The Shepherd

Jeb Burnet, Glyphs Member

The valley awoke as the sun pushed over the horizon. The valley was alive and radiant. Beautiful in every sense of the word. More than that though, it was calm, it was peaceful, it was a small paradise. The rolling slopes were sheeted in thick, lush grass and spotted with stoic, deeply rooted trees. They offered magnificent shade for all life in the valley.

The shepherd awoke at the base of one of those trees. This time of year, he needn’t use his tent. Propped up against the tree, he pushed himself to his feet and looked around. His sheep were liable to wander off, but never too far.

He looked across the valley, down one side, over the stream with its dull roar, and up the other slope. At the far side, he saw a sheep, which he could just barely tell was looking back in his direction. It was far away, essentially the last spec above the horizon. The shepherd’s eyes strained as he just barely made out what seemed to be the sheep turning away, and walking off into the forest beyond.

How could they have gotten that far overnight? The shepherd began collecting his modest amount of gear, meticulous not to leave anything behind. It was suddenly then that he remembered that one of the males was especially fidgety the night before, and that he could have led the others across the valley. Damn sheep, he thought as he clutched his staff and made his way off down slope.

The staff was old and worn, but charming. Decades of use had smoothed the wood. The shepherd felt this and immediately calmed down. The staff had been through a lot with him over the recent years. It was now just an old friend whose acquaintance allowed the shepherd to relax. He continued down the hill in stride.

On his feet were a pair of leather sandals. Much like the staff, the leather had worn down. Over years of use they had morphed to fit his feet quite well.

The shepherd had been walking for a good while now, yet the bottom of the valley seemed to be no closer. A small stab of panic snuck through him. He picked up the pace, not yet at a gate, but faster than a walk, he made his way down the slope, which, to his surprise, had gotten steeper. To keep this pace he was forced to be more deliberate about his steps, which in turn, made his steps choppy and awkward.

The shepherd looked around him, up the sides of the mountains that engulfed the valley, cradled it, and held it in its palm. He looked down the gorge that split the mountains. Up the river, he could see a waterfall that fell straight down a steep face. Everywhere he looked, he saw what was eventually a shear cliff, he saw danger, and he saw a treacherous journey. There was no mountain pass and there was no path to freedom.

Interrupted, the shepherd once again noticed the valley getting steeper. His sandals were now occasionally slipping on the grass, leaving his staff the only sure peice of support.

The shepherd thought of his staff and his sheep. They seemed a part of him that could never be separated. No matter what, they were a part of his life that defined who he was.

The thick grass had now become a mix of gravel and dirt. The small, sharp stones hurt his feet and caused an occasional step to slide out from under him. The falls only made the soreness in his back from sleeping under the tree even worse. Before long, his hands were thoroughly scratched raw from catching himself.

Although thoroughly distracted, the shepherd continued his conquest for connection. Sheep. He thought as one would think of there greatest attribute. He continued to think about them exclusively. The staff seemed to be nothing to him without the sheep. The sheep were uncontrollable without the staff. One without the other was only futility. The shepherd thought intensely about the connection between these, and this lead him to think of a name, Mathias, which seemed to hold great meaning, a meaning that was illusive yet obviously critical and dark.

The terrain was now somewhat of a boulder field, riddled with behemoths that would never move unless acted on by God himself and covered with loose stones precariously laid, but big enough to crush a man. The shepherd swore he never saw this from the top of the valley and continued on reluctantly, careful to avoid the peril around him, yet keeping pace to cross the valley. The stones were rough and hurt his already raw hands as they gripped the boulders. His sandals were doing very little for him. He could feel spots of heat over his heels and toes from the forming blisters. His knees were sore from the downhill walk. He was already heavily parched. He desperately needed to reach the river.

He began to leep from boulder to boulder, each vault seemed to be longer than the last. After a modest amount of time, the shepherd was struggling to jump to the next boulder. The boulder field was only getting more treacherous, steeper, with more loose stone. The shepherd was out of breath, exhausted, broken. He shimmied himself down the side of one of the boulders, his side burned as it slid over the rock. The sweat stung as it poured into his fresh wound. Below the boulders, he continued on through maze.

Occasionally ducking, the shepherd worked his way through the boulder field. His legs were cramping. But he continued, and he continued thinking sheep, staff, Matthias. Who was this Mathias? What does he have to do with the staff and the sheep? How could someone have a connection to what was so intimate to only himself? This Matthias was starting to bother the shepherd.

` The shepherd made his way out of the boulder field and the stream was revealed, but it was no small creek, but a raging torrent. It was no longer a dull roar.

The shepherd stopped. Overwhelmed with river before him, he could only stop and wonder and panic. How did the sheep cross the river? How will I cross the river? The shepherd looked around and sat down on the nicest sitting rock he could find, hands in his face, breathing heavy.

Wheezing, the shepherd thought thought about what was ahead of him, and what was behind him. How can I cross an uncrossable river? Who is Matthias? And the shepherd had a revelation, that the sheep and the staff and Matthias were connected somehow. And he thought about it harder, straining, struggling to put together the thoughts that his brain had simply cut off. His muscles ached and head hurt. He buried his head further into his hands, as if to relieve the pain. He tasted something funny in his mouth, which turned out to be blood from his bitten tongue.

The shepherd shot up with cadence. I need the sheep. Who am I without my sheep? And he took towards the part of the river that showed the most promise for crossing.

He jumped onto the first of many stones that cut across the river. The stone rough and held his sandal well against it. The shepherd crossed step by step, eager to be reconnected with his herd.

The shepherd came to a point where he was forced to step on a submerged rock. Using his staff as support, he slowly lowered his foot onto the stone. Immediately, the rivers cold embrace grabbed him and dragged him into the chaos and cold. The staff did little other than shatter under his weight and leave a bundle of thorns in his already numb hand.

The shepherd was tossed about, thrown into rocks, beaten. Gasping for breath, he barely kept his head above water long enough to breathe. The cold shot through him, rifling through his veins, crippling his muscles, cramping them into excruciating pain.

The shepherd was carried until the river calmed. He was dumped back on the first side of the valley, away from his sheep. He crawled up out of the river, his muscles seizing, his sides bruised and battered.

In those last few moments, the shepherd thought. He thought about his breathing, about the struggle it was to take a breath. He thought about his body, everything in pain, his muscles seizing. He even thought about his heartbeat, the knocking reduced to an awkward pitter patter, delayed and without tempo. He thought about Matthias. He thought about the evil and the injustice. He thought of the real shepherd, forcing the life out of him, a staff lying next to him, ripe for the taking. And he thought about himself. no-one.