August 18th – The Festival of Spontaneous Combustion

In 1642 the King spontaneously combusted during his coronation. He was sitting in his throne and shortly after he was crowned he just went up, a vertical column of flame and smoke from nowhere. King Formacre Estellius was his name, though it was one he only retained for about five minutes of his life. It was generally considered a bad sign; dark clouds had apparently rolled over the City just before it happened, casting him in shadow. Some said he was too passionate; the court doctor perplexedly suggested he had an excess of manly vigour, a kind of bodily, chemical friction heat. Outside, as his body fats were sizzled away into soot that lined the ceiling of the throne room for two hundred years after (until a more fastidious monarch ordered them removed), it began to rain heavily.

It was definitely a bad sign. No doubt about it, but it appeared at the time that nobody knew what had caused it. Whilst there were oblique references to spontaneous human combustion in ancient Helican texts, few paid much heed to them, and this was the first properly witnessed instance of the phenomenon. There were those who said it was a punishment for some unknown crime, meted out by the King’s ancestors and predecessors. And there were darker rumours too, that perhaps he was a ghoul, caught out by the existence of silver on the crown, which burned into his flesh and started the combustion, leaving him unable to change form or even move to save himself.

The chair still exists, though now it is little more than a couple of piece of charcoal, kept behind gilded glazing. Some of his soot and ashes were scraped up, too, and placed into small vials. Being in possession of such an item is said to grant extraordinary luck, and as a result only one glass has been kept safe, the rest were all stolen. Folklore has it that if a person were to inhale the soot they would be possessed by the dead King’s spirit, and it is thought that this reasoning may lie behind some of the thefts. Once kept in the Palace, since the Revolution the final vial and casing have been kept in Garrik’s Museum of Infernal and Occult Curiosities.

You might be a little confused as to why someone would want to be possessed by a dead king, and rightly so, but there is good reason alongside the arcane, obscure logic of Occultists; King Formacre Estellius was famed for his exceptional memory, from when he was a child onwards. He would memorise the order of cards in a pack, would disturb others with his recollection of conversational minutiae from many years before. Whilst Estellius might be one of the more forgotten Buentoillitant Kings, his photographic memory is thought to be unaffected by death. It is said that if you inhale the soot whilst performing a quick ritual in front of a mirror, the affects are reversed, with the inhaler possessing the spiritual presence of the King, whilst remaining in control, from which advantaged position they can delve the photographic memory and gain great insight into the past.

Apparently there are other ways to simulate the experience, to trick the universe into thinking you had actually inhaled the King’s soot. The primary method of this is to make an effigy of the King and to burn it, a rather seditious activity at certain points, but one which is revelled in since the Revolution. This is what happens at today’s festival, and it gathers a lot more folks than it once would have. When the fire has died down in the morning the ashes are swept together and filtered for possible ‘time travel’.

And yet, this festival has been carried out since the year after the King died, with little or no resistance from the authorities. It seems there was tacit approval, even encouragement around the effigy-burning, until anarchists turned up and began burning images of the current king as well. This is probably because there was no ‘spontaneous’ combustion at all; the King was burned alive by his brother who sought to take his power for his own. In the process of coronation there is a point where ceremonial (and highly flammable oils) are applied to the monarch’s forehead. It seems that on the day of the coronation a whole pail was instead thrown over their head and set alight by a treasonous torch bearer. Later several witnesses to what actually happened went missing, so it would seem that there is a good chance there King’s brother was his murderer.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Cracking the Shells
  • The Wide Angle Lens Festival