February 18th – The Salt Miners’ Festival

Nobody has mined salt in Buentoille for hundreds of years; nowadays all the salt eaten in the City is imported, but Buentoillitants still remember the work done beneath their feet. The mines, once a huge part of the City’s economy, brought thousands of people to the City, most of whom never left, even after the salt stopped flowing. Beneath Ranaclois hill the mines are still extensive, though now they have become inhabited, turned into The Hidden Library and the Unfathomed Archive; a honeycomb of rooms hang beneath the City.

It is estimated that at its peak, the mine was producing a hundred tons of salt a day. Of course, this is nothing compared to modern salt mines, but for the time it was immense. Initially the salt was ‘sluiced’ out of the hill by pumping gallons of water through the salt, dissolving it on the way. This brine would then be heated in great iron pans, or, during summer, dried out in the sun. The former method burned vast amounts of wood, most of which was felled from what is now the east of the City. There can still be found three large pipes at the base of the hill, where the salt solution would flow out. The other, larger, pipes have been made into alternate entrances to the Hidden Library. One of the pans that laid beneath these pipes now forms part of the roof of the Pohlatiné Mission.

As the mines sought deeper, the sluicing method was no longer viable; instead the salt was dug out in blocks, in a chequerboard formation, until it was no longer safe to dig any further. Large chunks of salt are still left as supporting pillars on the lower levels, and it’s estimated that three thousand tons still remain below the City. Most of these pillars have now been shored up with bricks and concrete to avoid subsidence, after three collapsed due to a water leak, destroying the west wing of the Church of the Churlish Moment. As such there are few sections of the mines where you can see their original form.

There is one place, easily accessible via the Hidden Library, where people travel today, to better connect with their ancestors and the City’s past. Hundreds of Buentoillitants will dress up in traditional miner’s garb (usually one-piece overalls in the City’s old colours, yellow and red, accompanied by thick gloves, steel-toe-capped boots and a wide-brimmed metal helmet with accompanying neckerchief or headscarf), and traipse down into the dark. Nowadays they have the use of torches, but back when the mine was operational they worked by candlelight; it was hard and dangerous work, and in the early days (before the discovery of miner’s sorrel, a herb which hydrates and draws sodium from the body) many died from dehydration or from sodium poisoning.

Whilst the workers lived hard lives, they seemed to have had plenty of time to create beautiful works of art; inside the Hidden Library, many of the doorways and walls that are carved directly from the limestone that lies alongside and amongst the salt deposits are beautifully ornamented, with names of different parts of the mine chiselled above entrances in Old Buentoilliçan. In the long passageway that leads off from the library there are hundreds of salt carvings, depicting beautiful vistas of the City above, historical scenes and mythical creatures like dwarves, waursts and klivitchans, Some of the most striking images cut into the salt and sand walls are portraits of miners themselves, working together in unison, standing arm in arm, sinking pints in a pub, kissing in hidden alcoves.

At the end of the passageway is a large open space, with carved salt pillars. Here you can taste the salt in the cold air. A light wind blows around the space at the arrival of new people, and as the visitors to this old space light proper torches firelight licks the walls (incidentally, so do some of the more inquisitive children, before being reprimanded by their parents). New designs are revealed by the light; the shadows of lines of miners waver as they walk one by one into their graves. The memorial is old, with lives of those who died so long ago all but forgotten. Here, beneath a portrait made to look like a playing card, an epitaph:

for Hans, who loved cardes

who fhifted falt lyke no other

who I played againft

who wonne my heart

The adults sit in silence, remembering dead ancestors, those who built this great City. Remembering the hardship they endured, the premature deaths they suffered, so that we may live happily. The children gaze up at these strange images, and search for loose pieces of salt on the floor to lick.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Listing Gull

  • The Festival of Archaic Injuries


February 17th – The Graceful Drop

Of all the suicides from the Thessonal Tower, hers was the most graceful, it’s undisputed; any day you can see the footage at the Museum of Buentoilliçan Film. Today, however, you also have the option to watch it projected onto the side of the tower itself, looping over and over in regretful beauty. Around the base of the tower are scattered stills from the footage, alongside more formal portraits of Her Grace, and small collections of owl feathers and pellets. Next year a ghostly holographic image of Her Grace is planned, but this year festival-goers must make do with a two dimensional image.

Her Grace, born Julia Angle, was a wealthy Buentoillitant seamstress and clothier who, after quietly amassing a small fortune, founded the Cult of the Splendid and Graceful Owl. If the Cult’s stories are to be believed, Her Grace was out walking through a bare field one winter’s day, the grass long given way to half-frozen mud. She had expected an uplifting and beautiful walk, but all felt downcast and mucky. She was just about to turn and walk home, when an event changed her life.

