“A wise opponent teaches more than the foolish friend”
“The pretender to virtue will climb highest, but fall furthest”
- Svalek Idioms
“The Northman prays to the fire of war
The Tarsan to the prowess of man
The Moqolese to the horse and sky
The Ovech, to Ath [Sun] – giver and taker of life”
- Naronese Saying
“As brothers, we toast to the heavens
We will drink the wine of our land
We will spill the blood of our foes
And carry our songs wherever we go”
- ‘Song of Vakhtanguri’ (Adhki Toasting Song)
Svalek culture has developed since the kralate was founded by Dagev sometime before the conquests of the tarsan empire, and is the successor to the culture of the Red Men. The religion followed by all Ovech (Red Men) is Ovechzism. See Cultures for related material. This article actually covers the cultures of all Ovech People.
Fundamentally unique due to the foundations in Dragoncrest tribal culture, Svalek culture has enjoyed many centuries of near-complete isolation. Upon defeat at Magosi hands, many aspects of Magosi culture that are now seen as ‘Moqolese’, were adopted by the mountain tribes. The lowlands especially, developed more closely with Naronar than with the Highlands. See History of the Red Men.
Unique due to its age, and tenacity for longevity, the culture of svalos seem to northerners as more foreign than moqolese ways. Its foundation lies in its mythology, where blood is the carrier of the spirit, and ancestors are the gods which act on one’s behalf.
“I hereby take this man as my brother
We will share the blood of Ath
We will share this sacrifice
In this life and the next, together,
To spill the impure’s blood,
To be Ahdka by thought and sword
To uphold eachother to this vow
We swear to our sacred land”
- Ahdki Oath of Blood-Brotherhood
Svalek philosophy is not divided between secular and religious as the Magosis do, but compared to the northern faith, religion is only one aspect. Ovechzism is more the way of life for the Ovech than an explicit and codified religion. The religious texts are manifold – and range from pure theology to writings by kings, to poetry. Philosophy as a study is largely limited to producing advice for rulers, and young lords are expected to have a working knowledge of the classic folk tales, lyrical poetry, the Song of Dagev, and basics of the Old Svalek language.
Modern Svalek philosophy tends to advocate ethnic nationalism, and a rejection of foreign influences. This trend was started with the rise of the Sylle dynasty, and the political revolution in 820 in Moq, where the Emperor or Moqol was declared Archon.
For the nobles, this means that piety as well as ‘loyalty to the blood’ are highly important in keeping a good reputation in the community. Surprisingly, while hospitality and honor are more important to the Svalek than to the northerners, they are concepts which are limited to fellow countrymen, or those who ‘display good conduct and honor’. It is auspicious to shower friends with gifts, but those who do not deserve respect are seen to deserve no code of conduct at all. Such is the case with many aspects of Svalos – both harsh and warm at the same time.
For common folk, good conduct doesn’t mean unwavering loyalty to your lord as it does in the north. Rather, loyalty to the family comes first. The high chiefs and even Kral are simply other men, with no divine mandate as persons. Legitimacy of power comes from their bloodlines, and extends to their family. A family rather than individual, is the ruler of a tribe, which functions itself, like an extended family. Hence within a given dynasty, a feudal-like system is used, but the Kingdoms themselves are akin to tribal confederations, bound by alliances and marriages.
The cultural revival in the past century has reversed trends of ‘moqolization’ in much of Svalos. Many aspects of life, from dress, to manner of speech, save few luxuries such as coffee, spices and silk, are preferred to be ‘true to the land’. However, it is not the case that the Ovech dislike or distrust other peoples; it was the Moqolese after all, who encouraged the development of Svalek literature after the Anthoriel Rebellion.
Interactions with Other Peoples
“And when mist will cover my eyes
I’ll give my soul to heaven
my motherland will cry when I’m dead
and my heart will beat in Korhold”
- ‘Daughter of Korhold’, an ancient folk song
“A nation that justifies and glorifies war and conquest, as a vital part of its well-being. A people that drink blood, worship wild animals, and have respect for only that they lose wars to – be it even the demon-blooded tarsans.”
- Nels, ‘The 6th Scripture’
This is of high importance to the Ovech – rules of conduct towards non-Ovech (see ‘Conduct of War’) are determined more by opinions to a population than by any universal code, and can range from honorable brotherly treatment to total disregard and contempt. To these mountain peoples, the distinction of ‘us’ from ‘them’ is usually clear-cut.
