July 11th – The Festival of the Grass Bear

Almost all of the Buentoilliçan kings and queens came from the west of the City, or rather were from western roots, if not geographical location, claiming descendence from the Helican rather than Escotolatian ancient peoples, the two major groups which came to form the populace of Buentoille. There were a couple of occasions when an ‘eastern’ monarch came to power, however, the most prominent of which being King Lorem Yvall. The lines of inheritance were always messy, partly because the law changed several times and partly because there were about eight different families who shared the position of the official ‘royal family’ in the early days of the monarchy. The Yvall family married in to one of these royal families, but retained their own name (in the east the family name is taken from the matriarch, in the west it is the patriarch).

Regardless of how they came to be king, Yvall handled things somewhat differently to his predecessors, especially in relation to animal rights. Like most eastern Buentoillitants, King Lorem was a vegan, a fact which outraged the court, especially at large feasts and other such events. Knowing that their position was precarious to some extent, the King did not try to influence the diet of the citizenry on the whole (although there was something of a fad for vegan food within the upper-middle classes in the west, something which greatly annoyed the east who saw a rise in the cost of certain foods), and still provided meat and cheeses for the court.

Much like diet, the king did not pass laws to stop the court and others hunting and mistreating animals, as Buentoillitants of the time were wont to do. That is, with the exception of bear baiting, dancing, and general maltreatment. The King had something of a fondness for bears, for what particular reason is unknown, though there were plenty of (unfounded) rumours at the time of his monarchy that he had been raised as part of a bear cub litter. There were also plenty of political cartoons at the time lampooning the King by depicting him as a bear with a crown, eating foliage and engaging in general buffoonery. Nevertheless, the laws he passed (this being in pre-parliamentarian times) still stood, making it illegal for anyone to trap, kill or maltreat a bear.

The punishment for engaging in any such barbaric acts was first and foremost a hefty fine, but when this didn’t seem to deter bear baiters or tamers, who made their entire income from their shows of cruelty, the King amended the legislation so that ‘watsowevyre has beyn donne untwo the bare shalle be donne untwo thee.’ In the case of bear baiters, this essentially amounted to a death sentence, and a particularly gruesome one at that in which the baiters were tied to a post and torn apart by hungry dogs. In the case of those who tamed and created ‘dancing bears,’ the punishment was less extreme; they would first have their teeth and nails pulled out, as the dancing bears did to render them less dangerous, and then they would be dressed in a raiment of dry grass (supposedly to look like bear fur) and made to dance and perform buffooneries at the end of a chain. These punishments were carried out en masse in Parliament square, and were recorded in many woodcuts and paintings at the time (most of which can now be viewed at the Museum of Traditional Antiquities).

Another popular form of monarchic inheritance was deposition, and this is precisely what happened to King Lorem after three years in power. A court coup was organised by Baldreas Dunmonii, the famed king after whom the fast-growing tree is named, and Lorem was beaten to death in the throne room. Bear baiting and maltreatment was once again allowed, but it never became as popular as before, partly because most of those who knew how to capture and train bears safely had been killed, and partly because folk found it hard to erase the images of the same things happening to humans when they saw the barbaric spectacle. Dunmonii was very fond of propaganda, and he formed several acting troupes who performed scenes on the streets intended to make his predecessor appear evil and conniving. The most popular of these scenes was the ‘grass bear dance,’ where the troupe would re-enact the punishment received by those who trained and reared dancing bears, albeit sans the pulling of their teeth and nails. The re-enactment of the fate of the bear baiters was rightly deemed too dangerous to attempt.

Whilst intended as an example of the horrors of the last king’s regime, the grass bear dance was often played for laughs. This was, after all, a man dressed in a ludicrous costume of grass, prancing around for the entertainment of the audience. Over time, this part of the performance became a bookend, where the players would ask for donations, the bear-man prancing around with a bucket to collect them. Eventually, when the next monarch came to power the players moved on to more popular, traditional mumming or morality plays, eschewing the propagandist plays they had been set up to perform, yet the grass bear stuck, it being an effective method of gathering donations from the audience.

The modern Festival of the Grass Bear traces its roots to Gremsal House, a large mansion on the outskirts of the City (it would once have sat in the centre of a large country estate, but Buentoille has since spread to meet it), which now hosts a large commune. The building was originally owned by an eccentric folklorist, Jennifer Gremsal, who hosted many small festivals at her home, and collected many folklorish artefacts. Sadly, much of this has been lost due to poor storage and the unwillingness of later generations to carry on her legacy, but one thing that has survived is the Festival of the Grass Bear. At this point the Dunmonii’s troupes had largely died out, but memories of the grass bears were still alive in the minds of several elderly folks. In a characteristic mistake of Gremsal’s, the folklorist seems to have based her festival on the recollections of a single old man she met at a pub, a retired farmhand who seemed to be generally avoided by the other patrons, but who Gremsal became somewhat besotted with, as he met her internal picture of what a folk tale teller should be like.

According to the old man (who we don’t have any name for, Gremsal never wrote it down in her memoirs), the players would come around to the small farming community in which he lived once a year and perform for them, with the grass bear included, after the local priest had ‘blessed the fields’ with a local relic (presumably the hand of Saint Uthwen, which is known to have been kept in the church that stood near to Gremsal House, now burned down and disappeared). It seems that these two events just so happened to take place on the same day, because of the regular route taken by the players through the City and its environs, but Gremsal took the interviewee to mean that they were part of the same celebration, inferring that the grass bear was some sort of ancient fertility figure.

And so we reach the modern festival. Yesterday, before the storm rolled in, the grass from the large garden of Gremsal House, which is left to grow long and dry especially for the occasion, was harvested and arranged into small bundles. Today those bundles will be attached to a volunteer, who will go to the local pubs, capering and performing for donations in a bucket (which will be later spent on alcohol and food for the celebration this evening). From these pubs, the ‘bear’ gathers a following of revellers, who all together travel to the garden once again, where a large dance will be held, large circles of people holding hands and spinning around the ‘bear’. Afterwards, the dried grass will be taken off the performer (who will then be plied with beer and cake for their labours) and stacked in the centre of the garden where it is burned along with a good deal of wood. Tomorrow, the ashes from this pyre will be spread over the nearby wheat fields, in the hopes that it will ensure a good harvest in the coming weeks, but for tonight, the participants of the dance are thought to have been gifted with particular fertility, and after eating and drinking around the fire, many will retire to their homes in the hopes of conceiving.

