December 1st – The Festival of Withstanding the Visage

Darius Ouvres was having something of a personal crisis in 1927. He was a well-respected painter, with excellent credentials in creating beautiful, colourful, happy images. He painted cats and dogs and children and beautiful young people petting cats and dogs and giving sweets to children. He painted the queue for the ice cream shop in summer, a young boy and his dog going sledging in winter. Before the Revolution middle class folks commissioned Darius Ouvres to paint their children, but since then he mainly sold prints or quick pieces to everyone else. Everyone was always smiling in Ouvres paintings, but since the Revolution, the man was smiling less and less.

It wasn’t so much a loss of income that began to niggle at Ouvres, as this remained fairly unchanged (before he had been paid lots for a single piece, but there were big gaps between work, whereas now many folks could afford to buy these cheaper pieces more regularly), it was that he felt his work was being devalued by this turn of events. Before he spent many days on a single piece, of which there was only a single instance. Mass production was cheapening things, sucking the individual soul out from them, he felt. Ouvres often described himself as ‘apolitical,’ but seeing as this is impossible, it seems that he was broadly in favour of how things had been, and treated the new world with grumpy disdain.

It’s easy to see why Ouvres might have felt this way, despite a lack of change in his material circumstances; it was all about a sense of importance. Being commissioned to create art that he would spend days on made him feel more important than simply selling a print. The 1920s were riddled with folks like him: those who’d lost out in the Revolution, but were too apathetic to do much about it except complain and sulk. Except Ouvres’ sulking took a particular, unexpected turn: he decided, in order to become once again ‘authentic’ and respected as a ‘serious’ artist (which it’s debatable that he ever was in the first place), to entirely change his artistic style.

Few of the paintings from this period of Ouvres’ life survive still, as the painter himself destroyed many of them in the fits of rage that he became prone to, at first almost as a performative element of the artistic process, but it seems later this element of his personality took over. Those paintings that do survive are dark and brooding, depicting monsters and murderers and executions. The dogs that had been petted previously were drowning, the cats took on haunting stares, their eyes startlingly human. The innocent children took of malicious tendencies. Sunflowers wilted and died. The change was so extreme that it seemed to some as if Ouvre had become possessed, or had succumbed to some terrible mental ague.

Indeed, the idea that Ouvres became possessed before he painted The Terrible Visage is a notion that persists, drawing many esotericists and occultists to the festival today. The festival takes place in the home of Terrence Snedvik, specifically in the sitting room. Snedvik’s mother, Selena, had seen Ouvres’ early works and loved them dearly, so much so that she decided to commission the artist to paint a mural in her sitting room, expecting some cheerful scene that would forever brighten her days. Snedvik was not aware of the ‘moody phase’ that Ouvres was going through at the time, and apparently expressed little surprise at the moody appearance of the artist, who was unkempt and sallow-faced. ‘He obviously has a great warmth inside,’ Terrance remembered her saying to his father, ‘Beauty comes from inside not from without.’ The artist locked the door, pulled the curtains closed and stopped up the gap beneath the door, so that nobody could watch him working. He never came out again alive.

The official prognosis of the coroner wasn’t suicide, as many had expected, but accidental death by prolonged exposure to paint thinners. By stopping up the door and keeping the windows closed, Ouvres gave no route for the fumes to escape, and he likely suffered a prolonged death. They found him after ten days, when Terrence’s father, Erdvard, forced the door down, an act that Terrence was not allowed to witness, but heard, just as he had heard the tapping on the wall a few days earlier, but had thought nothing of it. When the officials had been and gone, the sitting room was boarded up, and Terrance was forbidden from talking about it.

It was only much later, when both his parents had died, that Terrance finally looked inside the sitting room, and saw The Terrible Visage, that hideous self-portrait, all anger and malice, staring back at him. Before she died his mother had told him never to open the room up, but when once again, on the anniversary of those terrible events, he heard the tapping on the wall, he had to. At least this is what the Buentoilliçan Spiritual Times reported had happened, in a piece which caused a huge amount of attention and calls for Snedvik to open the painting to public viewings. Eventually, after a couple of week’s pressure, Snedvik agreed to open the room (which he had hastily closed back up again, apparently unable to withstand the evil stare of the mural) to the public once a year, on the anniversary of Ouvres’ corpse being found.

The revellers will line Snedvik’s hallway today, waiting their turn to see the painting, to attempt to withstand its terrible gaze for longer than three minutes and twenty six seconds, which is the current record. The door is locked after each entrant, so that they are alone with the artist, and it will only be unlocked if they frantically knock on the door. Without exception, each viewer looks drained as they exit. Snedvik, now 97 years old, has no children, and is looking to pass the house on to anyone who can withstand the gaze for 5 minutes or longer.

