Table of Contents
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“If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet.”
– Nemien, proverb
A very valid strategy for survival in this harsh existence is to always keep moving. Following their own path, which resembles no established road, the Nemien are perhaps the most well-travelled and culturally-savvy people in the known world. In terms of longevity and quality of life, they do well for themselves. They keep their numbers relatively small within each travelling band, usually contained to extended family groupings of several dozen to several hundred. Variations exist in specific traditions, markings, and manners of doing things, but the Nemien do share certain characteristics in common.
The nomadic lifestyle of these wandering groups necessitates that they travel lightly with personal possessions. What room there is in the caravans is usually reserved for trade goods that can be exchanged for needed supplies and rarities in demand at their next stop. Sometimes, to ensure they are not overextended, slowed, or weighed down, they have to leave things behind of themselves – things too heavy to carry onwards, too burdensome for the changing of the seasons. These things are usually left behind in buried caches that are carefully hidden and marked for either the next group to find, and use as needed, or to patiently wait until the original owners come back around again and reclaim it. It is said that many a forgotten treasure lies along the paths of the Nemien – their markers worn away by time and faded memory.
Yet, despite their minimalist transience, the Nemien still practice something of the rooted lifestyle – they tend gardens. A seeming contradiction of their traditions, these gardens are sacred representations of the world and humanity’s place in it. The materials and plants selected are done so deliberately and placed with special care. The gardens serve as places of healing, reflection, and an opportunity to resupply fresh edible and medicinal plants. Symbolically, the care and tending of these gardens represents the care and nurturing of the world around them. By bringing a small piece of the world into harmony, the hope is that the rest of the world may eventually follow suit. All Nemien consider it their duty and responsibility to tend to these gardens along their path, and to bring an outsider into one of these sacred places is worthy of the highest punishment. These gardens are hidden away from major roads, but they are often conveniently located near areas known to Nemien as relatively safe to stop.
As a general rule, Nemien try not stay in one place for too long; a band may stop for a week or several months in order to trade, obtain supplies, hear and tell stories and news, tend to the sick, celebrate or mourn; as well as spend time weeding, planting, raking and generally caring for their sacred spaces before they move on.
For an outsider to enter these gardens is quite dangerous. Yes, they are beautiful and peaceful, but if a garden is defiled or destroyed, even accidentally, there is little on this earth that will stop the Nemien from hunting the offender down and exacting their bloody revenge. There are few things that unite these spread out people as quickly as the ruin of their sacred landscapes.
One of the few things the Nemien carry constantly with them are the stories of who they are and where they come from. They are not a society that writes much down, and their histories and stories are mostly oral, with one exception. Their bodies are marked, often from head to toe in tattoos and scarification that tell their personal story and of significant events. While their faces are usually the last space to be marked, there are some exceptions among certain tribes and individuals. Each band or tribe has their own motifs and unique patterning that they find meaningful. However, these stories are meant for the Nemien, the People, alone, and it is a rare thing to share one’s personal tattoo meaning and story with an outsider.
Difficulties can present themselves, however, with the strangely elongated lifespans that humanity now possesses, and the Nemien tend to run out of skin on which to tell their stories. And when a loved one finally does die, it can be very difficult for their kin to place their body, and the stories it carries into the ground to be forgotten. Thus, the cultural practice of removing the skin of the deceased developed. Many a Nemien carries the tanned backs and other skin of their loved and lost ones. A derogatory slur that is sometimes used to describe the Nemien is “backers” for this reason. However, another cultural practice with deep roots in Nemien history solves the problem of lengthy personal stories as well – the presence of muted outcasts.
These outcasts are not muted in the sense that they cannot speak – they have simply been stripped of their own stories and exist to only carry the stories of others within the tribe upon their skin. The reasons for becoming one of these unfortunates are varied, but dishonor is chief among them.
While the most common impression of the Nemien is that they are merchants and traders, travelling long miles to find the best deals and provisions, there is far more to them than initially meets the eye. For the Nemien are descended from warriors, and they have never forgotten this. From a young age, they are raised to have intimate familiarity with bows, spears, slings, and other weapons intended for fighting at a distance. Falconry and hunting with birds of prey are common, and many Nemien find deep meaning in their relationships with these birds. While the People have found a relative safety from Triumverati in their strategy of not staying in one place for too long, they are certainly not immune to attacks from raiders, Malefic, creatures of the wilds, and the desperate. If anything, their small numbers and lack of fortifications to hide behind are a severe detriment at these times, and so they must fight, and fight fiercely.
Another aspect of the Nemien that marks them as separate and apart from the world is their adherence to a religion they trace back to the foundations of the world. They view their movement as a journey not just across the earth, but also through life, and through time. In studying the connectedness of things, they find wonder and meaning. Masters of mathematics, they believe that while not everything can be charted, there is an order to the universe, to dreams, thought, matter, and the human spirit. And there is no such thing as a wasted life, for the road is long.
“Do not mistake the places you’re going for the places you’ve been.”
– Nemien Proverb
While the Nemien may not lay down roots in any particular physical place, their history is perhaps the most ancient and farthest reaching of known peoples in the world today. They can trace their ancestry back to the earliest days of the Age of Heroes and perhaps even earlier than that. According to their stories and songs, they have always been a nomadic people, unrestricted by boundaries or fetters. Called altariq, they were a warrior people, following the water and the herds of animals they hunted for food. They have always done one thing exceptionally well: survive. For millennia, they called the deserts of old Sha’ra their home – all of it. They practiced a religion that was old even in those days, and through its teachings, they grew strong. They were strong enough to face the terrors and the wonders of the shifting sands and fertile valleys of their land – for their neighbors were cursed temples, sunken cities, djinn, qareen, and powerful magics. They grew wise and wary, knowing firsthand that the wrong step, the wrong word, or interacting with the wrong being could bring down destruction upon them.
Though the knowledge may be lost now, the Nemien speak of knowing the first song of creation, the oldest words, and the deepest knowledge. They saw the hidden faces of the angels, and knew the shape of things.
There is a path for all things, and though that path may take many shapes, it is a real and direct thing. To stray from it, is to be lost. Many humans grasp for power because they want the end result and do not understand or follow the path towards it. They take shortcuts, they go astray, and thus they arrive at power at an incorrect time and almost invariably with tragic results.
Throughout history, the People, the ancestors of the Nemien fought and shielded themselves against those who would grasp incorrectly. Many empires rose and fell, climbed and collapsed, while the People kept walking around and between them. The way is not always clear, though, and many tribes wandered too far into the affairs of others, or fought for a cause not well considered. They are not here today.
Prophets and Witchkings, Wisemen and Kings must be heeded, but if they choose to forge an incorrect course for their own journey, they must not be followed. For while all roads lead to one’s destiny, the cruel fate of one should not spread to all. That being said, it is a truth that we all journey on multiple roads at once, and while fixated on one, we may not see the other possibilities. The Nemien ancestors were fighters, and many of them prided themselves on becoming the best warrior they could be, and thus they fought and fought, forgetting at times the why of it.
When the Empire of the Throne of God on Earth, the oftentimes-enemy neighbor of the Shariqyn people began to thrash and groan in the throes of destruction at the hands of humanity’s enemies, many Shariqyn saw an opportunity. Motivated by many things: revenge, need, greed, and pride; they took a shortcut to glory. Seizing advantage of the distraction of total war within the Throne, the Shariqyn attacked the closest country to them – lush and wealthy Capacionne. At first the battle cry was to seize back what had been taken over the years of encroachment and occupation, but as the borders fell back, it was hard to stop the momentum, especially as Capacionne suddenly found itself simultaneously attacked by nonhumans from the mountains and thus, surrounded on all sides by different enemies all in search of blood and conquest. Cut off in this way from all allies within the Empire, the Capacionne people fought longer than any historian would have thought possible, well aided by their machines of war and ample supplies, but their doom was already decided.
The Throne also followed suit and broke over a period of long years, scattering its fragments into isolated kingdoms and seats of power once more. A new generation of Hestralians took up the charge to wrest the remains of Capacionne from the hands of her conquerors, pitting them directly against the Shariqyn who were reaping the bounties of the rain-rich, plump country, and thus yet another cold and backhanded struggle began. It’s unclear how long this went on, but eventually the deciding factor was the sudden and unexplained death of the Last Padishah Emperor. Assassination was the most likely scenario, and the world was rich with possibilities of who could be behind such an act – for allies were few and far in between for all major ruling powers and countries at this time. Various powers and factions internally and externally were blamed, but ultimately the most likely culprit was Hestralia. This served to deepen tensions and increase hostilities between the two nearby nations, but Sha’ra had its own concerns now.
The matter of succession was perhaps the most desperate and bloody in Shariqyn historic memory, with not only entire families being wiped out in an evening – entire settlements, caravans, and sections of cities would as well. Sha’ra was in chaos, as what should have been a matter decided with contained bloodshed among the sons of the dead Padishah, instead spilled over into a civil war.
The stripping of Capacionne continued as Hestralia attempted to rebuild, and Shariqyn altariq raiders and opportunists took whatever they could. Forests were felled and rivers redirected in an attempt to power and fuel the ongoing war machine. This period in Sha’ra would come to be spoken of as the War of One Thousand Dynasties, and it lasted for many, long, isolated years. For while Capacionne and Hestralia could potentially have seized advantage of the political turmoil and pressed an assault back into Sha’ra, Capacionne was slowly being strangled, and larger threats loomed on the horizon for Hestralia.
The chaos within Sha’ra came to an abrupt halt when the Water Temple decisively backed the youngest descendent of the now long-ago dead Last Padishah. Faraj Diya Al Din ibn Irshad, a Water Magician and priest of A’aboran had behind him the might of every holy person and water practitioner in Sha’ra, and that proved to be more than sufficient to bring the matter to a close.
This marked the beginning of a period of true theocracy within Sha’ra, as well as increased isolation, as every Water Temple outside of Sha’ra had its magicians recalled and the outposts closed. Diya Al Din did not declare himself Padishah. He declared himself the Divine Guide of the People, and many resources were dedicated to the Water Temple and some apparent breakthrough they had made.
Many accounts tell different versions of the days leading up to the Calamity. Fire Magicians staged a ravenous and desperate attack to destroy something on the ocean floor. Kuarlite raiders came from the sea. Pools of sheer void opened in the heavens. Air magicians killed world rulers with a Thought. Demons clawed their way in through cracks in reality. Nonhumans fled to the farthest reaches of the world. The stories are jumbled and the voices garbled, for most all records of this time were destroyed, and the Nemien have only their oral histories now.
But all can agree that the world as it was known ended.
It seemed that all the waters of the world rose up and crashed down upon the deserts of Sha’ra, beating it down until it sank, taking all of its cities and riches and screaming humanity with it. Those who had boats in the south coasts of Sha’ra fled to whatever islands they could find, while those who had already been on the move on the borderlands did what came naturally. They kept moving. They fled until their ancestral home of Sha’ra was far behind them, and they keep moving to this day.
The dead rising affected the people who would be called the Nemien less than most, for the altariq had always fought Malefic creatures, and the knowledge of how to deal with such things was commonly taught from one generation to the next. They already knew to distrust and stay away from cities, and thus were not in the areas of highest population which were most affected by the hordes of returning dead. The path the Nemien walked had taken them to far away places, but now all roads backwards were gone. Swallowed. And they knew that if they were to stay the proper course, they would need to remember the voices of their ancestors and their teachings. For the world was in the throes of anarchy, and every single person would now have to answer for themselves what they would live and fight for, now that the world as it was known had ended. The Nemien tell these stories, those of their families, and those of themselves, so that they remember that the Calamity was not the first crisis they had survived, and also so they know it will not be their last.
Ethics & Values
“The road itself is the goal. Once you realize this, life ceases to become a series of tasks, and instead becomes an ecstasy.”
~Closing line of the well-known story,
The Sparrow’s Flight
While there are many aspects to the Nemien that set them apart from others, there is something to the Nemien that may make them seem especially different – and, ironically, even alien – to outsiders. Unlike all of the rest of humanity who make their homes in the post-Calamity world, the Nemien are the only ones who face it fully. The Nemien traverse it in its entirety, from the sunken ruins of the east to the strangely manicured forests far to the west, and they, alone, can say that the world, as it is, is known to them. They, alone, can say that all roads lead to home.
Few among the Nemien take it upon themselves to interact for long with other cultures, though those few do exist. It is considered a dangerous occupation for the body and soul to go among the Others, but it is done by a select group who wish to locate new paths and trading posts, learn what areas need what goods, and attempt to predict what the future will bring for settled communities. By doing so, they perform a great service to their home tribes and allow them to better plan for the future. And yet, even those small numbers who are deemed strong enough to go on these expeditions still stand apart, not wishing to integrate with other cultures or aspects of the world that come from staying in one place too long. To be Nemien is to hold yourself apart, like pure water. There is a saying among the People, “observe, but do not become” which illustrates their view of all who are not a member of their tribe or troup. To pick sides is to fight in wars that are not of your own path. To mingle too long with those who grow roots and stagnate is to lose your momentum and way forward. From a very young age, Nemien children are taught the historic story of the Anukesh, Skin Dancers, who had only to speak to you in a whisper to take over your face and your body, making you one of their minions. The cities and areas with standing populations fell to them one after another, and their power grew like a flood. They spread like a disease that only the ancestors of the Nemien were immune to. For they had not chained themselves to the cities. They had remained free of enclosed spaces and cautious of outsiders. They remained wholly themselves by never allowing strangers to get close enough to speak to them, and with the help of the wisest among them, the Sahirim, they managed to defeat the Skin Dancers.
They are repeatedly taught that it was this mindset of self-reliance and caution that also led them to survive the sinking of their homeland long ago. As the waves rushed up to claim the desert it was only the quick-thinking, competent, and highly mobile that survived. Those who tried to carry too much, were too attached to their worldly possessions or their home, or who were weak in mind or body were the ones who were lost beneath the water. And, indeed, Nemien continue to remain cautious of anything that might weigh them down. They find it to be a flaw of character to rely too much on things, for after all, the world does provide everything one needs to be comfortable if they only place more faith in it and themselves.