Whilst several books have been written about the convoluted origins of the festival, none of the revellers seem to pay them any heed. It seems far more acceptable to celebrate fertility than it does to celebrate the suffering of animals, or even the corporal punishment of those who made them suffer. Sometimes ignorance can lead to happiness.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Very Rude Gestures
  • The Umpteenth Child Festival
  • A Day to Taste the Soil

July 12th – The Illumination of Flattop Tor

Except for a few signs, there is nothing that polices access to Flattop Tor, a hill in the near-exact centre of Ceaen Moor, with a large, flat stone on its top, hence the name. Nevertheless, please take heed of the signs and do not sit atop the flat stone. At first glance there appears to be little to tell the Tor from those that surround it, but according to extensive archaeological study, it is likely that the hill was artificially heightened, and that the stone, a frankly enormous piece of masonry, was moved there by human hands.

It was a long time before anyone realised that the Tor was anything but naturally strange, and the flat top was thought by many as an excellent place to have picnics or look out on the surrounding lands. On every side of the Tor there are river valleys (a small river splits in two around the Tor and then reforms), although there are several other taller tors and hills which stop the view extending very far. This also has the effect of sheltering the area from the wind, again making it the perfect place to picnic. Unfortunately, whilst few stand atop the Tor nowadays, years of this kind of activity have somewhat marred the spectacle that many will travel there today to see.

For the purpose of scientific study, artificial lights have been used, but the only other way to see the Flattop Map is to view the Tor at dawn today, when the sun rises exactly at the right angle, appearing between two hills to the east for a few glorious minutes. The raking light cast over the Tor illuminates a complex map of the surrounding area, etched into the rock so lightly that it cannot normally be discerned with the human eye. There are roads, topographic lines, buildings, a cacophony of symbols and markings.

Last night a scaffold tower was built on the western side of the hill, to enable better viewing conditions. Obviously, there can be nobody standing atop the Tor or the effect is ruined where their shadow is cast, and they run the risk of further eroding the granite. The need for this viewing tower points to the essential strangeness of the monument; why would ancient people make a map that can only be read on one day of the year, from high in the air above it? There are no signs of a similar viewing tower built in ancient times, although like its modern counterpart, they could have removed such a tower on other days of the year.

Several things are implied by the strange placement of the stone: firstly it would have taken an enormous amount of work to get it atop the hill intact, it weighing many many tons. Secondly, the height of the hill beneath it was modified, and therefore the exact position was chosen so that today, rather than any other day or most of the year (as could have been achieved with a higher hill) would be the day on which it was properly lit. This implies that there was some great significance these ancient people had to the 12th of July, although quite what it meant to them has been long lost. Some have proposed that it was on this day that some great leader or mystic died or was born, but this is mere conjecture. Others have proposed that the fact it is best viewed from above means that it must have been made for flying aliens to see, but again there is no scientific basis to these theories.

The Map is quite obviously a study of the surrounding area to Flattop Tor, with the Tor being positioned centrally; the topographic lines (a very sophisticated mapping technique for ancient peoples) can attest to this. In terms of the additional elements, the roads and buildings, some match up with what we know to be real, others are oddly absent. A large dwelling indicated to the south, for example, was unearthed after study of the Map, but there is no trace of the quarry shown beside it. Similarly, there is absolutely no evidence of several large towers besides their inclusion on the Map. Archaeologists have explained this by suggesting that the Map shows either a plan for the area, or some kind of alternate fantasy land envisioned by its creators. Perhaps most strangely, there are rivers shown on the Map which are known to have changed their course since the Map was created, but are depicted with extreme accuracy to their modern course.

This realisation has led many to believe that the Map is a prophecy or prediction of what the area should look like in the future, an interpretation which is supported by Professor Gene Willfern, head of esoteric studies at Yerbai Noon University. Willfern recently published a study claiming that the Map is only readable due to erosion on its surface, and that before the markings would have been too deep to cast the correct shadows in raked sunlight, but still to shallow to be made out properly in other lights. This implies that firstly whoever made the Map had a complex understanding of the process of natural erosion (but did not factor in the erosion caused by human footprints, as can be seen by the erasure of the Map in certain places), and secondly that they had designed the Map to be read far in the future. Whilst this is a striking prospect it is important to remember that Willfern’s study has been criticised from many quarters, and that the methodology through which she reached these conclusions has been declared unsound.

Whatever the truth of this enormous hilltop artefact, many people, scientists and laypeople alike, will travel across the moor before dawn to watch the glorious morning light strike the rock just right. We can only hope that it’s not cloudy.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The festival of Brearth’s Bounty
  • Sandpaper Day

July 13th – The Day of Waurst Mowings

The number thirteen has always been associated with the Grenin Waurst, and so it is no surprise that today is closely associated with that mythological figure. All around the City, in several fields where wheat, oats, corn and other such cereals are grown there will have appeared overnight several swirling patterns, where the cereals have been mown down to stubble. They tend to be located in places that are easily observable from local hillsides or church roofs, and that is where many folk will congregate today to view the infernal artistry; it is damned unlucky to get too close, at least for today. Everyone knows they are made by the Grenin Waurst and his entourage.

Whilst there are no documents that point to a precise beginning to these strange, concentric circles and many-armed spirals that litter the countryside, they probably began at some point in the early 14th century. A handbill from 1426 seems to suggest that these ‘WAURST PATERYNS’ left on farmer’s fields had been occurring for ‘menye yeres,’ and it warned folk from getting too close to them, ‘leste theye be swypte awey’ by a ‘waurst wynde.’ This latter detail might point to a natural origin of the patterns; at this time of year the heatwave makes whirlwinds (or as they are known in Buentoille, waurstwinds) more likely, and those short-lived columns of spinning air could have torn spiral shapes into fields of cereal.

The modern shapes we see today are far too neat and symmetrical to be natural in origin, and appear to turn clockwise more than is statistically likely for a waurstwind in the northern hemisphere (nor is it particularly likely that so many would occur over one specific night, when things tend to be cooler anyway). Rather disappointingly, the most likely explanation is that the ‘waurst mowings’ are placed there by human hands, but this doesn’t stop most folk ascribing their appearance to the Grenin Waurst itself (or, as in more recent days, to celestial beings). It is either through fear of meeting the mythical trickster whilst it is at work mowing, or because they simply don’t want to spoil the illusion, that nobody ever patrols the fields at night, to catch the culprits in the act.

