Little did Petre realize all this festival day would bring, when he carefully laid out his dance costume on his bed that morning. First, he would be allowed to herd the family sheep to the meadows in the Romanian highlands by himself and bring them back again. Getting ready for the Shepherd’s Dance meant that the men needed to stay in town, so the task of grazing the sheep today was left to the children.
Since this was a holiday, the children were to bring the sheep back early in the afternoon so that the youngsters could join in the festivities. As Petre moved the flock from the pen, the bell on the lead ram tinkled pleasantly. Petre’s fervent dream was to have his own flock one day.
“Don’t forget, Petre,” called his friend Josif as he moved his own family’s sheep onto the road, “we bring back the sheep at one o’clock. I heard that the tourists at Sibiu are going to come over to watch the dancing.” Then with a grin he gibed, “I’m going to dance your legs off!” Josif always acted as though dancing was a contest.
Petre, who danced because he loved to, retorted, “Go ahead and try!”
Ana led her family’s sheep out after Josif’s. She didn’t have any brothers, and she claimed to be the first shepherdess in the area.
One by one the three flocks ambled down the dusty road. The blessings of spring had filled the meadows with blades of tender grass. The scent of wild flowers filled the air, and the creek sparkled with clear mountain water.
Soon the flocks reached the meadows. As they grazed, Petre sat under an oak tree and thought about the festival. The women of the village had already spent many hours preparing the special festival food. The men were now setting up long tables under a grape arbor to hold the delicacies. They were also decorating the cobblestone streets with ribbons and lanterns. During the festivities the women would wear elaborately embroidered costumes; the men would wear belted white trousers, embroidered tunics, and leggings with bells that jingled. The dancers’ shoes would be of soft leather, and the captivating Romanian folk tunes would be played by shepherds on their flutes. The dancers would cry out, slap their ankles and thighs, and leap gracefully into the air as they followed the intricate figures of the dance.
“Will one o’clock ever get here?” Petre sighed. Glancing at his flock, he noticed that a sheep had strayed. He whistled, and his dog, Tofan, quickly brought the ewe back to the group.
In Petre’s village, sons had followed their fathers as shepherds for many, many generations. As each boy was ready for the responsibility, he was given three sheep to start a flock of his own.
Petre recalled his father saying, “Son, there is more to tending sheep than watching them eat grass. You must watch for ailing sheep and recognize what caused the sickness. Ewes need special care when they are lambing. Fleece must be sheared without injury to the animal. Always know the exact number of sheep in your flock and where they are. Most of all, Son, you must realize that sheep are a gift from God and that they are only one of His many wondrous creations. Earthly rewards will never cease as long as you respect all living things as part of one large family.”
Petre was glad when the sun passed its highest point and was starting its downward track. He whistled, and Tofan started the flock toward home. From the dust cloud ahead on the road, Petre knew Josif and Ana were ahead of him. As he neared the village sheepyard, he could hear Ana insisting, “I still think I’m missing a sheep.”
“You could have miscounted,” suggested Josif.
“No, I’ve counted twice. We can’t leave one out there. Anything can happen to it.”
“We already looked for it once,” complained Josif. “We’ll have time to check again after the dance. It will still be daylight. Come on,” he urged, “or we’ll miss the dancing.”
Petre watched them run toward the village green. The music from the shepherds’ flutes was melodic and clear. Its rhythmic beat touched every muscle in his body, and he wanted to spring into a dance. But he couldn’t go and enjoy the festivities knowing that there might be a lost sheep somewhere.
“Come, Tofan,” Petre called. “Let’s see if there is a sheep out there. If we hurry, we can get back before all the dancing is over.”
The boy and the dog ran down the dusty road toward the meadows, with Tofan sniffing along the way. After searching for some time, Petre declared, “Tofan, we haven’t found it, but somehow I’m sure there is a sheep out here somewhere.”
The dog seemed to understand and went with Petre to search in the foothills. Finally, in a shallow gully hidden by tall grass, they found a ewe that had just given birth.
“We can’t go home yet, Tofan,” Petre said as he sat down by the sheep. “We must wait until they are strong enough to go.”
The dog wagged his tail, then waited patiently beside the boy.
The ewe seemed comforted by their presence. Petre was glad he had come, even though he was aching to dance. He knew he could not get back in time now.
The ewe went on licking her newborn. Finally she nudged the lamb to its feet. A kind of joy swept over Petre as he cradled the lamb in his arms. “Come, Tofan,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
The dog guided the ewe in the right direction.
Not far from the village Petre saw the three fathers coming toward him. He knew that they had been at the pen to check their sheep and had realized that one was missing.
“I’m proud of you, Son,” his father greeted him.
Ana’s father stepped forward. “Petre,” he said, taking the lamb, “because of what you did, I am going to give this lamb to you as soon as it is weaned.”
Petre swallowed hard. His heart was beating so hard that it felt as though it might leap out of his chest.
“And I,” said Josif’s father, “will give you the next ewe born in my flock.”
Petre could hardly believe what he was hearing. He expected to wake up and find it was all a dream.
His father spoke up then. “And I will give you a baby ram.”
“Oh, Papa!” cried Petre. “My very own flock!”
“Come, Son,” said his father, “run on ahead of us and put on your costume. There’s still time for some dancing.”
The shepherds’ flutes were never more melodious. With the bells on his leggings jingling to his favorite Romanian tune, Petre danced until his legs ached.
That night Petre put his costume carefully away. In the morning he would wake up and remember that he soon would have a flock of his own. His dream was coming true!