It is perhaps ironic that, with this philosophy, the Nemien are also the greatest source of trade goods and supplies from far away places for most of the world. They simply do not carry these goods for themselves. What wealth the Nemien do carry with them they wear instead, with well-off Nemien traders being marked by salt crystal jewelry, expensive silks, and precious metals and stones that are easy to trade. But their caution applies to both physical and emotional connections to things – they prefer to cache extra supplies rather than carry too much load and refuse to remain in one place long enough to become fond of it.
So too do they avoid getting caught up in the fights and struggles of non-Nemien. It is exceedingly rare for a Nemien to take sides in the affairs of outsiders or support one outsider over another, and those that do are often punished in some way. Instead, they remain cautiously neutral – providing services to all who have the means to pay for them, and keeping their advice and arms in service only to themselves.
Of course, this policy of neutrality is not extended to those within the tribe. To these people, their family and traveling group is paramount, and the behavior of one of the tribe is seen to reflect on the behavior of all of them. Many Nemien believe that they are obligated to watch out for the behavior of others within their traveling group and report any misbehavior to the rest of the tribe as soon as possible. Such a desire to solve small issues before they become big problems is admirable in theory, but can result in gossip running rampant and individuals being called out for any action that they do separate from the tribe – no matter how small the infraction.
While this might seem like simple gossip or foolishness to an outsider, and thus easy to ignore, Nemien treat every accusation against them with a deadly seriousness; for every criticism holds within it the possibility of a terrible punishment. Those who are deemed dangerous to the tribe – those who give secrets to outsiders, who lead others to caches or into the secret gardens, who grow too close and attached to a location or place, or who fraternize too closely with outsiders can be removed from the tribe entirely, either through ostracisation or by becoming a Farigha, an empty vessel.
When one is ostracised, their face is marked prominently with the symbol of disgrace, such that it cannot be hidden, over several days in a ritual that is only ever spoken of in hushed tones. Those that go through this are not killed, but marked by this scarring so that all the Nemien that see them may know that they are not one of them, that they are not allowed into their gardens or sacred spaces; that they are an outsider. They are then tied to a stake driven into the ground and left behind as the tribe continues on its path, watching as each member of their family and tribe turns their face from them and leaves them behind in the wide, dangerous world all alone.
But this fate is sometimes arguably preferable to becoming one of the Farigha. The empty vessels are not seen as true people by the rest of the Nemien, but rather a class or caste below that. They are owned by the tribe, or an individual within the tribe, and their skin is used not to record their own story, but those of others. They serve as an underclass of basically blank canvas slaves for the Nemien. Among many tribes, they do the tasks that are considered undesirable and below respectable people. Thus, they are often responsible for tasks such as cleaning up the waste of the caravan or taking care of the pack animals. If a member of the Nemien is declared empty, so too are their spouse, their children, and their children’s children will be Farigha as well. As such, ostracisation is sometimes chosen by those who have transgressed so that their sins vanish with them, rather than watch their family become less than human because of the actions of one.
Naming and Greeting
“We often forget those with whom we have laughed. But we never forget those with whom we have shed tears.”
– Nemien proverb
Most Nemien names provide a history of who they are and where they came from. It starts with the name of their particular tribe, followed by their given name, and then the name of their father or mother, prefixed by “ibn” meaning “son of,” “ibnat” meaning “daughter of,” or “ib” for a non-gendered prefix. Whether lineage is patrilineal or matrilineal varies by tribe and custom. Some tribes allow the use of either, depending on which parent has more accomplishments and history to share. However, those who become Farigha find their name changed to match their new status. First of all, the title Farigha replaces that of their tribe, so that all may know them as quickly as possible. So too do they often have their parent’s name stricken from their title and replaced with the name of their tribe prefixed by “na” meaning “belonging to”. For example, a member of the Oma tribe with the given name of Karyme and whose father’s name was Jabari would have been called Oma Karyme ibn Jabari before she became Farigha – but would be called Farigha Karyme na Oma after she became an empty vessel.
Given names often have familial significance, with Nemien naming their children after well-known ancestors or relatives. Examples of given names for men are Gantulga, Altan, Batu, Vano, Danyal, and Hassan; and common examples of names for women are Bolorma, Khulan, Vadoma, Kezia, Esha, and Maryam. Greeting customs vary as well with respect to familial status, with deeper gestures of respect called for from the young to the elderly. When one is greeting close family, especially after any kind of absence or at a special event, it is customary to grasp forearms and incline the heads in greeting until they touch. Younger children are more likely to be scooped up, and tight hugs are common. When greeting more distant relatives or important members of other tribes, generally the clasping of forearms is sufficient along with a bowing of the heads without touching. The offering of tobacco, tea, milk, or other drink is always expected when greeting a guest. It is also expected that guests have a small gesture of gratitude for hospitality as well, such as a sniff from their snuff box, some cheese or dried fruit, or an offer to share a pipe of tobacco with their host as well.
With outsiders, the Nemien are more obviously on guard should the visitors come to their caravan. Hospitality is always offered, but it is considered very rude for the guests to touch their hosts in any way, and bowing towards each other is the standard greeting. It is also considered very rude for a guest to refuse any of the comforts offered to them, and even if they do not feel like smoking or eating, they should at least smell deeply and smile in appreciation, even if they cannot partake. For the Nemien, offering what they actually have of their own is a gesture that should be treated with respect and gratitude.
Geography & Architecture
“We do not wander. Wandering is being unsure of what you are looking for.”
~Saying attributed to Xoraxi the Dreamspeaker
The Nemien have a saying that roughly translates to: “No matter how many times you follow the same travel route, you will never walk the same road twice”. This is because the world is not static, and conditions are always changing. What was a bridge one year is washed away the next; what was empty fields is now a fortified settlement; and what was a thriving outpost is now a silent ghost town. The Nemien are at peace with this; for their homes, their families, and their stories are always with them. Thus, the rest of the world is an ever-changing backdrop for the things that matter most. Their paths traverse the frost-covered forests to the north, the wastes of the Outlanders, the mountains of Seravia, and the vast expanses of Gothic wilderness. Their trade routes stretch the entirety of what was once known as the Empire of the Throne, and as such they have experience with all sorts of different environments and locations.
Most Nemien caravans follow a loop of sorts, a path that takes them through the same areas year after year in order to facilitate the delivery of goods and messages that they are paid very well to transport. These individual loops can take as long as six months to a year to traverse in their entirety, although the exact paths that individual caravans take often change slightly for safety reasons. Many caravans change their route every three to four years, although such changes are typically not done on a whim.
If one were to map their trade routes, there would be some commonalities. In addition to the smaller loops, there is an overall trade route that circumnavigates the whole of the known world – starting and ending back at the secret city of Alealamia. Such a route would take at least three years to traverse in its entirety, and most caravans instead do the entire loop every decade by slowly changing their smaller loops.
The architecture of the caravans is practical and temporary. Most caravans are made up of a mix of pack animals (typically yaks or buffalo) and riding animals like horses. Depending on how dangerous the terrain is, the method of travel may change. In areas with more established roads, caravans use horse-drawn wagons that serve as both a sleeping area and storage. In more rural or ruinous areas, caravans instead opt to use small pulled carts or sledges that can be easily maneuvered around obstacles as necessary, while the Nemien themselves either ride horses or walk alongside the pack animals, and use tents instead. All travel routes are dangerous, whether that danger comes from men, beasts, or things in between and apart. And while the Nemien are very well versed in when the best times to travel are, and which areas to avoid, they are always ready to defend themselves.
At night, Nemien caravans set up tents in rings around a central cookfire. In smaller caravans these tents are low and wide, with a half dome central frame that can be set up or taken down easily, and often made of woven yak hair, wool, or skins. The top of the tent has a large opening that can be used to let smoke out and to let the warm sunshine in cooler environments.
In larger, more prosperous caravans, larger yurts are set up instead of tents. These consist of an expanding wooden circular frame carrying a woolen cover. The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons and the structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof. They are surprisingly insulated and protected against cold or heat, and can be dismantled completely and rebuilt on another site in less than two hours.
The only semi-permanent features that the Nemien build, although they are not well known to outsiders, are their secret caches and gardens. Caches are designed to blend into the environment so as not to be found by outsiders, and are built out of whatever materials are most suited to the local region. These are where objects of significance are left behind that have become too heavy or burdensome to continue travelling with. While the Nemien believe that to become too attached to objects is a form of weakness, many find it difficult all the same to simply toss to the winds sentimental possessions and inherited items. Thus, they entomb them in hidden stockpiles with the hope that maybe someday they will return for them, or, barring that, another Nemien in need will find them and put them to good use. Secret signs are used to mark these caches. Often found at known crossroads and waypoints, these visual symbols act as a sort of code to communicate the location of caches and relevant information to other caravans.
Nemien gardens can also be found by those who know the signs. These sacred places are well protected, and typically located near well-known stopping places. Places where water flows freely and they can speak unhindered by outsiders. Here, in locations tended by so many different caravans, the Nemien build beautiful small structures that are as permanent as the rest of their life is impermanent. Stone carvings are not unusual, as well as intricate mosaics and tile-work that catches the sun, the eye, and the heart. Elaborate fountains are common, as well as waterfalls and reflecting pools. Benches or seats are often set up at locations that are considered particularly beautiful or calming – with the individual view as seen from the bench carefully curated for maximum effect.
Those few who have seen a Nemien garden describe them as filled with unearthly calm. To say that they are places of harmony is something of an understatement – they are intended to be perfect representations of the world as it should be and are are designed for contemplating the world, our place in it, and to be healing to the mind and spirit. The mix of water and land, movement and calm, greenery and stone is meant to remind the viewer of the balance that must be struck in all things; The balance between control and the wild – between the self and the whole.
Of course, these gardens are as practical as they are peaceful, with edible plants, vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and vines tended to by the few Nemien too weak to travel the road any longer, as well as the tribes who continually pass through. While they are a place for one to commune with oneself and settle differences among others of the tribe, they are also a place to gather supplies, tend the sick, and make repairs.
To the East lies the hidden city of Alealamia, sometimes called Lamia by those who know her. Known as the Heart of the World, it is the one city that the Nemien keep – located in the mountains neighboring the sea that long ago was Sha’ra.
It is said that after the quakes subsided and the waves ceased their swelling, those that survived gathered on the edge of the water. Their tears mingled with the salt and the sand as they built a cairn to those that they had lost – each survivor adding a stone for those they wished to be remembered. But the dead were so numerous that the survivors started to run out of stones, and had to travel farther and farther afield to gather them. Meanwhile the cairn itself had grown massive and unwieldy, and yet still people brought more mementos to the dead.
So the People started to organize the pile of rocks into something more stable – something more aesthetically pleasing and in line with ancient teachings and wisdom. Artists, philosophers, warriors, and those of the faith gathered together and built a monument to death, memory, and life everlasting around a deep spring that bubbled up from the depths of the hills, crafting a series of pools and waterfalls lined with intricate mosaics and mandalas. From there, houses, shops, halls, and temples were constructed to be in perfect harmony with the surrounding land, that the world may not be further disturbed. And slowly, without a central authority dictating its construction – a city of unity and contentment started to blossom where there had only been grief before.
Even today, those who have lost loved ones bring a stone to Alealamia to remember them, adding to the walls and art of the hidden city. The oasis at its heart has only grown with time and the waters from its spring cascade throughout its entirety, bringing life to the gardens that fill the region.
The city within the mountains is surrounded by what remains of the sea of land, a desert that stretches for at least a day’s journey in every direction. This, along with the hills and cliffs around the city help to keep it hidden from outside eyes. If the Nemien are protective of their caravans, and vigilantly territorial about their gardens, Alealamia is considered sacrosanct and above all not meant for the eyes of outsiders. Most Nemien will not even mention its name when a stranger is nearby, and to bring an outsider into the city is the ultimate taboo. Those who pass too close or enter the general region without Nemien protection are unlikely to be allowed to continue alive and whole, and thus no one is able to tell others how to seek the city at the heart.
However, while Alealamia is known for being a restful place of memory and peace, it is not always free of conflict. Like all of the secret gardens kept by the Nemien, Alealamia is one of the few places where the Nemien are able to discuss their problems without worrying about being overheard by outsiders. As such, the great stone halls are often filled with inter-tribe politicking, disagreements, and mediation. This is seen as part of the healing process, for the airing of grievances is the first step towards resolution, and to resolve matters within the hallowed halls of Alealamia is seen as particularly auspicious.
The city is loosely lead by the Hafaza, or Keepers of the Garden, three individuals that have no official power but wield great unofficial strength. These three mediate issues between the tribes, decide punishments for people who act against the interest of Alealamia, and generally regulate trade and behavior within the city. While the Keepers are technically chosen by a vote of all of the tribes, in practice each Keeper chooses their replacement and trains them to replace them after thirty-four solstices of service (17 years). In order to show their impartiality, Keepers give up their tribal name in return for the title of Hafaza.
The eldest of the current Keepers of Alealamia is Hafaza Galel ibn Amin the Sunsinger, an elderly man whose voice remains the city’s strongest tenor. Hafaza Naima ibnat Duaa is the next eldest and it is whispered that she was training a replacement from among her own tribe and kin, but when she discovered that the boy had plans to sell detailed maps of Alealamia to an outside group she made him – along with her granddaughter and their children – Farigha. The last keeper is Hafaza Rahim ibn Bassam, who is generally considered to be a boisterous drunk, but a wonderful poet and an excellent mediator.
Notable Tribes of the Nemien
“Your path may be different than that of your family or friends. Despite what they may say, this does not necessarily mean that you are going in the wrong direction.”
~Tamu’ra, shortly before exile
Each tribe among the Nemien has their own distinct way of doing things within the boundaries of cultural propriety. Most are collections of extended relations and linked families spanning many generations. Marriage between tribes is common, though marriage between cousins, more distant relations, and relatives by marriage certainly happens within a tribe. There is a limit to the size a tribe can grow and still be viable due to the pressures and dangers of constant travelling. Thus, over time, tribes splinter off or are integrated into one another. Thus, some tribes may be more closely alike than others or quite disparate depending on how far back their familial trees branch off. Below are some of the more well-known tribes, though there are, of course, many others.
