The mysterious Desert of Gareth is the gateway to the sand-bound kingdom of Nabatae. A land of two people, Nabatae is an isolated culture where Dynasties rule over a theocracy and where the land and the sky command the spiritual needs of it’s people. What follows is an overview of the Nabataen people and their culture.
Upper and Lower Nabatae
Nabatae is a divided land. It is comprised of an upper and lower portion that is divided by a tall cliff that stretches the width of the known land. The upper portion consists of rough scrub land dotted with hills and scant settlements. It is populated by a nomadic Bedouin people who maintain extensive caravans for trade. Along the west coast of Upper Nabatae are several maritime ports; colonies of Lower Nabatae under the rule of the Bey.
Lower Nabatae is a rich river delta that empties into the Western Sea. Here the richest and largest city, Karesh is located. Lower Nabatae consists of two different geographies. The first is the river delta. Here rich farm land feed the people of Lower Nabatae while to the east a complex desert canyon serves as the holy place for the honoured dead. Lower Nabatae has the highest population and the greatest number of permanent settlements.
The lands that make up Upper Nabatae can be described as rugged, sparse, and hilly. It is bordered to the west by the great Western Sea called Nadeera. To the north stand the mountains named Dur-Mitani meaning Iron Forest. To the east winds the mighty Anhururimm (the Mother River or Great Water Serpent, and a Goddess of the Nabataean faith) that flows from deep within the Dur-Mitani and continues south to Lower Nabata where the great divide is found. Called the Aman-Khephru this tall nearly 1,000 foot cliff spans the southern border between the two lands. The land has few settlements and those of any size can be found along the coast of Nadeera. These settlements are colonies of Lower Nabatae and are covered later. As well there are smaller villages and towns that dot the banks of Anhururimm. Between them however are leageus of trackless hills, scrubland and wastes. Although this land is sprinkled with oases here and there, only those who truly know the land are aware of their location.
The climate of Upper Nabatae can be described as arid and dry. Considered a desert the land receives only 10 inches of precipitation per year. However life thrives in Upper Nabatae both in wondrous flora and fauna. The temperatures typically range from 40-45 degrees celsius during the day, and falling to 0 degrees celsius at night.
Aasahr (Sons of the Desert)
The Aasahr are a contradiction in many ways. They live a free life but their livelihoods are reliant on the Empire that has spent years trying to subjugate them. Their land is conquered but its people still adhere to their ancient beliefs ignoring the rules of their conquerors. An Aasahr proverb says, “One can use the wind for an end, but one cannot attempt to control it.” They are the wind and the Nabataen are just borrowing their strength.
Legends of the Past
Stories of the past speak of a valley home in the mountains far to the north. Centuries ago, two brothers each, ruled a powerful tribe in this mountain home. The eldest, Ibrahim was quiet and careful and ruled his people with an even and just hand. Ibrahirr the younger was rash and sure of his power but was a brave and powerful warrior. Their relationship was always one based on competition, even as young children.
Their rivalry turned angry however when they met Shimazaz, the daughter of the most powerful Chieftain. Both fell instantly in love with her. Soon they were competing for her hand in marriage. What began as a rivalry between brothers soon became an open blood feud. Soon the minor tribes were taking sides and war loomed. The old king called all tribes together and said the fighting would end and that his daughter would choose. Each brother would have to show his worth.
Ibrahim stepped forward and stated that he had already proven his love and would not act the beggar. At this, Ibrahir jumped up and yelled that his brother obviously lacked true courage and conviction of heart. He spoke eloquently, quoting the greatest poets of his people.
Shimazaz was overwhelmed by his fire and passion which blinded her to the quiet strength of Ibrahim. She quickly chose Ibrahirr and they were married before the assembly. Within days the old chief had passed away and Ibrahirr declared himself Chief of all the tribes. His first act was to declare his brother Ibrahim banished along with all who would support him.
Over a third of all the tribes went into the desert with Ibrahim. For twenty years they journeyed across the desert and rough hills, their ancestors seeming to have abandoned them. Finally Ibrahim’s people could walk no more. Their spirit broken, beaten into the dusty earth. And there in the middle of the forgotten hills and rocks Ibrahim fell to his knees and searched the faces of his ancestors. Seeing naught but the stinger of the scorpion and the parched blast of the hot desert winds, Ibrahim turned to the blazing sun. Following the course that the sun took across the sky over the course of a day, Ibrahim and his tribe were led to the great river. His people were saved. The Water Serpent, Ibrahim named it. In the tongue of the Aasahr, she is Anhururimm, and will sustain his people. And on her mighty banks, with the days of his life utterly spent, Ibrahim passed from this world to the next, to enter the halls of his ancestors.
The Years of Peace
While the land was difficult the people of Ibrahim quickly adapted. Their nomadic way of life fit perfectly with the rhythms of the desert. Soon each tribe had established its own seasonal migrations. They attempted to maintain their ancient traditions while taming their new home.
