Although changelings may not always like or even respect one another, the majority of changelings recognize their common bond of slavery and escape. Except for the few twisted wretches who work for the Gentry, the one of the few goals all changelings can agree upon is maintaining their freedom from the Fae. As a result, changelings naturally band together for mutual defense and support, to prevent any of their number from being dragged back to Arcadia or enslaved in the mortal world. Local changeling communities are called freeholds, a name that reflects their focus on self-determination and mutual aid. Changelings who have recently escaped from Faerie are always offered the hospitality of the local freehold. These refugees are treated as guests for as much as a month, or perhaps even longer if they suffered mental or physical harm during their escape. After this initial period of open hospitality, changelings are usually offered a chance to join the freehold.
The decision to join a freehold can naturally be changed later, but is nonetheless of vital import, because membership in a freehold helps determine both a changeling’s loyalties and the contacts she will gain in the changeling community. Although some freeholds that are overcrowded or in turmoil may be reluctant to accept new members, joining the majority of freeholds is a simple act for any changeling not suspected of dangerous insanity, aiding the Fae or similar dire problems or crimes. The prospective member need only swear a pledge to give her services to protect and defend the freehold and its members from the Fae and their allies and to never knowingly give aid or comfort to these enemies. Almost all freeholds include this clause in their pledges. Many freeholds also include other more extensive clauses. Some expect all who join to agree to aid and defend the members and the freehold as a whole against any external threat, including ones having nothing to do with the Fae. While most freeholds also have a clause that removes this protection if a changeling brings down the force of mortal law against himself, a few freeholds lack this clause and agree to shield changelings from even the full force of the police and courts. Naturally, most freeholds include provisions for expelling Lost who knowingly or sometimes even carelessly bring serious harm or threat of harm to the freehold. Almost all of the older and most traditional freeholds also require members to swear to obey the freehold’s official code of laws and the most authoritarian also require changelings to pledge to obey all of the leaders’ official pronouncements and edicts.
Various Midwestern freeholds use a very similar pledge. The one sworn in the Chicago freehold “Arlene’s Gather” is typical of the rest: “On my freedom and my honor, I swear to obey the written laws of this freehold and to aid my fellows against the Gentry.” Meanwhile, in the Waltham Brethren, a recent revision of the centuriesold oath now reads, “Before others who have shared my captivity and who are now my brothers and sisters in freedom, I swear to obey the laws of the Brethren and the directives of its appointed leader. I further pledge to protect my brothers’ and sisters’ freedom and to forever defend them from the True Fae and their agents.” Changelings who desire to attain power and status in their freehold or to hold some office usually must supplant their basic pledge of membership with more extensive oaths of office, but this original pledge defines membership in the freehold. Even the most isolated and reclusive changelings are expected to work with the other members of their freehold when the Wild Hunt comes seeking one of their number.
Many freeholds are bound to one another by pacts of mutual aid, but a changeling’s loyalty is first and foremost to his motley and the freehold they all belong to. This focus on mutual aid and defense has forged two stereotypes for changelings who choose to have little to do with their freehold. Some have little contact with their freehold and do their best to avoid contact when calls for aid go out, but come asking for aid of their own if the Wild Hunt or privateers come seeking them. Despite any and all previous times they failed to aid their fellow changelings, unless they are known to be traitors or otherwise forsworn, the rest of the freehold aids them, but usually asks them to leave the freehold immediately afterwards. In contrast, some isolated changelings rarely or never seek out their own kind for companionship or for any other non-essential purpose, but always make certain they are easy to contact and arrive swiftly if called upon to aid the freehold or its members. These stoic and isolated knights and ronin are widely regarded as eccentric, but command no small amount of respect.
