Laws and Government in Valrona
The Court System: An Overview
An Overview of the Court System
The court system of Scialla is arcane, convoluted, and almost impossible for laymen to navigate. It consists of three completely different systems: Common Court, Low Court, and High Court.
Most people will encounter Common Court. In this court, there is no jury and rarely any lawyers. A case is heard very quickly by a judge who makes a rapid decision, which is immediately carried out. If the judge wishes to question the defendant or sees something curious about the case, he may stop the proceedings and assign a City Watchmen to investigate the case further, reassigning the date. This sort of delving is incredibly rare, however. Most cases involve petty crimes and misdemeanors and all involve untitled people.
Low Court is what happens when commoners have a little money. When accused of a crime that'd normally go through Common Court, a commoner may at his own expense pay the fee for an official jury hearing. This looks a lot more like what Americans think of as a legal system; the jury consists of a rotating pool of Council members and employees but in specialized cases may involve other people, such as artisans or community members. The accused may hire a lawyer or represent himself in his trial.
This is also the court used for commoners' family law cases and lawsuits.
High Court is similar, except it is used by the titled nobility and the jury is assembled from the peerage. The higher the rank of the defendant, the higher the rank of the peers. A Grand Duke who ends up here gets to face the Empress on the jury stand! These trials are almost always hugely publicized.
Breach of Rank: A number of offenses fall under this category. The most obvious is behaving or speaking disrespectfully to a person of acknowledged superior Noble blood. However, there are many applications of this law. A bastard who tries to claim nobility but whose claims are found to be baseless can be accused of it (and sometimes of more, including treason depending on whether or not he tries to get too close to the Imperial Family's bloodline). The main gist of this law is to prevent people from getting above their station, and doubly so to make sure the hierarchy of Nobility is given proper respect and consideration. Penalties can be extremely harsh for convicted offenders, ranging from a slap on the wrist and mild imprisonment in the case of honest errors all the way to death for those who are found to be malevolent or otherwise persistently stupid.
Murder: Obviously, killing people is bad. A killing done without some good reason and committed on purpose is considered murder. Elaborate laws regarding intent and reasonable situations exist, but the basic idea is that self-defense is all right as long as the force involved isn't excessive, accidental deaths are not-so-great but not murder, and murder committed in the commission of other crimes (such as sexual assault) are even worse. The death penalty does exist for heinous crimes though it is mostly carried out in smaller towns where dedicated jail facilities do not exist. In larger cities with prison facilities, even murderers are not usually executed though conditions in prison will likely do the job--food, lodging, and amenities are frugal to the point of meagerness without extra money paid.
Rape: Also obviously, sexual assault is bad. Though not a capital offense, this crime is prosecuted vigorously. The Empress herself is an outspoken advocate for victims of rape. Thankfully, modern medicine can help obtain proof of the assault, which goes far to getting a very good conviction rate. Women and men both can be thankful that unlike in the bad old days, when such crimes were a "he said/she said" situation, nowadays the Empire has a lot more tools at its disposal to establish guilt and protect the innocent who are wrongfully accused.
Sumptuary laws began around the 1100s and have existed in concept continuously since. The laws were passed to keep a lid on rampant spending and indebtedness, as well as to distinguish between classes. In general they are seen as a blessing to the lower classes, who might well spend themselves out of house and home if allowed.
Each city has its own laws, but these are the ones that apply in Valrona.
Only the Imperial Family May Wear: Cloth of gold, or gemstone adornments of ruby, sapphire, diamond, emerald, or lapis lazuli over .25" diameter. They may wear any class of fabric they wish, including plush silk velvet. Imperial Family members may wear Imperial purple and cardinal red. They can wear any kind of jewelry they wish, in any metal. On Saint Julian's Day and Wintertide, land-owning Nobles may wear cloth of gold or ruby, sapphire, or emerald adornments over .25" diameter. On her wedding day, a woman of the Imperial or land-owning Noble classes may wear this category of clothing.
Landowning Nobles May Wear: Cloth of Silver, gemstone adornments of semiprecious stones (ie, NOT ruby, sapphire, diamond, emerald, or lapis lazuli) over .25" diameter. On Saint Julian's Day and Wintertide, landless Nobles may wear these. They may wear silk and cutwork velvet but not plush silk velvet. Landowning Nobles may not wear Imperial purple, cardinal red, cloth of gold, or either precious stones of any diameter or semiprecious stones over .25" diameter. They also may not wear silk velvet. They may wear one gold ring and one silver ring.
