Around 2800 the ʔarpauram nye ʔarfroipham was published. Its title, The emperor’s book of all knowledge, was an accurate guide to the intentions of its editors, a group of scholars engaged by the emperor Tyaiwey to write down everything needed for the education of his son. What follows is the encyclopedia’s entry on Mwatwor [mwa twor].
- Mwatwor was the fiftieth of the kings of Srethun and the eighth listed on the Miller’s Stele, the son of king Kyaukhrai. He reigned for 24 years beginning in year 1210 of the silver era. Conqueror of Swiʔkyau, Thestyet, and ʔaunhun, he was the sixteenth of the King-conquering Masters of Uytai. A sage of surpassing intelligence, a priest of great benevolence, and a king of ferocious anger, he has been venerated to the present day in Srethun, and his uywar was one of those taken by king Purkrau and returned by king Hwentet.
- Mwatwor fell in love with Fainyun, the daughter of the king of Thestyet, and he built a great palace for her in that city filled with the sound of running water. He built the Old Triumphal Arch, the Baths of Mwatwor, and the Peach Palace.
- He told us, “To subjects we counsel obedience, for it is an evil thing to oppose the voice of the ancestors. To princes we counsel mildness and fairness, though burning anger toward evildoers and enemies.”
- He had ten palaces, sixteen wives, and fifty sons of which the third, Tetyor, was his heir. To his sorrow, Fainyun plotted against him in favor of her son Tyaiso and he put her to death.
- Mwatwor is the subject of the epic poem “The glory of Mwatwor”, but this was written more than six centuries later and is not historically trustworthy.
And not much more is known than that. Before literacy, it was hard to get your résumé remembered.
Some glosses are necessary for readers who are not educated Uytainese.
- Fiftieth king
- Legends created a long line of kings extending into prehistory. The Miller’s Stele is the oldest archeological evidence of the actual kings of Srethun— a set of carved stone portraits, with heraldic glyphs associated with each. It took years to recognize what the stele was and correlate it to the kings, and many Uytainese still hope that another panel will be discovered documenting some of the earlier legendary kings. To our best knowledge, however, Srethun was a primitive city state, whose origins match the names on the stele (i.e. 7 generations before Mwatwor).
- The silver era
- This began in -925 Z.E. (the next era is that of Tsopwan, starting in 577); Mwatwor’s reign is thus being assigned to Z.E. 285 to 307.
- Masters of Uytai
- A skeptic is struck that fifteen kings of Srethun before Mwatwor are described as conquering Uytai, while there are few accounts of them or their successors subsequently losing it. And especially from Mwatwor on, when specific conquests are given, as here, they are always cities near the delta. Mwatwor is the first monarch whose conquests are supported by corroborating evidence from other cities. He’s thus considered the first king to have actually conquered the Homtso delta.
- Sage, priest, king
- A description of the ideal monarch, from an early Uytainese perspective. Not all the kings receive this praise; Mwatwor is in fact unusually well regarded.
- His skeleton, assembled into a bundle and decorated with hides, jewels, and gold. The ancestor was considered to make the uywar his home, and they were both symbols of power and trophies for invaders.
- The scholars sorted through many traditions and claims to assign the remaining monuments and ruins of Srethun to preliterate kings. Sometimes they were a little sloppy: the Peach Palace was also assigned to Mwatwor’s son Tetyor. It’s safe to say that most of these attributions are centuries too early, especially as most of Srethun was destroyed in 600.
- Voice of the ancestors
- The official rulers were the ancestors; the monarch was the one, originally a priest, who had the power to speak for them. An advantage of this system was that the ancestors, though they were now spiritual powers, were still humans, and thus fallible and sometimes crazy. So a king could rarely go terribly wrong speaking for them.
- Sixteen wives
- A relatively modest number by the standards of his legendary predecessors, some of which had hundred of wives. This is another sign that the chronicles were passing from legend to history.
- Epic poem
- We can compare this dismissal to earlier encyclopedias and compendiums, which fill out Mwatwor’s life with the story of the poem, which was written around 950 in Uykhrai by one Peyhyor. It’s full of anachronisms— Mwatwor is depicted as a great champion against the kings of Krwŋ, for instance, though Krwŋ hadn’t even been founded in his day. Of course, there’s no reason we can’t examine Peyhyor’s narrative in more detail.
The Glory of Mwatwor
The poet begins with Mwatwor as a young king, mounting a campaign against the coastal city of Swiʔkyau. He is bold, fearless, and handsome; his only passion is to prevail in war.
This changes when he sees Fainyun, whom the poet turns into the queen of Tsopwan, who is a guest in the palace of the king of Swiʔkyau. He glimpses her in a window and immediately falls in love— she is the most beautiful woman in the world. He rushes to fight his way into the palace she’s in; but she flees ahead of him. He strikes down countless soldiers and officials; here and there he finds tokens of her: a gown; her jewelry; a bottle of oil for her hair. He reaches the docks and glimpses her escaping in a boat. Their eyes lock, but she is gone.
He is depressed for days; he refuses any of the women his generals present to him, and is not even solaced by his first wife Hensiʔ when she arrives from Srethun. He must have Fainyun.
Now the stories of conquest interweave with the king’s courtship of Fainyun, so that the battles for each city become an allegory for the romance. The first conquest, of Swiʔkyau, allows him a glimpse of her. The second allows him a conversation (she is at this point regally distant, but it’s evident that he has an effect on her). The next grants him an embrace. And the last, the conquest of Tsopwan, enables him to possess her.
But he only has her body, not her heart. She is colder than ever. He conquers three more cities, and from the tribute gives her three grand gifts; all of this is allegorical. The first gift is a palace, and represents protection and comfort. The second is a temple, symbolizing kindness and respect. The third is a garden, representing beauty and fertility. A king never apologizes, but he may change his behavior. It works; he wins her over and takes her as his wife— even promoting her above Hensiʔ.
The last city conquered, leading to Fainyun’s acceptance, is Uykhrai, a telling anachonism: the poet, Peyhyor, was Uykhrainese, writing in a time when Uykhrai struggled against the ancient, proud kingdom of Tsopwan. His original listeners could relish a story which humbled an arrogant monarch of that city.
Both women bear children; the important ones are Fainyun’s son Tyaiso and Hensiʔ’s son Tetyor. They were born on the same day, and grow up as great friends and rivals, even as Mwatwor fights against the strong, primitive northern lords of Krwŋ. Each of his wives beg him to make her son his heir, but he cannot choose between them.
It’s Tetyor, however, who helps his father conquer Twot from the Krwŋese. Fainyun despairs, believing that only deceit can help her son now. She steals the robes of Themthes, one of Mwatwor’s junior wives, and arranges for them to be found in Tetyor’s chambers. Mwatwor is unwilling to believe that his wife was despoiled by his own son, but doubt has been sown. Hensiʔ strikes back. One night Tyaiso comes to her palace to visit Tetyor; she gives him much peach wine to drink. When he falls asleep she has servants urinate and vomit on him— making it appear that he had shamefully soiled himself.
The incidents escalate, till finally Fainyun goes too far. The Krwŋese have invaded, attempting to reconquer Twot; Tetyor is in charge of the defending forces. By means of a spell, however, Fainyun causes him to fall into a deep sleep. The city is lost, and Tetyor is only himself saved when his cat claws him. (It’s a talking cat, in fact; its adventures with Tetyor form an extended subplot.)
Mwatwor learns of this and confronts Fainyun. She is alternately abject and angry; she will bear any punishment but begs him to spare her son; she cries at the seeming loss of his affection: once he conquered cities for her, now she is reduced to foolish schemes to recapture his favor. She removes her robes, asking if he he truly no longer wants her. He does; he has sex with her, but, insultingly, does not finish, but scatters his seed on the floor.
She attempts suicide, but cannot bring herself to plunge the knife in her breast. She asks Tyaiso to do it, but he refuses, appalled. The punishment for treachery is gruesome: poison plus evisceration. Mwatwor spares her the latter, but forces her to pick up and drink the poison herself. Its effects are slow enough that she can deliver a long rhymed speech professing her love of Mwatwor, her scorn for Hensiʔ, and her puzzled resentment over her ill treatment.
Mwatwor weeps, because he truly loved her. He had decided, in fact to make her son his heir— all her intrigues were unnecessary. But they must not be allowed to succeed, and anyway Tyaiso reminds him too much of her. He exiles him to Swiʔkyau, to the same palace where he first saw Fainyun.
Hensiʔ is triumphant, but not for long; her pettiness only reinforces her inferiority to Fainyun, and he never visits her again. He comforts himself with the pretty and unassuming Themthes, and busies himself with government and with the education of his son Tetyor, who will succeed him. “You may conquer cities and nations, and they are yours,” he tells him. “Conquer women, however, and you will only think they belong to you. Like your cat, they are yours but never yours.”