I wander o'er green hills through dreamy valleys. And find a peace no other land could knowI hear the birds make music fit for angels And watch the rivers laugh as they flow. Richard Farrelly, "Isle of Innisfree"
Over the centuries, Banality has eroded the natural places of faerie power that once proliferated the world. Gone are the enchanted forests, sacred groves, secret glens and faerie rings. Vanished are the great faerie castles and troll fortresses. The magic isles have disappeared beyond the Mists, hidden from even faerie sight by the clouds of forgetfulness. Most of the faerie roads, or trods, that once connected these faerie sites to Arcadia now lie closed by the weight of human disbelief. Despite their rarity, some few places in the world still retain their original Glamour as well as their connections to the Dreaming (see "Trods"). Changelings may find refuge from the incessant barrage of denial and rationality at these sites. Banality has little purchase here. Because of their freedom from the taint of disbelief, these Glamour-filled areas are called freeholds. Touched by Glamour, freeholds exist within the real world. They have a mundane identity just as changelings do, appearing in the mortal realm as normal houses, storefronts or wayside inns.
Many of them are shielded by wards of faerie magic that render them inconspicuous to the eyes of the unenchanted. Humans may routinely pass by a faerie tavern and see nothing but an abandoned building, dusty and in need of repair, and altogether unworthy of their attention or interest. In the same fashion, a duke's chimerical palace may have the "mortal seeming" of a spooky old Victorian house, causing feelings of uneasiness in any humans who come too close. Freeholds form the underpinnings of Kithain society, and provide the basis for the feudal structure under which modem changelings live. The Glamour of a freehold provides power and influence to the nobles or commoners who claim dominion over it. Freeholds sometimes cross the boundaries between the worlds to have a chimerical existence within the Dreaming itself. Often these freeholds serve as gateways leading to the Near Dreaming. Freeholds also serve as the heart of changelings' faerie existence. While most changelings still live in the mundane world, they usually consider a particular freehold to be their true home, the place in which they feel most comfortable and where they can be themselves without fear of attracting ridicule or denial from disbelieving mortals. A few changelings, particularly nobles, live full-time within the confines of a freehold, although such constant exposure carries with it the danger of becoming unable to cope with the "real" world.
Because freeholds have such value, changelings are deeply loyal to them. Many become obsessively concerned about every detail, sometimes turning trivial disputes over how to furnish their homes into major confrontations. Threatening a changeling's freehold is tantamount to a personal challenge. Defending a freehold is a changeling's most sacred trust. The greatest concentration of Glamour within a freehold lies in its balefire, or Ignis Vesta. Considered the heart of the freehold, this chimerical flame is the focus of magic within the structure. So long as the balefire burns, a freehold remains in existence. Should the balefire ever burn out, the freehold may be lost to Banality. When the sidhe left at the time of the Shattering, many closed their freeholds, but left the balefires lit. The embers often smoldered, awaiting their return. During the Resurgence, many such freeholds reawakened, welcoming their sidhe residents back to the land. The source of all balefires in North America is the Great Balefire that burns in the sacred well under Tara-Nar, the stronghold of High King David. Ireland claims as its Great Balefire the ever-burning heart of Emain Macha, freehold of King Finn of Ulster. Incredible effort is expended to create a freehold. After the site has been carefully chosen (a task that may take years or decades), the creator must bring balefire from another freehold and blend into it her own Glamour, which is permanently sacrificed to the effort. More often nowadays, freeholds are simply reawakened. These "sleeping freeholds" lie empty, abandoned at the time of the Shattering, with their balefires left as mere embers, awaiting the touch of changelings to fan the flames to life again.
Many changelings discover freeholds or are given them (either as a reward for services or as a part of vassalage to an overlord, or as an inheritance). When a changeling discovers or is given a freehold, she is required to swear an oath to protect the freehold and invest Glamour in the site. Once a freehold has been so claimed, no other may lay claim to it until the owner's death, unless she herself chooses to give it away. The owner of a freehold may gain Glamour from it or grant that privilege to someone of her choosing. Some changelings steal the Glamour from a freehold through a process called Reaving, but such conduct harms the site and could even destroy it. The chimerical aspect of a freehold may have little to do with its mundane appearance. One duke's castle might be a run-down mansion set back amid moldering trees, while a duchess might create her palace from a disused warehouse or an abandoned church. To some extent the taste of the ranking changeling, who presumably owns the freehold, determines hat its chimerical appearance will be. The Dreaming recognizes the changeling's right to make this determination and enforces it with Glamour.
One amusing aspect of freeholds which almost always astounds newly fledged fae is the "space inside versus the space outside" question. Whereas a freehold may have a mundane aspect similar to a railroad flat (so called because each room opens off the one in front of it like cars on a train) with 10-footwide rooms sandwiched between two other buildings, it need not be so crowded within. Indeed, walking through the door may lead a changeling into a grand foyer with a sweeping spiral staircase and a ballroom off to one side. Of course, to some degree the size of the freehold is determined by how powerful it is. A small freehold with only a little Glamour in it will never be as big as one with legendary power. Such space-bending is only possible if the entry to the freehold is in fact a doorway into the Near Dreaming, in which case nearly anything is possible within the bounds of the freehold. Freeholds that exist entirely within the real world are limited in space and size by the space that really exists.
Strangely, changelings who own freeholds have a similar effect on the Near Dreaming that provides an immediate backdrop for their structure. Thus, a theme of white and gold used to decorate a freehold in the real world might carry over into the Near Dreaming, where not only the freehold's chimerical aspect is white and gold, but so are the trees, grass, birds and animals that live nearby. Freeholds are vital to changelings not only for the refuge and Glamour they provide. Most changelings consider a particular freehold their home. Though they may not actually live within the structure, they claim it as a place they can go to in time of need, where the other changelings will care about and defend them. Freeholds provide structures within where changelings can meet with one another, either formally or informally. Some of them serve as noble courts, and by extension, function as the seats of government for changelings in the area. Finally, freeholds serve as repositories for knowledge and treasures. Without a freehold, a changeling community may slowly wither like plants dying for water.