A/N: This is my first short story that I've actually liked enough to post. It's from my creative writing class, Intro to Fiction. The prompt was "Write about the birth of consciousness." This was my interpretation. I don't believe it to be very good, because I'm still new at writing. I would really love for everyone to give me detailed critics of this story so I may improve. I hope you enjoy it.

In a valley not far from the city sits a farm, its fields stretching far beyond the surrounding hills. Many animals can be seen moving slowly in the heat, stopping to graze now and again on the deep green grass spreading in a rich carpet beneath their feet. A small forest of brilliant green trees sits just beyond the front yard, screening the house, barn and other buildings from the well-traveled roads, as well as hiding mysterious animals and wonderful secrets. The tops of the tress shimmer with a light breeze while cicadas sing their songs. Frogs croak warnings to other frogs to steer clear of their territory. A rich smell of manure and grain permeates the air along with a hint of wildflowers. Noises of a farm in the growing season can be heard ringing throughout the valley as its workers toil, harvesting the fruits of their labor.

The farm house itself is two stories, with recently repaired roofing and white siding. Lace curtains flutter in the windows, flowing in time with the leaves of the trees. From the kitchen float sounds of cooking, grilling and baking as the servants in jeans and t-shirts create a birthday feast. Not far from the house sits a massive red barn that contains all sorts of machinery and bales upon bales of hay. Workers toil endlessly around this structure, with tractors and other farm equipment. The stable contains several stalls and inside laze many finely colored horses, all nickering and whinnying.

Six young knights race around each other in the yard behind the house running and screaming. One boy slaps another on the back and runs, leaving his victim to chase him. The chaser doubles back and finds a target in a smaller knight. The bigger boy touches the smaller one and the chase continues. This game has been going on for sometime now, and all of the knights are slowly tiring from the heat of the day. A dog barks, followed by two more and from the side of the barn bounds two black labs and a sheep dog, racing for the boys. The furry rascals join the game and it degenerates into a pile of sweaty bodies, full of panting and laughter.

"My lords!" a strong, feminine voice of a servant calls from the house, "It is the time of supper!" The six young heroes, with their three four legged companions, race for the back porch where hamburgers and chips and hot dogs have piled high. Gallons of water, soda and lemonade stand tall along the back of the food laden table. Hidden to the side are several plates of veggies and fruits. "No dessert will be served until all those fruits and vegetables are gone," the strong voice commands. The heroes are too energized to reproach the servant for her disobedience and add small portions of the plants to their plates already dripping with grease and salt.

The boys maneuver themselves to the black iron chairs arranged evenly around a commanding iron table. The table is oblong in shape, with space for six chairs. Each takes their respective seats, with the oldest, the king, at the head. Today is his birthday, he is a dashing eleven years old, and he spends it with his closest allies. As they begin to dig into their bountiful meal, the king contemplates his knights. These are the friends he has had by his side through the most exciting and terrifying of adventures.

At his right, sits his strongest warrior, known across the land as a champion to all. He shovels the food into his mouth as fast as he can, going back for seconds before anyone has even finished their first. He has defeated foes ranging from the grades just below himself all the way to enemies from eighth grade in contests of battle, valor, and brutality. None have faced him and come away unharmed. Just a week before he had defeated a group of five burly eighth graders, each who were the top of their respective sports teams, in a fight to the death. He had even avoided trouble by the high principal of his school. He is all of four and a half feet with the sculpted body of an athletic ten year old and a head drenched in night colored strands. His piercing blue eyes can see the wickedness in all of the leader's enemies and his face is often set in a no-nonsense way, showing he is not a boy to be trifled with.

At the champion's right sits the quietest of the assembled, bright blue eyes hidden by a curtain of sandy brown hair, slouched over his plate. He is the court's most accomplished spy. Light in weight as well as light on his feet, he can traverse even the most dangerous teachers' lounge, and never be noticed. He often speaks in a soft, experienced tone, leading to many to open their hearts and spill their deepest, darkest secrets. He also seems to have an aura of invisibility, allowing him to eavesdrop on even the most aware group of girls, learning all the secrets of this mysterious gender. His average hair and plain features allow him to be easily lost in the crowd while his mirror bright eyes catch even the simplest of movements. He is one all would want at their side and the leader is most gracious to have this accomplished boy at his.

To the leader's left sits his most trusted advisor, calmly and meticulously assembling his cheeseburger with the perfect balance of ketchup, mustard, relish and onions. As the smartest boy of their grade he obtains perfect scores on all of his math and spelling tests. None can outwit him in tests of cleverness though many have tried. He has won many a chess trophy and has bested legions of those vile teachers who were jealous of his intelligence. The strategies he creates always defeat the foes of his liege or solve his friends' problems. Upon his head, rests a mop of blond. Upon his nose rests frames of red covering eyes of steel. His skin is pale from lack of sun and his mouth rarely moves from its customary frown giving his square face a stern look.

