Part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky are among the oldest in the world; with weathered slopes bearing testimony to the passage of time. The gentle hills are covered with verdant forests and pristine waters, and have sheltered the children of the Dreaming who fled Europe and the tide of Banality that came in the wake of the Sundering. They built their faerie fortress and dancing grounds, secure in temporary isolation, among the towering rock formations set along the banks of the wide waterway that would later be known as the Rockcastle River. When the Shattering forced the sidhe to flee Earth, even this protected place was sealed and abandoned. Now, one of the ancient strongholds, called High Castle for its mountaintop location, lives again. Two sidhe, bound by their forbidden love and aided by a motley of commoners, have passed through the seals and now take refuge within its hidden towers.
Laurel County, Kentucky & the Rockcastle River Edit
On its way to join the Cumberland River, Rockcastle River forms the northern border of Laurel County, Kentucky. The fanciful rock formations that line its 75-mile course inspired the river’s name and provide some of eastern Kentucky’s most amazing scenery. Despite the ravages of both the lumber and coal industries, the forested mountainsides still boast a wealth of hardwood trees as well as many yellow pines and mountain laurel. Also among the steep cliffs jutting out from the hills are other, more intriguing rock formations, resembling multi-tiered wedding cakes, step-pyramids, or castles.
While most of these formations come from the work of wind and water, others have been formed less-naturally by the contour-method of strip mining that creates ledges conforming to the slope of the mountain. These artificial landmarks, slowly being reclaimed by native plants, give evidence to the hand of “progress” on the mountains.
One peak, High Castle Mountain, rises above its neighbors, dominating the landscape near I-75 before the interstate crosses into Rockcastle County. Carved into three tiers resembling a bishop’s miter, this ruggedly symmetrical tor bears its manmade scars with regal dignity. The resurging plants pour down its length, covering the strip-mine ledges like a dusting of emeralds. Seen from a distance, the mountain is only now returning to a vestige of its former beauty.
A Fiona Fortress Edit
Visible only to enchanted eyes, chimerical ruins of a faerie fort lie strewn about the top of the mountain. Shattered crystal towers and fallen dawn-hued arches are covered by creepers, mosses, bushes, and saplings which have taken root in the Waking World. The ruins occasionally gleam wanly in the sunlight or under the stars. In the desolate glory lies a gray boulder, the doorway to the underground environs of High Castle. Due to an ancient enchantment, this entryway can only be seen for what it is by those who mean no harm to the current inhabitants of the stronghold.
The boulder splits apart and moves aside whenever a noble of House Fiona who needs shelter steps within the perimeter of the old fort, revealing a doorway into the mountain. The entrance is otherwise invisible, even to faerie kenning, unless one stands atop the boulder and spends a point of Glamour to command the door to become visible. Once seen, the door can be simply tugged open with the old pullring set in its center. If the person means harm, though, the doorway remains cloaked by the enchantments meant to befuddle foes. These enchantments, placed by a full-blooded sidhe noble, may be broken, but only by someone of sufficient power. (A serious quest would be needed to find the means to do this.)
Beyond the door, a broad, winding stairway leads down into a great room, once used for the gathering of all the inhabitants of the castle. Seemingly carved from coal faceted so that it glimmers and glistens like black diamonds, the walls are lit by globes of swirling colors… faerie lanterns left by the former inhabitants, and the flickering radiance of the balefire, the heart of the castle. Four grand hallways, alternately gleaming in places and covered by fantastic tapestries, lead outward from the main room.
Along two of the hallways are stately suites consisting of lavish parlors, baths, dressing rooms, and bedrooms, which once served as the private quarters for the nobles of the household. Each one branches at the far end into four more halls which contain lesser rooms and apartments for other inhabitants. Some of these are maintained as guest rooms. The other two grand halls branch into kitchens, storage areas, and workrooms, some of which have now been given over to studios where the inhabitants craft the items they sell. Among these are a stillroom where Cianán makes his herbal concoctions, a potter’s shed where Lairdie throws pots (when she isn’t tending the still and making moonshine), and Arienh’s jewelry-making cubby. Harley has apparently discovered rooms even deeper in the mountain where he sculpts, and Fletcher prefers the great hall as a woodworking shop for making musical instruments (to Lairdie’s annoyance).
