October 31st – The Festival of the Fungal Heart

At this time of year there are plenty of mushrooms around in the forests and fields, and plenty of Buentoillitants will happily go out in search of them, especially on days when the weather is bright and dry. There are chanterelles and morels in the forests, field blewits and wax caps in the fields, honey fungus grows in great conglomerations and chicken of the woods hangs from the trees. At this time of year, nature truly is a larder for all comers, and whilst there are some more dangerous specimens hiding amongst the delicious, most Buentoillitants are taught how to tell the difference at a very young age, both with their parents and formally at primary school. Bearing this excellent education in mind, it is always surprising that so many go out searching today for the Fungal Heart.

The mushrooms that we see and eat are actually just the fruiting bodies of the fungal growth that lies beneath; mycelium. This root-like structure can be very extensive, especially beneath forests where it can interlink in a ‘mat’ just below the topsoil, spreading for miles and growing mushrooms where the conditions are right. This explains why mushrooms grow so quickly and seemingly from nowhere; there is a near-invisible structure lying beneath the leaf mold just waiting for the right moment to produce them. According to most of the Heart-hunters out in the forests today, the mythical ‘Fungal Heart’ which they search for is essentially a tangled, concentrated ball of these mycelial tendrils, from which all the other mycelium supposedly sprouts. There are no documented instances of anyone actually finding a Heart, but the myth persists nonetheless.

There are actually various theories about what a Fungal Heart is; some think that it is another fruiting body, not part of the mycelial mat, and that it is something like a very large truffle. Others think that it is where the mycelium grows around some other object (a stone, a dead tree, a buried heart?) or that it is some other part of the fungal life-cycle, entirely separate to mycelium, mushrooms or spores; that it is the ‘mother’ of all fungi. To fully understand all these differing ideas, we have to look back to what they are modifying; where did this idea of a ‘fungal heart’ come from in the first place?

There is an old story, which features in both Escotolatian and Helican mythologies (that is, in the myths of both of the major ancient cultures which intertwined to create Buentoille). It varies a little between the two, but in both a god-like figure is slain, and its heart is buried underground. In the Escotolatian version, the figure is a forest spirit, whereas in the Helican he is a giant whose domain is a forest. The Helican giant was slain by one of the gods, and has its heart buried by another giant ‘as was their custom,’ but this causes its ‘malign influence’ to spread, causing rot and decay where none existed before. The Escotolatian forest spirit’s ending is stranger, but perhaps more positive; it was slain by a monster, who wished to eat its heart later, when it had ‘softened up’ in the earth. When he returns, however, the heart has sprouted fungus, and the monster is disgusted enough that he leaves. The good creatures of the forest, however, see that these fungus are a gift from their murdered protector spirit; a way of turning the rot and darkness of this world to some good.

The most probable cause for both of these cultures developing very similar myths is that they talked, and the story passed between them. The idea that the two were entirely separate until the development of Buentoille is a nonsense; despite the physical distance between the two groups there was still trade and conversation, probably more so than Buentoille has with its neighbours now, proportionally at least. Still, this idea of virginal civilisations persists in some sectors to this day, and it was certainly a belief held by Basten Weerwyrd, the so-called ‘cultural historian’ who is behind today’s festival. Weerwyrd made several logical jumps with little or no evidence when he theorised that the reason for the similarity in the two myths must be that there is some natural phenomenon, the Fungal Heart, which inspired both stories.

To help explain the inconsistencies in this theory, such as the glaringly obvious ‘why has nobody seen a Fungal Heart in living memory?’ Weerwyrd suggested that firstly they are very rare, and must be very tasty, so have been ‘hunted’ almost out of existence. He also said that small details from each tale (or rather, very specific versions of each tale, which, being oral tales originally, have been modified many times before and since) suggested that the Hearts would only appear on a day a year, when they raise from deep in the earth beneath a forest to nearer the surface. That day, ‘the final day of October,’ is, not surprisingly, today. According to Weerwyrd it is ‘only a matter of time’ until someone finds one, but despite it being nearly three hundred years since he wrote that, three hundred years of Buentoillitants travelling to the centre of the local forests with spades, digging random holes here and there, nobody seems to have had any luck just yet. Perhaps this year will be different? If not, there’s always next year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Dark Corridor
  • The Annual Live Worm Eating Competition
  • The Modeller’s Day

October 30th – The Festival of the Wishing Fleet

Wishing wells are a common sight in Buentoille, as are wishing fountains, both of which adorn many a square of plaza. There are other ways to send your wishes to the universe, other forms to attach them to; in the rocky heights of Guilgamot district there are two houses with a great gulf between them, over which are strung two lines; a washing line and a wishing line, which holds thousands of pieces of cloth embroidered with someone’s wishes. If you go to Rennario Shill’s Bar and order the ‘wishing soup’ you will be given a thin soup with a sheet of rice paper, a quill and some edible ink. It is the custom to place your wish in your dinner date’s soup, but if you are eating alone it is perfectly acceptable to place it in your own. And there are, of course, always the stars.