According to her autobiography Grace, from a hidden hole by her feet suddenly ran a large rabbit: ‘I was so startled at first, my heart thumping like a jackhammer at this sudden intrusion. But before I could cry out another shape moved over my shoulder, silent as a ghost. It swooped down with such beauty and grace, catching the darting rabbit like a person would pick a cherry from a bowl. A snowy owl, pure white and beautiful. I was entranced, stupefied, in love. I knew then what I wanted from life. I knew then how to achieve True Grace.’

From that day on Her Grace swore a vow of silence, which she kept until her tragic death. She took to wearing a stiff ruff around her neck, alongside a cape made from owl feathers. She approached everything with regal disinterest. She wore pale makeup that made her eyes appear enormous. She moved through the City’s streets as if she hovered a few centimetres above the cobbles, and all instinctively got out of her way. When others saw her they were entranced by her beauty, and sought to emulate her grace; thus, the Cult of the Splendid and Graceful Owl was founded.

Despite her outward beauty, Her Grace was inwardly troubled. She felt that she could not properly achieve the beauty and grace she had observed that day. She turned her attic into a refuge for barn owls, and began to eat only raw meat. She spent longer and longer looking in the mirror in dismay and disgust, and eventually began to wear a mask shaped like an owl’s face. She almost killed herself trying to twist her neck all the way around. Her followers encouraged this harmful behaviour, yet did not seem to exhibit similarly extreme opinions of their own bodies. Their fervour and belief seemed to be focussed entirely on Her Grace, treating her as if she were truly the Queen of the Owls.

Since the death of Her Grace, there have been many unsubstantiated accusations that the Cult has turned to more dark and arcane practices, namely assassination. It must be stated that there is absolutely no evidence for this, and it is strongly refuted by the Cult. The accusers point to the large amounts of money that sporadically arrive as ‘donations’ from anonymous sources, and the Cult’s obsession in its pamphlets and books with ‘the Grace of the kill.’

Eventually Her Grace took up residence in Thessonal Tower, spending the last of her fortune and a large proportion of the donations given by her followers on the lodgings. Slowly she retreated from all but the presence of her followers. They brought her the carcasses of small animals, and showed their dedication with offerings of feathers and pellets. On her final day in this world, February the 17th, she wrote the last entry in her diary (later published as Grace): ‘I brought them around me, all my little owlets, and explained that I was better now. For all my life I had dwelt with wings clipped or broken, but now they were fixed, and I could stretch them once again. We gathered up all the feathers in my nest and dropped them from the balcony. They were beautiful as they fell, but did not contain that defining aspect of Grace: resolute purpose. I shall swoop through the streets and all will understand.’ It was exactly 2:34 when she leapt off the balcony railing, you can tell because of the clock face above her window in the footage. By the time she hit the ground, it had turned to 2:35.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Super Chill Festival of Decent Vibes

  • ‘My Municipality for a Torch!’ Festival

  • The Day of Good and Cheap Walking Boots

This festival has associated artwork, take a look!

February 16th – The Extremely Brave and Glorious Marsh Race

Whilst much of the marsh bordering Buentoille is dangerously gaseous, there are areas, especially in parts further out where graveyards have never been dug, where it is safe to swim. Quite why you would deem it necessary to swim in the frigid water of a bog is another matter entirely, and a question which you would have to look to the Fraternity of Wild Swimmers to answer.

The fraternity, originally a pleasure-seeking group of like-minded individuals who took to local rivers and lakes in the summer months in naught but their underwear (and who unsurprisingly featured heavily in the gossip rags of the time), slowly became more focussed on feats of great determination and bravery, prizing prestige over leisure. They were initially formed of various painters, models and other louche types, but gradually these were replaced by more sporty personalities. Eventually, in 1734, after a hard night of drinking and boasting of physical feats, the leader of the Fraternity, Ischiri Haardman, decided to settle the latent rivalry. He challenged all members of the Fraternity to swim across the bog, promising a silver badge and everlasting glory to those who passed the finish line, and banishment from the Fraternity to all those who did not.

The course is unmarked, the shifting muds making any permanent route unfeasible. Instead there is a start point and an end point, and at no time between the two may the swimmers raise their shoulders out of the water, unless they wish to face disqualification. Swimmers must tackle the course in nothing but their underwear, with swimming aids, wetsuits or layers of fat to protect from the cold being strictly forbidden. To date, 38 people have died or become irreparably lost in the race, with thirteen of those being killed by exposure. The rest have fallen foul of The Flume.

