In the Dark Ages, when most of Europe was covered in mud, shit, and the Black Plague, there was still a golden civilization in the East centred on Constantinople. The Byzantium Empire was all that was left of the once fabulous Roman Empire, which had stretched through Europe and Asia. In the eyes of the Christian world it was a beacon for all things glorious, and was regarded as the toehold required for the re-conquest of the Holy Lands.
But just across the Black Sea lurked the Caliphs, who controlled the lands that were so coveted by the Popes in Rome that they lost no sleep over spending the lives of the "faithful" on useless Crusades in the vain hope of recovering Jerusalem and putting the Infidels to the sword. But these were not the only two empires, nor the only faiths represented in the area. For reasons best known to themselves, the Kings of Khazar had in centuries past converted to Judaism. If Constantinople represented a beacon of hope for Christians, can you imagine what a Kingdom of Jews must have been for those who were spat upon, cursed, and routinely burned at the stake by their fellow citizens?
Even in Muslim-controlled Spain, where Jews had risen to positions of power and were able to lead their lives relatively free of the injustices faced by their Christian ruled brethren, Khazar represented a place of wonder. Everybody wants to be masters of their own fate and not worry about if they will be welcome tomorrow, and to the Jews who felt like unwelcome guests wherever they went, Khazar would have represented that hope.
So it's not surprising that Michael Chabon's latest novel Gentlemen Of The Road, published by Random House Canada through their Doubleday Canada's Bond Street Books imprint, featuring two Jewish adventurers would end up with Khazar being the locale for the greater part of their exploits. Though polar opposites in appearance, Zelikman, the white -skinned, rake thin, and black-clothed itinerant physician from the country of the Franks (present day Germany and France), and Amaran, a descendant of the Queen of Sheba's day's as bride of Solomon, hailing from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) is aside from being black as coal, is as heavy set as his companion is gaunt, are as close as two men can be who are not related or sharing a bed.
Euphemistically referred to as Gentlemen of the Road, latter days might have found them called con artists, grifters, and hustlers. But in the days when the only law was if you cut your way out of the mess you created you were adjudged innocent, while if you ended up spilling your entrails across the courtyard of some misbegotten Inn you were guilty, the position of freebooter was often all that was available to a man of limited lineage but possessing martial skills. So it should surprise no one that the end of the first millennium would find such two such disparate characters doing whatever was necessary to keep the flesh on their bones and the devil off their back.