December 16th – The Festival of the Blessed Glove

Before 1726 there were tens of thousands of individual requests submitted to the Museum of Traditional Antiquities every year, asking for access to a specific pair of Queen Immas’ gloves. It’s not even a particularly pretty or valuable pair, and if it were not for their provenance would be worth very little. They were once white, not lacy or embroidered, or stitched of the finest leather, just simple (off) white cotton gloves, similar to those an archivist might wear. Yet even now, in post-Revolution Buentoille, they are still in high demand.

It was not due to lowering demand that the number of requests to handle the gloves went down so drastically in 1726, but instead the introduction of today’s festival. Today fifty people will each be given the chance to handle the gloves with their bare hands for a short number of minutes each. As is normally the way with this sort of thing, these handlers are chosen via a raffle, held on the Museum’s balcony early this morning at 7:00am. Large crowds generally gather in the surrounding streets.

What’s so good about a pair of off white cotton gloves? Well, there is nothing particularly special about the left glove, which is crisp and white as the day it was made, a sharp contrast to the yellowing right glove, which has had so many different hands touch it over the years. If you believe the stories, this right glove is one of the most lucky items on the earth, or at least in Buentoille; this glove touched the hand of Ellion Sweerwate, the luckiest woman ever to walk this earth.

It was on this day that the gloves were first put on that Sweerwate shook the hand of Queen Immas. At this point, Sweerwate was a mere street child, but a street child who had saved the City from a gang of marauding wolves, escaped from the Queen’s personal enclosure. The wolves, who had previously killed or maimed anyone who stood in their way, seemed strangely intrigued by this young girl. Apparently, she just stroked them, thinking they were very big dogs, and then afterwards they returned home. The Queen gave her a small financial reward for the return of her wolves, and shook her hand, with a glove on of course because she didn’t want to catch anything from the poor.

There were a quite few other instances of blind luck that occurred to Sweerwate, such as when she managed to open the Elder Door on her first attempt, simply by pressing random buttons, or when she stopped a cart crash happening by throwing a ball for a dog, meaning that the two horses slowed before rounding the corner where they would have collided. These stories have been embellished and modified over the years, and it’s unlikely that Sweerwate was quite as lucky as they suggest, but one instance where we have evidence of her luck is in her long and illustrious gambling career.

By the time she died, Sweerwate was an incredibly rich woman, but she started out with nothing. She retained the payout receipts from all of her gambling victories, and they make up a few volumes of thick books. It took an abnormally long time for the gambling houses to figure out that she was seemingly unstoppable at Lid, Caphernon and Knifedice, but when they did, instead of banning her outright from the premises, they kept her on retainer to work out the odds, and to play card games like bezute on behalf of the house against wealthy competitors.

During her life, Sweerwate was fairly famous, and rumoured to have got her awesome powers of good luck by being struck by lightning as a baby, but it was after her death, when Jason Direman wrote a book about her that she achieved true mythical status as the luckiest woman to have walked the earth. All the people vying with each other at the raffle today will be looking to soak up the tiniest remnant of that magical essence, still contained within that white cotton glove which was almost immediately disposed of, but retained by the royal household for many years like all the things that Immas touched. She believed that her thoughts could be read by others if they managed to get hold of anything she’d owned, but could also be used as a time capsule by herself, a way to see what she had been thinking in the past, so everything was preciously hoarded and catalogued, putting the vast empty rooms of the palace finally to some (dubious) use.

Perhaps, then, it will not be good luck that is imparted from the glove to those touching it today, but the thoughts of a very strange queen, long dead and only remembered for a single, throwaway glove she left behind.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Wretched Kirkem
  • The Festival of Longing to Leave
  • Withy Day

December 15th – The Festival of Electrical Avoidance

Back in the days when Buentoille had a surplus of energy, there was little to stop people experimenting with it. Trivalla Minoré was one such person who had something of a penchant for electrical experimentation, a penchant that was ultimately to spell her doom. Whilst many of her creations were scrapped after her death, but one survives still, in the basement of what was once her home. It is cut off from the mains now, thankfully, as this was the machine that actually killed the inventor.

