November 26th – Krisi Quelstither’s Day

Those of a less charitable disposition might say that they organised today’s festival out of guilt, rather than true admiration or love, ‘they’ being the friends of Krisi Quelstither. It’s not that they didn’t get on, but that, at least face-to-face, Quelstither was a quiet woman, easy to forget. She wasn’t brash or funny or loud and those are usually the things you need to get noticed at the pub, the only place she was ever seen outside of her work as an acoustic engineer at the Underbridge Piano Maker’s Cooperative.

On every Tuesday night you’d find Quelstither at the Taxman’s Due, her local pub, to which she was never invited out, nor did anyone talk to her a lot, but she was always there, politely laughing along, and she always made good conversation, if you wanted it. Otherwise she was happy to drink and listen. She was very good at listening. Before she died, if you asked after her with anyone from the group of friends she sat with, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you much about her. She was just always there, a welcome but unasked for presence. They’d disagree with each other about how she’d got to know them; everyone thought that she was someone else’s friend from school or work.

You’d think, with the regularity that they saw her, they’d have noticed when she was gone. Unfortunately this was not the case; they were only casual acquaintances after all. It was only when the undertaker sat down with them three weeks after she’d died that any of them put more than a few moments of thought into her absence. The undertaker told them what had happened, the illness and its end, and they sat speechless whilst she gave them the little gifts and trinkets that Quelstither left them, perfect little gifts, things they would have never thought of but loved, like she’d known them better than they knew themselves.

Dinlaw Groveman remembered a conversation he’d had with Quelstither a few weeks back, then, when the undertaker was talking to the group. She was reading out a statement from the deceased woman, (who had left a very specific set of instructions), and there was something about its wording that made her remember it. Perhaps it was the cadence of the speech, or some key word that he’d never heard elsewhere. ‘You’re welcome to come and visit for a coffee or tea, whenever you like,’ she’d said, and whilst Groveman had been entirely sincere when he’d agreed to do so, in the morning he completely forgot.

It was only when the undertaker said ‘half empty teacup’ that Groveman remembered the conversation, which resurfaced to the top of his mind, and then later, when he got to her front door, he somehow knew exactly where to look for the doorkey, which, it turned out, was buried in the plant pot by the door. ‘I looked back at the speech later, and there was the word ‘key’ and ‘plant’ over and over, so I guess that’s how I knew,’ said Groveman to the Buentoillitant Spektator in 1972. When he got in the door, there was a letter there, addressed to him, on the kitchen table. ‘Thanks for coming,’ it began, ‘I have some letters I need you to deliver.’ There were boxes of the things, in big bundles, all addressed to Quelstither, but tied together with string which carried the name and address of the original senders. ‘Deliver them in person,’ said the letter addressed to Groveman.

There were thirty seven recipients of the letter bundles in all, each with years of correspondence. He did as he was told, as she knew he would; Groveman had always been the most inquisitive of her friends; and each time he delivered one, he had to tell them what had happened. These were people who had spent years writing letters to Quelstither, but had never met her in person. They may have wanted to, even, but they sent their post to a box in Ranaclois Station that she collected from. These were people who loved her deeply, a best friend who had been there when others hadn’t, and with each of these conversations the shock with which Groveman reacted to her death turned to true grief.

Each of these strangers had received their first letter when they’d most needed it, slipped into their handbag or pocket on the train, or handed to them by a stranger who’d been asked nicely to courier it to them whilst she left. She’d watched them biting their nails, scratching their heads out of stress, or looking lonesome and melancholy. Edith Borgamm was one of the first. She’d been left by her husband and was riding the same train around all day, looking out at the view without seeing, and when she finally got up the letter was there, on the seat next to her. ‘To the lady who has been looking out the window all day,’ it was addressed. ‘She had kind words and good advice to give. I think more than anything I needed someone to tell me I was worth something,’ said Borgamm.

It was their idea, Groveman and Borgamm, to hold the festival today, the day she died, It’s very simple, they just do what she did, though perhaps with a little less success. Many of the pub and epistolary friends of Quelstither join in, and for the rest of the year they’re in regular contact, with each other and the new friends they made riding the trains, or people-watching in the parks and coffee houses, ready to pen a letter at a moment’s notice.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Careful Diction
  • Denner Blau’s Day
  • The Cable of God Festival

November 25th – The Festival of Dream Fulfilment

When Edmund Teleglass woke up one morning in 1956, he reached for the pen and paper on his bedside table, but as always was a moment or so too late. He tried keeping the thought fixed in his head, but he got little more than an incoherent sentence written in the fug of his liminal dream state. He always remembered how important the thought was, but never anything about its actual content, which was funny because it always came just before he woke up, a revelation to signal the end of the dream; one of the audience came over whispered it, once they’d finished the last song.

Apart from this incredibly frustrating aspect, the dream was pretty good; he got to be a rock star, after all. Teleglass and his friends were playing a concert, with Janie on guitar and Kite on the bass and himself playing the drums, so that the person getting on stage had to wind their way past the other two first, who completely ignored this stranger’s existence. Everyone just kind of stands still as the stranger approaches, and then whispers something in Teleglass’ ear. They are all standing in the deep end of an empty swimming pool. The diving board looms overhead.

