Diamondback v. Tunnelrat et. Axeteeth
Parish Court of Quan, 3rd District
Ignatious P. Fizzlewig, Esq. Presiding
Cite as: Diamondback V. Tunnelrat, 245 3rdPar (1107)
The case before us concerns questions of property, ownership, and personhood.
It also concerns the sale of an ear.
The plaintiff is one Mr. Trawler A. Diamondback, member of the Diamondback clan of trolls of the Brass-Tree Mountains. The co-defendants are a Ms. Beardlynn Tunnelrat and a Mx. Aewyn Axeteeth, both dwarves, also of the Brass-Tree Mountains.
Mx. Axeteeth is currently in possession of an ear which was the previous property of Mr. Diamondback. The ear was sold to Axeteeth by Tunnelrat.
Diamondback makes the following claim: allowing Axeteeth to possess the ear constitutes a harm to himself. He seeks the return of the ear and requests the funds associated with its sale to be relinquished unto him.
All parties agree to the following facts. A skirmish broke out between the Diamondbacks and the dwarves during the Brass-Tree autumnal equinox fete. The fete is a centuries-old tradition, occurring every year and held in the foothills alongside the Cenen river. Brawls are as much a part of the festivities as the paper lanterns, the stewing of chicken heads, and the traditional weasel-peasel dance. Neither party makes complaint about the violence done to them or by them at the skirmish.
“Popped me right in the kisser,” said Tunnelrat, whistling through the gap in her teeth. “A great shot. Couldn’t let it go though. So I took a slash at his ear.”
“Very clean cut. Sliced it right off,” Diamondback responded, displaying to the court the new ear that had grown in place of the old. “Barely any scar and no complications. Amazing technique.”
Around the second hour of morning, the skirmish died down. All parties involved resumed the festivities and collected their winnings. Diamondback’s ear was amongst Tunnelrat’s trophies.
Usually prizes such as ears are valued for their ornamentation, which often include jewels of substantial value. Neither side disputes that the jewels and other baubles found on Diamondback’s ear were Tunnelrat’s to claim as spoils of the skirmish. In the usual course of things, however, the ornamentation and other valuables are removed and the appendage is discarded, left to petrify upon the next rising of the sun.
Such are the healing powers of trolls that, if the appendage were retrieved prior to petrification, it could be reattached without much issue. However, since most troll appendages will grow back without intervention, trolls seldom attempt to find their lost flesh. Diamondback affirmed this observation, stating “I simply could not be bothered to find it.”
The dispute therefore centers around what occurred next.
Axeteeth, an acquaintance of Tunnelrat’s, suffered damage similar to that of Diamondback, losing a left ear in the skirmish. In spite of their wounds, Axeteeth sought out Tunnelrat for dance and frivolity.
Tunnelrat explained, “I was in the middle of lifting the shinies from the ear when ol’ Axey showed up and asked if I wasn’t up for a bit of grog and grunge. Axey was bleeding pretty bad. A rockhead had gashed them up how I’d gashed up Mr. Diamondback, but not near so pretty. But they didn’t seem bothered by it and I already had a fair bit of blood on me, so a little more wasn’t going to hurt, so I said, ‘Aye,’ stuffed the ear in my pocket, and went off with them.
“Later, after we’d sank a fair few, we was laughing and chatting and they says, ‘I won’t be half so pretty or hear half as well, now that I’m down an ear.’ And me, being more than a little wheezed, pulls the troll ear out of my pocket and says, ‘Well, for fifteen and three I’ll stitch this here one on for you.’
“Well, we had a good laugh about that. And then drank some more. And then some more. And then perhaps a wee bit more. And ole Axey slapped fifteen and three down on the table and says, ‘Do yer damndest!’ And then flops their head down on the table, like a lamb laying down to slaughter.
“Now, any reasonable person would have told ‘em to sit up and stop playing the fool. But, as I was saying, we’d drank well beyond the point of reason. And I happened to have a pin of iron and a scrap o’ silk on me. So…I stitched it up. And I will admit: it was a wretched bit of stitching.”
“Aye,” Axeface here interjected, “Looks like she was trying to quilt during an earthquake.”
Tunnelrat shrugged. “As I say, it was a wretched bit of stitching. But welded on firm and tight. And didn’t seem like it would droop or go flying off during a spin o’ dancing. So, laughing fit to die, we went to join the others. Everyone thought it was a good bit o’ fun. Even the trolls laughed and cheered Axey on.”
