Everyone seemed to know that Yuri had returned to the palace now. Asa wished he needed to wonder how the news got out, but he knew. Yuri never liked the idea of being hidden away so although neither he nor Willow saw him announce his return to anyone, Asa knew better than to believe Yuri was incapable of deception. The news had spread so quickly and so far that worrying about how the word got out no longer mattered. As soon as he left their room, he was hearing rumors of Yuri’s return everywhere he went.
The idea was out there and spreading like wildfire. There was nothing he could do at this point to stop the rumor from spreading. He did not even make it to the kitchen before he sighed and decided to turn around. There was no point in continuing with his original plans for the day now that there was no reason to hide.
He had left fairly early in the morning, hoping to cover a decent amount of ground before things got too crowded and he might be noticed. On his way back, the halls were starting to fill up. That probably meant the sun was up. They could confer with Alenna and see what she could do to protect Yuri from the danger he would almost surely face now.
Willow and Yuri were still in their room when he returned. Without a word of greeting, his eyes met with Yuri’s and all his suspicions were confirmed. He wanted to yell at him, to demand an answer, but he knew that it would do no good at this point. There was no time for regret.
“Everyone is talking about one thing this morning. They’ve all heard rumors that Yuri is back,” he explained while trying to keep all hints of accusation out of his voice.
While he did everything he could to keep from even giving a suspicious glance in Yuri’s direction, Willow turned toward him with a piercing glare. Her body was rigid and her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Asa knew those to be telltale signs of an impending fight.
“What did you do?” she hissed at Yuri.
Asa envied Yuri’s calm. He did his best to appear neutral and maintain his poise, but inside he was a tumult of frustration and desperate anxiety over what this would mean for them now.
The bright splotches of red appearing on Willow’s cheeks warned him that they were on the verge of an explosive fight. He doubted they had time to carry it through to its natural conclusion.
He held a hand up, trying to convince Willow to halt the progress of her tirade for at least a moment longer. She would need to vent her feelings before she could have any hope of calming down and thinking clearly again.
“We can’t continue like nothing has happened. I’m going to speak to Alenna and see if she can work with us to get this situation smoothed over as quickly as possible.”
He knew Yuri probably did not care about smoothing things over, and at this point, Willow was more interested in screaming at them both than practicing any sort of diplomacy. For now, he was on his own in trying to make this right.
He could not afford to get caught up in the theatrics of pointing fingers. He just wanted to do everything he could do to make what Yuri had set in motion work out for them in the end.
Before either Yuri or Willow could say anything to stop him, he turned on his heel and exited the room.
He was not sure what to expect when visiting Alenna so early in the morning. Being back in the palace made him feel like he should stick to his old routine which designated this time of day for being in his office and reading reports from the night patrols.
Being here again during this time of day made it hard not to subconsciously slide back into his old routine. He fought against what he still thought of as his normal and instead did something that he would never consider normal. He hoped it would not put himself or Alenna in too awkward of a position to stop in to talk at such an early hour.
Most people were not ready for visitors at this early hour. Servants and others with duties that did not require long dinners and parties as part of their responsibilities were awake and beginning their days. Others like Alenna kept wildly different hours. He could not even guess whether she would be awake at this hour or not.
He knocked on her door and waited. He started to think it was in fact too early to see Alenna. He almost turned away when the door opened.
Alenna’s lady’s maid was a tall young woman who looked uncomfortable and out of place anywhere but on an airship. She appraised him silently before quietly closing the door again. He waited, assuming she was reporting to her mistress.
His patience was rewarded in a matter of seconds. The door opened again and the lady’s maid reappeared.
“Lady Alenna will see you now,” she said with an absolute lack of enthusiasm.
Asa followed her into the room. Alenna was there in a robe with no indication that she considered this to be anything other than a perfectly ordinary time for visitors.
“Asa,” she said with a warm smile. “What brings you here at this hour?”
He felt like an intruder, even though Alenna seemed completely at ease. She was alone in that sentiment. Her maid stood in the doorway leading further back into Alenna’s room holding a hairbrush with a grip that asserted her ability and willingness to use the small object as a weapon. He suppressed a chuckle. He was not used to being distrusted, but he had to admit that her preparedness was admirable.