For those looking for another way to trust the important aspects of their life to enigmatic and potentially non-existent forces, there is today another opportunity; the Festival of the Wishing Fleet. The festival is hosted in southern Buentoille, at the Temple of Great Moway, a small but ancient religious group which spawned out of Escotolatian spirit cults around the time of the City’s formation. The Temple, dedicated to the worship of the river that runs through Buentoille, the Moway, is located on the inside of a bend of said river, and is formed of a small collection of buildings and a long, wide set of steps that reaches down into the waters, where the acolytes bathe every day (this is part of the reason the temple is built upstream from most of Buentoille).

This Temple is fairly new, even though the religious organisation which uses it is very old. For a long time there was no infrastructure that served this religious group; they merely went down to the river to pray every morning, wherever they happened to be at that point (which was never far from the river; according to doctrine, acolytes of the Temple aren’t allowed to travel more than three miles away from the banks of the Moway or its tributaries). This was because of long held persecution from the Chastise Church, but later, when the Church’s powers were curtailed, because they were considered to be dangerous fanatics, terrorists even, after they poured several barrels of toxic industrial waste down the chimneys of the Parliament building, in protest over the dumping of the same waste into their holy river. The Temple still maintains that the re-routing of the Moway in the fifteenth century was an act of revenge for their protest.

In recent years, the Temple has become rather trendy, and has opened its doors to visitors, even allowing them to take part in some of its rituals. Worship of the river that runs through the heart of their City seems in some ways natural for many Buentoillitants, an easy thing to understand and believe in. Yet there are concerns from more ‘traditional’ Temple-goers that allowing folk who do not adhere to the doctrines, who travel beyond the bounds of the river and who travel over the Moway by bridge rather than swimming as they should, to participate in their rituals will offend the Moway. For now, those who believe in an open Temple are in the majority, buoyed by the influx of new members, many of whom have become fully signed up to the doctrines. They argue that Mother Moway will know who amongst them are pure of heart, and will not blame them for trying to bring more worshippers to her watery glory.

What all of this means is that, for those looking for another way to make the universe hear them and grant their wishes, they now have the chance to join the Temple in doing just that. The Temple-goers believe that today was the day that the Moway first met the sea, and fell in love with him. As a result, today that love will be renewed once again, and in a fit of good spirit, the Moway will grant any wishes provided to her by the correct methods. Today is the day that acolytes of the Temple normally get married, and most of their wishes centre around that union, but for the single or already married other wishes are permitted too. The marriages are conducted all together on the steps of the Temple, and are sealed by the couples walking down into the river together and kissing underwater for as long as possible, circulating their breath between them. It is not until evening that the wish-making commences.

The small wax boats are intricately carved with various designs intended to grab the attention of Mother Moway, but space is left between the designs for each person to carve their wish. These ‘wishing boats’ are given for free to Temple members, and are available for a small fee to anyone else. Anything can be written on them, but traditionally the wish is expressed in a small poem which fits in one band around the ship’s hull. Those who have just been married are given larger boats, with sections on their tops where colourful flowers are placed. As the sun sets, the Temple band begins to play slowly and quietly, giving the signal for everybody to cease carving, then walk down the steps, light the wick protruding from the top of their boat, and place it in the water, to be swept downstream. Atop the water their reflections pool beautifully as they are dragged out of sight, and below the earnest wishes are illuminated, where the river can read them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Honesty
  • The Festival of the Bright Cave
  • Chopped Off Nose Day

October 29th – The Festival of His Swirling Presence

There’s something about the precise shape of Uther Dean’s Triangle in Whight Hollow that creates strange currents in the air. Usually they wouldn’t be noticeable, but at this time of year, what with all the dry foliage fluttering around, they are revealed; six eddies, swirling circles of leaves about a metre across. They dance around the space, going all the way into the porch of the butcher’s shop (much to the butcher’s consternation), or across the now empty flower beds, or circling around the tree in the south east corner. They are always there, these currents, at least when it is windy. There are always six of them.

If it’s not windy, the small Canaring contingent visiting the City today will be rather disappointed; they’ve come a long way to see this odd congregation of winds. In fairness, they might be disappointed regardless, as the spectacle is often built up quite grandly in their city, across the Inner Ocean. It is, after all, the spectacle which created one of their greatest saints, but in person it resembles little more than a few leaves flying about on a windy day. Still, it was watching these mere leaves which spurred the conversion of Saint Blackhand, as Troilus Acedus is commonly known in Canaring, who is not a saint of the Chastise Church, which Buentoillitants know so well, but its progenitor, The Church of Our Great Lord (COOGL).

To those who worship the ‘Great Lord,’ most Buentoillitants are godless heathens, either having no faith, or following a church which actively disputes the notion that human affairs are controlled by transcendental beings. Their Great Lord is all seeing, all knowing, and all powerful, a difficult philosophical position to maintain to be sure, but surprisingly, in Canaring, adherents to the religion are a majority, rather than a tiny majority as in Buentoille. The primary piece of iconography for COOGL worshippers is the Band, a selection of six intersecting circles, each representing a different aspect of their god: the Prophet, the Father, the Daughter, the Dilettante, the Wanderer and the Dreamer. Given this, it’s not surprising that the visiting contingent find themselves attracted to Uther Dean’s Triangle, or The Shape of Saint Blackhand, as he is known in their city, with its six swirling circles.