Minoré is often called a ‘mad scientist’ by the folk who attend and organise today’s festival, but this is not a fair description. Firstly, she was never diagnosed with any form of mental illness. Secondly, her experiments were far too haphazard and disorderly to have followed any true scientific method via which proper conclusions could be drawn. Minoré can perhaps be best described as a practical philosopher, though her preferred job title was ‘electromagnetic spiritualist’; she was a firm believer in ghosts, and was certain that they dwelt within the electromagnetic spectrum, that this was the same as the ‘spirit realm’ or even the afterlife itself. Her beliefs can perhaps be best summed up by the words she had engraved on her tombstone: ‘Our bodies are electromagnetic capacitors, binding our spirits to this world, working against the innate gravity of the spirit realm.’

At first, Minoré’s experiments focused on the recently deceased: she managed to persuade a number of individuals to donate their corpses to her, on the misplaced belief that she would be able to revive them when they died, re-trapping their spirits in their bodies by the application of massive electrical surges. Whilst it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to work, she kept tweaking the process, and was only made to stop when the neighbours began complaining about the smell of burning flesh. Somehow, despite a very lax approach to electrical safety, Minoré managed to survive this stage of her experimentation, and move on to the creation of the Person of Circuitry, the machine which ultimately killed her.

Today, for about five blocks around Minoré’s old house in Ranaclois district, nobody will touch a light switch, turn on a computer, or boil a cup of water using an electric kettle. In fact, everybody in the immediate vicinity of number three Grange Way will avoid all contact with any electrical appliances connected to the mains supply, and many even avoid battery-powered devices as well. The whole area will instead rely on candles and lamps to light their homes, and wood-burning stoves to cook their food. As not every home has this latter requirement, a few of the houses put on big dinners for their neighbours, made from food kept outside their refrigerators. It’s a touching moment of community solidarity, and an exciting time for young children who get suddenly to live in another pre-electrical world.

Yet this annual tradition is not just a quirky bit of fun, but driven by a real fear of possession: on this day, the day that Minoré fried herself on an exposed wire in the Person of Circuitry, on at least two separate occasions, people have found themselves inexplicably in that basement, switching on and off the circuit breaker attached to Minoré’s final creation. The last thing they remember is getting a small shock from an electrical appliance in their house, and thankfully the circuit breaker is no longer wired to the mains or they could have been getting a much larger shock.

Everyone in the area has heard the stories about the house, about the terrible experiments that went on there, about the Person of Circuitry, a tangle of exposed wires designed to mimic the various neurons of the human body, in order to draw in spirits, like the ‘capacitor’ which was written about on her gravestone. Everyone the area knows about her spirit, kept trapped in the electrical supply, released only once a year to find a new body to inhabit, yet tragically (or thankfully) unaware that the machine, her only way back, has been cut off.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Internal Temple Festival
  • The Development Fantasy Festival
  • The Festival of Endurance Tasting

December 14th – The Festival of Honouring the Stag

The Brotherhood of the Glorious Stag is a notorious group in Buentoille, known for their secretive nature, parties of wild abandon (from which we get the term ‘stag party’), their rites of sexual virility, and their exclusivity to male-identifying Buentoillitants. As their name suggests, the Brotherhood derive a lot of their symbolism from stags, and during their parties they will often go about wearing large sets of antlers on their heads. These parties are held often in the summer, whenever the weather is good enough, but it is now, on the cusp of winter, when their most important rite, The Festival of Honouring the Stag takes place.

You might think, given that members of the Brotherhood go around adorned with pieces of their chosen animal’s body that they were involved with hunting these majestic beasts, yet nothing could be further from the truth; the Brotherhood are actually entirely vegetarian. Instead, all the antlers used in their practices have either been naturally shed or taken from the skeletons of deer who died naturally. They are gathered across the year, important tokens that the men believe grant them greater fertility and sexual prowess, but today they will be relinquished back to nature, quite literally returned to the earth.

The place they bury the antlers is the same every year, a spot in Dunmonii Wood that is a place of great significance for the group, for it was here that their founding myth allegedly took place. They leave around the sunset, carrying torches, lamps and shovels, wearing their antlers and their traditional swaggering garb, complete with codpiece and cape. The burying place is beneath a large, ancient chestnut tree, from which the lanterns are hung whilst the Brotherhood dig the hardened soil. Rodents and other woodland creatures will actually dig up and eat the antlers, so there isn’t a stored trove of horns here that goes back as far as the Brotherhood’s history (the group is about four hundred and fifty years old). These offerings are put into the soil as an offering for the original Glorious Stag, which itself was allegedly buried at this spot.