Markings: Feather and star motifs
Colors: Blue and white
Proverb: Compassion cannot be a relationship between the greater and lesser, nor the healer and the wounded. Compassion requires a relationship between equals.
The Oma follow the memory of a long-dead Sahirim, Grandmother Oma. It is said that she lived for three full lifetimes before she decided that her work was done and she could rest peacefully- and her tribe still carries with them her skin and long black braids among their most precious relics. Oma taught that since there are many different versions of the world and the self, so too are there many different versions of the truth. There is, in fact, no one truth but instead a spectrum of wisdom that encompasses and makes up what is “true.” In order to understand reality as it is then, it is important to see the world as others experience it. Because of this philosophy, the Oma tend to have more students of other cults and religions than other tribes, though it is still rare that any of them truly adhere to a different faith, as that most often requires extended contact with outsiders and possibly settling down.
Grandmother Oma also taught the importance of healing of the mind as well as the body, arguing that the individual experience of trauma could color the very fabric of an individual’s reality.
To this day the Oma are renowned for their information network and their ability to mediate disputes between both Nemien and outsiders. They are taught from a young age how to see through lies and tricks as well as how to connect with others through conversation, mostly through an oral tradition that tells the story of Oma and her trickster sister Najima, so called because her eyes glistened like stars.
Markings: Bold lines that curve and swirl, combined with geometric shapes like circles
Colors: Black and Red
Proverb: If the Self tries, then Fate strives
The Kovachi tribe is a somber and industrious group, renowned for their unique weaponry and brutal accuracy in battle. Tending to take the longest travel routes most frequently, and often with the heaviest cargo such as metals, ores, and weapons, theirs is a life of dusty roads and frequent conflict with all manner of creatures and men. Soft-spoken and pragmatic, this tribe appears unassuming at first glance, but underneath their well-worn travel clothes are hands, feet, and bodies calloused and hardened by long travels, back-breaking work, and countless combats. Their travels to Seravia outfit them with guns and interesting weaponry more than others, while their invention of barbed and hooked arrowheads make projectiles that are particularly brutal to remove, and thus are favored by the Vatrashi tribe. They have perfected portable forges and craft stations so that they can easily work on the move, turning their cargo into even more valuable trade goods while they periodically pause on their journeys.
One of the Kovachi’s central stories and figures is that of Khudu, a supposed distant ancestor of their tribe who had two aspects: Shadow Khudu and Flame Khudu. These were two sides of his personality that came out periodically to solve problems that faced him and his family. Shadow Khudu was productive and diligent, working hard to create the best armor and weaponry for his people to protect them. Shadow Khudu was of few words, focused, and determined on the task at hand. Flame Khudu was the warrior, the violent aspect of battle and using the tools at hand to eliminate all threats. Flame Khudu was screams and roars, bloodshed and strength. The Shadow prepared and the Flame inflicted. While the Kovachi revere both sides of their ancestor, at times they feel it is better to seek guidance from one or the other.
Markings: Floral, vine, branch, and claw designs
Colors: Green and Gold
Proverb: Clouds must come from time to time, bringing us a chance to rest from looking at the moon.
Currently led by the legendary herbalist and Sahirim, Djordji Beticos, this tribe is known for their deep knowledge and advances in horticulture with connection to the Nemien secret gardens. Making frequent and long stops at the gardens is not unusual for these people, and sometimes those with an interest will be left behind at a garden for a year or so at a time to study, reflect, and practice their skills at nurturing plantlife and tending the sacred landscapes. Djordji is known for his encyclopedic knowledge about the natural world which he uses to communicate lessons about life and the journey towards enlightenment to his pupils. Believing all life to be interconnected and passing through cycles, most of the Beticos believe in reincarnation and place emphasis on honoring the spirits and souls of everything they nurture, consume, and rely on.
Preferring to avoid conflict where they can, the Beticos do not style themselves as bold fighters, but like all Nemien, they know how to defend themselves. Their weapons of choice are trained birds of prey and poison-tipped darts. It is believed that the voices and music of the Beticos are also weapons in a way, used to heal or harm the psyche, and that the secret to much of their gardening is in how they communicate with the plants and living creatures there.
The Beticos trade most often with the Salgothic, trading seeds and exotic plants and animals in exchange for food, alcohol, and sometimes darker things. It is believed that the Salgothic and Beticos both benefit from the others’ knowledge of plants and poisons, and that they are not above trading secrets at times when times are lean.
Markings: Geometric designs, lines and curves
Colors: Red and White
Proverb: Empty-handed, I enter the world; Barefoot, I leave it.
As a firm matriarchy, the Nuri have an unusual practice of only keeping men in the tribe that they find useful for the rearing and care of children, or who offer useful skills such as scouting, fighting, or crafting. Unless there is a good reason not to, most men among the Nuri are traded away to other tribes when they come of age in exchange for goods, gems, or unusual treasures. As these men are always well trained in something in order to fetch a better price, the Nuri are known for their flaunting of gemstones, jewelry, and fantastic adornments.
As women are seen as vessels of life and portals of death, sexual and feminine mystery cult practices are common among the tribe, with men certainly included and trained as well. In fact, men are seen as very necessary counterparts to life and harmony. However, most are not kept among the tribe long because they believe the default nature of masculine energies is that of chaos and rashness, which must be spread out among the world rather than concentrated in any one area for too long.
The Nuri are also known to be excellent scavengers, and they will deviate from established paths to venture into less well-known areas to see if they can excavate any artifacts from forgotten ruins and tombs. This also puts them in more frequent contact with Night malefic creatures, and their seers are primarily trained in communion with the dead in order to better resolve and combat what they encounter. A booming business can be made in the trade of Malefica parts and lost treasures, and thus the Nuri are more likely to stay near cities for longer periods of time than their fellow Nemien, and their arrival on market days is often greatly anticipated.
Markings: Scarification is most common, but smoke-like tattoos also are used
Colors: Blue and Purple
Proverb: Death is of no concern, for while we live we are not dead, and when we are dead we are past cares.
Not all Nemien are weighed down by the burden of their wagons. The Vatrashi are a group of equestrian warrior nomads, valuing the abandonment and wildness the open skies give them. They specialize in breeding horses, and are known for their ferocity in mounted combat. The Vatrashi have perfected archery from horseback, and have crafted bow specifically for the purpose. Their hunting parties are particularly effective when sent to dispatch their unlucky target.
The bonding of a horse with its rider is seen as a very special event, as the horse and rider are expected to look after each other and protect one another in battle as companions. To lose one’s horse in battle is a serious event, and to have one’s horse run off or abandon their rider is a sign of immense bad luck. The confiscation of one’s horse, and the loss of riding privileges is often a punishment for disgraceful actions and as a warning before more severe measures are taken. When a horse dies, it is customary to do honor to its life by eating its flesh. It is rumored that the Vatrashi treat their own dead this same way once their skins are removed.
The Vatrashi are said to be all descended from a single man, a fierce warlord from long ago, Vatrashi ibn Tolon. The tribe attempts to live according to his precept of living each moment closely and fully, without too much reflection on the past or focus on the future. Their sense of freedom is highly valued, and they are a fiercely independent people. Their practice of emotional release and meditation creates some of the most focused and fearless fighters on the plains.
Mostly self-sufficient, they do not trade nearly as much as their other Nemien brethren, and will more often trade protection services or horses for goods they may need.
Markings: Arcane looking symbols and writing, mandala-like patterns
Colors: Blue and Green
Proverb: We are Reality and we seek to be Reality.
While Seers are revered amongst all the Nemien, the Xoraxi is an especially old clan with a long lineage of powerful Seers that date back to the early days of the old Shariqyn Empire – with its priestess practitioners of the Sight and the revered Magi of Water – though the actual names of their ancestors have been lost to time and disaster. The Xoraxi do indeed seem to have a special connection to the mathematical arts, and the study of sacred geometries. Their ability to track patterns and communicate with other planes of reality and pockets of time does seem to be finely honed, though it may simply be because they encourage training from a young age, and claim to have mastered many secrets over the generations. Many an outsider, and even other tribes, try desperately to gain an audience so that they may hear the sacred council of the mystics.
That is not to say that all of the tribe practices the sacred arts or is a Magus – there are plenty of tribal members who simply find they do not have the talent. They are valued as translators, explorers, crafters, and caravan guards who assist the tribe in obtaining needed materials and goods that could potentially be traded for spell components, divination requirements, and lost pieces of lore from their sunken homelands.
Being a Xoraxi simply means being attuned to forces other than what is evident on this plane, and even the most unskilled laborer among them is taught to appreciate the deeper meanings that lie beyond one or two senses. It is believed that the Lords of Seravia and the Triumverati would very much like to make a closer study of certain members of the Xoraxi tribe, so their caravans tend to travel more erratic paths and avoid major cities and strongholds. If trade is needed at a dangerous hub, riders or scouts are sent out to perform the business dealings while the rest of the caravan remains behind. Those who have paid well for advice and council are often brought back to one of the seers blindfolded.
Colors: Black and Silver
Proverb: Knowledge is grasping; Wisdom is letting go.
The Korma tribe is the largest of the Nemien tribes. Before the Calamity, their Sha’ra territory bordered the Empire of the Throne. When the great flood waters came, a small part of the Korma lands remained that had encroached into Capacionne. So while most of the Nemien ancestors drowned, a larger than average number of Korma survived. However, perhaps a tragedy considered by the Korma to be as great as the loss of all of the human life that occurred, was the loss of their great libraries and museums they had kept safe until the very earth and seas turned against them. Among all of the Nemien tribes, the Korma attempt to learn reading and writing in multiple languages, but their ability to keep records is sparse, for they too must continually remain moving. Their compromise is that whatever records, histories, stories, or accounts they accumulate, they try to deposit at Alealamia when they make their pilgrimage there. If they cannot make the trip themselves, they often try to barter space with those tribes who are on their way there. The hope is that one day, they may be able to rebuild those lost libraries – though there are detractors who feel that buildings and paper can, and have been, destroyed time and time again, and this entire exercise is a futile one. But the Korma carry a name weighty with history and time, and many are keen to live up to the standards of those who came before and redeem themselves.
The Korma history is also riddled with conflict which has made them quite militaristic. At a young age, every Korma is trained to fight with a polearm, bow, sling, throwing spear, or daggers, as well as to fight in formations requiring teamwork and discipline. Armored plates are often carried with the wagons to better fortify them against attackers or use the reflected sun’s rays as a means of blinding attackers. The route they travel is considered especially dangerous. It takes them around the Outlander territory, which is constantly beset by dire creatures, nonhumans, and Outlander raiders. As such, and because they continue to survive in these conditions, the Outlanders are the most familiar with the Korma tribe of Nemien, and relations between them tends to vacillate wildly between respectful to bloody.
Markings: Wheels, spikes, and sharp angles
Colors: Orange and Brown
Proverb: Lightning flashes bright to the eyes of those clutching at thoughts of death.
In the years leading up the Calamity, intermarriage between the Nemien ancestors, the Shariqyn, and their closest neighbor, the Capacionnes, would sometimes occur as a means to lay claim to disputed territories or garner some defenses against the Hestrali. This mingling of cultures created a bloodline that the Berger tribe lay claim to. They are a proud and hardened people whose stories do not speak of losing their land to the sea – they lost their land to war and ruin, for they consider themselves to be children of a broader world, and what remains of it is a wasteland fit only for Outlanders.
They frequently practice extreme forms of tough love on their young, beating them, practicing combat with live steel, and practicing ritual burns or lashings that train the young to not cry out or betray any signs of weakness. In doing so, they believe that they prepare their children for the harsh realities of life, and that they will endure and survive longer because of it.
Despite their grim outlook, the Bergers are strangely one of the more welcoming tribes to outsiders. They certainly may not stay with them, but if they come upon a wandering or lost soul in their way, they will offer temporary hospitality – enough for the traveller to gain their strength back, and then they are sent on their way. Woe unto anyone who thinks to steal or otherwise violate this generosity, for the Bergers are particularly brutal in their punishments in order to discourage such behavior in the future. Flaying the wrongdoer and tying them to the ground for the insects, animals, and exposure is an example.
The Bergers are more pastoral than the other tribes. They have sheep that they herd along their route. They depend on their livestock, so the main body of the Berger tribe tend to not approach cities. Instead they send a few trade wagons out ahead, often supplied with wool, mutton, textiles, and fresh dairy products. To outsiders, especially the Gothic who they interact with most frequently, this has made the Berger tribe appear to be small, when in reality they are one of the larger tribes.
“Our minds are a representation of the world in miniature. This morning, it was sunny, and this afternoon, it rained.”
~Lessons of the Magi
To be Nemien is to seek out the hidden paths throughout the wilderness, to learn the best way from cache to cache and city to city, and to realize when the path that you are on has become unsafe; to see when it is necessary to flee.
But occasionally individuals arise who know more than the physical paths through the world. They understand the road to becoming the best version of themselves, to make the choices that lead to serenity and perfection. And more than being able to achieve their own atma, or perfect self, they can help guide others on the path that leads to the best version of themselves that they can be.
Among the Nemien, these people are called Sahirim, and they are seen as the wisest and highest caste of the nomadic people. These enlightened men and women gather others around them, often eventually forming their own tribes. These tribes usually outlast the life of the Sahirim themselves, for when a Sahirim finally rests peacefully their tribe will often choose a new elder who can continue to guide them as they continue to live their lives according to the teachings of their wise master and carry his relics and skins with them on their journey. Some tribes even believe that their Sahirim can be found again and again as they are reincarnated into new bodies and often undertake epic quests to uncover the children who will lead them in the new generation.
Those that follow a Sahirim, either alive or dead, are often called Tabai – or “followers”. These traveling Nemiens make up the majority. Then, there are the Saqim – those Nemien who remain in Alealamia or who tend to their sacred gardens. They are viewed as being in inferior positions, and yet are elevated in esteem for making such a sacrifice or being elderly or wounded in battle. It is a complicated position, as there are the Saqim who are perceived to be staying in one place due to laziness or weakness of character, and are objects of scorn, contempt, or pity. It is not uncommon for this attitude to spill over onto everyone who remains stationary.
