Now Available For Pre-Order: The Debt

THE DEBT

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

1886: Inspector Archibald Constant Cumberland of the Northwest Mounted Police establishes Fort McGregor at the confluence of two rivers in the heart of the Canadian Northwest Territories. His mission is simple: keep the peace with the Cree Nation and fend off whiskey traders.

But life at Fort McGregor is rarely simple. An Indian agent conspires with whiskey traders to upset the delicate peace Cumberland has established, while his own men prove themselves untrustworthy. When they begin talking about seeing a ghost from the ramparts of the fort, he refuses to believe them, until it is too late.

1997: 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 Archibald Cumberland, who may be his ancestor.

Discovering the truth of what happened in that fort in 1886 consumes Daniel. His father denies any connection to Archibald Cumberland, 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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Now Available: Hart’s Crossing

HART’S CROSSING

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

Alice arrives to Hart’s Crossing, in the wild foothills of turn of the century Alberta, a girl of no more than fourteen, to live with her aunt following her father’s untimely death. There she will find love and heartbreak, and come to understand the darkness that lies in the hearts of others.

For all is not as it seems at Hart’s Crossing. There is the stern and forbidding Andrew Hart, whose countenance strikes fear in Alice and who is hiding something terrible. But even Aunt Muriel and Jack, her love, are keeping their own secrets.

When they are revealed it is Alice who will pay the price. For she will find it is impossible to leave Hart’s Crossing.

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Excerpt: Hart’s Crossing

In advance of the publication of Hart’s Crossing on November 23, here is a short excerpt:

I don’t recall the exact details of my return to Hart’s Crossing. It was after the accident, that much is certain, but beyond that nothing is. My memory is troubled, whether from that incident, or some other that followed. This uncertainty worries me, on the occasions when my thoughts drift to those days, though I try not to allow them to. That is a futile struggle when I find myself unable to leave Hart’s Crossing. So much of the past is still alive for me in this place, for it cannot die.

Hart’s Crossing was once my home, a place where I loved and was loved in return, but no longer. Now it is my prison, a place where it seems I am doomed to remain for all the time that is left to me, embittered against my captors and hated and feared by them in equal measure. Such a cruel twist of fate that it should come to this end, after such a beautiful beginning. I cannot account for it, but then my memory, since the accident, is not what it was.

My days now are spent hiding from those I once welcomed with laughter and delight. I lurk in the bedrooms when everyone else is downstairs taking their meals, or whiling away an evening at cards. Only at night, when they are asleep, do I dare to descend, stalking the parlor and the kitchen like a cat after a mouse. Sometimes the floors creak at my passage, or I brush against some book sending it to the floor, announcing my presence for all to hear. In those moments I flee to the cellar or the attic, if I am able, and remain until they leave me in peace.

But there can be little solace here for me. No longer. Why do I remain then? It is hard for me to explain, but I shall try. Continue reading

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: The Burned One

In advance of the publication of The Burned One on August 24, here is a short excerpt:

It was in a tiny corner of what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire, near its southern extremities where conflict with its Ottoman neighbor was a constant, and where all the many blessings of modernity brought by the nineteenth century had yet to make their way, that the stories of the Burned One became a part of the local folklore. The origins of the tales are obscure. Few in these, even more modern times, can be found who can recall having heard them. In time, they will be available (if at all) only in the archives of the folklorists and anthropologists, who happened to find themselves in one of the five or six villages in the valley south of the Rudenka Mountains, two days journey north of the Danube.

I am here to record that I was one, though more an amateur than a true scholar. Not only that, I met the man himself in those mountains. Such a thing seems impossible as I write it now, but it is true. My memory has not failed. I have not gone mad or surrendered to hysteria. I am of sound mind and body, and the events that I recount here did, in fact, actually take place.

How strange a thing to be writing again after such an interval of years. I was a different person then than the one who puts pen to paper now. What compels me to return to it, after so long, I cannot say. So many things have changed, and so much has been lost in my lifetime, but perhaps I can save this small piece. Continue reading

In A Flash: Voyage’s End

A ship, alight upon the sea, surging upon the waves as it’s crew stands watch, eyes straining forward, alert to the horizon. This was the image that came to her mind as Ance whiled away the interminable hours in this desolate place. A ship coming to take her home.

She had long ago stopped counting the days, it had grown too depressing by far. No matter how many she marked off her calendar or in her diaries, the remainder still loomed ahead, the weight of them the same, as backbreaking as the work of the porters who carry her belongings up and down the mountains of this cruel and barbaric place. Her greatest fear was that her husband would arrive at one of their homes, on one of his occasional acknowledgments that they were in fact married, to announce that the Viceroy had extended his term and they would be remaining for another five years.

