It may be asked why the Men’s Empire (Tɛbétlìn) didn’t reverse the overall Beic domination by women. The answer is fairly simple: their rebellion wasn’t against all women or for all men; it was a seizure of power by the héŋké, the sword and pike battalions of the army. The infantrymen had no interest in sharing power; their wealth and importance depended on being a limited class. Dâɔ’s life is a window into this strange interlude of Beic history.
He was born around 1958 in a town near Ŋêsɛ̀, the metropolis at the mouth of the Ŋê river. By this time the Men’s Empire had been in power for more than two centuries. It had taken power during the ktuvok wars, and long retained lustre from the victory over the ‘sea monsters’ (łasdrûr).
Dǎɔ was born into a military family: his father was an officer (kɔ̀stló), and his older sister joined the sòŋké, the archery battalions, which were still entirely female. His father had a relatively quiet post, garrisoning Ŋêsɛ̀. He was well paid; Dǎɔ grew up in a large house with servants.
At the earliest age he could, 14, Dǎɔ joined the héŋké. He was assigned to his father’s lón (battalion of 512 men— Lé numeration is octal), but spent the next two years in camp, in intensive training with sword, spear, and pike, as well as other physical activities. There was also education in Lé history, law, and culture, mathematics, music, and the natural sciences: an inhéŋ or infantryman was supposed to be cultivated and intelligent, a fighting aristocrat.
After his training was up, he was allowed to live comfortably in his father’s house. The duties of the garrison were not onerous, and Dǎɔ was able to participate in the social life of Ŋêsɛ̀. Traditionally the army had been a lower social rung than the aristocracy, but the men of the héŋké were effectively in charge of the government. Socially, then, they ranked with the aristocrats, only just under the royal family. (Half the héŋké was still composed of women; these trained and camped separately and did not participate either in government or in high society.)
It would be striking to us, but merely a basic fact of life to Dǎɔ, that the lifestyle of the héŋké differed from that of the families they associated with. The aristocrats, merchants, and artists were traditional female-headed jɔ. The héŋké technically had no families at all: soldiers were not permitted to marry, as this was felt to reduce their commitment to combat— they could have concubines (innù) but not wives (lɔ). There were romances between héŋké men and society women, but these could not be permanent unless the woman was willing to accept a drastic loss of status. Innù generally came from the lower classes or were themselves the daughters of infantrymen.
Dǎɔ took full advantage of the liaisons available to him, both in high and low society. He had an innù for a time, and a child, but quarreled with the girl and left her.
Ŋêsɛ̀ had a reputation of being a second-rate city, far behind the wealth and culture of the cities of the Lɛn. The Nesenes resented this characterization, and made a special effort to encourage architecture, art, and literature. It was the only Lé city to have an architectural planning board, and many visitors in fact called it the most beautiful of Lé cities— though always in a condescending tone that only infuriated the Nesenes more.
The Mɔłɔ war
Dǎɔ’s life changed dramatically when war with Mɔłɔsɔu began in 1983, when he was about 25. The quiet life of the garrison was over; his battalion was assigned to the invasion force. The transition to military life was quick: there weren’t enough ships to carry the whole army, so Dǎɔ’s battalion marched the 1000 km to the front, then quickly plunged into battle.
Later he described his first kill:
- We were storming a hill— the enemy line had broken, and people were flying in all directions into the forest. We pursued them like dogs after a flock of birds— no discipline, just running at the closest one. I came upon a woman— she was stumbling around, obviously disoriented. I still remember her face as she saw me— scared, dirty, but mostly fatigued; she was so tired she couldn’t think straight. I had to stop for breath myself, and make sure from her armor and colors that she was Mɔłɔ. She must have made the same calculation, because she reached for her dagger and started to inch forward. At that moment you either panic or you do what needs doing. I kept my eye on the knife... didn’t want that thing touching me. But I had my sword; without thinking much I knocked her knife hand with it, then thrust it into her gut. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t hit hard enough. She was transfixed, making terrible noises... I had to pull back and strike again, more than once. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Finally she was dead. I couldn’t look at her; I focussed on her dagger, dropped on the ground a few feet away. It looked small now— it seemed unfair that they’d sent her to battle with it. They didn’t, of course— probably she was an archer and she’d lost her bow.
