The Candle and the Star
Summary: On the Day of the Dead, Lennier told Morden that he wanted wisdom. Did he ever get it? Set after Objects at Rest.
Rating: PG-13 for Morden's severed head and other disturbing themes.
Series: Prequel to 'Varieties of Repentance' and 'A Thousand Years.'
Disclaimer: Belongs to JMS, who'd better not be reading this.
Notes: Leans most heavily on episodes Day of the Dead and Meditations on the Abyss. The Grey Council initiation rite is taken from In the Beginning. Nur and Barenn are not original characters, but we are told very little about them in canon, and much of what I have written about them is invention. They appear in the episode Moments of Transition. Morden's legend of a king is based on 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 and 1 Kings 3:5-10.
Still for Maia.
You would think that these Minbari and their Grey Council would understand, if you stand between the darkness and the light you cast a shadow. And if the shadow stands between darkness and light, then shadow is only another word for grey. My associates would say that the Minbari simply never ask the right question. In the end there was one Minbari who finally understood, but it was only because I explained it to him. Like I said, I just try to make people happy.
After my execution, Emperor Mollari put my freshly hewed head on a pike in the palace gardens. To teach a lesson, he said. As it happened, that suited me fine. Londo has always served me well. I had every intention of teaching a lesson, although perhaps not the one he had in mind.
The palace gardens did not remain gardens for long. Any spare piece of land in the capital was soon covered with swarms of refugees, living one on top of another in the hope of finding some miserable safety beneath my severed head. Which also suited me very well.
The first time I saw Lennier after my death was on the Brakiri Day of the Dead, on Babylon 5. He said he wanted wisdom. I told him a number of things. Some of them were even true, although I have never valued truth particularly. All were designed to help me get what I wanted: the utter destruction of Centauri Prime. Sure, I didn't need it, now that I was dead. But, Londo didn't need to kill me. Lennier helped me even more than I thought he would. In his zeal to not betray the Rangers, and to prove himself worthy of Delenn's love, he brought back exactly the false evidence my associates' allies had begun to plant, when I sent out my signal to them in my last moments.
So, I figure I owe him one. Besides, everyone else who told me what they wanted got it in the end.
The next time I saw Lennier after my death he was hungry, beaten, and cold. He had come to Centauri Prime on a quest for forgiveness, after some business having to do with Delenn's husband, a locked door, and some poisoned gas. It was a less impressive betrayal of the Rangers than I had expected from him, but like I said I'm not infallible, and Lennier always did make a big deal out of things. By the time he found my rotting head he had been wandering on Centauri Prime for many months. Londo had refused to see him, or any Minbari, and the Centauri were understandably less than friendly to offworlders. Meditation practices had kept death from starvation and exposure away for a time, but they would not for much longer.
He lay in the mud, between the tents of Centauri refugees, and all he could think about was Delenn. He imagined her turning away from him, unable to forgive, knowing all he had done. Worse, he imagined her kindness, a gentleness that would never be forgiveness, because he had died before it could be earned or given. He turned, and in this moment he saw me, my ruined face, the maggots in my hair.
"I want to live," he said.
It was a good beginning.
Two Minbari Worker women found him and took him in. Nur and Barenn were their names, and they were running a mission of mercy among the Centauri. They nursed the sick when they could, and fed them what food they could find, and built houses for the many made homeless by the destruction of the island of Selini and the vast devastation of the war. Lennier was quite unconscious by the time they found him, and he woke up screaming my name.
Time passed, and Lennier healed, and he began to work with Nur and Barenn. He did not tell them his name, or his clan, and they seemed content not to know. The work seemed to suit him. He would rise early, say his prayers, and set to work in the kitchen. Each day was a few more meals, and another family that would starve to death one day later. But I don't think he thought of that, while he was working. I think he thought about the tools, and the water, and the bread, and nothing much else at all.
At night he would sit around the fireplace with some of the more openminded Centauri children, and they would listen to Barenn tell stories. She was a large woman, and her hands made large gestures as she told her stories, wild stories about space and adventure and heroes. Nur would watch her also, and smile a secret smile at her mate, and the Centauri girls would whisper and giggle at seeing two elderly Minbari women so visibly in love.
Nur had taken woodcarving as her craft, and in the evening sometimes she would sit on the steps whittling, and Lennier would sit with her. There was no place to sit where they could not see me, although they often preferred to imagine they did not. But one day, after Lennier had been on Centauri Prime for about a year by the calendar I used to keep, he finally made a gesture in my direction.
"I used to know him," Lennier said. "He would ask people what it is that they want."
