Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Title taken from The Fellowship of the Ring-by J.R.R. Tolkien
Legolas: "But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlorien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale."
"Maybe," said Gimli; "and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless; yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zaram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves."
Part One: Awakening
It had taken Susan Ivanova three months to wind up her affairs in Geneva. Three months which had passed in a blur, but finally she was finished, and able to return to Minbar to take up her new position as leader of the Rangers. Even after resigning her commission, there had been projects to finish, reports to file, interviews with curious politicians, debriefing with colorless bureaucrats, and time stolen from all these distractions to pack, and to brush up on her Adronato. She hadn't bothered to pack much; some mementos of the War, clothes, some books. The Shadow War was still the War to her. She hoped there would never be another like it, and that was part of the pull of duty that had led her to accept her new position.
The display holder for Marcus' denn'bok had been shipped ahead with other heavier items. The pike itself she carried with her. Susan liked to think that Marcus would appreciate her carrying it as Anla'Shok Na. In memory still bright, she thought as she tucked the weapon in the hidden inner pocket of her Ranger cloak. Delenn had sent one for her to wear on her journey. Adjusting the fall of the cloak, she gazed at herself in the full-length mirror that hung opposite the bedroom door. It reflected back an empty apartment, walls peppered with unfilled holes and smudged shadows where pictures had once hung. Her achievements, her promotions and medals; of these no evidence remained. They had disappeared into the past, and no longer felt important. None of it had ever replaced the people, the places, the comrades-in-arms, and the friends from twenty years ago.
It was time to go, and suddenly she felt light, as if she'd laid down a heavy burden. A surge of excitement flowed through her. Leaving was hard, arriving would bring its own challenges, but the journey held out more hope that she'd allowed herself to feel in years. Straightening her shoulders, she gazed once more at the foreign image that confronted her in the mirror. We walk in the dark places, Marcus had quoted to her more than once. She was tired of sleep-walking through life. It was time to start moving. Towards darkness or towards light, as long as she was moving forward that was enough for now.
Her arrival was quiet and unremarked, just as she'd requested. Her quarters were in the Alliance section of the complex, her office on the Anla'Shok side. One of Delenn's aides met her at the spaceport and escorted her straight to her rooms. Delenn had left strict orders that Susan was not to go directly to work, but to take a day or two to settle into her new life. Her things had been unpacked and neatly stowed away. Aside from a few pieces of minimalist furniture, some lighting and kitchen necessities, the place was empty. It reminded her of every first assignment she'd ever had. The Captain's quarters on the Titans, the newly commissioned ship which had been her first command, had been much the same- white, clean, and impersonal. After years of building a home on Babylon 5, it had been both a shock and a relief to get away to her own ship, to make a clean start. Unfortunately, memories can't be packed away; nor left behind so easily.
Susan had never been a natural early riser, but as she'd grown older, the mornings had become more familiar to her. After the first few weeks in her new position, she'd arranged regular early meetings with Delenn, sharing tea and coffee, and sometimes breakfast, while going over items of joint concern. One day in early summer, she'd worked through the night on a project, and realized at the last moment that she needed some data only Delenn could provide. It was a little while before sunrise, and she sent a quick message to the residence, querying the home computer whether anyone was up. If Delenn was already awake, Susan figured she could go on over, access the information she needed before their meeting, and get the report finished in time for this morning's conference with the Alliance's Military Committee.
The com reported that the residence was on daytime status, with moderate privacy selected. Susan left a message detailing what she needed, then figuring that Delenn wouldn't mind if she got there early in the circumstances, she gathered together her papers, threw on her Ranger cloak, and headed for the staircase that led upstairs to the Presidential wing. Her quarters were one flight down and one wing over, but it was only five minutes if she took the stairs. The lift was in the central corridor and added another ten minutes to the trip. When she got to the door, she nodded at the guards, and pushed the button to announce her presence while leaning forward for the retinal scan identification. She was buzzed in without comment, and went straight to the small dining area on the balcony. It was a deep balcony that ran the width of the apartment, with low dividers separating the areas off the kitchen, living room, and main bedroom. You could walk the entire length of the balcony along the railing, or retreat under the eaves behind the dividers and retain some privacy.
