Law and Justice

Justice is the gift of Orlanth, the first lawspeaker. It keeps clans strong and provides them with peace and harmony.

Justice is part of the sacred order. Animals, dead ancestors and even storms can be brought to court. No one is immune.

King Heort, who compiled the law codes, affirmed that, “No one can make you do anything.” So Orlanthi are born to freedom. However, Orlanth shouldered responsibility for his actions, such as when he slew Yelm, and took steps to correct the outcomes of his actions. This is the standard he sets for all Heortlings. The law is the necessary compromise between freedom and society.

Law is primarily a negotiation between groups related by kinship (and this may include enemy clans and tribes). Groups outside kinship, such as the Lunars, are beyond justice. Violence is always an option against such people.

An important principle of justice is that individuals are not held directly responsible for misdeeds. Their families and bloodlines share responsibility and therefore compensation usually comes from the common property of the bloodline. As there is no concept of privacy in Heortling society, it is assumed that all deliberate actions are known by the hearth kin.

Justice is not bound to an abstract moral code, but is an honest way of dealing practically with the effects of someone’s actions. Though wergild prices appear fixed to an outsider, in practice they are very flexible. The object of justice is about achieving social harmony through consensus and compensation rather than punishment. Personal conduct can be as important as matters of fact.

The Court Process

When wrong has been done a man can gain much status if he goes straight to the affected party, announces what he has done, and offers compensation without need for a court.

Often, a dispute will go a lawsuit. First a plaintiff might go to a local juror, one of the wise and honourable men of the clan. He can render a decision which is not binding.

If either side wishes the complaint can be taken to a court of jurors and a judge, who meet at set times during the year. Their judgement is final.

Although jurors and kinsmen are supposed to support a judgement with violence if necessary, in practice the winner must collect the judgement. If he is weak and his foe is strong, they may abuse the system by claiming to abide by the decision without actually doing so.

Disputes between clans and tribes are major political theatre that may involve Chiefs, Kings and Princes as plaintiffs and jurors. Bribery and influence is often applied to get decisions at this level.

Heortlings recognize that sometimes justice is not enough and there is a proper moment for vengeance. They may begin the rites of the feud or pass the black arrow to call the clan to war.


Where other legal remedies have been exhausted, or one side simply does not wish to compromise, a fight between clans or their champions is acceptable. In some cases plaintiffs have been known to duel their opponent. Disputes can be made into matters of honour.

Of course, individual combats can only take place with members of other clans, not with members of one’s own clan, as this would be kinstrife.


If people seek a feud with another clan it must first be agreed by the chieftain, who will consult the clan ring at the next holy day, after sacrifices have been made. If a feud has been declared the ritual of Passing the Red Collar is performed. Word is then sent to the Tribal Kings, to Issaries (whose heralds inform the enemy) and all clan members.

Feuds are usually conducted by strikes and raids. Sometimes this may involve mustering a warband though any substantial commitment of the clan’s military strength is regarded as risky. Cattle raids and attacks on steads are standard for this mode of warfare. Generally, warbands try to avoid killing the old, children and women, largely because there is no honour in killing the defenceless.

However, as hatred grows in a feud, so do dishonourable acts. Stead burnings are rare but not unknown. Honourable Orlanthi shun stead-burners. Stead-burning can be dangerous because killing married women threatens to bring their birth clans into the feud.

Ending feuds can be long and complex. Legal cases are one way to end them, particularly if the tribal moot can be persuaded to rule against a clan. The Women’s circles can sometimes settle feuds using Ernalda’s wisdom. They may call chiefs to the Peace Rug, and negotiate and ending of the feud. This may require reparations, gifts, an exchange of hostages or even a marriage to seal the peace. Offering self-judgement is another route to peace; there is much honour to be gained by letting the enemy settle the terms of the peace. Finally, there is arbitration by an outside power. Traditionally the Royal House of Sartar performs the role of arbitrator, but the current prince, Termertain, is a Lunar puppet and not much trusted by good Orlanthi.

Wergild and Fines

A man’s wergild, or man price, tells how much his life is worth under Heortling law. When it is collected all the clan plays, though proximity to the wrongdoer means that the bloodline pays the most.

The intent of wergild is to prevent feuding. If a clan accepts weregild, it is an agreement not to start or continue a feud. Of course, wergild can be refused. Violence is always an option.

Wergild varies with a man or woman’s class and is generally based on that person’s income over ten years of labour. The weregild for killing is as follows:

  • High King. 2000 cattle
  • Overking. 500 cattle
  • Tribal King. 200 cattle
  • Noble. 100 cattle
  • Thane. 50 cattle
  • Carls. 25 cattle
  • Cottars, Half-Carls, Makers, Cabbage-Folk, Traders, Stickpickers. 10 cattle
  • Guests. The price of the host

Tricksters fall outside the law. If someone is discovered as a worshipper of Eurmal they can be killed with no compunction. The exception is that if the trickster is bound by oath to a chief or king, that king provides protection in return for the fool’s (relatively) good conduct.

What is Geld?

Cattle are the proper geld, for in cattle our laws are measured.

The price of wergild is calculated in cows, though in practice it means things of equivalent value. A trained ox is worth 1.5 cows and a horse is 4 cows. Goods of great craftsmanship may need to be assayed. Coin is rarely used, though silver coins (known as ‘Lunars’) are in circulation due to the occupation.

The following is an average exchange rate in Sartar:

1 milk cow = 20 bushels of barley = 5 hogs = 7 ewes = 20 Lunars


Wergild applies when a person kills someone from another clan. It doesn’t apply when someone kills another from the same clan. How can a clan collect against itself? Such crimes are kinstrife and beyond the scope of Heortling law and custom. The perpetrator is always outlawed.

Outlawry and Death

Some crimes are so heinous that they are deserving of special punishment. These include:

  • A person who uses evil magic
  • Who lies in a moot or hearing
  • Who denies aid to their kin
  • Who causes kinstrife

Outlaws are outside society and the law. Kinship is severed. Orlanth may not aid them. Outlaws may be killed with no wergild. Bloodlines will mourn them as if already dead.

There is a second degree of outlawry. Lesser outlawry, or banishment, is a temporary status. The criminal leaves the clan lands and is treated as an outlaw if they return. But after spending an agreed amount of time away they can return with no loss of honour, status or membership.

Some crimes are beyond compensation or outlawry. They deserve death. However, the prohibition on kinstrife prevents people from killing those in their own clan or bloodline; outlawry is preferred in such circumstances.

According to the words of Andrin capital crimes include:

  • Secret murder
  • To curse in secret
  • To slay a guest in your own house
  • To desecrate holy places
  • To consort with the Predark (i.e. Chaos)
  • To breed disease
  • To deny the clan of one’s birth

Law and Justice

The Book of Kendring Percyprune