He's smart. He's very smart, but when you first look at him you don't notice it. I didn't notice it the first time I saw him. Most people look at him and just see the features: somewhat haggard, shivery, and a bit underweight. A great many people only hear the stutter, but that's not what I focus on. I focus on his voice. It's low but light. It doesn't make your chest shake when he speaks, it's almost like his voice lightly skips by your ears. He can get quiet so easily. I've only seen him shout maybe once or twice, and that was under extreme duress.
I noticed something else too: he really wants to talk. He so wants to voice his opinion, to add to a conversation, but he doesn't. I watched while everyone was talking. At first you just see a quiet man, sitting still with his hands under the table, but I saw more. I noticed how his arms tensed, how they rotated slightly, how he set his jaw and pinned his eyes to whoever was speaking. Under the table he was clawing at his knees. There was so much he wanted to say, all of it locked behind his teal eyes, but he never said any of it. It was like he was constantly waiting for permission to speak, for someone to look at him and say "Alistair what do you think?" But no one ever said that. No one seemed to notice him but me. Keero cracked jokes at his expense, and he would just take the insults. Crystal spoke over him and spoke for him, and he allowed it and didn't correct her even when I thought she was wrong. By the end of the night, meal, drinks, whatever the occasion was, everyone else would get their opinions in, even me, but Alistair just stayed silent.
There was no reason for it to, but it drove me mad that he did because I was overcome with this need to know what he wanted to say. What was bouncing around in his head so violently that it caused him to claw his knees and set his jaw like that? Why didn't he just speak up? I would have spoken up; I would have shut everyone up with what I was going to say too, because I bet it was something really good. But he didn't. The conversation ended and his eyes would look away, down most of the time. His hands would shake as he let go of himself, and then he would just fold them in his lap. It doesn't matter, I bet he thought. But I wouldn't leave him to think that.
"What was on your mind?" I followed him as he headed towards his room.
Alistair always looked at me
different, as if he was surprised that I even noted his existence. It was somewhat flattering and somewhat hurtful. Did he think I was that prissy? Or did he think he was just that low? Right now he had that surprised look, the one he always had for the first second, and then he dulled. Something like a smile, only sadder, moved across his lips.
And then he went into his room. As if that were enough, a good description and all that he needed to say. It wasn't, because I would bet three silvers that what he was going to say was relevant and as important as any of the bullshit that rolled out of Keero's mouth. I don't swear and look what he made me do, but not even talking!
So the next night, when he did the same thing, I cornered him after the meal and asked him again. Alistair didn't like confrontation. Before he used to shrink, trying to get small and look non-aggressive, now that he was better he simply stood there, as if he were a wall that could take a hit and then walk away. Again he told me it was nothing important. I tried again and again and it was always nothing important, nothing important, nothing bloody important. It was as if his own thoughts weren't important to even himself. Did he just think them and then decide his ideas were so unworthy that they shouldn't be voiced? No that was silly, no one was that introverted.
He was lying through his teeth. It had to be something important, something worthwhile, and that was why he said it wasn't important. I had to know. I didn't care what the conversation was about anymore, I cared that Alistair wanted to say something and he never did. It wasn't right that he didn't! Keero had mentioned that he was from the gentry and that meant he had to know how to talk but he chose not to. I resolved to get the information out of him somehow. Someone had to hear his thoughts, and it was going to be me.
So finally I caught him. I pinned him in a corner in the hallway of one of the taverns. It was out of the way and far from his room. Alistair didn't shove people off him, not like Keero did when he was uncomfortable. Instead he backed up against the wall as I locked him in his place.
"What were you going to say at dinner?" I demanded. "And don't you dare say 'nothing important'," because if he did I might just hurt him.
He looked confused as I kept him in the corner. His hands were pressed against his chest, fingers rubbing the others. Alistair's fingers are such thin things, thin and spindly and they shake quite a lot. As much as I knew I was scaring him I just
had to know, all right?
"Why does it matter?" He tilted his head, trying hard to find a way away from me. "It's not as though anyone would listen"
Then he gave me such an
odd look. It was bewilderment mix with disbelief. His teal eyes shone slightly, finally letting some candlelight hit them; he straightened just a bit and pressed his lips together. I knew that look, that way he was searching me. Alistair was looking for my tell, he wanted to see the lies
But I wasn't lying. I wouldn't have hounded him constantly for his thoughts if I didn't want to hear them. That was what seemed to confuse him the most. As much as I didn't want to wait, I stopped and let Alistair get comfortable with the idea of someone actually wanting to hear his thoughts.
U-um. I was going to s-say that I thought Keero was wr-wrong," his stutter only came in when he was stressed.
To help I pushed back from the wall, giving him more space. He seemed to relax just a little bit, molding against the wall instead of pressing against it as if he would use it as a springboard to push off and run from. I was going to ask more when he slipped around me.
"Why didn't you say that?" I asked, moving with him.
"Have you seen Keero?" Alistair shook his head, blonde hair flying around his brightly colored eyes. "Disagreeing with him is l-like kicking a hornet's nest. I-I am in no m-mood to be stung f-for my opinions."
Just like every other time I tried to talk to him, Alistair darted away and started down the hall. It looked like there was no winning with him. With a sigh I threw my head back, eyes closed as I felt the firelight on my face as my hair fell away from its ribbon.
" I said, thinking that Alistair was gone.
