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Saved to Enslave

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"I've saved your life, Roy Tam — it now belongs to me!"

When a character who is rescued from mortal peril is then enslaved by their rescuer(s).

Imagine Bob is paddling his canoe on the river and he happens to see Alice struggling in the water, inches from drowning. He pulls her out and

  • he claps handcuffs on her while she's too weak to resist.
  • he realizes at once that she's a member of an enemy tribe and he can claim her as a war prize.
  • he invokes a cultural tradition that says she has incurred a Life Debt and must be his servant until he is satisfied.
  • his act of rescuing her has fulfilled an ancient prophecy that magically binds her to him.
  • he simply tells her that she belongs to him now, and since she can't swim, she has no choice but to submit (for now).

While in many cases Bob simply exploits an opportunity, sometimes he actively seeks out souls in peril in order to 'rescue' them and put them in his debt.

Note that the key word is "slave." If Alice is not compelled in some way to enter Bob's service, this trope is not in play.

Compare You Owe Me (Bob reminds Alice that he did her a favor in order to get her to do something she's reluctant to do), Leonine Contract (Bob gets Alice to agree to something when she's in no real position to say 'no'), Defeat Means Menial Labor, Recruitment by Rescue, and Villainous Rescue. Contrast I Owe You My Life, where Alice insists on serving Bob without any external compulsion or threat of force to make her do so.

Can overlap with Recruited from the Gutter, A Match Made in Stockholm, or (Squick) Rescue Romance.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City: This is part of Infidel's modus operandi — he travels through time and rescues people from great disasters, then forces them into slavery to "repay" him.
  • The Incredible Hulk: In Planet Hulk, this is Caiera's backstory. Over time, she became loyal to the Red King for sparing her, until he no longer needed to compel her obedience.
  • Lady Mechanika: In The Tablet of Destinies, Mechanika and Winifred are saved from dying in the Thirsty Desert by a gang of slavers led by a Dangerous Deserter who intends to sell them.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Some of Ami's minions are gained because she captured and didn't kill them, or were goblins saved from starvation, or were saved from eternal torture by dark magic.
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: After the Iron Fleet raids Dragonstone, Missandei is pulled from the wreckage by their sailors. When next seen, she's being held prisoner in Harrenhal by the Wolf, who only reveals where she is to motivate Grey Worm into fighting him.
  • In some Harry Potter fanfic, the concept of Life Debts works like this.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest reveals how Davy Jones recruits his Ghost Pirates: the Flying Dutchman rescues sailors from the brink of death, then gives them the choice between one hundred years of service or going straight back into the ocean.
  • The Seventh Seal: Returning from the Crusades, the cynical Anti-Hero Jöns saves a woman from an Attempted Rape, then remembers he needs a new housekeeper and orders her to come with him. He admits that he could have raped her himself had he not already grown tired of such things.
  • The film version of The Shadow has Cranston putting anyone he saves into his debt — and service — claiming that saving their lives means he now owns them. A downplayed example as he doesn't actually enslave them as such as recruits them as his agents, but nobody says no to him.
  • In Thor: Ragnarok, after an unarmed and confused Thor arrives on Sakaar, Valkyrie saves him from his attackers. Then she immediately subdues him with a device that releases neurotoxins and delivers him to the Grandmaster as a slave for sale. She gets a hefty sum for her efforts, and Thor is forced to participate in the Grandmaster's gladiator games.
  • Subverted in the Disney film The World's Greatest Athlete. Nanu saves Coach Sam Archer's life, and under the rules of Nanu's tribe, this makes him Archer's protector, bound to follow and aid him. It was a ruse: Archer set it up on purpose because Nanu is a superhuman athlete, and he desperately needs Nanu on his team if he's going to win.

  • In Dragonsbane, there's a proverb "Save a dragon, slave a dragon." It turns out that working any healing magic on a dragon requires knowing its True Name, which gives you power over it.
  • Gor: Gorean convention has it that if a man saves the life of a free woman, he has the option to enslave her.
  • I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew: The unnamed protagonist is saved by drowning by General Genghis Khan Schmitz who then conscripts him into his army to fight the Perilous Poozer of Pompelmoose Pass.
  • The Red Vixen Adventures: When Alinadar was gravely wounded and the sole survivor of a raiding party that attacked one of the Red Vixen's fueling stations, the Red Vixen enslaved her rather than leave her for dead.
  • In Jack London's The Sea Wolf, anyone rescued at sea by Captain Wolf Larsen gets Press-Ganged into the crew.
  • Spinning Silver: The Staryk Fair Folk are compelled to repay all debts, so to save one's life without setting a price is to claim them as an eternal slave. To humans, the story of a wounded Staryk knight murdering his rescuers is proof of their evil; to the Staryk, he was defying this trope and choosing to die free.
  • Pulp hero The Shadow has a Vigilante Militia of agents whom he expects to obey all orders. While some joined voluntarily, others were persons he rescued and then 'impressed.'
  • A Study in Scarlet: In the backstory, before Sherlock Holmes gets involved, Ferrier and Lucy are stranded in the desert of Utah after their travelling group is raided. They are rescued from certain death by a Mormon convoy, who demand they both swear loyalty to the Church. Years later, the two try to escape the Mormon community and are killed for it.
  • Evil Prince Ancar makes Mornelithe Falconsbane his servant this way in Winds of Fury.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: Todd convinces Uncle Jack not to kill a captive Jesse for being a rat in favor of forcing him to cook meth under inhumane living conditions, killing his girlfriend Andrea when he tries to escape.
  • Gallowglass: Sandor saves Joe from committing suicide after he tries to jump in front of a train. As a result, Sandor tells Joe that his life belongs to him, and Joe "willingly" accepts the role of servant to Sandor (despite it being set in the contemporary UK). "Gallowglass" is the in-universe name for this kind of indebted servant.

