There is more than one kind of wolf, and more than one kind of sheep.
A shepherd was leading his flock on a mountain path, taking them down from the high pastures where they had spent the summer.
It had not been a good summer. The mountain grass was lush and plenty of lambs were born, but there were more wolves than ever. They took many sheep and even killed the shepherd’s dog.
He missed the dog and blamed himself for going up to the mountains with only one sheep dog. After the dog was gone, the wolves devoured many more of his flock. Alone, he could not defend them properly.
He was angry, too. Why were there so many wolves? Why was he up here all alone tending sheep when others were living comfortably down in the valley?
As he led his diminished flock along, thinking thus, the shepherd came round a bend and beheld a group the like of which he had never seen coming the other way.
In the lead was a singular man, more old than young, but active withal. He wore a long black coat with big squared shoulders making him look formidable, though he might just have been fat. On his head was a soft red cap with white stars. His face was an odd shade of red-orange, with tiny eyes and pendulous chins.
Following him were two rough-looking fellows carrying banners that read “Bring Back Our Flocks” in great white letters on a scarlet background.
Then came two more rough-looking fellows with eight or ten big ferocious dogs moving in a pack. At the rear was a large flock of sheep, at least three times as many as the poor shepherd had.
The men were chanting, “Bring Back Out Flocks, Bring Back Our Flocks” ceaselessly.
Holding up a hand, the Leader halted his strange band and they fell silent. He hailed the shepherd: “Ho, there! What news from the mountain?”
When the shepherd hesitated, the Leader said. “We are friends. We have come to bring back the flocks.”
“Sir,” the shepherd answered haltingly, “I know not what this means . . .”
The Leader frowned and said, “Once the flocks of these valleys were much greater, a grand horde of fine fat sheep. These cursed wolves who carry off the sheep have changed that. It is a bad time now.
“But we are here to make the flocks great again. I’ll warrant you lost more than a few sheep this summer, yes?”
“Many indeed,” the shepherd answered ruefully, “but Sir, how will you make the flocks great again?”
The Leader smiled wide, showing many shiny white teeth. “Ahh, that you must leave to me,” he said, smiting his chest. “These men with me, they believe anything I say, and will do anything I say, and you must believe, too. I see you’ve no sheep dog, eh?”
“The wolves killed my dog,” said the shepherd.
“Well, I’ll give you one of these fine beasts I have here, he’ll deal with the wolves for you.”
The shepherd gasped, ecstatic. He felt as if saved by an angel.
“Of course,” the Leader continued, “I’ll take a few of your sheep in exchange, say, five lambs and five ewes.” He half turned and gestured to his followers, two of whom came forward to take away the shepherd’s animals.
The shepherd thought momentarily that ten sheep was a high price for just one dog, but the men were already carrying off his sheep and he was a little afraid of them.
Then another rough-looking fellow came up with a huge red-orange dog and the shepherd was happy. Now the wolves would not trouble him. He put his hand out to the dog and it growled but did not bite him.
And while the shepherd was looking over the red-orange dog, the Leader’s party began to move on, the banners, the dogs, the sheep, all going off on the path, and the chanting began again, “Bring Back Our Flocks, Bring Back Our Flocks!”
Before they disappeared round the bend, the red-orange dog gave a great yawn, lay down and seemed to be going to sleep.
Anxious to move on, the shepherd nudged the dog with his foot and got a deep growl in response. He nudged again and was answered with fierce bared teeth in a terrifying snarl. One more attempt and the dog snapped at him, the sound of its fangs closing alarmingly close to his leg and alarmingly loud against the fading chant of “Bring Back Our Flocks.”
Now he was truly afraid of the dog, almost half his own size and far more powerful. The shepherd decided he needed his leg more than he needed this uncooperative animal.
Poorer but perhaps wiser, the shepherd let the red-orange dog sleep and led his now small flock down toward the valley.
Image: Patrick Schneider