Swords, Sorcery and the Summer Solstice


Midsummer Greetings!

Where I live, the winters are long and dark. Summer is fleeting, like a dream in which you can’t recall the bitter cold, muck and gloom of the last seven or eight months. Summer has an almost fairytale quality here, it is so clear, fresh, green and fragrant. No doubt the fact that it flies by so swiftly makes it poignant, like a swan song, and on no day is this so evident as on the solstice, the longest day. After its spectacular sigh, we descend into shorter days again and the curve is so steep, it’s noticeable. By August the shadows start to feel weird.

Cosmic Garden

Cosmic Garden, by F.T. McKinstry

What better day for swords, sorcery, demons and wicked warlords? Na, I can’t think of one either. So for the next month, both books in The Fylking series, Outpost and The Wolf Lords, will be on sale for $1.99. Yep, for the price of a potted geranium you can venture into a Norse-inspired world where the veil is thin, the gods walk and the sword is the order of the day.

What could possibly go wrong? Hah!

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Fylking, a high fantasy series woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature.

This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

Both books contain a glossary and a link to a high resolution map.

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.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction
Finalist, SPFBO 2016

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover ArtThe Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

A wounded immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons and immortals.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything–
If only they could find her.

“Awesome book. Loved the first book also. I hope there will be more in the series.” – Customer Review on Amazon

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Warrior Within

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres, Ranger of the North Branch

The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure–be it a daemon, a human being, or a process–that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. ― Carl Jung

I once kicked a hole in the kitchen wall. This happened some time ago, in another house, another life. I honestly don’t recall what triggered it. I was wearing a pair of Doc Martens, which made the act particularly satisfying. I can still feel the sensation of the wallpaper exploding as the sheetrock caved in.

I left that hole there for some time, like a sacrifice to a war god. Then one day I knelt there, fixed the sheetrock and lovingly pieced a matched swatch of wallpaper over the wound like a mother patching up a scraped knee. There, there. These things happen.

How This IsDon’t get me wrong, this aspect of my personality as gotten me into trouble aplenty. He’s rising to his feet now, yelling, “Yeah only with people who fucking deserved it.” Debatable; however, my inner warrior stepped up like a boss on the battlefield of my childhood, where I took on a legion of thousands-year-old collective beliefs designed to bully women into being safe and predictable. Girls aren’t supposed to kick holes in walls. Keep it under control, don’t threaten the Powers That Be or you’ll be sorry. No talking back. No swearing. No waving swords or apple tree wands. Throw your weight around and we’ll throw you out. Yada yada. At some point I pushed all that noise off the cliff into the sea.

I like my warrior.

Building a Better Battlefield

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander

There’s this quaint idea that fantasy isn’t real, but only worthy as entertainment or worse, escapism. This is right up there with the idea that dark, extreme music makes people angry or violent ― another garden cart load of crap. As a child, unfortunately, I adopted and then chafed under these ideas because I wanted an escape and I wanted the truth. The whole thing just pissed me off.

In fantasy novels I found my warrior, alive and well and ready to teach me how it’s done. I started out reading books and watching movies, until the forces of an ever hungry and curious psyche drove me into writing. After many years cutting my teeth on worldbuilding, the development of writing skills and the maddening vagaries of the traditional publishing industry, an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin stepped out of my subconscious and into the light. “Would you rather kick holes in walls, or tell my tale?” he inquired. Four books later, Lorth has proven himself to be an exemplary spokesperson for my warrior side.

Lorth of Ostarin

Lorth of Ostarin

Since nothing is complete without music, this tune sums up Lorth nicely:

 

Variations on The Warrior Archetype

The term “warrior” can evoke many images, some of them simplistic; say, a person engaged or experienced in warfare. But there’s nothing simple about this archetype. There are infinite variations. Here are some of my favorites.

The Noble Warrior

Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Aragorn

Who doesn’t love this guy? He has legendary ancestors, lofty titles, powerful friends and a destiny. He’s done his time. He plays by the rules. His sword has an elven name you can’t pronounce. The golden standard by which all variations of the warrior archetype are defined, he can send you and your shit packing with a deadpan stare.

A Tolkien votary from a young age, I was properly initiated by Aragorn. But I was so innocent. Like a little hare beneath the gaze of a great horned owl.

