Old man Tyrone was a strange sort.
He called himself a sheep farmer, which was not that strange, all thing considered. The village Lanata was one built on sheep farming, after all, and he was hardly the only one. No, the strange thing about him was everything else.
He arrived in the village out of nowhere one day, with no explanation for where he had come from, and no reason to settle in their village that any of the villagers could see, wearing clothes none of them knew the likes of.
He made himself at home in a house on the hill just across the river, and it seemed as if the house itself had materialized overnight, yet it carried the marks of one that had always been there. The way it stood on the hill, it and the sheep corral outside it was clearly visible throughout the village, and no one could have told you when it was built. One morning, it was simply there.
Tyrone himself was as strange as his manners. Aside from his unusually fair skin, he looked like any other man, but he never seemed to change. Twenty years after he appeared, he looked as young as he ever had, and that was when they started to call him old man Tyrone, not because he looked old, but because he must be, after all.
He rarely spoke to anyone. He exchanged a word here and there if the situation called for it, but he never sought out company, preferring to stay up on the hill with his flock. When he did speak, he spoke with a faint accent no one could place. The only people he ever seemed to speak freely with were the children, and the children seemed to like him in return.
If Tyrone was a strange man, his flock was stranger yet.
They varied in size more than sheep traditionally did, with some seeming the size of horses if looked at out the corner of your eye. All but some of them carried horns that could kill a man with a simple throw of the head, and every once in a while one was spotted with more than the usual number. Their fleece was black as the blackest night, shimmering like oil on water and one could doubt it was even there unless one reached out to touch it, which every other year or so, a group of boys dared each other to do. Nothing bad ever happened, but it was still considered a dangerous game. Sometimes, people would glimpse hints of the whitest white between the black bodies, but it was never confirmed as anything other than drunken delusions.
Tyrone’s sheep held a glimpse in their eyes that was far more intelligent than sheep usually were. It was said they watched the village from the hill, and knew everything that went on in the whole valley, and that they told it to Tyrone when he saw to them. No one knew quite how many sheep there were, either. Some days, there were barely twenty, but once, Daisy, who lived down by the river, swore up and down she had counted several hundred of them. Somehow, he also managed to fit them all in his house.
It was not unusual for shepherds to bring an animal or two into their houses during harsh, cold winter nights. It was stuffy and it smelled, but it was by far preferable to freezing to death.
Tyrone brought his flock into his home on a very different basis. Unrelated to the seasons, every single sheep in his corral walked into the house once a day, regularly as clockwork. No one could understand how they all fit in there, and no one could understand why, either.
When anyone dared ask, Tyrone only smiled and said, “Well, it can’t do for them to miss their reality shows, now can it?” which made no sense at all.
In a village where every other man owned sheep, shearing season was a very social event. They made the mistake of inviting Tyrone only once.
Not that he did anything bad to the sheep, or to any of the people, it was more that his method for shearing his flock was quite unnerving.
The sheep seemed to grumble at the chore, being distinctly unamused by the whole thing, but they all lined up obediently as well-trained dogs when he glared at them. Once settled, Tyrone grabbed onto the wool of the first sheep and ripped it straight off its body in a single, fluid motion.
The rest of the sheep-shearers were left gaping.
A few of the younger men experimentally tugged on the wool of their own sheep before their older relatives smacked them across their ears and set them back to work.
The conclusion they ended up falling back on was the Tyrone simply did not know the proper method by which to shear a sheep. And that he should probably not be invited to any more shearing events.
Tyrone also had a table at the annual farmer’s market, a few villages over, selling his wool with the other shepherds.
The merchants who visited his stall and left with wares after a complete transaction were a different sort than those usually seen at the market. They paid little heed to the other stalls, and unless you watched them carefully, you would find your eyes sliding over them, as if you wanted to pay little heed to them as well. If nothing else, the villagers who paid attention noticed the strange merchants paid Tyrone quite a lot of respect.
Back in Lanata, time went on, the years passed by as usual, and Tyrone’s sheep began to spell out messages on the hill.
Never long ones, because the hill was not that big, and never, the villagers noticed, while Tyrone was around to see, but it did confirm that the sheep were watching the village.
At least the first message they ever wrote spelled out, ‘WE’RE WATCHING’.
Large parts of the village dropped what they were doing to watch the pitch-black shapes on the hill graze in the pattern of giant letters. Those of them who could read, read it out loud for the others. It was unnerving, but not that much worse than wat was to be expected from Tyrone’s sheep.
The next message spelled out, ‘WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID’, and a cold chill went down several villagers’ spines.
The sheep later segued into messages like, ‘JOHAN THINKS EMIL IS CUTE’ and ‘NAOMI NICKS APPLES SOMETIMES’, and they eventually got used to it like they had everything else. After all, there was nothing they could do about it.
Whether or not Johan Steen did think Emil was cute, he was obsessed with sheep.
