The boy stood up and stretched his lean body while he rubbed his strained neck. He has been carving binding spells on the iron collars on his work table for the past four hours non stop. His workshop lit brightly by huge open windows that occasionally brought in some breeze from the plains.
"M- Master Aslan?" A slim girl barely the boy's height gently knocked on the door and entered with a tray of steaming food. "It's your midday meal."
"Ahh... Teresa!" Aslan gave a bright smile and quickly gestured her in. He quickly swept the stack of iron chokers to the side of his work table and even helping her take the tray off her hands. He set the tray down on the table before pulling another chair over for her to sit.
The girl quickly refused the seat and hurriedly rejected the offer, "M- Master Aslan... I got work to do at the kitchens!"
Aslan shooked his head and firmly pulled her down to the chair, "Sit and share some of the food! I can't finish them all!"
"B- but..." Teresa looked flustered, "It isn't my place to dine with you..."
Aslan sighed and looked at the rusty iron collar around her neck. She wore a simple grey homespun coarse dress and a somewhat whitish gravy-stained apron. Her hands were rough from constant work in the kitchen galleys. She had a heart-shaped face and large greenish eyes that attracted Aslan a lot and her blonde hair was bun up in a knot.
Aslan thought that if she cleaned up and dressed better she will look quite pretty. "Eat!" He pushed the platter of meat and boiled roots with gravy and the small basket of freshly baked bread in front of her.
"B- but it is not proper!" She insisted, her hands gripping her apron tightly. "If the housekeeper sees me sitting here and eating your meal... She will have me whipped!"
"Relax, I will protect you!" Aslan patted his chest as he gave a reassuring smile at the frightened scullery maid. "Quickly eat while it is still hot! You need more food, you are all skin and bones!"
The girl sighed and gave in, picking up a piece of bread and nibbling at it nervously. Aslan cut half the steak and pushed it to her and watched her savourly her food with joy.
After the meal was over, Teresa quickly packed the plates away onto the tray and quickly retreated out of Aslan's workshop, bowing as she closed the door.
Aslan's smile vanished as the door closed and he thought back to the day he was rescued by Raman and his men in those strange magical wagons of theirs in the forest. Raman promised him revenge and Aslan bent the knee to vowed to serve Raman with all his ability as long as he can get his revenge.
Aslan sighed and looked at the stack of collars he was assigned to put spells to bind the restrained to the will of its master and with a sudden sweep of his hand, he flung the collars onto the stone floor, the iron collars rattling loudly in the workshop.
Stronghold of the Cabal
Teressa moved quickly back to the kitchen where she placed the dirty dishes into a wooden tub and she went out to the courtyard where a water pump sat. She worked the pump and water splashed out into the wooden pail under the hose.
When she was caught by the Orc slavers that raided her small village, she thought she will become some worker for the Orc mines or worst sold to the Empire to be a toy to some nobles. But instead, she was brought here and traded for some strange shiny cylindrical but exotic looking items that filled a large wooden chest.
When she first came here, she was assigned to some Orc foreman that was very generous with his whips. She and hundreds of others were forced to make bricks with mud, straw and crushed rocks.
Over time, she found that there were as much as ten thousand slaves laboring away to build a city in this wide plains. The first to be built was the Stronghold, where she briefly caught a glimpse of some fat man in strange clothing that the Orcs seemed to follow.
All the slaves were forced to bow and touch their foreheads against the ground when the "Sul-tan" was in their presence. Those who refused were whipped to an inch of their lives and returned to work for their masters. Those that attempted to escape and were caught by those large wolves of the Orcs were crucified. Their rotting bodies left nailed on crosses were purposely left, staked around the camps of the slaves to remind them of the consequences of defying the "Sul-tan".
When the city buildings finally were built, the Sultan announced that the slaves can have their own homes and even pay! They can buy their freedom back with the money they saved and no longer become a slave but a free man and even citizenship in the city!
Teressa looked at the magical binding contract that stated she owed the Sultan a debt totaling 57 pieces of gold crowns and if she repaid the amount in full she will become free. The breakdown cost of the debt was even listed out from the cost of buying them to food, lodging, and even welfare.
To every commoner, a single piece of gold crown already represented a large amount of wealth. Yet this contract gave hope to everyone for a chance to gain back their freedom if they work hard enough to save up.
But she, like many did not realize there was a very fine print on the contract that said there was an annual interest fee of 25%. So she signed the contract as the other offer was to be a slave for life working in mines or construction, stating her skill sets and was given an iron collar that binds to the contract she signed with her own blood.
