When Vic and Grace were about to become one they suddenly heard a man's voice.
"VIIIC! You better take Grace and come here before I finish counting to ten, or else you will be in trouble!"
After a little pause, he started counting loudly. "TEN!"
"Damn, that's my brother," Vic exclaimed and started hastily dressing up.
Grace was visibly shaken from this sudden occurrence. A few moments ago she mustered all her strength to give her body to the one she loved, but now they were interrupted. "What should we do?"
"First of all, we should fix our clothes." Vic was tying his sash when he noticed that Grace was still lying on the ground dumbfounded. He grabbed her hand and helped her to stand up. "Grace you should start fixing your clothes already if you don’t want to be seen like this."
"Ah!" after looking at herself Grace also started hurriedly fixing her garment while asking Vic. "Do you think your brother will notice anything?"
Vic winced from her question "I think he shouldn’t." He quickly dusted off his clothes and turned around
"Now look me over, is everything looking normal?"
After Grace finished straightening out her clothes and looked at Vic. "Yeah, you look alright, and what about me?" she twirled around.
"Shit!" Vic couldn’t help swearing when he heard that his brother already counted to five. He shot a quick glance at Grace. Not finding anything that stood out he said that she looked like usual.
"We must run if we want to arrive before my brother in time. I think I know where he is, follow me Grace, I know the short path."
He started running to where his brother was waiting.
Grace wasn’t ready for this sudden start so she shouted for Vic to wait for here before she started running after him.
"Huff, Vic, are you sure huff, that this is the short path?"
"Yeah, Gasp, I know this forest as my left hand!"
"Woah, your constant loitering here huff came useful."
"Pant, nice joke."
After quick bickering, they shut their mouths and kept running at full speed.
A tall man was standing alone in the forest, overall he looked almost the same as Vic but he was a bit bigger and older, around twenty years old. The second difference was his shoulder-length hair that was held up by red cloth bandana. Leaning against a tall tree, he was chewing on some dried fish with a smile on his, face.
After lightly tapping the tree he spat out the remains of the fish and shouted "TWO!" and crossed his arms.
Upon expiration of few more seconds later he started talking to himself still maintaining his smile "Vic, oh Vic, I gave you enough time to save your skin."
He stood up and dusted his clothes a bit, he already inhaled enough air to shout one, when Vic and Grace came crushing from the bushes and landed on their front and butt.
After several moments of stupor, the man choked and then burst into laughter. "Ahahaha Vic, cough, cough, you sure know how to make flashy appearance hahaha," he said while holding his stomach. "And you even dragged Grace along Ahahaha.
Vic felt slightly angered by his brother's antics, he stood up and then helped Grace up before checking if he and the treasure were alright. He started rubbing his aching chin. "Glad I made you laugh Jim. But it was you who dragged Grace into it. I didn’t want her to be punished that’s why we ran here so fast."
This earned him a grateful look from Grace who was dusting her butt once again. It lifted Vic's sour mood a bit.
"Oh my little brother, you should've listened better." he shook his index finger. "I said the one who will be punished is you, I've never mentioned Grace." Jim grinned.
Hearing this Grace's gratitude turned into scorn and she snorted at Vic's deflated look. "I guess you infected me with your stupidity, how could I misheard what your brother said."
Vic went beet red but still went to coax his future wife while she just stood there with her arms crossed and a cold look on her face. While Vic's brother was watching it with a ceaseless smile.
"You kids sure get along well." Vic and Grace both turned their head To Jim after his remark. "But we should return back to the village. Let's go."
Several minutes of walking later Vic gave up on asking for forgiveness from Grace so he decided to ask Jim if he will be punished.
"It depends brother."
Vic rolled his eyes "Depends on what?"
Jim stopped and took a long look at the pair of kids, paying special attention to Grace he smirked. Seeing this she felt uncomfortable. Forgetting her grudge she hid half of her body behind Vic.
"Say, Grace, what you got here?" Jim said while pointing at the side of his neck.
Grace obviously couldn’t see what was on her neck but she subtly felt that it wasn’t something good so she tried to touch it with her hand. Vic furrowed his brows thinking what was on Grace's neck so he turned around to look at it. What he found was several red marks on her white skin. Thinking how could it happen they soon came to the conclusion that it was all the places where Vic kissed Grace.
Jim fake coughed to gain their attention "Cough, so Grace, what are these marks?"
Grace was too ashamed to answer that it was all marks Vic left. She just stood behind Vic while chewing on her lower lip.
"I think these are bug bites brother." Vic fiddled with his sash a bit. "You know there are lots of bugs here, and Grace was here for a long time sooo…" he swallowed the end of his words not knowing what to say.
His brother has been married for at least four years already and he even had intercourse before the wedding. It was a given that he knew what these marks actually were.
"Bug bites huh? Now that you mention it I have been bitten a few times while waiting for you. Good job Vic." to Vic's confusion Jim patted his brother on the shoulder and even praised him.
After Jim resumed walking and went ahead Vic felt a light tug on his short and barely audible thank you.
