Inbetween: Chapter Fifty Seven


Returning to Detreya meant Asa needed to be constantly on his guard. He tried not to allow his training and instincts to grow dull while he was away, but he knew that his senses were deadened by weeks with very little for him to do.

Everyone was on edge as they flew south out of the high, cold mountain ranges and entered the foothills where the land below showed the first signs of spring. Seasons were a little more than nebulous definitions supplemented by hazy early childhood memories to him after years of living in Detreya where weather remained constant regardless of the time of year.

The warmer weather south of the mountain range had the pleasant side effect of lifting everyone’s spirits just a bit. The wind on the deck of the airship still bit at any skin left exposed, but the sight of green new growth seemed to add a bit of life to everyone on board.

While stuck on the ship for the rather lengthy journey south, he found himself spending his days wondering what he could do to ensure Yuri’s safety when they arrived in Detreya. He would be naive to think Yuri would be completely safe. The last time he was in the palace, Erramun seemed to be consolidating power. His upcoming marriage to Nyura seemed to do just that. Yuri’s appearance would be interpreted as a threat.

No matter what the reason, keeping Yuri from getting himself into trouble would be a full-time job. He knew the calm that now appeared to radiate off of Yuri would disappear once the ship dropped anchor in Detreya. He would not be this calm or sit still if he did not know exactly what he intended to do. He learned how Yuri acted when he was preparing to cause trouble while they were both very young and not much had changed over the years. Whenever they intended to cause mischief, Yuri was only ever restless if he lacked a plan and was almost certain to get caught in the act. Stillness was the ultimate sign of his certainty. Often Asa took comfort in the stillness, but this time he was not privy to Yuri’s plans.

He was not sure how to broach the topic of what would happen once they reached Detreya while on the ship with so many others around, but he knew that it would be too late once the ship dropped anchor. Once they were on land once more Yuri would be able to do something about their situation and Asa doubted even he could stop him once he started.

He spent so much of the journey worrying about Yuri that he forgot for a time that he now had an ally when it came to keeping Yuri out of trouble. She might still be hesitant around both of them in some ways, but Willow was possibly the only person other than Asa himself that stood a chance of getting Yuri to behave with caution when he would probably prefer to take reckless action.

Letting someone else into his worries about Yuri was not as easy as he would like it to be. Caring for Yuri that way had been his job and his alone for so long, he was not sure he was ready to share the responsibility. He jealously guarded it as his duty for years, but in recent weeks he had to admit that he had been willing enough to welcome her into his life. As he left the open air of the upper deck of the ship for the stale air below to seek her out, he tried to convince himself things would be easier once he had her help. He knew he was only kidding himself. Even with an army to back him up, changing Yuri’s mind would never be easy.

Finding Willow was simple enough. She tended to stay out of the way by tucking herself into a corner where she was able to stay warm. With Yuri brooding and plotting something, she tended to give him some space and keep to herself.

Starting a conversation with her resulted in him shuffling his feet in front of her while he tried to think of what to say first. They had not spent a lot of time together since Willow started studying with the priest at the mining village. She walked away from those lessons with more confidence than before but it made her more aloof as well. She seemed to prefer to be alone with her thoughts rather than with Yuri or himself these days.

The similarity between Yuri’s and Willow’s stillness and silence was not lost on Asa. Out of the two of them, he felt as though it would be easier to handle her. Once he got her out of her funk, they would be able to figure out how to handle Yuri together.

“Is there something you need?” she asked, saving him from figuring out what how to break the silence.

Asa realized with a jolt of embarrassment he had been standing nearby and staring at her. He felt his cheeks flush but tried to regain his composure before stepping closer to her. A long slow breath was all he allowed himself before he stepped closer.

“I was hoping we could work together to keep Yuri from doing something foolish when we arrive in Detreya.”

She gave him a puzzled look and shifted to make room for him to sit down next to her. It was a bit cramped with both of them in such a small space, but Willow caught him off guard and solved the problem in one simple move. She lifted up his arm and ducked underneath it so he was holding her close to his body.

“What can I do?” she asked. All traces of her own moodiness had disappeared the instant he mentioned helping Yuri.

“I’ve made arrangements for the three of you to be housed in quarters set aside for my servants,” Alenna explained just before they arrived in Detreya.

Yuri’s spirits sank at this news. Willow and Asa tried to convince him to be cautious, but his mind had been made up. He did not know what to expect upon his return, but somehow he had allowed himself to imagine there would be a bit more fanfare. Arriving home again through the servant entrance stole away his vision of walking into the palace and immediately putting a stop to the wedding, saving Detreya from being absorbed into a large, foreign power and stopping Nyura from being fooled and flattered into a marriage that could not possibly be to her advantage. He imagined how it would happen over and over again over the last few days while he waited for them to finish their journey. No matter how many times he thought about it, he could think of no other way to handle his return home.

To learn that he could not carry out the plan he had so carefully envisioned threw everything into disarray. He had to reclaim his rightful place before it was too late. If he was coming home disguised as a servant and restricted to the wrong wing of the palace instead of appearing as himself and free to move about as he pleased, he had to adjust his plans. Drastically.

“What about your actual attendants? Or are we expected to fill those roles?” Willow asked after the news had a chance to settle over them.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do anything like that to you. I’m enough of a somebody to be expected to bring quite the entourage with me.”

“And I suppose there was no possibility of any of us filling a more dignified role within your party,” Yuri muttered under his breath.

Apparently, he did not mutter quietly enough as Alenna looked him directly in the eye and spoke. “Of course there was a possibility, but I don’t think you will find it as easy to achieve your goals if you are put in a position where your face will be as easily recognized.”

“Are you saying that you think I won’t be noticed among the servants? They know my face just as well as anyone in the palace would.”

Alenna sighed heavily. She looked incredibly weary at that moment. Organizing this scheme must have taken more effort than she let on. “I think the servants will be more likely to shelter you than turn you in for greater favor with a master they barely know. If you really cannot abide by this arrangement, I’m sure there’s still time for me to alter plans. I’m certain my servants won’t mind having three more rooms for their use.”

Willow stepped forward again, seeming more than ready to take charge of this discussion. “Three rooms?” she crossed her arms and gave a glance back at Yuri that conveyed a confidence she never expressed before when interacting with Alenna. “We won’t need three rooms. Put the three of us together. Tell them we’re married if you think someone would protest, but don’t let us crowd out your actual servants. We’ll need to be near each other anyway.”

Yuri was not sure that he ever saw Alenna so surprised. Her eyebrows rose comically high and her mouth formed a surprised ‘o’. She regained her composure in the blink of an eye and it was almost as though she was never caught off guard at all.

“That will do for me if you approve.” Her gaze turned to him, waiting for his approval of the plan that had somehow managed to formulate before his very eyes.

He was at a loss for words. No further planning seemed to be necessary. It formed with almost no input from him so he hesitated for a brief moment while he decided whether he had any right to confirm the arrangement. No one else spoke up. They waited for his approval. He nodded his assent to the plan. There was no time for a new plan to be formulated and a compromise to be reached.

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