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Two friends. Two choices. Two outcomes!
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Once upon a time in a country located somewhere around the middle of the world, a king gave a strange order to his men to go through all of his domains and slay every animal that was not a sheep. All the animals were in great trouble and there was no hope of escape from the country for the country was an island surrounded by waters so violent that no vessel could come to or depart from it.
In that country lived a shepherd who was a kind man. The shepherd had lived there among the people for as long as they could remember and none of them could say how he had come to live in the country or how long he had lived there. This shepherd happened to know of a certain substance which when mixed with a right proportion of clay and boiling spring water would instantly transform any animal that drank it - while still steaming hot - into a sheep.
The news spread through the whole country and many frightened animals went to the shepherd to ask for a drink. The first animal to drink was a bush rat. Other animals gathered round looked on with great interest as the bush rat first sniffed at the wooden bowl containing the steaming liquid, then hesitated and looked around in dread unwilling to be the first not knowing what would really happen to it if it drank the liquid. The sudden terrifying sound of the kings hunting horn in the distance made all the animals jump in fright and also helped the bush rat make up its mind. It took a quick , very tiny sip, opened its eyes wide as with astonishment, and then drank all the content of the wooden bowl. As the animals looked on the bush rats fur began to change its colour and the bush rat began to increase in size. Its torso seemed to expand and its legs grew longer. Suddenly a small sheep stood before the animals looking in suprise about its own body, and studying its hooves. All the animals shouted with joy and all of them that were there took turns in drinking the liquid. All of them that drank were transformed into sheep.
'Why exactly does the king wish to execute us all?' Goat asked the Tortoise as they walked along a path the next day.
'Because,' Tortoise replied, '- i heard - the king is angry that his son was attacked by some wild animals. The king now seems to think that if only sheep were in the country, the country would be a much more safer place.'
'Ah!' said the goat with obvious relief, 'then i really don't have to drink the shepherds solution. You see i am basically good and peaceful and i have never attacked a human - i am really quite afraid of them actually.'
'I don't think that will matter to the king one way or the other,' Tortoise said reflectively. 'The way i see it, once the kings men lay hold of you, you'll find a knife to your throat before you can say "Goose Feather". So if you ask me i say we should head over immediately to the good shepherds home and ask for a drink to save our lives. I heard from the mole late last night that quite a good number of animals drank and were really transformed into sheep right before its eyes.'
But the goat did not fancy the idea of transforming into a sheep. First, it deeply disliked the quite, docile sheep. It despised their helplessness and their reliance on their shepherds for everything. Secondly, the goat could not imagine life without its horns. What would it use to defend itself against other animals?What would it use to challenge other animals to get more of what it wanted? Loosing its horns was not an option, the goat thought. And because transforming into a sheep meant loosing its horns then drinking the shepherds solution was impossible.
'Tortoise,' Goat said, 'I choose to remain as i am. I like myself this way and cannot imagine being a sheep.'
'But what will you do when the kings men catch you?' Tortoise asked with some concern, for though Goat was foolish, vain and stubborn, he was still a friend. Goat thought for a while and then said, 'I heard the king is good. The king will surely not harm me.'
'But he gave a clear order,' Tortoise tried again.
'Well i am not - never - going to become a sheep. Never.' Goat said.
'Okay if you won't drink, can you at least escort me to the Shepherds home so that i may? Its not very far,' Tortoise said, already walking in that direction. Goat reluctantly agreed and they both went.
'Welcome Tortoise! Welcome Goat!' the shepherd called out joyfully to them as they approached the gate to his home. The shepherds home was situated on a hill so that he saw the pair when they were still a long way off and had already ordered his servants to prepare an extra solution for two. 'Please come in.' the shepherd said.
Tortoise and Goat went through the gate and into the compound and saw a few animals on a queue before a large cauldron. The shepherd dipped a wooden bowl into the cauldron and handed it over to the animal next in the queue. A horse was next and they saw it take its bowl, sniff the content, and then throw back its head and drink. In a second the horse transformed into a sheep and a servant led it into the pen.
And then Tortoise and Goat found themselves in front of the cauldron.
'Your turn,' The shepherd said to tortoise kindly handing him a wooden bowl filled with a steaming liquid that smelt like strawberries and honey. Tortoise received the bowl thanking the shepherd. Goat also took his bowl and stared suspiciously at the contents.
Thanking the shepherd again, Tortoise drank his portion and immediately became a sheep. He looked in awe at his body and tried a few happy bleats. Tortoise found that strangely he could do everything a sheep could do but that he still maintained his understanding.
'Are you not going to drink yours?' Tortoise asked Goat. For an answer Goat looked at Tortoise in dissapproval and hurridely poured the contents of his bowl on the ground when the shepherd and his helper looked away for a moment.
What had distracted the shepherd and his servant was a knock on the gate. And then later the clear horn of the king sounded. Tortoise and Goat both turned and fled towards the pen in terror. There they fought their way to the back and cowered in fear. Many other animals (which of course were now sheep, though they didn't fully believe it yet) also fought to get as far behind other sheep as possible.
Then the animals heard voices.
'Where are all the animals?' a loud voice asked. 'We heard that many animals have come to hide here. Don't they know that there is no escape? We must search everywhere according to the kings orders.' It seemed the voice intentionally spoke loud enough for every person or animal in the compound to hear and be afraid. And it succeeded for the struggle to get a place at the back increased.
'If you see any animal besides sheep on my premises, you may do with it what you wish.' they heard the shepherd say.
The animals in the pen heard the noise of the search as the kings men searched everywhere. Through the gaps in the fence they saw them search every building throughly. Then as one they came to the pen.
'Do my eyes deceive me,' a kings man said, 'or is that not a pair of horns i see jutting out between the shoulders of those two speckled sheep at the extreme right there?'
'Those are horns,' another answered ,'as surely as the sun rose this morning.'
Goat bleated in terror when strong hands gripped it firmly and lifted it from where it lay squeezed between two sheep. It struggled and tried to fight free but it was impossible. Then it shouted desperately to the men that it was a good goat, that it had never hurt anybody, that it was an injustice if it were killed. The kings men only laughed and one of them said,
'Listen goat. We do not care really if you have been a very good goat or a very bad one. Our orders are to kill every other animal except the sheep. And you surely are not a sheep.'
Then they carried the goat to the slaughter house.
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© 2016 Vincent Michael
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