One hallway leads to a wonderous chimerical garden. Bright flowers and heady aromas surround a fresh-water spring (that serves as the well for the castle) which bubbles up from below and reflects the lantern-light. The tone of the lights changes throughout the day, moving from the rosy colors of dawn, the brilliant midday sun, to the glow of sunset, and at last to glow of moon and stars. Many treasures, from furnishings to jewelry, are scattered throughout the fortress, deserted by their former owners when they fled from the tide of Banality. Though parts of the castle, particularly the outermost walls, are ruined and broken, the structure as a whole has withstood the test of time.
Tamlin's Glen Edit
Not far from High Castle Mountain, a ring of oaks and yellow birches surrounds a grassy, treeless bald. A heavy curtain of enchantment cloaks the glen from mortal eyes, making it seems ordinary and uninviting. Faerie sight, though, reveals a different panorama of waving grasses and a wild profusion of flame-azaleas and red trilliums. Where the natural gateway into the circle would be, an ancient oak has been split apart, as if struck by a mighty bolt of lightning. To the fae, the oak is obviously an old doorway, now cracked and blackened. Though it may be seen from afar, attempts to approach the bald are thwarted by some unknown enchantment that befuddles the senses and sends the inquisitive in a wild-goose-chase through half the county. Kithain who keep their distance are, on rare occasions, rewarded. Once a month, on the night of the full moon, some claim to see a hazy figure rise up in the center of the bald, and, fiddle in hand, begins to play soft, ethereal melodies that travel on the wings of the night wind.
Well before Columbus “discovered” America, the fae came to the land they called Tir-na-N'og. Driven westward by the Sundering, a band of nobles of House Fiona, accompanied by their household of loyal commoners and under the leadership of Lord Tamlin the Fiddler, sought refuge in the blue hills of what would become eastern Kentucky, hoping that here they would be safe, at least for a time, from the inexorable tide of Banality. Along the western fringes of the Cumberland Mountains, amid hills as green and luxurious as the Caledonian highlands, they found their place of shelter. With high hearts and spirits made joyful by the renewal of hope, they set to work constructing a fortress atop a mountain that rose gracefully above its neighbors.
Inspired by the beauty of the mountain laurel and wild trillium that grew around them and the proud hunting cries of the bald eagles that soared above, these refugees created a chimerical castle in the image of their dreams. Only one was their work interrupted by the sudden appearance of a brown-skinned, raven-haired woman clad in the skin of a white deer and bearing an eagle feather in her hand. A gray wolf stood at her side. The Fiona recognized her as fae, but she was unlike any child of the Dreaming they had ever seen.
The woman called herself Weeping Sky, and proclaimed that she was a messenger from the nunnehi, upon whose land the Fiona were building. Exiles from their own land, the Fiona realized the importance of the land to the nunnehi and told Weeping Sky of their troubles, offering her and her tribe many gifts in return for allowing them to occupy their chosen site. They swore oaths, backed by geasa, that they would encroach “this far, and no farther,” and opened their new freehold to visits from their sworn brethren, the nunnehi.
Together, they dedicated a nearby mountain bald, surrounded by a ring of oaks and yellow birches, as a place of feasting and celebration, to be held in common for as long as the blue sky arched overhead.
The Fiona completed their mountain aerie, a shining crystalline castle displaying all the colors of the sky, the sediments, and the ever-changing leaves that marked the passing of the seasons. Bathed in sunlight and washed in the glory of the moon and stars, the dwellers of the High Castle exulted in their newfound paradise.
Numerous trods were opened between High Castle and other faerie freeholds across the land and sea. Visitors, so long as they respected the faerie’s oaths of brotherhood with the nunnehi, were always welcome.
Many more Kithain petitioned to join High Castle, as their own holdings came under attack from the justifiably angry native faeries whose lands they had usurped. Because they had promised to expand their holdings no farther, the Fiona began to build down into the mountain itself to accommodate the influx. Following a message that came in a dream, Lord Tamlin moved the Balefire to the deepest recesses of the castle’s interior, where its fiery Glamour spread throughout the mountain’s heart.
The Leavetaking Edit
Then came the Shattering. There had been warnings from the other freeholds that the bulwarks erected in the Summer Lands of the new world were collapsing under the weight of humanity’s growing disbelief in things magical. Their nunnehi friends, who were, themselves, preparing to undergo their own drastic rituals in the hope of surviving the impending disaster, begged the denizens of High Castle to leave, fearing that their frail faerie natures would be unable to withstand the icy winds of disbelief and reason. Passionately devoted to their new home, the Fiona insisted that they would stay until the walls of the castle crumbled around them.