He saw action in the initial invasion, through the Mâslù mountains, in the capture of Jiŋło, and the sieges of Plipoŋ and Klousa. He was injured several times, and twice was laid out for long periods by sickness.
Dǎɔ the general
He rose in the ranks, becoming an officer, finally becoming a łùrtró or general— master of a łùr, one of the twelve divisions of the Lé army, theoretically made up of 4096 soldiers. His was divided into eight lón or battalions: three male héŋké, one female héŋké, five sòŋké, and one čùŋké (artillery); with logistics, supply, aides, dependents, he was responsible for at least 10,000 people.
The war dragged on for years. There had been three wars with the Mɔłɔ before, each inconclusive, each leading to unrest at home. Fighting ktuvoks was one thing; why did Lé need to fight Mɔłɔsɔu? For that matter, why did it need a large standing army at all, and one that ran the government, more like a Uytainese despotate than a Bé state? The Łùrjan, the army’s high council, only became more adamant when pressed. The only way to end the “Mɔłɔ threat” was total victory.
Dǎɔ spent a year in Sîpó, the capital, assigned to the Łùrjan, helping to oversee the overall conduct of the war. Much of this was logistics— rounding up soldiers, food, and weapons and sending them off to the east. But there were also political issues— which amounted to keeping the aristocrats and the leading merchants in line, by an adroit and constantly changing set of carrots and sticks.
Civil society was increasingly tired of the war, though not uniformly so. Ironmakers, and shipbuilders, and many merchants profited from the war— at least so long as they were paid well; in later years the government relied more and more on requisitions, to be repaid “upon victory”, which of course were greatly resented.
In 1991 Hàɔráŋ entered the war on the Mɔłɔ side. Dǎɔ was posted to his hometown of Ŋêsɛ̀, where he coordinated the defense of this second front. Much of the action took place at sea, where the Hàɔ and Mɔłɔ were stronger than the Lé. Dǎɔ struggled to learn how ships, shipbuilding, and naval warfare worked. He was quite relieved to be transferred back to Mɔłɔsɔu.
Among themselves, the héŋké could be candid. One report Dâɔ prepared for the Łùrjan noted:
- The chief obstacles, which must be addressed before victory is possible, are enemy command of the sea, and inadequate supply. Other difficulties, such as the mutiny of the Lùní garrison, arise out of these. An interval of non-fighting may be necessary to build up our shipyards in Ŋêsɛ̀ and Jansɛ̀ and to establish sources of supply directly in Nérsàɔ [the east].
Dǎɔ instigated secret negotiations with the Mɔłɔ to feel out the possibility of a truce. But the Mɔłɔ refused a cease-fire while a third of their country was in Lé hands. They were fighting defensively, with short supply lines, and were able to fight on easier than the Lé.
The queen’s revolt
In 1997 a large faction of the army revolted, arresting the Łùrjan and announcing that queen Dɔjíŋ would be placed back in power. All the male héŋké— save the four lón that were part of the coup— were declared to be disbanded.
The héŋké were incensed, and quickly established a new Łùrjan. Some of the łùrtró favored an immediate march on Sîpó; Dâɔ himself advocated taking time to consolidate a power base in Nérsàɔ. But the majority favored a push to finish the conquest of Mɔłɔsɔu.
Within a year it was clear that this was a catastrophic failure— the problem of supply was acute now that the heartland was in revolt. Jiŋło was lost, and then the entire front line wavered and broke. The Mɔłɔ pushed the army back to the Mâslù mountains and then counter-invaded Nérsàɔ. It was now their turn to be overextended. The two sides, exhausted, signed a cease-fire in 1999.
