Roads by Seabury Quinn (1938, 1948)
Seabury Quinn (1889-1969) was the most popular author in the Weird Tales stable, outperforming such luminaries as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. He is remembered today mostly for his occult detective stories featuring Jules de Grandin, the feisty and cocky over-written hero of more than 90 stories of mad scientists, monsters, and supernatural horror, but he also wrote a number of other fantastic stories, along with non-fiction works about mortuary jurisprudence. (Quinn was a lawyer specializing in the subject. In addition he was for years the editor of a trade journal, Casket and Sunnyside, and published articles in The American Funeral Director and other trade journals. A series of stories that he wrote under the name "Jerome Burke" was published a few years ago in the three-volume This I Remember: Memoirs of a Funeral Director.)
Aside from the de Grandin stories, Quinn's most noted work was "Roads," a novelette first published in the January 1938 issue of Weird Tales. That same year it was published as a 47-page chapbook by Conrad H. Ruppert, a science fiction fanzine publisher who had earlier released a memorial volume of stories by Stanley G. Weinbaum. In 1948, Arkham House released ...Roads (note the addition of ellipses in the title) in a beautiful limited edition featuring eight illustrations and cover art by Virgil Finley; this edition remains a highly sought-after collector's item. In 1965, Leo Margulies edited a seven story anthology of stories from Weird Tales, Worlds of Weird, which brought "Roads" to a much larger audience; the Margulies anthology has been reprinted twice since then. The story also appeared in the 2012 anthology A Cosmic Christmas, edited by Hank Davis. In 2005, a facsimile of the Arkham House edition appeared from Red Jacket Press.
So what is the story about?
SF historian Sam Moskowitz once called ...Roads "the greatest adult Christmas story written by an American." (Moskowitz knew SF but he was no literary critic. Nonetheless, this was an indication of how popular the story had become.)
From a goodreads review:
"Divided into three sections, Quinn's tale begins in the days of the Roman Empire, where the mighty gladiator Claus -- a barbarian from the frozen Northland -- has just finished his term of service in the province of Judea. On his journey back to his homeland, Claus chances upon a poor family under attack and saves them from a murderous band of soldiers. With this selfless act, his life is changed forever. Claus goes on to travel further than he ever could have imagined. Crossing from one end of the Empire to the other and back again, he eventually outlives the power of Rome and the dark ages that follow it, and witnesses the rise of new civilizations on its former lands. Immune to the effects of time, Claus accumulates the wisdom of many lifetimes before discovering the final road he is destined to follow -- a path that will lead him to his true calling, and fulfill a promise made to one very special child on behalf of all the children in the world."
Sounds pretty hokey, huh? But in Quinn's hands it becomes a moving and powerful story, a perfect tale to read aloud on Christmas Eve. I first read the story in the Margulies anthology in 1965 and it has stuck with me ever since.
Find out for yourself. The link below takes you to the January 1938 issue of Weird Tales. The story begins on page 30. As a bonus, this issue also has stories by Dorothy Quick, Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller and others, including Part One of a serial by "Gans T. field" (Manly Wade Wellman) and a classic reprint from Nathaniel Hawthorne.