Debt, Crime or Oath?

“Debt, crime or oath?”

This is the question a Talin will ask any slave that enters the Chanre Roughs. In the laws of Tanyl these are the only means by which one can become a slave, and any who are unable to answer – or to have their master do so in their stead, for the Talin know some answers are shameful – are suspected of being kidnapped or false-bound, and will find their steps dogged until the locals are satisfied.

The first justification, debt, comes in two forms. If someone has accrued huge debts which they are unable to repay and are at very real risk of perishing penniless before any dent can be made, they may consent to a period of debt-slavery. Some do not consider this a true form of slavery, for it is the only one that limits the power of the master. At the end of the allotted period the slave must be freed in good health and condition. They are to bear no deliberately inflicted marks from their captivity and, if an accident led to any permanent physical harm, are to be gifted with the same compensation that would be awarded to a free person. While there is no formal price placed upon psychological damage it is seen as disgraceful to leave a once debt-slave with crippling mental damage. (It is considered a given that the slave will suffer some amount of harm from the loss of autonomy, and this is not counted against the master.)

The second form of debt-slavery is permanent. In exchange for everything the person has to offer, the one they are selling themselves to agrees to provide and care for a small group of nominated people for the rest of their lives. These are usually the slave’s parents, siblings or children. They must be taken under the master’s protection, supported financially if required, and are often adopted into the household. This agreement is not tied to the slave’s life span but the master’s; should the master choose, they may kill the slave at any time, since that life now belongs exclusively to them.

The most common slaves are those who have been sentenced to such a fate as punishment for crimes. The only crimes eligible are those that have caused direct and permanent suffering to another person such as murder, torture, or other abuses. There are no crimes that will always result in a sentence of slavery because it may only offered at the judge’s discretion when the criminal’s actions are unprovoked, unjustified and unforgivable. On the occasions it is offered as an alternative to execution the funds paid to purchase the slave are used to partially compensate the victims.

Many outside the Chanre Roughs assume that the criminal decides between slavery or death, because sometimes a criminal will be executed after the sentence of slavery is passed. This is not the case; one convicted of crimes of such magnitudes forfeits all rights to their fate. Under Tanyl law any action taken by a slave is the responsibility of the master, who bears the consequences, and so none will purchase a slave if they feel they cannot control them. In these cases the criminal is executed.

The rarest and most variant form of slavery is oath-slavery. Many older rites and rituals persist in parts of Tanyl and one well known from stories is of powerful individuals being protected by their life-servants, vassals who have voluntarily offered everything they have to assist in achieving another’s goals. Despite most of these tales being exaggerations of loyal bodyguards or trusted advisors such relationships did occur and are still legal. Each set of oaths will be unique and are often formalised in contracts written in beautiful calligraphy as a mark of their importance. Unlike all other slaves, it is dangerous to make assumptions about what an oath-slave will or will not do, because they are closer to an extension of their master’s will than a possession.

Near uniquely amongst the nations ringing the Inner Sea, the Talin do not consider the child of a slave to be property. If only one parent is a slave, the infant is considered the descendant of the other and a ghost, as if their missing biological contributor had died before their birth. (The peculiar death traditions practised in the Tanyl region are their own discussion.) If both are slaves, or one a slave and the other unknown, the infant is considered the child of the parent’s master, with that of the mother taking priority. Even if they are a different species they are considered to be their adoptive parent’s flesh and blood.

The idea of a person being born to slavery is considered repulsive amongst the Talin and bringing a child-slave into the Chanre Roughs frequently results in the misguided owner suffering a fatal ‘accident’ on the steep paths leading to the major cities. When cooler heads prevail the slaver owner may be dragged before the judges on charges of child abuse, and the common sentence considered a suitably ironic punishment.

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