Old Heortling Poem

From: bjm10@cornell.edu
Date: Wed 15 Mar 2000 - 23:05:59 EET


The following poem translated from Windspeech is attributed to Heort or
his senior Lawspeaker. Legend has it that it was improvised in one try
to be recited to and memorized by every king and chief upon the beginning
of his instruction in the Laws of Heort. It contains statements of some
and reference to many more.

A reader should note that it is not intended to be a complete explication
of the Laws of Heort. For example, while it gives a list of trees that
are forbidden to fell, it should not be concluded that Heortlings never
chopped trees down! Other sources reveal (e.g. Theorac's Tree-Chopping
Song) that tree-felling was a communal affair among Heortlings, to begin
by propitiating tree spirits, Flamal, and other deities. The
prohibitions, read in this context, obviously refer to individuals
felling trees without the magical support of the community. Given that
vengeful Aldryami were no respectors of individuals, blaming all humans
they might meet for the transgression of one, proscription was most
likely for the common good.

Likewise, since it was an introduction, many statements are quite pithy,
to be elaborated upon during the ruler's education.

                            The Law-Song of Heort

If you are a king you should know the prerogative of a ruler, refreshment
according to rank, [resolving] contentions of hostings, [punishments for]
stickfights in an alehouse, [invalidity of] contracts made in
drunkenness; valuations of lands, measurement by poles; [limits upon]
augmentations of a penalty, [punishment for] larceny of tree-fruit.

Know the great substance of land-law: Marking out fresh boundaries;
planting of stakes, the law as to points of stakes, partition among
coheirs, summoning of neighbors, stone pillars of contest, fighters who
hold title from a king; the extent of protection; right of the gild up to
the sixth man in movables and land.

Valid is every neighbor-law that is contracted by pledges and secured by
collateral consisting of goods.

Greater or smaller is the value of penalties.

Know the penalty for breaching a boundary fence: From a bull-calf to a
heifer-calf, from that to a yearling beast, up to five however it extends.

What are the most serious cases of tree-cutting for which the unwise are
penalized?

The hospitallers of the forest, the ivy-clad hazel: A danger from which
there is no escape is the penalty for felling the sacred tree.

A man shall not cut a sacred tree and escape with the fines for the seven
noble trees on account of the fine of three cows that is fixed for
cutting its stem.

There are others, seven atoned for even to their undergrowth.

Know the penalty for the oak, the penalty for lobbing its larger limbs
with its life-sustaining mast; the stem-cutting of the yew; the same
penalty for cutting the holly tree.

Most serious of it all is the penalty of the seven commoners of the
forest for each of which there is a cow as payment: The stem cutting of
the birch, the peril of the alder, the undermining of the willow.
Declare restitution for them. The maiming of the whitethorn and of the
blackthorn; its restitution extends to the undergrowth of the wood, the
undergrowth of fern, of bog-myrtle, of reeds, save that these are free to
Thanes.

Let me venture for [the benefit of] the immature to state the immune
things of the forest: A single cauldron's cooking-wood that is cut, a
handful of ripe nuts to which one stretches not his hand in satiety.
Freest of it all is the right of their removal.

[Know the penalties for these things:] Stealthy penetration, stealthy
intrusion, driving to and fro, looking on idly, tethering, squatting,
burning, blocking tracks; overleaping by birds, deer and pet animals,
overleaping by dogs, trespass by bees; in thirds are payable in penalties
which the preliminary pledge comprehends; driving forward, traversing,
sudden breeches across the road, stampeding across holdings. Similarly
over strands.

Measurement of the fore-end with a cast by a stripling, supervising the
observance of land law, marking out fresh boundaries, final
responsibility for trespass.

Let fines be forthcoming on the fifth day after the offenses according to
the law of neighbors.

No single ox shares liability with the drove.
No overleaping by a single piglet shares liability with the herds.
None are the drivings carried out negligently for which final
responsibility need not be enforced.
None are the concealed drivings forward on which grazing-expense does not
fall.
None are the unauthorized stalkings which deserve immunity.
None are the larcenies from houses which do not entail a penalty.

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