Dedication: For lizardbeth_j, as promised a long time ago. I don’t think this is quite what you had in mind when you gave me the prompt, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. Also, a couple of small details from your Sinclair fic have sort of entered into my personal fanon, so they’re included here. Hope you don’t mind!
Disclaimer: Babylon 5, its characters, arcs and languages all belong to JMS, Warner Brothers, etc. Title is taken from (big surprise, I know) Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Acknowledgments: Alli for finally motivating me to sit down and watch the series in order–I’d caught episodes here and there during the show’s first run, but not *nearly* enough to really follow anything. Medie for patiently putting up with me while I a) discovered all the great things about this universe that she already knew and b) took forever to write this. *g* John Hightower for his help with the Minbari language and last but FAR from least, Mari for the invaluable beta!
Of course I appreciate the irony: that someone who mistrusts the Vorlons as much as I do should owe them his life so completely. I should have been dead nine hundred years ago, but the Vorlons weren’t exactly eager to be rid of such a useful tool as I turned out to be. Of course, they had my “prophecies” to tell them who they would need to fight their next great war, but I remember Delenn telling me that they still had doubts. That they had tested her, even before I left. Who knows if that test was–will be–the only one?
To the Vorlon way of thinking, it’s only logical that they would keep me around in case Delenn should fail in her task. Of course, they don’t know her the way I did.
Still, the stories only say that Valen “traveled beyond,” so, here I am once again, treading the path that history laid out for me a thousand years before I was born.
I spend most of my time asleep, of course–in stasis like the others–because with all their powers, the Vorlons haven’t yet figured out how to make a human or a Minbari immortal: since I am, in a way, both, I suppose that just makes me more of a challenge. But every once in a while–usually when there’s some task for me to perform to keep my legend alive–they let me out to stretch my legs.
It’s an appropriately strange denouement for my very strange life.
But on the upside are the things I’ve been privileged to see; things like my children and grandchildren coming home to the world of their birth, all questions about their origins long forgotten, or at least, forgiven.
More than that, I’ve been given the gift of anonymity. That’s something I’d almost forgotten: I was Valen for a hundred years, Entil’Zha and Ranger One before that, and Commander of Babylon 5 before that. I got used to being recognized.
No statues, no pictures, no images of any sort were made of me during my life on Minbar all those years ago. I saw to it because I knew if Delenn recognized me–or if I recognized myself–before the proper time, it could change everything. But because of that, here and now I can walk amongst the people I gave up my life for, unobserved and observant. Just another Minbari roaming the streets of Yedor.
It’s strange how reading so much about a life that would turn out to be mine would still have left me so unprepared for the reality of it–the unbearably high cost of it.
In another ironic twist, I find my steps have led me, as they often do, to the threshold of a temple. Not one of the grand temples at the heart of the city: I always feel ill at ease in those, even more unworthy of the veneration than I do here in these everyday streets. Oh, I knew the veneration would come, that it had to come for my words to echo forward through time to reach the ears of the ones they were meant for. Still, that didn’t stop me from trying to kill it in the cradle, to remind those I led that I was as mortal and as fallible as they were. I’m no Christ, no Son of God come down from heaven–just a man out of time, out of place and out of choices.
But this temple is…for lack of a better analogy, more inner city mission than Westminster Cathedral. And it’s in these back alley temples–the ones that touch the lives of the common Minbari of all castes–that I begin to come to terms with my own legacy.
This temple is dim and quiet; the only light filters in through the glass from outside. It’s apparently empty as well, and might well be abandoned if not for the care I can clearly see has gone into its maintenance: a simple honor that means more to me than all the statues, and not only because the statues don’t look a thing like me.
It’s been centuries since I was exposed to a religion I had no hand in establishing, but there are some stories from my Catholic youth that I still remember vividly. One of them is a parable Jesus told about two men at prayer: one, a proud Pharisee who loudly and publicly thanked God for his own righteousness so that all the world could hear, the other a humble tax collector who quietly and privately sought forgiveness for his sins.