The primary reason for Acedus’ sainthood, and the name ‘Blackhand’ was simple; in 1944 they rounded up apostates and folk from other religions, then burned them to death in one of the greatest massacres of modern times, ironic for a man who had himself renounced his religious beliefs to join COOGL. This religious turmoil spread throughout all sections of Canaring’s highly stratified society, and Blackhand was known for the ‘fairness’ of his murder as he did not unfairly favour those from upper strata, although he did primarily target those on the lower sections. According to a tale which Acedus told, which in turn became part of Saint Blackhand’s founding myth, he was first turned to COOGL after a Chastise Church service, where he had felt ‘empty and cold.’ He had been conversing via inter-city mail with a Great Lord priest, and was slowly being turned on to the idea that god was present, ‘filling the empty and lonely spaces of this world.’

Interestingly it was the framing of the religion’s beliefs with science and pseudo-science that helped Acedus turn to god; the atom had recently been calculated to be mostly empty of matter, and it was this space that the priest claimed was where god dwells, if we let him; where we can feel His Swirling Presence. This idea stuck with Acedus, flitting intermittently across his mind, until he sat down with a coffee in Uther Dean’s Triangle, watching the swirling motion of the fallen foliage, and decided that it was a sign, a message from god. Whilst he has never claimed that it happened, most worshippers say that the six rings crossed over much as they do in the Church’s logo. Either way, the visiting contingent this year, arriving on Acedus’ birthday (that is, today – normally the death day would be used but that was in midsummer when wind speeds are too low) will revel in these strange currents, these concatenations of wind that somehow ensured their religion’s dominance in Canaring.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Softest Drum
  • The Attack Cat Festival
  • Murderers Out of Buentoille – an Annual Protest

October 28th – The Festival of the Sinister Soirée

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the occult was a popular subject of study, entertainment and fascination amongst the upper and upper middle classes of Buentoille. Fortune tellers were suddenly in vogue, and were welcomed to, rather than chased out of, ‘respectable’ areas of the City. All manner of spell merchants and purveyors of lucky implements sprung up all over. You could buy an exorcism or ghost-laying on any street corner. Yet this newfound passion for all things magical and strange was more than simply a fad; it had a lasting impact on world events.

Catwen Fineverse was a medium and séance-leader from the east of the City, in fact she was perhaps the best medium and séance-leader that the City had to offer. Amongst those who attended her séances, known then as ‘Sinister Soirées’, were leaders of industry and politics, including the Parliament Leader, Vaster Micklebright. Micklebright had spent, at this time, an unprecedented fifteen years as the central force in Parliament, holding together various different voting groups to pass legislation that he deemed worthy. Unlike other parliamentary systems, which have an organised government and opposition, the Buentoilliçan Parliament had a melange of various different landowners and highborn folks who never saw any reason to divide themselves because they broadly agreed on everything. It was the job of the Leader to direct the consciousness of this over-privileged group toward productive subject matter.

Access to such powerful people made Fineverse very powerful herself, especially as Sinister Soirées tend to last much longer than mere séances; they are essentially an extended dinner topped off with the séance itself as entertainment at the end. Some were more effective than others in this endeavour; Fineverse was a master in this art, only holding the Soirées in her own home, a dilapidated manor which had supposedly been passed down through many generations of her family. In this setting she was able to control the environment, and therefore the tone and mood of the Soirée, ensuring that it was suitably spooky with dark furnishings, inky mirrors and low lighting. Her servants would welcome the various guests, and serve them dinner, and they would be entertained by Fineverse’s wife Cerys, an agreeable, somewhat pallid and nervous woman who would say very little about her spouse. When asked why Catwen didn’t join them for dinner, Cerys would avoid the question, yet at the strike of midnight, she would step from the shadows, as if she had been there the entire time.

Fineverse’s taste for the dramatic was not only confined to her entrance; in person she was, apparently, a powerful presence, for whom the room went silent as she spoke in deep, hushed tones. ‘She had a way of staring into the eyes of a man so directly that he lost all thoughts he had been storing up for their conversation, so I never got to ask her why I’d never seen her eat,’ wrote Lord Quicktamper in his 1857 diary, ‘it was alike to that feeling which one has when confronted suddenly at parties with young and beautiful women, amongst whose ranks our lady Fineverse must be counted, I suppose, yet she had something else to her, a sense that she was reading your mind, that your most private moments were laid bare to her. I felt as if I should suddenly cover myself, as if I had spent the entire Soirée entirely in the nude. Perhaps it was the way she met my gaze so forthright, as nanny did on occasion when I had been thinking naughty thoughts, with this knowing expression on her lips, perhaps even tinged with a little cruelty.’

Fineverse lived to the age of 107, persisting well into Revolutionary Buentoille. In 1930 she wrote a book about her life, Placing the Veil, in which she revealed, as many by this point knew, that she was no impoverished countess, as she presented in her Sinister Soirées; it was all an act. She was actually a working class actor, as were her ‘servants’ and wife (though their marriage was no act), a troupe who had been left the manor house by an aristocratic patron, and had decided to put it to good use. The ‘servants’ would gather pertinent information from the guests, which would be later sold on to interested buyers. The food contained a very small amount of a mild hallucinogenic compound, designed to make the guests more suggestible. Cerys Fineverse (both of the women used their real names) would surreptitiously direct the conversation, loosening the lips of the aristocratic and bourgeois visitors and preparing certain expectations in their minds before Catwen’s arrival.

