Variations on a Theme

"Do the other castes have shan'fal rituals?" John Sheridan was lying back on a tilted bed, his head propped up only slightly by the hard triangular lump that served the Minbari as pillows. He was getting better at staying on the darn things, which was fortunate given his recent activities.

Delenn was lying on her side, close up against him, one arm across his chest, her hand clasping his, bathed in a glow of perfect contentment. The others had left, even Lennier finally, after speaking the final words of the ritual through the frosted glass partition, granting them the privacy she had requested as a special dispensation in departure from tradition. She was trying to adhere to her clan and caste's traditions, as rigorously as she could, but she had known the audience would be a sticking point for John. He was a wonderful man, and willing to accommodate her beliefs to an admirable extent, but there were limits.

"They do," she answered, her voice languid. Everything seemed slow and peaceful and quiet. She could hear his heartbeat under her cheek, and it was lulling her almost to sleep. But she didn't want to sleep; she didn't want to miss a moment of this time together. They had so little time, and sleep could come later. Rousing herself to answer his question, she went on, "The warriors' ritual is a duel. The choice of weapons falls to the female's clan, the time and place to the male's. The first one to draw blood will be dominant in the relationship, and any children that result from the union will take the victor's name, and become a member of their clan."

John shuddered, "Well, I'm just as glad we didn't have to do that. I've seen you with a denn'bok, in practice sessions on the White Star." He shifted his arm under her, and she wriggled against him in a pleasantly distracting way. "What about the workers?" he asked, wondering whether tradition permitted a little more exploration. He was certain he could find a few more centers of pleasure if he tried. And he intended to try, if not tonight, then soon.

"I do not think you would have enjoyed their rituals either." She had been deeply concerned at his reaction to her clan members' presence in her quarters. Having stretched tradition as far as she could without breaking it, she didn't know if she could make any further concessions. Still, he had agreed, and here they were. And she couldn't seem to stop smiling. "The workers hold the val un'chal twice a year, once at the beginning of our summer, and once at the end, before it turns cold. All of the couples who desire joining meet in an open field, generally on the outskirts of a larger town, or sometimes in a parkland, and they perform the ritual together."

"Together?" John fought to keep from sounding shocked. He didn't want to seem judgmental. "All together? Like an orgy?"

Delenn frowned, "I do not know that word, but if you mean do they switch partners, they do not. Each couple performs the ritual as a couple. They just all do once."

"Outside," mused John. "Does their clan observe? Isn't that a lot of people? What if it rains?"

"I understand it is quite a pleasant outing. Whole families attend; it often goes on all day and into the night. There is music, and dancing, and food. Games for the children, of course. Rain might occasion a delay." She shifted slightly and his arm tightened around her. She thought approvingly that everyone should have this feeling, all the time.

"Of course," muttered John. "The children attend as well? Do they, uh, observe?"

"It is an excellent education for them. To see so much loving attention paid to other's physical needs. I hear it is quite inspiring." She smiled fondly at the thought. "As religious caste, I have never attended their rituals, but one hears stories."

"I imagine you do." John was silent for a moment. Then he said, "Humans have various rituals too, you know. Generally a bit more private." He added, "Less violent, too."

"I look forward to exploring your traditions," Delenn said, the formality of her tone belied by the fact that her hand was moving slowly down his body. "Minbari have a saying about shan'fal. 'Continual exploration leads to continual discovery.'"

"That's funny," said John as he turned and pulled her close. "We have a saying too. 'Once is never enough.'"