Delenn looked down at the table as her acolyte set the tea in front of her and intoned the proper blessing. Grey hair fell around the edges of her vision. When the ritual was complete, she took a sip, watching her companion over the rim of the cup.
The girl—Delenn supposed she was a grown woman, but she looked very young to Delenn's eyes—kept her own gaze lowered, as was proper for one in the presence of an elder. She had never cared for that piece of propriety, but she had learned not to protest—there was no point in wasting her breath. It was a curious thing, that form of reverence that would insist on a gesture of respect even in defiance of the wishes of the one receiving it.
"I am curious," Delenn said. "I am not often sought after by members of the worker caste. At least, not those outside the Anla'Shok."
Her guest—Shalir, of the house of Astril, of the Windwalkers, her acolyte had named her—said nothing. Well. Delenn hadn't—technically—asked a question or said anything that required an answer. "Why did you request an audience?"
Shalir hesitated. "I—I need advice, and I think—you are the best person to give it."
"Advice your own elders cannot give? It must be a very … unique problem." Even for a unique problem, Shalir must be a very unique Minbari to go outside not only her clan, but her caste, for advice.
"I believe I have found the calling of my heart." She took a deep breath. "His name is Ibrahim El-Ghazzawy."
Delenn sat back. A very unique Minbari, indeed. "I believe that is a Human name, is it not?"
"It is." Shalir nodded. "I am a cargo pilot on a small ship, making runs along the borders of our territory. Ibrahim is a cargo handler—I first noticed him because he is so very good at his job. He takes a pride and a care in his work that one does not often find in aliens. I—we fell in love. I thought, Minbari society is so much more open to outworlders than it used to be, surely they will allow this. I am only one pilot, of a small ship on our borders. Rarely does my ship touch down on Minbar. He would be no threat to our people, or our way of life. I even offered a childless union, to protect the purity of our race. But my clan denied it."
"That is a terrible thing, when one's clan denies the calling of one's heart." Delenn remembered well the anguish in her own heart when her clan tried to separate herself and John Sheridan, decades ago.
"I thought, I will appeal to the elders, and ask them to intervene—it is the calling of my heart, they cannot prevent it!" The young woman's fire disappeared as quickly as it had come. "But then Ibrahim began to say that we did not need their permission or their blessing, and that we should be married without it. And I thought, how can the calling of my heart lead me to someone with so little respect for the clan? I told myself I must be wrong. But … my heart still calls me."
Delenn sighed. "I do not know you, or him, so I cannot tell you what you wish to hear. But what wisdom I have, I will share. First, there is no human culture with a clan structure similar to ours, not anymore—humans of this day are very individualistic, though it was not always so. Ibrahim has no understanding of what it is like to live in a society such as ours, and no appreciation for the importance of family. He may never fully understand this, because it is alien to him."
Shalir seemed to sag, a little, though her posture remained perfectly correct.
Delenn continued. "Second, there is no part of Minbari culture with a structure similar to the individualism of Human culture. Therefore, you have no understanding of what it is like to live in a society such as his, and no appreciation for the importance of the individual. You may never fully understand this, because it is alien to you. And there are many such differences between our two cultures. To make any sort of relationship work, you must both be willing to compromise, to accept areas where you do not agree, and build a life with elements of both. It will not be easy, not ever, not even for a moment. If it is the calling of your heart, you may find that work rewarding, and worth what you give for it. But it must be mutual. The calling of your heart is not enough. It must also be the calling of his. And you must both be willing to do the hard work of finding a middle ground sufficient to build a life upon. Do you understand?"
Shalir nodded. "Yes, Entil'Zha." She paused. "And … if it is the calling of both our hearts, and we are both willing to work hard to achieve it, how are we to convince my clan to allow it? You were given to the humans as a sign of fertility and growth after the war—"
Delenn cut her off with a gentle shake of her head. "That is the official story," she said. "It is true, but not sufficient. There was another reason behind it, for allowing my marriage."
"Then they did allow the calling of your heart to dictate your marriage to a human!" her guest said.
"No," Delenn said. "That was not the reason. I do not know if this reason would sway your clan as it did mine, but it might. It is not a reason to be invoked lightly, you understand—there is a reason it was hidden. It may be that revealing it would be for the betterment of our people, but it might also worsen other things. I cannot foresee the consequences of it."
In Valen’s name. Reverence for Valen was so deeply entwined in Minbari society—he was known to have been “a Minbari not born of Minbari,” but that was ambiguous. To many, it was an empty phrase not understood; to others, it simply meant he had been born on a colony world or ship instead of the homeworld. That was true, but not the whole truth. He had been born a human, lived as a human for many years, before using a triluminary to become Minbari. He had had children, who passed on at least some of his Human genes. Delenn herself carried some of them.
She had debated, many times, in the decades since she had learned this, what she was to do with this information. It had been secret for millennia. Minbari prided themselves on their purity—yet their greatest hero and prophet was not pure. Would that knowledge lead her people to a greater involvement with outsiders, which Delenn had grown to understand was a good and necessary thing? Would it help them choose to step out instead of withdrawing? Or would it cause them to reject Valen himself, and draw the cloak of their xenophobia closer?
Delenn could not tell, and in the chaos and upheaval that surrounded the Shadow War, the Minbari Civil War, and her marriage to John, she had never dared to put the question to the test. She could not say that her people were any more ready; but they were at least now in a more stable place, to consider the question rationally instead of in fear.
If it were ever to be made public, now was the time. Delenn was very old, and of the very few who knew the truth, she was the only one left who would both dare to tell this truth and revered enough to be believed.
Of course, she could wield this particular truth without making it generally known. This was the Minbari way. A quiet word in the ear of the leaders of this worker’s clan, a suggestion that since Valen himself was human, surely another human in the Minbari gene pool could be allowed, would probably solve this young couples’ problem. But what of other young people? What of the future, when Delenn was no longer here to share this truth when needs arose?
She did not know whether it would be for the best to tell this truth or keep it hidden. She did not know what Valen would have wanted.
But Jeffrey Sinclair, her friend, would have wanted the truth to be told, if it could help another, if it could help bring two people together in peace and love.
The worker girl was waiting, eyes lowered, for Delenn to finish speaking. “Go back to your Ibrahim,” she said. “Test this. If it is truly the calling of your heart, and his, you will be able to build a life together where both your heritages are honored. And if it truly is your calling, and his, once you are sure, come to me again, and I will tell the truth that will allow your marriage.”
Shalir bowed. “Thank you, Entil’zha! Thank you for your advice and your help—I have felt so alone these last months, because no one understands, not my crewmates, nor my clan.”
“You are welcome,” Delenn said. “In Valen’s name, I give you blessings. Go now, and consider. But be prepared for consequences far beyond what you can imagine.”
“There are always consequences beyond what we can imagine,” Shalir replied. “They do not frighten me.”
“Good,” Delenn said. “Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is foolishness and pride speaking. But know that Valen walks with you, as you make this choice. You are not the first, and you will not be the last, and you are not alone.”