The Brotherhood of the Glorious Stag began not on this day, as you might imagine, but in the depths of winter, a cold January night. Three poachers had been hunting deer in the woods, but suddenly became the hunted themselves, by a large group of wolves that strayed unexpectedly close to the City. They began to run, and just as they thought all hope was lost, out of nowhere a huge red deer, its antlers sharp and magnificent, jumped at the wolves, killing several of them, and giving the men long enough to get up the same spreading chestnut tree that they gather around today. After a long battle, the wolves eventually won, taking down the deer at long last, but at the cost of most of their number. All night, the men hid shivering up the tree, the heroic deer being devoured below them. In the morning they buried the deer, out of respect, and none of them ever went out hunting again.

The various beliefs and rituals of the group developed slowly over the next hundred-or-so years, but it has invariably retained today’s festival, the honouring of this first stag which managed to save the hunter’s lives, as a central part of its identity. The reason that the festival takes place tonight is because tomorrow would have traditionally been the first day of the monarchic stag hunt, and part of honouring stags is to protect them by, strange as it seems, scaring them off.

After they’ve buried the antlers beneath the tree, the Brotherhood take a number of items out of their sacks; firecrackers and loudhailers and loud rattles and drums and anything that makes a lot of noise, really. The aim is to scare all the deer out of the wood, away from the City, so that come tomorrow morning the hunt will not be able to find any of them. This tactic worked for hundreds of years, actually making the Brotherhood an illegal organisation (hence the secrecy that surrounds them) because of the frustration and embarrassment that they caused the monarchy.

Obviously nowadays they are just scaring off the deer (and every other animal for miles) for no good reason, and hunting deer with hounds is illegal Buentoille anyway. There have been some internal discussions about whether or not they should continue, seeing as this doesn’t seem like a way of ‘honouring’ the deer any more, but the general consensus has been that the festival should continue. The official reason is that it’s good to keep the animals scared of humans, as some people still shoot them for food, but it seems more likely that the real reason is that the Brotherhood have a lot of fun running around the woods making lots of noise, and, of course, because this is Buentoille.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Crest
  • Simple Sester’s Slightly Scary Selebration
  • The Tinnitus Daemon’s Day

December 13th – Blemmer Vaughn’s Day

Perhaps there is something about Buentoille’s communal mindset that makes it more prone to bouts of mass hysteria? Maybe there’s something in the water? Whatever it is, in recent years there have been new instances of collective psychological symptoms, in addition to the more established Sleepwalkers’ Night and the Festival of Deep and True Laughter; there was the Deep and Resonant Sigh of 1969, and the Phantom Flea Epidemic of 1912. Yet the best well known of these newer hysterias is Blemmer Vaughn’s Day, if only by virtue of its annual nature.

Blemmer Vaughn was a character on the hit 90s television show Praktical Magyk, a sitcom that centres on a coven of witches living in an alternate version of Buentoille where the Revolution never happened, and where witch hunts have emerged as a government-sponsored sport. Vaughn was a side character, a morally grey fixer who gets them out of many scrapes for pay, but who, just when they have begun to trust him and see him as a friend, betrays the witches to the hunters. Apparently in the original plot this change of allegiance was never planned, but when Maker Dorritch, the man who played Vaughn, abruptly went missing, the show’s producers added the betrayal in to explain his absence, unintentionally creating one of the greatest television moments in popular memory.

It was many years before Maker Dorritch was pronounced legally dead, and investigators have never found a single clue as to where he went, or why. Whilst he was not a main character, his career was progressing well; Praktical Magyk was one of the most popular programmes on television at the time. He had an excellent relationship with his girlfriend, a good group of friends and family who supported him. He was well regarded and despite the shady character he played, in person was of good character, the kind of person you could go to for advice. There was no reason for Dorritch’s disappearance, he simply walked out his front door to go to work one day and never made it there. His absence still haunts his family and friends.

It is not just those who knew Dorritch who find themselves haunted, not by his absence but by his image. On this day every year, thousands of people right across the City report seeing Blemmer Vaughn when they close their eyes. Apparently it is quite a disturbing experience, and most are glad that they don’t have to experience it for longer than a day. Strangely enough, even people who allegedly never watched Praktical Magyk see the character’s image right besides them, sitting slightly off to their left, uncomfortably close. He seems blurry, an effect that worsens the more they try to focus on him, and no matter how much they turn their heads, they cannot look directly at him; he remains off to the left.

