Of course it comes back to the shepherd. What is he doing right now? No, I’m more interested in the cave. That hill in the distance. I wonder how long it would take to walk there. I think it’s too late right now, but tomorrow, I’m going to hike over there. Should I tell the birds? I turn my back on the window, and survey the now empty attic. Sybil is puttering about on the same chest he’s been standing on since I crawled up here.

 

“Sybil, have you been to that cave?” I query.

 

“Of course not. This, just now, was the first report. We must have at least one more. Now that I have sent the watchers back with actual useful instruction, the next report should be more enlightening.”

 

Sybil continues shuffling back and forth and I notice a piece of wood under his feet that does not exactly match the lid of the chest. Creeping closer, I see that it lights up dimly when Sybil steps on it. An electronic device?

 

“What’s that?”

 

Sybil jerks his head like he didn’t expect me to be that close to him, but he responds calmly enough, “This is today’s report.” He squints his eye at me. “Don’t you have reports here? Or records, or communications?”

 

“Of course, but we don’t keep them like that.” I answer. “At least I don’t.” I lean closer to look for buttons on the device, but Sybil picks it up and flits to another chest, this one open.

 

“Well, that’s finished.” He states pointedly, as he drops the stick into the chest and flips the lid closed with one foot.

 

I guess I’ll take the hint and go downstairs.

 

Mother’s already seen the food I brought, and has decided to make roast for dinner. I don’t think she’s quite figured out the cooking thing yet, though. The roast turns out so far past well done that no amount of gravy can help it. But Mother is sitting there smiling, so I’m gonna eat it.

 

“Have you seen the sheep down the road?” I want to ask her about the shepherd, but without being weird.
“There’s sheep? I haven’t had a chance to get out yet. Want to take a walk after dinner? We could see what else is down the road.” Her reply puts that explanation to rest.

 

“Sure. There’s even some adorable little lambs.” Maybe the shepherd will talk sense if Mother’s there too.

 

The evening is very nice, but the shepherd doesn’t appear. We go down the road past the store and into the little town. The sun spins a spectacular sunset, and we walk through a golden light that makes the street prettier than it is. Suddenly, we stumble upon a bakery. Like the grocery store, this shop is also made of stones, but the inside is much more satisfying. The furniture is all wooden and rustic, with dried flowers and eucalyptus decorating everything. The smell of cinnamon and canned peace is almost overwhelming, but we order something with a name we don’t understand and sit at a tiny polished table to drink tea. Mother chats with the shop owner. She’s doing so much better here, but…

 

“… be there about 5 tomorrow. We are just so pleased to have such a nice pair in the Fordolyn cottage.” I suddenly realize the shopkeeper has set up some event with Mother. I missed it. Does it have anything to do with the welcome the shepherd talked about?

On the way back to the cottage, I ask Mother what it was. She explains that there will be some sort of town festival tomorrow. The shop lady was very adamant that we shouldn’t miss it. There will be folk dances and traditional wood carving. So, not a welcome party. I’m a little disappointed.

 

Now I sit on my bed and watch the night outside my window. Oh yeah, I will go to that hill in the morning. How could I forget about that?

 

The hill is farther than it looks. I found a knapsack in the mudroom of the cottage this morning, so I have water, and lunch, but this is taking longer than expected. At least it’s not a very hard walk. I’ve been following a road mostly. Every once in a while there are these paths through the fields, which is very convenient. Maybe this used to be a popular hiking spot? Or maybe it’s busier in some specific hiking season? Anyway, there’s no one around today. Even the sheep are gone. No, wait, I think I can see them off the South perhaps. The shepherd must be down there too. If I don’t get to this cave before lunch, I’m going to have to turn back.

 

The paths are getting smaller I think. I’m almost to the hills now. There hasn’t been a road for at least an hour. I wonder who owns this land. Do all the fields belong to that one shepherd? None of them seems to be anything but grass, and rocks. At least the weather is cooperating. Oh, look, there are more trees.

 

“You’ve come!” A voice from the tree breaks my reverie.

 

“Tivvy!” I see her when she swoops to a lower branch of the hornbeam nearest me.

 

“You’ve come to see the cave haven’t you? I hoped you would, but I was sure Sibyl wouldn’t let you.” She struts down the branch with a smile in her feathers.

 

“I didn’t ask any of the birds. Do you think I should have? I did tell Mother.” She stops walking but doesn’t answer, so I continue, “Where is the cave?”

 

She still doesn’t answer. I should have told the birds I was coming. Maybe not Sybil, but I could have told
Henwyn. What if she wanted come too? Should I go back? Should I just find this cave on my own? Will Tivvy ever talk to me again?

 

“Well, come on then.” I breathe again when Tivvy ruffles her neck and decides whatever faux pas I committed can’t be helped.

 

We come to a creek and follow it into a small ravine that cuts behind the hill. Suddenly there’s a cool breeze and the cave appears. It’s adorable really. This whole little forest with the creek and the sunlight and the grey rocks is a wedding photoshoot waiting to happen.

 

“Where’s the box?” a new voice speaks the instant I duck into the cave. I can’t see anything because of the sunlight in my eyes, but I know the voice.

 

It’s the shepherd.

 

Louise Warren