Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The nomads, or Al-Badia (ahl-BAH-dee-ya), are those nomads who dwell in the hostile Ardr Desert. They are tough, loyal to their blood-relatives and friends, and constantly in search of the basic necessities: water, food, and grazing land for their herds. Considered to be violent barbarians and raiders by those few people's the Al-Badia are known to, their very survival depends on each member being able to defend and provide for the larger group. Consequently, every desert nomad, from virtually birth is taught how to hunt, gather, and work with the herds that their very survival depends on. Yet despite their daily struggle for survival, the Al-Badia also maintain a highly advanced and ritualistic class based society with a rich and centuries old oral tradition. The last century has been especially hard on the Al-Badia however, as their normally tenuous struggle for survival has been made all the harder by the rising threat of Suzerain the Great, an old blue dragon that has taken up residence in the desert and extended his control over the evil Harsaffs.

Honor
Honor is a cornerstone of Al-Badia society. Every Al-Badian is driven by the pursuit of honor and the prestige that it brings. Honor is made up by a person's character: is he honest and virtuous? Is he generous and kind? Is he loyal and brave? Every action affects one's personal honor and that of the family, as well. If a person acts dishonorably, the offense may stain the family's honor such that its memory lasts for generations. For every insult or injury to a person's honor, restitution must be made. The required restitution varies by the severity of the insult or injury. For a minor insult, an apology may be sufficient. Greater offenses, such as theft, may require huge monetary payments and loss of the offender's hand. Murder and amorous impropriety are generally the only offenses that warrant a punishment of death for the offender. In such cases, the offender's family will often carry out the sentence in order to remove or reduce the stain to the family's honor. By performing the deed themselves, they can restore greater honor to the family.

Blood Feud: To kill another person is not a crime if that killing is justified. However, disagreement between two groups on what is justified may lead to a blood feud. When one group believes that a killing was justified but the other group, who has just lost one of its own, disagrees, a viscous cycle of vengeful killings may ensue. The mediation of a third party is often the only way to resolve the conflict, allowing an honorable way for both parties to end the killings with a monetary settlement.

Family
To Al-Badians, a family is precious and irreplaceable. Even in the afterlife, a family remains intact, proving its strength as well as its importance. Material wealth is transient, but the bonds of blood are eternal.

Each person exists within the circle of his or her immediate family which spans all surviving generations. That family in turn, lies within a larger circle of cousins and uncles and aunts. Beyond that lies a third circle of relatives, one step removed, and then a fourth, like the rings which form around a pebble tossed into a pool. These circles create a person's identity. Man or woman, boy or girl, an individual is nothing without the group. The rights of the family therefore, must supersede the rights of any single person within it. This same concept applies to the various tribes that together form the Al-Badian culture. When faced with a universal foe, the tribes can band together to overcome the danger, (though historically this has seldom happened as it is rare for all of the tribes to agree on a single course of action), which has been the case with Suzerain the Great and the Harsaffs as discussed below.

Al-Badian families are typically led by men. A father is in charge of his unwed daughters, his sons, and the families of his sons. Al-Badians value large families, and they welcome the birth of each child. A nomadic patriarch typically has the largest tent among members of his immediate circle. He resides with his wife (or on occasion, his wives) and his unmarried children. His married sons live in smaller tents, which are nearly always pitched nearby.

Because blood ties are so important, loyalty to one's family is tantamount to Al-Badian law. First and foremost, a man's loyalty is to his immediate family. As noted before, his actions, for better or worse, will help define the honor of that family. A woman follows the same code. Loyalty next goes to the larger circle if, for example, a man is wronged and asks for help, his cousins are honor-bound to assist him, provided their actions would in no way dishonor their immediate families. Honor and kinship are two golden threads in the fabric of Al-Badian life. Without either, the fabric unravels.

Hospitality
In the Desert of Ardr, where the desert itself is the greatest enemy of the Al-Badia people, generosity brings honor, while stinginess spawns contempt. As a result, Al-Badian hospitality is unrivalled. According to Al-Badian ethics, a man must offer food and drink to any other Al-Badian who appears at his doorstep as a friend, no matter how poor the host may be. In her husband's place, or when receiving female friends, a woman must do the same.