It was a thought beyond bearing. Every day she was surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom could not speak more than a civilized word or two to her. Their disdain was evident in every gesture they made, in every expression when they thought she was not paying attention. They were doing things to her food as well, she was certain. She always felt weak and ill, though perhaps that was just the abominable climate, so frigid and damp.

One day, as she spent another afternoon lost in pointless reverie, it came to her that it did no good to idly dream of such things, she needed to make chance bend to her will and act. Her husband spent most of his days pretending she did not exist, it could be easily done. She called her porters and had them gather her belongings and set off from her home in the misty highlands.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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Fiction: Last Night

Another long night of keeping watch without a fire. I can smell olives on the trees. There is noise all around: the stirrings of a breeze, a restless unseen creature, or something more sinister? The air feels like a coming squall. The moon has disappeared above and I am left with only the stars till morning.

The roads are dangerous. Life is dangerous, after a time, when all the consequences from things done and choices made begin to make themselves known.

I can just make out your form through the darkness. I long to lie beside you, to press up against you and feel the contours of your body. It has been months since we had such luxury, every moment of passion has been a stolen one. A few minutes here as we rest out of sight of the road, or a few minutes there as we trade off the watch, one of us still filled with the sleep, the other driven to frenzy by boredom.

It is such an empty life now, it is hard not to feel despair, especially in these bleak moments when the darkness is my only companion. When did life become so absent of anything but survival, our days all the same, repeating themselves one after the other? I cannot recall. Every choice seemed beyond doubt, essential to our beings. Now I can hardly recall them. They seem barely to matter.

The world has just gone to fire. All of us tearing at each other in a frenzy, until nothing remains but the bones.

See the rest at Circumambient Scenery

Image: Van Gogh’s The Olive Trees

Now Available: The Masks of Honor

Masks of Honor

Luisa is always more than she appears. Rumor and mystery surround her. And strange events seem to follow wherever she goes.

Born in Lima, City of Kings, to a noble family, her father so fears her true nature that he banishes her to a convent. There she falls under the suspicion of the Inquisition and decides to flee.

How can a young woman hope to hide herself in colonial Peru, where honor is prized above all else? By adopting whatever masks respectability requires. It is only when someone is able to pierce the veil of her mask that the real danger begins.

In a world where she will always stand apart, Luisa embarks on an adventure, marked by betrayal and murder, terrible powers and mysterious strangers. The Masks of Honor is her incredible confession and a story like no other.

A novel by Clint Westgard
Available at AmazonKobo, and Smashwords

A Nefarious Rite

When I slipped out of my room it was deep in the night, well past second sleep, when not an honorable soul could be expected to be about in the world. I was at one with the shadows as I moved through Don Francisco’s hallways, going from room to room, verifying again that all were empty of inhabitants. As I inspected what were ostensibly the servants’ quarters more closely than I had the previous night, I was convinced that no soul ever lay their head upon those rough pillows. When I had satisfied myself that the house was empty, I turned to the grounds, scouring the stable where Don Francisco kept his horses, along with a few pigs and some cattle, finding no sign of anyone there either.

I returned to the house, convinced that I must have overlooked something there. A dozen Indians and a Castilian could not simply vanish into the air, even if the man was an alchemist, as he claimed. I retraced my earlier steps within, this time going slowly so that I could feel at the seams of the place, here at the floor, there at a fireplace, trying to find some secret passageway. None appeared, until I came to what appeared to be a newer addition to the house attached to the kitchens, which I had only glanced at on my earlier journey. At its far end, near where the entrance to the cellar was, there was an empty space, absent of purpose.

I went to it immediately, crouching down to run my hands along the floor, and was rewarded with the discovery of a trapdoor. I pulled it up and saw some wooden stairs descending into the inky blackness below. After checking to ensure that the door would not lock behind me, I went below. The darkness was near absolute, but I have always been at ease in the dark. When I came to the bottom of the stairs I could discern a pathway, carved from the earth and supported by timbers, as though it were the shaft of a mine. I half expected to be assaulted by the sound of pickaxes upon rocks and the searing stench of quicksilver, but the silence and the darkness held firm.

I started forward, the smell of damp earth heavy in my nostrils, unease tickling at the hairs on my neck. The farther I went the farther I was from my only avenue of escape, and the damper my palms and the drier my throat became. I walked for what seemed like hours, though in all likelihood it was only a few interminable minutes, the silence playing on my thoughts until my imagination had filled my head with any number of fearsome and terrible sights that I was certain were about to be revealed to me. The passage narrowed as I went until it came to a turn—somewhere near the edge of the professor’s land, I reasoned—and after I had made the turn a dim light flickered into view at the end of this new tunnel. I slowed my approach, being careful to make absolutely no sound as I went, though I could hear nothing from the room where the light was.

