One day Old Ben was walking the verdant fields next to Fineditch Valley, thoughtfully mulling over a new way of telling one of his best stories ―for a person can only tell the same story so many times before people start to notice― when suddenly he came across a shepherdess who was leaning against a wooden fence and sighing forlornly. Old Ben knew her as Sally, a girl who had never missed a story-telling when she was a child and her face had become quite familiar to him.
“Sally, my girl,” he cried, “whatever is the matter?”
“Oh, hello Old Ben.” replied Sally. “It’s these sheep, actually.” and as she said this, she gestured to the field behind her which was full of tatty-looking sheep whose wool was so unkempt they looked like unraveling balls of yarn. “They just aren’t eating. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but they just stand there looking nervous. I even tried bringing them ’round to the other side of the fence, thinking they might be tempted by greener pastures only now I wonder if it isn’t greenest on that side, after all.”
“Colors can often be deceptive,” said Old Ben, nodding sagely, “but even more deceptive is the mind of a sheep. Did I ever tell you the tale of Daniel the sheep whisperer?”
“No!” said Sally, her face brightening for she had always loved Old Ben’s stories and thought she had heard all of them already. “Do tell me, please!”
Well, said Old Ben, he wasn’t always extremely knowledgeable about sheep. In fact, he wasn’t extremely knowledgeable about anything at all and everyone in the village recognized him as the stupidest man alive ―and in those days competition for this position was stiff indeed. Still, when it came to sheep, he was even more out of his depth than usual and the only whispering he ever got around to was in attempting to pass sweet nothings to the ears of his true love, Sandra, the shepherdess.
Sandra was, naturally, stunningly beautiful and Daniel felt lucky to have found someone who so frequently tolerated him that he was convinced that something of affection burned behind that long-suffering look in her eyes. For her part, Sandra felt that she had found someone who kept her expectations suitably low, which was always a plus when dealing with the other men in the village and at least he bathed regularly.
It was as near a perfect match as either of them could have hoped for, but right from the outset it seemed as though providence was opposed to their union for they had no money with which to hold a proper wedding ―or even a less than usually improper one.
The problem was this: Daniel, whose intellect was unfavorably matched against even the local flora, had no skills with which to earn a living. He had ambitions a-plenty, of course, but lacked even the skill to realize such lofty goals as learning to dress himself in the morning without the detailed instructions that he kept faithfully on his night-stand.
It would therefore be up to Sandra to provide both for herself and any future husband she might deign to take if she felt like it. However, therein lay the problem: poor Sandra was having a terrible time with her flock. For reasons she couldn’t explain, all of them had suddenly stopped eating so that they had begun to look very sickly, with scraggly, patchy wool and rather dull expressions ―well, duller than usual.
To make matters worse, the dragon that guards the Northern Spring seemed to find them all the more appetizing in this state. He would come at night and Sandra would hear a great deal of satisfied crunching and, in the morning, she would wake up to find that she had one fewer sheep and that those who were left seemed edgier than they had the day before.
I think it speaks to the enormity of the problem that, despite her opinion of him ―and of men in general― Sandra poured her heart out to her potentially beloved, Daniel, telling him of her woes and very nearly going so far as to ask him for help. She realized, of course, at the last minute, how pointless this would be and thought better of it but Daniel, for whom being foolishly in love was actually a marked improvement, detected the implications of her tone and decided that he would come to her rescue.