The mah’uzeed sat in the lee of one of the temples, among trees and gardens. The crystalline trim on the three-sided pyramid sparkled in the early morning sunlight. As she approached, Morgan could see the steps that circled the walls. And then she saw Dunstan Kordieh, walking slowly down, one step at a time, a pause between each. Morgan hesitated, recognizing him, then continued. The mah’uzeed was for everyone, regardless of their past, present or future.
As she approached the ironwork gate which gave entry to the interior of the mah’uzeed, Kordieh stepped off the last stair, opened his eyes and saw her.
“Anla’shok Morgan,” he said, his voice registering surprise. “Welcome.”
She couldn’t stop a pause, then she bowed. “Anla’shok Kordieh.”
“I’m afraid not,” he admitted. “I am still considered outcast from the order. Though the council is considering changing it.” He shrugged. “Have you come to walk the mah’uzeed?”
“I have. I could not leave without doing it at least once.”
“It would be my pleasure to be your guide, if you need one.” He smiled as he put a hand on the gate. “I’m quite proud of my work here, I confess.”
Morgan was surprised by her own reaction to him. She had steeled herself, prepared to force herself to politeness, but she saw something new, that explained the news she had heard. “Ie. It looks like you should be.”
“Thank you.” He opened the gate for her. “Have you walked a mah’uzeed before?”
“I have walked labyrinths on Earth before. None of Minbari make, though.” She looked it over, taking in the steps that circled the three interior walls, sculpted in polished stone and lit by faceted crystal globes, larger versions of the one Kordieh had sent to her months before. “The design appears … intricate.”
“It’s based on the Minbari reverence for threes, of course. Even on Earth, three is a spiritual number. You start here, by the door, and begin following the path of steps. You’ll eventually step out through the roof, and come down the outside, to end where you began.” He smiled again. “I walk it each day before I begin work. It has done a lot to help me understand … myself.”
“Good.” The word was quiet, sounding more of relief than of blame. “They are good for that.”
“So many things to understand,” he said, mostly to himself. He looked over at her. “I don’t want to delay you,” he said. “I’ll just go get some of my tools while you are making the walk.”
Morgan nodded. “I will see you when I am finished.”
She paused at the door, remembering how she used to do this. Then she started. “I sing as I arise today…”
When she reached the last step, she had the solution to a problem she hadn’t even realized existed. When she focused on the world around again, she saw Kordieh, carefully fitting faceted crystals into niches near the gate. Morgan composed herself, then approached.
He turned toward her, setting a crystal gently on the ground near his feet. “Anla’shok Morgan,” he said again.
“Anla’shok Kordieh.” She wouldn’t let go of the title, official or not.
This time, he simply bowed his head for a moment. “You honor me,” he said.
“It is a matter of the heart, not of mandate.” People were always surprised when she sounded like a poet, but it was always there.
“Anla’shok Darquin said the same thing, in a different way, to me a few days ago,” he said. “I confess, I hope the council agrees with you.”
“You have earned it, so I have heard. If my testimony would help…” Then she stopped, and spoke the thought that kept coming back to the front of her mind. “This is not what I expected when I met you again.”
Several coughs interrupted Kordieh’s answer. He leaned against the wall, getting his breath back, then said, “I wasn’t expecting to meet you again at all. May I … may I ask what you were expecting?”
“To … find nothing had changed.” After her walk, she couldn’t be anything but honest. “I would still feel the rage, you would still be mad.”
He nodded slowly, settling onto a stone bench by the door. “I’ve been afraid of that myself,” he admitted, “more than once.”
“I don’t, though.” She looked at him.
He met her gaze evenly for a moment, before his dark eyes began to glisten. “Thank you,” he said softly. “Each forgiveness is an incredible gift. One I never expect to receive. Thank you.”
“Don’t make me cry,” she murmured, but was smiling. After a moment, she offered him a hand.
He took it in a firm grip, turning his head to blink away tears as he stood up. “You are welcome to come and walk the mah’uzeed again, any time you wish,” he said after a moment.
“Thank you, I will. My compliments to the restorer.”
He lowered his head to try and hide the blush. “Thank you,” he said.
Her smile hadn’t wavered, and it was genuine, instead of her usual grimaces. She didn’t bother to take her hand away, knowing just how much the touch of another person could help. “Would you like to join me for some tea?” It wasn’t a casual request – in spite of her forgiveness, this still took effort.
His eyes widened. “I … Yes, thank you. I think I’d like that.”
“You sound as if you need it.” It was a simple answer, with another layer of meaning underneath, deliberate.
“I admit, I probably do,” he said. “I’m … still getting over the news Anla’shok Darquin brought me.”
Morgan couldn’t resist curiosity. “He mentioned he had a message for you, but didn’t say what.”
“Katia,” he said, following her away from the mah’uzeed and back toward one of the buildings of the training compound. “He told me why she wasn’t coming back. A ‘Dear Dunstan,’ he called it.”
“Oh.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was a terrible thought, but she couldn’t help but think that that might be worse than surviving a companion.
“He said that it was her, her past catching up to her, and that it wasn’t my fault. I guess I’m still convincing myself of that.”
“It is possible – I have seen some of her past.”
“And you helped her,” he said. “When she tried to get her children back. I remember that.”
“I did not always like her, but Life demanded I help.”
“I hope she finds her peace some day,” he said. “For a while, she thought she had with me. But Life – to borrow from you – said otherwise, I guess.”
“For now. Maybe not for always.”
He smiled. “It’s kind of you to say.”
“Things change. When I left home, I did not expect I would ever be here, on Minbar.”
“Where was home for you?”
“A mining station in the Orion colonies. Or rather, whichever one my father was working on at the time.”
“I grew up on Earth. In France. My parents never had much to do with either of us, I’m afraid. They lived until I was in my twenties, but I barely remember them.”
She sniffed. “Mine are still alive, but I have not spoken to them in many years.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
Morgan paused, long enough for him to think she wasn’t going to answer.
It took a moment for him to compose a reply. “Mon Dieu. I’m so sorry.”
“Diolch. Thank you.” She took a deep breath, let it out again.
“Another thing we have in common, it seems,” he said softly, opening the door to one of the commons buildings.
She was quiet a moment, then was completely honest when she did respond. “I did not expect so. I regret I did not know you better… before.”
“I’m not sure I would have been very good company then,” he admitted. “Even when Lucius was alive, I … well, it seems I frightened even him.”
“Perhaps.” But that was her only comment as she served herself, waited for him.
He followed, finding a small table in a corner of the refectory. At this hour, the room was filling fast with Rangers and trainees seeking breakfast. She stirred her tea idly, thinking. This was not at all what she had prepared herself for, and it was a bit unsettling to her.
Kordieh waited for a minute or two, then asked softly, “Have I said something wrong?”
“Hm? Oh, no. I just … As I said, this is not what I expected. And I have gotten unused to talking this much.” Her mouth quirked upward, wry.
“I haven’t talked this much in a while myself. My friend G’fen is the only person I’ve had to talk to in … well, since the summer.”
She looked at him.”G’fen? If that is a Narn name, then the conversations have been … rather different.”
His face broke into a smile. “He is, and they have, a little. Actually, it’s possible you’ll be able to get to know him better as well. He is petitioning to join the Phoenix.”
“Ah? Well, that may not be a bad thing.” She paused. “Do you recommend him? As I am Shok’na-li, new crew are part of my responsibility.”
“I would, yes. When you review his record you’ll see he’s gotten in some trouble for fighting with Centauri on Babylon 5. But as I told Chief Darquin, he’s got a good heart.”
“The Centauri on Babylon 5 can be … annoying, even to humans. I have a cousin there, in security.”
“You might be able to ask his opinion of G’fen as well then.”
“I will. I had been going to call anyway, to see if they need anything.”
Then she sniffed. “My family is complicated. He’s barely more than a child himself – should be at university, or something. But instead he’s in a war zone, raising my sister’s daughter. And I’m… here.”
He shook his cup gently, watching the swirl of liquid within. He could feel the sympathy, but still lacked the words to express it. “I … guess I’m only beginning to understand what family is. Just when I have none left.”
Morgan looked at him, wishing she knew what she could do to help. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“It’s all right,” he said, looking back at her and offering a gentle smile. He thought again, as he often did, of his brother’s last visit. “I’ve been given a great gift, you know. I do my best to be content with it.”
“If you’re ever not…” She hesitated, then shrugged. Suddenly, she was a bit uncomfortable. “You know where to contact me.”
“I’ll remember,” he said, sensing her discomfort but not knowing why it was there. Was he the cause, or something else entirely? “It’s very kind of you.”
“Think of it as an apology.” Morgan looked at her tea, hardly touched.
“As long as you promise not to consider it an unpleasant obligation,” he said. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”
“No, it’s not,” she said quickly. “You have surprised me.”
A blush colored his cheeks. “Thank you.”
She echoed him faintly. “If I can embarrass you with that, you really do need more friends.”
“I think you’re right.”
Morgan realized then she had talked herself into a corner, but then she smiled. “I do too, as it happens. I thought, mistakenly, that the best way to heal was to avoid that.”
“Perhaps we can count each other as friends,” he said. “I would like that.”
“I would too.”