To mark the completion of my world-building work for the Ilevans in The Sword of the Princess, I’ve prepared the following overview of their culture and history for readers. Enjoy!
Your Majesty, King Tsaroth:
In response to your inquiry on the history, culture, and disposition of the Ilevan Empire, I have scoured the scrolls in the royal library, searching for anything which might be of use to you in your negotiations with the Ambassador Rozma. Unfortunately, I found very little detailing the Ilevan Empire itself. Until little more than a decade ago, in fact, the Ilevans were a distant threat, beyond the borders of Archel and certainly beyond our concern. How the world has changed in my time!
But I digress. Your Majesty, the good news is that I was able to find out a good deal about the Zhoron peoples and their history, which I believe will give a good insight into that of the Ilevans since they are, as you know, related.
As Your Majesty may or may not remember from the history lessons I gave you so long ago, the Zhoron Empire was an ancient civilization that existed many centuries ago on the vast, hot Southern Continent of our world. Some five hundred years ago, they expanded their territory onto the southern reaches of our continent, which were then peopled by a nomadic group called the Arnan, of whom we know very little for certain. What we do know is that the Zhoron colonists fought extensively with the Arnan and, at length, wiped them out, taking the land for themselves. This land they called “Ileva,” after their word for the north, and it’s colonists became the Ilevans.
How these Ilevans came to rule an empire stretching from the southernmost shores of the Southern Continent all the way to our doorstep is difficult to parse out. The histories are incomplete and I confess that before these troubled times we Balnar never had any cause to concern ourselves with such distant affairs. Judging from what I can piece together from various historical treatise, there was, roughly three hundred years ago, a Great War. If the sources from this era can be believed, this war was so calamitous that it brought together kingdoms and peoples from one end of the world to the other to fight in its battles. There are legends, even that the good king Galorndel and his faithful knight Tristan traveled far away to fight in this Great War—a story I am sure Your Majesty will recall. It was one of your favorite tales as a child! In any case, the pertinent point is this: many of the war’s fiercest battles were fought in the Zhoron Empire, on the Southern Continent. Some sources claim these battles were so terrible that in their wake all the land for a hundred miles around was turned to chaos and turmoil. Of this there is some disturbing evidence, for where the most ancient maps show rivers and cities, even the Zhoron Empire’s great capital, maps of the Southern Continent made after this Great War show nothing but barren marshland which no human soul can cross.
The effect of this disastrous war was to throw the Zhoron Empire into anarchy and civil war. Claimants to the Imperial throne multiplied, but none had the power to control the vast empire, much less stop its crumbling into ruin. None, that is, save a general who had seized power in Ileva. The Imperial territories of Ileva, being located on our Continent, had not suffered the same horrors in the Great War as the rest of the Zhoron Empire, and so the Ilevan claimant was able to conquer his rivals and rebuild the Empire in his own image. Little is known of this man, but much is speculated, especially by the pagan religion of the Ilevans, which worships him as a god. All we know is that he called himself Arzemheba—which, being interpreted, is He Who Rules—and styled himself as the immortal consort of their pagan war goddess, to whom he owed his victories. Certainly this Arzemheba cannot be the same as the Emperor Arzemheba who sent Ambassador Rozma to us, but in the Ilevan sources I can find no mention of his succession—or of any succession beyond that which formed the Ilevan Empire—and other sources offer only speculation. Some have said the man is a demon who lives on forever in the flesh, others that he is a mortal taking up the mantle of his old predecessor in secret—a charlatan disguising himself as a god—, and others still believe that Arzemheba no longer exists as anything but a figment in the minds of the Ilevans and a figurehead through whom his descendants, Emperor’s Blood, rule. Myself, I favor the second opinion: demons there may be, but I refuse to see them in every place, and as for the Blood, the fact that even are known to tremble at the Emperor’s decrees makes me doubt that the throne is truly their puppet. In all of this speculation, I see no advantage for your current negotiations, except that it would be wise to keep in mind that authority does not rest with the Ambassador here and that deeper machinations may be going on in the Imperial capital than even he can know.