Landless Nobles May Wear: Fine linen, silk trim, and gemstone beads. They may wear small semiprecious stones as clothing adornments or jewelry. They may wear silver rings and are allowed a golden ring if it is a wedding ring. On her wedding day, a landless Noblewoman may wear silk and cutwork velvet, and may wear a gold ring.
Commoners are forbidden from wearing silk, silk trims, and velvet. They may wear semiprecious stones as jewelry but not as adornments on clothing. They may wear two silver rings, but are forbidden from wearing gold jewelry. They may wear fine linen on their wedding days and during Eclipsal Festivals.
Duels are an upper-class method of settling disputes, humiliating people, and impressing women.
Basically, a duel happens when two people have an argument about something. Both people either are certified duellists themselves or have access to hired swordsmen who are certified duellists. The two sides have a ritualized fight with a lot of posturing beforehand. One person wins and gets gloating rights. The other person loses and is expected to slink off and not argue about that anymore with anybody or even gripe much about it. Also the loser's girl usually dumps him afterward.
Duels are almost never fought by the actual arguers, though. Almost always they have hired duellists to do the arguing for them with sharp pointy objects. It's important to note that the scorn and derision reserved for the loser of the duel is reserved for the person hiring the losing duellist, not the duellist himself! If someone's stupid enough to hire a duellist who isn't good enough, that's not the duellist's fault. The duellist himself may get a bit of a sore ego afterward, but the hiring party is the one that gets to slink off and loses his girl.
In Valrona, certification for duelling is done through the Brotherhood of Swords. Nobles often pay for their retinue to get certification; most mercenaries don't do duels, though some might and will need certification for it. The difference is subtle but key: a Swordsman is in duty to a particular employer and may fight battles for specific reasons for that employer. A duellist has no contract, but has been certified in how to conduct showy, flashy, non-lethal fights under tightly controlled and regulated circumstances. A Swordsman draws steel whenever his contract requires it; he is in the profession of butchering people and guarding his employer's interests. A duellist absolutely may not draw steel unless fighting a legally-sanctioned duel. There may be overlap between these two situations, but usually a Swordsman does not duel, and duellists don't take contracts.
It's considered quite boorish to talk trash to a duellist when you are not yourself certified. Let's face it: some twit who gets in the face of an acknowledged bad-ass and hides behind the law to avoid his very proper come-uppance is going to be viewed as a complete idiot by most of society. Even if the non-duellist has a good reason to be in the duellist's face, it's just not seen as very mature or fair because the duellist can't fight back. That said, the few times a duellist's lost his temper and spanked such a child for rudeness, the law has gone remarkably easy on him. It's just not a good idea to taunt a duellist unless you are in the business of hiring another duellist to go deal with him.
To start a duel, the first party demands satisfaction of the second party. The second party sets the time and place of the duel; this time and place must be accessible by the first party and possible to reach. It also must be a public place; most parks include a wide piece of land suitable for duelling. It's entirely possible at this point that neither party knows who the other person's duellist is going to be.
Each party spends the intervening time frantically figuring out who the other guy's duellist is and upgrading as necessary to get the best one possible. At the appointed time (usually no more than a week out, though sometimes a month or more if both parties agree to it; too long and the second party gets a cowardly reputation), everybody shows up. Dawn, noon, or dusk are famous times.
The first party is responsible for making sure a marshal is there to administer the duel. The duel cannot proceed without the marshal. The marshal is usually a member of the city's guardsmen, though it can also be any instructor or official with the Brotherhood of Swords, or Count Victor Tybiris or Duke Severan (or for that matter Grand Duke Hector or even Empress Kira Stardancer). If the marshal isn't there, the duel is considered won by the second party. If either party is absent, that party loses automatically as well.
The terms are set by the duellists themselves and not by their employers; at the appointed time when they meet, they declare how they will fight. "To the touch" means that whoever gets even a scratch first loses. Obviously this is rare because it means the fight is over much too fast; most duellists avoid this term and opt instead for "More than a scratch, less than an arm," which is hopelessly subjective but works (OOC: consider this three stars).
