Now Available: The Contract

THE CONTRACT

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

Inspector Archibald Constant Cumberland of the Northwest Mounted Police establishes Fort McGregor at the confluence of two rivers. His mission is simple: keep peace with the Blackfoot Nation and fend off whiskey traders.

But life at Fort McGregor is rarely simple. His own men plot to betray him and soon he is fighting for control of the fort and his life.

When they begin talking about seeing a ghost, he refuses to believe them. But he will have his own encounter with the impossible creature and it will change everything.

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Excerpt: The Adventures of Holly Amos

In advance of the publication of The Adventures of Holly Amos on October 26, here is a short excerpt:

1—Morris and Holly

They hit the payroll, catching them in a crossfire as they came into Horseshoe Canyon on their way to pay the miners at the Atlas Coal Mine in Wayne. There were only two guns protecting it, and Morris Danforth and Holly Amos picked one off each from their perches high across the canyon. Clean shots both, right through the chest. The gunfire reverberated around the canyon, sounding almost as though it were coming up behind them.

The two men leading the packhorses tried to flee, but they shot the horses out from under them. If the Atlas Coal men survived their falls, Holly and Morris did not see. They were too busy scrambling to their own mounts to catch up with the fleeing payroll. That they did, intercepting the stampeding horses before they could scamper up the narrow and winding trail that led from the canyon to the plains above.

When they had calmed the panicked animals, they left the canyon behind, heading up into the hills to the north, where they had a camp set up. There were no trees there, just wild prairie, but the hills hid them well enough from anyone passing through on the way to Wayne. The road was little traveled, except by the Atlas Coal Company men, and it would be a day or two—if they were lucky—before anyone chanced upon the ambushed payroll. Time enough for them to rest and be gone from here.

Holly saw to the animals, taking them to a nearby slough for water and putting them in hobbles so they could rest and eat. Morris paid no mind to the animals or to her. He was in a frenzy of delight as he counted out the well-creased bills and coins—over two hundred fifty dollars’ worth.

“If we get a good price on the packhorses, we should have nearly three hundred when it’s all said and done. No more worries for a while, Holly dear.”

He let out a whoop and pulled her in for a kiss. “No more worries, Morris honey,” Holly said, as she slipped away from his grasp.

Holly set about to making some dinner for them both, opening tins of beans and divvying up the pemmican they had. They had the beans cold, not wanting to risk a fire, and washed them down with what remained of the rotgut they had exchanged with the Indians by Fort Macleod for the pemmican and some rancid buffalo meat. Morris had spent the following week muttering about that, promising to return south and find those bastards and see that they got theirs.

Holly had learned long ago not to say anything when Morris got some damned foolish idea in his head, for it would turn his ire toward her. Just as when he drained the bottle of whiskey and found himself in an amorous mood, she knew enough not to point out that they needed to be going and putting some distance between them and the dead Atlas Coal men.

Morris was trouble when he drank. He was trouble all around. She had known that from the first. It was why she had left home to go with him. Continue reading

Excerpt: The Contract

In advance of the publication of The Contract on October 19, here is a short excerpt:

 

From the personal diary of Inspector Archibald Constant Cumberland, June 7, 1886:

Fort McGregor, I am proud to record here, has been firmly established. I have already written my report to that effect and it is on its way to Superintendent Perry at Fort Macleod. We finished construction two days ago, and the men who were brought to help in the building have been sent on their way, along with my report. Only ten men now remain: myself, the eight constables, and the commissioned doctor, John Cabbot.

All of them are good men, in my judgment, an absolute necessity, for we are far from help out here on these lonely plains. Four of them fought alongside me in Riel Rebellion, so I know they are battletested. Doctor Cabbot is newly commissioned, but he was trained at McGill and seems a competent man. He was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, and tells me he spent some time in Deadwood and some other of the wilder environs of the American plains, so he understands well what our circumstances will be.

The other four constables are new recruits I chose from the latest batch to arrive from Ontario. I had some time training with them in Fort Macleod, with Superintendent Perry granting me my choice of the new crop, and I am confident I have selected the finest among them.

