August 5th – The Festival of Tax Avoidance

In 1352 the district of Chaser’s Valley, which was controlled by the Chastise Church until 1725, gained a new governor. The previous governor (as Chastise Church mayors were called) had died, but because of the complex nature of clerical succession, his replacement was actually from Helmuud’s Hill, rather than Buentoille. The new governor’s name was Sita Berng, and she had never been to the City before.

The position of governor was primarily ceremonial, as any changes to law were either decided by the monarch, Parliament or the Church, and the latter also decided, through the Hierarchy’s council, any major issues of policy. The one duty which Berng was required to perform, other than keeping up postal acquaintance with local dignitaries, was the yearly tax-take. So it came to be that the first time Berng actually travelled to the City was on the 5th of August, 1352, to collect the taxes. It seems that several of the Chaser’s Valley residents saw her coming.

Today, there will be several strange occurrences on the streets of Chaser’s Valley. The primary one of these is that everyone you come across will have a single, old Buentoilliçan coin, scarred with an ‘X’ across the face side. Between each arm of the X, there is also a dot. Each of these people will offer their coin to you, but whatever you do, do not accept; the symbol scored into the coin is that of the Waylayer, the ancient adversary of the Chastise Church and renowned trickster. If you accept then you have been ‘bought’ and must join in the secondary strange occurrence: the ‘filling’ of the scales.

In the central square of Chaser’s Valley today there is a large set of scales set out, with a large plate on one side and weights on the other. At fairly regular intervals, somebody will walk up to the plate and place upon it a single grain of wheat, and then scuttle off the way they came. Almost as soon as they have left, the large gaggle of pigeons that are invariably causing a ruckus next to the scales with descend and eat the wheat grain. This happens for almost the entire day, and the plate never gets any more filled, the pigeons just get fatter. Even when several full pigeons stand on the plate, the weights do not budge.

When Berng arrived to the City, she was met in the appointed place by a young man in priest’s robes. They exchanged the necessary pleasantries, and the man asked her to follow him to begin the tax collection, after saying something unclear about the local Buentoillitants ‘acting strangely.’ This odd behaviour was immediately apparent when they came to the tithing barn (now long demolished), the location where traditionally the local population would bring the fruit of their labours as tax (or as the Church called it, a ‘tithe’), and the place was a hive of frenetic activity, the district-dwellers running two and forth, attempting to fill a set of scales in a manner very similar to the scenes today. When Berng and their guide accosted one of these runners, asking them the meaning of their activity, they said that they were ‘fulfilling an order.’

‘But why do you only carry one seed at a time?’ asked Berng, ‘that is surely madness, and look, nobody is stopping the pigeons!’ The reply, given by various Buentoillitants, was incredulous. ‘Carry more than one! Who do you think I am, Trivam herself?’ (for those unfamiliar with Escotolatian myth, Trivam was a woman possessed by her late husband, a tree, and who possessed extraordinary strength). When Berng realised that she wasn’t going to get any sense out of the runners, she instead demanded the payment that was due. The answer she got from everyone was ‘yes, as soon as we fulfil this order.’

Eventually, with a little prompting from her guide, who you may have guessed by now was in on the plot and not actually who Berng had expected to meet (the plotters had been intercepting the letters sent to the actual clergyman responsible for guiding her for many weeks), Berng asked who the order was for. ‘Oh, we didn’t ask his name. He was tall and dark and wore many funny rings. He paid us all very well.’ At this point, Berng began to get worried; the Waylayer is traditionally depicted in this manner, the ‘funny rings’ containing the souls of those it has entrapped. When she asked to see the payment they were given, and saw the mark etched into the coins, she grew very pale and left Buentoille very quickly, never to return.

To avoid the authorities finding out about their ruse, the people of Chaser’s Valley paid their taxes, but not in full; the Governor was entitled to a third of the final sum as their personal income for the year, and the non-payment of this allowed the district’s poorest to keep food on the table for the full year, rather than going hungry frequently as was usually the case. Unfortunately, the trick only lasted for five years, when it was found out by a Church dignitary insisting on meeting Berng on her visit, the hoaxers not knowing that they had met before.

All of this leaves something of a mystery at hand: why do the Valley dwellers continue their hoax to this day? After that first instance they would have gained nothing from the performance, as the ruse was conducted only via post from that point onwards; Berng never once again visited the City. The answer probably isn’t, as some more fundamentalist Chastise Church followers would have it, that they tempted the Waylayer and actually fell under its spell as a result, carrying out their trickery each year in grim mockery of their actions. More likely, the festival in its modern form began in 1522 as a form of protest to the raise in taxes that year. It was a remembrance of a time that the district triumphed over tax collectors, and was intended to inspire tax strikes, although little further action came of it in the end.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Beating the Living Daylights at Chess
  • The Festival of Tooth Extraction
  • Corkscrew Appreciation Day