If the duellists in question are either supremely confident or really angry with each other, a duel can go to "Incapacitating," which in game mechanics terms goes to two stars, but no duel goes further than this. A duel is not by its nature fought to the death, and each side will take pains to ensure the non-lethality of the festivities by having medics there and by carefully monitoring injuries sustained during a duel.
Many duellists have their own personal ethos and requests as well; Lirwhinite duellists are famous for adding, "And not in the face," hoping to avoid scars to the face, but in game mechanics, this isn't something suggested for hardcoded fighting because it's almost impossible to regulate.
The marshal announces the argument's general cause, such as: "Lord Whiffbottom has publicly impugned Lady Whatsherface's honor, and Lord Whossname has challenged him to prove his claims through honorable combat." He doesn't need to mention the names of the duellists in question. The duellists face off, saluting first in the direction of the White Palace in Priascialla, then to the ranking non-involved Noble present, then to each other. It's considered good form to wish each other good fortune. Then the marshal declares the beginning of the fight by saying, "Lay on!" or "Start!"
Within these confines, once the fight begins, there aren't a lot of rules other than what the two duellists have set for each other. They're allowed to travel, swing from things, jump on things, and get as rowdy and active as they want, provided they never get near anybody else or even vaguely threaten or endanger anybody. The second a marshal fears for anybody's safety, he stops the fight. If the offending duellist can't rein it in, he is declared lost.
Once the required injuries are sustained, the losing duellist steps back and lowers his blade, sometimes holding up a hand or saying "Stop" or "Hold." The winning duellist is expected to stop immediately. It's considered good form to offer medical attention if needed and for both sides to offer thanks for a good fight. The main thing to bear in mind here is that the duellists should ideally have no personal issues between themselves and should try to maintain a friendly demeanor.
Once the fight's over, the winning party is considered to have won the argument. Obviously Lord Whiffbottom is right and Lady Whatshername really does have the morals of a cat in heat. Her defender Lord Whossname is just going to have to put up with the gossip, and he isn't allowed to demand another duel over the same thing, nor to gripe about Lord Whiffbottom talking smack about her. Now, other of the good Lady's defenders can certainly demand duels for this outrage, and eventually one might actually win, at which point Lord Whiffbottom will have to apologize to her. You can see where this might lead in the case of a very popular injured party--tons of duels and possibly a lot of lost face and public apologies if someone's trying to be very persistent about insulting someone else!
The State Religion
The Court System
Property Laws and Taxes
Bilashans and half-Bilashans are restricted from property ownership in the Pearl Quarter. They may rent, but may not own.
Property taxes are 12% per annum of the property's initial sale price OR the property's current evaluation, whichever is higher. Citizens may request an Imperial Adjustor to come and re-evaluate their owned properties for 250p. After evaluation, the new property tax will take effect at 12% of the new appraisal. The owner may not request to use the old appraisal numbers if the new appraisal turns out to be more than the original tax price.
Every twelve years, all properties are re-assessed during the months of June and Juilier. No citizen may deny the Adjustor access to his home, but all owners will have advance notice of when the Adjustor expects to be there to inspect the property. At that time, improvements to the property will be noted, as well as depreciations (such as abandoned properties' value decreasing through lack of maintenance and upkeep). New rates will be listed in each Hall of Records' Property and Taxation Books. Anybody wishing to purchase a home is invited to look through the Hall of Records' resources, as sometimes a property which sells for far less than valued price may have a tax price that a citizen cannot afford.
Landlords must pay the property taxes on a rented residence.
A property may be granted as well; in this case, the user just pays the taxes on the property. Upon death, granted properties usually revert to their original owner.
Upon the death of the contracted holder of a property, the property's other inhabitants (family members or a business) may elect to continue living there through the end of the contract if they pay the rentals and fees on the property. However, the owner of the property has the right to deny the inhabitants or business this continuance. The Valrona Council usually must ratify any major continuances.
A property leased by a family unit is usually contracted in the names of both people in the couple--so if someone dies the other person can carry on ownership without much fuss. However, in case of divorce, it is highly advisable to hire a lawyer to negotiate how the property's worth will be settled out. It's worth noting here that the court is usually far less generous with a spouse who was caught red-handed cheating or acting against the other person.
