Sheep are dumb.
Sheep will run themselves into a corner and, if the corner is a see-through fence, they'll have no idea why they can't reach a place they can see. So they won't back out.
Sheep will roll over on their lambs. Sheep will head off in whatever direciton the ram goes.
And they stink.
Well. A barn stinks. Sheep just add to the aroma.
I learned this all on the first day with the herd.
"Why, exactly, do you want me to help you with these sheep?" I said.
We were standing in a field in Illinois, the wind rustling the grass. Most of the time when you sweat the wind carries the heat off you, but today the wind was hot, and offered no relief. The fencing and the barn were both pretty far off and there was a lot of space to get lost in -- bu I'd spent the last hour running all over the New Mexico landscape, trying to herd a bunch of sheep on foot into a relatively narrow teleportation gateway. So it didn't feel that bad in comparison.
"You help me?" Said Masie Sani. "Oh no, it's the other way around. I'm helping you. These are YOUR sheep, I'm giving you to take care of."
"How -- wait, what?"
"Of course, I can take them back," said Masie Sani. "I suppose you can just buy your own yarn from the store and skip a few steps, and weave your cloth. Or, heck, you could skip that step, buy your wool pre-woven, and just slap the cloak together. Or you could just buy your cloak pre-made and just out it on and call yourself a wizard. But the more steps you skip, well...the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. We both know how that works."
"My own herd of sheep, huh? Great." I looked towards the barn. "I feed the sheep, I raise the sheep, I shear the sheep...what happens after that?"
"Washing, carding, spinning, and weaving. But that's a long ways off -- these sheep are already lambed and shorn. You're going to be doing this for a while."
"But...I've got studies to attend to, don't I? Places in the city to see?" I jerked my head towards the horizon, where the towers of Chicago were just peeking over. "Chicago calls."
Masie chuckled. "Don't worry. Sheep can take care of themselves for most of the day; once the lambs are grown you just have to be here in the mornings and evenings to get the sheep in and out of the barn. I think you've had enough of a taste of herding sheep the Diné way to appreciate this version."
"I'm still going to be doing it, aren't I? It's not like I have a dog out here. Or a horse. Just me and my feet -- "
"And your friends, if they like. Shepherding doesn't have to be alone. Few things HAVE to be done alone. As long as you've got something to take your mind off wandering through Chicago and getting into trouble, well, that's the important thing, and I can tell Instructor Hurley that you're doing okay under my care."
"And I get to look at lambs every day?" Said Jo, her eyes gleaming. "That's a fair price for flying you to the middle of nowhere every morning and evening."
"I don't have to call upon you every day," I said, "I mean, I could ask Aurore to teleport me, or Sameer to bring me through a mirror."
"Oh no, no no. No trouble at all. Not at all. I need an excuse to see lambs every day." Jo jogged towards the herd, which edged away as she approached.
This day had cooled to a more seasonable temperature. A gentle breeze sent waves through the grass that the sheep hadn't nibbled yet. A gentle breeze whose rustle almost sounded like words.
I tried to shut out the sound of the wary sheep and focus on the whisper in the wind. It was a lot harder than listening to the stones of the city -- I was familiar with their speech. But grass and wide-open wind, not so much.
It almost sounded like..."sam hill."
I jogged over to Jo, who was having no luck getting closer to the sheep. "Here's a question I bet you can answer," I said. "Who is Sam Hill?"
Jo looked confused. "Who? Sam Hill is an expression, as far as I know. Like 'what in the sam hill is going on here.' You might as well ask where Tarnation is."
"So let me get this straight," said Aurore, her cloak fluttering in the mild breeze. "You want me to take time out of my sechdule every day to teleport you to this middle of nowhere just so I can help you -- are those lambs?"
"Yes and yes."
"Deal. Sold. I'll take you here every day."
"Now hang on," said Jo. "I already agreed to fly Pat out here each morning and evening."
"Take turns if you like," I said, "I don't care. Or come here on your own. Three people is better than two when it comes to herding. And -- wait one moment -- "
I turned my ear to the breeze. In the spring morning it cooled and tickled my ear -- and spoke in a voice a little louder, a little clearer this time, Sam Hill.
"Answer me this question, Aurore. Who is Sam Hill?"
"I, uh..." Aurore frowned. "Sounds like some kind of farmer I guess? I don't know."
"You do realize that my journies through the mirror can be perilous," said Sameer. "If Sean here wasn't so eager to accompany me on the longer routes, I'd have to refuse your request for daily transport."
Sameer's cloak flapped hard in the high wind.
"On the other hand," said Sean, "We notice that you have a significant amount of lambs involved with this flock. Who could possibly resist the chance to see them?"
"I suppose you could," I said, "once they grow up and become boring old Sheep. Although that will be a while. On a realted note, I wonder if either of you could answer me a certain question -- hang on -- "
I concentrated for a moment. It wasn't hard to miss this time, for the wind was practically shouting in my ear, SAM HILL.
"Pray tell me, who is Sam Hill?"
Sean and Sameer looked at each other -- not in confusion, as I would have expected, but worry.
"Well?" I said. "I haven't got more than perfunctory answers from Aurore or Jo yet. I don't expect you to know much more. I'm just kind of casting my line all over the place here -- "
"If you hear the name whispered on the wind," said Sean, "that means someone is speaking it, somewhere, once more. Calling an ancient name. Not for your ears, but for his."
"How do you -- "
"This is one of those moments," said Sameer, "where someone says friends should divulge all information between each other, and keep no secrets, while the other person desperately tries to convince their friend that some things are too dangerous or too personal to talk about. Let's avoid the awkward nature of that circumstance, shall we? Be content with this knowledge: the name is not spoken in any great city. It is not for the city. It is not for you. Be careful how you ask after the name, Pat. There are many who would do more than simply refuse you, if they knew a girl of the City was looking into the matter."
"Can I find anything about it in the academy library?"
"You can try," said Sean.