Demon Tamer

This story is based on an excerpt from The Wolf Lords. It’s a tale about a hedge witch, two dodgy ravens and a sea monster with a score to settle.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Old women tell tales of Otherworld beings one must never tangle with. Powerful, elusive and malevolent, these beings will lay traps around one’s ignorance and need, if given the chance. But once in an age, a mortal comes along who dares to either cross or bargain with such creatures…and a darker tale is born.

Ingifrith, an ordinary hedge witch, thinks little of such tales until she falls afoul of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. They know her secrets. They know her weaknesses. And she has something they want.

So does the sea witch who lures and traps her into a nasty bargain—in return for protection from the Brotherhood’s reach. Fleeing for her life with nothing but a scrap of advice given to her by a demon warlord, Ingifrith must use her wits to trick a seasoned pirate out of a stolen charm, a feat that will either get her killed or placed in the hands of the sorcerers hunting her.

It’s always a good idea to heed old women.

Hell Hath No Fury

Novelette
Pages: 43
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© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Plastic Tulips and Writing What You Know

Cosmic Garden

“Cosmic Garden” by F.T. McKinstry

My maternal grandmother, now in the arms of the gods, had a degree in microbiology. I don’t know that she ever did much with it; marriage, a family and the expectations of her generation made that difficult. A classic German stoic, she didn’t talk much about her past, or how she felt about things. She was smart and she didn’t take any crap from anybody. But she loved her gardens.

GrandmaWhen it came to plants, my grandmother knew the scientific names of everything, it seemed. To a lesser extent, so does my mother; and to a lesser extent than that, so do I. My grandmother grew up in the North, and at some point moved with her family to Texas. She was always experimenting, trying to grow things that didn’t like heat. She was persistent. She tried tricks like freezing tulip bulbs to force dormancy, but the southern Texas climate would have none of that and eventually she gave up and stuck some plastic tulips in the garden to see if anyone noticed. She did this with such stealth and subtlety that even my mother fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

I never saw my grandmother get excited about much, but oh, how she laughed when her tulip scam was exposed. She was less amused the time I stabbed my brother with a stitch ripper (he so deserved it, btw); she curled up her fist and punched me. But what I most remember is how she lit up when I moved to the North, where it was easier to grow things like astilbe, monarda, broccoli, and of course, tulips.

I loved my grandmother’s dark, ornery sense of humor and her penchant for tinkering, which I inherited. Every year I wage a military campaign against cabbage worms. My cats chase the pretty white butterflies, but that is not an effective means of pest control. So this year, I decided to try planting some nasturtiums, because supposedly bugs hate them. Believe it or not, there are less caterpillars than usual amid this jungle. How’s that for optimism.

Nasturtiums

Far be it for me to ignore writing gardens into a story or two. Though my stories tend to be dark, full of war, sorcery and creepy things, there will be a gardener in there somewhere; a witch growing herbs for her spells, for example. In my short story “The Trouble with Tansy,” a young woman born of three generations of wisewomen knows little of her ancestral garden’s mysteries until she discovers her own power in the darkness of winter, the words of a witch, and the loss of her innocence.

Excerpt: “The Trouble with Tansy”

Tansel loved her garden with all her heart. It surrounded the cottage and spread out beneath the edges of the forest like a wild thing, singing. She grew things for eating, seasoning and healing; things that smelled pretty, attracted butterflies, birds, bees and cats; she grew things for the shapes of their leaves, the way the sun and moon shone upon a petal or a stalk, or the way one thing grew beside another, tangling high and low in arches, tendrils and delicate patterns. Some plants loved the high bright sun; others preferred the shadows beneath hemlock trees, or water caressing their roots. Tansel grew things that she liked the names of. Things no one knew the names of.

Few could have said what grew in Tansel’s garden. Not even Tansel knew, from season to season. The garden had a rhythm of its own, a balance that took care of itself.

WWG Print Cover Art“The Trouble with Tansy” is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

This story was also the original inspiration for The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
 

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

One of the protagonists in Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, has an ancient power she spins into her knitting that gets the attention of not only the gods but also a malevolent immortal with nothing good in mind. She also has a garden, of course.

Excerpt: Outpost

Autumn was a knitter’s busy time. Melisande knit brindled patterns of drops and sky over the summer; wove strands of sky-blue wool into the edge of a belt as the hard gray line of a late frost passed her garden by; pulled threads of weeds from the stitched patterns of the vegetable patch, leaving purple violets to grace the air with Othin’s favorite scent; and braided black yarn with rosemary and periwinkle to protect her cottage when the shadows grew long. Such amusements aside, she always had something to do. Folk from far around prized her work for its weird charm.

