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With Nyura being taken care of by Siti, Yuri planned to go after Willow. She had looked so worried. He felt guilty for sending her away, even if he was certain it would be worse for both of them if she stayed and ran into Nyura. He could guess where Willow went. If she was not with him, odds were good that she went looking for Asa. He realized this was because she still did not have a place of her own here.
Yuri wanted to make her feel like she belonged here. He could not imagine living here without her now, but he knew she needed to feel like she had a place and a purpose before she was willing to settle down.
If he thought it would be enough to ask her to marry him, he would do just that in a heartbeat. He wanted to do it anyway, but he knew right now it would probably only make her panic. Although she was staying close, he could feel her pulling away emotionally. Even though she was tight-lipped about her thoughts around him, he could tell she was thinking about leaving.
It made sense. Detreya was the only place they knew for sure it was possible for someone to cross over to Willow’s world. Since he spent most of his time in her world trying to come up with a way to get home again, he could not blame her for possibly thinking the same thing now. That did not change the fact that he wanted her to stay.
As he walked down the hall, he tried to think of what he could do or say in this situation. Asking her to stay was out of the question and offering to help her would kill him. Even so, he knew he needed to talk to her about it as soon as possible. Then, hopefully, Asa could help them all find a way to be happy.
From his perspective, someone was going to end up unhappy no matter what, but he hoped that one of the others might be able to see things a little differently. His mind was in a strange place right now with so many people trying to talk to him about so many different things day in and day out. He would adjust eventually, but for now, he knew his mind was too full of other people’s problems to properly come up with a solution to his own.
Before he managed to catch up with Willow and have the conversation he was intercepted. He stopped in his tracks and waited.
Alenna and Saras had both been conspicuously absent from his constant flow of meetings with influential people from within the city and without. If he had more time to think, he might have wondered why they stayed away. As it stood, he simply did not have the time or energy to spend wondering about people he was not seeing on a regular basis.
Running into the two of them together made him think again about whether or not he should be worrying about what they were up to. He knew Alenna and thought he could trust her, but Saras was only familiar to him by reputation. That reputation made him wonder what they could be doing together.
“Yuri,” Alenna said as a greeting while a suspiciously large grin spread across her face.
“Lady Alenna, Lady Saras,” he said with a quick nod to each of them. “I didn’t expect to run into the two of you together.”
“And why not?” Saras asked. “We ladies of a certain social status have to stick together in these sorts of situations.”
“What sort of situations?”
She gave a noncommittal shrug. “Weddings, funerals, the gathering storm of war.”
He frowned. Something was obviously very wrong but he could not guess based on the glib way both women were speaking. They had caught his attention, but he did not know what to expect. He could only assume that it was not the sort of conversation that should be had in the hallway where anyone could pass by and overhear.
“Can we talk about whatever is going on later today? I have somewhere I need to be.”
“Willow will be fine, Yuri. This cannot wait.” Alenna insisted.
He sighed. Not only were they intruding on the small bit of free time he had today, but they were making a point of being excessively cryptic about their reasons for doing so. He could not say that he was surprised. After spending weeks with Alenna he came to expect her to be like this. It seemed she found a perfect companion in Saras. They shared the same scheming glint in their eyes.
“Okay, but we can’t talk in the hallway like this.”
Then it became his responsibility to find them a place to talk where they would not be interrupted. As soon as he put his mind to it, he realized that was not a difficult task. He had his pick of rooms in this stretch of the hallways. These rooms were only occupied when the palace was at maximum occupancy. Since the wedding was canceled, many people had already left. The hangers-on were, unfortunately, the sort that were more likely to demand his time and attention.
At least he had plenty of different spaces to meet with the people that remained. It was not much of a comfort to think that he could use a different room every day and might just run out of rooms by the time everyone decided to go home and leave him in peace to get his city back in order. As much as he looked forward to the day that would happen, he knew he had a lot of work to do before he could get to do what he considered his actual job.
Once they were out of the hallways and could have a private conversation, he let the ladies have their say. The room was not comfortable or familiar like the one he spent so much of his day in meeting with one person after another, but in a way, he was grateful for that. He needed a change of pace and this room and this conversation might prove to be just that.
Someone had already managed to cover the furniture with dust cloths so he was unsure how to offer the ladies a seat. Instead, the three of them stayed near the door, as though there was something forbidding them from going further into the room now that it was prepared to be empty for a while.
