Shadowridge Press titles in detail...

Seabury Quinn
ROADS
Trade paperback / 8 x 11 / 88 pages / Publication date / Dec 2017
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Seabury Quinn’s ROADS is a classic re-imagining of the Santa Claus fable, first appearing in the Yuletide season of 1937. It’s the story of Claus, a Nordic barbarian making his way from Judea to his frozen Northland home…and the chance encounter that changes the course of his life forever.
This large format edition features the original Virgil Finlay illustrations, beautifully restored with a level of detail and clarity never before seen.

HERE'S A PREVIEW OF ROADS

Piles of blazing thornbush crackled in the base-court of the sari, camels grunted discontentedly in their kneeling places, horses munched dry grass. Around the empty cook-pots men licked grease and crumbs of millet from their fingers and brushed them from their beards, then drew their sheepskin cloaks about them and lay down upon the kidney stones to sleep: all but the three who huddled round a charcoal brazier in a corner by the horse lines — they were talking treason. “Wah, these be evil days for Jacob’s children, they are as the tribes in Egypt were, only they have neither Moses nor a Joshua! The tax of a denarius on every household, and each one forced to journey to his birthplace…Now they slay our children in their swaddling-bands…This Romans’ puppet that sits on the throne, this unbelieving Greek!”“But Judas will avenge our wrongs; men say that he is that Messiah we have waited for so long. He will rouse his men of valor out of Galilee and sweep the Roman tyrant in the sea — ” “Sh-s-s-sh, hold thy babble, Joachim; that one yonder is belike a spy!” With one accord the men turned toward the figure hunched in sleep before a dying fire of thornbush. Flaxen-haired, fair-skinned, he drooped above the whitening embers, his cloak of ruddy woolen stuff draped loosely round his shoulders, the sinking fire-glow picking out soft highlights on the iron cap that crowned his flowing, braided hair — a man of mighty stature, one of the gladiators kept by Herod in his school for athletes that was constantly replenished from the German provinces or the Slavic tribes beyond the Danube. “What does the godless dog so far from Herod’s kennels?” “The Lord of Zion knows, but if he go back to the Holy City and tell the tale of what he has heard here, three crosses will crown Golgotha before another sun has set,” Joachim interrupted softly, and dropping to his knees unloosed the dagger strapped to his wrist as he wormed his way across the courtyard Hints. In all the country round about Jerusalem there was no hand more skillful with the knife than that of Joachim, the cut-purse. Softly as the cat that stalks a mouse he crept across the stones, paused and bore his weight on one hand while he drew the other back…a single quick thrust underneath the shoulder-blade, slanting downward to the heart, then the gurgling, blood-gagged cry, the helpless thrashing of the limbs, the fight for breath, and — perhaps the sleeping gladiator had a wallet stuffed with gold, or even copper. They were well paid, these fighting mastiffs from Herod’s kennels. The firelight glinted on the plunging knife, and on the golden bracelet clasped about the Northman’s arm. “Ho! little brother of a rat, would you bite a sleeping man?” the giant’s bell-like voice boomed, “And one who never did thee any harm? For shame!” White lines sprang into prominence against the sungilt skin, his mighty muscles tightened, and a yelp of pain came from Joachim as the knife dropped from his unnerved fingers and a crackling like the breaking of a willow twig told where his wrist bones snapped beneath the Northling’s grip. “Have mercy, mighty one,” Joachim begged. “I thought — ” “Aye, that thou didst, thou niddering craven!” came the answer. “Thou thought me sleeping, and like the thief thou art were minded to have my purse and life at once. Now get thee gone from out my sight, thou and those hangdog friends of thine, before I crush that puny neck between my fingers.” He spread his hands, great well-shaped, white-skinned hands trained in the wrestler’s art and in the wielding of the sword, and the strong white fingers twitched as though already they felt yielding flesh and snapping bone between them. With a frightened skirking, as though they were in truth the rats the Northman named them, the three conspirators slunk out, Joachim the cutpurse nursing his broken right wrist in the crook of his left arm, his two companions close beside him as they sought to gain the exit of the courtyard before the giant Norseman reconsidered and repented of his mercy. The blond-haired stranger watched them go, then swung his cloak back from his shoulders. Beneath the cape he wore from neck to knee a tunic of fine woolen stuff dyed brilliant red and edged about the bottom with embroidery of gold. A corselet of tanned bullhide set with iron studs was buckled round his torso; his feet were shod