The Coriolis corebook tells us a little bit about the Nomad Federation:
- It’s a jumble of different families, clans, bloodlines, alliances and tribes all claiming Nomad heritage;
- Often these ties are of blood, but bad blood. These internecine feuding and generational vendettas are also things that, strangely, draw these people together;
- The Clans congregate in the Quadrant of the Pillar, that little exploited diamond of systems – Altai, Sivas, Zhau and Ordana, as well as being found in the Rimward Reach, Nharmada, Algol, Odacon and Melik;
- They are not above closing portals if they feel their sovereignty is not being recognised;
- And they can bring together the biggest fleet in the Third Horizon, should they put their minds to it.
There are a number of things here that immediately jump out at me: the Nomad clans seem to pre-dominantly occupy the same place; they value things like “sovereignty”; they are dissolute but can bring this enormous hive of fighting and clawing enemies together to act as one when they want to.
Let’s consider all this.
These people are Nomads. Think about that word for a second. What is the one thing you associate with Nomads – that Nomads tend to do? They travel. They don’t have one place they call home (other than their vessel or their Swarm, a home that moves with them). They might roam, going wherever the space winds take them, or they may well travel a set route, for good reasons. Nomads on old Al Ardha would travel to gather food, or to move livestock in line with the weather, or some such reason. Often the land where they were living was poor, so moving on was the only option if the community was to survive. So I don’t think the Nomad Federation really has a notion of “sovereignty” over anything, other than the vessels they call home.
The ALTAI MIRROR
The ancient clans of the Quadrant of the Pillar don’t live there. They pass through. Some Nomads just rotate through the Quadrant’s diamond of systems, picking up food here, trading a bit there, building contacts and networks of allies they can on whenever they find themselves in need of aid.
But the older the clan the more the wanderlust has them. Some make their nomadic living journeying through two or more of the established routes, through the Miran Chain and the Quadrant maybe, or the Algol Route and the Dabaran Circle. But only the most ancient, earliest clans, like the Awal and Aqdam clans, traverse the entire Horizon, like in the “good old days”, in an elaborate route called “The Altai Mirror”.
The route starts and ends in Altai. It passes round the Quadrant of the Pillar, Odacon and the Miran Chain, before rounding the Dabaran Circle along the Caph Link to Melik, past Dabaran and Kua to traverse Altai again before turning to Nharmada and the Algol Route. From there the route returns to Altai to start the entire journey again. It has been known that some are born, live their lives and die before the Awal and Aqdam swarms have made even one single circuit.
Life As A Nomad
Over the years the Nomad folk of the Third Horizon have been systematically discriminated against by the Firstcome, and then the Zenithians, and now both. Discriminated against and denied access to rich territory and fertile lands. And I think this is the real reason the Nomad Federation came into existence at all. Cast out, these – in the first instance – small bands desperately scratched a living from whatever they could find and survived by little more than their resilience and determination. They would come across bands like themselves in their wandering. Occasionally they would gang together, but more frequently they would clash over some resource or another, and fight. Sometimes these turned into murderous battles that saw many dead. At other times the conflict petered out when both sides had weakened one another so much that they had no choice but to join forces with their erstwhile enemies or both lose the so-called prize they had killed and died for. And here you find the origin of the blood feuds and vendettas that plague the Nomad Federation to this day: impossible to forget but destructive to all they touch, should they be allowed to fester.
With such a wide and diverse community it’s no surprise that many Nomad clans fell into their own evolved dialects. Over the years this became so severe that some clans could no longer understand one another. To resolve this the old leaders started to teach an ancient form of body language, that allows those with the learning to say a few phrases through an intricate but highly disguised array of head nods, hand movements and eye contact. It is the height of respect to greet one who is a peer, and the expectation when greeting one who is senior, to use this language to welcome them, saying “secrets of the void be with you, my friend.”
Nomadic Class Structure – the Caste System
All true Nomads live aboard ships that form a Swarm, such as the great Khyber Swarm that originated in Algol, but there are many smaller Swarms, sometimes of as few as five or six vessels. The Nomad Swarms are – by definition – spread widely across the Horizon. To maintain any kind of factional stability, and have any hope of cross-faction respect being given and received, the Nomad Federation in its earliest days started to build a rigid class structure within it. Wherever you were, whatever you did, if you were a Nomad of a certain status you out-ranked, or were junior to, any other Nomad no matter who they were or where they came from. Naturally, some clans have a higher status than others, and some Swarms are bigger and more powerful. But in the eyes of the Nomads that doesn’t matter: your caste matters more.
At the bottom of this culture you have the ‘Douloi‘, little better than slaves but still Nomads. The Douloi do what they are told, on pain of severe punishment, and have little or no freedom to decide anything for themselves. However, in Nomad culture it is the responsibility of their elders and betters to look after and provide for them: it’s a poor Nomad who mistreats a faithful Douloi.
And Douloi are not prevented from advancement. A loyal slave with a long history of contributing to the good of her Swarm or Clan can hope for promotion to the next caste up, the wide community of trusted Nomads known as ‘Anusiya‘. The vast majority of the Nomad Federation are just this: free people living as part of the clans.
Within a Nomad Swarm each vessel is an independant part of the whole, and each Captain is a powerful and free authority within the Swarm. Each vessel’s Captain is titled ‘Asabari’, and this is the third caste within the Federation. Elevation to this level confers the right to be addressed as “Asabari” and not only implies (and indeed requires) the command of a vessel, but also gives a seat on the Swarm’s council. No matter how great or how minor your ship, if you are admitted to the swarm as captain of your vessel you become Asabari.
As a good, Icon-fearing Firstcome faction, the Nomads are explicitly conscious that they live their lives closer to the Icons than any other faction, and closer to the Dark Between The Stars. This is an honourable and privileged position, but calls for greater spiritual guidance and protection than others might need. This is provided by the Nomad’s caste of shamen and priests, the Hikma. People are not promoted to this duty, they are chosen by the Icons through omens and signs. When the Icons touch a Nomad with the ‘Hikma-Isharatan’ – the “Sign of Wisdom” – they immediately assume the role and the spiritual authority that comes with it, regardless of their caste or position within the Clans: the Icons have nominated them, and they only answer to the Icons for the safety of their Swarm. In reality, many suspect that Hikma are appointed with the connivance of humans, rather than at the instigation of the Icons: signs can be vague or cryptic, and need interpretation. But whether or not the appointments are divine or humanly political, the Hikma carry a heavy burden for the Nomad Federation.
The best of all the Asabari in the swarm is appointed, usually by election in council (so only the Asabari captains get to vote) or by right of might or influence, to lead the swarm and take the title of ‘Padishah‘. This exalted level confers many privileges and responsibilities, and brings a formal personal responsibility to protect the Nomad Federation as a whole, and not just their swarm or clan. Naturally, human nature being what it is, some are more attentive of this responsibility than others. There is no one great leader of the Nomad Federation, and many of the older or more powerful Padishah leaders have taken unkindly to Abyeia Goharshud’s self-appointment to the position of Nomad Federation Spokeswoman on Coriolis. Such delusions of grandeur do not sit well with the well-grounded Nomads, and they sneer at her pretentions: if she wishes to anchor herself to Coriolis then she is no true Nomad…