Marius drinks from his cup before staring at me with a look that I can assume is trying to read my soul.
“Leonce, the conversation we had last night with your friend was so interesting. He seemed like he knew a lot. How did you come across someone like that?”
I tell him how I was ambushed near his home after I fled from the Njord invasion here, how he saved me, how I almost poked him with a firestick when I woke up in his home because I was so sure he was going to kill me, how he nursed me back to health without asking for anything.
“Sounds like he’s an important friend to you.”
I chuckle at the word friend. For a moment I want to express all my feelings about the man to anyone that would hear them but I stop myself. I used to hate when people got mushy with feelings and I don’t intend to be one of them now. At least not to other people.
“He is someone very dear to me.” I reply with a tone that I hope sounds final.
Marius seems content with that response as he goes back to taking care of the tavern customers.
[[Two years ago]]
Something’s off today Leonce thought
Leonce tried to get a look at Alistair’s face but he couldn’t read any emotion as the man checked his ankle two months after Leonce had woken up in his cabin.
The first few weeks had been rough, Leonce trying to escape while Alistair was away. Once he got cornered by wolves right outside of Alistair’s land and had to call for help. Alistair was there so quickly that Leonce wondered how that was possible. Another time he got further but was caught in a blizzard and nearly froze to death before thankfully Alistair was able to find him. This rose to suspicion, how did Alistair knew where he was at all times while he wasn’t even in the cabin?
“It’s actually quite easy to follow your tracks…” Alistair had commented bemused after Leonce had angrily asked him when brought back from his second failed escape attempt, “you ARE dragging your injured foot through snow or mud, it leaves a trail.”
Slowly he started to trust Alistair. He figured that if someone had given him his house (and bed) to recuperate…they were one of those noble idiots that were trying to make everyone’s lives better. Leonce had met them before, and he wasn’t opposed to taking their generosity as long as they didn’t ask for anything in return.
They had a routine, Alistair would come in the morning (where he went during the night, Leonce didn’t know nor cared), checked his bandages, they would have breakfast and Alistair would write from his desk. Sometimes Leonce would ask questions, not anything that invaded the privacy of the man that helped him. Just questions of where he was, or what was the closest city. So far he hadn’t been able to check if the man had been right but something behind his answers told him Alistair was being truthful.
But there was something about today though, the air felt heavy with words unspoken.
Leonce was snapped from his thoughts as Alistair came over, a gentle hand picking up his ankle and inspecting it closely. Alistair’s eyes were furrowed, something he did when he was thinking hard about something.
Finally he let out a drawn out breath.
“Looks like it’s finally healed…” his voice sounded somber but the boy had no reason to believe Alistair felt that way “I’m guessing that you can be out of here by tomorrow if you want, though I would recommend another day…that way you can go into town and get things for your journey back home.”
Leonce felt his stomach drop. Leave? He hadn’t thought about that in more than a month. The older man’s company had been so…comforting that the idea hadn’t resurfaced again since his last escape attempt.
“Oh…right…” he messed with the hem of the shirt Alistair had let him borrow, staring intently at his hands. He hated that there was disappointment in his voice and could feel the man’s stare on him.
Alistair cleared his throat as he let go of the boy’s ankle, patting it softly before going to his desk to write.
The silence was tense, they could both feel it.
“I’ve never asked you where you were going, but I’m curious now that you’ll be leaving.”
Two months ago Leonce would have answered with a snark remark and refused to give him any information. But time had passed and trust had been gained little by little. Nevertheless he was surprised with how much ease he was able to answer the man.
“Away from Stragosa, possibly back to my country. There were people following me, just wanted to run.” he pulled the covers, around himself…feeling comfortable in the warm and realizing with disappointment that soon that comfort would be swapped for uncertainty. “I never really thought where I was going, just that I needed to leave that city.”
Alistair stopped writing, and Leonce waited to see if the man had something he wanted to say. If there was an idea though, he kept quiet about it and resumed writing. There was a small smile on his face, barely seen.
