October 11th – The Designated Day of the Unearthly Horn

Whatever you do, do not go into the sea surrounding Buentoille today. Apart from the fact it’s probably very cold at this time of year, there is another, far more pressing reason. Three o’clock in the afternoon is the time to avoid most strongly, although staying on dry land for the entire day is advised, just in case. If you were in the sea at three today, when the Unearthly Horn sounds, then you would feel very, very uncomfortable, and for some people who are less confident swimmers, there is a risk of death as this discomfort could make them panic and begin to flail.

The Unearthly Horn is actually very much of the earth, despite its name, which was devised because the horn seems to affect the sea and not the earth or air most strongly. At least, this is the story; it’s likely that the name stuck because it sounds eerie and dramatic, and because ‘unearthly’ is a fairly accurate way of describing the deep sound that emanates into the ocean in boiling ripples. To most Buentoillitants it sounds fearful, raising the pulse and making hairs stand on end.

On land the horn call is very affecting to a person, making the knees tremble and the joints ache, especially in the elderly and arthritic. Some have described it as causing pain in their hearts too, possibly as the sound wave interferes with their heartbeat in some way. According to a recent study, those who are caused heart pain by the noise hear it as a deep, polyphonic noise, whereas those who are pained in the joints hear a deep note, but also a high one too, as if a saxophonist were struggling to keep their instrument in a lower octave and it were screeching intermittently in a higher one.

In the water these effects are increased in potency, and then there is the added danger of drowning. As the sound wave travels through the water it is, close to the surface, boiled briefly, which can cause burns to the skin, which is likely exposed in swimmers. The body is battered too, pulled around by the sound wave. If you had your head beneath the water, your ear drums would immediately burst. Feelings of sickness are commonly reported in those who either ignore, flaunt or do not see the advice to keep out of the water.

It’s often remarked that one of the strangest things about the Horn is that, despite these significant and powerful effects, it only takes eleven people to power. The Unearthly Horn is located at Corpse Point, a limestone island which once connected to Buentoille Bay through a sandbar. To put it more accurately, the island is the Horn; this ‘island’ is little more than a rock above water, upon which the eleven members of the Licensed People’s Unearthly Company (LPUC) will comfortably fit as they take their positions and wait for the clock to strike three. They will sit by of the openings in the little stone pyramid, and then on the hour they will blow into these openings in a synchronised, rhythmic manner, each stopping for breath in timed succession, so that the noise doesn’t stop for a full three minutes. They are crouched and stood around the rock in strange positions, so each small air tube can be reached.

Whilst it was long assumed that the tubes that percolate down from these openings, and which are shaped in such a way that they produce the unearthly noise, were naturally occurring, new theories suggest that they were created, rather than merely exploited by humans, potentially with the use of strong acids to direct the erosion of the rock. This ‘new’ theory was raised by Etock Lerm in 2007, and is far from being the scientific orthodoxy on the creation of the Unearthly Horn. This is partly because the theory lacks a serious explanation of how the enormous instrument would be planned, but also because there is very little research into the large sea rock, as access to it is restricted to all but the LPUC, and only then on this day; the LPUC keep a constant watch on the rock, arresting and prosecuting anyone who attempts to play the instrument.

Other than the obvious and immediate reasons for restricting use of the Horn, there is another which only becomes fully apparent about twenty minutes after its sounding; the Buentoilliçan mackerel cull. This is also the reason that the use of the Horn has persisted over the years, rather than dying out because of the discomfort and danger it causes. In earlier times, the horn would be sounded when the City’s food stores ran low, but since the Fisheries Act of 1726 its use has been restricted to the single day to protect fish stocks and prevent environmental devastation. It is sounded today as at this time of the year most of the Buentoilliçan mackerel are beyond its influence and therefore the impact is lessened, but also because those fish which float to the surface, ready to be plucked out with ease by anyone with a boat, can be smoked in time to be eaten over the long winter months.

Thankfully there are no other species of fish affected by the dreadful noise, or at least not effected enough to be killed like the mackerel, which seems to be stunned into a catatonic state. As mackerel are obligate ram breathers; i.e. they require constant movement to be able to breathe; this catatonic state eventually leads to their death, and they float to the surface. There will be folk out skimming the water with nets today, gathering as many fish as they can, which are then either smoked or baked into an ‘unearthly pie’, which has fish heads poking out above the crust, as if they are trying to breathe the air.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Unlikely Gestation
  • The Dreamer’s Web Festival
  • Cool Breeze Empty Mind Day

October 12th – The Festival of the Bone Shaking Ride

Yesterday, in 1888, the student protest group, the Benetek Revolutionary Army, staged a mass protest outside the High House, a large, domed hall with accompanying library tower that serves as the central point of Benetek University. They were calling for the removal of the Vice Chancellor, Vitor Lamm, who had recently passed a pay review that reduced the pay of junior lecturers, and the house and grounds-keeping staff, whilst raising his pay to astronomical levels. As well as students, many of the lecturers (both junior and senior) and staff were there to make their voices heard too.