    Video Games 
  • Baldurs Gate 3: Astarion was rescued from a band of Gur by Cazador, who promptly turned Astarion into a vampire spawn and enslaved him for two hundred years. Astarion learned later that Cazador is served by a tribe of Gur; the Player Character can state that the rescue seemed awfully convenient in this light, and Astarion replies that he can't prove it but it's entirely possible.
  • Jedah in the Darkstalkers game Vampire Savior fits this to a T. Not only did he save Lilith from the prison Belial gave her just to use her in his plan for recreating Makai, but Lilith realizing this was enough to get her to double-cross him too.
  • In Dragon Age II, Fenris' personal quest "A Bitter Pill" ends with Hawke rescuing an elf named Orana. Should Hawke offer her work at the Hawke Manor, Fenris, a former slave, will deride him or her for taking her in as a slave. The player's reaction, however, determines if this trope is Played Straight or subverted (by paying Orianne for her work).
  • If you play light sided in Knights of the Old Republic, the Life Debt that Zaalbar swears to you is played as a friendship. Dark sided, it plays as this trope.
  • Visas Marr in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords was the only one spared when Darth Nihilus slaughtered her people. He made her his Sith Apprentice, which means 'slave' more than 'student.'
    • The same game has Kreia doing this with the insane Wookie Hanharr. Like many things in the game, it's a nasty Deconstruction of Star Wars lore: In this case, the Life Debt. Hanharr owes a lifedebt to another human, and a combination of Internalized Categorism, Hanharr's belief in Social Darwinism and the fact that he hates humans for enslaving and abusing Wookies (while himself being a slaver and killer) has driven him half-mad. Kreia then adding to it by intentionally rescuing him only adds fuel to that particular fire.
      "I saved your life, beast. That makes it mine."
  • In Planescape: Torment, the githzerai live in a world of chaos shaped purely by their thoughts, a world in which self-doubt can be deadly. The Practical Incarnation entrapped a githzerai named Dak'kon in this way, saving him psychologically by giving him the scripture of Zerthimon. The githzerai swore obedience until the Practical Incarnation's death...but what he didn't know was that the Practical Incarnation was immortal. At the end of the game, you wind up meeting the Practical Incarnation and get him to admit that the "scripture" he gave to Dak'kon was something he made up purely to get Dak'kon's service because he's the last wielder of the karach blade. You can potentially tell this to Dak'kon, at which point he is finally freed.
  • A gameplay mechanic in Rimworld. Occasionally, somebody's transport pod will end up crashlanding in your base, leaving its passenger mortally wounded. You can choose to help them, or take them prisoner, depending on your relative factions, your pawns' religious views, and your own sense of morality.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: All over the Sith Warrior story, especially if played Dark Side. First up is Vette, who the Sith Warrior saves from a death sentence (she was robbing Sith tombs for artifacts to sell). Vette is the Warrior's property under Imperial law. Second is Jaesa. A lot of her circumstances are up to the Warrior's choices, but after defeating her in battle, the Warrior takes her as an apprentice because she's got a Force ability that is quite useful in ferreting out deceit. And then there's Quinn. His career (and possibly life) were saved by the Warrior's Master, Darth Baras. Quinn offers to serve you as a proxy to Baras Not quite true. He's still enslaved to Baras and when Baras wants to backstab the Warrior, Quinn has no choice but to obey.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: Heather was dying from being hit by a car when the player meets her, and you have the option to give her some of your blood to heal her, making her a blood-bound ghoul in the process. Heather will later chase you down and try to pull an I Owe You My Life on you, unaware that the blood bond essentially enslaves her to you (something the Player Character must be aware of in order to give her blood in the first place). If you choose to keep her, Heather will drop out of school, give you all her money, and lure guys home for you to feed on, all without any sort of prompting from you. Unlike other ghouls you meet, she's unaware of what the blood bond is doing to her sanity, even if you treat her badly. The player is, however, allowed to defy or subvert the trope by outright rejecting her or by chasing her away before the Sabbat raid your Haven.

    Western Animation 
  • The Rugrats episode "Driving Miss Angelica" has Chuckie become Angelica's servant after she saves him from being almost hit by a kids big wheel. Tommy and Chuckie are later able to flip this on Angelica after saving her from being trapped in the closet.
  • Played for Laughs in The Simpsons episode "Das Bus", where Otto, after being swept away from his sinking bus by a current, is eventually picked up a Chinese fishing boat. As he celebrates his rescue, the fishermen aboard have this conversation in Cantonese:
    Fisherman #1: Do we need another slave laborer in the cannery?
    Fisherman #2: You can never have too many slave laborers.

    Real Life 
  • Before Emancipation, nobles of Tsarist Russia were able to take in orphans and make them into serfs if they were under the age of eight.