March 1st – The Festival of Cleansing

With spring just around the corner, and with the sinister month February behind us, the beginning of March is a time for cleansing, of readying for renewal. The winter winds still blow cold, and the fact that warmer spring air is just around the corner makes them all the more biting; the constitution is in need of shoring up. Cleansing, for Buentoillitants, means a variety of different things.

One of the most public elements of today’s festival is the drawing of water from the well at the Monastery of Her Holy Word. The monks who reside in the monastery (despite being of varied genders they still insist on the term ‘monks’) will today offer cleansing baths to all who wish to partake; usually many do. The word ‘cleansing’ here denotes a spiritual aspect, as well as a physical, and there are accordingly various ritualistic requirements surrounding the manner in which the water is drawn from the well and treated once it has been drawn.

The well at the Monastery is renowned across the City for its health benefits, and is sold in bottled format each day at the gates by the monks. A recent scientific study concluded that the water contains a high concentration of doridium B – a mineral found to increase cell regeneration in elderly persons – this may go some way to explaining the extreme longevity of the monks. However, in order for the spiritual benefits to take effect, the water must be drawn in a silver bucket by hand, rather than via the rope as usual. This is because the monks believe that not a drop can be spilled on the water’s journey from well to bath, in order for it to retain its purity and cleansing power. As such, a brave young monk must descend down the narrow spiral steps that lead deep into the dark, taking care not to fall to their death from the slippery steps. If they spill even a drop on the way up, they must return to the bottom once again. The ascent and descent are made all the harder because the monk is covered in holy oil before they are allowed to enter the well, though they are permitted to chalk their hands and feet.

The process of filling the kettle begins at around one in the morning and continues through the day, ensuring that things are ready by dawn, when the first visitors are admitted for their baths. The kettle is a large copper basin that takes enough water for sixteen baths, and is heated from below by the burning of sweet cherry wood. To the water is added early-sprouting nettles, taken from the Monastery’s small garden, which are thought to help draw toxins out via the skin. The baths themselves are made of brass and are on wheels. They are wheeled over to a spout in the side of the kettle, from which the hot steaming water pours forth, and then wheeled back to the Monastery gardens, where the bathing takes place.

Whilst each bather has their own bath, the experience is communal and not separated by gender, and is not recommended to anyone easily distracted by such matters. Assuming you are comfortable being naked in the presence of strangers (most Buentoillitants are less squeamish in this regard than the inhabitants of other cities), the experience is said to be one of the most relaxing on offer, especially if you arrive for the dawn chorus of birds that frequent the Monastery gardens on account of the numerous bird feeders. Many of these birds are almost tame, and will eat seed out of your hands.

Outside of the monastery, Buentoillitants observe a number of other cleansing customs today. Eastern folks drink ginger teas and chew raw garlic, both ingredients supposedly driving away any evil spirits that still languish in the world of the living after February (Western folks joke that the garlic drives away more than bad spirits). Poultices of chilli peppers and vinegar are also used to ‘cleanse’ aches and pains from the body, and these methods are believed to be particularly effective today. ‘Impurities’ that are supposedly sweated out through this method are slaked off with oil and burned in lanterns on porches and by front doors.

In the west of the City, folk take showers in ritual oils, burning the effluence in a similar manner, usually in their gardens instead of by their front doors. The Fire of Saint Zaboth is another western ‘cleansing’ treatment, though not one favoured by all. The ‘Fire’ is actually an unpleasant smelling, brown purgative liquid that produces an extreme burning sensation on the drinker’s mouth and throat. After the inevitable vomiting that follows has passed, drinkers report feelings of ‘transcendent cleanliness,’ and a general light-headedness that lasts for a number of days.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Garri Yellowstone’s Buzzard Tourney
  • Unguent and Fromor’s Heart of Gold Festival
  • The Union of Locksmiths’ Festival
  • Municipal Heart Disease Awareness Day

March 2nd – The Festival of Deep and True Laughter

All around the City today you will hear laughter, bubbling up in sporadic episodes across districts. Deep belly laughs emanate from within apartment blocks; folks hanging out their laundry on balconies suddenly grasp the railing, doubled over and letting out rasping chuckles; whole underground carriages are raucous exhibitions of mirth. Things that would normally illicit a titter or amused grunt result in great profusions of laughter. It’s been going on for 430 years.

In 1587, two years after a plague which wiped out a fifth of Buentoillitants, the City had still not fully recovered. There was a short period of economic stagnation due to the lack of workers, and constant fears that the plague would return. Plague districts were kept cordoned off for many months after the disease receded, and plague doctors were routinely monitored. The literature of the time is gloomy and apocalyptic, filled with depictions of societal collapse. It must have been a stressful time for everyone, especially the young who had little true understanding of matters. It’s thought by many cultural historians and scientists that this latent stress was a large contributing factor in the first Buentoilliçan laughter epidemic.

It started on the second day of March, in Dane Maleouwytzch’s School for Excellent Students, in a maths class. A young girl, reported variously as ‘Anna Iterna,’ ‘Jain Hytte,’ and ‘Kirsten Loveridge,’ began hysterically laughing to the point where she began to shed tears. Two other students, a girl and a boy, began laughing in a similar manner. Their teacher initially excluded the children from the class for disruption, making them sit outside as he thought that they were laughing at his expense, but he realised that there was something more deeply wrong when the rest of the class began to join in, and could not be stopped, no matter the exhortation or threat.

The laughter lasted for two weeks, coming in uncontrollable fits and bursts, and in that time it spread throughout the City, affecting almost everybody therein. At first it was reported by the papers as a fabrication by students, an attempt to get out of maths class, but the tone changed quickly when it began to affect adults too. In a particularly poignant example, a memorial for a number of plague victims was stuck by the epidemic, the entire congregation doubled over with maniacal laughter and tears streaming down their faces. The epidemic eventually stopped at the end of the two weeks, passing naturally after many religious rituals, blood lettings, potions and more conventional depressant medications such as laudanum had failed. It returned again the next year, on the same day, but this time did not last as long.

