Inbetween: Chapter Forty Five


The hardest part of staying in Alenna’s home as a guest was being cut off from the outside world. He knew news reached this place. Many of the messengers that arrived obviously came from further abroad than this country. Alenna herself kept abreast of all the news of the wider world, but he was being left out of the loop.

Whether Alenna did this intentionally or if it was an accidental oversight, Yuri could not begin to guess. He knew that staying here and keeping out of sight was helping to keep him safe from new attempts on his life for the time being, but he was itching to hear news of the outside world and he was just as isolated here as he had been hiding in the desert. Knowing he was so close to the knowledge, but still being denied access made him feel like climbing the walls.

Taking some time to focus on Asa and Willow had seemed like a worthwhile endeavor, and he did not resent the opportunity he had been presented, but he knew he could not in good conscience go on like this forever. The longer he was here waiting idly, the more it ate away at him to know that he was doing nothing to help his people. He had abandoned them. It was not as though he had a choice about leaving—that was a matter of survival, but not staying abreast of the news of his country and his people made him a poor leader.

He needed to step up and become the leader his people deserved. Nyura might be doing a good job, although he knew from what Asa told him she had not been up to the task from the start. If Erramun was still there, it was more than likely that the country was being dismantled while he sat here completely out of the loop. Yuri needed to at least know what was going on before he could begin to imagine that he stood even the smallest chance of being a good leader of his people. As long as he knew nothing there was no hope. If he could just hear news of the outside world, he could form some opinions and then begin to judge for himself if he would have what it takes to lead.

To do any of this he would need news. That required him to gather his courage and made a stand against Alenna. She seemed to want to keep them out of the loop. He did not know if it was due to malicious intent or if it was out of some sort of misguided desire to shield them from the woes and worries of the wider world. Either way, he was a grown man and he would not stand for it.

With all the courage he could muster, he forced himself to go and confront their hostess. The conversation would not be an easy one. Even with more time to get to know her and her ways, he found Alenna as unpredictable as ever.

As soon as he resolved to seek Alenna out, she seemed to disappear from sight. She had to be around somewhere, but no matter where he looked, it seemed as though he only just missed her. After a try or two, he started to suspect that she knew of his intentions and was making a very successful effort to avoid him.

The realization only made him more dogged in his attempts. His persistence would have to pay off eventually. It was just a matter of time. His efforts might be cutting into the time he would have liked to spend on other activities, but he knew he needed to be relentless if he would ever hope to accomplish anything.

When he finally caught up with Alenna, he felt his luck had changed at least a bit. He might still have to face the task of actually bringing up an uncomfortable topic with her, but he was lucky enough to meet with her when she was alone and without anyone else to lure her into distraction.

He found her in one of the many gardens, pulling up weeds as though she was a gardener and not the lady of the house and seemingly lost in thought. No one else was in sight which seemed to suggest that she had expended some amount of effort to arrange this moment. Intruding on her time alone would surely invoke her wrath, or at least some degree of mild irritation what would make her less receptive to the proposal he was preparing to make.

After all of the time he had already lost and wasted while he looking for an opportunity like this one, he knew he could not pass up this chance. The first step was to announce himself without making it seem like he was barging in on her personal space. As long she did not consider him an intruder, he felt at least reasonably confident that he could get what he wanted, even if it probably went again Alenna’s personal judgment. She was the one that had promoted his isolation and at the time he had agreed with her reasoning.

He cleared his throat as he stood a short distance away, hoping not to startle her. Either she did not hear him, or she was pointedly ignoring him to hope to preserve her solitude by giving him one last chance to change his mind and walk away. He knew he could not give up, though. Instead of walking away, he waited and tried again.

This time, he knew she could not ignore him. The same tactic would not work twice. There was an almost imperceptible sigh before she set her work aside and turned to face him.

“Lady Alenna,” he said with a respectful nod of his head.

“Can I help you with something, Yuri?” she asked as she rose to her feet and dusted herself off.

“I would like to be included in your briefings when you get news from beyond your borders.”

She smiled. He resisted the urge to groan. That smile always seemed to spell trouble for him and now that he saw it, he knew he was about to regret starting this conversation.

“Have you grown tired of your carefree lifestyle so soon?” she asked with a concerned tilt of the head that Yuri found a bit affected.

