Log:Freelands, Freemasons, and Foreboding
A few days after Ashley's last foray into London Arms, Mr. Chen called to let her know he found a few things he'd be happy to share whenever she had a chance to stop by. When she returns to the shop, he's behind the desk on a raised dais in one corner of the room, surrounded by filing cabinets, a computer on the desk wired with AOL internet service. He seems to be doing something on the computer when she arrives, and the fuzz-screech sound of a modem connecting via dialup fills the air.
Ashley strides in like she owns the place, a beatific smile on her face that suggests she walks among worshippers - though her posse is nowhere to be seen for now. "Mister Chen" she smiles in greeting; the practiced warm smile of a future politician. "Thank you so much for calling." She makes her way to the desk, looking around the shop before wincing at the screech of the internet connecting. "I hope they fix that one day" she sighs about the noise. "What were you able to find out?" A beat. "Oh...I'm not interrupting, am I?" He may need to concentrate to get that modem to work.
"Ah, Ms. Freeland," greets Mr. Chen. "A pleasure to see. Please come in. Would you care for any tea of biscuits from the other room?" He gets up from behind the desk as the computer finishes connecting and steps down from the dais. "Not at all. I was just checking email. It can wait."
"You have mail!" says the AOL voice. He ignores it.
"First, if I may, what do you know of your family history, if anything?"
"A cup of tea would not go amiss" Ashley replies with a clear, slightly English accented voice that this place seems to bring out in her. It's probably nothing like a real upper-class English accent but no one will know. "Oh...you have mail. How exciting." "Not a lot of the history, I must admit" Ashley sighs. "I understand that my family come from a long tradition of hardworking builders and craftsmen that made this town what it is. Which may be an exaggeration but Dad...Pater...is very proud of our roots and what they have contributed." Her eyes go wide with excitement. "Oh my gosh, did you find nobles in our family?"
Mr. Chen steps through the archway to gather tea and biscuits for Ashley, listening to her as he does. It's not that far. As she's finishing up and asking about nobility, he hands her the refreshments.
"Your father is correct," says Mr. Chen. "I have lived here from the earliest days of this town, in the 1960s, while they were digging the lake and bringing the bridge over stone by stone. Your grandfather's company built a good bit of this town, including your high school and the bank. Your father was among the first few graduates of the school. As for your family before here, that's a bit more complicated. Freeland as a family name only goes back a handful of generations."
There is definitely some pride from Ashley at what her family achieved in this town. It wouldn't exist without them! That may not be completely accurate, but she is going with it. "Thank you" is offered at the receipt of tea and biscuits. "Only a few generations?" Now she has a confused look as she thinks on why this would be so. "Oh...did they come from overseas and have a different name? Like, Von Friedlander or something? You know, something German during the war? I read that kind of thing happened. Which, of course, means we could totally be nobility." She doesn't want to let that idea go.
"Not quite," Mr. Chen answers with a chuckle. "But perhaps not too far off. About a hundred years before venturing to America, in the late 1700's, your family took the name rather abruptly. It had been Sawyer, but even that was not the original name. Changing patronymics before moving to this country was relatively common, you must understand. Many were coming here for a clean start, often fleeing legal or financial trouble. What caused the Sawyers to become the Freelands, I cannot say. But your particular line are from Wales, where they were originally known as Swynwr." He writes it to show her the spelling. I may have an idea on what was behind that change."
"Sawyer? Like Tom Sawyer?" Ashley considers this before shrugging. "That's not too bad a name though I guess it implies they did logging. 'Freeland' I understand. Commemorating being in the Land of the Free. Wales?" She looks disappointed about that before looking at the name as written. "How do you even pronounce that? Swyyy...n...wer? Don't they have vowels in Wales? I think I know why they changed it. No one could say it."
"In Welsh, it means conjurer," explains Mr. Chen. "Or magician. They changed it in the 1400s to avoid the Inquisition, Ms. Freeland. I'm sure you can imagine why."
"There was an Inquisition in Wales?" Ashley thinks on this a moment. "Though I guess they were burning people all over the place. Still, odd name, don't you think? No Englishmen have a name like Conjurer...do they? I mean..." she laughs, "...most names are based on what people did for a living, right?" Another laugh, though without humor. "Or is it the Welsh way of saying 'conmen'? No wonder they changed it."
"Difficult to say," says Mr. Chen. "It could have been given to them back before last names were commonplace. Or it could have been chosen to reflect their work. We laugh at things like magic now, but it wasn't always the case."
He waves it off and walks to a filing cabinet. "At any rate, your family has a long association with Freemasonry, also believed to be tied to magic." Out comes a folder, inside which is a single sheet of paper.
A tall, narrow tower on a green field and dark blue sky littered with stars. A spiral staircase winds its way around the tower, and in the uppermost window is a shining light, a beacon. 'SWYNWR' is written across the top, and the words 'strength of will' is below it. "The crest," he says.
"The Freemasons? When I was young, I used to think they were builders who did their work for free. I know better now. They're like a cult, right? Secret handshakes and all that kind of thing. Wait...my family are like cultists?" Ashley looks a bit worried but it's not as if any of them are weird - she thinks that seriously.
Thank you for the distraction, Mr. Chen. "Oh! You found a crest!" Ashley's face lights up in a big grin as she looks it over. "Wow, look how pretty it is. Way better than a couple of chevrons or anything like that. 'Strength of Will'." A pleased giggle. "That's pretty accurate. So, does the tower mean they had castles? Or is it more like a tarot thing? A symbol for something else entirely?"
"No, not a cult, Ms. Freeland," Chen counters. "A secret order. It is said they were practitioners of ancient magic. Others say it was just a club for wealthy lords. Today, they are the Masonic Temple. Who knows how much of the stories are true?" He gives her the folder and paper. "Magic is thought to be the exertion of the will to shape reality around it. The tower there represents the tower of knowledge, and the stairs are on the outside because it is impenetrable from the outside. Only a long, hard life of study can help you ascend to the top and gain entry. There are no shortcuts. Or, so the stories say. You may keep that, Ms. Freeland. A gift from London Arms."
"Sounds like I might have to ask my father...pater...about the Masons. Could be very interesting. Wait...a club for wealthy Lords?" That sounds like nobility to Ashley. "It would be pretty cool if magic was real. Imagine the good that people could do...or evil. And it happens through sheer force of will? Could be worth trying" she laughs. "Some people say I'm pretty wilful...and good at study. I can keep it? For nothing? Wow, thanks, Mr. Chen. That's so nice of you. I think my parents will be pretty excited to see it. Probably paint it on the side of the trucks now."
"Great good," agrees Mr. Chen. "Or great evil. There is a legend about the London Bridge, Ms. Freeland, that says that one single stone was once a part of Stonehenge. Five powerful people - some say people, others say creatures or even entities - came together and bound a terrible evil to it, then placed it in the bridge where an ordinary stone had been, locking the evil to it for a thousand years. Of course we don't believe in such things these days, but that doesn't mean there isn't a kernel of truth to the stories." He smiles and waves her along, heading back to his desk. "My pleasure, Ms. Freeland. Be well, and give your family my regards."
"An evil rock in the bridge? Lucky they didn't break it when they moved it here." Ashley smiles. "Though it is a nice story. If it //was// true, it would certainly make things more interesting around here." She holds up the paper. "Thanks again, Mr. Chen. I will certainly give them your regards." Ashley will finish her tea and biscuits in the next room before heading home. With such stories to tell.