A story about sheep and fire

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there lived a sheep called Agnew who was king of the sheep. Of course this was a very long time ago when sheep were a pretty new thing and, in those days, sheep were very different. For a start, sheep had a king, which they don't nowadays living more as a sort of loose collective. Also, sheep, in those days, had no wool and they walked upright and talked and in fact were every bit as intelligent as the people of the time and, if anything, more peaceful. In actual fact, in those days it was pretty hard to distinguish sheep from people unless you asked them or talked to them for some time.

Agnew, as has been mentioned, was their king, and the most beloved and handsome of all the sheep. Many of the other sheep tried to imitate Agnew, as he was the most beloved sheep, by copying his ways of walking and his style of talking as Agnew strode and swam around Greece and the surrounding islands. (For, in those days, as everyone knows, sheeps lived only in Greece).

Despite the fact that he was dearly beloved, and propositioned by many beautiful sheep maidens (and many handsome sheep men) Agnew was not content. "I am restless," he said to his assembled sheep, "I long to achieve something worthy of my greatness. Something that will change, forever, sheep and sheep- kind. I want to challenge the very nature of sheepdom. I want a _quest_."

Of course all the other sheep were very excited by this as the world was still young then and nobody had ever been on a quest before. This was way before Jason and the Argonauts, before Odyseus, before even Gilgamesh and quests had not been heard of before and all the sheep were anxious to make their suggestions. Some suggested that Agnew should seek golden apples but nobody could agree whether this meant peaches or tomatoes. Some suggested that Agnew seek a golden fleece but he said he wouldn't know what to do with it. Some suggested he sought a beautiful sheep maiden (or a handsome sheep man) but Agnew said that these were in plentiful supply in Athens already. Some suggested he climbed Mount Olympus to visit the Gods (who had just moved there in those days) but Agnew said he wasn't going to do that without a damn good reason and apart from anything, Mount Olympus wasn't in Greece back then but in a less central location which the gods found tranquil and nobody really knew where it was. Some suggested that finding out what the quest was should be would be a quest in itself and Agnew told them to shut up and not be so silly. Finally, a small sheep called Merton, who had been listening all this time said "Why not go on a quest that would be useful for all sheep? We sheep do not want golden apples or fleeces or to climb mountains, we want green grass and blue water. You must find the land where the grass is greenest and the water is bluest."

Well, this suggestion met with a chorus of approval and all the sheep clapped their hands (for in those days sheep had hands) and shouted for joy because surely this was the quest that Agnew must undertake so that all sheep would be happy. Not knowing where to start and being a sheep of some wisdom, Agnew prayed to the god Hermes, who, in addition to his other responsibilities, was the god of sheep. Of course everyone wanted to meet such a brilliant sheep as Agnew and before long, Hermes himself had turned up to advise Agnew.

"Oh great god Hermes," said Agnew, "Where can I find the land where the water is bluest and the grass is greenest?"

"Follow your nose," replied Hermes, "And when you get there your quest will only just have begun but you will find a land which is paradise for sheep."

So that very day, on the god's advice, taking with him only the small sheep Merton (and a salt and pepper pot to sprinkle on his grass so it was good to eat) Agnew set out to find the land where the grass was greenest and the water was bluest. Following his nose Agnew first travelled across the sea to the land we now know as Italy where the sea was the deepest blue and Agnew was happy until he noticed that the grass, having been browned by the autumn sun was not the green he hoped for. "Come Merton," said the king of the sheep, "This is not the land the god spoke of."

Merton and Agnew walked north-west across Italy and across the alps coming eventually to the land we now know as France. It was winter in France and though the grass was green and tasty (especially with plenty of salt and pepper) but the water was grey and cold on the tongue. Though very tired from their long quest, Merton and Agnew realised that this too was not the land that Hermes had spoken of and that they must continue their quest.

Following Agnew's nose, they travelled across the channel to the place now known as Dover where the sea was (in those days) a beautiful blue in the spring sunlight but the grass was wiry and tough and, even with plenty of salt and pepper, tasted horrible. Disappointed, Merton and Agnew continued their quest north-west until finally, as summer arrived, they came to the mythical land of Cumbria.