He worried that Willow had influenced him too much. He was interpreting everything as a challenge just as she would. Things tended to be a lot easier to deal with as long as he did not consider everything to be a challenge to test him or some sort of attempt at thwarting his own personal plans.

He refused to allow something so simple to rile him up. There was plenty that was worth getting upset over, but a bit of a teasing attitude from Alenna was not on that list. He maintained his composure. In this, his training in politics and dealing with court intrigue gave him an advantage. It made it easier for him to keep his wits about him while she tried to distract him with her mind games.

“I had no business having a carefree life as long as I have my people to consider,” he replied as he straightened his back and squared his shoulders.

Alenna looked at him with her brow thoughtfully furrowed. It was as though she was considering the truthfulness of the words he said. He bore it patiently because he knew his words were true and she would soon see that for herself.

Then she nodded. “I see,” she said finally and with conviction. “I’ll share any news I receive with you if I think it pertains to you and the land that should be rightfully yours.”

The arrangement she now offered might not be exactly what he had set out to get, but it was better than what he had hoped for. She was willing to make an effort to give him what he asked for and had no dismissed him or played games with his head like he had feared she might do. He could live with what she was willing to give him, even if he knew the knowing might make it even harder to bear staying here where he could do nothing to help.

When the news he hoped to hear was not readily forthcoming he realized that Alenna was not willing to start the exchange of knowledge now.

Yuri was not willing to wait any longer so he knew he needed to take responsibility for getting the information he wanted now. Alenna seemed to think that he had nothing more to demand of her now and she could rest with a self-satisfied expression on her face. He knew he could not feel satisfied until he was brought up to date.

“Alenna, I’d like to start my updates now. What news of Detreya have you heard since we came here with you?”

She sighed. Much of the upright satisfaction drained out of her. Her reaction made him think that he should be at least a little bit worried about the news she had heard. It did not seem to make sense for her to withhold information for him after agreeing to share news with him if there was only good news for him to hear.

He remained firm and stared her down. It was so much easier for him to continue down this path once he had started on it. Now he felt as though he could withstand her antics since he had gained the nerve to start. He watched and waited, knowing soon she would realize he would not relent and her only hope was to tell him what news she had of Detreya. Being in this garden gave him an advantage. The only way for her to leave was to walk past him unless she decided to jump off the terrace and spring wings to fly away.

Before his eyes, he witnessed her will to withhold knowledge from him dissolve. Finally, she sighed and relented.

“I’m afraid I have no good news to share,” she admitted most unwillingly.

“I thought that would be the case,” he confessed. Even after bracing for it, he still felt his heart sink at her words.

Alenna swallowed hard before continuing. “My intelligence indicates Nyura is still playing hostess to Erramun. Rumor has it that there is something of a romance between the two of them, but I’m not willing to put too much stock in those rumors.”

“There’s usually a grain of truth even to the most outlandish of rumors.”

She nodded. “And this rumor is not particularly outlandish, and I’m even willing to believe that there is something there that resembles a romance, and your sister might even believe it to be the case, but I know Erramun and there is no way his feelings are genuine.”

“You think he is manipulating Nyura’s feelings for his own benefit.”

“I think he is manipulating Nyura’s feelings so he can steal Detreya out from under her.”

He swallowed hard. Nyura always made him uneasy. She had been unwell for as long as he had known her and he knew that one of the notions that most easily took hold in her mind was that of romance. He had endured many periods of time when she managed to convince herself that there was some sort of predestined love affair between Yuri and herself. He knew for a fact that this was completely fabricated within her own mind because she had no reason to interpret anything he ever said or did to be of any sort of romantic bend. If Erramun was able to figure out her delusion, he could manipulate her even more effectively.

He fortified his will and pressed on to ask the questions he needed to ask. “Is Nyura’s life in danger?”

“That I can’t say.”

“Your informants aren’t in deep enough to determine if Nyura’s life is at risk? They should at least be determining that after what has already happened.”

“I understand your concern. Durya was certainly assassinated, but it isn’t possible to say whether Nyura is destined to have a similar mark put on her head or if her weak mind is enough to spare her and make her of more use while living.”