Freeholds of Australia
No two freeholds govern themselves in precisely the same fashion. In areas such as Europe and North America where the seasonal Great Courts hold sway, a freehold seems to run smoothest when governed by a rotating seasonal king or queen. A Summer King or Queen holds on to power until an agreed-upon sign of autumn arrives, at which point the ruler relinquishes power to a new Autumn King or Queen. Sometimes the same four changelings hold the office in turn; sometimes a number of candidates vie for rulership with each change of the seasons.
The Lost have a penchant for favoring elaborate power structures in a freehold’s Court. Many freeholds have a number of secondary positions and honorifics to assist the ruler. In some places, the number is small: a sheriff or lord-marshal who oversees security affairs and law enforcement, a minister or seneschal to look after many of the administrative demands of the freehold or perhaps a small council of advisors. In many more, the potential offices a changeling might hold are many, and even transition with the season. While the Spring Queen of Montréal holds court, she appoints several changelings to her Council of Graces to oversee celebrations, collect tribute in the form of art and diplomatically smooth out many feuds and rivalries within the freehold. When she cedes the throne to the Summer King, the Council of Graces steps down with her. For his part, the Summer King then organizes a cadre of Knight-Defenders, Knight-Hospitalers and Knight-Champions to carry out the tasks needed for a Summer-held freehold. Some freeholds find it advisable to have certain offices that remain unchanged through all four seasons, with the same Minister of Doors serving year-round. Others accept certain cabinet offices that remain constant, but the appointee changes with the ruler. The result is frequently Byzantine, but strangely many changelings feel quite at home with the situation. The many offices provide a welcome motivation for the Lost. By chasing one’s ambition toward a ministry, knighthood or even the freehold’s throne — and by serving that office once acquired — a changeling finds a new potential place in the world. Even the most paranoid Lost find courtly intrigue comforting in a way, as there’s something honest about the politicking for a commonly desired privilege. After all, you know your rival is working against you, but at least you know why. As a result, the intrigues and offices of a freehold are first and foremost in many a changeling’s struggles to find a new place to call home.
Tolerance and Madness
One of the most distinctive features of almost every freehold is the tolerance for both eccentricity and dysfunction. Although it’s a sensitive subject, all changelings know that their lives have been horrific and strange beyond even their own ability to describe or remember. As a result, many relate to each other and often to the world around them somewhat strangely. Various mild derangements are unfortunately widespread, as well as significant to occasionally extremely profound gaps in social skills. Some changelings spent the adolescent years when most humans learn to relate to one another in bondage to the Fae, while others spent decades as slaves and have forgotten most of the ways they used to deal with the rest of humanity. Especially among those who have only recently escaped, there is no shortage of changelings who jump at another’s touch, even when this touch is both casual and fleeting, or stare off at nothing for long periods of time. While most learn to suppress this behavior when among mortals, another of the functions of a freehold is to be a place where such behaviors are accepted and acknowledged. In most freeholds, reproving someone for some bit of eccentricity that is neither harmful nor disruptive is considered rude and heartless.
Some freeholds are less tolerant, and for practical reasons. For one, they argue that such practices encourage troubled changelings to wallow in their problems rather than solving them. More troublesome is the tendency to permit unacceptable and disruptive behavior under the guise of tolerating emotional problems. A changeling who attempts to disrupt a freehold under the pretense of dementia may quickly find that her fellow changelings have experience in discerning feigned mental illness from the real thing, and no sympathy for the former. Worse, a changeling who cannot distinguish between the real and unreal is like a beacon to any minions of the Gentry who hunt the rogue Lost.
Ultimately, the average freehold is a place where changelings have more freedom to be their eccentric selves, and even a place where those who suffer from mild mental illness can find greater solace and assistance than they would in the outside world. The Lost still remember when mortals imprisoned the insane like convicts a century ago, or when mortal doctors “treated” them with electroshock and lobotomies. Today, mortals in many nations leave many of the mentally ill to fend for themselves, and most of the rest are given treatments that occasionally help, so freeholds are now usually willing to arrange to obtain mortal medical treatment for some of their most severely deranged members. In some of the most organized and compassionate freeholds, the leaders make certain that especially reliable members obtain official paperwork allowing them to make decisions for the less mentally stable changelings. This tolerance can also have a darker side. In some freeholds, the dividing line between accepting and ignoring insanity becomes very blurred, leading to troubled changelings being allowed to commit suicide, flee into the Hedge seeking the Fae or attack mortals or members of the freehold, all because no one noticed exactly how serious the changeling’s problems were becoming or because no one cared enough to intervene.
