Inbetween: Chapter Fifty Five


Once they were all on the ship again Yuri made it his mission to speak to Alenna. She might not take their agreement to keep him in the loop seriously, but he did and he refused to allow her to forget it. At first, he was willing to believe that she was just busy. One of the crewmen that flew the ship on the journey north to the mining village was remaining behind. He was willing to believe assisting the shorthanded crew did take up some of her time, but when he tried to approach her for the third time and she was still caught up in reviewing navigational charts, he knew she was trying to stay busy to avoid him in particular.

He knew better than to let that stand. Not only did he need answers for himself, but he knew he would not hear the end of it while they had to sit and wait if he did not come back with some sort of answer.

This time while Alenna did her best to keep her eyes trained on the map she was studying with more care than it warranted Yuri did not know who she thought she could trick with such a flimsy ruse. They all knew she had the entire mountain range memorized so there was no reason for her to need to study as though they were traveling through a foreign land. Yuri told himself he could not allow her to keep ignoring him.

He made his presence known by clearing his throat. He saw her flinch slightly and knew that she was aware of him. Still, she did not look up at him.

Since she was being difficult, he tried again. This time she did look up.

He was not sure what he expected to see when he met her eyes, but the puffiness around her eyes and combined with the way she pressed her lips tightly together, he knew she was worried. Odds were good that she had not slept at all last night.

Pity might have been an appropriate response, but he only felt more curious. This trip happened too quickly for there to be any explanation beforehand which meant they all were suffering from lack of sleep.

“What’s happened?” He made a point of not sounding too demanding when he asked the question. If she made such an effort to avoid talking to him, he knew it would be difficult to convince her to do otherwise. He needed her to give him answers which meant he was in no position to demand anything from her.

“A lot has happened. Unfortunately, news comes slowly and in batches this far up in the mountain range.” She sighed and began pacing the length of the room. “Everything came all at once and it required us to act quickly.”

“Well, what is it that you heard?”

His patience was wearing thin. He wanted to avoid having to remind her of their previous agreement. It was hard to hold back from bringing it up and accusing her of going back on her word, but he knew he needed to hold his tongue or he would end up souring their rather tenuous alliance.

Alenna’s gaze darted around the room as though she was looking for any excuse she could find not to take to him. Yuri crossed his arms over his chest and stared her down. It was not the most diplomatic way to handle the situation, but he did not feel that he had the patience just now to handle the situation with any more patience.

“You said you would keep me up to date on news of the outside world. Is there anything I should know right about now?”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t ask,” she admitted finally. “The last thing we need right now is to have you climbing the walls because there’s nothing you can do about it while we’re flying.”

He tried his best to remain calm. Shouting or making demands would not get him what he wanted with Alenna. She was too clever for him to push her into doing anything she did not want to do and he did not forget that even though the crew on this ship was small, his side of an argument would be easily outnumbered. Instead of pushing harder he held his tongue and waited. The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness.

The agonized look on Alenna’s face forced him to brace himself for bad news. There was no reason for her to avoid speaking to him unless it was bad news for him. He did not want to begin imagining what it could be at this point. His lift had turned into a rather long series of low points lately. Going from bad to worse at this point was almost certain to mean disaster.

“I received news about Nyura, and just let me say that before I go any further that there’s nothing you can do about this right now. Remember you’re still technically missing as far as anyone in Detreya knows.”

She paused and Yuri could swear he felt a vein start throbbing in his temple. Every moment seemed to make him more stressed out than the last. He wished she would stop trying to prevent him from going off the deep end and would just tell him what she knew. Making him wait was more likely to set him off at this point. He needed to know what new disaster had fallen on his people.

“It seems Nyura will be marrying Erramun soon and my sources seem certain that Erramun will be absorbing Detreya into his empire.”

The ship seemed to lurch under Yuri’s feet. Nothing else in the room seemed effected so he knew it was just his world falling out from under him. He knew Alenna had more to say, but his mind was already forming a whirlwind of strategies and plans. He had been uneasy with hiding his return all along, but until now it had seemed as though it was for the best.

He lacked the resources to reclaim his position as long as Erramun was in Detreya. Before this moment, it felt like it would only be a matter of time before he could return home.

Now everything had changed. This was not a matter of waiting a little while longer or needing to determine who was still loyal to him at home. His chance to reclaim his place in this world might have slipped through his fingers because he listened to all the people who advised him to stay away and bide his time. A maelstrom of frustration, loss, and powerlessness threatened to break down his final veneer of composure.

“I know it doesn’t sound good for you or for your people,” Alenna said with no trace of her usual playful, mocking undercurrent. “I expect there will be a formal invitation to the wedding waiting for me when we land. You’ll be coming along as my guest, I assume.”

Yuri was at a loss for words. After all the time Alenna spent telling him that he needed to stay away for his own safety and to wait for a strategic opportunity to return, this suggestion seemed to run contrary to her previous stance. The last thing he wanted to do was question her when he desperately wanted to go back and fight for his rightful place. He just wanted to know what could suddenly cause her to give up on her previous stance on the matter.

