Jun 30, 9:13pm
Many thanks! I'd come across the Variag/Varangian link before but not the 'mercenary' bit of it. I still don't reckon the translation is quite there though, from the Norse. And the Varangians were many things, and I wouldn't necessarily put 'mercenary' at the top of the list.
Looking again at the relationships between the various peoples of the East, on the one hand, and between them and Gondor, on the other, the mercenary status isn't a comfortable fit there either, I reckon. The people of Khand were described as 'allies' of the Wainriders in the 20th century of the Third Age ('Appendix A', LotR; 'Cirion & Eorl', UT). They're also described as 'enemies of Gondor', in the same context as the Wainriders ('Cirion & Eorl'). All of this is to posit an argument that this group (not named as Variags at this point, to be fair) don't strike me as mercenaries. They are established as disliking Gondor and happy to ally with another group - the Wainriders - who also dislike Gondor, in common cause versus Gondor. Alright, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is 1,000 years later but I struggle to make the leap that the Variags of Khand are fundamentally any different from the Easterlings and Haradrim, who are also present at the Pelennor Fields, and who also don't strike me as mercenaries.
And I very much like your fanfic conceptualisation of the Sea of Rhûn basin. The Viking Rus, the earliest contributors to the Varangian Guard of the Constantinople, were master navigators of the great rivers of Eastern Europe (eg. the Dnieper, the Volga), and found their way to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. The Sea of Rhûn is a nice rough & ready analogue for either of these seas, and the Celduin and Carnen Rivers for any number of the rivers that served the Vikings so well in the East.
Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk