The most wretched existence facing any Old Worlder is a life of forced servitude, whether it’s in the mines of the horrid Ratmen, serving in the Pleasure Palaces of distant Araby, or being subjected to a life of pain and misery as a Thrall to a Jarl.
Each raid against the coasts of the Empire and Bretonnia find more and more people captured and brought back and forced into a life of endless toil and service to their masters. Such thralls are not contained to just the women and children abducted, but also include warriors captured on the field of battle.[1a]
The life of a thrall varies depending on the capturing tribe. Mostly, thralls are used as labour, building Longships or working in the frozen fields. Some thralls are taken as fourth or fifth wives, selected for their appearance rather than their station. But for most, their fate is to be sacrificed to curry the favour of the Dark Gods. When a new Dragonship is finished, the Norsemen line the approach to the sea with screaming slaves, to crush the life out of them as the warriors push the boat into the waters. Before a new raid, a thrall may be disembowelled, his guts flung out to the seas to appease the Daemons of the waters, whilst his corpse is strung up on the mast to feed the crows and other spirits of death. Seers kill thralls with impunity, using innocent blood to conjure spirits from the Otherworld. Though some thralls may receive decent treatment, most face a gruesome fate.[1a]
- "Give a captive a sword and he becomes an expendable sparring partner."
- —A common use for the captives of the Norscans.[2a]
There is more than one use for a captured foe. Though the altars of the shrines are ever thirsty for more blood to be spilled on them, those captives fit and strong enough are put to a different purpose. Crudely armed, they are then used for sparring, or target practice. For the savage, hardened warriors who inhabit the northern wastes, this is sport and pleasure in one, and may even increase a warrior's skill, before they tire of the inferior opponents and go looking for something more... substantial to fight. And in the unlikely event captives are not killed during the practice, they can always be sacrificed to the Gods later.[2a]