If a guest comes to the door at night, a host must offer lodging as well as sustenance. A wealthy host may also offer entertainment, such as the dance of a talented servant and perhaps even a gift. The obligation -and desire -to offer hospitality is as compelling as any personal need. A nomadic tribe whose food stuffs or water are nearly gone may avoid a busy oasis. The tribe would rather know thirst and hunger than be unable to offer hospitality to any other tribal members at the oasis.

A host assumes responsibility for the well-being of his guests. His honor depends on how well he treats those who place themselves in his care. For this reason, guests can expect safety as well as sustenance, even if they once were the host's enemies. Arsenic and other toxins are easy to obtain in the Desert of Ardr, and poison is a common way to eliminate foes.

Nonetheless, once foes become guests -and share the bond of salt- even they can eat heartily, expecting the host's protection as well as his friendship. In turn, the guests are expected to act as loyal friends, never overstaying their welcome, and never overstepping the bounds of good behavior.

As was described by the Isatan chronicler, Shamballa, "The [Al-Badian] is generous and hospitable. Those are his most important qualities. He is also brave, but then bravery and generosity are almost the same thing, because when you are poor you have to be very brave to give away even what little you have. If your family depends for its livelihood on twenty goats, it is very hard to kill one to feed to a guest, but that is what the [Al-Badian] would do. No one would be turned away from his camp, not even an enemy. If anyone stole from the guest or did him any injury under the host's roof, the host would avenge the insult for the sake of his [honor]."

The Bond of Salt

The salt bond epitomizes Al-Badian hospitality and the mutual responsibilities of host and guest. When a guest ingests salt from a host's table, their bond becomes formal. Presumably, the salt remains in the guest's body for three days. Until those three days elapse, the host is responsible for the guest's welfare. By offering the salt, the host vows to protect the guest from harm for the duration of the salt bond.

Al-Badian Hospitality Toward Outsiders

While the harsh conditions of the Desert of Ardr have prompted the mutual dependency of the various Al-Badian families, clans and tribes as seen in their focus on Honor and Hospitality, these same harsh conditions have made the Al-Badia distrustful and suspicious of outsiders. When the life and death of your family may depend on a few drachmas of water, it is unwise to spare such resources upon needy outsiders, unless they have something of value to trade. Further, if the outsider is not properly prepared for the desert, or by their presence, reduce the feed, water or other necessities the Al-Badians need to survive, then it is not only proper, but prudent to eliminate such competition. This cultural outlook, generally explains the reputation of Al-Badians as being seen as violent raiders of the desert.

This however, is not the full story of how the Al-Badian culture views outsiders. They respect honor and strength of character above all else. Outsiders who prove their honor, strength and desire to do trade with or otherwise potentially assist or enrich the tribe, will be treated as honored guests and friends. It is this dichotomy that explains why certain traders and outside influences are treated warmly and others are harassed, raided and often times driven off or killed. When first encountering an Al-Badian, it is important to carry one self proudly, to exude strength of body and will, and above all, honor them with an invitation to share your hospitality, (since you are within their ancestral territories). Under no circumstances should one ever refuse the hospitality of an Al-Badian, as such will be considered an insult. Other rules of note when dealing with the Al-Badia:

Do not shake someone's hand with gloves on.

Only use your right hand to handle any food in a communal bowl.

Bowls of food and drink should be offered and received with either your right hand or both hands.

Do not lean against the tent wall or furniture.

Squat or kneel on the floor and if seated on a stool, tuck your feet under-neath-do not stick them straight out in front of you.

Dealing with Al-Badian Women

In a world where strength of character is exalted, Al-Badians have a peculiar belief in every man and woman's underlying weakness where matters of the heart are concerned - It's for this reason that many women wear veils and don robes that conceal the shape of their bodies.

