"But Delenn, she is a Human," Lennier reminded the ambassador, the
closest he'd ever come to actively arguing with her. His placid
expression, acquiescent and carefully vacant of any feeling stronger than
gentle curiosity and understated happiness on occasion. "The Naran'cha is
one of the most sacred rituals, surely not for outsiders." Though mild,
the aide was firm in his disagreement this time, a rarity for him.
Delenn nodded. "I am fully aware of the purpose of the Naran'cha," she
replied. "Nevertheless, I feel that in this case a Human is appropriate.
After all, I am half a Human now myself. If we must exclude them from our
rituals, then I too must be excluded." She picked up an ornate incense
burner and lit a stick of incense, which flared brightly before simmering
down to a slow smouldering. "However," the ambassador continued, "if you
do not wish to assist me in the ceremony, or to ask the Commander to
assist, I will not force you. I will simply ask her, and another Minbari,
myself." She rose from her knees, fanned the comforting, sensuous
fragrance around the room with one graceful hand, and awaited Lennier's
Lennier stared for a long moment at Delenn. He had offered her his
service for life; had risked his life and his security, his status, his
clan's status to follow her. He had given her his own heart silently.
Would he deny her now? He couldn't. He had promised himself long ago that
he would never refuse her anything. Lennier would submit his will to that
of the woman he still called Satai in his mind; and once this decision
was made, he felt his soul relax into acceptance. He had no need of
argument anymore. The aide bowed, hands brought together to form a
triangle before his abdomen. "I will do as you ask, Delenn. I will assist
you in any way that you require."
The CommLink on Ivanova's wrist beeped just as her conference was
breaking up. She glanced down at it, glad for the interruption but
annoyed by the noise. The "meeting" had been little more than a shouting
match between Ambassadors G'Kar and Mollari, and she had a screaming
headache adding to the noise within her brain. She tapped her link with a
suppressed sigh. "Ivanova."
"Commander," came a soft-spoken male voice, "would you be so kind as
to attend a late tea with Ambassador Delenn in her quarters this
Ivanova's forehead creased in mild confusion. Delenn usually made
these requests personally if the occasion were informal... and if it were
official, why ask for her and not for Captain Sheridan? Her blue eyes
unfocused as she imagined Lennier standing before her, bowing with
"Commander?" the voice repeated, breaking through her continued
"Yes, Lennier," Ivanova replied, shutting off her musings. "Is this an
official visit or an informal one?"
Lennier replied, "It is neither official nor completely informal,
Commander. The ambassador wishes to inform you herself of the subject of
the visit, but I think she would permit me to tell you that it regards a
personal request." His tone was hesitant; Ivanova could imagine his
downcast eyes and demure tone, as if he was purposely trying to remain
insignificant behind his duties.
Ivanova considered. The last time she had been summoned for a personal
request had been shortly after Delenn's amazing chrysalis, when she'd not
known how to care for Human hair. She'd been bald all her life, and now
suddenly had to learn how to groom this strange mop of stuff on her head;
and the tangles and snarls Susan had unknotted that day had required only
one-tenth of the delicacy with which she'd needed to treat the Minbari
Ambassador's ego. She was not used to indignity. On the other hand, this
might just as easily be an errand concerning the Rangers. All this passed
through her mind in only seconds, and the end result of the internal
question she posed to herself was answered. "In that case, Lennier,
please inform the ambassador that I'll be there as soon as I've gotten
off work and changed out of my uniform. I'm going off-duty in a few
Lennier's voice evidenced humble gratitude. "Thank you, Commander. I
will inform Ambassador Delenn of your answer." The CommLink beeped again as
Lennier's end was disconnected.
An hour later, after a quick shower and a change of clothes, Susan
pressed the button outside Delenn's quarters and heard the faint door-
chimes inside. Lennier's voice answered, "Commander Ivanova?"
Susan replied in the affirmative and was admitted to the suite. Delenn
was not in the room, but Lennier bowed to her and explained, "The
ambassador has asked me to serve you while she prepares herself. Would
you care for some tea?" he offered, gesturing to a pot of steaming liquid
of a reddish cast. Susan nodded and Lennier poured two cups of the brew,
explaining that Delenn would be joining them very shortly. "Will you
sit?" He indicated a cushion beside the low triangular table which held
the tea service: the pot, three cups, and a small bowl of bright red
fruits and berries, the fruits sliced and arranged in a sunburst on the
ceramic white plate.
