Annual Festival of Westenra

Spring came to the tiny hamlet of Westenra as spring came to every hamlet in the country every year. Spring brings nothing differing except that in this tiny hamlet of Westenra, the people hold a festival. It had become rather famous in all the years since its inception, but exception was taken by a certain author to omit this festival from his book pertaining to all the festivals and customs of the English Year. This maybe because this festival and town are entirely fictional, and he had never heard of either of them, resulting in their omission from said publication. In order to right this wrong, and to pay homage to this delightful little book, this story was created in order that the Festival of Youth and Beauty would be made known to all.

Westenra is very historical, known for its ancient Viking settlements on the Western coast of England. Some of the ancient rituals were still adhered to, especially the aforementioned festival, the Festival of Youth and Beauty. The goddess Freyja, important in Norse mythology is worshipped at this festival, where the most beautiful girl in the village ‘twixt the ages of fourteen and eighteen is crowned ‘Festival Queen’ and paraded through the village in a chariot drawn by cats, the Norsk skogkatt to be precise. The Festival Queen is designated as the ‘Ears to Freyja’ and a ceremony takes place where upon she reads out a rather esoteric speech, asking the goddess to grant them a wonderful and prosperous spring season. The speech is delivered to Veraldar-nagli, the pole star for the northern hemisphere, the place where Freyja is said to reside.

Without further ado, let us take a trip to this quaint and eerie little place, and follow the action from our heroine’s point of view, a one Miss Elincia Riddell. Elincia had seen her older sisters try and fail for eight years running to gain the crown of Festival Queen, and her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother had all failed before her. It was an honour to be given the title of Festival Queen and subsequently the Ears to Freyja, and it brought the family great respect for many generations, especially if a queen could defend her title. For most girls, it was an honour to compete, and all prepared for the day for many months.

Elincia was very different to her sisters, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and aunties; they all were very superficial and very attentive to their appearance and their ideologies of grandeur. Some people in the hamlet labelled them as ‘chavs’, but most did not as they could see how different Elincia was. She was a very quiet, unassuming young lady who possessed a quite brilliant and inquisitive mind. She never spoke badly of anyone, and always sought the good in each situation. With the sisters she had, it became more of a survival instinct than a personality trait.

Elincia was certainly not unattractive; on a measurable spectrum she leaned more towards comely than homely. She was curvaceous, much more so than her sisters and was well in proportion. She took care of herself and her appearance, but didn’t pound the gym 24/7 or consume a health affecting amount of protein shakes instead of real food. She found comfort in her own appearance and body size regardless of to what her shallow, magazine reading, poster believing peers aspired.

It was now one month before the start of the festival and the buzz around the village was reaching fever pitch. Girls everywhere were getting their costumes ready and their make-up prepared, bosoms pushed up higher than the price of petrol, fake eyelashes selling out faster than a whippet on a waltzer, and the locally invented ‘Smile b Shiny’ gel was being applied more generously than any metaphorical synonym I could muster.

Elincia’s female family were much more excited than she was. Her sisters had been working on her dress for over seven months, after they had the preliminary sketches down; her mother had been working on her make-up application ideas for over five months; her grandmother had been fixing up appropriate dietary requirement tables and systematic feeding times; and her great-grandmother had died before Elincia was even a twinkle in her father’s eye.

Despite their sincerity, Elincia was completely unmoved by any of her family’s efforts to see her crowned as Festival Queen, as she knew from experience that their methods were unsuccessful. She had to find a way to supplant the favourite for this year’s crown: Miss Ilyana Cockburn. Ilyana is the daughter of the mayor, so favouritism and loyalty to the hierarchy often prevails at these festivals, but even more so this year as Ilyana was certainly the most conventionally attractive participant at this year’s festival, not to mention seeking the third defence of her crown. Unfortunately, much like Elincia’s siblings, she lacked much in the way of substance, as this venture into juvenile beauty pageantry had left her desiring no need to work on her personality flaws, and they were ever so abundant and obvious in their revealing.

Elincia did not have the confidence to triumph over Ilyana due to the media’s harsh and unfair subliminal messaging that only those girls of a certain shallow ilk and vain calibre are found to be desirable. As we of sound and decent minds know, this is definitely not true. Elincia was not yet of the soundness of mind that one would require to reach this conclusion, and so she thought of ways in which she could loop hole around it. Elincia thought for hours and suddenly an epiphany came to her. Believing in her heart of hearts that she had the answer, she set off walking towards the beach.

Here she was, by the sea; her favourite place. Down she sat herself on her most favourite large rock, and looked out over the waves coming in to greet her. Up she looked at the sky, now starting to fall as if to greet the sea, as if contributing to it, aiding it in breaking on the shore to meet her. This to her was pure, natural beauty. How quiet and unassuming, yet how powerful it was. A grace so strong it belies the dangerous mystique it quietly carries. The sea: quite simply the most natural and beautiful entity in the whole entire world. And here she was party to its elegant and sombre dignity, with nothing but her own elegant and sombre dignity to keep as parallel. If anyone knew the secret of true natural beauty, surely it would be the power of the saline king.

