He thought long and hard about the stories told by the old man at the bar. Asa knew the war had been horrifying. It was an important part of Detreya’s history and he learned about it as a historic event. Meeting someone who lived through it and spoke so candidly of the loss endured by the people of the city.
He tried to find something to do to keep himself busy and from dwelling on what he now knew. He could not fathom being responsible, even partially, for putting another generation through that sort of trauma. The hardest part was trying to come up with an alternative. Their country was small and would easily be overrun if they did not stand up and form a defense, but because they were so small it seemed likely they would be overrun even if they did form a defense. In addition to running over the harm done to individuals as well as the community in the last war, he found himself wondering if fighting or surrendering would cause the least harm.
Nothing was going to get done for the rest of the day. His mind was caught in a whirlwind that left him feeling too foggy minded to focus on anything else. It was almost like the fuzzy-headed feeling he got when he drank too much or too fast, but he knew that the worst of the effects from the one drink he had earlier were well behind him. This was the result of too many horrifying facts bouncing around inside his mind. He needed to get out of his own head for a while. That was not going to happen if he sat around and mulled over things in the past that he could not change and had not had enough time to process in a way that would allow him to use it to inform his decision in the future.
Really, the worst part of it was knowing that he would have to live with knowing all of this but having no real power to use the knowledge to enact change. Yuri could put his knowledge of the past to good use, but Asa was starting to realize his role as captain of the palace guard did not put him in a position of any real use once a war broke out.
After hearing of such darkness, it should not be a surprise that he found his thoughts spiraling to such a dark place, but he still found himself utterly unprepared to combat the dark thoughts that emerged from his own mind. This was not something he could accomplish while sitting alone and pretending to work. He needed to get out of his own head.
For him, that usually meant seeking out someone to keep him company. He tried to distract himself by reading a book or going for a run but found that he was better off when he had someone else to provide him with alternative topics to dwell on. While alone he had a hard time redirecting himself when troubling thoughts intruded on his distractions.
He had every intention of finding Yuri and forcing him to be the one to keep his mind off of more morbid, unproductive thoughts. After all, it was his fault that they learned all of this vivid, demoralizing detail about the real cost of war.
On his way to track down Yuri and force him to do something—anything—to get the thoughts of death, destruction, and suffering out of his head, he bumped into Alenna. He nearly forgot that Alenna was still a guest in the palace. It had been days since he last saw her and as he slipped back into his usual routine, it was easy to forget any and all things that were out of the ordinary.
She smiled when he approached. Asa could feel himself getting roped into the social conventions that would lead to a conversation.
“Good evening,” Alenna said with a grin. It was almost as though she knew she was setting a trap in the form of small talk.
“Good evening,” he replied, even though he wanted to keep moving and find Yuri as he originally intended, he felt himself slowing down as he approached her so that there was more time for their conversation to continue before he passed her.
“You look troubled,” Alenna said before he had a chance to slip past without getting further entangled in this conversation.
He could pretend he did not hear her and continue walking without too much trouble. It would be incredibly rude, but he felt sure that he could get away with it since they had been on friendlier terms that might be usual for a visiting dignitary and the captain of the palace guard. For about half a second, he intended to keep walking. Then he thought better of it and stopped walking.
He turned to look at her and confessed, “I am.”
“What’s going on?”
He looked around. The hallway was not the place to be venting his concerns. Even though things were getting more and more obviously dire, he was still not at the point where he felt as though he could speak about it in public. Everyone probably knew or at least suspected that things were taking a bad turn, but he could not bring himself to be the one to encourage people to build this situation up into something worthy of panic.
“Can we talk somewhere that’s not here?” He gestured at the hallway in general, feeling as though his ability to articulate his thoughts accurately was fading fast.
Alenna nodded. Asa was certain that he caught a glimpse of uncertainty in her eyes but it was gone in an instant and he had no way to confirm what he thought he saw. He believed that she might be worried at this point as well. She was staying here and had promised her help. Most of that help had not yet arrived and there was no way for any of them to know how much time they had before all hell broke loose. It could happen soon—before anything was prepared—or it could happen weeks or even months from now and they would need to figure out a way to maintain a large standing army for all that time. None of it promised to be easy and it would be enough to put a strain on any alliance.
He led Alenna back to his office. It was the closest place he knew of where they were not likely to be disturbed unnecessarily. It might not be ideal, but it was better than sitting here and failing to get any work done while he mulled over issues that he had no control over.
“Now,” Alenna said as she settled into the chair on the opposite side of his desk and somehow made it appear as though she was the owner of the office. “What’s bothering you?”
There were so many ways he could respond to such a question. He was not sure what role would be the best to assume. He needed to unburden his mind, but he felt unsure about his ability to speak about his worries with someone like Alenna.
His life had become infinitely more complicated since the last time he had a chance to speak to Alenna one on one. He was back in his old position now, which should mean that unburdening his thoughts onto someone of Alenna’s rank should be out of the question. His time spent as a guest in her household negated some of the reservations he had in that regard, but certainly not all of them. The last thing he wanted to do right now was appear to be overly familiar and to be overstepping his bounds. His relationship with Yuri was certainly no secret in the palace, but as it stood now, it conferred him no rank or position. They had been together for so long that many people would not bat an eye at him being afforded some of the consideration that would normally be reserved for the husband or wife of the Duke. Anyone looking to elevate their importance while Yuri remained unmarried might decide to take offense if they perceived him as taking on privileges and responsibilities that were not yet his.
In the end, having someone other than Yuri to talk to won out over the myriad of reservations in his mind. In the long run, any impropriety would be forgotten soon enough with so many other, more important things to occupy everyone’s minds.
“It’s the war,” he explained. “I don’t know how we can send people off to die.”
Alenna clasped her hands over her knee and graced him with the familiar, enigmatic smile that seemed as though it could mean any one of a dozen things in this context. He waited and hoped that she was feeling benevolent.
“Your first problem is your perspective,” she explained. The smile disappeared without a trace and was replaced by a stern expression. “These people are not being sent off to die. They’re setting out to defend their homes and their families. And don’t pretend any of this is your responsibility. You’re not the one ruling this country. You won’t be the one sending anyone to war.”
He flinched. She was not holding back and he was quickly coming to regret taking the opportunity to speak his mind. He knew he needed her to be honest, but it did not make it any easier to hear. It was not comforting to know that he was not the only one who knew that he had no real authority or ability to help Yuri.
He almost expected her to backpedal when he reacted poorly to her blunt assessment of his situation. This was Alenna, though, and backing down because her assessment made someone uncomfortable was not something that ever crossed her mind. She waited, unmoving and unmoved, while he tried to come up with the words to respond.
Finally, he said, “I know it isn’t my responsibility. It’s Yuri’s, but Yuri is the most important person in this world to me and I want to be able to support him.”
“I know that’s what you want,” she said as her face became stonily stern. “You’re going to realize soon that your support isn’t going to mean much in this situation. It’s nothing about you personally, it’s just the nature of his role. Ruling is a lonely job.”
He could not refute that. He just wanted to know what he could do to be a supportive partner while they were under this threat of war, but now he realized it was unlikely there would ever be a simple solution to this particular conundrum. For now, he would just stay close in case there was an opportunity for him to be useful and focus on assuaging Yuri’s worried rather than expressing his own.