|The inspiration of this short story|
The festival of the Deaths is the second most important festivity in the Empire of Sassafrakkaswacthsawesan (called, by whoever cant's stand long absurd words, just the "Sassa Empire").
During these three days, the most gorgeous girls from every corner of the Empire reach the capital, SassaFrakka, in order to participate to the fertility rituals so important for an agrarian and quasi underdeveloped society like the Sassa Empire.
The Empire is also quite loosely knitted, with local authorities, usually in the figure of head of villages or small bureaucrats, holding sometime an excessive amount of power and acting arbitrarily.
Religion is among the few centripetal forces that compensate for the local powers tendency to consider themselves as free agents and and, as such, its strictly centralized control and the repression of every form of heresy are among the Emperor most important duties.
The Festival of the Deaths is not only the main religious event in the Empire.
It is also a way to - indirectly - gauge the level of loyalty of the local administrators, in the various corners of the Empire, as we are soon going to explain.
The Empire is divided in relatively small areas, each with about 150000 inhabitants.
Every area, during the Festival of the cinders (i.e. the Winter solstice, the shorter day of the year), elects one or more representatives to send to the Festival - that is celebrated, of course, during the summer Solstice.
It should be noted that, in ancient times, the six months between the two events were barely enough to allow to the representatives of some of the most remote areas of the Empire to reach Sassafrakka.
In fact, some of these areas, and some beyond-the-sea colonies, anticipate the selection.
Sissiflinning, for example, chooses its next representative with a free election, the very day after the Festival of Deaths, and it takes between ten and eleven months to its representative to reach the capital.
The women chosen to represent an area ( from a minimum of one to a maximum of five, depending on the censum of nubile women under 33) are, of course, supposed to be the most gorgeous women available, in the age bracket between 18 and 32.
The ideal of beauty in the Sassa Empire is shaped by the interplay of current economical and ancient cultural factors but, as it is a general rule in almost every society, it tends to reward as "beautiful" the daughters of the ruling classes (the so-called male way to hipergamy).
So, in a civilization where most women work alongside their men in the fields, developing since their childhood very tanned, lean and quite muscular bodies, the ideal of beauty is naturally skewed toward soft , utterly non-athletic pearl-white women with long necks.
Quite tall pearl-white bodies, to be more exact.
So, it is not unusual for one of the daughters of an area's chief, to be selected to represent the area - the selection process being, in most areas, a secret poll among the adult males living in the administrative block who, in some cases, vote with vengeance in their heart (which is a sin they'll have to respond for, to the gods) .
In most cases, the mayor simply write-off the chosen daughter - the Empire is still a traditional society that churns out masses of kids and then manages to cull down most of them before they ever got married - but, in some rare cases, he chooses to risk and sends a lesser girl as representative.
Risk, here, is the correct word, as - while civilian justice in the Empire is quite slow, even on crimes such as corruption - the Pontiflex of Sassafrakka is allowed to excommunicate everybody that has infringed the authority for the church.
In this case, by absconding a chosen woman or by interfering in the selection process so that the offerings to the Gods were of lesser than ideal quality.
So, seeing a "daughter of the fields" in the hall of the Cathedral, among the women chosen for the rituals gathered there the week before the festival, is often an indication that her area's Mayor is on the verge of becoming mutinous.
This has no bearing on the woman's destiny - roughly, only 25% of the chosen die during the festival, as a result of the adoption of first intervention kits imported from the Great Beyond - but it is not unusual for her to go back home carrying with her a Grand Inspector.
This latter is usually tasked to see if - perchance - her town's Mayor needs to be de-necked.
Note: in time, this - and long lost short tale in Italian - became the inspiration of the Noxon story arch.