Around the mid-point of the race is a long spit of land that cuts the course in half. If you do not wish to climb over it (and therefore be disqualified from the race), then you must find The Flume; a small opening in the bank, where the seaweed and reeds part and a dark passage waits. Water gushes through the submerged tunnel, and it can quickly transport a person to the other side with minimal effort; the issues arise with where it deposits you when you’ve passed out the other side. Swimmers have reported being transported to entirely random parts of the bog, often into the dangerous sections where marsh gasses can cause additional complications. Whilst this has proved extremely helpful in some instances (Jerald Livin surfaced two metres from the finish line on his trip through The Flume in 1934, posting the quickest ever time), in many others it has resulted in exceptionally dangerous or strange situations; hundreds of swimmers have been flushed out to sea, and there are urban myths of one swimmer somehow surfacing in the People’s Mirror, many miles away.

For those who survive the ordeal, the badge and corresponding membership of the Fraternity confer many benefits, including admission into The Precipice, an exclusive subsidised drinking and dinner club which was given the vast majority of Haardman’s extensive fortune upon her death. Exceptional members; those who post particularly fast times, or who win the year’s race; are highly revered, and they often land lucrative contracts promoting sporting goods.

Those who complete the race will usually be found in The Precipice shortly afterwards, but only after they have submitted themselves to be hosed down in the yard outside. The only person to have got away with avoiding this almost-ritualistic washing was ‘Stinky Johanson,’ upon whose post-race stench a horrible cocktail of the same name has been modelled. It is considered good form to order one of these cocktails after the race, and to vociferously proclaim your love for it to all who will listen. Many fights have broken out over who loves the hideous creation the most.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Landing of the Gallant Gentleman

  • The Festival of Cutting Edge Acoustic Technology

  • Fiaromo Gillande’s Festival of Acute Lower Back Pain Relief – Just One Application and You’ll Feel The Difference – Reasonable Credit Payment Options Discussed – No Wiseguys

February 15th – The Breathing of the Bones

If you were up late enough last night, waiting around the entrance to the Unfathomed Archive, you would have seen the beginning of the procession. At exactly 12am, the great doors of the Archive, recessed into the rock outcrop beneath the Church of the Holy Host, are thrown open, and out march hundreds of priests and acolytes of the Chastise Church. Suspended between them on ornate, litters, held aloft on brocade cushions, and slung along a long pole are displayed all the reliquaries held by the Church. You would have been waiting for well over half an hour before you saw the tail end of the procession.

Whilst some of the litters have canopies, they are all open to the air. The reliquaries themselves are opened up, displaying the bones inside for all to see. According to the church, this is to let the bones and body parts ‘breathe,’ an odd custom which can be traced back to the early thirteenth century. At the time the Church was facing rival religions and cults, and was having trouble recruiting new followers. To combat this, the upper clergy decided to have a show of power and influence by parading their relics. However, Church doctrine at the time was very much against overt displays of wealth, so another excuse had to be found; the explanation they settled on was that the relics required ‘breathing’ to ensure that their captive spirits would remain healthy. Today they still keep to this pretence, allowing bystanders to peer into the normally-sealed reliquaries.

For the first few years the procession was held on various different dates, multiple times a year, unsurprisingly on those dates selected as the holy days of competing religions. The procession would be surrounded by groups of belligerent and well-armed men and women faithful to the Chastise Church, and would ‘coincidentally’ travel through places where other festivals were being celebrated. One religion consistently targeted was The Unctuous Temple of the Messiah, whose assertion of a ‘one true god’ was particularly irksome to the Chastise Church. The Temple eventually waned into nothingness throughout the following century, but during the thirteenth century, today was its most holy and auspicious day, being the birthday of their Messiah, Gregor Fulsome. Eventually, the violence between the two groups became so violent that the Chastise Church was restricted to a single procession a year, which had to avoid the rival religions. Today the procession will still avoid the Bachtian District.

The procession will wind about the City in a complex pattern designed to increase the possibility of miracles, and will keep moving for the entire 24 hours of the day. Throughout the night-time hours the procession is lit by Kendrick’s cauldrons (large glass globes filled with a distillate of bioluminescent mushrooms and an accelerant) on tall staves, a traditional lighting alternative to fire (which could damage the relics) before electricity was developed. This lends a ghostly blue-green light to proceedings, making it quite a spectacle to behold. The reliquaries themselves are gaudy and excessive displays of wealth; gold and silver are the primary components, fashioned in ornate twisting structures along with crystal glass and precious gemstones into a case that often mimics the shape of the relic beneath.

There are at least three whole skeletons held by the Archive; the most famous is the body of Saint Mystergine, Her Lady Evangeline Ristoff, who was martyred in 1102, stabbed through with a spear by order of the Monarch. Her reliquary is a perfectly proportioned gold body, cast from a mould made shortly before her death. The hair is formed of thousands of silver strands, the eyes are sapphires, the teeth pearls. A rusty iron rod passes through the stomach area, symbolising the spear which killed her. There are eight doors on the figure, which is seated on a mahogany sedan chair, all of which are opened today, revealing the bleached bones beneath. The skull seems to grin with a certain mania. The largest relic is eight feet long, and takes thirty strong acolytes to carry. Inside the tasteless gold casing is an enormous leg bone, possibly a fossil from a mammoth or similar prehistoric creature. According to the Church it is the femur of Saint Ginag, a man who was made giant to fight a historic battle against wolves.