Today, in many homes around the City, folk will play a game called Fineverse and the Leader, designed by Seraph Delilah in 1946 to commemorate the deceptions of this group. The game is played collaboratively with special cards, similar in appearance to tarot cards (this is perhaps misleading; Fineverse never used cards in her séances), and is supposed to model the interactions between Fineverse and Micklebright. The players must ‘convince’ the ‘Leader’ that he is really speaking to his dead mother by raising his ‘credibility’ score and countering ‘sceptic’ cards randomly drawn from a stack. It is a complex game, roughly separating into two stages; the ‘setup’ and the ‘denouement’, with the characters of Cerys and Catwen being most effective in each, respectively. It usually takes several hours to complete the game, and whilst most report that they enjoy it, few choose to play it outside of today, when they feel they have a duty to do so.

So why do Buentoillitants feel they need to commemorate the deceptions of fake occultists? Well, quite simply, they averted a war. For some time, Micklebright had been considering going to war against Litancha, which had been interfering with Buentoille’s then good relationship with the Seven Cities Trading Company. When the Fineverses caught wind of this plan, which Micklebright had begun testing the waters with, in order to ensure it would go down well with Parliament, they immediately began hatching a plan. When Micklebright next attended their Sinister Soirée, to talk through Catwen to his dead mother as he always did, she used her extensive knowledge of his childhood that she’d gained through their many previous sessions to strongly imply that his mother would not approve of the planned war. ‘Do you remember when you got in a fight with those boys at school?’ she asked, ‘You were looking over your shoulder for months afterwards.’ Never before or since has an actor had such power over the direction of the City.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dangerous Juice
  • The Festival of Coding Your Dreams
  • The Heat of the Brand Day

October 27th – The Festival of Apple Tasting

It was a cold, damp morning in 1710 when the Faute family apple tree was chopped down by their next door neighbour, a Mrs Adewene Ustanzor. There had been something of a quiet feud between the two parties which had been going on for several years, culminating in this wanton, destructive act. According to Ustanzor (whose husband, Reichard, was on good terms with their neighbours), the tree blocked out the light to her vegetable patch, where at the time of the felling she was unsuccessfully attempting to grow cauliflowers. On the other hand, the Faute family patch was overflowing with all manner of brassicas; cabbages, cauliflowers, even some (rather exotic for the time) broccoli. It seems that Ustanzor was one of those people who is always willing to blame others for her mistakes.

In fairness, we only really have the Faute family side of the story, but it does seem to be truthful. The Fautes admit that their ancestors did make a nuisance of themselves somewhat; Egenie was known to practice her horn outside (she wasn’t allowed to play in the house) at unholy hours, and they were wont to have fires out in the garden whilst Ustanzor had her washing on the line. It’s not clear whether Reichard was forgiving, mild mannered, or simply milk-livered, but his wife certainly wasn’t. The trouble really started when she decided to put out a fire in their garden that summer with a well-aimed bucket of water. Nobody seems sure whether the ball which went through her dining room window was intentional or not, but either way the Fautes were pretty sure she deserved it. Things went quiet for a bit after that. Ustanzor was convinced that they were throwing all their slugs over into her vegetable patch, but again, nobody from the family seems to know whether they actually did or not. And then, on this day, seemingly out of the blue, the tree was gone.

It seems that, in her anger, Ustanzor not only cut down the tree, but removed it from the premises entirely, save a low stump. She never revealed where she had taken it, not even in court when it may have reduced her fine. Ustanzor seemed happy to pay; she knew that the blow she had struck was vital; for the Fautes, no amount of money could have made up for the loss of their beloved apple tree, which was said to have the best eating apples in all of west Buentoille. The tree had been owned by the family from as long as anyone could remember, grown from a pip spat out by a Chastise Church hierarch during a visit. According to family lore, the hierarch was choking on the pip and their life was saved by Julian Faute, an enormous bear of a man who slapped them on the back with great force.

The loss of their apple tree was too much for the Fautes to bear, and it wasn’t long before they moved from this home, where they had lived for many successive generations. The decision was taken by Annie Faute, the family’s matriarch at the time, who couldn’t go out into the garden without crying at the sight of the stump. It was on the day they were moving out that her son, Ignam Faute, realised that perhaps not all was lost, and began an obsession which continues to this day. Ignam found an apple which had rolled under one of the nearby bushes. It was a little slug-eaten, but most importantly, all the seeds were intact. At their new home in the east of he City, Ignam planted eleven new trees.

Now, anyone who knows anything about apple horticulture will probably be screaming that it doesn’t work like that; you can’t simply plant seeds from an apple and produce the same type of apples as before. There is such a wide genetic variation between apple trees and their seeds that the fruit are highly unlikely to taste the same. Normally a cutting is taken from the tree you want to reproduce the apples from, which is then either grown into a tree of itself, or grafted onto another apple tree. Obviously this normal method was not possible with the Fautes’ apple tree. Ignam knew how it worked when he planted those trees, but he had a hope that there was a tiny chance that one of the seeds would be genetically similar enough to produce similar fruit, or that he would be able to cross-breed various trees until he had one that tasted the same as that delicious fruit he had grown up with.

The Fautes’ tree was a late-harvesting variety, and this seems to be a trait that all the trees Ignam grew inherited, so it was today, the day the original was felled, that Ignam chose as the tasting day when he decided whether to keep each tree or to fell it and grow another in its place. Obviously it takes around ten years for an apple tree to grow sufficiently to begin producing fruit, so this was a slow process at first. Nowadays the family have an entire orchard dedicated to the process, and there are usually one or two trees which are ready for tasting each year, as the process has been staggered somewhat. None of those first eleven trees remain any longer; they have all been replaced with better varieties over the years, as the endeavour was passed down the generations. Nobody has yet hit upon the perfect apple, but apparently they are getting close.

Quite how these new generations of Fautes know what they are looking for, when none of them have ever actually tasted the original is presumably the next question burning your lips. The answer is a thickly bound book, which describes, in exquisite detail, everything about the Faute Apple, as the mythical variety has come to be known, and which includes many colourful illustrations. Most of this is taken from the memory of Ignam Faute, but he also wrote several pages of tasting notes whilst eating small pieces of that final, miraculous apple. These notes are a family secret, and taught to all children as soon as they turn seven years old, but in layman’s terms, the apples were deeply fragrant, in both taste and smell, with a thicker-than-average skin, an enormously satisfying crunch, and a sweet nectar which seemed to almost explode as soon as the skin was broken.

Apparently the originals won every competition they were entered into, but the family always refused to allow commercial growers to take cuttings from them. As the latest generation of apple-growers delivers a respectful basket of apples to adorn the tree trunk which resides in their old garden still, or bites into a potential candidate today, and weighs it in their mind against the complex guidelines, as they sit together and deliberate its pros and cons, the likelihood of breeding a better apple from it, they will perhaps secretly curse their ancestors for their pride, their foolishness in not allowing any cuttings to be made whilst they could.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Gratuitous Gifts
  • The Festival of Her Healing Spirit
  • The Festival of the Weathered Sole

October 26th – The Lottery of the Royal Bed Day

Have you been having trouble sleeping recently? Are you troubled by dark dreams, menaced by nightmares, stricken with insomnia? Perhaps you need a new bed, more specifically a very special bed, a Royal bed, even. Whilst such monarchical terms are generally looked down upon in Buentoilliçan society, here ‘royal’ denotes a certain overt lavishness of style, an exuberance of comfort, and is not intended to be derogatory in any manner. The term does, however, give a clue as to the monarchic origins of the ceremonies today.

Before the Revolution, many industries, small and large, centred around the monarchs and their lavish lifestyles. Whilst some of these were destroyed along with the monarchy, others were repurposed, the bad, the inequality and prejudice, stripped out and the good retained in that familiar Buentoilliçan manner; never let it be said that tradition is not valued in the City. Much of this reorganisation was done by the Council of Logistics and its various provisional forms, but in the case of The Order of Somnolent Luxury, it was self-imposed, led by entrepreneurial spirit and fear of losing traditional skills passed down through many generations.

Despite their grand name, the Order was really a single family who made ornate beds. Yet ‘ornate’ is perhaps underselling things a little; these beds took an entire year to make, and are still considered the best, most comfortable sleeping places in Buentoille. The family, the Driddiams, were once simply another, very skilled, bed making company, but during the rule of Queen Immas they took on a royal contract, and were afforded all the pomp and circumstance that entailed. The Queen was a strange woman, who believed that if you sleep for too long in the same bed, then your nightmares would begin to seep into the wood, and would feed back to you, forever troubling your dreams. The Driddiams offered her a new product, the Royal Bed, to solve this issue; a perfect bed that would take a year to make, and then would be burned at the end of its year-long lifespan, so as to destroy the bad dreams.

The Royal Bed has various other perks and quirks of construction, which make it seem worth associated time and cost. The mattress was once filled with feathers taken only from birds which were killed whilst they slept, though the modern forms of the mattress use more comfortable, synthetic options. The four posts are ornately carved with images of sleeping people and animals, curled up together in intricate interlocking patterns. The canopy is heavily embroidered with similar scenes, as well as moons and stars above, picked out in silver thread. Inside the mattress and pillars various charms thought to produce good dreams are hidden. All through the production process, the workers constantly sing lullabies to further imbue the bed with sleep-inducing properties.

Today has always been the day that the new bed was presented and the old burned, in the courtyard outside the palace. It was the birthday of Queen Immas, but after she was deposed the next monarch never bothered to change or cancel the contract with the Order and eventually it became a tradition. After the burning, all the local ‘psychics’ alleged to be troubled with the monarch’s bed-contained bad dreams for a few days, and would be visited by members of the court looking to gain some insight into their psyche, so as to gain the monarch’s favour or better plot against them. Nowadays no such burning takes place, because no king or queen receives the bed that the Order make; the bed is awarded to whoever won last year’s lottery.

