After meeting with dozens of people over the past few days, Yuri thought that he was desensitized to the whole process. Some of the people wishing to bend his ear were familiar to him. He remembered them from all the times Durya made him participate in different aspects of running the city. Dealing with them entirely on his own was an entirely different experience. There was no one to turn to if he did not have all the answers and all their attention was focused on him now. It had never been like that before. People knew that he could help them back then, but he was not the final authority. Now, there was no higher authority in Detreya than Yuri and that completely changed the dynamic with people he used to see regularly.
He hated it. He knew for years that this all would one day be his responsibility and he had resigned himself to shoulder that burden when the time came. All these years he thought he was ready. Maybe he would have been ready if the circumstances had been different.
People were nervous. They were looking to him to provide some stability after his disappearance left a vacuum that was never properly filled. Nyura tried, he had no doubt about that, but there was a reason her father never intended for her to take control. She was so easily led astray.
When she came to see him again, he was surprised for about half a second. Then he remembered her whole world had crashed down around her twice in the last few months. She lost her father and was thrust into a position she was not able to handle and then a few months later Yuri reappeared, took her new role away from her and her fiance left her. She had every right to be angry with him and he would not have blamed her if she avoided him for a long time. Instead, she was here to see him again.
Honestly, he was caught off guard when it happened. Asa had done such a good job screening everyone that tried to get through that he took it for granted that he would have that same protection even when Asa stepped away.
He did his best to remain poised. Letting her know that he was not exactly eager to speak to her would not make this conversation any easier.
“Nyura,” he said as she approached. “What can I do for you?”
As she approached, he noticed her eyes were red and puffy. She had been crying a lot lately. He was not sure he could blame her.
She stopped in front of him and met his gaze. She looked as though she was about to speak, but then her bottom lip began to quiver and a fresh flood of tears spilled from her eyes.
Yuri took a deep breath and forced himself to remain poised and professional. Not only was this meeting happening in the middle of a day spent reassuring a myriad of people that he was a competent and capable leader for Detreya, but he also knew that being too demonstrative with Nyura only fed into her delusions about their relationship. Even so, it pained him to see her so obviously suffering.
Through a remarkable display of willpower, Nyura buried her emotions back beneath the surface in an instant. It was almost as though she had not been crying a second ago.
“Yuri,” she said breathlessly. “We need to talk about how we’re going to get Erramun back. I know the wedding was canceled, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask him to come back. He’s upset, but once he understands that we can all be together, everything will be fine again.”
He could feel a headache building up right between his eyes. He closed his eyes for a second, trying to get the building tension to melt away while also gathering his fraying composure. The last time he saw Nyura this often was years ago when he was still too young to take much of what she said too seriously. Their father gave her a home out in the country with some of the most sensitive, dedicated ladies in their court as her companions.
At the time, Yuri was little more than a kid. At the time it seemed to him like their father was sending her away to hide her and her strange behavior. As he grew older and had subsequent interactions with Nyura, he came to realize their father was trying to protect her. Nyura was not a bad person, but she frequently took turns away from reality and the older she got, the more entrenched her fantasy world became from reality. To this day Yuri was not sure that their father did the right thing by her, but he had no idea what might help her. It seemed as though keeping her in a place where she could live her life without constantly having her version of reality contradicted was almost an act of kindness.
Although she appeared distressed, Yuri did not move to offer her a shoulder to cry on. He had learned that he made his life more difficult and only made Nyura more upset when she interpreted his concern as something more. He needed to remain aloof for his own sake as much as hers.
“I think you know that isn’t going to happen, Nyura. Maybe if you go home and wait, Erramun will have some time to clear his head and he’ll be willing to talk to you.”
“Shouldn’t I stay with you until then?”
He shook his head. “You know that wouldn’t be a good idea. You’re much better when you’re at your own house.”
She took a step forward, her hands balling into fists. The sudden flash of anger caught Yuri off guard. Nyura often got upset, but she never got angry. This was a new development and Yuri was not sure how to react.
As suddenly as it had appeared, her anger vanished. Her hands unclenched and the rigidity in her body disappeared. He could almost convince himself that he had imagined it all until he heard the ice-cold tone in her voice.
“You’re sending me away because of that brunette that looks like she hasn’t ever been out int he sun, aren’t you.”
Willow. She meant Willow. He realized she felt threatened by his relationship with Willow. He did not know why Willow set her off when she never said a word to him about Asa during any of her past delusional discussions. Then again, Asa was not a woman. Perhaps she was only threatened by the idea of another woman. Or perhaps it was just the timing. Nyura first saw Willow right around the same time she got the idea to marry both Yuri and Erramun. That made her a more obvious target than Asa who had always been in Yuri’s life and never seemed to appear on in Nyura’s mind as a threat.
He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice as calm and measured as possible as he responded. “Willow has nothing to do with this. You’ve had a rough time the past few days. You should go home and rest up. You’ll feel better and be able to think more clearly after you take the time to get some perspective.”
