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Codes and Punishment [Short Story]
Topic Started: Sat Dec 9, 2017 3:37 am (724 Views)
Barizzin
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Codes of the Deep Cities, Oaths to swear by, Rules of Business, and Dwarven Vows. Barizzin often found himself wondering about why there were so many restrictions on life around the Dragonspine Mountains and just how far dwarves would take those beyond their stony homes. Outsiders tended to be surprised and even needed to hire guides to help them keep track of all the different letters and guidelines on just about everything except proper behavior.

Dwarven Vows were mostly taken seriously by the few dedicated warriors and most diehard of guards. They were so saccharin sweet and optimistic, ignoring the harsh realities of life, but children just barely growing their beards loved every word uttered at them. Of course, Barizzin was an exception, tagging on that something felt forced about the vows, or like some had just been made up on the spot and then carried through far longer than it should have been. Yet maybe it had inspired some heroes to rise from the Deep Cities, to inspire the future to be better, it just never worked for this particular dwarf growing up.

Maybe it was easier to take to the vows at a young age when fortune was shinier than gold, but as Barizzin found it, life was just about always finding a way to work against him. Whether it was small things like the occasional rock falling from the ceiling to strike him unaware in the head, or being mistaken for some other brats just because he happened to look similar, the vows were rarely there to protect him. He never had time to pretend like he was going to grow up to be a great dwarven warrior, he had to spend his time watching out for rocks and making sure to hide when guards were looking for somebody.

Rules were far simpler and reliable, though. They were thought out and had a very specific purpose that helped make many dwarves who knew how to use them very rich. With riches came security, power, and respect, even if all of those were simply bought. The trick to the Rules was knowing which ones to pay attention to when, and to never trip over the wrong rule at the wrong time. They were a bit more advanced than the vows, but adhering to them could work out incredibly favorably.

For Barizzin, these almost always proved true. Through trial and error he learned how to manipulate the rules to his advantage, and as a young man, he made his first platinum. Gold was common, it was a fair average for the hardworking dwarf and its value carried greatly outside of the mountains, but platinum was rare and worth far more. This first piece he considered nonexistant to his funds, a charm that might bring him good luck, but luck still worked against him at war with his wits.

Oaths were undeniably serious matters for any dwarf. There was no real growing out of them, only further realizing the importance of them and not to throw them around lightly. Dwarven Oaths could redefine lives, set guiding paths, and even swear fealty to certain individuals until their death. To break an oath was to shame oneself, whether at honorable levels of warriors, or even in the shadowed corners of the criminal underbelly, there was no going back on an oath without scarring your reputation permanently.

The merchant Barizzin was always careful of those. He built up enough of a sour reputation from genuine business practices as he began founding his mining operation, but there was still a certain level of trust to what one could expect from him. Business rivals at his level of legal questionability often took poorly to his choices, but he rarely exploited the same people twice once they caught on to his schemes and grew hostile. He barely survived this way, but he was too tough for the more violent responses to finish him so quickly, even when he lost his beard.

Codes made sense. Even if Barizzin found himself at odds with them, he could understand them and how they worked. They were straightforward, simple, their fairness could be questionable at times, but some of the particularly oddball ones were either ignored or forgotten depending on the memory of the guards enforcing the Codes. Even those who particularly liked even those obscure regulations could be convinced otherwise with the right offerings of secret penance.

Several times before, Barizzin ran afoul of Codes and guards, but he could find his way out of them. Not so, this time. Fortune have it, one of his employees got caught doing something particularly criminal and stupid, messing around with Marionette, and decided to throw his boss before the drill. Half the allegations against the deep dwarf were falsified, but he had a reputation preceding him that did not leave many questions in his favor, and there was only so far that bribes were going to get him as just about fired employee and enemy he had came from the stone to conspire against him.

Did he steal? Sometimes. Did he trade in illegal merchandise? Never in public. Did he have people killed? Only those who were particularly pesky and could not be reasoned with. Did he sabotage the competition? Only if they got too close to great bounties or his claims. Did he sometimes run raids on other underground civilizations? Only villages and only if they had something particularly valuable, but he made sure his workers wore disguises. Yet his primary concern was always mining, nice and legitimate. There were riches hidden in the stone, and keeping his employees well-paid usually ensured loyalty, but there was only so far that could take him before his bad luck outdid his wits.