The attachment of the mowings to this particular day of the year is, as has already been noted, primarily for the reason that today is the 13th day of the month, and because the heatwave that causes waurstwinds is always at the start of July, but primarily because the most popular folk tale on the subject, The Mowing Waurst, is set. The first printing of the tale appeared in 1547, long after the handbill which refers to the ‘PATERYNS’ was published, and most historians agree that this written version was based on an oral tale, itself inspired by the events suggested by that handbill.

The tale begins with a landowner admonishing his workers for being lazy on the 13th of June, and shouting that he could mow the field faster than any of them. The workers had been playing cards on their lunch break with a shadowy man, a wanderer who had taken the opportunity to take up some casual work. This stranger stepped forwards, and said to the landowner, ‘I will take you up on that bet: I shall mow a circle here bigger than you can there by the end of the day.’ At this point the workers realised who they had been playing cards with, and shouted at the landowner not to take up the bet, but they were quickly silenced on threat of their jobs, and the landowner shook hands with the Grenin Waurst.

The landowner then set to work, and the Grenin Waurst walked off to the pub, so assured was he. As it turned out, the landowner had never done any mowing before, but had assumed himself intelligent and capable enough to pick it up quickly. The workers all sniggered at his first few failed attempts and he sent them away. When they returned shortly after to stake metal rods in the ground on the Grenin Waurst’s patch, to slow the creature and save their master (they did not like him much, but felt he didn’t deserve to have such a terrible master in return), he told them to stop. He wanted to win, fair and square, and thought that they were mocking him.

At dusk, the sun hovering by the horizon, the landowner had managed a circle about twenty foot across; a pitiful effort. The Grenin Waurst appeared, and then laughed, ‘is that all? Let me show you how it’s done. He then turned into a waurstwind, mowing a large circle, far larger than the landowner’s efforts, into which the boastful man was sucked, and carried away to the Grenin Waurst’s home, as the sun finally set. In the modern version of the story, the workers then assume control of the farm, setting up a cooperative there.

There are those who say that the strange markings that appear across the fields could not have been created by human hands, that they are too uncannily symmetrical, too large to have all been mowed in one night without machinery or a large gang, both of which would leave tracks to and from the patterns, which are suspiciously absent. The cuts are too regular, too smooth to have been cut by more than one person, they say. A recent microscopic study of the stubble found that in three out of the five waurst mowings that they looked into, the cells at the top of the stubble, where it had been severed were oddly shaped, perhaps even mutated. Nicholai Baseol, from the Society of Waurst Defence, commented on the findings: ‘To hide your work amongst that of fakers and hobbyists, to make people think that the real article has been hoaxed; that sounds exactly like something the Grenin Waurst would do.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Accidental Wall
  • The Left Step Festival
  • The Day of Backhanded Compliments

July 14th – The Festival of Enohi Derak’s Scent

From a very young age, Enohi Derak had little trouble getting to know people. Even as a baby they were very popular, with plenty of folks volunteering to look after them for a few hours, even when they were balling their eyes out. The other children at playgroup were somehow calmer around them, more gentle, less likely to fight over toys. When they hit puberty, they were suddenly an object of desire, the person everyone fancied from afar, but were too shy to talk with them properly, too inept in their presence to flirt. Perhaps it was for this reason that Derak’s best friend and later partner suffered from anosmia: they couldn’t smell.

According to Derak’s diary, which is available to be read upon special request to the Union of Perfumers and Chemical Modulators, they were about fifteen when they realised it was their scent that had these effects on people. Their heady arrogance and self-assuredness helped, definitely, but it was their scent that was the primary factor. It made folks calmer, but combined with their winning smile, the way they seemed to flirt with every word they said, it disarmed people, made them lose their train of thought. By the age of nineteen, Derak could make a 12th Century treatise on political economy written by someone who’d never stepped outside a library in their life sound like they were asking you to bed.

The obvious choice for Derak’s employment was within the Office of External Affairs, and indeed that was where they worked for some time. Their scent and general disarming personality were excellent tools whilst negotiating trade deals with other cities, trading bodies and empires. It was Derak who negotiated the Treaty of the Broken Sword, and also they who re-started trade with Litancha after that city cut ties with Buentoille after the Revolution. Many nowadays see the price Buentoille paid to reforge those links, specifically the ‘extraordinary trading permit’ given to BioJohnsoncorp (one of Litancha’s largest companies, implicated in all sorts of scandal) as too much, too anti-Revolutionary. However, we must remember that it was a time in which trade was seen as vital to the City’s survival, and whilst the permit allows the corporation to retain its backwards hierarchical structure (rather than submitting to worker control, like all other Buentoilliçan businesses) it does little in Buentoille besides hold a nominal office where research deals are occasionally cut. Technically it may legally sell goods within the City, but a long standing boycott has put an end to that.

Outside of their work, Derak spent a lot of time trying to understand the gift they had been given. They knew, from the reaction of their anosmic partner, Pleasance Aeoli, that it was their scent that caused the emotional reaction within those they talked to. Perhaps it was some form of pheromone that they over-produced? They found that they could stop the scent’s effect by covering themself with patchouli oil, or other strong, masking scents. It was not that they disliked the effect it had on people, it was fairly normal for them, but they wished to better understand it.

It was this quest that eventually brought them to the Union of Perfumers and Chemical Modulators. After exhaustive tests on Derak’s skin, sweat and hair, the Union’s scientists eventually found that the scent was simply a scent, rather than some more exotic chemical factor. With Derak’s permission, they began synthesising it, trying to achieve the same psychological effects. It seems that, through some quirk of evolution, Derak’s body produced precisely the correct combination of smells to create a calming, disarming effect on most humans. The scent they created, named simply ‘Enohi Derak’s Scent’, reproduces the original to a factor of 99.9% accuracy, and was planned to be put into many bathing products and perfumes, although the researchers were having a little trouble ensuring it did not clash with the bodily odours of the individual wearing it. However, on the 18th of August 1965 this research stopped; it was banned.