To the strategist's left sits the kindest, most gentle boy of any known. Mousey brown hair flops gracelessly around his spring green eyes, set above a button nose on his round face. He chews his food with a soft smile as he leans his head back to listen to the bird twittering in the trees. He is the one that will always listen to another's troubles, even if they be of the girl next door who kicked them in the shin or the grief of the newest homework assignment. Even older boys and girls from other grades come to him for a sympathetic ear and heartfelt hug. Often he is found with wounded birds or reptiles, make them healthy once more or at least try to comfort them in their last moments.

Across from the leader and ruler, between the gentle boy and the spy, sits the lord's oldest friend and confident; they have been together for many, many years, all the way back to the first grade. It is said that one is never seen without the other and are often the cause of much trouble around the region. He is usually seen cracking a silly joke with a laughing smile on his lips. His un-kempt dirty blond hair has been the scourge of many a hair dresser and to this day his mother has yet to tame it. Rarely is there something other than mischief shining in his cloud grey eyes. Even now, the leader can tell his close comrade is brewing up trouble for the rest of this glorious day. The leader smiles proudly as he listens to the chatter and noise as they converse amongst themselves. His birthday is turning out to be the greatest day of his long life.

A soft woof comes from beneath the table. Surprised, the lord glances down and into the eyes of Shelly, his faithful sheep dog. Her, and the two black Labradors, gnaw upon several bones, given to them by the servant woman from earlier. The lord gives her a kind small and rough scratch behind her ears. Though the farm boasts many animals, from cows to donkeys to horses, they do not raise sheep. Yet, Shelly is still a beloved member of the family and all, the king especially, adores her. Giving her one more pat upon her head, he returns to his meal.

The adventurous boys devour the food placed in front of them, leaving nothing but empty cups and plates. Even the fruits and vegetables were not spared from their vicious eating and no sign of them remains. The woman of earlier, in keeping with her promise, soon appears caring a massive chocolate cake followed by a massive train of servants to serenade their lord, the dogs joining in. Only a cake so grand is worthy enough to be eaten by the great lord. She places it in the center of the table and bows away from them. The candles are lit and dance merrily with the breeze. The leader blows them out after the song has finished and all the subjects cheer, his closest allies the loudest. Soon, the cake too disappears along with several buckets of ice cream.

A mountain of presents follows, each wrapped in bright paper and some with bows. The leader tears into them, leaving piles of bits and torn wrapping scattered around him on all sides. He receives many things that can help him in future campaigns against the forces of evil that try to wrest his realm from his control and plunge it into darkness. He cherishes them all and gives a rousing thank you to each giver. His best gifts come from those who share the table with him, allies that no man could compare to and any man would beg to have. Not long after, the other members of the court leave their greatest heroes alone to plan adventures and triumphs for the rest of the day. They know that these six shall do great deeds and that they need concentration and privacy in which to plan.

"My knights!" the king says, "What adventure shall we have today, to celebrate my day of birth?" He looks among the eager faces. Each one contorts into a picture of deep thought, going through the many adventures and campaigns they have had before. He sees that none have anything in mind and his eyes move over them all before landing on his best of friends, his closest companion. As expected, the trouble maker all ready has a plan, most likely the one he was brewing earlier in the meal. The lord waves his hand in courtly gesture, telling his friend to speak his mind and regale them with his plan.

"Why, we fight and explore and rescue many." he exclaims with a grin.

The leader rolls his eyes, "Of course, but how?"

The grin morphs into a smirk, "Ah, quite easily. We go visit the cow pastures."

The other warriors stare at him then, as though his wicked mind had gone around the bend. This idea is the most preposterous one they have yet heard, and they still remember the time he suggested they infiltrate his sister's sleepover party, actually dressed as girls. How could they find fun and excitement with cows? The simple beasts did nothing but eat, sleep and poop all day. They were as dangerous as sleeping goldfish.

"And why must we visit these beings?" asks their lord. He has a skeptical look in his eyes but beneath that sits a small grin, as though he knows what his partner in crime is thinking.

The king gets a grin in return and knows that something deviously fun and terribly exciting is forming in the mind of his friend. It seems the young warrior knows something the rest at the table had yet to figure out.