There have been a number of thefts from the procession in the past, usually of precious metals and gems from the reliquaries, but occasionally of the relics themselves. In 1832 the member of Saint Thrunt was stolen by the Cult of Virility, who powdered and drank it in ritualistic seances, attempting to connect to the ‘World Phallus’.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Birth of the Great and Merciful Messiah

  • The Lengthiest Smoke Inhalation Competition

February 14th – The Festival of Correspondence

Have you ever received a beautiful letter, the kind from your mother on your first day at school, slipped into your lunch box? The kind from a secret admirer, an admission of passion? The kind from a lover, far away, sent with tear-drops and kisses? The kind from your child, with scruffy writing and crayon drawings? If you have you’ll truly understand today’s festival, The Festival of Correspondence; if not, perhaps you can learn.

Today is, obviously, a big day for the Buentoilliçan Postal Service (BPS); besides the extra traffic they also release a number of new stamps today, and many philatelists queue for hours to get their hands on early batches. As part of their remit, the BPS is required to deliver every letter posted before 12pm today, by 12am. Post boxes, usually well-used due to the Service’s extreme efficiency and speed, are stuffed to the brim, and numerous collections are taken throughout the day.

This efficiency was not always apparent, however; in 1851, five years after the Service’s privatisation, the BPS had cut so many staff that letters would take over a week to reach their recipients internally, and recipients in other cities could wait for months. Public discontent grew vast, and in a moment of panic, Parliament passed the Postal Speed Bill, which gave the Service two weeks to deliver all post (i.e. by the 14th of February), or the contract would be stripped and awarded to another company. When the BPS inevitably failed, the contract was awarded to another, and another, until it was finally re-municipalised eight years later. Due to underfunding, it still did not reach the target until 1879.

Today is popular with the romantically oriented, especially those who are still in the pursuit of their desire, yet this is not the only type of love celebrated today; different types of love are equally prized. Yet there is certainly some synergy between letters and romantic love, that’s perhaps difficult to pin down. Perhaps it is that moment of anticipation, of guessing the intent and the internal world, behind an exterior just waiting to be opened. Perhaps, as with romantic love, half the fun is in those early moments, when you turn the letter over in your hands, prolonging the moment.

Buentoillitants of all stripes will, today, send letters to all the loved ones in their lives. They will spend a great deal of time formulating them, whether this be in their mind beforehand, or in various hand-written iterations, the lost sisters of the final version tossed in the bin. Accompanying these frank words of admiration, respect and love are photographs or drawings of shared moments, of happy times passed.

The artist, Stephanie de Lomac, made a series of artworks which showcased the various letters she had received over the years from friends family and lovers. Perhaps most prominent in this collection are the letters from her grandfather, himself a famous painter. They are distinct from the others around them, with their beautiful spidery handwriting and stamps bought decades previously. In the letter he sent on her first year of art college at de Geers, he recounts a Correspondence Festival letter he received when he too attended the college:

‘She missed the morning post, I think. Back then there was a curfew on the dorms and the front doors got locked at 11pm, and I don’t know why but she decided not to deliver it until then, by hand. Thankfully for her the poor chap who lived in the room by the wall always kept his window open, to let everyone get in and out. You had to climb up on the bins to get on to the wall, but when you were up there you could step right into the dorm. She slipped it under my door. I know because I saw her shadow waiting outside, but I was too scared and didn’t open up. Not until much later. Remarkable woman, your grandmother.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Card Player’s Society Recruitment Day

  • The Festival of Dried Fruits

February 13th – The Outside Indoors

Unless you are visiting the City too see a friend, you are unlikely to see much of today’s festival. Some of the eastern family hotels tend to participate, so if you aren’t staying in one, you may wish to nose around a lobby or two. Most of the festivities, however, will occur within the homes of Buentoillitants, which will be wreathed in foliage; evergreen leaves are sewn together in luscious wall hangings, potted ferns are placed on every spare surface, yew and juniper branches are hung over doorways, jammed into umbrella stands, placed on mantelpieces, and around bannisters ivy is wound. Today the outside comes indoors.

The festival is thought to originate from Escotolatian tradition, perhaps as a form of worship for the god of evergreen plants, Yigi. The year-round verdurousness of these plants was a source of fascination for the tribes-people, and they sought to imbue some measure of this life into their lives. Plants would be placed in a prayer room for those months when the weather kept folk indoors. By doing so, the Escotolation people would still be able to commune with Yigi, without going to their glades or ritual clearings. This was especially useful for youngest and eldest members of the community who were less likely to bear bad conditions.

