Report on the Erdesant Estate

Report on the Erdesant Estate Distribution for Discussion in the Inheritance Law Reform Debates

By order and patronage of the Doge, I have prepared this report. It is true according to my recollection and honorable according to my conscience.


I was apprenticed to the guild of lawyers while still in my youth, these many decades ago. Most of the the work I did then is hardly worth recollection now. There were disputes about horses and cows, and problems with taxes and even some defenses of criminals. My inexperience meant that I did only the lowest tasks related to each case, especially carrying messages and organizing documents.

In my second summer of apprenticeship, I was assigned to work on the distribution of the Erdesant estate to its patriarch's sons after the old man's death. This was in the time before the ascension of the Doge and the attendant changes to our law. In that time, inheritance was determined by a rule of doubles: the first son inherited double what the second son received. The third son got half of what the second son received, and so on. The final two sons were to receive equal shares. The Erdesant patriarch had 5 sons, so the 32 parts of his estate were split into shares of 16, 8, 4, 2, and 2, for his sons from first to fifth.

Each of the five Erdesant sons have now passed into the other world. I knew them only in passing and through work on occasional legal projects. But I followed their careers as a matter of personal interest, and I came to understand how each one of them disposed of his part of the estate of their father.

The eldest Erdesant son was an avowed dilettante. As a young man he wished to build a great library that would attract visitors from across land and sea. He left it unfinished after several years, and its volumes were distributed to the prominent families of the capital, and remain in their homes today. He tried merchant shipping and had middling success. He tried the life of a playboy, but he never learned to speak smoothly or avoid deep attachments, and had only middling success there too. Later in life he gave up on all singular projects, but remained a generous patron of others, funding art and state building in all directions around the capital.

The second son did not seem naturally talented, but he had the focus that his older brother never learned. He built a security force of private soldiers in the days before the Doge arrived and such activity was made illegal. He amassed political power - an easy task when the tip of the sword is close at hand. After the ascension of the Doge, he was granted asuzerainty of the province south of the capital, whose borders he has assiduously worked to expand. There is a concensus that he was wise and capable as a leader.

The third son was famously uxorious. Upon meeting a woman who he thought was especially beautiful on the other side of the eastern mountains, he married her and lavished his fortune and attentions only on her. She wished to spend little time in our capital and more among her family and her tribe, and he followed her and duly obeyed. Perhaps because of a misunderstanding of customs or local manners, she has made enemies in the capital and did not wish her husband to be seen there during their last years of life. Their estate in the east is reportedly impressive, but few have had reason or inclination to visit and see it.

For the fourth son, his inheritance was a means to an escape. You may recall that even from a young age he felt enchanted by the forests of the north. He moved to one of the forests as soon as he reached the age of majority, and it is said that he even built his house there with his own hands. I have never learned why he wished to escape or what was not satisfying to him here, and we know only little of his fate. Some said that he learned music in the style of the north, and others that he learned their wood carving or even adopted their strange gods.

The fifth son has imitated his recent ancestors most successfully. He bought a small fleet of merchant ships with his initial endowment. His profits from sea trading funded land caravans that have had great success in charting new routes to the south and east. Most of our salt is sourced through his caravans, and all of the glass that we have come to use so much, besides many other goods. He supervised and expanded these ventures through to the end of his life and expanded his inheritance many fold. But of course he had a common problem of merchants: a talent for getting silver joined with a lack of creativity about what to do with it. He hoarded his fortune, spending almost nothing, and after his recent death it has been distributed to his seven sons, whose disposal of it we observe in turn.

The natural philosophers are confident that silver is only a substance, no better or worse than glass or air or blood or the dead earth. They say further that the lives of men are like the careers of leaves on a tree: appearing for a brief moment and quickly turning back to dust. The wicked will be wicked with silver or without it, and so also with the good. So the distribution of silver among men is scarcely worth consideration, being of no more importance than the distribution of dust on the leaves of a tree.

The merchants and statesmen do not live in ideas like the philosophers, but rather live in history, and they understand that getting the right silver to the right hands can ripple for better or worse through a hundred generations. They point out that our trade connection with the Western Isles was only established through the speculative patronage of a merchant's heir and the persistent lavishing of rewards from his surplus on explorers who eventually made contact. They have dozens of other examples at the ready, of our best art and the stone fortresses and cathedrals that enrich our little empire every day and which were only created by ensuring that our most talented men had full coffers.

The priests give several answers about the proper attitude toward silver. Some, like the philosophers, decry its vanity and the distraction it is known to foster in the weak minded. But others have pointed out that the spirit of man is improved when he seeks and finds justice. Ensuring that estates are justly apportioned after death is surely valuable for those who wish to please the gods. But it does not answer the question of which particular arrangement is the most just.

I live neither in the world of ideas nor the making of history, nor yet the exalted community of the gods. Rather, I live in a world of arguments. I have seen men and women argue on every side of everything, sometimes calmly and sometimes with great agitation and heat. It is a blessing to see every side of an issue. But it can also be a curse, because seeing too much and constantly arguing for different beliefs can muddle the mind.

The distribution of the Erdesant fortune can be used as an example for several arguments. First, we can see the wisdom of the philosophers. Those who wish to run away can run away with or without silver. Those who wish to dote on a wife can do it whether rich or poor. We may see those things and believe that inheritance scarcely matters.

But we can also see the correctness of the merchants. The concentration of wealth among the Erdesant sons led to big projects that could not have been completed if the inheritance had been truly equitable among all citizens of the capital. The caravans that bring us great treasures, and the buildings created by the eldest son are among these - gifts for our whole empire that could not have existed without the inheritance staying guarded closely within the family.

As for my recommendation. I recommend a minimum: that every rich man should give each of his sons enough for dignified self sufficiency, including a house and a freehold farm with animals. Beyond the minimum I have no objection to concentration among the older sons. I recommend an obligation falling on sons who receive more than their brothers to support those who receive less, and assiduous reinforcement of that obligation through education and law. Finally, I recommend that rich families orient their fortunes to the long term, to endeavors that are expected to last a thousand years.

Beyond these simple notions I have no strong recommendations. Each family will find its own eccentric way to distribute its riches, and each son will dispose of his inheritance according to his strengths and especially according to his own weaknesses. Silver is made of dust, but so are men. We are only leaves on a tree, but even so it is worthwhile to cultivate leaves as they grow and pay heed to where they fall.

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