March 12th – The Night of the Softening Moon

Tonight is the Night of the Softening Moon, and, according to ancient folklore, the night when the winter ground softens enough for the Lambenn to break from their subterranean existence and work their way to the surface. The moon is thought to have some direct impact on the soil, turning that which was frozen rock hard the previous night into a soft tilth. This odd belief, perhaps founded in the turn of winter into spring around the March full moon, has led to a number of other singular customs.

Most of these customs surround the treatment of various items deemed too hard. Stale bread is left on the windowsill where the moon’s rays can illuminate it, in the hope that it will show some extra give the next day. Men with hard stubble or rough beards are advised to take a midnight stroll in the hope that their facial hair will become less irritable on their lover’s faces. Often the original meaning or reason for a custom becomes lost to the mists of time, and other meanings come into effect instead. The March full moon that will grace tonight’s sky is now simply linked to softness in many of the Cities communities, and bedsheets are washed, pillows re-fluffed in expectation of a particularly comfortable night’s sleep. In the Hugenot district, folk eat dinner early then surround themselves with extra duvets, cushions and pillows for the night, whilst they drink hot chocolate with marshmallows in, and read their favourite books; there, tonight is known as ‘Swaddling Eve’.

The Lambenn are not talked about so much now that most live an urban existence, away from the soft loam of the fields, but they feature heavily in the stories of the many disparate indigenous groups that lived in the area before Buentoille was built. Magpies are often associated with the underground folk, and their pecks at freshly ploughed fields were thought not to be worm-catching, but the birds talking with Lambenn hiding beneath the surface, taking instruction or carrying messages. It’s not known why other species of bird were not included in this belief. Lambenn often appear in tales regarding ploughers and charcoal burners, either incidentally, as with The Charcoal Burner’s Wife or as the primary cause of action, as in The Plougher and The Hand.

In the first of these tales, the Charcoal Burner, a solitary man, is unsuccessfully looking for a wife. Lamenting his poor fortune, he sits stoking his charcoal pit on the Night of the Softening Moon. When he sits down again away from the smoke he hears a soft ‘ouch!’ from beneath him. Lambenn are thought to congregate around charcoal pits because of the warmth they emanate into the surrounding earth, although other sources suggest that this is because they intend to steal the charcoal to use in their head lamps. After a short exchange, the Lambenn gives some useless advice regarding finding a wife to the Charcoal Burner, telling a short story of how it found its lover by stoking its head lamp very bright. Strangely enough, all the other figures who give (essentially useless) advice to the Charcoal Burner are non-supernatural, though they do follow the folklorish expectation that all animals can talk to humans.

In The Plougher and The Hand a Lambenn is similarly disturbed from its rest in the earth, though in more violent manner. On a late winter ploughing run across her field, the Plougher comes across a large severed hand lying in one of the ruts she cut on her last pass. She digs down into the surrounding land and finds three ghost-white figures with no clothes and a small cavity in each of their foreheads. Below the cavity they had extremely small eyes that were screwed shut, and hands that looked too large for their bodies. They were arranged in the earth face-up, their head by the next figure’s feet, in a triangle. She went to fetch a priest, taking the hand with her as proof of the unsanctioned burials, but by the time they returned darkness had started to fall, and the moon had risen; the figures were knelt down looking for the missing hand. A little white flame was lit in each figure’s head cavity. Although the figures are not referred to directly as Lambenn in the story, they match various descriptions of the mythical subterranean folk that exist elsewhere.

There are obvious parallels between the Lambenn and moles, and indeed mole hills were thought to be places where Lambenn had put their heads above ground briefly. The natural emergence of stones during ploughing was variously referred to as ‘Lambenn gardens,’ or as ‘obstacles’ deliberately put there by the ground-dwellers to stop the Ploughers from destroying their homes.

In modern times these figures have been somewhat returned to prominence; since the eminent folklorist Marritch Gene published her academic magnum opus on the subject of Lambenn in 1985 they have featured in many works of literature, film and in video games. Gene has been very clear that she doesn’t actually believe in the legendary creatures, but this doesn’t stop her attending the Softening Moon Expedition to the fields around the City each year, spade in hand, along with a few hundred others hopeful of unearthing their own Lambenn.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Dusty Cattz Sings the Blues (All Night Long)
  • The Festival of the Softest Kiss
  • A Good Day for Tarot