As the old gods quietly crept out of every day life, and as people built more and more walls around themselves, the practice began to lose its religious meaning, and became tradition instead. One of those things you do because your mother and her mother before did it, and it has happened for so long that, well, it would be a shame if we stopped doing it now, wouldn’t it? Besides, the festival does have its benefits; a recent study showed that the addition of green foliage to a home during the winter months can actually lengthen a persons life by a matter of days, because of the stress reduction that seeing all the green causes. Families also tend to bond well gathering their decorations.

As the City grew, the practice of bringing the outside inside, which tended to occur across the winter (although, as juniper is thought to cast out bad spirits, February with its occult associations was a very popular time for it), was reduced down to a single day of foliage collection, and given official festival status, in an attempt to avoid environmental devastation. The decorations are kept up for at least a week, or until they wither and become unsightly. Because of the extreme toxicity of yew seeds the festival is a popular setting for murder mystery novels, and has become associated in the west of Buentoille with poisons and witches potions.

In his autobiographical novel, Buentoilliçan Days, Ben Umpman laments the distrust felt in the west of the City towards the festival: ‘When I was about thirteen I had a girlfriend (the kind you are too scared to kiss) called Aiya who’s parents were proper easterners, they made sure to celebrate all the eastern festivals, they were vegans, they went in for the whole thing. Their grandmother lived with them in the house, too, she used to make these delicious peregs for me every time I visited. I came with them, one day, when they went to gather branches and the like for that festival where they bring the outside inside, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember Aiya and her grandmother picking leaves off a holly bush, careful as they could, their breath forming in little clouds. They looked so peaceful and just… right I suppose. There was a moment when Aiya’s grandmother looked down at her and smiled a quiet smile, and I remember thinking “I wish I knew my grandma like that.” I’ve never understood why westerners are so suspicious of that festival.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Scallop Eaters’ Festival

  • The Festival of the Adventurous Kitten

February 12th – The Festival of The Frozen Prince

The statuary fills an old mill’s yard by the river in the west of Buentoille. When the Monarchy fell in 1905, many statues and gaudy depictions of the Traitor King and his kin were removed from their places of public prominence and placed there; Buentoillitants care too much for cultural antiquity to simply smash and melt them down, but they didn’t want the dictators marks covering the City, like a dog marking its territory.

For the most part the statues are well executed, but uninspired. Their style is either a boring derivation of the High Buentoilliçan tradition, ‘realistic’ yet unnatural naked figures in bronze and white marble, or, jarringly, the jagged black symbolic monoliths. Both are relics of a brutishness, a fascination with raw power, a complete lack of subtlety. They tend to depict images of the Traitor King and his ancestors as heroic figures throughout history and myth; here the King looks down from a high pedestal, enthroned a victor of some imagined battle, his enemies strewn beneath; here he fires a flaming arrow toward the skies, like Adolin the creator of the sun in Ancient Helican myth (Helica was a small coastal empire, destroyed long ago, that many western Buentoillitants and the old Buentoillitant Monarchs claimed heritage from).

There is one statue, however, that seems out of place. It’s cast in bronze, like so many others, yet it’s style and subject are different; there seems to be more consideration put into the form than with the other bronze and marble works. Whereas their subjects seem stiff, positioned in subtly unnatural positions, the young man depicted in this exceptional piece looks as if he could turn to face you. He is precisely the scale of a real human, and sits in a corner by the wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, studying something that’s long missing from his outstretched hand.

The origins of this statue are seemingly unknown. Unlike many of the others there are no marks left by the artist, and nobody seems to be able to remember where it originally came from. The currently favoured theory is that it came from a private wing of the Traitor King’s palace, hence why nobody remembers it. As to the figure it depicts, some people think it might be Siraman, the Ancient Helican god of quiet contemplation, but this is a hotly contested subject. It’s thought that the piece might be far older than the surrounding statues, and was mistakenly taken from the palace as a piece of monarchist art, because of the small crown that lays by the figure’s feet.

The statuary is a known haunt of modern Monarchists, a practice which is loosely tolerated, though the offerings they leave by busts of the Traitor King are often stolen or destroyed. Yet the statuary will today attract a less ghoulish form of visitor; a line of young women and men will form in front of the statue, each taking their turn to kiss the statue on the lips, after they have placed a small picture of themselves in its outstretched hand. Each visitor hopes that the statue will come alive and kiss them back, although of course it never does.

