Winter isn’t far away now, and the first frosts have begun to appear, making the green parks of Buentoille turn white like an old man’s beard. It is traditional to taste the first morning frost of the year, and many folk claim that they can tell by the taste what sort of a winter it will be. Divining in this manner has always seemed important as winter is a time of peril, peril which comes in more guises than mere cold; in the lands that surround Buentoille, winter brings more corporeal dangers.
The festival happening at the edge of the City today, by the pathway that leads north out toward the Ancestor Mountains, plunging first into a remnant of the Calewynch forest, is less a method of divining what sort of winter it will be, and more an attempt at preventing it becoming too dangerous. Just into the treeline, where the pathway crosses another that travels east, there is the stump of an old elm tree, which would have stood tall and stout whilst it was alive. To the north the pathway twists away into the forest, quickly rounding a bend out of sight, and to the south, across a field and small brook, is the City’s edge, specifically the Tredegor Municipal Housing Estate. It is in this liminal place that today that you can watch a young Buentoillitant be ritually sacrificed by The Cult of the Winter Wolf.
Wolves are, of course, the corporeal danger that haunt the lands around the City in the depths of winter. Eastern white wolves are the most populous of the different breeds; normally living in the moorland and mountainous regions to the north, harsh winters tend to bring their hunting range further south. Whilst once they posed a significant danger to travellers, since the invention of the lupine warding whistle (a whistle that creates a high pitched sound humans can’t hear but which dogs and wolves find intolerable) they generally leave humans alone, though cattle and sheep herders still go to work armed. They certainly stay away from the City itself, except occasionally on Buentoilliçan Lunar New Year, when, if it has been a particularly harsh winter, they have been known to make tentative forays amongst outlying sections of Buentoille.
Still, despite people generally avoiding their predations, wolves have made a lasting mark on the Buentoilliçan psyche, one consequence of which is the festival today. Preparations can take most of the day, not so much in terms of the liminal space where it takes place; this is sparsely decorated, with blood-red fabric tied between the trees, lining each side of the path that leads north; more so of the sacrificial victim. First, they bathe for several hours so that their flesh is more relaxed and supple, a suitable morsel for the Wolfgod, the celestial being who governs the movements of the eastern white wolf, according to the Cult. Hairs are plucked, cut and general beautification takes place, though no make up is applied as this could sully their taste. All of this happens before midnight tonight, when the torchlit ceremony takes place.
There are three main roles in the ceremony: the Sacrifice, the Wolf and the Butcher. The Wolf is generally a high-ranking member of the Cult who dons a wolfskin robe, addresses the assembled crowds, and wields the special knife used in the act itself. The Butcher has a different blade, and a large black sheet that they cast over the body whilst they do their bloody work. Of course, most of the butchering has already been done before the festival, earlier in the day. It would be entirely illegal to actually kill a person, chop them up and feed them to wolves, not to mention immoral. The festival is controversial enough in the City without any actual human death occurring; it does look very real, at least at first.
The primary sleight of hand is in the knife, which is blunt, retractable, and has a good deal of fake blood contained within. Once the Sacrifice has been ‘stabbed’ in the neck on the tree stump, the Butcher moves in, with a good deal of meat (usually pig meat) chopped up small, and the aforementioned black sheet. Underneath, the meat is exchanged for the (alive) human, and the Sacrifice is led away beneath. Whilst the Sacrifice has no loss of life, limb, or blood inflicted upon them in the proceedings, before they come out from underneath the sheet they do lose something very precious: their name. From today onwards for the rest of their life they will live under a new name; after all, the person they were has died, and they must continue to pretend this is the case, instead the Wolfgod knows he has been cheated and sends his wolves to claim reparations directly.
It’s unlikely that any wolves will actually come this close to the City to eat the meat left out for them; normally it’s foxes, cats and other small mammals who make the most of the free meal. Still, it is there if they wanted it, and more importantly the Wolfgod has been sated for another year. Hopefully no travellers will go missing, and the winter will be short lived.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Keeping it Movin’
- The Shoelace Tying Speed Championships