Like a soft candle, the morning was lit by the rising sun. The city cathedral lit up like a beacon in the centre. The city awoke to the gentle sound of the bells. That was the way things went. The bells rung first thing in the morning, at noon, at dusk and once more at around at night. 9 o'clock in the winter and 10 o'clock in the summer. No one knew not cared who rang the bells. No one dared ask. They had never seen the bell ringer. But ignorance was bliss and Edward Cleeves wanted to keep it that way. He felt ashamed at raising an outcast so he kept it hidden. For this was who the bell ringer was. The baby he had taken under his wing. That baby had now grown to a young woman. Tall, slim and fair of face. Pale, milky white skin and deep blue eyes. But no one else could see her, for her hair was flaming red. She did not belong here.
That morning she had woken to ring the bells as she had done all her life. Bird song complimented the ringing gliding into the tower on the wind. She sat gazing out the window at the people down below. Statues, gargoyles and stone dragons also watched. But they were made of stone, nothing more. She was alone up here.
A small raven landed on the ledge in front of her. Its black eyes gazed at her intently. Gently reaching out, it allowed her to stroke its soft feathers. Ravens were neither beautiful nor loved. But this creature was gentle and calm near her, as if it understood her pain.
"But you are free." she said to it, "You can go wherever you please. I wish I could."
"Then why don't you, Ezra?" said a voice.
She turned to see a tiny creature staring at her with glowing yellow eyes. She recognised it as a stone dragon that normally sat on the wall. But this one was very small, about the size of her arm at most. It was also slightly chipped, a couple of its claws were blunt and one of its wings was damaged. The statues were often brought inside to be cleaned and repaired. This one had been left in a corner for many years. Despite its menacing stare its voice did not hide friendliness.
"Remember the festival today? You could go. They're celebrating magic down there and all sorts. Why sit up here and watch when you could be a part of it?"
The raven pecked at Ezra's slender fingers seemingly irritated at being ignored. She stroked its head humming to herself. She gazed down to the ground again. Stalls were being set up and decorations being hung around. There was an air of excitement around.
"You forget," she said gravely, "I'm forbidden to leave the bell tower. I don't belong down there."
The small dragon trotted up to join her at the ledge. It hopped up beside the raven who jumped in fright.
"Cleeves." the name echoed through the tower room.
Ezra nodded. She knew her master would never let her leave. She had been orphaned as a baby, Cleeves had taken her in and raised her as his own daughter. He had taught her all her life that she was not like the others. He had called her special. But she had to remain in the tower so he could protect her. For others would regard her as a monster and a demon. Her hair colour made her an outcast.
Footsteps sounded coming up the stairs.
"Cleeves's coming!" she hissed.
To her surprise, the dragon had frozen. Nothing more than carved stone. The raven hopped about anxiously on the ledge eyeing her intently.
"Ezra," said a deep voice.
She turned to see her master walking towards her carrying a basket.
"I've brought breakfast." he said unsmiling.
Ezra rushed to the shelves near a small table to grab two plates and goblets. This was the way she had been raised. Cleeves sat down while she set the table. She gazed at the bookcase on the other side of the room as she gathered the plates together. She was allowed to look at them but only books for what she was being taught. If she wanted to read others she had to ask for permission. Her heart ached with desire as she gazed at the fat leather bound volumes. There would be more sold at the festival for those who could afford them.
Quickly she set the table then sat down facing Cleeves who removed the cloth covering the basket to reveal a loaf of bread, a bottle of what looked like wine, a bottle of water, and some slices of meat. As he placed the food on each plate, Ezra noticed the stone dragon seemed to be staring at her. She could have sworn she saw it wink.
"So how you today, Ezra?" asked Cleeves, quickly jolting her back to reality.
"I am very well. Thank you master." replied Ezra smiling.
Cleeves smiled in return but it was cold and thin. "I am glad to hear it."
Ezra waited until he started eating before she herself tucked in. Another thing she had been raised to do.
"Will you be going to the festival today, master?" she asked feeling nerves begin to creep up her spine.
Raising his eyebrows a little he replied, "Of course. But only because I must. As a court official it is my duty. I do not enjoy these frivolous events."
Ezra bowed her head to avoid his gaze as she continued to eat. Cleeves seemed to regard this with suspicion.
"What's on your mind, Ezra?" he asked, "I hope you weren't thinking of going yourself."
Glancing up she saw the stone dragon shake its head.
"No master! Of course not!"
She had spoken too quickly.
"You were going to disobey me and go to the festival!" Cleeves stood up, his eyes flaming angrily, "After all I've done for you, you were going out there."
"No master! Please, forgive me!" Ezra threw herself to the floor bowing low on her knees.
The fire was soon extinguished as Cleeves' voice became calmer.
"You must understand, Ezra." he gently touched her head, "You are still young, you are yet to truly understand. But you can never let others see what you are."
"I understand, master." said Ezra sadly.
"Remember what I've taught you. They would revile you as a monster and a demon out there. I can only protect if you remain here."
"You are good to me master." she said quietly, keeping her head low so he wouldn't see the tears forming in her eyes.
"You are forgiven. We shall speak of this no more." Cleeves turned towards the stairs, "I must leave you now as they will be expecting me at the festival. Remember this is where you belong."
Ezra watched him go. When he had left she caressed one of the ropes she used to ring the bells. She had done the same thing every day her whole life. But she longed for more. Stone dragon watched as she picked up a black travelling cloak that lay stuffed behind the bookshelf.
"I suppose I could disguise myself." she said to herself, "I only need one day, just one day as a part of them. Free for just one day."
"Then you remain here the rest of your life?" the dragon cocked its head, "Cleeves won't live forever, Ezra."
"One day is enough for now. It's all I need." said Ezra firmly, wrapping herself in the cloak and pulling the hood low over her face hiding it and her hair from view.
"I can do this, can't i? As long as my master doesn't see me."
The dragon nodded eagerly, "You aren't made of stone, Ezra. You should be out there. Not just sitting watching."
Smiling widely, Ezra took one last glance round before leaping onto the ledge. To entertain herself she would sometimes climb around the tower, leaping between ledges, scaling walls. This was no different and safer than going out through the door.The raven gave one last caw before taking flight. It looked at her as if beckoning before flying away. Eyes glittering and heart racing, Ezra leapt from the ledge.