The relatively small and intimate nature of freeholds also means that changelings who wish to manipulate their fellow changelings for their own advantage often know how to use a carefully crafted rumor or well-told lie to set off one or more of the more paranoid or otherwise unstable members of the freehold in a manner that is useful to their cause. One of the most significant tensions in the changeling community is between the idyllic and fully accepting image that most freeholds attempt to cultivate and the fact that, just as all small insular communities, freeholds are prone to vicious gossip, petty rivalries and lingering grudges. When combined with the exotic and stressful nature of life as a changeling, betrayals and attempts to seek advantage can easily result in truly horrific things happening to anyone getting in the way of a particular ambitious, skilled and amoral changeling.
On rare occasions, a loyalist, privateer or a changeling who simply wishes to use a particularly accepting freehold to her advantage, feigns serious mental illness and uses the freedom and acceptance granted her to learn the details of the lives of the members of the freehold, and if possible to work her way into their houses and hearts. Blackmail, identity theft or some other form of betrayal is then the traitor’s payment for the freehold’s compassion. While such events are uncommon, there are regularly rumors of such events occurring in some distant or not-so-distant freehold. But there is always some hope. The prodigal who is teetering on the brink of madness may yet find some solace in the company of others like him. There he is among those who see many of the things he does, the beautiful and frightening faces hidden away from mortal view. He isn’t hallucinating. He sees what is real behind the Mask. Among his own kind, he may at last be able to heal.
Acceptance and Membership
When members of a freehold first encounter changelings recently arrived from Faerie, most members simply introduce themselves, let the new arrivals know where to contact members of the freehold and then allow the newly returned Lost to make the first move. This first meeting can be dramatic; sometimes the newcomer hadn’t even known that she was the only one to make it back. She might even mistake the freehold member for one of the Gentry. Experienced changelings have learned that those newly escaped from Arcadia commonly develop one of two goals. Some feel utterly lost in the mortal world and seek out others of their kind for aid, advice or simple company. Some wish to have nothing to do with other changelings, changeling society or any other reminders of the Fae and want to resume their previous lives as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately, because of such daunting obstacles as the length of their absence and the likely presence of their fetches, these attempts prove either difficult or impossible. However, most changelings who seek mortal lives first prefer to test these problems for themselves and then come to their local freehold seeking advice later. The stark necessity of interacting with other changelings frequently banishes the resentment many feel at having to deal with people whose appearance and very existence reminds them of their half-remembered years of slavery.
The most basic service every freehold offers to newly escaped changelings is an explanation of the realities of their existence, including the past or present existence of their fetches, the specific dangers the changelings might face and the inability of most mortals to notice anything unusual about them. Most freeholds can provide newcomers a place to stay for a few days and often a small amount of money to help them start to make their way in the world again. To obtain more than these minimal services, changelings are expected to join the freehold.
The larger and most well-organized freeholds can frequently provide moderately good fake IDs, some of which even come with at least a limited credit and employment history. Other freeholds contain changelings who specialize in discreet research and detective work. These changelings are skilled at learning the current state of a changeling’s friends and family and determining whether the changeling’s fetch is still around and what it is doing. Finally, some freeholds offer another, darker service. Many changelings either want to attempt some sort of accommodation with their fetches or do not wish to try to regain their old lives and so have no reason to slay their fetches. Other changelings wish to destroy their fetches themselves. However, a fair number of changelings who wish to reclaim their lives from their fetches either have difficulty with the idea of what is, in one sense, cold-blooded murder or lack the skills to accomplish this deed in a discreet manner. As a result, a few larger freeholds employ a “Jack Ketch,” someone who specializes in the swift and careful disposal of fetches. Few changelings are willing to become hired killers, even of fetches. However, those who do can command high prices for their services.