Delenn wasn't there, but the place settings for their normal morning meal were, and Delenn's table-top comsystem was set up and humming in operation of some bit of data retrieval. "Delenn?" Susan called out. When there was no immediate answer, she put down her papers and data crystal holder, and poured herself a cup of coffee. The mug was a thick heavy ceramic one, matte black with a wobbly outline of a StarFury drawn on it in gold. It was one David had made for John, years before. Susan had protested when offered it the first time, but had accepted Delenn's explanation that she liked to see it used, that all the memories it brought back were good ones.
Sipping at her coffee, Susan went to the edge of the balcony and admired the view of the dark sky. Light globes were visible in the gardens below, and the dark mass of the mountains on the horizon were shadows on shadows. The two moons, one a crescent, the other half full, glowed in the sky. It was almost dawn. Susan heard a door open and turned to her left, where she saw an elongated rectangle of light stretch across the balcony floor until it reached the silver railing, tinting it gold. It was the light from the bedroom door. "Delenn?" she repeated, not wanting to take her friend unawares, although the com should have alerted her already.
There was no answer. Susan stood by the railing, uncertain what to do. She heard the scrape of the door closing and the light retreated. The sky was starting to lighten, and now the jagged peaks were clearer, although the snow-capped tops dimmed as the moons' light on them faded. Susan moved closer to the railing, trying to see past the divider. There came a sound, a whisper like a prayer or a plea, and she instinctively moved away, holding her breath and trying not to overhear. Thinking back, she realized that every time she had come to Delenn's apartments in the past weeks, the Minbari woman had been awake, dressed, ready to start the day. She'd come too early, that was all, and must be interrupting some ritual or another.
The murmuring continued briefly, then stopped. Susan thought she heard a small cry, like a splinter of pain. That startled her and, and she moved into the center section, again approaching the railing. The clouds were tinged with pink, and scudding lightly south to north. There were no more sounds, and the silence began to weigh on her. Suddenly she became impatient. Ritual or not, if something was wrong with Delenn, Susan wanted to know about it.
Calling out, "Good morning!" Susan strode past the low barrier. Delenn was sitting on a stone bench set against the wall, looking outwards, toward the balcony rail.
"Good morning, Susan," she said, not taking her eyes off the far horizon. The sun's rays were over the mountain tops now, and the sky was turning blue at the edges, blurring into the red clouds floating across the golden orb.
Susan stared at Delenn's face, set in serene lines, her self-composure contradicting the sounds Susan had just heard. "May I sit down?" she asked.
Delenn took her eyes from the sun, now reduced to everyday pale yellow, and looked at her friend. She glanced briefly at the empty space at her right side, and smiled. "Certainly," she answered, "I am almost finished, and would enjoy the company."
Susan tucked the edges of her robe beneath her, and took a seat. "But what are you doing?" She dropped her head in a gesture of respect, and added, "If you don't mind my asking."
"It is called the Ritual of Remembrance," Delenn answered in a steady voice.
Susan almost smiled at the familiar tone of instruction, but the overall mood was too serious. "I can guess who you are remembering."
"Yes," replied Delenn abstractly. Then she turned to look at her friend, her expression now closed. "It is time for our meeting, and for breakfast. Shall we go?"
Susan looked closely at the Minbari woman. Her face was drawn and tired. Susan knew Delenn had been involved in late night negotiations almost every night for the past two weeks. "How often do you perform this ritual?" she asked abruptly.
"Every day," Delenn answered simply. "It is not a burden, Susan. I have to get up everyday, in any case. I perform the ritual, and I remember, every day."
"You need more sleep," Susan declared. "You have an Alliance to run, and it won't do anyone any good if you make yourself ill. Besides, you don't need a ritual to remember John. Not a day goes by that you don't remember him. I know," Susan's voice caught on the admission, "Because I do too." She leaned forward and asked, "Tell me some more about this. How long will this daily ritual last?"
Delenn shifted her eyes away from Susan. "It depends."
"Depends on what?" Susan tried to stay patient. She'd dealt with enough Minbari to know that pinning them down when they didn't want to tell you something was like trying to capture quicksilver. It was best to draw them out slowly and hope they let their guard down. She also knew that technique wasn't likely to work with Delenn.
