Case Files 4: The King and Queen of Binghamton’s Winter Court Unseelie, and The Wild Hunt.

King Dionysio and Queen Wen

King Dionysio, well, he’s pretty straightforward. He’s not a bad man. He’s just very, very cold. Deeply sober, unemotional even to those who know him, famously asexual, and generally a man with the kind of warm, flexible attitude usually only seen in glaciers. All of this is made somewhat more notable by the simple fact that the man is a Satyr. Hell, he’s even deliberately evoking the name of Dionysius with his given name, and he doesn’t drink. The fact that he gets away with that is nothing short of suspicious.

Satyrs are pretty well-known in mythology. I’m sure you could name the important parts. Sexual, always male, chase nymphs. The thing is, they’re also keepers of secret knowledge, which you can wheedle out of them if you have the right approach. The Roman Faun is a related species, but is bereft of most of those traits, being shy, woodland creatures who were generally of no harm to anyone, and who also did not have the secret knowledge of the satyrs.

King Dionysio might be a faun. But he hits the secret knowledge thing square on the head. I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t a satyr. (HFM: While he often comes across as extremely sober and harsh, King Dionysio is a truly world class sommelier, and takes great pride in providing the right drink for any occasion. His hospitality is the envy of most of North America’s fae population, and his Christmas parties are as debauched as one would expect. They are also the only times he allows himself to indulge, with a single glass of sherry and a kiss with someone who he finds appropriately comely. I have once found myself so blessed. He uses a lot of tongue.)

To my knowledge, King Dionysio has been the Winter King for only the last twenty five years. He came to power in a drinking contest to the death, with the old king. He apparently handled the endeavor magnificently, a modest hangover aside.

Queen Wen… Well, her details are straightforward enough. I’ve talked about her plenty. A minor noble, she was the Winter Earlen of Vestal, and then transferred her power to the Fall Court for a relatively brief period, about three years, before returning to the Winter Court when I disgraced her. A series of assassination attempts followed, culminating with her daughter, Polly Wen, attempting to kill me, and winding up saving my life- and vice versa- instead. Now, we seem to exist in a relatively calm state of détente.

Queen Wen… I’m not frankly sure what kind of fairy she is. She could be a Ljosalfar, a particularly well-passing Huldr, an unusual Ogre, any number of things. She doesn’t play it obvious. It’s… disquieting.

Polly: My mum’d not like me to share this, but I think if I can share it with anyone, it should be you… Y’know, there’s the recurring theme of the winter as evil. The personification of winter, it’s usually some dastardly villain, all cold and hard edges. Hans Christian Andersen did that Snow Queen book, C.S. Lewis’ White Witch, Discworld’s Wintersmith- though in that case, at least, he was depicted as simply cold, not actively malevolent. And, well… We all know what the deepest circle of Hell is, right?

Mum hated those things. She hated the way people thought she was evil, just because she was cold. She cared like hell about things, she just never showed it on her face. She hated to lose control, because control was the only thing she had, sometimes. But she loved people, deep and hard as she could. Loved every one of her children. Loved the hell out my dad, some poor Bostonian bastard who wound up dying in a car crash during the winter, which she never forgave herself for. And she loved me, and god knows I’ve given her reason not to.

So, I’m not sure if that’s what she IS, exactly. But she’s always been fascinated with that story. The Queen of Winter. And, well, look at where she is now. Don’t know if there is a fairy that’s just meant to be the queen of winter. That sounds stronger than mum ever acted.

Powers and Weaknesses

One of the greatest rules of hospitality regards poison. Poisoners are regarded as the lowest of the low in most cultures. To poison someone who is sharing hospitality with you is some insanely dark shit. And yet, we consider sharing alcohol to be a positive thing.

Alright, alright, I get it, nobody has to CHOOSE to overdrink, but boy, a lot of human beings do so anyway. Alcohol’s very good at getting people to binge on it, drinking more than they can take. It can catch you by surprise, knock you unconscious, accumulate in the body, make you think that you can handle more than you can. All that, and we treat it like a game.

So, imagine to yourself how dangerous a satyr can be. A fairy of booze and disinhibition. I’ve heard rumors about the kinds of things they can do. Bacchanalias and Dionysian rites were nothing if not violent. Look up the Maenads if you want an idea of the kind of shit that jolly old wine god could get up to when he was feeling frisky.

