Although first seen south of the Evesque Valley at a Day of Champions still in living memory, Freege Horns enjoy a tradition quite ancient in the Evesque Valley and regions further north. Although no exact origin of the instrument is known, it is assumed that more primitive forms have existed as far back as people have lived in these places.
Freege Horns are played by a troupe of minstrels, rather than a single player, due to the size and complexity of the instrument. One set of Freege Horns consists of anywhere from five horns on up, the most elaborate sets consisting of upwards of 40 horns. A few travelling minstrels play a single Freege Horn, but the effect is so diminished that very few people consider this a true rendition of the music. Due to the enormous size of a Freege Horn set, travelling musicians typically travel by DermPachyges which are chartered for their benefit.
Typically (on a smaller set of horns) one player will sit on the platform and operate the keys of the horns. This may be done directly, or via an elaborate system of pulleys, levers, and ropes. Beneath the platform, two or more players will operate the bellows that force the air through the horns. These players below the platform are not concealed in any way, and are considered a full part of the performing troupe. The reasons for this will be made evident in a moment. In fact, in some of the most modern Freege Horn ensembles, the bellows-men may be on the main platform with the key-man. Purists consider this distracting, and to be done purely for political motives.
At the end of a performance, it is traditional that one of the bellows-men will say to the other, "We played mighty fine tonight, so we did!" The other will reply "Aye, so we did!" And the keys-man will reply "Aye, even so, we surely did."
The roots of this little ritual go back to a story that is told about a performance many generations ago. In those days, the bellows-men were completely concealed under the platform, or behind the stage. At the end of a particularly spectacular performance, the bellows-man approached the keys-man (apparently it was a very small set of horns) and said "We played mighty fine tonight, so we did!" To this, the keys-man indignantly replied "We!? What is this 'we' stuff? I played mighty fine, so I did, so I did!"
The following night, when the keys-man sat down on stage and began his performance, he was greeted by complete silence. However he worked his contraption, there was only silence. After a few minutes of this, he notices his bellows-man sitting in the front row of the auditorium, smiling broadly at him. Upon catching his eye, the bellows-man mouthed "We played mighty fine last night, so we did!" The keys-man, duely chastised, responded, "Aye, even so, we surely did." The bellows-man returned to his post, and the concert commenced. Since that time, this little ritual is repeated at the end of each concert, that the audience might understand it was a team effort.
The more cynical of the great Freege Horn virtuosoes claim that this story is perpetuated primarily to keep the wages of the bellows-men on a par with that of the real musicians. Very few of them, however, are willing to say this publically.
Perhaps the most famous set of Freege Horns is the one in The Cadaver. It is mentioned in the earliest records of that institution, and it is well known that, at least the last four times, it has been manhandled outside prior to the torchings of the saloon. This is made more amazing by the fact that, after the first few times, you'd have thought that the sight of 20 or 30 men carrying the horns out, while others stood around impatiently with burning torches, would have raised at least some suspicions. This is perhaps evidence that people will believe almost anything after a few cups of Fefferberry wine.
Almost every night, the freege horns in the 'Daver can be heard belting out old favorites like Hey Gently Gilly, My Heart Is Like A Barge (It's Loaded Down With Your Refuse), or anything by Rater Goldfish (the current favorite of Whostley, the infamous 'Daver keys-man). As you may imagine, this makes it exceptionally hard to hear anything. This is one of the many factors that makes the 'Daver such a fine meeting place for conversations that you don't wish to be overheard. (See the story at the end of this entry for one famous example.)
The sound of the Freege Horn varies greatly, depending on the number and type of horns in the set. The set at The Cadaver contains 16 horns, and is played by one keys-man and two bellows-men. The Freege horn at Baleman, which was destroyed along with Baleman in the Earthquake of Fluyr, had 76 horns, and required 8 keys-men and 34 bellows-men. While the instrument at the 'Daver sounds like a herd of Aelfants in heat, the horns at Baleman were reported to have a thousand voices, and be able to imitate birds, whistling, or, indeed, a herd of Aelfants in heat. It is told that many thousands of people died in the collapse of Baleman because, although they clearly heard the beginnings of the danger, many thought it was just another of the horns' voices, and remained in their seats to the end, while those near doors and windows fled and saved themselves.
Visitors to the Evesque Valley will often hear the horns playing from nearby towns and villages. The voice of a well-tuned set of Freege Horns can carry several miles. Unfortunately, the voice of a poorly-tuned Freege Horn can carry considerably farther. (Perhaps this is why real estate in the vicinity of the 'Daver is so inexpensive.)
The Gangster and the Freege Horn
The following story appears in Doc Rockett's book Our World. It is not known whether the story is true, or merely Doc's creative interpretation of the events of that night. However, it is certain that things like it have happened on numerous occasions.
Many years ago, oh best beloved, when the Freege Horns were still new in The Cadaver, one night in deepest, darkest winter, when the memory of the harvest Calends Gala had faded, and the anticipation of the planting gala was not yet kindled, two men sat in the darkest corner, talking quietly between themselves. What they spoke of, no one knew, but many who looked at them were just as glad that they did not know, for these were evil looking men. Although the 'Daver was very full that night, the tables immediately around these men were empty, no man wishing to sit near them.
It was close to midnight, when one of these men rose, and walked towards the horns. Although nobody seemed to look directly at him, still, a path opened in front of him through the dense crowd, as though by magic. When he reached the keys-man, he bent over him and muttered in his ear. The man leaped to his feet, and with a shout to his bellows-men, began to play. What he played, no person there present later remembered. Although, as you know, best beloved, the 'Daver holds just 200, perhaps 300 on the fullest night, there are upwards of 5000 people who claim to have been there that night. Not a one of them can recall the songs that were played. I suspect, just between us, that nobody that was really there that night is willing to talk of it.
The keys-man played until the windows shook, and the two men resumed their talk. Now, however, they were shouting to be heard. Still, no one will admit to having overheard any of their talk. Each time the keys-man came to the end of a song, the men would be silent, glaring angrily at the horn players until the next song began.
The fateful moment happened near One of the Clock. The keys-man was growing weary, but had not dared to take a break. The two men were deep in their conversation, clearly angry with one another, standing up and shouting so loud that a word here or there could be overheard. Suddenly, the keys-man stopped mid-bar, and in the resulting silence, one of the men was heard to scream "and threw him behind the BOFK, like you ..." before he noticed the silence and sheepishly sat down.
The rest, of course, you know from your history books. The body of Supetupheraraphes was found in the crevasse behind the BOFK buildings. And the two men ... well, you know who they were. And, so, when next you are in the 'Daver, observe who sits in the far dark corner, and watch the keys-man closely if you yourself are he who sits there.
--DrBacchus 17:55, 16 Oct 2004 (EDT)