Now he was being taken before a tribunal for final judgment. Given the severity and number of allegations against him, there was hardly any defending himself to be had. He broke too many codes over the years that he had gone unpunished for, and a certain part of him could not help but feel as if this may simply been his time long coming. Each step of his padded boots down the longs tone hallway made his heart sink in his chest, but he kept his face resolute. His beard, forged of metal and grafted to replace the result of a dwarven scalping, had corks placed on the ends of the hooks to keep him from using them as weapons. His hands were bound in enchanted mithril cuffs, meant to cancel any magic he could have wielded, though he never found time or purpose for studying the arcane arts.

Three judges, six guards, him, and no gallery. Glowing orbs set tactically around the chamber illuminated everybody clearly while still casting looming shadows. Three seemed a fair number, two to decide and one to break ties, with each one being from a different city giving them different perspectives on the law. They sat on raised seats meant to make them seem imposing and authoritative, and it worked. He knew how this was going to play out from the stories of other dwarves, but all the same, Barizzin found himself feeling the discomfort of a man about to be sentenced.

"Barizzin Metalbeard. Do we need to list out the crimes you are brought here for?" Spoke the deep dwarven female judge, her coal black eyes feeling like they were burrowing into his soul from that decidedly grim appearance. Now he was beginning to understand why some of his workers felt intimidated working for him. Her beard was short with tiny braids, a popular look inspired by the traders coming in from all across Imythess, not wanting to lose the dwarven uniqueness but wanting to feel a little pretty, not that it really detracted from how intimidating she was.

"No need." The deep dwarf uttered loud enough for the stone to echo, "We all want to get on with this and on with our lives, what there may be left of mine."

"Considering all your crimes, that would normally be far shorter leaving this room, Barizzin Metalbeard." Said a mountain dwarf, difficult to tell that he was a bit taller than the others, but his pale but not-quite-stony skin and natural blond hair were dead giveaways. His beard was clean, the second longest of the three, and barely moved as he spoke, "However, your impact on your community for the better, though of equally questionable means, is undeniable. Rather than execution or incarceration, you will be exiled from the Deep Cities."

Was that right? Barazzin's calm demeanor broke as he was overcome with a sudden strike of surprise. His coal like eyes grew wide as he found himself taken off guard by the sudden development. There was no denying business's impact on dwarven society, but he had genuinely not been expecting to be given life at a mere expense of his possessions. He was still in his prime, he had years to build up from the ground once again, perhaps even faster with his knowledge, and to be given that chance was just awe-inspiring.

"You will keep only what you have on your person. Everything else is to be seized by the Deep Cities guard and auctioned off." The third judge added, a more traditional dwarf with brown hair, a long braided beard with metal accessories woven in. His eyes despite the dark were a piercing blue, settling a clear judgment on Metalbeard, perhaps having voted for more traditional punishment but being overridden by the others "Normally we would cut off your beard to shame you, but in your case we are considering it a possession. If you ever return to the Deep Cities, you will be executed."

No may or might about it, Barazzin was being given only a single out to live, and that was to never return. That was all fine by him, long as coin could keep him alive he would find a way, even if he had to sell candles. The merchant bowed his head quickly in submission to the ruling of the judges, "I understand fully, your honors. This city won't see so much as a hair off my head."

No need to push his luck and ham it up. The shorter this was and the quicker he could get out, the better off the dwarf would be. He barely had any real attachments outside of work, but now he was kicking himself for not taking up more wise decisions like banking outside of the mountains. Another lesson learned in life, to keep money spread out but accessible.

"Good." The deep dwarven judge said, readjusting her position in her seat, "You'll be placed on the next airship to Tarass."

With the final word stated, the three dwarven judges raised their mallets in unison and slammed them down. He was far from their first or last case of the day to provide final ruling on, and if they met their quota, they could go home or to a tavern a bit early. Getting a criminal who did not want to prolong his fate was always a slight boon to them.

barizzin had to keep himself from dancing out of the chambers, a goofy grin overtaking his face past the metal strands of his grafted beard once the judges could not see his face. For once, fortune seemed to be favoring him. Perhaps it was simply correcting for an overestimated punishment, but as with the ruling, he saw no reason fit to question why anything would be going his way. If he spent too much worrying about everything that could go wrong, he would just miss the things that would definitely go wrong.
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