His own flock was one of the finest in Lanata, and the surrounding areas too, and he was always looking for chances to improve it. Almost the second Tyrone moved into the village, Johan was nagging him about buying a ram or two for studding purposes.
This was not surprising, as while Tyrone’s flock was unnerving, they were undoubtedly top-quality specimens.
Tyrone himself almost never watched them, and had no dogs or anything like it keeping them safe, yet over the course of the year, not a single sheep was lost to wolves. And then there was the incident with the sheep thieves.
Sheep thieves was of course a normal part of life as a shepherd. Oher shepherds from other villages would sneak in and run off with the sheep while their owners slept, and the only real remedy would be to find out who had done it and steal the sheep back. Still, when someone stole Tyrone’s entire flock during the course of the night, the villagers expected him to be a least a little distraught, or to be out looking for them. Instead, he sat at the tavern with a glass of beer and a strange smile and said, “No, it’s alright. They’ll come back.”
As he had only stayed in the village for a year and a half, the villagers mostly thought he was delusional and shook their heads at him. They would have offered to help, but, well, he was a stranger, and he did not get much along with anyone, and either way he was not asking for help.
When the sheep thieves did indeed walk back into the village a few days later, with the flock in tow and asking very nicely where they could find its owners, their surprise was quite a sight to see.
So yes, despite the strange fact that no one had ever seen a lamb in Tyrone’s flock, not to mention sheep doing what sheep usually did in spring, Johan wanted nothing more than to get one of those black rams for studding his own flock. Every year he asked, and every year Tyrone said no.
Asking turned into pleading turned into begging, until eventually, Tyrone paused instead of immediately refusing a request, and said that sure, he could borrow a ram for a year, but nothing more.
Johan was at this point ecstatic to get even this much, and watched with a great smile as Tyrone seemingly discussed the arrangement at length with one of his rams. Johan did not understand quite what was up with the one-sided conversation, nor why a ram would be grounded in the first place, but he left for home that day with a night-black and surly ram in tow, and high hopes for the future.
Of course, he never did get any lambs off that ram. In fact, it had taken one look at the flock of sheep, which looked rather drab beside the regal creature, looked very confused, and then walked over to the side of the corral to graze. On the other hand, not a single sheep had been lost to predators that year, so it was not a complete loss.
Life moved on. Time passed.
When fifty years had gone by and Tyrone still looked as he always had, the villagers eventually all agreed that he had to be a wizard. He never deprived them of the notion.
Old man Tyrone was a wizard. His sheep were a wizard’s sheep and his house was a wizard’s house. Everything made a lot more sense that way. Eventually, they stopped calling him old man Tyrone and started simply calling him The Wizard.
As any other special thing that happens to such a community and stays around, and that they can do nothing about, they developed a kind of pride around him. Sure, he was creepy and unsociable, and his sheep randomly announced people’s small but dirty secrets to the world, maybe he infuriated people at times, maybe he scared the living daylights out of most of the youngsters who were dared by friends to approach his house at night, maybe eerie music could be heard from his home, and maybe he was a wizard, and wizards were rumoured to be fickle and dangerous, but he was their wizard, dammit, and they were proud if him.
He would do magic for them too, sometimes, and at a price. It was not something one should usually ask for, as angering the wizard was likely an easy way to die, but in a pinch, they could.
If people were sick and dying, and nothing anyone did could help, or if someone was lost in the woods and might never come home, if they were desperate, sometimes, someone would come to the wizard’s door to ask for help, and sometimes he would grant it, for a price. Never money. Sometimes goods or precious items. Sometimes other, stranger things. Those who were desperate enough to come to his door were always willing to pay.
Lanata was a lucky village in that it lay about on the border between two kingdoms, and far from the most populated regions of either, so the tax collector rarely bothered them. In fact, it seemed as if neither kingdom was entirely sure where the village belonged at all. The villagers mostly followed the laws of whatever kingdom was most practical at the time, and paid whichever tax collector arrived, when he did, about once or twice a decade.
The first tax collector to come there and take note of Tyrone was warned to leave him alone. Only the second one did not heed the warning.
They led the man over the river and up the trail towards the secluded house. As they passed the corral, the sheep stopped grazing and followed them with their red eyes. The tax collector looked back and saw nothing but very remarkable and most likely valuable sheep.
Tyrone met them in the door and asked what they wanted.
The tax collector answered that he was there to collect the tax, and that the king had decided that this year’s tax was to be paid in a single sheep from his flock.
The villagers who had guided the man expected Tyrone to refuse. They did not expect him to laugh and say, “Sure, but you have to bring her all the way there on your own.”
He then loosed a small sheep from the corral, whispered a few words in her ear, and waved the man off with her, grinning all the way.
The sheep wandered back through the village a day later, with a scrap of cloth matching the tax collector’s jacket hanging from her teeth.