Friday, April 23, 2004

Law in the fourth city - a micro-fiction
(Insomulin part 2, and an apology to those who might have expected Naylor)

If you asked most citizen-subjects of the Fourth City, they would tell you that law was a set of rules. If broken, there were penalties. That was all. The more reflective might laugh and say: “Law is just a word to describe what lawyers do.”

He knew this was wrong. Jonathon Tallow, an advocate to the Court of the First Ward, knew what all lawyers know: law is language used to change the world, to changes lives. The house is sold, the child taken, the convict executed. It even changed the past, annulling contracts, marriages, decisions of the Governor, making them things that had never been.

If law were simply rules, it would not take study to become a lawyer, the law would be open to anyone who could read. But when a lawyer said “innocent”, “reasonable”, “intent” or “equal” it has a meaning the untrained mind cannot divine. Yet, all subjects were deemed by the law to know the law, and more than one man had died for failing to guess what he could never conceive.

Rules, too, would be fixed. They would not be something that could be changed by the mere act of a judge observing them. Law was not a clockwork machine, it was a living thing, formed by the minds of lawyers but existing outside them. It was its a mystery, even to initiates.

This is what Tallow had learned in long training, and he had had the best. He had studied at the College of the Child-in-the-Fields, spacious buildings from the Fourth City’s earliest days (once a free hospital and asylum, and thus called by its detractors “New Bedlam”). He had reached the matter-of-fact realisation that law was, simply, a form of alchemy. By words and ritual it allowed its initiates to change reality. What other word described that?

But no citizen of the Fourth City would call it magic. They were entirely used to it, even if they held the legal profession in awe and suspicion. Even when the Court of First Ward raised a judgement against a fugitive and sent its shadow into the lawless places, this was unremarkable. When a contract was ratified in the shadow of the Court, when literally standing in the looming shadow of the Fist, and the man who later broke it was struck blind, this too was simply the way things were.

But Tallow had studied the Constitution. Not the Governor’s paper authority, but the true basis of the settlement. It could be seen on the face of the Fourth City. First Ward was the area crossed on the longest summer’s day by the moving shadow of an enormous wind-scarred basalt-black plinth, the Fist. Indeed, in the right light it did look like the clenched, defiant hand of a buried giant. Which is what it was.

The Fourth City was an accident. A collision of young history with an old inhabited place. A mislaid colony, and not the first here as any little archaeology could uncover. The giants here were not dead and ossified, nor even truly sleeping; but for them, time was not as it was for short-lived humanity. Yet a pact had been made, a compromise between the colony’s law and the substance-shadow of the giants’ dreaming-lives. Three Cities had preceded them, and each had not survived its pact with these original powers. Tallow, as an initiated lawyer and graduate of New Bedlam knew this, and it troubled him even as he solemnised his first oath-contracts, and saw a judgement raised from the Fist’s shadow stalk out across the City.

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