What he knows is a powerful rumor. A band of roaming demon cattle had settled not far from the leader's grand house, terrorizing the people of their domain. This particular herd was infamous from the county to the north all the way to the city in the deep-south, from the snow covered mountains in the east, home to the burliest of coal miners, to the forest full of the manliest woodsmen in the west. They had destroyed many a home, with their hooves of steal and putrid breath that could rot wood within seconds. Their eyes burned with a deep hatred for all things non-bovine and their roars could scare the most hardened of criminals to shed a river of tears as they ran screaming for their mothers. The blood of their victims coated their fur and turned it a deep, ugly brown. These were mean, massive, big and horrifying hellish beasts and the courageous boys believed it was their duty as heroes of the fief to save their people from these terrors.

The court's strategist creates a most clever plan to sneak into the stomping grounds of these evil, cunning demons. The boys knew their king's servants would quiver in fear at their idea, fearing they would be defeated by the cows of doom. That meant they would need a thoroughly detailed plan to sneak away from their soft hearted servants as well as into the lair of their foes. It was decided the gentle boy would act as a distraction, calming the worries and assuring the others of the leader's domicile that they were only going to explore the near by woods, while the remaining five would follow the spy safely from the back porch to their destination.

They safely make their way from the fortified house through the fields around the buildings and into the corral possessed by the demon horde. A dank, thick fog permeates the air, saturated with the scent of evil, creating a feeling of menace and despair.

"Stay on your guard, men. These demons are quite dangerous and not to be taken lightly," the king cautions as he slowly leads his friends deeper into the lair of the deadly cows.

Suddenly, the warriors find themselves surrounded. It seems the vile beasts had sensed them coming and had decided to sneak up on them before the warriors could do the same. The beasts' teeth are long and pointed, dripping with foam. Their eyes glow with a horrid crimson and the cries they give could shake the wills of lesser men but not these heroes.

"Knights! Spread out! We're only outnumbered three to one. That is barely enough for us break a sweat. But be wary. Though we might be strong, they are cunning and swift and can take you by surprise."

"He who defeats the least is a rotten chicken egg!" the mischievous one cries. The others laugh and begin to battle.

The champion quickly lives up to his name, felling six monsters in the time it would take a normal man to swallow in fear. In short time a small pile surrounds him yet still more charge at him with their horns lowered. The beasts bellow, paw and snort, spraying spittle and noxious fumes into the air. He swings his mighty sword with great strength, gouging into flesh and fur, bringing forth blood and gore. Dodging with more grace than a body his size should have, the strong one severs as many limbs as he can reach. Though the odds seem great, a toothy grin covers the lower half of his face.

The gentle warrior, who fights just a few feet away from the champion, has only a small pile of bodies to his name, deciding instead to dodge and stun the creatures, using only a staff to cause any damage. Though he knows these beasts to be foul and evil he cannot bring himself to harm them unless absolutely necessary. He does not find joy in this fight as his friends do but he knows this must be done to protect the people his lord rules over. The beasts try to take advantage of his supposed weakness but the gentle one just evades the advances and knocks their legs from beneath them. The cries of pain as the monsters fall bring small tears to his eyes and a stern look to his face.

The strategist is a warrior to watch. His moves are strange yet very effective. He never leaves his original place yet body after body falls at his feet. His arms move in seemingly erratic patterns, flinging small objects through the air. The objects ricochet between rocks and fence posts, killing monsters left and right. They bellow and roar in pain as the tiny pebbles hit their eyes and ears and sensitive, exposed underbellies. While the objects might be small, they still cause extensive damage. Though the knight is not very strong, he calculates the correct angle and force needed to achieve his goal. With a wicked gleam in his eye and a controlled smirk upon his thin lips, the strategist continues his duty as a hero of the land.

The spy fights a little more mysteriously. He moves quickly, in between the legs of the beastly bovine, causing them to crash into each other. The spy cuts and slices at the legs with his dual knife fighting style and bellies as he moves beneath the bodies. The beasts become angrier as they try to crush the spy, using hooves and heads to corral him only to fail and run into each other. Loud crashes and roars bellowed from his area of the field and soon the grass was littered with the fallen. A small smile graces his fair lips as he continues his assault against this terrible foe.

The mischievous one fights crazily, with much energy and vigor. He moves quickly and hits hard, causing grievous wounds with one swing of his lance. He jumps, slides, dodges, and runs around the deadly demons. These horrendous oafs are too large to keep up with him and the bumble into each other, knocking heads and stumbling. His pile is the biggest so far and so is the army trying to destroy him. His eyes are wide and his grin encompasses his entire lower face. He laughs loud and long, moving quickly. This is the most fun he's had in weeks!

