The Clocksmith

The Clocksmith is a fantasy novel set in the kingdom of Brigard.  Below you will find a short description of the story.

Peter Barrow was a Clocksmith, and as such, most people viewed him with a superstitious wariness, for the power of the clocks, though forbidden to common folk, was well-known to all. That was exactly as he wanted it, though; the less people in his life, the better. However, this solitude was not destined to last. His troubles started with the suspicious disappearance of his father. All that was left behind was a mountain of unpaid debts and a mysterious pocket watch. The former of the two was taken care of quickly, though not without pain; Peter sold his house to Rebecca Tin, the mildly obsessive daughter of the famous inventor George Tin, and moved into little more than a shack. The watch, on the other hand, proved to be much more of an issue. Unlike all other clocks, there was no way to invoke it, and its power was unknown. When Peter crossed paths with an ex-soldier by the name of Nolan Levinson, he was whisked away to the capital on the promise that he would discover his father’s fate. But while there, he was pulled unwillingly into a web of intrigue. His father’s disappearance proved to be even more unusual than he had suspected, and the Paragons, the rulers of the Clocksmiths, were determined to take the pocket watch from him, regardless of what the cost may be.

 

Chapter One

“Pine Harbor!” the conductor shouted drearily, sounding as though he didn’t truly expect anyone to get off this far on the northern frontier. Sighing wearily, Peter Barrow left his seat and stepped alone off the passenger car. Home at last, he thought wryly. Not that there was anything in particular to look forward to. A single, plaintive whistle echoed through the darkness of the train station, signaling the iron beast’s departure. Gradually, the rhythmic chugging of the engine’s wheels became less audible as it lurched its way toward the loop of tracks that led southward. Judging by the way it built up speed, the engineer was impatient to move on to bigger, more important destinations. Peter stood on the loading platform, watching the train disappear behind a stand of evergreens, then, swinging his battered top hat onto his head, walked out of the station and into the familiar gloom.
The sun was not yet up, though the sky had turned the colorless hue that heralds sunrise in early spring. The tops of trees, just beginning to bud, could be seen as stark shadows against the sky, a testament to the light that would soon return to the world. The town of Pine Harbor lay silently amidst the evergreen forest, appearing for all the world deserted. If one were to travel any further north, they would officially find themselves in the frozen wilderness. Aside from an overly industrious mailman, not a soul was to be seen on the roads of hard-packed dirt. The windows of the cluster of buildings that passed for a town center gaped in their white storefronts like holes in existence.
Peter slowly pulled a silver watch out of his jacket pocket. The cover was intricately carved with dozens of different images; soldiers on the battlefield, saints, stars. But none of this held Peter’s attention for long. By now, he had grown accustomed to the remarkable craftsmanship. What interested him was on the inside. Flipping open the cover, twelve lines of gold shone dully back at him. But there was no marking of any sort beyond that. Closing the watch, Peter slipped it back into its proper place.
Before he could take more than two steps, a figure shambled haphazardly out of the open door of the town’s only bar and collided with Peter, knocking them both to the ground. “Watch where you’re going,” the man said in a voice slurred with effects of alcohol.
“You’re new in town, aren’t you?” Peter asked as he stood up and wiped the dust from his knee-length overcoat, irritated at the drunk’s sudden appearance.
“I just came in. Why?” The man tried to get up, but collapsed again. Judging by the look of his tattered clothes, he was telling the truth.
“I’m a Clocksmith. I don’t know if that means anything to you in your current state of mind, but to most people around here, it’s considered bad luck to cross my path.”
“Yeah? I’ve had my share of bad luck. I just left the military.”
Peter glared suspiciously at the man. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m drunk, as you said. Besides, if you’re a Clocksmith, you won’t report me.”
“Not for leaving the military.” Peter turned to leave the man lying in the road. The drunkard was nothing but trouble, as far as he was concerned.
Reaching out a hand, the man called after him, “Hey, do you have a cigarette?”
“I don’t smoke,” Peter answered without turning or slowing his stride.