He started getting the dreams after a visit to the pool in real life, then a derelict building (called Rennever Road Bathhouse) in Ranaclois that was due for a demolition that never seemed to materialise. Some locals were always trying to save it for its architecture, whereas others were trying to knock it down so that they could build something more useful there. They’d all broken in together, the friends who made up the dream band, and had stood in the same spot, right down the bottom of the empty pool. Kite said ‘This would be a good place for a gig,’ and presumably something in those few words seeped into Teleglass’ unconscious, as it was on that very night that the dreams started. He has them still.

He’s old now, eighty four to be exact, but him and the others still play the gig as they have every year, same as ever. Kite still looks implacably into the distance, Janie still executes her signature high kicks. Since an interview with Buentoillitant Psychic in 1988 in which Teleglass revealed the reason for the annual gig, some folk will occasionally walk down into the stage area and whisper something strange into his ear, but so far it’s been nothing revelatory in nature. Nowadays Teleglass has a pretty much encyclopaedic knowledge of the dream, and the gig is set up to mimic it as much as possible. It was on that morning in 1956 that it occurred to him that the reason he could never remember what the stranger said was that he never actually heard it. It is a third person sort of dream, and when the person whispers the ‘camera’ pans out, and Teleglass only hears whisper sounds. As dream logic dictates, he knows that the stranger says something revelatory, even if he cannot hear it. It was upon this revelation that he realised that the only way he was ever going to find out was if he staged the whole thing in real life, and hoped that the mysterious stranger would arrive.

It was persuading his friends to learn to play the instruments from the dream that was the tricky bit. They’d never, any of them, even picked up a kazoo, but in the dream the performance was excellent, and the room packed out; they had a lot of work to do. Thankfully, persuading teenagers to join a band is fairly easy, but the learning is still difficult. It was seven years later that they finally had the first gig, and a few people turned up to the derelict swimming pool, at the time and date that was on the frozen clock (8:12pm today). Nowadays that the swimming pool has been permanently saved from demolition, and is now in use, they have to drain it to let the old-timers work, to sit at the bottom of a pool, playing songs and waiting for strangers. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Singh Sermini Day
  • The Festival of Ending Tales

November 24th – The Puce Goose Chase

Have you seen my puce goose?
My puce goose is loose!
I just went out to buy juice,
now my puce goose is loose!
Have you seen my puce goose?
         - from Where’s My Goose?

In 1998, Jinnie Borassa got into something of a boasting match with her friend Charles Emptyglass. Both were authors, fairly unsuccessful ones at that (although this was not something either party cared to admit), but they were fairly good libertines, and were wont to get into extended drinking sessions together. It was whilst drinking an old bottle of Dancer’s Poison, a particularly potent brew that Emptyglass had found in his mother’s basement, a drink that Borassa now curses on a regular basis, that the boasting match began. It ranged over most aspects of human endeavour, before settling on writing, as their boasting often did. This time the crux of the matter was who would write the best children’s story, if they wanted to do a thing that they considered so beneath them. Pens were flourished, and by the end of the night, Borassa had written Where’s My Goose?

As Emptyglass had also written a children’s book (a book which resembled more of an extended prose poem), the only way to find out whose was better was to submit them both to a publishing house, and see if either made any progress. Twinkle Star Books had open submissions at the time, and so it became the target of these hastily-penned pieces. Emptyglass never got a response about his work, so presumably they threw it out pretty much straight away. Borassa got a bit more than a response; Where’s My Goose? was an overnight success, becoming one of the best selling children’s books in less than a month.

Whilst today’s festival is a testament to the success of Borassa’s writing talents, she has never attended it, even to say a few words or talk to the organisers. It’s not that she is shy, not at all: she’s never been because, very soon after Where’s My Goose? was published, she denounced it, publicly declaring that she wished she’d never written ‘the damn thing.’ It was Borassa’s first taste of being a published, successful author, with everything that entailed, and it galled her that it was for a book she wrote in a couple of hours, when she’d spent years working on an enormous epic poem, and written three novels that had garnered no interest whatsoever.

It is the publishers, Twinkle Star, who are in charge of organising the main part of today’s festival (it is the anniversary of the book’s release), where, across the City, thousands of small children and their parents will attempt to catch a white goose which has been dyed puce. Generally it is let loose in one of the parks in the early hours of the morning, but exactly where it ends up is anybody’s guess. Anyone who actually catches the goose will get a prize (three golden eggs, like the ones the eponymous puce goose lays at the end of the story), but for those who don’t want their children getting too close to a potentially angry avian, there will be several spots around the City where some poor soul will dress up in a puce goose outfit and be chased around by toddlers.

Whilst Borassa does not attend this festival based on her work, she does host her own, separate festival in Merelake Hall, where she showcases her current projects, and tries to sell copies of her various novels. Due to the name she made herself through her goose book, a small number of people do turn up, although some of these are ejected from the premises when they produce their copy of Where’s My Goose? and ask her to sign it.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Jinnie Borassa Fair
  • Castlemark and the Swinnow Day
  • Whelk and Cockle Day

November 23rd – The Festival of Remembering the World that Never Was

From the moment the Circle of Light arrived at the docks, Gustaf Asgermist knew that he had to speak to them. He saw them at first, from his balcony that overlooked the dock, unloading themselves wearily down the gangplank, carefully bringing their fire to Buentoille. He knew then, seeing them standing around without a place in the world to be, being greeted by the ambassadors, he knew then that they were important in some way, to him, to his life. ‘He looked up at me,’ Asgermist recalled, later, ‘M’ukthan, that is. He looked up at me and our eyes met for a minute and he looked very sad, and I would have gone to him then, but they were being led away.’

