Inbetween: Chapter Ninety Six

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Life had become an endless stream of meetings with various advisers. Yuri had expected it to some degree. He watched his father deal with running the city for years, but the stream of meetings and unending requests for executive decisions was unlike anything he could remember Durya enduring. He resigned himself to handling matters concerning the war and ensuring the city continued to function, but now priests were demanding an audience with him as well.

Just hearing of the priests on his schedule for the day made him uneasy. Their work was the sort he never truly understood. The rudiments of their role in society was part of his education much like all other essential roles within Detreya, but much of what they did was beyond him. He was not sure he had the knowledge or aptitude to contend with a priest. Delegating might be the wisest course of action, but he was at a loss trying to think of someone he trusted better equipped to understand the priests.

While he was agonizing over this decision, news of a worthy distraction reached him. Asa would be returning with Willow, Nyura, and Ciel well before he would need to meet with the priest. He’d been missing Willow for a long time now and he felt Asa’s absence from the moment he left. Living had been hard enough with one of them missing from his life. The strain he felt when he had neither almost caused him to buckle. He knew he could not go through this again.

He needed to convince them both to stay by his side. Permanently.

Upon seeing them his resolve did not falter. He felt whole again and that was worth more than anything. He wasted no time in going to meet them upon their arrival at the palace. It was not exactly the proper protocol. If certain advisers of his saw this, he would get a look he was pretty certain was not befitting of his role as it made him feel like a young child again. Those advisers would be a minor annoyance compared to the teasing he would endure if Alenna and Saras caught onto his eagerness to see Asa and Willow. He kept an eye out for them and still did not feel entirely at ease when he did not see them.

Their reunion was almost as private as he could hope it to be. The only way reality differed from what he envisioned was the inclusion of Nyura and Ciel in the group.

Ciel was not a problem, of course. As soon as she saw an opportunity to break away from the impromptu gathering. Yuri saw no reason to stop her. He only tolerated her presence to keep the peace with his allies. If not for Saras, Ciel would have to decide to flee or fight him. His civility towards her had very hard limits.

The other three were much easier for him to welcome home. Guessing how Nyura would react when she returned was no better than a coin toss. Yuri expected either to be ignored or to become the center of her attention. Until they were in the moment, there was no way to guess which would be more likely.

He saw her face light up as soon as she saw him. He was relieved to finally know her reaction would be a positive one. Now he just needed to remain vigilant until he knew exactly what she was thinking. If she was in a good mood he did not want to ruin it by reminding her of things that might irritate her.

“I’m so glad you sent someone to fetch me,” she began with no preamble.

He was puzzled by this, but prior experience kept the confusion off his face. Eventually, he would puzzle out her meaning or it would become irrelevant. He caught Willow rolling her eyes and guess that it might be a bit less grounded in reality than it might seem at first.

Nyura continued without prompting. “I’m pleased you were able to find a use for Willow after all. She arrived just in time for me to realize my Erramun has been led astray.”

Yuri’s shoulders tensed and his gaze flicked over to Asa and Willow just in time to see Asa put a hand on her arm and that was enough to stop whatever protest she was about to make. They all knew Nyura’s words were not the truth, but Willow still lacked the experience that allowed them to cope with Nyura’s eccentricities. Nyura would never change. He just worried that Willow would not adapt.

“I’m glad you are back with us and safe, Nyura,” he said before anyone could interject and make matters worse.

“I’ll only be staying for a few days. I want to return home as soon as possible so I’ll be there when my Erramun comes to his senses.”

Her reasoning would eventually lead to heartache, but it would get her back to a place where she could cause less harm. At the very least, he wanted to get some space between Nyura and Willow since the animosity there had not lessened even after they became more familiar with each other. It was not perfect. He would need to send some additional security home with Nyura to make sure she did not try to run off to see Erramun on her own again. With the war going on it was more dangerous than ever for her to behave recklessly.

He did not have to worry about Nyura causing any more trouble as she breezed past them without further comment. He felt guilty for joining Willow in breathing a sigh of relief once Nyura was done from sight.

“I have a feeling we have a lot of catching up to do,” he said finally.

“Do you have time?” Asa asked.

“I’m making time.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Delegating or procrastinating?”

“Mostly the latter,” he admitted. “I’m hoping to find a way to make it the former.”

“War council or economic woes?”

“Neither. Priests.”

“What do the priests want?” Willow chimed in.

“I’m not entirely sure and that makes me even more reluctant to take the meeting, not that I had much of a choice.”

“I could talk to them,” Willow offered.