The anger returned to her eyes in a flash. Her lips curled into a sneer. “I’m not going to just back off and let some girl you barely know take my place here.”
Yuri was losing the ability to keep his temper in check. He needed to get Nyura out of here before it was too late. He could not afford to get mad at her. She was not being reasonable and as long as she was not in her right mind, he knew it would be unfair to hold her responsible for any of the awful things she said to him. Even so, hearing her talk about Willow with such disdain in her voice set him on edge.
“Her name is Willow, Nyura, and I shouldn’t have to remind you that I can order you away. I don’t want to do that. I’d rather let you have your dignity, but if you insist on continuing to speak to me like this, I will have no choice.”
He could hear the threatening edge creeping into his voice. No matter how hard he tried to keep it at bay, once she crossed the line, he could not stop himself from taking the bait. Now he was the bad guy. He was the one making threats and it would only be fair for her to call him out on it.
She looked down at the floor, no longer able to meet his eyes. “I see. You like her better than me.”
His anger receded. She was not going to fight him, even though he had escalated the conversation this time. He needed to get her to see reason before he lost his temper again.
“You are my sister, Nyura. Willow is my friend. It is only right and natural for me to feel differently about the two of you.”
The words he picked were selected very carefully to keep the peace. He wanted her to understand the reality of the situation, but it seemed to him that knowing the truth would only set her off once again. She might not understand the full picture, but he had to believe that getting her to a place where she would be able to calm down and live her life peacefully had to be worth something even if she did not know how to properly reconcile her own mind with reality.
She frowned. “I always looked the other way when it came to your dalliance with Asa, but you just had to push it further.”
“We’ve been over this already,” he said with a heavy sigh.
He never lost his patience with Nyura this quickly before. It had to be the stress. Constantly being asked for favors, advice, and having everyone trying to assure themselves that their standing would be the same or better than it had been before over the last few days had really taken its toll. He thought he knew what it took to run this city, but now he knew just how little he understood. Durya might have been wrong about him. He might not be cut out for this after all.
If a few days of this life was affecting him this badly, he could only imagine how it had affected Nyura. Surely she would not be this distraught over the latest developments if she had not been dragged out of the safety and comfort of her home and forced to try to keep this city running for months. Asa had described the problems in the palace prior to him leaving, and everything he described made perfect sense to Yuri based on what he knew about Nyura. She tried to make the world around her fit her perception of it. Giving her enough authority to actually make significant, but ultimately illogical, changes led to chaos. Her perception of the cause of the chaos would not often line up with reality so her plans to restore order would only worsen the situation.
His experience had taught him that the worst of the sycophants in the entire city were circling like carrion birds. They probably came out of the woodwork at the first sign of trouble and started gobbling up power before Nyura even assumed the title of Duchess. He thought he knew these people after years of studying how to run the city. If he was still struggling to get a handle on them after all his preparation, Nyura must have felt like she was drowning.
And Erramun timed his arrival perfectly to set himself up as her savior. If Yuri had not come back when he did, Nyura would have ceded all power to him. He had flawlessly insinuated himself into Nyura’s fantasy life, making it even more incompatible with reality. The grab for power in his city was enough to make Yuri extremely wary of the man, but the way he abandoned Nyura as soon as she could not bring him greater power made him despicable in Yuri’s eyes. Now Nyura was completely infatuated with two men who had no romantic interest in her. Sending her away to a place where she could wait and hope without constantly seeing that her life would never turn out the way she imagined was the kindest thing Yuri could think to do.
Convincing her to go was another matter entirely. He could force her to go, but the idea of having her forcibly removed from the palace left a bad taste in his mouth. This was where Durya had lived so it would always be a home to her, even if it was not good for her or the people of Detreya for her to stay.
Even this conversation was doing her more harm. Yuri knew he needed to put a stop to it. Everything he did or said right now only added to her distress which then caused her to pull further away from reality. He stood up, ignored Nyura’s stunned, questioning look and crossed the room.
He opened the door and looked outside. On one side of the doorway, he saw Willow, looking as though she was under even more stress than he felt. He mouthed a quick sorry to her before shooing her away before Nyura caught up to him and saw her. Then he turned his attention to the other person waiting just outside the door.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized he knew the lady who had accompanied Nyura to this meeting. She was the same lady who had waited on Nyura the other night when Yuri first spoke to her. Her name was Siti and knowing that one little fact made a world of difference. Addressing her by name when asking for help with Nyura made him feel less like he was sending her away and more like they were working together in Nyura’s best interest.
“The last few days have been very trying for my sister. Can I trust you to help her with arrangements so she can rest and recover in her own home?”
Siti nodded and slipped past him and through the door. He heard her speaking to Nyura softly and decided he should find somewhere else to be before they walked back through that door. He felt a twinge of guilt when he decided to pass the burden onto someone else, but he genuinely believed that he would only make matters worse if Nyura saw him again.
With one crisis out of the way, Yuri knew he needed to focus on tackling another.