''By the grace of the Almighty, the raid went well. The unbelievers were taken by complete surprise, and like an unstoppable wave, we battered down their flimsy barricades, and carried off every able-bodied man and woman. Not even the slightest gesture of resistance was offered as all their warriors simply fled at the approach of our horseman. Such is the curse of freedom. Unlike us they have no master to drive them on to great feats of strength and courage. ''

Like a vampire of the mysterious tales that the men of the North regale themselves with, the empire of the Flauhains grows ever stronger, as the sons of the Caliph strive against the pale-skinned infidels that have become decadent and weak. Where once their mighty empires stood, resplendent and proud, only a mass of squabbling states remain, each ferociously dedicated to maintaining its indolent power, ceasing at nothing to undercut the strength and power of its rival neighbors. And like a remorseless storm whipped up by the powerful winds of their native dunes, the dessert people of Flauho roll towards their wealthy and plump dominions, minds and hearts fired with the zeal of the true believer. The Calpih speaks of establishing a united empire guided by the revelations imparted to the noble Prophet by the Archangel, a prosperous and blessed single nation where the dictates of the divine will rule one and all, with every man abandoning all greedy, immoral thoughts, content with merely being the slave of God's sacred will.

And so these horseman, these wild raiders, ravage the crumbling borders of the pale ones, carrying off not only their gold and fine silks, but also their best sons and daughters. For by seizing and indoctrinating these young ones in the ways of the True Faith, the caliph will drain the very resources from his infidel enemies that he will ultimately required to overwhelm them all. Like the vampire, his raiders steal the youth of their foe, gaining strength from the losses inflicted upon their enemies.

And it is not only the infidel whom the Caliph must guard himself against. Many of the tribal elders and leaders of the desert that he governs have become envious of the good fortune that God has shown him. Theirs is a most dangerous envy indeed, for they command the old loyalties of the very raiders that form the strength of his terrible prowess.

And so he must become a ruler of slaves, if his divine task is ever to come to fruition. The whelps of the infidels will become his strength to defeat foes both within and without.

The House Of Slaves demands at least half of every collection of young captives taken by the nomads in their numerous raids. Demanding youths of both sexes, it has them herded like sheep into to the great walled city of the Prophet. There, within its mud-walls, they are tattooed with the personal insignia of their new masters on their necks: A raised scimitar with a manacle looped mid-way around its blade. As slaves they have come, and as slaves they will remain to the very day their souls leave their bodies. But that is not to say that it is an endless existence of humiliation and cruelty that awaits them. On the contrary, if they prove themselves worthy and capable, they will partake of wealth and fame beyond their wildest dreams.

The School Of War and Obedience

The girls among them, will be taken to the women's quarters of the Prophet's palace, to be trained as either menial servants, or harem slaves, depending on their physical charms or lack thereof. But for the boys, a very different fate awaits them.

They have come as fresh recruits into the Prophet's School of War and Obedience. And their first act of obedience will be to take the oath that will make them True Believers. Manacled and chained, they will find themselves confronted by a bearded warrior of the faith, but the most striking thing they will notice about this man is that unlike the rest of the denizens they have seen so fair his skin and hair are as light as theirs. A white man clad in the garb of the dessert folk, his silken robes and magnificent gold-embroidered turban streaming out most resplendently behind him. Strange indeed.

But they are not given enough time to ponder on this mystery. In their own speech, the man calls on them in a loud, booming voice to embrace the true faith and join the service of the Caliph as warriors of the faith. At a snap of his fingers, a silver tray containing the Book Of Revelations that records the insights from the Angel as told to the Prophet himself, is passed around to every one of the trembling boys. Under the baleful glare of the strange apostate, they are yelled at to rest their hands upon the holy text and utter the holy oaths that will bond them forever to the service of God. All do so, with not the slightest hesitation. Mere youths they might be, but the most skittish glance at the blood-stained scimitar dangling in the belt-loop of the man warns them of their likely faith should they refuse to become apostates.

Insincere conversations do not bother the Stewards Of War and Obedience. As they become completely indoctrinated in the way of a warrior of the faith, the conversion will become complete. But before that is to be achieved, a further ritual must first be undergone.