Other festivals happening today:

  • William’s Day
  • The Festival of Getting Down With It
  • The Festival of Bruised Pride

December 2nd – The Festival of the Doppelgängers

It’s strange how, when they look at other people’s faces, people focus on different features, interpreting them in an individual manner. Some people even interpret expressions differently, being more likely to see a stronger degree of anger or happiness. This strange element of human neural processing is probably part of the reason for different people finding different things attractive. It is also an important part of today’s festival, and the reason for the publicly-judged competition that takes up most of the day, which ennables the organisers to get a good average opinion of the participants’ visual characteristics.

What the audience are looking for is similarities between two faces; they are looking for doppelgängers. In order to win the competition the two contestants must get through several rounds of eliminations, until a single pair of candidates remains. They cannot have been in the presence of each other for more than ten full days, so most identical twins are banned. The competition is often fierce in the later rounds, and it can even come down to differences in mannerisms, but the early rounds tend to be full of those who bear little more than a passing resemblance. Again, because of the ten day rule, few past winners are able to compete, yet the entrants keep coming every year.

Buentoille is thought to have a higher-than-average number of near-identical citizens, at least when compared to its neighbouring cities. This could, however, be down to factors like the vast number of mirrors on show in shop windows and on the streets today, an old tradition that’s thought to link back to the Heinbrow play, The Bashful Poisoner, in which the Druid says that famous line, seemingly to the audience given that there are no other characters on stage at the time: ‘You will see yourself reflected yet not in glass, and not of thy kin’s flesh. This thing shall come to pass when there are but two days elapsed of the yere’s final month. The integument of the world shall draw thin.’

Quite what Heinbrow meant by these words is lost to time and scholarly argument, but in the general population it has been treated almost as a prophecy waiting to come true. It is the last line of this ‘prophecy’ that is of most interest to today’s organisers, who are looking to perform strange magic with the two chosen doppels resulting from the morning’s competition. By sitting them in precisely the same positions, wearing the same clothes, and given the same exact haircut, the esotericists who organise the festival hope to be able to ‘crack and then peel away’ the surface of reality, to see whatever lies beneath. The idea is that, by placing an empty picture frame between them, the world will be tricked into thinking that this is a mirror of one person, and so reality will waver, allowing the esoteric practitioner to reach into the resulting ‘crack’ of thin air, and to tear it.

Perhaps thankfully, and certainly not surprisingly, they have never been successful, yet they keep trying every year, blaming their failures on the lack of an identical doppelgänger pair. They must have spent out several fortunes over the years, as the prize, necessarily to ensure anyone coming across their doppel quickly organises to meet them at the festival and does not linger in their presence, is a large sum of money. Quite who funds this is seemingly unknown, a mysterious benefactor, thought probably to be resident of a nearby city. The Magnificent Coterie of Esoteric Practitioners are frequently in trouble with the tax authorities for failing to disclose any details pertaining to the prize.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Roomy House Day
  • The Invisible Scent of You Festival
  • The Festival of Careworn Satisfaction

December 3rd – The Night of the Swelling Moon

Tonight the full moon will appear much larger and brighter than normal. This is a fairly simple phenomenon to explain: it’s physically closer to the Earth than at other times of the year when it was full. The moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and so upon each of the twenty seven days of the cycle it resides a different distance from the Earth. The distance it’s at tonight is called the perigee, and it is at this time that the tides will show the greatest variation (except of course for the Day of the Lowest Tide). Whilst the moon is directly above, the tides will be at their highest, and marginally higher than a normal high tide. It is perhaps this ‘swelling’ of the oceans that caused the folklorish associations that today holds.

The link might not immediately seem clear, but tonight there will be large amounts of gifts donated to the surgeons at all the medical centres across Buentoille today. This is partly in recognition of the general good work that they do, but also because they will be far more busy tonight than on any other night of the year. Normally, routine surgeries are carried out during the day, when the surgeons are naturally more awake, and even some more urgent operations are postponed until daylight hours. Yet for the past few weeks, many patients have opted to postpone their operations until tonight, out of a (probably misguided) belief that it will grant them good luck.

This renegotiation of timings is not something that’s encouraged by the MHS, nor is it tolerated in many instances where it would pose a risk to the patient by causing unnecessary delay, or to other potential emergency patients by causing services to near capacity. Yet for some routine surgeries, the renegotiation is allowed on the basis that it will decrease the patient’s stress levels and lead to more positive outcomes. The MHS is very clear that there is no evidence that the ‘Swelling Moon’ leads to more successful surgery, that this is unsubstantiated folklore, and doctors will always attempt to explain this to any patient before they commit to any scheduling of surgery outside of normal hours. If you were in the City in the past few weeks you likely saw a number of official posters and leaflets on building-sides and trains attempting to educate the Buentoilliçan population about these facts.