It was two days later when Asgermist decided to make a visit to these new refugees. He had been out on the water in his little boat, checking his crab pots, and he found, in amongst the nets and ropes in the hull, his ring. It was an engagement ring, three strands of gold wire intertwined together in a braided band, and had been with him ever since he was a baby, found in a basket outside an upmarket fishmongers in Twille street. Everyone had always assumed it was his mother’s, and sure enough, when he picked it up on this day in 1589, Asgermist remembered that it was his mother’s, but that she had given it to him only a week or two ago. His father had recently died and she didn’t want to keep remembering him. Asgermist was angry at her for this, but he didn’t take it out on her; instead he stole a boat and rowed out into the bay and sat quietly on the still waters. Quite how Asgermist remembered this was a mystery, because he’d never known his mother, he knew this: she’d abandoned him as a baby. It was undoubtedly confusing, trying to hold these two stories, which at once seemed true, in his head at once, but somehow he knew M’ukthan could help.

He’d felt out of sorts since that day, a week or so ago, when he remembered stealing the boat. There had been a swell in the water that disturbed his meditation and then, all of a sudden, he came back to himself, and realised he didn’t know his mother, he never had. Yet there was her face, it’s memory fading in the back of his mind. They had spoken so recently! He began to row back to shore, and by the time he had, he had convinced himself it was all a moment of madness, like some strange version of deja vu. But back in the boat, finding the ring, after he’d seen the refugees arrive, he knew that something greater was at work. He rowed back to shore, gripping the ring, and there, standing on the dockside waiting for him, was Tevvik M’ukthan, the leader of the Circle of Light, the great prophet who had led them across the inner ocean to their new home, Buentoille.

This, at least, is how Gustaf Asgermist said it happened ten years later in his book The Aftershock, but it is a narrative that has many critics, to say the least. According to Asgermist, it was there, by the waterside, that he had his revelatory conversation with M’ukthan, where he learned of the Great Hollowing, that event across the water in Waegstalla where in one moment almost the entire population disappeared, as if they had never existed. Only a few thousand survived, doomed to remake their lives in a vast, empty city, a city which once was the largest in all the Seven Cities, sprawling over the countryside that surrounded it in a manner not even modern Buentoille or Litancha have surpassed. Asgermist’s mother, he was told, was the victim of an aftershock of this terrible event, a quake which spread to Buentoille, only powerful enough at this distance to take less than a hundred lives from history. Somehow, being on the water whilst the Hollowing happened saved the Circle of Light from being extinguished, and from losing their memories of the Waegstalla from before. ‘This,’ said M’ukthan, a hand on the other man’s shoulder, ‘is what happened to you, too. Only we remember the World that Never Was.’

Outside of this central story, The Aftershock reads like fairly standard religious propaganda; Asgermist converted from the Chastise Church to the Circle shortly after the arrival of the refugees, and was looking to prove their cause to the average Buentoillitant. The book was published as part of the Festival of the Bond Across the Sea, a small celebration designed to strengthen the ties between the Circle and their new converts, of which Asgermist was the first. Over time, this has developed into today’s festival, which essentially functions as an initiation ceremony. In the central chamber of the Grand Temple, where the main body of the Holy Flame is kept, the new recruits will today hold hands and stare deep into the flame, all whilst floating on little raft-chairs in the trench of water that surrounds the pyre. They are locked in this room until they see something of the World that Never Was within the fire.

Asgermist was, of course, not the only person that the famously charismatic M’ukthan convinced to join the Circle, after revealing to them that they remembered the World that Never Was, that there was a reason for the feelings of wrongness they’d been feeling about the world, a reason that they felt there was someone missing from their lives, a reason they felt so alone. It is discrepancies in the stories that M’ukthan told these new recruits that sceptics often point to as evidence that he was simply preying on vulnerable, lonely Buentoillitants: whilst he told Asgermist that the reason he remembered his mother was that he was on the water at the time that the Aftershock passed over the City, he told many others who were not that it was because they were in the bath, or on a cart, or that they had a natural resistance. Asgermist’s story certainly seems convincing as it is written, but these sceptics point out that he wrote it long after the fact, and that it is a clearly evangelical text. Others have gone so far as to medicalise Asgermist, saying that he had a form of mental illness that caused the delusion that he had a living mother, but this is little more than a theory.

