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Shadows

The shepherd walked slowly with the help of his long wooden stick. The little grass that remained underfoot had frozen already. He knew his little lamb was nearby; he had heard her pleading cries just moments before. She was silent now, and he feared for the worst, but he would not give up the search until he had found her.

His searching gaze tried to pierce the surrounding darkness. It was nearly prayer time, and he would be expected back at the village. As he walked, almost randomly, but with purpose, his mind wandered to the events that had led him to this country.

Long ago, he remembered, he was just a young boy when Danish invaders had attacked his village, a village much like the one he knew to lay on the other of the hill he stood upon. They had killed many of the villagers, but had taken the children, he among them. After a dreadful sea voyage that had seemed to last for months, they had arrived at a beautiful port full of wooden ships with colored sails. Seagulls by the thousands littered the skies around the returning fishing boats. Long wooden tables on the docks bore the many fishes they had caught. He had been scared to death, having, all of his long life of nine years, heard tales of Danish cruelty. In his excitement, however, he had forgotten to fear, and as he beamed from ear to ear at the spectacle before his eyes, he had not noticed the faint smile traced on the ship captain's lips.

The surviving children had been separated, placed with families, taught the whip and the labors of slavery, except him. The captain had taken him as booty, war spoils for a dangerous campaign. As the children had died, one by one, under the whip and of malnutrition, he had learned the trade of the seaman. As others had replaced the slaves of war, from different lands, he had been lucky, blessed, to live a life of pain, surely, but also a life of learning, of excitement.

He had displayed his knowledge, his skill, and when his ship had become the fastest on all the northern seas, he had been rewarded, honored, that the fiercest Danish war parties hired his ship for their raids. He too, once, saw a young boy stare in wonder at the ships in the harbor, and, true to his calling, he had saved him from an ungrateful death and had taught him his trade. The young man, a Briton by his accent, had learned well, and his skill, too, had become famous on the northern seas.

His old master had retired, and had lived his last years in the town, surrounded by old men and young women, in drinking and eating until at last the hand of the maker had taken him away. He too, in time, had left the sea and his ship and the armor-clad captains of the land of the Danes. He had returned to his village and had bought some sheep. And on cold nights, alone, he would watch the sea, and glimpse, on occasion, a Danish warship slithering silently along the Scottish coast, the land of his fathers.

And he would smile.

But tonight, another needed him. A few more steps took him to a ridge, and he found the little lamb, shivering with cold, and wrapped her in his long coat.

As he walked down the path back to the village, he thought he saw a silhouette against the ocean's horizon, but it was just a shadow. He prayed, that night, for people far away. For a young Briton, a friend in armor, a once pretty maid. All of who were the enemies of his people.

And he prayed for his people too, who, in their ignorance, cursed the shadows on the ocean's horizon.

© 1997 Christopher Mahan