Every honorable Al-Badian woman would extend her hand to help a wounded man. But almost none would shake hands with a man who is newly introduced, lest he assume her improper or be violently tempted by her charms. A man who openly casts fiery glances at an unmarried woman has paid her an insult rather than a compliment. Her brother or father would be perfectly in the right to demand some sort of retribution - from a public apology to a gift of many camels, depending on the woman's stature and the amorous man's audacity.

Not surprisingly, eyes, hands, and feet have become important objects of beauty in the Al-Badian society. Women line their eyes with kohl. Some tattoo their foreheads with a simple pattern. Others may decorate their brows with dots of henna, a natural dye which may also redden their nails. Bracelets adorn their wrists and ankles.

Al-Badia Religions

Religion is a way of life among people the Al-Badia. If it seems that the codes of conduct described so far are pursued religiously, it's because they are. Honor is also a matter of piety, of behaving in the manner deemed good and right by those who rule the heavens, those who will determine whether you are worthy of finding paradise in the after life. A dishonorable man, it is said, is never worthy of this great reward.

Al-Badians practice and tolerate a number of religions. Al-Badians recognize that their daily survival is always in question. With the scarcity of resources, they consider the very water they drink and the grass their herds eat, as a direct gift of the gods. Their pragmatic approach is that the more spirits, gods, and intermediaries that exist, the more likely their survival. As such, it is not uncommon to find Al-Badians worshiping many different spirits and gods, and such worship and prayers are a central part of their daily lives. Al-Badians find it exceedingly difficult to accept anyone who does not believe in and pay homage to some higher power. While certainly some types of religions may seem strange to them, the greater sin would be to not believe in some sort of higher power.

Major gods, recognized throughout Al-Badia, include Old Kor, Learned Zann, Brave Hajama, Najm the Adventurous, Selan the Beautiful Moon, Jisan of the Floods, and Haku of the Desert Winds, and Hakiyah of the Sea Breezes. None of these gods has a precise portfolio. Instead, each shows strength in a particular ideal or element, wisdom, knowledge, bravery, courage, beauty, bounty, freedom, and honesty.

Al-Badia deities also include a plethora of lesser gods, local gods and demigods as well as animalistic spirits. Such minor deities may be venerated in one small area, while they are unknown just ten parsecs away. All gods, major and minor, answer their worshippers' needs with equal ability.

Piety

Underlying the varied religions and cultural practices of the Al-Badia, is that of the Ziryab. This belief system is universal to Al-Badia, and in large part shapes their society. It's most basic concept is that each individual is composed of Light and Dark, which enables the individual to aid in the struggle of Light versus Dark. By pursuing the spiritual, one can gather and preserve the Light within themselves and eventually aid them in returning to the Light. Through successive lives, the spirit of the person can be strengthened and enhanced until it is capable of rejoining the Light, reaching salvation.

Ziryabites follow several principles, more or less strictly depending on the strength of their faith and their self-perception. Most spirits are far from reaching salvation, ie rejoining the Light, and so must live many lives before they are ready for this transition. These lesser spirits lead lives as people from all walks of life. Each should try to uphold the precepts of Ziryabism as best as possible, though it is realized that they are not ready to follow the strictest rules. Stronger spirits are born as warriors for the faith, still following a physical path but one dedicated to furthering the cause of Light, and therefore of strengthening their own Light. Those spirits nearing readiness for salvation lead lives of asceticism and enhanced spirituality, thus purifying themselves for the final transformation.

It should be pointed out that the Ziryabite belief in reincarnation and general spiritual beliefs lead to a warrior class which is fanatic and fearless. Each warrior believes that he has earned the right to be a champion of the faith through careful conduct in many previous lives. It is his privilege to defend and expand the faith and through this he will further his own spiritual perfection. Dying in this cause moves him one step nearer to salvation, perhaps even into the class of the Elect. This belief system is also reflected in the practice and acceptance of infanticide and suicide. Any tribesman who is maimed or incurably ill is "helped out of life." The aged, commonly commit suicide rather than become a burden to their progeny. Consequently one may see every Al-Badian sound in body and of vigorous age, since it appears rarely that any of them lives beyond 60 years.

