The men’s last war
The problem with taking power based on a claim to military superiority is that it creates certain expectations; also expenses. The Men’s Empire had defeated the ktuvoks and expanded the queen’s territory; but that was getting to be two centuries ago. What was the justification for maintaining a large standing army?
The question was all the more urgent because it was easier to ask: the Lé had adopted the Uytainese logograms to write their own language. The adaptation was at first semantic: logograms were borrowed by meaning, e.g. the glyph <tso> was used for pùŋ ‘river’. Words that didn’t exist in Uyseʔ had to be represented by sound— e.g. Lé was written with the glyph <leʔ> ‘beetle’ (which in turn led to the beetle being used as an artistic reference to the Lé). This principle was gradually extended for other difficult words, though it was limited by the phonological differences between Lé and Uyseʔ— e.g. the glyph <teʔ> had to do for te, tes, de, des, tɛ, tɛs, d, dɛs, multiplied by five tones each. Eventually the Bé would add more phonetic detail.
Despite this ambiguity the early writing system was useful, adopted first by traders, then by administrators, finally by poets and thinkers. The Lé had never been ones for slavish devotion to their leaders, but now private conversations became public ones.
Clearly an external enemy was needed. The obvious choice was Mɔłɔsɔu, which (in Lé memory) had responded inadequately during the invasion of the sea creatures. There were wars with Mɔłɔsɔu starting in 1910, in 1937, and 1954. This damped down opposition at first, but now the question was “Why does the army keep fighting wars it can’t win?”
(The Mɔłɔ had destroyed Hakesata as an organized state in the late 1800s, though they didn’t occupy all its territory. The Hake were not used as troops, but as they did much of the work, this allowed their mistresses to devote more time to war, so their unusual social system probably worked to their advantage.)
The next war would have to one of conquest. It began in 1983, and at first it went well: the western third of the country was occupied. But now the war bogged down. The Mɔłɔ had their own largely male swordsmen when strength was called for; but they were also expert at using the crossbow to harrass a moving force, and this was all the easier on their own ground. Lé supply lines were stretched to the breaking point; the Mɔłɔ were stronger at sea and were decimating the coastal trade; they had also allied with Hàɔráŋ, opening a second front close to home. After a decade there were mutinies both at home, from battalions unwilling to march 1000 km to fight, and on the front, from starving and disease-ridden troops.
In 1997 a large faction of the army in the Lé homeland, supported by the leading aristocratic jɔ, announced that they were putting queen Dɔjíŋ back in power. Dɔjíŋ accordingly decreed that the male battalions were relieved of their duties. It seemed prudent to take this step when most of them were forty days’ march away, but there was little guarantee that the transition would go smoothly.
In the 1920s, Khrairam, emperor of Uytai, convinced himself that the elcari of the Kròŋâ mountains were gouging the Uytainese on the price of iron weapons and armor, and undertook to take their secrets by force. Thus began the only large-scale human-elcar war.
It wasn’t easy for either side. Almean humans aren’t well adapted for the mountains, and an elcarin khak is studded with fortifications and traps designed to match the considerable deviousness of múrtani; the elcari also had fine steel weapons and frightening tools such as steam-powered catapults and transports. On the other hand, the Uytainese had raw numbers and certain magical powers, and could overwhelm elcarin defenders by simply sending in enough men.
After about five years, it was time for a truce. A basic deal was in reach— help with iron metallurgy in return for what the elcari considered war reparations and the humans a fee— when a young elcar (only 200 years old) incautiously asked why the Uytainese had gone to war to learn what the Lé already knew. The Uytainese, feeling cheated all over again, broke off negotiations. Eventually they accepted that the Lé were not given the secret of iron for free (in fact, as we’ve seen, they learned it from the ktuvoks), but the payment was reduced.
The elcari had not given up much; the techniques they taught relied on burning charcoal, and Uytai was not rich in forests. Nor did trade appreciably decline; the elcarin weapons were still better, and they were the easiest source of iron ore anyway. But Khrairam and the Uytainese were satisfied; they had wrested secrets from the elcari and secured the army’s access to iron.
In the 1930s Khrairam’s son Nyekhrai put Uytai’s new knowledge to use by conquering Siad βo. For the attack on its capital, Ɣardze, it trotted out its prize trophy from the elcarin war: a steam-powered catapult which was to fell Ɣardze’s walls. It lobbed three enormous boulders, weakening though not breaking the main gate, and then its boiler exploded. As the catapult could no longer move itself, it was left where it was, a monument to the empire’s greatness, or perhaps something else.
Since the death of Syalenar, Hyemsur had become first a fashion, then a school of philosophy, then something of a religion, complete with monasteries, shrines, rites, and priests (and priestesses). The religious atmosphere of Arcél was never exclusive; if there were bureaucratic forms with “Religion:” no one but clerics would know how to fill in the blank. Hyemsur appealed to certain people or to certain moods— created in a troubled time, it spoke best to people in difficulty.
The first nomadic empire
The Sumë had honed their fighting skills jostling for grazing lands, but they now considered themselves warriors, and the agriculturalist weak, fat prey. The gtaz or emperor Tlan had cemented their unity, and around 1960 led his forces in the conquest of Pirthunswiʔ, the Smë rift valley. The war was brutal and the aftermath worse; it’s likely that half the peasants were killed. The primary defense of a peasant society against nomads is its fecundity, which makes it too large to destroy and allows it to dedicate a fraction of the population to war; Pirthunswiʔ was simply too small to accomplish either.
When the news reached Uytai there was much alarm; the Sumë were said to be worse than ktuvoks and just as large.
Smë is of course a worn-down form of Sumë, but it’s useful to distinguish the early nomadic empire from the rift valley held by its later descendants.
The Nyan peninsula is still largely forested. It was thus the most important source of wood in the south; but in the last century or so the ports of Krantet in Nyandai and Thethlim and Worso in Čwam have become the most important makers of ships (as well as producers of iron). Many were sold to other nations, but Nyanese navigators also explored and traded in their own right.
They ranged from Fkišnak in the west to Ťrim in the east— normally not much farther, as there was not much to trade. Occasionally ships travelled to the Tsihsip river on the other side of the Togwaš peninsula; and some bold mariner made it all the way to Hàɔráŋ— a journey of over 7000 km, though entirely coastal. This was an exhausting route, but it showed both sides that trade could be conducted by sea, much easier and safer than crossing the mountains.
The Čwamese took over the Tsemeʔ islands as a staging post during an inconclusive war with Nyandai (c. 1970), and kept them as a useful seaport.
Uytai lost the lead in maritime navigation and trade in part due to a geographical disadvantage: the Ħomtso delta did not offer easy access to the sea. It was highly fertile and thus densely populated, but the river meandered to the sea over grassy marshes, frequently changing channels. The water was shallow, so that only ships of low draft could dock at the ports. (Canals were dredged, as at Thestyet, but this work had to be periodically redone.) The hilly terrain of Nyan by contrast plunged steeply into the water, creating some excellent natural harbors.
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