The reality is, the world is at war. Humans fight with humans. Humans fight with the natural land and the beasts that walk within it. The changelings fight the encroachment of the Fair Folk, and worst of all, the Lost might often battle their own. The changelings of this Court believe themselves to be the true guardians of the freehold, warriors who know that permanent peace is impossible and that war must be managed and fought by the virtuous. They, of course, claim that they're the virtuous ones.
The Lost that comprise the Court of the West obsess over martial prowess. Many carry assault rifles slung over their shoulders and knifes or swords sheathed in hip-hung scabbards. Some know how to fight with only their hands, learning close combat techniques honorable and dirty (a gentle disarm followed by a kneecap-shattering heel kick). These courtiers know that they're the first and last line of defense against the humans, against the Fae, and against other changelings.
It's the latter group that concerns them most. Changelings, it seems, have taken from their imprisonment some of the callousness from their Fae tormentors. Every one of the Lost seems capable in even the best of times to exhibit some of that pitiless cunning, and it comes out unexpectedly. In this way, changelings are their own worst enemies, and the Court of War knows that. Its members strive to tamp down such manipulations.
Those who join the Court are those who see the world as it is and want to fight for it and for themselves. Some are tough brutes, scarred physically and emotionally by their Keepers, while others are young and idealistic who, like a bright-eyed boy running off to join the military, see a way to make a difference.
The Court attempts to unify its troops with a kind of sameness. Obviously, some degree of uniqueness is critical, as weakness is easily bred through homogeneity (and the predictability is a vulnerability that seems to draw the Fae all too quickly). A Master General with a keen eye for strategy is different than the on-the-ground soldier who's master of nothing but his rifle, but the Court endeavors to instill in each of its changelings a kind of cold and distant hardness. The Court asks its courtiers not to show much emotion, and to abide by rather strict codes of honor and conduct.
And everybody trains for war. Even the savviest politico or mental strategist is nothing within the Court if he's not good with a gun, blade, or his own hands. The courtiers are almost fetishistic about their weapons, obsessing over their cleanliness, functionality, even their iconic status as something capable of stealing the life from another. Only once one has mastered some kind of martial skill is he allowed to develop in other ways.
Pledging oneself to the Court is, on the outset, easy. The Court will take anybody (the saying suggests that within any lump of coal lingers a diamond), and from there the Court members often literally beat the proper skill set and mindset into their recruits. The first year within the Court is hard, with ragtag bunches of neophytes being run ragged through countless Gauntlets and hardening rituals. Some fall away and leave the Court, and all are encouraged to do so (for if they do not have the steadfastness to remain, their weakness should not be allowed to drag the others down). Those who emerge from this year are ineluctably tougher, harder, colder than they were when they first joined up.
The rituals of the Court of War are many, but they are rarely large scale. It isn't about massive holidays or large gatherings, it's about the small rituals that one performs every day. The ritual of cleaning and maintaining a weapon. The ritual of keeping one's domicile neat and spare. The ritual of martial practice, of meditating over a cup of tea, of testing oneself against increasingly awful conditions.
Society within the Court of War is driven by ritual -- it has to be. War is brutal. It leaves one hollowed out. It appears futile. The depredations of warfare can crush the spirit and leave a changeling feeling like he did back in Arcadia, ready to collapse on the floor in a trembling fetal ball. Ritual props the courtiers up; it gives them something on which to hang their hats. Even the simplest act -- like how all members of the Court bow deeply to one another and utter gracious statements in favor of each -- helps give what is ostensibly a bloody and bloodthirsty tradition a kind of dignity and integrity.
Two larger-scale rituals are prominent within the Court. The first is, after a new recruit's first year, he's finally welcomed into the Court with a celebration. It's a chance to let loose if only a little bit, to find a kind of reward for the trials and tribulations. The second ritual, known as the Changing of the Tiger, is when the Master General of the Court retired and is replaced. It's a sorrowful, but lively celebration, a sad moment in which a beloved (whether truly or not) figure steps down, but a celebratory moment because a new Master General is taking the reins. It's the one time when the Court becomes truly raucous, firing weapons into the air, drinking profusely, engaging in clever physical challenges.
Symbols of the White Tiger (bai hu in China, byakko in Japan and baekho in Korea) are ever-present among the courtiers of the West: lots of white and black. Some wear actual tiger skins with the color bleached from them; others groom their teeth and claws to be of the tiger (yellowed, but tipped with pink to mark the old spilling of blood).
The sword is also key -- all courtiers carry a sword, some for purposes of war, others purely ornamental (having chosen to become married to a different weapon such as hands, knife, or rifle). Many become branded or tattooed with sword imagery: Some simple such as a small cross-blade brand on the back of the hand, some elaborate such as a scene of clashing blades inked across the breadth of one's shoulders.
Within the Court of the West, the Mantle is one of cold ferocity, of stone-cold martial ability. Lost with Mantle 1 to 3 radiate an eerie coldness that isn't cold to the skin so much as it is cold to the marrow of one's bones. They also tend to have their eyes glint and flash like a polished blade turned in the sun. Those with Mantle 4+ may actually see their skin develop the black stripes of the White Tiger, even manifesting a faintly downy fur. One's breath often smells of a fresh kill, the heady scent of coppery blood even though no meat has passed across that changeling's lips.
A courtier with Mantle 1+ finds himself married to whatever weapon he has chosen to carry at that time -- any weapon in his hands gains a point of Durability, becoming as steely and unyielding as the changeling is. With Mantle 3+, the changeling develops the ability to enter the fray like a tiger would -- fast and without mercy, gaining a +1 to his Initiative score. At Mantle 5, the changeling gains the reflexes of a beast, as well, allowing him to choose the higher of his Wits or Dexterity for purposes of determining Defense. Moreover, he can apply his full Defense against multiple attacks in a given round of combat.
Honor isn't an easy emotion to appreciate; some would suggest it is not an emotion at all, but a way of life. The Court of War disagrees. While honor is a code of behavior, it is also something one feels and can demonstrate in the world -- the way that a young boy takes a beating from his father without protest, the way a husband rushes to defend his wife from slander or danger or how a wife who has tainted herself with another man will walk off into a snowy night, never to be seen again. Honor, while rare, is a very real thing, say the courtiers of the White Tiger.
It's important to note that honor around the world is often linked to revenge, violence, and sex. When one's honor is impugned, he seeks the blood of he who sullied his or his family's name. Honor is also tied to monogamy, fidelity, even virginity. These, too, are principles that the Court of War find desirous.
To the Court of War, honor is everything. The changelings make many pledges and strive to keep them -- and if they don't, the honorable thing is to take one's punishment willingly and without complaint.
- Winter Masques, p. 131-133