Nico accompanied the Shepherd as they walked through the column. There were many people there, around them, but no one dared to obstruct the way, obviously thanks to the presence of the Shepherd; not that this barred them from sending a variety of accusatory, mean glares, or curious looks, of all sorts of flavors and types. It was as if at any time, someone could jump at him and a mob would form to beat him to death.
...Or this was just his impression, as the Shepherd walked straight and secure of himself, apparently without any fear in his mind. Maybe he was just used to keeping his posture anywhere all of the time, and knew that no one would dare to lay a finger at him.
“So… how can I begin this…” the Shepherd sighed as he slowed down, matching his pace to Nico’s.
At that moment, Nico wanted to turn his head around and avoid looking at the Shepherd’s face at any cost, but on the other side… All these people’s stares, he wanted to avoid them even more, so, even if hesitantly, he gulped down and listened to whatever the Shepherd had to say.
“There’s been a long time since I last saw something like that happening…” he said, his face assuming a dark semblance. “I must’ve been around my twenties or thirties, it was a time of great strife. There was no order in the Flock, and chaos reigned.”
A distant memory of his father came to him. He would always say that the past was a very dark place, and that this was why he wanted to build a future which is bright. According to his father, this was why he took such a long time to have him: he was too occupied working to guarantee that his son would grow up with the brightest future possible ahead of him. It would also always be at these moments that his mother would interrupt and say that if he had kept putting so much of his time into this, he wouldn’t have any son to live this future to begin with. Despite all of that though, he hadn’t ever mentioned what exactly happened at that time, and the only time Nico asked him, his father said that “there’s no use to chain yourself to the past. It’s better to just live in the present and work for the future.”
“You see, there wasn’t always a single shepherd. That is, there should only be one, but there were more than that, and no one could agree on who to follow.”
That was a weird topic. Why was he telling him that? Actually, why was he treating him so well since he knocked at his door? Shouldn’t he be punishing him?
“At that time, the people were poor, poorer than the poorest man of today, and they thought, or at least claimed that these acts could bring everyone out of this misery, even though they only perpetrated it, and as no one could agree on what to do, as no one could agree on who to follow, on what rules to obey, no one could keep order and bar them from doing this. They roamed free, executing their violence in the name of false gods and false truths, as the true faith wasn’t there, to rule fairly and uncontested.”
For a moment, Nico once again remembered the words the Shepherd had said months ago: ‘Deviant ideas only bring misfortune’.
He definitely was right when he said this, why didn't he listen to him before?
…At least he now knew he wasn’t the worst offender, he thought.
“Then, I had a revelation, and starting from that moment I knew what was the real truth of the gods and what I had to do. Slowly, I managed to set things right, and I promised to myself that I wouldn’t ever allow such lawlessness to reign again. I once had a name, but starting from the day I made that promise, I abandoned it. I became the Shepherd, and only that. But…”
He finally stopped walking. At this point, they were already past the many tents around the pillar, and stood at the top of a hill, which looked over at the Flock.
He took out a small coal rock out of a small pocket at the side of his robe and crouched. At the ground, he started to write something.
“But today I failed. ‘1. Thou shalt pray and make your sacrifices to the gods’, ‘2. Life is sacred, so thou shalt not kill’, ‘3. Thou shalt not rob or destroy what is of others’, ‘4. Thou shalt respect the gods, and refrain from blasphemy’, ‘5. Thou shalt respect marriages, and refrain from adultery’,” the Shepherd said as he wrote these same five things on the ground.
These weren’t all of them, but they were the main, most important ones. The main rules that governed the Flock. The reflection of the light gave a timid bluish glow to them, leading to an almost sacred feeling.
“These were, among other things, what they said to me. What I had to maintain, the law I had to uphold, so we wouldn’t ever go back to that period of misery and chaos, and, for decades, I did so successfully, but now… Now, for the first time in ages, things slipped out of my control, even if for only a moment, and these people did this.”
He turned himself to Nico, who now could feel, in the Shepherd’s very face, a genuine sense of guilt.
“…Sorry,” he said, although very clearly, in a weak and low voice.
The Shepherd was asking him sorry, in such a painstakingly honest manner, he couldn’t stand this.
He turned his face somewhere else, looking at the sea of small tents in the distance, displayed around the massive pillar of crystals and rocks, where people, as small as grains of salt when observed from the hill, climbed to make their living.