Soon they walked out of the forest and now were walking on a little footpath. Most of the time Vic and Jim were speaking with a few interjections from Grace. They mostly spoke about fishing, how good was the harvest, and some news and rumors from the city.
The talk of the day was the son of the city mayor becoming a cultivator. Apparently one of the fishermen returned from the city today and everyone there was discussing this. Mostly singing praises to the mayor's family and how good and talented his son was.
Vic and Jim talked about the adventures he would likely experience, the villains he will beat, and the beauties he will save. The beauties part was accompanied by a hard pinch from Grace, so Vic had to clarify that he only needed one wife.
After returning to the village Vic told Grace to meet with him before they parted and went into their own houses.
The closer he was to his home the more nervous and frightened he felt. Seeing him like this Jim laughed "Don’t worry Vic, I will throw a few good words for you." and winked.
Vic didn’t understand what he did to earn this but he did know why he earned the scolding. Although he and Grace will be marrying a week later instead of helping out he spends most of the time in the forest.
Nearing a wooden hut with a tilted roof his back was already full of cold sweat. After opening the door and coming inside there will be his father and mother yelling and him.
"Don’t worry so much Vic." Jim patted the back of his brother and entered first.
"Yeah, I've got absolutely nothing to worry about." Vic rolled his eyes then breathed out and entered his family house.
The interior of their home was modest. One bedroom for Vic and his parents and a living room doubled as a kitchen. The bedroom had two beds and two closets filled with spare clothes and miscellaneous tools used in housekeeping. The living room had a stone stove with some tableware lying near it, a bench, several chairs, and a sturdy table.
A large man was sitting behind the table fiddling with an axe and a whetstone. He had a dark-colored eyes, a small unkempt beard, large and brown long hair past his shoulders banded by a string. He was even bigger than Jim, with arms thick as logs, wide chest, and protruding belly.
Currently, he was talking with Jim, Vic just stood near the door with his heart beating like crazy. The happiness from finding treasure was long ago swapped with the fear of his father's punishment.
"Vic, VIC!" while Vic was deep in his thoughts he missed that he was called. A loud slap and pain in the back of his head brought him back to reality.
"What are you doing, staying there with your head in the clouds?" his father went back and sat on the chair but axe in his hand was nowhere to see.
"Sorry father." Vic rubbed his head with tears in his eyes.
"Now sit down Vic, we need to talk."
"Yes, father." Vic obeyed and sat down opposite his father.
"Sigh, Vic oh Vic, how many times I told you not to stray in the forest?"
"…" Vic lowered his head even more.
"Don’t you know that there are wild animals and even demon beasts?" his father furrowed his brow and crossed his arms.
"And even if it wasn’t the case you should prepare for the wedding because you always missing your brother must take your place."
"…" Vic turned red knowing that his brother spent his time on Vic's wedding instead of making money for his family.
"How many times we had this conversation?" Although his father said all these things instead of anger he sounded more disappointed and tired.
"Look, father, I won't return to the forest ever again, I swear."
"Ai, what are you saying, a few weeks later you will be all by yourself. Taking care of your own family."
"Pfffhahaha, ahahaha." Jim's laughter attracted the attention of the two. "Olin, you should stop this already."
"What Olin, don’t you dare call me by my name!" he shouted and slammed his hammer-like fist on the table. "I'm still your father Jim!"
"Of course father, but you also should stop making yourself a victim. What all by yourself? I bet Vic and Grace would still live in this house for a year or two before we build a home for them." Jim smiled wryly.
After a moment of confusion, Olin sat down and blurted fine once again crossing his arms.
"You better listen to why Vic was spending all his time in the forest." He walked behind Vic and put his arms on his shoulders.
While Vic was frantically thinking how did his brother know about the treasure Jim continued. "You know how you always complain that Vic will be a henpecked husband?"
This sentence made Olin lift one of his eyebrows while Vic froze completely. 'What is he talking about?'
"You always lamented while drinking how you couldn’t say anything against my mother, and how I should be the man of the house."
Olin went red and started fake coughing to hide his embarrassment. "What are you talking about, cough I've never said anything like this."
Jim grinned "Oh are you sure, I heard not so long ago how you were whining to our neighbor that she won't allow you to buy beer."
Olin started coughing even harder "Jim, you brat cough I bet you mistook this guy for me, cough now let's return to the Vic."
While listening to his father and older brother talking Vic was confused. While Jim was known to be playful since he was a toddler his father was always a serious person never having fun always working.
Jim smirked "Alright father, let's talk about Vic. Today when I the three of us were returning from the forest I noticed something."
Vic's heart pumped faster and he subconsciously held his inner pocket.
"I noticed that our little Vic here is truly the man, hahaha." Jim ruffled the hair of his little brother. "When I met them Grace had some hickeys on her neck. We all thought what attracted him so much at the forest, it turns out it wasn’t a forest but Grace who attracted him hahaha."
Hearing this, receding redness on Vic's face returned. "No, it's not like this." he started mumbling excuses but it was too late.