Membership in a freehold gains a changeling access to such services, but taking advantage of the more extensive or difficult services, such as obtaining larger sums of money or asking for the disposal of a fetch, incurs obligations to either the freehold as a whole or (more commonly) to an individual member. These debts range from loans, which must be repaid, to more nebulous obligations to other members of the freehold. Such services are naturally available to all members, and not just the newly escaped. In this way, a freehold serves as a social and financial safety net for changelings, where a badly injured changeling can obtain goblin fruit, a changeling who has incurred some trouble can obtain a loan or even a new ID and all members can find allies to defend themselves against recapture. Payment for most such services is typically made in kind rather than in money. Every changeling is expected to be able to provide, or at least help with, some sort of service useful to other changelings. These services can range from something as simple as free food or a spare room, but every changeling who asks for a significant service is expected to contribute something in return. This arrangement is the cornerstone of changeling society, and those who favor the courtly intrigue of a freehold often sit at the center of a web of favors, promises and allegiances The most basic and central service freeholds offer is dealing with threats from the Fae and their allies. Victims of attacks by privateers or Fae are expected to recompense the members of the freehold who aid them, just as all members of the freehold are expected to help out when the Fae threatens a member or one of their mortal loved ones. Unfortunately, the Fae and their agents are well aware of these pacts of mutual aid and often attempt to isolate a member of a freehold from her fellow changelings before attempting to go after her or her family. Occasionally, privateers or Fae arrange for a changeling or even an entire motley to look as if they have been shirking their responsibilities to their freehold, or perhaps even betrayed their freehold, causing aid to be cut off until the situation is sorted out.
Other attackers go with the far simpler solutions of either coming after the changeling when the freehold is busy with some other more critical problem (perhaps arranged by the attackers in advance) or attacking when the changeling is alone and far from help. All too often, all the members of the freehold can do is attempt to comfort the survivors or attempt to retrieve any captives from the Fae. Freeholds differ significantly on how acceptable money is as repayment for other services. Traditionally, changelings were expected to repay all services in kind, and the oldest changelings, who remember the independent and relatively isolated days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, consider monetary payment for anything except loans and other purely monetary services to be completely against the spirit of changeling society. However, some of the less traditional freeholds have become as heavily monetized as mortal society, and a few have set rates for providing fake IDs, research, long-term shelter in another changeling’s home and even killing a fetch. Most freeholds and most changelings fall somewhere between these extremes and accept payment in both money and services.
In addition to the obvious advantages of safety in numbers and mutual aid, convincing a newly arrived changeling to join the local freehold is also considered to be a good idea because it allows other Lost to better keep track of her actions and, if necessary, to place limits on her behavior. Once a changeling has grown used to the advantages offered by life in a freehold, the threat of limiting these benefits can easily be used to help restrain unacceptable behavior. One of the difficulties in changeling society is the problem of what to do with changelings who refuse to follow the rules. Privateers and others who pose an immediate and deliberate threat to the lives of the Lost as a whole are the worst sort of enemy. Killing them is widely considered to be the most pragmatic solution. However, many problematic changelings are not so obviously villainous. Some simply have hair-trigger tempers and are prone to violence when some person or situation inadvertently reminds them of their captivity with the Fae. Others may be completely non-violent but are pathological liars, petty thieves or simply completely self-centered and amoral. All such changelings can be exceedingly difficult to deal with. The situation is naturally made worse by the fact that many Lost are willing to ignore serious eccentricities in their fellow changelings. This dismissal means that problems only tend to be raised once they have become so severe that no one can ignore them anymore.