The origin of this practice is down to two, seemingly unconnected, factors. Firstly is the tale of the Frozen Prince: in ancient days a beautiful Buentoilliçan prince was promised to a Strigaxian witch-princess, in return for that city’s help in a war. The prince, so afraid of the marriage, went to the church, prayed that he be spared the horrible fate, and was promptly turned to stone. Secondly is page 164 of Kitsin Baffle’s Oncanni Pediktshuns, which states that on the 12th of February ‘troo love shalle unstyk the prinse.’ The book, written by a near-illiterate hedge-witch, has apparently made numerous true predictions, but nobody has realised what they mean until the event has occurred, because of their near-illegibility and rambling nature. An article in The Warren Reader in 1967 was the first to note a connection between these two factors and the statue, which is, apart from anything else, ravishingly beautiful. In the article, Jerald Stomprint joked that the ‘young, romance-obsessed generation would do well to kiss the statue to see if it wants to marry them.’

Whilst the statue has never come to life and kissed back, other romances have formed between those who have met between the crumbling statues, the festival’s theme leading their minds down certain paths. Around the figure’s mouth the bronze shines brightly, polished over the years by many ardent young lips. We many never truly know where the statue came from, or who’s likeness has been so adored, but to these young romantics, it hardly seems to matter.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Orderlies of Good Health’s smiling cherub competition final


February 11th – The Festival of the Grasping Crocus

Today, all across the City in the parks and window boxes, and further out in little clearings in the bare forests, the grasping crocus will bloom, all at once. Overnight the buds will open up for the first time in the year, revealing a smattering of beautiful colours; delicate purples, whites, reds and blues, all the way through the yellow. The poet, Lilien, famously said that ‘it is as if a watercolourist had dropped their paint box all over the fields.’

The grasping crocus is so named because of its most peculiar attribute; before flowering, the closed buds are capable of growing into amazing shapes, at the whim of the grower. All that the grower has to do is place an object in the ground, just above the bulb of a grasping crocus. As long that this object is not too large, the crocus will ‘grasp’ the object, wrapping its petals about it tightly, and in the process assuming its shape.

The process is obviously of great fascination to children and adults alike; children are often taught about the phenomenon in biology class, where they perform mini-experiments, planting toys and watching them be birthed from the earth. They are taught about how the excellent timing of the plants is down to adaptations intended to ensure they do not flower before the Gale of the Dead. Adults hold competitions to see who can grow the most interesting plants, a practice that has now been elevated to an art form.

At the end of the day today, the Buentoilliçan Horticultural Fellowship will host the Festival of the Grasping Crocus, where amazing floral arrays are showcased and judged. There are two main categories; firstly the ‘bloomed’ variety, where the image of the original item has been broken as the flower opened. These tend to take the most artistic vision of the two, and are often created with hand-carved pieces of wood that take into account the flower’s opening, although many artists favour household items such as small corkscrews, toy soldiers and the like. The second category is the ‘closed’ variety, where the original shape is maintained by either closing the flower again with glue, keeping the flowers in a wind tunnel to prolong the ‘bud’ stage of development, or by using Asphic’s powder for the same reason. This category’s judging seems to mostly favour growers who crow plants in larger or more audacious shapes, but sometimes there are more interesting artistic statements made; in 2014 the artist Jander Hoddt grew thirteen flowers within each other, like a nesting doll, and presented them in cross-section.

Once the flower blooms it usually drops whatever it was holding, and as such fields with crocuses are often scattered with strange, long-buried objects today. Treasure hunters have found many ancient stashes of coins this way, and one field was once mysteriously littered with human teeth. The stigma of the flower is also used in cookery, commonly known as grasping saffron. It lends dishes a light purple colour, rather than the yellow exhibited by regular saffron. Cooks have experimented with placing whole nutmegs, truffles, coal and other items above grasping crocus bulbs in order to modify the taste. Madin Jempale’s grasping crocus soup is famed across the City, and the item they bury above the crocus bulb to achieve the fantastic taste is a closely guarded secret.

As they appear in February, there were bound to be some occult associations to the flowers. It’s a commonly held belief that witches bury small chunks of mandrake root above the bulbs in order to capture the spirits of those buried nearby, ‘birthing’ them from the earth as useful servants.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Dogyedd Mandill’s Festival of Chocolate Indulgences

  • The Crocus-Eater’s Tasting Ceremony

  • Listen to Your Mother; a Festival of ESSENTIAL Advice

February 10th – The Grenin Waurst’s Day

The light of the full moon casts uncanny shapes in Buentoille. Streets become tangled in new ways, a conglomeration of shapes with hard lines where shadow meets white light. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Grenin Waurst chooses today to be abroad. Perhaps the Waurst delights in the trickery the moon lays upon the City.