In the papers in the days leading up to the second laughter epidemic, there were various pieces written reminding City dwellers about the strange events of the previous year, leading to a sense of nervous anticipation surrounding the second of March. This was compounded by the annual mindset, excellent cultural memory and propensity for commemoration that Buentoillitants have, leading to the resurgence of the epidemic the second time around. By the third year there was no question; the laughter would return.

Today, with over four hundred years of distance, the epidemic is less potent, thanks in large part to the methods of control that have been honed over those years. Yet, as Dr Alice Lambers, head of medical science at de Geers University, explained last year to Scientific Buentoillitant Magazine, the event will probably continue to persist long into the future:

Laughter of this sort is usually a reaction to extreme instability and stress, and this is most likely the explanation for that first epidemic back in 1587; the children in that class were expressing subconscious psychological distress, especially as many of them would have lost parents and loved ones in the recent plague. The City had not yet come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy, and this, in combination with the sympathetic responses that we all have (think about how people mirror body language, especially in situations of social anxiety), would have enabled the spread of the mania. As for the repeated instances of the epidemic, anticipation produces very similar levels of psychological arousement to stress, especially when the subject of the anticipation is potentially worrisome. Alongside the effects of behavioural confirmation (i.e. laughter has happened every other year and therefore will this year), and the unique nature of the Buentoilliçan psyche, this anticipation leads to further epidemics each year, unfailingly.’

Nowadays the laughter is far less debilitating, and all Buentoillitants are taught coping strategies at school. The trick is to master the laughter by directing it towards something genuinely funny, thereby making it a ‘deep and true’ laugh, rather than one that is uncontrolled. Whilst this initially makes the laughter stronger, it means that the sufferer takes control of their symptoms and they eventually recede, rather than continuing on for days. Through a sustained campaign of information, the epidemic is usually contained to a single day a year, during which the City is no longer brought to a standstill. Other methods of treatment are ‘laughter exercise’ sessions held in many public spaces, where a leader has a large group laughing in unison, and many television comedies are released today, approved by the Municipal Health Service.

Today is also the festival day for the Union of Hilarious Persons, the group that represents stand-up comedians and other comic artists. The Union organises a number of shows in public spaces across the City, their own contribution to the health of Buentoille.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Hilarious Persons
  • Forman Matreus’ Day of Half Price Comic Goods
  • The Cult of the Dour Face’s Day of Seclusion

March 3rd – The Festival of Nimble Jaques

For most of the 1850s, a mysterious scourge stalked Buentoille. A thief and murderer who struck fear into the hearts of the wealthy, this scourge went by the name of Nimble Jaques, and was loved greatly by many of the City’s working classes. Despite his capture at the start of 1857, and his hanging on this day of the same year, the legacy of Jaques has been celebrated by working class Buentoillitants every year since, in an elaborate re-enactment of his ‘death’ in Holy Market Square.

Jaques most notorious crime was the murder of Durstan Demoliane, an aristocrat with strong ties to the Seven Cities Trading Company and owner of many media companies across the City. Demolaine had his own small levy of soldiers that were granted to him as part of an aristocratic privilege he had dredged up from some old legal documents with the help of several well-paid lawyers. He won the loyalty of these men and women, selected from his ‘Barony’ of Darksheve’s district, by offering fame and good pay to folks who were at that time very poor and overlooked by other City-dwellers. He featured their ‘heroic’ exploits in his papers, exploits that were mostly examples of vigilante justice, calling them ‘Demoliane’s Daremen.’

Jaques was actually a member of this levy, before he became the legendary figure of Nimble Jaques and was merely known as Hugh de Voidt. Demoliane had been using his soldiers as a strike-breaking force for other aristocrats and property-owners, and Jaques initially saw no issue with this. However, after falling in love with popular singer James Arkins, who he met at a bar in the east on a night off, he gradually developed his class consciousness. Things came to a breaking point in 1851, when Jaques was witness to the events of Bloody Wednesday, in which several unarmed strikers were coaxed into what was then Monarch’s Park (now Revolution Park) and mown down by several Daremen with sabres on horseback. Whilst Jaques did not participate in the brutal murders, he was powerless to stop his fellow soldiers. His subsequent attempts to get justice for the dead though entreaties to his employer and submitting evidence to the courts earned him only unemployment and ridicule. The following day’s papers read ‘DOUGHTY DAREMEN DEFEAT DANGEROUS DEMONSTRATORS; Evidence of Leftist Bomb Plot Uncovered!’

Jaques initially depended on the benevolence of his lover Arkins, but Jaques’ experiences had made him bitter, and the two soon fell out. Arkins, who had introduced Jaques to the ideas of the revolutionary writer Klaus Ingol, was now becoming successful and being introduced to more wealthy sections of Buentoilliçan society. Jaques felt that he was abandoning these revolutionary ideals that he had become to cling to strongly now that there was little else in his life, and he ended their relationship. It was then that the ex-Dareman became Nimble Jaques.

Nimble Jaques was so-called because of his ability to raid vaults, escape the attention of armed guards and perform seemingly supernatural gymnastic feats. His initial feats were initially well-planned robberies of Demoliane’s property, including twenty thousand guilder notes from the Demoliane family vault. This vast sum was effectively laundered and distributed to the legal funds of many unions and revolutionary groups. Jaques has guarded the vault himself in his time as a Dareman, and knew exactly which windows would be unlocked, how the guards were likely to patrol, and crucially, the code to the vault which hadn’t been changed in many years.