Fortunately, so far as I can tell, the Winter King doesn’t do that kind of thing, again, because he finds it distasteful, and he is extremely heavy on the whole hospitality thing. Betrayal of guests gets taken very seriously in the Winter Court. He doesn’t just avoid crossing the line, he doesn’t come close to it. A thing I’m personally fairly glad for.

Queen Wen isn’t, in fact, particularly personally powerful, from what I’ve heard. She doesn’t really get her hands dirty, and my impression is that this isn’t just noble squeamishness about doing your own wet work. She doesn’t tend to make much in the way of contracts, and apparently, despite the way we met, she has little interest in draining baubles herself. It’s hardly as though she needs to be personally powerful, as she’s quite skilled in manipulation and social control, but it is odd.

Polly: She always told me it was about self control. Great personal power doesn’t mean much if you need to use it to solve every problem. She preferred the subtle knife.

Alfred: Comforting. While the King has taken his dame- a rather chilly yet friendly relationship with a rather ominous young woman- Queen Wen’s Knight is currently unknown, and is most likely the Iron Knave. An Iron Knave who everyone knows is hardly very useful.

Politics

As leaders go, King Dionysio is a competent one. While new to his role, he holds strongly to a sense of historical inevitability. He believes firmly that the wheel of the seasons is drawing once more towards Winter, and as such, he takes a relatively relaxed attitude towards other courts. His preference is to strongly encourage the rules of hospitality. He is a frequent visitor at other courts, though I’ve never had the opportunity to run into him before.

Queen Wen- Well, she’s new, but only to the Winter Queen position. She’s been a member of the Winter Fae nobility for most of the last century, with only a brief visit to Fall. Her reasons are, at the moment, unknown. I’ve talked with both Polly and Alfred about it. Neither of them had much of a clue.

The Half-Faced Man: The only real answer, of course, is that she wanted access to the knowledge of the Fall Court. Such acts are not unknown, but for her to reach the level of noble, only to give it all up and return to Winter, is… unusual, to say the least. Whatever she wanted to know, she wanted to know badly. The cost in baubles and influence to become a noble is not insubstantial, and to be thrown away so quickly is unlike her.

Past Cases

Well. You know this one well, don’t you?

I think I’m about ready to forgive Queen Wen for what she did. More or less. It was still really goddamn shitty, and I think she was wrong to do it, but I know I can get territorial too. I have to bury the hatchet. Sometimes, it feels like no one else will.

The Unseelie Fae

You know, the makeup of the fairy courts are… weird. They don’t actually correspond to the way most texts treat fairies. Usually, you find a dichotomy in fairies- There’s the light, and the dark. The summer, and the winter. The good, and the bad. Hell, traditionally, Celtic fairies were undivided- all fairies were fairies, there was no light or dark, no summer or winter, no fall or spring. Some people even claim that there were three brands of fairies- The Trooping fairies, who paraded and ran wild hunts, the Solitary fairies, and possibly the Domestic fairies. The last two should be self-explanatory.

This is because the Courts are, fundamentally, a political body. They are philosophical. While certain breeds of fairy may gravitate towards certain philosophies, they are nonetheless straightforward. Creation, and destruction; Introverted, or extroverted. Extroverted creation is Spring; Extroverted destruction is Summer; Introverted creation is Fall; Introverted destruction is Winter. These represent attitudes towards the world, and how you decide to while away eternity.

The most fundamental divide was between the Seelie and the Unseelie fae. Those who helped humans, who interacted with them, who gave them warnings and second chances and punished only the deserving, and The Other Kind. It’s tempted to think of them as good and evil. I think it’s a bit simpler than that, though. A wolf isn’t evil for hunting people and eating them. Humans make good eating, and individually, they’re good prey. It just makes perfect sense for a wolf to eat humans when the opportunity arises. That doesn’t make it evil, or bad, or morally questionable, because a wolf doesn’t choose as we would understand it.

But people kill wolves, sometimes even if they only might kill a human.

And yes, that makes the Seelie fairies dogs. They are the ones who understand human culture, who understand quid pro quo, who can at least emulate empathy and who know that they can’t take without giving, because things that take from humans without giving are termed vermin, or predators, and humans don’t treat either of those things nicely.

