In the days long ago, when the snowed of the world were new and fresh and wild, the gods created the first Minbari to inhabit this new land. And this first Minbari, they shaped like a woman, and gave her breath and blood, and kindled a flame to be her soul, the first of all Minbari souls.
And the first Minbari awoke, and looked at her hands and at the land, and she said to the gods, “This land is vast and without pity. How am I to venture forth into the ice and wind?”
The gods counselled and saw that the first Minbari spoke truly, so they made for her a sturdy creature on four stout, strong legs, as deep blue as the auroras that pranced in the endless night skies, with a back broad enough to carry the first Minbari. And she called it a nishai, for it was the first of its kind, as she was, and ran swiftly at the head of the wind, disdaining all other creatures but her.
Couriers had arrived at the school, as they did nearly every week, bringing letters and crystals with messages for students and teachers alike. All of the pupils at the little school for Religious instruction were restricted in their use of communications devices, so the missives from home and family and friends were always eagerly anticipated and delightfully received, resulting in a mild sort of ordered chaos that would persist through the rest of the day.
Some of the students, who came from large extended families within their clans had many letters, and Mayan had received yet another confused mess – a stack of papers from her archaeologist father, away on a dig, eager to tell her of his finds but too busy to bother keeping to a single letter a week, and a data crystal from her mother on the same dig, containing excerpts from her site journal as well as a recording dealing with family and personal matters. And Delenn had her usual letter from her father, written on paper in the same even, patient, gentle hand that she had first learned to read from.
Neroon stood off to the side, as he always did, with his arms folded over his chest and his customary scowl of disregard for his fellow students writ large on his handsome features.
“If I live to be a thousand years old,” Mayan muttered, sorting through the scribbles her father had sent, “I will never understand what you see in him, Delenn. It’s not as though we’re being offensively pious in his presence, after all. And yet he glares at us all. He ought to at least have learned civility, by this time.”
“He is extremely civil,” Delenn countered, in her mild way. “I think he’s simply… disappointed.”
“Well… he’s been here some months, but he hasn’t received any letters.” Apart from the ones from his former training camp’s younger students, who all missed him greatly, but Delenn knew those were not the messages that Neroon hungered for.
Mayan shrugged. “Oh, well. I doubt Warriors bother much with writing. No doubt they’re all much too busy with pike-training and meat-eating and others such loathsome things. Besides, he has his own family here. He has Master Branmer, which is more than the rest of us have.”
Neroon, though out of earshot of their conversation, no doubt caught the spirit of Mayan’s words from the expression on her face. Or perhaps he had simply had enough of seeing others partaking of a happiness he could not share. Whatever the reason, he chose that moment to turn and slip out of the grand hall.
With a brief murmur of apology to her friend, Delenn hurried after him, her letter from her father clutched to her chest.
He had much longer legs than she did, and he was clearly eager to be away and alone, so by the time Delenn caught up with him, he was curled up on the round dais in the center of the Star Temple, which had become his refuge in times of trouble.
Delenn paused on the threshold of the temple. He had his knees drawn up to his chest, but he was not peering up through the dome, high above, as was his wont, so that he might see the stars. No, today, his cheek was resting on his bent-up knees, and his face was turned away from the door.
She approached cautiously, his posture jabbing at her heart. “Neroon?”
For a moment he did not move, and when he did, it was merely to sigh and unfold himself. “You didn’t need to leave your friends for me,” he said, very gruffly, wiping the back of his sleeve across his eyes.
Delenn knelt on the platform and offered him a fold of her robe instead. “It’s softer, and more finely woven. You’ll only irritate your eyes more if you abuse them with that rough stuff.”
“…Irritate, yes. There is so much dust in this place.” He wiped his wet eyes hastily with the proffered wide hem of her sleeve. “Thank you.” And then, because her hand was in easy reach, he grasped it gently and kissed it, and smiled at the colored that suddenly flooded Delenn’s cheeks. Then he saw the paper in her other hand and some of his foul mood returned. “Is that from your father?”
“It is, yes.”
Neroon’s jaw tightened. “I trust that he is in good health?”
“He is in excellent health, thank you.” Delenn seated herself more comfortably beside her abruptly formal friend. “He asks after you, you know.”
Neroon turned to her sharply. “He does?”
He looked so surprised, Delenn couldn’t help but giggle, though she wished it hadn’t been such a shock. “He does, yes. Every time he writes to me.”
“I… but… he does not even know me!”
“He has not met you, but he knows that you are… important to me. So he makes a point of asking.” She did not say that her father asked after Mayan just as dutifully; it seemed to matter a great deal to Neroon, and she did not wish to spoil that.
“He must be a very conscientious parent,” said Neroon, when he was recovered enough from his shock to speak again. “And at least someone is inquiring after my well-being.”
Delenn sighed to herself. As she had thought… “There is still no word from your mother?”
“None directed towards me, no. Branmer keeps her apprised of my progress and all my successes and failures – well, not all,” he corrected, with a warm look in his black eyes that made Delenn blush again. “But it is one thing for a friend’s father to make polite inquiries, and another for my own mother… it’s as though I don’t quite exist anymore, to her.” His proud shoulder slumped. “She must think me beyond hope of reformation.”
Delenn folded her letter away carefully, and inched closer, pressing against the Star Rider boy’s side. She was not entirely clear on what transgression Neroon had committed, to make the commanders of his Warrior-caste training camp decide to send him to a Religious enclave to mend his ways, but neither was she in complete ignorance. Master Branmer had tasked her with helping him to learn patience, after all, and to control his temper, and from those two simple directives, it was fairly simple to deduce that one of two things must have happened: either he had been insubordinate, or he had been reckless. And knowing him as she did, she was inclined to the latter.
The sudden hoarseness of his voice made her frown and press even closer to him. “I am here.”
“I fear… what if she has decided I am no longer worth the trouble of calling her son? What if she has decided to abandon me here, among strangers, away from my clan and my caste?” Terror seized him, and he began to tremble. “What if I never leave this place? What if—?”
Swiftly, Delenn reached up, caught the back of his crest in her small hand, and brought his face down to hers, kissing him hard and pressing her body to his. When she let go, he clung to her, dissolving into a twisted, choking sort of weeping, as though he was ashamed of himself. Delenn held him, and rubbed his back through his thick uniform coat, humming something low and tuneless and soothing that she thought she remembered from her babyhood, or perhaps from before it.
At last, Neroon ran out of tears. “Forgive me,” he muttered, his cheeks aflame, as he wiped his eyes on her sleeve again. “You must think me such a fool.”
“No,” said Delenn softly. “It is not foolish to feel lonely and abandoned in a strange place. But this is not your prison, Neroon. This is a place of peace, and learning, and healing. It is your foster father’s home. You are not without caste and clan. And you are not without friends,” she reminded him, pressing her hand to his sternum. “And your mother is here as well, as you dwell within her heart.”
Neroon frowned at the sentimentality, and then chuckled softly. “I suppose that’s true… she certainly wouldn’t be as angry with me as she is, if she’d given up on me altogether.”
“And you are too stubborn to remove from the heart so easily,” Delenn teased, almost without blushing.
This time, Neroon kissed her, and it was slow and deliberate and soft, with the parchment letter crackling comfortably between them.