Chapter 4 - The River Festival

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I know I said I wouldn't write about the River Festival unless I deemed it necessary to our inquiry.  Well...I've deemed it necessary.

On the summer solstice, everyone in the Anumite Empire would stop what they were doing and go out onto the streets for a day of feasting and dancing.  Traditional dishes included alligator soup, loaves of bread with orange jam, and date mead...tons and tons of date mead.  Enough to get the entire empire quite inebriated.  Or at least, I have to assume that was the case, because I can't imagine how else they could have tolerated what was to come.

The only people to not participate in the feast were the priests of Tukamen, who were responsible for carrying his statue through Alqaruk to the great river temple of Ankti.  And when I say great, I'm not just throwing that word around.  I've never seen it, but if the models my architecture professor showed us are accurate, it was truly a marvel of human ingenuity.  Not only was it built on piers in the center of the Anumit River, which would have been impressive enough, but it also stood over 500 feet tall.  Five hundred feet!  That's as tall as the clock tower on Ministry Hall.  The only difference is that the River Temple was built thousands of years earlier and was covered in beautiful gardens.  Oh, and it also contained a series of water wheels that provided running water to the entire city.  Why modern castles haven't copied this design remains a mystery to me.

Anyway, back to the festival.

At nightfall on the summer solstice, the priests would finish the procession by carrying Tukamen to the very top of the temple, which apparently could be seen from every rooftop in the city.  Then they'd stand guard to make sure that Nairo didn't sneak in and switch spots with him.  I don't know how that would have worked since he was, you know, a stone statue, but whatever.  It was something they were concerned about.

So you know how I said the Anumites believed Seraat was the Sun and Mefari was the Moon?  Well, they also believed that Ankti was the Anumit River, and the flooding was the equivalent of Tukamen (her husband and also younger brother...weird) getting her pregnant.  I guess it kind of makes sense in a really primitive sort of way.  Women's bellies swell when they're pregnant...the river swelled when Ankti was pregnant.  And instead of Ankti birthing a baby at the end, the flood waters deposited fertile silt on their farm lands that led to bountiful harvests.

But the river didn't always flood.  Some years, it would just stay at the same level.  Which meant no fertile silt, which meant a bad harvest, which meant famine.  Rather than coming up with a rational explanation for it, the Anumites stuck with their pregnancy metaphor.  Their beloved Tukamen, god of prosperity, couldn't possibly fail to impregnate Ankti, so the Anumites found a scapegoat:  Nairo, god of tricks.  As the story goes, Nairo caused the first famine by stealing Tukamen's skin and sneaking into bed with Ankti.  And since he's infertile, his union with Ankti was fruitless.

To prevent such a travesty from ever happening again, the Anumites devised the River Festival.

At dawn the day after the summer solstice, everyone in the kingdom over the age of sixteen dressed up as the gods.  Men dressed as Tukamen, and women dressed as Ankti.  Different styles came and went for the clothes, but a few things stayed constant.  Each man always wore a single gold bracelet, and members of both sexes always wore masks of the deity they were representing.  Most importantly, the costumes were always crafted using only the finest cloth and jewels.  Anything less would have been an insult to the gods.

The festival was celebrated throughout the city (and the entire kingdom), but the focal point was Alqari's Canal - a sunken street that cut through the heart of Alqaruk, connecting the emperor's palace to Ankti's Temple.  It was constructed at the perfect elevation such that it would flood at the same time as the fields.

One by one, women over the age of sixteen would ride down Alqari's Canal on a chariot pulled by a giant scorpion.  Any man who found her attractive could climb down into the canal and attempt to join her on the chariot.  Giant scorpions are notoriously ornery, so getting past them was no easy task.  One book I found gave the success rate at a little over 10%.  Another was slightly more generous at 15%.  Either way, it was a pretty low number.  Priestesses of Ankti trailing the chariot would see to the wounds of any fallen men.  They'd also take the man's gold bracelet.

Once the chariot arrived at the temple, the woman and any successful suitors would dismount the chariot and climb the 1000 steps.  In addition to being in view of the entire city, the top of Ankti's temple also featured two horns capable of magnifying one's voice enough to be heard a mile away at the emperor's palace.

No, it wasn't magic.  It was, however, an impressive bit of acoustic engineering.

At the top of the temple, the man (or men) and woman would exchange vows.  I couldn't find the exact wording, but the gist of it was that the man would present his golden bracelet to the woman to prove that he was Tukamen.  Since Tukamen was supposedly a mountain, the Anumites believed that gold flowed through his veins.   Once the woman confirmed that it was gold...

Hold on.  Was that bit about Tukamen having gold in his veins clever wordplay by the Anumites or is that myth the reason that we refer to deposits of gold as veins?  I'll have to look into that.

As I was saying, the woman would bite into the bracelet to confirm that it was gold, and then she would...

Okay, no.  I'm sorry, but I can't focus.  I have to know the etymology of gold veins.  Ah, the plight of my inquisitive mind.

-T.H. Sterling

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