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Yinkin the Shepherd

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It was Booning Day, when Orlanth listens to the pleas of his dependents. His half-brother Yinkin slunk in, his ears and tail drooping, and spoke:

"Oh brother Orlanth, brother Dog has been laughing at me again. He says he does more useful work, and that I just lie around all day. Well, someone's got to guard the granary and keep the evil birds off the fields, I say. But he still scoffs, and says that he could do that job, but I could never do his work and help the boy Voriof herd your cloud-sheep around the hill-pastures. Oh, Orlanth my brother, let me go with Voriof your son and lead the sheep up to their grazing today!"

Orlanth rumbled out his big laugh, and said:

"Oh brother Yinkin, you shouldn't pay too much heed to what that skulking brother Dog says to you. We're all different, and each of us is good at different things. But if you want to try brother Dog's work for a day, good luck to you! Take my cloud-sheep and go with the boy Voriof up to the hill-pastures. Ward them well, and bring them safely home."

So Yinkin and Voriof set out for the hillside with the herd of sheep. And Yinkin thought to himself, "Why are they walking so slowly? They can go faster than this!" So he raised his hackles and snarled out "Rrrruunnnn!", flashing his eyes and teeth at them, and the sheep picked up their heels and fled for the hilltops.

"Why did you do that?" asked Voriof, so Yinkin explained. "Well, I suppose so," said Voriof, "but brother Dog never does it that way." "Ah well," said Yinkin, "maybe he likes the slow, lazy walk up..." And he cat-smiled, half-closing his eyes.

They arrived at the hilltop pastures, where the cloud-sheep had all flocked together and were grazing in the same corner of the same field. And Yinkin the Cat thought to himself, "Why are they huddled together, all eating the same grass? They'd be happier each with a patch of his own!" So he chased the sheep around the fields, until each of them stood shaking and shivering in a place of its own.

"What did you do that for?" asked Voriof, so Yinkin explained. "I suppose you're right," said Voriof, "but brother Dog never does it that way." "Ah," said Yinkin, "it must be an easier job for him when they're all in the same place..." And he purred with satisfaction, to be doing so much better than his rival.

Well, nothing seemed to be happening, so Yinkin took a little nap while the boy Voriof looked after the flock. "Wake me if anything happens," he said; "I fight better when I'm well rested." "Brother Dog usually runs around the field all day keeping an eye on the sheep," said Voriof. "It's a poor workman who always needs to be checking his work," Yinkin replied. "I know those sheep are in good, safe places." "Well..." said Voriof, but the Cat was already napping.

And then, after he'd slept most of the day, he woke up. Everything seemed to be all right when he looked around, so he went off across the hills hunting for food, for himself and for the boy. He found a rabbit, and brought it back to Voriof, who was looking worried. It was getting late.

"You didn't have to worry about me: I can take care of myself," said the Cat. "Anyway, look what I've found!" The boy Voriof said, "It's not you I was worried about. Anyway, look what I've lost! It's getting dark now, and the sheep are scattered all over the hills. It's going to be hard work for us getting them all back down to the stead."

"Oh, that'll be easy," said Yinkin. With his keen cat's eyes he could see where every sheep was standing. He sneaked around behind them, and growled and yowled so they all ran downhill, Yinkin nipping at their flanks, and they gathered together again at the bottom of the hills.

"That was simple!" said Yinkin. "But the sheep look a bit tired, now," said Voriof. "What's that?" asked the Cat. "I thought we were supposed to give them some exercise today! They'll all get fat and lazy if they don't run around once in a while." "I suppose so," said the boy Voriof, puzzled. Brother Dog had never pointed this out to him, and he couldn't quite see what was wrong with the argument, but...

The next day, chief Orlanth came to the sheep-pen to look at his flock. They had burrs all through their cloud-white fleeces; they looked nervous and lean from all the running around; they shied away from Yinkin when he came close.

"How did it go, Yinkin?" asked Orlanth.

"Very easy, my brother," Yinkin replied. "Too easy, in fact. Brother Dog obviously has a cosy enough job here, but it's not really demanding enough to keep my interest. So, if you want, I'll help him out from time to time, but I don't think we need to throw him out of your stead just yet -- idle scrounger though he is."

Orlanth laughed, and scratched his half-brother behind the ears. "You're right, of course, brother Yinkin. You did this so much better than brother Dog, it's plain he wouldn't be able to compete. But I am generous, and I'll keep him on: he does this simple job well enough, in his way. If he ever needs help, though, I know who to ask."

But, strangely enough, from that day to this, Yinkin has never been asked to herd the cloud-sheep of Orlanth again!

This story was inspired by Martin Crim, who suggested that the Orlanthi would use cats to herd their sheep. Having always had pet cats myself, I thought that the impossibility of making these animals do any useful work should be enshrined in myth, before anybody tries it and loses their patience (and their sheep).

It's generally accepted that there are "Cat People" and "Dog People" in the world. But worse even than the noisy, dull, pack-animal hooligan "Dog People" would be "Turn-Cat-Into-Dog People"... and I'd hate to cast the Orlanthi as these. They admire Cats for the animals' all-too-obvious traits (indolence, independence, self-sufficiency); they don't warp them to do work which is better left to noisy, ignorant brutes like Dogs.

An odd, unusual Orlanthi clan might still have cats helping their shepherds: their myth would connect to this Booning Day and the story of Yinkin the Shepherd, and you're likely to find many more Yinkini influences in such a stead.

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