Sauron unleashed his forces against the Men of the West on the field of Pelennor before the walls of Minas Tirith. The hosts of the Enemy were composed of Orcs, Trolls, and wicked men, Men of Darkness from many different lands to the South and East. Among these Men were the Variags of Khand, who streamed out of the ruined city of Osgiliath to meet the charge of the arriving Rohirrim, and who later fled before the sortie of Imrahil of Dol Amroth.
This man is one of the Variags, a fearsome, heavily-armoured warrior fighting under the banner of the land of Khand. He journeys through the desolate country on the marches of Mordor under a sky overcast by the will of the Power that resides in the Dark Tower, and with each day’s march he comes closer to the land of Gondor and the doom that will there be decided. He is armed with a fearsome battle-axe and wears a helm with a lofty peak. As a Variag, he is one of an elite host of mercenaries whose forefathers came to Khand long ago to serve the rulers of that land, and through them, have come to serve Sauron.
After a break last week to announce the winners of the mughot contest, I thought it would be great to get back to the outfits with some meaty lore-speculation! So just who were the Variags of Khand? It’s a tantalising question, because Tolkien drops the word “Variag” into the text of The Lord of the Rings without introduction or explanation. In The Peoples of Middle-earth, a note added to a typescript discussing the languages of Men indicates that “Of the languages of the Men of the East and allies of Sauron all that appears is mûmak a name of the great elephant of Harad.” A further note was then added, saying “also Variag and Khand“. So according to these notes, at some point subsequent to writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien considered the idea that “Variag” was actually a native word in an otherwise undeveloped tongue of one of the branches of the Men of Darkness. However, this may not have been the original intention, because “variag” is also a little-used English word. It is a loanword derived from varyag (plural varyagi), a Slavic term used to denote the Norsemen, which in turn derived from Old Norse vǽringi, meaning a sworn companion or foreigner pledged to serve a local lord. In the latter context, the term also came to be used in the Primary World as the name of the elite Scandinavian legion serving as the bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors, the Varangian Guard, and thence to have a more generic meaning of “barbarian mercenary”.
Thus, it could be that the Variags of Middle-earth were not native to the land of Khand, but were in fact naturalised foreign mercenaries. If so, the fact that the word Variag is ultimately derived from an Old Norse term could suggest that Tolkien intended them to have originally been Northmen from the Vales of Anduin who made their way past Mirkwood into Rhûn (“the East”), raiding and trading while moving south past Mordor and into Khand. Similarly, the varyagi of the Primary World were Norsemen who made their way past Myrkviðr into the semi-mythical land of Austr (“the East”) then south to the shores of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and beyond. Indeed, in Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings, we learn that while the Northmen were allies of Gondor early in the Third Age, some of them did not “remain true to Gondor and some would join forces with the Easterlings out of greed for spoil or the furtherance of feuds among their princes”. Perhaps descendants of these disloyal Northmen eventually reached as far east and south as Khand, swearing fealty to lords there and in time serving as a mercenary regiment of naturalised foreigners.
- Head: Ancient Cardolan Helm (looted — Great Barrow: The Maze/Gaerdring and Gaerthel), white
- Shoulders: Pauldrons of the Stoic Stag (quest reward — Dunland  Stealing and Squealing), gold
- Chest: Breastplate of Twilight (looted — Ost Elendil/Balhest), white
- Hands: Gauntlets of the Charging Stag (quest reward — Dunland  The Feast of the Running Stag), gold
- Legs: Lesser Ward of the West Leggings (bartered — Harndirion novices quartermaster/tier 1 difficulty Guardian armour), sienna
- Feet: Lesser Arrow of the West Boots (bartered — Harndirion novices quartermaster/tier 1 difficulty Hunter armour), orange
Tips: The Oathkeeper’s Helm from Halls of Night tier 2 challenge mode has the same appearance as the helm used in this outfit. The shoulders and gloves used in this outfit share their appearance with several other Dunland quest rewards. The shoulders can also be obtained as the Rider’s Steel Pauldrons (bartered — Galtrev, Forthbrond or Grimbold’s Camp Rohirrim quartermaster/Riders of Théodred reputation). The gloves can also be obtained as Dunlending’s Plated War-gauntlets (Galtrev Dunlending quartermaster/Men of Dunland reputation). The Champion pieces Blademaster’s Breastplate (bartered — Twenty-first Hall Champion trainer) and Swiftblade’s Breastplate (bartered — Echad Andestel Champion trader or Caras Galadhon Champion trainer) have the same appearance as the chest piece used in this outfit.
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