"On many things. The relationship with the one who has passed beyond, the degree of clan distance, the exact circumstances..." Delenn's voice tailed off, then she said firmly. "It is our way, Susan. Now, let us get to work. You needed some information on the state of the production of the new White Star class V ships. My com system is collating the available data now."
"I need some information, all right, but not about ships." Susan crossed her legs at the ankle, crossed her arms at the chest, and leaned back against the stone seat. "I can wait. I've got all day."
Delenn pressed her lips together. "You do not, and neither do I. We can discuss this later."
"We can discuss it now," Susan replied. "Come on, Delenn. What is it? Don't you trust me?"
"Of course I do." Delenn said, becoming slightly agitated. Then she sighed, "I suppose it would be easier to tell you."
"Yes, it would," replied Susan definitively. "Consider it part of my education. I told Marcus once it would take me a year to learn Adronato. It took a little longer than that, but the integration of your language and your culture means I still have a lot to learn."
Delenn smiled, "I hope it is not too onerous for you." She closed her eyes briefly, and her lips moved silently. Opening her eyes to look directly at Susan, she began her explanation. "Minbari mourn with ritual, fasting, and prayer. We fast to purge ourselves of grief, we pray for understanding, and we perform rituals to remember. In general the time frame is three weeks to fast, six months to pray, and up to nine years of rituals, conducted yearly, sometimes monthly. Sometimes more. The exact timing and particular rituals are determined by tradition and by decision of the elders."
Susan considered this. "Who or what has determined your mourning period in this instance?"
"No one," Delenn replied shortly. "I am almost old enough to be considered an elder in clan Mir, but I have removed myself from their authority. It was necessary once I became President of the Alliance. The other members did not wish to feel that I remained subservient to any particular group of Minbari. It is very like the renunciation ceremony of the Anla'Shok."
"I see," said Susan. "I've attended one of those. It seems very difficult, for the Minbari candidates in particular."
"It can be. I had gone my own way for so long that it was not such a hardship," said Delenn
Delenn's voice held steady, but Susan detected a hint of strong emotion underneath. "Still, it must be a wrench. What do you do on feast days and at Festival, and what temple do you attend?"
"I am still of clan Mir. I merely hold no position of authority, and am not recognized as part of the clan hierarchy. There was no repudiation, Susan, no rejection. And when I step down as President, I will assume my place among my clan." Delenn spoke dispassionately.
Susan cocked her head and looked at her friend. "But for now, you answer to to no one."
A glint shown in Delenn's eye, "That is correct, but only in one aspect. I defer to the Alliance charter, and to the vote of its membership."
Susan snorted. "You don't defer to any one; you never did."
"That is not true," replied Delenn calmly. Then she smiled. "And Minbari never lie, as you know."
Shaking her head, Susan said, "It's not going to work, you realize. I'm not letting this go."
Delenn's face froze. "You will because you must. I will rest when there is need."
Susan looked at her friend in exasperation. "I'm only trying to help!" Gathering together the threads of her rapidly fraying temper, she asked carefully, "Why is this ritual so important?"
Taking a deep breath, as if to calm herself, Delenn replied, "Tell me, do you think often of Marcus?"
It was Susan's turn to stop, holding her face completely still while she felt a familiar fury build. "Now and then," she answered in a clipped voice.
"You carry his denn'bok," observed Delenn. "The new holder is working well for you?" She tilted her head, and leaned closer, as if to examine the workmanship of the carvings in the hard fabric holster and shoulder belt.
Susan swallowed hard, then said, "It's easier to pull out carried like this. I was always getting it tangled in the pocket of this damn cloak."
"Do you remember the circumstances in which you received this bequest?" Delenn pushed on.
"Of course I do!" Susan exploded. "Stephen gave it to me, just before I left the station for my posting to the Titans. He said he thought Marcus would want me to have it." Her face paled at the long-ago scene, recalled in painful detail, as was its aftermath, although that memory carried less pain.
Delenn continued in her instructional tone. "The passing of a weapon such as this is an important event. They are not owned, as such, rather they are held for a time, carried in honor, and gifted with meaning. The fact that Durhan presented it to Marcus at the completion of his mora'dum was a curious gesture to many. As his teacher and mentor, Durhan saw something in Marcus, and the gift gave it expression."
Now a little confused, Susan asked, "But Stephen gave it to me...did Marcus leave instructions with him? I always assumed he must have, but Marcus couldn't have known what was going to happen..." Her voice tailed off.
