A team of oxen drafted over the farmland which was being ploughed by a boy for the purpose of autumn sowings. While hauling the plough, one of the oxen lowed. Lores chuckled as he mimicked the beast.

”Moo! ”

A pretty girl who was accompanying him leisurely, laughed at his feigned vocalization.

”Well, Why don we pair you with them to make the work a whole lot more easier? ”

Lores paused, making a frowny face.

”Joanne, seriously, you would really use me to plough like an ox? ” She laughed again.

”I wouldve loved to but your neck…. ” She shook her head pitifully. ”You may collapse in front of me. Still, that doesn mean I can do it. ”

”The other day I stumbled on something, you were moved to tears. Who knows how much tears youll shed this time if I collapse? I bet you can afford to see me in such a condition. ” He jeered confidently. A whimsy scowl appeared on her face as she stuttered sheepishly.

”H-how dare you take my tenderness for granted? Are you trying me? ” Lores gaped at her in wonder before gulping, indicating that he had surrendered.

”Fine. Fine. You win. ”

He chuckled and went on with his work. He had known her as a talented bickerer since childhood. It was a busy day for him given that he had turned the stubble over, and was almost done with removing the weeds and thistles. Meanwhile, Joanne just sauntered beside him as if he were some hired ploughboy. However, Joanne had requested to help but he turned her down, claiming that the work was laborious for a girl.

Memories began to sweep through his head. He had heard a lot of stories surrounding his life. Some he deemed true, some he felt were exaggerated while some seemed as if they were cooked. He once heard from his mother that his father was the crown prince of one kingdom they called Solice, and that he was a prince.

”A prince? Im Lores Taptallen the son of a prince who is a farmer. ” He had thought. It sounded like a joke that accomplished its purpose of conveying laughter and hence he took it with a pinch of salt. Besides being a farmer, he was a skillful hunter living life for good. What about his father, the said fallen prince? He had never seen that one since he was born. The amulet drooping from his neck was the only thing that emotionally connected him to his father.

Even though he had a royal blood flowing through his veins, to him, Vatmos was a place he was used to; a home to be precise. He never took this royalty of a thing too seriously. But to call a spade a spade, he was itching to know more about the kingdom they said he hailed from. However, His compatriots told him it was better if he was kept in the dark for the time being.

According to Vicksen, some eighteen years ago, his father was taken to Liz with a bolt pierced in his thorax. Could he still be alive? These load of thoughts and unanswerable questions put his heart in a state of conflict.

Amid his cerebration, he heard someone call his name. He jolted, his eyelids fluttering back to reality as he tilted his head toward Joanne. She noticed when his animated expression gradually turned into a serious one.

”I just called you for the third time. What are you thinking? ” He stopped his work and heaved a sigh.

”Im thinking of my dad. I was told he left to spare Vatmos from extermination. Ive tried to merge the fragments of information I got. ” He shook his head while drawing his lips in tightly. ”But Im still clueless. ”

”I believe what your dad did was to protect you and us the locals. ” She gazed earthward. ”I can also understand how you feel because we are in the same boat. My mum died after giving birth to me. I don even know what she looks like. ” She spoke softly, trying to mask her moody look with a blue smile. Lores was not pleased to see her wearing a long face. She was only two when he was born and from then till now, she has been one of the most important persons in his life. He tried to bring up a new topic.

”I heard we don bury our dead. What could be the reason? ” Her not-too-sad eyes fell on him, signalling the arousal of a better mood as she took the question. His trick was seemingly working.

”It has to do with our historical background. According to the patriarch, each time bodies were put into the ground, their spirits were believed to arise and roam the village leading to the fright, misfortune and mysterious deaths of the locals. As a result, our ancestors were impelled to devise a countermeasure in order to put an end to the calamity. ” She paused to observe Lores whose arms were crossed unmoveably like a statuette. His eyes were firmly fixed on her with interest. He was giving her the slightest attention as he had always done.

”What was the countermeasure? ” He asked eagerly. Apparently, her story resonated his alacrity. He had heard quite a few talks about magic and spirits from Idrissa who was ever reluctant to give details. The few he heard from the mage was because he cajoled him to do so.

”Dismembering the corpse, taking the pieces faraway from the village and incriminating them. ” He bobbed in cognizance at her enlightenment. Vatmos was a small village situated in the elusive backwoods of Liz. It was surrounded by hair-raising woodlands, so the idea of it being impacted by unspeakable entities seemed plausible.

Just then, an elderly woman clothed in a long gown and a wimpled hair neared them.

”Its time for dinner. ” She announced with a bright face.

”Okay. Well be there in a short while. ” Joanne replied, requiting her gesture with a friendly smile. Lores felt a shred of guilt build up inside him. Joanne had kept him company for hours. Despite the fact that she didn do much, he felt she deserved to rest. He gave her a half smile.

”Go back with Caro. Ill come after returning the oxen to the stable. ” With a simple nod, she returned to a close by wattle and daub house with the woman. He upheaved his sight to find the shaft of the setting sun glowing back at him. It just occurred to him that he was hungry.

That night they had pea cottage for dinner. It was a meal made by cooking peas, onions and herbs slowly over a fire. Lores noticed that apart from him and his mum, Joanne and Caro were the only ones present for dinner. Empty chairs were waiting to be occupied. It was unusual because everyone had always been available for dinner.

”Where are the rest? ” He asked as his eyes swayed at them successively. Vatmos night watch was done by shifts, and if his memory wasn playing tricks on him, no man from his household was supposed to be on duty tonight. Joanne frowned slightly.

”Youve forgotten again. The fire show ceremony will hold tomorrow night. Normally, my dad will join other vigilantes to do the night watch with the men. Vicksen joined him. ” His eyebrows slightly inclined upward in remembrance.

”He has finally joined them. He was never on my side. ” He mumbled inwardly as he dug into his meal. This was the first time Vicksen did the conventional night watch before the ceremony.

As per the tradition of Vatmos, whenever the fire show ceremony was to be held, the men would do the night watch as an entreaty to their deity called night immortal. They believed that their deity was a woman who would prefer more, the devotion of men to that of women. Lores didn care less about this so called night immortal. To him, it wasn a big deal that he kept forgetting about the ceremony. He believed that his destiny was in his hands.

”Stop rushing your food. ” Marianas voice interrupted him with a motherly smile on her face. But he was very hungry that he could eat up the bowl, all the same he managed to squeeze a smile.

”Yes mother. ”

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