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Writing the trial

I am now finally at the point in The Rite of Serfdom where Kel and Kangra go on trial. Unfortunately, this is also the point where my haphazard worldbuilding is biting me in the ass. Beyond creating the character of Kel and Kangra's lawyer, Isolde, I had not really expended a lot of thought on how the Gnomian Republic's court system would work. Would they have trial by jury, by ordeal, by a single judge or a panel of judges? Would the judges be tied to a district or canton, or would they be traveling assizors? Informally-chosen common law adjudicators drawn from the local community? How would a session in court be run? Would there be a strict separation of the defendants, witnesses and the public or would they all wait in the same benches before being called up? Would they take oaths at all, and if they did, would they swear on a holy book, a relic or some symbol of the nation? How would the recent unification of the country affect the legal system?

These questions are now unbelievably urgent. Considering that the country's detention center, the Dyrtforrabyggern is so unlike any prison in the human world that it is hardly recognisable as such, I couldn't follow that up by simply copying what I know of the Dutch, English or American legal system.

I will have to compensate for this laxity by writing the sequence very carefully and thoroughly in advance, cross-checking it with what I already know of the Gnomian Republic. The ideas are flowing, but I'm not going to draw it until I'm sure I've got it right. Not only that but the sequence should be interesting as a story chapter (i.e. not anticlimactic), and (if there is any higher being up there, please, putative higher being) brief.

I've already decided against jury trial, for strictly narrative reasons - I want to keep the number of new characters in this chapter to a minimum (please, putative higher being. I will be good). If that turns out implausible in the context of the rest of the sequence, I'll just have to make it plausible. I will have a panel of judges, one Gnomian, one Elvish, one Faerie. That makes sense in the light of the need for fair representation that would otherwise be filled by a jury (at least in theory). I'm still undecided on the procedural matters and whether there should be opening pleas (recapping what the characters are accused of, perhaps? Is that necessary) although I lean towards having all the characters involved sitting on the same benches while waiting to be questioned. In a modern court, witnesses would be separated so they wouldn't influence one another but that may not have been the case in earlier times.

In any case, I may run a bit late as a result of writing and re-writing this sequence. I'll cross that bridge when I bump into it.

Comments (1)


Can't help these stray thoughts (especially when I should be doing something sensible instead), although this may not relate to your universe at all. Anyway, here's how a Gnomian court functions in my mind. Use or abuse as apropriate.

Election of judges. I imagine the different races would have different standards for what makes somebody elegible for a high office, and if this republic thing is to work at all each race must be guaranteed the right to elect using their own systems. So perhaps...

Gnomes: The oldest (wisest), the most pompous (the ones with the longest/weirdest beards) and most inscrutable (the highest priests with the largest store of Gnomian proverbs - Gnomes seeming to be the only race that set any particular store in religon and weird proverbs) would be obvious candidates. So - geriatric high priests with really long weird beards and a solid store of obscure proverbs would fill the highest offices. Gnomes being such stodgy rule-bound types, there probably wouldn't be any need for a democratic election. (-"Old clampfoot croaked last night. We need another high judge." -"Okay. Let's check the temple census, last month's beard ratings and the most current dictionary of undecoded proverbs.")

High elves: Aristocratic types, from what I gather. It would probably all be a matter of birthright - which COULD provide some quite peculiar results. Greatest chance of producing somebody absolutely unsuited for the office. But he'd have "advisors" hovering in the wings, of course.

Faeries: They'd get together all in one place and have a big quarrel, sling mud and poke each others noses. Like the old Nordics drumming together a thing to "elect" a new king, sort of. The winner would tend to be a good tactician and a really flashy type (the latter to gather a following in the first place, the first to lead her followers to victory through all the mudflinging). But of course, nobody would much care who won as long as they had a jolly good time flinging mud and bloodying noses. That's why these things get such a large gathering, naturally.

Separating the defendants and actorate: In real life I believe this started to keep the two parties from actually doing each other bodily harm. That concern would absolutely apply here. So yes, they'd be separated. I kind of see an arrangement like the English parliament, with the rows of benches facing each other, with an aisle a rapier-thrust wide between them for mutual security. Elaborating on that, I'd say that each side of the chamber would not hold only the accused/defence - the actorate --- but also each side's supporters, hangers-on and hooligans. Should make for a lot of shouting, cat-calls, raspberries and flasing of buttocks on the galleries. And - as with the British - it would all be considered proper procedure.

Procedure, presentation of case, etc.: Well, we've already seen Isolde with her black robe and stacks of documents. And we've been to the Rite Office, where things are handled in a very bureaucratic, well-documented fashion. So at least the gnomes insist on orderly, by-the-numbers procedure. I'd say the running of the court (as most of the bureaucracy of the republic seems to be) would be arranged to gnomian standards (probably the other races would have seen that's the only way to make it work, although they won't admit it). So - full procedure, Your Honour.

That doesn't mean the other races wouldn't insist on putting their thumbprint on it also. The high elves would absolutely insist on some pomp and circumstance (Totally superfluous herrolds banging staves, tootint trumpets and shouting absolutely unneeded and enormously irritating introductions whenever anybody gets to talk, perhaps. And some not-so-seremonial high elven guards in ridiculously elaborate armour to take care of the most rowdy elements up in the pews. Not to speak of the harp players providing that thoroughly hated elvian background muzak.)

The faeries are high on comfort, so they'd probably dictate the furniture and refreshments (Daoibleagh will be walking the aisles, hawking his wares, of course).

Oh well.

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