Fearful of any of his slave warriors clandestinely seeking to have illicit liaisons with his harem slaves, it is the Caliph's dictate that all fresh recruits must have their natural male organs destroyed. Called to perform this grisly task, a skilled surgeon does so with much speed and efficiency, working so carefully with his bronze scalpel that very few develop any infections from the deed.

Why this seemingly needless act of cruelty?

By depriving them of tier manhood their masers have succeeded in robbing them of every shred of resistance or defiance that they may have possessed. By the rules of their own birth religion, they are now freakish abominations that have no place among decent humans in any place, least of all the after-life. Shorn of whatever comforts their own faith may offer, the young castrates have no choice but to embrace the Manacle of their benevolent master completely. It is only by dedicating themselves, to their new faith, and the great sovereign who governs its followers, that they can hope to achieve the dignity and respect that would otherwise be denied them. So the Chief Eunuch has promised them. Should they prove themselves faithful and dedicated servants, they are feted as distinguished and gifted individuals.

And so begins the induction into the vast machines that convert them into the hands and eyes of the Caliph.

Compelled to live inside a large compound, they will spend the next few years of their rivalries under the ruthless and unforgiving eyes of the Chief Eunuch, one of the Caliph's most trusted castrates who has been appointed by his master to shape and mould the latest harvest of slaves into the strong foundation of the empire of God.

For the first few months of their induction, they will spend their days toiling in the Caliph's date fields and quarry sites under the stern eyes of their overseers, developing their muscles as the heavy, demanding physical toll begins to give their bodies the powerful, defined tones so coveted by the eunuchs that oversee them. This interest is hardly sexual, for liaisons of any kind are forbidden in the School Or War and Obedience, a law that its Stewards know ell. It is strong youths capable of making great warriors that they covet, not potential lovers. And so the whip is eve ready, eager to bleed the backs of those that seem afflicted with indolence or rebelliousness.

Once their oversees are satisfied wit their physical progress, their intellectual curriculum begins. Much of their time will be spent attending lessons conducted by teachers of the faith who not only drill into their minds the importance of never straying from the true faith, but also the basic fundamentals of Falahuain script. As the most gifted of intellects, quickly begin to show themselves and emerge, they are removed from the company of the rest of their fellow students, and are sent to a special school run by the Caliph's scholars themselves. In this most elevated place, they will be instructed in all the fundamentals of the religious precepts governing what the Caliph's administrations termed ''Divine Law'', a codified set of principles as demonstrated in the Book Of Revelations. Instructed to memorize the elegant verses of the sacred principles that govern every kind of affair in the rapidly growing empire of the Faluhians, their minds are molded to understand that there can be no separation between the revelations and governance of the empire, for the Caliph's authority and strength rests on his appointment as the one whose task it is to further the teachings of the Faith as they were first imparted to the Prophet. Again, the discipline is relentless, with savage beatings administered to those that attempt to cheat in order to impress. The teachers are stern, experienced men who have seen their fair share of the deceitful. These they are quick to consign to a lifetime of brutal physical labor in the galleys that dominate the Caliph's seas. It would not do to have liars serving the Servant of the Almighty.

Other things are thought to them as well, among them the fine and delicate arts of folding turbans, calligraphy, and poetry recitation. These are the ones that will serve as the Caliph's court as functionaries, scribes and pages. Upon being ready to serve their master, they are admitted into his service. The most promising are made secretaries to the high officials and viziers that are second only to the Caliph in authority. Should they quickly begin impressing their superiors with their competence and ability, they might be allowed to quickly ascend the hierarchy and be promoted to the rank of minor magistrates. Positions in the civil service are often greatly yearned for by the Caliph's slaves, for that would entitle them to modest but comfortable residences, fine food and wine, as well as other rich and luxurious comforts they had never known in their previous existence of toil and hard-work of their former lives in their peasant villages.

