Ydra Law and Order

Overview

Ydra follows a system of customary law, not entirely tied to any particular government and developed to balance the needs of its many clans, noble holdings, and petty kingdoms. Each clan, village, and region is a jurisdiction unto itself and may have its own subtleties of law; these jurisdictions are overseen by folk assemblies called moots, which have the power to decide whether or not a crime has been committed, to formally arbitrate disputes, to decide punishment, and at higher levels to bestow or withdraw titles and positions of rank.

The usual punishments for crime are fines, outlawry, and sometimes mutilation or death. Of these, fines are by far the most common.

Moots

A moot is a council or assembly of citizens drawn from the area it governs. In most regions, a general moot is held annually at an established time and place, usually during the summer in an open, accessible but more or less remote area sanctified to Isengrim. Lesser moots may be called by chiefs or other influential parties as needed, most often in response to emergencies or pressing disputes. Quorums of varying size are necessary for a moot to legally decide an issue: generally speaking, the more weighty the issue, the larger the moot must be.

Citizens must be free, adult, and in good legal standing (i.e. not an outlaw) to attend a moot; in most regions they must also belong to a clan. Votes are decided by acclamation among all members, though in practice most attendees vote in blocs corresponding to their clan, lord, or personal loyalties. Open bribery is common in weighty or politically sensitive cases, and intimidation of attendees is to some extent expected.

Each moot has a lawspeaker, whose function it is to memorize the laws of the region and to recite those bearing on a case at the moot's opening. Most often this is an elderly figure of some mutual respect, and the post is often semi-hereditary. Lawspeakers are often influential, but have no power to decide or nullify a moot's rulings. Some moots governing larger areas have several, to allow for cases where some may not be able to attend.

Laws

The laws of each Yddr jurisdiction are based on long-standing custom and are not easily changed; most evolve primarily through the progression of case law rather than through formal deliberation. Where necessary, however, a moot may be convened to make changes to the law; these changes are then memorized by lawspeakers and come into force over time. Monarchs, nobles, and clan chiefs do not generally have the power to change law by decree. However, most exert considerable influence over their subjects, and are more likely than not to have their way in most matters.

Succession and Legitimacy

Positions of formal authority within Yddr society, such as kingship or the chieftaincy of a clan, are usually hereditary: presumptive heirs are selected by a chief or noble from among their natural and adopted children, and authority passes to that heir upon the ruler's death. However, in cases where succession is unclear or questions arise regarding the strength or legitimacy of an heir (or, rarely, a sitting ruler), a moot may be convened in an electoral capacity. Like other votes, such a decision is made by acclamation.

Similarly, successful landowners, merchants, or fighters may over time acquire enough resources to aspire to a higher social class; in such a case moots solemnize these privileges (or may, under certain circumstances, withdraw them).

Crime and Punishment

Routine disputes are usually handled by local authorities: kings, nobles, clan chiefs, or even respected elders or mutual friends, depending on the participants and the dispute's severity. Feuds and informal duels are also common: until a clear harm is redressed, its victims have the right to private retribution and need not involve higher authorities. If a case is particularly serious or politically sensitive, however, or if no judge can be found, it may be passed to a moot. This is, in fact, moots' most common function.

Whether judged by one person or many, trials progress much the same: both parties speak for themselves, though representatives from their family or clan may speak for the dead or incapable or if the case directly affects their interests. If the accused does not appear, they may be outlawed or other penalties may be levied in absentia; on the other hand, if the wronged party cannot appear, the case is normally dropped.

Trials usually begin with the participants swearing to the truth of their testimony on an object reddened with blood and sacred to Isengrim (often a heavy ring of precious metal). If the case is serious, both parties may be required to bring forth a certain number of others to take the same oath, usually more for the accuser than for the defendant. If either party is unwilling to take this oath, or cannot bring forward enough helpers, the case is immediately decided against them.

If both accuser and defendant can pass this test, a higher number of oath-helpers may be asked to come forth, or one or both may request a formal duel or other ordeal. If all these measures fail, evidence is presented, arguments are given, and the question of guilt is passed to the moot or arbitrator.

Once a criminal is found guilty, their punishment is decided: customary punishments exist for almost all crimes, most of them swift and harsh especially if committed against a person of higher status. Criminals are never sentenced to prison, though they may be confined temporarily while awaiting trial; the options for punishment are fines, outlawry, mutilation, enslavement, or death.

Fines, called weregild, are most common. Repayment is customary for crimes from insult to (some) murder, and is usually paid directly to the victim's clan or family; if the accused or their supporters are unable or unwilling to pay these dues, they may instead be outlawed. A few crimes cannot be settled by paying weregild, including arson, open robbery, treason, and unprovoked murder: these always carry the penalty of death or outlawry.

The Long Arm of the Law

No Yddr states maintain police forces or the equivalent: if a crime has been committed, the victim, their supporters, or another interested party must seek justice on their own initiative. However, if crimes threaten the stability of a region or the authority of a ruler, that ruler may personally take an interest. This is most common in cases of widespread banditry, where locals may not be capable of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Accusers are responsible for collecting evidence and bringing crimes to the attention of judges or moots, as well as for capturing criminals; fleeing justice is considered evidence of guilt, however, and can itself lead to outlawry.

Since seeking formal justice can be expensive and time-consuming, disputes are often settled informally, in duels or feuds or by private agreement. Both feuds and duels are considered fully legitimate as long as the initial offense remains unpaid-for and unavenged, and weregild need not be paid for any resulting deaths or injuries.

Outlawry

If a person commits a particularly serious crime, or will not stand to trial for a lesser one, they may be declared an outlaw. Outlaws lose all legal protection; their property is confiscated, and within the territory where they were outlawed they may be killed at any time for any reason. This generally implies exile from all nearby communities as well, as few are willing to take in a known criminal. Once outlawed, a person remains outlawed unless pardoned, either by those that passed the sentence or by a higher authority. These pardons are rare.

Some communities also impose less severe forms of outlawry. For example, a lesser outlaw may have amnesty on certain festival days, or may be granted certain places of safety (though they are barred from sacred ground regardless), or may have their state commuted as long as they attempt to gain passage out of the region.

Regions Ydra Culture

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