If you must visit a Fae domain, there are rules. Don't eat and drink anything there; that stops you becoming too unanchored in time, though doesn't protect you completely. To a Fae, breaches in courtesy can merit severe punishment. Accept no gift or favour from the Fae unless you have given a gift or favour. Remember that within a Fae domain, gifts don't have to be material things. You can give or trade away years of your life, your eyesight, or even a disease; some things you can give away you might want to be rid of.
-Detective Inspector Kira Singh, Magician in P Division, and resident expert on the Fae.
The Fae have always been in Britain and Ireland- to hear them tell it, before there were humans here. They are ageless beings of paradoxical attitudes, capricious yet bound by oaths and their own rules. They mimic human society, but are consistently one or two hundred years out of date. In the present day, most Fae courts have a surface resemblance to formal Victorian parties, at least as far as styles of dress and manners on the surface are concerned.
Traditionally, the Fae are beings of the wilderness, far from human habitation or any sign of human civilisation. In the 21st century UK, there is little true wilderness left in most of the country, and some Fae have adapted to a more urban lifestyle. Fae are divided into a number of independent courts. Some Fae of a court come and go in the mortal world, but each court has a domain, where most of its members dwell. These Fae domains are not fully of this world.
Each Fae court is heirarchical, and ruled by an immortal noble lord or lady. The character of the noble to a great extent reflects the character of the court and the Fae within it. Fae of low ranks are not completely free-willed beings, though where free will begins and stops, and lesser Fae become extensions of their lords, is hard for mortals to say. In some courts, the ruling lord has advisors and agents who can act independently. These independent Fae might be loyal to the lord, or scheming rivals, depending on the character of the court.
Getting into a Fae domain, which is nearly always necessary in order to speak with the noble ruler, can be challenging. A domain has one or several entrances- areas one can simply walk through and find oneself in the domain. But entrances are cloaked with glamour, and can only be found deliberately by one with the Sight, a relevant divination, or who is conducted by one of the Fae native to that domain.
Just beyond an entrance is a guardian. A guardian might be a vicious Fae beast who must be driven off, but sometimes a more intelligent custodian will set a particular challenge a visitor must pass. One conducted here by a member of the court can avoid having to take part in a challenge. The difficulties of challenges vary considerably. The Fae ruler has some control over the sort of challenges a visitor will face, and can vary the difficulty of a challenge when expecting someone she might wish to see.
In the case of a group of visitors, each visitor will face a challenge. If the challenge is simply a violent guardian, there is one guardian for each visitor or a single exceptionally dangerous beast. Numbers grant no advantage when visiting a Fae domain.
Fae Lords and Courts
The Queen of Hyde Park
In Hyde Park, London, under the bridge over the Serpentine Lake, is the gateway to the realm of the Queen of Hyde Park. The Queen's realm is an endless landscape of parks, lakes, and pavillions, where it is always summer. The Queen herself seats on a high seat in the tallest pavillion, attended by her court. The Queen and her court are dressed in garish coloured clothes which otherwise resemble formal Victorian garments. The Queen and the ladies of the court are unimpeded by the apparently impractical clothes.
Theoretically, the Queen is the ruler of all Fae in London, though some challenge this claim. Nonetheless, she does have power, and even feels a responsibility to "her" city. She presents the aspect of a benevolent ruler, and seems calm and measured, but she is as dangerous as any Fae ruler. Breaches of etiquette will lead to ejection from her realm, and repeated breaches are likely to be deadly. The Queen cannot abide bores.
The Queen is naturally manipulative. She is constantly making deals with other Fae and even mortals, and trading such favours; her aim is to have ever increasing numbers individuals owing her increasingly potent favours. Mortals in the know will never accept anything from the Queen in return for an unspecified future favour.
Unsurprisingly, the Queen has enemies. About 1,500 years ago, the Queen's mother, Nimue, was killed by Fae serving the Winter King who stole the sword Excalibur. The Queen of Hyde Park still seeks to recover it from the Winter King's stronghold in the Scottish highlands.
The Winter King
The Winter King, with a domain somewhere in the Scottish highlands, is an old-fashioned Fae. He and the giants who serve him have not much changed since the time before the Romans came to the British Isles, though now only Fae who can pass as human go out into the mortal world.
Exactly where one reaches the Winter King's domain varies from month to month. Indeed, the way is not always even in Scotland, and has in the past been as far south as the Lake District in England or Snowdonia in Wales. The domain is a land of perpetual winter and deep snow, with the King's castle of ice at its heart.
The Winter King's Fae, even those of lesser stature than the giants, do not like humanity, except to hunt them in the wilderness, though they are only permitted to hunt on midwinter's night where the snow lies. The Winter King does not so much dislike humanity as dislike human civilisation, and sees such a cull as necessary to keep their cities and roads from being too close to the wild places he is most attached to on the Earth.
Each year, the Fae serving the Winter King go out into the world to bring a mortal woman back to the Winter King to be his wife. There are rules to finding the wife; the Fae seeking her cannot directly lie or use force, though they can mislead and misdirect. Sometimes the Fae make honest bargains. In the realm of the Winter King, he has the power to make bargains and grant favours which exceed material possibilities, and to some becoming the King's wife might be worth the cost.
A wife of the Winter King may do as she pleases within his domain provided she serves at ceremonial functions, and obeys the many arcane rules. The King's wife may not open certain doors, only take certain routes at certain times, and must eat food in a certain order, for example. The Fae of the domain are not out to trick her, but do not understand how the wife does not instinctively know the rules, as they do.
When the Winter King's wife breaks a rule- and it is a matter of when rather than if- the King reluctantly freezes her and places her in the Room of Statues within the castle. Within the Room of Statues are over two thousand women, in perfect suspended animation. Perhaps there is a magical ritual which could revive them.
Father Thames, the spirit of the river, was once the most powerful Fae lord in the country, not just receiving the respect of the Fae, but actual worship, as a river god, by mortal devotees. Sixty years ago, he was dead, his cult no more, and the River Thames similarly all but lifeless with pollution. Magicians and Fae still debate which was cause and which was effect.
The river now lives again, and there are now two rival Fae nobles who claim to be gods of the river, Isis and Temese. Isis deals in dreams and memory, and dwells in Oxford. She is a being of mystery and magic. Her rival, Temese, presents himself as a brash young businessman. Temese has no permanent realm, but rather travels up and down the river, accompanied by various lackeys, both mortal and Fae.
Mother Severn is the most powerful and ancient of the British river spirits, and she usually appears as an old woman. She has the title Mother of Monsters. In times past, Mother Severn received human sacrifices, drowned in the river, and gave favours in return, often in the form of a Fae monster- one of her children- she will send to destroy an enemy of one who sacrifices in her name. Today, Mother Severn no longer has mortal worshippers, but her worship was always a matter of convenience, and the old rituals to invoke her in return for a victim still work.