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Authors: Christopher Russell

The Warrior Sheep Go West

BOOK: The Warrior Sheep Go West
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Copyright

Copyright
©
2011 by Christine Russell and Christopher Russell

Cover and internal design
©
2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover illustration by Colin Stimpson

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.jabberwockykids.com

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Egmont UK Limited.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.

Source of Production: Versa Press, East Peoria, Illinois, USA

Date of Production: June 2011

Run Number: 15470

This book is dedicated to Kozue san,
a little Warrior from the East.
1

Red Tongue

They only went into the barn to get out of the rain. But that just goes to show that big adventures can start when you least expect them.

Sheep, even rare breed sheep, don't normally mind getting wet, but it had been pouring for days and the paddock was hoof-deep in mud. Jaycey, the pretty little Jacob, had had enough.

“Ohmygrass…” she said, trotting into the cozy barn. “All this rain. I'm having
such
a bad hair day.”

“Don't be silly, dear,” said Sal, the fat and motherly Southdown ewe, as she followed. “Only humans have hair. And there's no such thing as a bad
fleece
day.”

“That's right, man,” agreed Links, the large Lincoln Longwool ram, even though his own woolly locks were dangling damply in front of his eyes and he couldn't see where he was going. “Fleece is cool.”

He bumped into the doorpost on his way in.

Wills, the skinny Balwen Welsh lamb, skipped in after Links. He liked the barn. Usually, there was a laptop in there.

Only Oxo, the great Oxford ram, was reluctant to go inside. The rain made the grass grow longer and sweeter. What was there not to like about that? But he was a sheep and sheep stick together, so he tugged up a last juicy mouthful and squeezed in after the rest.

The hens, who lived in the barn, squawked and fluttered for a few minutes then settled again, and the sheep made themselves comfortable on the straw-covered floor. They sat facing the laptop, which was propped on a bale of hay in the middle of the barn. Jaycey and Wills, the smallest, were at the front, with Sal, Oxo, and Links behind.

The laptop belonged to Ida White, who owned Eppingham Farm where the rare breed sheep lived. She often left it in the barn playing music for the hens. This particular wet spring day she was downloading some new tunes for them, some gentle pieces as a change from their usual pop and rock. The second track was just beginning as the sheep settled down.

Wills, whose mother had died when he was young, had spent his early lambhood with Ida and her grandson, Tod, in the farmhouse kitchen. He had learned a lot about human ways and could even read a little. He slowly read out the words on the screen.

“Sheep May Safely Graze…J. S. Bach.”

“What's J. S. Bach?” asked Oxo. “Something you can graze on?”

Wills shook his head. “No, I think it's the name of the composer. The man who wrote the music.”

“Shhh,” said Sal. She was gazing happily at the laptop. As the music played, the screen showed a picture of sheep grazing in a beautiful sunlit valley. “How fortunate we are to be sheep,” she murmured.

“Yeah,” agreed Links. “But this ain't exactly a banging vibe, is it?” His curls bobbed up and down as he nodded his head, trying to compose a rap. It wasn't easy to make the words fit the slow music.

“We is Ovis Aries, that's our Latin name,

But you can call us sheep 'cause it means the same…”

Jaycey was also peering at the laptop but she wasn't interested in the music or the pictures. She'd noticed her own reflection in the screen and was studying it carefully. Finally, she relaxed. Not a bad hair day after all. And she was massively prettier than any of the safely grazing group on the screen.

Oxo tried listening to the music for a few seconds but could only hear his own stomachs rumbling, so he gave up and dozed off.

Then it happened.

The sheep on the screen disappeared and, from the blackness that replaced them, a red tongue emerged. It filled the screen, showing the rough, red surface and the tonsils dangling behind. Then came the voice.

“Hi, all you Rams and Ewes and Lambs. This message is for
you
. We're gonna slaughter you. We're on our way. Red Tongue! Remember the name!”

The sheep scrambled to their hooves and looked fearfully around. Oxo marched to the doorway and glared out. The paddock was empty.

The laptop spoke again. “Red Tongue! Remember the name!” Then the tongue disappeared and the sunlit valley returned.

“Ohmygrass…” Jaycey huddled close to Sal. “What was that?”

“I think,” said Wills, “it was a pop-up.”

“What's a pop-up?” asked Oxo.

“A sort of advertisement,” said Wills, though he didn't really know what an advertisement was.

Oxo lowered his great head and pawed the barn floor with a hoof.

“Just let him pop up again,” he snorted. “I'll be ready next time.”

Sal raised a hoof for silence.

“Red Tongue…? Red Tongue…?” She was speaking in the odd voice she used when she was trying to remember something important. “Yes…” she said at last. “It's there in the Songs of the Fleece!”

“Uh-oh…” murmured Links warily.

The Songs of the Fleece were ancient. They had been handed down from ewe to lamb for centuries. Not many sheep knew all 365 verses like Sal did, but most knew a few. Sal looked gravely at her fellow rare breeds.

“Verse 204,” she announced. “One of the prophetic verses.” Then she added for Wills's sake, “Most of the Songs tell of our glorious history, you see, dear. The prophetic verses tell us what is to come.”