The source of the misinformation that the MHS simultaneously fights against and begrudgingly accommodates can be traced back to the 15th century, hardly the highest point of medical skill and knowledge, so it is difficult to pinpoint quite why the idea has remained so persistent. Surgeons at the time would operate under the light of a Swelling Moon in the belief that it would ‘swell’ any malignant areas, making them more obvious and therefore easier to excise. The idea is also linked to bloodletting, as swelling indicated that the ‘unpure’ blood was being brought to the surface. The first mention of this entirely fictional phenomenon seems to be the works of Deirach Temmiule, a charlatan who somehow duped his way to being the monarch’s head physician, a feat which probably says more about the state of the profession at that point than Temmiule’s deceptive skillset. Since then, the idea seems to have just been repeated, sometimes verbatim, with little analysis or criticism until modern times.

Despite their strong stance on the issue, the MHS treats the organisation of tonight’s operations with a particular seriousness and care, and as a result the rate of complications and the like may actually go down. A whole reserve force of surgeons volunteer to work extra hours to ensure the success of the night, and they are appropriately rewarded by the public. All donations made to each medical centre must be anonymised or they will be turned away, as there can be no implication of preferential treatment for payment of any kind. Portions of home-cooked food are a popular gift, along with alcohol and other consumables like candles and flowers. The idea isn’t to financially enrich the surgeons, but to show appreciation for their vital work. Whilst most of the gifts are aimed at surgeons, there is usually more than they can eat, drink and carry donated, and so the gifts tend to be shared fairly out amongst the other medical professionals and staff as well.

Of course, there are other folklorish associations with this ‘swelling’, and it is to nobody’s surprise that the birthrate spikes nine months after each Swelling Moon. Again, there’s no known mechanism via which the moon affects human physiognomy tonight to lead to these results; the effects on libido are presumably due to the romantic nature of a larger, brighter moon, and a healthy dosage of that ever-useful medicine: the placebo.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Singing Wrights
  • The Festival of the Third Machinist
  • Terrible Terrible Day

December 4th – The Annual Buentoilliçan Automated Showcase

A perfect world where work isn’t necessary. Robot butlers to tend our every need. Leisure as the only human occupation. This is the world put forth today by the Council of Automators at their Showcase today. The Council is made up of various groups; including the Eternal Fraternity of The Designer, the Second Autonomous Collective and The Pohlatiné Discipleship; who come together to show off their latest prototypes, which they claim could theoretically change the very fabric of human society.

The Showcase takes place in the Carol Sebney Gallery, the regular exhibits from which are, for one day only, stored in the tunnels beneath. The building was chosen because it is deemed to a suitably ‘futuristic’ location at which to display the various mechanical creations that the Council of Automators has been working on for the past year. Most of Buentoille is formed of stone and brick, so buildings like the Gallery, which is all angular metal and glass, stand out starkly. The Council, more so than other groups, are concerned with ushering in this future, and the visual statement that the Gallery gives is therefore very important to them.

In the grand scheme of Buentoilliçan festivals, this futuristic festival is also very young. It began in 1950, a way of commemorating the half-century, of looking forward to what could be. The day was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Withee Sahn, the inventor of the mechanical loom, itself a bold statement given that at one time she was a very controversial figure due to the job losses incurred by her invention, but has since become well loved for the prosperity she brought Buentoille. It was originally intended to be a one-off show, but afterwards the organisers got together, discussed the Showcase’s success, and the exposure that it afforded their ideas, and decided to run it as a regular festival.

So what is on show this year? The billing advertises some old favourites, no doubt improved somewhat since last year, such as the ‘Automatic Chef’ and accompanying ‘Robowaiters’, the ‘Autonomous Chimney Sweeper’ and the scale model of an entirely automated Buentoilliçan rail network. As always, viewers are led around the exhibition space by robotic guides, programmed to follow a set route, and say set things. There have been experiments with making these guides look human in the past, but this has been met with significant discomfort and backlash from the Buentoilliçan public, and the guides today, whilst having pre-recorded human voices, look more like steel cubes on wheels.

Indeed, the Council’s relationship with the public at large is what this show is all about, really. The building and dissemination of automated devices is a tightly controlled industry as it is seen as a threat to the Buentoilliçan way of life. This is, after all, a city where automatic streetlamps have been banned due to historical precedent and the power of labour unions; instead lamplighters wind through the streets each day, manually keying in codes that turn them on and off. The City is dependant on full employment to ensure social stability, and the rhetoric around labour has always been concerned with pride and fulfilment, at least since the Revolution. The Council’s creations directly challenge this and many Buentoilliçan traditions, proposing a world where menial tasks are a thing of the past, but truly satisfying work remains, for those who want it. ‘ROBOTS CAN DO THE WORK’ reads the banner hung above the main entrance.