with buskins of soft leather laced about his legs with rawhide thongs; from the girdle at his waist on one side hung a double-bladed axe, on the other a soft leather pouch that clinked with a metallic sound each time he moved. Between his shoulders swung a long two-handed sword with a wide well-tempered blade, pointed and double-edged. He was brawny and wide-shouldered, his hair was braided in two long fair plaits that fell on either side of his face beneath his iron skullcap. Like his hair his beard was golden as the ripening wheat, and hung well down upon his breastplate. Yet he was not old; the flaxen beard was still too young to have felt shears, his lightly sun-tanned skin was smooth and fair, his sea-blue eyes were clear and youthful. He glanced up at the starflecked heaven, then drew the cloak about him. “The Dragon marches low upon the skies,” he muttered, “’tis time I set forth on my journey if I would reach the homeland ere the winter tempests howl again.” The road was thick with travelers, mostly peasants on their way to market, for the day began with sunrise, and bartering would start within an hour. Hucksters of every sort of article, fanciful as well as necessary, pressed along the way, tugging at halters, now entreating, now berating their pack animals to greater speed. A patrol of soldiers passed and their decurion raised his hand in greeting. “Salve, Claudius! Art thou truly going back to that cold land of thine? By Pluto, I am sorry that thou leavest us; many is the silver penny I have won by betting on those fists of thine, or on thy skill at swordplay!” The Northman smiled amusedly. Though he had been among the Romans since before his beard was sprouted, their rendering of his simple Nordic name of Claus to Claudius had never failed to rouse his laughter. “Yea, Marcus, I am soothly gone this time. Five years and more I have served Herod’s whim, and in that time I’ve learnt the art of war as few can know it. With sword and axe and mace, or with bare hands or cestus have I fought until me thinks I’ve had my fill of fighting. Now I go back to till my father’s acres, perchance to go a-viking if the spirit moveth me, but hereafter I fight for mine own gain or pleasure, not to the humor of another.” “The gods go with thee, then, Barbarian,” the Roman bade. “’Twill be a long time ere we see thy match upon the sands of the arena.” A rambling, single-streeted village fringed the highway, and at the trickling fountain where the women came to fill their jars the wayfarer stopped to scoop up a sup of tepid water in his hand. The sun was up six hours and the little square around the spring should have been alive with magpie-chattering women and their riotously noisy children; but the place was like a city of the dead. Silence thick as dust lay on the white sun-bitten road, utter quiet sealed the wayside houses with the silence of a row of tombs. Then, as he looked about in wonderment, Claus heard a thin-drawn, piping wail: “Ai-ai-ai-ail" the universal cry of mourning in the East. “Ai-ai-ai-ai!" He kicked aside the curtain at the doorway and looked into the darkness of the house. A woman crouched crosslegged on the earthen floor, her hair unbound, her gown ripped open to expose her bosom, dust on her brow and cheeks and breast. Quiet, but not sleeping, a baby lay upon her knees — a baby boy, and on the whiteness of his little body flowered a crimson wound. Claus recognized it — a gladiator knew the trade mark of his calling! — a sword-cut. Half a hand’s span long it was, and ragged at the edges, sunk so deep into the baby flesh that the glint of white breastbone showed between its gaping bloody lips. “Who did this thing?” the Northman’s eyes were hard as fjord-ice, and a grimness set upon his bearded lips like that they wore when he faced a Capadocian netman in the circus. “Who hath done this thing to thee, Woman?” The young Jewess looked up from her keening. Her eyes were red and swollen with much weeping, and tears had made small rivulets in the dust smearing her face, but even in her agony she showed some traces of her wonted beauty. “The soldiers,” she replied between breath-breaking sobs. “They came and went from house to house as the Angel of the Lord went through the land of Egypt, but we had no blood to smear our lintels. They came and smote and slew; there is not a man-child left alive in all the village. Oh, my son, my little son, why did they do this thing to thee, thou who never did them any harm? Oh, woe is me, my God hath left me comfortless; my firstborn, only son is slain — ” “Thou liest, woman!” Claus’s words rang sharp as steel. “Soldiers do not things like this. They war with men; they make no war on babes.” The mother rocked her body to and fro and beat her breast with small clenched fists. “The soldiers did it,” she repeated doggedly. “They came and went from house to house, and slew our sons — ” “Romans?” Claus asked incredulously. Cruel the Romans were at times, but never to his knowledge had they done a thing