It would perhaps make more sense if this strange phenomena happened on the day that Dorritch went missing, or on the day that the episode of Vaughn’s betrayal was aired, but both of these events happened in the summer, not on the edge of winter where we are now. The first reports of the hysteria (this, surely, is the only explanation) started coming in in the early morning of this day in 1998, a year after the man went missing, and whilst there was a growth of the phenomena in later years, these first few hundred individuals were seemingly unlinked. The City’s medical professionals all seem uncharacteristically stumped, and even the conspiracy theorists have few workable theories, besides perhaps a vague suggestion that the visions are something to do with the City’s power supply.

What we do know, however, is that despite causing anxiety and distress, the visions seem not to have any lasting impact on the health of those experiencing them, and they are not, as some have suggested, the harbinger of certain mental illnesses. There is no observed pattern to the hysteria, no groups of people that it affects with higher incidence, and being affected one year does not mean that you will be the next. Through chance, only one person who personally knew Dorritch has ever experienced the hysteria, and their descriptions seem in line with the general population’s, besides perhaps one aspect: ‘Somehow, and I don’t know if it was maybe just a feeling or a what, somehow I knew it wasn’t Maker I was seeing. It wasn’t Maker, it was Blemmer. I don’t know how I knew that.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Delicate Pastries
  • The Festival of the Crush
  • The Droithammer Drip Appreciation Day

December 12th – The Festival of the Mysterious Trail of the Snowbeast

It snowed for the first time this autumn last night (according to the official Buentoilliçan calendar, winter doesn’t start until December 21st), so this morning the City was painted white. The roads and pavements are relatively unaffected, due to pre-emptive gritting, but the parks and buildings will be covered in a layer of snow, come the morning. Nobody’s quite sure when the fist snows since the spring are expected to arrive on any given year, unlike the snows of January 16th, when the City is almost always covered in a thick blanket of the white stuff.

Regardless of whether there are thick blankets or simply a light smattering, the children of Buentoille will of course be out in force, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other and anyone unlucky enough to stray into their paths. Green-brown pathways will roam through the parks, where enormous snowballs have just rolled, gloves will be soaked through and left to shrink on radiators, fireplaces will be lit, chilblains formed, hot chocolate consumed with gusto. Out in the streets, Buentoillitants with carts will sell doughnuts and caramelised nuts, alongside highly spiced potato soup and all manner of cinnamon delights.

There’s always something magical about waking up when it snows, for children and adults alike, but especially so on the first day it snows: today the City’s inhabitants have a chance to see a mysterious yearly phenomenon: the wandering trail of the Snowbeast. As soon as the sun is up, a veritable race to locate the trail begins, a trail which has never failed to emerge on the first night it snows after the spring, at least for as long as anyone remembers. The prints are three-pronged, almost as if someone had pressed a handheld garden fork into the snow, though this obviously isn’t the explanation, given the virgin nature of the snow that lies around the tracks. They have been cross-referenced with all known animal tracks, but nothing seems to fit.

Since 1865, anyone who can locate either end of the trail is awarded a small financial prize by the Buentoilliçan Society of Natural Scientists, as well as their picture in many of tomorrow’s papers. This is part of the strangest thing about the prints, which can be difficult to track, given their tendency to cross roads, pavements, and other gritted, snow-free areas: they appear out of nowhere, and disappear in a similar manner. In the place that they begin, there is usually a slight twist to the snow that lies around them, as if a small whirlwind had centred on those first two prints.

The Snowbeast, if a beast is a fair description, is bipedal, and, given the length of its strides, moves with great speed, which could account for why anyone is yet to see it, at least verifiably; every year a new gritter or other night worker claims they’ve seen the prints being made, either by some strange creature or an invisible force. Usually, these alleged sightings are accompanied by feelings of extreme cold on the part of the viewer, and the creature is often said to look somewhere between a rabbit and a man. Seeing as there is no documentary evidence available to support either claim, the idea that the Snowbeast is some great rabbit probably comes from the fact that rabbits often leave trails in the snow, and that it can presumably leap very high, given that the trail often crosses roofs and even tower block tops.

Thankfully there is no suggestion that there is anything to fear from this illusive beast, though of course this is something that the people of Buentoille cannot be certain about until they’ve identified it. Some people believe that there is nothing to identify, that it is someone with a pair of shaped stilts, but according to various studies and experiments, this simply isn’t possible; stilts with ‘feet’ the size of the Snowbeast would cause any human using them to make indentations in the soil, of which there are none, they exist only in the snow. Besides, how would they walk on the roofs? Perhaps tomorrow will shed some fresh light on this enduring mystery.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Umer’s Nightshift Day
  • The Festival of the Lightshafts
  • The Festival of Nothing to Worry About

December 11th – The Festival of the Martyrdom of Saint Paricul

There were many martyrdoms in the time of Saint Paricul, most of them not religiously motivated; this was the Revolution after all. Indeed, amongst the death and chaos of the conflict, Paricul’s sacrifice seems insignificant, yet it is remembered today with much pageantry and fanfare on the part of the Chastise Church. This is partly as a way of recasting the role of the Church, which was complicit in many of the Traitor King’s crimes, and had to be significantly reformed in that period’s aftermath. Paricul, who fought on the side of the Revolution, is symbolic of this reformation, and as such is given due prominence in the Church’s calendar.

