The Burden of Gram Taggart
in the Court of the Wise
A1. Gram Taggart was a respected magistrate with many years on his shoulders, and who had spent his distinguished career serving The Just God, sitting in judgment over the disputes of the people. 2. In the City of Wilhelm, Gram Taggart sat alongside six other judges to form the Court of the Wise, a group of equally reputed arbiters who assembled in order to preside over the most difficult matters of law in the city. 3. Even at his venerable age, Gram Taggart was the least senior of the judges there, each of them appointed to their position by the Council of Lords, each of them beyond reproach in their understanding of the laws of Wilhelm.
B4. It was not often that the Court of the Wise was summoned, only when a matter of great importance needed to be weighed were they called from their normal duties as adjudicators. 5. It was a night in early spring when Gram Taggart was visited by a court messenger and told that he and his colleagues were needed to sit in judgment the next morning and that Wilhelm again had need of his sagacity and experience.
C6. Gram Taggart arrived at the House of Law early in the morning. Alongside his six compatriots he took his seat at the long bench reserved for when they presided over a dispute. 7. Sitting at the far left of the long oaken counter, Gram Taggart could see to his right the six judges with whom he shared this honor. Gram Taggart looked along the mammoth table and considered will these colleagues with whom he had become so familiar. 8. Each of them had proved their worth as a judge, and each of them brought a different perspective to their interpretation of the law.
D9. Closest to him was Polonis, a good man from a wealthy merchant family that had maintained their holdings from the very birth of the city. 10. Next to him sat Vindic, who had presided over the trials of the most dangerous criminals in the history of Wilhelm. 11. The next seat was taken by Doubis, a dutiful man who had always displayed great loyalty and patriotism towards the city. 12. Beside him was Rhegan, who was actually in line for the succession of lordship until he chose instead to pursue the path of law. 13. Next sat Lorac, who dealt mostly with the disagreements and disputes between the peasantry. 14. Finally there was Ordell, a man who had worked his way up through the ranks from being a neighborhood constable, and who well appreciated the structure that law provided to society.
E15. All seven men of The Court of the Wise sat at their great bench and prepared to hear a difficult matter of law. 16. As was custom, the judges knew nothing about the case they were about to preside over, thus they could bring in no bias to tarnish the purity of their decisions. 17. Into their courtroom then, a man was lead by chains. He was dirty and calloused, clothed in rags, and the limp in his step was pronounced. 18. The courts of Wilhelm were well accustomed to dealing with characters of ill repute, but it was rare that a criminal trial would be heard by The Court of the Wise; their domain being mostly the disputes among the gentry. 19. Gram Taggart raised his eyebrows at the oddity of the sight, but not nearly so much as when the next man burst through the doors.
F20. Preceded by retainers and vassals, one of the lords of Wilhelm himself strode into the courtroom. 21. Seldom would any lord of the city appear in court, more often an advisor would appear on their behalf. Yet even more strange was this apparent showing of a lord at a criminal trial. 22. Everything before Gram Taggart's eyes spoke of an exceptional situation, which would no doubt require an exceptional solution. 23. He felt his duty to The Just God heavily, then. It was in these kinds of exceptional cases where the path to Justice was often hard to see.
G24. In turn, each man, the lord and the criminal, spoke and made their cases before The Court of the Wise. 25. The lord explained that the unsavory man used to serve him as his stable master until he was dismissed for insubordination. 26. He had been seen sneaking into the personal treasury of the lord and apprehended as he attempted to lay his hands on a rare good that was worth a great deal of money. 27. The lord made it clear as well that he had demanded this case be heard by the Court of the Wise to make an example to all of the city, that to act in defiance of the Council of Lords was the worst kind of crime, and that the stable master's sentence must reflect that reality.
H28. Then, the criminal, the former stable master, spoke. He told the court that he had served the lord faithfully for three decades. 29. That, although his treatment in that household was rarely kind, he had been a loyal and worthy servant who always acted in the best interests of the lord's horses. 30. That he had never, while he was a part of that household stolen a thing or committed a single impropriety. 31. The stable master then freely admitted that he did attempt to take from the lord an item of great value, but he begged the indulgence of the Court of the Wise to let him establish why.
I32. The stable master explained that he had a son who was very sick, a disease, unnatural in origin, had drained from the boy all of his strength until he could do naught but linger in his bed and await death. There was, however, a chance for his son to recover. 33. There was an old witch who had divined that the pollen of the potent, but rare, yulue flower would yield a panacea for the disease. 34. Yet the scarcity and relative obscurity of this plant made affording one impossible for a servant. 35. The stable master had little choice but to approach the lord for help. 36. With feigned benevolence, the lord offered to purchase a specimen of the yulue flower, but in return for the vast sum that it would cost him, the stable master's son, himself, would have to be the payment. 37. That a lifetime of servitude by the boy would be the only worthy compensation that any one of the peasant class could offer.