He almost agreed to the proposition without a second of hesitation, but just barely stopped himself. While she was offering—and he desperately wanted to get out of the meeting—she had just made a grueling journey across an inhospitable desert in wartime. She deserved a rest, not to mention Yuri desperately wanted to spend some time with her and Asa before duty beckoned again.

“You should rest,” he insisted.

She dismissed his words with a wave of her hand. “I can rest later. I have some questions I’d like to ask your priests myself and I can find out what they needed to tell you and relay the information as well.”

Yuri sighed. In a flash she had it all planned out and he saw no reason to say no to her. He might want to speak to her, but that could wait. He had no reason to deny her something she wanted, particularly when it benefited him as well.

“Very well. If you’re sure this is what you want, I’ll let you be my representative and see about getting your questions answered as well.”

She grinned. “Awesome.”

He was not sure if awesome was the term he would use for this arrangement. It was merely an attempt to appease her that just so happened to benefit himself as well.

“Their appointment isn’t for a few hours. Maybe you can rest and prepare yourself for the meeting with us?”

She agreed and they moved on to a place where they could talk more privately. There were not many places where Yuri could get real privacy these days, but with Asa back he saw hoped that would change.

Even before he officially resumed his duties, the guards in the palace would obey him. All he had to do was assure them he would be the one looking out for Yuri and they were satisfied. Nothing else Yuri had tried got them to clear off. He was too valuable to leave unguarded. His father’s death had made them diligent. The war made them obsessed with his safety.

He craved solitude for days now. He could almost laugh now that he finally had someone with the power to give him the solitude and he no longer wanted it. He needed to spend time with Asa and Willow now.

With Asa taking over guard duty, they were able to sit and talk without being overheard. The first thing he wanted to hear was about their journey. Traveling with companions like Ciel and Nyura had to make for some interesting tales, not to mention, he wanted to know how Willow had ended up in Garon in the first place. He knew he should probably be more interested in hearing about the war effort. Asa would have a ton of valuable information after his travels and Willow might have some insights she was not even aware of if prompted properly.

He tried his hardest to steer the conversation in the direction of the topics of most interest to him. Usually, topics would eventually come around to what he needed to hear, but this time he was helpless to control the flow of the conversation. Perhaps he was out of practice, or perhaps Willow’s will was just stronger than his at the moment.

“What are the priests here for anyway?” she asked even though he had not been able to give her an answer the first time around.

“It’s hard to say. I have to assume it has something to do with the war. That’s the case with everything these days.”

He watched her carefully. Her insistence on pushing the conversation back to the priests made him uneasy. If he had tasked her with the meeting, he could understand her demanding more information, but she had practically jumped on the opportunity before he even had a chance to offer it. For her to want to ask questions now made him wonder even more what her reasons for volunteering actually were. He decided his new mission would be to find out.

“You’re awful eager to have a chat with some old priests,” he said after a short stretch of silence. “Why is that?”

She smiled.”They were the ones who know how the portals work, aren’t they?”

Yuri’s heart sank. Was she thinking of returning home again so soon? He exchanged a surprised look with Asa. It seemed no one knew what had been on Willow’s mind until then.

As much as it pained him to think of being deprived of her company again so soon, he understood why she might wish to return home. Her stay had not been a long one, certainly too brief to get her affairs back in order. Even now he was not entirely clear why she had returned so soon, but her appearance in Garon instead of Detreya suggested that it might not have been an intentional act. He wanted her to come back to them willingly and readily. If that was the case at this time, he would just have to find more patience.

“They know about it, but they weren’t willing to open any portals, remember?” He tried to remind her of this fact as gently as possible. He wanted her to be made aware, but he did not want to discourage her from taking on a task he was so loath to do himself.

“That’s okay,” she assured him. “I don’t need them to open a portal for me any time soon. I just need to know how these portals work.”

“That’s not going to be a short, simple explanation.”

“No. I would be disappointed if it turned out to be simple after all this time. It’s complicated and I have some thoughts I’d like to share with them, just to get their opinion.”

The thought of Willow bombarding the priests with theories when they had come here to petition him amused him immensely. It was not so much that he thought the priests deserved to suffer, but rather the thought of them getting a taste of what he had to endure whenever they decided they needed to meet with officials at the palace. Willow wanted something from them so she would be better suited to put up with sitting through whatever concerns and grievances they wanted to bring to the attention of the administrators in the palace.

His day was looking better and better. Maybe tonight after he finished his responsibilities for the day and Willow had exhausted the patience of the priests, they could actually have a proper reunion. It was something to look forward to. That was something he had been sorely lacking as of late.

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