Viva la Vida
List of Courts:
Currently In Power: SPRING
Court Structure of The Crimson Table
The Great Courts are common social structures on a greater scale than motleys. Great Courts serve much the same purpose — safety from the Fae — but on a larger scale and with more organization. Each of the four Courts has its own unique affiliations with one of the seasons and a dominant emotion, bound to the Court through oaths its founders exacted from the seasons many, many years ago. Changeling legend holds that the Western Great Courts were first founded shortly before the Dark Ages, and while their presence has waxed and waned over the years, it has always been strong enough to survive. The names of the founders are often modernized, but it’s commonly held that they lived at least at the time of the Roman Empire.
Changelings bound their Courts to the seasons for the strength it would give them against their one-time captors. Any pact provides power in the form of Contracts, but the founders explicitly chose to align their Courts with an aspect of the world that the Gentry couldn’t understand. A Fae lord may tyrannize a realm of endless winter, but he would never forsake his power and allow another to warm his land to spring. Tying their resistance to the voluntary progression of the seasons gives the changelings a stronger connection to Earth and a basis for defense that the Others are — so far — unable to undermine.
These pacts serve changelings around the world, but they are most common (near ubiquitous, really) in North America and Europe. There are regions where the changeling Courts have developed to the point where they no longer relate to the seasons, and they no longer benefit as much from the pact. Changeling society in such places is often weaker and more susceptible to the Fae. Other Courts relate themselves to different earthly phenomena, and their founders may have forged other pacts. As long as the Courts maintain meaning and symbolism that can be used against the Fae, the Courts can still have some power. The directional Courts in China, the sun Courts (dawn, noon, dusk and night) and Courts tied to the Buddhist cycles of reincarnation serve as examples.
Joining a Court involves a pledge on the part of the changeling, and the changeling’s Wyrd supports that pledge. The Wyrd ties strongly to the seasons’ interactions with time and the emotional affiliations that each Court assumes. In return for the pledge, the character’s seeming gains the Court’s Mantle, a supernatural addition to the changeling’s mien that reflects the Court’s season and dominant emotion.
Not every changeling joins one of the Courts. Reasons vary, but most of them have some connection to the fact that each Court has its own specific method of avoiding recapture by the Fae and a special connection to a specific emotion. Not all changelings can associate themselves with a modus operandi the way they perceive the Courts as demanding. Or maybe they don’t feel a real tie to any of the four emotions supported by the Courts. Sometimes the worst conflicts come when a refugee fits in with one Court’s methods but another’s ruling emotion — individuals who can’t reconcile the two may bounce from one Court to the other a couple times before ending up Courtless.
Some changelings who eschew the Courts do so not because they wouldn’t fit, but because something about the Courts is distasteful to them. Maybe the concept is too near a Faerie Court for a new refugee to contemplate (though she may join a Court after several years). A changeling might be politically or philosophically opposed to governing bodies in general. He simply does not get along with people telling him what to do and how to do it, or social groups have always meant trouble for him. Maybe the Courts look too disingenuous or too internecine.
Normally, one out of every six or seven changelings refuses to join any Court. In regions where the Courts are strong and recruit often, or where the Others are more aggressive, Courtless are far less frequent. Regions with weak Courts, or Courts that are very corrupt or fractured, have a higher incidence of Courtless fae. Particularly charismatic leaders on either side also skew the numbers, either toward the Courts (as is more likely) or toward independence, when that’s what the leader believes. Even with good reasons to avoid the Courts, the promise of a support structure and the power from a Court’s pact convinces many.
The Courtless are not, in general, a political faction. They’re defined by a desire to remain free of the Great Courts, but that doesn’t imply an organized goal of promoting the interests of changelings outside the Courts. But in some areas, the Courtless rally. They may be a group of individually motivated Lost held together by a single charismatic leader who insists on giving them a voice in the freehold. They may conduct themselves as a union, openly recruiting other changelings to a life free of Court meddling. The effectiveness of these gatherings varies widely, but in some places a Courtless leader holds political influence and ability as great as any Court noble. Even if a Courtless leader cannot sit upon a season’s throne, he can hold power behind it.