As far as Asa and Willow knew, he was behaving himself perfectly. He decided to bide his time until they were both asleep before heading out again on his own.
This time, he would not stay hidden away among the servants. He needed to seek out Nyura. He had to speak to her before it was too late.
He knew there would be risks in trying to get to her, but he also knew he would be fine once he reached her. Everything he knew about Nyura told him that she would protect him once she knew he was here. He trusted her to still essentially be the same girl he had known for years even now with Erramun’s influence at play. She would keep him safe because the idea of doing anything to cause him harm would never occur to her.
The palace was woefully understaffed at night. He made an effort to wait and time his movements to avoid the guard patrols, but soon he realized the patrols were not passing by at nearly an adequate frequency. It seemed the palace was not able to replace the people it lost in the tumultuous transition of power that Asa had described to him.
Once he realized how few guards there were, he found it laughably easy to pass through the familiar halls.
His spirits rose considerably as sneaking through these halls brought back many pleasant memories of a simpler time in his life. These good feelings were not sustainable in the long term. Soon he came to the stretch of hallway which he disappeared from several months ago. Being back in this place stopped him in his tracks.
He came back to this place in his memories time and time again. It was just as he remembered it then: dark and quiet. Even the sense of foreboding he experienced on that night was still present.
There was no hope for him if he allowed these memories to stop him. He screwed up his courage and pressed forward. He controlled his breathing. One slow, steady breath after another and he started to believe he could actually do this.
His feet carried him to the room Nyura usually used when she came to visit her father before he realized she would not be using this room anymore. She was the duchess now and had assumed the role soon after his disappearance. That gave her more than enough time to take over Durya’s rooms and make them her own.
Those rooms would always be Durya’s in his mind. The thought of anyone, even Nyura moving into those rooms after Durya died so suddenly made him feel ill.
He swallowed hard, willing his stomach to settle down. He needed to see Nyura tonight. He could not know whether he would have another chance to slip away and make it this far. Tonight had to be the night he tried to make this work.
His resolve recovered from its brief wavering. He changed course and carefully avoided the handful of patrolling guards on his way to Nyura’s door.
Once there, he paused once again. The hallways were deserted, so no one was there to witness his indecision or wonder why someone would be lurking outside the bride’s door at such a late hour. Yuri knew he needed to knock and hope that he would be admitted without any fuss, but he could not bring himself to do it.
It was not just that it felt wrong for Nyura to be using this room. It was more than the fact that she was supposed to be skipped over in the line of succession—that one could not be helped since he had been missing for so long and someone needed to look after the city. Most of his hesitation stemmed from knowing that Nyura was most likely the same as she had always been. Unless she had suddenly gained a great deal of sense, he could not rely on reason to aid him once he knocked on this door.
Even if reason would most likely fail him, he had to try. He had one trick left up his sleeve, although it alarmed him to know he was even considering it.
He knocked. He waited while his heart beat rapidly in his chest. Whether seconds or minutes passed, he could not tell.
He started to wonder if he should leave and hope another opportunity would present itself when he heard the faint rattle of the doorknob turning. The door opened the tiniest bit, too little for him to be able to see inside.
“Is that you, Erramun?” Nyura asked breathlessly from the other side of the door. “You know we can’t start to be naughty now. Our wedding night will be soon enough. Be patient, my love.”
Yuri sighed. This interaction was sure to be as awkward as he could have imagined and would surely be as awful as he had dreaded from the start.
“Nyura,” he said in as loud of a whisper as he dared. “It’s Yuri. We need to talk.”
“You can’t fool me. Yuri has been missing for months. I even sent him a wedding invitation and he never responded. Tell me who you really are or I’ll scream and my guards kill you before you can make an escape.”
He rolled his eyes, thankful that the door was there so there was no way for her to see his frustration. Yuri always had a hard time telling whether Nyura was playing dumb, being stubborn, or actually believed what she was saying. Right now he hoped it was the first option.
“I was missing, Nyura. How could a messenger find me to deliver a wedding invitation? I still heard about it. I had to come, even without a formal invitation.”
Yuri was convinced his logic was weak, at best. Somehow, it worked for Nyura. The small crack where she was peeking out into the hallway, widened until there was enough room for Yuri to pass through.
Nyura somehow managed to become an even more intense version of herself since he last saw her. He breathed a sigh of relief upon noticing the room no longer looked anything like Durya’s. It seemed Nyura wasted no time in making this space her own. Yuri thought that he might have been offended by the lack of respect for his father’s memory under different circumstances, but he was fragile enough right now that he was glad the space inside looked nothing like he remembered.