After some time there was an attempt to enter the High House through the main doors, which was unsuccessful as they had been locked and barricaded by the University management and security teams earlier in the day. Instead, the crowds walked around the building, chanting all the way, trying different doors as they went. The building had about thirty entrances, and it seemed as if most were barred and could not be entered with anything less than a battering ram, not a piece of equipment anyone had thought to bring. However, the security team had forgotten about one door.

The Museum of Earth Sciences was supposed to be open to the public, and it was, but it was so boring that barely anyone ever went there. It was hidden away at the rear end of the High House, below ground level, with little semicircle windows meeting the cobbles outside. The protestors poured down the little set of steps and through the door which was unlocked for them by Squigg, a dusty little caretaker and expert in various academic fields who was sympathetic to the cause. The protestors then hauled a large glass cabinet out from its place in the wall, creating an opening through which they gained access to the High House proper. Before long they had the place occupied, the security team subdued (three priceless vases were smashed in the fracas) and their own barricades constructed.

There was one problem. The protestors had intended to occupy the High House until such a point that the Vice Chancellor was forced to resign. They had hoped they might catch him inside and take him hostage, even, but he was elsewhere in the City, in his private mansion, and just hours later he was coordinating a response, hoping to use his contacts with various militia-wielding aristocrats to besiege the building. This had not been planned for; the protestors had expected to be able to send out teams to get supplies with no resistance as the security team had been dealt with. Instead, when they woke up from their makeshift beds the next day, they looked out the windows and saw a cordon of hundreds of burly soldiers surrounding the House.

The Benetek Revolutionary Army (BRA) were not without their own friends though, the question was, how did they call on their help? They were entirely surrounded, and anyone leaving would be sure to be arrested immediately. Eventually, that night when pretty much all the food in the High House was expended, they hit upon a plan. Under cover of darkness, one of their number would sneak out and steal the bike which had been chained to a drainpipe near one of the entrances for about six months, which they would then ride down the hill and to safety, whereupon they would gather help from other revolutionary groups of anarchists and socialists, with whom the BRA had great solidarity. A rope pulley system was devised, so that these black-clothed groups could drop off supplies into a basket, which would then be raised to a window, at a lesser protected part of the High House, in the dead of night.

That ride, originally performed by Yaan Harvouria, is today re-enacted by whoever leads the Benetek University Steering Committee, the group of students and staff that now manages the University, having replaced the Vice Chancellor later that year when the occupation proved a success. Another Vice Chancellor was appointed by the Traitor King when he saw the University as a challenge to his power, but the Committee was re-established when the Revolution came. In scenes reminiscent of the occupation, students and staff will today enter the High House via the museum, heading to the main hall, where the Committee is voted in. Whoever becomes the Chair is then led to that side door, and placed on the same old rickety bike. The trip down the hill is very uncomfortable, the bike having no suspension, and the hill being cobbled, rather than tarmac-clad. Yet it is a necessary sacrifice that the Chair must make to show their dedication to the University. It is considered good form to remain seated for the entire trip, to bear the bumps and bruises that leave you unable to sit down for a week, the results of this Bone Shaking Ride.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Untimely Health
  • The Disciples of Naryman’s Death Day
  • The Euphoric Backpack Festival

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

October 14th – The Festival of Tentacular Wasp Hibernation

There are some animals that people seem predisposed to hate: rats, spiders, snakes, flies. Wasps are a curious one, always defined in opposition to bees; they are so alike, yet thin and nasty, with no stores of sugar to share around. They create hard little polyps on trees to breed, reminding us of the parasites that dig beneath human skin. Their homes are made from sallow paper, crumbling bones to the full, fleshy wax of the beehive. You will never see a fluffy wasp. Still, there are some who prefer wasps, despite all these reasons. There are even some people who treat them as something far more than a mere insect.

Withall Henree had a very successful career as a genetic researcher before he was hit by a tram in 1978. Someone had spilled a large quantity of milk on the pavement, which he, late for a meeting, slipped up on and hurtled into the tramway. Thankfully he survived, but had suffered severe head trauma. Before the accident, Henree had been sequencing the genomes of various animals, and had recently completed that of the tentacular wasp, a subspecies of wasp primarily differentiated because of the strange tentacle-like forms it builds on the bottom of its paper nests. There are usually five or six to a nest, and they spiral downwards in a naturalistic manner; the effect is for the nest to appear something like a stranded jellyfish hanging from a tree or part of a building.

