It’s pretty rare that a human has the courage to face a monster as fearsome as a dragon. Bearing that in mind, it’s almost unthinkable that a mere sheep might be brave enough to do it. In actual fact, this was very probably the first time in the history of everything. So naturally there had to be a meeting.
“Hear ye,” the old sheep told the assembled group impressively, “Hear ye, and hear thee as well. I hereby call this emergency meeting to order.”
The rest of the sheep looked at her, black eyes blinking in the late afternoon light, expectant.
“So here’s the thing,” she said, when she was sure that they were all listening properly, and nobody was just pretending to pay attention whilst they had a cheeky daydream about dragonfly pie.
“Ovid, over there – ” she jerked her head in the direction of the sheep that had made sparks fly out of its nose, and everyone turned to stare even though they all saw Ovid every day and didn’t particularly think he was anything out of the ordinary – “Ovid wants to fight the dragon.”
“He can’t,” said Brigadier Horseradish, who was one of the sheep in the front row, “he’ll be eaten in a second, and he’ll bring the wrath of the dragon down on our heads quicker than you can say antidisestablishmentarianism.”
“He can,” retorted another, who was called Betsy Shoehorn and had made it her mission in life to disagree with everything the Brigadier ever said, if only because she was her older sister, “he’s been studying magic for a whole year now. That’s plenty of time to prepare.”
“Two and a half years!” Ovid squeaked indignantly, but nobody heard except for you and I.
“I don’t want to be eaten as part of the dragon’s horrible revenge,” said a baleful looking grey ewe at the back, “but I don’t want any more of my children to be sacrificed, either. Do you think you can do it, Ovid?”
Ovid puffed up his chest importantly.
“Course I can, Granny Stickleback,” he announced, wondering (and not for the first time) why they all had such unlikely names.
“How?” asked Granny Stickleback, a known pessimist and confirmed skeptic.
There was a long, awkward pause.
It would be fair to say that Ovid hadn’t entirely thought of a plan. His vague hope was that his ability to do magic would render the dragon so surprised that he would be able to nip in and kill it with a head butt to the soft underbelly. He was pretty certain that adrenaline would probably take over at some stage, making him some kind of unstoppable butting machine, but it didn’t sound like the most convincing argument now he was standing in front of a worried crowd.
“I’ll use a killing curse,” he told them desparately.
“Ooooh,” the crowd responded admiringly.
“Snort,” said Clytemestra, the old sheep who was Ovid’s mum.
This snort was because there is no such thing as a killing curse any longer. The practice of killing people (or dragons) by using a curse is so very horrible that a wizard of yore had made it his life’s work to travel around the worlds removing any trace of them. Legends remain, of course, because that is what legends do. But if you actually wanted to use one, you’d have to make it up yourself – and so far nobody in the world has been evil enough to come up with one that actually works. A warlock called Barnaby Fitzgerald managed to make a rival feel rather unwell in 1862, but that is the closest anybody has come in centuries.
“A killing curse? That sounds a bit violent,” one of the sheep suggested, gallingly.
“Well of course it’s violent,” Ovid replied with dignity, “it’s a killing curse.”
“Do you really have to kill the dragon?” asked the pacifist sheep, “what about turning the other cheek?”
“We don’t have cheeks,” Ovid pointed out, “we’re sheep.”
“It’s a kill or be killed situation,” a supporter piped up. “That dragon has been eating our lambs for hundreds and dundreds of years.”
“What’s a dundred?” the pacifist enquired.
“Unimaginably enormous,” the supporter replied, unwilling to admit that it had actually been nothing more than a typo.
“So what happens if you fail, and the dragon kills you?” Ovid’s mum enquired, unwilling to give him away but still not really wanting him to leave. It was a silly quest, to her mind, because when did you ever hear of a sheep triumphing over a dragon? Try never, that’s when.
Dragons are much bigger, and meaner, and stronger, and hungrier than even a whole flock of sheep standing on one another’s shoulders as they practice their cheerleading pyramid. Their scales are tougher than iron, their teeth sharp as nails, their talons long and curved as the beak on a bird of prey. They can see for a hundred miles, even when it’s dark or raining or there’s a hill in the way – in fact there was a rumour going around that this particular dragon could even see round corners – and they can hear a pin drop forty miles away when they’re fast asleep in bed.
For more information on how fearsome dragons can be, you should check the internet using the computer in your local library – but Ovid’s mum didn’t need any more convincing than that. She didn’t want her son rushing off to fight a beast with all these characteristics, magic powers or no magic powers.
“The dragon won’t even know I’m there,” Ovid improvised, “because I intend to be invisible when I tackle it.”
Fortunately he had mastered a basic invisibility spell this morning, and his mother knew he had, so she wouldn’t be able to pull him up on that.
“The dragon will still smell you,” said his mum, “and hear you coming, knowing how much noise you make clattering about the field like you do.”
“Mu-uum,” Ovid nearly said, but he thought that might sound a little bit immature and restrained himself. Instead he looked witheringly at her, as if she hadn’t taught him basically everything he knew and some other bits and pieces to boot.
“I’ve thought of that,” he lied. “And I’ve got it covered. I’m not just a one spell sheep, you know.”
The group of sheep started talking amongst themselves, arguing the pros and cons of letting a youngster go and fight the dragon.
It took what felt like several hours, but was probably more like forty minutes. Sheep don’t have an amazing grasp of time. Anyway, a decision was eventually reached.
“We’re going to let you go,” said pacifist sheep, “on the condition that first of all you talk to the dragon a bit and try to find out whether some sort of alternative agreement can be reached.”
“An alternative agreement?” Ovid echoed.
“That’s right. Like maybe we could start paying the dragon in wool, for example. Because we can produce a lot of that and nobody would have to die to do it.”
“Then if it says no, you leave, and then return when you’re invisible and do all of your magic, killing curse stuff,” the pacifist sheep concluded. “He’ll never even know it was you.”
Ovid looked at the sea of cheekless faces before him. They seemed expectant.
He mulled over the possibility of bringing up the fact that if the dragon said no, there was nothing to stop it from killing him then and there. There was really no imperative for it to let him go away, cast an invisibility spell and then come back. Why risk it?
Then he thought well, the dragon won’t think it much of a risk. And maybe it won’t eat me – after all, we know it prefers lambs and I’m three.
“OK,” he said after an acceptably dramatic gap. “I’ll do it.”
The group cheered and dispersed, and Ovid thought then that he might as well set off on his way right now.
So off he went.