Susan sat on her knees on the floor beside the place indicated,
wondering what this was about. She'd been to tea with the Minbari Ambassador
before, and usually Delenn was fond of some sort of pastry, but none were
now in evidence. The ambassador also generally served tea in something
similar to English-Earther fashion, more of a meal than a drink alone,
and sitting on the sofa. Why were they now on the floor? And where was
Delenn? She was never late for anything.
Susan took a sip of the tea, which had a warm and relaxing quality,
though some herb inside made it taste cool in spite of the steam rising
from it. There was an odd scent in the air which Susan found pleasant,
and caught herself breathing more deeply in an effort to smell it more
"Commander," a smooth feminine voice greeted her, sending her musings
away like the smoke of the incense Susan had finally identified as the
source of the fragrance in the air. The commander turned around, lifting
a peaked eyebrow at Delenn's attire. The Minbari was swathed in a deep
red gown much like a Japanese kimono and made of something very like
silk. Her hair was brushed smooth, styled even more elaborately than
usual; Susan was glad she'd taken the trouble to put on one of her nicer
outfits, especially her favorite cream-colored angora sweater.
Furthermore, Delenn wore a smile of friendly warmth, and her posture,
while just as regal as ever, was open and welcoming. Susan started to
stand to greet Delenn, but the woman shook her head. "No, Commander...
Susan. Please remain seated." Delenn smiled; having made her entrance,
she crossed the room with graceful, small steps and knelt at the
remaining empty place at the triangular table. Only when she was seated
would Lennier assume his position at the third setting.
Susan adjusted her posture accordingly to one of both friendliness or
respect. "Ambassador, thank you for inviting me to tea," she began to
say, but stopped midway as the Minbari shook her head.
"Please, Susan, call me Delenn. Rank has no place in the Naran'cha."
Delenn sounded almost amused; Susan couldn't help responding with a smile
towards whatever joke she wasn't catching yet. She'd learned that just
because the Minbari's facial expressions were often harder to read, it
didn't necessarily follow that they were without feelings or humor,
political savvy or strength. "Have you had tea?" Delenn asked solicitously.
Susan replied in the affirmative. "Yes, Delenn, thank you, I've had
some." She purposely used the ambassador's name because Delenn made a
point of requesting it of her. "Lennier offered it to me just before you
came. It's very good." No sincere compliment, Susan knew, was ever wasted.
"It is a special brew," Delenn answered, "of herbs grown on Minbar.
This particular mixture of the herbs is only used during the Naran'cha,
the Ceremony of Learning." She smiled as she took a sip of the reddish-
magenta liquid. Susan did likewise, as did Lennier. Susan thought about
him for a moment, so retiring and quiet. Though he'd learned to pretend
ease with Humans, of which he understood so much and so little, Susan
reflected that there would probably always be moments of discomfort for
him and, she now realized, for Delenn as well. Always moments in which
they would struggle to understand things which were nearly instinctive
for Earthers, felt rather than known, on a level so deep it would be hard
to explain them. She supposed it would be much the same for Humans
dealing with Minbari. Like now. Susan felt there was something happening
right within sight, but she couldn't see it because she was looking
through the glasses of her own culture and not theirs.
Something started to tickle at the back of her mind. A request for a
personal visit, unofficial but not entirely informal. The meal with only
fruit and tea, and the fruit hadn't been offered yet, *and* the tea of a
kind only offered for one ceremony. Odd incense, pleasurable but unusual.
Susan shelved her thoughts as Delenn's small hand motioned to the
sunburst of red fruit on its spotless white plate. "Will you join me in
this repast, Susan?" Delenn offered; but even as the commander reached
towards the plate, the Minbari spoke again. "I must warn you before you
accept." Susan paused and pulled her hand back. "The Naran'cha is one of
the most sacred ceremonies of a Minbari's life. It marks an important
transition, and must be undertaken with the proper spirit. There are
Susan sat back, folding her hands in her lap. Accepting, Delenn had
said, but had not indicated what was being accepted or rejected. She waited for
more information as her mind continued to whirr around the puzzle pieces,
fitting some together and finding some that made no sense at all.
Delenn explained in a very quiet voice that there were three necessary
participants. The first was the celebrant, or student, known as Narai.