“We think you might have a serious problem,” Alenna explained.
“And we’re here to offer you our help,” Saras added.
“What exactly do you think is going to happen?”
All of the teasing looks and words were gone now. Neither of them looked to be in the mood for jokes. Yuri found his attitude quickly moving in line with theirs. He might not want to get any more bad news right now, but if there was something worrying them this much, he thought he should know all about it.
Alenna seemed to be acting as the spokeswoman for the two of them for now. Whether she was the ringleader or this was a calculated choice because they knew Yuri was more familiar with her, he could not guess. But no matter what they had to say, he would still be taking this conversation with a big grain of salt.
“Erramun is going to come back—sooner rather than later—and when he does, he’ll be bringing his army with him.”
Yuri frowned. He had worried about something like this happening but had managed to remain hopeful that it would not come to this since Erramun had left in such a hurry after Nyura relinquished power to him. He expected a fight then and there if there was going to be one. Perhaps not a brawl, but at least some words of protest rather than a harsh and swift rejection of Nyura and a cancellation of the wedding. Perhaps he had been too optimistic when nothing happened immediately, but it was still difficult to get an unsolicited second opinion contradicting what he had hoped to be true.
“Why would he leave just to turn around and attack?” he asked, even though he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.
“He’ll be bringing an army back with him. That’s why he left in the first place. He needed to organize and mobilize a force large enough to take over once he gets here.”
“But crossing the desert with an army is almost impossible,” he argued.
“He’s had weeks to learn techniques for desert survival from people who stake their lives on their skills on a regular basis,” Saras explained with a condescending smirk directed at Yuri. “And let’s not forget all the chances he’s had to adjust the number of water stones sent back to his own country.”
“I haven’t looked at all the details yet, but I haven’t seen anything unusual on any of the documents I read,” Yuri chimed in.
“That would be the first thing he would do, don’t you think? Cover it up?” Saras pointed out.
He frowned and shifted his glance from Saras to Alenna and then back to Saras again. He could not argue with the logic of a lack of proof. Certainly, if there was something there for him to prove, he would use it, but he could not counter the argument of a lack of evidence by saying that he thought that it lacked evidence. Erramun could have easily done just what Saras accused him of, and it would not be entirely illogical or out of character for him to attempt to do so or for him to do it well.
“If you are right,” he said, “this city does not stand a chance against the forces that will be brought against it.”
“Ah! That’s where we come in,” Alenna said with a mischievous grin. “We’re here to propose an alliance.”
He was struck by this offer and knew that it would be to his advantage to accept. There was no other way he could see at this time to survive an attack from the superior forces of Erramun. Even so, he found himself asking why instead of accepting their help outright.
“It’s not a purely selfless offer, I can promise you that much, Yuri,” Alenna promised. “We both have a vested interest in making sure that Erramun doesn’t spread his influence to the east.”
He nodded. It made sense. They did not want their rival to become more powerful or influential than them. In fact, Erramun might already be more powerful. He was fairly familiar with the sort of power Alenna had backing her up, and from what he knew of Erramun, her army did not stand a chance against his alone. Siva’s lands to the east were a bit more of a mystery to him, but since Siva and Erramun were almost always set up as rivals of some sort, he always assumed that their military might would be on the same level. Learning that Alenna and Saras thought it was prudent to ally themselves with him in a joint effort to stave of Erramun caused him to question everything he thought he knew about the military might of various nations around the world. He was fearful to think of how powerful Erramun had become, and to know that he was now facing the possibility of going to war with him, it did not sit well with him at all. Detreya was normally so peaceful. He would be bringing war and chaos to his people. It was incredibly unfair after everything else they had endured recently.
He felt as though he had no choice. This matter would not change if he consulted with advisers. He would just be delaying the inevitable, and at a time like this, he could not afford to delay at all.
Once they all agreed to work together, it merely became a matter of hashing out the details, which could wait until later. In a more formal setting, everyone would be sure to make sure they got a fair deal and everything would be recorded. The matters might need to be rushed, but there was also a need for them to be recorded.
As they were departing, having agreed to settle all the minute details once some scribes and advisers could be rounded up, Yuri felt the need to make a final comment.
“With you knack for stirring up trouble, I have to say I’m convinced you two must be related.”
Saras shrugged. “We are.”
“First cousins once removed,” added Alenna.
That settled that and Yuri could not say he was surprised in the least.
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