It is also strangely common for seers to be born among the Nemien, and there are few bands that do not have one among them. Seers vary in their abilities, but they are united in the fact that they see things hidden to the average person. They may view the past, the future, or things hidden – beyond death, beyond the abilities of man to keep secrets – and one wonders how much of a role they play in finding safe passage for the tribes they travel with.
Most seers keep their physical eyes covered or hidden so that they might better focus without their sight. Some go so far as to blind themselves in the understanding that a new set of spiritual eyes open. The skill and ability of Nemien seers is famous the world over, for they are held in high esteem among the Nemien, and thus are more in the open, trained, and cared for among these people. Many seek them out for the guidance they provide, and it is not uncommon for outsiders and Nemien alike to seek out the services of one, though the wise are warned – there is always a price for their services.
The Nemien likely represent the smallest culture within the world’s population, for it is difficult to live a long life when you are facing all the evils of the world without walls or territory, but an accurate count is extremely difficult to come by for obvious reasons. Alealamia is also a center of wildly fluctuating population, with years and seasons good for travel resulting in many caravans arriving and going, and harsh seasons might find hardly any newcomers and extended stays for those who feel it is not wise to leave yet. Some of the eldest and most respected members of the Nemien stay to live out the last years of their life within the central oasis of Alealamia, and some are believed to be quite ancient.
The world that the Nemien inhabit is a dangerous one, and it behooves them to be cautious and untrusting of even those who walk similar paths. The relationship between one tribe and another is often complex and fraught with generations of feuds and friendships both, and the slight differences in faith, attitude, and practices can sometimes seem like a gulf in understanding between two tribes.
However, Nemien of a different tribe are still Nemien, and even the lowliest Farigha can still find comfort in the fact that they are allowed within the gardens where no one else can enter, and that they are not trapped in one location like so many of the others in the world. Being a Nemien is something that one is born into, and it is not possible to be adopted or married into a tribe. In fact, the only way a Nemien would be allowed to marry a non-Nemien was if they were to be ostracized first.
“When faced with a jackal, the wise man takes action; the fool argues.”
– Nemien Proverb
Those other cultures who gather in the cities have good reason to fear the wilds beyond the walls. Between the watchtowers and the lanterns, a darkness has been growing, and the spaces that the Nemien traverse has only grown more dangerous in recent years. Monstrous creatures stalk those who wander, prepared or not, and the paths are always changing.
As such, most tribes of the Nemien function more as small military groups than they do as a collection of families. The chain of command is very clear, with the Sahirim in charge of any decisions that may affect the safety and comfort of the tribe. It is considered both rude and foolhardy to question the Sahirim while on the open road – such discussions are only acceptable when the entire tribe is safe. Generally, most Nemien will wait to discuss problems or concerns when they are in one of their gardens, although it is also acceptable to have such conversations around the cookfire when the tribe is camped for the night.
However, even when the tribe is safe, not all voices are equal. Those individuals who have the longest and greatest stories etched into their skin have the elevated voices in the tribe, and many Sahirim keep an informal council of such elders to help advise them.
It can thus be difficult being young among the Nemien. It can often seem to them that they do not have a voice in the tribe, and even as they leave childhood and become adults they are often talked down to as if they were still children. More than one tribe has come to view this cultural tendency as problematic, as they find that all of their young have left to follow a new Sahirim, or as their children perish and become malefic creatures in search of foolhardy deeds with which to fill their backs. However, generations of history and culture are even harder to bend and break than habits, and it is still widely believed that the wisest and most capable of giving council are those who have lived longer and seen more.
Politics between the tribes can be contentious. While the Nemien almost always provide a united front to outsiders, and do not allow them to be privy to their internal tensions and rivalries, things are not as peaceful as they may seem between the tribes. Individual tribes are often at odds with others, competing as they do for trade routes and deals. For some tribes this can even escalate to a kind of feud, with certain tribes refusing to even camp at the same gardens as their adversaries. And given the fact that the gardens are one of the few places where the Nemien allow themselves to speak openly – it’s not unusual for heated arguments to break out within them.
Such issues are typically mediated by the Hafaza, the keepers of the gardens. These people are the elderly and infirm who have earned the right to remain within these oasis, and within most gardens they form a council which mediates issues between visiting tribes as well as seeing to the maintenance and upkeep of the garden. Not every secret garden has a Hafaza council, depending on the size or remoteness of their location, and bloodshed is not unheard of for rival tribes that encounter each other off of the beaten path. Though to spill blood in the gardens is considered an offense that must be remedied, either by an extended stay by the entire tribe to clean and purify the garden, making payments to the Hafaza, or leaving the offender behind for a period of service.
“The most elevated of people are simply those whom others wish to follow. We are all born knowing our footing and what is correct and not. We instinctively know which are wise. We simply do not stop and listen to our true thoughts enough. We know a great being when the common folk follow in their footsteps, and whatever standards they set by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.”
~Attributed to the teachings of Aa’boran
While individual Nemien tribes may have their own rules and ways of doing things, the set of strictures that could be called laws are the same across all of the tribes. These laws tend to fall into three categories: protection, bias, and fraternization; and have been the same for as long as anyone can remember. They are as much a part of Nemien life and culture as their tribal history and castes.
First and foremost, it is forbidden among the Nemien to do anything that would endanger the tribe or their society. Every tribe enforces this law a bit differently, with some considering even as minor an infraction as making a bad deal or being taken in by a scam a violation of this law, but every tribe considers it unlawful to give secret knowledge about a tribe’s resting places or route to outsiders. People are punished for doing as much as answering affirmatively to questions such as “will you be going to Lethia somewhere on your journey?”
Of course, any Nemien who were to allow an outsider into one of their gardens or access to one of their caches would also be in violation of this rule and dealt with in the strictest manner possible.
In order for the Nemien to survive as merchants and traders, they have long since decided that it is important that they appear neutral. The world is chaotic and perilous, and there is no guarantee that the person you support in a fight will be the one who ends up triumphant. It is because of this that the secondary category of laws exist, for it is expected that all tribes of the Nemien remain free of the conflicts and intrigues of outsiders. They are not allowed to take sides in the affairs of others or add their efforts to one side or another in a dispute. Instead, it is required that they remain impartial and sell to everyone who has coin to offer.
It is perhaps because of this required impartiality that the third set of laws exist. Among the Nemien, any sort of extended social relations or courting with people who are not Nemien are banned. It is considered a violation of the law for an unmarried person to have any unchaperoned contact with outsiders who are also unmarried. Obviously marrying or reproducing with a non-Nemien is completely taboo.
Everyone who exists in Nemien society follows these three categories of laws, as well as those that are set by their own Sahirim and the will of their tribe. Given how strictly these laws can be interpreted, most Nemien err on the side of caution rather than find themselves brought up before a tribunal.
Tribunals typically are called during either the nightly cookfire or when the tribe is safe behind the walls of one of their gardens. Typically witnesses are called by the Sahirim to give their side of the story, and then the accused is allowed to speak on their own behalf and call any witnesses of their own. At the end of this, a vote is called of all of the members of the tribe who have born children or are in a marriage on whether the accused is innocent or guilty, and then the Sahirim themselves issue judgment. Typically this judgment follows the overall vote of the adults of the tribe, but it is not unheard of for a Sahirim to rule against the majority.
Punishments vary depending on the offense. Some are easier to bear than others – someone may be forced to walk in the rear of the caravan alone, or give up their ability to speak for days or months at a time. They may be required to eat last or drink last, like the Farigha, or spend a period of time fasting or abstaining from pleasurable activities.
In the worst cases, someone who breaks the laws of the tribe may be turned into a Farigha themselves – simply a skin for someone else’s stories, the lowest caste. Because being a Farigha is hereditary, this means that the spouse and children of the accused also become Farigha, and if given the option, many Nemien choose ostracization over damning their family to the same fate. In some tribes, a family member may take their kin’s sins upon themselves, choosing ostracization to spare a child or sibling from a fate they brought upon themselves.
“There is no inherent value in possessions. Trade what you will; but never place a price on your days. No one could ever pay such a sum.”
~Korma Nizar ibn Labid, to his daughter
Throughout the known world, when anyone mentions traders, the first thing that comes to mind are the Nemien. Not only are they one of the few groups that regularly travels and interacts with other cultures, there isn’t a place on the land that they do not travel through. The sea, of course, is a different matter entirely. There is a longstanding belief among the Nemien that the sea wishes nothing more than to reclaim those who fled its grasp so many years ago, and that any Nemien who sets foot upon a boat will surely drown. They are more than happy to leave such things to the Hesha, and sometimes partner with them to take on the jobs that they are unsuited for.
But while the Nemien travel through the entirety of the known world, that does not mean that they go to every city or area on the map. If a particular area mistreats a caravan, or otherwise puts them in danger, it is not uncommon for the Nemien to give them a black mark and warn other caravans to avoid that area entirely. News travels surprising fast among the Nemien, despite how spread out they are. Once an area has been marked, it is difficult to regain their good standing, as many a settlement or town has found to their dismay. It is not uncommon for a marked area to offer huge gifts or concessions to try to repair their relationships with the tribe they offended after they find out how bad a lack of caravans really can be.
Larger areas may be on the trade routes of several different tribes, and it is not uncommon for there to be multiple caravans set up outside of a city at any given time. The bulk of the people of a tribe remain with the caravan while chosen merchants enter the city a handful at a time, or set up stalls in a designated neutral zone, both to protect their goods and to keep younger Nemien from having to interact with outsiders. For less populated regions it is more likely that they will see a caravan approximately once a season, or as often as once a moon, and it is not uncommon for tribes that follow these smaller village trade routes, with less risk from constant Triumverati presence, to interact a bit more fully with the general populace – offering entertainment and revelry akin to a small fair as well as trading goods and information.
The Nemien deal in all wares, but they are limited by the size of their wagons. While it is common for them to carry things like silk, cloth, leathers, furs, dried herbs, salt, glass, Malefica, oddities, messages, and other light goods – they tend to only carry items like lumber or ore in small loads.
“The more permanent a thing, the more lifeless it is.”
Movement and change are the watchwords of the Nemien, and simultaneously place them in grave danger, while offering their greatest protection. While many others have reacted to a changing world by forming safe enclaves within protected fortresses and walls, the Nemien have instead learned how to navigate the new world, armored by their constant movement and knowledge of relatively safe passages. This knowledge is hard won, and jealously guarded.
And because of this, they are able to function as few others can. They are more than just movers of goods; they are also connectors of people and carriers of information. Through their complex network of caches and secret gathering places, they are able to speak to other traveling caravans and learn about what is happening elsewhere in the world – which they use to both adjust their routes and find information to sell to the highest bidder. Tribes often sell valuable information to other tribes, such as news about which cities are looking for which supplies, or selling off messages or packages to be delivered to a different location.
In fact, Nemien caravans are one of the safest ways to send messages or packages, although it is not cheap. It is standard practice for both the sender and the recipient to barter for delivery of the message as it has often traveled through several different hands on its way to meet them.
People too are sometimes delivered by caravan. There are tribes that primarily make a living by escorting non-Nemiens from one location to another. While these passengers are well treated they often remark that such journeys are often rather lonely. After all, few of their caravan will interact with them in more than a cursory fashion, and they are often confined to traveling wagons or sledges for large swaths of the journey.
Nemien do have access to a rich source of herbs and strange plants by way of their gardens. Many a Nemien has brought a useful plant back from strange climes to take root in one of their gardens to be used by their tribe and others later, with the most interesting ones continuing to be cultivated long term. However, these plants and herbs are not usually traded in bulk. Seeds or specimens may be used in small supplies to trade, especially to sweeten deals with the Salgothic, but it is considered bad form to take up garden space for a larger commercial enterprise. Those that are most sought after are those that offer practical benefits to someone in the wilderness including herbs that are reputed to help with focus and awareness, or increase strength, or assist with healing. Some tribes also plant useful herbs and edible plants along their paths in the hope that when they next find themselves in the area they will be ripe for the harvest.
Of course, the gardens are not the only, or even main, source of sustenance or supplies. Alongside paths that have been used by caravans before there can be found a wealth of items. The first, of course, are the caches. Every tribe caches supplies and goods when they become overburdened, leaving clues to these locations via an intricate set of encoded directions on the path. However, over time, caches can be forgotten – signs washed away or destroyed. A favorite theme to Nemien rumors concerns the discovery of long forgotten caches containing artifacts and precious items from times long ago. Each cache is supposed to be marked with the name of the tribe that left it, so that others who stumble upon it and take from it may know to whom they owe a favor, but these too can be lost to time.
The world is full of food for those who know where to look for it, and a large portion of the Nemien diet comes from hunted game, dairy, wild edibles, and preserves.
Diet & Dining Customs
“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts the seeds. The harvest can be either flowers or weeds.”
It is risky to rely on a single source for food, as one never knows when it might dry up. Due to this, the Nemien regularly use at least four sources of food to feed the tribes.
First, while they travel, they actively hunt and gather along the way. Most tribes will have a small band of hunters which move faster than the rest of the tribe. They will journey ahead, scouting for possible danger, and in the process, hunt for food. The majority of the meat they eat comes from hunting, and about a third to half of their vegetables. Some hunters travel on horseback, while others travel on foot, and almost all of them carry bows, slings, or other projectile weapons. In addition to their ranged weapons, some tribes practice falconry to hunt as well.
The food that they acquire through hunting and gathering varies by region. The most common meats are mutton, partridge and other game birds, hare, deer, boar, and along the eastern trails, gazelle. The most common fruits and vegetables are onions, fennel, wild greens, wild berries, mushrooms, persimmons, plums, and prickly pears. They also pick dandelions and nettles for tea, broth, and sustenance.
Second, most tribes travel with either buffalo or yaks. They use these animals to carry their goods, as well as to produce warm wool and milk. On the road they will heat the milk and drink it straight, or they will serve it with tea. They also turn the milk into ghee and soft cheese curds, longer term cheese wheels, yogurt, and fermented beverages. When the animals become old or injured they are slaughtered and eaten. Since most of their life is spent on the road, meat and dairy are central to the Nemien diet.