The Narai would be the person in need of transition, and it was at his or
her request that the ceremony would take place. The ceremony, she said,
was one of teaching and learning, and Delenn herself would functin as
Narai. The second participant was the teacher, called Naran, whom the
Narai trusted implicitly to teach patiently and thoroughly something that
the teacher understood better than the student. The third was Shelim'cha,
the observer or chaperone, who would stand just outside the ceremony room
or area and turn away all visitors and questions, and enter only in the
case of emergency.
Susan interrupted. "Excuse me... a medical emergency? Is there a
danger to the other two participants?" she asked, not entirely at ease with the
idea. She was no expert on Minbari physiology. Suppose there should be an
emergency... what could she do?
Delenn only smiled. "There is a danger when one lives on a space
station that a hull breach will destroy lives. There is the danger when drinking
something new that one will have a fatal allergic reaction. Risks are a
part of life, Susan. The role of the chaperone is mainly one of
formality. Inclusion of a third person preserves the number of
participants at three, which is an important number for Minbari."
Susan's eye was drawn to the triangular table; she remembered the
triangular objects used during the Nafak'cha, the Rebirth Ceremony. The
triangulated hands of a Minbari's bow. The three Castes. Yes, threes
were important. But that didn't still her concerns. "I'm not sure I
understand the purpose of the... the Naran'cha," Susan said after a
moment's reflection. "If you're asking me to participate, I really need
to know what I'm doing, and why."
Delenn smiled, glancing demurely downward at the plate of sliced red
fruits and berries on the white plate. "The Naran'cha," she said, "is
ordinarily performed when a Minbari feels that her or his childhood has
come to an end, when she feels mature mentally and physically. It is
designed to teach the celebratn about her adult physical nature and the
ways of creating enjoyment and closeness. Usually this takes place during
or shortly after adolescence, but since I have recently undergone this
vast change," she said, stroking the end of her long hair in reference to
her chrysalis those many months ago, "I find myself once again in the
position almost of a child. I do not understand this new body I have
taken on, nor all of its... responses. I am in need of new teaching."
Throughout the recital, the tickling in the back of Susan's mind had
grown steadily. Now she had a suspicion, but wasn't nearly ready to
assume it was correct. "I'm sorry, Delenn. That probably sounds very
clear to you, but I'm still confused. If you're wanting to learn more
about your changes, wouldn't a doctor be the person to consult?"
"Yes," Delenn replied, "if I were wishing for medical knowledge. I
could just as easily find the datacrystals on Human physiology if that was what
I needed. No, Susan. I need a more individual teaching. I need what I
have not been able to learn from the data crystals, but could learn from
another person very well. There have been many changes, and I am not
certain which of my responses to them will be more like my Minbari half,
and which like my Human half. I do not truly know where one part of me
begins and the other ends."
Susan tried again. "Surely you could find these things out through
experimentation..." She was coming a little closer to surety, but
hesitated over what she now felt must be the case.
The Minbari smiled; Lennier remained reticent, barely looking up from
his cup of tea (which, Susan now noticed, was not from the same pot; was not
even the same color). "Susan, though I could do so, I must discover the
*exact* nature of my changes, and I must discover this through the direct
assistance of another of my kind, or as close to my kind as I can
achieve." She glanced at Lennier, whose placid face was exhibiting signs
of tiny discomfort; embarrassment, even, perhaps.
Susan's eyes widened only slightly. Yes, that was confirmation of her
suspicions, she felt. The commander cleared her throat, turning a dull,
embarrassed shade of pink which quickly blossomed into magenta. "You're
saying that the Naran'cha is a ritual for teaching you how to...?" She
couldn't finish; her startlement was that great. She'd never really
thought of the reserved, quiet Minbari - especially the Ambassador - as
having a ritual for this, if she was correct. Even the subject seemed not
to go with thoughts of the Minbari as Susan knew them. Her mind fought to
make a path around the concept rather than go through it somehow. "You're
going to have ceremonial..."
"Sexual relations," Delenn replied with a nod. "Yes, Susan. Does this
surprised you? Minbari have rituals for every aspect of life,
especially the important things. Physical closeness leads to great
emotional openness, and is therefore one of the most significant thing
any two people may do together." She glanced again towards her aide, who
was looking less comfortable, to one used to reading his nearly
Susan looked at the table again, at what she now realized looked like
an altar-setting of the dishes, and at the red fruits on the sinlessly white
plate. Understanding started to gleam like the sun over the horizon: dim
at first, but eventually so bright as to sear her retinas. "Delenn, I'd
be honored," she finally said after a deep, cleansing breath. "It's a
little unusual, at least from my experience, and I've never chaperoned
anyone before, but if you trust me enough to ask me to help you in
something so persona, I..." She stopped. Why was Delenn shaking her head?
