Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 577
Awkward Court Case
Claude decided to see his mother in court, believing that she had willingly chosen to cut him and his younger siblings off for good the moment she decided to actually sue them. The noble court of the kingdom was responsible for mediating between disputes of nobles, chief among which being quarrels concerning inheritance. However, there was no precedent of a mother suing her own children for not wanting to bear the debt she incurred despite being in a different household.
Most of the cases the noble court handled dealt with exiled noble descendants who came back with claims of inheritance. But Claude's mother's case was a whole other headache without any precedent whatsoever. Not to mention, the case had been thrown out twice beforehand, only for it to be submitted again.
Initially, Madam Ferd was in the same household as her three children, but with the king's interference in posthumously making Claude's dead father a viscount, another branch Ferd household had been created. Yet, while something didn't quite make sense for Claude's branch to bear the debt of his mother's branch, those arguments were hard to formulate.
During the third case submission, Claude's mother emphasised the debt of upbringing her three children owed her and demanded them to acknowledge it and take the initiative to contribute to the household fief by inheriting the debt. As for why they ought to do so, it was argued that it was because they were rich but the household itself was poor.
It was akin to robbing the rich to aid the poor. Their mother wanted to force them to bear debt that didn't belong to them. The judges of the noble court had many discussions about it and all believed the case should be thrown out and never entertained again, as that would create a precedent and a loophole in the kingdom's laws for future cases of the heirs of the household to pass on debt to their siblings' branch families.
However, the judges were actually encouraged to take the case. It appeared that quite a number of elites in the kingdom were displeased with Count Claude's despicable attitude towards the kingdom and wanted to humiliate him through the case. In fact, his mother had been goaded by them into taking the matter to court in the first place.
It was an action to save the elites' faces. Claude, as Lord Militant, had often foiled the royal court's plans despite being the commander-in-chief of the autonomous region. The military administration of the region even dared to completely ignore the ministries of the army and navy to go to war on their own, almost behaving like their own independent nation sometimes. While the royal court could take no strategic action against Claude's position, they could target his personal affairs to erode his influence in the region.
So, Claude quickly received the noble court's summons to be there within three months for the trial. The reason the time frame was so long was because Angelina and Bloweyk were also defendants. The court also had to issue a formal summons and afford them a reasonable timeframe to return.
The news spread rather quickly. Most council members of the region, Skri included, had heard about it and wrote to Claude in concern as well as to offer him advice. Bernard intentionally went to Saint Cyprean to meet Claude, having come from a legal background and being among the most familiar with the kingdom's laws. His suggestion was for Claude to not contest the case and pay the fine to settle the case.
Bernard told Claude that it wasn't a simple case, as the whole premise the case was resting on went against the spirit of the kingdom's laws to begin with. Yet, not only did the noble court not throw the case out, they even decided to hold a trial. If Claude decided to see the court case through, he would be held up at the royal capital endlessly. The nobles could have each trial a month apart, and Claude would have to attend all of them. The longer it dragged out, the greater the slight to his reputation would be, not to mention all the lost time.
"What about having a representative at the trial?" Claude asked, not wanting to go to the royal capital if he could.
"There's only one situation in which a representative can be sent, and that is the announcement of the verdict," Bernard said with a stern look. The protocol of the noble court necessitated that both the defendant and plaintiff show up during the trial for it to count, so the two of them would have to be present in court. For Claude, his presence was equal to humiliation.
Claude also couldn't ignore the case outright. Even if it was just a tantrum his mother was throwing, he had to go to trial and argue against her claim that he is unfilial. If he wasn't willing to show up, his mother would win the case by default, and not only would Claude have to bear that accusation, he would have to settle the debt and accept whatever punishment the noble court had for him. It would definitely negatively affect his reputation.
"Perhaps many are counting on the fact you won't show up for trial so they can slander you without fear of consequence. Even if you stay in the region the whole time, they'll continue fashioning lies about you in the capital. If you don't show up for the trial, your reputation as an unfilial son will be set in stone. Those who don't know better will think that you and your siblings are in the wrong."
Bernard also didn't encourage actually fighting the case out with his mother, as it was most probably a setup for Claude to keep him held up in the royal capital and be unable to deal with the developments of the region. If the course dragged on for two years, it meant he wouldn't be able to leave the royal capital and take care of urgent matters in the region.
"So, I suggest that you make a no contest plea and immediately send a representative to hear the verdict and immediately accept the punishment and fines. The advantage would be cutting off all relations with the plaintiff so that they can't affect you any longer. Your mother and elder brother's household will henceforth have nothing to do with you, as your mother suing you is akin to cutting off your relationship of mother and son. The payment she will be getting will be reimbursement for the 'upbringing' she offered and she would no longer be able to hold that against you."
Bernard's argument made sense. In normal inheritance cases in noble families, once the verdict was declared, the noble court would cut off familial ties between the plaintiff and defendant to uphold the integrity of the verdict so that no subsequent claims could be made. That way, he would no longer be held back by his mother and elder brother.
Claude's head hurt and his heart wearied. He thought about the suggestion for a few days and wrote to Angelina and Bloweyk to explain the court proceedings, and told them how he intended to deal with them. He had one ironclad destroyer deliver his letters to the region.
Fortunately, no pressing developments manifested in Shiks during the legal trouble. Things were going according to his plan. Even after the ten western prefectures were swallowed up by neighbouring nations, the Duke of the Northlands didn't budge. Claude retreated his troops from Saint Cyprean according to plan and the Duke of Sunset River's men reclaimed the lost Shiksan capital as they cheered their successful driving out of the invaders.