You’ll find few Buentoillitants out in streets tonight, and places where roads cross are quickly hurried through by those who have to be out of doors. Doors themselves are kept locked, and often short declarations, like ‘no entry to any persons, real or otherwise’ are daubed on their fronts, too. If you are caught out of doors after the moon rises, make sure that you knock four or more times, or it is unlikely that you will gain entry. The Grenin Waurst is known to knock thrice, and any less could be a trick; the other knocks could have been very quiet, or placed just as you open the door. You might also find yourself asked very strange questions; do not be alarmed. In the Tale of the Baker and the Waursts, the Grenin Waurst has a distinctive lisp, where he pronounces the letter ‘s’ with a lisp, but the letter ‘c’ without. You might be asked to say the word ‘process’ four times, for example, or asked what the ruler of Vinndusholm is called (Andersi Cecili).

Of course, there is no evidence outside of the City’s folk tales that the Grenin Waurst is real, but as those who don’t believe in him often fall foul of his machinations in these tales, few will willingly state that they disbelieve. Such is the fear of this terrible creature, no deals will be made today, for fear that the opposite participant is the Waurst in disguise, something it finds a great joy, if the stories are to be believed.

One particularly popular story surrounding the Grenin Waurst and disguises is The Bartender and the Grenin Waurst. The bartender, a young woman called Ophelia from Catrosondia who had travelled to the City to make her fortune, was known all around for her excellent cocktails, in particular the ‘Maiden’s Heart’ cocktail, a mixture of beetroot and various liquors. On a night of the full moon, after all the regular customers had gone home, a tall, handsome man, wearing a thin, white linen suit, despite the fact it was cold out. Ophelia was tired, and about to close up. ‘It’s late,’ she said, polishing a glass, ‘what do you want?’.

‘Oh, not much,’ said the man, ‘I hear you make an excellent Maiden’s Heart?’ he was very handsome, and his eyes twinkled alluringly as he said this. For some reason, Ophelia found herself blushing. She began to prepare the cocktail. ‘Wait, before you begin,’ said the man, ‘tell me, what’s the secret ingredient? I’ve heard that you really put yourself into it. Would you agree?’

Ophelia, already mixing the alcohol, was looking down at her work, when she said, absent-mindedly, ‘No, I don’t think that’s it… I’m just, good with my hands.’ She looked up and the man was gone. The Grenin Waurst, for that is who the man was, came again, in many disguises, each time trying various different ways to have Ophelia agree to ‘put herself into it,’ but each time it was foiled by some piece of luck, or his promises were not accepted. On the fifth time, he came as a knife salesman, and sold her an incredibly sharp knife. On the sixth time, as she was cutting the skin of a beetroot, she cut herself without noticing, the blade was so sharp. She gave him the drink, with a drop of her blood in it, and as the Waurst drank it, their eyes, now of a beautiful woman draped in a dead fox, turned red, and they let out a hideous cackle. The bartender was never seen again.

In the deals it makes, it is never quite certain what exactly it is the Grenin Waurst seeks, but it never seems to end well for the other participants. The Waurst seems to merely enjoy the trickery, to revel in the misery it creates. Some people believe that it is ownership over a person that the creature truly desires and seeks, although this doesn’t seem clear in many stories. In one tale that would support this theory, the Waurst appears as a rich publisher to an impoverished writer. He promises to publish anything the writer has written on the 30th of the month, in return for his service until then. The writer did not have a wonderful grasp of numbers or time, and failed to recognise it was February, so could never be freed. There are many such tales that connect the Waurst with this month, and this may be the root of the month’s association with the occult. In the tale of The Calendar Council and The Grenin Waurst, February has 31 days, but three of these are stolen by him, existing on some alternate plane for his amusement. For this reason, the Day of the Grenin Waurst changes from the day of the full moon in February to the 29th on leap years.

Some historians point out that, whilst the concept of the Grenin Waurst is ancient, many of the tales about it are actually quite recent, being written as a response to the rise of the Seven Cities Trading Company, and the ultimately disastrous trade deals it made with the City. In true folkloric tradition, the City’s officials traded the rights of the citizens away for mere baubles, wealth that came to no good. As such, the Guild of Masters, and officals of the trading company are often referred to as ‘Waursts.’ On a similar note, in some circles of Buentoilliçan society, today is also referred to as ‘Lawyer’s Day’.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Darrytch Ingolis’ Day of Fantastic Bargains!

  • The Circle of Home’s Day of Spring Cleaning and Casting Out

February 9th – Celia Eskinslight’s Day

Only a small crowd with gather at the grave of Celia Eskinslight today, but that isn’t to say that she isn’t remembered more widely across the City; most people will remember her by reading a few passages from her book, Old Wives Tales, where she shares the lessons and wisdom she gained from her 176 years of life.