The day came when a tremor swept through the land, a cataclysmic shuddering that bore no resemblance to the natural movement of rock upon rock: the supernatural death throe that marked the arrival of the Shattering. The turreted towers of High Castle trembled as the battering ram of Banality crashed against the castle gate. The castle walls cracked and buckled, and a rain of crystal stones showered the fortress’ inner court. Many within the castle feared that they had waited too long and that High Castle’s death would be their own.
Knowing that there was little time left, Lord Tamlin wove a powerful enchantment around the remains of the castle, warding the balefire with potent protections against Banality, and selaing the doors of the fortress with song. As with the tongue of a True Bard, he bound the freehold to the Dreaming with the oath: “May you hold from without and be held within unitl the silver lion returns, in need once again. May you withstand the darkness and keep the light concealed within until that day. May time and weather serve to hide you, but may they never harm you. By moon and mist and mountain may my desires come to pass.”
Lord Tamlin then ordered his household, nobles and commoners alike, to gather swiftly at the ring of oaks near the feasting ground, the faerie bald, where stood a quickly fading gateway to Arcadia. There, in the presence of their nunnehi cousins, the nobles of House Fiona bade farewell to the green forests and laurel-covered slopes which had become their adopted home. Many of the commoners chose to stay behind, casting their lot with the nunnehi, who welcomed them to stay.
One by one, members of High Castle passed through the oaken gate. From his place behind his household, Lord Tamlin saw the fragile portal start to splinter. The trod ahead was fracturing, fading into beams of moonlight and silver sheets of rain. Many of the sidhe were lost, falling through and fading or stepping off the path and disappearing as the trod gave way around them. Feeling his own Glamour waning, drained by Banality, yet knowing that his people were doomed if he could not hold the gateway and strengthen the trod, Lord Tamlin stepped to the center of the circle and raised his fiddle. Waving his bow in salute and bidding his household farewell, Lord Tamlin, who was named in honor of a mortal knight beloved by a faerie queen but lost to her forever, began to play the threefold song, the most powerful of the bardic enchantments. From the strings of his instrument sprang forth the geantraí, the song of joy celebrating his household’s sojourn in the blessed hills of Tir-na-N'og. Next, he played the mournful goltraí, and the sadness of his lament pierced the stillness of the moonlit night, calling down the Glamour of the stars and the power of the oaks to hold open the fading gate. As he began his final tune, the suantraí, or the song of slumber, the nunnehi, who had gathered to stand as witness to the sorrowful leavetaking, saw that the courage of the Fiona lord had doomed him to remain in the world of mortals, for the gateway had withered and crumbled. Like his namesake, Lord Tamlin would be lost to the Dreaming. Still he played, knowing that the Glamour of his music was needed to hold the trod open beyond the faded portal.
From their secret knowledge of the ways of Glamour, the nunnehi wove their own enchantment as a last gift to the stranger who had become one with the people and the land. Shrouding the mountain bald with their own protective wards, they created an impenetrable glen, filled with Glamour, where Lord Tamlin could withstand the ravages of the bitter outside world. Before their own magics hid him from their view, the nunnehi saw Lord Tamlin slump to the ground, fiddle cradled to his breast, overcome by his own song of sleep.
Years of Darkness Edit
Until the arrival of the European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, the freehold and the faerie bald remained unknown to the outside world. A few of the native tribes travels the game trails that passed nearby, but none entered the places once held by the children of the Dreaming.
The settling of the Appalachian wilderness brought European settlers, many of them from Ireland, Scotland, and England, to the fertile mountains of the Cumberland region. Small towns spreang up in the valley, and little by little, the native tribes, the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Shawnee, were forced to cede their lands to the greedy newcomers. The nunnehi shunned these mortals who, although they dreamed fierce dreams of conquest and possession, knew little of the giving of gifts and the sharing of oaths. Retreating from the eyes of the intruders, they sought refuge in their own hidden places, watching as the world around them suffered under the iron blade of the plow and the edge of the axe.
In the late 19th century, the miners came to the Cumberland, drawn by reports of rich veins of bituminous coal lying just beneath the surface. Though High Castle Mountain was spared from the ravages of their machinery until the advent of contour strip mining, it eventually fell before the onslaught of greed. Terraces were cut into the mountain’s green hillside and coal was ripped from its earthy embrace. The castle within, sealed from Banality by the ancient enchantment, shuddered under the assault, but held. Parts of the outer walls were razed and untold chimerical treasures were shattered or crushed, but the balefire still burned, albeit weakly, deep within the mountain’s center. Ironically, the cuttings made by the strip miners created a three-tiered profile of stark rock walls capped by verdant greenery that towers over the valleys below, looking for all the world like some ancient faerie fort set down amongst the mountains… a hint of its former glory.