“It was quite diverting,” Diamondback acknowledged. “And very poorly stitched.”
“We all had a bit of a laugh and figured it would calcify as soon as the sun came up and fall off like an old scab.”
But this was not the case.
“When I woke up the next morning,” Axeteeth explained. “It felt like I had an axe buried in my skull. And the side of my head itched like someone had poured a gourd full of ants down my ear. But I chalked it up to drink and went down to the forge for work. When I walk in, my boss looks at me like I’m taking a squat on his floor and says, ‘What the hell have you done to your face?’ Even then I barely knew what he was talking about. It wasn’t until I found a mirror that I remembered exactly what happened.”
As indicated by Axeteeth’s testimony, the ear had grafted itself onto their face, wholly and completely.
“I tried my damndest to pull the thing back off. But it was welded on tight. And, after a good bit of tugging, I realized that the beastly thing was working too—I could hear.”
Axeteeth consulted a dwarf physician. He indicated that such a thing wasn’t completely without precedent. That there were stories of similar incidents happening long ago.
“He prodded at it with a wee metal pin and tugged at it with his tweezers and then he recommended that I get some pretties for it, ‘cause it wasn’t going anywhere. He did offer to cut it off, though. But he was going to charge me twenty and four, which is more than I paid to have the thing stitched on!” Axeteeth paused here to muse, “Though he was sober, I suppose.”
Though the ear looked out of place, Axeteeth was able to resume activities as normal.
“I actually hear better now than before. I can hear a fly pinching a loaf in the next room. Which is…about as exciting as it sounds. Though it does come in handy down in the tunnels.” Axeteeth paused. “Super hearing generally, I mean. Not the hearing flies shit part.”
Axeteeth indicated that they suffered derision and mockery from some of the other dwarves, but were otherwise able to return to a normal and productive life. Many dwarves actually sought them out, seeking information and advice on how to graft on troll appendages so as to heal similar ailments.
Word about Axeteeth’s luck spread throughout the tunnels and of the Brass-Tree Mountains. It found its way to the trolls and, eventually, back to Diamondback.
“At first I believed that the stories were just nonsense and hearsay. But then an associate said that he’d seen the ear and knew for a certainty it was mine. Then I had to go check for myself. I sought Axeteeth out at their business establishment. When I saw, the truth was undeniable—it was my very own ear. The twin and match to this one,” Diamond back said, displaying again the ear that had regrown.
“I’m afraid that I became quite irate. I acknowledge that I said some things that were regrettable.”
“He called me a dog-twaddling ear thief!” Axeteeth interjected.
Diamondback was removed from the property by the local security forces. After regaining his composure, he returned to Axeteeth and asked for the ear back. They refused, saying it was fairly bought and fairly owned. Diamondback then went to Tunnelrat, claiming the money from the sale of the ear was rightfully his. When she refused, he sought the advice of counsel. No agreement could be found between the parties, resulting in our hearing of this case.
Diamondback asserts that allowing another to own and wear his own flesh constitutes a harm to himself. When we posed to him that the ear was spoils of a fair and well-fought skirmish, he argued that “flesh was intimate and sacred.” That it should hold a special status, above ordinary property and goods. In doing so, he proposes to separate flesh into a distinct and elevated class, when compared with ordinary spoils. Diamondback requested to speak personally before the court and made the following plea:
“The ear is a part of me, indivisible as I am indivisible. It has been with me since I was born. It was the instrument through which I heard all the sweetest sounds of life. The first cries of my rock children. The whispers of my beloved shale mate. It has kept me safe in the deepest depths of the Brass-Tree—alerting me to the shifting of the rocks and the hissing of venomous shade spiders, to whom not even a troll is immune. It was into that ear that my rock father made his final utterances.
“To see a part of myself on another is greatly distressing. Displacing. What am I if I am both here and there? Am I unified and discrete? Or am I myriad and diffuse? Am I stone or am I sand?
“As a troll, I must be stone. I must have all my parts and pieces gathered together. The ear is a part of my person, sacrosanct and irreplaceable.”
The counsel of Axeteeth responded thus—“Irreplaceable my fanny! He grew another friggin’ one! Besides, them trolls never go looking for their bits and pieces. They don’t want them, so why shouldn’t we take ‘em?”
