I remember when I first started this story, and all I had in my head was comedy. Still in my mind the comedy remains, but we have a long way to go and there are many stories to tell, some funny and some tragic. I suppose all of life is like that, sometimes. I promise that, invariably, this will degenerate into (tasteful) sex comedy at some point. Don't ask me how.
Raithen – The Epitome of a Yuke
"Somebody's gonna give you a lesson in leaving."
The ceremony ended with five torches burning merrily around the cerulean glimmer of the crystal. The crowd surged forward when the crystal's light flared anew, some laughing, some cheering, and some weeping.
Raithen was one of the ones who always wept. Like all Yukes, he did not shed tears. Their bodies were not biologically capable of such things. He cried in his heart, the scent rolling off of him in waves. No one but another Yuke or a close friend would recognize the depth of his emotions. To see such beauty year after year, as the crystal gleamed brighter and brighter with each chanted word, to see all his hopes come to fruition in one flare of incandescence, to know just what this moment had cost, what price paid…Raithen wept profusely. He was not alone, he saw. He never was.
Beside him, Sherrill did not seem to notice his gaze. Her eyes shimmered in the light of both the torches and the crystal; she smiled and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, the unshed tears were gone. She nodded once, then turned and melted away into the crowd. In the momentary gap she left behind, he saw Aaron. The Lilty stared, enraptured, at the crystal. Obvious tears tracked down his face and he made no effort to hide them.
Crossing the space between them took only three measured strides. Raithen placed a gentle paw on Aaron's shoulder, squeezing lightly before letting it fall back to his side. The younger man leaned into him. By then most of the crowd had dispersed, scattering in order to prepare the square for the feast, fetch food, or gather family. His own family could wait a moment longer, Raithen decided.
Aaron rubbed at his eyes. "My best friend, you know," he said, "Always looking out for me." He sighed deeply. "I fucked up, man."
"I, too, miss her," Raithen offered.
He raised one eyebrow. "I didn't think you even knew her."
That stung. Certainly grief could make all sorts of emotions emerge, but that sort of doubt in his connections with his caravanners was just unreasonable. "We had been friends for a long time."
"Really?" Aaron's incredulity, spiced with the natural irritability of the Lilties, struck his nostrils. Raithen's confusion began to turn to anger.
"You think I do not know my own caravan?"
Bafflement evident in every line of his face, Aaron exclaimed, "Who are you talking about?"
"Ah," Raithen paused, mentally reviewing the last several minutes of conversation. "Hao Ri. Who are you talking about?"
Aaron gave a short bark of a laugh. "Oh, gods, Rai, I'm talking about Margery!"
"Margery?" Raithen repeated, then swiftly reviewed what he knew of her. She was the Lilty woman who ran the inn and tavern. A few years younger than Aaron, she was in the same generation as Salira and Hao Ri. She was known to be close with Aaron, and Salira had once thought that the two of them might pair off.
Perhaps it was romantic trouble? Raithen could have taught at Shella's university about that. He had many romantic relationships, after all, and it was no simple thing to maintain his marriage.
"There, there," he told Aaron, patting the other man on the shoulder. "Tell me all about it."
"Rai," Aaron said, looking up at his friend, "You look like you're about to study me rather than help me."
So it was. Raithen gave a shrug, knowing how much it communicated to his Lilty, Clavat, and Selkie friends. "I can fit you in on Thursday, just after noon."
Though he was liable to spend most of the time recording and utterly fascinated by his patients' emotional shifts, variances, and depths, Raithen was still the best mind healer in the village. Aaron threw his hands in the air. "Oh, why the hell not?"
From the corner of his visor slit, Raithen saw a Yuke paw wave. Harrier motioned for him to follow, the shorter Yuke turning and heading for a trestle table far away from the betimes clumsy dancers that would soon be kicking up their heels. Bidding his friend farewell and wishing him luck, he moved to join his family.
They had already secured a plate for him, and so he sat down to eat with gusto. Most Yukes had no difficulty eating despite the helms that covered their heads, and Raithen was no exception, though it was more comfortable to go without during mealtime. He raised his visor, popping the morsels his spouses had selected into his mouth. They were all the more delicious for the strength of their scent, something known only to Yukes. Had he been bored, he supposed he could have sniffed out their chemical compounds, but he was here to enjoy their taste rather than their makeup.
