The Court of the North is one of the four directional courts of the changelings within Eastern lands. Hard, detached, and ascetic, they have so little to lose that they are no longer attractive to the Fae. They thrive on Suffering.
The Court of the North follows, to a point, the Buddhist "truth" that all of life is suffering. Human beings are imperfect, and changelings even less so. The Lost are made in the image of the Fair Folk, and this, too, is imperfect. All imperfection leads to suffering; it's simply the nature of things.
This is what the Armor Court claims to see most often: A changeling escapes his Keeper, and flees the Hedge back to his home. Once home, he embraces life too easily. He seeks comfort away from the horrors of his durance. He exhibits great emotion, connects himself with the material world of money, the mental world of love and attachment, the physical world of pleasure. He shies away from the suffering he experienced, and in once again claiming a kind of happiness in this world, as wide or as meager as the changeling can manage it, he once again knows fear. The fear is of losing what he has regained. His life. His money. His loves. His pleasures. The Fair Folk can come out of nowhere -- descending out of a bleak fog or crawling out through a broken mirror -- and take it all away again with but a snap of their spidery fingers.
The Court of the North refuses to become that fearful thing. Therefore, they practice suffering, and in suffering, detachment. One's attachments lead to fear of losing those attachments and so, by and large, they deny themselves such pleasures. Money? No. Love? Not in a romantic sense, at least. Physical pleasures? Denied. If they do not have these things, the Fair Folk cannot take them away. And since the True Fae seem to take some pleasure in plundering one's life and stealing all that the poor fool has, this makes the Lost of the Northern Court undesirable to the Fae. While some Fae may endeavor to bring these courtiers harm just to see if they might break, many Fae are lazy and indolent, and prefer to go after easier targets. Targets with more to pillage.
The Court favors the Black Tortoise (Xuan Wu in China, Genbu in Japan, Hyeon-mu in Korea). In the old stories, the Black Tortoise became heavenly by purging himself of his humanity and by rejecting all the demons from his past. By denying the demons, he stole their power.
The changelings of the Armor Court are often ascetics. Some are obviously so, with flesh exposed to the elements, ribs showing from a lack of food, and skin darkened from the sun. But such a level of discipline isn't necessary, and many of the courtiers simply mitigate their desires and live sparely. One might wear all black, and live in a bare apartment with little more than a bed and a toilet. Most of them are simple, sagely, even stubborn in their devotion to freeing themselves from attachments. They tend not to have much money, possessing usually the bare minimum to help them get by. By the Court's demands, they may not fall in love or have physical relationships. (The reality is that this falls apart more often than the Court would care to admit, and at the bare minimum, they ask that the courtiers keep such relationships hidden and temporary.)
The Court only admits those who are willing to commit to this lifestyle. They offer no tests to neophyte courtiers, no trials to test their worth. Any and all are allowed to be a part of the Court, but once a part of it, they must adhere to the Court's demands for a spare life filled with suffering or be ejected from within its ranks. Some have an easier time of it than others. A Tunnelgrub who emerges from the Hedge and lives in the basement of an old theater with little to eat will have a far easier time playing by the Court's rules than some Bright One who immediately assumes an idle, opulent lifestyle (though, one wonders why she would bother to join the Court of the North in the first place, unless she is being particularly troubled by her fetch or her Keeper and seeks extreme measures with which to combat them).
Worth noting is that many within the Court are able fighters. However, part of that lies in the fact that any martial skills the changelings possess are intended to be used for defense, not offense. ("Always defend, never attack," is a common motto among the older courtiers.) Attacking is, in its way, a manner of attachment and risk -- put oneself out there, extend the spear, and you may lose the spear or even your hand. But stay where you are and wait for the attack to come in, well, that is how the Black Tortoise would do it, wouldn't he? By stooping low and staying with his shell armor, he lets others make their attack -- and, inevitably, fail in that assault.
The Court of the North keeps various storehouses (stupas) of many tokens and other artifacts of power -- a curious thing, given their distaste for detachment. For the most part, they keep these items of supernatural power so that they do not fall into the hands of others. The Court thereby generally refuses to use the tokens themselves -- or, at least, they keep them out of the individual hands of their courtiers, doling them out only when the Court at large views it as necessary. (For instance, a motley under attack from hobgoblins might be granted temporary use of powerful supernatural weapons.) Once a year, though, when the cherry blossoms begin to drop, the Court brings the tokens out of their storehouses and showcases them much in the way that one might showcase relics tied to the Buddha or to Catholic saints. None are allowed to use or even touch the tokens, and instead the artifacts are meant to remind the Lost of their time enslaved and the suffering they underwent. Most don't think it a celebration because of this, but the courtiers do. They find that remembering their suffering and how they have adapted to it cause for satisfaction and some level of celebration.
Other rituals are periods of pain and tribulation brought on by oneself. Some call this the Gauntlet -- a changeling is expected from time to time to renew his friendship with suffering. How he does this is up to him, though many prefer physical pain (flagellation, deprivation, branding, piercing). Others like to make trouble for themselves -- they court danger, make pledges just to break them, taunt the Fair Folk from afar.
Black and white are the colors of the Court of the North. Other symbols include the stupa (the Buddhist mound or storehouse said initially to contain the Buddha's ashes) and pieces of old Chinese or Japanese armor (most common is the old Shang dynasty armor, which was literally formed of turtle shells bound tightly with cords). Many courtiers wear little black turtle fetishes, either on a necklace, around the wrist, or sitting in one's pocket. Beyond that, the Court doesn't give in to too many symbols, once again hoping to eschew attachment.
The Mantle of the Court of the North is, just as its courtiers and philosophies, stark and simple. At Mantle 1 to 3, a courtier may occasionally give off a whiff of dust and ash (similar to those ashes of the Buddha), or appear to bear scars that were never physically earned. Those of Mantle 4+ might show bodies laced with a network of scar tissue or tortoise-shell pattern of bruises and contusions, and parts of the flesh might appear armored momentarily, like the black glassy shell of Genbu.
At Mantle 1, the changeling can ignore any penalties taken from fatigue or deprivation (the character may still die from them, but he doesn't find his abilities reduced because his mind stays clear and his body sharp even in denying it its necessities). At Mantle 3, the changeling can ignore one die from penalties taken as the result of wounds (so, if she were suffering -2 dice from injuries, she would only really suffer a -1 penalty). At Mantle 5, the changeling may once per scene use his Resolve score as his armor rating for a number of turns equal to his Wyrd (though this doesn't stack with any other type of armor, supernatural or mundane).
The changelings of the Armor Court are not supposed to delight in suffering, though they are said to appreciate it. For the most part, it's true. They don't revel in another's pain -- a woman starving on the street, a child bearing the bruises of an abusive parent, a man beaten down for his convictions -- but they do appreciate the necessity of suffering and so it is what they consider most important. They like to witness suffering in action and its results. In action, they might stand and watch a factory worker labor his fingers to the bone. In suffering, the changelings might instead prefer to see the man at home, trying to cook himself dinner or repair a broken door with his feeble, damaged hands.
The changelings try not to be callous about it, of course. They encourage others and try to show them ways to overcome their suffering while simultaneously embracing it, though this isn't perfect. Certainly many give into the suffering of others, enjoying it in ways that are perhaps aberrant. While many within the Court favor high Clarity, it's true that some start to dwindle away from their humanity as they cling to the anguish of others (even going so far as to cause the anguish of others because, to them, what's good for the goose must also be good for the gander).
Members of this Court are therefore good at one of two things: Alleviating the suffering of others and causing it. Rarely is one courtier good at both, though stranger things have happened.
- Winter Masques, p. 122-124