Indeed, the very concept of the Great Hollowing has been questioned by historians and scientists many times. Whilst it is tempting to believe the Circle’s narrative that it was some kind of magical event, possibly caused (as many suggest) by the Strigaxians, it is far more likely to have been some kind of pogrom, civil war, plague or even a disastrous accident of chemical weaponry, which the Circle managed to flee in time. According to this theory, the survivors, so scarred by their experiences, may have sought to deny that it ever happened, perhaps out of shame for their actions. The records of the Office of External Correspondences, which never held an embassy in Waegstalla due to ‘political tensions’, show that after 1588 there was no contact with that city for around fifteen years. When at last a contingent was sent out, they found the city empty, a tiny population living amongst the Hollowed homes, denying any memory of the people who once lived all around them. Perhaps it is the memory of those who existed and died, rather than those who Never Were, that the new recruits will unwittingly search the depths of Holy Flame for today.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Trail’s End
  • The Festival of the Ordinary Oboe
  • The Day of the Ocean Dweller

November 22nd – The Nose Museum Open Day

If you read any of the papers from the year of 1745, you’ll be sure to come across at least a mention of the Notorious Nose Nickers, or the Nasal Scoundrels, or the Nose Vandal Gang, or whatever other ridiculous term the headline writers came up with for the perpetrators of a spree of thefts that occurred in the early summer. In all, well over seven hundred thefts were reported, thefts of, as the headlines suggested, noses. Specifically, the noses of various different statues across the City. Whilst its likely (for reasons that we shall shortly come to) that around two hundred of these ‘thefts’ were carried out by copycats, or were damage, accidental or deliberate, caused by the statue owners and misattributed to the ‘Nose Nickers’ as a way of claiming insurance, the vast majority of the thefts were committed by a single group, a group who were never caught.

How do we know that the crimes were committed by a single group if they were never caught? Well, on this day in 1977, builders renovating homes on Gremmish street knocked through a wall and found precisely five hundred and thirteen of the missing noses, all nicely mounted on wooden plaques, inside what appeared to be a hidden art gallery. On closer inspection of the space, which stretched down through the roof of almost all the houses on Gremmish street, the workers found several secret entrances, each of which connected to the servant’s rooms of each house it cut through.

The houses on the street were all designed and commissioned by one woman, Sarrai Witehome, and they are a classic example of her style: huge, elegant town houses in beautiful yellow limestone, complete with extravagant columns, floor mosaics, and chandeliers. These were the houses of the rich, and they stayed that way until the Revolution; many have since been renovated into normal family homes, with less cold, haughty proportions. As was being attempted with the houses on Gremmish street, this renovation necessarily involves the removal of the servants’ quarters, and their accompanying separate staircase, as these elements of Witehome’s houses are miserly at best. The architect was a notoriously cruel woman towards the working classes, and insured that in the houses she built the servants would not get ‘ideas above their station’ by having access to the luxuries of the homeowners; domestic servants were given tiny box rooms, and had to get around the house via their back staircase that was dangerously steep and dark. In most cases their rooms didn’t even get a window.

The strange cavity that cut through the Gremmish street roofs was a common feature in many of Witehome’s houses. It is on the original designs, and is intended to serve no function at all, save for reducing the size of the servant rooms by several feet. Each house has three tiny rooms, and a tiny kitchen (they were expected to use the outdoor privy in the back yard), each of which backs up against the long cavity-turned-nose-exhibition that the Builders found forty years ago today. Whilst the entirety of the servants’ areas would normally be removed to make the best use of the space, the Gremmish street houses fared slightly differently; in the interests of historical preservation, one of the staircases was retained, along with the cavity itself, and all the bedrooms with secret doors. The rest was demolished, allowing a little extra space for all the family flats that were constructed in the building’s shell.

As the houses are all inhabited, this back staircase, which no longer connects to the rest of the main house on each floor, as it once would have, is normally locked to the public. Yet on this day the ‘Nose Museum’ as it is locally known, is opened up and visitors are given guided tours. What with the cramped nature of the space, it is always surprising how many Buentoillitants turn up each year, and many are unfortunately turned away as there simply isn’t time for everyone. Some come to learn about the life of poverty that many Buentoillitants were once forced by economic violence into (this is one of the last surviving examples of servant housing from that era), whereas others turn up to hear the stories of the nose thieves, to see if being in contact with the stolen noses gives them any better understanding of why they were stolen in the first place.

It probably wasn’t until the seventh nose went missing that the pattern of thefts came to the attention of the authorities, and began to be treated as such by the papers. Despite many attempts, the names of the inhabitants of Gremmish street at the time are yet to be unearthed, so we may never actually know the identities of the collectors, or quite why they did it. The most popular theory is that the removal of the noses was intended as a snub to their owners, or to their subjects. At first, many of the targetted statues depicted rich folk, monarchs and Parliamentarians and aristocrats who the servants presumably thought were undeserving of the accolade. Then again, perhaps they were just letting off steam; the thefts are thought to have all occurred on a Wednesday (although this may not have been immediately apparent at the time, as sometimes the damage was not noticed until later in the week), the Chastise Church holy day, when domestic servants were given half a day off, ostensibly to attend Church services.

