New arrivals to the City of Festivals may have noticed a large congregation at the docks; hundreds of people dressed in thick jumpers and rain coats, sitting under large umbrellas on camping and deckchairs, holding binoculars. They are waiting for a whale that isn’t coming.
The Costermonger Whale was a particular type of long-lived toothed whale, similar in appearance to a sperm whale. Very few others (called ‘mongers’ after their most famous example) have been sighted in the wild, yet a lot is known about this particular species; in 1873 over thirty of them washed up in the Buentoille Bay, almost all of which unfortunately died, allowing for extensive dissection and study. The one survivor of this terrible event was The Costermonger Whale; a young whale at the time, it washed up right next to the dock itself, where a gang of sailors were quick enough to save it with the equipment used to haul large pieces of cargo to shore.
The studies carried out on the other whales, all of which were from the same pod, found that the monger whale has an abnormally large brain for its body size, similar in construction to the human brain in certain respects. The areas that are, in the human brain, linked to comprehension of time and superstition, were found to be particularly large. It has been theorised that the monger whale has cognitive abilities rivalling those of a ten year old human child, but this is as yet unproven.
Exactly a year after the mass beaching, the Costermonger Whale returned to the docks of Buentoille, this time only lifting it’s chin onto land, whereupon it disgorged a number of valuable items, including three hundred clams (all of which contained exquisite pearls), a number of the navigation instruments used on the fateful Great Expedition, and a large chest of golden coins used by the Picaroon Consulate, dating from the 1560s – the height of their empire’s control over the Outer Sea. The whale then continued to swim around the bay for the rest of the day, happily receiving fish thrown in from the inhabitants of the dock.
A great number of people turned out to watch the spectacle (and attempt to take part of the booty), including a few of the naturalists, veterinarians, cetologists and other scientists who had attended the initial beaching. A few of them noticed that the whale was suffering from a small infestation of Darcyl’s Barnacles, an extremely painful parasitic form of whale barnacle that are particularly attracted to monger whales. They promptly sailed out to the Whale, whereupon it rolled onto its side to allow them to scrape the barnacles off with scraping rods. It is thought that they are usually removed by other monger whales using a bony protrusion on their noses, but the Costermonger Whale had unfortunately lost its pod.
The Whale continued to return every year, bringing valuable gifts in return for medical care, and, perhaps, the company of other intelligent mammals. Over time a number of traditions developed around its appearance; an enormous fish pie was made and fed to the Whale (who seemed to favour it to plain fish), people would swim around it in colourful bathing suits, and when they noticed it enjoyed music, people would row out into the harbour and sing, and it would sing back for the duration of its stay.
Today the pie is still baked, the swimmers still adorn their colourful bathing suits, the choir still sings, but no whale arrives; it hasn’t since 1972.
Other festivals happening today:
The Cloister of Saint Ishmael’s Day of Open Prayer
The Scattering of the Petals