He was born in the early 3250s into the Ndōdaban clan, which was subject to the Ōkmisan.
The Dnetic people were divided into kiwenzīwin or clans: Ōkmisan, Ndōdaban, Gdimnižo, etc. These in turn were divided into bands (gižitādni) of about a hundred people. However, a gižitād was divided by sex between two clans. Nehkīžen’s mother and all the women of the band were Gdimnižo; but he, his father, and most of the other males were Ndōdaban.
The peoples subject to the Ōkmisan could also be called Ōkmisan; in case of confusion one might refer to all the allied clans as hpal Ōkmisan ‘the greater Ōkmisan’.
He grew up under the care of his mother; the identity of his father was carefully concealed from him, though he could be assumed to be one of the males of the band. His mother had the assistance of her family— the Dnetic peoples were matrilocal, so she never had to leave the band of her birth.
Horses were the wealth and livelihood of the Ōkmisan, and its identity; the chief shaman of a clan always had a stallion spirit as his žāžiw or spirit guide. Nehkīžen was suckled by his mother on horseback, hanging from her neck in a sling. He had his own horse by the time he was seven; he learned how to ride it in all sorts of terrain, how to care for it, how to calm it down, even how the horses were mated and, when the time came, killed. All these skills had a spiritual component as well; the horses were considered members of the clan as well as manifestations of the Horse Spirit.
The Gdimnižo raised sheep for meat, milk, wool, and felt; from a young age Nehkīžen was put to work taking care of the animals. He also learned to hunt mice and rabbits with the bow, first on foot and then on horseback.
Making clothes and preparing food were considered women’s work; but young boys were expected to help with this, and these skills could be useful later in life, especially in situations (such as a long hunt or campaign) when women weren’t around.
He was finally introduced to his father at the age of ten, the beginning of a long series of rituals, teachings, and ordeals that marked the transition to manhood. He was given his adult name, Nehkīžen. The ordeals included fasting, sleeplessness, scarification, and circumcision.
This culminated in a hunt; he was sent off alone, without clothes, horse, or weapon. He was to create his own weapons and clothes; the first animal he killed would become his žāžiw. In Nehkīžen’s case this was a mountain lion, the most auspicious possibility; it meant that he was destined to be a great warrior.
He spent most of his time with his father and the other males now, sleeping near them and eating with them; this was advanced training in being Ndōdaban— a higher calling, as he learned. The Ndōdaban liked to boast that they were šehtāknašnyig ‘horse-born’— that is, fully nomadic. They had neither fields nor sheep; they made a living entirely by the horse, which meant hunting, raiding, and war.
The Dnetic peoples did not share the tripartite structure of Itsenic confederacies; their tribes and states were subject to a pūdam (king, from Uyseʔ pauram). The band was led by a dōškil or chief— his father’s uncle, in fact, a gruff, imposing bear of a man. The pūdam was even more imposing: dressed in a bright red cotton robes with a bearhide cape, jangling with gold and silver jewelry as well as bones of conquered enemies, a battle scar distorting his mouth into a permanent smirk.
The men mocked him if he spent much time with the women, even his mother and sisters, or did women’s work. There were new skills to learn anyway: tracking, horse wrangling, tanning leather, hunting large game, swordfighting, mastering the huge bow used by male warriors.
Not long after his mountain lion hunt, Nehkīžen was sent on his first raid. He was nervous and excited. He didn’t worry much about the risk of death; he worried whether he’d be bold and brave enough.
All the men of the clan rode for two days to reach the Hrat; their target was an Uytainese merchant caravan moving north along the river, pulled by sammules. The Ndōdaban attacked at night, when the merchants were sleeping; they dispatched the guards first, then slaughtered the sammules. Nehkīžen watched the latter process and thought he saw how it was done, with a swift slash of the horseman’s short sword. He tried it himself and was splashed by a spray of arterial blood; the animal remained standing and kicked him. Cursing, he slashed at it till it fell.
He sensed that this was not a deed that could be vaunted, so he looked around for human enemies. He found a tent with a sleeping man— drunk, the man had not awakened in the commotion. Recklessly, Nehkīžen slashed with his sword; again it took several strokes till he stopped moving, and by the end it seemed more like work than glory. But he had killed a man.
The rest of the clan was busy looting. The merchants had brought the most valuable merchandise ashore— metal manufactures, jewelry, silk clothing— and these chests the clansmen tied to their horses. They crossed over to the boats moored in the current to check for anything else worth taking, and brought back some small carpets and a cage of piebirds. One of the boats had been unmoored by the merchants and left to drift downstream; that probably meant that it had something valuable on it, but it would be tedious to chase after it. Once the loot was secured, they rode home.
Nehkīžen’s deed did not bring honor, but mockery. The horsemen had no interest in killing merchants, unless they were attempting resistance; and though in the old inter-Dnetic wars it was acceptable to kill a helpless opponent, those were Dnetic warriors, not soft Uytainese. Nehkīžen earned the new nickname He-kills-the-sleeping-man.
But he had plenty of opportunities to learn. There were, he learned, three types of raids, each with its own protocol.
- Against merchants with insufficient protection. The horsemen only carried off portable, high-value items, and usually left the merchants themselves alone. Traditionally they attacked only caravans moving north, as boats on the river were nearly untouchable; but the emperor Gdōšnīmag had introduced the tactic of creating rope barricades across the river, which could stop the boats.
- Against peasants, in order to capture animals and agricultural goods or grab territory. These tended to be more violent. Very dense areas were avoided, not least because the Uytainese learned to build high fences and traps for the horses.
