It has to be confessed that there are times when the courts here in Port Naain are overloaded. This tends to happen at times of celebration when people drink too much. Or when the University announces just who has achieved honours this year. Or perhaps it is after a really large wedding, or funeral. Indeed it has been noted in some circles that in those periods when the ban on sedan chair racing has lapsed, the courts tend to see a sudden rush of cases.
Now within the city there is definitely a feeling that justice delayed is justice denied. So it was felt that we needed a system which was capable of weeding through the minor cases, administering salutary punishments (or occasionally rewards) and allowing the more serious cases to go through to the magistrates. A number of systems were tried. The watch was asked to do something. The problem with this was that the minor offender who had insulted a watchman was obviously a graver delinquent than somebody who had insulted a mere bystander. Also because they knew some offenders too well, the watch might not weigh the current offence lightly enough.
Then somebody thought to ask Malanthon. He had been a lawyer but had retired and joined the Order of Illuminated Seditionists. It was felt that if somebody of his vast experience and essential humanity could be called back to help occasionally, things could move faster. He agreed to assist, but there were still problems. After all, the Illuminated Seditionists are a silent order sworn to poverty. They don’t speak, they tap out their messages to each other using little hammers. Obviously this would make pronouncing sentence a little tricky.
Still the general feeling was that it was something the city could cope with, and a silent judge did have the advantage that they were unlikely to pontificate interminably upon the failings of the younger generation. (Indeed between ourselves, this unfortunate habit found so widely within the judiciary is one reason for the courts having such long waiting lists.) So Malanthon took up his new role whenever he was asked for.
As somebody who has had dealings with him in his official capacity I am entirely qualified to describe the process by which justice was arrived at. Malanthon sat in a small office rather than a court. The accused was led before him and a clerk read out the charges. The accused was then invited by the clerk to state their defence. Malanthon would listen to both parties and would then scribble something down on a piece of paper. The clerk would then ask the accused to say what penalty they felt they deserved. After some thought the accused would suggest a punishment. Malanthon would then reveal what he had written on the piece of paper. That was the penalty you paid.
Now whilst that seems simple enough, it was in reality more complicated. If Malanthon felt that you had suggested a penalty that was reasonable and fair, he might merely sentence you to that. If he felt you had been a bit harsh on yourself, or you seemed to be showing contrition, then he would put forward a much less punitive penalty. If on the other hand he felt you had not grasped the seriousness of what you had done, the penalty could be exacting indeed.
Lancet and I appeared before him because we had (or perhaps more accurately, I had) painted, ‘Buy your copy of Lambent Dreams now to avoid disappointment’, in letters as tall as a man on the side of the Sinecurists’ building. Lancet had come along, regarding it as a piece of performance art, and had held the ladder for me.
I suggested a five vintenar fine. Malanthon had written down the comment that, as we were so keen on painting things, we could each spend a day painting the houses of two widowed ladies who’d fallen upon hard times. Lancet suggested that rather than do them separately, we were allowed to work together, as the work would then be more competently accomplished. This was agreed, and the city ended up buying paint for us to apply to the houses. The fact that Lancet added an extra digit to the quantity of paint we were entitled to order, meaning he had adequate paint for his next project, was nothing whatsoever to do with me.
On the other hand, some came off badly. Eaton Tindal was arrested by the watch for stealing a coal cart as a student prank and driving it recklessly through the city as he tried to avoid arrest. Unfortunately he caught a passer-by a glancing blow with the cart which sent them sprawling and left them off work with a broken leg.
Tindal insisted that the unfortunate wasn’t a victim, because it was their own stubbornness that led to their accident. If they had moved with alacrity, they wouldn’t have been struck. Thus with considerable condescension he offered to contribute to the doctor’s bill. He suggested that he paid half.
Malanthon on the other hand merely wrote that Tindal should serve four months in the freezing waters of the Houses of Licentiousness, sorting between male and female shore clams. On the other hand, if he apologised to his victim, then Malanthon was willing to reduce the term to four weeks. Apparently Tindal exploded in outraged fury and ended up serving six months. Eventually he was in point of fact held for seven months. It appears that his fellow students, shocked by his incarceration, decided to break him out. Unfortunately for Tindal’s chances of freedom, his putative rescuers were neither competent nor brisk. They communicated the plan to him, but were forced to postpone it numerous times. On one occasion the attempt was aborted because somebody forgot to bring the ladder. On another occasion it was cancelled because those organising it hadn’t realised that it was a public holiday and everybody had intended to attend the Summer Ball. Eventually, the authorities, who had been waiting for the much publicised rescue bid, lost patience and just released him anyway.
Personally I thought Malanthon’s genius was captured perfectly by the case of Little Arhunt. Little Arhunt was a tally clerk down on the docks. His problem was that he was an honest tally clerk, didn’t take bribes and didn’t make money on the side. He was a small, harassed, and scrupulously honest. He had digs in a house owned by Floria Mumpt. She was perhaps the mirror image of him. If you took the pair of them and spread things about a bit, it should have been possible to come out with two average people.
Arhunt got behind on his rent. This wasn’t really his fault. It was winter, fewer boats came up the river to be unloaded, thus was less work for tally clerks. When spring arrived things should have improved, but he slipped on a wet dock and broke his wrist. He kept working, writing with his wrong hand, but it was painfully slow. By the time he was working normally again, there was the jackers strike in Prae Ducis which meant fewer boats arrived to be unloaded in Port Naain.
At this point Floria Mumpt pointed out that he owed her so much money, the courts would probably sell his indenture to help her recover it. She did give him one chance to retain his freedom. She was willing to accept matrimony in lieu of payment. Desperate, Arhunt agreed.
In reality, his life didn’t change much. He still worked ridiculously long hours, eating all his meals at work. Also he still slept on a bed improvised out of an old door in his small attic bedroom, except on those occasions when he was summoned to the matrimonial bedroom to fulfil his conjugal liabilities.
Fortunately or unfortunately the marriage was blessed with a stream of children. The patter of little feet soon evolved into the clatter of medium sized clogs. Given that Arhunt was somebody who only really wanted a quiet life and the chance to sit and read in peace, his home life deteriorated. Not only that but children need feeding and clothing, and Arhunt worked longer hours still. On one occasion he did not return home for eight days, he’d been working both day and night boats and had slept on the dock, wrapped in canvas, as one boat warped out and another was warped in.
Finally, when he arrived home late one night, his wife, Floria, presented him with a bulky document. When he opened it Arhunt learnt that it was a bill. There were perhaps a score of neatly handwritten pages. To his shock he discovered that not only was he still being charged for the rent of the room, he was being charged for the food and accommodation taken up by his children. Then he came to the ninth sheet and discovered that he was being charged for ‘erotic services,’ at what can only be described as the courtesan rate. Indeed each occasion was not merely recorded, it was dated, timed, and itemised.
This was the last straw, Arhunt snapped. When the watch finally caught up with him, he was foaming at the mouth, brandishing a carving knife, and was pursuing his wife along Ropewalk, screaming blue murder.
Malanthon happened to be sitting, so Arhunt was hauled in front of him. The clerk recounted the charges and Arhunt, sobbing, told his tale. Malanthon asked the little man what he felt was an appropriate penalty, and Arhunt merely sobbed. After some thought Malanthon sentenced him to spend a year as a member of the Order of Illuminated Seditionists. When the year was up, Arhunt somehow neglected to leave, and as far as I know, he’s still there.
We’re on tour again, today with M T McGuire, so to read the rest of the blog click on the link below