Despite its name, the participants of today’s competition do not actually eat slugs; the black shiny blobs that they shovel into their mouths are actually a type of shelled mollusc called a caseworm found only on the shores of the Buentoille bay. They are not particularly rare there, and today’s festival seems not to have any real impact on their numbers, especially since they are left well alone by everyone but the festival’s competitors on account of their reputedly disgusting taste.
Over the past few days a group of volunteers have been digging up a few hundred of the beauties, which are extricated from their shells and boiled in large vats. A huge plate will be set before each brave contestant today, as they line up onstage at the Little Theatre in Guilgamot district in front of around seventy or eighty strong-stomached audience members. A few in the audience come every year, some perverse curiosity driving them to keep watching the frankly horrific spectacle of four or five grown men and women piling what appear to be just slugs into their gullets.
Of course, the main question anybody asks when confronted by this festival is ‘why?’ As far as anyone is aware it has been going on for hundreds of years, repeating out of a sense of duty to tradition or some other ‘noble’ reason, but nobody is entirely sure how it began. There are, however, two main theories: the first is, as one might expect, rather boringly related to alcohol. The idea is that two very drunk and boastful fishermen who often used caseworms as bait made an ill-advised bet that got out of hand and was somehow considered entertaining enough to be worth repeating.
The second theory is a little more interesting; it claims that the festival’s origins can be traced to the early rule of infamous King Valemuud the Foreigner. Valemuud was born in Buentoille, but his mother fled to Litancha with him when he was still a baby because as the rightful heir he threatened the future rule of his cousin, King Elthelwild the Pretender, who was ruling in his stead until he reached manhood. As such, Valemuud’s first real experience of the City was when he turned eighteen and came back to assume the throne. In his time abroad his mother, who had acted as his councillor, had died and he was left with little or no working knowledge of the place he ruled over. Naturally the court had a great deal of fun at his expense.
The stories of Valemuud being pranked by his court are well known amongst Buentoillitants, especially the story in which the King is convinced by an advisor that it is good court etiquette and a sign of camaraderie and respect to slap the bottoms of noble gentlemen. This is where the second theory falls down a little: there are a great quantity of these stories relating to Valemuud, but very little historical evidence for most of them. It seems likely that the great majority were created in the style of one original story at a later date, and the second theory almost definitely belongs to this later, fictional group.
According to the second theory, Valemuud was told that the disgusting molluscs were a local delicacy, enjoyed by many kings of the past. A faux public tasting was organised for him, to sample that year’s ‘batch’ as was apparently the tradition, to which he enthusiastically agreed. When he placed the first wretched slug into his mouth and bit down on its squelchy form, the disgust was plain on his face, but he endeavoured to swallow, declare it delicious, and then eat five more, not wanting to appear unrefined in front of his subjects.
There does seem to be some link between this story and the festival today, and it is entirely possible that the festival was in fact modelled after the story, even if it isn’t true. The contestants are required to shout ‘delicious!’ between each mouthful, and any failure to do so results in disqualification. Extra points are awarded to anyone who is capable of smiling whilst chewing on their slimy meal. Oddly, this appears to be something that these seemingly masochistic slug-eaters continue well after the festival has ended. Were you to ask one why they subject themselves to such a hideous experience, they will all simply reply, ‘because I love them, they are delicious!’ and have been known to get into heated arguments about who loves to eat caseworms the most.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Misappropriation
- The Day of Taking Photographs From Very High Places
- All The Pretty Blossom Falls – a Quiet Music Festival