- Against military outposts. These were serious battles, usually involving two or three clans together, with the added difficulty that the Uytainese had cavalry of their own.
The band could muster fifty riding men, which gives an idea of the force needed by the Uytainese to protect caravans, towns, or garrisons. The Uytainese along the Hrat and upper Ħomtso lived in a constant state of siege, and the consequent military burden on the farmers and merchants was oppressive.
Nehkīžen grew into a fine warrior, strong and handsome, his clothes and his horses decorated with tokens of successful battles and hunts, his hair shaved above the ears and long on top and back, in imitation of a horse’s mane.
Nehkīžen was now eighteen, the full age of a man; it was time to find him a wife. This was an affair that seemed to involve both entire clans; Nehkīžen and his father or one of his uncles often rode to distant camps to meet one young woman or another— almost always Gdimnižo, the traditional marriage partners of the Ndōdaban. Nehkīžen and the girl would have to agree to any match, but most of the negotiating was done by Nehkīžen’s father or uncles, and the girl’s parents.
The final choice was a girl named Ābžīmšiw, a niece of the Gdimnižo pūdam. The marriage took place at a celebration attended by half a dozen bands and both pūdamni. It was consummated in public, with the attendees cheering on the couple; this would have been mortifying for Nehkīžen except that it was already night and he was fairly drunk.
He was now officially part of Ābžīmšiw’s band, and expected to spend most of his time with them. This was made easier by the fact that the two bands had other marriage ties; eventually no less than seven of his friends and relatives from his birth band ended up in Ābžīmšiw’s. Nonetheless it was quite an adjustment, both complicated and eased by rituals and hazing from the band’s elder males. At least he acquired a slightly less embarrassing nickname, His-cheeks-bulge-like-a-squirrel.
He slept and ate with the men, visiting Ābžīmšiw only at night. He was expected to provide her with furs, hides, and war booty, while she gave him clothes, meals, and trade goods. (The women did the trading.) He was aware of course of her pregnancies, and even knew his children, but till they were ten he could interact with them only as a friendly relative.
The Dnetic view was that the sexes had distinct roles, each sacred in its own way. Men had the honor of making war, but women had the sacred mystery of giving birth. Each sex in fact had its own religion, with its own cosmology and practices. The men had shamans and spirit animals; the women had goddesses, whose interpreters were the old women.
Women were trained with the bow, as they might need to defend themselves and their animals; they also had near-absolute power over their children, and a say in the affairs of the clan. Sometimes these facts combined to give them great political power: if a king died while his sons were minors, his wife could take power, even to the extent of accompanying armies.
One consequence of the Dnetic mores on childrearing was that young men were freed up to spend most of their time on war.
At this time, in the 3270s, the Ōkmisan mšīnebig (emperor) Gdōšnīmag turned from raids to conquest, concentrating on the upper Ħomtso. For individual warriors like Nehkīžen, this meant more discipline, integration into larger forces, and a much higher time investment. He spent several years on the campaign— a wearying succession of long marches, remote camps, foraging, and building siege ramps, punctuated by huge, confusing battles.
These generally favored the Ōkmisan, which led to a new role: administering the peasants and the cities lost by Uytai. Nehkīžen and most of his fellows had imagined victory to consist of a long orgy of looting; but they soon found themselves guarding garrisons and the merchant caravans they had once attacked, observing long meetings conducted in a language they couldn’t understand, even (through interpreters) acting as judges or officials.
If this was hard to understand, there were compensations: there was gold and fine clothing for everyone; Nehkīžen was awarded a small estate and had use of its taxes and serfs— though he never saw it. He even acquired a Uytainese wife.
He received a message that his sons were now ten years old; he was allowed to return home for a year, bringing Ābžīmšiw many presents, to begin their mentoring process. Normally this would mark the end of his full-time warrior days, but Gdōšnīmag was ambitious; he had set his eyes on the Hrat valley, the source of tea, a drink very valuable among the sedentary peoples for some reason. Nehkīžen had learned to drink it— one could do nothing with the Uytainese without doing so— but not to enjoy it.
So Nehkīžen bid Ābžīmšiw goodbye once more and returned to the front. The battles were more difficult than ever— the Uytainese realized that they were fighting for the survival of their empire and poured men into the fight, and to assist them they had hired horse warriors of their own.
Nehkīžen was killed in the fight for Twot (3284)— which turned out to be the high point of the Ōkmisan advance.
His body and that of his horse were recovered, and burned together where they lay. A warrior’s bones had to be entirely consumed, anything unburnt ground to dust, lest any enemy claim his bones.
Following Dnetic custom, his goods— horses, clothing, weapons, jewelry, gold, the moveable wealth of the nomad— were divided between his wife and children, with daughters getting only half a share. (The rules were however reversed when a woman died.) As there were two sons and two daughters, Ābžīmšiw ended up with half of his goods.
The estate in Uytai was a different matter, as by Uytainese law it should fall to his eldest son Šignāžiwin. But there was a disconnect— written orders were lost, and most Ōkmisan couldn’t read them anyway; those who were supposed to find Šignāžiwin and transfer the inheritance (and thus its revenues) didn’t do so. The estate reverted to the emperor, who alloted it to someone else.
Looking on from the next world, Nehkīžen might at least have the satisfaction of having his name remembered. Any Ōkmisan man can recite his male ancestors to at least twenty generations, and does so in various rituals; Nehkīžen’s name is thus still alive today, two hundred years after his death.