Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Who Rules in Syr Darya?

For about six months I've been running a group through the City of Syr Darya from  David McGrogan's book Yoon Suin.

This is the second post about my personal version of that world.


Short answer – it’s the Ogre Magi.

Long answer – it’s complicated;

The Shikk as Monarch

Though the Magi rule in Syr Darya, they do not rule purely through their own power. Over a thousand years ago they made a deal with the Shikk, for the city, and that deal still stands.

Though the Magi never mention the Shikk, there is no-one who does not know about the deal.

This is part of the reason that Syr Darya has never been invaded. If anyone did conquer the city, what would happen? Would the Shikk enter on the side of the Magi, to back up its deal? Would the Shikk apply the same deal to the new rulers? Would the deal be cancelled and the population restored?

No-one knows, and no-one has ever tried to invest the enormous resources and risk to find out. 

(Actually quite a few have made the attempt, including armies of Yak-Men and the occasional bust-up between Oliarchies, but none have succeeded.)

Though the Magi may fight, intrigue, and assassinate amongst themselves, they have never broken out into civil war, and the Shikk, either through fear of its actions, or just the solidarity brought about by shared implacable hatred, is probably the reason why.

The Shikk is sometimes referred to as ‘The Absent King’, though not by the Magi, who never speak of it at all.

In a sense, Syr Darya is a kind of constitutional monarchy, with sovereign power invested in the Shikk.

It might be simpler to ask the question;

Who Will Be Arresting You?

That is a lot simpler to answer. Probably a turquoise or blue-robed priest in an azure Vultures mask, backed up by a pair, or more of either albino (or more likely ritually white-painted) Crab-Men.


The Crab Court

The Court of the Holy Law of Lobhi Pas scrapes up the legal chaff of Syr Darya.

Named the ‘Crab Court’ due to its operatives, even though whole thing has a strong Vulture theme going on. These roving squads of Priests and Crab-Men are the closest thing to a Pura-oriented Police Force in Syr Darya.

There are few Crab-Men this far north and of those in Syr Darya most work for the Vulture-Masked Priests of Lobhi Pas. The fact that almost all Crab-Men in Syr Darya are effectively a form of Police gives that small population slightly (marginally) higher status than they enjoy elsewhere in Yoon-Suin.

Poor or low-level outsiders are policed & sentenced by the Crab Court – an extension or dispensation provided to the temple of Lobhi Pas.

The judgements of the Crab Court are usually, broadly fair, or at least not insanely and visibly corrupt. Guilty verdicts usually involve limb, finger, soft tissue or other body-part loss.

Anyone who receives a guilty judgement can appeal to Lobhi Pas for a Trial by Combat.

So many accused have done so that the Priests of Lobhi Pas now insist that those who appeal must answer a series of complex theological questions about the worship of Lobhi Pas. This is why scrappy copies of his doctrine are sold on street corners around the Temple and often found with low-level criminals.

Once a Trial by Combat is accepted, the priests are extremely obsessive about arranging an exactly-equal match. The opponent must be as close to the exact physical ability and martial skill as the accused (as Lobhi Pas would expect). This can be good or bad depending on circumstance. If the accused is of unusual physicality or ability then it can take a very long time to find a correct match, and persuade them to fight, especially to a potentially lethal end. This can mean a very long prison term, and if the accused degrades due to their imprisonment, then this too must be accounted for.

(There will be more on Lobhi Pas in later posts which consider the Gods of Syr Darya.)

But, if you are important, rich or just clearly full of munificent Topaz Energy, and you don’t want to risk losing a finger or flesh, or fighting someone, what do you do?

The Slug Court

A tribunal presided over by the Ambassador from the Yellow City is, and held in that Embassy, the Slug Court is a relaxed space for white-collar criminals where everything takes a very long time, complex issues of legal structure and fine detail always take precedence, where the lunches are very long indeed, there is always time to adjourn, and where everything can be appealed multiple times.

Judgements always involve massive fines and often complex political manoeuvres. In theory it can sentence imprisonment or death, though this is rare.

Wealthy Pura, Traders, Magicians, Scholars, Ambassadors and anyone else too high status to face the horrors of the Crab Court, and in whom no other court has interest, may appeal to, or be requested to be tried by, the Slug Court.

Some other Courts will ‘trade’ a case to the Slug Court, for a price. If a plaintiff or accused wishes the Slug Court to take their case, they must pay this price, plus 10%, plus whatever unofficial bribes or inducements are required to have the Yellow City ambassador take an interest, plus whatever bribes or inducements are required to have the owning court give up the case.

The wonderful thing about the Slug Court (depending on how rich or legally minded you are) is that its enormously expensive, takes a very long time and rarely kills anyone.

Because it carries the seal of the Ambassador of the Yellow City, a judgement from the Slug Court also has (some) validity in the rest of Yoon-Suin (though more the closer you are to the Yellow City).

Approximately 75% of all Pura lawyers in Syr Darya work for the Slug Court. The backlog is long.

All this works well for Pura-on-Pura crime. Tourists and mercs screwing each other over. What happens if a crime is committed against a Nasna?

The Half-Court

More exactly – the Court of the Rajas. This strange relic of Syr-Daryas pre-Shikk legal system lives on in a degraded form, operating from the old Palace of Judgement in the Snake in the Eye of Syr Darya, though the building is so huge, mouldering and empty that few who pass would realise that it is still in operation.

