Behind the Pages: Fritten

Not a heroic figure like so many among the Kalilaer and Scions, Fritten is, in his own way, the most worthy of our pity. Captured at such a young age that he had few concrete memories of freedom as a wildman of the northern forests, he was nevertheless too old to be indoctrinated into the t’Okaedrin. So he was sent to the smelting camp where he passed his formative years as a slave. That experience shaped him.

**********WARNING! This article includes significant spoilers.  I strongly encourage that you only read this if you’ve finished “Tears from Iron.”  This article doesn’t give away the heart of the story, but it includes several reveals that may diminish the pleasure of discovery as you make your way through the novel.**********

I sculpted the various Kalilaer of the smelting camp as an exploration of the ways that people might deal with subjugation. There is Yrpel who can barely contain his anger. Left to his own devices, he would certainly end up as a rebel or executed as an example. Or there is Chostir who hides from her present by living in her dreams. Wiersa follows a similar path, laughing at misfortune to conceal his pain. Zoltha bends knee and bows dutifully, relying only on faith that there might be something better to be made of this life or perhaps the next. Regund recalls memories of the challenges of eking out life in the wilderness in an effort to make his current circumstances endurable. Idysha is a rebel at the heart but wise enough to temper and wait.

But what of Fritten? He must have been a madman to actually prefer slavery to freedom. No one would ever choose captivity if they were offered liberty as an alternative. Or would they?

The idea of Fritten came from a vacation I took several years back to Colonial Williamsburg. We visited the Peyton Randolph House where we took a tour that focused on the household slaves of the home around the time of the American Revolution.

During the war, the British offered emancipation to the slaves. If the men would join the fight against the colonists then they, along with their families, would be freed. But the British had no interest in taking them in, either. The British didn’t offer this emancipation from any higher moral ground, but from a desire to cripple their enemies (though about thirty years later, Britain would abolish its slave trade and lead the way to nearly eradicating slavery from the world). The slaves of the Peyton Randolph House would be freed but they would also be left to fully fend for themselves.

There were twenty-eight slaves in the Peyton Randolph House, but only eight took the British up on their offer and at least one of these subsequently returned home to slavery (records are lacking on the other seven). If memory serves, most of these were single men. Our tour guide was baffled as to why this might happen, but I realized he was looking at their circumstances through 21st century eyes which isn’t entirely fair. To truly understand the reasons behind this choice, we have to look at the world as these slaves would have.

The slaves weren’t fools to turn their backs on emancipation. They knew exactly what they were doing. Consider. What would they have done once freed? They certainly wouldn’t be accepted in Williamsburg and, since the British weren’t taking them in, that meant they’d have to move inland into the wilderness where they would eke out a living on their own. If you were given the choice between a hard and unfair life now or surviving on your own in the wilderness with nothing but the shirt on your back, would you take that offer? These were household slaves, good at cleaning and cooking, grooming horses, and all the myriad of chores that arise in the care of a wealthy family in a large home. They would have had no experience with hunting or farming and perhaps no skills at building shelters. In other words, freedom would almost certainly have meant a slow death from starvation or exposure. If you were sent with only the clothes on your back into a wilderness where there would be no external help, would you do any better? Most of us would have to answer, “no.” And remember that they had children to think of, too. I have no doubts that they seriously considered the offer and, weighing the consequences of each choice, decided that bleak subjugation was better than near certain death. It was a hard decision and one I’m glad I’ve never had to make.

This is Fritten’s choice. He is afraid of the wilderness, remembering only its crude hardships and not its freedoms. Like the slaves of the Peyton Randolph House, he has no skills with hunting or farming or building shelters. All he knows how to do is smelt iron. He doesn’t even know how to mine it or forge it into tools. He is the middle-man for a single process in a complex economy. Thus the idea of freedom in a wilderness terrifies him and, because he cares about the other Kalilaer with him, he is willing to undermine their desires for ‘their own good’ as he sees it.

In the weighing of woes for the members of Belarrin’s smelting camp, I think Fritten is the greatest tragedy. He was enslaved heart and mind, body and soul.