Whatever I write, I always love to explore big themes. Life itself is complex, and it inspires big questions. My writing has often been a subconscious effort to process some of the things I have struggled to understand about the world around me. One such thing has been freedom.
Freedom. It's the word that every child and teenager obsesses over to some extent. In our youth, we all fantasise about freedom from our teachers, our parents, the authorities above us, and so on. Teenagers get to an age where they feel life would be so much better if only they could make their own decisions without reference to anybody.
I certainly felt this way as a child and teenager. There were other questions I asked as well, however. Questions that related to me personally. Could one ever be free of the past? Of things and events one was ashamed of? Could one ever shed one's "history" and embrace the future without any such burdens?
As these questions were somewhat all-consuming for me at the time, they made their way into Rafen in some shape or form. Rafen is enslaved to the tyrant King Talmon in Tarhia. He has no personal freedom, and even his body is just a tool for somebody else's work. Talmon's ownership over Rafen is seen vividly in several ways.
1. Rafen has a number, not a name - 237. He was not even allowed to know his name.
2. Rafen is not allowed to learn the Tongue, the language of the free world beyond Tarhia. Tarhian ties him to a people in bondage and chains him to his master.
3. Rafen's basic living conditions are controlled. He is imprisoned in a cell in isolation and thus is fenced off from any other influences (or so Talmon thinks). His food and drink are rationed, as are his clothes. He has no control even over his own personal hygiene.
After King Talmon had killed his parents, Rafen had lived in a cell from age two upward, and at four they had branded 237 on his ankle and forced him to work in the coal mine... And so he had lived: a little underground animal who did as he was told. Yet he itched. He shouldn’t have expected more, but he did.
According to the three facets of Rafen's slavery above, Rafen's being free would consist of his having an identity, having knowledge of the outside world that would allow him to move about in it, and having control of his own living conditions. Rafen attains most of these things and yet still doesn't feel free. His past haunts him, and he cannot make peace with it. As a result, he feels threatened wherever he goes, certain that he will be hurt or dragged back into slavery some way.
After all, the great cell was wider than four walls. It was seen in the ghostly spies lingering in the places of freedom, in the sidelong looks strangers gave him; its ceiling was the suspicion in his mind, the memories that wouldn’t die, the smiles that never quite reached his eyes and failed to warm his heart.
Tarhia would always win in the end.
Did I even answer my own questions with this book? Or did I remain forever a cynic? The above words certainly seem incredibly cynical.
It turns out within the space of half a night that Rafen's perspective has changed, because he has met the Phoenix Zion. The response to my deepest soul searching was this: we can't be free unless we are radically and powerfully redefined. Without a divine Creator to rename us and seal our identities, we remain forever enslaved and easily manipulated.
He decided he wouldn’t be afraid. He raised his hand to the feather above his heart. He was the Fledgling.