The Initiated Warrior

A warrior acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing. ― Carlos Castaneda

In ancient Norse traditions there were berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent brutal, powerful initiations. In the wilds they lived like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury.

Ripley vs. The Alien Queen

Initiation rites for warriors are as old as time. But sometimes, a person with a warrior’s soul may not be aware of what she’s capable of until put to the test. To my mind, Ellen Ripley of Alien fame fits this aspect well. A warrant officer and first mate of the Nostromo, she becomes the badass we all know and love as the crew starts to realize what manner of thing they’re up against. The sole survivor of a terrifying battle with a superior life form, she goes on to set the record straight for every scientist, android and military type who crosses her path. Who knew?

The Reviled Warrior

Nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate. ― Unknown

Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, is one messed up dude. Trained as a child by a dark order of warriors called Witchers, he develops supernatural abilities via rigorous training and a ghastly transformation involving sorcery and narcotics, thereby rendering him capable of hunting the nonhuman fiends and beasties that haunt the wilds. With the eyes of a viper, milk-white hair and a collection of scars, he is hated and feared across the land ― until some constable’s daughter ends up shredded by a harpy or something, at which time they are happy enough to hire him.

A thankless job, but somebody has to do it.

The Broken Warrior

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. ― Confucius

Elric of Melniboné

Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga is old-school sword and sorcery at its finest. The protagonist, Elric of Melniboné, is the reluctant emperor of a mighty race with a well-earned reputation for cruelty. Elric is born flawed, an albino with weakness he is only able to overcome with drugs made from herbs and such. Disgusted by his own people, he ventures into the greater world to find his fortune. But he serves Chaos, and wields a malevolent sword named Stormbringer that drinks the souls of its victims, an addiction to which our hero swiftly succumbs, as the blade gives him strength as nothing else can.

Thus tormented, Elric destroys everything he loves, slaughters his own race and at some point has no fucks left to give. He tries to destroy Stormbringer, to bury it, to hide it away. But of course, “What you resist, persists,” and it’s only a matter of time before he’s driven to pick it up again. So it goes.

I’m still rooting for him.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.

Sleep with one eye open…

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Autumn, Houseplants and Science Experiments Gone Bad

September in Hyde Park

September in Hyde Park, by F.T. McKinstry

 
If you wish to live and thrive, Let a spider run alive. ~ Old English nursery rhyme

Fall is upon us here in the North. Although everything is still green and blooming outside, the afternoon shadows are long, the wind has a darker feel, the leaves on the maple trees are changing color, and the nights are cold. I recently brought in my houseplants from their warm, bright—albeit short—summer sojourn. And with them came critters: weird, long-legged creeping things, caterpillars, ants, and the occasional cricket that’ll set up camp in a corner and sing until the cats find it.

Schefflera

 
Spider WebAnd then there are the spiders. Spiders lurk, and they’re undaunted by the change in habitat. The sneaky ones build webs when I’m asleep or not looking. I’ll find a plant or a windowsill blanketed with silk and well-guarded, where the day before, there was nothing.

The shameless spiders carve out their empires with impunity, scrabbling up the shower curtain or dropping down in front of my face somewhere.

But I don’t bother them. It’s bad luck to kill a spider in the house, you know. They bring good fortune. Just remember that, next time you find one in the sink big enough to exsanguinate a small rodent. You can use a napkin to lift it into a cup or a plant, if you think you’re fast enough. Good luck.

I keep finding these slimy, glistening slug trails all over the place, and I never see the perpetrators. Unless they can fly, there is more than one of them. It’s like a B-grade sci-fi flick where an experiment goes terribly wrong. One of these mornings I’m going to come down to a five-foot-tall slug in the kitchen holding a ray gun.

As long as a spider doesn’t sneak into the Petri dish, I’m good.

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

Mythology, the Moon, and the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstry

Winter Moon Raven

 
If you live in the US, particularly in the swath along the width of the country from the northwest to the southeast, you will get a rare and special treat on August 21st: a total eclipse of the sun. In northern Vermont, where I live, we’ll get to see about 60% of it and, miracles of miracles, it’s actually going to be sunny (don’t get me started). I’m ready. I made my own camera obscura, and tried it out. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s cool af; it projects this ghostly mirror image of the sky, trees and sun, like an Otherworld portal or something.