Yuri sighed. Even when Alenna was honest with him, her words did nothing to alleviate his concerns. Part of why he was so reluctant to hear news was because of the feeling of impotence it gave him to know that there was a disaster back home and he was incapable of doing anything to help from all this way away. He knew he had to stay away, but it did not make it any easier and it certainly did leave him entertaining the idea of how he might be able to sneak back to Detreya and make some small difference to the people there in secret. The temptation was very real even if he knew the notion was impossible.

“Walk with me,” Alenna said with an air of authority as she breezed past Yuri.

He had no choice but to follow after her. She had perfected the easy tone of command that seemed to come to all good leaders. The way she swept past him and back inside without so much as a second glance made it impossible to argue. He was not sure what he could do. Even if his question had to be answered to some degree, he had to assume there was something more to be said if she wished for him to follow her. The only part that was not clear to him was why they could not continue the conversation where they were. That would be a matter he was sure would be revealed to him once she was good and ready to tell him about it and not a moment sooner.

There was something that he knew he could not control. To a certain degree, he knew he could not press his luck. Already today he had done so much to potentially create ill will between the two of them and as long as he stood a chance of learning more, he would try to stay on her good side.

Somehow, Alenna continued to be unencumbered by her usual entourage. For that Yuri was grateful, but he had to wonder what was actually going on to cause this turn of events. It was not like Alenna to be without at least a friend or two to keep her company and to run small errands for her as her whims demanded. Now she led Yuri through the halls while projecting an aura that seemed to deflect all others. As they passed people by they seemed to light up and prepare to approach the lady of the house, but then almost immediately reconsider and allow her to pass by unassailed. With such a stormy demeanor there was no doubt why they decided to think twice about approaching her, but he had to wonder why he continued following her. He knew he would regret it if he tried to leave right now. It was not just a matter of the information he might fail to receive if he abandoned his cause now, but he also felt that leaving now would invoke Alenna’s wrath.

She led him down the hall for what felt like longer than should be possible in a building of this size. He had to wonder where she was taking him, but the ominous hush that seemed to swirl around Alenna prevented him from asking. In all his time wandering around to pass the time, he did not think he had discovered this particular area. As it was her home, he was not surprised to see Alenna striding through the place without a flicker of unfamiliarity passing over her expression.

After they had walked far enough that Yuri felt certain this hallway must burrow through the mountain itself, Alenna stopped at a door heavy and thick enough that the beams it was comprised of could have just as easily been used to hold up the mountain itself. The door swung inward with surprising ease for a door of such great bulk. He followed her into the room, unsure of what to expect inside.

The walls of this room were lined with ancient, yellowed maps both of terrain and what appeared to be air currents. A huge globe filled the center of the room. The whole room felt like it had been preserved from another era with the smell of old parchment and dust being the only detectable odors. Yuri wondered what reason Alenna could possible have for bringing him here. Although he could recognize the maps, and identify all of the various national boundaries, even if the maps were ancient and out of date, he could not read the air current maps, and Alenna was at least as well versed in the geography of this world as him, if not more so just by virtue of all of the travel she did by air.

He waited for her to say something since she certainly had a specific reason in mind when she brought him here alone. Whatever it was, it must be a big deal if she was going through the trouble of taking him to a remote area to discuss it.

Instead of talking to him, Alenna seemed to get absorbed into studying the maps on the wall to the right of the door. She scrutinized one area in particular, carefully selected a green push pin and moved it about 200 miles to the east. Yuri moved closer and looked over her shoulder in hopes of discovering the meaning of the push pin and the cause for her careful, methodical relocation.

He almost jumped when she finally decided to speak again. “I’m going to need to travel further north soon. You’re all welcome to stay here as my guests, but if you want to reenter the world sphere, I think you should come with me. We’ll work on building you some alliances far away from Erramun’s influence and where it will take him the longest time to receive word of your reappearance.”

“I thought you advised against me revealing myself at this point?”

“Well, the world is not as simple a place as I would like it to be. The best I can do is be a good ally and work to make sure that you are making the safest choices possible.”

“And you think this will really work?”

She nodded. “It’s a compromise, but it’s one where I’m fairly certain I can keep my commitment to keeping you safe from Erramun’s designs against you while allowing you to start to work to help your people again as well.”

“In that case, I think we should head north.”

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