There was something very odd about the tentacular wasp: unlike a honey bee, for example, which has something in the region of 250 million base pairs in its genome, the wasp had well over 7 billion, far more than even a comparatively complex organism like a human. This number could well be even higher; Henree had not finished sequencing when he was hit by the tram, and indeed, he claimed to be mulling over the strangeness of such a large genome when he slipped on the milk. Base pairs are component parts of DNA; they are essentially pieces of code which, in combination, determine how an organism is formed and functions. They tell your body what colour eyes it should have, how tall you should grow, how quickly you use energy and various other factors, many of which are still being discovered today. It made no sense that an organism so simple would need so complex a DNA chain.

After the accident, however, it all seemed to make perfect sense to Henree. The wasps were simply doing something else, something that we couldn’t see. Whilst he sustained a good deal of damage to his prefrontal cortex, Henree seemed perfectly capable of working and carrying on as normal, despite the development of uncharacteristic mood swings, and a sudden adoration for the works of the harpsichordist Seman Varrik and goose eggs. He became obsessed with studying the hibernation states of tentacular wasp queens, the only member of the colony to overwinter in this manner. According to his logic, this is when the ‘something else’ they were doing would be most easily discerned, as there were no other activities covering it up.

All the peer reviews of the papers he wrote on the studies he performed were thrown out as ridiculous, unreplicable. The tiny twitches that he claimed he saw in the hibernating insects weren’t verified by anyone else, and the changes in gas composition were negligible. Most of all, Henree provided no theory or framework as to how the excess DNA of the tentacular wasp was supposed to interact with or create these barely-recordable changes. Eventually Henree lost his job by neglecting the studies he was supposed to be carrying out, instead focusing on the wasps. Yet he was not done yet; it was at this point that Henree realised that the ‘something’ being performed by the wasps was spiritual; they were connecting with some higher, divine being, the unknowable spark that created the earth and life and yet which seems so distant to us in our modern world. Perhaps the wasps understand it because they are more alike to it than we are?

The tentacular wasp is a very specific creature, only choosing to go into hibernation when the weather has been below ten degrees for at least five days. Similarly, it will awaken if the temperature rises above this level for a further five days, a mechanism designed to ensure that it outlasts the winter, when no food is available. Henree keeps a special chamber, wherein these flying insects are contained at a constant temperature, to ensure their survival in case of premature good weather. Today, he, and his fellow ‘researchers’ from the Enlightened Seers of the Great Wasp in the Sky (ESGWS), will gather wasps to them with a low electronically generated thrum, and trap them inside the chamber, ready to hibernate for another year. There they will be observed winterlong, their infinitesimal and possibly non-existent twitches interpreted as godly speech.

This is a big day for the ESGWS, and spirits will be high. Henree, now in his eighties, is like to give a tearful speech, after which a large bowl of rum punch will be shared out, served with blue cheese and crackers, the low thrum replaced with the music of Seman Varrik, who is considered something akin to a saint in this pseudo-religious organisation. Finally, before the night is out (at the early time of 10pm), the ‘researchers’ will all chant together a small section of the sequenced tentacular wasp genome, the thousand-or-so base pairs which are theorised by Henree to form the link between the wasps and their god, with whom they constantly commune. Perhaps, if they keep it up, they too will be blessed with the touch of its alien mind?

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Apportioning Blame
  • The Snake in the Grass Festival
  • Map Drawing Day

October 15th – The Festival of the Anguished Howl

The best place to hear the Anguished Howl is out of the City, either on a high hill or a cliff overlooking the coast. At one time the City would have been a fine place to hear the Howl, but since about 1940 it has been steadily reducing in volume, reason for which has not been ascertained; in Buentoille the noises of the City can easily drown out this far-off, wind-carried yell.

This is a shame, because at one point festival proceedings on this day would have centred around Expeditionary Pier. Whilst there have been some attempts to instigate silence upon the surrounding district, there is no silencing the crashing waves of the sea which will be particularly noisy today, what with the high wind speeds that accompany the Anguished Howl. The Pier was not only a good, close location from which to hear the noise (it being on the edge of the City and facing out to sea, where the Howl seems to originate), it was also an excellent location to create an associative link between the Great Expedition and the mournful Howl.

Expeditionary Pier was built in the late sixteenth century to help dock the tallships that Buentoillitants hoped would be attracted to the City by the colony the Great Expedition hoped to set up. As such it is entirely useless for most docking procedures, it being raised several metres in the air, but it has been maintained ever since as a reminder of the hubris it symbolises. This hubris is the central rhetorical thrust designed to be conveyed by the festival, parts of which are still performed on the Pier, but which moves elsewhere to hear the Howl. Yet this is not the way in which Buentoillitants always thought about the Great Expedition – for a short while it was more closely associated with righteous, impotent anger, and a sense of betrayal.

