‘Behind the Text 38. ‘The Wanderer’ 8 : ‘Servants of Miklagard’
This book is the eighth in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in the Byzantine Empire (990-98) – much changed from the relics of ancient Rome and now at its most powerful This book was one of the earlier ones started (on 1 December 1992), although an extra chapter was added in June 1996 and even another one in July 2006. 1 selected from a range of possible storylines before the final scenario determined in 1992 in order to facilitate the printed trilogy in 2008. I chose to write this book early on because, from a lifetime’s love of History, I was more familiar with Byzantium than most of the other stages in the Wanderer’s journey; you may guess that from the detailed End-Notes supplied.
Within weeks Ethelwulf unwittingly arouses the enmity of Alexius Euergetes (aka the Eparchos) in not allowing himself and his men to be sacrificed. The Eparchos, outside the imperial family headed by Basil II(976-1025) (aka the Autokrator), is the most powerful man in the empire. However, Ethelwulf continues to ruin the schemes of the Eparchos, even after he realises what he is doing – he rescues from fire a creditor, doesn’t silence a dangerous Cretan rebel who knows too much, recovers a manuscript which should have stayed lost, escapes a nasty plot by a nymphomaniac princess, returns from abduction by a religious extremist and survives separation from the main army in territory controlled by the Bulgars. In the end Ethelwulf over-reaches himself and brings about disaster – but that’s still not curtain on The Wanderer.
Throughout Ethelwulf & Morkere, despite learning Greek, are at a loss dealing with that bureaucratic maze which produced the adjective ‘Byzantine’. He and his men are early members of the Varangian Guard, and thereby arouse the envious hostility of other corps; they are patronised by the joint-emperor Constantine and so upset others in palace society. Ethelwulf becomes more spiritual after the brainwashing by the Paulician fanatic Epaphroditus. However, due to the exertions involving Bulgar gold and the consequences culminating in the disaster of the Cilician Gates, is plunged into acute depression.
I was fascinated by the clash between the sophisticated Byzantine system and the intruders led by Ethelwulf – did it resemble the crisis faced by John Savage in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’? Perhaps. Certainly the Ethelwulf who, as a hunted man, staggers into the final stage is by no means the warrior who entered Byzantium – as a hunted man!