The tickets, which went on sale for a small cost ten days ago, can still be bought from any participating newsagents until 11am today, should you wish to try your luck at getting a new bed made especially for you. This, of course, is the reason that it is the winner of last year’s lottery that today receives the bed in a ceremony at 12pm in Revolution Square (it will later today be delivered to the winner’s home, and installed there); it is made to order, seeing as most people don’t have the same available space in their homes. The overall design, however, is usually very close to that made each year for the monarch, so as to keep those traditional skills alive. After the presentation of the bed to last year’s winner, the tickets are then all deposited into the tombola, and this year’s winner is announced. Possibly to make the year-long wait until they receive their prize more palatable, the winner is today given an exquisitely comfortable pillow. Ironically, the winner will probably be too excited to get much sleep tonight.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Ample Care
  • River Dredge Day
  • Flight of Fancy Festival

October 25th – The Festival of Saint Bertasy; Mermaid Day

If you are from Litancha and visiting the City, today’s festival might not be quite what you expect. Similarly, if you tell a Buentoillitant about Litancha’s depiction of mermaids, they will be equally perplexed; these saccharine cartoons of girls with beautiful, sparkling fishes tails are nowhere to be found in Buentoille. Take one trip to the fish market, take a look at the bulging eyes, spiny backs and hideous teeth of some of the fish there, and you will be getting a better idea of how Buentoillitants view mermaids. It is another world underwater, where the very firmament threatens death, and who knows what darkling horrors wait in the inky depths of a deep pool?

As is the way with old stories, the tale of Saint Bertasy has changed somewhat over the years. At one point he was thought to be a fairly pedestrian figure in the Chastise Church canon, and garnered little more than the official recognitions during church services on this, his festival day. It continued this way for many years, until Eauna Cause drowned in the pool that borders the Church of Saint Morstead. She’d become tangled in some weeds growing at the edge of the pool whilst playing nearby with her friends, dying, tragically, at the age of seven. The priest of the Church, now known as the Church of Saints Morstead and Bertasy, Helenia Walthemsore, was devastated. She ordered the pool cleaned of its weeds, and even considered filling it in, but then she had a better idea.

In Buentoilliçan folklore, the mermaid is not some beautiful maid of the sea, but a terrible monster that haunts pools of stagnant water, with awful grasping hands and a rapacious desire for the flesh of children. There are, of course, some disagreements over the exact origin of the creature, but it’s generally agreed that it first appeared in Traccea’s Maid’s Lament, in which a vain young woman becomes convinced that she has been turned ugly because when she goes to the pool (or ‘mere’) to see her reflection, she sees a ‘meremaid’ waiting beneath the surface instead. Having previously built her entire self-worth on her good looks, she throws herself into the pool and drowns in the meremaid’s embrace. Whilst Traccea presumably intended the meremaid to be a creature symbolic of the maid’s internal ugliness of character, it became a monster in its own right, dropping an ‘e’ and being used by parents across the City to scare their children away from playing at dangerous bodies of water.

By Walthemsore’s time, the early seventeenth century, the mermaid-as-warning had begun to slip from common usage, and this is what the priest saw as the driving factor behind Cause’s death. Had she grown up in a time (as Walthemsore had) when pools like the one by the Church were fearful places, full with monsters waiting to grab you, then she would not have drowned in it. This at least was the argument that the priest put forward to herself, and was the reasoning behind the creation of today’s festival. Walthemsore remembered reading about Saint Bertasy long ago; he had gained his sainthood by Attuning to the rocking motion of his fishing boat, and had used this attunement to foresee the drowning of a similar young girl, who he saved. In order for the Church authorities to approve the festival that the priest had in mind, she had to connect it to a saint in some way. The answer, of course, was to bend the story of Saint Bertasy to her ends.

Today, by that same pool, a parishioner will dress up in a gruesome outfit, adorned with pond weeds and fish scales, and will wrap up some of the local children in long weeds, generally terrorising anyone who comes near. This ‘mermaid’ will at times submerge themselves in the pool, and then burst forth menacingly when people walk past. Then, after some time, she will begin to drag some of the wrapped children toward the water. It is at this point that Saint Bertasy (or rather, another parishioner playing him) appears, casting their fisher’s net over the horrid creature and slaying her with a golden sword (this last detail seems to have been added in more recently) and setting the children free. The actor will then proceed to give a short lecture on the dangers of water, and what any children should do if they or their friends get into trouble whilst playing in or by it. ‘I won’t always be here to save you,’ they say, ‘so be careful, or a mermaid might get you!’

Other festivals happening today:

  • Hammer and Tongs Day
  • The Questioning of Hermod Festival

October 24th – The Festival of Air Mail

Surely as a child you played under a sycamore tree, throwing the whirligigs into the air and watching them slowly tumble down? Or did you split them open and stick them to your nose, pretending to be a unicorn? The seeds of the sycamore, also known as ‘fairy wings’ or ‘samaras’, to give them their scientific name, can keep children amused for hours in this manner, one of the many excellent toys that nature brings at this time of year.