"The young'uns nowadays truly have no shame." Olin snorted but still couldn’t hide his joyous face.
"Stop with your nagging father." Jim smiled "We should congratulate Vic instead. While we all thought that he was messing around instead he reigned his future wife well."
"N-no it's not this, we, we didn’t do anything." Vic knew that if the news of him and Grace doing thing reached her parents she will be in trouble, but his incoherent mumbling was in vain.
"You should rejoice, Olin, your youngest son wouldn't follow in your footsteps."
"What follows my footsteps, stop spouting nonsense and come here so I can beat some respect in this hollow head of yours."
"No thanks father, I will come back tomorrow to help with the preparations." Jim quickly withdrew from the house and ran back to his home leaving Olin standing in the doorframe.
"This brat, he has no parental love." Olin shook his head and came back noticing fidgeting Vic.
"Sigh, what should I do to you, Vic?"
"Alright Vic, I guess lecturing you won't do anything, so how about this, go chop firewood until the dinner is ready." he combed his beard with a hand. "It will act as your atoning for not helping with the wedding preparations."
Vic nodded lifelessly and took the axe. "Um father, can I ask you to do something."
"Can you please not tell anyone about it?"
"Tell what exactly?"
"That me and Grace… well… did… things…" Vic inhaled "She will be punished if her parents knew about this, please can you keep it a secret?"
Under his earnest gaze, Olin faltered "Alright, but you still have to chop the firewood, and if I catch you slacking."
"You won't father, I guarantee it."
Seeing Vic instantly reviving after his promise Olin sighed "I guess I'm growing old." he muttered to himself.
Although Vic's village had mainly fishermen they still had courtyards to grow some vegetables and store firewood. The soil wasn’t that good here and a few plants were growing healthily, that’s why they resorted to fishing to feed themselves.
Looking at the huge pile of firewood and sun that was far from setting down Vic's determination wavered. After smacking his cheeks once and spitting on his hands he began chopping firewood.
Sun was slowly coming down and crickets started chirping. Vic was leaning on the axe while panting heavily he was long ago drenched in sweat. Vic took his top long ago so it wouldn't be drenched with sweat staying in his pants. Before him, lied a never-ending mountain of firewood, he has been chopping for a few hours already but it was still not enough.
While he was busy his mother returned from Grace's house, after fetching a bucket of water she started cooking. When he saw her coming back he felt that his suffering will soon end.
Feeling guilty for ditching his work for so long, he decided to do his best to the end. He once again began chopping wood, after a few strikes he heard some weird noises behind the fence, thinking that it was some bird he quickly dismissed it.
Yet the sound didn’t stop, instead, it became louder and he heard that someone was whispering his name. He decided to check what it was, wiping his face from the sweat with the end of his sash.
Indeed, when he came closer he heard a girl's voice calling him. Thinking that it must be Grace he felt confused, why she was here? Climbing over the fence in one swift motion he was now standing outside his family courtyard.
Just like he thought it was Grace but strangely enough she was sulking.
"Hmph, what were you doing, I was waiting for you for so long and even came all the way here yet you still didn’t come out!" Grace pouted.
It hit him like lightning. He did ask Grace to meet him but totally forgot about it after swinging the axe without stopping.
"Uh, Grace, I'm sorry, I was forced to do some housework." he scratched the back of his head.
Grace was standing in front of him pouting, with her arms on her waist. Although it was relatively easy to get on her bad side, she was fast to cool down.
"Grace, I'm telling the truth, you can ask my father."
She raised her eyebrow.
"Alright, it was my punishment."
"Hmph, serves you right."
Vic was upset with how she treated him so he threw an unnecessary remark "It was punishment for making out with you before the wedding."
Realizing what he just said Vic was prepared for at least a long verbal lashing or some punches. Instead, Grace stood there dumbfounded for a second before turning red and grabbing the hem of her long shirt.
"Uh, Grace I'm sorry…"
"It was your brother?" her voice was a lot quieter.
"Sigh, yeah I guess he understood what we did."
Grace clenched her shirt tighter.
"Don’t worry, I asked my father not to tell your parents. That’s why I was working for so long. "
"Oh, thanks." although Grace was grateful she was still nervous.
After Grace calmed down they started chit-chatting about everything. What happened today, their upcoming wedding, families. The more they talked the more cheerful they became.
Leaving the anxiety behind Vic noticed that Grace was acting weird. She took quick glances at his naked upper body and fidgeted from time to time. It was never like this before. Though they were always together before and she often came to him when he was fishing in his underpants she never looked at him with this type of gaze.
When he wanted to ask her what happened with her he heard his mother shouting at him that dinner was ready.
Saying his goodbye he watched how Grace went back to her home when she suddenly turned around and with large strides returned. She gazed at him for a few seconds before quickly pecking him on the lips and running away.
Vic was standing there not knowing what to do until his mother called him again. "I don’t understand her at all."
Thus the day ended. After having dinner with his parents and planning the marriage Vic went to bed.
A long and arduous week full of work awaited Vic.