May 9th – The Vigil at the Blood Elm

There is a book somewhere in the Hidden Library called Customs and Traditions of the Isle of Myantre which describes in some detail the way in which the islanders ascribe evil intentions to inanimate objects. The knife a murderer used, for example, is considered equally guilty of the crime, and will be cast into the sea as punishment. If a blacksmith accidentally hits their hand with a hammer, the tool must be discarded, as it is thought to be deliberately working against them. Perhaps it is for a similar reason that the inhabitants of Buentoille chose to cut down and bury the Blood Elm; a punishment for the crimes committed upon it.

People often have a warped view of how the tree looked in life; every painting of it shows a malicious-looking cluster of twisted branches with no leaves, but this is most likely to help convey the darkness of the scene rather than a faithful depiction. The few photographs of the Blood Elm which still exist show a very tall, stout looking tree, with full foliage, that would be pleasant to look at, were it not for the several bodies hanging from its branches.

It was the year after the Revolution when they decided to cut it down. No bodies had hung from it for many months, but the branches still bore smooth patches where the ropes had been tied, and folk were tired of being reminded of the horrors the City had endured under the tyranny of the Traitor King. On May 9th that year a gang of Buentoillitants gathered their axes and felled the tree swiftly, with little ceremony and grim faces. It had stood atop Ranaclois hill, and there in the square the branches and trunk burned for five days, the smoke carrying over the rooftops of the still-mourning City.

The poet Triste Mayville wrote of the felling that ‘Blood spurted forth from the wounds that each axe did make,/ and as it burned it squealed terribly;/ a piercing scream for all the City.’ Whilst this was undoubtedly a metaphor for the suffering that the tree had witnessed, rather than a literal statement of fact, the image has stuck in the collective consciousness of Buentoille, and the term ‘felling the Blood Oak’ is often used to refer to acts of pointless revenge or punishment which achieve no good.

There are some acts in this world that are difficult to reconcile, that live within us as led shot, slowly poisoning us from within if we do not face up to them. And yet, when a City has become so tired of seeing violence, of death and heartbreak, you cannot force those things back before its eyes every day. When they had felled the tree they tore up the stump and turned it upside-down in the churchyard nearby, so that there was no chance of it growing again. On this night every year a vigil will be held in that church yard, each attendee lighting a candle and placing it on the altar of the Blood Oak’s dead roots. The stump can be seen like a beacon on the hill, such is the quantity of candles, and they will be left to burn for five days, each replaced as it burns out by the clergy from the nearby church.

A small roof has been constructed over the stump altar, and along with wax from the many vigils held there over the years it has preserved the stump from rot. It will remain there for many more years; a piece of led shot extracted and kept safe as a reminder so that such brutality will never happen again.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Trap of the Wise Festival
  • I Take Umbridge: A Peculiar Card Tournament
  • The Geological Surveyance Technology Fair