Books of Law, Living Rank/Title in The Viland Empire | World Anvil
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Books of Law, Living

"A Book of Law is that which contains the whole of the law, and no lesser part. For a lesser part may lead astray, but the whole of the Law is always true."
-Excerpt from The Code of Judith
  Growing up, as I did, in the Estelands, living Books of Law were, to me, as natural and normal as the bony-ridged Elerapinos often seen stalking through the woods in search of small rodents to crush under their large hoofs. In fact, I took their existence so entirely for granted that it did not occur to me, in earlier editions of my Great Work, to include an entry dedicated to the details of their illustrious literary order. However, in the course of my travels I have discovered that there are many within the Empire, especially within the more obscure and less moneyed nations of our great continent, that have never even heard of a living Book of Law and who are, indeed, shocked and confused by the very concept. And so I feel it is my duty to inform these badly benighted citizens of the honorable history of this virtuous vocation.  


Books of Law, as an order and a profession, can trace their history to the very founding of the Viland Empire, when the printing press had yet to be invented and all books had to be diligently copied by hand. This hand-copying process, largely performed by, as I understand it, palace eunuchs or the young unmarried daughters of landowning farmers, was so hugely expensive and time consuming that only the richest and most prominent of noble houses could afford to keep a paper copy of The Imperial Code of Law, especially since it was expressly forbidden to create excerpts, snippets, abridgements, or other piece-meal partial reproductions of the law. However, it was still vital for many to be able to refer to the new Code of Law in order to conduct their every-day business within the new Empire. And so a creative solution needed to be found.
  "A Book of Law is that which contains the whole of the law." This one line from The Code of Judith, which is simultaneously highly specific and highly unspecific in key ways, was extrapolated upon thus: The word "that" may refer to anything. Anything which contains the whole of the law, is, therefore, a Book of Law. And so a human being which contains the whole of the law is therefore a Book of Law.
  There is, as far as I am aware, no record of the first person to recognize the potential in this interpretation, but there are many records from the early days of the Viland Empire of noble houses, especially poorer noble houses, hiring (or, arguably, purchasing) these living Books of Law to serve their households. They were initially considered low servants, lower in status even than maids, and generally kept out of view of the public as it was considered embarrassing to admit that you couldn't afford a bound Book of Law.   However, over the long centuries of the Viland Empire, these living Books of Law, (who each memorized the entirety of the law word-for-word, therefore containing the whole of the law within their own minds,) proved themselves to be invaluable not only as reference materials, but also as advisors and arbiters in all matters pertaining to the law. Although it is important to note that a Book of Law may not act as a judge or lawyer in a legal dispute, as their role is merely to know the law and not to interpret it. Still, their word is considered definitive when it comes to the exact wording of the law, and as early as the late 7th century it was considered a practical necessity for all high noble houses to employ at least one Book of Law, who was at that point considered a high-ranking servant and was generally treated as a member of the head-of-house's inner-circle. Even those houses who still proudly boasted of keeping bound copies of the law openly employed living books as well.
  The social role of living Books of Law further evolved with the invention of the printing press in Imperial Year 984, which caused the price of printed and bound books to fall drastically. Conversely, the cost of upkeep for a living Book of Law, now considered to be equal in status to lesser nobles, grew higher and higher throughout the turn of the millennium. In modern times only the riches and most prestigious noble houses can afford to hire a living Book of Law, and those who are poor or low-born must content themselves with printed copies. Perhaps this is part of why widespread knowledge of the order has declined, although apprentice-teacher groups of Living Books are still common sights throughout The Estelands, where books of all sorts are highly valued by the local (my native) culture.

