May 2nd – The Festival of the Fluvial Message

There must be some kind of underwater conduit or oceanic current that ends in the Buentoille Bay, although the exact nature of this system has not yet been established. The current, if that is what it is, seems to function with exceptional regularity; every year in the first few days of May, a bottle, jar, or other such waterproof vessel bobs up on the edge of the bay, and is fished out by the locals.

Whilst the vessels have only been appearing for about thirty years, a very similar occurrence has been performed nearby, in a rock pool known as the Siren’s Letterbox. Each year, on first of May, the lovers and family of those lost at sea would place small messages in bottles addressed to the Court of the Siren Queen, asking that she relinquish her hold on the souls of their departed loved ones. These letters would be placed into a swirling rock pool on the edge of the bay, where they would be quickly sucked down into its depths, never to be seen again.

The exact origin of this older festival is unknown, but the choice of the first of May as the day to perform the ritual is thought to be due to the appearance of sand eels around this time, which are thought to be emissaries of that Court. It is easy to see why such a fascinating natural feature would spawn festivals and folklore, and indeed the whirlpool features in a number of pieces of literature, most famously the ballad Thallassia and the Siren Queen, in which the eponymous character’s husband sends an entreaty to the Siren Queen, but it is disregarded because of its timing. Regardless of cause, the festival went on for hundreds of years in that format, until 1985, when the first reply was received.

The first reply was found by an amateur fisherman called Ken Riome, when he found it knocking against the side of his small rowing boat during a midday nap. It was a bright blue bottle containing three things: a letter in an unknown language or code, a number of dried mushrooms of a type not recognised by any Buentoillitant botanists, and three human teeth of varying ages and from three different people. At first he believed that it must have come from the old festival, which had happened the previous day; that someone had dropped their message in the sea accidentally; but on closer inspection of the contents he realised that he must be wrong.

Since that first reply another has appeared every year, even though few people now send messages to the Siren Queen. Instead, a group of scientists gather at the end of April, when they collectively design a message which they will drop into the whirling waters of the rock pool after that year’s message has arrived. They will then spend a year trying to decipher the new message in conjunction with the others, coming up with new theories and possible translations before the process repeats all over again. Different gifts have arrived with each message, including a ceremonial knife, precious metals, seeds, psychoactive drugs, and many drawings of people and plants.

The most widely accepted theory as to the origin of these messages and gifts is that they are from another City or smaller civilisation in another coastal town somewhere in the outer sea. Given the strange script they use, anywhere nearby has been discounted, excepting for the possibility of a hoax (e.g. someone walking on the sea bed in a diver’s suit and releasing the message from there). Despite many attempts to divine the course and origin of the supposed underwater conduit using dye, no trace of the colour has ever been found in the surrounding ocean. Similar attempts using aquatic camera robots have been unsuccessful as the robots quickly became uncontactable via radio signal.

Another popular theory states that the messages are all ancient, and that they were dropped into the whirlpool thousands of years back when the common language was different, or by a group of people who preceded the City, and who taught Buentoillitants about the whirlpool. Unfortunately for this theory’s adherents, there is no record of any such group of people, and the items in each message have been dated to times far, far later than would be the case if it were true. Still, some say that the extended time underwater could disrupt dating techniques, and that the group of people may have been very small and left no other trace of their passing, or could have been subsumed into the City itself.

It would appear that the sucking rock pool has always been in some way misunderstood; in a famous painting of 1346 by Quernman Decha a ghostly hand reaches out of the feature’s swirling depths to grab at a bottle. Some of the more publicity-hungry scientists even posit the idea of an underwater City somewhere beneath Buentoille in a cave system lit by luminous mushrooms, although there is no evidence of such a place. Modern attempts at communication with the mysterious location focus on drawing scenes and diagrams designed to bridge the language gap, although so far all the responses seem to be in that same esoteric, unknown language. Maybe they aren’t getting our letters any longer.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Tremendous Bang
  • The Festival of Sharing Agency
  • A Day to Know Less