A lawyer may be hired to assist a purchaser in making the final negotiations for a property or for facing the Council.
The main situations in family law that would arise ingame would be divorce and legitimization.
Divorce is at-fault, with property and holdings usually awarded to the spouse who was wronged. The divorce does not need to be agreed upon by both parties. Common fault causes include: loss of affection, adultery, treachery (as opposed to the legal definition of actual treason, this form means to work against the good benefit of the spouse), fraud, and maltreatment. Loss of affection is probably the most common cited reason, since it doesn't involve active harm, though the court sees it as a definite wrong against the other spouse.
Nobles will also often hire an investigator to learn about someone they've sired and lost track of, to evaluate that child for possible legitimization. After the Succession War, Nobles also got into the habit of hiring investigators to find out if someone's family tree truly is what was claimed. Most of these scenarios happen very quietly and unobtrusively, rarely making the news.
Hiring a Private Investigator
Private investigators are a licensed, regulated profession in Valrona. All investigators must attend several classes in privacy and family law and must be re-certified every four years.
Most people who hire a private investigator will do so for one of two reasons: 1) To learn something about a family member, or 2) To assist in an upcoming court case.
The information gotten by a private investigator is carefully gained so as to be admissible in a court case. For example, if the investigator breaks into a property, he may not consider anything he gets in the house to be admissible, but he may be able to parlay those findings somehow into getting other information that actually would be. Eavesdropping is perfectly fine as long as the eavesdropper isn't trespassing or otherwise where he legally isn't allowed to be. Intercepting a letter or package is legal only if it is being carried by someone who isn't an official postal carrier or being stored in a government post office. As you can see, the rules can be very esoteric.
The legal qualification of a claim to nobility is 50%. If someone can demonstrate at least one parent of already-qualified Noble blood by the use of official birth records notarized by a recognized Imperial governing office such as a provincial reeve office or any recognized Hall of Records, then a Notice of Qualification by Blood is issued to that citizen which he may carry or invest in any Hall of Records for future reference.
The Noble parent must also actually accept parentage of the child. It is more than possible to be a Noble bastard without being claimed and legitimized; without that backing, claiming Noble blood can be considered breach of rank; the Noble in question can easily deny the claim and possibly take the claimant to task for spreading false rumors or worse. It is a serious thing to go around claiming your father or mother was Noble when you don't know for sure you'll be backed up. Though numerous bastards exist in the Empire, wise commoner parents don't press for legitimization.
Most bastards are borne to commoner mothers, as one might expect.
Once declared Noble, a child is usually considered simply a lord or lady, with no land or holdings of his or her own unless granted some specifically. A duke's youngest son might be no more than a simple lord unless His Grace chooses to bestow something upon the lad. The title is passed down to any claimed offspring, hallowing the son's entire family.
In the case of our duke's youngest son, if he gets any title more than "Lord," that specific title is passed to only one child, and the land that came with that title goes to that child. Everybody else gets "lord" or "lady" unless their daddy had some other bit of land to give them--a barony, a county, even a shire or fiefdom--in which case the daddy had that title too and decided to give it to the other child. It's possible to have dozens of titles and bits of land here and there, all going to different children who will go on to have children and pass their little individual inheritances along.
If this sounds hopelessly convoluted, there's little apology to be made for that; it is in fact hopelessly convoluted. Bear in mind that every title past "lord/lady" bears with it some piece of land, and that a title and its associated land go together. You can't give the same title to two kids, because there's only one piece of land. Co-rulers can happen, but this is not only very rare but an extraordinarily bad idea almost every time.
Sometimes a bit of a Noble family will break off and form their own offshoot family. When this happens, the bloodline divides in two pieces. One piece will be the original family line, and the other will be another family line that begins right there with that child. If the duke's son discussed earlier gets a major grant of land from the Empire, he will almost certainly choose a new last name (or have one given to him thanks to the land grant), and his family will be a whole new bloodline from that point onward.
Most of this section really only applies to Sciallans. Lirwhinites have entirely different social customs and far less land to play with, but in the main most of this will apply to them as well. Flameholdans rule by might of arms and their land holdings change with frequent battles and migrations, so nothing here really applies to them. Bilashan customs are not noted here and will need to be discovered ingame, but you can bet they do things differently as well.