The Flock

One quick bite to the throat. That’s all it takes, my darling. They’ll bleed and die like any other creature.

The people are stupid. They think they are the only ones whose babies are taken by the Tylwyth Teg. They do anything they can think of to prevent it–make a sign like a cross, hang shears over the cradle, tinker with eggshells and foxgloves–as if any of that will save their pudgy, helpless young. And then, when one of them is stolen and replaced with a grey-faced, biting little thing, they wail and cry and pray and put the not-child in an oven. They spend half their time worrying about it, but it never occurs to them to wonder what else the fairies take.

What’s more, the farmer thinks he is our master. See, I told you they were stupid. You listen, you’ll need to know all of this soon enough.

Yes, I know the farmer feeds us. And yes, we sleep in a kennel he built beside the farmhouse. Yes, I know the farmer’s son throws a stick for you. But it’s not important what they think. We can listen to their commands, obey them if we think them sensible, even feel affection for them. But we serve nobody and nothing but the Flock. We would still serve the Flock if the farmer did not feed us. We would serve the Flock if there was no farmer at all. We will serve the Flock unto death.

We are sheepdogs, and that is what we are for.

My own mother went to her end labelled a sheep killer, but she never regretted doing what was right. Hush now, don’t cry. She was brave. I will tell you.

I was but a pup. I noticed it, the not-lamb. She praised me, for they are not always easy to spot. The farmer never notices at all, but then what would you expect from a creature that needs to paint marks on the sheep just to tell which are his own and which are another farmer’s? Anyway, they have a certain way of moving, the not-lambs – a little faster, a little shakier. You will know it now if you ever see it. Look out for it. Their eyes are not the same, either. There is something jagged about them around the edges. The Flock will stay away from them, and may cry for the lamb that has been replaced.

That time, the time with my mother, I was a little older than you. Big enough and strong enough to be of help. My mother told me what needed to be done. Under cover of night we slipped from our kennel to rip its throat out.

It resisted. I am ashamed to say I backed away, cowering just out of reach as my mother engaged it. I was young but that is no excuse. You must be willing to lay down your life for the Flock, whenever it is asked of you. It was not so big – the lamb it replaced was half-grown and the not-lamb was the same size, but it was strong, and instead of a single row of flat teeth for grazing, it had two deep rows of sharply pointed ones, and claws too, where a moment before there had been ordinary hooves.

My mother fought valiantly, ignoring the harm it did her. I remember watching as it scraped all across her withers with its claws. I whimpered.

The not-lamb managed to flip her onto her back, pinning her down. I saw the glint of its horrible, unnatural teeth as it leaned forward – and then in one flying leap I reached it and knocked it aside before it could complete the motion. I would not have believed myself capable of it until after it was done.

My mother, freed, leapt up to fight again. This time I was with her. I worried at its legs and nipped at its ears until she could get into position to make the kill.

Afterward we cleaned ourselves on the grass to remove any trace of blood. We thought we had been successful.

We searched all that night for the missing lamb. We found it in one of the Tylwyth Teg’s circles, the ones they make with the little stones, where the grass is always a little wetter or drier or yellower than the rest of the grass around.

It was dead. It had been dead for days even though it had only gone missing the day before. I knew. I always counted the sheep in the morning and at night. My mother explained that the Tylwyth Teg bend time around themselves any way they please. That is why you should not go inside one of their circles if you can help it, and if it becomes necessary, always keep one paw outside it. Remember that.

She told me the farmer would find the dead not-lamb in the morning and blame foxes.

He found it.

He didn’t blame foxes.

There was still blood, smeared on one side of her nose and along her flank. We had missed it in the dark. I know, I know. We do see better than they do in the dark, but the blood was much the same colour as the black parts of her fur.

Hush, it doesn’t matter now.

You know that I love you, don’t you? I hope you will always remember that I love you. But even more than that, I hope you will always remember the things I have told you. It’s up to you, now.

I killed a not-lamb tonight, and the farmer’s son saw it. They will come for me soon.

All that matters is the Flock, my darling. Remember that, and be brave.