In an extremely restrictive and totalitarian medieval city, a girl discovers what life "outside the Wall" is like.
The sun shone gloriously down onto the city of Stonewall, gleaming off of the golden spires of the High Palace and the steeples of the many churches. The walls, however, did not gleam in the sunlight. They never shone. They just cast enormous, encompassing shadows behind them and stared moodily back at the sun, gray and hard as always.
The great city was perched on top of a low hill, its buildings thrusting upward like stalagmites. There were tall towers, short towers; low flat houses and jagged, crooked houses that grew taller every year as new additions were made to them. Most of them did not clear the lip of the high walls that laced the city, though, and those that did were mostly guard towers or apartment houses, and of course, towers of the High Palace.
A stiff wind blew toward the city from the east today, tossing the branches of the trees that made up the wood at the foot of the hill. And borne aloft by this breeze, a gray-dappled dove flew toward the city, something white and fluttery clutched in its beak.
The dove flapped and battled with the wind that buffeted it and soared over the tall stone walls. It flew on toward the heart of the city and eventually descended in spiraling circles around the tallest tower of the High Palace. After several turns about the tower, the dove finally flitted down and came to rest on a wide marble window ledge.
The window was open — just about six inches or so, but enough for the dove to duck through into the room inside, which it did with a short hop.
The room was large and circular and as gaudily opulent as was fashionable. There was a fine, thick red carpet on the floor that must have been imported from somewhere in the Western Mounts; fancy paintings adorned the walls wreathed in expensive gold frames. Most of the paintings seemed to be depicting the same person: a well-dressed man with dark tan skin and a trimmed black beard looking stern and aloof in various different poses. In the center of the room was an ornately carved mahogany desk facing the window, the many quills and papers on it all perfectly arranged as though they were merely for show and had never actually been used. And sitting behind this desk, reading one of his papers over steepled fingers sat a tall bearded man, dark-skinned, dark-eyed and dressed like a king, full with crown and everything; which was fitting because happened to be one. It was quite clear from a glance that this was the same man in the portraits on the walls.
There was a very small “tweet!” from the windowsill and the man looked up to see the little dove in the window. It was looking at him sideways with one of its small liquid eyes and there was a small piece of paper lying next to its taloned feet which it had apparently dropped there.
The king rose from his chair and crossed to the window. He ran a finger through the dove’s feathers with one hand as he snapped up the tiny scroll of parchment with the other.
The man slit open the scroll with a letter opener he had in his pocket as he walked back to the desk. He seated himself again, as he rang a small bell on his desk. He had not even unfurled the scroll when the door opened behind him and in rushed a girl of eighteen or twenty years of age.
“Your Majesty?” she said bowing swiftly.
The king did not twist in his seat.
“Send for Commander Drake immediately. And tell him not to bother with his armor or anything else. I mean immediately.”
“Yes, Lord,” said the servant bowing once again and exiting the room.