The Torc Amret
The Torc Amret is often described by travelers as a brilliant and beautiful valley nestled between three distinct mountain ranges: the crooks of the green and misty Siddi Mountains to the east, the long, dark, hilly arm of the terrifying Na Féans to the west and the high, white, dramatic teeth of the Draechi range to the north. The dark arm of the Na Féans cuts the valley off from the rest of Mabon in the south except by travel along the Icén River Gorge. The land is strikingly beautiful and covered by a patchwork old growth forest, rolling hills and a great variety of sunny orchards.
The Torc1 is a culturally distinct place in the Realm, with Wyddic, Draechi and Iztanic traditions. Although considered part of Mabon, the Torc exists as an independent shire and is as separated politically as it is geographically from the rest of Mabon. The governing structure is neither associated with the House of Hart nor the House of Draech, and its seat is held in a lakeside sanctuary called the Dal Roar, where a Queen or King is picked through ritual every year and who’s rule is subject to a council of delegates from village structures called peths. A delegate to the Dal Roar from a peth is either an elected position or a ritually delegated position depending on village tradition, but it is always a temporary and annually renewed obligation.
All this aside, the King or Queen in the Dal Roar is usually referred to as the “Mock King” by the locals and seems to be a faux position used to legitimize the sovereignty of the Torc to the rest of the Realm. The four main villages of Maestog Heath, Tonnypany, Merrywomp and Nudd-on-Crickhollow mostly govern themselves and though the Mock King essentially gets free food and lodging for a year, they also serve as a kind of ritual whipping post and take the blame for any ills that befall the valley in their year of service.
There is something magical about the place that is hard to identify, but travelers chronicling their first visit to the Torc Amret, often describe the feeling of entering a land that was lost in their youth – of entering a place that feels like an idealized home from childhood memory. This uncanny experience is commonly accompanied with tears of joy. Travelers write that daylight seems brighter in the Torc, that colors seem more intense, that emotions - especially of love and joy - are amplified. The seasons are said to be more brilliant when they change, the storms bolder and more fearsome when they roll in. Travelers have noted that time itself seems to linger as if one had entered the world of the faerie folk – both days and nights feel endless. Food is abundant and tasty and want from hunger is almost unknown. There are few cultivated plots anywhere and not much need for the toil of farming as most subsistence is procured through hunting and the bounty of the green hills and forests. The amount of game, wild tubers and fruit across the valley leaves little work to be done. And so, there is much time for music, dance and festival. The very land itself seems awake, even mirthful… in the daytime.
But when night falls in the Torc, the darkness is blacker, the stillness quieter, the sounds of the forest more terrifying and unidentifiable. New travelers often succumb to a distantly familiar but gnawing fear, unfelt since early childhood. The unknown sounds of the woods at night have been known to strike sudden, blind, mad & dashing terror in newcomers to this realm. Visitors whose curiosity overrides their fear usually disappear.
The lore of the Torc suggests that the creative force of life in the valley is perhaps unintentionally amplified through a ritual bargain struck between the mystical Shadow Queen of Fall and the Wild One of the Wood. In the western slopes of the Na Féans where the sun sets, is the abode of the Wild One and his wild hunts. In Torcish stories the Wild One is the enemy of civilization, of animal husbandry, of farming, of anything tamed or cultivated and he is sometimes the enemy of light itself. His abode is said to be impenetrably gloomy, yet alive with thick moss, silent and watching. His realm is pungently earthy smelling and riddled with dark caverns that Torcish stories say lead to the underworld itself and from which terrifying things emerge at night. The Wild One can be heard hunting with this beastly entourage, the Gwyllion, at certain times of year. When he is on the wild hunt, he is the Beast and all beings are his prey.
But across the valley from the Na Féans are the Siddi Mountains, the place of wood elves in ancient days. In that range, the abode of the Shadow Queen is nestled within a hidden mountain glade. You would know when you had stumbled upon her realm, for the place appears ever-in-autumn, decked in golds and regal rusts. The weather is always crisp and clear in her glade, and the fruit of harvest-time is ever ripe. A wild and mystical force is she, but also protector of humankind and free-giver of the bounty of the earth. Various sacrifices are made to the Shadow Queen in the Torc between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, but the most important sacrifice is made in the Yule Hunt Games played during the Torcish time known as the Greenaught: the three nights before, after and including the winter solstice. The Greenaught and the tradition of Yule Hunts are the principal activities during a twelve-day celebration called the Géol Albana Geiruan, or Yule Albana Geiruan the ‘Joyful Lights of Winter.’ Of course, at this time of year the nights are very long and the days quick, and during the three evenings of Greenaught the Wild One gathers his beastly consort to hunt all living souls in the valley of the Torc Amret.
The ancient tradition of Yule Hunts dictates that in this terrifying time, bands of the most celebrated hunters from each village must adorn themselves with special protective gifts and enter the Arcane Wood to play a stag hunting game. Special blessings are said to be bestowed upon whatever villagers take the most game over these three nights – but in the end all spoils are freely shared. The Yule Hunt is something of a friendly contest between villages that is quite daring and dangerous. In the old days they say, before the gifts of the Shadow Queen, the villagers - like frightened rabbits - would fall prey to the Wild One at his will, and he would have taken them all long ago had they not known how to run, hide and dig deep holes. The people of the valley refer to their ancestors who settled here as the People of the Hare or even sometimes just the Hares2. But in our time, a pact between the Shadow Queen and the Wild One allows hunters to participate in these mortal games with only a risk of being eaten by the Wild Hunt.
