July 28th – The Day of the Castiagra Feasts

In the early days of Buentoille, before it became a City in the modern sense, way back in the fifth century, there was a plant called castigara. For about thirty years there was an economic boom based around this plant, a small empire built on its production and distribution. But as is the way with all booms, there must be a crash. For the castigara plant, and those who relied on it for their living, the crash was particularly catastrophic; it went extinct.

It was a leafy shrub, by all accounts (which are unclear at best), stubby with a milk-white sap when broken. The leaf shape seems to change in the different depictions of it that we still have, but it’s likely that they were roughly circular and thick, rubbery. It was the sap that was attractive for those early Buentoillitants. It dried into a hard resin, which when powdered could be added to food as an apparently delicious spice. Whilst this seems to be the primary usage of the sap, there are plenty of sources which point to various medicinal effects.

According to Ayer the Gnostic, the sap could be mixed with asses’ milk, then heated to create a ‘healthy tonic’ that would relieve muscular ailments, although it is not clear whether this was to be consumed internally or rubbed into muscles externally. Ayer also prescribes the ‘tonic’ in instances of ‘mania of the left brain,’ and suggests smearing the raw sap into open wounds that ‘refuse to knit themselves.’ According to Orphelliam, the resin could be burned to ward all sorts of ‘malevolent spirits,’ ‘bears,’ and ‘gentlemen of dark intent.’ Apparently it smelled very pleasant when heated slowly, but terrible if burned.

Despite these, and many other, health-bestowing claims, it seems strange that the herb had such a dramatic effect on the region. There are reports in the Hidden Library of farmers giving up tilling the land to pick (and unsuccessfully attempt to cultivate) castiagra, of great fortunes being made on the substance, of temples being formed around it, of people coming from many hundreds of miles over hard country to buy it. These sound like the effects of some potent psychoactive and addictive drug, but there are no testimonies, written or otherwise, which seem to point to this. There are no hallucinogenic artworks, or accounts of ecstasies induced through consumption of the plant, just a great respect for its taste and medicinal effects.

Perhaps this was an example of early social advertising. Perhaps the notoriety and popularity of castigara was accentuated precisely because it was so popular and notorious. Perhaps it was a fashion, a fad, one accessible to almost everyone at first because the plant was relatively widespread across the Buentoille bay area. Unfortunately this wasn’t to last. It seems the insatiable appetite for the plant led to rampant over-harvesting. All attempts to cultivate castigara failed, and it wasn’t long before it was all used up. Towards the end, the herb commanded such a high price that even though they knew they were using it all up, the people of the day could do nothing to prevent its extinction.

The marks of the fall have now been erased by time, except for a few accounts, poems, and passing references within textual works, and a couple of images here and there. When the empire of foragers fell, it fell hard, and the effects of the depression that followed the boom were felt for far longer. There were a few dangerous years, when possession of any castigara necessitated armed bodyguards, when everyone knew the fall was coming but could do little to stop it; the whole region’s economy had become subservient to the herb. It’s strange to think that the history of Buentoille is not all progressive; there were slumps and knockbacks here and there, too. Buentoille was not always on a straight path to the present day; there are alternate and very different forms of the City, there are dead ends.

And yet when it comes to castigara, there might not have been a dead end after all. Whilst she never told anyone in life, when the famed botanist Xers Pignyon died (in 1921) she left a very short note on her desk: ‘There is a castigara in my garden.’ Presumably one specimen had escaped the frenzied uprooting. Or maybe some long-dried seed had been washed over by rain, that life-giving substance, and had burst back into life. The issue was, nobody knew which plant it was. There were plenty of plants in Pignyon’s garden, quite a few of which exude whitish sap when broken. In modern Buentoille, castigara has never had quite the notoriety that it once did, and it was some time before anyone realised the significance of this desktop declaration.

Today there are three plants which contend for the position. Two are likely of the same genus as castigara, the sap dying to a resin, the leaves roughly circular and rubbery. The third has brown sap and heart shaped leaves. Three feasts will he held today, all containing elements of these possible castigaras as their main spices. Each plant is carefully looked after in Pignyon’s garden, and that is where the spice is taken from, earlier in the year so that the resin is properly made in time for the festival today, on the anniversary of Pignyon’s death. It turned out that she had conducted a large amount of research into the plant, and was planning on announcing its existence publicly when she had finalised her studies. Unfortunately she contracted a debilitating and ultimately fatal lung disease before she finalised this research.

Each feast is held in a different location across the City, and those who have managed to obtain access to all three (generally if you favour one you are shunned by the others) have reported varying tastes. Two are rich and delicious, a sweet, warm, cumin-like taste, whilst the third (one of the white-sapped plants) is acrid and quite the aquired taste, though this doesn’t dampen the spirits of those who advocate it, pointing to a link between a passage in the work of Orphelliam that says the plant ‘revives the sexual organs,’ and the fact that the leaves of their chosen plant are heart-shaped. Whilst the organisers of each feast are convinced that they have the correct plant, there are those who believe that none of these plants is a castigara, and even those who claim that the plant never existed at all.

In 1976 Douglas Termline posited that the plant was fabricated by Ayer as some kind of moralistic story that warned against the perils of gluttony, and that the other sources all gained inspiration from them. This was generally accepted as the most plausible explanation until 1993 when a cache of clay tablets depicting the harvesting of the plant were unearthed, alongside specific cutlery and plates which would have been used when consuming food spiced by castigara. Since 1993 there has been renewed interest in the plant, or rather plants, and the feasts have gained many hungry attendees, looking to taste the spices of the past, to understand what it is worth forming empires over.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Nodding Off Without Fear
  • The Wave of Saint Feman
  • The Day of the Disappointed Chorus.