A solar eclipse happens on a new moon, when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and the side turned toward the earth is dark. Needless to say, there’s a wealth of bizarre tales in world mythology explaining a solar eclipse. Given how creepy and unnatural it is when for no apparent reason the life-giving sun goes away, the temperature drops, and animals act weird, it stands to reason that most of these myths are gloomy and apocalyptic, such as dragons or serpents eating the sun, divine punishment, evil omens, and disputes between the gods.

The Source

The Source

Norse mythology tells of a pair of wolves named Hati and Skoll that chase the sun, and will catch it at Ragnarok, the annihilation of the cosmos. A solar eclipse was explained as the sky wolves getting a lucky break and stealing the sun. The solution was to make a lot of noise to scare the beasts away. (Hey, it must have worked; we’re still here.)

On a full moon, the earth is between the moon and the sun. I was born on a full moon. When I was a kid, I doodled and drew every mysterious, strange and beautiful thing that caught my attention, and had a particular fascination for drawing images of the sun and moon aligned and facing each other. I didn’t realize at the time that this is what happens during a full moon…but some part of me did. Since then, the full moon appears often in my paintings.

Here’s to hoping you get a chance to check out the eclipse! Protect your eyes, and watch out for the sky wolves.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2017. 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.

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

Summoning Fenrisúlfr

“Summoning Fenrisúlfr”
Background cover art for The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

 

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps.

Leofwine Klemet of House Earticael is a sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of magicians who serve Loki, Prince of Wiles and the Father of Hel. Leofwine has his doubts as to whom his masters serve, however. Given the order’s bloody, patchy history, of which Leofwine is an expert, if the brotherhood served anyone it was Othin, the Allfather, a master of sorcery and runes who reveled in the grim tides of war. A trickster and consummate shapeshifter, the Hooded One would be more than pleased to move in the shadows of Loki’s dastardly reputation.

But Leofwine keeps his doubts to himself.

Once a transcriber in the King’s Archive, and a Fjorginan spy, Leofwine now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job, but for a lover and some shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

But Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and does the unthinkable: he summons Fenrisúlfr, a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

Ironic. But that’s the trouble with doubts. They can betray you and ruin your day.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

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.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

Finalist, SPFBO 2016

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

Sorcerer in the Abyss

Leo Sketch

The abyss is never far from the summit. I am fond of this concept, not because it sounds romantic, but because it reminds me of a basic truth. I am presently working on The Wolf Lords, the sequel to Outpost and the second installment in my high fantasy series The Fylking. It’s going well, and at some point I decided it was high time to start working on the cover art. Past time, in fact.

I love painting things like this. So I sketched it up, put it on my easel, got out all my oil paints and accoutrements and well, that was a week ago and there it still sits–in my way, of course–with this monstrous black abyss swirling around it that will, if I go near the thing, suck me in and annihilate my soul and that’ll be the end of it.

There are names for this phenomenon, I’m sure. I could write a textbook about it and yet, romantic platitudes aside, the sketched board is still on the easel collecting cobwebs and I can’t start the thing to save my skin. It’s not as if I don’t do this sort of thing like, every day. But sometimes the summit, that high I get when the numinous floods up and turns into something cool, is so far away all I can see is the abyss. It is an empty, lonely place.

How This IsJust…pick up a tube of paint and squirt it on the palette. No, not black! How about green. Aaaahahahahah this sucks. I hate painting.

The character in the sketch above, his name is Leofwine. A sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, he’s more adept at dealing with his personal demons than I am.

Death metal might help.

Write a blog post about it, that’ll inspire me. I can write anything, here. I’m a fantasy author. Here we go. I am about to start this painting, yes I am, right after I post this. You all heard me say it.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Traditionally hired by warlords to protect their own bloody, ambitious interests, the brotherhood now keeps to itself.

Or so it is generally believed.

The older something is, the more secrets it keeps. And with the help of the Fylking’s enemies, the secrets of the Wolf Lords are about to unleash armies of demons across the land.

Those with second sight will be the first to die.

Coming in 2017.

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 2017. All Rights Reserved.