Well, most of them.

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Gray Isles

The Gray Isles Cover Art

Some fish stories should be taken seriously. Very seriously. Introducing the Second Edition of The Gray Isles, in which the legends of sailors and wizards collide in a tale of witchery, secrets, curses, and the birth of an immortal.

Revised and reformatted, this is Book Two of the Chronicles of Ealiron, a heroic fantasy series that revolves around an assassin called Lorth of Ostarin.

In the Gray Isles, a northern realm cloaked in legends and storms, lives a secret. For thousands of years it lay in the Otherworld, known only in the imaginations of sailors. Now, it has surfaced; first to Eadred, a wizard banished by his kind after being cursed by a witch; and then to Hemlock, a fisherman’s son orphaned by the sea. When their paths collide, a change is set into motion that the heavens watch with dread; for the legends tell, it heralds the birth of an immortal and the death of the realm.

Lorth of Ostarin is a formidable wizard with a turbulent past. An elite assassin and servant of the old powers, he is given a mission by his masters to question Eadred, a high-ranking wizard banished for breaking the codes of his order. Lorth arrives in a fog of eerie impressions to find both Eadred and Hemlock missing, a mystery that swiftly deteriorates into a manhunt that plunges Lorth into a tricky world of visions, secrets, legends, and island politics.

Some secrets are best kept hidden, and madness often hides wisdom. In his quest to lift a curse responsible for his fall and subsequent exile, Eadred has gathered great knowledge of Hemlock’s origins. Through him, Lorth reaches the sobering conclusion that Hemlock is not what he seems. Unfortunately, Lorth is not the only one who has discovered Hemlock’s secret. Racing time, he must bare his sword against an army, violate discretion and risk his own stature in order to free Hemlock from an otherworldly fate before the forces of earth and sea are unleashed upon the mortal world.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novel, 170 pages
Can be read as a standalone story.
Ebook includes a Glossary and a link to Maps.
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“Wow. Gorgeous. Highly recommended.” – Amazon Customer Review (See Entire Review)

“F.T. McKinstry has a lyrical voice that suits the ancient magic she describes. The majesty of the gods and mystical forces of the novel entranced me…” – David Lee Summers, Editor of Tales of the Talisman and author of Owl Dance

“The Gray Isles is a very tight and compelling tale of suspense on rocky shores and the high seas.” – Alex Willging, Mr. Rhapsodist

“The strength of this novel lies in its descriptions of Hemlock’s psychological states as he undergoes his psychic changes. It also abounds in excellent descriptions of emotions and sensations.” – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer Series

“The Gray Isles is an incredible mystery set in an incredible mythical land. Its story captivated and enthralled me from beginning to end.” – Aimee at redheadedbooklover (See Entire Review)

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Wardens’ Order

Arcmael

Outpost, Book One in The Fylking.

Arcmael is a seer, an occupation thrust upon him by a royal father pledged to the arts of war. The sword was a preferred occupation for a firstborn heir, but Arcmael had no love for that. So he was stripped of his titles and exiled to a mysterious conservatory high in the northern mountains to learn how to see between the worlds.

Between the Worlds

Once trained, Arcmael became a warden in service to the Fylking, a warrior race who came from the stars nine thousand years ago to use the realm as an outpost from which to fight an ancient war. Immortal and unseen to all except those sensitive to the Otherworld, the Fylking live by the sword. To travel to and from Dyrregin and nearby star systems, the Fylking built the Gate, a portal shining like a sigil on the surface of the world.

By virtue of their stature in the dimensions of living beings, the Fylking had the ability to build the Gate using the natural materials of the world; however, their methods would have been terrifying to humans and created unnecessary complications. Though the Dyrregins were at that time greater in number and sophistication, they would not have understood a tower being built by sound or the higher laws of manifestation, let alone ten of them in specific places over the land. And so the Fylking, having the patience of the immortal, befriended humankind by creating the Wardens’ Order.

The Fylking taught their wardens the arts of interdimensional perception and the properties of light, energy, crystals and architecture. The wardens built the towers, watched over them with human eyes and maintained them over millennia, generations upon generations, gathering the relatively infinite energies of celestial bodies to provide a bridge for their immortal guests. In return the Fylking protected them, and gave them the honor of representing them to humankind. ~ From “The Arrival of the Fylking,” Outpost

For Arcmael, it is cruel irony to have only immortal warlords as guardians and companions–until sorcery and war engulf the land.

The Gate

Spanning the realm over 213 leagues, the Gate is built into a pentacle with a stone tower on each point and intersection. The towers gather light from the sun, moon and stars and focus it into a complex pattern of crystal arrays, providing an energy source. Starting from the northernmost point and going clockwise, the towers are called: Sif, Sol, Sin, Soc, Sae, Som, Sef, Sos, Sie, and Sor. In Fylking, these names refer to the patterns of openings in the tower walls, which are positioned to align with the cosmos.

Tower SefEach gatetower is manned by five elite Fylking warriors who watch over the realm and protect their interests there. Millennia after the Gate was built by the original wardens under the direction of the Fylking, the sea engulfed the granite shoals around one of the outer points, Tower Sef, isolating it from land. War took Tower Sie, a second outer point which stands in the realm of Fjorgin across the Njorth Sea.

Tower Sif stands on the northernmost point of the Gate in the Vale of Ason Tae. Called the Apex, Tower Sif is where the Gate merges with an array of other worlds on which the Fylking conduct their bloody business. As such, the Apex is the first line of defense, and as any warden will tell you, the High Fylking of Tower Sif are a nasty bunch with scant tolerance for mortal concerns.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Read an Excerpt from Outpost

Outpost Cover Art

Prologue

Edros stepped up to the standing stone that marked the boundary of the Fylking’s domain. Smooth and unadorned, the ancient monolith offered no clues as to its purpose. But it had tales to tell.

The city of Merhafr, a dense, lively port clustered around the King’s Citadel, spread out behind him like shells cast over the rocky hills plunging into the Njorth Sea. Edros planted his staff with a breath and started up the path toward Tower Sor, perched on the distant crags rising from the plain. The tower’s presence, normally as rough and volatile as the ocean winds, lay cloaked in silence. Gulls wheeled and cried around the height.

A shepherd appeared over a rise, driving a small flock of sheep. When he saw Edros with his warden’s cloak and staff, he quickly directed the animals into the brush and stood with his head bowed. The warden murmured a greeting as he passed.

The calm that cloaked the sea at dawn had given way to the unruly rifts and white of heavy weather. Wind carried the scent of brine, heather and wild roses. The warden’s Guardian Fylking, who took the shapes of watery places, began to withdraw as they usually did in the presence of the High Fylking, who ruled the towers. Unseen by all but their wardens, the immortal warriors kept their oaths and vigils by the sword. One by one, a whisper in his ear, water lapping on a shore, a cold spot in a lake, fell into quiescence.

Sor was one of ten towers that defined the realm of Dyrregin. Five inner towers, each 50 leagues apart and 35 leagues from the center of the realm, stood on the intersections of lines between five outer towers. The resulting boundary formed the Gate, a pentacle with a diameter of 213 leagues. In the nine thousand suns since the Gate was built by the original wardens under the direction of the Fylking, the sea engulfed the granite shoals around one of the outer points, Tower Sef, isolating it from land and giving all sailors except wardens something to avoid, as they might a siren’s song. War took Tower Sie, a second outer point which stood in the realm of Fjorgin across the Njorth Sea. Politics, bloodshed and treaties aside, no one interfered with the wardens in their business there unless they wanted to risk being destroyed by their Fylking. Being relatively new to the Order, Edros had not yet journeyed to Fjorgin. But he had heard the stories.

Being deployed on the rugged coast for thousands of suns had given the High Fylking of Tower Sor sullen, moody dispositions. Like the sea, the warriors were rarely silent. Today, however, Edros felt only the storm. He gazed ahead, rallying his inner senses around the tower with unease. The last time he had felt such quiet up here was after he banished the Fylking for frightening a ranger so badly he had lost his footing and fallen to his death on the rocks below. Such things happened around the gatetowers sometimes. Not everyone believed the tales, and fools abounded regardless. But it was the wardens’ charge to protect the citizens as much as they could—or so the high constable of the King’s Rangers had needlessly reminded him.

It was said the ranger’s spirit wandered the cliffs beneath the tower, cursing the Fylking. That was nonsense. The Fylking would never stand for such a thing, even if they could cross the boundaries of their dimensions and those of the mortal dead.