After keeping my eyes shut for a little while I turned around. My previous prediction was wrong. Alistair was leaning against the wall just a few paces away from me. He wouldn't look at me, not directly, but his face was turned in my direction, most of his features hidden by his unruly wavy blonde locks.
Did you really mean that?" He more or less whispered.
I don't know what happened to Alistair to make him so shy, so quiet, and so cautious. I know nothing good was done to him over the last couple of years, that he lost quite a lot to save my father and I even though he didn't know us. He said it was because this mess was his fault, and some of it was. But it was hard to be angry at him when all I saw was a dog that had been beaten so many times it just sat in the corner and whimpered when looked at. I never liked seeing anyone in pain, and looking at Alistair I just felt curious. There was more to him that he buried under all of the toil he had been put through. So I nodded, walking up beside him.
"I would listen if you would speak."
Because I don't know why, but I felt like if no one else would, I should. He smiled slightly, looking towards me finally. I think he wanted to say he was thank you, but he didn't actually voice the words. That was ok, I could see it in his face. A moment later he pushed away from the wall and headed towards his room.
I thought that after that moment he would talk more during meals or when we were moving between cities, but he didn't. Instead, while everyone was talking he'd lean towards me and murmur to me what he thought. He didn't claw his legs that much when he spoke to me, and when he finally started talking I noticed how smart he was.
Alistair knew politics, languages, the status of the war, and a plethora of facts and ideas that almost seemed useless but coming from him they made sense. He talked of philosophy sometimes, commenting on how Damien always spoke like a Volusian.
"That's how most of the Volusian philosophers view trade. A necessary evil, but one that brings them food and the spices they covet from the Ymanians and Sebelzans," he would whisper in my ear.
"I thought you said they also liked the fish," my eyes darted about his face as he spoke.
"So the trade is only for food?"
"Well, a few goats here and there," he shrugged and I giggled.
He started to smile the more we talked, the more I let him lean over and talk to me. He knew so much more than me. I mean, I knew he was a scholar, and I knew he worked at the Great Library, but I didn't know much beyond that. As he held up the back of our group while traveling the roads I asked him what he studied.
"A bit of everything I guess," he said, squinting at the dirt. "Languages, history, philosophy, theology..."
"Which is your favorite?"
That made him smirk and he pressed his lips together. Oh I knew this game. It was a game he started as soon as I started asking questions about him. He always tried to bury down the interesting aspects of himself. It was a bit annoying, but if I pushed him he bent to my will easily.
"No, no, no, don't you do that!" I pushed his arm and he laughed, something soft and low caught mostly in his throat. "C'mon, tell me!"
"I bet it's not."
"You should never be a gambler then," he quipped.
Then there were moments like those. Little snippets of whatever personality he originally had resurfacing. He had a sarcastic streak, but nothing cruel like dad's or Keero's. Instead it was more of teasing, good-natured, actually funny and usually not insulting. I didn't tell him, but I liked it when he had those little moments. He would always smirk slightly as he ended statements like that, eyes flashing with whoever Alistair really was, the Alistair I so wanted to know.
"Tell me or I'll spark you," I threatened, sending a static shock through his wrist.
He yipped and jerked his wrist away, folding his arms behind his back and straightening. He always gave me a little bit of a glare when he did that, his mouth twisted and eyes showing disapproval. I always marveled at how much emotion he could show when given the chance. Rolling his shoulders he sighed softly.
"I liked cultural studies the best
collecting stories, if you want to really know
" he coughed and cleared his throat to cover up that last statement.
"Stories? What kind of stories?" That piqued my interest.
He shrugged stiffly. "Just
When he looked back at me I had my eyebrows raised. One wrist was rotating a hand, my little signal for elaborate. His eyes darted ahead to the rest of us. All of them were talking amongst themselves, their eyes in front of them and not behind. No one was looking at us, focusing on us, or anything like that. Though he looked a bit uncomfortable, his hands twisted behind his back, he leaned towards me again.
"Stories like Wolfheart from the Volusians, Songs of the Light Birds from the tribes
" he half murmured to himself.
Leaning in towards him I smiled. "Will you tell me them sometime?"
Always unsure of everything, Alistair eyes searched mine. He was so careful, thinking, wanting to make sure he was safe. In recent times he worked towards making sure I was safe too. A little smile creased his lips.
"Only if you asked."
And that made me feel special. The fact that he still does that makes me feel special, because that's what he does. When his attention is on you, actually on you, you feel it. Because when Alistair is focused on someone they are the only one that matters. We could be in a room with a hundred people, thirty of them trying to talk to him, but when his eyes settle to one person and he folds his arms behind his back
that means you're the one who matters. He listens to me, he talks to me, and he indulges me in silly little things.
I still ask for stories, picking his brain for the best ones. Sometimes I have him revisit old favorites, like Wolfheart or Gryphon Tears. When he retells them
he speaks with such reverence. It's not like a father to a child, making up voices and using large airy hand-movements. Alistair isn't that type of man. He just quietly tells the story, as if he were reading it from some sacred text.
It also helps that I love that soft voice of his. Though, it also helps that I love a lot more about him. I know I love him, I can feel the words at the back of my throat sometimes. I think I can see them on the tip of his tongue too, but he hasn't said them yet. The first few times it hurt that he didn't, but then I remembered: when Alistair talks he means it. So I'll wait for him to say it first.
It will mean so much more when he says it first.