For the rest, we know a great deal about Zhoron culture, as it was before the war. The volumes of Marcus the Wanderer originate in that period, and the royal library retains an excellent copy, if I may say so myself. Marcus traveled extensively in the old Zhoron Empire, and wrote much of its people and their habits. I will not bother you with the particulars, but I believe much of what he observed may still be relevant, even to the Ilevans of today, whose habits and even language have changed to adapt to the Eastern-speaking people who inhabit this Continent.
First, there is the matter of women. Whereas our culture takes extremely liberal views toward women, even for an Eastern culture, theirs does not. Zhoron culture held women in generally low esteem and they were regarded much as chattel, passed from father to husband with never a say in the matter and never any rights to speak of. Their were exceptions of course, women who managed to be powerful through their influence on their husbands or women who found a place for themselves outside regular society altogether (their female mercenary companies are fascinating, though their devotion to the pagan goddess Inesvi is…unfortunate), but these were rare. If anything, Ilevan views were even more repressive. Their religion restricted the conjugal rights of Zhoron or Zhoron-descended men and women to highly ritual circumstances, but placed no such restriction on relations with foreign women. This the Ilevans took full advantage of, and as a consequence became known even in the Zhoron Empire of old for their lewd behavior and unrestrained depravity toward native women of the land they occupied. From what I’ve gathered from the servant’s observations, there is reason to believe this perverse streak in their natures persists to this day. Some I have even heard say that there are, in the Empire, a class of female slaves, wickedly deprived of their tongues, which the Ilevans preserve solely for their base pleasures—and further that this practice is endorsed and even facilitated by their religion as an acceptable alternative to natural relations between a man and his wife, as God intended them. I would therefore most strongly advise Your Majesty to take all due care to keep Her Highness, Princess Nicole, as far away as possible from the Ambassador and his staff, lest she fall victim to his depredations.
Second, there is the matter of family, which I think may have some bearing on the Ambassador in particular. In Zhoron culture, the family was paramount. The family, or House, was made up of several generations living together under a common elder or ma—the oldest man of the House. It was to these Houses, above all else, that the Zhoron peoples were loyal. They marked this loyalty in their very names. Whereas we, as all Eastern peoples, place our Christian name before our family name, they have the reverse: putting their family name before all names—and it is by this name they are most commonly known. I have seen little indication that the Ilevans changed this practice at all, though they may have abolished the use of the old words for it when they made Eastern the official language of the new Empire (the old Zhoron tongue, so far as I can tell, remains as their naming language). The important insight for Your Majesty is this: I have gathered from some of the Ambassador’s guards that the Ambassador’s given name and family name are both alike Rozma (which is itself an auspicious name to them, meaning sun). What this sameness of names means is quite simple, as Houses are most often named for the men who found or lead them: Rozma is a ma, the head of his own House. Possibly his House is a new one, founded by a change of fortunes quite recently. This means he will be ambitious, eager to establish his prestige not only for himself but also for all others in his House and all who may come after him. He may also feel himself beholden to no one, not even the Emperor, in his quest for glory. This can be a great threat, but knowing it can also be a great advantage in negotiations. As they say, Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Of the Ambassador’s other habits, I can offer something by way of explanation. Zhoron culture lived and died on showing proper deference to those above one in society. Their language contains the most astounding array of honorific forms of address that I have ever seen or heard of. While the Ilevans did away with the language, they most certainly did not do away with the deference. This explains Rozma’s evident disgust at the casual manner of the castle servants and guards toward Your Majesty, and also his outrageous suggestion that you allow him to execute them on the spot. I would take great care in allowing the castle staff to serve him and his men in the future, lest you not be there to restrain him next time.
Regarding his complaints about our meals, I can offer little more than explanation. Marcus the Wanderer observed that rice was the chief dish of all the Zhoron peoples and that they supplemented it with a paste made of crushed peppers, which they called leroz. Evidently this trend continues into our present day. Rice of course, is not to be found anywhere in Balanne, nor, I’m afraid, are peppers potent enough for the Ilevan pallet. However, the Zhorons are also said to have enjoyed game, and waterfowl, particularly their entrails. If you could persuade the kitchen staff to prepare such a meal, distasteful as we may find it, it might at least…lessen his incessant complaints.