Third, as previously discussed, when the Nemien pass by their secret gardens, they will stop for a time to tend to them before moving on and leaving the gardens for the next traveling group. Before leaving, they can stock up on spices and supplementary fruits and vegetables. The spices they grow in the gardens account for most of the spices they consume, with some trade supplementing here and there.
The food they grow in their gardens varies by region, but the most popular fruits are melons, apricots, dates and pomegranates. Fruits that can be well-preserved by drying them are also appreciated, such as grapes and apples. The most common vegetables are pumpkin, spinach, green beans, fava beans, squash, garlic, peppers and carrots. They grow an assortment of spices and herbs, the most popular being saffron, cumin, chili pepper, cardamon, turmeric and ginger. Most tribes have a spice blend that they add to most of their food that is unique to the tribe, and everyone tends to use spices liberally in their cooking.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, when they travel through the various regions, they trade with the people there. Through trade they acquire additional vegetables and most of their grains. They tend to prefer lentils, because they travel well, but they also trade for wheat flour, oats, and barley.
During the day, to keep up energy, they eat frequently – usually five to six small meals a day. The meals are usually no more than a single glass of milk or tea, a piece of dried sausage or bread spiced with cumin and dates. In the evening, when they stop to camp for the night, they will share in a large communal meal which helps conserve resources and also allows the important bonding and discussion time so central to Nemien family and culture. The first thing to be set up when they stop for the night is a cooking tent. From there, a small group begins to make dinner while the rest of the camp continues to be set up.
Then, as the sun sets, every tribe member gathers together for the meal. The order in which they are served is based on importance and caste within the tribe. It varies tribe to tribe, but the usual order begins with the elders, followed by the married couples and their children, the young and unmarried, and ending with the Farigha. Stews and kebabs are common, often served with chutneys or other preserved garnishes as the combination of sweet and savory is particularly enjoyed. Cheese is also often served with dried fruits as a popular snack, dessert, or appetizer. Most food can either be eaten with a spoon or with your hands, for silverware is just one additional thing to carry and get dirty. Eating with your hands and touching your food is encouraged. It is believed that if you touch your food it focuses your attention, allowing you to become more conscious of the taste, textures and aromas. Conversation is constant throughout the evening meal, and debates, planning, and stories continue well into the night until it is time for bed.
Fashion & Dress
“A yak does not feel the weight of his own horns.”
The Nemien have eclectic wardrobes that are durable, portable, and suited for nearly every climate. They are a colorful people, who prefer woven fabrics, wool, and cotton where possible in their garments. Their clothing needs to be breathable, weather-resistant, and hardy enough to stand up to the changing elements, the dusty roads, and allow enough maneuverability for riding and combat.
Choice of fabric is very important to these nomadic people. Yak wool is preferred for the harsher climates of Gotha and the mountains. It sheds snow and water, and keeps them warm as they travel. In the more temperate areas of the world, they wrap themselves in silks, which they get from the Salgothic’s famous silk worms. It is breathable and light, while also being tough yet delicate enough to cover the fresh tattoos Nemien frequently get. The Nemien will also trade for cotton and linen fabrics from settlements and villages in Gotha.
The colors the Nemien prefer run the gamut from the lightest of creams and wine reds, to pitch black and dark purples. They trade for dyes as they travel in order to color their clothing to their liking. The colors of the clothes are not just for show; Nemien tribes will often choose specific colors to indicate which family they belong to. It is easy to see who is approaching from far away if they are wearing their individual colors.
Clothing must be loose and comfortable for a long day’s worth of traveling, and many layers may be worn to insulate them as needed. Clothiers are not common, as tailoring for fashion is not a concern, and many of the Nemien know, at least in passing, how to repair their own clothing. Men and women often wear the same or similar garments, with loose trousers that can be tucked into boots allow for running and mobility; robes that are easy to put on and take off on the roads; and often some sort of head covering such as a hat or scarf to protect themselves from harsh weather. Cloth or yak leather boots are standard, and if armor is to be worn, it is also usually leather.
The Nemien are also famous for their elaborate tattoos and markings, though few outsiders have been able to catch much more than a glimpse of them. This is because these markings are a private matter, telling the intimate details of a person’s life – their successes and failures, their losses and tragedies and triumphs. These stories are meant to be shared only with close family and friends, and are not for the prying eyes of just anyone. Thus, the clothing of the Nemien is usually designed to cover exposed skin, with long sleeves, long hems, and high necks. Those who are young or without much to show for their lives may not care if their bare skin is exposed, but this can also be something of an embarrassment, and so most cover themselves regardless.
Nemien are also well known for wearing their wealth. Their jewelry is elaborate, made of precious metals, gemstones, and bones found along their trade routes. It is easier to carry their money this way, as it doesn’t take up space in their vardos. The wealthier the person, the more jewelry they can wear, for gems and precious metals have a definite trade value around the world, despite most places not having coins or currency. Bangles, necklaces, rings, and facial piercings are the most common ways to wear their accessories, but hair chains, metal collars, and elaborate headpieces are seen on those with more opulent tastes or during important events and negotiations.
“Conquer one with your hands, a thousand with your head.”
While family groups are very important to the Nemien, children are generally educated by the tribe rather than by their individual parents. This is mostly due to necessity, a traveling caravan simply has too many moving parts for parents to always be focused on their children. In addition to hunting, scouting, and foraging, the majority of the tribe is also serving as protection for the caravan – scanning for potential threats and dangers, patrolling the edges and guarding the rear.
Young children tend to travel in the center of the caravan as it is the safest place – both kept away from potential threats and easy to keep an eye on. It is here that they receive their first education in what it means to be a Nemien as they are taught the oral tradition of the tribe. The stories, poems, and songs themselves differ from group to group, but traditionally there is always a repetitive formal structure that aids in memorization. While these stories may appear on the surface to be simple tales to keep the children from being bored, they function in fact as object lessons of the deep-held principles and ideals of the tribe.
For example, in the Oma tribe, stories are routinely told of the sister of Najima, the sister of Oma. Najima is presented as a smart but lazy child who much preferred to spend her time dancing upon the sands than tending to the needs of those around her. She would go to great lengths to avoid work, crafting elaborate lies and tricks in order to convince others that she should be left alone, and often brought misfortune down upon her in the process. These stories typically end with Oma helping Najima out of the awful scrape she finds herself in – and Najima swearing to behave.
So while many of these stories are hilarious, especially to young children, they also teach them what not to do if they are to survive in the world while illustrating how one is supposed to behave in their tribe. The main purpose of stories is to serve as parables, explaining the teachings of their Sahirim, their faith, and their values.
While the Nemien all share the practice of writing their stories onto their skin, they do not have a consistent written language between them. Instead, each tribe has their own way of writing these stories down using a mix of symbols, parallel and intersecting lines, and repetitive geometric shapes. Children learn these symbols almost secondhand, as they ask the adult family members around them to tell and retell them what events have marked upon them.
Much like their cousins, the Hesha, the Nemien keep complex mathematical records through the use of tally cords and knots, with each cord containing smaller pendant cords with clusters of knots that represent numerical information. The number, type of knots, and spacing, as well as the overall cord array and color of the individual knots, all convey a wealth of information and are instrumental in keeping the track of the supplies and profit of the caravan. These rope records are portable, easy to make, and preserve better than parchment or rough paper.
Unlike the Hesha, however, the Nemien have an elaborate mathematical tradition. In addition to their tally cords and knots they also use numerals and symbols that make elaborate calculations possible. Mathematics is seen as an underlying language and structure of the world, and deep significance is attributed to certain numerical arrays and formulas. Some Nemien find religious and magical meaning in equations and geometry. On a practical level, this reverence for numbers is an asset in their tradition of trading, but it is also based on the way they value understanding the world around them.
As children get older they take their turn with the necessary chores of the caravan, learning from the older scouts how to navigate via the land and the sky, or how to forage for plants and animals from the hunting parties. When they are around the age of six or seven they are also allowed to accompany the older members of the tribe outside the caravan as they sell and buy goods from outsiders, although they are typically not allowed to speak outside the caravan until they are much older. Many of those who buy from the Nemien are a bit unnerved to look up from their shopping to see that they are being closely observed by a bright-eyed child who refuses to engage at all. A common nickname for these children is “owls”, for their stares are akin to having an owl watching you in the woods.
Medicine, Science, & Technology
“Be careful that you do not fill every moment of your time with noise and activity; for it is in the silence and stillness that we meet our true selves. Do not be a stranger unto your self. To not know your self is to fear the stranger constantly at your side.”
~Last words of the Sahirim Ishaq when asked about death
The Nemien have a holistic approach to medicine. Most maladies and illnesses are believed to be a result of a psychological or emotional imbalance that is affecting the entire body. The heart, sitting in the center of the chest, is responsible for pumping all of the emotions – the fears, joys, sorrow, and so on – throughout the body, affecting everything. The belief is that a person’s experiences, their environment, and their family life all play crucial parts in how one’s personality is formed. This personality forms the framework for the body’s emotional fortitude, and when the heart is afflicted with a torment or malady, disease is the result. Lovesickness is a real and palpable thing, and depression, rage, and mania are examples of illnesses that must be treated first before the body can heal.
The medicine the Nemien use to heal such afflictions is usually about change to one’s environment. Smells, colors, lighting, and sensations are very important to creating the right atmosphere for counterbalancing the emotional damage that has been done. Healers within the tribe will erect large, low tents that are used specifically for diagnosis or more intensive treatment. Specific numbers of candles are laid out, depending on what is being treated, and certain colors of the candles and decor surrounding the patient are important. Teas and herbal steam scent the tent, along with specific incense, and blankets may be used to warm and comfort or to elicit sweat and cleansing. Hallucinogenic plants and preparations may be used to alter one’s perceptions as well. This process is said to balance the emotions and draw out the feelings that cause disease. These tents are also often used for Seers, whose spirituality is intrinsically linked with these periods of time spent reaching out and connecting beyond their own hearts and experiences.
Battle wounds, broken bones, and serious injuries of the flesh are another matter, and require the cutting and stitching of a barber surgeon or bone setter. Most tribes have at least one of their number trained in these professions, but if they are lacking, stops near settlements must be made and services traded for. The truly injured will not last long on the road, and the process of returning to life can be a harrowing one, best avoided if possible.
If one of the Nemien is too sick or injured to continue on the journey with their fellows, and the tribe is able to make it to a sacred garden in time, they are given the option to take refuge in one of these havens for a year and a day. Once that time is up, they may either choose to rejoin their tribe, or they may join another caravan that passes through. If they decide to reside permanently in these sacred spaces, they will take up responsibility for maintaining the gardens, as well as caring for the other sick and infirm that come seeking rest and respite.
Needing to travel so far, sometimes for weeks without seeing civilization, the Nemien have become intimately acquainted with the cosmos. They chart the stars, the moon, and the sun in order to navigate any landscape. Their studying has made them brilliant mathematicians, sometimes appearing to be preternaturally or magically so to outsiders. Being traders, the Nemien are often able to calculate many things in their heads during transactions, and keep incredibly detailed logs of purchases and sales in tally knot form.
The equations and formulas revered by the Nemien for navigational purposes and spiritual significance are closely guarded, and have remained a secret that the Nemien are especially protective of. Circles of magi and cultists among the Nemien practice numerology, finding spiritual patterns and ways to divine the future within their mathematics. If one were to catch glimpses of their relics, one would see geometric glyphs, interlocking shapes, and tessellations that range from the minute to the gargantuan.
While adept at exploration, the Nemien are certainly not immune to the dangers of travel. The vardos they own are sometimes lined with metal plates, so that they may be better shielded from any projectile weapons that come their way. Preferring to attack or defend at a distance whenever possible, the Nemien are skillful archers who have made improvements on their bows over the years to have a much heavier draw than those of other cultures. Thus, their arrows and other projectiles can be launched father and with more power. They have also developed a wide array of arrowheads: barbed, flaming, hooked, and many more, each perfectly deadly in their own right.
Tinkerers and craftsmen specializing in repairs are also valuable amongst the Nemien, for they usually have to work with what they have got out in the wilderness, and broken items must be quickly patched up with minimal resources. Some Nemien will intentionally trade for damaged or old parts, bits, and goods on the extremely cheap, knowing that they can make excellent use of them in another, better form.
“For we have seen the end of all roads. We see the end, and we see that there is no Death. Step beyond that creation. First three steps, then seven, then ten. You will then see the countless tomorrows.”
~Attributed to the teachings of Denarius
The Salgothic and the Nemien have two diametrically opposed lifestyle choices: one barricades themselves behind fortress walls allowing nothing in or out, and the other lives a life entirely outside of stone and mortar moving throughout all the world. Strangely, these extremely disparate lifestyles have resulted in similar religious isolation. While the Nemien are certainly exposed to cults and different faiths, and some even take pains to study these other faiths academically, as a whole they remain insulated and apart, taking great pains to protect their cultural identity. The almost exclusive practice of faith among the Nemien is an ancient religion called Aa’boran. Cults are given a fair amount of leniency if it can be shown that participation might deepen the understanding of the Aa’boran faith, but if Triumverati cultists or devout followers of other religions are found among the ranks, they are generally quickly removed from their tribe. From the Nemien perspective, they have committed one of the ultimate sins: forsaking their heritage.
The history of Aa’boran is firmly intertwined with the Nemien identity. It is one of the things that has tied them together as a people, its history stretching back for untold years. It was practiced in Sha’ra before the Calamity, and it was practiced in the days of the earliest civilizations. It is believed that the core tenets have remained intact and largely unchanged through the world’s turbulent history, though this is certainly a matter of debate.
At its core, the followers of Aa’boran believe that they are reincarnated after each lifetime to start a new one again. In each incarnation, their selves learn and grow by walking their path until they reach atma, their perfect self. In each life they hone their mind, body and soul through physical and mental exercises, though there is no one clear prescribed method. Each follower is responsible for finding their own path to their most perfect and enlightened state, but many rely on the teachings and guidance of the Sahirim.