Today is the only day you can legally smell or distribute Enohi Derak’s Scent. The public were worried about the effects of long-term exposure to the smell, believing that it would create a less critically aware, more easily controlled population, which could open the doors to potentially malign influences. Obviously Derak themself could not be banned, nor did anyone want to persecute him, but Buentoille is a sceptical and fiercely autonomous City, and could not allow for anything that threatened that autonomy. Indeed, far from being treated as something alien and dangerous, Derak’s legacy is celebrated today, their contributions to society remembered.

Access to the scent is tightly controlled, and the recipe for its synthesis is closely guarded by the Union. Today, as an act of remembrance to the person who undoubtedly saved lives and made the City a better place to live through the trade deals and other negotiations they struck, the scent will be pumped around the City, through the streets and into the parks, with large diffusers. For those who don’t wish to be part of the festival, small, in-nose neutralisers are available for free, but they are rarely taken up. The smell is luxurious, but difficult to describe. It is certainly warm, like light falling through a window on a spring day, and there is perhaps a floral hint to it as well, similar to night jasmine. Some claim it smells raw and animalistic, others that it is like the flesh of a ripe peach. A few people claim not to be able to smell it at all, although still have the same psychological effects.

Today the streets of Buentoille will be warm, friendly places, more so than they normally are. Folk will stop to talk in the streets with complete strangers, and will open up with friends, not holding part of themselves back, as they normally do. Apparently it is a similar feeling to being slightly drunk; your normal defences to the world are lowered, you feel more at ease, more happy to share secrets and make declarations of love. Some will regret what they said tomorrow morning, but for most people it is a release, one in which they happily languish.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Little Black Book
  • The Festival of Pure Air Seekers
  • A Day for Careful Listening

July 15th – The Festival of Silencing the Sylvetter Hall Head

The skull that sits pride of place in the entryway to Sylvetter Hall is perhaps the most well known non-relic bones in Buentoille. For the most part, the severed human bones and body parts kept in boxes that grace Buentoille are owned by the Chastise Church and generally relate to particular saints, but the Sylvetter Hall Head is a very different beast: it was the consultation head of the arcanist and wizard, Maelich Sylvetter, whilst he still lived.

You would think that most people would want to stay away from a house once owned by a man who practised magic, particularly magic as dark and disturbing as that performed by Sylvetter. Yet there are now five families who live happily in Sylvetter Hall, which has been converted into a communal block of flats since the 1920s. The grandiose building was commissioned for the wizard himself, albeit whilst he remained a simple aristocrat and had not become quite as eccentric. Perhaps it is the grandness of the building that encourages folk to stay there, despite the rumours of a haunting, the stories of infernal seances and blood rituals in the very rooms in which their children sleep. Perhaps it is because there is very little to suggest the dark past of the house, except of course for the skull in the lobby.

Sylvetter wasn’t known as a wizard until after his death, when his cousin (Vernal Sylvetter, the heir to his estate; Maelich had no children) visited the aristocrat’s study and found it full of grimoires, arcane symbols and contraptions of unknown function. Not wanting to cause scandal to befall his family, Vernal destroyed many of the devices and books and burned or poured away all the alchemical ingredients. There was a large wooden box with a long list of instructions upon it there too, but thankfully Vernal decided to open it before they set about destroying it. There was a muffled sound coming from within. When he opened it up, carefully prising apart the layers of soundproofing, he received a torrent of abuse from a very angry preserved human head.

Or that is, at least, how the story goes. The house was uninhabited for about fifty years thereafter, with local people frequently complaining of the strange noises that emanated from within. Allegedly, the cousin had buried the excoriating Head in the garden, under a simple grave marker, hoping to silence it, but when he did the Head’s spirit entered the house and haunted it incessantly, making it essentially uninhabitable. What he should have done was read the instructions on the box. Eventually the house and all its contents were sold to a family from the other side of the City who didn’t know of its haunted reputation, but that after they saw the box and read through it properly, they knew what to do.

Firstly, they dug up the Head and brought it back within the house. This might seem like a bad move, and yes, they were immediately met with a snapping, swearing skull (being buried in the earth for about fifty years had rotted the flesh off the bones, but somehow not robbed it of its capacity for foul language), which seemed intent upon revealing horrifying astral secrets to the unwilling audience. To avoid the steady flow of angry abuse they immediately placed the skull back into the box, where it waited, muffled but not silenced, until the next steps could be taken.

According to the tales, it was a few months before they could perform the next steps of the ritual to silence the skull, and depending on which version of the story you’ve heard, by this point one or more of the children may have been driven mad by the dark revelations imparted by the furious skull, having opened up the box out of curiosity or to show a friend. On the 15th of July, the day the wizard dug the Head up from a fresh grave originally, severing it from the spinal column with a special copper knife, the family took their next steps, carefully following the instructions the wizard had left on the box. Firstly they plugged their ears with cloth and wax, then they took a fresh liver and forced it into the skull’s champing teeth, taking care not to lose their fingers in the process. Once it had sufficiently reduced the liver to a pulp they sprinkled earth taken from the wizard’s grave into the skull’s eye sockets, and finally washed the whole thing over by dipping it in an underground stream that ran beneath the property and was accessible through the cellar. Once all of this was done, the skull finally shut up.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a permanent solution, lasting for only a year and a day before it once again began screaming. Thankfully, due once again to the instructions left by the wizard on the side of the box, they knew this to be the case, and the skull has remained silent since, the ritual being successfully performed once a year. This vital information was passed down through several owners of the Hall, until finally it was handed over to the People of Buentoille and converted into several dwellings. Not wanting to share their home with a screaming skull, the steps have never once been forgotten or fudged. One one occasion the Cult of Arthur Blair attempted to frustrate proceedings, in order to learn the terrible astral secrets promised by the Head’s ramblings, but they were driven off by the inhabitants of the house who didn’t want to live with that sort of nonsense going on.

There is only one known permanent solution to the noisy problem posed by the Head, and that is to bury the head with its body once again. An easy enough plan, you might think, but according to the inscription on the side of the box (now kept alongside the blissfully silent skull in the glass cabinet in the lobby), the wizard Sylvetter, who appears to have suffered from dementia in his old age, entirely forgot where he had gotten it from, hence the need for the more long-winded approach.

The exact purpose of the Head, Sylvetter’s presumable reason for going about the complex and dangerous process of creating it (described, partly, in the Corpascum Directim, although that famous text has a section missing that presumably remained intact in Sylvetter’s copy, before that too was destroyed), is unclear, but it is likely that he would have hoped to gain useful information about the underworld or afterlife. Some versions of the story have the wizard using it to gather information about the afterlife for the Waylayer, Sylvetter’s secret master. Others say that he used it to commune directly with the Grenin Waurst, who owned the person whose head was used, protecting himself as he did so by standing within a circle of candles.

As his magical strength waned, and as the dementia progressed, the wizard had progressively less control over the skull, and eventually the house was filled with its screams, and perhaps those of Sylvetter’s too. To avoid such a fate, the inhabitants of the Hall will today perform the ritual set out so many years before; manually directing the lifeless jaws to the liver, sprinkling the grave earth, and finally delving into the dark below the Hall, candle lanterns in hand (a nice occult touch not technically required, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere), bathing the time-bleached bone casing in the steady trickle of water that may not have seen light for many years.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Southerly Band Sets Out
  • Secure Systems Discount Day

July 16th – The Festival of Saint Beleir

Today about two hundred people will chase a ‘thief’ down a street in the Warrens, each person trying to get hold of a small bag of beads they are holding. This fairly violent element of the Festival of Saint Beleir is probably the closest depiction of the events that led up to the warlord’s canonisation that can be found in Buentoille, far closer in fact than most of the books you can read on the subject, closer even than the stories told in the churches today.

After the ‘thief’ has been apprehended and probably trampled by their assailants, and after those same assailants have, in an ahistorical twist, run off in the direction of the local Church of Saint Beleir and Martheus, each trying to be the person who presents the beads to the priest there (and thereby gain the blessing of the Saint, along with a great deal of good luck), things continue to break from the historical narrative. The ‘thief’, who volunteered for the position several weeks ago and has been training their running and dodging skills since, is scraped off the floor by several members of the Chastise Church who wear Saint Beleir’s sign (as it is understood in Buentoille this is a loaf of bread given to a reaching hand) stitched onto their robes, and also taken to the church, where they are fed a hearty meal of bread soup.

Why is the chasing and apprehension of the thief the most accurate part of today’s festival? Well, unlike pretty much every story about Saint Beleir you hear in Buentoille, the chasers actually catch their ‘thief’, rather than letting them go. That, however, wouldn’t be much fun, and in the process of making the festival more engaging, more of a competition, the organisers unwittingly made it closer to the truth.

According to the standard Buentoilliçan version of the tale of Saint Beleir, the saint was a rich man, but not an aristocrat, who had a bag of beads stolen from him one night. Running after the thief he turned through the winding streets in such a way that he suddenly became very dizzy, and then, as the fug of dizziness lifted, he attained a clear moment of Attunement (a religious experience of being totally in touch with the world around you), in which one realisation was very clear: this thief simply wanted to feed their family; their criminality was not some degenerate choice, but the result of unfortunate circumstances. He let the thief go, and then started up a soup kitchen to help those destitute Buentoillitants forced into a life of crime through poverty. Whilst there has been no need for any such charitable services within the City for many years now, today the Church will, in addition to the performative element of the festival, serve bread soup outside various churches in honour of their much-loved saint.

The issue with all of this, no matter how pleasant a story it is, is that none of it is true. There was a Saint Beleir, and they were robbed, but they most definitely caught the thief, and they even went so far as to ensure they were hanged for their crimes. Beleir, born Marsteg Drammer, never even came to Buentoille; they were born, lived the entirety of their life and died in Helmuud’s Hill. In 1989 the Helmounter Bervik Shaleboot, tired of Buentoille’s misappropriation of their home-grown saint, wrote a long and well-researched book entitled Saint Beleir Is Not Yours, which effectively took apart the familiar Buentoilliçan story and revealed the roots beneath. Unfortunately for Shaleboot, barely anyone read it, and the festival continues unhindered.

Shaleboot contested that whilst the historical Saint Beleir did allegedly find Attunement during the chase, the momentary higher state of consciousness merely enabled them to pre-empt the thief’s actions and thereby catch them. The branch of the Chastise Church which dwells in Helmuud’s Hill has its own Hierarchs, most of whom were either members of the ruling Helmounter families, or in their pockets. The Drammer family was one of the more influential of these families at the time, and it is likely that Marsteg Drammer gained his sainthood primarily through the prestige this afforded.

Quite how the tale came to be turned it to its (frankly much kinder) Buentoilliçan alternative is unclear, but it is probably liked to the radical preacher Berve Sapin, who regularly agitated for the Church to become more involved in helping the poor and downtrodden, and may have ‘retold’ the story of Saint Beleir in such a way that it supported her cause.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Moratorium of the Seven Day
  • The Festival of Rephla Girim’s Golden Egg

July 17th – The Shattered Gathering’s Gathering

Who knows what strange and unstable compounds have been formed beneath the plant-covered surface of the Golem’s Graveyard? Over many years this enormous ceramic mound has grown with the addition of fresh chemically-infused pieces of pottery from each year’s golem which is paraded through Buentoille in early March. The chemical infusion on each tile is designed to create colourful sparks, brightly coloured smoke and loud cracks and bangs as the 365 pieces of pottery which cover that mechanical wonder fall off all at once. On more than one occasion spontaneous fires have started within the mound, strange green or purple fire purging the precarious vegetation; once this happened in the deepest winter, and the ceramic mound became so hot that it melted the snow for a block around it, and many folks gathered there to warm themselves. Given the noxious smoke that was likely given off, this probably wasn’t the best idea.

It’s not just pieces of golems which make up the hillock; many other pieces of broken ceramics are added to the pile on a monthly basis by a group who call themselves the ‘Shattered Gathering’. Much rag and bone men, these odd folks travel around the City knocking on doors for old broken crockery and pottery. Their motivations are unclear; for one, they are paid a small retainer for their service from general taxation, but also some of them seem to enjoy the management of this enormous structure, watching it grow taller by inches. Yet for some of them there seems to be a pseudo-religious significance to their actions; they feel that through this collection the broken can achieve an alternate wholeness, an invisible transformation. Quite why you would care whether some old pottery becomes invisibly whole again is a more complex matter.