Wills nodded politely. Despite not having had a mother to teach him sheeply things, he knew that much. He glanced at the laptop again. He felt sure he'd heard Ida say pop-ups were a nuisance. They arrived from nowhere then disappeared again. Just like the red tongue had done.

But Sal was clearing her throat so Wills turned to listen.

“A terrible monster will come from the West,” she cried dramatically,

“And a brave flock of warriors will be put to the test.

For this monster has woken from centuries of sleep,

And its stomach will hunger for sheep. Then more sheep.

Hundreds of thousands will die every hour,

All the sheep in the world it will seek to devour.”

Sal paused for breath but before she could start again, Jaycey's trembling voice had taken up the verse:

“Like a gigantic dog from the West it will come…

And the name of this monster, be warned, is: Red Tongue.”

Jaycey looked at them all with frightened eyes. “My mum taught me that.”

She wobbled on her dainty feet then fainted.

There was silence for a few moments then Links said, “So. We's done for, is it? We's all gonna be eaten by a monster dog.”

“The Songs of the Fleece are never wrong,” said Sal.

Oxo frowned. “Yeah, but what was that about warriors?”

Jaycey opened one eye. “They'll be put to the test,” she wailed. “I don't want to be put to the test.”

There was another silence while they all pondered.

“Is it us again, Sal?” asked Wills.

Once before, the little flock of rare breed sheep from Eppingham Farm had been called by the Songs of the Fleece to save sheepdom. They had destroyed Lambad the Bad and saved Lord Aries, the mighty Ram of Rams who lives above the clouds.

Sal answered Wills's question by reciting the next two lines:

“Who will come forward in the hour of need?

Hope will lie only with those of rare breed.”

Oxo turned toward the doorway.

“Can't be clearer than that,” he said. “Let's go!”

He charged out.

“Yeah, man,” agreed Links. “The Eppingham rare breeds is the rarest of the rare.”

“We did it once, we
can
do it again,” said Wills bravely.

But then Oxo reappeared.

“So, um, where does this Red Tongue hang out, exactly?” he asked.

Sal thought hard then cleared her throat again.

“To the place where the monster first wakes you must go,

Where the sun scorches fleeces and the hottest winds blow.

But only the bravest will withstand this test.

Remember: Red Tongue…will wake in the
West!

She dropped her head, briefly overwhelmed by the task facing them. The discomforts and dangers of their first quest came back to her. They came back to all the sheep. Was it really possible to survive and triumph a second time? And where was the
West
, anyway?

Wills ran through the verse in his head. They had to go West, to a place where the hottest winds blow. Not Wales then, he thought. He'd been born in West Wales and didn't remember any hot winds there. No, it had to be somewhere much farther away than Wales. He tried to picture the maps in Tod's atlas. West…very hot…He realized the others were looking at him expectantly and tried to sound more confident than he felt.

“The most likely place,” he announced, “is America.”

“No problem,” said Oxo, and turned once more toward the barn door.

“Uh, there is actually,” said Wills. “America's across the sea. How will we get there?”

“We are sheep!” declared Sal. “Famed as great thinkers. Think, all of you. Think.”

They were thinking so hard, they didn't hear a car drive slowly along the lane and pull up outside the farmhouse.

The smartly dressed driver leaned from the car window and wrinkled his nose.

“Ugh!” he said. “The country!”

He straightened his tie, picked up his briefcase, and stepped out, placing his shiny shoes in the mud. He had an important message for Mrs. Ida White.

2

Chilli Soup

Ida White and her grandson Tod were in the kitchen making soup. Ida was actually Tod's great-grandmother and, as he was an orphan, also his guardian. Tod loved living with Gran. She was ancient, older than anyone else in the village of Eppingham, but life with her was never dull. She had taught him to read, ride a horse, mend a bike, feed a motherless lamb, sew, and cook. Tod didn't consider himself clever, but he knew a lot for a twelve-year-old.

Cooking the Ida White way wasn't like any other. They didn't bother with recipe books because, as Gran said, where was the fun in knowing how things would turn out?

Tod was standing by the stove now with a bunch of carrots in one hand and a banana in the other.

“What do you think, Gran?” he asked.

Ida looked up from stirring the big soup pot.

“We've got enough carrots,” she said. “The banana might be good, though. We haven't tried banana before, have we?”

“I don't think so,” said Tod. “And it should go well with the apple and bacon.”

He sliced up the banana, threw the pieces into the pot, and opened the fridge.

“What else?”

He'd just found a handful of chilli peppers when he heard the door knocker.

“I'll go,” he said, wiping his hands on his apron. “Go easy on the chillies, Gran.”

Gran nodded and dropped two into the pot. She heard Tod open the front door and a voice she didn't recognize. Her mind was no longer on the soup. She dropped in two more chillies. She heard Tod invite the stranger in and close the front door. She dropped in two more.

“Mrs. Ida White, I presume?” said the smartly dressed man, coming into the kitchen. “A pleasure to meet you.”

