On this, the eve of our own country’s day of independence, it seemed appropriate for me to discuss freedom in “Tears from Iron” as well. But I’m going to take this in a different direction. Rather than discussing the plight of the Kalilaer and the efforts of the Scions, let’s talk about Reigliff, Isi, and the freedom of the Syraestari.
This article only contains spoilers for the prologue, so I don’t think there’s any harm in anyone reading it, even those who have yet to begin the novel.
The Syraestari are hardly a people you would think about when considering freedom and independence, but that is what makes them so human. Don’t tell them that, of course, they’d hate to think they have anything in common with a race that they consider inferior. But isn’t that the nature of freedom and independence? It always seems to come slowly and imperfectly. Yes, on July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies declared their freedom from Great Britain, but that didn’t mean everyone in them was free. Did this devalue that declaration? I don’t believe so. It meant the journey wasn’t over. American Independence wasn’t a single act of a single day. It was built on generations and generations stretching back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and beyond. The Magna Carta was a statement of freedom, too, if imperfect because it was focused on protecting only the nobility. It is the nature of humanity to be flawed so, while we should always strive for more, we should celebrate the steps along the way.
For the Syraestari, it was the same way. Their concerns for freedom had nothing to do with freedom of humanity or any of the other races. It had to do with themselves. Indeed, as they saw it, their bondage actually began as servitude to humanity. “A Treatise on Creation and the Lost Age” covers this in detail (and is available for free if you subscribe to my newsletter), so I’ll only touch on it briefly here. The Aestari swore an Oath to see to the welfare of the other races as much as their own. It was a compulsion followed by no other peoples. The Schism of the Aestari occurred when the Syraestari revolted against the Oath, seeking to form their own independent and free path. But they were deceived by Cydion, the Lord of Life and Death, and unwittingly bound themselves to his will instead.
At the end of the Lost Age, Cydion sought to bring the entire world under his dominion and the Syraestari were his unwilling accomplices. Though they had to obey, they yearned to be free.
This brings us to Reigliff and Isi, the gentlest of the Etyni who Reigliff loved. But rather than freeing her, he killed her to rescue her from a fate worse than death at the hands of Cydion. Nut he also he killed her because letting her go would be a clear act of insurrection that would put the entire Syraestari revolt in jeopardy. Reigliff was a man who always weighed odds and willingly embraced the hard choice that others might shirk from. This doesn’t make him a hero, it makes him a killer, and it comes with a price. The cost of Syraestari liberation was a heavy one. It saw the death of the Syraestari emperor and many of the brightest and most capable minds of the realm. It cost Reigliff as well, and not least from torment for the innocent blood he spilled.
And with this price paid, do the Syraestari cherish freedom? Do they who live thousands of years later think on the cost that others paid before them? Do we? Yet though they, and we, love freedom it isn’t the highest peak any more than peace is. For freedom and peace are frail things. Without justice, without responsibility, and especially without forgiveness, they will be dragged back into the tyranny of retribution, vengeance, oppression, and hatred.