November 9th – The Festival of the Little Folk

Forests are strange things, they change and shift identity over time. Everyone knows that all the forests of the Buentoille Bay region were once connected up, but now they are fragmentary they’ve taken on new names and characteristics. There is Hope’s End, the largest patch of forest that is close to (but not bordering) the City, Dunmonii Wood, to the south, is smaller but closer still, filled with its characteristic fast-growing Dunmonii trees. Closer to Buentoille, however, things get smaller and more fragmentary still, being mere strips of trees only remembered as something greater before the humans expanded their homes outward. Bordering, or even enveloped by the City there is Calewynch Forest, and that strip of trees in Iglow’s Garden district simply termed ‘the forest’. All of these trees would once have been connected, or so the theory goes.

Yet there are new forests, too. Down south, around the Municipal Paper Mill is a new forest of pine and other fast-growing trees, neatly regimented into lines. It replaced an ancient forest there, certainly, but that does not make them the same. And down the way, past Logger’s Rest, where the forest becomes more natural, is a mound that overlooks the surrounding forest, entirely covered on its crown with tall, thick trees of various breeds; oak and maple and many-branched yews, elm and beech and walnut and apples, all spaced nicely out, irregularly with moss growing between, their canopies intermingling but trunks distinct, so the ground beneath is cathedral-like, but still enclosed, private. As you get further into this space, the trees get more tangled, larger and older.

An old stone wall, moss covered and crumbling, bounds the hilltop off from the surrounding forest. It has holes and gateways here and there, and on the north side is a small stone hut attached to it, with an old firepit outside and a partially-collapsed wood store leant up against it. It’s derelict now, but for a very long time it was inhabited by an old man called Jasper Kettlerow. He moved there from the City in 1737 as a hermit, and lived there until he was 106, dying in 1794. For most of his life he survived on donations from pilgrims who came to sit in the wood and experience the sense of tranquillity and peace it gave them, but he also sold blessings if he was in the mood. Most people assumed that he built the wall and hut, ignoring the obvious age of the construction; the fact is that nobody really knows who put it there, but it is assumed to be of ancient Escotolatian origin.

When he started to go blind from cataracts in the 1770s, the hermit claimed that he had been given ‘second sight,’ and was able to see the spirits of the little contained forest that he watched over. He began whittling their forms at his hut, and selling them to the pilgrims, a remarkable feat considering his blindness. Slowly this became an obsession and Kettlerow built up quite the collection of these ‘Little Folk,’ as he called them, who remained for most of the year scattered around his house, and sat along the wall. They looked (and look, as various original examples still survive) almost like little eggs with spindly arms and legs, deep-set holes for eyes, bark capes and bushy eyebrows, and they sat or stood in various poses. Apparently the ‘real-life’ Little Folk would sit for their portraits; each had its own peculiarities.

When Mack Rowe came by to visit the old man in November 1786, the hermit’s works had disappeared. He’d been told to expect a whole wall of them, but they were all gone. The old man was there, though, and Rowe, an amateur historian, asked him where they’d all gone; he wanted to buy one (they were starting to become very popular amongst the City’s middle classes). ‘They’re all busy today,’ said Kettlerow, who was at that point boiling some tubers in a pan, and seemed distracted. Eventually Rowe got some more information; in the night some men from the paper mill had come and cut down one of the trees on the hill. Kettlerow had argued with them on several occasions, telling them to steer clear of the trees within the wall, but they seem to have bypassed him this time. The Little People were probably ‘doing sommin about it.’

Rowe went along the perimeter to check for himself, and there, by a very large hole in the wall, a tree stump, and a furrowed track where it had been dragged off, were various Little People, unmoving, posed as if he’d just caught them. They were Kettlerow’s models, of course, but how had he known to make ones sitting and crying on the stump, or shifting the stones of the wall back into place? It was all very strange, but stranger still was the fact that the next morning the two young men who’d cut down the tree brought it back and grovelled at Kettlerow’s feet, pleading with him to ‘call off’ the Little People who had allegedly been causing havoc in their homes overnight.

Kettlerow replied that he had no power over the Little People, they did what they wanted, but that if they wanted to get on their good side, they should bring them gifts, and leave them on the stump of the tree they’d slain. ‘Once a year should do it,’ he said, ‘starting tomorrow. Bring them something new and interesting, tell them you are sorry, and they might just decide to leave you alone for another year. But don’t ever forget, mind! They’ve got long memories.’ Kettlerow died a few years later, so the folk who’d looked to him for blessings had to look elsewhere; the yearly gifts left by those two young men suddenly became a rather popular tradition.

Today there will be various models of the Little People scattered all across the little circular hilltop, sitting on low branches and around the roots and even sitting on the walls. They tend to gather around the old stump, too, where the gifts are laid, although a large stone has now replaced it as the original eventually rotted away. Apparently there were human bones found tangled in amongst the mouldering roots, crushed bones that had almost disintegrated themselves. This has led archaeologists to suggest that the site may be an ancient Escotolatian burial ground, where each body is buried with a tree seed in its mouth or held between its cupped hands. Perhaps these trees really do have spirits within them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Lonely Quadrangle
  • The Depths of Cool Festival