In a matter of minutes, the majority of town was left behind. Looking to the eastern horizon, Peter could see the first rays of sun beginning to smear the sky with sunrise. People would soon be awake and outside. Peter quickened his pace, hoping to reach the relative safety of his home before he was stopped by someone. While only one other person lived on his stretch of road, he knew that she would stop him given the chance. With any luck, she would still be asleep this early in the morning. Unlike the stranger in town,  she was as difficult to escape as the plague, and twice as unpleasant.
Following the sharp left bend in the road, Peter came to a space clear of trees. The lawn sloped gently upward, ending at a large house. His heart skipped a beat when he saw a single candle burning in a first-floor window. He immediately quickened his pace, but was too late. A young woman of about his own age came running down the perfectly-maintained cobblestone walkway toward him as fast as her voluminous dress would allow. Her hair billowed loosely out behind her like a sheet of black silk; she hadn’t had time even to properly put it up for the day before greeting him.
“Trying to sneak past me again, Peter?” she asked breathlessly as she came to a stop a few paces away from the Clocksmith.
Peter silently cursed his luck. She must have been waiting outside for him. “Yes, and I almost succeeded. I have been out of town for some time, as you have no doubt noticed, and would very much like to catch up on my sleep. Good day, Rebecca.”
He began to walk past the woman, but she matched his pace, talking all the way. “Not until you tell me why you left in such a hurry.”
“Rebecca-” Peter began, but was cut off.
“Come on, you can tell me,” Rebecca said. “I won’t tell anyone else if it’s a secret.” Then, with a sudden gleam of excitement in her eyes, she leaned over the fence and asked, “Is it a secret?”
“Yes, it is a secret, pne I do not intend to tell you or anyone else.”
“Please? I promise that I won’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”
Peter sighed. “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this, are you?” When Rebecca shook her head, he sighed again and said, “I needed to find something my father made. His notes said it was important, though never explained why.”
“Sounds like a mystery. Can I see it?”
“No,” Peter said reflexively, “I don’t want anyone to see it until I figure out what it does.”
“If you say so,” Rebecca said with a shrug. “I’m heating water up for tea. Would you care to have some with me?”
“I’ll get my own tea, thank you.”
Rebecca gazed pityingly at her neighbor. “Are you still sore about having to sell your house to me?”
“Not in the slightest. I am very tired, as I am sure I have already told you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.” He walked past Rebecca, expecting her to stop him again. She didn’t, though; a fact Peter was infinitely grateful for.
Secretly, Peter did want to see his old house. He wanted to own his old house again, to be more precise. As he walked by, he stared longingly at it, thinking that perhaps having tea there one more time wouldn’t be too bad, even if he had to listen to Rebecca’s ramblings.
Peter’s house – or hovel, as he thought of it – was exactly the same as when he had left, which was admittedly a rather poor state. The door swung open with an awful creaking. The hinges needed to be oiled again. Peter hung his coat and hat on a brass post in desperate need of polishing and sat down on the worn-out chair by the small woodstove he used for cooking. There wouldn’t be enough food for a decent breakfast, Peter thought glumly. He quickly heated a pot of water for tea and tossed a slice of bread on a grill for toast and made his way into his workshop. Later on, he would have to remember to restock his pantry.
In the flickering light of Peter’s work lamp, the watch’s surface seemed to waver slightly, as though it were only a mirage. After a moment, Peter picked it back up and flipped open the lid. Aside from the lines denoting each hour, no other markings gave away the watch’s meaning, or even suggested that it had been finished. It didn’t seem finished to Peter at all; the hands moved, but there was no way to invoke it. There didn’t even seem to be a Virtue assigned. He pressed the cool metal against his ear, listening, as he had countless times since finding it, for the sound of gears moving, but there was nothing, as always. Sighing in quiet frustration, he placed the watch back on the work table and regarded his problem in silence.
“Are you home, Peter?” A voice called from out-side, cracking the contemplative atmosphere as easily as a hammer blow to an eggshell. Peter furrowed his brow and walked over to the front door, deliberately taking his time.