Because it was Demoliane’s property stolen, Jaques’ brutality and skills were sensationalised in the papers; they reported that the ‘mystery thief’ had killed two guards (none were harmed) and was in possession of ‘remarkable skills, possibly occult in their provenance.’ This thief must, apparently, have been capable of ‘jumping outrageously high’ in order to reach the window through which he had entered (in reality there was a handily-placed drainpipe), in addition to being ‘in possession of exceptional strength and agility’ and ‘mysterious hypnotic powers’ in order to kill two guards get the code from another. Following this report, many wealthy women reported being ‘assailed’ by the thief, who used these powers to enter their bedrooms, stealing their ‘jewellery and innocence.’

Whilst Jaques did indeed steal a number of items from the apartments of wealthy Buentoillitants, few if any of these reports are thought to be true, with several being entirely fabricated by sensationalist publications. As his legend extended, Jaques sought to both play up to it and bring it back under his control with a number of famous robberies. He wore a long black cloak and black leather gloves, as well as a black mask that he painted with a demonic smile. He adapted a pair of circular welding goggles so that each of his eyes were framed with a phosphorescent ring, using these glowing circles to ‘hypnotise’ any who caught him whilst stealing. Most importantly, at each crime scene, he left a letter proclaiming the coming revolution, designed to frighten the wealthy into giving up their wealth. ‘This is just the beginning,’ it read, ‘soon all Buentoille will rise up to relieve you of your ill-gotten goods, should you not give them up willingly’ Each was signed by ‘Nimble Jaques, the Spectre of Communism,’ and included a list of good causes to donate to.

Whilst these thefts certainly made front page news, any mention of the letters was assiduously removed, and instead Jaques’ carefully crafted ‘Spectre’ was spun as an upper-class gadabout whose main interest was in seducing young ladies. Jaques knew who was behind this, and he’d had enough. He abducted Durstan Demoliane and hanged him in the centre of Heirach’s Square under cover of darkness. When the body had stopped twitching, he nailed one of his revolutionary letters to its chest and scattered several others around the crime scene. This time his message was heard, loud and clear.

Jaques was eventually captured in a raid on a revolutionary group who he was fighting to protect in the subsequent persecution of the unions and such groups who were murdered en-masse in attempts to find the murderer of Demoliane. Unfortunately for Jaques he was born at the wrong time; it would be only 48 years before the Revolution truly came; the populace simply wasn’t ready, didn’t have the necessary consciousness to rise up against their oppressors. Yet he is honoured to this day; in the re-enactment today, ‘Jaques’ is played by a trained escapologist who will pretend to die, and then slip free of the noose and creep away (to great applause from the crowd) when the ‘executioner’ has turned away. In popular mythology, Jaques survives to this day, fighting the good fight for all of us.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Bread and Wine
  • A Day for the Old Ones

March 4th – The Buentoilliçan Tea Growers’ Society’s Winter Tasting Festival

You might have seen their conservatories scattered across the roofs of the Hugenot district, bright throughout the night hours. Each of these greenhouses grows several different strains of tea, at all times of year, all in very small batches. For lack of space, the bushes are alike to bonsai trees, although some cultivars are grown upside-down, hanging from the ceiling, as this is thought to improve flavour. The conservatories are little islands of green, thriving beneath glass, all satellites to the Central Conservatory of the Buentoilliçan Tea Growers’ Society (BTGS).

The Central Conservatory is about four times as large as the largest of the surrounding conservatories, displaying three floors and a large floorspace. It is made of a white-painted iron frame and custom-made toughened glass, essential for the glass floors, and is about the size of a small home. It sits atop a brick construction, also owned by the BTGS, that was built specifically for the purpose of supporting the Conservatory. Inside the brick parts of the building are a number of tea processing rooms which most of the Society’s tea passes through. On the central floor of the Conservatory are placed a number of cane chairs and glass tables, surrounded by ornamental tea bushes. It is here, in the warm, humid air, that the BTGS’s Winter Tasting Festival takes place.

The festival is now in its 103rd year, as it was first held in 1914, a few years after the Seven Cities Trading Company (SCTC) broke ties with Buentoille in response to the Revolution. The SCTC has hitherto supplied the City with many varieties of tea, which is grown far across the outer ocean in the warmer, wetter climate of the province of Remaria, and many had developed a taste for it. Whilst there are now traders who are more sympathetic to the City, and tea is once again cheaply on the tables of Buentoillitants, there was a long period of around thirty years where it was all-but impossible to come across, and the alternative herbal teas that were drunk in that period are still very popular today. The BTGS was founded by a group of like-minded tea aficionados who realised that the only way they could continue their habit was to grow the tea leaves themselves.

The BTGS were initially only able to get their hands on a limited number of cultivars, but as trade opened up again they diversified their stocks greatly, partly because they now had access, but also as an attempt to maintain their status as connoisseurs, in opposition to the ‘standard’ black tea that had flooded the market. According to the Society there are 3875 separate teas in existence, made from 157 cultivars. Each tea is defined by a number of factors, including cultivar, growing conditions, type of processing (there are eight factors in tea processing, including curing, oxidation and drying, and there are innumerable methods of achieving these factors), water temperature, brewing time and equipment, and pouring height. New teas are added to the official list (the Tea List, purchasable at all good specialist book stores), if they are proven to have a distinguishable taste from a similarly produced tea by the Society’s expert tasters. The tasters never take lemon, sugar or (perish the thought) milk, in their tea, as this is thought to sully the pure taste.

