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One of the few large temples of Vinga, Tarthcaer ("Fort of Mists" in Stormspeech) is situated in the Quivin Hills. Its exact location is something of a mystery: traders know that going along a certain path will bring them to the trading post outside the temple, but women seeking sanctuary there have often found the mists that guard its walls to be less than a mile from them, no matter where they may be.
The walls of mist are those created by Huraya, and they still protect the temple from all foes: no man, and no hostile woman, can enter, but find themselves lost in the mists and emerge back where they started. Women seeking refuge find an easy path up the slope of the ancient hill-fort that leads them to the entrance, and initiates in good standing also find an easy path home.
Tarthcaer is known to have been Vinga's base during the Darkness, and may have existed as a fort long before that. It has been held by Vinga's followers ever since, though the level of occupation has varied from time to time. After the Dragon-Kill war access to it became difficult (HeroPlane only), and it was then that the "Return to Tarthcaer" ritual was created and used as a standard means of access. The occupation levels dropped considerably during this time, and the other shrines there were abandoned. With the return of humans to Dragon Pass the temple's fortunes revived. When Sartar came to the land and founded cities its importance as a centre dropped (neither Sartar himself nor his immediate successors could enter, being male!), though Sartar did found the trading post and Issaries shrine at the entrance, and the temple retained its status as one of the best training centres for warriors in the country.
With the Lunar occupation and the ensuing casualties, refugees flocked to Tarthcaer. The temple was presented to the Lunars as a refuge for abandoned women rather than as a centre for warriors, and since they never managed to enter, they never discovered otherwise until it was far too late. In the meantime, the influx of refugees, many of whom simply made this their home, meant a new lease of life for the shrines in Tarthcaer: the Earth shrine in particular qualified as a small temple before long. The trading post too swelled to the size of a small village: men might not be able to enter Tarthcaer, but many clanless wanderers appreciated the safety it offered the female members of their family and chose to settle nearby.
After the 1613 rebellion the Vinga cult in general became more popular with patriotic Sartarites and less so with the Lunars. A guard was placed on the trading post to check for armour and weapons. The Return ritual became popular again, and a long-forgotten Wind Path was re-opened between Tarthcaer and the Old Wind temple.
In 1621 the number of Vingan warriors based here rose when Whitewall was abandoned and Kallyr's private army moved in. The Lunar comment on her and her troops was always "present whereabouts unknown": Wind Paths make a very good way of moving small numbers of elite troops fast, and the Orlanthi in Whitewall had used their last years of freedom well. It has been rumoured that the Earth shrine had been connected to a dwarven tunnel system for even better secret access to and from the temple, but this has never been confirmed.
In 1625, after the Brown Dragon, Tarthcaer and the small town outside its walls became the main base for the army of southern Sartar. Boldhome had never been designed as a garrison town, which is what was needed. Temples to Orlanth and Humakt were founded at the trading post, and the army settled in. A road was built between here and Boldhome.
Many of the Vingans died at Old Top: many more died in the struggle for control of Sartar that took place between 1627 and 1630. When Kallyr was killed by Harrek and Argrath took the throne, his unreasoning hatred of the Vingan cult had its effect, and Tarthcaer faded once more into the mists.
(Based very heavily on a plan from "The Malvern Hillforts" by S.C.Stanford)
Tarthcaer was originally designed for defence: but since the Mists were created the original walls and ditches have been redundant. The oldest buildings are still found within the "Citadel" at the centre, but others have been built with an eye to convenience rather than defensibiity. For instance, the healing shrine and hospital are near the southern entrance where most refugees arrive and close to the lower spring, rather than being within the main walls.
The main temple is within the Citadel, the accomodation used by the priestesses, attached to it. The main teaching hall is here also, as is some accomodation for initiates, and the communal kitchen and eating areas. Further accomodation is generally further down-hill, as required depending on the population levels at the time. The Earth temple is a cave in the hillside on the southern slopes. Much of this area is used for cultivation: with low population levels, Tarthcaer can be self-supporting, (especially since it holds two springs: one near the south entrance, one in the citadel). The northern slopes are normally left bare, for grazing for sheep and horses and for riding practise (the temple has a fine stable).
