Extract from ‘What Brave Bulls Do’ by Rohase Piercy.

The little bulls spent their days grazing and playing, fighting and resting, just as the mood took them; and if they got bored, they would wander up to the top of their field to see if Old Ferdinand was in the mood for conversation. Old Ferdinand was a hero, famous throughout the ranch: many years ago, he had fought so fiercely in the corrida that the humans had given him the indulto. This meant that instead of going to the Pastures of Heaven, he had been brought back to the ranch and given a pasture of his own to graze. When the young bulls discovered that their new home adjoined Old Ferdinand’s field, they were very excited and spent a lot of time hanging around the border fence in the hope of attracting his attention; but they soon discovered that the old bull was not easy to approach.

There was the way he looked, for one thing: a great lump was missing from one of his ears, his back and shoulders were criss-crossed all over with scars, and one of his eyes was milky and blind. And then, for another, there was his grumpiness. If he was not in the mood for talking, he would turn his milky eye towards you and pretend that you were not there; and when he did decide to answer a question, he would often talk in riddles. For example, if you asked what the Ring was like, he would say, ‘You don’t want to know!’ – even though it must be obvious that you did want to know, very much – and if you said something complimentary, like, ‘You must have been magnificent in the corrida, Old Ferdinand, to get the indulto; I hope I shall be as brave as you!’, he would just snort and say, ‘Be careful what you wish for!’

In short, conversations with Old Ferdinand were usually disappointing, and the little bulls gradually stopped hanging around his fence, though they kept an eye on his slow, grumpy progress around the field and would sometimes saunter over hopefully if he came within talking range.

One day, Ario and his best friend Sancho had a fight by the border fence whilst Old Ferdinand was watching. It was a good, hard, satisfying fight which left both bulls snorting hot breath from their nostrils, hearts pounding and flanks heaving; and Ario was the winner! He glanced shyly across at Old Ferdinand, hoping to be congratulated on his performance.

The old bull looked him over with his one good eye. ‘Not bad,’ he said grudgingly; ‘I suppose you are feeling pleased with yourself.’

Glowing with pride, Ario tilted his head in acknowledgement. ‘Do you think Sancho and I will get to fight one another in the corrida, Old Ferdinand?’ he asked eagerly.

Old Ferdinand snorted derisively. ‘The corrida! You won’t be fighting other bulls in the corrida! It’s a different kind of fight altogether! You’ll be fighting humans called matadors and picadors. First they dance around waving pieces of cloth in your face, then they come at you on horseback with sharp sticks. When you charge, they dodge out of the way, and they gore you with their sticks. That’s the kind of fighting that goes on in the corrida.’

Ario was so astonished, he hardly knew what to say. Surely a human, even on horseback, was no match for a fully grown fighting bull? And as for a man armed with nothing but a cloth – well, he’d be tossed from one end of the Ring to the other! Any bull could do it! Where was the bravery in that?

‘But that’s not even a fair fight!’ he protested.

Old Ferdinand tilted his head reflectively. ‘You are right, young Ario. It is not a fair fight,’ he said. then he turned himself round so that his blind eye faced the fence, and carried on with his grazing.

By now, several other young bulls had come trotting over, and the news was flying quickly through the herd: Old Ferdinand had spoken about the corrida at last! But his description about what went on in the Ring was so different from what they had been expecting that they would not have believed it from anyone else: fighting humans!

‘It doesn’t sound much fun, does it?’ said Sancho doubtfully as he shook himself down; Sancho was brown and shaggy and cheerful, and never minded losing a good fight.

‘Forget about fun!’ cried Ario, seething with indignation. ‘What about being brave, and fierce, and magnificent? What’s so magnificent about fighting humans?’

Benito, a pale-coloured bull with faraway eyes who spent most of his time day-dreaming under the sycamores, shook his head sadly and declared that he couldn’t see the point of it at all. ‘I don’t think I shall bother, if that’s the way it is,’ he said. ‘Humans should stick to fighting one another, like we do. When my turn comes, I shall just dodge their sticks and get out of the Ring as quickly as I can.’

‘But you can’t do that, Benito!’ Ario protested, shocked; ‘You can’t not fight at all! We are fighting bulls! It’s what we’re for!’

Benito fixed Ario with his pale eye. ‘Ah, but is it, Ario? Is it really? Just because we like a fight when the mood takes us, it doesn’t mean that’s what we’re for. We like other things as well, don’t we? The taste of sweet grass, and the sun on our backs, and fresh water to drink when we’re thirsty; and I’m sure we’ll find other things to enjoy as life goes on. Enjoying life is what we’re for! Maybe humans enjoy their lives differently, but I can’t see how goring us with sticks is meant to be part of it. Look what they’ve done to Old Ferdinand,’ he continued, lowering his voice in case Old Ferdinand might be listening; ‘He may have been magnificent in the corrida, but he’s not magnificent now, is he? He’s sad and angry and hurting inside. It’s almost as if he wishes he’d never been given the indulto. Fighting humans has spoilt all the rest of his life. I’m not going to let that happen to me!’

There was a thoughtful silence when Benito finished speaking; but then Sancho butted him playfully on the shoulder, saying, ‘The trouble with you, Benito, is you think too much! You’re always trying to work out how things are meant to be, instead of just accepting the way they are! How is that enjoying life? Cheer up! I’m sure you won’t have to fight in the corrida if you don’t want to!’

There was general agreement at this, and the little herd dispersed and went about their business, and left Benito to his complicated thoughts.

‘Do you really think he’ll refuse to fight?’ whispered Ario to Sancho later that afternoon, as they wandered past the sycamore tree where Benito stood swishing his tail dreamily to and fro in the dappled shade.

‘We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose,’ replied Sancho cheerfully. ‘It’s no good thinking too much about it; we’ll find out when the time comes.’

And Sancho was to be proved quite right, rather sooner than either of them expected.