Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century
The winter of last night posed a mere warning that the season is turning. All day a southern breeze breeches the ridge from the valley. It would have been a good day to continue our journey.
Alone, I was able to move the sheep into the night pasture where the horses graze. I’ve spent this day inspecting each sheep and gathering a sack of dung to make a watch fire for this night. I wonder if I’ve been forgotten here, if my patron has found a more needy man to care for? Surely someone will remember these sheep — I imagine.
This new morning I’m still at the tasks feeding and watering the horses, and setting the sheep to pasture when here is Nic, walking alone on the ridge. I shout. He turns toward me, not speaking until he is near.
“The shepherd has no more raging; he just cries loud and long and inconsolably. The dog and the donkey are more comfort for him than I.”
“What happened?” I asked. “Where did you go?”
“Look beyond those hilltops. Do you see the smoke rising?”
“It looks like someone has a home and hearth over there.”
“Yes. When we first came the shepherd was dealing with his worst fear, that the smoke of his family home was no longer rising where he could see it above the hills. Two days before, he left his father in a fit of rage, and admits he was running away when he injured his foot so couldn’t walk back to make amends. He watched for the smoke to be the sign that everything was all right. But he saw no smoke. We showed up amid his worry and even in the cold storm there was still no smoke. His fear was that his father’s powerless raging was, in truth, his last gasp of life.
And it was just as the shepherd feared. When we arrived at the house his father was dead, probably a few days before, maybe even as the shepherd was running away. I buried the shepherd’s father in the best grave I could cut into the mountain, but it was a shallow grave, so the shepherd and the donkey gathered stones. All that while, and all night long and maybe even now, the shepherd wails his goodbyes to his only family. I am so little comfort for him so I came back up here.”