August 25th – The Festival of the Ancient Trade Delegation

Apparently, it takes a long time to learn to be a trader if you are from Iisa Quelith, but being a trader is the only way you get to leave, so many take up the opportunity. Once a year they set out, groups of three people bound by common purpose and harmonised vocalisations. A great festival is organised in their honour, with those who head north west (rather than north, or east across the ocean) being held in highest esteem; their journey is the longest and most fraught, taking them across arid plains and deserts where not a single person can be seen for many miles. They will not return home for around three years.

Why does it take so long to learn to walk across the land, carrying goods and leading beasts of burden? Surely these are things that everyone has some basic understanding of, and could carry out with ease, if able bodied. The answer is, of course, that they must learn their way. The folk from Iisa Quelith have no maps, and whilst they know what they are, and have no trouble reading them, they simply have no need; they sing their way across the continent.

Each of the three people that make up the group have their own part to sing, but they all know the first part which, in an astounding feat of memory they spend about twenty years learning before they are allowed to leave their homeland. The first part details the journey their ancient ancestors took, long ago, and the landmarks and the trials and tribulations they came across. This forms the basis of the trade route, which has been faithfully kept to for the hundreds, if not thousands, of years that the traders have been walking. The first part will be sung continuously for the entire three year journey, whenever the trader’s move onwards, by two of the traders, who switch their roles each day.

The other role held by the new traders is to sing what they see ahead of them, modifying the song wherever the land has changed. There are still sections of the route where both the ancient and the modern remain the same, but they are increasingly small, especially around Buentoille and other built-up zones. At the end of the day, the singer of this second part will sing the new song back to their counterpart in a kind of shorthand that omits most of the timing fillers, so that both remember the song perfectly for the next time around, when they may return as veteran traders. The third member of the group is one such veteran, who sings the song they created the last time they came across the continent, and it is from this that the new song is primarily adapted.

The songs do not merely act as a path-finding tool (although this is their primary function), but also as a record of the places they passed through, and the events that happened there to them. The linguist and cultural historian Fernal Bough walked with the traders for about a year, learning their language more fully than the ambassadors understood at the time. They learned much about the construction of the songs in this time, and about what kind of details were retained and remembered. In between each short story, landmark or other recollection about a place (‘it was here that Trader Elem found the mushrooms that they are and became ill’), there are timing fillers or ‘spacers’ which take the form of beat sounds made with the mouth or by hitting the chest, and simple direction names at regular intervals (so that when travelling the traders sound something like, ‘left left left straight straight right,’ except that they have many more words for more accurate degree measurements.

Basically everything we know about the traders was learned by Bough, who despite being disallowed from writing down any of what she learned, managed to remember a few choice stories told by the traders about their surroundings as they passed through. Bough said that the whole of human experience was retained in these songs, remembering little phrases ranging from ‘here a man was killed by falling beer barrels’ to ‘three pregnant women stood here and talked excitedly about the moon.’ As a historical document about Buentoille, the newer versions of the song tend to work well but aren’t particularly interesting, whereas the ancient song is intriguing but frustrating, too. Bough reports that the song mostly talks about meadows and pathways when the singers walk the streets of Buentoille, but that it occasionally mentions a house or church.

Bough also calls into question the veracity of the ancient song, as it seems to be metaphorical at points, especially in reference to what was traded: ‘the heart of a woman left alone for six months’ and ‘three wheat branches’ were allegedly given to the people of Buentoille in return for ‘a necklace of indescribable beauty’ and ‘the pride of a stag.’ Bough seemed to belief that these legendary items hold some additional symbolic value to the traders, and perhaps tell some additional, metafictional story of nation. That said, Bough did identify that geographically the old song was accurate, it mentioning the river Moway in the place it once flowed, before it was diverted to a different part of Buentoille. Bough also admits that she may misremember much of her research, as the traders she followed for so long did not allow her to write anything down; they see this as a sacrilegious act.

The trio of traders arrived late last night and will stay in the City for another one or two days, trading various items from their stalls. They are a little late this year, having been held up by some kind of violence back down south east across the deserts; they were not very clear on the matter. They cut through the City east to west, taking their time about it and singing frenetically as they walk; compared to the open desert Buentoille abounds with sights and sounds. One year they were taken off route by a foolish ambassador who tried to take them to a meeting, prompting two of the traders to become very quiet, and for the other to begin singing very fast and anxiously, attempting to record everything they saw accurately in verse as they saw it.

Amongst the things the traders are most anxious to buy are dark honey and quilts, and they bring all sorts of treasures from around this fair earth, including jewels and silks, gold and weaponry. They usually get a good price for their Ogram stones, if they still have any, which radiate a strange warmth if kept out of sunlight, but most popular are the various spices they carry which cannot be grown in Buentoille. From Buentoille they head along the west coast of the Inner Sea, visiting the Cities there, before crossing the Tibizian Straits by boat and continuing back along the eastern coast once again and back the way they came. It will be over a year and a half before the traders see their home again, but the people of Buentoille will see others like them at the same time next year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Library Amnesty
  • The Repeal of the Good Law Festival
  • Green Bowyer Day