The group met the Spring Queen, made their introductions, and swore an oath of fealty to the freehold of Aachen. They were told they would be forming a party of seven that would help them learn about the freehold and decide which court they wished to join. They also met their guide from the Summer Court, Faron. They then retired to a banquet, where they learned about each other’s skills and decided on the name of their group, Vogelfrei. Faron then came in to tell them they had a mission to investigate disappearances near the cemetery where they all emerged from the Hedge.
The Spring Court Hall looks as the above, but with flowers everywhere in abundance. Like a green carpet, there stretches down the hall a slender path of freshly mown grass leading to the monarch on her throne of wood. Every decoration is flower and new life themed. In the floor tiles directly in front of the party are inlaid baby animals beckoning you into the room. But the decorations go beyond stone, ivory and paint. Real flowers twine the columns and the ceiling is entirely covered with moss. The room is full of greens, light pinks, purples, blues and yellows. The light in the room feels slightly green. The Spring Queen and her coterie at the end. There are an assortment of changelings standing to the side and on the second level, a good number of which have flowers in their seeming or on their person. Many are wearing pastel colors.
Caesar/Blue, Marcella, Hulda, Iris, Amy, Zia, and Fianna walk up to the Spring Queen, with Byron following and encouraging any stragglers. Fianna trips partway up the hall. Hulda is comparing what she’s seeing with stories she knows. Marcella is taking note of the organization of the Court and any political structures she can discern.
About 15 feet away from the Queen’s throne the simple mown grass carpet changes to grass which seems to grow in a cherry blossom pattern. Everyone stops and bows or curtsies as they feel appropriate, except Blue and Fianna. Zia looks disapprovingly at the two of them. Byron, to the side and forward of the group slightly, says, “Queen of the Rising Dawn, these changelings have chosen to band together against the fear of the Keeper and to better themselves.” Blue then bows.
The queen, smiling, leans forward slightly in her chair and says in a light, melodious voice, “Welcome to Freehold Heimdallszunft. I am Eostre, the Spring Queen. Please, tell me who would join the freehold I presently hold in my care.”
Blue says, “I am Ce—I am called Blue.”
The queen inclines her head, “It is a pleasure to meet you Blue. Are the manacles you still wear heavy?”
“I’ve grown accustomed to it; I can’t tell anymore,” Caesar answers.
The Queen replies to Blue, “I will make sure that the artisans at the freehold make every effort to remove them.”
“Such is not necessary, I thank you for the offer. If I may ask, what is it that we were summoned for?” says Blue.
Iris is fidgeting with her nails one one hand. “Iris, I talk to dead people,” she finally says.
She smiles warmly at Iris, “My dear, that is a most useful skill. The dead are a veritable font of information.” Iris smiles nervously, but doesn’t say anything more, instead she takes a look at the other courtiers.
“I am Marcella, and I thank you for your kindness and generosity in hosing us during this hour of need, your highness. I am happy to have the opportunity to begin to repay you and your freehold so soon,” says Marcella.
She then says to Marcella, “You are most welcome. It is good that you already understand debts, promises, and payment. This will serve you well.” Marcella gives another bow, but does not say anything.
Hulda inclines her head respectfully and says, “Hulda, I collect stories.”
She then looks to Hulda, “Ah stories, you may wish to speak with the Historian of the Freehold. He knows the stories of this court and more.” Hulda gives a shy smile of thanks.
Amy looks up from the ground to smile at the queen. “Hello, Your Majesty. I’m Amy. I used to have a longer name, but I can’t remember it.”
The Queen looks a little bit sadly at Amy. “A pleasure to meet you. I am sorry that True Fae took that from you.”
Zia politely waits for the others to be introduced and then says calmly and proudly, “I am Zia, Crafter of Rainbows. I welcome the opportunity to increase my craft.”
The Queen says, “A pleasure to meet you as well Zia, Crafter of Rainbows.”
Fianna rolls her eyes at Zia’s introduction before saying anything, but when she does speak, her accent is especially thick. “You can call me Fianna. It’s…appropriate,” she says. “I’m still just getting used to this ‘having limbs again thing.’”
