Faerie Politics: The Seelie Court

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Among the fae in the Shadow Realm, the predominant system of governance is an anarchic approach. The fae do not, for the most part, organize themselves into states or other political groups. They value their own freedom above all else, and if someone wrongs them, it’s up to them to bring retribution to the wrongdoer. With humans, such an approach would have a tendency to lead to a cycle of mutual retribution, but many fae feel no malice towards one who brings retribution for a known transgression. However, fae often won’t bother to explain the reason for the retribution, so such a cycle could still form if the wrongdoer can’t remember what they did.

If fae work together, it’s usually in small groups, such as a nuclear family or a few close friends. The morals of the fae correspond very poorly with typical human morals, and are often found to be incomprehensible to those humans who try to understand them - the term “blue and orange morality” may come to mind. Most fae do have some form of respect for life that leads them to consider killing another sentient being to be wrong under certain circumstances, but even that isn’t especially close to human concepts of murder. Fae are usually honest about feelings such as whether they like or dislike someone (only because the idea of hiding them seems to be alien to their minds), but will readily lie about facts, beliefs, and other things. Most fae wouldn’t think twice about stealing, though despite that they may get angry if they’ve been stolen from.

Existing alongside the self-governance of the vast majority of the fae is a body of authority known as the Seelie Court, headed by the Faerie King or Queen. There is always only a king or queen at any given time, never both (the spouse or lover of the current monarch, if any, has no special status; but note that the very concept of a spouse is unusual among the fae). The Court is composed of fae from around the world, usually ones who have lived a long time. there is not set size for the number of members of the Seelie Court, but if there were fewer than 100 members the Court would press to appoint more. Usually the number of members nears (but doesn’t reach) a thousand. The king or queen has a special status; rather than being a member of the Seelie Court, they are a separate authority with different (yet complementary) powers.

Members of the Seelie Court can only be appointed by the current king or queen, though members of the Court will sometimes nominate individuals for the king’s or queen’s consideration. This also means that new members cannot be appointed if there is no king or queen currently on the throne. Though the king or queen has the authority to appoint new members, they do not hold the authority to expel existing members; this power rests with the Court as a whole, and requires at least six-sevenths of the members to vote in favour of the expulsion. If the number of votes is exactly equal to six-sevenths of the members (rounded down), it is considered as a tie which must be broken by the vote of the king or queen. The power of expulsion is only rarely exercised, however. It would take a major transgression to garner the number of votes required to expel a member of the Court. However, it is common for members of the Seelie Court to resign - not out of shame for some minor transgression (as most fae find it difficult to comprehend the concept of shame), but out of boredom. It’s also been known for fae to resign from the Seelie Court because they lost a bet with someone. Occasionally, members of the Seelie Court may remain on the Court until death, but this is unusual. The classification of a fae race as “seelie” means only that there is a member of that race on the Seelie Court; similarly, the classification of a fae race as “unseelie” means only that there is no member of that race on the Seelie Court. An individual fae may turn down an appointment.

The position of king or queen is not appointed nor inherited. Instead, the position is attained by winning at a game, known as a Throne Game. Usually, the rules of the game are set by the previous king or queen; however, if the current king or queen dies without declaring a Throne Game, the Seelie Court must design one together. Any rules imaginable are allowed, even if they are unfair (for example, biased in favour of certain people), as long as it is theoretically possible in principle for any fae to win. In fact, a king or queen who won despite the rules being against them is often respected more than one who won when the rules were in their favour. No two Throne Games are the same. Some Throne Games only last a day or two, while others can last tens or even hundreds of years. Most of the time, no Throne Game is in progress; since the king or queen can only abdicate during a Throne Game, they usually declare one just before they abdicate. (Similar to members of the Court, it’s rare for a king or queen to die on the throne.) However, they don’t have to abdicate until a winner emerges from the game. Once a winner does emerge, the previous king or queen steps down (if they haven’t already) and the winner of the Throne Game becomes the new king or queen. During a Throne Game, if the current king or queen abdicates or dies, the throne remains empty until a winner emerges. Usually, an abdicated king or queen remains as a member of the Seelie Court.

