‘Behind the Text 39. ‘The Wanderer’9 : ‘Meeting Destiny’
This book is the ninth & last in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and was developed in two stages: Chapter 1 (started 24/11/93) really an overhang from the catastrophic close to the previous book and the rest (started 30/12/02) undertaken as the conclusion of the whole work.
‘Meeting Destiny’ reaches back through past decisions and reveals their effects. It is set in Syria & Palestine (998-1000) and is dominated by religion, most fitting as this work concentrates on the belief that the End of the World would come in 1000 with the return of Jesus Christ as prophesied in the Biblical book of ‘Revelation’. Historically there’s no real basis for that idea but it makes a good story! Certainly Ethelwulf had been well schooled in that belief by his fanatical abductor several years before in an attempt to recruit him as an assassin. Now he was drawn to Jerusalem in the belief his life burdened by sin would be purged in the Final Battle.
From the start Ethelwulf is in a bad state – alone, mourning the loss of Morkere and the others who’d accompanied him for years, hunted by imperial agents and bordering on the edge of madness. Then by chance he encounters Lydia, who’ d helped him escape from the fanatic several years before. Neither has anybody else so they join up, marry but again tragedy sends Ethelwulf into a spiral mentally downwards, Eventually he finds shelter in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to await the Second Coming. Although enemies know he’s there, Ethelwulf finds peace through the attention of an Ethiopian monk, Anastasius, overcoming 20 years of hate and rage against so many, especially the murderer of his mother. Still hidden away he’s joined by a distant cousin, Sweyn Haraldsson, and they manage to return to the world outside where they surprisingly encounter a friend from the past. The three plan to leave Palestine, perhaps for a new life far to the West. But the saga of Ethelwulf the Wanderer is doomed not to end in peace.
This book explores the Fatimid control of Jerusalem, threatened by growing unrest when so many differing forms of belief rub shoulders as people expect the End of the World. I trust the reader will feel some sympathy for members of the Dīwān al-Shurţah (Police) such as Arif Mahmud bin Harpoon but surely not for Selim the Beautiful. Ethelwulf experiences kindness (e.g. from Benedictine pilgrims), treachery (e.g. Nicephorus & Nicias), help from Lydia’s cousin, George, but the saga remorselessly creeps towards disaster.
As stated above the Second Coming expectations have little foundation in fact but fictionally they offer an excellent opportunity to show human nature at its best and worst. Accordingly it brings Ethelwulf at the very end to face the life he’d made for himself.