When the Howl first started to be heard in 1616, it was a gift to Aether Tyewell, the anti-expansionist, anti-colonialist writer and activist whose work has shaped the attitude of most Buentoillitants towards colonialism and Buentoille’s brief foray into its waters in the form of the Great Expedition. The Howl sounded the day after the ninth anniversary of the Expedition, shocking many Buentoillitants as, at that point, it was very loud. There was a rush to attempt an explanation of the phenomenon, which sounded like the scream of some giant pining for their dead lover, carried on the strong autumnal wind. There is still no definitive scientific explanation; most theories centre around it being the sound created by a particularly large gust of wind being funnelled through the Tibizian Straits, which acts something like an amplifying cone pointed directly at the City, yet there is no understanding of why this happens at the same time once a year, why it only started in 1616, or how it travels across so great a distance and remains so loud. No matter science, Tyewell saw a great opportunity in the timing of the noise.

Every year the loved ones of those who ventured out with the Expedition, and lost their lives fairly soon after they had exited the Tibizian Straits into the Outer Ocean, where almost all of the boats were sunk or captured by the Picaroon Consulate, gathered on Expeditionary Pier, where they held vigil. This would happen yesterday, when the Expedition set sail, and would be accompanied by various firebrand speechmakers who swore revenge on the piratical fleets and the Seven Cities Trading Company who had betrayed them, by building up a greater, more militaristic fleet of their own. The general consensus was that the Buentoillitants who were killed in the conflict did so for good cause, for the honour and glory of Buentoille; that their deaths were righteous. Tyewell sought to change all this, and they succeeded; today the festival held on the Pier and across the high, quiet places near the City focuses on the hubris and tragedy of the event, the greed and trickery by which it was allowed to happen, and the necessity of ensuring that it never happens again.

When the Great Expedition ventured into the high seas that day, they were expecting to be left alone by the Picaroon Consulate, to be given safe passage across their territory, as negotiated by the Seven Cities Trading Company. The fact of the matter was that only ships flying the Trading Company’s flag were given safe passage, and that the Buentoillitant fleet, unprepared for sea warfare (yet fully prepared to subjugate the natives where they planned to land) were attacked almost immediately. This was all a clever ruse by Golga Cherm, a future Master of the Company, who suggested the Expedition to Buentoille, telling them of the riches they would gather if they made a colony in the (fictional) place he marked on their maps. Cherm’s intention was to weaken Buentoille’s control over the trade routes of the Inner Sea, once almost the entirety of the City’s naval forces were destroyed. Unfortunately for Buentoille, the plan worked. It was not only those who died and their families that suffered; thousands had invested in the colony and they lost that money to the bottom of the sea; a small financial crisis erupted.

If it wasn’t for the Howl and the accompanying work of Tyewell, Buentoille, at this time fertile ground for authoritarian sentiment, might have been pulled down a more militaristic route in response to the tragedy, and more would have died as a result. Tyewell helped the City realise that the Expedition had been driven by greed, and that it wouldn’t have been worth the lives, even had it succeeded. The Howl was, she claimed, an echo of the pain caused by the irresponsible attempt at colonial rule; it was the sound of Buentoillitants dying away from their beloved home, reverberating through time each year to the day they died, a day after they set off. Then, as today, her anti-colonialist sentiments and arguments were formed into speeches, read out on that Pier, backed up by the Howl. The vigil is still held, a reminder of young lives wasted in service of dubious goals, of imagined riches. Candles are lit and the names of the dead read out, and after the final name the Anguished Howl comes, nowadays just a whisper in a gust, still strong enough to snuff out all the candles at once.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Boiled Meats
  • The Brine Slinger Festival
  • Dullen Day

October 16th – Mansir Paelen’s Day

Look at the reading list for any university literature course, and you will find Mansir Paelen, nestled amongst the other greats in his rightful place. His heady prose, with its inexplicable yet inexorable logic, and his capricious plots where the anodyne has hidden teeth and trickery waits around each corner, are now a familiar part of the Buentoilliçan literary canon, but this was not always the case; Paelen was both a writer and an activist, and wrote scathingly about the failings of the monarcho-capitalist system, and his works were, as a result, repressed thoroughly by the Traitor King and his predecessors.

It was not only in his Polemical Treatises (as Paelen’s non-fictional writings, published only via samizdat methods, have come to be known) that Paelen’s politics were expounded; he also wrote a great deal of fiction, most of which was allegorical in nature. The most famous of these novels and short stories was called The Entrapment of Ersa Cerna, which was actually taken on by the publishers Quine House before it was found out that Morgan Morganson, the alleged author, was actually one of Paelen’s pseudonyms. Quine House promptly dropped it from production when they found out, for fear of losing their license, but by that time there were already thousands of copies of the book in circulation, not all of which the censors could track down. It is around this book that the celebrations today are based.