So far as I can tell, in the distant past, it was almost entirely Unseelie fae. The earliest records most human cultures have consist of being preyed on by the things in the dark. If fairies are, indeed, based on stories, as I’ve sometimes theorized, then they would have been a type of early supernatural predator. Preying on human communities, coming out of the night to steal children, husbands, wives, and whoever else they pleased. This state of affairs probably dominated most of early human history. For as long as we had stories, probably well before any records. In the grand scheme of things, it would have been the rule, rather than the exception, until a very important day.

I’ve seen countless theories for the reasons for iron’s particular effects on fairies. Some say that it’s because of the connection with magnetism. Terry Pratchett took this direction, claiming that iron messed with a fairy’s perception of the world, which was based on electromagnetism, distorting their understanding and acting as a blinder, damaging their ability to toy with someone’s mind through glamor. I’ve seen those who claimed that it’s because iron is the death of stars- The least fusible, least fissile material you can get. It is as baseline as you can get, as stable as you can get.

Either of those explanations sounds a little odd to me. They all rely pretty heavily on things that humans didn’t understand until millennia later, and all of this magic stuff has been more about themes and ideas than straightforward scientific explanations. In that light, I’d suggest it’s about what the iron represents.

Iron, in point of fact, is not actually supremely more effective in weaponry or armor than bronze. It is more resilient and capable, but not so much more as to justify its universality. It became so popular because it is everywhere. It is the single most common non-gaseous element in the solar system. If you were told that you had to defend yourself from a fairy, that you had to find a source of iron, how hard would it be? Most households have a cast iron pan, an ornament, a bench, something. Iron crisscrosses our buildings. Worst comes to worst, you could find an iron nail within twenty feet pretty much anywhere in human civilization.

So maybe there are lots of things that the fairies are vulnerable to. Certainly, in myth, different fairies have different vulnerabilities to different phenomena. Iron is just the one thing they all share, and it’s the one thing everyone has available to them. That’s why the Unseelie fae don’t show up anymore. Because there’s no room for wolves in a world full of huntsmen. Humans fill up the world now, and we can kill the Unseelie fae. It just makes more sense to be Seelie.

But then, people aren’t always sensible.

Powers and Weaknesses

So, broadly, becoming Unseelie is not a choice. It is a reaction. From everything I’ve gathered, it’s a kind of fight-or-flight reaction, triggered by a contract. The thing that is notable about becoming Unseelie is that it frees the fairy of any agreements they’ve made while Seelie. Vice-versa is also true, but somewhat less effective. This happens because they find themselves caught in a horrific state. To my understanding, in these modern days, only the most principled and dedicated Faeries are at any real risk of becoming Unseelie, but that in the old days, they could become Unseelie over something as simple as an insult, a suspicious look, or a random mood.

This isn’t all upside. Keep in mind that those promises and oaths are a part of the way that a fairy makes themselves more powerful. As such, a fairy who’s just gone Unseelie is hungry. They are also very angry. And they are also…

Put it this way. There are the four kinds of drunks. The Poppins, the Hemingway, the Nutty Professor, and the Mr. Hyde. I like to think of myself as the Poppins. But I’m always terrified that I’m the Mr. Hyde. That when I uncover myself, when I remove my inhibitions, that I’ll be a monster, deep down inside. And every single Seelie fairy is, deep down, vulnerable to that.

It’s kind of scary.

So, we have a fairy who’s determined to get the emotions they need, who has very little in the way of inhibitions, whose intellect and logic have been suppressed in favor of instinct and desire, and who wants desperately to feed, to the point that they’re willing to harm humans to do so. This is, obviously, A Bad Thing. The best way to avoid this is twofold. First, try to avoid pushing fairies super hard on things. Don’t be too intimidated by them, but be… cautious, with them.

Second, carry iron. An iron nail in the arm will leave an Unseelie fairy as knocked out as a Seelie one. It’s not perfect, but it threatens them. Stay safe out there.

Alfred: A last important note is that going Unseelie breaks a pact between a wizard and a fae. It is a tell-tale sign of trouble, and makes a fair amount of sense. This is likely why few wizards knew about it. If they did, it would make it much more difficult for the fae to find willing partners.

Politics

People don’t like threats. People don’t like unpredictable behavior. The reason why we jail people for being violent is because our society doesn’t have any room for people who react to problems with violence, outside of a rare few professions. That’s its own problem, I’ll freely admit. But the point here is that the Unseelie fairies are at least as big a problem for the Fairy Courts as they are for mortals.

