Word of Eli’s nightly battles reached the ears of the Prince, who decided to visit the village with an entourage of soldiers. They arrived at his door while he was sleeping during the day, as had become his habit. The Prince gave several sturdy knocks before Eli came to the door, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
“May I speak to Eli, the shepherd?”
“Present, your lordship,” said Eli, quickly standing at attention.
“Ah, yes. Good to meet you. There have been some interesting rumors about you, Eli, and these rumors have brought me to your door. I hear that you fight the Beast every night in the woods.”
“This is true, sire.”
“And have you had any success?”
“I have learned that fighting the creature is a fruitless activity,” Eli said. “It is not the Beast who eats our sheep. Its cavern is full of wolf bones, but not a sheep skeleton is in sight.”
“I see,” replied the Prince, stroking his royal beard. “So what do you do up there, night after night? Does it not try to kill you? Why hasn’t it followed you into the village? Surely you realize your behavior is endangering the people of your country.”
“It does not try to kill me,” Eli said, swallowing hard. “It wants to hear the music I play on my pipe. My nightly concerts prevent it from entering the village. Otherwise…I do not know what it would do.”
“Precisely,” said the Prince with a diplomatic smile. “Regardless of whether or not the Beast is eating our sheep, it must be exterminated. In the morning, you will guide me and my men to the creature’s hideout, and we will rid the nation of this menace once and for all. Until tomorrow, sir,” said the Prince, and he left Eli’s home to make camp in an adjacent field.
Eli knew he had to warn the Beast. In the darkest part of midnight, he sallied to the woods.
Panting from exertion, he reached the Beast’s cave.
“My friend,” he gasped, “the Prince is here, and he means to have your head mounted over his fireplace. Tomorrow he will come here and kill you—he has ordered me to lead him here. I cannot disobey him. Those who disobey royal decrees meet death. Oh, my friend, you must run, and run tonight.”
The Beast looked up at him forlornly. It was collapsed on the floor of its cave, breathing heavily.
“I CANNOT RUN, ELI,” it groaned, its voice a shadow of what it had been. “I CAN HARDLY EVEN BREATHE. THE DAGGER HURTS TOO MUCH, AND I AM SO…TIRED…”
“But you must,” Eli cried in desperation. “I cannot stand by and watch them kill you. I cannot stop them. They will come and…and…”
The Beast’s great green eyes were fixed on his. They counted his tears and his sorrowful glances to the ground.
“DRAW THE DAGGER OUT, MY FRIEND.”
Eli stared at the Beast. “But I can’t. You said you’d die if that dagger came out.”
“I WILL,” replied the Beast. “BUT I WOULD RATHER DIE AT YOUR HAND THAN AT THE HANDS OF HEARTLESS STRANGERS.” The creature smiled a small, rueful smile.
“YOU MUST,” it said, “FOR MY SAKE, ELI. PLEASE.”
Eli stepped forward, slowly, hesitatively. The Beast would not take its eyes from his face, even as he knelt beside its heaving chest, even as he placed one hand gently on its ribs and wrapped the other around the dagger’s hilt. Its eyes remained fixed on him, even as he gave the dagger a sharp tug and pulled it free.
The Beast sighed. The lanterns extinguished, and its head sank to the ground.