Today’s festival seems to have its roots in some older ritual carried out on the site of the Graveyard, before the mound had built quite so high. At the base of the mound is a door (this, after all is Buentoille and where there is an overground there is inevitably an underground), which leads into a small chamber, constructed from cemented large pieces of pottery, shaped in such a way that they will not collapse in under the immense pressure from above. On the floor in the centre of this small space is a large clay tablet, itself split into five large pieces, glazed with painted figures holding hands in pairs. In the upper centre of the space is a large, golden figure, and beneath it a couple, attached to it by lines, attached to each of those figures is another couple, and so on, creating what looks like a large, radial family tree, the outer levels of figures spreading out and surrounding their inner children.

And yet, it is possible to read the image in reverse; that these figures have been split from a central figure, dispersed. This was the belief of a very old religion, one which predated and was overcome by the Chastise Church, and exists only today as the Shattered Gathering. Much of the history of this religion, The Reforming Bond, has been lost through time, neglect and deliberate destruction by the Chastise Church, and the floor tablet beneath the Golem’s Graveyard is one of its last surviving remnants. Most of what we know of the religion is from Chastise Church decrees and propaganda which inevitably paint it in a negative light and could well be untrue: according to them the religion was a ‘Culte af Seckshualle Deyviants’ which held vile orgies in order to worship their god, a god that the Chastise Church naturally saw as an aspect of the Waylayer, their ancient adversary.

Despite the rather hyperbolic nature of these texts, there does seem to be some truth in the claims that sexual liaisons were a central part of the Reforming Band’s religious practice. Recently discovered books in the Hidden Library seem to Reforming Band ‘breeding guides’, disguised as other texts to evade destruction. One of them sets out the manner by which you may identify ‘markes ov thee One’ within children, and another describes a process via which couples were mixed-and-matched frequently to increase the likelihood of producing children bearing specific characteristics. If Markusz Vernathon, head of the Department of Theological History at de Geers University, is to be believed, the Reforming Band were trying to remake, or ‘reform’ their god, whose essence they believe was spread throughout humanity upon their creation, by selectively breeding those with what they believed to be ‘godly’ characteristics.

Thankfully none of those frankly eugenicist practices and beliefs are in play today with the Shattered Gathering, which has none of the dogma of a formal religion or cult. However, many of the Gathering do hold religious beliefs, or at least have religious feelings that approximate their predecessors. There is no leadership within the group, but the more vocal members have given several interviews in which they describe an intense feeling of loss, of separation from the divine. ‘There is this teasing spark of that divine spirit, which makes me feel that separation all the more keenly, when I talk to others, when I love and am loved. I feel it within people, just a tiny piece of that great whole I know once existed, and I feel that piece within me reaching out to them,’ said Grace Versatility, one of the older members of the Shattered Gathering. Whereas the Bond seemed to believe that this spark was stronger in some people, the Gathering believe it is dispersed equally, and that by gathering together, rather than breeding selectively, we create some fleeting simulacrum of their god.

For the Shattered Gathering, the Golem’s Graveyard is a great symbol, a form of adjacent worship, for whilst it doesn’t do anything to show god’s presence to them, it does act as a metaphor for it, the occasional fires its spirit rising from a simple gathering of broken ceramics. Today, beneath the mound they will sit in a circle around the broken, painted floor tablet, holding hands, and meditating on the aggregate weight that hovers above them. Not all of the Gathering will be there, some care only for the pay or the skyward extension of the mound, but most will arrive, to talk quietly about god, of all the times this year they felt its presence in a crowd, at a party, as they talked to their lover at bedtime, surrounded by their monument, letting the weight of the metaphor press upon them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Skate Day
  • The Festival of Pointless Storytelling
  • The Opening Anniversary of the Moralistic Liar – Half Price Drinks All Night

July 18th – The Fraternity of Wild Swimmers’ Pool Dip Festival

Have you ever gone to the seaside and found a rock pool in which to gaze? Have you ever found a shallow pool, lifted out a rock and found a crab or a starfish hiding underneath? How about those deeper pools, where guppies flit in and out of the seaweed walls, anemones pulsing gently? The water there is green-blue, the seaweed swirls, and something about the refraction of the water makes you wonder how deep down things really go that little world unto itself. If you are out looking for creatures in the pools around the coast from the Buentoille Bay today at low tide, you might find more than you were expecting, specifically a member of the Fraternity of Wild Swimmers, dipping into a particularly large pool.

This ‘dip’ is not for the faint of heart, no matter how inviting the pool looks (although, with its conglomeration of slimy red anemones, sharp barnacles and who-knows-what hiding in the seaweed forest that lines the walls, some might describe it as distinctly uninviting); there is a reason the famously thrill-seeking Fraternity of Wild Swimmers are the ones swimming in the pool today. Besides the occasional venomous sea urchin that may have found its way into the pool, there is little real danger, but it takes courage and a good lungful of air to swim as far down as the Fraternity do, especially when it gets dark down there.

It’s difficult to spot from above looking in, but at what looks like the bottom of the funnel-like pool it actually twists horizontally for a few feet before heading straight down again. Without the light there is less seaweed in this ever-narrowing section of the pool, but touching the walls is still a squeamish affair, especially now the walls cannot be seen without an underwater torch. Perhaps anyone else exploring the pool on a different day might use a light, but this is the Fraternity, and part of the fun for them is being able to boast afterwards, so they wouldn’t use a torch even if that wouldn’t ruin what they are delving down to see.

The festival could take place any time this week, but today was chosen primarily because it was the day someone finally got to the bottom. That person, Grieve Bastonville, had been in competition with Mai Tradshell to see who could get deeper for most of the summer of 1838. Every couple of days they would break off from the rest of the Fraternity who were most likely larking around in the local rivers or competing to see who could swim fastest to their summer house on a small island off the coast. They would come down to the pool which had been found by Bastonville, and try to push themselves further down the dark chute before they either ran out of air or panicked in the tight darkness and had to resurface. Getting down that far takes rigorous training to maintain the necessary steely sense of determination and calm. When Bastonville finally reached he bottom she was so surprised with what she saw that she let out a stream of bubbles and almost drowned in her haste to get back to the surface.

