Isa Robertson


Wayward Sun

This story first appeared in Sonder Magazine Issue VII (“Identity”), published March 23rd, 2023.

The boy wanted only one thing: to reach the sun. This was his life’s work. To him, it seemed a long journey, but not impossible. He did not know when he would arrive, but he hoped it would be before he died.

Every morning, when the sun broke over the mountains, he set out for it. He walked with a stick, since often his quest took him over land that was slow and difficult to travel.

By noon, he would have nearly reached the sun. It was almost overhead. He thought that when it came right overhead, he would climb up a tree to close the final distance. He had seen that the sun sometimes touched the tops of the trees. He would climb one, and when the sun touched it, he would grab on to the sun and let go of the tree.

But he never reached a tree directly under the sun that he could climb. The sun was always just off to one side. Rather, he was off to one side, off course. So he would run in order to get under the sun and start climbing. But the sun ran, too, toward the mountains on the other side of the valley. He would walk all evening after it, without catching up, and then it would hide behind the mountains.

Patiently, he would wait for it.

Then it would surprise him, and appear from behind mountains that were not the ones it had hid behind. He did not understand why, but it did not matter. When it reappeared, he started walking toward it, full of hope.

The villagers called him simple, or worse. Some said his mother must have eaten the wrong kind of root; some said that he must have been dropped when he was a baby. He had never spoken, though he listened intently. All mannner of cures were attempted. None worked, and at last he was allowed to do the thing that he wanted to do the most: follow the sun.

The villagers — rather, his mother — fed him, and kept an eye on him. His pace did not change, so it was rarely difficult to guess where he would be at a given time, if you needed to find him: he would be somewhere near where he had been at that time of day yesterday … and the day before … and the day before that.

Eventually, the boy’s grandfather came to visit. He lived far, far away, and was always busy. He had not made the journey to the village since the boy was a baby. But even so, the villagers had heard tales of his great store of knowledge, and his great wisdom. Some claimed that the boy’s grandfather, who was only a priest, was smarter than the king, and could beat anyone who challenged him to games of the mind. When he arrived in the village, he was treated with respect, despite his grandson’s strangeness, and nobody challenged him to games.

He went to his daughter’s house. The boy’s mother, when he asked, told him about the boy, and his pursuit of the sun. The next day the grandfather set out to meet the boy, just as his route would take him close to the village.

When the boy came into view, the grandfather just watched. If the boy knew who he was, he did not show it. The boy looked up at the sun, and made his way toward it.

The grandfather approached, and the two looked at each other. After a time, the grandfather said, “May I walk with you?”

The boy moved his head up and down slightly.

The grandfather fell into step, and they both followed the sun until it hid behind the mountains.

The next day word reached the village that the grandfather had joined the boy on his circular pilgrimage. Some of them went to see it with their own eyes, in case they were being told tall tales. They were not.

Always before they had laughed. They watched the two, and this time they did not laugh. This old priest was said to be stuffed with learning until you couldn’t fit any more books in. If he thought this walking toward the sun was worth doing, it could not be a joke. It must be something else, something that only he understood.

Now that they had stopped laughing at the boy, they noticed something about the expression on his face. They all noticed it, but they had trouble saying what it was that they all noticed. So they just said, see the expression on his face? And they said, Yes, yes, I see.

It glowed like the sun it was turned towards. And the glow seemed to be spreading to the grandfather’s face.

The mother brought two meals the next day.

At dawn, they set out again. They walked, as always, in silence.

“Grandfather,” the boy said, “are we getting closer?” His voice sounded old from disuse.

The grandfather nodded.