At birth each child is assigned to its appropriate class. Priests examine the child and its spirit and decide which stage it is ready to live. Most children follow the path of the lay faithful. A few are deemed either warriors or Elect and are fostered to members of those classes. Despite being raised in foster homes, most members of the warrior and Elect classes maintain strong relationships with their birth families. Birth parents take great pride in producing warriors or Elect and this greatly enhances one's status in the community.

Al-Badia Basics

The Al-Badian word for desert is Erg, (irg). This roughly translates into ocean, which is not as strange as it seems, given the shifting, windswept dunes stretching to the horizons. The erg in many places resembles an ocean of sand. But there is much more to the Ardr than sand; there are mountains and huge swathes of scrub, jujuba, and other desert grasses. The Ardr is sparsely dotted with green oases. Less invitingly, there are also wastes covering thousands of square parsecs, where virtually nothing exists besides a thin scattering of pebbles on flat, bare ground. More hospitable parts of the Ardr are home to a great variety of wildlife. Day-time heat in the desert can reach a hard-to-imagine 55ºC, while at nightfall the temperature plunges to around 10ºC.

Over the centuries, the Al-Badians have used various methods for obtaining and distributing water. The most spectacular of these are the networks of underground water-channels, called fouggaras, which were once used to moisten dry soil with water from distant sources. Air-currents drawn in through vertical shafts created enough flow to deliver a trickle of precious water to scattered outlets. A much smaller-scale (but effective) way of irrigating dry places is to look for any surface sign of water – even a single green shoot – and dig a large pit in the same place. Palm fronds are used to shore up the rim of the pit and to stop sand blowing back in. Finally, young palms are planted at the deepest point of the pit and their roots 'suck' moisture to the surface.

Based on the harsh conditions, Al-Badians have learned to make use of every drop of moisture, every part of their herd animals, and every resource one may find in the desert. This includes using the urine of both man and animal to encourage the growth of the scrub plants that their herds rely on, and when necessary, they will even drink the urine of their animals. The urine of a pregnant camel is especially prized, because it has certain nutrients and is believed to help cure stomach ailments and mouth sores. While it may seem strange to an outsider, the nomads prefer animal urine to their own, but if you are dying of thirst, any urine will do.

Couscous, a semolina-like pasta made from the cracked wheat of desert grasses, is a staple food of the Al-Badia. It is a versatile starch that goes equally well with meat, fish, vegetables, or sweet dishes. Milk and blood are also staples. Herd animals are traditionally bled while alive by opening the jugular with an arrow or knife, and resealing the wound with hot ashes. Blood Stews like shakshuka, with vegetables, and tajine, with lamb, goat or camel are popular everyday dishes. Meat dishes are often prepared with some of the desert fruits when available. Pressed dates or figs, and hard cheese, which keeps for a long time, and flat, unleavened (yeastless) bread that can be baked in the hot embers of camp-fires are traditional fair while traveling. Hot, tea which quenches thirst and boosts energy is served with all meals.

Falconry

At least a few members of every wandering family group keep and breed falcons for training and use in Falconry. These falcons thereby provide an additional meet source to the diets of the Al-Badia, without the need to sacrifice one of the herd animals. The Houbara Bustard is the falcon's chief prey. This is a large, fast-flying desert bird about the size of a heron, and it is hunted for its delicious meat. Great skill is needed by the falcon in tracking down a bird of this size and speed, as it is often required to cover distances of four or five parsecs before finally capturing its prey. The falcons also protect the herds from other flying predators. In times of war and strife, the falcons are also able to attack and harass enemies as well as defend the tribe against the falcons of their enemies.

Present Circumstances of the Al-Badia

The rise of Suzerain the Great and his control over the evil Harsaffs have caused a continued problem for the Al-Badia people. The different tribes have been unable to agree on how to meet this threat. While some have wanted to unite the tribes against this threat, other tribal leaders have wanted to avoid such a war and some have even agreed to pay tribute to avoid conflict. Suzerain and his allies have sought to widen this divide, by unmerciful attacks against those tribes and groups who refuse to acknowledge his superiority and pay tribute.

