Ah, the Winter Solstice… that time of year in which even the most godless monsters find themselves to be Cuthbertians, if only for the presents. I myself have very fond memories of Festibert, the two-day midwinter festival in which the followers of St. Cuthbert celebrate winter’s vengeance over the fairer seasons. At some point, the rigor of the rituals were replaced as it merged with other, non-demoninational solstice celebrations, and we are now left with a wonderful mix of Cuthbertian and pagan customs. Even though my parents worshipped the gods of the elven pantheon, and I myself have a closer relationship to Boccob since becoming a minstrel, I have celebrated Festibert ever since childhood. Some of the older elves speak of a long-lost time during which our people were enslaved by St. Cuthbert and forced to make torture-themed toys, but to me that’s nothing more than mean-spirited superstition.
I had been planning for Festibert for weeks, having Deucce do some shopping, and buying a few last presents in Forestdale. We had returned back to the fishermen’s boat on Festibert Eve, and Kelptoe’s bird had failed to summon our own vessel. Even though we spent the night on their unfamiliar ship, my mood could not be dampened, and I woke up early to prepare the decorations. First I sprinkled sesame seeds and cinnamon in my companions’ waterskins, and I arranged codfish heads in puddles of sacred oil around the deck of the ship. Then I rifled through my friends’ packs to douse their socks in yak urine; this would signify that jolly old St. Cuthbert had visited during the night, in his yak-drawn chariot, and had given each of them the great gift of not being killed in their sleep. This is just a tradition, of course; there are over a hundred thousand sentient creatures in the world, so for Cuthbert to visit all of us in one night would be quite difficult. But that’s what we elves are for! All the while, I was humming one of my favorite Festibert songs:
Jolly old St. Cuthbert, lean your ear this way!
Don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say.
Festibert is coming soon, now, you dear old god,
Visit vengeance on my foes. Here, enjoy some cod!
By the time my friends had woken up, I had prepared for them the traditional Festibert breakfast of pancakes and sausage. I handed out their presents while we ate. To little Poppy I gave a beautiful potion/poison belt that I had specially ordered for him. In addition to allowing the instant drawing of potions, it also contained special pockets that were constructed to aid in the administration of poisons on to his daggers. I gave Sorceron a pair of spring-loaded wrist sheaths for his wands and rods. Frank received a magical vest to boost his swimming and diplomacy skills. Because Kelptoe is Druish and celebrates Solstica instead of Festibert, I gave him twelve crappy presents instead of one good present. I didn’t give anything to Eland, because his people don’t celebrate any holidays and aren’t allowed to participate in such festivities; I will however give him a present some other day, just to let him know I am thinking of him.
I was a little disappointed to find out that Frank hadn’t gotten us any presents. As I mentioned, Festibert is a two-day festival; on the first day you share presents with your friends and loved ones. But on the second day, you air your grievances and deal out vengeance to people that deserve it. In general, if you are close to someone and don’t give them gifts on the first day, it means you are saving some special deadly vengeance for the second day.
After breakfast, Kelptoe sent his bird out again to look for our boat, and we waited. The fishermen gave us a map that the evil priest had been using in his search for the Eye, and we began to plan our excursion. Frank cast a spell to communicate with St. Cuthbert (who must have been fairly upset to be bothered on Festibert) and apparently asked about our quest, though he kept the details to himself.
Finally, we saw our ship returning. As it came closer, I composed a little Festibert ditty which I am sure will become a holiday classic:
I saw our ship come sailing in,
On Festibert, on Festibert,
I saw our ship come sailing in,
On Festibert, in the morning. Pray whither sailed our ship that day, On Festibert, on Festibert, Pray whither sailed our ship that day, On Festibert, in the morning. Oh, it sailed to the Flotsam Graveyard, On Festibert, on Festibert, Oh, it sailed to the Flotsam Graveyard, On Festibert, in the morning. And all the bells on the ship did ring, On Festibert, on Festibert, And all the bells on the ship did ring, On Festibert, in the morning.
We promptly boarded our boat and sent the fishermen on their way. I told them their lives would be in danger if they spoke of us or the priest, and they sailed off. We watched Sorceron to make sure he didn’t dispose of them with his fireballs, but he was still feeling under the weather from his recent reincarnation and didn’t risk any more bad karma.