One of the largest factors determining tea taste is the time of year at which they were grown, and for this reason teas are separated into two primary categories: summer teas and winter teas. Where summer teas are generally more full bodied and redolent, winter teas are subtle and light, but the distinction is more complex that this. Tea experts often use radio waves as an allegory for this complexity; radio waves are constructed of two constituent parts: the ‘carrier wave’ and the ‘input signal’. The input signal is the data itself that you are trying to transmit, which essentially ‘shapes’ or modulates the carrier wave, enabling the information to be carried through the electromagnetic spectrum. In the tea expert’s allegory, the ‘secondary’ tasting factors such as cultivar and brewing time are the ‘input signals’ which modulate the ‘carrier wave’ of the ‘primary’ tasting factor; season. In other words there is an underlying difference in flavour which other flavours seem to riff upon. It’s not known if this allegory is obfuscating by accident or design.

Today a number of members will present new creations, attempts to push the number of officially recognised teas up by a point, to the expert tasters. Today was chosen because this is when the first winter leaves were ready for tasting in 1914, and whilst there have been calls to change the date to one more useful for the production of modern teas (which have been elevated to an art form), in Buentoille tradition is strong. There has been a large amount of controversy this year, surrounding the alleged production of a more ‘wintry’ tea than the famous Edgar Appleson High Poured Winter Batch 45, the quintessential winter brew. This tea, now approximated with varying success in many cafés across Buentoille, is made from raw, entirely unprocessed, freshly picked tea leaves and is poured from the pot at a height of fifteen inches. It is said to perfectly embody the light, dancing, slightly sweet ‘winter’ flavour, which the poet Heminch Fosul said ‘tastes how the moon looks.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • Horned Jackson’s Festival of The Righteous Charge
  • The Infused Brethren’s Day of Utmost Pretension
  • And Lo, Behold This Beautiful Orange Tree in the Depth of Winter’ – A Fomic Allesiane Festival
  • Spoon Whittler’s Day

March 5th – The Festival of the Never Ending House

The house has stood in a little fenced-off section of Votive Park for over a hundred years, a testament to the power of sibling rivalry. It’s frankly an ugly sight to behold, but as it is placed in an old quarry area that’s surrounded by trees, few people seem to mind. Due to various idiosyncratic reasons, the building has never been finished, and it is covered in heavy-duty tarpaulin and ‘temporary’ tin sheeting. A couple of hundred Buentoillitants are expected to travel there today to witness a very public argument.

The land upon which the house was later to be half-constructed was given to Mrs Martha Goodchilde in the summer of 1909 as a reward for her heroic actions at the Battle of Bean Street, a monarchist counter-revolutionary uprising shortly after the revolution. When she died of unrelated causes later that year she left the land to her two estranged sons, Hammer (born ‘Harry’) and Fordhelm Goodchilde, stating her wish that they would build a house there together, and forbidding them, their offspring or their offspring in turn from selling the land. The brothers, who had two years between their births, had never got on in her lifetime, not since the infant Fordhelm tore a clump of three year old Hammer’s hair out.

Under the tarpaulin, those parts of the house that have been constructed are a strange mishmash of two styles: a baroque façade has very clearly been cemented on to a brutalist structure; ornate columns bear up huge chunks of concrete; small translucent blocks of glass pepper the wall surrounding a massive bay window with a lavishly carved frame; random oak beams jut out of a minimalist brick wall. Nowhere is the effect nor jarring and hideous, and each year this crime against architecture grows slightly.

Most of the people at the house today will sit by the gates, eagerly awaiting a punch up or heated argument; it’s a public space after all, and Buentoillitants love to be nosy. Amongst them are a number of uniformed members of the defence brigades, ready to intervene should things get ugly. Small snack carts and itinerant betting shops cater for the crowd, occasionally shouting out the odds of a heated dispute in the next few minutes. There are around thirty people inside the gates today, all descedants of those two original sons, themselves long dead, their legacy of pointless feuding surviving them. Each will run about the ancient building site for the entire day, attempting to add new features in their side of the family’s chosen style, or remove something the other family members added the previous year. Whilst they try to have as little to do with each other as possible, there are inevitably points where access is less easy, where they get in each other’s way, accidentally steal the tools of the other party, or destroy a particularly loved addition from the opposing group, and tempers fray.

The origins of this ridiculous tradition can inevitably be traced back to Fordhelm and Hammer. It became quickly apparent that any kind of cooperation between them was nigh on impossible, when each hired their own separate architect and their fragile peace shattered. Letters between each of their lawyers now have their own exhibition in the Museum of Conflict, and they lay out in exquisite detail the nature of the many grievances each bother had towards his counterpart. One such letter reads:

Dear Mr. Harrison,

Mr F. Goodchilde wishes to make it known to the man he refers to – in a manner he has specifically asked me to stress as “regretfully” – as his brother, that there can be no agreement on the direction and style of building works unless a formal written apology is posted in the Buentoilliçan Star for the offence – which, again I have been asked to stress is considered by Mr. F. Goodchilde to be “grievous” and “outrageous” – of “pulling down [Mr. F. Goodchilde’s] pants in front of Helen Ingarderstell at the midsummer dance in year five” of primary school. He has also asked me to express that he finds Mr. H. Goodchilde’s new first name to be “childish and pretentious.”

Please send my kind regards to Mrs. Harrison and the children.

The brothers went through at least five lawyers each.

Each brother began building parts of the house in their chosen style whenever they could, and both were almost driven bankrupt. Blows were exchanged with such frequency that eventually the argument spilled into the courts, in which a highly enraged jury decreed that neither brother would be allowed to progress building works until they had come to a mutual agreement. This should have been the end of the matter, but a small mistake was made in the wording of the legal decree which meant that the day of the hearing could be construed by a clever lawyer to not be included in the ban from building works. And so, each year the brothers would face off against each other to see who could build and destroy the most pieces of house in a day. At first they hired a number of labourers each to help them out, but after only two years the site was blacklisted by the Union of Plasterers, Builders and Associated Construction Workers.

