Imperial Orcs history
The Imperial Orcs began as slaves. By the time the First Empress was putting her Empire together, generations of orcs had been born, lived and died as slaves to the human nations. Slaves were rare in Navarr and Urizen, because they had little use for them, and in the Brass Coast because slavery was an abomination to many. However it was commonplace everywhere else in the Empire; just as it was common for humans to labour as slaves in the lands the Orcs controlled. For the forerunners of the Imperial Orcs the founding of the Empire swelled their numbers as more Orc tribes were conquered but it brought no respite from their toil.
Orc children were traded like livestock. The old and the weak were left to starve. Thoughtless cruelty was commonplace. The most common attitude of slave owners was that orcs were lucky to be alive, the only alternative they saw was death for those who resisted the expansion of the Empire. Those orcs who escaped captivity were simply never seen again, unless they were hunted down and brought back to the camps to face execution as a warning to the others.
Orcs taken as slaves were deliberately separated from their tribes to make them easier to handle. The result was that the orcs had lost all sense of identity, stripped of their tribal heritage by generations of slavery. As a result when an orc managed to escape, they made no effort to rescue anyone else.
The uprising began in Varushka with the legendary orc warlord Thrace. Young, confident and strong-willed, he saw something that no previous orc slave had seen. The other orc slaves were not strangers, they were part of his legion - his tribe. Through force of will and physical might, he bound his fellows together. He engineered a collapse in the mine allowing the entire legion to escape as one. A single escape was not enough for Thrace and his legion - they had decided that all the slaves kept by the Empire were their people, and they set out to free as many of their tribe as they could.
Thrace's legion began raiding nearby slave enclosures, freeing other orc slaves and appropriating weapons and food for their growing band. Wherever Thrace's legion went, they offered the slaves they liberated a simple choice. Join our legion and come with us, or stay by yourselves and try to make it alone. The majority chose to join the legion, and their numbers quickly grew. Throughout the Summer there were numerous battles with Varushkan troops sent to deal with the uprising, but the results were indecisive and with winter closing in, the Varushkans were forced to abandon the pursuit.
By this time the legion had grown so large that Thrace was forced to split his forces in three to allow them to survive the winter. They spent the cold months practising with the armour and weaponry they had captured. Messengers were sent to the barbarian tribes, to seek aid, but they were bloodily rebuffed. If anything, the barbarian tribes seemed to hate the liberated slaves even more than the humans. From surviving emissaries, the news trickled back that no escaped orc slave had ever been accepted among the barbarians; those few who had survived the arduous trek to the lands claimed by the barbarians, and those slaves in territories that had fallen to the barbarians, were simply killed.
With the first thaws of spring, the Imperial army tried to catch the orcs in a decisive engagement, but Thrace and his warlords resisted. The Imperial generals called in reinforcements, and finally they managed to corner the orc force with no opportunity for escape. The orcs still had the advantage of numbers, but they had only a fraction of the weapons, armour and training of their enemies and it was clear that defeat was certain without a miracle of some kind. Determined not to allow the uprising to be crushed, the legion sent the best warriors out in small groups in the night with orders to slip past the Varushkan armies and carry the uprising to all the lands of the Empire. To give them cover to make their escape, Thrace led the legion in a surprise attack against the encamped Varushkan armies near Kolvy in Karov.
Woefully under-equipped compared to the Imperial troops, the legion managed to keep the Varushkans busy until late in the day. They fought valiantly, desperately, but they were no match for the massed might of two imperial armies. It is widely believed that Thrace died in the engagement with the Imperial armies. To date no Imperial Orc can claim reliably to have heard his voice and some believe this means he is not actually dead. It seems unlikely that he is alive, but equally unlikely that such a pivotal figure would not have become an ancestor after death.
The Empire crushed the slaves and on the orders of the Varushkan generals no prisoners were taken. Every orc not killed in the battle was executed, and survivors were mercilessly hunted through the early winter months. The bodies were burnt in massive funeral pyres, and the Empire considered the matter at an end.
The Revolt Spreads
On the first day of spring of the next year, the soldiers that Thrace had ordered to flee Varushka attacked slave camps in Wintermark, Dawn, the League and Highguard. They had spent the winter spying out all the weakest defended areas where slaves were being held and they fell on them slaughtering any Imperials not smart enough to run. Their numbers swelled rapidly, just as they had done in Varushka, while the Empire struggled to respond to a widespread threat erupting in lands it considered secure.
There were atrocities on both sides during this period - stories of entire camps put to the sword by terrified owners, or villages sacked and every human within slaughtered by rampaging orc slaves in search of supplies. Not all contact between orcs and humans was hostile however; a handful of notable Freeborn and League merchants realized the potential for profit and began to sell weapons and provisions to the orc legions in return for plundered ores.
While the orcs tried to avoid pitched battles, their groups became too large to move effectively especially in open lands. Several major engagements took place in Dawn and Wintermark and although the orcs suffered a number of defeats there were always more camps to raids so their numbers continued to grow. The message of the revolt spread through the orc population, no matter how hard the Empire tried to prevent it. "We are one tribe," it ran. "We are one people, and we will not be slaves any longer." Several camps spontaneously revolted and while most such mini-uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed enough succeeded, forming new legions who set out to join up with their free fellows.
As the year drew on, the disparate orc forces created a massive encampment near the city on the League city of Temeschwar where thousands of slaves were held, The city was well defended however and it was clear that they lacked the numbers to take it so they pushed north into Varushka intent on surviving the winter there as they had done the year before.
