A young shepherd stumbled down the hillside and ran into his village, crying, “WOLF!!” WOLF!!”
No one believed him. Why would they? This was the third time in as many days.
The first time they believed him.
Why would they not?
Their flocks had been growing as the price of wool sailed through the roof and luck like that can never to be trusted. Things had been going too well for too long. They were due for a change and a wolf was just the kind of bad luck one could expect.
So when the boy cried wolf, they timidly took up pikes and pitchforks and set off trembling into the dark forest to confront the onset of their ill fortune – but they found no trace – not a shadow among the pines, not a paw-print in the mud.
The next time the lad came stumbling down the hillside, they believed him once more and set out again with pikes and pitchforks.
This time no one was fooled and only the shepherd’s father came out to greet him, slapping his thick leather belt against the palm of his hand.
“But I did see a wolf,” the boy cried.
His father motioned him to come closer.
The boy gauged the distance to his father, anticipating that in the next step or the one after that he would feel the belt.
Instead, the growl of a rough, unfamiliar voice intervened on his behalf.
“What did the wolf look like?” it asked.
The boy looked up into a face as weathered as an old stump. It’s nose was long and hooked, better suited to a hawk than a man – but the eyes were as bright as the blade of a sharp knife.
The boy inched closer to his father. Better to be beaten by someone you know than be caught in a lie by someone you do not.
“Go ahead, boy, tell the hunter what you saw,” his father said.
“It was big, sir.”
“Of course it was big – but tell me about its color. Was it gray?”
“Gray as twilight, sir.”
“And did he wear a patch of white on his neck and chest?”
“He did, sir, like a bib.”
The hunter turned to the gathering crowd of villagers. “I know this wolf.” he said. “and he does not travel alone.”
“But we found no trace of wolf.” the villagers said.
“You wouldn’t,” the hunter said, “his pack drifts among the pines like smoke on a breeze, but like smoke, you know it by its scent – and I smell wolves.”
“Are we safe in the village?” a young mother asked.
“For a time,” the hunter said. “but once the pack finishes the sheep on the hill, it will come for the lambs in the village.”
The mother gasped and tightened her hold on her children.
“Bar the gate,” a village elder cried out, “and man the watch.”
The hunter shook his head, “That will only buy you time. The wolves will wait you out and as you venture beyond your stockade for food or water, they will pick you off.”
“What can we do?” the villagers cried.
“That is entirely up to you,” the hunter said, “either abandon your homes or kill the wolves before they kill you.”
“But we are shepherds,” a village elder said. “not wolf killers.”
“I am truly sorry for you then,” the hunter said, picking up his pack to leave.
“Won’t you help us?” the villagers wailed.
“I’d be a fool to confront that pack alone and I refuse to hunt with the likes of you,” he said.
“Are we then to abandon our homes?” the villagers asked.
“Yes,” said the hunter, “unless you can hire enough of my kind to save you.”
“And what would the cost of that be?” the village elder asked.
“We can speak of that later,” the hunter said, “first you need to bring your sheep back into the village.”
Later that afternoon, the hunter found the shepherd boy searching for strays in a remote ravine.
“Only two people know you lied about the wolf, you and me,” he said.
“No, I really did see…” the boy stammered.
“There may not be a wolf but there is money,” the hunter said – and reaching toward his scabbard, he glared at the boy with eyes like steel
“But first we need a victim to raise the price.”
Moral: Crying wolf, attracts wolves.