The Orphan’s Code takes place in a city called Bermeia, the capital of the country Alronelin, on a continent called The Peninsula, consisting of several countries, a wide variety of climates, and a rich cultural heritage.
Many centuries ago, a legendary figure named Jon the Conqueror united the Peninsula, then a scattered bunch of primitive, isolated villages, under one banner and language. He built every major city–including Bermeia in Alronelin, Anapoline in Courma, and Aldaeza in Savilla–to be an impenetrable fortress, and to this day, these cities are called Unconquerable and have held true to their names. Jon the Conqueror was the first and last Emperor of the Peninsula, the first king of Alronelin, and the ancestor of around 1 in 4 of the citizens of the countries he once controlled. He is also credited with abolishing slavery entirely in the Peninsula and almost worldwide as well.
Almost immediately after his death, Jon the Conqueror’s empire splintered into several pieces, each controlled by one of his children, who all believed they had the right to rule. Over time, the empire split into seven different countries.
The main political powers of The Peninsula are: Alronelin, Courma, and Savilla. Smaller countries include Lyrma, Kedarth, Yazmin, and Kypris. Riazli, a very large country across the sea from Alronelin, is also a strong political influence and is the cause of many different problems and disagreements on the Peninsula, including refugee dislocation, slavery, and the fear of a hostile takeover.
Alronelin is heavily reliant on both ocean-based industry and mining. It is a rigid, patriarchal country with a powerful army and navy. It is a harsh, cold country bordered to the north by high mountains, but most of the country stretches along the coast of the sea. Savilla is comprised of a long, thin strip along the ocean and thousands of islands of varying sizes. Its people are strongly attached to the ocean, and its navy is unparalleled. Savilla is infamous for treating men and women as equals and having citizens, male and female, who are fierce, loyal, stubborn, and vengeful. Courma is a country covered in greenery, producing large amounts of lumber from its abundant pine forests. The citizens are proud to live in what is considered to be the Conqueror’s homeland and cling to many old traditions from that time, including Lyric, the Conqueror’s native language and the base of all modern languages, which only those born and raised in certain parts of Courma can speak fluently.
Romero, king of Alronelin, is currently attempting to mimic the Conqueror’s feat and take over the entire Peninsula. So far, Alronelin, Courma, and Lyrma are all under his control, and Alronelin is at war with Savilla, who is losing badly.
The capital of Alronelin was built perched on the cliffsides by the sea. The castle is called “Stormbreaker” because it sits on an outcropping of mountainous terrain on which storms typically expend all their fury before reaching the mainland. Bermeians are, in general, as tough and obstinate as the cliffs on which they live.
The original city was large and well-fortified, but otherwise unremarkable. However, Bermeia expanded rapidly, and when it could not grow outward, it grew upward. The main part of the city, called the upper city, consists of layers and layers of entwined, entangled buildings, columns, and general labyrinths of stone. This has developed an interesting social heirarchy, where the wealthiest people live in the highest layers of the city with the most direct exposure to sunlight possible, and the lowest layers of the city are terrifying slums of crime, darkness, seedy industries, and filth. The bottommost layers, comprised of the original structures built during the time of the Conqueror, were long since altered to act as the city’s sewer system.
Added on later was the lower city, which stretches between the harbor and the upper city. The lower city is cramped, but building in the fashion of the upper city is made impossible due to shoddy building practices, so it is mostly flat. Originally a dense farming village, it is now where all the poorest citizens of Bermeia live, with dirt roads and ramshackle houses. Gates separate the lower city from the upper city, and these gates are impassable without the approval of the soldiers who guard it. Typically, merchants and their employees move freely from the harbor to the upper city and back again, carrying wagonloads of goods to the shops in the upper city, but everyone else is not permitted to leave the lower city.
The upper city is delivered its water by a complex system of aqueducts fed by the nearby river. The lower city, however, relies on wells, and thanks to the expansion of the sewer system, most of these wells are tainted by, or directly access, the sewer water. The aqueducts were originally supposed to supply the entire city, and a plan for their expansion was proposed by King Rafael Sangor, Romero’s predecessor, but Romero abandoned the idea when he came to power.
Roughly thirteen years prior to the story, Romero, recently crowned king of Alronelin, essentially made orphans illegal. He did this by allowing his soldiers free reign to demand of any unattended child the proof that he had at least one parent, and if he couldn’t, do with the child what they saw fit. The soldiers usually chose to arrest the child, verify with their captain whether the child was worth a ransom, and if he was not, send him to the orphanage. The option also existed for the soldier to free the child or, if he felt it necessary, kill the child. After the orphanage was destroyed, most soldiers chose the latter option when dealing with stray children.
The ransom was designed to find the missing prince, though none but Romero and his highest-ranking military officials know this. A small ransom is given to any soldier who brings to his commanding officer a child of roughly the same age and appearance as the lost prince. The child does not have to be an orphan; he can be taken from his parents at any point, with no promise that he will be returned. If the child does not fit the vague description that the low-ranking officers were given, then the child is usually released, if he has parents, or sent to the orphanage if he does not. If he does, he is kept in the soldiers’ custody until a high-ranking official can take a look at him. Some are even brought to Romero himself. As time passes, however, it grows increasingly unlikely that this strategy will have any success whatsoever.
Once a child was brought to the orphanage, if he insisted he had parents, the orphanage might give them a few days to come fetch him. If they didn’t show up, the child was branded with the orphan mark–a large circle on the right shoulder–and added to the records. The child was then only allowed to leave in the extremely unlikely event that someone would show up and ask to take them home. The orphanage was happy to be rid of the children, so long as there was no possibility that they would be worth a ransom.
The orphan laws caused numerous unforeseen problems in the orphanage itself, the most prominent of which being that the soldiers were given free reign in the orphanage to discipline a child however they saw fit. Punishments varied from striking or locking up an unruly child to beating, whipping, or outright execution, depending on the soldier’s mood. Furthermore, the ransom was offered for a child whether he was dead or alive. This offered little incentive for a soldier to be merciful when a boy of a certain age acted out. Corruption and misconduct ran rampant, with higher authorities neither knowing nor caring what went on.
After Bermeia’s orphanage burned down, there was nowhere to send orphaned children. The soldiers were usually encouraged to arrest the child and let their commanding officers decide what was to be done with them; however, they rarely followed this suggestion, instead taking to “orphan-hunting” like a sport. Part of the reason the surviving orphans were driven to hide in the sewers was because the soldiers would often use attack dogs to hunt them down with brutal accuracy, and dogs were much harder to outrun, outsmart, or hide from than mere soldiers.
Technically, orphans are legally required to be marked and sent to an orphanage regardless of where in Alronelin they live. These rules are meant to apply to every city, village, and tiny hamlet in the country. Many cities make an effort to round up and keep track of their orphans, but none are as strict as Bermeia, mostly because the king does not live there. Many cities have found that stricter orphan laws lead to greater incidence of child abuse, child mortality, infant mortality, theft, murder, and general lawlessness within a city, as well as corruption and dissent among the city guard.
I could go on and on and on, but it’s a lot more interesting in the book.