Obviously the hatred between Hammer and Fordhelm was passed down to their children, and whilst some have escaped the feud (Mary Goodchilde, daughter of Fordhelm’s son, Mastre, is now a celebrated seamstress who disavows any involvement) most will turn up every year, tools and fists at the ready.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Lesser Spotted Bitwitter Spotting
  • The Left Handed League’s Day of Sinister Prayer
  • Driving Card Renewal Day

March 6th – A Visit from an Old Rambler

He says he’s 105, but he looks like he could be older. Every six or so years he passes through the City, never staying to rest his head on a pillow, never taking any food but fruit from the trees, if they are in season, or any seasonal herbs that grow in the parks. He comes and goes in a day, and nobody would know he had passed, were it not for the stories he leaves behind. His name is Tolsham Bede.

He’s usually spotted out in the provincial dwellings, south of the City, traipsing his way along the Moway river as it meanders down from the hills. Occasionally he comes from the way of the Great Plains to the east, but this year he’s following the river; the houses at Devil’s Elbow sent out a girl on a bicycle two days back. He’ll be here by midday at the latest.

He’s ignored when he goes through the other districts, the ones that still hold themselves high from the days when they were first among unequals. Something still sticks with them from those days; they look down, past, do not meet his eyes. He doesn’t care, he’s guaranteed a warm welcome in the Warrens, where plenty of folk come out to see him still. They know by now he won’t take their food, but they have a mug of beer set aside for him, one of those earthenware ones he seems to like.

If you believe some, he’s been coming to the City for much longer than a hundred years; some say he’s been walking for over five hundred, but obviously that’s not possible. Nobody can quite remember a time when he wasn’t old, but being out in all weathers will do that to a face; it’ll make a young man seem ancient. Besides, any that would remember a young Bede would be pretty ancient themselves, and you know what age does to the memory. Maybe there were a few different ramblers, all by the same name. Who knows.

The children usually run to meet him a couple of districts away, calling out, ‘Bede! Beede! Beedey Beede!’ They run around him in circles as he steps assuredly forward, turning the world beneath his feet. He occasionally stops to ruffle some hair, to remember a name: ‘Daniel, isn’t it? Last time I saw you you were this tall! Did you get that bicycle you wanted in the end?’ The children look expectantly at the large bag he has, but they know better than to ask until he’s reached the Warrens.

They have a chair ready for him, next to the sliding window of the Leach and Mask, where folk gather on benches during the summer. The publican, a lady called Lisani, will pass the mug back and forth through the window; he won’t go inside. Never has, he says, never will. He will take the bag off his back and stretch out, sipping his beer. Eventually he’ll heed the cries of the children, and take out a box from his bag. It’s old and wooden, a little chest about eight inches across. On the lid is an inlaid design in mother of pearl; a swift and a high tower.

Inside the box, wrapped in an old piece of cloth are three things: a pack of cards, a candle and a shell. The cards are some kind of tarot, hand drawn. ‘A man out in the east drew them for me,’ he will say to the children, ‘far out east, past the plains, where the horse lords used to live, past the lake where the lily pad maidens come from, in a city much like this one. The ink he used is from a squid, an old squid they keep in a deep dark well. The paper is made from a tree they hanged a hundred people from. They would tell your fortunes perfectly, but a witch in Strigaxia cursed them.’

The candle is a normal beeswax candle, yellow and straight. ‘When it burns all the way down I will die,’ he says, holding it in both hands, ‘so I only use it when I really have to. No wind can ever blow it out, only my breath.’ The children ask where he got it, but he never tells.

The shell is white, speckled brown. It could fit in the palm of your hand. The children hold it to their ears, and the younger ones, those who don’t know the way of these things yet, will say, ‘I can hear the sea!’

‘No,’ he replies ‘you cannot. You can hear Old Johannes whispering. I met him north of the Ancestor Mountains, by the shore of the Outer Sea. He was looking out, so mournfully. “She’s gone,” he said, and then breathed his soul into this shell. I think he wanted me to throw him into the sea, after her, but I didn’t. I took him deep inland, instead, to forget. He whispers to me, and I whisper back to him, sometimes.’

After he’s said some quiet words to the adults, expressing his sadness that some have passed since he last walked through the City, after he’s given some advice, shaken some hands and avoided many questions, he walks down to the graveyards and stands by the gate for some time. He takes a violin case out from his bag, and opens it. He looks at the violin and the graveyard for a long whole, but he doesn’t play a note. ‘It’s not the time for music,’ he says, quietly, to himself.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of a Leisurely Stroll with Your Cat
  • The Dropping of the Brass Idol
  • Fabricator’s Day

March 7th – The Festival of The Supercomputer

It technically takes less than a year for the battery to charge enough for a day’s gaming on the Buentoilliçan Multi-Input Supercomputer (BMIS), but this is Buentoille and here there is an annual mindset, a certain regularity to things. It’s underneath the sports hall of de Geers University; there’s a small set of stairs around the back of the bike sheds that leads there. Whilst the festival is open to all comers, it’s usually oversubscribed for many weeks beforehand, and University students get first dibs on tickets.

Each year the excess energy is usually used to install new, enormous multiplayer games specifically made for the computer. This year there is an offering from Big Tree Games, a company who, according to their promotional materials, specialise in ‘tight narrative experiences’ and ‘synergistic interactions’ between players. Their game for this year is called Staged, in which players will attempt to put on a cursed play, ‘hampered by inter-dimensional beings of unclear intent.’ Their last game made for BMIS, Knight’s Folly, in which players attempted to build a large tower together, received great critical acclaim, but other games they and other companies have made in the past have simply crashed spectacularly.

