The Spooky Forest

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When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a golf course. It was a beautiful place, mysterious and sprawling with woods, lakes and paths. A good place to go fishing, only mind the snakes and snapping turtles. Not far from my grandparents’ house, a path went through a dense patch of woods with a stream running through it. We called it the Spooky Forest. It was generally agreed upon that straying from the path was a bad idea.

Far be it for me to write something that doesn’t have woods in it–the creepier the better. So I’m honoring my childhood haunt with today’s release of the Second Edition Ebook of 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.

These stories reflect some general themes, as follows. Click on the story links for descriptions, excerpts and illustrations.

The Power of Creation

Shade Falls

“These things three, your garden needs
“To make the dark and light the same.
“Slis, a frog,
“Gea, the spring and
“Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.”
– From “The Trouble with Tansy”

The forces of creation exist in all things, flora and fauna, seasons, worlds, every act of the heart, every loss and turn of a mind. Light comes from the Void and surprises its creators with something new and heretofore unknown. In “The Trouble with Tansy” and “The Fifth Verse,” two women, a mortal and an immortal, discover the power of creation through the inexorable forces of death.

The Immortal Hunter

Sioros

Had she not been so entranced, Oona might have noticed the shadow falling over her, soft and quiet as a forgotten dream. A wizard can be very sneaky when he wants to. And there he stood, in the fading light of the setting moon, staring down at the remains of his crow with an expression that could have cracked a standing stone. – From “Eating Crow”

Wizards call him sioros, an immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. To lay eyes on him means either heartbreak or death depending on how the winds blow that day. In “Eating Crow” and “Marked,” one woman attempts to elude the hunter and pays with her heart; the other tries to bargain with him and pays with her life.

War and Transformation

The Glass

A sun’s cycle had passed since Solfaron set its predatory gaze on the Glass. With a warrior’s edgy calm, Liros had told Pael that he lived on the wrong side of the border, in the wrong land, with his forest, his visions, and his sacred observatory. But Pael cared little for his older brother’s admonitions. He loved the land of Moth with all his heart; he had touched the towering crystal observatory of the Glass and he knew what it could do. Solfaron could try to take it but they would fail. Only his love for Liros kept Pael concerned with it at all. War did not affect him, a mystic living in the wilds like an animal.

He questioned this now, as he ran for his life beneath the thunder of warhorses and the shouts of his brother’s men. – From “DeathSeer”

War destroys the fortresses of innocence with the awesome indifference of a natural force such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Whatever its causes or intentions, it changes things. Permanently. But while it can drive us to the depths of human depravity, sometimes, as with any traumatic event, it can also awaken us to our potential. In “The Bridge,” “DeathSeer” and “Earth Blood,” a priestess and two warriors find themselves caught in wars that strip the veils from their eyes to reveal their true natures.

Awakening Gods

The Temple of Math

Between the gnarled, twisted trunks of two oak trees loomed a black opening. Roots draped over and around the darkness inside as if to feed on it. Sethren walked slowly, his body aching and his heart pounding, until he stood at the threshold. Cool air breathed from the shadows. He could barely discern the images in the cracked stones for the moss and ivies clinging in the lines—except for one at the top: an interlocking five-pointed star with a black stone eye in the center.

Five points, five lines and a raven’s eye.

He had found the Temple of Math. – From “The War God Sleeps”

Some say that everything we know is the dream of a god. I am fascinated by the idea of a sleeping god, a being who comes from and must occasionally return to the quiescence of the womb, as all things do, for healing, renewal and rebirth. In “The War God Sleeps” and “The Origin,” one god is awakened by a mortal; the other, by his own creation.

Love

dormouse-in-ivy

Movement caught his attention. In the distance, Rosamond sat on the edge of the rushing water, on a wide rock, her long legs bared and her face tilted back to the sun like a contented cat.

Urien called out with enough force to shake the ground. “ROSAMOND!”

She stirred, beamed a glorious smile and waved.

Urien’s foreboding rose with the force of the river. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Get away from the water!”

Her smile faded as she turned. From the north, an enormous bore from an unseen tide rose up into a wall of crashing, maleficent, white-green waves. Rosamond shrieked and jumped up. Urien raised his hands and cried a string of words that rent the course like a scythe, but he could not drop the river before it swept her into its foamy clutches without a sound. – From “Water Dark”

Love, being every bit as powerful as, if not easily compared to, a creepy forest, naturally rears its head in most of these stories. But in “The Om Tree,” “Pattern Sense” and “Water Dark,” an assassin, a knitter and a wizard are caught up in love’s brambles and encounter their powers there.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover ArtSecond Edition
175 pages
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© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Author Interview at Circle of Books

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Welcome Midsummer, the longest day of the year. This year, the solstice coincides with a full moon, a rare alignment that happens once in a lifetime. What better time to shine light on the murky inner workings of a fantasy author?

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry.

My interview with Circle of Books is now up on their website. Among other things, I talk about what inspires me to write fantasy, how I go about it, what I’m into, and my latest book, Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Art, cats, music, notebooks and a passion for the worlds between, it’s all there. Serious questions for a tortured soul.