"It was a time of war, and there was always the chance," replied Delenn gravely. "But it was not Marcus who decided on this course. It was my decision. As Entil'zha, I felt it was the right thing to do; for you, and for Marcus."
"Your decision," said Susan flatly. Hostility welled up in her; she hated being manipulated. "And why did you make this particular decision? It would have been better for the thing to return to Minbar; it's haunted me for years!"
"The weapon has no power over you," replied Delenn. "It is your own grief and regret that haunts you."
Susan stood up abruptly, her cloak lashing around her as she strode over to the railing at the edge of the balcony, gripping the cold steel. "Regret? My God, Delenn, what do you know about regret?" She leaned forward, letting the freshening wind chill her face. Speaking into the rush of cool air, she said, "There's an old human saying... 'better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.' " Bile filled her throat, forcing out the cruel words. "At least you had your twenty years. Talia..." Her voice faltered, but she took a breath and continued. "Talia was gone before I even realized I loved her." Continuing bitterly, she added, "And I'll never know for sure if I loved Marcus... or could have loved him." Looking down, she began to pace back and forth, the morning sun leaving tattered shadows in her wake. "It seems like I always miss my chance. My whole life I've always been one step behind, racing to catch up with those I love, and failing." A surge of desperate longing edged her voice with resentment.
Delenn's face registered shock at Susan's outburst. She began to speak but Susan, overwhelmed by years of emotion let more words pour out; rough, harsh, raw. "My mother's curse and her death twisted my whole family. My brother ran away to war and was killed. My father and I ended up not speaking for years, reconnecting only briefly just before he died." A smile flitted across Susan's lips, brief and cold. "Do you remember when we went to Z'ha'dum?" She watched with some satisfaction as the color fled Delenn' face. "I heard my father, calling out to me. Yizkor, he said, remembrance. He has no son to honor his memory, and my life is no memorial to him."
"Susan, I did not mean to deny your pain or your life experience..." Delenn, for once, seemed at a loss for words, but after a moment she managed to add, "I too, lost my father before we had a chance to reconcile. As for my mother, well, in a way, I lost her as well."
Susan scrutinized her friend intently before asking suddenly, "Did you perform the ritual for your father?" Delenn nodded, but Susan sensed hesitation hidden behind the quick assent. "What about your mother?" In an attempt to shake loose some answers, she added harshly, "Did you mourn your mother when she went away? For how long?"
"I..." Delenn hesitated, then said firmly, "There was no need for remembrance. My mother remained this side of the Rim."
"How long?" Susan demanded, trying to modulate her voice, but not succeeding.
Delenn looked down at the back of her hands, noticing the prominent veins surrounded by fine lines. She answered softly, "A few months," then added reluctantly, "maybe a year." She went on, explaining in protest, "I was very young. I did not understand why she had to leave me."
"Understanding isn't required for grief, Delenn," Susan said, sudden rage almost choking her. "Grief comes before understanding. It's raw and personal. It's real."
"I know that!" Delenn's jagged voice cut through the cool wind, which had continued to strengthen as the day began. She added, voice tight and low in an effort to regain control, "Do you think I do not know that?" She rose and joined Susan at the balcony, looking out over the city below. Pain bled through her faltering composure as she continued, "My mother left me with a legacy of service; my father with a legacy of honor. John left me a son, and the Alliance he sacrificed so much to establish." Her voice shook with emotion, "The rituals bring him back to me, in memory still bright, but..." She turned to Susan, her eyes bright with tears, "It is not enough, Susan. I perform the ritual to remember, but memory is not enough."
Susan winced at the desolation she heard in Delenn's voice, and said thickly, "No. It's not." She added, her voice pricked with pain, "I'm sorry, Delenn. I do understand. My mother left Papa and Ganya and me alone, and now there's only me left to remember them. But Marcus left nothing behind, nothing except this weapon, and my life."
"And now you will lead the Anla'Shok, carrying his denn'bok, and his memory, forward." Delenn touched Susan gently on the arm, but Susan remained apart, arms crossed tight in front of her.
"I am only here because you asked me to do it, and John wanted me to do it!" Susan said. "It's crazy, how can I possibly be the right person for the job? I don't even know the language that well! I still have to give complex instructions via a translator." Her face twisted, "Marcus used to do that for me."