Now wanting to waste the rest of the day, we lowered our last remaining rowboat into the water and climbed down to it, leaving Eland and Sorceron to guard our ship. There were dozens of sunken ships marked on the map we had acquired from the fishermen, but Frank guided us to one location in particular. As we entered the Flotsam Graveyard a fog settled around us, and eventually we saw the form of a partially submerged ship rising before us. As we drew near, we could tell that this particular wreck was only a few hundred years old, much too new to be the ship that we sought, but then we beheld the mast of a second ship jutting out of the water. It looked as if the newer boat had been wrecked on top of a more ancient one!
Carefully, we tied our rowboat to the tilting forecastle of the wreck and picked our way inside. Frank cast Water Breathing on us, and since he knew we would soon be submerged, also took a few minutes to pray for a Freedom of Movement spell. I cast Alter Self to become my characteristic Sahuagin form.
We climbed our way belowdecks and entered the water. The room beneath the forecastle was empty, and a closed door separated it from the hold. Frank strode forward to open the door. He had chosen to lead the party, both because of his new armor, and the widely held belief that no priest of St. Cuthbert could die on Festibert.
This belief is, in fact, the reason why most priests of St. Cuthbert happen to die on Festibert.
Frank opened the door and we were suddenly met by an eerie, unnatural cold that hung in the water and clung to us as we swam through the next room. The hold was empty but for a few rotted crates. Frank skidded along the inclined floor until he reached another closed door at the far end of the hold.
Suddenly, a spectral hand emerged from the door and swiped at Frank, passing through his armor and clawing deep inside his body. Frank gasped and grew pale as his life drained away. Poppy and I swam toward him as a second wraith passed through the wall and attacked. We shouted at Frank to do something priestly to the undead, but he refused, saying something about undead being unaffected by divine magic. The wraiths clawed at him until he backed away, leaving Poppy and I to deal with them. By that point, he had been severely drained and looked to be near death. Nonetheless, he had summoned several spectral maces which pounded at the wraiths.
While the fight raged on, I remembered an ancient Festibert song which was normally sung on the second day of the festival:
O come, all ye wraithful, spectral and incorporeal,
O come ye, O come ye, to walk the earth again.
Come and seek vengeance!
Vengeance on the living.
O come, St. Cuthbert likes you,
O come, St. Cuthbert likes you,
O come, St. Cuthbert likes you,
Vengeance is cool.
Frank stood amidships, with Kelptoe cowering behind him, and Poppy and I fought the undead. Poppy’s magical daggers were wreaking havoc on our foes, but luck was not with me and I could barely land a blow. Luckily, neither of us were affected by the wraith’s draining grasps (it being Festibert, naturally). In desperation I began to use my wand of healing to strike at the ghostly forms, and before long we had dispatched both of the foul undead.
We then paused to take stock of our situation. Frank was badly weakened, and he claimed to be as powerless as that day long ago that we first met, so we decided it would be a good idea to continue exploring. We passed through the door through which the wraiths had flowed and discovered a room with stairs descending downward. Curiously, the bottom of this boat had been smashed on top of the older boat, so the stairs opened on to the deck of the ship below us.
We saw two giant eels swimming around the deck, and behind them were two of the strange fish-men known as Skum. We did not want to get surrounded, so I cast Enlarge Person on myself and struck at the eels with a now-huge greatspear. They quickly retreated, and we were forced to advance into the room.
Though he was greatly diminished, Frank entered the room first, because it was Festibert. The eels and skum immediately attacked him; being newly inept, he forgot about his Freedom of Movement spell and was continually grappled by all of the monsters. I struck at the monsters over his head, while Kelptoe summoned squid and octopi galore.
Before long, Frank’s lifeless body was floating in the water, so the rest of us entered the room to dispatch the monsters. This time, my luck reversed, and my blades tore apart an eel with ease as the other escaped through a large hole in the side of the ship. While I killed it, I sang the traditional Festibert eel-killing song:
Deck the eels with all your weapons, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
Tis the season to seek vengeance, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
Don we now our gay apparel, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
St. Cuthbert says to ring the bell, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la la LA!
Kelptoe revived Frank, and together we killed the skum. After the battle was won, we regrouped and healed poor Frank.
All in all, this had proved to be one of the better, as least fatal, Festiberts in recent memory!