In a move that defies all logic and likelihood, a young boy named Spiff is called upon to carry
out the most important quest that has ever been undertaken. His mission drags him headlong
across the face of the world, through a veritable pantheon of hardships and threats that are at once
chilling and baffling. Along the way he meets dragons and madmen, and learns that the lovable
and the monstrous are two sides of the same coin.
Conceived as a darkly whimsical loose retelling of the Tolkien saga, The Long Way poses the
question that high fantasy rarely cares to ask: Why?
The ground was moving.
Spiff was slung across the blond warrior’s shoulder, arms dangling limply across the man’s back, tapping against the leather armor in time with the feet that were passing out from behind the warrior’s buttocks directly in front of him. It was a disorienting view.
“Awake, little thrall?” the blond one said. “We have not been introduced. I am Eyjolf, second most warlike among men.”
“I’m Spiff,” said Spiff. He wasn’t sure Eyjolf heard him.
The warrior set him down and set beefy hands on each of his shoulders. “Awake so soon! That’s what I like to see. You’ve got some real spirit.” The world was right side up again, and the rest of Eyjolf’s men were there, plodding along. “This is my warband. Remember who they are. You’re our thrall. But really, it’s not so bad. There are plenty of bands in the hall, but none of them has half as good a time as us.”
Spiff didn’t know what a thrall was, but he was already getting the feeling that they were not going to let him go. Where was Euclid?
They hadn’t gone very far by the time they reached the warriors’ home. Like so many things that Spiff had seen since leaving his small town, it was inconceivably, unreasonably huge. The whole structure was made of iron, and its walls rose hundreds of feet straight into the air. The triangular roof was made of what looked like thousands of overlapping golden shields. The double doors at the entrance were made of gold as well, and were wide enough for Eyjolf’s entire warband to walk through abreast, with room to spare. As they came closer, Spiff saw that the iron walls were covered in bas relief carvings of battle scenes. One carving depicted a man charging into a row of spears, and another showed a dragon with a pair of legs protruding from its mouth, and a handful of other men hacking futilely at its feet with axes. The carving was large enough for the grins on their faces to be quite unmistakable.Another wing was being built off of the side of the main hall, but was incomplete. Squares of iron wall had been erected in patches, and behind them were a skeletal layer of vertical beams. It looked like it would be every bit as large as the existing building when it was finished.
“Welcome to Nornheim, home of the Nornmen,” said Eyjolf, sweeping his hands out before him. “And welcome to the Hall.”
“The wildest place on earth,” one of the warriors chimed in. There was a unanimous cheer of assent.
A man was standing in the center of the doorway, and even the high doors of the hall could not make him appear dwarfed. He was the biggest man Spiff had ever seen. He was a full head taller than Eyjolf and half again as broad, and formed from pure muscle, though his stature was so great that he could have been one of the iron carvings superficially clothed in flesh. Everything about him bulged. His blocky shoulders bulged out of the sides of his iron breastplate, and his arms bulged down from there. His legs bulged up from leather boots that could have crushed a thousand insects in a single prodigious step. His face was hidden beneath a black helm; steel ram’s horns curled around the sides of it. A shaggy brown beard bulged out beneath the lip of the helm. He hefted a warhammer in one hand that Spiff could not have dragged with two.
“Only one, Eyjolf?” said the man. He chuckled, and Spiff felt his chest shake. “The great raider returns, with one thrall to show! Perhaps you followed in my wake by mistake, and took only what remained.”
“Anyone can collect women and children,” said Eyjolf. “I slew a wizard today.”The big man pounded his chest with a fist. “I have been the bane of a hundred hundred men. I have rid the Gollsfjall mountains of trolls. I have broken the backs of bears. The gods—”
“—Hear your name and tremble,” Eyjolf finished.
“Aye,” said the big man. He laughed and strode into the hall.
“That’s the Smitemaester,” said Eyjolf. “Greatest champion of the Hall.”“He has never been killed,” one of the Nornmen said reverently, looking after the receding figure with a look of mixed envy and awe. “Not even once.”“Keep away from him, if you know what’s good for you,” Eyjolf told Spiff.
Aaron Redfern has been reading and writing fantasy since a time when he could count his age on his fingers. He went to Williams College and studied English, a language in which he was already proficient, and although he learned almost nothing from the English professors, dead poets and novelists taught him a great deal. While at college, he fell thoroughly in love with New England. He has decided never to leave and currently resides near Northampton, Massachusetts.