A harder to grasp concept of Aa’boran is the idea that time flows like a river, branching off, forking, and sometimes pooling. Many versions of reality exist, and as such, there are many different versions of the self. We are at least tenuously connected to all of our selves, and all of the choices and paths we have chosen across all time. One theory is that atma is acheived when all possible versions of the self make the same choices, and another is that it is achieved when the rivers and streams of the self finally merge into a great lake or ocean of consciousness. Others believe that all other versions of the self must be killed off, or all versions must achieve atma individually. And yet others say that we all have already achieved atma – and that all water is inevitably drawn together – we simply have to realize it. But it is because of these concepts of time and reality that water is a common motif, instruction tool, and meditation aid within Aa’boran.
While it is believed that all forms of control are required to achieve atma, almost all Sahirim focus on one aspect of the self, extolling its virtues above the others. It is believed that focusing on one aspect at a time is preferred, or else the self becomes overwhelmed. They hold up the individuals who they believe have achieved atma as examples of why their approach is most effective, and these successful examples of the past are praised as revered ancestors. Ultimately, the goal is for all aspects of the self to be brought into balance, and so some do choose a mixture of techniques and practices.
Those who focus primarily on honing the body believe that physical control over their flesh will allow them to reach perfect balance, and if the shape of the self is in balance, the mind and soul will follow. Common techniques for honing their body are exercise, fasting, and rigorous physical training. Tawazun, a form of acrobatic gymnastics, is especially popular. The individuals that are held up as examples of people who have achieved atma through this technique are Benalus and Amare the Warrior.
The teachings of those who praise mental growth and discipline of their followers believe that atma is in the mind, where the seat of the self is, and that to achieve it you must attain perfect clarity and understanding. They tend to use contemplation of mathematics, puzzles, and riddles to teach creative thinking and aid in meditation. The individuals that are held up as examples of people who have achieved atma through this technique are Danarius and Kalim the Savant.
Those who focus on the spirit believe that the needs of the mind and body are distractions, and that atma can only be achieved when your soul is free of them. They tend to use meditation, practices of inner peace, and chanting to reach their goals.The individuals that are held up as examples of people who have achieved atma through this technique are Shu-tat the Oasis and Indira the Poet.
The return of people from the dead is seen as an extension of the self’s journey. Rather than immediately starting a new life, those who still have path remaining to walk or lessons to learn may do so, picking up where they left off. Some practitioners believe that the return from the dead that so many experience the world over is a sign that the world as a whole is moving closer towards its end goal of perfection. New lives are not needed as often, for many journeys of the self are coming to a close. The achievement of final rest without the return of Malefic entities is believed to be a sign that the deceased has either achieved atma, or has dramatically moved closer to attaining that perfect enlightenment.
Just as there are variations in the best methods of training the self to walk a path towards atma, there are variations in belief about “shortcuts” – quicker roads and swifter streams that can aid in the journey. While many focus on their own practices and trying to be the best they can be – including studying how to best fulfill their role in the world, be it leader, guard, student, seer, etc. – others believe that it is by placing focus on others and helping them find their way that one can best attain atma themselves. It is not an uncommon belief that everyone is connected and linked, and that the elevation of one self to atma means a greater elevation for the world as a whole. One niche school of thought teaches that no one truly achieves lasting atma until we all do, and this leads to the concept of global atma – the great ocean. The great ocean is currently corrupted, death-dealing, and impure. It is dangerous. It is the responsibility of the faithful to work towards the purification of the world as a whole, with individual contributions working in little measures to gradually shift the world to achieve perfection and peace – the atma for the whole of reality. Those who subscribe to this interpretation are often the first to be working towards solving Malefic entities and doing what they can to guide others away from dangerous paths and pitfalls. There is also the troubling notion that much of the world is populated with those who do not adhere to or understand Aa’boran, and the question of what to do about that is certainly not an easy one. Religious ideals, concerns, and questions such as these are part of the reason why seers and magi are so respected, for they are some of the best facilitators and guides within these troubled waters.
Magi of Water are considered to already have achieved a level of mastery over the self and enough enlightenment and understanding to manipulate the flow of reality. For this, they often double as Sahirim, guiding the faithful, the People, towards wisdom.
But there is a darker side to the spirituality and mysticism of the Nemien. Forbidden practices fester at the frayed ends of the fabric of the community, for there are some shortcuts that are not taught by the Sahirim. Some forms of meditation and magic are believed to be practiced that serve to open up the mind, soul, and body to other forces beyond the self. Whether these practitioners hear the voices of lost spirits, djinn, or something deep and dark in the world is unclear, but the result is almost always power, madness, and death. From time to time, artifacts are found in well concealed caches, traded for, or found in ruined rubble on the edges of the world that bear the marks of the ancestors of the Nemien – as well as symbols of these terrible practices. While most Nemien would prefer to avert their gaze or cast out those who show too much interest, evidence would imply that these dark arts are not new nor strange to the People.
Folklore & Superstition
“They’re poking blind the eye they are trying to clean.”
~Common Nemien expression
The Nemien see more of the world than most, and they know how unforgiving and dangerous it can be. The wilderness is crawling with monsters and the cities are all to frequently held by cruel and vicious rulers. Every day they walk their own path, looking deep within and widely without to keep their people safe. Though they constantly move and flee, move and fight, treading lightly as they go, the weightiest thing they carry is the history and memory of those who have come before – their lessons, wisdom, and beliefs. It is through this remembrance that the Nemien believe they continue to keep the worst of the darkness at bay.
To the Nemien, it is common knowledge that whistling at night can attract malicious spirits. They are drawn in by the sound and attempt to possess whoever is making it. Many people whistle in their sleep as well, which is a terrifying prospect as many cannot control this urge. Due to this most of the tribes carry wind flutes and chimes with them, which they will set up at least 100 paces away from their camps to lure away any malicious spirits.
It is believed that homes, in whatever form they take, provide protection for the families that live inside of them. The emotional connection to the structure, memories, respect for the home, and the bond of the lives dwelling within and their strong attachments provide a barrier against weaker spirits. It is important not to damage the protections that the home offers so it is important to take great care never to step on the threshold of the home, and thus harm or disrespect it.
If spirits do make it into the home, there are ways to get rid of them and protect the family. The smoke from burning rue seeds chases spirits aways and reaffirms the family’s connection to the home. The head of the household will burn them in a metal cup, and wave the smoking cup over the head of each of their family members as well as all corners of the home.
When the tribe packs up the camp and gathers to leave for the day, they perform a short traveling ritual. The tribe elder will pour a glass of water onto the road in front of them. The pool of water is meant to represent calm travels. They will then step over the water, imbuing their travels with safety. Only once they have stepped over the water will the tribe leave the camp and continue on their journey.
When going on important missions, or when entering new territories, it is important to be able to see clearly. Not just the physical world, but the flow of the universe. The Nemien believe that by drawing kohl, a black powder cosmetic, around their eyes it will help them see. Some will draw kohl on other places as well. It is common among the seers to draw a third eye on their forehead and for hunters to draw eyes on their hands. They believe the eyes on their palms will give them clarity in their movements as well.
When a Nemien begins their personal journey towards atma, they usually choose a Sahirim to follow. Each tribe has at least one, if not more, who help guide their followers on their journeys. Most Nemien will pledge to follow a Sahirim by their thirteenth birthday. When they pledge themselves, they perform a short ceremony, where they agree to follow the teachings of the Sahirim and the Sahirim agrees to accept them as one of their flock. The ceremony concludes with the Sahirim tying a corded thread around the followers chest or forearm as a symbol of the follower teacher relationship. From that point forward the follower will wear the cord. Every year the ceremony will be renewed. It is uncommon, but some followers do decide to change teachers and at the end of the year will pledge themselves to another. When this happens, the cord is removed and a new cord is put in its place.
After a birth or a final death, the family will not move their home for forty days. Souls are considered especially vulnerable during these times, and the family does the best to protect the soul on its journey. For 40 days and 40 nights no fires will be lit inside the home. Chilis and lemons are hung from the doorway, to distract evil spirits before they enter. After forty days have passed, the family will perform a cleansing ritual. All babies or young children related to the deceased, as well as the body of the deceased (or a piece of their jewelry if the body is not recovered) will be cleaned in 41 spoonfuls of water. After the cleansing, the family will emerge from their home. Only then can they continue on their journey.
Another common ritual after a final death is to stack stones. At the site where someone has died, the entire tribe will gather. Each member will place a single stone in the pile. As they stack the stones they will sing a long song in the memory of the deceased. Once the song is concluded, the tribe will move on. Every time the tribe passes back near the stones, the immediate kin of the deceased will place another rock. Every year the monument grows, keeping their memory alive.
Kaseem and the lost tribe of Salib
A common tale among the Nemien is the story of Kaseem and the lost tribe of Salib. The story begins differently depending upon storyteller, but the most common beginning describes Kaseem as a rambunctious youth who would travel too far away from his tribe while they were on the road. He was forever distracted by interesting things he would see in the distance and would run off to explore before anyone could stop him. One day, he went too far away from his tribe. A windstorm came through and wiped away his foot prints so he could not find his way back. Alone on the road, he decided to camp assuming that his family would come back for him. That night, while he sat near his campfire, a stranger approached him out of the dark. The stranger asked if he could sit by the fire for a time, and Kaseem said yes. The stranger asked Kaseem if he was lost, and Kaseem said yes. The stranger asked if he would like help finding his tribe, and Kaseem said yes. Unfortunately for Kaseem, the stranger was a Djinn. That very instant Kaseem became possessed and walked away from his fire into the darkness. He walked until he found his tribe, and his tribe welcomed him back with open arms. Unfortunately for everyone, Kaseem was no longer Kaseem. The stories vary on what happened next, but they all end with an empty camp and Kaseems tribe, the Tribe of Salib, disappearing into the night to never be seen or heard from again.
Another common story is the tale of Niesha. She was a wife and mother of two sons. One particularly harsh winter, she became worried that her family might suffer due to the lack of food. She encouraged her husband to go hunting despite the bad weather. When he left, she heard the muffled sound of an owl hooting above her door. After one day and one night, her husband returned, but he was deathly ill. She wrapped him in blankets and tended to him as best she could, but she was still worried that they would not have enough food. She sent her eldest out to hunt. When he left she heard an owl hooting above her door. And again after one day and one night, her eldest returned deathly ill. She wrapped them in blankets and tended to them as best she could, but again she was still worried that they would not have enough to eat. She sent her youngest out to hunt. When he left she once again heard the owl hooting above her door. Her youngest was gone for one day and one night, and again returned deathly ill. With no one else to send, she went to hunt herself. When she left her home she heard the owl hooting, but now that she stood outside she could hear what it said clearly. It said death, death, death. She turned and saw the owl perched above her door. She shot at the owl, and it flew away taking the misfortune that had plagued her family with it.
“The oldest songs hold the most secrets.”
The Nemien use their holidays and celebrations to reaffirm their connection to their tribe and family, to mend broken relationships, or create new ones within and between the tribes. While every tribe has their own traditions and variants of holidays they celebrate separately within their own group, there are four major holidays that all of the tribes celebrate together. When travelling on the roads, tribes tend to travel quite separately from one another, so it is relatively rare to spend much time with other tribes besides time spent in Alealamia and among the gardens. Thus, every tribe makes a point to be at a garden, preferably one at a crossroads, during the major holidays. These holidays can then be used as an opportunity to meet others, trade news, and find suitable partners for eligible singles.
Hayat Jadida, or New Life, is celebrated on the spring equinox. It is commonly shortened to Hayat since life is the core of the celebration. It is also considered the beginning of the New Year. Preparation for Hayat begins days in advance. As the tribes approach the gardens they will collect firewood and capture an animal, preferably a deer or gazelle, for sacrifice. Inside the gardens, the residents will harvest and grind tumeric, neem, and bright flowers into powdered dyes.
The celebration begins the night before the equinox. At the various gardens, the tribes will come together and build small bonfires. At dusk the fires are lit. Throughout the evening, anyone who has had conflict with another person present can approach them and offer to put the conflict to rest. If the other party agrees, they will approach the fire together, select a log and throw the log into the fire together. As the log burns it represents an end to the conflict. Afterwards, it is considered inappropriate to bring the resolved issue back up in the future. It is not only those who are in conflict with others that will throw logs onto the fire. Anyone who has struggled in their journey towards atma will approach the fire and throw a log into the fire. They will pray that their own internal weakness will be destroyed in the coming year.
At midnight, the sacrificial animals will be brought forth. The residents of the garden will sacrifice the animals, spilling their blood into special containers to save it for later. The blood collected at Hayat is considered auspicious, and is used to create blood meal for the gardens. Once the animals are sacrificed, they are butchered and prepared for the meal for the next day. Throughout the night, the Nemien will drink fermented milk, beer, wine, or whatever else they have for libations, and celebrate until dawn when the new year begins.
The first day of the new year is especially jubilant. A large meal is prepared, and all the tribes present come together and eat. The colored dyes are used to adorn and decorate oneself, and the various colors are used to signal status and accomplishments. Red signifies either a recent marriage or a new baby, green means single and available, while blues and purples mean single and not looking – due to a broken heart or a contentment without partnership respectively. Other colors have meanings as well, but they vary from tribe to tribe and from one generation to the next. Throughout the day, singing, storytelling, and dancing is common, for it is believed on Hayat that the louder and more joyous you are, the more powerful the good fortune will be that you attract in the coming year.
Also known as the Three Game Festival, Nadaam Toglom is celebrated on the three days around the summer solstice – the day before, the day of, and the day after. During this time, the tribes come together to play the three games of sport that matter most – wrestling, racing and archery. Each day begins with a long song or poem celebrating the sport of the day, and each night the tribes will wash the stress of the day away with water. If they are near a river, lake or the ocean they will dive or otherwise submerge themselves into the water. If they are far away from a body of water, they will at least wash themselves with a cloth and a small tin of water. Not only does this cleanse the body, but it also represents a cleansing of the mind as well.