“Why has nobody ever thought of speaking to the sea?” she thought. “Surely it knows the secret of true natural beauty, for itself is a true natural beauty.” Plucking up the courage and rejecting the thought of absurdity, she spoke out in a true, determined voice:

“Oh strong, and most mighty sea, tell me please I implore you, as a humble mortal in awe of your almighty grandeur, what is the secret of your beauty?”

Silence.

“Oh please my master; the truth will be used only for good! I beseech you once more, what is the secret of your beauty?”

Silence.

“If you resist in answering me then I would find your beauty as a mere veneer under the light of your blatant arrogance. I entreat you now for a final time! Your beauty and majesty is unparalleled across the whole circumference of this planet, please indulge me, what is your secret?”

Silence.

As if struck by lightning, she got the answer. She knew. The sea had answered. She retreated homewards, motioned goodbye by the approaching breakers to the sand upon where she had recently stood.

The Festival of Youth and Beauty was underway, and a most glorious day it was also. Farmers from around had brought their most prized wares to put on show and sale, women from the local red light district operated a similar service in a special tent in the furthest reaches, Morris Dancers morrissed and danced with unbridled, handkerchief waving glee, the Maypole construction was well underway with the whole hamlet contributing their own hand-painted design, the young men were all trying to catch a peek unhindered by the law of the pageant participants, as the law was removing Gary Glitter off to jail for a very similar offence, and the girls of the area were all awaiting the judgement they were about to receive.

The participants began by having headshots in the aptly named ‘Headshot Tent’. This was to provide memories for future generations and retailed at £19.99 plus VAT, which was extortionate, but nevertheless found particular success within the males 14 – 30 demographic. Whilst all the participants sought having half of their forehead removed from the photo in favour of a clearer view of their bosom

Elincia was not yet amongst them. She was at home, locked in argument with her family. They were outraged that she had turned down all their offers of help, some of which as you know they had been working on for several months. She told them that she was going to win this pageant herself by herself, as they had not yet won in all their years of the same routine.

So outraged were her family that they tried to restrict her from taking part, or even from going to the festival at all! However, her sisters knew that if they did that, they then would not be able to go and throw themselves amongst the boys, her mother knew that she would not be able to share her wares in the special tent, and her grandmother knew that she would not be able to take home small yet expensive bags of healthy muesli material. So they relented, and told her to embarrass herself at her own leisure.

The participants began by having headshots in the aptly named ‘Headshot Tent’. This was to provide memories for future generations and retailed at £19.99 plus VAT, which was extortionate, but nevertheless found particular success within the males 14 – 30 demographic. Whilst all the participants sought having half of their forehead removed from the photo in favour of a clearer view of their bosom (a tactic which generated an astonishing amount of retweets), Elincia chose instead to smile naturally, a genuine smile borne from her memory of her recent trip to the beach.

Elincia reached the pageant just in time to have her name called out. She stood on the stage in her favourite dress, with her hair brushed and styled in just the way she always liked best, after eating her favourite meal, in front of the judges and the judging crowd. Some sniggered, others whistled, but she stood there, firm and with her head held high.

The judges asked her the rudimentary questions: “Elincia, what would you bring to the title of Ears to Freyja?”

She stood there, silent.

They asked their second question: “Elincia, why are you deserving of the Festival Queen crown?”

She stood there still, quiet and unassuming.

The judges asked her their third question: “Elincia, what gives you the right to be the face of our Festival of Youth and Beauty for next year?”

She moved not one muscle; she just remained on stage, strong and dignified, powerful and true, honest and uncompromised. The crowd was just as silent as she was. The judges broke the silence:

“Elincia, thank you, you may leave the stage.”

And she did. Back down the stairs she went, and out into the main crowd, their awe-struck hush following her like inquisitive eyes where ever she went. Nobody dared say it before the judges had announced it, but they all knew, every single one of them present that they had just seen the winner of this year’s festival. They had all just seen how real beauty should conduct itself. Her quiet, unassuming, powerful, uncompromising figure alone there on the stage said more to everyone than any amount of foundation and concealer ever could.

Real beauty, in its purest, truest form does not conform or compromise, does not lend itself to unfavourable infatuations, is not dictated by other people, and it answers to no one; it speaks for itself, and in doing so, speaks in a tone so ultimately loud, strong and sincere, that no one can deny or imitate it, but merely acknowledge, appreciate and respect the honour that has been accorded to them for being a witness.

THE END

© Kris Blackburn 19/09/08

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