Chapter 2 | Whipped Workers

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ENOCH

The empirical advisor, who stands in my father's place, finishes beating the slaves as they hammer away at the streets of white marble. The old stainless stone must be flattened until it's suitable to walk on by pedestrians. 

There are hundreds of the giant boulders that have yet to be broken down and sanded down flat. The rocks were mined centuries ago when our empire was first structured; it was originally built to shield us from the desert dunes outside. Our city was still lit by flame back then -- as many distant cities are now. Since those days, we have advanced. Not far socially at all, but enough to find someone with the brains to create our false sense of light in here.

No other kingdom holds such great light as we. Outsiders refer to our capital as the city of the sun, but we know it as Ashtium.

Mother approaches me. Today her hair hangs low in ringlets of shining black. Her skin is a beautiful pale, a sharp contrast from my olive tone I earned after standing outside watching over our construction plans. The empress does not venture outside the palace as often as I. 

With father away, always "visiting" other kingdoms, she is in charge of governing our city and overseeing domestic affairs. Mainly, that involves answering the questions of our people and making sure my father's plans for our city are followed.

It is unusual to see her descend the giant marble staircase leading down to our city streets where I work with Urdmin, father's advisor.

"Good morning, Enoch. Urdmin," Mother greets politely.

Urdmin slings his whip in its holster as he mounts a newly imported stead. The animal was one of many brought from a kingdom to the west that my father's soldiers recently pillaged. It's a brown warhorse built for battle. 

It was not raised for the elderly man who trains it to walk our streets with the sharp nudge of his heeled boot.

"Good morning, mother. What news have you brought?"

Urdmin dismounts his horse landing heavily between us. The act is deeply disrespectful. We are the royal family, and he, nothing but a sly rich man my father plucked off from the wealthier of our population here. If the advisor were to have stepped so close to my father, his head would have been sliced open by now.

I have my father's height and stamina, but those are the only two things I am grateful we have in common. I am lucky to be born in the safety of our city's haven, but I refuse to let my family's cruelty continue.

Mother takes the whip from Urdmin without answering me and paces down the line of slaves chipping away at the marble rocks. Their hammers clink loudly, drawing the attention of aggravated market vendors lining the streets they are working on.

They would be spitting on the slaves and cursing them, Urdmin too. However, with mother and myself present, their acts of displeasure are reduced to glares as they whisper words to one another with their sharp tongues.

The slaves are chained together with metal cuffs in one long line. Most of them are prisoners or peasants who couldn't afford to pay taxes to our family. Both are considered equal scum. Even I must pay taxes to my family. I do not work in the palace, but outside it, as an architect.

It is the only reason I willingly stand out here with Urdmin and watch as the slaves go away at constructing my planned-out road.

"You should not strike them. They are already tortured enough. It could be you there one day," I tell the old man.

Urdmin pats me on the back hard. "You speak of yourself, lad! You should be at war with your father now -- not hiding here like a little man lost in your sketches and books. That is a far greater crime than any I know!"

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