Why was she smiling as if Ivanova was a child who'd made an error based
on having an entirely different frame of reference from the adult one?
"Susan," Delenn broke in gently, voice slightly lower than usual, "I
am not asking you to be my chaperone. That will be Lennier's duty."
Susan's jaw fell open. It hung that way for several seconds, making
her look a trifle ridiculous. Then she began to stammer, which furthered the
image. "Delenn, I'm, I, ah, I... I don't think I've ever..." Then
something inside Susan began to change. She knew she wouldn't ever
understand the Minbari or their culture. This was quite possibly a normal
request, not unusual at all, from Delenn's point of view. She clearly
felt comfortable saying these things in front of Lennier; would she, if
there were possible shame involved? Moreover, if Susan behaved as though
she were as shocked as she was, this could easily become, if not a
diplomatic incident, at the very least a great insult and humiliation to
the Minbari Ambassador. She stopped blathering and took a long and
careful look at Delenn, who she now was seeing as a half-*Human* woman.
The smile, the brown eyes, were just as open and warm, her demeanor just
as frank and demure at the same time as they always were. She seemed to
think that her request was not only normal but perfectly acceptable, to
judge by her quiet patience and her posture of respect given to an equal.
"Susan, Delenn began again as the commander hesitated, "when you
completed your part in the Rebirth Ceremony, you told me that you had
loved Talia Winters." Susan looked away for a moment as she listened. "I
have been reading about social conditions on Earth, and have come to the
conclusion that had your love been strictly on the basis of friendship it
would have been cause for pride, not secrecy. Yet you had never told
anyone of your love for her. Perhaps you still cherish her memory. I had
thought, because of your manner concerning Talia, that you might be one
of the Humans reported to be capable of a wider spectrum of relationships
than is the norm for your species. Have I misunderstood you somehow?"
Delenn's concern is brought into her mobile, facile features as well as
her expressive voice. The woman seemed genuinely distressed. "I do not
intend to offend you with my request. I had intended it to be an honor to
you as well as to myself. I had not considered that I might be in error."
She could see that Delenn meant every word. Not only had she tried to
confer an honor on Susan by asking her to function as the Naran in the
Naran'cha; the ambassador would truly have considered herself honored had
she accepted. "You weren't wrong," Susan finally admitted. "I loved her.
It just didn't occur to me that Minbari would understand that kind of
relationship. Earthers often don't. But even if I'd known, I still have
no experience at teaching something so *personal*. Wouldn't it be proper
for one of your own people to...?"
"You do not understand," Delenn replied softly. "Susan, my friend, I
participated in my Naran'cha many years ago. I know a great deal about
Minbari physiology and my own body, at least as it was when I was fully
Minbari. I have participated as the Naran for many others." She kept
talking through Susan's surprise, manifested in the abrupt raising of
both brows. "It is Human physiology about which I lack knowledge. I do
not know how this body of mine functions anymore. So many things surprise
me, and you have helped me twice before already." At the commander's
confusion, Delenn reminded her, "You showed me how to keep my hair
orderly. On that day I knew you could be trusted to teach me well when I
was ready to learn. Your hands were patient and skilled, and you never
chastised me for what I did not know about proper grooming of Human hair.
You had a softness appropriate in a Naran." Delenn smiled warmly;
Lennier, who had never known what occurred that day in Delenn's quarters,
glanced briefly up from downcast eyes and watched the commander from
behind his reticence, and finally saw Susan with Delenn's eyes. Delenn
continued, "Later I spoke wiht you about some of the other changes. Do
She nodded; she did recall. Delenn had asked her to explain, if she
could, the odd cramps she had suddenly started to have, and Susan had
found herself in the awkward position of being a big sister, explaining
menstruation and its purpose, with flaming red cheeks.