The Queen smiles at Fianna, “I wish you luck with that endeavor.”
“Blue, you have been summoned to my court to learn more about your choices and to swear fealty to the freehold. As you may know, our fair city of Aachen has a problem and a blessing. For the past 3 seasons, for nine months, Aachen has experienced an influx of changelings, largely who had no connection to the city. As you can imagine, for our freehold and for the city which normally receives a mere trickle of new changelings, having up to twenty changelings fight their way through the Hedge was both concerning and wonderful. Although not every one of those changelings has stayed in Aachen, most have. As a freehold it is our duty to give each of you the basic tools to get back on your feet, but how could we find the resources to mentor twenty changelings per season? The Autumn Court put forth that the changelings be organized into groups of 7 and spend one season with each court, learning from them and gaining real world experience with the supervision of experienced changelings.
“We have chosen to offer each changeling training from each of the courts to give you time to learn about the world as it is and yourselves and get a leg up on skills. To facilitate this, you have been assigned to this group of seven, they will learn and grow with you. Although it is possible to change your group, we would prefer that you did not. It is also your choice to leave for another city or to stay in our city and not participate in the program. You have the choices your Keeper never gave you. However, we do not recommend it.
“Is each of you willing to enter into this training group?”
Iris and Hulda nod. Marcella says, “I would be honored to serve, Your Majesty.”
Amy says, “Um, I’d love to join, but can I go back to my family when I find them? Byron said I’d be able to leave.”
“You may if you wish, Amy, though be aware that most changelings never rejoin their families.”
“Must we swear fealty for this training if we will be working under different courts?” asks Blue.
“You must swear fealty to the freehold, not to me, Blue”
Zia announces, “I am willing to join the training group. I will gladly ensure that each of us is outfitted properly.”
“Sure, why not. I wasn’t planning on going back to Glasgow anyway,” Fianna says.
“We thank you for your willingness. As you may know, it is common for our kind to govern ourselves in a rotating fashion. Each season is governed by a court who has made a compact with the spirit of that season. Each court has its own spirit, focus, goals. It is still spring for another week or two and I govern in this hall, which reflects the hope and energy and newness of Spring. But in a few days, 5 or 10 or 15, the first sign of Summer will appear and the Summer Court will take over. Each of you will one day join a Court, the court that matches your heart best.
“The oath we will ask you to swear however, is to the freehold.
“Our freehold is one of the most organized freeholds in Germany. Publicly we are a philanthropic organization that focuses on charity within Aachen, as well as various political and social causes. By swearing the pledge you will gain the advantages and resources of the freehold. You will not reveal to others the location of the freehold as a freehold, though as a charitable organization rather than a freehold, our location is naturally not secret. Is each of you ready to swear the oath?”
Everyone indicates agreement, though Iris starts shivering nervously. Zia stands up tall, “I will swear. I will swear and grow strong and one day, Brighid will suffer as I and my companions suffered.”
Fianna’s eyes sparkle, and she slams a fist into her opposite palm. “I could do with some good old-fashioned retribution right about now. You say this mutual aid thing works? I’m game.”
The Spring Queen rises, and opens her arms to them. An odd power rises in the hall, and all the courtiers fall silent. “Then, if you will, repeat after me:”
“I swear to bough and berry. I pledge to branch and bone. I stand here to make my vow before the force of man and myth alike. For one full turning of the year I bind myself to the faith and fraternity of the court of seasons. My eyes will see far and find that which would harm my compatriots. My arms will support the bodies of my comrade’s bodies, and my heart will shelter their hearts, and the freehold will flourish for it. I make this oath in the full knowledge that should I be forsworn, I become mud in the eyes of the Masked, and that no place on Earth or Arcadia will shelter them again. By Antlers and Mirror, and the Spear and Arrow, I so swear.”
Everyone swears the oath.
“Thank you for your oath. As a representative of the freehold, I accept your oath. We will keep our part of the oath and give you assistance and shelter as it is within our power,” the Queen says.
