The Wastes of Gadarike
SYNOPSIS: Russia (988-990). Ethelwulf the Wanderer’s band flee to Gadarike (Russia) from Finland. However, they are soon betrayed, narrowly escape and seek revenge. This creates new enemies and they are despatched to Khazaria where conditions even worsen among a population of Christians, Jews, Moslems and pagans. With news of old enemies on their trail they escape using the river system, despite tragic events, through the Sea of Azov and head for Byzantium determined to find security there as mercenaries.
With extensive Factual End-Notes.
EXTRACT: 'As the river Kuban narrowed the confidence of their guide, Aaron, began to fall. Obviously what had been dismissed as, perhaps, a merely superstitious acceptance of the ghostly tales of the pagans, now became an obsession. Recently Ethelwulf had learned Aaron hadn’t been the pure volunteer to join the expedition had been thought. Apparently, Aaron had formed a relationship with an attractive young – and newly widowed - woman in Samir and she was found to be pregnant. What made matters worse was Aaron had been attached to the widow before the death of her husband had been discovered. The husband had set off for Sarkel one day and disappeared - his body being soon found about a day's ride north of the village; his throat had been cut and his horse and other possessions stolen. At first, the villagers believed the unhappy man had been the victim of either Pechenegs or brigands but when the affair between the widow and the young man became known gossip piled on to rumour. At first tongues swore the expected child must be that of Aaron because of the question of timing. Then more malicious tongues pointed to the very convenient death of the husband, adding it had occurred at the very time Aaron was returning from Sarkel. What if the two men had met, the husband discovering he’d been cuckolded and the younger man deciding to be rid of a rival? When the baby was eventually born, it would be closely examined and if Aaron appeared to be its father there’d be an enquiry into the death of the husband. So Aaron had chosen not to await the birth but rushed to act as guide for the Varangians. Ethelwulf had been surprised the young man, instead of leaving them once they’d reached the river, had offered to stay with them as far as Tmutarakan. He hadn’t believed the story that Aaron had simply tired of rural life and was seeking a new career among strangers. As the story had been wheedled out of the guide he’d first laughed at what payment the young man was enduring for his liaison with the widow. Then he wondered whether they were harbouring a murderer, but immediately dismissed the idea. Aaron seemed such an open young man he couldn’t believe him a killer. The present mood change, nevertheless, did concern him.
Morkere reminded him of one belief of the local people that unhappy spirits made their way down the river to the open sea to seek rest. However, some of these sad wraiths were unable to find their way through the mass of rivulets, islands and marshes making up the delta. To sustain themselves while trying to escape they set upon unwary travellers, especially those who’d wronged them in life. Ethelwulf naturally connected this with the decline in spirits of their young guide.'
END-NOTE EXAMPLE: 102. The Vanir were the older fertility gods of the Norse world. They included Freyr, Njord and Freyja. One story was of a primeval war between the Vanir and the Aesir (another group of gods including Odin & Thor) which ended in a truce and them all living together. Obviously this reflects the merging of two mythologies.
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