Like the tax collector, this small but well-loved temple is the work of a true but humble heart. To be on the receiving end of that kind of devotion is…well, it’s humbling. It keeps me from ever being tempted to believe, like the Pharisee, that I somehow earned or deserved it.
Lost as I am in my own thoughts, it takes a moment and a whisper of movement from somewhere to my right to make me realize I’m not alone. I turn to see a child stretched out on one of the stone pews. It’s a little girl–I can tell by the shape of the dun’ri even though she’s still far too young for the bone to have settled into its final form–dressed in religious-caste garments that were clearly made with a great deal of care. Her eyes are closed, her even breathing shows her very clearly asleep, but uneasily so.
What is a child like this, so obviously the object of so much love, doing asleep and alone in a deserted temple?
My approach must have woken her, because suddenly she sits up, looking wildly around her with bright grey eyes that strike a familiar chord in me for no reason I can name. For one irrational moment, I’m reminded so strongly of my own daughter, Mara, that it takes my breath away and I feel again the agonizing grief of a parent who’s outlived not just one but all of his children.
Those eyes finally settle on me, but instead of intensifying, the fear in them fades a little. “Su E’ Valenn?” she asks in an awed whisper.
I have to smile. Most churches on Earth, when they talk about the childlike faith that Jesus spoke of in Mark, teach that it’s the sort of faith that doesn’t question. But you’d think anyone who’d ever spent time with a child would know better. Children question everything–just ask any parent of a toddler how many times a day they hear the word “why?”
An adult would never think to ask if the stranger they met in Valen’s temple was, in fact, Valen himself, because logic and experience would tell them it’s not possible. A child, though, will ask, and in so doing open the door to the impossible truth.
That kind of faith deserves to be rewarded. “Nie’se,” I tell her honestly. “Su E’ san?”
“Nee.” Her little face looks up at me so frankly that I feel a shiver of premonition run up my spine and settle in the crest at the back of my own head. I shake it off, laughing at myself internally. By Valeria, I really have started to buy into my own press if I’m starting to have “premonitions.” Prophet or no, I have no real precognitive power. I just predicted a future I’d already lived through.
“Ce’fa med nee’te?”
“Kaffel Ah’ Va’sala ai’ Va’mala. A’ fa’an kaf’minvas nie,” she answers in a small voice.
Ah, so that explains her presence here. She’s lost. I can’t help but wonder if she had the presence of mind to find a safe place to wait on her own, or if her parents told her that’s what she ought to do if she were ever separated from them.
Either way, watching her try so hard to be brave is deeply affecting. She’s afraid–I can see it in those oddly haunting eyes–but she’s trying so hard not to show it.
It takes a lot longer to say things in the religious caste dialect, but I’ve discovered over the years that what it lacks in efficiency, it makes up in poetry: so that “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you until your parents return” becomes, “Na’i mora, ah’ Ier’sa. Nu’ su’ner Eh’ Minsa’fel durahis ai Ah’ be’tris sina fel’isilae sim Ah’ fal’min, Ah’ sus’ Min’dun.” “Do not fear, my daughter. If you are brave, your family will come, and I will not allow any harm to come to my little ones here in this place, my great house.”
The part of me that’s still very Human wants to give her a hug along with the promise that it will be all right, but that would rather shatter any illusion of me being a vision rather than flesh and blood, wouldn’t it? Instead, I content myself with the way her face relaxes at my words, her fear fading into trust.
Irrationally, I hear Delenn’s voice as she lay in sickbay after I’d rescued her from the soul hunter: “I knew you would come.” Maybe it’s because she was the first Minbari to trust me that way.
Either way, there’s no time to ponder the reasons as I hear the temple door slam. The little girl looks up, eyes wide with hope, and I instinctively duck back into the shadows.
