, and Valen suddenly decided that this time around, he’d ensure that the story of the owner made it into the time loop. Perhaps he vowed this every time, and every time it came to naught. But he would try to change this one thing, not because he was a prophet who could foresee everything, but because it was what both the myth and the man of Valen would do.