Everyone notices that Iris is swaying and looking very unwell. Blue takes particular notice towards Iris. “Is everything alright?” Iris is breathing very quickly but not particularly deeply now. Her hand has formed into a fist again. She nods, but everything is kind of spinning around her and she is trying to remain standing.
“Queen, you promised us assistance. Is there a doctor in your court? I think Iris is having a panic attack!” Blue calls.
Hulda goes over to Iris and says, “Do you think you should sit down? You seem unwell.”
Iris says, “I… I’m okay I just. Too many people.”
Hulda looks up at the Queen. “Your Majesty if there is nothing more you require of her, can Iris return to her room? She needs to rest.”
The Queen gestures over a doctor who had treated some of the party previously, and he takes Iris over to a corner of the hall and talks her down quietly for five minutes. Afterwards, she feels calmer. During this pause, the rest of the court is making quiet small talk while iris is being treated so as to not be pointedly paying attention to the treatment. Marcella, Amy, and Blue also makes small talk.
The Queen, sensing that Iris wants no more fuss made, simply continues the audience. “You will have liaisons from each court. Today your primary liaison from the Summer Court is here to greet you. Faron, if you will introduce yourself?”
A young man steps forward, looking no older than 19. He wears burnished red armor over a deep green tunic. His hair is golden, his eyes a rich blue-green that seem almost alight. Although mostly hidden by his hair, his ears are pointed. Most noticeably, his entire upper body his backlit by a golden aura.
“I am Faron. As Her Highness said, I will be your… liaison, from the Summer Court.”
The Queen looks at him. “And Faron, why don’t you tell them a little bit about yourself…”
Faron glances at the Queen briefly before turning back to the group. “I have been a member of this freehold for 4 years. They will treat you well as long as you treat them well. It is my responsibility to assist you when necessary.”
Marcella says, “It’s nice to meet you, Faron. I look forward to working with you and learning more about this freehold.”
Amy says, “Me too.”
Zia says, “A pleasure.”
He nods slightly. “Welcome to Heimdahlszunft.”
The Queen says, “Now, all of you will partake in a meal together. Please use this meal to begin to get to know each other. You must also choose the name of your training group. When you have decided, just tell Byron and he will add your group to the log.”
The queen dismisses the party, and Byron leads them to a banquet hall to eat.
As they walk over, Marcella asks Iris how she is feeling. A bit flustered, Iris says, “I’m alright, I just don’t like making promises to people… not ones like this anyway.”
“That’s completely reasonable, sorry you ended up in that situation.”
“Sorry about the scene back there,” Blue says.
“I just don’t trust them. I don’t really trust anyone, but I’m stuck here. I don’t look like myself and I’ve already been replaced anyway, so what choice did I have?” says Iris.
“Replaced?” Blue asks.
Iris sighs. “There is a fae thing in my place. Byron calls it a ‘fetch.’”
“I see … I’m sorry,” he replies.
Marcella shivers. “That’s awful, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Iris shrugs. “I’m not the only one am I? At least I still know my name.” She half smiles.
They arrive at the hall. Marcella chooses a seat and gestures for everyone to sit with her.
Blue sits and says, “I’m not sure, I haven’t had the chance to find out anything about my father. He was old when I was abducted; that was fourteen years ago.” He pauses. “So we’re supposed to be some kind of team. Whatever that means. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to know what everyone’s good at.”
Iris sits next to Caesar. “I’m not really good at much of anything. I can shoot a rifle and talk to the dead. I like books and computers,” she mumbles embarrassedly.
Zia takes a seat across from Marcella. “I make things…just about anything. Though I expect I can’t make castles out here, not full size ones. I used rather more specific tools in Arcadia.” To Iris, “Oh, you can talk to the dead! That must be so interesting! You should ask them about the fashion of their day!”
Zia’s comment manages to shake Iris out of her embarrassment. “Why would I ask them about fashion?”
“Fashion is just so fascinating! Every era, every decade, every year ascribes to new styles. And those styles reflect the cuture!” Zia says with excitement.
Marcella listens intently to everyone, then says, “I’m pretty good with a sword, and I led an army of a sort back … in Arcadia.” Her voice is a bit hesitant when she mentions Arcadia, but she makes herself say it.
