when he stumbled into my garden, out of breath and stealing repeated glances over his right shoulder.
"They'll murder me," he panted. "They mean to and they will. I don't suppose you've got a cupboard or something where I could hide for a moment?"
"I might," I said, squinting to get a glimpse of his pursuers, who were just then coming up the hill. My eyesight is not what it once was, and all I could see was an indistinct white mass. "By 'they', you're referring to--"
"Well, them," he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "And also the lumberjack I met in Riding Wood, and the mermaid who lives in Potter's Creek, though she isn't really a mermaid anymore, just a fishy-smelling sort of person, and the giant's wife, and the town council of Little Wobbling."
"But your most pressing concern is--"
"The herd of angry sheep, yes." He'd nearly caught his breath, though his expression remained worried. "So. About that cupboard?"
"Come in, young man," I said. He didn't need to be asked twice, and I latched the door behind me.
"The cupboard is just there," I said, pointing, "but suppose you tell me why the sheep are after you, first."
"It's their shepherdess really," said Jack. "She thinks I've got one of her lambs."
His mouth twitched. "Well, I had one. I was going to take it home to my mum. But it got loose, and then the herd caught up to me, and if I can't give them their lamb back she'll have them trample me for sure. May I get in the cupboard now?"
"In a moment," I said, impressed at his restraint despite the fact that he had not yet taken his eyes off the cupboard door. Polite boy. "Reach in there and get me a ball of white wool."
He squirmed, but did as he was told. I took out my needles and cast on.
He watched for a moment or two. "Blimey," he said. "I've never seen anyone knit so fast. Not even my mum."
"I know," I said, and cast off, pulling the end of the yarn through the remaining stitches. "Here, Mrs. Kettle." The elder of my two cats pricked her ears and trotted over, and I slipped her into my creation. "Go play chase with the sheep for a while, there's a dear."
I let her out the front door and called to the shepherdess, who was some fifty meters off, "There's your lamb! Go catch her yourself!" Mrs. Kettle loped around the house in the direction of her favorite mouse-catching haunt, and I saw the sheep alter their course to follow her.
I went back into the house and latched the door again. "Now, young man," I said, "In exchange for that favor, you will introduce yourself and tell me how you came here. I haven't had a good amusement in a while."
So he sat down and told me that his name was Jack, though some folk called him John, or Ivan, or Ian, or Hans, or One-Eyed Louie ("That was my father. Folk get us confused.") and that he didn't know why, ("I try to be good and listen to my mum!") but people were always after him for one thing or another, and that was the long and the short of it.
I made tea and pulled out some gingerbread. Between mouthfuls (he looked runtish but had, apparently, the stomach of a musk ox) Jack admitted that it might have something to do with his habit of taking things ("souvenirs") that belonged to other people ("but not for me, that's stealing. They're for my mum.")
After tea Jack pressed me to show him some more knitting.
"Coo," he breathed when I pulled out my Fair-Isle cardigan in twelve different shades of blue. "I wish I could do that."
"I'll teach you," I said. "Sit. Watch. Do what I do."
Jack proved an eager pupil, and by the end of half an hour had learnt to cast on, bind off, and produce a respectable length of stockinette. A noise at the door interrupted the lesson.
Mrs. Kettle was back, her sheep disguise matted and covered in burdocks. She dropped a mouse at my feet and purred proudly. My other cat, Rapunzel, came over to inspect the prize. Faint bleating noises grew steadily louder.
"It's time you were off, my boy," I told Jack. "I'll give you some gingerbread for the road. And take that gold watch you were going to steal out of your pocket."
Jack's eyes widened, but he obediently produced the watch and put it back on the side table whence he'd snatched it.
"I've got something better for you," I said, going back to my cupboard. "They were given to me by my mother, and to her by my grandmother, master knitters both. My children, alas, never showed any inclination for the craft.
"This is a ball of yarn which will never run out, so long as you remember to pull from the center, and not from the outside. And these are two needles which will never break or grow dull. Use them well, and they are yours to keep, on one condition: That you come back here in a year's time, assuming you live that long, and tell me what you've been up to."
Jack nodded, and I shooed him out the door and off on his way. Just in time, too; the shepherdess and her herd were coming around the corner of the house, and running towards us from the opposite direction I could see a man with a fine beard and an axe, and a woman who exuded, despite the distance between us, a definite smell of fish.
The sheep disguise* was inspired by Caroline Lowbridge's* Sheepish Look* and was knit with Knit Picks Bare, Merino Wool Lace Weight on 00 needles.
*Ravelry links. If you're not on Ravelry, you should be.
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