“It’s been nice having you around, Leonce.” he glanced up from his parchment, a true smile now on his face “but I understand the need to run, we all have our demons after all.”
Why was his heart beating so fast? There were no words that came out, the Cappacian merely nodded silently and pulled the covers over his face…trying to sleep comfortably one last night and trying to hide the heat that was coming on his cheeks at the moment.
It took Leonce two more days to decide to leave. He kept putting it off, lying about his ankle was not feeling up to travelling yet. He was sure Alistair could see through his lies but indulged him anyway…something Leonce was grateful for.
There was a constant struggle in his mind-
One side was telling him that what he had here was special…reminded him of Ciro, his father figure. Hadn’t his best moments been with Ciro? Hadn’t these last four months felt like a weird dream? When was the last time Leonce had felt safe before meeting Alistair? When was the last time that he had felt this comfortable with anyone? Or rather when was the last time anyone had been this kind to him?
The other side was more insistent though. It was the side that reminded him how he had trusted Bouchard, a noble of Stragosa and what had happened then. Bouchard had broken that wall first, Leonce had grown an idiotic sense of loyalty towards the Capacian noble and that had ended up in the worst two nights of his life. He remembered calling for his lord and not seeing him come to his aid. He didn’t want to have that feeling again, to feel betrayed and alone.
The latter side had won in the end, and he packs food into a bag given to him by Alistair.
He walks towards the door, aware of Alistair’s silence and for a moment he wants to ask if he can stay. But the idea of rejection keeps him from opening his mouth. Alistair’s gaze feels burning on the back of his neck, he wants to ask Alistair if he is sad to see him go but doesn’t. It’s none of his business, and part of him thinks it’s maybe better not knowing.
Standing at the front door, he turns around to face the older man. There is a knot in his throat that he’s trying hard to ignore.
“I…” he clears his throat, trying not to look at Alistair or else he thinks his resolve to leave will waver “…..thank you…”
It’s not something that comes out of his mouth very often, but it feels strangely satisfying to say it to the man in front of him.
“I was glad I was able to help you…” and again there’s honesty in Alistair’s tone “If you are ever around these parts, my home is always open to you. I rather enjoyed your company…”
He nods, his heart beating fast as he turns away without another word. If he doesn’t leave now, he knows he won’t. But he can’t stay, he can’t be vulnerable again. Leonce walks without turning back, knows the cabin has disappeared from sight as he enters the forest.
“On the road again…” he whispers, and the hopelessness that escapes him takes him by surprise. So do the tears that he didn’t even know were already streaming down his face. Why now? He leans against a tree, hiding his face in his hands. These had been the best two months of his life, why was he so eager to end it? Was cautiousness really worth being unhappy his whole life?
He looked up at the sky, remembering a specific moment in time with Ciro that he hadn’t thought of in a long time.
~“Are you happy Leonce?”~
~The small young boy nods as he cooks a fish in front of a small fire. “I wasn’t before, but I am now.”~
~“This is what we live for, to prolong the good times as much as possible and to remember them when bad times try to suffocate us. Don’t seclude yourself from what makes you happy. Remember that.”~
He’s a mess now, tears seem a downpour and he’s not sure how to stop them. He wanted to be happy for once, wasn’t he always saying how selfish he was? This is the selfish thing he wanted above all, and damn it all he deserved to be selfish after the last year in that cursed city.
He doesn’t realize he’s running until he is gasping for air.
The rain is heavy, sound soothing outside. Yet it somehow sounds hollow today.
There is a knock on the door and it startles Alistair as he drops the quill he’s been writing with. He moves cautiously towards the sound, unsure of what he will find at the other side.
His breath hitches as he opens the door and glances at the soaking boy staring up at him.
There’s nothing to be said, he simply smiles and moves aside to let Leonce in. The boy steps in without a word, panting and soaking wet from the rain outside.
Alistair closes the door as Leonce takes off his backpack and throws it in a forgotten corner.
The rain doesn’t sound so hollow anymore