Most of the original statues have been matched back to each nose, although none have been returned, as the collection is considered a more worthy piece of art than any individual statue. It’s unlikely that any would fit back comfortably, either; the noses were all chiselled off with one swift crack, but then sanded down so that they fitted nicely on their trophy boards. Given the amount of effort and planning the servants must have encountered in the building of their joint collection (many of the later statues were vandalised inside private residences), they were probably quite proud of it, yet for some reason they reached a point where they stopped, and never spoke of it to any others. They were never caught in the act, but maybe they stole other things, enough to get out of the life of poverty and away from their punitively small rooms. Maybe they lived happily ever after.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Mournful Warble Festival
  • The Festival of the Smell of Drying Washing
  • The Festival of Tromping About Angrily

November 21st – The Festival of Sorrowful, Jubilant Landing

Members of The Circle of Light are fairly easy to spot in Buentoille, what with their golden robes and bright red face paint. They have been an active addition to Buentoilliçan culture for many hundreds of years, since the events that hollowed out Waegstalla, but they have never fully integrated into the general mass of Buentoillitants. Not that this is an outcome that anyone, save perhaps a few monarchist extremists, would find desirable, especially since these refugees brought with them the exceptionally delicious traditional Waegstallasian cuisine.

Whilst of course there are some descendants of those original Waegstallasians who found new religions and cultures, for most the Circle of Light is and has always been the only true religion, and it has therefore become synonymous with Waegstalla for most Buentoillitants, despite the fact that there are no members of the Circle currently residing in that city. Although it would presumably be entirely safe to return to their ancestral homeland, now that the Hollowing has passed, it was declared by their great migrationary leader Tevvik M’ukthan that they could never go back, and so they have not.

It is the great migration that M’ukthan led that is celebrated today by the Circle, as it was today that, after many trials and tribulations, and seventeen days at sea, they finally reached safe harbour in Buentoille. Almost every single member of the Circle (also known as ‘Kindlers’) left the City with M’ukthan, piling into three great ships, or so say the Circle’s legends. Their leader had apparently foreseen the coming of the Hollowing when praying, as Kindlers do, by looking deep into the Holy Flame. The prophet began the construction of the three boats, knowing that they would be safe at sea from the Hollowing’s effects. The originals must have been far larger than the ceremonial copies made today, given that they fitted hundreds of thousands of Kindlers onboard.

The boats round the cliffs and into the bay at 6pm tonight, long after the sun has set, but they are still easily visible because of the segment of Holy Flame they retain atop their masts. In the original ships, this flame, then the only instance of the Holy Flame (which is allegedly the very first flame given to humans, kept going since it was sparked in a lightning strike when the world was new), would have been kept within a special brazier in the ship where it was safe from the elements. When they see the boats round the corner, a jubilant cheer goes up from the assembled Kindlers, who line the docks in the cold November air with not a single flame to warm them.

The cheer goes on for a good few minutes, until a gong rings out across the bay, and all become silent. It is then that the first ship sinks, taking its symbolic inhabitants and real Holy Flame with it. The silence is partly in respect for all those who died on that original ship which, according to the legends, was sunk after hitting a rocky outcrop in stormy seas, but also for the loss of the Holy Flame segment, the extinguishing of which is taken very seriously. After a few minutes, the second gong rings out, and the flame atop one of the ships suddenly cascades down, setting the rest of the boat alight. It struggles onwards for some distance, an inferno on the water getting close to the City before it too slips into oblivion. It is only when the third boat, which remains unscathed, gets close to the docks that the cheering restarts.

When the boat is moored safely, a Kindler climbs up the mast and lights a torch from the Holy Fire there. This torch is then used to light those of all the assembled Kindlers, who had, until now, been standing in the cold. They pass the fire along, each person lighting their neighbours torch, so that it looks like some great flame-snake stretching out across the harbour side. When everyone has lit their torch, they all sing the sacred chants and head to the Grand Temple a few miles south, in a winding procession. When they get there, they encircle the central brazier of the Sacred Fire, which has never been put out since the Circle has lived in Buentoille, and cast their torches into it.

And then they eat and sing and dance and do all the things people do when they are happy that they survived, even when others didn’t. The food on offer is traditional Waegstallasian fare: great piles of spiced rice with dried fruits and nuts mixed in; slow-cooked, highly flavoured meat stews; neatly piled boiled eggs which have had their yolks exchanged for pickled fruit, a delicacy known as Kannanak, normally served with a sauce made from the yolks called Umer. None of this bears any resemblance to modern Waegstallasian food, and the folk who live in that sprawling, mostly empty city now claim that their food isn’t even derived from this more ancient culinary tradition.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Adroit Fiddlers
  • The Remembrance for Argell Festival
  • Tiblau Weedmaker’s Festival of Tempestuous Passion

November 20th – The Festival of Cheating the Wolfgod

Winter isn’t far away now, and the first frosts have begun to appear, making the green parks of Buentoille turn white like an old man’s beard. It is traditional to taste the first morning frost of the year, and many folk claim that they can tell by the taste what sort of a winter it will be. Divining in this manner has always seemed important as winter is a time of peril, peril which comes in more guises than mere cold; in the lands that surround Buentoille, winter brings more corporeal dangers.

The festival happening at the edge of the City today, by the pathway that leads north out toward the Ancestor Mountains, plunging first into a remnant of the Calewynch forest, is less a method of divining what sort of winter it will be, and more an attempt at preventing it becoming too dangerous. Just into the treeline, where the pathway crosses another that travels east, there is the stump of an old elm tree, which would have stood tall and stout whilst it was alive. To the north the pathway twists away into the forest, quickly rounding a bend out of sight, and to the south, across a field and small brook, is the City’s edge, specifically the Tredegor Municipal Housing Estate. It is in this liminal place that today that you can watch a young Buentoillitant be ritually sacrificed by The Cult of the Winter Wolf.

