On the north-western edge of Buentoile, the houses stop suddenly; the sea reaches across the low-lying lands, creating a stretch of sucking salt marshes and bogs. According to some the bog is immeasurably deep, and many attempts at draining and settling the area in the past have been thwarted by high tides – there are thought to be at least three generations of houses buried deep beneath the reeds and bubbling mud. In 1785 a small contingent of cartographers once tried measuring the depth of a large pool in the centre of the marsh with an anvil tied to a rope, but despite having over two hundred feet of rope, they were reputedly unable to reach the bottom.
Right beside where Bellmaritch Road ends, the cobbles steeply inclining down into the water, there is the City’s Old Graveyard: a haphazard conglomeration of gravestones, all striking out towards the sky at strange angles like the teeth of the Finneg Beast. The graveyard once stretched much further out but the land has progressively sunk down, leaving only sixteen rows of gravestones still visible above the brackish waters. Right on the water’s edge there are sixty five braziers. The fires are lit all through the winter months, in an attempt to ward off malevolent dead Buentoillitants, but on this night there will be a special all-night vigil – a legacy of the Stray Days of the early fourteenth century.
Whilst the vigil tonight is primarily a matter of tradition than necessity, there have been a number of high-profile bog-wardings over the years. The most recent of these, in 1994, saw the saving of the Cataclysmic Brethren, who had apparently seen ‘signs in the stars’ that led them to believe that if they immersed themselves in the bog they would grow gills, enabling them to survive the ‘hellfire’ supposedly due to arrive in the following weeks. The practice of bog-warding at this time of year was initially in response to the collective mania that the bogside-Buentoillitants were prone to.
When the bog initially began to encroach the graveyard in the early fourteenth century, a strange gas gathered over the water, potent in smell but invisible to the naked eye. It is still a little-understood phenomenon, but it seems as if the gas only formed when the weather was sufficiently cold. The gas would move into the City, producing disturbing psychological reactions in the inhabitants. Contemporary reports claim that the unfortunate souls afflicted by the gas (often referred to as ‘strays’) saw ghostly flames that coalesced into images of long-dead loved ones. These images would lead them out of their homes and down into the sucking marsh. Few survived the experience.
The phenomenon is still little-understood by modern science, but there is also little inclination to attempt to test theories surrounding it. The braziers that burn on the edge of the City efficiently burn up any excess gas, preventing most outbreaks of the ‘stray mania.’ Back when the outbreaks were more prevalent there would be a nightly vigil of masked wardens, but eventually the practice dwindled to a single night – tonight. The watch is held by many of the older bogside-dwellers and their young family members, and brings great distinction and luck to their households.
The warders make new masks for each year’s festivities, a committee deciding upon the design; ugly red grimaces are generally favoured, as they are thought to help scare away evil spirits. Underneath, a layer of crushed mint leaves is held to the face as it counteracts the effects of the gas. Each warden also carries a burning torch and a pair of broken iron manacles, a symbol of the Chastise Church.
Other festivals happening today:
Dance the Waves
The Union of Locksmiths and Secure Professionals’ Seminar
FESTIVAL OF THE NEW COLOUR