Belesao [be24 le34 saɔ52] is the most powerful nation in the Bé, that is, the Beic-speaking cultural zone of northern Arcél. Its heartland is the Lɛn river, and its capital is the sprawling city of Jansɛ̀, one of the largest cities of Almea. Its language is properly Létɔ̌ŋ, but may, like the people, be called Lé.
Etymology: In the Lé language, Bé ‘great’ (the ethnonym for all Beic-speaking peoples) + Lé (once a dynastic name, now an ethnic group) + sàɔ ‘country’; Keb. Belesau, Ver. Belesáu; Uyseʔ Hwaitai 'woman-land'
To the west are the Mǎsdò (‘sunset’) mountains; the the east the Mǎslù (‘sunrise’), and to the south the Kròŋǎ (‘end of the world’) mountains. To the north is the Béłas or Great Ocean, an arm of the Zëi Escrín.
The full history of Belesao is lengthy; see the Historical Atlas of Arcél for a fuller account.
Ecologically northern Arcél is a rain forest, and for thousands of years has long supported high human population densities, including permanent settlements, especially along the rivers. Among the Bé, the men were hunters and the women gatherers; discarded seeds germinated near the settlements, at first randomly, then encouraged by the women, though this at first only supplemented gathered food. Around -750, however, the nawr ox was domesticated, and allowed fields to be more easily cleared and tilled, leading to a transition to full garden agriculture. Even today, plots are not cultivated permanently, but carved out of the jungle, tended for a few years, and abandoned.
Trade with Krwŋ, across the mountains, led to more sophisticated technology and cultural patterns. As it was the women who tended the gardens and thus were more likely to be found by traders in their settlements, they became the local traders. Power within the tribe shifted from men to women— the basis for the unusual female-dominated societies of the Bé.
The trading depot of Héjùs developed into the first Bé city-state, around 1100. The name of its royal family, the Tràŋ, became that of all Bé queens. It was soon joined by a number of other city-states along the Ŋě, the Lɛn, and the Čú.
Krwŋ attempted to invade, in the 1380s; this led to the organization of the first regional state, Pànsàɔ. The states of Jansɛ̀ extending along the coast, and Dásnâr along the Ŋě, emerged to check the power of the Pàn.
The three states fought incessantly but inconclusively in the 1500s. The cities of Kêkè and Sîpó were detached from Pànsàɔ by Jansɛ̀, but in 1588 rebelled under their own dynasty, the Lé, under queen Sɔnjɔs.
The Lé state
Against all odds the tiny state rebuffed a Pàn invasion, and then invaded Jansɛ̀, first feinting from the west to make it look like an attack from Dásnâr; then, with most of the Jansene army out of the city, taking Jansɛ̀ itself in a brilliant two-pronged land-sea attack.
Sɔnjɔs took over the rest of Pànsàɔ in 1601, and her daughter Jolɔ completed the conquest of Dásnâr in 1613— essentially forming the nation of Belesao, though it was properly called Lésàɔ at this time.
Sea monster invasion
In 1690 the new queendom faced an unprecedented crisis: ktuvoks fleeing the destruction of Munkhâsh attempted to form a ktuvok empire in the swamps at the head of the Lɛn. The ktuvoks started off well, taking Jansɛ̀ and several other cities and besieging the Lé capital, Sîpó; they had introduced new metallurgical techniques, crossbows, and stone walls, as well as improved military training and tactics which initially made their advance devastating.
But the Lé quickly mastered these techniques— the Jansenes under ktuvok dominance simply shared the new technology with their ‘enemies’. The ktuvoks were in a hurry and could not prepare their usual policy of isolating ethnic groups.
The men’s empire
The war dragged on. The great size of the ktuvoks necessitated strong attackers, which led to the increasing use of male warriors; in 1705 the men’s battalions rebelled, taking over the government and creating what's known as the Men’s Empire (Tɛbétlìn; it retained a Lé queen).
A bold assault on Ŋêsɛ̀ seemed to vindicate the men’s more aggressive strategy, but then positions hardened once more. The empire looked for allies, finding them in Hàɔráŋ and among the elcari and iliu. That did the trick; Jansɛ̀ was recaptured in 1715 and the ktuvoks largely eliminated by 1719.
The war also spurred the development of a Lé writing system, based on that of Uytai.
Needing an enemy to justify their continued rule, the men settled on the conquest of Mɔłɔsɔu— starting in 1910 and continuing in fits and starts through the end of the century. But the distances involved were devastating: the army was tearing itself up on Mɔłɔ territory, and the home country was increasingly unwilling to pay the price. A faction of the military, supported by the aristocracy, deposed the men in 1997. As most of the army was forty days’ march away, it was felt that the revolution had good chances to succeed.