The empire in Nérsàɔ
Now Dǎɔ’s position won out, though he and the other generals saw it only as a temporary measure, a means of rebuilding a stressed-out, nearly starving army before retaking power.
The chief of the Łùrjan, named Sɔn, insisted on naming a queen. Dâɔ disagreed— hadn’t preserving Dɔjíŋ’s role led to trouble? But Sɔn was a traditionalist: the queen-and-Łùrjan system had defeated the ktuvoks and thrived for two centuries, and he believed it was necessary to appeal to Beic society. Dâɔ grumbled but acquiesced, and even helped pick out the new queen— Trɛŋáe, a lady with the required attributes: young, royal, amenable, and at hand.
She was installed in a palace in Hunhɛ̀, and Dǎɔ headed the army based in the city. In 2004 he was named sérǎetló or chief minister, the administrator of the civil government. So far as he and the héŋké were concerned, the purpose of the government was to support the military; but there were plenty of non-military headaches as well: keeping down crime, encouraging trade, staving off famine among the civilians.
The delay grew longer and longer: the army was decimated, the peasants on the verge of starvation; what military resources could be spared were needed to defend Nérsàɔ from both the Lé and the Mɔłɔ.
Life during waiting time
As a matter of preserving both the héŋké’s power and its supply, Dǎɔ settled large estates on the officers, and encouraged them to live on their estates to ensure their development. Most of them ended up marrying Nér women— unlike back in Lésàɔ, these were called lɔ ‘wives’— and raising families. This was opposed by some, especially Sɔn, who warned that settled officers would be less willing to fight. But Dǎɔ insisted that only on-place supervision could prevent corruption and shirking.
These marriages required a new protocol, which took some time to work out. Ultimately they depended more on class than gender. If the couple were both upper class, they were equals (this was often signalled by having separate bedrooms or houses). (Officers were upper class; infantrymen were middle class.) If not, the higher-class partner took first place in the marriage. Children shared the class of their same-sex parent.
Dǎɔ, for instance, married a cousin of the queen. He had two sons, who both became héŋké, and one daughter, who founded an aristocratic jɔ.
The héŋké were concerned both to maintain themselves as a fighting force, and not to dilute their political power, now based directly on land ownership. The solution was to entrench the officer class: its size was frozen, and officers were succeeded by their sons (or by others of their choice; but outsiders would be formally adopted). Each one was responsible for building up a fighting force, either from the original héŋké army or by enlisting Nér men and women.
Dǎɔ insituted an architecture board as in his home town, and patronized Nér artists and writers. Few of his discoveries ever became famous back home, but many were important in Nér cultural history.
Invading the homeland
The army didn’t report that it was ready to take on the Lé till 2017. By this time Dǎɔ was in his sixties, and debilitated by arthritis. There was no question of joining the invasion; Dǎɔ continued to dedicate himself to logistics.
The authority of the Łùrjan wasn’t what it was. Each łùrtró was effectively an independent warlord. About half of them declined to support the invasion with more than token forces (ironically, this included Sɔn’s son Jɔ̀ŋ). Still, there was a fairly large force ready to retake Lésàɔ.
But the country didn’t exist any more; it had devolved into a civil war. The men were immediately invited by several sides to serve as mercenaries, and several łùrtró accepted. Dǎɔ attempted to funnel supplies to those łùrtró who remained committed to an invasion in the name of the original Tɛbétlìn, but he died in 2021 when the situation was still highly chaotic.
His elder son Čûr inherited his personal estate and łùr, which was assigned to defend Hunhɛ̀ and support the invasion; he was not however named sérǎetló. His younger son Dɔ had joined one of the mercenary łùr and was killed in battle.
Dǎɔ’s line continued while Nérsàɔ remained independent, till 2317.