For those children who live around the eastern Patrimony Delanik Atmospheric Rail station, the exhaust chimney there has always provided an excellent opportunity for fun at this time of year. The top of the chimney is covered in a wire mesh, to stop leaves and the like from gathering in the turbine system, so instead, on days when the Atmospheric rail isn’t running, the leaves and the like gather on top. When the air in front of the rail carriage below is then pumped out at great speed, propelling it along, these leaves fly into the air. It would be quite spectacular, if many leaves settled there, but unfortunately the chimney reaches above all the nearby trees, and only a small selection of wind-blown leaves reach that high.

Out of the three Atmospheric Rail stations (western, central and eastern), the eastern station is the only place where the chimney is directly overlooked by another structure (other than the station semaphore towers). The chimney runs up beside Lighterwoman House, a block of flats constructed in the 1960s, which has a community garden on its roof. It didn’t take long after the flats were constructed for the children living in the block to work out that is you gather a bundle of whirligigs from the trees that lined the streets, and throw them into the chimney at just the right moment, then you would have a rather spectacular display, the whirligigs flying far up into the sky and then tumbling slowly back down over a much larger area as they were caught by the wind. At this time of year the local children do little else, and the streets are clear of whirligigs for several miles.

When Inari Masque went to university in 1982, she was pretty lonely. De Geers felt like an alien place to her, and even though it wasn’t long on the train to go home and see her parents and local friends, she felt that it would have been a defeat of some sort. She stuck it out, but was constantly yearning for someone to reach out to her, to disturb the sediment she’d built around herself, in her pond of misery. It took until third year for her to realise it didn’t have to be this way, that there is no shame in contacting your parents, that you don’t have to completely reconstruct yourself and cut yourself off from your old life, just because you’re going to uni. She was on her way out of Lighterwoman House, after visiting her folks, that year, and she saw the children throwing the whirligigs into the chimney, and she had an idea.

Normally, the prevailing wind over Buentoille runs from the north west to the south east, as it comes in from the sea. However, at this time of year, from about mid October until December, the prevailing direction changes, with faster, drier winds cutting in from the east, originating from the Great Expanse that lies in that direction. This is very important in the formation and timing of today’s festival, because it means that anything thrown into the chimney by Lighterwoman House gets carried well over the City toward the west. When she got back to university in 1984, where she was studying art, Masque set about making several capsules, in a design based on the whirligigs that the children throw into the chimney. Masque’s whirligigs, still made today, are larger than their natural cousins, and where the seed pod would be they instead have enough space for a small, tightly folded letter.

It was words of encouragement that Masque chose to write on those first letters, which were dispersed all across the City, rising high on the gust of air and then being whipped west as they fell, spinning. They landed in the streets, in parks, they got clogged in guttering, trapped in trees. They were almost all found, around forty six of that first batch of fifty. To some people they meant the world, to others they were a curious oddity, or a nuisance. Only eight of the forty six turned up to the party they were invited to the following week, but in fairness many didn’t find theirs until after it was over. Nowadays the party is held a month from today, and about five hundred are released, by Masque and the other residents of Lighterwoman House.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Priest’s Failure
  • Greenhorn Day
  • The Last Warning Festival

October 23rd – Odd Shoes Day

To be entirely honest, there aren’t many people who participate in today’s festival any more. It’s deemed to be a bit old hat by the younger generations, and seems somewhat rude, cruel even to a lot of people. The dwindling number who do participate point out that their actions aren’t intended to be cruel, but are instead a form of collective memory, a way of building their identities. As Simmonde Owenii said in 2011, ‘it’s another way of saying: I was there, I grew up when you did, we experienced the same things! It’s a kind of in-joke.’ Perhaps this is the real reason behind the waning number of participants, though some critics say simply that it is inane, a banality not worth remembering or celebrating.

In defence against claims of cruelty, there is no reason to believe that Loane Allendis, the Buentoilliçan Broadcasting Service (BBS) news presenter around whom the festival is based, thought it was at all hurtful. Each time she commented upon it in interviews about her long and distinguished career, Allendis seemed only to find it funny, if a little tiresome toward the end of her life, reacting with characteristic good grace and poise. There was no suggestion otherwise from her friends and family after she died that this was not the case; when her husband Terrance was questioned about whether it privately affected her he simply said, ‘Loane was a woman for whom the truth was sacred. She couldn’t lie even if she’d wanted to.’

Allendis, who covered the morning television shift on BBS1 (the primary official Buentoilliçan televisual channel) from 1953 to 1987, was a striking woman with a professional-yet-warm manner and an excellent, somewhat avant-garde, fashion sense. She was the woman who made jumpsuits popular again, and who was famous for the graphic designs, often involving eyes and ears, that she hand stitched into her dresses and shirts. Allendis was a pioneer, and usually, in the weeks following a new ‘look’ that she sported, you would see plenty of other Buentoillitants attempting to emulate her. When, however, she stepped out on-screen on October the 23rd 1978 wearing two very odd shoes, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right.

Quite why they didn’t pan the camera up slightly for the three hour shift Allendis worked that morning was the question on most folk’s lips. Some people thought it was on purpose, that it was some new fashion she’d developed, others recognised that it it was a mistake, or thought that she was cynically testing the extent of her power in the fashion world; surely if she could get people to walk around with one platform shoe and one flat shoe, she was capable of almost anything. Later, Allendis admitted that it had been an accident in the changing rooms. ‘My daughter got engaged the previous night, and we’d stayed up too late celebrating,’ she revealed to the Buentoillitant Gossip in November, ‘I was very tired and I didn’t notice until the camera was on me.’

