October 13th – The Festival of The Nefarious Smoke

It’s not normal for the witches of Strigaxia to be seen outside of their city; they hold no embassy in Buentoille, and almost all Strigaxian visitors have been other parts of their much-feared society. Some scholars have theorised that this lack of communication is why Strigaxia continues to be fearful for Buentoillitants, for the unknown is always scary. In opposition, others cite events like that which is remembered today as evidence for righteous, reasoned fear. On this day in 1255, a real Strigaxian witch was discovered in the City.

The event having occurred so long ago, there are obviously various issues with the stories and reports that surround that day. Perhaps most famous in written reports of the discovery is the Adentis Trychlear, or Witch Hunter’s Guide (1431), the first written ‘study’ on witches, which subdivides them into various sections. The section on ‘Wytchys Strigaxoria’ was allegedly written after various conversations with ‘folke werthee of myne truhste’ who had been told about the Strigaxian witch by their great grandparents who had witnessed it themselves. It describes a creature ‘alyke in construktshun to a talle laydee’ who had the ability to turn into a cat or snake at will, and in whose mouth there was hidden the mandibles of a preying mantis. Her fingers allegedly ended in sharp points, with no nails but a steady hardening of the flesh, and her hair seemed to lengthen or shorten as she desired, or perhaps with her emotional state.

Given that this ‘guide’ was written almost two centuries after the actual event, and given the capacity of stories to morph as time goes on, this description is, in all likelihood, false, or fanciful at best. Contemporary written accounts, such as the court documents that regard to the witch’s trial, make no reference to the appearance, simply stating that she was very clearly a ‘wytche of that moste eyvlle citee, Strygaxya.’ There were no charges listed against the witch (it seems the trial was a perfunctory formality, which may have even been carried out after the execution), but it was noted that the witch was caught by Ertine Trugth, whilst it was preparing a ‘machyne innefernalle’ using the blood of a child. There is no information given about how the witch was caught; whilst the Adentis Trychlear seems to believe that this a feat requiring several holy artefacts, it is unlikely that Trugth, who was a poor weaver, had access to these. There is one part where the Witch Hunter’s Guide does seem to hit on the truth, however; when you have caught your witch, whatever you do you must not burn it.

This lesson was one learned by the people of Buentoille the hard way, and it is this mistake that is today remembered, partly as a way of commemorating the victims, and partly as a way of teaching successive generations not to make the same mistake again. The festival is formed in two parts; firstly there is the building of the bonfire the placement of the witch-effigy (which is usually a simple straw figure swathed in black fabric) atop it. When the bonfire is complete, then torch-bearers come to light it, but have their way blocked by the crowds. Out of the crowd, the Memoriam steps forward, and makes an eloquent speech that explains the dreadful effects of burning the witch, but this person is cast aside by the torch-bearers, and they light the fire. As soon as it is lit, the assembled crowds cover their faces and leave to fetch water from the river, which is cast upon the pyre, leaving a smouldering mess.

The second part of the festival deals with the commemoration, with the effects that were caused when there was no attempt to stop the fire, no Buentoillitants with pails of water to save the day. In the three days that followed the burning, almost every person who had been present, who had inhaled in some way the smoke and ashes that poured off the witch’s body as if she were made of dry ice, fell very ill. They seemed to have some terrible fever, and screamed out all night, sweating and contorting. On the third day they awoke, and seemed preternaturally calm. The torch-lit vigil of small rowing boats that winds its way down the Moway tonight mirrors the path their floating bodies would have taken to the sea, after they cast themselves, en masse, into the frigid waters from Tricchol Bridge, itself closed for the night.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Jovial Noise
  • The Quick Brown Fox Festival
  • The Day of Haughtiness Revenged