The second character I’d like to look at is our quintessential barbarian, Yrpel. Or is he? It is my impression that barbarians are victims of stereotype. This doubtless relates to the nearly two thousand year old chauvinism of the Roman elite. The word barbarian dates to that period and was used to describe non-Roman, non-Greeks. In modern terms, it is most frequently applied to their northern neighbors, the Celts and especially the Germans. I would argue that, while less sociologically sophisticated, the “barbarian” cultures of the Celtic and Germanic peoples were vibrant and no more violent or gory than the civilized realm that judged them while thriving on military expansionism and blood sport.
A similar judgment, if not necessarily the same title, was applied later to the yet-more-northern Viking peoples. This attitude is understandable from those who lived in fear of Viking raids, but with our vaster knowledge today, the continued appellation is unfortunate. I suppose it is typical of humanity to define individuals and groups by a single aspect of their society, as if by pointing out the flaws of others we hide from those in ourselves. In addition to raiding and conquest, the Vikings were remarkable explorers and avid traders. They were the first Europeans to reach the Americas. Their trade routes spanned Europe even into the Mediterranean and, more remarkably down the rivers of modern day Ukraine and Russia into Byzantium. Their reach was such that the elite warriors of the Byzantine Empire,the Varangian Guard, were Vikings. At home, the Viking culture was also rich. As an author, I’m naturally drawn to their storytelling… the sagas. But they also had expert artists and craftsmen. Additionally, their society was structured on an early form of democracy.
This might seem to be a prolonged divergence into real worldhistory and I beg your patience. I’m a historian by education and by passion. The study of history is the study of humanity. Storytelling, such as “Tears from Iron,” is an avenue to see our own existence through another lens. With that in mind, onward to Yrpel…
**********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.**********
Belarrin’s perspective of wildmen would be congruous with the Roman view of their barbarian neighbors. Thus when Belarrin ended up in line with a group of captured wildmen, I contemplated what kind of individuals he might find himself tied to. Yrpel lives up to Belarrin’s expectations. Belarrin isn’t a member of the Iengian tribe and that makes him, by definition, weak in Yrpel’s eyes. Yet even in Yrpel’s martial arrogance, there is vulnerability and weakness. He prides himself on his warrior prowess but was defeated. Not only did he lose, but he failed to die gloriously in battle. To his great shame, he was captured instead. Thus while Yrpel exudes bravado, much of it comes from a source of humiliation.
Yrpel quickly demonstrates that he’s driven by more than simple machismo (though there certainly is plenty of that). His first great outburst is when the t’Okaedrin execute his fellow Iengian, the wounded Mirnar. The traits that drive him to this response would be fully comprehensible to his captors: loyalty, duty, and friendship. While still on the march,Yrpel also demonstrates that he doesn’t gauge men solely upon physical prowess and martial aptitude. When he learns that Belarrin may be a priest, his whole attitude changes. Indeed, even after Belarrin explains that assumption away, the wall between them has shattered. From this point on, Yrpel listens to and even complies with Belarrin’s sensible requests for caution and patience.
This restraint continues to define Yrpel’s personality. While in the smelting camp, he holds his temper repeatedly in check despite frequent brutal provocations. Also in the smelting camp, Yrpel meets Idysha, an Iengian woman. Unlike the other camp members who are apt to see him as something of a roughshod wildman, Idysha judges him from the perspective of the same culture and finds him admirable. As an Iengian herself, she understands him better than anyone else.
[It] isn’t time for tears.” Yrpel growled. “It’s time for rage. For revenge!”
“Quiet you fool,” Idysha told him,but her tone was soft to take away the sting of her words and she rested her hand gently on his arm. More quietly,such that Belarrin could barely hear, she said with a note of pride, “They cannot all be Iengian.”
Underneath his bold exterior, Yrpel has a softer side, just like everyone else. He is the most distraught of all the surviving Scions for those he failed to save. He is crushed to the point of weeping because he fell short of the expectations he set for himself. Because he failed to do everything his friend Belarrin asked. This speaks to the root of Yrpel’s personality. Yes, he is a quintessentially gruff warrior, more prone to action than thought, and more apt to judge others the same way. But he possesses compassion and remarkable loyalty. He respects and obeys those he subconsciously places over himself and will do anything that is asked without question. He cares deeply about living up to expectations, whether they are set by himself or another. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and despises those who defy it. At the same time, however, he can show sympathy and laugh at life’s ills.
The close of Yrpel’s character arc is his long awaited vengeance upon his tormentor. I almost didn’t write this scene. It was only as I was working through one of the final drafts that I realized that Yrpel’s story was incomplete. He demanded satisfaction. I gave him is vengeance in a way that pleased him and, I hope, you the reader as well.