"We have someone like that on Minbar," Nur said. "A Ranger. I think his name is Findell. When new Rangers want to join he looks them in the eye and asks them if this is what they really want. He says a human captain ordered him to do it, but it was a fellow Minbari who showed him how."
"That was me," Lennier said. "I used to be a Ranger, once. For a short time."
"Really?" Nur raised an eyebrow. "A former Ranger? You don't see those often."
"No, you don't." Lennier looked down at the bird Nur was carving. It reminded him of the carvings done by a monk he once knew, back on Babylon 5. "This Ranger," he said. "Does it do harm, the question he asks?"
"I don't know," Nur said. "It might help, sometimes. Sometimes we have Workers who go to join the Rangers, and then they come back saying, no, what they wanted was a different kind of work, maybe something we hadn't imagined yet. Of course, there are also those who just don't want to get their work done."
"Of course," Lennier said.
Lennier returned alone to me late that night, as if he were coming to visit a secret lover. "If I have caused your question to be asked on Minbar, then I must answer it myself, and let the danger of it fall on me," he said. I most heartily agreed. "What do I want?" he asked.
Fire lit the courtyard, casting flares of light on his face. "There is no purpose in refusing to shame myself," he said. "I have already disgraced myself through my actions far worse than I ever could by mere speech. And so I will say it. I desire Delenn. I want to possess her, body and soul. I want her to love me with all the passion in her being. I want to be joined with her in every way in which two can be made one. I want John Sheridan dead."
Lennier looked around, as if waiting to see if the earth would swallow him. It did not. Then he stood still for a moment, daring himself to hear the words he had spoken.
"If that is true," he said after a time, "why did I go back to free Sheridan, to undo what I had done, after only a few seconds had elapsed? Why was I not truly willing to let him die?"
He looked up, meeting my worm-filled eyes. "I want to be worthy of Delenn's love, even though I will never earn it. I want to be as good as someone who loves Delenn ought to be. I want to make a difference for good in the universe. Like Delenn."
The next day Lennier went to speak with Barenn. "It is the calling of my heart to join the Worker caste," he told her.
The transition from Religious to Worker was less difficult than he had thought it would be. He took a new name: Shakth, for his grandfather, who had been a Worker. There was still some time for prayers, but in the mornings he would practice his craft. He chose stonecarving, because that had been the craft of his friend the monk. During the days he was finally allowed to join with the other Minbari Workers in building homes for the refugees from the isle of Selini, whose tents lined the streets of the city. At the end of the day Lennier would see the house that he had made, and the family moving into it, and I think he was as happy as he had ever been. But Lennier has never asked for happiness from me.
One day a few months later Lennier sat again with Nur on the steps by my courtyard. This time they both had their carvings in hand, one stone, one wood. "It is a miracle that you found me," Lennier said. "I don't understand how it happened. I was so close to death. What were the chances that you would find me here, completely by accident?"
"Almost nothing," Nur said. "We found you because Delenn told us to look for you."
"What?" Lennier spun around, dropping his carving. "Is Delenn well? What did she tell you about me?"
"She is well," Nur said. "She told us to look for you, and to care for you well if we find you, for her sake. She did not know where you would be, but she guessed it might be here. She asked us not to tell her where you are if you wish not to be found. And she sends this message: 'When you find what you seek, remember that it is not you alone who requires it. It is needed also for me, and for our people.' Do you know what this message means?"
"No," said Lennier. "But why did you wait so long before telling me?"
"Why did you wait so long and still not tell us your name, Lennier of the Third Fane of Chu'Domo?"
"But why did you choose now to tell me that you have known who I was since the beginning?"
"It is for Barenn," Nur said. "There is something she needs to ask of you."
"Satai Barenn," Lennier bowed to her, after she explained. "So you and Nur are both among the Grey. That is how you know Delenn."
"No," said Barenn. "Or rather, not only. Delenn chose us for the Grey Council partly because we had worked together during the war. I coordinated military nursing, and Nur," Bareen cast an uneasy glance towards her mate, "Nur had a different role. But now Delenn has gone off to work with humans, and sometimes I just don't know what to do. The Workers have never been in power like this before, and it's very confusing. I need to go back and take up my seat again. Please come with me, Shakth. Please come with me and be my aide. You worked with Delenn all those years, you know how to handle councils. Please," she said. "I need your help."
"I am not able to give it," Lennier said. "I am sorry.'
"I know something happened with Delenn," said Barenn. "I don't know what, but I could see it when she talked about you. You won't have to see her, if it's too much. She won't even have to know you're there. When you change caste you become a new person. Your old name and what you were doesn't have to matter anymore."