You will likely see them, if you travel on Goldphelious’ Annulus today: the literary critics, the teachers, the appreciators and literary historians. They all gather with their copies of The Entrapment and various other texts with the name Paelen emblazoned on their covers, a stark contrast to the original publications which employed misdirection on their covers and deception so as not to incriminate their readers. Besides the book covers, the scene would not have looked so different about two hundred years ago, when the gathering first began, save that there would have been many more revolutionaries and social activists amongst the crowds, fewer books, and the conversations they had would have been quieter, more measured, though not lacking in the enthusiasm for Paelen’s work shown today. Why did they choose to gather on this train? For two reasons; firstly it was a fairly inconspicuous place to gather and discuss banned works, and any caught could claim they were just a commuter, so long as they didn’t bring their book with them (most chose not to). Secondly, it was the setting of The Entrapment of Ersa Cerna.

In the book, the beleaguered protagonist, Ersa Cerna, is trapped on a train (which, though not named, is identified by several small details to be that which travels around Goldphelious’ Annulus) because she cannot pay the ‘exit fee’ of the train after accidentally dropping her purse out the window. When she reveals this to the attendant who staffs the door, he tells her that as she cannot pay she must also pay a fine before she is allowed to leave. This farcical episode is only the beginnings of Cerna’s nightmarish struggles with bureaucracy and debt, which slowly grows as the ‘fee’ begins to accrue interest as the train travels onward.

In this dreamlike alternate world in which the protagonist finds herself, she must beg others for money and take on strange work in exchange for spare change. Her moral compass begins to deteriorate, and she begins to steal from other passengers, but can never earn enough money to both pay the exit fee and feed herself with the extortionately priced food that the railway sells. She attempts to jump out a window, but cannot fit though and is fined even further. Eventually she strikes up a relationship with another woman who brings her food, allowing her to steal enough money to get out, but is told that her debt has been sold on to another rail company, who have raised the interest rate. The book ends darkly: Cerna hangs herself in the train toilet, never having obtained her freedom.

The allegorical tale has been described as a ‘surgical excoriation’ of the economic systems that create and perpetuate poverty, and is considered a classic in modern Buentoille. In an interview with the socialist paper The Sound of Morning, Paelen claimed that he thought up the plot when he was momentarily trapped in a similar situation; there really was an ‘exit charge’ on some privately run Buentoilliçan rail lines before the Great Rail Conglomeration of 1907, and Paelen had not known that the particular exit fee he was supposed to pay had been hiked that day, so had not brought enough money with him. Thankfully, in Paelen’s case he was allowed to leave the train but ordered to pay up later.

It is perhaps ironic that those who gathered to discuss his work, and to organise against economic injustice, all paid the entry and exit fees that kept the immoral rail companies going, yet these sessions no doubt spawned many of the anti-monarchist, anti-capitalist groups which later brought about the Revolution, so most would agree it was worth it. In contrast, today there are no charges for travelling Goldphelious’ Annulus, and there will even be free copies of The Entrapment laid out on the tables, on this, the birthday of Mansir Paelen.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Misplaced Scorn
  • The Essence of Her Breath Festival

October 17th – The Festival of the Stranger in the Holloway

Even in the day, walking through Barrowman’s Holloway can be an eerie experience. This ancient trackway, furrowed into the earth through thousands of years of usage, leads up around the edge of Deep Hall forest and to the foot of Ceaen Moor, where an ancient, abandoned settlement is kept exposed on the hillside by the prevailing wind. Perhaps this settlement, called Deep Hall for reasons lost, was a sister to that proto-Buentoille that lies beneath the City, no wind or wild horse of its own to keep it from being buried. Nowadays it is only home to the occasional litter of baby wolves, and few travel the Holloway. Mostly it is kept clear by wild animals and water that flows down it during periods of high rainfall, yet it still attracts the occasional traveller, beguiled in by its tunnel-like branches, intertwined so that you feel entirely separate to the world, in some strange other place.

Many travellers will come to the Holloway today, mostly those of occult sensibilities, in the hopes of seeing the Stranger, a mythical figure written about in the journal of the photographer Eddin Serele, who became convinced, towards the end of his life, that he had been meeting with a ghost every year. For those who travel Barrowman’s Holloway, which is thought to be the longest of all Holloways near the City, the possibility of seeing a ghost seems likely, given the otherworldly nature of the place. All sound from the outside world passes overhead in this sunken zone, and your own footsteps seem to reverberate around, sounding as if they were behind you in some places, where the track winds around an outcrop of rock or turns for some other, unknown reason. It can quite easily seem as if there is someone else there with you, even if you are entirely alone.