The Breaking of the Seals Edit
The return of the sidhe to Earth and the establishment of the Kingdom of Concordia brought about the proliferation of new freeholds throughout the North American continent. The southeastern United States, including the mountains of southern Appalachia, fell under the protection of the Kingdom of Willows. Some of the ancient faerie strongholds were rediscovered and claimed by various noble sidhe. The wording of Lord Tamlin’s oath, however, kept the fortress of High Castle hidden from even the most diligent Kithain eyes until the coming of a pair of fugitive sidhe fulfilled the conditions of his swearing.
In the northern Kingdom of Apples, Lady Arienh, a flaming-haired daughter of House Fiona, whose songs rivaled the melodies of the meadowlark and the nightingale, met and fell in love with Cianán ap Liam, a gentle knight known for his healing gifts. All would have been well but for the fact that Arienh’s twin brother, Lord Dillon, objected to his sister’s passion for a member of House Liam, a line considered oathbreakers by the other sidhe. When the two lovers’ affections for one another became known to him, Dillon banished Cianán from his freehold and forbade him any contact with Arienh. Rather than lose her fated love, Arienh fled south with Cianán to the Kingdom of Willows, hoping to find refuge somewhere within the isolated mountains.
In a rage, Lord Dillon sent his huntsmen and a pack of chimerical hounds after the pair. He, himself, swore an oath to follow his sister to the ends of the earth, if necessary, and to restore the blemished honor of House Fiona.
Fleeing the hunt, which nightly closed on them, the lovers chanced upon a group of three commoners, descendants of some of the original inhabitants of High Castle. The three; a pooka, a boggan, and a redcap, knew vague legends of a great faerie castle which once graced the peak and reached into the depths of the nearby mountain. Looking for a place in which to pass the cold winter, they had searched for a found what they believed to be the remnants of the structure, but had been unable to find an entrance. Hoping that they had discovered a refuge to hide in, the lovers begged the three to lead them to the area.
With the sounds of the hunt ringing out behind them less than a mile away, the group reached the summit of the mountain, As Arienh stepped within the boundaries of the old castle, a great rumbling shook the ground and a blaze of light sprang from a gray boulder, which cracked in half, revealing a shimmering doorwat and a dark staircase leading down into the hill. Far below, invisible to all but faerie sight, the embers of the balefire stirred and burst into full potency. Nobles and commoners entered together and the door sealed shut behind them, hiding them from those who followed. The silver lion had returned.
The High Castle Crafters Edit
Safe within their mountain aerie, the five Kithain have established their own society based upon their growing friendship and mutual need. Eschewing the traditions of a nobility which despises and hunts them, Arienh and Cianán have renounced their titles and declared themselves one in spirit with their commoner allies. Fletcher, Lairdie, and Harley have accepted the two sidhe as equals in their company. All have sworn oaths of friendship with one another. The residents of High Castle share a love of music and for making things of beauty, and their talents have enabled them to leave their stronghold on occasion and spread the Glamour of their creative abilities among the mortals who inhabit the sparsely populated county. They are also able to glean a little Glamour of their own from the artists who frequent the craft festivals and fairs.
In a region known for its native crafters and artisans, the work of the High Castle Crafters is noted for its richness of detail and its delicate artistry. At craft fairs throughout Kentucky and the southeast, the booths operated by the motley attract the attention of connoisseurs of handmade goods. Cianán’s special brands of herbal teas and infusions have garnered a reputation for their medicinal properties, while a small coterie of trusted individuals meets secretly with Lairdie to purchase quart jars of her potent “homebrew.” In addition to the work of their hands, Arienh and Fletcher also find an outlet for their musical artistry by performing old Celtic and mountain ballads for an appreciative audience of folk enthusiasts. A lower class of entertainment, enjoyed by many of the local “good ol’ boys,” is provided by Harley, who bills himself as “the man who can eat anything.”