Gran dropped the last few chillies into the pot and turned to meet their visitor.

“I'm John Smith, and I'm here on behalf of Rhubarb,” the stranger announced.

“Oh, yes?” said Ida politely.

“The Society for Rare, Humble, Unwanted, Beautiful, and Rare Breeds?” said Mr. Smith. “RHUBARB for short.” He looked expectantly at Ida. “They're very big in America?”

Gran shook her head. “Sorry,” she said. “I've never heard of them.”

“Ah, but they've heard about
you
,” said Mr. Smith. “And your amazing sheep.”

“They have?” Gran was astonished.

John Smith smiled to himself. This was going to be easy.

“Indeed,” he said. “And they would
love
to meet them.”

“Any time,” said Gran. “I'm usually at home.”

“No, no, dear lady. Not here in Eppingham. At the convention. In America.”

Gran didn't know anything about a convention. She sat down. Mr. Smith leaned closer.

“Rhubarb wants you to exhibit your wonderful flock at their convention center,” he explained. “It's a showcase for the talented and beautiful. A sort of Ovine Oscars. And your sheep would be the stars.”

Gran swallowed hard.

“I'm sure that would be wonderful,” she said, “but I don't think we could afford to…”

“No, no,” laughed Mr. Smith. “They would go as the
guests
of Rhubarb.”

“They?”

“The sheep. We'd take great care of them.”

Gran shook her head vigorously. “Our sheep never go anywhere without us,” she said. “Do they, Tod?”

Tod was shaking his head too. “Never.”

“That's absolutely
not
a problem,” said Mr. Smith. “You can go too.”

He snapped open his briefcase and began taking out papers.

“Rhubarb will pay all the expenses. It won't cost you a penny.” He beamed at Gran and clicked his silver ballpoint pen. “Just sign here.”

He pushed the papers toward her.

“Why?” asked Gran suspiciously.

John Smith laughed. “Merely to acknowledge receipt of these free first-class airline tickets: for yourselves and your sheep. And free airport transfers and free luxury hotel accommodation.”

He produced a wad of tickets with a flourish and placed them on the table in front of Gran. Tod was tugging her sleeve and whispering.

“Gran…I think we should check this out. Where's your laptop? I'll look up Rhubarb.”

Gran nodded.

“Good idea,” she whispered back. “It's in the barn.”

John Smith heard this and stiffened. Maybe this wasn't going to be such a cinch after all. But his smile didn't falter.

“I can understand this has come as a bit of a shock,” he said, putting himself swiftly between Tod and the back door. “But Rhubarb is so looking forward to seeing your sheep. And, of course, all the profits go to, er…the Lost Lambs Fund.”

Gran blinked. Something else she'd never heard of. John Smith relaxed. All he had to do was work on the old lady's soft heart. And keep the kid away from the laptop.

“A worthwhile cause, I'm sure you'll agree,” he beamed. “This is your chance to help all those unwanted pet lambs, dumped after every Christmas.”

He held out his silver ballpoint pen. Gran hesitated, then took it. Tod picked up one of the tickets.

“They're for today!” he exclaimed.

“That's right,” said Mr. Smith. “You'll be up and away this very evening.”

Gran looked up at Tod. He shrugged. The tickets seemed real enough. He saw a twinkle in Gran's eye.

“Go for it?” she asked.

Tod grinned. “Go for it, Gran.”

“Excellent,” said Mr. Smith, whisking away the paper as soon as Gran had signed it. “I'm sure you won't regret your decision.”

He had no idea whether she would regret it or not. It was his job to persuade her to accept the offer and he'd done that. He would get paid. Beyond that, he didn't care. He snapped shut his briefcase.

“Will you stay and have some lunch with us?” asked Gran.

John Smith tried to refuse. He'd done his bit and now he wanted to wash his hands of the affair. And the smell of the country.

“So kind,” he said, “but I really must be getting back.”

But Gran wouldn't take no for an answer. Tod cut some bread while she dished up the soup.

Mr. Smith took a polite mouthful. His eyes bulged, his nose ran, and sweat broke out on his forehead. He swallowed and felt the fiery concoction trickle down his throat and burn corners of his stomach he didn't know existed. He smiled fixedly, loosened his collar, and took another sip. By the time he left, he'd removed his jacket, his shirt, and his socks.

“What a nice man,” said Gran as she closed the front door. “He looked a bit hot though. Do you think I overdid the chillies?”

“A bit,” said Tod. “But the banana was good.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“Well,” said Gran, “I'd better go and pack. Though Mr. Smith said we won't need much because it's hot where we're going.”

“Where exactly
are
we going?” asked Tod. He picked up the tickets again and shrugged. “It only says America. Is that normal?”

Gran shrugged. “I don't know, dear.” Then she did a little jump and punched the air. “Who cares? America…Yippeee!”

“Yippee-iyo!” shouted Tod. He opened the back door. “I'll make sure the sheep are ready while you're packing.”

“Right,” said Gran. “And while you're there, you could check out Rhubarb on the laptop. See how big their convention center is.”

BOOK: The Warrior Sheep Go West
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