Wolves are, of course, the corporeal danger that haunt the lands around the City in the depths of winter. Eastern white wolves are the most populous of the different breeds; normally living in the moorland and mountainous regions to the north, harsh winters tend to bring their hunting range further south. Whilst once they posed a significant danger to travellers, since the invention of the lupine warding whistle (a whistle that creates a high pitched sound humans can’t hear but which dogs and wolves find intolerable) they generally leave humans alone, though cattle and sheep herders still go to work armed. They certainly stay away from the City itself, except occasionally on Buentoilliçan Lunar New Year, when, if it has been a particularly harsh winter, they have been known to make tentative forays amongst outlying sections of Buentoille.

Still, despite people generally avoiding their predations, wolves have made a lasting mark on the Buentoilliçan psyche, one consequence of which is the festival today. Preparations can take most of the day, not so much in terms of the liminal space where it takes place; this is sparsely decorated, with blood-red fabric tied between the trees, lining each side of the path that leads north; more so of the sacrificial victim. First, they bathe for several hours so that their flesh is more relaxed and supple, a suitable morsel for the Wolfgod, the celestial being who governs the movements of the eastern white wolf, according to the Cult. Hairs are plucked, cut and general beautification takes place, though no make up is applied as this could sully their taste. All of this happens before midnight tonight, when the torchlit ceremony takes place.

There are three main roles in the ceremony: the Sacrifice, the Wolf and the Butcher. The Wolf is generally a high-ranking member of the Cult who dons a wolfskin robe, addresses the assembled crowds, and wields the special knife used in the act itself. The Butcher has a different blade, and a large black sheet that they cast over the body whilst they do their bloody work. Of course, most of the butchering has already been done before the festival, earlier in the day. It would be entirely illegal to actually kill a person, chop them up and feed them to wolves, not to mention immoral. The festival is controversial enough in the City without any actual human death occurring; it does look very real, at least at first.

The primary sleight of hand is in the knife, which is blunt, retractable, and has a good deal of fake blood contained within. Once the Sacrifice has been ‘stabbed’ in the neck on the tree stump, the Butcher moves in, with a good deal of meat (usually pig meat) chopped up small, and the aforementioned black sheet. Underneath, the meat is exchanged for the (alive) human, and the Sacrifice is led away beneath. Whilst the Sacrifice has no loss of life, limb, or blood inflicted upon them in the proceedings, before they come out from underneath the sheet they do lose something very precious: their name. From today onwards for the rest of their life they will live under a new name; after all, the person they were has died, and they must continue to pretend this is the case, instead the Wolfgod knows he has been cheated and sends his wolves to claim reparations directly.

It’s unlikely that any wolves will actually come this close to the City to eat the meat left out for them; normally it’s foxes, cats and other small mammals who make the most of the free meal. Still, it is there if they wanted it, and more importantly the Wolfgod has been sated for another year. Hopefully no travellers will go missing, and the winter will be short lived.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Keeping it Movin’
  • The Shoelace Tying Speed Championships

November 19th – The Festival of the Mill Street Oracle

In 1928, Mill Street was due for demolition. In this part of Darksheve’s district there were plenty of slum streets like Mill Street, where the constructions were hastily thrown up and unsanitary. Folk had mostly moved out to other parts of the City before 1928, and the houses were falling derelict all around. Except that, amongst the mouldering debris around them, the house at 78 Mill Street was a little different; they may not have had access to the best materials or architects, but the inhabitants had put a lot of work and love into making their home a pleasant place to live. They weren’t particularly happy with the idea that all that hard work was going to be crushed to brick dust in a few months.

Buentoille prides itself on its local democratic structures, but sometimes in a democracy individual concerns can get overridden by what’s best for the majority. Mill Street was to be turned into wonderful new apartment blocks, spacious and hygienic, with its own primary school and a health centre not too far away. The houses were prioritised for anyone who still resided in the crumbling road, and everyone was pretty happy with the idea, except for the Passener family, the family who lived at no. 78. Their house, which they had spent so long improving and personalising, was to be replaced by the primary school.

Despite their petitions, the rest of the local community clearly didn’t think that the Passener’s house was worth the loss of a primary school. Something else had to be done. The only thing guaranteed to stop a demolition in Buentoille is evidence of historical significance, or of an established festival or tradition that takes place there. The only issue for the Passeners was that there was no such significance or festival, and everyone locally knew it. It seemed that there was no hope; the demolition had already begun on the rest of the street and the family were given two weeks to get out before they were forcibly removed. It was then, in an outing to the Hidden Library, that Feram Passener found hope, buried deep in a dusty old book.

The book Feram had found was actually a diary, specifically the diary of the artist Hermennia Jauche, perhaps the most famous painter of the eighteenth century, whose portraits and domestic scenes of Buentoillitants from all social classes are considered some of the greatest artworks to ever grace a canvas. In this diary, it was revealed that Jauche had painted her masterpiece ‘Oracle at Work’ on-site, whilst the eponymous oracle performed her prophetic magic, ‘in a house near the end of Mill Street, in Darksheve’s.’ The identity of the ‘Oracle’ had long been a point of mystery and frustration amongst Jauche scholars, who had somehow never found the diary. Feram claims that it was placed in front of him on his desk (at which he had been reading about compulsory purchase law) by a passing Pohlatiné, who said nothing and then walked away.

