Once, there was a gentle young boy named Juan Julian who was the son of a famous sword smith in the city of Gorzova. Juan was a good boy with a kind heart, who always did what his mother and father told him. Juan’s father, being wealthy, owned a large plot of land where his livestock roamed and seemed happy enough. Juan liked to talk to the animals as he fed them, as his father told him that even though they don’t understand him, it makes them happier when he treated them kindly. Of course, the animals never talked back, but that didn’t bother Juan Julian.
One day, Juan’s mother and father were planning on hosting a nobleman from far away who had commissioned Juan’s father to make the fanciest swords he had ever made. The nobleman was so thrilled to be able to purchase and own weapons made by the famous swordsmith Menendo Julian that he wanted to come and watch Juan’s father work on the swords. Because of this, Juan’s mother and father were very busy making preparations to host such an esteemed guest.
Juan’s father decided that it was a good time for Juan to take on new responsibility to help out in the home. Juan’s father said to him, “son, it is time for you to learn how to do the hard things that come with being a man. One of these things that we must do is provide meat for our house, and that meat comes from the cows and pigs and sheep that you love to spend your time with every day. I need you to go gather the fattest lamb you can find and slaughter it with this knife.”
Juan did not like the idea of killing any animal. His father, knowing how much he loved them, always slaughtered the animals for food well out of Juan’s sight. Now, it was Juan’s turn to learn what it meant to provide food for their family. Juan wanted to help, so he took the knife that his father gave him and he went off into the fields to find a lamb worthy of his father’s judgment.
As he walked by all of the animals that he considered his friends, it weighed very heavily on young Juan Julian to know that this time, he would not be there to feed them and groom them and talk with them like he had enjoyed so very much every time before. Now, in order to obey his father and be a good son, he had to find and kill a young lamb so that his family could eat it. Poor Juan’s stomach turned as he got closer and closer to the flock of sheep.
The sheep were overjoyed to see Juan. He had bonded with them as he had bonded with all of the animals in the fields, and they trusted him. If only they knew the reason for Juan’s visit this time, they would not be so happy to see him. Still, Juan knew he had to do what must be done. His father trusted him to do this thing, and Juan always did what his father told him to do.
Juan gently ran his hands through the fleece of the sheep which welcomed him. Juan had helped sheer the wool off of these sheep many times before. It was so soft and provided warmth and clothing for his family, but it didn’t require the sheep to die in order to gather it up. He much preferred that job over the one he had come to do.
A young lamb happily approached Juan Julian, as it had done many times before. Looking around, it was clear that this was the fattest lamb around. This was the lamb that Juan Julian would have to slaughter in order to provide meat for his family.
Tears began to pour from Juan’s eyes as he scooped the lamb up in his arms and headed to the shed where he would have to use the knife his father had given him. He continued to cry as he placed the lamb on the table. He was overcome with grief at the mere thought of what he had to do, but he knew he had to do it or he would not live up to his father’s expectations.
Juan gathered his courage and held the knife in his hand, but hesitated. Instead, he stroked the little lamb gently as he embraced it. The least he could do for this poor beast was to make its last moments pleasant. So, Juan took some fresh sweet greens from a bin nearby and held it in his hand for the lamb to eat. He watched as the lamb gleefully chewed on the food Juan had offered, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.
“I’m so sorry, little lamb,” Juan said, overcome with despair as he continued to feed the creature. He gripped the knife with his other hand and tried to find the strength to do what he needed to do.
Then, the little lamb looked up at Juan, and it spoke to him.
“Why are you sorry?” the lamb said. Juan, overtaken by surprise, looked down at the lamb in horror.
“You can talk?” Juan said, voice cracking. “Of course I can talk,” replied the little lamb. “I’ve been talking to you ever since you started taking care of us. Have you not been listening?”
Juan stared at the little lamb, dumbfounded, with horror and excitement. He had always talked to the animals, but they had never talked back to him before.
“Can all of you talk?” Juan asked the young beast, which smiled at him as if he had just told a joke. From behind, an inquisitive donkey who had been followed Juan into the barn, also spoke.
“All animals can talk,” the donkey said. “Most people just don’t have the right ears to listen.”
Juan had heard all that he needed to hear. He didn’t want to fail his family, but there was no way now that he could willingly kill a lamb that could talk. He placed the knife on the table and let the little lamb go free. Then, he grabbed one of his father’s smithing hammers and with one strong blow he bent the knife in half. He continued to slam the knife with the hammer until he had broken it apart.
He had saved the little lamb, but now how was he supposed to live knowing that most of these talking animals would one day be slaughtered? Juan knew what he had to do.
Juan Julian grabbed ahold of a shepherd’s crook and then ran outside. One by one, he hurriedly told the animals in the fields to come follow him, that he was going to save their lives. They all cheered at Juan, following behind him without question. In just a short matter of minutes, Juan had sheep, donkeys, cows, pigs, chickens and goats following behind him in a great herd. He led all of them to the far edge of the fields and opened the gate.
Looking back at his home, he bowed his head in sadness that he would not be able to call it his home again. But he was not ashamed, for he had done exactly what his big heart had told him to do.
Legends say that Juan Julian’s herd grew bigger and bigger as the years went on. He protected the animals – his friends – and saved as many as he could from similar fates. Some say that Juan Julian is still out there somewhere, a boy who became a man in a much different way than his parents ever intended, the boy who grew up talking only to the animals he saved.