Serele’s father, Holmstop Serele, was a constant fascination throughout his life. He was an enigmatic figure; Serele never seemed to know what it was that he did for work (his mother would not tell him), only that he went away for long periods of time. He would return only for a day or so before once again leaving, but the time he spent with Serele seemed, to him, somewhat magical. Later on, after Holmstop died, Serele’s mother admitted that his father had another family, who did not know about them. Apparently he made elaborate chimney pots at a workshop in Sleade Yard. Serele wrote in his journal that this seemed ‘offensively pedestrian,’ that they must be speaking of two different men. This was not the same man who, on Eddin’s birthday each year, would walk him down Barrowman’s Holloway, only revealing his present when they got to the end, where the sunken track opened up onto a hilltop. Just them, in their own separate world, their footsteps reverberating around them.

Later in his life, Serele became a celebrated photographer, who documented much of the Revolution with the camera his father gave him at the end of one of these birthday trips. Inside his journal was tucked a photograph of his father, taken by Serele that day. He’s sitting atop the hill, and you can see Deep Hall behind him. It’s remarkably good quality for someone who’d never used a camera before; Holmstop has an arresting presence in the photograph, as if he is looking straight back at you. He is very handsome, and judging from the angle of the photo, very tall also. He has some stubble, and a heavy brow which seems inquisitive, rather than angry. He looks as if he is finding something quietly very funny. They never walked back through the Holloway, but this time Serele wanted to, to take some photographs of this place he loved so well. ‘You must not,’ said his father, ‘ever take a camera into that place.’ He was not angry, or insistent, just firm.

None of those walking in the Holloway today will take a camera with them, nor will they travel in groups of any more than two, staggered out across the day. Some choose to bring ghost hunting tools with them; electrostatic receptors and the like; whereas others think that this will actually reduce their chances. If you read Serele’s diary, they say, you will see how they always met the Stranger without any artificial help. Some walk at night, others at twilight; both times ghosts are likely to make themselves known; but most walk in the day, when Serele and his father were always there, every year on this day for Serele’s birthday. Some don’t believe that their walk will yield any results, that there was something about Holmstop Serele that made the Stranger want to show himself.

It was three days before Eddin’s seventeenth birthday that his father died, but he wasn’t told until the day itself; his mother didn’t know until then. He was angry, he didn’t believe her. He decided to walk the Holloway by himself; surely he’d meet his father there. In his haste he forgot to leave his camera behind, as per his father’s instruction. He didn’t listen to what his mother was telling him about how he had died, about how it was going to be okay and they were going to be allowed to visit the body the next day. His mother rarely cried, and part of him was shocked, wanted to stay and to comfort her, to tell her that it was fine, he wasn’t dead, he was going to meet him. He was so deep in thought, walking up the Holloway, that he almost bumped into the Stranger coming the other way around a bend.

The Stranger was, according to Serele’s journal, a tall man, with a walking stick and a leather backpack slung over one shoulder. He seemed old, with wrinkled skin, yet was spry and fit looking; Serele suspected he was actually middle aged, but years outdoors had weathered him. His clothes were tatty, and he smelled somewhat. ‘Have you seen my father?’ Serele said, as soon as he looked at him, and he realised that these were the first words that he’d said to the Stranger, and though he’d met him here every year for almost his whole life he had forgotten about it. His father had always said hello, and shaken the Stranger’s hand, but he had held back, and afterwards he was an unimportant detail on an important day, so easy to slip though the cracks of memory.

Nor had he ever heard the Stranger speak. His voice was thin and weak, the voice of a man who had not spoken in some time, and Serele had to lean in close to hear him. ‘In the village,’ was all he said, pointing up the hill toward Deep Hall. Eddin thanked him and turned to walk away, but as he did he felt the camera in his pocket, took it out, and took a photograph of the Stranger walking away, so as not to forget him again. When he looked up from the camera, he was gone, probably around the bend. His father was not at the top of the hill, or in Deep Hall, where the grass is short around the old stone foundations. You don’t need to to be told to know that the picture, when developed, was just the empty Holloway.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Pasty Pastries
  • The Otter’s Dam Festival
  • The Festival of the Private Island’s Opening

October 18th – The Festival of the Enclosure

Today’s festival, whilst being considered a venerable Buentoilliçan custom, is technically not conducted in Buentoille, but in Droptown, a small section of Sleade Yard on the banks of the Moway where most of the raw materials for the district’s pottery industry is unloaded from the quarrying operations upstream. Today, however, the boats and porters will have to dock elsewhere, taking the long way around via another district.