Hand in hand with their administrative training, goes their instruction in war, that being yet another sacred precept of the Faith. Every young slave serving in the Caliph's civil service, is expected to also double as a junior officer in the Caliph's regiments. Trained to handle the scimitar and the Falluhian lance, they have the fiery slogans of the verses Of The Sword drummed into their heads and hearts, filling their hearts and minds with visions of glory fame in the service of the Faith. Whenever the Caliph's armies strike deep into the cold lands of the west, they are at the forefront of his cavalry, discharging their deadly hail of arrows and lances with deadly accuracy, demonstrating their prowess in the lethal archery that their masters are so famed for. By the time, a young palace scribe or official becomes a secretary to a vizier or governor, he can discharge his lance with such power and accuracy as to completely impale an armored knight. With such ardor and passions do they ride to battle, crying out the sacred verses as their crimson turbans and golden robes of velvet stream out splendidly behind them, that many a noble-born knight has found himself quailing before the onslaught of these eunuch slaves. These young commanders take victory in war seriously, for their master will not forget their successes. Junior officers and the men they lead are automatically entitled to a sixth of any war-booty seized from the enemy. Alluring too, is the opportunity to be promoted both in the ranks of the army and civil service, should one of them display brilliant skills as a commander and leader of men. Such a one might someday find himself appointed governor of the domain he has so gallantly assisted his master in conquering.

But what of their erstwhile compatriots, those that failed to display that spark of vigor on the intellectual front? These humbler minds are incorporated into the vast army of grooms, scullions, masons, builders and smiths that toil with their sweat to furnish the raw foundation which their fellow slaves rule the empire on the Caliph's authority. Conditions are hard and demanding, with the whip in quick use if their instructor finds them lacking in motivation. But the chance of elevation is not denied them either, and the truly hard-working and accomplished are often chosen to become instructors and supervisors themselves, training and overseeing the next generation of new slaves that come in. Allowed to occupy a small plot of land by virtue of the Caliph's writ and enjoy simple pleasures like good, solid food and ale, these men are also honored as sergeants and specialists in the army. Marching smartly on the parade ground as they hurl mangled Falluhian profanity at their men, these simple, home-spun warriors will devastate enemy fortifications, supply the troops with new weapons and fresh provisions, putting their domestic skills to god sue on the battle front. The Book Of Revelations states that ''He who serves the cause of God in the even the most humblest ways, is destined to enter the gardens of Paradise'', and this they have adopted as their official slogan, embroidering it on their massive green silk banners in large, flowing Fallhuian script as they march to war. So proud of their skill and expertise in their domestic vocations, that they even tattoo on the backs of their hands the personal tools emblematic of their vocation. A blacksmith will display an anvil, a groom a saddle, and so forth.

It is easy to underestimate the military skills of these men clad in their rough sheepskin and drab turbans, but as their enemies have learned on the battlefront, these servant menials are as familiar with the use of the scimitar as they are with their own domestic tools. They are expected to achieve excellence in both areas, for the Falluhians respect a man of all-rounded achievements and so new inductees end up spending as much time on the training ground as they do in the stables or forges. Especially beloved of some servant-soldiers, is the thin, slender, ''gurak', a long, steel pole tipped with a wicked hook that can conveniently lodge itself in the joints of a knight's armor, causing him to be easily removed from his saddle by some smith with large, powerful arms strengthened by years of toil at a forge.

Last but certainly not least, are the fabled Baken, dervishes recruited from among the most dedicated and feverish of the Obedient. Distinguished by their evident adoration for both God and the Caliph, they hail from both ranks of slaves, and are the most beloved of the Caliph. In war, it is their honor to play the wild, screeching music to which the soldiers charge, all the while screaming aloud the praises of the Caliph, or God's Chosen as they always refer to him. Some of them are even believed to be mystics, for while chanting sacred verses in the heat of battle, the most devoted among them have claimed to see winged Angels descend from the skies to rain an invisible cloud of fear and terror on the infidels. Driven by the aid rendered to them by the celestial beings that only they can view, their exhortations push the other slaves on with a fanatical fury very few can withstand. All fear can dissolve as one falls into the ferocious trance induced by sublime visions of Angels soaring above as they aid the earthly armies of God. Indeed, when a Baken is slain, it is said that the smell of musk evaporates in the air, the scent carried on the wings of Angels as they come to carry off the soul of the fallen to Paradise.

More insidiously, the Baken also maintain an invisible network of spies whom they order to keep an eye on the rest of the obedient. Any hint of disobedience is promptly detected, and punished with the malcontent being flayed alive, a task the Baken eagerly relish, for few things please them more than to wear a cloak stitched from the hide of a traitor.

Such is the Army Of the Obedient. Can there be any shame in being beaten by an adversary of this fearsome mettle as this, even it is indeed an army of thralls?''

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