See, the thing about the Unseelie is that they do two things. First, they tend to fuck over any Seelie fairies who had agreements with the Unseelie before they changed. Second, they make Seelie look bad. People don’t do a great job assessing threats, and they’re likely to overestimate the odds of some fairy going Unseelie. In all my time being a real asshole to fairies, the only one who’s EVER gone Unseelie and tried to murder me was in love with someone who was going to die because of the deals I’d made. So it doesn’t do much good to get overheated about these possibilities, when in all likelihood, you’ll never meet an Unseelie fairy.

From the Seelie side of things, the best thing you can do is understand the phenomenon. Be aware when you’re being pressed, when you’re having Unseelie tendencies. So far as I can tell, it’s more like a mental illness than anything else. Understanding what stresses you out, figuring out how to respond properly to it, and taking the appropriate steps to remove yourself from a stressful situation will do a world of good.

I’d like to be able to give some good advice on how to deal with it when you find yourself actually going Unseelie, but I don’t really know much on that front. I know that King Sidney has been in seclusion ever since it happened to him, and I don’t know if it’s because he’s recovering, or if he’s still Unseelie. I don’t know how you stop. So it’s better not to start. I know I usually throw in threatening remarks, but… For this, it’s really pretty simple. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who are fairies. The idea of this happening to any of them is nightmarish. So… Just try to be okay. Alright?

Past Cases

I’ve discussed, in the past, brigand fairies. Legends of dangerous and deadly fairies. I am beginning to wonder how many of these were Unseelie, perfectly innocent fairies who were pushed too far, and became monsters. I asked the Half-Faced Man about it.

Half-Faced Man: The truth is, it’s a split. Certainly, some of those legends of murderous fairies are those who were pushed into the Unseelie fugue, and who wound up taking lives in their state. But please, do not forget that ‘Seelie’ does not mean good, any more than ‘Unseelie’ means evil. Seelie fae are simply civilized- And civilization employs butchers as well as shepherds. There have been many murderous fae who simply felt that it was the wisest decision, under the circumstances.

The Wild Hunt

A lot of the time… I go into situations blind. A lot of the advice and suggestions that I include for these situations comes from my own first-hand experience. Things that I wish I’d known when I went into the situation. Problems that I had to solve the hard way. The downside to this is that often, it’s anecdotal, which means that it can’t help as much as a dedicated study. But sometimes, there isn’t a dedicated study available.

The Wild Hunt is one of the great folklore traditions of Europe. A parade of fairies, or elves, or the dead, they are usually led by Odin, or someone who can easily by syncretized with him. The Devil, Herod, Cain, Gabriel, historical figures, or even just an unidentified spirit. The existence of the Wild Hunt presaged some great disaster- plague, war, famine. If you were fortunate, the only thing it presaged was your imminent death. If you were unfortunate, it presaged your abduction to the land of the fairies. This was not a good thing. Immortality was only the start of your problems, according to myth. It didn’t even begin to get into the subject of what they would do to you.

Actual documentation of the Wild Hunt begins only in 1835, with Jacob Grimm- of the Grimm’s Fairytales, a man born to an appropriate name if there ever was one. Historically, the Wild Hunt was not actually a hunt- It resembled more an army. Its behavior often resembled a hunt, but this may be a simple fact of military procedure. On the move, an army without proper logistic support tends to turn to forage. That is, taking food from the land, and from civilians.

There is, thus, an idea that these wild hunts were, in fact, a sort of fairy war party. Their real purpose was prosecuting some conflict or another, and the hunting of humans was only an incidental event, something done to keep their energy high as they marched to war. After all, who was to stop them? An entire fairy war party is a substantial force, if acting together. A handful of huntsmen along with iron hatchets would be easy prey.

Myths of the wild hunt go back as early as 1091, as far as I can tell. That may seem strange- After all, why would it have only begun then? I have a theory that, in fact, this was not when Wild Hunts began. It was only marking the boundary of the time when they became unusual. If this was the norm in pre-Christian days, then people might have only been surprised when it happened again after such a long time.

The other possibility is even grimmer. It might be that the issue here was not there being no witnesses to the predations of the fairies. It might be that before the middle ages, Wild Hunts didn’t leave any witnesses behind.

Maybe that’s a part of it. But the thing I’ve learned is that the Wild Hunt is an execution, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps it may also be used for a war party, but everything I’ve discovered about it says that it’s just a particularly nasty way of dealing with someone who has offended the courts.

