Developing Akorros (part 4) – Cirera, the Festival of Love

This is part 4 in a multi-part series developing the city of Akorros in Darokin from the skeleton outline in GAZ11 The Republic of Darokin to a full-fledged city which I can use as a campaign base. In this series of blog posts you will be able to follow along my research and thinking as I develop it into a rich adventure environment. Once sufficiently developed, it will also be available on WorldAnvil as part of my Melestrua’s Mystara campaign world. Subscribe to this blog to follow along. Previous posts:

Cherry blossom
Cherry blossom

I developed this post in response to a flash challenge on WorldAnvil, and I have been pleasantly surprised how much more I have found out about Akorros generally as part of writing it. It really feels like I’m exploring a place which already exists rather than inventing a place. There is a definite influence of Barcelona coming through, although no Gaudi architecture yet.

The Festival of Cirera (/siˈɾe.ɾa/, Cherry in the local dialect) in Akorros, takes place annually on 20th Flaurmont, which is when the cherry and almond trees in the city are usually in full bloom.

Cirera is the Festival of Love, dedicated to the goddess Petra. Although she is more normally associated with rose blossom, in Akorros the timing of the Festival with the blossoming of the cherry and almond trees has associated her with these in the public mind. It is a time for celebrating for those in relationships, and for looking for love for the singletons.

Toney Plaza is the hub of the celebrations, and in the best years, the cherry and almond trees which line the plaza are in full bloom and the blossom swirls up and down the street like soft pink and white snow. The cascade down the centre of the street is covered in the blossom, swirling from pool to pool down from Toney Palace until it reaches the lakeside, where it spreads out like a delicate carpet across the water.

All the restaurants along Toney Plaza, and indeed around the whole city of Akorros, have tables for two outside under the trees, where the blossom can swirl on the celebrating diners. Guindametlla, the local sour cherry and almond brandy, is the traditional drink, typically eaten with either veal cutlets or cirera cake, a light cake flavoured with almonds and studded with cherries, usually baked in 2″ thick sheets and served cut into rectangles. It is reputed to have an aphrodisiac effect, although this may be due to the association with Cirera and the memories of romantic encounters rather than any physical effect of the ingredients.

Gondolas criss-cross the harbour and along the streets of Cormyra District, carrying courting couples under canopies, and lower-budget gondolas travel the harbour area and coast to the south and north. Again these couple usually have some guindametlla and cirera cake in their picnic hampers, and the canopies can often be fully closed to give privacy. The gondoliers are paid to keep their mouths shut about what they might overhear, although this being Akorros and Darokin, their tongues might be loosened for the right remuneration or group.

Flower sellers are on every street corner and walk through the throngs, hoping to persuade Romeos to buy their blooms to impress their amour, and herbalists and apothecaries do a roaring trade in love philtres, aphrodisiacs, stamina enhancers and “protective” potions, some of which even work. Every so often you will hear cheers and jeers from a restaurant where someone has succumbed to the effect and starts stripping to the waist and flinging themself on their partner. It is noticeable that more babies are born in Nuwmont than any other month, and it is not for nothing that such babies are often referred to as “Blossom Babies”.

Exactly at midday, a flock of 1000 doves is released from the balconies of Toney Palace, flying up into the air as if the blossom is swirling up around the palace. As one of the physical manifestations Petra is reputed to take, it is considered bad luck to eat dove on Cirera, although some of the less fortunate members of society have been known to risk her wrath for the chance of food.