Where once this ‘second Revolution’ once seemed a far off pipe-dream, as the technology simply wasn’t there to support it, it is now starting to seem much more possible, and the Showcase today has become a steadily more popular nexus for debate. There are machines for refuse collection, methods via which robots would communicate with each other, enabling supply chains and other such complex structures to function well. There are all manner of methods of manufacture for which new processes have been developed that require no human intervention whatsoever. And socially the City seems more ready; there is a well-functioning welfare system for those between work, which could, the Council claims, be modified to pay everyone whose job was taken over by robots.

And yet, this is a City deeply in touch with its past, a past which could be lost if these plans were to come to pass. Critics posit that surely people would miss working, or become lazy? And what of those who genuinely enjoy their work? Will they be able to continue, or will they see no point when nobody has need for the product of their labour? Without work, will life seem hollowed out, empty? What will happen to the skills of humanity? What happens if something breaks? These are all valid questions which are difficult to answer without the change simply happening, and once it has happened, it will be impossible to go back. They are also questions that the Showcase today is less interested in answering; the Council is primarily interested in showing that it is possible.

Indeed, the Council has been criticised for callousness in the past, such as when it created a small group of robotic protestors to replace those who gather outside the Showcase each year, a motley mix of traditionalists, religious fanatics, labour advocates and robot emancipationists. There is a well-worn joke that usually shows up in at least one of the daily papers each year, that the Council will make a robotic audience this year, or the next. Yet, unlike in Litancha, there are few anxieties about out-of-control robots, or a robot uprising, for two major reasons; firstly, the controls are very tight in Buentoille, and there is not an uncontrolled upper class who force ‘progress’ on the rest of society. Secondly is the matter of the Buentoilliçan power source, which is currently working near capacity. In order to realise the robotic future, either utopian or dystopian, the City would have to first make massive investments in new sources of electricity, a prospect that seems far off in itself.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Brutalist Platform
  • The Festival of the Synthetic Note
  • The Wake Festival

December 5th – The Worrisome Jump Festival

There are many ways that you can wind down after a hard day’s work. For a lot of Buentoilliçan history, many chose alcohol as the route to relaxation, or blissful oblivion, oblivious of the pains of life. Yet as we all know, alcohol is a fickle mistress, and many have suffered from its abuses. In modern Buentoille, those having trouble with alcohol and other mind-changing chemicals are helped by MHS treatments which address the underlying causes of their self-abuse but in the past these treatments were not available, and other help could be hard to come by. For those in privileged positions, it didn’t matter if they treated those around them terribly, or could not hold down a job; this was par for the course. As always it was the working classes who suffered most.

Yet there was help available. For some, the temperance movement of the nineteenth century was helpful, but for others it was a moral crusade that vilified rather than actually helped. In small groups here and there folk gathered for self-directed therapy, but it was never a widespread phenomenon, nor were the results quite as positive as the professionally run services freely available nowadays. Usually these groups weren’t well publicised, or even available to the general public (we only have records of them today because of the work of the pioneering cultural historian Sameera Sthutz), but there was one group, a group of working-class Buentoillitants committed to beating their addictions via non-conventional means, who gathered a fair bit of public attention: The Society of Sober Adventurers.

Today the Society is very different from what it once was; nowadays it functions as a charitable organisation, raising funds to help those suffering from substance abuse, a problem which is far less prevalent but which has not disappeared completely. Whilst many of the members are still recovered or recovering alcoholics, they are not exclusively so, as would once have been the case. The festival today, the biggest fundraising event in the Society’s calendar, traces its roots all the way back to the group’s formation, indeed to the very first meeting when Deer Franklö initiated the first set of recruits, then only fourteen individuals.

There are few differences between that first initiation and that which will happen today, the primary one being the safety net which is strung between the buildings, a fact which Franklö would consider sacrilegious. The Adventurers were not some expeditionary force, nor a military group of any sort, but thrill-seekers, who exchanged the highs and lows of alcohol for the highs and lows of the City: they ran across rooftops and delved deep into the Buentoilliçan bowels. The first jump, they say, is always the hardest, and it seems that this difficulty is more than a matter of nerves; the Sixth Geermande Avenue Jump, or the Worrisome Jump, as it is more aptly known, is a considerable distance, and perhaps more startlingly, to a higher ledge than that which the prospective Society members launch themselves from. A good deal of upper-body strength is required to pull oneself up, even if you manage to catch hold of the opposite ledge.

