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Question: Rules-Lawyering the Law


August 9, 2016 by Lyn

Wsteria asks: Can you promise things to the universe, not a specific person? Or can you promise things to a person that have nothing to do with that person specifically? For example, promising your bedroom or a friend, “I promise not to agree to belong to anyone during my duration as a student at Addergoole.” Would that then void/prevent later Belonging-under-duress? Assuming it’s possible, do people use this as a preventative measure, or is there an obvious reason why doing so is a bad idea?

Dr. Feu Drake, Professor of Law, handles the technical part:

One of the first things a student of the Law learns is that all Oaths are, in essence, made to the world, rather than to an individual. Agatha touched on that, I believe, in answering Shutsumon’s question on the relationship between Oaths and Belonging.

When you make an Oath specifically to a person – “I promise you that I will keep you safe from harm,” is a very clumsy and poorly-thought-out example but one that I’ve heard more than once – that Oath comes with an escape clause: the person to whom you made that Oath can choose to release you from it. They must be willing to, of course, and before you ask (someone always does), no, you cannot order your Kept to release you from an Oath, and, while you can, if you are so inclined, torture or annoy someone until they release you from said promise, if they are not truly willing, the Oath is likely to backfire on both of you in unpleasant ways.

That is the second thing that Law students learn about Oaths, and about the Law as a whole – these are not just words. These are not rules made up by people, to be ignored or followed at your leisure, any more than gravity is. For those who have inherited sufficient of the genes of those commonly known as “Gods,” the Laws are more binding than gravity and other so-called natural laws. If a human attempts to ignore gravity, the world punishes him. If an Ellehemaei attempts to ignore or circumvent the Law, the world will punish it.

There are, of course, some “promises” that the universe cannot and will not enforce, and will, as mentioned above, sometimes punish one for trying to make, for instance: “I will never be harmed;” “I will live forever;” or “I will always…” anything. Also in this category, and even more likely to be punished, are things like “I will not be subject to the Laws.”

To answer your first question concisely, yes, you can promise things to the universe, and, indeed, this is more common than making a promise to a specific person. However, such oaths are far harder to escape than those made to a specific person so, as always, it is wise to be very careful with what you swear.

As to the rest of your question, it’s possible someone else might be better qualified to answer that.

Rozen picks up from there, smiling:

Why don’t students just promise not to Belong to anyone? Well, first, most first-year students don’t know about Belonging until after they’re already caught, and they don’t usually know about Oaths, either, so they never really have a chance to promise not be Owned.

But say you do know, or you’re a second- or third-year student who’s still more prey than predator – someone like Joff, maybe, although I think the little freak actually likes being Owned – and you know enough to make an Oath that you’re not going to Belong to anyone. Or, say, to get around the mess of making an Oath to circumvent the Law, you say you’ll never say the words “I Belong,” or something.

Now put yourself right in the middle of Hell Night. It’s dark, it’s scary, and there are monsters running through the halls. You’re still kind of spooked to begin with, all these people who look like something from a comic book, and if you’re extra lucky, you’ve gotten picked up by a Crew that has been whispering propaganda to you about what some of the older students do. Maybe they told you I eat people. I love that rumor.

And then there I am, doing what I do on Hell Night – being the big, bad wolf. Grabbing you and throwing you around a little. And that guy you liked, who seemed to nice, steps up and says “leave her alone, Rozen, she’s mine.”

You know what I say next, don’t you?

Yeah. “Is that true, little girl? Do you Belong to him?”

And there you are, having been so clever as to swear an Oath never to say those words. You know where that leaves you, if you’re not a squirmy little thing like Kailani that can wiggle right out of my arms?

Yeah. That leaves you getting dragged back to the troll’s lair. And let me tell you, after two days alone with me, it doesn’t matter if you can’t say “I Belong.” You’ll do anything I tell you to.


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