“What are you doing, coming to see me in the middle of the night?” Nyura asked as she crossed the room and dropped into an overstuffed chair. She daintily picked up a small bell from the table and gave it a ring.
A woman appeared almost immediately. Yuri was almost positive she was one of Nyura’s regular companions from her villa. The woman was quickly given orders to bring them tea before leaving the room. Yuri realized he would be staying to chat for a while. He looked at the other three chairs in the cozy sitting area and settled into the one that had had the fewest extraneous frills and cushions.
Once seated, he felt he had an obligation to answer her question, but he was unsure what to say. The way Nyura was looking at him with a slight smirk and hooded eyes gave him pause.
He took a deep breath and prepared to tell her as much of the truth as she needed to hear and not a word more. “Everyone thinks I’m dead or missing. I couldn’t just arrive with all the guests in the middle of such a large event and throw the entire city into chaos, could I?”
“So you came to see me in the middle of the night. That’s wonderfully scandalous, isn’t it Siti?”
Her lady in waiting smiled blandly as she poured two cups of tea and left the pot for them on the small table next to Nyura’s seat. She departed again without uttering a word. Yuri breathed a sigh of relief. Nyura’s delusional way of talking was always made him uncomfortable, but it was easier to bear when it was only him hearing it.
He chose to respond to her as he often did, with calm reasoning to counter her outrageous claims. It might not always be responded to with the same calm he tried to project, but it would be an even greater wasted effort to raise his voice and risk upsetting her.
“Really, Nyura, why would anyone think a brother coming to have a heart to heart with his sister before her wedding day was scandalous?”
“Adopted brother,” Nyura insisted with a waggling finger accusing him of ignoring their real relationship. “You know father always intended for us to be together one day after he was gone.”
Yuri held back a groan. He saw this coming and still believed he could avoid it. He had been wrong. Now he needed to disengage her from this delusion without causing a scene. He needed to redirect her so she could start to understand how dangerous marrying Erramun would be for Detreya.
He picked up a cup of tea and carefully took a sip. He used this time to weigh his options. It had been a long time since he last spoke to Nyura. It was a skill that needed to be exercised to be used effectively. He ran the risk of setting her off no matter what he said at this point.
“Durya would not have called us brother and sister if he ever intended for us to be anything else. You know that.”
Nyura pouted. She picked up her own cup of tea and glared at him over the rim. “That’s too bad,” she said testily. “As soon as I saw you, I thought I should ask Erramun to marry you as well. He’s completely unattached, you know. He could use both of us.”
“We’re still siblings, and you know that would make it impossible.”
“We can change the rules. Erramun could arrange it all. He’s very persuasive. I’m sure there’s some loophole that could prove that we’re not siblings at all.” Optimism, confidence, and eagerness were all fighting for dominance on her face.
Yuri shook his head. “Don’t bother. My heart is already spoken for. If you and Erramun want each other I won’t stand in your way, but be sure he wants you without Detreya because I’m back and I’m not going anywhere.”
The clink of Nyura’s teacup sitting back down in its saucer might as well have been a door slamming shut in her mind. Yuri knew he lost his window of opportunity to be heard by her. He went too far and now she was hiding away from what she perceived as a threat to her view of the world.
“Fine,” she snapped. “If you think Asa will do anything for you once you’re in charge of all of Detreya, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. Erramun and I could have helped you. No one else can offer you the same kind of support.”
“I’ll take my chances.” He sat down his teacup and rose to his feet. Odds were good that she would not hear a word he said now so he let himself speak his mind a bit more.
He headed for the door and called out over his shoulder, “I’m back now and taking back what’s mine so you’d better be sure your fiance is here to marry you and not the title.”
As soon as the door shut behind him, he knew he had been needlessly harsh. He just hoped the message got through. She needed to know for sure that she was getting married for the right reasons and he wanted to get the rumor mills turning about his return. Nyura might not say anything, especially if her pride or fear of Erramun’s rejection got in the way. He was still sure the word would get out. He had no doubts that Nyura’s lady in waiting, Siti, was listening from the next room. While Nyura might have no intention of helping him spread the word, he was sure his arrival would start to make its rounds alongside all the other gossip in a matter of hours. Now he just needed to wait until the right moment to confirm the rumors.