Despite her face being shielded, Rai sensed Namarea smile to see his appetite. It had been so long since he had eaten a proper, home cooked meal. As their family chef, she would likely stuff him so full by winter that he would be the one hunted for their Harvest Festival feast. He chuckled to himself, passing his plate to Harrier in order to have more food heaped upon it.
They chatted as they ate, relating stories of the past year that he had missed as he regaled them with a few tales of his own. Then came the fateful moment, though he would not know it until later.
"Julin's been having some trouble with Elder Zigera," Salira teased.
"Truly?" Raithen responded with a chuckle. "Well, let me talk with Zigera. I can get that fixed for you."
His firstwife sighed deeply, rather than giving him the pleased "Thank you" he had expected. "Something wrong, dear?" he asked.
The others looked to her in a strangely somber moment, and Julin rose from the table. "I must speak with you, husband," she said softly, "Alone."
Raithen had always known who he was. It was one of the strengths of being a Yuke. Other races dithered, sending themselves out on long quests to discover this knowledge. The Selkies of Leuda had even integrated it into their caravanning, sending their youth out into the world for as long as it took for them to settle and choose a life path. Raithen had always thought this strange, but it made sense, he supposed.
As a Yuke, he had always been certain of his life path and also his emotions. No biological or hormonal shift could deter him or confuse him. No dull, dreary day could turn him away from the logic of his feelings. This moment required this reaction, this situation required this feeling. He knew what to do and what to feel, always.
So when Julin dragged him down the path, up the steps to the porch, and through the door of their home, he found himself baffled, almost thrown off the logical course of emotions. Generally speaking, such a situation should engender an angry reaction, he thought, but what about when it was one's spouse performing it? More particularly, one's first spouse? He wondered how other races would react to this, and then realized that other races generally did not have first spouses. Well, he would have to follow the logical path.
"What are you doing?" he asked, leaning back against the hallway wall as Julin finished lighting a few candles and slumped into the chair nearest the door. He had never seen his stoic, dignified firstwife so flustered, so confused, so emotional. She turned her helmed head to look at him, then gave a growl and yanked at the straps and clasps, ripping the metal contraption from her head. His eyebrows rose beneath his own helm. Had that been frustration?
"Raithen," she said, eyes glittering in the dimly lit room, "Take off your helm."
"Why?" he asked.
"Please just take off your helm," she requested again.
"Julin, I would like to know why," he said firmly.
"For the love of the gods, Rai, will you just do as I ask for once without having to know my logic or reasons?" she snapped, then sighed deeply. "Take it off, because we need to have this conversation face to face."
"I am standing right here," Raithen reminded her.
She sighed deeply. "I would like to see your face when I say what I have dragged you all the way down here in order to say, as you are able to see mine currently."
Well, all right. It was a strange request for a conversation, but not too odd, he supposed. Most Yukes went helmless in their own homes, particularly his own family. He doubted anyone would be stopping by the home right now-the children's' activities for Hallow's Eve had finished earlier, and most revelers were up by the crystal-so he did not fear having his face seen. He reached his own paws up and found the familiar buckles of his helm, undoing them in soft, quiet snaps. He placed it on the side table, reaching his paws up once more to rub at his head and face lightly as he went to take a seat near her. Stimulating the scalp in such a way was good for increasing the blood flow to the area.
"Will you tell me now?" he asked at last.
Julin shook her head slowly, her fur rippling with the movement. She had always been so beautiful, he thought, the current moment no exception. In the candlelight her silvery fur glowed orange, yellow, and red, like sunlight. Her scent, no longer blocked by either of their helms, drifted across the room to him. He stiffened. She smelled saddened, or sorrowful. It was not the scent of grief, of tears and anguish, but that of heartache.
"Raithen, always have I loved you," she said. "Since the moment we met in Shella, I knew I wanted to be with you. Perhaps it was unYukelike of me, to love so quickly and so powerfully, but I knew how I felt then and there."
She paused. Raithen smiled cautiously. "We were an excellent match," he replied.
She smiled as well, but the scent of sadness only grew stronger. "No, my love. Well, yes, but so much more than that. I loved you. I felt it. Do you know what it means to love?"
"Of course I do!" Raithen drew back, affronted. He had three wives and a husband. Of course he knew what love was. "I love you and all of our partners."