Well, as you can imagine, as soon as they set eyes on the place, they fell in love with it. The green Cumbrian grass and the blue Cumbrian lakes were clearly the sheep paradise of which Hermes had spoken. Agnew and Merton rested for a while on the slopes of Scafell eating the lush green grass and drinking the crystal blue water. "This land is truly a paradise for sheep," said Agnew, "I will stay here to rule over it, while you, Merton, fetch the rest of my subjects to live in Cumbria with us forever." So Merton, weary but seeing the sense in this arrangement, trotted off back towards Greece to fetch the rest of the sheep while Agnew set about exploring the rest of Cumbria and eating the green green grass (with plenty of salt and pepper).

As Agnew rested and explored Cumbria (and Merton scampered back to Greece) he noticed that the weather began to change. Now, in those days, as I have mentioned, sheep walked upright and had no fleece (and indeed no clothes because they lived in the warm lands around Athens). As summer changed into autumn and autumn changed into winter, Agnew grew colder and colder and began to shiver through the long Cumbrian nights and though he still thought that Cumbria was a paradise for sheep he thought also that he might not survive so many cold nights and when it snowed for the first time, he prayed again to Hermes who, you will remember, in addition to his other duties, was the god of sheep. Within an instant, Hermes appeared to the sheep king and listened calmly to what Agnew had to say. After Agnew had finished telling Hermes of his woes, the god spoke to him saying: "Fear not, brave sheep, for very close at hand is something that will solve your problem. Believe it or not, you are very close to Mount Olympus (although we are considering relocating to a more central location). The gods have something on the mountain that will help you with your coldness problem, an invention they call Fire. Be sure to read the user manual first, and don't let them see you take it."

Well, Agnew was worried at first by the idea of stealing from the gods, since he was sure it would lead to bad karma but he was so very cold that he set off up Mount Olympus (which was, in those days, pretty close to Scafell). He was so tired and cold that at first he though he would die before he reached the top of the mountain but before too long, he could make out some red flickering far away. As he got near, he saw it was a pile of logs, and, on top of them, flickering, was the fire. Shivering and grateful he warmed himself by the fire but, foolish sheep, ignored the user manual which Hermes had left nearby. Of course the gods always punish such folly and it wasn't long before disaster struck.

As Agnew was sprinkling salt and pepper on some particularly tasty Cumbrian grass which was growing on the slopes of Mount Olympus he sniffed and inhaled some of his pepper. "Achoo," he sneezed, scattering pepper into the fire and so startled was he by the sudden crackling that ensued as a handful of pepper went into the fire that he fell forward and his hair went into the fire with the pepper.

Poor Agnew. If only he had read the user manual about the dangers of using pepper near fire. As it was though, his hair was on fire and he was on the top of Mount Olympus in Cumbria. Crying with pain, he ran as fast as he could all the way down the mountain with his head on fire. Unable to stop or think of what to do he ran through the villages of Cumbria crying out and all the villagers were awed to see such a beautiful sheep with its head on fire.

Eventually, the flames spread down onto his sparse chest hair, his hands and his feet. Agnew was in agony. Fortunately, a quick thinking youth from Cumbria, known as Prometheus took action and wrestled Agnew to the ground using ancient Cumbrian wrestling techniques and attacked the fire with the first thing that came to hand -- a broom. Although he did not know it, Prometheus was doing exactly the right thing and, soon he had beaten the fire out (although his broom caught light in the process).

Poor poor Agnew! He was in such pain and so badly burned and also, again, he was freezing to death. Fortunately, Prometheus saw the sheep's problem and immediately covered him with a thick furry coat that he wore to keep away the chill of the Cumbrian winter. As Prometheus kept his fire (and carefully read the user manual) and tended to the ailing sheep king, winter turned to spring and eventually to summer. When Merton and the other sheep arrived from Athens they found their king dreadfully changed. He was burned so horribly on his stomach that he could only walk hobbled over on all fours. His hands and feet, once so beautiful now resembled nothing more than hooves. All the time, whether he needed to or not, he wore a furry coat and, so traumatised was he by his experience, that to any question, he could only answer a disgruntled "Bah!". His sheep, however, being tremendously loyal creatures, to spare him any social embarrasment this might occasion, imitated their king and behaved exactly like him. The gods of course, were deeply embarrased by the whole incident and never mentioned it again. A few months later they moved to Greece (taking Mount Olympus with them).

That is why, to this day, (deep breath):


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