The Krwŋese were a martial society, proud of their conquests of Sɔitsɔi, the pastoral highlands, and ultimately the Uytainese capital, Uykhrai. Behind these successes was a more thorough militarization than any Uyram state had previously achieved.
Krwŋese values are showcased in the tales surrounding Nyekhen [nje ˈkʰɛn], an early general who became a culture hero, an embodiment of rough Krwŋese machismo.
Etymology: Uyseʔ ‘(son) of a wolf’
The later Kemic and Mnesean pastoralists were entirely nomadic, but the Uyram who developed the lifestyle lived in fixed villages (lu), with access to running water. Around 915, Nyekhen was born in one of these, a very small and remote settlement whose water source was a tiny creek. He spent long days in the hills tending the sheep, goats, and notseh cattle. This included protecting them from predators and thieves; he killed his first wolf at the age of eight, and killed a robber when he was twelve.
Drafted into the king’s army, he rose quickly through the ranks, known for his boldness, skill with all weapons, and frightening battle rage. Off the battlefield, he was disciplined and abstemious; his men nicknamed him Hreram, the Priest. He believed that dissipation spoiled battle skills; he required his soldiers to fast and abstain from sex the night before battle, though they ate a hearty breakfast. He despised city living— fine food, peach wine, soft beds, cotton clothing, jewelry, languorous women— and proclaimed himself happiest camping on the ground eating game he had hunted and prepared himself.
His attitudes toward women were equivocal. It was often observed that women grew tougher as one travelled north: Krwŋese women were stronger than Uytainese, herdswomen tougher than peasants, the Bé strongest of all. Nyekhen praised the hardworking, self-reliant women of his homeland; the women of the cities and southern regions were— like their menfolk— too soft for him.
Rape was a tool of warfare, even an incitement for recruiting: men fought (or said they did) to save their women and despoil others. It was even ritualized to some extent: as a general Nyekhen was expected to despoil the highest-ranking women in a conquered city. He seems to have viewed this as a disagreeable duty; he was not much more appreciative of the women who sought him out, attracted by his fame. But he was not a family man; he had several liaisons with herdswomen but never lived with them.
Though many stories are told about him, his chief historical importance relates to the battle for Khurħan, a city in Sɔitsɔi. His army, camped east of the city, was surrounded by a larger force, and for some time it looked like the Krwŋese army would be lost, and with it probably the war. Nyekhen fought his way out of the trap, destroyed the larger force, and for good measure took Khurħan.
If he was not used more, it was in part because the king, Sunrom, distrusted him. The instinct of kings is to discard successful generals, who are all too often a threat. Nyekhen famously declaimed any interest in power, but it was best to be prudent.
When neighboring Uykhrai invaded, however, Sunrom called upon Nyekhen to help with the defense. The Uykhrainese were advancing on Krwŋ; Nyekhen marched south faster, and came on them from behind. They were defeated, but Nyekhen was fatally wounded. In legend he was taken to see the king, uttered the single word Khyuʔ (‘Victory’), and expired. Sunrom granted him in death honors he had never bestowed in life: command of all his armies, a dukedom, a princess to wed. (As he was not royalty, the girl was not required to be sacrificed to join her husband, but she did have to live with his uywar or consecrated bones.)
The quotable Nyekhen
Though Nyekhen disdained speeches and rhetoric— see the first two quotes— he was as known for his sayings as for his deeds. A selection:
Nwai fretuy he; pwer nar mur ħwewn har kroy senphaut kwon muren rit fwai.
- Words are devils, which may lead a man pick up a sword; but they can never teach him to use it.
(Advised by an enemy envoy to surrender)
Hintser har nye nwai sruyn fwuy khyet yo kroy phuy.
- A man’s words are just wind, if his sword is sheathed.
(After someone advocated using a ruse in battle)
Pyey sruyn or ħet fwai. Na ħet: pwi swaum tyai he.
- I only use one trick. That trick is to be stronger than the enemy.
(Asked if he had a backup plan in case a charge failed)
- We die.
(Asked if he ever felt fear)
Khyet kwar kwor krem wau fuy hinnar kwar syer fyaulen kwet.
- Cause fear, and you need never worry about that.
Kwon kroy feyram keʔ un tyaur kroytsya he— slor kwon thrau fra nye hafrul nyim tyaur si he.
- A farmer may be given a sword, but it no more makes him a soldier than a feathered headdress makes him a bird.
Pwer har thoy hwai phrew ħwim than kwon wau nye nren phepe than.
- Men will fight to save their women, but will fight harder to seize other men’s.
Har nye thai kroyar swaum hluʔ ar syit he. Kuyfen nrewnsye he. ʔar feyram khyuʔar mur hluʔtsrat.
- The measure of a man is how he faces an armed foe. Cruelty is cowardice: any peasant can abuse the defeated.
Pwer har nit huy nurtyun thu kroy fwai tsre orken pret fyat thu petfen fwai tsre. Tser huy nar fuy lye?
- To die in a moment or an hour from the blade, or over a decade from old age? Which is more to be feared?
(Before his last battle, told that the enemy had more men)
Hintser pwi tulpyey pwit tsrear syal.
- Then they will have more corpses.
Nyekhen in anecdotes
Nyekhen has been venerated for milennia, even or especially by the southern states that were his enemies. He has been a particular favorite of Swolanists, who highly value both martial vigor and moral purity; Hyemsurists, without condemning him, consider his bellicosity to be the product of a simpler, harsher age.
When printing came to Uytai in the 3400s, it was used for mass-producing school textbooks, which featured simple inspiring stories of Nyekhen. Inevitably this produced a rash of parodies, such as one from Nyandai that begins:
- Nyekhen was a strong man, who never spoke to a man he had not beaten up, and never met an animal without killing and eating it. He did not know rain, for he would attack and defeat the clouds if they dared spill their water, except for once a month when he chose to shower. He commanded a legion of followers who would die for him, once a day. Women could not resist him and men could not stop watching. He could easily have become king, but he had vowed never to let his ass touch soft cushions.
In popular culture he was sometimes reduced in intelligence, as in the following Uytainese story:
- Nyekhen was sent by the king to a neighboring country, to sign a peace treaty. He did not know the language, so he was instructed thus: they would ask his name, and he should say “Nyekhen”; they would ask if he was an envoy for the king, and he should say “I am”; they would ask how long the peace treaty would last, and he should reply “Till the world ends.”
- He travelled to the foreign country; but their capital was in an uproar since the prince had been murdered. They told him, “We are searching for the assassin,” and he replied, “Nyekhen.” With surprise, they asked, “Are you confessing to the crime?” “I am,” he said. “You will be put in prison,” they warned him, and he answered, “Till the world ends.”
- He was thrown in prison, and he was obliged to wrest open the iron bars of his cage to escape. A robber attempted to detain him, but he killed the man with an iron bar; happily, it was the prince’s assassin. The king of that land wished to reward him, and asked what he valued most. “Nyekhen,” he replied. The king was impressed: “You mean that you lack nothing, and you are happy to receive no reward?” “I am.” The king nodded, but said, “At least stay and drink with me.” “Till the world ends,” replied Nyekhen.