None of the priests in Detreya were willing to perform the ritual to open a way back to Willow’s world. Yuri knew that he could probably pay off some of the less morally rigorous ones if he was willing to empty the treasury to do it, but he would never forgive himself if he put the well-being of the city at risk, even if it was for Willow’s sake.
The threat of war with Erramun was undeniably real but his attention was split at best. His people needed him and he could not keep his mind off Willow for much time at all. He wanted her to stay, of course, but as long as she said she wanted to go he felt he had an obligation to do everything in his power to make sure that she was happy.
His priorities were twisted. He did not need a lecture from anyone about his responsibilities and how he was failing to meet the demands of his new role. He knew he was putting a single person’s needs above the requirements of all his people. His people deserved more and if he could not give it to them, he was no better for them than Nyura and Erramun. If he could not defend and protect his people, he did not deserve to rule. He should probably step aside and get his lift in order, but there was no one suitable to take his place, as far as he knew. The people needed some semblance of stability and at the moment he could only provide that by staying where he was and doing his best to keep his priorities in check. He needed to be a good rule for his people now because there would never be an easy time to take on such an all-consuming duty.
No matter what he thought of his responsibilities or the strong sense of duty that he felt all the way to his bones, he still found himself worrying more about pleasing Willow than anything else. He never worried about Asa this way, but he always knew he had a basic understanding of what Asa was thinking. It came with growing up together. Willow was more of a mystery. Right now he knew enough without her having to say anything to realize she was unhappy and that knowledge caused him to scramble to try to make her happy again. Currently, that meant getting her back home. Nothing else seemed as important. Not Detreya. Not even his own happiness. Getting her home was his first priority today.
That led him to seek help from outside of Detreya. If none of the priests in his city were willing or able to perform the ceremony, he thought it might be possible to find them elsewhere. As luck would have it, he still had some connections to other parts of the world staying in the palace, itching for something to during the slow process of preparing for Erramun to launch his first attack.
Surely either Alenna or Saras would jump at the chance to offer some names of priests that would be willing to be recruited for some risky spells. Detreya seemed to be the hot spot for spontaneous formation of doorways to the other world these days. People were afraid of disappearing. It was not terribly common, but it had happened enough times during Yuri’s lifetime that nearly everyone seemed to at least know of a friend of a friend who had disappeared out of the blue. It was no wonder that the priests here were so careful to avoid the forbidden rituals. Someone from further away might feel the threat as intensely as those that live nearby.
Alenna and Saras came to him. It was one of the perks of being Duke. He needed a favor, yet they were the ones coming to him. It gave him a much-needed confidence boost when it came to dealing with both ladies at once.
Once the formalities were over, he got straight to the point. “I need your help finding priests to perform a ritual to open a pathway to the other world.”
The corners of Alenna’s mouth twitched, almost forming a smile for the briefest of moments. He knew she was intrigued. Saras was a bit harder to read. Her expression did not change at all. Either she had expected this request or she was purposely suppressing all her expressions.
“I might have a couple people in mind,” Alenna offered diplomatically. Whether she was willing to send for them or what their services might cost were left pointedly unsaid.
“Vaisha is rather far to send word for a priest and wait for their return, but I might know a priest a bit nearer,” Saras said. She did not elaborate further.
Yuri knew their game. Alenna and Saras were both fans of baiting him into begging for more information. At this point, he was used to it. He knew they did this to try to make a point of just how easily they could gain the upper hand. After spending so many weeks living in Alenna’s home he grew immune to the negative effects on his ego. Now it was just an extra step in every conversation he had with either of these women, whether it was something simple or required a more delicate touch. He expected it and learned to endure it.
“Would you be willing to get in touch with these priests?” he asked, doing his best to keep exasperation out of his voice.
“Of course,” Saras volunteered immediately with a sickeningly sweet smile.
Yuri did what he had to do. He patiently and carefully drew out the information he needed about the priests. The conversation stretched on to about twice the length it actually needed to be.
The priests Saras offered to contact were from her hometown. She believed they would do it as a favor to the second daughter of their town who managed to marry her way onto the world stage.
Yuri did not care what their reasons might be. He just wanted to find someone willing and capable of helping Willow get back home. He gave up hope of her changing her mind. Every obstacle seemed to strengthen her resolve to keep moving forward. Instead of trying to persuade her to stay, he decided to help in any way he could in hopes of her coming back here all that much sooner.
He knew there was a chance he would not see her again. She might decide to stay or try to come back and not find a portal on her side. With the threat of war looming, he was not sure he would want her to come back at some random time in the future. There was no telling what she might find. The risks were too great for him to ask that of her.
Those risks did not stop him from hoping. He hoped she would come back to Detreya in a time of peace and stability. He hoped then they would finally find the time they needed to see if their relationship would really work. As much as he acted as though he had no doubts about that matter, he knew Willow came from a different world and even if she did come back to this world, she might not effortlessly accept and adopt all of their traditions. While he certainly hoped she would, he knew it was not realistic and might even be impossible.
If their roles were reversed he was not sure he would ever fully adapt to living in her world. His time there had not been nearly as long, but even if he had more time to adjust, he was not sure he could ever stop comparing his world to her and always thinking his homeworld was superior.
Ever since she decided she wanted to try returning to her home, Yuri found himself being much more careful with what he said to her. He did not trust himself to make a clear distinction between what he hoped would happen and what he expected to have happen. The look in her eyes told him her mind was already back home with her family. Any pressure from him about her returning in the future might push her away forever.
The ritual would have to wait a few weeks for word to reach the priests and then for them to travel to Detreya. In the meantime, he wanted to spend as much of his time with Willow and Asa as possible while the three of them were all still in the same place.