Silence. Nothing but the sea, crying gulls and wind in the brush. The tower gazed down with a discomfiting stare. On a parapet crowning the top crouched the shapes of dragons—so the Fylking called them—reptilian creatures with scales, long snouts and large bat wings folded against sinuous bodies. The creatures’ snaky tails twined down into the stones. Their eyes were empty.

A subtle prickle touched the warden’s navel as he began his ascent up the winding steps. The ground fell away, the sea grew vast and the wind quickened. Dark clouds streaked the sky like an infection. He reached the door, a tall arch of weathered oak with iron hinges shaped like talons. Rain pelted him. As he entered, a screech echoed from the stones, followed by a rush of warm air carrying the scent of wood smoke. His mind went blank as the smell filled his lungs. An impossible smell, in this place.

Edros slipped through and closed the door. He had never entered a gatetower to anything but cold and damp—except for that time the High Fylking had greeted him with the smell of roast partridge, a jest aimed at the late King Farcas, who died last winter with a wing bone lodged in his throat. They had never liked him.

“Hail!” Edros called out, stepping from the shadow of the thick stone wall.

The interior of the gatetower was as large as a warlord’s feasting hall, a cylindrical well rising seventy feet to a ceiling glinting with quartz crystal. Narrow, steep steps spiraled up the walls to a hatch that accessed the top. Thin openings placed here and there in the heights aligned the light of the sun, stars and moon. The Fylking jokingly referred to these as arrow slits, though as far as Edros knew, the inaccessible windows had never been used for that.

His heart skipped a beat as he saw the source of the smoke. In the center of the floor, directly on top of the crystal circle that focused the light of the heavens for the Fylking, burned a fire. Heather and broom had been ripped from the roots, tossed into a pile and lit as if by lightning. An old man stood there warming his hands.

Stunned by this flagrant transgression of the Fylkings’ domain, Edros strode forward and yanked his hood from his face. “Are you mad?” he said, none too kindly. “What means this?”

Where were the High Fylking? They would turn a man to dust for building a fire in here! Chilled to the bone despite the heat, the warden opened his senses to the subtle murk of the rising storm. Wind whistled through the arrow slits, as cold and strange as a nightmare lost to memory.

The old man said nothing.

“How did you get in here?” Edros asked in a quieter voice. He and the man were not alone. He sensed the stormy presence of a Fylking filling the tower vaults. Immense and unfriendly, this Fylking had no care for humanity, even hidden by the lofty ascendancy of the unseen. His antipathy was tangible.

The warden moved his hand into a Banishing sigil, his fingers curling one after the other into a fist, like a many-legged sea creature withdrawing into a shell. It had no effect.

“Don’t trouble yourself with that,” the old man said. “The Sor Fylking are dead and your Guardians scattered to the wind.” He straightened his back and shrugged his tattered cloak to the floor. He was fully armed and clad in shades of brown and green stitched with branches, marking him as a votary of the Blackthorn Guild. Once a noble order of magicians created by King Magnfred, the first ruler to claim Dyrregin’s throne after the Gate War, the Guild had been stripped of its thorns over the centuries and now comprised a harmless assortment of hedge witches and warlocks that served the Old Gods and studied the forces of nature, mapping the heavens, concocting potions for common ailments, talking to crows.

Edros had never heard of a Blackthorn warlock wielding arms or associating with the Fylking. Aside from hair the color of ashes, he was not as old as he initially seemed. He had smooth flesh and eyes like winter twilight, pale gray and ice cold. Something about him stirred the warden’s memory.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

The warlock gazed back, his expression inscrutable but for a sliver of scorn.

Blackthorn, indeed. Edros struck the floor with his staff and raised his voice to the stormy presence enveloping the tower. “Show yourself! What Fylking would disregard a sigil cast by a Warden of Dyrregin? You are bound to an ancient oath.”

The wind howled and thunder shook the earth, driving rain and snow into the tower, the spiraling frozen tears of fallen warriors, five of them, beautiful and lying on the floor like felled trees in broken armor made of stars, long hair tangled in blood, and fair eyes staring at nothing.

Dead? He had not believed the claim.

Edros broke from his trance as the warlock moved. Before the warden understood the way of this, the intruder pulled a knife from his belt and hefted it by the blade. By his side stood the shimmering form of a tall warrior clad in black steel, wearing a helmet in the shape of the spike-crested, fanged creatures on the parapet.

Niflsekt.

It was the warden’s last thought as the knife struck him between the eyes.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

You can read the first several chapters of Outpost here.

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.