"Do you?" she asked. He frowned, and she shook her head again. "I know you love us. But do you know what love is?"
Blinking, Raithen could only stare at her. How were these separate questions? How was it that answering the one did not also answer the former?
"We were so happy," Julin continued. "Back then. We were happy and young and in love. Well, I was, at least."
He did not know what to say. There was no logical pattern to follow her train of thought. So he said nothing.
"I want a divorce," she said softly, and the world seemed to tilt on its axis.
"But why?" he asked.
"I need more than this, more than what we have."
"I...surely between all of us, we have met your needs," he stammered.
"Raithen, this is not about having my basic needs met! Yes, I have food and shelter and companionship. But what I wanted from this marriage was love, and understanding, and compassion—everything I have given to you from the first moment I met you—and of that, you have nothing to give!"
"I love you! I understand you-" he said, stunned and stung.
But Julin was not finished. "You treat us like we are battle strategies. Plan A did not solve our problems, so let us try Plan B! Plan C! Plan D! How many plans do you have, Raithen? Did you plan for this?"
His paws were shaking. His breath was coming in short gasps. Coldly, analytically, a voice in the back of his head suggested it was an excellent thing he had sat, lest he collapse. He tried to reach out to her and take her paw, but she jerked away from him.
"It would be one thing if you had only started doing this after Hao Ri passed," she said, "But you have always done this. Since I have met you, this is how you have handled our relationship. I have only ever been a problem for you to solve, an equation rather than a wife."
He shook his head. "No, that is not correct. That is not true."
"It is true. You do not understand me," she interrupted. "If you understood me, you would have seen the beginnings of this years ago! If you felt compassion toward me, then you would be trying to understand me now instead of trying to convince me of how I am wrong! And if you loved me, if you loved me," here she faltered. "If you loved me, I would be staying with you in spite of those other two needs."
"Jules," he whispered.
"No, Raithen. I have already packed my things."
"But where will you go?"
"I've taken a room at the inn," she admitted, her head hanging low. So she had already planned this, set it into motion. Long before they had this conversation, she had known the outcome.
Raithen wanted to take her to task about the injustice of going about their conversation in this way, but the seriousness of her tone stopped him. "Julin, please, don't go. Stay here."
"I can't be near you, Rai. I just can't." She still would not look at him.
"Jules, I..." Raithen paused, the sound of her nickname said so unconsciously from his lips making him want to weep again. And in that, he saw a way. "I will go."
"I will stay at the inn. I am the one at fault. You should not be chased out of your own home." The plan was forming now. He knew what to do.
"Raithen, no. Nama, 'Lira, and Harri have all been waiting so long to see you. You should not leave them simply because of me."
"Clearly our entire relationship is out of balance, if it is making you leave. I need to make it right."
"Rai, no, that was not what I have been saying at all! This is not something you can fix!" her head came back up, voice pleading. Sorrow and…anger?...flowed from her in waves.
"I have to make it right. I am certain I can." Raithen stood up, taking up his helm once more. "I will take the room at the inn. You take issue with me, correct, and not the others? I will stay until I figure out how to make this better."
She looked despairingly at him as he strode over to stand beside her chair. Reaching out, he caressed her cheek with one paw.
"Do not be sorrow so, Jules," he said. "Everything will be all right."
As he strode away, headed for the door with a solid plan in mind, he heard her whisper, "Raithen, this, right here, is exactly why I am leaving you."
Like all Yukes, Raithen worked better with a plan. Improvising was for the Lilties and Selkies, after all. Julin had confused him with her words, her emotions ever at odds with them, but he thought he had managed to tease out what she was really trying to say. There was a problem in their relationship, was what it came down to. The problem was that she did not think he loved her. Well, easily solved, if he said so himself. It might take time, but there was a clear path to take now. All he had to do was prove to her that he loved her.
Hmm, perhaps it was not so easily solved. How did one prove one's love? He knew how the Lilties did it, declaring themselves loudly. He'd seen one of the great Lilty playwright Shakespeare's plays. That Romeo, shouting up to a balcony...how uncouth it was. No wonder they had both died at the end, foiled by their own illogical Lilty hearts. He knew how the Selkies did it, with sidelong glances and coy words and flirtations. He had watched Jai Noo at work long enough to know that. And he refused to even start on how the Clavats did it, with their elaborate courtships and rituals. Certainly they were a quiet folk, but even they turned insensible in the face of love. No, he would do it the way that Yukes did such things. The only question was, how did the Yukes do it?
