Above the bar of the Picked Skeleton, a seaside pub just down from the Buentoille docks, is the skeleton after which it is named. Before the skeleton arrived, the pub was called the Ugly Lamprey, a far better name, but, crucially, one which did not capitalise on and mythologise the events of 1841. Partly as a result of the establishment’s new name, today about two hundred people will cram into the pub, and a further three hundred will spill onto the benches and beach outside, to celebrate this mythology.
It was in the early months of 1841 when the first fisher was attacked. Their small craft, a mere rowing boat, was smashed into by some hulking underwater creature one uncharacteristically balmy February evening. They had fallen asleep beneath the thick blankets they had brought with them, staying out on the water far longer than they intended. The sun was just beginning to set when a great crash awoke the sleeping fisher. At the second crash a hole was torn in the side of the vessel and it began to take on water. The fisher was thankfully not far out, and whatever it was beneath the water seemed interested only in smashing their boat, so they managed to swim to safety.
Over the next three months there were seventeen other attacks where the fishers survived, although three of these lost limbs to a ghastly maw. One narrowly avoided death when the aquatic menace became tangled in their net and dragged them out to sea at some speed before biting through the net and escaping. In the process their boat, a smallish sailing boat, sustained significant damage and was slowly sinking. It was only proximity of another saviour vessel that saved them.
Others were not so lucky. Over twenty incidents were recorded in which body-parts and boat debris washed up on the shores of the City, although some may have been the product of a single attack. Most of these brutalised individuals were never identified, but twenty five fishers and sailors were reported as missing at the time. Many folk who would normally be out casting their nets in the bay stayed on dry land where it was safe, spending their days and nights in the pub waiting for the danger to pass. Occasionally someone would declare they would catch the monster, or would head out despite it either out of bravado or financial desperation. Sometimes they wouldn’t come home again.
It wasn’t long before rumours and stories began to spread, as they do amongst fishers who spend too long in the pub. The creature was the King of the Ocean, come to defend his realm. It was a mermaid (an undead drowned woman, turned foul denizen of the sea) enforcing retribution upon boats similar to those from which she was pushed, in a blind rage. It was a spirit of vengeance, a whale twisted, turned dark with grief, come to take human lives in recompense for its partner, murdered against Buentoilliçan maritime law. Or was it a natural fish, grown massive and aggressive through some filthy effluence spewed from the City’s factories? Had it been mutated from some witchery, some arcane run-off?
Eventually these stories attracted adventurers, master fishers, wannabe heroes. Iaeme Veddik, a muscle-bound member of the king’s guard, rowed out, harpoon in hand. He managed to wound the beast, spearing one of its roving eyes, but his boat was smashed and he was bitten in two. Three sisters rowed out in circular coracles, spreading an enchanted net between them. Only one sister survived. An aristocrat with a large rifle tried shooting it from the safety of the shore, but made no impact if they did hit it. There were several other instances of foolish heroism, and for a month or two the monster was well fed. Many of the fishers had taken to travelling well up the coastline where things were safer; you can still visit the makeshift lodges they built, their abandoned settlement known in its time as ‘Safe Harbour.’
When Salléman Quiddot announced he was going to swim out to the beast and fight it from the water, everyone thought he was mad, and there was a serious attempt to stop him, to restrain him somehow. The landlord of the Ugly Lamprey actually locked him in a store cupboard ‘to sleep it off’ (Quiddot proposed the feat when extremely drunk), but when he was let out the next day his resolve had not faltered, and he set off immediately, stopping only by his home to retrieve a net and harpoon.
Quiddot never talked about what happened over the next five hours, except to say ‘I killed it.’ He had swum out to where it had been sighted last, and because he was not in a boat had managed to sneak up on the beast without provoking its ire. Even after getting the drop on the terrible creature, he must have struggled with it for some time. When he finally crawled onto the beach, falling almost instantly asleep, the enormous pile of gouged, dead muscle bobbing, net-entrapped behind him, he was quickly taken to the Ugly Lamprey, where his wounds were taken to and he was given a bed. Three of his ribs hand been broken, and his shoulder bore a deep tooth mark, but he was alive.
The next day, when he had awoken, he walked down to the beach with a huge knife, and butchered the creature. The contents of its stomach were buried down the coast, but the rest was cooked and eaten that day, in one huge feast, attended by hundreds of fishers and other coastal Buentoillitants. The bones were picked entirely clean, and hung above the bar. Today’s festival happens pretty much the same way, except there are many regular sized fish eaten, not just one large one. The smell of cooking fish wafts for miles around.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Bright Paintings of Derman Elmhouse Are On Sale For One Day Only
- The Festival of Seaweed Consumption