When the Queen returned, she did so golden and triumphant. From beyond the horizon, he could see it: the billowy and majestic force of nature known as the Nimbus. It announced its arrival to the land with a commanding thunderclap and a powerful flash of lightning from the heavens. The young man known as the Ribbon Boy looked upon it with a selfish gaze. He was the only one daring and foolhardy enough to climb the smooth pillars of Highrock Mountain, the peak of which gave put him level with the incoming ethereal skyship.
In appearance, it was an ordinary vessel no different in shape as the ones sailed at sea, save for the fact that it was made entirely of clouds and was soaring in the sky. Onboard, the Queen of his country had the helm and acted as captain to the country’s finest men. Two weeks ago, they departed as the citizens of the capital watched them disappear beyond the horizon in awe. There was a war on, and to quell the uprising in the east, she selected the strongest soldiers of the army and personally saw to it that peace would be returned to the region. The army itself hadn’t been mobilised in years; there was no need, not so long as the queen herself and her mighty ship made from clouds could sail the skies so effortlessly.
Every time they departed, the Ribbon Boy made sure to watch every departure until they surpassed the extent of his vision. And every time they did, he sighed and wished he could be amongst them: the Cloudclimbers. They were the bravest and strongest of all the land, and during her peacekeeping efforts away from the capital, the boy would read and re-read all of the knowledge he could access regarding the skyships and their formation.
Finally, the rumbling in the east had died down. The upstarts who sought to bring violence to the Queen’s land were thoroughly squashed like maggots beneath her heel. And when word of the conflict’s end reached the townsfolk, the Ribbon Boy ran from his homestead to him promised place. As he ran through the grassy fields and plowed through the evergreen wood, he consulted his chart no less than twelve times along the way. He had spent the last week and a half plotting out the ship’s course and guestimate its arrival and a possible point of intercept. He found that the ship’s course nearly allided with Highrock Mountain, less than an hour’s travel away from his home. Convenient certainly, as the falcon couriers travelled just an hour ahead of the cloud ships.
His plan was simple albeit implausible: to board the ship by any means necessary. In this case, he would jump into the vessel itself. That plan was very highly likely to end in failure, but he was too young and brash to care. He climbed the rock as carefully as he could without wasting time, but by the halfway point he heard the cry of thunder, the sound that signalled the arrival of the Nimbus, and then he couldn’t help but scramble with reckless abandon.
When he finally reached the top, he could see it in full emerging amongst the other clouds of the sky. It was distinct in shape, separating it from the chaotic cloud forms surrounding it. Its structure was as clearly defined as the ships of wood and steel. He had been on those ships, but he couldn’t stand those ships. Even the earth ‘neath his feet irritated him. He wanted to be rid of the rocks and the grass and the cobblestone streets. Every stop upon them instilled anger in him. He was driven solely by his desire to fly, to feel weightless in the sky like the majestic queen who ruled the world with an iron fist.
The golden-haired youth squinted his eyes as it approached him. He was sure of his calculation that it would pass by or allide with the peak of the mountain, but before him was a billowy bow increasing in size. There was no doubt about it then; the ship was going to hit him dead-on, whatever that meant.
He braced himself for the impact, or lack thereof. As Nimbus approached, the wind around him picked up and the twin set of red scarves around his neck straightened and waved behind his back. He began to step forward and, even though the peak was small, pushing forward was all he could do to resist being pushed off the edge. Finally, just as he thought his body was going to give out, the ship hit him.
But it was not the same as being struck by a sea-faring ship. The Ribbon Boy found himself swept up in the innards of the ethereal vessel. All around him, burly men and women in the queen’s employ hollered.
“Oi! We’ve got a stowaway overboard!”
“Best catch ’em in a net, lest he be paste on the floor!”
And finally, “Damn fool! You went rock climbin’ at just the right time, didn’t ya?”
But he would not be swayed. Not mentally, at least. Against a seemingly implacable current of air he swam, and though he steadily found himself hurtling aft, his struggle would not go unnoticed by the queen. She emerged from her stormy chambers in the stern and looked upon the Ribbon Boy bemused. Here was a boy so cunning as to perfectly align himself with the course of a cloud ship, yet so foolish as to actually do it. Her face lit up with a smirk and as the boy looked up and locked eyes with her fearsome stare.
“Boy!” she cried out.
“Mistress!” was all he could muster the strength to shout as he reached the stern.