To get some idea on the layout, take a look at the Iron Age hill-forts of the Malvern Hills. I see Tarthcaer as based on the Herefordshire Beacon (aka. British Camp), with the Giant's Cave moved closer in to act as an Earth temple and the spring from Midsummer Camp (to the south) transferred. British Camp is estimated to have had a population of about 2000 at its peak, which fits my ideas for Tarthcaer.
Candidates for training and initiation find themselves facing a series of tests before they can enter Tarthcaer. If they start at the trading post and state their purpose before entering, the tests will be explained briefly before they face them and whatever their result, the candidate will be met at the end. If they simply try to enter, the tests will occur without warning. The explanation given is that they are being tested for their fitness to become a warrior: combat experience is not required, holding to the principles of Vinga is. The vagueness is deliberate: each candidate reports different experiences, and some tests depend on surprise in any case.
The first test, just after the candidate enters the mists, is that they hear a terrifying noise close behind them. It may be a Lunar war-cry, troll drums, or something totally unknown, but the candidate is left in no doubt that a terrible enemy is about to attack. The one response that will fail them is if they freeze (which is what most civilians would do). Dodging, turning to attack, or running are all acceptable. In fact no enemy is present: whatever they do see turns out to be harmless.
As the second test, the candidate is faced with a woman, possibly a young girl, under attack by a number of male enemies. Rescue is obviously needed, and equally obviously isn't going to be easy. Again, almost any response that tries to correct the situation rather than ignoring it is acceptable. Even an all-out attack will result in the enemy fleeing in improbable terror. The victim then vanishes, possibly turning into a red-haired warrior on the way.
Finally, the candidate must ascend the side of the hill fort on which Tarthcaer stands. This is not as simple as it sounds, due to the variable geography of the area! The slope is steep and slippery: stopping for a rest means sliding back. The height the candidate has to climb is such that she will be completely exhausted just as she reaches the top. Quite simply, giving up means failure.
The group re-enact the myth of Vinga's meeting with Huraya: or possibly Vinga's return from one of her many battles to her base at Tarthcaer, if no Huraya representative is available. At the point when Vinga and her warriors return to Tarthcaer, the presiding Daughter tests her Emulate Vinga skill in order to force the ritual onto the Heroplane.
If she succeeds, she (and possibly others?) find themselves on a path from one of the battles of the Great Darkness to Tarthcaer. The extent of her success determines how far along the path they are: finding themselves still in the battle is a possibility. Criticals will land them inside the mists. A failure means nothing happens. A fumble lands them in the Great Darkness, but in totally the wrong place and with no obvious way back. This is usually fatal.
As a general principle, the only entry to Tarthcaer is through the mists, and the mists are at least partially on the HeroPlane. It is perhaps not surprising that the layout of the paths through the mists do not obey the normal laws of geography. Three paths have been described above: the easy path found by women seeking refuge, the testing path found by candidates for apprenticeship, and the path home found in the Return ritual. There is of course also a straighforward path from the trading post to the entrance, though this can be found only by initiates. What may not be entirely obvious is that these paths can interconnect. For instance, if a group of women are seeking refuge, but one of their number wishes to become a warrior, she will find the path leading to the tests, while the rest of the group find an easier way. The first two tests may happen while they are still together, perhaps requiring her to rescue the group she is with.
It has been known for an initiate returning home to find herself on the test path: perhaps she has broken her vows in some way since her last visit and needs to demonstrate her commitment once more.
The High Priestess of Tarthcaer has at times demonstrated a sensitivity to the use of the paths, being able to tell who is approaching and by what path before their arrival. It is possible that she can influence which path they find, but this has never been admitted.
When the paths split, each part of the group can see a different way forward, and will find other routes invisible to them. It may occur to players to go for the easiest route by such means as holding hands or tying themselves together. This will not work. Unseen obstacles will trip them, making them loose their grip, ropes will mysteriously untie themselves. And anyone trying such tricks will automatically be regarded as hostile from then on. All paths forwards will be closed to them, and at best, they will find themselves outside the mists again.