Worlds’ End: Fair Trial

by Mr. A and Mr. G

“Your honor,” declared the jury foreman, “we are unable to reach a verdict at this time.”
“Very well,” the judge replied. “We shall resolve this dispute by hunting competition.”
The prosecutor stood. “What will we be hunting?”
“The jury.”

The Six Courts of Faerie govern and rule the fey races, to the extent that the eclectic and capricious fey can be said to be “ruled” or “governed.” The Six Courts also function as the arena of legal battles between fey, which are presided over by the nobility or other appointed magistrates. Modeled as a formal procedure including cross-examination, depositions, rulings from the bench and a jury, a fey court of law might appear at a glance to be perfectly calm, rational and completely comprehensible.

Until a ravening beast bursts through the ground and devours the plaintiff, the prosecution and defense begin dueling in the aisle, and the judge rules, “Case dismissed.”

Court Is Now In Session

To be a fey lawyer requires skill, finesse, wit and a surprising amount of running. Your clients are dodgy, mad and riddled with alien notions of right and wrong. Your legal system makes procedural decisions at whim that can end in death, dismemberment or extreme rechromatization. Your superiors might cut you loose for too much competence, and to reach the top of your field you have to face off against impossible odds that may or may not actually have a thing to do with law. It takes a full team of elite fey to run a single case, and as soon as you accept a client you’re throwing your hat in the ring of a surreal gladiatorial campaign that begins with biting repartee and razor-sharp procedure and can end atop dragons jousting in the skies or in a race across basilisk-riddled caverns.

Why would anyone choose to participate in this madness instead of – well, okay, all of life in Faerie is madness of a kind, but why choose to set aside one’s own hedonistic plans for the eternal twilight to get involved in the perilous nonsense of the Six Courts? For almost any fey lawyer, the answer is the same: Regnamundi.

Laying across the laws of nature, which mortals must obey, and the laws of the spirit, which constrain the immortals of Heaven and Hell, are the laws of magic. These laws, like those that human courts operate by, can be changed by ruling and precedent. Unlike any other law, however, the laws of magic govern things that lie well beyond the jurisdiction of any Court. The very act of speaking to the law and its applications has small, incremental and tangible effects that spread to influence the world entire. This is Regnamundi: the deep magic that rules everything. And lawyers have the quill with which to write in that great book.

Order In The Court

Cases brought to the Six Courts follow many of the same patterns as those of human courts; murder, divorce, custody, contract law, honor binding, loophole edging, marital validity, spiritual trespass, property crime, unsuccessful theft, unsanitary aging, rightful death… alright, so many cases brought to the courts have near-zero context to humanity. The laws of Faerie are confusing at best, and the strangest of acts can result in arrest and trial. Even disputes that we might recognize as having no criminal basis result in arrest – of both parties – for the duration of trial. All this is to say nothing of the possibility that a case might fall under the jurisdiction of Heaven or Hell, of another Court, or (shudder) of humans. Yes, the most esoteric parts of Regnamundi provide on rare occasions for human laws to hold jurisdiction over a fey.

Mind you, a human court might be better than the alternatives. Court in Faerie is the Court of the ruler, complete with nobles, advisors, entertainers and the indolent debauched caprice of those most excellent and terribly mad Fair Folk. As well, the verdicts available in a fey court include a sentence of Irony, and the most common cause of a mistrial is “Plaintiff or Defendant Eaten.” Yes, eaten. To be a voluntary party to a fey trial and survive the ordeal is an exceptional thing. Measures that can be taken in court extend to almost anything one can conceive of – juror #5 might demand to taste the plaintiff’s shadow; the jury foreman might request that a game of chess between the attorneys decide the outcome of a trial, and the prosecution might well double down and ask that the members of the audience be used as the chess pieces. Outlandishness is a winning strategy and all the lawyers know it. The only things forbidden in the Court (at least in the Flower Court, see below) are fire, iron and implements of music. Those would be distracting.