The center of the world was the Bayt Samaa (The House of Heaven), an ancient ring of stones they found in the low hills. It was here that they committed Ibrahim to the earth and it was here that they came to venerate their new God, Ibrashan (Father Sun). These stones are the only permanent temple of the Aasahr.
Invasion from the South
At first the Aasahr laughed at the strangers from the south as they struggled to build a pathway up Aman-Khephru, that great sheer wall. But tensions rose as the ramp-way grew despite horrendous lose of life. It took a generation to complete but as the last few meters were completed, the invasion began.
An immense Nabataen army poured forth into the hill country of the Aasahr . Scouts who were over watching the construction raced to warn the tribes. The Chiefs knew they lacked the numbers to fend off the invaders in a pitched battle. Only by using stealth and their knowledge of the land could the Aasahr stand a chance against these devils.
They drew the Nabataens into the hills, cutting off their means of resupply and support. Soon the Nabataens grew thirsty from the fires of the desert, and hunger gnawed at their resolve. Their casualties mounted from the arrow and the sword of their seldom seen enemy. After two costly years the great army withdrew to Aman-Khephru where they built a mighty fortification named The Fortress of Hentempet.
Nabataen kings refused to accept defeat and looked to the western sea, Nadeera as their means of reaching the lands to the north. Building mighty ships to carry men of war, the Nabataens sailed to the shores of the land they failed to take from the Aasahr. Upon the shores the army camped, building a fortified outpost named El-Jaffra. Settlers arrived, looking to tame this new frontier and a town florished. Pushing further north along the coast, the Nabataen’s continued to establish fortifications and settlements over many years. Tel-el-Kebir followed, as did Wabrah, Bayt-al-Hikma and Gerrah. Saydrah, Hanafi, and finally Ghazali, the great northern garrison situated in the foothills of Dur-Mitani.
The Aasahr recognized the strengths of the Nabatae. The tribes could disrupt any force the Nabatae mustered, but war had scarred the land and threatened their way of life. Realizing that neither side would benefit from prolonging any hostilities, the tribal leaders met with the Nabataen lords and generals. A treaty was agreed upon, ending the war. Chiefs pleged cooperation with the Nabataens while the Nabataen Kings agreed to leave the land to the Aasahr. It was agreed that colonies and farmers could settle along Anhururimm, and in exchange, the Aasahr were given sole rights to lead caravans from the newly opened mines in Dur-Mitani to the colonies and ultimately to Lower Nabatae. Guarantees of religious and cultural rights were also granted to the Aasahr as well.
Life Among the Aasahr
As stated above, the Aasahr are a people of contradictions. Their caravans fuel the furnace of an empire while many still live as simple herders. While many have built towns and homes most still live a nomadic life.
The original seven tribes who traveled the desert with Ibrahim still exist. Six of these tribes are the most powerful with extensive caravans while the seventh maintains the oasis. A number of smaller tribes have grown over time and have found a varied level of success however most rely on alliances with one of the original tribes.
Family and Marriage
Each tribe is essentially an extended family. Even the lowliest camel herder is a distant relation to the chief. This family tie creates an incredibly strong bond between tribe mate. Tradition demands that every attempt is made to protect family. The greatest dishonour for an Aasahr is to betray tribe and family. Such individuals find themselves pariahs, alone and without friend. No other tribe will accept them and indeed, they also find themselves as outlaws.
In most cases the chief is a male of the dominant branch of the family. Normally he is named by the previous chief before his death. If a chief dies without a successor, one is chosen by a vote of all males within the tribe. One of the major duties of a chief is to reproduce, as he will take as many wives as he can afford. His children are many.
Marriage is an important since it cements bonds. Daughters are sent out of the tribe after the payment of a dowry is received. While any man may take more than one wife, he must be able to afford to maintain such a large arrangement. Most have only one wife. In cases of multiple wives, the first wife is considered the headwife and takes charge of any who follow.
The chief has ultimate power over a tribe. His word is law but an intelligent leader follows strict tradition and seeks advice from his counselors. Ultimately the chief is a leader, a father, and a dealer of justice to his people. The tribe’s success is highly dependent on the ability and skill of its chief.
While rare, a chief may be challenged. Any male member of a tribe can call for a vote on the chief’s leadership. If three quarters of the tribe’s male members agree with this challenge, then the chief is removed. An election is held after brief speeches by the candidates. It is mostly from these situations that the smaller tribes emerged. Deposed chiefs often take their loyal followers and create a new tribe.
Role of Women
Women play a variety of roles in Aasahr culture. For the most part they act as homemakers and mothers. They work to create and maintain the homes of the people. Women perform the job of a steward for each tent ensuring that proper supplies of food and water are maintained.
In most cases, a man has one wife, but men with wealth will have more than one. The first wife runs the household while subsequent wives assume other duties that the first assigns. The nature of these relationships depends on those involved. Some are friendly while others struggle constantly.