Hair was not what Kethic expected to find he had in common with a Rilan. Certainly, both their species had it, which was not a universal constant, but they were so different in almost all other regards he had expected them to be opposites in all things. And while the Rilan tended towards hairstyles just as elaborate as the Invar, he’d thought theirs to be mere decoration, rather than having messages and stories such as his own people plaited into theirs.
He had noticed, at least, that the Rilan did not touch each other’s hair. That, however, he had attributed to the fact they didn’t appear to touch at all. It was as though contact itself were forbidden, and having spent time with their little mixed group now, it panged him to think of the comfort those distances denied them. It was possible, of course, they didn’t find comfort in a simple touch, but he didn’t think so.
Oli, who was a wonderful and caring person but not the most observant when it came to the behaviour of others, was the only one among them who hadn’t seemed to notice poor Uran’s avoidance. Oli grabbed his hand, his arm, patted his shoulder, all the little things they did to the others, to show them they’d been accepted, as that was what those gestures meant to a Yondesh. Kethic and Puri knew them for what they were, but it took Uran longer—and Kethic believed an explanation from Puri—to realize no offense was intended. After that, while he still didn’t seek such things out, at least Uran no longer looked so scandalized by a handshake. And after that was settled, it seemed he began to find the little gestures to be the kindnesses they were, and enjoy them as the others did.
It made Kethic wonder, though he’d never given their culture much thought before, what would have lead the Rilan to keep such distance between them, if the contact itself was not the problem, just the perception of it. He hadn’t asked, however. Though they were all growing closer as was unavoidable in such close quarter, and while there had been moments of sharing on all parts, like Puri knowing enough to explain Oli’s actions, they hadn’t really shared the deeper meanings behind their cultures. It was more things like the gestures, the moments that might cause conflict if the meanings were not revealed.
Moments like Oli offering to help Uran tie his hair back after the accident in the shop left his hand bandaged, and his complete embarrassment at even the thought. “No, thank you. I’m afraid that isn’t permitted.”
And that was enough to capture Oli’s curiosity and the frightening focus they could show when it was engaged. By the time Uran had struggled through getting his hair in its usual order, he’d explained the protocols around touching a Rilan’s hair (do not) and the meanings to some of the various weaves and ties. So surprised was Kethic by the similarities, that he had explained most of the meaning to his own braids before remembering he wasn’t supposed to share that information with anyone, least those who might be enemies, and would now be able to read who among his people were the most valuable hostages.