Amy speaks quietly, “That fetch thing sounds awful. There’s a nice man looking for my family for me, but I haven’t found them yet. I don’t really know what I can do to be useful.”
Hulda says, “I am a researcher and I collect stories, well fairy tales and myths before being captured. I am good at staying hidden as well.”
“Well, hiding is far from my speciality, but some of my more notable work before I was taken was based on myths.” Zia says.
“Oh, like what? Hulda is intrigued.
Iris says, “I don’t think so… I don’t really like fashion. Hulda, that sounds amazing. I like stories… maybe I could collect them too. I could collect the stories of the dead…”
“Hi. I punch things,” Fianna says dryly from her end of the table.
Blue wonders what the courts could expect from their assorted talents and skills. “Interesting.”
“The series that won several national contests were a series of diadems, each reflecting a different myth,” Zia replies to Hulda. “I also created clothing to match them.”
Hulda says, “They sound beautiful.”
“Thank you. They were my fame and my downfall in the end. They were how Brighid found me.”
The group’s musings are interrupted by the entry of several changelings bearing platters of food. Anyone with a bit of culinary knowledge will notice that the food is all fresh and seasonal. There are tons of options, but some of the fare offered include dishes of white asparagus, pasta primavera with spring vegetables, baskets of fresh, hot bread with new butter, racks of roast lamb with a side of spring onions and carrots, mashed potatoes with garlic and scallions, braised sausages on a bed of spring vegetables, Cornish game hen, young pork with balsamic glaze, platters upon platters of fresh fruits and cheeses, and wine, beer, water, and farm-fresh milk as beverages. The food is set before the group on the tables, and the servers leave. The group start eating.
“So, we were supposed to determine a name for us, right?” Blue says.
“Yes, does anyone have ideas?” Marcella asks.
Iris shakes her head. “None,” Blue admits.
“Um … well, what does everybody like?” Amy asks.
Zia is eating delicately, a bit of each dish. “I propose, Crafters of Our Own Destiny.”
“Too long,” interjects Blue at the same time Amy says, “I like that!” Hearing Blue, she says, “Aww.”
“A bit long,” agrees Iris.
“Well then, what do you propose?” Zia asks, a bit huffily.
Marcella says, “I like the idea of shaping out own destiny though.”
“Hmmm there has got to be a better way to say that though,” says Iris.
“Something around ‘free will,’ then?” says Blue.
“What about something out of legend, like ‘The Round Table’?” Marcella suggests, looking nostalgic.
Amy frowns, “Shouldn’t we have a round table if we’re going to call ourselves that?”
“The Round Table is entirely too…martial,” Zia protests.
“I do not know that we have the makes of a Round Table, but I like the idea of something out of myths or legends” Hulda says.
“Vogelfrei?” proposes Iris.
“I like Vogelfrei, that’s got a good ring to it,” says Marcella.
“Heh,” Caesar half-chuckles. "Fitting for where we are."
“What does it mean?” asks Amy.
“It means ‘free as a bird’ in German,” explains Blue.
“Ohhh, I like it,” says Amy.
“Do you not speak it?” asks Blue.
“No. It sounds cool.”
“Vogelfrei is interesting, although it does have a medieval connotation of being outlawed,” says Hulda.
“That is an acceptably poetic name I suppose,” Zia says.
“Well, we all are jail-birds, if you think about it,” says Blue.
“Being an outlaw sounds kind of neat,” says Amy.
“Trust me, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” says Fianna.
Hulda chuckles, “Yes, it does seem appropriate, as long as everyone is aware of the connotation.”
Marcella asks, “Is everyone agreed on Vogelfrei, then?” Everyone agrees. “Great, so we’re Vogelfrei! Great to be working with all of you other jail-birds,” she smiles.
“Vogelfrei.” Amy checks to make sure she can pronounce it, and gets it mostly right.
“May our Keepers never find us until we find them,” Zia says as a toast.
“Hear hear!” Marcella seconds.
