The eastern wind came in from the ocean on heavy waves smashing against vertical limestone cliffs, leading up and over verdant, wildflower-filled pastures of rolling hills. The climate was perfect for a local breed of goat to grow plump and hearty and give their milk an uncommon sweetness.
It also happened to be just right for competitive kite flying.
Every summer folks from around the kingdom and a few from even beyond that, would make their way to the village of Caper, mugs full of iced milk mixed with blueberries and honey and watch the masters make their paper and silk creations dance in the sky.
Emmett, an apprentice goatherd, spent all of his time either anticipating the festival or reliving it. His absent-mindedness allowed more than one goat to get caught in a thicket or trapped in muddy creek banks, and once, the damn fool boy had his head and heart in the clouds and he let three of the poor old beasts run right off the cliffs into the ocean.
Some say, on moonless nights you can still hear them bleating as they plummet towards the surf. But those that do are usually worried women trying to keep their children suckling at their breast.
Emmett entered the amateur contest every year, hoping to raise a kite made from stiff stems and woven with grasses from fields he worked. And every year his craft never made it off the ground, no matter how fast he ran or how hard the wind blew or even as much as he willed it to.
Truth is, the boy was a bit of a joke. Folks tended to regard him as a well-meaning dolt. Men would ask about his next kite and elbow each other in the ribs as he got all wound up in his explanations, plans and theories. If he ever started to draw his diagrams in the dirt, well, most men couldn’t hold their laughter any longer, so they’d slap him on the back, wish him good luck and continue their stroll between taverns.
The first afternoon of the festival, the winds were strong and the sun bright and the kites blew high. Emmett watched them lift off, swoop and soar and dip, doodle and caboodle, as the locals like to say. It was a sort of informal welcoming; all competitors flew modestly sized, but brightly coloured, quick-ones. Sometimes if you caught the right angle at the right moment, the sky changed from solid blue to a fractured rainbow.
There’s no denying it’s beautiful.
After the show, men reeled in their lines, the kites slowly dropped to earth, sometimes darted up again like a dog after an alley cat, only to be calmed and soothed and coaxed home by the men holding the spindles. Emmett would stay long after the crowds left and watch these men, study them, how they handled their flying kites, how they brought them back to earth. He’d wander through and ask questions. What kind of wood they used for the structure, the fabric and the string.
Some men would talk a little, but most kept their secrets deep in their pockets. Some smiled at him and some scowled at his peskiness. A few encouraged him for the amateur contest, some with heart and hardiness and others with slick sideways smiles.
At night, wide kites lifted candles over the town square, and people gathered to talk and to dance and celebrate.
The next morning, Emmett woke earlier and made his way out to the fields, towing this year’s kite behind him. While most slept or grumbled awake, while coffee brewed and bacon fried, he was out trying to get his kite into the air. By the time the crowds gathered he was soaked with effort and anticipation. The first young ones, barely able to walk, got their handkerchiefs to lift and the crowd applauded dutifully or cooed. Several boys tried and failed, or tried and succeeded and were met with the appropriately encouraging response.
A stifled giggle washed over the crowd as Emmett stepped out. He dropped his kite and walked out, letting the string go. Some of the more boisterous and unkind men hollered out mock encouragement. Some of the more amoral women hollered things to make a vicar faint. But Emmett couldn’t hear them.
He stuck two fingers in his cheek and then held them up to gauge the wind. He brimmed his eyes and scoured the field. Giggles grew in the crowd until they erupted in pockets of guffaws.
Emmett started to jog, urging his kite up.
The crowd whooped as it lifted as high as his shoulders. Emmett ran faster and faster. The winds favoured him and snuck in underneath, his kite lifted like a falcon with a mouse in its talons. The crowd exploded in a cacophony of cheering. He was as deaf to them as ever, only focused on his kite. His heart beaming with pride at not only gotten his kite up, but as far as he could tell, the highest as anyone yet, if not higher.
Maybe, if he wasn’t so happy, he might have noticed how the crowd went as quiet as a covered bird. If he hadn’t been lost in marvel at finally achieving his dream, he would have seen the edge of the hills. But his eyes never left his kite, soaring above, and poor old Emmett ran straight off the cliff.
The string between them snapped. The kite ascended to the heavens and Emmett, well, he took the long way round.
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