As time has gone on, most of the tribes have been forced to make such agreements with Suzerain, as the individual tribes could not hope to stand against him and his allies. However, times have grown desperate. The tribes in the best of times, had little excess to spare, and with Suzerain's growing demands, the hardships for the Al-Badia are becoming critical. Adding to this burden, Suzerain has now started demanding that each tribe also provide to him a yearly virgin female sacrifice to demonstrate their fealty and supplication to him. Given the love of children and family that is at the heart of Al-Badian society, this newest demand is literally tearing tribes and families apart. Yet the tribal leaders are fearful of uniting and taking Suzerain on directly, as in their depleted state, victory is unsure, and the result if they lose could be genocide.


Chapter 2

Background for Razish

I was born the 3rd son of my father during the height of the summer drought to the Anani Clan of the Genkis Tribe of the Al-Badia. Such births are usually troublesome, as we are forced into constant travel at such times, and most babies fail to live through the season due to the heat and limited nourishment. I was blessed to be born with a hearty constitution however, and did survive. As is the custom in my tribe, upon completing my third cycle, my spirit was judged by the High Priest as to be worthy of being a warrior. I was thereafter fostered to the warriors of my clan, so that I could better prepare my body and spirit for the demands of caste.

As is necessary for every member of the Al-Badia, I had to learn how to hunt, herd and care for the herds that sustained us, and how to survive in the desert. The warriors continued my training, both in body and spirit, so that I was prepared to take my place amongst them, defending my family, clan and tribe, against all threats. I was taught how to properly use a variety of weapons and tactics in how to stalk, attack and ambush both predator and prey alike. I learned not to fear death, as it would only lead me to my next life. As such, I was no longer burdened by any fear, other than of failing to protect my people.

The patriarch of our clan was a proud and wise man. He recognized the folly of giving into the demands of the Evil reptile and his minions the Harseffs. While he worked to forge an alliance between all of the tribes, he was betrayed by another tribal leader who informed our enemies of his plans. In retaliation, and without warning, our clan was set upon by the evil reptile and his minions. I and the rest of the warriors, fought to give the others a chance to escape. Unfortunately, none could match the speed of the Evil reptile, and he slaughtered those who attempted to flee. I believe I fought well in that battle, as did my mates. However, we were over-whelmed, and I was felled by a number of blows.

I was expecting to awaken in a better life, but unfortunately, the gods had chosen otherwise for me and I awoke to pain; blinding, excruciating pain. When I was able to regain some of my senses, and surveyed my surroundings, I found that I was torn and battered, but still alive thanks to the efforts and care of a strange man who called himself Raksus. As I mended, I learned that Raksus came from the forbidden city of Isata. Long ago, before the coming of the Evil reptile, the Al-Badi would occaisionally make trade with the people who lived there. However, under pain of death, the Evil reptile had forbade any of the Al-Badi from approaching or dealing with Isata, and the tribal leaders had forbade further contact.

Raksus had saved my life, my honor required that I repay him. Unfortunately, the Evil reptile and the Harseffs, had killed and taken everything of value from me and my clan. I had nothing to repay the debt to Raksus, except by my service. So I became his indentured servant, (though he forbade me from calling it such), and pledged myself to serve him until I had repaid my debt by saving his life.

I quickly learned that while my brethren uniformaly detested city dwellers, and felt that they had nothing of value to teach the Al-Badia, Raksus possessed many skills and knowledge that were beyond those I had known amongst my people. While not born of the desert, nor of the Al-Badi, Raksus, had a relationship with the desert, sky, wind and sun, that clearly indicated his strong character and great spirit. I set myself the task of learning all I could from Raksus, so that I might better prepare my spirit for the next journey.

Raksus was not only my guide to becoming a ranger, but also to the wonders of Isata. While many of the people there are strange, and it is difficult to cope with the number of people in such a small area, there are mysteries and power present that I could not previously conceive of. Still, much of it I do not understand, and though I work hard at the writing Raksus insists I learn, I doubt I will ever understand it all.

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