He wondered for a moment: what would be of these people if they didn’t follow any kind of code? What would be of them if they didn’t all agree that what they brought to the ground themselves was theirs and no one could take it? If they didn’t all agree that when they use someone’s mechanism to help take things to the ground they should pay for it? If they didn’t all agree that it was fair that the needy could receive a share of the Shepherd's food and they couldn’t? Wouldn’t that be bad for everyone? Wouldn’t only one person who doesn’t follow these rules already hinder everyone’s activities?
If so, then why had he, just like that, decided that he would go against what everyone said? Why did he want so badly to go against the Shepherd? Why did he want so badly to be free from what the Shepherd said?
Other lands, different from this. Other people, different from the Flock.
Why did he one day want them so much to be real? Why did he one day believe in them?
“Shouldn’t you support that mob? I broke the sacred law, didn’t I? I committed blasphemy.”
The Shepherd was taken aback for a moment. After all of what he had said, Nico was asking why didn’t he support such brutality? Worse yet, did he think he should do so?
“They tried to commit violence against you, and it wasn’t mandated by the gods. Actually, by claiming to exert divine justice in punishing you, without I condoning it as a representative of the gods, they were nearly committing blasphemy themselves.”
“That doesn’t change what I did, does it?”
“Tell me something, do you still believe there’s someone outside of the Flock?”
For a moment, Nico stayed silent.
Did he still think that way?
This only brought him disgrace, didn’t it?
Why would he still believe in it?
At that moment, he heard a voice say something in his mind.
He chose to ignore it.
“No, I don’t.”
Holding Nico’s shoulders, the Shepherd turned his body towards him. He looked right into his eyes, with a certain vigour in them which pressed Nico to say the truth, and only the truth. Then, he asked “Really?”
At that moment, Nico gulped down and, without avoiding the Shepherd’s gaze even once, said:
The moment these words came out of his mouth, Nico felt a twinge of pain in his heart. Was that really right?
“It’s not” that previous voice said.
It is, he told himself.
“Then you’re fine. You’re not doing anything wrong at the moment, so it’s alright …I knew Theo’s son wouldn’t be led astray. You were probably just confused after your parents death,” he said. “…In most other circumstances though, you would have fared a lot worse. Be aware of what you do from now on.”
…So, that meant the only reason he was even alive was his father’s name.
“Do you think my father would ever do something like what I did?” he asked the Shepherd.
“Your father? There’s no way. He was such a good person that if I were weaker of heart even I could get envious.”
Looking at the Flock arranged at the ground, around the great pillar, he once again took notice of how tiny they were. The great pillar stood many, uncountable times higher than a person, and this world was unimaginably bigger than what the entire Flock could occupy. They were but a small, insignificant point in a great, gray tapestry.
It was the Shepherd’s duty to guide them through this. And it was their duty to obey.
No matter how much it pained in his heart, how his soul wanted to scream, how a part of him yelled at his mind “you are wrong!”, there hadn’t been anyone helping him that day, there wasn’t any land beyond the Sky and the walls around this world, and he should stop dreaming about them.
His father knew this, and he should’ve been the same.
“I’m lucky you were this kind to me.”
“You’re not lucky. You shouldn’t have to pass through this to begin with.”
“You were the one who made them disperse from around my tent, weren’t you? If it wasn’t for you, I would be dead.”
“No, they didn’t have the courage to kill you, so it might have ended up the same if I didn’t intervene. The truth is, if they didn’t fear killing someone, they could’ve put your tent on fire or torn it apart rather easily with the amount of people they had.”
So, wouldn’t this classify him as lucky already? He brought this plague upon them, and remained alive and well up until now, when he could receive pardon.
“But… Why did they fear killing me?”
“Wouldn’t you fear to destroy something which is sacred such as life?”
“Then it all comes to you, doesn’t it? They feared it because of your words.”
The Shepherd shaked his head, and humbly said:
“They’re not mine words, they’re the god’s words. In an ideal world, the people wouldn’t need a shepherd, they would know enough to obey the god’s will without needing any guide… And that world, it is one I wish to one day create.”
If the people were once led to misery by false beliefs, the day everyone follows the real truth correctly, the world would turn into an utopia.
That meant that, as long as this pain remained in his heart, as long as he couldn’t just accept the truth fully and wholeheartedly, he would be an obstacle to this.
If he only was like his father, and just did what was right…
“Idiot, you’re going against everything he stood for.”
…Then things would be alright.