Come by for a visit!

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

Water Dark

Water Dark Cover Art

In the western-most crumbling halls of a mountain citadel lives a lonely wizard named Urien, a master of his art and a fledgling priest of a primordial goddess of transformation. Though his training is extensive, no training could prepare him for a broken heart. For years he has lived on the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such wounds do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess, Urien’s heart reveals itself as a grim warning from the goddess herself, in the shape of a wolf.

In the wake of this unsettling experience, Urien discovers that his most gifted apprentice, a beautiful, wild-tempered woman—and the partner of his erstwhile lover—is in grave danger. A series of swift-moving mishaps including a second warning and a badly backfired protection spell lands Urien into a love triangle that exposes not only his deepest desires but also the black machinations of the priestess who deceived him. When she wields her full power against him, he must reconcile his heart in order to save his lovers and himself from isolation and death.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Water Dark is a standalone novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, and features Eaglin of Ostarin, a main character in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

This novella is also 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.

Water Dark was originally published by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
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© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Pattern Sense

Pattern Sense, Cover Art

The heart is a powerful force, more powerful than the earth’s own magic. In this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Excerpt

It all started with a mouse.

Persistent creatures, mice, driven as all things are by the turn of winter’s gaze, but with the added cunning of the nocturnal. In early autumn, they found a crack in the eaves of Melisande’s cottage on the wooded outskirts of Ull. The swordsman had repaired the crack before returning to the towers and yards of Osprey on Sea, the great hall over the snow-draped Thorgrim Mountains, where he served. What a swordsman knew of carpentry, well, that was open to question. But he knew other things. Nice things.

As the moon waxed, the mice kept Melisande up at night, their tiny feet pattering in the rafters, claws scraping, teeth gnawing. How such a small creature could make such a racket eluded her almost as much as her lover’s carpentry skills. The cat, being wise in the ways of the season, knew all, for he did not sleep at night, not when the moon was bright and certainly not when leaves spiraled down to carpet the frosty earth. No, he hunted. But the mice knew that.

It was the eve of the Hunter’s Moon when Melisande first noticed something odd in her latest knitting project, a thick winter tunic for the young goatherd who lived at the bottom of the hill. The wool, deep brown as the smoke-stained rafters of the cottage ceiling, formed gaps where the sleeve joined the yoke, much like the cracks between a wall and a roof. Deep in her mind, the observation awoke a visceral awareness of interconnection, the wisdom of the natural world, a tapestry of patterns, lines, curves and counts as perfectly cast as a well-stitched swatch.

Pattern sense, her mother once called it; at least Melisande thought it might have been her, though it could have been her grandmother, or one of the old women in the village. Come to think of it, her mother had turned a dark eye on such things. Being of a wilder mind, Melisande picked up her needles, hummed softly and wove a neat kitchener stitch over the gaps in the armpit of her work.

She did not hear the mice that night, the night after, or the night after that. Melisande wondered if the cat’s vigilance had finally paid off. Clever hunters, cats. So she told herself as her pattern sense curled quietly as a snake in an ivy patch, to rest with both eyes open.

Want to read more? Download for free on Smashwords.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Originally published in Tales of the Talisman Volume 10, Issue 1.

“Pattern Sense” is included in the Second Edition of 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 inspired Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. When the gods declare war, the mortals of an ancient realm are plunged into a swords-and-sorcery storm of bloodshed, deception, betrayal and the powers of the earth.

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

Maps of Ealiron

Long ago in a life far away, I began conjuring up the world of Ealiron. As it emerged from the mists, I sketched maps. This was useful for figuring out where things were relative to each other, how far, in what kind of landscape, etc. In time these drawings grew and became more complex. Writing the stories helped to draw the maps; and drawing the maps helped to write the stories. This is a fascinating thing about art and writing. They nourish each other.

I also dabbled in Celtic art, and enjoyed embellishing my maps with it.

Sourcesee and West

The first map came with Book One, The Hunter’s Rede. This story takes place in the Ostarin Mountains, which sprawl across western Sourcesee between the borders of Faerin and Tarth. Our hero, Lorth of Ostarin, is plying his trade as an assassin in the watery realm of Tarth when an eerie summons prompts him to defy his royal employers and return to his homeland. He finds it overrun by a cruel Faerin warlord who is set upon casting down everything Lorth holds dear…or so we think.

Ealiron: Sourcesee and West

Ealiron: Sourcesee and West (click to zoom)

Sourcesee and East; The Gray Isles

In Book Two, The Gray Isles, we journey east to an archipelago of backwater isles roughly a thousand miles east of Sourcesee. The Gray Isles are steeped in mystery and legends, most of which are not legends at all but the frightening truth. The first map shows the Gray Isles relative to Sourcesee and the realms south over the seas.

