Shepherd and the Warrior Cat

A Retelling of "Old Sultan" by the Grimm Brothers
by Rachel M Armington

When Shepherd was a puppy, he chased after his mother's heels as she patrolled the farm's boundaries each night. When his mother became too old to make her way past the barn, Shepherd walked the boundaries alone. Now he himself had grown old, and moved less quickly.

Shepherd was curled up with the cat when he heard the farmer planning to do away with him.

"Shepherd has lost all his teeth," the farmer told his wife. "He can't protect our sheep anymore. We will get rid of him, and find a younger dog."

"Get another dog for the fields, if you wish, but leave Shepherd alone," said the wife. "He deserves to spend his last years with a full plate and a warm bed."

The farmer knew his wife was always dropping morsels for Shepherd when they ate at the table. "We don't have enough food to spare for two dogs," grumbled the farmer. "This is Shepherd's last night."

Just then, their son ran up to them, and their talk turned to other things.

Cat yawned. "Bad news for you," she said to Shepherd.

"You are just as old as I am!" said Shepherd. "You limp so slowly that the mice laugh when you chase them!"

"The mice don't want the farmer to get a younger cat," said Cat. "They are smart enough to hide themselves, so he still believes I am a great mouser!" She licked her long white fur into place, then fell asleep.

That night, Shepherd had trouble walking under the weight of his great sadness. He had always believed the farmer loved him as well as he loved the farmer.

As he was patrolling the north field, a wolf called out to him. "Hello, Cousin," said Wolf, "why do you walk so slowly? Most nights you walk too quickly for me to talk with you."

A red fox ran out from under a bush. "Cousin," asked Fox, "why does your tail droop so low that it trails in the dirt?"

"The farmer no longer loves me," said Shepherd. "Tomorrow he will kill me and find a new dog."

Wolf and Fox glanced at each other. They preferred to keep away from people, but everyone knew how important the dog was to the farmer.

"Your trouble is easily fixed," said Wolf.

Fox nodded. "The farmer's son goes out to the barn every morning to feed the sheep."

"Tomorrow morning, I will come into the yard," said Wolf. "I will snarl and snap my jaws at the boy. You will bark and growl as loudly as you can. When I turn and run away, the farmer will believe that you saved his son's life."

The next day, the wolf leapt out at the farmer's son as he walked from the barn. Shepherd, as he was every morning, was at the boy's heels. He barked and growled and threw himself at Wolf.

The farmer ran into the yard to see what all the noise was about. He saw Shepherd chase the Wolf into the woods.

The farmer knelt to hold Shepherd in his arms. "From now on, you will sleep on the pillow from my bed," said the farmer. "You will always have food from our table."

That night, Shepherd patrolled around the farm's boundaries as he always did. Wolf and Fox joined him when he passed through the north field.

"You will be well fed for the rest of your life," Wolf said. "But Fox and I never know where our next meal will come from. Tonight, I will sneak into the barn and pick out a fine sheep. The farmer is so grateful that you saved his son that he won't care about losing a sheep every now and then."

"Stay away from the sheep," said Shepherd. "I may be old, but I can still bark! If you go near the barn, I'll wake the farmer."

"You would betray me, after I helped you!" snarled Wolf. "The next time you pass through the north field, be prepared to fight me and Fox! Then we can have as many sheep as we want!"

Cat was again grooming her long white fur when Shepherd came back. "I'm safe from the farmer, but tomorrow night Wolf and Fox will kill me," said Shepherd. "I can't bite without teeth, and the north field is too far away for the farmer to hear me bark!"

"Two against one isn't fair," said Cat. "You must take someone with you to fight by your side!"

"You are my only friend," said Shepherd.

Cat licked the last stray tuft of fur into place and sighed. "Of course, I will go with you," she said after a moment. "If you were to die, I wouldn't have anyone to curl up with!"

That night, Shepherd and Cat set out to patrol the farm's boundaries. Cat limped so slowly that Shepherd had to stop and wait for her every few feet. "I'm sorry I'm so slow," Cat said. "Perhaps Wolf and Fox will get tired of waiting for you."

Wolf and Fox were waiting, but not in the north field. "The fight would be easier for us if we surprised Shepherd," Fox suggested to Wolf. "We can see him coming from further away if we wait on the Big Rock on the hill."

Wolf nodded. "I can hide behind the rock so that he doesn't see me. I'll attack him from behind."

So Fox climbed on top of the Big Rock while Wolf hid in the shadows.

"Shepherd is coming," whispered Fox. "But he isn't alone!"

"I suppose that it's fair that he brought someone to fight beside him," said Wolf. "Is it another dog?"

Fox peered through the dark. He could just make out the shape of Cat's head. "I don't think so," Fox said. "I see two sharp points coming out of its head! It has horns!"

"Horns?" said Wolf.

The cat's white fur shone like metal under the moonlight. "The horns must be a helmet," said Fox. "Shepherd is bringing a warrior to fight us!"

Wolf hunched over his paws uneasily. "Is it a very big warrior?" Wolf asked.

"He is larger than me," said Fox, "but smaller than Shepherd."

"I'm larger than Shepherd," thought Wolf to himself, "so the warrior is smaller than me. The warrior may be big enough to harm Fox, but I'll be safe against him!"

Below the Big Rock on the hill, Shepherd and Cat kept making their way towards the north field. Cat held her long thin tail up straight in the air as she limped along.

Fox paced back and forth on top of the Big Rock. "A sword," Fox muttered. "The warrior carries a sword!"

"A sword?" asked Wolf.

"He holds the sword up against the light of the moon!" said Fox. "Even from here I can see clearly how sharp it is!"

"Shepherd has no teeth," Wolf thought to himself, "but his friend is carrying a sword. When we attack them, I'll make sure to go after Shepherd, and leave Fox to face the sword."

Meanwhile, poor Cat limped slowly behind Shepherd as they made their way towards the north field. Up and down, up and down, Cat limped over the moonlit ground.

"The warrior keeps bending down to pick up stones," muttered Fox. "He holds the sword high in one hand, yet reaches down and gathers stones with his other hand."

"Stones?" asked Wolf.

"Stones to throw at us!" squeaked Fox. "Stones to break our bones!"

"Even in the dark, the warrior will notice Fox's red fur before he notices me," Wolf thought to himself. "I will stay in the shadows, so that he aims all the stones at Fox."

"Attack quickly," Wolf called to Fox. "Don't give him a chance to throw a single stone!" Wolf crept further into the shadows.

"Fox!" Wolf called again. "Attack!"

Wolf heard branches snapping in the woods behind him. He peered up over the edge of the Big Rock. Fox had run away!

"Coward!" shouted Wolf. He turned and fled into the woods too!

When Shepherd and Cat reached the north field, there was no sign of Fox or Wolf. "I told you," said Cat. "We took so long, they decided not to wait."

"They won't let me off so easily," said Shepherd. "They will come after me again tomorrow night."

But in the morning, Shepherd saw Wolf circling the farm. Wolf bowed when Shepherd ran up to him. "Good Cousin," Wolf said. "I have come to make peace. I never wanted to fight with you. From now on, Fox and I will stay out of your way." Wolf turned and hurried away.

"How very strange!" Shepherd said to Cat. "That is why they weren't waiting in the north field. They didn't want to fight after all! What good cousins I have!"

He curled up next to her on the farmer's pillow while Cat groomed her long white fur.

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