October 20th – The Festival of the Babe in the Woods

There is a story in western Buentoille, that has been told since time immemorial. It pops up here and there in textual form throughout the ages, and it would seem, from these sources, to have ebbed and grown in popularity with the progression of time, at some points being almost forgotten before it was once again revived. As an oral tale, it has certainly changed in some regards over time, but again, from the textual evidence we have, it changes only in incidental detail, such as the name or profession of the old man. Perhaps it is a reflection of modern preoccupations that the most recent iteration of the story seems excessively concerned with dates and times, placing emphasis on the fact that it was today when the babe was first found.

One thing that never changes in the tales is the location of the tale: Luck’s End forest, specifically a rabbit-mown clearing on the western edge. It begins with an old woman, one of those old women that everyone has known as an old woman for their whole life, who seems to have outlived innumerable generations. She’s ever-present, but as such blends into the background. Not that she is ignored; she comes to all the weddings and blesses the couples, on Pea Day or any of the other days when the community gets together, she tells excellent stories about your father when he was young, or about the toy shop that used to be where the bakers is today. Even in her stories she is ancient.

It’s important that she is not forgotten, because in the story she goes missing one night, after a short period of illness, the only one that anyone can remember her having. One of the local ladies comes to bring her some medicine, or a book or some fruit, and discovers that she is gone. The community spends a little while looking for her in the local area, but she cannot be found that night. In the morning, one of the children admits that they know where she is going, but that they promised not to tell until the next day. They all head off to the forest, for that rabbit-mown clearing.

Whilst the woman in the story seems not to have any relatives (perhaps she has outlived them all?), it is mostly grieving relatives who make the journey to Luck’s End forest today, to that same clearing with its rabbit holes and scattering of leaf litter amongst the short-cropped grass. Those who have recently lost an elderly mother or father head out, with a token that represents their relative in some way; a lock of hair, a photograph, their favourite book. They head out in the early morning, fresh dew wetting their boots, fox cries and the first rays of the sun carrying through the mist, which still has not been lifted by the time they reach the forest’s edge.

Or at least, those are the weather conditions in the story. It’s likely that they’ll be repeated come this morning, given the time of year, but not certain. It’s important for the story to emphasise these elemental signs of a new day just come, but real life is not always so neat. In the story, when the people get to the clearing there is, at the centre of a faerie ring (a ring of mushrooms, in this case wood blewits, which sprout in places like this) a newborn baby. The Babe in the Woods. The child is taken in by one of the searching families, but the old woman is never found, not that they keep looking after they find the babe. In some versions of the story, it carries the same birthmark as the old woman, though quite what it looks like is seldom specified.

It’s unlikely that any of the folk who’ve walked to the wood today expect to find a child, although there will almost certainly be wood blewits in uncanny rings scattered across the clearing. Around these rings, which they are careful not to enter into, they place the tokens they’ve brought with them. There is some magical logic to this action, some impotent call for the reincarnation of passed parents, yet for most this is not what it is about; this is simply another way to grieve, but also to acknowledge adulthood in its final form. For all their lives until recently, these Buentoillitants have had someone older, more experienced, than them to look up to, to ask advice of, to go back to when times are tough. Now, like the people in the story, they have to take up that role for their children, to be the final generation as new life is brought into the world.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Red Train
  • The Feast of the Quickening Dark
  • The Festival of Calling Time