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(#30, Version 5.0)
"Alars, incidentally, are renowned for their capacity to wreak havoc, conduct massacres, chop off heads, and such, and then get a good night's sleep afterwards." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.125)
Mercenaries of Gor introduced a fierce Gorean people called the Alars. The books do not present a lot of details about the Alars but the following will detail what we are told of them. Essentially, they are only mentioned in this single book of the series.
The Alars are a nomadic, herding people who primarily herd bosk, verr and tarsk. They depend greatly on these animals for their existence. The Alars roam across Gor in their wagons, moving frequently to locate new grazing land for their animals. They usually camp near settled territories and which can cause problems. Such camps may legally constitute an invasion or violation of a city or town's territory. They most often come in conflict first with peasants and then with the towns or cities that rely on those peasants. For the most part though, little official notice of them is taken and war challenges are not issued.
The Alars will sometimes pay for passage through a land or for pasturage but this is the rare exception. They see little reason to pay for items like pasturage and air that are essential to their lives. The Alars also see nothing wrong with stealing from villages, towns and cities. They do not see it as a crime at all. But if left alone, they will not normally engage in unrestricted raiding. Most cities worry little about large-scale attacks from the Alars. The Alars know little about politics or siege warfare so conquering a city is generally beyond them. Simply closing a city's gates will prevent them from attacking and the Alars will move on in frustration.
When the Alars make camp, they commonly form a laager, a fortress of wagons. The laager usually is composed of a single closed circle or a series of concentric circles. Their women, children and animals are usually kept safe within the circle. Sewage and sanitation is generally not a problem as the wagons move often. When Alar men engage in battle, they keep the laager behind them so that they can retreat there in case the battle is going against them.
Many Alars are fair complexioned, blond-haired and blue-eyed. They are definitely Nordic in appearance. Alar men may sport a drooping mustached and wear their hair braided. Their bodies are often very broad, powerful and a bit short. The men most commonly are garbed in furs and leathers. Their free women are generally also blond-haired and blue-eyed. They are also commonly large, plain and cold women. They wear coarse, heavy, ankle-length woolen dresses. These dresses have wide sleeves and are belted at the waist. Unlike the women of the cities, Alar women do not wear veils. Alar women also high standing within the Alar community. The Alars have few slaves and it is said that is because their women usually kill any such slaves. This may or may not be true
Most Alars are illiterate though like on much of Gor this is not considered an impediment. The Alars are a fierce people, renowned for causing mayhem and having little conscience about it. The Alars use several types of weapons but are most known for their skill with the ax. The Alars use an axe they call the francisca. This is a heavy, long-handled, single-bladed war axe. The blade is commonly made of iron. Women do not possess the physical strength to wield this axe and many cannot even lift it. The Alars also use swords, both a long and short blade. Their long sword, called the spatha, and is a heavy, double-bladed weapon. Due to its length, it is very useful from the back of a tharlarion. Their short sword, called the sacramasax, is a stabbing sword similar to the gladius. Alar shields are usually oval-shaped like those used by the Turians.
The Alars are superb cavalrymen and they usually use the medium-weight, saddle tharlarion. This tharlarion is not as strong or large as the common high tharlarion but it is much swifter and more agile. Their tharlarion saddles have stirrups that allow them to use a couched lance in battle. They are so skilled that some cities even use them in their tharlarion cavalries. Other cities are too wary of trusting them to use them in their cavalries.
Children are very important to the Alars, provided them are healthy. Just after they are born, their bodies are thoroughly cleaned and then rubbed with animal fat. Then, the newborns are carefully examined to ensure that they are healthy and have no defects. If they are found to be sick or deformed, they will not be permitted to live. The books do not say if these unwanted children are killed or left to die from exposure. Based on Earth history, most ancient cultures chose to leave unwanted children exposed outside in the elements. It is likely that is what the Alars would do as well.
If the child is healthy, the father will proudly lift the child up into the air to publicly claim the child as his own. Male newborns receive a single, oblique cut on each cheek before they receive any milk. "It must learn to endure wounds before it receives the nourishment of milk." (Mercenaries of Gor, p.47) These thin, white scars mark all adult male Alars. This was also something done by the Huns of Earth. Alar women are never scarred. After a male child is born, there is a celebration and the father passes out gifts to those in the camp. Depending on the wealth of the father, these gifts may include coins or rings of silver and gold, big enough to encompass a wrist or arm. Alar children are raised with much permissiveness, more so than many other Gorean parents.
Genserix is an Alar chieftain of the band that Tarl Cabot encounters in Mercenaries of Gor. Genserix is broad-shouldered, with long, braided blond hair and a long, blond drooping mustache. Hurtha was also a member of this band and styled himself a poet. He is an amusing character who travels a bit with Tarl Cabot.
There is one legendary Alar chieftain, Hendix, referenced in the books. At some unknown time in the past Hendix was captured by his enemies. The identity of his enemies is not given. Hendix was placed into a large vat of boiling oil. But, he laughed, insulted his enemies and sang merry, Alar songs as he was boiled alive. This all showed his utter contempt for his enemies. The story of Hendix is often used to illustrate the Alar mindset.
For role-play, the Alars could make for interesting adversaries. They might be encountered by any traveler wandering between different cities. They could threaten a merchant caravan, small village or isolated residence. Cities might need to decide to deal with a band of Alars who decide to settle nearby for a time. Alars would also make interesting characters to role-play. As nomads, they have reasons to travel across much of Gor, from city to city. Lone Alars may choose to join a city's tharlarion cavalry. As always, you are limited only by your imagination.
At first, I had believed that the Alars were inspired by the ancient Earth Huns of the fourth and fifth centuries. But, my recent research has caused me to modify my conclusions some. In fact, the Alars are an amalgamation of several different barbarian tribes that reached their peaks during the fourth and fifth centuries. These barbarian tribes included such groups as the Goths, Vandals, Franks, and the Huns. But, the Alars most closely resemble a smaller barbarian tribe, the Alans. Even their names are similar. During the fourth century, the Huns conquered the Alans and assimilated them into their bands. Thus, the Alans shared some of the traditions of the Huns.
The Huns had a mongrel ancestry, their blood derived from many different peoples. They tended to be darker skinned and darker haired. The Alans though, like the Alars, were tall and blond-haired, more Nordic looking. Barbarians in general had long hair, often sported mustaches and commonly wore furs and leathers. Though both the Huns and Alans used wagons, the Alans tended to live in their wagons while the Huns used them only to carry their wealth. The term "laager" was used by a number of different barbarian tribes that also used wagons. Both the Huns and Alans were nomadic tribes and superb cavalrymen.
So far, I have not determined if the Alans were known for using any particular weapons. The francisca, the Alar axe, derives its name from the barbarian tribe of the Franks. The sacramasax, also known as the seax, was used by many different barbarians and the Saxons derive their name from this weapon. I do not know if the Alans engaged in siege warfare but many other barbarians, including the Huns did so. The Alars tradition of cutting the cheeks of male infants derives from a tradition of the Huns that may have been adopted by the Alans. The Huns did it for the exact same reason as the Alars, so the child would endure wounds before first tasting milk. The result of these scars would also prevent Huns from growing a proper beard.
The Alans enjoyed war and believed that it was cowardly to die of old age. Their leaders were always their best warriors. They kept no slaves, like the Alars, though there is no indication Alan women would kill slaves. Little is actually known about barbarian women. Like most barbarians, many fearful myths were also espoused concerning Alan activities. They were alleged to be cannibals who would use human skin to make clothes. They were also said to cover their bodies with blue dye.
I shall continue my researches on the Alans and other barbarian tribes and may add additional information in the future.