Ealiron: Sourcesee and East

Ealiron: Sourcesee and East (click to zoom)

The second map shows the isles themselves. This one includes close-ups of the places where this story happens: Urd, home to an ancient conservatory for the Keepers of the Eye, wizards who maintain balance in Ealiron; and Mimir, the ruling seat of the isles. Here lives the Master of Wychmouth, a vain wizard of the Keepers’ highest order, who nearly sees the realm destroyed by one of the aforementioned legends itself…which you’ll notice skulking in the water just below the isle of Urd (no coincidence, this).

The Gray Isles, by F.T. McKinstry

Ealiron: The Gray Isles (click to zoom)

Sourcesee

The map for Book Three, The Winged Hunter, focuses on the realm of Sourcesee. This story involves the citadel of Eyrie, the ruling seat of the Keepers of the Eye, in the southeast; and Loralin Forest, five hundred miles northeast of Eyrie. In Loralin, near the village of Crowharrow, lives an old wizard in his domain of Muin, an ancient castle shadowed by an immortal’s curse on the women in the old wizard’s bloodline. This immortal, a ferocious yet beautiful creature, lives in the Sioros Mountains northeast of Loralin, which are named after him.

Ealiron: Sourcesee, by F.T. McKinstry

Ealiron: Sourcesee (click to zoom)

The Isle of Tromb

Book Four, Ascarion, happens in two places: southeastern Sourcesee, in the realm between Eyrie and the port city of Caerroth (see Ealiron: Sourcesee, above); and the island of Tromb in the Gray Isles (see Ealiron: The Gray Isles, above). In this story we delve into the mysteries of the Keepers’ domain and the shadows of a remote northern isle steeped in old magic and hiding a terrible secret that brings the wizards to war. Here is a snarly little sketch of western Tromb, scene of the action. (I haven’t inked it yet…it’s on my list.)

Sketch of Western Tromb

Sketch of Western Tromb (click to zoom)

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron includes four standalone heroic fantasy novels that follow the exploits of Lorth of Ostarin, an assassin and wizard who serves the old powers. Available in print and all ebook formats.

Maps are accessible online through the “Chronicles of Ealiron” drop-down menus and the “Maps of Ealiron” menu, both on the sidebar of this page; and on the URL pages for each book. You’ll also find links in Chronicles of Ealiron: Terms and Places.

Happy journeys.

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Story Illustrations: Wizards, Woods and Gods

Wizards, Woods and Gods is a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

I did a series of pen and ink illustrations inspired by some of these stories. Click on the images to zoom and get information about each story.

The Priestess of Ealon, by F.T. McKinstry

The Priestess of Ealon

Sioros, by F.T. McKinstry

Sioros

The Glass, by F.T. McKinstry

The Glass

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

WWG Print Cover ArtWizards, Woods and Gods is available from Amazon (Kindle and Paperback)

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

 
 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Summer Solstice

Rose Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

Rose Moon is a traditional name given to a full moon in Midsummer.

The son of the King of the Moy in Midsummer
Found a girl in the greenwood;
She gave him black fruit from thornbushes.
She gave him an armful of strawberries on rushes…

— From Myles Dillon, Early Irish Literature

Rosa Rugosa

Rosa rugosa

In ancient times the sun played a divine role, being the source of life and the origin of the festivals that mark the quadrants of the year. On the summer solstice the sun is at its peak before its descent into darkness. In the north where I live, the longest day has a visceral quality. The mountains and valleys are lush and teeming with life that seems to sigh as the day turns, bringing a sense of completion. Before long the afternoon shadows will lengthen, the leaves will fly and the nights will grow cold as the sun withdraws for another winter.

I keep part of the sun in my heart on this day so that in winter, when it’s twenty-five below zero and the sun feels like it’s in another dimension (when it shines at all), I have hope.

The power of the seasons fascinates me and finds its way into my stories. The warmth and power of Midsummer has a special place in The Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron. This story revolves around a wizard’s hall called Muin in the heart Loralin Forest. The Hall of Muin is a Sun Key, or solsaefil in the wizard’s tongue. The design of the hall, including its layout and the placement of crystals in odd locations, uses the Waeltower, a tall, faceted garnet tower that focuses earth energy, to direct the light of the sun into geometric patterns that illuminate physical locations. The Sun Key marks seasonal events such as solstices and equinoxes.

On one particular Midsummer night, the summer solstice aligns with the Rose Moon and this opens a portal to the Old One, a primordial goddess of nature, life, death, and transformation. By the power of the Sun Key, a gate is projected into the woods on the south side of the hall. It is said that what happens there depends on the heart of the perceiver. Midsummer corresponds to the maternal aspect of the Old One, she who nurtures, grows, gives birth. Gardens bloom and flourish. In this story everyone has something to hide and something to heal, and the Rose Moon illuminates the landscape to powerful, transformative and devastating ends.

For more information about this and other wizardly things, check out Chronicles of Ealiron, Terms and Places.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Winged Hunter, Cover ArtThe Winged Hunter, Book Three in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

Tansel is a gardener with a healer’s hand. Fey, they call her.
Her aunt, a dabbler in hedge witchery, calls her cursed.
To the most powerful wizards in the land, she is an enigma.

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.