The issue is that there are no other computers of comparable power, capable of processing inputs from 300 individuals, and feeding back on three hundred separate displays simultaneously, all whilst running the demanding game software itself. At least, there are no such computers in Buentoille. As a result, all the games developed for BMIS are made on smaller, personal computers, and it’s unlikely that they’ve been rested with more than five player characters at one time; in many instances the game simply does not know how to handle three hundred interactions at any given moment. Whilst these games are clearly not intended for mass audiences, they are often edited later into single-player or smaller multiplayer games. Any game that has made it through the process with good reviews is sure to sell well.

BMIS was built in 1985 by an electrical engineering professor called Fiorama Jones, and was originally intended as a prediction machine. When it fell out of usage as such in 1989 (it was found that in order for the predictions to have any accuracy so much data would have to fed to the machine, and the processing took so long, that by the time it had produced a prediction the event would already have passed), Jones’ students began to alter the machine, making it the perfect host for their computer game, Across the Plains and Shimmering Sea, a boundless world of imagination still played to this day. It was originally intended to be a living, constant, otherworld, the software running even when nobody was playing. However, due to the alterations the students made to BMIS that enabled it to have so many inputs, the computer became such a drain on the City’s electricity supply that it was shut down by the Council of Logistics. Now the game calculates what would have happened in the strange imaginary lands it simulates, over the course of the year the players have been absent. A good five hours of the day are dedicated to playing Across the Plains and Shimmering Sea each year.

A large battery was installed in the room next door to the subterranean supercomputer shortly after it was shut down. It slowly stores a constant current of power, a level far within what the grid can withstand, all to be splurged today in eighteen hours of near-constant gaming. At the end of proceedings, the players all adjourn upstairs and vote on the next year’s games itinerary, and then leave for their homes, weary but happy.

Whilst not a game player herself, Jones seemed happy that someone had managed to find a use for the, frankly remarkable, piece of engineering that she termed an ‘unmitigated failure.’ Due to the power restrictions in the City, she has now travelled to Litancha, where the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants is tolerated by the government, despite many studies clearly pointing out the damage it has on the foreign city’s health. A piece in the Litanchan Gazetteer recently claimed that Jones was putting her skills to use attempting to create a new super-computational system, one which makes use of the ‘hive intelligence’ of several interconnected computers. The idea is, apparently, sparking something of a technological revolution, although it’s unclear whether this is the truth or merely propaganda.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of True Dedication
  • The Festival of the Sherbet Fountain

March 8th – Women’s Strike Day

The famous revolutionary philosopher Siritam Whitner once said ‘power never has and never will be handed on a platter to the oppressed. Instead they must reach out and take it with both hands.’ Few understood this better than the Buentoillitant women of 1553, who organised one of the greatest strikes in the City’s history in response to the social injustice of a patriarchal society. It is still celebrated to this day; the celebrations both mark that important turning-point in the condition of women, and remind modern women of the importance of upholding their freedom.

Unfortunately, Buentoille wasn’t always the open and inclusive society it is today, and women were often given lesser rights than their male counterparts, paid less for the same work, and valued primarily for their bodies. The female ‘ideals’ held up by society in the sixteenth century were based around middle-class married mothers; women were expected to not work outside the home, and ‘women’s work’ such as childcare and cleaning was considered lesser because of its unpaid nature. Some sexist publications of the time even described these tasks as not requiring prestige or remuneration because, for women, they were ‘instinctive and enjoyable,’ and ‘essential for the health and proper functioning of the fairer sex.’

Women who did not fit this ideal were often ostracised in middle-class families, but were the norm amongst working-class Buentoillitants. It is important to remember that sexism always seeks to divide and conquer; class and race were often used as tools to drive apart women. Working-class women have always worked to earn a living (although the insistence of paying them less than men led to a reliance on male labour in Buentoillitant families), and thus there has always been division between them and middle-class women who sought to uphold their own marginal privilege granted to them by upholding the female ‘ideals’. Similarly, ideals of female beauty were seriously skewed towards white characteristics, therefore creating additional dividing lines between white women and women of colour.

Many of these ‘ideals’ were upheld and propagated by the newspapers of the time, but the repeated attempts to lobby, argue with and influence the sexist opinions espoused by the media was almost always met with aggression or simply ignored. As such, feminist groups began to make their own publications that were widely circulated, primarily amongst women in an attempt to increase their consciousness on issues of gender equality. These publications, such as Buentoillitant Woman and Her Thoughts, were made attractive to women who saw themselves as ‘not political’ by covering a wide variety of topics that were interesting to women of the time (for example, there was a craze in the 1540s for roller skating), alongside their more radical content. These publications were instrumental in the success of the 1553 Women’s Strike, as compared to other strikes that were hamstrung by non-involvement as a result of intersectional divisions. As women were often banned from joining unions (the unions feared lowered wages for men as a result of introducing more women to the workplace, and from paying those women who already worked equally) the readership of the magazines banded together to create The Union of Women, which proved to be far more powerful than any other union of the day, having 42% of Buentoille’s population within it.

The strike lasted for three weeks, and involved 87% of all the women in Buentoille. A greater solidarity between women of differing classes and races had been achieved, meaning that, crucially, middle-class women were able to use their greater means to support their poorer counterparts in the strike. Whilst many of these women did not work outside the home, they had been convinced that in order for women to achieve equality there must be a greater appreciation of women’s labour. The strike included all work, including the ‘women’s work’ that was usually unpaid; children, where possible, were left with their fathers, houses went uncleaned, the textile industry, which employed primarily women at the time, almost ground to a halt, sex was withheld even from men who supported the movement. In some instances women locked their husbands out of their homes as a way of withdrawing their labour from men, without leaving children in the hands of incompetent men, or having to live in squalor themselves. These women were backed up by roving gangs of ladies, young and old, in red neckerchiefs; ‘women’s defence squads’ in the employ of the Union of Women who would happily beat up any men who chose to become violent.