In Faerie, where all inhabitants are by nature supernatural, the only way to enforce the law is to ensure that those who are to be subject to it are barred from exercising their magical capacity for escape, subterfuge and subversion of the legal process. Enter the Knights of Ivy, fey bondsmen and bounty hunters who hunt down and bind parties to a Court dispute with enchanted ivy that diminishes a fey’s contact with the inherent rhythm and magic of Faerie, a condition known as being “still.” Unfortunately, a still creature in a fast-moving river causes wakes, ripples and splashes in the fabric of Faerie itself, and this turbulence attracts the attentions of a beast known as the Gloom. Immense and of changing form (though always with prodigious teeth), a Gloom is a predator that prizes the taste of fey but can never catch them while their powers provide them eternal safety. A still fey is like a beacon to a Gloom, and the creature will “swim” through Faerie in search of its prey, emerging from ripples in the ground and air to devour its prey. Naturally, it is part of the lawyer’s job to keep the client alive and uneaten until the case can be resolved.

Law School

The successful lawyer is but one member of a team that includes investigators, negotiators, couriers and bodyguards. A lawyer cannot be everywhere at once, and although another fey can accept part of the ivy bond and share in the stilling to reduce the client’s personal risk, the distributed danger only increases the value of keeping close allies that can contend with the Gloom. As well, the procedures the judge (who is also in most cases the ruler of the Court or a member of the ruling house) can impose range from oral arguments to hunts to races to duels of honor, and the jury and court nobility are not far behind when it comes to absurd requests. While the lawyer works the jury and the front of the room, skilled negotiators and masters of blackmail work the back, playing advisors and counselors to keep the trial within the team’s comfort zone. Many a failed lawyer has lost a case because the day’s hearing was rescheduled to the heart of a lake filled with basilisk’s tears or because it was Blue Feathered Hat Day and the unhaberdashed advocate arrived wanting for cerulean-plumed head coverings.

Lawyers work for firms, of a sort, in the world of Faerie. The most prestigious are known as Groves, partnership firms directly linked to a noble house (most nobles believe that changes in Regnamundi can advance them to become rulers themselves). These large consortiums have tremendous resources on which to draw, and tend to have experts in unconventional law even by fey standards. Most fey lawyers work instead for Trees, smaller organizations headed up by a single lord, typically a Highborn. Advancement in a Tree is limited by nature, but many Trees specialize collectively in a particular field and prestige won from a specialty can serve an ambitious lawyer well when seeking to join a Grove. Lastly, there are independent and eccentric lawyers, whose practices are referred to with derision as Stumps. Those who work for Stumps can expect little outside help and an uphill battle every time, but Stumps are autonomous from the nobility and are thus not influenced by the pressures the ruler tries to exert regarding Regnamundi or the petty politics of the Highborn.

Advancement comes with new titles for the successful lawyer; everyone starts as an Advocate (also the collective term for fey lawyers), and proceeds through Attorney (empowered to bring cases against nobility), Proctor (empowered to challenge and bring cases against Knights), Solicitor (empowered to make open bids for clients instead of waiting for business to arrive), and finally Counselor, a role in which one literally counsels the ruler and can directly address him or her without trying to work through the jury. Outside of this ranking, but considered above any other title, are Barristers, consultants and specialists who do not deal directly with clients but are brought onto a case by special request of another lawyer. Barristers earn their title in one of two ways: slaying a Gloom in single combat, or prevailing in a case against a sitting ruler in his or her own Court. They are few and far between, and exceptionally rare – no Grove has anything more than friendly ties with one or two at a time.

Who, What, Where

The most well-known Court is the Flower Court, cognate to the northern temperate historical locus of humanity. If you were to ask a human how they imagine Faerie, the Realm of Flowers would be a close fit — this is a landscape of shimmering pastels, full of dark forests, sunlit meadows, high towers, and grand castles. Ruled by King Oberon and Queen Titania, the fey and Highborn of this realm call themselves Fair Folk, though plenty of advocates would question that claim. The Court has the benefit that neither of the two have patience for the most impish of games. Unfortunately, having two rulers means two prospective judges, and sometimes having to contend with both at once. Oberon and Titania are at loggerheads as often as not, and navigating the hazardous waters of their relationship is a perilous factor in the already sensitive nature of a trial. The Flower Court is the third-closest to humanity, and humans are involved in a disproportionate number of suits in this realm. The Flower Court is also sensitive to the seasons, so moods and attitudes tend to change on the winds. Hunting is a prevalent theme, and true to the passions of the rulers, divorce cases are frequent.

Heaven and Hell each work through particular arbiters – Faerie Bailiffs – to dispute jurisdiction with a Court; these arbiters are also called upon on occasion to serve their respective realms as attorneys against Faerie. In the Flower Court, Heaven’s Faerie Bailiff is Armisael, and Hell’s Faerie Bailiff is Decarabia. The two are rarely encountered together, but that just makes it all the worse on the rare occasions where their interests coincide. Humanity’s representative at the Flower Court is the bewildered and besotted Friar Matthias Woolaver, who was “elected” via some pixies, a floating wine jug and a widdershins stumble around his own abbey.

In addition to one’s fellow advocates, the rulers, the Highborn nobles and the representatives of other realms, frequent participants in the trial process are the three Orders of the Hedge, officers of the Flower Court who perform tasks of enforcement. Most eminent are the Knights of Mistletoe, who grow, prune and trim the deadly plant to use in executions of the worst fey criminals and hunt down inter-Court trespassers and fugitives. Next are the Knights of Applerose, who claim involvement in affairs of the heart but are officially responsible for property enforcement, evidence-gathering and supervision of legal mandates. The Applerose Order is also responsible for arranging and supervising safe passage between realms for lawyers and their clients, though their definition of “safe” could use some updating. Lastly, the Knights of Ivy, arresting officers whose magical bindings still their prey, an effect that most brethren of the Order take a sadistic pleasure in. It is said of these last that a Knight of Ivy considers it a miscarriage of justice whenever a defendant isn’t eaten by the Gloom. From their sinister means, their stealthy pursuit of their quarry and the distressing pleasure they take in the misery of others, the Ivy Order have earned their common epithet: “Creepers.”

Of the other Courts there is less well known, at least in this region. Closest to Humanity is one of the oldest of Courts, the Court of Leaves. The Leaf Court is also seasonal, and reigns in the green and tempestuous East, where the sun’s rays first adorn the earth and the shadows cast by the shrines and gates to the Other Side run long across the ground. Their ruler is rumored to be of human descent, and the fey of the Leaf Court are quite strange even by fey standards. Next comes the Glass Court, reigning in the hot and arid Southern reaches, where civilization was won by charming the fey lords. Their ruler is a being of smoke and gold, and the short reigns of the last several rulers have resulted in erratic changes to the Regnamundi arising from the Glass Court.

Beyond these three lies the Iron Court of the frigid North, where undead creatures are equal in status under the law of the bitterly divided King and Queen; the Stone Court, an alien realm that hides in the highest mountains and the deepest caverns, and the Night Court of the distant West, the realm of the Last Darkness where humans live in fear of fey that remain withdrawn and phantasmal and violence stains the histories of all. By and large, though, the most understood and represented of Courts is the Flower Court, and so it is this Court that has been focused on in this presentation.

Come defend dragons accused of improper human-snatching and pixies failing to fill their youth-stealing quotas. Assemble a team to defend an innocent redcap, both in a Court of law and against the predatory Gloom. Get out your legal pad and your mitre of oak, prepare your arguments and your dueling reflexes, and join the most absurd version of a justice system ever created. Threaten jurors, request that the defense be forced to defang a wyvern, object to evidence on the grounds that it was obtained under the light of a gibbous moon. Rub shoulders with Highborn, Creepers and Barristers and make your mark on the Regnamundi. Do you have what it takes to win a Fair Trial?

Worlds’ End is an article series that presents setting and adventure concepts that can be used as the basis for a game. Check back on Fridays for more Worlds’ End columns, and leave your feedback on today’s column on the forums.

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