September 26th – The Festival of the Drunken Escape

The Warrens are a multi-dimensional maze of alleys, covered walkways, houses stacked on top of each other, tunnels leading into the earth. There are places where you’d think you’d been underground for some time, but then you come to the end of a path and are standing on a balcony, looking over the City. At midday the sun lights certain streets, managing, despite the odds, to reach down past three other stories of buildings, to where someone has placed a small potted plant next to their doormat. To increase the spread of natural light which works its way into the piled architecture, hundreds of mirrors are placed around, designed to brighten alleys and homes for a short period each day.

What with the mirrors and the lack of clear directional cues, the Warrens can be a maze-like space, even for those who live there; there are plenty of bawdy plays, performed at pubs, in which a warrens resident might, on their drunken way home, find their way accidentally into the bed of their neighbour. Understandably, this leads to a certain fascination by many of the other residents of the City, and now, since the Revolution dispelled the stigma, misconceptions and fear which existed around the Warrens, there are plenty of tourists roaming the tight streetways, trying to find that particular pub, or the little fountain that Saint Yernine was said to have Attuned to the trickling sound of, or simply to get lost.

The Warrens were an insular, tight-knit place for a very long time, and whilst tourists are tolerated the attitudes forged by centuries of stigma and isolation still persist, even now, over a hundred years after the Revolution. It was this animosity that first began the Festival of the Drunken Escape, although somewhat ironically it now acts as another point of interest to draw in the tourists. The festival begins, as you might expect, at a pub, specifically the Boxing Hare pub, which is located somewhere towards the centre of the north-eastern quadrant of the Warrens. The drinks taken there by the tourists are highly regimented, based upon the weight of each contestant. An old grain scale in the street outside is used to measure their weight, which is then written down on a chit that is exchanged for a sum of money. The contestants then hand this chit to the barman who exchanges it for the requisite number of bottles, usually of Draque’s Wicked Servant, a strong-flavoured, high strength stout that comes in a black bottle with the subtitle, ‘The Downfall of Many.’ They are given two hours to drink these before the festival continues, at which point they must hand over the bottle tops to show they are ready.

The festivals origins are the stuff of legend, now inscribed into a small wooden plaque that adorns the pub’s entryway, next to the carved image of the hare rampant that sits atop many of the doorways in this area, and after which the pub was named (this was the symbol of a self-defence league which ruled that section of the Warrens for some time). A tourist named Dratch Hornwell, who was by most accounts a highly obnoxious man, decided to visit the Warrens for his birthday party, which was today in 1921. He wound up, with a small entourage, in the Boxing Hare, and proceeded to get very drunk and boisterous. The locals, sufficiently incensed, considered simply beating the party up and tossing them out on the street, but this was the new Buentoille, and inter-class relations were supposed to be improving. Instead they introduced Hornwell to an ‘old and venerable tradition’ which involved blindfolding the man, taking him into the Labyrinth, spinning him around a few times, then leaving him for dead.

The Warrens weren’t always this big; they have been built progressively larger over many years, and in that time places have gotten buried. There are streets and whole blocks even, now, where no natural light reaches at all, even with mirror-aid, where the air is stagnant, where folk moved on from long ago, perhaps even building a new home atop the pile, widening this dead zone ever further. The walls of the buildings remain, as they support those higher up, but in many cases the doors have been removed to let folk get from one side of the Warrens to the other more quickly. The Labyrinth is the largest of these spaces, where building and street intermingle, tangle in a knot where it is even easier to get lost than the surrounding inhabited spaces.

Around this twisted zone, sound bounces strangely; there are places where it sounds as if someone far away is whispering in your ear, or where a friend becomes entirely inaudible, though they only rounded a single corner. It’s no wonder they call it the Labyrinth. It is the centre of this place where this year’s blindfolded revellers will be spun and left, just as Hornwell was in 1921, and then in ’22 and onwards when he returned for his birthday each year, declaring the ‘sport’ to be ‘one of the most exciting things a person can do whilst completely bladdered.’ Those who make it back to the pub in the quickest time (the record is 38 minutes) receive a badge and a complimentary hamper of Draque’s Wicked Servant, should they ever want to taste the stuff again.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Harped Festival
  • Yelem Chousmaid’s Dystopian Roleplaying Extravaganza
  • The Bay Leaf Festival Feast