Indeed, the prevalence of abandoned and petrified body parts throughout the paths and passes of the Brass-Tree Mountains is well documented and commonly known. It was not two years ago that this court presided over Calcite v. McGrew, in which a Lacy McGrew from a nearby township complained that the prevalence of troll appendages of a particularly personal and intimate nature, in particular one member that the local birds had taken to using as a favorite perch, made the Koleolee Pass an unsuitable hiking grounds for her children. To keep her little ones from seeing “the naughty troll bits,” she made them wear dark glasses. The result of which was a small pack of children bumping into trees, tripping over roots, and hugging bears.
Axeteeth was allowed to personally respond to Diamondback’s arguments. “I ain’t got no pretty speech, like Diamondback. But I’ve heard pretty things out of this here ear. And I expect to hear a bunch more. And takin’ that away from me would be just plain wrong. It kept him safe down in the mines; well, it’ll keep me safe too. And in the forests, where hearing a fotex or a lyger or a tredulo can mean life or death. And I got babies of my own. And I wanna hear them too. In both ears, if I can. I wanna hear their love on all sides of me, comin’ at me from all around. ‘Cause that’s the way love flows.”
Axeteeth then cleared their throat and said, “Plus it’s welded to my face. And I’ll stab any fucker that tries to cut it off.”
And though perhaps not so eloquently put, Axeteeth’s point is well made—returning the ear would be a severe and extraordinary hardship. Indeed, it would be punitive. And this court can find no wrong in their actions.
However, prior to making our judgment, we posed to Diamondback the following questions:
“You assert that your personhood is being assaulted—without the ear, you are no longer the person you were before?”
“But people lose parts and pieces every day! Indeed, even now you are shedding little pebbles in our courtroom. Are you a different person now? How is it that the loss of an ear has disrupted your personhood, but the loss of these pebbles has not?”
Diamondback paused here to confer with counsel. Finally, he responded, “The pebbles fall from my body, are struck by the sun and calcify. They are inert. The ear is still alive. It is still flesh. My flesh.”
“Even though it is on the body of another? If the ear had been left to calcify, would you still be altered? Would you still be the same person?”
After a moment’s thought, Diamondback replied, “I would be a different person, but not in a way that I found distressing.”
“Merely seeing the ear on another is enough to cause you distress?”
Diamondback shook his head. “I can feel it. Its presence is an itch in the ether that I cannot scratch. Sometimes I hear snatches of sounds that are not there.”
We find that this is the crux of the argument—distress. And though we do not dismiss Diamondback’s distress (we certainly would not want to see our nose stitched onto the face of another), we do not feel that the degree of distress outweighs the harm that would come to Axeteeth should the ear be forcibly removed. It is unfortunately often that the law is enforced in a way that one party or another finds to be distressing. Particularly when it comes to property rights.
Diamondback admits that he discarded the ear. The fact that it was later discovered to have a greater value than he estimated is immaterial.
And thus we would have dismissed Diamondback’s claim and found in favor of Axeteeth and Tunnelrat. Indeed, we were raising our gavel, about to issue the order when Diamondback interrupted to make a final argument.
“Safety! And protection. The ear must be returned to me for safety and protection.”
“He already tried that!” shouted Axeteeth. “And I already said: me not having an ear makes me less safe.”
Diamondback raised a hand. “Not simply for me, but for all trolls. If it becomes known that our flesh can be used to replace lost or defective flesh in others, we shall never know a moment’s peace. We shall be hunted, our guts and appendages sold in every black market. If others are allowed to buy and sell our flesh, we will be domesticated, animals kept for slaughter.”
When we pressed Axeteeth and Tunnelrat for a reply to this charge, Axeteeth simply shrugged. “Ain’t my problem.”
Though we find Axeteeth’s lack of empathy to be repugnant, dislike cannot be a deciding factor in a case. At the same time, we cannot so blithely dismiss Diamondback’s concerns.
The courts exist to interpret laws. And the tragic essence of our existence is this: in interpreting the law, we must choose winners and losers. However, we cannot do so blithely—we must do so in a way that causes as little harm as possible.
Diamondback’s assertion already seems to be bearing out. Indeed, even we have heard whispers of increased attacks in the Brass-Tree Mountains on the trolls. And though it is not certain that this violence is connected to the discovery that troll appendages can be grafted onto others, it is possible and even likely.