"But it does," said Lennier. "I am sorry. Please forgive me."
That night Lennier came to me again. "When you find what you seek, remember that it is not you alone who requires it," he repeated Delenn's message. "Can she mean forgiveness? But what other forgiveness could she need, after all she has done?
"Or can there be another meaning? When I fled, after I saw to what I had fallen, I said I needed to find out who and what I am.
"Morden," he looked at me deliberately, "I want to know who and what I am."
Lennier waited for a long moment. But the Shadows were gone, gone beyond the Rim, and wishes can no longer be granted in an instant. If indeed they ever could.
"Why did you come to me on the Day of the Dead? I was the first Minbari to answer the question 'What do you want?' when you asked it. I brought this question to my fellow Minbari, and my fellow Rangers. I served your plans, though I did not wish to. And in the end, when there seemed to be at last order in the Alliance, I acted to create one last moment of chaos. Why? What am I?"
He looked at me for a long time. A few rotting shreds of flesh still hung to my tattered skull. "What is left when the Shadows have departed?" Lennier asked at last, "when there is no longer any means of gaining what we most desire? Only desire that is thwarted. Unrequited love.
"Delenn says that it is not true that all love is unrequited. In her world, it is not. In her world, which serves only the Light, each one has another, as was predestined, as should be. In my world, things are different. I am the legacy of shadows among the people of Minbar.
"It is good that I refused to return with Barenn."
Before Barenn took the shuttle for Minbar, she kissed Nur for a very long time. They had been married for over seventy years, they knew how to kiss, and it was certainly pleasant to watch. "Please," Barenn said, when they finally separated, "don't do this. You know the mission will manage without you. I won't. I never have. Please, Nur."
Nur gave no answer, only held her as she shook. "You'll be fine," she said at last.
"No, I won't," said Barenn. "And even if I would, that's not the point. And what about your seat on the Grey Council?"
"Tell the Grey that I am not worthy to stand among them."
"I'm not going to say that," Barenn said. "It isn't true."
"It is the only message I will give them," said Nur, and turned away.
Some days later Nur sat again on the steps by my courtyard with Lennier. "You should have gone with Barenn," she said to him.
"It is you who should have gone," he said. "Why didn't you?"
"I am not going back to Minbar. I am not able to serve on the Grey Council. Delenn thought I should, that it would help me atone. Delenn ought to have known, atonement is not so easy."
"Why must you atone?" Lennier asked.
"Of course," Nur said, "you don't know. So young, and raised in a Temple. I wasn't always a builder of houses. During the war I was quite famous. I designed weapons. There was a weapon that was my masterwork. It could destroy an entire planet, all at once. I designed it for a specific planet, matched it to that planet's atmosphere, geology and internal composition, so that once it was used there would be nothing on that planet left alive."
"Zha'ha'dum?" Lennier asked.
"Earth," Nur answered.
Lennier looked down for a long time. "It's all of us," he said. "Worker, Warrior, Religious. All of us."
"We think we're untouched by the Shadow, we don't ask what we want, and then we commit a genocidal war and we don't know why."
"No," Nur said. "We never know why."
Lennier picked up his carving and absently made a few strokes.
"And what about you?" Nur asked. "What terrible act brought you here?"
Lennier looked out over the wasted landscape. Over the two years he had been here there had been some few small improvements, but still fires burned in the distance and wounded beggars limped in daily from their devastated homes. "I brought the false evidence that led to the destruction of this place," Lennier said.
Nur watched him, waiting. Lennier knew what else he needed to say. "And then I tried to kill someone. The...mate...of someone I loved. A good and kind man."
"And do you know why?" Nur asked.
Because I was mad, Lennier thought. But after two years facing my skull he could do better than that. "When I brought back my false evidence," Lennier said, "everyone trusted me. They all said that I was above suspicion, and so my evidence must be true. They all thought I was good. But, I wasn't. I loved a married woman, not in a pure way but in a way of desire and lust. Even she thought I was good. She thought I was wonderful. She thought I was so pure of heart that I could serve her and her husband together, and never be destroyed by the pain of wanting more. I needed to prove that she was wrong, that the one that she had chosen was the better man."
"Because if you hadn't," Nur said, "she might have loved you."
Lennier brought down his fist suddenly, hitting his thigh hard enough to leave a bruise. "Never say that," he said. "She could never have loved me. She does not love me. She will never love me."
Nur opened her mouth, and then closed it. "Alright," she said. "I did not say anything. But, good has nothing to do with love. Barenn could never have loved me, otherwise."
