Nightfall, the wolves do howl to the full moon above. And the forest below, nocturnal creatures lurk, actively, but none surpass the rustling footsteps that whoosh past the forest with great swiftness.
Aloysius has no idea how far he has gone, for never once does he venture past the Moedip fields. Being in his comfortable nest since birth, there is always the first time to explore the wilderness. Nonetheless, he knows that the carriage behind him seems to get heavier and heavier. Nearly exhausting all his strength, he shudders at the thought of being lost in the thicket, and also when the mountain wolves howl he shivers at the thought of being chased by carnivorous creatures in the dark.
It is the fear of the unknown that pushes him to his weakest. To a point where he can move his legs no further, he set Oliver down beneath the boughs of a huge oak, and collapses right beside him.
Under the full moon, the cicadas chirp, singing a tale of the two great friends of a same destiny. While the old tree looks benevolently over them, its boughs protecting them as they dream.
The chirrups of the morningales of dawn break awaken Oliver from his slumber, as he opens his eyes to greet the first glint of sunlight, which was warm and temperate. His mind is groggy after suffering multiple blows on the head inflicted by the villagers. And thus little can he recall of what happened the night before. But there is an impression, vividly, of an angel sent down from God to protect him. The angel, at the sight of his beatings, stretched his body like a shield to cover for him. And as the weapons smote him, Oliver felt no more pain but the ache in his heart, for the angel loved him so much to suffer for him.
But that was no angel. Oliver can see him still snoozing soundly with his arms and legs spread widely. Gently, he removed his mantle and placed it over Aloysius as shelter from the droplets of the morning dew, tucking it neatly up to the neck.
Oliver feels remorse over having to drag him into a quandary of his own. And no words can speak louder than actions of a gratuitous repayment.
Perhaps it is the slight brush against the skin when the blanket is pulled up that wakes Aloysius up in surprise. He stares startlingly at Oliver’s face so close to him, breathing heavily on the tepid air infused with the concoction of both their breaths. His face immediately blushes red, as he looks away in embarrassment. Oliver, too, feels the awkwardness of their positions, and steps away from Aloysius allowing more room.
“This blanket… is it yours?” asks Aloysius.
“You remind me of my mother…. She always pulls the blanket up for me when I’m still asleep. You know, Oliver….”
“I’m sorry. You’d probably miss home by now. I know I’m bad. Please go home and leave me alone.”
Aloysius stands up, with a firm expression on his face, and walks up to Oliver to put a firm grab on his shoulders. “You don’t understand, Ollie. We’ve a contract, remember? I have no regrets signing the contract, and I’m not going to back out. Besides, I don’t like those people in my village anyway. So we shall go together, far away from that place.”
Oliver nods silently, as he rests his head on Aloysius chest. But then, he heard a very loud, horrible growl. It is like a wild animal’s, but it is not. Aloysius laughs sheepishly when he soon realises that it is his rumbling stomach.
Aloysius keen ears guide them to the sound of a slow-moving stream. It is a rare find of such a serene riverside in such a thick forest, and naturally it would be a gathering place of the wild. But they made sure that there is no man-eating beast lying around before making their presence into the clearing.
Aloysius springs forward with elation, like a prancing tiger, and laps at the water like a thirsty dog. While Oliver, more mannerly, removes his gloves and scoops with his hands. They drink their fill, and build themselves a fire with smooth stones as flints and dry wood, all found from the natural reserve. All is good, except that they are still hungry.
Nuts and berries overhanging them do not strike their hunger chord. Instead, it is the jumping fish – the trout – that look more appetising. Growing-up children crave for protein, and both are thinking of roasted fish. And this time, Oliver seems more worked up than is Aloysius, takes off his shoes and jumps straight into the water. And it is expected of him to guddle the riverbed for his food.
Aloysius eyes Oliver doing his antics with a suppressed snicker, albeit trying hard to contain his laughter. Try as he must, thinks Aloysius, but realises that he himself too have to catch his own fodder.
Thinkers are always resourceful in a way, generally speaking, and Aloysius long have a plan in mind. First, he cuts off a willowy branch overhanging him with a pocketknife he brought along. Next, he searches his clothes for a ravelling and pulls out the loose thread of a considerable length. Then after removing all the twigs from the branch to give a nice, flexible rod, he ties the string to it, and then sharpens a short twig and ties it to the other end of the string. Finally, he digs up some soil to find some wriggling earthworms, takes one of them and pierces it through the twig. He has just made himself a primitive angling rod, simple yet useful, better than having no equipment to fish.
Meanwhile, Oliver is still having a hard time with his ancient fishing technique. He is with futile attempts trying to grab hold of their mucous-coated scales, slipping off his hands every time. Even more exasperated he is to watch Oliver pulling off the game one by one with the hook.
“Stop stealing my fishies!” shouts Oliver with gritting teeth.
“Aloysius chuckles. “The loser goes hungry, my little Ollie!”
And so it is official. Both have declared war, to see who gets the most fish by the end of the day. Oliver turns even more aggressive, lunging his arms at the slightest ripple, but every time slips from his buttery fingers. While Aloysius picks up his snag most nonchalantly, whistling as if with derision to his competitor, much to Oliver’s ire.
It is barely an hour before the game was up. And needless to say who the winner is, Oliver himself declares a four-to-nil defeat. He sits glumly at the riverbank, while Aloysius happily skewers his fish over the fire.
“Do you agree with me now that technique is important?” asks Aloysius with sarcasm.
Oliver, red with utter embarrassment, replies, “okay! You win! But I tried my best too! I call out to the fishies, but they run away from me. So what can I do?”
Aloysius bursts out rolling on the floor laughing. “Ahaha… seriously, do you expect those fishes to say ‘eat me! Eat me’?”
“Sorry, my mistake,” says Oliver bashfully, trying to find a hole to bury his head.
“Here,” Aloysius passes Oliver a fresh fish that has just burnt brown.
“But you said that the loser goes hungry….”
“Just take it,” and he shoves it into Oliver’s mouth, while clasping his hands (again) on Oliver’s shoulders, “remember, we have a contract. I wouldn’t want to see a friend starve, would I?” And he went further to hug him, squeeze him.
Oliver is loss for words. Not entirely touched by Aloysius sweet-talking, but his mouth is stuffed with fish that he cannot even close!