For Franklö, it was not just the adrenaline that helped stave off alcohol cravings, but the sense that one’s life was constantly at threat. ‘Only by risking our lives so tangibly can we see its true value,’ was how they expressed this sense, ‘there is no better way to understand what we throw away when we lose ourselves to drink.’ Whilst it is technically still not possible to join the Society without completing the jump, at least according to the organisation’s charter, these ‘official’ members are actually treated more as a particular type of fundraiser, rather than the only members; originally the system obviously discriminated against less able folk, all of whom are offered full membership now. Hopefully the sponsorship raised by the jumpers today will help out a lot of folk who are currently suffering, and hopefully nobody will fall, and miss out on their momentary place in the sun.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Fastest Fingers
  • Take Home Your Hope Day

December 6th – The Festival of the Telltale Pattern; Leila Hartack’s Day

Buentoille likes to see itself as a sophisticated, civilised city, where serious crime is virtually non-existent, and love, rather than hate, dominates. Yet even in the kindest of cities, terrible things can happen, and as is usually the way, to the most vulnerable people. The residents of Etteridge Care Home were a prime example of this exploitation of vulnerability; they were elderly persons with no surviving family. Many of them were survivors of monarchist violence, the sole survivors of their families, with nobody but the kindly Home staff to look out for them. They were the perfect targets for the serial killer Morad Ferim.

As far as anyone else was aware, Ferim was a model employee, looking after the patients with considerable care and attention. He was a delight to talk to, and was extremely convincing to the other staff at the Home, too, so much so that nobody suspected a thing when the patients began dying prematurely at an alarming rate. These were all very elderly folk, after all, and Ferim was one of the only people who had extended contact with them, so nobody even bothered to fetch the coroner when one of them died. Later, Ferim was found to have used slow-acting lethal poison injections, administered as ‘pain relief’.

Yet not all the patients trapped with this terrible man in their home was oblivious to his predations. Leila Hartack had actually witnessed several murders, and had been told various details of Ferim’s further plans, but she suffered from a rare degenerative brain disease which meant that she forgot recent events very quickly. Ferim told her about the murders with a kind of evil glee, knowing that she would forget all about it before she had the chance to report him. What he didn’t expect was that she knew she was going to forget, so she found a novel way to remember, and to warn the outside world.

Today in the Large Soft Museum, the premier exhibition space for textile crafts in Buentoille, many more people than normal will be gathered around the blankets knitted by Hartack during her stay at the Etteridge Care Home. They are colourful things, with complex patterns of seemingly random colourful flecks. Whilst there is certainly a beauty to them, they are hardly pioneering creations in form or exquisite expressions of the mastery of a craft like many of the other items surrounding them. So why have they become so popular? Well, as we know the best art tells a story, and with Hartack’s blankets this is literally true: the flecks are actually Bemmind’s code, exposing (in good detail) to anyone who can read it the crimes of Ferim.

For most of the time she was making her blankets, Ferim was nearby and neither of them had any idea of what she was writing. She planned the blanket design in great detail on paper, whilst she still remembered the murders, and then placed this design in her sewing box so that she’d begin making it, once she had forgotten the horrifying revelations. The code wasn’t spotted until another veteran of the Revolution came on a visit to the care home, a way of getting the residents to make new friends. She’d worked as a cryptographer for the Revolutionary forces, and instantly understood what they said as soon as she saw them, displayed proudly around the home, on the laps of every resident. Ferim was caught soon after with several vials of the poison, and various exhumations proved its use. Hartack lived on for fourteen more years, oblivious to her own heroism. She was treated well.

Twenty five years ago, a film (Memory Blanket) was made, dramatising these events. It brought the story of Hartack to a new audience, many of whom will be visiting the Museum to see the originals today, or re-watching the film at home. There will also be a one-off knitting class held in the craft space within the Large Soft, where knitters new and experienced are encouraged to make blankets with (less macabre) secret messages in them. This style of textiles could be considered twee, given the sweet messages that are usually written into the blankets, if it were not for its considerably edgier origins. Finally, there will be an auction today, where some of the finest proponents of the Hartack style will sell their works to raise extra funds for MHS dementia research.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Wobbly Sleigh
  • Teenage Angst Day
  • The Interdistrict Candlestick Polishing Challenge Finals

December 7th – Clean Bin Race Day

Buentoille is a very clean city, mostly because the workers employed in refuse collection have, over the years, negotiated excellent pay and conditions, and they are well funded through general taxation so are numerous. The Great Stink of the summer of 1799 was a turning point, in this respect. For Buentoillitants, the home does not stop at the front door, and there is a general respect for the streets that doesn’t seem apparent in the populations of some other nearby cities. It is because of this general cleanliness that today’s festival is possible; today is Clean Bin Race Day.

