Historical setting: Crossing the Pyrenees in the 6th Century C.E.
The shepherd nears this ridge as the scattered sheep have forgotten their hurry away from mayhem and are distracted by grazing. The shepherd is a ragged young man in fleece, hobbling with a clumsily wrapped foot. He seems reluctant to accept our offer to help him gather his sheep back, and at the same time seems as awed by our horses as was his dog. He just stares intently at the leather braids that tether Nic’s saddle to The Rose.
“I need those leathers.” He finally speaks. These few words are barely Roman. He has mastered the Latin “I need” but mostly he uses gestures.
“What do you mean?” Nic asks.
Pointing again to the leathers Nic has tied onto the horse – “I need those.”
“They keep the saddle on my horse so I can’t lend them to you just now. But we have a twist of hemp rope; perhaps you can use a rope?”
“Leather thongs would be better than a rod for training my dog. [note] Before I can strike with the rod and he runs off. If I had a whip of leathers I could…” he gestures rolling a whip in his hand. “I could whip him into finer courage.” He speaks that word clearly in the Roman vernacular, ”Courage.”
“Courage?” I have to ask. “How can a whipping bring courage?”
“It’s how I got my courage. Whenever my father sees me cowering or trying to run he gives me a good lashing. Now when I think I’m afraid I tighten my jaw and fight back. Before I got trained to courage I was a fast runner but a very bad fighter.”
“And now,” I wonder looking at his broken body, “you are a good fighter?”
“Better at fighting than running.”
“I don’t think my friend Laz gets it.” Nic offers. “I never knew my father, but I’ll bet he would’ve also been teaching the courage that comes with blades and fangs and lashes of leather.”
The pasture grasses lean over in the new easterly breeze with a calm as a storm gathers in the north. The horses have forgotten their terror of a dog, and the dog is soft at the side of the donkey. The donkey isn’t braying just now. And the three human beings make a circle of conversation. So in the calm of the moment I ask, “What is courage?”
(The story continues Tuesday, November 3)
[Note (Thank you, Sandy for sharing your information on training a Great Pyrenees.)] “A Great Pyrenees would probably not show fear except by barking even more fiercely, though it might back away somewhat. He would not give up his dignity and control (in his mind)… The shepherd needs to know that you cannot train a Great Pyrenees to do much except for food and praise. They are very independent and focused on the needs of the herd. The dog might run away if the shepherd uses leather straps to try to train him, as this would belie all the good in their relationship. I have had enough foster dogs that were mistreated earlier in their lives – it does permanent damage. They do not forget and never trust humans again.”