To all intents and purposes, Droptown is simply a section of a district of Buentoille, and shows as such on any given map you care to produce, save perhaps those which are hung in pride of place in the Droptown Hall, a large wooden construction alike in appearance to an upturned boat. On the Droptown map, Droptown is marked in separate colour; pink instead of the orange of Buentoille. Next to the map, in a glass cabinet, is the Droptown Certificate of Independence, which was signed by the then mayor, Dermovytch Asaan in 1666. The space for ratification was never signed by the monarch of Buentoille, because this would have effectively meant that the Droptowners were exempt from paying tax, and could make its own laws.

Droptown is one of the many small communities which was swallowed up by the rapid expansion of Buentoille, and whilst many of these places became culturally subsumed as well, Droptown maintains some level of separation. Droptowners are, for example, very fond of boating, and each member of the community is taught how to build their own craft as part of becoming an adult. They go out in these boats at least once a week, and much more frequently when the weather is good. This is possibly spawned from the fact there is no bridge across the Moway for a few miles, so Droptowners have always operated their own ferry services, though many have argued that it is the other way around; the ferry services obviated the need for a bridge.

The Hall is also listed as the official residence of the Mayor of Droptown, a now mostly ceremonial position, though it does retain certain rights and responsibilities. One such privilege is the final say over whether outsiders can marry into a Droptown family, although nowadays it would be technically illegal for the Mayor to attempt to stop the marriage, so they instead act as an announcer of new engagements. Besides these occasions, the most important responsibility held by the Mayor is the organisation of the Enclosure Ceremony which happens on this day each year.

This organisation begins long before the festival itself, when the barriers are inspected and ordered to be rebuilt if necessary. Woodworking is a skill honed by almost all the community, and custom pieces of fencing are made to measure, then affixed today onto special blocks that protrude from the Droptown houses, forming a perimeter that differentiates the town from the City. Most of these are actually put in place yesterday, as are the blockade of boats by the harbour, those coming-of-age boats built by each resident, laid end-to-end (not side-by-side as this indicates that the boat owners, differentiated by their woodworking style and family carvings on the prow, are married) and attached by ropes so no craft may pass. At the strike of midnight last night, or this morning, depending on how you look at it, the final fence piece and boat are put into place, and will remain so for a full day, until midnight strikes once again.

For Droptowners, being outside the fences today is a cardinal sin, tantamount to giving up citizenship, of becoming a mere Buentoillitant. This is not to say that it has never happened; the play Mattenda and Hillea is about two lovers, one a Droptowner one a Buentoillitant, who are forbidden their marriage by the Mayor. When she hears that Hillea has been hurt, Mattenda scrambles over the fences to be with her, surrendering her citizenship. The play is thought to have been based on various real-life, similar instances.

This geographic determination of citizenship is not merely a petty symbolism on this day, but a matter with legal weight. The reason the barriers go up today is because in order to retain its recognised position as a ‘culturally distinct geographical zone’ of Buentoille (rather than a ‘culturally distinct community’, which carries less legal weight), no Droptowners must enter or exit Droptown for a full day, and no others can enter. Therefore, those who leave or are trapped outside the town must surrender their citizenship, and anyone who contrives to enter are granted citizenship. The upshot of all this is that Buentoille as a City cannot impose construction of any sort in Droptown without the consent of the residents, but this isn’t really the point; the point is pride, and that most Buentoilliçan of values: tradition.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Quebmaner Stawn’s Day of Discount Elixirs
  • The Graphic Festival
  • The Injunction of Amrinte Festival

October 19th – The Festival of the Glorious Pile

A lot of work goes into today’s festival, by a lot of children. Don’t worry, this isn’t child labour in any meaningful sense; no adult coerces them into preparing The Glorious Pile, in Tripe Eater’s Square at the end of Moorfolk Boulevard, and all participation is strictly voluntary. The Children’s Union looks after their members well. In any case, today is a big day in the calendars of Buentoillitant children.

There are several ways of anticipating the Festival of the Glorious Pile: firstly, there is the end of summer, the bite that is drawn into the air and the increase in wind speeds. It always comes after the Anguished Howl, which normally knocks a few more leaves from the trees. When you start eating pumpkins and squash and root vegetables; that’s when the Glorious Pile must be formed. Children from all over start turning up to their Union’s headquarters with baskets and arms full of leaves. They are then deposited in a special room, where they are dried out prior to their deployment today.

It’s after school today that the room is emptied by hundreds of children, each with their own sacks and barrows, leaving little trails of leaves that their littler siblings gather up dutifully behind them. The procession lasts only a little time, as the Square is only a few streets over from the Union headquarters, but it is quite a sight to behold, and the City authorities ensure that, for safety reasons, the streets in-between are closed to automobile traffic. The older children bookend the procession, carrying not leaves but parts of the ladder and diving board that they then carefully construct in the Square.