J38. Crestfallen, but out of options, the stable master agreed to these terms. The yulue flower was purchased, then, and a great herbalist was employed to create the tincture that would save the boy's life. 39. Yet when the time came to administer the drug, the stable master's son refused it. He had seen the cruelty with which his father was treated as a servant in that lord's house, and maintained that he would rather die than be sold into servitude for the price of the potion.
K40. Overwhelmed with rage, the lord dismissed the stable master from his employ. The potion, mixed and ready to use was locked into the lord's treasury, and the boy was sent home in order to die a slow death. 41. The stable master, driven only by love for his son, felt he had no option but to thieve the antidote, no matter the consequences that came thereafter. 42. He was apprehended in his attempt to do so, thrown into prison, and in the days where he sat waiting to come before the courts, his son had passed away from his illness.
L43. The lord verified that the stable master's story was true, and maintained that none of it had any bearing upon the case. 44. He demanded that the stable master's crime be well known and that a harsh punishment be handed down in order to maintain the social order and the sanctity of the laws of Wilhelm. 45. Having heard the accounts of both of the parties, it was time for the Court of the Wise to move to their chambers and render their verdict. 46. Gram Taggart rose with his colleagues and they made their way to the back of the House of Law.
M47. Once inside their cloistered room, the matter of the guilt and punishment of the stable master was weighed by each of the members of the Court of the Wise. 48. Yet, as they discussed what a fitting punishment could be given the difficult circumstances and the desires of the lord, Gram Taggart felt the presence of The Just God deep within his chest. 49. A thought pierced him, and he said in a loud clear voice heard over the din of his compatriot's discussions "I feel that we should levy no punishment at all upon the stable master."
N50. At once there was outrage from the other members of the Court of the Wise. Before them was a criminal who had admitted his guilt freely. 51. There was no discussion to be had over whether or not he should be punished, only to what degree of severity his punishment would have. 52. Yet Gram Taggart maintained his stance, that the stable master was worthy of no punishment at all. And, with the understanding that his burden would be to defend his unconventional point of view, he asked each of them to make their argument against him.
O53. Polonis began, stating that the flower the lord purchased was an expensive commodity paid for with gold, and that the purpose of the law was to protect the wealth and holdings of the people of Wilhelm. 54. Gram Taggart responded, "What purpose does wealth have? Is not gold nothing more than a rock that shines in the sunlight? 55. Gold only has value because of the good that it can do on behalf of those who spend it. A single copper to buy a poor meal of onion and broth for a starving man is worth more than the heaps of gold locked away in the vaults of all the lords. 56. The yulue flower was worth a great deal to the stable master because it was the cost of his son's life. To the lord, the flower was worth nothing and the shiny rocks he parted with, sitting idle in his treasury, were equally worthless."
P57. The Court of the Wise considered well this understanding of wealth and the purpose of property, and there was understanding amongst some of them. 58. Vindic responded then, explaining that the purpose of law is to punish those who are guilty, and that the actions of the stable master demanded the retribution by the system of law by which they all lived. 59. Gram Taggart responded, "How can we know that our laws are correct if in enforcing them we visit evil upon those not deserving of it? 60. One of the aims of law, no doubt is to ferret out and punish evil in our midst. Yet can any of us hold up the actions of the stable master as truly evil? 61. Perhaps, by allowing his son to die, the laws of our society are inadequate to eradicate the evil around us. Should we not, then, as judges, rise above those inadequacies and revise our understanding of the law? 62. Let us be part of the solution here instead of, in ignorance, allowing the problem of evil to continue."
Q63. The Court of the Wise thought long upon the nature of law, and a few of them nodded their appreciation. 64. Next to speak was Doubis, who maintained that leniency towards the stable master might give others who seek to steal license to do so, allowing the criminals of the city the thought that they can escape punishment. 65. Gram Taggart responded, "There must me a distinction in the law between those who commit crimes and those who are criminals. Criminals seek to profit from the loss of another, they are motivated by greed or vengeance or perhaps something worse. 66. A good man might commit a crime without being or becoming a criminal and if he does it should be taken as a sign to us that it was our failure as the creators and the interpreters of the law to create laws that safeguard good men. 67. What we seek to do now is not the punishment of a criminal. If it was, you would have my silence."