Regarding the curious repetition of numbers in his requests, statements, and routine, Your Majesty’s theories are correct. Pagan numerology has a vice-grip on the imaginations of the Ilevans. Nearly every number, to them is an invocation of their pagan gods. Three, nine, thirteen, and twenty (or re, relore, radozpere, and anla, as you may hear them in the old Zhoron tongue) are particularly highly esteemed numbers to them, especially thirteen, which they hold to represent their entire pantheon in its count. To a lesser extent, 27, 30, 200 and one thousand also fascinate them. Nineteen, or anlajodma, they consider to be as bad a number as can be. To their pagan minds it is the equivalent of Eastern superstitions about thirteen combined with the Christian unease concerning six hundred three-score and six. In their own language it means variously the fatherless man, the lawless man, the man without light, and the man with a missing appendage—they even use it as a nickname for their devil—any one of which it might invoke the attention of or invite as a fate upon oneself. This is why you observed both Rozma and his guards skipping over those particular steps on the stairs: which are the nineteenth from the top and bottom respectively: not even a pagan wants to invite the attentions of Satan or lose his father or a finger or toe! The number fourteen is considered unlucky to a much lesser extent, though great care should be taken in how it is counted in Zhoron. Should you find a man who names it redozperepema rather than the more common gedlorejodma (that is, if you hear them count in their old tongue at all) it is a man to take note of for a potential friend or source of trouble. The use of that form of the Zhoron numeral 14 is associated with those who did not take kindly to Arzemheba’s ascension to the Imperial throne, and still worship their fallen sun god Arazma.
Regarding his staff’s reluctance to meet at night, this also is a matter of superstition, and also a telling one. According to Marcus’ writings, the pagan Zhorons imagined Arazma to be both the sun god and patron to the old Zhoron Emperors (who were far less pretentious than their Ilevan replacement). During the night, they believed that his law and order gave way to the chaotic rule of his outcast son, Mochazh (whose name I must warn you never to say in the presence of any of the Ilevans—they are very superstitious about it), whom we would call the Devil. After the Great War, Ilevan mythology took over and wove a new tale, saying Arazma had died and been largely replaced by Arzemheba, who was no longer bound by light or darkness, having defeated Mochazh as well—at least in his boasts—and passed the duty of the sun to some other god. Evidently, however, the pagans could not agree on their own lying legends and while the official position of the pagan priests is that the Devil is defeated and the night made safe, more common folk, especially in the old Zhoron lands of the Southern Continent, still fear the night as much as they all fear the name Mochazh. If the Ambassador fears not the night but his guards do, that may be an important divide in regional and religious background to be conscious of.
Regarding his recountings of pagan myth and folklore, and those of his staff, I can only say that I do not believe they mean to offend. Marcus relates that the telling of myths and legends was a common passtime among the Zhoron people. If anything the Ilevan culture is more inclusive religiously than even theirs. However their propensity for attaching our Lord Jesus Christ with their myths is not only blasphemous but…unfortunate, and may lead to further misunderstanding down the road. The figure they refer to and with whom they blasphemously associate our Lord, is the pagan god Arazma, and when Arazma, was supposedly killed by Arzemheba, his worship became a sign of rebellion. Should the Ilevans persist in their blasphemous religious confusion of our Lord with their fallen pagan god, it may create further tensions in the negotiations.
Of the rest I can see little of use, so I shall give a few more small pieces of advice before I close. Marcus observed that Zhoron peoples stood very closely when they spoke to those they trusted, and far away from those they disliked or else considered far beneath them in a social sense. That Rozma maintains his distance as he speaks with you may indeed, as Your Majesty suspected, be an ominous sign for the negotiations. His bluntness and his insistence on strict punctuality, however, are not. While Marcus observed that the Zhoron were round about in their politeness, even in his time the Ilevans had a reputation to be more direct. Evidently in the intervening centuries, that directness has come to the fore. As for punctuality, both Zhorons and Ilevans have always prized timeliness as a high virtue. They have even invested great sums of time, energy, and gold creating devises to tell time with great accuracy. According to more recent sources, the Emperor’s compound of Itan in the Imperial city, has as one of its chiefest features a great clock powered by waterwheels, which rings out every hour like a church bell with unfailing accuracy. Therefore,do try to be punctual and direct in your dealings with the Ambassador, Your Majesty.
The rest of my findings we may discuss at your leisure. Your work with the Ambassador remains at the forefront of my prayers, as with all of us in the castle.
Your Faithful Scribe,