The reason they chose Tripe Eater’s Square over 200 years ago when the festival first started, other than for its silly name, is that the square and all of the adjoining Moorfolk Boulevard are lined with plane trees. Plane tree leaves are particularly good for playing in, as they are large and dry out quickly, providing excellent bounce and crunch. They also fall very quickly, towards the beginning of autumn. At one time the children would wait for a long spell of dry weather before commencing the festival, using only the leaves on this street and square, but nowadays things are more organised, and everyone would be very disappointed if it were too wet all Autumn, and the freshly fallen leaves turned to wet sludgy leaf litter before any fun could be had, as is often the case.

By 5:00pm, things are normally set up, ready for the festivities to commence properly; a large queue forms and children from all around the City wait patiently for their turn to climb up the large ladder, then throw themselves from the diving board into the frankly enormous pile of dried leaves. Once they’ve waded their way out (specially trained adult medics from the Orderlies of Good Health are on hand for any rare accidents), the next child jumps in. Normally there is enough time for every child in attendance to have at least three jumps, which takes until about 10:00pm. In the queue they throw leaves at each other and buy toffee apples with their pocket money.

At ten the festival finishes, and the somewhat compressed pile of leaves is kicked all around by the children. It will be cleared up tomorrow by the district’s public works officers, but for the meantime, Tripe Eater’s Square is a sea of leaves, and anyone who wades through tonight will be heard for miles around.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Brazen Disappointment
  • The Festival of the Last Woman
  • Deer Day

October 20th – The Festival of the Babe in the Woods

There is a story in western Buentoille, that has been told since time immemorial. It pops up here and there in textual form throughout the ages, and it would seem, from these sources, to have ebbed and grown in popularity with the progression of time, at some points being almost forgotten before it was once again revived. As an oral tale, it has certainly changed in some regards over time, but again, from the textual evidence we have, it changes only in incidental detail, such as the name or profession of the old man. Perhaps it is a reflection of modern preoccupations that the most recent iteration of the story seems excessively concerned with dates and times, placing emphasis on the fact that it was today when the babe was first found.

One thing that never changes in the tales is the location of the tale: Luck’s End forest, specifically a rabbit-mown clearing on the western edge. It begins with an old woman, one of those old women that everyone has known as an old woman for their whole life, who seems to have outlived innumerable generations. She’s ever-present, but as such blends into the background. Not that she is ignored; she comes to all the weddings and blesses the couples, on Pea Day or any of the other days when the community gets together, she tells excellent stories about your father when he was young, or about the toy shop that used to be where the bakers is today. Even in her stories she is ancient.

It’s important that she is not forgotten, because in the story she goes missing one night, after a short period of illness, the only one that anyone can remember her having. One of the local ladies comes to bring her some medicine, or a book or some fruit, and discovers that she is gone. The community spends a little while looking for her in the local area, but she cannot be found that night. In the morning, one of the children admits that they know where she is going, but that they promised not to tell until the next day. They all head off to the forest, for that rabbit-mown clearing.

Whilst the woman in the story seems not to have any relatives (perhaps she has outlived them all?), it is mostly grieving relatives who make the journey to Luck’s End forest today, to that same clearing with its rabbit holes and scattering of leaf litter amongst the short-cropped grass. Those who have recently lost an elderly mother or father head out, with a token that represents their relative in some way; a lock of hair, a photograph, their favourite book. They head out in the early morning, fresh dew wetting their boots, fox cries and the first rays of the sun carrying through the mist, which still has not been lifted by the time they reach the forest’s edge.

Or at least, those are the weather conditions in the story. It’s likely that they’ll be repeated come this morning, given the time of year, but not certain. It’s important for the story to emphasise these elemental signs of a new day just come, but real life is not always so neat. In the story, when the people get to the clearing there is, at the centre of a faerie ring (a ring of mushrooms, in this case wood blewits, which sprout in places like this) a newborn baby. The Babe in the Woods. The child is taken in by one of the searching families, but the old woman is never found, not that they keep looking after they find the babe. In some versions of the story, it carries the same birthmark as the old woman, though quite what it looks like is seldom specified.

It’s unlikely that any of the folk who’ve walked to the wood today expect to find a child, although there will almost certainly be wood blewits in uncanny rings scattered across the clearing. Around these rings, which they are careful not to enter into, they place the tokens they’ve brought with them. There is some magical logic to this action, some impotent call for the reincarnation of passed parents, yet for most this is not what it is about; this is simply another way to grieve, but also to acknowledge adulthood in its final form. For all their lives until recently, these Buentoillitants have had someone older, more experienced, than them to look up to, to ask advice of, to go back to when times are tough. Now, like the people in the story, they have to take up that role for their children, to be the final generation as new life is brought into the world.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Red Train
  • The Feast of the Quickening Dark
  • The Festival of Calling Time