By the time they reached Port Patkara, it was near the end of the 1st month. The replies to Claude's letters had been delivered, alongside official letters appointing him to be their representative. Angelina didn't think it heartbreaking at all to cut ties with their foolish mother. In fact, she hated her for actually suing them for such ridiculous reasons. She expressed complete solidarity with Claude and supported forming a completely distinct House Han Ferd that had no ties to House Sen Ferd at all.
Bloweyk's reply was simple. He said that the mother he loved was forever dead. He had reregistered and adopted the Han Ferd name once more and refused to acknowledge he had anything to do with House Sen Ferd. Apart from the replies, the letters of appointment allowed Claude to represent them in the trial. Whatever the verdict would be, they would share the consequences.
Claude also wrote a letter of appointment and handed all three to Bernard. He would be the one to represent the three siblings in court and end it with the first hearing. While they would lose the case and a huge sum of money, they would be free of their fool of a mother and scheming elder brother, which might come as a huge relief.
On the 25th of the 2nd month, the noble court started the trial of Madam Ferd's case. The court was filled with nobles there to precede over the hearings. None of them expected that Bernard would represent all three of the Ferd siblings make a no-contest plea on their behalf and shoulder the debt.
However, Bernard also argued that Arbeit was also one of Madam Ferd's children, and thus would be liable for the debt of upbringing to her as well. As such, the debt House Sen Ferd owed would be borne by all four siblings equally, which was a reasonable request. Not a single judge expressed any objection to the argument. Even Madam Ferd had no arguments against it. So, the court decided that Claude, Angelina and Bloweyk had to pay a total of 750 thousand crowns for the debt.
Bernard then suggested that since the queen was the debtor, the payment would be made to her directly instead of through Madam Ferd's hands, as it wouldn't be safe to hand her such a huge sum of money. As such, the queen's representative was asked to split the debt to them directly in the trial itself. After that, Bernard directly handed over 75 pieces of bills issued by the overseas bank each representing ten thousand crowns in value. The queen's representative collected them and gave them a signed receipt.
Lastly, Bernard demanded that House Sen Ferd and House Han Ferd be properly severed from one another, a request which Madam Ferd fully opposed. She believed that her connections with the three siblings should be maintained as a bond of blood wasn't something the court could sever.
But the judges believed that since the three siblings had paid back their share of the debt, they had fulfilled their obligation as her children. In fact, Madam Ferd suing the three to court already made their familial bond null and void. From that day onwards, House Sen Ferd would no longer be able to leech off House Han Ferd. The court formally cut off familial ties between them.
Nobody expected the case to come to such a swift end. Even those that plotted the scheme didn't think Claude and his siblings would not contest the case at all and pay the debt immediately. In essence, Claude's mother could no longer be used to trouble him any longer.
It happened so abruptly that even the elites that orchestrated the case didn't know how to react. They were under the impression that Claude and his siblings would flip out against their mother over that million-crown debt and fight the case for at least a few years. Even a few thousand crowns was enough to turn father against son, wife against husband, let alone a million.
That aside, due to precedent being set, the nobles who intended to exploit that loophole didn't let go of the chance. In the coming months, lawsuits by one sibling against another or their parents, by a branch house against themain house, came nonstop. All of them wanted their relatives to bear debt and wanted to use Claude's case as precedent to argue their own.
The noble court was put in a really awkward position. Allowing an unreasonable case to go to trial was a mistake. With the precedent set in stone, there was no refusing subsequent cases. The following cases, however, didn't end as quickly as Claude's did. Some of the plaintiffs were willing to fight the case for two to three years for the sake of a few hundred crowns, and didn't care about publicising the matter either. All newspapers and tabloids were filled with complaints about unfair verdicts from such cases.
When they began to look deeper into it, they realised that Claude's case was truly unreasonable. Yet, there wasn't much they could do to overturn it. After all, Claude and his siblings paid 750 thousand crowns according to the verdict, and nobody was willing to reimburse them for it. Yet, refusing that case as precedent would call into question the kingdom's justice system. No judge could afford to be held accountable for such an action.
Arbeit ended up the worst off among the Ferd siblings. Even after having 750 thousand crowns paid off, House Sen Ferd still had a debt of 250 thousand crowns with a yearly interest of 12500 crowns. Yet, his viscounty didn't even yield ten thousand crowns per year. They would still be unable to pay the interest after a three-year period and still faced the risk of losing the Title and fief.
And with the court ruling that severed ties between House Han Ferd and House Sen Ferd, Arbeit and Madam Ferd could no longer depend on Claude's protection and aid. While the court case was spurred by some other party behind the scenes, Madam Ferd and Arbeit did also have the intent of taking advantage of Claude and the other siblings. However, the verdict was a huge disappointment. Even after winning the case, they didn't get a single crown and still owed a quarter of the debt.
For the sake of the trial, Madam Ferd and Arbeit had to travel to the royal capital from their fief and live in the mansion the king gave House Sen Ferd. Using the ten thousand crowns Claude gave them, they sought out all sorts of legal counsel and bribed the right people to get the case to trial. In the end, they won, though it didn't do much to solve their predicament. Instead, they spent most of the money they were given.
As such, when Bernard visited and demanded the mother and son for the money House Han Ferd paid to maintain the mansion in Whitestag and the staff salaries on their behalf, the two of them refused to pay the few-hundred-crown sum. In the end, they settled by selling the mansion to Bernard for some two thousand crowns.
The case came to a close just as the Shiksan invasion ended. What followed was the transport of immigrants from Port Patkara to the region. Claude submitted the list of soldiers with merit to the ministry of the army and soon received an invitation to participate in the award ceremony, during which Claude would be promoted by the king to a hereditary marquis.
Claude tossed the notice into the trash and had Fachselin write the ministry of the army a letter excusing him of participating in the ceremony, citing a bad cold as the reason. Once news of that broke out, Thundercrash and Typhoon's officers did the same and all refused to go to the award ceremony.