On the first day of Nadaam, the tribes will participate in wrestling competitions. The second day is racing competitions. Sometimes the races are on horseback, but not all of the Nemien tribes use horses. Due to this, and depending on the tribe, usually these are foot, relay, or obstacle races. The third day is reserved for archery competitions. While sometimes there is a prize of some kind, it is usually the bragging rights the competitors are after. For the winners can claim for the next year that they are the best wrestler, racer or marksman of their region, and perhaps add this to the ink on their skin. It is common after Nadaam for those who performed well in the competitions to receive requests to participate in a marriage discussion.
Sarada Mitra is loosely translated as Autumn Tribe Celebration or Friendship of the Fall. It is celebrated on the fall equinox, and on this day the Nemien will reaffirm their connections to their tribes, to their allies, and begin the appreciation of new friendships and connections. The day is broken up into three parts, and is ideally celebrated in meeting areas such as gardens or safe waypoints on trade routes where multiple tribes can mingle.
The morning of this special day is used to reaffirm connections to the tribe. It is a private affair that other tribes are not invited to participate in. It begins with a song and dance performed by the Sahirim. While the dance and song is different depending on the tribe, it often remains the same ritualistic dance from year to year within a given tribe in order to promote a feeling of continuity and tradition. The Sahirim will don ceremonial clothing, which gives exposure, or at least glimpses of, the long stories of their lives, and they dance before their tribe. One by one, the members of the tribe will join in the dance, until everyone is participating together. After the dance is completed, the tribes will perform other ceremonies to reaffirm their connections. It is common on this day for acolytes to come forward and reaffirm their pledges to the Sahirim and to accept or retie their sacred threads. It is also common for the young to be granted their first tattoo or scar, making them an adult within their tribe.
After the tribes have reaffirmed their internal connections, they will go forth and reaffirm their external alliances. Families that are connected through marriage, or people with well established business relations with exchange gifts. The gifts are usually small, consumable, and are specific to the person. For instance, if someone is known to be a skilled archer you might give them a well crafted arrow. This is used to indicate a desire to continue those relationships. If a gift is not exchanged, it can damage the future relationship.
In the evening, the tribes will share a meal with one another, share stories and present small gifts to those they wish to begin an alliance with. Again the gifts are small, like a stick of khol or a piece of fruit. It is believed that friendships and relationships forged on this evening will be long-lasting and auspicious for all involved.
Laylat Tawila, or the Long Night, is celebrated on the winter solstice. It is frequently shortened to Laylat and it is the most solemn holiday for the Nemien. They come together to struggle against darkness and ignorance by fasting, meditating, and striving to reflect on how they have progressed in their path over the past year and what they can do to move forward. Regardless of whether they are alone on the road, or grouped with other tribes in a garden, each individual person brings forth a candle or oil lamp, and lights it, placing them in a circle around the group. Once the sun sets, those celebrating eat no more food. While they sit together in relative silence or peaceful chanting, they spend most of the night being introspective and contemplating the ethics of self-restraint, honesty and forgiveness. It is considered an important night for those striving to achieve atma.
When the first candle goes out, they will begin to play music and the chanting reaches a crescendo before dying off. The person who noticed the light going out first will begin by entering the circle and either dance, sing, or tell the gathered audience what they have learned that evening. They will be followed, one by one, each in turn, by the others present who do the same. They will do this until the last candle goes out or dawn arrives, whichever comes first. Once their vigil has ended, they will drink a glass of milk and eat something sweet like dates or other dried fruit to break their fast.
“My story is etched onto my skin. Here, for you to see now, in the lines and shading, you can read my past. You can now see who I truly am.”
~Layan Nazaari ibnat Abdul, on her wedding night
Within the Nemien traditions the concept of alsaalih can be broadly seen. This term means “the greater good”, both for their tribe and for their family. From weddings, to holidays, to the Great Pilgrimage, and to the stories they wear on their skins, the Nemien tribe and family are of the utmost importance. Personal wants and desires are considered secondary to the needs of the tribe. Few alliances or unions are done out of love or true friendship, but out of a pragmatic view of what brings the greatest benefit to the whole. While they have taken a position of neutrality with outsiders, within and between the tribes there are many complicated connections that must be cared for. They walk their lives balancing their goal of achieving atma with bringing protection, peace, and pride to their families.
Courtship and Weddings
Alsaalih can be seen most prominently in how the Nemien handle their courtships and weddings. Almost all marriages within the Nemien people are arranged. Love unions are rare, and when love in marriage is discussed, it is usually observed as an emotion that grows over time due to mutual respect. Love when entering into a marriage is dismissed as lust or fascination, and is not considered to be a beneficial or desired thing for the long term benefit of the family. Marriages are seen as an opportunity to improve or foster positive relationships with other tribes. Love comes later, if it does at all. The benefit to the tribe as a whole is what matters, which means the unions are carefully negotiated. Depending on the size of the tribe, marriages may be arranged within it, but there is a benefit to marriage between tribes, as they can be used to settle hostilities, sweeten bargains and deals, or bring needed skillsets from one tribe to another.
Interactions between tribes occurs most commonly at the sacred gardens and at common trade stops.
Many tribes will have at least one elder who has the role of matchmaker, who will advise parents on suitable matches for their children. Before the official negotiations begin, there is a minimum two step meeting process. There is always an initiating family, who is looking for a suitable match for their child. They will either pick, or have the matchmaker pick, a tribe and/or family that would be beneficial for them to be connected to. A meeting is set up, where the initiating family will visit the home of the intended. They will present a small gift, usually flowers or an edible sweet, while the family of the intended will provide tea and milk. The conversation does not involve any actual negotiations or concrete plans for the future. It is instead presented as a friendly meeting where the goal is to get to know one another. At the end of the meeting, the family of the intended will either return the gift, indicating that they do not wish to continue with the negotiations, or they will keep the gift, indicating that their interest in proceeding to the second meeting.
At the second meeting, the roles are reversed. The family of the intended will arrive at the home of the initiating family. At the second meeting the matchmaker is almost always present, because sometimes at this meeting the marriage negotiation is held. However, it is not unheard of for these meetings to continue on for several more rounds as families weigh their options. During the actual negotiation, a few things are determined. Since one person may be leaving their tribe or family to join another, the first thing they must decide upon is which tribe is losing a member, and which tribe is gaining one. Once that has been decided, the other item that must be agreed to is the marriage price. The tribe that is gaining a new member is expected to pay the tribe that is losing a member to compensate them for the loss. Once the price has been decided, the family has a year and a day to make the payment. Even in situations where a marriage is occurring within the same tribe, a marriage price is usually negotiated, as it is still anticipated that the individual joining their new family unit will be dedicating much of their time and skills to their new family. However, if it appears that little will be lost to the tribe by the union, the marriage price may be largely symbolic or a token gesture.
It is not uncommon for the bride and the groom to not have seen each other before these negotiations begin, as it is considered inappropriate for the unmarried to spend time with an eligible mate without a chaperone. It is often only once half of the marriage price has been paid that a meeting is set up between the two parties. And only once the full price is paid is a ceremony date set. While the vast majority of marriages are negotiated and arranged between the parents of the initiating family and the intended, variations between the tribes exist. Some unions are negotiated by the tribal elders instead. And some tribes practice polygamy, with additional marriages being negotiated in much the same way as the first.
Once the arrangements have been made, the wedding ceremony itself is performed. The ceremony has many hours of preparation, but in and of itself it is short. It is traditional to have the ceremony in the middle of the month, where the moon is hidden from view. The new moon symbolizes an empty cup, something to be filled. All tribes have special tattoos or scars which indicate someone has been married and who they are married to. Before the wedding these new markings are first drawn in with henna, and only after the wedding are they tattooed or carved into their skin making it a permanent part of their story.
On the day of the wedding, there is a procession from the adopting tribe or family to the giving family’s home. It is traditional to present a small gift to the family, to signify that their child will be well cared for. After this, the individual leaving to join the other family exits their home for the last time. They proceed to an open area between the tribal tents. Water is poured over their hands to wash away the sins of their past, and then the hand of the individuals being married are placed into the hand of their new spouse by their respective families. From there, they walk together to their new home. They walk around their new home three times, and then they enter to begin their new life together.
The Great Pilgrimage
The Great Pilgrimage is usually completed several times in any Nemien’s life, but it is considered a great tragedy to not go at least once. The Great Pilgrimage is completed when the tribe travels to, and returns from, the sacred city Alealamia.
There is a great deal of variation in how the different tribes approach and complete the Great Pilgrimage. Some tribes do not consider it a true pilgrimage unless you complete the entire circle around the known world, which is usually a roughly three year journey. Other tribes consider the trip there and back as completing it, even if you have taken the shortest route. The only consistency between the tribes is the bias against those who travel alone. No one goes on the pilgrimage without other tribemates traveling with them. A lone person approaching Alealamia is likely to be stopped and treated with extreme suspicion and hostility.
However, it is rare for an entire tribe to go on the Great Pilgrimage at the same time because it is not desirable to abandon the trade route for too long. Usually, it is several family units, or a group of youth with a few elders guiding them. Before they leave, each traveler’s feet, hands and head are washed by the tribe. A tattoo or scar is placed upon their skin declaring them ready to start their journey, and then they leave their tribe and begin their journey. While it could normally be considered dangerous to travel into other tribes territory without a formal connection to them, the Great Pilgrimage is considered sacrosanct to all Nemien and anyone bearing the symbol of this journey are allowed to pass through.
Generally, most tribes consider the Great Pilgrimage at an end when the journeying group return from Alealamia to their tribes, successful in their journey. When they return, their feet, hands and head are once again washed with water and the tattoo or scar declaring them a pilgrim is modified to show that they have completed the journey.
Tattoos and Scars
When the Calamity occurred, bringing the great floods, the Nemien ancestors were forced to flee Sha’ra, leaving behind great libraries filled with books, scrolls, and artifacts detailing the stories of their people. They were no stranger to the nomadic lifestyle, as many of them were used to lives of constant travel in the desert. However, in the loss of Shar’a, they lost all known oases, cities, stopping points, and historic sacred sites. They could not carry books with them, and over the generations, it became more and more apparent that there were no new safe places for libraries. No help was coming, no one could or would take them in, and there was no one to trust with such precious cargo as their stories and their lives. But the desire to remember is strong, and while books are heavy and a luxury, skin is light and a necessity. And thus the act of storytelling and memorializing is done through marking the skin in intricate symbols and systems that vary from tribe to tribe.
The markings tell the story of the individual Nemien. Traditionally, the first tattoo symbolizes adulthood and membership in the tribe. From there, the markings are expanded upon over the course of their entire lives. It tells the story of their achievements, where they are on the journey towards atma, and mistakes and lessons learned. Every individual’s marks are different, because every individual’s story is different. There are only a handful of consistent marks between tribemates. The first, indicating membership and adulthood. From there there are the markings indicating marriage and whether or not entry has been made into a new tribe, as well as the mark of the Pilgrimage and its completion. The stories spread until the entire body that can be covered with clothing for privacy is used. Once this happens, they often use the skin of the Farigha to continue telling their tale. The Farigha generally also covers the tattoos, if it is the wish of the person whose story it is, so that privacy is still maintained.
When someone dies their final death and does not return, leaving their body intact, the tribe will save their story by carefully removing and preserving the skin. The remaining flesh and bones are either buried or burned with appropriate ceremony and a sharing of the deceased’s story and what is remembered of them. As the actions of the individual reflect upon the tribe, sharing these remembrances are often an opportunity to have a reminder of how wise, brave, caring, or nurturing the members of the tribe can be. The good and the bad are shared, in order that the deceased may serve as an inspiration and a lesson.
When a person has brought great shame to their tribe, they can be ostracized. This is considered one of two last resorts for shame and sins that are unforgivable, the other being the becoming of a Farigha. The most common reasons for ostracism are reproducing with or marrying an outsider, bringing an outsider into a sacred garden, or giving away or trading something of immense cultural significance such as a skin of an ancestor.
There is a ritual to becoming ostracized or becoming a Farigha. Becoming a Farigha is a painful process that can take many days to complete. Each tattoo or mark is removed from their skin. The process is done slowly, to prevent the individual from dying during the process and requiring them to begin again as the flesh reknits itself. Healers and Magi may assist with the procedure as well. The entire tribe watches as it is done, and with each mark that is removed the one performing the ritual will chant “With this flame and knife, I cut and burn away your story, your heart, your name.” The process is repeated for every member of the disgraced person’s family that they may become blank canvases for the stories of others.
In the process of becoming ostracized, the person may keep their tattoos and scars, but the face is marked prominently with the symbol of disgrace, such that it cannot be hidden. The symbol has some tribal variance, but it is usually some form of inverted triangle.
When the tattoo or scar is carved into place with the tribe looking on, the words are spoken: “With this knife, I cut away your ties, your kin, and all of our shared life.” Because the ostracized person is without kin and tribe, they are essentially no one, since the collective pride and stories of the tribe are now lost to them. They are to be shunned and avoided at all costs. Giving aid to someone who has been ostracised is grounds for punishment as well. Once the ritual for ostracism is complete, the entire tribe will turn their backs on them, and leave them alone on the road.
It is sometimes necessary to facilitate more understanding of a culture or city that the Nemien plan to visit on their routes – particularly cities or towns that are new to the route, or that the tribe thinks they need to know more about. This is where Sacrificed Time comes into play – a practice with a long history that is credited for facilitating and preserving the exchange of language that now is used so heavily for trade and giving the Nemien much of their business acumen.
Nemien who are deemed spiritually and physically strong enough to handle themselves in stagnant climates, surrounded by foreigners and somewhat isolated, are chosen to stay in a city for a time – usually one full cycle around the tribe’s route before they return, but some Sacrificed Time can end up lasting longer. These special Talaqim are tasked with settling in the town for the designated time and gathering information, building the reputation of the Nemien, and occasionally trying to tend to the spiritual health of those who desire it.
These Talaqim, of course, are still outsiders. No member of the tribe would desire to integrate with Others, and each of these men and women are waiting patiently for their tribe to return and take them, knowing their purpose is to help facilitate the survival of their families and home by taking on this great burden. While the taboos are still in place for those who are on this great Sacrifice, it is common for small oversights and failures to be more easily forgiven in this time due to the strenuous circumstances they are under.