Legal Status

All that is required for a person to legally become a Book of Law is for them to know the whole of the law word-for-word. In theory, any person who knows the law in such a way automatically becomes a Book of Law in the very instant they've obtained that knowledge. However, in practical terms, new Books of Law generally take a test from older Books of Law in order to prove their knowledge and be granted legal Book of Law status.
  A living Book of Law is considered, in legal terms, to be exactly the same as a bound Book of Law and is therefore subject to all of the rules and regulations laid down for the treatment of such an object. For example, it is illegal to burn or deface a Book of Law, and it is legally required to treat a Book of Law with respect, to keep it in the best possible conditions, and generally to prevent any harm or physical deterioration to the Book as much as possible.
  Conversely, since living Books of Law are no longer considered legally human, they are not subject to laws applicable solely to human beings. As such, a living Book of Law may not marry, own property of their own, or inherit a title of nobility.
  However, although living Books are subject to property law (in some instances), it is important to know that a Book of Law cannot be owned (therefore distinguishing the hiring of Books of Law from the outdated and barbaric practice of slavery). This distinction exists because, technically, one cannot own a bound Book of Law either. For, as clarified within The Code of Judith, "No individual may claim ownership of the Law, for the Law belongs to the Empire." Thus, all Books of Law belong to the Empire itself, and not to any individual who happens to keep them in their employ.
  There is some debate about whether or not this means that the current Emperor owns all Books of Law, since The Code of Judith also states: "The current Ruler of the Empire shall strive to be the Embodiment of the Empire and its People and to represent the interests of the Empire and its People at all times." Some scholars have interpreted this to mean that the Emperor is, as a legal entity, indistinguishable from the Empire itself. Others have pointed out that this the wording of this passage is presented as eternally aspirational, and therefore the Emperor must attempt to become indistinguishable from the Empire itself, but may never actually become so, and therefore must remain a distinct legal entity.
  At that point, dear reader, I admit that my mind began to wander as the acclaimed legal scholar I was interviewing for this section continued to explain the intricacies of the many minor disputes over the exact interpretation of each specific word in that passage, and I don't remember any of it in enough detail to reliably relay it to you. If you yourself find such entangled etymologies engaging and wish to learn more, I recommend seeking out for yourself the Imperial Institute of Jurispedantry within the City of Viland, where, as far as I am aware, Professor Reeve Fridenot may still be rambling on about the topic to this day.

Contemporary Organization and Culture

In the current era, all living Books of Law are members of a loosely-organized, non-hierarchical order known colloquially (for they have no true official name) as the Society of Books. It is impossible to know for sure what goes on at some of their more secretive events and rituals, because none of the Books I talk to will tell me about them no matter how many times I ask, not even my former friend former Jim (now Judith, I suppose) who became a Book later in life and whom no longer responds to my letters. Nevertheless, there are some elements of the Society's operations that are widely known to the public.   Apprentice books (sometimes quaintly referred to as "booklets" or even "pamphlets") begin training at a young age (usually around the 11-13 years old, although I've heard tell of booklets as young as 8). These booklets train under a full-fledged Book of Law (sometimes referred to as a "textbook") who does not hold office in any noble house, but who instead dedicates their life to the teaching and raising of new books. Textbooks often train as many as 3 or 4 booklets at a time, but rarely any more than that. Booklets spend some time learning proper conduct so as not to embarrass the Law, but the vast majority of their training time is, of course, spent on rote memorization.   In order to become an official Book of Law, a booklet must recite the entirety of the Imperial Code of Law before a panel of established Books. It is said that this process can take up to two weeks, with breaks for meals and sleep (living Books are often meticulous about maintaining their physical health, with the goal of preserving their text for as long as possible). If the booklet successfully recites the entirety of the law with no mistakes, then they are immediately considered a Book of Law with no further certification required. All Books of Law are considered to have fully renounced their former human identities at the exact same moment that they become a Book.   If a Book of Law is ever, at any point in their lives, found to have made a mistake in the recitation of the law, they immediately lose their status as a Book. They must then pass the full test again if they wish to be reinstated.   Older Books generally prefer to be referred to as their full title, The Imperial Code of Law: Containing the Code of Judith and all Subsequent Additions and Amendments Since the Formation of the Viland Empire, Unabridged, but many younger books are beginning to go by the nickname "Judith" amongst the public. Perhaps this is because the ability to refer to them by a seemingly human name makes those less familiar with their order more comfortable with interacting with them. I suspect it's for similar reasons that Books of Law rarely object to being referred to individually with gendered pronouns, although I'm given to understand that amongst themselves they mostly use singular objectival pronoun it/its. Similarly, amongst themselves, they generally refer to each other as "copies," rather than the more expected monastic titles of "brother" or "sister."   Great noble houses currently known to be keeping living Books of Law include: House Haroe, House Ziglund, House Hersfled, House Jordain, House Baltiera, House Alteno, House Dolomar, and a vast majority of the great houses of the Tazza Highlands. And, of course, Emperor Heinrich I keeps at least 3 Books of Law in his employ at all times, in addition to having the original written Book of Law somewhere deep within his palace vaults.


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