Bells clanged. The doll was in a pen that fenced hundreds of sheep, all with bells. The sheepdog sat just beyond the fence and watched the sheep. His daughter, the sheepdog pup with the green bow, was at his side. She rolled in the grass and chased her tail. Her papa ignored her.
Nearby, a sheep nibbled at some short grass next to his purple bowtie.
“Please don’t eat my bowtie!” The doll squeaked and popped to his feet.
She was an old ewe with a dented and tarnished copper bell. Her wool hadn’t been sheered in a while and she looked much rounder than her elderly form. Her bug-eyed gaze stared neither at the herd nor the grass she ate. It was hard to tell if she saw the bowtie or if she bothered to care.
Although the doll wasn’t as nimble as he would like, especially since his purple bowtie was about to be eaten, he scooted through the short grass as quickly as his wobbly limbs allowed. He tumbled to grasp it, his feather in one cloth arm, his purple bowtie now in the other, and he bumped into the ewe’s snout.
The ewe jerked her head. Although a gentle tap, for the doll was plush, it took her a moment to gather her senses. The doll didn’t see her surprise. He was figuring how to tie his purple bowtie.
He fumbled with the fabric, unable to weave it into a knot, or wrap it around his neck, because his cloth arms had no paws or thumbs for such things. Nor did he realize he needed paws or thumbs to do what he tried. Although what he attempted was impossible he had yet to learn what impossible was. So he blundered with the bowtie, all the while the ewe finally saw what tapped her snout. She stared at the doll and didn’t understand what he was. She was so distracted at the sight that she chewed an empty mouth, having already swallowed her grass and hadn’t thought enough to bite at some more.
“Excuse me, do you know how to tie a bow?” The doll asked the ewe.
She didn’t respond. She stared at him and chewed at nothing.
“My bowtie has become unraveled.” He showed it to her. “I don’t know how to tie it.”
Still, she didn’t respond. Her bugling eyes didn’t seem to be looking at him, but they were.
“It’s important to me,” the doll said. “I’m not sure why. I’m glad you didn’t eat it.”
And still, the ewe said nothing. The doll didn’t seem to mind.
“I think I know,” he said. “When I woke underneath the willow tree it was with me. We came from the same place and that must be why it’s important to me. It’s a part of me, like the pup said.”
“So that’s what you are,” she spoke slowly, her voice sounded tired. “Are you a sheepdog pup?”
The doll wasn’t entirely paying attention. He still worked the bowtie, having noticed the ewe’s hooves, which were far less dexterous than his clumsy fabric limbs. It was then he learned how to wrap his purple bowtie around his arm. His stitched mouth curled to smile.
“Are you a sheepdog pup?” The ewe asked again.
The doll tried to match the ewe’s bug-eyed look, but couldn’t. “I don’t know what I am, but the pup and I have things in common, like our laugh. I really like her laugh.”
“How can you not know what you are?” The ewe asked, even slower. “Everyone knows what they are. It’s something you’re born with.”
“Like my bowtie?” The doll perked.
“You cannot be a bowtie,” the ewe shook her head and her bell clanged.
“Why not?” The doll asked.
“A bowtie isn’t alive,” she took a long time to say. “A sheepdog pup is alive, so it’s something you can be. Are you sure you’re not a sheepdog pup? You don’t look like her and are much smaller, but you both have a kindness about you. I am going to miss that when you both become cruel.”
“What?” This upset the doll.
“The farmer’s will makes the sheepdog cruel,” the ewe said.
“Cruel?” The doll was no less upset.
“That’s what a sheepdog is meant to do,” the ewe said. “To bully, bark and bite at us if we don’t follow the farmer. It doesn’t matter if we’re old. It’s his will or his affliction.”
“Why?” The doll squeaked.
“We don’t ask,” the ewe’s voice cracked. “Asking invites pain. It’s better to avoid it.”
“I don’t understand,” the doll said. “A storm can scare and hurt you. But you can’t control a storm. Why would someone act like thunder and lightning? Why would—“
“—Because it’s the farmer’s will.”
The doll thought about a storm without rain or darkness, but with as much terror. He didn’t like how the sheepdog could hurt the sheep and how the sheep could do nothing to stop it. It made him feel small, and the farm and the forest so large. Then a new feeling stirred within his cloth body. It warmed him like the happiness he felt with the pup, shook him like the feeling he shared with Scarlet, and comforted him like the willow tree. From that feeling came a whisper only the doll could hear. It was one so faint he questioned whether he heard anything at all. It said: This is not how the story goes.
“Let’s go.” The doll stood, flung his feather over his shoulder and walked to the pen door.
To find out what happens next, please explore all the wonderful options to purchase the book, Willow Tree’s Gift.