Characters: Candace Carlacci Devine, Elora Morgan
Candace smiled back, then led Elora through the half-open doors into the temple. The entranceway was large, spanning the entire front of the building, with sculpted crystalline walls that seemed softly lit from within. Several benches lined the outer wall. The chanting, and now the occasional note of a harp as accompaniment, could be heard clearly now, coming from a mezzanine overhead.
Elora craned her neck back to see what she could. She got glimpses of the Minbari chorus, as they walked back and forth in a large circuit of the mezzanine. The chant continued, seeming to fill the whole temple with reverence.
Candace had closed her eyes, concentrating, trying to pick what words she could out of the language.
The younger girl watched them. After a bit, she caught the rhythm of it, and the sounds, and joined in under her breath.
Candace took aside the acolyte who had come up to greet them, so they could speak and not disturb Elora’s concentration.
“My friend is very impressed with the chorus of the brothers and sisters, as you can see,” she said in her best Adronado. “Do you think it would be possible for my friend to meet some of them, after the service?”
The acolyte thought a moment. “If your friend wishes it, I can ask if any of the chorus are willing,” she said.
“We will wait until the service ends, and thank you,” Candace said, bowing over her hands in best Minbari fashion.
Elora ignored them, used to the common human attitude that children were “under the radar”, and so she didn’t expect she would have to make nice.
The acolyte returned to her work of sweeping the plaza outside the temple doors, and Candace returned to Elora, waiting quietly until the service in the mezzanine had concluded and the chorus filed away and out of sight.
Elora continued repeating the chant softly for a minute or so, before finally stirring. She turned to smile at Candace. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Would you like to talk to some of the brothers and sisters of the chorus? The acolyte said she’d ask for us, if you want.”
“Oh, um… I guess so.” Elora suddenly felt self-conscious and shy, but she did want to meet them.
“She says she’ll go ask and see if one or two of them will speak with us. It’ll take a couple of minutes, but I guess we’ll see. I’m glad you liked the service.”
“It reminded me a little of home,” she said quietly. “My parents weren’t at all devout, but it was hard to ignore the music.”
“I think I know what you mean. ‘Music speaks in ways deeper than language or culture or even species,’ that’s what one of my teachers says,” Candance said.
Elora nodded. “I think I understand that.”
“You want to know how to say hello in Adronado?”
“Is it hard?”
Candace smirked. “Given your native language, I wouldn’t say so.”
“It’s not hard,” Elora retorted, but not so defensively as she might have earlier.
“Of course not. You grew up speaking it. I’ll bet if we asked a Minbari kid, he’d tell us Adronado isn’t hard either,” Candace said, smiling. “Anyway. Try this: Neech sach schnek, slem-ba.”
Elora repeated slowly, trying to match Candace’s inflections as well as the words.
They went through it a few times, then Candace said, “Good! You got it quicker than me, I think. When you say it, bow like this.” She demonstrated the Minbari bow. “They’ll think you are very polite.”
Elora copied it, repeating the greeting. Then her mouth quirked. “Polite? I’d better be careful.”
Candace was spared from having to reply, as a male Minbari came walking deliberately toward them. “Good day, young humans,” he said with a bow.
Elora returned it, saying carefully, “Neech sach schnek, slem-ba.” She had a sudden bad thought, that Candace was making a fool of her, but it was too late now.
Candace also greeted the Minbari, adding a few more words in Adronado.
The Minbari replied in English. “I understand. Then, out of respect for you, younger human, we will speak in your language. I know it fairly well.” He bowed again to Elora. “My name is Mafell; I am part of the chorus for the temple.”
The younger girl was polite. “Thank you for taking a moment for us.”
“It is my pleasure to serve; if there is some way I can help your understanding or enjoyment of our service, that’s even better. May I ask your name, young human?”
“Ah, Elora Morgan.” Reflexively, she bowed again.
Mafell returned the bow with a smile. “Welcome to the Cliff Temple, Elora Morgan,” he said. “Was there, maybe, something you’d like to know about the service, the singing I do with my brothers and sisters?” His tone was straightforward and serious, entirely respectful.
Candace had stepped back a little, just watching. This was for Elora, and Candace was grateful Mafell was being so straight. But then, she’d never met a religious caste Minbari who was anything but polite and respectful, of anyone.
“I’m not sure. I enjoyed it, the sound of it, even though I don’t know the words.”
“The song is about thanking the Universe for a new day. A new day gives us a new opportunity to do good for others, make the world a better place, and search for truth. That’s what we sing,” Mafell said.
“Wow, that’s cool. I mean… I like that.”
Mafell smiled widely. “I suppose, if you like, we could try to teach you the song, or at least part of it.”
“Really? Wow, um…” She looked back at Candace. “I probably have to be back soon, don’t I?”
Candace consulted her wrist chrono. “We’ve still got a couple hours,” she said. “There were a few more places I was thinking of showing you, but that can wait until my next visit.”
“Wow, you’re coming back? Oh, ah…” She smiled sheepishly, including Mafell. “Okay.”
“Come along then, I’ll take you to our practice room. Will you be coming with us, Miss –”
“Devine,” Candace said, bowing. “Candace Carlacci Devine. Sure. I’m Miss Morgan’s escort, so my responsibility is to stay close to her.”
