There is a test every magistrate must take before becoming a Greatcoat – it comes in the form of a puzzle from a very old book called Peritas Aequitum, which literally means Perils of Justice. It’s quite possible that this book was the original text used to train the very first Greatcoats in centuries past.
This puzzle asks the examinee to decide the outcome of a case for which Tristia’s complex laws provide several different—equally valid—legal outcomes. The Greatcoat confronted by this situation is thus forced to render a verdict even though any choice they make is guaranteed to make matters worse.
I’d always secretly believed that King Paelis had forged the entire Peritas Aequitum as a practical joke on his Greatcoats. That is, until the day I found myself in a small border village named Nerrem.
I’d travelled to Nerrem after receiving word that a farmer had been brutally murdered by a Knight, whose reputation for honourable service to his Lord was known far and wide. My investigation into the event convinced me that the Knight was acting under direct orders from his Lord, who was seeking to take over the farmer’s lands for himself. I was ready to render the verdict when one of the Lord’s retainers approached me.
‘Forgive me, magistrate,’ he said, ‘but there are additional facts you should be aware of.’
‘Such as?’ I’d asked.
‘The farmer’s grandfather stole this land from my Lord. Thus the murder was an act of legitimate and legal revenge.’
Despite my disgust at such an argument, the retainer had a valid point; Tristian law allows for vendettas in such situations.
‘Trattari,’ said a deep voice from behind me.
I turned to see the Knight who’d carried out the killing. ‘I’ll deal with you in a moment,’ I told him.
‘You’ll deal with me now,’ he replied. ‘It was by my hand that the farmer died, and by my choice. Under the Laws of Knightly Conduct, I am within my rights to take full responsibility for the actions. Only I can be prosecuted for the crime.’
I despised the Laws of Knightly Conduct, but he, like the retainer, had an argument that was technically valid.
‘I need to think on this,’ I said, wishing I had sent Kest or Brasti to deal with this case instead.
‘Ahem,’ the retainer said.
‘You again?’ I asked.
‘I merely thought you should hear from this young lady.’
He beckoned the woman in question forward, and I recognised her as the daughter of the man who’d been killed.
‘Magistrate,’ she said. ‘I come before you on behalf of my family to beg that you not pursue this matter. The Lord has offered us an . . . equitable settlement that will ensure the prosperity of our family, so long as neither he nor his loyal Knight are detained any further.’
‘Terrific,’ I said. ‘Anybody else?’
At which point an old man leaning heavily on a staff trudged over to me. He pointed West, into the distance. ‘Who’s going to keep the Margrave in the West from invading if the Lord is arrested? The Margrave’s a brutal man. Who will protect us?’
I now had one of four options:
1. Prosecute no one. The Knight was following orders and removing the Lord would only make the lives of the villagers worse than before.
2. Prosecute the Knight alone. Even though he was simply doing as he was commanded, he was still a killer, and placing the blame on him lessened the damage to the other villagers.
3. Prosecute the Knight and his Lord. Murder must be punished, and while it might hurt the villagers in the short term, allowing murder to go unchecked would harm the country itself in the long term.
4. Prosecute the Knight and his Lord and take away his lands. This would create havoc for the King, but at least I could try to find another noble to wield power in this Lord’s stead, and thereby protect the villagers from the nearby Margrave.
The whole point of the Peritas Aequitum is to teach magistrates that there is often no good solution to be found, and to force them to recognize that they will one day be responsible for creating misery in the name of Justice. When I took the test, I’d spent hours trying to find the right solution and ended up picking one at random. Now that I was faced with the situation in real life, I realised that, for me, there was only one choice.
Falcio was forced to choose and now we ask you, our newest Greatcoats, to do the same. Which path would you choose? If your choice is the same as Falcio’s you could win a copy of Knight’s Shadow. Let us know below or with #GreatcoatsDecide on twitter for your chance to win.