In the afternoon, eligible young men and women compete to be crowned the Cirera Queen or Almetlla Prince, a beauty pageant. Each district within the city will have its own Queen and Prince, but the most prestigious competition with the most beautiful women and handsome men is the one held in front of the gates of Toney Palace. The contestants dress in skimpy outfits apparently made from pink cherry blossom (for the women) or white almond blossom (for the men), and only hide what they absolutely have to. They burnish their skin with oil until it glows. Of course, this being Darokin, there is an entry fee for the pageant, which means to enter the primary pageant you need to be not only good-looking but either rich or very well-connected. The winners receive a crown of the appropriate petals which in the case of the the primary pageant magically stay fresh for the year of their reign until Cirera comes round again. They will also be able to use their new profile to open doors and a canny winner can use this to help them up the ladder. They are celebrated and feted throughout their area. Since the entrants are supposed to be single, there is always speculation about whether the Queen and Prince will become a couple, and many do for at least one night. Of course what happens the next morning when the guindametlla has worn off is a different matter…

Once crowned, the Cirera Queen and Almettla Prince lead a procession of fantastical creatures made of paper and wood and covered in petals – many different types of birds of course, but you will also see stylised dragons, great cats, bulls, dogs, horses, fish, and anything else which can be brought forth from someone’s imagination. These are held aloft on poles, and the largest and most elaborate have to be carried by several bearers. The procession winds its way around the district, or down Toney Plaza for the city winners, finishing at an appropriate hostelry where the bearers can spend a couple of hours slaking their thirst.

As the afternoon wears on, and inhibitions are loosened by the guindametlla, a strange tradition starts. No-one knows the origins, whether it was just a dare by one young man to another, or whether there is anything more significant, but young men and women congregating in the Speckled Wyvern round the corner from Toney Palace will start egging each other on, and eventually one then another will strip off to cheers, run the full length of Toney Plaza naked to the cheers of the patrons of the various restaurants along the square and dive into the water of the lake at the foot, emerging dripping and shivering before claiming a specially decorated towel and a glass of guindametlla from the proprietor of the lakeside tavern “The Lucky Gondolier” and walking back up again.

In the evening once night falls the bearers pick up their constructions again, this time lit from within so they glow, and the procession starts again. The main procession works its way up Toney Plaza again to the palace and then round the square outside the palace before heading down again and winding through the streets of Cormyra District, still led by the Cirera Queen and Almetlla Prince. Other processions wind their way through the streets of the district, cheered on by everyone not involved. Magical lighting is preferred, but not everyone can afford it so in the poorer districts it will often be one or more shielded candle lanterns, and it is not unknown for the delicate paper constructs to go up in flame.

Photo by Leonardo Gonzalez from Pexels

After the nighttime procession, the children, who will have had a meal in the quiet period, are put to bed and the real celebrations start. The guitars, flutes, whistles and drums start, and people dance in the street. Every so often a couple will burst into a wild, fast stamping, high kicking, twisting and twirling dance, challenging each other to greater and greater efforts while the crowds cheer and clap, until with a final drumming of their feet they come to a close and walk off arm in arm through the applause to find refreshment.

These dance challenges are not always couples. It is not unknown for two men to dance over a woman, or two women to dance over a man, each dancing themself in front of the other until the “prize” they are competing over finishes the dance with one of the partners. And sometimes blades are drawn, and the dances become battles for real, particularly if it is a former lover joining the challenge. These fights are usually to first blood, and in some areas the crowds will try to enforce this, although it is not unknown in rougher areas (or exclusive parties) for things to turn really ugly, with the crowd baying for blood and disfigurement.

There are other rougher sides to Cirera. With the taste of the cherry and almond strong in the guindametlla, it is not unknown for assassins to slip cyanide into the drink of a target, secure in the knowledge that the flavour will be masked. Also, although passions run high, this often leads to indiscretions which the individual might not like public, and apparently discrete locations can have surprising observers willing to sell the information to a rival. Quite a few surprising deals are concluded in the tail end of Flaurmont which do not seem like a good bargain for one of the parties involved.

Once the night is over and the musicians fall silent, calm finally falls over the city. The next day is always Soladain, and the sun always seems too bright and the hourly chimes from the Temple of Khoronus too cheerful and piercing. Gradually the city comes awake and tries to remember the night before while the clean-up begins and couples regard the partners their bedchambers.

Next: getting more local with the Place of the Silver Dragon

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