They had left the boy behind long ago. Tatters of sunbleached cloth caught the wind on thin flagpoles but otherwise only their stories remained. The tales of high above. Past the clouds.
The boy had begun to gather his own wool from the farmers after the sheep had been sheared and the merchants had taken their share. Some of them had begun to leave behind stock for the boy.
He paid in thick silver coins, the kind he scrounged by carrying bags of wheat up and down the mountainside every day. It was not much but it was enough. All of his friends worked too and their hands and feet were growing rough against the rock.
When the harvest was over, and the wheat hidden away in the granary on Sky Roof, the boy would sit with the weaver across the valley as she spun his wool and her stories. The weaver was older than the boy could yet count and he wondered if she had lived longer than some of the stones.
He always asked to hear about the flyers. She obliged often but not always.
‘Sometimes, you have to learn other things,’ she said. ‘Things closer to home.’
The boy nodded along to her lessons. He heard all she said but listened only half the time. His mind wandered far off, towards the clouds. Past them.
His first balloon had sailed off far above the valley. It was light and small, at the cost of a single season, and he had tied it to a hook of stone that curved up and out like a finger. The thin rope had snapped in a fierce storm.
The boy was far away, down below in the stone home of his family. He had been standing by the door but saw nothing except the rain in the dark. He had seen it fly off in his dreams many times since.
The boy found himself racing up and down the mountain the next spring. His broadening back ached as he shouldered one sack, then two, then three. He took home one, then two, then three silver coins. The farmers traded a season of his coins for a bale of wool.
With difficulty and without help (for he refused it), the boy wheeled the bale across the valley to the weaver.
She laughed when he arrived. ‘I cannot weave this,’ she told him.
The boy huffed and puffed beside his bale. He picked some twigs from its surface and saw sticks and rocks and dirt all the way through. ‘It is too dirty?’ he asked.
‘I cannot weave a bale without coin,’ she said. ‘I have been doing the boy a favour. But you’re not so much a boy now, are you?’
In body perhaps he had grown but his mind, fixated on old stories about long ago explorers, had remained steadfast. Stuck. Stubborn, to hear his mother say it.
‘No,’ he said. ‘But the harvest is far away. The bale will be worn, wet, burned by the sun. Ruined. I have spent what I could have given you.’
The weaver looked to the boy before casting her eyes past her hut. Her home stood atop an outcrop that peered out into the valley. She saw the range reach off into the distance and, above it, the peerless call of a sheer blue.
‘You are not the first, you know.’ She looked back to the boy. ‘Others have come, even to me, to chase the sky.’
‘Where are they now?’ the boy asked. He rolled his bale a little closer to the hut, hoping.
‘Shearing the sheep for your wool. Holding our grain safe. Some have left the village. Some were younger. some were older. Some…’
‘I once wove a balloon from a bale,’ she continued. ‘I affixed a basket and sent another young man chasing stories.’
‘Did he come back?’
‘No,’ she said.
‘Did he stay amongst the clouds?’
‘Did he fall?’
The weaver sighed and gestured to the boy to bring the bale closer. He did and a smile crept across his features. The boy picked again at the surface of the wool when it was resting by the side of the weaver’s hut.
‘You will have your balloon in a month,’ she told him, ‘for ten coins.’
The boy nodded and his hands began to slip away from the bale. The boy considered it now to belong to the weaver. But his fingertips caught on the frayed edges of the wool. He had never seen the weaver spin wool into a balloon.
‘Where did he go?’ The boy asked.
‘Ten coins,’ the weaver smiled.
The boy let go.
‘The new harvest is far from now.’
‘Look west,’ the weaver said, ‘and imagine the roof of the world. In the valleys you will find all you need. The curse of adventure comes at the price of everything you have. And all you want is far away.’
‘What do I do?’
‘Keep going. Always.’
The boy stepped away from the weaver’s hut, back towards the valley. Back towards the mountain. He felt an urgent itch, one unscratchable, and the cool of the rock on his bare feet. His tunic blew in the breeze and his long hair slicked back along his scalp.
‘Where did he go? The other boy?’
‘I don’t know,’ the weaver said. ‘He flew off, more a man, and saw it. The roof of the world. He saw it and never came back.’