These defence squads avoided full-scale confrontation with a concerted male backlash for a long time, as the men’s groups in opposition to the strike were too fractious, and around twenty percent of men actually supported the strike. There were a few assaults by cowardly gangs of men who had long held a hatred towards women, but they were usually successfully routed by the defence squads. When the more sexist publications tried to sway public opinion by making outrageous claims of mass hysteria and witchcraft, they found that their offices were burned to the ground by the defence squads, their printing presses smashed.

Eventually, however, things began to fall apart. In the third week, as the Buentoilliçan economy slipped into a catatonic state, women began to make plans for an alternative government and were finally met with organised resistance. A huge group of well-armed men came out, and there was a stand-off between the two groups. In the avoidance of bloodshed (nobody really wants to fight their friend’s daughter or father) an agreement was made: the original demands of the strikers (three female representatives in Parliament and equal pay legislation) would be met, should the women stand down. Fatigue had begun to set in, and many women wanted to get back to their lovers and children. Despite the fact that it was less than they had grown to hope for, the women agreed.

Yet it wasn’t these small gains in the immediate aftermath of the strike that were to change the condition of women in Buentoille forever, but the threat that it could happen again, and the newfound confidence of women. Slowly but surely, progress was made over the following centuries that led to the situation we have today, and the societal change in attitude was so great that it only began to see decline in the years leading up to and during the tyranny of the Traitor King, who sought to relegate women to their former, lower status. Since the revolution things have got even better, and whilst there is still residual sexism and society is not entirely equal, there have been great strides, for example with work formerly considered ‘women’s work’ being performed by both sexes, and crucially, being paid.

Today women will celebrate that original strike with a huge march around the City, an annual reminder of their power. Men will also be locked outside of their homes, although they will be allowed to enter when they promise to do the washing up, or another task once considered ‘unmanly’. Buentoillitant women will never forget what it took to achieve equality.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Men’s Festival of Manly Things (no women allowed!)
  • The Moon Sighs for June

March 9th – The Day of the Golem

The idea that humans were originally made from mud or clay has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the peoples settled around the Inner Sea, and Buentoillitants are no exception. The Church of Our Great Lord, the progenitor of the Chastise Church, teaches that their god made humans from clay, and whilst the Chastise Church denies the existence of this god, this foundational myth has found its way into their dogma in modified form. According to the Chastise Church’s early myths, humans spontaneously came into existence along with the rest of the world, initially lying face-up in a muddy bog. When this group of thirty-or-so people realised that they needed to breathe, they all sat up together at once and looked about at their new world, no longer horizontal. Obviously, the Church has now adopted evolution as a central tenet of the religion and therefore disavowed these old myths, but some sects still hold true to them.

Perhaps it was these myths that inspired the original story surrounding the Golem of Buentoille, perhaps not. Occultists have tried to perform the actions described in the story for many centuries, attempting to create their own golems, but nothing seems to have worked. Many put this down to lack of detail in the story, thinking that it misses out some crucial step, and have spent many hours scouring the shelves of the Hidden Library for an older, more authoritative version of the story. Of course, the most probable cause for their lack of success is that the story is just a story, nothing more. However, others have had more success in creating their own ‘golems’, and today, one will walk the streets of Buentoille.

Today’s golem is created by the Union of Potters and Clay Workers (UPCW), in conjunction with a contingent of automata crafters from the Eternal Fraternity of the Designer. Made of 365 individual pieces of pottery mounted on a metal armature, the golem, known as the Clay Woman, stands around thirty feet tall, although it changes every year with new each ambitious design. The pottery is painted and shaped with ‘magical’ sigils and words, written in bands around the arms and legs, usually some kind of carefully worded phrase forbidding her to harm any Buentoillitant. On her back is a small door through which an honoured member of the UPCW will enter, climbing into a small cockpit, through which the Clay Woman is piloted. Nowadays the pilot sees through a television screen attached to two cameras, mounted as the Clay Woman’s eyes, but once upon a time there would have simply been a hole in her stomach for them to see from. Above the pilot is a small petrol engine that powers the construction, venting its fumes through the woman’s nostrils and mouth.

The Clay Woman will make a number of laps around the City, followed by a parade of UPCW members, carrying traditional quilted union banners, playing a variety of clay wind instruments. They will come to settle in Holy Market Square, where the Clay Woman will lift children high into the sky on the palm of her hand, and where various stalls will sell small mantelpiece versions of the golem, and copies of the original story that inspire today’s creation.

In the original story, which has seemingly been in circulation for hundreds of years, a lonely occultist called Knorim despaired of finding a wife. He was not a particularly ugly man, but he was incredible untidy and poorly presented, and women tended to be put off by this. One day he had the idea that he would make himself a magical servant that would clean up for him and make him presentable, so that he could win the heart of a woman called Jennta who he had secretly loved from afar for some time. He took some clayish mud from the banks of the Moway (many occultists blame the diversion of that river for their poor luck in recreating their own golem), mixed in the ashes of a note ordering the cleansing of his person and property, and began to shape it into a human form. Whilst he worked he thought of Jennta, of her beauty and grace, and though he did not mean to he began to shape the clay in her likeness. Before he knew it, he was standing face-to-face with the woman who occupied all of his thoughts. He looked at it, astounded, and realised something was off; there was a small smudge on her cheek, the only thing holding the clay back from being a perfect representation of Jennta. As he smoothed it into shape, the golem came to life, and immediately set about cleaning his home.

It took two days, but at the end everything was sparkling, and Knorim was freshly shaved. He looked in the mirror (now actually performing its reflective duties rather than acting as a home for mould) and saw a beautiful man, ready to go out and find himself a wife. Yet now he didn’t want to; he had fallen in love with his golem as it worked. He dearly wished to speak with it, to tell it how he felt, but now that its duties were done, it stood inanimate in the corner. Another idea! Knorim took down a copy of Dhatzhim’s Dictionary from his dust-free shelves, and fed it to the golem. Unfortunately this was to spell his downfall. His body was found carefully buried in his back garden many weeks later; his head had been pulled from his shoulders.