When in doubt, consult an expert. His father's words, and the advice had never failed him before. Ah, perhaps his father's advice would not fail again? He could consult his father. However, letters often took time. Who else could he consult in the meantime? His friend Aaron knew much about lust, but judging by the way he and that innkeeper Margery had been stepping around each other for years, he did not know much about love. Jai Noo would be even more useless. Perhaps Sherrill? Normally he asked his wives and husband for advice about emotional aspects. Perhaps Nama, 'Lira, or Harrier could grant him insight?
It would be best that word did not get around about this yet, he thought, especially as he would likely convince Julin within the week that he still loved her. Within the family it was! Stepping out, he hastened back to the crystal, hoping to find the three still at the trestle tables.
He was in luck. Nama and 'Lira were watching the dancers, the former clapping in time and the latter laughing at something or other. He joined them with a nod. They glanced awkwardly at him, then away. They had known.
"Why did you not tell me?" he asked, unable to keep the accusing tone from his voice.
"'Twas not ours to tell," said Nama quietly, her paws dropping to her lap.
"Guess I wanted to see if you had managed to pull the stick out of your ass this year," Salira added bluntly. She had a talent for doing so, managing to succinctly and impolitely state just about anything. "This has been a long time coming, you know."
"No, I do not know," Raithen answered her non-question. "I did not know. I thought we were happy. I thought she was happy."
Despite the helms blocking them both, Salira's scent on the breeze managed to carry the perfect compound of irritation and pity. Namarea placed a warning paw on Salira's shoulder, leaning forward. "Rai, love, did you listen to her? All she wanted was for you to listen."
"Of course I listened," Rai said. "I do not understand how she could do this to me."
Namarea and Salira traded long glances. Then Nama removed her hand from 'Lira's shoulder, as if unleashing the red furred Yuke. "Raithen," Salira said slowly. "You listened, but did you really hear her?"
Once again, he was confronted with two questions that he thought had the same meaning. "Of course. I still do not understand."
"Perhaps that is what it is," Namarea offered cryptically before standing and heading out to the circle of dancers.
"What is that even supposed to mean?" Rai demanded of his seemingly last remaining wife.
Salira laughed, but it was not a happy sound. "Oh, Rai," she said. "Nama's just running because she hates confrontation. You know how she is."
He nodded, mollified. Namarea had done her best to help him understand. He truly was too volatile at the moment; it was no wonder she had made her escape. He took a deep breath. "Please help me understand."
Salira looked at him, helm tilted to one side, pity in her voice as she said, "It's you, Rai. It's who you are."
What Salira had done her best to explain to him, he still was not sure he could believe.
He was everything a Yuke should be, Raithen reflected. He was mysterious, wise, knowledgeable, deep: an intellectual. Rarely did he reveal his innermost thoughts and feelings. Helpful to a fault, he was indispensable to both caravan and village. Someday, when he had either grown too old or tired for the caravan, he would likely be appointed an Elder. This was not a declaration or prideful assumption, but mere observation. All was well in that regard.
So why did Salira look at him with such pity? She had said, "It's you, Rai. It's who you are," but what did that even mean?
Raithen had been the same man since he had met Julin. Yes, the caravan had caused him to develop some extraneous mannerisms, but his core personality traits had not made an drastic shifts. He was still intelligent, curious, affectionate, kind: a giving partner, a loyal husband. He had taken care of every problem she had ever had, fixed every issue their relationship had raised—
"It's you, Rai. It's who you are."
-he had done everything for her! He was always taking care of his family, solving their problems. It was amazing that they survived without him for so much time out of the year. How dare she be so angry with him! How dare she not love him! He still loved her! Even after all these years and all this time apart, he still loved her!
The inn room he now stood in seemed cold and dull, despite the cheery wall hangings, curtains, and rugs Margery had installed. He placed his pack beside the solid dresser that stood close to the door. Though he normally insisted upon cleanliness and order in the caravan, tonight he could not be bothered with such things. He tore off his helm, throwing it into a corner and taking sick satisfaction from the loud clanks that echoed slightly in the empty chamber. Sinking onto the bed, built to fit two, though tonight it would only cradle one, he placed his head in his paws and wept for the second time that night.