What Bastonville first saw on this day in 1838 is what the Fraternity swimmers will see today, if they are determined and calm enough, and have big enough lungs. At the bottom of the pool it starts to get thinner and thinner, until you are squeezed between the two walls and the hole dwindles to about a hand span across. If you squeeze right up to the hole and peer through you might at first see nothing but darkness, but then as your eyes adjust (remember you need enough air to get back to the surface!) you see it: hundreds of bioluminescent fish swimming in an enormous cavern. Apparently it’s something like looking into the night’s sky, if the stars moved and you were looking straight down instead. The depth and scale of the place is astounding, as much as the light show playing out within it.

Since that first visit, plenty of folk have been down, with torches and without. It seems that the species of fish that almost fill the underwater cavern only light up like this during their breeding period, which occurs for about a week, pivoting on today. Normally they are, like the rest of the cavern, dark in an attempt to avoid predators, but breeding takes precedence and to breed you need to be able to find a mate quickly. It seems that Bastonville was very lucky in terms of her timing, and due to the regularity of the environmental conditions in the enormous cave (which appears to be cut off from the ocean except through this pool at high tide) the breeding season occurs at precisely the same time each year, so modern Buentoillitants also get to benefit from her luck.

Obviously you can only get a glimpse of the spectacle below due to air concerns, but more than once people have taken oxygen tanks down with them to allow for longer spectatorship. A group of scientists went down there outside of the breeding season with several strong lights, trying to peer further into the darkness. They even dropped a flare into the cave, and it only illuminated one wall, before it fell into blackness. That sort of thing might be allowed on other days of the year, but today it the Fraternity’s day, and nothing but the human body and a swimming costume is allowed down the pool. In their brief glimpses, the Swimmers claim to have seen some astounding things.

More than one swimmer has claimed to have seen another person floating past the viewing hole, long dead. Perhaps there is another entrance, through which the bodies of unfortunate sailors have become swept at some point, but this seems unlikely, as the fish that live down there would have undoubtedly eaten the flesh from the bones before they appeared as old as they did. Most likely these ‘sightings’ are either entirely made up for boasting and prestige or were a hallucination created by lack of oxygen to the brain. Similarly, the claims of a city down there, its lights twinkling in the darkness, are probably hallucinations formed via a combination of the fish-light and oxygen deprivation.

There is some credence to some of their claims, though. Six Swimmers claim to have seen a predator chasing and sometimes catching the glowing fish. Their reports vary, must most claim not to have actually seen the beast, just a huge dark shape that at points obscures the points of light, and at some point creates negative space within them as they scurry out of its way. Those who had a closer glimpse of the aquatic monster speak only of rows and rows of long, sharp teeth.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Inglorious Tablemaker’s Festival
  • The Festival of 1000 Keys and Only Three Locks
  • The Night of the Passenger Star

July 19th – The Festival of the Supremo

What is a better activity for a summer afternoon than watching the wrestling? Buentoille has two ‘pits’ (the local word for what are essentially sunken circular amphitheatres) specifically set out for the pleasure, and thousands more watch from home. Each pit has its own sandwich sellers and wine carts, the two great loves of any true wrestling fan; you haven’t experienced wrestling culture to the full unless you have eaten a cheese, pickled cabbage and mustard sandwich whilst quaffing from a tankard of sweet wine and watching the three wrestlers struggle for dominance.

There are two essential forms of Buentoilliçan wrestling. Firstly, there is the type practised at Govrol Banatek’s Pit, where three wrestlers are covered in oil and must hold each other to the floor. Banatek-style wrestling, as it is known, involves theatrical and pretty brutal techniques, including running tackles and throws. The only things outlawed in Banatek style wrestling are punching, kicking and headbutting, but pretty much everything else is fair game.

Compared to Banatek-style, Mordo-style wrestling – named not after the pit in which it is normally shown (the Pit of the Supremo), but after the three mythical brothers who allegedly pioneered it and indeed all of Buentoilliçan wrestling – is generally thought of as the ‘thinking Buentoillitant’s wrestling,’ because of its more tactical nature. In Mordo-style wrestling three people grasp each other by the forearms and attempt to break the connection of the other two, whilst retaining their own grip. The idea that in other cities like Litancha wrestling tends to be a competition between two people seems to cause most Buentoillitants considerable consternation.

There has always been some antagonism between the fans of each sport, with each claiming their ‘style’ as the older of the two. Whilst there is no hard evidence one way or the other, we do know for sure that the Pit of the Supremo was built after Govrol Banatek’s Pit, which which was built by its namesake, the man who allegedly made the sport what it is today, formalising a set of rules that focused street fighting into a more measured spectator sport, and introduced the unbalanced third actor who keeps things in Banatek-style interesting, with fleeting alliances being formed and broken at a glance.

Yet today’s festival focuses on the other side of the equation, the Mordo-style art, which tends to gather more ‘refined’ or ‘cerebral’ types; the kind of folk who obsess over a certain flick of the wrist, or the deliberately distracting eye movements of one of the competitors. Mordo-style is a far less fluid method of wresting, with long pauses in the action when folk are evenly matched in strength or are waiting for an opportune moment to strike. There are libraries full of books on Mordo-style tactics. Today is the culmination of the Mordo-style season, when this year’s ‘supremo’ will be crowned after a tense and drawn-out battle of wills.

In what is either an act of propaganda, a cementing of the mythology that surrounds the creation of this ‘cerebral’ wrestling style, or a genuine sign of respect and remembrance for the genesis of the sport, the final of the Mordo season will not be held in the pit, but on a small rocky island (Narem Jag) in the Buentoille Bay. In the centre of this island, surrounded by a sparse treeline, is a natural pit with steep, cliff-like sides. It was upon this natural feature, apparently, that Banatek pit was modelled, although there is no evidence to suggest that this was the case, and the claim is refuted by Banatek-style lovers. Yet more importantly, for today’s festival at least, it was apparently where Buentoilliçan wrestling first began, at least 100 years before the first man-made pit was built.

According to the stories, the brothers Mordo were identical triplets whose mother died during childbirth. Their father was somewhat scarred by the experience, and had a smouldering hatred of his three sons, blaming them for her demise. He took to drink heavily, and would often, whilst they grew up, compel the brothers to fight each other. Eventually the neighbours complained about the noise, and so he began to bring them out to the island, to the pit there (discovered by father Mordo on a camping expedition with his own father, or when his fishing boat was wrecked there, depending on which version of the story you hear), where they would be placed and only allowed to leave when two of them had been floored, the survivor being declared the ‘supremo’ by his father and carried off to eat heartily whilst the other two were left on the floor. To escape this torture, the children devised the Mordo-style wrestling rules, which managed to entertain their father enough without causing significant damage to themselves.