Almost all the folks shambling around today with severely mismatched shoes (some prefer a less intrusive approach of using two shoes that are on the same basic level) were those who watched Allendis that morning. Some were big fans of the presenter, and found the mix-up a heart-warming moment that made her seem all the more human and approachable, or commended her ability to keep calm despite the interruption, which was even pointedly stared at by one of her guests. The most common reaction was, of course, laughter.

Terwenne Vent, a veteran of the festival which spontaneously appeared the following year, remembered being in stitches in front of the TV: ‘The longer it went on, the funnier it got. She just pointedly refused to acknowledge the issue, that was what got me. It’s not like anyone would have minded if she’s just taken them off, but she kept them on and even had the bravery to cross her legs when sitting on the sofa, drawing attention to them further! I remember there was one of the guests, a Litanchan I think, who kept staring at them and then looking guiltily up again. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish. I couldn’t breathe.

Whilst there won’t be a tremendous amount of folks out there today with odd shoes, they certainly won’t be easily missed. There is no official congregation point for this festival, no march or bonfire, but those involved might stay on the train for an extra stop on their way home from work, hoping to bump into a fellow odd-shoe-wearer. When they meet they nod and smile in recognition. If they’re sitting next to each other, they might even trade stories about themselves, what they were up to in 1978.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Walker’s Pride
  • Saint Ephram’s Day
  • The Falsetto Festival

October 22nd – The Festival of Burning the Grotto

Fire, that most human of the elements, has many meanings. Fire brings warmth on quiet winter days when rabbit prints are visible in the snow; fire is kindled, nurtured to perfection by bakers in their enormous ovens. Buentoillitants celebrate around fires on many a festival day; learning to make a fire safely is an important milestone of mid childhood. Fire is an illusive hope for campers on wet days, and yet there are those times when fire is the enemy, such as the Great Fire of 1362, when three hundred homes became charred wreckage. For the Water Brigade, fire is a respected adversary, a dance partner trying to trip you up.

Beyond these obvious meanings and associations, there are other, more spiritual aspects to fire. According to Malchard the Troubadour, the Waegstallasians stare into fire to see the past, to try and spy the ancestors who made the enormous, empty city around them. There was once a sect of Catrosondian nuns who believed that anything burned was transported to heaven; what a terrible end their sinking must have seemed. One, somewhat spiritual meaning that fire has in many societies around this corner of the world, is that of cleansing, of purification. It is a meaning that witches know all too well, and it is the most generally agreed upon reason for today’s festival.

Preparations for the festival are going on all day; readying the boats and rafts takes up most time, as they are arrayed with stacks of wood doused in tar and other flammable liquids. By low tide, there is a veritable armada in the docks, which is dragged out around the bay by tugs. At the entrance to Blackened Grotto, a low arch only visible when the tide is well out, they pause briefly, and three guns are fired into the dark depths. Presumably this is to scare out any birds that might be hiding inside, but nothing has lived in the Grotto besides anemones and the like for many many years. Some have suggested this gunfire was originally supposed to be a signal to others, or a remembered fragment of battle, echoed and distorted through time.

The tugs, with their high-powered lamps, drag and shunt the flotilla of flammable barges deep into the abyss, which extends back for quite some distance, before the stalactites, like spiny teeth in this enormous maw, block the way. They retreat out long before the tide comes back in; this is not a place you want to be trapped, especially not tonight. The rest of the festival waits until nightfall, when a convoy winds its way up to the cliffs above that fearful seaside mouth, coalescing around a black hole in the rock. If Blackened Grotto were some great toothed whale, this would be its blowhole; the cavern lies directly beneath, and on wild and stormy nights you can sometimes see a spurt of seawater rise out from this funnel, such is the pressure that builds up beneath.

By the time they reach the hole, it will be high tide once again, the cave’s mouth once again closed by the sea. Oddly enough it is a priest who heads up the congregation; the task has always fallen to the priest of the Church of Saint Pillont, though they know not why, it doesn’t pertain to any Chastise Church text or dogma, nor is it linked to their saint. There has always been something of a fearful hush around this festival, and yet it always has a sense of necessity to it. Is it guilt that drives this hush, or genuine fear? It is a festival of purification, they say, but what requires purification? Perhaps there is some clue in the words of the priest, as they drop a flaming torch into that dark hole, ‘I commend this grotto, and all its inhabitants, to fire.’ Braver, or perhaps more brazen, Buentoillitants speak darkly about these ‘inhabitants;’ what could have inspired such destructive fear? Surely whatever lived there long ago could not have been human; it is not a place for humans to live.

Nobody stays, after they ensure that the torch has done its work, and that the smoke and then flames have begun to reach out of the hole. They walk home in silence, occasionally glancing back over their shoulders at the red light on the clifftop. It will burn all night.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Quick Drinking
  • Saint Yel’s Day
  • Ron Freethy’s Night of Missed Chances