Delenn lowered her voice still further. "I first thought of you for my
Naran when you brushed my hair, but I did not truly make my choice until
you explained the other changes. I knew you were the one whom I could
trust to show me this aspect of Humanity. Susan, I do trust you. Will you
be my teacher?" Her brown eyes searched the other woman's face for cues,
hints of the answer she would receive. She felt strange: when she had
asked her first Naran to assist her, she had felt admiration; never had
she feared rejection. Had the first choice said no, for any reason, she
would have sought out her second choice, then her third, until one of
them agreed to be her teacher. It was a matter of duty. Now, though, she
suddenly was nervous. Were Earthers so different that Susan would not
understand her request? She had already been called an outcast by the
Minbari; she did not want to be outcast by her new people... by this one
person as well. She did not think she would be very mature about
rejection this time.
Susan had tried to remain clinically unembarrassed, detatched from the
reality of the request. She was being asked, for God's sake, to teach a
woman who seemed about forty Human years old how to have sex. This
request, though, unlike the Lumati ambassador's, did not frighten her.
This had been approached with respect, friendship, and possibly even some
small affection. It was not a business deal; it was a favor. Still she
had questions. "Wouldn't a man be more appropriate for you? I mean, you
The Minbari Ambassador's smile warmed the room as though it were made
of sunshine. "Most Minbari," she clarified for Susan, "are not so polarized
as Humans. We too are more concerned with the gift than with its outer
wrapping, more concerned with the soul than with the body which is, after
all, only its home for a short time. Besides, Susan, how could a man
teach me about a woman's body? He has never had one! You know far more
about human females than a man could, simply because you are one. The
Naran'cha is always given from a female to a female, or from a male to a
male. It is our tradition. One cannot teach that which one does not know.
If a male were to instruct a female, there would doubtless be many
critical omissions." Her hand remained folded in her lap as she tried to
help the commander understand.
Susan took another deep breath, glancing from the plate of fruit to
Lennier and back to Delenn. When she spoke her words were measured and
very carefully chosen, coming out more slowly than she had intended. "I
think I've never... been so... honored by an offer or a request in my
life. I don't know that I could ever hope to deserve it. I don't know that I
can live up to it."
Delenn repressed a sigh. "Then you will not help me," she said,
endeavoring to sustain her smile as best she could.
"I didn't say that." Susan stopped Delenn's disappointment, or at
least her words. "I said I wasn't sure I deserved the honor. I'd be learning as
much as you would, maybe more. If you're asking for an instructor, a
superior, I don't think I could be comfortable with that. Lovemaking
isn't something that should be done between people with whom there's an
imbalance of power."
Delenn sensed the question inherent in Susan's speech. "I think what
you would like to know is whether someone may teach who is not an expert. The
answer is yes, you may. The Naran'cha is a duty, an honor, and a pleasure
for both. It assists another towards maturity; yet at the same time it
teaches the teacher. It is the first step in a young Minbari's life in
which she is treated as an adult would be treated, the first relationship
of equality. The only requirements of the Naran are that she be more
knowledgeable than the student, which you are... that she be patient and
gentle, which you are, though I think you prefer that no one should know
that," she continued, not without a glint of tiny, surprising impishness,
"and that she be willing to learn as much as she teaches. I think that
you are the most capable of fulfilling all three obligations, and
moreover, I trust you. I trust you with myself. Susan, will you teach me?
Will you...make love with me?" She held out her hand, palm open and
waiting for Susan's to join it.
Susan did not move. She sat still for so long that Delenn felt
nervousness return, along with embarrassment. This was strange, an
outside part of her knew. Susan had voiced no fault of Delenn's, only
concern that she felt she may not have the skill a Naran would need; so
why, Delenn wondered, were her own eyes telling her that they would
shortly be shining with another Human thing she had learned about? Why
was she about to cry?
Then, even while Delenn struggled to hide her acute awareness of
impending rejection, Susan reached across the table and very deliberately
selected two berries from the top of the arrangement on the plate, bright
red and juicy. Still watching the Minbari closely, she deposited one on
her own tongue, then held out the second for Delenn.
Elation: Susan had not only accepted, but had offered to feed her the
first bite of the meal they would share later. Delenn bent forward and
took the berry from Susan's fingers with her teeth, lips closing over a
lightly calloused fingertip for a second too long to have been
accidental. Both women chewed and swallowed. In one smooth movement,
Susan rose to her feet and held out her hand to assist the Minbari woman.
Delenn took the hand, though she didn't need it, and stood, looking up at
Susan for a long moment as Lennier, having witnessed the eating of the
first fruit, averted his eyes.
Taking Susan's hands, Delenn stepped backwards, leading the taller
woman with unerring aim towards her inner quarters.