The Sheep Pen series was the first serial story I have ever written, and the first one I completed. It was a story that really tugged at my heart, and I once teared when I wrote it (just like one of the Mistress’s Child story). It was a story of a loyal dog, one that did all it could for its pasture, amidst a master that could not care less.
There once was a dog, a tough mean sheepdog in its prime. It had suffered when its previous master passed away, leaving it to fend for itself. It came under the notice of the steward of this rich man, who’s looking for good sheepdogs for her master’s growing flock of sheep. She loved this sheepdog, and promised that, as long as it watched the sheep well, it would be loved and taken care of. She told the dog that, even though it was not a pedigree, it would be loved and taken care of as long as it was loyal.
The sheepdog proudly strolled into the pasture, and its keen senses picked up many worrying signs. The pasture was full of potholes where the sheep could fall into, and it’s near a thick patch of forest, where it’s aware of the presence of wolves. It approached the forest carefully, smelled the trails, and realised that it needed more sheepdogs by its side to fend against the wolves properly. Worse still, both the hireling shepherds slept on their watch.
The potholes could be easily filled up, no problem at all. And the shepherds did at least wake up whenever it barked, and they really loved and appreciated the sheepdog for his barks of warning. It duly went back to the steward, and showed her the problems. She promised a solution. The sheepdog promised her that it’d tend to the flock, even though the hireling shepherds slept. And it was glad when another sheepdog came by to partner it.
The sheepdog soon realised that, while the steward had good intentions, the master was not interested in tending the pasture. No, the sheep were reared not for their wool but for slaughter, and as long as new lambs took over, he did not really care. The sheepdog was shocked – its previous master really cared for his sheep, because he reared them for their wool.
Nothing was done about the potholes. Sheep were injuring themselves in them, and the wily wolves were quick in snatching the sheep away to the forest. The sheepdog did its best, using his nose and body to push the hard rocks to cover as many potholes as it could. It tried to warn the hireling shepherds, that they needed to move the sheep away from the forest, to find a niche, rather than span the pasture – but its barks fell upon empty ears.
During these tough years, often hungry, often lacking in sleep, the sheepdog had chances of moving to the forest, where the wolves showed it respect, and had made overtures of welcome into their fold. The sheepdog remembered the love that the steward had shown it, and the promise it had made. Twice, it had come close to the forest and smelled its wild air, and had returned to the pasture.
A new shepherd soon replaced one of the hireling shepherds. He loved the sheepdog, and together they were a fearsome team – the wolves had to beat a retreat but there were still too many of them. The shepherd asked the master for money to fix the potholes. When there were no answer and he went ahead, using his own shovel to dig up the earth to cover them (he had strong arms) – he was admonished for using the shovel without permission, and the shovel taken away from him.
The sheepdog found himself having to cover even more ground as the grass thinned and the sheep were turned to even wider pastures, even closer to the forest. Worse still, this also required the sheepdog to cover areas of the pastures it did not have the time to explore properly. It was very tough, for the wolves would attack at areas it could not see. The sheepdog was alarmed, and gave warnings of the danger. It was instead asked to watch over a young nephew of the master at that critical juncture.
The young nephew brought so much grief to the sheepdog, tearing at its fur and causing much pain. No matter how much love the sheepdog showed to the young nephew, he just would not change. The master saw the the sheepdog could not watch over his nephew, and beat it with a stick. He said that the sheepdog was useless, and must go for further training. The sheepdog was puzzled – was it not trained under the previous shepherd? No, the master insisted that he could not recognise the training. The dog must be trained the way the shepherd wanted it to be trained.
The dog was then shown the delicious food that the master had cooked – only to be told that the food would never go to it, but to other dogs that he’s bringing in. Dogs that would not bark at him, and tell him to fix potholes. Dogs of pedigree, with fur groomed to their nicest, unlike that plain lousy sheepdog. Yes, only the pedigree dogs deserve the nicest and most delicious food. The plain lousy sheepdog would have to feed on the scraps left over.
The dog looked to the steward, only to realise that there’s nothing she could do. The dog looked to the shepherd, only to realise that he’s probably in a worst state than it. Within its heart, it whimpered and cried as it realised that the steward could no longer keep her promise. It was very, very heartbreaking for the sheepdog. It realised that, no matter how hardworking and intelligent it was, it was still a plain dog. Its master preferred pedigreed dogs that did not bark. It had kept its promise, but keeping the promise had meant nothing at all.
The attraction of the forest started to become stronger and stronger. The sheepdog held back and looked at the sheep. If it were to join the wolves, the master would have bigger problem retaining these sheep. It looked at the steward again. She had loved him, and still loved him, even though she could not keep her promise.