So I’ve been working on a little bit of an idea for a new project–not my NaNo project, but a more long-term slow-build one–and I’ve been in need of a setting. Since we all know how well I do with planning, I’m going to see if I can take the few threads I’ve come up with and work some magic on them here for this post. So if it’s rough….well, you’ll know why.
For as long as anyone could remember, there had been a wall at the base of the hill, high enough that not even the most skilled climbers could conquer it. Guarded day and night, the denizens of the hill kept their watch, guarding those inside…from those left outside. Only a select few could ever cross through the gate: merchants, messengers, those who had business on both sides. All were closely watched; all were kept in line.
On the inside of the wall lived power and money. These were the nobility of sorts, the ones who wrote the rules and enforced the law. These were the ones who made the decisions for all around–not just inside the wall, but beyond. They were the wealthy, they were the fortunate, they were the elite. It was considered the gravest of crimes to be cast outside the city, and was not something one recovered from. Once your hands were in the dirt, you could never clean them again.
Outside the city were the workers and laborers, the ones who kept the world within the city running. They were the poor and the down-trodden, the ones who had never had a chance of the light beyond the wall. While it was possible to work your way up, and live within those buildings, it was rare and difficult to achieve. Even those of families of merchants, ones who had served the city and its inhabitants for generations to come rarely won a place beyond the stones.
If you were lucky, and you were male, you could be chosen as one of the few every few years to be taken from beyond the wall to within as a member of the High Guard. There you trained and lived as one of them, and if you could prove your worth, you might stay. But rarely were the numbers within the walls so low that they had need to draw from the rest of the common folk.
There was but one trade that truly transcended the wall–though the punishment for striving for it from the groundlings was severe: art. There was no form of art beyond the wall; it was considered a gift and a privilege of the higher class to be given such beauty. There was no song–none sung loudly–no pictures drawn nor painted, no words written in lyrical prose. To be an artist outside the wall was death, and to earn your place within the wall was nigh unto impossible. If the journey to the wall did not kill you, those within would beat the dream out of you until you no longer felt yourself capable. You truly had to be remarkable in order to win a place among the Artists.
The only other option was to be sold, to be made a part of the staff of a higher caste’s family. But the stories…such stories were told about those from beyond the wall being sold into families within, and how they were treated. These were the tales you told your children at night to make them behave, not something they dreamed about one day living out in their lives. Some families became desperate. There was often a monetary compensation for your child–they were, after all, being sold–and for some beyond the wall, that money was enough.
Families were large out there. They needed to be. And so they had the children to spare.
Every once in a while, someone would escape. Either into the outerlands or past the gates into the walled city, they would sneak through, in the dead of night, and attempt to vanish. Those who left for the outerlands were dismissed, rejected, forsworn. No one on the hill deigned to live off of it. Those who attempted to scale the hill…if any survived the attempt, no one knew of them. It was not permitted. If you were found to be harboring someone from outside the wall, your entire household could be cast out. If anyone was found helping those outside the wall, monetarily or otherwise, there would be repercussions.
The wall was absolute.
Not all beneath the hill believed that being an Artist was something to be congratulated for. Often if a family did not send their child swiftly after they realized the gift had been granted them, their lives could be in danger. Others were jealous. They did not want to see others succeed and prosper where they had failed. They did not care to see the children they knew growing up moving within the wall and allowing their family a potentially more comfortable life. Many Artist children had been kidnapped, tortured…even killed. Anything to keep them from the hill. They believed that a parent should rather their child be dead or maimed than abandon them for the hill.
But it did not stop the children from dreaming. It did not stop every parent dreaming that their child might be considered an Artists, and taken within the walls. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t follow. Someone would have escaped. Someone would have moved on. Yes, Artists were occasionally allowed to send small packages to their families beyond the wall, though it wasn’t strictly speaking legal, and there was an allowance for that. Many Artists never looked back. They would be taken in by a family on the hill, and they would never–truly, could never–look back. They created for the hill, as they were created for the hill.
But…sometimes, adventurous souls fought to push the limits.