It was there, that Emperor Ahraz of the Brass Coast made contact with them, initially via contacts cultivated by Freeborn merchants, and later in person. While the Empire tends to take a dim view of Ahraz, the orcs mostly speak of him as a man of great sincerity and passion who convinced them that he could not only save their people, but give them a purpose and a home. All they had to do was swear to serve the Empire and the Imperial Throne.
Several legions refused to accept Ahraz' offer - to join the Empire that had enslaved them - and even the Emperor could not ensure their safety. They headed into the Varushkan wilderness, and out of the Imperial Orc histories. Some were exterminated by the Imperial Armies, others were prey to monsters, and a few exist today as beleaguered bandit tribes.
Those who accepted Ahraz' offer marched along with his forces to Anvil, in a calculated show of force, to where the Senate was sitting. The Emperor presented the agreement to the Senate, and hours of frantic politicking took place. The Emperor's faction won the vote. Several far-reaching changes took place as a consequence; it became it illegal to keep orcs as slaves and those who swore to serve the Empire were accepted as Imperial citizens.
Citizens of the Empire
Acceptance of the orcs as citizens of the Empire meant the end of slavery. Those orcs still enslaved were brought to the vast camps based near Anvil. Tents and provisions were provided but life in these refugee camps was crowded and dirty. As months passed these camps became the de facto home for the Imperial Orcs. The Civil Service made a great push to recruit orcs into the Imperial army; the discipline of army life suited the orcs and keeping their people together made it possible to exert leadership over them.
The years that followed also required each of the now-Imperial Orcs to take the Tests of Adulthood. They learned to read and write first from Urizen teachers, and then from each other. These were the first of the skills that the orcs had been denied as slaves, but others followed - metalworking, building, sewing - all had to be relearned.
Many orcs were keen to abandon the past and embrace the opportunity they had won for themselves as citizens of the Empire. The legacy of Thrace was to show the orcs that they were a people, and one that existed long before Ahraz made them citizens of the Empire. The orcs know that the Emperor did not make them one people, it merely gave their people a name.
After the orcs agreed to join the Empire, the first problem that had to be addressed was where they would live. The human nations that had formed or joined the Empire held lands of their own. Territories that were liberated from the barbarians were incorporated into existing nations. But as slaves, the orcs claimed no lands of their own and no Imperial senators, not even the Freeborn were keen to offer the Imperial Orcs a home within their borders. To resolve the problem the representatives of the orcs proposed a simple plan - the orcs would become a nation without territories, claiming no land of their own until they could conquer one following Imperial statute. This proposal relieved the fears of many senators and helped to win the support of the League, although it was heavily criticized by the Highborn.
So the Imperial Orcs fought and died in the service of the Empire - always seeking to pursue "The Plan". Help the Empire conquer new lands and eventually the senate would assign one to the Imperial Orc nation so that they will have a homeland of their own. The Orcs were not naive about the obvious military, political and historical challenges they faced, but most believed that their journey to full citizenship in the Empire would never be complete until they held a territory. As a result the leaders of the Imperial Orcs and the legions themselves make a deliberate effort to keep the orcs together as a people, enduring the hard life in the legion camps as an essential sacrifice in order to achieve their ultimate goal. Individuals who settled down in other nations were seen as undermining the moral imperative for the Imperial Orcs to be given lands of their own and regarded with open hostility by many.
When Empress Britta took the Throne, she made overtures to the Imperial Orcs bringing them into the inner circle of her advisors. With their drive for conquest undimmed by the decades since the uprising, the Imperial Orcs were key to her ambitions to reinvigorate the Empire and take the fight to the barbarians who pressed their borders. Some claim that she made secret pacts with the leaders of the Orcs, promising them lands in return for their support. The truth of such matters probably died when Britta was ambushed and killed along with many of her most ardent supporters. However some years later, when the Imperial Favour of Britta was discovered - those who held it reported that it had been placed in trust for the Imperial Orc nation.
In 379YE the Imperial Orcs helped the Wintermarkers fight off a cruel assault by the forces of the Thule Dragons. During the battle, the Orcs recovered the Crown of Three Tears, the ancient Wintermark symbol of unity. After the fighting was complete, members of the Irontide and Skywise legions returned the priceless crown to their allies. It is claimed that this great gift was instrumental in awakening the Wintermark people to the long suffering of the Imperial Orcs. In gratitude Wintermark proposed to give the Imperial Orcs a gift that would far surpass even the crown - a homeland - the territory of Skarsind. There were significant political and constitutional hurdles to overcome but eventually the territory was relinquished and then assigned by the Senate to the Imperial Orcs.
Some of the history of that momentous decision and the events that followed is recounted here. A few Imperial Orcs remain conflicted about the decision to this day; they say that the Plan had always been to claim a nation through their own military force, not to gain land from the beneficence of others. For the majority however, Skarsind represents the culmination of three generations of struggle; the Imperial Orcs proved themselves time and again on the battlefield until eventually the Empire - led by Wintermark - saw fit to give them what was long owed. As the news spread, tens of thousands of Imperial Orcs from across the Empire have moved to Skarsind, eager to finally put down roots and grasp the opportunity presented by this rich land. For many Orcs, Skarsind seems like everything they have ever wanted.
A Future Unwritten
This land is the vision that Emperor Ahraz promised their forebears, this gift from Wintermark is Britta's legacy. It is in the nature of orcs to strive - the Plan may be over - but now there is a new challenge facing the Imperial Orcs. Can they build a nation worthy of Thrace and every Imperial Orc who went before them? Now they have a seat at the great table, can they build a nation to become the equal of any other?