The Svalek and Naronese are close enough to be considered a single nation by both parties – separated only by political and geographic boundaries. Mutual admiration among the Ovech cultures is the norm – and concepts such as brotherhood and honor are rarely applied outside this group.
The Magosi-Tarsans were the ancient rivals of the Red Men – and were the only people to ever conquer Svalos. In the time of this ‘Archonate’, the Magosi pushed their culture and religion onto the Ovech – resulting in the modern Svalek rejectionist and revivalist movements in the highlands. However, due to common enemies and recent history, the Magosi are at least tolerated and treated decently – some Svalek go as far as to admire their culture from a distance. In any case, Silks and perfumes from Olvos are universally used in Svalos.
The Mechera and Khorish have had a long history of good relations with the Svalek – and are generally well-liked. The Anthorieli elf-blooded conquerors of Modern Moqol are seen as both foreign and uncultured, but also as noble due to their similar warrior culture. Their ‘moqolization’ and reverence for the Magosi ideals isn’t well-liked though. The Khorish are actually romanticized in Old Svalek poetry, before Nels were ‘close enough’ to Ovech people that taking them as wives rather than concubines isn’t uncommon. However, the fertile Khorish farmlands are also raided constantly for wool and women.
The Northerners of all kinds are given nothing but disdain and hatred – after all, they wiped out the serekskan svaleks, persecute the reachlander ovech, smash the temples in whitetree, and sacked the lowlands in the 3rd exalted march. The conquest of Nels is seen as the doom of not only the Archonate, but the loss of much Ovech culture and civilization to a ‘barbaric’ people. Serelske and the Eastern Reach are still considered ‘de jure’ Ovech Kingdoms.
The Faerics are distrusted but not disliked. Only the western naronese even interact with them regularly as traders. Generally, the Oltec are grouped with the Magosi-Tarsan tradition, and the stereotypes are carried over.
Religion and Festivals
The shamans are as powerful as a given populace or lord makes them. There is no central training, or learning institution in Svalos. Rather, shamans and diviners (who use the magosi-derived ranking system of seeker-watcher-keeper) are expected to connect to heaven on their own, and learn from each other. The canon of liturgy is vast, but disorganized.
Most festivals observed are listed on the holidays page. Feasts are also had during the marriages of a lord’s eldest daughter, and to break the week-long fast before winter solstice. Each family has celebrations of their ancestral heroes, which range from simple to extravagant.
Marriages are occasion for lavish festivities. Thus, they are almost held in the harvest season. Marriages consist of hunts while the festivities are being set up, then 2 or 3 days of festivities including games, hunts, competitions, food, dances, etc. On the marriage day itself, the groom is to dress with gold cloths and decorations and the bride in silver jewelry. Her headscarf is tied by a close relative. Two parties are held, one at the bride’s house and one at the grooms’. If they live far away, these are done before the wedding.
The families then meet at a temple. A complex and lively group dance termed ‘dance of flowers and rice’ is performed by them along with the youth present, and both families drink from horns of brotherhood. After a religious ceremony, rings are exchanged and the couple join right hands, and drink from a blessed bowl of wine. On their way to the reception feast, rice is showered on the couple as they have a procession through the town. The two dance a wedding dance, then everyone joins in. Dinner is served by someone of the groom’s choice. Feasting and dancing continue into the night.
Funerals are held on high places such as mountains if possible, and consist of embalming the body at night when the moon is visible, then placing the body in a temple or family mausoleum. This process is handled by a team of shamans and a few close relatives, while a public procession is held the previous day.
See Ovech Feudalism.
Svalek law is harsh and uncompromising. Crimes such as treason are almost always punished by death. Ransom is accepted less than in the north – war generally means personal business. However, trials (administered by both a priest and a noble) are common – though oftentimes trial by combat. ‘Raiding’ is a facet of Svalos that is unseen elsewhere. It is socially acceptable to launch raids for plunder and hostages for no reason in particular. However, doing this to fellow Ovech when not at war is strictly forbidden. Similarly, slave taking is illegal against ‘honorable’ populations (although many people sell themselves or in-debt themselves into slavery, which is within the law). Slaves have little use in Svalos besides concubines, and are generally simply sold for profit to the Moqolese, who employ large slave armies.