I crouched low as I came to the entrance and peered around the corner, my body pressed against the cold earth. Within I saw a cavern, ancient and wide, formed long ago by the vagaries of the earth. I paid little mind to this wonder, though, for a far stranger sight drew my attention: all the professor’s servants were arrayed in a circle upon the cavern floor, each of them with a vial attached to their arms. Studying them closely, I could see that these vials were being filled with blood dripping slowly from small punctures on the Indians’ wrists. At the center of this nefarious circle was a goblet that, I knew without looking, was filled with blood.

I hissed at the sight of it, recalling the terrible rites the Stranger had been carrying out in the tombs of Cuzco. What foul necromancy was taking place here? I turned my attention to the poor Indians whose blood was being stolen, shaking the nearest to me to see if they were asleep. He did not rouse, and no breath seemed to pass from his lips. Had they somehow passed from the realm of the living and now inhabited some purgatory in this place? I was so engrossed in my study of the Indians, my own horror rising like bile in my throat, that I did not notice the shadows begin to move until it was too late. A firm blow struck my head and I fell to the ground and was lost to oblivion.

When I awoke, the light in the cavern had gone out and the Indians had risen, only the goblet remaining at the center of the circle. I was at the far end of the cave, my wrists and ankles chained to some ancient stone lodged in the earth. I had no idea how long I had been unconscious, but I suspected it had been some time and that morning would be near. Would Diego be joining me soon, I wondered? As if in answer to my thought, he appeared, led by Don Francisco. I called to him but he gave no sign that he heard me, his face blank of thought and expression.

A chill went down my spine at this sight, and my horror only grew as Don Francisco led the boy to where his Indians had so recently lain having their life force drained from them. He drew a thin knife from his belt that I could see was ornamented with oddly shaped runes, along with one of those fiendish vials of his. That he tied to Diego’s wrist, muttering some phrases in Latin, the knife poised in his hand. He pierced the boy on each wrist, one draining into the vial, the other left to open to feed the earth.

Diego, you are not his, I called to him. You must resist him.

Don Francisco laughed at my words. He is yours no longer, he said to me, leaving the boy and walking over to me, a malicious look in his eyes. Soon enough he will be mine, as docile as all the sheep in my flock.

I spat on the ground at his feet, cursing his name. What of me, I said. Do you expect me to be transmuted into one of your automata?

No, he said. Your kind does not respond well to my treatments. I have other plans for you.

What are your plans for the boy and these others, I asked, my fury growing by the instant. Are they to be drained until they are husks. I thought you were educating them and turning them into Christians.

Indeed I am, the professor insisted. Christians and good subjects. They are obedient and observant, not the slothful and ignorant sort like your boy here. He will learn his place in time.

Christians? I laughed at him. What claim do you have to our true faith? What foul rite are you practicing here?

Don Francisco looked at me scornfully. I am a philosopher and learned man and I will not have someone of your kind saying that I am not a Christian or a man. What you see here is no black rite, no foul magick, but a philosophic investigation into the most important alchemical secrets of our age. What I am collecting here is the divine quintessence of this land. This is the secret Magnus told Aquinas upon his deathbed, the secret to eternity itself.

As for you, he continued, stroking his chin with his fingers, a dear friend has requested that I keep you here. He is most eager to reacquaint himself with you.

My heart went still at his words and I felt myself begin to tremble. Though I tried to master my emotions they must have shown upon my face, for Don Francisco chuckled at my reaction.

Yes, I thought you would remember my friend. You are in his debt, as I understand it. You should know that he only accepts payment in blood.

I should not be surprised you would be in league with that devil, I cried, anger surging to overwhelm my fear. Do you do this work for him? He has worked his black magick on you as well.

Don Francisco scoffed at my rage. Don’t be a fool, he said. He is one of the great minds of this new world. A philosopher of existence to rival Magnus. It was he who taught me the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. But enough chatter, young Diego’s vial is full and I have much to teach him.

He turned his attention to the boy, untying the vial and emptying it in the cup, which was now full almost to the brim. He fingered it tenderly, as though it were the holiest of grails, and then pulled Diego to his feet and began to lead him away. He paused before he left the cavern, as though a thought had just occurred to him, and turned to say to me:

Tell me, then, I am given to understand from my friend that you can survive for quite some time without food or drink. We shall see, at any rate.

His laughter, grim and cold, echoed down the halls of the passage long after he had disappeared from sight. I was unable to stop myself from snarling and cursing like a rabid dog at him, but as soon as the sound of his mocking had vanished from the air I started to weep, for the Stranger was now on his way from Cuzco, and with him came my doom.

from The Maleficio Chronicles

An Attempted Escape

At last the sight of the Stranger watching me from the shadows, his eyes telling me that my dreams of the horrors he would visit upon my person would in time become all too real, was too much. I had to escape San Sebastián and Cuzco and fly as far away as possible, so I set about to craft a plan. Normally I would have used the night to shelter my escape, but the aid it offered me was negated entirely by the presence of the Stranger and his terrible powers. That he had managed to survive our earlier confrontation told me that he was not a man in any sense that you or I would use, but rather a devil incarnate with all the magic that a demon might have upon this earth. I could not hope to defeat him, and certainly I could not evade him along with all the others who maintained the siege. Instead I determined to flee during the day, though it offered me little protection. But the Stranger was not present among the watchers, as near as I could tell, during the daylight hours so, by necessity, it offered my best chance. But how to slip by the guard without attracting notice when I did not have darkness and obscurity as my ally?

I turned instead to my allies of blood and flesh within Cuzco, those friends who I knew I could trust and would not turn from me, no matter the threats and blandishments Don Lope and the Alcalde might offer. Here Diego was invaluable, for I sent him to my friend Don Mariano and a few others to ask for their aid and to explain what I had in mind. They in turn brought word to others they trusted and, when all was prepared, sent word through Diego to that effect. Here I acted quickly, for I suspected that Don Lope had his men following Diego and I needed to set things in motion before they realized what was afoot.

I chose the following Sunday, for the church would be at it’s busiest that day and the crowd would offer me greater cover. Don Mariano had sent me a new suit through Diego, which I wore in the hopes of providing a moment’s distraction from the watch, who had no doubt grown used to the usual frock which I had been forced to wear for the two months I had been under their gaze. As the church filled with parishioners and mass began I hid myself amongst them, my hat pulled low. I spied a few of Don Lope’s men among the worshipers and saw, to my delight, that they were scanning those gathered for a sign of me, knowing that I normally took mass at this time.

At the conclusion of mass the crowd began to let out into the street where the watch was kept and I put plan into action. Don Mariano had engaged two harlots to create a disturbance to draw the attention of the crowd. One of them, a lovely morenasa named Teresa, had spent the morning on the streets around the church selling candies, while the other, a mestiza named Geronima, arranged to pass by Teresa as she was selling her wares to those let out from the service. Teresa feigned to notice Geronima in turn and immediately confronted her, calling her a whore and all manner of things. Geronima responded in kind and they fell upon each other, scratching at each others faces and pulling their hair, creating a tremendous racket.

This had the desired effect, for the crowd exiting the church was drawn towards spectacle. The result was that the street was filled with a milling group of people, trying to make room for the two combatants, mingling with those keeping watch against me. The guards could not resist turning to watch what was happening as well, for most of them were now two months into the siege and they had long since grown bored with their uneventful duty. In the midst of the crowd, having attended mass, was one Pablo Vallojil, an Indian from Guamanga, and a servant of Don Mariano’s. He was the ostensible cause of the battle between the two women and when he had announced his presence to the assembled they both turned and set upon him as one.

Pablo drew his sword, saying that he would see an end to them both for so dishonoring him before the home of Our Lord. There was great deal of nonsense said back and forth between he and the ladies, with members of the crowd joining in and choosing their side of the dispute. Pablo declared he would suffer these harlots’ insults no more and took after them, brandishing his sword. They both fled, towards the Alcalde’s watch, and these honorable men responded by raising their swords against Pablo. A flurry of threats were uttered back and forth as Pablo demanded to be given the satisfaction of punishing these recalcitrant women, while the Alcalde’s men dismissed him as an Indian who had passed beyond all reason and sense.

It was then that Don Mariano and two of his friends happened upon the scene and came to Pablo’s aid, demanding the arrest of Teresa and Geronima. The Alcalde’s men refused, saying that by rights Pablo and Don Mariano should be arrested. Further insults were traded and soon everyone’s swords were drawn and a melee resulted that sent the still gathered crowd into a seething turmoil, as those nearest to the fight tried to get clear of the blades, while those at the back tried to get nearer to better see what was taking place.

I was in the midst of all this, having exited the church with the crowd at the end of mass. As the incidents had developed I had stayed towards the back of the gathering, nearer the church, but when the fight between the guards and Don Mariano broke out I seized my chance and began to slip through the crowd, hoping of course to make a break while the Alcalde’s men were otherwise preoccupied. I kept my head low and had my cloak drawn up high over my shoulders, so that between it and my hat little of face was shown. Moving at an angle away from the fight, but staying within the assemblage I went, neither slowly nor quickly, being careful not meet anyone’s gaze, until the crowd began to dissipate and I could see the open streets before me. Though every fiber of my being demanded that I flee then and there, I kept my wits and walked steadily on, a man about his business..

Just as I thought myself free a hand seized my shoulder and spun me about, nearly yanking my arm free from my torso and I found myself face to face with Don Lope himself. I gave a shout and he snarled at me: You are the devil himself.

From the City of the Vanished