R68. The Court of the Wise reflected upon crime and criminals and several of them voiced their agreement. 69. To that Rhegan responded, claiming that their responsibility as judges was to maintain the social order and the authority of the lords of Wilhelm. In taking action against a lord, the stable master had wounded the foundation of their society. 70. Gram Taggart responded, "The people do not exist as fodder, as nothing other than subjects to be ruled by their lords. 71. Rather, the lords exist to protect the livelihoods of the people in their care. 72. You claim that an affront to the authority of a lord erodes our society, and perhaps you are right that it is harmful. Much worse, however, is when a lord through his own callous inaction allows harm to befall those who he is charged to preserve. 73. The social contract between ruler and ruled was broken first by the lord here, not by the stable master."
S74. The Court of the Wise long contemplated the relationship between lord and peasant and many of them spoke out their concurrence. 75. Lorac then spoke, indicating that he had much sympathy for the stable master, but saw little reason to grant him leniency. For, if the lord had treated him so inequitably, then it was up to him to use the due course of the law to seek a solution rather than resort to an immoral action. 76. Gram Taggart responded, "Indeed working within the law is the best of all paths, yet only when that law provides equitable access to Justice for all people. 77. Perhaps we should take it as a sign that our law lacks that quality. If the stable master came before the courts with his grievance, would the courts have not sided with the lord? 78. If the stable master truly believed that the only path open to him was to work outside the law, should we not take that as indication that our laws were not sufficient to protect him and his son, that he did not harbor the belief that the law could offer him any aid? 79. Should we not admit that the death of his son is in part our doing?"
T80. The Court of the Wise deliberated over the adequacy of their own laws and most of them found a common understanding. 81. Finally, Ordell had his say, warning that their power as the Court of the Wise was invested in them by the power of the lords. If the decisions that they as a group render seem like they no longer support the aims of the rulers of the city then perhaps their authority could be revoked. 82. Gram Taggart responded "Perhaps that is the case. In fact, I believe it is the most likely outcome if the lot of you finds my arguments worthy and my decision correct. 83. But our duty lies not with satisfying the politics of the lords, but rather in seeking Justice however we can. 84. If in doing so we are dismissed from the roles we were given then Wilhelm was never the mainstay of law that it laid claim to. 85. Regardless, if this to be our last ruling, then it should be one built upon the teachings of The Just God, and we should have faith that rendering Judgment in his name will not bring us to harm."
U86. With that, the whole of the Court of the Wise had had their say. Gram Taggart looked upon all of their faces and could see in their eyes resolve and agreement as to the course of action they must all take. 87. They exchanged a few other words, deciding upon the language and the specifics of their ruling, and found their way out of their chambers and back to the oaken bench where they would pronounce the results of their long debate. 88. Presently, the lord and the stable master were called back into the house of law. They stood, the stable master weak and afraid, the lord confident and expectant. The rest of the Court of the Wise looked over at Gram Taggart, for it was his privilege, and his burden, to render their findings.
V89. Gram Taggart spoke. "Stable master, you are guilty of the crime of theft, yet this court shall levy against you no fine and no punishment, for we have found that you had no other recourse. In this case you did not fail your obligation to the law so much as that the law failed to find any kind of Justice for you and your son. For that we are sorry and you are free to go."
W90. There was astonishment and relief on the face of the stable master, and through tears he mouthed a silent thanks to the Council of the Wise and to The Just God as his chains were removed and he was helped out of the room. 91. The look of indignation on the face of the lord, then, was terrifying, and he drew in his breath to bellow a response. 92. He was cut short, however, by the overwhelming bang of Gram Taggart's gavel. 93. As the sound echoed across the room a greatness of spirit could be heard resounding within it, and it was clear to all present that the manifestation of The Just God existed in the words that were about to be uttered. The lord, hushed and humbled, stood in fearful silence.
X94. The firm and steady tone of Grim Taggart spoke. "Lord," he said "we have also found that the actions you took, while within the bounds of our currently written laws, lacked the virtues of Justice and Righteousness. 95. You allowed that child to die when you had the means to stop it from happening. It is the finding of this court that you are to be detained in custody until we can present the case against you to the rest of the Council of Lords. 96. Perhaps they will take no action the punish you. Perhaps they will relieve us of our obligation as judges, offended by our presumption. 97. Their decision, and the events to follow them, will determine if Wilhelm can stand as a bastion of law and order or if your wickedness is a herald of the grim future of this city. 98. We, however, will continue to act as agents of The Just God as long as we are able to." 99. And with a final bang of his gavel, Gram Taggart called to close that session of the Court of the Wise.