Sythyry (sythyry) wrote,

Digression: On the Proper Punishment of Disobedient Indentured Servants

Rowyn asks an aggressive question: Let's say that Kantele, after completing her education but some decades before finishing her indenture, did something you found wholly unsuitable, like fall in love with a norren. She then desired to leave your service so she could pursue a relationship with her chosen norren. How would you react?

Shurhaian modifies it: Falling in love with a nonprime is a bit much to put into a hypothetical situation, no? o.o (Falling in love with an orren Sythyry zirself was interested in, seemingly mutually, now... and making plans to take said orren somewhere far away...)

And it's an interesting and vaguely relevant question, with a complicated answer, so I'm going to answer it here, at length, and Rowyn and Shurhaian will Learn What It Is To Ask An Aggressive Question To A Zi Ri.

Actually, there are three sorts of answers. There's the answers about me, a rather mild traff Zi Ri. There's the answers about how a stereotypical (non-Zi-Ri) irascible wizard -- let us call her Flip La Lich -- is likely to behave. And there's the answers about how a stereotypical Cani nobleman -- let us call him Count Pointer-Count -- is likely to behave. (Of course these cases overlap: La Lich is probably rich and influential enough to do nearly anything that Pointer-Count can do, and Pointer-Count could hire La Lich or someone like that if he was sufficiently motivated.)

My answer to Rowyn's question as posed: I'm relatively not fussy about arrangements. Kantele leaving would have been somewhat of an inconvenience, since my previous secretary was retiring and I was counting on Kantele as his replacement, and, if she had left, I would have needed a replacement replacement. (Umbers leaving would not be a particular inconvenience, and Blenny leaving would, honestly, be a convenience.) If Kantele had the politeness to ask me, "Sythyry, I'm in love with Hark!, and I need to move out of the city to be with her", I imagine I would complain a while, try and fail to talk her out of such a stupid stupid thing, and then figure out some sort of arrangement to let her do it and to at least pay me back for the money I had invested in her education. (Which was a lot! Tuition, and an allowance somewhat bigger than my ~mother~ gave me when I was in school -- I wanted Kantele to learn how to dress and act like gentry, and of course I wanted her to have a good time and regard me as a generous patron. Which she did, and she did.)

If Kantele had had the poor grace to simply elope with Hark! rather than negotiating something, there are a few things I might have done. (None of my indentures have quite done that. People usually take advantage of me in other ways, like Pleensy "borrowing" two graces of Mircannis.) But things that I, myself, might do include:

  1. Complaining about her until my friends and clients were totally bored of the topic, or, if I were particularly interesting about it, until they had lost all respect for her. This is a particularly useful option if she has gotten beyond my reach, or if further revenge does not seem worthwhile. I've done this twice about indenture-related topics, and innumerable other times.
  2. Taking legal action, if Kantele were still in the same city-state: suing her for breach of contract. This would, if all went alarmingly well, turn back into negotiations about how she might repay me. Probably worse for her than any negotiations with me would be, and she'd probably have to pay all the legal fees. I've done this once. It was quite a hassle, even after I won.
  3. If I were particularly unhappy and didn't see any great likelihood of the law working, I might arrange for, many times a day, Kantele to be illuminated by flashes of orange light and crashes of cymbals, as a loud voice from nowhere pronounces her misdeeds in orotund syllables. This will make her life generally awkward. I have done this, once, though to someone who assaulted me with a weapon, not a matter of indentures.
  4. I might do something wizard-style or nobleman-style, especially if Kantele had gone far away and been particularly insulting about it.
  5. Grumble unhappily and vow to outlive the situation. An increasingly attractive response when I'm feeling more disheartened than angry.
  6. (I would not get Vae involved. I would try not to mention the matter to her until it was over. She's far too likely to do something extreme and illegal.)

(Aside about me: I think I would be more offended if Kantele were betraying me to take up with another Rassimel. I am much more tolerant of wrongfolk behaving badly than I am of wrongfolk ceasing to be wrong. I expect I'd be more cross if Kantele stole my lover, of course; what do you expect? (Though that would be extremely difficult now. Note to self: take steps to make it easier.))