Mafell nodded and led the way deeper into the temple, giving them a chance to look at the stone and crystal work that turned all the rooms and walls into something that reminded Candace of Aladdin’s cave — or Merlin’s.
Elora was thinking the same thing, about Merlin’s cave, boggled.
The choir’s room was simply furnished, with a few chairs and cabinets along the walls to hold robes and instruments. Several other Minbari were there, rising to their feet to greet Mafell and his guests. A short conversation in Adronado ensued between the Minbari, then Mafell turned to the girls.
“It is not our usual instruction day, but we will do our best to show you what we do, and how we do it.” They took her to one end of the room, while Candace sat in one of the chairs at the other end. She was beginning to think she could actually relax.
“We’ll have to hurry,” Candace said as she and Elora left the temple, moving at a quick walk down the hillside street toward the tube station. “I’m afraid I lost track of the time and we’re running late!”
“You can blame me – it’s not like it’d be the first time I’ve been in trouble here.”
“Naah, I can handle my own trouble,” Candace said. “Besides, it’d be a rotten thing to do, blame someone else for my own problem. Especially a friend.”
She heard that word – “friend” – and knew it was true, moreso than in the people she had been clinging to, calling them that. Her eyes started to burn, but she did her best to keep up still.
Once they had reached the station, and were on the train, Candace pulled her small rucksack around to her lap and started rummaging around inside. Elora didn’t notice – she had leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Her day had been so unexpectedly full that she felt like she could break down easily, but she was fighting it.
Candace, seeing this once she had found what she was looking for, let Elora be until they reached the front door of the school. “You okay?” she asked then.
“Yeah, I think so. Just a better day than I was expecting.” She smiled weakly. “Diolch. That is ‘thank you’, where I come from.”
Candace smiled. “You’re welcome.” She pulled a small box from the rucksack. “I have one more thing for you — a present, if you’d be so kind as to accept it.”
Elora frowned suddenly. “A present? Why?”
Candace looked puzzled. “Why not? I don’t want to cause a problem for you though.”
“No, no problem. It’s just…” She shrugged instead of finishing. “I wish I had something for you.”
“Well, maybe next time, when I come back,” she said. “Besides, this came to me when I didn’t have anything to give in return, either.” She smiled as she offered Elora the box, a plain cube about eight inches on a side.
Elora turned it over in her hands, curious. “What is it?”
“A keepsake,” Candace said. “Remember the man I told you about, who saved all those people in the tube station?”
Elora nodded, holding it respectfully.
“He made it, as a gift for a friend of my Pop’s. My Pop’s friend gave it to me; and I’m giving it to you.” She smiled.
Elora sniffed, returning it. “Thank you,” she repeated softly, then turned to look at the walls of the school, to steel herself for going back inside. Candace patted her gently on the shoulder, then rang the bell with her other hand.
The same novice opened the gate for them, with the same pleasant smile. “Have a nice afternoon?”
“I certainly did. I’ll let Elora speak for herself though.” Candace smiled. She felt her stomach grumbling, and hoped the offer of dinner was still open.
“Brother Romanos wanted to see you when you returned. But I’m sure Miss Morgan will save you a seat at dinner.” Elora nodded immediately to that.
“Oh good,” Candace said. “I guess I’d better go see him. See you at dinner, Elora.” She grinned to the younger girl and headed in the direction of Brother Romanos’ office.
He looked up when she knocked, with a relieved smile. “I was just starting to worry,” he told her honestly. “How did it go?”
Candace offered him an apologetic smile. “We got caught up in Minbari choir practice,” she said. “For us, very well. I can’t say how this will affect her behavior from here on, though.”
“Hopefully, the change will have started, though we aren’t the gentlest companions for her.” He grinned, joking about the daily regimen.
“It’s not so different where I am, believe me.” She smiled. “I will come back as often as I can — the idea that I was going to come back surprised her, I think — and I’ll stay in touch on the net when I can’t be here.”
“Good. Thank you for taking the time – I don’t want her to be unhappy here, and we’ll let her stay, where we might not a diplomat’s child, given the circumstances.”
“I know it’s appreciated,” Candace said. “And one thing’s pretty clear to me –she doesn’t want to be troublesome. She just hasn’t had a chance to figure out yet what else to be. But I think maybe now that’ll start to happen.”
“I hope so, I truly do.” Then he smiled at Candace. “You have to be starving by now. I’ll show you to the dining hall.”
“Thank you,” Candace said. “I admit I am!”
“I’m afraid I have to head back to Tuzanor now,” Candace said, “but I will come back, as soon as I can. And I’ll send you net messages, okay?”
Elora nodded, though she’d be lying if she said she wanted Candace to go. “I guess there are a few things to do here for fun,” she tried to joke.
Candace smiled, and patted the younger girl on the shoulder. “I guess it’s your challenge to have to find them,” she said. She bowed, speaking a few words in Adronado. “That’s ‘goodbye,’ or more accurately, ‘farewell,'” she explained. “The Minbari don’t like goodbye, because they figure we’ll all meet again, somewhere.”
“I certainly hope so,” she answered, fervently. “Nos da. Good night, and good trip back.”
“Take care of yourself, Elora.” Candace shouldered her rucksack, and headed out the door and into the gathering dark.
The younger girl watched her go, then slowly made her way to vespers, able to ignore the commotion of the other students now.