Dinner was very satisfactory - Orini's cook was expert at providing delicacies for a variety of races. Orini turned out to be an expert host, although he could not be present for much of the day. He ensured that we had entertainment, then arranged for a special dinner the next day, where a number of prominent Markab officials would be present.
The next morning I arose early, as is my wont, and exercised in the back gardens. I was not sure of what the mores of the Markab were, but my exercise was important and should always be done in very little body covering. I stretched and worked my muscles until my body was glowing with expressed energy. I felt so very well - even that little pull in my neck had gone. I dressed and went inside to break my fast.
The Pak'ma'ra had some information about Markab society. He had discovered that it is closely bound by ritual and all members of society except the very young were members of at least one order or professional group such as healers and diplomats and steelworkers and mariners, etc. Our host, Orini, was part of the diplomatic corps and would not take offense at any of our actions - it was a specific part of his training and ritual. We could not be so sure that other Markab would not take offense at our actions. The Pak'ma'ra seemed particularly eager that I take notice of what he said, but I was not that interested. As long as I didn't do something that got me into some form of combat or incarceration I would be fine. I'd leave subtleties up to him.
My ship was in a space dock and being repaired. The repairs would take another four days. I wanted to see the repair works being done but was told that it would necessitate a two day trip - the shuttle port up to space was on another continent and would take a day's flight to reach. I deliberately chose not to contact So'Kath, since I had told him that I would be back in a standard month and we still had around 12 days of that time left. Not too much later, I would regret not taking the chance to contact him, but that is for later.
When I went out into the back gardens in the late afternoon, Kimmini was on the swing again. This time she didn't want to be pushed and went inside quickly. She joined us for the dinner meal but then left, for we had the Markab officials to entertain.
Well, if there is one thing that I am not, it is a diplomat. I am sure that Orini had already ascertained this. He had sat two Markab with interests in trade and freight on either side of me. I genuinely tried to make small talk - I had to show some gratitude, but these Markab were just terribly boring. The Pak'ma'ra was in his element, however, displaying great skills in camaraderie and all the things I just cannot be bothered with. If I like someone I like them and I do anything for them. If they bore me witless, I ignore them. The dinner was interminably slow and I was very glad indeed to be released from my duty as Very Important Guest of Honour.
The next day passed like the last two. I spent a lot of time training my body on the play equipment. Late in the afternoon Kimmini came home. This time I noticed that she looked scuffed up - she usually was spotlessly clean. There was a tear in her robe and she looked as if she was very upset. I took her inside and tried to clean her up some, then played on the swing with her. She said that there was nothing wrong, that she had been clumsy and fallen. I could not disbelieve her - Markab children, I was told, tell the truth, particularly those bound for the house of Tamorein, the seers' order.
The next day Kimmini came home and sat crying on the swing. This time she held one of her arms very close to her body and wouldn't let me touch it. "You aren't a healer and I can't let you look at it unless you are a healer!"
It was ridiculous that she wouldn't let me examine her arm. I was concerned for her and there weren't any healers nearby. Then Kimmini brightened. "But you aren't Markab and you aren't bound by our edicts, so maybe I can let you look at my arm. It hurts very much."
One side of her forearm was purple with bruising, but I could not detect anything broken by a visual and gentle physical examination. I took her inside and asked the housekeeper if there was anything that could be done. The housekeeper, who was also Kimmini's afternoon carer, took her off into Orini's private abode to treat her there.
I had a chat with Orini that night. I suggested to him that Kimmini was being bullied. He said that Markab children do not behave in such a fashion.
"How else can you explain her torn clothes and an arm that is nearly broken?"
"Kimmini must learn to deal with opposition by her own means. She cannot grow if she does not learn how to solve the problem herself. We can easily heal any physical injuries."
The Markab male exasperated me. They call us Narn cold hearted, but we love our pouchlings dearly and will protect them from harm. I had never seen such brutality visited upon a child. Yes we have our share of cowardly bullies who pick on smaller pouchlings. By G'Quan, look at our elder brother, Na'Tol. Na'Tal and I were much smaller than he - how do you think we learned to fight together so well? As pouchlings, aggression was encouraged but there were always adults around to train and teach and discipline us. This poor child had no help at all. Narn parents ensured that nothing got out of hand. Markab parents, it seemed, would allow any behaviour as long as it did not break any edicts.
The next day, Kimmini's bruise was gone, but another had taken its place on her head. It looked like a stone had hit her and she had a lump the size of an avian egg. This time she finally admitted that a group of children were harassing her.
"Kimmini, I can teach you how to fight back and how to protect yourself."
"If I am to join Tamorein, I cannot fight nor draw blood. It is against the edicts of my intended order."