Yesterday all the wheelie bins disappeared in Bachtian district, but they reappeared this morning, sparkling and fresh, smelling slightly of pine. Each district’s bins are taken off for industrial cleaning in this way throughout December, and in each district something akin to today’s celebrations takes place, but Bachtian is thought to be where the original wheelie bin racing took place, and it is the only district where the races are properly organised by the Union of Children.

Before 10am, when the races officially begin, there are plenty of children out in the streets, jumping in to the wheelie bins (which arrive at 6am) and getting pushed along at breakneck speeds, peeking out the top. They take turns to race about, or they trap a friend inside and hit the sides with big sticks. By ten, however, everyone is arrayed at the Bachtian Oval, a large paved area built for the purpose of roller skating, but which mainly gets used as a thoroughfare and marketplace. All the children gather at The Point (the position on the track pointed to by the large statue of Emmer Deshan, the inventor of the roller skate) and decide who is pushing and who sits inside.

For fairness and safety, anyone who can’t see over the top of the bin when inside cannot compete, so it is mainly the older children who make up the race duos. Because of the number of contestants (in the high hundreds) there will be several heats, with half of the teams being knocked out in each round. Contestants are welcome to switch team roles between rounds or reasons of stamina, but many specialise and do not switch. At the end of it all, one duo claims the glory and the prize, a bunch of sweets and a large gold sticker which is affixed to their family’s bin, and will remain so until the next year, when it gets washed off.

This year there are two favourites: last years winners, Aewin and Amoll Jenkyns, siblings who’ve put away their rivalries to become a force to be reckoned with. They are a non-switching team, with Amoll pushing and Aewin being pushed. Aewin is a master of weight placement, throwing herself around inside the bin to account for the bend of the track; the other pair are Terri Matan and Derno Svik, a switching team, both well balanced and excellent runners. Last year they went out of the competition early due to injury: jumping out of the bin between matches, Derno managed to bite his tongue. Before this unfortunate incident, the duo had placed in the top five for three years, and it is widely considered that their time to win has come.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dry Eye Awareness
  • Maple Tree Preparation Day
  • The Festival of the Tricolour

December 8th – The Festival of the Mason’s Story

Hopefully it’s going to be a sunny day, cold but clear; the show, the Mason’s Story, today works better when it’s nice and bright outside. At Saint Devem and Remmand’s Church today, folk will filter in through the big double doors at around ten, for a special service. They finish just in time for the show, which, despite requiring good light conditions, is held inside in the relative gloom. At one time no service was held, and the Story would have been entirely ignored.

At first, this must have been because nobody noticed it, but even after it was clocked by the priest (in 1268 Twilleb Brawn wrote in his book of days, ‘I seye the damnedde bilderre’s tryks agyn, dyd theye notte ekspekt myne notis?’ a passage generally thought to pertain to the Story) it was thought of as a distraction from the official Chastise Church services, a usurpation of the proper order of things that placed a lowly mason above the teachings of the Church. It was only hundreds of years later, in the seventeenth century, that the Church saw how popular it was and decided to take advantage of this, making the festival as we know it today.

Whilst it’s certainly known when the Story was installed; it was probably built in along with the other pillar decorations of the church, most of which were added in 1244, shortly before the opening in 1246; we know less about who created it. The general consensus is that it was one of the masons, who are known for creating similar cheeky details in church roofs and adorning the tops of pillars. Normally these will be puerile additions to the normal imagery of gargoyles, plants and saints, such as figures with bared buttocks playing a trumpet inserted betwixt the cheeks, or telltale male and female feet poking out from hay piles. Whether or not we can get any insight into the Mason from their story is a question that inspires a considerable amount of scholarly debate, and indeed many of the folk visiting today will be students from the City’s universities, there to learn about the Story and this debate that surrounds it.

The story begins at 11:45am, when the light coming through the ‘porthole’, a small clear window in a dark area of the Church that usually creates a neat circle of light on the floor, hits the crystal atop the staff that the statue of Saint Remmand holds. On other days of the year it always misses the staff, or just catches the edge of it. Through some refractive quality of this crystal, the light shoots out and hits a carving of two men on horseback passing a woman on a picnic blanket, arrayed over a nearby archway. It stays there for forty five seconds, and then, as the light from the window slightly changes direction with the passing of the day, the highlight pings across the church to another collection of figures, this time the riders dismounted. This continues for around fifteen minutes, highlighting different carvings, revealing a story in the static images that would not be apparent otherwise.

