The early morning sun beat mercilessly down on the dry, brown grass promising another unusually sweltering day, not that it wasn't always hot, but the past few days had been unbearable. Small, wiry sheep grazed their way slowly down a steep hill, stepping carefully on the treacherous and rocky ground, their lambs leaping along behind them or lying panting in the shade of some of the larger boulders, already suffering from the intense heat in their thick, woolly coats. The odd goat wandered between the sheep nibbling at the few scrubby bushes with their kids trailing along behind them, careful not to venture too far from their mothers. At the very top of the hill a few gnarled and twisted trees offered a little shade for the shepherds watching their animals.
Two of the shepherds, Dan and Zebulun, were leaning causally back against the rough bark of the trees talking and laughing as they shared a pleasant breakfast of brown bread and goat's cheese. Despite their seemingly relaxed manner they were keeping a close eye on the animals and every now and again on of them would scan the area carefully for signs of danger. The third and youngest, Benjamin, had fallen asleep and was curled on the ground next to them with his head resting on his folded arms.
As they were sharing out the last of the cheese the brothers heard the sound of cheerful whistling from below them and a figure dressed in a beautiful, multicoloured coat strolled into view over the crest of the hill. Zebulun and Dan exchanged a glance, the good mood evaporating suddenly. Before either of them could say anything the approaching figure raised a hand and waved cheerfully at them, calling out a friendly 'good morning' as he made his way towards them.
"What does he want?", Dan muttered out of the corner of his mouth to his brother while fixing a smile on his face and waving back as enthusiastically as he could manage.
Zebulun only had time for an irritated shrug as the figure had already reached the trees they were leaning against. "Joseph, what are you doing out here?", he asked doing his best to conceal the note of annoyance in his voice.
"I was passing and I heard you talking." Slipping off the stunning coat Joseph tossed it carelessly onto a low branch of one of the trees and settled himself down beside them, crossing his legs and resting his chin in his hands. Neither of his brothers could conceal the brief flash of envy that crossed their faces as Joseph treated the wonderful coat so nonchalantly. Fortunately at that moment Joseph was looking at the sleeping Benjamin and didn't notice. By the time he turned back to them they were smiling again. There was a short silence as the two older brothers finished their meal and Joseph sat with his eyes shut, seemingly lost in thought.
After a few minutes, just as Dan and Zebulun were starting to wonder why their brother couldn't just go away and leave them alone, Joseph opened his eyes, a slight frown on his face. "Last night I had the strangest dream," he paused trying to recall all the details. Dan shuffled uncomfortably, not even slightly interested in what Joseph's dream could have been about, and Zebulun drummed his fingers impatiently on the dry ground beside him.
Totally oblivious Joseph continued cheerfully: "It was harvest time and we were all harvesting the corn."
"Very strange," Zebulun cut in sarcastically. He glanced over at Dan who was trying very hard to avoid catching his eye and seemed to be struggling not to burst out laughing, while ignoring Joseph as best he could.
Joseph earnestly shook his head. "No, that's not the strange part," he informed them patiently. "The strange part was when all your sheaves of corn turned and bowed to mine."
Dan still didn't look very interested. "So what? I have strange dreams all the time."
Joseph persisted: "Yes, but what do you think it means?"
"How should we know?", Zebulun shrugged, "Maybe it doesn't mean anything." He got up and pretended to be very busy counting the sheep and goats, hoping Joseph would just stop talking and go away.
He didn't. "Dreams always mean something," he insisted.
"No, they don't," Dan had stopped laughing and was frowning up at his younger brother. He seemed to be getting rather annoyed. "Well, if it has to mean something, what do you think it means?"
"I can't be sure," Joseph began uncertainly, absent-mindedly tossing small pebbles down the hill.
Dan had to repress the urge to grab his wrist and tell him the pebbles might frighten the sheep or wake up Benjamin. He ground his teeth angrily and waited for Joseph to continue.
"Well, what if it means that I'm more important then you?", Joseph suggested, throwing another stone, that nearly hit one of the lambs. "Or," he added hastily when he saw the looks on his brothers' faces, "or that I'm going to be more important than you in the future? You know, be more influential or something?"
Zebulun let out a snort. "Isn't that a bit much to interpret into one dream? It could just mean you're better at harvesting corn than we are." He, too, was scowling slightly. Joseph telling them about his dream was annoying enough, without having to analyse what the dream could possibly mean. Zebulun also wasn't sure he liked the idea of Joseph rising above all his brothers very much. Like things weren't bad enough as they were with their father and Joseph's stupid coat.
"But that's not all," Joseph cried enthusiastically, "I had another dream, where..."
"Oh great," Dan hissed under his breath, "another one."
"...I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon and they were all bowing down before my star. Surely that must mean I'm right, don't you think? I mean, the eleven stars were clearly representing you and they were bowing and..."
"One of the lambs seems to have fallen off that small cliff," Zebulun spat between gritted teeth, "we'd better go and rescue it." He set off as quickly as he could down the hill. Yelling "Come on, Dan!" over his shoulder.
Joseph's other brother scrambled to his feet. "See you later, Joseph." He forced a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and set off after Zebulun. Half way down the hill he turned back and called: "Why don't you go and ask Reuben about your dream? He's oldest, I'm sure he'll know what it means." And with that he turned and vanished from view.
For a few minutes Joseph stayed sat under the tree in the hope that Benjamin might wake up so he could ask his opinion on the dreams, but his youngest brother stayed firmly asleep. With a shrug Joseph clambered to his feet and retrieved his coat. Perhaps Dan was right and he should ask Reuben's advice. Humming cheerfully he set off back down the hill, his beautiful coat draped over one arm.
As soon as Joseph was lost from view two figures materialised from behind a rock and made their way back to the welcome shade of the trees. With an angry snort Dan threw himself down and glared at the spot were Joseph had just been sitting. "Corn and stars," he muttered furiously, "Does he actually believe it means anything? They are just dreams, dreams don't mean anything."
Zebulun shook his head. "Just some stupid dreams," he agreed. For a while the two men sat in silence both lost in thought. "You don't suppose they might mean something do you?", Zebulun broke the silence. He was chewing his lip nervously and a worried frown creased his forehead.
"Of course not," Dan answered a little too quickly, but he looked uncertain now, "The idea of Joseph as somebody influential is just a joke." They both laughed but neither of them were quite convinced.
At that moment Benjamin stirred beside them and rolled over opening his eyes. He sat up looking rather scruffy and tired and blinked in the bright sunlight, rubbing his eyes vigorously.
Dan looked over at him and said in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "Good morning, Benjamin. Have any fascinating dreams you want to tell us about?"