“Va’sala?” she calls out.
A heartbeat later, two Minbari come hurrying into the room and the child repeats her exclamation in triumphant delight: “Va’sala! Va’mala!”
“Delenn!” her mother exclaims in return as she pulls her daughter into her arms. “Su’nahan Valenn E’su sann!”
My heart seems to stop before resuming at an accelerated rate. Could it be? Birth prophecy or no, the Delenn I knew is hardly the only one to ever bear the name, though I can’t imagine any it suited more.
“Valenn bet’rel Ay’!” Delenn promises her mother in a confident tone I can’t fail to recognize: God, it is her! “Ma’vais Ay Mah’ ier’sa!”
Her parents look at each other in amazement, but neither one dismisses the claim of being personally protected by Valen as a fantasy. Instead, they pull her into their arms again and her mother whispers, “Valenn fa’an Eh’su sus’a’va.'”
Any lingering doubt vanishes: this is Delenn. Oh, she never spoke of this, not to me, but I can see now how it informed every moment of her life; she always had the certainty of one who has seen visions, coupled with the questing spirit of one who never had her childhood questions rebuffed.
It’s overwhelming, this sudden feeling of having come full circle at last. This is why the Vorlons brought me here, it has to be: so I could set Delenn on her path just as she set me on mine when she chose my Starfury out of thousands to introduce the Grey Council to the race they’d all but destroyed.
I suppose I should be angry at the Vorlons for making me yet again an instrument in their grand design, but I can’t. All I can see is the beauty in the pattern. These concepts we call “destiny” and “free will” are so much more complex and intertwined than most people ever realize. But then, most people will never have as much reason to consider them as I’ve had.
No one told me where to go tonight or whom to speak to. No one told Delenn which Starfury to bring aboard the Grey Council’s ship. Yet somehow both events unfolded as they were meant to, not in spite of our choices but rather because of them.
Having the chance to touch Delenn’s life as she touched mine, not from a distance of a thousand years but here and now…that’s a gift I will treasure as long as the Vorlons choose to keep me alive.
The family turns to leave. Delenn glances back over her shoulder one last time, her eyes searching for me. A part of me wants to step into the light, to thank her with a word or a gesture, but what would that mean to her now? Her future–our past and everything that lies beyond it–is still ahead of her.
But as for me…my task is finally finished.
I tried to provide intratextual translations–or at least approximations–of all the dialogue in the story, but if there is any lingering confusion here is what I was trying (I hope successfully) to say. Once again, a HUGE thanks to John Hightower for the translations.
“Su E’ Valenn?” = Are you Valen?
“Nie’se.” = I am.
“Su E’ san?” = Are you all right?
“Nee.” = No.
“Ce’fa med nee’te?” = What’s wrong?
“Kaffel Ah’ Va’sala ai’ Va’mala. A’ fa’an kaf’minvas nie.” = I’ve lost my mother and father. I don’t know where I am.
Na’i mora, ah’ Ier’sa. Nu’ su’ner Eh’ Minsa’fel durahis ai Ah’ be’tris sina fel’isilae sim Ah’ fal’min, Ah’ sus’ Min’dun.” = Do not fear, my daughter. If you are brave, your family will come, and I will not allow any harm to come to my little ones here in this place, my great house.
“Va’sala! Va’mala!” = Mother! Father!
“Su’nahan Valenn E’su sann!” = Thank Valen you are well!
“Valenn bet’rel Ay’!” = Valen protected me!
“Ma’vais Ay Mah’ ier’sa!” = He named me his daughter!
“Valenn fa’an Eh’su sus’a’va.'” = Valen knows how precious you are [to us].
One additional note: I know that Delenn says in several episodes that she was raised by her father after her mother joined the Sisters of Valeria, but since she specifically refers to losing and then being found by her parents, plural, in “Confessions and Lamentations,” I’m assuming the incident in question took place during one of the rare times when her mother was visiting.