Our purpose is to keep the peace between the Indians of this region, members of the Blackfoot and Cree Nations, and the whiskey traders who have lately come into this territory, having been chased from the Cypress Hills and the Fort Macleod. After the troubles that have consumed the territories in these last years, culminating in Riel’s second revolt, the Superintendent is taking no chances. The last Commissioner of the Mounted Police was replaced for his failures around the rebellion and the new Commissioner wants to see no such mistakes repeated. We are to be on guard for any such troubles that might arise.

The fort itself is located at the confluence of the South Saskatchewan and the Red Deer rivers, a largely desolate section of the Northwest Territories. It is, as yet, uninhabited, except for the aforementioned Indian nations and the whiskey traders. The nearest forts are Calgary to the west and Battleford to the east. There are a few settlements to the north and east, but to the west and south there is nothing but ranching land.

The Blackfoot and the Cree are to be confined to their reserves, as per the terms of the treaty they signed, but the Blackfoot have lately been ignoring those terms, the result of the failures of the agent assigned to them by the government. His name is Harold Groves, and he is a singularly useless man. The Indians do not trust him. I can only hope they will come to place their trust in my men and in me.


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Now Available: Unspeakable Rites

UNSPEAKABLE RITES

FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

A dead man of no family or account is what Gahryll, Chief Magister of Tson, sees when the corpse of an Enir youth is brought to the Magisterium. But Magister Mihuibel sees something else: a conspiracy involving false adepts practicing an outlawed form of alkemya.

Against his better instincts Gahryll authorizes an investigation that draws both Magisters into the seamy underbelly of Tson where the rich and powerful prey upon the desperate. When the inquiry implicates one of the most important families in the Realm of Craitol in forbidden practices and false alkemya, their positions and ranks will be threatened.

But that is only the beginning. For the killer will stop at nothing to ensure his secrets remain hidden and Gahryll is brought face to face with the unspeakable power of alkemya that has been unleashed. It forces him to make a choice. Will he risk everything to fight for justice in a realm ruled where rank and wealth are all that matter?

Set in the same universe as The Shadow Men Trilogy, Unspeakable Rites, further explores the nature of alkemya, its terrible power, and the heavy price paid for its use.

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Now Available: The Debt

THE DEBT

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

Daniel Archibald Cumberland is adrift and purposeless, with neither a past or future to cling to. That is until he comes across a story of a lost NWMP fort and the mad officer responsible for its terrible fate. An officer named Cumberland, who may be his ancestor.

Discovering the truth will consume him. His father denies any connection, but he is hiding a terrible secret. Even he doesn’t know what Daniel will discover when he goes in search of answers.

For there is a debt, long agreed to. And someone, or something, will see that it is paid.

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Excerpt: Unspeakable Rites

In advance of the publication of Unspeakable Rites on August 24, here is a short excerpt:

The storm swept through the city of Tson in the middle of the night as most everyone slept, leaving in its calamitous path a sea of fallen branches, and not a few fallen trees, along with a seemingly endless amount of unidentifiable refuse, mostly stolen from shacks in the poorest quarters. Many of those did not survive the tempest and the next morning the streets of these quarters were filled with those who had been left homeless. Mixed in amongst all this detritus on one street near the city wall was the body of a young man. The local Magistery discovered it on their patrols of the neighborhood and had the body taken to the central mortuary.

Because of the youth’s shade, the Magistery notified the Chaziqs of the Enir Quarter in the hopes that they would know if one of their community had gone missing. Dutifully, the four men put on their finest robes and made their way to the central mortuary to look upon the body, all of them declaring that they did not know the man and that he was not from their quarter.

Chief Magister Gahryll a Tyranil frowned and pursed his lips. He ran a distracted hand over his head and the close-cropped hair there, a habit he had formed once he had started going bald several years before. Each time he did it, he was left annoyed at the fact there was less and less to pass his hand through, to say nothing of the fact that what remained was turning grey. All artifacts of his advancing years, but not so advanced yet, as he never failed to remind himself.

He forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand. There were not many Enir in Tson, so it was not unusual to expect the Chaziqs to know the majority of them. It was strange as well that no word had gone among their people of someone missing a son or a brother.

“You will ask around for me with your people,” Gahryll said. “Perhaps he is new to the city.”

Reluctantly, or so it seemed to Gahryll, the Chaziqs agreed to this request. He did not give much thought to their hesitation. It was just a dead itinerant after all, and an Enir at that, hardly worth wasting any thought over. There were more pressing concerns at hand.

The Golden Veil had recently returned from beneath the smoldering ruins they had left ten years before, striking at the Gver of Lastl during the Gver’s Council in Cratiol. Rumors of their resurrection had gone wild throughout the Realm of Craitol, no doubt attracting disaffected nobles of rank to their banner in every city and town. With the coming war against the Shadow Men bringing the absence of Gver Hythel and his finest cohorts of men from Tson, malcontents like those in Veil would see an opportunity to strike, which meant that Magistery would need to be watchful. Something like this death of a youth of no account could only distract from their true duty, to protect the city.

No word came back from the Chaziqs, and Gahryll had his assistant Ducaryh—a man of Kragian extraction, but of unquestionable competence—arrange to have the body put on display in the public room of the mortuary where anyone in the city could look upon it. The dead displayed there were sometimes identified and claimed, but as most came from the vagrant classes—prostitutes and homeless, thieves and murderers, or the poorest of the Realm, cast from the countryside into the city in the vain hope of shaping a new life—this was exceedingly rare.

The youth was evidently one of these sorts, with no kin looking for him, for in the three days that his body was displayed no one stepped forward to claim it. While this was ongoing, Gahryll ordered a cursory investigation be conducted by one of the Magisters. The man assigned to the task, Mihiubel a Jorhkah, was extremely thorough, though, and when he brought his report to Gahryll, he indicated his belief that the youth had died at the hands of another and that further investigation was warranted.

“You don’t think the storm killed him?” Gahryll said. They were sitting across from each other in his offices in the Magisterium. “It was quite violent. If he was left outdoors, it could easily have done him in.”

“No, Nes Gahryll,” Mihiubel said, with a firm shake of his head. “Did you notice his robes? Very fine silk, too fine for anyone forced to live on the street. No, I am quite certain he was living somewhere, but it was not anywhere near where he was found.”

“What makes you say that?”

“For starters, it is a poor neighborhood. Most of the inhabitants could not dream of owning such robes. And no one remembers him. I went to the Enir Quarter as well, thinking he must have lived somewhere there, no matter what the Chaziqs told you. But it seems not. They are all quite adamant. Very strange. I found a few who recognize him though, but they will not admit it.”

This attracted Gahryll’s attention. “Why not?”

Mihiubel held out his hands. “I can’t say. No one will speak to me of it. Except one man who said he thought he recalled seeing him coming and going from a particular house.”

Something about his phrasing of those last words drew the Chief Magister’s attention. “What particular kind of house?”

“It is an academy, I believe, though I haven’t called on them yet. I imagine he was in service there in some form, or servicing the trulls.”

“So call on them and see if there is someone there who wishes to take possession of the body and let us be done with this matter.”

“There is something else,” Mihiubel said. “I took the liberty of removing his robes. I’m sure you noted the bruises upon his face. His chest is similarly bruised. And there are lacerations as well, on both his chest and his back. Symbols of some sort.”

“Were they enough to kill him?”

Mihiubel shook his head. “I think not. None of his wounds were severe. If I were to guess, I would say they were symbols for some kind of rites.”

Gahryll nodded. It was all very curious and he could see why Mihiubel was drawn to the case, but in the end he could see no reason to pursue the matter with so many other concerns at hand. If the youth had been murdered, as the Magister believed, there was little to be done about it. Not with the Enir Quarter refusing to help and no witnesses to the crime, or obvious suspects. The Enir punish their own, he told himself, and that seemed as satisfactory an explanation as any. The youth had crossed someone, perhaps at the academy, perhaps elsewhere, and had paid the price.