This law governs intra-Nasna disputes only. There have only been a few cases where Pura, or foreigners, have been brought into its judgements and little is known of its workings, except that it is terrifying.

The ‘Half-Court’ has a terrible reputation amongst the cities Pura, a nightmarish, fairytale place wreathed in rotting finery and strange ritual, from which few foreigners are ever released. Rumours say the Nasnas like to chop up, skin and divide Pura who offend them. Whether this is true is utterly unknown. (It is true.)

Most Pura will do anything to stay out of the clutches of the Half-Court, which starts with not committing crimes against Nasna, and includes doing anything to bribe or scheme their way out of its clutches, and into that of another court, if possible.

But what happens if you do something even more stupid and piss off an Ogre Magi?

The simple answer is that if you are a Pura, who has no political, social or financial power, and no allies who might cause a stink, and who does not serve another Magi, then they can just kill you, and eat you if they like.

Few Pura are fully aware of this when they spend time in Syr Darya. Those who become so, form alliances, the more the better, and make themselves useful to a Magi as quickly as they can.

If, as a Pura, you anger a Magi and if killing you might cause the city trouble, or if you are bound in service to another Magi, or another high-status person, then you might end up in;

The Court of the Magi

The one central law of Syr Darya is that the Ogre Magi rule. Though they to have some technical limits placed upon their reach (they would find it hard, for instance, to arrest the Ambassador from the Yellow City, and they are sworn not to interfere with the judgements of the other courts), in effect, they can do what they like.

Such is their financial, cultural, physical, magical and historical dominance that, legal or illegal, if they want something done they can find a way to get it.

The only thing that can stop an Ogre Magi in Syr Darya is another Ogre Magi, and the only thing that can stop a group of Ogre Magi is a larger group of Ogre Magi. (And the only thing that could stop all the Ogre Magi, is the Shikk, but don’t say that out loud.)

The Court of the Magi exists when two Magi, or two groups or Magi, or the servants of two or more Magi, are in conflict and either neither side thinks they can win or neither side thinks they can win without bringing down punishment from a powerful combine, syndicate or ‘arrangement’ of Magi. Or if they are just law-and-order types who enjoy the legal process, which many do.

The judge, jury and lawyers are all Magi. Magi testimony usually overrules all other testimony. They can summon anyone and anything from the city and no-one would dare to countervail them.

The most common judgement against ‘guilty’ Magi is were-gilt and banishment for a certain term, during which they are expected to make deals and trade contacts to the advantage of the city.

Pura, and others, are sometimes called as witnesses at this Court. They are blindfolded before transport there. Its location seems to shift and rumours breed about its nature. Sometimes it is alleged to be very small and take place in a snails shell, sometimes in an old ruined building in Syr Darya, sometimes in some kind of otherdimensional space.


The vast number of courts and complex overlapping fields of jurisdiction they create are managed by one final court;

The Chrysanthemum Court

Also called the ‘Courtesan Court’, or, more cruelly, the ‘Whores Court’.

This group originally dealt with with crimes against, and between, Courtesans. It also possessed an unusual power since the times of the Raja. Back then Syr Darya was at the centre of an empire and had one singular system. Arguments over jurisdiction were rare and only took place when minor guilds or low noble houses had minor disagreements about specific matters.

On these occasions the Chrysanthemum Court was allowed to decide which court had jurisdiction. This may have been partly intended to be an insult to the warring parties (sort out your business or be judged by whores), or could have been because at the peak of the power of the Rajas, and of the worship of Tato Sampa, the position of Courtesan may have been more respected.

The power of the Chrysanthemum Court to decide jurisdiction has been allowed to persist by the Magi, partly as simple laissez-faire convenience and perhaps for other reasons.

The huge proliferation of courts and legal systems in the city means the meta-legal power of the Chrysanthemum Court has become more and more significant over time. It is rare that they get to decide anything directly, but they often get to decide who decides.

The Chrysanthemum Court meets in a walled garden in one of the corner zones between the Victors Wall and the Oculus. It is said to be extremely and relentlessly vengeful against those who harm women, or who allow women to be harmed, and though it can rarely execute this vengeance directly, it has a very long memory.

Of course there is one more Court in Syr Darya, for those who can claim no law at all.

The Yak Court

Crime in Syr Darya, like most things, is heavily ritualised and dominated by a handful of Nasna clans who have literally been stealing for a thousand years.

The Magi themselves sometimes get involved in things that might be described as crimes, but since everything the Magi do in Syr Darya is legal (because they do it) unless the other Magi try to stop them, then they can hardly be arrested.

Less is known about the Yak Court, (or the ‘Snow Court’) than about any others. Criminals tend to settle their disputes with other methods and any time they do meet must be deeply secret.

Wherever the Yak Court meets, if it does meet, it is almost certainly ‘Within the City, Beyond the Wall’, though rumours claim of meetings in the ancient sewer system, in caves of ice (which must lie outside the city) or in any dangerous and marginal area.

The Judge of the Court, the Great Yak, is meant to be an actual Yak-Man, one of the cities historic enemies, kept captive and frozen and brought out only to pass judgement on arguing criminals (though is probably just someone dressed up as one).

The nature of these judgements is unknown, but probably horrible.

No comments:

Post a Comment