He must have been staring at the girl a bit too long as Alenna turned to look at her too.
“Fauzia,” she said in a gentle tone. “Why don’t you wait in my dressing room? We’ll get my hair ready after I speak to Asa.”
Fauzia’s body language shifted. Her grip on the handle of the hairbrush relaxed and her shoulders slumped as she turned and walked into the other room.
“Now that we’re alone, can you tell me what brings you here so early in the morning?”
“Word about Yuri has gotten out. It’s all the servants are talking about this morning.”
“I see. Since you’re coming to me, I assume you’re not sure how to handle the word getting out so soon.”
He nodded. At this point, he really just needed to be pointed in the right direction. His mind was still a flurry of conflicting plans and contingencies for those plans depending on the outcome. He needed someone to calm his mind and he could not find that sort of peace with Yuri or Willow right now. Both of them were just as worked up as him.
Alenna, on the other hand, was as calm as ever. She was so rarely thrown off by anything that happened that it seemed natural to turn to her for guidance now. Even with him visiting her before she was dressed for the day, she seemed unsurprised.
“This is a bit of a predicament,” she admitted as she began to pace from one side of the room to the other. “Wasn’t the whole point of keeping Yuri’s return a secret to keep him safe? Is his life in danger now that everyone will very shortly know he is back?”
Asa did not feel comforted by her concern. He had similar worries. To know that someone who was often carefree on the exterior while being at least two steps ahead of everyone around her was worried as well was cause for concern.
“We were concerned about that. There was more than one attempt on his life since Durya died.”
Alenna nodded. “That is concerning, but do you think it is likely that the conspirators are still here?”
“I don’t know what to think. Everything is a little strange here these days. That change was happening before I left and it obviously has continued unchecked. It doesn’t seem likely that an assassin would stick around this long unless they were otherwise employed in the palace.”
“And yet.” Alenna stopped her pacing and turned to face Asa head on. “You’re still worried.”
“You think someone with a great deal of power is after Yuri. Nyura, perhaps?”
He shook his head and paused to consider how much he wanted to share with her. He needed counsel and her way of thinking helped to clear his own mind.
“It won’t be Nyura. She’s obsessed with Yuri, but not in a way that would cause her to consider threatening his life.”
Alenna pursed her lips and gave her next words a great deal of consideration before she said them. “What about Erramun?”
He repressed a shudder. Without having to give it any thought his own reflexive reaction answered that question for him. He took a breath and tried to put his reaction into words.
“It’s possible. Ignoring evidence and going with my gut I’d say it is more than possible. I don’t trust him.”
“You shouldn’t trust him. I hope you don’t think I’m saying that only because of some sort of rivalry with Erramun.”
The thought had not occurred to him until that moment. They had danced around the problems in the palace ever since Yuri came back. He knew it was not safe as soon as Nyura threw the whole palace into chaos. The arrival of Erramun only increased that sense of danger. He never had the same sort of gut reaction to Alenna. Whatever her motivations might be, he did not think she was through intention or accident doing anything to cause them harm.
“I don’t trust him,” Asa admitted. “I do trust you, although sometimes wonder if you’re trying to give us a reason not to.”
Alenna laughed at that. “I suppose at times I do have a tendency to be a bit irksome, but I hope I never give any legitimate concerns about where my loyalties lie.”
Her loyalties were still a bit of mystery in Asa’s eyes, but he was not about to bring that up with her right now. There were far more pressing matters that needed to be discussed this morning and he was already worried that he might be too late to make things right.
“What should we do now? Soon enough everyone will know, but who knows how rumors will twist the truth.”
“We need Yuri to make a grand reappearance this morning. Do you think you can get Yuri some of his old clothes and have him ready to rejoin society before everyone is finished with their breakfasts?”
He considered it for a moment. Knowing Nyura, Yuri’s rooms were just as he left them. Getting to his clothes would not be much of a problem. Getting Yuri to cooperate might be more of a challenge, but that was nothing he had not dealt with before.
He hardened his resolve, braced himself for a difficult fight and said, “Consider it done.”