Those bedamned edicts again! Every part of Markab society was bound up by them, from the lowest to the highest points. Most of the edicts were ridiculous, like having to turn around three times in a clockwise direction before sitting down to lunch or only being allowed to turn rightwards in the morning and leftwards in the afternoon. Really truly stupid things. But the Markab believed in them and, more importantly, Kimmini believed in them. I had to comply with her wishes.
That evening, I had another chat with Orini. He confirmed that his daughter could not be allowed to fight for then she would not be accepted into her first order of choice, Tamorein. She had been learning the edicts of Tamorein for years and now had developed the self-discipline to comply with them all. He also confirmed that I, as an alien, effectively had diplomatic immunity and was exempt from any edicts, apart from the usual thou shalt not kill (unless lawful).
In a strange way, I was vaguely satisfied with what Orini told me. Kimmini couldn't fight, but I could fight on her behalf. Still, a few minutes in the company of an obnoxious, loud Earther salesman staying with Orini destroyed whatever satisfaction I had had. The sump salesman, trying to sell outmoded technologies, if they can be called technologies, to one of the more advanced races I had seen. Advanced the Markab were but evasive a well; they wouldn't let me see the basis of what they were capable of doing. I'd have to recommend that the Narn authorities open up a dialogue with the Markab - they may well have some very useful technology.
It was not hard to find out where Kimmini's school was. The next afternoon, Nar'Bon and I walked to there and waited until school finished for the day. It was very hard to pick Kimmini out from all the other Markab children, but she came running up to us. No other Narn were waiting for any pouchlings. She seemed overly eager to see us. "Are you going to walk me home?"
Partway home, Kimmini started acting nervous. She stopped her childish chatter about her friends and her lessons and began to hang back. Her small hand crept into mine. Ahead, a group of pouchlings of various races shuffled down a small sidestreet.
"Is that them, Kimmini?"
Her voice was hardly audible. "Yes".
These children were pre-adolescent. Six of them: two Humans, one Minbari (which rather surprised me) and some others of the non-Aligned worlds. They too were not bound by Markab edicts. Obviously their parents were less than careful about their children's activities. I told Kimmini to stay behind Nar'Bon and I.
It was a typical pack of bullies. When challenged, of course they denied attacking younger, smaller pouchlings. One of the Humans, a male I think, did all the talking. The others hung back.
"Your behaviour is unacceptable," I told them. "You have been picking on a little girl who is all by herself and who is not allowed to fight back. Only cowards do that.
"You will stop attacking any other child or children." I let my nastiest, toothiest grin spread across my jaw, "or we will make sure that you stop."
"Yeah? How're you gunna do that?"
I'll give the Human leader this much. He was more courageous than I expected, and rather more stupid than I expected. If he had more intelligence or some of that indefinable quality known as nous, he'd make a good leader some day. A good leader knows when to pull his troops back in the face of overwhelming odds, but this little Human was ready for a fight. He pulled his friends into a group around him.
Nar'Bon and I goaded them. It was beneath us - these were pouchlings after all - but they needed to be taught a lesson about how it felt to be attacked by bigger beings. Our goading and the, ahem, inspirational talk of their leader (c'mon! There's only two of them and six of us. We can do 'em! Come on! Think of the glory of beating them! Let's do it!) encouraged their attack.
As they turned to face us, Nar'Bon and I shared a look. The stupid things would never know what hit them. I dropped into my fighting crouch as they began to run at us. The two at the back immediately lost interest. The Human leader and the Minbari came in range. Nar'Bon dropped the Minbari whilst I swept the legs out from under the Human. The other pouchlings turned tail and fled.
I leaned over and grabbed the young Human by the clothing just under his throat. I lifted him off the ground - he was very light - and pulled him very close to my gleaming teeth. "You will not attack or bully any more children. Yes?"
My smile was very toothy and my eyes very, very cold. I am told that many Humans find our eye colouring unsettling, along with our general demeanour. I put the fear of Death into that boy. His eyes bulged outwards and his skin went white. From the way he smelt, he may well have also soiled himself.
"Huhh, yeah. Yes. YES! Please, put me down."
I dropped him by his Minbari friend, who was coming around. The two staggered upright and stumbled off.
I turned to Kimmini. Her eyes were big and round and she looked a little scared. She had no need to be scared of either Nar'Bon or myself. "It's alright now, Kimmini. They won't harm you again."
She suddenly smiled (every race that can smiles these days - Humans have much to answer for) and hugged Nar'Bon's leg. I knelt down to her and she hugged me with all the strength of her slight body. I had earned the love and trust of a pouchling and it felt so very good. It reminded me of another pouchling.... I gently disengaged Kimmini's arms and watched her skip and dance all the way back home. It surprised me that I cared about her because I cared about so few beings these days. My thoughts drifted....
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