Slaves with useful skills were sorted out and assigned jobs that could make use of their knowledge and skills properly. Those that were unskilled were sent off to some mines and farms to become laborers.
She was lucky to be picked to work inside the palace of the Sultan, the Stronghold of the Cabal despite barely having any skills or useful knowledge only then knowing how to cook. She got assigned to be a scullery maid, cleaning pots and pans while doing other menial household chores.
Every week, she earned a pitiful 4 copper coins which food, lodging, and clothes were deducted from the total pay. Her meals which were mostly leftover bread and soup and she shared a room with three other girls working in the Stronghold too.
Teressa found that the city was built very differently to the only city she ever been to that her parents brought her to when she was just a child. The roads were laid out perfectly and the slaves have to follow the instructions given strictly or be punished.
The city was surprisingly cleaner than what she would expect from having Orcs and slaves living in it. A small army of slaves was assigned to clean the streets and sewers every day and no one was allowed to dirty the streets or they will face punishments.
There was just a public whipping of a couple of slaves who dumped night soil out on the streets and the Orcish enforcers quickly dragged the two slaves pleading for their lives to the punishment square where they rang a bell to gather everyone to watch them deal out the punishments.
Only slaves living in the city worn a metal type collar while those slaves that did not sign the contract of debt to the Sultan worn leather collars and were not allowed in the city after dark. They slept in workcamps outside the city and were mostly miners, builders or farmers.
Brutish Orc enforcers armed with strange tubular weapons manned the walls, gates and even patrolled the streets regularly. They dealt with anyone breaking the rules and law with brutalness. Even the merchants who passed by has to follow the rules strictly.
The outlaying Orc Clans watching the city grow grew greedy for the wealth of the city and sent constant raids, hoping to steal slaves and pillage the city. The Orcs strange tubular weapons roared as loud as thunder, frightening the slaves and at the same time, those strange weapons cut down the raiding hordes easily.
Over time, Teressa and the other slaves grew accustomed to the weapons and even felt pride each time the Orc enforcers beat back the raiders, some even cheering for the enforcers much to the amusement of the Orcs enforcers themselves.
Another strange thing that happened was that the Sultan decreed that everyone including the Orcs were to take classes in the schools that were built. So other than her work duties in the kitchen, Teressa had to go take classes, learning words and mathematics. Most of the slaves were illiterate but those knowledgable that perform well in the written tests were given better jobs as clerks and administrators.
It was also at this time when she met the strange boy also known as Master Aslan who seemed to take an interest in her.
Training fields of the Cabal
Aaron paced down the firing line marked out by gorging the ground with a bayonet. "Form up!"
The ranks of Orcs excitedly strolled up as one and lined up before the firing line and drawing out their revolver cannons. 20 meters down the line was a row of poles staked to the ground with Empire plate mail attached on them.
"Take aim!" Aaron barked and the Orcs raised the heavy revolvers up in a two hand stance, using the crude leaf sights to aim at the targets.
Thick gouts of rotten egg smelling white smoke burst out from the firing line as the Orcs squeezed their triggers. The area around the targets exploded as heavy shells hammered all over the area. The more accurate shots hammering the plate mails and blowing a blooming metal flower at the exit wound.
Another volley roared out, this time, the fire was less accurate as the thick smoke limited visibility. Some of the Orcs were even waving the smoke away and coughing.
The plate mail targets barely held together by the end of the fifth volley. Gaping holes and dangling metal plates could clearly be seen on the destroyed targets. The Orcs shooters laughed and whooped with glee at the destruction.
"Switch weapons!" Aaron roared again and the Orcs quickly reholstered their revolvers into their holsters that were worn diagonally across their chest before reaching over their shoulders and pulling out the rocket guns.
The Orcs raised their rocket guns and rested the buttstock against their thick shoulders, aiming as they were taught at the targets while thumbing back the cocking hammer to arm the weapon.
A volley of sharp pops followed by a shrieking roar and streaks of sparks could be seen in the smoke as the rocket engines of the rockets ignited. The rockets burst out of the barrels and flew out wildly, shrieking towards the targets.
Raman gave an evil smile as he turned his back towards the training field while facing the Chiefs and Elders watching the weapons demonstration at the side and asked, "Is it better to be feared or respected?"
"I say, is it too much to ask for both?" Raman looked at each of the Orcs in the eye. "They say the best weapon is when you never have to use it. I respectfully disagree!"
"I prefer the weapon that you can keep firing!" Raman spread his hands out as the targets behind him vanished in a series of explosions. "I give you the new age of warfare!"