The book, a best-seller in its time and almost every year since her death, is an autobiographical journey through her life, which she apparently remembered in stunning detail despite her advanced age, but also acts as an important historical record of the turbulent times in which she lived. Despite its non-fiction nature, some have described the work as a municipal epic; a story which encapsulates the essence of the city of Buentoille, that captures the outlook and character of the Buentoilliçan people. Born on this day in 1806, Eskinslight was witness to, and involved in, the great cultural and political transformations around the turn of the century.

Eskinslight saw the slow transfer of power from the Unions, who had just passed the height of their influence before her birth, back to the industrialists and aristocrats, through the first eighty years of her life. This shift was accompanied lockstep with an equally gradual deterioration of working conditions and dismantlement of the social democratic settlement, and created the perfect conditions for the Monarchist coup that occurred in 1890. This period of time, that would constitute an entire lifetime for many, makes up the first half of the book, and is characterised by the odd tension between Eskinslight’s breezy optimism and the feelings of dismay and powerlessness from those around her. In this time Eskinslight moves through social boundaries as if they did not exist; born the youngest daughter in a family of poor quilters, she becomes, amongst several other ill-suited jobs, a semi-successful painter, marries a sickly member of the aristocracy, pays off all his hidden debts when he dies three years later, and ends up destitute on the streets. After a three years of this, she somehow convinces a banker to lend her the funds to set up a patisserie and restaurant, which does extremely well.

Prior to the coup, Eskinslight had, like many others, only paid passing interest in politics, but in those terrible fifteen years of absolute monarchy, she recognises the need for greater engagement in the City’s political structures. As a sprightly 90-something, she throws herself into political activism, and eventually stands alongside the other men and women at the barricades in the revolution of 1905. Eskinslight narrowly avoided death in the gassing of Benetek station, one of the events that precipitated the revolution; she was a founding member of LEPOMO (the League of Elderly Persons in Opposition to Monarchic Oppression) who helped organise the protest there, and would carry the physical and emotional scars of the day for the rest of her life. Only three other protesters were recovered alive from the confrontation.

The breezy optimism of the younger Eskinslight is tempered in the second half of her book, in which she participates actively in the Communal Reconstruction. Despite the much more optimistic era that she now lived in, she had learned too many lessons about life, and knew that the only way to ensure the City did not slip back to those dark Monarchic days was to remain vigilant, and to stay involved politically. This is not to say that she became distrustful or pessimistic, just wiser; they had won their freedom and she intended to enjoy it for as long as she could, part of that involved safeguarding it from counter-revolutionary forces. In the revolution she had served as a poster-woman because of her age, now it was her wisdom, and memories that earned her prestige, and her opinions were influential and well received when she gave them.

Eskinslight’s book is also much loved because of its clarity of prose, and ability to shine a light into the past, illuminating small details that allow the reader to become a kind of time-traveller. Much like the people of Buentoille, the book has a great respect for tradition, and showcases many lost customs, for example the fact that people would have hung dead birds in their chimneys at the end of summer to help ‘ward away plague,’ even into the early 1810s, when she was a child. The stench of burning feathers lingered in the City streets for weeks. Alongside these details, Eskinslight also shares much of the wisdom and advice she gathered over her excessively long life. Obviously, the secret to her longevity is a great focus of readers and scholar, scientific or otherwise. According to her, the secret is ‘happiness; even when someone has wronged you awfully, you must not let your heart grow bitter, for then they hurt you even more. Do not accept trespasses against you, seek to root out injustice, let passions grow wild and feel righteous fury, but when you go to bed do not relive those dark moments over and over. Learn from them, but do not let them poison you or let you feel powerless because you cannot change the past, only the future.’

Another piece of advice Askinslight often gave was to ‘accept praise, but do not let it go to your head. You are not and never will be fundamentally better than your fellow humans. Share your wisdom and experience, but also listen to that of others.’ As such, she resisted all attempts to immortalise her contribution to the revolution in official statues or song. However, towards the end of her life, she did sit for one painter, Hamlyn Deep, ‘as long as it’s not some noble-looking nonsense. Keep it truthful, simple, warts and all,’ she said. The painting, which can be viewed at the Municipal Gallery (today it will have many viewers), shows a beautiful elderly lady, confronting the viewer with a frank gaze that seems warm yet piercing; it is the gaze of a grandmother who knows you stole some sweets from her, but loves you anyway. This effect is partly lent because the eyes are one of the only defined elements to the painting, the rest seems ghostly; it is only half finished.

It was the seventh sitting when it happened. Deep was chatting absent-mindedly as he painted, as was his style. He thought it kept his subjects from stiffening too much. He looked down to the canvass for a few moments, trying to get the right curve to the highlight in Eskinlight’s left eye. ‘So, tell me,’ he said, ‘how have you managed to live so long and stay so beautiful?’ He heard her laugh, a small knowing chuckle, and when he looked up she was dead.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Longest Kiss Competition

  • Yassil Terentov’s Day

  • What is Volleyball? Festival