“Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love there now?” asked the Shepherd. “It will take you some time to develop hinds’ feet and to climb
to the High Places, and if I put the seed in your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there.”
Much-Afraid shrank back. “I am afraid,” she said. “I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”
“That is true,” agreed the Shepherd. “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”
She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”
“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”
Much-Afraid thought suddenly that he had the most patient eyes she had ever seen. At the same time there was something in them that hurt her to the heart, though she could not have said why, but she still shrank back in fear and said (bringing the words out very quickly because somehow she was ashamed to say them), “I would never dare to love unless I were sure of being loved in return. If I let you plant the seed of Love in my heart will you give me the promise that I shall be loved in return? I couldn’t bear it otherwise.”
The smile he turned on her then was the gentlest and kindest she had ever seen, yet once again, and for the same indefinable reason as before, it cut her to the quick.
“Yes,” he said, without hesitation, “I promise you, Much-Afraid, that when the plant of Love is ready to bloom in your heart and when you are ready to change your name, then you will be loved in return.”
A thrill of joy went through her from head to foot. It seemed too wonderful to be believed, but the Shepherd himself was making the promise, and of one thing she was quite sure. He could not lie.
“Please plant Love in my heart now,” she said faintly. Poor little soul, she was still Much-Afraid even when promised the greatest thing in the world.The Shepherd put his hand in his bosom, drew something forth, and laid it in the palm of his hand. Then he held his hand out toward Much-Afraid.
“Here is the seed of Love,” he said. She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn. Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd’s hands were scarred
and wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.
“The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”
He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must
know pain too.”
Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,” and a strange new courage entered into her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”
His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.” Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love,” and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shone. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all. The twisted mouth had relaxed into a happy curve, and the shining eyes and pink cheeks made her almost beautiful.
“Thank you, thank you,” she cried, and knelt at the Shepherd’s feet. “How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one in the whole world as good and kind as you. I will go with you to the mountains.