"I still don't understand," Lennier said. "You believe you are unworthy, so you remain here, even after your mate has gone. But how has Barenn sinned? Why is she worthy of punishment? Why are you making her suffer, by staying away from her?"
Nur stood up. "There's a mirror in the house if you want to look in it," she said, and walked away. Lennier remained, watching me, for a long time.
For another year they worked together. Three years after the fall of Centauri Prime, even I could see some improvements in my garden. Certainly there were fewer refugee children throwing dung at my head. Not that the begging stopped, or the flames in the distance. Not that they ever will.
When a year had gone by, Barenn sent a message to Lennier. She told him that all was well among the Grey, but that she still needed his help, and she still wanted him to come back to Minbar and be her aide. "She isn't going to ask again," Nur said.
"Are you going?" Lennier asked.
Nur did not answer.
"If I go, will you go?"
"Maybe," Nur said.
"Then let me speak with someone," Lennier said, "and I will know what to do."
It was the first time Lennier had come to me during daylight hours, although in the fog from the burning of Centauri Prime even daylight was a faded black. My head was nothing but a bare skull, naked bones in the wind.
"I want poverty and hunger to end on Centauri Prime," Lennier said. "I want injustice and caste rivalry to end on Minbar. I want Londo to be free. I want wisdom, and self-knowledge, for myself and for my world.
"I want the Earth/Minbari war to be over. I want the Shadow/Vorlon war to be over. I want to be forgiven. I want to understand, and I want it not to hurt anymore.
"I want Delenn's love. Even if I will never have it, still it is what I want, and what I will always want, for the rest of my life."
Lennier folded his hands and bowed, like a young priest praying. "Thank you," he said. "These conversations have been most enlightening."
I would have bowed back if I could. There were still things that Lennier needed to understand, but in general he had been a most excellent student.
Lennier burst into Nur's room while she was carving. He began grabbing at her things and organizing them in a suitcase.
"What are you doing?" Nur asked.
"Packing," Lennier said. "Our shuttle for Minbar leaves in less than two hours."
Lennier kept packing.
'What has gotten into you?" she asked.
"I couldn't find a mirror," Lennier said, "so I looked at my shadow."
"Thank you. Now could you please say something that makes sense?"
Lennier closed the suitcase, and sat down on it. "Alright," he said. "Here it is. I'm not leaving unless you are."
Nur sighed theatrically. "Were you like this when you worked with Delenn? No," she stopped herself, "don't answer that. But listen to this." She knelt next to Lennier and took both his hands. "You are going to be among the Grey. That is why Barenn chose you. That is why Delenn was training you. They see something in you, Valen knows what. If you are going to turn back, turn back now, because once you get on to that shuttle you are returning to Minbar, and to your destiny."
Lennier thought for a moment, and then he turned to me in his heart, like I knew he always would. "Yes," he said. "That is what I want."
Years pass, and my associates call to me. Before I follow, there is one last act that I must witness.
It is twelve years since the departure of the Vorlons and Shadows. On Minbar, the Grey Council are gathered to welcome another into their ranks. Lennier is led to the entrance of the inner chamber, where Barenn waits.
"Why are you here?" she asks.
"Who do you serve?"
"What is the truth?"
"That we are all one, and speak with one voice." Light and dark, Vorlon and Shadow, desire and destiny. One voice, fragmented and varied, like the light of a star in a thousand candles. Or one.
"Will you follow me into fire?" Barenn asks the ritual questions. "Will you follow me into darkness? Will you follow me into death?"
Lennier cannot help but think that it should have been Delenn asking these questions, that it would have been if the world had not changed. But these words are not Barenn's, they are Valen's, Valen who is Delenn and Sinclair, and yes, Sheridan as well. And perhaps more. "I will," he says.
She leads him into the inner chamber, where he takes his place in a circle of light. He touches the triluminary, but it does not glow, as it should not for one who is wholly of Minbar. I stand in the chamber between the shadows and for a moment I imagine that he can see me, and that he salutes me with the faintest of bows.
"I stand between the darkness and the light," Lennier says. "I have become Grey."
There is a legend among my people of a king who was asked by his Deity: what do you want? He answered: I want wisdom. His God said: because you have asked for this, and not for a vast kingdom, wealth, honor, or a long life, I will give you all of these, and great wisdom as well.
Of course, after he died his sons quarreled, squandered his wealth, and divided his kingdom. Chaos takes all in the end.
And who are you to judge me? I have paid for all my crimes. My associates beyond the Rim call to me. I will go to them now. All the rest, my students, I leave to you.