With no one to claim the body after four days on display, Gahryll sent word to the Chaziqs to dispose of the corpse as per their customs. The Enir buried their dead and presumably would want to see this one interred, lest they anger their ancestors. It was Mihiubel who brought word that the Chaziqs had refused to honor the body.

“Well have it burned then,” Gahryll said, with a shake of his head.

Mihiubel nodded, but did not leave the room. “You don’t find it odd that they are refusing. Have you ever heard of such a thing? An Enir risking the wrath of their ancestors by refusing to bury one of their own. The whole Quarter could be cursed.”

“The Gods curse them already, what does it matter if their ancestors do as well?”

“I just think we should find out what this youth has done that would have them cast him out so completely. There is only one thing I can think of that might lead them to do that.”

“What is that?” Gahryll said, his mind already on the papers Ducaryh had brought him to sign. Orders and reports and messages. There was so much to attend to and it was already afternoon.

“Perhaps he has been playing at alkemya,” Mihiubel said.

That did get Gahryhll’s attention. An Enir practicing alkemya was unheard of. They abhorred the art. It was condemned by their ceinobytes and cursed by their ancestors. Any Enir who did so would know he was crossing to a realm from which there was no return. He would be an Enir no longer.

Gahryll also knew that no Council Adepts would ever train an Enir. There was only one kind of alkemyst who would dare to, and the Chief Magister thought he had done with them long ago. Apparently not, for it seemed there were Desecrators in Tson.

Desecrators and the Veil. Was it ten years ago? No, then he would be in Haigah Pass watching the best of his generation perish. He shook his head, lost in the thought, before looking up at Mihiubel.

“You think we should pay a visit to this academy then, I take it?”

Mihiubel nodded and with a sigh of annoyance Gahryll rose to join him.

 Unspeakable Rites is now available for preorder:
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Excerpt: The Debt

In advance of the publication of The Debt on September 21, here is a short excerpt:

MY NAME IS Daniel Archibald Cumberland. It may be familiar to those of you who studied Canadian history some years ago. I graduated with a PhD, published a number of articles in leading journals and was hard at work on turning my dissertation into a book. I took a postdoc in Saskatoon and made sure to attend all the conferences and gatherings I could, hoping to secure an academic posting somewhere. It was during those years my life began to go astray.

My work focused on western Canadian history and was typical of the academy at the time. Those of you familiar with Canadian history departments and all their various touchstones will know where my work derived from. And it was derivative, of this I can assure you. Though many told me I was doing bold, cutting edge work, I now can see that this was far from the case. My work was no more remarkable than any hundred other students who worked in the history departments across the country. We all added something to the conversation in our narrow domains, but we only echoed what others had said about history in other places.

I was part of a chorus, while certain that I was singing lead. Yet I understood on some fundamental level that what I was doing was of no consequence to anyone. A pervading sense of dissatisfaction led me to be arrogant and dismissive of anyone I perceived as having anything halfway original to say. I would pick apart their arguments and find flaws in minutiae. How could they have managed the trick of saying something, when I had not, the unvoiced part of my consciousness would ask.

By and large I ignored these doubts and carried on with my work, desperate to be elevated into the academy. What I hoped to do there, I couldn’t say. It was my goal, in and of itself. Life beyond that had no shape or hue.

All that changed when I went to do some research in a lost little corner of southeastern Alberta. Though my work was about the rural working class, I had spent little time among them. Still, I was convinced that I understood the overarching structures that shaped their minds, even as I dismissed those that constrained my own. I am embarrassed now to think of how great a fool I was, in so many ways. Continue reading

Now Available: On The Far Horizon

ON THE FAR HORIZON

WESTERN, CRIME, THRILLER

CLINT WESTGARD

Cattle rustlers on the run, caught between a storm and someone bent on revenge. Cowboys pursued by the law and their own demons through a long night. A dive bar in the middle of nowhere hosts five criminals for a deal that goes terribly wrong.