The Queen did not hesitate. With all the grace of a swan and the speed of an eagle she descended upon him and reached out to his hand. When his hands clasped hers, it was as though an electric current ran through both of their bodies. He looked up helpless as a hungry puppy, and she looked down on him like one. The Queen floated effortlessly at the back end of the ship, hoisting his entire body – now dangling outside of the ship’s cloudy exterior – with one hand.
“Tell me boy, do you believe in this boat?” She spoke calmly and clearly.
“W-what?” He shouted back.
“Do you know how we fly this ship? How it came to be?”
The Ribbon Boy shook his head frantically.
“Because we will it to be so, that’s how. Now tell me! Do you believe in this boat? We all do! Thus, we fly it.”
His eyes widened. He was now flying as high as a bird with no way of coming down – at least, not alive. Were she to let him go, he’d be dead in seconds. His life was mere seconds away from ending, and here she was, going on about what constitutes a magical flying boat.
“All right, listen up! These clouds are as permeable as ink on canvas or clay from the earth. The men below us – and they are indeed below us – fear what they cannot hold firm in their hands. So they build boats of wood and iron, ships that will surely fail them in time. But we’re different. The Nimbus floats because we will it to float. It flies because we will it to fly!”
The blonde-haired boy was exasperated. He could no longer support his own weight and was now hanging from her arm at the end of the ship, his whole body beginning to sway like a flag in the breeze.
The Queen looked past him and without making eye contact, spoke once more.
“And since you had the willpower to come here and stand before a great cloudship, I would think you have the willpower to make a ship of your own.”
The boy did not reply. He merely stared as the queen loosened her grip.
“Come back to me,” she whispered as she threw him to the wind.
The boy plummeted as the Nimbus sailed away from him. He looked down at what he assumed would be his well-deserved doom, but what he found in the clouds directly beneath him wasn’t a grisly demise, but hope. As he passed through a small layer of stratus, a single thought shot through his mind: rope.
He dove through the clouds and all around him the wisps gathered. Just as soon as he thought it, the strands of stratus formed into the shape of a long rope in his hand. Gripping it tight, he halted his descent immediately. He looked up. The cloudship ahead of him appeared to be anchored in the sky.
Onboard the Nimbus, the entire crew stood at the edge of the aft laughing and cheering at the boy.
“Oi, oi, look! The boy made ‘imself a rope, he did! He’s a real cloudclimber that one!”
“Hah, that’s cute, ‘aint it?”
“Hell, it’s better than most. I’m surprised he made anything at all….”
“Quiet!” the queen commanded.
The boy was now struggling to stay afloat above the stratus layer. The Ribbon Boy nearly gave up until he caught another glimpse of the queen, stunning and radiant in her golden leather regalia. That sight of her gave him life. He closed as eyes and began to sink through the cloud. As he did, two thoughts circled in his head: the queen, and a small raft.
Sure enough, he found himself floating on a raft and climbing steadily upward towards the Nimbus. The queen hoisted herself at the edge of the ship, pushing the others back and posing with a single foot firmly elevated on the edge. As the image of her grew bigger, his will grew stronger and the gap between them closed. At long last, he had made it to his Queen. Burning passion in his heart, he found the strength to stand. The boy wobbled and found himself sinking again, but at the very least, he was on his own two feet and nearly level with the Queen herself in the air. Unable to climb higher, he resorted to one final leap.
The Ribbon Boy flung himself at the Queen, but the distance between them was too great. As he began to fall once more, the Queen instinctively reached out her hand and grabbed hold of the long scarf tied around his neck. He stopped mid-air as he found himself once again hoisted in the sky by the Queen.
“I… I can make… it,” he choked.
“Hmph,” She uttered with a grin.
Her grin turned into a wicked smile. His vision began to fade. Now instead of dangling from his left arm, he was dangling from the scarf wrapped securely around his neck. The world began to blur before turning completely black. His body become slack and his arms dropped to his sides. She tossed him into the current like a flower in the wind.
Soon after, the boy – now completely unconscious – fell back to the stratus, but not without taking a small chunk of the ship with him. As he fell, a humble but sizable sloop ship formed around his body with the figurehead of a tall, slender woman at the front. The ship rose back to the same level as the Nimbus as the Queen looked upon it wide-eyed. She couldn’t believe what that boy had done without even realising it.
“Men, haul up that swoop! I want that boy on deck, now!”
“Aye aye!” They instantly shouted back in unison.
When the Ribbon Boy came too, he was resting uneasily at the stern. Standing before him clad in brilliant golden-brown leather was the Queen of the world with her arm outstretched. She looked him square in the eye with another wicked smile upon her face.
“Welcome aboard the Nimbus, boy.”