But what are we to do? Creating a separate class of property for body parts, subject to separate rules, requirements, and penalties, is the purview of the legislature. Any court doing so would be guilty of gross overreach.
We found ourselves at the center of a great moral dilemma. If we do not protect the trolls we have failed ethically; if we classify body parts as a separate class of property, we have failed legally. Our brain fairly burned itself to cinders turning the problem over and over. Indeed we might have collapsed from the strain, had it not been for one small serendipitous event:
Diamondback, itching at some fly or stuck piece of wax, poked a finger in his ear.
But it was Axeteeth who flinched.
Addressing Axeteeth, we asked, “Are you alright?”
“Just a twinge in my earhole. Happens every once in a while.”
Addressing Diamondback, we asked, “You say that you can feel the ear. You can feel it now?”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Diamondback said.
We saw it plainly then—the sympathetic link between the ears was obvious. Diamondback was digging in his ear with the gusto of a miner who has stumbled across a fresh vein of gold. But it was Axeteeth who winced in discomfort. It brought to mind some of the fetish dolls made by the priests of the northern isles. And if a lock of hair or a drop of blood can forge a link between a person and a stuffed scrap of rag, how much stronger must the link be between a person and their own living flesh?
And while it is outside the purview of the courts to legislate, it is not beyond our mandate to inform. We would even argue that it is the essence of our duty.
“Mr. Diamondback, do you think that you could, perhaps, wiggle your ear?”
All persons in the court looked at us in a manner most confused. And so we continued. “If you could just humor us one small experiment. Mr. Diamondback said that he could feel Axeteeth’s ear. Even across great distances. We thought it might be interesting to see just how strong of a connection there is between the two ears. So, if you please, Mr. Diamondback–wiggle your ear?”
Diamondback wiggled his own left ear, looking as if he were trying to solve a most challenging riddle. And, after a moment’s pause, Axeteeth’s ear began to move in sympathy.
“Hey now!” Axeteeth shouted. “Don’t you go fiddling with my ear!”
“And do you think,” we said, continuing to address Diamondback, “that if you felt significant pain in that ear, that such pain might be transferred to its twin?”
Understanding spread across Diamondback’s face. “Perhaps, Your Grace. It might just be so.”
We turned then to Axeteeth. “And would you, Mx. Axeteeth, be willing to pay a small, monthly stipend for the privilege of not receiving, perhaps, random stabs of pain and wiggling ears?”
“This is extortion!” shouted Axeteeth’s counsel.
“Mx. Axeteeth is welcome to dispose of the ear if they choose. And Mr. Diamondback here is welcome to do with his person as he likes. Including, perhaps, piercing their own ear in the middle of the night when most people would be sleeping?”
“But what if I do the same thing back to him?” Axeteeth said, pinching at their new ear.
“Then I think that would encourage Mr. Diamondback not to abuse the power he has over you. I think this will encourage you both to arrive at a mutually beneficial arrangement. You, Mx. Axeteeth, will have a new, fully functional ear. And you, Mr. Diamondback, will receive some compensation.
“And, I believe, knowing that someone else can cause you significant pain or control the movements of any stolen appendage or organ will discourage the illegal harvesting and trade of such, would you not agree, Mr. Diamondback?”
After taking a moment to confer, Diamondback and his counsel responded that this indeed would likely be a sufficient deterrent.
Thus, we dismiss Diamondback’s claim. The ear in question shall remain the property of Mx. Axeteeth and the proceeds from the sale of which shall remain with Ms. Tunnelrat. Any contract providing Diamondback compensation for the lease and peaceful use of the ear shall be between the two parties.
Such is our ruling. And here be it:
Ignatious P. Fizzlewig, Esq. Presiding Judge
Summer of Cherries and Year of the Duck, 1107
© 2023 by Nick Thomas
Author’s Note: I spend a lot of time reading case law for work. Some of the cases are super dry, but some are incredibly compelling–high drama with strong narrative arcs. One day, while staring out the window, I imagined a court case in which one party was trying to sell an ear they had found. The idea made me snort out loud and made me want to see if I could tell a similar story using the structure of a court opinion.
Nick Thomas spends his days building geodomes, playing squash, and drafting legislation for the Ohio General Assembly. He aspires to write stories that capture all the wonderful, weird beauty of life. He lives in Columbus, Ohio in a ramshackle old house with his wife, two children, and one little ghost, all of whom he loves very dearly.