“What do you want, Rebecca?” Peter asked as he cracked open the front door to peer out at his unwanted visitor.
“I thought I would bring you a welcome-home gift.” Rebecca held up a copper tea kettle, its contents sloshing faintly.
“I already told you I have tea.”
Rebecca pushed open the door and strode into Peter’s house, ignoring his protests. “But you don’t have the good tea, I’ll bet. This is premium Brigardine Blend, grown by the Winfield Tea Company. It’s the very best tea money can buy. I’m sure you’ll be able to see why once you’ve tasted some.” Rebecca continued to chat happily as she replaced Peter’s kettle with her own.
“Rebecca,” Peter said, “I was working before you invited yourself in.”
“Really? That’s quite fascinating. What were you working on?”
“It’s really none of your business.”
“Is it that secret project you told me about?” Rebecca asked, grinning cheerfully.
“Yes, it is. Now would you please leave so I may get back to my work?”
Rebecca shook her head. “I want to see this project first. I brought you some of my special tea, so it’s the least you can do to repay me.”
“I have no intention of drinking your tea. I’m sure even you would agree that I shouldn’t have to repay you for something I never took.”
Rebecca settled herself in the nearest chair and crossed her arms. “I won’t leave until you show me.”
Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to win this battle, Peter said, “Fine. But don’t go talking about it to anyone else.” He led Rebecca into his workshop and gestured curtly at the pocket watch still sitting on the table. “That’s all,” he said, “just a watch. Nothing you would be interested in.”
“What’s this one do?” Rebecca asked. She reached out to pick it up, but Peter stopped her.
“Don’t touch it. I can’t figure out how to invoke it. As far as I know, it doesn’t do anything at all. The back won’t open, so I can’t even see what kind of movement it uses.”
“Couldn’t you just cut it open?”
Peter shook his head. “If I did that, I’d damage the gears. I have to get it to work some other way, if it even works at all.”
“And you’re sure your father made this?”
“Are you implying that I don’t know my own father’s craftsmanship?”
“Not at all. I’m just asking if it’s possible someone else who studied under him might have built it.”
“Impossible. I was my father’s only apprentice. He didn’t believe in teaching more than one person at a time, and he disappeared before he could bother to find a new one. Besides, I’ve found his notes on this watch. They make it very clear that he thought of it as his greatest achievement. But none of the notes say how he constructed it.”
“Maybe someone took the instructions,” Rebecca suggested.
Peter picked up the watch and stared at it thoughtfully. “Maybe. But why not just take this one and saves themselves the effort? Furthermore, my father had the habit of writing all his notes in a book. If someone did take the section explaining how to construct the watch, I would have noticed the tear marks.”
Rebecca sat down and looked at the tools hanging on Peter’s wall. “You certainly have a lot of tools. Doesn’t one of them tell you how to make the watch work?”
“They’re for building clocks, not reverse-engineering them. And I don’t know why you’re sitting. I didn’t invite you in.”
“You wouldn’t want a lady like me to get sore feet, would you? That would be ungentlemanly.”
“I am not worried about being a gentleman at the moment. What I am worried about is getting this watch to work, and I cannot do that with you looking over my shoulder.”
Rebecca stood and straightened her skirts. “I’ll leave, then. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”
“How very kind of you,” Peter said, rolling his eyes.
As she passed the wood stove, she stopped and said, “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay and finish making the tea? I’m sure you’ll like it if you just try it.”
“I will be fine, thank you. I have tea of my own, as I have already told you several times today.”
“Suit yourself,” Rebecca said as she picked her kettle up off the stovetop and left. Before the door closed, she stuck her head back in and said, “You’re welcome to visit any time you change your mind about the tea, Peter.”
“I know.”
Peter stood by the only window that faced the road and watched his neighbor until she had passed beyond the frame. Muttering to himself, he walked back to his workshop and sat at the table. He wanted to get back to work, but found he couldn’t concentrate. Rebecca had broken his focus, it seemed. Since he wasn’t working, he might as well eat breakfast. The toast was mostly burnt, having been forgotten on its grill, and the tea was beginning to lose its warmth, but he didn’t care.
Sometimes he truly regretted having sold his house to that woman.

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