The issue with this (frankly rather harrowing) story is that there is absolutely nothing to suggest it is true. There are no birth records of any triplets named Mordo or any similar name, nor are there any other documents that link wrestling to that name. Some think that the story may have begun as a metaphorical tale, the father representing the braying masses of the Banatek audiences who, according to Mordo audiences, want to see nothing but pain and wanton violence. Others say that the fighting brothers were real, but that they were not twins and were actually dancers called Mordres. The connection to the island, outside its handy geological appearance, does not factor into these explanations.

Whether or not the Mordo brothers ever existed, they are revered today, forming the name and crest of the wrestling organisation. The final of the season is always held in the Narem Jag pit, the crowd and television cameras gathering around on the edge of the circular cliff, yelling down at the contestants, the food and drink sellers skirting the crowd and shouting along with their sales spiels. The contestants this year are mostly tactical masters, who obviously combine their wit with prodigious strength to execute their plans. They know through hard-earned experience when to push, pull or lurch suddenly and alarmingly. Perhaps one year there will be another Big Fermine this year; someone who through sheer strength pulled her two opponents apart like they were breaking a wishbone. None could stand against her. It has been too long since the public saw the exploits of a twister, someone like Bending Bradley who had enough joints that some doctors technically didn’t class him as human.

Still, as the announcer comes out from a crack in the rock face to introduce their acts for the day, there is the same heady anticipation, the audience safe in the knowledge they will see a good show, and at the end a supremo crowned.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Leeches
  • Spelunker’s Breath Festival
  • Winemaker’s Day

July 20th – The Festival of Finding the Network

They say that the first thing that happens when you find the Network is one of them gives you your file. That is, a file on you, your movements, your life, your relationships, that time you got into a fight and cried as a teenager, where you were every time you bunked off school. This is, without a doubt, complete nonsense, but like most of today’s festival it helps build a mystique, a sense of excitement around the Network, now that its glory days are (thankfully) over.

Shortly after the Revolution, there were still remnants of the former monarchist state holding out, setting off the occasional bomb or staging the occasional coup of a former government building. Few mistook this impotent flailing for a real and organised counter-revolution, but there were other concerns. There were still several members of the King’s Finest, the former secret police force, active, hiding in the shadows and waiting for the opportune moment to strike with real effect. In particular, there were concerns that this group were organising a significant counter-revolution with the Seven Cities Trading Company, which had benefited hugely from the reign of the Traitor King.

In response to these threats, the Network was set up; a group of loosely associated intelligence gatherers who identified and kept tabs on monarchists and in particular the former King’s Finest members, who were the real organisational force behind the angry rabble. The group mainly watched and infiltrated these groups, and only intervened when there was a credible threat to life or the Revolution. The stories from these days are the stuff of pulp thrillers, with dead drops, coded messages and tense stakeout and shadow missions. Occasionally they would get it wrong, and several innocent Buentoillitants were shadowed for days, and in once case even wrongfully arrested, before the mistake was realised. In all these cases and full apology was made and reparations paid. However, for the most part the Network was very effective at safeguarding the people of Buentoille.

The activities of the Network were rigorously documented to ensure transparency, and all details besides those which held operational sensitivity, were publicly available at the earliest convenience. One thing that was never published until much later was the identity of the Network members, to avoid reprisals, even after they finished service. This transparency ensured trust between the organisation and the people of Buentoille, and is also what led to the rise of the ‘Network’ genre of literature that was extremely popular during the 1920s and 30s. However, these ‘golden days’ were relatively short lived, not because they betrayed the trust of the people of Buentoille, but because they were very effective. After repeated defeats in Buentoille, the leading members of the King’s Finest, sensing after two decades that they may never take back the City, began organising talks with the Oligarchs of Litancha and the Buentoilliçan aristocrats who fled to that city when the Revolution came, trying to persuade them to lend their military forces for an invasion of the City.

When the Network caught wind of this they were quick to inform the City of their findings, and soon the best ambassadors from the Office of External Affairs were dispatched to Litancha, strongly suggesting that they reconsider, and that the City was not as weak as the aristocrats and King’s Finest suggested. Buentoille had recently seen one armed conflict and was fully prepared to fight another, if it had to. Knowing that this was their last-ditch attempt to regain power, many of the King’s Finest became careless and exposed themselves in the process. By the end of the whole debacle, almost all the high-level members of the Finest had been either captured or were taken in by Litancha and banished from Buentoille. Some of their identities were even given up by the Litanchans as a sign of good faith between the two cities.

With their leaders gone, the rest of the monarchist counter-revolution became increasingly disheartened and impotent, and essentially gave up organising direct action. Given the success of the Revolution, and the increase in living conditions brought about in the early 1940s, the monarchist position (i.e. that things had been better under the monarchy) was increasingly difficult to justify, and many monarchists even integrated back into general society. There were certainly no new recruits to the ideology, and all in all the Network had little to do. There was a minor resurgence of monarchist extremism under the direction of Regent June in 1986, but they are only loosely monitored as their ideology doesn’t seem to be quite as violent or reprehensible as that of their predecessors, having been modified to appear more acceptable to modern sensibilities (they do not call for outright monarchy, but instead a symbolic monarch as a ceremonial figurehead to recognise the traditions and history of the City).

Nowadays the Network is something of a fun club. It seems its original members have all died from old age, but that younger generations were inspired by their exploits, romanticised as they were in the ‘Network’ genre, which has retained some popularity, despite never quite reaching the heights of interest that it did in the 20s and 30s. Instead of trailing monarchists, who number less than 100 members and are not considered a threat, Network members usually trail each other instead, organising games of espionage within a fictional alternate Buentoille where the monarchy never fully died. The Network does still retain its rule of anonymity, so it can be difficult to join, and this secrecy is precisely what compels people to seek them out, to try and join. Today, all across the City, coded symbols and convoluted messages will be left in plain sight, yet only noticeable to those who are looking. If you manage to follow the trail, you might just find the Network.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Boon of Saint Yellowband
  • The Day When The Tricked Mackerel’s Brings Out the Reprehensible Spirit
  • Maybe Day