“If you think that’s wise,” he said carefully. “I think it is more important now than ever before to reclaim my rightful position in Detreya, but I’ve listened to your advice and accepted your assistance so far so I will listen again now.”

“We’ve been backed into a corner. If we don’t act now we’re going to need to fight a lot harder to make up all the ground we’re about to lose.”

Yuri did not know how to react to Alenna when she spoke like this. She seemed so serious and all the life had drained out of her eyes. All that remained was an unyielding determination. It was unnerving, but he knew he could work with what he saw in her eyes now.

She held her arms behind her back and paced the length of the room. She was eerily silent, but there was some sort of creative energy thrumming just below the surface which urged Yuri to hold his tongue and wait for her to speak again.

So far Alenna’s counsel had served him well, he was not sure what might have happened if he chose a different path, but he knew the path he was on now had kept Willow and Asa safe as well as himself. That fact alone encouraged him to continue to trust Alenna to give him advice that would keep him alive.

“I think it will be safe for you to return now,” she spoke slowly as though she was still mulling over the words when she started the sentence. “Erramun would not marry Nyura to gain access to Detreya if he suspected you were alive and poised to return.”

“What if he’s marrying her to draw me out?” Just thinking of that possibility tied his stomach into knots. He might have preferred to give Nyura a wide berth even though she was Durya’s only daughter, but that did not mean that he wanted to see her hurt by a false proposal of marriage.

The old smirk reappeared on Alenna’s face. “We all know he had proposed and she has accepted. Even if he was doing this to draw you out of hiding, the rest of us will hold him to his offer of marriage. Erramun values his freedom too much to give it up for any prize less than Detreya.”

He wished he found her confidence comforting. He had more than a few concerns about this new course of action. Even if she seemed to be endorsing actions that he had long been wishing to carry out, he had to believe she would gain more from this than appeared on the surface.

She probably hoped that he would not care about what she stood to gain. He could not let it go for that very reason. He needed to be sure any benefit to her would not end up being detrimental to him or to his homeland in the long run.

“Be honest with me. If we succeed, what do you get out of this new plan?”

She grinned and the smile reached all the way to her eyes, igniting the impish sparkle in them again. “I’m just trying to make sure Erramun doesn’t get any more powerful. We can’t have him throwing off the balance between the great powers of the world, can we?”

“I suppose not,” Yuri admitted. “But if he can’t gain control over Detreya through a marriage alliance what is going to stop him from invading?”

She waved the question away with a dismissive hand. “The same things that have kept him from invading all along. The desert surrounding Detreya is hard on any force large enough to pose a threat and if they do make it across, the people will try to defend themselves which will lead to a long-term disruption of water stones worldwide.”

Yuri nodded, knowing exactly what sort of problems that would cause. The desert would reclaim most of Detreya not directly above the veins of ore without access to water stones. Even if they were able to keep their own supply of stones functional by protecting their temples and priests from attack, their economic situation would rapidly deteriorate.

“Detreya wouldn’t survive a war,” Yuri insisted. A bit of doubt crept into his heart. He wanted so badly for this to be the time for him to go home, but he knew he would not do anything that would increase the pain and suffering of his people.

Alenna’s smile immediately told him that he was missing part of the bigger picture. He frowned, trying to figure out what he missed so far. It must be something significant if she was int he mood to be smug about it.

“I’m sure you don’t’ have to worry about Erramun doing anything that might cut off production of water stones.”

He had questions. Now he was positive he had missed something important and extremely obvious. He hoped she would explain further without making him ask foolish questions.

When she lifted her chin up and gave him a haughty, superior look, he knew he had nothing to worry about. She would gloat, but that gloating would tell him what he needed to know.

“You should pay more attention to the rest of the world, Yuri. I know Detreya is small and more often than not entirely overlooked, but you should take care to know what is happening at least in the large empires that might still have expansionist designs.”

“Please spare me the lecture. I haven’t even had the ability to follow what is happening in my own country lately.”

“Very well,” Alenna said with a sigh. “If you were up to date on world affairs you would know that the desert has been encroaching on farmland in Erramun’s territory for years now.”

“I hadn’t realized. He wants control of Detreya for access to our ore deposits, doesn’t he?”

She nodded. “That seems to be the most logical conclusion, doesn’t it?”

“We have to hurry. He can’t be allowed to marry Nyura just to gain control of the supply of water stones. The ore can’t be mined too quickly or our own fertile farmland will start to disappear.”

Alenna gave him a reassuring pat on his shoulder. “I know. We’re already flying as fast as we can. You’ll have to be patient a little longer.”

Yuri knew she was right, but he did not think he could stand to wait much longer. He needed to go home. The time was finally right and he could actually make a positive difference for his people. As long as he made it in time, he could save Nyura from marrying someone who would only use her for personal gain and protect Detreya from losing the one resource that allowed a city to thrive in the middle of a barren desert.

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