There is no set time or place for the Seelie Court to gather. They only meet when summoned, which can happen in three circumstances. Most commonly, a member of the Seelie Court puts out a request for gathering by communing with the planet (ie, with Danu, the goddess of the fae). The planet communicates this request to the current king or queen (as such, it can only be done if there is a current king or queen), and then the king or queen asks the planet to summon the Court, setting a time (usually within a few days) and place. The planet then communicates this information to all members of the Seelie Court. This sort of summoning is only permitted three times in any seven-year span (although, occasionally, the king or queen may make an exception). The second way of summoning the Seelie Court is for the current king or queen to ask the planet to summon the Court without having previously received a request; this otherwise works the same way, except for not counting towards the limit of three in seven years. Finally, if the king or queen dies while a Throne Game is not in progress, the planet immediately issues a summons to the Seelie Court, using the place of death as the meeting place and a time around one day after the death. The only purpose of this last meeting is to set a Throne Game to determine the next king or queen. This is also the only time the Court can meet while there is no king or queen on the throne.

Due to the way the Seelie Court is summoned to meet, it’s very difficult for an outsider to discover that they’re meeting, much less where and when. The most reliable way would be to directly ask a member of the Seelie Court, but it’s unlikely that they would readily speak of the time or place of the meeting without a good reason; and the Shadow Realm interferes with scrying (due to the way it overlaps with reality), making even that unreliable for detecting an impending meeting of the Court.

Once the preset time arrives, whoever summoned the Court begins by explaining their reasons for doing so. This is followed by a period of debate amongst all members of the Court. The king or queen does not participate in the debate, except to correct any misconceptions in the facts that they may notice, but they must listen carefully to all the arguments. The debate lasts for a minimum of 29 hours (excluding any recesses), until the king or queen grows tired of listening, or until some sort of consensus or compromise is reached amongst the debaters. Once the debate is over, the king or queen declares a resolution. This may be a restatement of the consensus reached (possibly with minor amendments) or their own opinion based on what they have heard of the arguments. It’s even possible for them to declare a resolution in direct contradiction to the consensus reached, though a king or queen would not do this lightly as it would anger the Court and may invite assassination attempts on them. (Such an assassination would be considered a reasonable retribution against a wrongdoing and would go unpunished, though if unsuccessful the king or queen may inflict a punishment of their own.) The resolution stated by the king or queen is law with the strength of a geas, meaning that all members of the Court must act in accordance to what the king or queen decided.

Sometimes, after the main focus of the gathering is over, other members of the Court will bring up additional issues of lesser importance - anything that they might have wanted to resolve, but didn’t consider important enough to gather the whole Court solely for the purpose of resolving it. Each such issue will result in an additional period of debate just like the main one, with the single exception that the king or queen is allowed to cut it short after as little as seven hours, rather than 29.

At any time during a meeting of the Seelie Court, a member may request a recess to be called, citing any length they desire and, optionally, their reasons for requesting a recess. Anything from five minutes to five days is considered normal, and on some rare occasions even a recess of a year or more may be approved. Once the recess has been requested, usually the king or queen asks for at least two other members to support the recess, and then approves it if that support is attained. (Occasionally, the king or queen may simply turn the request down.) Once the request is approved, the recess begins immediately, lasting for precisely the length of time approved (which on rare occasions may be different from the requested duration). During a recess, it’s considered improper to speak of the topic of debate with other members of the Seelie Court. (It’s acceptable and, in some cases, expected to speak of it with other fae who are not on the Seelie Court, or occasionally even with humans or others. Sometimes, the opportunity to do this is the sole reason to request a recess.) During a recess, there is no restriction on where the members of the Court can go or on what they can do; they know when the recess will end after all, and will promptly return to the meeting place at that time.

Membership on the Seelie Court and the role of the king or queen are both a metaphysical mark placed on the fae through the ritual of the appointment and resignation processes. As such, it is possible to identify a member of the Seelie Court using magical senses. For humanoid fae, a human using standard magical sight would see the mark of a triquetra (a petal-shaped trefoil knot) on the back of both hands of the member, drawn in the yellow of a binding spell and the gold of the power of nature. The same human would see a similar triquetra symbol on the forehead of the current king or queen, with a circle superimposed upon it. The exact details of the shape of both symbols may vary between members, but the general form always remains the same.

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