Marriage is taken very seriously in Svalos – marrying more than once is avoided if possible, enforced by the fact that children of the first wife are given inheritance superiority. Men may also take concubines, but they inherit after after children of wives. The inheritance system is agnatic-cognatic, with features of both primogeniture and seniority. See Ovech Feudalism
Clothing and Appearance
See Ovech Clothing
Cuisine and Feasting
See Svalek Cuisine
See Svalek Art
Svalek people have certain traditions associated with many activities, most importantly, hunting, eating, drinking, and music.
When hunting, astrology is used to determine the most auspicious animal to hunt. If the moonlight is sufficient, hunting at dusk or night brings the most blessed results. Butchering an animal must be done with a ritual knife, which is cleansed in cold water. The blood of the animal is sacrificed after the butchering, if it isn’t to be used in cooking.
Eating is the most important facet of Svalek culture. A meal is to be held outdoors or in sunlight/moonlight if possible, and over a tablecloth, be it on the ground or on a table. It is proper to only have one table – if there is no room then some may sit on the ground nearby to still take part in the banquet. There is no initiation to a meal such as a prayer, and no strict seating guidelines, but generally more respected or elderly people are given priority at the table. The food is usually a collection of many dishes which varies heavily, but each dish is to be prepared in a certain way – Svaleks do not enjoy any departure from the norm in their cuisine. Even dishes of foreign origin (the few that there are) have a ‘typical Svalek’ method of preparation. There are 4 canonical cuisines – ‘Highlander’, ‘Lowlander’, ‘Qarach’, and ‘Naronese’.
Drinking is the formalized part of a meal. Wine is symbolic of blood, which is the vessel of the divine in Ovechism. Hence, only wine and brandy are given formal meaning. There is no meaning attached to the popular rice spirits or mead. Sometime during a meal, someone designated as toastmaster will call for a toast. He will propose a topic (family, the food, ancestors, gods, etc.) and speak at length about it. Then proceeding in a circle, each guest responds to the toast and drinks. If one doesn’t speak, he may drink during anothers’ speech if he agrees. At the end, the toastmaster can choose a new topic, or wait till people eat more. Certain toasts require a song or verse of poetry. Hence, the toastmaster is a position of great importance, and given to those with good oratory and social skills, as well as full cultural knowledge. After drinking the last cup, the drops of wine are shaken from the wineglasses – the number of drops is said to be the number of enemies a person has.
Singing is done during meals as well, usually to accompany a toast, and after the drinking, to relax. Much of this is folk music, not the somber chants of the temple. However, there is still structure to it. Svalek songs are not to be altered in melody and lyrics. They vary in the accompaniment of instruments, and the improvisation of the players. Furthermore, almost all songs sung are from an unofficial canon of national and regional songs. After everyone is finished, the leftover food is given to the dogs, and folk dances may be performed in a casual manner.
Standard melee weaponry includes hip-daggers, straight-edged shortswords, shashkas (guardless sabres), falchions/moqolese messers, hand and battle-axes, and light maces. Wooden round shields are commonplace. Svalek light infantry and Naronese shock troops are famous across the continent, and the warrior culture and zeal of the common Ovechzi has made invading the Ovech homelands near-impossible historically.
Skirmishers use spears, sabres, javelins, short recurved bows and daggers. Medium and heavy Infantry are armored with mail, lamellar armor, or scale and are armed with various weapons. Priests function as heavy infantry. Light cavalry use javelins, bows and lances, and medium cavalry use the lance and crossbow. Heavy cavalry is common in Naronar and Serelske where heavy armor is more common.
Some modern advances such as standing armies, mining, plate armor, alchemy and bombards have not reached Svalos, although Ovech (in particular Naronese) metalworking is the most advanced in the Empire. Medicine is on-par with the much of the North, but behind Olvos and the Mistlands.
Holy Wars, Conduct of War, Raiding
“The land remembers its people
That Dagev’s blood flows endlessly
Through its rivers and our hearts
The Ovech remember, too
So spill the maratoq’s blood
Let it run and be washed clean
Never to return
To the land of blood”
- ‘Invocation of Blood’; said before sacrificing a human
‘Righteous War’ is termed ‘Ahdka’, and encompasses wars against any foreigner that have a ‘just cause’. An ‘Ahdki’ is a participant in such a conflict, and is a term of high prestige among the common folk and nobility.