These and other stories explore the lives of those who populate the west. Homesteaders with mysterious pasts they’d prefer to keep hidden. Women wronged by the men they love and caught up in events beyond their control. There are killers, thieves, cops on the make, and people just trying to get through their days with their eyes On The Far Horizon.

All of these characters, and many others, meet in this pulse-pounding collection that will keep you at edge of your seat.

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Now Available: The Burned One

THE BURNED ONE

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

The tale of the Burned One, a mad noble who demanded children’s lives as tribute and sought eternal life, is told in a forgotten part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An amateur folklorist discovers it following the end of the Great War and begins to trace its origins. She is driven by a compulsion she cannot explain to find what truth, if any, lies behind this unbelievable story.

She will find it in a forgotten palace, secluded deep in the mountains. What else she finds there is beyond all belief. It will change her, forever.

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Excerpt: On The Far Horizon

In advance of the publication of On The Far Horizon on August 31, here is a short excerpt from the short story Menthols and Pisco Sour:

She tasted of menthols and pisco sours. Jaime ran his tongue along her lips, savoring the flavor, before biting at her lip. He could feel her freeze a little at the sharpness of the pain, wondering if he was going to go further, and had to resist a smile. She was staring at him, looking up from the circle of his arms, where he pressed her in close.

Looking down at her and meeting her gaze, Jaime was unable to tell what exactly she was thinking. She was not lost in passion, not eager to see that he was either. No, she was watching him, a part of her reserved and standing off, to observe this. What for, he wondered, slightly unsettled. To cover his unease, he bit down on her lip again, harder this time, and was satisfied to see her wince and frown.

She had told him her name, but he did not remember it. They had met in some dive bar near Plaza San Martín in Lima, a dark and grubby place he sometimes went to when he wanted to be with the people, so to speak. It was across the street from a tourist hotel and sometimes he would meet American girls there, who were also deigning to visit the place, looking for a little danger. If only they knew, he thought.

This girl though, he had thought she was a prostitute, off the clock for the night. Or maybe not, maybe the bill would come due in an hour or two. She was light skinned, with mestizo features, and quite beautiful with long black hair, wide eyes and incredible tits. They were what had drawn his attention first. Her teeth were a little crooked and her clothes a little too tight and little too garish. Otherwise he would have expected to find her in one of the Miraflores clubs. Maybe, in a couple of years, if fate shone upon her, he would.

Tired of kissing, Jaime moved to pull down the shoulders of her dress and reveal what he was here for, but she pulled away from him. “I just need to go to the bathroom babe,” she said, patting his cock through his jeans. “Don’t unload this while I’m gone.”

He smiled and released her, or rather, she wiggled from his grasp. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, contemplating taking his clothes off, but decided not to. Let her take them off, that would be more fun. Absentmindedly, he flipped on the television, searching for a sports station while he waited.

They were in a hourly hotel, called El Encuentro, the sort of place where everyone ended up at some point or another. Boyfriends and girlfriends stealing away for that first time. Husband and wives who just wanted some peace from her parents and his children from the first marriage. Affairs, of course, and people like him. Impromptu customers.

As a result, the furnishings were very minimal. There was only a mattress and a sheet and two very flat looking pillows. Beside the bed there was a small table with a phone, and on the other side there was a large tub with jets. The place was immaculately clean. That was why he came here. It was something he looked for.

He flipped through the channels for a second time, unable to find anything to capture his interest. Even the porn channels weren’t exciting him. Where the hell was this girl?

As he looked up, determined to go to the bathroom and see for himself what as going on—maybe she was getting high; he didn’t like that, not around him—the bathroom door opened and she stepped out. The first thing Jaime noticed was that she had not taken off her dress to reveal those remarkable tits, which irritated him. The second thing was that she had a gun in her hand, which annoyed him even more.

On The Far Horizon is now available for preorder:
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