“The point of our travels is to arrive at the end, which is also the place we started. But this time, we will know it for the first time.”
– Sayings of the Sahirim Kalim, Magus of Water
The Nemien have a lunar calendar that places heavy emphasis on the seasons and state of the land. They use it to determine where on the road they should be, and if they need to slow down or pick up their pace. To the Nemien, the important issues are what food will be growing or grazing nearby, where they are going next, and what will be in demand for trade. They usually only consult their calendars for business reasons or to determine if a particular date is auspicious. Their months begin with a full moon, and end when it becomes full again.
Most of the loops that the Nemien travel take approximately a year from start to finish to complete, although there are some smaller loops or faster moving caravans that can complete them in six months. They follow a similar route year to year, but they are always flexible due to constant dangers. The beginning of the new year is with the first full moon of the spring, and it is believed that travel along a river will never lead you astray during this time of year. The summer is a time of solid trade activity, as the long days make for easier travel provided that one can stay cool. It is not considered an ideal time to travel into the Outlands, but is rather a preferable time for trade with Seravia and more northern Gothic areas as there are a few more precious hours of daylight.
The seventh moon marks the beginning of autumn, and this is considered a good time for obtaining needed supplies for caravans and to stock up for winter, as well as to potentially venture into the Outlander territories if the caravan is bold enough, or to the Hesha inland towns. Obviously, the needs of the tribe and trade routes will vary and change. There are simply certain periods of the year that most can agree are preferable for travel into certain areas.
The tenth moon marks winter, and travel tends to slow during this time. Nights are longer, roads are more dangerous, and only the most desperate caravans insist on travelling long distances during this most scarce and trying time of the year. The Nemien also tend to stay in one place longer during the winter, sending out hunting parties for meat, and staying around the fire or inside their dwellings when they can.
There are some years that there is an extra full moon. This occurs every two to three years. When it occurs on an even year it is added to the beginning of the year and is considered auspicious. During this month they extend their Hayat celebrations to encapsulate the whole month. They will travel sometimes to several gardens, or stay in one for the entire month, celebrating with as many of the tribes as they can. They will celebrate with song, trials and contests, dance, drinking, and by decorating themselves, others, and their homes with flowers. Many will attempt to travel to Alealamia during this time if they can. It is considered a time of second chances after failures, and a period of precious extra time to finish old business and arrangements that have been left untended. Some believe this is also the ideal time to recommit oneself to their faith, studies, and their highest self. Marriages, childbirth, and negotiations during this month are considered especially blessed.
The Nemien name their months after constellations. Their months are: ‘Arnab (Rabbit), Tariq (Road), Jamus (Buffalo), Saqir (Falcon), Aldhiyib (Wolf), Tanin (Dragon), Ramah (Spear), Sahm (Arrow), Ghazal (Gazelle), Sahalia (Lizard), Nahr (River) and Jabal (Mountain).
Art & Recreation
“Art is like water for the mind and soul. It nourishes your mind and spirit and washes away the dust of life.”
– Bahri Sarraf ibn Farid, Kavi
The nomadic ways of the Nemien strongly impact every aspect of their lifestyles, which by necessity includes their artistic expression and recreation. As they do not have room to carry things that are impractical, their art and games must be easily portable. This means that the Nemien art adorns the items of daily living that they use, and also is at times temporary in nature. They both make their everyday items beautiful and pleasing to look at, while also creating art whose presence is as fleeting as their own.
Almost every tribe has a Kavi that travels with them. They are poets, storytellers, and teachers; and, most importantly, they are the keeper of the tribe’s oral traditions. They tell heroic epics, legends, and tales of sorrow and triumph. Their stories spread knowledge and help educate the young. The tools of the Kavi are a white sheet, a lamp, a two string fiddle, a wind instrument such as a pipe, a drum, and an assortment of puppets.
The puppets are made of flat pieces of leather and are moved through control rods made of animal horns or bone. Their stage is behind a lamp-illuminated white sheet, so that the mysterious movements of the puppets are communicated through shadow. Yet while only the dark shadow of the puppet is seen during the performance, the puppets themselves are still painstakingly chiselled out of leather and painted in fine detail, for they are treasured instruments of entertainment and knowledge. The Kavi will put on a performance almost every evening as the tribe relaxes after their large communal meal. A group of Kavi can put on quite an impactful performance. They will use their voices and musical instruments to increase the suspense during their stories.
It is not only the Kavi who are skilled at music, however. During breaks and meals, it is common for the Nemien to sing. The instrument of choice is usually the two string fiddle, which creates a mournful, drawn-out sound. Lap harps and other stringed instruments are also popular – usually without frets in order to create the tonal transitions more seamlessly. They use music to meditate, relax, and focus the mind, as well as stir emotion and memory. Meditative singing is also common, with each syllable and note drawn out much longer than standard speech. A three minute song might only have ten words in it, but the words are generally lost in the vibrating sound. For it is the sound itself that is more important than the words for this type of music. However, songs created for dance, travel, relaxation, and education are plentiful, and the complete dimension of music pitch is explored, as well as extremely difficult to achieve vocal registers. Music may be used to promote seduction and intimacy, longing, joy, sorrow, or to recite religious lessons.
When the Nemien create art and decoration for their surroundings and belongings, they strive to have art and nature complement each other. Beautiful mosaics often decorate earthenware and wagons made from rocks, broken pottery, and glass. Water, whether real or symbolized with stones, is carefully led and shaped throughout the sacred gardens to create delineations and symbolic representations of time, change, reflection, and the journey of life. Flowers and plants are arranged by sensory experience, with smells and colors and textures complementing each other. Garden sculptures and mosaics also are carefully placed to enhance the natural beauty and significance of the garden to the viewer. As well, popular topics of art for ornamentation of tools, dishes, and tapestries are flora, fauna, and organic or geometric shapes – the natural world in all of its complexity.
For all of the work that goes into travelling, trading, hunting, setting up, and tearing down, the Nemien possess a surprising amount of downtime – especially in the evenings. Many choose to fill this time repairing and modifying their belongings. They spend countless hours slowly engraving, carving or painting to enhance the beauty of the practical. It is rare to find a Nemien who has not chiseled designs into their leather shoes and saddles, carved complex designs onto their wooden storage containers and engraved their copper or bronze utensils, plates and riding gear. The designs are intricate and often feature organic or symbolic motifs. Many tribes choose to decorate their belongings with geometric patterns, while others will cover their belongings with images of flowers or animals considered important.
Another common craft is the creation of carpets, blankets and wall hangings. To make their travels more comfortable and warm, they fill their homes with these items and weave wearable layers. The fabric is usually made out of yak or buffalo wool, and is woven on a portable loom. Their carpets tend to have similar geometric patterns that they use to decorate their other belongings. As these creations are labor intensive and meant to promote a feeling of peace and meditation with the work, they have a reputation for being high quality and beautiful. They are in high demand at markets for trade.
A less well-known craft of the Nemien is colored sand mandalas. There is a tragic and peaceful beauty to them in that they are usually created during the several weeks to months that the Nemien may stop in one place, and then they are simply left behind to blow away in the winds and rain. They are meant to symbolize the transient nature of this life, possessions, emotions, and all of creation. They can be made with finely crushed rocks or dyed sands, and careful application of the sands through reeds and scraping tools, gorgeous symmetrical designs in bright hues. Once they are completed and appreciated for a few days, the designs are either simply left behind for nature to dismantle, or they are deliberately wiped away with the sands cast into a running body of water.
Much like in their arts and crafts, the Nemien focus on recreational and sporting activities that do not require many items to participate in, and that also serve to develop the mind and body. To achieve their physical goals they practice wrestling, archery and horseback riding. Another common exercise they use is a form of acrobatics known as tawazun. Some practitioners use a polished pole, while others will hang ropes from trees to practice. While balanced carefully on top of the pole or hanging from the rope they will hold their bodies in aerial yoga postures. They hold these positions for a time, showing their perfect balance, and then move slowly from posture to posture. It is extremely physically draining, but quickly teaches stamina and control. Most beginners simply practice maintaining increasingly acrobatic poses on the ground before they transition to platforms, ropes, and poles.
Popular games to stimulate the mind are Chess and Ludo. These games require focus, the use of tactics, and adaptability to win. Chess is the game of choice in the gardens or at longer stops, but on the road Ludo is much more common. It requires fewer pieces, and the board is usually made of fabric so it can be easily rolled up with the pieces stored safely inside.
To play Ludo you need at least two players, although you can play with as many as four. The board is divided into four sections that are color coded green, yellow, red and blue with a large starting square for each of the colors. In the center of the board is a cross shape, with a green arm, a yellow arm, a red arm and a blue arm. The arms are all located near the respective starting squares and are made up of four squares each. These four spaces are surrounded by a track of white squares.
At the beginning of the game each player takes four tokens and places them on their beginning square. They then take turns rolling a single dice. In order to move one of your pieces from the starting square to the board, you must roll a six. They then race their tokens around the board, having to circle the board at least once in order to move their tokens to the colored squares. You cannot end your turn on the same square as an opponent, and if you would, your token is taken back to your starting square. The goal is to fill up all four of the colored squares, which match the color of your pieces, with your tokens. You can only enter the finishing square if you role the exact number of moves you would need to reach it. The players take turns, going counter clockwise, until one wins. While largely a game of luck, it does require forthought in which moves you make.
The View of Others
“I only go close to the cities in order to whet my appetite for solitude.”
– Kovachi Sube ibnat Qadan
There’s a saying among the Nemien, “he who has decided to improve himself may not be as wise as the elders, but he is farther along than he who assumes he needs no improvement.”
Thus, as each Nemien works towards being their very best self it is difficult for them to not look down on the rest of the world as backwards, apathetic, or slothful. Yes, life on the road is dangerous, but at least they are not trapped in the cities serving the whims of Triumverati monsters. They are free and able to go where they please, practicing their faith and culture as they wish, and they can come across as having an air of superiority when dealing with those of other cultures. Their insular nature, as well as their cultural strictures against being open with outsiders, certainly doesn’t help matters.
The Salgothic people are probably their biggest source of trade, as those that barricade themselves away generally have the greatest need for supplies from the outside. There is also no expectation between the two cultures for any fraternizing beyond business. In addition, there are several tribes which specialize in leading groups of mercenaries to protect groups of Salgothics traveling to and from Lethia for their yearly trek. Others still routinely take on young Salgothics as passengers on their Vagary journeys – as long as their parents can pay the hefty fee. But while they are a source of income, and there are Nemien that have taken the time to learn the oddities of Salgothic society in order to ensure that they are allowed within their outer walls for trading purposes, the Nemien do not think much of them. Here are a people who have locked themselves away to rot, choosing the stagnation of the past rather than to learn, grow, and develop their atma. Some kinship can be found in their love of gardens, and devotion to their respective religions. They believe the Salgothic do strive in their way to try to become the best they can be, but the Nemien consider them to be woefully backwards in this practice, withering in the dark.
The Gothics are generally thought of favorably, mostly due to their close ties to their family and to tradition. The Gothic people are generally predictable and direct, and as long as one does not appear weak, they are more or less respectful. That said, every Nemien knows that the Gothics should be generally treated like wild wolves – and that any momentary sign of vulnerability will be taken as an opportunity. The fact that the Gothics are under the control of the Triumverati cultists of Kuarl is another point to their detriment, and Nemien generally enter their territories heavily armed and with extreme caution.
Those Nemien that do trade with Seravia do so at the mercy of the Lords who invite them into their borders. There are several tribes that avoid the area entirely, worried as they are about the Counts and their history of bloodshed. But there are highly valuable goods within those seven kingdoms that can not easily be found elsewhere, and the desire the Lords have for strange histories and odd treasures tempt many a tribe to negotiate with the Seravians. However, generally the people who dwell there are looked down upon with scorn by the Nemiens. If the Gothics are wolves, the Seravians are most akin to sheep – a herd animal kept in line by the promise of safety when their only real danger is from the butcher who keeps them.
Despite their dislike of the salty water deserts – the sea – the Nemien regard the Hesha with no small amount of fondness. Part of the reason is aspects of shared cultural history, for both the Hesha and the Nemien can trace parts of their ancestry back to the lands swallowed by the waters. But there is also the fact that they have similar lives, both of them being peoples that travel from place to place in search of trade and great deeds. They are regular trading partners, especially with the more inland Hesha, and each will contract with the other to fulfill jobs that are better suited for the other – even if the Nemien never set foot on a single one of their boats.
One of the more interesting cargoes that the Nemien carry are young children born with the marks of Triumverati taint; children whose parents wish that they be escorted to the land of the Outlanders rather than simply abandoned in the wilds or killed outright. The Nemien often carry these children to their destination, and many tribes will also add their own tainted children as well. It is not so much that the Nemien see these marks as a curse, but there is cause for concern of attracting Triumverati attention and of potentially inviting outside influences into the Nemien cultural identity. And besides, anyone who is born looking like an Outlander would likely develop best and be best served among them, almost as if they were born marked for that different caste. While dealing with the Outlanders, if often profitable and thus, necessary, they are also regarded as extremely dangerous and violent. Out of all the corners of the world, the Nemien have the highest chance of being raided in Outlander territories. That being said, the Nemien that do venture into the wastes do so knowing that they must be ready for a battle at any moment, and they will not back down from a fight.
The Nemien have some awareness of other peoples who have isolated themselves away in the remote places of the world. At times they may encounter one another near the hidden gardens. Fear exists that these people will not respect the sanctity of the gardens, should they find them, and so some sacred gardens have a higher number of Hafaza if there are rumors of the People the World Forgot nearby. For the most part, the Nemien avoid contact when glimpses of these people are seen, for it is known that they are more likely to murder anyone who approaches their enclaves than engage them in trade. There are a few tribes who engage with select groups of these people periodically, meeting at neutral territory for trading when these Forgotten indicate they are willing. However, generally the Nemien are more than happy to leave them to their devices, respectful of a people who wish to remain undisturbed, but wary of a people who would rather hide than face the world for what it really is.