But the country soon devolved into civil war— indeed, when the men finally counter-invaded, in 2017, they found employment as mercenaries on several sides.
Formation of Belesao
The city of Jansɛ̀ organized an alliance that destroyed the power of the priestesses of Kâ (2261), which had not only taken over the Ŋě valley but imposed corruption and protection rackets on all Lé commerce. The Jansenes suggested making the alliance permanent, and a Great Council (béjan) was called in 2267 to discuss the terms of union.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the council proposed itself as a fair government. This prevented the domination by any one party and created the first representative government in the major nations of Arcél. For greatest legitimacy a queen was seen as necessary; this would be Trɛlù, the ten-year-old daughter of the current Lé monarch. She would live in a new palace at Kêkè to emphasize the new beginning; her realm would be called Bélésàɔ, the Bé and Lé country.
Nérsàɔ was conquered by 2317; this was the end of the Men’s Empire, which had become the aristocracy of that nation.
The Bé empire
Stability led to a Bé renaissance; trade and industry flourished; inventors devised mechanical clocks, the compass, cast iron, and then steel. The writing system was regularized to better represent Lé phonetics and eliminate the need to know Uyseʔ to write properly.
Queen Nàlâe named herself empress in 2538; this was vindicated in 2542-48 with the conquest of Mɔłɔsɔu. This didn’t go smoothly, and the Lé finally withdrew from the country in 2628.
In the 3020s the nation collapsed into civil war. The conflict was between the coastal and upriver towns— essentially between the urban / mercantile / littoral zone and the agricultural / military zone. The landowners had multiple grievances against the cities: they charged too much, they didn’t pull their weight militarily, and above all, they were getting too powerful.
Jansɛ̀ declared itself neutral in the conflict, and managed to retain control over its traditional dependencies along the coast. The Hàɔ moved their border south and regained control of Pahni.
In 3075 Jansɛ̀ mediated an end to the war— essentially the power of the coastal cities was recognized in return for subsidies to the rural regions. Jansɛ̀ became the new capital. However, Ânhɛ̀ in the northeast refused to rejoin the reconstituted queendom.
The modern queendom
In the 3100s ships began appearing from Kebri, and in the late 3200s from Verduria. These brought many fascinating products and inventions: clocks, telescopes, porcelain, grape wine, cheap silk, as well as new ideas from gunpowder, printing, and gravity. The Bé paid at first in silver and spices, and then in tea.
Tea was grown in the highlands just south of Belesao, and some was even grown in the small pastoral zone just south of the rain forest; some merchants imported tea north through Belesao rather than south through Uytai. In the 3290s Gdōšnīmag, emperor of the Ōkmisan, attempted to take control of this northern trade by invading Belesao; he expected that the all-female Lé armies would be a walkover. But his horses were useless in the jungle, and the Lé refused to face him in formation, but attacked from all over like insects. Gdōšnīmag gave up in disgust, though the nomads retained the pastoral fringe of the country.
Relations with Ereláe
Belesao is highly focused on the threats and opportunities from Ereláe. The northward tea trade gives it some leverage, but the Kebreni control the intercontinental trade, having even taken over Pahsau as a strong local base.
The Lé, long complacent as the dominant state in their half of the continent, have begun to realize that they are far behind Ereláe in technology, and vulnerable to economic and perhaps political domination. This has led to both angry reaction and slavish imitation— though it is not yet clear what aspects of Ereláean society to copy. There is little understanding of the Ereláeans’ science or economic systems; a good deal of interest in their religions; and an intense interest in their technology.
On both sides there is a good deal of confusion caused by Beic female domination: neither side really readily believes that the weaker sex can run a society. The Lé tend to assume that the Ereláeans must be violent and stupid, their advanced technology perhaps invented at home by female savants and wizards; the Ereláeans at their worst assume that the Bé they meet are sex objects cutely pretending to rule, and at best romanticize them as mysterious and strangely capable, like the iliu.
There is one technology which the Bé have developed farther than any other human nation: gunpowder weapons. They took the cannons of the Kebreni and Verdurians, learned how to make them smaller, and finally created something like the terrestrial musket.
In addition conflict with the Ōkmisan continued. The Lé recovered some of their highlands when Ōkmisan were pushed back by the Uytainese, but in the last century the Ōkmisan have found an effective if slow method of dealing with the impenetrable jungle: burn it down. However, this is a fairly minor threat.