Motley Members Edit
The Phantom Fiddler Edit
Though the true story of Lord Tamlin has been lost in the centuries since the Shattering, the native tribes and local people alike tell the story of the Phantom Fiddler. It is said that on certain nights up on the old bald near High Castle Mountain, strange and mournful music can be heard. Some say it’s the devil enticing folks to an opening into hell; others say there is nothing more than the wind in the trees which circle the bald. The High Castle motley have heard the music and more than once have set out to discover the truth behind the waves of Glamour that pour forth with the rising of every full moon. Like all others who have tried to penetrate the secret of the oak-ringed bald, they, too, have found themselves wandering in circles, their minds befuddled by some mysterious enchantments. Recently, they have mounted a new campaign. Rather than trying to enter the bald, they have taken their instruments and their finest works of art to the edge of the trees and played their most tuneful melodies beneath the light of the rising moon. Although their gifts remain untouched and their songs dissipate upon the breezes of the night, both Arienh and Fletcher have sworn that they hear, from deep within the bald, the dulcet sounds of a mournful fiddle echoing their refrains. Furthermore, Cianán has begun to dream of a crystalline castle rising above the hill…
Lord Tamlin, "The Phantom Fiddler" Edit
Lord Tamlin is an ancient faerie with the powers and knowledge of a true bard, but he is also trapped within the faerie glen where he played the tunes that held the gate while his household escaped to Arcadia. Were he to leave the glen, or were it to be breached, he would likely die within minutes. Being true fae, he has no resistance to the force of Banality. He is honorable, heroic, and utterly lonely within his circumscribed glen.
External Relations Edit
The Kingdom of Willows Edit
The High Castle Crafters have no official titles with the Kingdom of Willows. Fearing that the knowledge of their whereabouts will reach Dillon’s ears, Arienh and Cianán have neglected to notify any of the Seelie rulers of their appropriation of High Castle. In addition, the motley opposes the imposition of the laws of the noble sidhe upon a changeling culture (the nunnehi) that has survived for centuries without foreign interference. The rebellious, independent spirit of the mountains has taken root and flourished within the hearts of the motley.
The Nunnehi Edit
Since their reclamation of High Castle, the five Kithain have been visited by emissaries from the local nunnehi, many of whom still remember the ancient agreements sworn by the freehold’s original lord. Eager to safeguard their new home, the motley readily agreed to renew the pledges of friendship and mutual defense, despite the fact that their alliance with these native fae has put them at odds with the policies of the Kingdom of Willows. Because the dwellers of the High Castle honor the ancient customs and laws of the nunnehi, they are safe from the harassment experienced by other freeholds who refuse to acknowledge the claims of the native nunnehi.
Other Kithain Edit
Quietly, word has spread among the Kithain of the region who are dispossessed, who feel slighted by the sidhe-dominated societies in which they live, or who simply want to travel, that the High Castle Crafters welcome those who mean them no harm. Fae attracted to the Glamour in Cianán’s herbal concoctions or Arienh’s Jewelry may be invited back to the stronghold after being sworn to secrecy about it. Thus, though the old fortress seems isolated, many visitors find their way to it and stay for a day or a week. Most of them bring news of court and other freeholds.
The southwestern mountains are home to a number of Garou, but the ranks of these warriors of Gaia are too thinly spread to cover the vast amount of territory which comprises the Appalachian wilderness. So far, only one Garou has sought to contact this group of Kithain and has received their invitation to visit them in their freehold. Anubis Hillwalker, a Silent Strider who wanders the mountains as a circuit rider and traveling “preacher” of his own natural world religions, has broadened his route to include a brief stopover at High Castle every month or so.
The wilderness of eastern Kentucky contains many places where wyld magic has collected, and a few mages have come to the area in search of rumored stores of Tass. They have been thwarted, for the most part, by the local nunnehi, who have occasionally requested aid from the motley in protecting their lands from those who would drain it of its remaining magic. A few mages, however, have succeeded in winning the trust of both the motley and the nunnehi who dwell nearby. Among these is a Dreamspeaker named Tayanita, a mixed-blood Cherokee who first encountered the motley at a craft show, where she sensed true magic in Cianán’s concoctions.
The restless spirits of a few strip miners killed while stripping the landscape in search of coal still have occasion to visit the site of their death. While the motley has no knowledge of the politics of the Underworld, the presence of these unhappy wraiths occasionally impinges upon their faerie sight and there has been some discussion among the members of the motley as to whether or not there is anything that can be done to bring peace to these unfortunate souls. There are also rumors of an ancient Cherokee burial ground located near the mountain, but the nunnehi have requested that their allies avoid this sacred place.
Their work as crafters and musicians has involved the motley with a number of mortals. The High Castle Crafters maintain a post office box in nearby London, Kentucky, where they receive orders for crafted items as well as notices and invitations to craft shows. Although their relations with the mortal world are somewhat restricted by their fear of discovery, the members of the motley have managed to make a few friends among the local crafters and musicians. Because of Harley’s insatiable appetite for action films, they regularly attend opening night at various London movie theaters. Lairdie’s connections with other local “brewers” serve to keep the group informed of any suspicious strangers asking questions about them.