Blue, Hulda, Iris and Amy toast. Fianna raises a glass of milk, then knocks back the entire thing. Amy takes a sip of wine, winces, and grabs a glass of milk instead.
“So what are your talents, Blue? I don’t think we’ve heard from you yet,” asks Marcella.
Blue whispers the message, “I listen, I learn” to Marcella using the whisperwisp blessing. Marcella can’t reply in kind, bus she says back in a low voice, “Listening and learning are essential skills for a group, that’s good to hear.”
“Um, Blue? What are you good at? You didn’t answer,” says Amy. “Do you not know either? I’d understand that. It’s so hard to remember … things …”
“Oh, haha. Um … I don’t really know yet. Unlike everyone else, my time in Arcadia, as the others are calling it, was … let’s call it uneventful,” he says.
“I didn’t do much either. Is that why everyone else knows what they’re good at? Did you all learn in Arcadia?” Amy asks.
Blue says, “That’d be my guess, at least. I didn’t learn a thing.”
Faron strides quickly into the room. He’s no longer in ceremonial armor. Instead he sports a black leather jacket over a deep green t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He still has his sword with him. “We have a mission.”
Blue turns to Faron. “What is it?”
Marcella sets down her food and drink, all business. “What’s the situation?”
“A mission?” Amy asks.
“Four people have gone missing or died within 3 miles of the Südfriedhof cemetary, where you all escaped the Hedge. We are being sent to investigate,” says Faron.
“Humans or changeling? Or something else?” asks Marcella.
“All humans,” he says.
“Two little girls were playing in front of their house with an empty baby carriage. A baby suddenly seemed to appear, and it rolled away as the girls followed it. When their mother came outside to get them, they were gone.
“An older man told his wife he was hearing things all day. The next morning he was gone. His wife never heard him leave.”
“I can see why Changelings are the ones investigating these disappearances, then,” says Marcella.
“Do we have anything to work with? You think it might be…” Blue cuts himself off.
“A pawnshop owner received a mysterious call from a whispery voice asking him to pick up some WWII watches that night, because she was leaving town. He was found drowned in a nearby fountain. Apparently.”
“I saw things in the Hedge when I made my escape, they talked about hunting something or another. Do you think something like them might target humans as well?” says Blue.
“Maybe we’ll find my friends. I bet they could tell us what’s been happening,” says Amy.
Faron tenses. “What did those things look like, in the Hedge?” he asks Blue.
“Animals. Weird ones — they had sentience.” Amy looks at Blue with a look of plain confusion.
“Sentience? Did they speak to you?” asks Marcella.
Amy turns her look on Marcella. “Is that weird?”
“Not to me, no. I just happened to hear them,” says Blue. Obviously, this was weird for the others, who apparently didn’t have such an encounter. "Disappearances? Oh, they also all had these strange glowing eyes, if any of the reports detail that."
Marcella looks at Amy. “Yes, normal animals can’t speak any language that people understand.”
“My friends can,” says Amy.
“What friends are these?” asks Marcella.
“Your … friends?” says Fianna.
“The friends you’re hoping to find?” asks Blue.
“Yeah! There were these foxes that helped me find the way out of the hedge. They protected me from bad things,” says Amy.
Marcella gives Faron a concerned look.
“…One of the creatures I saw there was a fox,” says Blue.
Faron’s outright frowning now, which is his first real expression since you’ve met him. “These are just preliminary reports. We’re being sent to investigate, and we should leave soon.”
Amy continues, “And they told me about these neat fruit that do cool things.” She smiles. She’s looking forward to finding her friends again. Fianna’s eye twitches juuust slightly.
Faron asks if everyone is ready to go. Iris and Marcella say they would like to grab their weapons, and Amy, Fianna, Hulda, and Zia would like to change out of their court clothing.
Amy grabs her doll and slings him in a sheet, facing outward. Marcella grabs her ivory and bamboo swords, leaving the onyx sword behind his time.
Blue doesn’t change, and asks Faron if there is more information once the two of them are alone. Faron replies, “I’ve told you everything that I’ve been told. And we need to resolve this quickly.”