"I know," Delenn said sadly. "His was a life of service, to me, to the Anla'Shok, to you... but I believe he found peace at the last."
"How can you say that? Marcus didn't find anything. He gave up, just like my mother." Susan's arms fell to her side, hands clenched.
"He did not give up. He gave himself...for you." Delenn put her hand over Susan's closed fist. "Why are you here?" She looked steadily into Susan's eyes. "Why did you agree to this?"
"You asked." Susan said shortly. "I thought you wanted me."
"I do," replied Delenn. She took hold of Susan's cold hands and placed them together between her two warm ones. "But why did you agree?"
"All this time," Susan began, then continued thoughtfully, "All this time there has been something missing. My career in EarthForce was all I ever wanted. My own ship, exploration, promotion. I got it all. But it wasn't enough."
"That is part of the reason. But it is not the whole reason." Delenn chafed Susan's hands, "You are freezing."
"I don't know," Susan replied, frustrated with Delenn's questioning. "I guess, if you must know, I felt...called."
"Ah," Delenn said, looking deeply into her eyes, as if trying to read something in them. "You followed your heart?"
"I followed something." Susan looked back at Delenn with suspicion. "What's this all about? And how did we end up talking about me when it's your behavior that's in question?"
Delenn smiled, dropping Susan's hands and turning again to look out over the city. "You know the rest of the saying? 'Minbari never lie, but they never tell the whole truth'?" She looked back over her shoulder at Susan. "I told you it was my decision to send the denn'bok to you. That is not the entire story."
Susan raised one eyebrow and said in resignation, "And you're going to tell me the whole story now?"
"Perhaps not everything," confessed Delenn with a downward glance. "I did, and do believe Marcus would have wanted you to have Durhan's weapon, but the idea originally came from another."
"Who?" said Susan impatiently.
"Jeffrey Sinclair first suggested to me that you would be an excellent Anla'Shok Na. Before he went into the past in order to fulfill his future." Delenn looked at Susan steadily, trying to gauge her reaction.
"Jeff said that?" Susan's voice broke on the name. "He wanted me here?"
"He did. And John did. And I do." Delenn turned back towards the door. "And I suspect Marcus would have agreed. Wait here a moment. I have something else for you."
Susan turned back to the view, watching fire light the mountainsides as the sun reached long fingers down the slopes. The tips of buildings caught and glowed in the morning light, and panes of glass and crystal facades burned bright. Closing her eyes, she saw their after-images dance behind her eyelids. Other images crowded her brain; Jeff at her father's shiva, Marcus on board the White Star speaking Adronato to her, John's smiling embrace after his return from Z'ha'dum. What did they all see in her? Why did they think she could do this?
Delenn returned, her arms full of soft brown and yellow silk. "Valen's robes. He would want...he did want you to have them." Delenn bowed slightly, and held them out to Susan. "Entil'zha," she affirmed in a clear voice.
Susan's hands trembled as she took the robes and shook them out. "Delenn, I..."
"Say nothing." Delenn added, "Take them when you are ready."
Susan looked from the bundle in her arms back to Delenn. "These are Jeff's?" she asked.
Delenn almost laughed at her expression of doubt. "Not the exact same ones. It is the material and the method of their manufacture that gives them their authority." She cocked her head at Susan, "Did you think I wore the robes that had fit Jeffrey...and that John wore mine?"
"I guess not," Susan smiled. "I guess I thought it was some sort of Minbari thing."
Delenn said in mock-serious tones. "We are not magic-workers, Susan. Minbari put on their robes one arm at a time just as you do." Susan shot her an admonishing glance. Delenn continued, "You should not blame Marcus for valuing your life above his own," she said, with sympathy and deep understanding, "It is something you do, when you love someone."
Susan walked over to the stone bench and gently laid down the folded robes. Turning back to Delenn, she put one hand on her friend's shoulder, and said, "I can't accept these, not now. But thank you." Then, pulling Delenn into a close embrace, she whispered again, "Thank you for telling me this, for giving me this chance. I'll do my best to deserve it." Susan thought that this gift, this chance had probably saved her life.
The Talmud notes that all people are descended from a single person, thus taking a single life is like destroying an entire world, and saving a single life is like saving an entire world.