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