Raiding is more common for the Ovech than any other culture, even the nomadic Anthorieli only do so in times of war. The harsh living conditions in the Dragoncrest and the relatively low population make self-sustainance impossible. Thus, neighbors are almost continually raided for supplies, money, and slaves. Since labor slaves are of more use to the Magosi (who obsessively build megalithic temples and palaces), it is only the female slaves that are not sold – they instead serve as concubines. Children of Ovech fathers are always considered Ovech. Wars are often initiated for the sole purpose of taking captives and food, and the massive demand for slaves and textiles created by Olvos only increases this motivation.
During wars with other Ovech people, mercy is shown to all members of society, especially women and children. Slave-taking in these cases is illegal by religious law, but ransoming of nobles is practiced. Taking non-Ovech slaves of the enemy however, is fair. For enemies to which honor need not be shown, conduct largely depends on the attitude of the war. The Naronese in particular are known for their almost-genocidal conduct towards ‘barbarians’. However, in their wars against the Magosi, they treated them with the Ovech code of honor, with the exception of slave-taking.
In sharp contrast to the ‘assimilation and tolerance’ of Moqolese invasions or the feudal vassalization and religious conversion of the Northerners, the historical Red Men required very little of their subjects, preferring to rule as a culturally segregated elite, and let their subjects practice their customs. Slaves were taken in the initial conquest, but after, laws of protection are made. A non-Ovech under protection due to submission is known as an ‘Izadi’.
The typical activities of a Naxrar or Aznaur include attending occasions of state, offering sacrifices, fighting, and recreation. These are all discussed in the feudalism, religion, and warfare articles, save the last, which we now detail.
In times of peace, most men of rank spend their free time hunting and feasting. Besides this, practicing or patronizing the arts, board games, music and dance, and festivals are all principal activities. Equestrian games, in particular Chogan (Polo), Papag (Capture the Bag), Sur-Papag (Elimination), and mounted Bow and Javelin contests. The Moqolese game of Jereed is also played in the Lowlands.
The rules for Chogan are as follows: There are two teams, consisting of five to six players each plus one odd player. If there are five players in the team, three of them act as attackers and two as fullbacks. And if there are six players, three of them act as attackers, two as fullbacks and one as a halfback. Regardless of the composition of the team there is no goalkeeper. The ball can be stopped while in movement by any part of the player’s body but strikes must be done only with a special club.
Duration of the game is 30 minutes (two 15-minute half-times). An amateur game lasts 20 minutes (10+10). The break-time is 10 minutes, after which the teams change the ends.
In case of a draw, extra-time follows (no more than 8 minutes) and penalty kicks may follow. If the score is still a draw, the winner is determined by drawing lots.
Hunting in the Lowlands and Naronar
The Hunt was originally a source of food and skins, and was the lifeblood of the early Lowlander society – its purpose is now more symbolic, but not less important. Weapons of choice in the hunt – the spear and bow, have become the Lowlanders’ weapons of war, and a prince’s education is to include principally horsemanship, archery, falconry, other aspects of the hunt (naturalism, lassoo, etc.), speaking and administration, law, religious rites, heraldry, and strategy. As can be noted, the main activity required by nobles which is not tied to their job in particular, is hunting. A man who is neither hunting, fighting, or a priest when he is able, is considered worthless – such is the importance of the activity.
The hunt is organized by a royal tracker, and the hunting party sets forth after a meal and prayer. Depending on the prey, various methods, from chase to ambush to hounds are employed, with the leader of the hunt, or the most honored guest, taking the killing shot or strike.
Royal hunts are elaborate events and festivities to their own, lasting multiple weeks at times – and in richer kingdoms, taking place in ‘hunting parks’ maintained by royal staff. In poetry and religion, the hunt is symbolic of the role of man in the present, as well as the eternal cycle which Ath governs. Just as scholarship and religion is the realm of Sah, the hunt and warfare is the realm of Ath.
Hunting need not be a large event however. Many nobles enjoy hunting easier game with small groups of family and friends, and falconry is especially popular for this.
In the Reachlands, falconry is more popular than horseback hunting, and in the highlands, and mixture of the above methods, with on-foot hunting is used.