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|“||The wind told me you were coming.||”|
No one knows how long the Hedge has stood as a barrier between the world of humans and the lands of Faerie. Certainly the True Fae might know, but accurate remembrance of history isn’t a quality commonly associated with the Gentry. The stories told by hobgoblins about the Hedge are somewhat more reliable, especially among those hobgoblins that are possessed of extraordinarily long lives. Billy Birch claims to be the first hobgoblin to develop intelligence, well before human history had even gotten started. Billy says he remembers when the Hedge was wilder, more untamed and less traveled than today. The most interesting thing about Billy’s claim is that no one refutes him; not True Fae, changeling scholar, or even hobgoblin curmudgeon.
Billy strides tall among the Thorns with the wind as his constant companion. True Fae and changelings alike seek him out to hear about the history and nature of the Hedge, and to question him about more current events. Billy says the wind whispers secrets in his ears that no one else can hear. He takes no sides in conflicts and answers questions with an honesty that is surprising to find in the Hedge. Billy will direct an escaped changeling toward the nearest exit from the Hedge and, minutes later, report the direction traveled by that changeling to their erstwhile Keeper. Generally peaceable, Billy will respond to violence with violence and his roused ire is a terrible thing to behold.
It might seem a simple thing to find Billy and ask him questions —after all, how does a 10’ tall tree hide? Nothing could be further from the truth. Long centuries spent in the Hedge (and the Contracts at his command) have taught him how to hide as well as how to conceal signs of his passing. With the wind constantly whispering in his ears (see below), it’s nearly impossible to sneak up on Billy and he’s only found when he feels like being found. Most often Billy chooses to be found when he takes a break in the evening to digest a particularly toothsome bit of loam or sink his feet into fresh water. At these times of rest, Billy is usually open to some conversation with passersby and may even seek out fellow travelers if the wind tells him some are nearby.
Billy insists on trading tales for tales. It doesn’t matter to him if the story told was made up on the spot, stolen from a TV show or movie, or if the teller relates true-life experiences. What matters to Billy is the telling. Billy prizes knowledge above all else, both the giving and receiving of it. Fortunately, Billy is an easy audience to please. Stories that might bore human audiences to distraction hold Billy just as rapt as the best blockbuster thriller. He soaks up the information presented while whittling away at a piece of wood gathered from his own body, only occasionally interrupting to ask for clarifications. When it comes his turn to speak, Billy will politely ask his “guests” what interests them. He will answer any question and relate any story to the best of his ability, completely without prevarication.
Billy never lies and he recognizes a lie when he hears one. Lies are one of the few things (other than outright assault) that move him to anger. From his point of view, a lie taints information and corrupts the purpose of intelligence. Other than the obvious drawbacks of angering a giant in tree form, Billy Birch can call upon the other denizens of the Hedge to defend him. Even normally mindless predators hold a strange kind of respect for Billy and will rush to his aid. It’s said that even the True Fae will respond to Billy’s cries for help and, even if that’s not true, smart changelings don’t test their luck. If the situation devolves to violence, opponents find Billy eager to satisfy. He dispatches his enemies with crushing blows from his wooden fists or by simply picking up an adversary and hurling them into the Thorns.
One story told about Billy Birch is that he uses the papery bark that peels from his hide to record information. It’s said that Billy hides these records in the dens of bloodthirsty predators or in Hollows of his own making. Exactly what might be written on the birch scraps is up for debate. Billy is well known for never forgetting a fact, so why should he bother to write anything down at all? One theory suggests that the only way Billy can forget something is by writing it down. The very act of scribing information removes it from his memory. Any number of changelings (especially the Autumn Court) are curious to find out exactly what kind of information is so repellant that Billy would willingly expunge it.
Some hobgoblins are the result of unfortunate humans or animals lost too long in the Hedge, their bodies and minds warped and twisted by the Thorns they were unable to escape. Other hobgoblins, maybe most, were born directly out of the magic of the Hedge. Billy Birch is undoubtedly one of the latter. No one that has seen or spoken to Billy believes he could ever have been human.
Billy stands 10’ tall and, when still, is easy to mistake for the tree he’s named after. His body is covered in peeling white bark, his feet are tangled masses of roots, and his legs are sturdy and trunklike. Long, thick, branches form his arms, which end in gnarled hands with fingers that constantly break off and regrow. His wooden head and face are nearly hidden among the green leaves growing on the branches that form his shoulders. Billy is much faster than might be supposed, given his apparently unhurried stride and while slow of wit (Billy doesn’t understand humor) he is quick of mind.
Mental Attributes: Intelligence 5, Wits 2, Resolve 5
Physical Attributes: Strength 6, Dexterity 2, Stamina 8
Social Attributes: Presence 5, Manipulation 2, Composure 5
Mental Skills: Crafts 5 (Woodworking), Investigation 4, Occult 4 (True Fae)
Physical Skills: Brawl 5, Stealth (Quiet and Still) 7
Social Skills: Animal Ken (Hedge) 3, Empathy 5, Expression (Tale-spinner) 5, Persuasion 4, Subterfuge 3
Merits: Danger Sense, Eidetic Memory, Encyclopedic Knowledge, Natural Immunity, Toxin Resistance
Speed: 16 (species factor 8)
Contracts: Smoke 5, Stone 5
Glamour/per Turn: 14/5
Armor: 5 (Natural Armor)
• Zephyr’s Tale: Similar to the Dream Contract, “Pathfinder”, this Aspect relates information about the Hedge. Unlike Pathfinder, this Aspect is always active as long as the wind blows. This means that anyone hoping to sneak up on Billy must figure out a way to stop the wind from blowing to have any hope of doing so. Information gained by listening to Zephyr’s Tale is also much more in-depth than that provided by Pathfinder. At any time Billy can determine exactly who (or what) is within his immediate vicinity and can discern, with complete accuracy, which path leads to where. The wind also whispers secrets about the Hedge to Billy as he travels, like the whereabouts of Hollows, lost treasures and useful goblin fruits.
• Rising Ire: Normally fairly friendly and easygoing (for a hobgoblin), Billy transforms into a figure worthy of terror when angered. During combat only, Billy may activate any Contract of Stone without paying the cost in glamour, exactly as if he had fulfilled its catch. In addition, the wind carries Billy’s howls of outrage to nearby Hedge dwellers (including passing Gentry), who will immediately move to assist him.
- Dancers in the Dusk, p. 100-102