As the revels continue the Freehold gates, their chimeral aspect massive and dwarfing the hall’s celebrants, swing ajar. Their movement though is hesitant, cautious. Not the dramatic slam of pomp and grand entrance, nor the gentle swing they’d grant a welcome but timid visitor. The portal’s timbers seem to question one to the other in silent, wooden speech, “Is this a one to be allowed entry? Truly enough it braves the Silver Ban, but the fall of it’s tread echoes more distantly than that of folk who dwell within, and the rap of it’s knuckles resounds alien upon our planks. Yet it’s intent seems clearâ€¦”
The stranger strides forward amid the jubilant throng, a thing apart from these others gathered here. Every line of it bespeaks purpose, effort, determination. It seems not so much to walk forward as to struggle, as if against beating rain and unseen gale or as one heavily burdened.
It’s entrance has not gone unheeded. The keenest ears perked up to sample the notes of it’s knock before they fell and the sharpest eyes glimpsed it’s shape before the first leathern boot crossed the threshold. But those early insights are long passed and even the eyes of the least attentive seek to ken the being’s nature.
“What think thou: Pooka of some barbarous realm? The antlersâ€¦”
“Nay, nay. He’s no Pooka surely. Stag be herbivore and I spot a carnassial pair in them gums.”
But it is a he-thing at least. The beard seems to make this much obvious.
Still, though much can be kenned and the court lore keepers have already guessed it’s ilk there remains a sense of distance to the thing. His shape seems solid enough (almost too solid) but the details ripple and waver as if seen through a fast moving stream where currents of hot and cold mix. The effect is strangely disorienting leaving one with the fleeting but uncomfortable impression that this thing is the truly real thing and all else but a moment’s fancy by comparison.
The ripples it leaves, the wake of it’s passage as it labors forward, spread outward through the crowd and with them spreads change. And this change is familiar. You know this feeling. You’ve felt it before a thousand times in a dozen lives. It’s the Firchlis, Glamour‘s warm breath on the frosted glass of Dreaming. Strange though to feel it in a Freehold. Out of place.
And for a moment it’s suddenly clear why the Fir-Bholg (for that is what he is) struggles forward with such effort. It’s winter. In your revels and joy amidst each others company you nearly forgot this is an outdoor fete. What with the bonfire glowing so, you lost track of how deeply the snow had begun to drift and how gusty the wind had become.
He’s clearer now: clad all in hide and leather (old, brown and worn). At his back a sack of the same. Slung over one shoulder the strap of an old tinker’s pig, and at his hip some verdigrised piece of bronze-work: half sword, half cleaver, half machete, apparently a tool as much as weapon.
His body seemed massive, but another trick of the mind perhaps? It’s clearly a more spare and weathered frame bent there against the snow. The face, mature perhaps but not yet weathered with the burden of later years, looks pensive. There’s a fire in the eyes bespeaking dreams yet to be played out, but the furrowing of the brow suggests concerns, second guessings, the hopes that things might turn out differently than they have.
Though still approaching the Fir-Bholg seems half a field away now, crunching through packed snow with focused tread. The snow remains thick, deep, crisp and truly frozen, but something in the tramp of those worn boots conjures their fall instead amid the rot of leaf mould. A compost from whence growing shoots and creeping things struggle forth.
These changes play out before you. But you look on impervious in your mein and voile, secure in the intensity of your own dream.
“But waitâ€¦ this is a Freehold,” recalls the Freehold. It’s glamours too are strong and backed up by Balefire, not bonfire. It remembers it’s hearth, it’s sconces, rafters, roof, graceful windows, tapestries and assorted decor. It’s permanence reasserts and the Firchlis’ changes fade leaving only their memories.
The visitor regains a more appropriate (and much less grandiose) proportion in the minds eye as he at last approaches the area traditionally reserved for audiences.
Bowing to one knee he begins:
“Explorer, tinker, come recent from study at the Great Machine (though little I remember of ‘t anow).
“A’ ye ken Winter is comes, true.
“I ‘en about and seen: Courts a’ Formor are afoot. ‘an misfortune is such my “peeps” (as ye folk say) are divided. Some deny the courts awake. Others (fools) seek alliance wi’ that Dark. But there lies madness and I’ll none of it.
“As of old goes: Enemy mine enemy, mine friend.
“So sought ye out and would ‘ve place among yer ranks an’ alliance in the war to come (perhaps also after if it do ye.)
“This one’s gifts, meager though, yet yours as asked.”
Thus saying he remains crouched in bow, antlers dipped low. The wait is perhaps brief but from his stillness and the set of his posture it seems he is prepared to remain thus years should it be this court’s will.
Flames flicker at the hearth and the seconds pass.