A little bird told the Bear that there was a strange man in the woodlands, and offered to lead the Bear to him. Sure enough, the Bear found a man with a shepherd's crook trapped in a briar patch. In response to his request for help, the Bear told him that having found his way into a briar patch, it was by far the best for him to find his own way out.
The Bear watched him gingerly work his way through the briar patch, with many a stick and scratch, which he bore patiently. Eventually he was free, and introduced himself to the Bear as Barcala the Shepherd. He sought the Bear's assistance in a rather delicate matter. Much to his embarassment, his sheep had rebelled against him.
"Having met you in a briar patch and wasted half an hour watching you extricate yourself, the Bear wonders how you expect to lead sheep if you cannot lead yourself!"
Barcala the Shepherd hung his head, and examined the scratches on his arms. "I was leading my sheep, and when I looked back they were gone, and I was unlucky in finding this briar patch," Barcala explained.
"But the Bear doesn't see any sheep," the Bear observed, unable to keep a tone of amusement out of his voice.
"No," Barcala confessed. "They have not been listening to me lately, and apparently stopped following, and I had not noticed. I was hoping you would come back with me and discuss the matter with them, since everyone knows you are a guide and protector of animals here about."
"Most sheep don't trust Bears, but let's see what we may learn."
It was a long walk out of the woodlands and through scrubby land less than ideal for sheep before we found the flock. If sheep can look defiant, these were rebel sheep.
"Alright," the Bear said, "what's the problem here?"
"Not shep-her-her-herd," several of them cried.
"He's got a shepherd's crook, and unless the Bear is mistaken, that's a sling around his waist. He claims you as his flock. He looks like a shepherd to the Bear."
"Not shep-her-her-herd," the sheep repeated, more this time.
The shepherd was dismayed. "Ask them why they don't consider me their shepherd. Are they disputing my hire? Are they rejecting the normal sheep-shepherd relationship? They must be able to articulate some grounds, some theory for rejecting a shepherd who is officially provided to take care of them."
The Bear looked at the shepherd and had to chuckle. He did ask the questions the shepherd wanted him to ask, however.
"Not shep-her-her-herd," the sheep bellowed.
"Do you know anything about sheep, Barcala? They don't formulate rights and theories, or argue the niceties of the law of shepherding. They're sheep. Now, the Bear hates to tell a shepherd his business, but it is the nature of sheep to follow shepherds. Always has been. They are not one of the rebellious species. So, Barcala, if your sheep won't follow you, the fault lies with you."
"But I am their shepherd!"
"The Bear hates to break this to you, but a shepherd whose sheep don't listen to him is, by definition, not their shepherd. You will recall the Bear met you in a briar patch. If you had been paying attention, you would not have stepped foot into those briars. Also, you had traveled a long distance before you even noticed you had lost your flock! And here are these poor sheep now, with almost nothing to eat, and no water at all. The Bear does not care by whom or how you were placed in charge of these sheep, but you are done."
"Done? You can't -"
"The Bear didn't. This is just a fact. Like briars are a fact. These sheep will be temporarily cared for by the hospitable creatures of these woodlands. You will go and find the owner of these sheep and explain the situation to him honestly, and without leaving out the slightest detail. Tell him the Bear protects his flock, but he needs to send a real shepherd."
"You're firing me?"
The Bear shook his shaggy head in exasperation. "What did the Bear say? You're not a shepherd! Nothing the Bear could do, no magic words he could utter, could make you any less of a shepherd than you are. You are not a shepherd. You are now the Bear's messenger boy. That's all." Then, to soften the blow, the Bear added, "But that's something."
Then the Bear stood up on his hind legs, put a great, clawed forepaw on Barcala's shoulder, and looked down at him with a frown. The blood drained from the lad's face. "And don't even think about not doing exactly as the Bear has told you. If a proper shepherd does not arrive in one moon, the Bear will hunt you down. Every bird, every honeybee, every deer in the forest and every rabbit in the grass will be watching you."
"But my master will not be happy," Barcala whined.
"Why should he be happy?" answered the Bear. "Better him than the Bear. What made you think you were a shepherd anyway?"
"I thought I'd be good at it. And I've got this shepherd's crook and this sling. And they called me a shepherd."
"Look at the Bear," the Bear said with sudden fierceness. Barcala did. "Do you see a maybe Bear? A raccoon that wants to be a Bear? A man in a Bear suit? No. The Bear is real. As real as sudden death. There is no doubt. You are now his real messenger. Beyond that the Bear does not know what you are. But taking care of sheep is a big responsibility. Don't fool anyone in whatever you decide to do next. Which will not be a shepherd. Or involve responsibility for any animal, not so much as a hen. Understand?"
Barely two weeks had passed when the new shepherd arrived in the woodlands. The sheep recognized him at once. He gave the Bear a bag of gold for his trouble. "You know, people think sheep are stupid," he said before they set out for home. "But I find they are an excellent judge of character."
The Bear nodded. "Sometimes, yes. And sometimes I have seen sheep follow a moron because they cannot imagine not following the man with the shepherd's crook. By the way, what happened to Barcala?"
"Oh, him. He's running for the village council. The lad's got a gift, they say."
"Or people are dumber than sheep." The two laughed, and the Bear felt glad he was home in his own woodlands.