An expectation of this hunting competition is the Order of the Wild, where villagers may stop their competitors from other villages and take their spoils of the hunt! Sometimes this can fall into deadly combat but far, far more often a checked, flat-bladed blow to the belly or a rude and blunt blow to a helm, knocks an opponent off her feet and forces her to retreat to her village on her own honor - lest the Beast arrive and settle the score. It sounds awful but is performed with such merriment!
Part of the meat acquired in the Yule Hunts, particularly the heads of stags and boars, are given to the Shadow Queen. The rest is split between the villages for the long winter ahead. The antlers are tacked onto the outer walls of the village dreauhalls until they resemble fat porcupines, and the greying wood of these buildings is no longer even visible. The antlers not-yet-devoured by mice gain a mossy green, and so sometimes the truly ancient and celebrated dreauhall of a successful village is called a ‘Greenhall.’
The three days of Greenaught are also a time for divination and for hearing stories about the mysteries of the Torc Amret. Torcish folk say that each glade or wild place has a rath, a guardian spirit, and that during the Greenaught each spirit of a glade may be seen and spoken to. The dreauwu or wise ones of each village prepare the hunters with questions in case they should encounter a spirit of a glade. These are usually questions about prospects for the new year. But it’s said these spirits are fickle, are provincial and are often unfathomable; they may aid hunters or hinder them. They say an enraged rath may even call the Wild One to its glade during the ritual games. The Yule Hunt then is also a hunt for mysteries, as dark Winter is a time for pondering them. A collection of three central mysteries form the backbone or Torcish oral traidtion.
In any case, they say the Yule Hunts complete a pact that renews the brilliance of life and death in the Torc Amret, bestowed and balanced by both the Wild One and by the Queen of Shadows. The delegates of a peth of the winning village are given the title of Light Bearers for the next year and they receive a special place of honor at the Dal Roar while they serve and where the Mock King endures endless ridicule. If any folk fall prey to the Wild Hunt, as happens on occasion, they are remembered as Light Bringers, and they are and will be mourned and honored in the dreauhalls for as long as the people of the Torc flourish. Regardless of the outcome of the game, all villages indulge in merry celebrations for the remaining nine days of the Géol Albana Geiruan3.
- An amret is a Wyddic word for an unbreakable magical oath or bond made by a sacrifice, usually of blood. This is a sacrifice made to procure health, wealth, prosperity or joy. An amret can refer to a particular curse of binding, though usually it refers to a beneficial or neutral association. The Wyddic word for ‘curse’ is amraun, which has definitively negative associations. Torc is an old Wyddic word for a ring, particularly an old copper neck-ring the Wyddans used to wear. In this case, Torc Amret means something like the ‘Ring of the Oath of Sacrifice,’ ‘Valley of the Oath’ or ‘Valley of Sacrifice.’ The Heraldic Standard of the Toerc: green field, a black raven displayed over a gold sun with eight rays wavy, cradled by black antlers & red leaves intertwined below.
- When Humankind first came to Faerie (the ancient name of the Realm) they called themselves ‘the starborn’, which in Elvish is hidriccin. But many Elves lovingly, or not so lovingly, called them ‘the stubborn’ whihc in Elvish is hidzi or 'stubborn children' which in Elvish is hidzircin. In ancient days when some Hidzi were bound to the Torc Amret they were dubbed in mockery the hiricidzan, or ‘frightened hares.’ Funny things, those Elves…
- The power of the Torc is often lovingly celebrated in folk plays during the 12 days of the Géol Albanan Geiruan where villagers compete for the funniest and most rousing interpretations of a fight between the Lord of Holly (a vaguely disguised Wild One as an Old Man of Winter), and the Lord of Oak (a version of Shadow Queen of Fall or 'Queen Mab' played by one of the more charismatic young women of the village.) The Lords of Oak and Holly fight for the right to be the one who courageously faces the Beast in single combat (another less disguised version of the Wild One - the angry one of ancient days), Youthful Oak slays Old Man Holly or sometimes they end up killing each other and need to be revived with ale. A horse always figures in the play led by a quack doctor of civilization who cannot cure the dead heroes, but usually makes off with coin. The horse is virtually untamable and usually presents the best jokes out of both its head and its arse. Curiously, the plays are always introduced by a character referred to as the Gift-Giver and who usually appears with a great sack of presents for the children watching, and this may be a last aspect of the Wild One for he wears antlers often as large as the Beast – this must be the pleased version of the Wild One, the one who gives instinctually.
Quick Glossary of Pronunciations
- Torc Amret (tork-ahm-RETT)
- Siddi (SEE-dee)
- Icén (AYE-ken)
- Dal Roar (Doll ROW-oar)
- Na Féans (Nah-FEE-ins)
- Draechi (DRAKE-ee)
- Wyddic (WID-ick)
- Iztanic (iz-TAHN-ick)
- Mabon (MA-bon)
- Maestog Heath (MAY-stog-HEATH)
- Tonnypany (TON-ee-PAN-ee)
- Gwyllion (GWILL- yin)
- Géol Albana Geiruan (GYOLL AL-ban-uh GER-oo-wan)
- Dreauhall (DROH-hall)
- Dreauwu (DROH-woo)
- Mabonegedd (Ma-BON-i-geð)