The tale that plays out is a classic one, which has since made its way into various other media; this is the earliest example of the tale we have recorded, although its quite possible it could have circulated orally before. The two male figures, often brothers in other versions (though this isn’t clear in the carvings), each try to impress the woman, who is very beautiful and they have both fallen hopelessly in love with. They bring her gifts, and perform great athletic and heroic feats, retrieving flowers from mountain tops and wrestling wolves. Eventually they begin to fight each other before her, and just after one of them has been killed, another man, presumably her husband, turns up and sweeps her off her feet. The carvings are considerably darker than their written counterparts in this respect, as often a knife fight, as is depicted here, is substituted for a fistfight, and one only gets knocked out, not killed.

Quite why the Mason chose to depict this darkly comical tale in such a secretive way is the great mystery of the festival today, and what keeps many coming back, year after year. The sermon of the priest claims that it is an example of the Mason’s dedication to the concept of Attunement, where in a flash sudden, religious revelations come upon a person, granting them sudden understanding of the world, just as viewers are today granted sudden understanding of these otherwise seemingly random images arrayed around the Church. Scholars are less convinced, claiming instead that the story is an over-exaggerated real story (why else would the Mason go to such lengths to tell it, so secretively?), or that it is an art installation of some kind. It seems unlikely that there will be a revelatory moment for the viewers today, a flash of light to cast off the shadows that still adorn our knowledge of the person behind the Mason’s Story.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Budding Iconoclasts
  • Drapers Day
  • The Classic and Renowned Festival of the Silver Ladies

December 9th – The Compensation Festival of Somnel Edyear

In 1930, Piriton Shellac’s favourite book fell apart. It was a copy of the Buentoilliçan Children’s Annual 1843, and it was full of delightful colour illustrations and stories about boys and girls going on adventures, and she’d had it since she was seven. She’d found it in a second hand bookshop on an outing with her mother, and whenever she felt scared or downhearted she picked it up and read it for a little and then everything felt okay. ‘It’s funny how significant that book came to be,’ she said, later that year, ‘I knew there was a reason I was drawn to it.’

By the time the spine fell off and some of the pages floated out, Shellac was seventeen, and whilst she was devastated, it was almost apt, like some coming of age ritual. At the time she was studying pre-Revolutionary law at school, and had been learning about the heinous criminal, Somnel Edyear, who was convicted of murdering sixteen women, mainly prostitutes, in the back streets of Darksheve’s district. ‘Imagine my surprise,’ she told the Buentoilliçan Morning, ‘when I look at the binding, the part beneath the spine, and there was a familiar name: Somnel Edyear.’

When Edyear was convicted of the murders, it was on circumstantial evidence; witnesses placed him near the scene of all the crimes, and he worked in a private hospital’s morgue, so was thought to have the skills and stomach necessary for the graphic nature of the murders. He also had a strange manner, which it has recently been suggested could have been a form of autism, and to the barbaric courts of the nineteenth century this was as good as a motive. One defence brigadier captain, the chief detective on the case, was convinced it was Edyear, as he’d conducted a ‘statistical analysis’ of the crime scenes and their correlation with the places that Edyear lived and worked. According to this analysis, which was not conducted for any of the other suspects, all the murders centred around Edyear’s home and workplace.

Faced with this wealth of dubious evidence, Edyear, whose legal counsel did not turn up to the trial, could only muster the defence that during the time of the murders he was off work ill, and was essentially bed bound. When asked for evidence of this claim, he could provide no alibi, and the doctor who had allegedly given him a sick note for his employer claimed that he’d never met Edyear. His employer, Dekkim Vadare, also took to the stand to say that he’d never received any such note, and that Edyear simply had not turned up. In both of these instances, the anger, tears and shouts of ‘liar’ from Edyear were simply taken by the jury as additional evidence of his volatile nature.

What Shellac found then, in 1930, when the spine covering fell off, was a fragment of a sick note, used as part of the binding in order to keep down costs. It had Edyear’s name, and the signature of the doctor, and a short scrawling where the words ‘house visit’ and ‘bedridden’ were visible. Clearly, the doctor had lied, as presumably had the employer. After Shellac and her teacher brought the evidence to the Department of Historical Justice, a small team formed in the wake of the Revolution to pardon those who’d been wrongly convicted of crimes in monarchist times, particularly during the reign of the Traitor King, the (now MHS run) hospital archives were searched, and there in the ledgers from 1839, the year of Edyear’s trial, were various ‘consultancy’ payments from Dekkim Vadare. It’s difficult to form any exacting conclusions, but the general theory is that Vadare or one of his family committed the murders, and then he pinned it on Edyear, manipulating the inspector, doctor, witnesses and legal counsel through his money and influence.