This reformation is most apparent nowadays as the restricted property rights of the Church’s Hierarchs: at one point they would have controlled large amounts of land and wealth, and would often engage in a good deal of self-enrichment with these resources. Church property is now collectively owned by all churchgoers, who make decisions regarding it on Wednesdays at the end of the services. Hierarchs are now only responsible for theological decisions, and general moral leadership, a role far more in-keeping with the image projected by Saint Paricul, who saw it as her religious duty to fight against the monarchy, which she saw as holding back human progress.

A special service will be held in the Church of the Holy Host today, at the large altar dedicated to Paricul. As it is one of the Church’s most popular ceremonies, the church will be packed to the rafters, and the service will be televised especially. The priest will focus upon the teachings of Paricul, whose beliefs were recorded in her diaries, which were then edited into religious texts by her follower and husband, Derilis Grandeur. Most likely the service will stress the need for churchgoers to help those less fortunate than themselves so that the fullness of human potential can be recognised, ‘for is this not what our ancestors meant when they forsook the Waylayer? To not be controlled by false gods or masters, but to make our own way in the world, to make heaven here on earth?’

Whilst there is certainly some embellishment in these sermons from Grandeur, Saint Paricul (born Tacit Grandeur), was certainly an arresting figure who many found easy to follow, especially during the Revolutionary war, when she headed up her own defence brigade. Apparently she used her powers of Attunement to speak directly to the souls of her followers, suddenly knowing precisely what best to say to influence them most, and she achieved this Attuned state by staring directly into the depths of their eyes. It probably helped that she was very physically attractive, her bright red hair lending her a wild, passionate appeal, kept under a black hood until she wanted to reveal it for maximum effect. ‘She always wore black,’ said her husband in 1945, ‘to symbolise her solidarity with the poor and downtrodden.’

After the service today, a procession will be led by a ginger-haired woman chosen to play the saint, her hair tied away with a tight headscarf. Behind her are the descendants of her brigade, dressed, as she is, in rugged black military-style trousers and shirts. They fly the flag of broken manacles, the traditional flag of the Chastise Church, yet modified so that a broken crown also accompanies the manacles. Behind them, the general population of churchgoers follows solemnly on the journey down the steps of Ranaclois hill to Coalhammer street, a backstreet a short distance away. There, she mounts a wooden stage which has been set up so that the revellers can see the re-enactment of Saint Paricul in the narrow space, along with her brigade.

Unlike on that fateful day in 1905, when Paricul’s brigade were dispatched to handle an insurgent monarchist group which had been committing atrocities in the area, the windows and roofs overlooking the narrow street will today be filled with Buentoillitants, religious and non-religious alike, leaning over to get a better view of the spectacle. The actors take their positions, and then from seemingly nowhere a group dressed as monarchist paramilitaries appear and start firing blank rounds at them. It is at this point, the brigade ambushed and helpless, that Paricul steps forwards and takes off her headscarf, her hair a bright beacon, drawing fire toward her. She opens out her arms to protect her soldiers, and is shot multiple times, but just as she is a strong wind blows in from behind her (in this case created artifically). The witnesses on the day spoke of great gouts of blood pouring forth from Paricul’s body, blinding the monarchists and allowing the brigade to win the battle.

Thankfully, in the re-enactment, things aren’t quite so gruesome; in fact they are quite beautiful. As each shot rings out, a bright red silk scarf is released from a point on the woman playing Paricul’s body, slipping forth in the strong wind, straight into the faces of the gunners. Each of the scarves are long, long enough that they take a few seconds to fully pull out from their concealed spots, whipping around in the wind like her hair. Eventually, she falls to the floor, the monarchists are vanquished, and everybody goes home, where most likely they eat ‘The Blood of Saint Paricul’, a hot, bright red soup full of chilis and paprika.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Western End Festival
  • The Festival of Dear Joseph

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

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 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 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