To any who have read Dhatzhim’s Dictionary, the reason for the murder is plainly clear; Dhatzhim was a pedant who adhered to exacting grammatical standards and abhorred any deviation from them on the part of others. At several points in the Dictionary, which has an exhaustive section entitled ‘Proper Grammar,’ Dhatzhim orders the reader to ‘sever the head’ of anyone who abuses his rules. Obviously these exhortations are intended to be hyperbolic, but the golem clearly didn’t take them that way. The tale ends when the golem travels to the Grocer’s Markets on Flesh Alley, and is driven into a murderous rampage. It is eventually killed by a scholar who recognises the tone of voice the golem speaks in as that of Dhatzhim, who she wrote her undergraduate dissertation about. Using perfect Dhatzhimian rules, the scholar asks the golem to spell a word five times (most versions of the story give this word as ‘antipodean’) that she knows for a fact is misspelled once in the book. On the fifth spelling the golem gets it wrong and promptly falls to pieces.

Today’s Clay Woman will similarly fall to pieces this afternoon, as the festivities conclude. The 365 clay pieces will all fall off the armature at once, smashing on the floor, and the pilot will jump out, to great applause. The clay is often infused with various compounds which create bright sparks, colourful smoke or loud bangs as the pieces hit the ground; the spectacle is quite something to watch. The pieces are swept up and taken to the Golem’s Graveyard, a large mound of broken pottery by the river that a small garden has grown on top of.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Uncanny Visages
  • Curl the Winter Roots – A Festival
  • Horgon Betvannis’ Spectacular Travelling Otter Circus Finale!

March 10th – A Trip Up the River; The Festival of Den Building

If you follow the Moway south, out of the City, past Devil’s Elbow for a few miles, you’ll eventually come to the Municipal Paper Mill. There are pretty red brick outbuildings (once the main buildings, before the expansion), but most of the building is a brutalist monster in concrete and steel; squares, rectangles and parallelograms are stacked atop each other, bulging here and recessing in complex intersections of lines there. Chimney stacks, strangely made from red brick, like the outbuildings disgorge great plumes of steam from the drying machines held within.

To the casual observer, the building is impressive, but somehow also unsettling. It takes a moment to work out what is wrong: even at peak times of production, the mill is strangely silent. The Mill’s enigmatic architecture seems to suck up the myriad whirring sounds of the pulpers and presses, the driers and slicers. Such care to not disturb the neighbours would make sense within the City, but out here there seems few to disturb but the squirrels in the trees, until you notice the little settlement in the valley not far up the river.

The paper industry has been of supreme importance to the City for hundreds of years, at the very least since the invention of the printing press in 1065. The pine forest that surrounds the Mill was once all ancient forest; alders and beech and oak. Unfortunately, those were the days before environmental protection was far up the list of priorities, and most of that woodland has since been lost, replaced with hundreds of regimented rows of managed pine forest. Recycling is now a large part of production, as well, decreasing the demands for new trees to be felled. As such, past a certain point the forest turns less regimented, the pines larger and more imposing, the undergrowth returning.

The one point of forest near to the Mill where ancient trees remain is the little valley-settlement just up the river, known as Logger’s Rest. This settlement, the forest and the Mill are all technically part of Buentoille, in the same way that the farmlands that edge the City proper are, but folk there see themselves as separate nonetheless. Most of them grew up in the City, but came out here for a quiet life away from all the hustle and bustle, finding work at the paper factory. It is for them that the singular architecture of the Mill was designed; you cannot see it from within the valley (except maybe for the occasional cloud of steam when the wind blows the right way), but were it not for the strange walls, you’d certainly be able to hear it.

Logger’s Rest is a peaceful place, and a beautiful one too. It has been there for many hundreds of years now, but has grown little, unlike the rest of the City. The folk there have always been industrious, good with their hands, and each family has its own unique house. There are log cabin-style constructions, an elderly grandparent sitting out on the veranda, turf-covered constructions with large oval windows, and even homes built into the sides of the valley itself. The pace of life is slow here, and is centred around a central hall, outside which are a small group of shops (a grocers, a bar, a bakery), and a large pyre for special occasions. Tonight the fire will be lit, surrounded by Buentoillitants after their day out running around the forest.

Each year young families travel upriver by boat, landing at Logger’s Rest. In some of the more natural-looking forest that covers the area between the Mill and the settlement, the folk of Logger’s rest have set out various offcuts and branches on the forest floor, and with these the Buentoillitants build small dens, with the help and instruction of the settlers when required. Many of the dens of previous years stand still in the surrounding area, and children often run into these, seeing how their creations stood the test of time. The revellers are given biodegradable twine and a small hacksaw, although they are forbidden to cut down any new branches or trees. When they are finished with their constructions the families huddle together inside their new abodes, the fresh scented pine branches keeping out any late winter rain or snow, and think about what it would be like to be an early human. Children spar outside with makeshift spears and swords.

As the sun begin to set, the families are invited back to the village, where they are treated to a large feast in the hall and around the fire. Although there is a boat back to the City in the evening after the feast, many will stay the night in the hall (which is cleared of the feasting tables and hay is laid down on the floor) or in their dens, if they are feeling foolhardy enough. It is often suggested that the festival should be moved to midsummer, to make this a more pleasant experience, but the date of March the 10th is very important to the settlers; the festival is a celebration for Bill Mackomie, a logger who used to love making dens with his children, before a tree crushed him to death. The Mill has excellent safety procedures and medical facilities, but they were too late for Bill.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Apples
  • The Caustic Clan’s Festival of Goodwill and Citizenship