Flip La Lich, our stereotypical irascible wizard, has a few other choices at the top of her list -- as long as Kantele hasn't gotten too far away. For, if Kantele lived in La Lich's manse, there are surely arcane connections to her that can be found: shed fur, worn clothes, an old toothbrush, a note with her signature on it. Through these, La Lich can cast a variety of punative spells.

First of all, note that La Lich can't legally kill or maim Kantele. If Kantele is outside the city-state, La Lich might choose to kill her and most likely will never face criminal charges -- but I think the querents were mostly interested in what is lawful and customary, not what is possible.

So, some spells of torment that are fashionable at the moment include:

  1. Dottarnu's Labiodental Sphincter: This causes the victim's jaws to snap shut, generally when the tongue will be caught in the teeth. They remain shut for an hour or two. They are free for a few moments only, (allowing the victim to eat if he's quick about it) and then snap shut again. The standard version of this spell lasts for several weeks, though there's a version that lasts indefinitely. Victims are quite miserable.
  2. The Prolongation of the Distal Phalanx: This spell makes the final bones in the victim's fingers grow longer. The flesh does not grow with the bones. After a few hours, the phalanxes pierce through the victim's fingertips. They continue to grow for as long as the spell is in effect; the victim's hands are largely unusable. The phalanxes can, of course, be cut off, but that will leave them cut off when the spell is over and the bones return to normal.
  3. A Personal Picnic: The aspect of a picnic that this spell induces is the insectile one. Ants stream forth from each of the victim's orifices. They behave like ordinary ants; e.g., they will swarm over the victim's food, and will try to drag crumbs and dead insects back into the victim's nose and ears. If an ant is squashed, the victim feels the pain that the ant feels as it dies.
  4. Certain wizards do rather crueler things with Mentador, but that is cruel and vicious and likely to cause the wizard more trouble later on.

Short-term versions of these are legal for use on indentured servants at the master's discretion ... well, the first and third anyways. I'm not sure about the Prolongation, since that actually draws blood. In the case of an escaped indentured servant, "short-term" may be construed as weeks. In the case of one who has fled to another city-state, it may even be perpetual. The victim can, of course, come back home to plead her case in court, but (1) that amounts to a return to servitude, and (2) the court will probably order the wizard to turn the spell off, nothing more.

Count Pointer-Count, our stereotypical Cani nobleman (probably liver, lemon, or black-furred), has a different set of easy options. His spells are not so mighty -- though hiring La Lich to cast spells is entirely possible, if he is angry enough. Most wealthy and powerful people employ a few adventurers or guards; if not, they can hire them easily enough. These people can be sent off to bring the forces of law, custom, justice, and ferocity to the escapee. This has the advantage over the wizardly approach of being, in effect, unlimited of range. It is somewhat less accurate.

  1. Returning the fugitive to justice: The best option, I think, is for the nobleman's henchmen to return the escapee home, using no more force than strictly necessary. At home, the escapee can be put on trial. The law will be overwhelming on the nobleman's side. The escapee can expect to be made responsible for all charges and incidental acts of destruction that result from the attempt to retrieve her.
  2. Immediate revenge: If justice is difficult, or does not satisfy the nobleman, the guards can be instructed to perform their own approximation of justice. Harsh beatings, or even minor maimings (severing the ears and tail, say) would be typical here. Outright murder is not utterly unheard-of. This option is more troublesome than justice. For one thing, it makes the nobleman look unjust. For another, henchmen who are willing to maim or murder are fewer in number and inherently less reliable than those who are willing to achieve justice.

On the whole, law and custom favor harsh treatment of indentured servants who try to break their contracts. Not as harsh as for slave -- slavery is generally punishment for some prior and severe crime, and law and custom really don't like that punishment being evaded. But harsher than for other forms of service, or other contracts. In general, indentures permit the master plenty of flexibility in punishment. Ridiculous as it may sound in my case, I'm legally allowed to hit Umbers as hard as I like, as much as seems appropriate to me, as long as I don't break her carapace or any other significant injury (or, because it's in her contract, unless it can be construed as an act of concubinage).

In any case, all these punishments rely on the escapee being fairly close. Should the escapee manage to get a couple hundred miles away -- e.g., by stowing away aboard someone else's well-guarded skyboat -- the master's options are limited and expensive.

Now, aren't you sorry you asked the question? Or, at least, aren't you sorry someone asked the question?

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