Powers and Weaknesses

The Wild Hunt, essentially, is a political action. It requires a majority of the Noble fairies of the four courts to support it, and any one of the Kings and Queens can veto the action. If they are alive and well, anyway. The only group that can call for a Wild Hunt in the first place are the Winter Fairies, by ancient rights.  It is a serious issue, for reasons that will become obvious. The Wild Hunt is called against someone who has offended the fairy courts. Anyone can petition the Winter Court, but the Winter King and Queen have the final decision on the matter.

If they agree, then the Hunt begins. It’s important to note that the Hunt is a border phenomenon. The stronger the border themes, the more powerful it is. It can be called at any time- Borders are happening every single moment of every day, and we can find borders in any suburb between one fence and another- but they’re more powerful when they have many of them. The border between states, or even better, countries. The border between one season and another. Solstices, Equinoxes, and similar solar festivals are the most powerful night for such things.

When the Hunt is called, every member of the courts- Both those who voted for it, and those who didn’t- are called. I’m given to understand the compulsion is very nearly irresistible, and the older and more powerful a fairy is, the harder it calls to them. And everyone who responds to the call becomes Unseelie. There is no shame in refusing the call, but it is apparently extraordinarily difficult, requiring an iron-clad self control.

That’s what makes the Wild Hunt so horrifying. It’s used on people who have connections to the Fairy Courts, because that’s what makes it so dangerous. You can’t fight the Wild Hunt, because the people you’re fighting are your loved ones, your family, the people you care about. You can’t hide from the Wild Hunt, because if you do, they’ll simply satisfy themselves on innocents. It’s a punishment for decent people, people with morals, and people who refuse to sacrifice others for their own sake.

When the hunt is called, every fairy in the four courts pursues their target. Fairies are good at that kind of thing. The hunt continues until the next dawn or dusk, although it almost always is invoked at night.

Further, there’s some weird mojo going on with the chase. When it happens, it messes with technology. Cars, cellphones, other things start to fuzz out, they’re more likely to fail when you need them, horror movie style. The more fairies chasing you, the worse it gets. If it reaches a certain critical mass, reality itself becomes porous. You might find yourself falling through into another dimension, which only really compounds your problems. This thing doesn’t have much of an effect on Tsukumogami, but they can feel it coming. If you’re lucky enough to have one, well, that helps.

Iron helps, too. But only if you’re cool with killing a lot of people you care about. It’s even more dangerous against Unseelie.

Politics

Again, this is a real scorched earth policy. The only time it makes any sense for the fairies to call for this is when someone is really dangerous, or has really pissed someone off. You’re putting everyone’s lives at risk, and from what I can tell, it’s rare that it’s used for anything other than ceremonial purposes. It’s rare that the accused survive, either, to the point that I couldn’t find any records of a Wild Hunt being called where the target survived the ordeal. There tends to be a lot of churn afterwards, too. Nobles are dethroned because of the Wild Hunt. Kings and Queens lose their heads because they agreed to a Wild Hunt. The common fairies don’t get a vote in whether it happens or not, but they suffer the consequences nonetheless, which means a King or Queen who calls a hunt is really playing with fire.

There’s also just the fact that this makes everyone complicit in the crime. That alone is enough that in cases where a lesser punishment will do, it will always be used.

Past Cases

I often write about the things I have experience with. This is sometimes anecdotal, which makes me a bit wary of it, but the other side of that is that a lot of these things, there aren’t many stories about it. I’ve been through precisely one Wild Hunt, and I’ve survived it, so hopefully that will help a little bit if you ever find yourself in a situation like that. Best solution is to not be in this situation.

It’s a little godawful that this… even exists. You know? As a thing. The idea that you’d do this to your own person for any good reason, let alone the bad ones that you often see in the history books. I hate this kind of thing. I hate this kind of world.

I hate that I was responsible for this. That I scared everyone enough that they thought that this was the step they had to take. That I didn’t figure it out sooner. If I’d been just a little bit quicker… But that’s always the way, isn’t it? If we only knew, things would be so much easier.

Fuck Vassago. Fuck Wen. Fuck the Half-Faced Man. And most of all, fuck me.

One thought on “Case Files 4: The King and Queen of Binghamton’s Winter Court Unseelie, and The Wild Hunt.

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