Eli told no one about his activities in the forest. Not even his parents. When asked, he would say he went up to fight the Beast. Which he was, technically—fighting it with music. And the Beast did so love to fight.
Before too many weeks had passed, and the sheep were still disappearing, the people of the village began to suspect there was more to Eli’s story.
Yet every night, Eli went up the mountain to play music for the Beast. The Beast came out of its cave every night and reclined in front of him while he played, closing its eyes and nodding its massive hairy head. But every night, the Beast took longer to crawl from its cavern. It seemed tired and increasingly haggard.
“What do you do all day, Beast?” asked Eli one evening.
“I HUNT,” replied the Beast, its voice lower than usual. “A BEAST MUST EAT, AFTER ALL.”
“More sheep, I suppose.”
The Beast shook its head wearily. “NO, BOY, IT IS NOT I WHO TAKES THE SHEEP IN THE NIGHT. LOOK AROUND YOU. YOU SEE WOLF SKULLS AND WOLF BONES, BUT NOT A SHEEP CARCASS IN SIGHT. I’VE DONE MY BEST TO KEEP THE WOLVES AWAY FROM YOUR SHEEP, BUT MY WORK MUST BE IN VAIN IF THEY KEEP DISAPPEARING.” It laid its great shaggy head on the ground at Eli’s feet. “THAT IS WHY I AM SO TIRED. WOLVES ARE PERILOUS HARD TO CATCH, AND THE DAGGER HURTS SO.”
“You are not the one who eats our sheep?” Eli said in astonishment.
“NO,” it replied, and heaved a tired sigh, closing its green eyes.
Cautiously, Eli reached out and touched the Beast on the bridge of its nose. Even his whole hand, stretched to full span, could not cover it. The ground rumbled as a purr rattled in the Beast’s chest.
“You never really planned on killing my family, did you?”
“Then why did you threaten me?”
“THE MUSIC WAS SO LOVELY, AND I WAS SO LONELY,” the Beast said sorrowfully. “BUT I AM A MONSTER. WHAT ELSE COULD I DO THAT WOULD HAVE INDUCED YOU TO COME, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, AND PLAY YOUR PIPE FOR ME?”
“You might’ve said ‘please’.”
The great green eyes opened again, and studied him carefully. “DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU? THAT IT IS NOT I THAT STEALS THE SHEEP?”
“I do,” Eli replied. “You are a beast, but you are no monster.”
“THANK YOU, FRIEND,” said the Beast, pulling itself slowly to its feet. As it lumbered into its den, it cast a questioning glance over its shoulder. “WILL YOU COME AGAIN TOMORROW, EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW THERE IS NO DANGER TO YOUR PARENTS?”
“I will,” Eli said. “I promise.”