Tazil, High Lord of Raefi’ernyn, is an example of a character who grew to become much more than I’d originally envisioned. Other examples of this phenomena include Chostir and Talikae. Tazil’s original purpose was fairly simple. He was an ally of High Lord Ushtyl, though in a secondary role, and he was Vistus’ master.
**********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.**********
One of my goals when writing heroes or villains is to make them believable. Villains aren’t usually villainous on purpose. They believe in what they are doing. Sometimes they even think they are the hero. As it’s said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This applies for Tazil just as it does for other adversaries including Arcomin and the far darker Ushtyl. And Tazil truly earns the title villain. After all, the empire was his idea. Slavery was his idea and his techniques brought the t’Okaedrin and Pi’aernoth institutions to life.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have a bit of villainy in our lives. I suspect every one of us has lied to protect ourselves. We’ve all felt envy and rage and a multitude of other ills. Every single one of us harbors bias and prejudice, whether we’re aware of it or not. It is an unfortunate aspect of what makes us human… or Syraestari. The key aspect of Tazil’s journey is his gradual recognition of his frailties and misconceptions. From there, he took the next step to see the world with new eyes. His actions after his epiphany weren’t perfect, but they were better than they had been before.
Tazil, as with nearly all Syraestari, perceived humans as inferior to his own race. Some Syraestari, like Ushtyl, saw humans as cattle… creatures of no significance who could be used or destroyed with no compunction. Tazil, on the other hand, considered humans as less, yet still possessing some (diminished) value. Thus, he had no second-thoughts about enslaving humanity for hard labor or indoctrinating their children to become warriors, living and dying at his command. Yet Tazil actually believed he was making humans better. He felt that slavery was ennobling them and was proud of who the t’Okaedrin had become. Of course, as is so often the case, he never bothered to ask humans what they thought about being slaves. Even those with the noblest intentions can do great harm when they forget to ask the people their “helping” if their actions really are making things better.
In his own small way, Tazil mirrors the story of Vistus. They both begin “Tears from Iron” perceiving the world in a certain way. As the tale progresses, they come to question that belief and then finally change course. Tazil was honestly surprised that Vistus didn’t want to be a t’Okaedrin. While Tazil didn’t seek to overthrow slavery in the end, at least he recognized it as evil and stepped away from it. While we might wish for him to become an abolitionist, people don’t always become all that we desire. We’re too complex for that. We might assume he fell short because of a weakness of character, or from conflicting priorities that don’t mesh with our own beliefs or perhaps it was simply fear. We may not care about the causes and simply judge him on the results. In doing so, we risk manifesting the same shortcomings in ourselves that we condemn in others.
But for Tazil at least we can say this. Though he didn’t become an abolitionist, he ceased to be a slaver. He departed the empire in the company of High Lord Sizras and sought out the long desired refuge where Syraestari could live separate from humans instead of ruling over them. It may not have been the perfect path, but at least it was a turn from a darker road.