All around him are the sounds of revelry as the king faces off with the lead monster. This rancid beast is ten times the size of the lord, with a head as large as a hay bale. It snorts and paws at the ground, eyes glaring towards the king, waiting for its chance to charge. The king, too, is waiting. He stares the creature down, following its every move, preparing himself for the strike. Suddenly, the beast dodges to the left, more agile on its feet than its smaller followers. It tries to gouge the king with its stubby horns but the king moves out of the way and attempts to land a blow. The beast takes the blow and aims for the warrior. It connects and the knight goes flying. Hitting the ground with a roll, the king comes to his feet and charges the beast. He moves left and then doubles back, aiming his sword the demon's eye. Luckily, the hit connects.

A roar of pain rings the air as the beast tries to shake the sword loose. Clinging, the king climbs the beast's head, yanks the sword free and raises it above his head. The monster bucks and runs, switching directions quickly in an attempt to dislodge the fighter from its back to no avail. The king tightly holds on the thick hide of the beast and thrusts the sword into its back, killing it instantly. The beast crashes to the ground with a final bellow before completely stilling.

It is done. The lead monster is defeated and most of its horde lies dead or dying around it. A few stragglers remain, though they are the strongest and most terrifying of the minions and the king's knights take a few extra minutes to defeat them. While battle rages around him, the king stands triumphantly over his vanquished foe. The land is safe once more! Soon, the rest of armada shall fall and they will have won! They will return to fanfare and revelry. Oh, they will party for hours and hours. It will be a day remembered for-

A whine rises over the stampede of hooves. The young birthday boy startles at the noise. He runs to the noise, eyes wide as he recognizes the animal that made it. Tears are gathering and he picks up speed. He finally reaches the fallen pile of flesh and fur that is Shelly. She and the other dogs had followed the boys to the corral, intending to protect them from the scared cattle. In the commotion the sheep dog had been caught beneath the galloping hooves. Her back was bent in an unnatural angle. The whining picked up in pitch and the boy began to shake.

"Help!" he screams, "Please, someone, get help! Shelly's been hurt!" The gentle boy, understanding in his gaze, runs for the house as fast as his legs could move.

Soon, he returns with many adult figures shouting in confusion and anger behind him. It isn't long before they are in the pasture and have surrounded the boy and his fallen companion. His friends have stood back, the gentle one included, to leave room for the adults to their work. An older woman who belongs to the commanding voice, gathers the child to her chest. She begins to lecture him on the dangers of bovine stampedes and why they are never, ever, to enter the corral without adult supervision again.

The five other boys watch on as their friend cries and the adults take the dog away from the field. They huddle together, whispering about Shelly, worried that she wouldn't make it. The athletic one has his hand on the gentle one's shoulder, in silent comfort, while the intelligent one watches the adults with a blank face. The quiet one huddles close to his friends, wedge between the intelligent one and the athletic one. The trouble maker is shaking slightly, fearing that it's his fault for what happened to the poor sheep dog, and he stands behind the other four, out of view.

The gentle boy moves away from his friends' comfort and walks over to one of the farm hands. "Will she be all right?" he asks the man. The boy's eyes are big and glossed over with unshed tears.

The man looks to him with a stern gaze. "You could have been killed! What were you boys thinking?" he looks them all in the eyes, "Cattle are dangerous and should never be messed with like that. Do you understand? Don't you boys ever do that again." He is furious, they can see. His body shakes and his voice is thick. His eyes seem shiny but for what reason they don't know.

They nod their heads, all except the gentle one. "Shelly, will she be okay?" he persists.

The man's eyes grow hard. "No, she won't be okay. The stampede got her back, snapped her spine. They're taking her to the house to be put down. Remember this the next time you wish to mess with animals larger than yourselves." He stomps away, furious at their mistake, scared that it could have been much worse.

The group of adults has moved back to the farm house with Shelly in tow. The group of boys watches on with stricken expressions. Minutes later, a shot is heard and the terrible whining finally stops. The boys haven't moved from the spot the older man left them and they look on as their friend wails at the sound, still held by the commanding woman, his mother. They themselves fight back tears as they replay the afternoon over in their minds. The adventure of monster fighting is long gone and all the boys want is to go to their beds and hide under the covers.

The woman marches the sobbing boy to them and explains that Shelly is now in a better place and have they learned their lesson in messing with cattle, saying "You could have been hurt, what were you thinking?" She knows boys will be boys but she hopes this accident will teach them to think of the consequences before doing something so dangerous again.

The boys look to their feet and nod solemnly, promising never to do it again, not daring to look her in the eyes. She kneels down and takes them all in to a hug, stating that accidents happen and though they didn't mean to hurt Shelly, there's nothing they can do to change it. All they can do now is learn from this mess and grow a little stronger, more adult. She leads them back to the house. They follow, subdued and quiet, each thinking over what they had learned and vowing never to disobey again.