The Passeners couldn’t believe their luck. Very quickly they set about creating a festival around this fact, glossing over the fact that this could have been any house on their street. At this point that small detail seemed less important, given that the rest of the street had been demolished; who could say that it wasn’t this house? When designing the festival, they took cues from both the painting and the diary, getting auntie Maggy to dress up like the Oracle (with dark shawl and ring-encrusted fingers), and providing her with all the necessary prophetic props: the seaweed hanging in the hallway like a curtain, the bowls full of eggs, the black candles and mice bones. They invited everyone from the local community to come along and have their fortunes told, in celebration of the house’s ‘historical significance’. They chose the 19th of November because it was a few days before they were due to be forced out, but since it has been post-rationalised as the likely date that Jauche visited the original Oracle.

From the fact that this is still a festival today, you can tell that the ruse worked, although not quite for the reasons that the Passeners gave. Nobody really cared that this may have been the house that a famous painter once used as a studio, and whilst they enjoyed the fortune-telling they didn’t really accept that this was reason enough to save the house, but what they did see when they went inside the Passener household was how nice it was inside. Most of those who voted for the new construction where the house was had assumed it was just like all the others on the street, and that the Passeners were simply stuck in their ways. From the outside it didn’t look like much, but inside there had clearly been so much love put into the home; there were beautifully carved ceiling beams and walls painted with touching murals, there were handmade cabinets and a clay oven that flowed around the space, heating the entire house through ornate sprawling piping. Everywhere they looked there were personal, artistic touches.

Two days after the festival that the Passeners put on, an emergency council meeting was held, and amendments were made to the building plans. The Passener house now exists in a narrow gap between the school and a huge housing block next door, a lone reminder of the past, small in stature but not personality. Most years, the line to have your fortune told (but more importantly to get a look around the delightful Passener home) stretches right around the block.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Ancient Rites Made Modern: a Historian’s Conference Festival
  • The Maple Syrup Tasting Festival
  • The Festival of the Blighted Hare

November 18th – The Festival of the Dieiner Box

The Museum of Traditional Antiquities is without doubt the largest museum in Buentoille, so long as you don’t count the Unfathomed Archive, which to be fair doesn’t really meet the definition. There are over seventy exhibition rooms within the sprawling building, which was purpose-built in monarchic times but has since been expanded, each cataloguing in its own way the twists and turns of Buentoilliçan material culture throughout the City’s long history. The room which is usually of most interest to both Buentoillitants and visitors is the so-called ‘Mystery Room’, in which various undated, unidentified objects reside.

Most obviously within the Mystery Room is a miniature wooden tower that appeared on the Museum’s doorstep one morning in 1956, presumably made as an architectural model of a potential build, though no further information has ever been intuited or discovered. In addition to this item in the collection, there are various other objects of intrigue, including undeciphered manuscripts, a small collection of miniature wooden hands, and perhaps most intriguing of them all, the Dieiner Box.

The Box rests in a small glass cabinet for most of the year, and it doesn’t look like much. At a casual glance the Box is a simple wooden cube, sized at just under a foot in each dimension. It’s dark, shiny hardwood, with a few tarnishes here and there, but no other obvious markings or openings. Along the edges of the top plane, where it meets the other sides, there is a hairline gap, almost invisible to the naked eye. If you whistle next to this gap at the correct pitch (precisely 2000 Ux) then there is a small click, and the top side of the Box slowly slides out and up, revealing a smaller box inside, with what appears to be a simple keyhole. This is as far in as anyone has ever got.

One of the reasons that the Dieiner Box is included in the Mystery Room collection is that nobody knows what’s kept inside, but there’s also the fact that, as with many of the objects displayed there, nobody knows really where it came from. It came into the museum’s possession via Isyu Dieiner, a locksmith from Whight Hollow who was apparently sold it in a pub in 1916. Her written account of the distinctly dodgy deal is displayed next to the glass cabinet; apparently she was well into her cups when the ‘tall, handsome man’ entered her local pub and spoke to the barman ‘as if they were childhood friends,’ although the barman later stated that he’d never met the man before. After a few minutes, this stranger walked over to Dieiner’s table, set the Box down in front of her, looked straight into her eyes, and whistled. ‘The box opened and he named a price, just like that. I laughed, of course; it was far too much for a silly box. Then he said, “open it and it’s yours, for free.”’ Three frustrating hours later, Dieiner’s pocket lockpicks had done nothing. ‘I need to take it home to get a better look with my good picks,’ she told the man, but he simply pushed the cube closed and named the price once again. This time she paid, and moments later he was gone.

She had managed to get some information out of the stranger as to where he got the little hardwood cube; apparently he’d looted it from the home of an aristocrat during the Revolution. She kicked herself later that she’d been too engrossed to pry further. It wasn’t until 1952, when Dieiner died, that the Box came into the possession of the Museum; her family had seen her obsession with the Box throughout the rest of her life and they didn’t want anyone else to fall foul of it. They ensured that as part of the terms of ownership, the Museum could only take the Box out of its cabinet once a year. Unwittingly, they got the whole City hooked.