like this. Romans were not babykillers. “Nay, the soldiers of the King. Romans only in the armor that they wore. They came marching into town, and — ” “The soldiers of the King? Herod’s?” “Yea, Barbarian. King Herod, may his name be cursed for evermore! Some days agone came travelers from the East who declared a king was born among the Jews, and Herod, fearing that the throne might go to him, dispatched his soldiery throughout the coasts of Bethlehem to slay the sons of every house who had not reached their second year.” “Thy husband — ” “Alas, I am a widow.” “And hast thou store of oil and meal?” “Nay, my lord, here is only death. Ai-ai-ai —” Claus took some copper from his pouch and dropped it into the woman’s lap beside the little corpse. “Take this,” he ordered, “and have done unto the body of thy babe according to thy custom.” “The Lord be gracious unto thee, Barbarian. To thee and all thy house, for that thou takest pity on the widow in her sorrow. The Lord of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob — ” “Let be. What is thy name?” “Rachael, magnificence; and may the Lord of Israel give favor unto — ” Claus turned away and left the weeping woman with her dead. The waxing moon rode high above the grove where Claus lay bundled in his cloak. Occasionally from the denser thickets came the chirp of bird or squeak of insect, but otherwise the night was silent, for robbers roamed the highway after dark, and though the soldiers of the Governor kept patrol the wise man stayed indoors until the sun had risen. But the hardiest highwayman would stop and give the matter sober second thought ere he attacked a sworded giant, and the nearest inn was several miles away; also a journey of a thousand miles and more lay between the Northman and his home, and though his wallet bulged with gold saved from his years spent as a hired fighter in the Tetrarch’s barracks, it behooved him to economize. Besides, the turf was sweet to smell, which the caravansaries were not, and the memory of the widow woman’s murdered son had set a canker in his brain. It were better that he had no traffic with his fellow men for several hours. The broken rhythm of a donkey’s hoofs came faintly to him from the highway. The beast walked slowly, as though tired, and as if he who led it were also weary and footsore, yet urged by some compulsion to pursue his journey through the night. “By Thor!” mused Claus, “they are a nation of strange men, these Jews. Always disputing, ever arguing, never faltering in their lust for gold; yet withal they have a spirit in them like no other people has. Should their long-sought Messiah finally come, methinks that all the might of Rome would scarcely be enough to stop them in their — ” The hail came piercingly, mounting to a sharp crescendo, freighted with a burden of despair. “Help — help — we be beset by robbers!” Claus smiled sardonically. “So eager to be early at tomorrow’s market that he braves the dangerous highway after dark, and when the robbers set upon him — ” A woman’s scream of terror seconded the man’s despairing hail, and Claus bounded from his couch upon the turf, dragging at the sword that hung between his shoulders. A knot of spearmen clustered round a man and woman. From their crested helmets and bronze cuirasses he knew them to be soldiers in the livery of Rome; by their hook-nosed faces he knew them for Syrians, Jewish renegades, perhaps, possibly Arabs or Armenians, for such composed the little private army which the Tetrarch kept for show, and to do the work he dared not ask the Roman garrison to do. “Ho, what goes on here?” challenged Claus as he emerged from the grove. “What mean ye by molesting peaceful travelers?” The decurion in command turned on him fiercely. “Stand back, Barbarian. We be soldiers of the King, and — ” “By Father Odin’s Ravens, I care not if ye be Caesar’s soldiers, I’ll have your reason for attacking this good man and wife, or the sword sings its song!” Claus roared. “Seize him, some of you,” the decharch ordered. “We’ll take him to the Tetrarch for his pleasure. The rest stand by, we have our task to do — give me thy baby, Woman!” He bared his sword and strode up to the woman seated on the ass, a sleeping baby in her arms. And now the wild war-madness of his people came on Claus. A soldier sprang at him and thrust his lance straight at his face, but Claus’s long sword clove through bronze spearhead and ash-wood stave, and left the fellow unweaponed before him. Then before his adversary could drag out his shortsword Claus thrust, and his blade pierced through the soldier’s shield and through the arm behind it, and almost through the cuirassed body. The man fell with a gasping cry and three more soldiers leapt at Claus, heads low above their shields, their lances at rest. “Aie, for the song of the sword, aie for the red blood flowing, aie for the lay Storm-Maidens sing of heroes and Valhalla!” chanted Claus, and as he sang he struck, and struck again, and his gray-steel blade drank thirstily.