Characters: Margaret Morgan, Ayeshalan
Morgan didn’t have to wait long at the drydock shuttle port for Ayeshalan to arrive. The Minbari warrior was easy to pick out of the crowd of people moving back and forth, with her tall, spiky bone crest and single eye that, as she approached, was gleaming as brightly as the Isil’zah on her chest.
She bowed. “Good morning, Margaret,” she said. “Thank you for coming so quickly. I have a very great favor to ask of you, and our time is somewhat short.”
“Of course. What can I do for you?” But if truth were told, only part of Morgan’s mind was on Ayeshalan; the rest was on her own business.
“My son is getting married. The wedding will take place before the Phoenix departs, so that I may take part in the ceremony. In the warrior caste — especially in my clan — a wedding is likened to taking on a partner in battle, a wingman, so to speak. Both parents of the bride and groom are expected to be present. Since my husband is long since beyond the Veil, I was hoping that you would be willing to stand with me, for Terron.”
That got her full attention. “Me? Why?” She was incredulous, and stunned at the implied honor.
“You are a friend. Further, we are wingmen, partners in battle. It is most appropriate. And, not least importantly … it will annoy the more conservative among my clan, the Fire Wings.” There was a wicked gleam in her eye.
The humor didn’t escape Morgan, and she laughed. “How could I resist an opportunity like that? What do you need me to do?”
“The first thing to do is get you fitted for the proper attire. While the tailor is working, I can tell you about the ceremony itself. Do you have some time to come with me now?”
She did some quick figuring in her head, then nodded. “I should. How long will this take? I have some… family matters of my own I’m having to deal with.”
“We should be able to do the fitting in one hour,” Ayeshalan said, already moving toward the nearest transport platform. “Instruction on the ceremony may take a bit longer than that, but we can do that later. What sort of family matters? Perhaps I can help.”
She didn’t consider long. “Maybe you can. I am… about to become a parent, and I am not exactly prepared.” Her mouth had a wry twist to it.
Ayeshalan’s one visible eyebrow crept toward her bone crest. “I see,” she said after a moment. “I assume by adoption.”
“By default, more like.” She hesitated. “It is my sister’s daughter, whom we saved from the… pogrom on Earth some time ago. She has been living with our cousin on Babylon 5, but that is not the safest home under the best of circumstances. And she has been acting out her grief. A change is needed.”
The expression of sympathetic grief that came over Ayeshalan’s features was still startling to see in a Minbari warrior. “The poor child,” she said. “Always it is the children who suffer when the adults go mad.” She looked out the window of the transport car, brows drawn together in thought. “There is a children’s creche in the compound at Tuzanor, though it is still little used. And … most of the children there will be Minbari. Without meaning offense, I wonder if that depth of discipline would be something a troubled human could deal with.”
“No offense taken – I think it would make matters worse. But my other alternative may not be much better.” She had made the decision already, but second guessing was already going to come into this.
The transport car drew to a stop, and Ayeshalan waited until she and Morgan were out on the platform to speak. “What have you in mind?”
“I don’t know if you are familiar with… There is a Catholic school near the new Mars embassy, that takes boarders. It is an Earth religion. They have always followed explorers, and even been explorers themselves. They can be harsh sometimes, but she would get a good education when I cannot be here. I don’t know what else to do.”
Ayeshalan nodded. “It seems a very sensible decision. A religious school would help to heal her soul as well as educate her mind. She will have human companions close to her own age as well, which I dare say she has few of, living on Babylon 5.”
Morgan smiled faintly, at the understanding. “Exactly. And of hopefully a… better sort than she has had. But I am afraid she hates me for this decision right now.”
They were walking along a busy street in a commercial section of the ancient city. The worker caste Minbari who made up the vast majority of the foot traffic deftly sidestepped to make room for the two Rangers to pass. Ayeshalan was quiet for a minute, again pondering her reply.
“That is one of the least pleasant lessons of parenthood — that we often have to make choices our children hate us for. I do not know if human children are much like Minbari, but for beings that are changing constantly, children fear change a great deal. Immature minds hate what they fear.”
“I appreciate your insight – I have never done this before.”
Ayeshalan paused in the doorway of a small shop, tucked between a bookseller’s and a shop whose windows were filled with religious paraphernalia. “What is the use of experience, if it cannot be shared?” she said. “Or as one of your people once said, ‘Learn from others’ mistakes. You will not live long enough to make them all yourself.'” She pushed the door open, adding, “I believe we are expected.”
Morgan took a deep breath, schooled her expression to the one she used for dealing with most Minbari.
Sweet chimes rang as they stepped through the door, and a young Minbari woman came forward. She wore a sleeveless robe of simple greys and blues, and had several sets of crystals linked by string of some sort hanging around her neck. “Good day, Anla’shok,” she said, bowing over folded hands. “You must be Ayeshalan.”
“And this is Anla’shok Margaret Morgan,” Ayeshalan said. “She will be standing with me for my son. We need to have a proper suit made.”
“Of course. It will be an honor to serve you, Anla’shok Morgan,” the tailor said. “If you will come this way, we may be afforded some privacy.”
Morgan bowed in answer. “I am honored you are willing to take some of your precious time for me.”
“It is a pleasure to serve,” the tailor said, leading the way to a cubicle near the back of the shop’s front room. “I will need to ask you a few questions, and also touch you, in order to ensure a comfortably fitting suit. I hope this will not disturb you,” she added, lifting one of the crystal and string appliances from around her neck.
“Do as you see fit.” Morgan took the jacket she favored off, folded it neatly, then waited.
The tailor paused a moment, cocking her head to one side. “Is that what your people would call a pun?” she asked.
Morgan had to think a moment to catch what she had said. “Yes, but not a deliberate one.” She smiled faintly.
The tailor began running the crystal along the various lines of Morgan’s body: shoulder to wrist, inseam, outseam, circling her neck, chest, waist and hips. “Do you prefer your clothing to fit you snugly or somewhat loosely?” she asked, picking up the second crystal and fitting it into the first to form a small tablet.
“Somewhat loosely,” she answered wryly. “I am not as young as I once was.”
“I do not think any of us are,” the tailor replied with a gentle smile, as she tapped the tablet a few times with a long fingertip. Then she looked up. “There. I believe I have a good set of measurements for you, Anla’shok Morgan. Please come back in two days, when your new clothes will be ready to try on.” She bowed.
Morgan returned it. “Thank you.” Then she looked at Ayeshalan.
The Minbari warrior stepped forward, allowing the tailor to begin her set of measurements. “You might remember that Minbari marriage ceremonies are based upon our rebirth ceremony,” she began. “It is a bit different within the warrior caste.”
“Ie? How so?”
“As I was telling you a little earlier, we liken marriage to taking on a partner in battle, someone who will ever after watch your flank as you will watch theirs. The ceremony reflects this. You and I, as well as the parents of the bride, are there to represent the continuity of the generations, and we will pledge to teach, support and defend the new couple.”
“And mean it too, I suppose.” Instead of flippant, her expression was bemused, frightened, and honored all at once.
“Of course,” Ayeshalan answered, completely serious. “And I chose you because I know you are quite capable of doing so.” A smile turned up the corners of her mouth. “So it is that you are becoming even more of a parent than you anticipated.”
She took a deep breath, let it out again. “So it seems. At least I have someone with experience to rely on.”
“I will certainly do my best to help.”
Copyright © 2002 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.