Today is the appointed day, when the Museum will take the Box out of its cabinet, perform the appointed whistle, and invite people from all across the City to bring a key. There are thousands of found keys in Buentoille, and the theory is that presumably one of them will fit, where lockpicks have failed. Not that they aren’t tried also; whilst the afternoon is taken up by key-toting Buentoillitants trying their luck, in the morning seven professional locksmiths are each given an hour with the Box. Not that the result is ever any different; in the words of Dieiner; ‘it’s like the thing changes itself each time you push down a pin or rotate a sub-cylinder. But it’s more than that, more than reactive; it’s like it knows what you’re going to do before you do it.’

Of course, there’s one surefire way to get into the box; by breaking it or cutting it open. However, since nobody knows what’s supposed to be inside, there is a general reluctance to try this method, seeing as it might break the contents as well; presumably they were of great value to have been protected so securely? Given the mind-boggling complexity of the lock, some have theorised that there’s conversely nothing inside at all, because it would need all the space inside to change its design so often. To these theorists, the lock is a prototype, a proof of concept that was perhaps being sold to the aristocrat from whose house it was taken. Others think that there was no aristocrat at all, and that, given the debilitating obsession the box created in Dieiner, the stranger who sold it to her was actually the Grenin Waurst himself, with one of his fiendish tricks.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Beneficent Smugglers
  • The Rude Festival

November 17th – The Festival of Life’s Threads Revealed

There is a place deep in Dunmonii Wood where the bracken grows thickly between the Dunmonii and birch and alder trunks, and out of this browning sea rises an island of boulders where stunted oaks make their home. If the weather reports are correct, the bracken will have mist flowing in and over it this morning, nothing like the fog of the month’s beginning, but disorienting nonetheless. If you clamber up into the boulders and their lush green covering of moss, you’ll notice that there’s something unnatural about the boulders; at some point someone placed them here in a circle, creating a little world inside, a bowl, separate from the surrounding forest.

On the oaks in this space, of which there are five, randomly spaced around, the same moss which covers the boulders is thickly plastered alongside exotic-looking lichens in red, mustard yellow, or the more traditional turquoise, their tiny tentacular fronds reaching out to the sky. The oak branches are heavily laden, not with leaves and acorns (which have, at this point, mostly strewn the floor beneath or been blown out of this little otherworldly bowl), but with curtains of hanging moss. In the morning mist that flows over the top of the bowl everything is saturated and dripping in succulent silence.

It’s this moisture, more than anything else, that the visitors to this seldom-seen place are seeking. They collect it in little glass jars, squeezing the curtains as if they were udders. It takes some time to get a jam jar full, which is how much each person takes. There is no shamanistic dress code, yet still many of the visitors will look very similar: they wear their hair long, and any amongst them old enough and able to grow beards do so with great pride. The fact is that most of the folk who gather there today will be teenagers, or that peculiar kind of twenty-something who is still convinced in their heart that they are a teenager, despite all evidence to the contrary. The details of this ritual have been passed down from teenager to teenager since 1939, when Giddia Supreme and Daley Harrist first visited the secluded spot.

It had seemed as good a place as any to camp out. They were supposed to be at school really, but Daley had just got herself kicked out of the school play and Giddia had never been one for classrooms when she could be outdoors instead and anyway they had just recently fallen in love after a long period of courtship so who needs school? It was in the morning that they realised they’d run out of water, so they squeezed it from the moss and boiled it in a pan because that’s what you’re supposed to do with water to make sure it’s clean. The only issue was that they left pot on the boil a bit too long; they’d gotten back into their sleeping bag because it was cold out and had become somewhat preoccupied in the way lovers do, and had forgotten about making their morning cup of tea until most of the water had boiled away.

When they finally remembered the water, they found not a dry pan, nor just a smaller quantity of water, but something quite different indeed. The substance coating the bottom of the pan was somewhere between jelly and water, a kind of viscous gel that appeared completely clear. Most people might have been alarmed and discarded their odd creation, but, being as they were teenagers they ate it, half each. Apparently it didn’t taste like much, but the texture made them wrinkle their noses anyway. It’s likely there will be similar reactions from some of the twenty-or-so teenagers gathered there today.

Quite what everyone sees when they eat the gel, known as ‘moss syrup’, is presumably individual, a sacrosanct moment between the human and the cosmos. What you are supposed to see, if you believe the stories at least, is the threads of life; like the moss hanging around you, they extend up past the foliage and into the sky, connecting your limbs to the eternal, and you know that somewhere up there, beyond the clouds and stars, a great hand is guiding your movements. The threads were always there, they say, but the gel simply allows you to see them. If your threads entangle with those of another person lying on their back in the moss, staring up through the bare branches into the sky, then you know that you must be in love, although if you follow them up high enough, we’re all tangled together in the end. Presumably you can come and drink moss syrup on any day of the year, but only on one day, today, will there be so many others there with you, showing you the way, and perhaps your threads will entangle with one of them.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Terrible Tuba Players
  • The Indecipherable Language Gameshow Festival
  • Cake Day