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Country years ago

There was still a muted half-light, the east a clear, deep blueness, the west a pallid glow, when Cadfael went out to climb to the nearer crest and bring down the ewes already heavy with lamb. They were few but precious, once in a while they even dropped twins, and with care both survived. Cadfael discerned a deep and tranquil satisfaction in the shepherd's life. The children of his solicitude were seldom killed, unless disease, injury or decrepitude threatened, or in time of desperation the flock could not all be fed through the winter. Their wool and milk were of more value than their meat, and their precious skins could be garnered only once, and better when for distress they had to be slaughtered. So they remained through their natural lives, growing into familiarity and affection, trusting and being understood, even acquiring names. Shepherds had a community of their own, peopled with gentle, obstinate, quiet companions, who did no murder, theft or banditry, broke no laws, made no complaints, fuelled no rebellions.

All the same, he thought, climbing the hill in long, easy strides, I could not be a shepherd for long. I should miss all the things I deplore, the range and grasp of man for good and evil. And instantly he was back with the struggles and victories and victims of the day. - Ellis Peters, Monk's Hood


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