A Missing Sheep – Part I
Arthema could feel that a very big storm was coming long before the first dark clouds appeared over the tall mountains in the north and the wind brought them cool salty air from the ocean beyond. She often had heard people say that they could smell it when rain was coming. But for her it was more like a tingling sensation in her stomach. Like standing on the edge of the Black Brick Bridge down the road to Wirough and looking over the parapet on the dark river dozens of feet below. Arthema wondered, not for the first time, why the Black Brick Bridge was called that. As far as she could tell, the bricks were all orange and brown. And if you repeated the name very often in succession, you could get a knot in your tongue. But whoever had built that bridge must have had a good reason to name it like that.
In any case, she had bigger problems than thinking about strange bridge names at the moment. The first problem – the coming storm – wouldn’t be so big if it wasn’t for the second one: a sheep was missing.
Just to be sure, she and her younger brother were moving through the herd of indifferent grazing sheep for the third time, counting them. “How many?” Arthema asked as they met in the center of the herd. One of the sheep looked up and bleated at them.
Finnán wrinkled his forehead, still counting with his fingers before he answered, “Eleven.”
She had only counted fourteen. With Finnán’s eleven it was one sheep less than they had led to pasture this morning. “Rotting Ratling-balls!” Arthema cursed.
“That’s one for the curse-jar!” her brother said.
She sighed. “Don’t tell mother or father.”
“Won’t. If,” he paused, looking up to her with a mischievous grin and continued, “I can have your berberries!”
She looked down at him, scowling. He was four years younger than her and still a head smaller but would be bigger in size than her in a few years. “Fine!” she said and ruffled his black hair. “That stupid curse-jar is full anyway and I can’t stand berberries!” She loved berberries. They tasted sweet like the first warm days of Eltos.
Her gaze wandered towards the large forest at the foot of the snow-covered mountains. The trees stretched for many miles to the borders of their land. It was called: The Northern Forest. ‘The people who named the bridge should have met those who named the forest,’ Arthema thought.
The timberline was maybe a quarter-hour walk away and the shadows of the trees stretched their dark fingers more and more their way. Adela was still shining, spending light and warmth, but she would soon be sleeping and then her sister Cora would rule the night. Finding a sheep in the forest was already hard but at nightfall with a storm over your head… If a falling branch did not kill her, a lightning strike surely would.
“Go get Ira and lead the sheep home,” she said. “The storm will be here soon.”
Finnán called for their sheepdog Ira. The big brown and furry dog barked from one end of the herd and trotted leisurely towards them. The sheep made room for the dog and then closed the gap immediately after her like she was wandering through a cornfield. Now and then a sheep bleated.
“And what will you do?” Finnán asked as Ira plopped down beside him, poking him in the side until he started petting her.
“Well, I will search for our missing sheep.”
Her brother looked as if he wasn’t pleased with her answer. “How do you always know that there will be a storm?” He stopped petting Ira and waved his arms around. “Adela is still shining, the sky is blue and there are no clouds to be seen and no wind is blowing!” In support of his arguments, Ira barked.