This was obviously a grave miscarriage of justice, and so it was that to make amends, a Compensation festival was organised. At one time Buentoille would have had many of these, what with the large amount of convictions nullified by the Department of Historical Justice, but today’s is the last one still observed. This isn’t because it is more important than the others, but because it was the oldest conviction to be pardoned; the convention is to hold a festival for each year that the wrongful conviction was upheld, especially in cases such as this where the victim of the injustice was hanged. As the trial occurred in 1839, the Compensation Festival of Somnel Edyear is due to continue on until 2021.

The festival itself is fairly straightforward: it is a mock trial which is conducted with the utmost seriousness and sincerity. The jury are all called up exactly as they would be for a real trial, and all the judges and legal officials involved over the years have been actual professionals. Initially the trial progresses as it did in 1839, according to the notes taken by the court secretary, but then, just before the conviction would occur, someone walks in brandishing the damaged Children’s Annual, its sick note exposed for all to see. In other Compensation Festivals, the accused would have been played by the person themselves, or a member of their family, or someone appointed in their stead, if they found it too traumatic or simply didn’t wish to be involved. As Edyear had no children or other family (they were an orphan), a random Buentoillitant is appointed their representative. When the trial is finished, the case against Edyear cast out, one hundred criers walk the City’s streets for the day, proclaiming his innocence, so that all of Buentoille will never forget the injustice that occurred on this day in 1839.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Iced Pool
  • The Festival of the Little Dance
  • The Day of the Holy Trellis

December 10th – The Festival of the Drowning Out

On any other day of the year, if you went to the Crocus Field Bathhouse you’d hear the drip of the taps, the calm sloshing of water, the hiss of steam, a quiet conversation, all reverberating atmospherically off the tiled walls. Unless you are in the dryroom, in which case you will hear the hot air whooshing past your ears, and the noise of the fans. There’s a reason they put sound insulation between the dryroom and the rest of the Bathhouse: an atmosphere of calm is what people are there for. If you go into the Bathhouse today, peace and quiet is not quite what you’ll get, although the sound of a few hundred people throat singing can in itself be calming.

Quite where the rumours initially came from has never been properly established, but many believe they began as malicious reports of a haunting, in an attempt to drive people away from the Bathhouse because of its reputation for being a popular hub for gay Buentoillitants. The aim was, presumably, to make it go out of business, but when this obviously didn’t happen, the rumour morphed into something closer to the festival today. In 1717 there was a piece in the Buentoillitant Prayre Manewalle that claimed ‘wateyre spirytes’ could be heard if you submerged your head in one of the hot baths, and by 1734 there were various oblique references to the ‘Crowcus Feld bathynge ghost.’

It seems likely that the idea that the ghost whispered evil words to Bathhouse visitors came about in 1783, at the same time that it became associated with this day of the year. At that point the entrance way was wallpapered, wallpaper which began to peel. The owners decided that renovation was in order, and all the wallpaper was removed and underneath the date 10/12/1627 was daubed on the wall in charcoal. Likely it had been put there by the decorators, alongside a signature which had been washed away by the damp, like a teenager carving their name into their school desk. Yet to those primed to see evidence of ghosts, it seemed far more sinister. It was around the time of this renovation that it became known that on this day each year, if you listen carefully, you can hear ghostly whispers bounce off the tiles.

There are various different theories about what happens if you listen to the whispers. Some say that they tell you secrets of maddening significance, facts about your life that somehow you know to be true taken out of context. ‘He wishes he could be rid of you,’ it might whisper, ‘your mother cursed the day she had you.’ Or perhaps they speak spells in some lost language, that make your ears bleed and your limbs work against you. Maybe they are just long-lost conversations, trapped in some kink of space-time, bouncing around there until today they somehow find their way back, hundreds of years after they were first uttered. Or all the thoughts that remained unspoken, voiced in ghostly, whispered form.

Whatever arcane danger contained within the whispers, it’s not worth risking your mind to find out. Or this, at least, is the approach of the two to three hundred strong makeshift choir that squeeze into the saunas and baths today, all appropriately attired in their towels. From the moment they walk in the doors of the building, throughout the time they spend in the changing rooms, and for the entirety of their bathing time, they deeply hum or throat sing in a warbling fashion, never letting up for a moment, lest they hear the whisper. The singers pair up, ensuring that when one of them takes a breath, the other is singing.

The idea of this odd experience is to make the space safe for the other bathers, but given that the baths become entirely full of warbling, humming Buentoillitants, they end up essentially muscling out those who they are nominally there to serve. Nobody seems to mind that much, even when they come out at the end of their singing shift (it goes on from open to close; 5am to 7pm; so the singers are divided into three and a half hour shifts) with ringing ears and a sore throat. Live might be being saved, who knows?

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Cherubic Smiles
  • The Longing Gaze Festival
  • Tendentious Form Day