Not all criminally inclined changelings confine their attacks to other Lost. Some strictly avoid harming other changelings or their loved ones, and instead rob or assault mortals. Many such criminals then come to their freehold for protection when mortal justice takes notice of their actions. Because they have avoided any direct offense against the members of their freehold, these changelings make appeals similar to those made by or for insane changelings who wish to avoid asylums or involuntary medical treatment. Many freeholds are exceedingly reluctant to turn over one of their own to mortal justice, especially if this changeling either displays stark terror at the idea of imprisonment or hints that he may end up revealing some of the secrets of the freehold if he is brought to justice. This situation becomes even more complex if, as is very common, the members of the freehold have previously sheltered this changeling from the consequences of more minor legal infractions.
The options for dealing with Lost criminals are relatively limited and without easy answers. Ultimately, each freehold must come up with its own solutions. At the one extreme is execution, which is typically meted out only for mass murderers, privateers and other changelings who have performed truly heinous acts. In such cases, the leaders of the freehold almost always decide that the only solution is to slay the changeling. While rare, such executions are also far from unknown.
Traditionally, these executions are carried out in the mortal world, using a cold (wrought) iron implement. These weapons range from rare and archaic choices, such as beheading the offender with an axe, to the more common option of specially made wrought-iron bullets or shot. To avoid mortal attention, the body is then almost always hastily buried in the Hedge or, for privateers and other particularly heinous criminals, the body is sold at a Goblin Market and the proceeds given to either the freehold or the victims. Most other punishments are purely social in the sense that they involve exclusion or at least the threat of exclusion from the freehold and possibly from the changeling community as a whole. Fines (in either money or services) and forcing changelings to swear pledges are the most common penalties for minor to moderate infractions. When dealing with all but the most serious crimes against mortals, the most common answer is for various members of the freehold to use various Contracts to deflect suspicion from the criminal and then use other Contracts and forced pledges to force this changeling to cease committing such acts. Also, some compassionate Lost attempt to use either their money or their Contracts to redress some of the criminal’s wrongs.
Both fines and enforced pledges are backed by the threat that changelings who do not comply will be temporarily or permanently banished from the freehold. These banishments are always widely announced, so other freeholds will be unlikely to allow this changeling to join. Similarly, the ultimate punishment, short of execution, for changelings is banishment from their freeholds. Centuries ago, changeling outcasts used to be thrown out of their freeholds after being branded on their faces or hands to clearly show all changelings that these outcasts were not to be trusted. Today, branding has been replaced by messages about the banishment passed to all nearby freeholds. Sometimes, this banishment is for a few years or even a decade; most often, banishment is for life. Banishment is most commonly reserved for oathbreakers and for changelings who have committed exceedingly serious crimes such as treason, but who have not aided the Fae or their allies. In a few rare cases, banishment is also used on heinous criminals who have powerful allies that shield them from the threat of death. Banishment is widely acknowledged as an exceptionally severe punishment. Being excluded from a freehold means that either the changeling must travel to a distant location and hope that no one there knows of her disgrace, or she must resign herself to a life completely isolated from the changeling community. Sometimes even privateers and loyalists refuse to accept a changeling who has been thrown out of her freehold, although both groups are more than happy to turn such individuals over to the Fae. In most cases, the members of the freehold the changeling is banished from are all required to swear that they will have no further contact with this changeling, and, in almost all cases, they readily comply.
Three punishments are all but completely absent from changeling society: imprisonment, enslavement and return to the Fae. All of these options are considered to be far too close to changelings’ captivity by the Fae, and only the most debased and draconian freeholds use any of these punishments. Execution is considered both more acceptable and ultimately more humane than any of these sentences. This distaste for incarceration is why many freeholds prefer to shield changeling criminals from mortal justice and deal with them under the laws of the freehold. However, although almost no freeholds actually imprison changelings, many Lost have far less difficulty with turning the guilty over for imprisonment by mortals.
- Changeling: The Lost Core Book