Quotes: The Birth of Empire

This is my third article on the quotes that begin each chapter of “Tears from Iron.”  You can find the other two articles here:

This time I thought we’d explore quotes surrounding the birth of the Kayrstaran Empire. 

As I’ve mentioned before, quotes fill a unique role.  They tease the reader with emotions and ideas that cannot be readily conveyed in the narrative prose.  The speakers in this article’s quotes are both ruling high lords of the empire at the time of “Tears from Iron.”  Though the quotes share a thematic synergy with each of their specific chapters, they are also tied together in the ways they show the pride, resolve, tenuous hopes, and arrogance with which the Syraestari realm was forged.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a Cataclysmic setting.  It is a common theme in fantasy literature but one that generally belongs to a story’s past rather than its present.  Yet as much as I wanted to delve into the heart of the Cataclysm, the themes and ideas of “Tears from Iron” contrived me to push the story toward the end.  It is at a time when cataclysmic upheavals are transitioning from reality to memory and this idea forms the bedrock of the quotes. 

The Syraestari are a proud people and, unlike their Hiraestari cousins, have taken that pride to the point of placing themselves above all other peoples.  For some, this elevation is comparable to a lord and his servant but to others it is more akin to the relationship of man and beast.

“In its early years, the Cataclysm stole the lives of the great and the weak in equal portion.  But as the world calmed, the natural order reasserted itself, freed even from the overzealous fetters of the fallen Etyni.”

– Ushtyl, High Lord of Nahirazith

This quote captures the arrogant hubris that poisoned the minds of so many among the Syraestari, just as such ideas have been toxic to our own world’s history.  Ushtyl, a man of exceeding ambition, was thrilled to finally have an established realm that placed the Syraestari securely above the other races.  Likewise, he resented the Etyni who, though in their sacrifice saved the world from eternal darkness, also served as a hindrance to the intentions of Ushtyl and those like him.  He epitomizes that common value system of self first, then family, then people, then everyone else.

Yet the establishment of the Kayrstaran Empire wasn’t only about subjugation.  That was a means more than an end.  Rather, it was about survival.  This paradox, so common in our own world, forms an important theme in “Tears from Iron.”  For the Syraestari were desperate, too, both prior to the foundation of the empire and now, nearly a hundred years into its existence.

In the dark years of their long migration, the Syraestari changed.  They may be an unaging race with long memories, preserving knowledge even of the world that came before, but that doesn’t make them immutable.

“The journey from our old shattered realm to the shores of the Osenjian Sea was a long one, plagued by troglyd monsters and human barbarians.  Amid that toil, how could we remain whole?  As I look back now, it is not surprising to me that our people splintered from the unified empire we had known to lesser domains, each relying upon their own lord.”

– High Lord Sizras of Sarhystoeka

This decentralization of the Syraestari culture was inspired by a similar scattering experienced in Europe during its own Dark Age.  With the breaking of the Roman Empire, centralized authority was no longer able to protect its people from the raids of Vikings, Magyars, and Saracens.  The result was a weakening of monarchical power in favor of petty lords who could quickly respond in crises, if on a smaller scale.  The loyalty of lords to their king weakened along with their king’s authority over them.  Indeed, in France the monarchy only survived because in its weakness it ceased to be a threat to the more powerful local lords the king theoretically reigned over.  In circumstances such as that, and those experienced by the Syraestari people, how does a realm return to what was before?  And should it?  After all, Sizras for all his perspectives on the past is a champion of continued decentralization.  As a high lord, he was responsible for overseeing and defending one ‘splinter’ of his people through the darkest days of the Cataclysm.  It was a role he took seriously and a dignity he does not want to surrender to changing circumstances. 

I had planned to also look at two quotes concerning the Battle of Dahiraetin, a pivotal moment in Syraestari history, but given the length of this article already, I’ll save that for another time.