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Trial by combat

posted Oct 9, 2017, 3:15 PM by Viktor Zólyomi   [ updated Oct 9, 2017, 3:15 PM ]
The concept of a `trial by combat' is often used in fantasy literature and is believed by many to originate in the dark middle ages. In truth, the first recorded use of this phrase was in the year 1849 in Con City. That year saw the longest trial in the little over half century that passed since Con City was built, over a seemingly petty debate between two businessmen in Brickton.

Owing to the extremely high income tax of seventy percent in Brickton, in effect since the year before, businesses often resorted to shady practices in order to survive, and one particular business was the Morton Steel Mill. Its owner, Jack Morton, reportedly forced his workers to do fifteen hour shifts every day. He publicly admitted that he was forcing his workforce to spend more time in the steel mill than was reasonable, but placed all blame on the Rothenberg Mines and their owner Carl Rothenberg, who he believed charged him `outrageous sums of money for every crate of coal and iron.' Carl Rothenberg, who claimed his prices were fair given the seventy percent income tax, and who himself had his miners work sixteen hours a day, sued Jack Morton for slander over these remarks.

The argument led to a trial that went on for two months and gradually degenerated into shouting contests at the Brickton Courthouse. A local newspaper published an article on the heated debate and argued that while the two industrialists poked fingers at each other, their workers continued to suffer under terrible working conditions, and even speculated that both businesses were on a path to bankruptcy, and that this may have been the goal of Brickton's Mayor Jeremiah Roarke when he raised the income tax to seventy percent the year before.

The day after the paper was published, the public started to speculate over Mayor Roarke's intention to use his position of leadership to engineer himself a means of taking over the steel industry at the end of his term. For some inexplicable reason, the newspaper in question was hit with a new tax that forced it to cut its circulation by eighty percent, while the trial between Jack Morton and Carl Rothenberg abruptly ended when the judge ruled Morton innocent. Not to be denied, Carl Rothenberg turned to the highest court of law in the county and took his case against Jack Morton to Con City.

Week after week passed by with Morton and Rothenberg shouting each other's face off at the Con City Courthouse, much to the pleasure of the local tabloid papers of the era, and much to the displeasure of the presiding judge. Six months into the proceedings the trial took a most unexpected turn when Con City's infamous Mayor, former outlaw Buford Salter unexpectedly turned up at the courthouse and made an announcement. He put into effect a new law, which ruled, that any trial that lasted more than two weeks, may optionally be resolved with a fistfight. Dubbed `Lex Trial By Combat,' the new law allowed either side of the legal battle to initiate the transition from the courtroom to the back alley, where the presiding judge would officiate a fistfight between the two parties until one beat the other into unconsciousness. The law also stated that the agreement of one party was sufficient to invoke the law, that is, no one may refuse participation in the trial by combat, and to do so would automatically be punished by twenty years in prison.

Jack Morton, who was reportedly twice the size of Carl Rothenberg, immediately requested for the trial by combat. Rothenberg, to his credit, did not even try to back out of the fistfight, and fought tooth and nail against the much larger Morton during the simplified trial. Jack Morton took his time beating Rothenberg into a pulp and knocking out half of the man's teeth. He returned to Brickton declared innocent of slander to manage his struggling steel mill until 1853 when he was finally forced to go out of business. Morton's facilities were auctioned later that year and purchased by Jeremiah Roarke the day before his term as Mayor of Brickton came to an end.